Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Finegold Rules

Graciously forwarded by Coach B, and approved by Ben Finegold himself (Coach B is from Michigan and plays Finegold periodically, I believe). Thanks guys for letting me post this.

If you follow these rules you will never lose. Kasparov lost to Kramnik only because he broke three of these Rules. Recall that principles in chess are exceptionless universal laws and you should never consider violating them. Watson calls this the Principle of Rule Dependence, I believe, and has been a crusader for Rule Dependence for many years.

So, with that caveat, enjoy this wonderful list of rules. Speaking seriously, there are some excellent heuristics here.

The Finegold Rules

1. Always play Bf1.
2. Never play f3.
3. Castle and avoid a hassle!
4. Take your time.
5. Be calm when you play chess.
6. When you play in a tournament, always get a LOT of sleep at night, and take a nap during the day for 20-40 minutes, if you have time.
7. A piece is worth 9 pawns.
8. Study chess EVERY day! Study tactical problems, openings you play, GM games. Study something!
9. Never offer or accept a draw. Fight like a man, and die like a dog!
10. Never trade!
11. ABC – Always be confident.
12. Never move pawns!
13. Always play Kb1.
14. Never sacrifice!
15. Always play a4 when they play b5. (Note the corollary – if …a4 play b5 - is not necessarily true)
16. Always repeat!
17. Never resign!
18. Queen + Bishop is better than Queen + Knight.
19. Never capture a pinned knight with your bishop before being provoked (ex – with Bg4 pinning Nf3 to Qd1, don’t play Bxf3 before h3)
20. Never play Rg8.
21. Never play g3 if you can’t fianchetto.
22. Never Check!
23. Never play Bd2

Friday, April 24, 2009

State of the chess improvement blogosphere?

A little over six months ago, Liquid Egg Product wrote a provocative post The demise of chess blogging I've been thinking about this topic lately...

The following is a revised version of the comment I left there at the time, with a new bit on the state of the chess improvement blogosphere and the Knights Errant in particular. Note this is focusing mostly on chess improvement blogs, not chess news blogs or blogs associated with a particular chess club.

Prehistoric chess blogs (?-2004)
Early on there were a bunch of disconnected blogs, most of them associated with local chess clubs or conveying chess news. People like Mig, Glenn Wilson, DG at BCC, were on the scene, but there wasn't a real community of independent chess improvement bloggers.

Growth Errant (2004-2005)
Then the Knights Errant emerged and basically ushered in a social network of interconnected chess improvement blogs. They focused almost exclusively on posting things like ‘Man, I did my tactical puzzles today, it was intense.’ Back then, Man de la Maza, Sancho Pawnza, Pale Morning Dun, and a few others were the gods of chess improvement blogging. DG, who maintained the BCC news-focused blog, kept tabs on the Knights Errant as part of his blogging. Indeed, the Knights Errant sometimes called him the 'Official Historian' of the Knights Errant.

For a while, almost all the improvement blogs were Knights Errant related. I was part of this growth spurt, as was Temposchlucker, J’adoube, and others. Plus, a couple of more eclectic blogs hit the scene such as the Kenilworthian and Polgar's blog.

Diversification (2005-2007)
Probably late 2005, we had an explosion of non Knight errant related improvement blogs, and the friction really started. Multiple threads of people saying the circles were stupid, many people modifying the circles (this started in early 2005), and lots of very healthy discussion of the best way to improve. The blogosphere became less incestuous. I think we can all agree this can only be good.

Perhaps the best examples of this genre are from Quandoman, Patrick (the dead Chess for Blood), Dutch Defense (blogs dead), and Loomis. These were solid players who tended to have strong opinions on what sucked and what didn’t (Loomis was an exception--he was always soft-spoken and just as often right). DK Transform also was part of this explosion.

In other words, the chess improvement blogosphere became healthy. Many people using different methods, or no methods, in their focus on the game of chess, came on the scene. The Knights Errant became one little cluster in a growing improvement world.

Explosion (2007-2009)
Then things simply exploded. Most of the improvement bloggers of those older times had disappeared, while a new breed of blogger in the form of Chessloser, Liquid Egg Product, Robert Pearson and lots of others began around 2007.

Just as the first wave of change was from circles-narcissism to general chess improvement, the next wave was another expansion of topics. Things became much more idiosyncratic, ungroomed, irreverant, and eclectic.

Centralize or demise? (2009-?)
It may be me, but it seems there is another shift afoot. It seems that chess.com has become a sort of center of mass of the chess improvement community online. They have a great interface for blogging and displaying games. Many traditional bloggers such as Blunderprone have started cross-posting their work on chess.com just to increase their exposure.

There are probably more chess blogs than ever right now, which means it is hard to get people to read your blog. It makes sense that people would go to chess.com, which has a built-in way to distribute your work to many people on their home page. You don't have to worry as much about getting people to link to you or read your work if you are on chess.com. They do that for you, essentially.

I frankly miss the days when it was pretty much only the Knights Errant, all struggling with the Circles. That may be one reason I joined the International Chess School (ICS) and started a forum so I could work through the class with a bunch of other people struggling. I like working with people on a common task. You build up camaraderie, familiarity, and a sense of collective purpose that is largely missing in the chess improvement blogosphere right now.

Not that the Knights Errant are completely dead. They still exist in name, but with few exceptions it is hard to find any discussion of the Circles or tactics on one of their sites. Certainly it is good that things are less monotonous, but there isn't much of a sense of collective effort coming from the Knights Errant anymore. At the ISC forum we've started to recreate that sense a little bit. It is fun working with a small community of people toward a common goal. Plus, it is more balanced than the Circles. :)

Take this with a grain of salt
At any rate, the above is my rambling historical dissertation on the chess improvement blogosphere. I'd be curious to hear your thoughts about what you think, where you might disagree. Please don't be offended if I left out your blog by name. I tried to pick representative examples of bloggers.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Chessflash just got even better

Glenn Wilson has outdone himself by making it all cut and paste. No need for an account. Take a pgn, cut, paste, and you've got a gorgeous flash app to play through your game. Now there are no excuses.

Also, if you just want to display a single position, here is a great app.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Top five answers you don't see in chess puzzle books

White to move....
5. Offer a draw.
4. If you need us to tell you the answer, you should probably not be playing chess.
3. It's all good. Pretty much any move in this position works.
2. Resign. White has no winning chances.
1. Does it really matter? Why don't you put down this book and get some exercise?

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Things that make it easier for me to see mate

1. The enemy King's movement is blocked by material (i.e., few empty squares around the King).
2. At least two major pieces in the vicinity of the enemy King.
3. It isn't the opening.

Take the opposite of each of the above, and we have ingredients that make it more likely for me to miss mate.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Anyone want to go to school with me?

I payed for my first month over at International Chess School. They have a 13-month course which looks interesting. Each month you get new study material which includes theory, annotated games, and various tests with annotated solutions. Picture to the left is not me, but GM Andrei Istratescu who is on their staff.

If you are interested in doing this course with me, then come on over and join the International Chess School Forum, which I just started. I realize it will likely just be me posting there, so it will be more like a personal Wiki than a forum (unless some of you actually come over and post, which would be awesome). The course is not cheap (it's $24/month). That's the major limitation I can see. Also, before joining, please read caveats and especially the warning below.

The first nine months the focus is on developing basic positional understanding. The final four months are almost exclusively focused on calculation/analysis (see schedule below).

Here is their study plan:
1//Think Like a Strong Player
2//Watch the 2 Centers
3-4//Master the Piece Play
5-6//Master the Pawn Play
7-8//Pawn Structures Explained
9//Advanced Fighting Strategies
10-13//The Art of a Master: Analysis

Note the material isn't super polished, and the language is sort of stilted and strange (in that characteristically Eastern European way). You can get free sample material from the first month here. So far, I can understand what they are saying and I'm happy with most of the material.

For those thinking of becoming chess bloggers, ICS would be a great vehicle for starting a blog: track your progress through ICS on your blog (Chess? has already been doing this and pretty much inspired this new project). The chess improvement blogosphere has been languishing, with a couple of exceptions. This means it's about time for some new blood to step in and fill the void.

Edit based on comments:
Warning: they are not accepting students for the "Special" class (which is almost $200/month), but that their web site still will take the money. Do not give them money for the special class unless you get prior confirmation that they will accept you.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Transformations, questions, and new improvement sites

After nearly four months, DK Transform has updated his blog. Unfortunately, he brings sad news with the post, and my condolences go out to DK and his family for their loss.

In other blog news, the question blog, Chess?, is off to a good start. I am very curious about the International Chess School (ICS) that he is undertaking. Does anyone have any reviews? Does it include endgame study? It was started by GM Andrei Istratescu, I believe.

In addition to ICS, some British GMs (in particular Tony Kosten) have started a chess improvement site called Improve Your Chess. Any reviews of that site out yet? Note I know there are endorsements from Shahade and Watson on the front page of the site. However, they look like promotional blurbs, not excerpts from actual reviews, which means they are worthless. Correct me if I'm wrong, and link to the reviews!

Thursday, April 09, 2009

The Second Coming of Michael de la Maza!

Andres D. Hortillosa's book Improve Your Chess at Any Age will be out sometime this year.

He is much like Michael de la Maza. He's a New Englander He made his splash in the chess world in New England, he is rated around 2000, and he is already pissing people off because he isn't an IM or GM but is telling people how he improved at chess.

Good times. People are petty jealous little animals. I am known to be judgmental toward books, but only books that I have cracked open and read a chapter of, and glanced through the whole book to get its flavor. This one isn't even out yet and people are getting pissy.

I look forward to seeing what he has to say. If the cover is any indicator, it should be a humdinger of a book!

From what he has said online (see previous link) it will focus a lot on thought process, which is one of my pet interests. Should be fun!

This makes me want to check it out:
The main thesis of the book finds its anchor on a method or system that will help adult players avoid losing their games early due to blunders. The book disclaims the magic to make you a master. It simply argues that the system it espouses will help most player of any age avoid game-ending errors. My other goal is to bring back players who cannot seem to get beyond 1400 back into tournament chess. Many left mainly because of insufferable disgust over their inability to cure themselves from the ailment of hanging pieces during games. Chess is no fun even for die-hards when you keep giving away pieces even in winning positions.
That part in bold resonates with me all too well.

Perhaps his solution is:
1. Get a time machine.
2. Go back to when you were 10 years old.
3. Convince yourself to play a lot of chess for a year.

Frankly, that seems to be the best way to not suck at chess, is to play it a lot as a youngster.

Edit: Based on a comment, I found this article by Hortillosa, and it includes his thinking process. It is very reasonable and simple, indeed, I could look at it as a partial implementation of Chessplanner. Hence, I am destined to like it. :) What I like is that it puts threats to the fore. This is exactly what the patzer needs to do. A backwards pawn is nothing to worry about if you are dropping pieces!

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

John Watson interviews Rowson

If you have an ICC membership, you can watch them (clicking on links brings up prompt for your ICC username/password):
-Interview 1
-Interview 2
I already really liked Rowson, but these interviews are a nice complement to his writing. I wish I had known about them, I would have written in to ask him to define 'opportunity.'

Monday, April 06, 2009

Chess for Zebras, Chapter 7 (Rowson's criteria): Part I

Here's the first half of my summary of Chapter 7 of Rowson's Chess for Zebras. The Chapter title is 'Something that works for me', and it is the second chapter in Part II (recall Part II is called 'A mental toolkit for the exponential jungle').

Introduction and a caveat
In this chapter Rowson gives us the criteria he uses to evaluate a chess position. Evaluating a position is simply judging the strengths and weaknesses of the position for both players. Such evaluations are typically word-based explanations that patzers like me find so helpful. Rowson, of course, has spent an entire book trying to steer us away from such wordly pursuits. Indeed, even at the beginning of this chapter he repeats the chorus:
[T]hinking of such models explicitly while your clock is ticking will generally do more harm than good. Anything other than the images of moves and variations is likely to be unhelpful noise in your head that will lead you to create narratives based on applying the model to the position. This awkward predicament leads you to try to fit the position to what is in your head, rather than allowing you to concentrate on the position and enjoy the experience of playing...[Y]ou will gain more from the material in this chapter if you allow it to 'seep in' subtly and quietly, rather than using it as some kind of checklist during your games.
So, given that extremely important caveat (after all, the above quote captures the central thesis of the entire book thus far), let's see how Rowson evaluates a position.

Rowson's criteria
Rowson uses four criteria to evaluate a position: Material, Opportunity, Time, and Quality. As we will see, since the final criterion actually includes four subcriteria, he really has seven criteria. Let's get to it. In this post I'll discuss Material and Opportunity. In the next post in this series, we'll see what he means by Time and Quality.

For chess mortals, this is the God Criterion, the criterion that even grandma will use to evaluate a position. Who has more material? Against the usual crass point-count system (where Queen is worth 9 pawns, the Rook 5, Knights/Bishops 3), Rowson emphasizes that a piece's strength must be determined based on the concrete features of the position. What a shock: the guy who advocates transcending the rules suggests we shouldn't mindlessly assign numerical values to the pieces.

Along this vein, Rowson says, "The relevant skill in assessing the material dimension is not counting on the basis of arbitrary material numbers but looking at the roles of the pieces and thinking carefully about whether a material advantage is latently relevant, already manifest as Quality, or irrelevant in that particular position, perhaps due to the Opportunity or Time situation."

Most of us are familiar with games in which a player sacrifices the exchange to gain an opportunity to attack the enemy King. If you have a mate in two, it doesn't matter if you are down three pieces. Hence, Rowson's description of exeptions to piece values shouldn't be much of a revelation.

I have wracked my brain to come up with a definition of what Rowson means by Opportunity and the following is my best shot:
An opportunity is the temporary ability to achieve a concrete result.
Examples of concrete results include a material gain, an attack on the King, or dominating an open file. Typically (but not always) such Opportunities are offered to the side with a lead in development and more active pieces. However, there also exist swindles and other opportunities that arise despite our best efforts. Rowson's Opportunity category naturally absorbs such happy accidents.

As I insinuated in the previous paragraph, Rowson never actually defines Opportunity, and annoyingly says "Examples of Opportunities taken or missed can be found throughout this book, so for now I focus on only one example." To prepare for this summary, I looked at his single measly example in some detail and wrote about it here.

In that example he claims that with 8 Nf3, white sacrifices pawn structure for Opportunity. It seems that White gains what most authors would call an advantage in piece activity or time (e.g., black would need extra moves to "catch up" with white's development). White's pieces are developed, on good squares, while black still needs time to get his army mobilized.

Given that his example was a clear instance of generating piece activity , why don't I define Opportunity using more familiar notions of piece activity, time, or development? Because according to Rowson, while these traditional notions are close relatives of Opportunity, they are not equivalent::
I felt it was a mistake to refer to (non-clock) 'time' as a dimension of chess. Firstly, because it is easy to conflate and confuse with clock time, and secondly because the significance of 'time' varies enormously. It seems to me that where it makes sense to speak of an advantage in time, it is an advantage in terms of available opportunities. A lead in development only matters if you have the opportunity to do something with that development, and 'the initiative' is only important insofar as you can do something with it.
In other words, there is no guarantee that you will be able to turn a temporary lead in development into a longer-term advantage in the position.

The example (8 Nf3) I mentioned above is a case in which activity is the concrete result gained. This doesn't mean all Opportunities will be activity gainers. If I have an opportunity to grab a Queen for free, I'll do it. Hence, my provisional definition in terms of 'temporary ability to achieve a concrete result' seems to be general enough to absorb any species that Rowson wants to include.

Rowson hasn't made a very good case that we should ditch development as an evaluation factor. By analogy, it isn't always possible to turn a material advantage into checkmate, but that doesn't mean we should scrap Material as a criterion for evaluating a position in chess! It would have been nice if Rowson had delineated the different species of Opportunity, just as he delineated the different species of 'Quality' (which I will get to in the next post about the book).

My opinion is that a lead in development is still a lead, and Rowson is sacrificing usefulness for correctness by not including it in his criteria. This is a common error in treatises on evaluation criteria in chess. I have discussed this phenomenon here, where I said "We aren't constructing an axiomatic system, where we need to worry about finding the smallest independent set of axioms that can prove all the theorems. We are playing chess, where we presumably want to evaluate the board using factors that are useful and help us make good decisions quickly."

This is the my least favorite chapter of the book thus far. The writing displays a certain intellectual laziness that was not present in earlier chapters. Rowson doesn't define 'opportunity' but then throws the term around as if it is a clear idea (compare to the term 'plan' as used but not defined in Chapter 6).

That is not to say that Opportunity was a silly criterion to use, but to treat its meaning as transparent was a mistake. He spent five pages discussing material, with which we are all familiar, and only two pages discussing opportunity. In other words, he spent the least amount of time on the factor we are most likely to be confused about, so Rowson screwed up his priorities as a communicator. The reader shouldn't have to put in four hours of work to figure out what Rowson means by Opportunity.

As a final related quibble, Rowson shows way too much respect for Hübner's ideas, and my hunch is that Hübner's influence polluted this chapter. Hübner is a top German GM, and clearly had a big influence on Rowson's thinking. It actually becomes funny in Footnote 12, where Rowson respectfully acknowledges a critique from Hübner of Rowson's use of the term 'dimensions' to describe the four evaluation factors. Hübner obviously doesn't understand how the word 'dimension' is used in mathematics, so his critique is simply wrong. Hübner may be a great chess player, but that doesn't translate into being a great ordinary-language philosopher of chess.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Fun spinning wheels in the mud

As I mentioned earlier, I've been studying the Slav with Vigus' great book. I'm entering all the games/annotations from the first chapter. It is a great chapter, as he lays out the general ideas and strategies for the different pawn structures that emerge in the Slav. This should be required for all opening books, but in my experience only about half the authors take the time to do this.

To chess authors, be a mother bird, not Fritz. If I want Fritz I can turn on my computer and have him spit out variations.

The reason I call it wheel spinning is that I've played about 25 games as black this week. 95% of the time, white opens with e4. Within the remaining d4 games, not once did my stupid opponents play 2 c4. They play e3, or Nf3, or some such, often followed by Nc3. That is, they don't let me play the Slav.

Sometimes being a lower-rated player sucks, as studying the openings is truly useless. Sure, it is aesthetically very pleasing, but not useful in practice.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Bobby Fischer is Alive!!!

The following was just released from the AP. I can't believe it this is great news for chess.
Bobby Fischer (1943-?), rumored to have died on January 17 in Iceland, resurfaced in Reykjavík, Iceland on Tuesday evening. We ran into Fischer standing outside of a Reykjavíkian coffee shop, wearing a bearskin coat and sporting a long gray beard. With dozens of adoring Icelanders hanging on his every word, America's greatest chess prodigy waved his arms about, claiming he went into hiding because America made the "grave mistake of picking a Negro President."

When pressed further for details on why this required that he fake his own death, Fischer said "Obama is part of the ZOG [Zionist Occupied Government], bought off by Jewish lobbyists. I just wanted to be sure that the day after his inauguration he couldn't use me as an example and throw me in the American Gulag. Death to Israel! Death to America! Glory to Christ!"

Fischer also titillated the chess world by issuing the following press release challenging Gary Kasparov to a version of chess that Fischer himself invented:
As I predicted chess has become a boring exercise in memorizing opening variations with no creativity. We end up with 15 year old mindless robots like Magnus Carlsen memorizing reams of computer-generated variations. I challenge the last real chess player, Gary Kasparov, to a 50 game match in Fischer Random chess, the last bastion of creativity on the 64 squares. A Philipino radio station has put up one million Euros for the match, to be held in an undisclosed location. No cameras, radio, or news coverage of the match is allowed. Only Gary and I will know the results.

Death to Israel!
The AP contacted Kasparov's spokesman Mig Greengard about this offer, and Mig responded, "Gary doesn't want to get within fifty miles of that fucking lunatic."