Puzzles #14 - The Impossible Machine vs. Chessexplained, Active vs. Passive, & More

May 15, 2014, 1:17 PM |

Nowadays, we are bombarded with so much information it seems almost impossible to keep up with what is happening. Long gone are the days when people could just get by with the limited information that was available - man grows, and so too does his thirst for knowledge.

However, there exists a very important question that has haunted our subconscious for ages: how do we retain what we know?

Well, the question isn't easy to answer, and it certainly won't be possible in this blog post! However, I want to introduce the reader to a very interesting concept that tries to answer "THE question" by taking a scientific approach to human cognition: this concept or approach is called spaced repetition, and it basically has the user repeat learned information in specific intervals of time so that the knowledge he or she gains is never forgotten. 

One could also deduce that what is known as passive learning - not engaging actively with the learned material and just reading it / digesting it one time - should be replaced with active learning, where the user asks relevant questions, tries to recall the learned material after it is learned, etc.

Okay, so after this introduction, you might be wondering what the subject of this blog post actually is! It certainly isn't a thesis on spaced repetition, though that may be in the works!


Well, I noticed that when I watch chess YouTube videos, which help me relax quite a bit, I'm usually not trying to actively engage in the learned material. I always ask questions and never miss an opportunity to pause the video and wonder why a variation I thought was necessary wasn't played; sometimes, I even analyze the games with engines and ask myself relevant questions.

However, I and everyone reading this should take this a step further (not only in chess YouTube videos!) and try to RECALL what we learned. When you're done with a video, ask yourself what the main points in that video were. Where could the YouTuber have improved? What opening occurred? If I watched the video again, would I be able to correctly identify the tactical shots and their refutations? 

The last question finally brings us to the subject of this blog post...Chessexplained has recently released five videos featuring his brawls with the impossible computer that haunts the live blitz servers on chess.com; so, I picked up some tactical shots in the videos and decided to make them into puzzles for the reader's enjoyment (and learning!). 

I recommend that you watch the videos first (if you haven't already) before trying to solve the puzzles. You may alternatively like to do the puzzles now and watch the videos later, noting the tactical shots when they are played out on video. 

NOTE: It is very much recommended that you click on the solution / question mark button to see hidden prose. 


This blog post will also cover video 1 of Chessexplained's brawls with the comp. I will try to update as much as I can, though I will be quite busy the coming month.


Without further ado:


Now, before reading my comments that follow, look over the game continuation and judge for yourself if it is drawn or not:




The key point here is that Black's king is way too active...As explained previously (do take some time to ponder the position), the White king and bishop are completely immobilized. So, once the Black king starts entering the position, White can do nothing to stop its march. Thus, White's drawing idea in the position is to stop the Black king from becoming active. Again, we return to my ideas concerning the dissection of complex chess positions (especially here, where this endgame is extremely complex). 

Now, to arrive at the conclusion that it is possible to confine the Black king is not easy at all; however, if you learn how to correctly dissect positions and toy around with some variations with an engine (though, of course, your aim should be to be able to come up with these dissections on your own - as the engine won't be there to help when you're in the heat of an OTB or even online battle), you should be able to correctly come up with the drawing technique in this position. 

Anyway, it is important to understand the "soul" of this position. Think about the pieces' powers. The king is a cool guy, protecting and supporting those pawns, and blocking others. It can also march forward and attack. But, what about the bishop? Could its long-ranged powers prove to be helpful?

Well, here goes the though process...To confine the king --> to stop it from going to f6. Why f6? Because once the king reaches f6, the bishop can no longer aid in confining the Black king. The Black king will just get checked by the bishop and move forward to f5, where its march cannot be stopped. Why can its march not be stopped? Well, on f5, the Black king is not only immune from the White bishop, but also from the White king. We arrive at another key concept now, which I will present in the form of a question: which piece is more immobile, the White king or the White bishop?

Now the reader begins to understand the true powers of even a lone bishop. The bishop needs to watch over the pawns, but it can also exert its powerful diagonal influence by controling a key diagonal that includes the all-important f6 square. Once there, the king is completely blocked from entering on the dark squares. So, now it's clear why when White's pawn is on h4, the game is lost: the bishop cannot maintain control over the h4 - d8 diagonal, so the general endgame principle is absolutely crucial here. It also becomes clear why with the pawn on h5 and the king on f6, the game is still lost. Once the Black king gets to f5, and with White having nothing better to do than to shuffle, Black's king will start aiding the Black pawns to advance with much less cost than what had to be paid previously. 

But, how does the bishop on h4 confine the Black king? Well, the pawn on h5 not only serves the purpose of making room for the bishop to come to h4, but it also controls the crucial g6 entry point, which is a light square that the bishop cannot control! It's actually absolutely amazing how the bishop and pawn cooperate to absolutely confine the Black king...Let's not forget the d5 pawn, of course, which also blocks the crucial e6 light square. 

I hope the game sample now will clearly illustrate my points above: 


Obviously, this was a very detailed dissection of a seemingly simplified position, but I do not think that one can simplify it even further than my explanations. It is very crucial to understand just how and why each presented endgame is drawn or lost - when you begin to appreciate the power of each individual piece, your whole understanding of the core of this game improves a lot. That is why I think endgames are so important - they teach you what the true essence of each position is, and this will carry over into the middlegame and opening as well. Truly, as I just recently started studying endgames more and more, I am seeing my mediocre class A rating continue to rise, hopefully to the stratosphere and beyond! 

Now, something of a purely tactical nature:




Here, CE panicked after seeing Na5, but there's probably nothing going on in the position anyway. Though, knowing the playing style of the so-called "Impossible Computer," one should of course always try to play on in slightly better positional battles.


Now, a pretty common tactical idea:


Another interesting endgame:

I have to admit I have a secret love for good knight vs. bad bishop endgames. It's probably because I'm also in love with the bishop pair, so seeing those pesky bishops getting completely dominated by a supposedly inferior piece just shows how much artistic beauty there is in this game. 

Anyway, take a look at the following position: 








Black's pawns on the queenside, which also fix White's pawns on those horrible dark squares, are truly menacing forces. However, the position is not so trivial and requires fine technique; but, before going into that fine technique, let's take a look at the actual game continuation, in which the computer committed a huge strategic error. Can you exploit it?

Now, why is the position not so trivial when you aren't helped so much by your opponent? Well, you have to make sure that as you try to devour the a-pawn, your own kingside pawns don't prove to be too much of a vulnerability. However, CE didn't have time to calculate that, so it's a good thing the pesky machine didn't defend in the best possible manner. If it did, it would still result in a ... (try to figure it out on your own! It'd be best if you try to calculate all in your head, though that definitely is no easy task! Remember to work by principles, not by pure brute force calculation as that will lead you nowhere in this extremely complex position). 


Thanks for reading; I hope you enjoyed it and learned something. I will try to deliver the coming parts and more projects as soon as I get more free time. I also need to improve as a chess player so that me and you both can appreciate the soul of chess even more.  Cool