Saturday, October 31, 2009

My New Blog

To anyone who might be interested, I am blogging about chess these days at Prospect Chess.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Sunday, February 10, 2008

2008 State: Dimopoulos v. Strunk

My favorite game came in the third round when Prospect's Peter Dimopoulos upset Lincoln Way's Alex Strunk despite a rating differential of 500 points. Alex played the exotic Black Knight's Tango against Peters 1.d4. Despite never having encountered this opening before, Peter responded logically and aggressively. Alex let his development lag in the hopes of grabbing some pawns.

Both sides overlooked some tactical points that would have been very hard to find in a sixty minute time control without investing a good deal of one's clock, but Peter kept the pressure on and found the very pretty move 22.Nh8! to win the exchange.

A knight is usually at its absolute worst when stuck in the corner so trapping a rook by moving a knight into the corner warrants a lot of style points. Peter missed some opportunities to shorten Black's resistance after this but Alex had been forced to consume most of his time dealing with White's attack.

Two interesting points occurred in the ending where Peter made himself sweat more than he had to. In both cases, Fritz 11 thought that Peter's move was just as good as my proposed alternative, but since Fritz has no sweat glands, I still recommend my move. The first one occurred on his 48th move.

According to Fritz, Peter's 48.Ra5 is every bit as winning as my 48.Kc5, but the virtue of the latter move is that the rook keeps the Black king from ever getting near the White g-pawn. White simply advances the b-pawn until White is forced to give up the bishop.

One of the most important things a rook can do in the endgame is to confine the opposing king.

The next occurred ten moves later when Fritz liked Peter's 58.Ra2+ just as much as my 58.f7. After the latter move, Black queens first, but White queens with check and trades off the Black bishop and queen leaving him free to advance the b-pawn unhinderd. After Peter's move, Black has the opportunity to chase the White king around with checks for awhile.

Click for score and comments.

2008 State: Whining Coaches*

At one point, I happened to overhear a coach complaining about Barrington and Cary Grove gaining an unfair advantage with the help of GM Yuri Shulman, an opinion that was apparently shared by a handful of coaches. The alleged problem was not that these two schools were paying a grandmaster to provide coaching. Instead, the disgruntled coaches were apparently concerned that Shulman had collected a database of games played by various high school players from his chess camps as well as his coaching and that this database was being used by those two schools to prepare for their opponents in the state tournament. These coaches apparently believe that Shulman’s databases should be open to everyone. Happily, the officials were not impressed with these complaints.

In my humble opinion, these coaches should grow up and quit whining. If your team loses a match, try to set an example of class and sportsmanship for your players rather than blaming the loss on some alleged malefaction. As an expert chess player, I can assure you that the advantage to be gained in preparing for specific opponents in a tournament like the IHSA Championship is minimal. Moreover, differences between schools in the resources they are willing and able to devote to training, coaching, and scouting opponents is a fact of life in every competitive activity. Finally, any player who attends one of GM Shulman’s chess camps is sure to be rewarded by an increase in chess understanding that will vastly outweigh any competitive disadvantage that comes from revealing his playing style.

The biggest hindrance to preparing for specific opponents is lack of time. Other than the first and fifth rounds, players do not know who they are going to play until minutes before the round begins. There is no time to prepare for an opponent even if there were much benefit to doing so.

In my experience, the value of preparing for a specific opponent decreases very rapidly for players below master level. When one grandmaster looks at another grandmaster’s games, he may notice a particular weakness or strength in handling a particular type of ending and take that into account in his games. However, two high school players rated in the 1500’s are never going to be able to make that kind of determination about each other. Moreover, even if they could, they are not going to have the skill to steer the game into that particular type of ending. Even with my rating of 2058, I cannot imagine any situation in which I would not be a fool to forego the move I thought objectively best in the hopes of exploiting some imagined weakness in my opponent’s skill set. Moreover, given the learning curve upon which high school players are operating, it would be foolish to assume that any player’s skill set is the same as it was as recently as a month ago.

I will admit that it is nice to know what openings my opponents are likely to play. If I know that my opponent plays a variation that I have had a great deal of trouble handling recently, I might be wise to avoid it. On the other hand, in The Road to Chess Improvement, GM Alex Yermolinsky says that deviating from openings with which you are familiar for fear of your opponent’s superior understanding is one of the worst evils. He is always delighted when his opponents do so. I know from personal experience that my biggest upsets have occurred in games where I played complex openings against strong competition.

In short, the time a high school player spends looking at his own games in order to identify and correct his own weaknesses is going to be overwhelmingly more valuable than time spent examining a potential opponent’s games in the hopes of identifying and exploiting his weaknesses. The single exception to this would be an opponent who chooses to rely on the surprise value of inferior or offbeat openings. I have only occasionally studied the Wing Gambit in the Sicilian simply because it is so rarely played. However, if I were to know that someone in the field of an upcoming event regularly plays it, I would spend some extra time looking at it and neutralize the surprise factor. Some high school players are attracted to offbeat openings and may suffer from having their repertoires generally known. However, I personally have no more sympathy for players who purposely choose crappy openings than I would have for a high school football team that tried to get by on trick plays.

The second point is that scouting is a fact of life. When a foot ball team makes the state playoffs, they try of find films of their opponents, and, I assume, they have to be willing to trade their own films in order to get them. If these coaches think that there is some advantage to be gained by scouting opposing chess teams, then they should contact coaches in other conferences to exchange databases of games. I think they would quickly find that it is very poor use of their time. As far as Schulman’s chess camps go, I am highly skeptical that he obtains information that gives the teams he coaches any tangible advantage, but to the extent he does, it is no different than coaches who see football players or baseball players at camps they run. They are certainly entitled to use their knowledge when they face those players as opponents. The only thing unethical would be to teach those players badly at camp in the hopes of exploiting those weaknesses in competition, and I don’t think anyone could ever accuse Shulman of that.

Any coach who is interested in scouting players in the Mid Suburban League or in scouting me is welcome to do it here. Barrington used this material to scout and beat Prospect this year, but that does not concern me for two reasons. First, Prospect was not outplayed in the openings which is the only place where Barrington could have gained an advantage. Second, as long as I am a volunteer coach, my goal is to promote chess generally as well as help the Prospect players. If Prospect ever decides to pay me, my attitude may change.

In sum, I hate it when coaches whine about pairings, tie breaks, or steward’s rulings. As far as I am concerned, complaining about scouting is just one more type of poor sportsmanship that sets a bad example for the players. The thing to do when you lose is to congratulate your opponent for a job well done and move on.

*These remarks are also posted on the Illinois Chess Association Discussion Forums.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

2008 State: There's 4-3 and Then There's 4-3

Although Prospect duplicated last year's 4-3 finish and only moved up three spots in the standings from last year's 37th to 34th this year, the fact was that they had a much better tournament. Prospect's average point per match of 41 this year verses 29 last year reflects the fact that they dominated in their winning matches and were very competitive in their losses.

The MSL acquitted itself well with Barrington, Palatine, and Buffalo Grove finishing 5-2. Prospect, Conant, and Hoffman Estates went 4-3. Schaumburg and Fremd finished 3.5-3.5.
Complete results can be found at the IHSA.

Best things about this year's events:

The room was carpeted and quiet. There was a monster truck show going on in the main arena and you couldn't here it in the playing area.

The bookseller had an excellent selection of opening books. Normally, book tables are filled with books about half-assed openings that young players should never touch if they ever hope to improve. This vendor only had a single book about an opening that I would object to seeing one of my players adopt. Everything else was solid books by solid authors.

Worst thing about this year's event:

Whiny coaches complaining about unfair advantages. More about this later.

Monday, January 28, 2008

2008 MSL Tournament (1):Prospect goes 2-2

The Mid-Suburban League Tournament was played on January 26th. In the first round Hoffman Estates avenged the 52-16 loss that Prospect inflicted last month with 42-26 victory. Prospect got back to even with a 52.5-15.5 win over Fremd in the second round and put itself in a position to play for the top spots by beating Conant 46.5-21.5 in the third round. However, Prospect lost a hard fought match to Barrington in the last round by 47-21.

Prospects lower boards played very well with Dhruvin Talati and Max Zwolenik finishing 4-0 and Mike Zwolenik and Parth Patel finishing 3-1. The complete results can be seen at the ICCA Website.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Tim Just Winter Open: "Guile and Treachery"

At last year's edition of the this event, I managed escape a losing position by bamboozling the 2nd highest rated nine-year-old in the country, Alexander Velikanov, when he was in time trouble. This left Zhe Quan, who was the top rated eleven-year-old when I played him in 2002, as the youngest player to beat me. Alas, my luck did not hold this year when I faced Alexander as the 7th highest ten-year-old. However, I still managed a respectable 3.5-1.5 score by drawing the 39th fifteen-year-old and beating the 18th fifteen-year-old, the 38th fourteen-year-old, and some crazy old man who was playing his first tournament in twenty-five years.

In the first round, I faced York High School sophomore Byron Chen, who I have known since he was a second grader coming to the Elmhurst Chess Club. The game was fairly even for twenty-six moves when a mistake by Byron gave me a chance to win a piece. However, I thought I saw a way to win an exchange that would have gotten the queens off the board. Since I had less than ten minutes to reach the forty move time control, I thought this the wiser course. Unfortunately, I overlooked a knight fork at the tail end of the combination which enable Byron to restore the equilibrium with bishops of opposite colors after which we agreed to a draw. Byron went on to have a great tournament at 4-1, knocking off Master Chris Nienart. He gained a stunning 80 rating points from 1878 to 1958!

In the second round, I faced fourteen-year-old Aakaash Meduri, who I have also known for years. Aakaash outplayed me thoroughly in the opening and I was expecting to pay the price for my recent lack of study, however, a couple of minor oversights enabled me to turn the game around. In the third round, I finally faced an opponent who shaved. Alan Davenport's son was playing in his first tournament in the reserve section so Alan decided to play in his first tournament in twenty-five years. He could not quite overcome the two decades of rust (which I well understand), but I suspect he will sharpen pretty quickly if he keeps at it.

Round four saw my rematch with Alexander Velikanov who played 6.Bg5 against my Najdorf Sicilian. I got the cramped but solid position that I was supposed to get but Alexander did a terrific job of keeping me tied up. My attempt to generate counterplay backfired with the loss of an exchange which my young opponent returned to reach a won king and pawn ending. Alexander's other victims in the tournament included 2209 Aleksander Stamnov and 2121 Patrick Lacey only losing in the last round to 2365 Mergen Amanov. Alexander boosted his rating from 1956 to 2013.

In the last round I faced fifteen year old expert Trevor Magness who played a system against the English Opening that I had not seen for several years ago and did not remember very well. Amazingly, the game followed book for the first twelve moves when I failed to come up with the plan endorsed by theory. Trevor grabbed the initiative but committed a tactical oversight that dropped the exchange. In the resulting queen and rook vs. queen and knight ending, Trevor had a very solid pawn structure and I had to maneuver carefully to break down his position while keeping his knight from becoming active.

The title of today's post is a reference to a statement made of me by Brad Rosen on his 64 Square Jungle blog: "Vincent demonstrates that every once in a while that age, guile, and treachery will triumph over youth, skill, and brilliance." While Brad is the father of 22nd ranked fourteen-year-old Eric. Brad and his wife Andi are supporters of chess players of all ages. At the Tim Just Winter Open, youth and brilliance came out on top more often than not with several veteran adult players finishing at the bottom of the cross-table.

The important thing is to approach the kids with the right attitude. After my loss to young Zhe Quan in 2002, one of the adults watching the game sought to comfort me by saying "These kids are too tough." In irritation, I responded "No they're not. They're tough, but they're not too tough." They may be young and energetic with more time to play and study then I have, but they still have to find the right moves over the board.