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Wednesday, December 13, 2017

News Flash! Houdini Is the New Computer Champ

     This year Houdini and Komodo made it to the finals in the TCEC championship, which consisted of a 100-game match, winning by a score of 53-47. This is interesting, but I don't put a lot of stock in this event because both engines were running on 44 processors and often reached search depths of 40 ply. That's a few more processors than I use. In THIS Chessbase article the programmers discuss their programs. It may all end up being a moot point thanks to the AlphaZero project.

Mar del Plata 1953

Julio Bolbochan in 1939
     Some of the greatest tournaments ever took place in Mar del Plata, Argentina. The tournaments began in 1928, but only from 1941 to 1970 were they truly international tournament with considerable reputation. Just take a look at some of the winners: Gideon StÃ¥hlberg, Miguel Najdorf, Herman Pilnik, Erich Eliskases, Hector Rossetto, Paul Keres, Boris Spassky, Bobby Fischer, Lev Polugaevsky,Vasily Smyslov, Oscar Panno and Jan Timman. The Zonal Tournaments of 1951, 1954, 1969 and 2001 were played there. The Women's Zonal was also held at Mar del Plata in 1969. Today the tournament is an open event.

     Mar del Plata, the seventh largest city in Argentina, is located on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean and is one of the major fishing ports and the biggest seaside beach resort in Argentina. It has humid and moderate summers with the average temperature being 68 degrees F (29. C). Winters are relatively cool, 46 degrees F (8 C). Snowfall is not uncommon, but snow accumulation on the ground is rare, a phenomenon that takes place every six years or so. Compare that to where I live: summers are warm to hot and humid while winters are cold and snowy. Average temperatures are 74 degrees F (23 C) in the summer and 28 degrees F (-2 C) in the winter and depending exactly where you are, snow can exceed 8 feet per year. It makes Mar del Plata sound like a nice place.
     This game features Julio Bolbochan's win over Gligoric; Bolbochan was the only undefeated player and this was Gligoric's only loss. Bolbochan (March 20, 1920 - June 28,1996) was the Argentine champion in 1946 and 1948. He learned the game from his older brother, Jacobo, and represented Argentina in seven Olympiads from 1950 to 1970. He was awarded the IM title in 1950 and the GM title in 1977. He had several successes at Mar del Plata: shared first with Eliskases in 1951, Rossetto in 1952 and Najdorf in 1956. Bolbochan qualified to play in the Sousse interzonal but didn't participate due to the Argentine Chess Federation not having enough funds to send him. Beginninf in 1977 he lived as a chess teacher in Venezuela where he passed away.
     His brother Jacobo (December 26,1906 – July 29, 1984) won the Argentine championship twice (1931 and 1932), finished second three times and third once. He played for Argentina in three Olympiads: 1935 at second board, 1937 at second board and 1939 at fourth board. He also participated in several Mar del Plata tournaments. He was awarded the IM title at the age of 59 in 1965.
     This game is a remarkable one. Bolbochan treated a difficult opening line with great understanding when he denied Gligoric any chance to gain an advantage. When Gligoric insisted on trying to make something out of the position he only succeeded in weakening his own P-formation and limiting the activity of his Bs. Then when he failed to exchange a N at the right time, Bolbochan got a winning attack.

1) Svetozar Gligoric 16.0
2) Miguel Najdorf 14.5
3) Julio Bolbochan 13.5
4) Petar Trifunovic 13.0
5) Miguel Cuellar= 12.5
6) Herman Pilnik 11.5
7-8) Rene Letelier and Erich Eliskases 11.0
9) Hector Rossetto 10.5
10-11) Carlos Guimard and Karl Ojanen 10.0
12) Julio Bolbochan 9.5
13) Ruben Shocron 9.0
14) Herman Steiner 8.5
15-16) Antonio Medina and Carlos Maderna 7.5
17) Bernado Wexler 6.5
18) Carlos Jauregui 3.0
19-20) Flavio Carvalho and Francisco Burgalat 2.5

Monday, December 11, 2017

One Little Mistake and a Heartbreaking Loss

    Las Palmas is a city and capital of Gran Canaria island in the Canary Islands and it is noted for its warm temperatures throughout the year with an average annual temperature of 70.2 degrees F (21.2 C) and according to a study carried out by Thomas Whitmore, director of research on climatology at Syracuse University in the US, Las Palmas enjoys the best climate in the world.
     A strong, and as far as I remember not widely covered, tournament was held there in 1975. The winner was Ljubomir Ljubojevic (born 1950) in Yugoslavia. He was awarded the GM title in 1971. For a brief period he was rated as one of the strongest players in the world; in1983 he was ranked third, but never succeeded in reaching the Candidates stage for the World Championship. Chess News has an interview with him HERE.
     I have done a couple of posts on Mecking HERE and HERE. His opponent in this game is less well known. Orestes Rodriguez Vargas (born July 4, 1943) is a Peruvian who plays for the Spanish Chess Federation. In the 1960s he set a goal for himself to become a GM, but was not awarded the title until 1978. He moved to Spain in 1973 and played for the Spanish team championships had great success in those events.
     He participated in a total of seven chess Olympiads, scoring +42 -14 = 34. His first Olympiad was the 1964 Olympics in Tel Aviv , where he played on the fourth board for the Peruvian team. In 1970, 1972, 1978 and 1986 he played on first board for Peru and in 1988 on second board. At the 1992 Olympics in Manila, he played for Spain on fourth board. His biggest Olympiad success was an individual silver medal in 1978 in Buenos Aires for his score of 8 out of 10 on first board.
     He won the Peruvian championship five times in a row from 1968 to 1972. He played in the Senior European Championships in 2005, 2007, 2008 and 2009. At the 9th Open European Senior Championship he scored 8.5-0.5 and finished ahead of Viktor Korchnoi. He has not played since 2013.

1) Ljubomir Ljubojevic 11.0
2-3) Mikhail Tal, Henrique Mecking and Ulf Andersson 10.0
4-5) Vlastimil Hort and Fridrik Olafsson 9.5
6) Tigran Petrosian 9.0
7-8) StefanoTatai and Juan Bellon Lopez 6.5
9-11) Arturo Pomar, Orestes Rodriguez and Radolfo Tan Cardoso 4.5
12) Fernando Visier 4.0
13) Roberto Debarnot 3.0
14) A. Fernandez 2.5

     Rodriguez' game against Mecking was an exciting one; a piece sacrifice lead to a strong attack, but things went awry and he lost due to a miscalculation. When Andrew Soltis annotated a fragment of this game in his book The Inner Game of Chess he included the position in the section “Choice” in which he discussed situations where the position offers a choice of two or more moves and they all look equally good. At the end of the chapter he concluded “There are a lot of ways to miscalculate.” In the following two chapters he took a look at a few of them. The book was published in 1994 when chess engines were beginning to come into their own and I don't know if Soltis used an engine for help in preparing the book, but his analysis was spot on.
     In 1993 Judit Polgar lost to Deep Thought in a 30 minute game. Also in 1993 in a 5-minute tournament (humans had 6-minutes) in Munich, Kasparov lost to Fritz 3. The program also defeated Anand, Short, Gelfand and Kramnik. Robert Huebner refused to play the program and forfeited his game. Kasparov played a second match with Fritz 3 and won, scoring +4 -0 =2. 
    In the 1994 Intel Speed Chess Grand Prix in London, Kasparov was eliminated from the tournament when he lost to Chess Genius in a 25 minute game and WCHESS became the first computer to outperform GMs at the Harvard Cup in Boston.
    The 1993 tournament in Munich created a lot of interest. On May 20th, 1994 two minutes after beating his eighth opponent in a row, Kasparov, the reigning world champion, sat down in front of a computer monitor to play Fritz 3. Up to that point Kasparov had beaten every computer he had played and so was confident this game would be no different.
     Using computer anti-strategy he opened with 1.e3. Karpov said, “It's a good move." Robert Byrne agreed adding, “if you know what your adversary is going to do wrong." Kasparov knew what Fritz was going to do wrong because the man behind the engine, Frederic Friedal, had let Kasparov practice against Fritz.
     The opening, as Kasparov expected, transposed in to QGA. Kasparov expected an easy game, but Fritz surprised him when it counterattacked. Kasparov needed time to figure things out, but in blitz there isn't any and at move 15, Kasparov missed a move and his mistake was so glaring that GMs gasped and women fainted.
     But the game wasn't over. Fritz soon lost a piece and the endgame looked fairly even. Running out of time, Kasparov was hurried and he blundered for a second time. But Fritz knew how to win the ending so Kasparov angrily resigned.
     Shortly after that he played Fritz in a match and won handily. Later he commented, "In blitz, there's too much inner pressure on any player." Kasparov later commented that the greatest pressure of all is that computers can see more deeply into the endgame than humans and they see into it better than humans with terrifying accuracy...exactly when accuracy is of utmost importance.
     The chess programmers predicted that in the endgame, humanity was doomed. Larry Kaufmann, who was to later develop Komodo concurred. At the time Kaufman was the developer of the Socrates program which was one of the top-20 commercially available chess programs. Kaufmann said, "After 50 years, there's not going to be much left in the intellectual area that computers can't do better than people."
     Kasparov once retorted when asked if a computer could beat him, "That's impossible." He added "The real fight will be action chess, 25-minute games." Soon afterwards in the 1994 Intel Speed Chess Grand Prix in London, Kasparov was eliminated from the tournament when he lost to Chess genius in a 25 minute game. His next claim was, "In serious, classical chess, computers do not have a chance in this century. I will personally take any challenge." We all know what happened next. Kasparov won a match against Deep Blue in 1996, but he suffered the first defeat of a reigning world champion by a computer under tournament conditions the following year.
     OK, so I got sidetracked on engines for a minute. This game was extremely complicated and it's a shame Orestes Rodriguez Vargas missed 19...h6. One little mistake cost him a brilliant win.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

asmFish...the new kid on the block

    asmFish is derived from Stockfish and uses a code that makes it faster. I have read that it's easy to make mistakes when translating a program to another language and the engine is much more power consuming than Stockfish so some computers are likely to crash.  I've not been running the engine much, but in a 5-minutes per game match against Stockfish 8 it didn't run into any problems. The score was +1 -1 =10.
     I am not familiar with any of the technical details of asmFish, but on the CCLR 40/40 rating list it stands out as the number one rated engine at 3425. Ratings for the remaining top 5 spots are:
2- Houdini 6 64-bit 4CPU (3412)
3- Komodo 11.2 64-bit 4CPU (3398)
                               4- Deep Shredder 13 64-bit 4CPU (3294) 
                               5- Fire 6.1 64-bit 4CPU (3286).

asmFish has the following very impressive scores against its rivals:
Houdini 6  (+6−2=38)
Komodo 11.2 (+11−1=37)
Deep Shredder 13 (+19−0=31)
Fire 6.1 (+26−1=23)
Against Stockfish 8 its score is: (+8−2=40)

     Not that it proves anything, but in the following position from the Spielmann-Chekhover game after white's 13th move, I let the engines run for 3 minutes and the moves and evaluations were:

SugaR PrO (13...b4 eval=0.35)
Stockfish 8 (13...b4 eval=0.88)
asmFish (13...b4 eval=0.70)
Komodo 10.1 (13...Qf6 eval=0.72)

I was able to download the engine at King of Chess HERE

Friday, December 8, 2017

Moscow 1935 – Lessons in Tactics (Part 4)

    This is the final look at the games from Moscow 1935 and we will be taking a look at a game Euwe didn't use an example in Strategy and Tactics, but he could have.
     The loser, Vitaly Chekhover (December 22, 1908 – February 11, 1965), was a Soviet player and chess composer; his day job was a pianist. In the beginning of his career he was an endgame study composer who often revised traditional studies of other authors trying to make them more sparse and economical form, often with fewer pieces. Later he developed his own style and composed a number of original studies and problems. He was considered a prominent specialist on Knight endgames, and wrote several books on the subject.
     The winner, Rudolf Spielmann (May 5, 1883 – August 20, 1942), was an Austrian of the Romantic School and chess writer. Spielmann was a lawyer but never practiced law. Reuben Fine described Spielmann's only passions in life as "drinking beer and playing chess". Known as "The Master of Attack" and "The Last Knight of the King's Gambit" his play was full of sacrifices, brilliancies, and beautiful ideas.
     In 1934, Spielmann, a Jew, fled Vienna due to rising pro-Nazi sympathies in the city and subsequently moved to the Netherlands. In 1938, he went to Prague to be with his brother Leopold, but the German army occupied Czechoslovakia only a few months later. Leopold Spielmann was arrested and died in a concentration camp a few years later. One of their sisters also perished in a camp, the other survived the war, but never recovered mentally from the ordeal and ended up committing suicide.
     Leopold (born August 5, 1881 in Vienna - died December 10, 1941 in Theresienstadt ) was a pianist and conductor. He was the eldest of the six children. Besides Rudolf, his siblings were the actresses Melanie (1885-1927) and Jenny (1889-1964), accountant and medical student Edgar (1887-1917) and the actress Irma (1894-1939). At first, the family lived in modest circumstances and changed apartments frequently. 
    When Leopold Spielmann was three years old, his mother recognized his musical talent and had him take lessons; he was soon recognized as a prodigy. The pianist Anton Rubinstein introduced Spielmann to the family of the Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph, where he received patronage. He gave concerts in front of members of the imperial family and in 1891 he gave a concert in the Viennese Bosendorfer Hall.
     After a long break, Spielmann gave a concert on February 12, 1895, in which the maturity of his playing technique, his lecture, and his musical conception stood out. Accompanied by his mother he on a concert tour through Europe, which led them to Russia. He did not accept an off to tour the United States because he had to care for his siblings because his mother was seriously ill.
     Leopold studied at the Vienna Conservatory, at the Royal Academy of Music and finally in Berlin. He was a highly esteemed virtuoso. It was in Berlin that he married his piano student Gertrud Ludtke; they had five children.
     After the end of the First World War, the Spielmann family moved to Gothenburg , where Leopold worked as a conductor of the symphony orchestra. In 1928 the family returned to Berlin. In 1934 he left Germany with his family due to the Nazi persecution of the Jews and fled to Prague without valid passports. There he had to make a living through private lessons.
     Rudolf, who had left Austria since 1935 and stayed mostly in Holland, also arrived in Prague in 1938, after his passport had been invalidated by the Anschluss of Austria to the German Reich. Leopold planned to emigrate to Toronto, where he had a job offer from the conservatory. Leopold was hidden in Prague and could not leave the apartment. In the fall of 1939 he was arrested by the SS and was sent to the Flossenburg concentration camp in 1941. He died on December 10, 1941 in ghetto Theresienstadt. His siblings had managed to flee except sister Jenny who survived, but suffered all her life from depression.
     Rudolf managed to flee to Sweden with the help of a friend. He hoped to eventually reach England or the United States and to finance the move he played a lot of exhibition matches and wrote chess columns. He also tried to publish a book, Memories of a Chess Master. But, some members of the Swedish Chess Federation held Nazi sympathies and so disliked the Spielmann because he was Jewish that his book was never published. As a result, he suffered from depression and in August 1942, he locked himself in his Stockholm apartment and did not emerge for a week. On August 20, neighbors summoned police to check on him. They entered the apartment and found Spielmann dead; he was 59 years old. The official cause of death was heart disease, but it has been claimed that he intentionally starved himself. That's the story according to his close relatives. Another version is that he suffered from a Parkinson's disease-like illness, which rapidly progressed and he was admitted to the hospital, where he died. Official cause of death was high blood pressure and heart disease. He was buried in Stockholm, his tombstone reading “A fugitive without rest, struck hard by fate".
     Chekhover annotated this game in the tournament book and highly praised Spielmann's play, writing, “A brilliant crush! The game was awarded the 3rd prize for best game of the tournament.” Indeed it was a brilliant crush and kudos to the loser for acknowledging it!

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Moscow 1935 – Lessons in Tactics (Part 3)

    This game from Euwe's book looks at another game featuring a compound combination, Spielmann vs. Pirc. The striking feature of this game is the prolonged K-hunt as black's King is driven from h8 to b8 that culminates in six checks while white's own King is in danger. King hunts are fun, but as GM Daniel Naroditsky observed, they “demand mental composure and ultra-precise calculation. The slightest misstep will nullify hours of hard work, leaving your opponent with a decisive material advantage.” These days with all the advances in opening theory, the higher level of play and defensive techniques, King hunts are rare. Had the King hunt disappeared from the modern game, Naroditsky observed, “Mikhail Tal would have never become world champion.”
     Writing in The Art of Sacrifice, the winner of this game wrote that object of a K-hunt sacrifice is to “chase the King out into the open on a full board. The problem composers speak of the sacrifice which draws the King into a mating net. If it did not sound so incongruous, the King-Hunt sacrifice might be termed the 'driving-out' sacrifice...To bring this about, it is permissible to offer big sacrifices of material...The attempt to bring the King into a dangerous situation can be made in two ways : either the forces protecting him are eliminated or decimated, or the King is compelled to leave his stronghold and to wander forth alone into the wilderness.”

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Moscow 1935 – Lessons in Tactics (Part 2)

    For one example of a compound combination, Euwe used the famous Lilienthal - Capablanca game where Lilienthal played a brilliant Q sacrifice. Another example of a compound combination was the following Capablanca – Kan encounter.
     In his book The Art of Attack in Chess, Vukovic also discussed compound combinations only he used the term “creation of preconditions” to describe maneuvers necessary to build up to the final blow. These conditions come about in a variety of ways: slowly improving one's position, some happen by surprise and others are the result of risks taken by one of the players.
     Vukovic advised that of all the preconditions for an attack on the King one should first create those that entail the least degree of commitment. i.e. those that also strengthen one's own position. By that he meant positional play that includes finding good posts for one's own pieces, a strong center, a space advantage and K-safety. After these conditions are met one can then induce weaknesses around the opponent's King. One caveat that CJS Purdy hammered on was that tactics can happen at any move due to peculiarities in the position, even those where one has all the positional advantages. Therefore, the position must combed for tactics at EVERY move.  Another handy piece of advice from Purdy was that if no sound tactic is available and you aren't sure what to do, look for your worst placed piece and find a way to improve its position. This last piece of advice is in line with Soltis' statement that “planning” often involves a maneuver of only 2-3 moves.
     Now would also be a good time to ask the question, “How much should you calculate?” Sometimes you simply must, but other times it just isn't worth it. Some claim that you must try to find the best move every turn otherwise you will end up playing second or third best moves for which there will eventually be a price to be paid. On the other hand, some think the search for the best move is worthwhile only a few times during a game. Even if there is only one “best” move sometimes the time and effort required to find it isn't worth it because the variations are so numerous that calculating everything is out of the question.
     Of course, there are times when you must calculate. Andrew Soltis gives a simple rule: You must calculate when you suspect there is a move that forces a concrete result as opposed to the times there is a solid but relatively small difference between moves. For example, in this game at black's 20th turn Stockfish's top three choice are 20...Bg4 (-0.37), 20...Kg8 (-0.45) and 20...Kh7 (-0.47). For a human that's not much of a difference and any one of them would have been a reasonable choice.
     In this game we see Capablanca building up a series of preconditions for an attack on Kan's King without making any moves which committed him to it. However, with move 19.h4 Capa undertook a premature attack when Kan's King wasn't ready to be stormed. At the time, Capa's Q was not in its best position and Kan could have used that small point to gain time for defense. Fortunately for Capablanca, his position was strong enough that he managed to get away with it. Capa received the Brilliancy Prize for his victory in this game. 
     All brilliancies require some cooperation from the loser and that is the case in this game.  Some annotators give the impression that this game was a one sided crush of what Alex Yermolinsky called a “tomato can", but that is not the case.  Kan put up tough resistance and it wasn't until he got into time pressure that his game was finally lost.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Moscow 1935 – Lessons in Tactics (Part 1)

    For opening day over 5,000 tickets were sold and for subsequent rounds it was necessary to limit the number of spectators.
     Botvinnik wrote that for the first 12 rounds in this tournament he played extremely well, but then tired and Flohr caught up with him and they tied for first ahead of Lasker, Capablanca, Spielmann, Kan and fourteen other famous players.
     At the time, Botvinnik was a postgraduate student at the Leningrad Polytechnical Institute and his success warranted his being given a car and the title of Soviet Grandmaster. In spite of his success Botvinnik wrote that he did not consider it a real test because there were a few (in his opinion) “relatively weak players.” He therefore wrote a letter to Nikolai Krylenko suggesting a 10-player double-round tournament and his suggestion was accepted.  The result was Moscow, 1936.

The final results were:
1-2) Botvinnik and Flohr 13.0
3) Lasker 12.5
4) Capablanca 12.0
5) Spielmann 11.0
6-7) Kan and Levenfish 10.5 
8-10) Lilienthal, Ragozin and Romanovsky 10.0
11-14) Alatortsev. Goglidze, I. Rabinovich and Riumin 9.5
15) Lisitsin 9.0
16-17) Bohatirchuk and Stahlberg 8.0
18) Pirc 7.5
19) Chekhover 5.5
20) Menchik 1.5

     In his book Strategy and Tactics, Euwe included six game from this tournament as examples of different kinds of tactics. In breaking down tactics into types, Euwe adds that it seldom happens that all tactics occur in pure form and that often there will be compound tactics that contain elements of two or more of the situations listed below.

Material gain - based on limited mobility, or the unprotected position of a piece
Focal point – based on weakness of several pieces and their connection to one another
Pins – based on a pinned piece
Unmasking – based on a piece that can be attacked by moving an intervening piece
Overload – based on a piece that is performing too many functions simultaneously
Obstruction – two pieces belonging to the same player are standing in each other's way
Desperado – based on a piece which is certain to be lost, but in exchange the player tries to get as much as possible for it
Cumulative – all the above tactics are characterized by a quick and forceful continuation with a clearly visible purpose. Cumulative tactics need preparation in that they consist of forcing the opponent into making certain moves where he is kept busy answering threats until the finishing blow is delivered.

     Everybody knows there are dangers in capturing the b-Pawn with the Q (aka a Poisoned Pawn), but at some point everybody has done it. Sometimes it's safe, sometimes it isn't. The best known example is probably the Poisoned Pawn Variation of the Sicilian: 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.Bg5 e6 7.f4 Qb6 8.Qd2 Qxb2. A video on the Poisoned Pawn Variation GM Denes Boros can be watched on Youtube HERE.
     The decision as to whether or not to take the b-Pawn is always a difficult one and because even Grandmasters have erred badly in making the decision, probably the best advice is, “Just say, No!” For a story behind this game which took place in the very first round and what “really” happened see the comments at Chessgames.com HERE