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Saturday, May 19, 2012

The GM Draw: Let's Have a Look

I have blogged about this before, and there have been many discussions at about the same thing. While the ‘GM draw’ phenomenon can be annoying, it is also the natural, expected outcome many times. I’ll look at both examples below.

The annoying GM draw:

This is the one that is agreed to after twelve or fifteen moves of a boring-looking, well-known line between two grandmasters. Yawn. These short draws are only possible and only exist because of the half-point draw system. If draws were worth nothing, or if they *lost* half a point for the players, we’d see more fighting chess.  But that’s neither her nor there. It’s simply tournament strategy, nothing more. It saves them from expelling all their mental energy early in a match so they can use it for opponents who might prove problematic, as well. 

The natural GM draw:

Okay, this one is way more logical to me. You have two guys who have cleared the 2600 level in chess – 2600! That’s huge, folks. Beyond comprehension for most of us. Both the players know opening theory extremely well, they are tactical and positional monsters, and they are well-versed, if not complete experts, at endgames. 

Now, if you expect either of these players to fall for more than a few, really deep and well planned out tricks, you are smoking the good stuff. One player attempts an attack, the other sees it and thwarts it, and maybe creates a counter-attack. The first player sees this, thwarts it, and the game is eventually drawn after such a back-and-forth.

What’s so hard to understand about that?

The less mistakes and oversights each player makes in chess, the higher the chances of a draw. That’s just Logic 101, folks. The GM draw isn’t going away anytime soon, in either form, so get used to it.

If you like fighting chess, there are many, many GMs still around who don’t play for draws. Exciting chess still exists, you just have to know who to watch.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Anand vd. Gelfand Title Match

Yay! It’s time for another world chess championship. This year is a real nail-biter, too, if you ask me. Anand, who has defended his title four times already, is said by some to be slowly losing his sharpness. Gelfand, the same general age as Anand, isn’t nearly as accomplished but is a world-class player, nonetheless. In fact, he’s rated below Nakamura, who I personally think would have a shot. But that’s neither here nor there, for this entry.

I think the general opine that Anand is ‘losing his touch’ isn’t necessarily due to anything he is or isn’t doing, but rather what others are doing. Carlsen has broken well into the 2800s and is rated above Anand, as are Levon Aronian and Vladimir Kramnik.

I won’t go into the ratings conundrum, but I think it’s a little unfair to say that Anand is losing his touch. He doesn’t necessarily have fiery combos like Alekhine but then, who does? Today’s top players cannot afford to take too much risk or they’ll get the game handed to them quickly, for the most part

Kasparov, arguably the best player of all time, did incorporate huge tactical shots and deep positional understanding into his games, but that’s why he was on the throne for so long: he could get away with such. He is Kasparov.

So, who do you think the favorite will be in the Anand vs. Gelfand match? Is there a favorite? Is it anyone’s game? I personally tend to root for the underdog and would love to see Gelfand display a stellar performance but even if he does, it won’t guarantee the title. Anand is no beginner. He’s wildly strong and has shown, beyond any doubt, that he’s a true chess artist.


Saturday, May 5, 2012

The Chess Stamp

So, the other day, a friend links me to a chess stamp auction on eBay. It was expensive, but he just wanted to show it to me because he knew I was into chess.

The stamp depicted a chess position.

I was like, “Cool!”

Then I looked closer, and I was like, “Wait just a tic...”

I knew the position. I told my friend so over the IM window, and I got no response; I could tell from knowing him for so long that he didn’t believe a word of that.

Possible thought process: Uh-huh... random position on a stamp and he knows it. Riiiight...

But I did. I knew I did. Here’s a paraphrased rendition of the IM conversation; my friend is in italics:

Hmm, there’s been a queen sacrifice, here. That was a nice mate.


This is a mate that was brutally forced, and kind of right out of the opening.


Dude, I’m telling you, I know this game.

Cool! (disbelief pouring out of the IM window...)

Got it! This game was played by the first world champ, Anderssen, in the mid-1800s. It’s known as “The Immortal Game” due to the irrefutable and deep sacrifices.


(Silence for another two minutes)

Dude, use the magnifying glass over the stamp and look at the top. That’s a little freaky.

I did so, and it read:

Anderssen-Dufresne, 1852.

I’m officially a chess nerd. My friend couldn’t believe it and honestly, neither could I, despite that game being well-known and recognizable. I guess you know when you are a chess fan, eh?

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Online vs. OTB Concentration

Last night I got to thinking about one of the main differences between online and OTB chess: concentration level.

When you are sitting across from another man (or woman, as the case may be), and there is a real chess board with real pieces and a real clock to worry about, our mind is much, much more into the game than when we are staring at a screen with a chessboard on it.

For one, the distractions at home can be severe: instant messaging, email, the phone, a TV, the doorbell, pets, kids, parents, etcetera. Combine them all and you end up with what – 20% concentration on the game at hand? That doesn’t ever make for good chess.

There may still be small distractions in a club or tournament setting, but not nearly to the level there are at home, on the computer. Also, losing to a player who is looking at you is much different than losing to a series of numbers and letters on a PC screen. Face-to-face chess is far more like a battle than is Internet chess, in my opinion.

If you are really wanting to improve your chess game but don’t, for whatever reason, have regular access to real live players, I give the following tips to practice during your Internet games:

1. Play long games.

I can’t stress this one enough. Fifteen minutes is not competition chess; it’s glorified blitz. 20/20, 30/30, 45/45 or even 60/0 are all good time controls if you really want to sink into a position you won’t necessarily lose if the phone rings.

2. Set aside good times to play.

Try and schedule or seek games when you have a good couple hours to play, and fill that time up with quality chess. If, for example, you have two hours to devote to chess, you’ll get much more out of playing a single 60/0 game than four 15/0 games. You likely wouldn’t hurry a big exam which required a great deal of thought and accuracy, so don’t hurry your chess games.

3. Study them afterward.

Once you complete a game, whether you won or lost, go over it again by yourself. Make sure you know where critical mistakes were made, which side made them, and how the win was executed. Go over it with your own mind before implementing an engine because they can make for lazy studying.

4. Minimize distractions.

Turn off the IM windows, close the Facebook tab, ignore emails as much as is reasonable, and keep the game on your screen. A single switch to another window breaks *all* concentration we had on the game. It’s a shame to lose a great battle because you switched back to the game and blundered. Ask me how I know that.  *giggle*

If you are a blitz or bullet player who simply enjoys speed chess, of course, that’s fine. More power to you! But if you are wondering why your rating hasn’t increased in the last year, and you are not taking your online games as seriously as you could, you are doing yourself a great disservice. Get into those games!