Category Archives: Nigel Davies

Too Many Cooks

One of the lost arts of the chess board is that of adjournment analysis. In the days before computers we used to adjourn games after the first session (normally 40 moves and 4 or 5 hours) and then continue them after dinner or on a separate day. And between the sessions it was customary to analyse the adjourned position as well as possible, recruiting what help was available.

There is an interesting chapter on adjournment analysis in The Art of the Middle Game by Paul Keres and Alexander Kotov, with this particular chapter being written by Keres. Alexander Kotov also discusses is in Think Like a Grandmaster and here there are some wonderful insights.

Kotov suggests that collective analysis tends to be inaccurate, something that was confirmed by my own experience. He suggests that an initial examination with friends can be a good thing, but after that you should work out everything on your own.

These days everything would be checked by a computer of course, but the idea that collective analysis tends to be inaccurate is interesting. I think that a lot of different voices will necessarily create an atmosphere in which participants want to outdo each other, and without their own game being at risk. It’s a classic case of too many cooks spoiling the broth, with one highly motivated cook being far more effective.

How can this help the improvement process? Essentially in immunising us against believing the unknowing collective and seeking instead to be independent. Your own ideas may not be right but thinking them through yourself and putting them on the line you learn something if they are refuted.

Here meanwhile is a funny video about receiving advice:

Nigel Davies

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Guilty Until Proven Innocent

A major issue with an online chess competition recently came to my attention. A student, and a very decent and honest person I’ve known for years, was banned for alleged ‘cheating’. There was no right of appeal and no opportunity to answer the charges. The only option open to him was to ‘promise he wouldn’t do it again’, thereby admitting guilt. He wouldn’t do that because he hadn’t cheated in the first place.

Prior to being banned he had been working hard on his game and was showing an upswing from a previous plateau. He had been working on his tactics and endgames and assiduously studying my Building an Opening Repertoire course that brings PLANNING to one’s opening and early middle game play. He had booked extra lessons and things were starting to come together. Then suddenly (but not unexpectedly) he hit a good patch in which he disposed of some opponents with aplomb. They played rather horribly but a series of good wins was still a healthy sign with regard to his chess.

So what had set the alarms off? Essentially a computer algorithm had detected unusually good play in a series of games, well above his expected level. It wasn’t a question of him choosing the top computer pick in each position, it just judged his play to be way better than it was previously. So how was it decided that he was cheating rather than improving, or even just having a good run?

After writing in to vouch for his honesty, hard work and an upswing in his chess, I had several approaches from people saying how great and reliable the detection system was and how, by implication, my student had to be cheating. There seemed to be a certain lack of willingness to discuss the exact nature of their procedures but in one conversation I learned that the validity of the computer algorithm that flagged him was partly based on ‘admissions of guilt’. At this point I saw a problem.

When players are flagged and given the option to ‘promise not to cheat again’ to re-enter the competition, denial will mean that they lose any fees they’ve paid to participate in this competition or on the server on which it is hosted. If these ‘promises’ are then taken as ‘admissions of guilt’, the detection software may seem to have amazing results, at least via the ‘admission’ criteria. Of course it doesn’t take a massive understanding of statistics and testing to know that this is not fair. Those accused are being put under pressure and being given a clear incentive to admit they cheated, whether or not they actually did. Smack on the wrist and then back to the tournament with the system being given a slap on the back for its ‘accuracy’.

I have been assured that other methods have been used to verify the algorithm’s accuracy but details have not been supplied. Could it be ‘human judgement’, that most flawed of tests? In any case I would welcome a fuller disclosure of testing procedures, as I’m sure all chess players would.

Why should a chess site be using such a clearly flawed criteria as a coerced admission? A certain amount may be just ignorance about legal and testing procedures. But they also have a problem that many unscrupulous individuals may be using outside help, and possibly in very subtle ways. Meanwhile they need to make it look as if internet chess is being fairly played to attract people to it. So there must be a temptation to smudge the legal and scientific integrity of tests because a ‘greater good’ is at stake.

Meanwhile I reckon that a lot of innocent players are probably being falsely accused and banned, and will leave internet competition because they won’t lie and admit they cheated. Obviously this is a gross injustice, so if you’ve been one of them then I’d like to hear from you via the contact form. Discretion is assured and your stories may help open this can of worms. If I get enough new material I will revisit this issue in a later article but keeping names out of it.

Nigel Davies

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More From The Guardian Chess Book

In last week’s post on the Chigorin Defence I mentioned The Guardian Chess Book by Leonard Barden as the source for my taking up this opening. There was another one too that I first learned from this book, the King’s Indian Attack.

I was 14 at the time and this opening proved to be a very useful addition to my armoury. Thus the Chigorin, together with the Berlin Defence to the Ruy Lopez (I got this from Lasker’s Manual of Chess and played Lasker’s favourite 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Nf6 4.0-0 Nxe4 5.d4 Be7 rather than 5…Nd6) were my repertoire with Black. And with White I played the King’s Indian Attack and the King’s Gambit (I got this one from some book with a nice red cover).

An opening repertoire can have simple beginnings like this, you get a few ideas and then start to play something. Here meanwhile is a King’s Indian Attack classic by Bobby Fischer:

Nigel Davies

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Chess is NOT 99% Tactics!

Richard Teichmann once said that ‘chess is 99% tactics’, and this idea seems to have caught on. I can see why because it may seem that way to strong players. And for those who want to improve it implies that there’s an easy to understand way to do it; , practice calculation and vision. But I for one don’t think it’s true.

There are many positions in which there are no tactics, so what do you do then? It also seems that move selection is vital to the calculative process, and this stems from an intuitive sense of danger and knowing the sort of thing you should be doing. Strong players may not be aware of the process by which they select moves, or decide the sort of thing they should be doing. It just happens. But as a teacher, who constantly explains and asks about why a particular move was played, I’ve become very aware that there’s a lot more going on.

This is why an improvement program should be balanced and needs to include the development of softer and more intuitive thinking. This is harder to develop and the concepts need a lot of explanation from someone who knows what they are doing. And then they need to be practiced.

This difficulty in acquiring chess ‘understanding’ explains why so few people develop it. Games collections of great masters will certainly help, but few people bother reading them these days, especially when under increasing pressure to ‘know their openings’. This explains why I adopted the approach that I did at my Tiger Chess site, suggesting simple openings with nice pawn structures and plans whilst at the same time focusing on strategy and endgames.

Nigel Davies

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An Old Favourite, The Chigorin Defence

One of my early favourite openings was the Chigorin Defence with 1.d4 d5 2.c4 Nc6!?. I started playing it after seeing it recommended in Leonard Barden’s The Guardian Chess Book. And I then played it throughout my teenage years, long before Alexander Morozevich discovered it.

The Chigorin is a sharp and lively counter attacking line which has much in common with both the Gruenfeld and Nimzo-Indian. There have been some developments since Morozevich championed it, but by and large it will tend to surprise White players.

Here’s my Youtube clip about the Chigorin Video at Tiger Chess:

Nigel Davies

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A Blow For Humanity

Here’s a nice blow for humanity. Note that computers can have trouble with closed positions and especially build-ups against their kings. And this in turn should help correspondence players who want to gain an edge!

Nigel Davies

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Mixed Strength Tournaments Produce More Brilliancies

In these days in which the main aim of organizers seems to be a ‘high category’, it’s worth remembering some of the reasons for organizing mixed strength tournaments. Besides giving local heroes a chance to beat star players, it can also lead to more brilliancies. It’s difficult to checkmate a 2700+ GM, but against lower rated players it’s a distinct possibility.

Here’s a brilliant win by Jan Timman from the days when mixed strength tournaments were still common. Black gets a dubious position out of the opening and is gunned down on the kingside in a cascade of brilliant sacrifices:

Nigel Davies

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Playing Too Much

Most amateur players find it difficult to get enough games. After balancing the needs of work and family there can often seem to be little time for chess. To some extent the internet has been helpful, as long as the games played there are treated in a reasonably serious manner.

There is also the opposite problem, that of playing too much. When players play vast numbers of games they can start to play on autopilot. This will tend to reinforce bad habits which then become very difficult to overlay with good ones.

Internet blitz is especially damaging in this regard as a lot of bad moves will go unpunished. And if you go on the internet after hard day at work you’re almost sure to play in a light hearted way which in turn can start to appear in your real games?

What’s the solution? Essentially it’s good to have a target of a particular number of games per annum whether they’re in club chess, tournaments or on the internet. Players with little time for terrestrial chess probably need a few internet games to make up the numbers, but then limits should be imposed. Have a plan to play a particular number of games, probably at one of the slower time limits, and then stick to it.

How many games should that be? The recommended dose for tournament games used to be around 50-70 long play games per annum, but rapid play games should count as 1/3 of the value. So a combination of 30 long games and 60 rapid games would just about meet the quota.

Nigel Davies

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How To Avoid Preparation

In these days of computer databases and ever stronger engines, preparation is becoming an increasingly important factor. And it can be a particular problem if your games are on a database, for example at 365 Chess or Chess-db. Some players might even pull your games from internet servers if they know your handle there.

So how should someone avoid preparation? Here are a few ideas:

Be The Ultimate Expert

Many players go this route, aiming to stay ahead of their opponents’ preparation with ongoing research into what they play and studying their own games more thoroughly than their opponents will. In this way they hope to get their ideas in first or have answers ready for anything their opponents throw at them.

Play Openings Which Are Hard To Prepare For

This is perhaps the simplest way. If you play openings that simply lead to a balanced and interesting middle game it will be very hard for your opponents to prepare. The best openings for this are based on plans and positional ideas rather than sharp tactical lines and include the French, Queen’s Gambit Declined and Stonewall Dutch.

The drawback is that not everyone will like such lines. In this case the next idea may be more suitable:

Become A Moving Target

A narrow repertoire makes it easy for your opponents to prepare, a wide one makes it virtually impossible. Of course you have to be able to play lots of different openings and position types, but some players are able to do this successfully. The prime example of this approach is Magnus Carlsen.

Play Under A Pseudonym

If your internet handles are known your games can be plucked from the servers. So a number of well known players choose to play under a pseudonym, and in this way experiment in secret.

Don’t Let Your Games Go To The Databases

This last one is perhaps the best of all, but it can be difficult to implement. Yet Evgeny Sveshnikov has managed to keep many of his games off the databases by agreeing this with tournament organizers beforehand, and I must say I have great sympathy with his approach.

Of course you might have to be a famous Grandmaster to pull it off, unless of course attitudes were to change…

Nigel Davies

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