Tuesday, 21 April 2015

My brain wasn't wired right

Nigel Short has become the latest "Chess story du jour", after his comments concerning men's and women's chess was picked up by the main stream media. As a provocative main stream topic he probably could not have done any better, and I suspect this debate will run on for a bit.
I am not going to weigh into the substance of the debate, simply because it is not my area of expertise. By that I am focusing on the single quote "Men and Women's brains are had-wired very differently ... ", which is quite a definitive claim. And to make such a claim (or to disprove it) requires a  specialisation in neuro-science, or at least access to the relevant literature.
In my own personal experience, I haven't noticed a difference between the way males and females play the game. I've never looked at a move (or a game) and thought "that move was particularly male". Strong moves are strong moves, and weak ones are weak, and that is generally all I have seen. The closest manifestation I have seen to gender affecting style has curiously been in the area of over compensation, where female players are coached/rewarded for playing aggressively, as though they would not develop this talent naturally.
And to prove nothing at all, here is a game played this evening between myself and Alana Chibnall. The fact that the game ended in a draw probably shows we are chess players of comparable strength, but given the collection of mistakes that occurred at various points, I am not sure what this strength really is.

Press,Shaun - Chibnall,Alana [C43]
Murphy Memorial, 21.04.2015

Carlsen's Legacy

Even though he is still a young man, I think Magnus Carlsen is going to leave a significant legacy behind him. Looking at his tournament games for the last 4 or 5 years, this legacy may well be that he rendered opening theory unimportant. It seems that in tournaments (less so than matches) his choice of openings is driven by a desire not to be put into any opening category, while aiming to reach a middle game where he can play interesting moves. In the Shamkir event his last to games were a Dutch Stonewall (this could be called unfashionable) and a g6 Ruy Lopez (certainly unusual).
On one level it is almost a throwback to the Larsen strategy of losing 1 game to win 2 (as opposed to drawing all 3), although in Carlsen's case it is more draw 1 game to win 2. And whether this is a conscious decision of Carlsen's, but it is also as if he is the 'Anti-Kasparov', rejecting the Kasparov approach of finding a concrete evaluation for every opening he plays.
Of course you have to be a rare talent to pull this off, but Carlsen seems to be fine so far. And one group of people happy with his approach, book publishers. For now almost every opening book published can include a game by Carlsen, and in most cases, a game he wins.

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Stolen laptop halts play

This weeks Street Chess tournament came to an unusual end, when the theft of the tournament laptop prevented the tournament from continuing after 5 rounds.
For those unfamiliar with the format (or terrain) of Street Chess, it is a weekly rapidplay tournament, played outdoors in the centre of Canberra. It has been running for over 20 years in this location, and the only similar incident I can recall occurred 15 years ago, when a mobile phone was taking.
As for the details, I (the tournament organiser) was a victim of my own carelessness. I had announced the pairings and then left the laptop on the table. Engaged in a friendly game with a casual player, I failed to notice that someone had came into the tournament area (over a barrier) and after wandering about for a while, had grabbed the laptop, and left the area (once again climbing the low barrier). When I finished my game, I turned around to see the laptop gone.
After ascertaining I had not simply misplaced it, the police were called, but by this stage the laptop was long gone. The players taking part in the event were very understanding, and agreed to halt the tournament at this point, also forgoing any potential prize money due to then.
The theft itself was picked up on CCTV at the venue, including a clear shot of the persons face. It is now in the hands of the police, although I would be (pleasantly) surprised if the laptop is recovered. While most of the data is backed up elsewhere, one thing that is not recoverable (at this point), are the tournament records since early March. So while Street Chess has been a regular contributor the the ACF Quickplay rating list (possibly the biggest contributor), it looks like that this quarters events will not be rated.

The more you practice the luckier you get

I suspect Magnus Carlsen has sent most of the worlds top players batty, with his ability to convert equal positions, and save losing ones. It is as though he simply needs to sit down at the board to receive a +0.5 evaluation bonus against his opponent (maybe not Caruana but +1.5 against Nakamura).
In the first round of the Shamkir tournament he was worse against Anand after the Marshall Gambit just left him a pawn down, but still managed to escape with a draw in the end. Then in tonight's 2nd round game he just rolled over the top of Mamedyarov, using a now familiar strategy of throwing a pawn or two up the board, and watching his opponent fall to pieces.
To some commentators (especially non-GM ones) this looks a lot like luck, but as Arnold Palmer famously said "the more I practice, the luckier I get".

Carlsen,Magnus - Mamedyarov,Shakhriyar [D94]
Shamkir 2015, 18.04.2015

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Shamkir Chess 2015

The Gashimov Memorial (aka Shamkir 2015) began a couple of hours ago, and already the results are coming in. Mamedov and Vachier-Lagrave were the first to finish, with a draw in 40 moves. Wesley So has bounced back from his US Championship debacle with a win over Anish Giri, after a very strange opening. Although the rest of the games are in progress, Kramnik and Anand are better against Adams and Carlsen respectively. In the other game, Caruana looked like he has dodged a bullet against Mamedyarov, recovering from a worse position to reach an almost equal ending. Then in just two moves he undid his good work and is now losing!
The tournament is a 10 player RR and is starting at a relatively good time for Australian chess fans. I am watching the action at www.chess24.com but you can also visit the tournament homepage for updates and games.

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Mental gymnastics

Just a short study to see how well the brain is functioning. It is White to play and win.
As with most studies the play is not quite straightforward (although you should find some moves when you realise the alternatives all fail), and a little quirky (especially one of the potential finishes).

Well I'll be!

As a CC player who does not use chess engines, one of the difficulties is playing games where you have no idea about who is better. As the games go for quite a while (3 to 6 months), this can be very frustrating. You might think that knowing who is better is different from having the computer choose your moves, but to me it is a slippery slope (as well as providing a form of assistance).
The "I have know idea about the position" problem occurs in OTB chess as well, although the usual response is to lash out tactically. A game I played last night certainly had some of these features (a confusing middle game, tactical blows, and an unclear ending), although I was genuinely surprised that post game engine analysis wasn't the horror show I thought it would be.
I was happy with my position from the opening, and thought that 13.g4 was a desperate gamble. Turns out it was actually quite good, although 13.h5 was even stronger. Capturing on d4 wasn't a pawn grab, but just a way of freeing e5 for my queen. Again when my opponent took on f5 I thought he was helping develop my queenside, until 24.Nd4 landed on the board. By this stage I thought I was losing too many pawns, but 28.Rg1 was a slight mistake, as 28. ... Rd8 causes difficulties for the knight on d6. At this point I thought it was prudent to offer a draw, not because I believed the position to be equal (I felt I was worse), but to take advantage of my opponents shortness of time, and the sudden shift in momentum. I was relieved when he accepted the offer, thinking I had escaped. But it turns out that there was no escape as the final position is considered equal by Stockfish. Not sure if this was dumb luck or subliminal thinking, but I will take the half point.

Hosking,Ian - Press,Shaun [A85]
Murphy Memorial, 14.04.2015