Chess databases have become quite the fashion during the last couple of decades, being used for all sorts of things such as statistical assessments of particular openings. But how many people stop to think what’s in them?
Essentially they are collections of games that people bothered to enter into electronic format, from all sorts of events. Are these good or important games? Well sometimes they aren’t but often they aren’t. And often they include errors made in entering the game and encounters between very weak players.
Here’s one such effort from the World U12 Girls Championship in 2012, a game in which both sides blundered away pieces before agreeing a draw. And whilst both girls may develop into strong players over time, does it have any value?
I suppose that some coaches might claim it does because everyone can now prepare for Tammy or Kirsty’s favourite lines. But seriously, is such preparation really relevant compared to the size of the blunders that are still present? I say it’s irrelevant, unless of course you’re a coach with a laptop who wants to appear very serious. Kind of like Peter Cushing bringing his creation to life…
In my next column I’ll show you an example of what is NOT in your database. And you’ll probably be quite shocked!
There are ways to improve your chess without actually learning more about the game, simply improving brain function can make a big difference. For most people this means a cup of coffee with lots of sugar and maybe a cigarette, but there are healthier alternatives that are based on research.
First and most importantly it’s essential to avoid dehydration, and coffee tends to cause this because it encourages the body to give up water. A much better idea is to water or green tea, the latter probably requiring that you bring your own given the limited range of refreshments normally available at tournaments.
As far as food is concerned then fish and eggs are the best brain foods plus green leafy vegetables, blueberries and whole grains being very good too. There are also a number of supplements that aid cognitive function, for example Gingko Biloba is known to help with memory and concentration and has the benefits of being easy to obtain and inexpensive. The same is true of dark chocolate, the cocoa beans containing flavanols which are known for their brain enhancing effects.
Going beyond just food there’s a whole World of activities one can do, for example exercise has been shown to have beneficial effects on the brain. Here’s someone whose books I’ve read lecturing on the subject, and it’s amazing how few people have bothered to watch:
There are quite a few tactical training programs and web sites around, all of which can be very useful. But this last week I was particularly impressed by two products based on the Dutch ‘steps’ method developed by Rob Brunia and Cor van Wijgerden.
The first of these is the Chess Steps web site which gives details of the steps method and has download versions of the Chess Tutor program. The second is the web site Chessity which has some fun exercises such as trying to solve problems faster than other users.
In both cases the key is the heavy emphasis on developing chess board vision, which all too often is paid lip services by teachers before they move on to things like openings. But without a thorough grounding in tactical play none of it will make sense and students will be left frustrated and unable to make progress.
Broadly speaking tactical play must be learned first before people move on to consider strategic concepts, and this is the route taken by most club players. How they progress from there is another story, and one which I’ll revisit at another time. Strategy is much harder to learn and there are fewer good sources available.
How far do chess players have to see ahead? To a large extent it depends on the position. In some it’s just impossible and unnecessary to calculate whilst others require great precision in one’s tactical operations.
There’s also a issue with a player’s particular abilities, some players just know that particular positions are good whereas others need to work through a lot of variations before they know what’s going on. Viktor Korchnoi was reputed to be someone who needed to calculate a lot but I suspect he learned to manage with rather less on his run up to the 1978 World Championship match he had with Anatoly Karpov. After being a life long time trouble addict, Korchnoi suddenly started to pace himself rather better. And at that time he was probably just as strong as Karpov.
Are all brilliant combinations calculated through to the end? The winners would probably like us to think so but I suspect they often don’t remember things that well or confuse what they saw during the game with what emerged during the post mortem. In any case I’m not sure it should matter that much, a brilliancy is no less brilliant because some of the moves were played on intuition.
The following game, known as the Polish Immortal, is one in which it looks almost impossible to see the whole attack from the start. Even though Najdorf had brilliant calculating ability I suspect that initially it was his intuition that told him the position after 12…Qh5 had to be good for Black. Perhaps at that stage he saw through to 15…e5, sensing that the attack had to be very strong and then on 19.Kf3 saw through to mate or winning White’s queen.
It would also be interesting to know what Glucksberg saw, especially when he played 9.Ng5, apparently just missing Black’s 9…Bxh2+. I suspect that he intended this as a trap as it’s far from easy for Black to free his bishop after 11.f4.
Here’s an interesting and little known gambit that I only found out about yesterday. White makes out that he’s playing for a Milner-Barry Gambit with 1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. e5 c5 4. c3 Nc6 5. Nf3 Qb6 6. Bd3 but after 6…cxd4 plays 7.0-0 rather than 7.cxd4 Bd7 8.Nc3 Nxd4 9.Nxd4 Qxd4 10.0-0. Of course Black can capture on c3 with 7…dxc3 but after 8.Nxc3 White gets pretty good positional compensation for the pawn.
So most of the players who’ve had to face this with Black meet 7.0-0 with 7…Bd7, still hoping for regular Milner-Barry gambit territory after 8.cxd4 Nxd4 9.Nxd4 Qxd4. But White doesn’t have to do that and can instead continue to offer the c3 pawn with 8.Re1.
In the following encounter this line got quite a scalp in the form of the veteran Armenian GM, Rafael Vaganian. White was that well known gambiteer Jonny Hector who has been sacrificing pawns throughout his lively career:
A major issue on the road to improvement is in changing bad habits. Chess is not the only sphere in which this is a problem as this article shows. And the proposed solution (specifying ways in which the new habit differs from the old one) seems very good.
How can chess players use this? Well the first issue is in identifying a flawed technique, no easy matter in a game as complex as chess. But let’s suppose that someone manages this (probably by taking lessons from a strong and insightful player) they should then consciously list comparisons between the old habit and the new one that they wish to acquire. For many club players it would look something like this:
Look for a tactical idea.
Try to calculate whether or not the tactical idea works.
If it doesn’t work, look for the missing element that would make it work.
If the opponent stops it, look for a new tactical idea.
Look at the pawn structure in an effort to understand what the plan should be.
Place the pieces in a way that will help the implementation of this plan.
Use tactics and calculation to make sure that the strategic operations are tactically sound.
If the opponent prevents the implementation of the plan, reexamine the pawn structure to see what the next step should be.
The major difference between these two ways of thinking is in letting pawn structure considerations take the lead rather than being a vague afterthought. But knowing this is just the start of the process of change, it needs to be reinforced over an extended period of time.
Here anyway is a Youtube video showing that I’m not alone in this idea. One must gently redirect one’s attention:
The King’s Gambit isn’t an opening in which the theory develops very quickly, largely because it is played so little. But once in a while something happens.
In my 2005 book, Play 1.e4 e5 I recommended the King’s Gambit Declined with 2…Bc5 as a sound and economical choice. But the following year David Vigorito mentioned the move 1. e4 e5 2. f4 Bc5 3. Nc3 d6 4. Nf3 Nf6 5. Bc4 Nc6 6. d3 Bg4 7. Na4 O-O 8. Nxc5 dxc5 9. O-O Qd6 10. Qd2!? as an interesting possibility. And a couple of strong players have played it.
In the following game Black finds an interesting counter in 10… Bxf3 11. gxf3 exf4 12. Qxf4 Qxf4 13. Bxf4 b5!?, the point being that after 14.Bxb5 Nd4, Black threatens both the bishop on b5 and 15…Ne2+. But 14.Bb3 is a good answer and Black would be struggling after 15.a4.
So this strange 10.Qd2 seems to be posing a problem or two, or at least producing an interesting game. But don’t count on it doing so for too long.
In the last few weeks I started working with my ten (soon to be eleven) year old son on his chess analysis skills. Earlier than this there wasn’t a chance he would understand the idea.
The way I’ve been doing this is to set up a position (mainly from Tony Gillam’s Simple Chess Tactics and Checkmates) and ask him to see a good move. After he finds one I then ask him to list the possibilities for the defending side and try to figure out if one of them works. Then I might suggest he changes sides again to find the best continuation against the best defence.
This is a tough thing for kids to do and is far from easy for most adults. Not only do you need the ability to visualize the board, you also need deductive reasoning. And probably certain character traits, such as an ability and willingness to falsify.
Disproving or falsifying your own ideas requires readily admitting that you were wrong, at least with your first attempt. This is far from easy for those with a lack of self confidence who will hate, even during their internal dialogue, to admit to their own fallibility.
How much worse might will this be when analyzing with other people? Very much so, which might explain why so few players indulge in this activity. And when they do analyze the sessions tend to be political affairs rather than a search for the truth.
One thing I do wonder about is whether you can the required character traits can be reverse engineered by indulging in lots of chess analysis. I suspect the answer is that they can as one annoying feature of strong chess players is that they will argue a particular point and then take the other side as soon as you agree with them!
Here anyway is a post mortem analysis session between Magnus Carlsen and Etienne Bacrot. Interesting…
During the 1980s and 90s the Trompovsky Attack (1.d4 followed by 2.Bg5) was all the rage at UK club level, partly due to successes of Julian Hodgson. But with the ultimate Trompeteer having retired from tournament play it seems to be on the decline.
Instead of this new bishop move is on the rise, 1.d4 followed by 2.Bf4. This is a kind of London System but one which ignores the rather sensible advice of developing knights before bishops. Is it a good move?
My personal take is that its main value is surprise, but I don’t think there’s very much more than that. Plus in many lines it stops Black getting much active play, thus encouraging him to beat his head against the wall.
What should Black do about it? Well I have my own ideas which I’m not particularly willing to share, you can work them out for yourselves! But if you look at the following game by Vladimir Kramnik you might be on the right track, and perhaps in years to come White will want to discourage 2…c5 with 2.Be3:
Given the fact that the video below on scholars mate has had 404,749 viewings at the present time, I do wonder if The Chess Improver is targeting the right audience. So I’m trying another tack.
In attempting this checkmate, remember the following:
1) The weakest spot in your opponent’s position is f7.
2) The moves to play are 1.e2-e3 (or 1.e2-e4 if you prefer), 2.Bf1-c4, 3.Qd1-f3 and 4.Qf3xf7.
3) Do not bring the queen out before the bishop as this will telegraph your intentions.
4) The queen goes on her on color at the start of the game, otherwise Qf3 will be an illegal move.
I can only add that 1.e2-e4 is probably better than 1.e2-e3, and that you should choose your opponent with care. Hikaru Nakamura has played this way in a few games but every one of them spotted the threat. Here’s an example:
There is a more serious message to this post, and that is that the majority of people who play chess are not serious students of the game. But this is not reflected in chess literature.