I was doing some random web-surfing today, when I ran into a jaw-dropper of a thread on Google Groups, from 2002.

Wrote Larry Tamarkin (a master from New York) in rec.games.chess.politics:

Having played some of the great young talents of the last 20 years, I can give some perspective on the strength of the players at the time they were 8-11. (…)

Fabiano Caruana & Marc Tyler Arnold.  These kids play here at the Marshall a lot, and I’ve played them many times. I generally win just barely from them (approximately 60% – My FIDE rating is 2186).

I believe these two kids are the next top US players in the years to come. Both are just 9 years old, have talent comparable to Jeff [Sarwer]‘s at 8, and (perhaps most importantly), stable family environments.  Talent-wise, I consider them ahead of Robert Hess, Michael Thaler & other well-publicized kids today.  - Hey, I could be wrong, but that’s my opinion & I’m sticking to it:).

This is actually a remarkably good prediction, given that they were nine years old at the time. Caruana reached #2 in the world last year, although he’s fallen back a little this year. Arnold is a grandmaster and ranked #33 in the U.S. Tamarkin was slightly wrong about Hess, who ranks a little bit above Arnold at #23 and has arguably been more successful. Michael Thaler? Who? He’s rated 2331 currently and hasn’t played a tournament in more than a year. In all fairness, it would appear he is now a graduate student in economics at Harvard University, and probably going to earn more money than Fabiano Caruana, Marc Tyler Arnold and Robert Hess combined.

But I digress. The post that really got me was two posts below Tamarkin’s, written by an anonymous troll named “towser”:

This is irrelevant. None of these players count when you look at the big picture. A strong US player is just an average European or Asian player.

Now in one sense Mr. Towser was not completely wrong. You could argue that Caruana only became really good after he moved away from the United States. However, I think that gets the causes and effects backwards. I think that the will to succeed, which motivated Caruana to move to Madrid at age twelve, would have made him successful even if he had stayed in the U.S. I’m going to say that if he had stayed in the U.S., he would still be in the world’s top twenty, maybe even the top ten. He would definitely “count.”

After reading this thread, I was curious whether I could find other spectacularly wrong predictions on the Internet. The most amazing one I found was not only on the Internet, it was about the Internet. Clifford Stoll, a well-known author, wrote a column in Newsweek in 1995 called Why the Web Won’t Be Nirvana. He makes more completely incorrect predictions in one article than most people make in a lifetime. Ironically, some of them were for pretty good reasons, but nevertheless they were wrong. According to Stoll:

  • “The truth is no online database will replace your daily newspaper.” (2015: No daily newspaper isn’t online.)
  • “No CD-ROM can take the place of a competent teacher.” (2015: As a philosophical statement I agree, but as a prediction it stinks; lots of online instruction is available.)
  • “No computer network will change the way government works.” (2015: Arab Spring? Civic hacking?)
  • “Try reading a book on disc. At best, it’s an unpleasant chore: the myopic glow of a clunky computer replaces the friendly pages of a book. And you can’t tote that laptop to the beach. Yet Nicholas Negroponte, director of the MIT Media Lab, predicts that we’ll soon buy books and newspapers straight over the Internet. Uh, sure.” (2015: Uh, Kindle? Amazon?)
  • “Logged onto the World Wide Web, I hunt for the date of the Battle of Trafalgar. Hundreds of files show up… None answers my question.” (2015: So true. Before Google, that is.)
  • “Computer-aided education? Bah. These expensive toys are difficult to use in classrooms and require extensive teacher training.” (2015: Nowadays the kids could teach the teachers.)
  • “We’re promised instant catalog shopping—just point and click for great deals. We’ll order airline tickets over the network, make restaurant reservations, …” (2015: You mean there’s any other way?)
  • “What’s missing from this electronic wonderland? Human contact. … Computers and networks isolate us from one another.” (2015: I semi-agree with him, but again as a prediction this stinks. If he had only thought about solving the problem instead of just pointing it out, he could have been the one to invent Facebook.)

I think that as a gold mine of failed predictions, it’s really hard to top this. You have to be damn smart to be so stupid. So I’ll leave the final words to another anonymous Internet wit, who commented on Stoll’s article: “I love the past. Everyone in it is so stupid.”

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Matrix Chess IV

by admin on July 23, 2015

For those who haven’t been following, “Matrix chess” is my name for a training technique where I play a blitz (10-minute) game against the computer but I am allowed to take a time out at one point in the game for as long as I want. It gets its name from the Matrix movies, where Neo has the ability to slow down time in his battles against the computer enemies. The previous posts I wrote on Matrix chess were:

Two weeks ago I sat down for a game against Shredder with its rating set at 2504. I’ve never beaten it at that high a rating before and expected to get thrashed, but this was one game where I was not very impressed with its play. I was White, the opening was a Nimzovich Defense (1. d4 Nc6) and we got to the following position after 23 moves:

matrix 4-1Position after 22. … Bd8. White to move.

FEN:1r1brk2/1p3pp1/p2p1nq1/2pPpN2/4P1P1/4BPKR/1PP3Q1/5R2 w – - 0 30

What do you think about this position? Does White have an advantage? What should I play?

Of course the first thing to notice is that the computer just moved its bishop (from h4) to d8, attacking my a-pawn. So one of the important questions is whether White has to defend the pawn or not. Against a human opponent I would not feel any qualms about sacrificing it. But against a computer, I wasn’t so sure. I thought that this could be a position where it just takes the pawn and grinds me down with its computer-like patience and accuracy. So I decided that now was the time to take my time-out.

Well, the time-out lasted two weeks! I got busy with other things and forgot about the game, until this morning I found the slip of paper on my desk with the position written down. “What position is this?” I wondered. Then I looked at it carefully and remembered.

With infinite time, I decided that the first question to ask was not whether I should defend the pawn or not. It’s too soon to decide that. Instead, I asked one of the questions for strategic thinking that I’ve mentioned several times: “What are my (and the opponent’s) best and worst pieces?”

It’s clear what my worst piece is: the knight on c3, which isn’t contributing in any meaningful way to my attack. The next question is: “Where would you like to put the knight, if you had all the time you want?” That answer is pretty easy, too. There’s a great hole on f5 where it would threaten the pawn on d6, threaten a royal fork on e7, and generally make life uncomfortable for Black’s king because it takes away an important flight square. Yes, f5 would be a fantastic square for the knight. Can we get there? Yes! Quite easily, with Ne2-g3-f5.

Another relevant question is, “What side of the board should I play on?” Again, the answer seems clear. I have all of my pieces (except the knight) on the kingside and I have very dangerous attacking threats connected with the open h-file. Craig Mar is fond of saying that even if you are even or down in material, you can win if you have more material in the critical sector of the board. In this case, White definitely has a preponderance of material on the kingside and so I should be able to make something happen. All of this is a very strong argument against playing defensively with 24. Ra1.

Okay, so I’m leaning toward playing 24. Ne2, but there is another question I need to ask. It’s a little bit of an impatient move, saying that White wants some action now. One of the principles of Mike Splane chess is to take your time if you have the advantage. If you’re contemplating a tactical sequence, such as a sacrifice, ask yourself, “Is this a unique opportunity, where if I don’t seize the opportunity now I won’t get another chance?” After all, maybe if I play 24. Ra1 I can follow up with Ne2-g3-f5, but without risking a pawn.

When I looked carefully, I realized that this was in fact a unique opportunity. If White plays 24. Ra1? Black can play 24. … Bg5!, either trading off his worst piece (remember the first question?) or else greatly improving its prospects. In fact, Black should have played 23. … Bg5 on the previous move, instead of being tempted to win material with 23. … Bd8. Shredder has played too much like a human, and this is my chance to take advantage.

Finally, is the sacrifice sound? Notice that this question, which was once my first question, has now become the last question. The more I looked at the position after 24. Ne2! Bxa5? 25. Ng3!, the more I loved it. Black just has huge problems to contend with. If, for instance, 25. … Rfd8 26. Nf5 Rd7, White can even think about playing 27. Nh4 Qf6 28. g5. Black’s pieces are all discombobulated. It looked as if Black’s most solid defense would be to bring the bishop back to d8, but then notice that Black has wasted three tempi (… Bd8, … Bxa4, and … Bd8) just to win a pawn on a5 that is, for the time being, nearly irrelevant.

In fact, Black is probably better off not taking the pawn and playing 24. … Bg5, as he (it?) should have done last move. But in that case, I have won a useful tempo (Nc3-Ne2) for free. So I played 24. Ne2.

The next few moves went more or less as expected: 24. … Bxa5? (just like a human, Shredder continues with its mistaken conception) 25. Ng3 Rfe8 26. Nf5 Bd8 (yup, expected that) 27. Kg3.

Now Shredder played the nearly incomprehensible 27. … Rb8. This really surprised me, wasting another tempo with a do-nothing move on the queenside when the kingside is burning. In Shredder’s defense, the move I had expected, 27. … Bg5, isn’t any good either. I had planned to play 28. Rxh7, but in fact the straightforward 28. Bxg5 is even better. Whichever way Black takes, White is going to triple up on the h-file. Black will have to play … f6 to create a flight square for the king, and then White can snatch the d6 pawn with advantage.

I continued 28. Rh5, preparing to triple on the h-file and also hoping to entice Black to move his (its?) knight to f6. That is, in fact, what it did: 28. … Nf6 29. Rh3 Kf8 and now I missed my chance to end the game.

matrix 4-2Position after 29. … Kf8. White to move.

FEN: 1r1brk2/1p3pp1/p2p1nq1/2pPpN2/4P1P1/4BPKR/1PP3Q1/5R2 w – - 0 30

Of course, the first move I thought of was 30. Rh8+, but then after the forced 30. … Ng8 I thought that maybe I was overrating my attack and missing a golden opportunity to take a free, and very important, pawn on d6. So without much time for analysis, I went ahead and played 30. Nxd6?

If I had played 30. Rh8+ Ng8 31. R1h1, Black would absolutely be in a world of hurt. White has two crushing threats, either 32. R1h7 with the idea of Rxg7 or 32. Qh3 with the idea of Rxg8+ forcing mate. Black basically has to resign or give up lots of material. After 30. Nxd6? Black was able to play on with 30. … Nh5+! 31. Rxh5 Qxd6. Even though White still stands much better. Black has managed to trade off my best attacker, the knight on f5. Isn’t it funny how that piece, formerly my worst piece, turned into my best?

I eventually did win the game, but it was ugly. In fact, I botched it to such an extent that at one point Shredder could have forced a draw by repetition. The first time we got to the crucial position, it played the (only) correct move and I had to go back to the previous position. But then the second time, it decided, “Nah, I don’t want a draw” and played a losing move instead! That struck me as very human-like. In fact, Shredder lost this game by playing too much like a human. Go figure that one out, Oracle!

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Final ChessLecture Posted; Closure

July 17, 2015

Today my 157th and last ChessLecture went online, and I am now officially “retired” from CL. I already explained my reasons for leaving in an earlier post, so let me just say a couple things about the last lecture. First, I want to apologize for the slightly less than perfect sound quality. I was recording […]

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World Open Superstars

July 10, 2015

Last weekend the World Open, the second-biggest open event of the year in terms of prize money, took place in Arlington, Virginia. I didn’t go to it this time. (The last World Open I went to was twenty years ago, and interestingly enough it was the last event that I began and ended with a […]

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Browne’s Autograph

July 5, 2015

Just yesterday I found something that I didn’t know I had: the scoresheet of my game with Walter Browne! I should have included it in My Browne Story, but when I wrote that post I didn’t realize I had it. Omission rectified. Does anybody collect scoresheets of games against celebrity chess players? Just think of […]

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NPR Interview Airs!

July 3, 2015

My interview for “Only a Game” aired on National Public Radio last Saturday… and they forgot to tell me! You can still listen to it online at the Only a Game website. Although any publicity is good publicity, I have to say that I’m a little bit disappointed. I hear things like the throat-clearing at […]

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ChessLecture: Returns and Farewells

July 1, 2015

One of my readers, Paul B., said that I should record a ChessLecture on my last-round game from the National Open, and I agree with him. I am planning to record the lecture today, called “Returns and Farewells,” and it will probably be posted in a couple weeks. I’m going to announce there and also […]

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How I Got Here, and What Comes Next

June 26, 2015

First, let me make a promise: This will be the last post in which I write the number 2203. I am sure that some readers are getting bored of it by now. However, I do want to write one more entry about how I got my rating over 2200 after these many years, because I […]

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My Browne Story

June 25, 2015

Well, I was going to finish my coverage of the National Open by showing you part of my last-round game… but then the news came yesterday that blew all of those plans to smithereens. Walter Browne, the six-time U.S. Champion, has died. Browne gave a 25-board simul at the National Open, and also played in […]

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This, That and the Other

June 23, 2015

So many things going on at once, and I’d like to write a separate post on each of them but then it would take too long. So here are three separate, unrelated pieces of news at once. This My rating graph since 1991, downloaded from the USCF website. It’s official, my highest rating in almost […]

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