Saturday, 25 October 2014

Many versus Few

White to play and win
As I get older I am suffering the affliction of increased confusion, especially at chess. It is particularly noticeable when I am faced with a position with lots of scattered pieces on the board. I had an example today where I was material up , but my opponent had  knights, bishops and rooks scattered around the board. Trying to keep track of all the threats turned out to be quite difficult, and I felt fortunate to eventually swap enough pieces off and win the ending.
The position on the right is much more to my liking. While there are plenty of bits on the board, they are all focused on a very narrow set of targets. White is trying to queen a pawn, Black is trying to stop this, and so the play is pretty direct. Of course calculation is required (and quite deep calculation), but it is of a specific type.

Friday, 24 October 2014

Bicycle Events

For some, the prevalence of computers is the scourge of Correspondence Chess. A large number of OTB (over the board) players cite it as a reason that they do not play CC, reasoning that they can just as easily play against a computer at home. Even arguments that not all players use chess engines in CC are often met with sceptical looks. Curiously there is a smaller group of OTB players who do not play CCLA events (which prohibits engines in postal events) on the grounds that it is unfair to hold them to a rule that they are sure their opponents will ignore.
However there is a series of CCLA events which does attempt to address this issue. The CCLA Bicycle events (because no engines are used!) have been running for the last 2 years, organised by Brian Jones. They now start monthly, and are restricted to players rated under 2000. The reason for the rating restriction is both to keep the events accessible to the majority of players, and to stress that the competitions are not for sheep stations.
Generally the events have worked well (apart from the ongoing issue of 'silent' withdrawers) and I have noticed a number of familiar OTB names popping up. Of course CC can be time consuming but I find 1 event at a time (6 games) is manageable.
If you are interested in playing in such an event, just visit the CCLA webpage, and contact Brian Jones via the 'Contact Form' menu option.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Data driven chess

One of the side effects of the recent "Millionaire Chess" even in Las Vegas, is a greater focus on how the game can be presented. Chess is still hoping to emulate the TV Poker boom of the last decade, and the use of numbers may be the way to do it. GM Maurice Ashley is working on a system called Deepview, which collects a larrge data set from the games of the worlds top players, and then uses that information to provide the viewer with a perspective on the game. Unlike the current system of just using a chess engine to state who is winning, Deepview also looks at the players relative abilities in openings and endings, as well as how they fair in quiet or tactical positions.
While this idea is not necessarily new (I even read articles about chess statistics from the 1950's), the era of 'big data' provides the technology to make it happen. Even if it doesn't succeed in capturing the broader market of sports enthusiasts such a system would still be a great addition to the current online chess coverage.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

You either know it or you don't

R+BvR is a rare but tricky ending that most players know about, but don't know enough about it. It turns up just often enough that I suspect it should be memorised (especially the defences). An example of this occurred at the ANU Chess Club tonight, when the following position was reached. After much shuffling around (on a 10 second increment mind you), White was unable to find the winning idea and a draw was eventually reached. After the game I thought that the position shown was a winning one, but could not remember the exact technique for converting it. I had a vague recollection that the Black rook needed to be on the third rank, so the bishop could deny it access to a key defensive file.
On checking at home it turned out my memory was right, although I doubt I would have worked it out over the board. For those who are curious the bare bones line to win this position is as follows (note: Alternative variations are left to the reader for further study)
1. Ra7 Rd1 2.Rg7 Rf1 3.Bg3! (The key idea in this ending) 3. ... Rf3 4.Bd6 Re3+ 5.Be5 Rf3 (For now it looks like nothing has changed, but both the c and g files are now denied to the Black rook) 6.Re7+ Kf8 7.Rb7 Kg8 8.Rg7+ Kf8 9.Rg4! Re3 (To prevent Bd6+) 10.Rh4 and the Black rook cannot defend with Rg3.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Tashkent GP

The 2014-15 FIDE Grand Prix series has got off to a compressed start, with the Tashkent GP starting almost as soon as the Baku GP event had finished. While there has been a slight change to the lineup (players in the series play 3 of the 4 events) both winners from Baku, Fabiano Caruana and Boris Gelfand have backed up for this tournament.
The whole event began this evening (Canberra time). Of the 6 round 1 games, 5 are still in progress as I write this, with Giri and Gelfand drawing in 39 moves. Curiously the website has Caruana playing under the USA flag, which is either late breaking news, or just a simple mistake.
If you want to stay up late and follow the action the website, with the usual live games plus commentary is here.

Monday, 20 October 2014

Oh the horror!

I had a quick look at the chess-db website, and it seems that they have added some new features. Chess-db is basically a huge online chess database with some bells and whistles thrown in. One such whistle is an 'Explore Blunder' option where you can be shown some of the worst blunders in a players career. I clicked on the link for my own games, and while the list is restricted to 4, it is a pretty horrible 4. In fact a couple of them are so bad that I am struggling to remember where they happened, but I'm pretty sure a few cam from some sub standard Olympiad performances.
The other feature I am going to test is the 'Play Chess against X' where a computer engine is supposed to play in the style of Player X, as determined by the analysis of their games. If it truly emulates the style of my game I expect to be hacked for a bit, and if the attack fails, hang on to win after a series of mistakes.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Chess and chess-like games

The trend for computer games is for them to be purchased online. While this is convenient to the user (except for those with limited download capacity) it is making the traditional game store obsolete.
The biggest online store is probably Steam, and purchase a lot of games from there (including a number I have never actually played). While they have lots of first person shooters etc, they don'y have a lot of chess programs. Of course dedicated chess programs are a bit of a niche product, but the number one chess program on there is Fritz 14. This is followed by some familiar titles like Battlechess, while the chess variant Chess 2, features prominently.
Below that are what I would either call chess-like or chess-inspired games. Khet 2.0 is one example, while the venerable Archon still seems to be around. After that it is a bit of a mixed bag, where the game may be inspired by chess (eg it is a turned based strategy game) but after that it is anything goes.
As a source for games Steam is usually a little cheaper than the non-downloaded versions so if you are looking to stretch your dollar, it may be a sensible place to shop.