Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Friedel's Fritz-Ulvestad Wins Again

MacKinnon - Friedel, Edmonton 2009
Black to Play and Win

I have annotated the game MacKinnon - Friedel, Edmonton International Tournament 2009, where GM Josh Friedel continued his winning ways with the Two Knights Defense, Fritz-Ulvestad Variation (5....b5), to which he has returned since his loss to Nakamura with the more traditional 5...Na5 line. The line gave him an important point on his way to a tie for first in the Edmonton International Tournament earlier this month. His opponent was 16-year-old Canadian expert Keith MacKinnon of Saskatchewan, who commented on the game at his blog: "I didn't want to get slowly outplayed by a stronger opponent in my game against GM Josh Friedel, and so I tried to follow the game that Nakamura won against him at the US Championship this year. He played a slightly different line which I had looked at (but not nearly enough to play it against a GM in such a sharp position.) I lost quickly since my intuitive thirteenth move was actually a pretty big mistake." Actually, theory suggests that it was his 12th move that was the problem, and there followed a series of small errors that made Black's win look easy.

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Saturday, December 26, 2009

Magnus Carlsen Interviewed in Time Magazine

Eben Harrell's Time interview, "Magnus Carlsen: The 19-year-old King of Chess," is the latest evidence that Carlsen has the ability to generate media interest in the game.  It is a very positive interview where the world number one says, "I'm not afraid the computer will find all the ideas and leave no room for imagination."  Of course, the article also suggests that chess is still judged with suspicion in the media, as though it were responsible for Fischer's dementia (instead of being the reason Fischer remained somewhat sane as long as he did): Carlsen is also asked, "Do you fear that trying to master a game of near-infinite variation can make you insane?"  The Time article even links to the 1972 article "Why They Play: The Psychology of Chess," which recalls the Freudian view of the game frequently cited back then.  I think the Freudians would have a field day with Tiger Woods and golf, so it's rather a shame their mode of interpretation doesn't get wider play or parody today.  For more thoughts on the Time piece, check out Mig Greengard's "Time for Magnus Carlsen."

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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Hybrid Zukertort Database

David Rudel alerted me to an excellent database (created by one of his readers) on the Hybrid Zukertort Variation (1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 d5 3.e3 e6 4.Bd3 c5 5.b3 Nbd7 6.O-O Bd6), which I wrote about here as the Hybrid Zukertort Retort (java replay and PGN).  The database reproduces my notes to Cvitan - Gofshtein, Zagreb 1993, and includes some classic games I had overlooked, including Salwe - Jaffe, Karlsbad 1911 and Pleci - Tartakower, Buenos Aires 1931. One of many useful resources at Rudel's "Zuke Dukes" website.

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Friday, December 18, 2009

Chess and Table Tennis

Table tennis during the holiday party.

Though a fan of both chess and table tennis, I hadn't much connected the two games until we discovered the new "ping pong" table at the Kenilworth Recreation Center during the chess club's Annual Holiday Party.  You will often see sports analogized to chess, as though baseball, football, basketball, soccer, and practically every competitive endeavor with even a modicum of strategy was somehow akin to the royal game.  But I think that trying to apply a chess analogy to team sports inevitably misses the mark, unless you are talking about the strategy used by coaches in shifting players and creating favorable match-ups.  What makes chess so different from team sports, after all, is the importance of the individual in its play. 

In sports like chess and table tennis, everything relies upon the individual player.  Not surprisingly, therefore, tennis and and table tennis are among those individual sports that have always seemed most attractive to chess players.  Many chess players were fans of tennis, including Capablanca, Ed Lasker, and Boris Spassky.  Bobby Fischer swam and bowled alone.  He also played table tennis.  

Bobby Fischer playing table tennis.

Primo Levi has an interesting chapter in Other People's Trades (1989) titled "The Irritable Chess Players," where he suggests that chess players are akin to poets because of the autocratic nature of their work:
Poets, and anyone who ever exercises a creative and individual professions, have in common with chess players total responsibility for their actions. This happens rarely, or does not happen at all in other human activities, whether they be paid and serious or unpaid and playful. Perhaps it is not by chance that tennis players, for example, who play alone or at most in pairs, are more irascible and neurotic than soccer players or cyclists, who work in teams. … Whoever is on his own, without allies or intermediaries between himself and his work, has no excuses in the face of failure, and excuses are a precious analgesic. The actor can unload the blame of a failure on his director, or vice versa; someone who works in an industry feels his responsibility diluted in that of numerous colleagues, superiors and inferiors, and moreover contaminated by “contingency,” competition, and the whims of the market, and the unforeseen. Someone who teaches can blame the program, the dean, and of course the students. …But the person who decides to attack with the bishop, the point he considers weak in his opponent’s deployment, is alone, he has no accomplices, not even putative, and fully and singly answers for his decision, like the poet at his writing table faced by “the tiny verse" (144).
Bruce Schauble made a similar connection recently on his blog, which reminded me of Levi's essay: 
What I like about chess: there are no excuses. There is no luck involved. Either you play well or you don't. If you screw up, it's on you. It's a very pure game in that respect. 
As anyone who has missed a slam despite a perfect set-up can tell you, ping pong feels the same way. There are many other reasons why table tennis seems the most analogous to chess of all games.

Both chess and table tennis are played within the confines of a physical space that you can grasp completely within your field of vision.  There is nothing hidden in either game.  Yet, paradoxically, in order to play both successfully you need to grasp the image of the board or the table in your mind so that you actually have a feel for where the corners are.  In chess we call this "board vision," and table tennis definitely has its "table vision."  How else can a practiced player get the ball deep into the corner of the table with a mere flick of the wrist?  The player knows exactly where that corner is in the same way good drivers know where their car bumpers are when they parallel park on a crowded city street.  The dimensions are held within your mind and translated automatically to physical action.

Players exhibit some of the same stylistic tendencies in both games.  My problems in table tennis are the same that I have in chess: I rely too much on my openings (or my serves) and too often try to attack without first gaining a position of strength on the board.  As I played various opponents I started thinking that they had the same idiosyncrasies and stylistic approaches in both games.  Mark Kernighan is a blocker and plays table tennis with the same rope-a-dope style that he brings to chess, laying back and passively returning until his opponent over-commits enough that he can "hit him where he ain't."  And Yaacov Norowitz just plays both games incredibly fast....

Yaacov Norowitz Playing Ping Pong

There is also a historical connection between the two games, as they both benefitted enormously from 1970s Cold War events (1971's "ping pong diplomacy" and 1972's Fischer - Spassky match) that elevated their profile and status in the media and exposed the same generation of folks to both games.  And members of that generation are the ones who inhabit our club.   

Perhaps it is this last reason why I think we are going to be playing some more table tennis at the club in the years to come.

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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Carlsen Wins London Chess Classic 2009

The London Chess Classic ended today with very well-contested draws by Magnus Carlsen (against Nigel Short, in a game played "to the kings") and Vladimir Kramnik (against Hikaru Nakamura) that kept Carlsen's one-point margin in place.  Luke McShane was awarded the brilliancy prize for his innovative Round 5 victory over Nakamura using the King's Indian Defense with Na6. Carlsen's countryman, Norwegian GM Jon Ludvig Hammer, won the concurrent London FIDE Open a full point ahead of the field.  And WIM Arianne Caoili won the London FIDE Women's Invitational by a point and a half over the rest of the field.  You can find games from all of the events in the Downloads / PGN Games section of the official website, and you can easily find and play over main event games at Chessgames.com.  I have found some of the games in the lower tournaments to be of great interest and may return to them in future posts.

I have put together a round-by-round webliography of articles analyzing the games from the main event.  Long ago I got in the habit of looking at GM games using multiple sets of notes, finding that every commentator focuses on different questions in the game that are worth considering, and that opinions often diverge even where the same issues are considered.  Edward Winter once very nicely explored the case of "Analytical Disaccord" surrounding the game Capablanca - Bogoljubow, Moscow 1925 which was only an extreme example of just how differently various annotators can see things.  I hope readers find this collection of notes useful.  I will add more as they become available and welcome links from readers.

With his performance in this tournament, Carlsen guarantees that he will keep his world  number one ranking on the official FIDE ratings list, making him the youngest official number one player in history.  Next up for the champ will be the Corus tournament in Wijk aan Zee (January 15 - 31).

Round 7
Round 6
Round 5

Round 4
Round 3
Round 2

Round 1

Additional Coverage

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Saturday, December 12, 2009

Yaacov Norowitz on Color Complexes

Kenilworth Chess Club Champion Yaacov Norowitz lectured on "color complexes" Thursday night at the club, showing two of his own games, including a blitz win over former FIDE world champion Rustam Kasimdzhanov to illustrate his ideas.  The color complex concept seems especially useful in blitz play, where trying to balance control of dark and light squares can yield an instant barometer of how well you stand positionally and can be translated quickly into strategy and action.  

One of the more interesting ideas that Norowitz discussed was that you could value the pieces according to how well they control light and dark squares, in which case the Bishop practically becomes the basic unit of value:
  • Bishop: $1,000 of its color -- the two Bishops and an unopposed Bishop (which he called "the Golden Bishop") would be more valuable.
  • Knight: $500 of light and $500 of dark, or about $1,000
  • Rook: $750 of light and $750 of dark, or about $1,500
  • Queen: $1,500 of light and $1,500 of dark, or about $3,000
It was definitely a fascinating lecture, which introduced a completely different paradigm than most people were used to for looking at chess positions.  

Test yourself with the position below, which could have arisen in one of the games Norowitz discussed as the conclusion of White's light square strategy.

The triumph of light-square strategy
White to play and win

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Thursday, December 10, 2009

Yaacov Norowitz Lecture on "Color Complexes"

Kenilworth Chess Club Champion Yaacov Norowitz will lecture tonight on "Color Complexes" (a.k.a. "square strategy") at the club.  Admission is $5.  This topic was touched upon in his previous lecture (which was very well received) on the Stonewall AttackI will be attending and recommend it to everyone.


Tuesday, December 08, 2009

New York Wins USCL Championship

For the fourth year running, the US Chess League final was decided by a blitz tie-breaker, which New York won over Miami in an amazing come-from behind finish.  

The rules for the tie-breaker require a bottom-up elimination playoff at 5 minutes, 5 seconds. To paraphrase the rules: The fourth boards from each team play each other, with the loser eliminated and the winner then paired with Board Three of the opposing team. This process continues with the next higher board on each team continually replacing any player of their team who gets eliminated. If a game ends in a draw, both players are eliminated, except if a team is down to its Board One, in which case there is no elimination on a draw, instead colors reverse and the game is replayed until there is a decisive result. This process repeats itself until all four players from one team have been eliminated.

I honestly thought that Kenilworth Chess Club Champion Yaacov Norowitz (who is lecturing this Thursday at the club on "Color Complexes," by the way) would demonstrate his incredible talent for blitz by single-handedly defeating the entire Miami team in this format, especially after he brilliantly defeated his first opponent, Eric Rodriguez, by sacrificing the Exchange for a strong passed pawn.

But Yaacov's forte is 3 minutes or less, and at 5:5 his opponents had too much time to think and he lost his next game to IM Alejandro Moreno Roman (Miami's board #3).
The rest of the match is very succinctly summarized at the USCL website:

Two players lost during regulation, GM Giorgi Kacheishvili and IM Alejandro Moreno Roman. In a stunning reversal of fortune, both of these players were heroes in the blitz tie-breaker. Moreno Roman knocked off everyone on New York's team except for Kacheishvili. Kacheishvili then turned around and did the exact same thing to Miami, finishing things off by defeating GM Julio Becerra with the black pieces. Congratulations to the New York Knights on becoming the 2009 USCL Champions!
You can see all of the games from the playoffs at the USCL website.  Congratulations to New York and to Yaacov, who we look forward to seeing lecture Thursday night at the Kenilworth Chess Club.

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Monday, December 07, 2009

Washington Square Park Renovations

Any "chess tourists" who might be visiting New York City this holiday season should take the famous chess tables in the Southwest corner of Washington Square Park (site of Waitzkin's epiphany and training and the Amp Can's triumph) off their list of places to stop.  The chess tables were removed in early October when the overall park renovation moved to that quadrant.  A KCC regular informs me that the place looks like a disaster zone, but a recent article he sent from Curbed, NY ("Teary Destructoporn: Washington Square Park Mounds, RIP") says that the removal is not permanent and "Games of skill will also return, and wits will be tested once again all along Washington Square South," likely by the summer.  You can follow news of the reconstruction's progress at the Washington Square Park blog.

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Karjakin - Gelfand, World Cup 2009

Karjakin - Gelfand
Position after 11....Ra6!

It has been hard to follow the FIDE World Cup in Khanty-Mansiysk Siberia (see games at Chessgames.com), which seems like a chaotic awards show, with loads of great stars making only cameo appearances and very few memorable performances.  That is until yesterday's Round 6 game between Sergey Karjakin and Boris Gelfand, which is very well annotated by Dennis Monokroussos.  Karjakin resorted to a Giuoco Piano by a Bishop's Opening move order to sidestep the drawing power of the Petroff, but Gelfand had easy equality with a Two Knights set-up and an early d5 (a la Marshall).  Then Karjakin ended up getting his head handed to him when he failed to play the standard 11.Qf3 inducing 11...Be6 and allowed Gelfand a neat Rook lift with 11....Ra6! (see diagram above) followed by Rg6 with attacking chances.  You may be asking yourself (or you should) why not simply 12.Bxd5 Qxd5 13.Rxe7 winning a piece?  Well, Black has a strong attack and at least a draw after 13...Rg6 (see Monokroussos's notes for details).  A fascinating game right out of the opening, and probably right out of Gelfand's preparation.

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Sunday, December 06, 2009

Interview with David Rudel, Author of "Zuke 'Em"

 David Rudel, author of Zuke 'Em
When I was writing up my Review of Zuke 'Em and analyzing The Hybrid Zukertort Retort, I was in contact with David Rudel, who agreed to an email interview.  

Michael Goeller: It seems most chess players start to identify personally with the openings they play. How did you discover the Colle-Zukertort and why has that opening so appealed to you personally? 

David Rudel: My love of the Colle is mostly Irving Chernev’s fault. I felt he made a good case for the Colle-Koltanowski in his Logical Chess: Move by Move book [see games here]. It seemed like a natural set-up. I always like the idea of playing Nbd2 anyway, and as a youth I never really understood what was so hot about pushing c4.  Wouldn’t you rather push e4 instead? Perhaps my interest in symmetry was partially to blame (believe it or not, I actually refuse to wear dress shirts with a single pocket over one breast. Either no pockets or two pockets for me!)

The thing that made me switch over to the Colle-Zukertort was the “Boa-Constrictor-ness” of it. I like controlling the game completely, not allowing my opponent any counterplay. This aspect of my personality really came out when I played Magic: The Gathering, a collectible playing card game. I would create decks built on neutralizing and controlling my opponent and the game. The last thing I thought about was how I would actually kill my opponent. I would rather first make sure he couldn’t do what he wanted.

I think the Zukertort, where White allows Black plenty of space but creates a “pinch” in his position due to the immobility of his e6-pawn, really reflects my preferences in this regard. Even more important than this “pinch” is the denial of easy transformation in the center. As long as White keeps his c-pawn back, it is hard for Black to change the center in a way that allows quick counterplay.

People say that the Zukertort is not as tactical or attacking as other openings. In my view, the tactics and attacking just start a few moves later.

MG: What do you play as Black?  Are there any other openings that seem to make a good fit with a Colle-Zukertort repertoire? 

DR: People are often surprised to hear that I play the Semi-Slav and the Najdorf as Black. Or, at least I did up until very recently. Given how “quiet” and “positional” the Colle has a reputation for being, they find these options, especially the Najdorf, rather odd.

From my viewpoint, though, it is not a strange combination at all. First, the thing I love about the Colle is the control you have over the game and Black’s lack of dependable early counterplay. Obviously, there is no hope of having anything like that as Black. Thinking in those terms, sharp defenses that come with counterplay practically built in should be natural options.

The second reason these defenses make sense is the very practical point that if you play a low-time-burden opening for White (such as the Colle), you have more time to work on your Black opening, so picking an option that requires more work is feasible.

Recently, though, I have been attracted to an opening that I never, ever though I would want to play. Practically the last opening I would pick were I to have listed my options a decade ago. On some advice from a reader I picked up Tiger’s Modern. It is written in the same kind of laid-back style that I use, and people who thought Zuke ‘Em was tractable found Tiger’s book to be readable as well.

Anyway, after looking at his work, I decided his Modern had the same kind of system-like quality that the Colle has. I like the idea of natural, harmonious configurations, and he made a case for Black being able to set up his formation and then just “play chess” in many cases. I had thought about looking at the hedgehog for the same reason, but Tiger’s writing really won me over.

MG: What made you think that you could publish a chess book as an "amateur player," someone who most publishers think should be reading opening manuals rather than writing them?  And do you think amateur players bring anything special to the writing of chess books? 

DR: There is an interesting story behind this. I had been playing with the idea of writing a book for a while -- for reasons I will get to in your next question -- and had worked up a good chunk of material. However, writing at a book is very different from writing a book…just like playing at the piano is different than playing a piano.

Turns out, I’m a pretty gifted mathematician. It also turns out that if you can pass your exams and other qualifying work in grad school, the supervisors more or less leave you alone. These things contributed to my having a lot of free time in grad school. During that time I did a bunch of chess analysis, and I also did a lot of Bible reading.

With regard to the latter, I had come to the conclusion that, when one simply reads the Bible for what it says rather than what people tell you it is supposed to say, it says something quite different from what most people think it does. So I also had begun writing a book on theology.

Then it came time to write up my thesis. I had solved an open problem in mathematics regarding the dualization of Algebraic Quasi-varieties. I was the first person to find an algebraic Quasi-variety generated by a non-commutative, non-trivial ring that admitted a Natural duality. (My work was in the most theoretic subfield of one of math’s most theoretic fields, so I realize that mean almost nothing to most readers).

Unfortunately, due to some political issues that led to my having problems finding an advisor in my field, I ended up not finishing my thesis by the time my time was up at Dartmouth. I still had the option of finishing it (or, rather, revising it and editing it so that someone else could understand it) later.

This left me with three unfinished works: the chess writing I had done, the theology book, and my thesis. I actually had another one as well: some fiction I had started meant to be an allegory of the Christian faith. You can actually see a draft of the first few chapters on my myspace page. That story came from a plot I had had in my mind since high school but never actually wrote up.

With four incomplete books, I made a decision to stop the madness. I realized that part of the issue may have been a fear of failure. I had never had much reason to doubt myself in high school or college. Other than not doing quite as well on the Putnam exam and the Math Olympiads as I would have liked, I pretty much won everything I did. I strongly believe people should face their own psychological demons, so I decided it was time to finish some of these works in case there was a fear of failure at work.

It was probably the success I had had earlier in academics that gave me the arrogance and temerity to publish a chess book as a no-name player. I was a bit of a celebrity in high school and college among the nerd circles, and maybe the kind of delusions celebrities get helped me out in this case.

As far as the second part of the question goes… no, I don’t think amateurs per se bring anything special to the writing. What is more important is the mindset of the player and their ability to know how class players think. Tiger Hillarp Persson is obviously no amateur, but he writes in a way that club players can understand.

Depending on where the cut-off is for “amateur,” I’m not sure you can make a case for amateur’s writing less well than others. If you define “amateur” in the strict sense of “anyone who could not make a living actually playing chess,” then that label covers a vast number of players!
MG: What made you think that a book on the Colle-Zukertort would be popular? 

DR: The question of popularity never really entered the equation. I wanted to write a book on the Colle-Zukertort for the same reason I wanted to write my book on Christianity: I had some knowledge that others could benefit from. I had played the Colle-Zukertort more or less exclusively and had looked for answers to the problems that other books just didn’t want to address. It was when I found an answer to the Sneaky Gruenfeld that I decided I really had to let the chess community know what I had found.

I was actually shocked by the response (both positive and negative) in the chess playing community. I was saddened by the number of players who reacted so strongly (and very nastily) at the notion that I would have the gall to share my knowledge. I remember one person saying that my book had to either be plagiarized rip-offs from other publications and/or a database/engine dump. Obviously, this person had not taken a look at my book.

I suppose the fact that it was a book on the Colle [ick!] didn’t help things.

On the other hand, I was also shocked at the number of people who told me how much they appreciated the writing style of the book and how it gave them something that had proven elusive in their previous buys. I didn’t really expect any of that. I thought that the organization of the book and some of the things I threw in (the training exercises, new ideas index, grouping lines by ideas and themes, and moving a bunch of the denser stuff to a separate section) was maybe something others would find useful, but I was definitely not ready for the other notes of appreciation.
MG: How has your relationship been with Thinkers Press, and would you recommend that other amateur or professional chess authors take their work there?  Was there much difficulty in convincing them of the value of your project -- and how did you pitch it? 

DR: I knew of Thinkers Press from back in their ChessCo days. I remember being impressed as a kid by their prices and offerings. I think they provided a real service to chessplayers on a budget. They were one of the first three or four publishers I went to. Bob Long now uses a model where the author has to invest more in a given book but also gets more of a return than he would from other publishers.

I just found my original email to Bob, asking if he were even interested in a book on the Colle. It was pretty blunt. I had already received information from two other publishers that they were not interested on a book just on the Colle. Here was my first query to Bob:
I am in the midst of writing a book on the Colle-Zukertort...hopefully a book that will revolutionize the opening.
Remember what I said about arrogance and temerity?

Anyway, after he replied, I gave him a list of reasons for the book. I noted that a bunch of books skip some of the most important lines, that the Zukertort deserves to have a book devoted just to it rather than packaged with other things, and noted that I had new, never-before-published solutions to lines.

I sent him a manuscript, and he decided it was a worthwhile project after reading it.

As far as my recommending Bob for other authors, it really depends on your goals and personality. I’ve now done three books with Bob even though I am an independent publisher myself. I could have self-published my second and third book, doing all the typography, etc. myself and chose not to. Bob Long is one of the fairest people you could ever hope to work with, and he makes very good looking books. It’s really rare to find a business partner with ethics, but Bob is one of them. Andy Martin and he have been making products together for quite a while, so I would venture to guess that IM Martin is also quite satisfied with Bob.

Given the streamlined nature of Thinkers Press, my recommendation to authors is to have their work already carefully edited by an outside proofer. I learned this the hard way and let myself down by doing a poor job of editing my work the first time around. I’m actually an editor myself for ExploreLearning.com. Worse, I’m the line editor for them when they need it. Unfortunately, my ability to successfully edit my own work is evidently zilch!
MG: How do you balance the use of game research and your own analysis in what you present? 

DR: I don’t present many actual game lines because it’s never clear how close such a line is to best play. However, I used a ton of game analysis when doing the Bxh7+ book, looking at hundreds of positions from real games to determine common themes, motifs, and configurations to categorize and check when I was trying to nail down simple rules for that sacrifice.

My presentation is mostly focused on trying to convey as nuanced and complete a picture for the first few moves as possible so that players have an idea of what to look for as their own games unfold. Obviously specific analysis is needed to support the theoretical validity of any new ideas I suggest, but I think there is a certain art to knowing when to snip a line and give general themes for the reader to know about rather than just more branches to learn.
MG: What computer program or programs do you use for analysis? and what limitations do they seem to have when analyzing typical Zuke lines? 

DR: Rybka is the only engine I trust in general. I will occasionally use Zappa or another if I’m really hard up and desperate in a position. One major problem with Rybka, however, is that its end-game evaluation capabilities are far behind its astounding middle-game. I’m not just talking about the general computation issues with doing endgame analysis. I’m referring to evaluations where other engines simply seem to have a more accurate understanding of what wins endgames.

I don’t even own any of the modern Fritz programs. My proofers use Fritz, though, and in general it does not seem any more reliable than Zappa, Delphi, etc. The vast majority of the times Fritz disagrees with a line that Rybka has checked, I have found Rybka to be vindicated after future analysis. My proofers may have thrown up 15-20 flags, and only 1 or 2 were cases where Fritz’ concern proved warranted.

One problem with using engines with the Zukertort is that the goal of an engine (to provide evaluation assuming perfect tactical play) is rather different from the goal of someone playing the Zukertort. The blocked-in Bishop on b2 and the relatively corralled Knight on d2 penalize White’s position from the very start. And this is not just me making excuses for the Zukertort. Try running the Najdorf by a computer and it will think White has a huge advantage from the beginning.

Computers are also notoriously less skilled at evaluating blocked up positions (which the Colle-Zukertort leads to with great frequency) and have problems with calculating the theoretical value of vague threats (to say nothing of the practical value!) This was actually the basis for that “psychologist takes on Fritz” book where the silicon monster was tamed by amassing a bunch of pieces just a hop or two away from the King. That slow-building assault is common in the Zukertort because White naturally wants to make use of Black’s relative inability to add defenders to his kingside.

A final limitation is that Zukertort players often use a g-pawn advance after suitable preparation. Computers generally hate this play, and not without reason. Still, from a practical perspective, that g-pawn push is often a crusher, and in many lines it won’t be adequately considered when determining White’s chances.

All that being said, I would be lying if I indicated engine analysis was worthless to me. I am very much indebted to Rybka, and she has contributed critically to the quality of Zuke ‘Em.
MG: What are the main differences between the first edition (or revised edition) and the second edition, besides more pages? 

DR: Well, in addition to the typos now being (finally, I hope) thoroughly beaten back, the three main differences are:

First, the mainline chapter has been completely redone. Earlier I developed an entire repertoire around playing 8.Ne5. I still suggest that move for a certain group of people, but IM Silman and John Dowling (a strong C-Z player) convinced me that it was not sound (though that is probably little comfort to the titled players who have been crushed by using the line I suggest; I could not find a single game White failed to win with the plan I gave).

In the expanded version, I cover 4 options there and indicate which type of players might want to play each one. The chapter nearly doubled in size. One of these is the Zukertort-Phoenix (8.dxc5 Bxc5 9.a3) that I was unable to find anyone play but that I am positive is the future for the Colle-Zukertort. It turns out that some strong, mostly correspondence players have used this by transposition by taking on c5 a move earlier. There is a database of those lines at www.zukertort.com. 

Second, Chapter 2 has been greatly expanded by putting three high-quality illustrative games there to indicate what White’s general idea/setup is. One of these was Anand losing to Bruzon.

Third, a fair amount of energy was expended against the early queenside fianchetto line, where Black holds back …c5. I bumbled this in the earlier book because I thought my solution when Black uses a Queen’s Indian move order matched up with my solution when Black played an early …d5. They didn’t match, leaving a few people confused. Anyway, I like the new solution I found: 1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 d5 3.e3 e6 4.Bd3 b6 5.Qe2!?  Things can get pretty rowdy if Black takes up the gauntlet with 5…Bb7 6.Nbd2 Ne4 7.Qf3.
MG: What do you do in your day job -- or what have you done, since you seem to have had more than one career?  And do you think playing and studying chess has helped prepare you in any way for the work you do, or do you see the world of chess and the world of work as separate realms? 

DR: I came to Virginia for a private school teaching gig. My then-girlfriend saw that www.explorelearning.com was looking for a science editor. At the time she was looking for a job in this area for herself. It did not interest her, but she told me about it in case I wanted to do some side work. I applied for the job, but it had already been filled. However, the CEO liked my work and found other stuff for me to do. He eventually made a position for me.

The company, ExploreLearning, is the leading producer of science/math online interactive learning software in the U.S. We have won the CODIE award for best science software solution for like the last five years and have won or been a finalist for best math solution. I’ve done lots of stuff for them over the four years I’ve been there. I’ve designed Gizmos, written the curriculum for them, and generally been a watchdog to make sure our Gizmos actually comport to real science. I shared winning honors in the 1999 world-wide collegiate math modeling competition, and I’ve specialized a bit in that field. We have, as far as I know, the most stable, accurate four-tier food chain model anywhere. I’ve done other ecology and thermodynamic modeling for them. There is always a balance between modeling reality and presenting what the textbook says. In fact, that is an upcoming book I’m writing: discussing the over-simplification and sometimes just-plain-wrong explanations given in science classes all around America.

I also worked on the side doing mathematical modeling for www.academicbenchmarks.com. They are sort of like an internet dating service. Except they don’t find good matches between people seeking romantic partners. Instead, they look for matches between state education standards and the educational resources of their clients. I designed their next-generation matching algorithm.

I don’t think chess has helped or is much linked to my other work. However, I did find some parallels between doing chess writing and working on my math degree. In both cases there is a lot of effort at finding creative solutions to problems others have already been trying to solve, and in both cases there may not be any solution. Most of a theoretic mathematician’s time is spent pounding his head against a wall. You never know if the problem you are trying to solve or the theorem you are trying to prove even has a solution. That’s similar to chess analysis.

There are even more significant parallels between theoretic mathematics and theology. Theoretic mathematics is mostly a discipline concerned with taking certain assumptions and seeing what can be logically proven from them and/or applying what others have proven to a given problem.  Theology is very similar. Instead of postulates like “For any two points, a unique exists containing them,” the postulates are whatever beliefs about God you have (including those revealed in scripture, if that is the way you roll). Similarly, applied theology can be seen as determining which of the various derived religious statements are most applicable when determining what is ethical or called for in a given situation. This is similar to applying theorems to problems.

MG: I see that you also write about religious topics.  Do you see any connection between the way you analyze the Bible and the way you analyze chess?  Both seem to rely on a combination of research and your own analysis, for example. 

DR: Unfortunately, the links between religious writing and chess are far more tenuous than those between each of those topics and theoretic math research. Theology, or at least the kind of theology I do, involves much more actual logic and reasoning than chess. It also requires more de-programming if you want to do it objectively. A century ago that might not have been quite as obviously true. Back when chess had not completed its hyper-modern revolution.

Theology deals with very general abstract ideas and beliefs whereas chess analysis is very detailed and concrete. A single pawn moved a single square might change everything in a given position.

Theology also is a trail fraught with apparent contradictions. Those apparent contradictions have to be addressed or at least understood and grappled with. “How can we have free will if God lies outside of time? How does one reconcile Jesus’ words recorded in Mark 9:43-49 with Paul’s dictum that we are saved by grace?” In fact, the richest areas of theological reasoning come from these apparent conflicts.

Chess, on the other hand, is not fraught with conflict, but is rather fraught by imbalances. There is no chess law that says “If you have connected, passed pawns in a materially balanced endgame, you always win.” Nor is there a law that says “If there are pawns on both sides of the board, a Bishop and King will never lose to a Knight and King.” Instead, we have general claims on what is good and what is bad, and we have to balance them in a given position to determine an evaluation.

In chess, if you have a position you want to analyze or a line you want to find an improvement for, you can work through line by line and at least feel you are getting closer to an answer -- or getting closer to realizing there is not one. In theology, after you have dismissed 20 possible answers to a question, there are just as many left as there were before.
MG: Earlier you said you decided to write on theology because: “I had come to the conclusion that, when one simply reads the Bible for what it says rather than what people tell you it is supposed to say, it says something quite different from what most people think it does.” Would you care to elaborate? 

DR: Do you have a few days?

I guess the short answer would be something like this:

First, the Bible clearly indicates Christ’s work accomplished the forgiveness of sins.

Second, the Bible clearly teaches about a Judgment and life after death with God.

However, some time in the fourth or fifth centuries, Christians began believing that the first of the above statements is the cause of the second. And eventually we wound up at the modern understanding of the Christian gospel, which is roughly… “Christ’s work allowed God to forgive my sins so I am no longer bound for hell due to God’s perfect sense of justice” (or something similar).

At that point, Christians decided “salvation” meant “saved from God’s righteous wrath at the final Judgment.” But that isn’t a definition of “salvation” that any first century Jewish Christian (e.g., Paul) would have held. Nor is it the definition of “salvation” we see even as late as Athanasius writing 300 years later. Nor is that the understanding of “salvation” you see in the Jewish prophets that described what the Jewish Christ would do.

Perhaps most pointedly, you won’t find any such description of the final Judgment described anywhere in the gospels, which in theory should be the first place you look if you wanted to know what Christianity is all about. There are about a dozen passages describing the Judgment in Matthew alone, and not a single time do you see this cinematic drama where everyone stands before God and those who were believers have their sins forgiven (or have already had their sins forgiven) and are admitted to heaven on that basis while everyone else is condemned because they did not lead a perfect life.

Indeed, the descriptions of the Judgment found in the gospels look really strange and awkward if you believe Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were attempting to convey the gospel message we hear today. This inexplicable behavior continues in the book of Acts, where there are nearly twenty places giving summaries of the gospel shared by Jesus’ apostles with people of every background after Christ’s death. Nowhere will you find anything approaching “Jesus died to save me from hell” as a component of their message.

The idea that Christ’s sacrifice was somehow designed to mitigate or meddle in his own righteous Judgment at the end of the age is biblically absurd and not to be found anywhere in scripture. Paul, Peter, John and the rest would have thought the whole notion laughable.

The book I’ve written on this topic: Who Really Goes to Hell --- The Gospel You’ve Never Heard: What a Protestant Bible written by Jews says about God’s Work through Christ. The entire thing is available for free download online.
MG: Thank you for the interview and good luck with future publishing endeavors.

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Saturday, December 05, 2009

London Chess Classic Starts Tuesday

The London Chess Classic starts Tuesday, December 8th, and promises to be one of the most interesting tournaments of the year for chess fans in the Western hemisphere. Not only will the tournament website and related coverage be in English, but the event will feature such fan favorite players as world number one Magnus Carlsen, former world champion Vladimir Kramnik, U.S. champion Hikaru Nakamura, and resurgent British star Nigel Short (all of whom are playing in top form of late). The Daily Telegraph has been providing excellent coverage, including an interview today with 19-year-old Carlsen -- see "Magnus Carlsen: The Rise and Rise of Chess's Answer to Mozart" by Max Davidson. An earlier Davidson article, "London Chess Classic: The Chess Set Come to London," suggests that chess is regaining popularity in Britain, which once produced the strongest players in the West, including former championship challenger Short. Luke McShane and David Howell, who represent the next generation of rising British stars, will participate in the tournament as well, though they are likely to have a tough time against such strong opposition. I will be following the tournament closely and hope to post some articles about the event.

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Friday, December 04, 2009

Obama's Impossible Chess Game

I have commented before on the way Barack Obama is portrayed as a "chess master" on the world political stage (see Obama as Chess Master and Obama as Chess Master, Part Two). Today GM Kevin Spraggett points us to a spate of images (to which we add one from yesterday's Daily Telegraph) that show Obama playing chess under nearly impossible conditions: against multiple opponents, as the clock winds down, his head nearly engulfed in smoke, and with the board stretching forth interminably before him. Yet in all of these images he retains his composure, even while performing a handstand. Do you think, maybe, we are expecting a little too much of him?

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Thursday, December 03, 2009

Review of Zuke 'Em, Expanded Edition

I have been reading the new "expanded" edition of Zuke 'Em, The Colle-Zukertort Revolutionized by David Rudel, whose work has interested me since I first heard about it over a year ago. As a practitioner and fan of amateur chess analysis, I recognized in Rudel a kindred spirit and admired (in the materials I saw on the web) the evident work he put into helping amateurs to understand the positional themes and patterns of this under-appreciated opening. I was also impressed by the amount of work that he had put into making his books and promoting them, with excellent websites (at zukertort.com, colle-system.com, and zuke-dukes.com -- the latter with a forum where players can share information, games, and ideas) and lots of online materials and videos (see the webliography at the end of this article for details). Now, finally reading his book, I am even more impressed by the quality of the work. His engaging "conversational" writing style, his focus on explaining themes and patterns rather than dumping a bunch of analysis on the page, and his excellent sense of design and presentation have been widely praised. But what impresses me most about Rudel's work is his desire to seek the best approach to playing the Colle-Zukertort and the way he uses the book format to teach it to others.

Rudel's quest for the "truth" about the Colle-Zukertort continues in the present edition, which breaks new ground for those who would understand the best way to play the opening. If you compare Rudel's repertoire to those of several other Colle-Zukertort books, you see right away that he has a lot of new ideas, many of the "why didn't anybody notice that before?" variety. His more interesting breakthroughs often involve adapting ideas from openings that reach similar positions to the Colle-Zukertort but with colors reversed. For example:
The book is both well-researched and full of innovative ideas. Rudel has done his homework, and the book offers a thorough bibliography of sources, suggesting that he left no stone unturned in seeking ideas. With so many books by professional players lacking any citation apparatus, it is nice to see a so-called "amateur" analyst being so careful. But while he has done good research, Rudel is not a follower of theory. In fact, he turns up so many interesting innovations because he actively searches for ideas to get White an edge instead of accepting "theory's verdict" of equality. After all, he plays the opening himself and he wants to anticipate problems before his opponents spring them on him. I was similarly driven in my analysis of the Urusov Gambit System, where I found published material blithely repeating the mistakes of previous writers or failing to pay attention to important problems in the opening. Doing that analysis made me recognize just how untrustworthy even the best players and analysts can occasionally be and how all players have to find their own path through theory, making their own decisions at each turn and trusting in themselves.

Rudel has not only done some innovative analysis, he has given a lot of thought to helping others understand what he has found. I am very impressed by his carefully structured presentation, which creates an excellent scaffolding for even developing players to master the ideas behind his system. Each chapter begins by setting forth the chief problem that White needs to solve in the line under discussion and the analysis and illustrative game that follow form a coherent piece with the idea of that chapter. Where specific lines call for deeper analysis, he has generally segregated that to the "Extra Analysis" chapter to keep from disrupting the flow of the presentation by focusing too much on specific details. And he concludes the book with a number of "Training" exercises keyed to each section and a set of diagrams to remind readers of the "New Ideas" that he has set forth in his book (especially useful for players who have studied and played the more traditional approaches).

Rudel's desire to teach his repertoire to others has led him to write two additional books of training materials that emerged from the original analysis he was doing on the Colle system. The Moment of Zuke: Critical Positions and Pivotal Decisions for Colle System Players focuses on the Colle more broadly and considers critical tactics and positional themes. Its seven modules (each consisting of "Lesson," "Exercises" and "Solutions" with explanations) are typical of his very orderly presentation and cover such critical Colle topics as how to deal with a Black Ne4, when it's safe to attack with g4, and when you can play the classic Bxh7 sacrifice -- or the double Bishop sacrifice. That last theme returns to make up a whole book in Bxh7: Master both sides of chess' most useful piece sacrifice in 5 easy lessons and 116 exercises which focuses exclusively on "The Greek Gift" (not only out of the Colle or Colle-Zukertort but a number of similar structures, including the French and other Queen Pawn openings). You can review some exercises from the book at his latest website, bishop-sacrifice.com. One of my favorite such sacs is Marshall - Stodie, Atlantic City 1920, but I could not find it in the book (an index of games and players would be a helpful addition to future editions.)

There are actually not that many books where you will find tactical and strategic patterns of a specific opening laid out so thoroughly. The only comparable examples that spring to mind are the recent Seven Ways to Smash the Sicilian (which covers seven different sacrificial themes, like its predecessor Sacrifices in the Sicilian) and New in Chess's "Tactics in the ..." series. With the power of ChessBase "position search," it is actually easier than ever to compile example games to illustrate various themes (as I found in writing Mating Patterns: Bishop and Rook and More Bishop and Rook Mates), so you would think there would be more such books.

Returning to the new edition of Zuke 'Em, I think Rudel has made significant improvements upon earlier editions (one of which I actually found at my library for comparison). He has added some sample games with significant annotations and offered some alternative lines to match player styles. But the most salient and important improvement, as he acknowledges, is at the level of proofreading, and he has done an excellent job eliminating errors in grammar, chess moves, and diagrams. I found only one bad diagram (with a Bishop accidentally substituted for a pawn on page 291) and only one error in grammar ("With this in mind, I propose a line inviting Black to take a free move he wish [sic] he did not have" [203]). And I was looking for error. [Rudel credits proofreaders Graham Stevens and John Wright for the improvements.]

The Colle-Zukertort is not in itself a complete repertoire, and Rudel recommends that readers fill out the rest by following Aaron Summerscale's cult classic A Killer Chess Opening Repertoire, which is due to be re-released in "a new enlarged edition" updated by Sverre Johnsen some time in early Spring 2010. In the meantime, Richard Palliser's Starting Out: d-Pawn Attacks is not a bad substitute, covering part of Summerscale's repertoire in the Barry Attack, the 150 Attack, and the Colle-Zukertort, and only skipping coverage of the Benoni and the Dutch (which you can find material on elsewhere). And there are other 1.d4 Repertoire Books out there to tide you over until the "return of the king" (Summerscale) -- though you might look for Summerscale's video series produced by Foxy Videos and now available from various sources. For those looking for a parallel repertoire as Black, I'd recommend the Nimzo- and Queen's-Indian complex and the French Defense, in which case you might add Play the Nimzo-Indian, Play the Queen's Indian, and How to Play against 1.e4 (on the French) to fill up your chess opening bookshelf.

Selected Online Colle-Zukertort Resources
For those not yet convinced that the Colle-Zukertort is worth a go, here are some online resources to help you explore and learn more on your own before taking the plunge and buying Zuke 'Em.

Colle-Zukertort Repertoire Articles

Michael Goeller, The Hybrid Zukertort Retort at the Kenilworth Chess Club website.

_______, A Bishops of Opposite Color Endgame Lesson from Steve Stoyko at the Kenilworth Chess Club.

_______, Kupchick - Capablanca, Lake Hopatcong 1926 at Kenilworth Chess Club website
Notes on a fascinating Capablanca victory using a Queen's Indian vs. the Colle.

_______, Yaacov Norowitz Lecture on the Stonewall Attack at the Kenilworth Chess Club website
Along with the Stonewall, discusses Norowitz's "Anti-KID Zukertort System" which involves playing a Zukertort system with the idea that dark squared Bishops will eventually get exchanged after 1. d4 Nf6 2. e3 g6 3. Nf3 Bg7 4. Be2 O-O 5. b3! d6 6. Bb2 Nbd7 7. O-O e5 8. dxe5 Ng4 9. c4 Ngxe5 10. Nxe5 etc.

_______, Barry Attack Bibliography at the Kenilworth Chess Club website
The Barry Attack is at the core of Summerscale's recommended d-pawn repertoire and is covered by Palliser's "Starting Out: d-pawn Attacks" also. I wrote this back in 2005, but helpful readers have left updates in the comments. I wrote another piece at the Kenilworth Kibitzer blog on the "Anti-Barry Attack."

Gary Lane, Opening Lanes #55 at ChessCafe
Discusses the Cvitan - Gofshtein game which was the focus of my Hybrid Zukertort Retort article. Not a very in-depth study.

_______, Opening Langes #30 at ChessCafe
Starts off with a Colle-Koltanowski game and then a Colle-Zukertort one.

_______, Opening Langes #64 at ChessCafe
Look for a short win by White near the middle of the article.

Promoted Pawn, Colle - Zukertort, Susan Polgar DVD game collection at Chessgames.com

David Rudel, Chapter 1: Why (another book on the Colle)? at zukertort.com

_______, Chapter 2: Introduction: The Enigmatic Zukertort at zukertort.com

_______, Four Keys for the Colle-Zukertort -- A Car for the Future at Chessville.com
A good place to start if you are considering giving the Colle-Zukertort a "test drive" is this article by Rudel, which begins with a bit of a sales pitch and then offers four ideas in the opening, including the difficulty Black has developing his queenside, White's extra kingside space, the crucial squares for various pieces, and the possibility of exchanging pawns in the center by dxc5 to unleash the dark square Bishop.

_______. Reviving the Colle-Zukertort Main Line at Chessville
Discusses how the idea of exchanging in the center and playing a6 in the Tartakower can be adapted for use in the Colle-Zukertort to revive the main line where White is often annoyed by Nb4 attacking the Bishop at d3. Offers quite a bit of useful analysis.

_______. How the Kolt Beats a Horse: Early ...Ne4 Plans in the Colle System at Chessville
An exploration of various White ideas for dealing with Ne4 by Black in both the Colle-Zukertort and Colle-Koltanowski. Ends with training exercises.

_______, Benoni at zukertort.com

_______, The Phoenix Attack Quick-Start Guide at colle-system.com
An excellent introduction with video to Rudel's innovative approach to the regular Colle that turns it into a reverse Semi-Slav. There is also a good discussion of this idea at ChessVibes.

_______. The Moment of Zuke Introduction and First Module at colle-system.com.

_______. The Moment of Zuke, Module 2: Slaying the b7 Monster at colle-system.com

Eric Schiller, The Rubinstein Attack! A Chess Opening Strategy for White (2005)
A PDF of the first 25-pages of this book, offering a useful introduction to the Colle-Zukertort and discussion of the game Blackburne - Minckwitz, Berlin 1881. See also more pages from the book on the Bogoljubow Variation (mostly focused on a Nh5-f4 idea for Black) and an extensive Preview at Google Books.

Zukertort, Quick-Start Guide to the Colle Zukertort, a Chess Opening System for Players of Any Strength at Chess.com
A nice introduction to the basic tabiya and standard lines of the Colle-Zukertort in text and java replay board form.

Colle-Zukertort Repertoire Videos

Colle - Grunfeld, Berlin 1926
Just a video replay without commentary of probably the only game on record where Edgar Colle actually played the Colle-Zukertort (which bears his name), here against a Queen's Indian hedgehog. Annotated in Tartakower's 500 Master Games.

The Zukertort Variation of the Colle System Illustrated by David Rudel
A very useful introduction to the opening and its basic ideas and patterns.

The Phoenix Attack Variation of the Colle System by David Rudel
Rudel's second video, introducing a new way of playing the Colle as a reversed Semi-Slav with c3 and b4.

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Jeff Sarwer, Chess Prodigy Turned Poker Star

Watch EPT 6 Warsaw Day 4: Jeff Sarwer profile on PokerStars.tv
Child chess prodigy Jeff Sarwer (see the film at his official site) is back in the news after finishing third in the 6th season of the European Poker Tour, as discussed in "Chess Prodigy Checkmates EPT" by Martin Derbyshire. See my post "Jeff Sarwer - Josh Waitzkin, National Primary Championship 1986" where I analyzed his famous game (the basis for the concluding scene in Searching for Bobby Fischer).


Wednesday, December 02, 2009

The Hybrid Zukertort Retort

I have posted analysis of what I call The Hybrid Zukertort Retort (1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 d5 3.e3 e6 4.Bd3 c5 5.b3 Nbd7 6.O-O Bd6 7.Bb2 Qc7!?), which is a surprisingly playable Black system against the Colle-Zukertort. I analyzed the line after reading David Rudel's excellent Zuke 'Em: The Colle-Zukertort Revolutionized, which I will soon be reviewing. I discussed the analysis with Rudel himself, as I acknowledge in my notes, and he has agreed to an interview (which will be up later this week). Rudel maintains a great website on the Zukertort at www.zukertort.com which I recommend to you if you are looking for more information on his book or the system he recommends.

I took a close look at this line because it seemed a principled retort to the Zukertort, fighting White for control of the critical c4 and e5 squares. Rudel discusses this line in Chapter 11 and again in Chapter 12 of his book, calling it "the Hybrid Zukertort" because "Black combines the Classical line with the Bogolyubov by putting the Knight on d7 and the Bishop on d6" (231). I think the critical idea also involves playing Qc7 (which Rudel and most previous writers think is dubious) and delaying castling in order to gain a tempo for pushing forward in the center. With Qc7, Black simultaneously threatens two potentially equalizing pawn advances with c4 and e5. The c4 advance is actually not so critical (though it seems to gain enough space on the queenside to claim equality), but if Black can win control of e5 and play the e5 pawn push then he has basically dismantled the cornerstone of the Zukertort strategy. A couple of drawn GM games suggest that this method might squelch any White initiative and close analysis mostly supports that conclusion--though White has a few options to explore in search of an edge (especially in the lines following 8.Nbd2).

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