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Friday, October 24, 2008
Here's a video I found on YouTube that does a great job of illustrating knight forks. Most of it is pretty elementary, but at the end, it shows a great example of how to not just find forks, but force your opponent into a position where you can for them.
At least when playing against less experienced opponents who aren't accustomed to noticing when they're in danger of a fork, knights are great pieces to fork with because their moves and the consequences of them are harder to notice "by accident". Training yourself to look for such opportunities can pay off big time.
Here's a nice queens gambit game with analysis and lots of nice little pointers. What really struck me was how strong white's outpost position at B6 was -- with black's A and C pawns advanced, white had no fear of losing pieces on B6 to pawns, so it became very easy to support his minor pieces there with the assurance that at worst he's get even exchanges for them.
Black's king is trapped behind his wall of pawns. If white moves his rook to a8, the king has nowhere to run. In this particular case, black will postpone checkmate for one turn by moving his bishop to c8, but since the bishop won't have anyone to protect him, the rook will capture it on the next turn and the game will be over.
If black had another piece that could move to c8 or a piece that he could move to f8, he would be safe because the blocking piece would be protected from white's rook. Also, if black's knight were on the a8-h1 diagonal, he would be safe because white would not be able to move safely into the checking position at a8.
If it is black's turn, he can avoid checkmate by advancing a pawn so that he can move in behind it after the rook checks, or by moving his king to f8, allowing him to escape to e7.
Often when faced with a potential check, or when a piece other than the king is being attacked, it is more effective to defend by counter-attacking than by moving to safety. For example, if black promotes his pawn to a queen at h1, he checks white's king in the process. After white moves his king to safety, black's new queen takes white's knight, and material is even.
White can checkmate with his queen at g5 because his knight will protect his queen from being taken by black's king. This can be a very effective method of checkmating, because only one piece is needed to cover all of the squares to which the king might move.
(Ignoring options for black's pawn) black could protect himself from checkmate by moving to h6. Then, when white moved his queen to g5, he could retreat to at h7. If black had a piece other than the king protecting g5, that would also save him from this attack. (Note that moving to h4 would just postpone checkmate, because after moving to h3, the white queen would checkmate at g3).
White has two pawns, one positioned to protect the other. But black's bishop has pinned the pawn at f2. If black's queen takes the pawn at g3, white cannot use the f2 pawn to take back, because doing so would expose the king to a check from black's bishop.
If it is white's move, he can protect against this attack by moving his king from behind the f2 pawn, for example, by advancing to g2, where he could protect both pawns, or moving to f1, protecting the f2 pawn, which, freed from the pin, would protect the pawn at g3.
Why is it usually important to complete development of your chess pieces before going on the attack? For one reason, consider the following hypothetical sequence of moves:
1. e4 Nf6 2. d3 Ng4 3. Be3 Nxe3 4. fxe3
What is the single most obvious fact about the state of the board? Black has no development (other than being one empty space closer to castling), while white has a strong presence in the center. Black may have thought he was making an even trade swapping a knight for a bishop. But it's important to consider that black also gave away his first three moves in exchange for one of white's moves (or two, if you count fxe3).
This is really just a variation on the idea that you generally don't want to give away an active piece for a passive one. However, this rule is all the more important during the opening, when losing one's active pieces gives your opponent a tremendous amount of freedom to roam and control the open space on the board.
While you should be aware of opportunites to capitalize on your opponent's mistakes at any point in the game, attacking is generally best left till after you've accomplished some development and are prepared to use attacks to create material or positional advantages.
In chess tournaments, players are required to record each move that is made, but forbidden from taking notes to assist them in remembering their analysis. Outside of tournaments, the rules of the game are often relaxed somewhat--for example, players may choose not to enforce touch play, clocks may not be used, etc. So, how about note taking during online games?
Any rule that the players agree on is obviously acceptable. But who wants to be bothered with negotiations about rules before each game? Sometimes, the situation calls for the application of common sense. When playing real-time online games, especially with time controls, ethics may require not taking notes. But what about non-real-time games? In my opinion, taking notes during slow games where you often wait for days (or weeks or months in some cases!) for your opponent to make a move is reasonable. Here's my reasoning:
1) Since you have all the time you need to make your move, you could spend enough time that you'd eventually make come to the same conclusions you would have if you had notes to remind you of your prior analysis.
2) If you find a great move or sequence, but you opponent takes a few weeks to make their move, it's not reasonable to expect you to remember the intricate details of one game during the wait.
3) In correspondence chess, players may make "conditional moves" which say "if my opponent makes this move, then I'll make that move". I'm not sure what the official purpose of conditional moves is, but I can think of three effects they have: first, they save the clock time of the person making the conditional move; second, they help the game move faster; and third, they ensure that you don't forget your move--like taking notes. The third may be incidental to the intended purpose, and there is a difference--when making a conditional move, you are bound by what's in your "notes". Still, the fact that it protects you from forgetting a superior move is undeniable.
My original motivation for taking notes during my slow online games was so that I could compare my analysis to ChessMaster's analysis after the game. It's always interesting to see how well the multi-move sequences that I map out squares up against ChessMaster's opinion of the best sequence of moves from a particular position. In the informal setting of slow online play, taking notes during the game also helps to keep it interesting during the sometimes long pauses.
The other day, in spite of how few chess games I've played recently, I gathered my courage and played a ranked game against ChessMaster 8000. I lost. Then I played another, accidentally choosing blitz game instead of the slower game that I prefer, and lost again. After a few losses, choosing weaker opponents each time, and knocking my rating down a ways, I got to a level where I could beat the computer fairly consistently (playing a bunch of blitz games, by the way--my blitz rating was looking pretty sad and needed a boost!), and played enough games to get my ranking a little above where it had started.
It was interesting to observe how it felt to lose to a computer player that I thought was a little beneath the rating I was capable of playing at, and how it took a little while for me to consent to playing an opponent I believed I was clearly stronger than. It felt like I was cheating to boost my ranking. But I decided that I'd hurt my ranking by playing opponents that were too strong, so in fairness, I should have the opportunity to boost my ranking by playing some weaker opponents.
The formula for calculating a game's impact on one's ranking ensures that you can't cheat by playing weak opponents--at least not much--because at some point, your rating isn't going to increase unless you play stronger players. In fact, if you play opponents that are to weak, you could drop your rating even if you win! Thinking about that made me feel better.
In the end, my rating against the computer matters to me mostly because it gives me a sense of what level of human player I'm prepared to face. When I start playing human players in ranked games, then I'll really stress over my rating! ;-)
Garry Kasparov, the world's top ranked chess player 20 years running, announced his retirement from professional chess after winning the Linares tournament in Spain. I'll let others cover his reasons for retiring and plans for the future, and instead share the role Garry played in the beginnings of my interest in Chess.
This is a photo of two ads I framed together while working at the company formerly known as Claris. The text on the picture of Garry begins, "How do you make a computer blink?" It's an IBM ad about, I believe, the rematch between Kasparov and Deep Blue. I didn't play chess at the time, but followed the results of the match with interest, and perhaps as a result, started playing occasionally with one of my coworkers. I think he beat me every time, but for the first time in my life, I began to get an inkling of real chess stategy and tactics.
The rather un-chess-like ad on the right says "A long time ago, you were told that in the future people would use computers to share information simply and effortlessly," to which I added a post-it explaining that "Now we know that the future of communications is in Post-it notes. Computers are only useful for playing games like chess." That humongous mouth yelling into Garry's ear as he concentrated on the chess board was just to funny an image for me to ignore.
Well, enough of that story. Thank you Garry for enhancing my interest in the game, and best of luck to you in your future pursuits. Don't go too far.
I was playing a game against ChessMaster 8000 today, and made a little blunder. I'd been piling up pressure on my opponent's e-pawn, and with everything ready to roll, pushed a pawn to attack it. I also had a knight and my queen attacking it, while ChessMaster had a knight and bishop protecting it. It couldn't avoid the confrontation by capturing my pawn because my queen had it pinned to it's king.
The plan was that I'd capture with my pawn, threatening ChessMaster's bishop and another knight. ChessMaster would capture with a bishop or knight, and I'd recapture with my knight. It would respond with it's remaining piece which would fall to my queen, checking it's king and preventing castling. I suppose it could have declined some of the trades, but all in all, things looked good. Then ChessMaster pushed the pawn.
Okay, I should have seen that possibility. Things wouldn't go as planned, but the position wasn't that bad. Except that then I forgot that the pawn was pinned to my opponent's king, so I thought my knight was threatened. So off went my knight to the side of the board. I came up with a plan for taking it into enemy territy, forcing a rook to slide over a space, and cause some other disruption. The bad news is that ChessMaster had other plans, and a few moves and two more little mistakes later, the game was over.
The moral of this story: don't forget what you already know. The pawn was pinned. My knight was safe. I should have brought my other knight out rather than running away.
The sad part of the story: at the beginning of the game, I'd falled victim to a trap I'd seen before and lost a rook and a pawn for nothing, but had succeeded in trapping the queen that had done the damage and capturing it in exchange for a bishop, equalizing material. I think a human opponent would have seen that coming and prevented it, but ChessMaster seemed to think I was already planning the pawn attack that later went wrong, and spent all it's time trying to prevent that.
Oh well, live and learn. My rating dropped 4 points.
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