Well, I haven’t posted on chessncognac.com for months, and despite receiving hundreds of emails from you guys (thank you!), I’ve been mostly out of reach.

Mostly beyond the clutches of my chess playing, engine testing, cognac sipping friends worldwide – but today I have some good news…

I’m back and will be posting regular content from now on!

More game-changing chess training material, more “too-real-to-be-AI” computer chess personalities, plus analysis videos, engine match commentary, PGNs and all the stuff you love.

In this post I’ll share what I’ve been up to and the most interesting nuggets of chess/computer chess that I’ve encountered over these months.

It’s going to be fun – so grab a drink and let’s go.

My Visit to Shenzhen Chess Club

Back in August I finally got a chance to jump on a bullet train and travel to visit the chess club in Shenzhen where I visited my friends Stu – an Australian 1800 player whose level of play varies between 1800 and about 2000 Elo, depending on the position – and Eugene, a Russian player of approximately 2300 strength.

Our meetup was at an Expat’s bat which was (very) creatively called “Xpat’s Bar” by the owners, and this place has chess pieces, clocks, expensive (but nice) beer on tap, plus burgers, pizza and all the typical “Western” food we love.

Xpat's Bar Shenzhen Chess

Where Better for Expats to Play Chess?

Having been in a rather remote town on China ‘s Southern Coast for a few years now,  my games against Stu and Eugene were my first  real  over-the-board games in years.

And I can honestly tell you that this visit to Shenzhen was the best thing I could have done for my chess.

My passion for the game was instantly reignited and even after a LOT of beer, my play still seemed reasonably strong, with only minor tactical slips beginning to creep in.

It was a hell of a lot of fun, that’s for sure.

Playing Blitz in Shenzhen

Playing Blitz in Shenzhen Xpat’s Bar

And THEN I Gained 100+ Elo Points!

I was a bit disappointed to only be able to visit Shenzhen overnight, but as mentioned, hanging out (and battling it out) with a couple of decent players, analyzing and kibitzing together – it really inspired me to play more.

And even to study more and perhaps see what the roof of my potential as a player is.

One thing which was amazing (to me), was the immediate increase in my Elo when playing on the Chinese chess app 国象联盟 (Guo Xiang Lian Meng).

Does motivation and confidence really add Elo to this extent? It seems like it does.

This rating left me almost in the top ten of all (some 15,000 players) players using the app!

To give you an idea, DoriWwx (at number 7 in the image below) is super strong and almost certainly a WGM or IM.

I’ve played her once before and she defeated me. She plays very accurate, machine-like chess and is tactically very dangerous. Think of a weaker version of Hou Yifan.

Since August, I’ve moved from around number 40 or so, to number 11!

Here are a couple of games I played in my recent rating jump – these are the nicest games I played and were against reasonably strong opponents.

They involve sacrifices and instructive use of the bishop pair.

I have named both players “Chinese player” due to ChessBase’s non-support of names written in Chinese characters.

A Piece Sacrifice and THEN a Queen Sacrifice!

Chinese Player 1 vs Norman

A Pawn Sacrifice and THEN an Exchange Sacrifice!

Chinese Player 2 vs Norman

Leela Chess Zero (Lc0) Misses an Easy Draw against Komodo 12.1.1 MCTS!

So, somehow I’ve managed to improve (or at least maintain) my level of play during my years out of tournament practice – and had a bunch of fun (Shenzhen visit, etc) in the process – but I also had a lot of trouble fending off my enormous passion for computer chess.

On top of my constant work with Rodent and Prodeo engine personalities,  I’ve also recently become interested in engines using the so-called Monte-Carlo method and/or Neural Networks.

That is, engines like the newly famous Leela Chess Zero/Lc0, Komodo MCTS (which I bought a month or so ago) and Scorpio MCTS/NN version.

The chess that these “smart” chess engines play is remarkably human-like and is a pleasure to watch – especially going at it head-to-head with my  Rodent and Prodeo personalities!

Yesterday I was watching a 25 5 match between Leela and Komodo in which Leela had been playing quite resourcefully to reach a rook and pawn ending one pawn down.

An ending which is pretty easy to draw, but something went wrong.

FEN: 8/8/8/8/3k2p1/R5P1/p5K1/r7 w - - 48 82

FEN: 8/8/8/8/3k2p1/R5P1/p5K1/r7 w – – 48 82

Can you see why 82.Ra4+ is a blunder?

Let me show you why its a blunder in a detailed video…

Leela Chess Zero vs Komodo MCTS

Very instructive for this of us who still play OTB chess, right?

Definitely something useful to keep in mind.

Rodent Alekhine Personality for Download!

The Alekhine personality for Rodent is one I spent a particularly long time on, and I’m still not 100% happy with it.

That being said, I have been promising to let you guys try it out for a long time, and it does play in a somewhat brilliant fashion reminiscent of the real Alekhine – as can be seen in the following game against Alaric.

I think this type of positional queen sacrifice might remind one pretty vividly of the way in which the real Alekhine used to do similar things and bamboozle his opponents.

So if you’re one of my friends who has been dying to give this personality a try, I implore you to do so now, and apologize for taking so long with it.

Click Here to Download Rodent Alekhine!

I have been doing a lot here on the ground in China, including launching a new chess school here (more on this later), but I plan to be posting regularly here for you from now on.

So please do engage with me, email me or leave comments and I’ll talk to you soon.