Monday, February 15, 2016

The Strange Case of Player "Anonymous”

In 2006, a U.S.A. player obtained his ICCF ID# and began server play in both CCLA and USCF events. Here is a summary of his results:

Club    Year    Place
USCF 2009      4
USCF 2007      4
CCLA 2007      5
USCF 2006      6
USCF 2006      6

Not exactly a success story. Here is a rare game won by “Anonymous.” {LBM} stands for “last book move”; (…) means unranked by the engine. All Top3 analyses below performed by Stockfish 6 x64 engine, multi-pv=3, plydepth=25-30.

[Event "redacted"]
[Site "CCLA"]
[Date "2007"]
[Round "?"]
[White "Anonymous"]
[Black "redacted"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "C02"]

1.e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. e5 c5 4. c3 Nc6 5. Nf3 Bd7 6. Be2 Qb6 7. O-O Nge7 8. Na3 Nf5 9. Nc2 Rc8 {LBM} 10. a3 cxd4 11. cxd4 Na5 12. b4 Nc4 13. Ne3 Nfxe3 14. Bxe3 Qc7 15. Rc1 Be7 16. Nd2 b5 17. f4 O-O 18. Bf2 a5 19. Nxc4 dxc4 20. Be1 axb4 21. axb4 Bc6 22. Bf3 Bxf3 23. Qxf3 Qa7 24. Bc3 Rfd8 25. Ra1 Qb6 26. Rfd1 Rd5 27. Kh1 g6 28. g4 Qb7 29. Ra2 Ra8 30. Rxa8+ Qxa8 31. Ra1 Qb7 32. Kg1 Rd7 33. Qxb7 Rxb7 34. Kf2 Kg7 35. Ke3 Rd7 36. Ra5 Rd5 37. Ra7 Bh4 38. Ke4 h5 39. gxh5 gxh5 40. f5 Kg8 41. Ra6 1-0

Top 3 Analysis:
N=28            N=27
White           Black
T1 11 .393   T1 10 .370
T2   4 .536   T2   5 .556
T3   4 .679   T3   1 .593
…   9             … 11
S=2               S=4

Summary: clearly neither player exceeds any Top3 maximum value: T1=.700, T2=.800, T3=.900, S=5. Percentages are cumulative. T1 is chess engine's top ranked move, etc. Players must have at least one unranked move (else T3 will be 100%.)

Here is what this player told an ICCF official in early 2010: “I want a refund for this tournament entry. I did not realize the ICCF allows computer engines until this evening. That is terrible. Please send me my refund for this and section [redacted] to my [redacted] account. Once refund is completed you can delete my membership to the ICCF.” He went on to say: “Yes please rename my data as Anonymous.... I do not want any affliation with a computer engine chess organization. It really should be clearly stated on the rules page that you allow engines... its [sic] very misleading since I feel most people assume different [sic].

It took this person 5 U.S. (not ICCF) events over 4-5 years, getting trounced section after section, to figure out many of his opponents were using chess engines!? Besides the game scores, his salvo to ICCF clearly shows he was anti-engine. 

Amazingly, “Anonymous” apparently changed his mind in 2014, obtaining another ICCF ID# under his real name. He began playing exclusively in CCLA server events:

Club   Year   Place
CCLA 2015     1
CCLA 2014     2
CCLA 2014     3
CCLA 2014     4
CCLA 2014     3
CCLA 2014     1

He had also figured out something else. Apparently CCLA doesn't have any mechanism in place to enforce its no-engine rule, which warns of dire consequences, stating in part: "During a game, a player ... in the selection of moves may not receive help from any other player, chess- playing computer or any mechanical device designed to play the game of chess.  Violation of this rule will result in penalties ranging from the forfeiture of the involved games to expulsion from CCLA, depending on the severity of the violation." One may examine several years' worth of prior game results on but there is no evidence of games forfeited en masse, or notices of any player expelled for chess engine abuse, not on the club's two websites or in its official publication, Chess Correspondent magazine.

Compare Top3 percentages of his current games (below) to the 2007 game.

[Event "redacted"]
[Site "CCLA"]
[Date "2015"]
[Round "?"]
[White "Anonymous"]
[Black "redacted"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "C02"]

1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. e5 c5 4. c3 Qb6 5. Nf3 Nc6 6. Be2 cxd4 7. cxd4 Nh6 8. Nc3 Nf5 9. Na4 Qa5+ 10. Bd2 Bb4 11. Bc3 b5 12. a3 Bxc3+ 13. Nxc3 b4 14. axb4 Qxb4 15. Qa4 Bd7 16. Qxb4 Nxb4 17. O-O O-O 18. Bb5 {LBM} Bc6 19. Bxc6 Nxc6 20. Rfd1 Rfb8 21. Na4 Rb4 22. Nc5 Rxb2 23. g4 Nfe7 24. Kg2 a5 25. Ra3 Nb4 26. Rc1 Nec6 27. Rac3 h6 28. Na4 Ra2 29. Nb6 Ra7 30. Rxc6 Nxc6 31. Rxc6 a4 32. Rc8+ Kh7 33. Rd8 Kg6 34. Nd7 f6 35. Nh4+ Kg5 36. Kg3 Ra3+ 37. f3 f5 38. Nf8 fxg4 39. Nxe6+ Kh5 40. Nf4+ Kg5 41. Rf8 Rxf3+ 42. Nxf3+ gxf3 43. h4# 1-0

Top3 Analysis:
N=24             N=18
White            Black
T1 19 .792   T1 10 .556
T2   1 .833   T2   2 .667
T3   1 .875   T3   0 .667
…   3             …   6
S=12             S=5

Summary: “Anonymous” exceeds T1, T2 and String max values, and is just one move short of exceeding T3 max value. If it weren't for the forced re-capture 31.Rxc6, moves 25-43 would be one continuous string of 18 top engine moves. The probability of picking 18 of the engine's T1 moves in a row, by chance, is "astronomical." So is a string of 12 T1 moves. Black's Top3 scores are all well within the limits. Note: any engine will announce mate-in-eleven after White's 38.Nf8. The fact that Black continued to play is further evidence he wasn't consulting a chess engine.

What will occur when “Anonymous” encounters another engine user? The “draw death" of advanced chess rears its head once more:

[Event "redacted"]
[Site "CCLA"]
[Date "2015"]
[Round "?"]
[White "Anonymous"]
[Black "redacted"]
[Result "1/2-1/2"]
[ECO "E37"]

1. d4 d5 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. Qc2 Bb4 5. a3 Bxc3+ 6. Qxc3 Ne4 7. Qc2 c5 8. dxc5 Nc6 9. e3 Qa5+ 10. Bd2 Nxd2 11. Qxd2 Qxc5 12. Rc1 d4 13. b4 dxe3 14. fxe3 Qe7 15. Nf3 e5 16. Be2 Bg4 17. O-O O-O {LBM}18. h3 Rad8 19. Qc2 Bh5 20. b5 e4 21. Nh2 Bxe2 22. Qxe2 Ne5 23. Ng4 Nd3 24. Rc3 f5 25. Nf2 Qe5 26. Rb3 Nc5 27. Rbb1 b6 28. Rfd1 Qc3 29. a4 Nxa4 30. Rxd8 Rxd8 31. Rd1 Rc8 32. Rd7 Qa1+ 33. Kh2 Nc5 34. Rd5 Qf6 35. Qd1 Ne6 36. Nh1 Rxc4 37. Ng3 g6 38. Rd6 Rc5 39. Qb3 Re5 40. Rd7 f4 41. exf4 Qxf4 42. Qa3 Rg5 43. Qb3 Qe5 44. Re7 Kh8 45. Rxe6 Rxg3 46. Qa2 Qb8 47. Kg1 Qc8 48. Rc6 Qf8 49. Qxa7 Rxg2+ 50. Kxg2 Qf3+ 51. Kg1 Qg3+ 1/2-1/2

Top3 Analysis:
N=28             N=31
White            Black
T1 21 .750   T1 23 .742
T2   2 .821   T2   4 .871
T3   2 .893   T3   1 .903
…   3             …   3
S=5               S=9

Summary: “Anonymous” exceeds T1 and T2, is just a move short of exceeding T3 as well. Black exceeds T1, T2, T3 and String max values. Top3 indicates both players are engine users.

This is what happens when organizations don't actively enforce their rules. Many players, tired of engine abuse, simply quit. Others switch to illicit engine use, fighting “fire with fire” so to speak. Results are unsatisfying for organizers and players alike.

Advanced chess (use of chess engines allowed in selection of moves in live games) is practiced in all ICCF (International Correspondence Chess Federation) events. In the USA, the last two remaining cc organizations, CCLA and USCF (correspondence chess,) have rules forbidding use of chess engines. Both organizations have recently created a new event where use of chess engines is permitted. Games and tournaments cited in the above article were no-engine events.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Correspondence Chess - Reform is Long Overdue


In a previous blog post, I mentioned GM Arno Nickel's open letter concerning the excessive draw problem in correspondence chess.

GM Nickel promised to distribute a summary of responses to all who responded to his survey. Today my copy arrived. I found the results most interesting and wish to thank GM Nickel for his efforts. The survey was about his proposal to alter the scoring of drawn games. However, his conclusions about engine detection must be considered opinion not supported by facts. GM Nickel's comments are shown below in quotation marks.

"A radical measure claimed over and over again is the engine ban. It has to be distinguished from the additional offer of "engine - free play" which is supported, for example, by the BdF and by many free chess servers, namely as a kind of competition based on voluntary arrangement."

Not being able to read German, I cannot discover a relationship between Bdf and the server, but I did locate a non-engine event. Here is a game between two strong players. Top 3 analysis below is with Stockfish 6 to 30 ply depth, multi-pv=3. "Book" or database opening moves are not counted in Top 3, nor are "forced" moves (f) such as responding to checks, or moves that recover material during exchanges.

[Event "non-engine"]
[Site ""]
[Date "?"]
[Round "?"]
[White "redacted"]
[Black "redacted"]
[Result "1/2-1/2"]
[ECO "C68"]
[WhiteElo "2300+"]
[BlackElo "2400+"]

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Bxc6 dxc6 5. O-O Bg4 6. h3 h5 7. d3 Qf6
8. Nbd2 Ne7 9. Re1 Ng6 10. d4 {end of book: Chow - Ivanov, Dallas 1996,
1/2 - 1/2 in 45 moves.}

10. ...                           Nf4     T1
11. dxe5    T1              Qg6    T1
12. Nh4     T1              Bxd1   T1
13. Nxg6    (f)              Nxg6    T1
14. Rxd1    (f)              O-O-O T1
15. e6        T1             fxe6     T1
16. Re1     T1             Ne5     T1
17. Nb3     T1             Bb4     T2
18. c3        T1             Bd6     T1
19. Bg5     T1             Rd7     T1
20. Red1   T1             Rf8     T2
21. a4        T1             Rdf7   T1
22. Nd4      T1            Rxf2    T1
23. Nxe6     (f)            R8f7    T1
24. Nd8      T1            Rf8     T1
25. Ne6      T1            R8f7   T1
26. Nd8      T1            Rf8     T1
27. Ne6      T1

White has T1 14/14 = 100% agreement with the engine's top recommendations.
Black has T1 15/17 = 88% agreement with the engine's top recommendations.
So much for engine-free, gentleman's agreement chess. As GM Nickel famously quips, "black sheeps can be everywhere."

Using the Top 3 methodology described in this article, I have never found a correspondence game played  prior to 1980 (i.e., before chess micro devices, before personal computers) where T1 matching exceeded 71%. In most games, the percent was far less, even at the world championship level. That some of today's amateur cc players match engine output 80%, 90% even 100% in non-engine tournaments defies credulity.

Looks like Bdf's "voluntary arrangement" doesn't work any better than the "honor system" here in the States, where engine abuse is rampant in no-engine events.

"A strict 'ban' is more than this, as it goes for active control methods and drastic sanctions in order to guarantee a fair competition and avoid as far as possible grey areas. As control mechanism some players think of copying methods from real time on - line play. This way a player who’s moves are, for example, more than 70% the same as the first choice by engines might be considered as convicted of cheating. In my view such an approach is no more than wishful thinking as it totally ignores the differences between real time on - line play (mostly blitz and rapid chess) and correspondence chess ... Already the use of databases in correspondence chess would be a problem to find the right move, where to start with controls. While in on - line chess time usage is an important criterion for proving cheating (players spend the same time on easy moves as highly difficult moves), this aspect does not apply to correspondence chess." 

Top 3 analysis is based on frequency counts and their percentage of total moves played. It does not use "secret methods," "time" or any of the methods of on-line server admins to police cheating in fast play (blitz) chess. Active control methods are a necessary part of engine detection, but "drastic sanctions" aren't the best solution. What business can survive by driving away its customers? Organizations should simply create a separate division for advanced chess, just like they do for Chess960. New players are free to choose which type of chess they wish to play, traditional (no engine) chess or advanced (engine-assisted) chess. Separate rules, events and rating lists would be maintained. Traditional players guilty of engine abuse are permanently moved into the advanced chess group. Players may not participate in both groups; advanced chess players may never move to the traditional (no engine) group.
     As explained above, Top 3 calculations do not include "book" or database opening moves - these moves are ignored. Players in traditional no-engine chess may follow any published (publicly available) chess game played before 1980, and any published otb game played after 1980. Published correspondence chess games played after 1980 are "verboten;" copying such moves in traditional cc games is committing Top 3 suicide because they will drive up % matching.

"Besides it is completely unclear how to value a correspondence of the played move with an “engine move”, when there are many equivalent computer moves like in stages of mainly positional play. This could happen just by chance, same as in case of forced moves a correspondence with “engine moves” would have to exist as the player would otherwise just lose (a piece or more)."

As explained above, "forced" moves are not included in Top 3 calculations. It's also clear combinations to win material and mating attacks are something players can find without an engine's help. These sequences are exceptions and we don't count "forced" moves. The majority are "quiet" positions where several moves have nearly equal evaluations. In positions where the evals are very close to one another, unaided human players can't differentiate differences of a few hundredths of a pawn. Yet some players' moves match an engine's top recommendations well in excess of 70%.
      In positions where two or more moves are tied at a 0.00 eval, and the engine can't break the tie no matter how many plies are examined, it's a theoretical draw. The engine-assisted player will unerringly steer the game to a draw, even if it takes 100 or more moves. Natural players often lose such positions because they play like humans, failing to find the precise drawing line.
     Strong players can estimate a half-pawn advantage in a position (engine eval for this is 0.50). Human players cannot discern a few hundredths of a pawn. When the engine determines the top 3 moves are + 0.08, + 0.04 and +0.01, the odds are strongly against a natural player making the T1 move, especially matching such minuscule T1 evals many times in a game. Alarmists are always claiming Top 3 will wrongly convict innocent people who play "sharp" (tactical) chess, or that players could match computer output "by chance." Such critics display ignorance of Top 3 methodology and/or a total lack of understanding of mathematical probability. In contrast to natural chess play, one rarely sees combinations and mating attacks in advanced chess because engines don't ever fall into such predicaments. Contrary to "conventional wisdom", it is those non-tactical, "quiet" positions that will be most revealing of engine abuse.

"There are many other arguments, why the concept of an enforced engine ban is definitively condemned to failure, no matter how we think about usage of engines in correspondence chess. Support of engine - free play makes only sense as an additional offer and it requires that all players strive for nothing more than fun and honour, without precious prices and qualifications, as otherwise cheating would dramatically increase. As has been reported in forums even fun tournaments with engine - free play are by no means absolutely safe from cheating. Black sheeps can be everywhere."

Cannot agree engine detection is "condemned to failure" but separating traditional chess from advanced chess is a long overdue reform! The two types of chess can co-exist (just don't co-mingle) peacefully in an organization. There is no need to promote one at the expense of the other. Players are customers and organizations need to respect the wishes of all players.

GM Nickel concludes: "However, we are still waiting for long-term plans how to deal with the challenge posed by the increasing strength and domination of chess programs, and correspondence chess databases that are getting bigger and bigger. The answers given by ICCF appear to be evasive and defensive; to my mind they also fail to include the ICCF members in a discussion about the question how correspondence chess sees and presents itself. The answers to the survey show above all one thing: in view of the rising number of draws and the dominance of computer engines a huge number of ICCF members and a lot of chess fans feel the need for concrete action to keep correspondence chess attractive or, if there is no other choice, to reinvent its attraction."

Almost immediately following the ChessBase open letter, survey analysis and conclusions, ICCF rushed to post an interview with Ron Langeveld, ICCF's 26th World Champion.

In this interview, GM Langeveld offers some opinions supportive of ICCF's status quo regarding advanced chess rules. He states: "A high draw ratio in itself is not a problem. It’s not that game replay would suffer due to an increased draw ratio." Not sure typical players and fans agree with that. Playing through 75-100 (and more) move games that end in draw after draw after draw is pretty boring stuff. Gone are the brilliant combinations and slashing attacks of yesterday. GM Langeveld calls any player in disagreement "mediocre." The overwhelming majority of chess players are not super GM's and it is their entry fees that sustain an organization. It is incongruent for GM Langeveld to belittle average players and then conclude his interview with a wish for lower entry fees. 

Friday, July 24, 2015

Another "Fix" for Advanced Chess ?

Last month ICCF GM Arno Nickel published an open letter on the popular Chessbase web site, lamenting the "draw death of correspondence chess" and proposing a new scoring system for certain types of drawn games. You may read the complete article and commentary at .

The thread running through many responses has nothing to do with the proposal, but rather the question of whether use of chess engines (in the selection of moves in live games) should be permitted at all. The editorial remarks preceding the article are telling: "For some the growing use of computers is a modern day curse ... the main problem is the resulting increase of draws."

The real problem is a growing dissatisfaction (with engine-assisted correspondence chess) leading to world-wide decline in participation. Closely related is the problem of multiple tie scores in tournaments and how to declare winners in an equitable fashion. The traditional Sonneborn-Berger tie-break method (SB points) is liable to fail as more and more competitors finish in a dead heat. ICCF has already prioritized the Bamberger Rule ahead of S-B; Bamberger counts number of actual wins instead of total scores (wins plus draws.) However, as chess engines (and the processors they run on *) continue to improve, the draw rate will exceed the current 90 % and the number of wins from actual play will decrease. Bamberger may be deciding event winners on the basis of sporadic time forfeits. In the 28th WC Finals, GM Nikolai Papenin (highest-rated player at start of the event) finished in last place with an unprecedented six losses. Due to the war situation in his native Crimea, he wrote he had "no time for chess." Had he been playing under normal circumstances, scoring six more draws instead of losses (one of these by time forfeit),  ICCF's 28th World Championship would be at 94 % draws.


Commenting in the above-mentioned article, ICCF GM Tansel Turget stated: "Until recently, human could add 200-300 points to the strength of the chess engine, but this additional human input is decreasing with the improvement of chess engines (against a computer with no human input, I think we (human+computer) can still score 70-80%). If my theory is correct (may not be), then there is still a lot of human influence in cc, which is very encouraging. We may not be able to effect the result of a game every game, but we still have enough influence to change the result in a significant number of games."

One ICCF official opined: "The reason ICCF allows them is that there is not a good way to enforce a no computers rule." So much for centaur chess being the highest art form; it exists by default, not design. The inevitable march of the machines toward 100% draws doesn't leave much room for "significant" human contribution. ICCF's band-aid approach (Bamberger Rule, Nalimov adjudications, Nickels' proposal etc) will not rescue Advanced Chess from the draw death. What is needed is for ICCF to acknowledge Advanced Chess was a mistake and to return to traditional cc, following FIDE's lead in implementing Dr. Ken Regan's (or similar) statistical engine detection system.

Postscript. In the world of traditional (no-engine) correspondence chess, "engine abuse" is a huge concern, but the problem is largely of the organizations' own making. Unethical players utilize chess computers in events where they are expressly forbidden by the rules. Such shenanigans have gone on for thirty-five years, ever since 1980 and the introduction of stand-alone micro devices followed by software (engines) for the exploding pc market. Sadly, these "no engine" groups have inconsistent rules enforcement or, more likely, make absolutely no effort to detect "engine abusers." Draws are not the problem here, it's "wins" by players rated 500 or more ELO points below their opponents, or "wins" where moves by the victor match engine output at a rate approaching 100%. Chess ratings, titles and prizes have become meaningless in these venues. Declining membership in traditional cc organizations is the elephant in the room.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

It's All About the Ply Depth

In recent posts, we have revealed some truths about so-called "Advanced Chess" (computer-assisted play) as well as advice for players who are new to this venue; see links below.

In his syndicated column, GM Lubomir Kavalek annotated  Ivanchuk-So, Wijk aan Zee 2015, a game featuring a recent TN (Theoretical Novelty) in the Ruy Lopez credited to a chess engine. Kavalek writes:

"It seems So surprised Ivanchuk with a knight sacrifice in the delayed Marshall Attack in the Spanish opening. The Ukrainian just followed Aronian's analysis from his Candidates game against Anand. But it became clear that Aronian's analytical team unplugged the computer too soon, leaving the piece sacrifice undiscovered. Suddenly, there it was on the board, the work of a number-crunching monster, too foreign to a human mind. And Wesley So knew about it."

From What is Advanced Chess ? "There is nothing revolutionary about opening preparation helping to win chess games - chess masters have been unleashing opening surprises on their opponents for 500 years. What is revolutionary is the ability of chess software to find TN's so deeply hidden that an unassisted human player could never discern them".

[Event "77th Tata Steel GpA"]
[Site "Wijk aan Zee NLD"]
[Date "2015.01.18"]
[Round "8.3"]
[White "Ivanchuk, Vassily"]
[Black "So, Wesley"]
[Result "0-1"]
[WhiteElo "2715"]
[BlackElo "2762"]
[ECO "C88"]

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0-0 Be7 6.Re1 b5 7.Bb3 0-0 8.h3 Bb7 9.d3 d5 10.exd5 Nxd5 11.Nbd2 Qd7!?

"Levon Aronian's novelty, connecting the rooks and planning to bring the queen rook into play ... it looks like Aronian's analytical team didn't let the computer work long enough to find the little combination" (Kavalek).

This refers to Anand-Aronian, WC Candidates 2014, which continued 12.Nxe5 Nxe5 13.Rxe5 Nf6? 14.Re1 Rae8 15.Nf3 Bd6 16.Be3 Re7 17.d4 Rfe8 18.c3 h6 19.Ne5 Bxe5 20.dxe5 Rxe5 21.Qxd7 Nxd7 22.Red1 Nf6 23.c4 c6 24.Rac1 R5e7 25.a4 bxc4 26.Bxc4 Nd5 27.Bc5 Re4 28.f3 R4e5 29.Kf2 Bc8 30.Bf1 R5e6 31.Rd3 Nf4 32.Rb3 Rd8 33.Be3 Nd5 34.Bd2 Nf6 35.Ba5 Rde8 36.Rb6 Re5 37.Bc3 Nd5 38.Bxe5 Nxb6 39.Bd4 Nxa4 40.Rxc6 Rd8 41.Rc4 Bd7 42.b3 Bb5 43.Rb4 Nb2 44.Bxb5 axb5 45.Ke3 Re8+ 46.Kd2 Rd8 47.Kc3 1-0 

Note: Komodo 8 and Houdini 4 engines don't find 11... Qd7 at 30 ply. Stockfish 5 is all over it at 38 ply, finding not only 11... Qd7 but also the sacrifical sequence 13... Nf4 and 14... Nxg2:

[Komodo 8 64-bit: Depth: 30 00:19:03  5355MN] 11... Nf4 12.Ne4 Na5 13.Bxf4 exf4 14.d4 Nxb3 15.axb3 f5 16.Nc5 Bxc5 17.dxc5 Qf6 18.Qe2 Qg6 19.Qe6+ Qxe6 20.Rxe6 Bxf3 21.gxf3 a5 22.Re5 a4 23.c6 axb3 24.Rxa8 Rxa8 25.cxb3 Ra6 26.Rxb5 Rxc6 27.Rxf5 Rg6+ 28.Kf1 Rb6 29.Rxf4 Rxb3 30.Rc4 Rxf3 31.Kg2 Rf7 32.Kg3 g6 33.Rc6 Kg7 34.f4 Rd7 35.Kg4 h5+ 36.Kg5 Rd5+ = (0.10)

[Houdini 4 x64B: Depth: 31/74 00:26:40  12588MN] 11... Nf4 12.Ne4 Na5 13.Bxf4 Nxb3 14.axb3 exf4 15.d4 f5 16.Ned2 Re8 17.c3 Qd5 18.Re5 Qf7 19.Qc2 Bd6 20.Rxf5 Qg6 21.Nh4 Qh6 22.Nhf3 Qg6 23.Nh4 = (0.00)  

[Stockfish 5 x64 Depth 38/56 00:42:40  12693MN]    11... Qd7 12.Nxe5 Nxe5 13.Rxe5 Nf4 14.Nf3 Nxg2 15.Kxg2 a5 16.c3 Ra6 17.d4 Rg6+ 18.Kh2 Bd6 19.Nh4 a4 20.Nxg6 hxg6 21.Qg4 Qxg4 22.hxg4 axb3 23.f4 Bxe5 24.fxe5 Ra8 25.a3 f6 26.Bf4 g5 27.Be3 Kf7 28.Kg3 Kg6 29.Re1 Re8 30.Bd2 Bd5 31.Rf1 = (0.05)

In Advanced Chess - Some Hints to Get Started  readers were admonished that "Advanced chess isn't speed chess. Never get in a hurry ... let the chess engine do its job!"  This advice also applies to home analysis; it  turns out Grandmasters and "teams of analysts" are not immune from basic computer analysis mistakes. 13... Nf6? demonstrates GM Aronian had not discerned the deep sacrificial possibilities (... Nf4 and ...Nxg2). If he had that analysis hidden away, was not a game against the previous world champion, in the candidates' tournament for the world's championship, the place to use it?
12.Nxe5 Nxe5 13.Rxe5

Position after 13. Rxe5

13 ... Nf4!

"This knight leap is more in the spirit of the Marshall gambit and leads to a piece sacrifice" (Kavalek).

[Stockfish 5 x64] 36:-0.37] 13...Nf4 14.Nf3 Nxg2 15.Kxg2 a5 16.c3 Ra6 17.d4 Rg6+ 18.Kh2 a4 19.Bc2 Bd6 20.Bf4 Rf6 21.Bxh7+ Kxh7 22.Qd3+ Kg8 -+.

14.Nf3 Nxg2!

"The Dutch grandmaster Anish Giri pointed out this sacrifice in the third issue of  New In Chess  last year. It was picked up by a few players, but the credit goes to computers.

"Komodo 8 suggests a different piece sacrifice: 14... Nxh3+ 15.gxh3 Bf6 16.Rh5 g6 with roughly equal chances" (Kavalek).

The rest of the Ivanchuk-So game: 15. Kxg2 a5 16. Rxe7 Qxe7 17. c3 Ra6 18. d4 Rf6 19. d5 a4 20. Bc2 Rd8 21. Qe1 Qd7 22. Ng5 h6 23. Ne4 Rg6+ 24. Kh2 f5 25. Ng3 Qxd5 26. Qg1 Qf3 0-1

Interested readers may also want to examine: Guliyev-Gustafsson, Baden-Baden 2014, 1/2-1/2 in 37 moves, and Jolly-Gozzoli, Erts 2014, 0-1 in 33 moves.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

What is Advanced Chess ?

          Unless  you’ve been living in a mountain cave or on a remote island for the last twenty years, you already know advanced chess allows players to use chess engines to assist them in selecting moves in live games. Those who promote advanced chess apparently feel the need to justify it, even going so far as to claim advanced chess titles and ratings are comparable to titles and ratings awarded prior to 1980 (i.e., before computers). They shroud “centaur” chess in mystique, with solemn pronouncements such as those given below. Some of these assertions are true, others specious; all should be viewed in proper perspective.

            “Advanced chess is a new art form, creating the highest level

            of chess play possible.”

           In a recent article in CCLA’s Chess Correspondent magazine (Vol. 87, No. 1, Jan-Mar 2014 issue), IM Wolff Morrow discussed several high-level games and his approach to correspondence chess play. Analyzing his own game vs. David White, he properly credits the Kruger-Svacek game (ICCF WC31/ct06) for the “hot new refutation of 18.Bb3” in the Sicilian Sveshnikov line, giving Svacek’s 18… f4 an “!” with no explanation. Now 18… f4 is one of those “surprise” moves that doesn’t become top recommended move until many, many plies have been exhausted by an engine. For example, my older Stockfish 64-bit engine has reached 35 ply but still doesn’t rank 18… f4 as best move:

35 [+0.34]  18.... Be5 19.f4 Nxf4 20.g3 Bxc3 21.bxc3 Qb6+ 22.Kh1 e3 23.Qd4 Qxd4 24.cxd4 Ne2 25.Bc4 Nxd4 26.Bd3 Rfe8 27.Rae1 Rab8 28.Rf4 Nb5 29.Kg2 Kg7 30.Rxf5 h6 31.Rf3 Nc3.

Downloading and running the new Stockfish 5, I was “close but no cigar” – my system bogged down at 38 ply, still showing advantage white:

38 [+0.17]  18.... Qf6 19.f3 Qd4+ 20.Qxd4 Bxd4+ 21.Kh1 Bxc3 22.bxc3 a5 23.a4 Kg7
24.c4 Rae8 25.c5 dxc5 26.Bc4 e3 27.d6 f4 28.g3 Rd8 29.Rad1 Rfe8 30.Rfe1 Ne5 31.Be2.

These analyses took about four hours each on my x64, dual core machine with 3 GB ram, admittedly not a state-of-the-art computer. A colleague who ran the analysis on an i7 processor (4 cores) with 8 GB ram had better success, finding the elusive 18… f4 (and a tiny edge for black) with Stockfish 5 x64 at 39 ply:

39 [-0.10]  18...f4 19.Nxe4 f5 20.Nc3 f3 21.g3 f4 22.Kh1 Qd7 23.Rg1 fxg3 24.Rxg3 Be5 25.Qg5 Bxg3 26.Qxg3 Rf4 27.Re1 Rg4 28.Qxf3 Rf8 29.Qe3 Nf4 30.Ne4 Rg7 31.c3.

18 … f4 is an example of “bread crumbs”, clever use of “if” moves to lead an unwary opponent into disaster. In the old (pre-1980) days, postal players who sent losing “if” moves were roundly condemned. In advanced chess, this practice now means “guiding (the opponent’s) engine.” Once a player determines his opponent is only analyzing to a certain ply depth, he uses his machine’s superior capabilities to analyze deeper, looking for “surprise” moves beyond the horizon of his opponent’s system. When he finds such a move, he can offer his opponent “if” moves, ostensibly saving time on “obvious” replies. This technique is possible because the “if” move offered will be a top selection on the opponent’s inferior computer. Even if the player checks it out, his engine will conclude it’s the best move, so why not accept it? In Kruger-Svacek, after 16… 0-0, Black likely sent the sequence “if 17. Qd2 Ng6”.  White accepts this and plays his engine’s top move, 18. Bb3, expecting 18… Be5 with a slight edge for himself, as shown above at 35 ply. Instead, he received the surprise move 18… f4! Often the evaluations won’t change dramatically after such a move, but sooner or later the player’s engine will start reporting bad numbers and his game is inexplicably lost.

           ICCF players have been known to enter lengthy “if” move sequences into the server, hoping to lead an unwary opponent into one of those “surprise” (aka “trap”) positions. Small wonder players lobbied for an “if” move feature to be added to the ICCF server a few years ago. The uninitiated wondered why a game (whose moves were already transmitted at lightning speed) needed a “speed up” with “if” move capability. To borrow a phrase from the late, great Paul Harvey, now you know “the rest of the story.”

When reading about a move like 18… f4, wouldn’t it be nice to know how deeply the position was analyzed, which version of a chess engine was used and on what hardware it was run? No player will ever reveal such details! Advanced chess players are careful not to shoot themselves in the foot, tipping-off future opponents with such damaging disclosures.

Is there any sport, or art form for that matter, where the competitors’ equipment isn’t subject to rules and regulations, open to inspection by officials? Think “corked” baseball bats, chemicals on boxing gloves, fines for miniscule engine violations in NASCAR, illegal use of copyrighted photographs as the basis for paintings – the list goes on and on. Sports team owners are reined in by salary caps, preventing multi-millionaires from amassing super athletes into unbeatable teams. Competitors and fans alike expect a level playing field.

There’s no way to level the playing field in advanced chess as currently practiced, because everything is done in secret. It is debatable whether systematic if-move trickery constitutes a “new art form”. Not long ago, a bitter rival stated the world correspondence championship had been won by a Dutch millionaire with a “basement full of processors.” Advanced chess is all about ply depth, and that equates to being wealthy enough to afford some very expensive hardware. Advanced chess is a game for the affluent, not the masses.

            “It’s much more difficult to win an advanced chess game.”

            It must be, because over 90% of games in ICCF’s current world championship are draws. Historically, in traditional chess white wins about 40% of games, black wins 35% and draws are 25%. Percent of draws in this event has risen at an alarming rate since introduction of high-speed, multi-core processors and “deep” versions of chess engines a decade ago. For background and discussion of the fast-approaching draw death of advanced chess, see the blog posting:

and the statistical summary of all the ICCF world championships:

History indicates computers will get faster, software will improve and market pressure will drive prices lower.  More and more players will be able to upgrade their hardware and software. This “trickle-down” effect will spread the draw death to the rank and file. According to CCLA's Server TD, boredom is the number one reason advanced chess players quit. I wish boredom was the only problem!

           “There’s no way to detect when correspondence chess players

           are using a chess engine”

           Sadly, some engine addicts apparently believe this. Unable or unwilling to compete
in the arms race, they have turned to non-engine events where naïve opponents (and un-enforced rules) make for easy pickings. Some even have the chutzpah to annotate and publish their fraudulent wins on web pages and in print.

Per above, the statistical detection system developed by Dr. Kenneth Regan, University at Buffalo, has been accepted by FIDE to help police over-the-board events.

            Advanced chess relies on the engine’s calculation but human
            genius is required to guide the engine’s analysis.”

            It’s difficult to accept this notion when games from the ICCF world championships are analyzed and 100% of the moves match an engine’s top recommendations. For that matter, so do many games among untitled players. How can this be if players rely on their own “genius” to select moves? After a “book” opening, some of the moves played should differ from engines’ top recommendations, but they rarely do. Here’s a typical example:

[Event "26th CC World Ch Final"]

[Site "ICCF"]

[Date "2010.06.10"]

[Round "?"]

[White "Perevertkin, Vladimir Viktorovich"]

[Black "Jaulneau, Christophe"]

[Result "1-0"]

[WhiteElo "2614"]

[BlackElo "2551"]

[ECO "D43"]

1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3. Nf3 Nf6 4. Nc3 e6 5. Bg5 h6 6. Bh4 dxc4 7. e4 g5 8. Bg3 b5 9. Be2 Bb7 10. e5 Nd5 11. O-O Nd7 {end of book: 12. Nd2 Mamedyanov-Gelfand, Moscow 2008, 0-1 in 37 moves.} 12. Nxd5! cxd5 13. Ne1 Bg7 14. f4 O-O 15. fxg5 hxg5 16. Nf3 f5 17. h4 Qb6 18. Kh2 gxh4 19. Nxh4 Nb8 20. Bh5 Qd8 21. Qd2 Nc6 22. Ng6 Rf7 23. Bh4 Qa5 24. Qg5 Qc7 25. Rad1 a6 26. Nf4 Bc8 27. Qg6 Ra7 28. Bf6 Rxf6 29. exf6 Qd8 30. Rf3 Qxf6 31. Qe8+ Bf8 32. Qxc6 Bd7 33. Qb6 Ra8 34. Rg3+ Bg7 35. Qd6 Be8 36. Rf1 1-0

            Let me first congratulate the winner on 12.Nxd5!, very clearly a TN and likely to replace the two traditional “book” moves here, 12. Nd2 and 12. a4. But one must be able to run an engine to very great ply depths before it gives up on 12.Nd2 and makes 12.Nxd5 the top move. There’s nothing revolutionary about opening preparation helping to win chess games – chess masters have been unleashing opening surprises on their opponents for 500 years. What is revolutionary is the ability of chess software to find TN’s so deeply hidden that an unassisted human player could never discern them.

            After the first eleven “book” moves, Vladimir Perevertkin’s next 25 moves are all (100%) top engine moves at 30+ ply depth. Christophe Jaulneau’s next 23/24 (96%) moves are also top engine moves. The one move not even on the engine’s horizon is 25… a6.  Since Jaulneau dutifully followed his engine’s recommendations 96% of the time, are we to believe 25 … a6 is one of those “human genius” moves, an artful collaboration of man and machine? 

After this move, despite continuing to play his engine’s top selections, Black’s game goes steadily downhill and he resigns just ten moves later. The engine’s recommendation was 25… a5, (not …a6) and I submit Jaulneau’s move is not genius but a slip of the computer mouse when entering his move on the server. Once a player has sent a move, it cannot be retracted. The ICCF server gives players a last chance to avoid this, but one must notice an error to avoid clicking “send” the second (and final) time.

“When two opponents are both using engines, the better player
           will still win.”

            This would be theoretically true if both players were using identical hardware and software. If parity of equipment could be enforced, advanced chess would be restored to mano a mano competition. As discussed previously, this can’t occur in practice because players are left to their own devices (no pun intended.) There are no restrictions on, or verification of, players’ equipment. Some players extol the virtues of opening research, but their deep traps and surprise moves are only successful because of the disparity in equipment. As it stands now, when two opponents are both using engines, the player with the better computer system will win.

            “If you just play the engine’s top recommendation each move,
            you will lose every game.”

             The implication here is chess engines need guidance by “superior” human intellect. The statement is disingenuous, true only because of the disparity in equipment. At the highest levels of advanced chess, where there is equality of hardware and software, players do play the engine’s top selections nearly 100% of the time but they do not lose every game. In fact, they hardly ever lose, instead drawing over 90% of the time. For players below world championship level, following their engines’ output only gets them in trouble if opponents have better equipment. What is a top move for computer A running to 30 ply depth may well be an inferior or even losing move for computer B analyzing to 40 ply depth, or more. It doesn’t take very many faux top moves to drop a position’s evaluation below the critical range from which no engine can recover, no matter how many top moves its operator continues to play.

            The next time a break-through in computer technology occurs, more speed, more storage, a better chess engine and so forth, the ripple effect will be evident in advanced chess. One player will out-distance the pack and be hailed as the “next Bobby Fischer.” However, as more and more players acquire the new technology, results will level out again. Advanced chess is, and always will be, an “arms race”. As in the Cold War, eventually parity is reached and the “war” becomes a stalemate. Engines are not programmed to win, they’re programmed not to lose, and so the majority of games end in draws.
            Fifty years ago, chess players universally disliked Tigran Petrosian’s style (closed openings; paying more attention to his opponent’s possibilities than his own; keeping the draw in hand.)  Today’s proponents of advanced chess, many having grown up with pc’s and computer games, lack this historical perspective. They don’t realize they’re just “Petrosian clones on ‘speed’.” The coming draw death of advanced chess is an unintended consequence. What amazes me is advocates of advanced chess couldn’t see it coming.


Thursday, May 30, 2013

NAPZ Webserver Events

NAPZ Chessfriends:

It’s been two months since our NAPZ Promotional Class Webserver Events were re-introduced to the North America Pacific Zone players.    I would like to take this opportunity to pass on a special thank you to those participating in our events and to the volunteers who work behind the scene to help organize and run our tournaments. We hope to see many more new players in the months to come.

If you missed the announcement, the NAPZ offers three webserver tournaments – an Open Class tournament for those rated less than 1900, a Higher Class event for those rated 1900-2099 and a Master Class event for those rated 2100 or greater.   A full description of each tournament is located in the “New Events” section on the ICCF webserver.  Click “New Events” and scroll down to NAPZ or check the links here:
Open Class

Higher Class

Master Class

These events are open to all players from a North America Pacific Zone (Zone 3) country.  If you are receiving this note, you are in Zone 3 and eligible to play in these events.

Winners of these tournaments are given an excellent opportunity to move up the rating ladder.  A winner of an Open Class event qualifies for a Higher Class event, while a winner of a Higher Class event qualifies for a Master Class event.  If you win two Master Class events you qualify for the opportunity to play in our NAPZ Championship and a path to a WCCC (World Championship) qualification.

Since the NAPZ events were re-instated two months ago, we started over 200 new tournament games.  These include five Open Class, two Higher Class and three Master Class Promotional events.    Two prior winners - Luen-wah Luk from Hong Kong, winner of NAPZ/WS/O/03 and Barnard Helman from the USA, winner of NAPZ/WS/H/01, qualified to higher rated events.  Congratulations Gentlemen!

All our new events are still in the early phases; however, we do have a few highlights to announce:

NAPZ/WS/H/02 has just four games completed and we have two players co-leading with 1.5 points each – Mark Ellis and Richard Jenkins both from the USA.

NAPZ/WS/O/04 has 8 games completed with Phil Cook from New Zealand and Thomas Chromczak from the USA each scoring 3.5 points to-date.  The half point came from a draw in their game against each other.

NAPZ/WS/O/05 – has 10 completed games and Fred Jarmuz from the USA is off to a fantastic start.  Mr. Jamurz leads the event with a 5-0 score!

As soon as each event ends, I will send a reminder note to the winners regarding your qualification for the next rated class event.  I will also make sure the DE Office and your National Federation are aware of your qualification so you may apply for a higher rated event whenever you are ready.

Entry for these events can be made through Direct Entry or through your National Federation.  We’ll send out periodic reminders about these events, but in the meantime please don’t hesitate to sign up and talk up the North America Pacific Zone with your chess friends.  Our tournaments are at 10 moves in 40 days and six new games can be a comfortable number of games to take on, especially in the opening when moves tend to arrive very quickly.

My best regards,

Dr. Glen Shields


P.S.  Please feel free to contact me ( gshields2003 at hotmail dot com ) if you have a question about our tournaments, need assistance signing up for an event, or if you feel you have been waiting too long for an event to start.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

An Asterisk for Chess Engine Users?

It is interesting that your comments in the recent blog fit with the thoughts I had a few days ago. One of my friends was lamenting that he lost a game because of a blunder. I stated that even the best players will occasionally lose games because of blunders, and sent him the following position and analysis.

GM Ivanchuk, Vassily (2758) - GM Sandipan, Chanda (2590)
Vladimir Petrov Memorial, Jurmala LAT (14.1), 2013.02.17

1. c4 c6 2. e4 d5 3. exd5 cxd5 4. d4 Nf6 5. Nc3 Nc6 6. Bf4 g6 7. c5 Bg7 8. Bb5 O-O 9. Nge2 Ne4
10. O-O Nxc3 11. bxc3 Na5 12. Qa4 f6 13. Rad1 e5 14. dxe5 fxe5 15. Be3 Be6 16. f4 Qc7 17. fxe5 Bxe5 18. Nf4 Bxf4 19. Rxf4 a6 20. Be2 Nc4 21. Rxf8+ Rxf8 22. Bxc4 dxc4 23. Rd6 Qf7 24. Qd1
Bg4 25. Qe1 Bd7 26. Bd4 Bc6 27. h4 Re8 28. Qg3 Qf5 29. Rf6 Qe4 30. Kh2 Qd5 31. Rxg6+ Kf7

Position after 31. ...  Kf7

32. Qc7+??  ...

If Ivanchuk would have had Rybka at his side, he would have won the game with 32. Rf6+ Ke7 33. Qg7+ Kd8 34. Rd6+ , instead of  32. Qc7+??  However, Black would have also have played better chess with an engine at his side. Alexander Pope stated, “To err is human; to forgive, divine.”  Without human error, chess would be a very boring game.

32. ... Kxg6 33. Qg7+ Kf5 34. Qf6+ Kg4 35. Qg7+ Kf4 36. Qh6+ Ke4 37. Qe3+ Kf5 38. Qh3+ Kg6 39. Qg4+ Kf7 0-1

Chess engines may end the beautiful game of chess through boredom. They may also end chess if it becomes a fraudulent game. It seems like everyday, the media is telling us about some form of fraudulent behavior  (e.g., the use of performance-enhancing drugs in baseball and cycling, plagiarism in college, Ponzi schemes). With a decent chess engine, a 1300 player can pose as a 2400 player. In my opinion, this is clearly another form of fraudulent behavior. If you studied and played chess for several years and reached the 1900 level, would you want to lose to 1300 player using a chess engine?
Nowadays, it seems like it is becoming harder to find and appreciate actual accomplishments by people. What is real? The argument for the use of chess engines seems to be that we cannot stop people from using them so we might as well make them legal. I recall when Roger Maris broke the home run record. Baseball gave him an asterisk because he did it with more games in the season.  Maybe we can place asterisks by the names of chess players who use chess engines.

John Adams
Guest Columnist

(Note: Mr. Adams won the prestigious U.S. Grand National Chess Championship in 1974, an era when chess engines did not exist.  - Webmaster.)