Wednesday, 28 February 2007

Guess the players

I'm trying out a different way of producing diagrams for this blog. The diagram on the left was created by exporting a position from Chesscat as a bitmap and then converting that into a jpeg using irfanview.

Can you find White's next move in the diagram? Extra bonus points if you know who was playing and when!

A clue? The player with the White pieces is claimed by some to be the greatest player ever not to become world champion. The Black pieces belong to a world champion who in 1901, at the tender age of 13 defeated the national champion of his country in a match.

See if you can find the next move and name the players before I give the answer!

Saturday, 24 February 2007

Stream of Chess Consciousness - 2

I started playing and analysing a game in this previous post. I will continue on from the position shown on the left. A replayable board is below.

11.Qd2. Avoiding the discovered attack on my Queen by Nd5 that I missed previously.

11...a6. I was a little surprised by this. I expected Rc8 instead, which must be a decent move, but Hiarcs was still in its opening book so there have to be good reasons for this move. I can only think that it either aims to keep my knight out of b5, or alternatively prepares to play b7-b5.

At this point I tried to come up with a plan and decided that I would try to take advantage of the position of the Black bishop on e6 by playing f4 followed by f5.


Hiarcs was now out of its opening book, so I guess that my last move wasn't necessarily the best.

12...Qc7. I had realised that by advancing my pawn to f4 that my King might be exposed on the open b7-g1 diagonal, so I had expected Qb6+ to which I was happy to reply Kh1 tucking my King out of the way. Qc7 attacks the pawn at c4 again so I played


Fritz tells me this isn't a good idea, even though it seems an obvious move. Black attacks the c4 pawn, I defend the c4 pawn. It prefers Rac1 which develops the rook and indirectly defends the c4 pawn because Bxc4 would lose to various discovered attacks on the Black Queen and pins of the bishop on c4 against the Queen. However, the analysis required to justify such a move is beyond me at the moment - perhaps it always will be!


Creates potential threats along the weakened diagonal. I thought a lot here about whether or not I should exchange off the Knight with my Bishop. I didn't want to do it if I could avoid it, because I didn't want to give Black the Bishop pair. So I checked for danger and decided to play...

14. h3? Qc5+ 15. Kh1

Here I had analysed Nf2+ and decided that after Kh2 my King was safe, there were no more tactics and Black's Knight was virtually trapped. Fritz analysis shows I was wrong - I missed 15...Bxc3 Qxc3 16.Nxe4 winning an important pawn. However, Hiarcs played...


My heart sank at this. My Queen and Knight are both threatened, forcing an exchange of Queens. So much for my plan to attack!

14. Qxe3 Nxe3

Here I should have moved my attacked Rook and defended the Knight at c3 by playing Rfc1. Instead I tried to be clever and decided to attack Black's stranded Knight instead.

15...Rf3? 16. Bxc3 17. Rc1

Now when Black moves the Bishop I planned to take the Knight on e3.


Oops! Missed that completely. Well, actually I think I considered it for a fleeting second and thought I would play Rd1 or Rc2, but of course either of those puts the Rook en prise to the Knight.

Time for another takeback! I don't usually do takebacks, honest! But this is a computer opponent and I am trying to learn. 14.h3 appears to be my first serious mistake so I'll go back to there for my next post on this game.

Sunday, 11 February 2007

Lies, Damned Lies and Chess Accusations

Chess websites across the internet are abuzz again with the latest cheating accusations. The Russian newspaper, Kommersant has published a video from an anonymous Dutch chess fan recorded at the recent Wijk Aan Zee tournament.

It purports to show Veselin Topalov's manager Silvio Danailov signalling to him during a game at the tournament. Danailov then exits the room, taking his mobile phone out of his pocket whilst leaving. The full video is shown below.

What you see when watching the video depends on your point of view. If you are suspicious and believe that Topalov may be cheating it is easy to imagine that Danailov's movements with his hand against his face and neck are signals which Topalov can decode and use to help him at critical stages of the game. Otherwise, there is nothing inherently suspicious about his gestures, although his haste to use his mobile phone (which he takes out of his jacket as he leaves), if repeated frequently, certainly would be cause for concern.

Some people seem to regard this as the smoking gun which shows that Topalov is cheating. Others that it is simply a smear campaign by Kramnik's Russian comrades. Both sides are becoming increasingly vocal and dirty with their off-board tactics as they try to persuade the chess world of their case, but the truth is unlikely to ever be clear since the evidence from both sides is circumstantial.

The real lesson from the recent allegations against Kramnik and Topalov, apart from the fact that all people, great chessplayers included, can be a paranoid bunch is that the chess authorities have to take urgent steps to ensure that big-money chess events are secure enough to ensure that cheating is not possible. Another necessary step, as noted by John Saunders at his British Chess Magazine Blog is the creation of a strong disciplinary system which will be an effective deterrent to anyone foolish enough to want to try to use a computer to assist them during a game.

I can't watch any great performance in track and field athletics these days without being suspicious that the athlete involved may have used drugs to enhance his or her performance. Let's grab the chess computer cheating issue by the scruff of the neck and ensure that computers don't ruin chess in a similar way.

Friday, 9 February 2007

From Fidelity to Fritz

Computer programs have come a long way since I first played with my 'Fidelity Chess Challenger 7' machine (pictured) when I was a boy in the 1980's. Whereas I could hold my own with Fidelity, the current World Chess Champion, Vladimir Kramnik recently lost a match against 'Deep Fritz' by a score of 4-2.

There are two main reasons for this dramatic improvement. The first is simple - speed. The version of Fritz that defeated Kramnik can calculate up to 10 million positions a second. The second is more subtle. Programmers are continually improving their machines so that they 'understand' chess better by evaluating positions more effectively.

The fact that a piece of chess software costing under £40 and running on a standard home PC can play as well as, if not better than a Grandmaster has led some commentators to predict the end of chess as we currently know it. However, I think the reality is quite different.

The advent of powerful chess computers and the proliferation of internet chess sites like the Internet Chess Club has created an upsurge in interest in the game. This has also been helped by the fact that chess is starting to shed it's nerdy image, helped in part by the increasingly high profile of some female players such as Judit Polgar, Susan Polgar and Alexandra Kosteniuk.

I still feel nostalgic for my old Fidelity machine from time to time and I suppose the clip below (using real sound samples from a Fidelity Chess Computer!) is a tribute of sorts! Enjoy!

Thursday, 8 February 2007

Stream of Chess Consciousness

I've been playing practice games on my Palm Tungsten E PDA using Hiarcs for around 18 months now. The games are all casual games played whilst travelling to and from work on the train and I've enjoyed it tremendously - it's been great value for money.

I thought that for the first time I would play a slower game against Hiarcs (no time control, just taking my time and taking moves back if I make a big mistake) and record my thoughts on this blog (a stream of chess consciousness) so that I can examine my thought process in more detail and try to discover what mistakes I am typically making and how I can improve.

My father taught me to play chess when I was five years old and I played regularly at a local club from the age of 9 to 15, before giving up competitive play when exams and life in general got in the way. I kept an interest in chess and resumed playing in earnest when I bought a PC and started playing against Fritz (and other players online).

My highest rating during my teen years was 1715 Elo (due in part to a slightly fortuitous win against a 2100+ player in a cup competition) and I estimate my strength to be around the 1600-1700 Elo mark now.

I hope my stream of consciousness blog entries will be useful for me and perhaps interesting to others. Here goes, I'm White; you can play along using the buttons under the board. Please feel free to contribute your thoughts - especially if you are a stronger player who can give me a few pointers!

1.e4 I've been a King's pawn player since I can remember and I don't see much point in changing now. 'Best by Test' as Fischer said. 1...c5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 g6

So Hiarcs plays the Accelerated Dragon. My knowledge of theory isn't much (especially main line Sicilians since I usually play 2.c3) but all I remember is that you're supposed to play c4 and set up the 'Maroczy Bind'. 5. c4 Nf6 6. Nc3 d6

I had my first significant think at this point. I decided that my King would be a lot safer on the Kingside rather than the Queenside, so I would castle that way and I might as well do it quickly. 7. Be2 Nxd4

I was a bit surprised at this exchange. I think I'm usually surprised if Black chooses to exchange in this sort of position. I think that's because it seems to me that Black has exchanged off one of his developed pieces and brought my Queen to a nice central square.

8. Qxd4 Bg7

The disadvantage of my 'centralised' queen position is immediately clear! Black's bishop eyes it menacingly down the long diagonal.

9. O-O O-O

Is Be3 a good idea in a position like this? I'm always afraid of Ng4 attacking the bishop. Anyhow, I didn't see any tactics (not even any worthwhile discovered attacks from the g7 bishop) so I simply developed my last piece.

10. Bg5

I tend to be wary of playing this sort of move because I think that Black will play h6 and simply kick the bishop back, making me waste time. But thinking about it a bit more, I was happy because if Black did that, then the h6 pawn would be weak and I might be able to attack it with Queen and Bishop in future.


This looks a bit odd at first brush because it blocks the Black e pawn, but Black doesn't want to advance the e pawn anyway since it would leave the d pawn weakened (on a half open file) and also it doesn't block in the other bishop because it's already been fianchettoed. On the plus side, it attacks the potentially weak pawn at c4. I was so concerned about this that I thought I would move my rook to the c file to prepare to support it. I still didn't see any tactics for Black.

11. Rac1 Nd5!

Oops! Damn it. I think I missed this move because I was so focused on what I thought was the point of Black's last move (to attack the c4 pawn) that I didn't realise that the bishop was also creating another threat by protecting the d5 square.

12. Qd2 Nxc3

No material will be lost, but my pawn structure will be shattered if I take back with my pawn at b2, leaving me with doubled and isolated pawns on a half open file.

I think it's time for my first take back. Much earlier than I'd hoped! I will resume in a future post from the position before I played 11. Rac1.

I feel I've learned something worthwhile here already. I should make sure that I think carefully about what my opponent's last move is threatening. There may be more than one threat and they may not be obvious. Also, I shouldn't forget to re-examine potential threats I've noticed before when the board position changes. A move from the knight at f6 to discover an attack on my Queen was an obvious threat and I should have checked all possible knight moves as a matter of course.

Monday, 5 February 2007

Testing, testing, 1,2,3

This post is for testing purposes only...

This diagram was produced using and the replayable game below made using Chess Publisher.

Sunday, 4 February 2007

Let's start again...

This is my first post here after deciding to start afresh on blogger rather than continue using the MyYahoo blog that I started a while ago.

This is to be my chess blog where I can spout off about my favourite game and I hope that some of what I write will be entertaining for fellow chess addicts. I won't make any predictions at this point of the sort of chess content that I will have here - I'll see how it goes and what feels right.

I'll start off where I finished on my old blog, with a picture of Lev Aronian, the joint winner of the Wijk Aan Zee tournament at Corus. Having joint winners strikes me as odd. Why not have a tiebreak to decide on a single winner? This is achieved in some tournaments by using a tiebreak scoring system, for example the Sonnenborn-Berger (S-B) system which uses the sum of defeated opponents scores. This is particularly useful in big open events, but perhaps less so in all-play-all events.

My preference would therefore be for rapid play-offs to decide the winner of Wijk Aan Zee. Time would need to built into the schedule to allow for this, but it would only need an extra day at most and would produce a single winner for the sponsor to parade to the world.