Category Archives: Jacques Delaguerre

Modesty, Generosity, and Plain Truth

Interviewer: In November, New York City will host the match for the chess crown between world champion Norwegian Magnus Carlsen and Russian grandmaster Sergey Karjakin. Some have compared this match with your match against Robert Fischer, which was supposed to take place in 1975, but never took place.

Anatoly Karpov: So far, Carlsen has not reached the level of the Fisher. He does not have the brightness inherent in the American. So on that side, there’s no comparison. And Sergei Karjakin, with all my sympathy for him, he has not gotten to my level. Therefore, it will not be a match on the scale of what my match with Fischer could have been. But it is very interesting. I am glad that Sergei was able to get to the match for the crown.
Interview “Anatoly Karpov: It’s going to be very difficult for Sergei”, Sovsport.RU, 2016-08-04

After thanking the Almighty, friends, family and the Sinquefields, GM Wesley So, winner of the 2016 Sinquefield Cup said

Thank you to my honored opponents who are like unpaid coaches to me because I study their games closely and even when I was still a kid was so motivated to play by observing their amazing techniques. Like I said, anyone in this group could have won, it just happened to be my year. Mabuhay!

This was taken in some quarters as the generosity of a truly modest individual, but it seems to me such modesty and generosity constitute expression of the plain truth.

GM So won the 2016 Sinquefield Cup 5.5/9 (+2 -0 =7). Viswanathan Anand took second 5/9 (+1 -0 =8). None of the roster of grandmasters won more than 2 games in 9 rounds. In world-class chess, it’s not at all lonely at the top.

Even Karpov, an egoist since youth and something approaching an insufferable ass in his mid-60’s (as witness his comments on the Carlsen-Karjakin match), was forced in his own time by the realism of the chess mind to acknowledge the plain truth. In 1974, upon winning his Candidate’s Final against Korchnoi, Karpov was approached at the reception by a flatterer. Karpov brushed off this unwelcome and ingratiating individual with the words, “After all, I am merely doing what everyone else is doing, that is, learning to play better.”

Here’s a link to what, to my mind, is So’s best game of the Cup.

Jacques Delaguerre

Queen’s Gambit Declined Declined

1. P-Q4 P-Q4 leads to nothing.
– Bobby Fischer

I play much better than I did 30 years ago when my rating was higher. I depended more on memorization 30 years ago than I do now.

Returning with White from 1. g3 to my love of long ago 1. d4 I find that I sometimes lose the thread of the internal logic of that opening.

In a way that’s good, because I then have to work out precisely why tactically and positionally to play moves formerly played on visual beauty or on faith.

In today’s game, it certainly occurred to me during the game that in the old days I would have played 7. Qc2 instead of 7. Rc1. 7. Rc1 was a “safety”, taking refuge in a more familiar position.

Beyond memorization, I did imbibe the spirit of the Queen’s Gambit Declined, so it’s disappointing that I didn’t mobilize with 12. Qe2 etc. before proceeding with e3-e4. Apparently my Queen’s Gambit Declined has itself declined somewhat and needs brushing up. Nonetheless, my plan obtained an even game.

Luckily for me, after I began to drift slightly with 27. g4 my opponent overlooked my blunderous 41. Kg5?? which is tantamount to self-mate.

Jacques Delaguerre

Choking in the Clinch

Oh, somewhere in this favoured land the sun is shining bright,
The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light;
And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout,
But there is no joy in Mudville—mighty Casey has struck out.
-Ernest Lawrence Thayer, “Casey at the Bat” ago on a programming team I had a co-worker, “Bob”,  a brilliant control engineer and programmer. He had one weakness: he could easily freeze up during debugging.

Bob would call me into his office, his voice quavering and with tears in his eyes, “Please help me! I’ve been on it for hours and I can’t find the bug!”

“No problem!” I always replied, because truly it was no very great problem. I had learned how to debug with Bob. He’d “drive” (sit at the screen and operate the keyboard and mouse) and I’d navigate. “Show me your code … okay, let’s follow this function down … no, let’s back up and look at the next statement …”

It didn’t really matter, I would just casually and aimlessly walk him around his code until I sensed sensitivity. “Jacques, we’ve been over this, why are we going to that statement again?” As soon as I sensed touchiness, I’d bear down. “Let’s look at this again …” “I told you, we looked at that!” Bob would almost shout, and when he was ready to explode with rage I knew we had closed in on the bug. It worked like a charm, every time.

Last week, I came home after narrowly failing to win the second tournament in a row. In both tournaments, I had choked in the clinch, dispatching with finesse my quality opponents, only to lose both times in the last round to a lucky woodpusher. Why? Why?

The wife, no chessplayer she, setting out dinner that night opined casually, “Maybe you have trouble handling the pressure?”

“No, that’s not it,” I said angrily, and then I thought of Bob.

Jacques Delaguerre

Where Is There An Opening?

Bodhi is originally without any tree;
The bright mirror is also not a stand.
Originally there is not a single thing —
Where could any dust be attracted?
– Huineng, 6th Partiarch of Zen Buddhism

Sixth Patriach Tearing the Sutra

In Huineng‘s day, the Sutras, the sacred scriptures of Buddhism, were hand-written and brought to China by traders from India and were worth their weight in silver. When Huineng, the original champion of immediate enlightenment which characterizes Zen Buddhism, reached satori, he ripped a Sutra to shreds, providing later generations of Buddhist artists a theme as familiar to them as, say, the Passion was to Christian artists. Along the same lines are Krishna’s comment in the Bhagavad Gita that “to the enlightened man, the Vedas (Hindu scriptures) are as superfluous as a cistern in a flood.”

I’ve meditated on this truth while reading a popular openings treatise. Weighty, up-to-date, impassioned, it exercised my chess mind but left me feeling completely detached from the goals of the author while respecting his prowess and hard work. The pieces move. We reset the board. The pieces move again. Where is there an opening?

Jacques Delaguerre


Someone once joked that Hans Berliner was only comfortable in a position where he was a rook ahead and on the move in an otherwise symmetrical position. So the endgame composers began to compose “Berliner Positions” in which White is rook ahead and on the move in an otherwise symmetrical position and … lost.

Today’s game reached symmetry after 12 moves, which symmetry I broke with 13. Bb5. Was White better for that? My first impulse was 13. Bd3, which Stockfish favors and calls equal.

In retrospect, 16. a3 looks like a mistake, compared to 16. Bc3. Later, I probably should not have been so eager to trade off all four rooks, after which I managed to draw the very difficult N vs. B ending. The spectators agreed that the opening and midgame were okay, but that the ending was the most fun to watch!

Jacques Delaguerre

July Sparklers

July in the USA is famous for pyrotechnics, to the delight of children and horror of canines throughout the land. Sometimes the fireworks explode in a cascade of sparkling colors, and sometimes they are duds, or partial duds.

Two of my recent games featured fireworks. One game was a partial dud, whereas the second was a real sparkler.

Amusingly, in both I played Black and in both, the star move was the same move.

The first game was a partial dud. In the opening, I achieved a difficult Grünfeld defensive position, but was fortunate to find the only move 20…Rf8-c8! defending against the threat to Black’s white-square bishop via threats to the White knight and white-square bishop, drawing easily. Actually, I should have put my White opponent, already in mild time pressure, through more pain with 26… Rb2 but, as noted, this was a partial dud.

The second game shone more brightly. White was the amiable Dean Clow, an Englishman from Lincolnshire who has lived in the USA for 7 years now working as a computer programmer. Dean, no doubt still fatigued from having single-handedly directed the Colorado Senior Championship over the weekend, played sort of a Jänisch Gambit reversed, and got nothing much for his pawn sacrifice. His 13. Be4? was a hallucination that he was going to win a piece by pushing the d-pawn, from which he refrained in time, but his position was still lost or close to it after 14. e3. Once again, Black’s 19… Rf8-c8! is the star move that prevents White from winning the e-pawn via 20. Nxe4 Qg4 (forking the rook and knight) 21. Nc3, after which White is almost in zugzwang.

Jacques Delaguerre


It was al-Biruni in 10th-century Baghdad who explained how to calculate 264 efficiently by repeated squaring. He was definitely a computer scientist. He knew how many grains of wheat there were without doubling 64 times. al-Khwarizmi, who lived about 150 years before that, gave us his name as “algorithm.” There were great books about chess already in the 9th century. – Dr. Donald Knuth, interview, Dr. Dobb’s Journal, 1996.

The connection between computer science and chess has long been noted. Chess, like a computer program, is the navigation of a downwards-branching decision tree. The nodes are the positions after each ply.

The Nimzo-Indian defense with 4. e3 can almost be described in high-level pseudocode. Black is either going to trade the b4 bishop for White’s c3 knight or not. White, in a surfeit of confidence in the bishop pair,  used to prod Black to commit. Nowadays usually White continues to develop, while Black, waiting for White to expend the tempo on moving the pawn to a3, is compelled to move into the center, rendering moot plans to exploit a weakened White pawn structure after the exchange via piece play around Black pawns on, say b6-c5-d6-e5. After Black has had to play d7-d5 waiting for the right moment to exchange, the exchange becomes less attractive, and Black typically dissolves the center allowing his bishop to retreat to a7 when challenged.

In today’s game, Black didn’t wait to be challenged but exchanged anyway. White  went for the win of a pawn. Black had fair compensation but was unable to navigate the decision tree and lost the rook ending.

Jacques Delaguerre

Bored Game

In the closing stages of an international tournament Réti was playing one of the weaker competitors and had obtained a won game… he seemed to fall into a brown study, did not move for ten minutes; then suddenly started up from his chair – still without making his move – and sought out a friend, to whome he explained he had just conceived an original and entrancing idea for an endgame study… His friend dissuaded Réti from demonstrating the idea on his pocket chess set, and Réti returned, somewhat disgruntled, to the tournament room, made some hasty casual moves and soon lost the game. – Harry Golombek, Foreword to his translation of Modern Ideas in Chess by Richard Réti

Réti went on to stay up all night working on his study, lost the next day’s game, and with it the tournament. His run of unsuccess at that point in his career was only terminated by his untimely death in 1929 from scarlet fever.

I feel for the man. Sometimes I’m exquisitely tuned in to chess and turn in commendable games. Other times, I’m bored with chess as other interests obtrude and distract from my focus. In particular, when programming projects are particularly interesting chess seems shallow, a sort of abacus next to the vastly shinier and more complex matrix of computer science.

The most striking thing I infer from watching videos of Kasparov playing is that Kasparov, another man of many interests, is able to dial it up at will. He seizes his head in his hands and grimaces and he has projected himself back into Chess World. Further, he is able to stay there until the end of the game. I need to be able to dial up focus in that fashion and intensity.

Jacques Delaguerre

The Good Players Are Usually Lucky

The good players are usually lucky. – Jose Raul Capablanca
You make your own luck. – Yogi Berra

Nine-year-old Sullivan McConnell is becoming a holy terror and climbing the ratings ladder. He could have equalized with 10… d5 instead of 10… Ne7.

For my part, I held the advantage after move 10 until the lame 37. Be3.  The moves 37. Bd2 or even 37. Bd6 were preferable.

Sullivan only lost due to his blunder on move 39 when 39… Kf7! was an immediate draw. 39… Kh7? lost material. It didn’t have to be a whole bishop, but he would rather that than two pawns.

The verdict: One needs luck to win starting with 1. g3, but I should learn to play more incisively in order to seize the luck earlier in the game.

Jaques Delaguerre

Transposing to B-flat

“That which one has the right to do, it is not always expedient to do.” Edmund Burke

And a flat game it was indeed.

Starting with 1. g3 often offers the “right” to transpose to Queen Pawn lines, for instance, the King’s Indian Fianchetto as in the present game. But it’s not always expedient: if that was what I wanted, why not just play 1. d4?

In any case, I found myself in a boring, well-known position and quickly went wrong out of lack of interest in what I’d lamely constructed on the board in place of the work of art I had anticipated (9. d5?! instead of 9. Qc2 with the idea of 9… exd4 10. Nxd4 Re8 11. Rd1).

There is a class of positions in which White and Black face off without direct contact and s/he who lunges may be lost. Classical theory suggests that when White is reticent Black can go over to the attack, but my experience suggests there can exist a dynamic standoff.

These positions are interesting because the “aggressive” openings have already been mined so deeply. There’s still room for individual creativity in the “passive-aggressive” openings of the type I’m describing because they have not been popular. Furthermore, the chess engines I’ve used tend to evaluate and play these positions poorly.

Jacques Delaguerre