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Human Chess

Human Chess

The topic of human chess is more emotional than you might think. For the most part, it is a fun, almost theatrical, presentation of the ancient game by real people dressed-up according to each chess “character.” Some see it as a mixture of chess, twister, yoga, and drama. Purists, view it as an unsavory representation of what should strictly be played in board-game form only.

Unfortunately, the topic of human chess has sparked controversy related to the Holocaust. Earlier this year, the Auschwitz Memorial issued a formal statement condemning the inclusion of “human chess” in a recent Amazon show called Hunters.

The controversy arose when Holocaust experts disagreed with the show’s assertion that Nazi’s forced Holocaust captives to play a macabre form of human chess. “Auschwitz was full of horrible pain and suffering documented in the accounts of survivors,” the Auschwitz Memorial tweeted. “Inventing a fake game of human chess . . . is not only dangerous foolishness and caricature. It also welcomes future deniers. We honor the victims by preserving factual accuracy.”

The creator of the show, David Weil, who is also the grandson of a Holocaust survivor, responded with a statement of his own:

While Hunters is a dramatic narrative
series, with largely fictional characters, it is inspired by true
events. But it is not documentary. And it was never purported to be. In
creating this series it was most important for me to consider what I
believe to be the ultimate question and challenge of telling a story
about the Holocaust: how do I do so without borrowing from a real
person’s specific life or experience?

It was for this reason that I made the
decision that all of the concentration camp prisoners (and survivors)
in the series would be given tattoos above the number 202,499. 202,499
is the highest recorded number given to a prisoner at Auschwitz. I
didn’t want one of our characters to have the number of a real victim or
a real survivor, as I did not want to misrepresent a real person or
borrow from a specific moment in an actual person’s life. That was the
responsibility that weighed on me every night and every morning for
years, while writing, producing, editing this show. It is the thing I go
to sleep thinking about and the thing I wake up working to honor.

Hopefully, this controversy will blow over so human chess can be viewed as it should be–a fun, light-hearted presentation of a classic sport. At the same time, I think the Holocaust Memorial has a point, which should be discussed. Is it okay to fictionalize any part of the Holocaust as part of a creative project (e.g. a movie)? Does it cheapen and compromise the preservation of historical facts?

Something to ponder while you play your next game of chess. . . .

Magnus Carlsen creates tourney with $250,000 prize

Magnus Carlsen creates tourney with $250,000 prize

The king of Chess is in the news again, only this time it’s not for a tournament he’s won but rather an online chess tournament he’s launched. In an effort to bring more awareness and general involvement with the game, Magnus Carlsen has created an online chess tournament which will bring $250,000 to the final champion.

“I would like to contribute to professionalising chess as a sport for the benefit of players, spectators and fans,” Carlsen told an ESPN interviewer. “The starting point is that I hope many more will discover and enjoy chess the way I do. Compared to most major sports and some Esports, chess has huge untapped potential.”

Carlsen’s full ESPN interview and information on how to participate is available at ESPN.com

The Krakow Cloth Hall and the best wooden chess sets

The Krakow Cloth Hall and the best wooden chess sets

Krakow, Poland Sells the Best Wooden Chess Set

Krakow is one of the oldest and largest cities in Poland.
If you’ve ever seen the movie “Schindler’s List” you’ve seen Krakow. It was the home of Oskar Schindler’s metal factory where he saved the lives of 1,200 Jews during the Holocaust by employing them at the factory. His story was memorialized in the book “Schindler’s Ark” later produced in 1993 as a feature film titled “Schindler’s List”. The factory building still stands today and has been repurposed as a museum honoring Mr. Schindler.

Krakow is only 66 kilometers from the Auschwitz concentration camp.

With centuries-old castles scattered throughout an otherwise modern metropolitan cityscape, Krakow perfectly blends the old with the new to create one of Europe’s best kept secrets. Furthermore, it is home to some of the best hand-carved, wooden chess sets in the world.

As a chess player and globetrotter, I have visited every populated continent and am always in search of great handcrafted chess sets to add to my collection. Usually, I am disappointed as most vendors simply cut corners and source their sets from factories in China who have discovered ways to convincingly mass produce folk arts such as hand-carved chess sets.

Krakow’s Chess Secret

The best place on planet Earth to buy a hand-carved chess set is at the Krakow Cloth Hall. It one of the most popular destinations in the city and is home to some of the best Krakow folk arts available for purchase in the country. You haven’t visited Krakow if you haven’t visited the Krakow Cloth Hall. In addition to being an excellent place to buy wooden chess sets, the building itself (sans vendors) is worth the visit. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site and was constructed during the Renaissance!

Because vendors come and go, it will not suffice to simply draft a list of suggested stops in Krakow’s Cloth Hall. Instead, I highly recommend you spend an afternoon exploring the shops and vendors in search of your treasured hand-carved Polish chess set. You will find it. Trust me.

For a modest $150-200 USD, you’ll walk away with the chess-set-find-of-a-lifetime. As such, please take care of it. Keep it away from children (I know something about this. My beloved wooden chess set from Krakow is missing one of its bishops). Also, each year, take 20 minutes and carefully polish each piece and the board with a gentle wood cleaner like Rustic Touch from Melaleuca or Oil Soap from Murphy.

If you’re like me, you might have too many chess sets to display. However, the wooden chess set you purchase in Krakow is one you’ll definitely want to show off. Display it proudly.

Only, again, remember to keep out of the reach of children!

5 Most Effective Chess Training Techniques You Have to Try

5 Most Effective Chess Training Techniques You Have to Try

Have you ever felt like you have reached the top of your level? Times goes by and you see no improvement in your play? In this article we want to give you 5 training tips that could change this situation drastically. Each one of us has different strengths and weaknesses, as well as different amount of time available for chess. However, there are general and tested methods that guarantee improvement within months. Here is a list with what we consider the most effective exercises.

  • Analysis of your own games

We want to emphasize the importance of this habit because, as simple as it sounds, not everyone does it and if they do it, most of them do it wrong. For example, it’s quite common nowadays that after a game, the first thing people do is run the engine and find out where they could have played a stronger move or where they committed the losing move. This is the first BAD HABIT you have to avoid.

Instead, analyze your games using your own thinking, writing notes with your own thoughts from the game and seek improvements by calculating moves in what you think the critical moments were. Only after doing this you can check with your engine the accuracy of your play in the game and post-mortem analysis.

  • Solve complex exercises

Solving tactical exercises when the first move (usually a sacrifice) is quite obvious and you have to calculate the winning lines after is fine, but then comes a point in which you will solve them with ease basing only on your intuition. In order to rise your level you have to solve more complex exercises, the kind of situations that appear in practice. There are even supplements to help you maintain brain health. Melaleuca.com offers Unforgettables supplements, which promote cognitive health. There is also a Melaleuca Peak Performance Pack with a blend of vitamins and minerals designed specifically for brain health.

The search of candidate moves in a position, moves that are not necessarily winning, but just the right moves in that moment. Sitting at the board and think, evaluate and asses the pros and cons of several possible moves in a position is what we do in a tournament game. Therefore, it makes sense to do the same at home in order to get better. The only drawback of this method is that the adrenaline and tension you get from a tournament game is impossible to reproduce in the peace of your home. Nevertheless, this is one of the most effective methods to improve your play.

  • Learn your book

Focus only on the few opening systems that you will play with white and black. Dedicate one training session to learn the theory; don’t do anything else that day but learn theory.

  • Live Practice

Playing training games with a friend of similar or superior strength is a very effective way to rise your level. However, this is not possible for everyone due to the obvious limitations set by our everyday routine. Fortunately nowadays you can play training games online, but this is tricky, so beware of the traps you should not fall for. I will give you an example.

Playing 1-min games for many hours will not take you far; neither will playing blitz games without working on TIPS 1-3. In order to make the most of playing blitz you need to test your abilities in remembering the theory and calculating under time pressure, so make sure you try hard to play the best moves in a fast time control. Make sure to analyze those games in which you failed to play the opening correctly.

  • Endgame knowledge

In these days, when most players are so well prepared, we suggest you take a look at the most important endgames such as rook endgames, as this knowledge could definitely give you an edge. Those who have a training partner can play blitz games starting from a specific endgame position and try it from both sides until the endgame is learned and understood.

This is quite useful, but again, not all of us have someone to train with. We suggest you take one endgame at a time and learn it by heart, learn the conclusions in order to remember the main ideas during your own tournament practice. There are several endgame manuals that can help you on this task.

These 5 points, if managed regularly (some more than others), will improve your play significantly. All tips are of similar value, but if you do not have time for all, we suggest you to use number 2 and 3 as the most important to keep sharp.

Planning in Chess

Planning in Chess

Two equally strong armies have gathered on opposite sides of the river. One commander evaluates the pluses and minuses of his and the enemy’s armies’ dispositions, comes up with a plan while taking into account possible counter-attacks, and chooses the correct time to launch an attack. The other couldn’t care less about all this and just relies on the strength of his troops. The outcome of the battle is rather predictable, isn’t it? In chess the same things happen all the time. A player who simply makes the moves he likes and hopes to win by random tactics usually succumbs to the opponent who has a plan behind his moves.

A plan is a set of interconnected actions performed on the board, and an essential component of each chess game. Based on the evaluation of the position, it helps one play on, find the right moves, save time and energy. Following a plan is important at all stages of the game, especially in the endgame.

As I have already mentioned, a plan depends heavily on the evaluation of the position. At this stage the first difficulties occur. Some positions are easy to evaluate, some are quite challenging. That is especially true for crazy irrational situations where the trickiest nuances may change everything, and relying on basic strategic and tactical principles isn’t enough. Speaking of the latter, there are a couple standard positions (“lighthouses”) that one should be aware of: weak squares, hanging and badly located pieces, pawn advantage, interaction of pieces, etc. The more proficient the player, the more details he sees in each position, and the better he/she feels which ones are the most critical at a certain point.

After the position has been evaluated, one should create a plan. That is, a goal and actions needed to attain it. For example, your opponent may have a weak central square (just like d5 often is in the Sveshnikov). The goal could be to get hold of it, actions – relocate the figures to the center and try to capture the square. Or, another case, your pieces are aiming at the opponent’s king. In this case you may want to try to initiate an attack. The actions will consist of advancing pawns and getting your pieces closer to the opponent’s king, preventing counter-threats, eliminating the king’s pawn shield.

The plan should be realistic, possible to implement. One shouldn’t plan something the opponent can quickly prevent. It’s also very important to remember there are two players in the game and watch out for your partner’s activities. If his threats are superior to yours, you should neutralize his plan first and only then, when there is no danger, perform your own plan. For instance, you are attacking the enemy’s king, and he/she comes back with a mighty counter-attack in the center. His/her counter-attack looks very dangerous, so you have to switch your attention and forces to neutralizing it and only then proceed with your own ideas. Or, on the contrary, there are some quiet positions when both partners have a lot of time to improve the location of the pieces. You may go on with your plan, but also still keep your opponent’s actions in mind.

During the game the position and its evaluation usually changes a few times. New opportunities and threats appear. One should react adequately and modify his/her plans in accordance with the changes. To sum it all up, here is an algorithm:

  1. Evaluate the position
  2. Create a plan based on the evaluation
  3. Prophylactics: consider your opponent’s plans and decide what should be done: neutralize them or proceed with your own plan
  4. Modify the plan in accordance with the position (in most top-level modern games there is no THE plan – from move 1 to last – you have to come up with new ideas along the way)

If the plan comes from the essence of the position, ignoring it may be disastrous, as you could see in that game. It is one of the examples that prove how important it is to pay attention to chess planning and stick to your plan during the game.

As you can see, White has opted for a plan to centralize and attack the black king. Black didn’t play accurately enough, so White could have put a serious pressure on her opponent. However, my opponent deviated from her plan due to time trouble and reached a more or less equal endgame. Had she not made a mistake later on, the game would have been drawn.

 

 

10 tips for Analysing your Chess Games

10 tips for Analysing your Chess Games

One of the major ways of studying chess in our Russian “chess school” in the nineties was analyzing your own games. That got me into believing that this is the best way to improve your game. I started doing it without computer, on a piece of paper, but obviously over time tried to use databases as much as possible for maintaining and updating a collection of my games. I also helped several students of mine to learn how to analyze their games in effective ways, so here are a few suggestions that you might find useful:

Maintain a database of all your games. I keep several databases: my games with standard time controls, rapid time controls, internet games

As soon as possible after the game has finished – put down thoughts you had during the game. That will help you later to remember and understand the reasons for your mistakes.

Let the computer engine run through the game in blunder check mode – that way you’ll know immediately about the major blunders you and your opponent made

Identify the critical moments of the game. How many times does evaluation of position change, and advantage shifts from one side to the other?

Analyse the opening, update your opening repertoire if necessary. Evaluate the position after the opening, to decide whether your openings need “repair”

Do not just analyse in terms of variations. Give verbal evaluations of critical positions. If white is better – say why. That helps you to better understand the true meaning of each position. That also makes you stop looking at the computer evaluation and think on your own for a few seconds.

When you’re done analyzing – summarize your the game. Why did the game end the way it did? Where was it decided – opening, endgame, tactical blunder?

Over time – look at the trends in your games. Do you lose more points in openings or in endgames? Is there anything you can study in particular to improve those trends?

Go back to your games, even years after they were played. I do that just to practice my analytical skills, and very often I find surprising how much new little details I can discover (e.g. the endgame I thought was drawn – is actually winning, etc).

As already mentioned – don’t fully rely on the computer engine. Try to find moves and ideas on your own, and only then let the engine give you hints. It is ok to guide the engine, but make sure you’re still the driver.

How to prepare for a Chess Tournament

How to prepare for a Chess Tournament

If you are a professional tournament player, or very active in chess competitions, you are probably jumping from tournament to tournament so frequently that preparing for a given event involves making sure that you register and show up for it in timely fashion, and then just prepare for each game (pure guessing on my part, I actually don’t know for a fact what the pros do). But if you are like me and only play in 2-3 tournaments a year, being rusty and not adjusted to the tournament setting can seriously affect your play. Here are some suggestions for how average adult players (1500-2400 ELO) can get better prepared for those rare but important chess tournaments:

Play some practice games online, with slower time controls. With patience, one can nearly always find an opponent for a 15 minute game on ICC. Even better – a couple of training games in an environment similar to the tournament setting (I would guess though that if you don’t play much in tournaments, training games over the board would be hard to arrange too). In any case – focus on the quality of your play, not the online rating.

Find out who your opponents are going to be, if that’s possible. Even in a Swiss tournament, it is possible to have a cursory idea of who your 10 most dangerous competitors are and whether there is any opening in your repertoire you need to review.

Decide on your opening repertoire for this tournament. Focus on preparing just those openings. Your long term opening repertoire plan may involve adding a new defence against e4, or switching to 1.d4 from 1.e4, and that’s fine, but make a decision well in advance whether they are going to be ready for any given tournament.

Do a bit of study for pure pleasure – look at your favourite games/books, etc, to reignite your interest in the game

Rest from chess for several days before the tournament. Most tournaments now are played with two games per day, and with some possible “before the round” opening preparation, during the competition you will have more than chess to satisfy your daily dose. So don’t overdose it! And make sure you have something on hand for enough energy to get you through those long, difficult matches. Access energy bars and other Melaleuca products are a great, healthy choice to give you the nutrition you need.

Plan the non-chess part of the event well, try to clear up your schedule to reduce possible distractions. As a side note, I used to take a day or two off work right before the tournament to “rest”, but that just made me hope to get review my openings, and do all the tactics and opening and other training in those two days, which was obviously contradicting point 6!

Set up a goal for the tournament. I am not talking about a pure result, expected performance rating, but rather a specific training objective that you can aim for during the games. Examples would be “not getting into time trouble”, “spend more time at the board during opponent’s turn instead of walking” and so on.

Preparing for each tournament should start at the … end of the previous tournament, so when the event is over – make sure to go over your games sooner rather than later. What was the problem in your play, and how are you going to address it?

A Good Way To Practice Checkmates

A Good Way To Practice Checkmates

Practicing checkmate patterns

If you’ve played much chess at all, you have probably gotten to the point where you understand that being a piece down (or even a couple of pawns down) means you’re probably going to lose. Unless there is some strong edge or the possibility of an attack, being significantly down in material means you’re going to lose. And you resign.
And your opponents feel the same way. You win a Knight; opponent resigns.
Or you get to an endgame with a good passed pawn. Winning ending; opponent resigns. You Queen a Pawn; opponent resigns.
And so it goes. Most games played with long time controls end with either very simple mates (Queen and King against King) or one of the players resigns in an obviously losing position. (Unless, that is, the game ends in a draw.)
In any case, relatively few games end with checkmate or the impending threat of checkmate.
So how is the average player to get practice with checkmate patterns when the opponent always resigns long before checkmate?
One solution is just to get a book with checkmate patterns (such as Reinfeld’s book 1001 Brilliant Ways to Checkmate). But that isn’t quite the same as practicing against an opponent.

The solution – Play Speed Chess

The solution to the problem of practicing checkmates against a live, resisting opponent, is to play speed chess. Preferably 5-minute games or shorter.
A much higher percentage of fast time-control games end in checkmate than longer games do. The reason is because of the time control. With a short time control, your opponent knows that though you may be a Knight ahead, turning that Knight into a win might be difficult — it might not be obvious what to do to win with that extra Knight, and you end up losing on time. A lot of speed chess games end with one of the players losing on time, but a lot of them end with checkmate. The reason is because players are less likely to resign when behind by a Pawn or even a piece. The possibility of winning (or drawing) the game because the opponent’s time runs out keeps players playing in positions that they would otherwise resign.
The way to use this to your advantage is to take advantage of the increased possibility of studying interesting mating patterns. If you play even a few speed games, you will likely have one or more games end in checkmate. After the game, review the game, especially the checkmate, and see if you can learn anything about the pattern.

Bonus tip

When you play with a nice chess set with high-quality pieces, make sure your hands are clean. The oils and dirt form your hands can damage wooden pieces over time. If you have to wear lotion to keep your hands from getting dry and cracked, then use a quality skin therapy like Melaleuca Renew Lotion. It leaves your skin feeling softer and healthier without being greasy, so you don’t have to worry about it getting all over your chess pieces.

Why does a chess game end in a draw

Why does a chess game end in a draw

A draw is a tie … neither player wins. Though a draw against a very strong player can feel very much like a win. You will often hear chess player’s brag of their draws … (“I got a draw against such and such grandmaster”).
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Shortcuts To Chess Improvement

Shortcuts To Chess Improvement

The road to chess improvement is normally a long and difficult struggle which requires a lot of hard work and commitment. According to accepted wisdom you should:

  • practice as much as possible by playing lots of games, especially at slow time controls
  • analyse your own games (and others) preferably with a stronger player, or with a pc
  • solve as many tactics problems as you can every day
  • take lessons from a good coach, or use an effective teaching tool like Chess Mentor

Stuff that for a game of soldiers, eh? Even if you are doing all of the above, surely there must be some shortcuts to improving your game? A few nuggets of advice, or ways of thinking about chess and approaching the game? You bet your sweet bippy there are!

1. Play Each Game Like Your Life Depends On It
Psychology plays a huge part chess, as it does in any competitive game. If you’re not giving your full attention and effort to every game you play, why are you bothering at all?

Don’t be afraid of giving 100% every time and knowing that sometimes you will lose anyway. Have pride in every game you play and every move you make!

2. Play Real Chess, Not Hope Chess

Make sure that for every move you make you think at least three ply (half-moves) deep. So when you make a move you must have figured out what you think is your opponent’s best reply, and what you will do if he plays that.  That’s the minimum requirement to play Real Chess, and you have to do it for every move you play or you might as well be tossing a coin.

3. Use All Your Time In Every Game
Chess is a game which rewards deep thought and long analysis, so why on earth handicap yourself by only using a fraction of your time?  Experienced players will aim to use all their available thinking time in every game, whatever time control is being used.

Time should also be used wisely for each individual move.  If your move is forced, or you have just a few options of apparently similar strength then it makes sense to play quickly. However, if the position is rich with tactical possibilities, or you are about to make a big decision, then slow down and give it some real thought.  There are no take-backs in chess, or in life!

If you find you keep missing killer moves from your opponent, then before you make a move look for all the checks, captures and threats that he has available in response. That should cover most of the moves that could get you into trouble.

  1. Think Like Sherlock!

Imagine this common scenario: your opponent makes a move you don’t expect and you’re not sure why he played it.

Do you:

  1. a) shrug your shoulders, ignore the move and play what you were going to play anyway
    b) light your pipe, settle back for a few moments and figure out what your enemy is up to…
  2. Loose Pieces Drop Off!
    A “Loose” piece is a piece that is either undefended, or not adequately defended. Make sure you check whether any of your opponent’s pieces are loose and can be taken, or whether any of your pieces are vulnerable.

    Most players quickly learn to spot if a piece is en prise (can be taken), but even experienced players can miss a little tactic which means a loose piece drops off!

  3. Dream A Little Dream…
    A lot of faulty chess thinking is caused by what is technically known as a “Quiescence” error. You disregard a strong move because you think it’s impossible, or that the tactics in the position are over.
  4. Know How To Play Against Rabbits And Heffalumps
    In Simon Webb’s classic chess book Chess For Tigershe describes much weaker players as Rabbits, and much stronger players as Heffalumps.  It is important to know the right strategies for playing both these types of opponents.

    If you are playing a rabbit, you need to keep things simple and solid and look to punish any mistakes that the rabbit makes. Wait, and pounce when the time is right!

  5. “When You See A Good Move, Look For A Better One!”
    The great world champion Emanuel Lasker is credited with this quote, and there’s a fundamental truth to it.  When you are deciding on a move to play, you are not just trying to find a good move, you are trying to find the bestone.
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