Friday, April 15, 2016

Psychology in online bullet chess

It has been well established that one-minute bullet chess is just as skill intensive a game as slow (classical) chess.

The evidence of this is even more overwhelming than OJ's guilt as a murderer.

The proof lies in the fact that the very best players in speed chess are also the very best at time controls in which the game may last several hours, such as Magnus Carlsen's triple crown (world chess champion in slow, rapid, and blitz) and then double crown (winning both the classical and rapid and taking second place to Grischuk in the finals of the blitz), the very next year. The top one-minute online players, such as Nakamura, are all elite super grandmasters in classical chess. The only thing required is to arrange a series of games between the same two players, to even out the chance factor of a probable blunder in any single game.

 However, there are some fascinating 'tricks' of the trade which tend to be more effective, or in some cases are only possible, in an online bullet game. One such example of the latter is the judicious use of the "premove" feature, which is afforded at all decent online chess servers. This feature allows you to set up your next move to execute immediately, with no drain on your clock from the time that your opponent makes his (her) move to the time his (her) clock starts again for his (her) next move. Some servers, such as, try to mitigate the tremendous power of this wonderful feature by inducing a small drain of time, such as a quarter of a second or so, every time premove is used. But this is certainly much less than the amount of time that would have been expended if even the fastest hands were to make the move manually. There are many situations where premove is obvious and with no potential consequence, such as when your premove will result in the forced recapture of a piece, or when your premove involves recapturing a piece that you expect your opponent to capture. That way, if your opponent doesn't capture the piece in question, your premove is benignly cancelled and you need not fear a blunder being made. The real skill in using premove occurs when the situation is more ambivalent, such as when the move being premoved is likely to make sense, but could end up being a terrible blunder if your opponent does something you didn't expect. I have dubbed this phenomena the premove error. An obvious example of this would be when you want to shoot out a bishop say to 'b4' or 'g5' to pin the enemy knight, but all of the sudden you find out that your opponent has played the prophylactic 'a6' or 'h6', and now you are staring at a board in which you are about to drop a wholesale piece!

 But there are many situations in which a premove error is much less obvious, such as when you have captured material and have premoved something in full confidence after your opponent's recapture, but there exists a subtle intermezzo that you have overlooked which now turns your premove into a blunder!. There is also the practice of trying to induce a premove error, such as when your opponent senses that, in order to obtain a time advantage, you have been premoving all of your standard opening moves with confidence that these "generic" opening moves are good against any standard reply, such as creating a "London System" type setup. But at some point there might exist a vulnerability, such as an unprotected bishop when you have just played 'g3' with the idea of fianchettoing (would you believe the blogger spellcheck wanted to change this word to ghettoizing?) your bishop to 'g2'. So now your opponent, who suspects you will probably premove the natural-looking Bf1-g2, bangs out Bh3, which is hanging but you didn't take it because your move was premoved. Now he (she) will win at least a bishop and maybe a whole rook (or both), depending on whether or not your knight is still on 'g1'! This is why I liken using premove in situations where there is some risk involved to stealing bases in baseball.

In baseball, you can only stray away from the base so far before the pitcher gets the idea of whipping the ball back to the current baseman to nail you out. Similarly, in chess, an astute opponent will start to get the idea that you're getting a bit too greedy with all the premoving you're doing and will throw in the occasional hanging-zinger (another technical term I coined to describe one of the many premove countermeasures) to keep you honest. You premoved with confidence because you knew that your opponent had no "good" move to make your premove bad, but you didn't take into account the hanging-zinger, which is a blunder if you didn't premove, but a double-exclam if you did.

These are the kinds of mistakes normally made only by amateurs. A strong player will very rarely make a premove which could transform into a premove error, unless they (or their opponent, or both) are in draconian time-trouble and now don't mind throwing away pieces to give check, or even better, placing a piece beside the enemy king to "zug" it in the directions that the piece controls, so as to invalidate the opponent's probable premoves as he was likely expecting you to give check. It is difficult to quickly (meaning fraction of a second) assess that an enemy piece, especially a heavy piece, next to your king is hanging, as psychologically you are expecting it to be protected by another piece as would usually be the case in a normal game. So even if you didn't premove, you are forced to reckon with the fact that there is an enemy piece threatening to molest your monarch and this will likely distract you from your other plans and cost you time on the clock. This is one of the "higher-level" premove countermeasure techniques that I use myself, although to be honest it comes up quite rarely. Perhaps less than five percent of the time. In the vast majority of the games it's straightforward and safe use of premove that is all that is required. One or two servers even offered a feature dubbed "aggressive-premove" in which you could set up a series of premoves to all execute (assuming still legal in the resulting positions) immediately after each of your opponent's moves. This is useful, but not easy to calculate, in situations where a series of moves are forced.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Exploring the French McCutcheon: Janowski Variation

This relatively rare line of the McCutcheon arises after the moves 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Bg5 Bb4 5.e5 h6 6.Be3

According to MegaDatabase 2014 (updated to August 2014), it scored 61.3% based on 843 games, compared to the main line 6.Bd2, which weighted in at 52.6% based on 4826 games. The Silicon Genius (Houdini 4 pro 64 bit - 8 cores with 32GB ram and 8GB allotted to the hash tables) dislikes this variation, all the way up to 30 ply, probably because in most lines White gives up a pawn for active play. While Houdini may have complete confidence in it's ability to navigate through the murky waters whilst maintaining material supremacy, it is very difficult for a human to do so.

After 6...Ne4 7.Qg4 g6 (slightly more popular and scores about the same as the alternative 7...Kf8) 8.a3 Bxc3+ 9.bxc3 Nxc3 (SG gives -0.55@28ply) 10.Bd3, Nakamura played 10...b6!?


Black's idea is to try to exchange of his light-squared bishop for White's counterpart, thereby reducing the direct attack against his king. After 11.h4 Ba6 12.h5 g5 13.f4 gxf4 14.Bxf4 (SG prefers the intermezzo 14.Qg7, and after 14...Kd7 (14..Rf8?? 15.Bxf4 and soon the h6 pawn will be collected with an unstoppable attack!) 15.Qxf7+ Qe7 16.Qxe7+ Kxe7 17.Bxf4=) Kd7! (it takes Houdini awhile to appreciate this) 15.Bd2 Ne4 16.Bxe4 dxe4 17.Qxe4 Kc8!

18.Nf3 (18.Qxa8?? Qxd4 19.Rd1 Qxe5+ 20.Kf2 Bb7 21.Qxa7 Rg8 22.Qa4 Qg3+ 23.Ke2 Qxg2+ and White is completely lost)

 analysis diagram

 18...Bb7 19.Qf4 Rh7 20.0-0-0 Qd5 21.Qg4 Kd7? (to avoid the check from the White Queen, but not in time. Instead 21...Qa2 22.Qg8+ Kd7 would transpose to the text.) 22.Qg8? (Here White missed 22.Bxh6! Rxh6?? 23.Qg7 and Black's rook is lost.) 22...Qa2! (threatening mate) 23.Bc3 Be4 (renewing the mate threat) 24.Bb2 Qc4 25.Rd2 Na6 26.Qg4 Bd5  Black maintains his central blockade, although the weak h6 pawn will be a permanent liability.

 27.Rd3 Qc6 28.Nd2 Rf8 29.Rc3 Qb7 30.Re3 b5 31.Ne4! (An interesting positional decision. The b2 bishop is passive for now, but slowly White will break down Black's central blockade and get real attacking chances.) Bxe4 32.Rxe4 c6 (with the idea of bringing the knight to d5) 33.Bc3 Qc8 34.Rf1 Rg8 35.Qh3 Nc7 36.Ref4 Rgg7 (This strange-looking defensive idea proves to be effective, since ...Nd5 and ...Qg8 will follow, creating a harmonious coordination of Black's forces.) 37.Bb4 Nd5 38.R4f2 Qg8 39.Bc5 a5 40.Qd3 a4 41.g4 Qd8 42.c4 Qg5+ 43.Rd2 bxc4 44.Qxc4 Qe3 45.Qa6 Nc7 46.Qxa4 Rxg4 47.Qc2 Rg2 48.d5 Qxd2+ 49.Qxd2 Rxd2 50.Kxd2 exd5 51.Be3 Ne6 52.Rf6 Rg7 53.Bxh6 Rg2+ 54.Ke1 Ke7 55.Rf2 Rg1+ 56.Rf1 Rg3 57.Rh1?? (The decisive mistake. Better was: 57.Bc1 Rh3 58.h6, and now the a-pawn helps create counterplay.) Rxa3 58.Bc1 Ra1 59.Kf2 Ra2+ 60.Kg3 Kf8! - + 61.h6 Kg8 62.Rf1 Ra7 63.Rd1 Rd7 64.Kg4 c5 65.Kf5 Kh7 66.Be3 d4 67.Bf2 c4 68.Ke4 c3 69.Kd3 Nc5+ 70.Kc4 c2 71.Rc1 d3 72.Be3 Ne4 73.Kb3 d2 74.Bxd2 Rxd2 75.Rxc2 Rxc2 76.Kxc2 Kxh6 0-1  Gashimov - Nakamura (Amber-Rapid 20th March-03-2011)

Friday, February 7, 2014

Expert Chess Players Are Smart. Yes, That Was Questioned

A new analysis rebuts the claim that there is no link between general intelligence and expertise in a specific arena such as chess.

Chess players: You can reclaim your intellectual superiority. It appears that you—or at least those of you who play the game well—are unusually smart after all.
Over the past couple of decades, a line of research has suggested there is little or no link between a person’s general intelligence level and their success at the classic board game. Chess bloggers have warily picked up on the disconnect between these findings and the popular perception of chess players as brainiacs.
“You are all sworn to secrecy – I mean it!” one wrote in 2007. “If word ever gets out it will be the end of one of the few perks we chess players have.”
Well, your smart-aleck status has been reinstated. A newly published analysis reports that, while the evidence isn’t absolutely conclusive, it seems clear that “chess expertise does not stand in isolation from intelligence.”

“Several studies employing psychometric tests of intelligence have revealed that expert chess players display significantly higher intelligence than controls, and that their playing strength is related to their intelligence level.”

“There are now findings that expert chess players display above-average intelligence, that their playing strength is related to their individual intelligence level, and that their performance in expertise-related tasks is also a function of intelligence,” writes University of Göttingen psychologist Roland Grabner. His study is published—where else?—in the journal Intelligence.
Thanks in large part to the research of psychologist K. Anders Ericsson, and the popularization of his findings by writer Malcolm Gladwell, conventional wisdom regarding superior ability has shifted in recent years. According to their school of thought, practice, practice, practice—10,000 hours, to be precise—really will get you to Carnegie Hall, or the World Chess Championship. Years of long-term focused attention, they argue, play a larger role than innate intelligence.
“Individual differences in general cognitive abilities such as intelligence have been frequently regarded to be entirely negligible for expert performance,” Grabner notes. But a close examination of recent research, he writes, disproves that notion.
“Several studies employing psychometric tests of intelligence have revealed that expert chess players display significantly higher intelligence than controls, and that their playing strength is related to their intelligence level,” he writes.
While there are several studies showing that playing strength in chess can be best predicted by the amount of time spent practicing, the assumption that expertise is developed “independent of any influence of cognitive potential is quite implausible,” he adds. “There is growing data suggesting that some individuals require more, and others less, deliberate practice to attain the same expert performance levels in chess.”
For the non-chess player, this research is interesting in that it informs the ongoing debate over whether expertise is essentially a matter of practice. As Gladwell, the best-selling author, recently wrote in the New Yorker: “The closer psychologists look at the careers of the gifted, the smaller the role innate talent seems to play and the bigger the role preparation seems to play. In cognitively demanding fields, there are no naturals.”
Gladwell points to chess as a good example of that purported truism. But chess blogger Arne Moll, who has some sympathy for Gladwell’s views, notes that his argument is undercut by his apparent confusion about the various levels of chess expertise and accomplishment.
He criticizes Gladwell’s use of the famous Polgar sisters (three of whom became chess masters) as proof of the preeminence of practice, noting that although they all went through the same rigorous regimen, their skill levels ultimately differed significantly.
Grabner cites those same siblings as evidence of the importance of innate intelligence. “Even a reanalysis of the famous Polgar sisters case, which is often cited as proof that only practice matters, revealed that despite the engagement in similarly intensive practice, the three sisters displayed quite different trajectories of expertise development, and attained different levels of playing strength,” he writes.
In addition, Grabner adds, “comparing experts with notices of different intelligence levels, it has been found that both expertise and intelligence impact on the performance in expertise-related tasks. These studies suggest that expert chess play does not stand in isolation from intelligence.”
So it appears that (a) expertise is the result of a combination of innate ability and hard work, and (b) chess masters have a lot going for them intellectually. Some cliches, it turns out, are true.


Saturday, December 7, 2013

Igor Ivanov (1947-2005)

'You understand, Lev', he explained. 'I have to get myself into playing condition. If I don't drink anything at all, I'll be too nervous and won't be able to play. But! if I drink too much, I'll be drunk, and that's bad too. So the dosage is important here'. With those words Igor took another gulp from the bottle, which was wrapped in brown paper. Browne played the game very vigorously, and Ivanov had to 'calm his nerves' frequently in the foyer. When his position had become hopeless, Igor was already completely sozzled and explained to Alburt in a slurred voice that he hadn't managed to take the correct dosage.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

First In Chess, Now Sudoku; 'Eugene Varshavsky' Focus Of Cheating Allegations

Any chess or sudoku players out there know a Eugene Varshavsky, who may or may not be from Lawrenceville, N.J.?
We ask because, , somebody by that name is being investigated for possible cheating at Saturday's Philadelphia Inquirer National Sudoku Championship. "Varshavsky" came in third, winning $3,000. The winner, Tammy McLeod, took home $10,000.
Too coincidentally, back in 2006 a "Eugene Varshavsky" drew officials' suspicions at the World Open chess championship in Philadelphia, as The New York Times .
In both cases, there's a fear that the person might have had some sort of electronic device through which he was getting help:
At the chess tournament, "Varshavsky" defeated a far higher-rated opponent with moves that matched those that a computer program would have suggested. Before he could be searched, he disappeared into a bathroom stall for about 10 minutes.
At this past weekend's sudoku tournament, "Varshavsky" "blazed through the second round in world-class time," the Inquirer says, but then couldn't figure out the "easy first steps in the championship puzzle." He's described in the Inquirer, by the way, only as "playing in a hooded sweatshirt."
Among those who will be leading the investigation is Weekend Edition puzzle master Will Shortz. He and other tournament officials will be looking at videos, photos and "Varshavsky"'s completed puzzles.
We've added the quotation marks around the name because it's not entirely clear the person is who he says he is — or even that it was the same person in both cases.
By the way, we contacted the only Eugene Varshavsky with a Philadelphia-area phone listing. The man who answered said he is a Eugene Varshavsky, but not the sudoku-chess mystery man. "I don't know who this guy is," he added.
So, with these clues — anybody out there able to help figure out who this is?
Update at 3:25 p.m. ET: Will Shortz just spoke by phone with All Things Considered host Robert Siegel.
Will, also well-known as crossword editor for The New York Times says that if someone did want to cheat at a sudoku tournament, they might need a small camera, a cellphone and an accomplice who's at a computer. But all that would only help during the preliminary round, which might explain why "Varshavsky" barely touched the championship puzzle:

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Choosing an Online Chess Site: is a real-time chess server based in South Africa. It features a sharp and intuitive flash-based interface with fairly smooth gameplay. Chess 960, otherwise known as Fischer Random Chess, can be played there as well. This is the only chess variant they currently offer. utilizes a unique system of levels ranging from 1 through 20 that rewards you based on how much you play, referred to as XP (short for experience, not for the Windows operating system). The more you play the higher the level you achieve and the more features and functionality you ‘unlock’. New accounts start off at level 1, but even here, you are able to chat in public chat rooms (pending email verification), play in tournaments, post games to Facebook, set rating range for seeks, copy your games as PGN, etc. At level 2 you are able to view your recent games and some basic playing stats. As your level continues to get higher, features such as Audio/Video chat in the public chat rooms, etc, also become available.
The server features a wagering system in a currency that goes by the name ‘cubits’. You are given a hundred or so cubits en prise upon creating a new account and are given more each day you log into the server and from winning cubit wagered games and winning or placing in tournaments. Cubits can be purchased as well, which is how makes their money, along with selling ‘premium’ memberships which range in price from $4.95/month - $24.95/year. Premium members are entitled to features such as in-game-analysis while spectating, preferential listings in chat rooms, custom pieces, etc.
Most of the games at involve cubit wagering in predefined amounts ranging from 10-2000 cubits per game. If you win your game, you don’t win an amount equal to your wager. takes a commission of 20%. In other words, if you are risking 20 cubits, you can only win 16. The cubits, once you have accumulated a great many of them, have questionable value. There is not much you can do with them other than pay for the privilege to stream a limited number of chess training videos via the online ‘ChessCube Cinema’ (2,500-50,000 cubits per video) or pay for background images that range in price from 1000-8000 cubits each. Cubits can also be used to pay for a premium membership. At present, no tangible goods may be purchased with the cubits and they may not be redeemed for cash.
Although the premium membership rates at are lower than most of the other fee-based chess servers, they suffer from the same issue prevalent at the free servers, which is a marked lack of strong players. I fail to see any significant value in being a premium member and for this reason expect future releases of their interface to systematically reduce functionality in the absence of paying fees.

Iron Myron DEFEATED by The Unfriendly Giant! White played Re3, but after Rh7 Jason (The Grim) Repa takes another soul

White just played Ra3-Re3, which loses to ...Rh7, or Black can simply take the knight and be a clear rook up, but White has been lost for some time. With the white rook back on a3 and the black rook on e7 back on e8, White played Nb5-c7 going for the pedestrian fork of the rooks while the white king is about to get mated, but what else is there to do?

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

A 2 min game on

Friday, June 17, 2011

Chess – Talent vs. Experience

With most competitive activities, hard work and experience tends to outweigh raw talent. Of course natural ability is always important, but in what arena do you routinely find dignified and serious adult competitors, many of whom who have dedicated their lives to practice and study in their chosen field, routinely get decimated by children, who have yet to enter puberty. In what other field is the person with the number one ranking in the world still in their teens?

World chess champion Viswanathan Anand was publicly quoted as saying "Nowadays, if you're not a grandmaster at 14, you can forget it." He was of course referring to those who intend to make a living as a chess player. Or a decent living anyway. Only in the world of competitive tournament chess can reality be so cruel.

Susan Polgar, who is a far cry from being as strong as her younger sister Judit, won the Budapest Chess Championship for girls under 11, with a 10-0 score, at the age of four!

To those who are into chess, this is a well-known bit of trivia -- but others might find it surprising to hear that Bobby Fischer became the United States chess champion at the ripe old age of 14. We're not talking junior champion here. We're talking about the overall United States chess champion ahead of numerous talented, skilled, and experienced adult Grandmasters. And this was in 1957; a time when it was a much more difficult task to do at such a young age due to the difficulty involved in obtaining critical games and analysis. This was long before chess computers or the public internet, whereby multi-million game databases could be downloaded upon a whim.

At this point many of you are probably thinking, well that's because we're talking about Bobby Fischer, a one in a billion. While this might be true, it doesn't explain away the hordes of young players who have taken the chess world by storm since then. Even at the amateur level, in most chess clubs you will find some teenager who is able to beat the majority of adult players, if not all of the adult players, and often without having spent much time studying and with limited playing experience.

The talent vs. experience debate seems to be overwhelmingly in favor of talent.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Bullet Chess – Adrenaline and Addiction

Of all forms of chess, this is the fastest and most nerve wracking. It is not for the weak or faint of heart. Entire games are played with only 1 or 2 minutes being allotted to each player. Blunders and mouse-slips are commonplace. Time forfeitures in won positions may be frequent as well. The depth of calculation is compromised and there is rarely an opportunity to double-check your plans. So why do we play it? The answer, as any bullet player can tell you, lies in the rush one gets from crushing an opponent under such draconian conditions. It also provides an opportunity to play a large number of games in a short period of time. This makes it ideal for busy people with only a few minutes to spare, but also for addicts who want to get the maximum number of games in per session.

There has been much debate as to whether or not playing bullet chess can be harmful to your slow and serious game. Chess coaches have been known to advise students to avoid it in favour of playing only active or regular tournament time control games. The argument is that the student will carry their ‘bullet-thinking’ over to their tournament games and make more mistakes. My personal opinion is that it could scarcely cause harm to play fast games of chess. After all, you are getting exercise and practice in many of the areas that are applicable in slow chess. There is no question that the faster the game, the more demanding it is of intuition and knowledge, in contrast to calculation and planning, but bullet chess also forcefully teaches you how to prioritize and manage your time in a way that slow chess cannot possibly do. There are also times when a player in a slow tournament game might get into time trouble and find themselves in a predicament where the conditions are similar to a bullet game. They might have only a few minutes to make a series of moves. In this case their bullet experience is directly beneficial and those without it are at a marked disadvantage.

Aside from the conceivable practical benefits playing bullet chess may offer, in terms of developing your ability as a chess player in general, it is just plain fun. It seems like the ideal graduation from real-time video games, where hand-eye-coordination, quick decision making, and mental agility are just as important. But in the case of chess, you are immersed into a limitless labyrinth of theory and complexity, with a global following and universal rule set. Also, with video games a bright and avid player soon achieves mastery and must move on to a new conquest. But in the world of chess, mastery is only a relative thing, and even the best players in the world are continuously learning and improving. It is highly doubtful that a human mind will even completely conquer chess.

When someone first asked me if I played it, back in 2002, I thought they were crazy. My idea of speed chess was 5 minutes per side and anything less was tantamount to a ‘mouse-race’. Now, many thousands of games later, the roles have been reversed and I find myself in the position of defending bullet chess from the criticism of others. I’ve often wagered to take 1 or 2 minutes while giving my opponent 20 or 30, just to prove my point. I have not lost such a wager yet, although, to be fair, my opponents in this type of contest, thus far, ranged from casual players to moderately above-average tournament players. Admittedly, I would not be able to make such a concession to an opponent of equal level to myself.

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