Friday, May 29, 2015

War Game 7, County Counting 9, and Brixton Byways 11

In the final episode of this sequence (previously War Game 4, 5 and 6) on chess in World War 2 (it being the 70th anniversary year of the end of the war) we reach 1945.

The re-emergence, in 1943, of OTB county matches was one sign of the beginning of a return to chess normality - in spite of continuing obstacles - and so this episode joins forces with the County Counting thread (the blog series that has been dipping into the historic Surrey County Chess Association Match Books - see them via the History Index). As the focus shifts, and as it comes to settle on Surrey county chess, we will have a pretext for logging those of its chess clubs that survived the war. Thus Brixton CC will crop up, and so the episode will also have a bit of Brixton Byways. 

This episode may end up rather parochial; but first it goes international.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

DG XXII: The Return of Doctor Akbaraly

Last week Mig Greengard was misdescribing a journal article (DG XXI: Doctor Akbaraly) which we’d previously seen him cite in support of a claim that there was "strong evidence of cognitively stimulating evidence" helping with dementia (DG XX: Homework).

Today, we move on to the study’s ...
Akbaraly et al (2009), Leisure Activities and the Risk of Dementia in the Elderly: Results from the Three-City Study, Neurology vol 73 no 11, 854-861
... conclusions. If you’re suspecting that they might not be entirely as advertised by Garry Kasparov’s (Doctor Garry is In) bag carrier (DG XVIII: Mig), you would be correct.

That’s for later, though. Let's start with,
Stimulating leisure activities were found to be significantly associated with a reduced risk of dementia … and Alzheimer (sic) disease
Akbaraly p. 854
That you can see in the Abstract that is available online. Read the article itself (not on the internet and therefore harder to find, but it’s available at the British Library) and you find more details about the results that the researchers obtained.
Stimulating leisure activities were associated with a 50% reduction in risk of dementia in participants with high or moderate levels after controlling for potential confounders. Similar associations were observed for mixed/vascular dementia.
p. 856
Only for "stimulating" activities, though.
For passive and physical leisure activities, no significant association was found between levels of participation and risk of any type of dementia.
p. 856

Ball in the back of the ’strong evidence’ net for Mig, then? Actually, no.

It might seem like an open and shut case that Akbaraly’s article support’s Mig’s claim, but in fact we'll see that it doesn’t. Well see it doesn’t because there’s a difference between 'association' and causation. Well see it doesn’t because of the nature of Alzheimer’s Disease and other dementias and a known research problem.

Aside from anything else, though, we’ll see that the Akbaraly study doesn’t provide "strong evidence" that cognitively stimulating activities help with dementia because Akbaraly and his fellow authors actually say themselves that it doesn't.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Grigoriev versus The Oscars

White to play and win
Grigoriev 1933

Above, a study that I enjoyed failing to solve this weekend

Below, the version that Grigoriev should have created if he wanted to be be in the running for an English Chess Federation King and pawn study of the year award.

Friday, May 22, 2015

War Game 6

This is the third post (earlier episodes are here and here) on chess on the Home Front in World War 2, occasioned by the 70th anniversary of VE day.

The episode starts by continuing with the contribution made by Dr. Tartakover to British chess in the period, It will then examine the controversy concerning the role of the British Chess Federation. Here, again, we are treading on egg-shells. It is a subject that may still inflame passions.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

DG XXI: Doctor Akbaraly

And we’re back. Have you done yesterday’s homework? I shall be requiring a note from your mother if you haven’t.

No talking at the back. Let us proceed.

We’re looking at this study:-

Akbaraly et al (2009), Leisure Activities and the Risk of Dementia in the Elderly: Results from the Three-City Study,  Neurology vol 73 no 11, 854-861

Specifically we’re looking at Mig referencing it in the midst of a series of tweets earlier this month.

Verghese’s study wasn’t solely about cognitively stimulating hobbies, but a wide range of different leisure activities*. This we know from last year (DG III: Dogs That Don’t BarkDG VI: Doctor Susan)  and also because you followed the link yesterday to refresh your memories.

In contrast - according to Mig - Akbaraly and his colleagues focused on "mental stim". Which would be fine thing to explore if it were true. Unfortunately it isn’t.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

DG XX: Homework

With apologies to theblueweasel [see comments to DG XIX from last Thursday], here we go again.

Is the claim that there is "strong evidence cognitively stimulating leisure activities" helps with dementia justified? We’d have to know which particular studies Mig had in mind to come to a conclusion as to whether they supported what he was saying. We could tweet him to inquire, I suppose, but we know that he doesn’t much care for the #askforevidence game so I’m not convinced there’s much to be gained by travelling any further down that road.

Chalk up one more empty assertion from the Kasparov camp and move on, then? No, not this time.

Clearly, one solitary study is never going to be "strong" evidence of anything.  Equally, 'one' is by no means the "many" that Kasparov originally claimed for chess and dementia*. Still, credit to Mig for putting it out there. One article is infinitely better than the zero we’ve had to date so let’s go with it.

Here’s the full reference to the study that you get to if you click on the link in that tweet:-

Akbaraly et al (2009), Leisure Activities and the Risk of Dementia in the Elderly: Results from the Three-City Study,  Neurology vol 73 no 11, 854-861

Unfortunately you’ll only have access to the Abstract. The article itself doesn’t appear to be available online**, which means that you lot have got some homework to do before we can go any further.

If you take yourself off to the British Library you’ll find a copy of the relevant journal in the Medicine and Life Sciences reading room (right-hand side of the building on the second floor). Should getting to St Pancras not be hugely practical, the next best thing is to familiarise yourself with some material which covers similar ground to that explored by Akbaraly and his friends, but which has the added advantage of being accessible at the click of a mouse***.

Verghese et al (2003)****, Leisure Activities and the Risk of Dementia in the Elderly, New England Journal of Medicine, New England Journal of Medicine, volume 348, 2508 - 2516
Hall et al (2009), Cognitive Activities Delay Onset of memory Decline in Persons Who Develop Dementia, Neurology, vol 73 no 5, 356-361 
Hughes et al (2010), Engagement in Reading and Hobbies and Risk of Incident Dementia: The MoVIES Project, American Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease and Other Dementias, vol 25 no 5, 432-438 
Wang et al (2012), Leisure Activities Cognition and Dementia, Biochimica et Biophysica Acta, vol 1822 no 3, 482-491 
Dartigues et al (2013), Playing Board Games, Cognitive Decline and Dementia: a French Population-Based Cohort Study, British Medical Journal Open, vol 3 no 8
Sorman et al (2013), Leisure Activity in Old Age and Risk of Dementia: A 15-Year Prospective Study, Journals of Gerontology, Series B, Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences, vol 69 no 4, 493-501

You may or may not remember the Verghese (DG III: Dogs That Don’t Bark; DG VI: Doctor Susan) and Hall studies (DG IV: After Six Years’ Thought) from last year.  Either way, get reading and we’ll be back tomorrow.

Chess and Dementia Index

Thanks to Matt F and Pablo.

* "cognitively-stimulating leisure activities" and "chess" are obviously not interchangeable terms, but we’ll fight that battle another day.

** which is a drag but hardly Mig’s fault. A lot of academic research is not immediately available to the public, more’s the pity.

*** this is not intended to be an exhaustive list of the available research, but it’s more than enough to get us going.

**** "et al" for those who are not used to looking at academic references, simply means "and other writers". See DG X: Making a Difference for more details about referencing methods.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Grigoriev: Falling at the last hurdle

White to play and win

I nearly made it. The position didn’t look all that difficult so I thought I’d try to solve it in my head. I almost did too. I only tripped up at the last moment.

In truth this is not the hardest king and pawn position we’ve ever had. The first move is not exactly difficult to guess and the core of the problem is a familiar little 'opposition dance’ between the kings.

Which is why I found my way through to the end without too much trouble, I suppose. White must be winning here, I thought. If Black continues this way I’ll go here and it’s over. Black’s only other choice is to go that way and that’s the end too. Except I was wrong.

As it turned out Grigoriev had left one last trap and I had fallen right into it. The position I reached was winning, but the way I wanted to finish off was an outright blunder which allowed Black to escape with a draw.

Oh well, I nearly made it. Nearly is not bad when you’re talking about a Grigoriev study.

Friday, May 15, 2015

War Game 5

Marking the 70th anniversary of VE on 8 May 1945, this short series is looking at British chess between 1939 and 1945 in World War 2, concerning itself with chess on the Home Front. The previous episode started with the early war years at local level, and in this one we move on to look at how organised chess and the armed forces intertwined as the war drew on. Your blogger treads rather nervously as the events, and personalities, are within the living memory of some, and close to the hearts of many.    

By way of a taste of things to come, this is the paragraph in John Poole and Stewart Reuben's hundred year history of the English Chess Federation (up to 2003) on the ECF's website...
"The 1939/45 war years saw very little organised chess; most of the activity was run by the Unions and County organisations. The British Chess Federation was able to support chess in the armed services: it helped the Army Sports Fund and organised matches between the British Forces and Allied Forces in 1941/42, results being 6½-5½ and 6-7 respectively. In 1943 a British Army Championship was held (winner Capt R.H.Newman) and in 1944 an R.A.F Championship (won by F/O E.Brown). The County and District Correspondence Championship and BCF Problem/Composing Tourneys were maintained during these years."

This post will put some meat on several of those bones in relation to chess in the armed forces.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Doctor Garry XIX: Nullius in Verba

Much like Bruce Forsyth, the Royal Society has a catchphrase: Nullius in verba or 'On the word of nobody’. Science isn’t about assertions on what is right, handed down from authority figures. It’s about clear descriptions of studies, and the results that came from them, followed by an explanation of why they support or refute a given idea.

Ben Goldacre:

How time flies. It’s a year to the day since Doctor Garry was first in. A year and a day since I Am Garry decided that

was a message that he wanted to send out into the world.

Alas for IAG - fortunately for the rest of us - science isn’t about assertions handed down from authority figures. I think you’ll find it’s a bit more complicated than that. If somebody - even an ex-World Chess Champion - says there are "studies" to support their argument it means precisely nothing unless we know what those studies are. Unless we can check for ourselves should we choose so to do.

This is fundamental. It’s a point that Goldacre repeats over and over again in the book of his collected writings.

Science has authority, not because of white coats or titles, but because of precision and transparency: you explain your theory, set out your evidence, and reference the studies that support your case. Other scientists can then read it, see if you’ve fairly represented the evidence, and decide whether the methods of the papers you’ve cited really do produce results that meaningfully support your hypothesis.

... science isn’t about authoritative utterances from men in white coats, it’s about showing your working.


Academic papers are filled with ideas and evidence to be read, weighed up, and critically appraised by people with the motivation and skills to do so, whoever they may be. Science is not, and should not be, about arguing from authority. The idea that conclusions of a published paper are automatically true was never helpful. 

As so often, this is about transparency, which is ultimately the only source of authority in science: we want the methods and result of scientific research to be formally presented, and accessible by all, so that we can see what was done, and what they found. If a government report on anything relies substantially on unpublished and inaccessible research, then we are correctly concerned. 

science is about clarity and transparency

It is possible in healthcare to do great harm, while intending to do good, and so medicine thrives on criticism: this is how ideas improve ....

If science has any credibility, it derives from transparency: when you make a claim about how something works, you provide references to experiments, which describe openly and in full what was done, in enough detail for the experiment to be replicated. You explain what was measured, and how. Then people can freely discuss what they think this all means in the real world. 

The entirety of science is built on transparency, on giving your evidence and engaging with legitimate criticism. If you hear of a company refusing to hand over the evidence it says it supports its claims - whether it is a drug company, or some dismal cosmetics firm - all you know is that you are being deprived of information, and that vital parts of the picture are missing.

This is not difficult to understand and conclusions are not difficult to draw. Anybody who doesn’t get it is simply not to be trusted.

And here we are again.  "It's been shown in studies ...." I Am Garry told us just a few weeks ago.

For what it’s worth, the 'potential for distraction is as disruptive as actual distraction' thesis strikes me as more than a little plausible. That I find it so is entirely besides the point. What if I wanted to check? What if I wanted to prove my gut feeling/suspicion/opinion based on personal experience of  two years trying to get some bloody work done at the god-awful LSE Library/etc was actually correct?

What could be less clear, less transparent, more inaccessible than "studies" that are not named? Since it’s impossible to know what research is being referred to here, there is no possible way to discover whether it exists and if it does whether it says what it’s claimed to say. We cannot look it up. We cannot check.

In truth there is nothing here of any substance at all. Nothing but, "believe on my word for I Am Garry."

That, a year on, is where we still are with Garry Kasparov. He implies 'scientific method' but scratch the surface and it turns out that what he’s up to is indistinguishable from the behaviour of a Chessbase bullshitter.

Chess and Dementia Index

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

DG XVIII: Mig (aka #askforevidence)

“Evidence matters. And we should all ask for it. Anyone who wants us to vote for them, believe them or buy their products should expect us as voters, consumers, patients and citizens to ask for evidence ... The launch of this new website means that everyone making a claim is now on notice that they might be asked for the evidence.” 
Dr Chris Peters, Scientific Liaison, Sense About Science (

#askforevidence. Because the world is teeming with charlatans, well-meaning simpletons and common or garden bullshitters. The chess world especially so.

The Ask For Evidence campaign isn’t new. It was established back in 2011. It’s got its own twitter hashtag and everything. What is newish is the website that came online last October. A month later it featured an article with the title Help spread the word about Ask for Evidence.

We want to spread the word about the importance of asking for evidence. We want politicians, NGOs, companies and anyone making a claim to expect to be asked for the evidence behind their statements. Here are a few ways you can help. 

If you've seen advice about how to keep yourself healthy, or heard claims about how to reduce crime or improve education, or seen product advertising that you want to know more about - then Ask for Evidence using the site. And let everyone know you're standing up for evidence and holding people to account ...

Not surprising that politicians and health claims are first on those lists. With regard to the latter, accurate information about health matters is vital for everybody (which probably explains why it's of such interest to the aforementioned dodgy geezers, eejits and blowhards).

When asked to justify his dubious unsubstantiated claim about chess and dementia research (Doctor Garry is In), our man merely sub-contracted the work to Leonxto Garcia then went silent. No matter. If Gazza isn’t talking we can always ask his right-hand man Mig Greengard.

Our friend Mig was back on the twitter talking about chess and dementia just a few days ago. More on that in due course. In the meantime,  here’s what he had to say the first time around.

Monday, May 11, 2015

On the Appropriateness of Forgetting

Black to play
Topalov - Kasparov, Linares 2005

I was always going to include this one at some point. The final moves of the final serious game of Kasparov’s chess career. How could you not include them in a series on king and pawn endings?

If I’d thought about it, I’d have done it two Mondays ago (when I did BORP? XXXII instead) to coincide with the Kasparov - Short, "Clash of the Legends" St Louis match. That would have been entirely appropriate. That I didn’t wasn’t a conscious choice. I’d simply forgotten all about Topalov-Kasparov.  By the time Angus reminded me it was much too late to do anything about it.

So this post would have been much more timely a fortnight ago. Still, as it happens, I’m rather glad that I’d forgotten how Kasparov ended his chess career.

Friday, May 08, 2015

War Game 4

Given the other thing going on, it might have slipped your notice that 70 years today, on the 8th May 1945, Victory in Europe was celebrated. The evil of Nazi fascism was defeated. People, my parents included, rejoiced. Six miserable years were over.

From here
To acknowledge this anniversary this sequence of fairly hefty posts is about chess in the war years of 1939 to 1945. It continues the grim theme begun last year of chess in war (earlier posts are accessible via our History Index), and is limited, in the main, to the "Home Front". The posts are the result of a little research in the British chess magazines of the time in the British Library, but do not claim to be comprehensive (they won't cover chess at Bletchley Park, for example, which is well-served elsewhere), nor definitive. As usual: all errors and omissions are down to your blogger - all corrections, especially on historical matters, welcomed. There are still people around who were there.

Thursday, May 07, 2015

BORP? XXXIV: General Election Special Edition

Zeitnot. If only there were  time enough to write a full, Representation of the People Act-friendly, post for today.

Alas there is not. So let’s cut it down to the bare bones.

Sense About Science

... while offenders may not look fierce, there is nearly always something strange about their appearance. It can even be said that each type of crime is committed by men with particular physiognomic characteristics, such as lack of a beard or an abundance of hair; this may explain why the overall appearance is neither delicate nor pleasant. 

In general, thieves are notable for their expressive faces and manual dexterity, small wandering eyes that are often oblique in form, thick and close eyebrows, distorted or squashed noses, thin beards and hair, and sloping foreheads ... Rapists, however, nearly always have sparkling eyes, delicate features, and swollen lips and eyelids ... Pederasts are often distinguished by a feminine elegance of the hair ...

Nearly all criminals have jug ears, thick hair, thin beards, pronounced sinuses, and broad cheekbones.

The idea that criminals are different - different, that is, to the good guys like you and me - was first put forward in a coherent systematic manner by 'the father of criminology’ Cesare Lombroso. Originally published in the 1870s, I think it’s fair to say L'uomo delinquente has not aged well. The idea of 'the criminal' as a distinct 'other' - be it in terms of physical appearance or personality type - has long since been debunked. Although it appears that not everybody received that particular memo.


There are certain problems that a think-tank of Grandmasters might attack, like ... trends in crime ... the kind of brain that can play chess well in early youth is also supremely well equipped to act as a commentator, editor, thinker, about political, social, national and international issues.
R.D. Keene, Chess November 1990

... chess brilliance has nothing to do with high intelligence in other areas, but tends to give top players a false idea of their own high intelligence. They equate their FIDE rating with their IQ. In fact they have devoted so much time to chess that they may not be so brilliant at other things.
Sarah HurstKingpin

Put grandmasters in charge or put them in their place? Vote now.

BORP? Index

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

This is not a folk song IV

This should hopefully be the last in our present series pertaining to the disastrous English Seniors Championship of 2014, the role of the English Chess Federation in dealing (or rather, not dealing) with the subsequent complaint and - in passing - the organisation's bizarre insistence on setting up an unwanted internet forum in order to try and close down an already-existing one.

But first, some satire.

- - -

You'll recall from last week that trying to trace decisions relating to the Sunningdale Park tournament, or for that matter the creation of the "official" forum, in the ECF Board minutes, has proven none too easy. You seek and you do not find. Both affairs are, however, mentioned in the report to the October 2014 Annual General Meeting of Angus French*, then a Non-Executive Director.

Monday, May 04, 2015

Bank Holiday Monday

White to play

I am unwell.  Not in the Jeffrey Bernard 'pissed in a ditch' kind of a way and not in any kind of serious way, but unwell nonetheless. Unwell enough to not really feel like writing the post that I was going to write for today.

So I’m not going to. Here’s a simple position instead.

White to play. With best play should it be a win or can black hold the draw?

King and pawn Index

Friday, May 01, 2015

This is not a folk song III

You'll recall from the original posting that what first sparked my interest in the Sunningdale fiasco was a forum comment - indeed, a (later rescinded) resignation - from the ECF's Commercial Director, of which the part below was the part that struck me most.

In the English Chess Federation Handbook for August 2013 there's a section (begins page 55) on the "financial bye laws" governing the conduct of ECF officials in financial matters. This has a potentially relevant* section F5

and another potentially relevant section F8, on the Bids Regulations.

The Bids Regulations, on which this posting will concentrate, are just lower down in the same document (page 58) or are available separately here. (So far as I can see there's no difference in the wording of the two sources although the points are numbered differently. Reproductions are from the separate version.)