The Fabulous 00s: The Chess.FM Juggernaut and… how to Improve your Openings!

Chess on the Radio?!

A couple of years ago, “Tony Rook” (you might guess this fellow was using a moniker) introduced a webcast which included various chess programming, naming it Chess.FM.  His enterprise was acquired and made part of ICC, the Internet Chess Club.

These days, there are many Chess.FM shows including live coverage of top events such as MTel, Dortmund, and so on.  There are also entertaining opening shows such luminaries as GM Har-Zvi, GM Alterman, and IM Lenderman.  In particular, Alex Lenderman devoted some time to resuscitating the Smith-Morra Gambit, 1. e4 c5 2. d4 cxd4 3. c3.
I felt it was time to speak for the other side because I’m allergic to pitching a center pawn so early.  So I am bringing some new Chess.FM shows to the table, showing the black side versus various Sicilian deviations from standard Open Sicilians – the Smith-Morra, 2. c3 Alapin, and so on.

Most of the games I present are in the library ‘aries’ on ICC so readers can play them over later.
I mention some training techniques to learn openings better in the show but it’s best to repeat them here.

Improving Your Chess!

Did I get your attention? Good. Now, pay attention!

Opening Training Techniques: How to use the Computer Effectively for Thrills and Rating Points

Computer Basics

  • Get a decent laptop or desktop PC with at least 1 GM RAM
  • It’s best if you can manage dual monitors; the extra space will come in handy.  This is not essential but very helpful.
  • Get ChessBase or Chess Assistant (recent version). There is also the open source SCID database engine.
  • Get a strong UCI engine such as Fritz 10 or Rybka. This will help analyze the games in your database so you can supply proper comments.

Starting Up

Now we’re ready to go.  Start a new database with the name of the opening you want to learn, for example 1. e4 c5 2. d4 cxd4 3. c3 dxc3 — “SmithMorra”.   Start the UCI analysis engine within the database program.

In parallel, do several things.

First of all, open up an ICC session.  Start a match with yourself and play over the defining moves.  Type “ECO” to learn its ECO Code.  For example, Smith-Morra is “B21”. In the main console, armed with the eco code, type “search eco=XXX” where XXX is the code of the opening.   “search ECO=B21” would give you hundreds of Smith-Morra games contested among titled players; do “more” to scroll through them.

So you have lots of games to scroll through and assimilate.  Your job is to cherry-pick your favorites after you play them over and also notice who is playing:  if both players are very strong, the game has additional automatic credibility.  You can view the PGN of your favorites and save to disk and import into your database.  For example, in ChessBase, CTRL-O opens a PGN that you saved and then you can “Save As” into the database you created previously.

Use Your Web Browser As Well!

The web is an invaluable source of chess information.  Use it copiously!

Along with your database and ICC activities, also open your web browser (a modern browser that supports tabs, such as the newest IE, or Firefox, or Opera, or Safari; any one that supports tabs).   Open the following tabs:

  • www.chesslive.de (ChessBases’s online repository of games).  Again, you can save PGN of your favorites and import into your new database.
  • TWIC — This Week in Chess.  Same story.  TWIC publishes PGN updates week by week and you can cherry-pick the ECO code you are studying.
  • www.chessgames.com (if you have a premium membership) and go right to the Opening Explorer.  Play over the defining moves and look at the statistics.  This will show you the best moves for both sides.  You can prepare both black- and white- openings with this tool.  I highly recommend Premium membership due to the fact that Opening Explorer is a fantastic learning experience that you will use again and again.

Once you have gathered some PGN material from the web sites, cross-check it against the games database in your database program.  You can play over some opening moves in the database, then (in ChessBase) right-click and do “Find in MegaBase”.  It will show all matches.  Save struggles between high rated players, as a starter, into your database.

What to do with your new-found Material

OK, now you have a bunch of interesting PGN games in your new database.  Use your engine, such as Fritz10 or Rybka, to identify turning points in these games and add annotations to the games.  In ChessBase, CTRL-A adds text to selected spots.  Award ? and ! notations to moves that change computer evaluations significantly.  These exercises are not idle – by identifying key and popular lines, then running the engine and finding tipping points, you are (by osmosis) seeing key plans and counter-plans for both sides.

MG Note 7/5/08:  A comment from a reader below suggests to run engine vs engine from a key position – a good idea.

An excellent approach to developing a 360 degree view of the variation.  You will definitely improve using this approach.  And once you have a decent amount of time invested, try it out in ICC blitz or longer time controls or even OTB tournaments.  Naturally, record your better endeavors in the database and use the engine on them; annotate liberally.  This is the path to improvement!

Of course, periodically review TWIC and WWW.chesslive.de to see if new material has popped up on your chosen systems.

Give Me Feedback!

A useful byproduct of this training regimen is an army of informed readers to help me advance theory using the Roman phalanx approach.

If you are interested in any of the Sicilian segments I presented on Chess.FM, follow these technical steps and communicate to me (via my blog entries that accompany the segments) with your findings and own games!

Postscript:  Chess Art

Feast on this portrait of Danish GM PH Nielsen, by Danish artist Carina Jorgensen.  Click several times to enlarge fully. I was the one who suggested the mythical opponent be Norwegian GM Simen Agdestein.  Some other collaborators helped suggest demo board positions.  Note the bishops in the demo boards have Greek comedy/tragedy theater style smiling and crying faces.  Note also the macabre exsanguinating captured black pawn next to the Nielsen board.

Post-Postscript:  Bizarre PhD Graduation Garb

Go Violets!  This bizarre swearing-in ceremony looks fake, i.e. a staged photo.  This was taken in a hoity toity loft on Wooster Street in SoHo, NYC, May 1999.

Chess U on the iPhone

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5 Responses to “The Fabulous 00s: The Chess.FM Juggernaut and… how to Improve your Openings!”

  1. Andres D. Hortillosa Says:

    I cannot wait to see your ICC game library on these Anti-Sicilians lines. I am a fan of your blog.

  2. Scourge Says:

    Another good way to generate games to test an opening idea is to let your chess engine play itself or another chess engine. Don’t shoot for perfection when doing this. Give the engine no more than a minute each move, and this will produce games illustrative of what can happen.

    When going over these games you will of course find “computeresque” moves. Go back to those points and insert “humanesque” moves and see what happens.

  3. hylen Says:

    I gotta get me some of that GM RAM . . .

    🙂

  4. Dennis Monokroussos Says:

    Tony Rook was (and presumably still is) his real name – he legally changed it. (Or at least so he told me back in the day when I did shows for chess.fm.)

  5. The Fabulous 00s: Getting Here from There « IM Mark Ginsburg Presents A Personal Chess History Says:

    […] addition, if you visit my home page, you will see on the upper right a link to “Chess.FM Training Tips”.  This link gives you some of my computer-aided analysis suggestions you can use to refine my Chess.FM […]

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