OPENING LINES

by Steve Lopez

Welcome to Error City! I'm your mayor.

Fred Maymir was the only one who wrote to me about a big error in ETN a few weeks ago. I'm surprised that I didn't get a veritable torrent of e-mail. In the issue for June 28th, I wrote:

So it doesn't matter if the game was played between two Class B players who played 1.e4 c5 2.b4 or two unrated patzers who played (for some ridiculous reason) 1.b4 c5 2.e4; the positions are the same and will be classified together in the same key...In the opening I just gave, the first opening is obviously a Sicilian Wing Gambit. The second opening is a Trompowsky (or "Orangutan") that took a left turn at Albuquerque and became a Sicilian Wing Gambit.

Now I ask you what's worse: two unrated patzers who play a weird move order or some rated patzer (myself) who refers to said move order under the wrong name? Fred pointed out that the Trompowsky is not the same as the Orangutan, and he's absolutely correct. It's a Sokolsky, not a Trompowsky.

At least I spelled Albuquerque correctly...

(By the way, just for laughs, one week I should post one of my unedited ETN text files as a download so you can see just how hideous my typing really can be. People who've had the extreme misfortune of communicating with me via real-time Internet chat can readily attest to my lack of typing skills. I had one lesson with Mavis Beacon; after forty minutes she leaped out of the nearest window. Happily a fortuitously placed awning broke her fall.)


IMPROVING YOUR PLAY WITH CHESSBASE

"CHECK YOURSELF BEFORE YOU WRECK YOURSELF"

by Steve Lopez

In recent weeks we've been talking about some advanced functions of ChessBase 7. But I haven't forgotten the novice and intermediate players who use ChessBase and Fritz; in fact, I'm your brother. I'm not a terribly accomplished player and I, too, am using ChessBase to help me improve.

My master friends agree that one of the best things you can do to improve your play is to keep a record of all your games. Write down every game you play, whether it's a tournament game, a club game, or a casual game with an old duffer on a park bench. Recording your games and reviewing them later is an ideal way to find out what you're doing right and wrong.

ChessBase and Fritz are excellent tools for keeping and managing these records. You can enter and save games quickly and easily, without the storage problems, general mess, and fire hazard caused by tons of scribbled scoresheets left lying all over your home or office.

Personal databases make up the bulk of my ChessBase input. In my ChessBase database window, I presently have icons for the following personal databases:

Some of these databases have multiple functions. My correspondence and Web games are recorded in these databases as they're played; thus the database serves double-duty as a postal recorder. My correspondence analysis database serves not just as a postal recorder but also as the repository of my analysis of the future course of the games.

I'm pretty diligent about keeping a record of my OTB and on-line games as I play them. I'll play two or three games an evening on Yahoo!'s site, have the gamescores e-mailed to me, and enter the games into the database at the end of the evening. I've been playing a lot of on-line chess recently and I'm already learning a lot about deficiencies in my play.

A quick and easy way to acquire this type of knowledge is by using "instant analysis" in ChessBase. This is a neat trick. Some people find this tip incredibly obvious, while others completely miss this one as they use the program. In my experience in talking with ChessBase users I've found that it's about a 60-40 split. If you're one of the 60% that already know this next trick, I apologize for wasting your time. If you're one of the 40% that haven't heard this one, you'll love it.

First start up ChessBase. Click on the database where you want your game to be stored when you save it and click the "fire" icon (in ChessBase 6) or the "paper and pencil" icon (in ChessBase 7) to make it your active database.

Next click the "chessboard" icon to open a new window and start entering the moves of your game. After a few moves have been entered, fire up the analysis engine of your choice (either by hitting an [ALT-Fkey] combination or clicking on the icon that starts the analysis engine). Leave the little sucker running as you enter more moves. You'll notice that the analysis starts over every time you enter a move from your game.

This is a quick, handy way to get "instant analysis" from your computer as you input your game by hand, without waiting for overnight analysis from Fritz. Keep an eye on the little light in the analysis window. When that light changes from green to red, you'll know that a tactical error has been committed. The light switches from green to red anytime the engine's analysis changes by one pawn or greater. So if a move loses at least a pawn, the light goes red and you know that somebody boo-booed.

You might initially think that this is no big deal, but you'd be amazed at what you can learn from this sort of "on the fly" tactical blunderchecking.

Here's the example that you knew was coming. Check out the following move sequence:

1.e4 e4 2.Nf3 f6 3.d4 exd4 4.Nxd4 Bc5

A nice Reinfeldesque tactical exercise. What would you play here? Most players with normal eyesight would play 5.Qh5+ followed by 6.Qxc5. Easy enough, right?

Extra credit question: guess which color I was playing? If you said "White", go to the head of the class. It'll be easier for you to mock me from the front of the classroom as I sit dejectedly in the corner, wearing my dunce cap.

Yes, friends, I was the buffoon that missed the immediate win of a minor piece in the opening. I played instead the more pedestrian 5.c3 and didn't even realize my error until the c-pawn hit the third square and Fritz' little red light went off. I backed up a move and groaned when I saw that I could have instantly won a piece instead of grinding out a 45-move draw. (Notice the little red light in the illustration below; it came on after I entered the move 5.c3).

So what did this tell me? What lessons did I learn from this? The morals of the story were twofold:

1) I had better hit the tactics books;

2) I had better start figuring out what to do when somebody plays the inferior 2...f6 (one of those aggravating moves that you know is bad, but from which you can usually derive no immediate advantage ).

I proceeded to do both. I went through a few chapters of Seirawan's Winning Chess Tactics as a refresher and played through some 2...f6 games from my reference database. Did it help me? You be the judge. Two nights after my previous debacle, I played the following game in the first round of an on-line knockout (one loss and you're out) chess tournament:

White: Lopez (nickname withheld to preserve online anonymity)
Black: i_come_in_peace

1. e4 e5 2.Nf3 f6

So I immediately start thinking about attacking the Kingside. The e8-h5 diagonal is weakened by this move, so I need to look for ways to exploit it as I continue my development.

3.d4 c6 4.Nc3 Qa5

This is just plain ugly. I could tell that my opponent was something of a novice because he moved his Queen out so soon (I sound like Ben Kingsley in Searching for Bobby Fischer). 4...Bb4 is better if one is looking to pin the c3-Knight.

5.Bd2 exd4

Breaking the center favors the side with better development. Hurrah for my side!

6.Nxd4 Qe5 7.Nf3

I really didn't want to block the d1-h5 diagonal, but the Knight must retreat someplace. I figured I'd just give his Queen a little kick for her audacity.

7...Qc7 8.Be2

I'm still thinking of that diagonal and the lovely path straight to the Black King.

8...g5

Uh-oh. Look at this!

Now my mental "little red light" went off. I knew there was a sacrifice to be made here to clear some lines for a Kingside attack. I recalled the game from two nights before and how I'd missed my chance at exploiting the weak e8-h5 diagonal. I could begin an attack here by exploiting that same diagonal. I just wasn't sure how to do it. Hmmmm...

And after about three minutes' thought, the kid finds the move!

9.Nxg5

I was torn between playing this capture and immediately checking on h5. I remembered the sequence Fritz had shown me two nights before: Qh5 followed by ...g6. The g-pawn had already advanced past g6, so I knew I'd be safe planting a piece on h5.

So why did I sac the Knight first? It's a more forcing move. I remembered that every tactics book I'd ever read says to make the violent forcing move first.

9...fxg5 10.Bxg5

This is technically wrong, for the reason I laid out in the last paragraph. It's violent but non-forcing. Black can just reply 10...Ne7 and if I play Bh5, Black's ...Ng6 holds the fort.

But Black obliges me with an error:

10...Qe5 11.Bh5 mate

Yes, I won in eleven moves. Yes, my opponent certainly helped by playing some weak moves. Yes, exploiting the opponent's weaknesses is a large ingredient in chess success. And yes, I would have missed the possibility of the Knight sac if I hadn't run some instant analysis while inputting my game from two nights before and seen for myself (with Fritz' help) the weakness of the e8-h5 diagonal after 2...f6.

Running an analysis module while entering your own games into a database using ChessBase is a great idea. You can instantly see tactical errors in your game and spot weaknesses in your play. If you can learn some lessons from this kind of tactical blunderchecking (as I did in my example) you'll be able to pocket a few extra points over the board.

That's why I titled this week's column with one of my favorite chess hustler expressions. If you don't correct your errors quickly they can grow into bad habits. You'll wreck your play permanently unless you nip these tactical bad habits in the bud. If you stop them now you'll see near-instant improvement, which should translate directly into more points on the crosstable.

Some tips for tactical "instant analysis":

1. After playing a game, input it into a database as soon as you can. Doing it within 24 hours is ideal since the game will still be fresh in your mind (this way you'll also have a decent shot at correcting scorekeeping errors on handwritten scoresheets). Run an analysis engine as you input the moves and watch for the red light to go off, alerting you to tactical errors.

2. When you run an analysis module as you input your games, use one of the Fritz engines. They excel at tactics and analyze much more quickly than the other engines (also note that Fritz4 is generally regarded as being a tad slower than verions 3 and 5). Hiarcs is much too slow for on-the-fly analysis.

3) A nine-ply analysis should be the minimum you should accept. Many times a move that looks like an immediate blunder (causing the instant red light) gets better with deeper analysis. By the same token, some moves look good at seven ply but turn into real dogs after nine half-moves. Use the red/green light as an initial warning, but wait for the analysis to go a bit deeper before making any final judgements.

4) Put all of your games into a database and check all of them with an analysis engine as you input the moves. Don't ignore your wins and draws. You can learn as many lessons from them as you can learn from your losses.

In future weeks we'll be looking at some more very basic ChessBase tips. But right now it's vacation time for Stevie -- time to hit a few chess books that have been lying around waiting for my perusal. Expect a book review or two next week. Until then -- have fun!



You can reach me by e-mail with your ideas and suggestions -- please, please, please (to quote the immortal James Brown).