Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Real Chess at a Real Chess Club

On Monday I had a wonderful time at the Juneau Chess Club and feel like I made contact again with "Real Chess," since much of my chess activity lately has been blitz on FICS, with the occasional G/15 (I guess that's not blitz) included. This despite the fact that in December I seemingly resolved to stop playing blitz...

Oh, the weakness of the flesh.

The first good thing that happened Monday was that seven people showed up, the most since I started coming a few months ago. We don't generally use clocks for the two-hour club session, so I sat down to play Brian Bezenek at just after 7:00 pm, and two hours and 61 moves later the game ended just before the librarians came to kick us out.

It was a fascinating and subtle struggle. As Black against a King's Indian Attack I won a pawn in the early middle game and in a position with one rook, opposite-colored bishops and most of the pawns left the maneuvering game began. All I needed was an open file for my rook to get into his position and I figured I'd have a great chance to win, but it was fascinating how move after move he prevented me from doing that. Finally I was able to send my bishop on a mission that was like a three-cushion billiard shot around to the rear of his position and win another pawn. Yet it was still a tough game to figure out how to win. My opponent just kept putting up stout resistance. Finally, on the 61st move, with time running out he blundered, but kudos to Brian for toughness.

This was the kind of game I could probably never play at online blitz, where the premium is on moving without too much thinking and attacking something as often as possible. While blitz has its place in the universe, I was reminded Monday that "Real Chess" is just more deeply satisfying, like cotton candy versus roast beef.

We are planning a Juneau City Championship tournament starting May 16. I'll be concentrating on the more serious brand of chess in the meantime.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Maggots v. Hydrogel: You Decide

Researchers comparing maggots with a standard "hydrogel" in treating leg ulcers found little difference.

Thank goodness.

I'm probably more "scientific" than most, but even if the maggots were, say, 10 percent more effective I would still want the hydrogel rather than have fly larvae squirming around under the bandages...but that's just me.

On the other hand, if they ever have to reattach my thumb or some other part I have no problem with using leeches to help make sure it stays reattached.

You can call that speciest discrimination, but I don't give a damn.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Test Driving the Caro-Kann

Like most serious chess players I've tried out a number of different openings over the years, for a number of different reasons; educational purposes, competitive surprise, because I bought the book, even at times just because I wanted some variety.

For tournament games, in response to 1. e4 I went e5 at the beginning of my career in the early 1980s, tried the French Defense (1. e4 e6) a few times with a lot of suffering involved, back to 1... e5, a mixture of Sicilians (1. e4 c5) and the Pirc/Modern (1. e4 d6) for much of the 1990s and early 2000s, then about four years ago started working with the Center-Counter (Scandinavian) 1. e4 d5, which I have played pretty consistently since.

Notice the one main defense that's not listed? That's right, the Caro-Kann (1. e4 c6).

Why not the C-K? Hmm, before reading further you need to click this link...

Now that doesn't represent my real feelings about the Caro-Kann defense, but it's funny, I think I did play it exactly once in all my tournament career, and lost to Darcy Robinson. One loss did not completely determine my attitude toward the C-K, but generally I saw it as passive and somewhat dull. Botvinnik took it up in his later years, when he was old. A pretty consistent King's Indian Defense man against 1. d4 since my early days, I just always figured the Caro didn't suit my supposed style.

A few months ago I gave it a try in some blitz games, mainly for the variety factor mentioned above. I don't even have the one book I own on this opening available (in storage until early May) and so after the first few moves I was basically on my own, just making stuff up, developing pieces and trying to control the center. And guess what? I did fine. I scored pretty well, and the games didn't seem dull in any way. Of course it was blitz, where there's rarely a dull moment, but I began to think the C-K is OK!

After a brief period it occurred to me (I'm sure this is hardly an original insight) that the Caro-Kann is just an improved Center-Counter! WOW! I don't know why I never noticed it as a dedicated Center-Counter practitioner, but after 1. e4 c6 Black can play d5 on move two against anything, and maintain his full and fair share of the center.

So after all these years (going on 27 of tournament play) I finally have some appreciation for the Caro-Kann. Once I actually start learning some book lines, who knows how far it might take me?

Want to be taken somewhere else? Take the "A" Train. But make sure you have the full 9:26 available. This is just magical stuff (h/t Jaltcoh):

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Gelfand-Markowski Revisited, or: Who Do You Trust?

A month ago I posted this position from Gelfand-Markowski, 1998 over the label "What's the Best Move?":

White to Move

The reason I was interested in the position was that I thought it was a fine example of the kind of play that one can probably never learn from tactics practice of the "Seven Circles" variety.

Two intrepid readers ventured lines.

Anonymous offered: "...what about 1.e4-e5. If the rook retreats, then White wins d6. If 1...d6xe5, then White has gained e4 for his knight (while denying e5 to the opposing knight), and he could follow up with c4-c5, Bc4(+) and Nd6, which would be more than enough for a pawn. This relinquishes f5 to the enemy bishop, but that seems livable. That leaves 1...Nxe5 2.Ne4 R moves 3.Nxd6. Again, White might continue with c4-c5 and Bc4(+), which adds up to a clear plus, perhaps winning."

Grandmaster of Blogging Liquid Egg Product wrote "...I'd have played c5, but seems inferior to the above commenter. Envisioning something like:
1. c5 dxc5
2. Bc4+ K-moves
3. e5

Gallagher gives (from the above diagram), "22. e5!! dxe5 (Or 22... Nxe5 23. Ne4 Rf8 24. Nxd6 with a clear advantage to White) 23. Ne4 Rf7 24. c5 Kg7 25. Bc4 Re7 26. a4

26... Re8? (b6 offered more resistance)," and Black resigned after 27. Rf1 Re7 28. Rd2 b5 29. axb5 cxb5 30. Bd5 1-0. I wouldn't have resigned just yet, but okay...

All fine, right? "Gelfand's move opened up the game for all of White's forces to zoom into action and one slip by Black and it was over" is the story line. Anonymous seems to have gotten it right, while Donnie wanted to play the second best move.

And yet...just for fun I set a couple of engines (Gambit Fruit and Toga II) that came with ChessDB (free download) to work and from the second position above, after a good half-hour both engines give 26...a5(!) 27. b5 cxb5 28. cxb5 Nf6 29. Nxf6 Kxf6

as best, with a tiny edge for Black! One of the engines even thinks Donnie's 22. c5 is (slightly) best in the first game position!

So who do you trust, GM Gallagher, a computer, or none of the above? Was 22. e5 (!!) or (!?).

I almost always think that the questions are more interesting than the answers, and so it is here. What do you think?