Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Puzzles from New York 1857

There were certainly a lot of blunders at the First American Chess Congress (New York 1857). Your job is to find the win in each case. The diagrams are presented in order of difficulty from very easy to very difficult. All of the games can be played over (along with the games from the Morphy-Thompson match-up from the start or "1/8th-finals" of the tournament) online at my Selected Games from New York 1857 (also available as a PGN file to download).

Paulsen - Morphy after 23.f3.
Morphy blows it here....

Kennicot-Raphael after 13.d5??

Perrin-Knott after 26.Rg2

Fiske-Marache after 11...Ra8??

Stanley - Lichtenhien after 29...Rxc3??

Morphy - Paulsen after 6...Qxb2?

Morphy - Meek after 18...Qf8?

Paulsen - Morphy after 17.Qa6?

First American Chess Congress, New York 1857

I have been looking at The Book of the First American Chess Congress by Daniel Willard Fiske (New York 1859), which you may be able to find still in the 2002 Olms Reprint edition reviewed at Chess Cafe. It is a fascinating read, and practically indispensable for anyone interested in the history of the game. After all, not only is the famous First American Chess Congress itself of historical interest, but Fiske's 563 page tournament book is filled with all of the history and lore of chess up to that point. Its first chapter, in fact, undertakes a history of chess from its origins to the present day (in 46 pages) and its ninth chapter, which is longer than the sections on the tournament, offers up “Incidents in the History of American Chess” (in 200 pages) beginning with Ben Franklin and ending with a biography of Paul Morphy. There are also numerous short pieces on various topics, including an interesting article by Lowenthal on opening theory for those spotting pawn and move (which leaves Black without his f-pawn), a section on chess problems (including all problems submitted for the puzzle tournament), an article on various methods of recording chess games (which fails to mention the wonderfully modern algebraic notation deployed by Lowenthal in his article), and considerable detail about everything that happened at the Congress itself (including the dinner speeches made before it began). Its omnibus quality alone makes it a wonderful little companion since you are always discovering little things that are new.

As something of a chess bibliophile, I was naturally interested in the section on "American Chess Bibliography" which attempts to list and describe all of the chess literature published in America from 1734-1859. One of the texts described is titled "The Elements of Chess; a treatise combining Theory and Practice, and comprising the whole of Philidor's Games, and explanatory notes, new modeled; and arranged upon an original plan" (Boston 1805) which makes the following proposal, described by Fiske: "In the appendix the editor proposes a complete revolution in the nomenclature of the game. After some remarks on the unsuitableness of the names of the pieces, he says: 'Impressed with a strong desire to see an amusement of such antiquity, of such fascinating attractions, freed from every encumbrance, the writer of these remarks proposes in the following sketch to substitute other names more expressive of the respective powers of the pieces; more suitable to the dignity of the game; more descriptive of the military character; and better adapted to our feelings as a citizens of a free republic.' He then gives a scheme of the change which he advocates, thus:

Old Names
King's Rook
King's Bishop
King's Knight
Queen's Rook
Queen's Bishop
Queen's Knight

New Names
First Colonel
First Major
First Captain
Second Colonel
Second Major
Second Captain

Philidor's first game is next given 'to show the effect of the new moves.' Such expressions as 'Fifth Pioneer at 36;' 'Third Pioneer takes the General;' 'Major covers the check at 52;' and 'Governor castles,' present a strange appearance to the eye of the chess-player. Nor is the feeling diminished by the perusal of such notes as this: 'You advance this Pioneer two squares to obstruct your adversary's first Colonel in his intended attack on your sixth Pioneer'" (pp. 487-488).

The games themselves are actually more interesting than I had supposed. But then again I get some enjoyment out of playing over contemporary amateur games. The Chessmetric site (http://www.chessmetrics.com/) would suggest that Morphy was rated in the 2700 range, with Louis Paulsen going from 2550 in 1857 to the 2700 range during his Post-Morphy peak in 1862-1864. But anyone who plays through these games from long ago will have a completely different impression. The best players at New York 1857 seem hardly as good as most Class A or even Class B players today, with the exception of Morphy (just master strength in my view) and Paulsen (about expert level). It is pleasant to entertain the fantasy of being transported back in time to completely destroy most of these guys, and then to give Morphy a much tougher time than any of his other opponents were able to offer. Morphy might even have been beatable by an expert player, especially considering the number of errors he made in his games. The biography by Sergeant, for example, does a good job of laying bare the Morphy myth with its scrutiny of his play. And Fritz is merciless.

Tim Krabbe has most of the games from New York 1857 in a ZIP file on his site to download. My impression is that he has all of the actual tournament games but none of the side games (including blindfold games and others) that fill the book. I have also put together a set of selected games, but you might wait to look at it until I have posted puzzle positions drawn from them.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Nxe5 Nxe4?!

Black to play after 20.Rd1 and end the game.

The game Gadgil-Mazzillo, Kenilworth Summer Tourney 2005 (which you can view online or download as PGN) was interesting in several respects, not least because of its opening. I have witnessed several games at the club that began 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Nxe5 Nxe4?! (rather than the recommended 3...d6 4.Nf3 Nxe4). And I am never sure whether or not the players know that this line is supposed to be bad for Black--or if Black is playing it as a trap of sorts, knowing full well that the worst that can happen to him is that he will end up with a bad ending (which anyone below Master level would be hard pressed to win). What's more, the second player is very likely to be rewarded -- as in the present game -- by those who do not know the "refutation." So, as a warning to all, here is a bit of analysis on this interesting Petroff byway, which turns out to be a lot more complicated than I had supposed. In fact, if you are serious about studying this line I'd suggest you download the PGN file since it contains a few minor adjustments to my original analysis--and I'm sure that if you played around with these lines some more with Fritz you'd discover even more ideas!
The game is also interesting for its critical moment (see diagram above). Black was clearly winning--he was already a pawn up with a dominating position--but he rightly sensed that this was the moment to deliver a knock-out blow. The mistake he made can only be understood in this way: he knew a combination must exist here, and as soon as he saw the glimmer of one he played it. He chose wrong, unfortunately, and lost. Can you find the knock-out that he knew was there?

[Event "KCC Summer Tourney "]
[Site "Kenilworth, NJ USA"]
[Date "2005.08.25"]
[Round "?"]
[White "Gadgil, Laukik"]
[Black "Mazzillo, Pat"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "C42"]
[Annotator "Goeller,Michael"]
[PlyCount "53"]
[EventDate "2005.??.??"]

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nf6 3. Nxe5 Nxe4 {I had always thought this was an opening error, and I suppose I remain convinced that it is. But White must be prepared for a sharp struggle followed by a long endgame in order to carry the point. He must also avoid a few traps, as the game and the analysis show.} 4. Qe2 Qe7 ({Of course not} 4... Nf6 $4 5. Nc6+ $18) ({nor} 4... d5 5. d3 Qe7 6. dxe4 Qxe5 7. exd5 $16) 5. Qxe4 d6 6. d4 ({Also playable may be} 6. f4 $5 dxe5 7. fxe5 Nc6 (7... f6 8. Bc4 Qxe5 9. Qxe5+ fxe5 10. d3 Nc6 11. Be3 Nd4 12. Kd2 Nf5 13. Bf2 Bd7 14. Nc3 O-O-O 15. Rae1 Re8 16. Bf7 Re7 17. Bd5 c6 18. Be4 b6 19. Rhf1 $14 { 0-1 Haznedaroglu,K-Volkmann,F/Leon ESP 2001 (48)}) 8. d4 f5 9. Qf4 Be6 10. c3 O-O-O 11. Bd3 Qd7 12. Bc2 g5 13. Qf2 Be7 14. Nd2 Rhf8 15. Nb3 Qd5 16. Bd2 Qb5 17. Bd1 Nxe5 18. dxe5 Rd5 19. Be2 Rxe5 20. Be3 Bc4 21. Bxc4 Qxc4 22. O-O-O $18 {1-0 Chandler,M-Jimenez de la Torre/Oviedo 1992 (41)}) 6... dxe5 ({a)} 6... Nc6 $5 7. Bb5 (7. Nc3 dxe5 8. Nd5 Qd8 9. dxe5 Bf5 10. Qxf5 Qxd5 $44) 7... Bd7 8. O-O $1 dxe5 9. d5 f5 10. Qe2 Nb8 (10... Nb4 $142 $5) 11. Re1 Bxb5 12. Qxb5+ c6 13. Qb3 cxd5 14. Bg5 Qc7 15. Nc3 Nc6 16. Qxd5 Be7 17. Nb5 Qd7 18. Qxd7+ Kxd7 19. Rad1+ Ke8 20. Nc7+ Kf7 21. Bxe7 Kxe7 22. Nxa8 Rxa8 23. c3 { 1-0 Speelman,J-Keogh,E/Amsterdam zt 1978 (36)}) ({b)} 6... f6 $2 7. f4 Nd7 8. Bc4 $1 (8. Nc3 fxe5 $1 (8... dxe5 $2 9. Nd5 Qd6 $2 10. fxe5 fxe5 11. dxe5 Qc6 12. Bb5 Qc5 13. Be3 {1-0 Wills-Sparks/USA 1942 (13)} Qxb5 14. Nxc7+ Kd8 15. Nxb5 $18) 9. dxe5 $1 (9. fxe5 dxe5 10. Nd5 Nf6 11. Bb5+ c6 12. Nxf6+ gxf6 13. Bxc6+ bxc6 14. Qxc6+ Kf7 15. Qd5+ (15. Qxa8 $2 exd4+ 16. Kf2 Bb7 $40) 15... Kg6 16. Qxa8 $2 (16. Qe4+) 16... Bb7 17. Qb8 Bg7 18. Qxa7 exd4+ 19. Kf2 Re8 20. Rg1 Qe2+ $19) 9... dxe5 10. Nd5 Qh4+ 11. g3 Qd8 12. Be2 $1 $18) 8... fxe5 9. fxe5 dxe5 10. O-O exd4 (10... Nf6 11. Qh4 $40) 11. Bf7+ Kd8 12. Bg5 Nf6 13. Rxf6 $3 Qxe4 14. Rd6# {Bernstein/Paris 0 (14)}) 7. Qxe5 $2 {A blunder, which gives Black the edge rather than properly punishing him for his inaccurate opening.} ({The only correct move is} 7. dxe5 $1 Nc6 8. Nc3 { White has three alternatives, two of which may also be good:} (8. Bf4 $6 g5 9. Bd2 (9. Bb5 Bd7 10. Bd2 f5 11. Qe2 O-O-O 12. O-O f4 13. Bc3 Rg8 14. Nd2 Rg6 15. Ne4 Nxe5 16. Bxd7+ Nxd7 $11 {1/2-1/2 Seknadje,J-Nuvoloni,D (23)}) (9. Bg3 $4 f5 $19 {Rivers-Acers, New Orleans 1961}) 9... Nxe5 10. Nc3 f5 $13) (8. Bb5 Bd7 9. Nc3 $1 (9. O-O $6 O-O-O 10. Bf4 (10. Be3 Nxe5 11. Bxd7+ Nxd7 12. Qa4 a6 13. Nc3 Qb4 14. Qxb4 Bxb4 15. Nd5 { 1/2-1/2 Marcet Bisbale,A-Hidalgo,A/St Cugat 1994 (15)}) (10. Bxc6 Bxc6 11. Qf5+ Bd7 12. Qf4 f6 13. exf6 gxf6 14. Nc3 Qf7 15. Ne4 f5 16. Be3 Rg8 17. Ng5 Qg6 18. g3 Bd6 19. Qd4 f4 20. Qxa7 Bc6 21. Bxf4 Bxf4 22. gxf4 Qxg5+ { 0-1 Wittmann,R-Lieff,H/Germany 1979 (22)}) 10... f5 11. Qe3 Qb4 12. e6 (12. Nc3 Bc5 13. Qc1 Bd4 $13) 12... Qxb5 13. exd7+ Rxd7 $11 { 0-1 Salakhova,G-Potapov,A/Ceske Budejovice 1994 (56)}) 9... Qb4 $1 (9... O-O-O $6 10. Bf4 $1 (10. O-O Nxe5 $11 { 1/2-1/2 Kulicov,O-Maiorov,O/Kramatorsk UKR 2003 (17)}) 10... f6 (10... Qb4 11. O-O-O Qxe4 12. Nxe4 Nxe5 13. Bxd7+ Nxd7 14. Ng5 $16) (10... g5 11. Bg3 Bg7 12. O-O-O Qc5 13. Rd5 Qe7 14. Rhd1 Nb8 15. Bxd7+ Rxd7 16. Nb5 { 1-0 Karmov,M-Wolochowicz,P (16)}) 11. exf6 Qxf6 12. O-O-O a6 13. Nd5 Qf7 14. Bc4 Re8 15. Qf3 Be6 16. Rhe1 Bc5 17. Rxe6 Rxe6 18. Nxc7 { 1-0 Yudasin,L-Montecatine,R/Dos Hermanas 1992 (18)}) 10. Bc4 $1 O-O-O (10... Be6 $5) 11. a3 $1 Qa5 12. Bxf7 Nxe5 13. b4 Bxb4 14. Qxb4 Qxb4 15. axb4 Nxf7 16. Rxa7 $16 {1-0 Naiditsch,A-Volkmann,F/Istanbul TUR 2003 (45)}) (8. f4 $5 Qb4+ ( 8... Bd7 9. Nc3 $16) 9. Nd2 Qxe4+ 10. Nxe4 Nb4 11. Bd3 Be6 12. Bd2 Nxd3+ 13. cxd3 O-O-O 14. Ke2 Bg4+ 15. Ke3 Be7 16. h3 Bf5 17. g4 Rxd3+ $2 (17... Be6 18. f5 $16) 18. Kxd3 Rd8+ 19. Ke3 Bxe4 20. Kxe4 Rxd2 21. Rab1 Bc5 22. Rhd1 Re2+ 23. Kf5 $1 $18 {1-0 Tozkij,A-Babaeva,F/Moscow 1991 (42)}) 8... Qxe5 9. Qxe5+ Nxe5 10. Nb5 $1 (10. Bf4 Bd6 11. Bg3 Bd7 (11... Bf5 12. O-O-O O-O 13. Nb5 $16 { 1-0 Mellado Trivino,J-Jimenez de la Torre,J/Seville ESP 2005 (47)}) 12. O-O-O O-O-O 13. Ne4 Bc6 14. Nxd6+ cxd6 15. f3 Rhe8 16. Rd4 $1 (16. Rd2 f5 17. h4 h6 $2 (17... f4 $3 18. Bxf4 Nxf3 $1 $11) 18. h5 $14 Rf8 19. Rh4 Rf7 20. Rhd4 Rfd7 21. Bh4 g5 22. hxg6 {1-0 Koskivirta,O-Larsson,P (22)}) 16... Kc7 17. a4 f5 ( 17... f6 $142 $1 {Acers}) 18. h4 g6 19. Bf4 Rd7 20. b4 Rde7 21. Kb2 a6 22. a5 d5 23. h5 Kc8 24. hxg6 hxg6 25. Rh6 Rg7 26. Bxe5 Rxe5 27. Bd3 Kc7 28. g4 Re3 29. gxf5 gxf5 30. f4 Rf7 31. Rh5 Re4 32. Bxe4 fxe4 33. f5 Kd6 34. c4 Ke5 35. Kc3 dxc4 36. Rxc4 Kf4 37. Rc5 e3 38. Rh6 e2 39. Re6 Bf3 40. f6 Rd7 41. Rce5 Rf7 42. Kd4 Kg3 43. Rg5+ Kf4 $2 44. Rg7 $18 Rf8 45. Rge7 Kg5 46. f7 Bg4 47. Re4 Kf6 48. R7e5 Rd8+ 49. Kc5 Bf3 50. Rxe2 Rc8+ 51. Kb6 { 1-0 Vasiukov,E-Chekhov,V/USSR 1975 (51)}) 10... Bd6 (10... Bb4+ 11. Bd2 (11. c3 Ba5 12. Bf4 f6 13. a4 $1 $14) 11... Bxd2+ 12. Kxd2 O-O 13. Re1 Nc6 14. Nxc7 { 1-0 Stempka,J-Larsson,P (14)}) 11. Nxd6+ cxd6 12. Be3 O-O 13. O-O-O Rd8 14. f4 Nc6 {White has a clear advantage in the endgame with his two Bishops, greater control of space, and the target at d6. It still takes quite a bit of technique to turn these advantages into a win.} 15. c3 Bg4 16. Rd2 Rac8 17. Kb1 d5 18. Bd3 a6 19. h3 Bd7 20. Bc2 Re8 21. Bb6 Ne7 22. Re1 Rc6 23. Rde2 Re6 24. Rxe6 fxe6 25. Bd4 Rf8 26. Bc5 Re8 27. Bxe7 Rxe7 28. Re5 g6 29. Kc1 Kf7 30. Kd2 Kf6 31. Ke3 Bb5 32. h4 Rc7 33. g4 Bd7 34. h5 b5 35. Bd3 a5 36. g5+ Kf7 37. hxg6+ hxg6 38. Kd4 Rc8 39. Re2 Rh8 40. Ke5 Rh3 41. Bc2 b4 42. cxb4 Bb5 43. Rf2 axb4 44. Kd4 Bd7 45. Kc5 Rh4 46. b3 Bc8 47. Kxb4 e5 48. Kc5 Rxf4 49. Rxf4+ exf4 50. Kxd5 f3 51. Kd6 f2 52. Bd3 Bh3 53. b4 f1=Q 54. Bxf1 Bxf1 55. a4 Ke8 56. Kc7 Ke7 57. b5 Ke6 58. b6 Ba6 59. b7 Bxb7 60. Kxb7 Kf5 61. a5 Kxg5 62. a6 Kf4 63. a7 g5 64. a8=Q g4 65. Qa1 Kf3 66. Qg1 {1-0 Hatala,J-Motamedi,G (66)}) 7... Qxe5+ 8. dxe5 Bf5 ({Also playable is} 8... Nc6 9. Bb5 Bd7 10. Bxc6 Bxc6 11. O-O O-O-O 12. Bf4 g5 $1 13. Bg3 Bc5 (13... h5 $1) 14. c3 h5 15. h3 Rdg8 16. b4 Bb6 17. Kh1 h4 18. Bh2 g4 $40 19. f3 gxh3 20. gxh3 Rd8 21. Bg1 Rhg8 22. Bxb6 axb6 23. a4 Rd1 24. Rxd1 Bxf3+ 25. Kh2 Rg2+ 26. Kh1 Rd2+ 27. Kg1 Rxd1+ 28. Kf2 Bh5 $19 {0-1 Wright,I-Kagan,M/Canberra AUS 1999 (28)}) 9. Bd3 $2 { This move creates a weak pawn at d3, thus presenting Black with two targets of attack at e5 and d3. White should be able to maintain equality but he must play very carefully to combat Black's initiative.} ({a)} 9. Bb5+ Nd7 (9... c6 10. Bd3 Bxd3 11. cxd3 Nd7 12. O-O Nc5 13. d4 Ne6 14. Be3 O-O-O 15. Nd2 Nxd4 16. Bxd4 Rxd4 17. Nf3 $11 {1-0 Paulic,B-Milin,D/Belgrade SCG 2005 (59)}) 10. Ba4 ( 10. O-O Bxc2 11. Nc3 c6 $1 $17) 10... O-O-O 11. Bg5 Re8 12. Bf4 Bd6 13. O-O Bxe5 $15 {1/2-1/2 Coleto,V-Vilchez,I/Cacere University 1993 (38)}) ({b)} 9. c3 Nd7 10. f4 (10. Bf4 O-O-O 11. Bc4 (11. Nd2 Nxe5 12. Bxe5 Re8 13. f4 f6 $11 14. Nf3 fxe5 15. fxe5 Bd6 16. O-O-O Bxe5 17. Nxe5 Rxe5 18. Bd3 Bxd3 19. Rxd3 Re2 20. Rd2 Rxd2 21. Kxd2 {1/2-1/2 Simon,P-Clark,K (21)}) 11... Nxe5 12. Bxe5 Re8 $11 {1/2-1/2 Szilagyi,T-Majdanics,I/Cuba 1993 (23)}) 10... O-O-O 11. Be3 a6 12. Nd2 f6 13. exf6 Nxf6 14. h3 Re8 15. Kf2 Nd5 16. Nc4 Nxe3 17. Nxe3 Bc5 18. Re1 Rxe3 $1 {0-1 Grishchuk,A-Kuliev,S/Bratislava WchJM-U10 1993 (18)}) ({c)} 9. Nc3 Bxc2 10. Be3 c6 $11) 9... Bxd3 10. cxd3 Nc6 11. O-O O-O-O $15 12. f4 Bc5+ 13. Kh1 Rxd3 $17 (13... Nb4 14. Nc3 Nxd3 15. Ne4 Bd4) 14. Nc3 Rhd8 15. a3 Bd4 ( 15... Nd4) 16. g3 Bxc3 17. bxc3 Rxc3 18. Bb2 Rc2 $19 19. Bc1 Nd4 20. Rd1 Rxh2+ $4 {Pat clearly felt that there had to be a win in the position. He just miscalculated. Instead, Black mates or wins easily after} (20... Nf3 $1 21. Rxd8+ Kxd8 22. Bd2 $8 Rxd2 23. Rd1 $8 Rxd1+ 24. Kg2 Nd4 $19) 21. Kxh2 Nf3+ 22. Kg2 Rxd1 23. Kxf3 Kd7 24. Kg4 Rg1 25. Bb2 Rg2 26. Rd1+ Ke7 27. Bd4 { and White eventually won.} 1-0

Demetrick-Goeller, KCC Summer Tourney 2005

Black to move after 10.Nb1?
There are two good options.

My game with Joe Demetrick (which you can view online or download as a PGN) from the Kenilworth Chess Club Summer Tournament this past Thursday was practically a mirror image of my game with Ed Selling from two weeks ago. Both Ed and Joe played the anti-Nimzovich 2.Nf3, both let me gain the edge out of the opening with a simple combination at move 10, and then both overlooked a chance to at least equalize when I screwed up later on. I think I have to work on maintaining concentration throughout the game. Too often in winning positions I lose attention and allow myself to get overwhelmed by the task of calculating at each step. Or sometimes, as in the present game, I simply get overwhelmed by the number of attractive options and spend too much time at each turn trying to choose among them, leaving myself too little time to think when the critical juncture comes. The PGN is pasted below and linked above.

Joe contemplates his move.

[Event "KCC Summer Tourney"]
[Site "Kenilworth, NJ USA"]
[Date "2005.08.25"]
[Round "?"]
[White "Demetrick, Joe"]
[Black "Goeller, Michael"]
[Result "0-1"]
[ECO "B00"]
[Annotator "Goeller,Michael"]
[PlyCount "62"]
[TimeControl "G60"]

1. e4 Nc6 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 Nf6 4. Nc3 g6 { I have been looking at this transposition to a Pirc of late.} ({I usually play } 4... Bg4) 5. h3 Bg7 6. Bb5 a6 7. Bd3 {If White was going to retreat, why not play 6.Bd3 in the first place? Now Black's ...a6 gives him a useful tempo and chances for immediate counterplay.} ({ During the game I felt that White simply had to take at c6, when play might go } 7. Bxc6+ bxc6 8. O-O O-O 9. Re1 Rb8 10. e5 Nd7 $1 {followed by ...c5 =}) 7... O-O ({Emboldened by White's retreat, Black should probably attack in the center immediately by} 7... Nd7 $1 8. Be3 e5 9. d5 (9. dxe5 Ndxe5 $11) 9... Nd4 $1 10. Bxd4 $6 exd4 11. Ne2 c5 12. dxc6 bxc6 13. Nfxd4 c5 14. Nf3 Bxb2 $15) ({ or} 7... Nb4 $5 8. Be2 d5 9. e5 Ne4 10. O-O (10. Nxe4 $2 dxe4 11. Ng5 Qxd4 $1 $17) 10... f6 (10... c5 $5 11. dxc5 Nxc3 12. bxc3 Nc6 13. Bf4 Qa5 $5 14. Qxd5 Be6 $44) 11. a3 Nc6 $13) 8. Be3 e5 9. d5 ({I didn't much like the prospect of} 9. dxe5 dxe5 10. Bc5 Re8 11. Bc4 $11) 9... Ne7 10. Nb1 $2 {Joe said after the game that his idea was to follow with c4 to strengthen his center. But Black has immediate tactical shots after this retreat.} (10. O-O c6 $5 (10... Ne8 11. Re1 f5 $11)) 10... Nxe4 $1 ({The other idea is} 10... Nexd5 11. exd5 e4 {but this looks only about equal after} 12. Nc3 (12. Be2 exf3 13. Bxf3 Nd7 14. Nc3) 12... exd3 13. Qxd3 Bf5 14. Qd2 Re8 15. O-O-O { though Black is certainly doing very well.} (15. O-O c5 $1)) 11. Bxe4 f5 12. Bxf5 $6 (12. Nc3 fxe4 13. Nxe4 Nf5 $15 (13... Bf5 $15)) ({Relatively best was} 12. Bd3 e4 13. Nc3 exf3 (13... Bxc3+ $5) (13... exd3 $5) 14. Qxf3 b5 $36) 12... gxf5 {I liked having complete control of the center. But even stronger was to go after the two Bishops or the initiative by} (12... Nxf5 $1 13. Bg5 Qe8 14. Nc3 e4 $19) 13. Nc3 Qe8 {Black has almost too many good ideas here. I finally settled on the Queen move as a way of asking, "Where are you going to put your King?" I'm ready to attack in the center by f4 and e4-e3, the kingside by Qg6, or the queenside by b5-b4 and Qa4.} 14. Qe2 b5 {This gives Black complete control of the position and makes it very hard for White to hold the pawn at d5.} ({But Black should simply grab a pawn by} 14... e4 $1 15. Ng5 (15. Nd4 $2 f4 $19) 15... Bxc3+ 16. bxc3 Nxd5 $19) 15. a3 Bb7 (15... e4 $1 $19) 16. O-O-O ( 16. Rd1 $142) 16... f4 17. Bd2 Nxd5 18. Nxd5 Bxd5 19. Rhg1 $6 (19. Bxf4 $4 Bxf3 $19) 19... Bc4 ({The problem I find with such won positions is that I simply have too much choice. I had originally considered playing} 19... e4 20. Nh4 Bc4 21. Qe1 Qh5 $1 { with an atack, which Fritz shows to be winning quickly after} 22. g3 fxg3 23. fxg3 Be2 24. g4 Qe5 25. Bc3 Qf4+ 26. Bd2 e3 27. Qxe2 exd2+ 28. Qxd2 Qf6 $19) ({ I also looked at} 19... c6 {. I finally decided upon a queenside attack supported by d5-d4 and e5, but I did not anticipate Black's potential kingside counterplay.}) 20. Qe1 Qc6 21. Bc3 Rae8 22. Nh4 d5 23. g4 (23. b3 $6 d4 $40) 23... d4 ({I did not consider the best move} 23... fxg3 $1 24. fxg3 ({ I did not notice} 24. Rxg3 $4 Qh6+ $19) 24... d4 25. Bb4 Bh6+ 26. Kb1 Rf7) 24. Bb4 Rf7 25. Nf5 Be6 $2 {A potentially critical miscalculation.} (25... Bd5 $1 26. Nxg7 Rxg7 $17) 26. Nxg7 Rxg7 27. Qf1 $4 { Now Black's attack breaks through quickly.} ({White has the same misconception that the e-pawn is indirectly guarded. But White is actually a little better after} 27. Qxe5 $1 a5 $1 (27... Bb3 $2 28. Qc5 $1 $16) (27... Bxg4 $4 28. Qxd4 $18) 28. Bxa5 (28. Qc5 $14) 28... Bb3 29. Qf5 Re5 $1 30. Qd3 (30. Qc8+ Re8 31. Qf5 Re5 32. Qc8+ $11) 30... Bxc2 31. Qxc2 Rc5 32. Bc3 $14) 27... Qd5 28. b3 c5 29. Ba5 c4 30. Qg2 f3 31. bxc4 $2 bxc4 0-1

A Fascinating Colle Game

White to play.
The position above comes from the fascinating game Bartrina-Ghitescu, Olot 1974 (download PGN or play it over online). I came upon it in Amatzia Avni's wonderful little book "Creative Chess" (Pergamon 1991), which features many positions where the correct move or idea is highly original or even counter-intuitive. In trying to solve the puzzle, I was unable to get past Black's best defense, which Fritz confirms leads to a draw and which Avni fails to consider. But the solution to the puzzle remains White's only way to avoid getting a lost game and its originality is still quite striking. I tracked down the game to see how this position came about and I offer it here for your amusement. It is a great specimen of the Colle system.

[Event "Olot"]
[Site "Olot"]
[Date "1974.03.??"]
[Round "9"]
[White "Bartrina, Modesto"]
[Black "Ghitescu, Theodor"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "A48"]
[Annotator "Goeller,Michael"]
[PlyCount "63"]
[EventDate "1974.??.??"]

1. d4 Nf6 2. Nf3 c5 3. e3 g6 4. Nbd2 Bg7 5. Bd3 {The Colle System} O-O 6. O-O d6 7. Re1 b6 8. Qe2 Nc6 9. c3 Qc7 10. dxc5 $1 (10. e4 cxd4 11. Nxd4 Ne5 $11) 10... bxc5 11. e4 Ng4 {Battling for control of e5.} 12. Nc4 Rb8 13. h3 Nge5 14. Nfxe5 Nxe5 15. Nxe5 Bxe5 16. f4 {White wins the battle for e5.} ({ A different mode of attack would be} 16. Bh6 $5 Rd8 17. Bc4 $36) 16... Bg7 17. Be3 Bb7 18. Qf2 Bc6 19. Rad1 Qa5 20. Bb1 Rb7 21. e5 $1 dxe5 22. fxe5 Bxe5 23. Bh6 Qc7 $1 (23... Bg7 24. Bxg7 Kxg7 25. Re5 $36) 24. Bxf8 Bg3 25. Qd2 Bxe1 ( 25... Kxf8) 26. Qh6 Qe5 ({Or} 26... Bf2+ 27. Kxf2 $6 (27. Kf1 $1 Qe5 { returns us to the game line.}) 27... Rxb2+ $1 28. Rd2 Rxd2+ 29. Ke3 Qg3+ $1 30. Kxd2 Qxg2+ 31. Kc1 Qf1+ 32. Kb2 Qe2+ 33. Bc2 Qe5 {and only Black has winning chances in this strange position despite being down a piece.}) 27. Bg7 $3 { Though this move does not win against best play, it is stunning and actually White's only move to keep fromlosing!} (27. Rd8 $2 Bf2+ $1 28. Kxf2 Rxb2+ $40) 27... Bf2+ ({Also playable is the immediate} 27... f6) 28. Kf1 Bb5+ $2 ({ It appears that Black can draw by} 28... f6 $1 29. Bh8 ({or} 29. Bxg6 hxg6 30. Qh8+ Kf7 31. Qf8+ Ke6 32. Qc8+ Kf7 $8 33. Qf8+ $11) ({but not} 29. Rd8+ $2 Kf7 30. Rf8+ Ke6 $19) 29... Bb5+ 30. Kxf2 Qe2+ 31. Kg3 Qe5+ 32. Kf2 $11 (32. Qf4 $2 Qxf4+ 33. Kxf4 Kxh8 $17) (32. Kf3 $4 Bc6+ $40)) ({Not} 28... Qb8 $2 29. Be5 $18 ) ({nor} 28... Bxg2+ 29. Kxf2 $1 Rxb2+ 30. Kg1 $18) 29. Kxf2 $1 Qe2+ 30. Kg3 Qxd1 31. Bh8 $3 Qd6+ 32. Kf2 { and lak cannot prevent mate without surrendering his Queen.} 1-0

Friday, August 26, 2005

Summer Tourney Draws to a Close

I returned to the Kenilworth Chess Club last night after a two week absence (and a missed weekend "chess party.") Work commitments have kept me busy of late and I look forward to the start of the new semester when, ironically, my load tends to get a bit lighter.

The KCC Summer Tournament is drawing to a close. I played a game against Joe Demetrick (the KCC under-1800 champ), where I gained the advantage out of the opening (which began 1.e4 Nc6 2.Nf3 d6, as almost all my games as Black begin of late) and eventually won, but not before giving him a tactical chance (which we both had miscalculated the same way) to reach an equal position. Based on my performance in this tournament, I obviously need to work most at sustaining my attention to the game at hand, especially once I've gained the edge.

There were also several other games, some of which I managed to collect, and I took some photos. I hope to post those by this weekend. Next week, Mark Kernighan will play Greg Tomkovich since they are now tied for first going into the last round and far ahead of the rest of the field.

There was a lot of conversation later in the evening. Scott Massey and I discussed his planned lecture on Moscow 1925, and we looked at Bogoljubow's tournament book which he had brought. And several people wanted to talk about my review of Michael De La Maza's "Rapid Chess Improvement" (which someone said took him longer to read than the book itself). Mark Kernighan, who used to play in Massachusettes and was an occasional visitor to the Boylston Chess Club, mentioned in passing that he was likely among De La Maza's first opponents. I looked up De La Maza's tournament history online and, sure enough, they met in his second rated event.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Recent Annotated Games

Here are some recent annotated games:

Yermolinsky-Benjamin, US Open 2005 (Queen's Indian) annotated by GM Lubomir Kavalek, 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 b6 4.Nf3 Bb7 5.Bg5 Be7 6.e3 0-0 7.Bd3 c5

Conquest-Rowson, Douglas 2005 (Sicilian) annotated by GM Jon Speelman, 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.a4 g6 7.Be2 Bg7

Kamsky-Granda Zuniga, Buenos Aires 2005 (Sicilian) annotated by Jorge Luis Fernández, 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.a4 g6 7.Be2 Bg7
Kamsky-Granda Zuniga, Buenos Aires 2005 (Sicilian) annotated by David R. Sands

Bakalarz-Godena, European Team Championship, Goteborg 2005 (English) annotated by IM Jack Peters, 1 c4 e5 2 Nc3 Bb4

"1...Nc6" or "The Kevitz System" Bibliography

The Black repertoire that can follow from an early ....Nc6 is wide and varied and includes the traditional Nimzovich Defense (1.e4 Nc6 2.d4 d5), the Kevitz System or Nimzovich with ...e5 (1.e4 Nc6 2.d4 e5), the Two Knights Tango or Kevitz-Trajkovich (1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 Nc6), the Chigorin Defense (1.d4 Nc6 2.Nf3 d5 or 2.c4 d5), the Bozo-Indian or Lundin or Mikenas or Kevitz-Trajkovich (1.d4 Nc6 2.d5 Ne5), and several others. Recent publications continue to group some of these lines under "The Nimzovich" or "1....Nc6," but I suggest that we return to Walter Korn's idea of calling at least the dark-square e5-focused approach the Kevitz System (Chess Review, August-September 1954) after the New York master who first experimented with these lines over 50 years ago.

I have tried to make the following 1...Nc6 bibliography as complete as possible and would appreciate any additions you can recommend. I may also dig a few up in the future and will revisit this list if I do.

Books and Articles
James Schuyler, The Dark Knight System: A Repertoire with 1...Nc6 (Everyman 2013) Reviewed here shortly after its publication, this book offers a very coherent and solid repertoire built around a Kevitz-inspired dark-square approach to the Nimzovich with an early e5 by Black. I also link to some of my own analysis of lines considered in the book.  
Alexander Morozevich and Vladimir Barsky, The Chigorin Defence According to Morozevich (New in Chess 2007)  Who better to tell us about the Chigorin than the GM responsible for its revival, and someone who generally preferred an approach that strove for an eventual ...e5 push to fight for the dark squares.  Though the games are mostly those of Morozevich, the analysis offers up-to-date theory for the time.  I would call this indispensable.
Christoph Wisnewski, Play 1....Nc6! A Complete Chess Opening Repertoire for Black  (Everyman 2007) Though this book has a light-squared approach to the opening, with a focus on 1.e4 Nc6 2.d4 d5 lines (including 3.Nc3 e6) and the Chigorin (via 1.d4 d5 2.c4 Nc6), it is still an interesting book with some fascinating sidelines (including the surprising 1.e4 Nc6 2.Nf3 Nf6!?) and very detailed coverage of early divergences by White, which you will not find as deeply treated elsewhere.
Gary Lane. Ideas Behind the Modern Chess Openings: Black (Batsford 2005)
This book has a very misleading title, since it is really a repertoire book focused on the Chigorin (1.d4 d5 2.c4 Nc6), the ...e5 English (1.c4 e5 2.Nc3 Nc6), and the Scandinavian (1.e4 d5 2.exd5 Qxd5 3.Nc3 Qd6). The coverage features well-annotated, recent GM games and is a great introduction to the Chigorin and anti-English lines with an early ...Nc6 for Black, generally looking for an eventual ...e5 push (including the interesting line against 3.Bf4 with 3...Bg4 4.e3 f6!? followed by e5). 
Richard Palliser, Tango! A Dynamic Answer to 1.d4 (Everyman 2005)
An excellent book on the Two Knight's Tango (1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 Nc6) that makes significant additions to Orlov and does a better job of presenting a repetoire that is not completely focused around building up a dark-square structure around ...d6 and ...e5 but occasionally heads toward ...e6 and ...d5 structures.  
Valery Bronznik , The Chigorin Defence (Schachverlag Kania 2005)  An excellently translated and significantly updated version of the same book in German, offering some of the most complete coverage of the Chigorin Defense available, with great consideration of many sidelines ignored by other analysts.  Table of contents and excerpt.
Alex Raetsky and Maxim Chetverik, English ...e5 (Everyman 2003)
Offers good coverage of lines with an early 1.c4 e5 and 2...Nc6 for Black (which you could play via 1.c4 Nc6 and 2...e5, of course). 
Chris Ward, Unusual Queens Gambit Declined (Everyman 2002)
Covers the Chigorin, the Albin, and Keres's ...Bf5 in response to 1.d4 d5 2.c4. The basic coverage of the Chigorin is solid and while none of the coverage is very much in depth it is quality stuff. Especially if you would like to experiment with the Albin (1.d4 d5 2.c4 e5) as an occasional gambit alternative to the Chigorin (which you would still need to know to meet 1.d4 d5 2.Nf3 Nc6 etc.) then this is a must-have book. 
Igor Berdichevsky, Modern Practice 1....Nc6!? (Russian Chess House 2004)
An excellent repertoire book written in Informator notation and multiple languages. The basic repertoire is good, with several different variations and options. It focuses on 1.e4 and 1.d4 and after 1.e4 Nc6 2.d4 it discusses both 2...d5 and 2...e5 lines. There is even coverage of the Scotch (1.e4 Nc6 2.d4 e5 3.Nf3 exd4 4.Nxd4 g6!?). The book includes 331 annotated games (plus more in the notes) and 50 training positions. 
Tibor Fograss, "Morozevich's Favorite!" New in Chess Yearbook 66 (2003)
Covers the Chigorin Defense focusing on Morozevich's recent games. 
Valeri Bronznik, Die Tschigorin-Verteidigung 1.d4 d5 2.c4 Sc6 (Kania 2001)
This incredibly good analysis only recently (and briefly) became available in the US, so it seems much more recent than its 2001 copyright might suggest. I think this is pretty much the definitive work on the Chigorin, so it is a shame it is written in German and with a lot of textual commentaries that seem very worthwhile! Well, there is always Babelfish. See John Watson's excellent review for details. There are also excerpts online
Jeroen Bosch, "Is the Chigorin Playable?" New in Chess Yearbook 58 (2001) 
Georgi Orlov, The Black Knights' Tango (Basford 1998)
This book is suddenly more available in the U.S. and very much worth having before the latest edition runs out. Though Palliser's book above has absorbed much of its analysis, he often does not cover all of the lines that Orlov does and he occasionally diverges from Orlov's repertoire following 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 Nc6. See the review at Chess Cafe
Reynaldo Vera, "The Incisive 3.Nc3 dxc4 4.d5" New in Chess Yearbook 42 (1997)
This line is why some players avoid 1.d4 d5 2.c4 Nc6 and instead only play the Chigorin when White commits to 1.d4 Nc6! 2.Nf3 d5! 3.c4 Bg4 etc. 
Raymond Keene and Byron Jacobs, A Complete Defense for Black (Batsford and International Chess Enterprises 1996)
This is one of my favorite opening books. It has a nice historical introduction and good coverage for a repertoire book. It suggests the Chigorin and 1.e4 Nc6 2.d4 e5 lines. It also discusses 1....Nc6 against other openings. Though an older book, its coverage is surprisingly good. Should be available used and may be available somewhere, though I had trouble tracking down new copies online. 
Leon Pliester, "Nimzovich Defense 1...Nc6" New in Chess Yearbook 40 (1996) 
Adrian Mikhalchishin, "Chigorin Defense" New in Chess Yearbook 39 (1996) 
Angus Dunington, The Chigorin Queen's Gambit (Batsford 1996) Fairly good coverage but overly optimistic in its assessments for Black, in my view--especially in its analysis of 1.d4 d5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.c4 e5!? which was a favorite method of Weaver Adams's to transpose to the Albin. 
Georgy Orlov, "Declaration of Independence: Black Knight's Tango" New in Chess Yearbook 41 (1996) 
Nikolai Vlasov, 1.e4 Nc6, and Black Wins!  Originally published online at the now defunct Kasparov site.  There is a good video at Chess.com by Charles Galofre that basically covers the article with some additional comments.
Hugh Myers, Nimzovich Defense to 1.e4 (Caissa 1995)
There are many original ideas and analyses in this book, but it is a rather confusing coverage and mostly focused on 1.e4 Nc6 2.d4 d5. It's also tough to get all of a sudden and therefore expensive where available. I don't think you need it, especially if you buy the Myers CD. 
Harald Keilhack and Rainer Schlenker, 1...Sc6 ...aus allen Lagen (Kania 1995)
I have not seen this and cannot comment. But it does seem to cover the more unusual lines, including the Colorado Gambit (1.e4 Nc6 2.Nf3 f5?!) 
Paul Van der Steren, "Chigorin Defense" New in Chess Yearbook 34 (1994) 
Leon Pliester, "Theory -- Mirror Image" New in Chess Yearbook 16 (1990)  
Thomas Kapitaniak, Nimzovich Defence (The Chess Player 1981)  A 71-page pamphlet in Informator- (or The-Chess-Player) style wordless text, covering all lines and many sidelines, offering some forgotten games.
John Watson, Queen's Gambit, Chigorin Defense (Batsford 1981)
An older book but surprisingly durable. Some of its assessments and analyses are still worth reading.  Tends toward a white-square approach with ...e6, which is more positional but very solid. 
Tim Harding, The Nimzowitsch Defense, 1.e4 Nc6 (Batsford 1981)
This one has not held up so well.... Many new ideas have appeared since.  But good coverage of all lines. 
Georg Deppe, Die Fischer-Nimzowitsch-Verteidigung (1979)
Offers nicely organized coverage with older games, mostly of Nimzowitsch himself. Focuses a lot of attention on 1.e4 Nc6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 e6. 
Hugh E. Myers, The Nimzovich Defense (CHESSCO 1973)
A small, 87 page pamphlet that was one of the first publications to suggest that 1.e4 Nc6 was playable. 
Andrew Soltis, Queen's Gambit Declined: Tchigorin Defense (Chess Digest 1972)
This was one of the first American opening books on the Tchigorin alone and is still cited in other sources. 
Walter Korn, "The Kevitz System," Chess Review, Part One August 1954, pp. 240-241, and Part Two September 1954, pp. 274-275.  Korn attributes both the Black Knight's Tango and the Nimzovich with ...e5 to Kevitz and discusses a number of related lines. 
There is also various periodical publications by Hugh Myers.

CDs, E-books, and Videos
Simon Williams, The Tactical Chigorin (ChessBase DVD 2017) 
Andrew Martin, Nimzowitsch Defence (ChessBase DVD)
CJ Chess Repertoire Against 1.e4 (see also some links below)  A super collection of videos, by the maker of the Dirty Chess Tricks series.  Really great stuff -- and he may even convince you to give the Colorado Gambit a try. 

Alexander Kalinin and Igo Berdichesky, Modern Chess Openings 1...Nc6!? (Convekta 2005)  From Convekta (the people who bring us Chess Assistant and CT-ART) and featuring the same basic analysis offered in the author's book version but with many additional games. This is a great package and I have only scratched the surface of what is there. I find it a valuable supplement to the book version above, and would recommend both if you can afford it. 
FM Martin Breutigam, Chigorin Defense CD from ChessBase
ChessBase makes great CDs and the reviews suggest that this is no exception. I have not yet gotten around to picking this one up or I'd tell you more about it. The ad copy says: "In a small but good database with 100 entries - 7 texts and 93 sample games - the long time player in the German Bundesliga has compiled all his knowledge on the Chigorin Defence. Another database includes 54 training questions enabling the user to test his freshly acquired knowledge. Furthermore, the CD features a big database of more than 4,000 games as a reference database plus a big tree of all games." 
Hugh Myers, The Nimzovich Defense Ultimate CD
A very nicely organized CD with lots of games and many annotated. I do not always trust Myers's analysis, but I do trust his research and he has done an impressive job of putting these materials together. The game collections also include speed games, which I think are sometimes useful for revealing the participants' opening preparation. 
Sid Pickard, The Bozo-Indian e-book download from Chess Central
Though a poorly chosen name for those who remember Bozo the Clown (model for The Simpson's "Crusty"), this looks like a good game collection. I have not yet downloaded a copy. It covers 1.d4 Nc6 2.d5 Ne5 lines, which both Bogoljubov and Nimzovich tried (hence "Bozo" rather than "Bogo"). 
Andrew Martin, Nimzovich Defense Foxy Openings Video
Though there is something about Martin's accent that tends to put me to sleep, he presents well and is very likable on tape. The repertoire he offers focuses on lines with ...e5 for Black and he offers good suggestions and some original ideas

Web Sources
Repertoire Suggestions by IM Andrew Martin from ChessPublishing.com
Martin recommends a system built around 1...Nc6! with the Black pieces. Worth reading for the PGN files alone. 
Nimzowitsch Defense (also archived at Nimzowitsch Defense) by Marek Soszynski
A good basic overview for club players of 1.e4 Nc6 2.d4 d5 lines. 
Recent Developments in a Critical Variation of the Nimzowitsch by Soren Jensen
Focuses on the sharp 1.e4 Nc6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 dxe4 4.d5 Ne5. Another version covering the same lines with additional analysis is posted at this Nimzowitsch site
Black Knights Tango, Part One, Part Two, Part Three, and Part Four by GM Joel Benjamin at Jeremy Silman's site. This is a very thorough coverage of the Tango (1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 Nc6) using the author's own games. 
About IM Georgi Orlov at ChessMate
A quick kill with the Black Knights Tango from the master himself is annotated here. 
Wesley "Ted" Brandhorst by Ralph Marconi
Includes a nice Brandhorst kill with the Black Knights Tango (1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 Nc6) and well annotated. 
Die Tschigorin-Verteidigung by FM Christoph Wisnewski.  An ambitious but ultimately abandoned effort. Only the section on 1.d4 d5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bf4 is complete. If the rest of the site were finished and as good, this would be an amazing resource. As it is, it is only an amazing resource on one line--though a line that does not receive adequate coverage elsewhere.  Fortunately, Wisnewski's book on 1...Nc6 was eventually published in English and contains his analysis.
Play the Chigorin by Leopold Lacrimosa
A nice analysis with java view board (no longer usable) of 3.Nc3 Nf6. 
Opening Lanes #56 by Gary Lane
Discusses 1.e4 Nc6 2.Nf3 d6 3.h3!? 
Smerdon-Laird, Australia 1999 annotated by John-Paul Wallace
Scroll down (though all the games are great and well-annotated). Features 1.e4 Nc6 2.Nf3 d6 transposing into a Pirc. See also Opening Lanes #10 by Gary Lane for a discussion of this line. 
Opening Lanes #42 by Gary Lane
Discusses 1.e4 Nc6 2.Nf3 f5?! which White should handle more positionally than tactically. 
Borovikov-Mikhaletz, Ukraine Ch 2001 annotated by Boris Schipkov
Transposes to the line 1.e4 Nc6 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 Bg4 4.Nc3 Nf6 5.d5 Nb8!? 
Anthony Miles at Chessgames.com
Tony Miles was one of the chief proponents of the Nimzovich lines with ...e5 and so his games are worth playing over and knowing. 
Nimzowitsch Defense at Sudbury Chess - No longer available. 
Rememberance of Chess Times Past by Tim Harding
Discusses a game of his that began 1.e4 Nc6 2.Nc3. 
Opening Lanes #01 by Gary Lane
Discusses 1.e4 Nc6 2.Nf3 d5!?

Monday, August 22, 2005

Creating Chess Diagrams for Your Blog

I saw that Qaundoman had posted a question about how to put diagrams onto his blog. I posted a comment telling him how and realized only later that it was a bit too technical and that I basically had recommended a $40 solution when he did not want to spend a dime. I think I came up with the perfect solution for him. Best of all, it is simple and it is free. But if you are willing to spend some money, the $40 solution is still better.

Here are three solutions of various costs:

The Perfect Totally Free Diagram Solution

1) Download Arena Chess (Go to the main page at www.playwitharena.com and click on "Arena Downloads" and choose the version you want; I recommend Set Up 2, which comes with free analysis engines).

2) Go through the Set Up Wizard to load the program on your computer.

3) Change the Appearance of the board to fit the colors and look you want for your diagrams (go to "Options">"Apearance" and play around with the options offered).

4) Set up your game or position -- or import a PGN file to play through -- until you reach the position you wish to diagram.

5) Now create a .jpg file showing the position as follows:
5a) Choose from the top menu "Position">"Export">"as graphics"
5b) A window will appear for you to give the file a name and a type and to choose the location to save it. I suggest you save it to the Desktop or to your "My Pictures" folder in "My Documents." Title it by the name of the opponents and the number move (if you intend to create more than one diagram from the game). DO NOT USE ANY SPACES OR UNUSUAL CHARACTERS IN YOUR FILE NAME. Some programs have trouble understanding spaces in file names. Then save it as .jpg rather than .bmp, since .jpg (or JPEGS) are better for the web. Bitmap images are better for text applications such as Word.
5c) Once you have made your choices, press "Save"

You now have an image file of your diagram to upload to your Blog. Rather easy and totally free.

The Perfect $40 Solution

For those of you willing to spend a little money, and who would like to have a quick method of posting chess diagrams online, I recommend the wonderful SnagIt program from TechSmith. Basically, SnagIt allows you to take a picture of any size of anything you can see on your computer screen and then immediately turn it into an image file in .gif or .jpg (or practically any other) format. It is unbeatable for making quick diagrams and even saves you a step or two over Adobe's Photoshop (which is a great progam and very useful, but a lot more capaility than you need for making chess diagrams). The full version of SnagIt comes with two aditional programs that give you about the same power as any image editing program at a fraction of the cost. And you don't have to take my word for it: try the 30-day Trial version and you'll see its value, which mostly amounts to time savings.

The Possibly Free Solution (If You Already Have the Software)

If you have a computer with Microsoft Office or Corel software, you likely have some simple image editing software as well. Learn how to use this software and you can make diagrams easily enough in one of two ways:

1) If you already have Fritz 8 (which has come down a lot in price), simply set up the position you want and choose "Edit">"Copy">"Copy Position" -- then paste the position into your image editing program and save as a .jpg for the web.

2) If you have no Fritz or other chess programs and you are unwilling to try Arena, then simply access a diagram on the web at the ChessBase site or Chesslab site. Use the GUI there to set up a position. Then type "Alt"+"Prnt Scrn" to copy the screen to the clipboard. Paste into your image editor and get rid of the excess. Save as .jpg.

If I think of other ideas I'll let you know.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Dracula Chess

I recenty noticed that the excellent Chess Variants website appears to be down and likely gone for good. Fortunately it is preserved in the Web Archive. It was never a site I visited often, so I can see why it has likely passed away. But I liked knowing that someone somewhere was collecting variants for our reference.

I have found several chess variants to be fun games to play with my wife or with young relatives from time to time, especially when chess itself would not be a fair contest. My wife is a fairly good chess player for someone who has never read a single chess book, but I can usually spot her Knight and move. In chess variants, though, we are much more evenly matched.

A variant I developed, and which I've tried a few times, I like to call “Dracula Chess.” I had intended to send the idea in to the now defunct Chess Variants site or (in one little weekend fantasy when I first drafted the notes below) try my hand at making some money from it. Since I will likely never do either, I may as well present it here in my chess blog in hopes that someone will take it up and run with it (so long as they promise to send me a free set for my own use.)

“So be it that he has gone elsewhere. Good! It has given us opportunity to cry `check' in some ways in this chess game, which we play for the stake of human souls.”
--Van Helsing in Bram Stoker’s Dracula

Its Origins

After rereading Bram Stoker’s Dracula one summer not long ago, it occurred to me that it might be nice to have a Dracula-themed chess set. I searched around the web to see if someone had created one for me, but no such luck. Of course, Dracula would be the Black pieces (due to the traditional association of Black with Evil) and the main “good” characters of the novel would be the White pieces. It struck me that the main characters of the novel fit rather well into the pieces of a chessboard: for Black, Dracula would be the Queen, his coffin the King, the three evil sisters and Renfield the minor pieces; for White, Van Helsing the Queen, the four young men who assist him could be the minor pieces, and perhaps Mina the King (since it is upon her life or death that the novel hangs). Black pawns could be wolves while White pawns could be crosses. Only the character of Mina’s friend, Lucy, would be difficult to represent, since she moves from being human to vampire in the course of the novel. Perhaps she could be Black’s second Queen? In any event, the Black and White binary of the novel maps perfectly onto the grids of the traditional chessboard.

I started imagining how that would look, with both sides quite different from the standard Staunton pieces. Then it occurred to me that the idea could be taken even further if it became a chess variant where the two armies not only had a different appearance but also different powers. Was it possible to represent ideas from the novel in their moves? And how could both armies differ yet still be relatively equal in powers?

The key insight was recognizing that, within the world of the novel, the forces of good can only triumph by keeping things open, revealed, and mobile while the forces of evil seek repression and secrecy. To triumph against evil, you must act straightforwardly and create a society of social mobility. Vampires, meanwhile, thrive on static social hierarchies based on blood and they move through the world in deceitful and deceptive ways. It struck me that the moves of the Bishop and the Knight in chess, relatively equal yet very different, mimic in some ways this opposition. Bishops love open positions, Knights prefer it closed. Bishops move in straight lines, Knights move in tricky ways. Yet the two pieces are relatively equal in value (depending on the position). What would Dracula Chess be like, then, if most of the forces of evil controlled by Dracula had Knight-like movements while the forces for good had Bishop-like movements? It would make for an interesting and relatively equal but unbalanced game, with much to teach players of traditional chess about the relative value of those two pieces.

The Pieces

Here is how I imagine the pieces and their moves. Each is compared to its equivalent traditional chess piece and stands on the same square occupied by that piece on a traditional chessboard—though that is not essential, it occurs to me, and it is possible that the starting position could be altered to make the game more interesting (exactly how could only be suggested after more experience). The abbreviations (such as C for Coffin) are for recording games and are mere suggestions since they may need to be modified in practice if they prove too unwieldy.

Black Pieces (Vampires or Forces of Darkness)

  • Coffin (C): King: same as traditional King. Appears as Dracula’s coffin. Perhaps it would have enough room to store the Dracula figurine when he is captured or exchanged.
  • Dracula (D): Queen: combines the moves of Rook and Knight. Appears as Dracula. The idea is that when Dracula is removed from the board he can be imagined to be in his coffin, ready to reappear should a pawn be promoted.
  • Second Queen (L): should there appear a second Queen for Black, it would take the form of Mina’s friend, Lucy, as “the Bloufer lady.”
  • King’s Bishop (R): Appears as Renfield. Moves as a Knight but can also move one square at a time diagonally in any direction. I’m not certain that this added move is absolutely necessary, but it does correspond well to Renfield’s struggles to remain human (he represents a bridge between evil and good – Knight and Bishop). It also fits his unique position as Dracula’s right-hand man and assistant. He might be shown with insects and spiders crawling on him.
  • Queen’s Bishop and Knights: All move as Knights and take the form of the three evil sisters. One sister might be made relatively unique so that she could be distinguished as a Bishop for people who want to use the set to play traditional chess.
  • Rooks (T): same as traditional chess, taking the form of a Transylvanian tower.
  • Pawns: Same as traditional pawns, taking the form of either Wolves or Bats. I think Wolves is more in keeping with the novel. But those raised on the Hollywood film versions may find Bats more appealing. They could promote to a Rook, to a full-fledged Vampire (Dracula or his lover), or to the evil sisters (Knight). They could also promote to Renfield, but only if he has been removed from the board.

White Pieces (Humans or Forces of Light)

  • King (M): same moves as traditional King. Appears as Mina.
  • Queen (VH): same moves as traditional Queen, appears as Dr. Van Helsing.
  • Second Queen: if Van Helsing is removed from the board, he should be replaced upon the creation of a new Queen. In those rare instances when a second Queen is called for, it might be a figure composed of all the things that vampires hate, built around a large cross, the sun behind it, and garlic wrapped around the foot of it.
  • Bishops and Knights (JH, JS, QM, and AH): Jonathan Harker (Queen’s Bishop), Dr. John Seward (King’s Bishop), Quincey Morris (King’s Knight), Arthur Holmwood (Queen’s Knight). All move as Bishops. Each piece could have a unique masculine form, with emphasis on the Texas cowboy figure of Quincey, the lab-coated garb of Dr. Seward, the middle-class clerk’s suit of Harker and the facier upper-class tuxedo of Holmwood.
  • Rooks (T): same as traditional Rooks, but taking the shape of church steeples.
  • Pawns: Crosses, same as traditional pawns with same traditional powers of promotion.

Other Rules and Suggestions

  • Black moves first. After all, the forces of good are always reactive. Evil always moves first.
  • All other chess rules (including En Passant captures and castling rules) apply.
  • The board might be white and red or black and red in keeping with the theme of blood in the novel.

Comments on the Moves
I think the advantage of the first move combined with Renfield’s additional power of moving one square diagonally (up to four more squares of mobility than a traditional Knight) would be sufficient to compensate for the latent power of White’s four Bishops. The difference of the Queens—one moving as Bishop and Rook the other as Knight and Rook—seems relatively insignificant, and some have claimed that pieces with these different powers are fully equivalent. But I would probably prefer to have the traditional Queen’s mobility, especially in the ending, so that also seems to justify Black having the first move and a piece with additional powers as compensation.

The four Bishops make a powerful force if well coordinated. I can imagine a triple-battery of two Bishops and the Queen along the long diagonal, for example. So Black does need to have some advantage to make up for that.

Renfield meanwhile would be more powerful in the ending and his powers make some endings more fair. For example, Black would be able to checkmate with Dracula, Renfield, and one evil sister against lone Mina, but in traditional chess two Knights and a King cannot normally checkmate a lone King (except in some positions where the weaker side has an additional pawn).

Suggested Marketing
Though I have found that the game can be played using pieces from two combined chess sets, with some marker on Renfield to distinguish him from a normal Knight, it would be nice to develop the Dracula-themed set as a mass-market item to make the game more enjoyable. I think it could be modestly successful, especially since the pieces could be used to play traditional chess as well. The story of Dracula also maps well onto the story of post-9/11 terrorism, especially given its West vs. East cultural backdrop, so I think it even has a chance to capture the zeitgeist.

There have been some other games with a Dracula theme. There has even been a chess set with Universal Studios monsters (i.e.: Dracula, Frankenstein, the Mummy) arrayed against each other in a rather unimaginative battle of the nightmares, sort of like what Tim Harding was trying to conjure when he named 1.e4 e5 2.Nc3 Nf6 3.Bc4 Nxe4 4.Qh5 etc. the “Frankenstein Dracula Variation of the Vienna.” There was also once a game called “The Fury of Dracula” which was based on Stoker’s novel, but it has nothing to do with chess.

As an aside, one chess variant that conjures with these themes and which I’d especially like to try is Knightmare Chess, where cards that are dawn by both players (and which they can exercise at any turn) introduce additional powers to the pieces in traditional chess.

But the “Dracula Chess” I imagine is very different from these. Perhaps it should be called “Bram Stoker’s Dracula Chess,” though that combination of words might have been copyrighted by the producers of Francis Ford Coppola’s film version. Maybe they would like to pick up the idea an craft pieces after the characters as portrayed in their film?

The Bram Stoker’s Dracula set might be made in hard plastic and come with rules for both traditional and Dracula chess (with an expanded version of the rules I’ve sketched here, offering an interpretive explanation of the game), a copy of the novel (now out of copyright—the cover could depict all the main characters arrayed against each other), the pieces, and a folding black and red board. It would also be possible to have a computer version of the game.

My own limited experience with the game suggests that it is quite playable and perhaps even more complicated than Chess itself in some ways. The game also shares aspects with the perfectly playable variants “Chess with Different Armies,” “Almost Chess” and “Augmented Knights,” but it is not very similar to these games (as they were described on the defunct Chess Variants site).

If you give it a try, let me know what you think. And if you want to try it as a profit venture, let me know. I’m willing to sell any rights I may have at a very reasonable rate. I’d even help write the marketing copy.

Meanwhile, I suggest that if you like to read and play chess, and if you are artistically inclined, you consider inventing a themed chess set or chess variant (or both) to go with your own favorite novel. But to do so you must free your mind from the traditions of themed chess sets. You don't need to elevate an unimportant female character and make her the Queen (as I've often seen with Sherlock Holmes themed sets, where his cleaning lady becomes the most important piece). How about Moby Dick, for instance? The Whale and other sea creatures would be White, of course... Perhaps the whale's Head would be the Queen and his Tail the King... Captain Ahab would be the Black Queen. The ship is the Black King. Harpooners (including Queequeg) as the minor pieces. Ishmael just a lowly pawn... I'll let you imagine the rest....

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Games from the Continental Open

The Continental Open Chess Championship (August 5-16) recently concluded in Buenos Aires, where Cuban champion GM Gaston Bruzon took clear first (8.5/11) with a number of players tied second, including American Super-GM Gata Kamsky. You can find several good reports online in Spanish, including this one from the Spanish-language version of ChessBase. There is also a good Engish translation of the official site from Ajdrez Argentina.

The tournament has drawn some U.S. and world press because of an apparently false report from ChessBase that a group of GMs conspired to deny 15-year-old Gaston Needleman a chance to qualify for the world championship cycle. Here are the two stories at ChessBase:

You can download all games in zipped PGN from ChessBase or in PGN direct from The Week in Chess.

There are three annotatd games at the excellent Inforchess site (which I intend to visit often during the upcoming World Championship tournament).

Hungaski-Felgaer, Benos Aires 2005 (Pirc)
1.e4 d6 2.d4 Nf6 3.Nc3 c6 4.f4

Kamsky-Granda, Buenos Aires 2005 (Sicilian)
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.a4 g6 7.Be2 Bg7 8.0-0 0-0 9.Be3 Nc6 10.Qd2

Onischuk-Gulko, Buenos Aires 2005 (Queen's Indian)
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 b6 4.g3 Bb7 5.Bg2 Be7 6.Nc3 0-0 7.Qc2 Na6

I cannot help noting the difference between the non-existent coverage of the nearly concurrent U.S. Open and the extensive coverage that the Continental Open received both online and in the Spanish-language press. The most important lesson in all this is simple: you need a website with news and information about your tournament, and you need to publish the games in a timely manner if you are even going to get mentioned in the news. I still have not found U.S. Open games anywhere, except for a few amateur games that have made it onto blogs:

I am tempted to speculate that the USCF purposely withheld publishing the games in order to preserve their news value when published in Chess Life a month from now. I only suggest this idea because it is the only one I can think of where the USCF would actually have a rationale for not getting more news out about the event....

Monday, August 15, 2005

Milov and Benjamin Win US Open

You can find pictures and the basic facts at the US Open website. Too bad there is no official site with games and extra coverage. For a large event with such a rich legacy not to have a website is a shame. But, then again, it was brought to you by the USCF--the same folks who brought you the new USCF website. Without the website, though, you really have no news coverage to speak of... Another missed opportunity for US Chess.

Here's the scoop: Larry Christiansen (who chose the shorter schedule, which merged with the traditional) led the US Open going into the final round, with Benjamin and Milov close behind. But victories by Benjamin (versus Yermolinsky) and Milov (versus Christiansen) left them tied for first with 8/9. You can find the complete list of final standings online.

Better than USCF.org

We may not have won anything in the CJA Awards this year, but at least we have a better homepage than the USCF! Mig Greengard gives a great critique online and has gotten quite a conversation going. I hope they go back to the "old homepage" soon, but Mig has mirrored the new one so that we do not soon forget this major blunder by the new administration.

Seriously, though, even the old website was no great piece of work. I think the failure at the USCF is no different from the failure at many other organizations: they simply are not devoting enough resources to it because they underestimate the importance (and the potential) of the web. When they finally hire someone with some skill to redesign the site, I hope they will move to more dynamic and less static content--complete with a blog from the president and a way to access current tournament results right off the main page--so that they make their site something you might visit from time to time rather than one you simply use to accomplish bureaucratic tasks (like renewing your membership or checking on your rating). They obviously have a good database back-end. They should do more to manage their content and make the current content more available to visitors.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

De la Maza's "Rapid Chess Improvement"

Today I read Michael de la Maza's surprisingly invigorating (though ultimately disappointing) Rapid Chess Improvement.  How could I have waited so long, you might ask? Well, I certainly was familiar with his ideas. I had read de la Maza's earlier articles, for example, available online at Chess Cafe:
400 Points in 400 Days, Part 1
400 Points in 400 Days, Part 2

I had also read quite a few reviews, including a skeptical one by Randy Bauer and a positive one by Hanon Russell. And I've been reading lots and lots of chess blogs by his followers.

Reading the book was a bit of an afterthought and it took me little more than an hour or two between weeding and watering my garden this morning. I have to say that being reminded of the basic premises of the de la Maza method has definitely inspired me, though I would not say it has made me a "believer." In fact, it left me somewhat a skeptic--though at the same time a skeptic who is much more enthusiastic about studying chess problems!

While I would agree with many of the basic premises of the book and recommend some of its ideas to developing players, I do not think I'd much recommend the book. For one thing, the book itself, like most books really, is just a lot of padding (and often poorly developed padding with language drawn from the genre of infomercials) layered onto the original idea--to the point, in this case, where it risks obscuring some of its best insights. Second, it is really the basic insight itself that is most valuable, in my view, and not de la Maza's specific program.

Basically, de la Maza tells us (as many have said before--as he himself reminds us) that all beginners and Class players could benefit enormously from a focused program of chess study that emphasized most of all tactics and board vision. The precise program he lays out is then described (in only a bit more detail than in the above-mentioned articles and reviews), and it involves repetitive tactical exercises of increasing difficulty (similar to athletic exercises, such as a pianist's fingering or the practice that a good golfer would use to hone his putting game). It also involves exercises to help you more fully grasp the whole board and the movement of pieces on the board, in much the way that Bruce Alberston's under-appreciated "Chess Mazes" attempts to do.

In reading the book, I developed some major reservations about the "De la Maza Method." On the one hand, I absolutely agree with de la Maza's very important insight that tactical study above all will help lower-rated players reach expert level. Of that there can be no question. But on the other hand, I think the Method falls way short of what you'd expect from a programmed course and even introduces some bad habits and notions.

My chief reservations about the Method can be summed up by two issues: first, that it suggests you need not study anything but tactics (including the openings beyond the most basic) and, second, that it discourages critical consciousness by, for example, treating the computer interpretation of chess positions as gospel. In both cases I am not completely critical of De la Maza, because I think he is right to place an emphasis on tactics and to recommend the use of computers and other methods of measuring progress in concrete, mathematical terms. But there is a point at which a basically good premise can become bad dogma, especially if it is presented without caveats and followed uncritically.

While I'm glad for a book that truthfully tells lower-rated players that openings alone are not going to cure what ails them (as many opening books at least implicitly claim and as GM Alex Yermolinsky, for one, has strongly railed against), I think the author is wrong to suggest that opening study will not have a very significant and speedy impact on performance. There can be no question that knowing at least one basic opening system as White and two as Black can make an enormous ratings difference when combined with tactical study and at least some knowledge of other aspects of the game. I can honestly say, for example, that in well over half of my games things were decided in the opening stages. And when I was a Class player, I think the number was even higher. While I think it is foolish for players to study "opening traps" (except as an introduction to tactics) or many different tricky openings or to think that memorizing opening lines alone is going to make the difference, I do think you need to know your basic repertoire in depth--as far beyond the level offered by various repertoire books as you can go--if you are going to create situations for yourself where your tactical preparation can prove itself useful. At the very least, you should study some online opening analysis and follow it up with some review of online games in your openings.

Another way of criticizing the "De la Maza Method" would be to say that it is too narrow. There is no question that de la Maza is correct that tactics are supreme and any unrefuted opening (and even a few refuted ones) are playable below 2000-level. But tactics alone are not going to take you very far if you are fighting to survive on move 10. There are definitely things that developing players need not study, and that includes arcane middlegame knowledge (such as "the minority attack") and even most endgames beyond the most basic K+P and R+K+P (especially with the advent of faster rated time controls). But opening knowledge and some other basics can pave the way to tactical success. What's more, you really need to start developing combinative thinking skills and a recognition of more complex strategic motifs to help organize your basic tactical knowledge. In a sense, de la Maza is suggesting you just study addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division, but these are really only the building blocks of more complex math.

A good place to find better ideas would be the Novice Nook by NM Dan Heisman, for instance.

Another well-rounded approach to chess study for amateurs is mentioned by Bauer in his review. It was laid out in an article by the late Ken Smith that he used to send to people who purchased through Chess Digest, and which was later published at his now-defunct company's now-defunct website. It is still available at the web archive and worth a look.

The main difference between Smith's course and the "De la Maza Method" is that Smith emphasizes opening knowledge and gambit play. He does not put as much emphasis on tactical exercises as de la Maza, but I think that's because he assumes he is writing to a Class player who has already studied tactics to some extent. Tactics are, however, central to his basic four-part program, which he lays out as follows:

"(1) Keep emphasizing 'tactics'. This part of chess will overcome a bad opening, a poor middle­game and lack of endgame knowledge. Only until you reach 'Expert' can you stop devouring everything on combinations and tactics. You put fear into your opponent when you are known as not letting anyone escape.

(2) Every chess book should be saved and gone over a second time. There was no consensus of how much time between readings. Only that you be at a different level of strength. There must be a balance between this study and play.

(3) Be exposed to different authors -- even on the same subject -- even on the same variation of an opening.

(4) Master a complete White opening system and a complete Black defensive system. It does not matter what they are---a complete simple one is better than an incomplete superior one."

I like Smith's basic idea and I'd simply add a few to his list to make the most well-rounded program possible:

(5) Study tactics and do exercises to improve your board vision at every opportunity (on the train, in the bathroom, on your lunch break, or pausing between tasks at work). If you have time to devote to a program of study using a chess program such as CT-ART, more power to you. But don't let the best be the enemy of the good. Any and all tactical study is beneficial and exercise of any sort is good for you.

(6) Play over as many games as you can in your favorite openings to get a feel for the deeper positions that arise. It's best if you do this with a computer database using a computer program like Fritz (just to know when mistakes are being made). The key, though, is to develop a good sense of patterns and ideas in your lines well into the middlegame so quantity can be as useful as quality. Simply looking at games at online databases is a good start.

(7) Play blitz or speed chess (at ICC for example) only with a view toward cementing your opening knowledge and learning something about typical middlegames and endings that might arise from your openings. Nothing beats experience for cementing the lessons of study, but it cannot substitute for study or for serious play.

(8) Read a few classic books on the middlegame and ending and maybe a book or two on chess history. Be a literate chess player--it will help you at the board and socially. At the very least, if you want to improve your practical results most of all, read Nunn's "Secrets of Practical Chess" and Yermolinsky's "The Road to Chess Improvement." And to help your historical consciousness, at least read "The Development of Chess Style."

(9) Study very closely (and repeatedly over time) at least three books of well-annotated games: one from a major tournament, one from your favorite player, and one that covers a wide range of themes. You can't go wrong, for example, with Bronstein's "Zurich 1953," Botvinnik's "100 Selected Games," and Nunn's "Understanding Chess Move by Move." You could substitute many others. Any World Champion (FIDE or pre-FIDE) or major contender would do as a player, for instance, and there have been many great tournaments and tournament books. Whatever you find suited to your style or level of knowledge will work best, but I don't think I'd recommend doing many more than three at first. The key is to look at these games in depth until you have them memorized. A national master I know still goes over Chernev's classic "Most Instructive Games Ever Played," for example, and it clearly has not hurt him to do so. One thing I'd say about choosing a book: sometimes it's a good idea to read something that's just a bit beyond you at the moment, because once you master it through repetitive study over time you will have made progress.

(10) Play as much serious chess as possible against stronger opponents and analyze your games afterward, first with your opponent (if he or she is willing) and then with the aid of a coach and/or a chess computer. But do not take everything any of them say as gospel.

I should probably add (11) that it can only help you to stay physically in shape by exercising, watching your diet, and avoiding smoking or other bad habits. I hope your mom told you that. I will say, though, that physical fitness is probably what makes the biggest difference over the course of a long tournament or even an intensive three-day event. There is no use studying your tactics if you don't get your rest and eat your Wheaties before Round 5.

I think many experienced players would recognize these additions as not original with me, and anyone would say these are all fairly common and good suggestions that it would never hurt to follow. I'm sure that even de la Maza follows them to some extent, though you'd never know it from his book. And that's precisely the problem. What de la Maza is pitching seems less like a good study plan for a well-rounded chess player than a rather dogmatic religion intended to create speedy self-transformation through a form of intensive prayer. I have no doubt that it will increase performance, but I'm not sure it will make you a better player--let alone a better person. The ten or eleven suggestions above would do both.

In presenting his program as something to do rather than to think about, he is not helping to further a critical consciousness. He may, ultimately, be helping some players to greater success over the board. But he is not helping people escape the sort of autistic repetition to which unhealthy-minded chessplayers are too often prone. Nor will he help you to make the lessons learned from chess useful for life, unless you are preparing to become some sort of religious fanatic. The "Seven Circles" will not bring you closer to God. More likely, they will make it harder to do your laundry or have a social life.

I actually did like one idea from the book, which was to chart your performance mathematically. You can do that in a number of ways, most obviously by keeping track of your performance rating in tournaments. There are others, such as when solving puzzles: one of the appeals of the CT-ART program he recommends (as the followers of de la Maza in the blogosphere will tell you) is that it allows you to keep strict percentages of problems solved to measure your increased performance over time. These are good ideas, on the model of other forms of athletic training. After all, what aspiring track star would not keep strict track of his times in races, down to the nanosecond? I even think it is interesting to use a computer program, such as Fritz, to track the evaluation swings in one of your games to see where the critical moments were that you need to focus on to improve. But I also think there is a limit to how far this sort of math can take you, and believing in numbers too much is dangerous.

It's especially dangerous to believe in the evaluations offered by your computer program, or to think that what it says is right, or to believe that it might pinpoint exactly where you went wrong. To give an obvious example: due to the horizon effect, a computer might not see that something you did at move 10 is wrong until move 15, so its evaluation will not dip until 5 moves after the critical juncture, which could be quite misleading for a developing player.

What's more, his suggestions for "How to Think" strike me as a very primitive version of a computer evaluation function. At each move he suggests you seek to:
"1) Improve the mobility of your pieces" (a typical computer evaluation gauge)
"2) Prevent the opponent from castling" (ok, no problem there).
"3) Trade off pawns" (I don't get that one, except that it creates an open position where you are more likely to have tactical solutions).
"4) Keep the queen on the board" (obviously in order to create more tactical piece play).

And that's it. If you play like that you may get more opportunities for tactical shots should your opponent blunder, but you will not be playing good chess. The sample game of his that he gives on pages 63-71 proves my point. It is completely incoherent and reminds me of early computer games.

My overall point is that de la Maza may give you some tools to improve your rating, but, as even he admits, these tools can only take you so far. Meanwhile, his methods will encourage you to play less like a person and more like a machine, for both good and ill. Like a chess computer, you may see more tactical shots than your opponent and therefore be able to hit him hard when he makes a tactical mistake. But you will be completely reliant upon your opponent to make a tactical error in order to win. Once you start playing better opponents (or computers for that matter) you will have no clue what the hell is going on. And because you will never have the accuracy nor the brute-force calculating ability of a modern computer, no matter how hard you work at the Seven Circles, you will never be able to perform above the level of a 10 Mb machine running a 1000-positions per hour search function with a weak evaluation rubric.

Think about it. Do you really want to train to play like an old chess computer? Or do you want to play good chess and use chess as one way to become a better human being?

I can sum up the best lessons of de la Maza in a few words: study your tactics as often as you can and keep track of your performance. But if you really want to be a good chess player, you should read some books--and good, well-written chess books with some real substance and ideas. At the very least they will make you a more literate and well-rounded person.