17 July 2018

Chess-books and Chess-players

There I was on vacation, reading the only book I had brought with me -- a real book, a paperback -- when suddenly the transition from one page to the next didn't make sense. Then I noticed that 20 pages were missing from the book. Since it was a work of non-fiction, I could have skipped over the missing pages and continued without missing too much, but I'm an obsessive sort of person who prefers to finish something I've started. I switched over to my laptop and started a search for digital copies of the book. I found one at A soldier reports by William C. Westmoreland (openlibrary.org). While reading through the missing pages, I remembered that I had once written a few posts about the Open Library on this blog:-

Since that time, the Open Library has released functionality to Turn Your Website into a Library (blog.openlibrary.org; May 2018):-

Openlibrary.org has over three million books lining its digital shelves, but nothing quite beats being able to embed your favorite book directly on your personal site. Last week, with the help of volunteer Galen Mancino, we launched an embed tool which lets you add any Open Library book to your website or blog.

I quickly located an old favorite and followed the (simple) embed instructions. Here's the result...


Chess and Chess-players: Consisting of Original Stories and Sketches
by George Walker

...I added that link at the bottom just in case the embed technique doesn't work when I upload this post to my blog. In the past I transcribed a number of Walker's essays into web pages on my own site:-

I hate to think how many hours I spent on the transcription work. Nowadays I would just run the text through an OCR service. Here, for example, is Walker's preface to the book.

These sketches were first published, years since, in various magazines and journals; and are now presented in a volume, as a partial retrospect of the dark days that are gone; when the march of Chess was in its infancy.

In writing these papers, my object was to place the King of Sports before the public at large, in somewhat bolder relief, by entwining Chess with Romance: -- the union going at times terribly against the grain -- both hacks having been little used to run in double harness, and therefore not always taking the collar kindly. Reading the sheets now for press, as a whole, I observe certain undesirable repetitions of thought and phrase, occasionally ; consequent, I believe, on the confined nature of my theme -- the detached character of the essays -- and the great space of time over which their original appearance was distributed. But the book must go as it is.

"Other times, other cares." I look back with pride on the services my pen may have rendered Chess; but I write no more in the cause. A quiet observer only, now, of CHESS and CHESS PLAYERS, I find the latter fully capable of sounding their own trumpets.

G.W.
Stock Exchange, 1850.

I found a few more books that are worth a future post and will address them as required.

16 July 2018

Stockfish Wins TCEC Season 12

Let's put the idea of Tracking Leela on hold and look at the final results of TCEC Season 12. At the time of the 'Tracking' post, Stockfish and Komodo had been slugging it out for two weeks with a current score of:-

+22-7=51 for Stockfish, i.e. 47.5 points of the 50.5 needed to win the match. This is with 20 games still to be played.

The last 20 games were:-

+7-2=11 in favor of Stockfish

Stockfish was officially declared the TCEC winner after the first five of those games when it reached 50.5 points. The final score after all 100 games was:-

+29-9=62 for Stockfish

That tally simplifies to 60.0-40.0, which gives Stockfish an edge of 72 Elo over Komodo, all other things being equal. All other things are not equal, since the openings were dictated by the TCEC organizers and it is impossible to say whether they favored one engine or the other. I reported the previous final match, Stockfish vs. Houdini, in Stockfish Wins TCEC Season 11 (April 2018):-

The final score in the TCEC superfinal match was +20-2=78.

Although that point tally of 59.0-41.0 was close to the Season 12 margin of victory, the number of decisive games increased from 22 to 38.

How did the chosen openings fare? Since all 50 openings were played once with each engine as White, it's possible to group openings based on their success characteristics. This is shown in the table on the left.

The first column shows the results with Stockfish as White; the second column shows Komodo with White. The first row says that there were four openings where both engines won as White. The last row says that there was one opening where both engines won as Black. I'll look at a few of those opening disasters in a future post.

Congratulations to the entire Stockfish team, who look set to dominate computer chess competitions for the foreseeable future.

15 July 2018

Interviews in Black and White

Has it already been a month since the last video featured on this blog, A Smashing Game (June 2018)? That video wasn't too serious, but the next video is.


Deep into the Mind of a Chess Grandmaster - Documentary (15:42) • 'Published on Jun 25, 2018'

The description says,

What does it take to become a chess grandmaster? Who better to ask how it's done than those who have already made it to the very top of the chess world? iChess sat down with FIDE Masters, International Masters and Grandmasters from all around the world and asked them the big questions: How does one get better at chess? What does it take to go from patzer to chess grandmaster? How much does natural talent play a part over simple hard work? Let's dive into the mind of a chess grandmaster. [...]

iChess talked with GM Judit Polgar, GM Nigel Short, GM Susan Polgar, GM Daniel Naroditsky, GM Sam Shankland, GM Aleksandr Lenderman, GM Nadya Kosintseva, FM Alisa Melekhina, GM Mihail Marin, GM Liem Le Quang, IM Irina Bulmaga, GM Irina Krush, GM Axel Delorme, GM Bryan Smith, GM Ivan Sokolov, GM Arkadij Naiditsch, GM Damian Lemos, GM Simon Williams, GM Romain Edouard and GM Francisco Vallejo Pons. Sit back and enjoy the advice from the very best players and coaches in the world in this iChess documentary.

Looking back at previous video posts, I see this is the first from the iChess.net channel, although the service was mentioned in A Short History of CCL (March 2017). The topics covered by the current video are:-

00:10 Nature vs. Nurture?
02:15 How did you learn chess?
04:35 What was your playing style when you first learned?
06:10 Was there a turning point in your career?
07:30 What is your study routine in preparing for tournaments?
09:30 What else do you do to prepare for tournaments?
11:15 Understanding vs. Memorization?
12:50 Who is your favorite chess player and why?

One of the last slides in the video says,

15:00 Excerpts taken from chess master interviews from our iChess.net Master Method series. For more information see ichess.net/method.

That last URL redirects to Master Method | iChess.NET shop. Note that, like all chess services mentioned on this blog, I have no commercial interest in the iChess site. The following people, mentioned in the credits, do have an interest:-

Directed by Frederick Lansky & FM William Stewart
Produced by Casey Ratcliff and the iChess team

I always like to mention names because I never know if I'll search for them again some day.

05 July 2018

2018 CJA Award Entries

Subsequent to my recent post, 2018 CJA Awards Announcement (May 2018), the Chess Journalists of America (CJA) have listed entries for the awards on their page Chess Journalism | Entries. The page is a bit of a mishmash -- it groups the entries according to the means by which they were submitted -- but all entries are combined in an Excel file that heads the page.

In my favorite category, 'Best Chess Blog', there is one entry which is in fact a single post rather than an entire blog. Last year there were no entries at all, and no award since 2015, so we can be thankful for small things. In my second favorite category, 'Best Chess Art', there are five entries, of which the four CL/CK covers are shown below.


Top row: CL October 2017, David Chesnutt; CL December 2017, Lorelei; CK December 2017, Elif Balta Parks
Bottom row: CL April 2018, Paul Dickinson
(CL: Chess Life, CK: Chess Life Kids)

The entry in the bottom row is a two-page cover, and reminds me of the technique I flagged recently in An 1886 Photoshopped Illustration (May 2018). The fifth entry in the category, 'Chestoons Drawn by Brian Berger - NW Chess', can be found via NWC Magazine Back Issues.

Many of the other categories have ten or more entries. The top of every page on the CJA site currently says,

Anyone can nominate and people are encouraged to nominate their own work. Quite often this is the only way to gain meaningful recognition for hard work and is not a conflict of interest. Nominations are not votes, but the way to make the judges aware of quality work. Only judges get to vote on the entries

The winners will probably be announced at the 'Annual Workshop and Business Meeting', probably in early August. The report of last year's meeting, 2017 Minutes (chessjournalism.org), doesn't mention when or where it was held.

03 July 2018

July 1968 'On the Cover'

Once again we take a brief look at the covers of the two leading American chess magazines from 50 years ago. For last month's post, see June 1968 'On the Cover'.


Left: 'U.S. Amateur Co-Champions Stephen Jones, left, and R. Michael Shahade. (Full report next month.)'
Right: 'Chess on Display'

Chess Life

Using the Chess for All Ages time travel machine, we skip forward to the August 1968 CL to take an excerpt from the 'full report'.

One hundred and ninety-seven happy warriors fought it out for the U.S.Amateur title in the congenial surroundings of Philadelphia's Warwick hotel over Memorial Day Week -end. When the last pawn was queened and the final king toppled, a hometown boy and a transient Texan emerged as co-holders of the 1968 United States Amateur Championship. Stephen Jones of Austin, Texas (but now at Princeton) and Michael Shahade of Philadelphia each scored 6 1/2 - 1/2 in the seven-round event.

Jones first attracted national attention during the 1962 U.S. Open at San Antonio, where he scored eight wins out of his first nine games. [...] Steve summed up the attraction of the U.S. Amateur for many players when he said with a broad grin, "My only chance at a national title!"

Mike Shahade is known best in Philadelphia chess circles, and his performance in this tournament shows the world how strong chess can be in the Quaker City. [...]

The chess games of Michael Shahade (chessgames.com) confirms, 'He is the father of Gregory Shahade and Jennifer Shahade', and has links to his offspring's own CG pages. For more about the other co-winner, see Jones, Stephen (chess.com) by Bill Wall.

Chess Review

The display of chess sets held at the Brooklyn Museum, in conjunction with the Metropolitan Museum, continues through September. We have shown pictures of a few of the sets (April and May). These give, however, but a meager idea of the total exhibition. A trip to see it will be well worth while.

The exhibition was also featured on the CR side of April 1968 'On the Cover', where I quoted,

The Brooklyn Museum and the Metropolitan Museum of Art are collaborating in displaying one of the most important collections of chessmen and boards in existence. "Chess: East and West, Past and Present" will be on view at the Brooklyn Museum, April 2 to October 1. The sets have been loaned to the Brooklyn Museum by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, mostly from the Gustavus A. Pfeiffer Collection.

Since the CR side of March 1968 'On the Cover' also featured a chess set, that makes three CR covers out of seven for 1968.

02 July 2018

Tracking Leela

After the previous post, Finding Leela, I now know where to look to keep up with Leela's progress. It helped to make a mental map of the Leela process. In my own non-technical words, this is the process:-

Some people download the client and run Leela locally to generate training games. These games are uploaded somewhere.

Leela NN processes the training games to improve itself. Every so often a new 'net' is produced.

Other people run different versions of the net ('the nets') against each other to measure progress. They also run the nets against other engines. These people are trying to determine just how strong Leela really is.

Somebody ('the developers') follows all of the above to improve different aspects of the Leela development chain.

Sometime soon:-

Someone has to decide what version of Leela will run in the next TCEC season.

I found relevant explanations of the process on various Leela support pages, specifically on the LeelaChessZero/lc0 Wiki:-

The numbers in parentheses map to the different steps of the process:-

(01) 'Getting-Started - Download and run Leela Chess Zero if you want to contribute or play games.'

(01) 'See recent self-play training games - Scroll to "Active Users", pick someone, then pick a game. These games are how Leela Chess Zero trains herself. They are played with extra randomness turned on so it can discover new good (and bad) moves. This means the quality of these games is lower than the match games.'

(03) 'The self-play games your client creates are used by the central server to improve the neural net. This process is called training (many people call the process of running the client to produce self-play games training, but in machine learning these games are only the input data for the actual training process). Some machine learning terms: [...]'

(01) 'See recent test match games - Click on the first row, first column, then pick a game. These games are played between recent versions of the engine to measure progress. They are blitz games played with 800 playouts (around 1 second) per move.'

(02) 'Current strength of Leela Chess Zero'

As for TCEC Season 12, at the time of last week's 'Finding Leela' post, the score in the final match was:-

+8-4=28 in favor of Stockfish

Since then another 40 games have been played, the score in these was:-

+14-3=23 idem, with ten Stockfish wins since the last Komodo win

Summing the scores over the two weeks gives a current score of +22-7=51 for Stockfish, i.e. 47.5 points of the 50.5 needed to win the match. This is with 20 games still to be played. With TCEC Season 13 due to start soon after the end of the Season 12 final, someone will have to make a decision about the Leela version even sooner than that.

01 July 2018

A Problematic Month on eBay

This is the second time that I considered the previous full month of auctions for Top eBay Chess Items by Price. Last month, in Caveat eBay Digital Documents, I wrote,

I had eBay auctions from the entire month of May to choose from. Did that mean I had double the number of interesting items on my short list? Not exactly.

This month I had a workable short list, but there was something wrong with each of the auctions. Take the following four items as an example.

The item in the upper left was titled 'Straight Up Chess Board - Red Cherry Series with Checkered Bronze Frame' and was from a seller with an impeccable reputation. It was listed in eBay's index of items by descending price at around US$ 1000 ('Buy It Now'), but this was $249 for the item and $744 shipping (to Belgium, where I live). When did eBay start including shipping in showing the price of closed auctions? And how did the shipping cost reach such an exaggerated amount?

The item in the upper right was titled 'A Mongolian Polychromed Wood Figural Chess Set 2-3/4 h x 13 w x 5-1/2 inches' and sold for US $4400 after 29 bids at live auction ('Seller's Estimate: USD 400-600'). Although the auction was dated the last day of June, the eBay detail page was marked 'The listing you’re looking for is no longer available', meaning that I had only the description of the item as information.

The item in the lower left was titled 'Antique 19th C. Gentleman Playing Chess? Oil on Board Painting'. The artwork was so dark that even after several iterations of increasing its brightness and contrast, I still couldn't tell if the 'Gentleman' was playing chess. At US $300 ('Buy It Now'), it was also the least expensive item on the short list.

The lower right shows a 'Franklin Mint 1982 Royal Houses of Britain Heraldic Chess Set NO BOARD'. It sold for around $425 ('Best offer accepted'). I can't really say why I chose this for the short list over dozens of other collector sets that were candidates for 'Top eBay Chess Items'. Maybe I didn't believe it was a chess set. The arrangement of the chess pieces is particularly uninspired.

If I have another month of auctions like these I might have to stop the eBay series. Where does one go these days for better quality auctions?