Friday, March 11, 2016

Openings and endings

The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on

- The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam
I was looking for a theme for today's post, and nearly picked the one that we used yesterday, since it's not hard to find old sources which give the impression that Kasparov announced his retirement on March 11, or even one that (in this surprising case) says so outright.

Still, Dirk was there, and Dirk is reliable if nothing else

so if we are to find an event that coincides with 11 March then we may have to make do with the Candidates Tournament, which starts today. Or, alternatively, yesterday - depending on which part of the front page you look at

or come to that you could have consulted AGON and discovered that the tournament actually began last Tuesday.

I assume the 10 March date refers to the Opening Ceremony. What AGON are on about, I have no idea.

Meanwhile, what are AGON on about? What is this nonsense? Are they really going to go after people for doing what we've always done - always, since we first started following chess on the internet - for posting the moves and discussing them with whoever else we choose?

Apparently they are: not just other chess-broadcasting sites but little people, you and me.

And how are they going to do this? They're going to do it by making us log in to their site, with the conditions of the log-in to include, if I understand Dylan right, promising not to re-post the moves.

This is likely to result in a big ruck, since the main chess-broadcasting sites are promising to proceed wtih their transmissions - or, perhaps, it is just as likely to result in AGON backing down and pretending never to have made any threats at all. This would be a preferable alternative. But at any rate, this is bullying, on a grand scale - and it's not just bullying, it's bullshit, and quite important bullshit at that, because chess moves aren't subject to copyright. Chess moves are facts.

You cannot buy up the exclusive rights to broadcast chess moves, because there are no rights in those chess moves: you cannot prevent people repeating them, just as you cannot prevent people repeating that (say) Barnsley are leading 2-1 at Colchester but have had a man sent off, or that a man has grown a beard. These are facts, and to try and prevent the repetition and discussion of facts is to threaten free speech in a real and potentially important way. (See very good Chessbomb piece here.)

It's also stupid, and on the principle that you can judge the quality of an idea by the quality of idiot who endorses it, here's Steve Giddins.

One of these two people is a lickspittle to a larcenist

Still, leaving aside, for the while, threats to the right freely to disseminate information, it really is the sheer stupidity of the idea that's most impressive. What better way to prevent chess gaining a wider audience than to make it much harder for regular players to discuss it casually with other internet users? (This is something I used to do regularly.) What better way to cut down on traffic to your site than to insist on people logging in (that's all the casual viewers gone, for starters) and then to put conditions on that log-in that many of your potential visitors loathe and have no intention of respecting?

Tell you something interesting. A few months ago, I was contacted by the very same Dylan Loeb McClain, asking me to write about chess for AGON. I turned him down - not, I confess, without thinking about it first. But it seemed to me, before and after thinking about it, that if I wanted to write about the sort of thing I wanted to write about, in the way in which I wanted to write it, I'd probably be closed down before very long.

Yes, yes, there were guarantees of independence, but guarantees from Ilya Merenzon? Not somebody I'd rely on to tell me the date unless I had a calendar to hand. Maybe Dylan believed him, anyway, and that explains how somebody who used until recently to be a serious journalist comes to be playing the pop-up head for this particular idiocy. Well, he wouldn't be the first chess journalist we've seen turn to the dark side over the lifetime of this blog.

Still, you can't always write what you want, and perhaps it's just as well. I'd intended, before AGON intervened, to make this piece about openings and endings, and yet there's little enough I know about the second of these categories. Yes, that's everybody's story, for sure, we all know our openings better than our endings and we all know it ought to be the other way around, but I've not just never written very well about endings, I've scarcely written about them at all. There's nearly a hundred posts on endings here and here. I didn't write any of them. I can think of this one to my credit - and can't, not immediately, come up with another.

If I'd ever read any of these properly, it might have helped

but I always had my mind on the Scheveningen instead. Or if it wasn't the Scheveningen it was something else, however briefly that might have been.

Hey, I forgot to mention that Kasparov's last ever win in tournament chess was with the Scheveningen. Come to that it had also slipped my mind that the very last game he played, with his mind clearly on other things, culminated in his losing a pawn ending.

Topalov is winning here, but shouldn't have been after the move (27. h4?) he played - and then Kasparov shouldn't have been losing, but was, and did lose, after the move (27...g6?) he played. Or so they tell me. I can see the explanation and I can understand it. I can even indirectly understand it when the computer tells me it's a draw - which it does, not by showing me a line ending with 0.00 and bare kings, but by the equivalent of tapping its fingers on the table and looking straight at me to see if I've worked out the obvious yet.

But though I can follow it, and work out what has already been explained to me, I'd never see it, never reproduce it, over the board. I never learned enough about the endings to stop blundering about and start thinking about them properly, with some idea of where I was going and some idea of how to get there.

Which - the blundering about part - is more or less how I do everything, including writing for this blog. And I imagine it's how I'll follow the Candidates games, if, given all the bullying and all the  palaver,  I can be bothered to follow them at all.

Wovon man nicht sprechen kann, darĂ¼ber muss man schweigen. Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent. I never knew enough about any sort of ending to talk about it properly. So it makes a kind of sense that when a proper ending comes along, I really don't know what to say.


siow, weng nian said...

Your analysis of copyright is correct unlike most chess players I know who seems to be muddled between copyright and its infringement and the morality of action of infringement.
In any event, I wish to make a slight correction to your analysis. It is trite that chess moves are facts and cannot be subject to copyright. However, there is also the law of contract. Access in any manner to an event if "private" is subject rights, usually rights of entry/access. The right to access is then usually governed by the law of contract, quid pro quo, licence to access for monetary compensation. Contracts can include terms and this is where the fun begin. If one party has sufficient bargaining power, then they can impose conditions(terms) to their liking and advantage. A common example is no photography, videography of any kind in a concert. There is nothing in the world (at least in the English common law world) to stop you taking someone's photograph but the contract you agreed to when you purchased the ticket obliges you to observe the conditions/terms which says no to such things.
So, long story short, if AGON has the bargaining power, and they can find an effective way to enforce it, then they are allowed to do it.

Laar said...

Aronian and Nakamura are the only ones I think might grow beards during the event. Though I will be following closely. The rest I find you are correct. :)

Anonymous said...

BTW, you keep spelling his name wrong: Ilya Merenzon, which an extra 'n'.

ejh said...

Thank you!

ejh said...

So, long story short, if AGON has the bargaining power, and they can find an effective way to enforce it, then they are allowed to do it.

Well in some ways, yes, but in other ways no, since you cannot enforce terms in a contract which are themselves illegal.

No.chance said...

I think more relevant to the instant discussion, is not legality, but whether the terms are either unconscionable (particularly in a clickwrap contract of adhesion), or pre-empted (by rights such as free speech).

First though, the contract's applicability itself is rather vague, especially as you can get the moves without fuss at an official broadcaster ( If you don't use Agon's site, you aren't bound by their contract, which the first poster noted, is the only way they control you.

No.chance said...

Agon really turned up the screws somehow in Round 2. About an hour in, suddenly NRK stopped, and most other sites with them. Der Spiegel kept its Aronian-Anand analysis going, but maybe they paid for it? Chessdom promises another missive, though they've been absent from the party so far.

Anonymous said...

No backbone from the chess sites. Empty Agon threat and they collapse!

Po said...

Latest Agon no-no. They have Beluga Vodka as a Candidates partner, against IOC ban on hard liquor (regulations say sponsors must be line with IOC). Will anyone care though?

Laar said...

Yeah Po, we need a Questions to Mister Merenzon list, regarding the Candidates.

(1) Candidates Regulations ( say must be the official web domain of the Candidates, carrying all content, and the organizer shall not develop any other website. How is hosting everything? Calling the "official broadcasting partner" doesn't quite mesh with the language employed in the regulation, stipulating "All live images, live broadcasting ... will be carried on the official domain."

(2) Candidates Regulations (4.8) say Agon is the official organizer, and again FIDE-Agon contract (3.1a) says Agon must be the sole and exclusive organizer. What then, is World Chess Events Limited, mentioned in #4 of the online "clickwrap" agreement of If this is a shell-company subsidiary/nominee, does it materially affect Agon's legal position with FIDE?

(3) Candidates Regulations ( say that no proposed sponsor for the Candidates Tournament shall be in conflict with the regulations of the International Olympic Committee. Beluga Vodka is hard liquor, which has to date been prohibited from partnership with the IOC. Similar language indicating IOC regulations on sponsorship is in the FIDE-Agon contract at 3.3(a)(i). How do you explain?

To be filled in, as more occur...

Anyone (with some FIDE status) willing to send it to him? Will he answer questions, maybe in Baku? Let's just say this isn't the oversight I'd want as a "shareholder" as it were. Would you do business with them?! (Well, I guess some partition of the business world wouldn't, while the other would, and maybe think this business "acumen" is a positive.) Even just a good interviewer might ask these questions, though I don't think Merenzon is looking to talk to the (uncontrolled) press much, these days.

Incidentally, 3.3(b)(i) of the FIDE-Agon contract is funny, in that it explicitly allows exclusion of sponsors who have been listed as money laundering or terrorism sponsorship published by the US Treasury! So much for getting sponsorship from "FIDE Bank" (Kirsan's 2013 desired renaming of the Russian Financial Alliance Bank, when he became head of the board of directors).

Laar said...

For comparison, here are the sponsors at Women's championship, BTW (scroll down on main page, terrible navigation):

What a decent list! How is the Candidates so pathetic in comparison? Involving the typical "ex-Soviet money laundering firm" (as Mig puts it, as a general proposition) for main partner, then vodka (actually a new "line of bitters", though still 38-40% alcohol content), the official hotel [whoopee!], the official car [better than nothing], the official restaurant (a Moscow one-off, not a chain), and Samsung which I guess donated electronic equipment/expertise as "technical partner".... And I think they just added a Moscow shopping plaza -- umm, how are these Moscow places supposed to appeal to a *global* Internet audience that Merenzon likes to boast of?

Plus the RCF itself has 2 partners, Art Russe and PhosAgro, which is not so bad from Filatov.

Anonymous said...

There's a website which claims to be able to measure web traffic and provide background.

Try it on at

Presumably the visitor count is measured over a much longer period than the first few days of the Candidates.

I don't know if the information is now out of date, but look at what it says under "Owner"

Andrew Paulson Varyag LLP
Owner since June 30, 2014

(you interpret this as Andrew Paulson (of) Varyag LLP

If you check this shows
Ilya Merenzon
Owner since February 20, 2013


Elista FIDE Office
Owner since September 24, 2014


PS said...

PS: If you want a citation about the Olympics policy, it's on page 33 here:

The IOC maintains the following policy objectives with regard to the commercial initiatives related to the Olympic Movement and the Olympic Games:

*) To control sponsorship programmes to ensure that partnerships are compatible with the Olympic ideals. The IOC does not accept commercial associations with tobacco products, alcoholic beverages (other than beer and wine), or other products that may conflict with or be considered inappropriate to the mission of the IOC or to the spirit of Olympism.

Po said...

Latest FIDE blunder. Anand showed up late in Round 3, didn't get forfeited by zero tolerance. No biggie you say, Law 6.7a gives the arbiter the option. But look at the Candidates Regulations. They copied the pre-2014 Laws(!!), where 6.6a DOESN'T give the arbiter the option (I know, an appeals committee can probably overturn it). On the other hand, the Regulations don't clarify if the "Technical Regulations" are to be used preferentially over the Laws of Chess in general, except (3.7.1b1) says that the TR are to be used in the tiebreaks!

Caruana's a nice guy, or it could have been a sticky problem (and if Topalov and Kramnik had been involved, likely to have gone to CAS and have the contract interpreted). Probably the chief arbiter (Steubenvoll) didn't even realize there was this discrepancy. (Or maybe the whole thing was discussed in the players meeting, with "default time" waived and I'm just a muckraker. Still very sloppy of FIDE to first copy the wrong rules, and then only to demonstratively incorporate these rules into tiebreak play!)

Anonymous said...

Hi Po, I don't think your point has to do with *either* the laws or regulations! Look at #4.5 in the *contract*.... says that arriving late is a forfeit (full stop), and if I understand correctly, only FIDE President (Makro) can override this. Not a wise idea of FIDE to put in this clause into the contract IMO, as it tries to make a "point" for no real reason, and restricts the arbiter from applying leniency.

Anonymous said...

According to Kramnik, making the broadcast exclusive is how football and tennis became successful. Just apply that magic formula, and chess will jump to a whole new level! Funny that the multitude of others (like tiddlywinks) haven't hit upon the same "exclusiveness" plan. Guess everyone else just lacks his business sense.

Laar said...

Clearly someone has to have the authority to waive contractual "zero tolerance", for instance in the case (not saying so here) if it was (partially) FIDE's fault that Anand was not at the board on time (e.g., delays in security check, or pre-game doping control). But elevating this to be the contract signee (Makro) instead of the natural arbiter, I agree is not wise.

Anonymous said...

Where did Kramnik say this?

PS said...

The Guardian quoted part of what Kramnik said, but not all of it, but it's in the original AGON piece.

"If you want to make chess professional, if you want to help chess to grow, you have to understand very clearly that the organizer of any chess tournament has full transmission rights.

“The chess public, chess professionals and chess lovers depend on the organizers of events – so they have to benefit as well. I fully support this (broadcast) innovation.” He added that chess fans around the world were not being penalized by Agon’s ongoing efforts to control the live transmission of games and moves from World Championship events.

“There is no problem for the public,” he said. “There is a fantastic internet transmission with great commentary on the official website. No one is suffering form it.

“Because the organizer has invested a lot of money and effort to organize the tournament, morally and legally they have full rights over the live transmission. That is the way football, tennis and other sports have became successful. It is the way chess can jump to a totally different level.”

Anonymous said...

Any sign of the "well-known international watch brand" yet? (Pardons if it is, I don't watch the official broadcast)

"During the Candidates Tournament, an official timekeeper will also be activated in a visible spot within the playing hall, in co-operation with a well-known international watch brand."

Anonymous said...

Very sorry to see that the blog has ended. Goodbye, and thanks for all the fish.

Laar said...

Another thing FIDE got wrong was not ensuring a definite procedure in the infamous "partially unbroken 3-way tie" scenario.

A beats B beats C beats A. At step 1, head-to-head says nothing.
A has 4 wins, B has 4 wins, C has 3 wins. At step 2, C gets eliminated.
Now do you go back to step 1, so that A beats B on head-to-head, or proceed to Sonneborn (where maybe B beats A)?

It's more reasonable to miss it, not even FIFA clarified this always, though USA pro sports (written like legal documents) do it better.

Anonymous said...

Going into round 12, there was actually a possibility of a 6-way tie (Topalov at -3 was playing Nakamura at -2 later on, so both couldn't reach an equal score, and further Topalov could only descend to -6, making 7 guys on +1 not possible). Any tiebreaker rules for that? :-)

One scenario:

R12: Nakamura (-1) beats Anand (+1), Aronian (+1) beats Caruana (+1), Karjakin (+2) beats Topalov
R13: Nakamura (0) beats Topalov, Aronian (+2) beats Karjakin (+1), Svidler (+1) beats Caruana (0)
R14: Giri (+1) beats Topalov, Nakamura (+1) beats Aronian (+1), Anand (+1) draws Svidler (+1), and Karjakin (+1) plays Caruana (0) with either a Caruana win or draw sufficing for 6-way tie.

Anonymous said...

Is it over?? :-(

ejh said...

It is, though there is a sequel.