Malakhov - Kuzubov, Politiken Cup 2009. White to move.
Apropos chess computers....
Yesterday's top board game in round five of the Politiken Cup in Copenhagen saw the extremely rare two bishops versus knight endgame. As a measure of how rare it is, the last time I saw anything about this sort of endgame was in the magazine "New In Chess" back in 1988, where there was a lengthy article on it!
The 2B v. N was considered a draw for decades, until 1983 and "tablebases", i.e. computer engines, that can work out the precise winning method. It isn't at all easy since the road to victory can take as many as 40+ correct moves! I followed the game live on the net and put the game positions in a tablebase and sure enough got an answer within a second, such as forced checkmate in 48 moves and the like. The Russian Vladimir Malakhov, who has 5/5 points now, had to use his erudition and skill to bring home the whole point on move 110; it just goes to show how good these Grandmasters are when you consider they had been playing for just over four hours by this point and he had no books or tablebases to help him at the board!
In the position above, White played 110. Kg4-g5 and Black resigned. It's mate very shortly. (110. ... Kh7-h8 111. Kg5-g6 Ng7-e6 112. Ba5-c3 check, and not 111.Bf7:e6 stalemate!)
Pictured: 12th Women's World Champion and Grandmaster, Alexandra Kosteniuk.
I had more or less given up playing serious, over the board, chess for roughly a decade, contenting myself with 3-minute internet blitz chess - where both players have only three minutes each to play a whole game - at FICS (the Free Internet Chess Server). Chess seemed to be dying a slow death at the hands of computers and a crush of books on opening analysis. (The initial position allows the working out of best moves, sometimes going as deep as move 30!) Chess should be fun, not a pointless game of memorisation. So I stopped playing until this spring when I regained my enthusiasm again thanks to Russian Grandmaster Kosteniuk. I came across some of her videos on YouTube and... BANG! ... hooked again.
Chess is certainly far more varied than I ever imagined as I have discovered upon reading a few books on modern strategy written by an American International Master, John Watson. I had grown up on all the classic strategy books, such as "The Middlegame" by Max Euwe (World Champion in 1935) and "My System" by Aron Nimzovitch. They are fine books but there have come a whole load of new strategical ideas since; the past decade has seen lots of quality books, such as the Watson series, detailing this change in ideas. The silicon monsters aren't that big a threat (yet) either.
One of the intriguing things about chess is why girls haven't had the same success as the boys. There is quite a bit of sexism in the game: girls cannot play chess! (sic.) Judit Polgar has been one of the exceptions; she's been a top Grandmaster for years. (Judit doesn't bother with the Women's World title; she plays the men.)
There have been attempts to understand why. There were a couple of articles discussing the subject by veteran Britsh Correspondence Master Tim Harding, here (.pdf) and here. Do the ladies think differently, making them weak players? I don't think so; for the time being, though, chess is very much dominated by the guys.