30 August 2020

Howard Staunton

On the Origin of Good Moves Reading Log*

In The Chess-Player's Handbook (1847), Howard Staunton asserts, "in chess, as in modern warfare, one of the most important strategems is the art of gaining time upon the enemy" (48-49). This assertion could well be considered central to the foundation of the articulation of positional chess, but Staunton does not get such credit.

Time served as a "factor" in Siegbert Tarrasch's articulation of what many have taken to be a continuation of William Steinitz's modern theory. He stated, "Force, Space and Time work together at every move" (The Game of Chess [1935], 231). Later, pawn structure was added to Tarrasch's formulation, and these became the essence of "development" (see "Principle of Development: Early History"). These were the factors that I learned in my youth, and then found anew as I was returning to chess after about a decade of minimal play, and read some of Yasser Seirawan's exceptional "Winning" series published by Microsoft Press in the 1990s. I recall Wesley So telling Seirawan during one of the Wijk aan Zee broadcasts that these texts gave him his foundation.

Time remains vital to Dan Heisman's nearly iconoclastic Elements of Positional Evaluation, rev. ed. (1999), where he lists mobility, flexibility, vulnerability, center control, piece coordination, time, and speed. Heisman considers notions of space, pawn structure, and development as "pseudo-elements". In Heisman's brief synopsis of the history of positional theory, he claims that after Andre Danican Philidor, the next contribution to theory was the play of Paul Morphy, skipping over Staunton.

Who mentions time prior to Staunton? Research might reveal that it was Giaochino Greco, although I cannot point to a passage in his manuscripts where this is the case. I do vaguely recall the concept articulated in some annotations by William Lewis, and Staunton was certainly familiar with the works of Lewis. Following this assertion concerning time, Staunton suggests the relevance of the art of warfare for chess with reference to Traité de Grand Tactique (1805) by Antoine-Henri Jomini, who served under Napoleon as well as other leadership capacities elsewhere in Europe. Staunton's lessons from Jomini, the art of war:

...consisted in the proper application of three combinations--first, the art of disposing the lines of operation in the most advantageous manner; secondly, in a skillful concentration of the forces with the greatest possible rapidity upon the most important point of the enemy's line of operations; and thirdly, that of combining the simultaneous employment of this accumulated force upon the position in which it is directed. (49)
Staunton implies that the application of these principles of war to the game of chess ought to be self-explanatory. Perhaps this failure of elaboration is what excludes him from narratives of the development of chess theory. But, if so, why does Steinitz get so much credit? The Modern Chess Instructor (1889) is even more paltry in its elaboration of principles of positional play.

Willy Hendriks, On the Origin of Good Moves (2020) does not elevate Staunton's reputation as a theorist in his short chapter, which concentrates on the second match between Staunton and Pierre de Saint-Amant (76-88). He does, however, claim that Staunton's contribution to the development of chess skill among those who followed him were manifested in three ways. The first is the role of newspaper columns.

In the quiz that begins the chapter, Hendriks presents this position and an intriguing question.

White to move

His question is derived from a challenge that Staunton offered to his opponent in a battle of analysis in chess periodicals, Le Palamède edited by Saint-Amant and Chess Player’s Chronicle by Staunton. Would you be willing to take the Black side in a series of six games? How much would you be willing to bet on the outcome?

Saint-Amant asserted that Black has an attack and a clearly superior position. Staunton disagreed. Staunton did lose the game, but Hendriks suggests that his loss was due to a subsequent tactical adventure that led no where.

Edward Winter wrote about the controversy in "Staunton v. Saint-Amant", Chess Notes 5709 (10 August 2008). This article forms the source for annotations to this game in ChessBase Mega2020. Hendriks develops his narrative of the word wars through the work of Nick Pope at Chess Archaeology. The emergence of chess columns in newspapers, and then specialized chess magazines, in the first half of the nineteenth century, Hendriks asserts, began to improve the level of chess skill. Staunton's Chess Player's Chronicle is prominent among them, as was Le Palamède. Staunton's second contribution is found in his books. Then, in 1851, Staunton organized the first international chess tournament.

Hendriks core argument in the chapter disputes an assertion of Harry Golombek that the quality of play in the Staunton -- Saint-Amant matches was "much superior" to the McDonnell -- De Labourdonnais matches (77). Hendriks shows that there was an abundance of errors in the latter, as there had been the previous decade when the top French player met the top British player.

Hendriks' exercises at the start of the chapter and his analysis of the games from which they were derived sent me into the databases to play through with some rapidity all 27 games from the two matches. To be honest, I found that exercise to be a chore. Aside from a few interesting endgames, the play of neither gentleman inspired me. On the Origin of Good Moves extracts the most interesting moments. My criticism of the chapter is that Hendriks only vaguely references the fact that the match he focused on was the second between the two men. His assertions that Staunton was clearly the superior player should not overlook Saint-Amant's victory in the much shorter first match.

27 August 2020

Endgame Battle

In Wednesday's Morning Membership tournament, my round two game ended quickly because my opponent hung a piece early and gracefully resigned on move 20. That gave me time to watch Twitch, where Chris Bird was broadcasting the event. The top rated played in the event was struggling against a player who has given me trouble. The lower rated player exchanged queens into an endgame that Chris was sure should be winning for Black (the higher rated player), but the game finished in a draw.

Given that both players had perhaps twenty seconds remaining plus the two second increment when queens were exchanges, it is not surprising that both of them missed wins in the pawn ending. I found the errors instructive.

After the tournament, I downloaded this game, set up what I thought was a critical position where Black might have played differently, and proceeded to easily beat Komodo 13. I was less successful playing the queen ending, sustaining a slight advantage with White, but unable to find the win.

White (1386) -- Black (1994) [C01]
Live Chess Chess.com, 26.08.2020

White to move


White exchanged into a lost pawn ending, but Black must play correctly to win.

One of my efforts against Komodo continued: 30.Qxb7 Qa4 31.Qd5 h5 32.Qc5+ Kf7 33.a3 h4 34.Qd5+ Kf8 White is better, but such positions are hard to play on a short increment, and I managed to find ways to lose.

30...Kxe8 31.Kg3 Ke7 32.Kf3 b5 33.Ke4 Ke6

White to move


White's move is technically best, but 34.g4!? presents Black a problem. 34...Kd6 is the only move. For instance, 34...a5 35.d5+ Kd6 36.Kd4 b4 37.Kc4+- and Black is the one in zugzwang.

34...Kd6 35.Kd4

Black to move


Yes, the queenside majority is the decisive advantage in the position. However, the position of the kings makes all the difference. The extra pawn on the queenside must be used to take the White king out of action long enough for Black's king to gobble up pawns on the kingside. See "Fox in the Chicken Coop". Or watch this video on my Facebook page: "Fox in the Chicken Coop".

A little patience reducing White's choices to gain a tempo or two by placing White in zugzwang is necessary to win this ending.

35...f5 would be my instinct, and the computer confirms that this move (or 35...h5) is necessary. My play against Komodo continued 36.Kc3. Why did the computer give up the pawn so easily?

In analysis of my game with the engine, I examined 36.g3 h5 37.f3 a5 38.g4 fxg4 39.fxg4

Black to move
Analysis Diagram

39...h4 is the only move. 40.a3 a4 41.Ke4 b4 and Black will win.

Continuing my game with the engine: 36...Kxd5 37.Kb4 Kc6 38.Kb3 a5 39.Kc3 Kc5.

Black's 35...a5 was not only not the way to win, but it gave White an opportunity.


36.g4! and White is winning. 

Black to move
Analysis Diagram

Black is in zugzwang. For instance, 37...b4 38.Kc4 and White will have the outside passed pawn on the queenside. 37...a4 is met with 38.a3.

Back to the game as played.

Black to move


I also played this position against Komodo: 36...f5 37.Kd3 Kxd5 38.Ke2 b4 39.a4 Ke4 40.Kd2 f4 41.Kc2 f3! 42.gxf3+ Kxf3

36...h5 is the alternative.

37.axb4 axb4 38.Kc4 b3 39.Kxb3 Kxd5 And the game was drawn by repetition after another dozen moves.

22 August 2020


I might prefer to forget this game, but Chris Bird gave a shout out for my blog at the end of the Twitch broadcast of the event. He mentioned that I won't like the broadcast of this game when I watch it, and that he looks forward to reading about it here.

Naturally, after the broadcast ended, I immediately went to the recording and advanced to round two. I did not need to see the oversights that Chris pointed out to know that I missed some opportunities, but the number was shocking. My opponent also missed several opportunities. This was my fifth game against Edwin Matos in these Morning Membership events. I won the first three, but we had two draws this week.

Maybe you will find our errors instructive and this game will serve a purpose other than polluting the web with examples of substandard play.

Stripes,J (1798) -- Matos,E (1426) [B21]
Morning Membership Event (Friday) Chess.com (2), 21.08.2020

1.e4 c5 2.d4 cxd4 3.c3 dxc3 4.Nxc3

4.Bc4 cxb2 5.Bxb2 is a line that I have dubbed the Danish Morra. It is unsound, of course, but I win my share of blitz games with it.

4...e6 5.Bc4 a6 6.Nf3 d6 7.0–0 Nd7 8.Qe2 Qc7

8...Ngf6 9.Rd1 b5 10.Bb3 Bb7 11.Bf4 Qb8 12.Nd5 Ne5 (12...Nxd5 13.exd5 e5) 13.Nxe5 dxe5 14.Nxf6+ gxf6 15.Bxe6 Bc8 16.Bd5 and White won in 54 moves, Jussupow,N (2152)--Kalinitschew,S (2472) Schwaebisch Gmuend 2013.

9.Rd1 Be7

We have reached a unique position, according to my databases, but it still has a familiar feel.

10.Bf4 Ne5

White to move


11.Bxe5 dxe5 was better according to Stockfish on chess.com. I like my bishop and might get to place it on b6.

11...dxe5 12.Be3 Nf6 13.Rac1 0–0 14.Bb3 Bd7 15.Nd5! 

Black to move

This is the sort of tactical problem that I like to set for my opponent when I play the Smith-Morra. However, it turns out that I was ill-prepared to follow through.


15...Qd8 16.Bb6 Qe8 17.Nc7 Bb5 18.Qc2+–


Why did I reject 16.Qxb5 Qxc1 (16...axb5 17.Nxf6+ Bxf6 18.Rxc7+–) 17.Nxe7+ Kh8 18.Qxe5+–?


16...Nxd5 17.exd5 (17.Rxc7 Nxc7) 17...Qa5 18.dxe6 fxe6 19.Qxb7+–


Again, there is a a simple route to a decisive advantage: 17.Nxf6+ Bxf6 18.Rxd8 Raxd8 19.Bc5+–

17...Qxe7 18.Bc5 Qe8 19.Bxf8

While I was thinking about my move, Chris was wondering whether I thought the bishop was better than the rook. No. The rook cannot move, so I might delay the capture if I can do something else that is useful. Not finding a useful alternative, I spent nearly a minute contemplating what to do after taking the rook. How best should I coordinate my pieces after winning the exchange? Finally, I came up with a plan--a terribly flawed plan.

19.Qe3 Nd7 20.Bxf8 Nxf8 might have been what I sought.

19...Qxf8 20.Rc7??

The plan was to get a pig. 20.Qe3 was better.


The pig is destined for the butcher. I played the opening well, created problems for my opponent, and should have had a won game. Now, the position is equal, difficult, and we both have about two minutes on the clock. The time control was 5+2.

White to move

21.Qe3 Ne8 22.Rxc6 bxc6 23.Qb6 Nd6 24.f3 Nb5 25.Ba4

Black to move


25...Nd4 and Black has a clear advantage.

26.Qxa6 Qc5+ 27.Kh1 h6


28.Bxb5 cxb5 29.Qd6

Black to move

29...Qc2?? 30.Qd2??

This blunder was likely what Chris had in mind when he stated that I wouldn't like it. I had 36 seconds on my Clock, and spent three on my move. Edwin had 59 seconds after 29...Qc2. The failure of my thought process here reminds me of a difficult game at the Spokane Chess Club a week ago. We have continued to meet on Lichess, instead of in person, at the usual time on Thursday nights. Kenny wins most of his games and usually finishes at the top of our events. I played well in my game against him, finding a combination that gave me a queen against a rook, knight, and pawn. We each had five other pawns. I could clearly see a line that I had to avoid that could have walked into checkmate, and found a forced draw that ended the complications. But, my queen was completely dominant and I should have won. Replaying two positions from that game gave me two easy wins against Komodo.

I saw Edwin's threat to checkmate me and missed that I could take his rook with check and then bring my queen back to defend my rook.

30.Qxb8+ Kh7 31.Qd6+–

30...Qc4 31.b3 Qc5 32.h3 Rc8 33.Qd6 Qf2 34.Rd2 Qe1+ 35.Kh2 Qe3

White to move

I was at 23 seconds after this blunder. Edwin had 44. Speed kills, as they say.

36...Qf4+ 37.Kg1 Qe3+–+

Another upset is in the works. Had I been in my opponent's position, I might have played 37...Rc1+ 38.Kf2 Qh4+ 39.Ke2 Qe1+ 40.Kd3 Qf1+ 41.Re2 Rd1+ 42.Ke3 Qg1+ 43.Rf2 Re1+ 44.Qxe1 Qxe1+–+. Of course, such things are easier to see after the game is over and the clock is not a critical factor.

38.Kh2 Qf4+ 39.g3 Qxf3 40.Qxb5

40.Qa3 was a defense that I overlooked.

40...Rc1 41.Rg2 Qd1 42.g4 Qh1+ 43.Kg3 Qe1+

43...Rc3+ ends matters in favor of Black 44.Kf2 Rc2+ 45.Qe2 Rxe2+ 46.Kxe2 Qxg2+

44.Kh2 Qxe4 45.Qe8+ Kh7 46.Qxf7

Black to move

And suddenly, the game is equal again.

47.Qxf4 exf4 48.a4 f3?

48...Rb1+ is equal.

White to move

"Not what I would play." Chris Bird

I was playing by intuition, but had there been time, I might have thought that Black's pawns are coming faster than White's. I do not have time to work two pawns up the board.

49.Rb2 e5 50.Kg3 e4 51.Kf2 Kg6=

49...Rc3 50.a5=

50.Kg3 keeps an advantage.

50...Rxb3 51.Ra2 e5 52.a6

Black to move

52...f2 53.Kg2 Rxh3 54.a7 Rh1 55.Rxf2 (55.a8Q f1Q+ 56.Kg3 Rh3#) 55...Ra1 and Black is better, but perhaps the advantage is not decisive. With Black's error, White again has a decisive advantage. Chess.com's computer assessment tabulated that each player had three missed wins as well as blunders numbering in double digits.

53.a7+– f2 54.Kg2

I lacked the time to calculate this "simple" win: 54.a8Q f1Q 55.Qxe4+ Kg8 56.Ra8+ Kf7 57.Qe8+ Kf6 58.Qf8+ Ke6 59.Qxf1

54...Rf3 55.Kf1


55...e3 56.a8Q e2+

White to move

The website shows that I had 19 seconds, but it felt like less.

57.Rxe2 wins.


"White is getting mated." Chris Bird

58.Kd2 Rf2+

Chris pointed out 58...Rd3+ 59.Kc2 Qd1+ 60.Kb2 Rb3#. This elementary checkmate pattern is the second one in Pandolfini's Endgame Course, and should be second nature to all chess players. Of course, blindness under time pressure is also common.

59.Kc3 Qxh3+ 60.Kb4 Rf4+ 61.Kc5 Qc3+ 62.Kd6

Black to move

Black gives away the queen.



And White leaves it on the board. 63.Kxe5 wins.


The first checkmate in Pandolfini's Endgame Course: 63...Rd4+ 64.Kc6 Rd6+ 65.Kc7 Qe7+ and mate in one.

64.Qa3 Qb5+ 65.Ke7 Qb7+ 66.Ke8 Qf7+

66...Qc8+ 67.Ke7 Re6+ 68.Kf7 Qe8#


Black to move
67...Rd6+?? 68.Qxd6 Qg8+


69.Kc7 Qf7+ 70.Qd7 Qf4+

My clock is down to eight seconds.



71...Qc4+ 72.Qc6 Qxa2 73.Qe4+ Kh8 74.Qe8+

Black to move


"Black can block." Chris Bird

74...Qg8 with an advantage.

75.Qe4+ Kh8 76.Qe8+


76...Kh7 77.Qe7 Qa7+ 78.Kd8 Qxe7+ 79.Kxe7

Black to move


80.Ke6 h5 81.gxh5 Kh6

81...g5 82.Kf5 Kh6 83.Kg4 Kg7 84.Kxg5 Kh7=

82.hxg6 Kxg6 ½–½

This game was a battle.

18 August 2020

What would you play?

 I spent a fair amount of time on this position this afternoon. The time control was 30 + 10, and this was my longest think.

White to move

The computer prefers 18.b6, which I seriously considered. But, eliminating Black's a-pawn seemed useful.

09 August 2020

Knight vs Bishop

Jeremy Silman devotes the first chapter of How to Reassess Your Chess, 4th ed. (2010) to the imbalance of knight vs. bishop. Somewhere in the third edition, he suggests that a player ought to play in a manner that makes his or her minor piece the superior one.

White to move
This position arose this morning in the seventh round of the World Open, being played on the Internet Chess Club. I had White. Black's knights are menacing with the threat of Nxc3, followed by Nxe2+. 


My move seemed forced. Now Black faces a choice of how to capture the bishop. I would submit that my opponent's move was not the best choice.


I went on to win a knight vs bishop endgame where all my pawns were on dark squares and my king decisively penetrated to the center of the board.

02 August 2020

Evaluating Evaluation

Websites, such as LiChess and Chess.com, advertise the benefits of nearly instant computer analysis following a game. This analysis is provided by a resident version of Stockfish, usually the newest edition. While I make liberal use of this analysis when examining my suspicions concerning cheating (suspicions that are nearly always unfounded--see "Playing Online [Pros and Cons]"), my postgame analysis usually begins sans engine, then I turn on an engine to check my analysis. However, yesterday I played two 30 + 10 games, much longer than my usual live play online. I used the instant computer evaluation to count the inaccuracies (three in 46 moves!). Today, I played one game, the computer evaluation was less encouraging.

What follows is the game, as annotated by Stockfish on LiChess. I added some annotations of my own, and also checked Stockfish's with Komodo's. Stockfish's evaluations must be treated with some skepticism aimed at understanding the reasons. I left in the move-by-move computer score.

Internet Opponent (1831) -- Stripes,J (2112) [A45]
Rated Classical game lichess.org, 02.08.2020

1.d4 [0.02/010] Nf6 [A45 Indian Game 0.27/010] 2.c3 [0.00/02] g6 [0.09/05] 3.Nd2 [0.01/08] Bg7 [0.34/04]

3...c5 4.e3 cxd4 5.exd4 Bg7 6.Ngf3 0–0 7.Bc4 d5 8.Bd3 Bf5 9.Bxf5 gxf5 10.0–0 e6 Perhaps Black expected to mount an attack along the half open g-file. It did not happen. White won in 42 moves, Timoshenko,I (2266) -- Erendzhenov,S (2280), Nevinnomyssk 2010.

4.e3 [0.14/01] d6 [0.29/050] 5.Be2?! [0.29/04]

5.Ngf3 was best, according to Stockfish on LiChess 5...b6 6.Bb5+ c6 7.Bd3 0–0 8.0–0 c5 9.e4 Bb7;
5.f4 was a move I expected with a sort of reversed Dutch Stonewall.;
5.Bd3 is probably a better square for the bishop.

5...e5 [0.14/017] 6.h4 [0.05/06]

Black to move

6...h5?! [0.16/011]

6...Nc6 was best, according to Stockfish, allowing what I intended to prevent. One inaccuracy (debatable). 7.h5.
6...Nbd7 is Komodo's choice. 7.h5 Nxh5 8.Bxh5 gxh5 9.Qxh5 Qf6 Black is slightly better.

7.Nb3? [-0.81/017]

7.dxe5 was best (Stockfish) 7...dxe5 8.Ngf3 Nbd7 9.Qc2 0–0 10.Ng5 Qe7 11.0–0 a5 12.Rd1 b6 13.a4 Bb7

7...Be6?? [0.61/032]

7...e4 was a move I considered, and should have been played, according to Stockfish. It is not among Komodo's top three choices. My blunder allows White to open up the board and deprive me of castling. The advantage shifts from Black to White.

8.f3? [0.82/011]

8.dxe5 dxe5 9.Qxd8+ Kxd8 10.Nf3 Ne4 11.Nbd2 Nxd2 12.Ng5 Ne4 13.Nxe4 f6 14.b3 Nd7


Second "inaccuracy", according to Stockfish. One blunder. Komodo likes my move. 0.31/028
8...Nbd7 9.e4 c6 10.Nh3 Bxh3 11.Rxh3 a5 12.Bg5 a4 13.Nd2 b5 14.f4 Qb6 15.fxe5

9.f4?? [-1.74/020]

9.Qc2 d5

9...0–0 [-0.13/052] 10.Nd2 [-1.58/018] d5 [-1.62/03] 11.Nh3 [-1.34/05] Ng4 [-1.43/013] 12.Nf1 [-2.89/018] 

Black to move


12...Qxh4+ is a move that I should not have missed. 25% of my moves so far have been errors of one sort or another, although I disagree with the computer's assessment in one case. Komodo disagrees with Stockfish in the other case.

13.Ng5 [-0.96/013] Bg4 [-0.52/02] 14.g3?? [-2.44/013]


14...c5?! [-1.74/030]

14...Bxe2 is part of a better sequence (Stockfish). The change from -2.44 to –1.74 is more severe than Komodo's evaluation: -2.01 to –1.68. It is still an inaccuracy. 15.Qxe2 Nd7 (15...c5 could be played now, according to Komodo) 16.Bd2 c5 17.0–0–0 Qb6 18.Kb1 Rac8 19.Nh2 cxd4 20.exd4 Nf5 21.Be1

15.Nh2?! [-2.44/026]

15.Bxg4 (Stockfish's suggestion) was my hope 15...Nxg4 with pressure on e3, but perhaps that pressure is less useful than my other idea in the position: opening the c-file.

15...Bxe2 [-2.59/019] 16.Qxe2 [-2.94/036] Nd7 [-2.69/03] 17.g4 [-2.56/08] Nf6 [-2.85/07] 18.gxh5 [-2.97/012]

18.f5 Komodo's line--Black is still winning. 18...hxg4 19.fxg6 fxg6

18...Nxh5 [-2.54/00] 19.Rg1 [-2.27/08]

Black to move

19...Qd7? [-0.91/018]

19...cxd4 was best (Stockfish). I wanted to prevent Ne6 if I played f6. I thought perhaps I could trap the knight. Also, connecting the rooks seemed like a good idea, as both might come to the c-file as matters developed further. 20.exd4 Qa5 21.Ng4 Nf5 22.Ne5 (an error, according to Komodo, preferring 22.Bd2) 22...Nxd4 23.Qd1 Nf5 24.Ngxf7 Qc5 25.Qg4 Rxf7 26.Qxg6 may seem favorable from Black's perspective to the chess engine, but I prefer to avoid such a position.

Black to move
Analysis Diagram

20.Qg2?? [-3.16/020]

20.Ng4 (Stockfish) 20...Nf5 was my intent. White's heavy pieces along the opened g-file do not offer the prospects for attack that my opponent imagined.

20...Nf5?! [-2.37/016]

20...cxd4 was best (Stockfish). The number of my moves judged errors now exceeds 25%. 21.exd4

21.Bd2? [-5.98/019]

21.dxc5 Rac8

21...cxd4 [-4.36/016] 22.cxd4 [-4.27/016] Rac8 [-4.97/05] 23.b3?! [-7.61/023]

23.Nxf7 was best (Stockfish). Nonetheless, the computer's line gives Black an easy game with a clear advantage. The text move also gave me an easy game with some tactical threats. 23...Qxf7 24.Qxg6 Qxg6 25.Rxg6 Rc2 26.Rg5 Nhg3 27.Rc1 Rxb2 28.Kd1 Kh8 29.Ng4 Rxa2

23...Rc2 [-5.63/02:26]

White to move

24.Kd1?! [-10.96/013]

24.Ng4 Stockfish sees the threats to the e-pawn with the second rank pin. I disagree with Stockfish that 24.Kd1 is an inaccuracy. It was a blunder. 24...Nxf4


Wins the queen

25.Bxe3 [-10.27/07] Rxg2 [-10.84/02] 26.Rxg2 [-10.84/03] f6[-9.36/026]

I also win the knight (thanks to an earlier "mistake") 0–1

01 August 2020

Playing Online (Pros and Cons)

The first time that I played chess via the internet was 1989 when my younger brother let me play in his place some regularly scheduled telnet games with a friend of his in another city. Both my brother and his friend were programmers. The Internet Chess Club (ICC) came into existence a few years later. I recall my brother claiming that he helped with some of the programming.

When ICC started charging a membership fee, Free Internet Chess Server (FICS) was created to maintain a free playing environment. After that one evening in 1989, the next time I played online was a now defunct site called Net-Chess in 1998. I joined ICC in 1999 and started playing regularly--maybe almost every day. I also started watching live broadcasts of Grandmaster events.

ICC, FICS, Net-Chess, and Playchess (where I started in 2003) are servers that require software on your computer and send small amounts of data over the internet. Website hosted chess, to my knowledge, began with Yahoo! It was terrible. Chess.com, which came online in 2007 and added live chess after a few months, began to change the quality of website chess. The distinctions summarized in Edward Collins' Yahoo! Chess vs. The Chess Servers are no longer valid.

LiChess, Chess.com, Chess24, and others now have hundreds of thousands of games every day. They also host Grandmaster events and other tournaments, as well as organizing their own. ICC and Playchess also seem to be doing well. It has been several months since I have played on FICS, and many years since I enjoyed the experience. The lag there is terrible, and I lack confidence that they effectively root out cheats.

Last night I played in the World Open Game 7 Championship on ICC. It is organized by the Continental Chess Association. The time control was 7+2. I was very low in the pairing chart in the open section. In seven rounds, I managed one win and two draws. I beat the only opponent who was lower rated (according to USCF standard OTB rating, which was used for pairings). I had chances in several of the games that I lost.

I threw away a clear win from this position, although my opponent had done the same earlier in the game. It ended as a draw one move before we had lone kings.

Black to move

In the next game, I again threw away a clear advantage. This time, I went on to lose.

White to move

My previous post here highlights how these types of errors are often the product of haste.

Next weekend, I am playing in the World Open. The time control is 60 + 10, longer than any time control I have experienced in live online play (I have played hundreds of online correspondence games). This morning, I tried two games at 30 + 10. Both opponents were relatively weak and I won easily. Even so, I was happy that in 46 moves, I made no blunders (according to the website's Stockfish 11), and only three inaccuracies. Two of these inaccuracies were opening choices that I might make again. The other missed a vulnerability that could have been attacked.

One of our strongest local players offers a summary of the pros and cons of online play at his chess tutoring site: Casey Chess Tutoring. I also recommend him as a teacher if you are looking for some instruction.

Rather than creating my own list of the pros and cons, or repeating his, I want to address one point: cheating.

How common is cheating online?

A high percentage of my online correspondence opponents have been banned from the website where we played because of cheating; perhaps 8-10%. In live play, cheating is less frequent, percentage-wise. Nonetheless, like many others, I am usually suspicious when I get outplayed. I often report my opponents, and often check the engine analysis before or after such reporting. Most players are clean. Nonetheless, it happens. During last night's preliminary remarks by an organizer, he stated that they go over every game before an event is rated, and that they usually (he may have said, "always") find cases of cheating.

I was on the organizing committee for the Washington State Elementary Chess Tournament, which went online this year. We had detailed procedures for rooting out cheats, and we had some ethical breaches that we needed to address. We also had nearly 1200 participants! The number of suspicious players was in the dozens, and most were determined to be clean. More than 99% of the participants never faced a suspicious opponent.

A few weeks ago, I ran into a suspicious player in an online tournament. That player's computer match rate in the event was 97%. To be fair, however, all of these games were relatively short. I submitted a cheating report. Later, I learned that my opponent is an underrated and very young youth player. The cheating accusation was likely quickly dismissed by the website. The player is clean. The third time we played, I won.

Cheating also occurs OTB. Is is less common? We need to consider the percentages. The number of games that are played online is astronomically large and the number of cheats relatively small (even if it happens every single day). I do not know whether anyone has compiled clear data on the question. Hence we are left with impressions and anecdotes.

My anecdote is this: I have lost to cheats online. I also have won against them. I have played more than 150,000 live games online. More than 150,000 of these games have been 100% clean. The risk of facing a cheat is much lower than the fears associated with it.

Do not let fear of online cheating stand in the way of playing chess during a time of social isolation. Do consider playing in tournaments, even tournaments that have entry fees and cash prizes. In my experience, the quality of play in online tournaments is worth it.