and has 0 comments

  Children of Time spans several thousand years from the points of view of three main actors: the people on an ark ship, the ambitious scientist who wants to create new life and that of the new life. Adrian Tchaikovsky writes adequately the story of the intersection of interests of these parties while reminding me of some of my favorite books like Accelerando and Blindsight, with a pinch of Xenogenesis, but the book is not nearly as good as either of them. Pretty damn good, though!

  It might have something to do with my very high expectations from people reading the book and praising the hell out of it. The book is good, but not THAT good. Then there are the technical aspects which sometimes were so wrong as to take me out of the story. These are minor points, though.

  The main issue with the story is that you have a very personal point of view for the humans and something akin to a David Attenborough documentary for the lifeforms. The contrast is jarring. The scope of the book, though, and the ideas explored are very interesting and the story is very science fictions, in the sense that it asks that essential "what if?" question and asks it well. The answer is just a little dry, that is all. Also, under that pretext, the book is actually taking a hard look at our own history, future prospects and examines the nature of humanity. Just the stuff I like.

  As proof that I did like the book, despite my usual old man grumbling, is that I have put the other two books in the series in my to read list.

and has 0 comments

  At 60% of reading The Ninth Metal, the work Miskatonic was slided into the story. Then some vague visions of interdimensional doors and huge eyes and tentacles solidified the intention to have this as a "Lovecraftian novel". And it may well be, perhaps the entire series will be more, but as it stands, simply hinting at cosmic horror is not Lovecraftian and having less than 5% of your story be anything than random hicks in Minnesota doing whatever they usually do almost doesn't make it sci-fi.

  Now, Benjamin Percy's writing isn't terrible and slow paced stories that evolve slowly to give characters room to grow are not bad. I just felt that this book was a story of hardship in a family defined by local metal exploitation that a comic book writer felt the need to make superheroey and then (why not) Lovecraftian for a better selling position.

  But there were other things that made me dislike reading the book. One of them is the endless back and forth between present and flashbacks. This sucks in movie form, in a book format it's even worse. You have to mentally switch context from whatever you were enjoying (or trying to) to something else while the author is answering questions that you never asked. Second thing is the characterization. Most people were terrible clichés, most notably Wade. Not only does he just randomly die, no one, including his loving wife, even mentions him again. The bad boy who grew a solitary and strong-silent sense of morality, the ambitious woman regretting not having children and finding one to save, the innocent requiring saving, the psychopathic villain, the angry henchman, the waiting woman (complete with a worthless and disposable male companion while doing so), the annoying story of a vague but global catastrophe but focusing solely on a small American town and so on.

  Bottom line: I kind of liked the idea of the story, but I would have seen it compacted in the first three to five chapters of a single book. While tired of the "coasty" types of stories we are inundated with from cinema and TV, I didn't really want to fall into the other terrible formula: the small American town, truckers, miners and waitresses doing cowboy politics.

and has 0 comments

  We all know Frank Herbert for his science fiction work, mainly Dune, but before he became famous by publishing that, he wrote may short stories and novels. This collection published in 2013 holds four of the pre-Dune novels he never got to publish. I found the stories very Herbert, kind of dated and, except the first one's premise, non-sci-fi. Yet they show how the ideas that went through Herbert's brain evolved in time.

  The novels in the collection are: High-Opp, Angel's Fall, A Game of Authors and A Thorn in the Bush.

  High-Opp

  It shows the irreverent cynicism that the author had towards governments and social systems, but with a yet unpolished writing style. The story shows how a brilliant man, stuck in the middle of the social hierarchy of a communist-like government is betrayed and then manipulated by various groups. As the strong '50s male archetype he manages to outsmart and outfight everybody.

  Angel's Fall

  This is an interesting story about a damaged air vehicle floating on a river while enemies are trying to catch and destroy it. It's not sci-fi, as the air vehicle in question is a floatplane and the enemies are Amazon native tribes. But if you thought I was talking about the jungle part of The Green Brain, I would understand, as it's basically the same story without the sci-fi elements!

  A Game of Authors

  A weird story about an American journalist travelling to Mexico for a story, while being manipulated and attacked by various interested parties. It felt really dated and not well thought through. The characters were a joke, particularly the female ones. It was supposed to be a "brave resourceful man" story, but it felt like a "clueless American still doesn't believe people would try to kill him" thing.

  A Thorn in the Bush

  This felt like the least Herbert story of them all, even if it did focus on the internal drive and motivation of people. It's the story of an old madame who, having moved to Mexico and become respectable, tries to boss everybody based on her own past traumas and present delusions. Strange to have a female main character in a Herbert novel. It was not bad, but it was the farthest from sci-fi you will ever read.


With this I have ended reading everything Herbert wrote and I could find. From them all, Dune is of course on top of it all, but also Destination: Void (not the series, but the original book), Hellstrom's Hive, The White Plague and perhaps surprisingly Soul Catcher. There are lot of other good stories, but I loved these ones. Phew! It's over! :) It was nice, but a little tiring.

Note: This article is about Chromium based browsers.

Remember the days when computers were configured to present the filesystem to the network by default in read/write mode? Those were the days. Today, though, everything is configured for security and browsers are no exceptions. One thing that annoyed me yesterday was CSP (Content Security Policy) which disallowed me to fetch from a web site information from another web site which was happy to provide it. The culprit was a meta tag that looks like this:
<meta http-equiv="Content-Security-Policy" content="...">

The content was configuring default-srcconnect-src, style-src, frame-src, worker-src, img-srcscript-srcfont-src! Everything. But I wasn't looking for a hack to disable CSP (well I was, but that's another story), I just wanted to test that, given a friendly CSP, I could connect to a specific web site and get the data that I wanted and do something with it. Surely in the developer tools of the browser I would find something that would allow me to temporarily disable CSP. No such luck!

Then I looked on the Internet to see what people were saying. All were complaining about "Refused to connect to [url] because it violates the following Content Security Policy directive..." and how it annoyed them, but there was no real solution. Here is what I found:

  • browser extensions to remove the CSP header
    • I assume this works, but it wasn't my case
  • browser extensions to remove content from the page from the Developer Tools
    • I tried one, but when it changed the content now the browser was crashing with an ugly Aw, snap! page with a Status_Access_Violation status
  • I tried ticking the web site's settings for Insecure content
    • How naïve to think that it would allow loading of insecure content
  • I tried browser command line flags and experimental flags
    • nothing worked

I was contemplating hacking the browser somehow when I stumbled upon this gem: Override files and HTTP response headers locally.

It is almost exactly what I was looking for, only it doesn't replace content with regular expressions but saves the entire content of a URL on the local drive and serves it from there, modified in whatever way you want. So if you want to alter a server rendered page you're out of luck.

How did I use it to remove the CSP? I went to sources, I configured the local overrides and I then edited the page (in the Sources panel) and simply deleted the annoying meta tag. Now it worked.

Hope it helps!

and has 0 comments

Intro

The Grob Attack, named not after the word grob (coarse, rough. uncouth, rude, crude), but from Swiss IM Henri Grob, who analysed and played it his entire career, is defined by the opening move 1. g4?. That's not a question, that's the mistake sign for a move in PGN syntax. Lichess sets it automatically on any analysis as the computer evaluation goes to -1.5. The opening's Wikipedia page opens with a quote from IM John Watson who calls it "masochistic", a move that could only appeal to people who enjoy pain.

And yet, the statistics of this opening tell a different story altogether.

Stats

For the entirety of the games in the Lichess stats, the Grob opening loses more than it wins, but it's 47% wins vs 49% losses. And once you refine the search, things become more interesting. Let's remove the 400 rating player bracket. Suddenly it's 48-48. Let's remove the 1000,1200 and 1400 bracket: 49-47; it's winning! OK, maybe we should look at every bracket in isolation (and imagine Hans Rosling presenting):

  • 400: 40-54, a massive loss which influences the entire statistic, even if it can hardly be called chess at that rating.
  • 1000: 43-52, amateurs do not do well starting with such a move, obviously.
  • 1200: 46-50, at this level chess is real, but Grob still loses.
  • 1400: 47-49, same as the general statistic. What is going on?
  • 1600: 50-47, a massive jump!
  • 1800: 49-47, is this an opening that only works between 1600-1800?
  • 2000: 49-47, a rating I can only dream of for myself and Grob is still ahead!
  • 2200: 48-47, what?!
  • 2500: 47-47, at the highest level of chess, 2500+, people win as much as they lose with this opening.

From now on we will stick to all chess games over 1600 rating, for quality, and without Ultrabullet, which is not chess.

You will say: you can always start with the Grob and transpose into one of the more common openings. I mean, people probably don't play 1. g4 d5 - the Grob gambit, they don't follow with 2. Bxg4 c4 - the Fritz gambit, right? You would be wrong. That's the most played line and the line that Stockfish would go for. And guess what, the winning statistics change to 56-40 after this sequence of moves, even while the evaluation is -1.7!

But, you will say, you're probably not looking at the Masters database for a reason. I am sure there is a refutation for it! Well, yes, Stockfish seems to think so, yet at every level this opening seems to be slightly better for White. Even at 400-1000 rating level once it reaches this Fritz gambit position the win ratio is 56-42 while at 2500+ rating (2000 games) it's almost equal.

So why does it happen? Why is Grob so successful? I am going to tell you. It's because Black doesn't play c6 and doesn't protect the d5 pawn. Or they blunder a piece :) That's the prize in this opening. You either get d5 or pivot immediately to another plan as White, and you better defend it as Black. And most of the moves to maintain the advantage feel unnatural to humans.

Then why does White lose if this is so good? Usually because they lose tempi. This opening is like the movie Crank, you have to move or die. Nc3 is essential, d3 to free the bishop and if somehow Black blocks the h1-b8 diagonal, then Nf3 or Ne2 is again necessary. But will you have time to make three development moves after your queen did everything while Black developed? 

I will begin, unusually, in Grob style, with the Stockfish refutation. It's interesting, but hardly easy to "feel" it as a human being. I will then continue with the general plans. Then show you twelve different traps, the first being the main line!

Refutation

At the beginning of the game, right after 1. g4c6 is a completely dumb move as it loses all White advantage. It doesn't develop and blocks an important development square. What about after 2. Bg2? It still loses a point in evaluation because White can now protect the g4 pawn. But after 2...Bxg4 3. c4, the move 3...c6 is what Stockfish recommends while also being the most played move at 2500+ levels. It's such an ugly move, though. Who, having not been studying this opening, would move a pawn to block the natural development square of the knight, delaying king castling even more, moving another non central pawn?

  Well, one might argue that after the next best moves 4. cxd5 cxd5 the square is freed, so no biggie. But after 5. Qb3, Nc6 is still not available because b7 is hanging. Better defend it, right? Wrong! 5...Nf6 is the best move by far according to Stockfish, defending d5. So the continuation must be 6. Qxb7, right? Wrong again. 6. Nc3 for White, attacking d5, inviting d4. That move would be disastrous, leading to +4.5 eval since Black cannot save its rook. So what is the best move here? Nc6 is top 2, finally playable, but White will scoop that d5 pawn.

The second top 2 move is 6...e6. Another pawn move. The d5 pawn must be defended! Or rather, the diagonals to f7 and b7. The computer can't really decide on which of these moves is better, but more often than not it says e6 is superior to Nc6.

Can you reach this point and not consider this opening exciting?

Let's take a step back and check that b7 pawn. Can't we take it with 6. Qxb7? We push the knight to a more passive square which also blocks the Black queen's defense of d5, we gain a pawn, we block the rook since it has to guard a7, nothing can attack our queen. And indeed, it's the closest best move. However, the moves Nc3 and d3 are essential for White in most lines at some point or another. Let's be adventurous and kill the b7 pawn, followed by 6...Nd7 only move. The computer eval is still... -2. Stockfish is certain Black is better, because White has only developed a queen and fianchettoed a bishop, while Black has one center pawn, two knights and a bishop out and two open files for the rook.

7. Nc3 is the only move now. Develop as fast as possible. Black has the initiative, you have to take it back. If we take the d5 pawn now, with the bishop, we lose the bishop when the rook attacks the queen. Qc6 is met with Rc8 which either loses the queen or leads to mate.

So 7. Nc3 Rb8, attacking the queen and leaving the a7 pawn undefended. Should we play Qc6 like a computer or take the pawn? Not that much difference in eval, let's take the sucker! We are being greedy. 8. Qxa7 e5. Only move!

Why didn't e5 work a move before? Because our queen was attacking d5. Remember d5? Black has sacrificed the a7 pawn to protect d5 and we went for it!

But... d5 is still undefended. Both knight and bishop attack it, while the Black queen is blocked by the knight we force-moved there. Why not 8...e6, then? Wouldn't that free the bishop and also defend d5? Because Black's best play here is to try to coral the White queen. Black is still better with e6, but with less than a pawn. A move like e6 allows Qe3, escaping from the war zone into the safety of its troops. e5 on the other hand leads to a fork after Qe3, winning the knight. 

So we take another pawn! 9. Nxd5, so juicy! White is two pawns up, including d5, yet the eval is now -2.4 ?!

This line is not the Stockfish main line, but it's pretty damn close. All Black moves are computer generated while for White I've selected slightly (<0.2 eval difference) worst moves, but more greedy.

This position is amazing! Look at it! The Black queen side is devastated, White plays with just three pieces, both kings are in the center and with no prospect to castle any time soon, if ever, and the only centralized minor piece White has is about to get captured. It's, again, the only move to maintain the advantage, even if it exchanges a minor piece whilst two pawns down. Black cannot stand before two heroes on the board! So many unnatural looking moves just to keep that -2 advantage for Black. If you didn't read this post, you would never have made them, right? So, 9...Nxd5 10. Bxd5.

Black is now using its initiative to explode outwards. 10...Bc5, with tempo, attacking the White queen. The hunt begins! Qa4 and Qa6 are the only available moves, we use Qa4, best, for pinning a knight to the king and long-attacking the bishop. Rb4 is the best move, attacking the queen again and protecting the bishop in the process, yet the second best move is more positional: Bf5, taking the c2 square from a retreating queen. But we go with the best 11...Rb4. What is White to do?

The queen can retreat into a pin (Qa3), hide itself between Black pieces (Qc6) or stick itself right in, with Qa8, which is actually the best. All others are mistakes. This is the price of the hero queen: once cornered her skill and power does not matter, she will be hounded by minor pieces until she dies. The only solution, exchange itself for the enemy queen: 12. Qa8! There are tears in my eyes. I loved that queen! But the rook interferes again: 12...Rb8. Only move! Any other move brings the eval from -2.7 to 0 or better for White. The queen survives, as it retreats again at Qa4 and forces black to go with the positional move Bf5 instead or accept a draw by repetition.

14. Nf3 and White is finally getting out other pieces. Black's queen hunt failed, they castle short, bringing the king to safety. Yet our hero queen is not done. She follows the Black queen in a quest for mutually assured destruction: 15. Qh4. When having material advantage, exchange stuff. If the Black queen were to capture, the eval would go to +1 for White. So 15...Be7 16. Qh5 {attacking the bishop} Bg6 {attacking the queen} 16. Qh3 e4 {attacking the knight} 17. Bc6 {attacking another knight} Nc5 18. Ne5 Qd6 {attacking both knight and bishop if knight leaves} 19. Qg3 {defending the knight which defends the bishop} 

It's madness. After 20 moves the position looks like this: White has a queen and two minor pieces out. Every other pawn and piece on the board (including the king) have not moved at all. It's like White is playing blitz... krieg! Time is all that matters. If White loses tempi, they are lost. Black, on the other hand, is two pawns down, has all pieces out, the king castled, a pawn well advanced into White territory. Evaluation is now -3.5.

This is the "refutation" of the Grob Fritz gambit: a very positional computer-like play that no human would use or, if so, would actually enjoy playing.

The first chapter in the study below is the cinematic version of what I wrote above.

Plans

Every good opening has a plan. The Grob has some, but they are crude, coarse, uncouth, perhaps even rude. It counts on the fact that the opponent will either drop a piece, fumble their rook or trap their knight or even their queen. The goal of the opening is to equalize, winning the game is just the cherry on the cake. Here are some ideas for White:

  • invite the opponent to overextend pieces to places they are not so well suited for, then isolate or even trap them
  • harass the queen side, thus keeping the king side locked
  • prepare very long range attacks, from the fianchettoed bishop and the wayward queen, giving the opponent chances to hang pieces
  • always attack the rook in the corner, but the objective is not to actually take it, but to distract
  • once the light squared bishop is spent or neutralized, switch to attacks on the semi-open g-file
  • after the queen has stopped attacking by herself, the queen-side knight is essential to support her retreat or subsequent attacks
  • once material advantage has been secured, the position is probably bad, so exchange pieces as much as possible
  • this is NOT a king attacking opening, instead it is a royal killing spree attempting to get opponents out of preparation and into a bloody melee
  • there are two endgames with the Grob: the first phase, where we hope to distract and severely wound our opponent, then the actual end game, where we must convert the situation to a win

Check out the chapter Plans in the study above for examples of some of these ideas.

Traps and all kinds of fun

I've identified twelve traps, I am sure there are more, which stem from the Grob opening. There is a chapter for each of them in the study above, which is much better enjoyed on the Lichess website. There are some openings that really get one out of the Fritz gambit or even most ideas Grob, but I didn't see any reason why this opening would not be viable. Think of it as the Death Star: in order to refute it you must fly into a very tight canyon, defended by laser canons, and fire into an exhaust pipe, otherwise all is lost.

The master player who made use of this opening a lot, winning many games, is Michael Basman. Check out his games to see how a real pro does it.

Check out the Romford Countergambit chapters. It is a fun response to the Grob and a friend of mine has prepared a detailed video on it, which you can check out below, so expect a battle of openings!

[youtube:crRlcJNqk3s]

Hope you had fun!

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  I read The Collected Stories of Frank Herbert on and off for two months. Some of the stories are brilliant, some of them are seeds to future books, while some are just mediocre. But the series is very revealing of Frank Herbert's mind and filled with intriguing and unique ideas. I liked it!

  There are thirty eight short stories in this huge book. Some of them made me think days after I've read them. Perhaps that's the best way to read this: story by story with pauses in between. Or other books.

  Honestly, I didn't feel like reading much these two months, either. From the great endeavor of reading everything Herbert, I only have one collection of four unpublished novels. Then I am free to read other stuff. Unfortunately it does feel that way, like something that needed effort to finish. Most of it was pleasant, but damn it took too long!

  Bottom line: I think if you liked Dune, for example, you might want to try a few of the other great novels he wrote, but before that try reading this collection, get a feel for the man and, of course, don't let the average experimental things be the last thing you read of Herbert.

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  So you've been watching someone on YouTube DESTROYING their opposition (note that my use of capitalization and over the top language is ironic here. All this post needed was me making an O face in a picture with a fire background) and you tried to do it, but you just failed miserably. You watch the videos again and again, vaguely remember some lines and it doesn't matter anyway because your opponents play something else than you had prepared for. What to do?

  Well, it's easy with the LiChess Tools browser extension, in 10 easy steps! (again, irony)

Step 0: install the LiChess Tools extension on your Chrome/Brave/Edge/Kiwi/Any other chromium browser.

Step 1: go to lichess.org and export the games of your idol

  • make sure you check the box for Opening, you will need it later

Step 2: remove all the moves after a certain depth, since you want to learn theory

  • this can be done using regular expression search and replace in a decent text editor like Notepad++ (here is a pattern to select all moves after depth 20: 21\.\s+.*?$ which you can replace with nothing)
  • Note that regular expressions look daunting, but are very simple in what they do. The one above looks for 21, a dot, some spaces, then gets everything until the end of the string. If you remove this, you get with the first 20 moves, since lichess exports games as one line.

Step 3: select all the games with required opening

  • again this can be done using regular expressions. Here is a pattern for "Elephant Gambit" games : (\[\w+\s+"[^"]*"\][\s]*)+(\[\w+\s+"Elephant Gambit*"\][\s]*)+(\[\w+\s+"[^"]*"\][\s]*)*\s*1\.\s+.*?$ 
  • Notepad++ has a nice feature of marking all matches and then copying them wholesale (Note that when you copy them, the matches will be separated by four dashes ---- which you will need to remove, just search and replace)
  • the reason I am using the PGN opening name to find what I am interested in is transpositions. Also it makes for easier regular expression patterns. However you can use any search pattern, for example the exact move order to get a position. Just remember that any brackets and dot are special characters in regular expressions, so you have to escape them with a backslash. Example: . (dot) means any character in regular expressions, but \. means an actual dot. 

Step 4: go to lichess.org Analysis and copy paste the games there and import them

  • the enhanced import functionality that will merge multiple games will only work if you install LiChess Tools
  • there might be an error that there are too many PGN moves. In that case, try to import less games (less than 100 usually). This will generate a merged PGN which you then can merge with the other merged PGNs. Anyway, there will always be a maximum move limit imposed by the limitation of lichess
    • the limitation for number of PGNs has been removed in v1.7.4, although I just tried it with about 1000 PGNs (25000 moves!) and the site moves kind of slow. I suggest moderation :)

Step 5: transform the analysis with all the moves into a study

Step 6: examine moves and delete everything after obvious blunders (like hanging pieces)

Step 7: examine moves and remove transpositions, if any

  • transpositions can only be detected after installing LiChess Tools: they will appear highlighted when one of them is the currently selected move

Step 8: examine moves and add glyphs to them (good move, mistake, blunder, etc)

Step 9: edit the chapter and set it to Interactive Lesson

And you're done! All you have to do now is hit the Preview button and play as your favorite chess player. Note that the functionality to play all variations of a PGN is only available, you guessed it, if you install the LiChess Tools browser extension. The glyphs now come in handy, because you see when you are making a mistake or not or when the opponent does it.

Play to the end of a variation, trying to guess what they would play in that position, then exit Preview, mark the ending move with a comment, perhaps an evaluation. Go back in the tree of moves until you get to the first branching and cite the game that was imported from the game explorer window. You do that by clicking the game and choosing the Cite option. Then play again. And again.

Soon you will start to anticipate the style of your preferred chess master and play the same moves. When that happens, go back to the battle field and kick ass!

As an example, you can check out my own study which imports all Jonathan Schrantz (zolpi) Elephant Gambit games: Zolpi's Elephant Gambit , a PGN with 3292 moves from 114 games. I've also added a chapter with only the wins, so you can learn the good moves only :)

That's all! Let me know if you found this use case... well... useful.

  This extension adds a lot of functionalities to your lichess web site. It has so many useful and powerful features! I am very proud of it. The extension is always going to be free, ad-free, donation links free, etc. Yet the only way for it to do what YOU want is feedback. Any feedback! Praise, curses, bug reports, feature requests, use stories, anything. The more you tell me, the more I can improve on this!

  News update: I have merged several TV tools into one, as well as changed the Custom Engine Preferences in version 2.2.0. I removed the Move Colorize theme and replaced it with a feature in the Highlight tool in version 2.3.0. Please review your Preferences.

  I have also written a different page that will function as a user manual, with all the details on features, preferences and what they mean.

  If you are just interested in the list of features, in reversed chronological order, you might want to check out the history file.

  Other stuff:

  • all features have been encapsulated in "tools" in the code
  • all ideas for the future will be rewritten as issues on GitHub, where you can also put feature requests and bug reports
  • A help icon has been added to each of the Preferences to show details on each feature 
  • the extension requires Chrome version 111 or higher

  And now back to our regularly scheduled programming (programming, get it? - also, if you get the whole pun, let me know, you may be a dying breed):

  LiChess Tools (ver. 2.3.60) adds the following features to lichess:

  • play ALL variations in Interactive lesson study chapters!
    • computer is going to play a random move (configurable probability), so you don't need to create a chapter for every small variation
  • PGN editor to merge, normalize, split, count, upload, download, copy PGNs.
  • merge multiple PGNs in analysis import
    • I merged 1000 PGNs with 25000 moves and it worked!
  • automatically open/hide/convert to menu or button the Friends box at page load
    • having the friends box as a menu/button item is really neat
  • sound alert when one of your friends starts playing a game
    • also reading the type of game, so you know if you even want to look at it
    • now there is an option to mute this for individual players in the enhanced friends list
  • ability to randomly play one of the next moves (with configurable probability in comments i.e. prc:66) with Ctrl-Right and go back with Ctrl-Left
  • play against the Opening Explorer (either masters, lichess players or a specific player) in Analysis
  • evaluation of Explorer moves, as well as telling you what move leads to gambits
  • Missed Timeline posts or comments to posts you follow notification
  • screen lock on mobiles while playing (scroll and zoom)
  • find interesting moves and allowing cycling through interesting/good/brilliant moves just like with blunders
  • highlights for the last move of variations (special case for the ones that have no comment and do not end in checkmate) in the analysis/study board
    • you immediately see not only where a variation starts, but also where it ends
  • highlights for the transpositions to the current move in the analysis/study board
    • you won't ever have to worry that you are analyzing the exact same variation but in a different order
    • also you can now show all transposing positions in the PGN
  • new shortcut for playing the next best computer move from Space to Ctrl-Space
    • always annoyed me when I accidentally pressed the key
  • a custom chess engine level
    • if it is idle in a lower state, it runs until it gets to that level
    • this is also used as the required engine level by the study context menu option of commenting all last moves with a computer evaluation
  • custom chess engine options: never use cloud/tablebase, use engine in Practice mode
  • sticky Interactive lesson Preview mode
    • you can now play chapter after chapter without hassle
  • use keyboard shortcuts (i, m, b, Alt-i, Alt-m, Alt-b) for inaccuracies, mistakes and blunders in all variations
    • note that this is a native feature of lichess, but only in your game analyses and only the mainline moves
    • added g and Alt-g to cycle between "positive" moves (good, brilliant and interesting) 
  • show player country flags next to their names
    • if they have their country specified in the profile
    • now you will see flags everywhere. It might break some stuff, so let me know.
  • show the order of circles and arrows in a study/analysis.
    • this is great when you want to understand the order of moves/hints
    • option is off by default
  • a new menu item to open the last viewed TV game
  • show opening names in TV and mini games, as well as Analysis board and Studies
  • many TV options:
    • show history section in player TV (just like for category TV - the two latest games of the player)
    • friends and streamers section in the Current Games tab
    • link and bookmark the current TV game
  • quick button to switch to your player and back in personal opening explorer
  • copy to clipboard branch and continuations from a certain position in analysis/study
    • you can now just pick a variation, copy it in its own chapter, with just a few clicks
    • Shift/Ctrl/Alt change the way this item works
  • available languages: English and Romanian
    • ask for more! I will provide you with the English sentences and the context and you can tell me how it is in your language
  • the options for the extension are in the lichess Preferences section
    • complete integration. The extension popup has no functional role anymore
    • this also means that I will be able to port this to other browsers with minimal effort. Ask if you want this!
  • move options from transpositions to the current position
    • the Extended Interactive Lessons and the Ctrl-Arrow functionalities are also able to choose moves following from this list, as well as the variation arrows
  • automatically evaluate last moves in every variation and store it as a comment
    • the engine level for the evaluation is the same as the custom chess engine level in Preferences 
  • buttons in the study chapter edit form to quickly set the title to the content of the Event or of the White/Black PGN tags
  • set colors/styles to study comments
    • note that these will only be visible to people having the extension installed
  • study chapter navigation controls, including random chapter button (also with keyboard shortcut)
  • auto save and button to reload PGNs in Analysis mode (recover from accidental reloads) 
    • now it automatically copies the last PGN in the PGN box, but you have to manually import it by pressing the button
  • show all transpositions in the analysis/study move list
  • hide the score tally while playing
  • live friends page will update automatically and allow TV view, mute playing alerts and much more
  • global switch to enable/disable extension
  • ability to selectively remove artifacts (comments, shapes, glyphs and PGN tags) from the current study chapter
  • custom chat buttons at beginning and end of play
  • one button delete PGN tags
  • draw arrows and circles on mobile devices (analysis and in-game)
  • extra lines on the game analysis chart and local engine chart in analysis board
  • menu entry to go to last opened Study
  • study options: persist settings, create chapter after current, show chapter PGN as in Analysis
  • move list options: indented variations shows all variations as tree branches, not inline, expanded move list uses all the space available for the analysis move list and hide left side hides the left side of the analysis window for even more space. Open in new window lets you see the move list in another window that you can move to another monitor. You can have the computer evaluation toggle back on the right side.
  • bookmark study moves, which allows for collapse/expand variations, linking to position, highlight in the move list, getting the bookmark URL from a context menu and split the chapter from any bookmark.
  • Option to not see cloud values in computer evaluation
  • Wiki pages will now load in Analysis regardless of move order
  • Variation arrows for transpositions
  • Show pawn structure names in TV games, mini games, Analysis board and Studies
  • Click on Explorer total row to get a random move
  • Toggle between different Explorer lichess tab settings
  • Custom mini-game size
  • Play again from same position you entered Preview mode in
  • Use Stockfish 16 on Brave browser
  • Learn from your mistakes in study chapters
  • Pin studies and broadcasts to home page
  • Community forum
  • Freeze board keyboard shortcut in Analysis/Study
  • Player lag chart next to player names during play
  • Link to download all studies of a user
  • Show profile chart time range dates in a label
  • Outside board coordinates, even in Analysis/Study, and bigger font.
  • Puzzle statistics in Profile
  • Move assistant shows the evaluation of your selected piece legal moves
  • Mirror button in Board Editor
  • More decimals in computer eval
  • auto unselect piece after a few seconds
  • Study flairs
  • Customize lobby page elements
  • Explorer resize
  • /commands! Type /help to get a list

  I couldn't wait to share it with you guys. I will be happy for any feedback, suggestions or help.

  I've started a series of use case blog posts, they might show you how to use the extension in real life:

Here are some screenshots, but they don't really tell you the story. You just have to try it.

Good luck using my extension. I am sure I am going to be tinkering with it a bit. Let me know of any problems you have with it.

Other ideas

For readability sake, I've removed all the old ideas from here and moved all of the new ones as GitHub issues. You can go there and add your own!

Q&A

Q: Can you publish your extension code on GitHub?
A: Yes, I did. I could. Probably I will be starting with version 2, which will be a rewrite of a version 1 that has been in use for a while and that people have given me feedback for. As much as I like sharing my code, I really don't want to have to deal with all the GitHub complications right now.

Q: If your code is not on GitHub, it doesn't exist! Also, I looked at your code and it sucks balls!
A: That's not a question. And I agree. But right now I am focusing on features, not quality control. Wait for V2.

Q: How do we contact you with new ideas, bug reports and general roasting of your coding skills?
A: Use this post. This is my personal blog and my preferred method of communication. On top-right you can see a lot of links to various methods of direct communication with me, although I would prefer thoughtful feedback to remain documented here, as comments. You can now also use the GitHub project.

Q: I am addicted to LiChess Tools and I am afraid later on you will fill it with ads, premium features and EULAs that allow you to remove my kidneys. Can you address my fear?
A: Like everything on this blog, it will always remain free. And not free as in "until someone else buys it" or free as in "watch videos and it's free" or free as in "I will fill your screen with junk", but completely utterly free. Like LiChess, I guess. Also, it doesn't connect to any external services or capture any user data. For now! Muhahahaha! Later on it might need some external services for extra features that you ask for, but I hope it doesn't.

Q: How long did it take you to write this?
A: Mostly a week. Following the 80/20 rule, now I have to work at least one more month to make it good. In the end it probably took two months to start and I am still tinkering, but I can only work on it when I get the time. This has been published since the 10th of May 2023 and I am still adding or fixing or changing things. For the cause!

Q: You should write a tutorial on how to use it. Could you make a video of it?
A: I am not a video person. I hope that this post can convey the basic ways in which to use the extension and that the extension itself can be used without the need of a tutorial. Let's work together to make this clear and easy to use for everyone instead. Also, there is now the user manual page. However, I am not adverse to someone who knows how to make videos to make some about LiChess Tools.

Q: Your Extended Interactive Lesson feature is all I had ever wanted from life! But when I am editing the study, I get the same interface as normal studies. Can you fix it?
A: Some parts of LiChess are easy to change, some not so much. Anything related to rendering is a mess to hook to. Additionally, I wouldn't want to have studies that can only be edited and used with my extension. There is a move context menu that allows setting the "explain why any other move is wrong" now. Also you can collapse the controls now, so they don't bother you at least.

Q: So how do I mark the good branches from the bad variations in Extended Interactive Lessons?
A: Any move that is not in the study will be bad. As for the branches that you want to explore specifically, use the annotations (Mistake, Blunder, Brilliant Move, etc) and comments. You can even explore the bad branches in Preview mode this way and learn why they would be bad.

Q: Can you add features to show me what moves to make while playing?
A: LiChess Tools is not a cheating tool. However I try to add as many tools as possible to help you analyze your games after you've played them.

Q: But can you add some features that don't involve cheating for the games that I am playing/watching?
A: Most of the features of LiChess Tools are analysis oriented because analysis is much better exposed than the game code. Because there are a lot of private variables that are not made accessible, it's difficult to selectively change parts of the game interface and any features would have to brutally copy paste and replace some legitimate code bits. I am afraid that until that changes on LiChess, I will not touch that part, mostly because that means I would have to keep score on what they change on the web site and update my extension accordingly. Also, there are some guidelines that expect one to not change the playing interface at all.

Q: How about changing the way LiChess looks?
A: I am not a good visual designer, nor do I do a lot of work on web frontend. There are some extensions that are doing that (like Prettier Lichess, which I used myself, and perhaps you should ask those people for help instead. Also, I am avoiding as much as possible changes to the visual elements of the website specifically because it might interfere with some such extension or custom CSS tool. BTW, if you are working on something like that and find LiChess Tools is interfering with your stuff, let me know. We can figure things out. In v2.0.14 a new Themes tool has been added. I can publish CSS themes this way, but I don't intend to maintain them myself. If you want to see your theme there, contact me. 

Q: OK, you're my new hero. How can I help?
A: Contact me and let's talk. I despise doing anything UI design related, as evidenced by this blog and the extension popup, so maybe you can help there. Also, not a specialist in browser extensions, so any improvements and/or help with other browsers would be welcome.

Q: Yeah, but I can't code. How can I help?
A: Help me by making this extension known. I don't want "marketing", just spread the word. Let people know and if they like it, they will use it. Can't use it if they don't know about it, though, and I am always afraid people think I am spamming them when I try to advertise my work. Make this famous, is it too much to ask?

Q: I use LiChess in my own language and the new features are jarring in English
A: I've implemented the translation mechanism, but I need the texts for the various languages. If you provide them, I will make them available. Each tool starts with something like 

    intl={
      'en-US':{
        'options.general': 'General',
        'openingNameTitle': 'LiChess Tools - opening name'
      },
      'ro-RO':{
        'options.general': 'General',
        'openingNameTitle': 'LiChess Tools - numele deschiderii'
      }
    }

I plan to integrate Crowdin or something like this, but I don't have the time. You can look in Github and either tell me how to translate to your language or even create a Pull Request.

Q: Chrome sucks! Microsoft sold out! Can you make this work for my favorite browser?
A: Short answer: no. Long answer: I want to help people, so the more the merrier, but I also don't have a lot of resources to maintain code on a browser I don't use. Safari is a mess and extensions on it require to have a tool that only works on Macs and they ask you for money. Firefox has less than 5% of the market and refuses to implement the feature that makes LiChess Tools work. Opera already supports Chrome extensions. To be honest, it is not reasonable for me to bother with anything but Chrome. So long answer is also no :)

A: That's not my bug, it comes from LiChess. They have bugs, too.
Q: How could you possibly have answered before I asked the question?

Q: Did you actually think people were going to read this far down?
A: No.

Q: I told about this to all my friends, I came with feedback and constructive criticism and it feels like you ignored me. What gives?
A: For sure I want to take everything into consideration and act on requests as fast as possible, but it might be that I am caught up with something else. I thoroughly intend to give you and the extension as much attention as possible, so maybe make sure I got your message, first.

Hope it helps!

and has 0 comments

Quick update

  I have solved a lot of the issues I have with LiChess with my own Chrome/Edge extension: LiChess Tools. I am very proud of it and I invite you to use it. It even enhances the Interactive lesson mode I describe below to explore ALL variations in the chapter!

  Now back to the original post:

Intro

  It's impossible to play chess and to not have heard of Lichess. It's a website that has started with the lofty goal of providing a completely free and without ads place where people can play chess. One of the features there is called a Study, similar to the chess Analysis board, but allowing for multiple chapters, persistent comments and annotations, a unique URL as well as the possibility of embedding it into a web page.

  There are multiple analysis modes for a chapter: Normal analysis, Practice with computer, Hide next moves and Interactive mode. I think Hide next moves is mainly used for embedding chess puzzles into websites, while Practice with computer is a mode that I have not played with yet. Normal analysis presents the classic board with various tools showing you the moves people of various levels play in a position, a chess analysis engine in the browser as well as a server side analysis that you can run on the main line of a PGN.

  However, I am here to show you how to use Interactive lesson mode, simply and without confusion, to quickly improve your game and perfect your play.

  If want the example study and only then read through the documentation about how it was done, go directly to the Demo.

It's not that

  When I first heard of this option I was elated. I expected to take my very complicated PGN explorations, paste them into the study, then have the computer play the other guy based on the moves in the PGN. And while I still hope the developers of Lichess will create a study mode for a complete PGN, this does not work in Interactive lesson mode yet. I hear that Tarrasch UI does have an option like that, but I haven't used it yet, so maybe I will update this post after I try it. I use Arena Chess GUI as the tool of choice for game analysis on my computer.

  Edit: I've installed Tarrasch and it kinds of works, even if the option is rather primitive. What you do is you take a PGN (like for example the Lichess PGN of all of your games or of another player) and set it up as the opening book. Then you have another option that sets up how many moves to take from the book and then, what percentage of moves to take from the book. So setting the first as a very large number or the percentage at 100 makes the UI play exactly like the other player. However, the problem is that it doesn't save the probability for a user to make a move. It just combines all games PGNs into one big one and plays from it. If I player e4 once and d4 1000 times, the computer will play either 50% of the time. Bummer!

  OK, so maybe it follows the main line, but what if I go into a branch line? Surely it will allow me to continue, because I have marked the good moves as good and the bad moves as bad. Nope! The main line is the only line the Interactive lesson will follow, but you can add other moves which will be automatically considered bad and their comments shown to the user as they try to make them.

  It is called interactive, so maybe it has all kinds of whistles and bells that I can add so that it is more like a fun game! Again, no. Interactive means only that you can learn a specific line by following it ad nauseum, with some helpful graphical hints, comments and annotations baked in. For each line that you want to explore, you have to build a different chapter. And there are a maximum 32 chapters per study. There is no way in which you are making a different move and you get any feedback more meaningful than a prerecorded comment telling you you didn't play the correct move. That being said, when creating a new chapter one can import a PGN containing multiple games. This will create a chapter for each of the games (again, maximum of 32).

  One other glaring limitation of studies in general is that they barely work on the mobile app and Interactive lessons are not even supported there.

But it's that

  But once I found the proper way of using it, I realized that it can actually help me a lot to improve my game. Why? Because it helps with repetition and memory, which is something that I don't really excel in. So here are my recommendations on how to use the tool.

Create a PGN with all the lines that you want to explore

  Yes, I know I said Interactive mode doesn't handle multiple lines, but this is the starting point of your efforts. You need one anyway to first determine what you want to study. Let's say you have learned of the newest tricky gambit line and you want to beat all your friends with it, but you can't practice it without letting them in on it.

  There are multiple ways of generating this source PGN. You can watch your favorite YouTuber going through the variations, create a study and follow their moves in the first chapter. You can start from the Analysis Board and transform it into a Study when you need to add comments and stuff. Don't worry about chapters at this stage. Just build your PGN. You can take your own games in that particular opening or variation and add them to the PGN. You can check out the games of other people or use the Opening Explorer and Tablebase to find the most common moves people play from a position.

  Do add comments and graphical hints as you go along (right click and drag the mouse for arrows, right click on squares for circles, press combinations of Ctrl and Alt for various colors). It will be important later.

Split your PGN into individual lines

  This might feel painful at the beginning, but in order to examine lines from your PGN interactively you need to remove all other moves. You already have your PGN, just add new chapters for each line and use the option to copy from the first chapter. You do this by selecting the chapter you want to copy from, then use the new chapter option. Don't forget to choose Interactive lesson as the Analysis mode (you can copy from the latest added chapter, since it's identical to the first, only it has the Interactive lesson mode already selected). Let's say that you started with a small PGN with a main line and an alternate branch that then splits again later on. That means 3 variations. Copy the PGN into 3 new chapters, then for each one delete all the moves from alternate branches. Keep the first chapter with the compete PGN and the type Normal analysis.

Play chapters repeatedly

  In order to play the chapters yourself, you need to press the Preview button. Alternately, open your study in a browser where you are not logged in on the Lichess site, but that also implies that your study is set to public and updating it as you play will be cumbersome.

  So start playing the chapters, in order or randomly, again and again. You will start to reap the benefits of spaced repetition, without the stress of playing against another person and without getting distracted by other stages of the game.

  Eventually, you will notice some moves that are hard to remember. Exit preview mode by pressing the Preview button again, then add hints, comments, graphical hints, etc. This will help you when you get to the same spot a few weeks later.

Helping yourself and others

  There are several ways to nudge people going through the lesson. Most are helpful, but they can also be detrimental or too revealing.

  You can add a Hint, which will appear if the user gives up and clicks on Hint. They also have the option of seeing the next move, if they really give up. I guess this can be helpful if the hint is vague enough. Something like "move to e4" is the same as the option of seeing the solution, so pointless. Something like "move the queen!" is not much better. However, something that talks about the principles of the position rather than the specifics not only helps cement the theory in the mind of the student, but also helps you, the author, clarify those principles as you search for the correct hint!

  You can make a move for your side then add a special type of comment that will pop up to the user if they play any other move. You can also play different moves in the PGN other than the main move, then add a comment for why that move is not the right one, which will supersede the generic one. For example you could use "Not that move, dummy!" which is not very helpful, but works for a generic message, then play the next best move (or perhaps even a better one, depending on who you're asking) and commenting on it "That's an even better move, but not in the spirit of this opening" or something like that.

  Note that you can add comments for the moves of your side, but that forces the student to press Space to go to the next move, which might get annoying. Alternately, if you write comments on the opponent moves, the annoying pause does not happen, since it's your time to move and you can read it at your leisure.

  Same ideas apply to arrows and squares. You might use them to convey general plans or the very specific plans that follow the very last move in the chapter, perhaps. Show too much and you guide your user towards the move, preventing them from learning. Be consistent with your colors. I personally use the default green for future moves, blue for intentions or plans, red for what the pieces are attacking and yellow as the best move that the opponent should have played, but they did not.

  Annotations are also very helpful, showing the student that the move is good or interesting or brilliant. They come with no extra information and do not pause the lesson.

Extra tools

  There are several things that I found irritatingly missing from the Study feature. However, I've built my own solutions using CJS and Stylish Chrome extensions that allow me to run custom JavaScript and add CSS styles on specific sites. I would still prefer to have those implemented by the Lichess developers, though. I plan a future blog post about those tools, let me know if you're interested.

  One of the tools is knowing what the last moves of variations are. On a large PGN it is hard to see which is which. One needs to know where variations end, whether to further them along or to at least end with a comment. My script adds a CSS class to the last item in a variation and another class if it has no comment attached to it. I see them as brighter and underlined if not commented.

  Another one is handling transpositions. Chess masters of course look at the board and immediately recognize the position they had in a game three years ago when they were playing Magnus Carlsen, but regular people who are trying to cover all the branches of a PGN do not know whether they have reached a position they had before. My script adds a CSS class to all moves that show the same position as the currently active move, but it's not perfect, it only shows the same position that was reached through a different order of moves, not different moves.

  Extracting a line from a PGN would have come handy as well. There is the option to make a variation the main line, but there is no option of removing all branches from it. That will make your initial study creation a bit cumbersome, especially since you are like me, accumulating lines in the PGN and then realizing there is no support for 523 chapters in a study.

  Merging PGNs is also a very good option that as far as I know Lichess is missing. There is the option of adding any game from the Opening explorer and tablebase, but none for your own games or any other random ones. That would also help a lot with studies.

Demo

Below I will share one of my own interactive studies, public and shareable, hoping I will help you guys use this wonderful tool towards great effect. I will use for inspiration one of GM Igor Smirnov's YouTube videos. He is great, but I also used this because he usually shares his lichess studies :)

So these are the steps I followed to create the study:

  1. I took the two games in the study shared by Igor and manually merged them in a single PGN
  2. I created a new study, then pasted the PGN as the first chapter
  3. Doctored the PGN so that I eliminate the transposition at move 4
  4. I watched the video and added new moves from it
  5. I looked for interesting positions in the two games and explored some branches, adding comments related to everything from my own opinions to the evaluation Stockfish gives
  6. Created a new Interactive lesson chapter for each important variation
  7. Went to each chapter and upgraded the specific variation as main line
  8. Removed all side lines in each chapter (perhaps leaving the starting move only, so I can mark it with a special reference to its specific chapter)
  9. Played each chapter again and again, trying to identify the hard to find moves and the general plans of the opening
  10. Shared the study with all of you!

Here is the result:

What to do next

At the beginning, going trough the study, you will first learn the moves, maybe find some places requiring hints or nudging in the right direction. But then you will start to play actual games, using what you've learned, and you are going to get opponents that move completely differently from the main moves. Obviously they are doing something wrong, but you don't know how to punish them.

So here is what you do: you update the original PGN if you want, but then you create a chapter for each of these troublesome lines. You follow them through, using chess engines or some other way of understanding the position: maybe a teacher, or looking at master games or checking the moves statistically played most in that position. Then go back to going through the chapters.

It's that easy. This replaces your passive examination of your games with the active searching for a solution and an even more active playing through it again and again. 

Conclusion

One can use the Interactive lesson mode to do spaced repetition learning, get a feel for new openings or rehearse the positions that give them the most problems. While the current implementation of the feature is very useful as it is, some simple additions would make it much more user friendly. I am still searching for additional tools that would complement this and will update the post as I go along.

Hope it helps! 

and has 0 comments

  Man of Two Worlds may be the worst book signed by Frank Herbert that I've ever read. It features that nasty '50s newsroom trope, where single minded egotistical people (sometimes to the point of cruelty) get a pass because they are brilliant and they talk fast (and they own the newspaper). The characters are unsympathetic and rather not interesting, while the ideas in the book are dull and going nowhere. The plot itself is often inconsistent. I do suspect that this is more of a Brian than a Frank book, because none of the themes found in previous Frank Herbert books are found here (if one discounts the awkward depiction of women). Also the tiny Wikipedia page dedicated to the book lists Brian as the main author.

  In short, the story is about a human and an alien merging accidentally and having to work together to get things done. Kind of like the authors were trying to do, huh? The setting is classic '50s sci-fi, with people living on Mars and Venus and going from planet to planet using vehicles that function like normal airlines, only in space. Meanwhile, the aliens are trying to destroy Earth because they fear humans - not sure how that would work since they already live on other planets, and the humans have their own familial issues to resolve - including an uncle with god-like powers but no apparent care about the outcome of anything he does.

  There are many issues with the book that I am not going to go into. I almost did not finish it. However, someone else might enjoy it, so no need to rant in this review. Suffice to say that the book feels insulting when it is not boring, which is most of the time. I don't recommend it.

and has 0 comments

  Imagine reading a novel about a global pandemic with the background of Irish violence right about when Covid struck and people didn't know how Brexit was going to turn out and what it would do to Irish tensions. That was the best moment to read it. A bit anachronistic, with some pacing issues, The White Plague is still one of Frank Herbert's best.

  After reading the book synopsis, one expects to get a book about a violent global pandemic, but in fact that's just the first quarter of the book. The rest is psychological explorations of people motivations and characters, the ubiquitous Herbert attempts to find a solution to the toxic human organizational structures, analysis of history, violence, religion and philosophy. I mean, it's Herbert!

  A violent "Provo" bombing kills the wife and daughters of a molecular biologist that was in Ireland on vacation. He goes mad and creates a plague to destroy the people who wronged him by killing their women. I can't but smile at the implications, that if a smart educated scientist gets pissed off they could easily cause more damage than the toys and sticks of military people. The theme reminds me of his short story Public Hearing, which explores what happens when immense destructive power can be achieved with little effort by individuals, and how that makes governments - the keepers of peace - obsolete.

  But then there is the larger part of the book that is just the guy walking in the Irish countryside with a priest, a mute child and an IRA member that was actually the one who ordered the bomb that killed his wife. And to tell you the truth, the scientist is not very sympathetic, the IRA soldier is annoying and the priest and the child are unbearable. The ideas that the author is analyzing are interesting, but the pacing is slow, methodical, and perhaps the reason why more people haven't heard of this book.

  And there is the usual strangeness of Herbert's approach to female characters. There is just one, really, in this book, and she comes across as stupid, vain but also calculatingly self serving, while still having men fawning over her. That in a story which covers the death of most women on Earth. The guy didn't like women much.

  Anyway, if you take anything from this review, is that together with Hellstrom's Hive and of course the Dune series, this is one of the books that impacted me most. 

and has 0 comments

  I was studying some game openings and I found myself in a position that was reached on LiChess 7 times after 11 moves, starting from the Vienna Gambit. That's the gambit that looks like an improved King's Gambit, with f4 after playing Nc3 first. In fact, one of the 7 games started off as a King's Gambit.

  This position is fascinating. Go on, try to analyze it! Guess the evaluation, try to see the continuations. White to move, obviously, since the king is completely exposed and also in check. Black has 3 extra pawns and a passed pawn one rank from promoting. Can White survive this?

  What if I were to tell you that the computer evaluation for this position is +5 for White? And I am talking 40 ply, not the in page LiChess engine which actually evaluates this at more than +8! The server analysis goes as low as +4.

  I am going to share the study, it has several chapters, one with how to get to this position and another with computer variations (absolutely FILTHY variations - imagine Levy Rozman saying that) and then the games on LiChess at the moment. The computer variations (so best play from Stockfish) all end badly; Black is completely lost. It goes to show the importance of space, development and tempo in chess, much more than the material or even the classical principles we are all used to. Not that they are bad, it's just that they don't always apply.

  Enjoy this amazing position!

and has 0 comments

  McKie again saves the world, while at the same time getting some intense nookie. He is Frank Herbert's James Bond, the guy who can outthink everybody, adapt to any situation and still look cool and positive while doing it. To be fair, I enjoyed The Dosadi Experiment quite a lot, perhaps because and not despite the air of interplanetary secret agent idea. I liked it more than Whipping Star, the first book in this universe, which had the handicap of having to establish it first. Also, because most of that was a human trying to understand a Caleban, which was not terribly exciting. This book explores a planet used as a (unlawful) social experiment and what the result of that experiment was.

  There is something I both like and despise in Herbert's writing. He weaves different captivating stories and worlds from the same pieces. So you get the stagnating civilization, malignant government and various explorations of solutions to solve the problem, you get the very rational yet emotionally immature male heroes and the amazing and terrifying women that they stumble upon, the idea of terrible pressure shaping civilizations and individuals alike into extraordinary form, the people reaching higher levels of awareness and saying or understanding the precise best things that could have been said or understood. There is even a Gom Jabbar in this.

  In fact, some of his books remind me of chess games. And one might enjoy chess games immensely, but after a certain level you just don't get if they are brilliant or complete shit. It's the same with The Dosadi Experiment, where everybody begins seeing the world in the Dosadi way, speak in the Dosadi way, think in the Dosadi way, but you never understand what that is, other than a form of psychopathic focus on power games.

  I believe that, given more time, Herbert could have shaped the ConSentiency Universe into something really unique, not as dry (pardon the pun) as Dune, not as depressing as Pandora, something that would combine the mind games and social analysis that he loved with good fun and great creative ideas. Alas, other than a couple of short stories, that's all we get for this intriguing world building.

  Bottom line: a little more lighthearted than most Herbert books, featuring more action, but still having the distinctive attributes one would expect from the author. I liked it, but it wasn't as memorable as the books I really like from him.

and has 0 comments

  One of my favorite Frank Herbert books and one that is not part of a series, Hellstrom's Hive is horrifying and inspiring in equal measure. I don't know why so few people mention reading it, probably because the ending is a bit weak, or maybe because of the touchy subject, but I loved it.

  The idea is quite simple, although as usual with Herbert, the underlying motifs are subtle and powerful. An unnamed and probably illegal secret organization, possibly an arm of the corporate world rather than government, discovers by accident something suspicious about a farm, owned by a guy named Hellstrom. There, they discover an unnamed and probably illegal secret organization, a group of people who hide from the world their own brand of civilization, inspired by insects.

  You can immediately see that the two organizations are juxtaposed for effect. Which one, if any, is the good one and which one is not? Are the relatively moral agents of the first group better than the mindless drones of the second? What about if they execute their orders without thought of consequences? Are the ecosystem aware, science and reason oriented, efficiency focused godless denizens of the hive abominations or are they the way of the future, the solution to humanity's rapaciousness? Could people accept such a radically different way to live, even if it doesn't affect them?

  As many of Herbert's creations, the book touches some recurring themes: the inevitable evil of government, the importance of focusing with mind and soul towards the betterment of individuals and the human species in general, the chemical, sexual and instinctual drives at the root of behavior, the power of ritualistic fanaticism, the danger in wanting too much or getting complacent and so on. In a way, this is a revisiting of the ideas from The Santaroga Barrier, only better.

  I was dreading reading this book, I have to admit, because I was remembering the big impact it had on me when I read it in my childhood and I was afraid that it would be anachronistic, that it would feel stupid and unrealistic. I am happy to report that it did not. I mean, yeah, it does portray a story happening in the 70's, but it is realistic for those times and it could be adapted to the present with minimal changes. I don't know why no one attempted to put it on a screen. It's a captivating story.

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  Only after downloading 11 GB of game, playing for a few minutes and uninstalling it in frustration, then searching the web, did I understand Chess Ultra is a Switch game designed to work in VR. For a PC game, though, where I was playing it, it was a slow bloatware that lead to a 404 page when you wanted to switch the chess board style.

  Imagine coming from Lichess and trying to make sense of something that requires so much space to function, has only 3D pieces and uses all of your video card to display a chessboard and some coffee on a table. It was unbearable. Perhaps it would work on a Switch console, with VR glasses, if you want to enter the mood of playing over the board in a smoky chess room, but I have no idea who would want that.

  And then I looked on the Internet to see what other people were saying and everything was great! Oh, the multiple options, the varied puzzles, the recreations of classical games. Jesus, that's basic chess web site functionality! And "critic ratings" are 85% while the normal people rate it at about 60%. Really? Am I crazy for thinking it's a badly constructed game? I hated it.