Tuesday, December 12, 2017

AlphaZero vs Stockfish part 1

As we all probably know by now, AlphaZero has played against Stockfish 8 for 100 games. Both sides have one minute per move, probably due to AlphaZero lack of time management yet. AlphaZero did not lose a single game to Stockfish and won 28 games. This type of result is almost never heard off in computer chess tournaments, it shows how AlphaZero developed 'intuition' on which positions to calculate, instead of an extremely fine-tuned alpha-beta search. AlphaZero searches just 80 thousand positions per second, compared to 70 million for Stockfish. However, its deep neural network focuses much more selectively on the most promising variations, similar to how a human would calculate[1], thus AlphaZero's games may seem quite human-like in nature. In this article, I'll be showing the first 5 games that are made public[2].
Board 1: Piece activity

AlphaZero's play is quite human-like, probably due to the way it searches. It also likes to immobilize white's pawns - a theme to be repeated many times.
The sacrifice by stockfish seemed quite promising at first, but it was not able to attack as AlphaZero's pieces are much more well placed in the middlegame compared to Stockfish's pieces. The games will start to get more interesting from here.
Board 2: Light square weaknesses

This game is extremely Nimzovich-like, overprotecting squares. In this Ruy Lopez variation, white exchanges away the light square bishop for a knight, hoping to exploit the doubled pawns, seems like keeping the light square bishop would have been a better variation, instead of having pawns on e4 and c4 as light square targets.
AlphaZero is playing chess more positionally, and less engine-like, similar to how people used to play against engines, until computational power took over.
Board 3: Dark square weaknesses

A middlegame zugzuang, how often do you see that. AlphaZero is really good at it's positional games, exploiting a kingside fianchetto structure when black does not have its dark square bishop, and then 'trapping the queen' and completely paralyzing black, forcing black to lose material by zugzuang.
The sight of having all the major pieces just sitting on your sixth rank dark square weakness looks extremely intimidating, and then having your pieces paralyzed, an extremely torturous game for stockfish.
The pawn sacrifice will happen on another game, suggesting that sacrificing that pawn for activity is possibly dangerous for black playing QID. Black may be able to draw by returning the d pawn which the queen and rook were applying pressure on even after weakening the dark squares.
Board 4: Backwards pawns

AlphaGo is really good at exploiting weaknesses, only a bishop of the wrong color and a backwards pawn and black crumbles. Stockfish is constantly getting positionally outplayed, surprisingly it survives the endgame for quite some time. It is also nice to have a French Defense game where black loses positionally(really dislike playing against french).
Game 5: Misplaced pieces

Looks like the 'Kasparov pawn sac' in QID is working quite well, immobilizing the queenside. 8...c6 was probably a blunder as it allows white to attack the d6 square with both its knights and queen.
AlphaZero repeatedly moves the same piece many times in the opening to misplace black's pieces, instead of development, misplacing pieces seems to be of higher importance than development here.
The QID is constantly losing to pieces being inactive from the pawn sacrifice, either Kasparov refuted QID many years ago and now AlphaZero also found the refutation or black should prevent the gambit by 6...d5! instead of O-O. We'll have to see AlphaZero play against itself in QID to know with higher confidence.
AlphaZero playing style is similar to William Steinitz for the middlegame and Capablanca/Bobby Fisher for the endgame. It's opening choice aim to get a positional advantage to completely outplay positionally in the middlegame, forcing weaknesses.
Stockfish has been positionally destroyed in all of the games, most likely due to AlphaZero learning to play more positionally than just brute force calculation. Brute force calculation is vulnerable to the horizon effect, trying to use an engine to evaluate shows this effect quite nicely, it gives stockfish an advantage or rate it as a draw until a few minutes later where it gives AlphaZero an positive score. We may be seeing more positional games in grandmaster games soon.
In part 2, I'll be showing the other 5 games and hopefully more games will be out by then.
References so I don't get sued:
[1] arXiv:1712.01815v1 [cs.AI]
[2]Google's AlphaZero Destroys Stockfish In 100-Game Match

Monday, December 11, 2017

December 2017 Tactical Training: Part 1

With Christmas coming soon, it's time to give some early presents. Have fun!

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Random Games, Random Opportunities

With more time on my hands, it is a good period to clear the backlog of unanalyzed games in my database. Here I will show three friendly games played during the various meetups throughout the semester.

Game 1: The curse of isolated pawns

Our first game was a seemingly peaceful, casual game during NUS IGC training… until my training partner pointed out how close I was to scoring a win from an isolated-pawn position.

Put the following position in a puzzle, and it shouldn’t be difficult to spot the winning combination:

Now see the actual game and wonder how I manage to throw away such a nice position:

What can we learn from this game?
  • Being cautious is good, but too cautious makes you miss chances
  • Avoid hanging your own pieces, or they may be the target of potential tactics
  • When playing an advantageous position, don’t make your opponent’s life easier by exchanging off key attacking pieces!

Game 2: The curse of backward pawns

So how salty was I over that missed chance in Game 1? Very, but not as much as the next game, where what looked like a completely winning position for Black turned into an equal fight, and concluded as a dreadful blunder. Admittedly it was a 15+10 rapid game where anything could happen, but still, the saltiness is high in this one:

I'm sorry, I will work hard to redeem myself!

 What can we learn from this game?
  • Time-trouble is a b***h
  • At the rate that I am throwing away won games, it is probably time to write a 2nd edition of my Chess Patzers articles.
  • To play against backward pawns, first prevent them from advancing by fixing them with your own pawns, before using the square in front of them as “outposts” for your pieces

Game 3: The curse blessing of the Greek Gift!

Is it time to redeem myself? Here is a third game from the Asia Square meetup, and thankfully, this time I DID spot the winning blow!

It ain't everyday you get to send gifts like this!

A game well-played, but I will still need to go back and work harder on tactics. Until the next game, then!

By Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo - Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=173986

Thursday, November 30, 2017

November 2017 Tactical Training: Part 2

4 simple puzzles to end off the month of November. Have fun!

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Queenstown Open 2017 Highlights: Part 2

At last, I have some time (while running away from the fact that I am supposed to study for finals) to do a quick looking through of my Queenstown games. Today, I will share the analysis for a few highlighted games, so here goes:

Round 2: Pawn couples, yay or nay?

I’m sure many of us are familiar with pawn structures like this:

Black’s isolated pawn couple can be very dangerous, for they may advance anytime to create a passed pawn. But the words “isolated” always signal a problem: Infantrymen left alone in the open cannot survive without assistance by the rear elements. If these pawns are not supported by friendly artillery, then they cannot make good progress, and may instead become targets of attack!

"Where was our artillery when we needed them!?"

I learned this the hard way in Round 2:

Round 6: Beware the two bishops!

Finally, it was my turn to teach my opponents an important lesson: The suppressing power of the two bishops cannot be underestimated, least of all by a mere rook!

Maybe a 3-second burst of suppressing fire should take down those castle walls

Round 7: More squares!

I know, I’ve talked about squares so many times in my IFG 2017 articles. Somehow, I always keep ending up in closed positions where square control becomes key, such as my final game in Queenstown 2017. Though admittedly, such a position arose because of my misjudged plan on move 13:

It was a good break looking at these games before my finals. Hope everyone learned from them, and here’s to more good games in the upcoming Cairnhill Chess Festival 2017!

Part 1: http://nushsblackknights.blogspot.sg/2017/10/queenstown-open-2017-highlights-part-1.html


Saturday, November 4, 2017

Chess Camp Curiosities: 2017 Edition

Thanks for the interesting – and hilarious – games that took place last Friday. Human chess is always a cancerous messy process, considering that it doesn’t take place under proper tournament conditions!

"Could someone pause the clocks while I adjust my personal drum set?"

In our first game, White somehow ended up emulating an opening that was played almost exactly a year ago in the World Chess Championship 2016: The Trompowsky. Incidentally, it was also pretty close to the first anniversary of a certain major election in the United States, whose winner’s name bore a close resemblance to said opening… *cough*

Here was the original game between Carlsen and Karjakin from Round 1 of the World Championship 2016:

Meanwhile, here’s a half-hearted parody—oops, I mean an all-out showdown between the Trompowsky’s mighty namesake and an extremely dangerous opponent, inspired from the earlier game.

WARNING: If you’re a chess purist who is looking only for expert-level analysis of high quality games, please do not read on, for the resulting moves will give you brain hemorrhage. But if you’re just a patzer looking for laughs, feel free to proceed:

"Wait, I don't remember Karjakin playing 4... g6, did he?"

What can we learn from this game?
  • Donald Tromp is a daydreamer
  • In human chess, the tactical vision of both sides drop by 50%
  • A pawn centre is an advantage that must be used wisely. If improperly supported or pushed too early, it will become a target of attack instead
  • Look out for weak squares created by PPPP (poorly planned pawn pushes)!

So Tromp walks away defeated, but insisting that the game was rigged and that he should have won. Thankfully we are spared a chain of ballistic tweets thanks to an unsung hero who deactivated Donald’s Twitter account.

Not a Liberal conspiracy, I swear

Meanwhile, our winner prepares to take on her next challenger. Enter, the creator of luxury vehicles:


So… what can we learn from this game?
  • Quantity over quality: A world famous singer can’t outwit an entire fleet of automobiles.
  • Tromp should consider buying over the new Audi fleet.
  • When about to lose material, desperado tactics may sometimes be an effective strategy
  • Similarly, when defending a difficult position, make life as difficult as possible for your opponent! This will increase the chances of them making mistakes.

If you’ve managed to read all the way to the end and still keep a straight face, kudos to you. Nevertheless, great job to everyone for your efforts, and considering that all three teams missed basic tactical combinations… let’s call that a draw.

Zyance - Own work, CC BY-SA 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1745182