Monday, May 30, 2011

Шахмат Печенья

At last we know.

How every Russian schoolboy knows his Rooks from his Bishops.

They digest it...


...their tea.

Warning: the packet says they contain "lemon". Yes, that's ' "lemon" '.

Contains "lemon"

Thanks to Richard Rawles for kindly bringing all this to my attention.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Letter to the editor III

The latest instalment of Every Picture Tells a Story, will appear next week. In the meantime, we interrupt our schedules to bring you news that 30 years ago today, an amateur chesser was sitting down to put pen to paper. I wonder if he is still with us, and, if so, what he makes of the game today.

Volume 46, Nos. 855-856
June 1981
p. 75


Dear Ed. and fellow readers of CHESS.

What modern British chess really needs, are

1. A residential chess, holiday and week-end centre, for keen chess players of all ages.

It should have really good facilities.
A games shop.
Computer chess.
Friendly and tournament games.
Simultaneous chess.
Human chess, played on a giant chess-board, preferably inside a hall, because of our uncertain weather.

There's nothing quite like acting out a game for some really good chess fun.

Why human chess has tended to die out, is the fact that so many games were drawn with only the two kings left, so that that the crowd's interest dwindled. Something should have been done before it largely died out, for it can be quite exciting to watch, almost as exciting as an actual battle, which of course it is supposed to be.

I believe Human Chess is still played on the continent, and of course in Eastern Bloc countries, where chess is almost as popular as football.

2. Do we need to modernize chess? I think we do; it would look something like this:
A-Bomber 9 pts
Tank 5 pts
Missile 3 pts
Strike aircraft 3 pts
Infantry 1 pt
King ? 
The rules of the game, would of course remain the same. But it would look more modern, and one might easily be able to plan the tactics of one's game better, who knows?

I'd be interested to hear what other readers think of these ideas.

3. Another idea would be to have a Western World Championship, with the U.S.S.R excluded, to give players in the west something to aim at.

One might argue that this wouldn't be be quite fair.

On the other hand if we had what we considered to be our world champion, it might stir up more enthusiasm among people, to learn the game. Such was witnessed in 1972, when for a while the west really did have a world champion.

Anyway, that's all of my ideas for the moment.

Byfleet, 28 May 1981

Letter to the editor
Letter to the editor II

Friday, May 27, 2011

Bad book covers XIX

Win In The Opening! Opening mistakes and how to punish them, Neishtadt, Olms, 2003

The Spanish Exchange Variation: A Fischer favourite, Kindermann, Olms, 2005

222 Opening Traps After 1.d4, Müller and Knaak, Olms, 2008

Zaubern wie Schachweltmeister Michail Tal:
Der Taktikratgeber mit 100 Opferkombinationen zum Selbstlösen
Müller and Stolze, Olms, 2010

[Also see this and frankly almost anything else published by Olms]

[Bad book covers index]

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Not so New In Chess

Win In The Opening! Opening Mistakes And How To Punish Them, Neishtadt, Olms, 2003

Improve Your Chess Tactics: 700 Practical Lessons & Exercises, Neishtadt, New In Chess, 2011

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Adam Raoof

Adam Raoof, at somebody else's tournament
photograph by Brendan O'Gorman

If you were to follow me home and hide in the bushes outside my flat one evening – and, let’s be honest, we both know that you want to – you would notice two things pretty quickly: (a) I live on the second floor so you can't can’t see in particularly well; and (b) the fact that you can see in at all is in no small measure due to the fact that I don’t have any curtains in my front room.

The absence of drapery I would explain by saying that I haven’t got around to putting any up as yet. As it happens that’s also the answer I’d have given if I'd been asked about curtains in the weeks after I first moved in twelve years ago.

Charlies: the restaurant just by the
Golders Green playing hall
Photograph from Adam Raoof
This is all by way of explanation of why this post has been waiting for me to write it for three months. Having the attention span of a gerbil, I am very easily distracted and unfortunately it often takes me quite a while to finish a project once it’s started. Sad to say, but frittering away time is an affliction I struggle against off the board as well as on it.

Anyhoo, the original motivation for this post was that I’d wanted to find out about chess tournaments. More specifically, I'd wanted to know what makes a good one. Who better to talk to, then, than Adam Raoof? If you’ve played any chess at all in London over the last couple of decades you almost certainly already know Adam and very possibly have played in one of the rapidplay events he holds each month at Golders Green. Actually, even if you don’t live here there’s a fair chance that you’ve heard of him anyway. He’s that sort of guy.

Back in February we – along with Chris Andrescu – met for a bite to eat and a chat about the history of the Golders Green tournament. We discussed much else too - Adam’s work as Chess Consultant on the sequel to Guy Richie’s Sherlock Holmes movie and his role as Director of Home Chess at the English Chess Federation for starters – but those other subjects we’ll save for another day. This post has already been delayed for long enough.

Many thanks to Adam and Chris for their time, and my apologies to them for taking so long to write up what was a very interesting conversation. If you want to sample Golders Green yourself, the next tournaments will be held on June 11th and 9th July. Unfortunately I will be out of London and will miss both, but I hope to play in the one after that (6th August). You never know, once that's out of the way I might even get my tape measure out and start measuring up for those curtains.

Golders Green chessers
Photograph from Adam Raoof

Jonathan Bryant:
It seems to me as if the Golders Green tournament has been running forever.

Adam Raoof:
Yes, me too! At least 15 years.

Chris Andrescu:
Since ’91. Maybe ’90, but I think ’91.

I came to London in 1992 so that’s why I think you’ve always been around, then. How did you get started?

Hendon Chess Club used to have an annual rapidplay and one year they couldn’t run it, so I said I’d do it. We held it in Hendon Library, where I worked, and after that I think the second two were in Edgware in a church hall. I went to a guy I knew, Glynne Jones, and said I need some help. He came along for a couple of tournaments and then he said, “Right, you’re on your own.” That was it. I was hooked.

There were three or four tournaments in Edgware in 1994.

I used to go and play in George Goodwin's quickplays on Sundays. At that point he ran two of those a month so I thought “I’m going to run mine on Saturdays, and I can go and play his.” At that point there were lots of tournaments

John Sargent, the Civil Service tournament.

International Students?

International Students was good while it lasted.

We all met as organisers and made sure we didn’t clash and I just fitted around everybody else’s dates because they were already established.

Now you’re the established event. Your dates are already set to the end of next year aren’t they?

I always do it a year in advance. I generally keep the same dates, except when Easter moves, but that’s about it.

What’s the average entry that you get?

It used to be 70 was a good weekend, but now we’re disappointed if we don’t get 80 and today I think was 100.


The record breaker was … (pauses to think)


Do you ever have to turn people away?


Once or twice almost to the edge.

We ran out of clocks once and we literally said “As soon as somebody else finishes you can have their clocks” and we got around it for one or two games. When we had 119 we actually had more than that entered and some people didn’t turn up. It was good weather so we put them outside, we put them in the little annexe just as you come into the church hall. We’d have put them in the kitchen if we had to.

The worst ever was 20 players.

That was early on.

No. About ’96 or so.

A brief interlude followed during which we debated whether 15 years ago counted as "early" for Golders Green. That tells you something about the tournament's longevity, I think.

It clashed with the British Rapidplay.

That was in Leeds and even I went to Leeds. Nobody came here, not even me.

Chris Andrescu guarding the Golders Green pairing cards
Photograph from Adam Raoof

Golders Green is such an established event that it's hard to imagine it ever not being there. I was shocked when Adam told me that there had been a time when he was thinking about giving it up.

There was a point when I was getting a bit jaded and I’d run it for so many years and I thought “It’s not going anywhere. I’m going to hand it over to somebody else to run” and at that point I thought, “No. I’ve got to give it one last shot” and I started using Facebook, I started collecting email addresses. And it worked, it really worked. The numbers went up and up and up.

No more thoughts of jacking it in, I hope.

Well it went up very steadily, I wouldn’t say overnight, but it got me interested again. It had become very routine and I thought “Where am I going to get those entries from?”

When I originally started out organising 12 tournaments a year didn’t seem like such a strange idea because I could save lot of money on printing. But after a while we never printed anything really because people just knew about the tournament.

I realised where I could get those extra entries from were people who used Facebook, people who use email but don’t really pick up leaflets at all, maybe they look at the calendar on BCM online or the ECF calendar or teletext or Ceefax when that was going.

We always get a core. At the fringe the people who come and make the difference are the people who decide “this month I’m going to come and play at Golders Green. Next month I’m going to play in a weekender. The month after that I’m not going play in Golders Green, but I’m going to play in Richmond.” Those are the people. If you can just remind them on Facebook or send them an email it makes the difference.

I think Golders Green is the only one you can actually enter online.

My friend Mike Bennett does He’s a web designer. I thought I could put the entry fees up but what I really want is more players so I said to him, “Can you design a system so people can enter online? They don’t have to pay. I just want to be able to do all the paper work before they get there.” I just wanted people to come in and sit down and start playing. Mike did it all for me.

I always used to enter on the day because I was unorganised and I’d end up queuing with loads of other people waiting to pay…

I hate that. When you go to a tournament and it’s supposed to start at 10 but it starts at half-past because people are late. I thought let’s just get people to come in and play and we can settle up later.

A lot of people would assume they wouldn’t pay.

I do sometimes chase them! But they do pay. People are very honest and it does save them a lot of time.

We did put the late entry fee up to £20. It is quite expensive to go to other tournaments and enter late. It’s relatively simple to enter Golders Green. They’re more likely to make a decision to come and play at the last minute and they can also enter online and save themselves a fiver.

I lose in the sense that I could probably put the entry fees up and the late entry fees up but I'd probably get less players. I’d rather have more players and make it a more significant event. That’s what makes it interesting. If we had 70 or 80 players every time that would be OK, but to get 100? 120? That’s great.

Golders Green is a very important event for London chess now, I think. Even though I don't play in it very often I know it's there and if I ever want to play I know I'll be able to get a game.

It’s only a little local rapidplay and yet because it’s in London and it’s been going on so long, we’ve had just about everybody come through it at one point or another.

Such as John Nunn, Michael Adams.

A few years back Jim Plaskett was here each time I came.

Harriet Hunt.

Luke McShane. That’s how I got to know people. They turned up and played here and I got to know them.

More and more we get a lot of juniors, under 16s, coming to practice for events that take place on the Sunday. So if they’re coming for a National Junior Squad event on the Sunday, they turn up at Golders Green to give them a little warm up. At one point we had an influx of juniors from Sri Lanka and India too.

So, when it comes down to it, what is that makes Golders Green a success?

I think the only secret is to keep on running it, no matter what. We have kept going every month and eventually that wins a certain loyalty from the players. We are blessed with a convenient venue right next to a tube and bus and coach station at Golders Green. We've made certain improvements over the years and we’ve got modest but guaranteed prizes.

Do people sometimes ask you why you don’t increase the prize money?

Occasionally, but not that frequently. The main reason why people play at Golders Green is that it’s organised well, hopefully, and it starts relatively late and finishes on time. We don’t have a lunch break so people get six games of chess without hanging around, and it’s friendly. Prize money isn’t a priority.

I’ve thought about the prize money very seriously, but with the capacity of the church hall limited to 120 at the most and the fact that I get a pretty large entry at the moment, there’s not much of an incentive for me to put the prize money up because I’m not going to get that many more entries. If I had a bigger venue, then maybe.

I know some people look at prize money in relation to the entry fee, but I think to me and a lot of people it makes no difference.

We’ve kept the entry fees at a reasonable level. Ironically, that’s for the convenience of the person taking the money - i.e. me! – though. It’s easier to take an entry of £15 than it is to say “let’s put it up a pound” and then have to faff about with change all day.

People appreciate it and it doesn’t seem to affect the strength of the entry. You still get a very competitive tournament. In the end people are very friendly. They treat it like a local tournament. They get to know people and come along as regular competitors.

Having large prizes for what are essentially amateur tournaments can risk causing trouble, I think.

I’m in charge of the grading and rating. To be honest there aren’t that many people who would play the system. If you provide a financial incentive of course there are always going to be one or two exceptions. We generally don’t have that problem at Golders Green.

No, not at all.

I know the players pretty well. It’s very unusual that I see somebody at Golders Green that I don't already know. When I do, I introduce myself and try and get to know who they are.

Have you had any other difficulties running the tournament? My experience is that any disputes are pretty low-level stuff.

No, I think it is fair to say that this is one of the friendliest events around, and we try to keep up that efficiently-run-yet-informal atmosphere at all times. On occasions I have had to throw out drunks, and stop players strangling each other, but generally they get on well, playing in a competitive spirit.

Interview Index

Monday, May 23, 2011

Have Your Cake and Play It

A tasty morsel to start the week.

As seen last month in a Parisian pâtisserie.
Another one for LASTG*UR. Possibly.

Touch a piece, and eat it. You can have another bite here, if you can bear it.


Saturday, May 21, 2011

What Dadd Did

Victorian artist Richard Dadd (1817-1886) was a Royal Academician by the age of 20. This is a well known photo of him some two decades later.

Richard Dadd in the mid/late 1850s.

He became famous for painting fairies. But it wasn’t for this fashionable eccentricity that he was confined, at the age of 24, to Bedlam and then Broadmoor, where he lived out the rest of his 69 years. He was there because he murdered his father. In a psychotic episode Osiris, the ancient Egyptian God of the After Life, told him to do it. An appalling tragedy by any standard.

During his years inside Dadd continued to paint, and exhibit. One of his pictures was a chess painting. Just one. This one. Painted in 1857, after 13 years of detention. It is rather bleached out, indistinct, and altogether rather odd.

The Child's Problem (1857) by Richard Dadd (1817-1886).(click on any picture to enlarge)

It is currently on show in TATE Britain’s Watercolour Exhibition, where it was spotted by fellow blogger Jonathan B, who, perhaps in the knowledge that every picture tells a story, suggested this enquiry into the painting, and its chess.

Pausing to look in the gallery most visitors would simply see a game in progress, where the child’s problem seems to be reaching the pieces or, if he can, deciding what to play before his opponent wakes up. Some visitors might also wonder if that kid has got a problem of a more delinquent cheating. Could he be taking advantage of his elder and better’s careless dozing to adjust, without so much as “j’adoube”, the pieces? Seen this way, the picture might take the moralising stance of so much Victorian art (as suggested by David Greysmith - see References for details of this and other sources consulted), even if the artist, himself, was hardly an unblemished role-model.

And a few might notice that there is hand writing, presumably Dadd’s, across the top of the picture, giving the title, and a subtitle, but at the height it's hung you have to be six-foot-six to read it. The subtitle, not always mentioned by commentators, adds a touch more ambiguity. It is “A Fancy Sketch”, and goes on to give the date (December 18th 1857) and the place it was painted (Bethlehem Hospital, London, St. George’s in the Fields). But is that “Fancy” in the sense of imagined, or as in ornate? We’ll come back to the former in a later post, but as for the latter just look at the picture’s obsessive detail. You don’t have to be a chess addict (though it helps) to find yourself counting off the pieces to check they are all there - it's easier in zoom-able black and white.

You can make out the complete black (or is it red) army on and off the board, and white's too (don't miss the pawn seen through the decanter), except it appears to fall one 'p' short. Actually, as I found out from Patricia Allderidge’s book, the errant pawn is partially concealed by a nut-case, at the front of the table.

Spot the pawn

Unfortunately that's not completely clear, and maybe the colour reproduction is more helpful where, before our very eyes, we can see the final pawn, half-hidden. We can see it, you and I, but maybe the child can't, and perhaps that's its problem. But a pawn with a hat on? Dadd's little joke perhaps; a situation for which another lunatic wordplay - madcap - might have been coined.

Now drawn into the chess mysteries of the picture chessers will know that the title has other connotations. Maybe it is not a game, but some kind of chess puzzle: “The Child’s Problem” of the title might refer to a problem on the board, one the child is trying to crack; or even one that it is composing for the later amusement of the snoozing figure (however unlikely that may seem, as we'll explain in a later post). If so, Dadd had to be chessed-up enough to paint a proper position, rather than some random arrangement. But has he?

In the black and white version the pieces on the board are easy to identify: White King, Queen, Rook and a couple of pawns; Black King, Knight and pawn. It’s their precise squares that is the problem. Here the chessically well-read will reach for their copy of Mike Fox and Richard James’ 1987* volume The Complete Chess Addict where the picture was reproduced (or most of it – a lot of the background was cropped, and we'll come back to that as well) for the first time in chess literature (apologies if this claim is wrong, when a corrective comment would be welcomed), and the position diagrammed.

The details in a moment, because there are some other chess mysteries to note first. Eduardo Sadier (who maintains a huge data base of two move chess problems) has pointed out (in an email to me) another oddity from the chess point of view – if the child is solving (or even setting) a chess problem, then he is seeing it from black’s side of the board, which goes against convention in chess-problemdom. And (Eduardo continues) talking of sides, go back to the notion that there might be a game in progress between the two of them: in that case the dozing figure is again on the wrong side of the board. So could there be someone else on our side? Who? You? Me? And at child's eye-level to boot.

So, to get to it at last: what is the position in The Child’s Problem? Although Dadd doesn’t spell it out, and to make it easier for you, it is "White to play and mate in two". Try and solve it, and as you do so, ponder whether the child might be offering a clue with his left hand. If it really is too difficult, you could consult The Complete Chess Addict for the key move (or come back next time).

There is more chess yet in the Richard Dadd story, including who transcribed the problem, and what the experts say about it. We’ll see what Dadd did next in a couple of weeks, or so.
BTW a touring exhibition of Dadd's work is about to open at the Orleans Gallery, in Richmond, London.

Subsequent episodes on Dadd, and chess in the Asylum, may be linked via our Asylum Index here.

Patricia Allderidge, The late Richard Dadd 1817-1886. The Tate Gallery, London 1974.
Mike Fox and Richard James, The Complete Chess Addict 1987 & The Even More Complete Chess Addict 1993.*
David Greysmith, Richard Dadd; the rock and castle of seclusion. Studio Vista, London 1973.

Bethlem Royal Hospital Archives and Museum.
For an informative biographical note on Dadd see here.
*indicates that a correction has been made to the original post as a result of the first comment. (Martin S.)

Chess in Art Index

Friday, May 20, 2011

Blue or Red Pill IX

Have I really not done one of these since January 2010? Time to fix that.

White to play

White's a long way ahead in development, but his knight's out on the rim and, more immediately, his bishop is attacked. So, what to do?

Exchange on d5,

or retreat to b3.

Think carefully: the championship of the world is at stake.

Blue or Red Pill? Index

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Duffers' Delight IV

[An early draft of today's post was published in error yesterday morning. Since then I've made a few minor changes to the main body of the text and the conclusion has received a much needed polish.]

From age eight to eighteen, my son Daryl actively participated in the highly competitive world of "Juniors" tennis. By age twelve he had developed all the basic strokes, and by the time he was in his late teens, and over six feet tall, he - and any of his peers - could have taken the court with any of the world-class touring pros. Daryl would not have won any games against the professional, but he could have won points, and if you had sat in the stands and watched them play just a few points, you could not have easily discerned that the pro was levels above the teenagers ...

In tennis, the strokes of the leading juniors look the same as those of the top pros. Minor differences set the two groups apart.

Ken Weber, Maximum Entertainment: Director's Notes for Magicians and Mentalists
Ken Weber Productions 2003

Did you see Doctor Who - Neil Gaiman's The Doctor's Wife - last Saturday? It was a great episode which, aside from the absence of a chess theme, was missing only a cliffhanger ending and the opportunities for deeper and more involved narratives that come with multi-part storylines. I don't want to give anything away, we may have a reader or two who hasn't already seen it, so all I'll say here is that fans of Jonathan Rowson's concept of "talking with your pieces" will find much of interest awaiting them at the Beeb's i -Player catch-up service.

Consider this all another (see also Star Trek and Blake's 7) pitiful excuse to write about telly sci-fi if you will, but the Candidates' matches we've been seeing in Kazan over the past couple of weeks remind me of a single-part Doctor Who story. It's not that four-game matches must be total rubbish, but they are inevitably going to pale in comparison to the longer format that seems to be completely out of fashion these days.

Sad to say, but Candidates' matches of a decent length have gone the way of the four-part plus stories that were standard for Doctor Who when I was a nipper. If Grischuk - Gelfand, which starts today, goes the distance (i.e. the 'full' six games), the two Gs will have played a total of 14 standard length games throughout the whole event. That was the scheduled length of the Candidates' final alone for the cycle which took Nigel Short all the way to a World Championship match with Kasparov, and if anything Nosher's 40 games spread over four Candidates' matches is itself rather limp by the standards of his predecessors. Viktor Korchnoi, for example, played 43 games on his way to Baguio in 1978 and had he not finished off Polugaevsky and Boris Spassky early, it could have been as many as 48.

Which brings us to Ken Weber's Maximum Entertainment. Substitute Grischuk and Gelfand for Weber's 'leading juniors' and switch-in Anand, Carlsen, Aronian and (perhaps) Kramnik for his 'top pros' and the passage at the head of today's blog describes the fundamental problem with very short Candidates' matches rather well, I think.

Grischuk and Gelfand are currently 12th and 16th on the FIDE Rating List at 2747 and 2733 respectively (12th - 2752.2 - and 15th - 2740 - on Hans Arild Runde's Live List). They're certainly not 'levels' below the three or four guys who have a realistic claim to be the absolute best chess player in the world. With 40 to 80 fewer elo points to their names, however, they clearly are a level down even if, just like Weber's tennis players, it's minor differences, microscopic even, that divide these men. Four-game matches, the equivalent of FIDE watching them bash the ball back and forth across the net for a few points, simply aren't enough to distinguish one from the other.

Consider Grischuk's progress to the Candidates' final, for example. According to GM Sergey Shipov, had Aronian played Ne5 instead of 69 Nc5 in game one of the quarter-final,

or if Kramnik had tried Rb1 or Nf4 instead of 31 Rd8 in game four of the semi,

then Grisch might well have lost those games and been knocked out of the tournament as a result. They didn't, though, and he went through after taking the rapid and blitz play-offs. When entire matches hang on such slender threads sheer luck must inevitably play a significant part in determining the outcome - which is just about the only way we could have made chess even less appealing than Edgar Allan Poe thought it was (see yesterday's post).

Limp Streak of Piss and Karen Gillan talk about The Doctor's Wife and Neil Gaiman

'Duffer' is a relative term. It seems - and is - harsh to apply it to folk who are the 12th and 15th best chessers out of the 7 billion-odd people who live on this planet, but the fact remains that Grischuk and Gelfand are a notch below the very best that humanity has to offer our favourite game. Whatever else they might be, neither of them is the best chess player in the world right now and nor will they ever be. In most circumstances that wouldn't matter a jot, but it is rather important when you're talking about a contest to find a challenger for Vishy Anand's title of World Chess Champion.

They've made it through to the Candidates' Final which one of them will eventually win and therefore, assuming FIDE manage to find somebody to pay for it, get to play that match with Anand. They've played to the rules in place so good luck to them; chesswise, there's much to look forward to regardless of whether it's Grischuk or Gelfand who gets to play Vishy.

None of that changes the fact that turning the Candidates' tournament into an event that any one of fifteen or twenty people could win demeans the World Chess Championship itself and risks turning the title into a meaningless bauble. I understand there are financial issues to be considered*, but if the Challenger for World Championship isn't the guy other than the existing World Champion who plays the best - the absolute best and not just kinda-sorta-perhaps-one-level-down-from-the-best - why bother to find one at all?

Duffers' Delight - A strange bishop move in the QGA
Duffers' Delight II - Dutch Mentalism
Duffers' Delight III - Jeffrey Archer's 7-pawns attack

* for FIDE just as for the makers of Doctor Who. The BBC favours single-episode stories for Doctor Who because it makes the series easier to sell abroad, which in turn allows the Beeb to recoup some of the costs of production.  Similarly, a decent length Candidates match could cost twice as much to run and FIDE is hardly being flooded with cash pouring into the game just now. True, they could have gone for an eight-player double-round all-play-all instead of these micro-matches, but while that would be a shorter event (when you take rest days into account) , you'd also have to factor in the extra costs of accommodation and living expenses when all the players and seconds stay for the whole thing rather than half of them going home after a week and another bunch clearing off after a fortnight.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Murders in the Rue Morgue

Edgar Allan Poe, Murders in the Rue Morgue:
I am not now writing a treatise, but simply prefacing a somewhat peculiar narrative by observations very much at random; I will, therefore, take occasion to assert that the higher powers of the reflective intellect are more decidedly and more usefully tasked by the unostentatious game of draughts than by all the elaborate frivolity of chess. In this latter, where the pieces have different and bizarre motions, with various and variable values, what is only complex, is mistaken (a not unusual error) for what is profound. The attention is here called powerfully into play. If it flag for an instant, an oversight is committed, resulting in injury or defeat. The possible moves being not only manifold, but involute, the chances of such oversights are multiplied; and in nine cases out of ten, it is the more concentrative rather than the more acute player who conquers.

You've got to wonder what Poe would have made of four-game Candidates' matches [more on them, btw, in a bonus post tomorrow]. Anyhoo, onward.

In draughts, on the contrary, where the moves are unique and have but little variation, the probabilities of inadvertence are diminished, and the mere attention being left comparatively unemployed, what advantages are obtained by superior acumen.

Chess is the second best game after draughts? Would that it were.

Whist has long been known for its influence upon what is termed the calculating power; and men of the highest order of intellect have been known to take an apparently unaccountable delight in it, while eschewing chess as frivolous. Beyond doubt there is nothing of a similar nature so greatly tasking the faculty of analysis. The best chess-player may be little more than the best player of chess; but proficiency in whist implies capacity for success in all these more important under-takings where mind struggles with mind.

Cards are where it's at?. Perhaps that explains poker-loving Alexander Grischuk making it to the Candidates final, then.

Monday, May 16, 2011

This is the end V

Black to play

... if, as a rule, a strong player analyzes an adjourned position more deeply and more accurately than player of a lower standard, then if the analysis is indeed carried out with maximum intensity, this contributes to the development and improvement of the player. 
Lev Polugaevsky, Grandmaster Preparation (Pergamon Press 1981)

Last week I wrote about the problems I was having getting to actually play endgames. In club chess, I concluded, neither adjournments nor quickplay finishes were particularly well suited to gaining experience in this aspect of the game.

Analysing adjourned positions may have worked very well for old Polugaevsky, but what about those of us who opt for adjournments in our club games and then find that the second session usually fails to materialise? In TITE IV I was somewhat sceptical as to the value of such uncompleted games, and yet, it has to be said that it is sometimes possible to get something from them.

After all, what's the big deal about adjournments anyway? It's not so much that the pause in play gives us an opportunity to analyse an endgame position - we could always be learning from books or solving studies if we wanted to - it's that it can give us the motivation to do so.

The need to hold on for a draw or squeeze out a win is quite an incentive to actually do the sort of work we think we ought to be doing but never quite get around to. So it's all to do with that old adage about necessity being the mother of getting off your fat lazy arse - and that's something that can still hold true whether or not a second session comes to pass.

Take my last non-adjourned adjournment of the 2010/11 season, for example. Although my opponent resigned without resuming the game, until I received his email confirming that he was giving up I had to assume both that he'd be playing on and that he'd be finding ways to keep the game going rather than meekly playing into a losing ending. Had he resigned on the night I'd almost certainly never have taken a close look at the adjourned position and never found my way to a rather crazy 'rook plus pawn on the 7th against two pawns on the 7th' position let alone bothered to work out whether it was won or only drawn.

I got a lot out of an adjournment, then, even though it never actually happened. Actually, in hindsight, I might easily have taken even more than I did from it. I'll come back to that later. First, we'll take a look at how things developed from the sealed move.

Lev Polugaevsky:
wasting your adjournments will make him cross

It was a London League game played towards the end of April, the first session ending in this position:-

White to play
Ilfordian v JMGB, April 2011

My final move of the first session was ...Rc2-c3 which, since swapping rooks seems to lead to a lost ending (not all opposite-coloured bishop endings are drawn - see BORP? II) and anything else seems to lose a piece, leaves White in a rather sticky situation. To be honest, I didn't see any way out and expected him to resign without coming back for more, but, although that was the way things turned out, there's certainly much more in the position than I'd imagined.

What if he had sealed Rg4+? The day after the game I settled down for a little bit of adjournment analysis and quickly discovered that rather than simply losing his bishop White could say that he was sacrificing it as the start of a plan to give up all his material in order to get his pawns rolling.

39 Rg4+ Kb3, 40 Rd4 c6, 41 Bf8 a3, 42 Bxa3 Kxa3, 43 Rxd5 cxd5, 44 Kxf7

Black to play

What now? My initial thought was that simply

44 ... d4, 45 e6 d3

would take care of business, but then it dawned on me that the fact that Fritz assesses the continuation as "-+ (-7.06)" notwithstanding,

46 e7 Rc8, 47 e8=Q Rxc8, 48 Kxc8 d249 f6 d1=Q 50 f7

is actually just a completely drawn queen v bishop's pawn on the 7th ending (as seen in the original TITE)*

What about

44 ... Rc7+


45 Ke6 d4, 46 f6 d3, 47 f7 Rxf7, 48 Kxf7 d2, 49 e6 d1=queen, 50 e7

now wins for Black because it's not a bishop's pawn, and

45 Kf6 d5, 46 e6 d3, 47 e7 Rc8 gains a crucial tempo so 48 Kf7 d2, 49 e8=Queen Rxc8, 50 Kxe8 d1=queen, 51 f6

also wins because the pawn has only made it to the sixth rank, so it seemed to me that White would have to try

45 Kg6 d4, 46 e6 d3, 47 f6 d2, 48 f7 Rc8, 49 e7**

bringing us to the position at the head of today's blog.

I spent a while getting nowhere with 49 ... d1=queen and queening one of White's pawns in return before I realised that I didn't have to promote straight away and could try 49 ... Rc6+ instead. Unfortunately at the very moment this insight came to me I also remembered that there's a free online six-piece tablebase and that there was, therefore, no need for me to calculate any of this.

On reflection, I now think that it's rather a pity that I turned to the tablebase straight away. OK, I discovered for sure that Black does win here - it's mate in 17 as it happens - which was a relief, but I'd got this far on my own so I probably would have found the concluding moves too. It would have taken longer, but I would have got more out of it in the long run and I could always have checked my analysis later.

3:08, yo

Although I still doubt that club match adjournments on their own are the best way to get endgame experience, there's certainly more point to them than last week's post suggested. Yes, the longer sessions of tournament and county games are more likely to be helpful, but if club chess is all we have, adjourning our asses - as Stringer Bell would say and Polugaevsky probably would not - is definitely worth thinking about.

This is the end Index

* For completeness I should add that 47 ... d2, 48 e8=queen d1=queen is supposedly winning for Black, but I didn't notice that at the time and, in any case, my initial reaction on seeing it now is that I'm not sure I'd be able to win it in practice.

** I also looked at 45 Kg8 d4, 46 e6 d3, 47 f6 d2, 48 f7 Rc8+, 49 Kg7 d1=queen, 50 e7 which is identical except Black has already  queened and White has the extra move Kg7 - which is obviously in my favour compared to the mainline.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Every Picture Tells A Story: The Cast of Players, Part 1

Number 11 in a continuing series. This one by Richard Tillett with a couple of suggestions and comments from Martin Smith.

In this series, Martin and I have been sharing the results of our investigations into this early 19th century picture by Thomas Leeming…

…which is one of three, similar-but-interestingly-different, versions that we’ve identified during the course of our research. You can see the other versions here.

As readers of the previous blogs in the series will know, the artist did posterity a great favour by recording the names of the people in the picture. They are, from left to right: John Allen Junior, Francis Lewis Bodenham, the artist (standing), Samuel Beavan, Edwin Goode Wright, Charles Biss, and Theophilus Lane. In the version Leeming painted for exhibition at the Royal Academy in 1818, he replaced Samuel Beavan with the red-jacketed James Buckton.

So, who were these eight people, what did they do with their lives, and what did they have in common apart from their enthusiasm for chess? In blogs 6 and 7 we looked at Thomas Leeming himself and his London friend James Buckton in some detail. But so far we’ve not had much to say about the remaining members of the cast, and in this and our next blog we turn our attention to these six young men.

In the case of three of them, there’s a good reason for our silence – we haven’t yet been able to discover a great deal about them, and what we have uncovered isn’t especially interesting. So let’s despatch the trio without further ado, starting with Charles Biss.

Charles Biss: mystery man

Of Charles Biss there is little trace, and we do not even know his occupation. It is probable that he was related to the Charles Bisse who was a mayor of Hereford in 1752, and possible also that he had a family connection to Philip Bisse, an early 18th century bishop of Hereford. Our man is likely to be the Charles Bysse who was baptised in Hereford in 1790, who may (or may not) be the same as the Charles Biss who married Elizabeth Wiltshire at Bridstow near Ross-on-Wye in 1820… Yes, those variant spellings are confusing. There are records in the National Archives relating to a Charles Biss who owned land at Berkeley in Gloucestershire in the 1830s, and he too may be the man in the picture. But that’s all we know (or think we know) about him.

Theophilus Lane: scion of a prominent Hereford family

There are also some known unknowns (not to say unknown unknowns) around the identity of Theophilus Lane. We are confident that he came from a prominent family of attorneys and clerics in the Hereford area – another Theophilus Lane was mayor of the city in 1729. We initially assumed that the man in the picture was the son of yet another Theophilus Lane who was a prebendary of Hereford Cathedral. That Theophilus Lane (the prebendary) married a niece of the painter Thomas Gainsborough and the couple had some talented children who went on to make names for themselves, one as a lithographer and engraver, and another as an expert on the Arab world. However, in the absence of any supporting evidence we now think it more likely that our man is from another branch of the Lane family. He may be the Theophilus Lane born to James and Anna Lane and baptised at Ross-on-Wye in 1791.

In his inscription to the painting, Leeming described Theophilus Lane as a solicitor and it seems that shortly after it was painted he became Diocesan Registrar at Hereford Cathedral, a role which, then as now, would have required legal skills. In 1830 he was listed as a notary and a chapter clerk living in St Owen Street.

Samuel Beavan: solicitor who returned to his roots?

Samuel Beavan is another shadowy figure, who we think came from a Welsh borders family where the surname is fairly common. He may have been the son of Major Beavan of the Radnorshire Militia, who was living in Hereford at the time of his death in 1799 (his widow was still living in one of the best addresses in the city, Castle Street, in 1830).

Records in the National Archives suggest that Samuel Beavan settled in Radnorshire, where he practised as a solicitor. He is possibly the Samuel Beavan of Glascombe who was appointed as deputy lieutenant of Radnor county in 1825. But at the time of the painting (1815), it seems he was working in the Bodenham law firm in Hereford.

Which brings us to Francis Lewis Bodenham, of whom we know rather more…

Francis Lewis Bodenham: oh no, not another solicitor.

The Bodenhams were a wealthy Catholic family of bankers and solicitors with a country house and estate, Rotherwas, on the outskirts of Hereford. As we’ve already noted in an earlier blog, Rotherwas may well have been the setting for the picture but as the house was subsequently demolished we will probably never know for certain.

Francis Lewis Bodenham was to become a successful lawyer, a respected figure in Hereford public life, and an all-round Good Egg. He had the unusual honour of serving twice as mayor of the city, first in 1840 and again in 1857. A 19th century history of Hereford records that he was “a thorough going reformer, a true lover of the city, a pattern of correct dealing, with a passion for public service and devotion. He respected and honoured conscientious scruples wherever he saw them, and was indeed the true friend of the people, and to the cause of social betterment.”

The family seems to have had an enduring interest in chess as another Bodenham was listed as a patron of the 1885 international tournament held at Hereford, but more on this in a future blog.

Edwin Goode Wright: not a solicitor.
Edwin Goode Wright had already made his name at the time the picture was painted as editor and publisher of the Hereford Journal, a role he was to maintain for four decades.

When he died in 1859 he merited an obituary in the Illustrated London News, from which we learn that he held many appointments as a trustee of public charities. He was also a scientist of some repute: “He made many improvements in scientific apparatus. Several of these, adapted to the microscope, have been generally adopted”. His obituary also records that he was something of a ballistics whiz: in 1823 he “announced his discovery of the advantageous employment of fulminating mercury in the preparation of the percussion cap”. The obituarist goes on to explain that “few now living can remember the disadvantages which this invention remedied, such as the oxidation and injury to locks and barrels, the dirt generated, and the feebleness and uncertainty of the old percussion powder”. If you fancy blowing yourself up, you can find a recipe for fulminating mercury here, where Edwin Goode Wright's contribution is acknowledged.

No doubt this invention was prompted by his own military experience during the Napoleonic wars as a young officer in the Herefordshire Volunteers, alongside another of the sitters in the picture, John Allen Junior, whose life merits a blog all to itself on 28 May, where we will also reflect on the relationships between the Gents.

This blog is deeply indebted to Hereford historian David Whitehead who has been most generous with his knowledge of Hereford families.
Information on the individuals in the picture has also been gleaned from online sources including International Genealogical Index and National Archives.

Every Picture Tells a Story Index
Chess in Art Index

Friday, May 13, 2011

What happened next XVII

Wednesday's position was taken from the 1980 Olympiad in Malta, the top board game between Lajos Portisch and Tony Miles in the sixth round match between Hungary and England. The game was adjourned here.

In his Secrets of Grandmaster Chess (Batsford, 1997, p. 177) John Nunn explains what happened next:
During the match against Hungary, Miles adjourned in a very dubious position against Portisch. We started analysing the position in Miles's absence. Suddenly Miles joined us, saw what we were doing and advised us not to waste our time as he had sealed 'Resigns'. On resumption, David Anderton did his best to avoid a diplomatic incident by congratulating Portisch on his victory with one hand while attempting to confiscate Miles's score sheet with his other. However, Portisch was not to be denied: he insisted on seeing the sealed move. When the 'Resigns' became visible, he just grunted as if he had expected nothing else. This was one of David's few failures as captain.
Maybe, though Anderton's would not have been the only failure relating to Miles' sealed resignation: neither of Britain's major two chess magazines, in their Olympiad reports, mentioned the incident at all.

The only other reference in print I can find, in English, to the incident is by Nigel Short, in a well-known obituary to which we may return at a later date. Other than that, as far as I know, nothing. Certainly, no contemporary reports.

This even led me to wonder whether the event, which seemed to have gone unmentioned for seventeen years until the publication of Nunn's book, and which I could trace neither in Geoff Lawton's book on Tony Miles, nor in Ray's effort, had ever happened. On the other hand I could see absolutely no reason to doubt Nunn's account, seeing as he was on the team in La Valletta. (Mind you, so was Ray.)

I was aware that István Bilek, captain of the Hungarian team in Malta, had written a book about the Olympiad: so if Bilek mentioned the incident, that would confirm it. I was therefore very grateful to Csaba Gerencsér, who has read the book and blogged about it, who was kind enough to check for me.

Paraphrasing what Csaba sent me: according to Bilek, Miles bombarded Portisch with draw offers during the game. Finally the game was adjourned, but when the adjournment session began, Miles wasn't present, so the arbiter opened the envelope. Together with the England captain he deciphered what Miles had written, which was presumably resigns, as the arbiter awarded the point to Hungary. Shortly afterwards, Miles appeared in the hall, with a smile all over his face. Bilek couldn't help but comment, to the England captain: "Miles smiles - but Portisch wins", expecting that the message would be passed on to Miles.

So there you have it. It happened - and Bilek's contemporary account basically tallies with Nunn's reminiscence. Good. But why no contemporary account in English? What did our two leading magazines say?

Chess only had two short reports on the Olympiad, but was able to report that Miles' fifth round game was temporarily suspended because of a dispute in the Kasparov-Georgiev game on an adjoining board, without saying that anything odd happened to Miles in the following round.

The British Chess Magazine, meanwhile, in the person of Bernard Cafferty, reported more extensively and was able to mention problems with transport, accommodation, the playing schedule, crowd encroachment and suchlike. On the Portisch-Miles game, however, there was this:
Portisch beat Miles in a high calibre game by exploiting a slight black square weakness after the original opening 1 c4, b6; (no need to ask who is Black!) 2 Nc3, Bb7; 3 d4, e6; 4 a3, f5; 5 Nh3, Nf6; 6 f3 with a later Nf2 in the style of Steinitz
That's basically it: the opening, but nothing about the finish, save the result.

One wonders why. This was not long after Belgrade and Baguio and questions of at-the-board behaviour were not considered irrelevant by the chess-watching public. This blog has already discussed the lamentable under-reporting of controversies attached to the previous Olympiad, in Buenos Aires: it seems that this habit carried through at least to the 1980 event. Not telling tales out of school was, it seems, the motto by which the chess journalist then worked.

I don't want to deny the existence of real, and understandable pressures, which would lead chess writers to operate in that way. Chess is a small world, everybody knows everybody else and the person you offend today - or their friend - may be the person you wanted to annotate a game for you tomorrow. Nor do I want to claim that other sports journalism didn't operate in much the same way (most football writers probably didn't think it their job, in 1978, to write about "politics" when the World Cup was in Argentina, and plenty didn't) and nor do I want, entirely, to judge journalism from previous decades by the standards of today. A piece of bad sportsmanship like Miles' would certainly be reported on today, but then again it would have to be, because it couldn't be hidden: it'd be all over the chess world within minutes. (Well it wouldn't, because they don't seal moves in Olympiads any more, but you take my point.) It's not necessarily that the hacks are better nowadays, it's that the circumstances are different.

That said: keeping mum did do chess a disservice, when all's said and done, because not only is it a journalist's job to tell people things, but when the press decides that it's better to to tell what you've seen, then it becomes easier to cover up scandals, and that means scandals become more likely to happen. The decade that followed the 1980 Olympiad was, in sporting terms, the high point of English chess achievement, memorable for anybody who was part of it, or followed it. But it was also a time when bad things started to happen, and one wonders how much the culture of English chess, including its journalism, contributed to what happened next.

[Thanks to Angus French, Csaba Gerenscér, Jonathan Bryant, Mark Weeks and John Saunders.]

[What happened next? index]

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

What happened next? XVII

From an international team tournament. Position after White's 42nd move.

What happened next?

[What happened next? index]

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

This is the end IV

Fruit, eh? Don't get me wrong, I like fruit, but that Five a Day thing is bullshit, isn't it? I get that fruit and veg are good for me, but eating that much on a regular basis? Impossible for any human being living in circumstances that might reasonably be described as normal, I'd say.

I feel much the same way about chess endgames. We've all been told at some point that playing endings is good for our development, but just try upping your endgame count and see where you get.

Although I've been wanting to play more endings this year, it seems that it's going to take something more than simply saying, "right, I'll do more of that, then" to achieve. I've tried playing adjournments and quickplay finishes in my games for S&BCC and while they are obviously superior to adjudications, they both have drawbacks in terms of helping with endgame practice.

Is it time to accept that club chess just isn't particularly endgame friendly?

The Unfinished

Adjournments seem like the ideal way to finish a game of chess from the point of view of a person who's looking to play endings. If, like me, you play in the London League, there are no particular difficulties getting back to the venue and with a second session you get plenty of time to think about your moves.

The problem is that for the most part adjournment sessions don't actually materialise. Even in the London League they can be a pain - the central venue might be better seen as mutually inconvenient rather than the reverse - and, much more often than not, the players concerned agree a result based on the adjourned position.

It's easy to understand why. Take my third 'non-adjournment' of the year: I (Black) was two pawns up in a rook endgame.  At my level there's still a way to go before it's all over and yet it clearly must be winning so it wasn't a surprise when White decided he didn't fancy making a special trip to Golden Lane for a tiny chance of saving the game.

All told I 'adjourned' seven games during the 2010/11 season - see above - but not a single one of them was actually played on. 'Self adjudications' are probably a more accurate description than 'adjournments' for these games. This wasn't an unusual year either. In the previous three seasons I played around 101 games and only three of them required a second session.

If adjournments aren't great for playing endings, how about opting for a quickplay finish as often as possible, then? Certainly it's true that my quickplay games typically last longer than my standard play games (41.8 moves to 35.6 moves on average in 2010/11), but while with this type of finish to a game I might get more of a chance to play an ending how much of it am I going to be able to take in when I'm fighting as much against the clock as I am the board?

In one quickplay-finish ending I played a couple of months ago I transformed this

White to play
JB v A.N. Other, Surrey League March 2011

into this

in 14 minutes of thinking time. That worked out at just 40 seconds for each move. I'm not sure the result would have been any different if I'd have played this on with a time control of 36 in 90, but I'd certainly have had more chance of learning something about rook endings if this one had been played-out over a second session rather than in a blitz finish.

Quickplay finishes have their place in club chess, for sure. As far as endings go, though, it seems to me that they're more an opportunity to demonstrate your existing knowledge (or lack thereof) than they are a chance to discover something new. That's true with the three-hour-or-less playing sessions that you get in weekday/evening league chess, anyway.

The way forward?

I'm not at all sure that there's a solution to any of this. Other than continuing to mix quickplay finishes with adjournments and trying to get the advantages of both, what else is there to do? Try to head directly for an endgame right from the opening a little more often (see BORP? V), perhaps? I'm not adverse to that strategy by any means, but without a stream of compliant opponents it's only ever going to have limited success.

Ultimately, then, I guess the answer is the same as it usually is with questions of developing chess ability. Club chess will only take us so far, so if I really want to get some endgame experience under my belt, I'm going to have to shell out some cash and enter a tournament or two. That's not the only reason I'm going to Sunningdale in a couple of weeks and Benasque in July, but it's certainly one of them.

This is the end
This is the end II
This is the end III

PS: Strawberry breakfast photograph from Nibbledish