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Thursday, January 5, 2017

Tall, dark, and mysterious -- and tough!


So last night at chess club was a little different for me.

I'm playing the normal guys, who are tough but not that tough. Kind of like me. I win more games than I lose there, though, and I'm currently rated in the mid-1500s, so that gives you an idea of the general strength of the club. That being said, I feel I'm quite underrated, as I haven't played a rated tourney game in many years. I feel I lean more toward 1800, give or take. Either way, class player, big nobody.

Anyhow, I'm playing games with them and in walks a new player to the club -- possibly Filipino and a little older than I am, I believe -- with an hour to go for the night. He is quiet, a bit mysterious, but cordial enough.

Charlie, one of our regulars, tells him: "You'll probably want to play Derek, as he's the only one who'll offer much of a challenge."

Okaaaay, I'm thinking, what the heck is this?

The guy sits down and I can tell by the way he moves the pieces, the way he physically moves them, I mean, that he knows what the hell he's doing. That's another thing people don’t talk about, frankly: the fact that a seasoned player actually handles the pieces differently almost every time. This particular cat has real long, skinny fingers and he'd pick a piece up with the very tips of them and then, kind of in an odd dance-move way, he'd sling them to the intended squares. That's the best way I can describe it.

And he was strong. I knew it immediately. He didn’t play like the other guys, not even close. This guy is a pressure cooker, the type player where each and every move means something, is a threat, and you have to watch closely or it's curtains quickly. He played fast, too, which told me he was playing most the opening from memory. I was, too, but I play a little slower than he was playing as a general rule, just in case I miss something.

Anyhow, he plays e4 and I shoot out Nf6 for an Alekhine. He pushes to e5 for the chase variation and the battle is going. I get into a little trouble, he gets into a little trouble, the position gets very, very dicey and unclear -- muddled, dare I say, like some of Alekhine's games. The position was so thick with threats it was bordering on ridiculous. It was as if a child were told to randomly put all the pieces on any squares he chose and then we came into it blind, just trying to figure it out.

Well, long story short, he sacrifices a knight that I cannot take. But I give him absolute hell for trying in the first place by batting his queen around for several moves, all the while slowly, slowly wiggling into a better position, myself. It took maybe seven or ten moves but finally, finally, I was able to wriggle my way into a place where I could take the blamed knight. It was still dangerous as hell, but I could tell it was reasonably safe. For the moment.

At this point, my heart is going a mile a minute, this guy is moving very slowly now and talking to himself while he thinks, the whole place is leaning over our game, and some are muttering that they don’t even understand what's going on because there are literally so many threats from each side it was tough to make any assessment. Which is, of course, how we both felt as players, too.

After I snapped that knight off and got my own knight into the game (which he'd corralled on the darned a-file for 15 or 20 moves), I ended up with a checkmate threat from two directions, no way to defend. He kept checking me with his queen, just kind of hoping I'd blunder into a mate, myself, as he had plenty of opportunity should I misstep, but in the end I held my own and retained my piece.

The freaking coffee shop blinked the lights to tell us they were closing so, a half-hour and about ten moves later, we quickly agreed to a draw and the look on his face told him he was glad for it -- I know I was. I told him it was like the knife coming out of my back and laughed: Painful, yes, but full of relief, as well. Even though it was an agreed draw, I can't help but think that I won the game. Still, the position was really strange and opportunities were everywhere, so who knows.

And, as is par for the course, the game was really important to me and I'd like nothing more than to study it more, but I hadn't written it down. Even though I had my pad with me. Yeah, I'm that guy.

So my opponent goes to the bathroom real quick and Charlie leans in and tells me he's "very, very impressed."

Puzzled, I asked him why.

"He's a 2170 and plans to become master this summer. Nobody here can get that far with him, and especially not with an Alekhine defense."

My eyes went wide and I was on top of the world. By then it was after 10:00 at night and so I had to race home and get to bed, but we yapped a little bit about today's players vs. yesteryear's, about right and wrong ways to learn and improve, about Fischer and Alekhine -- it was chessgasmic!

I had inadvertently gained the respect of a candidate master and then had a wonderful conversation with him and Charlie. If there's a better night at chess club, I sure haven’t seen it.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

The good moves nobody saw

Image result for chess coffee shop


So I’m at the chess club last night, delivering a proper thrashing to an older opponent I’d never faced before. He’d lost a piece early in the game but played on, forcing me to prove my worth.

Okay, I says to myself. He wants to get trounced, that’s what we’ll do.

But I didn’t rush; I took my time, tried to understand the position. After all, there’s little more embarrassing than losing a won game OTB, right?

I began to see sacrifices everywhere that netted me gain. Working through all the variations in my head took some time, but I felt I had some solid plays. Flashy, even. So flashy, in fact, that I admittedly kept looking up from the game to see if anyone was watching.

They weren't.

How could nobody be seeing this? How were they so wrapped up in their own games or conversations that my brilliant plays should go unnoticed? Like a child, I hesitated much longer between moves than necessary, hoping that someone would glance over at my game. I’d see their eyebrows go up, followed by the quick glance at me that would have resulted in raised eyebrows and a smile in return.

Still, nothing.

The energy (at least to me) was palpable. The endless continuations and sharp plays available to me were nothing short of fascinating. And yet, the men of the chess club continued to toil over their own positions, their own plays.

I couldn't blame them, but why does it seem that I’ve three to four players gathered round me when I’m doing the losing? Why does it seem like everyone wanders around, hands behind their backs, nodding and tilting heads only when the games are stale and boring or I’m receiving a whooping?

While my opponent thought, I began looking at their boards, at their positions, in hopes of a return glance. But it was no use: They were entranced in the happenings directly to their fronts, heads cradled in hands, the occasional sigh escaping lips as they contemplated.

I won the game with a double piece sacrifice for a forced mate —— a wonderful ending that only I enjoyed, that only I and my opponent witnessed. And he sure won't be sharing it about.

Alas, such is the torture of live chess.


P.S. Before anyone asks, I’d forgotten my chess notation books. The game is lost, although I could probably reconstruct the final position if I tried really hard. 

Photo credit: Greeley Tribune

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Chess Sideshows Are Rubbish

On Jan. 6, 7, chess prodigy Hikaru Nakamura took on Komodo, one of the world’s strongest chess engines and ... oh, blah, blah, blah. I am thoroughly unimpressed. Even though it was a pawn-odds match, meaning the monster engine started each game with one of its pawns missing, it still won. Was anybody surprised, truly?


Image credit: Chess.com

Now, before you go shaking your head at the monitor, silently accusing me of ‘hating computer chess’ or ‘not getting on with the times, man’, I’ll have you know that I virtually lived on various chess sites for many years and have much, much more engine experience than even I’m comfortable admitting.

I love chess engines. They are fun, they are fast, they are strong, they make great study partners, and I’ve written about them substantially in blogs and articles, both good and bad. To this day, I run every long game I play through Shredder running on a Fritz platform. That being said, I’m also very well acquainted with Winboard, ChessPartner, Arena, Dasher, Blitzin, Chesspad and quite a few other engine platforms.

Still, I think matches like these are bad form, bad taste, and bad for chess. In my mind, it makes a spectacle of the world’s elite. Nakamura, for instance, could beat anyone reading this blog post 100 out of 100 games at any time control, assuming the top ten players in the world do not read my chess entries. And yet, he subjects himself to a sideshow of sorts, conceding to technology for the world to see.

Sad.

I feel that we Chess Plebians should only view masters —— especially the FMs, IMs, and GMs ——  as nobles of our game, upper-class wood pushers to be looked up to, emulated. But as one GM after another (it seems to be all the rage today for GMs to make asses of themselves playing against engines for a little coin) gets trampled by chess tech, their ‘clout’, if you will, their street cred, drops substantially.

Today, as public spectacles such as Man Vs. Machine and our world champion being careened through the air in car commercials are on display for all the world to see, I’m betting most of us just want to watch the top players do battle. We just want to see them meet somewhere, off the books, and duke it out at whatever their chosen time control. We want to know what makes them tick, how they study/practice, if they still play for fun sometimes at a club or coffee shop, and whether or not they think they can beat certain engines.

It’s like Fischer vs. Alekhine or Kasparov vs. Morphy: We all say we’d love to see those matches but in reality, the wondering is better.

I’d personally rather wonder if Naka could put the hurt on today’s engines than watch him get slaughtered by them.

But that’s just me.


Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Chess: The Other Sport


Do I want chess to become mainstream? Do I want it to pick up corporate sponsors so the elite grandmasters are forced to play in Tide jackets or Nike ball caps and do commercials about teeth whitening products? Not in a zillion years. But boy, oh boy, I would really like there to be more players and fans.

Football. Hey, it’s an iconic American activity like baseball or eating too much or faking like you think politically correct things all the time. I get it, I really do, but I’ve never been a real sports fan. While I can appreciate someone who can hit umpteen homeruns in a row, a man who makes the touchdown of the century, or a heavyweight boxer who has literally knocked out every opponent who has ever faced him, it’s just not what floats my boat. Not entirely.

To each his own and trust me, those aren’t just words coming from me. I truly believe in them. If you wish to spend your Sundays eating and drinking too much and watching cars go round and round for five hundred miles or seeing unreasonably large and aggressive men sweat on a field, by all means, that’s yo thang. I don’t say much about it, because I can appreciate that people appreciate things that other than the things I do. I hope that makes sense.

But so why, then, is it okay for everyone to knock chess so easily? When I tell folks I’d rather play or watch chess than turn on the NFL, I’m sure you can imagine the looks and comments I get. I’m assuming because sports are very mainstream and chess is not, I’m seen as somewhat of a freak for choosing one over the other, and that’s okay; I probably am a freak. But I’m a freak who likes chess and keeps his mouth shut when it comes to other people’s passions. I wish more would do the same or, at the very least, give chess a try. It makes me wonder how many potential masters spend their spare time eating Cheetos and yelling at the television because some athlete screwed up a play.

For me personally, watching sports is just too passive an activity. I suppose it would be different if the fans of sports were also athletes themselves. It’s one thing to watch the big game and then go play it on a field, but quite another to fall into a drunken sleep, fingers orange and salty, belly protruding, mouth wide open. ‘merika.

And that, friends, is where chess and sports really differ. I can spend a few hours watching a top-tier match between two famous grandmasters and then actually compete in the game myself. No, not at the GM level, but that isn’t to say I couldn’t if I had the time and resources. But very few NFL fans are going to be drafted this next season, straight from the couch. That’s all I’m saying.

In our society, it is far, far more acceptable to be entertained by three-hundred-pound men hurling themselves at each other over a ball that isn’t even round than to enjoy an afternoon playing a quiet game of chess with a friend. I’m no psychologist, so I’m not sure what that indicates, but my best guess is that it probably isn’t great.

Don’t get me wrong, here, I’m not saying society would improve if everyone played chess, I’m not saying people would be better if they enjoyed the gentelman’s game, and I’m not saying sports are bad in any way, shape, or form. What I am saying, though, is that if more people had open minds, they’d surely receive more out of life.

Sucks to be them. My mind has been doorless since I was born. Bring it on, I say. I have watched sports, I know most of the rules to all of the games, and I even enjoy them time to time. But to be burned at the stake for choosing rook sacrifices over double plays is just backward-ass thinking.


Now, go checkmate someone. Or don’t. 

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Chess and Biorhythms




Do you follow your biorhythms? Few do, so don’t worry if your brow furled just now. I (and many others) believe that biorhythms play a huge role in our daily lives. All we need to know is what they are doing at any given moment. 

What are they?
In a nutshell, they are slow but steady fluctuations in our bodies and minds that affect us each and every day. They start the day we are born and move in a predictable pattern throughout our lives. That’s why we are able to follow them if we know how.

Our biorhythms tell us the condition of our physical, emotional, and intellectual properties. Those parts of us actually fluctuate wildly from real low to real high and everywhere in between, and not necessarily at the same time.

I go here: http://www.bio-chart.com/ and follow what’s going on with me. I just entered my birthday in, saved it, and each day I merely hit the Calc! button and I instantly know what to expect for the day.

Pfft, yeah, but do they work?
They do for me, kiddos. The only thing is, after years of following my biorhythms, I’ve found that my mental actually works somewhat opposite the chart in a sense. I believe it’s because of ADD. When it says my intellectual should be in the dumps, I almost always play my best chess. When it says my intellectual is high, I can’t play for nothin’.

But the physical and emotional are dead on, day after day, month after month, year after year. You know the old saying Knowledge is power? Well, it really is in this case! Let’s take a look at a few of the ways I use my biorhythms to help me in everyday life.

If my intellectual is low, as I mentioned, I find that my mind works slower yet much, much more efficiently for chess and other things. A low intellectual reading means it’s time to seek a standard game on the ‘net and dominate. When my intellectual is high, my thoughts are extremely fast and scattered. That doesn’t mean I can’t think, it just means I believe I’m less accurate and more prone to wandering.

If my physical is high, I really feel noticeably stronger. When it reports as low, I’m usually feeling tired and drained, just as it claims I should. I play my best chess when my intellectual is low and physical high.

When my emotional report is in the dumps, I usually *feel* in the dumps. Overly sensitive, a bit confused on what’s going on in life, dramatic. It’s spot on, every time. When it’s high, that’s the time to socialize and write and share and generally be engaged.

This isn’t a fake horoscope or a wives’ tale, either; this is scientific stuff that just never found its way to the mainstream. It’s much easier to read what some asswipe wrote about you and the stars than it is to consistently follow what’s happening inside our bodies and minds for real. That’s just the way it goes. 

I implore you to follow the readings on http://www.bio-chart.com/ for at least one month. Compare its claims to how you actually feel and think, and you’ll see what I mean. It’s eerily accurate and a great tool for predicting how we’ll do in almost everything. 

Just enter in your birthday, save it on the site, and check it every day as part of your internet surfing. If, after a month, you feel it’s total BS and it didn’t work at all for ya, let me know. In fact, let me know either way; I’m interested to see how it works with others because it sure works for me.

More biorhythm info: 


Wednesday, January 22, 2014

King Hunts and Lazy Bishops: The Bird


So last night an odd thing happened. I was playing an 1800 on the ICC. It was late and I was feeling adventurous, so I opened our second 45/3 game with 1. f4, also known as The Bird. It always provides an entertaining game, so I went for it.

As typical for the way *I* play 1. f4, my queenside bishop didn’t develop right away. Then, during the middle game, it still didn’t develop. In fact, all through my ultimately successful king hunt, the thing never, ever developed. And yet, amazingly, it actually helped to entomb black’s king down on *my* side of the board.

I wonder what the chances are? Oh, sure, beginner games get extremely wild. But what are the chances a couple A players will experience a game like that? It was surreal, I can tell you that.

I’ve listed the game below in PGN format. You can copy/paste into your favorite chess program and check it out if you like. I haven’t even gone over the game with my engine yet; I woke up and thought I’d better share this sucker. That was something else!

[Event "ICC 45 3"]
[Site "Internet Chess Club"]
[Date "2014.01.22"]
[Round "-"]
[White "Skwerly"]
[Black "FreshSocks"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ICCResult "White declared winner by adjudication"]
[WhiteElo "1833"]
[BlackElo "1781"]
[Opening "Bird's opening"]
[ECO "A02"]
[NIC "VO.07"]
[Time "00:48:53"]
[TimeControl "2700+3"]

1. f4 g6 2. e4 Bg7 3. Nf3 c5 4. Nc3 d6 5. Bb5+ Bd7 6. Qe2 Nc6 7. O-O Nd4 8.
Bxd7+ Qxd7 9. Qd3 Nxf3+ 10. Qxf3 O-O-O 11. a4 h5 12. a5 Bd4+ 13. Kh1 Nh6 14.
a6 e6 15. axb7+ Qxb7 16. Qd3 Ng4 17. Nb5 Nf2+ 18. Rxf2 Bxf2 19. Rxa7 Qb6 20.
Rxf7 Rhe8 21. c4 d5 22. Qa3 Kb8 23. Nc7 Qxc7 24. Rxc7 Kxc7 25. Qa7+ Kd6 26.
e5+ Kc6 27. cxd5+ Kxd5 28. Qb7+ Kc4 29. Qe4+ Kb3 30. d3 Rd4 31. Qe2 Ra8 32.
Qd1+ Ka2 33. b3 {Black resigns} 1-0

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Houdini: The Best, Sure, but Necessary?



Oh, boy. I was reading a ChessBase article this morning, and they said something I thought was fantastically asinine and mind-bogglingly incorrect. I have been arguing about this exact thing for years now.  Here is the quote, regarding the Houdini 3 engine that is now available commercially:

If you were going to consult someone on a chess position, and had the choice between a grandmaster or the world champion, wouldn’t you opt for the world champion even if the grandmaster already provided an answer beyond your personal ability?

What? Why? That is ridiculous, in my opinion. Claiming that only the world champion would be the best coach/advice giver is completely off base. Miles and miles off base.

If I had a child who was just beginning to swim, would I need to hire Michael Phelps for lessons? Anything else is second best? Good grief, no. If I were starting to learn guitar, there would be many teachers besides Eddie Van Halen himself that would suit me just fine. 

It’s hype, folks. Most of the people who ask what engine they need are at the beginner or low intermediate chess level, and carry a rating somewhere between 1,100 and 1,600 Elo.

If we were to believe the article, then that player would benefit more from what the world chess champion has to say about their games as opposed to someone rated only a thousand or two above him. What a crock. That’s a load if I’ve ever heard one.

Is the new Houdini engine strong and smooth? Oh, I have no doubt. I just don’t happen to believe that, above the 3,000 Elo level, 100 points here and there is worth the sixty bucks you have to shell out vs. a free engine that’ll do the same thing for 99% of players out there.

Here is one thing I did like, though, being an engine fan:

These databases are known as endgame tablebases, and even just the sets with up to five pieces, take up about 7 GB. The Scorpio bitbases do the exact same thing, with perfect knowledge, but take up about 300MB and can be stored in the RAM, making them far more compact and easy for the engine to consult on the fly.

Okay, that’s pretty cool. That’s really cool, in fact. I have been into chess engines since around 2004, and I have seen tons of changes along the way. Back then, though, I would sign my engine on to a playing server and get into battles with other engines.

Tweaking them was the name of the game, back then. But they weren’t playing at the 3,300 level. I was screwing around with fast and strong (for then) engines like Aristarch, Arasan, TheKing (Chessmaster’s engine), Gandalf, Ruffian, and myriad others. This was all before the introduction of engines like Rybka and Fruit, two strong engines that pretty much wrecked the fun. 

In short: Hey, if you want to shell out sixty bucks so that you can say you have the strongest engine in the world, go for it. Houdini is a very, very nice engine and it’ll never let you down. If, however, you just need a grandmaster strength study partner, almost any free engine will do just fine. Trust me on that.

If you are rated in the 1,000, 1,500 or even 1,900 range, the 2,700 rated engine is going to tell you the exact same thing about your games that a 3,500 rated engine will. 

Just sayin’.


Looking forward, as always, to your comments.