Tuesday, January 31, 2012


[Don't allow today's bonus post let you miss PJM's You Should Date a Chess Player from yesterday.]

@Times_Chess 23:47 Monday 30th January 2012
rumours abound that LARA BARNES of t-shirtgate fame has offered a grovelling apology to cj de mooi and the english chess federation board

@Times_Chess 23:49 Monday 30th January 2012
if true perhaps lara barnes shd reconsider her now incompatible position as manager of the 2012 british championship #cjdemooi

@Berlin_Endgame 00:03 Tuesday 31st January 2012
Evening Ray. Any comment on Gidders' claim that CJ didn't put any of his own cash into Sheffield 2012?

@Berlin_Endgame 00:08 Tuesday 31st January 2012
... Or G's suggestion that you yourself helped secure the funds that actually paid for the 2011 British

@Times_Chess 00:15 Tuesday 31st January 2012
his account is accurate-however cj has undoubtedly poured much of his own funds into british chess-best president ever imho

Monday, January 30, 2012

You Should Date A Chess Player

Date a chess player. Find them in The Plough on Museum Street on a Monday evening. Find them in The Wargrave Arms, doing their best not to look at the beautiful bar staff. Find them failing, frequently. Wherever you find them, find them in deep thought, dwelling over the complexities of the Czech Benoni. Make sure they look challengingly at their opponent from time to time, for this means they know how affecting eye contact can be. Engage them in clichés and wait for them to talk about the weather. Persevere until their glance lingers and talk nonsense instead. Marvel at their imagination and breadth of vocabulary. Ignore their friends exchanging excited half-whispers by the bar. Write your number on the back of their scoresheet. Recognise that chess players are notoriously bad at making first contact. Insist on having theirs too. Wait until the weekend. Call them. Accept their mumbled apologies with good grace and an invitation to dinner.

Find shared interests and common ground like cricket and the Times crossword. Accept that chess will be more important than you. On a particularly long evening, ask them to teach you to play. Start to understand their obsession while not understanding the concepts. Let the months pass. Give up, but only after scoring 1/6 in the Golders Green Minor. Take up squash. Argue about how your playing partner Charlie is just a friend. Sleep with Charlie. Realise Charlie means nothing and you just needed a break from your partner and their bloody chess friends. At the same time, realise you like all that. Realise you love all that. Realise you love them.

Let the years pass. Marry them. Move to the suburbs where houses are big enough for a chess library. Have children. Watch them respond with indifference to being taught chess. Grow old. Wonder at your partner’s lack of achievement despite devoting 60 years of their life to the game. Watch them die, still hooked on that infuriating mixture of strategy and solitude. At their funeral, notice that, despite being unremarkable in every other way, 300 people have come to pay their respects to their rival, their inspiration, their drinking partner. Their friend.

Do these things, because a chess player understands how a subtle departure from the norm can change everything. How one mistake can ruin a life’s work. How a poor sense of timing can lead to missed opportunities. Do these things, because a chess player is forced to move on after every battle, win or lose. Because, while the little things will matter the most, they’ll still consider the bigger picture. Because not making progress can hurt more than the most crushing defeat. 

Do these things, because chess players are as human as anyone else. Possibly more so. Except the ones who don’t wash. Leave them alone.

Based unashamedly on this. Thanks to Lisa Thompson for drawing my attention to it.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Other Talent of Bill Hook's Friend

Last Saturday's "Other Talent" post looked at the paintings and photography of Bill Hook, who played chess with the best of them in the Olympiads for the British Virgin Islands – that’s after honing his chess skills on the American chess scene, in the clubs of New York (about which, see more in the Kevin Spraggett blog) and in state and national tournaments.

One of his sparring partners was Larry Evans (1932-2010), not only a GM, but a sometime chess club proprietor and blackjack addict, and importantly for the purposes of this series of posts, a minor patron of the arts. That is to say, he bought several of Bill’s paintings (six to eight, according to Bill's memoir Hooked on Chess) in the late 1950s (or thereabouts, the memoir is sometimes a bit vague on chronology).

Bill also relates that:
“Aside from the chess paintings for his club, [Larry Evans] had bought a couple of my student paintings, one of which was a nude of an ex-Ziegfeld Follies girl, who had turned to modelling in her elderly corpulent years. Also Larry once commissioned me to paint a nude of his current girlfriend. It took me three days.”
Unfortunately the chess paintings disappeared when the club eventually folded, and presumably the nudes went West, too. But, en passant, the above passage is significant in showing that in addition to portraits and abstracts, Bill enjoyed another of the great thematic genres of Western art – the nude.

Getting back to Larry Evans: he evidently collected art in a small way and, as if by coincidence, the woman he married (he had met her across a blackjack table) was destined to become a modestly successful artist: Ingrid Evans (she took his surname) – and so we come to the subject of this post. OK, maybe not an artist who played serious chess, but the artist wife of a GM. Which is close. Worth a detour, anyway.

But first a game of chess (one I couldn't find anywhere else on the Internet; though it may be there - somewhere).

Yes, the sixteen year old Larry Evans played and beat the 61 year old Duchamp – which is a nice pendant to the Hook v Duchamp game last time. Unfortunately, I can’t find a score of a Hook v Evans game to complete the circle (but maybe a reader could help).

Larry stays cool as Marcel makes waves on the King's side, in 1953.

As for the Duchamp v Evans score: it comes from maybe an unlikely source, an artwork by Ingrid Evans. Specifically, a collage shown at an exhibition in 2009 at Francis M. Naumann’s gallery, in New York, installed to coincide with the publication of his book Marcel Duchamp: The Art of Chess (co-authoured with Bradley Bailey) which we blogged about here.

Here is the work, hung in situ in the exhibition (with startling chess sets at the front - we'll come back to those):

Its full title is Games People Play (Duchamp Evans 1948), created in 2005, and it shows Larry Evans original score of the Duchamp v Evans game (as above, except in descriptive notation). But it was an unflattering game for Duchamp (he lost, after all), and so maybe not quite an hommage.

The other major element in the photomontage is an image of Duchamp’s 1944 work Pocket Chess Set with Rubber Glove. In fact the orginal work (shown at Julien Levy's 1949 Imagery Of Chess exhibition) was lost, but was re-created in 1966 under Duchamp's supervision. I think what we see is a bleached-out photo of the reconstruction, which bore, under the ‘a’ through to ‘c’ files, Duchamp's signature – and that detail makes it clear that Ingrid Evans has, deliberately, montaged it the wrong way round, in mirror image. For some reason, back in 1944 Duchamp, also deliberately, set up his Pocket Chess Set with a nonsense arrangement of the pieces.

The other element is the QGD pawn formation, taken from the first two moves in the Duchamp Evans game, on an 8x8 grid and using modern pocket-set tokens. They appear as the drip of symbolic blood from the wrist of the defeated party (Duchamp lui-même?). This is a close up of the complete work:

The exhibition had a companion piece (below) by Ingrid Evans hanging nearby: Games People Play (Cuba 1952), which collaged the score of Pomar v Evans in the International Tournament in Havana. Having shown a Duchamp defeat in the first work, this time she shows a draw: albeit in a game that Duchamp didn’t play. The other major element in this one is a photo of another work supervised by Duchamp, of and about Duchamp: Marcel Duchamp Cast Alive of 1967, in which a disembodied head (cast from himself) contemplates a reduced chess board bearing a knight of his own 1918/9 design.

The scrap of a chess position in the upper left of the frame doesn’t occur in the Pomar Evans game itself, nor of course in the Pocket Chess Set (excepting the a7 and b6 pawns); but from what we can see of it, it does at least look like a part of some kind of sensible chess position .

By the way, before we chide the Evanses with accusations of discreet nepotism (suggested by Mrs Evans display of two of Mr E's decent, though not his most distinguished, games), remember that Marcel himself had an artwork made from the score of his own 1928 drawn game with Tartakover (so proud he was of it). Game score as a ready-made art work is a typical Duchamp trope - though this is stretching things a bit. He sold his perspex encased Chess Score (1965) to raise funds for his youth programme with American Chess Federation. Good man.

All very interesting; and Ingrid Evans invites us to get lost in a maze of hidden meanings, false echoes, crossed references and blind alleys that would have amused Duchamp himself – the joker par excellence. Well, fun for us chess players as maybe, but pity the non-chesser. Although they may have chortled at this: in front of the Duchamp Evans work are those two stunning chess sets by Sophie Matisse (yes, that's right: Henri’s great grand-daughter and grand-daughter of the second Mrs Marcel Duchamp’s first husband Pierre Matisse) as if to invite you to play a game yourself – except that the curators say........

After all that it might be a relief to get on to some of Ingrid Evans more conventional works: abstract collages from paper. Just time for one: it's called Area B :

This website shows more of her work, and says:
Much of the imagery is based on aerial views of the terrain, where natural land formations and evidence of human presence appear as organic and geometric shapes--evidence of our presence on the land.
As we noted last time, this is of that type of "abstract" art that takes the real as its raw material, and distills it. Area B starts from the down to earth - craters/crop circles, fissures/freeways, creeks/canals - and by eye and application extracts the fraction that contains the art. These days such grounded works have a broad appeal, and smooth the mood in many a corporate boardroom, hotel foyer and penthouse lounge - but they won't be seen rocking the ramparts.

Ingrid Evans thoughtful work has provided an absorbing diversion, for which, thank you Mrs E., and may the road rise up to meet you.

Footnote on the Duchamp v Evans game score
Unfortunately I'm unable to decipher the details of the event. Could anyone familiar with chess Stateside and who can make it out, please let us know via the comments box. Thanks.

And if anyone out there could help by explaining whether the Pomar/Evans round 7 game, here, had any chessic significance, that would also be much appreciated.

Hooked on Chess; A Memoir. By Bill Hook. Published in 2008 by New in Chess.
Marcel Duchamp: The Art of Chess. By Francis M. Naumann and Bradley Bailey. Published in 2009 by readymade press, on the occasion of the exhibition Marcel Duchamp: Chess Master at Francis M. Naumann Fine Art, New York, September 10 - October 30, 2009.
The excellent photographic record of the exhibition, and the Evans and Matisse works, is from mickeyono2005's photostream.

See here for some more colour-saturated chess sets.

The Other Talent of Bill Hook

Friday, January 27, 2012

Never happened before

Very strong player in their time. History of disputes with the national chess federation. Undoubted ability in the popularisation of chess. Widely distrusted by well-informed people in the chess community. Despite that, has a lot of fans, particularly on social media. Also has some iffy associates. Not everything that appears under their name is necessarily written by them. Not everything they say is necessarily to be believed. Much prefers to blog rather than write books.

I don't read a lot of Susan Polgar's blog - who did you think I was talking about? - and I'm not usually tempted to. Its claim may be "updated, timely, fair, and objective chess daily news and information from around the globe" but it might be more accurate to say that they recycle chess stories from wherever they can find them (not always with perfect literacy) and then acknowledge their sources as barely and inadequately as they can.

But chacun à son goût. At least they're not writing blog pieces every week about what they've just read on bloody Twitter.

Not that I am either, mind - I'm writing about what I read on her Twitter account in December.

Big and very exciting.

Never happened in chess or any other sport before.

Personally, my reaction to this apparent news was to try and imagine what, possibly, could have never happened in any sport before, and what it would look like if it - big and exciting as it was apparently going to be - were to happen in chess. Regrettably my imagination failed me, though in all fairness I didn't try to exercise it for very long, what with the big and exciting news coming up the following week when we would all see for ourselves.

So I settled down to wait. And wait....and wait....

....and it's now five weeks later. So did I miss it then, or what? You have to do a lot of scrolling to get through Paul And Susan's Other People's Chess News and I have scrolled through five weeks' worth of it. Is it possible that something extraordinary happened in the world of chess - and in all that scrolling, it passed me by?

You wouldn't think so. I mean at the very least, if it had, somebody else would surely have written about it. And their report would have been borrowed by ChessDailyNews.com.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Pop Quiz, Hotshot

The name of one chess grandmaster appears in the pages of John Berger's Ways of Seeing (London: Penguin, 1972), the book based on the television series of the same name. Whose?

Monday, January 23, 2012

Annotation for the Masses, Not Just for the Ruling Classes


I recently found myself in a conversation about the nature of published game analysis, particularly how it can become an outlet for the annotator’s frustration or ego. If the scribe has won, it’s easy for them to slip into the mode of the crowing jackass. If they’ve not done as well as they expected, the sob stories can flow like the BBC3 primetime schedule. You know how it goes.

Barry God - Geoff Rabbit

Obviously I’m completely winning here. Black’s king is far too exposed and his threats against my king are illusory. My opponent had been sipping noisily from his beer can for a while. He looked like one of those poor people I see from a cab window on Shepherd’s Bush Green. You know, the ones who’d be clamped for parking without a permit if they were a Ford Escort.

Unfortunately, with one move to make before the time control, he unleashed a belch that brought back memories of the time I accidentally set foot in The Rocket on Euston Road, thinking it was a gastro.

40. Rg2??

Obviously, because I’m a good player, I’d intended to play c3 first. The cretin had put me off.

40… Qxg2 0-1

I shook his hand swiftly, declined a post-mortem and headed straight for a shower.

Geoff Rabbit’s going to be pretty miffed when he reads something like that. Of course, something as blatantly character-defaming is unlikely to show its face in a serious publication. The other side of the coin is when no personality is displayed at all.

Having titled players annotate their games for a publication is a big draw and can be very lucrative. However, such games are likely to be victories. The chess pro’s ego is very fragile. One of the many impressive things about 7DCS and Zebras by Jonathan Rowson is how many games he includes where he’s lost. After all, as my primary school teachers told me, you learn more from your defeats.

I suppose it’s a question of what published annotations aim to achieve. If they aim to educate, taking a personal approach is necessary. Style is subjective. If they aim to entertain, the actual chess content takes second priority. The personality of the players is given greater exposure and the game is humanised. Both of these approaches are very readable.

The third approach is sadly very prevalent. Many annotations are soulless extensions of a player’s ego and have no ascribable value or depth. Many publications seem intent on fellating the egos and wallets of the elite, while giving little thought to the demands of the readership. Many of the best sporting pundits competed at a level below the elite, or didn’t compete at all. Jonathan Agnew, Peter Jones and Simon Barnes spring to mind. Of course, many have done, notably Martin Brundle, Matthew Syed and John McEnroe. I’m not suggesting that all very strong chess players write like automatons, but it’s undeniable that many do.

A good chess annotation should be able to identify and evaluate many concepts, including those of a more psychological nature. It should tell a story. Character, setting, plot. It should reveal the inner turmoil that comes with making a decision. Conflict. It should describe those breathtaking moments of realisation and discovery. Anagnoresis.

And then a king dies and the pieces are put in the box for another day. Catharsis.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Other Talent of Bill Hook

You may have read this book already, published in 2008 by NiC, or one of its many enthusiastic reviews in the chess press. It’s the memoir of Bill Hook (1925-2010), chesser, gambler, photographer and artist. It's worth another look, as it gives us the subject for this episode in our occasional series on chess players with the other talent.

You can also get edited highlights in an hour long interview with Bill Hook, by John Watson, here.

Bill Hook's chess took off when he acquired a serious habit in his late teens, then frequenting New York's chess club scene to get his fix, principally at “Fisher’s” (so-called after its proprietor), which continued as the “Flea House” (self-explanatory) until its demise. In the book we meet the characters he fought there across the board, and those he befriended off it. The superb photo composition on the front cover (as all the others in the book, one of his own) captures the ethos of the joint and its Chandleresque habitués: just don’t ask them to smile for the camera.

It’s the kind of place that would lend atmosphere to a film, and indeed it did: Stanley Kubrick’s 1956 noirish “The Killing”. Kubrick himself was a notorious chess hustler in New York, apparently, and chopped plenty wood with Hook.
Even though Bill was an American citizen – almost archetypically so: making his own luck in a Wild West sort of way - he played for the British Virgin Islands. That’s because he lived there, on and off, for 42 years, on the tornado wracked paradise of Cooper Island. And in case you wondered, like me, BVI is here:

BVI (pop. 20k) improbably, and regularly, fielded a team in the Olympiads, playing in its lower reaches, and it was a proud achievement when Bill Hook won the Board One medal in 1980. He played in 17 overall, with Jon Speelman dubbing him, in 1977, “the Father of the Olympiad”.

Art, and latterly photography, intertwined with chess throughout his life. TB prevented active service in WW2 and emerging from treatment, and subsequently, he was awarded several grants enabling him to develop his creative talents.

Chess and art knotted together in one piquant moment when he played and beat fellow chess artist Marcel Duchamp in 1951, even though when asked, Marcel claimed, a little disingenously perhaps, that he was on a "long vacation" from his other talent.

Duchamp had himself also been an international Olympian: for France, before the war. Here is the game.

In the interview Bill elaborates on the development of his art:
I started in a very orthodox manner, doing a lot of realistic subjects, and I gradually introduced abstract elements…towards the end I was entirely abstract which I felt was much more creative than simply rendering a scene realistically...which I didn’t feel was creative enough.
Chess remained one his themes even as his style evolved. Here is a severely representational rendering of players and the struggle. It is based on a photograph, surely, but his artist's eye has stripped down the scene and its tonal contrasts to the essentials. Interesting enough for its three-quarter orientation, it also, as so often in chess art, calls on the hands to do the heavy lifting of the emotional load; they aren't there simply to move the pieces, so to speak. In Bill's painting they steal the scene. That's Pal Benko on the right.

And this is a sub-surrealist bit of whimsy evoking opponents in battle (note those hands again).

But that can’t really be the abstract style that Bill championed in the quote above. A better example would be this:
The scale of this reproduction doesn't do it justice, but it seems to be about the contrast of the opaque with the translucent; surface with depth; solid with fluid. If you reach out, your hand might go through it or - put better - into it. Bill was of that trend in "abstract" art that derives from reality - "abstract" as verb, rather than adjective.

He says that his experience of the world under water was his inspiration, and that his method of painting such works was...
…pouring quick-drying acrylic paints on my canvas which lay on the floor, employing a spoon and palette knife for control, (no brushes) and cultivating thin translucent washes while building up richness of colour and texture…taking months to complete a canvas.
If I understand the chronology of his story correctly, this development in Bill's work was from the 60s onwards, though in truth the expressive possibilities of pouring stuff on the floor were already well-known from Jackson Pollock in the 40s.

Bill Hook turned away from ambitions of an artistic career after early disappointments on the gallery circuit, eventually more or less completely eschewing painting for the same reason. He seemed to have found the camera a more simpatico instrument than the spoon. In the book there are 50 or so photos of the chess personalities of the latter part of the 20th Century into the 21st - from the jejune blandness of the impossibly young Carlsen to the life-etched cragginess of the indestructibly veteran Kortchnoi - and many would stand out in any photographic exhibition.

Bill's treated his subjects sympathetically, and they invariably display positive good humour, reflecting what one imagines was his own glass-half-full outlook on life. Only once or twice does he show us the dark side, as in this revealing shot of Kamsky père et fils (with apologies for the poor reproduction, here and throughout this post). It could walk off with first prize in the psychodrama category.

Bill Hook’s chess photos appeared in the chess press, and his chess achievements were honoured by a special BVI stamp. His paintings decorated several chess venues, including one started up by Larry Evans (who will appear next week), but they seem not to have survived well, are lost or disappeared into private hands who knows where. I could not find any, apart from those already in the book, on the Internet. Which is a shame, as he was a rare example of a modern chess competitor on the international stage (one or two others we'll come back to), albeit by accident of domicile, who was also a first rate artist.

The reproductions in his memoir are testament to his enormous talent – it would be good to see more of his paintings. Can anyone out there help?

Hooked on Chess; A Memoir. By Bill Hook. Published in 2008 by New in Chess. Worth a read! All photos and paintings used in this post are by Bill Hook (except his own portrait which appears unattributed on the web).

Please see this Chess in Art post, and its comments, for more on hands.

Chess in Art Index

Friday, January 20, 2012

There's a new kid in town

How time flies. That's not the freshest of observations, I grant you. Still, it hardly seems a moment since T.C. suggested starting a blog and yet we've already whizzed through five years and well over a thousand posts.

As fun as it's been we grow weary, or old if you prefer. Two marriages, the birth of a child and new jobs have all taken their toll on our combat effectiveness. We need new blood and happily we've found some sloshing around in the body that belongs to Phil Makepeace.

The first I heard of Phil was when Release the Kraken started around a year and a half ago. Intelligent, interesting and amusing - what's not to love about a blog which uses its first post to invite readers to send in limericks about Stewart Reuben's beard? - RTK is everything that chess writing should be. Well, it is when it manages to haul its arse out of bed and get itself published.

Quality and not quantity is the Kraken watchword. I'm very pleased that Phil has agreed to fill some of the gaps by writing regularly for the S&BC Blog too. His first post is coming up this Monday. Do drop by and say hello.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Quiet time

It was an enjoyable afternoon, albeit a confusing one at times for my young friend.

"Can't I do that?" Zac asked at one point, glancing up at me with a quizzical look in his eye.

"Not all at once," I replied. "Pawns can move two squares on their first go, and they do capture diagonally like that, but they can't do both at the same time."

"You can go here," I jabbed a finger at c4, "and then next turn you could take me ... if I don't take you first."

Zac is seven. He got a chess set for Christmas and had pretty much taught himself the way the pieces move. He might not have got it all entirely right - wanting to play his knight from b1 to c5 was another of his novelties - but was a never too far off.

Charlotte plays too. She's three years older than her brother and, which way around the king and queen start aside, is much more confident about the rules. She told me she'd learned chess at school during 'quiet time'. Chess is one of the things they can do while the volume is turned down and one week a friend had showed her the moves.

Chess is most definitely not on the curriculum at Charlotte's school and, Malc Pein's efforts notwithstanding, I can't help feeling that's how it should be. When kids are leaving education with good grades in their English exams and still not knowing how to use an apostrophe, I'm not sure that it's the teaching of chess that is the top priority.

Yes, I know it's claimed that the introduction of chess to schools aids rather than inhibits academic attainment. I may or may not get around to writing something more on that at some later date. For now let's just say that, pleasing-to-the-eye brochures notwithstanding, I'm far from convinced that the statement that chess "makes children smarter" is true in any meaningful sense. Even if it were it's a really poor way to encourage participation in the game for the simple reason that there's an infinitely better argument readily available. Our old chum Nigel Short wasn't talking about chess in schools per se, but he hits the nail on the head here, I think:-

Give a message to all children who want to take up chess. Why should they?

Because it's FUN! Not because it's a good career move, it isn't. Not because of anything else, it is just a very enjoyable game.
CHESS, vol 76 #8 (interview with Carl Portman)

Play chess because it'll be fun? That's something Zac and Charlotte have worked out for themselves. Other kids will too if we let them.

Quiet Time photo from the Frugal Family Fun Blog

Monday, January 16, 2012

Department of A Likely Story : Richard Desmond and the chess correspondent

So we felt by backing the editor, by putting more money into the editorial on the Daily Star, by looking at the chess correspondent, who was based in Latin America, or the New York bureau, one person in New York, all this sort of nonsense and grandism that surrounded the paper at the time, we felt that by taking a firm control of that we could, you know, get the magazine -- get the newspapers back into profit.
I was following Richard Desmond's evidence to the Leveson Inquiry last Thursday, via the Guardian liveblog, when he made this unexpected reference to a chess correspondent based in Latin America. The Guardian reporter's immediate response was
That, presumably is a joke
and mine, to be honest, was the same: I assumed it was some kind of mythical figure representing snobbishness, elitism and luxury among the metropolitan broadsheet press. A lot of mythical figures like that exist in the contemporary imagination. Not a few of them exist in the pages of Richard Desmond's newspapers.

A man of imagination

But mythical or otherwise, he must have meant it, since he said it again shortly afterwards:
I think a lot of these other groups don't really understand that it is a business, and, you know, there's more to life than the chess correspondent based in Latin America.
Well, if you can't repeat your own jokes then whose can you? But is it a joke? Or did such a figure actually exist? Or did some other figure exist, who over the course of a decade has been transformed, in Richard Desmond's imagination, into the bogeyman he brought up at Leveson?

It's not the first time Desmond has made such a claim. Radio Four had cause to mention it last August, which was mentioned on the English Chess Forum:
He fired the paper's chess correspondent who lived in South America earning £60,000 a year.
This, in turn, may derive from statements he made when acquiring Channel Five in July 2010, at which time he made at least two mentions of this transatlantic chess correspondent whose employment he terminated. One was in an interview in the Jewish Chronicle in 2010:
When two companies come together, there will be efficiencies which need to be made. When we bought Express Newspapers, for instance, we were paying £50k for a chess correspondent in Latin America.
while another was in a Sky News interview in which (at 2:30) he says:
When we bought the newspapers in 2000, there was a chess reporter based in South America who was paid fifty thousand pounds a year. So we did terminate his services.
So what, as they say, is all that about? It's hard to believe that even at its most profligate, any British daily paper would have retained the services of a full-time chess correspondent based in South America, which is why, along with the Guardian journalist, I assumed it was a joke. But the repetition of the story leads one to believe that Desmond is at least thinking of something real, even if the reality was rather different to what his memory, or his imagination, says it was.

But what? I can't admit to seeing the Daily Express very often (though my parents used to get the Sunday Express about a million years ago, when John Junor was still alive). My impression is that it used to be written for genteel fascists and is now written for street thugs, which is not remotely the fault of its chess correspondent, one Luke McShane. A very long-term chess correspondent, as I understand it, though I don't know if his period with the paper has been unbroken. I do know that he's unlikely to have been based in Latin America at the time of Richard Desmond's acquisition of the title, since he was then at the City of London School.

Not guilty

So who? Stewart Reuben notes that Bill Hartston was at the Daily Express at the time, though far from having been dispensed with, he has been there ever since. Moreover he wasn't living in Latin America and for that matter wasn't the chess correspondent: instead, as he related in an interview with this very blog, he was signed up by Rosie Boycott to write the Beachcomber column.

Life in Rio

Intriguingly, though, he does say in the interview that he did write about chess for a short time:
There was a brief moment when The Express had a puzzles supplement and I did some stuff for that but that's all.
Can this possibly be the source of Desmond's recollection, the closure of this puzzles supplement? It's pretty thin evidence to go by. But we seem to have a choice between pretty thin evidence and none at all.

The oddity of Desmond's comments haven't gone entirely unnoticed in the media, especially by the Guardian's Stephen Moss. He Tweeted:

He doesn't, however, go on to say who thinks it was. Perhaps he, too, is thinking of Bill Hartston.

But maybe there really was a Latin American-based chess correspondent, trousering fifty or sixty big ones a year for no obvious return. As the late Sir John so often said, I think we should be told.

. . .

As it goes, it's not the first time Richard Desmond and mysteriously expensive chess correspondents have coincided. When I read the following passage from the Leveson transcript
A. I hope so. Frankly, I'd rather get rid of this, you know, prosecute the people that have committed offences and get on with business. And have a proper RCD board of proper business people, legal people...

LORD JUSTICE LEVESON: What do you mean -- I'm sorry, you have to explain -- RCD?

A. Richard Clive Desmond.
I couldn't help but recall another passage (which I first saw mentioned here) from Docklands Encounter, a 1984 instant Batsford book by Keene and Goodman*:
That afternoon, Keene, Campomanes and Chetwynd assembled at Ivory House, HQ of Strategy International, and then drove to Northern and Shell for their appointment with Richard Desmond and Chris Cottom of Sightline. The meeting was a failure - it quickly became apparent that there was bad chemistry between the two sides. Keene and Campomanes had hoped to be offered sponsorship. Instead, Cottom suggested that he pay his Company a flat fee of £5,000 and, in exchange, his sales force would look for sponsors. This fee would not be refundable, even if no new sponsors were found. The meeting broke up with Keene and Campomanes dissatisfied. Richard Desmond did, however, offer everyone a lift in his gold Rolls Royce (number plate RJD001) and dropped Keene and Campomanes off at the Cumberland Hotel in Marble Arch where Hasan was staying. (p. 17)
Thanks to the reader who supplied me with the passage. But RJD? Must have been written by Goodman. You wouldn't expect Ray to make a lapse like that.

[Source for Sky News interview]
[Desmond photo: Guardian]
[McShane photo: The Scotsman]
[Ray Keene index]

[* Actually the authorship of the book is somewhat obscure since the hardback and paperback editions give different and inconsistent information: it's actually a mess. Other people who are listed as having contributed include Robert Wade, HM Hasan and John Groser. I've gone for Keene and Goodman as the main authors. Thanks to our reader who assisted me with this.]

Saturday, January 14, 2012

A Literary Reference : Funeral In Berlin

I went with her down the long cream corridor to a room at the extreme western wing of the building. The decor too was like County Hall. She tapped gently on a large door and without waiting for a reply motioned me through. It was dark inside the room with just enough light filtering through the window from the courtyard to see where the desk was. From behind the desk there was a sudden red glow like an infra-red flash-bulb. As my eyes grew accustomed to the dark I saw that the far side of the room was filled with a silvery sheen.

"Dorf," said the voice of Stok. It boomed almost like an amplifier. There was a click from his desk; the yellow tungsten light came on.

Stok was sitting behind his desk almost obscured by a dense cloud of cigar smoke. There was Scandinavian-style East German furniture in the room. On the table behind me there was a Hohner simple button-key accordion, piles of newspapers, and a chessboard with some of the pieces fallen over. There was a folding bed near the wall with two army blankets on it and high leather boots placed together at the head. Near the door was a tiny sink and a cupboard that might have held clothes.

"My dear Dorf," said Stok. "Have I caused you great inconvenience?"

He emerged from the cigar smoke in an ankle-length black leather overcoat.

"Not unless you count being scared half to death," I said.

"Ha ha ha," said Stok, then he exhaled another great billow of cigar smoke like a 4.6.2 pulling out of King's Cross.

"I wanted to contact you," he spoke with the cigar held between tight lips, "without Vulkan."

"Another time," I said, "write."

There was another tap at the door. Stok moved across the room like a wounded crow. The grey-haired one brought two lemon teas.

"There is no milk today I am afraid," said Stok; he drew the overcoat around him.

"And so Russian tea was invented," I said.

Stok laughed again in a perfunctory sort of way. I drank the scalding hot tea. It made me feel better, like digging your finger nails into your palm does.

"What is it?" I said.

Stok waited while the grey-haired one closed the door behind her. Then he said, "Let's stop quarrelling, shall we?"

"You mean personally?" I said. "Or are you speaking on behalf of the Soviet Union?"

"I mean it," said Stok. "We can do far better for ourselves if we co-operate than if we obstruct each other." Stok paused and smiled with studied charm.

"This scientist Semitsa is not important to the Soviet Union. We have other younger men with newer and better ideas. Your people on the other hand will think you marvellous if you can deliver him to London." Stok shrugged his shoulders at the idiocy of the world of politics.

"Caveat emptor?" I said.

"Not half," said Stok in a skilful piece of idiom. "Buyer watch out." Stok rolled the cigar across his mouth and said, "Buyer watch out," a couple of times. I just drank the lemon tea and said nothing. Stok ambled across to the chessboard on the side-table, his leather coat creaking like a windjammer.

"Are you a chess player, English?" he said.

"I prefer games where there's a better chance to cheat," I said.

"I agree with you," said Stok. "The preoccupation with rules doesn't sit well upon the creative mind."

"Like communism?" I said.

Stok picked up a knight. "But the pattern of chess is the pattern of your capitalist world. The world of bishops and castles, and kings and knights."

"Don't look at me," I said. "I'm just a pawn. I'm here in the front rank." Stok grinned and looked down at the board.

"I'm a good player," he said. "Your friend Vulkan is one of the few men in Berlin who can consistently beat me."

"That's because he is part of the pattern of our capitalist world."

"The pattern," said Stok, "has been revised. The knight is the most important piece on the board. Queens have been made...impotent. Can you say impotent of a queen?"

"On this side of the wall you can say what you like," I said.

Stok nodded. "The knights - the generals - run your western world. General Walker of the 24th Infantry Division lectured all his troops that the President of the U.S.A. was a communist."

"You don't agree?" I asked.

"You are a fool," boomed Stok in his Boris Godunov voice.

"I am trying to tell you that these people..." He waved the knight in my face. "... look after themselves."

"And you are jealous?" I asked seriously.

"Perhaps I am," said Stok. "Perhaps that's it." He put the knight back and he pulled the skirt of his overcoat together.

"So you are going to sell me Semitsa as a little bit of private enterprise of your own?" I said. "If you'll forgive the workings of my bourgeois mind."

"You live only once," said Stok.

"I can make once do," I said.

Stok heaped four spoonfuls of coarse sugar into his tea. He stirred it as though he was putting an extra rod into an atomic pile. "All I want is to live the rest of my life in peace and quiet - I do not need a lot of money, just enough to buy a little tobacco and the simple peasant food that I was brought up on. I am a colonel and my conditions are excellent but I am a realist; this cannot last. Younger men in our security service look at my job with envy." He looked at me and I nodded gently. "With envy," he repeated.

"You are in a key job," I said.

"But the trouble with such jobs is that many others want them too. Some of my staff here are men with fine college diplomas, their minds are quick as mine once was; and they have the energy to work through the day and through the night too as once I had the energy to do." He shrugged. "This is why I decided to come to live the rest of my life in your world."

He got up and opened one of the big wooden shutters. From the courtyard there was the beat of a heavy diesel engine and the sound of boots climbing over a tailboard. Stok thrust his hands deep in his overcoat pockets and flapped his wings.

I said, "What about your wife and your family, will you be able to persuade them?"

Stok continued to look down into the courtyard. "My wife died in a German air raid in 1941, my only son hasn't written to me for three and a half years. What would you do in my position, Mr Dorf? What would you do?"

I let the sound of the lorry rumble away down Keibelstrasse.

I said, "I'd stop telling lies to old liars for a start, Stok. Do you really think I came here without dusting off your file? My newest assistant is trained better than you seem to think I am. I know everything about you from the cubic capacity of your Westinghouse refrigerator to the size your mistress takes in diaphragms."

Stok picked up his tea and began to batter the lemon segment with the bowl of his spoon. He said, "You've trained well."

"Train hard, fight easy," I said.

"You quote Marshal Suvarov." He walked across to the chessboard and stared at it. "In Russia we have a proverb, 'Better a clever lie than the foolish truth'." He waved his teaspoon at me.

"There was nothing clever about that clumsy piece of wife-murder."

"You're right," said Stok cheerfully. "You shall be my friend, English. We must trust each other." He put his tea down on the desk top.

"I'll never need an enemy," I said.

Stok smiled. It was like arguing with a speak-your-weight machine.

"Truthfully, English," he said, "I do not want to defect to the West but the offer of Semitsa is a genuine one." He sucked the spoon.

"For money?" I asked.

"Yes," said Stok. He tapped the fleshy palm of his left hand with the bowl of the spoon.

"Money here." He closed his hand like a vault.


I thought about 'King' Vulkan when I got back to the Fruhling. I was surprised that he was one of the best chess players in Berlin but he was full of surprises. I thought about my code name - Kadaver - and about Kadavergehorsam, which is the sort of discipline which makes a corpse jump up and salute. I poured a Teacher's and stared down at the screaming shining lights. I had begun to get the feel of the town; both sides of the wall had wide well-lit streets separated by inky lakes of darkness. Perhaps this was the only city in the world where you were safer in the dark.


He turned his back to me and began to toy with the junk on the bench, setting up some monstrous chess game. He tapped the rusty sparking plugs and squeezed valve springs in the palm of his hand. At the side of the bench was a thick polished oval of wood. There were twelve different sizes of drill stuck into it like matches in a peg board. Johnnie amused himself throwing the springs over the shiny drills. "Schmidt's of Solingen," it said on a scroll around the wooden base. "Best drills in the world."


Already it was dusk. The back-gardens all along the block were a chessboard of lighted
windows. The light inside the houses was very yellow in the blue evening of a London winter.

Len Deighton, Funeral in Berlin, Triad, 1978. p.29-31, p.35, p.166, p.183-4. (Original date of publication 1964.)

[Thanks again to Campion - and to Richard who did a lot of work on this]

[A Literary Reference index]

Friday, January 13, 2012

"The Berlin Defence is a classic defence by means of counter-attack"

1 Players move alternately — only one at a time.
Len Deighton's Funeral In Berlin, originally published by Jonathan Cape in 1964, is probably best-known these days for the 1966 film, directed by Guy Hamilton and starring Michael Caine, that was made from it.

The novel, however, is of particular interest to those who follow chess as well as cinema, because it refers to chess not only in a number of different passages (for which, see tomorrow's posting) but also at the head of nearly all of its fifty-one chapters. (The others all have, as headings, names of characters in the novel: the second chapter, for instance, is headed ROBIN JAMES HALLAM.)
3 Where pieces are used to protect other pieces, there will be high casualty rate. Better by far to assign only pawns to supporting roles.
I've reproduced them all here, with the numbers of the chapters which they head attached to them. (In the text, they appear in italic type - I've preferred blue here for ease of viewing.) They are all short references, offering definitions, explanations or some other kind of information or advice on various aspects of the game. The name of an opening, for instance
4 The Berlin Defence is a classic defence by means of counter-attack.
or some simple advice on how the game is played
5 When a player offers a piece for exchange or sacrifice then surely he has in mind a subsequent manoeuvre which will end to his advantage.
or the explanation of some piece of chess terminology
6 A bad bishop is one hampered by his own pawns.
or simply how one of the pieces moves.
7 Knights can pass over squares controlled by enemy forces. Knights always end their move on a square of the opposite colour.
When you start reading through them, though, you notice certain things that don't necessarily seem right. Some of the terminology, for instance, is strange. Have you ever heard of a Roman Decoy?
13 Roman Decoy: a piece offered as bait to save a hazardous situation.
Is "range" a common term in chess?
30 Range in chess is measured not by distance but by the number of squares to which a legal move can be made.
Does this sound like an apt description of the Czech Defence, even supposing that name were generally used in English?
31 Czech Defence: a sequence in which pawn is matched with pawn but the queen's bishop tips the balance.
There is some clumsy English: I don't think that we would normally "make" an attack, for instance
15 Even a pawn can make a 'double attack'.
and in the following snippet, the identity of "his" is not at all clear
23 King's Gambit is an opening in which his own side's pawns are sacrificed.
while we would surely talk of "losing a tempo", rather than just "tempo" without the article.
38 A player who uses two moves to do something possible in one is said to have 'lost tempo'.
There's also a missing article here
36 Switchback: to return to original position in any given sequence.
as there is in the heading to chapter three, given above. There are also some possible typos, as for instance here
37 A committed piece is one given a specific duty. It often becomes the focal point of an opponents attack.
where the possessive apostrophe has been omitted. Which might be an error of understanding rather than an accidental omission, but the absence of the inverted comma before "foot", here
44 In China, Hungary, India, Korea and Poland pawns are called foot soldiers', but in Tibet they are called 'children'.
is surely accidental.

Accidental by whom, though? By the UK publisher, quite possibly. But taken as a whole, various strange aspects to the snippets - unfamiliar terminology, clumsy English - give the impression that they are from an work in another language, translated into English by a non-native speaker. The occasional omission of the article may suggest that the original language (and presumably its translator) could be Russian, which lacks "a" and "the", and shoddy production would not be atypical of the Soviet publishing industry. (Or indeed, the chess book publishing industry elsewhere, har har.)

It has the feel of a translation. Perhaps from some chess primer, a beginners' guide, an introductory work. But is it? And if so, what? I don't know. There's nothing in the book to say so, to indicate (if this is indeed so) what the original work was, or who translated it. Nor to say, if this isn't so, where all these little snippets come from.

I don't know whether Deighton was a chessplayer, or if he ever explained the references, or if anybody else has ever discovered their provenance. My searching the internet hasn't produced any results, though perhaps somebody else may do better.

I'd guess that British chess magazines, from the mid-Sixties, when Deighton's novel was published, might have looked into it. But I don't have access to them where I am. Any readers who do, or can shed any light on the origin of Deighton's chapter headings from any other source, would find their information warmly welcomed.

8 Skilful use of knights is the mark of the professional player.

9 In certain circumstances pawns can be converted into the most powerful unit on the board.

11 Zugzwang: to move a chess piece under duress.

12 Every piece has its mode of attack but only a pawn will attack en passant. Similarly only a pawn can be captured in this manner.

14 J'adoube: a word used to indicate that a player intends to touch a piece but not move it.

16 Every pawn is a potential queen.

17 A knight can be used to simultaneously threaten two widely spaced units. (This is called a 'fork') If one of these threats is against a king the other piece must inevitably be lost.

18 Mate: a word from Old French meaning to overpower or overcome.

19 One can escape from check by removing hostile pieces or interposing oneself.

20 Enemy territory is that area of the board within one-move range of opposing forces.

21 The king may well be moved to a well-protected spot away from danger.

22 Checkmate remains the ultimate aim of every player.

24 A skewer is an attack along a straight line. As the first piece avoids capture it exposes the second, real target to the full force of the attack.

25 Corridor mate: when a king can only move along an expected route, he can be trapped by closing the corridor.

26 The skilled player memorises and uses the classic sequences of the games of masters.

27 Any move that attacks a hostile king is known as check.

28 Development for its own sake is insufficient. There must be a keen purpose in every move.

29 Players who relish violence, aggression and movement often depend upon the Spanish Game.

33 Two hostile bishops can be used to block the advance of passed pawns since between them they control access to all squares of both colours.

35 In medieval times it was the aim of players to annihilate every opponent instead of checkmating the king.

39 In Burma and Japan a general is the piece we call a queen, but in China and Korea a general is the piece we call a king.

40 A king cannot be captured nor need it be removed from the board. It is enough that the king is put into a position from which it cannot escape.

41 Strong square: one placed well forward, secure from attack and firmly under control.

42 The Exchange: when a player sacrifices something for an opponent's piece of lesser value he is said to be 'the exchange down'.

45 The End-game: this often centres around the queening of a pawn. Here a sudden threat can arrive on home ground.

46 Unless one is a master player the Queen's Gambit — when a pawn is offered for sacrifice — is best declined.

47 The power of a queen often encourages its use single-handed. But an unsupported queen is in a dangerous position against skilfully used pawns.

48 Pawns can only move forward. They can never retreat.

49 If a player is not in check but can only make a move that will place him in check; this is stalemate and is scored as a draw.

50 Originally the piece we now call a queen was a counsellor or government adviser.

51 Repetition rule: it is a rule of chess that when the same sequence recurs three times the game can be terminated.
[Thanks to Campion, and to Richard, whose birthday, by the way, it is today.]

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Chiv Chat

  • Portsmouth-based artist and chess player Kier Eyles has created, well, a collector's item:-

Monday, January 09, 2012

Sixty Memorable Annotations

#5: Salov-Gligoric, Belgrade 1987

White to play

“Oh no, not a rook ending. I hate these rook endings, just so you know”
Jesper Hall

Well here we are, over a week into 2012 already. It’ll be Christmas again soon.

Anyhoo, to kick-off the New Year, I’m going to have a look back at the last one. It was certainly an unusual twelve months for me. Chessically speaking it was a case of more and better (for the most part) than ever before, and it was different too

Let’s start with the more. In 2011 I played a total of 88 graded games. That’s getting on for three times my usual chessing rate and if you include rapidplay games (24) I broke three figures for the first time ever.

The reason for the increase in activity is simply that last year, for the first time in my life, I regularly played in tournaments. After deciding that 2011 was finally the time to take a holiday in Benasque I thought I could probably do with a warm up and so I entered the e2-e4 events at Sunningdale in May and Gatwick in June. I enjoyed those so much that when I came back from Spain I finished the year playing several more: Twyford, Sunningdale again, Imperial College and the London Chess Classic Open. That’s as many tournaments between August and December 2011 as I had played in the preceding ten years put together.

2011 wasn’t just a year of more chess for me, though. Quite often it was better chess too. Winning the Sunningdale Major was by far the best tournament result of my life and when I look back at individual games I see that I met all of the three highest-rated players that I’ve ever beaten in the last twelve months.

Chess, however – I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you this - is always ready to kick us in the nuts. So what if my grading performance in fifteen club and county games since the start of the 2011/2012 season comes in at 180 ECF (approx 2090 elo) and 8 points above my most recent published grade which was already my highest ever? I still ended the year with a truly dreadful display at the LCC – my elo has already plummeted and no doubt my grade will soon follow – but that terrible result notwithstanding, I feel that in terms of playing strength, I made a small but definite step forward in 2011


Which brings us to the “different” and the quote from Jesper Hall at the head of today’s blog.

Before last year I don’t think I’d have gone as far as Hall and said that I “hated” endgames (of the rook variety or otherwise), but that would have been because I hardly had any feelings about them at all A few posts aside – for example October and December 2008 - in twenty-five years of chessing endgames had almost never attracted my interest.

In 2011 that all changed. I seemed to be playing more endings in my own games and I started blogging about them too. I even began studying them and, surprise surprise, the more interest that I took in endgames, the more I found endgames interesting.

Take Jesper Hall’s hated rook endings for example. I might have found them dull before, but now it fascinates me that while this

is a draw, if you push everything one file to the left

White has one move that wins. Bring Black’s king a single rank forward, however,

and it’s a draw again. It’s remarkable that the whole game can hang on such apparently insignificant details isn’t it? Sure, this kind of thing is a world away from some kind of double-edged middlegame position, but it’s hardly dull.

As Jacob Aagaard writes

... endgame technique is not just knowledge of manoeuvres and theoretical positions. It is also a matter of accuracy [and] calculation ....

That sounds rather like what good chess – any kind of good chess - should be, doesn’t it? Whatever. Coming around to the idea that endings might be worthy of a much closer look than I’d been given them has certainly broadened my chessboard horizons.

Well that was my 2011: lots of games, a smidgen of success and a newfound interest in the endgame. Last year was really quite unusual for me and yet, when I think about it, I didn’t actually intend any of it.

It wasn’t a conscious decision to play more and I certainly didn’t sit down and conclude that studying endgames would be a good idea. It all happened more or less by accident and I just kind of went with the flow … which makes me really curious as to what will happen this year. Let’s find out shall we?