Wednesday 31 May 2017

Can I invent a new opening?

The title of this post is borrowed from a question I recently saw on Quora. Answers seemed to range from 'No' to "sure, but it won't be any good". The general consensus is that all 'openings' have been invented, although the OP may find a new variation.
Of course this depends upon deciding what is an opening, and what is a variation. For example 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 is not yet an opening, with 3.Bc4 , 3.Bb5 or 3.Nc3 all becoming named openings, but after 3.Bc4 Nf6, 4.d4 and 4.Ng5 are only variations of the Two Knights Opening. As with most things in chess, history and convention take precedence over logic.
However, variations can be discovered (and possibly named), even if they might not be good. Just today I came across a line against the Caro-Kann which I had previously been unaware of, the Apocalypse Variation! It starts with 1.e4 c6 2.Nf3 d5 3.exd cxd 4.Ne5 I have seen White's 4th move given a ! and a ? and while I would lean towards ?! it has claimed some high profile victims. The idea is to keep the knight on e5 for as long as possible, or to exchange it at an advantageous time. Oddly, for such an aggressive idea, this line seems devoid of cheap traps, although I did see a few games end with Qxf7#.
To give you a feel for this line, here is a game between a couple of very strong GM's. I don't know if Black was caught by surprise, but his play looks a little unconvincing, giving White a fairly easy path to victory.

Petrosian,Tigran L (2580) - Macieja,Bartlomiej (2616) [B10]
Lake Sevan Martuni (4), 09.07.2007


The AlphaGo program not only continues to beat the best Go players in the world, but it is also influencing how the game is being played. Talking with some Go playing friends, they were amazed at how AlphaGo was demonstrating ideas and concepts that had been considered bad, were in fact playable. As a result, top level professional players are reassessing how the game is being played.
It seems that this effect may be even more profound than the effect computers had on chess. While computers probably taught the modern generation the increased importance of tactical calculation, and probably helped resurrect some openings that had been considered less than optimal.  the underlying strategic concepts did not really change. Computers did the same things that humans did, just faster and better. With AlphaGo, it seems that its learning method of recognising good and bad moves based on patterns and previous games has not only come up with better moves, but also enabled it to recognise better structures.
AlphaGo has just completed a series of matches in China, against some of the worlds leading players. At the end of the match the AlphaGo developers have released a set of 50 games which AlphaGo played against itself, to show some of the new ideas it has learned. You can play through all 50 games here.

Sunday 28 May 2017


I suspect chess players aren't really a superstitious lot. All that rational thinking at the board probably extends to real life, leaving little room for the irrational. However I still come across players who have their little 'quirks' which may be considered superstitions by some.
Probably the most common is the 'lucky pen'. Players who start and event with a couple of pins may attribute this to their choice of writing implement, and therefore try and hang on to it for as long as possible. Apparently Tal was a believer in the 'lucky pen' and attributed his World Championship loss to it going missing during the match.
Related to this is the lucky shirt/socks/key ring etc Unlike the lucky pen, if items of clothing are involved, a winning streak may not be so much due to magical forces, as to the smell from wearing the same socks six days in a row.
I've also observed scoresheet superstitions. Not writing an opponents name down until the completion of the game is one attempt at voodoo, while incredibly cheeky players might try and get away with a pre-filled result. Not shaving during a winning streak has been mentioned, although I'm not sure whether I've witnessed this happening at chess Olympiads, or are just mixing with people of poor personal grooming.
Finally, I once had a player who said that one of the best ways to not lose was to avoid players whose surnames started with 'Fischer' or 'Kasparov'

Saturday 27 May 2017

The bigliest World Championship ever

While holidaying in the UK I took some delight in making the obvious comparisons between the President of FIDE and the President of the USA. This led to some slightly awkward conversations with people who were astonished at the outcome of the 2016 US elections, but had campaigned for Kirsan in the 2014 FIDE elections (although there was one friend who was happy with both outcomes).
And it seems that the similarities have not ended, with a report the London is being considered as a venue for the next World Championship Match. The source of this proposal was Kirsan himself, in an interview he gave with the Tass News-agency. Of course it seems that FIDE themselves no nothing about it, or of they do, nothing is showing on their website. I'm pretty sure this isn't because the designated spokesperson is hiding in the bushes trying to get their story straight, but almost certainly because the days of breathlessly reporting every statement, trip or activity of the FIDE President is now over.
That's not to so it won't happen (although it seems that the ECF has not yet been informed), but I'm assuming credit for making it happen will be claimed no matter where the Championship match is eventually held.

Friday 26 May 2017

Capablanca's two part rule

Very early on I learned that you should put your pawns on the opposite coloured square to your bishop (if you have one). Later I learned that this was known as "Capablanca's Rule". However it was only recently that I read that there are in fact two parts two this rule, and I'd probably been throwing away half points by not knowing the second part.
The second part deals with the case where your opponent has a bishop, and you don't. In this case you should put your pawns on the same coloured squares as your opponents bishop, to restrict its activity. Of course there are almost always other factors at play, but if you are faced with a knight v bishop middlegame and are unsure what to do, this may help.
Here is an example game (taken from'Techniques of Positional Play ' by Broznik and Terekhin), where Capablanca applies his own rule on move 20, creating a pawn chain on the dark squares. By the time the players agreed to a draw, all of black's pawns were on dark squares, white's pawns were on light squares, and yet the white bishop still couldn't help white win.

Lasker,Emanuel - Capablanca,Jose Raul [C66]
New York New York (2), 17.03.1924

Tuesday 23 May 2017

Out, back and out again

As I get older (and more forgetful) I have a tendency to screw up my openings more and more. It is both a function of not learning all the lines, and playing careless moves without checking the consequences.
In the following very recent game, I played 7. ... Bf5 without much thought. After 8.Qf3 I was suddenly required to do a lot of thinking, but most of it was deciding whether to go berserk and sacrifice my queenside pawns, or eat crow and retreat the bishop. In the end I decided crow was the tastier meal, and retreated both the bishop and the queen. After that it was a battle not to get run off the board, bring out my pieces again, and try and salvage something from the game. Turns out I managed to find enough play to not lose, but all that post-blunder thinking left me short of time, and so a draw was offered an accepted.

Patterson,Miles - Press,Shaun [A09]
Autumn Leaves, 23.05.2017

Sunday 21 May 2017

Pick the century

A challenge for readers of this blog. Have a look at the game below and decide which century it was played in (or which century it belongs to). I have of course removed anything that identifies the players, or where it might have been played.

White - Black [C37]
From a galaxy far far away

Saturday 20 May 2017

The top 10

Where do you go to to get your chess fix (apart from Chessexpress)? According to one list is the most popular chess site, and the 1181 most popular site on the internet overall. Lichess is number 2, while Chess24 comes in third. The FIDE website is only ranked number 7, 2 spots behind
The full list is

So playing sites are the most popular, followed by news sites, and finally some training sites.

Wednesday 17 May 2017

Attack of the clones

When I was a member of the FIDE Rules Commission we would occasionally discuss areas where the rules were silent. This wasn't because we felt the issue was too difficult to rule on, but more because we wondered what we would do if someone tried something really bizarre.
One topic was about playing more than 1 game at the same time. It started out as a method of avoiding defaults in team matches (ie could someone play boards 7 and 8 in the same round), and moved on to whether Kasparov could just enter the Olympiad by himself (playing a simul each round). We decided he could not (if the games were to be rated). There was also talk about whether a player could enter two sections of an event and play both at the same time, with a semi-famous case being Michael Adams playing a junior and open event at a British Championship early in his career. Again we thought it wasn't acceptable, in part because there was a risk that a player could 'transfer' information from one game to another, thereby violating the rule about analysing a game on another chessboard.
However the Denver Chess Club has decided to organise a tournament where players can play more than one game at once. The Clone Wars tournament allows a player to enter either as themselves, or to clone themselves once or twice. After that it is a normal event, except clones players are required to play two or three game each round. I assume you can't be paired against your clone, but your (or your clone) could play a different clone of a player you've already met. Whether you could play multiple games against the same opponent in the same round wasn't clear.
The event was run as a 4 round G/60m event, which I would assume gave players enough time to jump between boards (assuming you remembered which boards you were on!). The prize structure was also interesting, where a players total score (including clones) determined the payout (each point was worth a fixed amount). I don't know if the event was USCF rated, but I would assume that such event would not be FIDE rated (even with an eligible time control).
Here is a link to the tournament report, which contains a little more detail on the event than I can give you.

Tuesday 16 May 2017

Better math through chess

I've just come across another study attempting to measure whether teaching chess in the classroom results in better learning outcomes for students. In this case the study looked at replacing 1 math lesson a week with a chess lesson (as opposed to adding an extra chess lesson). The study was carried out in Denmark, involving primary aged students.
Overall the study found a slight improvement in test scores (around 0.1 to 0.18 of a standard deviation), which at first might not sound like much. However, as these were replacement lessons, the result is in fact a lot better, especially if you are trying to get chess coaching into an already crowded calendar. Also of interest is that the study looked at the effects on children who were either unhappy or bored and found  that both these groups showed greater improvement than happy or engaged children. In fact most of the improvement in test scores was attributed to students in these groups.
The whole study is available here and is worth reading not just for the conclusions, but also for the description of the studies methodology. In describing quite clearly their approach, the authors not only help the reader understand their work, but also provide an idea of what to look for in similar studies on chess in education.

Sunday 14 May 2017

Quality control

I was doing a little research for one of my correspondence chess games today, and I came across an issue that occasionally bedevils chess writers (and sometimes players). One of the games in a variation I'm playing was between Kaidanov and Kamsky, both very strong GM's, and therefore a game worth studying. The game itself followed theory up until move 14, when Black played the slightly unusual 14. ... Qe7. However it was his 16th move (16 ... Nh7) that was the real surprise, as it allowed the queen to be captured by the bishop on g5. Fortunately for Black it seems Kaindanov was feeling kind as the bishop retreated the d2 instead!
Of course the real story was that Black almost certainly played 14 ... Qc7 (which is theory) and only later moved the queen to e7 (on move 22). Kaidanov eventually won the game as White, and the mistaken move is quite clear, so the game may prove to be useful after all. However it is always worth double checking whether the moves make sense, as the risk is to blindly follow something that never happened in the first place!

Kaidanov,Gregory S (2640) - Kamsky,Gata (2645) [E75]
USA-ch Long Beach (8), 1993

Saturday 13 May 2017

Stephen Fry explains the Dunning Kruger Effect

The Dunning Kruger effect is a cognitive bias where low-ability individuals overestimate their abilities. It has been known (formally) since 1999, although I am sure this effect was observed well before then, possibly under the heading 'to stupid to know they're stupid'.
For anyone unfamiliar with this effect, there is a short video (narrated by Stephen Fry) which explains it in the context of current American politics.

But what has this to do with chess? In this case not a lot, but it does relate to an observation I've made over the years. The biggest mistakes we make in chess don't happen when we don't have an answer to the problem in front of us, but when we (incorrectly) think we have the best answer to the problem in front of us. Often a game is lost because the move we thought that worked had a fatal flaw in it, and we would have been better off choosing a less flashy move. Usually this is described as over-confidence, which of course is a manifestation of Dunning-Kruger.
By the way, there is a flip side to the Dunning-Kruger effect. Often people who excel at a task don't realise that what they are doing is difficult for the average practitioner, and assume because it is easy for them, it must be easy for everyone. Anyone who has ever coached chess is probably aware of this (although maybe not consciously!)

Friday 12 May 2017

All the way with CAA

While holidaying in the UK over Christmas I got to work with a number of British Arbiters. One thing they do is take arbiting a little more seriously than they do in Australia, even going so far as having an Arbiters Association. The Chess Arbiters Association (CAA) not only provides information and resources to British Arbiters it runs courses for National Arbiters, and produces a regular newsletter on arbiting matters.
The last couple of issues contained some interesting articles, including commentary on the 2016 Victorian Lightning Championship (I did share my perspective with the magazine editor, IA Alex McFarlane). It also reports on interesting incidents that have occurred in other events, including a "What would you decide?" section.
If you want to have a look at back issues of the 'Arbiting Matters' magazine, or just access some of the other resources, you can get all of this at the Chess Arbiters Association homepage.

Thursday 11 May 2017

2017 Asian Individual

The 2017 Asian Individual Championship starts tomorrow in Chengdu, China. As a Continental Championship it has attracted a very strong field, with 33 GM's in the 69 player field. The half way point in the field is 2470 and there are even GM's in the bottom half of the draw.
Now normally I would only have a passing interest in this event (unless Papua New Guinea sends a representative) but I will be taking  greater notice as Australia (and even Canberra) is sending a representative. Junior player Albert Winkelman is the Australian representative this year, and although at the tail of the field, is clearly hoping to continue his good form from the Oceania Zonal, where he just missed out on a direct FM title.
In the first round he is playing GM John Paul Gomez from The Philippines. Certainly a tough opponent, but first rounds of any big events have a few upset results and I am sure Albert is hoping he can create one of them.
The only official website I can find is in Chinese, but there is live coverage at chess24 and results can be found at  The games start at 4pm Canberra time.

Another quick way to draw

One of the benefits of being a chess blogger/magazine editor is that every now and then you receive free books and magazines, either to review, or just because some is looking to send them to a good home. Recently I was fortunate to end up with a collection that included bound copies of Chess World (edited by CJS Purdy) and have been happily flicking through them. In doing so I came across a reasonably well known game, that falls under the heading of the 'quick repetition draw'.
The game was played in 1945 Australian Correspondence Championship and ended in a draw after 7 moves. As it was CC the draw offer was backed up by plenty of analysis, which is sound to this day. In fact after this game was played, this exact variation was played at least 27 times in over the board tournaments, although not every game was drawn. The games where White won seemed to be a case of Black missing the correct follow up on move 11, while Black won if White tried to avoid the draw.

Vaughn,Frank - Purdy,CJS [D82]
Australian CC Championship, 1945

Wednesday 10 May 2017

Chess on a sphere

At school I found spherical trigonometry quite difficult, which is why my career as a Napoleonic Era Naval Captain never really took off. Working with flat surfaces was OK, which instead explains my affinity for chess.
So I assume that I would do quite poorly on the chess board highlighted here. It is a spherical chess board, where the pieces are held in place by magnets. It sits in a frame, and I assume has mechanisms to to rotate the globe so as to provide access to all the pieces and squares.
I'm not sure what the rules for playing on it are, but I assume it is akin to Cylinder Chess (where pieces can leave the board on one side and reenter on the other.). I'm also assuming that pieces cannot cross the 'poles' although it might be a more interesting game if they could.
The set seems to be a one off creation, but the designer (Ben Myers) has posted instructions on how he made it, so if you are interested, you may be able to build one yourself.

Monday 8 May 2017

Sandu controversy - redux

In 2015 concerns were raised about the performance of Mihaela Sandu in the European Women's Championship. Sandu started the event with 5/5, at which point a number of competitors raised questions about the anti-cheating methods in place for the competition, and somewhat unwisely, mentioned Sandu by name. Sandu in return lodged a complaint with the FIDE Ethics Commision, which has finally been decided. (My initial post on the matter is here. I recommend you read the comments as well).
The Ethics Commission has handed downs its judgement, with a variety of punishments being handed out to 15 players named in the complaint. Natalia Zhukova has received a 3 month ban from chess, suspended for a year on the condition she makes no further unfounded accusations against another player. The Ethics Commission regarded her as the chief complainant, and as a result, deserving of the greatest punishment. A further 9 players received a reprimand and warning, while the remaining 5 players received a warning not to repeat the behaviour.
Ultimately this is an important judgement, albeit one that was a little late in delivery. While I was a member of the FIDE Anti-Cheating Committee (ACC), the issue of false public accusations was one that I thought needed to be dealt with, and I pushed hard to have regulations dealing with this included. Of course the work of the ACC was stalled in 2014 as the FIDE Executive lost interest in almost everything that did not directly contribute to re-election of Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, but it seems that after a 2 year hiatus, work is now progressing in this area.
Finally, there are some who may think this judgement will discourage players from reporting suspect cheaters. This was taken into account when the regulations were drafted, and there is a distinction between reporting concerns directly and privately to an arbiter (although a formal complaint may still be requested), and making such suspicions public (noting that there is some dispute about whether this occurred in the Sandu case).
For further coverage on this issue, including a link to the judgement, read the Chessbase report.

Sunday 7 May 2017

Winning (and losing) quickly at CC

It is still possible to win (or lose) quickly at correspondence chess. While there is a belief that *all* CC is played with computers, this belief is misplaced in most instances. Having said that, the quality of CC has increased because of computers, or more correctly, computer databases.
These days most players have access to reasonably similar collections of games, meaning that opening choices should be a little sounder. Also, keeping track of your analysis is a lot easier, as you can just enter, save and review variations, before choosing your move.
Nonetheless, even with these advantages, quick losses still occur. The most common cause of the quick loss is CC is the dreaded loss on time. This sometimes occurs when a player 'silently withdraws' from an event, but simply losing track of a game and forgetting to move is another cause (and one of which I have been guilty).
The second cause is the bane of online players everywhere, the mis-click. And while online CC has a 'enter and confirm' system, I have still seen plenty of games decided this way.
And the third is the good old 'miscalculation'. Often our biggest mistakes happen when we think we've found the best move, only to find we've missed something along the way. This happens quite a lot in non-engine assisted CC, especially when one player fails to look that one move further.
The featured game for this article comes from the 2016 Australian Interstate Teams. I'm pretty sure that this falls under section 2(the 'mis-click'), as White's 12th move is difficult to explain otherwise. After that, all Black needed to do was head for the kingside and mate the undefended king.

Hughes,David (1752) - Gray,Garvin (1993)
AUS/2016/IT (AUS) ICCF, 30.06.2016

Saturday 6 May 2017

4NCL - Guilford win again, White Rose survive

The 4NCL season in the UK has just finished, with Guildford winning the competition again. For their final round game they field 7 GM's and an IM, so it isn't surprising that they scored the maximum 14/14 in match points and 45/56 game points in the Championship section. Cheddleton finished in 2nd place, while the Guildford second team took third.
The White Rose team did not do as well as they have in previous years, but a 5th place finish (with more game points than the teams that finished third and fourth) leaves them in the top division for another year. They also saw one of their players, Matthias Gantner, score an IM norm.
The Second Division was won by Alba (with a strong Scottish representation) with The AD's runners up. They, along with Spirit of Atticus and Cambridge University are promoted to the top section next season. White Rose II (which Harry Press and I played two games for), avoided relegation to Division 3, finishing third in the relegation pool (2 places above the relegation zone).

Thursday 4 May 2017

2017 Asian Seniors

The 2017 Asian Seniors is being held in Auckland, New Zealand from the 9th to the 15th of October. It is being organised by the New Zealand Chess Federation and the Oceania Chess Confederation on behalf of the Asian Chess Federation.
The tournament is a 9 round swiss and will award titles for Over 50 Open, Over 65 Open and Over 50 Womens. (According to FIDE regulations IM for the winner, FM for second and third). The venue is the Waipuna Conference Centre, which was the venue for the 2017 Oceania Zonal, held earlier this year.
The organisers have already announced their first high profile entrant, GM Eugene Torre from The Philippines. Torre was the first GM from Asia, and last year picked up a bronze medal for his score at the 2016 Olympiad. While entries are likely to mainly come from Australia and New Zealand, I would not be surprised to see more than a few IM's and GM's from other Asian countries make the trip to the shaky isles.
Full details of the tournament, including entry conditions can be found at this link.

Ah, chess parents

Last week a story broke about a 12 year old girl who withdrew from a chess event in Malaysia, after being told her dress was 'inappropriate'. I held off on covering the story, as I have seen this sought of story start with sensationalist coverage, before turning out to be not quite what it seemed to be.
The last few days has seen more information come to light, and it does seem that there is more to the case than initially reported. There appears to be no dispute that the comment was made, but the claim is that the comment came from a teacher from the hosting school. But to confuse matters, the teacher was also a tournament arbiter, so it isn't clear whether it was the teacher speaking or the arbiter.
Nonetheless it is still a pretty poor state of affairs, as I have never heard a complaint of this type levelled against a male player (of any age). Nigel Short once had a complaint made against him for playing in shorts, but I don't recall if this was because the sight of his legs was making it hard for other players to concentrate. On the other hand I know of at least 2 well reported incidents in Australia, where the 'making it difficult to concentrate' complaint has been made against female players.
The Malaysian incident has now turned into a battle of competing versions, and legal action is being tossed around by both sides. It will probably run for a bit, and like most incidents of this type, will be misremembered and misreported for years to come.

Monday 1 May 2017

Seniors Chess

Now that I am eligible, Seniors Chess (50 years+) is of greater interest to me than previously. I am thinking of heading to New Zealand in October to player the Asian Seniors, and getting a team to a future World Seniors Championship might also be a goal.
Currently the 2017 edition of the World Seniors Teams Championship is underway in Crete, and while not as popular as the Olympiad, it doesn't look to dissimilar. Of the 98 players in the 50+ section, 20 of them gold the GM title, with the England 1 team fielding 4 of them (Short, Nunn, Speelman and Arkell). However they are only third in the tournament with the St Petersburg team (also containing 4 GM's ) well out in front after 7 rounds.
The 65+ section doesn't have quite as many GM's (only 5!), but 35 titles players in that field is still impressive.
While the top seeded England team may once again fall just short of gold (shades of 1986 Olympiad, plus any Football World Cup bar 1966), GM John Nunn did score a nice attacking win, which reminded me of his games from that earlier period.

Nunn,John - Beilfuss,Wilfried [B30]
World Seniors Teams, 2017