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    Saturday
    Sep232017

    Notre Dame 38, Michigan State 18

    ...and MS's last 8 points were in garbage time, so the score could easily have been worse. ND called off the dogs when they went up 35-10 midway through the third quarter.

    Record so far: 3-1.

    Next week's victim: Miami of Ohio.

    Tune time!

    Saturday
    Sep232017

    Book Notice: Sergey Kasparov's *Doubled Pawns: A Practical Guide*

    Sergey Kasparov's Doubled Pawns: A Practical Guide isn't the sort of book most of us would sit down with and go through page by page, but it can be useful as a reference work. Think of it as a sort of encyclopedia rather than a novel, and you'll have the right idea.

    You might wonder why anyone would write a book about doubled pawns, and here I'll refer you to the last paragraph. There isn't some essence of doubled pawn positions that covers them all, some key, principle, or secret such that if you possess it, you'll understand how to play any and all positions with doubled pawns. That model won't work, and doesn't exist.

    What Kasparov does instead is to look at this sort of doubled pawn position and that, doubled pawns in opening x and opening y. In that context, the book makes sense, and becomes useful to those who play on either side of the opening in question.

    The book comprises 148 games distributed through 10 chapters, some devoted to specific openings and some not, though many of the non-specific chapters still cluster around a limited number of openings.

    Chapter 1 covers doubled pawns arising after ...g7xf6, which arises, for example, in the Bronstein-Larsen Variation of the Caro-Kann and in various Sicilians (e.g. the Richter-Rauzer line of the Classical).

    Chapter 2 covers structures resulting after hxg and axb, which often arises in the Caro-Kann and the Slav.

    Chapter 3 is on doubled pawns in the middle of the board. The first examples come from the line 1.e4 d6 2.d4 Nf6 3.Nc3 e5 4.dxe5 dxe5 5.Qxd8+ Kxd8 6.Bc4 Be6 7.Bxe6 fxe6, and diversifies into other openings, such as Italian-like Ruys where Black plays ...Be6, White takes with the bishop and Black recaptures with the f-pawn.

    Chapter 4 is on isolated doubled pawns (which could have included the doubled pawns in the Pirc-Philidor line mentioned in the previous paragraph). Several variations are covered, and the focus at the end is on the Short Variation in the QGD that came on hard times with the Carlsen-Kramnik game from the 2016 Norway Chess tournament (1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.cxd5 exd5 5.Bg5 c6 6.e3 Bf5 7.Qf3 Bg6 8.Bxf6 Qxf6 9.Qxf6 gxf6 etc.).

    Chapter 5, "Spanish" Formations, would have been better entitled "Doubled Pawns in the Exchange Ruy", as all the examples come from that variation. He looks at a variety of Black's conceptual options, so if you play either side of the variation you're likely to find this chapter especially valuable.

    Chapter 6 looks at a grab bag of captures away from the center - often exf3 or ...exf6 as in the 4...Nf6 5.Nxf6+ exf6 line of the Classical Caro-Kann.

    Chapter 7 concerns itself with doubled pawns on the c-file - think of Nimzo-Indian lines with ...Bxc3(+) bxc3 as your template.

    Chapter 8 is a long one on Rossolimo structures, with long sections on both ...dxc6 lines and those with ...bxc6. (There are further distinctions as well, but the big divide is between ...bxc6 and ...dxc6 structures.

    Chapter 9 looks at the doubled pawn structure arising in the current main line of the Petroff: 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Nxe5 d6 4.Nf3 Nxe4 5.Nc3 Nxc3 6.dxc3.

    Chapter 10 rounds off the book, and is a grab bag of other ideas that don't fit in other chapters and are too short for their own chapters. There are sections on doubled f6/f7 pawns in Sicilian/Sicilian-like endings, doubled pawns in the Benoni, tripled pawns, doubled pawns in the Berlin, doubled pawns on the e-file (not like the ones in chapter 3), French structures, doubled pawns with opposite-colored bishops, and to close things a miscellany within the potpourri of the chapter.

    The book is most attractive as a reference book, and trainers especially might pick it up for that reason.

    Saturday
    Sep232017

    A Short Review of Wilhelm Steinitz's *The Modern Chess Instructor*

    One of the best things the publisher Russell Enterprises does is to update and/or translate old chess books. They've reissued many of Alexander Alekhine's old works, Max Euwe's book on the 1948 World Championship match-tournament, Najdorf's book on the 1953 Candidates tournament, and so on. Now they've gone back to the first world champion, Wilhelm Steinitz (1836-1900; champion from 1894-1900), and reissued his classic work, The Modern Chess Instructor (MCI), originally published in 1889, together with its much shorter sequel/second part, published in 1895.

    While today's chess primers are typically penned by club players (whether strong or middling), the first three world champions (Steinitz, Emanuel Lasker, and Jose Raul Capablanca) all wrote such works. That said, it would be more accurate to call MCI a hybrid work. It begins as a primer, teaching the rules, chess notation, and chess terms. From there it proceeds with very theoretical remarks on a number of topics: how to improve, the nature of modern chess (winning and attacking should be based on exploiting weaknesses, not "brilliance"), and the value of the pieces, their relative strengths, and how to use them.

    Having laid down this double foundation of the game's rules and laws, the remainder of the book - with a partial exception noted below - is an opening book devoted to the Open Games; i.e., those starting with 1.e4 e5. For each opening covered, there is first a theoretical section, which is followed by a number of illustrative games. The opening chapters are on the Ruy Lopez; the "Double Ruy Lopez" (i.e. the Spanish Four Knights with 4...Bb4), Three and Four Knights' Game; the "Scotch Gambit" (i.e. the Scotch, in contemporary parlance); the Two Knights' Defense; Petroff's Defense; Philidor's Defense; the Ponziani Opening; and the Giuoco Piano.

    The last two openings constitute Part II, and - here's the exception noted in the first sentence of this paragraph - Part I ends with "The Contest Between Messrs. Steinitz and Chigorin." In it, he presents and analyzes all 17 of their games from their first world championship match, played in Havana in 1889. (Steinitz won with the score of ten wins, six losses, and - incredibly - just one draw, played in the last game of the match.) The reason it's only a partial exception is that while Steinitz played 1.Nf3 in every game (almost invariably met by 1...d5 2.d4 Bg4), all of Chigorin's White games began with 1.e4 e5, and all but one of them was an Evans Gambit. Right after the match they continued their opening duel in a series of three consultation games, and those are presented as well.

    That, in summary, is what's in the book. Now for a utilitarian question (or two): who cares, other than chess history buffs? Why should we have any interest in opening theory that's almost 130 years old? I'll start my answer with reference to a couple of players far greater than all or almost all readers of this blog: eight-time Candidate Lajos Portisch and Bobby Fischer himself. From Portisch's new book, My Secrets in the Ruy Lopez (from the start of chapter 2):

    I am extremely surprised whenever a young player - maybe even a grandmaster - recites like a shot the codes of various openings [ECO codes - DM], but meanwhile he has possibly not thoroughly analysed any of Steinitz's games in the Ruy Lopez. Again, I have to quote from Fischer: "Lajos! How many Steinitz games did you study?" After a short reflection I answered: "About one hundred." His answer came immediately: "I did one thousand"....

    The point is that I suggest to everybody who wants to learn: do not forget about the once greatest players. Not only for the sake of decency, but also because the work invested will be fruitful sooner or later.

    One might think this is nuts: why would the greatest player of all time until (at least) the start of Garry Kasparov's peak years brag about looking at the theoretically archaic games of a player much weaker than himself? A few things can be said in reply, not least of which is that Fischer became the greatest player in history up to that time in part because he looked at all those old games (and not just Steinitz's, but those of all his great predecessors - to coin a phrase). It gave him a diverse chess education. Additionally, there were some gems in Steinitz's play that had fallen under the radar. The best-known example was 9.Nh3 in the Two Knights, which may now be White's primary weapon in that opening.

    Of course plenty of Steinitz's ideas were simply bad. That's true of all generations: some opening ideas stand the test of time, others don't, and some survive with a little tweaking. And many ideas which have been proved to fail took many hours of human effort, or the work of powerful chess engines, to prove their inadequacy. Over the board, as a surprise weapon, they could turn out to be perfectly viable.

    I present some ideas from the book here as a series of quiz positions; for now, I'll note that while the book isn't for everyone, it is of more than antiquarian interest - as I hope you'll see for yourself as you work on the quiz. The positions were chosen almost at random, and offer only a tiny fraction of the material in the book. I'll post some solutions in a few days; for now, enjoy!

    Saturday
    Sep232017

    Notre Dame to Reenact Leuctra with the Spartans

    Another week, another victory for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish as they take on and crush the Michigan State Spartans at 8 p.m. ET tonight. The drubbing will be televised on FOX.

    Reading material here.

    Saturday
    Sep232017

    World Cup Post Updated

    For those of you who have already had a look at today's World Cup post, please note that it has been substantially updated.

    Saturday
    Sep232017

    A Step into the Wayback Machine: How Kasparov Could Have Beaten Deep(er) Blue

    If you were a chessplayer in 1997, you were following the match between Garry Kasparov and Deep Blue (or rather, Deeper Blue, as the upgraded version was nicknamed at the time). The year before, Kasparov won by a 4-2 score after some early difficulties, but in the rematch things were much tighter. Kasparov won game 1, but famously lost game 2 he resigned in a drawn position. The computer had played excellently throughout, but at the end, oddly, it made tactical errors in a strategically winning position that could have let Kasparov escape. Had Kasparov faced a human he very likely would have sought and found his escape, but trusting Deep Blue's tactical prowess he resigned at the moment when salvation was available. This discovery didn't happen years later, but very soon after the game, and when Kasparov learned of this he was shocked and confused. How was this possible?

    After draws in games 3 and 4 the score was knotted at 2-2, just as in the first match, when Kasparov won the last two games. This year, things didn't go as smoothly. Kasparov's meltdown in game 6 is well-known, when he chose a very dubious opening variation, played it badly, and resigned in disgust after just 19 moves. But this didn't occur in a vacuum. He was extremely upset about game 2 in particular, and about IBM's conduct, and a host of other things, including his failure to win in game 5. He was pressing very nicely, but the computer found an incredible draw that impressed everyone, from grandmasters on down. (I know I was impressed - Deep Blue's last-second counter-attack looked like a marvel of active defense.) Had Kasparov won game 5, he would have been in a better mood, could have played more safely, and may have had a better sense of the machine's limitations. Instead, he was at his wit's end and collapsed in the last round.

    So a great save by Deep Blue in game 5, right? It turns out that this is not the case! It took longer to discover, but just as in game 2 Deep Blue was not tactically infallible, but made a slip. This was one of the things I discovered from Kasparov's new book Deep Thinking. Sure enough, I turned on the engine at the critical moment, and voila! he's right. And that, by the way, is very interesting: I have a decent computer running the latest engines, but they don't even calculate 30 million positions per second, let alone the (up to) 300 million positions per second Deep(er) Blue was capable of. And yet my engines identify the right move as the right move, the move that could and should have won for Kasparov, almost instantly, and recognize that it gives White a large-to-winning advantage in fewer than ten seconds. DB had minutes to find it, but couldn't. So hats off to today's programmers, who have not only greatly increased the computer's chess "wisdom", but even their tactical skill to a colossal degree.

    Here is that game, with some of my comments. The critical moments are on moves 43 and 44. DB's 43...Nd2 was a big mistake, rather than the start of the miracle counter-attack, and Kasparov could have won with 44.Rg7+. It isn't a trivial variation, but it wouldn't have been impossible for an in-form Kasparov to find, either.

    Errare computerum est etiam?

    Saturday
    Sep232017

    Isle of Man, Round 1: Caruana Beats Kramnik UPDATE: Harari-Rodshtein Miracle Save

    There's plenty of chess remaining in this tournament (it's just round 1 at the Isle of Man), and Vladimir Kramnik is playing in at least one more event before the final rating tallies are in for the Candidates, but Fabiano Caruana helped himself a great deal today by defeating Kramnik in their round 1 matchup in the Isle of Man tournament.

    An obvious question: why in the world are Caruana and Kramnik playing in round 1 of an open tournament? The answer is that John Saunders persuaded the organizers to have random pairings for round 1. The upshot is that all sorts of pairings resulted: GMs vs. IMs, higher-rated GMs vs. lower-rated GMs, Magnus Carlsen playing a 2100, and in this case, two players from the world's top five facing each other.

    Pairings will return to normalcy tomorrow, but this experiment will have done its damage to Kramnik's chances. It's not just the loss, but all the low-rated players he'll face as a result of his so-called Swiss gambit. But congratulations to Caruana, who hasn't clinched a trip to Berlin but has greatly increased his chances of getting back there.

    As for the game, have a look here. A few games remain in round 1, most notably Zaki Harari, rated just 2027, enjoying the better chances against Maxim Rodshtein (2699 on the Live List).

    UPDATE: Rodshtein finally broke under the pressure, but in a totally won position with plenty of time on the clock Harari repeated moves. (At least it seems he had plenty of time, according to the transmission. Maybe it was inaccurate and Harari was living off the increment. But even if he was down to 31 seconds he could have done it - especially if he repeated once to gain a minute. In a low-pressure situation Harari probably would have found the right move in a 3-minute blitz game, maybe even in bullet) Harari repeated moves. He only needed to spot one good move, and it wasn't a difficult one, either. A real pity, but congrats to the massive underdog for gaining half a point and giving his elite opponent a real scare. Have a look.

    Saturday
    Sep232017

    Plantinga Wins Templeton Prize

    Since you're all primed for a non-chess post on a football Saturday, I'll sneak in another one. Those of you who are only here for the chess are of course welcome to ignore this and wait for more chess posts, which will be coming later today. But I'm happy to note that a philosopher who influenced me a great deal (my other career was in academia, teaching philosophy) has won a major award, the 2017 Templeton Prize.

    Alvin Plantinga is a retired Notre Dame philosopher who has been very influential in analytic philosophy since the 1960s, having written important works on possible worlds/modal logic, but most especially epistemology and philosophy of religion. I don't agree with him on every jot and tittle, but he strongly influenced my philosophical thinking when I was a student, and my Notre Dame fanhood is mostly a by-product of Plantinga's having taught at the school.

    The announcement is here (with links to some of his more important papers at the bottom), a big video archive of short interviews covering his work is here (see also here), and the ceremony is at the Field Museum in Chicago tomorrow at 6 p.m. and will be broadcast online.

    Saturday
    Sep232017

    World Cup, Round 7 (Anti-climactic Final), Day 1: A Solid Draw **UPDATED**

    The big prize of a trip to the Candidates has already been won by the finalists, Levon Aronian and Ding Liren, but an extra $40,000 and the prestige of winning the World Cup are still at stake. Game 1 of this best-of-four game mini-match is now history, and it was a good, correct draw in the English. The line 1.c4 Nf6 2.Nc3 e6 3.e4 d5 4.cxd5 exd5 5.e5 Ne4 6.Nf3 Bf5 7.Be2 d4!? has sprouted out of nowhere the last few months, and for the moment it seems to be solving Black's problems in the variation. Ding Liren held without much trouble, and he'll have his first shot with the white pieces in game 2 tomorrow.

    Here's the game, with annotations - now back to watching Caruana-Kramnik from the Isle of Man - what an insane pairing!

    UPDATE: I've updated the annotations, which are marked by "UPDATE", on moves 7, 13, 17, 23, and especially 29. Also, here are some useful videos:

    Saturday
    Sep232017

    Isle of Man Starts Today With Carlsen, Kramnik, Caruana, Anand, Nakamura, ...

    It's an open event, but the Chess.com Isle of Man International is extremely strong - have a look here at the top 20 playing in the Masters event. The action starts at 1:30 p.m. local time (= 8:30 a.m. ET, or 90 minutes after the start time for the World Cup). It's a smooth transition from one super-event to the next.

    In fact, this tournament, like the World Cup, is a big deal for the 2018 Candidates, as Vladimir Kramnik and Fabiano Caruana - who are playing - are competing with Wesley So - who is not - for two ratings slots in the latter event. So there's plenty at stake here in addition to the prize fund, bragging rights in a tournament with Magnus Carlsen, and all the other usual competitive aims the players may have.

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