Playing up versus playing down

I’m quite encouraged on the chess front. Coming off a year-long layoff from rated tournament play, I put up (according to the US Chess rating calculator anyway) at 2417-level performance over 5 rounds of G/45 at the Mechanics Institute.

Not what I expected, I’ll say that.

We’ve talked before about the psychology of a layoff. It lends itself to a “well I’ll just play and see what happens” mindset, which is probably a positive counterweight to the fact that you can’t see **** tactically. (Speaking for myself anyway.)

I’ll post a game or two later for analysis purposes.

In the meantime, speaking of psychology, the USCF has some interesting graphs.

Here are the results of my last 16 games against 2100s.

Screen Shot 2015-08-04 at 10.10.57 PM

16 games, 8 wins against 2 losses. Dang. I’l take that. That’s tremendous.

Here are my last 18 games against 2200s.

Screen Shot 2015-08-04 at 10.13.36 PM

18 games, 5 wins, 6 losses and seven upset draws against master-rated players? I’ll take that too.

Now here are my last 16 games against 1900s.

Screen Shot 2015-08-04 at 10.15.49 PM

WAITAMINNIT. 16 games paired DOWN = 3 wins, 4 losses and 9 upset draws! No wins in the last 7 games. I’m rated 2100+! That’s terrible!

What’s happening here? :)

The memory of great chessplayers

San Francisco’s famous chess club is part of the Mechanics’ Institute, a cultural center “founded in 1854 to serve the educational and social needs of mechanics—artisans, craftsmen and inventors.” It claims to be the oldest continuously operating chess club in the US.

As you might guess, the venerable chess room is a bit of time capsule (sort of like our friend’s cabin in Maine). Ancient chesstables, tons of framed historic photos preserving the memory of simultaneous exhibitions by world champion Mikhael Tal, ancient Informant manuals, and more. Still tacked to one bulletin board is a flyer for lessons with GM Walter Browne, who passed away recently.

Speaking of memory, I already relayed Maurice Ashley’s comments about Magnus Carlsen. At the Mechanics’ Institute I got a more personal demonstration of how ridiculous the recall of strong players can be.

The club’s director for 17 years is IM John Donaldson, also longstanding coach/organizer for the US olympiad team.

I walk into the club to enter a tournament. Here is the conversation, pretty much verbatim:

Me: Hi John. I’m Derek Slater. We actually played back in 1988 or so, in Charlotte NC.

Him: Oh—what’s your last name again?

Me: Slater.

Him: Right. I want to say, did we play twice?

Me: No, just once.

Him: And was it a Queen’s Indian with—

Me: No—

Him [breaking into a grin]: Then it was the Sicilian Dragon where you didn’t play Nb3 and I played Qb6!

Which is exactly correct.

I remember it because was my first game against an IM, so it was a big deal to me. (Plus, he eradicated me in 18 moves. That leaves a mark.)

For an IM to almost instantly recall the key details of a win against a random, anonymous 2000-rated player, 27 years after the fact… That’s a whole different kettle of fish.

These shoes are defective!

You recall the post Ugly Shoes (because Matt’s comment made you snort your coffee).

Well I bought me some California-crazy, car-drivers-please-don’t-run-over-me-at-night running shoes:


Yet here I am, heaviest I’ve ever been. What’s wrong with these shoes? You mean I have to actually GO RUNNING?!

Pure insanity

Another computer surprise here. Not part of my recent-game-analysis-improvement program. Just a historical scoresheet I threw into Stockfish out of curiosity.

The following game features the most ridiculous attack I ever played, and believe me, you will agree it’s ridiculous.

It’s all about move 22.

Slater (1854) – Foushee (1990), Louisville KY, Summer 1985.

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nf3 b6 4. g3 Ba6 5. Qc2 d5 6. Ne5 c6 7. Bg2 Be7 8. O‑O O‑O 9. Rd1 Qc8 10. b3 Nbd7  11. Nd2 Bb7 12. Bb2 Rd8 13. Rac1 dxc4 14. Qxc4 c5 15. Ndf3 h6 16. dxc5 Nxc5

Backstory here. Short version: This was the tournament right after high school where I abruptly converted from mild-mannered to aggressive chess.

17. b4

Blech. Stockfish: 17.Rxd8+ Qxd8 18.Nxf7 is pretty much winning. See if you can see why. Did not occur to me at the board. After playing this 17.b4 stinkbomb, white has holes all over the queenside and is worse.

17…Rxd1+ 18. Rxd1 Bd5

Hm, my position is disintegrating, I thought.


19. Qh4 Na4 20. Rc1 Qa6 21. Rc7

Screen Shot 2015-07-25 at 9.31.15 PM


Now this is where it gets really interesting.

Stockfish after white’s 21st move: -1.60  (21…Qxe2 is best here.)


Stockfish after black’s 21st move: +6. A seven-pawn swing. Ouch.

Incredibly, what follows after this error IS ALL CORRECT and winning for white.

22. Nxf7!!

Screen Shot 2015-07-25 at 9.31.49 PM

22…Nxb2 23. Nxh6+ gxh6 24. Qxh6 Bxc7 25. Ng5 Resigns.

Screen Shot 2015-07-25 at 9.32.10 PM

The indignity is that white wins back ALL the material and THEN mates:

25… Rf8 26. Bxd5 exd5 27. Qg6+ Kh8 28. Ne6 Rg8 29. Qxf6+ Kh7 30. Qf7+ Kh6 31. Qxg8 Be5 32. Nf8 Qd3 33. exd3 Bg7 34. Qh7+ Kg5 35. Qg6#

Like I said. Pure insanity.

Never in the last 30 years did I once imagine Nxf7 was actually sound.

While I was away, Scott Adams (Dilbert) justified this blog and indeed my entire professional approach

If you aren’t the best at any one thing, learn about as many things as you can.

I’m a poor artist. Through brute force I brought myself up to mediocre. I’ve never taken a writing class, but I can write okay. If I have a party at my house, I’m not the funniest person in the room, but I’m a little bit funny, I can write a little bit, I can draw a little bit, and you put those three together and you’ve got Dilbert, a fairly powerful force.

I agree with his view, so it must be correct. (That’s how logic works, no?)

Postmortem versus GM Khachiyan

[Result “1-0”]
[Round “1”]
[Event “Golden State Open 2013”]
[Black “Slater”]
[Site “Concord, CA”]
[White “GM Melikset Khachiyan”]

1. e4 Nf6 2. e5 Nd5 3. d4 d6 4. Nf3 Nc6 5. c4 Nb6 6. e6 fxe6 7. Nc3 g6 8. h4 Bg7 9. h5 e5 10. d5 Nd4 11. hxg6 hxg6 12. Rxh8+ Bxh8 13. Bd3 c5 14. dxc6 bxc6 15. c5 dxc5 16. Bxg6+ Kd7 17. Ne4 Kc7

Screen Shot 2015-07-22 at 8.01.54 AM

Weird openings lead to weird positions. White’s pawn sac and Black’s basic setup are all book, although I haven’t seen White’s c5 push specifically. Looks great, though, right? Black’s up a pawn but all his pawns stink and his king’s on the lam. On the other hand, Black has one good piece on d4.

My general sense at this point in the game was that my position is pretty bad.

Here Stockfish calls it -.44 i.e. Black is maybe half a pawn better. And it suggests that White get rid of that one good piece w/ Nxd4. Not 18.Nxc5 Qd6 forking knight and Bg6.

Not sure this is a super computer-friendly position, but it is interesting that Stockfish doesn’t say the GM is better (yet). And it increases Black’s advantage to about -.6 after White’s choice.

18. Bg5 c4

Afterwards Khachiyan, who wasn’t too keen on this line for Black overall, said 18…Bf6 was very interesting. Didn’t really consider giving it up for a knight; didn’t know what to do but in the absence of a specific threat by White, why not put the c-pawn on a protected square. Stockfish gives 18…Qg8, which I considered probably because it’s thematic in this line, then 19.Nh4 Bf6.

I think my mindset and approach to the position were just too passive because I was uncomfortable and psyched out. Specifically I couldn’t seem to get my king settled so I could improve my other pieces,. Tsk tsk. Two moves later, White’s the one Stockfish likes by a half pawn.

19. Rc1 Kb8 20. Nxd4 exd4 21. Qh5 a6 22. Qh2+ Ka7 23. Qh7 Be6 24. Bxe7

Screen Shot 2015-07-22 at 8.03.26 AM

But wait wait. The evaluation keeps changing move by move. Stockfish says 24.Bxe7 and 25.a4 are both bad choices, and after 25…Be5 it shows Black ahead at -1.4! I, however, thought I was pretty much dead in the water at this point. Plus running out of time already.

24…Qc7 25. a4 a5 26. Qh4 d3 27. Bf6 Bxf6 28. Qxf6 Bd5 29. Kd2 Rb8 30. Rh1 1-0

Screen Shot 2015-07-22 at 8.04.15 AM

Even in the final position – I didn’t record whether I flagged or resigned – Stockfish gives Black a big advantage! I suppose Black’s d3 pawn creates more immediate danger than White’s beautiful but distant kingside passers. And, you know, a4 and b2 are weakish too.

Is Stockfish just badly wrong? Can the GM understand White’s long-term advantages in this weird position in a way that Stockfish (running for a few minutes on a Macbook Air) can’t?

So, my team of estimable seconds and coaches <g>, what do you propose I learn from such an annotation exercise?

I think I need to figure out why I didn’t give 18…Bf6 serious consideration. If it’s exchanged, Black’s pawns get straightened out. There’s some common sense to the move. GM Khachiyen liked it. Stupid when I think about it more – the Ne4 is strong and the Bh8 is just staring at my own e-pawn.

Maybe I’m overestimating the bishop pair in general. Something to test as I go through more games.

A chess piece for Intel, and some leftover facts

Working, or intending to work, on a computer-aided look at my first game in California. I got fed to the lions: GM Melikset Khachiyan (who was one of Levon Aronian’s coaches at one time). But Stockfish says not all was as it appeared….

In the meantime, while I’m trying to spin up the flywheel….

I got to write a chess article for work, on behalf of Intel’s digital magazine IQ.

How technology changed a 1,500-year-old game

It’s very much intended for the non-chess audience, but since I got to interview GM Sam Shankland, GM Maurice Ashley, and Dr. Kenneth W. Regan (world’s leading authority on computer cheating), I learned a ton and heard some nuggets that were new to me. Some of which are in the article, and some of which aren’t.


Shankland estimates he evaluates or calculates 150 positions per minute. Wow! I had never heard any similar estimate to benchmark against, but subsequently found an IBM article that said Kasparov in his prime did 3/second, or 180/minute. So Shankland’s # seems plausible.

– Regan is absolutely fascinating. (In my prep work I discovered Howard G’s excellent cover story from Chess Life magazine with tons of detail about cheating detection. Great stuff, Howard!) Regan answered questions I threw out, thinking ‘NOBODY knows this stuff’.

When does the first non-book move (well technically non-previously-played move) occur on average in GM games? Regan says it’s around move 12. He’s looking at data here, not speculating. That’s quite a bit earlier than I imagined.

This is more of an estimate based on watching Stockfish evaluations: Regan says about 20% of GM game outcomes are determined, more or less, by superior preparation. A big percentage even at the GM level are determined by a “blunder” but the definition of a blunder is a bit subjective. Regan talked me through a recent Kramnik win as an example. Classic “pressure chess” leading up to a fatal mistake — do you classify that as a blunder, or something else? (Have lost which game– will figure out and post link. Update: aha. It was against Nepo, not Meier.)

– And Mr. Millionaire Chess Ashley is just fun to talk to, about everything but especially the minute-but-material differences between the top 10 and the next 90. A money quote (not in the article), about Magnus Carlsen’s memory:

Mangus is a freak. Kasparov was ridiculous [as well]. Magnus reads everything and remembers absolutely everything, including random stuff that’s so obscure, it’s like, why do even you care? Even I’m not that into chess! And I’m a grandmaster!