The Komodo Files – working with a chess engine (2)

by ChessBase
3/16/2015 – His initial foray into working with a chess engine ended in near total disaster, when he was forced to think for himself the old human frailties come to the surface. In round six GM Danny Gormally had worked out the position after move seven virtually to checkmate. "There’s no way in a million years I would have been able to find all the moves," he writes. The engine found them in seconds.

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The Komodo Files – 2

Danny Gormally decided it was finally time to work properly with a chess engine

The London Chess Classic did not go well for me. If you include the Super Rapidplay before the FIDE Open, I drew and lost a number of games I should have been strolling on paper. Clearly my chess was stuck in a rut. Probably had been for years to tell the truth. Perhaps it was time to jump on the gravy train and do what all the top players seem to be doing these days: work with an engine.

I asked Chess & Bridge if they could send me a copy of Komodo, which was rumoured to be one of the strongest engines around, if not the strongest. I remember this Icelandic GM telling me about it a couple of years ago at the Scottish Championships and had vowed to get my hands on it ever since. The DVD duly arrived through the post a day later. In trembling anticipation I loaded it up on my laptop.

It didn’t take long before I got an insight into Komodo’s fearsome strength. In a number of training games I was brutally savaged. And, as described in the first part of this report, my initial experience of preparing with Komodo ended in near total disaster, although that wasn’t the machine’s fault. Only when I was forced to think for myself did the old human frailties come to the surface. In round six, however, I was paired against a 16-year-old French girl. I noticed with Black she played a slightly dubious line in one variation. It was time to put Komodo back on the case.

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[Event "Hastings"] [Site "?"] [Date "2015.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Gormally, D."] [Black "Haussernot, C."] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "B51"] [Annotator "Danny Gormally"] [PlyCount "43"] [EventDate "2015.??.??"] [SourceDate "2015.03.01"] {In round six I was paired against a 16-year-old French girl. I noticed with Black she played a slightly dubious line in one variation. It was time to put Komodo back on the case.} 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. Bb5+ Nd7 4. d4 Ngf6 5. e5 $5 { A tricky line that isn't easy to meet over the board.} (5. Nc3 cxd4 6. Qxd4 e5 7. Qd3 h6 8. Be3 Be7 {is a variation I have road tested myself as Black and I have quite a good score with it. In some ways the resulting positions greatly resemble the Najdorf.}) 5... Qa5+ $6 {This has long been considered the main line, but now could even be viewed as dubious.} (5... cxd4 $1 {is a better try, even if this doesn't ensure Black of complete equality:} 6. Qxd4 ({after} 6. exf6 Qa5+ {, Black regains his piece with a good position}) 6... dxe5 7. Qxe5 a6 8. Bxd7+ Bxd7 9. Nc3 Rc8 10. O-O e6 11. Qg3 {with an edge.}) 6. Nc3 Ne4 7. Rb1 $1 {I recall when Lawrence Trent played this against me at the Big Slick event, I was quite taken aback. It hardly seems to be a move at all, since it looks so strange. I imagine this idea was inspired by an engine and like a lot of engine ideas it might be ugly, but it is effective.} e6 ({Black has a wide choice, but no easy path through the dark forest is obvious: --- a)} 7... a6 { is probably the main try and was what I played against Lawrence. After} 8. Bxd7+ Bxd7 9. O-O Nxc3 (9... d5 10. Nxd5 e6 11. Qe1 $1 {is also unpleasant for Black, who has to defend a pawn-down ending after} Qxe1 12. Nc7+ Kd8 13. Rxe1 Kxc7 14. Rxe4) 10. bxc3 {, Black again has a choice, but everywhere White has a crushing initiative:} d5 {is what I tried against Lawrence, desperately trying to hold the fort:} (10... Qxa2 11. Rxb7 Qd5 {and now White has a choice between two moves, one of which leads to a large advantage without any risk, the other being a more complicated attempt to mate Black immediately:} 12. Rb6 $1 {(the safe try and one which just seems to be close to winning, if the computer's assessment is anything to go by)} ({an interesting alternative is the flamboyant} 12. Rxd7 $5 {, trying to lure the monarch out of his lair, and if} Kxd7 13. c4 $1 Qxc4 14. dxc5 {with a very powerful attack: for example,} Qxc5 15. Ng5 $1) 12... c4 13. Re1 e6 14. Ng5 Bc6 15. Qg4 Be7 16. Ne4 {and wins; } (16. exd6 Bxd6 17. Ne4 Bf8 18. Bh6 $1 {is also strong.})) (10... Bb5 11. exd6 ({the simple} 11. Re1 $1 {is also quite strong}) 11... Bxf1 12. Qxf1 exd6 ({or } 12... O-O-O 13. dxc5 {, and if} exd6 (13... Qxc5 {doesn't really help either, as it runs into} 14. Ba3 $1) 14. c6 $1) 13. Qe1+ Be7 14. Rxb7 Qd8 15. Nh4 Kf8 16. Nf5 Bf6 17. Bf4 {and White has a huge attack for a relatively small material investment.}) (10... O-O-O 11. Ng5 $1 Be8 12. Qf3 {and Black is simply in trouble.}) 11. Ng5 $1 {(Lawrence took on b7, but during the game I was terrified by this knight lunge, and rightly so)} ({after} 11. Rxb7 Bc6 12. Rb3 e6 {, I miraculously escaped and drew}) 11... Qxa2 (11... h6 12. e6 $1 hxg5 13. exd7+ Kxd7 14. Qf3 {is the main idea, showing again how dangerous it is for Black to open the b-file}) 12. Rxb7 Bc6 13. Rb2 Qc4 14. Qh5 g6 15. Qf3 { and White is winning already.}) ({b)} 7... Nxc3 8. bxc3 Qxa2 ({or} 8... Qxc3+ $2 9. Bd2 Qa3 10. exd6 {and according to the engine, White is already winning}) 9. Rb2 Qd5 10. O-O a6 11. c4 Qe6 {and although you don't need an engine to see that Black's position looks absolutely dreadful, none the less our silicon friend points out an elegant win with} 12. Ng5 $1 Qf5 13. f4 axb5 14. g4 Qg6 15. f5 Qh6 16. Nxf7 Qh3 17. Rb3 $1 {.}) ({c)} 7... d5 8. e6 $1 fxe6 9. O-O Nd6 ({or} 9... a6 10. Bxd7+ Bxd7 11. Ne5) 10. Ba4 b5 11. dxc5 bxa4 12. cxd6 exd6 13. Nd4 {and again Black faces a dangerous attack.}) ({d)} 7... cxd4 8. Qxd4 Nxc3 9. bxc3 Qxa2 10. Rb2 Qe6 11. O-O dxe5 12. Nxe5 {gives White an obvious initiative. Just look at his lead in development.}) 8. d5 a6 9. Bxd7+ Bxd7 10. O-O Nxc3 ({After} 10... exd5 11. Nxd5 O-O-O 12. Nd2 $1 {, even the fact that the b-file remains closed doesn't prevent White working up an attack on the queenside. In any case during the post-game analysis Haussernot rightly pointed out that it's unpleasant to allow a knight to d5 like this.}) 11. bxc3 Qc7 ({Another elegant line that could have occurred was} 11... exd5 12. Ng5 $1 Be7 13. Nxf7 $1 Kxf7 14. Rxb7 Rad8 {. Without engine assistance I would probably just assess this as 'a promising attack' for White, but the computer just thinks it's winning and that there is even time for a quiet move:} 15. Re1 $1 Rhe8 16. e6+ Bxe6 17. Qh5+ Kf8 18. Rxe6 Qxc3 19. g3 {and Black is completely helpless. Brutal stuff.}) 12. Ng5 $5 (12. Re1 {was perhaps simpler, but Ng5 seemed so strong in so many variations that I couldn't resist the temptation to play it here as well.}) 12... exd5 $2 ({Black had to try} 12... dxe5 $1 13. f4 h6 14. dxe6 hxg5 15. exd7+ Qxd7 16. Qxd7+ Kxd7 17. fxe5 b5 {, which minimises the damage.}) 13. Re1 $1 Be6 14. exd6 Qxd6 15. Rxb7 Be7 16. Nxe6 fxe6 17. Qg4 ({Another elegant win was} 17. Bg5 $1 Bxg5 18. Qh5+ g6 19. Qxg5 O-O 20. Qh6 Rf7 21. Rxf7 Kxf7 22. Qxh7+ Kf6 23. Re3 {.}) 17... Kf7 (17... O-O-O 18. Rb1 {is also hopeless for Black:} Kd7 ({or} 18... Qd7 19. Bf4 e5 20. Qe2 $1) 19. Rxe6 Qxe6 20. Rb7+ Kc6 21. Qxe6+ {.}) 18. Bf4 e5 19. Rxe5 (19. Bxe5 {was even stronger, but at this point it hardly matters.}) 19... g6 20. Rexe7+ Qxe7 21. Rxe7+ Kxe7 22. Qg5+ 1-0

A nice easy win with the white pieces and because of Komodo’s help I had virtually worked out the position after 7.Rb1 to checkmate. If I had found this 7.Rb1 idea myself and had no engine to consult, there’s no way in a million years I would have been able to find all these moves. I might have been able to see some of the ideas and felt that White had a promising attack, but it would have taken weeks of analysis to get close to the point that the engine can in seconds.

The huge advantage of consulting an engine is that it can tell you if the attack is just winning. It’s interesting that in all those lines in the game where the black king was in danger, the assessment just shot up really quickly. Komodo is really big on king safety.

After the game we had a pleasant post mortem and it was only later that the guilt kicked in. Is that what I’ve been reduced to, beating well spoken 16-year-old girls with computer analysis? I mean what happened to the spirit of the game? Surely I could have beaten her without having to prepare some line to checkmate with the help of an engine?

In a way, it’s a form of mental doping. OK, it’s not as bad as using a computer during the game of course, but it is the way that top chess is going now, just engine versus engine with humans reduced to the role of pale imitators of our metal masters. That’s certainly what I thought walking around the London Classic. All these young players like Caruana and Giri who work extensively with computers, their play is quite frankly dull. It’s too safe. It’s like we’re all afraid to make mistakes nowadays, because we’re all too keen to try and replicate the nearly flawless play of a machine. Creative chess is dead.

The other danger of working with computers also rapidly became clear to me during the course of Hastings. It was making me lazy. I wasn’t bothering to do my own analysis, my own work, because the computer was doing it all for me. When I was forced to think for myself, I felt quite uncomfortable. That was shown by my result, which was quite poor.

Clearly computers can be a very powerful tool when applied correctly, but you need to be careful that you control them, not the other way around.

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