Logic’s Last Stand

September 18, 2010

The Usability of Menus

Filed under: Gaming, Movies — Zurahn @ 8:49 pm

There’s a concept in software development termed “usability.” The subject of usability focuses on how friendly a given piece of software is for the user. Basically, will people be able to use this and not be frustrated?

The Internet is an incredibly free market, where the slightest inconvenience can easily drive away visitors. The barrier to entry and exit are so low, that it’s crucial. Consequently, it’s a requirement for any substantive web project.

That said, what happens when we apply the principles of usability to other areas? I’m going to focus on videogame and DVD/Blu-Ray menus. If you compare menus in desktop computing software, and the menus in videogames and DVD menus, you’ll see a stark contrast. Software often has a very dry and direct method for navigation, as it’s crucial to make every step perfectly clear. This is completely lacking in our examples. Take the menu from Guilty Gear XX Accent Core

Guilty Gear Character Select [honeycomb layout]

There is a sense out of developers that the interface needs to have extra visual flare, and consequently create non-standard and often unintuitive interfaces. Here we see something of a honeycomb layout where we can’t be sure what will happen is we press a particular direction. Additionally, it’s fairly difficult to differentiate between the different characters.

It’s not uncommon in the genre, as character options get fairly extensive, yet we don’t see much of an effort to categorize or make it easy to find a particular character.

Better, though still not organized in the best way, is Super Smash Bros. Brawl. The characters are easy to distinguish, and include the characters’ names along with the icons in a sensible format.

SSBB Character Select

It doesn’t have to be a matter of overcomplicating things, either. Even simple selections can be bungled an even simpler manner if you don’t take the care to make things clear for the user. This example comes from the DVD set for Season 4 of Angel,

Angel DVD Menu [Unlabeled in a square pattern]

Here we see four episodes, but no indication of the order of episodes. You’d expect the top-left to be first, but you still have to think for a second. From there, it’s more confusing — does it go across or down? Clockwise? Counter-clockwise? Merely labelling the episodes with the episode number would have resolved the issue, but it would still be advisable to order the episodes vertically to eliminate any confusion.

A great example of doing DVD menus right is Azumanga Daioh,

Azumanga DVD menu

The selected episode is clearly distinguished, the episode numbers are unmistakable, and your options go immediately to the episode select rather than “Play All” or some variant. Also positive is the handling of language; there are only two options, English and Japanese, and it automatically selects the language that isn’t currently selected, and upon selecting, moves your icon to “Main Menu” to minimize button presses.

Usability doesn’t have to be about confusion, though. As soon as you make the user think, you’re creating a problem. You’re not supposed to think about how things are happening. Let’s take a look at the most critically acclaimed title of all-time, even, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time

Title Screen

Here we see a title screen. We used to see a lot of splash pages on the web, but those have since gone the way of animated backgrounds and Bonzi Buddy. It’s commonly accepted that these waste user’s time. It’s a self-indulgent process that adds an extra step between the user and the content.

Funnily enough, our counter-example to this is a pioneer,

Super Mario Bros.

You see fundamentally the same screen — gameplay in the background enticing you get started, but have the menu immediately at your fingertips. No meaningless “Press Start to Continue”.

Then we get down the main event, what I figure everyone assumed I’d be ranting about in the first place. The most egregious breach of usability are the advertisements users are subjected to before they’re able to reach the content. This is a deathwish on the web — Youtube has been successful as it doesn’t (for the most part) subject users to advertisements before a video plays, and that’s free content. When it comes to purchased games and DVDs, there’s no excuse.

The most common complaint is the most obnoxious problem, and that’s the matter of unskippable introductions and screens before it takes you to the main menu. In the same vein as splash screens, these waste users’ time.

Merely picking a game at random from my collection, as this is applicable to almost any modern console videogame, take a look at MadWorld

The SEGA logo, the following two slash screens and the logo animation are all unskippable, every time you turn on to play the game.

Similarly, though without a video to show you, The Wire DVD set also includes several unskippable intros that are becoming more common, particularly on Blu-Ray discs.

Who does it right? I honestly don’t know of one. Some are better, some are worse, but all seem to insist on displaying some form of advertisement to the user before actual use.

These aren’t difficult problems to avoid, but they do require some actual concern for the experience of users, and that unfortunately seems to come second.

July 15, 2010

Some Things Change

Filed under: Computers, Gaming, Life, Movies, Music, Philosophy — Zurahn @ 7:31 pm

For a long time now I’ve felt like a living contradiction. Everything I used to think about myself has been inverted, and everything I currently think about myself include both ends of the spectrum. Brilliance and idiocy, joyful and sorrowful, sincere and flippant, superior and inferior. There have been some constants, but those appear to be dying.

The latest to fall is probably for the best. I’ve played up my own negativity on things, as I do tend to focus on what the problems are. I think it plays into programming, as handling exceptions is necessary, so picking apart the little things is part of the job. But in a general sense, I’m so sick of the negativity.

It’s one of the best things we had going for us for a long time at The VG Press — the criticisms may have been legitimate when we had them, but they were in good humour. Yet, nowhere’s perfect; here and moreso the Internet at large is creating a great big bastion of hate. I’ll mention up-front that I’m not referring to factual matters; those who, for example, rally against vaccination are doing enormous harm and deserve to be vehemently shot down. It’s the realm of significant subjectivity. It doesn’t have to be videogames and it doesn’t have to be personal; any area where there’s room for reasonable disagreement, there are plenty to take it as an absolutist position.

If there’s a criticism, it’s not enough to just bring it up in the appropriate context, or if as a reaction, to expand on it. With anything and everything, there are some to try to ruin it for everyone else. It also gets worse, as it does spread to personal attacks by relation. Those who support X are amateurish, or any number of other insults for no other reason than a difference of opinion.

So I’m done. Keep it to yourselves, I don’t want it destroying me from the inside out. If you want to berate people for playing “casual” games, or PHP developers as not real programmers, or country music fans as hicks or any other selfish, outwardly hateful, spiteful and utterly immature positions, that’s your prerogative, but you’re not going to ruin it for the rest of us. You’re not going to ruin it for me.

May 20, 2010

Passion is Overrated

Filed under: Computers, Gaming, Life, Philosophy — Tags: , , — Zurahn @ 8:30 pm

Lately I’ve been thinking more about myself in terms of how I approach my interests. For varying reasons, my gaming has become more and more sporadic, and have been finding myself in a consistent mood for JRPGs. I may not find them the most well executed games most often, but they’ve been the most enjoyable for what I’ve been looking for.

On the daily life side of things, programming has been something I do because I like the way I’m able to create with it, and how I’m able to solve problems. There’s a sense of satisfaction that comes from, say, adding a new feature to The VG Press, or cutting a two hour job down to a two minute one with a clever script.

SteelAttack sparked the thoughts with this post,

SteelAttack said:

What pains me to an extent is watching people like you guys, who I have grown to care about and appreciate, get somewhat worked up because of statements like these, giving them credence when they don’t deserve it, and generally considering them journalists just because they happen to write about games.

By focusing on the conviction of our responses, it highlighted how little conviction I really had. Videogames, more than ever, have become a source of relaxation. I’ve come to have more passion about the community than the games, because that’s where the energy is.

In programming, there is a consistent theme of how programmers have to be passionate about their trade. If you’re not passionate about programming, you need to get out of the field! It’s no an uncommon train of thought, that it has to be your world to succeed.

Simply put, though, I don’t want passion. I’ve had problems with stress for a long time. Pressure situations, though I don’t think it translates to outward appearance, are too much. I burned out on chess in the same way, and simply put, it doesn’t make you any better. You can have all the passion in the world for programming and still be a lousy employee; you can love games more than anyone and still be miserable to be around; you can dedicate your life to one cause and get absolutely no where.

Giving an honest effort, certainly. But I find I’m doing just fine with laid back old me. I don’t think I have many detractors at The VG Press, I can still be as happy as ever playing Sakura Wars, and I seem to be getting pretty consistent praise at work for doing what I considered par the course. Passion? I passionately deny it.

January 30, 2010

Chess: An Introduction to Opening Theory

Filed under: Gaming — Tags: , , , — Zurahn @ 11:37 pm

Chess Openings – A Beginner’s Guide

Opening Rules

When players of significantly different skill levels play, it is common for the game to be decided in the opening itself, before the better player even really has to think. Without proper understanding of the opening, the game can be lost before it’s even started, or at the least have a more difficult position to play from, making the rest of the game that much harder. Throughout this tutorial, I will refer to rules by which to play. Given that the value of a move is dependent on its situation, these rules are not hardline laws, but general guidelines by which to consider potential moves.

At the start of the game, white has a slight advantage by nature of having the first move, and his goal in the opening is to maintain the advantage that bestows, or improve upon it. Conversely, black intends to gain equality. The method by which this is done is the same for both sides.

Fig. 1-1

Fig. 1-1

Players need the control the central squares (fig. 1-1) in order to have a foothold to manoeuvre pieces into an attack on the king. Without control of the board, primarily stemming from the centre, there is often little that can be done to facilitate an attack.

 

I.A. Horowitz (How to Win in the Chess Openings) on the practical reasons for controlling the central squares,

“…the squares in the center of the board are the more important ones. The reason they are more important becomes apparent when the squares are considered in terms of a network of interlinked paths. It is clear that the player who controls the hub of the network can send his men from one side of the board, directly through the hub, to the other side of the board with ease. Whereas the player who does not control the hub must send his men from one side of the board to the other via devious routes, time-consuming routes. As time is an important factor in chess–that is, as it is important to reach a goal in the least number of moves–it follows that it is important to control the central squares.”

 

The question then becomes how it is best to do this. As mentioned by Horowitz, time is very important, and thusly you not only want to control those central squares, but be as efficient as possible in doing so. This leads us to the first rule in openings, which is that pawns are not developing moves. I’ll allow Aron Nimzowitsch (My System) to elaborate.

“A pawn move must not be considered in itself a developing move, but rather simply a move that aids development … However an advance without pawns is unsustainable, because our opponent’s pawn centre, thanks to its desire to expand, would repel those of our pieces which were already developed.”

We can by this rule determing that moves such as 1. a4 are incorrect, as they neither support development nor aid control of central squares.

 

Relating to efficiency, we can easily see that any piece can move to a position that attacks the centre in a single move, so a new rule emerges, our second, from this, which is only move a piece once in the opening. If you are moving a piece more than once, you’re being inefficient and wasting time.

Pieces have different strengths and weaknesses, and their values are relative to the position. This is best illustrated by the difference between knights and bishops. Knights are best utilized in closed positions where pawns are locked and manoeuvering is difficult, due to their nature of being able to leap over other pieces. Bishops, conversely, are best in open positions, particularly when still paired with the opposite coloured bishop. This leads us to our third rule, which is knights before bishops. Knights in opening positions tend to control more squares and are more mobile in opening moves.

 

A consequence of the leapfrogging ability of knights is the basis for a third rule of the opening, which is protect pawns with knights not bishops or pawns. Given a choice between a knight or either a bishop or another pawn, choose a knight to protect a pawn. A weakness of bishops is that a pawn in the way limits the scope of its attack; guarding a pawn with a bishop is to intentionally gimp it. Guarding a pawn with another pawn in the opening can lead to poor pawn structure.

Continuing on pawn structure, despite pawns not being developing moves, the purpose and utility of pawns is arguably the single most important concepts not just in the opening, but the entire game. In the opening, pawns dictate the flow of development; in the middle-game, they are the focus of position and tactics; and in the end-game, they are the deciding factor to end or draw the game.

To illustrate the effect pawn structure can have, consider the following common opening mistake by black,

 

Fig. 1-2

Fig. 1-2

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 f6 3. Nxe5! fxe5? 4. Qh5+

 

We can see the resulting position (fig. 1-2) where black has no way to prevent a loss of material. If 4..g6 then 5. Qxe5+ Qe7 6. Qxh8 wins the rook. Alternatively, 4..Ke7 is even worse, losing to 5. Qxe5+ Kf7 6. Bc4+ and black has a lot of problems. The kingside has fewer pawns, so moving the f-pawn, particularly early, is often dangerously weakening. Having pawns support other pawns by necessity opens holes on the opposite colour and is a risk that must be assessed.

Opening Examples

Ultimately, by how different the strategies vary depending on the opening, it is necessary in order to understand the opening to go through some examples of the most common openings to get an idea of why the moves are played as they are. We will then look at an example game for each where one side goes wrong in the opening, leading to an early demise.

King’s Gambit

The King’s Gambit is an opening that was the most common opening in the 19th century when the popularity of romantic chess–playing wild attacking games with lots of sacrifices–was at its peak. It creates tactical positions that are dangerous for both sides. It is characterized by the sequence 1. e4 e5 2. f4

For the sake of this example, we will only look at the King’s Gambit Accepted where black captures the f-pawn. An example continuation here is the Muzio gambit; this is a sacrifice that is considered dubious (a poor move with correct play), but illustrates the kind of attacking chances the opening tends to lead to.

Fig. 2-1

Fig. 2-1

1. e4 e5 2. f4 exf4 3. Nf3 g5 4. Bc4 g4 5. O-O?! gxf3 6. Qxf3

 

This position (fig. 2-1) has black with a material advantage, but white has a very strong attack, bearing down on the f-file and black’s weakened kingside. This attack is a benefit of placing development above material. Numerically speaking, weighing a pawn at 1 and a knight at 3, the position is -2.0 in favour of black. However, with the positional evaluation in mind, it is more along the lines of a -0.5 to -1.0 position, meaning despite the usually game-losing material definite of 2 pawns worth, white is still well within fighting chances.

An example game is myself versus an online user username SKWERLY, 1. e4 e5 2. f4 exf4 3. Nf3 d6 4. Bc4 Nf6 5. Nc3 Be7 6. d4 O-O 7. Bxf4 Nc6 8. O-O Bg4 9. Qd2 Na5? 10. Bd3 b6 11. Rae1 c5 12. e5 dxe5 13. dxe5 Nd5 14. Nxd5?? Qxd5 15. Bxh7+! Kxh7 16. Qxd5

 

 

In this game, black pushes pawns along the queenside flank neglecting development and ceding the centre and even kingside to white’s discretion. White quickly completes development and his pressure immediately causes black to blunder. Black was doing just find until move 9, and just three wasted moves meant disaster. The key to black’s position in the King’s Gambit is essentially just completing development while withstanding white’s attack. Proper play and he’ll come out just find; the king’s defence is key. On white’s side, he has to worry about not being pushed back by counterplay, and not being overly aggressive, however tempting it may be.

Queen’s Gambit Declined

The Queen’s Gambit provides a good juxtaposition to the King’s Gambit in many ways. It starts 1. d4 d5 2. c4 offering up the c4 pawn. The most common response is for black to decline the gambit, and the position thusly remains relatively closed. There is no way for black to take the pawn and avoid white eventually recapturing, so there’s no material gain for a relative positional loss. There are fewer tactics and much more prophylactic play.

The classical defense is still common — though not without other options — and runs as follows

Fig. 2-2

Fig. 2-2

1. d4 e6 2. c4 d5 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. Nf3 Be7 5. Bg5 O-O 6. e3 Nbd7 7. Rc1 c6 8. Bd3 dxc4 9. Bxc4

 

The position (fig. 2-2) has white holding more space, while black has a tight defense. The key square for black is the d5-square to act as a strong central position for a knight, or force a breakthrough up the middle resulting in an exchange of pieces. Typically the capture seen on move 8 by black follows white’s development of his bishop to d3 in order to win a tempo. Also, black’s c-pawn in this an other variations will support the centre moving most often to c6 or in the Tarrasch variation, c5. Both sides will castle kingside as the queensides will be too weakened in terms of the pawn structure.

The game I’ll use as an example is another online game, this time against user “Leon”. 1. d4 d5 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. Bg5 Be7 5. Nf3 Nc6 6. e3 b6 7. Bxf6 gxf6 8. cxd5 exd5 9. Qa4 Qd7 10. Bb5 Bb7 11. O-O O-O-O 12. Rfc1 Rhg8 13. Nxd5 Qxd5 14. Bxc6 Bxc6 15. Qxc6 Rd7 16. e4 Qxc6 17. Rxc6 Rg4 18. Re1 Bb4 19. h3 Rf4 20. Re3 Re7 21. g3 Rfxe4 22. Rxe4 Rxe4 23. Rxf6 c5 24. a3 Be1 25. Kf1 cxd4 26. Nxe1 1-0

 

 

In this game, black developes his b1 knight to a bad square on c6, as it blocks the c-pawn’s support in the centre, then blunders on the proceeding move, as he by pushing the b pawn, he loses a defender of the knight, allowing white to capitalize with heavy pressure. 13. Nxd5 while complicated somewhat by the number of pieces and the discovered attack introduced, it is essentially just an exchange to win a pawn, as black is short one defender and loses a pawn as a result. At this point, white has a significant advantage, and leads to a further game-ending blunder. The game is straight-forward for white, making typical opening manoeuvres for the position, then following logically from there.

Reti Opening

The Reti opening is simply 1. Nf3. The reason I don’t choose a particular line for this opening is that most often it transposes into lines from a different opening. For example, 1. Nf3 d5 2. d4 Nf6 3. c4 and the game has transposed into the Queen’s Gambit.

We’ll take a look at a Reti-specific line wherein white takes a dynamic approach to controlling central squares referred to as hyper-modernism, popularized in the early 20th-century, with Richard Reti being a key proponent along with the likes of Aron Nimzowitch and Ksawery Tartakower.

Fig. 2-3

Fig. 2-3

1. Nf3 d5 2. c4 e6 3. g3 Nf6 4. Bg2 Be7 5. O-O O-O 6. b3 c5 7. Bb2 Nc6

 

In the example (fig. 2-3) you can see that unlike more classical constructs, white takes more of a distance approach. The main danger of the approach is that it’s easy to lose space. If white starts the game with 1. Nf3 it is a safe bet it will result in a kingside castle. If the game does not transpose into a Queen’s Gambit game, it’s also common to fianchette the kingside bishop. White will want to control the long diagonals and keep them open, while black will look to expand his space and break up white’s pawn structure.

For a specific example, I will choose one of the favourite games I ever played, which was using the King’s Indian Attack in this game, Zurahn – rattle.

 

1. Nf3 Nf6 2. g3 d5 3. Bg2 e6 4. O-O Bd6 5. d3 O-O 6. c4 c6 7. Nc3 Na6 8. Bg5 h6 9. Be3 Bc5 10. Bxc5 Nxc5 11. d4 Na6 12. b3 Qa5 13. Qd2 Bd7 14. Nxd5 Qxd2 15. Nxf6+ gxf6 16. Nxd2 Nb4 17. Ne4 Kg7 18. Rfd1 Rad8 19. e3 Bc8 20. c5 Nd5 21. Nd6 a5 22. Rac1 Nb4 23. a3 Nd5 24. e4 Nc7 25. f4 e5 26. d5 Nb5 27. Nxb5 cxb5 28. Kf2 exf4 29. gxf4 Rfe8 30. Ke3 f5 31. e5 f6 32. e6 Re7 33. Kf2 Kh8 34. Re1 Rde8 35. d6 Rxe6 36. Bxb7 Bxb7 37. Rxe6 Rxe6 38. d7 Re4 39. d8=Q+ 1-0

 

In the game, issues stemming from the opening permiate through the rest of the game. The passive 3..e6 followed by the awkward and misplaced 4..Bd6 attacking an overprotected g6 pawn allow white to get the jump. On white’s side, though, 8. Bg5 is pointless without intention of capturing on f6, because the bishop would be trapped after 8..a6 9. Ba4 b5. Finally, if you look at the position as of move 16, we see black has a very bad bishop and a knight on the flank, along with doubled pawns on a weakened kingside. White alternatively has a strongly placed bishop, a knight a little back, but out of danger and ready to join the attack, and a safe king to add to the pawn material advantage.

English Opening

Another opening identifiable by its first move, the English opening is 1. c4. This was my stomping ground for learning the openings; it is relatively easy to open with a solid position, but it’s not without the opportunity for tactics. There are transposition options as well, and being the fourth most common opening, it is relatively unexpected at lower levels. Typical lines play like a reversed Sicilian, with white performing a fianchetto on the kingside bishop if not both sides, and often castling kingside early.

To show the dynamics of the position, we’ll look at one such common development from the opening.

Fig. 2-4

Fig. 2-4

1. c4 e5 2. Nc3 Nf6 3. Nf3 Nc6 4. g3 Bb4 5. Bg2 O-O 6. O-O

 

The basis of all developments surrounds the e5 pawn and handling the potential push to e4 attacking the f6 square. Because of this, I am partial to playing an earlier e6 in this or similar situations as opposed to castling first, which in this case would follow 6..e4 7. Ng5 Bxc3 8. bxc3 Re8 9. f3 exf3 10. Nxf3.

A temptation in this opening in particular is to play a stonewall, which is to say two forward pawns creating a backward pawn to protect them. For example, 1.c4 e5 2. e4. This is a poor move and rarely is this kind of position beneficial. Backward pawns are weak and targets, and this position creates holes in the defence and control of the centre.

Illustrating how white can go wrong in the opening, I have an example of Big Cat – Zurahn.

1. c4 e5 2. Nc3 Nf6 3. Nf3 d5 4. cxd5 Nxd5 5. e4 Nb6 6. d3 Nc6 7. Be2 Bc5 8. O-O Be6 9. Bg5 Qd7 10. Be3 Bd4 11. Ng5 h6 12. Nxe6 Qxe6 13. Bg4 Qe7 14. Re1 Rd8 15. Nb5 Bxb2 16. Rb1 Bd4 17. Nxd4 Nxd4 18. Bxd4 Rxd4 19. Qf3 O-O 20. Qe3 Rfd8 21. Be2 R8d6 22. f4 exf4 23. Qxf4 c5 24. e5 Rxf4

 

Here we see relatively typical developments, but 5. e4 is a little odd. But the key problem is following that with 6. d3, creating a backward pawn and a perminent weakness on d4 that exploited for the entirety of the game. It’s not losing unto itself, typically none of these opening errors are, but they mean white has to play more accurately to keep up. The harder you make it on yourself, the more often you’re going to make a mistake.

Sicilian Defense

It is common that a defence is dependent on white’s opening, and characterized as such, as seen in the Queen’s Gambit, for example, where black’s choice is simply accepted or declined. However, there are instances where black’s choice are so prominent that they warrant a name of its own. Such is that of the single most common opening in high level chess, that being the Sicilian.

The Sicilian Defense is simply 1. e4 c5. It creates an imbalanced position where black has a lot of control over the flow of the game. There are various lines of play, but there are common themes.

I’ll use the Sicilian Accelerated Dragon variation as an example.

Fig. 2-5

Fig. 2-5

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 g6 5. Nc3 Bg7 6. Be3 Nf6 7. Bc4 O-O 8. Bb3 d6 9. f3 Bd7 10. Qd2 Rc8 11. O-O-O

 

Here, while this is just one specific line, there are several moves and themes common to the opening lines as a whole. White is a general rule always follows 1..c5 with Nf3 followed by d4. There are complications if he doesn’t. Similarly, white almost always castles queenside while black kingside, if at all. The black g8 knight develops to f6, but the b8 knight depending on the variation may develop to d7. This all culminates to a pawn rush on the kingside by white, while black has counterplay on the queenside.

The example game here is against a chess engine. Modern chess engines are terrific in the opening not because of processing power and the quality of the algorithm, but because of near-perfect opening books. An engine not making good use of an opening book can run into problems. The game here is Zurahn – ProDeo 1.1.

1. e4 d6 2. Nf3 c5 3. d4 Nf6 4. Nc3 cxd4 5. Nxd4 g6 6. Be3 Bg7 7. Bc4 Nc6 8. Qd2 O-O 9. f3 Bd7 10. h4 Rc8 11. Bb3 Ne5 12. O-O-O h5 13. Rdg1 a5 14. a4 Nc4 15. Bxc4 Rxc4 16. g4 hxg4 17. h5 gxh5 18. Bh6 Rxd4 19. Qg5 Ne8 20. Rxh5 f5 21. Bxg7 Nxg7 22. fxg4 e5 23. gxf5 Qxg5+ 24. Rhxg5 Rf7 25. f6 Bc6 26. Rxg7+ Rxg7 27. Rxg7+ Kf8 28. Nb5 Bxb5 29. axb5 Rxe4 30. Rxb7 a4 31. b6 Re1+ 32. Kd2 Rb1 33. Ra7 Rxb2 34. b7 d5 35. Ra8+ Kf7 36. b8=Q Rxb8 37. Rxb8 Kxf6 38. Ra8 Ke6 39. Rxa4 Kd6 40. Ra6+ Kd7 41. Kc3 Ke7 42. Kb4 Kd7 43. Kc5

 

We can see that there are a lot of typical development moves, but it seems the book runs out too early for ProDeo as it begins grabbing materialistically and ignoring the danger of a kingside attack. White’s position is quite comfortable for the king while the pressure builds up on black. If there’s one move that hurt, it was 14..Nc4, trading off a well-placed knight in the centre of the board for the sake of breaking up the bishop pair. In the Sicilian Dragon and Accelerated Dragon variations, white intends to trade off the dark-squared bishop, anyway, so losing the bishop pair is less of a concern.

King’s Indian Defense

Another popular high-level opening, it’s a response to white’s 1. d4 with 1..Nf6. Though the position is largely positional in nature, it can quickly become a tactical headache. Black will early on get himself into a crampt position, but will have the opportunity to gain space on the kingside. This becomes a bit of an arms race where white presses the queenside while black looks to break through on the kingside.

 

Fig. 2-6

Fig. 2-6

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. Nc3 Bg7 4. e4 d6 5. Nf3 O-O 6. Be2 e5 7. O-O Nc6 8. d5 Ne7

 

From here, there are a few different routes to take, such as 9. Ne1 (Mainline), 9. b4 (Bayonet Attack), or 9. Nd2 (Classical), but all routes lead to white and black attacking the opposite side. Your common themes are black manoeuvering his knights on the kingside to support a pawn storm, and white breaking through on the c-file, and not maintaining a knight on f3.

The King’s Indian Defense is a very precise opening, so much deviation from the typical solid moves can lead to problems. We’ll see this in Rorticus – Zurahn where white gets too aggressive.

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. Nc3 Bg7 4. e4 d6 5. Nf3 O-O 6. e5 dxe5 7. Nxe5 c5 8. d5 Bf5 9. Bd3 Nxd5 10. Bxf5 Nxc3 11. Qb3 Bxe5 12. bxc3 gxf5 13. Bb2 Bf4 14. Rd1 Qc7 15. g3 Qe5+ 16. Kf1 Qe4 17. Rg1 Bg5 18. Re1 Qf3 19. Re3 Bxe3 20. Ke1 Qxf2+ 21. Kd1 Rd8# 0-1

 

The problems for white begin with 6. e5. It’s the first move out of book, and for good reason it’s not the typical move here. If black recaptures with the d-pawn, the trade of queens leaves white unable to castle, so the forced second move of the knight is what is played. Black plays the correct continuation c5, which forces the removal of the d4 pawn from defending the knight on e5, which will become threatened by the bishop on g7. Again this leads into a difficult position, where white blunders with 10. Bxf5 which leads to a winning advantage.

Conclusion

The opening isn’t the only facet of the game. In fact, at high levels, the first 10 moves or so most often are irrelevant, and even criticised for making the game about memorization as opposed to over-the-board evaluation and creativity, helping give rise to Fischer Random Chess. That being said, until your at that Master or higher levels, knowing the fundamentals isn’t going to be that simple. It affects the outcome of the rest of the game, and at the least makes it easier or harder depending. Basic concepts like Knights before Bishops before Rooks before Queen, controlling the centre, defending the king, and the important of tempo all give you a leg up over anyone who is unfamiliar with them. With simple, solid opening play, you’ll start to see games decided before you’ve even really had to think, and that’s something to think about.

July 17, 2009

Chessmaster DS Match Final Game

Filed under: Gaming — Tags: , — Zurahn @ 8:29 pm

Game 13 appropriately closes out the match. I’ve annotated the game, which you can see when viewing the game.

Game 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13
Zurahn ½ 1 1 0 0 ½ ½ 1 ½ 1 ½ 1 1 6
Chessmaster DS ½ 0 0 1 1 ½ ½ 0 ½ 0 ½ 0 0 2

The end tally had me finishing with a score of +6 -2 =5 for classical point tally of 8&#189 to Chessmaster DS’ 4&#189, and with the match to six wins, a score of 6 – 2 in decisive games. More interesting though, for me at least, are the performances by colour.

As black, I had 4 wins to only 1 loss and 1 draw, as compared to white with 2 wins, 4 draws and 1 loss. Why that is, I can’t really say. Maybe just a demonstration of why 1. Nc3 is generally a poor opening choice.

Chessmaster DS Match Games 11 & 12

Filed under: Gaming — Tags: , — Zurahn @ 8:29 pm

White pieces, I went on the attack in the eleventh game with the Ruy Lopez, exchange variation. Again like prior games as white, I got a decent advantage, but failed to follow through, resulting in a draw. In game 12, we saw another Scotch game, though this time I had black. It took a long time, but double passed pawns ultimately led to the victory.

Game 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12
Zurahn ½ 1 1 0 0 ½ ½ 1 ½ 1 ½ 1
Chessmaster DS ½ 0 0 1 1 ½ ½ 0 ½ 0 ½ 0

Chessmaster DS will now require to win 4-straight without a loss in order to take the match. I hope to finish it off with a bang tomorrow. As white, I’ve drawn 4 out of 6, including my last 3, so it’s time to make some headway here with the advantage.

Chessmaster DS Match Games 9 & 10

Filed under: Gaming — Tags: , — Zurahn @ 8:28 pm

Games 9 & 10 brought a lot more excitement than prior recent games. Game 9 I tried the Giuoco Piano to fair success, gaining the advantage but squandering the opportunity. Game 10 proved the opposite; I had given up the positional advantage in favour of heavy pressure in the hopes of later overwhelming the engine.

Game 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Zurahn ½ 1 1 0 0 ½ ½ 1 ½ 1
Chessmaster DS ½ 0 0 1 1 ½ ½ 0 ½ 0

It almost seems as though I’m better off matching tactics against Chessmaster DS than to fight a positional battle. With 4 wins now, the next two games could potentially finish things off.

Chessmaster DS Match Games 5 & 6

Filed under: Gaming — Tags: , — Zurahn @ 8:27 pm

Games 5 and 6 rounded out interestingly. Game 5 was atrocious; just bad play on both sides unfortunately resulting in a well-deserved loss on my end. With back-to-back zeroes, game six was ultra-conservative and was essentially a draw from start to finish.

Game 1 2 3 4 5 6
Zurahn ½ 1 1 0 0 ½
Chessmaster DS ½ 0 0 1 1 ½

The game results are artful in a way, draw-win-win-loss-loss-draw. Let’s start it again with a win in game 7.

Chessmaster DS Match Games 3 & 4

Filed under: Gaming — Zurahn @ 8:27 pm

Two more games played. Game 3 is thusfar I think the best overall.

Game 1 2 3 4
Zurahn ½ 1 1 0
Chessmaster DS ½ 0 0 1

Chessmaster DS gets on the board with game 4 where I think I should have been playing more conservatively. At any rate, as white in game 5 I’m looking for another win.

Chessmaster DS Match

Filed under: Gaming — Tags: , — Zurahn @ 8:26 pm

I’ve been mostly away from chess for about a year and a half now, after essentially retiring from online play. My last hurrah then was pressing my luck against various chess engines to varying degrees of success, with my peak perhaps being my 4-game match against the Rybka demo.

For the past month or so, I’ve been slowly getting back into things. To speed things along, I’ve started a match against Chessmaster DS. It’s a difficult, but not impossible, opponent, so it seems like a good way to bring myself back up to speed.

The structure of the match will follow the first world championship match between Karpov and Kasparov in 1984. First to 6 wins, draws not counting, players alternating colours.

Game 1 2
Zurahn ½ 1
Chessmaster DS ½ 0

The first game here I played 1. d4 in the hopes of getting a closed and slow position. That didn’t quite work out. The opening in general seemed to work in my favour getting a decent advantage to begin, but failed to execute.

The key to the match is going to be finishing. It’s my main issue with chess engines is that I may be able to squeeze out an advantage, but they make it tough as nails to follow through with a win.

UPDATED

The second game had Chessmaster DS playing as white, choosing the obscure Dunst opening (1. Nc3) which is common when the engine isn’t using an openings book. This one was much more to my intentions of locking up the position, and successfully so. Depressingly I missed a powerful sacrificial opportunity, but I stayed conservative and slowly worked out the win. This one makes me more at ease as even without always finding the correct move, Chessmaster never had the advantage.

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