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Chess on Reality TV

The game of chess has seen a number of attempts to make it on television, the best being The Master Game which ran on BBC from 1976 to 1982. Good, solid chess entertainment and instruction. Today we learn of a new TV series called American Chess Star featuring chess bitch Jennifer Shahade among others – a show aiming to compete in the crowded television “reality” genre. Apparently the show’s host will conduct players through several challenges, producing a winner. After watching the trailer below one might think the whole thing a hoax; after all, the atmosphere feels like a cross between Blue’s Clues and Pee Wee’s Playhouse. But the show is produced by the Xtreme Chess Champs, a group which certainly exists on Facebook and Twitter. Make up your own mind, but we rather hope this project confines itself to a series of obscure web episodes, the better to limit the embarrassment of all chess players.


Mining Chess Databases, Part 3

Last time we decided to map out the Center Game (1.e4 e5 2.d4 exd4 3.Qxd4) for further exploration. We drilled into a very large chess database and collected roughly 4,500 game “nuggets” into a separate chess opening database – our new chess mine! Let’s scoop up the gold and head for the nearest saloon, right? Now hang on, partner. If we’re going for the big strike we’ve got to expand operations, put out horizontal shafts and add even more chess games. In fact, we want to claim every contest ever played that starts with the ancient Center Game! Let chess fever grip you; greed is good.

So where do we find any more games in this chess opening? First (of course) add your own games, and include games from any chess books or magazines on hand. If you belong to an online chess club, their games can often be downloaded; then dig for any internet chess game collection or database. Get the latest tournament chess games. Those wishing to invest their grubstake on proven ore with professional annotations may consider the Opening Encyclopedia, Correspondence Database and the Informants for example. And don’t forget to type “Center Game chess opening” in the Google search bar – no telling what’s under that rock!

In any case, after adding these extra chess games into our own new database simply kill and delete the duplicates. Now at last we have an excellent chess database, a world class game collection by any standard. Say, a feller gets parched doing work like that – where’s them swingin’ doors?

Hold up there, camper. The delirium passed and now there’s so much gold down here a mule couldn’t haul it to the surface. Our original chess database has grown to maybe 10,000 Center Game examples and we need a way to sort through them. We’re starting to feel lucky we don’t play the King’s Gambit, which has maybe 10 times more chess games available. How do we find the games we want? Without an outline or index of opening variations we don’t even have a lantern in the dark.

Take it from an old prospector: what we need is serious mining equipment, a special Openings Key for our Center Game chess database. But that’s for later – I’m thirsty too!

Mining Chess Databases

It is difficult to imagine life as one of the world’s elite chess players, but occasionally we can glimpse the less glamorous side of their profession, the day-to-day work each member of this high level group must grind away at constantly. For example, we all know that these Grandmasters study what chess openings their opponent will play; they each take great pains to collect the latest chess games.

In 2005 Kasparov was asked if he’d ever play again, and replied, “I said that I’m not going to quit completely. I’m following the games, doing some analysis, renewing my database…”. Later he mentioned a willingness to train others, saying “We have a lot of experience, and a good database!” In a more recent interview (Oct. 19, 2010) Kasparov admits that he still follows top tournaments, adding “I like chess and I can guarantee you that my database is still up to date.”

Yes indeed, the best chess players – including this former World Chess Champion – are keeping their chess databases current! But rest assured that these chess prospectors don’t simply dig about in the latest Mega or Big database when they’re looking for a gold strike. They certainly own one of these products, but it’s merely the mine from which ore is extracted – only then does the work of refining and fabrication begin!

The rest of us (the “good” and “excellent” chess players!) ought to take example from these professionals. To get better at chess and do well in tournaments we clearly have to assemble a chess database – our mine – and it’s a forced move. That’s where we pick up next time!

Endgame woes for Shirov in Moscow

The 5th Mikhail Tal Memorial Chess Tournament is presently underway in Moscow. The tournament, which began on November 5th, features a stellar lineup of chess talent: no one playing in the event is rated less than 2700 Elo. Among the participants duking it out in the round-robin event are Vladimir Kramnik (2791), Boris Gelfand (2741), and (from the United States) Hikaru Nakamura (also 2741).

The crosstable after four rounds

After four rounds the biggest surprise has to be Alexi Shirov (2735) who, after four rounds, hasn’t won a game. Shirov’s first three rounds were losses; he managed a draw against Sergey Karjakin (2760) in Monday’s game. The interesting oddity for each of Shirov’s games so far is that he’s consistently had an even position (or, at worst, at a slight disadvantage) going into the endgame. A slight misstep cost him Games One through Three; in Game Four it was his opponent who erred, as seen below:

Karjakin,Sergey (2760) – Shirov,Alexi (2735) [C78]

Tal Memorial Moscow RUS (4), 11/08/2010  [Lopez,Steve]

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0–0 b5 6.Bb3 Bc5 7.c3 d6 8.d4 Bb6 9.Be3 0–0 10.Nbd2 Bg4 11.h3 Bh5 12.Bg5 exd4 13.Bd5 dxc3 14.Bxc6 cxd2 15.Bxa8 Qxa8 16.Bxf6 gxf6 17.Qxd2 Qxe4 18.Rfe1 Qf5 19.Nh4 Qg5 20.Qxg5+ fxg5 21.Nf5 Bg6 22.Ne7+ Kg7 23.Nd5N

[23.Rad1 Ba5 24.Re2 Re8 25.Kf1 h6 26.Nc6 Rxe2 27.Kxe2 Bb6= Jobava – Grigorian, Yerevan 2008. It’s interesting to note that it took about five or six minutes for me to manually find the point of departure to come up with this game in Mega Database 2010, but the new “Novelty annotation” feature in ChessBase 11 identified the novelty and found this game online in less than five seconds.]

23…Rb8 24.Rad1 Kf8 25.g4

White’s in no hurry to snag Black’s dark-squared Bishop; the Knight controls a lot of space in the heart of Black’s position and blockades the d-pawn. [If 25.Nxb6 Rxb6 26.Kh2 c5 +/=]

25…c5 26.h4 gxh4 27.f4 f5 28.g5

This is an interesting position. White has a Rook and Bishop in exchange for the Bishop pair and three pawns. Black, meanwhile, has a passed h4-pawn but at the expense of creating a really tall. pointy-headed pawn on g6. But it’s not likely that he’ll be able to keep that passed pawn.

28…Bf7 29.Nf6 c4+ 30.Kg2 Rd8 31.Nxh7+ Kg7 32.Nf6 b4 33.Re7 c3 34.bxc3 bxc3 35.Nd7! Ba5

Not 35…Rxd7 yet because of 36.Rxd7 Bc5 37.Rc1 Bb4 38.a3+- and Black can’t hold the fort.; Black could have given up the passed pawn for at least a temporary stopgap: 35…h3+ 36.Kxh3 Rh8+ 37.Kg3 Bd8 +/=

36.g6 Kxg6 37.Kh3

Position after 37.Kh3

Position after 37.Kh3

Black has to choose between the h-pawn and the Bishop — the King can’t guard both.

37…Rxd7 38.Rxd7 Bb4 39.Kxh4 Bxa2 40.R1xd6+ Bxd6 41.Rxd6+

As the smoke clears, we see that White has the better endgame. Both of Black’s passed pawns are eligible to promote on dark squares, but Black has just the light-squared Bishop left.

41…Kf7 42.Rc6 a5 43.Rxc3 a4 44.Rc6 Ke7

Position after 44...Ke7

Position after 44…Ke7

This is another of those games which hinged on a single move. White’s played well and it’s hard to fault him, but he plays a move which turns a win into a draw (according to computer analysis).


[45.Ra6 would have done nicely, according to computer chess engines analyzing with the aid of the Nalimov endgame tablebases. 45…Bb3 46.Kg5 Bc2 47.Rc6 Bb3 48.Kxf5 a3 49.Ke5 a2 50.Rc7+ Kf8 51.Ra7 Bf7 52.Kf6 Bd5 53.f5 Kg8 54.Rg7+ Kf8 55.Rg1 Be4 56.Rc1 Bc2 and on and on. Can either side win in a protracted endgame? According to both Fritz and Rybka, aided by the Nalimov tablebases, this should be a win for White with perfect play (e.g. as long as he keeps his Rook). As a practical matter (that is, in a game between human players) I have my doubts; I believe it to be more likely that a misstep would create a draw.]

45…Kd7 46.Ra6 Bb3 47.Kf2 Kc7 48.Ke1 Kb7 49.Rh6 Kc7 50.Kd2 a3 51.Kc3 a2 52.Kb2 Kd7 53.Ra6 Bc4 54.Ra5 Be6 55.Ra7+ Kc6 56.Ra6+ Kd7 57.Kc3 Kc7 58.Kd4 Kb7 59.Ra3 Kb6 60.Ke5 Bc4 61.Kxf5 Kc5 62.Kg6 Kb4 63.Rxa2 Bxa2 ½–½

White can’t promote the pawn with his Rook off the board. Black can sacrifice his Bishop for the pawn on either f5 or f7 and claim the draw.

It’s worth mentioning again that I’m not convinced that White could have won that game with different play. A computer can often see to the heart of the matter and find the shortest path, but a human player could easily err; I’m not referring to a tragic blunder here, either — just a minor mishap that might turn the game into a draw under the fifty-move rule. It’s worth a look for those players who have the complete set of six-man tablebases in their hard drives.

Shirov is scheduled to play Nakamura today, but no results have been posted yet as I type this post.

Interested in researching endgames? Want to make your favorite chessplaying program play them perfectly? The Nalimov tablebase set (a.k.a. the Fritz Endgame Turbo) is an invaluable resource — available now from ChessCentral, the leader in cutting-edge chess.

Have fun! — Steve

Introducing the ChessBase Opening Encyclopedia

Chess columnist and ChessBase software guru Steve Lopez describes the features and benefits of having a full-featured electronic opening library in your chess software arsenal – the ChessBase Opening Encyclopedia.

Chessplayers love to study the chess openings. The object of the opening is simply to reach a playable middlegame, but we’re always worrying about whether or not we played an opening “properly”. At chess’ top levels proper opening play can be a matter of figurative life or death; a misstep in the game’s opening can lead to disaster. At the club level the opening isn’t quite as crucial, but playing the opening well can provide a player with an early advantage.

This is why the ChessBase Opening Encyclopedia will be of vital interest to both amateurs and professionals. Updated annually, the ChessBase Opening Encyclopedia is a repository of current opening theory with the added attraction of being presented in the electronic (rather than paper) medium, making it fully searchable by users of the ChessBase database program and the Fritz “family” of playing programs (Fritz, Rybka, Hiarcs, Shredder).

Find out more at ChessCentral – the leader in cutting-edge chess.


Chess improvement seminar tonight!

Don’t you sometimes wonder if you’re getting the most out of your chess software? Ever get frustrated because you can’t figure out how to do the one thing you wanted to do with it?

Then join us this Wednesday night (October 27, at 9:00 p.m. EST) with Mike Leahy, the “Database Man”, for our free webinar on Chess Opening Wizard. Mike will show you how to use your copy of Chess Openings Wizard to get better at openings fast.

And you can ask him questions – live. He’ll answer your questions and show you step by step how to do what you want to do right in the software, live, while you ask the questions.

Click this secure link to sign up for the 9:00 p.m. New York time Wednesday class:


The class is free. Chess Openings Wizard is the best tool on the planet for studying chess opening theory, and this class is about helping you to get the most from this outstanding chess software.

See you there!


Using multiple chess engines to analyze your chess games

ChessBase offers a variety of “modular” chess playing programs (called “engines”), but why would you need more than one chess engine? ChessCentral columnist Steve Lopez offers one reason (of many) in this article on the “Compare analysis” feature found in the Fritz and Rybka chess program interfaces.

The chess playing programs offered by ChessBase (Fritz, Rybka, Shredder, and Hiarcs) offer many features to help you improve your own chess play, but few are as (sadly) underutilized as the “Compare analysis” feature. This useful function allows multiple chess programs (called “chess engines”) to analyze your chess games.

You can learn more here:

Using Multiple Chess Engines to Analyze your Chess Game

Have fun! — Steve