Friday, January 30, 2015

Will There Be A White One?

Wandering around an exhibition trying to spot a bit of Chess-in-Art can be hard work. Any chess may be well-hidden. It might take some effort to find. Often there's no direct hit anyway, just a passing similarity to some familiar Chess-in-Art piece, an echo perhaps, although just enough to get you thinking.

Take the absorbing exhibition on in London until 5 April at the Whitechapel Gallery:

I had high hopes. After all, Malevich's Black Square of 1915 and the Russian Revolution - it is the starting point for the exhibition, and confronts you as you enter - must be the bare-essential of abstract Chess-in-Art. Will there be A White One, I thought, hanging alongside; or 64 Squares In Alternate Colours.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Yes It Really Does Have Something to do with chess

For many, Scrabble is merely a board game. For others it is an intellectual pilgrimage. In this book, Stefan Fatsis, journalist and self-confessed word freak, goes in search of the people for whom Scrabble is life and affords us a glimpse into the extraordinary world of the brilliant geeks and misfit savants who populate the highest ranks of the game.

Or so it says here.

I know. It’s about Scrabble. It’s a damn good read too. Much better than you might expect from the exceptionally mediocre publishers blurb.

And, yes, it really does have something to do with chess. Fatis’ book is littered with references to our game. Aside from the one on page 296 that goes

Almost all of the greatest chess players were afflicted with various neuroses, breakdowns and mental illnesses

without any supporting evidence or further investigation, the allusions to chess make an already interesting book even more fascinating.

It’s been a couple of months since I watched Word Wars - a documentary that came after Word Freak - but I don’t remember it making any explicit mention of chess. Even so, I think you’ll find it hard to watch without finding that the portrayal of the Scrabble tournament circuit and players rather reminds you of us and what we do. It’s an hour and twenty minutes long, but the film - and the book that inspired the film - are very much worthy of your time.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Our Electronic Pals: Then and Now

Black to play
Anand - Chess Genius, Intel Grand Prix (rapid) London 1994

Anand - Chess Genius. Perhaps you recognise the position from The Last Move of 2014. Well, Anand’s next move is going to be 36 h3-h4 after which he’ll wrap up the game rather easily. He can only do that, though, because first our electronic friend will play a real stinker: 35 ... h5??

We learnt from Ivanchuk - Jobava (SMA#30) that engines are still able to make a total horlicks of pawn endings Give your computer today’s position, though, and I’m pretty sure it won’t want to play ... h5. After a few seconds’ thought it’s my machine’s 9th choice with an evaluation of more than +13. Hell, even my three-generations-out-of-date phone sees instantly that pushing the rook’s pawn forward two squares is disastrous.

Things were different back in the 90s. It was a strange time for computers. The Chess Genius might have been able to toss out a move that even I can refute at a glance, but it was equally capable of defeating World Champions. It only got to play Anand in the first place because it had duffed up Garry K in an earlier round, after all.

Like I said, it was a strange time.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

What the well-dressed chess plagiarist is wearing today

I had no idea Ray had taken to dressing down in public. Whatever next?

[Ray Keene index]

Friday, January 23, 2015

Bad book covers XXXIII

Le bond du tigre au-delĂ  1600 Elo, volume 1, Jussupow, 2012.

[Thanks to Niall Doran]
[Bad book covers index]

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Not so smart

Having talked yesterday about how enlightening computers are, here's some evidence to the contrary.

This is Stockfish, running on an Android smartphone, against the owner of that smartphone, your humble servant. Position after my 43rd move.

It's the first smartphone I've ever had and therefore baffles and frustrates me in various ways, but at least I can always have a game of chess. Naturally I've skewed the clock to give me half a chance - the program gets sixty seconds for the whole game plus one second a move, I get fifteen minutes plus ten seconds a move plus access to the pause button - but even so the pattern is that the program wins long streaks of games punctuated by the very occasional win for me and the almost-as-occasional draw. And after 43 moves this seemed likely to be neither.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015


Giri Ivanchuk, last Saturday: "White is winning."

Very winning.

Or not, as the case may be.

Monday, January 19, 2015


White to play
van Wely - Wojtaszek, Wijk aan Zee (2) 2015

Someone told me during a recent tournament that he did not need to study the endgame because of his last twenty-two games only two had reached this stage. Later in the same tournament I saw him self-destruct in a position where he could have made it to a slightly worse endgame that offered drawing chances.
Jacob Aagaard, Excelling at Chess

Aagaard’s book might have been published 15 years ago, but that passage could have been written for van Wely’s game at Wijk last week. OK, the details are all wrong. We're talking about a king and pawn ending not endgames in general, the possibility to trade down occurs in a queen ending rather than a middle game and the question is can White win rather than will he save the game. We might add that vW obviously has studied pawn endings at some point.

Yes, the specifics are out of whack, but the central point is exactly the same. To wit: it can be helpful to know positions and ideas even if you never actually get them onto a board during a practical game.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Barking back

It's back!

[Ray Keene index]

[Thanks to Angus]

Friday, January 16, 2015

County Counting: 6. Local Derbys

Here we are with these chess history posts on Fridays in the new schedule, today continuing a series (previous episodes linked here) devoted to an examination of the Surrey County Chess Association Match Books. They record the details of Surrey's matches against other county opponents and the like, from the very first, played on 19 January 1884, through to 7 October 1967. After that they were superseded by bulletins, files and computer records etc. Time will tell whether these newfangled methods will be a help or a hindrance to chess historians of the future. And time will tell whether we are safe to assume the old method to be as reliable as it appears; about which more below when we look at a series of contests from the 1920s, and reveal an apparent mistake or two in the Match Books that have lain unnoticed for over a century.    

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Last Year’s Blog This Year

Black to play
Wadsworth - Mason, Hinckley Island, 10.01.2015

Black to play and do a ... Rxf3-in-the-French Theoretical ISE. I discovered 11 different versions of this exchange sacrifice when writing Collector’s Item last March. The chesser playing Black is about to find a 12th.

Mason, by the way, is "only" rated 2138/199 ECF. He was 200+ for the previous several years, admittedly, and he’s obviously better than nearly everybody, but that rating does not make him super-duper out of this world, strong.

At various times last year (e.g. BORP XXIX), I wondered whether ISEs were simply beyond average club chessers. Mason is a top of the range club player, to be sure, but 'one of us' nonetheless. His play here would suggest perhaps I was being a bit of a jessie about it and should just knuckle down and try harder.

TISE Index

Thanks to Jack
Hat tip to Danny Baker for the title.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Definitely Got Nothing to do with chess III

Oh, man … Gordon Taylor. Or rather, GORDON TAYLOR OBE, as his name appeared in my inbox when he emailed me once. Sensationally dim, wantonly self-interested, wildly over-remunerated and frequently morally compromised, Gordon functions as an auto-satire on all the worst things people think about football. 

Any resemblance to chessers, living or dead, is purely coincidental. Obviously.

For that was Marina Hyde*, writing about the Chief Executive of the Professional Footballers Association. In our game it goes without saying that critiques of prominent figures, no matter how deserved, go without saying. 

* previously seen giving Tom Cruise a slap in DGVIII: Celebrity.

... to do with chess Index

Monday, January 12, 2015

Sixty Memorable Annotations

#30: Ivanchuk - Jobava, Wijk aan Zee (1) 2015

But why ... err what, err why are you winning?

Yasser Seirawan (post game interview with Ivanchuk)

As I was saying last week, the problem with starting a regular column on king and pawn endings is the absence of fresh examples in top level chess. Elite chessers simply don’t play them these days.

Take the first round of Wijk, for example. Only three of the seven games were pawn endgames, with just one of those being played by the World Champion and ... hmmm. Hang on. Maybe this year is going to be easier than I’d thought.

May not be required in 2015 after all

So, Ivanchuk - Jobava. I’m counting it even though there’s a rook still on the board as obviously Black has to recapture. Except that Jobava didn’t bother. He jacked it in rather than complete the trade that he’d initiated on a4 when he realised the king and pawn ending was lost.

I think it’s fair to say that it is not especially obvious that it’s time for Jobava to call it a day. I wasn’t able to watch the game live, but I realised that something interesting must have happened when I saw the Telegraph’s chess correspondent tweet suggesting that Black might have resigned in a drawn position. Later I discovered that Jonathan Tisdall was "astonished" that Jobava had given up in the final position. As was Seirawan, apparently, judging by his amusingly confused question to Chucky in the post-game interview.

It seems that computers were bamboozled by the ending too. I gather Chess24’s online engine was evaluating the position as 0.0 at the point of resignation. My own machine - HIARCS running on a MacBook Air - even thinks that Black is better! You have to let it run for over two minutes before the bitcoin drops and it realises that White is winning.

SMA #30a: "It’s not so difficult for the good Grandmaster"

If you haven’t seen Chucky's reply to Yasser, you’re in for a treat. Before you go there, though, why not try and work it out for yourself. If you ignore the Bloody Iron Monsters, once you grasp the key idea the solution is definitely findable.

Talking of Ivanchuk: don’t miss this superb photograph of him by Fred Lucas from 2008.

Sixty Memorable Annotations Index


Saturday, January 10, 2015

DG XV: Sense About Science

There’s a Nobel prize waiting for the person who can cure osteoarthritis, or MS, or Alzheimer’s, and many other major illnesses. So, beware the huckster and the testimonial.
Caroline Richmond, medical journalist 

Chess and Dementia Index

Friday, January 09, 2015

DG XIV: Dark Corners

There’s a dark corner of the internet that preys on people living with chronic conditions, where bogus promises of miracle cures are coated in a veneer of respectability. If there is no cure or current treatments aren’t providing adequate relief, why not give it a try? Hope, it turns out, is for sale.

I wonder what Sarah Mehta would make of chess.

Is there a chesser alive with a public profile higher than that enjoyed by Garry Kasparov? Surely not. And it was our Gazza who tweeted, "There are many studies showing positive effects on chess delaying, improving dementia/Alzheimer’s .... " (Doctor Garry is In) last May. Seven months on he has neither provided details of any of the "many studies" he claims exist, nor retracted his tweet.

No dark corners for us. In chess, coating bogus promises of miracle cures in a veneer of respectability is a mainstream activity.

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

As they see fit

If you've followed the news in the UK recently, you'll have heard of Ched Evans. Ched Evans is a convicted rapist.

In May 2011, Ched Evans, informed by a friend that he had "got a bird", went round to that room where his friend was with a woman in an extremely intoxicated condition. The woman was not known to him. He engaged in sexual intercourse with that woman, about which a judge would later say:
The complainant was 19 years of age and was extremely intoxicated. CCTV footage shows, in my view, the extent of her intoxication when she stumbled into your friend. As the jury have found, she was in no condition to have sexual intercourse. When you arrived at the hotel, you must have realised that.
While this was occurring, Mr Evans' friends watched and attempted to film what was going on. Mr Evans later left the room by the fire escape. Subsequently he was convicted of rape, since that is what sexual intercourse without consent actually is. He served half of a five-year sentence and subsequently has attempted to resume his career as a professional footballer, having been connected first with Sheffield United (his former side) and then - this week - Oldham Athletic.

Very many people, including the present writer, find this objectionable. People's reasons for thinking so vary but among those reasons are that Mr Evans' victim remains unable to resume any kind of normal life. She has had to change her name and identity and move house several times to escape abuse and threats from supporters of Mr Evans. Her plight cannot be separated from Mr Evans' continued campaign against her.

Obviously other people disagree with this and a public discussion, not characterised by its good-temperedness, continues to take place. Meanwhile Mr Evans continues to deny that the crime of rape took place, which he is entitled to do: however, at the present time he remains a convicted rapist. (It shouldn't be necessary to stress this, but it is, not least because it is remarkable how much comment on the case makes no attempt to acquaint itself with any facts1. This is also why I have gone to some detail above. It is quite important to know what the case against Mr Evans was. It's kind of the minimum level of knowledge necessary to comment.)

Now the reason I am discussing this on a chess blog is that - perhaps naturally, since both football and chess are important to me - I have wondered what would happen if there was a similar situation in English chess, rather than English football. Wondered, and not idly, because chess does have to think about these things. (We have, for instance, had sex offenders in our community before.)

So, could we rely on English chess officials - representatives of a community made up overwhelmingly of men - to show a proper understanding of what such a case entailed? To take rape sufficiently seriously?

Monday, January 05, 2015

The Final Move of 2014

White to play his last move of 2014

My final game of 2014 concluded, rather fittingly, right here. Nothing left but kings and pawns. A year in chess that went as far as it could go. Well, almost.

My opponent and I could have finished with bare kings, I suppose. Since I have a move in this position that pretty much forces resignation, though, I wasn’t especially keen for that to happen.

Actually, this position could have been an even more appropriate finish to the year than it was. You see, before I opted for a Year of ISEs, I had intended that my 2014 blogging was going to be all about king and pawn endgames.

Friday, January 02, 2015

Back to the Future

Black to play
Lombardy - Fischer, US Championship (2) 1960

And we’re back.

With a spot of 2014 followed - briefly - by some 2013, before finally getting around to 2015.