Friday, March 30, 2007

Chess in the Fourth Dimension

I have annotated the game Apsenieks - Maroczy, Folkestone 1933, which I came across the other day in the book of the 1933 Folkestone Olympiad. It offers a great illustration of how an advantage in piece quality (including scope, piece safety, and coordination) can lead to victory.

It was in R.N. Coles's book Dynamic Chess where I first came upon the idea that chess is a game of four dimensions: material (based on the relative value of the pieces), time (development and initiative), space (control of the board), and position (meaning structural or dynamic weaknesses and strengths in your pieces, pawns, coordination, or king safety). Players typically understand them in that order, with what Coles called "position" (and which others have termed "quality") the hardest to master, just as it was historically the last to gain widespread recognition among theorists. That's why I only lecture to my young chess students on "time, space, and the material world," since those three abstractions are enough of a stretch. When they are ready for the fourth dimension, they will be ready for chess mastery.

At a certain point, mastery of the game involves combining the four dimensions so that all become inter-related, exchangeable, and fungible. That's why the four are often reduced in recent formulations. In Kasparov's view, there are really only three dimensions to the game: material, quality, and time. Robert Huebner has deconstructed Kasparov's three to show that they all really reduce to "quality" in the end. And Jonathan Rowson (who reviews their work in Chess for Zebras) argues that practical players need to acknowledge the critical role of the chess clock (always ticking), so that he adapts the Kasparov model to make "material," "opportunity" (his rendition of Kasparov's "time"), "time" (meant literally), and "quality." I think Rowson makes a good case, especially since at no other time has the clock played such a significant role in the game. But whether they see chess in one, three, or four dimensions, everyone seems to agree that the concept of "position" or "quality" is the most crucial.

In his discussion of "quality," Rowson breaks it down into safety, structure, and scope. Most beginners understand the notion of king safety soon enough, and they learn to understand and use pawn structure. But the concept of piece quality or scope takes a while longer to recognize because it is so dynamic and less visible than a broken castle position under assault or doubled pawns under restraint. In a sense, scope is less inscribed in the pieces themselves than it is in the force-fields that they radiate. So piece quality is not something you see until you are used to seeing your pieces less as objects than as actors.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Summer Reading (without a Board)

Mark Weeks offers up two excellent annotated lists of "Chess Books to Read without a Board" (one for non-fiction and one for fiction) at his site. I don't think I could improve much on his lists, though I found the absence of Searching for Bobby Fischer by Fred Waitzkin in non-fiction rather puzzling. Perhaps he considered it too dated or too well-known to include, though it is still in print and better than the movie. And The Chess Players by Frances Parkinson Keyes is missing from fiction. It is a rather stilted and overly-fanciful historical romance about Paul Morphy, but it is fun to read in the right frame of mind (especially if you have a mind warped by years of graduate literary study), and I found it worth reading for the quotations at the head of each chapter alone. Jim West offers up a nicely balanced review at his blog. It does not seem to be in print but is worth looking for at a used book shop. I found my own copy one summer many years back at a little used book shop on Long Beach Island, New Jersey, and remember reading it in the sun with my feet buried deep in the hot sand....

Bill Wall offers up a long list of "Fiction Literature and Chess" at his website for those seeking an even larger selection. However, having wasted an inordinate amount of time long ago tracking down and slogging through many fictional works about chess, I can assure you that Weeks has chosen only the best.

Hat tip to Scholastic Chess Gateway.

I Stand Corrected

NM Jim West today offers an improvement on my notes to one of his games with the Philidor Counter-Gambit (linked from my interview with him, in a piece titled "James West Plays the Philidor Counter-Gambit").

Sunday, March 25, 2007

New Jersey Knockouts

nj knockouts
The USCL's New Jersey Knockouts have unveiled their logo (see above) and have begun developing their line-up and schedule. So far they have commitments from GM Joel Benjamin, IM Dean Ippolito, FM Tommy Bartell, NM Mackenzie Molner, and NM Evan Ju (current NJ Open Champion). I have also heard mention of NM Victor Shen and NM Joan Santana, with team manager NM Michael Khodarkovsky filling in as necessary. I expect one or two other names to be added to that list. Rosters consist of eight players, with the average rating not exceeding 2400 ELO. Games will be held at the Chapel Hill Academy in Lincoln Park, NJ on Monday nights (I have not yet heard the first date). Their first match will be with the Queens Pioneers (the other expansion team -- who, rumor has it, are called the "pioneers" because it will be the first time many of them have ever been to Queens).
Hat tip to the BCC Weblog, which is always up-to-the-minute on USCL action!

Amazon's Mechanical Turk (a.k.a. "Artificial Artificial Intelligence")

The New York Times reports today (in an article titled "Artificial Intelligence, with Help from the Humans") that CEO Jeff Bezos has created a service dubbed the "Mechanical Turk," in which humans are given lowest-bidder pay for solving problems that computers find too difficult. The Turk, as well documented by Tom Standage, was the famous 18th and 19th Century mechanical chess player that actually hid a human operator inside (laboring under very difficult conditions, in a cramped space with no bathroom). Edgar Allan Poe may have been the first to deduce the secret in his essay Maelzel's Chess Player.  Bezos has also invested in a company called ChaCha which will farm out search tasks to human bidders in a process they like to call "artificial artificial intelligence." I am both disturbed by the idea of Amazon exploiting people's labor at cut-rate prices, and also saddened to imagine many of them working under exploitative conditions.  "The Turk" makes a good image for that, with a man in a box turned into a machine.

South Wins USAT Playoffs

Jennifer Shahade reports that the South's "Four Found Fischers" won the US Amateur Team playoffs. Please note: I had previously (and mistakenly) reported that it appeared there might not be a playoff among the four US Amateur Team winners, based on information found online.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Two USATE 2007 Upsets and Other Games

Bartell - Yudasin, USATE 2007 FM Bartell - GM Yudasin, USATE 2007
White to play and win.

I have posted two upset victories from the 2007 US Amateur Teams East for your enjoyment.

Games from the tournament have finally begun to trickle in: I recently discovered that TWIC #644 (posted 3/12/2007 and also available in other formats) contains a number of games from the 2007 USATE, including several by players from our club. And The Chess Coroner has annotated two USATE miniatures by our players.

The file at TWIC contains the interesting upset win by Arthur Shen (1605) over NM David Gertler (2286), which was also annotated this Sunday by Pete Tamburro and Steve Doyle in their excellent Star Ledger column. Arthur has been a student of NM Scott Massey, who also taught his older brother Victor (who is New Jersey's youngest master). It is an interesting game with several fascinating features (not least the problematic ending position where Gertler resigned), so I have posted it online with some notes expanding on those offered in the Ledger.

I was disappointed, however, not to find the full score of another interesting upset win, where FM Tommy Bartell (the former NJ Champion and a frequent visitor to the Kenilworth Chess Club) won against GM Leonid Yudasin. Tommy was visiting the club last night and tried, on my request, to reconstruct the game for us from memory but with little success. He was, however, able to show us the critical position (see diagram above), which is what I had most wanted to see anyway. Yudasin had just played ....Qe5? setting up what looked like a deadly cross-pin on the Bishop at e3 along the e-file and the diagonal leading to g1. But Tommy demonstrated that it is actually White who has a win in this position, which came completely out of left field, as they say....

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Why Chess Sticks

I have been reading the wonderful book Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die by Chip & Dan Heath, which has a lot to offer anyone interested in writing, advertising, marketing, business, or just the history of ideas. The following passages, however, seemed especially useful for explaining the persistence of chess and why so many people become obsessed with it:
In 1994, George Loewenstein, a behavioral economist at Carnegie Mellon University, provided the most comprensive account of situational interest. It is surprisingly simple. Curiosity, he says, happens when we feel a gap in our knowledge.

Loewenstein argues that gaps cause pain. When we want to know something but don't, it's like having an itch that we need to scratch. To take away the pain, we need to fill the knowledge gap. We sit patiently though bad movies, even though they may be painful to watch, because it's too painful not to know how they end.

This "gap theory" of interest seems to explain why some domains create fanatical interest: They naturally create knowledge gaps. ... Movies cause us to ask, What will happen? Mystery novels cause us to ask, Who did it? Sports contests cause us to ask, Who will win? Crossword puzzles cause us to ask, What is a six letter word for 'psychiatrist'? Pokemon cards cause kids to wonder, Which characters am I missing?
We might add to their list that "chess makes us ask, What the heck is going on in this position? Why did I lose that game? How are you supposed to play the Dragon Variation of the Sicilian when facing the Yugoslav Attack? What openings might be better suited to my style? What technique is necessary to win this ending?" I'm sure you could supply many additional questions. Chess opens countless painful "knowledge gaps" for players, which chess books only begin to fill. That may be why the game is so compelling. Interestingly, all of the examples the authors offer (movies, mystery novels, sports, crossword puzzles, and pokemon) are also popular among chessplayers old and young. People who play chess are the types who also engage in other pursuits for knowledge, forever seeking to close knowledge gaps in their lives. But why does chess compel such obsessive devotion in players? As the Heaths write:
If curiosity arises from knowledge gaps, we might assume that when we know more, we'll become less curious because there are fewer gaps in our knowledge. But Loewenstein argues that the opposite is true. He says that as we gain information we are more and more likely to focus on what we don't know. Someone who knows the state capitals of 17 of 50 states may be proud of her knowledge. But someone who knows 47 may be more likely to think of herself as not knowing 3 capitals.

The more we learn, the more we need to know. As we become better players, we also learn about areas of knowledge (from opening lines, to middlegame themes, to endgame techniques) where we have a gap that needs filling. And chess is a game that constantly reinforces the pain of such gaps with the pain of losing....

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

John Watson Refutes "Chess Openings for White, Explained"

I have not been visiting TWIC much in recent months since John Watson's excellent book review column has been on hiatus. Today, however, I found that it was back--some might say with a vengeance! Watson's review of Chess Openings for White, Explained by GMs Lev Alburt, Roman Dzindzihashvili, and Eugene Perelshteyn is the most important of the books he covers and he presents the most negative review of this book, by far, that I have seen to date. Watson points to several glaring flaws in their analysis, and (most importantly) provides games and analysis of his own to support his case. As I pointed out in my partial review, "Grand Prix Attack, Explained," the near absence of game references undermines the book's credibility on several occasions in the section I analyzed most closely. According to Watson, the problem runs throughout the text.

That's not to say that the book is worthless if you are looking to play these lines. It just means that you had better compare other books, do your own analysis, and look at the most recent master games before you trust what they have written. Watson's review offers much food for thought, and it is a must read for any who have already purchased a copy of their own.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Patterns of Error

diagram 1 White to play and win.

diagram 2 Black to play and win.

I have recently been coaching a young player, which I am learning is a little different from teaching chess to kids. For one thing, you can go much deeper into opening lines, middlegame themes, and endgame problems with an interested individual than you can with a mixed group of antsy boys. You also get to tailor your lessons to the specific needs of your student, which you can identify by analyzing his games.

Coaching a young chessplayer reminds me of tutoring writing (at which I have much more experience), and some similar issues arise, especially as regards "patterns of error."

When tutoring writing, we speak of "patterns of error," or the specific mistakes in grammar, syntax, spelling, etc. that a student makes in his or her essays. Identifying and working on just a few patterns of error at a time keeps students from getting overwhelmed and helps them learn to edit their own work. Too often, writing professors (especially those with a background in editing) will mark every error they see on an assignment, leaving students feeling overwhelmed by the task of making corrections. The tutor can perform a valuable act of triage by classifying errors, prioritizing them (from "fatal errors," such as subject-verb agreement, to trivial ones, such as occasional dropped articles in the prose of a non-native speaker), and then showing the student how to correct the most important ones. You can also sometimes help in getting to the root of the problem.

For example, I've seen students who present with problems in subject-verb agreement ("Gould say [sic] that evolution is a misuse [sic] term"), errors in number ("Wooly mammoth [sic] are extinct"), and errors in tense ("They use [sic] to think fossils were evidence that dragons once existed"). The student could work on those errors with the help of a grammar text, where he'd find them listed under subject-verb agreement, constructing plurals, and using the past tense. But a good tutor might notice that the larger pattern of error really boils down to issues with sub-vocalizing -s and -ed endings. Therefore, the best way to address these errors is for the student to pay attention to the words where he is not hearing the endings. He should collect a list of these words and memorize them. If the student still cannot hear the proper endings, at least he will see the problem words and learn to make the correction.

It seems to me that patterns of error in chess are quite parallel to those we see in writing. My chess student, for example, has been making some critical errors that involve not recognizing his opponent's threats. Of course, this is a fairly common error type in developing players (some might say in all players). But then I noticed a deeper pattern emerge: almost all of his errors involved threats on dark-square diagonals. It's almost as though he's especially blind to attacks by a dark-squared Bishop, as the following two diagrams (both from his recent games) illustrate.

diagram 3 White has just played 14.f4? to win the Bishop
at d3, which allows Black to win by force.

diagram 4 Black overlooked White's
threat and played 16...dxe4?

Fortunately his opponents must suffer from the same color-blindness, because they both overlooked the threats as well! He can't rely on such lucky breaks in the future, especially as he begins to play stronger opposition. In the first example, 14...Neg4! would have been absolutely crushing, due to the deadly threat of ...Bc5+. And in the second example, White should simply win the Exchange with 17.Ba5!

After I noticed this dark square problem, I remembered other examples from his play. The first game we ever played together, for instance, went 1.e4 e5 2.Nc3 Nc6 3.f4 Bb4!? 4.fxe4?? Bxc3 5.dxc3 Qh4+ etc. And the other day we were discussing the Queen's Gambit and he asked me why after 1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Bg5 Nbd7 5.cxd5 exd5 White did not simply play 6.Nxd5?? I was surprised he would make these errors since I'd rate him around 1600, yet any 1600 player would see that these are absolute blunders. Clearly it is a pattern of error and I think it is one he can train himself to control.

Classifying his error is an important first step. Next we will have to work through some problems with dark-square attacks or dark-square threats so that he begins to train his recognition of those patterns. We could begin with threats on the dark square diagonals around the King (perhaps looking at 1.d4 Nf6 2.Nd2?! e5!? 3.dxe5 Ng4 4.h3?? Ne3! as in the supposed shortest master game or 1. d4 Nf6 2. Bg5 c5 3. c4 cxd4 4. Nf3 e5 5. Nbd2 Nc6 6. Ne4?? Nxe4! as in a nice miniature by Scott Massey). Then we will work on other situations with dark-square attacks.

Once you notice a single pattern of error, others begin to emerge. One interesting pattern of error can be seen in the first two diagrams at the beginning of this article. In both these games, from the same tournament, my student accepted a draw against opponents rated over 1600. In fact, in the second diagram his opponent offered him a draw in the diagram position itself and, without thinking (despite plenty of time on his clock), my student took it. Yet in both positions, as you have already likely observed, he could have won by exploiting a pin. In the first position he should double Rooks on the b-file with 1.Rb2! followed by Reb1, winning the Knight at b5 which is pinned to the Rook at b8. In the second diagram he could win a piece by 1....Re1! followed by 2...Ne3, and if 2.Nc4 Ne3! still wins the Bishop after 3.Nxe3? dxe3 with the deadly threat of 4....e2 etc. In both cases, he simply did not recognize the possibilities of the Rook pin, so he ended up with just two draws out of two games instead of the two wins that he deserved. The parallels between these two cases are uncanny, yet rather typical of patterns of error.

We cannot recognize what we have never seen before, and we will never recognize it until we've consciously trained ourselves to see it in the first place.

You can track patterns of error on your own by putting together a database of your games and using Fritz or another strong program to blunder check. Then use the computer to create diagrams of situations where you've made mistakes (you can simply use Edit>"Copy Position" and paste into Microsoft Word--if you have the right chess fonts installed). Once you've collected enough diagrams, look for patterns of error. Inevitably something will begin to emerge. Of course, a chess coach can be especially helpful in designing a training plan to address that error in your play. But just becoming aware of the pattern or patterns is a good first step.

looking for troubleThere have not been many books that can help students train themselves to recognize their patterns of error and correct them. Among the best of those few is Dan Heisman's Looking for Trouble: Recognizing and Meeting Threats in Chess. You can read an excerpt of the book at his "Novice Nook" column at ChessCafe. I am a big fan of Heisman's work and especially liked his piece on "Quiescence Errors," which discusses cases where players end their analysis too soon, usually stopping on some stereotyped move ("Oh, if he does that he loses his Queen, so that can't be good...") rather than looking a little further to recognize that they've really blundered ("...but wait! I win his Queen but I also get mated! Yikes!") That may be one of my own patterns of error, though I tend to make it in a more positive way, where I might not explore a line sufficiently because it involves an initial sacrifice yet, if examined far enough, could lead to a winning attack.

Heisman has written a lot on the issue of error for beginning chess players. The better pieces among his "Novice Nook" columns on the topic include "The Seeds of Tactical Destruction," "A Counting Primer," "Revisiting the Seeds of Tactical Destruction," "The Most Common OTB Mistakes," "Is there a Win?" and "Is It Safe?"

danger in chessAnother interesting book on the theme of error is Amatzia Avni's Danger in Chess: How to Avoid Making Blunders. I'm not sure it will be as helpful to the average player as Heisman's work, but I enjoyed looking at its examples. Avni's book may also come the closest I've seen to offering what I'd call a "Grammar of Chess Mistakes," which can be a helpful thing to have for categorizing your errors. Avni's categories include "leaving the king with insufficient support," "weakness of the eighth rank," "entering a lasting pin," "capturing poisoned pawns," and "placing pieces without escape routes." Most of his examples (all drawn from GM games) are more psychological than tactical, however, and amount to three problem areas: (1) underestimating your opponent, (2) underestimating the situation, and (3) ignoring your opponent's body language (as when he appears a bit too happy to enter a line you thought was bad for him). He then goes on to talk about ways players can manipulate these psychological effects to their advantage to misguide their opponents. I am not sure how useful this is to developing players, but his examples concerning "The Art of Deception" are the most interesting in the book. It might be an interesting project to collect games where the psychological element can be seen in the moves themselves. My favorite example of that is Kupchik - Capablanca, Lake Hopatcong 1926, where Capa appears to weaken his kingside in order to lure Kupchik into an attack on that flank, which only serves to make his own attack on the queenside all the more effective. A similar case might be Geller-Euwe, Zurich 1953.

Though most of his examples seem rather esoteric, Avni does offer some useful ideas for students and coaches. Basically, if you want to avoid error, you need to train yourself to do the following:

  • Begin your thought process by looking for your opponent's threats rather than focusing on your own attacking ideas.
  • Maintain a self-critical attitude and always double-check your calculations.
  • Check actively for possible dangers and try to "think for the other guy" so that you begin to anticipate his ideas.

I especially like his suggestion that students study double-edged games so that they are always studying tactics with their opponent's threats in mind.

One of Avni's better examples comes from the game Kagan-Kaldor, Israel 1971, which illustrates his three principles quite well:

diagram 7 Kagan - Kaldor, Israel 1971
Black to play (the board is from his perspective).
What dangers lurk?

Black to play (the board is presented from his perspective) continued 40...Re2+? 41.Kxe2 a7 and the pawn cannot be stopped. No doubt Kaldor thought he was winning. But Kagan was able to force a draw by 42.Rh6+ Ke5 43.Rh5+ and Black dare not play 43...Kd4?? because of 44.Kd2 followed by Rd5#. One might also note that Black cannot escape in the other direction: after 42.Rh6+ both 42...Kf7 and 42...Kd7 allow 43.Rh7+ followed by 44.Ra7 which stops the passed pawn and wins.

Kaldor did not double-check his calculations, and he did not see what his opponent might be able to do. All he saw was the most forcing way to get the pawn to the queening square.

Controlling most patterns of error comes down to double-checking your calculations from your opponent's point of view. This lesson was brought home to me recently as I was looking at the game Tarrasch-Mieses, Goteborg 1920 in Irving Chernev's Logical Chess, Move by Move.

diagram 8 White to play and not blunder....

The diagram above appears on page 202 of the book, and I remember thinking immediately on seeing it that 25.b5 wins. Then I looked at Chernev's note: if 25.b5? Na5+ 26.Kb4? Nd5+ 27.Kxa5?? Ra8#! I could easily have walked into that trap, since the moves leading up to mate seem so natural from White's perspective. Once you start to think from the other side of the board, though, the mating trap becomes obvious. Fortunately, Tarrasch was aware of the danger and checked his calculations, going on to produce one of the most error-free games of his career.

It takes training to weed out our errors. But if you develop the right habits of thought, you will keep errors under control and increase your winning percentage significantly. I look forward to seeing my student do just that.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Monte Carlo 1902

Sarah Beth Cohen has posted some interesting materials about Monte Carlo 1902 at her blog. You can download a PGN file of the games from the Pitt Archives.

Adelaide Counter-Gambit Bibliography (1.e4 e5 2.f4 Nc6 3.Nf3 f5!?)

I am always interested in how an opening line gets its name. There seems to be a limited set of methods in chess. It can derive from the name of its first player or analyst, by a "myth of origin." It can derive from a tournament location where the line received its debut or most significant test (e.g.: the Scheveningen Sicilian). It can derive from the inventor's fancy, as in the Toilet Variation of the Grand Prix Attack (so named by GM Mark Hebden to recall the location of its first conception). It can be assigned an animal name (my favorite) for marketing or symbolic reasons. It can even be named for the location where it was first analyzed, as in Kavalek's Vinohrady Variation, or the line we are considering here.

As I sat down to title this bibliography, I was frankly puzzled. A number of names for 1.e4 e5 2.f4 Nc6 3.Nf3 f5!? crop up in the literature. And since the line remains relatively obscure and has multiple parents, the issue of naming is not fully settled. It might be worthwhile to review the possible names, if only to make my bibliography easier to find via a Google search for those who don't know it as the "Adelaide."

Tony Miles gets credit for the name that seems most likely to stick. He was the first to draw attention to the line in his article "King's Gambit Refuted at Last?" (NIC Yearbook 36:1995), where he told the story of how he invented it and worked out its complexities with the help of then Australian Champion Alex Wohl: "the line was subjected to rigorous testing in local smoke-filled laboratories and found to be remarkably viable." Because of the South Australian city where they did their work, Miles suggested it be called "the Adelaide Counter Gambit," a name that King's Gambit enthusiast Thomas Johansson adopts as well.

In his article "King's Gambit Finally Refuted!" (NIC Yearbook 38:1995), Matthias Wahls makes a prior claim to the line (with analysis dating to 1987), though he offers no particular alternative title himself. Ignoring Wahls's claim to priority, Eric Schiller prefers to call it the "Miles Defense," which is the name picked up by

Miles suggested that the line had first been tried in Pigott-Gottschalk, Islington 1975, leading the NIC Yearbook editors to subtitle Miles's article "Gottschalk Counter Gambit Resuscitated." But Gottschalk had only played the rather insipid idea of 1.e4 e5 2.f4 Nc6 3.Nf3 f5 4.exf5 exf4?! -- showing that he really did not understand what he had found. Meanwhile, the most important game with the line may have been Gallagher-Wohl, Kuala Lumpur 1992, with Miles's analysis partner paired with "the famous King's Gambiteer Joe Gallagher." Perhaps Wohl's name should be included as well? Jan Van Reek, meanwhile, suggests "the King's Counter-Gambit" while also noting a much earlier game with the line: De Saint Bon - Dubois, London 1862. So should we call it the Dubois Defense?

We could always combine the most important contemporary names and call it the "Miles-Wohl-Wahls Counter-Gambit." I like the sound of that. Meanwhile, I will settle for Adelaide Counter-Gambit, since Johansson and Miles have made the most important contributions and therefore the name will be most recognizable to those interested in it.

I hope the following bibliography interests readers. I may follow up with some analysis and games of my own, since I have been playing the line regularly for the past year.


Bücker, Stefan. "Konigsgambit am Ende?" Kaissiber #1 (22 May 1996): 24-27.
This article defends the White side against specific lines discussed by Matthias Wahls but ignores potential Black improvements.

Burgess, Graham. "Surprise 4: King's Gambit 2...Nc6, 3...f5." 101 Chess Opening Surprises. Gambit 1998/2001. 13-14.
Though his analysis covers a brief two pages, Burgess provides the most correct assessments and recommendations on the line available.

Craig, Tom. Acunzo-Craig, Luis Paucar Perez Memorial 1999. Scottish Correspondence Chess Association website.

Goeller, Michael. The Bishop's Opening - 1.e4 e5 2.Bc4 Nc6 3.f4.
Points out an important improvement for Black on Strijbos--Deyirmendjian, Avoine 1995.

Harding, Tim. "Introduction to the Pierce Gambit." The Kibitzer 96 ChessCafe
If you choose to play the Adelaide Counter-Gambit as Black, you are also going to have to contend with 1.e4 e5 2.f4 Nc6 3.Nc3! transposing to the Vienna Gambit. Black then typically takes the pawn by 3...exf4, which can lead to a number of lines, most notably the Pierce: 4.Nf3 g5 5.d4 (also possible is 5.h4 g4 6.Ng5 leading to the Hampe-Allgaier) 5...g4!? (Black can also decline the gambit) 6.Bc4 gxf3 7.O-O. I have been looking at some alternative tries for Black, most notably 3...Bb4!?

_______. "Last Rites for the Allgaier Gambit?" The Kibitzer 79 ChessCafe

_______. "Some Theory of the Pierce Gambit." The Kibitzer 97 ChessCafe

Herb, Pascal. "Une défense contre le Gambit du Roi." Les Echecs en noir et blanc.

Johansson, Thomas. "King's Gambit Declined - Counter-Gambits." The King's Gambit for the Creative Aggressor. Bilingual edition. Kania 2005. 16-20.

Lane, Gary. "Grand Prix Crash." Opening Lanes #6 Chess Cafe
Begins with coverage of the Grand Prix Sicilian, eventually responds to a reader's question regarding the innocuous 1.e4 e5 2.f4 Nc6 3.Nf3 f5 4.d3, and then analyzes the superior 4.exf5 e4 5.Ne5 when he suggests--incorrectly--that 5...Nf6 gives Black a lost ending after 6.d3 d5? (better 6...Qe7! of course) 7.dxe4 dxe4 8.Qxd8+ Nxd8 9.g4 as in Walter-Goessling, Bundesliga 1994.

Le gambit du Roi refusé par, 2...Cc6!? at the Mjae website
Good coverage of the important lines.

McGrew, Tim. "Shall We Dance?" The Gambit Cartel 19 ChessCafe
Related to lines arising after 1.e4 e5 2.f4 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6!

Miles, Tony. "King's Gambit Refuted at Last?" New in Chess Yearbook 36 (1995): 95-98.
Discusses some of the author's odder experiments against the King's Gambit, including 1.e4 e5 2.f4 Nh6, 1.e4 e5 2.f4 d5 3.exd5 Bc5, and the subject of this article 1.e4 e5 2.f4 Nc6 3.Nf3 f5 which he analyzed with Alex Wohl in the early 1990s.

Reinderman, Dimitri. "King's Gambit Vienna 1903." Secrets of Opening Surprises 4 (2006): 75-78.

Schiller, Eric. "New, Interesting Gambits: The Miles Defense to the King's Gambit." California Chess Journal 16.6 (November-December 2002): 23-26.
Drawn from the author's book, Gambit Chess Openings, the analysis focuses on the critical line 1.e4 e5 2.f4 Nc6 3.Nf3 f5 4.exf5 e4 5.Ne5 Nxe5(?!) with supplemental coverage of White's fourth move alternatives and some analysis by Alan Kobernat on the superior 5.Ne5 Nf6! Typical Schiller schlock, but with lots of useful game references.

Van Reek, Jan. Timmerman-Umansky, Match 2005.
Black has better than 5...Nxe5?! (see above) as played in the second game between these two.

Wahls, Matthias. "King's Gambit Finally Refuted!" New in Chess Yearbook 38 (1995): 206-218. The author shares his analysis from 1987 of 1.e4 e5 2.f4 Nc6 and discusses all important side-lines. Probably the most complete analysis on the line, though much has come after.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Stoyko Clinches 2007 KCCC

diagram Black to play and secure at least equality.

John Moldovan (The Chess Coroner) reports that FM Steve Stoyko has clinched the 2007 Kenilworth Chess Club Championship with one round remaining. Stoyko escaped with a fortunate draw against NM Mark Kernighan in a messy time scramble, where Kernighan had to take a draw with mere seconds remaining on his clock in sudden death.

The most interesting game of the night may have been Tomkovich-Sokolosky (see diagram above), where Sokolosky pulled off what should have been a stunning combination to assure at least equal chances despite his poor opening. However, he did not fully comprehend his own brilliance and allowed Tomkovich to win a piece for two pawns, leaving only a technical task to secure the point.

Special thanks to The Chess Coroner for posting all the games from the championship, including Games from Round 9, which can be viewed online or downloaded as a zipped .pgn file.

2007 KCCC Round 9 Round 9 action in the 2007 KCC Championship.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Chess for Blood Blog Retires

It's a sad day for the chess blogosphere as one of the most popular chess blogs (and a personal favorite), Chess for Blood is now officially "Closed." For any who have not read this blog closely, I recommend its Sitemap, which lists the best articles since January 2006 when it all began. My favorite posts have been on opening analysis (especially the Chigorin-Stonewall, Qd6 Scandinavian, and Anti-Opening Openings), chess videos (his first is still my favorite), and using free chess software (including to compile a free database). But I have enjoyed them all for their consistent style and tone, which always projected a manly attitude toward the game with an emphasis on attack. Blue Devil called it the chess equivalent of SpikeTV, which I find especially apt. Its forays into amateur chess video making alone will leave a lasting mark.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Kasparov vs. Putin

Every week at the club, one of our members asks me when I think former World Champion Garry Kasparov will turn up dead like the many Russian journalists we are hearing about in the news. I hope that never comes to pass, though he is surely risking a great deal. The New York Times has a good story in today's paper titled "Kasparov, Building Opposition to Putin One Square at a Time" (more permanently available in the International Herald Tribune). Kasparov reveals that since the famous incident where he was attacked with a chessboard, he now travels with bodyguards to ward off similar crazy people. But he has a realist's (some might say "fatalist's") view of his chances of surviving an assassin's attack. As he says in the Times piece: "If the state goes after you, there’s no stopping them.”

A student of Botvinnik's, Kasparov has approached chess as he approaches life, with as much objectivity as he can muster. As he says: "I am absolutely objective ... I think we can lose badly, because the regime is still very powerful, but the only beauty of our situation is that we don't have much choice." I continue to be impressed. So long as the regime does not sweep the pieces from the board in anger to end the game, I think Kasparov has the best chance of anyone to win it.

Friday, March 09, 2007

The Emilio Cordova Story

"15 year old Peruvian chess master in love, threatens to run away" was the headline that caught my eye, about IM Emilio Cordova, who we featured last summer in "15-year-old IM Emilio Cordova Visits NJ" and in a post about the end of the 2006 US Open, where he finished second.

And How Many Chess Bloggers?

There is a very good post today by David Glickman of the Boylston Chess Club Weblog titled "How many chess blogs are there anyway?" As with my "how many chessplayers?" question, his post is motivated by a wildly exaggerated number in a particularly popular chess blog with lots of publication and little fact checking. Kudos to DG for helping to keep things sane.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

How to Grow a Super Athlete

There was an interesting article in the Sunday New York Times (in a sports-related supplement called Play). It is titled "How to Grow a Super-Athlete" by Daniel Coyle. I'm only now reading it thanks to club member Ed Selling, who sent me the link. I usually don't read sports, I must confess. But the article has some implications for chess -- which is as much a sport as it is an art or science, etc. Coyle writes:

What is talent? It's a big question, and one way to approach it is to look at the places where talent seems to be located — in other words, to sketch a map. In this case, the map would show the birthplaces of the 50 top men and women in a handful of professional sports, each sport marked by its own color. (Tennis and golf handily rank performance; for team sports, salaries will do.) The resulting image — what could be called a talent map — emerges looking like abstract art: vast empty regions interspersed with well-defined bursts of intense color, sort of like a Matisse painting.

Canada, for instance, is predictably cluttered with hockey players, but significant concentrations also pop up in Sweden, Russia and the Czech Republic. The United States accounts for many of the top players in women's golf, but South Korea has just as many. Baseball stars are generously sprinkled across the southern United States but the postage-stamp-size Dominican Republic isn't far behind. In women's tennis, we see a dispersal around Europe and the United States, then a dazzling, concentrated burst in Moscow.

The pattern keeps repeating: general scatterings accompanied by a number of dense, unexpected crowdings. The pattern is obviously not random, nor can it be fully explained by gene pools or climate or geopolitics or Nike's global marketing budget. Rather, the pattern looks like algae starting to grow on an aquarium wall, telltale clumps that show something is quietly alive, communicating, blooming. It's as though microscopic spores have floated around the atmosphere in the jet stream and taken root in a handful of fertile places.

A quick analysis of this talent map reveals some splashy numbers: for instance, the average woman in South Korea is more than six times as likely to be a professional golfer as an American woman. But the interesting question is, what underlying dynamic makes these people so spectacularly unaverage in the first place? What force is causing those from certain far-off places to become, competitively speaking, superior?

This suggests a straightforward study (Mark Glickman, are you listening?) regarding the geography of chess performance by rating in the U.S. or around the world. Maybe it has already been done (if so, someone send me the citation!)--and it would probably be a relatively simple matter of extending the work already done on gender. I imagine it would reveal where there are some schools and programs making a significant difference in nurturing chess talent in specific places (including in and around New York!)

The article had some other implications for chess, however, which I am only beginning to absorb. The biggest is that it suggests that chess training has to include specific work on problem solving technique or "thinking" technique if it is to be fully effective. As a great tennis coach is quoted as saying: "Technique is everything ... If you begin playing without technique, it is big mistake. Big, big mistake!" Gets you thinking....

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Searching for Ron Thacker

Robert Pearson has an interesting post at his chessblog titled "Ron Thacker, Where Are You?" I enjoyed reading his personal narrative, which made me remember some of my own more interesting roommates from younger days. Anyone with information about Mr. Thacker should contact Robert via his blog. Frankly, though, I think he should just keep the chess books!

Monday, March 05, 2007

Irrelevant USCF Politics

Mark Weeks has posted his monthly "blog tripping" column (see "Elsewhere on the Web: Blog Tripping in February" -- he will soon have to add the year!) It is one of the few monthly articles I look forward to reading. As usual, he points us to some interesting stuff we might have missed rather than focusing on the mainstream material (his discussion of Linares-Morelia, for example, only links to the new and excellent Magnus Carlsen blog). However, in doing so I think his coverage is becoming a bit more idiosynchratic than journalistic, which is more typical of blogs than of what we think of journalism, which some call "the first draft of history." Blogs don't generally give us "History," they give us stories and perspectives. Bloggers generally tell us what interested them more than what items might have been broadly important in the world or in that portion of it we call the "chess blogosphere." But, depite that, Weeks always manages to make a very interesting observation about the chessblog zeitgeist which we had not recognized. He catches the trend. Last month he pointed up the rising importance of chess video. This month it is the nearly absolute irrelevance of USCF politics to chessbloggers (or all but one anyway).

Why are chessbloggers so apolitical? It might be better to ask the question of chessplayers in general. How could chessplayers be so disengaged as to allow people like Sam Sloan to influence the USCF, or dictators like Kirsan to run FIDE?

As I wrote in response to "Planet Kirsan," we chessplayers are an apolitical bunch, which may be precisely why the Soviets found chess so useful as a method of improving rational analysis without motivating critical consciousness or civil unrest. Ironically, as chess politics get more ridiculous, the mass of chessplayers become only more disengaged, which allows things to get even more ridiculous. I'm glad Mark Weeks has at least pointed out the problem, though I'm not sure that us chessbloggers are ever going to be particularly motivated to improve the situation.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Still More Amusing Search Terms

Searches using Google (including Google's blog search) and other search engines continue to be the most popular way for visitors to find my site. So I am always interested in the search terms they are using. As I have pointed out before (see Amusing Search Terms and More Amusing Search Terms), some of these searches leave me puzzled.... Here are some of the latest strange search strings:

does chess keeps mind sharp
steve stoyko basketball
odd chess pieces
how to meet the albin
x-rated albin counter gambit
albin counter-gambit, bitch!
world dwarf throwing championship
awesome chess books
new jersey coroner
is michael goeller married?

Friday, March 02, 2007

Crosstable for the World Amateur Team and USATE 2007

The rated Crosstable for the World Amateur Team 2007 (a.k.a. US Amateur Team East 2007) is available online for those interested in individual results.

One personal note: I am mistakenly credited with a fourth round win, which was actually scored by alternate Bob Rose (who played the even numbered rounds). At least they did not stick me with his last round draw! I don't think I'll register a complaint....

Thursday, March 01, 2007

The Chess Combat Simulator

IM Jeroen Bosch is one of the most creative writers and editors in chess these days. His Secrets of Opening Surprises series, for example, has been very well received and is a favorite of mine. So I am interested to see his latest effort with The Chess Combat Simulator (also available through USCF Sales). The title alone made me recognize the value of this method of chess self-instruction as a great training mode that emphasizes practice over knowledge.
The basic idea is not original and was first presented in I.A. Horowitz's classic Solitaire Chess, where readers play over master games with half the moves covered and must guess the next move of the eventual victor. Their choices are then scored, with only the most accurate move receiving points. Bruce Pandolfini has continued the tradition in Chess Life magazine and a recent book (also titled Solitaire Chess) that collects those articles, though the games he chooses are older classics directed toward novice or scholastic players. Daniel King had a book called Test Your Chess along the same lines with 20 relatively recent GM games. And Graeme Buckley refined the idea with his Multiple Choice Chess and Multiple Choice Chess II where the candidate moves are provided at each turn (and eventually ranked and graded, which is probably a good idea for developing players since it trains them to focus on what's important).
Bosch has chosen 50 games with stronger players in mind and promises a "unique scoring system" so you can rate your performance and register progress. His most important innovation is awarding points to several different moves at each turn, especially where there is a wide range of choice. John Donaldson has a positive review at Jeremy Silman's site.
Of course, you can always create your own form of chess solitaire, simply covering the moves of any GM game you play over (ideally games that feature your favorite opening lines) and assigning points as the whim strikes you. Mark Weeks has a good article on "Getting the Most Out of Solitaire Chess," which covers the basics, such as playing with a clock and score sheet to help simulate game conditions. All you need supply is the time and effort.