Category Archives: Videos

The Power of the Two Bishops

One important strategic element is the two bishops. A player has the two bishops when you have both bishops on the board and your opponent only has one (or none). Of course, understanding when and how the two bishops can be an benefit depends on the specific position.

The bishop pair thrives in the following types of positions:

  1. In open positions, where there are either few central pawns or they are not locked.
  2. When there are pawns on both sides of the board.
  3. When the bishops have targets – typically in the form of pawns.

The two bishops struggle in the following types of positions:

  1. In closed positions, where the central pawns are locked.
  2. When the opposing knight has strong central outposts, where the main strength of the bishop over the knight – its range – is negated.
  3. When pawns are on one side of the board, where an opposing knight may be able to protect them.

Why are the two bishops often an positional advantage?

  1. The bishops can often dominate an opposing knight, particularly a misplaced one – “knights on the rim are dim.”
  2. The unopposed bishop (the one for which doesn’t have an opposite number) can attack squares and targets that cannot be easily defended since the opponent doesn’t have a bishop of the same color.
  3. The bishops can coordinate and cover large zones of squares on both sides of the board. This is particularly true in the endgame, where there are fewer pieces and pawns on the board.

The following video is a game that I commented on where Black – Greek GM Efstratios Grivas – expertly handles the two bishops.

Bryan Castro

Good Gurevich Game

In my lesson today we looked at a QGD game I played against David Buckley.

I was concerned about White playing 11. Ne4 instead of 11.O-O. Nigel suggested the Cambridge Springs as a possibility to consider in future.

Here is a video clip by Andrew Martin on the Cambridge Springs covering some tactical ideas in a game by Gurevich.

Happy New Year.

Dan Staples

News of the Century

It’s the biggest chess news of the year. Perhaps the biggest chess news of the century. You might even consider it the biggest chess news of all time. Nigel has already written about this, but I think it’s worth another article.

The games we’ve seen so far have been fascinating and totally unlike human games. The choice of openings is the first point of interest. AlphaZero seems to prefer queen’s pawn or flank openings (1. d4, Nf3 or c4), disagreeing with Fischer’s dictum that 1. e4 is ‘best by test’. It doesn’t seem to think much of Black’s sharper defences such as the Sicilian and the King’s Indian. It liked the French for a time before switching to the Caro-Kann and then 1… e5, choosing the Berlin Defence against the Ruy Lopez. At the same time, several games featured positional sacrifices, demonstrating a preference for initiative over material. No doubt it had worked everything, or at least almost everything, out: it wasn’t just being speculative.

So already, after teaching itself in only four hours, it must be pretty close to playing perfect chess. How well will it play after 4000 hours?

It was also interesting, or perhaps disturbing, to read here that, of the sixty games so far completed in the 1st English Correspondence Chess Championship, fifty eight have been drawn. These days, because engine assistance is permitted, the vast majority of correspondence games result in the point being shared. The combination of human brain and computer brawn is starting to approach perfection, but still a long way short of AlphaZero. Compared with this, the number of decisive games in the London Chess Classic (10 out of 45 after a late flurry of excitement in rounds 7 and 9) seems positively thrilling.

What impact will this have on chess between humans? At amateur level, playing blunder-strewn games in inter-club matches and weekend congresses, very little. If AlphaZero becomes available online in some form I guess it will, sadly, mean the demise of correspondence chess. It will also have a big impact on top level chess, quite probably leading to more draws than today. Professional players will be able to carry out deeper research further into the game. People have been predicting the death of chess for more than a century: perhaps AlphaZero demonstrates how the chess world will end. Not with a bang but a whimper.

There are answers, though. Some pundits are predicting the rise of Chess960, while others, and I’d probably put myself in their camp, believe that using different starting positions destroys the purity of chess. I don’t think I’d be opposed to the occasional Chess960 tournament, though. We’ll no doubt see more tournaments at faster time limits, which are also more entertaining for spectators. Perhaps we’ll see more invitations for creative players like Rapport and Jobava rather than the ‘bore draw’ specialists.

I’m currently reading Yuval Noah Harari’s books Sapiens and Homo Deus. Harari predicts that homo sapiens will, in the not too distant future, die out, to be replaced by immortal cyborgs. I suppose that, in one sense, AlphaZero is a step in this direction. I’m not entirely convinced by Harari’s arguments, or at least I hope I’m not, and I hope he’ll be proved wrong. Not that I’ll be around long enough to find out, though.

All this prompts thoughts about how we might change chess for the better, which I’ll come back to later, and how we might change society for the better, which is a topic for another time and place, although not unrelated to my views on chess, and, specifically, junior chess.

Meanwhile, here’s another video of one of the AlphaZero v Stockfish games for you to enjoy.

Richard James

The London Chess Classic on Youtube

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.

Nigel Davies

It’s All Over For Humanity!

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:

Nigel Davies