Third position

Okay, put the kids to bed and don your protective eye gear before proceeding. This one’s really ugly.

Position A:

Screen Shot 2015-09-02 at 8.01.32 PM

Black to move. My thinking at the time:

I went into this position with the notion that black needed to restrain c4. If I can do that, white’s pawns stink, the e-pawn eats up space and soon the c-file will be the road to happiness and mirth. OTOH if white gets to push c4, my center will get wobbly and — I don’t know exactly what. Did I think his pieces were going to get really active? My rooks aren’t connected b/c of my undeveloped bishop. Should I kick the knight with …h6 and then play Bxh3 and f5? Looks like my king is getting drafty and my light squares are weakened. Or …h6 with some idea of playing Be6, f5 and Bf7 to get away from his potential Nh3-Nf4? I seem to lack the necessary tempi to do that.

So I got all contorted and played something that achieved none of my goals:

15…Qd8 16. Rab1 b6 17. c4

Position B:

Screen Shot 2015-09-02 at 8.09.17 PM

Well now I’ve botched it, and black is worse, for all the reasons listed above. So then a bunch of nonsense ensued, as I tried to come up with some concrete solution to white’s light-squared play, and lucked into a drawing cheapo after mutual blunders.

17…dxc4 18. Rfd1 Na5 19. d5 Re8 20. Nxe4 Kg8? 21. Qd4? Rxe4 22. Qxe4 Bf5 getting the exchange back on c2. The next day my opponent mentioned that we both overlooked 21.Nf6+, simply winning the exchange.

Stockfish rewind:

In position A, Stockfish says it’s around -.75, way better for black. Its recommendation is the very simple 15…h6 16.Nh3 Bxh3 17.Qxh3 and now Rc8 and f5 are both good choices.

  • Tactically, c4 is prevented for the moment because d4 would hang.
  • Positionally, giving up the (undeveloped) Bc8 for white’s (only active) piece doesn’t cause any concern.

But wait! There’s more!

In Position B, Stockfish says black is still marginally better (-.3 or so)! So allowing c4, while not optimal, doesn’t cause black’s position to magically collapse. The recommended series from position B is 17…f6 18.cxd5 Qxd5 19.Nxe4 Nxd4 20.Rfd1 Rd8 21.c4 Qd5. I expect the small advantage here stems from the better minor piece, as black will trade off the Be2, and/or marginally better pawn structure.

My actual choice of 17…dxc4 is panicky and terrible and gives the advantage back to white. Instead of centralizing my queen, I decentralized my knight. Which reminds me of an observation someone made about Fabiano Caruana: His pieces always seem to funnel through the middle of the board. If I take nothing else from this game, that would be a good correction to make. Given a choice, centralize! Duh!

But it feels like there’s more to be learned here. We may be seeing a confirmation of the idea that I over-value my bishops?

Reassembler, a case study in persistent search engine visibility for old blog posts

Here are the top 12 Reassembler blog posts in readership this year. 11 of them are more than 2 years old, which means that all their visits at this point are coming from Google (unless there’s some really influential link out there somewhere that I’m not aware of).

Some of these are not surprising. Pop culture phrases make sense as something people would occasionally Google, and there isn’t a ton of competition for these semi-random utterances. (Good heavens Miss Sakamoto and Obscure movie lines stuck in your head just missed the list here too. Fingers crossed that’s all people Googling “I’m gonna slot up in here and put my thing down.”)

Anyhoo. The two that surprise me are Genre bending and Language acquisition and chess. On the latter, I can only imagine that most visitors are academic researchers who are sorely disappointed when they land here. Although the comments are really interesting.

Most of these posts were from 2007-2008. Not sure of all the confounding variables in the rankings, but one thing I noticed back in the day was that link love around the so-called blogosphere started to dry up; Mr. die Wahrheit, Esq. pointed this out by 2009. And Google counts links. It’s like we all doomed each other with our gradual lack of attention.

In another post I’ll list the top dozen most-read posts of all time. That’s a very different animal, because not all the readership came from organic search.

Second position

Screen Shot 2015-08-29 at 8.58.42 AM

Another recent position that shows a pretty significant gap in my chess understanding.

Here I thought white has a pretty strong advantage. The knight is good, black is underdeveloped, and white has potential pressure on the queenside down the b- and c-files and perhaps a Bf3. Stray thought during the game was that Kramnik would win this beautifully in a dozen more moves.

Here’s the game continuation, which is just silly maybe not completely ridiculous, but well off target.

15…Bd7 16. Nxd7 Nxd7 17.Qb3 b6 18.Qb5 Qxb5 19.Bxb5 Nf6 20.Ba6 Ba3 21.Rfd1 and I wasn’t able to manage black’s active knight and bishop and retain an advantage, leading to a draw.

Stockfish speaks:

In the diagram, Stockfish says +1.4 or so—a very strong advantage for white. So my overall evaluation was correct. However, I didn’t understand what to do to increase the pressure.

First let’s look at the game line. Qb3-b5 was based on the idea that after …b6, I’d get my bishop to a6 and then get control of the c-file. Interestingly, after 21.Rfb1 instead of 21.Rd1, Stockfish still has white better by half a pawn. That’s a much more manageable deficit for black; I’ve effectively given back an extra pawn. But it wasn’t a completely idiotic line.

Second, let’s go back a bit.

Screen Shot 2015-08-30 at 10.39.16 AM

Here’s Stockfish’s critical line (+1.5) from this diagram:

17. Rfb1 Rac8 18. Qe4 Rc6 19. Rxb7 Rfc8 20. Qd3 Rc1+ 21. Rxc1 Rxc1+ 22. Bf1 Qa4 23. h3 h5 24. Rb1 Rxb1 25. Qxb1

Again with the Rfb1!

In the abstract, I can’t get my head around it. You skip past the potentially hotly contested c-file and bury your other rook on a1, giving black time to play Rac8 with tempo and/or play b6. Queenside problems solved, yes?

[ponders.] The ONLY way I can justify Rab1 in my mind is if I’m going to follow up with a4.

[ponders.] Which I guess would make Rb5 a threat.

So let’s Stockfish these ideas out a little more.

A) 17.Rfb1 b6 18.Qc7 (aha..) Rfd8 19.Bb5 (oh fine, NOW it’s a good move.) Rac8 20.Qb7 eval: +4

B) 17.Rfb1 Rac8 18.Qe4 (what? centralize my queen?) b6 19.Qb7 Qd5 20.Qxa7 eval: +1.6

Dang. The killer attribute of the position is the combination of unguarded stuff not just on b7 but also d7 and e7. The exploitation of the advantage is immediate, not long-term. The rook stays on a1 simply to guard the attacked a2 pawn. All my ratiocination about a4 and Rb5 is just totally irrelevant.

Chess is tactics.

Words of the Day, collated, part 1

Reviewing previous “word of the day” posts. Here are some of my favorites, from mostest to less-mostest, except I saved the best for last. Just keeping you on your toes.

These words deserve to be preserved through use. Have you smooshed any of them into your active vocabulary? (I haven’t yet. Although I did use “gobsmacked” in conversation the other day, so all hope is not yet lost…)

Ratiocination – The process of thinking, reasoning.

Tatterdemalion – A scruffy person; someone who dresses in ragged clothes. Co-opted in the early 70s as the name for a Marvel Comics villain.

Periphrasis – “Circumlocution; an indirect way of saying ‘saying something indirectly’. Sort of.” (Gee I crack myself up.)

Crepuscular – Of or like twilight. The day faded from crepuscular gray to fuliginous black. In zoology, used to describe animals that become active after sunset or before sunrise, such as bats, and therefore a term potentially useful in horror novels and movies.

Makebate – An argumentative person; somebody who excites contention and quarrels.

Foudroyant – Dazzling or stunning. From the French word for “to strike by lightning”. (Cool.)

Peripetia – An abrupt or violent change in events or circumstances. Used particularly in drama.

And my favorite, among this list:

Pasquinade – A lampoon or satire posted in a public place. Derived from an early 1500s Roman statue named Pasquino. Upon this statue rapscallions took to posting anti-church screeds. Not to be confused with Momus, the greek god of ridicule and blame. (What a great job!)

First position

Screen Shot 2015-08-23 at 9.10.53 AM

A position from a recent game. My move, as black. Where should black put the hanging bishop?

I mentioned staring down my technical deficiencies. Well, this isn’t technical exactly, but it’s a position I didn’t play very well. Here’s my analysis as I remember it:

  • It seemed to me that black’s position isn’t comfortable, or at any rate white has long-term trumps. White will capture on e4 with a nice centralized knight holding the c5 pawn, which restricts black’s queenside. Ba3 would hit the c5 pawn but that looks dicey, offside over there and vulnerable to getting trapped by a b4-push.
  • White’s light-squared bishop is unopposed and could become dangerous pointing at my queenside (say from f3). White’s Rb1 supports a queenside advance.
  • To counter white’s queenside & light-square play, I need to make my unopposed dark-squared bishop equally meaningful. d4 looks like the ideal square to do so, probing and pinning f2. (Although, should I be using d4 for my knight instead?) The play must be on the kingside because the a1-h8 diagonal is empty; me pointing at his empty queenside squares doesn’t have the same effect as a Bf3 pointing at my queenside targets. Can I get my queen to g3 with a meaningful threat? Can the knight travel over there via e5? I could put my queen on e5 hitting his knight, but Bf3 is solid and then I look vulnerable to a subsequent Re1.

So, the game continued 17…Bd4 18.Nxe4 Qc7 19.b4 Rfd8 20.Qc2 Be5. You can see that I couldn’t figure out any profitable way to use the Bd4 (all Qf4 expeditions come to nothing) and that I’m floundering on how to place/use my pieces.

Now let’s rewind and get some help from the computer engine.

Stockfish rates the pictured position as -.67, more than a half-pawn in black’s favor.

Why would this be? It seems that

  • The c5 pawn is in fact vulnerable.
  • The Ne4 looks active but it’s not immovable, and it’s not attacking anything. It just holds c5 and really gets in the way.
  • If I put a knight on d4, the white bishop can’t be maintained on f3.
  • The right move in the diagram is 17…Ba3, where it attacks c5 AND takes away both b4 and the c1 square, making c5 hard to defend. The Nc6 and possibility of …a5 make the bishop perfectly safe.
  • On a3, the bishop leaves both d4 and e5 open for my other pieces.

Stockfish’s critical line goes 17… Ba3 18. Nxe4 Qc7 19. Qd3 Rad8 20. Qe3 Rd4 21. Nc3 Qf4 22. Qxf4 Rxf4 23. Rbd1 Bxc5, using the dark squares c7, d4 and f4 and winning the c5-pawn in just a few moves.

So how badly did I misunderstand this position?

  • c5 is weak, not restrictive.
  • I can use the dark squares MUCH faster than he can gin anything up on the light squares.
  • My play is on the queenside, not the kingside.
  • Ba3 is beautifully placed, not offside.


Maybe even more fundamental is that I evaluate positions too cynically.

This comes up again later in the same game. I’ll post that as Position 2. Hoping enough cold-hard-facts analysis with Stockfish will help cure me of that; you know, I have been surprised at how often I (and similarly rated opponents) play the engine’s top choice.

Mr Crabby Old Chessplayer: series finale

Crabby dude,

I just found your blog and totally crapped my pants laughing. You dorks are still dorks? I remember you in middle school, crammed over your chessboards in Mr Leising’s room like a bunch of OCD hunchbacks. F’in hilarious then and F’in hilarious now. Only sadder. I’m going to forward this and especially this to all my buddies. What are you idiots even talking about?

34 years ago me and my buddies lifted the Kentucky state championship football trophy. Remember that? You were probably there because they let the band goons in for free. Can you even imagine what that’s like, smashing people up, making the other team cry? Working all year and being the last team standing, like a band of brothers? Do you even lift!?

They can never take that memory away from us. Meanwhile, you’re still trying to make some sad made-up chess number three decades later. No wonder you’re such a pathetic negative loser! Give it up loser!

– Phil in Ft Thomas

Dear Phil:

I’m not sure why you think anybody is trying to “take that memory” from you, but if that makes it more precious, knock yourself out.

Actually I remember 1981 pretty well: Elizabethtown in the rain, with the goal-line squirt-fumble. I don’t remember 1982 (Franklin-Simpson) for some reason, but it’s all there in the history books and sites.

No I don’t lift. But that was probably rhetorical.

As to your broader theme… It’s a fair question. Why did Sisyphus keep pushing that rock? He probably got pretty crabby too, after a while.

Obstinance? As you say, OCD? A strange self-defined sense of valor?

All i can tell you, Phil, is this: Your championships will live forever, more or less, and that’s fantastic. But maybe there’s something about the struggle now that feels more alive than reminiscing over the history books, with your cleats hanging on the wall for good?

I’ve probably given you the wrong impression. I’m only crabby about the details. It’s still a lovely game.

Still full of surprises.

Even now, when the clock seems to tick a little faster.