Posted on January 15, 2019 by Wesley Surber

Time for New Annotations?

This month’s edition of Chess Life has an interesting article advocating for changes to the way that we annotate chess games. The author, GM Andy Soltis, presents his argument on the basis that engines have changed the way games are analyzed in such a way that statements like White has a slight advantage are no longer relevant. I think that he raises some interesting points, but I am not sure that the changes to evaluations brought on by engine analysis warrant such a complete and drastic overhaul.

Humanity’s Slight Advantage

One of the key points in the discussion is the idea that in many situations, X color has a slight advantage can hinge on whether the player does not blunder. Therefore, the annotation is more realistic as X color has a slight advantage as long as they play perfectly according to this analysis. GM Soltis believes that the precision of chess engines allows us more accurately present lines as White wins with X move or Black wins in 37 moves with X.

This precision is compounded with the growing prevalence of tablebases. Recently, has started offering an incredible seven (7) piece tablebase. Technological advancement only promises a future where we could surpass a ten (10) piece tablebase. That accuracy lends some credence to GM Soltis’s argument.

Despite these advances and despite my passion for technology, I believe that there are artistic and strategic elements in chess that computers might never understand or utilize. Stockfish can analyze millions of combinations in hindsight and state unequivocally that white can win in 37 moves without a blunder, but humans are not capable of that kind of analysis. With humanity, there is always a chance of blunder, mistake, or other factor that can affect a game’s outcome.

Room to Grow

GM Soltis makes some excellent suggestions with regards to these engine analysis comments, however. Specifically, using ~ versus !? because it more accurately reflects the nearly infinite possibilities presented in post-game analysis by a strong chess engine. Such a change might take some time to catch on, but it would make reading an in-depth analysis easier for newer generations that have grown up in the age of the hashtag, markdown format, and other digital mediums.

As a medical professional who spends his time pouring over spreadsheets and other electronic data, it would be nice to see more of the standard notations from large data sets and relational databases make their way into chess annotation because, curiously, it’s more in line with what is increasingly becoming a common language in the digital age.

Posted on February 19, 2017 by Wesley Surber

Game Analysis: Balance of Power

The balance of power in a chess game can change with a single blunder or amazing move. Although, in my case it is usually the former. This game was played last night on lichess and while it was heartbreaking, I found it to be a worthy educational experience.

Posted on October 11, 2015 by Wesley Surber

A Tactical Exposé

Recently I have been working with the Peshk@ training tool from ChessOK. Aside from studying opening theory I have also tried brushing up on my tactical abilities. It was not until recently that I was able to identify some of those tactics in games that I have been playing online. One game in particular struck me as an exceptional tactical win and it was played on the Live Chess server at I have annotated it here:

Internet Opponent vs. AmishHacker | Live Chess | October 08, 2015

1.e4 A standard and powerful opening move. White is vying for control of the center.

1…d5 Immediately challenging White’s push for the center. Most of my online opponents take the exchange as my opponent in this game did.

2.exd5 White accepts the exchange. 2…Qxd5 The exchange is complete but I have to be careful bringing my Queen out so early in the game. In this position she is vulnerable to attack on several fronts.

3.Nc3 White immediately engages my Queen. 3…Qd8 Moving my Queen back to safety to continue developing my pieces.

4.d4 b6 Preparing a clear space for my Bishop to develop. 5.Bb5+ White obviously wants to show that he is in an aggressive mood. This also delays my Bishop’s development and forces a response rather than expansion of my attack forces. 5…Bd7 A direct challenge to the attack. I am also in a mood to fight.

6.Qg4 White doubles up his attack on the d7 Bishop. Much of the attack is counterbalanced but there is danger here if I do not play with precision.

6…e6 7.Bg5 f6 8.Qxe6+ A strong move since the d7 Bishop is pinned by the b5 Bishop. The attack on my position was well coordinated and there were several opportunities for Black to exploit weakness. 8…Be7 [8…Ne7 9.Bxf6 gxf6 10.Qxf6 And White is comfortably winning.] 9.Qxd7+?? Was played in the game. A tragic error that cost White his Queen and the game. It seems that he failed to notice the b8 Knight defending the d7 square.

[9.Bxd7+ Qxd7 does nothing.]9…Nxd7!! The only reasoanble response to White’s blunder. 10.Bf4 Obviously blindsided by the devastating blunder, White retreats his Bishop in an attempt to regroup and recover with a new strategy. 10…g5 11.Bg3 Bd6 12.0-0-0 Ne7 13.Re1 A nice pin, but I am still able to castle to safety. 13…0-0 14.Bc4+ This attack seems only designed to force my King from its safety net. 14…Kh8 15.Nf3 c6!? This move made me nervous because it isolated my d6 Bishop and almost handed White the initiative. However, my opponent did not see the move and chose a different path. 16.d5?? The second major blunder of the game missing Bxd6!! 16…Bc5 17.dxc6 Nxc6 18.Nd5 Re8 19.Nc7 Rxe1+ A tactical sacrifice designed merely to delay White’s capture of the Rook. 20.Nxe1?? My opponent suprrised me again with this move. Normally the response would be Rxe1! but the choice to go with the Knight prevents the Rook from developing and leaves White handicapped.

[Much better was: 20.Rxe1 g4 21.Nd2] 20…Rc8 21.Ne6 Qe7 22.Nd3 Nd4 23.Re1 Nxe6 24.Rxe6 Qf7 25.Rc6?! My opponent struck back with a poorly planned tactic. He threatens to take my c8 Rook and believes that I will place such a high value on it that I would miss his Bishop threatening my Queen. However, the Bishop capture was much more valuable. 25…Qxc4 26.Rxc8+ Kg7 27.a3 Qd4 Moving out of the way in preparatiion for b3. 28.Rd8 Bxa3!! I debated this one for awhile, but recent tactics studies boosted my confidence in this sacrifice. 29.bxa3 Qa1+!! This was a turning point in the game as White took the bait and my Queen began to systematically ravage his forces through forced moves. 30.Kd2 Qd4 31.c3 Qd5 32.f3 Qa2+ 33.Ke3 Qxa3 34.Rxd7+ I got nervous here because now I was down to only a Queen and 3 pawns while my opponent still had several minor pieces to work with. 34…Kg6 35.c4 Qf8 36.Rxa7 Qe8+ 37.Kf2 Qc6 38.Rc7 This demonstrates the power of a well-placed Bishop. Although I had confidence in a positive outcome for me, White’s Bishop on g3 was devastating to my attack plans. 38…Qa4 39.c5 Qc2+ 40.Ke3 bxc5 41.Rxc5 Qxg2 42.Rc6 Qg1+ 43.Ke2 Kf5 With few pieces left it was time to bring my King into the action. Instead of running from the Rook, my King now became an active part of my assault on White’s position. 44.f4 Qg2+!! A tactical and psychologically devastating attack! White’s Rook is lost and I continue to pick off his pieces one-by-one.

45.Nf2 Qxc6 46.Ke3 gxf4+ 47.Bxf4 Qc1+!! Another piece falls to tactics! White cannot save the Bishop and suddenly he finds himself in a perilous position. 48.Kf3 Qxf4+ 49.Kg2 h5 50.h3 h4 51.Kf1 Qg3 52.Ke2 Qg2 53.Ke3 Kg5 54.Ne4+! A decent move to keep my King from chasing the h3 pawn. 54…Kf5!! An even better move to force White to consider the future of his Knight. 55.Kd4?? My opponent missed several opportunities in this game and I think this was simply a result of indecision. The Knight is lost since the King will defend any attack.

55…Qxe4+ 56.Kc3 Qe3+ 57.Kc2 Qxh3 The last of my opponent’s pieces are gone. The rest is self-explanatory. 58.Kd2 Qg3 59.Ke2 h3 60.Kf1 h2 61.Ke2 h1Q 62.Kd2 Qhh2+ 63.Kd1 Qgg1# AmishHacker won by checkmate 0-1