Carbon versus Silicon – The Chess Improver

“The human mind isn’t a computer; it cannot progress in an orderly fashion down a list of candidate moves and rank them by a score down to the hundredth of a pawn the way a chess machine does. Even the most disciplined human mind wanders in the heat of competition…”
GM Garry Kasparov

This week I was cleaning my office of old printed chess information and I stumbled over an email exchange from 22 years ago. One of my friends from India shared with me an interesting rook endgame he managed to save into a draw. He was proud of it especially because he could not find any help in his endgame books. Here is the last part of that endgame. Analysis is by White.

He was curious if my 1956 endgame book by Lisitzin had anything similar in it. Of course it did. It was one of the exceptions in the rook and two isolated pawns versus rook chapter. It provided the following explanation:
“This is one of the exception (the other one is with the pawn on the a2-square). If the White pawn on the queen side is on the c2-, d2- or e2-squares, White wins. However in this position white cannot chase away the Black king, nor escape the checks delivered by Black’s rook…”

Here is the winning method for White with the queen side pawn on the c2-square as provided in the book:

Now let’s jump back in time to today. We are lucky to have at our fingertips not only several chess engines, but also the 7-pieces tablebases. Anyone can easily access them online and upload any position containing 7-pieces or less for both sides. The tablebases will return their verdict within a second. The position blow, achieved by my friend years ago, is a draw:

There is no need to analyze and play 6 more moves like in the game to figure out the result or is there? Is this a blessing or a curse? Would you just accept the verdict of the tablebases or play on to understand what is going on? I do not know what each one of you would do. In my opinion someone with a lot of knowledge and experience might go for the tablebases to save time. They know what is going on. However for the regular club player, I would suggest to actually use your own brain to figure it out. Resist the temptation! Contrary to the online popular belief, analyzing by yourself helps you get better at it. Accepting the verdict of the tablebases, not so much.

Eugen Demian

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Valer Eugen Demian

Author: Valer Eugen Demian

The player – my first serious chess tournament was back in 1974, a little bit late for today’s standards. Over the years I have had the opportunity to play all forms of chess from OTB to postal, email and server chess. The journey as a player brought me a lot of experience and a few titles along the way: FIDE CM (2012), ICCF IM (2001) and one ICCF SIM norm (2004). The instructor – my career as a chess teacher and coach started in 1994 and continues strong. I have been awarded the FIDE Instructor title (2007) for my work and have been blessed with great students reaching the highest levels (CYCC, NAYCCC, Pan-Am, WYCC). I am very proud of them! See my website for more information. I have developed my own chess curriculum on 6 levels based on my overall chess knowledge and hands-on experience. A glimpse of it can be seen in my first chess app: I can help you learn chess the proper way if this is what you seek! View all posts by Valer Eugen Demian

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