Friday, October 31, 2014

Border country

He's also the first European to hold the world title since the 1930s.
Thus spake Dominic Lawson, of Magnus Carlsen, when introducing his Radio Four programme on Monday. It's a very strange thing to say, not least because it's obviously wrong, unless we make an assumption which we're not really entitled to make.

Now I'm aware that who is, or is not, a European is far from being a settled question, nor has it ever been. (My wife lived in Turkey for three years. Which continent is that?) But for the moment, at any rate, let's take the view that - as explained here - the boundary between Europe and Asia is denoted by this red line.

Click on the image on Wikipedia and it becomes slightly less incomprehensible

and see where that view - or indeed diverging from that view - may take us.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

DG XIII: The Stanford Center

In summary: We object to the claim that brain games offer consumers a scientifically grounded avenue to reduce or reverse cognitive decline when there is no compelling scientific evidence to date that they do. The promise of a magic bullet detracts from the best evidence to date, which is that cognitive health in old age reflects the long-term effects of healthy, engaged lifestyles. In the judgment of the signatories, exaggerated and misleading claims exploit the anxiety of older adults about impending cognitive decline. We encourage continued careful research and validation in this field. 
The Stanford Center of Longevity

Last week we were talking about 'good things' with regard to chess and dementia (DG XIII: Doctor Jana Berlin) and today we have another reason to be cheerful: the publication of a statement by the Stanford Center of Longevity.

Can we take the Stanford Center’s A Consensus on the Brain Training Industry and automatically apply it to chess and the questions we’ve been considering in the Doctor Gary series? Clearly not. We can no more assume that the terms 'chess' and 'brain training computer software' are interchangeable than we can decide that 'board games' and 'chess' mean exactly the same thing.

No, the value of the report for chessers is not its conclusions, but rather the nature of its critique. We only need consider a handful of excerpts.

It is customary for advertising to highlight the benefits and overstate potential advantages of their products.
Often, however, the cited research is only tangentially related to the scientific claims of the company, and to the games they sell
The consensus of the group is that claims promoting brain games are frequently exaggerated and at times misleading 
To date, there is little evidence that playing brain games improves underlying broad cognitive abilities, or that it enables one to better navigate a complex realm of everyday life. 
Many scientists cringe at exuberant advertisements claiming improvements in the speed and efficiency of cognitive processing and dramatic gains in “intelligence”, in particular when these appear in otherwise trusted news sources. 
Perhaps the most pernicious claim, devoid of any scientifically credible evidence, is that brain games prevent or reverse Alzheimer’s disease.

The questions that the chess world might ask itself with regard to whether and how the game might be an effective intervention with respect to dementia - and how we come to the conclusions that we draw - are not so difficult to tease out are they?

Some intriguing isolated reports do inspire additional research ....

Some of the initial results are promising and make further research highly desirable.

... at present, these findings do not provide a sound basis for the claims made by commercial companies selling brain games.

Sound familiar?

While all of that is more than enough reason to welcome the publication of the Stanford Center statement, the signatories supply a bonus item too: an answer to anybody who would like to pretend that the misreporting (misrepresentation is probably more accurate) of the evidence around chess and dementia is a victimless crime.

Another drawback of publicizing computer games as a fix to deteriorating cognitive performance is that it diverts attention and resources from prevention efforts. 
... we also need to keep in mind opportunity costs ... Time spent playing the games is time not spent reading, socializing, gardening, exercising, or engaging in many other activities that may benefit cognitive and physical health of older adults 

And above all,
... exaggerated and misleading claims exploit the anxiety of adults facing old age ....

A simple question for anybody prepared to look the other way when such claims are made for our game. Is that really what you want for chess?

Chess and Dementia Index

Monday, October 27, 2014

A Pair of ISEs or An Exchange of Exchanges?

White to play
Karpov - Kasparov, World Championship Match 1990 (Lyon) Game 13

The same World Championship match as last week’s post (Day of days), albeit in a different city on a different continent.

White to play another ISE? Maybe.

Karpov did indeed go 20 Rxc3 and after ... Bxc3, 21 Ne4

Black to play

Gazza returned the material with 21 ... Rxe4.

Whizzing through the game I’d assumed that this sequence was - like Kramink - Illescas 1994 - an exchange of pieces foreseen by both players. As it happens on this video recorded after the match, Karpov reckons Kasparov simply missed White’s 20th and the counter sacrifice is the best way to limit Black’s disadvantage thereafter.

Still, I’m going to bump my ISE count by two anyway.

2014 ISE Count: 61
TISE Index

Saturday, October 25, 2014

County Counting: 2. More Isidor

We had a first look at the two volumes of the Surrey County Chess Association Match Books, 1884-1967, in Prefacethe opening episode in this, the third strand of posts on the chess history of our locality (see Streatham Strolls and Brixton Byways for the other two). Running these three in parallel inevitably means overlap and cross reference - but hopefully to mutual advantage rather than tedious repetition. This post is a case in point. It concerns one of Streatham's several en passant chess professionals and one of Tim Harding's Eminent Victorian Chess Players: Isidor Gunsberg (1854-1930).

Here he is again, looking rather dapper, and rather more Edwardian than Victorian. It is as he appeared (according to the excellent Chess Archeology, from whence this picture comes) in 1905 in the American Chess Bulletin - which is just after Queen Victoria hung up her crown in 1903 - when he was about 50 years old.  Some time later Gunsberg, chess professional and one time contender for the World Championship (see here), appeared in the Match Books, playing for the Surrey County - which is perhaps surprising as these are a record of amateur matches. So what was he doing there?

Friday, October 24, 2014

DG XII: Doctor Jana Bellin

[Dr Jana Bellin] is willing to prepare a considered comment on the interesting matter of chess and seniors, people with Alzheimer's and so on. 
Stewart Reuben, EC Forum

I’m not a glass half-full person by nature. Not exactly half-empty either. By default setting I’m much more a 'there’s not enough water in the cup because somebody knocked it over and now I’ve got a big stain on my trousers and I’m going to have to walk around all afternoon looking like I’ve weed myself' kind of a guy.

Which is why I’m always pleased - if not outright surprised - when I am in a position to report some good news. And today is one of those days.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Patriarchal theory

I happened to be discussing the famous Botvinnik-Fischer game with some friends when Angus French pointed out an interesting anomaly at a crucial point.

The anomaly isn't in the game, so much as in Botvinnik's comments on it: at Black's seventeenth move he gave a couple of short variations which he had apparently analysed in his preparation, but which Fischer sidestepped by choosing a third move instead.

Here's the variations given on page 243 of Fischer's My 60 Memorable Games (Faber and Faber, 1972)

and here they are on page 242 of Kasparov's My Great Predecessors, part 2 (Everyman, 2004).

Monday, October 20, 2014

Day of days

White to play
Kasparov - Karpov World Championship Game 4, New York 1990

Last Friday’s post from EJH marked the 43rd anniversary of the sixth game of the Fischer - Petrosian Candidates’ Final. We’re revisiting another 17th October today too, although we don’t have to go quite as far back for this one.

It’s not exactly a coincidence. You play World Championship Chess for a century or more, you’re going to have plenty of examples of two or more important and/or memorable games being played on the same day.

I wonder, though, what the most significant date for chess history is. Has anybody ever worked it out? If not feel free to make a suggestion in the comments box. Or just enjoy Gazza leaving an exchange en prise for ten moves before Anatoly finally bit, if you prefer.

2014 ISE Count: 59
TISE Index

Saturday, October 18, 2014

What Marcel Might Teach You

An exhibition "What Marcel Duchamp Taught Me" has just opened, in which today's "conceptual" artists, reflect, in words and pictures and things, on their debt to Marcel Duchamp. It is at the Fine Arts Society, 148 New Bond Street, W1, and it is on until 5th November - free downloadable catalogue on their website.

A lot of it is good fun, at least I thought so. As for a homage to his chess (not, if the truth be told, a major focus of the artists involved) there's a holographic chess piece, a recycled chess set, a chessic totem pole, and a painting called "Pawn" - which references Marcel's "Nude Descending a Staircase" (according to the press release).

If you do visit, have a go at the interactive headphone installation: it is accessed on the top floor. Stick with it and you, too, will descend a staircase, and you might be surprised where it leads you (clothes optional).

Die-hard Duchampophiles might also fancy hopping over to Paris for a show of his paintings, on until 5 January, at the Pompidou Centre.  

Beware: nudes descending. 
A longer appreciation of these exhibitions may follow in a few weeks time.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Why didn't Petrosian play 3.e3?

The sixth game of Petrosian's 1971 match with Fischer, the Candidates' Final, took place on the seventeenth of October. As Petrosian lost the game and the three that followed, the match is probably best remembered now as the fourth of Fischer's five consecutive crushing victories which began with the procession at the Palma Interzonal became and ended with his trouncing of Spassky in Reykjavík.

Or was that Fisher?

Whoever owns AGON, they can neither spell Fischer nor resist the 600 million nonsense.

It didn't seem like that on the afternoon of 17 October: the scores were equal, Petrosian had the advantage of the White pieces and should have had the advantage on the scoreboard, which stood at 2.5:2.5. Granted, he'd lost the first game, but he'd been winning out of the opening: in the second he annihilated Fischer, bringing to an end a twenty-game winning streak, quite likely the most impressive (though not the longest) in the history of chess.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Clearly not a sacking offence

Private Eye 1377, 17 October 2014, page 6.

[Thanks to Pablo Byrne]

[Ray Keene index]
[Ray Keene plagiarism index]

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Dear Roy and Norris

White to play
P. Barasi v JMGB, Surrey League 14.10.2014

My game from last night. Move six.

I was really hoping White was going to play e2-e4. Not because I thought it was a bad move. Purely because I wanted my next turn to be ... dxe4. When my first six moves

... f5
... g6
... fxg4
... d5
... c6 
... dxe4
would have been pawns going to light squares.

Somewhat to my disappointment Paul actually went 6 Qd2 and only on his next go did he push his e-pawn forward two squares. So I did still get six of seven which is not bad at all, but can anybody do better?

Monday, October 13, 2014

From a Shoebox Under the Bed: Australia

White to play
JMGB v C. Kinsman, Perth Open (6) 31.1.1993

The subject of my Australian Chess Federation rating came up in comments to PUMR? II. My old friend Rob Maris - previously of Dunmow and Chelmsford in Essex, now a resident of Perth WA - let it be known that my ACF rating is a princely 1879. Which doesn’t seem much of a return for the +7 =3 -2 that I scored in two tournaments there in December 1992 and January 1993. That said, pleased as I am to learn of the existence of another rating with which I can be dissatisfied, 20+ years on it may be time to let this one go.

Anyhoo, scrabbling around under my bed I found I still have 9 of my scoresheets from those dozen games, the last of them being against a certain Mr C Kinsman. I remember be rather pleased with my play at the time, although my killjoy computer was none too impressed when I showed it. My theory ran out after 15 moves and HIARCS thinks that the game was effectively decided over the next four. After Black’s 19 ... bxa3,

White to play

the B.I.M thinks I’m just winning rather easily. During the game it seemed obvious to me that my attack was worth the sacrificed piece at the very least, but it certainly didn’t feel that the game was decided at this point.

Five moves later, though, we'd reached the position at the head of today’s blog and I did think that I must be about to win.

White to play

I played 26 Rd4 planning to win the queen after 27 Re8+ and 28 Rc4. Black thumped his king’s rook down on g8 and a moment of panic notwithstanding - I thought that I was going to be the one mated with 28 ... Rg1+ and 29 ... Ra1 - I managed to bring the point home.

A pleasing finish to my down-under chessing I’ve always thought, and yet the engine remains underwhelmed.  My move is only +26. It seems I have two different ways to give up a rook allowing Black to recapture with the bishop. One leads to mate in 5, one to mate in 11.

I’m not sure what the correct term for this sort of thing should be. Implied ISEs, perhaps? And maybe not so much of the I either, since the game ended in my favour a few minutes later anyway. Still even if back then I wouldn’t have cared in the slightest, looking back it does feel like a small missed opportunity not to  have finished the game in a more elegant fashion.

2014 ISE COUNT: 60
TISE Index

Saturday, October 11, 2014

County Counting: 1. Preface

Our various series on the chess history of our locality - here in this corner of south-west London - are getting more and more confused. First we had Streatham Strolls which, after noting the imprint of chess history on SW16, went off piste and south to Rodmel, in Sussex, then east to Brockley in the London Borough of Lewisham. It will go west as well: some time soon. For one episode anyway. Then Brixton Byways wended its tortuous way through SW9 and SW2 before entwining itself with the origins of Streatham Chess Club: south once again to SW16. And there is yet more to come here - in the not too distant future. If we don't get lost.

Now, we will add a third strand to this spaghetti conjunction, with considerable thanks to Martin Cath, long time officer of the Surrey County Chess Association (currently its Curator of Trophies), who has kindly given me access to a pair of remarkable (and in one case, ancient) volumes: the County Match Books - which go back to the very first Surrey county match in 1884. These are so fascinating that I have interrupted normal service to research and post about these wonderful documents.  

Encounters with remarkable books.
(With thanks to the SCCA)
This first episode, in an occasional series, is a kind of preface before we delve deep into their combined eighty-seven years of history.

Friday, October 10, 2014

What a carve-up!

Well, tomorrow some time Ray Keene's friend will be elected President of the English Chess Federation, not that "elected" is the right term for a one-candidate affair deliberately organised in such a way as to avoid a contest. There was, of course, no need to do it that way: the electorate could have been provided with a variety of names, or the Board's preference could have been announced well in advance so as to allow for the emergence of other candidates, as opposed to at the last minute, giving opponents no chance. But instead it was deliberately done in such a way as to allow for the minimum of discussion and the maximum of dissatisfaction. So well done.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

On the Nevil

Talking about Andy Costello nearly going to prison, as I was yesterday, there was some action on the jail front this summer, but it was Nevil Chan, erstwhile national co-ordinator of Chess in Schools and Communities, who went down. Curiously, Nevil too had previous form, albeit only a caution for forgery, but it was enough to send him to the big house for a six-month stretch.

As it happens Nevil does have a connection to chessboxing, albeit one very slight and tangential indeed.

From the site:

Still, enough to raise the prospect of a Curse of Chessboxing. Who's next for the Curse, I wonder? Is Ray going on Saturday?

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

The Great Chessboxing Swindle: said goodbye to the circus

There's another chessboxing event in London this Saturday. You can look up the details yourselves - you won't miss much if you don't. Basically it's the same clowns in the same ring as it usually is.

Well, not quite the same. The same except one. One in particular.

Monday, October 06, 2014

Interesting and Difficult ISEs: the Baku Grand Prix vs the London League

Black to play
Caruana - Gelfand, Baku Grand Prix 03.10.2014

"Interesting" - the website formally known as Chess Vibes.
"Interesting" - Chessbase.
"!?" -  Chess24.
"!?" - Chess Today #5078

If ever there was an exchange sacrifice made for this series, it seems this is it.

Boris’ 18 ... Rxe3 would have been considered a big TN not so long ago, but if you watch the press conference you’ll see that Fab had also had it on his board/computer screen at home long before the game was played.

Black to play
JMGB v Ron Harris, London League 29.09.2014

It was a rather different story at Golden Lane, a few days before Caruana and Gelfand were battling it out in Baku.

The previous moves had been 13 Rb1 bxc4, 14 bxc4 exd5, 15 Nxd5 bringing us to the diagram you see here. I was pretty much expecting my opponent - presumably not that RH - to play 15 ... Rxb2 here. Not because I’d had this position before or had studied it before, but because giving up rook for bishop like that is the sort of thing you do in this line (e.g. see TISE IV from April 2011).

As it happens, Black did indeed ISE, although, slightly to my disappointment, he immediately took the material back with 15 ... Rxb2, 16 Rxb2 Nxd5, 17 Bxd5 Bxb2, 18 Qxb2.

Black to play

My opponent had only used about three minutes to get this far, although I assume he wasn’t still in book either since this position seems rather pleasant for White to me.

I’m not saying staying material down - after 17 ... Bf5 instead of 17 ... Bxb2, say - would have been a better choice, but the resulting position would have been ... well, "interesting" is the word that comes to mind. And tricky.

No ISE as played and I have the obvious plan of trying to exploit the a1-h8 diagonal. With the ISE, I confess I’m not entirely sure what White should be doing. e2-e4 for starters then trying to keep the knight out of the game whilst pootling around hoping the extra material becomes useful, perhaps.

Well, JMGB - Harris ended in a draw anyway. Still, it seems to me that some of the comments to Caruana - Gelfand, particularly Chess24’s "The play that followed was fiendishly difficult" and Baburin’s "This is a good practical decision - while this sacrifice does not offer Black equality, it's certainly easy for him to play now" in Chess Today, might also be applied to game played by chessers with a combined elo around 1,500 points lower that Caruana and Gelfand’s.

2014 ISE Count: 58
TISE Index

Sunday, October 05, 2014

None other than

What's Ray writing about in the Spectator these days? Let's have a look at yesterday’s issue...

...and have a closer look at that first paragraph.

Jackie Eales. Who might she be? Whoever she is, Ray's really interested in this Canterbury lecture, since he's also written about it twice in the Times.

Saturday, October 04, 2014

I knew Nick Clegg was desperate but I didn't realise he was that desperate

EDIT 5 October: thanks to our correspondent who correctly identifies the dinner as the Second Integration Dinner with Deputy Prime Minister Clegg organised by the World Congress of Overseas Pakistanis. As opposed to dinner with Nick Clegg as such.

Bonus points for spotting a couple of names among the organisers:

both Arif Anis and Suhail Chugtai were among the chancers last seen with Ray here.

Friday, October 03, 2014


Dirk Jan ten Geuzendam, New in Chess, 2014#6, page 14

You know, if I were a leading chess journalist and I had spent several days in a small place in which, by my account, bribery and vote-selling was rampant, yet nevertheless I'd not been able to come up with one single example I could stand by - I really wouldn't go out of my way to shout about how widespread and blatant it had been.

Because it would make me look a bit useless, wouldn't it?

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Pump Up My Rating? II

I got my first Elo rating in September 2011, right after Benasque. Nine games in Spain, four at e2e4’s Gatwick Open in June and another 4 at the Sunningdale Major in May saw me come out at 2049.

I’d actually I played 12 games in those last two events, but even before I had a rating I had begun running up a big plus score in games that didn’t count - a habit that led to my Elo DWP? post last February. Anyhoo 2049 was not a bad start at all, I thought.

Within three months I had shipped 130 points.

The day the January 2012 rating list came out I made a vow: I might have just dipped below 2000, but by hook or by crook I will get myself out of the 1900s.

Two years and nine months later, I have finally achieved that goal.