NIC: Sadler on books and AlphaZero

by New In Chess
1/15/2019 – Courtesy our friends At New in Chess: GM MATTHEW SADLER on books looks at two of Simon Williams' recent video series. Plus, what would AlphaZero think about the World Championship match that was held at a stone’s throw from DeepMind’s headquarters in London? Sadler and NATASHA REGAN, authors of Game Changer: AlphaZero’s Groundbreaking Chess Strategies and the Promise of AI, provide a glimpse.

Exchange on d5 in the Slav and Queen's Gambit Exchange on d5 in the Slav and Queen's Gambit

On this DVD, we will look at a simple-to-learn yet surprisingly effective system that White can play after 1 d4 d5. In all cases White will play 2 c4 - and if given the chance, 3 cxd5!


AlphaZero's Thoughts

by GM Matthew Sadler and WIM Natasha Regan

The idea of analysing the World Championship Match between Magnus Carlsen and Fabiano Caruana together with AlphaZero, London-based DeepMind’s general-purpose artificial intelligence system, first occurred to us just after the thrilling Candidates Tournament held in Berlin in March 2018. Still in the middle of writing our book about AlphaZero and thrilled by the incredible games we were seeing, we felt that — despite all the attention that the match would receive from other silicon and human commentators — AlphaZero’s perspective could still add something unique and valuable.

book coverPart of the mystery of a match lies in the opening choices, in which the intentions of a competitor never fully become revealed. For example, Caruana’s Queen’s Gambit Declined seemed to cast a huge shadow over Carlsen’s White games. From the outside, it felt as if Caruana’s choice of opening had significantly disrupted Carlsen’s strategy with the White pieces and made him lose confidence in 1.d4. The strange thing is that we never got to see the reason for this loss of confidence: both in Game 2 and Game 7, Carlsen attempted to make progress in sidelines rather than testing out Caruana’s preparation in the main lines.

In this article, we thought it would be interesting to take a deeper look at some of those intriguing moments in the Queen’s Gambit Declined and get AlphaZero’s thoughts on what it considered to be best play.

Game 2 was in retrospect a crucial moment for Caruana in the match: after a fraught first game in which he had been required to muster all his defensive mastery to counter ­Carlsen’s stellar opening and middlegame strategy, Caruana achieved the first of many comfortable draws with Black with excellent preparation.


As you can see, analysing with AlphaZero is a rollercoaster ride. While its play is generally sound and strategical, it is extremely sensitive to the slightest opportunities for active counterplay, which it prosecutes with great energy and purpose. This gives great feedback when trying out ideas against it, especially those involving the arrangement of your pieces on different sets of squares: AlphaZero won’t be shy to shout a low evaluation at you if it doesn’t like your choices. All-in-all, it’s been a great experience analysing with an engine quite unlike any other, and we hope you enjoyed this insight into the brain of an artificial intelligence system that taught itself to play chess.

How AlphaZero evaluates

AlphaZero’s evaluation is based on how it would expect to do against itself from the current position. It uses a weighted average of all the lines it has seen during its analysis which lets AlphaZero take account of everything going on in the position before giving its final evaluation. We think this is what gives AlphaZero its intuitive feel for positions, allowing it to steer towards positions that are generally promising. In this article we talk about the evaluation as a percentage. An expected score of 70% for White would signify good winning chances and a definite advantage for White.

Sadler on Books

Sadler on booksSimon Williams has been busy recently with two DVD’s for ChessBase: one on the Exchange Slav: Simple but Powerful: Ex-change on d5 in the Slav and the Queen’s Gambit, and one on the Queen’s Gambit Declined 5.♗f4: A Dynamic Weapon against the Queen’s Gambit Declined — 5.♗f4.

Williams is not always the most concise of presenters, but he is unfailingly enthusiastic and strongly focused on giving the viewer the minimum number of lines to be able to play an opening properly rather than providing reams of long variations. As you might expect, this approach works better for some openings than for others. I felt that the analysis in the DVD on the QGD was erring on the light side, particularly in intricate variations such as the old mainline (1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.♘c3 ♘f6 4.♘f3 ♗e7 5.♗f4 0-0 6.e3 c5 7.dxc5 ♗xc5 8.♕c2 ♘c6 9.a3 ♕a5 10.0-0-0). I felt that I had been entertained, but possibly learnt too little!

Exchange on d5 in the Slav and Queen's Gambit

On this DVD, we will look at a simple-to-learn yet surprisingly effective system that White can play after 1 d4 d5. In all cases White will play 2 c4 - and if given the chance, 3 cxd5!

The other DVD works much better and Williams does his usual nice approach of offering a choice of lines — the normal solid main lines as well as something spicy. This time, the idea that caught my eye was: 1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.cxd5 cxd5 4.♘c3 ♘f6 5.f3


The Berliner Exchange Slav. I first saw this line mentioned in former Correspondence World Champion and computer programmer Hans Berliner’s The System, with the main line given as: 5...♘c6 6.e4 dxe4 7.d5 ♘e5 8.fxe4 e6


Unfortunately, Berliner was very cagey about this line: ‘Despite the fact that there are numerous violent attacking attempts here, and I have spent hundreds of hours on this, including much computer help, I have not been able to find any concrete advantage for White.’

It just shows you how times change! When Berliner’s book came out in 1999, I scoffed a little at all these ridiculous opening ideas. Fifteen years’ work with engines later, nothing seems stupid anymore!

In any case, Simon Williams does a pretty good job in this DVD of making me enthusiastic for the Exchange Slav, which is not something I’d ever think I’d say! 3 stars for the QGD and 4 stars for the Exchange Slav.

A dynamic weapon against the QGD - 5.Bf4

This DVD concentrates on the increasingly popular 5.Bf4 variation of the Queen's Gambit Declined and gives White a dynamic and aggressive weapon against Black's set-up.

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The magazine has regular contributions from all the world’s best players: Magnus Carlsen, Wesley So, Fabiano Caruana, Anish Giri, Hikaru Nakamura, Vladimir Kramnik, Levon Aronian, Vishy Anand, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Sergey Karjakin, Veselin Topalov, Alexander Grischuk, Judit Polgar and Hou Yifan. Editor-in-chief is Dirk Jan ten Geuzendam.

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In issue 2018#8

NIC cover

The final issue of 2018 contains 106 pages of the best in chess, including:

Magnus Carlsen unbeatable
Carlsen’s choice

Just like two years ago in New York, Magnus Carlsen steered for a tiebreak in the World Championship match against Fabiano Caruana in London. A choice that was widely criticized, but again proved highly effective.

AlphaZero’s thoughts
And what would the strongest program around think about the match that was held at a stone’s throw from DeepMind’s headquarters in London? Matthew Sadler reports.

Short Stories
Nigel Short wonders what changes are needed to keep the World Championship attractive for a broad audience.

FIDE Presidents
Arkady Dvorkovich is only the seventh FIDE president.

So happy together in Isle of Man
Radek Wojtaszek was the sensation of the 2018 edition of the Open in Isle of Man, taking home £ 38,000. His wife, Alina Kashlinskaya, added another £ 7,000 to their celebration day by winning the top women’s prize.

MVL Master of Shenzhen - breaks Ding Liren's Century
At the Shenzhen Masters, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave ended Ding Liren’s unbeaten streak of 100 games and took the title on tiebreak.

Opera Game
Paul Morphy’s rise from child prodigy to the ‘pride and sorrow of chess’ forms the backdrop to a new movie.

NIC’s Café
A chess-themed pub in downtown Oslo, Maurice Ashley on ‘The Daily Show’  and a revisited flyover in Kolkata.

Your Move
Not everyone rejoiced when a rapid tiebreak decided the world title.

Celeb64: George C. Scott

Chess Pattern Recognition
Why not gain some space while advancing a pawn for a fianchetto?

Judit Polgar
Crucial moments can dramatically change the course of a game. Or can even have far-reaching consequences for a player’s career.

And much more...

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New In Chess (NIC) was founded in 1984 and appears eight times a year. It is read by club players in 116 countries. A yearly subscription for eight issues costs €79.99.


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