Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Last Monday of 2016 Had Everything

Girls and guys play chess at LCCC.
 Ten players made it out on a really cold winter night.

We hosted our 2016 - 2017 Action Tournament - round 2.

We had casual chess played as an LCCC member came all the way from West Point to see the club members while visiting family. Hello Zade and thank you for your service!

We had three new members stop by the club; Aaron, Cole and Ty. Welcome all!

We had some chess lessons given to our newest and close to youngest members.

We had some game analysis, where several of us gathered around and tried to find the "best" move.

Just an overall fun night of chess action.

Now a reminder that the Chess Club will be closed for the next two Mondays. We return on January 9, 2017 with the continuation of Round 2.

Lets take a look at a game from a past tournament:

1. d4               e6
2. Bf4             f5
3. e3               Nf6
4. Nf3             Be7
5. c3               O-O
6. Bd3            d6
7. Qc2            Qe8
8. Nbd2           a5
9. Bc4             Kh8
10. Ng5           d5
11. Bd3           Ne4

Position after Black's 11th move

White should consider castling before starting trades in the center of the board.
Black should consider developing his queen side pieces as they will be needed soon.

12. h4             Qh5?
This move will lose a tempo (or waste a move). 12. ....c5 keeps the game even. 12. .....Bd7 is OK also.
According to the computer grandmaster Igor3000, White now has a two pawn advantage positionally (+2).

13. Be2           Qe8
See the lost move? Black is forced to retreat. White got move 12 for free.

14. Bxc7         Nxg5
15. hxg5         Bxg5
16. Nf3           Bf6
17. Bd3          Nc6
18. O-O-O      Bd7
19. g4             Rc8
20. Bd6          Be7
21. Be5?        .........  
This move allows Black to trade a "bad" knight for a "good" bishop, as the knight is doing very little and the White bishop is well placed. This would allow Black to ease the pressure he  feels on the dark squares. But, alas Black had more aggressive (but not as good) plans. (+1.3)

21. ........         Nb4
22. Qb1?!        .........

Position after White played 22. Qb1 ?!

This move looks natural (+.5), but White is losing ground. This is where computers - or most grandmasters - can simply out-calculate us mere mortals. White had; 22. gxf5, Nxc2 23. fxe6, h5 24. exd7, Qxd7 25. Rxh5, Kg8 26. Rg1, Rf6 27. Rxg7, Kxg7 28. Rxh7, Kg8 and White's advantage grows to (+4).

22. ..........        Nxd3?
Trading errors, although White has a better excuse as queen sacs are scary to even consider. 22. ...Bb5 would keep Black alive by adding pressure. The knight is safe because the pawn is pinned. This trade simply lowers Black's power on the queen side and gives White less to worry about. Chess addage here: "To take is a mistake". (+1.5)

23. Qxd3         b5?
Needed was 23. ......Bb5 as it restricts White's queen. Also better was 23. .... Kg8 to get out from the h1 White rook x-ray attack. (+3) Time pressure is making Black stumble along without a plan.

24. gxf5          exf5
25. Rdg1         Rg8??
The losing move. 25. ....Rf7 allows Black's queen a chance to help out on the g-file or it allows the King an escape square. Instead the queen is blocked and the king entombed.

26. Nh4?        ........
White had a faster win with 26. Qf1 as you follow it with 27. Rxh7+, Kxh7 28. Qh3+

26. ........         b4?
One last hope for Black was 26. ...... Bxh4.

27. Ng6+         Qxg6
28. Rxg6         bxc3
29. bxc3           Black Resigns

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Learning Chess at Forty-ish

Father - son chess is fun also!

Learning Chess at Forty
By Tom Vanderbuilt, From The Week, September 30, 2016
My 4-year-old daughter and I were deep in a game of checkers one day about three years ago when her eye drifted to a nearby table. There, a black-and-white board bristled with far more interesting figures, like horses and castles. "What's that?" she asked. "Chess," I replied. "Can we play?" she asked. I nodded absently.
There was just one problem: I didn't know how. I dimly remembered having learned the basic moves in elementary school, but it never stuck. This fact vaguely haunted me through my life; idle chessboards in hotel lobbies or puzzles in weekend newspaper supplements teased me like reproachful riddles.
And so I decided I would learn, if only so I could teach my daughter. The basic moves were easy enough to pick up. But it soon became apparent, however, that I had no concept of the larger strategy. The chess literature was dauntingly huge, and achingly specific, with several-hundred-page tomes devoted to unpacking single openings.
So, time-starved and not wanting to curse my daughter with my ill-formed knowledge, I hired a coach to teach us both.
It wasn't long before it struck me that chess seemed to be a game for the young. When my daughter began doing scholastic tournaments, I would chat up other parents and ask whether they played — usually the reply was an apologetic shrug and a smile. I would explain that I, too, was learning to play, and the resulting tone was cheerily patronizing: Good luck with that! Reading about an international tournament, I was struck by a suggestion that a grandmaster had passed his peak. He was in his 30s. We are used to athletes being talked about in this way. But a mind game like chess?
Although it scarcely occurred to me at the time, my daughter and I were embarking on a sort of cognitive experiment. We were two novices, attempting to learn a new skill, essentially beginning from the same point but separated by some four decades of life. I had been the expert to that point in her life — in knowing what words meant, or how to ride a bike — but now we were on a curiously equal footing. Or so I thought.
I began to regularly play online, do puzzles, and even leafed through books like Bent Larsen's Best Games. I seemed to be doing better with the game, if only because I was more serious about it. When we played, she would sometimes flag in her concentration, and to keep her spirits up, I would commit disastrous blunders. In the context of the larger chess world, I was a patzer — a hopelessly bumbling novice — but around my house, at least, I felt like a benevolently sage elder statesman.
And then my daughter began beating me.
The age question is hoary in chess. Indeed, one of the earliest discussions of the now universal player ranking system called the Elo rating (named for its inventor, Arpad Elo) was in a 1965 article in The Journal of Gerontology. Using his novel statistical analysis, Elo found that the peak age for master-level chess performance was around 36, with a slow, steady decline after that.
That was then. Today, chess is only getting younger. Neil Charness, a professor of psychology at Florida State University, has long studied the question of chess and performance. "Bobby Fischer became a grandmaster at age 15," he says. "Then Judit Polgar beat his record." And then Sergey Karjakin beat Polgar, by doing it in 2002 at age 12. "The record of the youngest age to achieve grandmaster status," Charness tells me, "keeps getting beat." Magnus Carlsen, the world's current top-ranked player, was the youngest player to reach No. 1, at age 19. Charness notes that "younger players are getting skilled faster than they used to," thanks, in part, to better tools and better feedback: Sophisticated computer engines, databases, the ability to play players of any level at any time of the day.
Chess — which has been dubbed the "fruit fly" of cognitive psychology — seems a tool that is purpose-built to show the deficits of an aging brain. The psychologist Timothy Salthouse has noted that cognitive tests on speed, reasoning, and memory show age-related declines that are "fairly large," "linear," and, most alarming to me, "clearly apparent before age 50." And there are clear consequences on the chessboard. In one study, Charness had players of a variety of skills try to assess when a check was threatened in a match. The more skilled the player, the quicker they were able to do this, as if it were a perceptual judgment, essentially by pattern recognition stored up from previous matches. But no matter what the skill level, the older a player was, the slower they were to spot the threat of a check.
As we get older, there is one thing at which we get worse: being a novice. Charness, in one study, had subjects of various ages learn a novel word-processing application; some were experienced with similar programs, others were novices. The older the novice, the longer it took them to learn. "If you're talking about two novices," Charness said, when I asked him about my daughter, me, and chess, "your daughter would probably pick things up about twice as fast as you could." My daughter is, in effect, learning chess like a first language, whereas I am learning it like a second language.
Her brain, like a chessboard at the beginning of a game, is still full of infinite possibility, bristling with countless synapses that have yet to be "pruned." As the neuroscientist Peter Huttenlocher noted in Brain Research, a 7-year-old, like my daughter is today, has a brain that is almost fully formed but has a "synaptic density" some 36 percent higher than the adult mean. She is, in a sense, still making sense of the world, and as she does, those synapses are closed — like emptying one's hard drive of little-used applications in order to help optimize overall performance.
What was happening in my brain-as-chessboard, by contrast, seemed more like a cagey, defensive middle-game battle, in which I was trying to hold on to pieces in the face of a closing denouement.
Denise Park, the director of research at the University of Texas Center for Vital Longevity, described what was happening to me in unsettling terms. "As you get older, you actually see clear degradation of the brain, even in healthy people. Your frontal cortex gets smaller, your hippocampus — the seat of the memory — shrinks." My brain volume is atrophying annually, my cortical thickness dropping some 0.5 percent a year.
It was my daughter's sense of effortlessness that got to me. Where I would carefully ponder the board, she would sweep in with lightning moves. Where I would carefully stick to the scripts I had been taught — "a knight on the rim is dim" — she seemed to be making things up. After what seemed a particularly disastrous move, I would try to play coach for a moment, and ask, "Are you sure that's what you want to do?" She would shrug. I would feel a momentary shiver of pity and frustration; "It's not sticking," I would think. And then she would deliver some punishing pin on the queen, or a deft back rank attack I had somehow overlooked.
I would sometimes wander into the room when Coach Simon was there, watching him present her with some puzzle on the board. I would struggle toward some solution, feeling smug, only to find I had completely botched it. My daughter, meanwhile, swiftly moved the right piece into position. He would shoot me a look, beaming at her precociousness.
I was proud, I was frustrated. There are surely fewer greater parental satisfactions than to see one's progeny doing well at something. But there is an altogether different feeling — a sobering slap of pathos, a vague sense of alarm that some genie has been let out of a bottle — when they exceed you on the same task.
When a person who still cannot always successfully tie her own shoes, who has yet to do long division, can beat me at the royal game. She was Deep Blue, and I was the human race, being slowly outmoded.
I resisted the idea that I was just too old. I was stubbornly proud, competitive, but also curious. Was it just age, or was my daughter an inherently better player?
I returned to the experts for reassurance. Park told me I was most likely at the peak of my cognitive power. For all my daughter's seemingly spritely processing power, I had higher-order capacities I could draw upon. "If you're younger, you can process information super-fast," she told me, "but you may not know what to do with that information as you process it."
There are, I learned, two forms of intelligence: "fluid" and "crystallized." Fluid intelligence is, basically, being able to think on one's feet, to solve new problems. Crystallized intelligence is what a person already knows — wisdom, memories, metacognition. Even if I was only learning chess for the first time, I had a lifetime of play behind me. Fluid intelligence is generally seen to favor the young, with the crystallized variety rewarded by age (though there are many exceptions). Old mathematicians doing their best work are as rare as young Supreme Court justices. Chess, especially at the top levels, can encompass both fluid and crystallized intelligence — one needs the firepower to quickly think through a novel position, but it also helps to draw upon a deep reservoir of past games (grandmasters like Carlsen can often identify a historical game with a glimpse at a single position).
Of course, my daughter, like most children her age, has not memorized a huge library of games; nor does she consciously think in terms of higher-level strategy. She seems to play with some brute instinct, pure fluid intelligence. As Daniel King, a London-based retired professional chess player who now analyzes and commentates chess matches, tells me, "Children just kind of go for it — that kind of confidence can be very disconcerting for the opponent."
When I asked Coach Simon about the differences he sees in trying to teach beginner children and beginner adults, he said, "Adults need to explain to themselves why they play what they play. Kids don't do that. It's like with languages. Beginner adults learn the rules of grammar and pronunciation, and use those to put sentences together. Little kids learn languages by talking."
Here was my opening. I would counter her fluidity with my storehouses of crystallized intelligence. I was probably never going to be as speedily instinctual as she was. But I could, I thought, go deeper. I could get strategic. I began to watch Daniel King's analysis of top-level matches on YouTube. I could simply put in more effort.
The house took on a war-room atmosphere. Then, months into her winning streak, I beat my daughter at chess twice in a row. Even if I had to work twice as hard to do it.
I learned that, as good as my daughter is at launching aggressive attacks, at almost clinically probing my weaknesses, she has a blind spot: what I am doing. She played, in those games, as if I were just some lower-level chess engine making haplessly random moves. Indeed, when I made my moves, her eyes would often drift elsewhere — as if what I was doing was almost inconsequential to the larger game. She failed to spot that my seemingly minor, unthreatening moves were all part of a larger strategic purpose. Against her onrushing fluidity, I was laying in a minefield of crystallized traps.
It was, in the end, a Pyrrhic victory. Not only has she since beaten me many times, but there was the look in her eyes as I checkmated her a second time. For whatever the games had taught me about brains young and old, about the different ways we learn and deploy our cognitive resources, they also taught me that the only thing harder than losing to your daughter in chess is winning against her.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Monday 121216 Snowed Out - Tourney Continues Next Week 121916

James Dean knew that chess is always cool.

Well, the weather closed the schools - which in turn closed our club meeting place. Such is winter in Michigan.

But we will press on next week with some hot tournament action and the usual casual games and lessons for beginners ......if you want them.

Here is an on-line Chess 960 game picked up after the castling options have been exhausted. White holds a slight lead according to Igor3000 of almost a full pawn (+.9).

But Black quickly more than  doubles White's advantage by not seeing a standard chess 'problem' of having an enemy rook x-raying your King thru a single pawn.

If you can't get your king out of the way (Black doesn't) then you better not "tax" that pawn with the added burden of protecting another pawn or square also (Black does) (+2.6). Ouch!

White to make move #15 (board correct but reversed)

15. axb3        f6?
16. e5!          dxe5
17. dxe5       Nd7
18. exf6        exf6
19. Bxf6       Nxf6
20. Rxf6       Rf7
21. Qg6        Qe5
Black has been able to fight back some as White wasted time not getting his other rook in the game (+1.3).

22. Rcf1        Rcc7
23. Qh6+       Kg8
24. Rg6+       Rg7
25. Rff6         Qe1+??
Black has been playing good defense until this move. He must of simply got tired of being the punching bag and decided to strike back. The only problem is that more defense with 25. ......Rcf7 was required as it challenges White's pressure.
This move for Black falls under the Bad Move category of "Worthless Checks". Black forces White to protect his king - not only stopping any later counter-play chances for himself, but leaving his own king less guarded (+9).

26. Bf1       Qe3+
27. Kg2      Qd2+
28. Rf2       Qd5+
29. Kg1      ........
Now Black has nothing.

29. .......       b5
30. Rd6       Nf7
31. Rxd5     Nxh6
32. Rd8+     Kh7
33. Bd3+     Rg6
34. Rf6        Rcg7?
The best was 34. .....Ng4 ...played now.

35. Rdd6       Ng4
36. Bxg6+     Black Resigns

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

2016 Action Tourney Continues - and an Action Game

Chess study is not only good for you .......but fun! (He is actually happy! Honest)
The Club hosted some hot tournament action on a cold Monday evening.

Here is a game for your viewing pleasure. It's a wild affair where things turn around quickly. Its a lesson in the fact that sometimes a safely castled king is more valuable than a pot of material.

1. e4          c5
2. Nf3        Nc6
3. c3          Nf6
4. e5          Nd5
5. d4          cxd4
6. cxd4      d6
7. Nc3       Nxc3
8. bxc3      Bg4
9. Bb5       Qa5
White to make move #10

(diagram 1)

The game at this point is fairly even with - according to Igor3000 - White holding a (+.4) of a pawn lead. 10. Qb3 holds this advantage, but both players appear to be in a 'battling' mood in this game. White's next move makes the game even with proper play by Black.

10. Qa4       Qxc3?
White grabs - again according to Igor3000 - a (+2.4) pawn lead. But we humans do not calculate 2 million moves a second and see 5 variations, 17 moves deep in 2 minutes to near perfection.

Black, according to what most humans will deduce, is about to destroy any hope White has in this game.
The best move for Black at this point - believe it or not - was 10. ....Qxa4 with equality.

11. Bd2        Qxa1+
12. Ke2        Bxf3??
Another blunder, although neither player sees it as one. As a matter of fact, Black's 12th move was the move White most feared when it was played because it took even more of his army off the board. However, Igor3000 says White is now UP (+6.3) pawns despite being down all this material! Black actually needed 12. .......Qb2 to stay only (+2.4) pawns down. Amazing!
Position after Black's 13th move.

Yes, chess is amazing. That is why we love this game.

13. Kxf3      Qxh1??
 (diagram 2)

The losing move. 13. .......Qb2 was still the only hope. Even though Black would still be down (+7.4) pawns!

White is actually contemplating resigning here. But, he thinks, what the heck. The queen move to a4 was designed to win a pawn, so lets at least win that.

14. Bxc6        Kd8

Now White says to himself.....
"What is Black so afraid of? Why didn't he just take the bishop? There has to be a reason."

That gets White to start thinking.
HINT: That is usually a good idea in a chess game.

Then White sees what Igor saw all along!

15. Ba5+          b6
16. Bxb6+       axb
17. Qxa8+       Kc7
18. Qb7+         Kd8
19. Qd7#

There are a couple lessons here.
1. Make sure is king is safe (castled and away from ALL the remaining enemy forces before burying your Queen in the corner of the board.
2. Think - no matter how bad your position looks! Sometimes miracles present themselves.
3. Never give up looking for a counter strike!