Posted on

On the eve of disaster

On the eve of disaster


The Berlin Candidates tournament is about to finish. There were numerous online comments during the rounds and one I took a peek was the Shipov’s youtube channel. The other popular one is the Saint Louise chess club streaming. I missed this one, because it is focused mainly for the very average player and in my opinion one gets tired to see for years the same commentators. However I must admit that they are doing fine as a team. Both channels are politically motivated to support their favorites. Karjakin versus Caruana. The conflict cannot be more dramatic as the situation before the final round. The tournament had early leader Vladimir Kramnik who had very happy face and then unexpectedly went down. In recent rounds he recovered and was very close to beat the unbeaten Chinese representative.

What is the main character traits for success in chess and particular in Berlin? Why Aronian one of the tournament pre favorite is doing so badly?

My explanation is the following. Today’s chess there are numerous tournaments which have no qualification phase. Players are not under constant pressure. There are certain level of pressure needed to mobilize our resources to fight or flight. Some players cannot stand the heat and never could adopt it despite being very good at chess. To name a few we immediately picture Ivanchuk. The game of chess involves some luck as well, but this is what makes all the difference-if you are not trained to stand the heat of the battle you are most likely to fail.

There is a big difference from which background the player evolved as well. The players from so called wellbeing societies are less adopted to stand the stress. It is not about some curious Soviet chess school as some secret training method, but it was about the environment where success in chess was nearly the only option to succeed and make a career and it put enormous pressure to the players and the winning and losing was a matter of life and death. Personality like late Korchnoi was the most remarkable example of this school. This is why player like Nakamura has very little chance to succeed to become World number one. He is a big fighter and a good gambler, but I doubt he can successfully play when the life and death is at stake.

Why then Kramnik who probably had all this failed in Berlin. In my opinion he just over pressed it. There is a certain law in sport psychology. The optimum stress level and if you cannot keep it you play below your level. You do not need really a psychologist in every day’s chess, but Berlin was an exception. Kramnik was too happy after winning against Aronian and too stressed when he went down. How to handle the stress level and to keep your student in optimum requires very good specialist. In computer era the seconds or the chess helping team is not so important, but the person who can measure the player’s stress level and to change it is the must. Magnus is probably laughing when he is reading these sentences. It’s true, if you know your game-the opening moves are well analyzed and memorized, you have enough time on your clock, you dominate also psychologically your opponent, it looks easy. However in winning and losing paradigm there is always the next player who makes even Magnus to sweat and the great Norwegian is going down. This player definitely is not coming from Berlin.

Who is going to win today? Most of the aficionados hope that it is Caruana. I also hope that he can stand the heat today and then he has enough time to think and rethink his approach against himself. His lack of self confidence needs to be improved. He is much better player than anybody else in Berlin, but the soviets have something what he needs to improve.

The disaster is somebody’s win. Good luck to everybody!

Jaan Ehlvest

Posted on

Estonia Horses advanced to playoffs

The Pro chess league  had the final round in the preliminary tournament this last Wednesday. In the Eastern division the long waited match between Estonia Horses and Norway Gnomes took place. World champion Magnus Carlsen was playing for Gnomes and only winning the match could help Gnomes to qualify. Estonia Horses needed only to draw the  match to advance. Throughout the season Estonia Horses lost few matches when in the last moment the luck was on their opponent’s side. This time it seemed in the beginning that again everything is going wrong. In the second round Avital Boruchovsky trapped his opponent Borki Predojevic in the opening and got a winning position. Norwegian player also had barely any time left.

In the second round I was not able to defend against the World Champion. My first round game against Grandelius was very shaky and ended in a draw. Against World Champion I tried to keep the pace playing fast, but in several moments I could not use my chances.

Instead of 4-4 after two rounds it was 3-5. In the next round Horses managed to win back one point, but before the last round the score was 5,5-6,5. The last round did not go well in the beginning, Magnus quickly got winning advantage against Boruchovsky and also even against their weakest link Elham Abdrlauf our player Sander Kukk had lost position. This influenced my play and in position where I already outplayed my opponent Predojevic I started to make questionable decisions and managed to save the game only due to my opponent’s time scramble. Somehow Kukk managed to trick his not so experienced opponent and now it was all about the last game.

This was a big blow to Magnus’s fans. The commentators could not hide their disappointment.

We are obliged to qualify to the finals after this success.

Jaan Ehlvest

Posted on

Estonia Horses

Estonia Horses

Is the name of the team which is leading after three rounds in the Eastern division on the chess super league.  Our team line up may found here. The league was created by US chess enthusiast Greg Shahade who himself is only IM in chess, but is a great organizer. Years ago he started the US chess league and now we have the Super chess league where the teams from every continent are present.

I created the Estonia team and when I was asked about the team name I proposed the horses. The pigs are probably better name for Estonia team, but there is one breed of horses which originated from Estonia. Our team has several agents playing for us. My good friend Alexander Onischuk is the head coach and manager of the Texas Tech University. He somehow did not play up to his expectations, but in general our team is doing great. After three rounds we are leading in our group. I was a big help for our team in the last match. I played a risky game in the first round and got rewarded.

I continued my winning streak grounding down the Mumbai team female player in a rook endgame.

However in the final round I took it too easy at the end and my opponent managed to save the game.

The match ended with 8-8 tie, but we are still sole leaders in our division. Some very interesting matches are ahead and one is against the Norwegian club where current World champion Magnus Carlsen is playing.

Jaan Ehlvest

Posted on

Chess in the museum

Chess in the museum

In Russia the chess in the museum project was started in 2012. In Estonia both the museums and chess are popular subjects. Chess at least in the past. In 2000, Keres was elected the Estonian Sportsman of the Century. In Tallinn the visitor can find a lot of museums, one of my favorites being the Estonian Maritime Museum.

The recent and the biggest museum is the Estonian National Museum. The museum is located in Tartu in the second biggest city in Estonia. I was very excited when I got the invitation to give a simul on the museum premises.

The simul is the simplest way to popularize chess. Usually the youngsters are very eager to participate. Still only handful simuls are held in overall. The initiative of the Estonian National Museum was most welcome and I hope that we can continoue this trend in the future. In Tartu 21 players took part in the simul. Most of them young boys, but also two girls were among participants. I tried not to win all the games and drew two of them winning the rest. Last boy standing had also very good drawing chances in slightly inferior rook endgame, but this time I won not giving a draw to my opponent. I just did not want to spoil the boy with a present. He has great future ahead if he continous to play chess.

The museum people treated me very well and the simul was well organized. Because of the late hour not many spectators were present though. The museum people and I agreed to make this chess day traditional event in the future.

Jaan Ehlvest

Posted on

What we can learn from AlfaZero?

What we can learn from AlfaZero


As a coach for some top level players I study chessgames played by computers regularly and generated some of my own. There is certain things you can learn from the computer chess and I believe the games from recent match between AlfaZero and Stokfish were not exception. However nothing extraordinary. It is not also relevant for chess audience which program is the strongest, because nearly all of them are stronger than human masters.

I like to discuss about the fuss which surrounded the AlfaZero itself. Some people even chess players are praising it as something they never saw before and the authors behind AlfaZero wish to convey us that they created something which could learn chess in four hours and is using some forgotten new technology called neural networks and making huge leap developing the AI. The AI development using chess is misleading, so I like to qoute next paragraphs from the following paper.

Long time ago it was suggested that chess is the drosophila of AI? The specific meaning of the analogy has never been more than superficially elaborated. What most practitioners seem to mean by claiming chess as the drosophila of AI is simply that computer chess, like drosophila, represented a relatively simple system that nevertheless could be used to explore larger, more complex phenomena.

Deep Blue program which beat Kasparov in 1997 was capable of evaluating 200 million positions per second (which translated into an average search depth of six to eight moves). IBM had spent millions of dollars on Deep Blue, a machine that only played a grand total of six games against a single opponent before it was dismantled. In fact, the machine was disassembled immediately after its narrow victory over Garry Kasparov, and its internal workings have never been revealed to the satisfaction of the research community – an important but unintended consequence, perhaps, of the competitive tournament system and the increasing reliance on cash prizes to fund system development. In any case, to many observers, Deep Blue’s brute force approach to computer chess – along with its narrowly specialized ‘Kasporov Killer’ techniques – was too single-minded to suggest any meaningful general intelligence.

‘My God, I used to think chess required thought’, reflected the noted cognitive scientist Douglas Hofstadter in response to the Deep Blue victory: ‘Now, I realize it doesn’t. It doesn’t mean Kasparov isn’t a deep thinker, just that you can bypass deep thinking in playing chess, the way you can fly without flapping your wings’ (quoted in Weber, 1996). In a 1997 response to the Deep Blue victory published in the journal Science, John McCarthy, the founding father of both AI and competitive computer chess, publicly lamented the degree to which computer chess had been led astray by the will-o-wisp of tournament victories: ‘chess has developed much as genetics might have if the geneticists had concentrated their efforts starting in 1910 on breeding racing Drosophila. We would have some science, but mainly we would have very fast fruit flies’

At the heart of McCarthy’s critique is the perception that, although computer chess was productive in that it encouraged constant experimentation, it produced no new theories – either about human cognitive processes or theoretical computer science.

Herbert Simon and Allen Newell had stressed that it was essential not only that the computer made good moves, but that it made them for the right reasons. Computer chess was, for Simon and Newell, valuable only to the degree that it represented a ‘deliberate attempt to simulate human thought processes’ (Newell et al., 1958). This lofty goal was soon abandoned in the quest to build stronger tournament performers.

The race of building the winning chess playing program as the only successful outcome of the AI development only made the difference between human and machine wider.

The brute-force approach to computer chess highlighted the growing divide between AI and the human cognitive sciences. A growing body of research on human chess players indicated that human players rarely thought ahead more than one or two moves, relying instead on perception, pattern recognition, and the use of heuristics. Chess, as it was played by humans, turned out to be an even more complex cognitive activity than was imagined by the early artificial researchers (Wagner and Scurrah, 1971). As a result, computer chess came to be seen as increasingly distinct from human chess.

Many AI researchers appeared to believe, the primary measure of an experimental organism was its ability to produce fundamental theory, then chess was probably not the drosophila of AI. Despite the impressive productivity of the computer chess researchers, the research agenda that computer chess encouraged was simply too narrow to be sustainable. It was as if drosophila-based genetics research had never advanced beyond the mapping of the drosophila chromosome.

Chromosome mapping was, of course, an important contribution made by the drosophilists to genetics research, but as mapping techniques became increasingly routine, interest in drosophila stagnated. It was only with the introduction of new wild varieties of drosophila into the laboratory, and the migration of the drosophilists out of it, that the drosophila was reinvented as an experimental technology for investigating population genetics. Computer chess had no such second act yet. AlphaZero supposed to have one as the Google Corporation wants us to believe.

When looking the games of AlphaZero I found one position which has some blink of AI presence. The game is commentated below and the move I am talking is the 19th move of White h2-h3. Most likely I am mistaken and the move was still coming out from the brute force calculation tree and has nothing to do with AI. I think that the comparison with animal psychology is very relevant here. We have a very big data about animal behavior and despite popular beliefs there are registered very few occasions when animals purposely try to send signals or information to humans using their mind. Animals are bound to their instincts and to detect the appearance of intellectual life act is rare as the AI appearance in chess playing computer program.

I hope that this time the AlfaZero is not disappearing like Deep Blue and some more data is available for the public. We need to wait.

Jaan Ehlvest

Posted on

Pühajärve handicap tournament 2017

Pühajärve chess festival

The 18th of Pühajärve handicap tournament was held on the last weekend of November. The pretournament favorite Swedish grandmaster Nils Grandelius won the event with impressive margin. He was quick and accurate which was needed when playing against the weakest group of players when the stronger player had only two minutes against 18 minutes without increment.

There were four groups of players according to their strength. Handicap tournament gave the weaker players some chances against the stronger players. Many players already participated in Pühajärve in previous years and had a good idea what to expect. Bolat Asanov from Kazakhstan started to lose game after game. Veteran grandmaster did not play in any competition for years and this was a cruel comeback. After some advice from former World Champion Alexander Khalifman who did play in Pühajärve in previous tournaments Bolat managed to limit his losses.

The other participants included Latvian finance minister Dana Reicnice-Ozola, president of Latvian chess federation Aris Ozolins and other more or less prominent figures. Beside the winner only Kaido Külaots may consider himself as full time professional chess player. He showed consistent play throughout the tournament and finished second. Yours truly took the third place which was some kind of accomplishment. There were total of 35 rounds and for older players it was not easy to keep the pace. However in the last day I managed to get 6,5 points out of 7 which was good finish, but this only secured the second place. Full standing is here.

There were many interesting games and some of them were available online.

The following situation was typical when there is no time left for properly evaluate the situation on board.

I had some problems in the first day when I lost to Rõtov, but on the second day I managed to outplay strong GM from Isreal.

In the closing ceremony the former prime minister of Estonia Tiit Vähi was present who congratulated the winners. The tournament tradition depends heavily on sponsors. The organizers are planning a bigger event in two years when it is 20th anniversary.

Jaan Ehlvest

Posted on

Tbilisi World Cup second part

How to beat a weaker opponent? This was the question I asked myself during my career very often. This was the drawback of being too strong. I played a lot of Open tournaments for living in US and I had to face this problem quite often. When you have the two game match to win the task might look much easier. Still not every time the rating favorite wins.

In chess when the favorite is losing it makes people happy. Usually we picture a situation when the old master is losing to the young talent. The younger generation is taking over. There is no shame for the older player, life must go on. I played with Anand first time back in 1988 in Reggio-Emilia when he was only 19 years old. I won the game in 25 moves. Today if someone plays like Anand in that game we cannot predict him very bright future in chess. At least today’s champion do not have this kind of games in his collection. Still Anand became World Champion. He still plays chess today and in several occasions refuted the rumors about his retirement.

In Tbilisi he lost the match already on the second leg against the scandalous Anton Kovalyov. Anand relies always to his intuition and is famous of his speed when the pure calculation is important. He was already 46 years old during the Tbilisi competition and even he must pay tribute to his age. There is always a deeper reason when player who is much stronger is losing a game against lower rated opponent.

When playing against patzer there are few recommendations the stronger player should follow. First recommendation is to dictate the course of the game. Create the situation when only you have the choices to play safe or complicate matters. The classical game how to play against this strategy from the weaker side is the battle between very young future World Champion Boriss Spassky and Mikhail Botvinnik.

In our game Anand was probably taken aback with not so good move h7-h5 which created a new kind of position which was not thoroughly analyzed by Anand’s team. Now he started to create some kind of plan. This even despite the fact that he managed to get a better positions was a mistake. Against MLV it might be a good strategy, but it is obvious that the full time student Kovalyov did not analyze the move h7-h5 for weeks. Most probably he picked it up just for one game.

The strategy against a weaker opponent is not to play the very precise chess, but just to follow one good idea or plan. In short just pick one good looking line against weaker opponent there is no need to be very creative. Simple standard moves plans are usually good options. In our game Anand instead of following the standard plan tried to play very deep chess and finally sacrificed a Knight which was a terrible blunder. There was nothing wrong to continue the game without any strong commitment. Now his opponent was forced to find only one good move Kf5! which decided the game and the match.

Situation which we want to avoid in any cost when facing a weaker opponent. We like to force our opponent to find and make a series of good moves, not just one. Statistically weaker opponents make more mistakes and to keep the game dry and long only increases the chances for a stronger player.

I always wonder what they so called elite coaches trainers are telling to their elite students. I am sure they do not discuss the strategy how to beat the underdog, but they should.

Posted on

Tbilisi World Cup part one

128 players started the World Cup and at the end there was a sole winner. The knock out format is cruesome, but in my opinion most democratic system used to determine the winner. Even current World Champion Magnus Carlsen took part of this competition. Why this system is not used in other competitions remains mystery. It is common in tennis, but chess sponsors prefer to invite certain players according to their standings on rating list. In this way they make sure that the tournament is listed as supertournament. The elite players are accustomed to this privileges and for others it is nearly impossible to get into inner cycle. In Tbilisi the outsiders had their chance for revenge. World Champion was eliminated on the third stage and also other rating favorites were leaving early. In this article I like to share my thoughts not about the chess games, but about the famous incident which occured in Tbilisi.

The chess news from Tbilisi got heated up with the dress code scandal. This was very interesting case not only in sense of the chess politics or the actual interpretantion of the dress code. Who was right or wrong about the dress code itself may be the area of discussion for the law people. However it was wellcome material for chess psychology. Here I like to represent my views of this case. I do not know personally Anton Kovalyov and I am not making any personal conclusions.

Kovalyov had prior to the incident very good tournament. He beat Anand which was kind of shock to the Indian chess community and in his match against Maxim Rodshtein he definately was not underdog any more, at least there was no any reason for him to throw the match away, what he actually did.

People play a lot of different kind of games. Why they play the games and why they play chess? They play to win or in different interpretation they want to make their opponents to lose. This is the essence of game theory and it is widely used in modelling the best move scenario. In chess good sportsmanship teaches us that you should win, but our aim is not to make our opponents sore losers. In chess we want to create something and without our opponent we cannot create anything. Some cooperation is a must. This is why in good old times it was common to allow your opponent to play out the beautiful combination till checkmate. In chess we see the winning losing as some digits on the tournament scoreboard. However winning and losing in most cases are not possible just to measure with numbers. The winning situation might occur for the losing player in situation when his opponent likes to play out the winning combination, but he can stop it just resigning the game and not giving his opponent the opportunity to play it out. In this case it is also winning losing situation. If we graciously allow to our opponent to play out the combination then we have other situation. It is called the cooperation.

In Tbilisi incident we did not see any compromise or cooperation. All players were eager to make their opponents to lose. I have the right to assume that all players in Tbilisi were adult intelligent grown up people and there were not any conspiracy involved.

The arguments presented by the players in this conflict are not serious or valid at all. The details are not important when there is a war. One cannot seriously take the argument about some missing attire. Chess tournament scenery is not a nightclub or some other hang out place where the puncher may decide who is fitting into it and who is not. The chess player needs to be aware of his position on chess board and definitely tries to be aware of the parings and is aware of other regulations. We cannot assume otherwise. Chess players who are not capable of following it usually do not qualify to World Cup. In our incident no doctor was called for. Nobody was in state of insanity. Still something happened.

Seemingly from nowhere people started the game to make others to lose. From famous classical examples from game theory we know that if you play the game out with wrong intentions everybody loses. This is what exactly happened in Tbilisi. What was the correct solution?

Player one Anton Kovalyov lost, but he could lost anyway. He tried to make himself a winner not risking to lose the fair game against to Rodshtein. The arbiter definitely lost. Tournament organizer Zurab Azmaiparashvili also lost. He probably did not realize in time when arguing with Kovalyov, that the latter wants make him to lose. In other hand, if even Azmaiparashvili was asking Kovalyov to play the match in his terms, Kovalyov could still refuse pointing for some non relevant reason and make Azmaiparashvili to lose anyway. Azmaiparashvili could not see the danger. Instead of changing his outfit and play the game in which situation Azmaiparashvili could win, Kovalyov preferred to win himself. He just left the tournament making everybody to lose and finally making himself a loser as well. Mathematically still he could lost the match against Rodshtein in 50% of the time which if we consider the mathematical aspect of game theory he probably made the correct decision.

My analyzes are not considering other so called emotional background of decisions made by players in this incident.  As I already mentioned the human arguments and emotions are not relevant here. I am sure that person who masters the mathematical part of the game theory can show with figures what was the correct decision. In my opinion Kovalyov made the correct decision according to game theory, which requires the best decision in every game situation. He made others to lose, but if we consider the cooperation situation where everybody wins then his decision was bad for chess in general and especially for the Tbilisi tournament.

Jaan Ehlvest

Posted on

Liepaja chess festival 2017

Liepaja chess festival 2017

The 24th festival took place on the first weekend of August. It consisted as usual the Open, the Blitz, the team tournament and the so called Super tournament. This year the summer was not very kind and the tennis tournament was cancelled. The Open had 130 participants, but the tournament was not as strong as last year. Similar faces were fighting for the prizes and for the four spots in the Super tournament.

Vladislav Kovalev from Belorussia won the event. He played very confident chess and continued to show the solid play also later in the Super tournament. Other qualifies had some luck, some more some less. Players who did not qualify to the Super tournament could play in the team competition. After two days of the Open tournament the blitz tournament started on Saturday morning followed by the Super tournament and the team competition. The blitz tournament had 13 rounds and Latvian German grandmaster Daniel Fridman was the lucky winner. The blitz started at 11 am and was followed immediately with the Super tournament.

Yours truly won the blitz last year, but this year I got out from bed on the wrong side. I lost two endgames with just two extra pawns and this did not help my mood. Playing two tournaments in one day was kind of bad decision, at least I realized that I may lose all my games in the evening. This did not happen, but my game did not improve much.

The organizers shifted the playing hall back to the old location, but as usual during the chess tournaments only spectators were the players themselves. The playing venue was divided, the Super tournament participants had some more prestigious place on the stage. First day the live transmission did not work for some reason. Later it appeared that the person who was responsible for that took too long Friday out and was not able to work. The festival in general had very friendly atmosphere as usual. Main organizer was the local man and also president of Latvian Chess Federation Aris Ozolins. The festival was reborn 24 years ago thanks to him. The festival took place first time long time ago during the Soviet times.

The Super tournament had four invitees and four qualifiers from the Open.  Total only eight players and seven rounds were not so much for rapid format tournament. In the first day Artur Neiksans lost four games, but he came back strong on next day winning the last three. I drew my first two games and then I got tricked in pawn endgame.

Kovalenko as expected was one the favorites and showed interesting games. Daniel Fridman won first three games, but then suddenly lost in completely winning position against Latvian Meskovs, but still shared first place after first day with Kovalenko who also lost to Meskovs with three points.

Next day I helped Fridman in the following game.

Before last round Kovalenko was ahead of Fridman and had white pieces. In last moment already clearly winning position some drama happened and eventually Fridman was the winner.

Final results.

Next year is the 25th festival and the organizers hope to gather record number of players. See you then.

Jaan Ehlvest

Posted on

How to lose a game-in 20 moves or in the endgame

Screening the tournaments in different levels


There are a lot of tournaments going on around the World. Recently I got my eye on the supertournament in Norway and the Americas Continental Championship in Medellin Columbia.

The elite or supertournaments have the same participants over and over again. The qualification to these tournaments are only by invitation. The tournaments are very boring. The Italian game is the most popular opening. I even do not try any more to understand the subtlities of these opening positions. In Norway the biggest sensation was that the reigning World Champion did not win the tournament. Instead Aronian won. Bid deal, next time some other player, if not Magnus, is going to win. Nobody particular suprized me. Still Kramnik did. He is and was famous of his sense of danger. Somehow after winning excellent game against Magnus he immediately lost equal endgame to Maxime Lagrave in the very next round. Still these two games were interesting battles and were commentated everywhere were not equal to what happened in his last round game against Giri. I cannot recall such a defeat in 20 moves in such high level tournament. Giri did not lose in some sharp Sicilian line, but he was carried away in the some modest opening shceme. Kramnik has some poisoness ideas time to time, but still how the player with rocket high rating can manage to lose in 20 moves?


The other tournament I was following was the American Continental Championship in Medellin. My good friend Alexander Shabalov was among the participants. He unfortunately had very mediocre tournament. The youngsters are coming and taking over. Especially Jorge Cori from Peru. He is definitely already a good material for supertournaments. He only needs to raise his ELO rating to over 2750, but even this might be not enough. The rating is one criteria, but he of course has his chances to win the next World Cup in Georgia this September.  He has not only chess talent, but also knows how to shake of the balance his opponents. In the following position in dry endgame positon which certainly is a draw he stroke with unexpected b4 and his opponent lost the drawish endgame.

The winner of the tournament by tie-break was 16 years old Sam Sevian from United States. He had some successes recently, but I do not like his too academic style of play. This worked perfectly in Continental Championship, but we need to consider that it was one of the strongest in recent years, but the level of chess in American Continent is not comparable to Eureopean or Asian chess. It is unchanged at least for last 30 years when I was around. Some stars are evolving time to time, but in general the overall level of play is not very high.

Summer is in full swing and many chess tournaments are ahead. I hope to see and cover some of the interesting moments soon.

Jaan Ehlvest