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Month: June 2014

Downloads and Reading List Now Open

I am pleased to announce that the Reading List and Downloads sections of the site are now operational. Although they are still bare bones, more content will be added to the pages over the next few weeks and months.

Reading List: This is a page dedicated to my favorite chess books. I have read each book listed and provide a brief commentary as well as a pawn rating indicating the book’s worth based on applicability across a wide spectrum of chess players and general quality and usefulness of content. Instructional chess books include links to PGN and Chessbase format databases for use in chess study.

Downloads: This is the page I am most excited about! The downloads section is a repository for PGN and Chessbase files for a variety of uses. Each of these files were developed by me for inclusion on this site and will hopefully be of use to aspiring chess players around the world.

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Game Analysis – Surber vs. Croft 2014 (Part 2)

Despite all the research on tactics, strategy, openings, middle games and endgames, there really are only two kinds of moves in chess: good and bad. Most Grandmasters will tell you that chess is about finding ways to exploit the weakness of your opponent, but it is equally important to look for ways to exploit your opponent’s blunders. In the case of my game with my friend Walter, the second half of the game saw some unusual blunders on both sides and some very strange combinations leading ultimately to a checkmate in 30 moves. Here is the board after 8…♙g5.

9.♗xe4 ♙xe4

At this point, I expected that White would most likely go 10.♙d5 and attack my Knight on c6, which would have been consistent with his playing style since the game began. However, he ignored the Knight and decided to bring his h4 Knight to the f5 square, which reinforced his Pawn position on d4, but did not stop me from trying to execute my attack plan.

10…♙cxd4 11.♙c3 ♗c5 12.♙e3 ♕d7

There were a couple of options in this position, but I decided to move the Queen to d7 in an attempt to catch White not looking at his position. He was playing somewhat recklessly and I figured that if he took my d4 pawn then I would move my Knight two positions to e5 and ultimately end up on g4 so I could position my Queen on f2#. However, as you will see, I made it close to the position, but White caught on to my plans and foiled them.

13.♘g7+ ♔f8 14.♘h5 ♘e5 15.♘xf6 ♕f5 16.♘d5 ♘g4 17.O-O

At this point, White is somewhat carelessly moving his Knight around and trying to keep my Queen busy in a series of forced moves. 16…♘g4 was the moment where I was prepared to strike his King, but White saw through the easy ruse and played 17.O-O.

17…♕xd5 18.♙xd4 ♗xd4 19.♙exd4 ♕f5 20.♙f3 ♙exf3

This move opens up the e file and allows me to prepare my Rooks for action.

21.♖xf3 ♕b5 22.♘c3 ♕b4 23.♘d5 ♕c4?? 24.♕d2??

By far, this was the deciding moment in the game. White and Black both made incredible blunders that ultimately turned the game in White’s favor. 23…♕c4?? essentially gave the Black Queen to White with 24.♙xc4!!, but White missed the move and played 24.♕d2??. This was as much a psychological defeat for White as it was a strategic defeat. White immediately realized his mistake and began to panic with quick and impulsive moves.

24…♕xd5 25.♖e1 ♕xf3 26.♖f1 ♕e4 27.♖f3

27.♖f3 is another example of White’s panic-stricken moves.

27…♕xf3 28.♙d5 ♖d8 29.♙d6 ♘e3 30.♙d7 ♕f1#

White’s psychological imbalance after 23…♕c4?? 24.♕d2?? allowed me to eventually use my Knight-Queen combination to corner his King. The game was very exciting for both of us and we are already planning to play again before I finally have to pack up and leave Ohio.

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Game Analysis – Surber vs. Croft 2014

As my time in Ohio draws to a close, my friend Walter and I decided to play a friendly game of chess at work on a small travel board I keep in my office. The game is very casual and there are no standing rules other than the obvious: no cheating! As the game has progressed, I have been contemplating the difficulty with playing traditional opening lines in an amateur vs. amateur game, so I decided to live blog the game as we play it. Here we go:

1.♙g3 ♙d5

To me, the biggest challenge of playing an amateur vs. amateur game like this is the uncertainty that comes with the moves. It is almost impossible to play a traditional opening line when your opponent opens with the incredibly unorthodox moves like 1.♙g3. My response was ♙d5 in an attempt to maintain some sense of a main line opening despite White’s first move.

2.♗g2 ♘f6 3.♘f3 ♗f5 4.♙b3 ♙c5 5.♗b2 ♘c6 6.♗xf6??

I marked 6.♗xf6 as a ?? because it was surprising, reckless, and gave me a significant insight into Walter’s strategic and tactical thinking: he’s a piece collector.

6…♗exf6 7.♗d4

At this point, I began to see a slight shift in tactics. In my opinion, 7.♗d4 is a very reasonable move as it is protected in two places: by the Knight on f3 and the Queen on d3. I pondered this position for a night before deciding to press on by reinforcing my d5 pawn with 7…♗e4.

7…♗e4 8.♘f3

8.♘f3 was a surprise since it launches an assault on my Bishop at e4 and shows additional signs of tactical thinking in his play.

8…♙g5

[to be continued…]

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Amateur Analysis – Carlsen vs. Aronian

Recently, Magnus Carlsen and some of the world’s top chess players competed in the No Logo Chess Competition. Some of the games were outright “sleepers”, but others have emerged as jewels of chess instruction and analysis. I decided to take a crack at one of the games and annotate it myself. I put Carlsen and Aronian’s Round 5 game through a 24-hour analysis in Fritz 14 before setting down and removing most of the recommended variations. This is my first annotated game, so go easy on me! Some of the key moments to look for are deep in the endgame (around move 70) in which Carlsen demonstrates his incredible chess expertise to reverse his fortune and crush his opponent.

[Event “2nd Norway Chess 2014”] [Site “Stavanger NOR”] [Date “2014.06.08”] [Round “5”] [White “Carlsen, M.”] [Black “Aronian, L.”] [Result “1-0”] [ECO “D38”] [WhiteElo “2881”] [BlackElo “2815”] [Annotator “Deep Fritz 14 x64 (60s)”] [PlyCount “185”] [EventDate “2014.06.03”] {D38: Queen’s Gambit Declined: Ragozin Defence (4 Nf3 Bb4)} 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nf3 d5 4. Nc3 Bb4 5. cxd5 exd5 6. Bg5 h6 7. Bh4 Nbd7 8. e3 g5 9. Bg3 Ne4 10. Nd2 Nxg3 11. fxg3 {I would have played 11. hxg3 to open up the h-file and allow the Rook to enter into play.} Nb6 12. Bd3 Qe7 13. Qf3 Be6 14. a3 Bxc3 15. bxc3 O-O-O 16. a4 Bd7 17. a5 Na4 18. a6 Rhe8 19. Kf2 {Fritz 14 recommends 19. Nc4, but I am not convinced that there is nothing keeping Aronian from playing 19…dxc4. This one must have been strictly Grandmaster intuition.} Kb8 20. Rhe1 Nxc3 21. axb7 Qb4 22. Kg1 Qb2 23. Nf1 f5 24. Ra5 Ba4 25. Rc5 (25. Qxf5 Rf8 {This was my first instinct after seeing Carlsen play 25. Rc5. I wondered if taking the Pawn on f5 would help to open the line and that the Queen would be defended by the Bishop on d3. However, Rf8 quickly forces the Queen to a safe zone with no significant gain for white.}) 25… Rf8 26. h3 Rf6 27. Nh2 Rdf8 { Carlsen’s position is cramped and any blunders here could spell DOOM for the World Champion.} 28. Qf1 Ne4 {Black threatens to win material: Ne4xc5} 29. Re2 Qa3 30. Bxe4 ({Why not 30.Qf3 to hold the Knight at bay? Something like this: } 30. Qf3 g4 31. hxg4 fxg4 32. Qxg4 Nxg3 33. Qxg3) 30… fxe4 31. Qe1 c6 32. Ra5 Qb3 33. Qa1 Qd1+ 34. Qxd1 Bxd1 35. Re1 Bh5 36. g4 Be8 37. Rea1 Rf2 38. Rxa7 Rb2 39. Nf1 Kc7 40. Ra8 Kxb7 41. R1a7+ Kb6 42. Re7 Rbf2 43. Rb8+ Ka6 44. Ng3 Bg6 45. Rxf8 Rxf8 46. Re6 Be8 47. Rxh6 Kb5 48. Rh7 Kc4 49. Ra7 Bg6 {This is where things get VERY interesting and the game takes on a significant instructional quality. Carlsen takes advantage of some key moments to turn the tides and regain control of the board.} 50. Ra6 Rf6 51. Ra3 Kb4 52. Ra1 Kc3 53. Rf1 Re6 54. Rf8 Kd2 55. Nf1+ Kd3 56. Kf2 Re7 57. Rg8 Re6 58. Ke1 Rf6 59. Rg7 Re6 60. Ra7 Re8 61. Ra3+ Kc2 62. Ra6 Rc8 63. Ke2 Be8 64. Ra5 Kc3 65. Ng3 Rb8 66. Rc5+ Kb2 67. Nh5 Bxh5 68. gxh5 Rh8 69. g4 Rh6 70. Kf2 Re6 71. Kg3 Rf6 72. h4 Rf3+ 73. Kg2 gxh4 74. h6 Rxe3 75. h7 h3+ 76. Kh2 Re2+ 77. Kxh3 Re1 { This was a key moment for me. Carlsen had the opportunity to play 78.Qh8, but did not. h8 remains at its outpost for the rest of the game.} 78. Kg2 Re2+ 79. Kg3 Re3+ 80. Kh4 Re1 81. Kg5 Rh1 82. Kg6 Rh4 83. Rxc6 e3 84. Re6 {Re6 places the Rook behind the passed pawn.} Rxg4+ 85. Kh5 Rg1 86. Rxe3 Rh1+ 87. Kg6 Rg1+ 88. Kf7 Rh1 89. Kg8 Rg1+ 90. Kh8 Rg4 91. Re5 Rxd4 92. Kg7 Rg4+ 93. Kh6 1-0

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Movie Review – Life of a King

Chess is a game of redemption and nobody knows about redemption more than ex-felon Eugene Brown. After spending a significant portion of his life incarcerated in a federal prison after a botched bank robbery, Eugene learned the depths of chess philosophy behind bars. According to him, chess was a distraction from the depressing and dangerous world of prison. These days, Eugene is the founder of the Big Chair Chess Club in Washington, D.C. where he teaches critical life lessons to inner city youth using the principles of chess.

In 2013, the life of Eugene Brown hit the silver screen as the movie Life of a King starring Cuba Gooding, Jr.

Warning: Contains Movie Spoilers

I first learned about Life of a King in mid-2013 after seeing it posted in a forum on Chess.com. I was excited to see the movie and regularly reviewed local movie times to see when it was playing. Unfortunately, the movie never made it into any of our local theaters before it was released on DVD and Netflix. The promotional material for the movie contains a number of still shots that show Cuba’s character, Eugene Brown, in prison learning and playing chess. However, that sequence of the film makes up less than five minutes of the intro and only a select sequence of flashbacks. I believe that the transformation of Eugene from a gangster into a respectable chess player would have given the movie some valuable context. Life of a King is as much about a large, hand-carved chess piece (see in one of this post’s movie stills) given to Eugene at the beginning of the movie as it is about Eugene himself. The piece is given to Eugene by his prison friend and chess mentor (eloquently played by Dennis Haysbert) and serves as a symbol of hope for the rehabilitated man.

Eugene leaves prison and immediately has trouble finding work because of his scandalous past. After lying his way into a job as a janitor, he is given a unique opportunity to supervise the school’s detention room and uses the time to begin teaching the detention dwellers how to play chess. Most of the children in the class come from broken or abusive homes and have little to look forward to in their futures. Eugene uses the various elements of chess to teach basic life skills such as respect for rules and the need to be on guard against impulsivity. One unique challenge that he faces in the classroom is some of the player’s dissatisfaction with the fact that white has the first move on the chessboard. Black should always go first, replies one of the children. Eugene’s eloquence is at its best in these tense moments and he is highly effective at reshaping the way that the class views themselves and the rest of the world. One student in particular shows an exceptional gift for chess, but refuses to acknowledge his skill.

As the children progress in their chess skills, some of them begin to dream of playing competitively. Eugene teaches them the basics of time controls and tournament etiquette, which is soon put to the test in a series of local tournaments. The importance of treating life as a chess game and obeying the rules are emphasized as one child forges his name on a tournament entrance form, wins the tournament, and is subsequently disqualified. The film soon progresses from a focus on Eugene and the class as a whole to the establishment of the Chess House and the rapid development of several of the children.

Eugene and his chess crew survive the dangers of inner city life and the film’s climax brings us to a USCF tournament. This is where the game of chess as a competitive sport is presented exceptionally well by the filmmakers. The tournament is filled with advertisements for real chess websites and resources such as the USCF, Chess.com, Chesskid.com, and others. In the climax scene, Eugene’s star pupil deals swift blows to his tournament opponents and soon finds himself face to face with a Magnus Carlsen lookalike chess genius. As the two play a final-round match in front of a packed room, perhaps one of the best moments comes at the end of the match when the Carlsen-clone approaches the student and compliments his game. The student responds by telling him that he does not appreciate being patronized. With a smile worthy of Carlsen or even a smug Fischer, the genius responds by saying, “Trust me, I would never do that.”

At first glance, Life of a King may appear to be nothing more than a typical American chess movie. This is an unfair assessment as it is so much more. The struggles of Eugene Brown and his chess players is a story that continues in cafes, homes, and prisons around the world. Life of a King is a testament to the human spirit and the spirit of the 64 squares that have brought change and meaning to the lives of so many.

Life of a King is rated PG-13 for some violence and drugs. It stars Cuba Gooding Jr. and Dennis Haysbert.

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Sochi to host FIDE World Championship

For weeks now, the international chess community has wondered where the World Championship match between Magnus Carlsen and Viswanathan Anand would be held. Recently, the World Chess Federation (FIDE) announced that it was extending the opportunity for cities to bid on hosting the championship because at the 30-Apr-14 deadline, no cities had placed a bid. At a press conference today in Moscow, FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov announced that Sochi, Russia, which was home to the Winter Olympic Games has won the bid to host the match in November.

Not much else is known about the match except that its budget is $3 million and it will be held in the Olympic Village built for the games.

Updates will be made to this post as additional information becomes available.

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Chess Life – Ken Regan Goes After Cheaters

My copy of the Chess Life June 2014 edition arrived this weekend and it features one of the most amazing stories I have ever read about two of my favorite subjects: computers and chess. Ever since the notorious Turk toured the world and baffled the minds of chess players everywhere, scientists and players alike have predicted the conquering of mankind’s chess abilities by computer advances. Unfortunately, despite his generous chess philanthropy and amazing skills on the board, Gary Kasparov will probably go down in history being remembered mainly for his loss to the IBM Deep Blue computer in 1997. Since the 1970s, computers have increased their ELO ratings and human-like play exponentially and the tables have turned: human players often seek advice from computers to find the best lines of play.

Dr. Ken Regan is a chess enthusiast and the designer of a highly compilex anti-cheating system in use by multiple chess federations and tournaments around the world. In the Chess Life article, Dr. Regan explains in wonderful detail the way that his algorithm searches positions in active tournaments and compares them to potential engine moves. Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of the article is the brief discussion of perfect play, which Dr. Regan believes peaks at around 3600 ELO. That is an incredibly high ELO, which no player in history has come close to…yet.

Following the publication of the article, Dr. Regan set up an extra page on his website at the University of Buffalo’s School of Computer Science and Engineering. His page include links to professional papers developed in conjunction with his algorithm research and additional Q&A from the Chess Life article. It is all highly fascinating stuff for any fans of chess or software engineering. If you can obtain a copy from a friend or are looking for a time to subscribe to the USCF Chess Life publication: this is the time to do it! Check out the June 2014 edition for the full article or visit the USCF Website to read the magazine online (members only).

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Wesley So Coming to the USCF

Some people believe that he could be a future chess World Champion and now, he just might do it carrying the banner of the United States. Grandmaster Wesley So, who is ranked 15th in the world, recently announced through Susan Polgar’s chess blog that he will be switching from the National Chess Federation of the Philippines to the United States Chess Federation. Grandmaster So had previously requested a release from the NCFP following the upcoming Olympiad in Tromso but his request was ignored, which prompted his most recent announcement. Unfortunately, FIDE rules require that he suspend his participation in top-level chess events for two years prior to switching to the USCF or else he could pay a 50k euro fee to transfer immediately.

Here is a transcript of the letter sent by Grandmaster So to the president of NCFP, Propsero Pichay, requesting immediate release from the NCFP.

Dear Cong Pichay,

I would like to share my thoughts about changing federations. I hope you have the time to read my letter. I appreciate your understanding in advance.

First of all, I would like to thank you for your past support. I am proud to be Filipino, and I will always be a Filipino at heart. I will never forget where I came from.

However, circumstances have changed. My family has permanently moved to Canada. I now live and attend school full time in the United States (at Webster University). I plan to reside permanently here. This is where I will have the opportunity to improve my chess, and make a decent living as a professional player. I want to be able to play in top level tournaments … to get to the next level.

I have filed the paperwork to switch federation to the US last year. I respectfully ask that you grant me this opportunity and consent my transfer.

If you choose not to approve my transfer request, I have no way of paying the 50,000 euros fees to the NCFP. Therefore, I will have no choice but to sit out another year to fulfill my full two year waiting period so no transfer fees are needed. This will not benefit the NCFP at all. However, it will severely slow down my progress by not being able to play in official FIDE events such as the World Cup, World Blitz and Rapid Championships, etc. I will be forced to miss the next World Championship cycle.

Because of the 2-year waiting period rule of FIDE, I am not able to compete in the World Rapid and Blitz Championships in Dubai next week. I will also not be able to compete in the upcoming Olympiad in Norway.

This is not an easy decision. But it is the best decision for me to have a chance to be a top 10 player in the world, and perhaps one day fight for the World Championship crown. I hope you will support my decision and allow me to make this change immediately so I can have a chance to chase my dream without losing more valuable time at this very important age.

Thank you!

Respectfully yours, Wesley So

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God and Chess

Chess is life, but life may not be a chess game. If you have ever done a Google image search for the word chess, then you might have noticed that there are many interesting digital interpretations of the game that include the armies of good and evil fighting each other on massive chessboards that span entire realms. Often, God and Satan are portrayed as Grandmasters moving souls around the universe like chessmen in their quest to win life’s grandest tournament. Unfortunately, while the image is striking and most likely provokes deep existential reflection in many players and non-players, but I believe that the interpretation of good and evil as a chess game does not go far enough to explore the complexities of the human condition.

In chess, as with many things, the player is at the mercy of the rules. Chess is a game of strategic and tactical skill that requires a person to successfully integrate elements of both techniques to solve a puzzle. As with life, chess is a puzzle to be solved through proper planning and execution from the opening, through the middle game, to the endgame. Regardless of skill level, nothing will ever allow a chess player to escape the necessity of the rules. The Bishop can only move diagonally, the pawn one space at a time, and the Rook is confined to a limited, but powerful straight path. In chess, the player makes the decisions that affect the outcome of the game, not the pieces. The configuration of chess pieces on a chessboard are abstract representations of the player’s strategic and tactical expressions. Unlike the heart and souls of humanity, chess pieces do not have feelings or care about the outcome of a game.

Humanity is endowed by its Creator with free will. It is through the execution of free will that complex decisions like those required to win a chess game can be made (or not made) without requirement to consult a higher authority. The relationship of God’s control over the universe is traditionally referred to as providence and it means that nothing happens by chance: everything has a purpose and everything is directed (in some way) by God for his greater purpose. Without writing hundreds of pages of theological text to analyze the differential in the limitations of free will and providence, it is simply vital to note that each player (person) in the universe has a conscious choice to make in life’s many battles. Is it time to take a gambit and hope that your opponent accepts? Or, is it time to look for new and inspiring moves that are outside the lines of Houdini or Fritz? This is the capability of the human soul, the human intellect, and the human spirit that is not inherent to the capabilities of the chess pieces. For the pieces on the board, they are wholly at the mercy of the person playing them, whose methodology might be flawed and disastrous.

“If he should set his heart to it and gather to himself his spirit and his breath, all flesh would perish together, and man would return to dust.” (Job 34:14–15, ESV)

Just as the chess pieces cannot function without human players, humanity cannot function without the spirit of its Creator. Yet, the complexities of the human condition far outweigh the complexities of a chess game. While we are quick to reference common day events as blunders or gambits and think of ourselves as Kings, Queens, or more often, as Pawns, the truth of humankind is far more than moving across the board. The human story of chess involves the personal interest and empathy of the players themselves. The pieces of God’s chess board care about their plight and want to win the game! Perhaps the most remarkable part of chess is that it can tell a significantly powerful story that closely mirrors the lives and struggles that we experience. The victories and defeats played out across the black and white squares are representative of the thrills of defeat and victorious celebration in life. The power of chess is that it can be a form of worship in that it is as close as humanity can get to capturing the essence of what it means to be a human on the greatest chess board of all.

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