Into the mailbag again

11/4/2005 – Columnist Steve Lopez serves up another batch of reader suggestions, comments, and observations in the latest ChessBase Workshop. Have a look and discover what the electronic postman has deposited in the mailbox.

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Returning to chess after a couple of side trips in the previous column. I'm not sure whether or not I quoted this e-mail previously (I've written over 400 columns and I'm getting older; my memory's not what it used to be); if I didn't, I should have. Bob Durrett again:

(1) You commented that using chess engines to help develop a repertoire is very time consuming. I "up the ante" by saying it is very very time consuming. Part of the reason is that the methodology of Bookup's "backsolving" must be used by Chessbase users [using one or more analysis engines] to arrive at an acceptable line. [This does not imply doing it in an automated fashion.]

(2) You must agree that two lines, one suiting the player's style and one not, must be compared not just by the style criteria but also by the soundness criteria. A grossly unsound line satisfying the style requirement is no good. It is a matter of priorities. Two sound lines can be compared by secondary criteria such as style to arrive at the preferred move or line.

(3) There are probably more ways to develop an opening repertoire than there are chessplayers.

(4) I am too old to sit in a tournament room for hours on end so I content myself to play blitz on the internet "when the mood hits me." Each game is saved and goes into a chessbase database. Later, I analyze and annotate the games without use of a chess engine or any other reference. The emphasis is on "what was going on in my mind when I played that move?" This gives me more insight into my game than any Opening Repertoire development effort would ever offer to me. Later, I check my conclusions with engines and other references.

(5) I use a White Study Pointer, Black Study Pointer, White Opening Repertoire, Black Opening Repertoire, tree of recent games where each player is ELO 2600 or above, the same for 2500+, and a few other tools. If you have the wild urge to read a letter on how these tools are created, grown, and used then send me an email and I'll reply.

(6) Insofar as openings are concerned, memorization is the key to my success at Blitz chess. I memorize lines that I have created myself with lots of hard work in home analysis. A Pocket PC has proven extremely useful for memorization. The Study Pointer and Repertoire databases [which are "living documents" inasmuch that they change after every game] are suitably condensed and copied to the Pocket PC. I then carry this around with me and check my memory at odd moments whenever they arise. There is simply no time to create a new opening during a Blitz game.

Bob Durrett
Madison

Some numbered comments to your numbered paragraphs:

1) I'll see your two "verys" and raise you two more. I think the idea of using an engine to develop a repertoire is insane. They're great tools to use in helping to develop one, but 99% of the work is still on the player's shoulders -- and the limited time a player has for this pursuit is far better spent in doping things out for himself rather than having an engine do the work. But I think I already did that rant.

2) Absolutely. I play a modified Halasz Gambit against the Sicilian every now and then just for laughs (and for psychological effect, if I know my opponent has trouble against gambit play), but it's probably the least sound thing I've ever played. Any chess engine which rated it otherwise would get deleted (and its CD used for skeet) immediately.

3) That's why I still have this writing gig after eight years. Every chessplayer is different, and when it comes to using chess software as an improvement tool I don't think I've encountered two players who use it the same way. I don't even use it the same way I did when I first got involved thirteen years ago. So when I hear something new and good (or even just questionable but interesting) I try to pass it along.

4) I'm a huge fan of self-annotation. Annotating my own games (as well as the games of other players) has helped my chess a great deal, and I wholeheartedly recommend it. I'd also throw in that having an engine analyze your annotations afterward can enrich the experience (similar to having the teacher check your homework).

5) Fire away. I'll probably end up overwhelmed and confused ("like a duck who's been struck on the head" as Lincoln so famously worded it) but I'm game. (And why does the use of the phrase "I'm game" coupled with a duck reference make me feel like a character in a Warner Brothers cartoon? Very strange).

6) I'm not a big fan of opening variation memorization, but I'll admit that blitz chess provides a whole different case. In these columns, I'm targeting ideas and suggestions more toward people playing rated chess at tournament time controls, so the idea of memorization for blitz play really didn't occur to me. So, yeah, I'll give -- that's a good idea.

Here's a few comments on my preview of Garry Kasparov's Najdorf CD:

I greatly enjoy reading reviews and articles at chessbase.com. I am compelled to comment on Steve Lopez' review of Kasparov's Najdorf Volume 1, which I own.

Lopez defines the Najdorf: "1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 e6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 d6 6. Bg5 a6 (or the shorter 5.Nc3 a6; either way Black's ...a6 is the defining move)."

In actuality, the Najdorf is defined by 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6. The variation with 5. Nc3 a6 given by Lopez represents a Kan. The longer variation Lopez submits is a tranposition to one of several possible Najdorf lines (more normally reached by 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6 6. Bg5 e6). The Najdorf is certainly not restricted to lines with 6. Bg5.

Lopez goes on to suggest that the Najdorf is "not a highly theoretical opening in which you need to be booked to the gills out to move thirty (as is the case with some other opening systems and variations); at any moment either player can easily veer off into uncharted territory. This makes the Najdorf especially attractive to tacticians who hate 'book work' and home preparation."

I must disagree. The Najdorf is a hugely theoretical opening with top-level novelties generally appearing after move 15. More importantly for the club player, the Najdorf is extremely sharp. A single misstep by either side can easily cost a whole point. Such openings require more home preparation, not less.

Finally, I don't know anything about DVD formats, but my US-based DVD player plays this disc just fine.

I wholeheartedly recommend Kasparov's Najdorf DVD (as well as his Queen's Gambit disc) to anyone interested in this fascinating opening.

Jim Larsen
West Chester, USA

Thanks for writing. In my own defense, I'm not a Najdorf player. The variation which I provided came directly from the DVD in question, as did the information that the Najdorf wasn't highly theoretical -- that was Kasparov's contention in one of the DVD's video clips.

I'm glad that the Najdorf DVD was playable in your TV's DVD player. Its predecessor, the Queen's Gambit disk, messed up an internal setting on my player. The unit reset itself to try to play the Euro format, failed to play it anyway, and it took an hour or so of fiddling to locate the submenu selection (two tandem selections, really, which is what threw me) that allowed me to reset my player to the U.S. format. Consequently (and understandably) I was reluctant to attempt to play the Najdorf DVD on my TV's player. The Najdorf disk may indeed be different from the QG one in this regard; I hope you won't mind if I just take your word for it.

A quick tip from Scotland:

I have found that developing a playbook has increased my knowledge of openings and would like to pass on a couple of tips now that i have nearly 200 variations of the Najdorf loaded. Make use of the annotator function, i start from a base position (position after a6 for black) then if i am looking at Bc4 i will type in the annotator NAJDORF 6 BC4 and use that for all the branches, followed by NAJDORF 6 BG5. This means you do not need to track the different lines with medals because you can bring up all the games easily.

Eric Davidson
Aberdeen Scotland

I see -- you enter a text annotation and later, when you do a search, use the text string as your search criterion under the "Annotations" tab of the Search mask. Nice tip -- thanks Eric!

And another e-mail has arrived concerning the "Intelligent Mistakes" column:

When people say they only want a chess program in handicap mode to make "intelligent mistakes", what they really mean is that they want the program to make an "indirect mistake". It's frustrating to me if Fritz in friend mode leaves his knight undefended. On the other hand, it's satisfying to me if I see a four-move combination which traps the same knight, because I'm given the impression that I've achieved something.

On the whole I'm happy with Fritz's friend mode, with the exception of one common scenario: when Fritz sees a mate for himself he should stop being a "friend" and get on with the job and mate me, not just mess about and give me a draw by the 50-move rule.

Mike Hood
Birmingham, England

Thanks Mike! Your "four-move combination" scenario sounds a lot like what Sparring mode achieves: Fritz steers toward your combinations instead of away from them. And your second paragraph made me laugh; I've never had that particular experience, but it sounds like a very "Fritzian" thing for the program to do.

That's everything from the mailbag (for now). My e-mail address is at the end of this column, so fire away and we'll dip into the mailbag again in a future ChessBase Workshop. Until next time, have fun!

You can e-mail me with your comments on ChessBase Workshop. All responses will be read, and sending an e-mail to this address grants us permission to use it in a future column. No tech support questions, please.


© 2005, Steven A. Lopez. All rights reserved.


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