Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Chess Art In Our Time

This year, for yet another year, Chess Art appears at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition - "another year" because we clocked this at the RA back in 2010:


© Mobile Studio.

Here the eternal themes of chess animated a contemporary debate, all done in "selective laser sintering nylon and acrylic". Chess Art for our time; materials à la mode.

At this year's exhibition there are no less that four Chess Art works on display. One of them appears in prime position in the stunning long hang in the main gallery.

Photo courtesy of John Bodkin

It's there, trust me, a bit left of centre in the photo above. In fact we've seen it in a previous blog. This is it:

© Tom Hackney

It is Tom Hackney's Chess Painting # 16 (Duchamp v Menchik, Paris, 1929), gesso on linen (RA Exhibit # 398).

By curatorial inspiration it is placed so that its curl orchestrates the wave of art flowing along the gallery. It is no surprise that it has caught someone's eye and found a buyer, as has Tom's second chess picture - Exhibit # 302: Spassky v Fischer, Game 4, Rejkyavik 1972 - it's in the exhibition as well. It is linked here (second down).

When we discussed Tom Hackney's work before we were intrigued by his chess derived images
(btw, so much better seen in the gallery) which are based on real games, although we wrestled with the theorising that informs them: that the artistic point is in the leap of the thought, not the imprint it leaves when it lands. But whatever one makes of his "conceptual art" rationale, and the artist's professed indifference to how the picture actually looks, we might be relieved that human minds created the moves, and human hands have been busy crafting the image.

The same goes for the next work in which Tom develops the move-trace theme.

Projection #3 (Koltanowski vs. Duchamp, Paris, 1929).
© Tom Hackney

This has just gone on show in Motion Capture an exhibition in Cork. In the earlier picture the black and white moves were plotted sequentially, overlaying one another, and we could see who had, literally, come out on top. In Projection #3 it is as if the moves are conjoined, the action pinned at nodal points, and the flux of the game frozen for geometric dissection. It looks like white is pushing black off the board up at f8 and g8. Double take. In fact it was Duchamp, as black, who crunched Kolti on the node (ouch!) at f2. See the moves (just 15 a piece, 0-1) here.

Look backward for art references if you may: Escher? Klee? But in its concept-spinning motivation this, too, is chess art de nos jours.

Now go one step, maybe several, further with Martin Abrams' Exhibit # 469: Chess Computer Program Playing Itself, which has also sold at the this year's RA (is there a modern chess art collector out there, hoovering them up?)

Martin explains how it is done:

"...a hand-made canvas...is placed onto a board inked evenly with black ink. I then start the computer playing chess against itself and follow the moves of the game using my own chess pieces on the reverse side of the canvas. The darkest spots are formed where chess pieces have moved onto that particular square multiple times during the game; whereas other squares remain empty leaving the canvas ground showing. The final painting is a composite image of all the moves played during the game, and the spots are formed from the direct pressure of the base of each chess piece."
So this, too, really is Chess Art of the moment: the footprint of computers taking lumps out of each other; and human agency applied only to dotting the moves onto canvas.

As with Tom's work, the method (or the very thought of it), i.e. the transformation of the "data" (chess moves) into a graphic plot, is the message. The final image is an epiphenomenon - though it is rather more interesting, and messier, when seen on the gallery wall (it's tucked in the right hand corner of the long hang), than Martin's reduced procedure might suggest. There is random ink seepage into the canvas clustering like iron filings to a magnet. Chess-wise there is also some reassurance. Those conflicted computers have played a decent number of moves on the central files, as if determined to imitate a proper game.

After all this "difficult" contemporary art we can turn to the fourth work in the Exhibition, a photo: Chess King, Brick Lane (E1). Except that we can't. You can't take photos in the gallery, the image is not on the web, and unfortunately I have been unable to succeed in contacting the artist otherwise. So apologies to all concerned, especially Ms Hathaichanok Julareesuk, as you'll have to make do with my inadequate sketches, made while wedged against the gallery door.

Sketches of Exhibit #1464: Chess King. Brick Lane (E1),
photographic Edition of two, by Hathaichanok Julareesuk.

A group encircles a chess board, huddled against the chill. Shot in black and white - there is no colour in any of this year's RA chess artworks - the photo (though not the sketch) shows the board in sharp detail: White's king side is rather exposed, his queen's side undeveloped, but someone has trousered black's QR.

For the conventional viewer, though, it's not about the chess per se and The King steals the show. He has more presence than I have managed to give him. His faux fur-edged greatcoat is his emblem of status. He is hustler-in-chief, master of the board, and lord of the ring. The image captures a traditional role of chess, culturally a would-be male preserve: escape from the grind, and respite from responsibility. This is chess, as played on the street, today.

So, four Chess Artworks in this year's Summer Exhibition showing us graphic plotting, computer-assisted spotting, and urban anthropology. Chess has lost none of its allure and fascination for artists, and continues to make art for our time.

With thanks to all the artists mentioned above.

Chess In Art Index

Monday, July 30, 2012

Penarth 2012 : a bit previous

South Wales International, round two, position after 18...Rxa4. White resigned.

South Wales International, round one, position after 43...a5. White resigned.

South Wales International, round two, position after 18...Nfe3. White resigned.

Three positions, three resignations. You've seen the first of them before, on Wednesday when the third of our encounters with grandmasters in Penarth ended a little earlier than it might have done.

Jonathan resigned here because if he tried 19.Rxa4 Qxa4 20 Rb1 Qxe4 he'd just be a couple of pawns down for nothing: but the only alternative was 19.Rab1 Bxb5 20.Qxb5 Qxb5 21.Rxb5 Rxe4, which is no better than the previous line, while if 20.Rxb5 Qxc3 and again, Black is two pawns up for absolutely nothing.

Except he's not, because (as noted by Michael Yeo in Wednesday's comments, and by Jonathan after the game) White has 21.Rxb6 saving the pawn after 21...axb6 22.Qxa4, and bringing about a position where Black has a still a lot to do to prove a win.

Or Black could play 21...Rxe4 22.Qxa7. But then all the pawns are on the same side of the board and provided White takes care not to get mated (e.g. 22...Rfe8 23.Rb7?? Re1 -+) I don't think he should lose at all.

Certainly Jonathan shouldn't have resigned when he did. Nor, for that matter, should Jonathan's opponent in the previous round.

Matter of fact he shouldn't have had to resign at all, since far from being lost, the position is completely drawn.

It's not at all an unusual trick in pawn endings. In this specific position, 44.c5:

and after 44...bxc5 (the simpler choice, though 44...dxc5 also draws) 45.c4 and nobody wins. Except maybe White, if Black should blunder with 45...Kf7, which possibility, I reckon, would be worth hanging on for.

All right, White didn't see it. But why not? There's not that many possible moves to choose from and he'd only just passed the time control! He could see that moving the king lost, which is why he resigned - why not have a look and see what else might be possible? Why not play something else and see how it turns out?

Then there's my stroke of luck in the second round. Having won a pawn for nothing early on, and then unwisely chosen the path of over-elaboration rather than the path of simplicity, I had given the pawn back, albeit retaining the advantage, and then played the unnecessary 18...Nfe3 to reach the position below.

I played the move because I thought it won material, but while I was waiting for my opponent's reply I began to worry about 19.b4 Be7 20.Bd4, before I realised that all was well after 20...Qc7 threatening mate on h2.

I felt reassured. I felt even more reassured when my opponent suddenly resigned.

I expressed my surprise and he said he "couldn't see any way of getting out of it", which, to be fair, I couldn't either, but I didn't thik he was losing more than a pawn in the short run. And he might have tried 19.b4 anyway in case I missed 20...Qc7.

He certainly might, as my surprise was renewed the following evening when a gentleman on the EC Forum was kind enough to point out that after 19.b4 Be7, instead of 20.Bd4? White has 20.Rxe3!

and after 20...Nxe3 21.Bd4 Black no longer has the ...Qc7 trick, since there's no longer a knight on g4 to assist with the mate threat!

So it's desperado time and Black has to play 21...Nxf1 22.Bxb6 Nxd2 23.Bd4 a6

when White's positional advantages at least offset the nominal disadvantage of queen against two rooks. No need to resign at all. No need even to think White's worse.

All right, again, he didn't see it. And he took time to have a look around before resigning. But even so, it was early to pack it all in.

Moving back to Jonathan's second round game, which was finishing at around the same time as mine - same number of moves, anyway - would 19...Rxe4 have been better than 19...Bxb5 had Jonathan continued with 19.Rab1?

Might be: I've not spent too much time on it because endings with most or all the heavy pieces on take far too long (as well as being highly susceptible to over-the-horizon perpetual checks) but after, say, 20.Nd6 Re6 21.c4 White seems to be clinging on, for instance after 21...Qe5 22.Qxa7 Qxd6 23.Qxa6.

Quite likely Black is winning: almost certainly Black, a grandmaster with a rating advantage of more than five hundred points over his opponent, would win in the end. But that was also true at move 1.

Everybody does it at one time or another: these three premature resignations just happened to stand out because they occurred practically together. So I don't want to get excessively didactic on the back of a small number of examples. Besides, one can't necessarily draw one single lesson from all three.

But perhaps one can draw a couple of hints, at any rate. One is that even if you think a line is lost, why not play it out? It's surely worth playing on a bit just to find out. The position may look different when you actually get there. God knows that's been true often enough from the other side of the board, with players playing into a "won" position that, when they reach it, turns out to be otherwise.

The other would be - don't just sit there resigning, do something! You never know what may be there in the position, waiting to be found.

Or did chess suddenly become obvious and simple, now that you think you've lost a game?

[Penarth 2012 index]

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Sixty Memorable Annotations

#10: Ernst - Aagaard, Copenhagen 1991

5 ... g6

Thomas Ernst was a big expert on the Dragon, but it was also in my repertoire, so I decided to play it anyway "to learn something". The main thing I learned was not to be naive.

Jacob Aagaard, Grandmaster Versus Amateur, (Quality Chess 2011)

Regular readers might have noticed that I'm rather partial to Jacob Aagaard quotes. It's no accident that two of the first nine SMAs (#4; #7) are his (another, #5, comes from one of Mr Vowels' books) and no surprise that last year's Grandmaster versus Amateur contains plenty more gems from the Aagaard keyboard.

The annotation I've chosen for SMA #10 refers to a chess opening, the Dragon variation, but it is the idea of chessic naivety that interests me most. Naivety, in this case, not relating to the beginning of the game but the very opposite end.

Endgame knowledge: retention and the subsequent use thereof. That is our theme for today.

Black to play

You may recognise this position as Mackle-Eggleston from the fifth round in North Shields. White has just played 55 Kf4 which, as it happens, turns a winning position into a draw, but what we're really interested in is what Black's about to do. Eggleston's choice, 55 ... Bc2, you see, is probably a mistake. Not because it hands the win back to White - according to Nalimov, it's still a draw after the bish goes to the second rank - but because Eggy is drifting away from the standard defensive plan.

As Tom Rendle explained, the bishop really belongs on the c8-h3 diagonal where it restricts White's king and the pawns all in one go. The king is tied to the g4 pawn and it's not possible to advance either pawn because f4-f5 allows Black to sacrifice his bishop and g4-g5 will lead to a blockade. Upshot: White can't make any progress and the game is drawn.

As it happens, I'm not able to watch the chess live at work and yet I can access the EC Forum. Normally this arrangement leaves me rather uncertain as to what precisely is going on, but when I saw Tom had written,

Mackle-Eggleston is a draw, it helps if Black knows the easiest way is to put the Bishop on c8 or d7 (which he hasn't done yet)

I was pretty sure that they must be playing out an ending that I'd seen in de la Villa.

I remembered that one of the 100 Endgames You Must Know involved a bishop attacking a couple of pawns from the front. I was entirely confident about that because I'd read the book from cover to cover last year. What I couldn't recall, naturally, was the actual position involved. I couldn't remember how far up the board the pawns were supposed to be and I didn't even know if it was an opposite-colour or same-colour bishop ending. They say that plans flow from the key features of a chess position, but there was I knowing full well what I wanted to do and trying to imagine which arrangement of pieces would allow the idea to make sense!

Back on the EC Forum the problem of remembering endgame theory cropped up. It often does - see also the first comment to a post I wrote last year about Queen vs Rook - although it seems to me that the "Will we/you/I remember?" question usually comes with the implicit assumption that you only look at something once. "Now we've seen it, in this game or in that Endings manual, will we remember it next time?"

When I was spending time with de la Villa I knew that I wouldn't remember much of what I was reading unless at some point in the future - points probably - I revised and reviewed what I was learning. I thought that this knowledge would in itself make sure that I actually did the follow-up work. I thought that I'd have a spare hour or two here and there and that I'd fill it by going over the old ground.

A rather naive view of life, that, isn't it? Usually, chessically speaking or otherwise, items on 'To Do' lists that don't have a deadline don't ever get done. There's always going to be something else that feels a bit more pressing.

"OK," I would tell myself, "I know I need to brush up on this stuff but it's not as if I need to do it right now. I'll do it tomorrow." And the next time I would say it all over again.

Mackle-Eggleston might well have taught me something about the kind of position where it is appropriate to attack two connected pawns from the front, but the main thing I learned from their game was not to be naive about the process of acquiring endgame skills.

It's the rest day in North Shields. Since there's no cricket, I think it's time I got down to some endgame work.

Sixty Memorable Annotations Index

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Streatham Strolls 1

It’s summer! And a good time to step back and look at chess from a different point of view: the pavement. So, come and join me on a virtual chess ramble around Streatham and Brixton. It’s an area unexpectedly rich in chess history, as I discovered when I pored over Tim Harding’s magnificent new book: Eminent Victorian Chess Players.

Our stroll will visit many sites of special chessical interest to be found in our corner of the Metropolis. We will use Tim Harding's book as our guide, along with Edward Winter’s list of chess players' addresses, other Chess Notes of his, and bits and pieces from sundry sources. Info. will accordingly be flagged TH or EW (or whatever, as appropriate, to be decoded at the end). Except for one or two minor items, the historical stuff will not be your blogger's original research, but that of others, and due credit must go to them. My contribution is the repackaging.

After a long season slumped over the board, speaking for myself anyway - others are still hard at it elsewhere - we’ll take it gently over three Saturdays, weather permitting. It’s a circular walk and we’ll be going clockwise round the circuit. To give non-Londoners their bearings, this map pinpoints the locality in which we wander through our backstreets of chess-times past.

The “A” marks the exact spot where will begin (click on any pic to enlarge), and this is the party you’d have found there in the early 1920s.

No. Not, unfortunately, chessers. We are at Stop 1 on the map below...

...which is the location of the present home of Streatham and Brixton Chess Club, and the picture shows it as it was in the 1920s. We play our chess at the accommodating Woodfield Grove Tennis Club, now in its ninth decade, founded by the builders of the adjacent streets (WGTC). Three of our chessers also grace its courts...must ask them if they've tried chesstennis.

Although the tennis club was built in 1924 (and rebuilt in 2008), 4 Woodfield Avenue just round the corner was much older, though it no longer stands today. Together with number 2 it is replaced now by low-rise post-war flats; and that's a pity because Isidor "Mephisto" Gunsberg lived at no. 4 in his later years, and he died there on 2 May 1930 (TH). Gunsberg (born in 1854) is one of Tim Harding’s Eminent Victorian Chess Players.

There is a lot to say about Gunsberg’s chequered chess and private life (TH), including his peripatetic wanderings around South London, and elsewhere. We’ll give him an airing later on in our travels when we come across more of his ten known local addresses (we exaggerate tastelessly - one of them is a cemetery (TH)). There are even more further afield. Actually, we've encountered one of the local ones before.

Here is the man himself in his younger years.

BTW, we'll also come back to the chess strength of Gunsberg and the others we encounter. For now let's just note that he is assessed as having been of today's GM level (TH).

Stop 2 is south across Tooting Bec Common (no time to explain why the Bec is so-called), and down a bit. It is the site of the old Tooting Golf Course. E.E."Rb8" Colman (1878-1964), about whom we have blogged before, played there near the turn of the century (OU). You can see the course marked on this grainy 1896 map (right below) sandwiched between the River Graveney and the railway.

The present day street lay-out is on the left, with a “Links Road”, by the station, as an echo of yore. It has a Golf House, nos. 1 and 2, at the top end, possibly the old club house – pic top left in the composite below. The Golf Club opened in 1888. Colman might have rubbed shoulders there with the rich and famous, including golfing Prime Minister Arthur Balfour M.P. (1848-1930) who was also a member (TBGC). Sporting Balfour was President of the International Lawn Tennis Club of GB in the twenties and, according to O. C. Müller's reminiscences (BCM), also frequented Simpson's Chess Divan. Might Gunsberg have encountered the P.M. over the board, or if he also played golf - a big "if", for which no-one has offered any evidence - on the fairway?

Now we swing north and thread our way across the multi-cultural melting-pot of Tooting. If you need a comfort break there's The Castle on the High Street, with its chess-themed pub sign.

Otherwise, sticking to the red-dotted route on the map, we'll pass through early 20th century Arts and Craft Totterdown Fields Estate (pic top right below) - a style that might have met the discerning approval of another eminent Victorian: artist, critic, and chess commentator (of sorts) John Ruskin, and we'll meet him again, too. Pleasing though the Estate is, JR might tut-tut at the inauthentic white render and neo-Georgian front doors some have inflicted on its otherwise harmonious aspect.

Eventually we get to the quarter on the maps referred to as Upper Tooting. Henry "f4" Bird (1830-1908) lived there at 16 Chetwode Road, part of a modest Victorian terrace that still stands today (pic bottom left below) after narrowly escaping the attentions of a V1 buzz-bomb in WW2. This is Stop 3.

Drawing of H. E. Bird by Sam Loyd.
1877 Scientific American Supplement

This was his last known address before he died in 1908 (TH), which brings up the unlikely, and unchessic, connection between Bird and Colman: they are buried in the same cemetery in Gap Road on the Earlsfield/Wimbledon border a mile or so away. A visit there, however, would take us too far to the west, although nearer to Colman’s old stamping ground, and his club in Wimbledon (OU).

Upper Tooting (which sounds a bit grand; it's commonly known these days as Tooting Bec) has a prominent Charles Holden art-decoish tube station (pic bottom right in the composite below).

The Undergound arrived in the 1920s – too late for our Henry, who would have had to walk up to Balham overland station to get to Central London. We can follow him, and continue on as he would have done...

...in order to join the company at Nightingale Lane Chess Club (somewhere near Stop 5). Here he is at a their garden party, possibly in 1901, in the bath-chair on the right (EW). "He was always a humorous and cheerful old soul, in spite of the gout which often tormented him in his later years", according to Müller.

Nightingale Lane Chess Club demised as the years ticked by, and a Balham Club was also returned to the chess box of history (BCC), but the Clapham Common Chess Club was alive, kicking, and winning the London League in 1946/7 and 1947/8 (LCL), but alas no more. There are some who can still remember chess on the Common in the 70s, over by the bandstand (Stop 6). We have shown this picture before, but its worth another look.

Chess on Clapham Common in 1986

As we are now on Clapham Common (the chain of green open spaces - Richmond Park, Wimbledon, Clapham, Tooting Bec and Streatham Commons; Peckham Rye, Brockwell, Dulwich and Greenwich Parks, etc. - is South London's pride and joy) we might as well go on up to North Side (Stop 7) and, if he is at home, pay our respects to RDKOBE erstwhile member of S&BCC, and well known to readers of this blog and beyond. His (over?) enthusiastic championing of Howard "c4" Staunton (1810-1874) - RDK's book is "hagiographical in tone" (TH) - provides our first reference to the subject of the second chapter of Tim Harding's Eminent Victorian Chess Players.

Time for a break. Please double back to the Windmill On The Common for refreshment. If it turns out nice we’ll meet up next Saturday down by Clapham South tube, at the top of Balham Hill.

Acknowledgments/sources etc.
BCM: British Chess Magazine 1923-1932 An Anthology. Müller's Reminiscences are an article from November 1932.
EW: Edward Winter's Chess Notes: Where Did They Live?
TH: Eminent Victorian Chess Players. Tim Harding. McFarland &Co. 2012. Thanks to the author for permission to use the quotation near the end.
OU: E.E.Colman: A Chess Biography. Olimpiu Urcan. Singapore Heritage Society. 2007.
WGTC: Woodfield Grove Tennis Club, for its history and pic.
War damage info is based on The London County Council Bomb Damage Maps 1939-1945.

Bird portrait is on Google Images, sourced from EW Chess Note 3862. The same image also appears in Chess Archaeology. Bird was buried on 22 September 1908, grave reference D/B/120, but there is no visible trace. WFIW it is supposed to be somewhere in this area of the cemetery (2011 pic by MS).

Chess on Clapham Common pic by kind permission of Billy Rizcallah.
Gunsberg image taken from Czech Wikipedia. It also appears in EW's Chess Note 5154 which gives the origin of the picture itself as Illustrite Zeitung 5 July 1890.
Howard Staunton, the English World Champion. R. D. Keene and R. N. Coles. BCM. 1975.
Nightingale Bird pic is on Google Images, which got it from EW Chess Note 5972 where it is credited to BCM of 15 July 1964 to which it was submitted by Miss E.G. Bell of Worthing.
Old Map was grabbed from here; others from Google Maps.
Totterdown Estate is discussed here, pic from Google Images, as is Tooting Bec tube pic.
Other pics by MS.

Note added 3 September 2012.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Sixty Memorable Annotations

#9: Matulovic - Miles, Birmingham 1975

59 ... Rc3

This is the privilege of the attacking player in these situations. Before trying his main winning try, Miles first goes around in circles, giving his opponent maximum opportunity to go wrong.

John Emms, The Survival Guide to Rook Endings (Everyman Chess, 1999)

It's the nature of these two-week long tournaments. At the start they feel like they're going to last forever and yet, before you know it, they're almost half over.

Congratulations to The Corporal for racing into the lead. Currently it's four out of four for Jonesy with James Holland half a point back and Gordon, Gormally, Howell, Osbourne, Turner, Hawkins, Arkell, Hanley (CA), Harvey, Hanley (JL), Jackson and Foo the roll call of those with three points each.

If you didn't think of this reading that last sentence you've got no soul (or are just younger than me)

As it happens, of all the games in North Shields so far it was one played by the last of that list - Foo I mean, not Grub - that really caught my eye. Other than the fact that, like many juniors, his elo rating bears little relation to his ecf grade, I can't say I know too much about the lad, but he's certainly begun the tournament like he means business. Unbeaten and third equal after four rounds? That's not a bad start for anybody, let alone a fourteen-year-old.

Actually, it wasn't so much the whole of Foo-Houska that I liked. Really it's the ending that stands out for me. The queenside pawns got cleaned up at move 60 and not an awful lot changed until Jovanka faced losing her extra pawn on her 130th turn. At this point the players agreed a draw, much to the chagrin of those amongst us who thought we'd been gifted another fifty moves of rook and pawn ecstasy.

White to play


This sort of thing tends not to go down very well with some chessers, but I see no reason at all why Black shouldn't play on and on on if she wants to. OK, she's not really going to win White's pawn and even if she did, she's still not going to win the game. Nalimov assures me that you can remove the f2 pawn from the start position and objectively White is still quite safe, but why not keep going anyway? One feels that Jacob Aagaard (SMA#4) would probably agree.

Seventy moves were played, but Houska's pawns advanced no further than an asthmatic ant with some heavy shopping

Which brings us to the ninth of our Sixty Memorable Annotations. I've used Emms because a rook and pawn ending seemed the most appropriate, but I could just as easily have gone for this position

White to play

and de la Villa's observation that,

... it is a draw, but there are a couple of tricks worth knowing. If the white player is an expert, he will very likely try to take us to the critical position after going round and round.

There's something here about many stronger players being willing to go to any lengths to squeeze out an extra half-point, but that's not really our moral for today. More it's the principle that when the game is theoretically drawn the defender is likely find a 'going around the houses' approach trickier to handle than the attacker coming at him or her head on.

Think about Foo's situation. The defence looks straightforward enough when you click through the moves, but I'm sure it feels a little different when you're sitting at a board and have to play it for real. Perhaps you've been playing for five or six hours already. Perhaps you're down to thirty-second increments. Perhaps you're feeling the tension of the prospect of a good result against a higher-rated opponent. Perhaps you're battling against the feeling that the draw is in the bag and you can play anything and still not lose. Perhaps you know full well that the draw is in reach, but you're not going to be given it yet and meanwhile there's a little voice in the back of your head saying "careful you don't throw this away, careful you don't throw this away". Perhaps you're getting cross because the position is dead but your opponent won't accept it.

Playing on and on starts to look quite sensible doesn't it? It's not just keeping on trying to win but actually increasing your chances of winning by ratcheting up the pressure (or boredom, at least).

I know Foo-Houska isn't quite the same as Matulovic - Miles or de la Villa's queen v pawn position, but is it an ending of unnecessary moves? No, I don't think so. It was just Jovanka going around and around in circles - which is her privilege in this kind of situation.

Sixty Memorable Annotations Index

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Rumsfeld Redux

... there are known knowns. There are things we know that we know.

There are known unknowns. That is to say there are things that we now know we don't know.

But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we do not know we don't know.

The English Chess Federation Donald Rumsfeld

There are some things I know. I know that I know them.

1. The ECF line on the FIDE lawsuit, as reported by the CEO, was (and at the time of writing remains):-
The ECF Board first discussed this matter at a meeting on 26th February 2011

2. Alex McFarlane noticed a discrepancy between this statement and a report published by the Court for Arbitration of Sport.

3. Our FIDE Delegate has now confirmed that the case was started on,
24 February 2011 (Chess Vibes)

Some blog posts have photographs of people who are not actually mentioned in the text.
Get over it.

Was the matter discussed by the ECF board in the knowledge that legal action had already begun? It's possible, but if so not everybody was aware of it. Jack Rudd made clear a couple of days ago that he was,

... working on the assumption that it was an action that had yet to be initiated

when he voted in favour of ECF involvement in the lawsuit.

The possibility of some unknown unknowns becoming known unknowns or even known knowns notwithstanding, I think it not unreasonable to conclude therefore, that at the moment it looks like somebody committed the ECF to the lawsuit against FIDE before the matter was discussed by the board and either,

(a) the fact that the lawsuit had already been initiated was withheld from the entire board,


(b) the fact that the lawsuit had already been initiated was withheld from some members of the board but not others.

Do you know?

I would very much like to know exactly how the ECF came to be involved in the lawsuit against FIDE. I'd like to know what the board knew and whether we now know that there was something that any, some or all of board members didn't know that they didn't know.

I am also rather keen to find out how it is that the Federation hasn't yet felt itself able to publicly acknowledge this issue and yet the FIDE delegate has been free to write his open letter to Chess Vibes. If nothing else, I'd like to be sure that the organisation that runs English chess is not one that tolerates officers who do what they please, when they please, how they please.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Penarth 2012 : Streatham and Brixton against the grandmasters

Just as in our last outing to an international tournament, the Streatham and Brixton contingent at the South Wales International played three games against grandmasters*. Although the pattern was different - this time we all played one grandmaster each - the overall result, you'll not be astonished to hear, was precisely the same, to wit three points to the grandmasters and none at all to the Streatham and Brixton team.

However, just as with last year's series, we came away from the games feeling that we ought to have done better. Especially so with the two games that took place in the very first round: Angus French's game against Keith Arkell and mine against Boris Chatalbashev, from Sofia.

Not one of our victims at Penarth

I had the White pieces. Larger diagrams indicate positions from the game, smaller ones positions from analysis.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Penarth Pier Problem

Jonathan Speelman
White to play and win

One of the things that I like most about playing in a long tournament is the rhythm that you can settle in to. I know it's only the second day, but I bet half of the folk up in North Shields are already forming patterns that they'll be keeping for the rest of the fortnight.

My routine in Penarth went like this:-

  1. Wake up
  2. Meet EJH and Angus for breakfast at 8:30
  3. Quick walk
  4. Play chess
  5. Eat lunch
  6. Try to take a siesta
  7. Play chess
  8. Meet EJH and Angus at the pub for drink, food and a review of that day's games
  9. Sleep

Repeat to fade.

Unlike the British Championships, in Wales the schedule was two games one day and one game the next. Finding ourselves with an extra couple of hours to kill every other morning we would head down to the pier for a cup of tea and a look at a study or two. Solving in Style indeed.  Well, as far as the location went, anyway.

It turns out, that studies have their own rhythm too. It goes like this:-

  1. Set up position.
  2. Quickly find a solution that looks like it must work.
  3. Realise that if it was that easy it wouldn’t be John Nunn's book.
  4. Find a refutation to the original suggestion.
  5. Get stuck.
  6. Wonder if you have the right position on the board
  7. Check.
  8. Find out that you do.
  9. Make progress little by little: find an idea, find refutation to that idea; find refutation to the refutation.
  10. Consider the problem finally solved.
  11. Look up the solution.
  12. Discover that right or wrong you missed a third to a half of what was going on.

A fine place to not solve studies

Of all the studies we looked at, my favourite is the one that appears at the head of today’s blog. It looks so simple and yet, as it turned out, we spent nearly all the time it took to nail the blighter following red herrings into dead ends.

It actually ended up taking hours of effort spread over several days, not to mention a hint from Jack Rudd, for us to finish the thing off. So long did we spend on it, in fact, that Justin christened it The Penarth Pier Problem. I leave it for you today for your enjoyment.

Monday, July 23, 2012

They're Off

We’re off. Again. Yes, the British Championships have come around once more. Hands up who thinks it feels like a year since Sheffield.

As usual, we’re going alter our normal schedule and post every day until North Shields finishes on the fifth of August. Today, to get things going, we’re going to revisit a ghost of ECF past and then take a look at a ghoulie that may come lumbering into view in the near future. We'll kick off the post, though, with this year's tournament.

Previously: 2010, 2011

I’ve seen it said that the absence of Adams, McShane and Short will make little difference and that the 2012 British will be just as much fun as ever. I understand that point of view, but still I find it impossible to agree.

For those playing in the festival it might well be true, but for spectators and for British chess in general, the non-appearance of the three highest-rated players in the country must inevitably detract from the Championship tournament. This is not to say that the events that took the big three to Sheffield should have been repeated and neither is it to cock a snook at this year’s top ten. After all seven grandmasters and three International Masters is hardly shabby. It's simply that while the Championship might well be as fascinating as it always was prior to 2011, it’s simply not going to hit last year’s heights.

On the upside, however, we can also be fairly confident that no damage will be done to English chess this time around. In considering the trade-off, I for one am prepared to count North Shields as a win.

Let’s turn the clock back a year. For understandable reasons it was the end of the tournament that subsequently got most attention, but it shouldn’t be forgotten that the first of Sheffield’s surprises was Ray Keene turning up at the opening ceremony. It didn’t take long to emerge that Raymondo’s presence came as much of a shock to the English Chess Federation as it did to everybody else and although a carefully-worded statement followed it was entirely obvious that the President’s failure to discuss RDK’s visit with anybody else was anything but ‘Situation Normal’ as the ECF were trying to claim.

Back to the future and it’s still hard to see The Mysterious Appearance of Ray in any other way than exactly as it appeared at the time. Which is to say, it seems that at best CJ de Mooi acted as if he didn’t care what anybody else in the ECF thought and at worst the President deliberately withheld his plans from the board to avoid the possibility of anybody objecting.

Some people have full schedules. Get over it.

So here we are once more. Another Round One at another British Championship, and once again the ECF finds itself being asked a rather fundamental question.

Alex McFarlane has noticed an interesting discrepancy with regard to the English Chess Federation’s involvement in the ill-fated FIDE law suit. The official line, Alex notes, was that

The ECF Board first discussed this matter at a meeting on 26th February 2011
(e.g.  here)

and yet, Alex says,

... the CAS report clearly states that part of the action taken by Georgia and the ECF was initiated on February 24th. (See Sec III para18)

It could be something, it could be nothing. It might just be a typo for all I know. Whatever the truth turns out to be, those who say that now is not the time to investigate (there’ll always somebody who’ll cry ‘too early’ just as there will always be those who’ll call ‘too long ago’ if you wait) or that this is a non-issue raised as part of a personal vendetta do our favourite game no favours at all. Alex’s questions as to what actually happened and in what order raise fundamental issues for the ECF. Exactly the ones that you might have hoped had already been resolved in the post-mortem to the various Sheffield debacles, in fact.

When it comes down to it, the question that English chess must answer is this: is the ECF an organisation that runs the game on a collective and open basis for the benefit of all of us, or is it the plaything of individual officers who are welcome to do whatever they might happen to feel like doing at any given moment? I’d like to believe that one day we'll get to the point where the stock response to suggestions that ECF officials are making private decisions on behalf of the organisation is simply, "Well, that's just not the way things happen in English chess." We're a long way from that, though. That is why, clerical error or not, the McFarlane question is an important one and that is why we shouldn’t wait until the British Championship is over before we give our answer.

By the time you read this, some of the games in North Shields may have started. If anybody plays like I did in Wales, it’s entirely possible that some may even be finished. It would certainly be a great shame if this year’s tournament was overshadowed by chess politics, but I see no reason why it should be. In any event, we at the S&BC Blog feel that we can cover both and still find room for our memories of Penarth.

We’ll be back tomorrow with some advice as to what you can do if you ever find yourself stuck in the drizzle at the end of a pier. Let’s finish today, though, with a thought for all those who are pushing wood at the British today: whatever the event in which you’re taking part, I wish you all the very best of whatever it is that you call luck.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Stop Press: Historic Chess Picture in Town

Apologies if you've just tuned in hoping to catch Saturday's post (ejh's creepy A Literary Reference - linked here), but I just had to mention that a piece of chess art history is in town. I only discovered this yesterday, and it is only on show until Saturday 28th July - hence this rather breathless post.

The work is at the Alison Jacques Gallery in Berners Street (off New Oxford Street) and it is the original of Dorothea Tanning's "Chess Tournament at the Julien Levy Gallery January 6, 1945 - a collage with three photographs by Julien Levy".

We have blogged about it before, where you can get the details of the event, and the story of Dorothea's encounter with chess. The composite picture shows Koltanowski giving a blindfold simul against six surrealist artists involved in Levy's The Imagery of Chess Exhibition at the turn of 1944/5. Koltanowski is the fourth figure from the left (seated, back-turned). Standing, back to us, is Marcel Duchamp playing Kolti's moves. Dorothea Tanning is seated next to husband Max Ernst (at the end of the row) with whom she lived for over 30 years. The flame effect, created by inverting an image of an ivy, "alludes to the intensity of the encounter" says the Gallery's Press Release.

What's so riveting, when seeing the collage for real, is that it is so small (just 8 x 14 cm) and so "pre-digital". Although it is composed from photographs, they don't behave as we nowadays expect: they are visibly stuck together, and make no pretence of being anything else; you can see the joins and the aged, curling edges. Nothing is air-brushed out. It both records and makes an art-work of that unique event, and so has an "aura", a resonance, that you don't sense when looking at an electronic reproduction (such as the one above). Which is the reason for getting to the exhibition, and experiencing it, before it is too late.

Dorothea Tanning made it to 101 (she died in January this year) and in her long life she was a biographer, novelist, poet, and artist in many media - but always inflected with surrealism. The exhibition shows her early collages (Chess Tournament amongst them) and, in the main gallery space, later ones composed in her 70s and 80s (!), which exercise a dark fascination. Follow the links on the Gallery's website to get the flavour.