The Secret of Chess

by David Smerdon
12/22/2017 – Other chess reviewers have been at best dismissal and at worst harshly critical of The Secret of Chess, by Lyudmil Tsvetkov. However, according to GM David Smerdon, this book is a one of a kind work that legitimately has the potential to revolutionise how we think about chess. | Photo: Smerdon at the Tromsø Chess Olympiad, by Andreas Kontokanis CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Fritz 16 - He just wants to play! Fritz 16 - He just wants to play!

Fritz 16 is looking forward to playing with you, and you're certain to have a great deal of fun with him too. Tense games and even well-fought victories await you with "Easy play" and "Assisted analysis" modes.

More...

Nimzowitsch, Kmoch...Tsvetkov?

The AlphaZero phenomenon has reinvigorated interest in chess engines and the way they "think". This story originally appeared on GM David Smerdon's blog, and is re-published with kind permission.


A couple of months ago, I received a curious email:

Lyudmil-TsvetkovHello, Mr. Smerdon,

I recently published an innovative book on chess knowledge/evaluation, ‘The Secret of Chess’. It is written very much in the vein of Nimzovich’s and Kmoch’s works, but is of much larger scope and accuracy of assessment…

Please, try to take a look at it, I guess you will not be disappointed.

Best regards,
Lyudmil Tsvetkov, author of the book

As you might imagine, I was pretty sceptical that this book would indeed revolutionise chess — especially after discovering Tsvetkov’s a 2100 player who has been inactive from tournaments for more than a decade. Still, the author claims to have spent the past five years almost entirely devoted to the study of chess, and especially the use of engines. Given the 'big data' revolution in many sciences today, a part of me has always believed that there must be more sophisticated ways to train in chess. And so, despite the somewhat outrageous claims and poor written English of the introduction, I pushed on, hoping to find at least one or two useful training nuggets. And so, I read the whole book.

Before I get into the details, I want to make two paradoxical statements. First, I completely understand why other chess reviewers have been at best dismissal and at worst harshly critical of The Secret of Chess. Second, however, this book is a one of a kind work that legitimately has the potential to revolutionise how we think about chess.

In fact, it’s not even written as a regular book, but more of a mathematics textbook and an encyclopaedia (ironically, Amazon classifies it under ‘Humour and Entertainment’). It’s essentially just a list of hundreds of essential chess themes or patterns that together comprise the key heuristics to success, each with a definition, frequency and value (written as a bonus or penalty in terms of centipawns, or hundredths of a pawn). Here’s an example:

Blocked pawns on squares the colour of the bishop

Definition: pawns, blocked by enemy pawns on squares the colour of the bishop

Value: additional penalty, -10cps [centipawns], both for the mg [middlegame] and eg [endgame]

Additional information: the over-penalty is due because:

— the condition of being blocked makes the pawns fixed targets, unable to move; fixed targets are easier to attack and destroy

— blocked in general represents a more durable condition, further highlighting the weakness

Frequency: very frequent

The themes are typically accompanied by one or more illustrative diagrams, and occasionally also so-called 'piece-square tables', listing the centipawn values for pieces on each of the 64 squares of the board.

Such tables, like the values, are presumably designed for chess engine programmers, as their goal is primarily in arriving at the most accurate evaluation of a position as possible. And indeed several members of the computer chess community have apparently spoken highly of Tsvetkov’s identifying and quantifying these features. And you can actually find quite a few interesting threads on the Talk Chess forum in the past in which the author has contributed to improving the world’s strongest engines with his suggestions. I do get the impression from reading the book that chess programmers comprise Tsvetkov’s primary audience.

From a regular reader’s perspective, the tables and precise values aren’t very helpful. We’ll never be able to remember all of these numbers, let alone implement them in a live game. What would have been useful is to have these values distilled down into the more human “small advantage”, “clear advantage” and so forth, along with other simplifying heuristics. But after a chapter or two, one does get used to the book’s structure, and the going gets easier. What I did was make a list of the key themes that I wasn’t aware of, together with a more human assessment of their relative value and some clues for how I can remember them. It took some time and effort that I wish had been done for me in the book, but at the end of the day, I consider this written summary to be immensely rewarding and a reflection of the true value of this book.

Many of the themes are well-known to seasoned players, such as outposts, open files, the bishop pair, etc. But there are plenty of others that aren’t so obvious, at least to me, and which I found really interesting. Some of these concepts are so (post)modern that the author has had to come up with his own original terms for them, such as “spearhead pawn”, “unbackwarded pawn” and “double-root pawn”. Indeed, a huge bulk of the themes have to do with various pawn features, which leads to some of Tsvetkov’s most controversial arguments: That 1.c4 is White’s strongest first move, that the French is close to a losing opening for Black, and that the Stonewall Dutch, for either colour, is to be recommended. (Given my own experience, I’m not sure how I feel about this…)

It follows from his concept of “twice-backwarded pawns” that after 1.c4 e5 2.Nc3 Nf6, White should play 3.e4!, with an advantage. To be honest, I feel that Tsvetkov could be a little biased here by his large experience playing against engines; we know that engines struggle to play blocked positions, so a human would have a better chance of success by trying to close things up as soon as possible. Is 3.e4 objectively as strong against another human? (And, conversely, is 3.e3 as bad a move as Tsvetkov makes out? For example, he gives the position:

 

He says:

In spite of the big development advantage white enjoys, black has already a winning position. And the main reason for this is the familiar central pawn pattern in the form of the e4,e3,f2,g2 pawns. The central e4 black backwardmaker is having a cramping effect upon the entire white king side and renders the white shelter inflexible.

He goes on to explain this rather outrageous claim, which I’ll reprint in full:

Top engines, of course, completely misunderstand and misplay the variation. Most of them will still assess above position as very favourable for white, but of course, black is winning. As the associated lines are very deep, engines basically see nothing and rely on their positional evaluation, which is far from perfect and, in many cases, like this one, rudimentary.

Winning is pretty much straightforward: black continues with slow attack on the king side, pushing pawns there, and gradually transferring pieces to this focal point, including the ones on the queen side. As the position largely carries a closed character, emphasised by the e4 central backwardmaker, black has all the time in the world for regrouping and coordination. White, on the other hand, can do almost nothing, as the white shelter is inflexible, and attempting to break free with f2-f3 or f2-f4 will easily backfire, creating multiple weaknesses.

Of course, in a practical chess game, matters are far from clear. But objectively…? Honestly, I don’t know. I’d need to hear the opinions of correspondence and freestyle chess experts before I’m convinced. But still, I like hearing the way Tsvetkov thinks about these positions, mainly because it’s a new way of evaluation that I haven’t encountered before. And I’m all for diversity.

Here are some other specific examples that I’m sure will have many grandmasters scratching their heads:

 

One of the key insights from The Secret of Chess is the need for flexibility in one’s pawn structure. The diagram is an example of this, for which the author writes:

In spite of the enormous lead in development and massive centre, white is actually a bit worse… Fact is, white’s pawns are quite broken down in different very small groups, while black has a great number of interconnecting pawns. Look at the h6-g6-f7-e7-d6-c6-b5-a5 weaving snake!

It seems hard to believe that Black could be anything but worse here — White has the centre, more space, better development… But on the other hand, it’s true that Black’s position is tough to crack, and after further thinking, I couldn’t find a convincing plan for White to gain a clear advantage. I still have my doubts that Black is better, but at least Tsvetkov’s principle of pawn flexibility seems plausible to me.

Tsvetkov’s definitely not afraid of making bold statements about how a game will finish from a very early stage. He often writes that “Of course Black is lost here…” at a point where material is equal and there are no clear tactics or attacks at play. Here are two nice examples:

 

I don’t know how I would have evaluated this position if I got it in a game — probably I would have thought White was doing quite okay. I certainly wouldn’t have guessed that White is lost! But Tsvetkov writes:

Black has already won the game, because of the white twice backward shelter f2 pawn…Black should get its dark square bishop to f6, sacrifice it on h4 for 2 enemy pawns, later transfer a knight via h7 to g5 and f3, with smashing attack. If necessary, both rooks could be enrolled in the approaching army to support the assault, by taking long-range aim along the h and g files.

Compare the previous position to this one (I have flipped the colours for ease of comparison):

 

White will win this at some point, although this is not currently easily recognisable.

The reason is precisely the complete lack of a pawn shelter for the black king (with the f5,g4 and h5 pawns all advanced), while its white counterpart still enjoys the immediate contact of 2 own shelter pawns, g3 and f2. It might take 30, 40 and even 50 moves, but at some point, the position will be opened, the white pieces will penetrate and mate the black king. The black king does not have any pawn shelter on its current place, the king side, as well as in the center, while walking to the queen side is simply impossible because of impending attacks.

It’s so hard for me with my classical chess training to believe that this position is already decisively won for White, while the previous one is lost. I’m still not sure that I believe it. And yet, as with most of the contentious claims in the book, these evaluations are backed up by Tsvetkov’s surprisingly robust theory of chess evaluation. Coupled with a second book of 100 annotated victories by the author over chess engines, we can get a sense for where the book’s strengths lie: Closed positions. Indeed, I get the impression that Tsvetkov’s approach works quite well in extremely blocked structures, and I suppose one could tailor an opening repertoire to maximise the likelihood of achieving said positions (Tsvetkov’s opening choices against Stockfish and Komodo would be a good place to start). Given his success both in improving and beating chess engines, I feel like it would be unwise to ignore his lessons on how to evaluate closed structures, and it would not surprise me if computers tell us exactly the same thing in ten or fifteen years’ time.

And this goes to the heart of the issue. Whether or not you believe in Tsvetkov’s chess philosophy or even just his evaluations, there’s no question that his approach to chess is fresh and different, something that’s been missing in the chess literature for a long time. I probably won’t end up a convert, but I have definitely spotted several interesting new heuristics that I will be trying out in the future. Concepts such as "vertically isolated pawns", "twice backward pawns" and "spearhead pawns" are not things that I consciously think about when I analyse, though in a sense they sit somewhere in my chess intuition for assessment. But knowing which of these heuristics are relatively more important than others — a feature that Tsvetkov’s quantifications can address — as well as automatically bringing them into one’s decision processes, might be quite valuable. In any case, I’m going to try it out.


Komodo Chess 11

The multiple computer chess world champion comes in a new and yet more powerful version. Thanks to co-author US Grandmaster Larry Kaufman, Komodo is the strategist among the top chess programs!

More...


Unfortunately, the combination of the textbook style without much in the way of descriptions, combined with difficult English, makes The Secret of Chess a really hard read. And given the knee-jerk rejection that many 'classical' chess players will feel, there’s a fair chance this book will be largely ignored by the wider chess community. But I sincerely hope this doesn’t happen. I’m almost surely in the minority, but I believe Tsvetkov’s insights could really change the way we think about chess, from how beginners learn the game to how experts improve. It’s bold, completely different and sometimes conflicts with a lot of established chess wisdom, but, just like big data analysis, meditation and veganism, that doesn’t mean there aren’t some lessons to be learned, even if you don’t subscribe to the whole package. If you’re willing to open your mind to a new way of thinking about chess, and you’re determined enough to power through the text, this book is definitely worth a read.

Tsvetkov’s The Secret of Chess is available from Amazon in both Kindle ($5.96) and paperback ($25.99) editions.


Links



David is an Australian chess grandmaster and economist. He is the second highest ranked chess player of Australia. Smerdon has played for the Australian team in the Chess Olympiad since 2004.
Discussion and Feedback Join the public discussion or submit your feedback to the editors


Discuss

Rules for reader comments

 
 

Not registered yet? Register

mpsweber mpsweber 1/14/2018 06:45
GM Smerdon, thank you for writing this review.

Mr. Tsvetkov, thank you for writing this book and Human vs. Machine, Part 1.
Lyudmil Tsvetkov Lyudmil Tsvetkov 1/8/2018 01:53
Probably I am the only one still finding this thread, but I like to actively participate in the discussions involving chess knowledge, so here one more small contribution.
'The Secret of Chess' has a notion, called 'central bind', 2 pawns on c4 and e4, or d4 and f4, in the middlegame, from white's point of view(that would make c5 and e5, or d5 and f5 black pawns), are considered a substantial asset and due a nice bonus.
Below a position from one of Fischer's games:

This stems from Fischer-Hamann, Nathania 1968.
What is the correct/best move to play? A single move is winning.

Well, there are 2 realistic captures on c3, 18. Nc3 and 18. bc3. Which one is stronger and why?
Stockfish strongly prefers Nc3, as it develops a piece, but actually this only leads to a draw. The correct move is bc3, capturing towards the center, and after 18...Bb7(natural development) 19. c4, white has a powerful bind upon the d5 square and should win the game. (my central bind notion, c4 + e4 white pawns)

I have closely analysed this position with the help of top engines and a lot of statistical tryouts, and white is indeed winning. The alternative position, arising after the Nc3 capture, only leads to a draw, also closely analysed by me.
So that, the central bind term seems to be a very effective concept indeed, and extremely frequent in game play.

Ok, theoretically, the bc3 and then c4 plan loses 2 tempos. In that time, white could have played Nc3 and developed/activated one more piece. Is it possible that a central bind is worth more than 2 full tempos?
For me, the answer is clear, the point is for readers to understand that, actually, it is very important to take a bit more scientific approach to chess, as every single parameter, static or dynamic, counts very much, even as low as a couple of centipawns.
Lyudmil Tsvetkov Lyudmil Tsvetkov 12/29/2017 09:01
Hi StefanHansen again.
Thanks for your interest.
Me using engine, while playing an engine? :) Well, excuse me, but this sounds very funny to me: top engines are NOT to be trusted, except in shallow tactical variations. I know engine play by heart, so I really don't need an engine to confront them. Of course, I will be avoiding positions of more open type.
Yeah, of course, it would be a great publicity, only thing is one can not do many things at the same time, and writing, every writer knows that, especially when you are trying to investigate untrodden paths, requires too much seclusion and concentration. Otherwise, you will simply be writing bad things or routine ones.
What do you think will happen, if a play a match against a top engine and perform well? I will not have a quiet minute in my day, as phones will be ringing, interviews will be requested and some official meeting too. Good-bye, book writing. If I don't perform well(everything happens with smaller number of games), then again not very good for publicity. Everything has its time, and it is not quite the time now for me to play official public matches.
Mine is more a laboratory work than anything else. But again, I do intend to match top chess engines at some point.

Concerning Carlsen, well, I have tremendous respect for Carlsen, on equal footing with Fischer, almost, I am a very peculiar chess player, I gain a lot of strength in quiet conditions, and lose that very same strength the noisier the conditions. When I played my last competitive game 12 years ago, I was 2100 FIDE and 2200 Bulgarian rating, but had 2400 performances frequently, as well as 2000 ones.
Now, I guess, my objective strength might be around 2500 in standard, not too noisy and not very quiet, conditions, but I guess I might perform in the range of +-500 elos, depending on the conditions. Make the calculations yourself, 2000 elos bottom to 3000 top...That is one more reason I am not extremely willing to play right now: I don't know what the conditions will be, no one can guarantee that.
So that, I guess Carlsen is a bit strong for me in OTB play with a lot of cameras and noise around, but otherwise, I am very strong in quiet conditions.

That, however, has no bearing at all on the chess knowledge concepts, present in 'The Secret of Chess' and their validity: I have been using human, as well as engine databases to draw my conclusions, so the terms would be valid for ALL game situations.
Lyudmil Tsvetkov Lyudmil Tsvetkov 12/29/2017 08:39
To demonstrate the practical usefulness of 'The Secret of Chess', here a typical Sicilian Defence position:


White has much superior development, 3 minor pieces developed vs 2, plus white has already castled.
White has superior center control, the e4 and f4 pawns.
The black king is in the center, so its king safety is a bit compromised.

How could black hold and actually even be close to fully equal?

Well, chess lines might help you with that, but some are very long, so impossible to calculate sufficiently. 'The Secret of Chess', however, very easily solves that puzzle.
The book has the following 3 chess knowledge concepts:
- compact pawns, twice defended, twice aligned, defended aligned, etc., which all get some positional bonus
- a minor piece with a friendly pawn on the same rank across a file is considered semi-outposted and gets some positional bonus
- a pawn on the 3rd rank, attacking a square on the 4th rank, simultaneously attacked by an enemy minor piece is considered a good prophylactical feature(very much in Nimzovich's vein, actually, all those 3 concepts are prophylactic in nature), as this prevents the enemy minor penetration
Using those 3 features, we try to assess the Sicilian Defence position:
- the black structure, although unadvanced, is much more compact: for white, only the b2 pawn is twice aligned one, while black has 3 such, g7 is twice aligned, f7 is defending aligned, and e6 is defended aligned
- the knight on f6 is semi-outposted, as the d6 black pawn on the same rank across a file would prevent to an extent possible attacks by white pawns(e4 in this instance)
- the black a6 pawn controls the b5 square, simultaneously attacked by the bishop on e2 and both white knights, so this prevents penetration of the enemy pieces there

So, you see, 'The Secret of Chess' has some very useful concepts, and its primary purpose is to help with refined positional evaluation, which in turn, of course, would improve game play.
So that nothing abstract about the book: actually, it is an excellent practical guide.
thestefanhansen thestefanhansen 12/28/2017 01:34
Lyudmil Tsvetkov, I think it ought to be OTB games with cameras to verify that you are not using an engine while playing an engine.

Of course, you choose how you prioritize. However, rather than writing volume two and having two books not selling much, you might consider first publicly proving that your ideas work, before writing volume two. I'm rather certain your books would sell significantly more if you did so.

By the way, does your playing style only work against engines or would you also be able to beat Carlsen and other GMs?
Lyudmil Tsvetkov Lyudmil Tsvetkov 12/28/2017 12:55
To add a bit of substance to the discussion, another position, which excellently proves some of the principles in 'The Secret of Chess' actually work quite well.


How would you assess this position?
Do you find the winning move for black?
Are you able to convincingly demonstrate a win for black in all lines?
(and I whole-heartedly suggest that you try this out with your engines, as it is very interesting)
Lyudmil Tsvetkov Lyudmil Tsvetkov 12/28/2017 12:45
Dear Stefan Hansen, at some point, yes.
Currently, I have a lot of work to do, will first have to write the second part of 'The Secret of Chess', and that takes and awful lot of effort.
Currently, it is more important for me to write my books, rather than prove to everyone how strong I really am.
You can not do all things at the same time. However, the position I posted has been played publicly on the Talkchess Forum. There are also other public games on that forum too.
thestefanhansen thestefanhansen 12/27/2017 07:19
Dear Lyudmil Tsvetkov,

I suggest you play e.g. 10 games against Stockfish publicly. If you win people would listen more to what you have to say. Would you do that?

Good luck,
Stefan
Lyudmil Tsvetkov Lyudmil Tsvetkov 12/26/2017 01:35
Sorry, I have to split my comment in 2, as there seems to be a restiction of 4000 characters per post. To continue, I could imagine 5/10% of the knowledge base in 'The Secret of Chess' to be wrong/imperfect, but really not much more than that.
This is what concerns the knowledge side. What concerns the presentation, I just understood how imperfect it could have been, bearing in mind that many people want to practical illustrations/example games, and those are simply missing. Because of that fact, I guess not everybody will be able to fully understand the validity of a range of concepts, however, I promise to remedy that by writing a second part(maybe as a new book), including a huge number of example games on the very top level. Then things will become much more clear, I guess.
My problem was that I wanted all knowledge patterns in a single volume, and the present one is 300 pages long A4 format, some 500 pages 7/10, 6/9 format, so I really could not do much more at my first try. This is just a massive amount of information, for the second volume, containing example games, I will have to gather and analyse some 1000-2000 games at least. Some kind of a task.

Lastly, the mainpurpose of the book is to announce a shift towards a NN(neural network) conceptualisation of chess. An NN is basically a very large collection of well-tuned evaluation terms, and 'The Secret of Chess' signals a shift in that direction. Again, I would NEVER have been able to do something similar without the precious help of Stockfish and Komodo chess engines, so, if you want, simply count them as co-authors.
Lyudmil Tsvetkov Lyudmil Tsvetkov 12/26/2017 01:22
Hello everybody!

Thank you very much for your kind attention, and also for your feedback/critique.
I am very sorry I am unable to reply to everybody personally, so just a few remarks.

I see people are trying to assess some positions from 'The Secret of Chess', however, the introduction specifically states that those are NOT fens, they even don't have a side to move, and their single purpose is to serve as illustrations to the terms. Nothing less, nothing more. Now, someone has decided to add a side to move to each diagram, but I have never done that.

I would love to go into particulars with Kurt Utzinger(with whom we know each other from Talkchess and CSS) and Strength in Numbers, but I really am too busy now and just can not reply to everybody, I apologise. Besides, a deeper analysis would require many hours, if not days. So, just briefly. Kurt, the knowledge term twice backward shelter pawn is a very valid one, no one can refute it. I might not have picked the best position to illustrate it, seems a bit complicated now, but the point is valid. It is NOT necessary to sacrifice on h4 immediately, first some regrouping might be necessary, but again, this is not a fen position.
I have confirmed the validity of this concept in countless games and analysis sessions with Stockfish and Komodo, so I don't have the slightest doubt.
For example, check this fen:
, this is already a fen from a real game, and the true story is here: http://www.talkchess.com/forum/viewtopic.php?topic_view=threads&p=598874&t=54487&sid=863741b0621363b365f8debe27a1a99c

On above position(I am not sure how to post diagrams here), the black f7 pawn is twice backward shelter pawn, and white wins after the stunning Qf6 sacrifice. maybe you will try to disprove that too? Many of my games against Stockfish and Komodo in my other book, 'Human versus Machine', also feature this particular king safety pattern, and the games provide nice illustration why the term is indeed a very sound one.

Dear Strength in numbers, as said, those are not fens, and I don't know whose turn it is in the position you have been checking, so no point in analysing. What if it is black's turn? Again, the point was to illustrate the validity of compactness of our pawn structure. I don't have the slightest doubt about its value, I have checked and rechecked this in all too numerous games in the past, Stockfish, for example, frequently uses such an approach to its pawn structure, as its has similar knowledge concepts in its evaluation code(which started from my ideas, btw.)
'The secret of Chess' does not stress any knowledge feature in particular, there are dynamic, as well as static terms, everything is included in more or less equal share, so one can not say the book puts an accent upon more static features. This is simply not so. Could levers be static? Pawn attack threats? X-ray attacks? Imbalances?
So, you seem to concentrate just on single features.
Concerning The French, well, recently we had the Alpha-Stockfish match, and the biggest score from any opening in the 1200 training games with different openings was achieved precisely in The French: +39(!!) white wins, - 0, = 11, which is close to 80% performance. Go and claim after that I have been wrong in saying The French(in general) is close to being lost. Again, not lost, but close to.

So that, in conclusion, I wrote this book in 4 months, but I have spent 4 years in gathering all the necessary statistics, I even left my daily job to fully concentrate on analysis with the top engines. I have watched, played, analysed and gathered statistics on tens of thousands of very high quality engine games(before replaying and having understood all world champions collections twice), so I would say the probability many of the concepts in the book are wrong is extremely low.
Strength In Numbers Strength In Numbers 12/25/2017 04:38
It seems that the author evaluates only a position's static features and presents this as the (objective) overall evaluation of the position. This is very wrong though, concrete possibilities must also be examined and can completely overturn the static assessment of a position! Compare with the way our engines work: they first calculate millions of concrete lines and only use an evaluation algorithm at the end of these concrete lines. The author completely skips the step of calculating concrete lines, which leads to laughably mistaken assessments.

Take for example the Modern Defence position from this article. Black's position is more flexible but White has central control and a huge advantage in development which allows him to develop a massive attack by concrete means: 10. e5! Ne8 11. Qd2 eyeing the weak h6-pawn. The threat of f5 looks impossible to prevent to me (and my engines), and the inclusion of ...b4 Ne2 and/or ...e6 g4 doesn't help Black a single bit. Possibly there is a hidden way for Black to allow the f5 break and barely hold on, but in any case this has nothing to do anymore with the initial assessment of the static features of the position.

A similar thing can be said about the claim that the French Defence would be almost losing for Black. Even if we're willing to buy that White is objectively winning in a "slow" French game, Black can for example go for 1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. e5 Nfd7 5. f4 c5 6. Nf3 Nc6 7. Be3 cxd4 8. Nxd4 Qb6!? 9. Qd2 Qxb2 leading to very concrete play where the author's positional ideas about the French structure aren't relevant at all anymore.

This all being said, I do slightly agree with David Smerdon's point, in the sense that this book does probably give new insight into the evaluation of certain static features. But it must never be forgotten that in the end the evaluation of a position also depends very much on concrete dynamic possibilities!
Kurt Utzinger Kurt Utzinger 12/25/2017 11:04
I have deeply studied the following position

and author's comments are "Black has already won the game, because of the white twice backward shelter f2 pawn…Black should get its dark square bishop to f6, sacrifice it on h4 for 2 enemy pawns, later transfer a knight via h7 to g5 and f3, with smashing attack. If necessary, both rooks could be enrolled in the approaching army to support the assault, by taking long-range aim along the h and g files." This assessment seems completely wrong. During the time Black is goint to realize his plan, White gets already a decisive advantage on the queens wing. The problem is that after the sacrifice on h4 - with the black queen on h4 - white's king can simply go to f1 after Nf6-h7-g5-f3+ and black has still achieved less than nothing. Try it out with any strong engine and you can see that it won't work for black.
fgkdjlkag fgkdjlkag 12/24/2017 03:08
Very nice jws555....

No one should believe his rating/strength claims until he plays some OTB tournaments.
fons2 fons2 12/23/2017 05:33
Tsvetkov could be on to something, or he could -very confidently- be full of ....

(On the computer chess forum I've seen him say what seems like sensible things, but then I've also seen him say things that -no offense- are quite delusional or ignorant.)

Also: _if_ you need to be able to play beyond super human strength to be able to put his theories into action... well that's never gonna happen now is it? So he's making claims that cannot be disproven. It's the ideal lie or scam so to speak. (Unless you demand proof of course.)
garyklien garyklien 12/22/2017 08:03
anyone have a link to wh3en this guy was under the Alias ARM beating stockfish under bad conditions on youtube?
garyklien garyklien 12/22/2017 07:00
I reported all of his 4+ rating book reviews as fake.
e-mars e-mars 12/22/2017 06:24
My clock has to be broken because it ain't saying that today's 1st of April
malfa malfa 12/22/2017 03:31
OK, this guy has had much more than his 15 minutes of fame, now let's go on.
jws555 jws555 12/22/2017 02:27
I evaluate his book as !?
Masquer Masquer 12/22/2017 11:00
FIDE spells his name differently:

http://ratings.fide.com/card.phtml?event=2905850

Based on his contributions it looks like he's very likely of (senior) master strength.
rokko rokko 12/22/2017 10:07
There was a long discussion in the chess.com forum (catchy title "Stockfish is blind"). The position (supposedly from a game the author played) was intriguing and Stockfish was helpless in a completely closed position. So this was indeed a prelude to the AlphaZero games.
If all this is serious then the author provided some analytical work on a known engine problem, the horizon effect in closed positions. But all this seemed very artificial.
My conclusion: you always need a pawn break!
tschukki tschukki 12/22/2017 09:04
The author (Tsvetkov, not Smerdon ;-) has the problem of coming across as a giant troll whenever he contributes to chess forums publicly, that's why he'll never find the recognition he may deserve. Back in the day Nimzowitsch was lucky there weren't any forums around.
aji2017 aji2017 12/22/2017 09:02
I go to Amazon and I was surprised about this book description: "Learn the secrets of chess from the only person able to beat the world number 1 chess engine Stockfish." Wow, I can't believe this. Or should I say it's really hard to believe this.

What more surprising is that this author also published books "Human Versus Machine: How To Beat Stockfish and Komodo" Part 1 and Part 2. And the book description: "My winning games against Stockfish and Komodo. This is for real. I have played over 50 thousand engine games, of which more than 10 thousand against Stockfish, and a large number against Komodo." Do your math? How many decades would it take to complete that? Stockfish was first released on 2004. Komodo first released on 2010.

Also I try to google his FIDE rating, none was appeared. I haven't seen his FIDE rating in official website. I can't also find his proof of the claim candidate master. Anyone among the readers proof his chess rating? If this guy can really beat Stockfish and Komodo, then why is he not a GM or even IM?

Back to his book, I don't criticized the book for poor English but for poor evaluations of chess positions. Well anyway, this is a good book of "entertainment" as Amazon classified it. Caveat emptor.
celeje celeje 12/22/2017 08:26
@moderncheckers: "the author's boasting of his playing strength..; pasting the games he has won against the top engines with a massive time handicap (as far as I could see, the engines never get more than 2'+2''/move); ...; and declining ... any other way of verifying the author's playing strength. I failed to find any real programming suggestions. ...
The book was written before the AlphaZero – Stockfish match, by the way."

You're making Tsvetkov sound like AlphaZero/DeepMind (which David Smerdon also praised prematurely and against much wise opinion)!!!
Mawin Mawin 12/22/2017 07:33
One cannot say that either party is strategically lost in any of these positions. It rules out that the defending party can find a plan to keep the balance. How can one be sure that no such plan exists? A plan involves a dynamic rearrangement of pieces. As soon as pieces have good enough space to move around, there are enormous possibilities. A static judgment of position cannot account for all these possibilities. So it seems that this static judgment runs counter to the gist of modern positional chess, namely the dynamic aspect. There are invisible defensive plans hidden in a position. One must investigate these, and not only look at the visible aspects that speak in favour of a very abstract attacking strategy.

The French opening, Advance variation (1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.e5) was once regarded as better for white, depending on static critera. But according to modern theory it is equal. Some would even say it's better for black. This is because black has effective plans for counter-attack, following Nimzowitsch's concepts. If the Advance variation is perfectly fine for black, then it's reasonable to assume that the other variations are not that much worse, and definitely not losing.

M. Winther
http://two-paths.com/bg/chessvar.htm
melante melante 12/22/2017 06:53
There's surely a lot of interesting material here and I like a novel approach to positional understanding. Nonetheless, if an evaluation function determines the French Defense is losing... well, maybe that evaluation function needs to be rewritten from the ground up?
Azzur Azzur 12/22/2017 06:44
It would be interesting to plug those positions into AlphaZero and see what it thinks about them
moderncheckers moderncheckers 12/22/2017 06:32
This article got me interested in the book and in its author, Lyudmil Tsvetkov, and I spent the last couple of hours reading some of the author's contributions in Talk Chess, Rybkaforum and chess dot com. Unfortunately, the recent contributions seem to me to consist mostly of: the author's boasting of his playing strength of 2600 or even 2800 level; pasting the games he has won against the top engines with a massive time handicap (as far as I could see, the engines never get more than 2'+2''/move); responding not always diplomatically (despite his diplomatic past) to the critique; and declining any proposals of a match against an engine played in controlled environment (often saying that the current engines are "too weak" for such a match to make sense) or of any other way of verifying the author's playing strength. I failed to find any real programming suggestions. I apologize if my search was not thorough enough, and if the suggestions are indeed there.

I find it strange that the author of the book claims he has been spending five hours every day on chess – and yet somehow he could not find a week to play in an OTB tournament to test his ideas, or even play any games online.

The book was written before the AlphaZero – Stockfish match, by the way.

Given that Nimzowitsch and Kmoch were among the best chess players of their days, while the credentials of Mr. Tsvetkov are unknown, I am afraid that the worth of the book might be closer to "English As She Is Spoke" by Pedro Carolino than to masterpieces such as "My System" and "Pawn Power in Chess". An open-minded chess player might still find some inspiration in it, just as an English speaker might likely find some kind of inspiration in "English As She Is Spoke", but I myself would rather stick to well-proven methods.

An idea is never good just because it is new. In fact, most ideas are bad:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Most_ideas_are_bad
Before spending my time on a new chess method, I would like to see some proof of its potential efficacy, which the author has not really provided. For the time being, I see no reason to accept his extraordinary claims (e.g. that the French defence is losing for black or that the assessment of the two positions diagrammed in this review – the main difference between which is the presence or absence of light-squared bishops – differs so much that one of them is losing and the other one is winning for white).
KrushonIrina KrushonIrina 12/22/2017 05:21
Seems like it makes My System a breeze of a read by comparison.
Azzur Azzur 12/22/2017 04:58
Wow, I remember the author of this article from my junior chess playing days. Very intrigued by book review - I thought it was very balanced and insightful.
1