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2014 US Open: Rd 9

The worst game I have played in my adult chess life. I am showing my ass here, but what else can I do?

Other items of possible interest: common sense prevailed for one moment at the Delegates Meeting when the knee-jerk ADMs about the problems at the National Elementary scholastics were defeated. It left the room when we spent 30+ minutes on the wording of the rule which specifies that you must touch the king first when castling. A NY TD introduced a slew of ADMs that would have added rules / TD tips to the rulebook to cover the rarest and most inconsequential situations. That took up another 40 or so minutes.

Everyone has plays a real stinker now and again, but did I have to pay so much money for the honor of doing so here?

At least I have the rest of the day to do something … once the thunderstorm that just rolled through passes.

I finished at 4/9 and I will lose dozens of rating points. A recap may follow eventually. Or not. Whatever.

Polishing the Gem

Moskalenko, Victor.  The Diamond Dutch: Strategic Ideas & Powerful Weapons.  Alkmaar: New in Chess, 2014. 300pp. ISBN 978-9056914417. PB $29.95; currently about $21 at Amazon.

Victor Moskalenko is one of our most consistently – with one misstep – engaging and creative chess authors.  His two books on the French – The Wonderful Winawer and The Flexible French (sadly out-of-print) – are both original and erudite.  When I was putting together my French repertoire, in fact, I found that Moskalenko’s French books walk that very fine line between not enough detail and entirely too much.  His analysis is clear, if sometimes idiosyncratic, and he explains the key ideas and themes well.  Moskalenko has also penned books on the Budapest and the Pirc-Modern.  Now he takes on the Dutch, an opening that is growing in popularity as it appears more and more at the Grandmaster level.

The Diamond Dutch is a complete book on the Dutch.  It covers all the major Dutch and anti-Dutch lines without favoring White or Black in the process, as sometimes happens in repertoire books.  While the Stonewall, Classical and Leningrad variations are all treated here, the Stonewall and Leningrad receive a slightly larger share of Moskalenko’s attention; those interested in the Classical or the ‘Dutch Nimzo-Indian’ should note this.

This book follows Moskalenko’s usual format in that it uses complete games to anchor the analysis.  There is quite a bit of prose, and Moskalenko makes use of a number of symbols (or emojis?!) to make certain ideas or analytical bits prominent.  You can get a sense of how this plays out in the text by looking at the sample pdf on the New in Chess website.  There is a key on p.4 of the pdf (p.8 in the book) and some of the symbols appear in the sample text that follows.

It’s always interesting to see how new opening books stack up to their peers.  In his review, for example, Dennis Monokroussos compared Moskalenko’s analysis of 2.Nc3 with that offered by John Watson in his recent (and excellent, by the way!) A Strategic Opening Repertoire for White. He also compares Moskalenko’s coverage of 2.Bg5 with with Larry Kaufman’s analysis in his Kaufman Repertoire.

Having reviewed Richard Pert’s book on the Trompowsky, which contains analysis of 2.Bg5 vs the Dutch, I had thought that I might undertake a similar comparison for my review.  Moskalenko does not cite Pert – his bibliography is surprisingly slight – so perhaps such a comparison might be both illustrative and illuminating.  What I found was interesting, although perhaps not in the way I had expected.

Pert’s analysis, on first blush, seemed to anticipate a lot of Moskalenko’s, and with good reason!  Pert cites NIC Yearbook surveys by Moskalenko in the introduction to his analysis.  When I went back to the two surveys in NIC Yearbooks 94 and 95, I was in for a bit of a shock.  There is a tremendous amount of overlap between the surveys and the 2.Bg5 chapter in The Diamond Dutch.  Indeed, it is as if the 2.Bg5 chapter is a condensed version of these two surveys.  The games are much the same, the analysis is quite similar, and great swathes of prose appear verbatim in both places.

There is more.  Chapters 4 and 5 in The Diamond Dutch are ‘broader update[s]’ (87) of two chapters from Revolutionize Your Chess.  Moskalenko acknowledges this in the introduction to chapter 4, and while there are improvements and updates in the text – most notably, the hamfisted ‘touchstones’ from Revolutionize are omitted here – Moskalenko paraphrases his previous analysis and text when not simply reprinting it.

Some of these updates are found in other NIC Yearbooks.  HIs attempt to outfox Avrukh (ch4, pp.128-138) is anticipated by a survey in NIC YB 101, albeit with a number of updates and refinements new toThe Diamond Dutch.  Pages 123-128 find a very near relative in a survey from NIC YB 102.  Finally, the notes to some other games – Van Wely-Moskalenko, Ciudad Real 2004, for instance – have clear antecedents in the notes in surveys for Chessbase Magazine 120 and 121.

Let me be clear.  I’m not opposed to an author reworking previously published material, especially if the material is as good as that in The Diamond Dutch.  I’d simply like to see some kind of acknowledgement of that repackaging and reworking somewhere in the book.

That said, all of this reworking and updating finds its end in a finely polished analytical effort.  In my survey of Moskalenko’s analysis of 2.Bg5, for instance, I thought that the chapter was a broad and representative survey of all the main lines for both sides.  Whereas Pert gives a tight repertoire for White, Moskalenko provides enough material for both White and Black to navigate the variation.  I did, however, note a curious omission. After 1.d4 f5 2.Bg5 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.h4 Moskalenko analyzes 4…h6 and 4…Nh6, omitting 4…Nf6.  This, to me, is like leaving the punch line off the joke, since the whole point of the h4 push is (a la Pert and Schandorff) to sacrifice the exchange on h5 if Black plays …Nf6!

Fans of Simon Williams and his ‘Killer Dutch’ will be glad to know that Moskalenko addresses one of the current difficulties in the Classical Dutch.  He confirms Williams’ idea (given here in the essential ChessPub forums by Williams himself!) that after the critical line 1.Nf3 f5 2.d4 e6 3.c4 Nf6 4.g3 Be7 5.Bg2 0-0 6.0-0 d6 7.Nc3 Ne4!? 8.Nxe4!? Black should continue 8…fxe4 9.Nd2 d5 10.f3!? Nc6!? with decent prospects.

Dutch aficionados will find in The Diamond Dutch a ‘refined’ and reliable guide to all major variations.  Those who play closed positions with White will find much here to inspire the next assault on Black’s f-pawn.  I do not think there is a better guide to the Dutch – for either color – currently in print.

Chess Holiday Buying Guide: Part I

I’m beginning a new tradition at Chess Book Reviews this holiday season.  I know that it can be a real challenge for the non-initiate to determine what to buy for the chess player in their lives.  Well-meaning loved ones choose the wrong things with the best of intentions, and how can we blame them?  There’s so much chess swag out there, and if you’re not obsessed by the game, it’s easy to go wrong.  It’s my fervent hope that chess players the world over receive better-chosen gifts as a result of these three blog entries.  (Such hubris, John.  Such hubris!)

The first rule of buying for a chess player is this: unless they are a chess set collector, never buy them a themed chess set.  They look cute, and who doesn’t love Homer Simpson as the White King, or the Aztecs and Mayans battling it out over 64 squares?  The only problem is this: they can’t be used in tournament play.  Both USCF and FIDE rules have very specific regulations for boards, pieces and clocks.  In my experience – and again, if your loved one collects themed sets, ignore this – the novelty pieces and boards are set on a shelf in the closet, rarely to be visited again.

If, however, you want to give your friend chess equipment, consider giving them a digital chess clock, especially if they only have one of the old-fashioned mechanical ones.  (Older players are likely to still have and use these, in my experience.)    The advantage of a digital clock is that it allows for time controls that include either delays or increments, both of which are becoming standard in modern chess.  I can recommend two:

  • The Saitek Mephisto Competition Clock, which costs about $40 at Amazon.  This is the ubiquitous ‘blue clock’ that one sees at scholastic tournaments.  It’s extremely durable and fairly easy to program.  I coach a high school team, and this is the clock we use.
  • The DGT North American Chess Clock.  I have less experience with this clock, but others have recommended it to me, and I have used it successfully in rated play.

Most serious chess players will already have equipment, so chess books and software are the best choices for the real aficionados that you are buying for.  In this remainder of this first installment of the Buying Guide, I’m going to talk about chess GUIs.  In the second, I’ll talk about databases and engines, and in the third, I’ll recommend a number of books for different types of players and different age levels.

I think owning and using the right chess software is very important for the serious chess player.  There are a few main software publishers out there, but for anyone who isn’t Russian, I’d highly recommend using the ChessBase family of programs.  I’ve been using ChessBase programs and data – and here I’m dating myself – since the days of DOS.  I honestly believe that any serious player who is not using ChessBase to study and analyze is at a competitive disadvantage.

There are three components, as it were, to chess software.  First, there is the GUI.  This program allows users to reads and writes chess data.  Engines plug into the GUI, allowing users to get the computer’s opinion on various moves and positions.  You can play against some, but not all, GUIs.  Second, there is the database itself, which is indexed by player, opening, ending, or any of a host of other criteria.  The best databases are professionally curated and contains deep notes to some of the games contained in the data.  Some data also comes with audio or video training embedded within it.  Third, there is the engine.  An engine is the bit of software that allows the computer to analyze a position or game.  Most engines require a graphical interface (GUI) for ease of use.

ChessBase offers buyers all three components or elements of a complete chess software package.  I’ll talk about each in turn.

GUI: There are two choices for GUI within the Chessbase family.

ChessBase 12 is a complete database package, allowing users to read and write data in a nearly limitless fashion.  You can plug engines into the GUI to help with analysis, and there are various abilities to access online game data embedded in the GUI.  Users can export their games to text files, epubs, or to webpages hosted by Chessbase with one click.  It can read all of the training programs and DVDs produced by Chessbase, and the GUI also includes the software, which is Chessbase’s online chess playing site.

ChessBase 12 is the gold standard for chess software, and if you can afford it, it would be a fantastic gift for the chess player on your list.  There are three different packages out there, with the main difference being that the Starter package comes with a game database stripped of annotations, while the Mega includes them.  I don’t think the Premium package is worth the extra cost, but your mileage may vary.

Amazon has the Starter package for approximately $160, while the Mega package is about $260.  You can also download the program directly from ChessBase for about $140, but be aware that (1) you won’t get the game database in the download, and (2) the download version does not come with a membership at Playchess.

Deep Fritz 14 and Houdini 4 are another type of GUI from Chessbase.  They can read and write ChessBase databases with some limitations; as compensation, you can play games against the engine and GUI, which you can’t do in ChessBase 12, and the GUI will automatically analyze your games if you wish.  (For me, playing against the engine is far too masochistic an enterprise, but It can be useful to play out special positions against the computer for practice.)  These GUI comes with a smaller game database, but one that is entirely sufficient for most players.  Most importantly, Deep Fritz 14 and the stronger Houdini 4 include the engines for which the GUIs are named.

It’s harder to manipulate data in Deep Fritz or Houdini than it is ChessBase 12, and there are far fewer data indices or ‘keys’ available to the user.  Still, unless you’re doing heavy duty database work, you can do everything you need to do within Deep Fritz or Houdini.  I have both and use both.  If pressed, I’d probably choose ChessBase, even with the extra cost.

Deep Fritz 14 is available at Amazon, and costs approximately $80.  Houdini 4 Standard, which runs on up to six cores, is $99.95, and Houdini 4 Pro is  $115.95 and runs on up to 32 cores. Naturally you can also download these programs directly from Chessbase itself:  Deep Fritz 14 is about $80, Houdini 4 Standard is $90 or so, and Houdini 4 Pro is $115.

Note that the author of Houdini also sells the Houdini engine (without a GUI) on his website.  I’ll talk more about the pros and cons of each engine in Part II of this Buying Guide.

Some books are…

Ree, Hans.  My Chess.  trans. Piet Verhagen.  forward Jan Timman.  Milford: Russell Enterprises, 2013.  ISBN 978-1936490677.  List $24.95; currently (10/22) $19.49 at Amazon.

Francis Bacon – the philosopher, not the painter – famously wrote that ”[s]ome books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested; that is, some books are to be read only in parts; others to be read, but not curiously; and some few to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention.”  Different books require different things from us, and they promise different delights.  While he was not thinking of chess books, I’m sure, his statement holds for them as well.

Jacob Aagaard’s GM Preparation series, for example, is a set of books that must be chewed and digested if their ameliorative powers is to be loosed.  You can’t just breeze through these books.  You have to do the work and solve the problems.  A quick skim just won’t suffice.

Other books can be read in parts.  MCO might fit the bill here, or Muller’s Fundamental Chess Endings might too.  Here you can dip in and out, checking a variation as needed, or perhaps trying to tease out the inner logic of some theoretical endgame.

Then there are books like Hans Ree’s My Chess.  This is a book to be savored, a book that can re-awaken the dormant love of Caissa in our hearts.  It is a literary version of Orhan Pamuk’s Memory Palace, as Ree sketches (in alphabetical order) a panoply of his most treasured memories in and of chess.  From “A6648,” the most active chessplayer in Internet (and possibly world) history, through “Donald Duck” (the Dutch magazine about the sprightly bird), and down to “Berry Withius,” Ree takes us to visit chess clubs past and chess friends now gone.  In each short section Ree delves into memory and introduces us to someone or something worth knowing about.

His sketch of Hans Aalmoes, early chess compatriot, evokes quite well the early and all-encompassing love of chess that many of us have felt.  His elegy for Tabe Bas is poignant and lovely, and it made me wish that I’d known Tabe too.  Prins, despite his flaws and prickly nature, is given honest and fair treatment, and the sketch of Tartakower, personal and comprehensive all at once, is among the best I’ve seen.   I was particularly glad to see the famous – to readers of Chess Chow, anyway! – Dutch IM Bert Enklaar mentioned in these pages.  (A full rendering of Enklaar can be found in Ree’s previous book, The Human Comedy of Chess, now available in Kindle format. or in a piece salvaged from the Russell-Chesscafe split via The Wayback Machine.)

Each section ranges from two through ten or so pages in length, making this an ideal book to take on trips or to the DMV.  You can read a sketch or two, put the book down, and pick it up again later.  You’ll want to pick it up again, too, if you’re anything like me.

Hans Ree’s My Chess is not a book that will improve your chess.  It might, however, remind you why you took the game up in the first place.  Ultimately, I suspect that the latter will not only enable the former, but it will lead you to enjoy working on (thinking on, dreaming on) your chess a bit more too.  Highly, highly recommended.

My agony post

(with apologies to Michael Wilder)

Faces Across the Board

I learned not long after the US Open that my mug would appear in “Faces Across the Board,” a new column in Chess LIfe.  I did written and phone interviews.  I bargained to have a different picture used; sadly, the ‘crazy eyes’ (thanks, dear wife) look on my face above is what America gets to remember me by.  I waited and I waited, and then tonight, the pdf went live on the website.

The tubes of the Internet couldn’t do their tubely things quickly enough!  I cursed my only mega-fast connection and clicked on the downloaded file just as fast as my fingers could fly!  And then…

Well, at least it’s only two typos.  I’m used to people dropping the second ‘N.’  But couldn’t they at least get the URL of the blog right?

Addendum: Make that two typos and a factual error – it’s Leon Hoyos, not Luis Hoyos.  I checked my e-mail and my copy of the written background questionaire I filled out.  None of these are on me.

Rd 9: A Deserved Hiding

I got to sleep in on Sunday, since the Delegates – miracle of miracles! – had managed to finish up all their business on Saturday.  After a late breakfast with John Watson, I tried to clear my head and get ready to play some chess.  The round time, as is common, moved up on the final day to 3pm.  My opponent came ready to play.  I did not.  This game is the result.

Multiple flaws in my game are on display in this little disaster.  My bishop belongs on e7 and not c7; I got carried away with ideas of pushing …e6-e5 and breaking up White’s center, but even there, the bishop should be on e7 to hit the c5 pawn.  My calculative abilities, if one can call them abilities, were shocking.  I just don’t seem to have the sense of danger that I should.  If any readers have ideas on how to train that, I’d be much obliged.

The silver lining is that while Team Hartmann had a miserable event, Team Watson had a very good one.  John went 6-1 (plus two half pt byes in rds 1 and 2) to finish at 7-2 and grab a share of the U2400 money.  More important than the money was the quality of his play, which was very strong indeed, and all the more impressive given his time away from the competitive arena.  There is only one of his games in TWIC, but it’s a fairly good one, and well worth your time to track down.  Below is a picture of John analyzing with his rd 9 opponent and other future members of the US Chess Olympic team.


Rd 7: The Good Fight

I took a 1/2 pt bye for rd 6, leaving me at 3.0/6 when the schedules merged Friday night for rd 7.  It might seem odd to some that I took two byes, given that I drove all this way and paid all this money to play chess.  Why not just play all nine rounds?

Part of it, honestly, is that chess is hard.  It’s hard for GMs, and it’s hard for patzers like me.  A long game can really take the wind out of your sails, and two long games in one day is exhausting.  I also wanted to spend time out in Madison, visiting with friends, etc., and really just take a leisurely, vacation-style approach to the event.

While others were slogging it out Friday afternoon, I wandered around the playing site and took pictures.  Most of those went up yesterday in a Flickr album, but I did want to place a few in this post with some comments.

I thought it might be kind of interesting to take a few pictures of the playing hall when it was empty, just for the sake of comparison.  Imagine my surprise when I wandered in and saw a single game running in the far corner.


It turns out that Frank Niro (right) and Jeffrey Roland (left) have been playing a 12 game match across America, with this game the last in the series.  The game was in its death throes when I was taking these pictures, so I got a chance to talk to them both and exchange information.  Frank’s ears perked up when I mentioned the existence of this blog, and he scribbled down the URL.  Sometimes chance meetings lead to good things…

I also spent quite a bit of time in the tournament bookstore, which should shock no one given the title and nature of this blog.  (Lots of pictures are in the Flickr album.)  In the end I picked up four titles over these past few days, with one coming from a local used shop.


The book in the upper right corner is a Jack Spence tournament book.  Spence was an Omaha organizer and chess historian, and he is the namesake of a chess club that I direct in Omaha.

My understanding is that the tournament bookstore was a collaborative effort between Chess4Less and the Rochester Chess Center.  Hats off to them both.  They had a great selection of books and equipment.

The Wisconsin Chess Association had a small display near Chess Control with memorabilia from the history of Wisconsin chess.  Of particular interest were the items from the 1989 World Youth, which took place in the state and in which players the likes of Leko, Polgar, Schwartzman, Waitzkin, etc., participated.  Some prescient person had Polgar sign her name placard, and they had it out for passersby to see.


I also attended the Chess Journalists of America meeting in the afternoon session.  I, of course, am only an amateur ‘journalist,’ but because of the increased blurring in information services between print and electronic media, and because I also write for the Nebraska state chess magazine, I thought I should check them out.  Dan Lucas and Jen Shahade from Chess Life and Chess Life Online joined Niro, Roland and Al Lawrence at the head of the room, and the meeting served as a dual CJA and Publications Committee meeting.


CJA awards were handed out at the end of the meeting; much to my surprise and great embarrassment, this blog was named the Best Chess Blog.  Apparently Niro and Roland had read the blog in its entirety during the few hours between our meeting and this meeting, and deemed it worthy of the award.  I’m honored, of course, but now this means I have to live up to the praise.  (If it helps me get review copies of books from more publishers, that’s also swell.)

Dinner was followed by my rd 7 game.  My opponent was a young expert from Florida, and it was probably my best game of the event thus far.  The game, a quiet line out of the 9.dxc5 Tarrasch, went nearly six hours, and while I was probably lost in the final position anyway, I ‘graciously’ stumbled into a 1am checkmate in one.  Oy.  On the whole my calculation was solid, and my only big oversight (besides the mate) was allowing the queen trade.  I hallucinated some variation where I’d check out of it, retreating the rook, but of course this just hangs things.  I might have had practical chances to hold the rook ending if I’d traded down at the right time, but White played very well, finding the best moves again and again to keep pressing.