Friday, October 31, 2008

Let's Play Chess In Public Places

FIDE International Organiser & Arbiter Adam Raoof emails:
I am compiling a list of chess venues in London - not just chess clubs, which appears to be easy to find, but cafes and other places to play informally during the day and during the week.

If you know of any such venues, please let me know dates and times, the address and postcode and give me a contact number, as both Chess & Bridge and my own experience shows that most players who visit London as tourists want to play some chess at some point - and there is no information about it online!
What an excellent idea - and frankly I'm sure it's not just tourists who'd like to know this. I wouldn't mind having a few such venues up my sleeve myself.

So, can you help and do you know of such places? Click here to email Adam, or leave a comment below.

PS. We've had nerd points, we've had Nostradmus points, and today disco points are on offer for anyone who can say why.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

The day I lost to the World Champion

[original photo: Chessvibes]
I had to rearrange their faces
And give them all another name
I've lost a lot of games of chess to a lot of different people: if I had to remember all the faces and put names to them, I wouldn't bother with the game at all because I'll probably be the World Champìon at Pelmanism.

However, I was reading the latest New In Chess and there was a face that looked familiar. I know her, I thought. I'm sure I lost to her just the other month. So I looked in my scorebook and yes, sure enough, I had. D Harika, an international master from India: she beat me in the sixth round at Benasque. Nothing exceptional in that, I lost to four other people in the same tournament: rather more exceptional was that the New in Chess report was about the World Under-20 Junior Championships, in which, the month after putting paid to me, my exceptional opponent had won the girls' title. A rather more difficult feat, perhaps.

Dronavalli Harika. (As with Viswanathan Anand, the family name comes first, the other way round from the way we are accustomed to.) Well, here's a thing: how many world champions of any kind am I ever likely to play?

position after 11...Qd8-c7

It wasn't much of a game: I got overoptimistic straight out of the opening and failed to appreciate that the f4 advance I thought I was provoking was, in fact, my opponent's main idea. (Moreover, as it happens 12.e4 would have won straightaway. Which is a few moves too early to be lost in that line of the Slav - and never mind who the opposition may be.)

Not, perhaps, much of a struggle. Not, perhaps the world champion. Not, perhaps, actually the world champion at the time our game was played. But who cares? She's a world champion and I played her one-on-one. It's as close as I'm ever likely to get.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Filthy Onlooker

Apologies to our American readers but I'm going to be talking about cricket for a bit.

I say cricket but I mean "cricket" really as I'm thinking of the $20million winner-take-all monstrosity that's due to be played at the end of the week. Jonathan Agnew was on the radio the other day bemoaning the tackiness of it all, and rightly so in the humble opinion of this chess blogger. Twenty over cricket being the totally pointless game that it is (if you want it over within three hours why not just play baseball* and be done with it?) is there anything in this event other than money and humiliation? Is it not just a bum fight in a slightly more socially acceptable form?

Aggers, by the way, was speaking even before it became clear that the financial backer, and apparent avid spectator, of this circus has appropriated for himself free access not only to the players' dressing room but also their wives and girlfriends. The normally sane Mike Selvey complains of a sponsor behaving like a "feudal overlord" but what does he chuffing well expect? If cricketers are prepared to act like whores for the entertainment of any old bloke with a wodge of cash should they be surprised if said financier treats other people as if they will do the same?

All this is quite a contrast to the Anand - Kramnik match which may or may not come to an end this evening. Whether Vishy secures the half point he needs for victory or Vlad lives to fight another day will make no difference whatsoever financially. What they're fighting over is the title of World Chess Champion. The prize fund is going to be split evenly come what may.

Fifty fifty is so much less vulgar than twenty20 don't you think?

* A great sport and the perfect way to spend your time if you don't have five days free for a proper game of cricket.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Nostradamus Points

Last week we offered you Nerd Points if you could correctly identify the game being played out in one of our featured chess videos, whilst a certain ejh claimed culture points for identifying the music instead.

Today, it's Nostradamus Points up for grabs if you can correctly guess what opening will be seen tomorrow at the World Championship in Bonn between Kramnik and Anand.

Here's a few helpful facts to foster your act of prophecy:
  • Anand has white and only needs to draw to win the World Championship
  • Meaning Kramnik must play for a win with black
  • Kramnik has not won a game with black for two years
  • Kramnik's repertoire versus 1.e4 is famously drawish
  • Anand has played 1.d4 in each of his white games so far this match
Prophecies -and any further relevant observations- all appreciated.

(Personally my money's on the Grob - but luckily I have no money.) 

Monday, October 27, 2008

Club News, Latest!

Forget Bonn, forget Kramnik, forget Anand, forget all that exciting important stuff - you can read about it anywhere. But it's only here that you'll find out how Streatham & Brixton Chess Club have been getting on.

First off, let's start with the Croydon League. Our first team in Division 1 last Tuesday faced a tough challenge in the form of West Wickham's C-team. They not only outgraded us on every board, but on three of the four boards sported junior players too - whose grades typically prove underestimates, of course. And . . . we succumbed 3-1, which made me wonder just how strong the West Wickham's B and A teams would prove to be. Except it turns out - adding another item to the long list of things I don't understand about chess - those teams are in Division 2! 

Anyway, on the subject of Division 2 of the Croydon League, our second team were also outgraded on three of the four boards two weeks ago today, in their away match against Coulsdon seconds. I was the only player who outgraded my opponent, and so a win was clearly required by myself on top board. I managed to deliver it via a sacrificial attack after my opponent played passively:

That helped the match to finish a respectable 2-2 draw. 

Meanwhile, our first team match in the twelve-board London League Division One against Cavendish 1, from Thursday 23rd October, stands 5-4 to us - with three adjournments we can hope to score more than one point from. Still, there'll be no chickens counted just yet, as Streatham Thirds loss to GLCC should remind us from Division Four. Their match stood 3-3 after the night itself, but didn't improve after the two adjourned games resumed: we ended up losing that one 3-5. Finally, our last bit of news is good news for us. Our second team in London League Division 3 have beaten Metropolitan Thirds 6-3 with one game adjourned. A great result, not least because Metropolitan have proven a bit of a bogey team for ourselves in recent times.

And, that's it for now. Thanks for reading, and back to news and analysis from the World Championship you can go!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

What's wrong with this?

Normal, regular, adjusted human beings - and in particular those with tummies easily turned - may well reply that an exhibition of skinned corpses coated in plastic, curated by a man previously convicted for faking his academic credentials, and accused of sourcing the dead he displays from Kyrgyzstan psychiatric institutions, and executed prisoners from China, all for the entertainment of the masses - that's what's wrong with this sort of thing:

But as for us chess players?

Take a closer look at the board . . .

Source: The Metro, with thanks to R J Christie for the tip.
PS. I am tempted to ask a similar question about this, although my answer is somewhat different.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Chess in Art XX

The Chess Players

Thomas Eakins (1876)

[Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York]

The Chess Players

Raffaello Sorbi (1886)

[private collection]

The Chess Players

Joseph Clark (1860)

[private collection]

The Chess Players

John Lavery (1929)

[Tate Gallery, London]

The Chess Players

Merlyn Evans (1951)

[Tate Gallery, London]

The Chess Players

Henry Schwartz (1958)

[Museum of Fine Arts, Boston]

Les joueurs d'échecs

Honoré Daumier (1863?)

[Musée du Petit-Palais, Paris]

[Chess in Art index]
[Chess in Art collected]

Friday, October 24, 2008


Game Seven of the Anand-Kramnik match - Vlad's second Black in a row the poor bugger - saw the Russian ditching the Nimzo-Indian and turning instead to the Slav.

The game opened 1. d4 d5, 2. c4 c6, 3. Nf3 Nf6, 4. Nc3 dxc4, 5. a4 Bf5, 6. e3 e6, 7. Bxc4 Bb4, 8. 0-0 Nbd7

at which point Anand played 9. Qe2.

As far as I know this is the mainline but there are other choices here. He could, for example, have gone 9. Qb3 when play can continue 9. ... a5, 10. Na2 Be7, 11. Qxb7 Rb8, 12. Qa6 (12. Qxc6?? Rb6 -+) Ra8, 13. Qxc6 Rc8

and here neither side can avoid a repetition. Years ago, when S&BCC were still playing at The Sultan, one of my own games (as Black) finished exactly this way.

Given the match situation it is interesting that Anand ignored this book draw. His strategy for the final games seems to be to keep the pressure on and try to notch up yet another point. This is the complete opposite of Leko's approach when one point up with few to play against Kramnik in 2004 but why not? Having already taken his man down, why not try to administer a further kicking?

No coasting to the title for Vishy it seems, not yet anyway, but what of Kramnik? Anybody want to punt an opinion as to what the thinking was behind this tacit early draw offer?

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Once bitten twice wise?

Kramnik-Anand, game three: position after 15.Bxb5

Or, if I put it another way: Kramnik-Anand, game three: position before 15...Bd6. The same position occurred in game five: and this time, Anand didn't play 15...Bd6. I didn't realise this immediately and thought that it was Kramnik who subsequently innovated: perhaps he intended to, he had an improvement ready, but Anand didn't give him the chance to play it.

You wonder exactly how the mind games work, with theoretical duels in world championship matches. How far do you push it down the same line, hoping to get your new move in before the opponent reveals theirs? If you came out better last time, isn't it common sense to do something else the next, because your opponent will surely have found an improvement - because if they hadn't, they would have done something else? Or is there bluff and the calling of bluff? How much faith can you have in the soundness of your systems?

What would Anand have done, I wonder, had the improvement (assuming Kramnik had one) come before the diagram? I'll guess that he thought he knew what was coming, and thought it wouldn't: and if he hadn't been reasonably sure we would have seen a different line. More likely, he was more than reasonably sure. Because he'd learned from experience. Because thirteen years ago, when first he played a match for the world championship, Anand got burned.

Playing Kasparov, and starting with a series of draws, he'd chosen to play the Open Defence to the Ruy Lopez in game six - and secured another one.

Kasparov-Anand, 1995, game six, position after 13...Qd8-d3.

Kasparov continued 14.Nf3 and although the draw agreement itself was controversial (see the Chessgames notes) one has to assume that the position out of the opening was satisfactory for Black, since Kasparov avoided it with his next White, choosing the Scotch in game eight, the last of the draws. Anand then won game nine, to go ahead: and in game ten, when Kasparov returned to the Lopez, he went confidently into the same line as game six.

Kasparov-Anand, 1995, game ten, position after 13...Qd8-d3.

I thought at the time that this was unwise: why would Kasparov, the best-prepared player in chess history, want to repeat the line unless he had something new to show? He did: this time he played 14.Bc2 and Black got massacred. The match score was equalised: but Anand was crushed. He lost the next game too, and three of the following four.

I say I thought at the time - the reason I thought this is that the same thing had happened, to Nigel Short, in the previous match for Kasparov's title.

In game five, Nosher played the Nimzo-Indian defence, the same 4. Qc2 d5 that we saw in game six of Anand-Kramnik, but a rather sharper line: and he got himself a very quick draw, his best achievement in the match with the Black pieces.

Kasparov-Short, 1993, game five, position after 10...Qd8-a5.

Struggling with the pressure on c3, Kasparov put his bishop on e5, which Short had expected and analysed. I believe I'm right in saying that he'd actually analysed all the way to the position in which the draw was agreed.

In game seven Kasparov responded the same way he would two years on, by switching opening temporarily while the problem was addressed. He won that game, but he had a score to settle: and Short was too willing to let him settle it. Game nine followed the same line as had the fifth, for the first ten moves...

Kasparov-Short, 1993, game five, position after 10...Qd8-a5.

...but this time Kasparov was prepared, played 11.Ne2 and Short found the rest of the game a rather demoralising experience. Too demoralising, in truth: had he been less so, he might not have lost it.

Same story, twice. And twice the player on the wrong end of it found the experience crushing - Anand essentially losing a match in which the score was actually still equal, Short losing a game in which he was not in fact lost. Such an experience, with such an immediate effect, must have a lasting effect as well. Anand must have thought through his 1995 experience and come to some conclusions about what he should do when the situation repeated itself.

Perhaps what Anand feels - perhaps what he's shown in the match - is that Kramnik's no Kasparov. Perhaps. Perhaps had thought that he could risk repeating a successful line, in a sharp variation, in a way he couldn't - and Short couldn't - against a more formidable opponent.

Or, perhaps, he had thought through his experience from 1995 but decided he was sure that this time he was getting his preparation in first. That Kramnik's improvement was bound to be after move fifften - and hence, on move fifteen....

Kramnik -Anand, game three: position after 15.Bxb5

...he got his retaliation in first, with 15...Rg8.

Two in a row

Love me two times
I'm going away

Always look a gift horse in the mouth before you mouth off about it: that's my advice, mostly to myself. No sooner was I advised via the English Chess Forum that Kramnik was being offered at 10/1 to win today's game with White than I was emailing friends all over the place to advice them to put their mortgages on this one. It followed hard upon - another posting on the same forum explaining exctly why the odds were not as generous as they seemed:
Kramnik actually has Black in Game 7, since the colour sequence reverses at the halfway mark (Regulation 3.4.1). I think it's to ensure that the players aren't always in the same situation on the rest days. The same regulation applied in the Kramnik-Topalov match.
Ah - how embarassing. Still not the worst bet in the world, but not quite the get-rich-quick scheme I had imagined. So if anybody who took my advice comes looking for me - you haven't seen me.


I remember, actually, that I also forgot about this regulation when Kramnik played Topalov and thought I must have missed a game before I realised what was happening. That's what happens in your forties - you don't remember things, you just remember that you forgot them the time before as well. Time's wingéd chariot drawing near, I suppose, but anyway - two games in a row with the same colour.

To tell the truth, excepting the previous world championship match I can't recall this ever happening with in the course of one competition, with a full time control: the same two players playing two consecutive games without changing colours. I was trying to think of circumstances where it might have but all I could come up with was the possibility that when the Olympiad was split into Preliminary and Final stages, there might have been a match-up between the same teams and players during the last round of the Preliminary stage and the first round of the Final stage. (This could theoretically have happened: in some Olympiads results from the Preliminary stage were carried over to the Finals stage, although in others, they were not.) However, as it stands the only example that I know of involves the sixth and seventh games of the Kramnik-Topalov match.

Kramnik was Black in those two games, as he is in the two sixth and seventh games of the present contest: but they were two draws, whereas, of course, he has already lost the first of the pair this time around, and lost it badly. When you've just been crushed you expect to get a break before having to meet the same opening again, at least in the hands of the same opponent. This time, perhaps uniquely in chess history, this isn't true.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Best Chess Video Ever?

You've seen a lot of chess videos here at S&BCC over the years. But I reckon this one beats them all:

Especially with the music playing at top volume.

Extra nerd points if, like me, you had no problem identifying the game being played out.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Sticky Situation

Kramnik's screwed right? He's not coming back from this is he?

It's not so much the fact that he's now two points down in such a brief match, it's the way he lost yesterday that must leave him completely in despair. Out prepared (again), out played (again) and losing with White (again). I'd thought twelve games was much too short for a World Championship contest. Can it really only need five for the outcome to be decided?

I watched the opening moves down in the Red Star Bar although as it turned out most of the hour I was there was spent waiting for Kramnik to make his 18th move. I spent the time flicking through the section of Bareev and Levitov's From London to Elista dedicated to the 2004 match in Brissago. All of a sudden I noticed a rather bizarre passage.

On page 296 Levitov describes Kramnik's system for pre-match opening preparation and the book says - yes it really does -

"... he's been dreaming about this for two years - to catch his opponent in a forced variation. Look what happens. [Kramnik] wanks over variations 12 hours a day for six months with one idea: I want to catch Leko out in at least one game ...."

Well that certainly counts as a surprising theoretical novelty I suppose.

So what do you think ... (odd to say the least) metaphor, mistranslation or misprint? Whichever it turns out to be, for all Kramnik's achieved with White against Anand he might as well have spent months fiddling with himself. Can anybody see a way back into the match for him now?

Monday, October 20, 2008

You don't vant draw?

Recently we were discussing Bill Hartston's How To Cheat At Chess and mentioned the well-known draw offer, "you want draw at moof tventy?" made to Hartston by Florin Gheorghiu.

There's a fair few stories about Gheorghiu, so much so that it's a surprise to come across a new one (where "new" means "one that I had not heard before"). But the other day I was discussing chess with my friend Sean Terry who, in the course of this discussion, sent me a link that contained just such a anecdote. Related by former Irish international Nick Patterson and involving the 1970 Olympiad, it:
involved my game with Gheorghiu. He got a winning endgame but misplayed it in time pressure and on adjournment I thought I was drawing. Gheorghiu then leaned across the board:

Gheorghiu: You should resign!

Patterson: (No reply.)

Gheorghiu: I am a strong grandmaster, I move my pawns up the board and what can you do?

Patterson: (No reply.)

On analysing during the adjournment I realised that I could force an easily drawn R+P v R ending and so it proved on resumption. I think Gheorghiu knew very well the adjournment was a draw and figured that he would try and bluff before the Irish weakie figured the position out!
Ho ho: a shame Hartston didn't, apparently, know this one either, as it might have made a good companion piece to the story (mentioned in our earlier piece) of the English player conned into agreeing a draw.

So I thought I'd reproduce the story here, complete with the game. But when I looked it up, on the Chessbase online database - no such game appeared to exist. There was a game Patterson-Gheorghiu all right, and that game ended in a draw. But it only lasted fourteen moves and ended in the early middlegame. Like so:
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.e3 Nc6 5.Nge2 d5 6.a3 Be7 7.Nf4 dxc4 8.Bxc4 e5 9.Nfe2 exd4 10.exd4 a6 11.0-0 0-0 12.Qd3 Bd6 13.f3 b5 14.Bb3 Ne5
I checked for other online sources, notably Olimpbase but they had the same game, or rather the same gamescore (click on 1/2-1/2). Which seemed to make a nonsense of the anecdote. Or at least, created a small mystery.

Knowing that there was a book written on the Siegen Olympiad (moreover, one part-authored by Ray Keene and therefore of unsurpassable authority) but being stranded many hundreds of miles away - one imagines - from the nearest accessible copy, I asked on the English Chess Forum whether anybody had the book and could see if it contained the gamescore. It doesn't.

Nil desperandum: John Saunders, editor of the British Chess Magazine, turns out to have all the bulletins of that Olympiad including the Patterson-Gheorghiu game which precisely fitted the description Nick Patterson had given it. And so we provide it, for your enjoyment, below. Only a draw, but then again it was Nick's Ireland teammate, Wolfgang Heidenfeld, who wrote the much-admired Draw!

The smallest of mysteries, perhaps. Nevertheless it's nice to be able to correct the historical record where it is wrong. Apparently StarBase does have the correct score: so maybe those sources which currently have it wrong will be able to put that right.

Thanks to the people who offered assistance including Mark Orr, Richard James and John Upham and indeed Nick Patterson: and thanks again to John. The mystery is solved - but in its resolution, a new one is created. How did the fourteen-move game become associated with Patterson-Gheorghiu in the first place? And given that it wasn't played between Patterson and Gheorghiu - who, if anybody, played it?

Sunday, October 19, 2008

A-pawn is a pawn is a pawn

After the four games so far played, I find myself thinking: the real star is Anand's a-pawn. It's been at the core of his thinking: it's been his special friend.

It didn't do anything special in game one - or so we thought at the time.

Its appearance was modest enough, moving for the first time on move 17, its only contribution to the game. But when you look back - where were the other rooks' pawns? Back on their opening squares. Of the four of them, only the Black a-pawn got to play. And when it was captured, on move 32 - that was Kramnik's last move. Without the a-pawn, Anand was lost for ideas. He offered a draw.

Game two: he got it in on move five. Pretty much as early as could be expected in a Nimzo-Indian (yes, I know about the Sämisch Variation, but who plays that line nowadays?). 5.a3 - and there it stayed, until the very end of the game. The final position is instructive - the a-pawn is still there, but by this time, protected by a bishop and both of Anand's rooks. A pawn of no little significance.

Game three was its finest moment, its tour de force: thrown forward on move eight, when the super GMs have preferred 8...Bb7 for a number of years. Even Shirov, if my source is to be believed, hasn't tried it for a decade and nobody had played it against Kramnik in a year beginning with 2. But off it went, not waiting for the bishop: what do you think of this, then, Mr Kramnik? Were you expecting that?

It was a game Kramnik was never really in: on the back foot, white pieces or not, and for my money, on the back foot from move eight. Once the a-pawn had spoken, what reply could Kramnik give?

It was quieter in game four: quieter, but it was a quieter game. And although quieter, not later - a move earlier, in fact, given its opportunity in a position where the c-pawn has for a long time been the more popular choice.

7.a3, a solid move, and solidly in its solid position stood the solid a-pawn until the game was solidly drawn. And today was Sunday, and it rested.

What next for the a-pawn? Perhaps an early showing in a Lopez, if Kramnik switches to the e-pawn. Perhaps even a Chebanenko Slav. Or perhaps a return to obscurity, after its fifteen minutes' fame. But an obscurity of scrapbooks rather than one on the scrap heap, the pawn that they once all used to talk about, the pawn that may have won the world championship for Anand.

Garry K, RDK and 5. Bf4

It may have started just a few days ago but we're already a third of the way through the world championship match. It seems impossibly short to me but we take what we can get I suppose.

Yesterday it was Anand's turn to play what was perceived by many - see for example the opening comments of Chess Vibes' analysis to game four - to be a dull opening as White. As ever, the S&BCC blog offers a warm welcome to the tedious though. 5. Bf4 in the Queen's Gambit has been a favourite of mine for over twenty years.

On his DVD Mr. Garry Kasparov mentions that developing the bishop to f4 rather than the more common g5 is favoured by some players because it tends to keep more pieces on the board. However he also observes that computer assisted analysis of certain forcing lines - I believe he is referring to positions that stem from 6. ... c5, 7. dxc5 Bxc5, 8. Qc2 Nc6, 9. a3 Qa5, 10. 0-0-0 Be7, 11. g4 - has enabled GMs to mine the variations so deep that they burn out into drawn endgames, or "scratch the position next to its bottom" as Gazza puts it.

Anyhoo, Saturday's game was not the first time Kramnik had faced the move in a World Championship match. Back in 2004 Peter Leko, now in the the former champion's camp as a second, beat him with it in the fifth game of their match in Brissago.

Edward Winter's website carries a rather curious story regarding what the Hungarian did (according to Raymondo) or did not (according to others) say at the press conference prior to that particular game. It's classic RDK. I wonder if he remembers that little episode.

What we at the S&BCC blog remember is that Ray himself was once an aficionado of 5. Bf4. For him, just in case he happens to be wandering by, and for anybody else who's interested, here are links to the seven World Championship games in which the variation has appeared over the past 35 years.

Fischer-Spassky 1972;

Korchnoi-Karpov 1978, games 9, 21 and 23;

Korchnoi-Karpov, 1981 game 11;

Kasparov-Karpov 1987;

and finally Leko-Kramnik 2004 - the comments to this game (see halfway down page 61) being the place I first discovered the Edward Winter story.

Not a bad collection for a supposedly boring opening. I for one will be very happy to see it make another appearance at some point during the final eight games of the match.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Chess in Art XIX

Vasily Ivanchuk after the tournament

photographed by Fred Lucas after Corus (2008)

[image copyright Fred Lucas, reproduced here with permission:
not to be reproduced without fresh permission of author]

[Chess in Art index]
[Chess in Art collected]

Friday, October 17, 2008

If not now, when?

Dear BBC Online

The World Chess Championship began on 14 October in Germany (see for instance As yet I see no coverage on the BBC site. Is there a reason for this?

I write about chess and would appreciate a reply that I can publish.
The world chess championship began on Tuesday 13 October in Bonn: the biggest story of the year in chess. Not, however, big enough for the BBC, whose online news service, the single most extensive and comprehensive service of its kind in the world, has not found time to mention it.

It would be bad enough if this were unexpected. But the truth is that the same thing happened last time. Not a word of coverage until it was all over - and even then, not until two days after the event hd finished, when it was already old news.

Now I've argued before that if there is a crisis in British chess, it is a crisis, as much as anything else, of coverage. No sport can flourish if it is not mentioned in the media. It is ghettoised, with no prospect of escaping that ghetto: it is deprived of funds, because where there is no coverage there is no sponsorship.

Moreover, without coverage, there is no way that the British chess community can get in touch with the sizeable number of people who are interested in chess, who played at school, but who either do not play now or only play on the internet. These people will never come back to the game if they are not made aware of its existence. I can barely exaggerate how important I think this is. The absence of news coverage is profoundly damaging to British chess.

It is also, I think, more than a little insulting. If 'news' is defined as 'things that matter' then by this very token, it is considered of no consequence. The BBC may take that position, if it be their considered view: but I think that if they do, they should, at least, be asked to say so outright. To say that they've considered chess and have decided it is unworthy of mention. But they are not going to do that if we do not ask them.

So, what I'm going to do this morning is ask five minutes of our readers' time: five minutes to try and find out why the BBC wants to make chess invisible, five minutes to try and persuade them to do otherwise.

Here's what I'd like to ask you to do. This is the form for comments on the BBC site. It is simple to complete and send: please complete and send it.

There is also an address provided should you wish to send a letter:

BBC News website
Room 7540
BBC Television Centre
Wood Lane
W12 7RJ

or, if you prefer, here is the form for complaints.

Please take one step or another to tell the BBC you think they should be covering the match (and why) or ask why they are not. If possible, please let us know whether or not you got a response - and if so, what they said. If the request could be repeated on other chess sites, too, that would be appreciated.

Nothing will come of nothing, says Lear to Cordelia: speak again. To speak now takes only five minutes: should we be silent as well as invisible? There is a culture that we need to change and now, surely, is the time we should start to try and change it.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Time control

When, years ago, I used to write for football fanzines, I would occasionally observe that you always started out wanting to comment on the football and always ended up commenting on the commentary instead. I can see this syndrome looming up large and clear right now, since my capacity to commentate on the games themselves is rather handicapped by the fact that while I know a lot of theory and can look up a whole lot more, I am several hundred Elo points short of the standard required to speak authoritatively about anything else. Also, after the latest update, in which I lost thirteen points I doubt I'll ever see again, my Elo grade seems to be going the way of the FTSE-100, though possibly with an even steeper curve.

Anyway if you want middlegame commentary there are probably better places to go than anything I'm likely to write. One of them is probably the Internet Chess Club, where, I am told, easily the best live commentary is to be found. I've always avoided registering on the ICC, partly on the grounds that it will cost me money that I prefer to spend on chocolate and bus fares, partly because if I possessed such a subscription I would quite certainly use it.

Having wasted too much time during my Masters playing chess against weak players on the internet, God alone how much time I would waste playing against good players on the ICC. (As it is, I prefer to waste my time and yours writing on here. Har har.) Nevertheless, in the hope of getting something for nothing I registered for their seven-day free trial on Tuesday and downloaded their software, receiving an email which promised:
Follow the instructions to download and install. Once installed, you will have a new icon on your desktop screen. This is what you will use to logon to the Internet Chess Club server. Double-click on the new icon. Then you will enter your username and password, and then click on the "connect" button and you'll connect to our playing site.
No such thing occurred and even if it had, unless it gave me free access to their commentary team (which I was fairly sure it wouldn't) then it was best avoided anyway. I am now in receipt of a plaintive email from the ICC wondering why I'm not using the software.

Even if I were able to access their commentary, they're on a fifteen-minute delay. Naturally I'd like to cut out that fifteen-minute gap and according to the commentary on Chessdom:
For a live broadcast go to the official site.
This is a curious thing for them to say, not least because there is no "live commentary" on the official site. Odder still, that site is on a half-hour delay.

Why? Why would the official site subject itself to a longer delay than the one required of other licensed sites? As I move reluctantly towards my middle forties I find there are many aspects of the contemporary world which baffle me, for which state my confusion at the chessboard will serve both as example and metaphor. Yesterday I struggled to sign up for Chesscube which refused to acknowledge the existence of the @ character whenever I typed it in (it insisted on rendering it as 2 or ignoring it altogether) which is a substantial disadvantage when trying to register an email address. So it was back to Chessdom, which is by its account fifteen minutes behind live, and by other accounts a little behind Chesscube. This is a bit problematic when you're trying to discuss the games with your friends by email and they are watching a different site, since you're predicting moves that they can already see have not been played. So you sit there clicking Refresh, never knowing whether or not that's actually required and cursing the official site for its apparently pointless tardiness.

So yesterday I stayed with Chessdom until Kramnik played 30...Nf4. At which point we parted company - not because I was confident of the draw agreement that was, as it turned out, imminent, but because the site went down.

And this is what I know, in advance, is going to happen on October 31, because it's happened, I think, practically every time I've followed a chess event in the nine or ten years I've been watching them on the internet. I would watch the final game from the start, right from move one, just to make sure I was safely logged in, and it wouldn't make any difference. As the climax and the time control drew near, every bastard in the world would pile in, the server would crash and I would find out the result about forty-five minutes after it was all over.

A decade has passed, server capacity has increased, internet performance improved - and yet, I know this is going to happen again, come half-past six, quarter to seven, my time, on Friday fortnight. If it happens after thirty moves of game two, it's going to happen in game twelve. I know this already. A journey of a thousand miles ends a single step from the finish.

Tea, Chocolate Croissants and a Right Mess

As I had the day off yesterday I decided to take advantage of the free wireless internet available at Bar One Bar down on the High Road and watch the start of the second game of the match in rather more salubrious surroundings than my own front room. Aside from the joys of watching world championship chess while slurping tea and munching on a chocolate croissant I very much like the fact that the establishment just along from Streatham Hill station has a large red star on its logo. It reminds me of certain old GM friends of ours.

Anyhoo, I arrived a little late and when I fired up my laptop and my browser spat this position out at me...

(as before Chess Vibes is my choice for game analysis and a pictoral report
if you don't know how Anand and Kramnik managed to get here)

... I was somewhat surprised to say the least.

It wasn't the fact that Anand had opened 1. d4. Unlike the author of Chessbase's express report I'm not so sure a queen's pawn opening was particularly unexpected. After all Topalov (2006) completely avoided 1. e4 in his match with Kramnik and after a couple of unsuccessful attempts at denting the Petroff, Leko (2004) also switched to queen's pawn openings. Bareev once wrote that Kramnik was surprised that Leko was able to make this change but,

"Anyone from outside can come and look at the statistics and say that the move 1. d4 is possible." *

The same is true for Anand I think.

No, it was the type of position not the opening itself that rather took me aback. It's hard to imagine anything quite as different to the symmetrical sanity we saw in game one. Doubled isolated pawns, weak squares in the centre of the board and only one piece developed between them? Are these guys contestants for the world title or total patzers? For a moment I seriously thought that chesscube had generated a random position and that pretty soon it would be sensible and put the pieces back on their starting squares and start relaying the moves.

If you also pitched up at ChessCube you'd have found that Punctual Malc was reporting the moves comfortably ahead of GM Dimitrov over at chessdom. I found the latter's analysis was more detailed, however, and unlike Malc he didn't get confused as to who was playing which colour. I compromised by keeping an eye on both.

By the way, I mentioned yesterday morning that ChessCube promised daily analysis videos but they have yet to materialise. Similarly, the alleged "three 90-minute Kramnik & Anand historical videos" that they also claim are available free do not appear to exist at all. "[A]nother world first" my arse.

Well that's it from me. EJH will be along a little late with something more in depth.
* From London to Elista, pg: 183

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Fair Exchange is no robbery?

It's often said that world championship matches have a big influence on the opening choices of all other chessplayers. I'm not wholly convinced by this claim, especially at club level: although the Berlin became a popular choice for masters after Kramnik beat Kasparov, I've never seen too much of it among my fellow-proles. As for the 4.e3 system against the Slav, tried by both Kramnik and Topalov against one another - that doesn't seem to have caught on at any level. Except with Mark Hebden. And he played it already.

In the latter instance my explanation is that people who want a dull game against the Slav were already spoken for. They had a simpler, swifter and duller way of getting to the place they wanted to be, which was the Exchange Slav. Which train of thought leads me to believe that Kramnik's choice in the opening game may be rather more influential this time round.

Now I'm not normally somebody who demands every game to be a sacrificial thriller ending in mate with both kings at the wrong end of the board. Far from it, whether it's the world championship or my own games: indeed, on starting an email game recently and receiving the message, along with my opponent's first move, "let's play an exciting game!" I had to forcibly restrain myself from replying "no, let's not!". (Instead I played the Breyer Ruy Lopez - which, you may feel, comes to roughly the same thing.)

I'm also not somebody who complains when super-GMs play what are supposed to be drawish openings with the Black pieces. I am, for instance, rather more bored with seeing the Petroff invoked as the epitome of tedium than are the people who invoke it: if White wants to play, then the Petroff is no more dull than any other opening. (At some point I may feel obliged to write a shut up about the Petroff series for this blog.) It's certainly no more dull than the Slav. The difference with the Exchange Slav, though, is that this is White playing for a draw. Or "playing for a tiny advantage". Yeah, maybe. Perhaps. Except you rarely see the Exchange rolled out against a lower-graded player.

Bronstein played a sort-of-Exchange against Botvinnik in the nineteenth game of their 1951 match, albeit only after 1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Nf3 g6?! when 5.cxd5 is strong because Black's putting his f8 bishop in an unsuitable position given the pawn structure (it's hard to challenge the d4-e3 pawns that block the fianchettoed bishop without having ....c5 available).

So what was Kramnik thinking of? I don't really know (though I have a suggestion, if you read on) and of course if he'd been solely thinking of a draw he might have employed the 8.Bd3 line instead. And it would be unwise for me to suggest that the 8.Qb3 line was entirely toothless. Albeit mostly because I have an email game underway in this line too and I'd rather avoid providing a hostage to fortune.

Still, the Exchange Slav - is that the best Kramnik can do? Is it going to be his choice throughout? If it is then I may withdraw my previous declaration that twelve games is too few for a world championship match. And I'll also have to write some more about this variation, about which I know a little more than I would wish.

However, my best guess would be that Kramnik wanted to check that Anand was going to play the Slav, which probably means the Semi-Slav. He was prepared to sacrifice one game just to see - and now he's seen, perhaps the next game will take us into the ubiquitous Anti-Moscow Gambit, 1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Nf3 e6 5.Bg5 h6 6.Bh4 dxc4, which has been so common at the highest levels in recent years you almost wonder why they don't start the game in that position.

So plenty of time yet, though, albeit not as much time as there would be in a proper match. It may yet pick up. And if the queens went off as early as move 16 - well, in Kramnik's first world championship match they disappeared in half that time. Then there was another match I remember where they came off on move 11 (and 12) of the first game. And that turned out all right.

They're Off

Not again! The excitement and anticipation of chess fans was met by a cold hearted opening response from Vladimir Kramnik

So said a rather grumpy sounding Lev Aronian in his Chessbase Express Report for game one of the Anand-Kramnik match. Well far be it for me to contradict the former Rumplestiltskin look-a-like but had he taken the trouble to have a chat with the 25% of the S&BCC blog that resides in Spain he might have a different view.

EJH, I can tell you, was extremely pleased to see an Exchange Slav appear in Bonn. In fact he was rather keen to tell you himself but an unfortunate incident with car keys forced a change of plan and it's me (JMGB) you've got for the time being.

If you haven't already seen the game I'd suggest Chess Vibes as a well worth a visit although you might also want to try chesscube. You have to sign up for the latter but it's free and they seem to be proving live commentary by Punctual Malcolm Pein. ChessCube also say they will be offering a free 20 minute analysis video the day after each game is played.

Photograph taken from Chess Vibes.
Their correspondent ('Andy') noticed a small problem with the organisers' preparation.

So what of the prospects for round two later today?

A Petroff, as suggested by our anonymous contributor to the comments box yesterday, would be an intriguing choice. Anand was totally out-prepared by Kramnik when he took on the Russian's Russian both in Mexico City and again in Wijk-aan-Zee in January of this year. Since then, though, Kramnik had that disastrous tournament in Dortmund during which his Petroff got turned over twice. Perhaps they've both got a reason to avoid it?!

Some might find it a dull opening but personally I'm hoping it will be a Petroff. Aside from anything else there's always a (tiny) chance they'll go 1. e4 e5, 2. Nf3 Nf6, 3. Nxe5 d6, 3. Nf3 Nxe4, 4. d3!! Nf6, 5. d4! d5! and where would we be then?

Whatever happens I will at least get to see this one as I have the day off. Recommendations of good places to follow the games, and any other match related nuggets, are welcome in the comments box.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Sleeping til noon?

At 2pm this afternoon the wait will be over. The first pawn of the Anand-Kramnik World Championship match will at last be pushed and a couple of weeks or so afterwards all questions as to who has a legitimate claim to the crown will be laid to rest.

Vishy Anand may be the official champion since his victory at Mexico City but you don't have to be Russian to question the appropriateness of using a tournament, however strong the field, to decide the world’s strongest chess player. Bonn will consist of just a dozen games, half a traditional world championship contest, but a match of any length is better than none for those of us who consider Anand as no more than a pretender to the throne until such time as he overcomes his rival in hand to hand combat.

There are any number of match previews floating around on the internet (see for example Chess Vibes' visit to the pre-match press conference and Yusupov's summary of the players' strengths and weaknesses on the same site). Indeed ink has been spilling about this match ever since Anand wrapped up the win in Mexico City over a year ago.

One issue that often crops up in these articles is how the past, and perhaps future, champion prefers one-on-one competition rather than taking on multiple opponents at once. Back in November of last year, for example, Chessbase reproduced an interview that Kramnik gave to Izvestia. The Russian newspaper quote him as saying,

Everyone has their strong side. Mine is match-play, whereas Anand’s is tournaments

Similarly, in August this year Chessbase published another piece on Kramnik during which the interviewer, GM Robert Fontaine, tells the former champion,

We know that you are very strong in match play, maybe better than in tournaments.

This sort of thing gets repeated everywhere, and certainly I've become accustomed to thinking of Kramnik in this way myself, but is it true?

My friend and fellow S&BCC blogger EJH once wrote:-

... in the chess world, as elsewhere, there is a certain tendency to interpret the facts according to a preconceived narrative ....

I'm wondering whether Kramnik's alleged prowess at match play might be an example of this phenomenon.

Let's take a look at his record in candidates matches ...

1994: beat Yudasin 4.5 - 2.5
1994: lost to Kamsky 4.5 - 1.5
1994: lost to Gelfand 4.5 - 3.5
1998: lost to Shirov 5.5 - 3.5

and world title contests ...

2000: beat Kasparov 8.5 - 6.5
2004: drew with Leko 7 - 7
2006: drew with Topalov 6 - 6

OK, so those early games were played when Kramnik was in his late teens and early twenties and it might also be pointed out that he did go on to beat his Bulgarian rival in quick-play overtime. Perhaps more pertinently, if we ignore the off-the-board shenanigans last time around Kramnik can also claim to have won an eleven game match by six points to five.

Even so this is still hardly the record of an all-conquering colossus. It's rather as if Vlad, established his reputation as an early riser by beating Kasparov and the chess world has been indulging his long lie-ins ever since.

Don't get me wrong, Kramnik is clearly an exceptional chess player. There can only be a handful of human beings who've ever lived that could have equalled his achievements. His victory over Kasparov was a truly awesome achievement. Can we agree, though, when he and others state that he's better at matches than tournaments? I'm not so sure. His results, in any event, would suggest we cannot.

That said, if Kramnik beats Anand he won't give a damn what his record's been like up until now ... and nor will anybody else.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Club News!

Let's start with two pieces of bad news. Firstly, in the position to the right my opponent played 12...Bd7 after which the game ended in an eventful draw, rather than 12...Bf6. See if you can work out why.

Secondly, our second team - newly demoted to Division Three of the London League - failed in their first match of the new season at the end of September to beat Hammersmith 1, whom they outgraded on most boards. That ten-board match stands 5-4 to Hammersmith, with one game adjourned.

But it's good news elsewhere. On Monday last week our first team bounced back from their earlier defeat by Drunken Knights to win their second game of the season in Division 1 of the London League, beating Hackney I 6½ to 4½ on the night, with one game adjourned. All the more impressive given that Hackney finished second in the League last year, and definitely a victory for strength-in-depth: we won four out of the five bottom boards, with the fifth game the unfinished adjourned game.

And then on Thursday last week, Streatham Thirds played their first match in the London League's Division Four against Wanstead 2, who outgraded the team on all boards. But that didn't intimidate S&BCC one bit, because our side won that eight-board match 5-3. A great start for the team and their leader Chris "Captain Miracle" Morgan.

Finally, if you missed out on the Blindful Simul given at our club last week by Rawle Allicock, don't forget to check out the blog report on that here. In fact even if you've seen that already - go take another look, because you can now also find links to three videos of the spectacular event, left in the comments by Angus. Enjoy!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

See You ... ?

No, not an invitation to Joe Kinnear's latest press conference but a hope you'll be joining the rest of the chess world for the start of the World Championship match next Tuesday.

We'll be coming back to this on the day but in the meantime you can always whet your appetite with a selection of Anand-Kramnik games from the official match website.

You might also want to rush to your nearest bookshop and pickup From London to Elista

a marvellous investigation into the Kasparov-Kramnik, Kramnik-Leko and Kramnik-Topalov battles for the world title.

It's very much a partial account, written as it is by Ilya Levitov and Kramnink's long time second Evgeny Bareev, but don't let that put you off. It's a truly fascinating read and deservedly won the ECF's Book of the year award.

Still don't believe me? There's a review on Chess Vibes here.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Chess in Art XVIII

John Tenniel (1871)

[from Through The Looking-Glass by Lewis Carroll]

[Chess in Art index]
[Chess in Art collected]

Friday, October 10, 2008

What Ray did next

You'll have read, in the footnote to Wednesday's column, that the controversial Chessville article Densa and Densa, containing a passage mysteriously identical to one previously written by Edward Winter, has now been amended. The passage has been excised.

I had previously written to Chessville about the piece and they were kind enough, once the article had been rewritten, to write back:
Mr. Keene has rewritten his Densa article for Chessville. Hopefully it now avoids the issue which you brought to my attention.
Decent of them to say so: but perhaps it is not up to me to decide. In so far as my opinion is worth anything, I am not sure that it does entirely avoid the issue: and I wonder whether there are not other issues, as well.

One issue is the piece itself. It's a classic Ray piece, which is not to say that it is classic in any other sense than that. Its sole function is to puff Ray and his cronies, in this instance the crony being longstanding Penguin-friend Tony Buzan, whose "note-taking technique" is shoehorned into the piece - or rather, the piece is shoehorned into an advert for his chum. Thoughtfully, though, Ray does find time to mention some chess, especially the Staunton Memorial tournament (prop. Ray Keene).

this sort of thing is tat. But Ray is the Tatmaster, and this is how he has worked for three decades now: everybody knows how he operates and you either accept it or you do not. Presumably, Chessville accept it. In doing so, they also accept Ray's other trademarks, which include the eyebrow-raising explanation when a charge of copying is laid against him (and the absence of any subsequent apology). It's a shoddy approach and one which, to my mind, makes fools of people who go along with it.

Shoddy work is a characteristic of the Tatmaster - and this quick fix, too, is shoddy in its way. Originally, you will recall, Ray wrote this:
"The world's biggest-selling book is the boast on the back cover of "Guinness World Records 2007".
This has now become:
In the edition I checked
which does not specify which edition he actually looked at, although he did, previously, say 2007 in the passage quoted above.

However, we have confirmation already as to which one it was, because he wrote himself in his own pages on, in an entry made on 29 September 2008:
i wrote about the 2007 issue of guinness because i jotted down the notes in feb 2007- and never got round to using them since then
So it was the 2007 edition that he looked at, by his own account.

Or was it? Ray also writes:
Indeed, the total space devoted to mental world records in the entire book is less than that given to the following - now infamous - feat by Kathryn Ratcliffe (UK), who:

"...on 25 October 2003 and with a tally of 138, broke her OWN record for the most Smarties eaten in three minutes using chopsticks"
Strangely enough, though, the Guinness Book for 2007 doesn't say this. It records Ms Ratcliffe's record as 170, which feat was performed on 27 November 2004. Ms Ratcliffe did, however, previously set the record of 138, which mark was indeed achieved on 25 October 2003 and is recorded in the Guinness Book for 2005. Not 2007 at all.

So was Ray mistaking himself all the time and in fact it was the 2005 edition he consulted? Presumably. Curiously, that 2005 edition was discussed in Edward Winter's Chess Notes at #3493 - a piece reproduced this year on Chessbase, a site one imagines might be viewed even by somebody who avoids looking at Chess Notes.

More curiously still, the Winter piece includes the phrase
Kathryn Ratcliffe (UK), who, on 25 October 2003 and with a tally of 138, broke her own record ‘for the most Smarties eaten in three minutes using chopsticks’
while Keene's Chessville piece, even in its revised state, includes the passage (already quoted above):
Kathryn Ratcliffe (UK), who:

"...on 25 October 2003 and with a tally of 138, broke her OWN record for the most Smarties eaten in three minutes using chopsticks"
Now isn't that bad luck. Ray revises a piece to excise an unacknowledged quote from Edward Winter - and when the piece is republished, revised, there's still an unacknowledged quote from Edward Winter there.

Meanwhile, while it is possible to revise pieces published online - however inadequately one may do so - it is harder with printed material and we are still struggling to account for the enormous similarity of the original Densa and Densa to the article Dumbing-down Time previously published in the Spectator: which piece, of course, still includes the original passage now eliminated from the Chessville article.

Serial recycling of his own work is an old habit of the Tatmaster. But in normal circumstances it's a bad habit to reproduce your own work without acknowledgement that it has appeared somewhere else before. A bad habit on the part of the writer and a bad habit on the part of the publisher. Now conceivably, both Chessville and the Spectator are happy that the former publication reused a piece that appeared in the latter, without mentioning the periodical in which it first appeared. An unusual arrangement, but such things may happen.

One wonders, though, whether the Spectator are similarly happy that they printed a piece in which a substantial chunk was copied, however inadvertently, from a prior publication. They shouldn't be. Still, it's possible they don't realise that they did this. Perhaps someone should tell them.