Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Post paste (with Grandmaster Keene)

I know we posted on Ray Keene a few days ago but barely had we done so than his reputation was besmirched on Edward Winter's Chess Notes, which, surely unfairly, accuses England's leading chess columnist of copying, an accusation unheard-of in Grandmaster Keene's long and distinguished literary career.

However, at the weekend Grandmaster Keene provided a defence so powerful and persuasive, on his Chessgames.com entry, that we felt it ought to be brought to the attention of our readers.

The complaint against Grandmaster Keene involved a passage concerning the Guinness Book of World Records and published in Mr Winter's Chess Notes on 29 October 2006 (see #4682).
'The world's biggest-selling book' is the boast on the back cover of Guinness World Records 2007 (London, 2006). Two pages include entries on chess: page 99 has a couple of dozen words about Sergei Karjakin being the youngest grandmaster, while page 137 offers brief features on the smallest and largest chess sets, as well as the following: 'On 25 June 2005, 12,388 simultaneous games of chess were played at the Ben Gurion Cultural Park in Pachuca, Hidalgo, Mexico.' That is all. The four entries from the 2006 edition (see C.N. 4035) have been dropped.

Although poker has five entries on page 136, games such as draughts and bridge receive no treatment at all, and the editorial team's interests are evidently on a different plane. For example, pages 8-9 document such pivotal attainments as 'most heads shaved in 24 hours', 'fastest time to drink a 500-ml milkshake', 'longest tandem bungee jump', 'fastest carrot chopping', 'largest underpants', 'most socks worn on one foot' and 'fastest person with a pricing gun'
That was written nearly two years ago. This month, Chessville published a piece by Grandmaster Keene discussing the Guinness Book of World Records - choosing, no doubt for very good reasons, to write about the same 2007 edition Winter wrote about two years ago (although the piece is illustrated with a photo of the cover of the new, 2009 edition).

Anyway, Grandmaster Keene writes:
"The world's biggest-selling book" is the boast on the back cover of "Guinness World Records 2007". Seven pages in total include entries on Mind Sports: a couple of dozen words about Sergei Karjakin being the youngest chess Grandmaster, while another page offers brief features on the smallest and largest chess sets, as well as the following: "On 25 June 2005, 13,388 simultaneous games of chess were played at the Ben Gurion Cultural Park in Pachuca, Hidalgo, Mexico."

Although poker has five entries, games such as draughts and bridge receive no treatment at all. For example, it documents such pivotal attainments as "most heads shaved in 24 hours"; "fastest time to drink a 500ml milkshake"; "longest tandem bungee jump"; "fastest carrot chopping"; "largest underpants"; "most socks worn on one foot" and "fastest person with a pricing gun".
It is hard not to be struck by the remarkable similarity between the passage originally written by Mr Winter and the passage subsequently written by Grandmaster Keene. Indeed, as noted on Grandmaster Keene's Chessgames page, by an apparent snark using the handle Justinpatzer, some of the phrases used in the two pieces are so individual, that of all the billions of articles appearing on the Internet their use is exclusively, or almost exclusively, restricted to these two pieces alone.
Oddly, a Google search for the phrase "is the boast on the back cover" produces only three hits, one of which is Mr Winter's piece and one of which is GM Keene's.

The phrase "such pivotal attainments", however, produces only two. One of which is Mr Winter's piece, and one of which is the subsequent piece by GM Keene.
He continues:
Extraordinary, too, that they should single out the same seven records - in the same order - as deserving the description "pivotal". I note that on Mr Keene's website, there is a piece suggesting that Mr Winter is, in fact, Mr Taylor Kingston.

But perhaps the truth is even stranger - GM Keene is, in fact, Edward Winter?
Well, whoever this snark may be, there is surely no need to take him seriously. Because Grandmaster Keene provides a perfectly adequate, indeed unanswerable explanation of the similarity between the two pieces. Of course there has, in fact, been copying - but he was not aware that it was Winter he was copying from.

He tells us - indeed, he tells the world:
i have an email note to myself from feb 2007 to write at some point about the guinness book of records -and the wording i have is the one quoted here- at the same time i also bought the book to check the facts-i have never read ed. winters chessnotes for ages-in fact i thought they had been discontinued after his contretemps with hanon russell. the first mention i cd find in chessbase archives of these comments-when i looked back- was in feb 2008. all i can think of is that somewhere winters comments may have been quoted without authorship or attribution so i regarded them as being in the public domain -i wd never quote ed. and i never knowingly read what he writes.i am -of course-happy for chessville-for whom btw i write entirely free of charge- to append any genuine attribution for any quoted material-no problemo!
What bad luck! It happens to the best of us, and Grandmaster Keene surely is the best of us. But of course we cannot and must not suspect him of copying from a writer he says he doesn't even read: that would be to cast doubt on his word as well as his integrity, and in all Grandmaster Keene's long literary and entrepreneurial career, no such thing has ever previously happened.

We must, surely, believe this, even though on the Internet there is no apparent trace of Mr Winter's work being reproduced, as Grandmaster Keene suggests, "without authorship or attribution". No doubt it was there until recently, but, as is often the case on the Internet, it has - in the last couple of weeks - disappeared, leaving no trace at all for the search engines.

These things happen. Even to somebody who can boast the impeccable professional reputation that is possessed, deservedly, by Grandmaster Raymond Keene.


Jonathan B said...

Well, as I've pointed out elsewhere, at least Raymondo hasn't threatened to sue us.

Anonymous said...

"Such pivotal attainments" now has five links on Google. The top two are now links to this blog entry.

ejh said...

That's it! They must have travelled backwards through time and Grandmaster Keene must have read them two years ago!

Ryan said...

Given my history, I feel I should avoid posting comments on articles like this. Oops - too late! :)

I know, I'll play safe with a nice complement...I'd just like to say that Ray Keene and David Levy's book 'How To Play The Opening In Chess' was one of the first books I ever read about chess from my local library and I had it out on loan so long that I was half hoping they would just let me keep it! :)

ejh said...

A qualified librarian writes: you'll be lucky.

Anonymous said...

I first read about Sam Sloan's absurd delusion that I might secretly be Edward Winter when he posted it on Wikipedia a few years ago. It never occured to me that Raymond Keene might give it any credence. If, as it appears, Keene did in fact post the parade of nonsense in which Sloan, the chess world's village idiot, made this claim, I can only conclude that Keene must have been feeling especially desperate.

To address what few specifics Sloan presents in support of his hypothesis:

Sloan: "Attention has focused on Taylor Kingston, a chess journalist in Vermont."

The only person giving this notion any attention is Sloan himself.

Sloan: "Kingston is about the same age that Winter appears to be."

Since Sloan knows neither my age nor Winter's, one wonders how he reached this conclusion.

Sloan: "Kingston is from the same part of England that Winter is believed to be from."

I am amazed to learn that my birthplace — San Diego, California, USA — is actually part of England. I am "from England" only in the sense that some of my ancestors came from there hundreds of years ago.

Sloan: "this puts Winter as having been born in 1956. If true ... this puts Winter at almost exactly the same age as Taylor Kingston (whose name may also be a pseudonym)."

Interesting then that my birth certificate should have this very pseudonym, and that it is dated 1949 rather than 1956.

It is just amazing to me that Keene has given this preposterous notion of Sloan's any credence.