Chess Tech University: Philosophy & Game Analysis - Part 2

To read Hartmann's introduction to "Chess Tech University", visit Part 1 of this article.  Many theoreticians and trainers have described protocols for analyzing one’s own games. Among them we find notable authors like Jacob Aagaard, Jesper Hall, Axel Smith, and Alex Yermolinsky. Perhaps the best discussion of analyzing one’s own games comes from Artur Yusupov, one of Dvoretsky’s finest students and his collaborator on five books. Yusupov writes in “The Analysis of One’s Own Games” that:
"… the analysis of one's own games is the main means of self-improvement. I am convinced that, without a critical understanding of his own play, it is impossible for a player to develop. Of course, this does not mean that other forms of chess work should not be carried out. You must study the opening, the endgame and the middlegame, and it is exceptionally useful to study the games of strong players. But in general we learn best from our own examples. Our own games are closer to us than any others. We have played them and have tried to solve the problems that were facing us. In analysis it is possible to check and clarify the evaluations by which we were guided during the play, and determine where they were incorrect, where we played inaccurately. Sometimes the opponent punishes us for our mistakes, but often they remain unnoticed and can be revealed only in analysis." [1]
The point of analyzing one’s own games, as Yusupov clearly states, is to try and discover errors in our decision making, in terms of both the moves we made and the ones we didn’t. Everything else in Dvoretsky’s training philosophy depends upon this. As Dvoretsky himself puts it,
“[t]he ability to analyze your thinking, develop rational methods of planning, determine what lies behind mistakes committed and, by contrast, identify your creative successes – it is clear that all this is no less important than the mastery of purely chess subtleties.”[2]
Here we get to the crux of the matter. What are best practices for game analysis, and what role should the computer play in the process? Yusupov mentions four key themes:
  • (1) “You should find the turning-points” or critical moments in the game, where mistakes were made, the nature of the position changed, etc.
  • (2) “Seek reasons for your own mistakes” – not just what went wrong, but why.
  • (3) “Seek new possibilities.” What moves did you miss in your analysis? What ideas might you have considered?
  • (4) “Ponder over the opening stage.”[3]
To this I would add the following: (5) make a point of tracking your time expenditure while you play. Are you thinking too long over forced moves? Are you not spending enough time in critical positions? Add this information to your annotations where pertinent. (6) The postmortem is increasingly a lost art today, but it can be very useful to discuss games with your opponents after hostilities end. Never pass up the opportunity to do one. So you’ve played your game, done your postmortem, and put the game into ChessBase or Fritz. What now? There are two steps to proper analysis, and both are critically important. First, take some time to recollect what you were thinking about during the game, and put as much of it as you can into your notes. What did you analyze during the game? How did you feel – yes, feel! – during the game? Did some of your opponent’s moves surprise you, and if so, why? You can end lines with Informator evaluations, but you should use plenty of words here. Do not turn on your engines at this stage. It is essential that your first notes mirror your in-game impressions as closely as possible. What we are doing here is trying to catch glimpse of our intuition and judgment at work, and any introduction of computer analysis at this stage spoils that. What might this initial analysis look like? Below is my most recent tournament game, played here at our local club in Omaha. My opponent, John Stepp, is someone I’ve played quite a few times, and someone whose tactical skills I’ve learned to respect the hard way! John has been the US Deaf Champion three times over the years, and he was the American entrant in the 1996 World Deaf Championship.
[pgn][Event "12th Spence Swiss"]
[Site "?"]
[Date "2017.03.08"]
[Round "4.2"]
[White "Stepp, John"]
[Black "Hartmann, John"]
[Result "0-1"]
[ECO "C02"]
[WhiteElo "1736"]
[BlackElo "1888"]
[Annotator "Hartmann,John"]
[PlyCount "88"]
[SourceDate "2017.03.08"]1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. e5 c5 4. c3 Nc6 5. Nf3 Qb6 6. a3 f6 7. b3 $6 {This frees
the bishop to move, but it seems very passive.} (7. Bd3 fxe5 8. dxe5 c4 9. Bc2)
(7. b4) 7... fxe5 8. Nxe5 Nf6 {Necessary to stop Qh5} 9. Be3 (9. Bg5 {
concerned me more, and I wasn't entire sure how to handle it.} Be7 10. Bxf6
Bxf6 11. Qh5+ {was as far as I got, but now I see that after} g6 12. Nxg6 $2
hxg6 {the bishop guards the rook. White would have to content himself with} 13.
Qxg6+ Ke7) 9... Bd6 10. Nxc6 (10. f4 {was suggested by Stepp after the game,
and he thought I had some tactics to win the bishop on e3, but now I'm not
sure at all that's accurate.}) 10... bxc6 (10... Qxc6) 11. b4 c4 $5 {Committal,
but I liked the idea of restricting the bishop while retaining the idea of ...
e5.} (11... cxd4 12. Bxd4 {felt less desirable.}) (11... cxb4 12. cxb4 (12.
axb4) 12... O-O 13. Nd2 Qc7 14. Nf3 e5 {and I blast open the center but the
c-file is a worry.}) 12. Nd2 O-O 13. Be2 Bd7 {White's plan is slow (at least
so far) and so I thought I had time to reposition my worst piece. This is very
typical for this kind of French structure.} 14. g4 $5 {I should have
considered this more deeply, given my opponent's tendencies, but I really
didn't give this more than a glance. Intuitively it feels like White doesn't
have enough pieces developed to make this work, but if he doesn't play
aggressively, I think Black is just better.} (14. O-O Be8 15. Nf3 Bg6) 14...
Be8 15. h4 (15. g5 Nd7 16. Bg4 e5 $1 17. Be6+ Kh8 {and I thought Black was
much better}) 15... Qc7 {Already seeing the ...Bf4 idea. Positionally it felt
odd to trade my good bishop for White's bad one, but I thought that the
activity hitting the White weaknesses made up for it.} 16. g5 Nd7 17. Bf3 $6 {
Makes sense in light of what happened, but I didn't really see the point of
this move} (17. Bg4 e5 $1) (17. h5 e5) 17... Bf4 18. Qe2 e5 ({I spent 11
minutes here, thinking mainly about sac'ing the e-pawn with} 18... Bg6 19. Bxf4
Rxf4 20. Qxe6+ Kh8 {and I thought Black had compensation but wasn't sure.}) 19.
Bg2 ({What if he tries the sac early? At first I thought he could do it with}
19. Nxc4 dxc4 ({but} 19... e4 {seems to refute / improve} 20. Bg2 dxc4 21.
Qxc4+ Bf7) 20. Qxc4+ Bf7 21. Qxc6) 19... Bg6 20. Nxc4 $5 {I didn't see this at
all, but in hindsight, I probably should have at least glanced at the capture
on c4 - especially given the open diagonal towards the king.} dxc4 21. Qxc4+
Bf7 22. Qxc6 Qxc6 $6 (22... Rac8 {seems better?} 23. Qxc7 Rxc7 24. Bxf4 exf4
25. Rc1 Bc4) 23. Bxc6 Rad8 (23... Bxe3 24. Bxa8 Bxf2+ 25. Kxf2 Bd5+ 26. Ke3
Bxa8 {is worse}) 24. O-O {During the game I thought this might be a bad
decision as we're close to the endgame and the king should be centralized. But
perhaps that's not true.} (24. Kd2 Bxe3+ 25. fxe3 exd4 26. exd4 Ne5) (24. O-O-O
Nb6 (24... Bxe3+ 25. fxe3) 25. dxe5 Bxe5) (24. Bxf4 {was probably best?}) 24...
Bxe3 25. fxe3 exd4 26. cxd4 $6 (26. exd4 {was necessary}) 26... Nb6 27. Rf5 Nc4
28. Re1 Nxa3 29. Rc5 Bg6 $6 {Trying to save the offside knight with ..Nc2 or ..
Nb1. It probably wasn't necessary, though.} (29... Nc4) (29... Rb8) 30. Rec1
Rb8 {I have to try and get active to fight these pawns.} 31. b5 Be8 $1 {X-rays!
} 32. R1c3 $6 Nxb5 33. Bd5+ Kh8 $1 {Justifying the whole adventure.} (33... Bf7
{seemed worse to me, but I'm not sure why now!} 34. Bc6 (34. Bxf7+ Rxf7 35.
Rc8+ Rf8) 34... a6) 34. Rc8 $2 Nxc3 $1 $19 {I saw this back when I played 31...
Be8.} 35. Rxc3 {Now it is, as they say, a matter of technique.} Bf7 36. Bg2
Rfc8 37. Ra3 Rc7 ({After the game Stepp showed me} 37... Rb2 38. Rxa7 Rcc2 39.
Ra8+ Bg8 40. Bd5 $2 Rb1#) 38. d5 Re8 39. e4 Bg6 40. d6 Rd7 41. Bf1 Rxd6 42.
Rxa7 Bxe4 43. Be2 g6 44. Ra1 Bf5 {plus moves} 0-1[/pgn]
It appears that there are a few critical moments or turning points worth further study:
  • (1) closing the center with 11. ...c4,
  • (2) moves 17-20 for both sides, particularly 20.Nc4,
  • (3) and my decision to exchange queens with 22. …Qc6. The opening isn’t particularly critical, as Stepp’s 7.b3 is passive but hard to refute, and my time management was (for once) not horrific.
This first draft of unaided analysis is certainly flawed, as was my over-the-board play. This is a feature and not a bug. I now have the raw material for the second stage in the process, where after a day or two (providing a bit of critical distance), I bring Stockfish and Komodo into the picture. The point of using the engine to check our moves and analysis is not simply to find improvements, important as that may be. The computer plays the role of publication in Botvinnik’s scheme, subjecting our moves and our ideas to objective criticism. We try to broaden our understanding of the moves we played, the positions on the board, what we evaluated correctly and where our judgment failed us. While we cannot (and should not) hope to play like computers, we can try to harness their insights and sharpen our intuition. Here is the computer-assisted ‘second draft’ of my game with Stepp.
[pgn][Event "12th Spence Swiss"]
[Site "?"]
[Date "2017.03.08"]
[Round "4.2"]
[White "Stepp, John"]
[Black "Hartmann, John"]
[Result "0-1"]
[ECO "C02"]
[WhiteElo "1736"]
[BlackElo "1888"]
[Annotator "Hartmann,John"]
[PlyCount "88"]
[SourceDate "2017.03.08"]1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. e5 c5 4. c3 Nc6 5. Nf3 Qb6 6. a3 f6 7. b3 $6 {This frees
the bishop to move, but it seems very passive.} (7. Bd3 fxe5 8. dxe5 c4 9. Bc2)
(7. b4) 7... fxe5 8. Nxe5 Nf6 {Necessary to stop Qh5} 9. Be3 (9. Bg5 {
concerned me more, and I wasn't entire sure how to handle it.} Be7 10. Bxf6
Bxf6 11. Qh5+ {was as far as I got, but now I see that after} g6 12. Nxg6 $2
hxg6 {the bishop guards the rook. White would have to content himself with} 13.
Qxg6+ Ke7) 9... Bd6 10. Nxc6 (10. f4 {was suggested by Stepp after the game,
and he thought I had some tactics to win the bishop on e3, but now I'm not
sure at all that's accurate. | MF reveals that there was a tactic:} cxd4 11.
cxd4 (11. Bxd4 Qc7 12. Be2 O-O $17) 11... Nxe5 12. fxe5 (12. dxe5 $2 Qxe3+ 13.
Qe2 (13. Be2 Ne4) 13... Qc1+ 14. Kf2 Qxf4+) 12... Bxe5 13. Bb5+ Qxb5 14. dxe5
Ne4 $19) 10... bxc6 (10... Qxc6) 11. b4 c4 $5 {Committal, but I liked the idea
of restricting the bishop while retaining the idea of ...e5.} (11... cxd4 {
(best MF)} 12. Bxd4 {felt less desirable. | This seems inaccurate. After} Qd8
13. Be2 O-O 14. Nd2 e5 {Black is better. The c3 pawn really hampers White's
development.}) (11... cxb4 12. cxb4 (12. axb4 {equalish MF}) 12... O-O (12...
a5 $1 {MF}) 13. Nd2 Qc7 14. Nf3 e5 {and I blast open the center but the c-file
is a worry. | MF reveals this is a bad eval on my part:} 15. dxe5 Bxe5 16. Nxe5
Qxe5 17. Qd4 $11) 12. Nd2 O-O (12... Qc7 13. g3 e5 {MF}) 13. Be2 Bd7 {White's
plan is slow (at least so far) and so I thought I had time to reposition my
worst piece. This is very typical for this kind of French structure.} 14. g4 $5
{I should have considered this more deeply, given my opponent's tendencies,
but I really didn't give this more than a glance. Intuitively it feels like
White doesn't have enough pieces developed to make this work, but if he
doesn't play aggressively, I think Black is just better.} (14. O-O Be8 15. Nf3
Bg6) 14... Be8 {Such a standard move, but I should have been a little more
aware here and looked for other options.} (14... Ne8 $5 {MF - question is why?
I guess the point is that White is going to have castle kingside - qside can
be ripped open with ..a5 - so put pressure on h2 and bring the knight back
after White has castled?} 15. O-O Qc7 16. Nf3 Nf6 $17) (14... Qc7 $1 {MF
(best?, preventing castling)} 15. g5 (15. h3 e5 $1) (15. O-O $2 Bxh2+) 15...
Ne8 {and the ...e5 break is dangerous, i.e.} 16. Nf3 e5 $1) 15. h4 (15. g5 Nd7
16. Bg4 e5 $1 17. Be6+ Kh8 {and I thought Black was much better}) 15... Qc7 {
Already seeing the ...Bf4 idea. Positionally it felt odd to trade my good
bishop for White's bad one, but I thought that the activity hitting the White
weaknesses made up for it.} 16. g5 Nd7 17. Bf3 $6 {Makes sense in light of
what happened, but I didn't really see the point of this move} (17. Bg4 e5 $1)
(17. h5 e5) 17... Bf4 (17... e5 {might be as good (MF)}) 18. Qe2 e5 ({I spent
11 minutes here, thinking mainly about sac'ing the e-pawn with} 18... Bg6 19.
Bxf4 Rxf4 20. Qxe6+ Kh8 {and I thought Black had compensation but wasn't sure.
| MF reveals that my intuition was correct:} 21. Kf1 {to get off file} (21. O-O
$2 Rxh4) (21. O-O-O Re8 22. Qh3 a5 $36) 21... Raf8 22. Qh3 (22. Kg2 $2 Be4 $1)
22... Rxf3 23. Nxf3 Qf4 $1 {and Black's advantage is approaching decisive}) 19.
Bg2 ({What if he tries the sac early? At first I thought he could do it with}
19. Nxc4 dxc4 ({but} 19... e4 {seems to refute / improve} 20. Bg2 dxc4 21.
Qxc4+ Bf7) 20. Qxc4+ Bf7 21. Qxc6) 19... Bg6 (19... exd4 $142 {MF} 20. Bxd4 (
20. Bxf4 $6 Qxf4) (20. cxd4 Bxe3 (20... Bh5 $3 {probably impossible for me to
see} 21. Qxh5 Bxe3 22. fxe3 $2 Qg3+ $19) 21. Qxe3 Bh5 {wti ...Rae8}) 20... Ne5
21. Bxe5 Bxe5 22. O-O Bg6 $19) (19... Bxe3 {MF} 20. Qxe3 exd4 21. Qxd4 Ne5) 20.
Nxc4 $5 {I didn't see this at all, but in hindsight, I probably should have at
least glanced at the capture on c4 - especially given the open diagonal
towards the king.} dxc4 {Hard to see how I avoid taking the piece over the
board. Still, I spent some time looking at other moves, and maybe should have
looked a little harder.} (20... Rae8 {MF} 21. O-O exd4 (21... dxc4 22. Qxc4+
Kh8 23. Qxc6 Qd8) 22. cxd4 dxc4 23. Qxc4+ Rf7 24. Qxc6 Qb8) 21. Qxc4+ Bf7 22.
Qxc6 Qxc6 $6 {Definitely suboptimal.} (22... Rac8 {seems better?} 23. Qxc7 Rxc7
24. Bxf4 exf4 25. Rc1 (25. Kd2 {MF} Rfc8 26. Rhc1 Nb6 {-/+/-+}) 25... Bc4 $19)
23. Bxc6 Rad8 (23... Bxe3 24. Bxa8 Bxf2+ 25. Kxf2 Bd5+ 26. Ke3 Bxa8 {is worse;
MF confirms validity of in-game decision.}) 24. O-O {During the game I thought
this might be a bad decision as we're close to the endgame and the king should
be centralized. But perhaps that's not true.} (24. Kd2 Bxe3+ 25. fxe3 exd4 26.
exd4 Ne5) (24. O-O-O Nb6 (24... Bxe3+ 25. fxe3) 25. dxe5 Bxe5) (24. Bxf4 {was
probably best?}) 24... Bxe3 25. fxe3 exd4 26. cxd4 $6 (26. exd4 {might not
have been necessary, as I thought originally, but still, MF confirms that it's
a better chance than taking with the c-pawn. Pawn islands!}) 26... Nb6 $6 {A
subtle mistake.} (26... Rfe8 $1 {MF} 27. Rae1 (27. Kf2 $6 Re7 28. Rac1 Nb6 29.
Rc3 Be8 $5) 27... Re7 28. Rf4 Nb6 29. d5 Rd6 {and Black is better, but it's
still quite a game}) 27. Rf5 $6 (27. Rac1 $1 $13) 27... Nc4 28. Re1 Nxa3 29.
Rc5 Bg6 $6 {Trying to save the offside knight with ..Nc2 or ..Nb1. It probably
wasn't necessary, though.} (29... Nc4 $1 $17) (29... Rb8) 30. Rec1 (30. Re2 $1
{(wti Ra2) MF; I'm forced to play} Bf7 {to get ..Nc4 when needed.}) 30... Rb8 {
I have to try and get active to fight these pawns.} 31. b5 Be8 $1 {X-rays!} 32.
R1c3 $2 (32. Rf1 Rxf1+ 33. Kxf1 {and Black is only slightly better, I think.})
32... Nxb5 33. Bd5+ Kh8 $1 {Justifying the whole adventure.} (33... Bf7 {
seemed worse to me, but MF confirms it's fine:} 34. Bxf7+ (34. Bc6 $4 Nxc3) (
34. Rb3 Bxd5 35. Rbxb5 Rxb5 36. Rxb5 Be4) 34... Rxf7 35. Rc8+ Rf8) 34. Rc8 $2 (
34. Rb3 g6 $19) 34... Nxc3 $1 $19 {I saw this (idea, to be clear) back when I
played 31...Be8.} 35. Rxc3 {Now it is, as they say, a matter of technique.} Bf7
36. Bg2 Rfc8 37. Ra3 Rc7 ({After the game Stepp showed me} 37... Rb2 38. Rxa7
Rcc2 39. Ra8+ Bg8 40. Bd5 $2 Rb1#) 38. d5 Re8 39. e4 Bg6 40. d6 Rd7 41. Bf1
Rxd6 42. Rxa7 Bxe4 43. Be2 g6 44. Ra1 Bf5 {plus moves} 0-1[/pgn]
The computer punched holes in a couple of my lines – computer insertions are marked ‘MF’ or ‘metal friend’ in the text, a habit borrowed from the books of Vladimir Tukmakov – but on the whole I did not analyze badly. Stepp’s 7.b3 was dubious but playable. His sacrificial plan was objectively unsound but could have given him good play, especially in light of my poor response (22. …Qxc6 is a lemon), and the two major errors on moves 32 and 34 were fatal. Of greater interest are those places in the analysis where the computer challenges or confirms my in-game intuitions. My hunch about the pawn sacrifice after 18. …Bg6 19.Bxf4 Rxf4 20.Qxe6+ Kh8 was correct, but I misevaluated my options fairly dramatically on move 11. I should, on this basis, consider trusting my intuition more while also striving for greater objectivity in calculation. The position after 14.g4 is worth special note, if for no other reason than it gives me an excuse to talk about the engine window in ChessBase / Fritz.
[pgn][Event "12th Spence Swiss"]
[Site "?"]
[Date "2017.03.08"]
[Round "?"]
[White "Stepp, John"]
[Black "Hartmann, John"]
[Result "0-1"]
[ECO "C02"]
[SetUp "1"]
[FEN "r4rk1/p2b2pp/1qpbpn2/3p4/1PpP2P1/P1P1B3/3NBP1P/R2QK2R b KQ - 0 14"]
[PlyCount "61"]
[SourceDate "2017.03.08"]14... Be8 15. h4 Qc7 16. g5 Nd7 17. Bf3 Bf4 18. Qe2 e5 19. Bg2 Bg6 20. Nxc4
dxc4 21. Qxc4+ Bf7 22. Qxc6 Qxc6 23. Bxc6 Rad8 24. O-O Bxe3 25. fxe3 exd4 26.
cxd4 Nb6 27. Rf5 Nc4 28. Re1 Nxa3 29. Rc5 Bg6 30. Rec1 Rb8 31. b5 Be8 32. R1c3
Nxb5 33. Bd5+ Kh8 34. Rc8 Nxc3 35. Rxc3 Bf7 36. Bg2 Rfc8 37. Ra3 Rc7 38. d5 Re8
39. e4 Bg6 40. d6 Rd7 41. Bf1 Rxd6 42. Rxa7 Bxe4 43. Be2 g6 44. Ra1 Bf5 0-1[/pgn]
14…Be8 is a typical French re-routing idea, but I was dogmatic here, playing the move quickly and ignoring other ideas. Stockfish and Komodo, running at depths I trust (27+ ply for Komodo, 30+ for Stockfish), make strong cases for 14. …Qc7! and 14. …Ne8!?. What can we say about them? First, when we set the engine to show multiple lines of analysis (‘PVs,’ or principle variations; achieved through clicking the plus and minus buttons) we are making a tradeoff. We do get to see two or three ranked moves, but we sacrifice some depth and speed in the process. I tend to toggle between one and two PVs as I work, as I prefer to maximize time to depth over having three or four PV on the screen. Second, there are some cases – this is not really one of them, but we’ll pretend it is – where we might not understand why the engine recommends a move. What’s so good about 14. …Qc7? If you’re using ChessBase or Fritz, you can ask the engine to show you threats in a position by clicking ‘X’ while the engine is running. It pretends that the side to move gets to make another move (virtually inserting a ‘null move’) and shows you the results. Here we can see that Black threatens 15. …e5. This ‘X-function’ can be very useful indeed, particularly when the engine spits out a move that resists human understanding. In showing this game, I am not trying to hold my play up as some model for others to follow. I did not play particularly well, and I did not see my opponent’s tactical ideas very clearly. Still I think there is value in using a game like this, warts and all, as an example of how to work on our own games. Effective chess training, as we have seen, tries to rewire our intuition or ‘chess subconscious,’ burnishing our strengths and shoring up our weaknesses. A serious analysis of one’s own games is fundamental to this task, and used judiciously, the computer can play a critical role in this process. Having heeded the Delphic admonition, what do we do with this self-knowledge? How do we structure our training? In my case, openings are not a problem, and my tendency to overvalue the bishops was muted here. While I’m good at converting technical advantages, my calculation was not stellar in this game, and I continue to underestimate my opponent’s passed pawns. There are, as always, things I need to do to improve. My training regimen should take all of this into account. Come back next month to see what this might look like. John Hartmann is a columnist for Chess Life Magazine and the Chess Journalists of America winner for the “Best Review” category. For more information, visit his Chess Book Review Website and his Twitter account: @hartmannchess
[1] Yusupov, “The Analysis of one’s own Games,” in School of Future Champions 1: Secrets of Chess Training. 38. [2] Dvoretsky, “Working on your own and other Player’s Games,” in School of Future Champions 1: Secrets of Chess Training. 71-2. [3] Yusupov, 38-9.

Comments

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Good article. I seem to struggle with analyzing my games, I'm going to try this method.

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

[…] Tech University: Philosophy & Game Analysis – Part 1 and Part II By John […]

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

This process outlined by Yusupov looks like a much less refined, sloppier and less complete version of the one IM Erik Kislik discusses in Applying Logic in Chess. Kislik's structure is very clear: 1. Evaluate the opening battle, who won, and why. 2. Identify the critical moments 3. Identify the major mistakes -- here Kislik adds three very important things that will deepen any player's understanding of chess by incorporating: 4. Look for missed pawn transformations 5. Evaluate exchanges played in the game 6. What were the positional errors and what misunderstanding did each of those errors reveal? This is a great and complete list that any player can learn a lot from. Curiously, John's review was extremely nitpicky and hyper-critical of the Kislik book, but he could have learned a lot from the nuance and accuracy of Kislik's work instead of just trying to tear it down.

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