i. Currently there’s a really high profile chess tournament being played in Norway – I guess most of the people who’d be interested in such matters already know, but just in case you didn’t here’s a link.
In marginally related matters, I recently managed to get into the top 100 list of players on the Playchess tactics trainer rating list. I’ve done a lot of tactis sessions over time, and it has paid off – I’ve become a pretty strong tactician, and even though I know it’s silly to do so I actually feel a bit proud about this. My level is comparable to 2100+ elo rated players like this, this and this, and literally only a handful of players on the list have higher average performances than my highest performance (for example my best performance, 2341, is much higher than the average performance – 2181 – of GM Evgeny Romanov, who has a 2640 elo rating – and with 56 tactics sessions on his part this is not due to small sample size).
ii. Some pictures of what bureaucracy looks like around the world (via MR).
iii. Do “Ultraconserved Words” Reveal Linguistic Macro-Families? I should point out that back when I was reading THP the linguistic evidence presented always seemed less convincing to me than did stuff like bones, old middens, and genes.
iv. A wikipedia list of unsual articles. I don’t want to pick out examples – this article is awesome, just go have fun! I’d read quite a few of the articles linked there, but it’s a very long list and there’ll be a lot of stuff in there you haven’t seen before even if you’ve spent a lot of time on wikipedia in the past.
“This paper reviews quite a few heavy metal contamination related studies in several cities from China over the past 10 years. The concentrations, sources, contamination levels, sample collection and analytical tools of heavy metals in urban soils, urban road dusts and agricultural soils were widely compared and discussed in this study. The results indicate that nearly all the concentrations of Cr, Ni, Cu, Pb, Zn, As, Hg and Cd are higher than their background values of soil in China. Among the cities, the contamination levels of the heavy metals vary in a large range. The geoaccumulation index shows that the contamination of Cr, Ni, Cu, Pb, Zn and Cd is widespread in urban soils and urban road dusts of the cities. Generally, the contamination levels of Cu, Pb, Zn and Cd are higher than that of Ni and Cr. Agricultural soils are also significantly influenced by Cd, Hg and Pb derived from anthropogenic activities. The integrated pollution index (IPI) indicates that the urban soils and urban road dusts of the developed cities and the industrial cities have higher contamination levels of the heavy metals. The comparison of the IPIs of heavy metals in urban soils and urban road dusts of Shanghai, Hangzhou, Guangzhou and Hongkong reveals that the contamination levels of the metals in urban road dusts are higher than that in urban soils in the cities. Moreover, the main sources of the metals in urban soils, urban road dusts and agricultural soils are also different.”
The English in this article is occasionally, well, horrible. But the findings are interesting:
“According to the IPI [integrated pollution index], approximately 65% of all the cities have high or extremely high contamination levels of heavy metals in urban soils and urban road dusts. This indicates that the urban soils and urban road dusts in the cities have been significantly impacted by heavy metals derived from anthropogenic activities. [...] the concentrations of Cd, Cu, Pb and Zn in the urban soils in all the cities exceed their background values. [...] The concentrations of Cr, Cu, Pb, Zn and Ni in urban soils in Shenyang, Baoji and Jinchang are much higher than their PTE-MPC ["“maximum permissible concentrations of potential toxic elements (PTE-MPC)” for agricultural soils according to soil quality standards of China (CEPA, 1995)"]. The highest concentrations of the metals are also found in the three cities. This may be attributed to the urban soil samples which were mainly collected from industrial areas in Shenyang, Baoji and Jinchang. The concentrations of Cd in the cities are all higher than their PTE-MPC with an exception of Taicang and Beijing.”
“We find that, to a large extent, hue perception is invariant with age; the direction but not the magnitude of the small observed age-related hue changes are predicted by the yellowing of the lens. [...] Our main finding is that colour appearance mechanisms are to large extent unaffected by the known age-related changes in the optical media (yellowing of the lens) whereas the ability to discriminate between small colour differences is compromised with an increase in age.”
vii. A gradient of childhood self-control predicts health, wealth, and public safety, by Moffitt et al.
“The need to delay gratification, control impulses, and modulate emotional expression is the earliest and most ubiquitous demand that societies place on their children, and success at many life tasks depends critically on children’s mastery of such self-control. We looked at the lives of 1,000 children. By the age of 10 y, many had mastered self-control but others were failing to achieve this skill. We followed them over 30 y and traced the consequences of their childhood self-control for their health, wealth, and criminal offending.”
The findings are what you’d expect – people with poor impulse control as children did worse on a lot of metrics (health, substance abuse, SES, crime, …) as adults. As it’s an observational study (though an impressive one; “we report findings from the Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Study, a longitudinal study of a complete birth cohort of 1,037 children born in one city in a single year, whom we have followed from birth to the age of 32 y with 96% retention”), I’d say the policy implications of the findings are not clear.
I only ever covered two of Steven Farmer’s lectures here on the blog, and back when I blogged them I didn’t watch all of the lectures. Recently I went through some old bookmarks and decided to have a go at that stuff again. He’s pretty good:
Completely unrelated but I figured I should mention it: Tomorrow’s the first day of the London Chess Classic tournament. This chess tournament is as good as it gets; The world’s three highest rated players are all playing, as is the World Champion and the world’s strongest female player. Last year the live commentary was provided mainly by IM Lawrence Trent and GM Daniel King. They did a splendid job, but this year the organizers have upped the ante and found some significantly stronger players to do the job; Nigel Short and David Howell. Both of those guys are former contestants in the tournament. As usual the tournament has an unequal number of contestants, and the player with the bye round will join Short and Howell in the commentator box and give his/her views on the games as they proceed. I’ve been really impressed with the way the live commentary has been handled the last few years, and you can learn a lot by watching this stuff (here’s a direct link). The tournament has implemented a 3/1/0-rule (3 points for a win, 1 for a draw, 0 for a loss) so the number of ‘GM-draws’ is likely to be lower than it often is in these kinds of tournaments – the organizers want to incentivize the players to actually play interesting games, and in the past I think they’ve been successful. If you like chess, this is the place to be for the next one and a half weeks.
If you don’t know what I’m talking about, here’s the introduction.
I haven’t done as many sessions as I’d have liked, but at this point n is equal to 50 so I figured I might as well give you a scatter plot with the performance data so far:
Without the 2100+ performance at 17 mmol/l (the far right data point) R^2 would be 0,1463 – so n is still way too low to draw any conclusions. Perhaps aside from the fact that I don’t think the pattern looks completely random.
I’ve become aware of the fact that there are just loads of omitted variables here (nearby road work done with extensive use of pneumatic drills being one of the major ones in the beginning) and it would take a lot of data to take them all into account.
I’ve also realized by now that the tactics trainer performance is not a super great tool to pick up on variation in mental ability, though I maintain it’s not completely crazy to use it as a proxy. A significant number of the problems during a session are either repeats or quite similar to other problems solved in the past, and I remember those patterns just as well with a high blood glucose as with a lower one. So most of the variation in performance is around a set baseline, and how much I deviate from that baseline depends on how many ‘new’ problems – where I actually do have to think a bit – are introduced during a session. My performance is quite sensitive to the type of problems presented during a session and to which degree new problems/themes are introduced – the performance can easily vary with 200 points or more if I do two sessions ten minutes apart.
I played the game last Monday and it took approximately 4 hours. I know that a few of the readers find chess interesting, so I thought I might as well blog it. I didn’t play particularly well, but it was good enough for a win – my opponent made the last mistake, though for much of the game I was clearly worse. I guess if you don’t know but would like to have some idea how strong ‘average club players’ are when they play games with standard time control, you can sort of use this game as a starting point. You can watch the game here – I was black. Moves, diagrams and comments below the fold:
I’m spending too much time on chess these days.
Improving your chess requires more than just being smart and playing a lot of games. To people who don’t already know: There are a lot of online ressources available.
I don’t know if the MSM have even mentioned this, but in case you didn’t know the World Chess Championship match between Gelfand and Anand is being played right now (third game is at move 20 now, so by ‘right now’ I do mean right now) and over the coming weeks. Playchess provides live coverage, as does Susan Polgar. Probably others as well.
1. A blitz chess game. I had black against a german player, Gerhard Richter. According to FIDE, there’s a guy with that name who has an ELO rating of 1949. I assume that was the guy I played against though I can’t know for certain – he had a quite high ‘slow rating’ so it was a strong player either way. In the game he drops a pawn at one point and I basically just run him over (though he does have some counterplay) after that – very satisfying to get a win like that against a strong opponent.
It’s interesting how far medical science has advanced in some areas – to some degree we do ‘live in the future’, so to speak. I thought it was a bit funny that Ed would post this on the same day that I had a scheduled follow-up related to the medical trial in which I’m participating – I spent two hours today having my eyes looked at and measured in all kinds of ways.
3. U.S. Homicide Trends. The data are not completely up to date, but 2005 isn’t that long ago. Did you know that roughly 8 out of 9 (88,8%) of all homicides are committed by males? Or that males are almost 4 times more likely to get murdered? Here are some more data:
Females are much more likely to be killed by an intimate or a family member. If all else were equal (it’s not, but it’s probably worth pondering whether this changes the conclusion..), a female would be able to reduce her risk of getting killed significantly just by staying single instead of getting intimately involved with someone. Note that whereas something like one third of all female murder victims get killed by an intimate, the corresponding male number is just 3% (here’s another link adding more detail) – in terms of optimal strategies for lowering risk, the two genders should focus on different variables here. When dealing with the murders of females at the age of 25-50, approximately 40% of them are committed by an intimate (see previous link).
3a. I remember reading a study at one point (via MR?) where they looked at murder rates using BAC as an explanatory variable. I tried looking around in the archives but it seems that I did not blog it back then – I thought I had. Anyway, I’m not sure this study was the one I was thinking about but it covers the same subject and it was what popped up when doing a quick google – Alcohol, drugs and murder: A study of convicted homicide offenders. Abstract:
“Data on 1,887 convicted homicide offenders were examined to discern the relationships between alcohol and/or drug use and murder. Information obtained through confidential interviews at state prisons and local jails provided demographics and information on drinking and drug use immediately before the crime and relevant data on the offenders’ typical drinking style. About 50 percent of the offenders were under the influence of alcohol at the time of the crime, similar to the rate found by other studies. Substance use was more prevalent than nonuse before the homicide: 36 percent used alcohol only, 13 percent used both alcohol and drugs, 7 percent used drugs only, and 43 percent did not use either. A heavier style of drinking is much more prevalent among homicide offenders than in the general population. Blacks showed the least involvement with alcohol before homicide. A direct role for alcohol is indicated by the finding that homicides were associated with a heavier than usual episode of drinking and the large mean alcohol consumption contiguous to the crime (9.3 ounces of alcohol or about 18 drinks). Evidence also indicates that a unique relationship existed between drug use and homicide.”
A majority of people who commit murder, at least in the US, do so under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
It’s simple: Enter the position you want to evaluate, see what ‘the program’ says. If you limit yourself to endgame positions with 6 pieces (and avoid 5+1 situations – but let’s just say these aren’t terribly important in praxis), it has all the answers. Every single one. Chess is basically ‘solved’ for these positions. And now you can look up the answer and get it in no time, at no cost.
To take an example: Imagine a position with a black king on g2, a black queen on f3 vs a white pawn on d5, a white king on d6 and a white queen on a5. Like this:
To people who don’t already know, queen endgames are insanely complicated and this is wildly complex stuff. Many master players would end up drawing this because of imprecise play. In the position above, with white to move he has 23 options – there are 23 moves he can play, 16 queen moves and 7 moves by the king. There is one, and only one, winning move – every single other move will either draw or lose him the game with correct play by black. The winning move is Kc7. There are 52 moves more to go before the win is secured.
This is an extremely cool ressource!
“When I started playing 1.c4 on a regular basis, I did not dedicate any special attention to this variation [Reversed Dragon; 1.c4 e5, 2.g3 Nf6, 3.Bg2 d5, 4.cxd5 Nxd5]. My logic was quite simple: since I had excellent results playing the Sicilian Dragon with Black, how could I possibly have any problems playing the same opening with reversed colours and a whole extra tempo?
Practical experience quickly proved me wrong. Instead of pleasant one-sided games, I frequently found myself in enormously complicated situations that were very difficult to handle over-the-board. [...]
I decided to dedicate a few weeks to a thorough analysis of this variation. After that I was pleasantly surprised to note that the competitive situation turned 180 degrees – the resulting positions continued to be complicated, but now it was my opponents who ran into trouble without any obvious reason or, in some cases, could not remember what they had looked at during their three hours of pre-game preparation.” (my italics)
From the book he later decided to write on the subject. Well, it has stuff on a bit more than just that specific line, there are 33 chapters after all. If you read them all and then sit down to play a game with the white pieces starting out confidently with 1.c4, thinking that now you must know everything there is to know about the English Opening, you’ll be out of book by move 1 if your opponent doesn’t play 1…e5. Of course there’s another one covering the other responses. Wait, did I say one? There’s a reason why Grandmasters never lose to a beginner.
In other news, the FIDE World Cup is entering its final phase, the last two games of the final and the match for third place will be played tomorrow and Monday. You can follow them here if you’re so inclined. Judging from my experience today, I’d say they could have picked much better commentators than they have. Some of the stuff today was the worst chess commentary I’ve ever heard online. Then again, maybe that’s just because I’ve been accustomed to commentary by guys like Seirawan (and Svidler, I remember Svidler commenting on a live game at some point, that was brilliant! I think it may have been one of the games of the Karpov-Kasparov mini-match in Valencia, 2009..) who does this exceptionally well.
So first of all, I know a handful readers or two came by after I commented over at William’s blog – if one or more of you decided to come back to read this: Welcome!
If you didn’t read this post (that is: looked closely at the images) back when I posted that, I suggest you start there. Now Salman Khan has made a series of videos where he starts at Earth, then moves on outwards. I notice in one of the videos he mistakenly uses light year as a measure of time, not distance, but he was pretty excited at that point, for good reason. I’ve posted the first video in the series below – when I watched it on youtube, it automatically started the next video once the previous one had finished, which was both good and bad as I probably sat there for over an hour watching that stuff, but I don’t know if it’ll do the same when embedded here. If not, you should really watch the series on youtube if you think the first part was ok – it gets even better and far more mind boggling as he proceeds.
I love what Sal is doing. If you felt the need to follow the link to Salman Khan’s wikipedia article because you don’t know who he is or what he’s doing, here’s another good video you should watch:
And here’s the link to the site.
In other news, here’s a chess game I played earlier this evening (I was white and it was a 5 minute game so presumably lots of mistakes if you let the silicon monster have a look at it). I haven’t run it through a computer, but I still think my decision to exchange on g7 and move 20.f5 instead of taking on e6 was the right one. I really liked that 20.f5 move when I played it. If black wants to survive, he can’t defend that e6 pawn anyway, i.e. 20…Nf8, 21.f6+ Kg8, 22.Qd2 Nbd7, 23.Qh6 Nf6 (…Ne6, 24.dxe6 Nxf6(□), 25.Nxf6+ Qxf6(□), 26.Rxf6 and white has the same win as in the game with the Nf3 and Ng5-manoeuvre), 24.Nxf6+ Kg8, 25.Nh5! Ne6 (…gxh5 and after 26.Rxf7 black is mated), 26.dxe6 Rg8(□), 27.exf7 and game over). I think 20.f6 was a better defence than Ne5, Ne5 was a bad move. Black needs all the support he can get of the black squares around his king after he’s allowed the exchange of the g7-bishop. That said, the position after f6 is still losing for black.
This was just insane stuff. I don’t usually play like this.
…Though perhaps I should (play like this). Piece sack. Pawn sack. Rook sack. Mate. Nice! Yes, I know, 20…Qa3+, 21.Qa2 Nc2# was even faster but it was a 10 min game and you can’t get everything right.
After 19.Na4 the mate cannot be stopped but white is in deep trouble long before that point is reached. True, he isn’t completely dead after 19.Qc2, a difficult move to play, but after …Nxc2 20.Kxc2 Qb6! he’s still losing another piece. The fact that a move like that is necessary illustrates just how strong the black attack is, even though only relatively few pieces are involved. White can’t protect both the knight on c3 – which will be lost after 21…Qxb3+ and 22…Qxc3 – and the bishop – which is hanging if 21…Qxf2+ can’t be followed by 22.Rd2. It’s not completely lost as black gave a lot of material for the attack, but black should be winning after i.e. 19.Qc2 …Nxc2, 20.Kxc2 Qb6, 21.Rhf1…Qxb3+, 22.Kd2 Qxb2+, 23.Ke3 Qxc3 or 21.Rb1…Qxf2+, 22.Kc1 Qxg2, 23.Rd1 Qxh3.
So when did it go wrong for white? I think 14.Nxe6 was definitely a very risky move to play. But then again so was 0-0-0 after he’d played Bxc5 – he hadn’t even started his attack on the king side yet and I already have a rook in the half open b-file. When a player decides to go ‘all in’ for the attack on the enemy king even small inaccuracies grow large very fast; one move wasted can lose you the game.
Part of why I played like this is that I’m currently reading Jacob Aagaard’s Attacking Manual 1. It has made me a little less scared of rushing into quite complicated positions – I’ve even started playing the King’s Gambit on a semi-regular basis online (even though I haven’t given up the Petroff..).
“Administered the French Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children (WISC) to 33 tournament-level 8–13 yr old Belgian chess players (4 girls and 29 boys). The mean full scale IQ was 121, verbal IQ was 109 and performance IQ was 129. Results suggest that high levels of general intelligence and spatial ability are necessary to achieve a high standard of play in chess.”
It’s the only study I’ve found dealing specifically with this subject – there are a few others on spatial ability in particular, but this is seemingly an area where very little work has been done.
I’d have liked some loose IQ-rating relationsship, all that’s freely available is an abstract with the above information and a little more. This study remarks that the study also found that:
“there was some evidence that better players had higher performance IQ scores than the weakest players (top third = 131 vs. bottom third = 124).”
So quite young tournament chess players are significantly smarter than average (an average of 121 is much closer to the average IQ of a classroom filled with university students than it is to a primary school classroom average – and the top third’s score of 131 is genius level if using the standard scale with a st.dev. of 15 – the wisc IV has a mean of 100 and a standard deviation of 15 – link) and smarter chess players play better chess than chess players who’re not as smart. That’s not much, I’d like to know more. To know more about this would make it easier to know exactly when to decide that decreasing returns have kicked in. I don’t expect to ever get a norm. But should I give up the attempts to improve my rating 300 points before I get close to that, or perhaps 6-7-800(?) points before? [update: this question made more sense when I asked it than it does now - see also my update at the bottom of the post; I at this point feel reasonably sure that an ELO rating of 1900-2000 ought at least to be achievable..]
My own estimate, given the chess players I have met and talked to with a chess rating that high, is that I’ve yet to meet a 2000+ guy who could not become a member of Mensa without even trying. There’s no way I’d be able to compete with the really smart ones playing this game. But how close could I get if I worked hard? More data would be nice. And no, I won’t get that answer just by playing and studying – the point is that I’d like to have some idea as to when I’ve reached the MC>MB-point before having spent the many hours working without improving enough to justify the costs. If there were good data available it’d be easier to form realistic expectations conditional on ‘inherent characteristics’ known to be important to performance, and thus not get hurt by a large gap between expectations and results.
Anyway, the closest you can get to an answer to the initial question given the data from the study is this: ‘Young Belgian children who play tournament chess are significantly smarter than average.’ I think, based on my own limited experience, that it’s safe to say that most tournament players with a rating above, say, 1600, have a higher than average IQ – and that players above 2000 are usually smart people, i.e. people with a high IQ. I’d consider a rating of 2000+ to be a stronger indicator of high IQ than a non-specific Master’s Degree.
Update: For what it’s worth, my performance rating in the last tournament I played in ended up at ~1800, after having crossed the 2000-mark for a brief period of time.
Here’s the link, no java or other stuff required. This is a good endgame study, I think the game is probably lost for black after the rook exchange because that a-pawn will fall, though I don’t think any less of him for not resigning until much later. I was pretty fond of 51.e5! when I found it (before sacking the a-pawn), and unless I’d found that move the game would have been drawn.
I’ve put it up here, doesn’t require Java. I was black. The computer much preferred 29…fxg4 to …f4, but it’s an eval difference between -3,5 and -2, so basically both moves are winning – actually the position was won long before this move was played. No other moves were much disliked by the machine and I played much better here than I did last time I played a game in the club. Moves below, just in case the game is removed from the server later on you can always plug it into a pgn-viewer if you’re curious:
25.Bf1 d3 (if the position wasn’t already won for black by move 22, it certainly is now. My opponent plays on roughly another 10 moves though)
Yes, in case you were in doubt I have trouble sleeping.
You can watch the game here. I was black.
1.c4 Nf6, 2.Nc3 g6, 3.Nf3 Bg7, 4.d4 d6, 5.e3 0-0, 6.Bd3 Nbd7, 7.0-0 e5, 8.dxe5 dxe5, 9.e4 Nc5, 10.Bc2 Qd7, 11.a3 Re8, 12.Qe2 Bg4, 13.b4 Ne6, 14.h3 Nd4, 15.hxg4 Nxe7+, 16.Nxe7 Nxg4, 17.Ng3 a5, 18.b5 Qc5, 19.Bb3 a4, 20.Ba2 Rd3, 21.Bb2 Rad8, 22.Nh2 Rxg3, 23.Nxg4 Rxg4, 24.Kh2 Rxe4, 25.f3 Re2, 26.Bc1 e4, 27.Rb1 exf3, 28.Rxf3 Qh5+, 29.Rh3 Be4+ (resigned, 0-1)
In the chess litterature, games with less than 30 moves are often called ‘miniatures’. This game stayed within the limit, but only just! The computer liked almost all my moves and actively disliked none of them (much).
He said he saw a “semi-transparent half tube” spaceship on his balcony. He then entered it and met “human-like creatures in yellow spacesuits”, The Moscow Times reported.
“I am often asked which language I used to talk to them. Perhaps it was on a level of the exchange of the ideas,” he told the television program host.
He had told The Guardian the aliens took him to “some kind of star”.
“They put a spacesuit on me, told me many things and showed me around. They wanted to demonstrate that UFOs do exist.”
It’s probably quite telling that Ilyumzhinov is too far out there to even be the main intended target of a takedown like this – he doesn’t just claim that he saw them out of his window, he actually claims that he flew away with them in their spaceship and communicated with them.
On the other hand, when was the last time a US president was elected who didn’t believe in “God”? Ilyumzhinov’s delusions aren’t actually much more crazy than those of ie. George Bush, he just doesn’t share them with a lot of other people, which is why those same people tend to think of him as crazy. Strength in numbers and all that. I think it’s interesting that I live in a culture where even a guy like me tend to automatically judge a person like Ilyumzhinov harder for his moronic delusions than a christian whose views are basically on a similar level of ‘wrongness’. In my view, it’d be nice to live in a culture where religious stupidity was judged as harshly as the stupidity of someone like Ilyumzhinov.
I just learned this, horrible news!
Here’s a chessbase article in English about the greatest Danish chess player that has ever lived. Here’s an article by Thomas Hauge Vestergård of the Danish Chess Federation, in Danish. Here’s google. Here’s his wikipedia article. One excerpt from that article: “Larsen defeated the seven World Champions who held the title from 1948 to 1985. He won games against Mikhail Botvinnik, Vasily Smyslov, Mikhail Tal, Tigran Petrosian, Boris Spassky, Bobby Fischer, and Anatoly Karpov” – he’s the best we’ve had, he’s likely the best we’ll ever get.
It’s not been a month since I read his latest article in Skakbladet. Now he’s gone. We all knew he wasn’t in all that good health, sure, but this kind of stuff still almost always comes as a surprise. This book will be on my wish list for Christmas this year.
“This paper aims to measure differences in risk behavior among expert chess players. The study employs a panel data set on international chess with 1.4 million games recorded over a period of 11 years. [...] In line with previous research, we find that women are more risk-averse than men. A novel finding is that males choose more aggressive strategies when playing against female opponents even though such strategies reduce their winning probability.”
“We find that when a man plays against a woman, a solid strategy has a 1.5 percentage point higher probability of winning compared to not using such strategy.20 Our interpretation of these results is that, on average, it does appear irrational for males to opt for less solid strategies when they face a female opponent.”
Link. I’ll try remember this study; at some point it will surely save me some rating points!
This is the kind of finding where I’m tempted to say ‘I already knew that’, but of course I didn’t. I would have expected it if they had been looking at the results of matches between kids but we’re not talking about kids here, we’re talking about smart and strong adult chess players. A question for the next study: Are males in a relationsship less likely to play aggressively than males who are single? If so, does that mean that being in a relationsship makes males more risk averse? This would be my null hypothesis.
Just because you’re a pawn ahead doesn’t mean you’re in the clear. Even if your sleepdeprived opponent just threw away two pawns for no good reason (after having won one in the opening):
Black to move. In this position I played 18…Rc4. Do note that this kind of rook-maneuvering is pretty standard in positions where there’s a potential attack on the opponent’s king and some minor pieces have been exchanged. White played 19.Qa7? which was ‘the losing move’ – after ie. 19.Qd1 white is simply better and ‘should win with correct play’. The correct defence for white requires that he takes black’s threats seriously and protects the light squares on the king-side – in particular the f3 square. Even if it perhaps doesn’t look that way, the position before 19.Qa7 was played is literally only one wrong move away from a forced mate for black. After 19.Qa7 the position looks like this:
…and if you plug this position into the computer, it does tell you that black has a forced mate in 7. Which I found. No, I wasn’t sure there was a mate, but I knew I had a winning attack, so I went for it:
19…Nf3+ (what else?), 20.Kh8 (forced) …Qh5!
Before checking on f3 I briefly considered taking on h2 after Kh8, but I soon concluded that that couldn’t be the strongest move – then I found Qh5 and I felt sure I had to be winning. The point is that black can’t take on f3 because it leads to mate (21.gxf3 …Qxf3+ 22.Kg1 Rg4#) and the mating threats in the h-file are simply crushing. The computer suggests 21.Bf4 as the best move, but of course that only postpones the inevitable – the mate can’t be stopped. My opponent played…
This is a classic lost position just before the end of an attack. White is actually still up a pawn but this is of course completely irrelevant. The attacker has three pieces engaged in the attack on the king, the defender hasn’t even got a single piece involved in the defence of the critical squares in the h and g-file. Remember that when attacking it’s not the number of pieces on the board that counts, it’s the number of pieces that are actually active and engaged in the attack on the king (…and the defence of the king). In this position, black might as well not have the Queen or the rooks at all – at this point they don’t do anything that is relevant to what’s going on on the board and it’s too late to get them involved in the action. Even the rook on f1 is despite its proximity to the white king completely useless here.
Resigned, 0-1 (after 23.gxh3, which is forced, Qxh3 mates).
I have, with admittedly somewhat varying intensity throughout the period, been studying László Polgár’s book, which I’ve mentioned before here on this blog and on twitter, for months. I thought I might as well share a few of the problems with you, so that you have an idea what it’s about. In the post I’ll write a little about the book first, then I’ll post two random problems from the book; if you want to skip directly to the chess problems, just scroll down until you get there.
The book contains chess problems and nothing else. 5334 of them. Not all of them are composed, some positions are from actual games that have been played between various strong players. Some of them are quite easy, some of them are very, very hard. Far most of the book is made up of problems that consist of positions where you are supposed to find a ‘mate in one’, ‘mate in two’ or ‘mate in three’, even though there’s also a few combinations, simple endgames and such at the end of the book. Far most of the problems are ‘mate in two’ problems. I’ve included a couple of problems in the end of this post. I shall not post ‘the answers’ unless asked for it, and if so only in the comment section. Not all roads lead to Rome; there’s only one correct solution. Here’s a picture of a random page from the book (the notes written in between the diagrams aren’t there when you get the book – I wrote those, and they are the solutions to the problems in question):
30^2 is 900. This is just to say that a mate in two can be a lot harder than it looks, so don’t beat yourself up if you’re having some difficulty solving it; if you have Queens on the board, a few other pieces and an open position, you’ll often have to implicitly analyze well beyond 500 possible positions in a ‘simple’ mate in two problem. A lot of them you can discard out of hand, but there’s still often a lot of complexity left in positions that on the surface look very simple. To state this another way: There are a lot of these problems that you simply can’t solve by just blindly trying every move you can think of, at least not in a time frame most people would consider acceptable – you need to find the plan. Finding the plans is what makes you better.
I believe I’ve improved my play somewhat by using this book, even if it’s hard to know for certain as I don’t have a rating and currently play only unrated games online. You’ll need some other stuff to teach you the basics, but going through this book systematically is a great way to improve a bit beyond the 1200 crowd. Even if one might think that a book containing almost nothing but mating problems would be skewed towards teaching only the tactical elements of the game, there’s actually a lot of positional stuff hidden here as well.
Ah, yes, the problems I’ve picked out:
a) In this problem, you need to find a way for white to mate in two moves, no matter how black responds to white’s moves. That is, after white’s second move black is supposed to be check-mated:
b) This is a mate in three moves instead, white to move:
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