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    Sunday
    May202018

    Ju Wenjun Wins Women's World Championship; Shankland Wins Capa Memorial

    Ju Wenjun comfortably drew the 10th and final game to take the Women's World Championship title from her countrywoman Tan Zhongyi, and is guaranteed to wear the crown for all of...six months. Congrats to her all the same; she is a deserving title-holder (she's the second-ranked woman in the world, behind only Hou Yifan, who no longer participates in women's world championship events) who has also made a number of important contributions to opening theory. More on game 10, here.

    Congratulations are also in order for Sam Shankland, who went an undefeated +1 in the last three rounds of the Capablanca Memorial to finish with an impressive +5 score (7.5/10). His rating at the end of the month will be 2717, good for 30th in the world. Well done!

    Wednesday
    May162018

    Elite Performers and Memory

    Chess players have a reputation for having a terrific memory, though some studies have suggested that their memory is tied to their domain rather than being powerful across the board. (The test where strong players were given absurd chess "positions" to memorize, and where they performed only slightly better than club players and novices, doesn't strike me as a refutation. It does show that an experienced player's chess memory works in a certain way, but if there are multiple mental/brain systems involved in memory it does little to show that the best players' general memory skills are no better than those of an ordinary cross-section of the population.)

    At any rate, there are interesting and similar stories about the memories of elite performers in other activities. Here's a story about NBA superstar LeBron James's memory - both in general and for basketball. Here's a clip of him showing off his basketball memory, followed by comments by Draymond Green (another major NBA star) and Steve Kerr (a former NBA player and current coach of the Golden State Warriors). What's especially interesting is that while both Green and Kerr are impressed, they take that sort of memory as par for the course (with some variability) for top players.

    The chicken, or the egg?

    Wednesday
    May162018

    Shankland Leading the Capablanca Memorial

    Building on his success in the U.S. Championship a few weeks ago, Sam Shankland is leading the Capablanca Memorial with an outstanding score of 5.5/7, a point ahead of Aleksey Dreev. He's up more than 14 points, to a 2715 rating and the #30 spot in the world. Will the climb continue in the next three rounds? If this keeps up, the U.S. will be in great shape to repeat at the Olympiad this September and October.

    Wednesday
    May162018

    The Women's World Championship: Down to the Wire

    With one game remaining in the Women's World Championship, Ju Wenjun clings to a one-point lead over her countrywoman Tan Zhongyi. Game 1 was drawn, Ju won games 2 & 3, Tan won game 4, Ju game 5, and Tan game six before three draws brought the match to its current status. Ju will have the white pieces in game 10, scheduled for Friday.

    Wednesday
    May162018

    Evgeni Vasiukov (1933-2018), R.I.P.

    Another old great has gone the way of all flesh, as Evgeni Vasiukov has died at the age of 85. He's probably best known as the victim of a famous win by Mikhail Tal, who immortalized the game with his famous reverie about trying to save a hippopotamus drowning in a marsh. It's a great story, but it certainly shouldn't be the extent or even the predominant aspect of Vasiukov's legacy.

    He was a very strong grandmaster who defeated several world champions (including Tal), won the Moscow Championship six times, and won many beautiful games. One of my favorites was his annihilation of Loek van Wely in the 2002 Aeroflot Open. Up to that point, Vasiukov's name was just one I had seen in old books, but I saw that game that very day (or very soon thereafter) and was amazed: van Wely was a top 10-20 player, and Vasiukov was almost 70. No matter: he blew him off the board.

    There's a nice report on Vasiukov here, which includes the Tal story and his loss and win against him, the van Wely game, and more.

    Wednesday
    May162018

    Komodo 12 Available

    I'm not shilling for them, and probably shouldn't even write these posts. But I feel bad for people who have bought a one-year subscription for the Komodo engine and never get notified when they make the latest upgrade available, so here's your notice: Komodo 12 was released a week or so ago.

    How will it fare against Stockfish and Houdini? We should get a glimpse fairly soon, as the penultimate preliminary stage of TCEC Season 12 is around 2/3 finished.

    Friday
    May042018

    Russian Team Championship, Women's World Championship

    The next big round-robin is Norway Chess, starting May 27 (Carlsen, Caruana, Mamedyarov, Ding Liren, MVL, Karjakin, So, Nakamura, Aronian, and Anand - 10 of the top 13 and seven of the top eight players in the world), but some elite players are and will be in action between now and then. For instance, the Russian Team Championship is underway, with at least eight players rated 2700 (or just a hair lower) participating: Svidler, Vitiugov, Tomashevsky, Fedoseev, Matlakov, Dubov, Artemiev, and Gelfand. Naturally, many interesting games have been played there, of which I've picked a couple for your enjoyment. They aren't annotated - it will be more fun if you figure out what's going on for yourself.

    While the Women's World Championship is far less interesting when Hou Yifan isn't participating, it's still the world championship, and it's not the participants' fault that Hou Yifan has bailed out. It's a 10-game match between defending champion Tan Zhongyi and challenger Ju Wenjun, both of China, and begain May 3. Game 1 was drawn, and Ju won the second game with Black to lead 1.5-.5.

    Friday
    May042018

    Last Comments about *Chess - From Beginner to Grandmaster*

    A couple of posts back I mentioned the book Chess - From Beginner to Grandmaster: The Blueprint for Unlocking Your Own Chess Potential, by GMs Alexander Beliavsky, Adrian Mikhalchishin, Luka Lenic, and Dusko Pavasovic. Where I left off at the time of that post the title could have been Chess - From Beginner to Experienced Beginner, but as expected there were a number of more sophisticated chapters as the book went on.

    In fact, they were really too sophisticated for anyone who could benefit from the earlier chapters, so from a chess content perspective it's not clear who the book is aimed at. One way the authors try to bridge the gap and widen the potential audience is with a number of chapters offering general advice about studying and training, playing in tournaments, etc. But to my mind the book's most natural audience is coaches who are looking for a handy checklist of topics, to make sure their students know something about all the points addressed therein.

    I think the book can be read for free if you have Amazon prime, but I don't think it's worth buying. But browse it online and make your own decision.

    Friday
    May042018

    Erik Madsen on the Value of the Pieces

    [DM: This was a comment to the previous post, and it looks interesting enough to turn into a standalone post. Here goes:]

    I can offer my programmer's perspective. The values in my chess engine are:

    private const int _defaultPawnMaterialScore = 100;
    public const int DefaultKnightMaterialScore = 301;
    public const int DefaultBishopMaterialScore = 306;
    public const int DefaultRookMaterialScore = 485;
    public const int DefaultQueenMaterialScore = 962;

    Found by examining every position of a large collection of games between GMs, calculating the material difference* at each position, translating that difference into a 0% to 100% winning chance, comparing it to the actual result of the game, and summing the squared error.

    Adjust the material values, find the new error, and repeat. Select new combinations of material values to examine using a randomizing function** that balances examination of values near known best with exploration of wildly different values.

    Links with more detail on my Thank You page.

    * Actually the tuning algorithm considers positional factors too- such as bishop pair, piece mobility, passed pawns, etc.- it doesn't focus only on adjusting material values.

    ** I chose to use a randomizing function to select parameters because brute force calculation of every possible parameter combination is computational infeasible- on the order of 10 ^ 150 discrete parameter combinations.

    Tuesday
    May012018

    The Value of the Pieces

    I'm about halfway through Chess - From Beginner to Grandmaster: The Blueprint for Unlocking Your Own Chess Potential. So far it seems aimed at weaker players, but bit by bit it aims higher. I'll say more about it when I've finished, but one thing caught my eye in a very early chapter. The book is written by GMs Alexander Beliavsky, Adrian Mikhalchishin, Luka Lenic, and Dusko Pavasovic, who take turns writing chapters. In Beliavsky's first chapter, he offers a scale of values I'd never come across before.

    As usual, the pawn is worth one point while knights and bishops are each worth three points. But he says the rook is worth four points while the queen is worth eight. Really? Of course any values we give are approximations and abstractions. In some positions it's even possible for a pawn to be more effective than a queen, and there are plenty of less radical violations of the scale of values. Whatever values we offer are something like an approximate average based on a sort of averaging out of our experience.

    What I think is right about the relatively close assessments for bishops and knights on the one hand and the rook on the other is that it gets right the inequality between a rook and a pawn against two minor pieces. There are times when the rook and pawn hold their own, but that's rare. The two minor pieces are generally better, especially when at least one of the pieces is a bishop. (If they're both bishops, the side with the rook and pawn are often simply lost.)

    What seems wrong, however, is the idea that a minor piece and a pawn are equal of a rook. Of course that can be true, but we're speaking of the typical case or of averages. In this context, it seems to be false. The rook is generally better than a bishop (or a knight) and a pawn. On the other hand, against the traditional 1-3-3-5-9 scale, a minor piece and two pawns are almost always better than a rook - especially when the minor piece is a bishop. So if we set minor pieces to three points apiece, then I think the rook's value should be between 4 and 5 - let's say 4.5. One pawn for the exchange is not enough, all else being equal, and if the side with the minor piece has two pawns to go with it then it's the side with the rook that needs something to compensate for the material deficit. Alternatively, we could give the knight and the bishop a raise - maybe knights are worth 3.25 points while the bishop is worth 3.5 points. That would tip the hat towards those theorists who believe that bishops are more effective than knights, most of the time, in the abstract. (Of course, there are plenty of exceptions, many of them well-known.)

    How about the ratio of the rook to the queen? My inclination is to say that the queen is (at least) a match for a couple of rooks when the rooks aren't well coordinated or when they lack scope. However, in a pure ending with a queen against a pair of rooks, with an equal (non-zero) number of pawns distributed on both flanks, the queen has a fundamental problem. The rooks can gang up on a pawn, which can be defended by the opponent's king and queen. The problem is that if the exchange takes place, the side that had the rooks ends up a pawn ahead in what's likely to be a winning king and pawn endgame. When the pair of rooks can act like a pair of rooks, the side with the queen will be in trouble. So while there are times when the queen can perfectly well hold her own against the rooks, there are plenty of scenarios where she can't. So Beliavsky's 2-1 ratio of the queen's value to that of the rooks seems too generous on the queen's behalf.

    Finally, what about the ratio of the queen to an army of smaller forces, e.g. either three minor pieces or a rook, minor piece and a pawn? Here I'm less sure. It doesn't seem to be obviously right that three minors are better than a queen, as would be the case (in the abstract, on average) on Beliavsky's scale. But maybe further research and reflection would confirm his evaluation? I leave that as a project to the reader.