Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Winning With Troubles

Yesterday I won a club game, but I cannot be very proud of the way I did it. After 15 moves I had this position:

Black to move for big advantage

There are two good candidates, one of them making use of a beautiful tactic. What do you think? Comments are open ...

I chose none of them but «patzer sees check, patzer prepares check» with Bb6. My opponent launched a fruitless attack with his queen, and three moves later we were here, again Black to move:

Now I found the right continuation 18. - c4, making use of the principle that you should parry a wing attack with a counterstrike in the center. My move undermines the pawn e4.

Things went up and down, again I let slip my advantage, and finally my opponent blundered a bishop. Well not finally, because the game went for another forty (!) moves. I played it safe, but not strong. That is, whenever I had the opportunity to trade a piece, I traded a tempo. I could have built up stronger pressure and then trade all in a rush. But as it was, I traded, let some counterplay, stopped it by effort, traded again, stopped again counterplay, and so on.

Not my least effort was not to lose patience and let him play until bishop plus two pawns down with zero counterplay. In chess, as a winner, you are obliged to be patient to your loser, whatever he does or how long he likes to play. Even if he captures your pawn just before queening and then resigns so that you cannot recapture. Everybody has his psycho strategy for coping with loss.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Happy Hunting With King, Bishop and Knight

I have done KBN vs. K exercises several days now, and interestingly I learned that Wormwood did exactly the same in december.

The way I do it is simple: I mingle the four pieces in my hands and put them on the board, not looking. Then I give the black King who is losing anyway the first move.

After having reached the theoretical start position at the border I usually stop, because now follows the well-known standard procedure. But from time to time I do it a tempo, just to refresh.

But the interesting part is chasing the King from a random position to the border. I mean the optimal way. I mean as fast as possible. And I mean with the optimal defense of the black King.

The most fascinating situation occurs if I manage to chase the King not to the theoretical starting position which is at the sixth file from the goal corner, but somewhere in between, entering the highway from a side road.

More about this in a later post ...

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

The Easy Way of Improving

Not so long ago, after a drop, my rating has been around 1620. Now, not even a year later, it is 1820. How did I manage? Hard training at Chess Tactics Server? New thought process? Better positional feeling or endgames?

Nope. Much easier: I got a FIDE rating!

It reflects the fact that I use to play better against stronger opponents, which also have a FIDE rating. It also reflects the fact that I sometimes have blundered against weaker opponents, and I paid for that with national rating points.

Anyway, my national goal always has been 1800 points, and it is nice to have reached it on international level. Well, I like the idea that this is my «real» rating and that the lag of national points will gradually disappear. Time will tell.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Two Games In One

Yesterday, in our club championship, I was White against a 1720. He knows zero theory but is able to survive against weaker players. Well, I was up 2 pawns from move 10. This was the end of the first game and the begin of the second.

In earlier days, in such situations, I always became euphoric with the very, very bad mentality that «the game was over» because I had «already won». I had to learn my lessons and lost many second games. Just because I was not aware that only the first game had been over, and that a second game has begun, which is completely different.

«If you are winning, it is a completely different game.»

A very important point, brought up by Dan Heisman in one of his older Novice Nook columns at The most important point is that security and the conservation of the advantage and the destruction of every possible counterplay are first goals, and that all other considerations become secondary.

My second game lasted three times longer than the first, about 30 moves. I played it solidly most times. Once or twice I lost some time with pawn moves. Pawn moves with material advantage are potentially dangerous, because they may allow the opponent to open the position and get counterplay. Furtunately, this was not the case, and finally I had my pawn endgame with still two pawns up and won with move 45.

At a board to my left side I watched how a second game should not be played: He was the Exchange plus a pawn up but allowed a counterattack with Rook and Knight against his King which ended drawn in an eternal check.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Differential View

This idea was behind a short comment of mine to a post of Temposchlucker. It was too short to make the point clear. But I think it is so important that it deserves a full post. I begin with some trivial definitions and remarks.

The general goal of a move
Every move should make the own pieces better and/or the opponent pieces worse. Making a piece better is making it safer and/or more active. A better piece has a higher dynamic value, as opposed to its static value. Example: If the dynamic value of a bishop is higher than that of a rook, the sacrifice of the Exchange will add value.

Safety and activity
Safety is a tactical issue and always must be considered first. Activity is a positional issue. If more activity is accumulated on the board, the safety is diminished. In other words, positional superiority leads to more tactics. The opposite is also true: More safety often leads to less activity (example: the King in the middlegame vs. in the endgame). All this is not new, I only mention it as a starting point of my reasoning.

What is the best move?
Attempt of a definition by differential view: The best move is the one that maximizes the dynamic value difference between the own pieces and the opponent pieces, either in safety or in activity or in both.

Yes, it is trivial, but ...
Every cheap chess software does this all the time: It evaluates the position and calculates a value in pawn units for one or the other side. What should be done is easily said but not so easily done. The problem is that we flesh-and-blood players are not very fit for multitasking and balanced thinking. We like to simplify. We like to look at our own plans or at the plans of the opponent, but not both at the same time. One more difficulty is that the differential view must not only take place between own and opponent position, but also between safety and activity. If I see it right, things get four-dimensional. Plus two of these dimensions, safety and activity, are reciprocal which makes the thing non-linear or chaotic. The outcome is everything else than trivial, I would say.

Simple scenarios (positional)
Trade a bad bishop (knight) against a good knight (bishop). Take your worst piece and make it better (say, by 0.9 pawn units) while there is no possibility to make an opponent piece worse. Take the best piece of the opponent and make it worse by 1.3 pawn units while making your worst piece better would only add 0.9 pawn units in your favour.

Not so simple scenarios (tactics involved)
Adding much more activity to an own piece at the price of security, adding some dynamic value also to opponent pieces. Pawn break in a previously quiet position, making the board burn at once.

Chess is not an easy game. But sometimes it may be easier than we think. Maybe it becomes easier if we adopt a strictly differential view, always looking at a position from both sides, every time. We should not be lawyers for our own party, we should be judges.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Punished For Not Looking Twice

«If you see a good move, look for a better one.»

After 1020 problems solved without blunder I got this one. Oh, wow, double check, I said to myself, there is nothing stronger than a double check. I saw Ne4++ and moved it. OOOOPS. Too late.

Anyway, this tells me one important thing. The problem is not knowing a rule or guideline. The problem is applying it. This is what my CTS training is about. And I learn every day that this is VERY HARD.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Checks, Captures, Threats Revisited

This year is now a week old, and I have done CTS every day, and I have not made one single error yet. That is, a blank 585, I think I doubled my old personal record.

Several times I have been on the verge to blunder, but each time I have been sucessful with my new character LookTwice, called after the rule «If you see a good move, look for a better one.» Of course you will not earn much rating with such a strategy, but this is not my goal. My goal is to practise the right approach looking at a position for slow OTB games.

Several more times I have spent a huge time amount on very low rated problems, and it is interesting to see how this happened. In nearly every case my fault has been not looking at checks first, because a capture or a threat jumped into my eye. Or if I saw a check, not looking at other possible checks before calculating it.

It also turns out that it is more difficult to figure out what is NOT on the board than what is on it. This is why I use much time, sometimes 20 or 30 seconds, just to decide that a direct recapture is the best move.

Maybe I have found my thought process now, and all I need is to practise it on CTS until it has become my second nature:
  1. Is there a tactic? If yes, meet/exploit it. If not, play a positional move (at CTS mostly: recapture).
  2. When it comes to candidate moves, sort them in the order of checks, captures, threats.
  3. If you see a good move, look for a better one (CTS example: Checkmate rather than taking the Queen).

Saturday, January 06, 2007

A Proof For The Mousetrapper Conjecture?

Dan Heisman, in his recent article @ Chesscafe, has stated that checks always should be considered first, but given only if they do something good. His example of a bad check was from an endgame. I think this is no coincidence, which led me to the following

Mousetrapper Conjecture: «A check in the middlegame is more likely to be the best move than a check in the endgame.»

Common sense tells me that this should hold true. But I am not satisfied until I have managed to prove it by logic, derived from chess axioms. I use the following axiom list:
  1. The King must be safe from checkmate.
  2. A safe King must be active.
  3. A King can only be checkmated by pieces.
  4. The less pieces on the board, the less squares are controlled by pieces.
  5. A major piece giving check cannot block as many squares around the King as can block a major piece not giving check.
  6. The best move is the one which does most good for the player who is to move.
  7. What is good for one player is bad for his opponent, and vice versa.

Now let's begin with the logic. The King must be safe from checkmate. Checkmate can only be given by pieces. Therefore, with less pieces on the board, the King becomes safer. The definition on an endgame is not clear-cut, but generally, there are less pieces in an endgame than in a middlegame. Less pieces is equal to less squares controlled by pieces. A King is safer if he has access to more squares not controlled by (opponent) pieces. Therefore, a King is safer in the endgame than in the middlegame.

This also means that a King in check generally has more options in the endgame than in the middlegame. Therefore, his chance of getting a better (more active) position when escaping check in the endgame is likely to be higher than escaping a check in the middlegame. Hence a check in the endgame is more likely to be a bad move, chasing the opponent King to a better square. If the check is given by a major piece, the number of squares where the King cannot go is diminished, hence his chance is higher to get a better square, which is good for him, which is bad for the player giving check.

Quod erat demonstrandum. Maybe I should call it now «Mousetrapper's Rule»? BTW there exists also a practical proof: Try to checkmate a naked King with your Queen and King, and you will use more moves by giving multiple queen checks than by silently chasing the King in Knight's distance just to give only one final checkmate.

But the most important question remains: Will it help in a practical game? I think it could, because it is a good option to always consider checks first, and then comes the critical evaluation of whether the check is a checkmate, leading to checkmate, improving the position, gaining material, or if it does nothing, or if it helps the opponent. So, it might be no bad strategy: If you see a check in the middlegame, consider it at least once, if you see a check in the endgame, consider it at least twice.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Better 10 Axioms Than 1000 Rules

My last post was about proving endgame rules by deducing them from endgame axioms. Interestingly, Dan Heisman, in his last column of 2006, has brought up the same idea. He says that chess axioms are basically common sense and that most chess rules can be simply proven by reducing them to the axioms. DH cannot deny that he is a mathematician.

I like his idea very much. Just two examples.

Axiom 1: Knights are slower than Bishops. Axiom 2: A positional move should maximize the gain in activity. Rule: Move Knights before Bishops in the opening. Prove: A fast piece on his home square is better than a slow piece on his home square, therefore, a Knight gains more activity with his first move than a Bishop. Of course, this holds only if no tactic (safety issue) is involved.

Axiom 1: An inactive piece is better than a lost piece. Axiom 2: Tactics is about piece safety, strategy (positional play) is about piece activity. Rule: Think first tactics, then strategy. Prove: Events like the Kramnik mate-in-one blunder.

It is worth reading Dan Heismans column, because he gives many other examples.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Pawn Endgame Basics

One of the fascinating things in pawn endgames is that they are very similar to mathematics. It works with a set of rules, many of them based upon more basic rules. What I try to do these days is to deduce the well-known rules of pawn endgames from the very basic rules.

1. Square of the Pawn
The most important question for the defending King: Is he inside or outside the square of the pawn running to queen? If inside, the attacking King must help his pawn to queen. The square of the pawn is a direct function of the ability of the King to move diagonally with the same vertical speed as the pawn.

2. The Back Rank Stalemate
The position with the defending King on 8th rank, the attacking pawn on 7th rank and the attacking King on 6th rank, all on the same file, is drawn by stalemate. From this position can derived the important rule that the attacking pawn must not give check on the 7th rank. And from this Silent Seventh Rank Rule can derived the rule that the King reaching the 6th rank in front of his pawn wins the game in any case.

3. The Key Squares
A key square for the attacker is a square that wins the game for the attacking King if he manages to reach it. A key square for the defender is a square that draws the game for the defending King if he manages to reach it. In both cases the win or draw is not influenced by the position of the other King or by the fact who is to move. The ultimate key squares for the attacker are those adjacent to the promotion square while the attacking king is able to defend his pawn. All other key squares are sufficient to bring the attacker to this ultimate situation by means of zugzwang. For instance if the attacker has the opposition in front of his pawn, he will reach the ultimate key square by force.

4. Corresponding Squares
For every square in relation to a key square there is one or more corresponding squares for the opponent King. Moving to one square while the opponent King is on the corresponding square is an advantage, leading to win for the attacker or draw for the defender. Being forced to leave a square while the opponent is on the corresponding square is a disadvantage, leading to draw for the attacker and to loss for the defender. The opposition, direct or distant, is just a special case of corresponding squares when there are no other pawns around.

5. Spare Tempi
Spare tempi are a very important means to set the opponent into zugzwang. It is very important to be aware of them and take them into account. If the opponent has a spare tempo, the rule of corresponding squares is just contrary: It is an advantage then to move away from a square while the opponent is on the corresponding square. The spare tempo also explains why the key squares of a single pawn on 2nd to 4th rank are not one, but two ranks before the pawn. If the defender gives opposition, the attacker parries it with a pawn move.

6. Counter Attack
Sometimes the defender, unable to stop the attacker to queen, can get his queen in turn, securing a draw or even a win.