MinMax or Minimax, as some like to call it, is the basis of most Artificial Intelligence built for games like chess. Its basis is extremely easy to understand: a rational player will try to take the best option available to them, so whatever is good for me the adversary will take as the most likely outcome and he will find the best solution against that outcome. I, following the same pattern, will also look for his best counter move and plan against it. Therefore the thinking for a game of chess, let's say, is that I will take all possible moves, find the one that leaves me with the best position (evaluated by a function from the board position), then look for the similar best play for the adversary. I continue this way until I get to the end of the game or am out of computing resources.

Now, that sounds logical and it's crazy easy to implement. The problem is that for all but the most childish of plays, the tree of all possible moves increases exponentially. And chess isn't even one of the worst games to do that. Imagine Tic-Tac-Toe, a game played on a 3x3 board between two players. You have a total of 9 possible moves to choose from as the first player, then 8, then 7, etc. The entire game tree has a total of 9! possible moves, or 362880. But generalize the game to a board of 10x10 and a winning rule of 5 in a line and you get 100! moves, which is less than 1E+158, that is 10 followed by 158 zeros.

That's why the so called pruning was created, the most common of all being Alpha-Beta, which tries to abort the processing of leaves that seem to reach a worse situation than their parent node. Of course, all of this is the general gist. You might want to take into account a number N best moves from the opponent, as well as try a more lenient pruning algorithm (after all, sacrificing a piece brings you to a worse position than when you started, but it might win the game). All of this increases, not decreases the number of possible moves.

And now comes my thought on this whole thing: how can I make a computer play like a human when the core edict of the algorithm is that all participating players are rational? Humans are rarely so. Mathematically I could take N, the number of best moves I would consider for my opponent, to be the total number of moves my opponent could make, but it would increase the exponential base of the tree of moves. Basically it would make the algorithm think of stupid things all the time.

The pruning algorithm seems to be the most important part of the equation. Indeed, I could consider the move choice algorithm to be completely random and as long as I have a perfect pruning algorithm it will remove all the stupid choices from me and let me with the smart ones. A quote comes to mind: "you reach perfection not when you have nothing else to add, but when there is nothing left to remove". It's appropriate for this situation.

Now, before attacking an algorithm that has survived for so long in the AI industry (and making my own awesome one that will defeat all chess engines in the world - of course, that's realistic) I have to consider the alternative algorithm: the lowly human. How does a human player think in a game of chess? First he surveys the board for any easy wins. That means a broad one or two levels analysis based on a simple board evaluation function. Immediately we get something from this: there might be multiple evaluation functions, we don't need just one. The simple one is for looking for greedy wins, like "He moved his queen where I can capture it, yay!".

The same outcome for situations like this would be achieved by a MinMax algorithm, so we ignore this situation. It gets more interesting from now, though. We look for the moves of the most active pieces. I know that this is the rookie system, but I am a rookie, I will make my computer algorithm be as stupid as I am, if I am to play it, so shut up! The rookie will always try to move his queen to attack something. It's the most powerful piece and it should get the most results for the least effort. We left Greed behind, remember? We are now doing Sloth. Still, with a good pruning algorithm we eliminate stupid Queen moves from the beginning, so considering the Queen first, then Rooks, then Bishops, then Knights, etc. is not a bad idea. The order of the pieces can be changed based on personal preferences as well as well established chess rules, like Knights being better that Bishops in closed games and so on.

This is a small optimization, one that probably most game engines have. And we haven't even touched pruning; boy, this is going to be a long article! Now, what does the human do? He does the depth first tree searches. Well, he doesn't think of them like that, he thinks of them as narrative, but it's basically a depth first search. This is the casual "What if...?" type of play. You move the Queen, let's say, bringing it right in the enemy territory. You don't capture anything important, but to bring a strong piece this uncomfortably near to the enemy king is scary. You don't play for game points, but for emotion points, for special effects, for kicks! You don't abandon the narrative, the linear evolution of your attack, until you find that it bears no fruit. It's the equivalent of the hero running toward the enemy firing his pistol. If the enemy is dumb enough to not take cover, aim carefully and shoot a burst from their SMGs, you might get away with it and it would be glorious. If not, you die idiotically.

It is important to note that in the "Hollywood" chess thinking you are prone to assume that the enemy will make mistakes in order to facilitate your brilliant plan. The evaluation goes as follows: "I will try something that looks cool if the chances for a horrible and immediate loss are small". When some hurdle foils your heroic plan, you make subplans that would, as well as you hope, distract the adversary from your actual target. This, as far as I know, is a typical human reasoning type and I doubt many (if any) computer game engines have it. In computer terms, one would have to define a completely new game, a smaller one, and direct an AI designed specifically for it to tell you if it would work or not. Given the massively parallel architecture of the human brain, it is not hard to understand why we do something like this. But we can do the same with a computer, mind you. I am thinking of something like a customized MinMax algorithm working on few levels, one or two, as the human would. That would result in a choice of N possible moves to make. Then construct a narrative for each, a depth search that just tries to get as much as possible from each move without considering many of the implications. Then assign a risk to each level of this story. If the level exceeds a threshold, use the small range MinMax at those points and try to see if you can minimize the risk or if at that point the risk makes your narrative unlikely.


Let's recap the human thinking algorithm so far:
  1. Try to greedily take what the opponent has stupidly made available
  2. Try to lazily use the strongest piece to get the most result with the least effort
  3. Try to pridefully find the most showy move, the one that would make the best drinking story afterwards
  4. Try to delegate the solving of individual problems in your heroic narrative to a different routine

Wow! Doesn't it seem that the seven deadly sins are built-in features, rather than bugs? How come we enjoy playing with opponents that pretty much go through each of them in order to win more than we do with a rational emotionless algorithm that only does what is right?

Again, something relevant transpires: we take quite a long time imagining the best moves we can make, but we think less of the opponent's replies. In computer terms we would prune a lot more the enemy possible moves than we would our own. In most rookie cases, one gets absorbed by their own attack and ignores moves that could counterattack. It's not intuitive to think that while you are punching somebody, they would choose to punch back rather than avoid the pain. In chess it's a little bit easier and more effective, since you can abandon a piece in order to achieve an overall gain in the game, but it can and it is done in physical combat as well.

Okay, we now have two alternatives. One is the logical one: take into account all the rules chess masters have taught us, shortcuts for achieving a better position on the board; choose moves based on those principles and then gauge the likely response from the opponent. Repeat. This is exactly like a MinMax algorithm! So we won't do that. The hell with it! If I can't enjoy the game, neither will my enemy!!

Human solution: don't do anything. Think of what your opponent would do, if you wouldn't move anything and foil their immediate plan. This way of thinking would be counterintuitive for a computer algorithm. Functioning on the basis of specific game rules, a computer would never be inclined to think "what would the enemy do if I didn't move anything, which is ILLEGAL in chess?". That makes us superior, obviously ;-)

Slowly, but surely, a third component of the algorithm becomes apparent: the move order choice. Let's imagine a naive MinMax implementation. In order to assess every possible move, it would have to enumerate them. If the list of moves is always the same in a certain board position, the game will always proceed the same way. The solution is to take the list of possible moves, but in a random order. In the case of the "human algorithm" the ordering becomes more complex (favouring powerful piece moves, for example). One could even consider the ordering mechanism responsible for choosing whether to do a careful breadth search for each level or a depth first one.


Here is a suggestion for an algorithm, one that takes into account the story of the game and less the objective gain or position strength:
  1. For each of your power pieces - anything but the king and pawns - compute mobility, or the possibility to move and attack. Favour the stronger pieces first.
  2. For each power piece with low mobility consider pawn moves that would maximize that mobility.
  3. For each power piece with high mobility consider the moves that would increase the chance of attack or that would attack directly
  4. For each strong move, consider the obstacles - enemy pieces, own pieces, possible enemy countermeasures
  5. Make the move that enables the considered power move or that foils the enemy attempts of reply

The advantage of this approach is that it only takes into account the enemy when he can do something to stop you, the pawns only when they can enable your devious plan and focuses on ventures that yield the best attack for your heroes. For any obstruction, you delegate the resolution of the problem to a different routine. This makes the algorithm parallelizable as well as modular - something we devs love because we can test the individual parts separately.

This algorithm would still use a board estimation function, but being more focused on heroic attacks, it would prefer interesting move orders to static positions as well as the "fun factor", something that is essential to a human-like algorithm. If the end result of the attack is a check-mate, then it doesn't really matter what position estimate you get when you did half the moves. All one has to wonder is if the attack is going to be successful or not and if one can do something to improve the chances of success. And indeed this is one of the most difficult aspects for a chess playing human: to switch from a failing plan to a successful plan when it is not yet clear is the first plan is failing. We invest energy and thought into an idea and we want it to work. A lot of the chess playing strategy of human rookies relies on prayer, after all. A computer would just assess the situation anew at every move, even if it has a strategy cached somewhere. If the situation demands it, a new strategy will be created and the last one abandoned. It's like killing your child and making another!


But, you will say, all you did so far was to describe an inferior algorithm that can be approximated by MinMax with only custom choices for the pruning and move order functions! You are missing the point. What I am describing is not supposed to beat Grand Masters, but to play a fun game with you, the casual player. More than that, my point is that for different desired results, different algorithms must be employed. This would be akin to creating a different AI for each level of a chess game.

Then there is the issue of the generalized TicTacToe or other games, such as Arimaa, created specially to make it difficult for computer algorithms to play, where MinMax fails completely. To make a comparison to real life, it's like you would consider the career steps you would take in life based on all possible jobs available, imagining what would it be to be employed there, what the difficulties might be, finding solutions to those problems, repeating the procedure. You will get to the conclusion that it is a good idea to become a computer scientist after thoroughly examining and partially understanding what it would be like to be a garbage man, a quantum scientist, a politician and a gigolo, as well as all the jobs in between. Of course, that is not as far fetched as you think, since in order to be a success in software development you must be at least a politician and a garbage man, perhaps even a gigolo. Lucky for our profession, quantum computers are in the works, too.

The same incongruency can be found when thinking of other games humans enjoy, like races. The desired result can only be achieved at the end of the race, when you actually get somewhere. In order to get to that specific point in space, you could consider the individual value of each direction change, or even of each step. However humans do it differently, they specify waypoints that must be achieved in order to get to the finish and then focus on getting from waypoint to waypoint, rather than rethinking the entire course. In computer terms this is a divide-and-conquer strategem, where one tries to solve a problem that has known start and end points by introducing a middle point and then solving the problem from the start to the middle. BTW, this also solves Zeno's paradox: "Why does the arrow reach its target if, at any point in its course, it has at least half the distance left to fly?" and the answer is "Because of the exit condition that prevents a stack overflow". Try to sell that one in a philosophy class, heh heh.


So why aren't chess AIs based on human thinking processes? Why don't they implement a divide and conquer solution for a game that always starts with a specific board position and ends in capturing a specific piece? Why do chess engines lower their "level" by sometimes randomly choosing a completely losing path instead of something that is plausible to choose, even if completely wrong objectively? How can MinMax be the best general algorithm for game AIs, when some of them have a branching factor that makes the use of the algorithm almost useless?

I obviously don't have the answers to these questions, but I may have an opportunity to explore them. Hopefully I will be less lazy than I usually am and invent something completely unscientific, but totally fun! Wish me luck!

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I've had some changes in my life lately and more are coming so I took a break from chess, but I found a bit of time to finish this chess puzzle book that I started reading a few months ago, but never quite got around to complete. Chess Tactics for Champions is not really for champions, but for beginner to intermediate level, or at least this is what it felt like to me. Susan Polgar chose to structure the book into chapters of about 25 puzzles or examples, each covering some important aspect of chess tactics. Here is a list of those chapters:
  • 01 - Forks and double attacks
  • 02 - Pins
  • 03 - Deflection/removing the guard
  • 04 - Discoveries
  • 05 - Double check
  • 06 - Skewers
  • 07 - Trapping pieces
  • 08 - Decoys
  • 09 - Intermediate moves
  • 10 - Pawn promotion
  • 11 - The back-rank problem
  • 12 - Destroying the castled king's protection
  • 13 - King chase
  • 14 - Mixed checkmates in two moves
  • 15 - Mixed checkmates in three moves
  • 16 - Mixed checkmates in four moves
  • 17 - Game-saving combinations
  • 18 - Perpetual check
  • 19 - Stalemate
  • 20 - Traps and counter traps
  • 21 - Sibling positions
  • 22 - Twenty-five famous combinations

The last two chapters are presentational only, but the first 20 contain puzzles that the reader must solve, with solutions at the end of the chapter. The authors tried to order the chapters by complexity, so that beginners could understand and solve the first chapters and then move over to the more advanced positions, but it is not always so. It seemed to me that, for most of the chapters, the last two puzzles are especially chosen for the "wow!" factor.

The bottom line is that the book is not just something you read. You solve the puzzles, some are frustrating, some are beautiful, most can be "seen" without a board in front of you - for the last chapter I would advise a board, though - but one can return to this book again and again. For example myself, once I get around to chess again, I might go through the book, just to get into the solving mindset that is essential to beautiful play. Now, I don't know how other chess puzzle books are, this being my second chess book I have read, but I imagine some could be a lot better. However, the structure of Chess Tactics for Champions makes it very easy to use as a reference book. One thing I felt was missing was pawn play. Of course, that often enters the category of strategic play, rather than tactic, but still.

More about the authors at Wikipedia: Susan Polgar and Paul Truong. They have been married since 2006.

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As I mentioned in previous posts, I've started a chess learning program with a professional, so I can increase my understanding of the game. I was tired of watching Dennis Monokroussos' videos and understanding little of them. Why was he able to breeze through openings and only start explaining from move 20 or so? Why are the chess masters that I watch on videos able to say "this cannot be taken because of..." followed by a four move scheme that makes obvious the mistake, but that I couldn't see it?

And so I got this Romanian dude, Catalin Carmaciu, as an instructor. He may be a bit off putting at first, as it seems he is willing to teach you for free and show you everything he knows, give you any material you ask for and even take time to analyse your games, with any sort of payment as your choice. So, if you don't like open generous guys who are also very smart, I don't recommend him. Otherwise, he is great! His chess site is in Romanian. Anyway, he looked at the deplorable state of my chess understanding and said "What do you want to do? Win games or learn to be better?" I said I wanted both, of course, as any decent Neo who would swallow both pills. Of course, it is not easy. You might want to ask about the difference between the two. Isn't it obvious that if you play the game better you will also win more games? What kind of choice is that? And the answer is that for winning games you acquire a repertoire of openings and defences which you learn and exercise repeatedly, while for playing better you read and exercise tactics and strategy books.

My first reaction was disappointment. Here there was this brilliant chess player telling me I had to mechanically learn a series of openings, while I wanted to understand the concept of chess as a whole. But I was wrong to feel that way. You see, since then we've decided on four openings: two defences for standard White openings (e4 and d4) and two replies to defences by Black to my opening with e4 (e5 and c5). While at first it seems you learn some moves in a mechanical way and your only advantage is previous knowledge of a situation that you set up, the reality of it is that you choose the setup and for each you have a long term plan! In the middle game and end game you have a clear vision of what you want, where the attack goes, where to hinder the enemy's movements and what are the triggers for each. It would have been easy to say "for any possible game, you must make a strategic plan before you play", but unless you know what you are doing, that plan would suck. So, while playing these apparently memorized openings, I've developed a practice and an understanding of strategic planning in chess. I have also found answers to other, less common, openings. For example White might move Nf3, but that prohibits me playing e5, so I go with the d5 plan which was originally designed to stop White's d4. And behold, White then plays d4, transposing into a standard d4 opening.

Wait a minute, you jump, but you said the other "learning branch" was the one where you learned tactics and strategy! It is true: strategic thinking is exercised in both situations, only the first is somehow more adult: you learn by doing. Oh, I do have some tactics books that I am looking through and some general strategy books that are supposed to be awesome, but until I find the time and disposition to focus on them and read carefully and understand what is written there, I have the option of playing chess and learning as I go.

Another thing about getting a chess instructor is that he isn't doing much. There is no magical method that he can wield that improves your chess. Instead he instructs you on what is good to do and you must do it. The effort is yours. The bonus comes from his filtering the chess materials so you get the ones that actually help you. The rest is up to you. After a week of playing, he may look at your chess games and quickly tell you where you went wrong, but they have to be your games.

One thing that my instructor is adamant about is not to use chess engines to analyse your games. That's right! He is telling a computer programmer to not use computer programs for chess. I know, a bit off putting, but he finally convinced me completely when he said that after a (simulated) rating of 2000 ELO, the computers don't move anything like a human. As a 2500 player himself, he cannot prepare for chess championships or games with other players by playing with a computer. His method of analysis is personal: take your game, think of what you thought when you made the moves, see what went wrong with your plans, see what better moves you could have done. It makes sense, after all, to not use computer programs to analyse your strategic plans, since they don't have any.

So, in order to summarize, my solution for learning to play better chess is to find the opening repertoire that you want to use for most chess games. You don't do that in order to trap the other into little known situations, as I did for a while, but in order to set up a game where you are aware of the strategic plans that you and your opponent are prone to use. In the end the order of the moves might be different, the situation may change one way or another, but as long as you follow the plan, you should be OK.

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Yes, yet another chess blog post. Don't worry, soon there will be a ton of rants about the programming world, just wait a bit.

This puzzle is from Chess Tactics for Champions, by four times women chess champion Susan Polgar. Here is a review of the book, much better than I could do it. So, on to the puzzle:

White to move.


[SetUp "1"]
[FEN "1k1r4/pP2q3/8/Q5pP/5bP1/5P1K/P1R5/8 w - - 0 1"]
1. Rc8+ Rxc8 2. Qxa7+ Kxa7 3. bxc8=N+ *

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I have started a more formal chess training program, something that would possibly improve my skills as a chess player and finally getting me into that place where I can fully appreciate the beauty of the game. As part of this program I've watched the Daniel King Power Play DVD Part 1: Mating Patterns, in ChessBase format. It was a well presented material that made for very interesting time. The information contained is aimed at beginners such as myself and presents several chess mating themes, with some puzzles at the end, to test the knowledge gain. I can say that I liked it and I recommend it to other learning chess players as well. However, this post is aimed at summarizing the information, for future reference.

    Themes:
  1. Greek Gift
  2. Lasker Double Bishop sacrifice
  3. Lawnmower (Double Shotgun) mate
  4. Bishop See-saw
  5. H-file Rook distraction
  6. Knight mate
  7. Queen in on the pin
  8. Back rank mate

And then are the Puzzles.

For each theme I will post pictures with a position, let you think, then give you the opportunity to see the entire PGN. Same with the puzzles. Try to think things through before looking for the solution.

1. Greek Gift

The opposing king is castled short and you sack a bishop by taking the pawn in front of the enemy king. The king is forced to take, and then a knight check comes, followed by the arrival of the queen.

Netzer, Jean - Guezennec, Franck, 2000 (FRA-chT U20)

White to move. Click here to see the game.

Hartl, Rainer - Hecht, Christoph, 2000 (Landesliga Sued 0001)

White to move. Click here to see the game.

Langrock, Hannes - Gaede, Derek, 2000 (JBLN West 0001)

White to move. Click here to see the game.

Polugaevsky, Lev - Tal, Mihail,1969 (URS-ch37)

White to move. Click here to see the game.

Colle, Edgar - O'Hanlon, John,1930 (Nice)

White to move. Click here to see the game.

Thesing, Matthias - Borngaesser, Rene,1984 (NRW-ch)

Black to move. Click here to see the game.

Toulzac, Pierre Yves - Sokolov, Andrei,2000 (Mulhouse IM)

White to move. Click here to see the game.


2. Lasker Double Bishop Sacrifice

The light bishop is sacrificed just like in the Greek Gift, the queen comes around to check, then the dark bishop is sacrificed as well for the pawn in front of the enemy king. The mate is achieved by a rook lift.

Lasker, Emanuel - Bauer, Johann Hermann, 1889 (Amsterdam)

White to move. Click here to see the game.

Koenig - Cornforth, 1952 (London)

White to move. Click here to see the game.

Dizdarevic, Emir - Miles, Anthony , 1985 (Biel MTO op)

Black to move. Click here to see the game.

Jonkman, Harmen - Espig, Lutz, 1998 (Chemnitz op)

White to move. Click here to see the game.

3. Lawnmower (Double Shotgun) mate

Two rooks or a rook and a queen push the enemy king to the margin of the board, taking rank after rank or file after file until the king is mated

King, Daniel J - Krasenkow, Michal, 1989 (GMA Baleares op)

White to move. Click here to see the game.

Tkachiev, Vladislav - Watson, William N, 1993 (London Lloyds)

White to move. Click here to see the game.

Watson, William N - Merriman, John, 1993 (London Lloyds)

Black to move. Click here to see the game.

Bologan, V. - Van Haastert, E., 2005 (21st ECC)

Black moves h5, White to move. Click here to see the game.

4. Bishop See-saw

The queen has caught the enemy king at the corner of the board, his only escape blocked and continuously harassed by a bishop that gobbles all the pieces on its color and then gives mate.

From Nimzowitsch's book My System

White to move. Click here to see the game.

King, Daniel J - Kuijf, Marinus, 1982 (Amsterdam)

White to move. Click here to see the game.

5. H-file Rook Distraction

The enemy king seems safe, as your pieces appear uncoordinated, but here comes a suicidal rook bringing the king into the open and ready to be slaughtered.

Polgar, J. - Berkes, F., 2003 (Hunguest Hotels)

White to move. Click here to see the game.

Kuemin, Simon - Cebalo, Miso, 2003 (Biel MTO)

White to move. Click here to see the game.

Kudrin, Sergey - King, Daniel J, 1988 (London NWYM)

White to move. Click here to see the game.

Sorensen, Arne - Marciano, David, 1988 (Tecklenburg op)

White to move. Click here to see the game.

Kuzmin, Gennadi P - Zhuravliov, Valerij, 1992 (St Petersburg)

White to move. Click here to see the game.

6. Knight Mate

Mates with the knights, whether in conjunction with other pieces or with other knights.

Kotronias, Vasilios - King, Daniel J, 1990 (New York WFW)

White to move. Click here to see the game.

Wheeler, G. - Povah, N., 1977 (London)

White to move. Click here to see the game.

De Musset, A. - study

White to move. Click here to see the game.

Clemenz - Eisenschmidt, 1862 (Dorpat)

White to move. Click here to see the game.

Dumpor, Atif - Kosic, Dragan, 2001 (Ajvatovica IM)

Black to move. Click here to see the game.

Kortschnoj, Viktor - Karpov, Anatoly, 1978 (World Championship 29th)

White to move. Click here to see the game.

7. Queen in on the pin

The queen comes right next to the enemy king, where the poor protecting pieces are pinned by some other piece. The opposing king is stuck between his pieces and the troublesome queen.

Tatai, Stefano - Kortschnoj, Viktor, 1978 (Beersheba)

Black to move. Click here to see the game.

King, Daniel J - Costa, Jean Luc, 1987 (Bern)

From here, Black will move Ne4, then White to move. Click here to see the game.

Fazekas - Spielmann, 1938 (Prague)

White to move. Click here to see the game.

Peredy - Malanca, 2003 (Budapest)

Black to move. Click here to see the game.

8. Back rank mate

The poor enemy king is attacked and there is nowhere to go because of his own protectors.

Wolff, Patrick G - King, Daniel J, 1989 (London WFW)

White moves Rab1, Black to move. Click here to see the game.

Rovner - Kamyshev, 1947 (Moscow)

White to move. Click here to see the game.

Capablanca - Fonaroff, 1918 (New York - casual)

White to move. Click here to see the game.

Alden - Nilsson, 1972 (Sweden)

Black to move. Click here to see the game.

Adams, Michael - Giorgadze, Giorgi, 1997 (FIDE-Wch k.o.)

White to move. Click here to see the game.

Alekhine, Alexander - Colle, Edgar, 1925 (Paris)

White to move. Click here to see the game.

Bazan, Osvaldo - Fischer, Robert James, 1960 (Mar del Plata)

Black to move. Click here to see the game.

Puzzles

Think it through, prepare your moves in your head and only then look at the games.

Cinak, Nilufer - Novak, Ksenija, 2002 (Bled ol (Women))

White to move. Click here to see the game.

Bareev, Evgeny - Akopian, Vladimir, 2000 (Dortmund SuperGM)

White to move. Click here to see the game.

Sveshnikov, Evgeny - Sherbakov, Ruslan, 991 (URS-ch58)

Black will move g6, White to move. Click here to see the game.

Hillarp-Persson, Tiger - Hansen, Sune Berg, 2005 (Sigeman Chess Tournament 2005)

White to move. Click here to see the game.

Marin, Mihail - Kiselev, Sergey, 1997 (Ciocaltea mem)

Black to move. Click here to see the game.

Yates, Frederick - Reti, Richard, 1924 (New York)

White to move. Click here to see the game.

Jussupow, Artur - Ivanchuk, Vassily, 1991 (Candidates qf3)

White to move. Click here to see the game.

Bruzon, Lazaro - Jobava, Baadur, 2005 (Capablanca Memorial Elite)

White to move. Click here to see the game.

Vidmar - Euwe, 1929 (Karlsbad)

White to move. Click here to see the game.

Rozentalis, Eduardas - Kozul, Zdenko

White to move. Click here to see the game.

Azmaiparashvili, Zurab - Shirov, Alexei, 2002 (FIDE GP)

Black to move. Click here to see the game.

I know it has been a long read, but imagine how long it took me to write it! This is not something you read once, but a post that you return to again and again to rehearse the games and maintain the feel for these interesting mates.

Also, there are some inconsistencies between the start of the game and the pictures, also the puzzles are not very clear. It should have a text that explains what you are to try to do. And there are comments in German in the PGNs, as well. I am going to address this.

and has 1 comment
As you may have guessed from my previous chess posts, I am a chess beginner and a gambiteer. I like to play the strange moves and see my opponents squirm in positions that they were not expecting and were not prepared for. That is why the proposition in this post is gambit galore and also to be taken with a grain of salt.

My idea is that there could be common themes for the three Gambits in the title, since they start almost the same way. You have the Smith-Morra Gambit, where White answers Black's Sicilian Defence with d4 and then c3 in the accepted version:1. e4 c5 2. d4 cxd4 3. c3 dxc3 4. Nxc3 * then you have the Danish Gambit, where White's move order is the same in response to King's pawn defence: 1. e4 e5 2. d4 exd4 3. c3 dxc3 4. Nxc3 * and then there is the similar response from Black to the King's pawn opening, called the Elephant gambit: 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 d5 3. exd5 *

You might notice that in the Elephant, I did not offer up a second pawn on c6. This is because the main line is pawn to e4 and also White has the opportunity to take e5 with the knight, which is the computer recommendation as well. The problem is that after Black's response Qe2 to the main line or the Bd6 computer recommendation after Nxe5, the Elephant doesn't appear at all like the Danish/Morra and, instead, threads into its own territory, somewhere closer to the Latvian gambit, but not by much. However, in this post I will be stretching the imagination and will be trying to squish the big Elephant into the Morra mold and see where it takes me.

I have just finished watching a two hour video presentation of the Morra accepted line, by IM Andrew Martin, and there are also a lot of tutorials for the Danish, from beginner to very advanced levels. Not so for the Elephant, which seems to be even less favoured than the Latvian, to which GM Roman Dzindzichashvili answered with a refutation and some very rude words to its efficacity. All that I could find about it are lines that have no connection with the Danish/Morra style and that is because of that pesky White knight on f3.

If my thesis holds ground, then I will be talking here about a chess system that has some similar ideas and theory for at least three major openings: The Sicilian Defence and King's pawn for both White and Black! Also, threading on less travelled ground, there is a good chance online and club players will be unnerved by it.

So let's get into it. I will start with the Smith-Morra main line. This means the most played version in database games, by players who know theory and open that way because it was proven to be the best way. There is little chance you will see the same moves in club level games.

1. e4 c5 2. d4 cxd4 3. c3 dxc3 4. Nxc3 Nc6 5. Nf3 d6 6. Bc4 e6 7. O-O Nf6 8. Qe2 Be7 9. Rd1 e5 10. h3 O-O 11. Be3 a6 12. Rac1 *

This is the position in which White wants to get. I tweaked a little the game so that at move 11. Black moved to the second most used line in the database, the a6 system, rather than Be6 and exchange light bishops. What I want to evidence here is the position of the White pieces: both rooks are connected and on open or semi-open files, cramping Black's development, the bishops are out and about, aiming at the Black king, the knights are developed and the queen is on a very crucial square, controlling yet another file and the essential e2-c4 diagonal.Black has not finished development, has pinned pawns and weaknesses like b6 where a knight may find outpost. There is a lot of potential for attack and, even before reaching this position, a lot of possible traps in which Black could fall. Even the main line has only about 100 games in the database at this point, so it is not very common, even if it is a pretty solid opening.

Let's move to the Danish and compare.

1. e4 e5 2. d4 exd4 3. c3 dxc3 4. Nxc3 Nc6 5. Bc4 Nf6 6. Nf3 d6 7. Qb3 (7. O-O Be7 8. Qe2 O-O 9. h3 a6 10. Rd1 b5 11. Bb3) 7... Qd7 8. Ng5 Ne5 9. Bb5 c6 10. f4 cxb5 11. fxe5 *

Seems to be a different beast altogether. I've added a variation that plays like the Morra, the single game in the database like that (Sipek-Urbanec 1995). The b5 push is also found in the Morra. So, what are the differences here? The most important to me seems the absence of the Black pawn on e6. That means White can attack much quicker and Black must defend more aggressively, too. The e4 pawn is unopposed and, in some games, that proves decisive for White. The pawn on c7 is still there, so the Black queen will have to maneuver on light squares instead of dark.

A possible conclusion would be that, even if they seem similar, the Danish and Morra gambits are quite different. But are they?

A White queen on e2 would support the e4 pawn in its push forward and make room for a rook on d1, just like in the Morra. The dark bishop can pin or eventually trade with the knight on f6 or even move to e3 or f4, supporting the e4 pawn as it moves to e5 and making room for a rook on c1. A computer analysis on a Danish game played in the Morra fashion shows equality when Black still has an extra pawn.

Now, some of the readers may scoff and conclude that I am trying to fit the proverbial triangle shape into the round hole using brute force, that attempting to take one opening and play it like another is an imperfect chimera, destined to be an abomination. However, I must remind you that I am not a master player, nor a professional one. I have no time to learn tons of theory just to win a game. My purpose for this research (which may still fail to achieve anything) is to find a gambit based system that uses the same principles for any opponent response. In time, each variation can be improved and branched off from the main system, but at the start all I need is for it to work.

Let's get back, then. How about playing a Morra game in the Danish way? Well, the Danish gambit is even rarer than the Smith-Morra and the games in my database are primarily focused on the exposed f7 square. It could work, I guess, but it would seem even more unnatural and, lacking proper theory, a beginner like me could easily mess it up. I will, therefore, use the Morra as the template to which all others must conform.

Besides, if you think fitting the Danish to the Morra was difficult, the Elephant comes next!

In the database there are only two games that start like a Morra Elephant and they both are won by White, which is not good for us. Only when it gets to the standard position of knight protecting the single center pawn, the transposed games suddenly reach 73! It seems this position can be more easily achieved by playing the Scandinavian defence! In the next board I will present the main line for the Elephant, then the Morra Elephant and at the same time the way to reach the same position from the Scandinavian. The rest will continue from the Elephant line, but, actually, it will be based more on Scandinavian games.

1. e4 e5 (1... d5 {The Scandinavian Defence} 2. exd5 c6 3. dxc6 Nxc6 4. Nf3 e5 {And we reach the position would would have liked from the Morra Elephant.}) 2. Nf3 d5 3. exd5 e4 (3... c6 {And here is a Morrafication of the Elephant} 4. dxc6 Nxc6 5. Bb5 Bd6 6. O-O Nge7 7. d4 e4 8. Ne5 Bxe5 9. dxe5 O-O 10. Qxd8 Rxd8 11. Nc3 Nxe5) 4. Qe2 {This is how the Elephant is mainly played.} Nf6 5. Nc3 Be7 6. Nxe4 O-O 7. d3 Nxd5 8. Qd1 Nc6 9. Be2 Bf5 10. O-O Qd7 *

Ooh! This seems completely different. White still has that extra tempo and he uses it to pin the Black knight on c6, which leaves e5 undefended. Black's bishop on f8 did not have time to get out, so moving the queen on e7 like in the Morra would block it and the entire king side. The move Bd6 is the only one that can defend the pawn and this gives White at least the opportunity to swap the bishop with the knight and mess up the Black pawn structure on the queen side. If White does not take, as in the example above, then the only possible move to protect the knight is to use the other knight on e7, thus forever altering the structure of the game.

It seems no amount of force will twist the Elephant into a Morra gambit a tempo behind. A Morra with a lost tempo doesn't even appear to work! Besides, in order to get here, White had to ignore the opportunity in the beginning to take on e5 with the knight, as suggested by the computer; a much safer route to the same dysfunctional position can be achieved from the Scandinavian defence.

The Elephant hides some interesting traps that have nothing to do with the Morra or the Danish and has more in common with the Latvian gambit that with the two systems above. The Latvian, if you remember, offers up two pawns in order to gain the tempo White is awarded in the start of a chess game. The Elephant can be played in the same way, only to lose two center pawns, so not so good. The similarities with the Morra/Danish are deceiving. A tempo behind, Black cannot use the same ideas, having to defend instead of attack.

Conclusion: It is a very difficult thing to find a defence for Black that works the same way as an opening for White, because of the extra tempo. Even so, the Elephant only begins like the Morra, it has nothing else in common. The Morra gambit itself is only similar to the Danish and, while I think they can be molded in the same shape, it would be a tortuous adventure that I am not sure will get me where I want.

I hope you have gained a little understanding of the differences between the three gambits and how simple differences like the position of a pawn or an extra tempo can change a game of chess.

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I want to present to you a game I had last night that was both spectacular and really silly :) You know when you look at chess master games and you are either bored by their precision or befuddled by their ingenuity? Well, this is only a really good show, the equivalent of big budget action movies.
1. e4 c5 2. b4 {The Wing Gambit, a weird anti Sicilian move that I want to
master.} cxb4 3. a3 bxa3 4. Bxa3 {At this point White has control of the
center and a developed minor piece. The rook also has a semi open file
available.} a6 5. Bc4 d6 6. Nf3 e6 7. O-O Be7 8. d4 Nf6 9. Re1 O-O 10. Nc3
Nc6 {Even if I wrote a blog entry on the Wing Gambit, I remembered nothing
and my opponent was so terrified that he tried to protect everything with
unnecessary pawn moves.} 11. e5 {I had no plan and it shows. I was planning
to take on e5 with the rook, eventually, or free my queen by actively
moving the knight on f3.} Ne8 12. Bd3 d5 13. Bb2 {I've decided that I
needed that bishop and moved it to protext the defenceless knight. However,
that is no longer an active square for it.}

(13. Bxe7 Qxe7 14. Na4 Nb4 15.
Bf1 b5 16. Nc5 {The computer suggested this weird continuation, were both
knights are trying to find outposts in the opponent's teritory.})

13. .. f6
14. Nh4 {I had come up with a daring stratagem, enacted in the next few
moves. Can you spot it?} Nxd4

(14. .. fxe5 15. Bxh7+ Kxh7 16. Qh5+ Kg8 17.
Ng6 exd4 18. Ne2 Nf6 19. Qh8+ Kf7 20. Nxf8 Qxf8 21. Qh3 Kg8 {Houdini
recommends a different approach for Black, something that would have
brought it into an advantageous position.})

15. Bxh7+ {The attack begins
with a minor piece sacrifice.}

(15. Nxd5 Qxd5 16. Bxd4 f5 17. Nf3 {The
computer had other ideas, which were almost as wild as what I was
considering.})

15. .. Kxh7 16. Qh5+

(16. Qxd4 fxe5 17. Rxe5 Bxh4 18. Rh5+ Kg8 19. Rxh4 Qf6 20. Qxf6 Nxf6 {The computer would have equalized quickly
in this situation, a most boring continuation that I refused out of hand. I
didn't check the king to swap a bishop for a knight.})

16. .. Kg8 17. Ng6 fxe5

(17. .. Nf5 18. Rad1 Nh6 19. Nxd5 exd5 20. Rxd5 Qc7 21. exf6 Bxf6 22.
Nxf8 Bg4 23. Qg6 Bf5 24. Qh5 Qf7 25. Qxf7+ Kxf7 26. Bc1 Kxf8 27. Bxh6 Bxc2
28. Bd2 {A violent variation from Houdini, something that you have to check
out because there is a lot to learn from it. However, the game did not go
that way at all.})

18. Qh8+ Kf7 19. Nxf8 {Here I publicly prove my idiocy.
The position before taking the rook was mate in 6 moves. As such, I got
cold feet at the apex of my attack. Just a few more seconds of thought and
I would have seen the continuation that the computer saw.}

(19. Nxe5+ Kf6
20. Qh4+ g5 21. Qh6+ Kf5 22. Qg6+ Kf4 23. g3# {A beautiful ending and
something that I should have seen. A pawn mate, with the king banished to
my side of the board and none of the Black pieces taken except three
pawns!})

19. .. Bxf8 {Now, my win in this game was almost completely the
merit of my opponent. I did wild and beautiful moves, but none of them were
actually accurate. At each point he could have come up on top, if he played
correctly.}

(19. .. Nf6 20. Rxe5 Qxf8 21. Qxf8+ Bxf8 22. Nxd5 Nf3+ 23. gxf3
exd5 24. Re3 {The computer would have quickly simplified the position and
taken advantage of its material gain. It would have made quick work of my
apparent king safety as well.})

20. Rxe5 Nf6 {I believe at this point Black
was considering cornering my queen. It would have required freeing the
rook, though, which was impossible.}

(20. .. Qf6 21. Re3 g6 22. Qh7+ Qg7
23. Qh4 Nf5

(23. .. Nxc2 24. Rf3+ Kg8 25. Nxd5 Qxb2 26. Rxf8+ Kxf8 27. Qe7+ Kg8 28. Qxe8+ Kh7 29. Qe7+ Kh6 30. Qh4+)

24. Rf3 Be7 25. Qf4 Bf6 26. Qb4 {A
long dance leading nowhere. My queen banished and the Black king
protected.})

21. Nxd5 {I saw this move that would have gained a pawn, freed
my rook and removed the only Black developed piece.} exd5

(21. .. Be7 22.
Qxd8 Bxd8 23. Nb4 Nf5 24. Nd3 {The computer would not have gone for it.})


22. Bxd4 Be6 23. Rae1 Bg4 24. Qh4 Qd7 25. h3 Bf5 26. R5e3 Nh7 27. Qh5+ {At
this point I was despondent. I had time trouble, my beautiful attack ended
in a big flop and the only thing I could think of was harassing Black's
pieces in an attempt to catch one off guard and gain the material
advantage.}

(27. Bxg7 Kxg7 (27. .. Bxg7 28. Re7+ Qxe7 29. Rxe7+ Kf8 30. Qb4
Bf6 31. Rxh7+ Kg8 32. Qxb7 Rf8 33. Rc7 Bg6 34. Qxa6)

28. Re7+ Qxe7

(28. .. Bxe7 29. Rxe7+ Qxe7 30. Qxe7+ Kg8 31. Qxb7 Rd8 32. Qxa6)

29. Rxe7+ Bxe7 30.
Qxe7+ Kg8 31. Qxb7 Rd8 32. Qxa6 Rd7 {The computer saw this continuation
which is pretty much forced. An interesting combo, but I doubt I could have
mated the king with only a queen against three pieces. I doubt I could have
won.}) 27. .. Kg8 28. Rf3 Bxc2 29. g4 {At this point I only had one idea
left: moving the g pawn front and use it to mate the king. It was as
transparent as it was desperate, but I think my opponent was completely
thrown off his game by the crazy maneuvres I had used.}

(29. Rc3 Be4 30. f3
Bf5 31. g4 {Houdini would also have pushed the g4 pawn, but with backup and
tempo. Again, something to be learned from that. Check out the wild
continuation it found.} Be6 32. Qe5 Re8 33. Rc7 {threatening the queen, but
also g7.} Bxg4 {completely crazy: this is a queen exchange, but the
computer saw the possibility to gain a pawn in the process.} 34. Rxd7 Rxe5
35. Rxg7+ {two can play that game. See how White is going for the pawns in
this insane position, as well.} Bxg7 36. Bxe5 Ng5 {Again, insane! Why not
move the bishop? because the knight can be developed and a new threat (f3)
can be declared.} 37. Kf2 Nxf3 38. Rd1 Nxe5 39. hxg4 Nxg4+ 40. Kf3 Ne5+ 41.
Ke2 Nc6 42. Rxd5 {White would not have won this, but was crazy game.})

29. .. b5 {His plan, to push his passed pawns and gain huge material advantage
or completely block my pieces from attacking would have worked, but it
needed some preparatory moves on the king side, which were not made.} 30.
g5 Be4 31. g6 {The bishop move came too late. I was threatening mate and
the only option to save the situation was the sacrifice of the bishop.}
Bxg6 32. Qxg6 b4 {Again, Black helps me out with a useless pawn move.} 33.
Re5 b3 34. Rxd5 {Enamored by wild moves I did this. The idea was that if
the queen was not defending g7, I could then take the f8 bishop with yet
another sacrifice and mate at g7. I completely missed that the rook could
be taken by the king, avoiding the mate.}

(34. Rh5 {Houdini went instead
for a safe mate in 7 which I missed, even if my initial plan was to move
the rook to h5, but I then forgot about it.} Ng5 35. Rxg5 Bd6 36. Qxg7+
Qxg7 37. Rxg7+ Kh8 38. Rf5 Bh2+ 39. Kxh2 a5 40. Rh5# {Another beautiful
computer mate.})

34. .. Qxd5 35. Rxf8+ Nxf8 {My always greedy opponent was
kind enough to not see the mate. I had time trouble and no matter the
material advantage, I had no time to finish the game without a blunder such
as this.}

(35. .. Kxf8 36. Qxg7+ Ke8 37. Qxh7 Rc8 38. Qh8+ Kd7 39. Qg7+ Kd6
40. Qg3+ Ke7 41. Qh4+ {The only solution for White was to check ad
infinitum, which was not possible if both sides played well. The game was
lost.})

36. Qxg7# 1-0


The game started as a whim. I wanted to do something, I didn't really feel like anything, so I started a chess game, expecting to lose. I am usually a fan of aggressive, off the book, starting positions so, when I was confronted by the Sicilian defence, I decided to try the Wing Gambit. Now, I know I wrote a blog entry about it, but I did not remember anything from it and it would have been unfair to read the blog entry while playing, so I went with the first three moves and then winged it (get it?).

I want to thank Black for helping me along, as with the silly moves I did it was impossible to win if it weren't for his valuable assistance >:)

There are comments in the game as long as several variations. What I want you to pay special attention to is the variation at move 19. If I would had seen it, and I should have had, the game would have been over in a spectacular fashion in only 25 moves. Other variations show how the game could have ended if Black has played well.

Enjoy!

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After such a long pause it seems only natural that I come up with a good chess blog post and I think this one, about the Evans Gambit, fits the bill. Since it is a gambit employed in the Giuoco Piano/Italian Game opening, it has been widely used from the 1820s when it was first documented. There are numerous videos on it on YouTube, but the one I consider the best is the one below, from GM Gregory Kaidanov.



I have also explored the gambit with ChessBase, but there it is difficult to see the spectacular games, the ones that lead in traps or quick wins, as they are often studied and the mistakes there not repeated in high level games.

1. e4 e5
2. Nf3 Nc6
3. Bc4 {The Ruy-Lopez (Bb6) is twice as common, but this is the second most popular move for White.} Bc5 {The main Black response to Bc4, almost on par with Nf6.}
4. b4 {The Evans Gambit, giving material for speed. It is interesting to note that this gambit is the second most popular way to go from here, after the mainline c3.}
(4. O-O {When first invented by Evans, he castled first.} d6 {Here is a trap in the original Evans Gambit.}
5. b4 Bxb4
6. c3 Ba5
7. d4 Bg4
8. Qb3 Qd7
9. Ng5 Nd8
10. dxe5 dxe5
11. Ba3 Nh6
12. f3 Bb6+
13. Kh1 Bh5
14. Rd1 Qc8
15. Rxd8+ Qxd8
16. Nxf7 Bxf7
(16... Nxf7
17. Bb5+ c6
18. Qe6+ Qe7
19. Qxe7#)
(16... Qh4
17. Bb5+ c6
18. Qe6+ Qe7
19. Qxe7#)
17. Bxf7+ Nxf7
18. Qe6+ Qe7
19. Qxe7#)
4... Bxb4 {The overwhelmingly more used move to accept the gambit, rather than decline it.}
(4... Bb6 {A possible run for the lot less employed gambit declined variation.}
5. a4 a6 6. Nc3
(6. a5 Ba7
7. b5 axb5
8. Bxb5 {This transposes into a sort of Ruy-Lopez.})
6... Nf6
7. Nd5 Nxd5
8. exd5 Nd4
9. a5 Ba7
10. d6 cxd6
11. c3 Nc6
12. O-O O-O
13. d4 h6
14. Re1 Qf6
15. Nd2 exd4
16. Ne4 Qg6
17. cxd4 d5
18. Bxd5 Nxb4
19. Bb3 d5
20. Ng3 Bg4
21. Qd2 Nc6
22. Bc2 Qf6
23. Qd3 g6
24. Bxh6 Bxd4
25. Bxf8 Rxf8 {0-1 Santos,M (2245)-Martins,C (2278)/Americana 2000/EXT 2001})
5. c3 {Multipurpose move to defend d4, make way for the queen to go to b3 and doing it with tempo as it is attacking the Black bishop.} Ba5 {Bishop retreats, keeping an eye on the White king.}
(5... Bc5 {Bc5 transposes easily, but also has the disadvantage of giving White an extra tempo after d4.}
6. d4 exd4
7. O-O)
(5... Be7
6. d4 Na5
7. Nxe5 Nxc4
8. Nxc4 {Beautiful center and development options.} d5
9. exd5 Qxd5
10. Ne3 Qd8
(10... Qa5
11. O-O Nf6
12. c4 O-O
13. Bb2)
11. O-O Nf6
12. c4 O-O
13. Nc3)
(5... Bd6 {Not used a lot, as it cramps the d pawn.}
6. d4 Nf6
7. O-O O-O
8. Re1 h6
9. Nbd2 {Leads for a closed game for both sides, not really in the Evans spirit.})
6. d4 {Defended by queen, knight and a pawn that is, at the moment, pinned, White aggressively makes a claim on the center.} exd4 {The defending pawn can not move and taking with the knight invites a host of unpleasantness}
(6... d6
7. Qb3 Qd7
8. dxe5 Bb6
9. Nbd2 Na5
10. Qc2 Nxc4
11. Nxc4 d5
12. exd5 Qxd5
13. Qa4+ Bd7
14. Nxb6 cxb6
15. Qb4 Ne7 {Three games in the database for this, two White wins and a draw.})
(6... Qe7
7. O-O Bb6
8. Ba3 d6
9. Bb5 Bd7
10. Bxc6 Bxc6
11. Nxe5 Bb5
12. Re1 Qe6
13. Nf3 O-O-O
14. Bb2 a5
15. Nbd2 Qd7
16. c4 Ba4
17. Nb3 Ne7
18. Qd2 Nc6
19. Bc3 Rhe8
20. d5 Nb4
21. Bxb4 axb4
22. Qxb4 Bxb3
23. axb3 {1-0 Sveshnikov,E (2560)-Sofieva,A (2370)/ Cappelle la Grande 1995/EXT 1997})
(6... Qf6
7. O-O Nge7
8. Bg5 Qd6
9. d5 Nd8
10. Qa4 b6
(10... f6
11. Bc1 Bb6
12. Na3 c6
13. Rd1 {Tchigorin})
11. Na3 a6 {Two games between Chigorin and Steinitz in 1889 from here: one won by White, the other by Black.})
7. O-O {Main themes in the Evans: keep your king safe, develop as many pieces as possible and prevent the Black king from castling.} Nge7 {Nge7 is the move masters have found most effective against the Evans gambit, as well as d6, but at amateur or club level it is more likely you will see Black take the pawn on c3.}
(7... d6 {Meant to protect against the push of the White pawn to e5 and liberating the bishop.}
8. cxd4 Bb6
9. Nc3
(9. d5 Na5
10. Bb2 Ne7 {And again: Nge7.}
11. Bd3 O-O {At this point we can assume that the gambit has failed, as Black has achieved castling, but they are not out of the woods yet.})
9... Bg4 {Black is planning to castle queen side and their position is getting better.}
(9... Nge7 {At this point, Nge7 is a mistake.}
10. Ng5 O-O
11. Qh5)
(9... Nf6
10. e5 dxe5
11. Ba3 {Not taking the e pawn, but preventing Black from castling!} Bxd4 {let us see how it could go down from here.}
12. Qb3 Qd7
13. Rae1 Na5
14. Nxe5 Nxb3
15. Nxf7+ Qe6
16. Bxe6 Bxe6
17. Nxh8 {White wins a lot of material here.})
10. Bb5 Bxf3
11. gxf3 {Take with the pawn to continue to protect d4.} a6
12. Ba4 Ba5
13. Bxc6+ bxc6
14. Qa4 Bxc3
15. Qxc6+ Kf8
16. Qxc3 {Now material is even, but Black cannot castle and does not control the center.})
(7... dxc3 {Taking the pawn, accepting this second gambit, might seem a good idea, but it only allows White to develop a powerful attack.}
8. Qb3 {attacking e7, b7, c3 as well as getting close to the lightly defended Black bishop.} Qf6 {The only options for Black to defend the e7 pawn are Qf6 or Qe7.}
(8... Qe7
9. Nxc3 Bxc3
(9... Nf6 {The usual move in this situation is Bxc3. The Nf6 variation is what happened in the Fischer-Fine game from 1963, the one in the video above. The rest of the moves are from that game.}
10. Nd5 Nxd5
11. exd5 Ne5
12. Nxe5 Qxe5
13. Bb2 Qg5
14. h4 Qxh4
15. Bxg7 Rg8
16. Rfe1+ Kd8
17. Qg3 Qxg3
18. Bf6#)
10. Qxc3 f6 {At this point Black has not yet achieved safety, but it is pretty close. I continue with the main line, without annotations.}
11. Ba3 d6
12. Bd5 Bd7
(12... Qd7
13. Rac1 Nge7
14. Rfe1 Qd8
15. Nh4 Bg4
16. Qg3 Qd7
17. h3 Be6 {Rajaboz-Smeets 1995, ended in draw.})
13. Rfe1 O-O-O {Black castles (Steinitz Gray 1872), although White manages to win.})
9. e5 {The pawn cannot be taken due to the threat of Re1.} Qg6 {Only good square for the queen.}
(9... Nxe5
10. Re1 d6
11. Qb5+ {and if Black protects the knight with the pawn on d7, they open themselves to this fork.})
10. Nxc3 {Gaining back a pawn and bringing yet another piece into the game. White has brought almost all the pieces out, while Black is cramped.} Nge7 {And here it is again, Ne7. If playing correctly, it seems Black cannot move that knight anywhere else in any variation.}
11. Ne2 {Very sophisticated idea, as it attempts to lure Black into castling and losing their queen or some other piece in its attempted rescue.} O-O {Black falls into the trap. The next few moves demonstrate it.}
12. Nf4 Qe4 {The only acceptable move for the queen.}
(12... Qg4
13. h3 Qf5
14. Bd3 Nd4
15. Nxd4 Qxe5)
(12... Qh6
13. Ne6)
13. Bd3 Qb4 {Only safe square.}
14. Qd1 {The Black queen is still in trouble, as Rb1 follows.} Ng6 {This is the only move that is giving respite to the queen, but White still gains advantage.}
(14... d6
15. Rb1 Qc5
16. Rb5 Qc3
17. Bb2 {Queen is trapped.})
15. Rb1 Qe7
16. Nd5 Qe6
17. Rb5 {threatening to take on a5 and then fork queen and rook at c7.} Rb8
18. Ba3 d6
19. exd6 cxd6
20. Ng5 Qd7
21. Qh5 h6
22. Nf6+ gxf6
23. Qxh6 fxg5
24. Bb2 Nce5
25. Rxe5 dxe5
26. Bxe5 f6
27. Bc4+ Rf7
28. Qxg6+ Kf8
29. Bd6+ Ke8
30. Qg8+ Rf8
31. Qxf8#)


For more background you can scour the net for videos on the Evans Gambit, there are a lot. There are a multitude of traps in the Evans as well, for the unprepared. One video that I do recommend, though, is Ruy Lopez vs Italian Game where it is explained why the Giuoco Piano is less favoured than the Ruy Lopez, even if it seems to open up more avenues of attack, and also what are the goals of White in the opening, thus explaining a lot about the coices made during the Evans Gambit.

Enjoy!

and has 0 comments
Any person that is remotely interested in the history of chess knows the name of José Raúl Capablanca. He was a great chess player and the world champion for 7 years in a row. I've just finished reading one of his books, entitled Chess Fundamentals, and I thought it was great. It featured clear chess principles, backed by real master games and, what I believe it is most important in the book, all the matches featured in Chess Fundamentals are annotated by Capablanca, who focuses on what moves he saw best, the ones he didn't like and, most fortuitous, what he thought when he played those moves, as many of the games are his.

Unfortunately, as with any chess book, one must spend time to focus on the details and to revisit it as many times as it takes to understand and learn what Capablanca wanted to express. I've read the book as part of an iPad application called "e+books". You get the free application, this Capablanca free book, then you have to pay for any other there. What I found really nice is that the positions and moves in the book are mirrored by a chess board that allows navigation between moves, variations, going back and forth, etc. It really helps reading the book and I recommend it, especially for beginners. Using a real chessboard to mirror the moves might be best, but it adds a layer of discomfort and complexity that might deter someone from finishing the book.

The book is structured into 6 chapters, the last being a series of 14 games in which Capablanca either lost or won. He begins with some principles of the endgame, the part of a game that he considers the most important. If you recall, Josh Waitzkin also highly recommended focusing chess training on the endgame, where there are few pieces and the principles become clearer. Also, since some chess games end with mates somewhere in the middle game, there is less opportunity to learn that part of chess. For openings Capablanca has only a few words, focusing on the healthy development of pieces, which he considers the most important. As stated previously, the games are the most important and their complexity is pretty high. Some say that the book is not fit for beginners for that reason alone, but I disagree. Even the most complex strategies are explained in the annotations and I believe they are a rare opportunity for anyone to glimpse in the mind of a chess master and realize where their aim as chess players lies.

All in all a rather easy to read book, with the help of the iPad application, but very hard to completely understand and remember. I intend to return to it, several times perhaps, in order to internalize some of the cool patterns of thought I saw in there. I warmly recommend it.

and has 0 comments
I have seen there is a marked difference between me, a casual chess player that has become interested in the theory of chess, and other people of my level that do not try to understand the theory. I usually beat them with the help of some of the information that lingers in my head. At the same time, there is an even greater difference between me and people that actively play chess online, not only when a colleague becomes interested in playing. They crush me immediately.

It seems to me that in order to grasp the chess theory I must also back it up with practice. So I have decided (after quite a while of fearing it would either become addictive or that I would suck terribly) I've made the first step and played a game there. And I won! Woo hoo! Unfortunately I played horribly and only luck can be attributed to my victory. As always, I've analysed the PGN and here it is. You will understand the shame of my victory (yes, it can happen) when you get to the end. Enjoy!

[Event "Siderite vs Mar09 2012.07.14"]
[Site "Chess.com"]
[Date "2012.07.14"]
[Round "1"]
[White "Siderite"]
[Black "Mar09"]
[Result "1-0"]
[BlackElo "2400"]
[ECO "C41"]
[Opening "Philidor"]
[Variation "Hanham, Steiner Variation"]
[WhiteElo "2400"]
[TimeControl "0+300"]
[Termination "normal"]
[PlyCount "77"]
[WhiteType "human"]
[BlackType "human"]

1. e4 {+0.11/16 10} e5 {-0.09/16 10} 2. Nf3 {+0.13/15 10} d6 {-0.31/15 10}
3. h3 {+0.15/15 10} Be7 {-0.15/15 10} 4. d4 {+0.16/16 10 Didn't know
anything about the Philidor defence that Black employed, except that it is
rather passive. So I decide to attack.} Nd7 {-0.26/15 10} 5. dxe5 {+0.26/16
10} Nxe5 {-0.24/16 10} 6. Nxe5 {+0.23/17 10} dxe5 {-0.23/17 10} 7. Qxd8+
{+0.23/17 10} Bxd8 {-0.15/17 10} 8. Bc4 {+0.04/17 10 computer thinks that
defending the pawn with the knight would have been better. As such, Black
has equality.} Ne7 {-0.23/16 10} 9. O-O {+0.27/16 10} O-O {-0.26/17 10} 10.
Nd2 {+0.20/18 10} Kh8 {-0.38/16 10 Analysis says this is a bad move and
gives White 0.2 because the pawn at f7 is defended only by the rook, but
Black intends to move it forward anyway.} 11. Nf3 {+0.35/16 10} f6
{-0.30/16 10} 12. Bd2 {+0.27/17 10 at this moment I am lost: I have no
strategy, no obvious attack and so I decide to improve my position a little
bit.} a6 {-0.28/15 10} 13. Bb4 {+0.24/17 10} b5 {-0.88/17 10 I thought
about the computer suggested move at the time: Bc4-d5, but dismissed it
because I felt it did not do anything.} 14. Bb3 {+0.46/17 10} a5 {-0.48/18
10 I almost always fall for pawn pushes. I tend to dismiss their
importance, you see, until it is too late.} 15. Bc5 {+0.48/19 10} a4
{-0.57/18 10} 16. Bd5 {+0.71/17 10 Bd5 is no longer as effective as it
would have been.} Ra6 {-0.54/17 10} 17. a3 {+0.54/19 10 The only move to
save my poor light bishop from getting trapped after c6.} c6 {-0.86/19 10}
18. Ba2 {+0.88/19 10} h6 {-1.97/17 10 You see what I should have done here?
Ra1-d1 would have threatened the bishop on d8, the only defender of the
pinned knight on e7.} 19. c4 {+0.59/17 10 Instead I tried to exchange a
weak pawn with a strong one, breaking the menacing pawn chain c6, b5, a4}
(19. Rad1 Kh7 20. Rxd8 Rxd8 21. Bxe7 Rd7) 19. .. Re8 {-0.72/18 10} 20. Rad1
{+0.43/18 10} Ng6 {-5.97/17 10 too late for Rd1, but do you see the winning
move for White here?} 21. g3 {+0.33/17 10 instead I get spooked by the
knight and try to block it and leaving my h3 pawn undefended.} (21. cxb5
cxb5 22. Bf7 {nice pin, one might think, but look closer: the rook at e8
has nowhere to go, the bishop on d8 is defended by the rook alone and the
knight on g6 is also under attack. This gives White a staggering 6 point
advantage.} Rg8 23. Bxg8 Ba5 24. Bf7 Nf4 25. Be8 {b5: completely
undefendable} Ne6 26. Be3 b4 27. Bb5 Ra8 28. Bc6 Ra6 29. Rc1 bxa3 30. bxa3
Nf4 31. Bxf4 exf4 32. Rfd1 Be6 33. Bxa4 Ra8 34. Bc6 Ra7) 21. .. Bb6
{-2.12/18 10 at this moment I still had the trap for the rook on e8, but it
was invisible to me.} 22. Bxb6 {+0.22/17 10} (22. cxb5 Bxc5 {this is the
best move in the situation} (22. .. cxb5 23. Bxb6 Bxh3 24. Rfe1 Rxb6 25.
Bf7 Reb8 26. Bxg6 {White has more than 2 points advantage here.}) 23. bxa6)
22. .. Rxb6 {-0.17/18 10} 23. Kh2 {-0.05/18 10 Yay, I saved the pawn!, I
thought at the moment... by doing so I have missed every opportunity and
reached equality with Black.} c5 {-0.38/17 10} 24. Rd5 {-0.15/17 10} Bb7
{+0.14/18 10} 25. Rxc5 {-0.17/19 10} Bxe4 {-0.07/18 10} 26. Nd2 {+0.09/19
10} Bd3 {-0.11/18 10} 27. Re1 {-0.04/17 10 the computer advises to take the
soon to be open c file. I miss that, too. Little did I know what incredible
edge it would give me at the end. Goooo, luck!} b4 {0.00/16 10} 28. Re3
{-0.07/16 10} Bc2 {+0.13/16 10 again, I decided to play aggressively. If I
could exchange the rooks, I would have a powerful passed pawn.} 29. Rb5
{-0.41/18 10} Rd6 {+0.45/19 10} 30. Ne4 {-1.51/16 10} Bxe4 {+1.64/17 10}
31. Rxe4 {-1.55/19 10} b3 {+1.62/17 10} 32. Bb1 {-2.36/16 10 my light
bishop is trapped. All one has to do is move the rook on d1.} Rd2 {+0.83/19
10 fortunately Black misses it.} 33. c5 {-2.11/17 10 and I ignore that f2
is undefended and, more, it would place me in check.} Rxf2+ {+2.10/19 10}
34. Kg1 {-2.13/20 10} Rxb2 {+2.19/20 10} 35. Re1 {-2.24/19 10 the situation
is dire. Black has 2 pawns ahead and if he sees that I attacked his knight
with the bishop while defending it with the rook, I am a goner.} Ne7
{+2.36/18 10} 36. Rb4 {-2.40/18 10} Nc6 {+1.73/15 10} 37. Rxa4 {-2.18/16
10} Nd4 {0.00/18 10 He saw the knight being attacked, but didn't notice the
pawn on e5 is pinned. It is not all lost for Black, since after a few
exchanges we reach equality. But check out the next moves!} 38. Rxd4
{+0.03/19 10} exd4 {-M1/69 10} (38. .. Rxb1 39. Rxb1 exd4 40. Rxb3
{complete equality and probably a loss for me, as I don't know much about
endgames.}) 39. Rxe8# {Yup. Mate. Neither of us has seen it. When I took
the rook I thought he resigned, as the game ended so suddenly. But no, it
was an accidental mate. How embarrassing.} 1-0

and has 2 comments

I was not going to write a chess post so soon, as I haven't really been playing lately and it might give the impression that I am either a good player or that I lost interest in other areas, like software developing. (I assure you, I did not, as I still waste spend most of my time at work, coding).

However, this opening seems a natural continuation of my previous post on the Sicilian Wing Gambit. There the b pawn was moved to b4 to counteract Black's attempt to control the center with c5. In the Polish opening, White starts directly with b4, denying Black moves like c5 and even hindering the development of their queen side knight.

The Polish, Sokolsky or Orangutan opening has been successfully used by international master Alexey Sokolsky, hence the name. He was not Polish though :) and I don't even care why someone would name a chess opening from an ugly orange ape (the video below explains it, though).

I will attempt to use several resources in this post. First, a PGN of the opening as a statistic of chess games played starting with b4.

1. b4 e5
(1... d5 2. Bb2 Nf6 3. e3 Bf5 4. Nf3 e6 5. a3 {This line ignores the White pawn on b4 and develops normally.}
(5. b5 {Moving the b pawn forward hinders the development of the queen's knight. Black is forced to either challenge the pawn, easily defended by the a and c pawns, as well as the bishop and knight, or develop their knight to d7.})
)
(1... Nf6 2. Bb2 e6 3. b5 {With White's pawn on b5 and Black's on d7, the knight on b8 is effectively out of the game.} d5 4. e3 c5 {Taking en passant would be a mistake, as it would free White's knight.}
(4... Be7 5. Nf3 O-O 6. c4 c6 {White has a thematic move: c4, with Black forced to protect the d5 pawn and lose avenues for development.})
5. bxc6
(5. c4 {Now it would be Black's turn to blunder in taking the c pawn and helping the White bishop develop while losing a center pawn. Black is not looking good with most their pieces having reduced mobility.} Be7
(5... Nbd7)
(5... b6)
)
5... Nxc6 {At this point Black is looking good, controlling the center and having more minor pieces developed.})
2. Bb2 d6
(2... Bxb4 3. Bxe5 Nf6 4. Nf3 O-O 5. e3 {The other common continuation. Black takes the pawn on b4, but loses a center pawn. At the same time Black develops a piece while forcing White to move twice - and later three times, maybe - the strong fianchettoed bishop.})
(2... f6 {Protecting the e pawn and blocking the White bishop's attack diagonal might look good, but it is robbing the Black night of its natural development square and weakening g6.} 3. b5 d5 4. e3 Be6 {Here Black has control of the center with a strong pawn structure, but can they hold it? The knights can only be developed on awkward 7th rank squares, the bishops have to wait for them and the queen has nowhere to go. The computer gives a complete equality between sides, but is it?})
3. e3
(3. c4 Nf6 {Transposing to the English opening} 4. e3 Be7)
(3. b5 {The natural continuation of b4, blocking the Black knight.} Nf6 4. e3 Be7 {Again, an awkward position for Black: everybody has to wait for the knight on b8.})
(3. e4 Nf6 4. Nc3 Be7 5. Bc4 O-O {Two bishops aimes straight at Black's king.})
3... Nf6 4. c4
(4. Nf3 Be7 5. Be2 O-O 6. O-O {Another variation similar to many before.})
4... Be7 {Consider this the main line, yet with less than 100 games played in this move order.} *


What we can see is two major thematic moves for White: b4-b5, blocking the development of the Black knight. The other is c4, protecting b5 and challenging d5. If Black takes (d5xc4), it loses a center pawn and helps develop White's light bishop. Also, after b4 and the dark bishop fianchetto, a common White move is e3, helping in completely domineering the center dark squares.

As Black, one can observe a tendency to go for the light squares. If White's pawn reaches b5, the only real square where the Black queen knight can develop is d7. That means that the d pawn cannot depend on the protection of the queen all the time and the light bishop will have to develop first or remain blocked by the knight. In the last game in this post, for example, one can notice Black immediately sacrificing the light squared bishop for White's king knight, relieving some of the pressure on Black's king side and giving freedom for pawns to occupy e6 of even f5.

A second resource is some real life games:
Sokolsky - Byvshev - 1951
[Event "URS-ch sf"]
[Site "Lvov"]
[Date "1951.??.??"]
[Round "?"]
[White "Sokolsky, Alexey"]
[Black "Byvshev, Vasily Mikhailovich"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "A00"]
[PlyCount "75"]
[EventDate "1951.??.??"]
[EventType "tourn"]
[EventRounds "19"]
[EventCountry "URS"]
[Source "ChessBase"]
[SourceDate "1998.11.10"]

1. b4 Nf6 2. Bb2 e6 3. b5 d5 4. e3 a6 5. a4 Nbd7 6. Nf3 Bd6 7. c4 c5 8. d3 O-O
9. Nbd2 b6 10. Be2 Bb7 11. O-O Qc7 12. h3 Rfe8 13. Rc1 axb5 14. axb5 Ra2 15.
Qb3 Rea8 16. Nb1 Qd8 17. Rfd1 R2a4 18. Nc3 R4a5 19. d4 Bb8 20. cxd5 exd5 21.
dxc5 bxc5 22. Nxd5 Nxd5 23. Rxd5 Bxd5 24. Qxd5 Qe7 25. Rd1 Nf8 26. Bc4 R8a7 27.
Ne5 Bxe5 28. Bxe5 Ra4 29. Bd6 Qe6 30. b6 Rd7 31. b7 Rb4 32. Qxc5 Rxd6 33. Rxd6
Rb1+ 34. Kh2 Qe7 35. Bd5 g6 36. f4 Kg7 37. Qd4+ Kh6 38. Rb6 1-0


A more recent game, Kutuzov (2277) - Burkmakin (2571) - 2004. Kutuzon wins with the Polish.
[Event "RUS-chT2"]
[Site "Sochi"]
[Date "2004.04.28"]
[Round "9.1"]
[White "Kutuzov, Denis"]
[Black "Burmakin, Vladimir"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "A00"]
[WhiteElo "2277"]
[BlackElo "2571"]
[PlyCount "87"]
[EventDate "2004.04.20"]
[EventType "team"]
[EventRounds "9"]
[EventCountry "RUS"]
[Source "ChessBase"]
[SourceDate "2004.07.06"]
[WhiteTeam "13"]
[BlackTeam "02"]
[WhiteTeamCountry "RUS"]
[BlackTeamCountry "RUS"]

1. b4 e6 2. Bb2 Nf6 3. a3 d5 4. e3 Bd6 5. Nf3 Nbd7 6. c4 c6 7. Be2 e5 8. cxd5
cxd5 9. O-O O-O 10. Nc3 a6 11. Qb3 Nb6 12. Na4 Nc4 13. Bc3 b5 14. Nc5 e4 15.
Nd4 Qc7 16. h3 Re8 17. a4 Bxc5 18. bxc5 bxa4 19. Rxa4 Nd7 20. Bb4 Rb8 21. Qc3
Nde5 22. f4 exf3 23. Nxf3 Nxf3+ 24. Bxf3 Bb7 25. Qd4 Rbd8 26. Bc3 f6 27. Rb1
Ne5 28. Bh5 Nc6 29. Ba5 Qe7 30. Bxd8 Rxd8 31. Qb2 Bc8 32. Qb6 Ne5 33. c6 Nc4
34. Qd4 Qc7 35. Rc1 Rd6 36. Bf3 Kf8 37. Qc5 Nxd2 38. Bxd5 Qe7 39. Kh1 f5 40.
Rd4 Ne4 41. Bxe4 Rxd4 42. Qxd4 fxe4 43. Rf1+ Ke8 44. Rf4 1-0


We must have a loss. Meijers (2507) - Naiditsch (2641) - 2005.
[Event "BL2-Ost 0506"]
[Site "Germany"]
[Date "2005.10.23"]
[Round "1.1"]
[White "Meijers, Viesturs"]
[Black "Naiditsch, Arkadij"]
[Result "0-1"]
[ECO "A00"]
[WhiteElo "2507"]
[BlackElo "2641"]
[PlyCount "67"]
[EventDate "2005.10.23"]
[EventType "team-tourn"]
[EventRounds "9"]
[EventCountry "GER"]
[Source "ChessBase"]
[SourceDate "2006.11.23"]
[WhiteTeam "Nickelhuette"]
[BlackTeam "Bindlach"]
[WhiteTeamCountry "GER"]
[BlackTeamCountry "GER"]

1. b4 c6 2. e3 Nf6 3. Nf3 d5 4. Bb2 Bg4 5. h3 Bxf3 6. Qxf3 Nbd7 7. a4 e5 8. b5
Bd6 9. g4 O-O 10. Be2 Ne4 11. Qg2 Bb4 12. Bd3 Nd6 13. O-O e4 14. Be2 Qe7 15. f4
exf3 16. Bxf3 Nc4 17. Bd4 Nde5 18. d3 c5 19. Bxe5 Qxe5 20. dxc4 Qxa1 21. Bxd5
Qe5 22. e4 Rad8 23. g5 Ba5 24. h4 Kh8 25. Rf5 Qd4+ 26. Kh1 g6 27. Rf1 f5 28.
gxf6 Rxf6 29. c3 Bxc3 30. Nxc3 Qxc3 31. Bxb7 Rdf8 32. Rxf6 Rxf6 33. Kh2 Qd4 34.
Qg3 0-1


Note that even if I have a huge database at my disposal, most of them are not annotated at all (like these three). There is a lot of chess knowledge out there that just waits to be analysed, digitized and shared. Help me out if you can!


In this game Black quickly realizes the light bishop is going to be hindered by the queen side knight and trades it off immediately, then develops the knight to d7 while the d pawn is protected by a pawn chain.

And the final resource, a video explaining how one should play against the Polish, from Black's perspective.
[youtube:EQQugBzKefE]

As a conclusion, I liked this opening. It is uncommon for a reason, as it is rather slow and risky. White has the advantage of the first move, they should not waste it on side pawns. However it does seem more manageable than the Sicilian Wing Gambit and can easily transpose in the English opening, which I haven't played, but is in heavy use. What I did't like at either this or the wing gambit is a lack of traps. There probably are a few, but I would have to find them myself. I hope you liked it, too.

Please let me know which formula for a chess blog post you like more. I've tried several and I will continue to try in the future, but I would like some feedback from people who read about chess on my blog. Thanks!

Update October 2014:
Sergio Zaina, from Brazil, sent me this trap in the Polish:
1.b4 c6 2.Bb2 Qb6 3.a3 a5 4.c4 axb4 5.c5 Qxc5 6.axb4 1-0

and has 0 comments
Sometimes, in the subway or when I get a little bored I take out my trusty cellphone and play a little game of chess. The games are not spectacular or even smart, but I feel I learn a lot by the subsequent (and a lot longer) computer analysis of the game. Without further delay, here is one of them:
1. b4 {The Polish opening. I plan on doing a post about it, I find it interesting and deliciously unappreciated} c6 2. d4 e6 3. c3 d5 4. Bf4 a5 5. a3 (5. b5 {The chess engine suggested this move sequence} cxb5 6. e3 Bd7 7. Bd3 b4 8. Nf3 Nf6 9. O-O Be7) 5. .. axb4 6. cxb4 (6. Bxb8 {computer suggested} Rxb8 7. axb4) 6. .. Nf6 (6. .. Bxb4+ {When I played the game, I wondered why Black didn't move like this. Apparently it was a better move.} 7. Bd2 Bd6 8. Nc3) 7. Nd2 Bd6 8. Bg3 O-O 9. e3 Qc7 10. f4 {The computer keeps nagging about developing pieces, but I moved the pawn} Re8 11. Bd3 Qb6 12. Ngf3 Nbd7 13. O-O Nf8 14. h3 Ng6 15. Ng5 h6 16. Ngf3 Nh5 17. Bf2 Ne7 18. Ng5 {Computer says this achieves equality, over its solution of 0.2, however it seemed a good idea to exchange knights and ruin Black's pawn structure.} Nxf4 {Ill advised by
the computer, Black accepts the exchange.} 19. Bh7+ (19. Nxf7 Kxf7 20. exf4
Kg8 21. g3 {I didn't like the computer suggestion: giving Black a semiopen
file and blocking my own rook.}) 19. .. Kf8 20. exf4 hxg5 (20. .. g6
{interesting suggestion by the computer: trap the bishop instead of taking
the knight.} 21. Ngf3 Kg7 22. Bxg6 Nxg6 {But I also did not enjoy the
resulting position}) 21. fxg5 (21. Qh5 {Computer suggested this,
considering my own move a blunder that would have lost 1 point.} Bxf4 22.
Nf3 Ng8 23. Nxg5 Bxg5 24. Qxg5 Qd8 25. Qc1) 21. .. Bf4 (21. .. g6 22. Qf3
Nf5 23. g4 Kg7 24. Bxg6 fxg6 25. h4 (25. gxf5 exf5 26. Nb3 Qd8 27. Qg2
{With all my pieces harrassed away and uncoordinated, the computer sees an
advantage of 3 for Black, even if material is the same.}) 25. .. Qc7 (25.
.. Nxd4 {This would have been an incredible blunder, leading to a quick
mate} 26. Qf6+ Kh7 27. Qf7+ Kh8 28. Qxe8+ Kh7 29. h5 Ne2+ 30. Kh1 Qxf2 31.
Rxf2 Ng3+ 32. Kh2 Nf5+ 33. Kh1 Kg7 34. gxf5 Bf8 35. hxg6 Ra5 36. Qf7+ Kh8
37. Qxf8#) 26. Rac1 Bd7 27. gxf5 exf5 {Strange suggestions from the
computer. Look at the variations to understand why!}) 22. Bh4 {I blundered!
Didn't see that d4 would be undefended and resulting in check. Advantage
for Black: 1.5.} Qxd4+ 23. Rf2 {Another blunder: +7 for Black!} (23. Bf2
Be3 (23. .. Qxd2 {Taking with the Queen seems to win a quick free knight,
but moved ahead show it to be otherwise} 24. Qh5 Nf5 25. Rad1 Qb2 26. Bxf5
exf5 27. Rde1 Be6 28. Bc5+ Kg8 29. Rxf4) 24. Qe1 Bxf2+ 25. Rxf2 g6 {Again
the thematic g6}) 23. .. Bxd2 24. Qxd2 Qxa1+ 25. Rf1 Qxa3 26. Qf4 f5 {It's
Black's turn to make a mistake. From 7 advantage to -4 in a single move.}
(26. .. Nf5 27. Qc7 g6 28. Rxf5 (28. Bf2 e5 29. Bxg6 fxg6 30. Qh7 d4 31.
Qxg6 Qa2 32. Qh5) 28. .. gxf5 29. Kh2 Bd7 30. g6 (30. Qxd7 Qxb4 31. g6 fxg6
32. Bg3 Re7 33. Qd6 (33. Bd6 Qf4+ 34. Kg1 (34. Bxf4 Rxd7) 34. .. Ra1#) 33.
.. Qxd6 34. Bxd6 g5 35. Bg6 d4 36. Kg3 b6 37. h4 gxh4+ 38. Kf4 c5 {White
can't stop a promotion.}) 30. .. Qxb4 31. Bg5 Qc3 32. gxf7 Qg7 33. Qd6+
(33. fxe8=Q+ Kxe8 34. Bd2 Qxh7) 33. .. Kxf7 34. Qxd7+ Kf8 35. Qd6+ Re7 36.
Bg6 c5 37. h4 c4 38. h5 c3 39. Qc5 Qe5+ 40. Kh3 Qc7 41. Qd4 e5 42. Bh6+ Kg8
43. Qxd5+ Rf7 44. Kh2 {And the dance goes on. What happened? Again, see the
variations for the most obvious moves. Black has 9.3 points ahead at this
moment.}) 27. gxf6 Nf5 28. fxg7+ Kxg7 29. Bxf5 {Oops! Equality again. The
mistakes of both players balance perfectly} (29. Qc7+ {This would have been
the best course of action} Bd7 30. Bxf5 Qe3+ 31. Kh2 exf5 32. Qxd7+ Kh6 33.
Rxf5 Rg8 34. Rh5+ Kxh5 35. Qh7+ Qh6 36. g4+ Kxh4 37. Qxh6#) 29. .. exf5 30.
Qg5+ Kh8 {Equality would have been preserved if the king would have moved
Kf8. As such, defeat is unavoidable.} (30. .. Kf8 31. Qf6+ Kg8 32. Qg6+ Kf8
33. Bf6 Qe3+ 34. Kh2 Re7 35. Rf3 Qe6 36. Rg3 Ra2 37. Qh6+ Ke8 38. Qh8+ Kd7
39. Bxe7 Kxe7 40. Rg7+ Kd6 41. Qd8+ Ke5 42. Re7 d4 43. Rxe6+ Bxe6 {And this
is again complete equality.}) 31. Qh6+ {Instead, I almost equalize AGAIN!}
(31. Qh5+ Kg7 32. Qxe8 Qb2 33. Qe7+ Kg6 34. Rf3 Ra3 35. Qd6+ Kf7 36. Qc7+
Kg6 37. Qxc8 Rxf3 38. Qg8+ Qg7 39. Qxg7+ Kxg7 40. gxf3 Kf7 {The computer
version leads to a long endgame, but the advantage is clearly White's.})
31. .. Kg8 32. Qg6+ Kf8 33. Bf6 {and I allow Black to get into the Kf8
variation described above, only instead of Qe3, they do a Qa7, which seals
Black's fate.} Qa7+ 34. Kh1 Qg1+ 35. Rxg1 Re7 {Black's rook, undefended by
the Queen, is only delaying the inevitable. Of course, my ineptitude delays
it even more, so see the computer variation for a short ending.} 36. Bxe7+
(36. Qh5 d4 37. Qh8+ Kf7 38. Qg7+ Ke6 39. Qxe7+ Kd5 40. Rc1 Be6 41. Qc5+
Ke4 42. Qxd4#) 36. .. Kxe7 37. Re1+ Kd8 38. Qf7 Bd7 39. Qf8+ Kc7 40. Qxa8
c5 41. bxc5 f4 42. Re7 f3 43. gxf3 Kc6 44. Qa4+ b5 45. Qa6+ Kxc5 46. Rxd7
b4 47. Qd6+ Kc4 48. Qxd5+ Kc3 49. Qd4+ Kb3 50. Rb7 Kc2 51. Rxb4 Kc1 52.
Qb2+ Kd1 53. Ra4 Ke1 54. Ra1# *



Update April 2016: Here is the same game on the Lichess server, complete with computer analysis and human readable mistakes and blunders.

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A wing gambit is a way for one of the players in a game of chess to sacrifice a pawn on the b or g files in order to deflect defenders of the center. Like all gambits, it is an aggressive attempt to gain position by sacrificing material, in this case, an attempt to control the center of the board. Today I want to talk about a gambit that occurred to me while I was thinking of a way to play against the Sicilian Defence. It involves moving a pawn to b4 to counteract the Black move c5, which is also, in a way, a sort of wing attack. I liked the concept: you outflank the opponent. Looking in the chess database, this is called the Sicilian Wing Gambit.

The first thing to notice is that the b pawn is irremediably lost. Declining the gambit brings no advantages to Black whatsoever, so they must take. After c5xb4, you have lost a pawn and also blocked the c3 square, the traditional best starting point of the queen's knight. So, as white, you have moved two pawns, lost one and also the best square for one of the minor pieces, while developing none. It doesn't look good and, for that reason, this gambit has been scorned in the past as unprincipled. It has made a comeback, though. It is not something you should expect to see at world chess championships, but it is good for blitz games and for throwing your opponent off track.

Even if White appears to have lost time, material and positional advantage, there is no clear way for Black to punish them. We will examine some of the options that Black has and where they led in various database and computer simulated games. The next move of White's is a3, attacking the pawn and preparing to open the a file. Another option of White's is to immediately challenge the center with d4. We will examine both options, as well as some rare variations (of such a rare gambit), like Nf3. So here is the PGN file I've compiled. Move carefully through all variations and read the comments. It might intrigue you enough that you would adopt the Sicilian Wing Gambit as a permanent part of your chess repertoire:
1. e4 c5 2. b4 {challenges c5 in order to deflect it from d4} cxb4
(2... b6 3. bxc5
(3. Bc4 {White is not forced to take.} e6)
(3. Nf3 {A normal development plan can be attempted while deciding what to do on c5} Bb7)
(3. b5 {Or even push the pawn forward, blocking the b knight and the rook for a while} Bb7
(3... a6 {although I don't particularly like the possibilities after a6.})
4. Nc3 e6 5. Nf3 Nf6)
3... bxc5 {Here Black declined the gambit and maintained a pawn on c4.} 4. Nc3 Nc6 5. Rb1 {But White gets first to control the open b file.} g6 6. g3 Bg7 7. Bg2 Ba6 {Black has tried to revert to their original Sicilian plan, but some parts are clearly different because of the lack of the b pawns})
3. a3
(3. d4 {White might want to move for the center immediately} d5 4. e5 {But here the engines give almost one full pawn to black}
(4. exd5 Qxd5 {while here the Black queen is safe from harassment because the b4 pawn is still there.})
4... Nc6)
(3. Nf3 {This is the line suggested by a chess engine. I'll follow it through a little more.} Nf6 4. e5 Nd5 5. a3 d6 6. Bc4 dxe5 7. Nxe5 e6 8. axb4 Bxb4 9. Bb2 O-O 10. O-O Qg5 11. Re1 Nc6 12. Qf3 Bd6 {No humans have played a game like this. From here the engine mercilessly simplifies the situation.} 13. Nxc6 bxc6 14. g3 Qf5 15. Qxf5 exf5 16. Bxd5 cxd5 17. Ba3 Bxa3 18. Rxa3 {Black has managed to control the center, even if the White rooks are really active.} Be6 19. Ra5 d4 20. Na3 Rfc8 21. d3 {At this point I ended the simulation. Clearly White has failed to control the center and gained only limited mobility. Black has an extra doubled pawn and the game will probably draw.})
(3. c4 {Santasiere variation: an even more gambity move, baiting b4xc3 followed by Nc3 and gaining development and center control. The few games that played like this did not finish well for White, though.} bxc3 4. Nxc3 g6 5. Bc4 Nc6 6. Nf3 Bg7 7. O-O Nf6 8. e5 Ng4 9. d4 O-O 10. h3 Nh6 11. Bf4 d6 12. Qe2 Nf5 13. Rfd1 Qa5 14. Rac1 e6 {This is an entire game that ended in an agreed draw - Rainer-Guenter 1995})
3... bxa3
(3... d5 4. exd5 {this is the main move}
(4. f3 e5 {A single game with this situation. White has delayed too much piece development and pushing of the d pawn. Black won.})
(4. e5 {But this is met more and more in Blitz games.} Nc6 5. d4 Bf5
(5... Qb6 6. Be3 Bf5 7. Bd3 Bxd3 8. Qxd3 e6 {This is the recommendation in the video, with Black having a better game.} 9. Ne2 Nge7 10. O-O Nf5 11. axb4 Bxb4 12. c3 Be7 13. Nd2 O-O 14. Nf4 Rfd8 15. g4 Nxe3 16. Qxe3 {Black is better with the a and b passed pawns.})
6. axb4 Nxb4 7. Bb5+
(7. Na3 e6 8. c3 Nc6 {This is the situation covered in the video, Black has extra development, but difficulty in continuing it. White eyes b5 and has everything wide open.})
7... Bd7)
4... Qxd5
(4... Nf6 5. axb4 Nxd5 6. Nf3 Nxb4 7. d4 Bf5 8. Na3 e6)
5. Nf3 {Marshall variation}
(5. Bb2 {Marienbad variation} e5 6. axb4)
5... e5 6. axb4
(6. Bb2 Nc6 7. c4 {en passant would be a bad move, due to Nc3} Qe6 8. Bd3 Nf6 9. O-O Bd6 10. Re1 O-O 11. axb4 Nxb4 12. Bf1 e4 13. d3 Qd7 14. dxe4 Bc5 15. Bxf6 Qxd1 16. Rxd1 gxf6 {Another variation from the video, stopped here as it didn't look very promising for Black.})
6... Bxb4 {White's plan backfired. Instead of a strong center and fast development, Black has the center and a strong center queen. The engines, however, show a mere 0.2pawns in advantage for Black.})
(3... e6 4. axb4 Bxb4 5. c3 Be7 {Another win for Black: a silly dark bishop, a blocked knight, but White keeps control over part of the center and controls one open semifile.})
(3... Qa5 {A possible annoying move} 4. Bb2 {But this solves most of the issues.} Nc6 5. Nf3 Nf6 6. Bd3 {Yet not all. The d pawn is effectively pinned.})
(3... Nf6 4. e5 Nd5 5. axb4 Nxb4 6. c3 N4c6 7. d4 {Black has a knight out, but White has a monster pawn chain, an open semi file and a lot of open avenues. Black will attempt to control the light squares, while White will be busy trying to achieve some sort of king safety.})
4. Nxa3 {A knight on the rim is dim, but here it prepares to go to b5, where it would force the queen to defend c7 and threaten a7} d6 5. d4 {Black wanted to stop White from having a two pawn center. Instead, even a three pawn center is possible.} Nf6 6. Bd3 {this seems to be the mainline, but even so, there are only 43 games starting like this in my game database} Nc6 {From here, engines and database, all three games, show equality between players.} *


Take notice that I am still a beginner in chess and my analysis is based on what I've compiled from the database of chess games and a video. Here is a video and the PGN of a game that played along the main line in my analysis (Vladimir Grabinsky 2361 - Albert Lyubimtsev 2148, from 2003) where White won.



1. e4 c5 2. b4 cxb4 3. a3 bxa3 4. Nxa3 d6 5. d4 Nf6 6. Bd3 Nc6 7. c3 g6 8. Ne2 Bg7 9. O-O O-O 10. f4 Ne8 11. Kh1 Nc7 12. Qe1 a6 13. f5 b5 14. Nc2 Bd7 15. Qh4 Ne8 16. Rf3 e6 17. Qg3 {White missed an opportunity here, according to the chess engine.}
(17. Bg5 f6 18. Rh3 fxg5 19. Qxh7+ Kf7 20. Qxg6+ Ke7 21. Qxg5+ Rf6 22. Nf4 exf5 23. Re1 Kf8 24. exf5 Rh6 25. Rxe8+ Bxe8
(25. .. Qxe8 {This would have been a blunder leading to massive material loss and/or mate in about 15 moves.})
26. Qxh6 Bxh6 27. Ne6+ Ke7 28. Nxd8 Nxd8 29. Rxh6 {A much simplified position, where White has two extra pawns and Black has an exposed king.})
17. .. e5 18. Be3 Bf6 19. Raf1 Ng7 20. Bh6 {This move maintains both sides to a near equality, with a slight advantage for White.}
(20. d5 {The computer sees this option, which wins almost a pawn immediately and locks the king side from the defence of Black's pieces} Bh4 21. Qh3 Nb8 22. g4 Ne8 23. Bh6 g5 24. f6 b4 25. Ne3 a5 26. cxb4 Qc8 27. bxa5 Na6 28. Ng3 Qc5 29. Ngf5 Ra7 30. Ne7+ Kh8 31. Bxf8 h5 32. Bh6 Qxe3 33. Rxe3 Bxg4 34. Qg2 Kh7 35. Bxg5 Rxe7
(35. .. Bxg5 36. Rh3 Nxf6
(36. .. Bxh3 37. Qxg5 Bg2+ 38. Qxg2 Nxf6 39. Rxf6 Rxe7 40. Qg5 Re6 41. dxe6 fxe6 42. Rh6#)
37. Rxf6 Kg7
(37. .. Bxf6 38. Qxg4 h4 39. Qg8+ Kh6 40. Nf5+ Kh5 41. Be2#)
(37. .. Rxe7 38. Qxg4 Kg8 39. Qxg5+ Kf8 40. Rxh5 Ke8 41. Rxd6 f6 42. Qg8#) 38. Rxh5 Rc7 39. Qxg4 Rc1+ 40. Rf1 Rxf1+ 41. Bxf1 f5 42. Qxf5 Bxe7 43. Rh7+ Kg8 44. Qf7#)
36. Bxh4 Nac7 37. fxe7 f6 38. Be2 f5 39. Bxg4 hxg4 40. Rxf5 Ng7 41. Qxg4 Nce6 42. Rh5+ Nxh5 43. Qxh5+ Kg8 44. dxe6 d5 45. Rg3#)
20. .. Qe7 {-2.11/15 10 The engine recommends Ne3, which leads to a variation where for more than 20 moves white appears to be a minor piece ahead, only the score is positional only. Queens come off the board, too.} 21. Qf2 {+0.26/14 10 Alekhin's Gun always looks impressive. From here it goes downhill for Black.} gxf5 22. Rg3 f4 23. Nxf4 exf4 24. Qxf4 Nd8 25. e5 *


Update: I've updated the above game with some computer analysis.

It is important to understand that Black did not lose because of the wing gambit, but because of their own mistakes further on. According to the computer, both players had almost complete equality up to almost the 20th move, which does not bode well for White. Most chess engines give about 0.25 points to White for having the first move, so somewhere that advantage was lost. However, we are not computers.

For what I see in the various games that were played using this anti Sicilian opening, I see several key points where each side is trying to reach. A common theme is the pushing of the e pawn from e4 to e5, defending it with d4 and defending that (while cutting access to the White king) with c3. Other variations see a strong three pawn center for White, making a sham of Black's attempted Sicilian. Moving the e pawn prematurely, before getting rid of the Black b4 pawn seems to be a mistake, though, even if it immediately achieves the classic two pawn center. The a3 move seems to want to open up the a file for the rook, but in the simulations I've run, the rook doesn't seem to have an important role. Also to note is that the queen side knight will most likely take the Black pawn on a3, which takes it to the rim of the board and away from the center. So even if control of the center is achieved, maintaining it might become problematic. Gutsy c4 pawn push, goading Black to take it en passant, only works if Black falls for it and even so, not very well: the knight on c3 will remain undefended on a move like d4. The computers recommend Black ignoring that pawn and pushing to e5 with more than half a point advantage.

On Black's side, it appears as there are several strategies as well. Defending with b6 declines the gambit and leads to something similar to the original Sicilian, regardless of the desired flavour of it. Even if White is pushing the pawn to b5 and hinders the development of the Black queen side knight. While the Black pawn is still on b4, attempts to break out the center, like the Scandinavian looking d5 work better, as an exchange on that square can end with a comfortable Black queen on d5 without the threat of Nc3. In general, taking the pawn on a3 seems to be a mistake, as White will only aid in the dark bishop's development if they take and the Black pawn on b4 can be defended in multiple ways further on, invalidating the gambit. A possible annoying move for White is moving the Queen to a5 and the recommendation of the guy in the video is to move it on b6, an intriguing strategy that seems to break the opening principle of not bringing the queen out too soon. Moving the e pawn at least to e6 seems to bring benefits as well.

Even if the Sicilian Wing Gambit is not very common and thus not analysed in depth so much, it doesn't mean it can't be a useful tool. I know that most chess opening videos have more to offer than what I posted above, but given the rarity of the gambit, it only makes sense to have less information on it, no tested traps, etc. If you play this opening, please let me know. I could update this post with your real life experience playing it.

Update: I've found a page where GM Roman Dzindzichashvili considers the Wing Gambit in the Sicilian a reason to seek psychiatric help :) Here is the link.
Also, I have updated the PGN with the official names for some of the variations of the gambit.

Update 8 March 2016: I've revisited this gambit with more research and computer analysis, check it out: Sicilian Wing Gambit - Revisited

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In a previous post I've written about my thoughts on how to learn chess, with the main emphasis being on game analysis. But how that is done is a matter of time, taste and budget. This post is about how I do it. I don't know how other people are analysing chess games, except from hearing them talk about it, so I am not an authority in the matter, but it will save you some time figuring it out for yourself (which you still have to do even if you read the post :) ).

The easiest way of all is to get a game in PGN form, load it in a chess program, then watch it unfold, while you think about what you would have done differently and highlight what you thought was a good move and a bad move. Of course, that relies on your own thinking, which may be flawed, so you can gain help from a chess engine that will analyse the variations and tell you what it thinks of what you thought. It sounds complicated, but it is not. You ask yourself why the player didn't fork the queen and the rook with the knight, you can do it for them (creating what is called a variation). While you are moving the pieces, a chess engine can suggest, based on the time you let it analyse, what is the best move in that situation.

For this I use Arena Chess GUI, a free chess program, and load up the free chess engine versions of Houdini and Rybka. Arena comes with more engines, so you can try them all, but really it's a matter of taste. I once did a championship of chess with the chess engines available in order to see which is best, but there is no real way of giving both chess engines the same computer resources, so the programming style of each engine makes this only a fun comparison, not a scientific one. There are videos on YouTube with competitions of chess engines; those are fun in their own right. Unfortunately, Arena is not really bug free. There are a few gotchas that you learn the hard way, like don't use the Minimize to tray option if you have the default "load PGN at startup" on, or don't use "save back into PGN", etc.

Of course, most chess engines have a free version and a commercial one. Depending on your seriousness, you can choose to pay money for them and get the advantages of new development in chess computing, but don't expect too much. After all, a computer engine only takes a formula that gives a value for a position and then makes a tree of possible move orders in order to minimize their opponent's advantage and maximize theirs. The algorithm is pretty standard and the formula, which really makes the difference between engines, is the outcome of centuries of chess analysis. The game hasn't changed that much in a few years. And exactly this difference between how humans process a game and how a computer does it, makes this analysis a little flawed. A computer will tell you where you went wrong, but won't be able to devise a winning strategy for you, as it is examining every move like it would be the first. So we move to plan B.

Another option for analysing a game, thanks to the vast database of chess games ever played, is to see what other players, human grandmasters and below, have done in the same situation. A software that was built to do this is ChessBase. And it is true that there is a gazillion of possible chess games, but they all begin kind of the same. The opening principles restrict the way a game can start and for the first 20 or 30 moves, there are a lot of players that did the same thing (and played a decent game). ChessBase is a great program, just like Chess Arena, because it allows flexibility in the way you use it without bundling it all. The program is small to download, then you get to download whatever chess engines you want, game databases, video tutorials, etc. To give you an example of size difference: ChessBase 11 is 150MB, the chess player base is 640MB, a video tutorial of chess openings in ChessBase format is 1500MB, while the MegaDatabase of chess games is 2700MB. You can imagine that there are a lot of games in that database, over five million of them. Unfortunately, ChessBase, the databases and the tutorials are not legally free. They cost around 200 euros, plus a few more for the tutorials. Not much for the effort that was put into them.

The chess blog posts that I am using to publicize games are done by using these kinds of scenarios. I am taking a game that I played with someone or with my phone, I am analysing the game so see where changes in the score have occurred (those are the interesting bits in a game) and then try out variations, using engines or databases to see what else could have been done. It is a good practice to analyse the game as soon as possible, as the ideas that led to the moves are still fresh in your mind. It may seem like a drag, but commenting why you did the moves allows you to understand the game later on, when you are revisiting it. Also a good idea is to have your chess partner do the same thing and then merge the two PGNs into one, that makes clear the overall play. A chess analysis engine will comment every move with what it thought would have been the best continuation and the value of the board at that time. It makes a PGN horrible to read, because even if you put it into a visual display of the PGN, you still want to have a clean, readable PGN file. What you want to do is analyse a single move with the engine, see were it goes, then write a humanly understandable statement like "which would have been disastrous because of the sacrifice of the rook on f8, followed by Qxf7, mate".

As examples, try to compare the following blog post PGNs. My first chess game post, was annotated automatically by ChessMaster XI, which has a human readable annotation engine which I first thought was great. But look at the texts: they are either obvious or resort to stuff like "Leads to 15...Kf7 16.Bh4 h6 17.b4 Rab8 18.a4 Bxf3 19.Qxf3 Be7 20.Ng4 Bxh4 21.Nxe5+ Kg7 22.bxc5, which wins a bishopand two pawns for a bishop and a knight.". Unless used to read PGN like English (which most professional players can, btw, complete with a chess board in their heads), you see a lot of mambo jumbo. A later game post, that contained annotated moves by me, as translated from chess engine analysis.Or this one, which contains no annotations at all. Which one do you like best?

A word of warning, analysing chess games is not a short process. The advantages of the ChessMaster XI auto analysis was that you could leave it on at night, then come back in the morning and see it unfurl before you (and audio read by the chess software). To do it manually, or even let the auto analysis run at night and then decode the best move suggested by the computer and translate, takes a lot of time. I've spent an hour per game to annotate a match (two games) that two coworkers had and that I dutifully stored on my cell phone while they were playing. It was satisfying, but time wasting. A lot like blog posting... I leave you at that. Have fun dissecting chess games.

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There is, of course, a long tried method of learning chess: find a bunch of people that want to play chess and go fight with them. Like that old Army line: join the Army, meet interesting people, kill them. But also obvious is that this is not the best method there is. You meet old men that play chess every day with other old men that have a lot of time on their hands and, even if they kick your ass rather quickly, you often find ways of defeating them because all their play is organic, lacking a principled structure. And that is what this post is about. I am the least principled player out there, as I have a ridiculously leaky memory and am rather greedy (I want fun games, now, not dirty principles), and therefore I get often beaten by people that should not have been able to defeat me. And, like in the old adventure games: So, you want to be a (principled) chess player - this is the quest.

First of all, don't google "how to learn chess" as you will get swamped by all the chess players that think they can teach you for money and all the software that you need to buy and all the DVDs that you absolutely need to buy. That doesn't mean that if you are patient you wouldn't eventually find what you need and, being a wannabe chess player, you should have a little patience. But if you are like me (why do I want to play chess again?) you don't have patience. Second of all, don't start with chess books. You can find zillions of them on the web, but in order to read them you will have to become very familiar with a chess board. Unlike a video, they will require to read the book with a chess board at hand and do the moves as you read. That pretty much means you can read them only in specific settings and you will feel like an idiot for reading a page a day. Books are great, but not for beginners.

Then there are some free online resources that one can use, lovely chess sites like JRobiChess.com, theChessWebsite or ChessVideos.tv, where one can get multiple opportunities to learn: grandmaster games, videos, tutorial, references. These are great, and I thoroughly recommend them. Also, look for "chess" on YouTube and you will find a plethora of people discussing and teaching chess, some of them completely for passion alone. On JRobi's site you can even find a chess study time recommendation: Opening Study – 10%, Tactical Puzzles - 20%, Endgame Study – 10%, Analyzing Your Games – 30%,Analyzing Master Games – 30% of Time. Let's analyse this plan a little bit and some very interesting ideas will emerge.

As you can see, there is time allotted for openings, only a tenth of the time, and the same amount of time for endgames. This leads to the first very important idea: endgames are (at least) just as important as openings. If you think about it, most of the amateur games, played for fun and not for some chess rating, are spectacularly inaccurate and end in quick mates. That means that most of the "go get'em" practice will teach you about openings and some of the middle game. Once in endgame territory, we are suddenly beginners again, trying to get by and failing miserably. That's why it is important to spend time with endgames. Josh Waitzkin, a US champion at chess, recommended learning endgames even more than openings. He described how, by careful study of just a few pieces on the board (two kings and a pawn, or some other piece, the usual endgame scenarios) he would emerge slightly disadvantaged in the endgame, then crush his opponent, less instructed in this most important part of a chess game. The opening and endgame learning is only a fifth of all learning time, though. Other things are even more important.

20% tactical puzzles. This is the equivalent of learning karate moves out of context. You are not fighting anybody, but you learn to hit them in a particular way. You don't have the pressure of a game, you have all the time in the world, find the best move! Both JRobi's site and Kevin's (theChessWebsite) have daily tactical puzzles. This is actually one of the few exercises that I do almost every work day: I open their sites and do those puzzles. But let me tell you something: if you open a chess book with tactical puzzles, you get some really nasty, mind boggling stuff. These online ones, at least the two I mentioned, are made for people that if they don't immediately see the answer, they start trying moves until they get them right. I should know; that hint button also gets heavy use. So this is one of the moments when I can recommend books, but start with the online ones first and try to see them through before moving.

Now comes the heavy part. We've covered a little more than a third of the time one should spend on chess learning, according to JRobi. The other two thirds are analysing games. That is it. Take the game out of the competition and clinically dissect it until you learn everything there is to learn. A major idea comes out of this, though: if you need to analyse your own games, that means someone must record them as you play. Professional and club games have score cards: they write every move they and their opponent make, the score, even small comments (you will see what I mean when we get to PGNs) and they sign each other's cards at the end of the game. I've never done it, but I imagine it is satisfying to get your adversary to sign their own defeat while you desecrate their own card with your victory scribble (heh!). I also imagine it adds to one's motivation, getting this kind of direct recognition of your effort in the game. Another option, much easily available, is to load a chess game on your mobile phone and set it to two player game. Once you make a move, you make it on the phone as well. At the end, you download the PGN file on your computer for later analysis. With a chess engine at hand and all the time in the world you can see where mistakes were made, where good moves changed the score balance and what was missed. A spectator of the game can do that for you, as well. I originally planned to write in this blog about analysing games, but it has become too long already. I will, therefore, detail that particular part in another blog post.

Of course, analysing the games played at grandmaster level shows how other people are thinking when playing the game. It's not unlike reading material relevant to your line of work. You may be smart, but you are not expecting to think of everything that may be of use to you in a specific context. You read what other wrote on the subject and gain inspiration. And when you see a giant chess player sacrifice a queen for two knights and then mating the other guy in another ten moves, you also gain humility (or you close the bloody game and go watch a movie or something). Indeed, try not to let it get to you. Grandmasters are not geniuses that can outthink you at every step, monsters that can intellectually squash you like a bug, they are people just like you that also dedicated their lives to the game of chess. Professional chess players do it for life. Expecting to understand what they did without a lot of effort is a stupid expectation. It is important to analyse their games and learn from both their mistakes and brilliant moves.

That leaves us with the endgame of this post: computer chess tutors. That is different from playing chess with your computer or pad or cell phone. That enters the first category of just playing. Computers also play differently than people, they are great at not making mistakes and punishing yours, but their design also allows for moves that would mate you in 235 moves or something like that, which is insane for any human being. Don't get me wrong, computers are great practice, but consider that if you beat them at a certain difficulty level, it is because they were programmed to let you. With the computing power available today, a cell phone would probably be able to beat Kasparov. So, back to chess tutors. I've only found one that I liked, and that is the ChessMaster XI game. Incidentally, there is where I've learned of Josh Waitzkin, as he is the voice and mind behind the game tutorials. I've also heard a lot of Fritz, but I haven't found a context where it really tutors you. Fritz is bundled with ChessBase and there are some tutorials with board, PGN games and video that use ChessBase to teach you stuff. There are probably some ChessBase based tutorials, but I haven't searched for them yet.

So, I leave you with this little research I've done, I hope it helps you get better and encourages me to heed my own advice.