Category Archives: Uncategorized

Friday pictures

I’m in the midst of my duties as a delegate to the USCF, so I’m going to have to upload my game report later.  To tide you over, here is a Flickr album filled with pictures from yesterday, including images from the Niro-Roland match, the bookstore, the CJA and the general membership meeting.  There are also some pictures of displays and memorabilia from the tournament site.  I’ll tag and add slugs as time permits.

https://secure.flickr.com/photos/27700193@N07/sets/72157634918368314/

Rd 3: Victory

I’m playing in the six-day schedule, which involves two games a day for three days, after which all schedules merge and the entire field is in one section.  Because I wanted – just once! – to experience a leisurely tournament with one round a day, like those in Europe, I took two strategic byes in rounds 2 and 6 and only have to slog through a doubleheader once.  (Today!  More on that tomorrow.)  So I had 0.5/2 going into round 3, and this was my game.

Roger is the Iowa Delegate, and this is his 27th US Open.  I found a few of his games in the database and saw that he favored Alekhine’s Defense.  So, having watched some of John Watson’s recent videos on the subject at chessclub.com, I went into the game feeling well prepared.

Roger, truth be told, was kind and made things a little easier on me than he needed to.  Still, after his opening infelicity, he played well and forced me to be accurate.  This is the result.

http://www.viewchess.com/cbreader/2013/8/1/Game32474182.html

Attentive readers may know that I study with John Watson.  He also won his game (in rd 5 of the traditional section) in fine style, although, in typical Watsonian modesty, he was quick to point out that his opponent had outplayed him early on.  One of the things I like most about John is his generosity.  Here’s a rather famous IM, author of 20+ books, internet chess personality, etc., and he spent at least 45 minutes in the skittles room looking deeply at his game with his opponent.  As you can see, his presence in the room did not go unnoticed…

DSCN7614

Upcoming reviews and Live-blogging the US Open

Two reviews will appear on this blog in the next couple of weeks:

First, I’ll review The Joys of Chess: Heroes, Battles and Brilliancies by Christian Hesse in the next week.  I will then turn my attention to Jacob Aagaard’s Grandmaster Preparation series, and in particular, the GM Preparation: Positional Play title.

I have been working through the latter in my own preparation for the US Open that begins at the end of the month.  It is my intention to blog about my games and the event more generally here.  I know such posts aren’t strictly in the purview of a blog about chess book reviews, but it’s my hope that some readers will find the material interesting.

Inside Chess on DVD: you take the good, you take the bad…

Inside Chess 1998-2000 on DVD.  Available from Chesscafe.com, $89.95 retail, listed at $79.95.

When International Chess Enterprises ceased to be, their content (and perhaps their remaining retail stock) was purchased by Hanon Russell and ChessCafe.  Now, with ChessCafe having changed hands, the new ownership (BrainGamz) has gone back and digitized the crown jewel of that original acquisition, the entire run of Yasser Seirawan’s Inside Chess magazine.

Any review of this product must involve two considerations.  First, of course, the reviewer must assess the continuing value of the magazine itself.  How good are the articles?  How do they read today?  Would modern players be interested in them?  Second, and in my humble opinion of equal importance, the reviewer should describe the production values that went into the crafting of the new product.  How good a job did ChessCafe do with the digitization?  How easy is it to use?  Does the product live up to its advertisements?

My answer is simple.  The magazine is fantastic and, for this reviewer, it is certainly the best American chess periodical ever published.  The DVD and digitization, however, are real disappointments.  ChessCafe missed a real opportunity here by cutting corners and shipping an inferior product.

Born from the rubble of the defunct Player’s Chess News, Inside Chess grew to prominence in a world quite different from the one we now inhabit.  Remember that there was no Internet in 1988.  There was no Mark Crowther – who really should set up a subscription service to let his fans support his work! – to bring us new games on a daily and weekly basis at The Week in Chess.  Chessbase was a mere toy.  In such days there was still room for a bi-weekly magazine that would cover recent events from a near-insider perspective.  A lag of a couple of weeks between game played and annotations published was not cause for alarm; if Seirawan’s wonderful annotations are any indication, it might have been preferable.

The magazine’s main publishers were Yasser Seirawan and John Donaldson.  It’s hard to think of two people better suited for such a task.  Seirawan, of course, was a World Junior Champion, a World Championship candidate, and a second for Kortchnoi and Timman in World Championship matches.  He was also deeply involved in chess politics, having run for USCF President, worked on the GMA, and authored the ‘Prague Agreement’ that sought to heal the dual world champions schism of the early 00s.  Donaldson, while ‘only’ (ha!) an IM, has served as Captain of the US Olympic team and is a eminent author, historian and theoretician.  He is currently the director of the Mechanics Institute Chess Club.

What might one find in an early issue of Inside Chess?  Well, first you’d find some very well annotated games by Seirawan accompanied by lots of unannotated games from recent events.  (Again, recall that this was a time before TWIC, so players could only rely on printed material to access recent play.)  Throw in a few opening theoreticals, some reports (with games) from foreign correspondents and the bi-weekly short news roundup, and you get a fairly good sense of what each issue brought to your mailbox.  In IC 1:18, for example, there is a report about the US Open (and associated USCF political shenanigans), an article on the Speelman-Short match, a Open Ruy theoretical article and a piece on the USSR championship accompanied by Seirawan’s annotations of the Karpov v Kasparov game.  Not too shabby.

Seirawan’s annotations, in particular, warrant continued attention.  His work on the 1990 KvK match was tremendous, as was his on-site reporting of the Fischer return match in 1992.  Some may argue that he was less than objective in his annotating, or that he was not always analytically precise, but no one can deny the passion that comes through his words, nor his deep understanding of chess and chess personalities.  I remember how eagerly I would play through his notes every two weeks when my new issue arrived.  (Thanks to my now-gone grandparents for giving me that subscription so many years ago!)  Reading them made me feel like some kind of chess insider.

As time progressed, and as the Internet began to work its transformative powers on everything it touched, Inside Chess was forced to change.  More emphasis was placed on reporting and annotated games, and less on raw game scores.  Inside Chess introduced a slew of now-famous players to American readers via their annotations, including Anand and Tiviakov.  Stohl, Ftacnik and Atalik were among the regular GM contributors.  Minev’s tactics column was always entertaining and educational.  In its final years Inside Chess saw other welcome additions, including Christiansen’s column on attacking chess and Baburin’s “Endgame Laboratory.”  The latter, in particular, should have received much greater attention than it did.  There’s gold to be mined in those columns!

In the end, of course, Inside Chess could not compete as a bi-weekly.  They tried to continue as a bigger monthly, but as Seirawan wrote in IC 12:6, “[the Internet] fills our original niche better than Inside Chess or any magazine possibly could. … The Internet is a powerful competitor, delivering chess news quickly and in massive amounts.”  Inside Chess tried to continue as an online-only zine, but without any advertising income or subscriber base, it could not but fail.

Inside Chess remains a fascinating and valuable read.  I own a complete run of the print edition, and I often leaf through random issues, playing over games, recalling events of the past, etc.  Nearly every issue contains something that will be of interest to any chess aficionado.

Now we turn to the second part of this review, dealing with the new DVD edition of the complete IC run.  And here my review is much less laudatory.  To put it plainly, I think ChessCafe has churned out an inferior product that could have been much better with only slightly more effort.

Here is what ChessCafe promises to deliver in its advertising for the DVD:

  • All 284 issues!
  • Three DVD set!
  • Searchable PDF format!
  • Easily find events, openings, and players!
  • One table of contents file for all issues!
  • One index file for all issues!
  • It looks great on the Ipad GoodReader app, and in the Kindle!

Because, presumably, the original computer production files were unavailable to ChessCafe, each of the 284 issues was scanned and saved as a pdf that averages perhaps 50mb in size.  Such file size is, putting it mildly, unwieldy.  In order to read issue 12:6 on my Ipad, for example, I had to upload it to my Dropbox account and then open it in IBooks.  The scanned pdf is slightly sluggish when turning pages, with each page image having to load and then refine focus to fit the screen.

The real problem with the DVD is way that the scanning was done, coupled with a lack of editing of the scanned images before they were converted into pdf format.  It appears that someone simply scanned the magazines with a flatbed scanner without doing any editing work whatsoever.  You can see blank space at the bottom of many (most) of the scanned pages, and some pages are slightly crooked in orientation.  All of these problems are very easily fixed through open-source means.

Here’s an example.  I extracted the first pages of Alexander Baburin’s Endgame Laboratory from issue 11:1, dumped out the images, and ran them through the open-source ScanTailor package.  ScanTailor is designed for post-processing of scanned documents, allowing users to crop images, correct orientation, remove blemishes, etc.  It has the virtue of being extremely easy to use, and best of all, it’s free.  What were the results?

comparison_small

The original page is on the left, and the reprocessed one is on the right.  The text is darkened, the orientation is fixed and the blank space at the bottom of the page is removed.  The process was quick and easy, requiring very little human intervention.   Perhaps most importantly, the reprocessed file is approximately 1/4 the size of the original.  I fail to understand why ChessCafe would not spend the extra time and undertake similar editing.  Their product is shoddy, and it’s unfortunate.  This new incarnation for Inside Chess deserved better.

The index and table of contents files are just as disappointing.  They are gigantic scanned pdfs of each issue’s TOC and the bi-yearly game indexes lumped together without bookmarks, pagination, etc.  There is no linking between specific contents in the cumulative Table of Contents, for example, and the appropriate article in the correct pdf file.  I have to go find the right pdf, open it, and then go to the correct page.  The idea that you can “easily find events, openings, and players” just doesn’t ring true.

I understand that such cross-linking would have required some technical know-how.  If ChessCafe doesn’t have that ability in-house, there are consultants out there who are more than able to do the work for them.

Some will say that I’m being vastly overcritical here.  Perhaps.  I just see this as an opportunity lost.  Inside Chess is a treasure trove of great chess reading and content.  Its digitization was something I’d long hoped for.  But this wasn’t I wanted.  These files, to be completely honest, look like something made by a guy with a scanner in a room.  They don’t look professionally done at all, and it would have been so very easy for ChessCafe to have found someone competent to do the job.  Maybe they will remedy this before they do a second edition of the DVD.

Summary:  Inside Chess DVD, rated 10/10 for content and 4/10 for production.  Recommended only for the die-hards who don’t have the physical issues and who don’t mind the total lack of polish of the digitized files.

The Tarrasch Defence: A Grandmaster Repertoire Indeed

Aagaard, Jacob, and Ntirlis, Nikolaos. Grandmaster Repertoire 10: The Tarrasch Defence. Glasgow: Quality Chess Europe, 2011.   ISBN 978-1906552916.  PB $34.95.

Jacob Aagaard and Nikos Ntirlis’ book on the Tarrasch Defense (hereafter GM10) was among the more lauded chess titles published in 2011, and it certainly – in certain circles, at least – was among the most hyped.  Does it live up to all that praise?  Having worked through the book, and with the advantage of some critical distance, my answer is a VERY qualified yes.

Aagaard’s publishing house, Quality Chess, consistently turns out some of the most compelling books in modern chess.  They seem to have cultivated a cult following on the Internet, in no small part due to their accessibility and engagement with both fans and foes.  Aagaard is omnipresent on the Quality Chess Blog, where he exhibits nearly infinite patience in answering the most banal of questions and comments.  Ntirlis, for his part, is more active on the ChessPub forum, where he posts as “Ametanoitos.”

It was, in fact, on the Chesspub forum that the birthpangs of GM10 were first heard.  Ntirlis announced, in perhaps the longest thread in Chesspub history, that he was working on a book on the Tarrasch that would ‘update’ Aagaard and Lund’s 2002 Meeting 1.d4 and be published in Greek.  In February 2011 – beyond this, we are not privy to the details – Ntirlis and Aagaard joined forces, with GM10 as the result.

The heart of the GM10 repertoire is the following variation:

1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 c5 4.cxd5 exd5 5.Nf3 Nc6 6.g3 Nf6 7.Bg2 Be7 8.0–0 0–0 9.Bg5 c4!

This is a departure from the recommendation of Meeting 1.d4, which focuses on the ‘traditional’ mainline of the Rubinstein variation (9…cxd4 10.Nxd4 h6 11.Be3 etc), and it is a slightly surprising one.  Besides its being a nearly universal response to any non-1.e4 opening, playing the Tarrasch as Black has the great virtue of teaching you to play with the isolated queen’s pawn.  But Aagaard and Ntirlis believe that “Black will always struggle in the Tarrasch Defence if he left with an isolated d-pawn and White has control over the d4-square” (13), leaving 9…c4 as the best alternative.  I will return to this claim shortly; for now, however, it’s enough to note that the bulk of the Introduction to GM10 sketches the rationale for abandoning 9…cxd4 as well as the historical progression of the theory of 9…c4.

The first eight chapters of the book are devoted to an exhaustive analysis of 9…c4.  Aagaard and Ntirlis propose, so as to avoid Schandorff’s line from Playing the Queen’s Gambit, to include …h6 in a number of variations.  Certainly the most critical of these is the following:

1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 c5 4.cxd5 exd5 5.Nf3 Nc6 6.g3 Nf6 7.Bg2 Be7 8.0–0 0–0 9.Bg5 c4! 10.Ne5 Be6 11.b3 h6! 12.Bxf6 Bxf6 13.Nxc6 bxc6 14.bxc4 dxc4 15.e3 Qa5

image

and now either 16.Ne4 (part of ch 6), 16.Rc1 (ch 7) or 16.Qc2 (ch 8).  Taken together, the analysis of these three moves takes up approximately 35 pages of GM10; most notably, after 16.Qc2 Aagaard and Ntirlis believe that the sacrifice of the exchange after 16…c5 leads to “comfortable equality.”  The analysis here is, quite frankly, stupefying, with some variations extending out past move 30.

White can deviate, as Avrukh recommends in the first of his 1.d4 books (Grandmaster Repertoire 1, hereafter GM1), with 9.dxc5.  Aagaard and Ntirlis weave a path for Black to equality in chapters 9 through 13, arguing that in both the ‘Reti Variation’ (10.Na4) and the ‘Timman Variation’ (10.Bg5) Black has every hope to stand equal.  The analysis of 10.Bg5 is particularly good, as the Black player is offered three quality responses (12…Qf5; 12…Qd8 13.Nd2 a6!? or 13…Re8) to Timman’s brainchild.

The remainder of the book takes up all the remaining tries against the Tarrasch.  This is no small task, especially given that Aagaard and Ntirlis only leave themselves about a third of the book to do so.  Of particular interest is the discovery of 1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 c5 4.cxd5 exd5 5.Nf3 Nc6 6.dxc5! as a major theoretical weapon.  Aagaard and Ntirlis are, to my knowledge, the first to have published any real analysis on the move.  (ChessPub readers, of course, knew about this line much earlier than did the general public.)

That GM10 tries to fit everything except 9…c4 and 9.dxc5 into roughly 122 pages is understandable; the book, after all, appears in a series called “Grandmaster Repertoire,” and stronger players tend to play the main lines.  Here, however, we begin to see part of what frustrates the amateur about GM10.  I’ve been playing the Tarrasch for about a year and a half now, both on the Internet and over the board, and I’d estimate that at least half of my games involve White playing an early e2-e3, taking the game into the Symmetrical Tarrasch.  GM10 devotes 11 pages to this variation in chapter 20, and another 6 to it in chapter 16.  It would have been useful for the non-master to have more expansive analysis of these lines.

More specifically, I would like to have seen coverage of the following: 1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 c5 4.e3 Nf6 5.Nf3 Nc6

image

when White can play 6.a3, 6.Bd3, 6.cxd5 or 6.dxc5.  This position is quite common in my games with the Tarrasch.  Unless I am mistaken, I don’t see any analysis of this specific tabiya in GM10.  Because Aagaard’s earlier book on the Tarrasch was equally lacking in this regard, I had to turn to Harald Keilhack’s Die Tarrasch-Verteidigung to fill out my repertoire.

We might approach the same complaint by looking at the mass of analysis accompanying 9…c4 and, in particular, the variations following 10.Ne5 Be6 11.b3 h6.  Aagaard and Ntirlis obviously poured immense time and effort into their analysis, finding tricky solutions to difficult problems again and again.  The detail in chapters 6-8 is absolutely staggering, but I can’t help but wonder: what good is all this analysis if, as John Watson notes in A Strategic Chess Opening Repertoire for White, the Black player has to memorize reams of analysis involving at least two paradoxical only-moves just to land in a position that is equal at best? (See chapter 3 of SCORW and pp.33-4 specifically for more.)  I can’t see how it can be practical for the amateur OTB player to commit all those moves to memory and end up with a difficult position for his or her trouble.

Players who defend the Tarrasch do so knowing that they will often have to defend the IQP.  Presumably they will have spent some time learning how to play such positions, investigating the key ideas, etc.  Why, then, do Aagaard and Ntirlis abandon the 9…cxd4 lines, which leave Black with the familiar IQP, and instead take up the theoretically demanding 9…c4?

Part of the answer is given in the Introduction.  We are told that the 9…cxd4 lines are in dire straits, particularly after the following:

1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 c5 4.cxd5 exd5 5.Nf3 Nc6 6.g3 Nf6 7.Bg2 Be7 8.0–0 0–0 9.Bg5 cxd4 10.Nxd4 h6 11.Be3 Re8 12.Rc1 Bf8 13.Na4!?

image

and after 13…Bd7 14.Nc5 Bxc5 15.Rxc5 Qe7 16.Nxc6 bxc6 (Wenzel-Markevich, 2011) White improves with 17.Rc2 Ne4 18.Qd4 a5 19.Rfc1 and is said to stand better.

This variation is far from forced.  Beyond the 13th move alternatives for Black (13…Ne5, 13…Nxd4, and 13…Ng4) there are also options both earlier and later.  Black can try Spassky’s old 12…Bg4, and 15…Qb6 seems at least plausible.  It’s not clear to me, in other words, that Black need suffer in this variation at all.

Had Aagaard and Ntirlis used all of the available literature, they might have avoided this conclusion.  Keilhack recommends 13.Na4 Ne5 in Die Tarrasch-Verteidigung, and while he might have given more moves to back it up, it seems at least a reasonable alternative.  I can only find one reference to Keilhack’s book in all of GM10, and Aagaard and Ntirlis would have done well to have cited it more.  The discussion of the Symmetrical Tarrasch in Keilhack, for instance, is comprehensive and accurate.  We find another place where Keilhack might have been useful in chapter 10 of GM10, devoted to the ‘Reti Variation:’

1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 c5 4.cxd5 exd5 5.Nf3 Nc6 6.g3 Nf6 7.Bg2 Be7 8.0–0 0–0 9.dxc5 Bxc5 10.Na4 Be7 11.Be3 Bg4 12.Rc1

image

where GM10 only analyzes 12…Re8.  Keilhack offers both 12…Rc8 and 12…Qd7, with the former serving as at least an equally valid response to 12.Rc1.

It turns out, by the way, that Avrukh is equally negligent in utilizing all available sources, since he mishandled the same position in GM1 – which was also published by Quality Chess.  The aforementioned John Watson points this out in his review of Avrukh’s GM1; one thinks that Aagaard, the publisher of GM1, should have noted this analysis, especially given the history between the two men.

GM10 is, quite obviously, a work that is deeply indebted to computer analysis.  This can be both a blessing and a curse.  On the one hand, readers of GM10 can sleep well knowing that all of the analysis is ‘correct,’ so far as it goes.  Every chess book will naturally be subject to refinements as time goes on, and no book can cover every possible variation.  GM10 is no different.  Still, the voluminous analysis in GM10 is checked and double-checked by our metal friends, and some of the key moves that save the 9…c4 lines (particularly 16…c5 in chapter 8) were computer discoveries.  I checked the position with a particularly fast incarnation of Houdini 3 from the Chessbase Engine Cloud, and at a depth of 30 ply, Houdini still favors the offer of the exchange.  Amazing – and on a number of levels.

‘Correct’ doesn’t always mean most playable for carbon-based lifeforms.  Positions that are well within the bounds of drawability for the computer are practically lost for humans, and what is objectively equal can still be difficult for the human to play.

Let’s assume that I memorize all of the analysis in chapter 7 – 9…c4 10.Ne5 Be6 11.b3 h6 12.Bxf6 Bxf6 13.Nxc6 bxc6 14.bxc4 dxc4 15.e3 Qa5 16.Rc1 – and get to use all of that analysis over the board, including the two key moves 21…Rc7 and 22…g5.  What do I get for my trouble – not to mention my good fortune in finding an accommodating opponent?

image

With White to move, the computer thinks this is equal.  If I’m playing White against a fellow chess mortal, however, I’m happy to squeeze in this position for hours.  The practical play just doesn’t match the computer evaluation.

It seems to me that most readers would have been better served by a repertoire based around 9.Bg5 cxd4.  I don’t think that White gets any more advantage in these lines than he does after 9…c4; more importantly, however, the key ideas behind the moves are much more understandable in the …cxd4 variations.  Computers can just grind away and find good moves via brute force.  Humans, as I relearn with every tournament game, simply can’t.  If a Tarrasch player has already learned something about basic IQP play, why not maximize that knowledge and give them positions that make use of it?

(As an aside: I am somewhat perplexed by Arne Moll’s review of GM10, where he ends up praising Aagaard and Ntirlis for their skill in elucidiating the ideas behind the positions:

Jacob Aagaard and Nikolaos Ntirlis invite their readers to think about these positions for themselves, rather than to just memorize what they prescribe. Would you mind playing this position as Black? If you don’t, then you’ve got what it takes to become a real Tarrasch player – not scared of isolated pawns, bishops or your engine indicating +0.41.

Really?  If anything, the analysis in chapters 6-8 would seem to prove the absolute necessity of memorization.  I recognize that Aagaard and Ntirlis take the time to explain the logic behind some of the more esoteric only-moves, but this does not come close to obviating the need for extensive memory work.  Anyone who tried to play the recommendations in these chapters without memorization risks being blown off the board.)

In the end, I think GM10 suffers from a malady that is all-too-common in Quality Chess books: at some point, the analysis just becomes overwhelming.  (Future reviews, I’m sure, will return to this claim, and I’m ready to defend it.)  There’s a fine line between comprehensive coverage and ‘long analysis, wrong analysis,’ and the variations in GM10 shade over to the long side too often for my taste.  I’ve tried to argue above that part of the root of the problem comes from the choice of repertoire variation, but given the systemic nature of the issue at this publisher, the problem might well be editorial.

Now, there are those who will argue that I’m being silly.  Shouldn’t I want a deep, bulletproof repertoire?  Shouldn’t I be glad for analysis that extends deep into the middlegame, giving Black equality out to move 30?  It depends.  If I’m playing correspondence chess or as a centaur on Playchess, maybe.  The OTB player, however, cannot refer to books or engines during the game.  All I have is my limited guile and ever-failing memory.  I suspect I’d be better served by a book that trades some analytical depth for explanation of key ideas and themes.

Conclusion: GM10 is highly recommended for very strong players who face the main lines in the Tarrasch often, and for those with the time and willpower to do a lot of memory work.  It can be recommended to those above 1600 as a reference work, but given (1) its lapses in coverage of lines that amateurs play, and (2) its reliance on the memorization of a number of counterintuitive only-moves, it is an ill-fit for serving as the basis for an amateur’s repertoire.  Meeting 1.d4 would be more useful for this purpose, and GM10 might be a good, if non-essential, supplement to that book.  More advanced players should absolutely reference Keilhack if they can find a copy.

Watson on Hendriks; me on Bo Hansen (soon!)

Hello intrepid readers.  Hopefully I didn’t scare you away with my first review.

Two things you should know.

First, if you haven’t read John Watson’s review of Willy Hendriks’ “Move First, Think Later,” you absolutely should do so.  Do it right now.  I’ll wait.

Second, watch this space for a review of Lars Bo Hansen’s new book entitled “What Would a GM Do.”  It should be up in the next couple of days.