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Friday, April 27, 2012

The Internet is Changing Chess


Well, that’s a pretty broad statement, but a very true one, as most of you realize. Beyond the obvious changes, though, lie subtle ones that are so commonplace now, some chess players might not even know they are new. Let’s take a look at a few of the ways Internet and computers have changed chess, permanently.

1. Hate-sitting

Sometimes called ‘clock-sitting’, it is when one player, usually the losing one, just stops moving and allows their clock to run down instead of resigning. It’s annoying in bullet chess, it’s downright uncool in long games. Back when chess was only played OTB, hate-sitting was a rare occurrence, indeed. It’s much more difficult to sit there with a smirk on your face letting your clock run down while your opponent is two feet away, physically looking at you.

2. Fast time controls

Sure, the old masters played speed chess, but not one-minute games, and not with anywhere near the regularity they appear today. In fact, there are far more bullet games played on the ‘net each day than any other type of chess. That is definitely a sign of the times. It’s very hard to play 2/1 when your clock is an hourglass.

3. Cheating

Ah, yes, cheating; you knew it had to be mentioned. There have been OTB cheaters, but the number is so miniscule compared to online cheaters as not to be mentioned. We’ve all heard of Toiletgate and the incident at the World Open a few years back, but OTB cheaters are caught pretty readily, whereas online cheaters using a program are much harder to detect, especially if they are doing it correctly.

4. Regularity

Imagine, for a second, there were no Internet chess games available. You would have to wait until club night or, if there are no clubs in your area, you’d have to play limited opponents that would likely be crushed by you every game if they were only casual players. Today, we can hop online and within seconds get any kind of chess game we choose, and against any type of opponent. That is amazing, when you think about how the chess-world was pre-Bobby Fischer. Just amazing!

5. Lessons for FREE!

Alekhine couldn’t sign on to YouTube in 1924 and learn the newest lines of an opening he was interested in. Back then, it was learn it by books or innovation, or don’t learn it at all. I believe this is one of the many reasons that kids and new players are so much stronger today than they were back when. Every one of us has access to thousands and thousands of chess lessons and published games at the click of a mouse.

6. Discussion forums (such as chessforums.org)

Before the common household use of computers, you discussed chess news and lines with someone you physically knew (or maybe by telephone or mail), or you didn’t discuss them at all. Today, information moves so quickly that the average player knows much more about all facets of the game than they did in Alekhine’s day; that’s a fact.

7. Study habits

Before computers, players were meticulously going over opening lines, endgame techniques, and working things out with other players over an actual board. Today, we can fire up any of a gajillion databases, watch a sea of videos, hire strong masters to train us via Skype, and use powerful engines to immediately evaluate any position in the world. Times, they say, are a changin’.

8. Money

The Internet has opened up a great big highway for the money monster. Masters can now charge for lessons and give them from the comfort of their own homes. Businessmen can open up pay chess sites and collect both member and ad revenue. Grandmasters are paid to host online simuls, give lectures on games or theory, record video lessons for the masses, and even play each other. Try that in 1930. 

There are myriad other ways that the Internet/computer has changed chess, but I’ll leave you with those eight for now. Who knows what lies in the next five, ten, fifteen years? The huge changes we will see are going to be both exhilarating and terrifying.  

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Carlsen on Colbert


Eh. I’m torn on this one, I guess. If you missed it, you can check it out here:


No matter what Jen Shahade and others try, chess has always been and likely always will be sort of an ‘underground’ type thing. Having said that, I’m not sure that putting Carlsen on the Stephen Colbert show and broadcasting a couple of his modeling photos is going to do chess any good.

Then there were the questions: Do the pieces talk to you?

Really?

I realize that Colbert has his thing going and he has a show to run, but that’s the best he could come up with for the world’s highest-rated chess player? I know he had to make some schtick out of the whole thing, but I think any seventh-grader could have come up with that one.

And then challenging him to rock, paper, scissors; c’mon now! I’m glad, at least, that Carlsen won. I know that a joke is a joke and that I’m likely super-sensitive when it comes to chess heroes being ridiculed on live TV, but I was truly hoping for more than a three-minute waste of time segment of the show.

Weren’t you?

Any attempt to make chess mainstream is going to immediately fall on its face, and I think that’s a good thing. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to see a bunch of flat-biller morons wearing Tapout shirts at chess events, toting pitchers of beer and blaring house music.

No thank-you, ma’am.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Alexander Alekhine: No, he didn't choke.



Photo from ChessBase.com, not mine.

Recent posts at http://www.chessforums.org/ have prompted me to create the blog entry I have always wanted to: One about Alexander Alekhine’s mysterious death. His entire life was shrouded in a sort of clouded veil but his death, I believe, is a downright conspiracy.

I’m pretty darned well-read when it comes to Alekhine. One guy who may surpass my own knowledge is GM Kevin Spraggett, who also thinks that Alekhine didn’t choke on any meat when he died. You can find his blogs on the subject here:

http://kevinspraggett.blogspot.com/2009/03/part-1-alekhines-death.html

http://kevinspraggett.blogspot.com/2009/03/part-2-alekhines-death.html

Also, the ChessBase article outlining the subject:

http://www.chessbase.com/newsdetail.asp?newsid=3005

As you can deduce for yourself having read those articles, the world-champion chess match between Alekhine and Botvinnik was officially put into motion on Saturday, the 23rd of March, 1946. Alekhine was found dead the next morning, having “choked” on meat.

Puhleeze.

While Alekhine was born in Russia, he was playing for France. It is my belief that the Russians were terrified that a defector, Alekhine, would destroy Botvinnik, one of their own, over the board. Botvinnik was good, yes, but was he good enough to beat one of the strongest tacticians ever to grace the game of chess? They couldn’t take that chance.

The Russians, instead of risking one of their own being embarrassed by Alekhine, decided to snuff-out the problem permanently. If his death were just a total coincidence, and positively of natural causes, I likely wouldn’t bat an eye at it.

But it wasn’t.

If you look at the photo, which I snagged from ChessBase (it can be found on a ton of sites, though), you’ll see that Alekhine appears peaceful, as if he just dropped off in his sleep. One second there, the next, not.

Bullshit.

You don’t need to be a medical doctor or a forensic scientist to know that people, when choking on food, don’t just lay back and let it happen. Therefore, there is just no way that his chess table would still be set up like that, that his dinner tray would still be arranged, and no way he’d be laying there peacefully.

Also, they claimed he was holding another piece of meat in his hand when they found him. Really? Seriously? Minute after minute went by while Alekhine couldn’t breathe, dying, and he still thought it best to keep the next bite handy? Crime Scene Fail is what that photo depicts.

A trained rescue diver can hold their breath for a few minutes longer than regular folks. For the rest of us, I have to assume that three minutes without breathing would be virtually impossible. But let’s go extreme and say he lasted a whole five minutes, choking on that piece of meat.

You mean to tell me he didn’t flop around and panic? That he just sat there calmly? C’mon, now.

According to one site, the brain itself begins to die in under six minutes when choking, and incurs irreversible damage in ten minutes. That sounds about right, to me, so my five-minute-suffering may be possible. It didn’t happen in Alekhine's case, though.

Site: http://www.emedicinehealth.com/choking/article_em.htm

Now, look at the picture of his death scene at the top of this blog again. Does that look like a man who choked on meat? No, it doesn’t, not a single bit. That is a picture of a man who was positioned like that after he was killed.

More Weirdness from the Photo

Note the aforementioned peg chessboard off to the side, in start position. I guess it’s feasible that he would eat before studying but again, a choking, thrashing man would have kicked that shit all over the place. There’s no way it’d still be intact, just two-feet from where he “choked to death”. Again, I’m no M.D., but that seems way, way too far-fetched to believe.

Also, he was in a hotel. Why would he eat dinner in a coat? It isn’t like he was watching the gas bill. He doesn’t look very comfortable, at all, if you ask me. I don’t know too many cats who keep their bulky jackets on while eating indoors. Is it possible? Of course. It just doesn’t seem very probable.

Also note that all his plates are completely empty. How unfortunate that he choked on the very *last* piece of meat that was available to chew. Yeah, right. Meat usually comes with a side, right? Potatoes, vegetables – something. Who the hell eats the sides first and the meat last?

No, he was done with dinner and out for a walk, like it says in Mr. Spraggett’s blog. It was only later, after he was gunned down, that he was taken back to his room and posed like that.

This is just my opinion, of course, and I have no proof to support my case past the circumstantial stuff I’ve outlined here. Very compelling evidence would have to surface in order for me to change my mind, though; I'm pretty set on my opinion in the case of Alexander Alekhine.

Our fourth world chess champion was murdered, plain and simple.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Looking for Moves in Chess



In this blog entry, I’m going to discuss a few things about ‘moving’ in chess. This will be mostly aimed at beginner to mid-level players, because I think it’s something often misunderstood. The difference between ‘looking for moves’ and ‘carrying out a plan’ may seem subtle to the newcomer, but they are vastly different.

When asked how he wiped away his opponents, Alexander Alekhine said something to the effect of: I think up my own moves, and I make my opponent think up his.

That’s pretty powerful, when you think about it: he’s saying that no matter what the other player already knows, how ‘booked up’ he is, or how brilliantly he may play, Alekhine would still be able to out-think them in a match.

Alekhine is well-known for leaving book lines early in the game. He liked to mix things up, to dare his opponents to walk into his territory. Sometimes it worked and other times it didn’t, but no matter the outcome of the game, it was always a down-and-dirty street fight with Alekhine.

So, what was his deal? Yes, he is known as one of the most studious masters of all time and yes, he possessed oodles of talent and was a very intelligent man. But what did he mean by ‘thinking up his own moves’? Well, he wasn’t referring to single moves, I can tell you that.

A leg is a leg, and an arm is an arm. A torso is weird without a head, and legs are odd without feet. But, put them all together in the correct order and place, and you have a body. The same goes with chess. A move is just a single move; it can either be good or bad, or even indifferent, but it’s still just a move.

Each move indicates, or should indicate, a small part of a larger plan. The amateur just slaps out the first ten moves of an opening he kinda-sorta knows, and then ‘looks for moves’. In other words, he’s looking for knock-out blows like piece wins or immediate threats which may cause his opponent to blunder badly.

Masters look for moves, too, don’t get me wrong. But when they are looking for moves, they are trying to find moves that best support the plan they have come up with in their head. This is what’s largely referred to as ‘seeing X-number of moves deep’. Contrary to popular belief, there is no set number of moves ahead that a certain GM, or anyone else, can see. Depending on the position, that number could be low or high for all of us. It’s more that the GM can see the plan inside the position, rather than an exact number of moves deep. Through years and years of serious play and study, the board vision of a master becomes quite keen.

An amateur doesn’t understand the importance of a sound position. He or she just wants to have fun making threat after threat, sacrificing pawns and pieces, and doing their best to find brilliant moves. If they stick with the game long enough, they’ll find that brilliant moves are just an indication of a brilliant plan, and nothing more.

So what am I trying to say? I’m saying that instead of necessarily “looking for moves” each turn, formulate an all-encompassing plan. Of course, plan-less games are won every day by thousands of people, but not against strong opposition. If two inexperienced players have a few games, they can literally be as interesting as watching strong GM games, and sometimes more so. The wild piece sacs, the unsound pawn pushes, the ‘see a check give a check’ mentality; it’s all very entertaining. It really is.

But, you cannot go off half-cocked against a master and expect good game results. Why? Because in any given position, and I do mean any position, a master is going to come up with a better plan than the amateur. Because of that, he’s going to find better, stronger moves.

If you find yourself often without a plan in chess, you need to stop and reevaluate that part of your game. The ‘looking for moves’ bit works against 1500s on the Internet, sure, but if you hope to ever scalp a master, you’d better ‘look for a plan’, instead.