Chess’s Draw Problem Pt.2: The Schwartz Cup

Hello and welcome back to the discussion on how to mitigate the amount of short draws at the highest level in chess. If you missed part 1 of our discussion you can find it here. I thought it was important to get to the core of what I believe “Grandmaster draws” to be. Grandmaster draws are the conversation of energy. Although they are frustrating for spectators, we cannot blame players (for the most part) for taking advantage of the tournament rules set before them. Would you blame a marathon runner for hopping on a golf cart for miles 22-24 if the rules allowed it? I wouldn’t. It sounds ridiculous but that is exactly what some tournaments allow chess players can do, conserve energy at no cost.

The best solutions are usually accidental

This a personal anecdote, if you don’t care skip to the next paragraph. I am a very bad nail biter. I tried everything to stop myself from biting my own nails: the simple white knuckle approach, painting bad tasting nail polish (although wait doesn’t all nail polish taste bad?) on my nails, prayer and meditation, I even tried to personify my fingers by naming them, then maybe I wouldn’t want to hurt Natalie (left ring finger). None of these solutions worked and I simply lived with daily pain in my hands. I haven’t bitten my nails since December 12th 2016, and I stopped with MAGIC. For once in my life I’m not being analogous. I got inspired to start learning some card tricks, and started showing them to people. For the first time in my life I started drawing people’s attention towards my hands. I stopped biting my nails because I wanted people to be able to appreciate the medium/poor magic trick I was about to show them without being grossed-out by my hands. I instantly stopped nail biting. Magic. Impossible to see that coming, which is one of the main reasons I wanted to write these articles: to propel the conversation (hopefully forward) so we (maybe accidentally) get closer to a solution. So how how are we going to get more fighting at the highest level in chess?

A rule that sounds better than it is

The three points for a win, one point for a draw rule. Usually in tournaments you get 1 point for a win and  1/2 point for a draw. This rules incentivizes players to win by increasing the value of those wins. The problem with this rule is that creates more problems that it solves. This rule reminds be a bit of prohibition, if you just say “alcohol is illegal” than you create a whole black market for liquor which breeds violence and corruption, the very symptoms the prohibition was trying to control.

Instead of being motivated towards caution, this rule could make players overly reckless. The 3 point win rule alters the core of chess too much towards aggression in the same way that it is currently altered towards caution.

This rule also lends it self to cheating and collusion. The 3-0=1 rule is easiest to abuse in the swiss tournament format. Here’s how: you’re the top rated player, and you throw your first game (or two). The next top rated player fights hard in his game and draws. Round 2 will have the top rated player playing someone who also lost, an easy match up. The top playing easily wins, while the 2nd top rated player fights to another draw. The top rated player is now leading 3-2, and has really only had to play one easy game of chess.

This is not where I would choose to change things.

The 2018 Schwartz Cup

To think about methods to discourage GM draws I want to pretend I’m putting on my own chess tournament: The Schwartz Cup, an imaginary chess tournament that will happen sometime in 2018. If my money was on the line, what would I do?

The 2018 Schwartz Cup has a 40 move minimum. How many chess games have you seen and/or played that were bone dry, until someone made a mistake on move 38? I took a very memorable lesson with the great GM Ben Finegold where he gave me some curt advice: “you want to get better at chess? Stop making so many mistakes!” The advice/wisdom was packaged in Ben’s sense of humor, but the core of what he was saying is: the mitigation of mistakes is more efficient path to mastery than brilliance. How’s that for advice? TERRIBLE. Kidding, I love Finegold. You have to.

I was also lucky enough to ask GM Maurice Ashley, WGM Jennifer Shahadae and GM Yasser Seriwan during a SLCC broadcast, “what’s more important: making great moves, or not making mistakes?” The answer was pretty unanimous: mistakes are more responsible for decisive games than brilliance.

Mistakes decide games. Mistakes reveal humanity in chess. It’s impossible for you to make a mistake when you’re sitting on an inner tube in a hotel pool drinking a margarita because you played a 40 minute game of patty cake. Also if you’re in the UAE or the USA from 1920-1933, drinking that margarita is a huge mistake.

I want players at the board a minimum of 40 moves because even in the dullest of games, mistakes (and brilliance) happen.

What about repetition of moves before move 40? Yes that happens from time to time, and there’s no way to avoid that. Each player in the 2018 Schwartz Cup gets 1 “gimme” every 10 games, where they can finish a game by 3-fold repetition in under 40 moves. What if a player draws more than 1 game by 3-fold repetition in under 10 games?  Then 3% of your winnings (to be calculated after the tournament) and 15% of your appearance fee are awarded to the current leader of the tournament (more on this later).

Zero equality

I believe in the context of a match or tournament, equality rewards caution. Here are two examples.

In the 2016 World Chess Championship Carlsen and Karjakin started the match equally. Meaning if they finish regulation tied, then they go to rapid games, then blitz, blah blah blah. The 1972 Spassky vs Fischer match didn’t start equally (it became even less equal after the first 2 games!) If Fischer just drew all 24 games Spassky kept his title, Fischer needed to beat Spassky.

Greg Shahade wrote a great blog post called “How to Make the World Chess Championship Less Boring,” where he articulates the advantages of the removal of equality from this aspect of a match.

  1. At every moment in the match, someone will be behind on the scoreboard. When someone is behind, that player cannot play the most boring openings and moves imaginable game after game. Instead every single draw specifically hurts someone and there is incentive for them to fight harder every game.

I can’t add to a perfectly made point so I’ll move on!

Example #2- The 2017 Sharjah Grand Prix: I greatly enjoyed commentating with the great GM Victor Bologan for this Grand Prix. One of the unexpected bonuses of the trip was meeting and sharing several meals with Norwegian GM and TV Personality Jon Ludvig Hammer. Hammer and I just so happened to eat lunch at the same time most days, so we had some nice conversations, and I can confirm that he is a 100% nice/cool guy. One afternoon Hammer told me about the prize payout of GP Sharjah; if you’re tied with other players all those players get an equal payout. So hypothetically let’s say 4th, 5th, and 6th place pay out $4k, $5k, and $6k respectively, $15k total. If players A, B, and C all tie for 4th place each would get 1/3rd of $15k. Hammer thinks there would be more fighting for better placement if the prize money wasn’t equally divided. When someone always benefits from the status quo, those with poor tiebreaks might have a bigger incentive to go for a win, but then finding a good tiebreak system is key.

Too much equality turns chess into a game of 9-ball in pool where no one has a good shot. Rather than try to pocket the next ball, you make a defensive shot, that leaves your opponent in an equally bad position. Now it’s your opponent’s turn, and it’s in their best interest to make a defensive shot, and leave you with a bad shot, and then you make a defensive shot, and so does he, and you do, and…ahh we just entered infinity! Quick, where’s my totem?

wait for it...

wait for it…

The Double Dutch Rule: a silly idea that probably won’t work

A lot of people don’t know that the top chess players get appearances for attending some tournaments. Not a winning fee, an appearance fee. In my perfect world we would eliminate appearance fees and add them to the prize payouts. I’ve been told by people smarter than me that this is naive, if you want some big names to come, you have to pay them. Fine. I don’t love it, but it’s how things are. The Schwartz Cup will still issue generous appearance fees and gift baskets full of fancy pears. But you have to play chess for at least 2 hours each day.

The Double-Dutch Rule:If your game is drawn and the game is under 2 hours long; then 3% of both player’s winnings (to be calculated after the tournament) and 15% of those player’s appearance fees are awarded to the current leader of the tournament. Players get one “Gimme” for the double dutch rule as well. Sometimes short (in terms of time, not move # or Nigel) draws just happen, and we understand that at the Schwartz Cup.

Why mandate a minimum time someone spends on their game? It’s simple: I think if you get an appearance fee you should have to appear. If there is a marquee match-up between 2 prize fighters, and they decide not to play that day, it should cost them.

Were you wondering about the pears in the gift basket? A pear, Appear, a ppear, appear. It’s subliminal suggestion: pears being suggested as wonderful, will make players want to appear more at the Schwartz Cup.

Am I joking or being serious? Yes

Line Up

I’m excited about the 2018 Schwartz Cup despite the fact it’s completely imaginary (unless someone wants to give me a sack full of money to do this). 10 players, round robin, classical time controls. 40 move minimum w/ the 3-fold repetition penalty (players are awarded 1 gimme. If a player does not use their gimme, that gimme does not expire and can be used in other Schwartz Cups in coming years). And the double-dutch rule (players are awarded 1 gimme. If a player does not use their gimme, that gimme does not expire and can be used in other Schwartz Cups in coming years). The prize payout will not be equally shared for equal scores, and I will hire someone to figure out tiebreaks to reward fighters.

Who is my fantasy line up: Carlsen, So, Caruana, Nakamura, Kasparov (please please please come out of retirement, for me?), Richard Rapport, Ding Liren, Mamedyarov, Grischuk, and Maxime Vacher-Lagrave. Fighters all of them.

Wrapping Up

Yes this is a bit silly, but it’s fun to pretend, and it’s fun to think with ‘new’ rules. Amongst this silliness are things I actually are about.

I care about a minimum number of moves. I honestly see no reason for not having such a rule. I also care about removing equality, or the status-quo as GM Hammer called it, from every aspect of tournament standings and prize payouts. This rewards effort and incentivizes players to fight. I understand the time minimum is silly, but I still want it!

I would love to hear any thoughts on these rules, or hear any creative rules you may have thought of, and as always, thanks for reading!

 

 

 

 

Chess’s Draw Problem Pt.1: What’s the Core Issue?

Game 12 of the 2016 World Chess Championship got everyone nice and mad. It was the last game in regulation of a grueling 12 game match. The score was tied at 5.5/5.5.  Karjakin shocked the chess world by beating Carlsen in game 8. But Carlsen answered by winning game 10, all other games were drawn. If anyone wins game 12, they become World Champion. I was a giddy chess fan eager to see the best strategies from both players. I mentally prepared myself to potentially observe a 7 or 8 hour marathon.

Unfortunately there was no battle that day. Carlsen and Karjakin quickly played 30 moves, the contractual minimum, and agreed to call the game a draw. The entire game took 30 minutes.prepare-to-feel-feelings-like-youve-never-felt-before-30-photos-31

When I’m angry at someone it’s usually because I feel like they stole something from me, or I feel they owe me something. In this case I was mad because I wanted a fight. Maybe I paid for a ticket (I didn’t), I might have cancelled work to see this fight (I did), and it didn’t happen. It sucks. And it is a unfortunate aspect of chess that players can show up and decide not to play that day. Picture yourself as a tournament organizer, and you put up $100,000’s of dollars to put on a world class chess tournament, spend months preparing, hire dozens of people, and pay Grandmasters to come play chess, and then during the tournament those GM’s don’t even play. It’s horrible. Is there a way to prevent “grandmaster draws” from happening?

What is the strategic core of “Grandmaster Draws?”

Want to solve a problem? Get to the core and change something. So what is the motivational core of grandmaster draws? I think it’s naive to assign laziness or cowardice as motivations of these GM’s when they decide to not fight. When Carlsen played a 30 minute game 12 it was an intelligent strategy that worked brilliantly.

The core of grandmaster draws is this: players want to apply effort when they will get the the most value out of that effort. If they are in a situation or game where their effort will net them little value, then they will chose not to apply effort and save that effort for a more opportune moment.

Think about it like this: you’re in a 100 mile ultra-marathon, four marathons back to back, two in the dark (yes they exist). You get to mile 88 and there is a hill that is a mile up, and a mile down.

YOU RUN UP THAT HILL! YOU GIVE ME 110% OF WHAT YOU GOT! THE LAST EASY DAY WAS YESTERDAY! THE WINNER OF THIS RACE WILL BE THE PERSON WHO WANTS IT MOST...UNLESS THERE IS A DISPARITY OF TALENT, IN THE PERSON WHO WANTS IT LESS, IN WHICH CASE THE PERSON WHO WANTS IT LESS...I'VE SAID TOO MUCH JUST RUN!

YOU RUN UP THAT HILL! YOU GIVE ME 110% OF WHAT YOU GOT! THE LAST EASY DAY WAS YESTERDAY! THE WINNER OF THIS RACE WILL BE THE PERSON WHO WANTS IT MOST…UNLESS THERE IS A DISPARITY OF TALENT IN THE PERSON WHO WANTS IT LESS, IN WHICH CASE THE PERSON WHO WANTS IT LESS…I’VE SAID TOO MUCH JUST RUN!

If you’re smart you will walk up the hill. Why? You’re very tired. Running up the hill will take a lot of energy and you won’t go that much faster than walking. So just walk.

Then run a little faster down the hill. Why? You’ve saved up energy. Running down the hill will take very little energy and you’ll go much faster. Use this strategy and you’ll go further and faster than your opponents who stubbornly run up the hills.

Both Carlsen and Karjakin (although the onus of the decision falls upon Carlsen, who had the white pieces for game 12) believed they would get more value from their efforts in the rapid games.

This problem is not unique to chess, not even close

Ok, the New York Yankees can’t show up to Fenway Park, and play a 3 1/2 hour game of baseball in 15 minutes then hit the showers. This is unique to chess, and it sucks. But you know does happen in baseball? Intentional walks. You’re a pitcher, and Sammy Sosa (go cubs) is coming to the plate. Sammy has .378 batting average and hits home runs often. There are runners on 2nd and 3rd and two outs. Who is batting after Sammy Sosa? The opposing teams pitcher, who hasn’t batted in 16 weeks because of inter-league play, a horrible hitter. What do you do?

For the love of all that is good walk Sammy Sosa, and save your energy for the horrible hitter. Walk up the hill, run down. Oh, and when you’re deliberately walking a power hitter, make sure the pitches are far enough away so he can’t actually hit them…

rekt

rekt

On May 11th, 2017 the Golden State Warriors played their division rivals, The San Antonio Spurs. The Warriors didn’t play their 3 star players, and lost the game by 22 points. Why?  Because  The Warriors were finishing up a long road trip and everyone was very tired. San Antonio is a very tough team. So rather than try to win the game they chose to walk up the the hill, so they could save energy for their easier games (they have won the last 5 games since losing to San Antonio).

If you think about this strategy in terms of a sport like Poker, it happens every hand. You look down at a bad hand like 2-7 off-suit, and you instantly decide to fold. It’s very difficult to get value out this hand, so why try? Why risk it? Think about this strategy in the context of a larger Poker tournament: It’s a 1,000 person poker tournament and only the top 100 players get paid $12,000. There are currently 101 people left in the tournament, the next person eliminated will be the ‘bubble boy’ and receive no money, everyone else will. This is a very polarized situation; people will either be very aggressive or extremely conservative. I’ve seen people fold kings pre-flop, the second best hand in poker, for fear that something unlikely would happen and they would be the dreaded ‘bubble boy’. If I were in this situation I would “walk up the hill” by leaving the table and going to a sports bar until the bubble had burst (provided I had enough chips to pay the blinds/antes).

The truth is no one, in any sport, can apply maximum effort at all time. Chess is judged most harshly for this human characteristic because the problem is so naked in chess.

Moving towards the solution, next week!

Obviously there is no 100%, fail-safe, solution to this problem. But I have something to add to this conversation.

If you’ve read this far then something tells me you’ve also read GM Yasser Seirwan’s article on the WC, but if you haven’t, you should. And also Greg Shahade’s Article about the WC Match.

 

My Magnus Theory Pt. 2: Magnus’ Big Problem

Magnus Carlsen is the 3-Time World Chess Champion, he’s 26 years old, he’s probably the most talented chess player on earth, and I think he has a big problem.

Here is my “Magnus Theory Pt 1.” The TLDR version is: Carlsen transformed his style from a Tal-like swashbuckler, to a extremely conservative positional player that relied on stamina to wear down his opponents (who were usually older).

What do Carlsen and Tal have in common?

Both relied on sub-optimal moves to become World Chess Champion.

Tal loved to sacrifice material, even when he admitted it wasn’t ‘correct’. The most famous example is Game 6 of the 1960 World Chess Championship against Botvinnik. On his 24th move Tal sacrificed a knight for the initiative, activation of pieces with no immediate material compensation, and went on to win the game.

24...Nf4!? is marked as an inaccuracy by stockfish, recommended was Nf6

24…Nf4!? is marked as an inaccuracy by stockfish, recommended was Nf6

From what I’ve read in books, this knight sacrifice really frustrated some because if Botvinnik hadn’t blundered 2 moves later, the move would have gone down in the history books as a blunder instead of a brilliancy. Whether brilliant or a blunder, this move isn’t optimal!

Now what you probably think I’m going to say is: Carlsen won the 2016 WCC by sacrificing his queen in Game 4 of tie-breaks.Screen Shot 2017-01-24 at 2.29.04 PM

This is not one of the sacrifices I’m talking about. And to connect Tal and Carlsen because they both have sacrificed material in a WCC would be lame and a waste of everyone’s time.

The sacrifice Carlsen made on move 10 of game 3 of his 2016 match vs Karjakin is much more interesting to me.Screen Shot 2017-01-24 at 2.37.54 PM

Most people, who am I kidding, no one but me, will classify 10.Re2 as a sacrifice. When chess players think of a sacrifice they usually think of Tal trading a rook for a pawn, or a bishop sacrifice on f7, or h2, or a move that loses material for some greater gain. Carlsen isn’t losing material with Re2, so why do I call it a sacrifice? I look at Re2 as a sacrifice because Carlsen is losing something: the advantages of playing the optimal move. What is Carlsen gaining? A fresh position where he can try to outplay his opponent.

I don’t want to get caught up on semantics, you can call Re2 whatever you want: a sacrifice, a transaction, a strategy, whatever. The main point is: Carlsen is playing sub-optimal moves in exchange for fresh positions. Think of how similar this is to Tal: Tal played “non-correct” moves to create chaos. Tal’s assumption is I am better at chaotic positions, so I will pay material to create them. Carlsen is playing “sub-optimal” moves to create a new position, which is essentially chaos. Carlsen’s assumption is I am better at simply playing chess, so I will make sub-optimal moves to create fresh positions. Both Carlsen and Tal are willing to play “sub optimal moves” to steer the game into something their opponent could not expect. Both used this tactic at the highest possible level of competition, the World Chess Championship, and both won. Brilliant and Magical.

Carlsen uses this strategy often. Here are some recent examples. On his 6th move of the 5th 2016 WCC Game Carlsen plays the 10th most popular move 6.a4. Carlsen repeated the strange opening on the 2nd Tie-Break game of the 2016 WCC. In the 4th Tie-Break Game Carlsen played 5.f3 in the Sicilian. Here is a screenshot from the lichess opening explorer to give you an idea of how popular that move is.
Screen Shot 2017-01-25 at 12.09.20 PM

If you don’t agree that Carlsen uses sub-optimal moves to create fresh positions go ahead and take a look at this game, then come back and we can talk.

Screen Shot 2017-01-26 at 11.40.58 AM

Why is this strategy a problem?

Before I tell you why I think this strategy will pose long-term problems for Carlsen let me say, I am a Magnus Carlsen fan. I’ve been following his career for over 10 years, I think he’s great for chess, and I am in no way a ‘hater.’ The way that Magnus transformed his game to utilize this strategy is remarkable and brilliant, and rightly earned him the title of World Champion. It was a brilliant choice in 2013, but now I think this strategy will become a liability.

Reason #1– Playing sub-optimal moves is a strategy that can’t grow and mature the way other styles can.

Former WC Viswanathand Anand has the most notorious opening repertoire in chess. My favorite Anand game is his 2013 game against Aronian where Anand uses ‘left-over’ preparation from his WC match against Gelfand. Bear with me, if Anand’s opening repertoire was a tree, I think the tree would look like this.Screen Shot 2017-01-25 at 12.25.35 PM

Beautiful, wild, mysterious, deep, fecund, growing, ancient.

I’ve heard Carlsen lecture, his memory is unparalleled. I 100% believe Carlsen could play openings like Anand, but chooses to put his efforts into more effective areas of his chess game. No one knows what Carlsen has in his head but Carlsen. All we know is what he has shown us so far.

If Carlsen’s opening style was a tree I think it would look like this:

Screen Shot 2017-01-25 at 12.33.01 PM

Tiny, mysterious, well pruned, and the work of a master.

But here’s the thing about this tree: you can only prune a tree for so long. Tree pruning, hair cutting and laundry are all tasks that have pre-determined ends.

Carlsen makes sub-optimal opening moves. What can he to do mature that style? Make his opening moves more sub-optimal? Bring an 8-sided die to every game with white, and before the game give it a roll, and move the corresponding pawn 1 square?

Screen Shot 2017-01-26 at 11.08.19 AM

I can hear the commentators now “Welcome to the 2018 World Chess Championship. The players are about ready to begin Game 1, and Carlsen is bringing out his opening die. What will he roll today? Only the die knows. Oh, it’s a 6! Carlsen shrugs, puts the die back in his breast pocket and plays f3. Wouldn’t be my choice to open a world championship but you know the saying “you live by the die, you die by the die.”

Am I being serious or not? Yes

Reason #2- This style was developed to defeat a chess meta-game that has drastically changed, making it less effective.

I don’t hear the term “meta-game’ discussed in chess and probably for good reason. Chess is usually like weight-lifting, I can lift 500 pounds, you can only lift 450, so I’m going to win this weightlifting competition. The Style or what method you use to lift the weight isn’t relevant. All that matters is: can you lift the weigh or not?

Compare that to a game like Hearthstone, or League of Legends, or even NBA Basketball. In those games it’s possible to have strategy, method, or team that is most successful but not objectively best. In those games the ‘strongest’ doesn’t always win. Here’s how: There’s a new Hearthstone deck that’s using the most consistent and effective strategy, let’s call that “strategy a”. “Strategy a” gains wide popularity because people that use it gain a high win %. Because of “strategy a’s” popularity a counter strategy is developed, “strategy b”. “Strategy b” is only successful against “strategy a” and quickly gains popularity. Now that “strategy b” is becoming so popular a normal and basic “strategy c” is developed, because “strategy b” wasn’t designed to beat it. And finally now that ‘strategy c’ is gaining popularity, guess what is ready to come back? “Strategy a”!

giphy

The other interesting logical consequence of above scenario is: “b” beats “a”, and “c” beats “b” but “c” loses to “a”.

Does the chess world have a meta-game? I don’t think so. But I do think Carlsen’s opening strategy is a reaction to an exploitable weakness, much like “strategy b” in the above scenario (but I also think Carlsen is the strongest weightlifter around). This choice made Carlsen a great match-up for Anand and Carlsen soundly won 2 WCC matches. Carlsen used the same strategy against Karjakin in their 2016 WC match in NYC. Carlsen did not win that match, Karjakin lost it. Carlsen won game 10 after a unbelievable mistake by Karjakin. After the match Carlsen admitted himself how close the chess world came to having a new champion.

Carlen’s strategy made him the king of the pre-computer world of chess, but I don’t believe it will serve him well in the post-computer era.

Prediction

My prediction is simple: If Carlsen’s next WCC challenger is under 30 years old, Carlsen will have to stop making these suboptimal moves in the opening. If he doesn’t I believe he will be defeated.

Oh and yes, I have thought about what tree reminds me of Tal’s sacrifices: the weeping beechScreen Shot 2017-01-26 at 10.33.18 AM

Unreal, wonder inducing, strange, beautiful

The Count’s Chess Puzzle Room

In the summer of 2016 I went to an “Escape the Room” puzzle in New York City with my wife and two friends. If you don’t know what an “Escape the Room” puzzle is, it’s basically a puzzle where you are put in a locked room, and you have 1 hour to figure out how to get out of the room. There are countless themes and variations on how ETRs work. The first one I did was a detective’s office: we had an hour to gather evidence proving this was a crooked cop, and find the key to unlock the door before this fictitious detective got back from lunch. This one was pretty fun, there were trap doors, secret buttons,  and black lights exposing invisible ink. We escaped the room with just 30 seconds to spare. I did another ETR that was really fun: a bank’s security system was undergoing repairs for 60 minutes, we had to break into the bank, open the vault and escape with the treasure. The best part of this ETR was when we found a remote controlled car that was controlled by a provided tablet. We had to put the car into an air-vent, turn on the car’s lights, navigate around the vents until we found a secret room. In the secret room there was a button on the wall that we ran into with our little car. When the button was pressed it opened the door to the room, and we got in. I have got out of 60% of the rooms I’ve gone into, and would recommend the experience for anyone. If you’re in NYC I would recommend this place.

But what really interested me about the experience was the mindset you are put into during this 60 minutes. ETR participants feel: energized, extremely aware of surroundings, curious, collaborative, and creative. The hour goes by in a flash. I fell in love with that cocktail of feelings. It reminded me of the most inspiring classes I’ve taken and taught, encapsulated in a puzzle room.

Can “Escape the Room” puzzles be educational?

ETR rooms are almost exclusively built for adults. The motor control, creativity, and general life-skills (things like: how to open a safe or use bolt cutters to cut a lock off a door) make ETRs inappropriate for kids. But the feelings I experienced during that hour were so powerful, I wanted to think of a creative way to make an ETR ‘like’ experience that could be educational for kids.

Barrier #1- Let us not pretend to lock kids in a room.

If someone told me I was locked inside of a room when I was a kid, it would have scared the hell out of me. Even if it was explained to me that I could leave anytime I wanted, or the lock wasn’t real, I think I still would have been frightened. Plus telling someone something, then explaining that something isn’t real kind of takes away from the ‘authenticity’ of the situation. I wanted to create another environment where children had to solve problems in a certain amount of time, for some fun reason.

Solution #1- The Bye-Bye Box

The Bye-Bye Box in all her glory!

The Bye-Bye Box in all her glory!

The Bye-Bye Box is two crates held together by two door hinges, so the Bye-Bye box can open like a book. The Bye-Bye Box also has 3 hasps (the metal things you actually lock the different locks to, had to look up the name) and 2 or 3 different padlocks (depending on the difficulty of the puzzle), and a paper shredder mounted on the inside of the box. The paper shredder is hooked up to a remote controlled attachment giving me the ability to turn the shredder on and off remotely. And yes I did get funny looks in Home Depot and the NYC Subway carrying around all this, but once I explained it people were like ‘oh ok, that’s freaking sweet good luck!”

Barrier #2- Will this actually be educational while still being thrilling?

Here’s how the “Count’s Chess Puzzle Room” works: Kids come into the chess club, solve riddles to find clues, then solve chess puzzles to get numbers to open different locks. Students have 1 hour to open the Bye-Bye Box or else the shredder destroys “the prize.” Maybe the prize is patterns that the children can color if they succeed, or maybe 6 chess puzzles on a sheet of paper that will help the student beat whomever they want in chess. The addition of a consequence of failure is what injects urgency, and adrenaline into the students as they solve the riddles and puzzles.

I want to tell you about a typical hour lesson in the “Count’s Chess Puzzle Room.” This will help you see how I used chess, and a couple of other puzzles to get my students to feel the same way about chess as I did the first time I did an ETR puzzle.

The Opening Letter: Kids come into the chess club to find an envelope on the table, and a curious locked crate that they may or may not have seen before.

 

IMG_1064

The Count’s Opening Letter

The kids read the clue and find the first envelope behind a Christmas themed design on our wall of fame. Here’s an example of a type of chess puzzle I use in the clues, and how that clue translates into opening up a lock.

 

Day 3 puzzle 3

Ok kids, in this game I moved my bishop to g5. What square does that bishop want to go to next? The first # in the wall mounted lock is the rank the bishop it will move to minus the bishops value (7-3=4.)

Now the students have the first number in a lock combination. They will have to find another clue in the chess club with another chess problem on it to discover the rest of the numbers.

Maybe for an hour we follow one game all the way through. And at different points during the game I insert a puzzle into the narrative that gives the students the next number in a lock’s combination. With a little creativity and planning you can easily write hour long lessons that your students will be energized to do lest they fail to open the “Bye-Bye Box”, and see their prize shredded before their eyes!

Another example of how to connect chess and the “Bye-Bye Box”

One week the “Bye-Bye Box” lesson was centered around a Mikhail Tal game. At the beginning of the lesson the following clue was given: the white queen opens the white lock. Here’s a photo of the white lock.IMG_1079

This is a cool lock I found at Home Depot. In this game Tal moves his queen 5 times: starting from d1 to d4, then to d2, d3, g3 and ends the game with Qg6. Here’s what those queen movements look like.

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The combination for the white lock is: Up, Down, Up, Left, Up. There are a lot of ways to translate those queen moves into a 4 digit, or letter, or movement-based combination: maybe

Getting crazy

This doesn’t have to just be about chess, here’s an example of a plot line I used today that uses playing cards.

 

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Cards aren’t labeled correctly in this photo b/c it was taken when I was making them and the cards were taped together, so when I flipped the cards they would appear correct on the other side.

 

Around the chess club were 20 playing cards that students had to find. The back of the cards were labeled a1-e4 so the students had to organize the cards correctly in a 5×4 grid. Once the grid was made, the students flipped the cards over to reveal the other side. And are given the below riddle:

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Cards are fun, cards are cool, they’re the apple of my eye. Search and scour for all 20, then stack them towards the sky!

The children had trouble discovering which way to stack the cards. The Ace of Clubs has “Start Here” written on it, and the 10 of Spades has “Finish” written on it. The children first tried making a pile of cards based on their value, aces first, then 2’s, then 3’s and so on. This is was not the correct order. One keen student realized there was so sort of bizarre path going between all the cards, maybe that was the order they should be stacked in. And indeed it was, when the cards were stacked in the correct order, the students found the secret message written on the sides of the cards.

7418* opens the wall mounted lockbox. Inside the box the key that opens the last lock on the Bye-Bye Box.

7418* opens the wall mounted lockbox. Inside the box the key that opens the last lock on the Bye-Bye Box.

The possibilities of what can be taught through this new method is endless

Any age any elo (chess strength)

One of the beauties of the Bye-Bye Box is it’s re-use-ability. Most ETRs can only be done once, once you know the ‘secrets’ of the room. But the combinations on all the locks can be changed, different plot lines can be added, and difficulties of the chess puzzles can be adjusted so that a chess player of any skill could be challenged by it. Have a student who is 6 years old, and only been playing chess for a few months? Put some easy puzzles in the clues, and only have 2 locks on the Bye-Bye Box. Or maybe GM Eric Hansen and his Chess Brahs are coming up for a challenge, crack open a Kasparov book, and pick the most difficult puzzles and use 3 padlocks instead.

Can I sign me or my kids up for this?

This is the only Educational Chess-Themed ETR that I know of. The Chess at 3 Chess Club is at 1309 Madison ave NYC. If you want book a session for you or your child you can email me at: tyler.schwartz@chessat3.com

If you have a question about the Bye-Bye Box or the lessons I’ve written that go along with it, feel free to leave a comment!

Safety Notes

If you’re thinking: are you insane you have a locked box with a paper shredder that children put their hands into?

Before children begin any “Bye-Bye Box” classes a couple of rules are settled. 1. Children can try to actually unlock the locks but cannot open the Bye-Bye Box or put their hands inside the box for any reason.

The way I built the “Bye-Bye Box” has some safety failsafes that makes it impossible for a child or anyone for that matter to be hurt by the paper shredder. 1- The paper shredder is off at all times, the only way it is turned on is by a button only accessible to me. 2- The shredder will only be turned on when the box is closed. I’ve taken all possible safety measures, and if you want to something like this, it is 100% necessary you do too

 

 

Carlsen (25) and Karjakin (26) Visit New York to Battle for Chess Immortality

 

For the first time 2 Grandmasters, who have never known a world without computers, will duel on Chess’s most coveted stage, The World Chess Championship.

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On November 11th, 2016, in New York’s South Street Seaport, World Champion Magnus Carlsen will make his first move against Sergey Karjakin and begin the youngest World Championship match in history. Carlsen became World Champion in 2013 when he defeated Viswanathan Anand in their match without losing a game. Carlsen also won the 2014 rematch against Anand. Karjakin earned his seat by winning the 2016 Candidates Tournament, capped with a brilliant win over US #1 Fabiano Caruana. At the beginning of the match, Carlsen’s rating is 2853 and #1 in the world, while Karjakin stands at 2772, putting him at #9.

The Venue

 

Chess is in the DNA of New York. A keen eye can find a gang of chess players in most New York City Parks. The players in the park are a microcosm of the city surrounding them: Wall St Millionaires battling street hustlers, cocky college students getting lessons in humility from cranky experts. New York and Chess have this in common: It’s not who you are, it’s your moves that define you.

New York hosted the 1995 World Championship match between Garry Kasparov and the aforementioned Anand at the World Trade Center. The last American World Champion was the brilliant recluse Bobby Fischer, who won the title in Reykjavik in 72’ against Boris Spassky. Fischer then famously forfeited his title with a note written on his napkin.

The Match

The World Championship Match is best of 12 games. Players will play 1 game a day, for 2 days, then enjoy a rest day. If the score is tied after 12 games the players with play 4 rapid games, 5 2-Game blitz matches, and if necessary, an armageddon game. In addition to the title of “World Champion,” there is a $1.1 million USD prize pool at stake.

The Cold Hard Numbers:

Carlsen and Karjakin have faced each other 21 times in Classical Chess (100 minutes for the first 40 moves, 50 minutes for the next 20 moves and then 15 minutes for the rest of the game plus an additional 30 seconds per move starting from move 1). Carlsen has won 4, Karjakin has won 1, while 16 games ended in a draw.

2 pieces of bad news for Karjakin: 1. The last time Carlsen lost to Karjakin in a classical game was in 2012. 2. Karjakin was soundly beaten in their last encounter earlier in 2016. The game features Carlsen masterfully finding the optimal square for each of his pieces, while Karjakin seemed confused, moving his kingside rook 6 times in just 26 moves . Frankly, the data from their classical games paints a bleak picture for the Russian challenger.

The results from their non-classical (rapid, blitz, and blindfold) matches is a bit more interesting, and may reveal insights on how Karjakin could win the match. Here’s the data for all the Carlsen vs Karjakin non-classical games.

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Magnus leads Karjakin in three out of four categories. How big of a favorite is Carlsen?  The “Vegas Odds” have a 78% chance of Magnus retaining his title.

Karjakin, Staunch Defender

A deeper look at the data reveals some interesting patterns, particularly for Karjakin. In Chess the white side goes first, and has the advantage because of it. At top level chess the player with the black pieces is at a disadvantage and usually happy with a draw while the white side wants to use their advantage to play for a win. Here’s a chart that shows all the games from 2015 in chessgames.com, as you can see, black winning is the least likely game outcome.

Here’s the interesting point: Karjakin beats Carlsen more with black than he does with white. Out of their 47 games, Karjakin won 11 games, 9 games with black, only 2 with white. The only time Karjakin beat Carlsen in a classical game, way back in 2006, was with the black pieces. Karjakin’s unusual penchant for winning with black more than white isn’t isolated to Carlsen, here is a chart of Karjakin’s wins against other Super Grandmasters:

 

The data reveals Karjakin’s core strength: staunch defense. A quality shared with past Champions like Botvinnik, Karpov, and Spassky, to name a few. Karjakin has gotten to the World Championship by understanding his opponents moves better than they do themselves. A great example of this type of mindset can be seen in the last game of the 2016 Candidates Match, the very game that earned Karjakin his ticket to New York. Karjakin has the white pieces, and Caruana the black pieces. Caruana is desperate, if he beats Karjakin he will play Magnus for the World Championship, but a loss or draw sends Karjakin. What does Karjakin do? He let Caruana recklessly attack him, as Caruana had to risk his king safety in this attack. When the moment was right, Karjakin decimated Caruana’s position with a mysterious rook sacrifice, ending the game only a couple moves later.

This mindset has applications in many sports: Making the second move is an advantage because you get to make your move with more information than your opponent. In blackjack, the house is revealed last and casinos make billions of dollars every year.  The home team in baseball bats second. In No Limit Hold’em’, having “position” (acting last) is often times valued more than the quality of your cards. Would Karjakin have the best odds of winning the match if he got the black pieces in every game? The data says yes.

But for this strategy to work, Carlsen needs to make a mistake. Does Carlsen make mistakes? Yes, Carlsen famously blundered in the last World Championship Match against Anand. Unbelievably, Anand didn’t realize the mistake, and blundered right back to the relief of Carlsen. Carlsen occasionally blunders against Karjakin, usually on move 38: 2008 Rapid Game, 2008 Blitz Game, 2010 Rapid Game.  

Carlsen’s Suffocating Chess

The year is 2008, the World Champion is the Indian GM, Viswanathan Anand. His challenger is the Russian GM Vladimir Kramnik. The format for their match is the same as the 2016 format, best of 12 games. Anand has a reputation for having the most vast opening repertoire in chess. This means Anand is very good at memorizing thousands of chess openings 20, sometimes 30 moves into a game. Having such an encyclopedia available is an obvious advantage. Imagine Player “A” and player “B” have played 30 moves of their chess game. Player “A” had the first 12 moves of game memorized, and therefore had to think for 18 moves of the game. Player “B” had all 30 moves memorized, and has not had to think in the game yet.  Player “B” has the advantages for many reasons, I’ll list three. The first advantage is player “B’s” moves will probably be better because they were conceived in the comfort of a study area, not OTB (over the board). The second advantage is mental stamina. Thinking and creating is hard work, just like running, turning a crank, or ditch digging. The longer you think, the less accurate your moves become. Imagine running a marathon against an opponent and he gets to ride in a golf cart alongside you for the first 10 miles while getting a back massage. The third advantage is mental. Players at this level can sense when they’re in someone’s ‘preparation’. It might be how fast a player is making their moves, it might be the off-beat, but strategically sound flavor to their moves. But the fact is, it’s not fun to walk into a trap, and it might make some lesser experienced players crack. In this aspect of chess, Viswanathan Anand is generally considered the best prepared.

In the 3rd game of Anand vs Kramnik, Kramnik had the white pieces and walked right into a memorized line of Anand, and lost the game. When asked about Anand’s play after the game Kramnik said he wasn’t impressed and challenged Anand to make the same moves the next time he had the white pieces. In game 5 Kramnik stubbornly made similar moves to game 3 and Anand happily played a slightly different line, and beat him again. Anand’s preparation won game 3, but Kramnik’s hubris lost him game 5. These two games gave Anand an enormous advantage, and Anand went on to win the match.

One could argue that the 2008 World Chess Championship was decided off the chessboard. Chess culture and history is shaped by occurrences like these. Opening preparation is of the utmost importance, and players are careful when and where to reveal brilliant lines they memorized at home. Certain openings become popular, while others fall out of fashion. That is the vernacular used by the chess community, an opening “falls in and out of style”. Many players have coaches specifically dedicated to preparing openings for them that will be especially effective against a certain opponent. Teams have been accused of leaking opening information. Massive resources and effort were and still are devoted to developing a player’s opening repertoire. How does Carlsen approach openings?

“(Carlsen) went into some games with only the first move chosen; most players typically map out their first dozen or so moves. He believes that things even out because, as he put it, “I’m younger and have more energy, and it’s easier to adapt.” –  T.D. Max, The New Yorker, March 21, 2011

Carlsen plays extremely simple openings, and almost never gets an advantage because of it.  What he does get, is a neutralization of his opponent’s opening preparation. No memorized lines, no ego, no accusing teams of leaking openings, Carlsen’s simple openings force his opponent’s into doing what Carlsen does best: play chess, and play chess until you crack.

The first game of the Carlsen vs Anand World Championship Match is a perfect illustration of this strategy. Carlsen trades off 3 minor pieces, and a pawn by move 13, avoiding any potential complications from his notoriously well prepared opponent. By move 27 they have already moved on to the endgame, Anand has a slight space advantage, Carlsen has a better pawn structure, the computer regards the position as exactly even. With neither side having any discernible advantage the game should end as a draw. But it’s precisely this dry, some would call boring, type of position that Carlsen wants. Over the next couple of moves we see Carlsen’s pieces jump into action, and begin the “strangling pressure, no direct hits”, which is how Garry Kasparov describes Carlsen’s style. In the end, Anand found a brilliant way to draw the game by a 3-fold-repetition, but the disturbing message was heard: Carlsen took a position of almost complete equality, and made a former World Champion bend, but not break.

Anand broke in game 2.  Eerily similar position to game 1, rook and queen endgame. In game 2, Carlsen did have approximately a 1 pawn advantage, as opposed to the equality of game 1. But Carlsen used the same strategy of strangling pressure, and on move 34 Anand made a blunder that made spectators wince, he resigned on the next move.

This is the kind of style I expect to see from Carlsen in his match with Karjakin: patient moves that improve his own position, and pressure his opponent, while also creating no weakness that could be exploited. In short if you want to know what Carlsen plays chess like, watch Top Gun he’s “Iceman,” “(Iceman) Flies ice-cold. Makes no mistakes. Wears you down. You get bored, do something stupid, he’s got you.”

Computers’ Influence on Modern Chess

Computers used to be the laughing stock of the chess world. The were clunky monstrosities that could maybe string together a couple of good moves, but before long, the computer would make a move that was unbelievably bad. It was thought that the subtleties moves, nuances, and instinct needed for chess would ultimately make computers unable to compete.

It’s difficult to tell when the tipping point happened; perhaps it was Garry Kasparov losing to IBM’s Deep Blue in 1997. But computers are now ubiquitous. Chess engines on your cell phone are able to calculate millions of moves a second, and understand mysterious positions with ease. The resources computers provide combined with the universal connection of the internet, changed the world of chess forever.

But how computers evaluate positions, decide who is winning and losing, has shaped how top level chess players think as well. A ‘computer move’ used to mean a comically illogical move so stupid, only a computer could have composed it. Now a ‘computer move’ means a move so illogically brilliant, no human could have conceived it.

Carlsen and Karjakin have grown up with computers and gleaned their unusual insights over their entire chess careers. It is an innate connection with computers that gives the younger generation of chess players the ability to play these “computer moves” with more frequency than their seniors. I am always watching chess streams of big tournaments and commentators will say something like, “Well looking at this position, there are a lot of tactics and lots of ways to improve the position, but the computer is saying that the best way to continue is for white to simply move their king to b1. Now of course that move won’t be played because it’s computer move.” Only to see the young player make the mysterious computer move to the shock of the commentator. This is the first time the world gets to see two chess players raised on computers face off for the world championship.

Expect Brilliance

It is difficult to predict what strategies Carlsen and Karjakin will bring to the table. Anand was a Champion for many reasons, but his opening preparation was his most feared weapon. Magnus defeated Anand with simplicity and youthful endurance. But what is the antidote for simplicity? Is there one? That is what Karjakin will try to answer.

Magnus does have a bad habit of starting tournaments badly, losing a couple of games, only to go on a win streak and win.

“Friedel wrote to me, “I have a new theory. Magnus is so strong that he is simply bored. (I know from personal experience that he bores easily.) So he has come up with a new strategy to make things more interesting for himself: play like an idiot in the first few games, move to the bottom of the table, and then try to win the tournament anyway.”  T.D. Max, The New Yorker

Does Magnus deliberately ‘take a dive’ at the beginning of a tournament to challenge himself? He did make the objectively bad move 1.e3 in the 2016 Chess Olympiad, albeit against a much lower rated opponent. Magnus won that game in 33 moves.

But this is the World Championship, and to imagine either player approaching the match with anything but world class preparation would be difficult to imagine. With that said, Karjakin’s style is perfect for defending a match lead, and thus we come to the most logical way I can think for Karjakin to actually win: For whatever reason Carlsen starts the match off on the wrong foot, Karjakin seizes the lead, Carlsen is forced to play more aggressive than he normally would to regain the lead, and Karjakin is able to use Carlsen’s desperation against him, just like he did to Caruana at the end of the 2016 Candidates tournament. Although it is possible, I would say this is a highly unlikely series of events.

What would I predict? A conservative start to the match. Imagine a boxing match where the two competitors throw just a couple of jabs, not so much to connect and knock the opponent out, but to see how the opponent reacts. I predict Carlsen and Karjakin not to risk much in the first couple games but rather make some pressing moves to see how the opponent reacts.

But I would say the critical games will be a game where Carlsen has whites and Karjakin has the blacks. As both players win more with those colors.

I predict the final score 6 ½ Carlsen 3 ½ Karjakin, with Carlsen winning the 11th game.

Coverage

Lichess.org will be at every game, and will provide an immediate post-game artcle written by yours truly, Tyler Schwartz, along with commentary and insights from some of lichess’s top players.

About the Author: Tyler Schwartz is a passionate chess ambassador. Tyler is the President of Chess at 3, teaching chess to children all over the world at the surprising age of 3. He is the Head of Media at lichess.org. Tyler also manages a chess club on the upper east side of Manhattan. Graphics by Joshua Krohn

Wesley So Analyzes an Unpublished So Game

Wesley pulls out his private journal to show us an unpublished game of his. Very instructive!

 

Video Here

Super GM Wesley So shows Tyler his favorite Tal Game

Tyler sits down with 2016 Sinqufeld Cup winnner, and 2016 Chess Olympiad Gold Medalist, Wesley So, to look at So’s favorite game of Tal’s.

See the video here

How do I get my Daughter to Love Chess?

Practical Strategies for Closing the Gender Gap in Chess To understand the benefits of playing chess, think of chess as a mental gym. When you play chess, you engage your brain in critical and demanding ways. Your brain is constantly developing to adapt to this more mentally intense environnment. Thus when you repeatedly play chess […]

Tiny Feet Take Big Steps in Chess

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The Chess at 3 kids got to use the facilities where professionals usually play.
Image credit: Goddard School.

This article originally ran in the On Chess column on the St. Louis Public Radio website.

On Saturday, Jan. 23, a chess tournament was hosted in the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis. No grandmasters at this one. Goddard School students age 3 to 5 participated in the tournament.

It was quite the spectacle as more than 30 children and nearly 100 adults, including parents, grandparents, extended family, family friends and siblings, observed the tournament.

The tournament had beginner and advanced sections, and children played four games over two hours. In between each game, the president of Chess at 3 (me, Tyler Schwartz) told a story called “The Cranky Princess” to the children, which taught them about “making plans.” Everyone was blown away by how well the tournament went and how comfortable these children felt with chess.

These children are able to play chess because of a curriculum written by Chess at 3. The Chess at 3 core curriculum revolves around silly, engaging stories that explain to children why the chess pieces move the way they do.

Take the bishops, for example. How do you teach a 3-year-old how a bishop moves? Up until recently, children have just been told that bishops move on a diagonal. There are two problems with this approach. The first is that children have difficulty pronouncing the word “diagonal.” The second problem is that the concept of a diagonal is too abstract for their minds to understand.download

Deliberately silly stories help young children grasp how chess pieces move.
Image credit: Goddard School

 

The resulting frustration for students and teachers alike is the main reason chess is not taught to children at this age.

Chess at 3’s core curriculum circumvents these frustrations with silly stories. Before bishops come out of the bag, Chess at 3 tells children a story about Bee and Bop, two brothers who work in the circus. Bee loves the color green, and Bop loves the color white. Everything about Bee is green – his clothes, his hair, even the food he eats, while Bop’s clothes, hair and favorite drink (you guessed it: milk!) are white. At night the brothers zip around the roof of their circus tent, which is decorated with green and white squares.

After hearing the story, children effortlessly zip Bee across the green squares and Bop across the white ones. The children figure out how bishops “like” to move, and it was all because the information was communicated in a fun, relatable way. Now when these children hear the word “chess,” their faces light up – it is the most fun part of their week!

The Goddard School and Chess at 3 began collaborating in 2014. Now more than 100 Goddard Schools use and love Chess at 3. The Goddard School’s philosophy is that children learn best by having fun, which is why it partnered with Chess at 3. The Goddard School is the first preschool chain to endorse Chess at 3.

Chess at 3, The Goddard School and the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis are all proud to be on the forefront of early childhood education and chess!

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