Thursday, December 24, 2015


Jon says:

It's the testudo again!

Take it slow over the holidays.

[More testudo]
[Testudo formation]

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Iglesias and the dangers of chess

El País, 29 November 2015:

If you've followed the news in the last couple of days you'll probably have read a little bit, some of it possibly accurate, about Podemos, Pablo Iglesias and the results of last weekend's election. What you probably won't have read is that Iglesias's aim for Podemos is expressed in a phrase borrowed from chess.
Pablo Iglesias
reads the opening sentence
has built a good part of his project on the basis of a metaphor which he borrowed from chess.
The metaphor, which of course is not at all a metaphor in the game itself, is "ocupar la centralidad del tablero", which, as I'm sure you can work out, is "occupy the centre of the board". The phrase was apparently included in the founding statement of Podemos when it was set up only last year.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The Worst Move On The Board XXV

Guo-Kjartansson, London Chess Classic Open, round two, 5 December 2015.
Position after 51...Rb1-b2+.

From Chess Today 5508 by way of Angus French. White, outrated by several hundred Elo points, nevertheless has a draw when she wants it against her IM opponent, but naturally, with two pawns on the seventh, she wants more.

There's only one way to play for a win. Coincidentally, there's only one way to play for a loss...

[Worst move index]

Monday, December 21, 2015

Apparently Got Something to do with chess XII

They first meet as ten-year-old chess prodigies - both lonely, intent on winning, both wearing the symbol of the gold coiled serpent. They know the uses of pleasure, the secrets of pain, the impact of evil turned upon itself. They understand the deadly forces that grip the world in swift violence, and sudden death. But only one man may be the Grandmaster.

Or so it says here.

A better bet than Los Voraces 2019 as a self-given Chrimbo gift, perhaps.

... to do with chess Index

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Cover version: The Pete Rugolo Orchestra

The Pete Rugolo Orchestra: Rugolo Plays Kenton (Capitol, 1958).

[Cover version index]
[Thanks to Stewart Reuben]

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Leonard Barden

Leonard Barden needs your help.
I have been lodging in a house in Sydenham, South London, for the past ten years. A few weeks ago my landlord told me that he was selling up due to mortgage problems and that I would have to leave by the end of this month, ie by 31 December.

I have been looking for somewhere else, but so far without success. I have been paying £100 a week, but most advertised rooms are much more expensive than that. Even more of a disadvantage is that nobody wants a tenant in his eighties. I have applied to Lewisham council, but it is unclear whether that will produce a result and even if it does the bureaucratic wheels grind slowly. I even tried the local chess club to see if anyone would put me up, but no luck.

Hence this approach to Forum members. My needs are rather modest, basically a table and chair to work, a place fairly close to public transport and shops as I don't have a car, within the area covered by a Freedom Pass and ideally within reasonable travel distance of London Bridge where I have to go at weekends. I can pay up to around £100 a week, and as an extra would be available for chess training games/analysis/coaching if desired, though this is entirely optional.

If anyone has a suggestion, please send me a pm or alternatively email me at Even an offer of a camp bed on somebody's floor for a few weeks might make the difference, although naturally I'd prefer the option of a longer period.
If you can help, please contact Leonard. If you can't, please distribute in the general direction of other people, in case they can.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Definitely Got Something to do with chess XII

The rules of "The Greatest Tournament in Chess History," the USD 20 million Sheldrake Memorial Tournament, a.k.a. Los Voraces 2019, are: no seconds, no agents, no computers, no entourages, no pagers, no power palms, no phone calls - no outside contact of any kind - as the fourteen greatest chess players in the world gather to compete for money and fame.

Or so it says here.

Anybody read this? I was wondering if it might make a reasonable Christmas present to myself.

... to do with chess Index

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Hundreds of millions people

Chess is played by hundreds of millions people [sic] worldwide (according to Yougov, the British market research firm)
Not so much "according to YouGov", more "according to Dylan Loeb McClain", who made the claim writing the other day for AGON. (Or, if you prefer, for Ilya Merenzon.)

OK, it's not the full 605 million, but I'm going to include it in our series, because it's still a ludicrous estimate - and one just as specious, since, as regular readers know, it's not "according to YouGov" at all.

It's just another made-up, and not made up by them.

[Thanks to our informant]
[605 million index]

Monday, December 14, 2015

John Priestley

I remember John. I played him in my sixth ever rated game. I’m not sure exactly when it happened, but I joined Chelmsford Chess Club after the third of the Kasparov - Karpov matches - the one that started in London then moved to Leningrad - so it would have been late 1986 or perhaps early 1987.

Strange the details that you remember. It was the third round of the club championship. I was White and the game began

1 d4 Nf6, 2 c4 g6, 3 Nc3 Bg7, 4 e4 d6, 5 f3 0-0, 6 Bg5

as recommended by a certain Ray Keene in his Audio Chess publication A d4 c4 Repertoire for White. I was ready for ... Nc6 and ... c5. I also knew that ... e5 was a blunder.

John played 6 ... c6. That should have been an early lesson that opening manuals would be of limited use to me in my chess career because my opponents were not going to be playing the moves that the authors said they should. It took another quarter of a century for that particular penny to drop, though.

I lost the game of course. John was one of two players at the club who were head and shoulders above everybody else and he won easily. Afterwards, we shared a few words and he gave me some tips on how I could have improved my play. I remember him being generous with his time.

That was nearly 30 years ago. At the time I thought of John as an older man. In reality he was younger then than I am today.

I must have played 1,000 or more rated games of chess since the one I played with John. He was one of those who set me on my way.

On Saturday, I received this email from Robin Slade (somebody who was still at school when I knew him at Chelmsford Chess Club) ...

I’m sorry to have to tell you that it was announced in the Essex Chronicle this week that John Priestley has died. He was involved in the NECL from the very start and wrote a history of the league in 1986. Even before the league began in 1964 John was an active member of Chelmsford Chess Club. 
John gave up competitive chess many years ago. But he kept up an interest in the game and when I saw him periodically in the library knew more about the international chess scene than I did. He occasionally popped up at Chelmsford club and was the honorary President of the league for many years. 
Others are better placed to give a chess biography but he was a very strong player and drew with GM to-be Tony Miles at a Chelmsford Congress in the 1970s. He was the first person I played at Chelmsford and I remember him telling me not to worry because although he was Chairman he wasn’t the best player at the club. This did not turn out to be the most accurate summary of his strength he could have given an 11 year old. 
His funeral will be at Chelmsford Crematorium on Wednesday at 11.30am. Donations to Farleigh Hospice or floral tributes are welcome. He was 73. Please pass these details onto whoever either currently or previously in your club would like to know. 
Best Wishes

Friday, December 11, 2015

Played on Squares 7: Miss Strachey's Feeling For Snow

In the previous - also unplanned - episode 6 of this Played on Squares sequence we took the opportunity to examine the Social Chess Quarterly and the Empire Social Chess Club in the 1930s. This was a necessary prelude to our reacquaintance with Marjorie Strachey who, as far as our researches have taken us to date, was the only real chesser in the Bloomsbury Group (the theme of the series - though there isn't much Bloomsbury in these two supplementary episodes). Marjorie played in a few proper chess tournaments in the mid/late 1930s, and - as we discovered by accident in the British Library, just a few days after #5 was published - she claimed a serious chess scalp thenabouts. We'll get to this later.

Episode 6 ended with Arthur Firth, the Editor of the SCG, announcing in his magazine the closure (in July 1935) of the ESCC's rent-free clubroom at Whiteley's. So now we need to establish what happened next, and - while we are about it - just who was Arthur Firth. To get us on our way we will retrace our steps a little, and say a bit more about the Empire Social Chess Club - and someone who we have met before in another chess history context.

Hampstead CC - Champions of the London League A and B, 1911/12
Picture courtesy of Gordon Cadden 
The circled figure is Ernest Montgomery Jellie (1866-1949). You may remember him from this post on the Blog almost exactly a year ago to the day when we recounted his adventures with Hampstead CC.

EMJ was not an especially exceptional chess player in those late Edwardian years, but - as we were pleased to document - he was certainly a dedicated one, and had his moments at the board. He had his moments off it, too: for example fathering a son - the grandfather of my chess colleague Andrew Stone (a top board of Streatham and Brixton CC in the London League). It was because of this quirky coincidence across the decades that EMJ was featured twelve months ago.

It happens that in addition to the above-mentioned Hampstead CC, Andrew's great-grandfather was a member of the Empire Social Chess Club - as we'll show below. Thus he can be placed - circumstantially, at least - in chessic proximity to Marjorie Strachey. It was as an ESSC member, as you will have surmised, that Marjorie had her singular chess triumph. On account of this connection, Ernest Montgomery Jellie merits our attention once again.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Higher! Higher!

So, Polgar reckons 700 million? Kirsan can do better!

Any advance?

[605 million index]

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Whatever happened to the French Defence?

Ray's Times column for 17 November was about an iffy line of the Tarrasch French.

He's right, I think: even the UK's foremost French player has struggled in that line. I played it myself, once, in a club game in South Shields, and got away with it, but I doubt I'll give it another go. It was round about the turn of the millennium, when I was playing all sorts of nonsense - but still, I found I liked other versions of the French (the MacCutcheon, the ...Be7 Tarrasch) enough to keep on playing it, now and then, whenever I wanted a break from 1. e4 e5.

Not for the first time in my life, it seems that I was getting into something just when everybody else was getting out, because if there was a surge of enthusiasm for the French Defence, at about that time, the surge stopped surging when I joined it. We've not seen much of the French, at the highest level, in the past few years. At the highest level of all, we've not seen it since 1978.

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Letter to the editor IV

The Times
8th December 1977

Disapproving of chess
From Mr Ian K. Maconochie

Sir, I read with surprise Bernard Levin’s statement in his article on chess (November 21) [sic – JB] that "it has never incurred ecclesiastical displeasure", as not long before the end of the sixteenth century Muslims, Roman Catholics, Jewish and Anglican religions had at one time or another forbidden the playing of the game.

Muslims have a reference to chess as being a form of idol worship in the Koran, though after the prophet Mohammed’s death the decision was altered on condition that no exchange of money or improper language took place.  Think of the situation of chess today if this were generally implemented!

Various ecclesiastical decrees, for example those by the Worcester Synod in 1240, and in France by the Provincial Council of Beziers in 1255 were made after an argument between the Bishop of Octia and the Bishop of Florence ended, with the result that the Bishop of Florence did penance for transgressing the Canon Law.

Knights Tempar up until the fifteenth century were forbidden to play chess, and from the rules of Apostolic Canon, at 1110 a monk in Eastern Church wrote that the penalty for playing was excommunication!

So if chess be the eighth deadliest sin, I stand condemned.

(Westgate-on-Sea, Kent)

From Mr A. Hepner

Sir, I asked a rabbi (himself a keen player) whether it was sinful to play chess on the Sabbath.  He said that the way I played it was a sin to play any day of the week!

(Hendon Chess Club)

38 years on now.  Does anybody know if these two guys are still around?

Friday, December 04, 2015

Opportunity not

Last word, unless it isn't, on that Stephen Moss article. Two points.

1. In the piece, writing of the English Chess Forum, Moss writes:
A brief examination of a discussion titled "The arbiter nexus" on the English Chess Forum provides a flavour of these decades-long battles; some of these men – and they are all men...
Moss quotes, or interviews, the following:

Nigel Davies
Danny Gormally
Nigel Short
Phil Ehr
Steve Giddins
Dominic Lawson
John Saunders

a. What do they all have in common?
b. This being so, why point the finger at the forum especially?

2. The piece is very critical of this "nexus", the people who voted to remove Phil Ehr and ECF officialdom generally. They're variously described as,
clueless...small-minded...bloody stupid...grossly immature, petty, pusillanimous.
However, at no point are their reasons for acting given, nor are any of the people criticised quoted in response, even though we know that other people were interviewed as well as those quoted.

The Guardian's Editorial Code includes the following clause.
Is there any reason why, on this occasion, there was no "obligation to allow the subject the opportunity to respond"?

[Grossly immature]
[The decline of the "The Decline of English Chess" article]
[Magic words]

Thursday, December 03, 2015

Two together

Ray's Times column, Tuesday 1 December:

What does the writer think "duet" means? Is Ray Cyrus Lakdawala in disguise?

[Ray Keene index]

Wednesday, December 02, 2015


Oh no! It's another New in Chess mailing!

A treat indeed, I'm sure, certainly if it's as much of a treat as "Dirk Jan ten Geuzendam's brilliant essay", which only "did something that needed to be done" in the sense that without it, pages 12-27 would have been empty save for adverts. Still, hurrah for Dirk for facing "all the nasty issues". If only he had. It would have been a novelty to match anything in Informator.

But on to the treat.
We have just received a new book which enables us to once more embrace Bobby's marvellous chess.
Good-oh, but I have several books already that might assist me there. What's special about this one?
In his preface, author IM Cyrus Lakdawala...
Oh. Without the "good".

All right, people (in this instance Allard Hoogland, of the New In Chess Online Shop) have to do the job they're given, they can't just say "I assure you, we have ten thousand titles in stock that are better than this one".

So let's generously assume that Mr Hoogland knows that Cyrus Lakdawala is actually the worst chess writer currently practising (we assume Andres D Hortillosa has mercifully retired) and that the phrase "this book shows Lakdawala at his best" was judiciously selected and that it could mean "all of these..."

"....are even worse".

Monday, November 30, 2015

DG XXXVII: Out of place

So Mig’s unhappy. Personally in a grump? Grumping for pay? A mixture of the two? Is there any distinction any more? Who can say?

One thing’s for sure, though. Mig is crosspatch and the object of his ire is Jonathan Manley and Kingpin’s recent three-parter "We Need to Talk About Garry".

To be honest, WNtTAG didn’t really do it for me. Don’t get me wrong, I’m perfectly willing to buy into the general thesis that How Life Imitates Chess is a load of old knolly and Gazza is not tremendous at recognising when he’s out of his depth. It’s just that the laying out of the detail of the argument in Andy Lewis’ articles left me a tad cold.  It was OK. It was worth a read. No more than that, though.

That said, I found We Need to Talk About Garry considerably more appealing than the protracted twitter-whinge that His Master’s Voice Mig Greengard produced in response. There’s a certain irony in Mig complaining about "paid trolls" and "fact-free" writing, I feel.

Let us review the key moments of the Kasparovian subplot of these DG posts.

  • The Bossman makes a random and entirely unsubstantiated assertion that, "There are many studies showing positive effect of chess on delaying, improving dementia/Alzheimer’s. Also good results with Down (sic) Syndrome." When asked he fails to provide any details of what these studies might be. (Doctor Garry is In)*
  • Mig gives a contemptuous response to the very idea of providing evidence to support this claim (DG XVIII) ...
  • ... subsequently promises to "post all the materials we have when I get home" but never does so (also DG XVIII)** ...
  • ... asserts that there is "strong evidence of cognitively stimulating leisure activities" helping with dementia and references a specific piece of research that he says backs this up (DG XX) ...
  • ...  however it turns out that the study by Doctor Akbaraly and others was not as Mig described it (DG XXI)  ...
  • ... and he has misrepresented the research paper’s conclusions (DG XXII).

After all that, going large with a complaint about Kingpin’s supposed lack of facts seems rather out of place to me.

Chess and Dementia Index

The bit about Down’s Syndrome is worth remembering. Dementia is what I happen to be interested in as it was my area so that bit of the tweet is what sparked a series of blog posts. The Down’s Syndrome claim is equally worthy of attention, of course.

** Making this commitment out of the blue and then not following through does rather give the impression that Mig was happy to make a promise that he had not the slightest intention of keeping. A year on, I find the whole thing rather curious. The motivation for Mig choosing to behave this way entirely escapes me.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Bark, little doggie

Mig is upset.

Ad hominem attack? Which one?

This one, apparently. Maybe this one and this one too.

What should he do about it?

Maybe this.

Will he do it?


Friday, November 27, 2015

Played On Squares 6: Empire Days

This is an unplanned supplementary to the series tracking the chess playing tendencies of the Bloomsbury Group in the first half of the twentieth century. Earlier posts examined Maynard Keynes, Roger Fry and Leonard Woolf, and much chess was played by them, albeit of a social sort. Keynes's father, though, had played seriously for Cambridge University in the 1870s and was President of its chess club; but he could hardly be said to have been a Bloomsberry. The only real chesser in the Group - one who played, for example, in proper chess tournaments - was Marjorie (aka "Gumbo") Strachey (1882-1964). It was a pleasure to be able document her participation in Margate in 1936 and 1938, and Hastings 1935/6, and to show her in a tournament setting.

From LSE Women's Library; Ref TBSH/6/3/80
Also in the National Portrait Gallery
Marjorie provided the subject for what was to have been the last episode of the series, one which finished on an ominous note: that if more turned up about her chess you would be the first to know. In fact, just a few days later, your blogger stumbled upon Marjorie once more: in rather interesting chess company, and claiming a remarkable scalp, one that implies that she could really play. So we have an excuse to return once again to our favourite Bloomsberry.

This subsequent, and unexpected, encounter with Marjorie was in the British Library, and it serendipitously encouraged the pursuit another of our guilty secrets, as shared occasionally on the Streatham and Brixton Chess Blog: the savouring of near-forgotten chess magazines. A couple of years ago we told the story of the Streatham and Brixton CC Knightmare! - appearing for three issues only from 1977-79 in a series beginning here. Also close to home geographically, if not so much historically, was the West London War-time Chess Gazette - its hey-day was 1941 to 1948: we told its story here.

Now Marjorie gives us the pretext to rescue from obscurity The Social Chess Quarterly. This short-lived journal - it ran from 1930 to 1936 - provides evidence of certain form of Edwardian chess-life, one that is now (unless I am missing out on something) extinct. It also speaks of an ambitious project that anticipated the ill-fated National Chess Centre by nearly a decade. The story of the SCQ is one that deserves to be told on its own account, but it also a necessary lead-in to our fresh encounter with Ms Strachey, who we will get to in Episode 7, together with another old friend.

Perhaps this episode 6 sits rather uneasily in the Played On Squares sequence, but I couldn't think of anywhere else to file it.

Thursday, November 26, 2015


Just a little side-note relating to the Stephen Moss piece. On the English Chess Forum thread devoted to the article, one John Foley informs us:

John links to here rather than to the page which actually advertises Stephen's talk, a page he will be aware of since he wrote it himself. It contains this passage:
It might also be surprising to the general public that the author of these lines was also a candidate in the elections referred to, where he was an ally of the "ousted" Chief Executive and Marketing Director, and in which contest he was defeated by an enormous margin.

For some reason John decided to leave this out, as if he were a disinterested critic.

It may be that he didn't wish to draw attention to his role because one of the major reasons why Phil Ehr and chums got booted out was that they were considered responsible for bullying a number of long-term servants of English chess, both on the ECF board and outside it. (You won't have read a word of this in Stephen Moss's article, of course, though you'll find a link to a piece by John Foley.) John was, and continues to be, part of that effort.

Guilt? Hypocrisy?

Probably not. Probably just myopia.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Magic words

Back to Stephen Moss's not-entirely-balanced Guardian piece and that characteristically aggressive section from Nigel Short. Today, though, we'll be looking at the comments at the top end of the passage (and elsewhere) rather than the string of insults at the bottom.

First point: what's this?
It is very different in a game like football, where everybody has their heroes...why should you give any money to Wayne Rooney?
Is Nigel really under the impression that there's no resentment of what top players get paid in football, or that they're closer to everyday football people than top chess players are to everyday club players? If so, he really needs to talk to some football people. he would find out otherwise.

Second point: if we accept that there's a "disconnect between the top players and the club players", might that have anything to do with the way in which our most prominent players chooses to conduct himself? I mean I don't detect a great deal of resentment of Mickey Adams, for instance. On the contrary, he's much-liked. So is Luke McShane. Similarly David Howell, Gawain Jones and pretty much every other leading player.

But Nigel, not so much.

Why would that be, do we think?

So here's a little something for Nigel. A very little something.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Well worth repeating

Ray, the Times, last Friday:

Well worth repeating indeed. Here's the first half of his column:

and here's the first half of his column for 11 December 2014.

Monday, November 23, 2015

The decline of the "The Decline of English Chess" article

The Guardian’s Stephen Moss wants to get a debate going. Which is nice.

I think it fair to say that the reaction to last Friday’s Grandmaster crash: the inside story of how English chess pawned its future has been mixed. There are certainly plenty of people who liked it, but equally you won’t struggle to find some folk who feel that a critical review of TGSM’s piece would be at least as long as the source material itself.

"It’s an interesting article"; "Well worth reading"; "Stephen Moss is a good journalist who is interested and informed about chess". All comments from the EC Forum thread.

On the other side of the coin we have Jon Manley observing the similarity between a short passage in the Guardian article and something that had appeared on the Kingpin website a few days earlier, EJH of this parish having his say and Dennis Monokroussos opening a not altogether favourable review with the phrase "longish and questionable".

No matter. The Guardian’s Stephen Moss responded to Monokroussos's blog post by making clear that the "main thing is to get a debate going about these issues."

There are are number of 'issues’ you could debate with Grandmaster Crash... How about this passage, for instance,
The government’s ruling that the game is not a fully fledged sport denies British chess the recognition and financial support it needs to compete with established giants such as Russia and Ukraine, and fast-rising powers such as China and India
Does the ruling really do that? In the glory days chess didn’t have the recognition and financial support that supposedly comes from being considered a sport either. It didn’t seem to do us any harm back then*.

Talking of things that are supposedly signs of The Fall and yet - curiously - were also happening during the height of the Golden Age, how about the prominent position the article given to Nigel Davies’s 'defection' to Wales? Why is this supposed to be some kind of measure of how bad things have got? As opposed to when he he did exactly the same thing in 1989, I mean.

The truth of the English chess is in decline narrative is that it’s a story that’s been told for a quarter of a century now. It’s very strange that John Nunn gets a nod in passing in Grandmaster Crash ... without any mention that he himself had written a decline article as long ago as January 1991. It’s hard to imagine why anybody writing about the decline of English chess wouldn’t want to include an account of how long we’ve been talking about the decline of English chess. The very length of the debate is central to the story, wouldn’t you say?

In truth, though you wouldn’t know it from reading The Guardian, since John Nunn put pen to paper (as I imagine he would have done back then), the fall of English chess from the position we had once enjoyed has hardly been off the agenda. What is more, if you look around it doesn't take long to find a much richer discussion of the possible causes - the break-up of the Soviet Union, changing domestic socio-economic conditions, students now graduating with five-figure debts, increasing housing costs for instance - than anything The Guardian’s Stephen Moss has to offer.

Here’s the bottom line: Grandmaster Crash ... has little if anything new to say and demonstrates nothing save for showing that articles written about the decline of English chess are not as good as they used to be.

And The Guardian’s Stephen Moss’s subsequent "the main thing is to get a debate going"? That’s no different to Quentin Tarantino saying that nobody was talking about slavery until he made Django Unchained.

* James Plaskett’s Playing to Win (Batsford, 1988) begins, "On the 23rd May 1986 I sat in the public gallery of the British House of Commons and listened to a debate on chess where the issue of how much money the Government should allocate to it was inextricably linked to the question "What is chess?" and under which department should it fall?"

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Grossly immature

There's quite a few things, not all of them good, to be said about Stephen Moss's Guardian piece yesterday, but this passage, perhaps, stands out as much as anything.

Especially the last part. You really wouldn't have thought it possible, with Nigel's long history of puerile sexism, to quote him calling other people
grossly immature
without irony.

But Stephen Moss did.

[Nigel Short index]

Friday, November 20, 2015

No such thing as sexism in chess

To:, 7 November 2015.

Dear Dominic

I'm a member of the English Chess Federation (membership number 4166) and my attention was drawn by a sentence attributed to you by the Times newspaper on October 27. It claims you said the following:
There is no such thing as sexism in chess.
As this statement seems on the face of it absurd, I was wondering whether you were correctly quoted and if not, what exactly you did say.



(No reply received by time of publication)

[Dominic Lawson index]

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Bookshelf II

This one is mine. Part of mine. Probably the part I use most often.

There's more of it, of course: here's about half of it, as badly photographed as I could manage

and here's roughly the other half, excluding the Rough Guides at the top and the books, nothing to do with chess, mostly out of shot at the bottom.

Probably many readers have much larger collections, if you'd call them that: it makes them sound more coherent, both in the way they were acquired and the way they're organised, than they usually are.

Monday, November 16, 2015

1 e4 e6, 2 d4 d5

Later on, and especially after 9/11, I came to appreciate more fully the important contributions artists and entertainers provide within a free society.

Ken Weber, Maximum Entertainment

Sometimes it feels rather strange to be writing about chess.What relevance has chess this morning when people are being murdered in the street for no other reason than that they were out on a Friday night?

A sign of the times, sadly, that I feel the need to link to the specific story. Just so that should somebody stumble across this blogpost in the future they’ll know which particular terrorist atrocity we're talking about. Which city? Which country? How many dead this time?

A few days ago I went to the cinema to see He Named Me Malala. It is, you probably know, the story of the young Pakistani woman who was shot for defying the Taliban by speaking in public for the right of girls to go to school.  The education of females, it had been decreed by those who sent the gunman, was "unnecessary".

And so it is, in the sense that the world wouldn't stop turning if girls aren’t sent to school alongside boys. Equally - as magician turned financial guru Ken Weber would tell you - the sun would continue to rise each morning even if everybody suddenly stopped doing card tricks. Ditto if nobody made films anymore, for that matter.

These things aren’t "necessary". It’s just that the more of them that stop happening the more the world gets shittier.

If you ended up here this morning, there’s more than a reasonable chance that - like me - chess is your thing. Chess is your art. Chess is your entertainment. We play chess, we watch it, we write about it. We obsess about it.

This is our contribution to a free society because this is us doing what we choose to do.

So we carry on. Not despite the fact that the freedom to decide for ourselves how we spend our lives is under attack, but because it is. We carry on with our choices, precisely because it is trivial, absurd and totally meaningless to those who couldn’t ever understand what the game means to us.

We carry on because we want to. It just so happens it’s also our own little way of saying fuck you.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

An evening with Ilya Merenzon

Email to Ilya Merenzon, CEO of AGON, 12 November 2015.

Dear Mr Merenzon

In your Report of September 7, 2015 to the FIDE Executive Board, you write:

I wonder then if I could ask you about the claim you make that there are "600 million players globally".

The report gives as a source for this information YouGov March 2012 but in fact the YouGov survey gives no such figure and YouGov have specifically stated that the figure does not come from them. They say:
I am afraid that we do not have any further information about this and about how that figure was arrived at.
I wonder whether you would be able to provide a proper and verifiable source for the figure you give and if not, whether AGON will withdraw it.

Looking forward to your reply


Reply, same date:

Dear Justin,

Can you please introduce yourself (I mean the organization you represent)?

Regarding data: YouGov is not authorized to provide detail on the research given that we paid for research and own results and YouGov is not distributing it without our authorization. Study commissioned by us took place in India, Russia, Germany, US, UK. Numbers that we cite are conservative approximation and we are prepared to give more details if need be, but first I’d like to know who I am talking to.



Friday, November 13, 2015

War Game 9

Our investigation of chess in World War 2 - in War Game # 4 through to #7 - described how Great Britain had become the rallying point for combatants who, having escaped occupied mainland Europe, now aimed to help expel the German invaders from their home countries. Thus Dutch, Norwegian, Czech and above all Polish and French fighters found a place of relative safety here, to regroup and contribute to the Allied war effort.

Among those taking refuge were a number of strong chess players who happily engaged in whatever domestic chess action there was, including, as time went on, organised matches against teams of British servicemen. Foremost among these refugee chessers was the already famous Dr Savielly Tartakower - he had been decorated in the First War (in which, incidentally his brother was killed) - albeit he was now known as Georges Cartier. It was said that his real name was difficult to pronounce.

One easier to say may have been that of Maxime Chauvet, mentioned in our earlier posts. Lieutenant Chauvet was a talented player (although by no means as strong as "Tarta") who briefly charmed the domestic chess scene, particularly in London. He appears to have arrived in 1941 serving in an Intelligence Corps with the Free French (the Bureau Central de Renseignements et d'Action) before he was called away in the summer of 1943. Here he is caught on camera, in uniform, at the Sidcup Congress in August 1942 in which he came 4th.
From BCM September 1942 
Apologies for the orange cast to this, and the next, BCM scan.
Intrigued by this genial Frenchman I have been digging around and, in the course of a piece of fruitful cross-channel co-operation with Dominique Thimognier of the vraiment formidable site Héritage des Échecs Français, we have begun to recover the Chauvet story - though some mysteries remain.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Not making waves

It's that time of year when my subscription for New In Chess is up for renewal, a matter which in my mind is always linked with the question "can I stand much more Nigel Short?" which, to Nigel's credit I suppose, I have always so far answered with a yes.

I'm not sure the answer would be the same if the question I asked was "can I stand both Nigel Short and Dominic Lawson?", since Nigel's columns have other virtues to make up for his studied obnoxiousness and half-digested English, and even the obnoxiousness has a certain illustrative purpose to it. It adds character, even if the character is someone you'd cross a city to avoid.

Lawson just bores me though. I'm sorry about that: I just find him mediocre. The last time he wrote in New In Chess it was a long, dull piece about how the world of chess was in mortal danger because we're using computer evaluations when watching chess live, an article which was a rather greater threat to my interest in chess than the phenomenon of which it warned. If he's written again, before the piece in the latest issue, I've missed it - which would be an easy thing to do - but I've now seen the four pages he's produced on the three seasons of his radio show, Across the Board, about which I've previously written twice. One thing I can't deny - he's done well to get in so many episodes of a show which, by his own account, may not have interested a single person in the game of chess.

Monday, November 09, 2015


Tweet your favourite #chess bookshelf! asked Jonathan Manley of Kingpin fame. What follows is not my favourite exactly. Just all my Pirc/Modern books.

The Modern Defence (Keene & Botterill, Batsford 1972), The Pirc Defence (Botterill & Keene, Batsford 1973), La Defense PIRC en 60 parties (Le Monnier, Bernard Grasset  1983), New Ideas in The Pirc Defence (Nunn, Batsford 1993), Winning with the Modern (Norwood, Batsford 1994)

we saw last week - all secondhand. Here are the rest.

Becoming a Grandmaster (Keene, Batsford 1976)
Not a specialist Pirc / Modern book, but worthy of inclusion here nevertheless.  "This is the first book to be written by a British Grandmaster" goes the back-cover blurb and very obviously a rushed out 'cut and paste' job to make sure that it was. It’s still an interesting read, though. Perhaps not quite as interesting as it might have been if Ray had really put his back into it.

Anyhoo, BaG has a section on the books that Ray had written and a part of that is on his Pirc and Modern work with George Botteril from the early 1970s.  I particularly rather like his games against Gligoric (Berlin 1971) and Hecht (Teeside, 1972).

An Opening Repertoire for Black (Marovic & Parma, Batsford 1987)
A book from the days when you could cover the Queens Gambit, the Benoni, The French Defence and the Pirc - not to mention all the sidelines - in a single tome. No idea why this didn’t go in The Great Terror that saw 100+ chess books flogged off (this sister book, RDK’s An Opening Repertoire for White, certainly did, as did John Nunn’s second book on the Pirc), but it’s still here.

AORfB dates from a brief dabble with the Pirc from my student days. That also happens to be the period when I happily bought any old shite. In the Austrian attack sub-section of the Pirc chapter there is no game quoted that was played after 1975 - more than a decade before the book was published.  Even allowing for the fact that theory developed much more slowly in those days, Batsford were really taking the piss with this book.

Trends Classical Pirc (Hodgson, Trends Publications 1989) & Trends Pirc without Classical (McNab, Trends Publications 1990)
Anybody else still have booklets from this series? 100 unannotated games with brief chapter introductions. Stuff like this became impossible to sell the very second that we all got our own databases.

Tiger’s Modern (Hillarp Persson, Quality Chess 2005)
A Christmas present from the first time I considered taking up the Modern which would be circa 2010. I’m still to get around to actually playing 1 ... g6 against 1 e4 or 1 d4 in a real game. I did give it a punt against 1 f4 at Golders Green in August, at least.

The Philidor Files (Bauer, Everyman Chess, 2006)
An impulse purchase inspired by the idea of developing a repertoire that would allow me the option to play the ending 1 e4 d6, 2 d4 Nf6, 3 Nc3 e5 4 dxe5 dxe5 5 Qxd8+ Kxd8 as well as 3 ... g6. Never played it as yet - although I did  have a go on the White side against Julien Shepley at Hampstead a couple of months ago. After the game Julien pointed out the downside of the system: it can be difficult to generate winning chances as Black. He kindly avoided mentioning that he had just rolled me over rather easily, nevertheless.

The Pirc in Black and White (Vigus, Batsford 2007)
The one that restarted it all. I’d been vaguely thinking of taking up the Pirc and borrowed a copy of this book from Angus. A swift flick through later, I decided that I didn’t much fancy the 4 Be3 variation.

Before I got to give TPiBW back, though, I suffered a leaky bottle catastrophe in my bag. One of the casualties was Angus’s book. Upshot one: Angus got a new copy and I ended up with the water damaged version. Upshot two: I had another look and decided I might be able to deal with the 150 Attack after all.

Dangerous Weapons: The Pirc and Modern (Palliser, McNab, Vigus Everyman Chess 2009)
Technically I bought this new. but it was much reduced - less than a fiver if memory serves. One of the lines recommended in this book is 1 e4 d6, 2 d4 Nf6, 3 Nc3 g6, 4 Be3 Bg7, 5 Qd2 0-0, 6 Bh6 Bxh6!? - That’s Vigus’ annotation. It's "The aggressive move" and "The 'dangerous' choice" according to him 7 Qxh6 c5

7 ... c5

Whatever Vigus might tell you, this line is total junk. Not that I’ve let that stop me doing rather well with it.

Chess Developments The Pirc (Vigus, Everyman Chess 2012)
I actually bought this brand new.  My last new openings book ever I think. Vigus downgrades his assessment of the 6 ... Bh6, 7 Qxh6 variation to "rather risky" which is still more than a tad optimistic.

The Perfect Pirc-Modern (Moskalenko, New in Chess 2013)
A birthday present. This is the latest in Moskalenko's series of alliterated titles for New in Chess. Here’s hoping that The Bollocks Blackmar-Diemer and The Lachrymose London will follow.