alexpgp: (Default)
I was impelled, a few minutes ago, to comment on a recent post by LJ friend emo-snal and noticed, while tapping out my comment, that there was an additional section displayed between the post and the comments, which displayed three other posts from Kris's LJ that carry the “bellingham wa” tag.

I have no idea whether this is some kind of new default feature, or something you have to configure by hand, or whether it works with cross-posts or only with "native" LJ posts (I'm not sure how one would tell the difference, really, but I digress...).

So, just for laughs, I'm going to tag this post with the first word that comes to mind (chess) and then go over to LJ and see what I can see.


UPDATE #1. Visited my page on LJ, clicked on "Leave a comment" for this post. No additional section was displayed. A possible problem with this "experiment" is that if you're looking at your own post, LJ won't show the additional section.

UPDATE #2. When in doubt, read the manual (or whatever passes for one). I found a post that describes the feature and explains how it is used. Seeing as I have a 4,000 word document breathing down my neck to be edited, this will conclude—for now—this experiment.

UPDATE #3. I lied in that last part of the previous update. It turns out the feature is enabled for my LJ layout, and if I want to use it, I shall have to go to LJ and edit the post. And now, I really must hunker down and get to work. :)
alexpgp: (Chess)
So from time to time, I enjoy going over to to do a little "training," which is to say the site challenges me with a chess position where I must find the best sequence of moves.

When I first started at the site (free to sign up, free to play, all suitable disclaimers uttered), my default rating was 1500 for all forms of play (slow, fast, blitz, bullet, and training), and pretty much every training position required me to find a mate. The only problem with this approach is that if you know you're supposed to find a mate, then you won't give up—or at least I won't—until it's found.

Gradually, however, as my training rating inched up, a couple of things happened. First, the positions don't all require you to find a mate, which is heaps more realistic. Second, I began to notice subtle—and some not-so-subtle—issues with the all-or-nothing way the site scores one's solutions. Here's a case in point.

It's Black to move in the following position, shown "naturally" with Black at the bottom of the board. The square a1 is in the upper right-hand corner of the graphic; h6 is in the bottom left-hand corner.

Looking for White's potential threats In this position, I don't see anything major. It's not as if Black is facing a mate in one or anything like that. Still, it wouldn't do for Black to waste time.

There is the obvious candidate move 1...Qxh2+, which forces 2. Kg1. Black can then play 2...Qh1+, which forces the White King to emerge from behind the pawns with 3.Ke2, but now the Black Queen is under attack by the rook on d1, so Black needs to keep the ball rolling with an incessant attack against the White King. This can be done with 3...Rhe8+, which forces 4. Kd2. (And while this may look like I'm thinking several moves ahead, it's not, because so far, every one of White's responses has been forced.)

It's really a pretty position to consider, and if this kind of thing is of interest to you, clicking on the position should take you to the site. (FWIW, the rest of my solution is at the end of the post.)

The thing that bugged me about this position—and which caused me to a full lose 10 points while solving it—was something that happens all too often with me at the site: I get to the point where I see a clear mate in a couple of moves or so, but because my sequence is longer than the optimum solution (e.g., I see a mate in two where there's a mate in one), the algorithm decides my solution has "failed"

This isn't something that will keep me from using the site, but it is annoying as all getout, from time to time.


My solution(s), starting with 1...Qxh2+ 2. Kf1 Qh1+ 3. Ke2 Rhe8+:

4...Be5+ 5. Bd5 Rxd5+ 6. Ke2 Bg3+ (which I thought was pretty) 7. Kf3 Qh5+ 8. Kxg3, whereupon I saw 8...Qh4+ and 9...Qf4 mate, but 8...Ne4 mate wins quicker!

I liked 6...Bg3+ because it kept White's g pawn from moving, but it turns out that 6...Bd6+ also works: 7. Kf3 Qh5+ 8. g4 Qh3 mate!
alexpgp: (Default)
Back when I lived in New York, I remember Memorial Day weekend as being the "official" start of the summer beach season. So after Natalie and Kyle left for Colorado, I got to thinking about the local pool—the one operated by the association—and Galina informed me that it had been open for the past couple of weeks.

My failure to note this fact is understandable, as I believe I can count all the times I've visited the pool over the years that we've owned the house on the fingers of one hand, and that includes the visits I made yesterday morning and this morning. The pool is nothing spectacular—three feet deep at the ends and five feet deep in the center—but it's certainly up to the job of getting you wet.

With any luck, I'll keep visiting the pool, and increasing the number of "laps" I swim with each visit.

* * *
Galina and I took a short break yesterday to go for a drive and ended up at the Barnes & Noble at I-45 and Bay Area. While Galina went inside to browse, I started to observe a chess game that was being played on one of the tables outside the store's Starbucks installation. A minute or so later, I sat down to play against a pleasant-looking, sunburned woman of roughly my age who introduced herself as Debbie, and who asked whether I was a rated player. Hmmm.

I sat down to the Black pieces and played Alekhine's Defense (1...Nf6 in response to 1.e4) against a Four Pawns Attack, and eventually, I arrived at a position where I was up two pawns, at which point I sort of "zoned out."

In the following position, Black has just recovered one of White's pawns, which had been pushed to f5 in response to ...g5.

What prompted me to play ...g5 was sloppy judgment, because in the diagrammed position, White slammed the Black Bishop on a3 off the board with 19. Rxa3, which woke me up right quick (both the move itself and the gesture). After a moment or two, although I saw the looming threat of 20. Bxf5, it didn't occur to me to play 19....Qxe5, which would have left me with a bad position, but not as bad as the one that occurred after I played 19....Kb8 20. Rb3 Rxh2+!??, a wild (but ill-considered) attempt to mix things up, because after 21. Kxh2 Rh8+ 22. Rh3 Qxe5+, White plays 23. Kh1, keeping the win.

Instead, White played the horrible 23. Kg1?

From this position, Black can (and did!) draw by perpetual check after 23....Rxh3 24. gxh3 Qg3+, and there's just no way the White King can escape an endless series of checks by the Black Queen.

* * *
The final straw that convinced me to move my work files to the new Asus:

alexpgp: (Default)
In 1978, I enrolled in Hayes B. Jacobs' course on writing nonfiction articles at Manhattan's New School for Social Research. I did this so as to have something to occupy my mind while Galina took her ESL course upstairs in the same building. If I learned only one thing from that course, it was that the only true path to becoming a writer lay in writing. Not in taking notes, not in making outlines, and not in taking courses, but writing. Jacobs had a standing assignment for his class: submit a piece of writing each week. He went through all submittals with a sharp editor's pencil and provided constructive comments and suggestions. His frank approach to the business of writing has stayed with me.

I will be the first to admit that I averaged about one submission every 2–3 weeks during that course, but that was probably three sigmas above the average for the group. The course of two-plus Idol seasons has helped me fall into a weekly writing rhythm that, sadly, I would lose once Idol went away. Maybe things are changing, I don't know, but the following represents a treatment of the very first idea that came to mind for the 'is the sincerest form of flattery' prompt.

Hilton paused by the pairings just long enough to catch sight of his board number before continuing on through the door of the community center where the county's annual chess championship was being held. It wasn't that he liked being late to everything, but that he liked doing what had to be done to be on time even less.

When he got to his board, Hilton stopped and stared at his opponent, and experienced just the slightest tinge of déjà vu. The previous year, Hilton had been paired with this same snot-nosed kid, who had been rated in class D and who, despite that, had given Hilton a proper shellacking with some sort of off-the-wall gambit opening. The game was a considered such a great upset victory for the kid that it had even been published in the county newspaper. People still kidded Hilton about it.

So here he was, a year later, still rated in class A (that no-man's-land between class B and expert), paired against this kid whose rating was now knocking on the door between class C and class B. The color assignment was the same, too, and the kid had already moved his Queen pawn up two spaces and punched his clock.

Hilton put his stuff on his chair and went off to find the tournament director.

"I think you made a mistake in the pairings, Wes," said Hilton to Wes Smith, the TD.

"What do you mean, 'a mistake'?" said Smith.

"You've got me paired against that kid again, with the same color assignments!"

"And the 'mistake' would be—?"

"You can't do that. It's against the pairing rules."

"If this was the same tournament, it would be," explained Smith. "But this is the first round of a new competition, and first-round pairings are pretty straightforward: top half plays the bottom half, and colors alternate. Your pairing was spit out by a computer, uninfluenced by human hands." Smith paused for a second and gave Hilton a close look. "Hey, don't look so glum! Look at this as an opportunity to exact your revenge. Same opponent, same colors. You've got a shot at showing everyone that last year's result was just a lucky break for the kid."

Hilton grumbled as he walked back to his board. The kid has played his Queen pawn up two, just as he had the previous year, almost as if he was challenging Hilton to respond with the the Queen pawn up two from his side of the board, just as Hilton had the previous year. Then, instead of continuing with a standard double-Queen-pawn opening, the kid had veered off into a back-of-the-book gambit by pushing his King pawn up two squares, as if offering it to Black for free.

Hilton had accepted the pawn, whereupon White offered yet another pawn, which Hilton had captured, too, after which Hilton found himself in the middle of a violent and short losing battle. After the game, Hilton had cracked open his opening reference, which informed him that the variation the kid had played was sharp, but fundamentally unsound, and that Black ought to emerge from the opening phase of the game with a marked advantage. That had been the extent of Hilton's research into the opening, as he was running late to an appointment.

By the time Hilton had settled himself on his chair in the here-and-now, almost 10 minutes of his allotted time had passed. The face of the kid across the board from him was as expressive as the surface of that same board on which the pieces stood. Hilton tried to put the clock's ticking out of his mind as he thought about his first move.

"Okay, if I don't push my Queen pawn up to meet his, it'll be as if I'm admitting that I'm afraid of his opening skill, so even if I beat the little twerp" and here, Hilton interrupted his thinking process.

"What am I talking about? Of course I'm going to beat the little twerp, there's no doubt about that!" Hilton smiled a little at this point.

"Where was I? Oh, yeah, if I don't play the Queen pawn like I did last year, folks won't talk about my win, but about how I avoided the kid's opening, despite the fact the kid's opening stinks."

Then Hilton's eyebrows jerked up slightly as a new thought came to him.

"Like it or not, there's the psychological angle, too. If I don't push the Queen pawn, that'll probably boost the kid's confidence and make him think he's already got me on the run. On the flip side, if I do push the pawn, he'll have to figure I've done my analysis and that I'm totally ready to take on his inferior opening setup, which'll force him to play some other move, which means—bingo!—we're in that part of the opening manual that I almost know by heart."

Hilton all but sneered as he pushed his Queen pawn up two spaces and punched his clock, which now showed 15 elapsed minutes. Without hesitation, the kid reached out and pushed his King pawn up two spaces, then punched his clock, restarting Hilton's.

"Oh, for—!" thought Hilton, as his heart sank very nearly to his feet.

"I knew it! I knew it! He's trying to play the same gambit. I tell you, this kid's got a lot of nerve. He probably knows this opening backward and forward." Hilton pursed his lips and let his breath out slowly through his nostrils.

"So, what do I do now?" he wondered.

Hilton was not the kind of player who did well in sharp, open games, which is why he was still a class A player. Sure, given the position on the board, he could still transpose into an opening that would avoid the kid's ghastly gambit—the French and Caro-Kann Defenses came to mind here—but none of those openings were very much to Hilton's preferred style of play. Still, they were preferable to that gambit.

As Hilton pondered what to do, the word went around the room that he—one of the top players in the county—had now spent nearly 18 minutes of his hour and was still deciding on his second move. Players rose from their boards and wandered by to see what was going on.

"Are they coming by to see if I'm getting my ass handed to me again?" wondered Hilton. The thought didn't help calm Hilton's inner chess player, who was still hard at work mentally cursing the fact that he had pushed the Queen pawn on his first move.

Suddenly, realizing that he was wasting valuable minutes of thinking time, Hilton decided that he would not take the proffered King pawn, so he pushed his Queen Bishop pawn up one square, creating the classic pawn structure of the Caro-Kann Defense.

With this move, the crowd around the board started to break up. One player was heard to whisper, as he headed back to his own board: "A move like that—choosing not to play into your opponent's strength—that's got to be the sincerest form of flattery!" His friends nodded in agreement.

Meanwhile, back at Hilton's board, the kid was already reaching out to make his next move. Neither he nor Hilton realized it, but the kid had already won the game; what was left was simply a matter of technique.

alexpgp: (Chess)
My earliest recollection of chess, aside from recognizing the word as describing a game of some kind, occurred when I was about 5 or 6, when my mother - in anticipation of gall bladder surgery - sent me off to spend a few weeks with one of my aunts Catherine, the one who had kids. (My mother had two close friends from the time she attended Hunter College, both named Catherine, and both my honorary aunts as a result. One had a family and kids; the other preferred to devote her life to law at a time when women weren't supposed to exhibit such tendencies.)

I remember only a few things about that experience. First, I was keenly aware that I was the only male child - and the youngest child - in a household with several female children. Second, I remember being taught how to play "Chutes and Ladders," but only after I declined an offer to learn how chess pieces move.

Chess didn't enter my consciousness again until fourth grade.

Fourth grade was the year of Mrs. Rosenstock, the "Pill." The nickname was my mother's invention, and fourth grade was my introduction to an adult that sought actively to take me down a peg or two, although perhaps that's too strong a statement.

Up until fourth grade, I had been a fairly low-profile kind of kid, neither at the top of the class or the bottom. In third grade, I recall, I was among the trailers in the race to read the most books (and to write concomitant book reports, naturally), but in other particulars - math, perhaps, excepted - I was a member of the pack.

That didn't mean I refrained from reading, oh no! In somewhat the same way as the Chukcha of Russian ethnic joke fame, I considered myself a reader, not a writer (at least, not of book reports!).

Things changed for me in fourth grade. I recall one time Mrs. Rosenstock went out of her way to illustrate poor narrative technique by reading one of my book reports to the class. Another time, I was caught red-handed, reading a book about the life of Kit Carson during a mathematics lesson, and suffered the ignominy of a tongue-lashing that seemed to last until the dismissal bell.

My mother made it clear that in life, there are times you just have to play the hand you're dealt, and that year, the New York City Public School System had dealt me Mrs. Rosenstock. My mother indicated that my proper response was to make the best of a bad situation, and wait for fifth grade.

That didn't mean I didn't resist, because I did, using every resource at my disposal. The most convenient was to convincingly exhibit signs of some horrible communicable disease that did not require hospitalization. Amazingly, from time to time my mother would play along with such malingering.

During one such time at home away from school, with both parents off at work, my rummaging in the hall closet uncovered a box of so-called Renaissance chess pieces. I didn't really care about the historical aspect, because frankly, I didn't understand it. What did attract me, though, was how the pieces - some of them - looked like toy soldiers, and there was an instruction booklet in the box.

Oh, what a grand time I had that day! I'm not quite sure I learned much chess, but the pawns, Bishops, Queens, and Kings looked like people, the Knight looked like a mounted warrior, and the Rook - well, I just couldn't wrap my mind around a brick tower balanced on the back of an elephant, y'know? Still, I managed to make up rules of my own, which included prisoner exchanges among the lumpenproletariat pawns, which entertained me until it was time for my parents to return home.

Having related all of that, I ask myself: When did I actually start to play chess? When did a rudimentary knowledge of how to set up pieces and of how they moved pass from a "mechanical" state - the one where every aspect exists independently of every other - into an "integrated" one?

I cannot answer with any certainty (at least, I cannot recall who it was I might have played against). When next I see myself at a chess board, I am at summer camp, in the dining hall playing chess during the hour after lunch instead of flat on my back on my bunk - thinking more about the Good Humor Chocolate Eclair I will buy at the end of the mandated "rest hour" than about anything to do with chess. Life was good.

alexpgp: (Chess)
One of the sharper lines in the Blackmar-Diemer Gambit is the so-called "classical double-pawn sacrifice" that builds on the basic premise of the gambit (to give up a pawn to gain time, space, and initiative) by offering yet a second pawn.

The basic position occurs after:
1.d4 d5 2.e4 dxe4 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.f3 exf3 5.Qxf3

The idea here is to entice the Black Queen to come out and play, too, with 5...Qxd4, at which point Black is two pawns up, true, but there are also a number of ways for Black to go wrong at this point. White's natural response, 6.Be3 forces the Black Queen off d4, but where should she go?

One square that looks inviting because it'll take a while for White to again attack the Black Queen is e5, not to mention it pins the Bishop on e3. So one often-played alternative is 6...Qe5.

In this position, the White King looks like he's stuck in the center, because castling with 7.O-O-O appears to be a blunder, allowing 7...Bg4, "skewering" the Queen and Rook and ultimately losing "the Exchange."

But that's really an illusion, because after 7...Bg4, White plays 8.Qxb7, whereupon a bloodbath ensues.

8...Qxe3+ 9.Rd2 Qe1 10.Nd1 Qxf1 11.Nf3!

This looks crazy, because it allows 11...Qxh1, giving away the Rook, but now 12. Ne5! and unless Black can think through the adrenaline rush of having captured piece after piece with his run-amok Queen and play 12...Qf1!!, the game is lost, e.g., 12...Bf5? and White mates in 6 starting with 13.Qxa8!
Back when I was learning to play chess, my dad bought several classic books on the game to help both of us improve our skills. One of the books was the second volume of The Middle Game, coauthored by Max Euwe (a former World Champion).

In the back of a chapter titled "Eagerness to Gain Material," I saw my first game featuring the Blackmar-Diemer Gambit where Black played 12...Bf5. White responded with 13. Nc6!, where "!" is the conventional annotation that says "a good move!"

In that game, Black responded with 13...Bd7, whereupon White won with 14.Qc8+! Bxc8 15.Rd8 mate, but the superior response is 13...Nd4, which eases the pressure by giving back a piece. Indeed, Black is so far ahead in material that giving back a piece - or even all three, since the Rook on a8 is hanging, as is the Knight on b8 - gives Black enough time to create an escape with ...f6, after which Black's two Bishops ought to dominate White's two Knights.

What's funny is that, over the years, I've played the exact same moves as in the game from that book (and I am not the only BDG player to have done so). And I think it's mostly because of how devilishly hard it is to find the right moves when you're so far ahead in material, especially when said right moves involve giving it all back!

That fiery little game in the Euwe book inspired me, later that year, to enter the "First International Blackmar-Diemer Gambit Correspondence Chess Tournament," which was organized by some long-time BDG enthusiasts in Germany (the so-called Blackmar Gemeinde), where I eventually finished third in my section, which was respectable, but not enough to advance to the second round of the tournament.

What set me off in this direction? Well, a chess-playing application I downloaded for my Android phone seems to like to play 6...Qe5 and is a pretty good defender, even at the default skill level. For one thing, after 7.0-0-0, it rejects 7...Bg4 in favor of the quieter 7...Nc6.

Working through this defense ought to sharpen my mind, that's for sure.

alexpgp: (Default)
Rossolimo glanced in my direction as the door to the street closed behind me. Whatever small sign of recognition he may have shown was blurred by the twisting of his body as he scooted his custom-made, wheeled chair from one side of his chess studio to the other.

Two men sat at nearly opposite ends of the roughly square-shaped arrangement of tables in the room, concentrating intently on the chess positions on the boards in front of them. If one didn't know better, one could erroneously conclude that the dark-suited figure in the chair shuttling back and forth between the two men was a messenger of some kind.

I sat down at a chess board a couple of seats down from the man on my left, whereupon the cadence set by the wheels on Rossolimo's chair changed to accommodate a stop at my board to make a move before pushing off to play moves against his other two customers.

Nikolay Rossolimo had been a chess grandmaster for almost as long as I had been alive, and was known as a player of the old school. Here and there, the walls of his studio were decorated with oversize diagrams showing critical positions from games of his that had won prizes for what chess players call "brilliancy."

He embraced an ethic of beauty in chess play, and elegance, which made him somewhat of an anachronism among the leading lights of the game, who even then harvested wins with all of the soul of a combine moving through a wheat field, and it was that ethic of beauty that drew me to him and his studio during the time that I knew him.

Rossolimo was born in Ukraine in 1910. In 1929, he emigrated to France, where he lived until 1952, when he pulled up stakes again and came to the United States. Given the overall appreciation for chess and the prospects for a grandmaster to make a living at the game in the US, Rossolimo made ends meet by waiting on tables, driving a hack, and playing the accordion. Meanwhile, on the side, he ran a chess studio on Sullivan Street in Greenwich Village.

There, he'd play you for a couple of bucks an hour, along with others who wanted to whet their chess skill on the unyielding stone provided by Rossolimo's game, and it always seemed to me he raised no more of a sweat playing against ten people than he did against one. I had been coming to the studio, on and off, for almost three years, whenever I had enough gas money to drive into Manhattan.

That day turned out to be fairly slow. After some time, only Rossolimo and I were left in his studio, reviewing the game I had just lost to him. It seemed the right time to ask a question I had wanted to ask for some time.

"Nikolay Spiridonovich," I began, using Rossolimo's patronymic, "I have given some serious thought to becoming a master. What do you think, do I have what it takes?"

The figure in the chair opposite me arched his eyebrows and smiled easily as he leaned back in his chair and raised his eyes from the board to look at me. "Tell me more," he said. I did, and for a few sentences, I had stars in my eyes, just as I had since becoming obsessed with the idea. But as I spoke, I began to feel tendrils of doubt probing the chinks in the armor of my belief.

"I know I'm not any kind of prodigy," I said, finally running out of steam. "But I love chess, and I do pretty well in my games," I said, quickly adding, "though not against players of your caliber, of course. Not now, not yet." That last sentence came out by itself, and it sounded presumptuous as I said it; I felt like a schoolboy.

Rossolimo's eyes looked steadily into mine, as if my soul was a chessboard and he was calculating variations and evaluating the overall position of the pieces on it. Then he spoke.

"I think a man can have whatever he wants," he said, "if he is willing to pay the price."

"I am," I said, believing it to be so.

"Ah, but do you know what that price is?" he said. Whereupon, he rattled off a number of factors, some of which I had considered, most of which I had not. Was I willing to drop out of school, if that's what it took? Was I willing to abandon my friends, if that's what it took? Was I willing to play tens of thousands of games – in tournaments and in offhand play - and study shelves of books on theory, and do so in my spare time because I'd need a full-time job to put bread and butter on the table? And finally, was I willing to risk never being rewarded in any substantial way for my devotion to the game?

"In the end, if you are willing to pay the price," said Rossolimo, "then what you suggest is almost certainly attainable. But let me add this. It is a happy thing that you love chess. And so, if somewhere along the road you take, you find that your love for chess is dying, and that playing the game involves more toil than satisfaction, more duty than enjoyment, then turn back!" He leaned forward in his chair and grasped my forearm. "The price will have become too high, and is not worth paying."

As things eventually turned out, I was not willing to pay the price. And realizing that somehow made my status as a non-master, and my disappointment, easier to bear.

* * *

I was interviewing for my job in the Soviet Union at about the time Rossolimo began play in the 1975 World Open, which had become (and still is) one of the premier tournaments in the country. Over 800 players entered, and when the dust cleared, 65-year-old Rossolimo walked away with 3rd prize and $1000. Commentators approvingly noted that his play during that tournament displayed the romantic verve and eloquent, clean combinational play that had characterized the games of his early career. Very soon after, Rossolimo was dead, of head injuries suffered after a fall down a flight of stairs in his apartment building on West 10th Street. The news came as a profound shock to me.

It has been nearly 35 years since Rossolimo died, and from time to time, I fondly recall that afternoon in his studio, and how - over a chessboard - I was taught a most valuable lesson in life.

P.S. I still love the game.

alexpgp: (Default)
I made the time yesterday morning to go play some chess. This time, I decided to actually record games as I played them, rather than reply on memory to reconstruct them when I got home.

The following game was enjoyable (I did, after all, win), but I had miscalculated a move sequence in medias res, so I sat down to analyze it afterward, and was humbled.

[Date "2009.03.28"]
[White "AlexPGP"]
[Black "Arthur"]
[Result "1-0"]

1.d4 d6 2.e4 Nc6

{Not so good, as it allows White, who already starts the game with a small initiative (the first move) to kick the momentum up a notch.}

3.d5 Ne5 4.f4

{Chasing the Knight again. Black's tactic works in an opening called Alekhine's Defense, which starts 1.e4 Nf6, but ends up not working here.}


{At attempt at a zwischenzug - or in-between move - that seems ill-advised.}

5.Be2 Bxe2

{Forced, as both Black pieces were under attack.}

6.Nxe2 Ng4

{I think 6...Ng6 was the better move.}

7.Ng3 Qd7 8.Nc3 N8f6 9.Qe2 g6 10.h3

{Time to force the Knight back, which also quashes any idea of pushing the pawn in h7.}

10...Nh6 11.Be3

{White has a firm grip on the center, is well developed, and can castle on either side. I like my game.}

11...Bg7 12.O-O-O c5? 13.e5 dxe5?

{Black's previous move removed a support for the pawn on d6; this move releases the tension in the center and removes the defender from the pawn on c5.}

14.fxe5 Nfg8 15.Bxc5 b6

{Black's only piece with any scope is his Queen. Materially, he is only down a pawn; overall, though, I think he has a lost game.}

16.Bd4 Nf5 17.Nxf5 Qxf5 18.Rhf1 Qc8

{White owns the center and his heavy pieces are bracketing Black's King.

Position after Black's 18th move.


{This looks like a pretty sac, but is actually premature. Not only that, but I miscalculated the continuation when I played it. After the game, I found 19.d6 Qe6 (19...e6? 20.Qf3! Kd8 21.d7; 19....exd6 20.exd6+ Kf8 (20...Kd8 21.d7; 20...Kd7 21.Rxf7+) 21.Rxf7+ Kxf7 22.Rf1+) 20.Nb5 and White is sitting pretty.}

19...Kxf7 20.e6+ Kf8

{The reply I didn't see. }


{This lets Black dig in, probably deep enough to weather the storm and win. Despite the dubious sac on move 19, I think White can hang on with 21. Qf3+ Bf6 (22...Nf6 23.d6 Rb8 24.dxe7+) 22.d6 Kg7 23.dxe7}

21...Kxg7 22.Qe5+ Nf6 23.Ne4 Rf8??

{Black's position would have gotten a big boost with 23...Qc4!}

24.d6 exd6 25.Rxd6 Qc7??

{Loses the game pretty much instantly. Sadly for White, it's not as if Black had no other resources, as 25...Qc4!! would have actually won the game. Here's what the board would have looked like:

Position after 25...Qc4!! (analysis)

For example, 26.Rd7+ Kh8 and there isn't enough time to get any steam up again, because Black's Queen will use the check on f1 as a springboard to defend her King, e.g., 27.Nxf6 Qf1+ 28.Kd2 Qxf6, after which Black's material superiority would prevail. The rest of the game consists of Black's postmortem spasms.}

26.Rd7+ Qxd7 27.exd7 Rad8 28.Qe7+ Rf7 29.Qxd8 (1-0).

alexpgp: (Default)
I hardly ever read the local newspaper, but in leafing through the "local happenings" section late last week, I caught an announcement about chess in Pagosa. It turns out local chessplayers meet on Saturday mornings at an eatery in the supermarket strip mall, and so I went last Saturday, played a few games, and then returned today for some more punishment. There were about 10 or so attendees last week, including a couple of kids, and about 7 or 8 today.

As a local church book club met rather loudly a few tables away, I played a couple of games against a fellow who introduced himself as "Athuh," which sounded so unusual I asked him to spell it for me, which he did ("A-R-T-H-U-R"), and it turns out - surprise! - he's originally from Boston. Arthur surprised me in our second game by sacrificing his Bishop on my f7 early on, whereupon the rest of the game hinged on whether I'd be able to find my way past the sharp and pointy objects he kept strewing in the path of my king. I managed to hang on, just barely.

Our first game started with a strange opening that found all four central pawns facing off against one another, but I managed to maintain the initiative and eventually win the game.
[Date "2009.03.14"]
[White "AlexPGP"]
[Black "Arthur"]
[Result "1-0"]

1.d4 d5 2.e4 e5

{I had been hoping for a Blackmar-Diemer Gambit or a French Defense. Instead Black makes a move that lets White keep the initiative.}

3.dxe5 Nc6 4.Bb5 dxe4 5.Qxd8+

{This sort of reminds me of the Exchange Variation of the Ruy Lopez, except easier to play as White.}

5...Kxd8 6.Bxc6 bxc6 7.Nc3 Bb4 8.Bg5+ f6 9.O-O-O+!

{I'm thinking Black may have done better not to interpose with the f pawn on move 8, as castling basically represents an "in-between" move - what the literature calls a zwischenzug - that helps White with his development.}

9... Bd7?

Position after Black's 9th move


{By pushing the pawn against the pinned Bishop, it may look like I'm just exchanging bishop for bishop, but when I recapture Black's bishop, my rook will end up on my seventh rank and really put a giant crimp in Black's game.}

10...fxg5 11.Rxd7+ Ke8 12.Nxe4 Nf6 13.Nxf6+

{It's weird playing this game, because it's almost playing itself.}

13...gxf6 14.Nf3 Be7 15.Rhd1

{15.Nd4 Rd8 16. Rxd8+ Kxd8 17. Nxc6+ Ke8, and the a pawn goes, but I wanted to double rooks on the d file first.}


{This pawn move deep-sixes the idea of playing Nd4 in the immediate future.}

16.Rxc7 a5 17.Rdd7 Bd8 18.Rxc5 Ra6 19.Nd4 Rxe6?

{At first glance, this looks pretty good, as 20. Nxe6 is followed by 20...Kxd7, regaining the rook but with a very rocky road still ahead, two pawns down. However, White has another zwischenzug here that wraps up the game.}

20.Rxd8+! Kxd8 21.Nxe6+ (1-0)
I'm feeling pretty good that I was able to reconstruct the game from memory after coming home. At least it shows I was paying attention!

alexpgp: (Default)
I plucked my opponent's pawn off the board and planted my bishop in its place, adding a flourish by twisting the piece slightly after it was down, as if I was screwing it into the wood. Capturing the pawn increased my material advantage to two pawns, formed a potential "steamroller" of my pawns on the left side of the board, and created what I thought was a very uncomfortable position for my opponent in the center.

Having made my move, I got up to stretch my legs and meandered over to check for any late changes in the standings on the tournament crosstable, which was posted over by the director's desk. It also gave me an opportunity to crack a wide, dopey smile out of sight of my opponent, secure in the knowledge that I was going to win the game. Bobby Fischer may have said "I like the moment when I break a man's ego," but I didn't play chess like that.

It was the last round of the competition - a regional team tourney - and our team, which went by the name of "Spassky's Drawers," was in the running for a class trophy. Our team's whimsical name was a pun referring both to underwear and the fact that I and another member of our four-man team had played to a draw in our respective games against ex-world champion Boris Spassky in a simultaneous exhibition arranged by our local club three years before.

I returned to my board to find that my brilliant move was, in fact, an awful blunder. I had overlooked a response that simultaneously attacked both my recently moved bishop and its supporting rook, and my material advantage was about to do an about face, leaving me to fight an uphill battle. More precisely, after a few moments of reflection, I realized it would be a losing uphill battle.

If you hang around chessplayers for any length of time, you'll hear them talk about material, time, space, and initiative. These are all concepts that help a player figure out where the game is going, whether he or she is winning or losing, and what to do about it.

Material, for example, is all about the pieces that are on the board at any given time. Conventional wisdom says that, all other things being equal, a queen is worth 9 pawns; a rook, 5 pawns; and knights and bishops, 3 pawns. Thus, exchanging a rook for a rook is an "even trade"; giving up a bishop for a pawn puts you at a disadvantage.

Though easy to understand, the concept is not very subtle, and relying on this wisdom will only get you so far, since all other things are typically not equal on the board. Sure, there are many pretty games out there in which one side sacrifices piece after piece, ceding a tremendous material advantage to the other side in order to checkmate the enemy king, but such games are relatively rare. More often than not, an advantage of a single pawn will decide games at the grandmaster level.

I spent about fifteen minutes staring at the board, not so much wondering what to do - I really only had one move available to me - but what to do after the ensuing mêlée in the center of the board, which would leave me in a pretty bad spot and deficient in material after the dust had cleared. I pinched the bridge of my nose, then rubbed my temples.

My opponent sat opposite, making a poor effort to hide his elation. Other players came by, stopped, looked at the position, and whispered among themselves. His teammates went away smiling. I wanted to scream. Twice, I came within a heartbeat of angrily tipping over my king on the spot, resigning the game without playing it out to checkmate.

I was not a happy camper.

To take my mind off the idea of resigning, I played my one-and-only move, pushing my king up one square to protect my rook.

Bam! In one smooth motion, my bishop disappeared from the board. Now our rooks were nose to nose, like two bullies in a bar fight. If I traded rooks, they'd come off the board, but my opponent's surviving bishop would then gain the initiative, allowing it to harvest my exposed pawns like a scythe going through a field of ripe wheat, before I could mobilize them. What I needed was time, which in chess translates as a few extra moves, to get my pawn steamroller moving.

The way to gain that time was to figure out a way to force my opponent to make moves that didn't help his position, while at the same time making moves that helped mine. The problem was - given what was on the board - it couldn't be done. With this in mind, I again eyeballed my king and thought about ending the game with a flick of my finger.

Instead, I pushed a pawn to support my rook. If my opponent wanted to trade rooks, the pawn would recapture with check, forcing my opponent to waste time moving his king away from the pawn. I would have gained one move, true, but after that, I'd be left twisting slowly in the wind, with no way to keep my opponent from marching into my position, using his king and bishop like a hammer and anvil to ultimately sweep my remaining pawns from the board. I felt like I was about to be squashed as flat as a bug on a racecar windshield.

My opponent pushed a pawn in response, and my heart skipped a beat. The pawn move was… a waste of time. It served no good purpose at all, and I suddenly felt as if I had been given an early Christmas gift. I advanced the pawn next to the one I had pushed the move before, thus mobilizing two-thirds of my as-yet unopposed "steamroller."

My opponent seemed not to care, and played another pawn move! What was he doing? What was he thinking?

Pawns are doubtless the product of a brilliant, but diseased mind. You see, unlike all other chess pieces, they can only move forward; they cannot move backward. They cannot budge an opposing piece standing in front of them, because they can only attack (or protect) squares that are diagonally in front of them. This makes pawns the weakest of chess pieces.

Yet as weak as a pawn may be, it can still capture enemy pieces and even deliver checkmate, if the opportunity presents itself. Further, inside of each pawn is this crazy ability to be "promoted" to any piece of the player's choosing - most often, a queen (the most powerful piece on the board) - but only if it can reach the opposite end of the board.

Now, the thing that made the pawns on my left flank so potentially powerful was the fact that there were no obstacles between them and my opponent's side of the board. This, combined with the ability to support each other as they advanced, was what created the "steamroller" effect. (To make a rough analogy with hockey, think of a "power play" situation where the entire defending team is sitting in the penalty box!) On the other hand - and on the other flank - my opponent's pawns could be easily stopped, because I still had a couple of pawns left on that side of the board.

With his last two moves, my opponent betrayed a fatal flaw that is common among amateurs: an inability to win a won endgame. (I recognized this because I myself have been troubled by this affliction from time to time.)

Broadly speaking, the game of chess is divided into the opening, the middle game, and the endgame. Which is most important? Well, the legendary Cuban World Champion Capablanca maintained that the most important phase for a beginner to master first was the endgame, and today, this is still considered the case.

However, generations of amateurs have ignored this advice, reasoning that without a good grounding in the opening and middle game, they'll never manage to reach an endgame, much less one they can win. Yet the flip side to ignoring conventional wisdom is ending up with a won endgame that you lack the technique to win.

I began to hope this flaw would provide me with the time I needed to save my game. It did.

Seven moves later, my steamroller had become an Irresistible Force, while my opponent's pawns were stuck fast, his king had retreated, and his bishop was trying to simultaneously attack in one direction and defend in another, leaving me with a position with - speaking euphemistically - very definite possibilities. In short, a win.

I had managed to weather the despair of a serious blunder, but now, it was my opponent's turn to kick himself, because he knew exactly what his problem was, and there wasn't anything he could do to stave off the inevitable. His teammates, who had been hovering near our board, moved away, leaving him to deal with his situation.

His brow wrinkled. His upper lip started to curl, hinting at a snarl. He started to run his fingers through his hair, and then began to rhythmically pull his hair. Then he stopped, cupped his hands together vertically in front of his face, covered his nose and mouth, and breathed heavily a couple of times. His eyes met mine, and I saw something change, subtly.

Then he reached down and tipped over his king.


P.S. Our team won the trophy!
alexpgp: (OldGuy)
One of the campaigners, Peter K., turned out to be a USCF member, which I found out after watching him kill some time playing on the ICC (Internet Chess Club) server while waiting for stuff to come together at the Fili hotel. We got to talking and eventually, he offered to lend me a copy of his current Chess Life, which I declined as I am already a member of the USCF.

To make a long story short, The Hunger™ has been reawakened, so I signed up for a week's trial membership, only to be told that since my IP address could not be uniquely linked to my computer, I could not take advantage of the trial (which seems kind of strange, as anyone who gets their IP via DHCP - and it would seem to be a fairly large group - falls into the same category).

Anyway, rather than get huffy and drop the idea, I decided to invest in a year's membership to see what there was to see.

In my opinion, the major draw of online chess is the "blitz" game, which is a lot faster than traditional over-the-board (OTB) play, with time controls in the vicinity of between 5 and 15 minutes per side, or as short as 2 minutes per side with 12 seconds added for each move (I'm sure there are shorter time controls that still qualify as "blitz," before one devolves into "bullet" games, but I stay away from such stuff).

The last time I played online chess was back in March on the Free Chess Server, but as I mentioned in that post, my play was pretty poor. The intervening six months of inactivity did little to improve my game.

On the ICC server, I was able to handle the beginner-level computer program that's eternally available to take on all comers, but that was about it. Playing against humans, my record was spotty, with several losses resulting from a failure to grok the position (simple stuff, like leaving pieces en prise).

Still, if you keep at it long enough, things start to snap back into place.

In a recent 15/15 game (15 minutes per side), I was down to less than a minute of time, my opponent had nearly 8 minutes left, and I came to the realization that my opponent was playing without much reflection in otder to exhaust my time.

With about 30 seconds left, and having just lost a pawn advantage, I actually had my mouse positioned over the "Resign" button, but instead of clicking the mouse, I repositioned the cursor and moved a piece. My opponent responded immediately, and it began to dawn on me that, with a bit more carelessness on my opponent's part - I won his Bishop because he was too busy trying to run down my clock - his efforts to screen his King from checks by my Rook might land him in hot water.

With less than 15 seconds on my clock - and with victory pretty much a lead-pipe cinch despite having lost his Bishop - my opponent ducked his King behind a wall of mixed pawns, allowing me to checkmate him with my Bishop. I am sure my relief was as vehement as his shock, though you never can tell.

Despite the fact that the result was more a consequence of my opponent's self-inflicted error than excellent play on my part, the result managed to rally my spirits. I ended the session by playing a game of pure clarity, where the path to victory after winning the d-pawn was as clear to me as if it had been lined with helpful billboards. (Then again, it must be said that my opponent did not try very hard to complicate the game.)

No time for chess now, though. There's too much stuff to do.

alexpgp: (Default)
I had resolved to finally chop, hack, and shred my way through a pile of stuff that I've been accumulating on a couch and coffee table behind my work area. Today, among other stuff, I found a 29cent; notebook, manufactured by L. Silverman & Sons, Inc., of Brooklyn, which I used to write down my first recorded chess games.

Most people who learn the moves of the game - at least in the U.S. - never get past the woodpushing stage. Though they may be aware of the fact that there is a way to record moves (and therefore, a way to replay them), they never take that next step, which is to learn how it's done.

Back when I started using the book, I was pretty enthusiastic about the game. In fact, shortly before, I had sent off what had been (for me) a pile of money to start a sustaining membership in the US Chess Federation (a good investment, as the membership converted into a life membership after 10 years). In shoft, I was not flush enough to get a "real" scorebook, so I made do.

My main opponent in those days was my late stepdad, whom I was slowly but surely overtaking over the board. The game from which the following position (and continuation) was taken was played 41 years ago today. The opening moves - particularly mine - are painfully amateurish, so I will not reproduce them here.

{My dad is playing White; I'm pushing the Black pieces. Although material is even, Black is saddled with two doubled pawns and White has two ferocious Bishops directing their malevolence at the Black King. On the other tentacle, White's d-pawn is weak, as is the square d3, and there is something to be said for the Rook sitting behind the e-pawn with sights trained on the White Queen.}

20.Rae1 {This is ill-advised, given the weak d-pawn, and I try to make something of it.} 20...Rad8 21.Rd1 Bh5! {A skewer attack, in which the Bishop attacks the Queen directly, and the Rook indirectly.} 22.g4? {In my opinion, White is better off taking his losses right now with 22.Qe3.} 22...Nxg4! 23.hxg4 Bxg4 {The Bishop presses on with his skewer!} 24.Qe3 {An alternative is 24.f3 that doesn't look much better to me now.} Bxd1 25.Rxd1 Qg4+ {And now, a fork! Forks occur when an attacking piece threatens two (or more) enemy pieces. Here the King is attacked, and so is the Rook on d1.} 26.Kf1 Qxd1+ 27.Qe1 Qxd2 {Black appears to want to get as much "insurance" as possible, in terms of material superiority.} 28.Qxd2 Rxd2 {Positions like this, with the "rook on the seventh" are very strong for the side with the rook.} 29.Kg2 e3 {Another tactic: the pin! The pawn can't move because to do so would expose the King to check.} 30.Bc1 Rxf2+ 31.Kg1 e2!? {White is willing to let the Rook on f2 go, since the pawn will Queen on the next move, with check.} 32.Bxe2 Rexe2 {Now both Rooks are on the 7th rank, and the King is confined to his first rank. Unless Black blunders badly, he's won the game.} 33.Bxg5 Rg2+ 34.Kf1 f5 35.Bd8 f4 36.Bxc7 f3 37.Bxa5 f2? {This is, technically, a bad move because Black has a mate in 3 here, starting with 37...Rf2+ 38.Kf1 Ra2 and mate on the next move. Playing an immediate 37...Ra2 won't do, as it allows 38.c4, prolonging the struggle.} 38.Bb6 Re1+ 39.Kxg2 f1=Q+ (0-1)
alexpgp: (Default)
After downloading something called "jin" and lurking for a couple of days on the Free Chess Server, I finally screwed up the gumption to play a game last night. Frankly, although I was no stranger to such time controls as "2 12", I was a little intimidated by the combination of the time control and the new software, not to mention that very many of the offers to play a game specified that respondents were to be rated, which is something I yet do not have, not on this server.

Back in the days before all of the electronic sophistication that surrounds us, time controls for blitz games were pretty simple: you set the same amount of time on each side of a chess clock - typically five minutes - and started to play. If the game was still going when one of the players' flags dropped, that player was deemed to have lost the game.

A modern control such as "2 12" basically means each side starts with 2 minutes on the clock, with 12 seconds added to whatever time is left each time you make a move. Making your fifth move means you have three minutes to complete your game, less whatever time you've already spent thinking.

Anyway, I end up in this "2 12" game as Black, against someone called "Majikme," and won it in short order, with a very pretty finish, but when I went back to take a look at the game, I was appalled at how poorly I played.
[White "Majikme"]
[Black "AlexPGP"]
[Result "0-1"]

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Bc4 Bc5 {The classical Italian variation of the Four Knights Opening. I hadn't played this in years.} 5.Ng5 O-O 6.O-O d6 7.d3 Nd4 {This move sort of gives back whatever ephemeral advantage was gained by White's fifth move.} 8.f4?? {Allows the devastating 8...Bg4!} 8...c6?? {Which Black misses.} 9.fxe5?? {White, who could have saved himself with 9.Kh1, continues to be blind to the threat.} 9...dxe5?? {Missing 9...Bg4 again, which is not as strong as before, and leads to one heck of a free-for-all after 10.Nxf7} 10.Be3 {With this move, I recall thinking - oh, was that what I was doing? - that the pieces had a potential to create the final position that actually occurred in the game, so I make a move that helps push the game in that direction... which is generally a very bad way to play.} 10...Ng4?? {In my mind, this move put pressure on e3 Bishop. If the Bishop takes on d4, everything is set for a nice finale. Unfortunately, the Knight's abandonment of the f file makes 11.Nxf7! - which I did not see at all - an excellent move. If I had this position to play over again, I think I'd play 10...Qe7, helping to defend f7 and staying out of the way of the Bishop on c8.} 11. Bxd4?? {Criminy, I'm wearing out the '?' key! Less experienced players tend to respond directly to direct threats, without first examining other alternatives. Lucky for me, in this case.} 11...Qxd4+ 12.Kh1 {White cooperates in a nice finish.} 12...Qg1+ 13.Rxg1 Nf2x (0-1)
Why do I think enough of this game to include it in my LJ? It's fairly complex, but I'll try to explain.

I'm coming to a realization that a central aspect of chessplay that made it so attractive in the pre-computer era was the fact that sometimes, you could do the wrong thing and still achieve the desired result. Computers are, generally speaking, excellent chessplayers, but part of that excellence has to do with the fact that they are thorough in their analysis, unflappable in their psychology (they have none), and utterly consistent in their computation. Your first major misstep with a computer is going to be your last, and the idea of "as long as there is struggle, there is hope" is a pretty meager thing. This in large part is what makes play against a computer so unsatisfying.

I say this not in general support of the idea that poor performance ought to be rewarded, but in support of the idea that fortunes can and do change. Filtering out the random factor makes it bloody difficult to sustain a positive attitude toward life.

Having said that, it should be kept in mind that just because you manage to draw to an inside straight doesn't make it a good overall strategy. My post-game analysis underscores the importance of reviewing one's successes as well as failures, to see what might be hidden therein.



Mar. 1st, 2008 12:35 pm
alexpgp: (Default)
I don't mind listening to audio books, and the people at have a fairly nice selection and good sales from time to time, but their devotion to DRM makes it difficult to enjoy the product without a number of concessions.

First of all, if you want to listen to their stuff on an iPod, you have to use iTunes. If you have some other player, it must be one of the advanced models that support their digital restrictions (so my Sansa e260 is useless). The only alternative is to use something like Total Recorder to "play" the audio in such a way that it goes direct-to-disk, but even if your typical file is played at 4x speed, that will eat up about 2 hours for a typical book. (I hear has been sold. Maybe I'll write a letter...)

Anyway, I had started this process with a book I bought yesterday, but it turns out that I can't work very effectively in Word while this process is ongoing, so I sat down with proust (in Linux) and did a bit more work with a chess utility I found called "jose", which combines the features of a chess playing program (with the ability to plug in various "engines") and a chess database. While I was waiting, I downloaded and installed a database of about 1.7 million games, which weighed in at 130 MB for the archive file and put a serious dent in my /usr partition.

With 4 real-time minutes left in the conversion, I noodled around with the search function and called up games played with my favorite opening, the Blackmar-Diemer Gambit. In the list of games were names that I recognized of people that I had played, so on a whim, I stuck my own name in the search function and... four of my games popped up!

These were games that actually had been published (which is not a big deal for games played after 1980 or so), and while they have a certain charm (that's parental pride speaking), they are certainly not of the highest level. Still...

* * *
Yesterday's progress was reasonable. I have somewhere between 3000 and 4000 words to do today to finish the assignment.

Daylight is burning, and the snow from late last night is melting.

alexpgp: (Default)
I am not going to get all weepy over the news that Bobby Fischer has died, but feel it appropriate to contribute my two cents.

Fischer was not the reason I started playing chess, or the reason I continued to dabble with the game once it became clear I didn't have the talent or will to pursue a title. But for a time, in 1972, Bobby Fischer was able to bring chess into the limelight in a way that eclipsed the (clueless) media's compulsion to concentrate on things it understood, i.e., petulance and histrionics, or thought it did, i.e., Cold War symbolism, and ignore things it understood not at all. People who otherwise had no interest in the game tuned in the live television coverage, making commentator Shelby Lyman something of a 15-minute celebrity back then.

I remember being at my girlfriend's house for the 6th game of the Fischer-Spassky match, trying to coach a few of her younger brothers in the game. For no understandable reason, and without thinking about it, I turned to the back inside cover of a book of Alekhine's games that I had with me and which had been given to me as a gift and recorded the moves of the game as they were played.

And what a game it was!

First off, Fischer started the game with 1.d4, which created a huge buzz, because Fischer had never been known to play anything other than 1.e4 as White, ever, in his career. And though I am not of that caliber of player who can recall games from memory years after they are played (my own or anyone else's), I do still remember how exciting it was to watch the game unfold and see Fischer win.

While I can admire the accomplishments of sports figures, I have never been one to become too emotionally involved in being a sports fan. When Fischer's title was forfeited during the next Championship cycle, I read the news, formed an opinion, but didn't feel a need to evangelize about it. When news surfaced that Fischer had espoused a set of deranged ideas, I didn't feel a need to immerse myself in the controversy.

I could go on, but work calls. In short, I prefer to remember the Bobby Fischer of 1972, who made being the very best at what he did look so easy, and who left us so many beautiful games.

alexpgp: (Aura)
I suppose that my first fling with chess in the eighth and ninth grades reawakened my stepdad's interest in the game. Like most European boys of his era, he learned the moves at an early age, and pushed wood along with all of his friends.

The timing of it all is unclear in my mind. I recall that there was a period when my stepdad played chess during his lunch break at work, much the same way my grandfather did in his day. The only difference, of course, aside from the temporal and physical, was that my stepdad would bring home "adjourned" positions in which he had managed to end up "on the move" at the time of adjournment.

Back in the days before computers ruined the game (which is not to say that computers haven't enriched the game as well, though such enrichment is not as apparent at the amateur level, in my opinion), high-level chess involved fairly slow play (a typical rate was 40 moves for each side in two hours), and an adjournment if the game lasted until the first time control. Upon adjournment, the side "on the move" would write down its next move and seal it in an envelope, thus placing both sides in a situation of equal uncertainty with regard to the question: "What's my opponent going to play?"

It may be that my dad started bringing home such positions because I had become more than passively interested in the game during the ninth grade. At any rate, we'd spend an hour or so after dinner over the board, with me playing as his opponent. I don't recall how useful an analysis partner I was.

The next year, my dad went out and bought a pair of nice Staunton chess sets to replace the plastic pieces we had been using. One set was so large that my dad ended up drawing a board on the top surface of the family bridge table, and in the end, we hardly used it. The other set was more manageable, and we played, if memory serves, on a roll-up board.

My dad also bought some serioius chess books, the selection of which was pretty limited at the time. One of these was Chess Master vs Chess Amateur (a title guaranteed to stimulate... hardly anything at all, I think).

What the book lacked in terms of sexy title it made up for with its content, which consisted of a number of heavily annotated games between Dr. Max Euwe, a former World Chamption, and one Dr. Walter Meiden, a professor of Romance Languages and a chess amateur. Meiden lost pretty much every game, though Euwe did not escape unscathed. And what made the annotations special, for me, was that they were of an explanatory nature, as opposed to an illustrative nature, i.e., words instead of variations.

My dad and I spent a few weekends going over games from the book in detail. Meanwhile, my ability over the board was blossoming (though not to the level of a master, as I had expected). Still, I advanced sufficiently in strength to begin to consistently beat my dad whenever we played. Eventually, our games became less frequent, and eventually ceased. He kept the sets and the books, though. For that I am grateful.

alexpgp: (OldGuy)

The photo above shows my grandfather playing the black pieces and was among some photos I found in my mother's papers. The photo is undated, but I would guess it was taken during a lunch break, back when my grandfather worked for the Port Authority of New York in the 1940s.

My grandfather was a scribbler, as was my mother (and I, too, appear to have been cast from the same mold in that respect). Among the contents of a suitcase of family mementos that I've accumulated over the years is a sturdy spiral notebook with stiff covers, filled with what appears to be an extensive set of notes on calculus written by my grandfather. Curiously enough, in looking through the book this morning, I rediscovered a couple of pages with chess scores, scrawled in pencil.

When the game below was played, the Allies had invaded Normandy almost exactly five months before, and the Battle of the Bulge is just over 6 weeks in the future. My grandfather is "VV."
[Date "05/11/1944"]
[White "VV"]
[Black "Moras"]
[Result "1-0"]

1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.Nc3 dxc4 5.a4 Bf5 6.e3 e6 7.Bxc4 Bb4 8.O-O O-O 9.Re1 Qe7 10.e4 Bxc3 11.bxc3 Nxe4 12.Ba3 c5 13.dxc5 Nxc5??

{Up to this point, the game has been fairly even, though I prefer the White position. Perhaps it would've been better to ignore the c pawn for a bit, say with 13...Nc6.


14.Nd4! Bg6?

{This move compounds the error of the previous move and allows a hailstorm of crippling moves. Better was 14...Qc7, after which 15.Nxf5 exf5 16.Bf7+ Kh8 17.Qh5 is a likely continuation, and Black still loses, I think, but not as quickly as in the game.}

15.Nxe6! fxe6 16.Rxe6 Qf7 17.Re4

{I'm not sure this is better than 17.Bxc5, since the situation on the a2-g8 diagonal won't improve much even if the queen gets off of f7. I'm thinking perhaps my grandfather just wanted to expedite the queen's departure from the board, after which the game's course is predictable.}

17...Nxe4 18.Bxf7+ Kxf7 19.Bxf8 Kxf8 20.Qd8+ Be8 21.Re1 Nf6 22.Qe7+ Kg8 23.Qxb7 Bc6 24.Qc8+ Kf7 25.Qe6+ {1-0}
alexpgp: (Default)
My most recent ladder game on the Magmic server has ended. It's not an immortal game, but I found it interesting how Black got into trouble so quickly, and it was a challenge to take maximum advantage of my opponent's several weak opening moves. (The problem with games like this, though, is that they contribute little or nothing toward my development as a player, but that's not really a concern.}
[Date "2007.07.05"]
[White "ALEXPGP"]
[Result "1-0"]

1.d4 e6 2.e4 Bb4+

{Up until this move, the game was developing along the lines of the French Defense. 2...Bb4+ is a beginner's move. It doesn't do anything useful and in fact, causes Black to waste time moving his Bishop away when White plays...}

3.c3 Ba5 4.Nf3 Nf6

{Sure, this develops the Knight, but the piece is vulnerable to the push e5, after which it has to either return to its home square or move onward, to a choice of mediocre squares.}

5.Bd3 O-O?

{Black's King side is easily attacked.}

6.e5! Ng4?

{Given the way this game turned out, the preferred alternative was 6...Nd5. On g4, the Knight can be chased with...}

7.h3 Nh6 8.Ng5!

{White now has both Bishops and a Knight breathing down Black's King side, and the pawn on h7 is feeling the heat.}

8...d5?! 9.Nxh7 Re8 10.Qh5!

{Now the Queen joins the fray. At this point, I think Black is lost.}

10...Nf5 11.Bg5! Qd7 12.Bxf5?

{The move merits a '?' because White misses a forced mate that starts with 12.Nf6+}

12... exf5 13.Nf6+!

{The mate is still on the board, and White doesn't miss it this time.}

13...gxf6 14.Bxf6

{...and, barring spite checks by the Bishop on a5 and the Rook on e8, it's mate on the next move.}
alexpgp: (Default)
[Date "2007.06.26"]
[White "AlexPGP"]
[Black "Thot"]
[Result "1-0"]

1.d4 d5 2.e4 dxe4 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.f3 exf3

{A typical position in the Blackmar-Diemer Gambit.}

5.Qxf3 Qxd4

{White continues with the Ryder Gambit, or the "classical double-pawn sacrifice," as described by the late German chessmaster Diemer. Black takes the second pawn.}

6.Be3 Qb4?

{This looks like a good move because it would appear that...}


{...can't be played because of...}


{...which deftly attacks the Queen and the Rook at the same time while keeping b7 protected, but...}


{...threatens mate on c7 and strips b7 of its powerful protector on b4. Historically, White doesn't lose too many games at this point.}

8...Bxf3?? 9.Nxc7+


alexpgp: (Default)
The idea behind Alekhine's Defense is for Black to entice White to chase Black's knight around the board, all the while building up a pawn center that - Black will argue - becomes a big, fat target. However, White need not cooperate in the plan.

My most recent "BlackBerry" chess game featured the Maroczy variation of Alekhine's Defense, which I faced for the first time and which on the surface seems an overly passive way for White to open the game.

One cannot judge the strength of a player based on the opening chosen. A player who chooses something offbeat might still be skillful (I seem to recall GM Michael Basman used to enjoy venturing 1.a3 as White), and a player who confidently strides through the first moves of a well-known opening, say the Sicilian Defense, may still be only parroting book moves (though I would suspect the odds of such a player being a rank beginner are somewhat smaller).

The following game is not an example of good play by White, who starts to fall apart around move 12. I did, however, do a fairly good job of taking advantage of my opponent's missteps.

[Date "2007.04.18"]
[White "VIPERX100"]
[Black "ALEXPGP"]
[Result "0-1"]

1.e4 Nf6 2.d3 e5 3.c4 Bc5 4.h3 O-O 5.Nf3 c6 {This seems to lose the pawn on e5. However, at this point, I want the position opened up a bit. The extra pawn is an illusion.} 6.Nxe5 d5 {Striking at White's center.} 7.cxd5 cxd5 8.d4 {Apparently trying to avoid getting stuck with an isolated pawn.} 8...Bb4+ 9.Bd2 Bxd2+ 10.Nxd2 dxe4 {The pawn is regained, and White's d-pawn is isolated. My ultimate strategy here will be to put increasing pressure on the d-pawn and win it.} 11.Nb3 a6 {I felt that Bb5 was a real threat within a move or two.} 12.Bc4? b5 {I get a free move. White's game seems to unravel at this point, at an ever-faster pace.} 13.Be2 Be6 14.Nc1? {This permits...} 14...Qa5+! 15.Kf1? {It would've been better to exchange Queens after 15.Qd2 Qxd2 16.Kxd2} 15...Qb4! 16.b3? Qc3! {It's not that Black's moves are so great, objectively speaking, but I think they take maximum advantage of White's poor defense.} 17.Ncd3?? {Sure, White's position is not that hot, but this was not forced.} Qxd4! 18.Nxf7?? exd3 19.Bf3 {This looks like a try to regain some material by attacking the Rook on a8, but the effort is a waste of time...} 19...Rxf7 20.Bxa8?? {...because Black can announce mate in 4, though the software doesn't appear to have that feature. :^} 20...Ng4 21.Bf3? {As good as anything else, but leads to immediate...} 21...Qxf2 mate



alexpgp: (Default)

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