Little Beetle Blogs

by admin on July 21, 2016

Yesterday, just for fun, I read a bunch of articles online about whether blogging is dead. I guess my interest was provoked by this article, already two years old, about the end of Technorati’s blog-rating directory. The article explained Technorati’s quiet, no-fuss decision to shutter what used to be their #1 service:

In recent years, however, it struggled to stay relevant as the landscape shifted and social media enabled anyone to have a voice on the internet without starting a blog.

Aha! So there it is! Facebook killed the blogosphere. And then after that, Instagram killed the blogosphere. And after that, Tumblr and Periscope and Medium and other sites that I haven’t even heard of.

I started searching for other articles on “Is Blogging Dead?” and found basically two kinds. A small number said that blogging is dead. A larger number said that blogging is not dead but it’s changing. Nobody wants to be a “blogger” any more, they want to be an “influencer.” Writing is less important, social media and multimedia are more important, etc.

After reading a few of these, I realized that they were talking about a completely different world from the one I live in. They were talking about blogs as a way to make money. There was and still is a whole industry or ecosystem of (for example) cooking blogs that provide advertising for food products, or mommy blogs that promote baby products. Many of these started as labors of love but morphed over time as companies realized they could get good word-of-mouth advertising from bloggers, and bloggers realized they could actually make a little money.

Apparently, so the articles say, that kind of blog is falling on hard times, as the number of page views decreases and the comments section dries up.

I’d like to reassure my readers that I have seen nothing of the sort going on with this blog. All the credit for this goes to you! The number of comments has seemed nice and steady over the years, with the occasional post provoking more discussion. For example, my recent post on “black and white” got 15 comments, not counting two of my own. As for page views, here are the latest stats.

Year Posts Page Views Views per Post
2010 84 39463 470
2011 92 32579 354
2012 117 53869 460
2013 106 47764 451
2014 95 50941 536
2015 93 56545 608
2016 41 26461 645

(Note: Data on 2016 through July 20 — slightly more than half the year.)

Last year was my most-viewed year ever. This year the total number of page views has dropped a little, but that’s partly because I have not been writing as many posts. I apologize for that; I’ve been working on a book this year, so I have not been playing in tournaments and I have been paying a little bit less attention to top-level grandmaster chess. When my book is finished I assure you that I will be able to put more energy into chess.

Although I’ve been writing fewer posts this year, I think I have actually been putting more effort into each individual post, and I’m gratified to see that people still want to read them.

So what does it all mean, in the grand scheme of things? I think that the doom-and-gloom articles overlook the fact that there are still plenty of blogs out there that never tried to monetize, that simply remained true to their original concept as a labor of love, as one person wanting to communicate to others about topics of mutual interest. They are blogs where the writing is still the point, not “multimedia” or “influencing.” These blogs are the dragonflies and beetles of the Internet ecosystem. While other blogs were evolving into gigantic dinosaurs and then going extinct, the little beetle blogs have stayed who they are and have kept on going.

Another way to measure whether blogging is dead or not is to ask whether anyone is starting new blogs. As it happens, one of my chess friends, Salman Azhar, has just started a new one this month, which I hope some of you will check out. It’s called Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, and the best description I can provide from the first few entries is that it’s about the challenges of living as a law-abiding Muslim in the U.S. It’s really eye-opening, and you’ll see that it is related to some of the things we were talking about in the comment section on my “black and white” post.

Once again, thanks for keeping this blog going by your comments and your visits! You can be assured that there will never be advertising on this blog, and the only reason I would ever stop writing it would be if I ran out of things to say about chess.

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One of the most impressive things about Bobby Fischer’s 60 Memorable Games was his inclusion of two losses, which is not normally done in a “greatest games” collection. But he called his book memorable games for a reason. I think he was not interested in idle bragging; he wanted to show his readers games that they could learn from, and what could be better than the games where he himself had learned something — by making mistakes and having them punished?

So it is only fair that for one of my six memorable games I should show you a loss, and after a lot of thought I’ve decided to show you the most stunning combination that anybody has ever played against me. It wasn’t played by a GM, or an IM, or any kind of M: it was a “lowly” Class-A player from North Carolina named Thomas Waymouth. According to the USCF ratings page, he briefly made it to expert in 2000 and again in 2004, but he has not played a rated game since 2007. But in this one game he played like a champion, and wherever he is today, he deserves to be proud of it.

Dana Mackenzie – Thomas Waymouth

U.S. Open, 1998

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 f5 4. d4 …

waymouth1Position after 4. d4. Black to move.

FEN: r1bqkbnr/pppp2pp/2n5/1B2pp2/3PP3/5N2/PPP2PPP/RNBQK2R b KQkq – 0 4

I don’t want to spend too much time on the opening because there’s so much excitement later. But the Janisch (Schliemann) Defense, 3. … f5, is probably a good choice for a lower-rated player against a higher-rated one. The most testing response is supposed to be 4. Nc3, but after 4. … fe 5. Nxe4 d5 it’s pure tactics. If you’re the higher-rated player, you don’t want a pure tactical slugfest where you might overlook some little trick that changes the complexion of the game.

I like 4. d4 here, because it’s strategically the most logical move. That being said, however, I don’t even play the Ruy Lopez as White any more because my results with it were pitiful — barely over 50 percent, which is bad for a White opening. Nowadays I play the King’s Gambit, with which I have had much more success.

4. … fe 5. Bxc6 …

I knew about the trick 5. Nxe5!? Nxe5 6. de c6!, after which White loses a pawn to … Qa5+ if he retreats the bishop. However, an interesting option (which I may not have known at the time of this game) is to sacrifice a piece with 7. Nc3! cb 8. Nxe4 d5 9. ed. I think that psychologically this is a wonderful way to play against Janisch Gambit players. They were expecting to sac a pawn and get a big kingside attack. Instead they are now the ones facing an arduous defense, with an exposed king and weaknesses all over the place.

5. … bc 6. Nxe5 Nf6 7. O-O Be7 8. c3 Rb8

Black would like to castle, but needed to stop Qb3 (+) first.

9. Qa4? …

I don’t like this move, which seems too coffeehouse-ish to me. Here’s why. White is already getting a little bit behind in development, and he needs to resolve the issue of how to get the inactive queenside pieces into the game. These are the “ugly pieces.” The queen is a “pretty piece” — there are lots of things it can do. One of the most important lessons I learned from Jesse Kraai is to avoid the temptation to play with your pretty pieces all the time. We don’t even know yet what the best place for the queen will be, whether to go to the kingside or queenside. So we should stay flexible, keep the opponent guessing, and give ourselves more options.

9. … Rb6 10. Re1 d5 11. c4 Ra6 12. Qd1 …

A-a-a-and the queen goes back home. All of the queenside pieces are still at home, and the queen has arguably wasted two tempi.

Now, however, my opponent makes a serious strategic mistake.

waymouth2Position after 12. Qd1. Black to move.

FEN: 2bqk2r/p1p1b1pp/r1p2n2/3pN3/2PPp3/8/PP3PPP/RNBQR1K1 b k – 0 12

12. … O-O?

You should only castle if there is nothing better to do! In this position, Black urgently needs to give his rook on a6 some air, and the correct move was 12. … c5! I can understand that Black was afraid to open up the position with his king still in the center. But Black’s pieces are beautifully developed, while White has only two pieces developed – and the knight on e5 could easily turn into a target. Black just has to have faith that with his much superior pieces he will be able to swat away any threats on his king.

13. c5! …

Obviously I wasn’t going to give him another chance! My center is now secure and his rook is imprisoned — I thought — at a6 forever.

waymouth3Position after 13. c5. Black to move.

FEN: 2bq1rk1/p1p1b1pp/r1p2n2/2PpN3/3Pp3/8/PP3PPP/RNBQR1K1 b – - 0 13

Let’s talk about this position, because it is the most important position of the game — more important even than the one where he launches his beautiful winning combination. It is this position, and especially my misconceptions about it, that set the wheels of fate turning toward my inevitable doom.

My thinking here was, essentially, “I have a strategically won game.” White has a simple winning plan: play b4, a4-a5, avoid getting checkmated on the kingside somehow, and trade off all the other pieces. If I can get down to an endgame with my rook against his rook on a6, I win because his rook has no moves. I’m effectively a rook ahead.

There’s a famous game Capablanca-Winter, 1919, where Capablanca wins in just this fashion. He sets up a position where Winter’s bishop can never ever get out of jail, and then just plays on the other side of the board where he is effectively a piece ahead. Jesse Kraai, in his lecture on the game, calls it a “wintered bishop.”

What is the difference between a wintered piece and a trapped piece? A trapped piece is only temporarily unable to move. For example, knights or queens on a1 (a8) are often in this situation. For the other player, there is a clock ticking: either you win the piece in two or three or four moves, or it gets out. A wintered piece is one that can never get out. So there is no rush to win it, and in fact I would say that part of the definition of a wintered piece is that it is in no immediate danger. The way to exploit a wintered piece is not to win it, but to take advantage of its absence from the rest of the board. Finally, it is important that the trap is maintained by pieces of smaller value. If your opponent’s rook is trapped but you have to tie down one of your own rooks to keep it trapped, then it is not wintered.

So my thinking was that Black had a wintered rook, and would inevitably lose. I didn’t express it in those words, of course; it was still ten years before I would hear Jesse’s lecture, so I didn’t have a word for the concept.

What went wrong? First, I failed to understand that the rook is not wintered yet. It will only be wintered after b4 and a4-a5. Prior to that time, my pieces still have to exert some energy to defend the squares a2, a3, and a4. Moreover, the plan of b4 and a5-a5 is extremely slow and perilous, because of Black’s threats on the kingside. It is far from clear that I will be able to carry out my intended plan.

Let’s talk about those kingside threats. First, I way underrated the danger of Black’s attack. What I failed to realize was that Black has five developed pieces with open lines toward the kingside. I have only two. I would like to plant a new chess idea in your brain: a three-piece advantage (if it’s on the side where the king is) is potentially a mating advantage. Of course there are exceptions to this rule, but there are many, many times when it’s true. Three pieces is mate.

Craig Mar often talks about how the important thing in chess is not the material count, but the material count in the crucial sector of the board. It does not matter that Black’s rook is stranded on a6, if he can overwhelm me on the kingside.

Finally there’s one other important thing that I didn’t grasp, and (I hope this isn’t too much of a spoiler) we’ll see it play out in a big way. I can of course start deploying my queenside pieces toward the kingside, to reduce Black’s advantage there. But there’s a catch. Some of those pieces — the queen and the rook on a1 definitely, the knight and bishop maybe — have to keep an eye over on the queenside in order to keep Black’s wild beast in its cage. So they’re looking in two directions at once. In chess terms, they’re overloaded. They can’t commit 100 percent to defending the kingside, so in a certain sense they are less than full pieces.

I didn’t even come close to understanding all these points. Instead, I was absolutely hypnotized by that rook on a6, that luscious apple dangling temptingly from the tree, just out of reach. Also, I was lulled to sleep by my opponent’s rating. I’ve won lots of games like this from class-A players. Get them to make a strategic mistake, squeeze them unmercifully. I didn’t realize that this one was going to be any different.

Valuable lessons! Look at the whole board. And never, ever take your opponent less seriously just because they are rated below you. Now, let’s resume the game.

13. … Qe8

An excellent move, threatening … Bxc5 and also preparing to bring the queen to the kingside.

14. b4 …

This again looks a little bit “coffeehouse” because I’m playing with my pawns and not addressing the lack of development of my pieces. But it does prevent … Bc5 and it does fit in with my long-term plan of wintering his rook, so I don’t see any better move.

14. … h5

Short digression: Rybka thinks that Black’s best move is 14. … Nd7, and it gives the following variation as more-or-less best play for both sides: 15. f4! Nxe5 16. fe Qf7 17. Rf1 Qxf1+ 18. Qxf1 Rxf1+ 19. Kxf1 Ra4 20. a3 Ba6+ 21. Kf2 Bc4 22. Nc3 Ra6 23. a4 Kf7 24. a5 (diagram).

waymouth4Position after 24. a5 (analysis). Black to move.

FEN: 8/p1p1bkpp/r1p5/P1PpP3/1PbPp3/2N5/5KPP/R1B5 b – - 0 24

I was amazed to see that Rybka evaluated this position (after 1 minute of analysis) as dead even. Even after an hour of thought, White’s advantage had only nudged up to + 0.28 pawns. This is crazy! White has to be winning. This is exactly the kind of position I’m looking for, because the Black rook is now well and truly wintered. I’d be curious to hear how more up-to-date computer programs like Komodo or Stockfish evaluate this position. Can Black really keep White at bay on the kingside, when White has a whole extra rook?

Okay, back to the game.

15. Qb3 Kh8 16. Bg5 Bf5

So far I’m doing pretty well. I’ve gotten two of my pieces out and slowed down Black’s attack; he had to move his king to get out of the pin on the a2-g8 diagonal and he had to move his bishop to protect the g6 square from forking threats. However, White is still skating on thin ice, and with my next move I get a little bit too careless.

waymouth5Position after 16. … Bf5. White to move.

FEN: 4qr1k/p1p1b1p1/r1p2n2/2PpNbBp/1P1Pp3/1Q6/P4PPP/RN2R1K1 w – - 0 1

Here I debated for a long time between 17. Nd2 and 17. Nc3. Which one would you play, and why? Or would you play something different?

The moves 17. a4 and 17. h3 are definitely worth thinking about, but I don’t like them on general principles. White is continuing to move pawns instead of pieces. Why keep a potentially useful defender, the knight on b1, out of the game? Of course 17. h3 does have one good point: Black is clearly preparing to play … Ng4, and this move prevents it, so that he will now have to play a less aggressive move like … Nh7 or … Nd7 to further his attack. However, 17. h3 has the drawback that it gives Black a “hook” to attack on the kingside, so that eventually Black may be able to advance a pawn to g4 or sacrifice a piece on h3.

On general principles, therefore, I wanted to develop my knight. I wasn’t too afraid of … Ng4 because I thought the exchanges would weaken Black’s attack. So I played the move

17. Nc3?

The reason that 17. Nd2 is better than 17. Nc3 can be explained without calculating any variations. On c3, the knight interferes with the queen, so I will soon be forced to move it again. Where can it go to? The only reasonable square is d1, where it defends the f-pawn. But on that square, it interferes with the communication of White’s rooks, and it also prevents either rook from coming to d1 and defending the d-pawn. Quite likely the knight will continue to e3, but here, too it interferes with White’s other pieces! Both the queen and the rook might want to have access to the e3 square. Wherever it goes, the knight interferes with the harmony of White’s other pieces.

On the other hand, if I play 17. Nd2, I only have to move the knight once and it is not in the way of any other pieces. On d2 it serves a useful purpose, making it harder for Black to sacrifice a piece on f3. White’s pieces work together in harmony.

If you need a variation to convince you, Rybka says White is +0.7 after 17. Nd2 Ng4 18. Bxe7 Qxe7 19. Nxg4 Bxg4 20. Qe3 Qf6 21. a4 Qg6 22. h3 Bf3 23. Nxf3 ef 24. g3. But in this case, I think principles are better than variations. “Harmony” is an elusive concept in chess, but here’s a clear-cut case where one move has it and the other doesn’t.

Black continued with the plan of attack he has been preparing for:

17. … Ng4 18. Bxe7 Qxe7 19. Nxg4 Bxg4 20. Nd1 Qg5

The sacrifices on f3 didn’t work yet, but now Black’s threats are getting serious. Notice how he once again has a 3-piece advantage on the kingside. I have to bring in some defenders, but the knight, queen, and rook are all fighting over the e3 square. Which one should go there?

21. Qe3? …

A second mistake in an already difficult position. Both Rybka and my non-computer-aided analysis in 1998 say that White should play 21. Ne3. I wrote, “I think that 21. Ne3 would have held. 21. … Bf3 or 21. … Bh3 look impressive but don’t really threaten anything. After Kh1 or Kf1, the bishop is simply en prise.”

Well, it’s a bit more complicated than that. If 21. Ne3 Bh3 22. Kh1 White is leaving the f-pawn unguarded. Rybka says that Black draws after 22. … Rxf2 23. gh Ra3!! 24. Qxa3 Rxh2+!! 25. Kxh2 Qf4+. The only way that White can escape perpetual check is 26. Kg1 Qg3+ 27. Ng2, but that costs a queen and I agree with Rybka that Black stands better in the very complicated endgame that arises (Q+3P versus 2R+N!). The double rook sacrifice in this line is a nice anticipation of the double rook sac in the game, but the one in the game is even better!

So if White wants to play for a win, he first has to play 21. Ne3 Bh3 22. Qb2, to defend the f-pawn. Then after 22. … h4 23. Kh1, Black will have to retreat the bishop. Nevertheless, White has gotten himself into an ultra-passive situation, and it looks as if after 23. … Bd7 24. a4 h3 25. g3 the wintering of Black’s rook will be exactly compensated by the wintering of White’s entire kingside.

Of course, this computer ultra-precision bears little resemblance to imperfect human intuition. I chose 21. Qe3, most likely, because it looked more active.

21. … Qh4!

The computer points out that Black has a much simpler advantage after 21. … Qxe3, when White can take back in three different ways, none of them good! (a) 22. fe Rb8 wins a pawn. (b) 22. Rxe3 Bxd1 23. Rxd1 Rxa2 wins a pawn. (c) 22. Nxe3 Ra3. Trapped no more, Black’s rook can come to a nice active square at d3, and his bishop also can be repositioned to a nice diagonal with … Bc8 – a6. Black stands better. However, Waymouth’s move is better. He isn’t playing for the win of a pawn or a positional advantage: he’s playing for checkmate!

22. h3 …

I should have stuck to my plan of 22. a4, but I did not see what was coming. If 22. a4 Rf3 23. Qc1, Black is getting the better of it after 23. … Rb3 24. Qd2 Rd3. White simply can’t hang on to all of the vulnerable pawns, a4, b4, and d4. The knight isn’t doing a bit of good.

waymouth6Position after 22. h3. Black to move and win.

FEN: 5r1k/p1p3p1/r1p5/2Pp3p/1P1Pp1bq/4Q2P/P4PP1/R2NR1K1 b – - 0 22

And here we are, at the position that puts this on my list of six most memorable games. By the way, you get zero credit if you guess Black’s 22nd move without seeing his 24th move. I saw the first one but didn’t see the second.

22. … Rf3!!

According to Rybka, 22. … Bf3 also works, but this move is a nuclear explosion.

23. gf …

Actually I originally hadn’t intended to take the rook. I was going to take the bishop with 23. hg Rxe3 24. Rxe3, but then I realized that after 24. … Qf6 I can’t defend the d-pawn. That damn knight on d1 again! Also declining both sacrifices with 23. Qc1 is inadequate, as Black continues to leave both the rook and bishop en prise with 23. … R6a3! A pretty finish would be 24. hg Rh3! 25. gh Rxh3, and there is no stopping mate on h1.

So there’s nothing better than sucking it up and taking the rook.

23. … Bxf3 24. Kh2 Ra3!!

waymouth7Position after 24. …Ra3. White to move.

FEN: 7k/p1p3p1/2p5/2Pp3p/1P1Pp2q/r6P/P4P1K/R1QbR3 w – - 0 26

Nuclear explosion number two!

Another of Jesse Kraai’s favorite terms was “angry bishop” or “angry piece.” This is a piece, like Black’s QB in the French defense, that is cooped up for a very long time. Very often, when such a piece finally emerges from confinement, it completely changes the balance of power in the game. The opponent’s position, which was built under the assumption that the confined piece would never be a threat, completely collapses.

Black’s rook on a3 is very angry indeed!

Of course White can’t take because of 25. Qxa3 Qf4+ followed by mate in two. Retreating with 25. Qc1 also doesn’t work because 25. … Bxd1 leaves White bereft of good options, with both the f2 and h3 pawns hanging. I tried to soldier on into a Q-vs.-2R endgame, but it is not even close to playable.

25. Rg1 Rxe3 26. f3 Bxd1 27. Raxd1 Qf2+ 28. Rg2 Qxe3 29. Rb2?? …

Making it easy for my opponent. At this point I may have been in time trouble, and I was surely in a state of shell-shock. 29. R1d2 has to be played, but Black has many ways to win.

29. … Qf4+ White resigns.

I hope that you enjoyed this game as much as I didn’t enjoy it (at the time)! But painful as the defeat was, there were many, many things to learn from it.


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My Life Story, in Black and White

July 13, 2016

Warning: Going way off topic for this post. I’m not talking “black and white” as in chess pieces, I’m talking about it as in people. This is something I don’t do very often because people, unlike chess pieces, are not defined by their color. However, the things that have happened in the U.S. over the […]

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Extreme traitor pawns

July 11, 2016

I’m going to take a short break from my series of 6 memorable games, partly because I haven’t decided on game #4 yet and partly because of a cool e-mail that I got from Larry Smith. Larry, you might recall, was one of my teammates at the U.S. Amateur Team West tournament this year. He […]

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Trapping the Trapper (Memorable Games, Part 3)

July 5, 2016

The year 1989 was a time of many changes in my life. I got married, I changed my name, I got a new job, and I moved from Durham, North Carolina (where I had spent six very happy years) to a small college town in rural Ohio. With so much going on, chess took a little bit of a […]

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I Think It Was the Unicorns (Memorable Games, Part 2)

June 26, 2016

The year 1988 was a unique time in my life, both chessically and personally. In 1987, I had just won my second North Carolina championship and earned the National Master title. In hindsight it seems like the one period of my chess life when I was brimming with confidence; I had achieved two of my greatest […]

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My Six Memorable Games, Part 1: First Queen Sac

June 23, 2016

If Bobby Fischer had sixty memorable games, surely I can come up with six, right? During this period when I’m not playing a lot of tournament chess, perhaps it’s a good time to look back at some highlights from the past. Actually, I have already written in this blog and elsewhere about some of my […]

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Disaster Movie

June 20, 2016

Summer is traditionally the time for disaster movies, so in the spirit of the season I’d like to bring you one of my most embarrassing disasters against Shredder, the computer chess program. In fact, I might even do a whole series of them. Believe me, I have plenty of material for such a series! My previous […]

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Patience, patience, patience

June 16, 2016

Recently one of my readers asked whether I play against the computer for training or just for fun. I answered that it was probably 75 percent for fun and 25 percent for training. But perhaps I was wrong, because the two are not mutually exclusive! Here’s a game I played yesterday that, in my opinion, […]

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Get ‘Em While They’re Young

June 11, 2016

Recently it seems a lot of people are passing away in chess… not only big names like Viktor Korchnoi, but also medium-sized names like Frank Berry, who died this week at age 70. I didn’t know Frank Berry really well, but he and his brother Jim were always two of the leading players in Oklahoma. They made a […]

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