Tuesday, April 27, 2010

About Kramnik And His Book

While the World Chess Championship (WCC) continues on in Bulgaria, I would like to talk about the previous 14th World Chess Champion, Vladimir Kramnik.

I was watching a bit of Kramnik's Chessbase DVD,"My Path To The Top". Kramnik talks in depth on his first entry into the elite, then match preparations for his WCC title matches in this Chessbase DVD.

I hope for one day to see Kramnik putting out a new autobiography book. And I would like to have read his annotations since his last book in 2000. His one and only book, "My Life And Games" was one of the drearest book ever published (no offense) and the annotations stopped before his WCC match with Kasparov.

I came across his book by chance over the weekend. Looking at the book and comparing with the Chessbase DVD and other resources like Informant and New In Chess, I just don't understand it.

I have enormous respect for Kramnik. His annotations are simply superb and he shows a profound understanding of deep theory and calculation but the book was one of the few books that can put an insomniac to sleep.

When chess readers read an autobiography, they would rather it be filled with interesting materials, the thoughts, the ideas, the plans, essentially what it is like to be in the super-elite GM chess world - not endless reams of variation after variation.

Botvinnik started with his 100 Selected Games, a bit dry but nonetheless informative. But it was Mikhail Tal who paved the way of how autobiography books should be treated. Karpov and Kasparov went annotation crazy in theirs and while Kasparov's treatment in "Modern Chess" was interesting, it was not in the same league as Tal. Anand came close with his book,"My Best Games Of Chess" which won the BCF Book of the Year award.

Since then, no other World Champion has managed to eclipse Tal. The fact that Tal's book still stands today (in spite of computer chess engines' evaluation) is a testament of how important it is to communicate with the reader.

Kramnik is a very deep thinker and from the Chessbase DVD, this trait comes across very evidently. And I think it is an enormous pity that he has not put out another chess book in the last 10 years.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Recognising Eureka Moments

Do you often get the ... "Wait a minute, there has to be a combination here." but the life of you, you just cannot find it over the board?

Here's a small little snippet of a position I played a few days ago on FICS.

My opponent White, just played 30. Qc2

It was at this moment that something in my mind clicked about the position and that little voice in my head then said, "There's something in here."So I began calculating....

1. If it is White's turn to move, what is White likely to do?

My king and queen are currently not under threat. Neither are my pieces with the exception of the e4 pawn and possibly, the c6 pawn once the Knight on c5 moves. The Knights are likely to take the e4 pawn first and coupled with the a-pawn push, White would be winning.

I need to find something and fast.

2. Can I stop White's threats of taking the e4 pawn with any pieces?

No, the pawn is being attacked 3 times. The only way to defend is f5 but my exposed King would be quite vulnerable along the b2-g7 diagonal. I can take the chance but I don't like it.

3. Let's look at the safety of the White king and queen now

I looked at the White King's position, it's extremely vulnerable along the dark square diagonal of g1-b7 but that diagonal is defended by the pawn chain of e3 and d4. I'd notice my bishop targetting the rook on a1 so if my Bishop can plonk itself on d4, I would be an exchange up then. So how do I remove this pawn defence?

Once I saw this, I found the combination. All I need to do now is to recheck any variations that might interfere with my plan. Seeing none, I looked to see if there are other good moves I can make but could not find any. So I played....

30....Nxe3 31. Rxe3 (forced as other alternatives are poor eg. 31. Qxe4 Qxe4 32. Nxe4 results in 32. Nc2 forking both Rooks and I would be the exchange up with a very active bishop and 2 rooks - Black is winning) Bxd4 32. Rae1 (see diagram below)

And the pin along g2-a7 diagonal decides matters - the White Rook on e3 is going nowhere. So, I take my time 32... Qxc5 33. Qxc5 Bxc5 and the game quickly finished.

I admit this was one game I got lucky. I didn't see the 30th move until it presented to myself. In an actual game, I would have to see this move well ahead in advance.

However, one good thing arising from this is that once I recognise the pattern, I can now "lock" this useful idea and store it into my "brain" database (and my PGN database of games) of tactics I can possible use in the future.

And it is only by consistently building "chunks" of tactical patterns, that will help create ideas and help formulate plans in the future.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Chessbase Fritz Trainer: Yasser Seirawan - My Best Games Review

Before I start my review, a couple things about Chesscafe's review:

Chesscafe's reviewer, Lance Martin, recently reviewed this DVD and gave it a whopping thumbs down of 1 star.

Unfortunately, I am not familiar with the reviewer and I'm sure he's a competent reviewer. However, I have a couple of problems with his review.

He gave Shirov's My Best Games in the Grünfeld Defence 4 stars and proceeds to say,"It is moves like this that let us understand why people devote their lives to this endeavor. We may not see chess the same way that Shirov does, but the fact that all chess players have certain moves or positions that they will remember for the rest of their lives makes this game worthy of our time and effort. So is this DVD."

I find this comment rather ironic.

The problem is that Shirov has already covered this game in his earlier excellent DVD, Endgame Fireworks and a duplicity of material is rather unfortunate in this instance. I find it strange that for someone who has 48 Fritz Trainers, he forgot to mention that Shirov had already covered this too in an earlier DVD?

In addition, endgame expert Karsten Müller also covered this very same game in one of his Endgame DVDs as well. I may not have as many DVDs as Lance Martin but I know repeated material when I see one.

While he praises Shirov to the skies, he took a rather dim view of Seirawan's DVD in which Seirawan too display certain finesse in terms of technique (Seirawan may not live on Planet Shirov but he is still a strong GM in his own right).

Enought of Chesscafe, it's time to start my review (and also try to answer Lance's criticisms in the meantime). Note that this review is based on my personal preferences as a patzer. So, YMMV.

Seirawan's My Best Games is not any different from other Chessbase DVD products (see my review of Powerplay 11: Defence as a guide to the packaging etc.).

In this DVD, GM Yasser Seirawan traces his days as an early chess professional.

Chesscafe reviewer, Lance Martin first proceeds to take offence with the DVD with the comments,"Thus, we have to take this DVD for what it is: a chess autobiography from one of the highest rated American chess players in history. It begins with his first win over a GM when he was sixteen years old. If we are interested in the games of a junior chess player, then the DVD is worth watching."

With this statement, Lance Martin shows he is sloppy and doesn't bother to verify his facts. Seirawan was born in Damascus in 1960.The first game illustrated was against GM Arthur Bisguier in 1975 which makes him fifteen years old not sixteen (Seirawan even mentions his age for this game in his annotations). And I find that his statement about this DVD being the games of a junior chess player might make people misinterpret that the illustrated games are not of a good quality.

The list of games on this DVD

Of the 22 games covered, Seirawan's only showed 1 game when he was 15 years old. The games listed are:

Seirawan-Bisguier 1975
Weinstein-Seirawan 1977
Timman-Seirawan 1978
Seirawan-Grefe 1978
Darby-Seirawan 1978
Seirawan-Larson 1979
Seirawan-Miles 1979
Zaltsman-Seirawan 1978
Marjanovic-Seirawan 1979
Jhunjhnuwala-Seirawan 1979
Seirawan-Barbero 1979
Gligoric-Seirawan 1980
Van der-Wiel-Seirawan 1980
Seirawan-Korchnoi 1980
Seirawan-Timman 1980
Kovacevic-Seirawan 1980
Seirawan-Tal 1980
Seirawan-Rivas 1980
Seirawan-Korchnoi 1981
Seirawan-Hort 1981
Timman-Seirawan 1981
Karpov-Seirawan 1981

He illustrates 2 of his wins in the World Junior Championship in 1978. As you can see, by 1979, Seirawan was matching wits against the world elite. 3 of his illustrated wins in 1980 was at the famous Wijk Aan Zee tournament where he was joint first with GM Walter Browne among a group of GMs including Korchnoi, Timman and van der Wiel. These games are nothing to be sneezed at.

Stopping any silly typical Sicilian sacrifices on e6

First off, Seirawan is very comfortable with the Chessbase interface and uses arrows and highlighted squares where appropriate to illustrate his thoughts well.

In addition, as this is a chess autobiography, it makes sense to have games when Seirawan was young. If Seirawan thinks that this game is one of his most memorable, then he has every right to include it. I think the Chesscafe reviewer was being overtly critical in his review.

I can easily give 2 counter examples. Kramnik's My Path To The Top Chessbase DVD and Anand's My Career Part 1 DVD both include games when they were very young. Does this mean that they're no less any important to them or they're of an inferior quality? Far from it. In fact, these games helped to illustrate how their chess skills have changed with time and how they've improved as a player to become part of the world elite.

As a result, I find it quite unfathomable that Lance would harp on this since he has some 48 Fritz Trainers. To me, this format has not differed in anyway from any of the other autobigraphical DVDs put out by Chessbase.

Lance then compliments Seirawan,"It was a wonderful win for Seirawan and he does an expert job of annotating it." and then proceeds to tear down the presented material and that Seirawan's annotations are far too brief.

Really. Which is which? If he is talking about there not being enough variations of the listed games, then I agree fully with him.

Cracking open a rock solid defence

But what he conveniently forgot to mention was that Seirawan's annotations are highly personal and different. Seirawan doesn't give you reams and reams of variations (ala Chess Informant style - really, if I wanted that, I let Fritz work its magic or look up past issues of Informant) but what he does communicate through his annotations are his thoughts and ideas. And it is is these thoughts and ideas that are worth their weight in gold. He quoted a game where Bent Larsen gave him a big hug for giving him a wonderful illustrative game about knowing where to put his pieces. He also showed a game which he classified as a turning point for him where he produced a technical win.

A typical annotation by Seirawan on one of his games

Although this DVD contained all of his wins bar one, it doesn't mean that Seirawan is only interested in beating his chest. On the contrary, in some of his games, Seirawan's acknowledged he had overlooked moves or made inferior moves but that both he and his opponent had missed in their analysis.

Lance complains that "Seirawan does not delve into the rationale for many of his moves." I find it quite the opposite. Seirawan is not interested in presenting the entire game and explaining each game move by move. Rather in every game, Seirawan concentrates on a few points where he explains or illustates a particular concept or idea that was important to him and how he goes about accomplishing his objective.

How Seirawan's opponent could have capitalised on his inaccuracy

Some of his ideas and plans are quite deep and original where the outcome is not apparent till a good 7 moves later as shown in Zaltsman-Seirawan. He also explains how he learns and improves his chess skill with each game and how during that time, adjournments helped to improve his game.

I'll give you an example, in Van der-Wiel-Seirawan, Seirawan explains how he exploits his opponent's mistake to move his pieces to squares where they are more effective and then proceeds to destroy White's seemingly rock solid position through a series of combinations. While this short was only 6 minutes long, he didn't had to make any more comments than was necessary and for a patzer like me, it was easy enough to follow.

In his later games, Seirawan starts to go into details on why he plays the moves he did to get to positions that he wanted that he can best use his strengths to win.

No, it's not what you're thinking, Seirawan is actually
making a very good point about the Keres Attack :-)

I would say that the target audience rating of this DVD is between 1200-1800.

Presentation style: 9.5/10
Material: 8/10
Length: 6/10

Overall: 8/10

This is not a training DVD like Daniel King's Powerplay series nor is it a repertoire DVD. Instead, it is more of a very personal autobiography. Think of it like you having a nice conversation with Seirawan in person as he recounts his story over a nice cup of coffee. Seirawan's presentation style is calm, clear and concise. He is never boring and interjects most of the games with a personal viewpoint, making the material very fresh and lively. This DVD is perfect to play when you're tired of doing exhaustive chess tactics or opening repertoire or training sessions. The material is light in that Seirawan doesn't give you variations upon variations of analysis. Instead, he focuses more on main plans and strategies. In so doing, Seirawan has given us an insight into a GM's mind at work.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Our Own GM Rogers On USCF

Sorry for another short blurb:

Australia's first GM Ian Rogers just wrote a humorous and light hearted article for USCF on the upcoming World Chess Championship in Sofia:

A Couch Potato's Guide to Topalov-Anand (a must read)

Quote: "Here is a guide to making the most of the battle between the defending World Champion and the villain from Toilet Wars 2006."

I almost choked on my coffee after reading that. LOL.

ChessCafe Review - PP12 and Yasser Seirawan's Chessbase DVDs

Sorry, this is just a short blurb.

I had intended to do a couple of Fritz Trainer reviews (which some of my friends at my local chess club had kindly lent me) and others I had purchased on my own.

Today, Chesscafe's reviewer, Lance Martin, gave the following ratings on ChessCafe:

PowerPlay 12: The Hedgehog - 2 stars
Yasser Seirawan: My Best Games - 1 star

Frankly, I was floored by the poor ratings that were given to these 2 DVDs. I have seen some real stinkers by Chessbase but these 2 DVDs whilst not the best of the Fritz Trainer series, they are definitely not the worst nor are they anywhere near the mediocrity that pervades other interactive chess DVDs.

I have in my possession both software and I intend to do a review on both of them some time in the next week.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Bulgarians Are Just A Misunderstood Lot

When it comes to handling PR with respect to Anand+entourage having problems with travelling to Sofia, you would have thought that they be more sympathetic but not so, judging by recent comments from the Bulgarian chess president.

It's nice to note that FIDE is also having problems with flights to Sofia, including the second arbiter and the appeals committee:-

Interview With FIDE Deputy Chairman Georgios Makropoulos

I loved how the Bulgarians like to spread mistruths (such as no World Chess Championship has ever been delayed - yes, it has - remember Fischer-Spassky?).

Maybe the Bulgarians are just a really misunderstood lot. And that Topalov and his manager Danailov and the Bulgarian Chess president are not representative of their country when it comes to hospitality.

And I thought the shenaningens ended in Elista with Kramnik, silly me.

PS: Just so you know how hard it is to get to anywhere in Europe at the moment, my company has nearly all its sales staff still stuck in Germany and they're not expected back till a week later at the earliest). Eurostar is fully booked that it's not funny and alternative rearrangements to allow staff to drive to non-affected countries and fly from there have not been met with much success either.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Photos Of San Francisco

My wife and I arrived in San Francisco during a period where it was pouring nearly every day.

San Francisco coastline with the Bay bridge in the distance

The San Francisco coastline was cloudy most of the time with a few exceptions of a few days of sun which we made full use of by doing the tourist thing and keep snapping pictures like a Japanese tourist on vacation. ;-)

San Francisco's most famous landmark - the Golden Gate bridge

A closeup of The Golden Gate bridge

Where weak local chess players are sent to
and forced to read Eric Schiller's books everyday

Just kidding - it's Alcatraz Island :)

One of the many gulls around Fisherman's Wharf

While my wife went to do her shopping, I can't help but head down to the Mechanics' Institute in downtown San Francisco.

The Mechanics' Institute

It's not the most noticeable place if you drive past it but it's impossible to miss when you're on foot. I respected the privacy of the libraries which are on the first 2 levels so I decided against taking photos of the libraries (even from the outside). Do give the library a tour, there's a free tour every Wednesday at noon.

If you head up to the top floor and walk down the corridor from the lift and make a left turn, USA's oldest chess club beckons.... :)

Hallway to USA's oldest chess club

The hallway is adorned with a few pictures and I can't help but take a picture of these 2.

Eagle-eyed observers will recognise the GM in the left picture giving simuls. Yes, it's none other than the recently passed away 7th World Champion Vasily Smyslov.

Inside the chess club

I refrained from taking more photos because there were some social players having a few games and I didn't want to disturb them. Sorry!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Mechanics' Institute @ San Francisco

Well, I'm right now typing from one of the 3 terminals in the Chess Room at the Mechanics' Institute in San Francisco.

There are a few social players right here in the Chess Room playing a couple of social games. I played 1 or 2 games to a few of the players. Nothing fancy.

The Mechanics' Institute is located in a nice little building sandwiched (somewhat) between a few other buildings right here in the financial district in downtown San Francisco. It's located at 57 Post Street.

Unfortunately, I can't upload any pictures of the Chess Room as yet but suffice to say, it's a very cosy location and the chess tables are nicely setup on both sides of the room of 2 rows each.

Beautiful pictures adorn the walls of the Chess Room with pictures of Spassky's and Tal's visits among them. The Chess Club here is the oldest chess club in USA.

Tonight apparently is blitz night but unfortunately I can't play as I'm due to leave tomorrow at 7 am, I need to turn in early to get some much needed sleep.

The library occupies the first 2 levels of the Mechanics' Institute. A day pass costs US$10.

If you have a chance to pop by in San Francisco, do give this building a look in. The library is beautifully decorated and it's a very quiet and idyllic place considering it's smacked right in the middle of downtown.

The lower level houses books which members can borrow books while the upper level of the library houses the reference section.

There's quite a bit of history associated with the Chess Room and the pictures lined up both outside and inside the Chess Room tell quite a story.