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.)

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Draw Death of Chess

Jose Raul Capablanca, chess prodigy and a world champion, proposed his chess variant sometime in the 1920's. He believed chess would be exhausted in the near future, that games between masters would always end in draws. Avoiding this perceived "draw death" of chess was his motivation for promoting a new version of the game. In "Capablanca Chess", the board is 8x10 (instead of the standard 8x8) squares because each side has additional pieces, the Chancellor, the Archbishop and two additional pawns. This configuration also necessitated some minor rules changes. Most players of that era did not share his concerns; "Capablanca Chess" failed to capture the imagination of the masses.

Seventy-odd years later, America's greatest player made a similar proposal. Bobby Fischer firmly believed the chess openings had been over-analyzed to the point that games were decided by opening preparation alone, that masters were no longer free to play creatively. The prevalence of chess engines and computer databases also caught Fischer's attention as he prepared for his return match with Boris Spassky. Instead of adding new pieces, however, in 1996 he proposed (with a few rules modifications) random placement of the standard pieces behind the wall of pawns in the initial position. The effect would be to negate all opening theory to date, throwing players onto their own resources from the very first move. The suggestion was not original, as "shuffle chess" had been considered before, but with Fischer's support the idea actually caught on and what started out as "Fischer Random Chess" is now played as "Chess960", including tournaments for computers and human players. The new name, "Chess960", is allegedly based on the number of possible starting positions.

                                  The World Correspondence Chess Championships

We must preface the following by pointing out the use of computers (aka chess "engines") to assist in selection of moves is currently legal in ICCF (International Correspondence Chess Federation) events.

By the 1980's, all pretense that development of chess-playing programs would lead to advances in artifical intelligence or human problem solving had been abandoned. Prestige and profit became the driving forces as stand alone micro devices, followed by software for the exploding pc market, flooded the commercial scene. The defeat of grandmasters (HITECH defeated GM Arnold Denker in 1988; DEEP THOUGHT defeated GM Bent Larsen in 1988 and GM Robert Byrne in 1989) by computers in exhibition matches was indeed newsworthy but did not have much effect at the (ICCF) championship level. Due to their lightning-fast calculations, the programs were formidable when the human opponent was under the time constraints of tournament competition. Of more interest to top correspondence players was openings research, formerly a tedious process involving notebooks and chess libraries, now streamlined by the database capabilities of ChessBase. Avoidance of ruinous errors, by "blunder checking" with an engine before transmitting the next move, became routine.

On average, in the first 15 world correspondence chess championship events (1950-1996) white won 37%, black won 24% while 39% of the games were drawn. These percentages are in line with established norms and confirm that having the first move gives white a slight advantage. However, a noticeable change occurred during the period 1996-2007 (ICCF World Championships 16 - 23.) White's average winning percentage dropped to 27%, black's to 12% and draws increased to 61%. Significant developments took place in the technology sector, innovations that would forever change the computing landscape. Microsoft's Windows operating system became available in the 1990's. In 2000, the first windows version of Fritz was released, overcoming the general public's aversion to DOS-based chess programs. Other computer game manufacturers rushed their windows chess programs to the retail market. The popularity of windows coupled with stronger chess engines meant the end of stand-alone, micro chess devices. Windows XP was released in 2001, the 32-bit system with 4 gigabytes of memory, the professional (64-bit) version with up to 128 gigabytes memory.

Although dual core processors were commercially available in 2005, Rybka's beta version was released as a single-processor program. By 2006, quad core processores were commercially available and Microsoft had released Vista in several iterations, with up to 128 gigabytes of memory in the 64-bit version. Rybka version 2.1 was released in 2007, both single and multi-processor versions. With multi-core speed and superior performance, Rybka surpassed Fritz as the engine of choice for serious analysis. Fritz/ChessBase maintained a loyal following due to database features.

Rybka continued to dominate, releasing version 3 (32-bit and 64-bit, single and multi-core versions) in 2008, Deep Rybka for multiple processors in 2009 and Rybka 4 in 2010. Fritz likewise continued to improve, releasing version 12 (new engine, improved database) in 2009 and Deep Fritz 13 (multi-core version) in 2012. Quad core and then multi-core processors became available, starting in 2008. Microsoft released Windows 7 in 2009 and Windows 8 in 2012, both systems capable of utilizing multi-core, multi-thread processing and 192 gigabytes of memory. It is the combination of processing speed and humongous amounts of memory that allows these programs to analyze chess games (thousands of positions per second) to greater depths in lesser amounts of time. This efficiency enables correspondence players to successfully engage in multiple, simultaneous top-level games, such as preliminary and championship rounds with 15-player sections.

And what of "Fischer Random Chess" or "Chess960"? Lest anyone think this variant will avoid the draw death, Rybka plays "Chess960" very well, winning the last three (2007-2009) "Chess960" World Championship computer events. Rybka's dominance in this variant led to cancellation of what had been an annual computer championship, perhaps a portent of things to come.

In what may be the final phase, beginning in 2008 (ICCF World Championships 24-27) the average percentage of draws exceeds 80% (the most recent - the 27th Championship - has over 90% draws!) We don't yet know the average percentage of white and black wins because the ICCF tournament secretary for the 25th Championship has hidden the game scores from public viewing until the event is completed (just one game remaining.) In the other three events, the average winning percentage for white is down to 13% and for black just 4%. Another telling statistic involves the "upset" win, something that occurs when a player in the lower half of a cross table scores a victory over a player in the upper half of the event. In the first 15 championships, upset wins were on average 10% of the games. In championships 16-23, upsets dropped to 4% of the games. Since 2008, events 24-27, upsets are less than 1%. There are a small number of  games still incomplete in the last three events, not enough to alter this trend.

Interested readers can find statistics, cross tables and pgn game downloads for all the ICCF World Championships on the CCLA web site: . Information is continually updated as final games are completed in championships 25-27. The accuracy of today's engine-assisted players is such that it's becoming nearly impossible to avoid a draw result. An impartial examination of the 27 ICCF World Championships (1950 - to date) must conclude the "draw death of chess" is now a distinct possibility. The future of correspondence chess is perfect play and it's going to be perfectly boring.