For those of you with a free weekend, rather than watch a season of Star Trek Voyager you might want to watch a couple of rounds from the London Chess Classic. Round 9 came in at just over 9 hours, which basically takes a day if you factor in cups of tea, bathroom breaks, lunch, dinner and a walk round the block. I find it quite interesting in parts but generally prefer to download the pgns for a quick perusal on HIARCS Chess Explorer. It all depends how much time you’ve got.
This aside, it’s great that the UK is holding such an event, which besides the super-GM tournament has many other tournaments. If you haven’t been there yet it’s well worth a visit in 2018.
The news that AlphaZero annihilated Stockfish after practising chess for just 4 hours should give us pause for thought. Humanity basically lost the battle against computers when Garry Kasparov went down against Deep Blue, but now things have moved to a totally different level. I suspect that it could play a simultaneous display against the top ten human players and just take them apart.
In one sense this does not matter, humans do not race against cars and human chess players cannot compete against machines. But for many years there was a belief that they could, that the human mind had qualities that would at least make it into a contest. This illusion has now been swept away completely and finally.
So what about computer preparation, will this become ever more important? Frankly I think we have enough trouble remembering analysis as it is, without adding to the burden so there could be a growth in the number of players who play in Magnus Carlsen style, aiming to grind people down in the endgame. There might also be a further push towards Fischer Random Chess or other variants.
Here’s one of Youtube’s best chess commentators on one of the games from the AlphaZero – Stockfish match:
Here’s a nice win of Judit Polgar over Garry Kasparov. A nice commentary is provided by Sabina Foisor:
With only the top players in the World making a good living from playing chess it’s worth asking what it takes to get there. Frankly I’ve found attitudes in the UK to be completely out of step with reality, and it seems that this is not just the case for chess players. Sam and I watched some videos from English junior tennis matches, and although they were good they didn’t look like potential World beaters.
So what does it take? Let’s start with prodigious talent, for example any kid who can get to the top 10 in the World in his age group. After that it’s essential to have a great work ethic and strong character, which probably eliminates over 90% of the original prodigy groupings. And finally let’s factor in a serious amount of support, the kind that allows players to train full time without worrying about money. That pretty much eliminates most Western prodigies unless they are fortunate enough to get long term private sponsorship.
Who does that leave us with? It seems to me that there are a number of Indian players who tick all the boxes, with Praggnanandhaa Rameshbabu leading the way. And then in China there is Wei Yi among others. For them everything is in place while everyone else will face massive difficulties in making it to the top.
So will there be an English World Champion within the next few decades? I wouldn’t have thought so…
Here’s another nice Youtube lecture, this time on Bobby Fischer:
For those who didn’t know, here’s a nice explanation on how computers think about chess. The problem really is the ever increasing power of hardware available:
Getting in the right events is vital for chess players who want to improve and/or make a name for themselves. When selection is also involved this issue can become very stressful, from local junior events to national teams.
Chess is fortunate in this regard in that it has ratings. But what if they are not applied with iron consistency or even not used at all? Certainly there are cases in which players who would have been the ‘rating choice’ have been ‘overlooked’.
There can be reasons for selecting a lower rated player. But because of issues such as fairness, cliques and the potential abuse of power, it is better for selections to be made with a standard formula.
What should someone do if they feel they are being unfairly treated? Vigorous complaint can certainly work, though it can get them labelled as a ‘trouble maker’. A more effective response is just to smile and work harder on chess, this will probably translate into a higher rating after which it will be hard for selectors to ignore without looking blatantly unfair.
Here’s a nice and quite substantial video on Boris Spassky, who is now 80 years of age. He has certainly played some wonderful and vibrant games and his classical playing style is a good one to emulate:
A few weeks ago I played in my first rapidplay event since starting to play again, the English Rapidplay Championships. My overall result was OK, I finished in sole fourth place on 6.5/9 with an ECF rating performance of around my last published grade. On the other hand I found the experience ‘challenging’ to say the least.
This makes me wonder what the optimal time limit is for older players, and I would argue that the longer time limits are generally better. Fast time limits lead to serious levels of tension, which young players seem to negotiate better than the ‘oldies’. What may seem exciting and fun when you are young becomes unpleasant and stressful as you get older.
There is another factor that may have an influence, that of stamina for longer games. I guess this may be what influenced Garry Kasparov in his choice of fast time limits when he played again recently. But as he was probably disappointed with the outcome his choice fails to convince. Frankly I think he would do better with classical time limits.
Of course we do not need to guess, it is possible to work it out. There is plenty of data at the FIDE web site that includes the ages of players and their ratings at different time limits. The players can be divided into different age groups and their ratings compared. If I am right the older players should, on average, have lower ratings at the faster time limits.
It’s not always easy for players to continue playing through busy periods in their lives. Going off to tournaments is time consuming in itself, and then there’s the issue of preparation. It’s this latter consideration that I would like to address here.
Players who like playing sharp openings in order to gain an early initiative are going to struggle to find time for maintenance. Opening theory is constantly changing and they will struggle to stay up to date with sharper lines. The obvious solution would be for them to switch to quieter lines when they find themselves with less time. But the problem with switching is twofold. First of all they may not understand the new stuff as well. And it can also be out of tune with their entire approach.
For this reason it can make sense to adopt a more solid approach from the start. Instead of teaching just gambits, tactics and attacks, why not focus on solid openings, strategy and endgames? Many junior coaches will argue that kids find such things boring. I would argue that it depends how they are taught.
One player who seems to have adapted well to a busy lifestyle is GM Jonathan Parker. Playing quiet openings and relying on middle game skill is serving him well in the few games that he plays. Here’s an example from a couple of years back: