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Thursday, 18 June 2015

Cheating in Chess #1

Cheating in chess has recently resurfaced with a well known player being caught for cheating.
This series will reflect on past events of cheating and alleged cheating in the past.

This first article in the series is not so much about a player , but rather about a man conning people into believing that he had created the world's first chess playing automaton.

The Mechanical Turk or Turk was created in 1770 by Wolfgang von Kempelen , to impress Empress Maria Theresa of Austria. The turk beat well known statesmen like Napoleon Bonaparte and Benjamin Franklin (now you know of at least two famous people who played chess) and was mostly undefeated.

Below is a representation of the turk


However the creator alleged that the machine played on it's own without human input , which was later revealed to be a lie. it turns out that a chess player of great skill would hide in the machine and that the machine would then be manipulated to move the pieces according to the moves calculated by this player.

The Turk was unfortunately destroyed in a fire , but it's legacy lives on
It wasn't until the 20th century that real chess computers would surface.

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Planning to improve

If you want to improve your chess , you have to work consistently. This sounds easy , but you can train and train and not improve , because of incorrect traing procedure. Even coaching can leave you stagnant if the goals of the coach sets out to achieve is not done with small increments towards achieving a goal. So how do you improve?

Firstly you have to sit down and set realistic goals for yourself. For example , I want to raise my rating with 50 points , or I want to start mastering an opening. After doing this , you have to create a reasonable time line. 50 points in a span of six months for example. Or 3 years to master say a proper repetoire for white playing 1. e4. After this is done , you can set out to improve.

Failing to plan is planning to fail as the addage goes , and this is also true in terms of reaching the goals you set out to achieve. Creating a schedule of when you are going to practise on which part of the game , is important , as you will start training with a structure. A coach can help with this , but once again the schedule has to be realistic in terms of time available for chess.

Once a schedule is in place , mini goals can be created , to keep you motivated. You will not see immediate improvement , hence with small goals you still have the sense of achievement. It also goes without saying that you will not necesarily start winning more games immediately.

A playing schedule also has to be integrated in the training , as you have to play games to see wheter or not your game has started to improve with the training. Give it atleast 6 months after starting before really reassesing your progress.  You can assess your progress by analyzing your games and then asking a more knowledgeable player to go through your analysis to look for mistakes. Compare this to games analyzed 6 months prior to your assessment.

If you have improved , you know that you are on the right track. However if you are still where you were , then it is time to sit and rethink your strategy. Did you follow the schedule , or did you start deviating from it? Did you really put in the hours or was it still just meaningless hours spent incorrectly. Did you understand the material you used? These are all valid questions , but the solution is simpler thanit appears.

The solution is to go back to basics. Pick up an endgame book and play throught it , go throught the concepts and see whether or not you really know your theory. A  book like Dvoretsky’s Endgame Manual is ideal for this. 

If you see that you know the theory and that your analysing ability has actually improved , but your game play hasn’t , you might need to rethink your schedule. There are numerous books on this topic. Think like a Grandmaster by Kotov is a good example. Another book which can really be recommended is Reassess your chess by Jeremy Silman. Silman is an international master , with years of coaching experience. He covers the basics as well as other factors which might be holding you back. 

 So if all else fails , pick up a book like the ones mentioned above , which really takes you through the game step by step. After going through a book of this type , which will also take a few months , you should once again reassess , and see wheter or not you have improved. If there is still no improvement , you should consider getting a new coach or getting a coach to assist you. In the end you will find a recipe that helps your game to improve.

Monday, 29 December 2014

A flawed game , the most important game of 2014?

2014 was a year filled with exiting chess games , many of which were brilliant in terms of tactics or setting up some positional advantage. 2014 is also the year Magnus Carlsen retained his World Champion status by defeating Viswanathan Anand. It was a much anticipated rematch , but the Championship just did not deliver on the hype surrounding it. There were no real brilliancies and although winning convinsingly , Carlsen did not play with the finesse we have come accustomed to.

However inspite of these factors , Game 6 of the 2014 World Chess Championships has to be the most important game of the year. This being for one simple reason. The fact that two grandmasters , both considered to be amongst the all time elite in chess blundered on two consecutive moves. This being move 26 (see game below)

*Variations checked with Fritz

Although other games also had a similar occurence and other games also had blunders , this has to be the most prolific game of this nature. Anand made a shocking blunder in game 2 , but Carlsen seized the opportunity and won.

So why is a game , that would not be considered brilliant even when played by far weaker players eclipse brilliant games as the most important game of 2014? The simple fact for this is , that it reminds us that even brilliant players make an error from time to time. It gives other players who blunder on a far more regular basis comfort in the fact that even the World Champion blunders from time to time.

Secondly ,after the game one could see a disappointed Anand and a relieved but unhappy Carlsen. Their faces the same as so many players in tournaments around the globe once they have had a similar game. Considering this factor , this is also a link between us mere mortals and legends of the chess world. Their play is computer like sometimes , but just like us they are humans with emotions and private lives which also affects their playing abilities.

Although their playing abilities also suffer from time to time , both players showed up to the next round showing no signs of the previous encounter , fully focussed on the task at hand. This is a lesson that can be learned by other players , put the previous round behind you and focus on the next game as if nothing happened before. Countless times a player loses focus because of the emotional turmoil caused by a blunder like the one Carlsen made and the one Anand missed.

This emotional turmoil is a direcrt result of the “How could I have missed that” response. A similar response Anand had after the game. Experts described it as “chess blindness” , in simple words it can be described as seeing something that isn’t there or missing something that is there. A trick that the mind plays in making us believe that the move we are about the make is a good move and not seeing it for what it is. Similar games can be found here

Following from the above , players can deduce that no explanation is needed for some blunders. Learning this lesson , will allow players to work on their game , rather than going down a list of reasons for blundering , like this one , gone are the words of self doubt and anger on the occassion that an event like game 6 happens in their chess career. However even more can be learned from this game.

This lesson is that no matter how many tactics are done in training , the odd one still goes unseen. Compared to most players , Anand and Carlsen are entire Encylopedia’s of chess knowledge , while the average player can be compared to a single chapter. Tactical traing greatly improves the game in a short time , but even this does not fix chess blindness and blundering from time to time. However , it does help players to minimize missing important moves and therefore should not be neglected.

Just like tactics should not be neglected , opening , middle game and engame strategy should also not be neglected. From the game one can see that Carlsen had an opening advantage , that he exploited after both players missed the all important move on move 26. Anand’s pieces were placed oddly , an incorrect middlegame strategy , which led to him losing the game in the end. This middlegame set up was the result of a superior opening position set up by Carlsen. Once again one can see that even the most knowledgeable players make strategic mistakes from time to time.

This game also lead to major discussions , which gave chess a lot of exposure ,as people who would normally just look at the end result a reason to look at the games played , be it only at game 6. The Fischer-Spassky Champsionship , is likely still the match with the biggest media exposure in terms of public interest , but all things considered , this game gave the championship considerable exposure in the modern era.

Lastly this game also showed the world , that it is time for younger players who are still reaching the peak of their playing ability to step up to the plate and challenge the established chess elite , for these reasons , this is the most important game of 2014.

Saturday, 27 December 2014

What is needed to become a professional chess player?

What is needed to become a professional chess player? Most likely a questioned every young and upcoming chess player asks at some time. Even in the modern age of the internet , little information can be found on this topic, as chess is not a “mainstream sport”… Most of the articles that can be found usually contain some information , but these articles are rarely comprehensive. Here is another attempt at listing the specifics of what a person need to become a professional chess player.

  • A passion for chess , without this you will get tired of the game at some point in time , even if you are the most talented player the world has seen. So if you do not have a passion for chess , stop reading now.
  •        A natural talent for chess , talent is not everything  , if you have passion you can come a long way , but without talent and passion , you are likely destined to be a weekend warrior and will not be able to make a living from playing chess. However there are other avenues in chess a person with passion can pursue.
  •      Self-discipline , chess is a sport where solitude and long hours of silently sitting behind a chessboard with no distractions is a requirement. It does not mean that you will not be able to do anything else , but without discipline , you will not be able to make the needed sacrifices to become a better player. As the old adage goes , “there is a time for work and time for play”…
  •     Initial financial support , it is unlikely that you will be able to live from your chess earnings right away , you need someone to invest in you coaching and living quarters while you are still working your way up. You can talk to you parents about it if you are still living at home or try to find sponsors if you are already an established player on a local or national level , although finding sponsors is tough , as chess is once again not a “mainstream sport”
  •       Basic public speaking skills ,you do not have to be able to entertain an audience like a politician , but being able to deal with people can come in handy , especially if you start becoming a well-recognised chess “celebrity”  as sponsors will expect that you appear at events and you can host simul-events (simultaneous playing sessions) for some extra income. This will more likely happen once you attain a FIDE title , like Fide-Master , International-Master or the much coveted Grand Master. (I did not name Candidate master , as you won’t play at the strength to maintain a living if you don’t reach at least a  2350 elo) *This is not a necessity , but can really come in handy.
  •  A passion for chess and natural talent , this point is the most important , so much so that it         had to be reiterated

This is just a list of personal capabilities that a person has to posses to become a professional player , how a player achieves this is up to the player , as the ways of reaching this goal vary dramatically in different demographics

If you have anything to add , please comment.

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

How to win at chess?

A lot of articles have been written on how to win at chess , however a lot of these articles are short sighted and detrimental to the development of chess. Usually these articles start out with some cheap opening trap or tactic , followed by some assurance that you will beat your "uncle" or "father" next time you play.

Some friendly rivalry is indeed good for chess , but the problem with these types of articles are , that they give beginners the impression that chess is a shallow game , a game which can be mastered by just learning a few tricks. This illusion of developing into a great player overnight is shattered once players leave their homes and start playing against stronger opposition. Suddenly , it seems like a hopeless position and players quit , long before reaching their full potential. At some level , the "new trick" , better known in chess circles as cheap tactics are not offered on a silver platter , but opportunities can still be created.

Within the last sentence lies the answer as to how one wins at chess...One creates opportunities , or in chess terms an advantage. These advantages can be marginal and in some cases can not be exploited. So the key of winning at chess is creating and advantage and exploiting that advantage , to gain a winning advantage.

So how does one gain an advantage? The answer is simple really , you master your openings , spend years on understanding the middle game and just as much time on mastering the end game and while you are doing all of this , you find some time to work on your tactics and tournament/game technique.

After doing all of this , you will be well prepared and be able to outwit your opponents from time to time. It is in outwitting your opponents that you gain this advantage , which you can then try to exploit to create a win.

As you can see , the answer is simple , but the execution is hard. It takes a lot of discipline to become a well rounded chess player , a chess player that wins more games than he/she loses. Oh but do not be fooled , even if you are able to master all of this , you will still lose games , you will still get that hopeless feeling sometimes , the only reward is that it doesn't happen as often as it had in the past.