Sunday, March 29, 2015

STARCRAFT 2 ENQUIRER - POPE FRANCIS to Compete in GSL !!!

The second issue of the STARCRAFT 2 ENQUIRER has just been released:

Remember: You read it on the internet, so it must be true!
The STARCRAFT2 ENQUIRER:
YOUR TRUSTED SOURCE FOR ALL THE STORIES TEAMLIQUID.NET WON'T TOUCH!!! 

Friday, March 27, 2015

Hot off the Press: The Starcraft 2 ENQUIRER

SOON coming to supermarket checkout counters everywhere: the STARCRAFT 2 ENQUIRER!!

Everything you always wanted to know about Starcraft 2 but were afraid to ask!

I saw something similar on a chess site recently, and wanted to share it with the SC2 community...

Monday, March 23, 2015

2015 Season 1 GSL Final - Reflections on Life and a Few Parting Words

Photo Credit: Teamliquid.net
For a long time I've wanted to write something about LIFE, and because history repeated itself this past weekend, I'm finally "annoyed" enough to write this blog:

I really enjoyed the 2015 GSL Final between LIFE and PARTING. I live on the North American West coast, and this tournament was the first time in a long while that I stayed up late for an SC2 tournament. I'm glad I did, the series was excellent and worthy of a final of what's arguably the most prestigious SC2 tournament in the world.
Congratulations to both players, they can really be proud of their achievements! I couldn't have done it better myself :)

DISCLAIMER: When I was still actively playing SC2, I never got beyond rank #1 in my Diamond League, so I'm clearly not good enough to really understand the nuances between the players at the very top.
However, I'm also Honorary Chairman of the League of the Ultra-Opinionated Gentlemen, and as such I'm always happy to share my point of view :)

LIFE has had an impressive run over the past 12 months or so. He's won many major tournaments recently, and generally gets pretty far in almost any tournament he plays in. Most notably, he won 2014 WCS Global Finals, and just this past weekend the 2015 GSL Season 1:

Source: Liquipedia
He is obviously an extremely strong player, and when casters these days refer to him as "the strongest Zerg" and "the best player" in the world, I think they are probably right for the time being.

At the same time though, and this is the reason why I'm writing this blog, I've always been surprised how much "help" LIFE gets from his opponents. What I mean is that it's a well-known fact that he is a hyper-aggressive player who much more than other top Zergs likes to make a ton of lings in the early-to-mid game for some major harassment that quite often ends the game right away.

And yet, even though this is clearly his trademark, his opponents seem to simply ignore that possibility time and again. Two examples:

2015 GSL Final vs. PARTING, Map 7 on Iron Fortress: PARTING goes nexus first and loses pretty much right away because even though he miraculously survives LIFE's initial zergling onslaught, he takes too much damage and never recovers.
I think just BECAUSE it is so seemingly unlikely that the zerg would rush on the largest map in the pool, PARTING should have expected it. Or at least chosen a slightly safer build than the "naked" nexus first.
Yes, LIFE deserves praise for his balls of steel to pull this off on the final map of one of the most important series of his entire career. But still, I chalk this up as a build order win thanks to a certain amount of luck, and avoidable carelessness on PARTING's part. In fact, I found PARTINGS's initial hold in game 7 much more impressive than LIFE's win.
I've heard ARTOSIS and the other GSL/Proleague casters say many times that the best players in the world don't really cheese all that often partly because by NOT cheesing. they are sending the strong message "I don't need to flip a coin, I'm gonna beat you in a straight game. I'm better than you, and we both know it". I thought it was interesting that in game 7 with everything on the line, LIFE chose to flip a coin rather than play a straight up game.

The second example is even more striking to me. For the life of me (no pun intended) I can't remember all the details. It was a pretty important game in a recent top-level tournament. The map was Foxtrot Labs. LIFE was top left, his terran opponent was bottom right. I thought it was FLASH, but I don't seem to be able to find that game, so the opponent may have been someone else after all.
Anyway, the point is that the terran went for a super-greedy 3rd CC, and lost pretty much immediately because he didn't have a wall and clumsily lost his few hellions in the middle of the map to a ling surround.
If a top-level terran (who has surely studied LIFE's games in great detail) goes for an ultra-fast 3rd CC, doesn't wall off, and throws away his hellions, he really deserves the loss. At the same time though it seemed to me that LIFE just got lucky again.

These are but two examples of how I see a lot of LIFE's opponents lose games. They play as if they didn't know that LIFE is one of the most aggressive zergs out there...

Zest and Innovation at some point also held the distinction of being considered "best player in the world".
Photo Credit: Liquipedia
Take, for example, ZEST and INNOVATION. They were also considered "best player in the world" for some time, and might re-claim that title sooner or later.

INNOVATION, for example, is usually referred to as "robot" because he's extremely good at executing his standard builds. Doesn't matter as much what the opponent does, INNOVATION is a very solid all-round player, who doesn't really count on his opponents making major mistakes. He just executes his macro-strategy very well, and sooner or later just overpowers the other player without relying on lucky punches.
An even more extreme example in my opinion is ZEST. When he was at the top of his game in the first half of 2014, he was more dominant during his "reign" than any other "best player in the world" before or after him. And unlike LIFE, these two players didn't seem to depend as much on their opponents throwing away maps.

SUMMARY: I don't want to detract from LIFE's achievements, but he does seem to be a bit "luckier" than other champions because all too often his opponents are completely unprepared for what they should know is LIFE's trademark move: early ling aggression.
I know, you can't play too cautious against LIFE because then he's just going to be greedy and get too far ahead, but I don't understand how so many top-level players seem to have their guard down when they play LIFE, the most aggressive zerg out there...

And now, at the end of this article (if anybody is still awake and made it this far...) a few "PARTING words" (pun intended!). PARTING really has a bad "talent-to-tournament-wins" ratio, and I seriously hope he's going to get the recognition - and tournament wins - he deserves.
I'd be grateful if anybody could point me to an interview in which he reflects in some detail on his career, his strengths and weaknesses (if such interview exists).

Despite losing the 2015 GSL Season 1 Final to LIFE, PARTING struck me as the more impressive player of the two.
Photo Credit: Liquipedia


Monday, February 23, 2015

Garry Kasparov on Greatness in Chess

Kasparov in typical pose

"Enormous self-belief, intuition, the ability to take a risk at a critical moment and go in for a very dangerous play with counter-chances for the opponent - it is precisely these qualities that distinguish great players"


The five (!) world championship matches between Kasparov and Karpov produced produced some of the best games ever played
Kasparov definitely hit the nail on its head with the quote above. Especially the part about risk taking definitely applies to amateur players, too. One of the biggest obstacles for improvement is a player's natural tendency to avoid risk, and too greedily hold on to his pieces


Saturday, February 21, 2015

Starcraft 2 - Legacy of the Void - Balance Update

Blizzard is expected to release the second expansion to Starcraft 2 - Legacy of the Void - at some point this year.

Of course, the SC2 community is in uproar. Even though many details about LotV remain unclear at this point, virtually everybody seems convinced that their race is getting the short end of the stick.

In a recent interview that has already gained some notoriety, the lead designer on the project explained some of the coming changes:


This video cracked me up. Thanks to FrozenImpact, who posted it on Teamliquid in the first place!

On a more serious note though it's always been my conviction that instead of whining about balance, virtually all players have enough potential for improvement of their own game, which would more than outweigh any actual or perceived imbalances. It's also worth noting that "imbalanced" doesn't necessarily mean "unfair".


Sunday, February 15, 2015

Aronian - Karjakin: Rules are for Fools

True masters of their craft regularly ignore rules and recommendations that act as clutches for the rest of us. Consider the following position from a blitz game between Levon Aronian and Sergey Karjakin at the 2015 Zurich Chess Challenge after 19. ... Rb8

White (Aronian) to move after Karyakin's 19. ... Rb8
Aronian played 19. Kf2 and eventually won the game after both players put their kingside pawns in motion.

I'm wondering though... in the diagram above... Why didn't Aronian just take the bishop on b7? 

It's a well-known rule of thumb that in endgames with pawns on both wings, the bishop is superior to the knight. In the diagram above, there may even be the chance to lock Black's queenside pawns in place on light-colored squares, which would make White's bishop even stronger.  

Obviously, Aronian is aware of all this, so he must have had his reasons to keep his knight (and Karyakin's bishop) on the board.

Would this not be a textbook example of a position where the Bishop is stronger than the Knight?
Was he afraid that the afraid that the advantage wouldn't be enough to win the position?
Did he see "ghosts" or overlooked something? After all, this was a blitz game. Or is the evaluation of the diagram above different at a super-GM level compared to mere amateur play?

Aronian won the game regardless. However, Karyakin "helped" by pushing for a win himself. It seems to me that if Black chooses to play for a draw, the task is much easier in the first diagram than in the second.

The complete game can be found here:
Aronian - Karyakin, Zurich Chess Challenge Blitz, 2015

I really don't know. Which is why I was fascinated by this example and chose it for this blog.

Oh well... these guys are 2700 GMs for a reason, and I am not...

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Tactical Analysis of a Complex Rook Sacrifice

My friend Pyre recently played in a rapid tournament, and when we went over his games, we came across a very interesting and incredibly complex rook sacrifice.
The variation did not actually occur in the game, but it allowed for some fascinating tactical analysis.

In the position below the question is should Black sacrifice the rook on e3?

The key position. Should Black sacrifice the rook on e3?
This is a very interesting position because even though the sacrifice on e3 looks very strong, and makes intuitive sense, the variations are very long and too complex to calculate all the way through at this point.

In a previous blog I had already written about this kind of sacrifice: somewhere in the middle between a very "concrete" and straightforward sacrifice (like the classic bishop sacrifice on h7, where there are typically only very few variations to calculate with lots of "only" moves), and a purely long-term sacrifice like for example the various positional exchange sacrifices in the French and Sicilian openings.

Pyre and I discussed this position on Skype, using a screen share of my Chessbase window. We did not have enough time to discuss this game with the detail it deserves, so some of our conclusions were wrong or at least inaccurate. However, that in itself allowed for some interesting observations.

This position would have likely occurred shortly after the rook sacrifice. 
The links to a more comprehensive (and accurate...) analysis can be found at the end of this article.

After we were done with our analysis, I looked at the position again, and only after that second analysis I finally turned to my engine to verify the analysis that we had done up to this point. The screenshot shows DEEP FRITZ 13's analysis after 20. Kg1:
In the position shown above after 20. Kg1, DEEP FRITZ recommends these moves for Black after about 30 seconds 
There are basically 3-4 variations worth looking into:

a) 20. ... Nxb4 
b) 20. ... Qg4+
c) 20. ... Qg3+
d) 20. ... d4

It is interesting to note that there are a great number of transpositions between these variations. It's also worth noting that due to the large number of checks Black has in all these variations on h3/g3/g4/, the number of variations and positions to consider is enormous, and too much for an amateur player to handle with certainty.
For a full analysis please refer to the link at the bottom of this article, but the main ideas are these:

Nxb4: to pin the Nc3, and potentially swing the Rc8 over to the kingside via the now available c6-square
d4: to undermine White's already wobbly center even further, open the g1-a7 diagonal for the Bb8, and prepare Nd4 to exchange the White Nf3, the key defender of h2
Qg4+/Qg3+: to shuffle White's King around to the right square (g1 or h1, depending on the variation), and then follow up with Nxb4 or d4

Of course, the ramifications of these moves are impossible to evaluate with great certainty when deciding whether to sacrifice the rook.

Even when looking at the game together, Pyre and I missed or underestimated the following opportunities:

a) Ba7+: We completely missed the idea that Black in certain variations can play Ba7+. With the Black queen on h3 it's a pretty common mating pattern. What may have contributed to us overlooking this move initially is that we were so fixated on the long diagonal b8-h2 that it would not even occur to us to place the bishop elsewhere. On the other hand though, when a bishop is fianchettoed on b7, moves like Ba6 to switch diagonals always occur naturally to me.
b) Ng4: We spent too much time analyzing this idea, at the expense of other more effective moves. Considering that so many kingside attacks involve moves like Ng4, and that it's a very natural and "human" move to make, it's not surprising that we gave the move too much credit. 
c) Nxb4: A "computer" move that pins White's Nc3, and activates the Rc8

Conclusions:

1. Some - in fact a large number of - combinations and sacrifices are too complex to be evaluated with certainty. In such situations, following John Nunn's advice in his "Secrets of Practical Chess", a chess player should follow his instincts. If experience and gut feeling tell you the sacrifice is sound, you should proceed with it even if there is not enough time to work out every detail.
I know, however, from own experience that this is VERY difficult. In my own tournament games I frequently did not follow this advice, and usually regretted it later.

2.  When analyzing a very tactical position (let alone a strategic/positional one), it is very important to do it without the help of a chess engine first. Even if this leads to some wrong conclusions initially, it is vital that you exercise your ability to calculate accurately. This not only builds your tactical skill set, but also gives you the confidence to handle difficult tactical positions. I will expand on how to use chess engines effectively in another article soon.

Link to the game analyzed here:

Link to the same analysis in PDF format: