Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Are kids really that good at openings?

This post is in response to a forum comment, that kids are often good at openings and that if you can get through the opening and early middlegame that you have a good shot at winning (given similar ratings, of course). But are kids really that good at openings, or do they just learn a bunch of opening traps?

Having never played scholastic chess, I can't really answer that, but since I've played a lot of double king pawn openings against kids I do notice that they play a lot of romantic systems that contain a lot of pitfalls if you don't know the theory. But is this the same as knowing an opening?

For example, do kids generally understand the power of pawn breaks to increase piece activity, and what pawn breaks generally flow from which openings? Do they know on which part of the board a given opening will generally suggest they play? Do they understand the differences in the value of tempi in closed vs. open games? When I think about knowing openings, those are the sort of things I think of.

I guess the question is, are kids really educated about openings at a higher level than adults, or do they merely know more traps in the openings they play? I do see a difference, and I'm especially interested in the opinions of people who played or coach scholastic players.

Monday, July 28, 2008

The real advantage kids have in chess

Everyone knows little kids are the most dangerous chess opponents for class level adult players, barring only 'unrated' middle aged men from the former Soviet bloc.

But why are kids so dangerous? Two reasons:

They're never hung over and they usually don't feel pressure to beat adults in the same way we feel pressure to beat them.

If I quit drinking at chess tournaments, I bet I gain 50 points pretty fast. When I look at my results in rounds 4 and 5, I'm disgusted at the disparity with rounds 1 and 2. This could just be a function of playing the better players due to Swiss pairings, but I get paired up as often as down and if I'm going to upset you, it will be in rounds 1 or 2. The second day is murder. Still, I enjoy the social aspects of going to tournaments as much as the chess and I have no plans to change my habits. I doubt I am alone amongst childless (I'm 26) adults in my behavior at tournaments, especially those like me who usually room with friends who also like a drink.

As for their other advantage, if a kid loses to some adult who's been playing for years, it's usually not considered such a big deal, especially by their parents. I think this takes a lot of pressure off them in games against their elders. I for one feel a special imperative to beat anyone significantly younger than me, or at least anyone who can't legally drive. This is a silly feeling because ratings are obviously independent of age, but never the less I get very annoyed when elementary age kids beat me. Never mind my Finance and Psychology degrees, disregard that I play several instruments with performance proficiency, the 1420 on my SATs years ago, this little kid JUST TOTALLY OUTSMARTED ME AND IT PISSES ME OFF!

Little kids have none of these pressures.

So if you ever see me pacing, cursing at 2:00 on Sunday at some tournament, there's a good chance I just hung my queen to some third grade would-be prodigy after a night of pounding Sam Adams, and I'm not happy about it.

Did I mention that kids often play really off-beat but trappy lines? I've never really been caught out in one by a child, but I still hate playing against them because I'm usually not so familiar with the positions (I mostly study main lines).

And I really hate that sometimes, when you beat a kid badly or in an important game, they cry. I'm not heartless and it makes me feel awful, even though it's certainly just part of the game and I would never let them win. It's especially bad if I see their parents berate them later for losing (or for crying). It's just chess. They feel bad enough already.

A quick note on ICC manners

Since I'm posting my League4545 games, you will all soon know my ICC handle is Caissapriest. Since I have a proclivity to be outspoken online, a few quick notes on my views on ICC manners. First though, let me note that I am very frequently drunk when playing online, and so if I've ever said anything rude to you (especially if you have an automated thank you), then I apologize. Drunkenness is not an excuse (since it's certainly my choice to drink and play chess), I'm just saying don't take it too personally.

In any case, a few things about ICC manners

1. Rematch challenges are fine, but please don't give me any shit if I decline. Playing you once is not a tacit agreement to play you repeatedly. You have no idea why I'm not playing you again. Maybe my girlfriend needs something. Maybe my cat threw up. You don't know. It's not a big deal.

2. Talking shit unprovoked is very bad form. Talking shit when provoked, however, I view as not such a big deal. Provocation includes anything that would be rude over the board, including letting your time run out in a lost position when you have a lot left rather than resigning, playing on in terribly lost positions when there is a lot of time remaining, and so forth. If you're losing, just lose and be done with it. You're not going to swindle me with your knight and pawn when I have three queens or something, at least not when we both have 5-10 minutes left. It's just a waste of both our times.

3. Profanity is still unnecessary in the above cases, because you don't know anything about the person you're playing. When I say talk shit, I mean something along the lines of: "That's really rude to play on when you're totally lost, and I don't understand why anyone would play you more than once. I certainly won't" +noplay +cens. I wish I had a hotkey for this phrase. It's pretty mild as such things go, but it gets the point across.

4. I hate automated thank yous. If it's a really obnoxious one, then I might say something rude, especially drunk. I got censored for this once by ICC administration, probably rightly. The reason I hate them is because they're so fake and impersonal. They come up after truly good games, and after games where I hang my queen on move 8. It's like when you're on hold with AT&T and the automated voice tells you they value your call and then thanks you for your patience. They don't value your call, it wasn't a good game every time, and so I would prefer people reserve their thanks for games that are actually good enough that they feel inspired to reach out and type a real thanks.

That's my ICC rant. Please don't drop me a bunch of messages about what a dick I am. My censor list is big enough already.

Ugly, Ugly team4545 Game

So I've started playing in the ICC team4545 league, and I just played my first game, and I did not play it well. Here it is. It transposed into an Old Indian defense (which I know nothing about) and I was much worse right out of the opening. I played this game after spending two days at my best friend's wedding, and I had the worst hang over I've had in a year at least. I have to say, it didn't hurt my ability to calculate all that much, but it made me very impatient which definitely showed during the course of the game. Chess is not a physical game, but a deficiency in your physical condition can show up in so many ways in your play. I just didn't have the mindset to play slowly.

Caissapriest (1778)
GambitBandit (2118)
ICC 27.07.2008

1. d4 d6 2. c4

This was my first mistake. There are drawbacks to all white's responses now, and so 2. Nf3 is better, preventing e5. This is not a system I have ever taken seriously, but it scores very well for black in the database. Trading pawns and queens is optically appealing at first glance, but with the queens gone and both sides undeveloped black's loss of castling privileges just doesn't matter all that much.

...e5 3. e4
3. Nf3 e4 4. Ng5 Nf6 5. Nc3 Qe7 6. Qc2 Nc6 7. e3 Bf5 8. h4 h6 9. Nh3 g5 10. Nd5 Qd8 11. Bd2 Bg7 12. O-O-O Qd7 13. Be2 Nxd5 14. cxd5 Nxd4 15. exd4 e3 16. Bd3 Bxd3 17. Qxd3 exd2+ 18. Qxd2 O-O-O 19. hxg5 Qf5 20. Qc2 Qxd5 21. gxh6 Bxh6+ 22. Kb1 Qxg2 23. Qf5+ Kb8 24. Qxf7 Qe4+ 25. Ka1 Rdf8 26. Qd7 Rd8 27. Qb5 Bg7 28. Rhe1 Qf3 29. Ng5 Qxf2 30. Rf1 Qg2 31. Nf7 Rdf8 32. Nxh8 Rxh8 33. Rg1 Qf3 34. Rdf1 a6 35. Qg5 Bf8 36. Rh1
1-0 Lautier,J (2672)-Glek,I (2575)/Corsica 2005/EXT 2006

3... exd4 4. Qxd4 Nc6 5. Qd1

5. Qd2 g6 6. b3 Bg7 7. Bb2 Nf6 8. Nc3 is also an option

5... Nf6 6. Nc3 Be6
6... g6 this move right away is what I expected, and I think it gives white more trouble.

7. b3

7. Nf3 g6 8. h3 Bg7 9. Be3 O-O 10. Be2 Nd7 11. O-O Nb6 12 Nd5 Bxb2 13. Bg5 f6 14. Bh6 Marin is somewhat better in this position.

Bxa1 15. Bxf8 Kxf8 16. Qxa1 Kf7 17. Nd2 Nd7 18. f4 Ne7 19. Nf3 Bxd5 20. cxd5 c6 21. dxc6 bxc6 22. Bc4+ d5 23. Bb3 Nc5 24. e5 f5 25. Ng5+ Kg8 26. e6 Qb6 27. Kh2 Rf8 28. Nf7 Rxf7 29. exf7+ Kxf7 30. Qe5 Ne4 31. Bc2 Nd2 32. Re1 Nf3+

1/2-1/2 Sokolov,I (2630)-Marin,M (2525)/Debrecen 1992/EU-chT

7... g6 8. Bb2 Bg7

9. Bd3
9. Nf3 is a mistake, allowing Nxe4 10. Nxe4 Bxb2 with a huge advantage for black.

9. Qc2 came into consideration as well, but as I was way behind in development I wanted to get the kingside pieces out quickly. I didn't think I'd move the bishop to any place other than d3 anyway, though as it turns out Be2 might have been better in some lines ...O-O 10. O-O-O Nb4 11. Qe2

is all right for black, though it is a little more combative and might have been better.

9... O-O 10. Nge2
10. Nf3 is probably a better move, but I rejected it because I was planning to gain space with f3 or f4 (depending on the situation), and I felt that developing the knight here would
hinder those plans uneccesarily. ...Ng4 11. Qd2 Nce5 12. Nxe5 Bh6 13. Qc2 Nxe5
is about equal

10... Ne5
10... Ng4 is better for him 11. O-O Qh4 12. h3 Nge5 sees all black's pieces very active and white reduced to a slow unwinding

11. Bc2

11. f4 Nxd3+ 12. Qxd3 Nd7 came into consideration, but I wanted to
retain the bishop in connection with playing f5.

11... c6?!

This is slow, and d5 will be hard to play in any case. 11... Nfd7 12. h4 Ng4 13. Qd2 h5 14. Nf4 Bh6 15. O-O-O is pretty much equal

12. O-O
after screwing up the opening badly, I've managed to equalize.

I assume he was trying to prevent f4, and in fact I shouldn't have played it.

13. f4?? a very bad move. This was me lashing out, because I had grown very tired of my cramped position and awkward piece placement. A little more patience and I might have had real winning chances.13. Qd2 was the other thing I thought of and would have been an improvement. ...Ne8 14.Rad1 Ng6 15. Na4 Bxb2 16. Nxb2 sees white with a slight edge according to Fritz 10

13... Neg4
13... gxf4 14. Nxf4 Nfg4 15. Qd2 Qb6+ 16. Kh1 is similar to the game continuation

14. Qc1
14. e5 is the only move ...dxe5 15. Qxd8 Rfxd8 16. fxe5 Nh5 leaves black better, but white is not in as much trouble as in the game.

14... Qb6+!
I had totally missed this move when I played f4.

15. Kh1 Nf2+ 16. Rxf2 Qxf2 17. f5 Bd7 18. Qxg5 Kh8 19. Bd3?

This is very bad. 19. Rd1 Rg8 20. Qf4 Qxf4 21. Nxf4 Ne8 22. Na4 and black is not a whole lot better, though white has no winning chances against strong play.

19... Rg8 20. Rb1
Now the bishop and rook aren't hanging, but he plays an accurate move and any swindling chances I have vanish. 20. Nd1 Nxe4 21. Bxg7+ (21. Qxg7+ Rxg7 22. Bxg7+ Kxg7 23. Nxf2 Nxf2+ 24. Kg1 Nxd3 is even worse) 21... Rxg7 22. Nxf2 Nxf2+ 23. Kg1 Nh3+ is brutal for white

20... h6 21. Qd2 Ng4 22. Nd1 Qh4 23.h3 Ne5 24. Ne3 Bf6 Fritz gives him about a two pawn advantage, and I agree with it.

25. Bxe5 Bxe5 26. Ng4?? This was simply an oversight played quickly in frustration, though
I was cooked in any case.

Not a good game from me at all. I got confused in an unfamiliar opening and ended up in a position reminicent of a Maroczy bind, an opening I play very poorly. Hopefully my next 4545 league game will be better. 0-1

Thursday, July 24, 2008

'Chess Explained: The Taimanov Sicilian' Reviewed

As I noted in a previous post, I am starting to play the Sicilian again after spending the last year working on the open games. I am a little split as to whether to play the Taimanov or the Classical (Najdorf/Scheveningen, Dragon: too much theory even for me; Sveshnikov: a possibility, but I have worked so much on the white side that I feel a certain 'white pieces bias' towards it, even though it scores very well and is an excellent line; Kan: the diversity of white responses I find staggering; others: I don't really like offbeat variations). I have chosen to research the two concurrently to decide which I like better, and so I bought both Chess Explained volumes on the openings. I recently received the Taimanov book, and so far I have been impressed.

James Rizzitano has been a blessing to chess fans since he picked up the pieces (after a long hiatus) and the pen several years ago, and he's produced several fine works recently. I especially can recommend his book How to Beat 1.d4, which I used primarily for it's anti-main line Queen's Gambit section. He's a thorough writer who provides what is for me a good mix of analysis and explanation.

Chess Explained: The Taimanov Sicilian naturally contains more verbal explanation than analysis, though a quick check on Chessbase shows that the critical lines are covered. I like the way the information is broken up, and the recency of the games is a major plus. I find Gambit books in general to be easier to read than Everyman and Quality Chess, though let me be clear that all three of these publishers regularly produce quality works, and I own plenty of books from all three. I like the two column format, and the text is well sized to get a lot of information on the page (a gripe I sometimes have with Everyman) without being too hard to read (a problem that crops up from time to time in Quality Chess books, IMO). I still don't know if I'll play the Taimanov a lot, but between Chessbase and this book I doubt I'll need another resource for some time even if I adopt it as my main open Sicilian Defense. Overall, a good book.

Adventures in the Anti-Sicilians

I've recently started playing the Sicilian again, since I got really discouraged trying to find a good answer to the Lopez (especially the exchange variation; even though black is mostly ok I just don't like that sort of chess game, and at my Class B level I get it a lot more than anything else).

In any case, I've been analyzing positions that arise from the Alapin (2.c3) Sicilian, and I found an interesting one that arises from one of the main lines:

It's white's move, and it seems that white can win a pawn with Bxd5 exd5 Qxd5, but there are a number of interesting lines that arise following Nb4, so I think that black has sufficient compensation. I haven't Fritzed this position yet, I'm curious what the computer will think. The game (Rybenko-Ciuskyte 2004) continued 11.Bd3 f5 12.exf6 Nxf6 13.Qe2 Qa5, with black eventually winning after some nice tactical shots.

I have to admit a level of discouragement, as after the game I got on ICC and almost immediately played 2-3 games in the Alapin, and I think I lost each one. None reached the diagrammed position as white chose an early exchange on d5 entering a dual IQP position, which I haven't really analyzed all that much (though you'd think I'd know how to play an IQP considering how many I enter as white). Still, it was a little frustrating. I did win a pretty game in the exchange QGD earlier in the day against a much higher rated opponent, which felt nice as this is one of my favorite systems.

The next round of the Team4545 league starts this week, and I have a game on Sunday against a player ~300 points higher rated than me. I will post that game after I finish it. This should be fun.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Correspondence chess

What is the value anymore of corr chess? I don't ask this frivolously, as I've just finished my second corr tournament (+3 =2 -1, 2nd place) and am unsure as to whether I should start another one. They are fun in a sense, but there is no practical way to stop cheating and I can't help but feel in some of my games that I'm playing against a computer. As much as I like the analytical practice and the use of very sharp lines, it's very disheartening to think I may be playing Rybka. Since we have the anonymity of the internet, has anyone ever cheated at a corr game, and would you be willing to cop to it? I'm just trying to get a feel for how many people play fair.

Adventures in Chess

Welcome to Chessgasm, this blog will be devoted to my obsession with chess. Nothing has the power to elate and infuriate me like chess; I'm sure you can sympathize. The title of this blog is indicative of the emotional power chess has, though nothing the least bit racy will ever be posted (not even 'Chessbase' girls). In any case, this blog will contain my observations, trials, and tribulations as I try to reach expert before I get bored and quit. I intend to review books (I buy a lot of chess books), discuss my games (hopefully get comments from well meaning readers), and discuss the frustrations and joys of being a class player in the USCF.

Perhaps you noticed I said expert. Unlike many chess players, I don't really expect to be a master. I think I can reach expert within 5 years, which is about how long I expect to be really interested in chess (I tend to get bored with things after 5-6 years, I've found). Chess may prove an exception however... I can't ever get enough, especially ICC.

I don't have a system for improving. I study often, mostly analyzing early middlegame positions from openings I play. I used to do a lot of tactics, but once I got to about 1600 I found that they didn't really seem to help so much as they used to. I think studying openings is not as overrated as everyone says, and since everyone good spends a lot of time on it they should stop telling everyone below them to give it up. How else am I supposed to learn about positions? Positions come from specific openings, and usually the positional (and even tactical) motifs that recur repeatedly in games in those openings are defined very early by the initial moves each player makes. For example, you could say that the King's Indian defense is a terribly complicated and theoretical opening that class players shouldn't spend a lot of time learning the theory of. However, if I want to play the KID, I better learn that black usually strives for an f5 break, while white will often play for c5 and invasion on the open c-file. I should know that if white plays an early f3 and goes into the Samisch, then he may castle queenside and attack on the kingside and that my best response may well be a gambit. I should know that in some positions Na6 planning to come to c5 after a d5 push is a good way of playing. I should know that against some setups going into a Benoni type position with c5 may be best. These are all opening concepts which will define the strategies of both sides for the middlegame, and studying openings seems to the best way to learn about them. Whew. There's my rant for the day.