He was winning,
but he didn't see it
and I escaped - as usual.

-Levon Aronian

Lateral Thinking

By drunknknite

This blog has been focused on games lately, so I decided to bring some abstract thought to the table. Last night I was watching Bloomberg and I don't know who the interviewer was but he had Edward de Bono on the show. I had never heard of him. I have heard the term lateral thinking before but I did not know that it was a rather modern term and I certainly did not know that he invented the term. He was talking about the topic of thinking (a topic of some importance to me as an ambitious chess player) and he suggests that thinking should be taught as a subject in school. He stated that American society is too focused on memorization and that we are not taught how to think. Also we rely too much on information without really looking at different ways to interpret information. Stumbling upon this interview gave me a lot to think about last night.

Lateral thinking simply suggests that we approach situations with an open mind, from different perspectives. This is something extremely important at the chess board. De Bono says that we are too focused on critical thinking and problem solving, which is only a small part of thinking. This method has served us well since the Renaissance Era however it has limited us by teaching us complacency. When a situation appears good, we are unable to apply our normal technique of thinking to the situation because there is no unique solution. There is no clear path forward. If you have been following this blog, you know that I can draw parallels between pretty much anything and chess. Here I was instantly drawn to a wide range of positions where I feel comfortable but I do not know how to progress. How to make a good situation better. He talks about the fact that we are so concerned with problems: global warming, recession, etc., but that we do not address these in the right way. We do not necessarily need to solve these 'problems', we need to find and execute good ideas. We need to create new approaches.

Here's a quote from last night: "In a Tennis tournament there is one winner. There is one final game, two semi-final games, four quarter-final games, and so on. If there are 67 participants, how many games does it take to produce a winner?"

He gives this example in numerous seminars all over the place and then he waits a few seconds maybe answering peripheral questions and then in less time than it took you to read this sentence he says: "You should have the answer by now."

Wait for it...

No one ever has the answer. The answer is 66 games. There is one winner, so 66 losers. One loss eliminates you from the tournament: 66 games. "You just have to change your starting point."

I could not help thinking how much time I have wasted trying to make a combination work when all I had to do was change the first move. And still coming up with the wrong answer just because I was trying to force a solution. I really don't spend enough time employing this method of thought at the board.

Another central tenet of his method of thought, which by the way is legally required to be learned in school in many countries (such as Venezuela), is the notion of provocative operation. This is something that I do employ quite frequently. I like looking at all (reasonable) material exchanges available in a position. It opens me up to some of the less obvious maneuvers that are present in the position. My mistake however, is ruling some out too soon. Chopping off lines as if I were a computer trying to solve the position by brute force. It seems to me perhaps looking at a completely lost position for a little bit may be useful. Not trying to justify an unsound sacrifice, but rather allowing ideas to come out of this sacrifice that may be good in other lines. Nuances of the position that would otherwise remain hidden.

At many points in a game the path is not clear. Problems cannot be removed or directly addressed and play must continue in spite of these problems. In these situations it is necessary to open up to all the ideas in the position and then find a path that makes the most sense. Sometimes unconventional solutions are actually the best approach to a position, anyone who is familiar with the works of John Watson on Chess Strategy should be quite aware of this. Lateral thinking may be the best way to find these unconventional solutions.



Reno Class A Champion!

By drunknknite

Not a bad start to 2008 as I have accomplished something I have never accomplished before. For the first 8 months of the year, our club is first focused on the class championships, and then the club championship. For the last 4 years I have not been able to participate in these tournaments because I was living in Chicago, and then in Vegas. So this year I am excited that I am finally able to participate in both these events, it is something I looked forward to for a long time. The last time I played the Class Championships I was 17, and I had to play B because my rating was 1601. It took me 3 years after that tournament to keep my rating over 1600. Needless to say I didn't really belong in that class and I scored very poorly. The situation for this tournament was very different. This time I was the top seed. But I still managed to win rather unconvincingly, David Peterson surprised everyone with a very strong performance scoring 4/5 in the first 5 rounds but lost last night which meant that my 4.5/6 was good enough to win the tournament.

I posted every game but for easy reference:

Round 1: W vs Barry Brandt
Round 2: D vs David Peterson
Round 3: W vs Grant Fleming
Round 4: W vs Eric Shoemaker
Round 5: L vs Edwin Simanis
Round 6: W vs George Fischer



Silly Fischer

By drunknknite

I have played a man named Fischer in over twice as many rated games as anyone else. I had a losing score until winning 4 of our last 5 (including winning Thursday night) to level it at 5 wins, 1 draw, and 5 losses. Considering when we started playing each other my rating was somewhere in the 1300 range I don't think I fared too badly. He used to always tell me that if I just slowed down I would be a really good player. This was of course really annoying. But I didn't really have to slow down to beat him, after all I only spent 20 minutes on the following game. After the game he told me as he always does "See, you can play better than me."

UPDATE: I forgot to include something about this line. This is the Najdorf with 6.Bg5, which has pretty much been replaced with 6.Be3, but the day after this game was played Shirov played 6.Bg5 against Anand. I watched the game live and it was very entertaining. Check it out: Shirov-Anand, Morelia 2008

I was going to post a bunch of other games that we played but I'm lazy. There are some good ones though, maybe one day. I was also going to rant about how you shouldn't play the Najdorf if you don't know anything about it, but that's pointless.

Right now I'm just waiting for the result of the Shoemaker-Peterson game, which determines whether I win the Class Championship or not after that unfortunate slip against Simanis.



What Just Happened?

By drunknknite

Last night Edwin Simanis and I played our make up game from last Thursday. He was in last place in this tournament and I was leading comfortably. I did not expect to have any problem in the game and he ended up giving me a piece for two pawns in 10 moves. And I was Black! But then something very strange happened...

The position after White's 15th move is where everything suddenly went astray. I spent over half an hour on my 15th move (I usually have plenty of time). The two lines I was trying to decide between were 15...Qh5 and 15...Bd6 but my analysis of 15...Bd6 was focused on 16.e4 since I believed (still believe) this to be the best move. Then he played 16.f4 and I was so focused on these suffocating attacking positions that I foolishly continued to attack.

Then for the next 10 moves or so I still thought I was easily winning and firmly in control. I did not give Ed enough credit. He hung tough and came up with some strong ideas. Then when I finally realize I'm losing I have to come up with drastic measures and to add to this catastrophe I was low on time. Being in time pressure is a very unfamiliar feeling for me at the chessboard and I reacted very poorly. I never fully recovered from the fact that I had actually lost the initiative. I just kept playing as if I had the initiative when I didn't.

When this game was finally over (I did manage to keep it tense for a while) it was by far the worst feeling I have felt in a long time. How did I blow a game where my opponent gave me a piece on move 10??! Going 0-4 in LA cannot even come close to comparing how I felt after this game. I played like shit.

It's ok though, tomorrow's another day and another game. One great thing about chess is that no matter how bad you fuck up, the next game you still get to start at the same position.



Some Old Analysis

By drunknknite

I'm probably going to play a match with Shoemaker in the coming weeks. The last time I got challenged to a match was against Garingo a couple months ago. I have the full game here, but I left the opening analysis out because I figured he would repeat the line. Then we played three weeks later and he played the French. But he continues to play the Dragon at the club so I still left some gems out of this post from the games I have seen. While I was writing this it occurred to me that enough people from our club read this that this analysis will probably be used in some form against Garingo in other games, which will be fun to watch.

Recently the topic of Black's ninth move against the 9.0-0-0 Dragon came up on Shoemaker's blog. The two main options are 9...Nxd4 see my games against Shoemaker and Yee and 9...d5 see my game against Peake and the ensuing post (the latter is considered by theorists to be objectively better), and then there is this move 9...Bd7, which has pretty much left Black with very difficult positions in practical play. Most commentators think this move is weak.

Up and comer Chris Harrington (who has established himself as at least a very good C player in only a year of tournament play!) noted that Garingo plays 9...Bd7 and was trained by a very strong player and this is where he learned the Dragon so it must be ok. I figured the best way to answer this was to publish some homework I did before and after the following game.

I knew he played the 9...Bd7 line from blitz games and I had fallen to the rook sac (see the game) on more than one occasion. So I had expanded my knowledge of the line and I felt ready for tournament play against him. I had just lost to Parreira inexplicably and Garingo had just drawn Filipas (both rated 500 points lower than us!!) and it was still pretty early in the night so we played this game.

For those of you wondering why I am so freely publishing all of this theory on the Dragon, it is because:

a)Every line that I publish is winning for White (or at least slightly better), I hold back some select lines that are less clear.

b)I consider most of the lines I publish to be entry-level theory, most of the games and positions I reference should probably be viewed (glanced at even) before entering these positions on either side of this debate.

The Dragon takes a lot of work at home; and the games are still very intense. The reward is edge of your seat action. Mind-blowing combinations and mates giving endless CT-Art problems for both sides that must be navigated with care and consideration. You can find many examples of top grandmasters slipping in these positions and getting the guillotine so how hard could it be to beat someone that is your own strength??



Back to Basics

By drunknknite

I am a huge hockey fan. I was born in Toronto and the Leafs have been my team forever. They have missed the playoffs for 2 years in a row and they were in last place all set to miss the playoffs again this year but they seem to have turned themselves around a little bit and they just got their star defenceman back who missed over 20 games with a broken wrist. When you look at the fact that they're only a couple points out of 10th in the division and they have 4 games left against each of the 8th and 9th place teams (8 teams make the playoffs), they could easily make a run for the 8 spot if they are able to get their act together.

Anyways a couple quotes that made me think of chess from some commentary I was reading:

That said he often recognizes a tendency for players, once they have a taste of the league, to stop doing the tasks they eagerly performed once inserted into the lineup. The problem, [Leafs Coach Paul] Maurice said, is the players figure they have the basics mastered and decide to dramatically expand their repertoire. But the tolerance for errors is radically higher for established players.

“There are players you can see, they’ve had their two or three weeks and they’re starting to turn the puck over and they are not able to sustain it. For some guys, you start to see a bit of a slip.” [Maurice]

“This is something that each player in this locker room, each player in the league, has dreamt about since they were very young,” [Rookie Robbie Earl, who was called up to the NHL last Saturday] said. “I don’t think it’s ever a chore. It becomes a grind and hard work, but I don’t see it ever becoming a chore.”




By drunknknite

Having the initiative is like having the ball in football. You get to call the shots, your opponent just sets up and tries to stop you. As long as you are making reasonable progress you get to keep the ball, unless you make a mistake and allow a turnover. But how can you tell whether to throw for the endzone or give it to your fullback for a few yards up the middle?

Obviously the coaching staff are the ones who are creating the overall structure and making the calls. The better they can read the situation the better chance they have to be able to score touchdowns on offense and force turnovers on defense. But the really exciting moments in chess and in football are when one side attempts to cash in on their advantage. Last Sunday as Eli was driving down the field he just kept doing the right things. He was just determined to score. And that's always exciting. Same as in chess when you watch an initiative begin to manifest itself and it just gets stronger and stronger and one side is forced to just wait and play very precise chess hoping to get it back. But then when they're against the goal line weird things happen.

I was thinking about some blitz games I had just played, which were all pretty crazy as I was pretty much just throwing pieces around looking for a winning tactic. Like this game:

He let me have a very pretty finish, but that game was just crazy. That game had a longer time control than the earlier ones that I was playing so it let me come up with some lines that are tough to deal with.

So I was thinking about these crazy positions where nothing makes sense because I have been reading Watson again and his focus is on the fact that there are no concrete rules, everything should be judged on a case by case basis. At this point in my experience it is pretty clear that the initiative is almost always the deciding factor in a game. Whoever has it basically gets to move over and over until there is a position where they can cash in. The best way to stop the initiative before you end up in your territory is to make a sacrifice of some sort and take it. The coaching staff may be able to keep the sacrifices from being big early in the game but towards the end they are forced to take more risks if they want to see a decisive result. And it is at the end when both teams are more prone to mistakes. So the question becomes what to give up for the initiative. What is too much? What is too little? Kasparov really liked to give pawns to gain the initiative and often times he would continue to give pawns in order to maintain the initiative. But if your opponent is up a touchdown, then he can always let you score because he will get the ball back in an even game. So you have to be able to score big. This is where the football analogy gets a little distant. In chess if you are able to trap the king you win, or usually get a huge material payoff. But how much are you willing to risk to actually achieve that goal? We see players like Morozevich take so many risks and then there are players like Kramnik who will only very rarely lose. I think it was Petrosian who once said something to the effect of 'to beat me five times would take six months' in response to a match that was a race to five wins. If you are willing to risk a losing endgame you must be able to restore the balance during the time which you have the initiative. If you do not risk enough, say just doubled pawns, then there is a chance your opponent maintains the tension and does not accept your offer. So the challenge is to find the right amount to give away that your opponent will accept while you retain good chances. The stronger you are the smaller the range of acceptable offers. Conversely, the shorter the time control the wider the range.