Thursday, 5 March 2015

Somewhere over the ... horizon

In the early days of computer chess, the "horizon effect" was an ever present danger to programs. Essentially, the horizon effect was when a program was faced with an unstoppable threat it would sometimes play a move that pushed the threat to beyond the depth of its search, making it disappear. The problem with this is that the threat would still exist, popping up after the next move, and the move that delayed the threat might be a bad one anyway ( eg White is going to lose a queen by force in 5 moves, so the program sacrifices a pawn to delay it by one move, and beyond its search depth).
Eventually the problem was "solved" by both the increase in search depth, as well as improvements in search techniques (ie capture extensions).
However it still happens these days, but often in another way. There are a number of positions where even strong engines get the evaluation wrong due to not being able to see far enough. It isn't that the engine is pushing the threat further down the road with bad moves, just that the winning idea takes quite a number of moves to execute. For humans, spotting the key idea can be quite simple, and our more abstract thought processes then allow us to recognise the eventual outcome well before a computer does.
In fact an example of this occurred last night at the ANU Chess Club. Mark Hummel (someone who has written his own chess engine btw) decided to be a little adventurous and sacrifice his queen in return for a charging passed pawn. Eventually the pawn was halted at d2, and the material balance crystallised as R+B v Q. The problem for White was that the pawn was blockaded by the queen, and any move away just allowed Black to queen. Feeding this into the computer, the engine kept returning 0.00 as the evaluation for quite a while. It was only when the program spotted the idea of protecting the pawn with the bishop (freeing up the rook) did it finally realise that Black was simply winning, something that Hummel spotted a number of moves earlier.

Hathiramani,Dillon - Hummel,Mark [C56]
ANU Challengers, 04.03.2015

2015 ANU Masters - Week 4

Week 4 of the 2015 ANU Masters saw 3 drawn games, and one significant victory. Miles Patterson chanced his arm with a kingside attack against Victor Braguine, and was rewarded with the full point. Patterson allowed Braguine to capture a few stray pawns on the queenside, while improving the attacking placement of his own pieces. Braguine tries to defend by swapping off a centrally placed knight but this allowed Patterson's queen to enter the game with devastating results.
Both the Bliznyuk - Litchfield and Chibnall - De Noskowski games were fairly solid draws where the point was split when an equal endgame was reached. The Press - Reading game was also drawn, but in a somewhat more dramatic fashion. Reading had a clear advantage in the middlegame, with a rook and extra pawns for two knights. Press tried to whip up an attack but ended up dropping a piece to end up an exchange down. However he did end up with a protected passer as compensation and suddenly Readings rooks were getting in each others way. Even the exchange of a pair of rooks did not help reading, but just when he was looking lost, he found a line which was good enough to draw. He eventually gave up the rook for a pawn, but was able to remove the remaining pawns to leave K+N v K.
Despite his loss, Braguine still leads the tournament on 3/4. Patterson, Chibnall and Litchfield are half a point behind, while Bliznyuk is the only other player on 50% or above.

Braguine,Victor (1729) - Patterson,Miles (1842)
2015 ANU Masters Canberra AUS (4.2), 04.03.2015

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

The language of chess

The Vice website has a regular feature "The Hidden Language" which looks at the specialist words and phrases used by people taking part in a particular activity. Recently they looked at the hidden language of chess, interviewing well known chess coach Bruce Pandolofini.
The interview is fairly brief, but they did cover some of the more common terms.  Up front Pandolifini pointed out that what is the common usage of stalemate in the media (ie "negotiations have reached a stalemate") really should be replaced by Zugzwang, or even "Squeeze", which is slang for mutual zugzwang. Some of the more derisive terms also get a run, such as Patzer and Fish. There is also more run of the mill terms such as promotion and checkmate, while "A pawns lust to expand" is one of the more obscure phrases (although well known to anyone who has read Nizowitsch)
Reading the article brought back memories of my chess playing youth, when such phrases peppered my own speech. While I am more polite these days, patzer, shmuck and putz were all good yiddish words that I used on occasion. (Note, if you want some slight NSFW fun, look up the meaning for putz). And at times it seemed that there was a competition to see who could use the most obscure slang, including sentences like "I had a queen side pawn majority, but with a strong outpost on f5, I was able to find a pawn break on the e file, double my rooks, and crack him with my g pawn. Shafted by the plastic man!"
I'm not sure what language young chess players speak these days (is it all about centi-pawns?) but I really do think that the education of the well rounded chess player should always include a course in chess terms and idioms.

Monday, 2 March 2015

2015 ACT Championship

The 2015 ACT Championship is being held over the Canberra Day long weekend, from the 6th to the 9th of March. The tournament will be a 7 round FIDE rated swiss played with a time limit of G90m+30s per move. The schedule is 1 round on Friday 6th at 7:30pm, then 2 rounds a day, at 10:30am and 2:30pm.
The tournament is being held at Campbell High School, Trealor Crescent, Campbell (next to the War Memorial). Entries will be taken before the first round at the venue, from 6:30pm. The entry fee is $65 ($45 for concession) and membership of the ACTCA is required.
This year sees the event trialling a 7 round single (long) weekend format. For the last few years the event has run over 2 weekends, but scheduling difficulties, as well as a preference for a shorter event from some players, has led to a look at the shorter format. At this stage the entries are around the 20 player mark, but this is expected to grow over the next few days.

Quick CC Wins

Conventional wisdom is that quick Correspondence Chess (CC) wins are a thing of the past ("it's all computers innit"). However not everyone uses computers to play CC, and unlike OTB chess, other kinds of accidents are possible. I have had games end abruptly due to misentered moves  (an opponent once left a queen en-pris) and there was the famous "conditional" game which went 1.e4 b6 plus the reply "On any white move 2. ... Bb7". White sent 2.Ba6 Bb7 3.Bxb7 by the next post.
Looking back through my own CC games the shortest proper win I've had (as opposed to opponents just not moving early in the game) has been 9 moves. And even then, the first 4 moves were supplied by the organisers,  as it was a Traxler Thematic with the game starting on White's 5th move. Fans of the Traxler may find it slightly underwhelming, as I was following theory up until move 8, when my opponents TN on move 9 simply allowed a mate in 1.

Xorb - Press,Shaun [C57]
Traxler Thematic, 07.2008

Sunday, 1 March 2015

The worlds largest chess set

I'm not sure what the record for the worlds largest chess set is (real life elephants maybe) but a set made by Toyota would go close. It consisted of various models of Toyota Cars, and board was a floor of a stadium in Japan.
If you look at the video contained in the new story here, you will of course notice that are not actually playing chess, but Shogi (Japanese Chess). However I am still going to include it under the "chess" heading, as the games are quite similar, and more importantly, one of the players was Habu Yoshiharu. I have covered him in previous posts, but he is both a FIDE Master in chess, as well as being one of the strongest Shogi players in history.
And for those that are familiar with the rules of Shogi, I'm pretty sure that did not play the game exactly according to the rules, as it would have been difficult to turn the pieces over to signify a promotion being made!

Saturday, 28 February 2015

2015 O2C Doeberl Cup - Have you entered?

This year is one of the "Easter is early" years, which means that the O2C Doeberl Cup is only 5 weeks away. So if you are planing to play in this years event (and I hope as many readers as possible do), you need enter pretty soon. The Premier Section is already filling up quite nicely with 7 GM's entered so far and 47 of the 80 places already filled. As in previous years, the other events (Major, Minor and Under 1200) still have plenty of room, but it is still worth getting your entries in as soon as possible.
While the tournament web site has all the information, the key details are: When - 2nd - 6th April (3-6 for the Major/Minor and 3&4 for the Under 1200) Where - University House, Australian National University Canberra.
Other points are: For the first time the Under 1600 event will be FIDE Rated, providing an opportunity for players rated below 1600 to earn an International rating. There will be GM Master Classes held on Wednesday 1st April (see website for details). The popular Blitz event will be on Saturday 4th April. And the ANU Chess Club will be holding a blitz event 5 minutes walk from the venue on Wednesday 1st April for anyone who gets into town early.

(*** I am a paid official for this event ***)