Monday, June 28, 2010

Quick Observations From King's Tournament

After following the games on the King's Tournament, I noted a few observations:

1. Magnus Carlsen is the man to beat when it comes to the Candidates Final next year - he can play all positions and almost all openings equally well.

2. No opponent should ever play 1.d4 against Teimour Radjabov again unless they are totally prepared to face his King's Indian Defense.

3. For a 40+ year old guy, Gelfand still has some fuel left in his tank and can teach those young whippersnappers a thing or two.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Death Knell For Correspondence Chess?

ChessCafe's CC Chronlicles

"To be truly competitive in today's CC (top twenty percent and higher), I recommend that you use the latest versions. Though the great leaps in performance between generations are over, so you may not need to have the latest and greatest. It is often more important to learn how your present software works and how to get the most out of it." - CC GM Bo Bredenhof, June 23, 2010

Seriously? I didn't know people could use computer chess engines in CC and I cannot believe that ICCF turns a blind eye to this open admission of computer "cheating" by a reknown CC GM. I've thought they were strictly forbidden. But then I'm not in the elite 20%. Such a disclosure is pretty damning about the current status of correspondence chess.

Then of course, we get into that huge debate on opening theory. So when does book theory stop and unaided analysis begins? Someone with Rybka 4's opening book can run well into over 30 moves without the player having to make one of his own.

I think computers have pretty much killed correspondence chess.

As Hudson says it in the movies Aliens, "Game over, man, game over."

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Book Prices In Australia

One of my main pet peeves of living in Australia is the extremely high prices of books.

I'm not kidding.

For example, here a copy of Garry Kasparov's My Great Predecessors costs A$65.95 (and this is a discounted online price) from Borders Australia while Book Depository UK (yes, the UK) sells it for A$31.70 (including shipping).
That is more than halve the price of what is essentially for the same book.

As much as I would like to support the local book retailers here, such a high markup makes reading close to unaffordable if you're an avid reader like me. This is why I turn towards my local libraries for books.

This is because Australia has a ridiculous parallel importation restriction on books. A report last year by the Productivity Commission found that in general, books here are currently 27 per cent more expensive than in the US and 13 per cent more expensive than in Britain.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

War Of The Machines - Rybka v Ippolitch in TalkChess

For a week now, I've been monitoring the ongoing war that has been literally taking place in cyberspace.

The Venue:

The Issue:
Moderation And Censorship

The Summary:
It all started when Vas Rajlich accused the makers of Ippolitch that it was a clone of Rybka. Subsequently, the forum owners ICD, asked Graham Banks to censor any mention of Ippolitch despite the fact Ippolitch has never been proven to be a clone of Rybka. Vas Rajlich himself, has never put forward any proof to his allegations.

Make no joke, Ippolitch is an extremely strong chess engine (since superseded by Firebird). In the software world, the strongest chess engine has the potential to reap millions of dollars in sales. It's a dog-eat-dog world.

Graham Banks sought fit to remove all mentions of Ippolitch on the forum without informing the forum moderators. As a result, Jeremy Bernstein, a long time forum moderator resigned as a form of protest and has opened up a new forum at Open Chess.

For people who are interested in the Rybka controversy, I would suggest Wikipedia.

Curious note: Rybka v1 was thoroughly analysed and was pronounced a "clone" of Fruit (an open source engine) in spite of Vas Rajlich's denials to the contrary.

Chessvibes also did an article once on this chess engine controversy.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

At The Request Of V Smirnov

Since Vladimir proposed this, so I'm making a special blog post. This is for you. :)

The picture on the right is NSW Chess President Bill Gletsos (right) shaking hands with Cassettari (who was awarded the Koshnitsky Medal).

PS: Bill is going to kill me for this.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Chessbase Fritz Trainer: Valeri Lilov - Sicilian Kan Review

First off, I wish to categorically state that I have no beef with Lance Martin, the reviewer at ChessCafe. I've made my feelings known about his review and while I disagree with his review and in some instances, made my apologies known to him, I still stand by my review of Seirawan's DVD and simply put it down to a difference of opinion. I'm not a highly rated player nor do I pretend to be one. All my reviews have simply been of the standpoint of one from a patzer.

I've recently acquired one of Chessbase's other offerings (I've been dragging my feet on reviewing Daniel King's other Powerplay DVD on PP12: Hedgehog and I apologise for the delay)

Valeri Lilov's Sicilian Kan (see my pix on right - ok, I took the pix like this because I can't find room on my computer table and had to prop the DVD on my printer instead).

This Chessbase DVD is again typical of other Chessbase DVDs. There's no accompanying leaflets (typically non-related promotional materials from Chessbase on subscriptions to Chessbase Magazines) this time round on this DVD.

This Fritz Trainer comes in a plain DVD box with just the DVD inside (see 2nd image below). It is essentially a no-frills DVD.

The back of the DVD categorically states that Lilov, despite his young age is a famous quality online chess coach. I first came across his name when I still had a subscription to (I've since stopped my subscription because I was suffering from "chess information overload" - not easy when you have a job and trying to play chess at the same time). In his videos, Lilov's voice (you don't actually get to see the person just hear the voice played over a picture of a chessboard) was clear. I don't expect this to change.

Anyway, onwards with the review.

This DVD highlights 20 games.

I'm going to start comparing this DVD amongst other things with Lance Martin's review at Chesscafe, but also with Johan Hellstan's magnum opus, Play The Sicilian Kan.

Looking at the list, I began to heave a huge sigh (not of relief).

The first thing that comes to my mind is - if this is an opening repertoire DVD - then where are the annotations (typically, you would see the annotator field filled in)?

Without opening the DVD movies, I decided to look through the first game. Nope, no information. 2nd game, no information there either. In fact, ALL of the highlighted games exhibit no useful information at all!

And I don't mean not just useful information but no annotations. To have an idea, here's a screen capture of one of the games.

No words, no annotations, no Informant symbols, not even one "+=" sign in sight!

I'd noticed that this has been a trend of many of Chessbase's Fritz Trainer Opening DVD products. I'd really really wish that they put in some form of annotation. While I enjoyed watching the videos, it's frustrating when you have to open a separate chess program and key in all the relevant info mentioned by the commentator. This is especially more so considering it's a basic opening repertoire DVD.

The main lecture consists of some 21 videos listed as follows:-
01: Introduction:
02: A model game: Spassky,B - Fischer,R
03: The Bb4 idea: Saeed,I - El Taher,F
04: The best formation: Wang Zili - Yakovich,Y
05: How to fight an early Nf3 and e5: Hector,J - Movsesian,S
06: Plan with b5 & Qb6 - Main line: Kundin,A - Roiz,M
07: Plan with b5 & Qb6 - Main line with Bxe3: Timman,J - Sokolov,I
08: Plan with b5 & Qb6 - Deviations: Milu,R - Sulava,N
09: Plan with Bd3 - d7-d5 idea: Akopian,V - Svidler,P
10: Plan with Bd3 - Drago-Najdorf setup: Almasi,Z - Anand,V
11: The Hedgehog: Karpov,A - Bellon Lopez,J
12: Maroczy Bind - Plan with Bc5: Vallejo Pons,F - Epishin,V
13: Maroczy Bind - Plan with Bb4: Erdogdu,M - Navara,D
14: Maroczy Bind - Plan with Bb4 II: Ehlvest,J - Ivanchuk,V
15: Maroczy Bind - Sacrifice of e4: Hector,J - Csom,I
16: Maroczy Bind - Plan against Bd3-h3: Kamsky,G - Gurevich,I
17: Maroczy Bind - The Hedgehog Enhanced: Torre,E - Karpov,A
18: Maroczy Bind - The Sacrifice on e4 for Black: Morozevich,A - Svidler,P
19: General Plan No.1: Gross,D - Votava,J
20: General Plan No.2: Reschun,S - Stanec,N
21: Outro:

With a total video running time of almost 4.5 hours.

In the intro, Lilov explains that he has been playing the Sicilian Kan because it is a dynamic and flexible opening that can transpose into a few other Sicilian variants. Lilov gives a quick overview of the basic difference between the Kan, the Paulsen and the Taimanov (although the Taimanov is a totally different move order and leads to a different idea of the style of play).

One of the things I've always liked about the Kan is that it is as Hellstan in his book mentions, it is more of a system than an opening. Black really can go into typical positions based more on the ideas and plans rather than pure rote memorisation of move orders. One of the bad things I've disliked about the Kan is its slow development.

The first game highlighted by Lilov serves to bring an idea behind the Kan. While the line 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 e6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 a6 5. Nc3 Qc7 6. Be3 is a very seldom played line, it does bring into mind one very uncomfortable fact. Because White is literally begging Black to play 6... Bb4 (as Dan Heisman would say, White is "Asking for Trouble"). White will find himself having trouble trying to regain the initiative because of Black's uncomfortable pin and target of the square c3.

I felt that once this idea has been communicated, Lilov should have moved on.

Lance Martin in his Chesscafe review felt that after

....7.Nde2 Nf6 8.a3 Be7
he was not sure if Be7 was worth the tempo.

First off, why did White played such a move like Be3 if it was bad? I think this is one point that Lilov only mention much later but one that probably should have been emphasised.

6. Be3 is a very popular move for other Sicilians but not for the Kan. It is the precursor to the dreaded English Attack because White was thinking of doing Qd2 and O-O-O with the typical kingside pawn pushes.

By playing Bb4, Black critically delays the English Attack and forces White to spend a few precious tempi to cope with this threat. In so doing, White often has to make a few "adjustments" which either impede his opening development or make concessional moves.

I know I'm going a bit into theory but that is part of the gist of the Kan move order.

The first lecture I have to say is good but could have been better. It left me with a somewhat good impression but I'd say that a better game should have been selected here and the whole game shown instead.

Lilov explains in a very clear manner and tends to be quite succint in his explanations. So kudos to him for it.

The next couple of lectures was between average to good but the game that turned this review around is on game 7.

In this game position: Timman - Sokolov, Lilov suddenly says that why should Black allow White to win a pawn with Ng6, instead he said,"It looks more suitable to me that Black should play Kf8." and concluded with, "and that's an equal position."

*smacks forehead* at this point, I was truly gobsmacked and I nearly fell out of my chair.

I may be rated only 1400+ but I know a LOSING position when I see one. I'll give you a couple of minutes to think over on why Kf8 in the above diagram leads to a practically lost game for Black. :)
Highlight between the brackets if you want to know the answer quickly [Oh dear me, does Black really want to tell the White Knight,"Hello! I got a nice juicy square on e6 for you."]

This really ruined the entire experience for me for this DVD and at this point on, I had to start to question every part of Lilov's opinion and judgement.

I have a minor quibble on game 11. Lilov here attempted to explain the Hedgehog structure but unfortunately a 15 minute video is simply insufficient to explain such a complex structure in so short a time. Daniel King attempted to have a go at this in his Powerplay DVD but even that was still not enough time to explain it comprehensively. For people who are interested in this structure, I suggest Mihail Suba's and Shipov's treatments on the Hedgehog in their books. Lilov is struggling a bit here because he tries to educate the user on the Hedgehog but crams too much information and most of it in brief blurbs. To the user who is unfamiliar with the Hedgehog, he/she will find this lesson confusing.

Now comes the thing which every Sicilian Kan player is interested in - how to treat the Maroczy Bind. Lance Martin in his Chesscafe review accurately points out and I agree with him that Game 12 is a very unsual treatment of the Maroczy Bind and Lilov inadequately points just what is so dangerous with this formation. For those who are new to the Maroczy Bind, look up Hellstan's book - Game 33, page 251. Alternatively, you can look up Wikipedia or do a net search for this.

I would say that the target audience rating of this DVD is between 1500-1800.

Presentation style: 7/10
Material: 5/10
Length: 4/10

Overall: 5.5/10

I gave this low marks on material and length because:

a) Material was lacking in many parts when it comes to further explanation. The horrible mistake on game 7 just left a terrible aftertaste.

b) The length of the video in quite a number of the videos like those based on the Hedgehog was inadequate and seemed discordiant with the rest of the video - some of the choices of the game are a tad suspect.

I'm quite disappointed with this DVD, sad to say. It's definitely not one of Lilov's more memorable efforts. I really want to like it. :-(

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Rybka 4 Is Not As Strong As You Think

Someone in Chessbase has a wicked sense of humour when it comes to advertisement of the latest Rybka 4 engine.

If you scroll down towards the end of the page, you would have seen this picture.

What's wrong with this picture?

Rybka4 is analysing the position and shows that Black's best move is ......

20 .....h6

For those who are unaware, this position is Game 4 of the 2010 World Chess Championship between Topalov and Anand. In this game, both Anand and Topalov criticised this move as being weak because it gives White an avenue for a dangerous attack/ Knight sac on h6 (which is what happened in the end).

Interesting, eh? :)

The Nakamura-Schulman Video

I've got a query about the Nakamura-Schulman reaction.... well, here's the video on Nakamura's face when he realises that he's lost against Schulman in the US 2010 Championship.

Chessvibes incidentally put a poster on their website of this encounter. Double ouch!