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    Friday
    Jul132018

    Praggnanandhaa Interview

    Here's an interview of the world's youngest (and second-youngest-ever) GM, Praggnanandhaa Rameshbabu, by Jaideep Unudurti, who has often commented to this blog and whose interview work (mainly with Viswanathan Anand) has been featured here before. (Please keep us posted on other Praggnanandhaa stories!)

    (HT to the interviewer himself, in his comment to my post on P.R.'s earning the title.)

    Friday
    Jul132018

    Book Review: Chess Lessons, by Mark Dvoretsky

    Mark Dvoretsky, Chess Lessons: Solving Problems & Avoiding Mistakes. (Russell Enterprises, 2018) 274 pp., $24.95. Reviewed by Dennis Monokroussos.

    If you’ve been reading my blog since its inception in 2005, you know that I’m a big fan of Mark Dvoretsky’s work. Dvoretsky, who passed away in 2016, was a strong player in his day. (He was only an IM, but his FIDE rating was over 2500, and this at a time when that put him in the world’s top 50. He was in the USSR then, when it was very difficult for all but the very best Soviet players to participate in norm tournaments.) But he was even more successful as a trainer, a vocation he took up around the age of 30. His students/trainees won numerous junior world championships, frequently reached the Candidates stage, and achieved everything but the absolute world championship.

    Dvoretsky’s work was not confined to face-to-face work with top-level students, however. He also published many books and articles with very high-level training material. His work wasn’t intended for anyone below around 2000, and that’s being pretty liberal. Most of his work is designed for masters, and a sizable chunk of his material is challenging even for grandmasters. It’s not all like that, but even his comparatively easy material isn’t designed to be read on the subway or in bed before falling asleep.

    So what about this new book, which was written before his passing but had to be translated into English? Is it accessible to elites only, or can strong club players (with a strong work ethic and a high tolerance for pain and frustration) benefit from it as well? Dvoretsky suggests in the Introduction that the book is a sort of addendum to his Analytical Manual. That was one of the most challenging books I ever worked with – maybe the most challenging – so if his assessment of Chess Lessons is correct it’s not a book for the casual player – even if that player is rated around 2000.

    But let me suggest that it’s not that bad. There’s a good deal of “talk” in the book, both to explain what’s happening in the position and to offer general advice. There are lots of challenging questions from Dvoretsky, but not all of them require a trained professional to find their solution. More importantly, not all of them are capable of being understood only by trained professionals. A comparatively lower-rated player can learn from the book, even without managing to solve any of the tasks posed. (It isn’t a puzzle book, but Dvoretsky will put a question mark at a diagram in the course of a game or game fragment to indicate a challenge, along with “W” or “B” to indicate whose move it is and 1-5 asterisks to indicate the position’s difficulty.)

    Still, the book is designed for players who are professional or aspiring to it. To go through the book as intended will require a good deal of time and effort, and as noted above, a high tolerance for pain and frustration. As someone who has worked a little with Dvoretsky, mostly with his books but also in person, I can assure you that you will grow from his books if you use them in the right way. Whether you have the time, ability, and inclination to do so is a question you’ll have to answer for yourself.

    Thus far I’ve said almost nothing about the book’s contents. With some books that would be inexcusable, but with Dvoretsky’s works it’s pretty normal. A lot of his books are collections of complicated positions where one must work through concrete details and figure out the truth; they’re very rarely about general chess understanding or solving positions based on stock tactics. He trusts that his readers have already learned these lessons and are trying to achieve the highest levels. The are hundreds if not thousands of tactical primers and dozens of books on typical positional themes, standard pawn structures, and so on. To go from a competent master to a world-class player involves skills that go beyond what we can all learn by rote learning, and his exercises are pitched accordingly. (There’s nothing wrong with rote learning; without that foundation a player is unlikely to become a competent club player, let alone a professional. It’s not sufficient for those who want to become IMs and GMs, but it is necessary.)

    Lest you think that I’m kidding about the very concrete nature of what Dvoretsky is (or rather, was) up to in his books, here are the seven parts of his book:

    Part 1: Lessons from a Certain Game

    Part 2: Positional Games

    Part 3: Discussions in the Opening

    Part 4: The King in Peril

    Part 5: Under Fire

    Part 6: Games with Questions

    Part 7: Playing-out

    Helpful, right? (Not really.) It doesn’t get any better when you dig into each part. For instance, the sections of Part 3 are titled “Fascinating Classics”, “Two Failures of Eugenio Torre”, “A Stumbling Block”, and “Unobvious Candidate Moves”. The first section begins with the famous Rotlewi-Rubinstein game and examines other games with a similar structure. Torre’s failures are both on the Black side of the Classical Slav. The “stumbling block” focuses on Nadanian’s treatment of the Basman-Sale Variation of the Sicilian, and the last section looks at a mind-bending and wild Slav sideline. But don’t be misled: in none of these cases is Dvoretsky offering anything like opening advice. It’s all about problem-solving, which is the primary focus of all his chess works. It could be an ending, a middlegame, or an opening – whatever. We as chess players have to solve problems. We can’t move pieces, can’t consult books, can’t consult engines (unless we’re correspondence players or cheaters). We memorize and study, but ultimately, we have to figure some things out for ourselves, and training ourselves in that ability is what we have to do to get really, seriously, meaningfully good at the game. Dvoretsky isn’t trying to teach us any of the variations covered in part 3. He has simply found a fresh batch of games with deep problems to solve. In some cases there are positional ideas or opening variations we can reuse, and in other cases – most, I’d say – the analysis will have no direct application. But building up skill by deep analysis of challenging positions? That’s the ultimate reusable benefit.

    In conclusion: if you’re at least 2000 (maybe 2200, and certainly above) and ambitious, the book is worth your while. If you’re below 2000, the exercises will be far too challenging; and if you don’t have the time, energy, or inclination to really work at the book it’s not worth your while either. Of course, one can buy the book and replay the games and analysis just for pleasure, and to learn a bit here and there en passant. There are better books for that purpose, however, and if you go through the book in this way you’ll lose its main benefit – you’ll already know the solutions. So I recommend the book to higher-rated players with ambition, and as something ambitious lower-rated players can work towards.

    (Amazon link here; publisher's excerpt here.)

    Friday
    Jul062018

    FIDE Presidential Race Update: Ilyumzhinov Out, Dvorkovich In **UPDATED** Ilyumzhinov Extra-Out

    The Russian Chess Federation has voted on their candidate, and it's not the outgoing/already gone FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov. Instead, it's Russian economist, political office-holder, and billionaire Arkady Dvorkovich who will throw his hat into the ring against Giorgios Makropoulos and Nigel Short.

    I'm not aware of anything weird or scandalous in his background, and his chess connections are legitimate (his father was an arbiter, and he has been involved with the Russian Chess Federation for years). So unless there's a good general reason to distrust any Russian who would be in charge of FIDE, I'd imagine that he would be a big improvement over Ilyumzhinov and most likely over Makropoulos as well. (Short is to me a wildcard: I could imagine his presidency being anywhere from brilliant to a disaster.)

    But I will defer to those who know these people and their work better than I do. European readers especially, do you have any strong opinions based on your knowledge of these men?

    **UPDATE** The Russian vote didn't officially eliminate Ilyumzhinov from being able to run, though it had that effect from a practical perspective. However, it is official that Ilyumzhinov isn't running, and he is throwing his support to Dvorkovich. (Pretty much a given, considering his feelings towards Makro and Short, so I wouldn't hold it against Dvorkovich.)

    HT: Chess Today.

    Thursday
    Jul052018

    Stockfish Wins TCEC Season 12 Superfinal over Komodo, 60-40

    It started off competitively, but it didn't end that way. Stockfish 180614 (i.e. the June 14, 2018 development version) drubbed Komodo 12.1.1 by a 60-40 score, 29-9 in decisive games to take the TCEC season 12 title. (All the games from this season, and previous seasons as well, can be found and downloaded from here.)

    Stockfish is still the engine to beat - at least among those running on the sorts of hardware we "regular" people have access to. Congrats to the Stockfish developers, and thanks to them for keeping it free!

    Tuesday
    Jun262018

    Free ChessLecture Video for the Week

    Every week ChessLecture.com makes a free video available (which is available for two weeks); this week it's another one of my videos - an oldie (recorded in 2011) discussing the game Nowak-Pachman, Solingen 1968. It's an instructive victory by Black in a same-colored bishop ending, showing the value of a space advantage in what might otherwise seem a very drawish endgame.

    The video is here, and available for free. (If you don't have a membership, you can create a free account.)

    Monday
    Jun252018

    The Race for the FIDE Presidency: A Peinful, Short Story?

    Is there hope for competent, non-corrupt leadership at the head of FIDE? Maybe, but there's plenty of cause for concern. Here's an interview with IM Malcolm Pein (once known as the voice of Fritz; now known mainly as a chess organizer, e.g. of the London Chess Classic), who is running on Giorgios Makropoulos' ticket. Running against Makro will be someone from Russia (maybe quasi-incumbent president Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, maybe Arkady Dvorkovich) and as of fairly recently, GM Nigel Short.

    While Short has ruffled feathers in the chess world by being abrasive on occasion and, in years past, for expressing politically incorrect opinions about women's chess, he is scandal-free as far as I'm aware. Makropoulos has at least been controversial in his long tenure under Ilyumzhinov. (See the end of this article, for instance, and note too Makropoulos's response.)

    "Do not put your trust in princes", writes the psalmist (Psalm 146:3), and it's good advice. But it's okay to hope for the best, and to support the best option of the bunch, as possible. If Ilyumzhinov manages to run again, I'd say support whichever alternative candidate has the best shot of defeating him. But otherwise I'm not entirely sure. Those readers who are more aware of, say, Dvorkovich, Makropoulos, and Short-as-a-possible-politician are invited to weigh in (non-libelously, it goes without saying).

    Monday
    Jun252018

    Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa: The Second-Youngest GM Ever

    He didn't quite manage to break Sergey Karjakin's record of becoming a GM at 12 years and 7 months of age (set way back in 2002), but Indian youngster Rameshbabu Pragnanandhaa came pretty close: 12 years, 10 months, and 14 days. Congratulations!

    More on this terrific achievement here.

    Sunday
    Jun242018

    Nakamura Wins Paris Grand Chess Tour Event

    Hikaru Nakamura had a very good last day at the 2018 Paris Grand Chess Tour tournament, and Sergey Karjakin did not. That made the difference, as Nakamura not only erased Karjakin's one-point lead but finished a point and a half ahead of him. Wesley So had a good day as well, and like Nakamura he went undefeated on day two of the blitz. Had he played this well yesterday he might have won the event; as it was, he finished in third, half a point behind Karjakin. That also keeps him (barely) in first place overall in the Grand Chess Tour standings.

    The U.S. has done very well, winning the first two events and enjoying the top two spots in the overall standings. However...this success does not include Fabiano Caruana, who once again finished next-to-last, only ahead of the wildcard. (That was Anish Giri in Leuven, and this time it was Vladimir Kramnik.) It might be bad form, but it may also be that he's a much weaker player - relatively speaking - at short time controls. If so, he's in effect giving Magnus Carlsen draw odds for their world championship match this coming November, as Caruana will be a heavy underdog in a rapid (& potentially blitz) playoff.

    Saturday
    Jun232018

    Only 99,457 Signatures to Go **UPDATED**

    I received an email from my former employer, World Chess (Agon), with Exciting News! Yes, truly! Here it is:

    US President Will Meet the Challenger to the World Championship Title (If You Want Him To!)

    More:

    Dear Friends,

    Chess fans from the US contacted us with an idea: to petition Donald Trump to invite Fabiano Caruana, the challenger to the Title, to the White House before the World Chess Championship Match that takes place in London in November.

    They published a petition today in support of this proposal at the White House’ petitions page. According to the rules, if the petition is signed by over 100,000 in 30 days, the Administration will review and possibly grant it.

    We are totally supporting the idea, not only because it would be a really strong sign of support for the sport and because it would create additional attention to the Match which is already creating headlines, but also because we feel that we actually can make it happen!

    If we take all of the chess community combined, it surely will be more than a 100,000 members -- it’s millions!

    If you would like to see Fabiano Caruana at the White House before the Championship Match in November, please support and sign the petition.

    Please share it on Social Media: #CaruanaInTheWhiteHouse

    Three potential problems:

    1. It doesn't say that the petition will be granted, only that it's possible that the White House will grant it.

    2. I don't know Fabiano Caruana's politics. Maybe he wouldn't want to meet with President Trump?!

    3. With three and a half weeks to go, only 543 signatures have been received, leaving 99,457 signatures to go.

    Okay, chess fans, let's do this for Caruana and for the sake of chess. Love President Trump, hate him, whatever - it doesn't matter. We're doing it to promote the game, and to demonstrate that we chess players have some power when it comes to social media. Heck, if any of you know someone who knows someone who knows a Kardashian or some other big celebrity, we can get it done in a day or two. Norwegians: have Magnus Carlsen ask Liv Tyler to promote it. We can do it!

    (Yes, I'm being slightly tongue-in-cheek, but with or without the irony it would be fun to make this happen, and the publicity would be good for chess.)

    **UPDATE**

    Some further thoughts and comments:

    1. I think the publicity would be good for chess. Depending on how Caruana handles it, however, it might not be good for him. That's probably not how it should be - it should be fine for him to accept the honor not as coming from Donald Trump, the man, but as coming from the duly-elected President.

    2. World Chess isn't covering itself with glory in the wording of the petition. In addition to the semi-incorrect "B.Fischer" (without a space and arguably using the wrong initial(s)), I've noticed at least three factual errors in the second paragraph of the petition. ("Since 1975, when World Champion B.Fischer resigned his title, an American chess player have never had a chance to become the World Champion. In 2018, Brooklyn-born Fabiano Caruana won the Candidates Tournament and earned the right to fight for the Championship title against Magnus Carlsen in a Match in London in Nov 2018.") Impressive! Let's see who can find the three errors the fastest.

    3. As alluded to in the first update comment, and reflected in the comments so far, Trump is a polarizing figure. (To put it mildly. In fact, it's bizarre that commenters thus far find the idea of Caruana having a White House photo-op far more repugnant than they did Sergey Karjakin's running around with a pro-Putin tee shirt and making pro-Putin comments. Just for starters: Trump, for all his flaws, hasn't annexed parts - significant parts, at that - of two countries.) I generally prefer to keep politics out of the blog, even if the opinions expressed square with my own. Politics are important, but not so important that every bit of life must pass through its grinder. I'll make a bit of an exception this time, but with some restrictions. First, Trump = Hitler comments will be blocked. Don't waste your time (or mine). Second, please be respectful of and to those you disagree with. It doesn't imply that you agree with their views.

    What would be interesting is to try to determine a threshold beyond which meeting with a political figure might be inappropriate. Let's say a strong pro-life advocate is invited to the White House during the administration of a strongly pro-choice President for something having nothing to do with the invitee's politics. (Maybe it's a situation like this, or a member of a national championship-winning sports team, or a great musician or scientist.) Should the recipient turn down the invitation? Alternatively, he could go in recognition that the honor is not so much from the particular man as it is from the man as president. Or he could go, and later thank the POTUS for the honor while noting that there are nevertheless strong areas of disagreement between the two. Relatedly: should the U.S. Olympic Team have boycotted the Berlin games in 1936, or was it good for them to go and have Jesse Owens and others burst the myth of the Aryan "superman"? Was the U.S. right to boycott the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow, or did it just deprive hundreds of athletes from participating in something they had worked for for most of their lives? The aim isn't to debate those particular examples, but to use them to help formulate a more interesting position than "Trump is evil, and anyone who signs the petition is a Nazi sympathizer."

    4. It wouldn't be as effective, publicity-wise, but it would still be a good thing for U.S. chess and less politically charged for Caruana to receive some sort of commendation from Congress. That sort of thing has been done before, so readers might drop their congressmen and women a note.

    5. Only 99,454 signatures to go. The more realistic question is whether the petition will even get 1,000 signatories.

    Saturday
    Jun232018

    TCEC Season 12 Superfinal Update: Stockfish Leads 18-13

    Komodo 12.1 won the first game of the match, but until game 29 that was it for its wins against Stockfish. Stockfish, by contrast, has won games 5, 9, 11, 17, 25, 27, and 31 for a +5 score almost a third of the way through. You might have noticed that all the decisive games have been odd-numbered, and in fact every game where Komodo has had White has finished in a draw. Curious.

    Anyway, it looks like Stockfish is still #1, and since a couple of its recent development versions showed some impressive scores against their predecessors, it looks like it will remain #1 for the time being.

    Check out the action here.