Thursday, December 31, 2020

Grandmasters Just Dazzle Us Mere Mortals - But Sometimes Brilliant is Easy

 Nobody seems to know how brilliant chess moves come about. But there is a myth about them usually repeated by people who play chess, but more at a casual or even sparse amount. 

This myth is that the "brilliant" chess move came from an hour or so of deep analysis by a grandmaster, who suddenly screams mentally "EUREKA!!". And he wins the game, the brilliancy prize and the praise of his peers. 

Reality is much different. I have played a few brilliant moves in my day. I only found one that won a game I thought was even. One where I found a deep 6-move swindle to win a completely lost game. And a couple of times I found forced repetition draws to save myself from losses. But these took me a lot of time on the clock, as the myth would suggest. But I am not a grandmaster.

It is White's move, GM Averbakh vs Kotov, Candidates Tournament, 1953. 

White is in time trouble and played 30. Ne2. Kotov as Black replied almost instantly 30. ...Qxh3+!!.

This is remarkable because in Kotov's book Think Like a Grandmaster, Kotov declares that a grandmaster is obligated to analyze every reasonable candidate move in considerable detail.

Kotov was not in time trouble and had 40 minutes to make the 40 move time control, but played the first candidate move that popped into his head. 

That is what he said he did. But possibly he had found and analyzed that move during his opponent's longer thinks. Who knows for sure.

The reason a GM can find these moves so fast is that he naturally looks first for forcing moves such as captures, checks and major threats. 'Quiet', defensive and tempo moves win occasionally, but most 'shockers' are forcing moves.

Since there are only a few forcing moves in most positions, GM's run thru those early and quickly.

Here is White Karpov vs Anand, Las Palmas 1996. Anand attacks the rook with 20. ....Ba6.
Karpov focused on the capture, 21. Rxd5. This is natural since it meets the threat and wins a pawn.

But Karpov's analysis made him decide that 21. ...Bxd3 might be difficult to win. That is when he looked to the most forcing move in the position, 21. Bxh7+!!.  He could find no defense for his opponent after 21. ...Kxh7, 22. Qh5+, Kg8 23. Rb3, and then Rh3 won what was the best game of that tournament. We know that 21. Bxh7 was Karpov's second choice because he said so after the game. Such honestly about a brilliancy is rare.

This game is Levitsky vs Marshall, Breslau, 1912.

If you look for forcing moves for Black, there are only two, and both are knight checks. 

Black doesn't have a good follow up to 23. ....Nf3+, 24. gxf3. So Marshall looked to the other check 23. ....Ne2+, 24. Kh1 and found the good 24. ....Ng3+!.

This works because 25. fxg3, Rxf1 is mate and 25. Qxg3, Qxg3 wins a queen. 

This would have been the end of the analysis for us mere mortals, but Marshall looked a little longer and found the immortal 23. .....Qg3!!
Now the Eureka Myth would have you believe that the move that was dubbed the BEST EVER PLAYED was found after intensive study. And that was not the case. It was simply the quick follow up analysis after finding a good move, and looking for an even better one.


Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Guest Post: Checkers vs. Chess Players

Guest post by Dave the struggling chess guy.

I like playing checkers.

Chess players think checkers players are dumb.  I don't think they are.

Checkers is a game of skill and I actually find that the red pieces are quite tasty.

 I'll show myself out now..........

Saturday, December 12, 2020

Writing Down Your Moves or “Keeping Score” in a Chess Game


Even your evening game with your significant other may produce a gem!

In your scribe’s never humble opinion, you are not a true chess player if you are not recording every non-speed chess game you play. It is a requirement in most chess tournaments. If it is not a requirement, and you do not record your moves, if any dispute arises in the game, you will not have a leg to stand on. The person with any documentation - wins!

The real benefit of recording your games is that you can have a record of the game and you can re-play it! The best way to learn is to go over your games and especially the losses! It may be difficult mentally to review a loss with the tournament player who just beat you, but it is absolutely the best way to learn.

If you have never done it, it is an eye opener. The times I have been able to review a game with my opponent – win or lose – it has always been beneficial. Your opponent will tell you things about the game that you were not aware of and did not see. Many, and I mean many times your opponent blocked an attack you never knew you had. And after a win, he may bemoan your ‘great’ move of blocking a winning combination of his – that you never saw either! You just made the right move by accident! How is that for deflating you and keeping you humble after a win?

And of course now with the computer software available, you can load your game in and really see who was winning when, and how strong your opening was. To play serious chess, you need to record all of your semi-serious / serious games. You never know when a gem will be played. Many times I have played a ‘friendly’ game, that turned out to be very interesting or exciting. But alas, it was lost forever.

The official rules of chess had been changed regarding when you can write your move down on the scoresheet.

It used to be a crutch habit of some players to record the move they were planning on making onto the scoresheet and then take one more look at the board before actually moving!

The idea behind this was first - for some reason after the decision to make a certain move has been made, psychologically, it frees the mind up to see the board more clearly with the new position. The idea being you ‘made’ your move. Now what? And many times, players would see the problem with their chosen move - at this time - and then change their move.

The other reason, which grandmasters often tried to use, was to look at their opponent’s reaction to the move written on the scoresheet. The written move was not binding. So the quick glance to your scoresheet by your opponent - followed immediately by a quick glance by you at him - might give you an insight as to what he thinks of your move. 


You can only record your move AFTER you have completed your move. Any move written down prior to you moving will be deemed a “note” on the scoresheet, which are illegal of course.

The reason for this RULE CHANGE is based on the fact that a player could have an accomplice that could read the move written and give a signal as to whether it was a good move or not. And, if that accomplice is wired to some chess engine somewhere, it would be a huge advantage. So to greatly reduce the chance of that type of cheating, pre-writing of your move was banned.

But for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. And for every change, there are positive and negatives. What about the following scenario? This occurred in an actual team tournament game in 1944. No clocks were being used.  I will let the player, Victor Trailbush recall the event:

“I pushed my pawn to the 8th rank. But before I could promote my piece, my opponent moved his queen and said ‘check’. I said, “No, you are in check!” and placed a knight on my promotion square. My opponent started to argue that I was going to promote to a queen. I then showed him my scoresheet where I had written, ‘e8 = N+.’ Discussion over and problem avoided.”

The pre-written move prevented an issue.

The use of chess clocks would have avoided this situation also, as would waiting until your opponent finishes his move. But the point is you just can never foresee all possible scenarios for rule changes.

Thursday, December 3, 2020

The Smith-Morra Gambit in the Sicilian Defense

The Smith-Morra Gambit for White from the Black's Sicilian Defense opening gives White lasting pressure and piece activity in exchange for a pawn or two. Here are two 1900 players going at it in the Vermont Open, 4th round, 2005.

1. e4          c5

2. d4          cxd4

3. c3          dxc3

4. Nxc3      Nc6

5. Nf3         d6

6. Bc4         Nf6

Still a book move but one wrought with danger. Safer is 6. ...... e6 or a6. But even with the text move, the game is still rated even by Igor3000, the chess machine super GM.

7. e5            Ng4

8. e6            Bxe6

9. Bxe6        fxe6

10. Ng5        Nf6

11. O-O        Qd7

12. Re1         e5

13. Qb3         .......

This is the last book move....following the script he knows for this opening. But Igor says White is down -1.5 pawns. He is waiting for his opponent to crack under the strain of a worse position. Black is up material granted, but his extra pawns are doubled, his King is not castled and his black-squared bishop is still unemployed.

13. .......         Nd4??

Here is the opponent slip up that White was hoping for. We don't know the clock situation here, but it would be safe to say Black is searching for the right move, while White is peeling off his book moves much faster. Don't underestimate the clock pressure the gambit accepter is probably under as another negative besides positional. White is now up (+1).

14. Qf7          Kd8

15. Be3          h6

16. Bxd4        hxg5

17. Bxe5        Kc7??

Another slip up (+4.6). Needed was 17. ......Rc8.

18. Bxf6         gxf6

19. Nd5+        Kd8

20. Nxf6+       Qb5?

The better move is 20. .....exf6, but it doesn't save anything in the face of 21. Qxf6.

21. a4              Qc6

22. Rac1          Black resigns