Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Definitely Got Something To Do With Chess IV

Star Trek Special Edition

Do you know that in the 1000+ posts that have so far appeared on the S&BC(C) Blog there's not a single one that's dedicated to Star Trek. I doubled checked because I couldn't really believe it was true but if you plug "Star Trek" into the Blog search engine all you'll get is this, this and this. Three references in passing, the most recent of which are getting on for two years old, and that's your lot.

I've no idea how that has that been allowed to happen but it's about time we righted that wrong. Today, in an attempt to re-establish my GeekBoy credentials, I'd like to offer you the story of chess in Star Trek. A tale, it turns out, of our yesterdays as well as our tomorrows.

Exhibit A:-

Spock's alarmingly arched eyebrows can be explained away as the result of the least convincing chuckle ever captured on film but what's with the uniforms? I'm no hardcore Trekkie but I believe the tunics worn by Kirk and Spock here were only used in a pilot episode recorded before the first series was commissioned. If so perhaps there's something significant about use of 3D chess so early on.

What's the subtext here? It seems to me that the scene is a device employed not just to help develop Spock's backstory but also to reinforce the notion that the future enjoyed by the occupants of the Starship Enterprise is one of technical and cultural advancements that are all but beyond the imaginations of the dull two-dimensional earth bound mid-twentieth century American television viewers.

Once Star Trek was actually picked up it seems the script writers were not above employing chess as metaphor ...

... but it's the 3D set that comes to mind when we think about chess in Star Trek isn't it? Here it is again in a snippet showing a more familiarly attired Spock giving some uppity munchkin a spank ...

... and when the programme ("show" for our American friends and any British readers under the age of twenty five) got a makeover to be brought back as The Next Generation the 3D chess set got a new look too.

Data's board and pieces are probably the one aspect of new Star Trek that I find preferable to the original although we could do without the shite he spouts whilst playing with them don't you think?

The association between 3D chess and Star Trek is so strong in my mind I was really quite surprised to find an example of "proper chess" (as my niece Freya calls it) in the canon. True it comes from a minor franchise, the bastard cousin the family would rather forget if you will, but still it's there.

One feels Mr. Smug might do well to learn a better line against the Caro-Kann before he dismisses our favourite game so casually. While he's at it he might want to have another crack at assessing this position:-

Lost in five moves? I think not.

The more I watch this clip the more I feel the character would have worked better in the role of one of Martin's kibitzers ("... odious bottom-feeder, the lowest form of chess life ... he who hangs around disposing unsolicited advice and self-aggrandising comment....") but perhaps we shouldn't criticise too much. At least they got the board the right way around which puts the scene head and shoulders above most representations of the noble game in film and television.

It's funny but while chess in Star Trek started off pointing to a barely imaginable future it ended up being about the past. Data's set had some of the functions of its predecessor but much more than that it was a hat tip to the Original Series, a reminder to viewers that they were watching a programme with a history.

Similarly with Enterprise. Proper chess seems out of place until the programme's jumble of time-lines are unravelled; the series appeared on our screens after the others but was set long before them. A prequel then, and by playing our form of chess the characters both hint at future events - dull old 2D chess becoming played out and replaced by the 3D variety - in the fictional universe and remind us of Star Treks watched on evenings long ago in the real one.

... to do with chess Index

Monday, June 28, 2010

Reasons to hate chess

Not Drowning, Mothering is, it turns out, a rather popular Australian blog chronicling the adventures of "one woman, three children, a husband & an unreasonably angry cat" - and its author seriously hates chess.

And, at least some of her reasons for doing so are undoubtedly true. "Chess is upsetting" - true. "Chess is time-consuming" - yup. Clocking up years over here. "Chess is boring" - sometimes, certainly. On the other hand, "Chess is thinly-disguised classist propaganda" and "Chess is misogynistic" I'm less convinced about, whilst "Chess is a game of strategy" is debatable. Still, nonetheless, most people don't voluntarily dedicate hours of their spare time to something upsetting, time-consuming and intermittently boring. And I do. We do.

Readers, the question of today is as follows. Why do we do this thing called chess to ourselves?

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Definitely Got Something To Do With Chess III

The clue to a murder in the art world of contemporary Madrid lies hidden in a medieval painting of a game of chess. In the 15th-century Flemish painting two noblemen are playing chess. Yet two years before he could sit for the portrait, one of them was murdered. Now, in a 20th-century Madrid, Julia, a picture restorer preparing the painting for auction, uncovers an inscription that points to the crime: Quis necavit equitem? Who killed the knight? But as she teams up with a brilliant chess theoretician to retrace the moves, she discovers the deadly game is not yet over.

Or so it says here.

... to do with chess Index

Friday, June 25, 2010

Mickey, give us a wave

Yes, weren't the Eighties great

Here's an odd thing.

Just over three weeks ago, on Wednesday May 26, we carried a post, the second of three covering an interview with popular English GM Simon Williams.

In the course of this particular post Simon discussed a game Keith Arkell once won from Julian Hodgson. The score of this game was subsequently posted in comments by one of our regular commentors, George, in the third part of the interview, posted on Friday May 28.

The game, though a fine one, is not well-known. Or at least it wasn't when it was posted. It is a little better-known now, though, because shortly after being mentioned and reproduced on here, it appeared, annotated from move 21 onwards, in Mickey Adams' Telegraph column on Saturday June 5.

What a coincidence.

The column also gave the position after White's 80th move, and the continuation until Black's resignation, of a game Arkell-Daly, Dublin 1993, an ending with rook and bishop against rook. As Mickey observes:
Arkell has the amazing record of having won the rook and bishop versus rook ending 17 times without a single draw.
Or, as Keith Arkell put it
I have won the ending of R+B v R 17/17 times
which he said here: in an interview which was linked to in part one of the Simon Williams piece.

What another coincidence.

Now it is entirely possible that a game played fourteen years ago happened to spring to the mind of the Telegraph's Saturday columnist just at the same time as it was being mentioned on our humble and obscure blog, and that the aforesaid columnist also felt - quite spontaneously and without being moved to do so by anything he may recently have read on the Internet - that it would also be a good time to highlight Keith's particular endgame speciality.

However, let us entertain the possibility that the case is otherwise. Should this be so, it may be a good moment to make the following observations.
  • We are flattered by the attention.

  • Everything that appears on this blog can be used elsewhere without charge.

  • There is no copyright in the moves of a chess game...

  • ...nevertheless, a gentleman will normally acknowledge his sources.

Coincidence? I don't think so

The Case of the Curious Telegraph Coincidence, is, however, even stranger than this. Because in his chess column on Friday June 11, less than a week after Hodgson-Arkell appeared in Mickey Adams', Malcolm Pein introduced a game as follows.
Here is a game of Arkell's you won't find in the databases as it was played in a weekend congress. Somewhat uncharacteristically - Arkell is known as a positional player and endgame specialist, Black sacrifices a piece for a huge attack down the g file. All his pieces combine bar the knight, which makes a decisive appearance at the end of a brilliant game.
The brilliant game that followed was, of course, Hodgson-Arkell from the Surrey Easter Open 1996. It's not true that you won't find it in the databases, as our link to it, given above, will show: but it is true that it could have been found, not only on this blog, but in a chess column in the very same newspaper as Malcolm's, only six days earlier.

Unnoticed, apparently, by Malcolm Pein's editor. Or even by Malcolm Pein.

[Thanks to JB and Sean for their help with this piece.]

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

A Collection of Dutch Bits and Bobs

We have a debate about dodginess, a pair of exchange sacs and a nightmare video for you today – all with a Dutch theme.

it's plain simple: the classical dutch suxx, you should never dare to play it.

From the ChessPub Forum

I don't know whether Dennis Monokroussos (Monday) would consider the Classical Dutch to be "junk" or Nigel Davies (last Wednesday) would think it "tricky" but clearly our ChessPubber feels that the opening belongs in the bin. I understand the sentiment – it’s hardly a surprise that neither Anand nor Topalov thought that 1. … f5 in response to 1. d4 was worth a punt in Sofia last month – but he hasn’t shaken my view that it remains an eminently playable opening for most chessers.

As it happens, the day before I read the Chess Pub thread I’d seen a video on Simon Williams’ site in which the Ginger GM showed how he used his favourite opening to chop up IM Alexi Slavin (a 2300+ rated opponent). Obviously Williams won the game because he is a good player and not because he shoved his king's bishop's pawn forward two squares but if the opening doesn't deserve the credit for a GM's win why should it get the blame if we use it and lose?

I'm certainly not going to be giving the Classical Dutch any time soon but I suppose we each have our own iffiness threshold. If yours is set at a sufficiently generous level to include the Classical Dutch you may be interested to know that Williams won his game using a variation discussed on the Killer Dutch, a DVD which has just received a highly favourable review from Carsten Hansen over at the Chess Cafe.


Moving on, I’ve been pondering exchange sacrifices since my post on Jacob Aagaard’s crushing win against Bo Lindberg and I found a couple of examples when I took another look at Williams’ DVD.

White to play
Line recommended for Black

White is about to play 15. Rxb7
Shirov - Williams, 4NCL 2005

I might have been inspired by Aagaard to look out for the exchange sac theme but these positions are a rather different kettle of fish to the one that he played. Here material is given up not for a direct attack on the king but for compensation that's much more abstract in nature.

In neither case do I find it difficult to see that the sacrifice leads to something in return, the difficulty I have is judging whether there’s enough. When I told T.C. that I was struggling to understand this kind of position he came up with the idea that it might help to consider things the other way around.

Tom's suggestion was rather than asking whether I would get enough positional compensation for the material when I was contemplating an exchange sacrifice I could reflect on whether my opponent would get enough material to compensate for my better position. It’s an interesting reversal which rather seems to shift the burden of proof in some way and something that's definitely worth trying out I feel.


Finaly we have another contribution from Simon Williams. I guess we've all got our chessboard nightmares. Regular visitors to our humble blog may not be completely unfamiliar with Simon’s.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Chiv Chat

  • First up, stern stuff. Got a dodgy opening tucked away in your repertoire? Think some off-beat line is as good a try as anything else? If so, click here for a good talking to from Dennis Monokroussos. And even not, it's a fine read all the same.

  • As for me, I could do with a good talking to about bullet chess. Surely there is something better to do in a spare two minutes? Surely all those two minutes add up? But bullet chess is addictive and exciting. And you get to play the kind of pretty moves opponents defend against at slower time limits. In the diagram, it's white to play and win, in the prettiest possible way.

  • Still, maybe I should be inspired to be more serious by the continuing brilliance of contemporary chess. Recent games have seen a surprise King's Gambit from Carlsen, an epic win from Gelfand featuring the truly fantastic 48.Nh8!!, and an extraordinary defensive king evacuation from Karjakin - all the way from g8 on move 17 to c3 at the end of the game, via f8, e7, d6, c6, c5, b4, b3, c2, d2, and c2. Do check these games out if you missed them, the last two in particular.

  • And finally, here's something for Londoners. Ever seen this frieze, that's somewhere or other in the City?

    And if so, did you spot it's about chess? Click here to learn more.

  • Saturday, June 19, 2010

    Chess in Art Postscript: A Game At Chesse - Seconde Parte

    Last time we had a look, in rhyming couplets, at Jacobean playwright Thomas Middleton's "A Game At Chesse", in which the chess-piece characters play out an allegory of C17th Spanish-English relations, and his "Women Beware Women - a Tragedy", which is currently revived at London's National Theatre.

    Your blogger has now seen WBW in the flesh and, as promised, brings you a report on the action, together with some goings-on in the wings. "Oh, wise-acres!"

    In this brilliant play, Chesse grabs the limelight even before the interval (you can get a glimpse by clicking on "audience feedback" here - it's about three quarters of the way in) and it plays intimately with the dramatic climax of the scene: a rape (I'm sorry to say). "Oh, my extremity!"

    And here I'll come clean: revealed to an unsuspecting public in small print towards the back of the Programme, in the Production Credits, it says, plain for all to see: "Thanks to.......Martin Smith and Richard Tillett and the Streatham and Brixton Chess Club". "Forsooth!" And more to the point: "How so?"

    Back in February the NT contacted Richard (our Club Secretary) to ask if we could help by coming up with the chess moves for the actors to make a credible game, at the same time fitting the dialogue. The task fell to your art critic manqué, and fantasising my fifteen minutes of fame announced in lights along the South Bank I grabbed my pocket set and fiddled furiously. "Yes, I do't too truly!"

    The scene has devious, scheming Livia (Harriet Walter), playing the black pieces (natch), running rings round widowed Mother on, and off, the board. Livia, conniving with the Duke of Florence, uses the game to distract Mother so that he can ensnare, and have his wicked way with, the lovely Bianca Capello. Mother had been charged by her son to keep his Bianca inviolate while he is away on business; they are newly-weds. "Oh sir, 'tis true!"

    Livia will have you on toast. Photo Tristam Kenton

    The dialogue has the player-characters commenting on the game albeit using some rather odd terms foreign to modern chess: "blind mate", which we took to mean mate overlooked by the victim and then retracted so that the game may continue; and rooks called "dukes", which facilitates much punning and innuendo vis-à-vis the predatory Duke of Florence. Here is one:

    Livia, to Mother, as Bianca is enticed upstairs by the Duke's henchman ostensibly to look at "rooms and pictures": "Here's a duke/ Will strike a sure stroke for the game anon;/ Your pawn (i.e. Bianca) cannot come back to relieve itself." Hmmm.

    And some moves later another: as the Duke of F. drags Bianca off, Livia mocks: "Did not I say my duke would fetch you over, widow?" Tacky.

    And yet another, as the evil deed is done off stage: "Has not my duke bestirr'd himself?" Yuk.

    The game we cooked up was definitely, and deliberately, not GM stuff. It has sundry early pawn and rook moves such as you get with social players, a blunder by Mother losing the exchange for nothing, and.....but enough of this dalliance. "Let the play begin!"

    Yes, well. Like I said, not exactly GM stuff.

    We built in two "blind mates" to be played on stage and then taken back (19. Rh7 Qxf2++, and 22. Ne2 Qh1++), because the dialogue seemed to demand it when Livia says "I have given thee blind mate twice." and Mother myopically concurs: "You may see, madam,/ My eyes begin to fail."

    We also tried to match moves to the words: "Here's a duke...", so 13....Rb8; "...and my black king makes all the haste he can" accompanied by 20....Kd7; and at the fateful " duke bestirr'd himself." Livia plays the lunge 24....Rxg2. At the end Mother colludes unwittingly in a self-mate as the escape 26. Ke2 was possible (so, that was yet another "blind mate"), conveying Mother's multiple confusions.

    Trouble was, they didn't use our game! "Bitter scoff!"

    I suspect that the NT people found that our concoction was too literal, and didn't fit the pace and choreography of the final production. The Programme also thanks Nigel Blades of Greater London Chess Club for his assistance, and maybe it is his handiwork that is played out - a fittingly bloodthirsty 1. e4 e5 tactical skirmish; and while difficult to be sure from row G of the stalls, it looked like a Traxler, or maybe a tasty Fegatello.

    The attack of the fried liver.

    After the opening, and middle game during which Livia waves a captured white pawn aloft at the "your pawn cannot come back" moment, the game disappeared as the stage rotated, then returned fastforwarded to an endgame in which the "black king makes all the haste he can" with a Long March down the board to help with a first rank mate - visually very striking - followed by Mother's resignation, theatrically tipping her king."Bravo! Twas most fit!"

    Photo by Jeff Belardo

    Back to the plot: the chess game rape was but one thread of amoral abuse by the powerful of the less so. Other characters corrupted, and submitted, as their fancies took them. But all got their just desserts in a bloodcurdling finale wherein they all fell someone's victim in a masqued orgy of revenge and retribution, egged on by a gadfly swarm of Devils, or Angels, of Death in doublet and hose.

    "Vengeance met vengeance/ Like a set match, as if the plagues of sin/ Had been agreed to meet here together" as Livia's brother (stained by incest) says amid the mayhem, before fatally impaling himself on a guard's halbert. And good riddance methought (and, beware halberts).

    The vox pop and production shots linked above in this post, and again here, give a fair taste of how thoroughly, and improbably, enjoyable the play was. It was a vivid spectacle in its stylish retro-modern set and costume, emphatic lighting, and exploitation of all directions of the stage: left, right, behind and, for the doing of nefarious deeds, upwards. And how unexpectedly did the arcane language, after lying dormant on the page for 400 years, dead to my ears, spring to life and leap to comprehension, through the nods and winks, rhymes and rhythms, of the performance.

    But there is a final, and significant, twist to the story. Let's go back to that "blind mate" business. We thought, as did Middleton, that it was a "technical term of chess, when a player (here the Mother, and by extension Bianca) does not realise that the king is checkmated and the game therefore over", as says J.R.Mulryne, Emeritus Professor of English at the University of Warwick, in his footnotes to the play in the Revels Student Edition (2007).

    But, following a discovery I made a few days after seeing the show, take another look with the help of Arthur Saul Esq., who wrote The Famous Game of Chesse-Play in 1614. He was writing when the term had currency.

    "A Darke Mate, or a blind-Mate is all one, for if a Mate be given, and hee which giveth it seeth it not, you may say it was darke, he wanted light, or hee was blind, otherwise hee would have seen it." (bold added)
    In view of this, the correct rendering of the "blind-Mate" in the game would be for Livia to deliver it, but not to clock that she had done so: to "giveth it [but] seeth it not". Middleton has it back to front and makes Mother receiveth it but seeth it not.

    Why does this matter? Because if he got it the right way round, then "the proper technical meaning of a "blind mate" [would] contradict..the sense of the scene as a whole..." as Paul Yachnin (1982) puts it (and it is he who gives the Saul quotation). Correctly done it would have been Livia's eyes not-seeing, blind, and not Mother's; but that would have made nonsense of the scene, because Bianca might then have been rescued from the Duke's lascivious attentions.

    For all Middleton's messing with chess he didn't quite understand all its subtleties. A case of the blind leading the blind. And he's not the only one. Let's just be thankful that "blind mate" has, like most of the characters at the dénouement of Women Beware Women, died a death and is now extinct on the chess board.

    "Therefore the wonder ceases. Oh, this torment!"( Act 5.2, line 166)


    Thanks to Tom C. for helping me get my hands on Paul Yachnin's paper "A Game at Chess and Chess Allegory", Studies in English Literature 1500-1900 (Spring 1982), where he quotes Arthur Saul The famous Game of Chesse-Play (1614; facsimile rpt. Amsterdam: Thatrum Orbis Terrarum, 1974).

    Thanks to Ellen McDougall at the NT for kicking this off, and for the complimentary seats; and to Richard Tillett for the collaboration.

    Loose women photo by ashley nicole kilgas.

    Chess in Art Index

    Friday, June 18, 2010

    Little of interest

    A brief Friday quiz: who, in a book published in 1985, wrote the following?
    Finally I should like to say a few words about the purchase of books on openings. Volumes such as Modern Chess Openings and Encyclopaedia of Chess Openings can give a useful overview though books covering just one variation are a different kettle of fish entirely.

    The authors of such books may or may not be experts in the variation they have written about. If they aren't then they will have little of interest to say whilst if they are, they probably won't want to say it.

    My advice is to follow the example of masters and grandmasters who generally limit their acquisitions to a selection of
    Chess Informants (particularly important), magazines, and tournament bulletins. By filing the appropriate games from such sources you will have access to a more personal, comprehensive and up-to-date source of reference than any chess book could offer.
    Answer will appear in the comments box.

    [Thanks to JB for supplying the passage.]

    Wednesday, June 16, 2010

    Pump it up

    I read this a couple of days ago in Kundalini, Evolution and Enlightenment and it's really too good not to share

    I read the above a couple of weeks ago on Nigel Davies' blog and it is, indeed, really too good not to share. It proceeds, quoting the aforesaid Kundalini:
    "I remember once I asked my master why there are so many false teachers in the world. He said,'They create a fence for those who are genuine. By attracting those students who want to get something for nothing, they free the real teachers to work with a smaller group of sincere aspirants'."

    This is true of many fields, the one that I know best being chess. It's easy to spot those who attempt to pump their charges with tricky openings...

    Now that's what I call philosophy.

    Students wishing to explore Nigel's philosophy further are referred to the following books:

    Alekhine's Defence
    Gambiteer I: A Hard-Hitting Chess Opening Repertoire for White
    Gambiteer II: A Hard-Hitting Chess Opening Repertoire for Black
    The Grünfeld Defence
    Play 1.e4 e5!
    Play the Catalan
    Starting Out: The Modern
    Taming the Sicilian
    The Dynamic Reti
    The Trompovsky
    The Veresov

    and DVDs:

    The Accelerated Dragon
    Build a 1.d4 Repertoire
    A Busy Person's Opening System
    Caro Krusher!
    Colle System
    Closed Sicilian
    1...d6 Universal
    Dashing Danish
    1.e4 for the Creative Attacker
    1...e6: A Solid Repertoire
    The English Opening
    The f4 Sicilian
    French Defence Strategy
    King's Indian Attack
    London System
    The Pirc Defence
    The Queen's Gambit Declined Exchange Variation
    Ruy Lopez: Moller Defence
    The Scotch Game
    Stonewall Dutch
    Strangling the Sicilian
    The Tarrasch Defence
    Torre Attack
    Untamed Chigorin

    [Thanks to Tom]

    Monday, June 14, 2010

    Chiv Chat

    • I recently read the novella Chess by Stefan Zweig. It's excellent. The story takes place aboard a ship, where the World Champion faces a surprisingly strong amateur opponent. The World Champion is a recognizable chess type: monomaniacal, introverted, greedy, unpleasant. His worldly, personable opponent, by contrast, only learnt the game due to his isolation by the Nazis in war-torn Austria; the book thus asks questions about what chess does to our minds - and indeed what kinds of minds are attracted to chess, and in what circumstances. It also has some nice quotes. I'll give my favourite a bullet point of its own:

    • "And are we not guilty of offensive disparagement in calling chess a game? Is it not also a science and an art, hovering between those categories as Muhammad's coffin hovered between heaven and earth, a unique link between pairs of opposites: ancient yet eternally new; mechanical in structure, yet made effective only by the imagination; limited to a geometrically fixed space, yet with unlimited combinations; constantly developing, yet sterile; thought that leads nowhere; mathematics calculating nothing; art without works of art; architecture without substance - but nonethless shown to be more durable in its entity and existence than all books and works of art; the only game that belongs to all nations and all eras, although no one knows what god brought it down to earth to vanquish boredom, sharpen the senses and stretch the mind."

    • Still, the psychology of even the most strange chess players is nothing compared to the psychology of ultra-endurance athlete Jure Robic, whose working method involves insanity. Literally: "Around Day 2 of a typical weeklong race, [Robic's] speech goes staccato. By Day 3, he is belligerent and sometimes paranoid. His short-term memory vanishes, and he weeps uncontrollably. The last days are marked by hallucinations: bears, wolves and aliens prowl the roadside; asphalt cracks rearrange themselves into coded messages. Occasionally, Robic leaps from his bike to square off with shadowy figures that turn out to be mailboxes. In a 2004 race, he turned to see himself pursued by a howling band of black-bearded men on horseback."Read the rest here. (Via.)

    • I wish there was a reason to think that such method in madness was applicable to chess, but it seems unlikely. Was it madness that caused me to play 1.Rd8+ in the position to the right, against Alan Hayward in the second round of this year's S&BCC Championship? Maybe. Whatever it was, I was entirely blind to the simple reply 1...Kxf7. I had overlooked a capture. Of a whole rook. By the king stood next to it. Yet another reason why I am not world champ.

    • Did you need another reason? Don't answer that. Let's change the subject. Ever start a blitz game and try to play ten pawn moves in a row? Or spell out a word? Or, try to make sure you invert the king's and queen's starting position? Yes? That last one? Now, ever play a serious game in the US Championship and, there, try to make sure you invert your kind and queen in the opening, too? Against Grandmaster Alexander Onischuk? In that case your name is Hikaru Nakamura, and your 2010 4th round game started like this: 1.e4 e5 2.Nc3 Nf6 3.f4 d5 4.exd5 Nxd5 5.fxe5 Nxc3 6.bxc3 Qh4+ 7.Ke2 Bg4+ 8.Nf3 Nc6 9.Qe1 Qh5 10.Kd1:

    • Bravo. And let's ask again. Are we not guilty of offensive disparagement in calling chess a game?

    Saturday, June 12, 2010

    Iffy and whiffy

    Andrew Greystoke, lawyer and entrepreneur, has just been fined £200,000 and given a lifetime ban from working in financial services for helping "boiler-room" share scammers to rip off 130 unsuspecting punters to the tune of at least £3m. Eye readers will recognise that the lifetime ban is well overdue.

    Atlantic Law, the legal firm of which the fomer bankrupt is the senior partner, has also been fined £200,000. "Atlantic Law and Andrew Greystoke acted recklessly, without integrity and with a complete disregard of the risks to consumers," tutted Margaet Cole, the FSA´s director of enforcement and financial crime. What a surprise!

    Greystoke, 68 and unfondly known as "Tarzan", also faces action by the Solicitors Regulation Authority for bringing the profession into disrepute.

    "What no one seems to have noticed," the
    Times commented last week, "is that Greystoke already has a bad record in the City." No one, that is, except regular readers of the Eye, and since 2003 the Mail on Sunday's Tony Hetherington, both of which have been sounding the alarm - the Eye for almost a quarter of a century - about this serial spiv and financial fantasist, who was also a Tory councillor in Westminster during the Shirley Porter era.

    Since the mid-1980s we have been chronicling the various corporate disasters with which he has been associated - Slater Walker America, Maddock, Bremar Holdings, Castle Mill and City & Westminster Group, which collapsed in 1991. By 1995 he owed more than £5m to creditors, including Lloyd's of London, which received a letter from Tarzan's psychiatrist pleading "mitigating circumstances".

    Greystoke was made bankrupt in June 1996. The Department of Timidity & Inaction had started efforts in 1993 to disqualify him as a director over the City & Westminster fiasco - his company City & Westminster collapsed within months of being injected into what became City & Westminster Group - but these were presumably rendered unnecessary by his bankruptcy and never pursued.

    Having failed at business he reinvented himself as a lawyer, but he couldn't kick the spivvy habit - representing, among others, the iffy and whiffy Brain Games Network plc, run by chess impresario Raymond "the Penguin" Keene and fronted by Tory grandee Sir Jeremy Hanley.
    - Slicker, "In the City", Private Eye, No. 1263, 28 May 2010.

    [Ray Keene index]

    Friday, June 11, 2010

    One for Tom

    Get over yourself love: T.C.'s interests lie elsewhere

    “I’m obsessed”, T.C. told me the other day, "by saccing the exchange now. It's the only thing I think about at the board...."

    By a strange coincidence a few hours later I stumbled across a game in Jacob Aagaard’s Attacking Manuel 1 that would be very much my fellow blogger's cup of tea. Aagaard – Lindberg, Stockholm 2004 is in the chapter devoted to the principle that it's the number of pieces that matters when attacking and not the value of the material involved; it contains not one but two exchange sacs, the second of which ended the game.

    It’s easy to see that if Black recaptures after 22. Rxh2 he’ll be mated after a few checks. The first time White gives up a rook for bishop is much more interesting however.


    Black has played a risky line of the Caro-Kann but with … b7-b5 and a2-a3 thrown in. Evidently he'd hoped that this would help his attack if and when White castled long which in turn might put Aagaard off hacking away on the kingside. As it happens though it didn't turn out that way.

    Right now though it’s White’s move. Breaking up Black’s pawns with g2-g4 looks an attractive plan but in this precise position the pawn advance can be answered with … Bd5 gaining a tempo on the rook.

    Aagaard writes,
    I cannot recall how long I thought about this position, but I know that I did not really calculate a lot of variations. What I was thinking was that his best piece was the bishop on e6. This is not hard to establish, as although its defensive responsibilities are not great, it is at least supporting his structure a bit as well as preparing to irritate my plans.

    My own worst pieces are the bishop on c1 and the rook on a1. I knew very well that the only pieces relevant for judging the success of an attack are those present on the battlefield when the two armies collide. The remaining forces will only be useful in future clashes (often the endgame). With this notion I had no concerns about offering my opponent a bit of material.

    So the game continued 13 Bh6 (“!” – Aagaard) Re8, 14 g4 Bd5, 15 O-O-O leading here:-

    Black to play

    White is happy to allow the rook to be attacked here because if it is taken he can replace it with his queen’s rook and in effect Black has only succeeded in swapping off one of his best defenders for White’s least effective piece. As it happens Black did indeed take on h1 and he didn’t last much longer.

    By the way, the “I did not really calculate a lot of variations” bit is a little misleading because the thrust of the book is not that if we grasp some general ideas we will no longer have to bother working out any specific lines but rather that learning the ‘rules’ of attacking play enables us to

    “… reduce the number of variations to calculate by tuning our focus to the most important moments and possibilities.”

    (my emphasis)

    I'm not sure that Tom would entirely agree with the sentiment but if nothing else he can at least enjoy the game and get the exchange sac obsession monkey off his back for one more day.

    Wednesday, June 09, 2010

    Whatever the Wetherspoon's

    On 5 October 2009 I was sat in a Wetherspoon's on Mile End Road with my good friend John Faben. John is a PhD maths student and the owner of this blog, and that night, as he so often does, he asked me a question to which I had no hope of giving an adequate answer. It played on my mind for a few days, then I forgot about it.

    I saw John again last Sunday. Funnily enough, we were in a Wetherspoon's. I was reminded of his poser from eight months ago, and resolved to put it out to chess blog readers far and wide. The problem is as follows:

    Imagine, if you will, a game of chess between a competent human and a computer. The former must start with just a bare king; the latter, perhaps somewhat unfairly, has all of its pieces intact. If, however, all of the computer's moves were generated at random, what are the chances of the game ending in a draw?

    Monday, June 07, 2010

    Danailov Is Right.

    No, not about Topalov being better than Anand at everything, or Cheparinov being a better second than Kasparov and Kramnik combined, or about events in a certain toilet in Elista, or about a billion and one other things. But I think Danailov is right to take Chessbase to court, over the latter's unauthorized broadcast on their Playchess server of the recent World Championship match.

    Now, I'm not a legal expert and don't know to what extent the moves were protected by international copyright, or to what extent broadcast licensing laws can be applied to chess. Danailov could be right legally, or Chessbase could be - they don't agree, and that is why the court will decide. I'm not even saying Danailov is right morally, to protect the commercial interests of the event sponsors and so forth. That admittedly-capitalistic argument has its clear logic and a certain appeal. But it is very un-Web 2.0 - a world where information flows freely, money is made on the side by micro-ads, no-one knows what will be popular next, everyone mashes up everything else as they please, the competition is about who is more interesting, not over who owns what, and the internet is freer than a free country.

    Legally I have no idea who's right, morally I'm uncertain - so why am I siding with Danailov? Because, the licensed broadcasts of chess events is the best shot our game has for generating a large, non-specialist mainstream audience in one place on the internet, and thus growing the popularity of the game. Let me try to unpack that in a couple of paragraphs.

    We all know thousands and thousands of people watch big games online. Where? ICC, Playchess, TWIC's live page, chessbomb, chessgames, Susan Polgar's blog, a whole host of others - in other words, all over the place. Great as they are, many of these sites are specialist, some are cliquey, others require membership fees, downloads, and so on. Imagine you're a beginner - which do you go to? Where can you find a buzzing community that includes players of your strength? Well, you can try the event homepage - but you'll probably be disappointed. Most event webpages do a good job with the basics, but generate no interaction, have limited commentary, often supplied only after the games, and it is not uncommon for them to crash unexpectedly. In short, whilst serious chess spectators like ourselves are well-catered for - the experience of the non-expert is fragmentary, confusing, unreliable, and disappointing. And that is the status quo.

    Now imagine a world in which broadcasts are licensed. Maybe the event organizers decide no-one will show the games except themselves. Tens of thousands of fans gather in one place, Masters and patzers alike; it's a field day for advertisers; the coverage can be as technically sophisticated as anything out there. Or maybe they decide to license to coverage to the highest bidder: again, fans and newcomers alike are all funneled into one place. Or maybe they try it one way one year, another the next, and get some fresh ideas as to what works. Or maybe a big TV company or big website or national newspaper will think: heh, we can be the only ones to broadcast a big chess event; let's damn well sponsor one to boot. But where's the incentive if Chessbase and anyone and everyone else can just pilfer the moves instantly and for free?

    So, I think Danailov is right, at least from a practical point of view, and perhaps a moral one too. I hope he wins his court case, proves his point, and sets a precedent. Chess has a massive but fractured online following. Licensed events are chess's best chance to collect fans together and attract newcomers. Still having said all that, I'm not sure what's more news. That Danailov is taking Chessbase to court - or that someone thinks he's right in doing so?

    Saturday, June 05, 2010

    Chess in Art Postscript: A Game At Chesse

    We are back in the sixteen hundreds, sixteen twenty-four to be exact,
    The stage is round and ready, the players eager to act.
    Curtain up! Now, let the fun begin!
    Chesse! Speeches! And high jinks in between!

    Thomas Middleton, gent., makes a scene-setting introduction
    To "A Game At Chesse", his rabble-rousing production.

    "What of the game called chess-play can be made
    To make a stage-play shall this day be played.
    First you shall see the men in order set,
    States and their Pawns, when both the sides are met,
    The Houses well distinguished; in the game
    Some men entrapped and taken, to their shame,
    Rewarded by their play. And in the close
    You shall see check-mate given to virtue's foes.
    But the fairest jewel that our hopes can deck
    Is so to play our game to avoid your check."
    The Royal Game will wear a thin disguise
    Masqueing duplicitous rivalry twixt two scheming sides:
    An intrigue, played out between Spain and fair Albion,
    In a satire well wrought and wittily rhymed (well, nigh on).

    Thomas Middleton (1580-1627)
    Tom was erstwhile contemporary of Ben, and of Will,
    The crowd loved his barbs then, and maybe would still.
    But not so the Spanish, a dour humourless bunch,
    Who called the High Chamberlain, and took him to lunch.
    Well oiled, they complained of Tom's lampoonin' innuendo.
    And got the play banned, and thrown out the window.

    He was forbidden to write one more tittle or jot,
    Though duped he had been in a war-mongering plot
    To declaim provocative jibes 'gainst the Court of Iberia
    And whip up Olde England into xenophobic hysteria.
    They'd used Tom to stoke ire 'gainst the Spanish King's name.
    Pen-pusher had been pawn-pushed in some cunning knave's game.

    Middleton's penultimate show titled "Women Beware Women",
    Was all sex, and lies, and heavenly bodices rippin'.
    One scene shows a chesse game with hints of skulduggery,
    Suggesting lustful seduction, and procurement unmotherly.
    It is currently revived at the theatre Olivier,
    With fine Harriet Walter as the chesse-playing Livia.
    Your S&BCC critics will watch, eyes wide and agog,
    To report back, dear reader, with comment, next blogge.

    But not in rhyming couplets.

    The account of Middleton's sting is based (loosely) on Wikipedia, for better or for verse.
    For further observations on past Spanish-English relations see also We Are Not Amused.

    Middleton's Introduction is given in the indispensable "The Poetry of Chess" edited by Andrew Waterman, Anvil Press, London, 1981; of which maybe more anon.

    Next Blogges in this WBW sequence are linked here: Second Parte; and Thirde Parte; and Finale Parte

    Chess in Art Index

    Friday, June 04, 2010

    Bad book covers XII

    The Fighting French, Soltis, Chess Digest, 1993

    Beating The Ruy Lopez With The Fianchetto Variation, Soltis, Chess Digest, 1994

    A Black Defensive System With 1...d6, Soltis, Chess Digest, 1994

    [Apologies for the little pink bits, which are not present in the originals, though they could hardly be worse if they were. The originals can be seen here - run your cursor over them for larger versions. Thanks to Tom for his assistance.]

    [Bad book covers index]

    Wednesday, June 02, 2010


    I’ve got a bit of a mixed bag for you today.

    First up here’s something I found while I was trawling through some old editions of The Times at the British Library last Saturday:-

    The Times
    13th July 1977,
    page 8


    Geneva, July 12. – The fifth game in the world chess semi-final tournament between Boris Spassky of the Soviet Union and Lajos Portisch of Hungary was postponed today at the request of the former world champion.

    “He is just not in the mood”, an organizer said. Portisch leads 2-1.

    So When we were Kings “I can’t be arsed” was considered to be a more than adequate reason to disrupt the schedule of a contest to decide the contender for a World Championship Candidates’ final and a game of chess not being played was considered to be a newsworthy event. Those were most definitely the days!

    Next we have a more recent appearance of chess in the news. The following headline appeared on page 21 of The Guardian last Tuesday (25th May):-

    Anatoly Karpov battles Kremlin for control of world chess
    Ex-champion stands for president of Fide against Moscow-backed candidate who claims to have encountered aliens

    It’s very much like the interview with Viktor Korchnoi that The Independent ran last December; Viktor spoke to the Indy during the London Chess Classic and The Guardian published their article just days after the conclusion of the Anand-Topalov World Championship match and yet they both almost completely ignore the top-level action that was going on around them. Still, never mind the quality feel the width; they're near-as-damn-it full page reports relating to chess and that’s got to be a good thing.

    As the headline suggests the Grauniad report covers Karpov's run for the FIDE presidency and observes that one of the reasons that Kirsan Ilyumzhinov is under pressure is because of his failure to promote chess on the international stage. “The 2010 world championship, won in Sofia by Viswanathan Anand, made few ripples” they say and while that may well be true it does seem a bit rich coming from the paper that was alone amongst what we used to call the broadsheets in not running daily reports from the frontline.

    Anyway the article is well worth a look if you haven’t already seen it if for no other reason than it contains Karpov’s marvellous response to the powers-that-be’s decision to evict the Russian Chess Federation from their Moscow offices after Anatoly and not Kirsan got nominated for the FIDE post –

    "Knocking the pieces off the board when you lose does not change the result"

    Finally we owe a big thank you to one of our regular commenters. George tracked down the Hodgson-Arkell game that Simon Williams mentioned in the second part of his interview last week. Here it is for your viewing pleasure:-

    Cheers for the find George.