Monday, June 30, 2014

ISEs: From the Books III

Black to play
Karpov - Andersson, Milan 1975

I could stay with Secrets of Modern Chess Strategy for the rest of the year probably, but it’s time to move on. Today’s ISE comes from the similarly named Grandmaster Chess Strategy: Kaufeld & Kern’s book on the games of Ulf Andersson (New In Chess, 2013).

Rook takes bishop on e3 seems to be a fairly common way for Black to give up an exchange. Often it happens when Black has a fianchettoed king’s bishop and he wants to get rid of its opposite number. When Bishops are too Strong and Euwe - Kotov from Zurich ’53 are examples of the theme.

Euwe-Kotov 1953
Black to play

No fianchetto in Karpov - Andersson, the first game in Kaufeld and Kern’s chapter 'The Positional Exchange Sacrifice’, although the point of limiting White’s ability to play against a strong dark-squared bishop still seems to apply.

2014 ISE Count: 45
TISE Index

Saturday, June 28, 2014

King Queen Zebra

We're taking a break from our Brixton Byways this weekend, but if you're at a loose end on Sunday morning you might like to take a stroll across Clapham (or take a number 37) to Putney in time for 11am or so.

Why might you do such a thing? Because Brandelhow Primary School (Brandlehow Road, Putney, enter from Skelgill Road) is holding a school fĂȘte with cup cakes available at four for a quid. And aside from the edibles they're hosting a simultaneous display to be given by three-times British champion and author of Chess for Zebras, Dr Jonathan Rowson.

Friday, June 27, 2014


I'm not proposing to write much about the FIDE Presidential election - just thinking about it brings on a wave of nausea - but there were a couple of things about the ECF statement supporting Kasparov that I have just sufficient enthusiasm to spend five minutes on.

Most of the statement is unexceptional enough - what it says against Kirsan is substantially true, what it says in favour of Kasparov is often nonsense, but that's pretty much par for the course, and as I say, I really don't have the heart to go through the document ticking off what I agree with and
taking issue with what I don't.

However, this little passage intrigued me.

Now I'm a little curious as to how the statement was actually written and by whom. (It's hard to put one's finger on it, but there's something strange about the English in places, such as the lapse into the present tense in the sentence before the passage above.) But that's not particularly important. What I was really wondering about was this "political neutrality" which is apparently "expected by the FIDE Statutes" and is so important to the ECF.

I ask because there is surely no more politically-engaged figure in the entire world of international chess than Garry Kasparov.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Stop me if you've heard this one before

Scandal in Afghan chess!

A chess federation's president replaced because he supported the wrong side in FIDE politics!

Whoever heard of such a thing?

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

#chess180: Game On

I’m taking a temporary break from the Chess and dementia posts this week, to announce that Project Chess 180 is very much Game On.

Monday, June 23, 2014

ISEs: From the Books II

White to play
Seirawan - Kozul, Wijk aan Zee 1991

Yasser’s got something truly absurd for us today. Swap queens, 'lose' the exchange and then just carry on playing.

I can kind of see the point - Black’s bishop ends up with no diagonals, the rooks have no files - but White’s pieces don’t seem to be doing anything either. Well, what do I know? Seirawan wins anyway, although he (and Watson: I found this position in Secrets of Modern Chess Strategy) thinks White can do even better a little while along the line with 25 Rf1.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Brixton Byways: 6. Men of Might

They Might or they Might Not: but hopefully all will be revealed as we continue to lay bare Brixton Chess Club's early history. Last time we featured John Sargent and his 28 moves of fame in 1891, and in this episode we continue through the final decade of the 19th century, at the end of which our time-line will more or less hit the buffers - but leaving a few tasty bits left to savour for a few episodes beyond.

So far we have watched Endeavour CC gradually evolve into Brixton CC; noted, in spite of a murmuring of nay-sayers, the let's-just-get-on-with-it birth of the Surrey County Chess Association; and the emergence, after a more protracted gestation, of the London League (about which there is still a bit more to say). We have also plotted the progressive migration, ever further south, of Brixton CC HQ eventually to the Bon MarchĂ© Restaurant, at 240-250 Ferndale Road around 1890; and also identified a surprising number chess associations in the Brixton area apart from Endeavour/Brixton, including one other (the Effra Chess Club) that, curiously, shared a few years earlier the very same venue as Brixton CC at 322 Brixton Road. 

In this episode we will continue to mine this rich - and sometimes confused - seam of chess club history as we dig deep into the 1890s.

Friday, June 20, 2014

A morality play

Reading yesterday's post, our more attentive readers will surely have spotted that in one place - if perhaps only one - Ray's notes to Keene-Janetschek are lengthier on than they were on the Spectator: the note to Black's tenth.


So naturally I wondered whether the longer passage was new to It isn't, though.

It doesn't appear in the Spectator version because it had already appeared in that magazine - the week before, 24 October 1998, when Ray had annotated the Nimzowitsch-Rubinstein game it refers to. The version on is a shorter rendering of the final passage here.

And here are Ray's Spectator notes in full.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

A direct transposition

If you've ever strolled through Ray's stash of annotations you may have enjoyed his pasting of Karl Janetschek at the 1975 Barcelona Zonal.

Vintage Ray on the board and off, his notes ("White's juggernaut continuing its advance", "an ingenuity born of despair") reminiscent of how he used to do it in his heyday.

Mind you, perhaps they are how Ray used to do it in his heyday, since the notes are anything but recent.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

DG VIII: Celebrity

... consider Tom Cruise’s genuinely terrifying sense of intellectual rectitude. 'You don’t know the history of psychiatry. I do ... You’re glib. You don’t even know what Ritalin is ... You don’t know and I do.
These people are not curious: they are credulous. They exhibit a quite stunning lack of curiosity, yet they are given to declaring themselves - entertainers - the authority on complex matters of which they have the most tenuous grasp at best. 
Marina Hyde, Celebrity (Harvill Secker, 2009)

I’ve been rereading Celebrity of late. Rediscovering that while there aren’t many things in life that give you regular LOLs whilst simultaneously making you thoroughly miserable, Marina Hyde’s wonderful book is certainly one of them.

"Has the world really come to tolerating this?" you ask yourself page after page. Read of Bono badgering people to 'do more' on Africa whilst simultaneously limiting his government’s ability so to do by having his money become Dutch for tax purposes, read about Jude Law’s 'mission' to bring peace to Afghanistan, read abut Tom Cruise banging on about whatever the chuffing heck he was banging on about and you’ll decide (a) that it has and (b) the aforementioned world can jolly well go eff itself.

Ah, but Life Imitates Chess, don’t you know?

So let’s replace Tom Cruise with Garry Kasparov and switch in 'chess players' for 'entertainers'. What do we have now? Cut the line about Ritalin and I’d say we’re left with a pretty good summary of where the chess world is regarding the chess-dementia 'debate'. Where we actually are rather than where we should be, obviously.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Ves and Vlad

Black to play
Topalov - Kramnik, Norway 2014

When’s not a good time to play an exchange sacrifice that doesn’t work out? When you’re playing your arch enemy, that’s when.

2014 ISE Count: 42
TISE Index

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Trust is not the word

Following on from yesterday's post, Nette Robinson's event later this month is advertised on the website of the English Chess Federation.

Nothing strange about that. There is, however, something extremely strange about the second part of the item.

This is - amazingly - an advert for a Ray Keene event, in support of his personal charity-cum-dining society*. On the website of the English Chess Federation.

As readers probably don't need reminding, Ray Keene is not a member of the Federation. He has not been a member of the organisation for two decades. This is because he was obliged to leave the Federation when he was accused of defrauding that organisation of a sizeable sum of money.

Ray Keene has never made any proper explanation of his actions. Nor has he returned the money.

So tell me - what other organisation would be dozy enough to offer free advertising to an individual who had left them in such murky and discreditable circumstances?

None that I can think of.

Is Phil Ehr able to offer us an explanation?

[* See for instance parts 8-9 of this piece]

[Ray Keene index]

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Nette and Tom (and Diana Makes Three)

We've talked about Nette Robinson's chess art before on the blog, and now there's a bit more to say in view of her article in this June's Chess and her forthcoming exhibition, from 23 to 28 June at Art Galleries Europe, London W1S 1PL. It also gives us a chance to catch up on our other favourite chess-in-artist Tom Hackney (also discussed here, here and here). Both of them turn the moves on the board into art on the wall, and we can take this opportunity to compare and contrast - not so much how they look, but what's going on...that is to say, on their canvasses, and why. Tom, by the way, is on the short list for the John Moore's Painting Prize 2014, exhibiting at the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool, and we'll have a look at his entry below (and wish him luck). And there's a third chess-in-artist to check out as well: Diana Mihajlova.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Research is vital

As regular and recent readers of this blog will know, two particular interests of ours are plagiarism and dodgy chess/dementia research.

Today we get to combine the two in looking at an article entitled Checkmating Alzheimer's Disease written by a gentleman named Michael Ciamarra. It appeared on Chessbase on 20 May last year.

I say "article" but perhaps I should say "articles" since the same piece, under the same title, had already appeared on the FIDE site on 14 May of the same year, not that the Chessbase article acknowledges that. Mind you, the FIDE piece doesn't tell you that it had already appeared on Alabama Local News, on May 9, with the slightly more cumbersome title of Mind sports could help older adults improve cognitive performance and reduce the risk of Alzheimer's.


Still, what is of especial interest isn't how much these three articles resemble one another, but how much parts of them resembled other articles, by other people.

How very much.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

DG VII: Doctor Coyle

Chess and dementia: a summary of where we’re at - or where chessers as a community should be at - courtesy of Joseph T. Coyle, M.D.

... participation in cognitively demanding leisure activities in late life may provide protection against dementia,
Determining the relative contributions of genes that confer risk and environmental factors such as effortful mental activity to the pathogenesis of dementia remains an important but unrealized goal in research on dementia. In the meantime, seniors should be encouraged to read, play board games, and go ballroom dancing, because these activities, at the very least, enhance their quality of life, and they might just do more than that.

Use it or Lose It - Do Effortful Mental Activities Protect against Dementia? 

New England Journal of Medicine 2003; 348: 2489-2490

Chess and Dementia Index

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

DG VI: Doctor Susan

I knew that the Journal of Chess Research was coming. I’m indebted to EJH for the knowledge that one of things that Polgie’s magazine is intending to investigate is the issue of chess and Alzheimer’s Disease (Unlearned Journal).

Chess and dementia (Alzhiemer’s Disease is the most common form of dementia) is an important subject, but try to find out something about it and chances are you’ll end up misinformed. The internet being awash with just as much ignorance and nonsense on this particular topic as it is for everything else, anything which helps cut through the confusion is to be welcomed. It’s just a pity that Susan Polgar is herself one of the highest profile generators of that confusion.

Exhibit A of the Polgarian chess/dementia misinformation: the article that she reproduces on her website which has the headline, "Playing Chess Can Lower the Risk of Dementia by 74%" even though the claims turn out to be based on the Verghese research which actually concludes, " ... our findings do not establish a causal relation between participation in leisure activities and dementia ...."

Susan Polgar: once part of problem, and now - apparently - the solution. Well, if it gives us nothing else, the Journal of Chess Research has at least put to bed the claim that folks on the other side of the Atlantic don’t do irony.

Monday, June 09, 2014

ISEs: From the Books

Black to play
Panov - Simagin, Moscow 1943

Time to see if any of those chess books that I’ve acquired over the years can help me with my ISE quest. First up, Watson,’s Secrets of Modern Chess Strategy (Gambit, 1998).

I choose this one to say goodbye - for a while - to the fianchettoed bishop theme. An astonishing move coming up from Simagin. The exchange given up without getting a pawn in return or shattering White’s structure or anything else. Black just would rather have his bishop than the rook. Especially if he can get rid of White’s dark-squared bishop too.

The Soviet school set new boundaries for this kind of long-term exchange sacrifice, according to Watson. These days, he says, "even average players make such moves."  Hmmm.

Sunday, June 08, 2014


Fast forward to 1.43 if your Norwegian is no better than mine.

[Nigel Short index]

Saturday, June 07, 2014

Brixton Byways: 5. Sargent Majors

We started our promenade along the pathways of Brixton chess club history with the 1870s, here and here; then spent two more episodes exploring the 1880s, here and here - and we have now reached the latter years of that decade. Somewhat royally we have allowed ourselves to pause in our progress so as to acknowledge favoured subjects, and indulge them should they take our fancy. We will continue so to do in this episode wherein we will finally reach the 1890s. Let's hope that we will be engaged by one or two diverting characters, and perhaps other curiosities, en route.

Once again, it's maybe helpful to scope the terrain in which Brixton played its chess, and it is time to put in place the London Chess League. Or try to...

Friday, June 06, 2014

Unlearned journal

We've been talking a lot about chess and research recently. So on the face of it there's every reason to welcome the appearance of a new academic journal, The Journal of Chess Research

which all being well, will be coming out early next month.

So who's responsible for bringing us this publication?

Oh dear.

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

DG V: In the news

Last week (DGIII: Dogs That Don’t Bark) we saw that the one piece of research which is commonly cited to justify claims that chess is an effective intervention to counter dementia actually contains no mention of chess whatsoever. Joe Verghese (and friends)’s article in the New England Journal of Medicine Leisure Activities and the Risk of Dementia in the Elderly, you will recall, talks merely of "playing board games and cards". This curious yet easily demonstrable fact notwithstanding, the journal article remains frequently cited as proof that playing chess reduces chances of dementia later in life.

How can that be? Short answer: it was in the news*. The Washington Post’s Mind Games May Trump Alzheimer’s piece being one example of the story that appeared in the press. What folk are referencing (if that’s not too grand a word in the circumstances, which it probably is) is not the Verghese research per se, but news reports about that research.

My original plan for this post was a lengthy explanation as to why relying on news media reports for accounts of scientific research is unwise, but, frankly, I can’t be arsed. I’m going to take it as read that we agree that material published in the press (or on tellybox news for that matter) sometimes contains mistakes because of the need to rush to meet deadlines, that sometimes mistakes are made because journalists don’t understand what they’re writing about and that sometimes errors of fact are printed because the journalists/papers have simply made stuff up.

Feel free to disagree with the standpoint if you wish, but if you do you might as well stop reading this post now. Which would be a shame because you’ll miss the good chuckle at the expense of the Daily Express which is coming in a moment.

Goldacre: could be a chesser for all I know
(although his lack of tolerance for bullshit suggests that he probably isn’t)

Ben Goldacre - medical Doctor/journalist/author - once wrote,

If you are simply presented with the conclusions of a piece of research, without being told what was measured, how and what was found - the evidence - then you are simply taking the researchers’ conclusions at face value …. 
Ben Goldacre, Bad Science (p. 238)

True enough. And if you are presented with those conclusions in a newspaper you are assuming that journos' summaries of what the researchers’ conclusions were can be taken on trust. Do we really need to have seen the discrepancy between the Washington Post and Verghese in the New England Journal of Medicine to know that they can’t?

Surely not.

Enough. On with the mocking of the Daily Bollocks Express and its fondness for shouty headlines about dementia. They don’t seem to have got around to chess yet. If only they'd consult Doctor Garry.

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

DG IV: After Six Years' Thought

But I knew the line of the Slav that Nigel intended to play: I had seen him and Kavalek spend a week’s work on it back in Reston, Virginia. It was the variation Kavalek had described as 'good rope-a-dope stuff'. Far from challenging Kasparov with the sharpest and latest line in the opening, Nigel was relying on a move which had once been played by the ex-world champion Vassily Smyslov in 1953. Smyslov, the most extraordinary example of longevity at the top levels of grandmasterdom, then gave the move a rest for forty years, only to play it again this year in an obscure tournament in Rostov-on-Don. I remember Nigel’s excitement as Kavalek’s computer - the Beast in his basement - spewed out the Rostov-on-Don game by the Rip Van Winkle of world championship chess: "If Vassily Smyslov thinks that the move is still good after forty years' thought, then it’s good enough for me."

Dominic Lawson, The Inner Game

I include this passage here partly because I rather like it and partly because it gives me an opportunity to shoehorn a little bit of chess into the blog, but mostly because it makes a good lead in to a post which is in itself a lead in to something coming tomorrow.

Last week’s Doctor Garry (Dogs That Don’t Bark) showed that a journal article - Leisure Activities and the Risk of Dementia in the Elderly Verghese et al. (NEJM 2003 348:2508-2516) - which is cited all over the place as the 'proof' that chess is an effective intervention to counter dementia actually contains no mention of chess whatsoever. The closest it gets, as we know, is a reference to people "playing board games or cards".

As it happens, the New England Journal of Medicine article is not the only study that makes use of the the data obtained from the Bronx Ageing Study. No doubt there are many others. The one that interests us today is,

Cognitive Activities Delay Onset of Memory Decline In Persons Who Develop Dementia
Neurology (2009) vol 73 no 5 p. 356-361
Hall, C.B; Lipton R.B; Sliwinski, M; Katz, M.J; Derby, C.A; Verghese, J

You may recognise the final author listed, maybe all six of them, since every one is credited as an author of Leisure Activities...  (albeit, as Andrew Preview might have it, not necessarily in the same order).

The same group of researchers making use of the same data set investigating a similar topic. The difference? The NEJM 2003 article asks a group of people about their leisure activities and then looks forwards to see which of them develop dementia. The Neurology 2009 paper goes the other way, taking the group of people who developed dementia and then looking backwards to the start of the research project to examine what those people said they liked to do in their leisure time.

The point for today is that the categories listed for cognitive leisure activities in the second article - "reading, writing, crossword puzzles, board or card games, group discussions or playing music" (p. 357) - are the same as in the first. Yes, that's 'board or card games' again, not 'chess'.

We know from last time that 'board games' means "board games such as chess, checkers, backgammon". We know that if the data had justified the use of "chess" rather than "board games" then the researchers could have used that word in 2003. We also know that the authors repeated their choice not to do so in 2009.

Are the two terms interchangeable for the purposes of this discussion? I think not. That’s being kind. 'Obviously not', would be a more appropriate retort. There are any number of reasons to come to that conclusion, but aside from anything else, if Hall, Lipton, Sliwinski, Katz, Derby and our friend Verghese still thought that 'board games’ was the correct wording after six years' thought then it should be good enough for us.

Chess and Dementia Index

Monday, June 02, 2014

Rook for Bishop

Black to play
Todorovic - Plachetka, Zemun 1980

I do mean to move on from fianchettoed bishop exchange sacrifices, but it seems wherever I look I keep finding another one. Today’s ISE is an unusual variation on the theme.

Exchange sacrifices against a fianchetto frequently involve giving up a rook to get rid of the bishop. We’ve had loads of those already: the Original ISE; TISE V; Close but no ISE; Back in the USSR and most recently three posts - BORP? XXX, On Plans and Advice for Beginners, SMA #27 on the ISE that never happened in Reshevsky-Kotov, Zurich ’53.

When the side which has the fianchetto gives up an exchange, it’s often to enhance the power of his own bishop by get rid of the its opposite number.  Examples of this kind of ISE include TISE IVWhen Bishops are too Strong and Azmai Could Play.

In Todorovic - Plachetka, which I found in Mednis’ classic From the Opening Into The Endgame,  Black played the Grunfeld and sacrificed his rook for the other bishop. After ... Rxd5, the game continued exd5 Qxd5

White to play

at which point Mednis concludes that Black has "... more than enough compensation ...."  A familiar annotation, if not a massively helpful one for the amateur chesser.

When I first looked at this, I thought that White would play Qe2 here to save the material, after which Black could trade on f3 - twice if necessary - to leave White with five isolated pawns. It turns out this is not a very good idea at all, though. Plachetka, needless to say, had a much better plan in mind.