by admin on May 8, 2015

I hate computers, I hate speed chess, and I especially hate myself for playing speed chess against computers. And here’s why…

missed q sac 3Position after 33. … g6. White to move.

FEN: 1R3b1r/4nk2/p2pNpp1/P1pP2PP/4P3/q1N1Q1K1/8/8 w – – 0 1

While you think about what you would play in the position, I’ll tell you the back story. Last weekend I played in a speed chess tournament, and in order to prepare I decided to play a few speed chess games against the computer. Bad idea. I hadn’t played against the computer in three or four months, having sensibly decided there were better uses of my time.

Playing “a few speed games” got me hooked again. After the tournament was over I still found myself playing several games a day against Shredder, always looking for that “one more game” that would give me satisfaction. So today I was on my fourth game, having lost the previous three in disastrous ways, and I finally played what I thought was a really nice game, until I reached the above position. I’m playing White, and the computer (with its strength set at 2165) is playing Black.

Of course my initial inclination was to play 34. gf attacking the knight, but then I saw that the computer could play 34. … Bh6 with a counterattack against the queen and the rook. “Damn! I blew it again!” I thought. But there are lots of other attractive possibilities, and I finally decided that I could get a winning position simply by trading down:

34. Rxf8+? Rxf8 35. Nxf8 Kxf8 36. gf Ng8

Once again I realized that there was a flaw in my plans. I had planned to play 37. fg here and thought the two connected passed pawns would be crushing. However, Black just plays 37. … Nxf6, and after 38. Qh6+ Kg8, there is no checkmate! In fact, White is in trouble. Fortunately, I found a pretty good plan B:

37. e5 de 38. Qxe5 gh 39. d6 …

But here the computer, always cool as a cucumber, hit me with 39. … Qb4! and I realized that I could not play 40. d7 because of 40. … Qg4+ forking the king and pawn.

missed q sac 2Position after 39. … Qb4. White to move.

FEN: 5kn1/8/p2P1P2/P1p1Q2p/1q6/2N3K1/8/8 w – – 0 7

Here I felt things spiraling out of control, and in fact after 41. Nd5?! we ended up drawing in just a few more moves. The computer says that White is still winning after 41. Ne4! I had rejected this because it allows 41. … Qe1+, which I thought would probably lead to a draw by repetition, but the computer says that White can actually escape the checks, primarily because the knight on e4 controls some useful defensive squares on the second rank. In practice, though, computers (even weakened to 2165) will play this sort of position much better than a human, especially one who is low on time, so a draw would have been the likely result anyway.

Now, back to the original position. Have you seen the winning move that I missed?

In fact, my first idea was correct! I should have played 34. gf! And after 34. … Bh6, I have the spectacular answer, 35. Rxh8!! offering a queen sacrifice. To make things even more frustrating, I even considered this, but I didn’t see the mate after 34. … Bxe3. Obviously, I only looked at 35. Rh7+? which leads to nothing after 35. … Kxf6. But I missed 35. Rf8 mate!

Why did I miss this? In speed chess lots of crazy, irrational thought patterns come into play (at least when I play speed chess, maybe not when you do). I probably thought that the ghost of Black’s bishop would still protect f8 even after the bishop has taken my queen on e3. “Ghosts,” which are pieces that you think are still there even after they have been taken or moved to a different square, are a problem to watch out for when you’re doing either a long analysis or a very hasty analysis in your head.

This was the sort of game that makes me feel as if I am not cut out to be a real chess player. After setting everything up beautifully, all I had to do was see the simple, Morphy-esque queen sac. And I didn’t.

But two good things may have come out of this game. One is that it will (I hope) give me sufficient incentive to “kick the habit” of playing blitz against Shredder. Again. After kicking the habit two or three times before. The other good thing is that it perhaps gave me an instructive idea for a blog post.

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Mike Splane May 8, 2015 at 3:03 pm

In the original position I like the idea of 34 Kg2 threatening 35 Nb5 Qe3 36. Nd6+ Kg8 37. Rf8+ Kh7 38. Rf7+ Kg8 39. Rg7#.

It also looks like White wins after 35. Nb5 Qb2+ 36. Qf2 Qf2+ 37. Kf2 ab5 38. a6. And if he doesn’t take the knight, then 38. Nd6+ wins the bishop.


Edward May 8, 2015 at 3:20 pm

Two suggestions. First, play only 12 or so moves to prep for OTB tournaments. This should sharpen your opening knowledge and help early middle game planning. Second, play some games out… move forty if you have not yet been checkmated, call it a win.


Simon May 8, 2015 at 4:58 pm

I am tempted to play 34. h6, with the possible idea of continuing with 35. Qf3. Then white can just continue to have fun.


admin May 8, 2015 at 7:57 pm

Mike’s idea is wonderfully creative, but I worry that something like 34. … Bg7 35. Nb5 Qb2+ followed by … Rxb8 would take the fun out of the position.

I did think about Simon’s idea 34. h6 during the game, and I’m sure that it wins, too. I was not entirely sure what to do after 34. … Bg7, but maybe White just plays 35. Rb7 and I think the bishop just has to go back to f8. Black basically has three pieces that can’t move!

One of the troubles of speed chess is that I’m always looking for forcing moves, and so I don’t give subtle non-forcing moves like Kg2 or h6 a fair shake.

Maybe a better way of training would be to play against the computer until I get to an interesting position that requires careful analysis, and then go offline and analyze the position with a board and with lots of time. In that way I could get both the practice at openings and planning that you get from speed chess, and the practice at in-depth analysis that you need for tournaments.


Momir Radovic May 9, 2015 at 12:49 pm

Heidegger wrote The Question Concerning Technology long before (1954) any hint of digital ubiquity we inhabit today, with chess engines and all.

The problem with technology is that it “enframes” us, preventing us from seeing the world in any other way than the one they offer. The cheap-chip chess engines are monster crunchers, and that’s where their abilities stop. No intuitivity, no imagination, no creativity, no spontaneity, no strategic insight, no human mistakes (their bad evaluation and non understanding of position we swallow easily as “scientifically based”).

Take just one of these, intuition (“The only real valuable thing is intuition,” –Albert Einstein), computers kill it.

Here is the Yugoslav GM Ljubomir Ljubojevic on intuition and non-intelligent monsters (from the interview conducted by Evgeny Surov)

“Chess engines are not always right. I have experimented with it a number of times, in a position I would make a move using my intuitive judgment and then turn my last generation engine on to show me that my move wasn’t even the forth, or fifth line of calculation. But after forty hours of constant crunching the machine finally shows that my move was the first line of play. After forty hours, can you imagine that?!”

As long as technology is a good servant, and not a master, dictator, that’s fine.

As long as it is a non-dominant partner to our intellect, not a replacement, that’s fine too.

Else, you s-h-o-u-l-d hate it with every bit of yourself.


Mike Splane May 9, 2015 at 8:02 pm

I really like Edward’s suggestion to only play a small number of moves in a game with the goal of learning some early middle-game schemes. I am really weak at figuring out what to do when my opening book knowledge runs out and I think this training method could help me. Thanks for the idea.

To add to Momir’s comment, when I play against a human opponent I do not expect to win by playing perfect chess. I am not a computer. I expect to win by putting my opponent into positions where he doesn’t understand what to do and then waiting for the inevitable blunders and second-best moves he will play. My technique is usually good enough to win once I have an advantage. That’s why I don’t think playing against computers is particularly helpful.


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