Tuesday, March 31, 2009

HOWTO: Play Chess Online

The most efficient way to improve your chess is to play lots of games.
The online chess community makes it easy to find opponents of any skill level. This is the reason why the number of great young chess players is much greater today; anybody can gain experience on the Internet, 24/7. In the old days, players had to travel to tournaments to gain the same experience that can now be gained in an online equivalent overnight.
So, you ask, how do I best take advantage of the online chess offerings to gain experience and improve my chess?
First, select a server that is dedicated to chess. More generic game servers that offer a multitude of board games invariably offer a worse experience and a weaker community for the chess fan.
Second, choose a server that has a decent amount of players logged in at any given time, so that you always can find an opponent that wants to play at your preferred time control.
Third, go for an intuitive interface that fits your requirements.
Fourth, depending on your preferences, you will want a server where tournaments are organized and where there is a vivid and well managed community.
The three chess servers I would shortlist are FICS, ICC and chess.com. I do not want to rank them, because they offer slightly different experiences and it is a personal choice which server will best fit you. All of them hosts a large number of players at any time, and they regularly organize leagues and tournaments for both individuals and teams. There are also organizations like Chess Matches HQ and STC Bunch that welcome players from multiple servers. Below, I give a summary of the pros and cons of each chess server.
FICS (freechess.org)
Pros: Free, Many interfaces are available.
ICC (chessclub.com)
Pros: Many strong players
Cons: Not free ($59.95/year)
chess.com
Pros: Free, strong community features, no download required
Cons: Not very strong players, bare-bones browser-based client
I play on FICS myself, mainly because it is free and I love the interface. For quick blitz games I prefer the free BabasChess client, which can be a bit intimidating at first, but is very powerful. For example, it supports move announcements and third-party plug-ins.
But I prefer to play longer games, say an hour per game and player. The problem with online chess is that you are using a computer interface, while a part of the chess experience that I love is to play on a standard wooden board with real pieces. The most common solution is to use a DGT board, a standard chess board that connects to a computer via USB (wireless connections are in the works) and allows you to play online chess. This solution is used in all major real-life tournaments to broadcast games live over the Internet. The problem is that investing in a DGT board will require tough financial negotiations with your significant other, the price tag for a standard setup is €479,00.
Isn't there a cheaper solution out there?
Yes, there is! I'd like to share with you the environment I have been using lately. It is a setup that I am very satisfied with. I use a standard full-size wooden chess board, to play my games far away from a buzzing computer fan and a glaring computer monitor. I log in to the chess server using the PocketGrandmaster software (version 4 supports both FICS and ICC) on my Pocket PC. The Pocket PC connects to the Internet via a USB cable to my silent media center that sits in the living room - but a Wi-Fi connection could work even better. When I play a game, PocketGrandmaster says my opponent's moves out loud, so that I don't need to take my eyes off the board. To submit a move, I first move the piece on the real board and then use the Pocket PC’s touch screen to submit the same move to the server. The difference from the DGT board is not huge and the only pain is that I need to make my own moves twice, while the DGT board automatically detects the moves made on the board. But, I can definitely live with this limitation, considering the price difference.
PICT0175

Game 1 in Match Against tseltzer

Yesterday, the opening game of a new 12-point chess match against tseltzer was played on FICS. I am having great hopes and expectations that it will turn out to be a close and exciting series of games. The fact that both our ratings are identical (1825) at the start of game 1 bodes well.

During my preparations as White I learned that my opponent uses a clever move order as Black against my king’s gambit to avoid the bishop’s gambit lines: 1.e4 e5 2.f4 d5 3.exd5 exf4!?. After this, White does best in transposing into the modern defense lines of the king’s gambit, which I also did in game 1. Black was not properly prepared for the line I played (4.Nf3 Nf6 5.Bc4), and after some inaccuracies I early gained a clear advantage, and delivered mate in move 21.

It will be very interesting to see how my opponent will deviate in his next game as Black.

Game 1 can be viewed here.

Monday, March 16, 2009

TeamLeague T38: My 5th Round Game

After a painful 0.5-3.5 loss in round 5, our team is no longer in contention of reaching the playoffs. One round remains, but without any real significance. I am starting to plan on finding an even-matched match opponent when the league finishes.

Below is my 5th round game. In the diagram position below, I am clearly winning, but blundered away the game on a silly mistake on move 28.

Fuzion (1740) – Jonas Martinsson (1808) [B01]
TeamLeague T38 Free Internet Chess Server (5), 15.03.2009

1.e4 d5 2.exd5 Nf6 3.Nf3 Qxd5 4.d4 Bg4 5.Be2 Nc6 6.c4 Qf5 7.h3 Bxf3 8.Bxf3 Qa5+?

[8...0-0-0=]

9.Nc3 0-0-0 10.Bxc6 bxc6 11.0-0 e5 12.Qf3?

[12.d5 cxd5 13.cxd5 Nxd5 14.b4!+/=]

12...exd4 13.Ne4 Nxe4 14.Qxe4 Qc5 15.b3N

[RR 15.b4 Qxc4-/+ 16.Bg5 f6 17.Rfc1 Qd5 18.Qg4+ Rd7 19.Bd2 Bd6 20.Rc2 f5 21.Qd1 d3 22.Rc3 Be5 23.Rc5 Qe6 24.Rac1 Qxa2 25.Rxe5 Qa6 26.Qf3 g6 27.Rxc6 Qb7 28.b5 Rd6 29.Qe3 Rhd8 Gulati,J (2122)-Lynn,J (1871)/Edmonton 2005/CBM 107 ext/1-0 (33)]

15...f5?!

[15...Bd6=/+]

16.Qd3

[16.Qe6+!? Kb7 17.Bg5 Qd6 18.Qxf5 Re8=]

16...Qe5 17.Bb2 Bd6 18.f4?

[18.g3=]

18...Qe3+ 19.Qxe3 dxe3 20.Bxg7 e2!-+ 21.Rfe1 Bc5+ 22.Kh2 Rhe8 23.Be5 Rd2 24.Kg3

game_3

24...Rg8+?

This is the wrong plan. [24...Red8 wins quickly.]

25.Kf3 h5 26.h4 Rgd8

With this move, Black gets back on the winning track.

27.g3 R8d3+ 28.Kg2 Rd1??

I simply didn't see that White's rook on a1 is defended by the bishop, and White can therefore simply eat the pawn. [28...Rc2 29.Bf6 Rd1-+ is one straightforward continuation that wins immediately.]

29.Rxe2= Rxa1?

Shaken after throwing away my winning advantage, I throw away the game.

30.Bxa1 Rd1 31.Bc3 Rd3 32.Bf6 Be3 33.Be7 Kd7 34.Bb4 c5 35.Be1 Bd4 36.Bf2 Rd1 37.Kf3 Rd3+ 38.Kg2 Rd1 39.Bxd4 cxd4 40.Kf2?!

[40.Re5+-]

40...d3

[>=40...Ra1+/-]

41.Rb2 Rh1 42.Rd2 Rh2+ 43.Ke3 Rxd2 44.Kxd2 Kd6 45.Kxd3 c5 46.a3 a5 47.Kc3 Kc6 48.b4 cxb4+ 49.axb4 axb4+ 50.Kxb4 Kb6 51.c5+ Kc7 52.Kc4 Kc6 53.Kd4

1-0

Friday, March 13, 2009

TeamLeague T38: My 4th Round Game

In round 4 of TeamLeague, my game was left to be played last for my team. We were leading 2-1 before my game started, so I needed at least a draw to secure the team win.

I came out clearly worse of another declined Benko gambit, but my opponent failed to capitalize on my choice of opening, and we eventually reached an even rook endgame (the 2nd diagram below). However, that endgame was badly mistreated by yours truly…

Interesting to note is that in all four games, my opening gambits have been declined. Party-poopers!

ValenceJordan (1936) - Jonas Martinsson (1821) [A57]
Teamleague T38 (Round 4), 11.03.2009

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.d5 b5 4.Nf3 Bb7 5.e3

I was unprepared for this move. In our previous encounter ValenceJordan played 5. Nbd2

5...bxc4 6.Bxc4 e6 7.Nc3 exd5 8.Nxd5 Nxd5N

[RR 8...Nc6 9.Bd2 Be7 10.0-0 0-0 11.Bc3 Ne4 12.Qd3 Nxc3 13.bxc3 Na5 14.Bb5 Bf6 15.Rac1 d6 16.Rfd1 Be5 17.c4 Nc6 18.Rb1 Qa5 19.Bxc6 Bxc6 20.Ne7+ Kh8 21.Nxc6 Qxa2 22.Ncxe5 dxe5 23.Nxe5 Sokolova,O-Hvostova,I/Kolontaevo 1997/EXT 1999/1-0]

9.Bxd5 Qc7?

[9...Bxd5 10.Qxd5 Nc6+/=]

10.Ng5 f6

game_1

11.Ne4?

[11.Qh5+ g6 12.Qf3 Bxd5 13.Qxd5 fxg5 14.Qxa8+-; 11.Nf7 Rg8 12.Nd6+ Bxd6 13.Bxg8 Nc6 14.Bxh7+-]

11...Bxd5 12.Qxd5 Qc6 13.Qxc6 Nxc6= 14.Ke2 d5 15.Nc3 d4 16.Nb5 Rd8?!

[16...Rb8 17.Na3 (17.Nc7+?! Kf7-/+) 17...Rd8=/+]

17.Rd1?!

[17.exd4 cxd4 18.Bf4 d3+ 19.Kd2 Bb4+ 20.Kd1 d2=]

17...Kf7?!

[17...a6 18.Nc7+ Kd7 19.Nd5 (19.Nxa6? Ra8-/+) 19...Bd6 20.exd4 cxd4=/+]

18.exd4 Nxd4+ 19.Nxd4 cxd4 20.Bf4 Bd6 21.Bxd6 Rxd6 22.Rac1

game_2

22...Re8+?

[22...Ra6 is more active, and the correct way to play this rook endgame. The text move leads to a clearly better and more active position for White. 23.a3 Rb8 24.Rc2 Re6+ 25.Kd3 Rb3+ 26.Kxd4 Rd6+ 27.Kc4 Rxb2 28.Rxb2 Rxd1 29.Rb7+ Kg6 30.Rxa7 Rd2=]

23.Kd3 Re7 24.Rc4 Kg6 25.Rd2+/- Red7 26.Ke4 Re7+ 27.Kd3 Red7 28.Re2 f5 29.Re5 Kf6 30.Ra5 Rb6 31.b3 Rbd6 32.Rca4 Rc7 33.Rxd4 Rdc6 34.Rc4 Rxc4 35.bxc4 Ke6 36.Kd4 Rd7+ 37.Rd5 Rxd5+

[37...Rb7 puts up a tougher defense, but White is winning in any case. The rest is just a formality.]

38.cxd5+ Kd6 39.f4 h6 40.h4 h5 41.a3 a6 42.a4 a5 43.g3 g6 44.Kc4 Kd7 45.Kc5 Kc7 46.d6+ Kd7 47.Kd5 Kd8 48.Ke6 Ke8 49.d7+ Kd8 50.Kf6 Kxd7 51.Kxg6 Ke6 52.Kxh5 Kf6 53.Kh6 Kf7 54.Kg5 Kg7 55.Kxf5 Kh6 56.g4 Kh7 57.g5 Kh8 58.h5 Kh7 59.h6 Kh8 60.g6 Kg8 61.g7 Kh7 62.Kf6 Kg8 63.f5 Kh7 64.Kf7 Kxh6 65.g8Q Kh5 66.Qg3 Kh6 67.Qg6#

1-0