29 May 2015

Kasparov on 'The Stream'

I had a big choice of videos for this edition of Video Friday. I chose this video not so much for Kasparov, but for The Stream. I used to watch the show regularly but lost it when I switched service providers a few years ago.

Garry Kasparov talks chess, politics and Putin (35:46) • 'On The Stream'

See also Garry Kasparov talks... [aljazeera.com]

Former world champion Garry Kasparov gave up checkmating his opponents in chess for the maneuverings of politics. During his career as a Grandmaster he broke dozens of records, won countless matches and is considered one of the greatest chess players of all time. [...plus tweets...]

Who placed Kasparov in front of an American flag? I bet that went over well in Moscow. For a less serious look at the same subjects, see my post from last year, Geopolitical Yahoos.

28 May 2015

My Favorite Uncle

Dad was an only child and Mom had one brother, so I had exactly one uncle and one aunt. Now that uncle is gone. RIP, Uncle Art.



Dr. Arthur B. Backensto Jr., age 88, of Crown Point, IN passed away on Saturday, May 2, 2015. He is survived by his wife of 63 years, Alethea "Lee"; his son, Arthur B. Backensto, III "Terry" (Kim) of Scottsdale, AZ; his daughter, Karen (Richard) Koepke of Heath, TX; one granddaughter, Amy Lee (Justin) Boyd of Melbourne, FL; and one sister, Geraldine (late Robert) Weeks of Wallingford, VT and her children. He was preceded in death by his parents, Arthur and Nina Backensto.

Art was born in Troy, New York, and attended school there, where he was president and valedictorian of his senior class. He also attended Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy as an NROTC V-12 student earning B.S., M.S. and PhD degrees in Metallurgical Engineering. While in college, he was a member of the honor societies Tau Beta Pi and Phi Lambda Epsilon.

His career led him to Bendix Aviation Corporation in Troy, to Alan Wood Steel Co. in Conshohocken, PA, and finally to Glidden Metals (SCM Products) in Hammond, IN. At that time, the family moved to Crown Point, IN. He worked for a total of 50 years in the field of powder metallurgy. In 2003, Art received the prestigious Fellow Award from the professional society for powder metallurgists, APMI International, recognizing his high level of expertise in the field.

He was a lifelong Presbyterian and a 50-year member of First Presbyterian Church in Crown Point, serving in many capacities while there. His interests included photography, gardening, and collecting signed baseballs and army figurines. He was an avid fan of the St. Louis Cardinals. Under his guidance, the family made many trips to Pennsylvania and one extended trip to Switzerland to celebrate their Pennsylvania Dutch heritage with other family members. He took many photographs on these trips and developed slide shows for the enjoyment of family and friends.

He was a true gentleman to his family and friends and will be deeply missed. The family is grateful to the staffs at Franciscan St. Anthony Health, Wittenberg Memory Care Unit and Unity Hospice. Special thanks go to nurses Sherry and Sue, the Presbyterian Church Prayer Chain, and many friends. A Memorial Service will be held on Saturday, May 30, 2015 at First Presbyterian Church, 218 S. Court St., Crown Point, IN at 11:00 AM and visitation with the family from 10:00 AM until the time of the service. Dr. David K. Wood will officiate.

In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the following: First Presbyterian Church Building Fund, 218 S. Court St., Crown Point, IN 46307; American Red Cross of NWI, 791 E. 83rd Ave., Merrillville, IN 46410; or Alzheimer and Dementia Services, 922 E. Colfax Ave., South Bend, IN 46617. Arrangements have been entrusted to Geisen Funeral, Cremation & Reception Centre in Crown Point. 219-663-2500.

"Well done, thou good and faithful servant." Matthew 25:21

Legacy.com: Dr. Arthur B. Backensto Jr., Obituary.

26 May 2015

Keene on Petrosian

Back in the early days of this blog, I wrote many posts on Petrosian's unique style; see, for example, Index to Petrosian's Exchange Sacrifice. After a more recent post, Controversial Keene, I continued to gather material written by Keene from Chessgames.com, and was pleased to find a list of recommended Petrosian games in the Raymond Keene forum (p.70).

Oct-08-04 ray keene: may i recommend the following games by petrosian. this is from memory so apologies if the references arent quite right - however they are all petrosian wins so you shd be able to track them down without too much difficulty.

I then located the same games on Chessgames.com:-

Keene's list had 19 games, so to round it out I added the game marked '*' from the Petrosian chapter that he wrote for E.G. Winter's 'World Chess Champions' (Pergamon Press, 1981). Keene also wrote the Fischer chapter in the same book. Given the animosity often displayed by Winter for Keene, it is surprising to find they once collaborated on a project. Keene discussed this in Keres vs Alekhine, 1943, another forum on Chessgames.com.

Jul-14-04 ray keene: i contributed to a book on world champions which winter compiled but this was 24 years ago when he was in his early 20's. i had no idea of his identity then and he has always been very careful to conceal himself - no pictures for example. a foto of winter wd be worth quite a bit. in fact when he contacted me to contribute to the book i mixed him up with someone much older at the bbc whom i thought to be an amateur chess historian and to whom i had given a couple of chess lessons a few years earlier!!

we had perfectly cordial relations to start with - all by post - but when i co wrote batsford chess openings with kasparov he accused us in print of only having ghost written contributions - not the real gk. since i had been with garry in moscow when he wrote his bit out by hand this annoyed me more than somewhat as it struck at the very credibility of the book. i then hit on the idea of auctioning the original gk manuscript for charity and putting it on show in the batsford offices for inspection beforehand so the handwritng could be verified - which a number of experts did. winter never forgave me for proving him wrong - he attacked me left right and centre and i used to reply. then he wrote something complaining about an article i had written, alleging it was without foundation - but i found the source for the story in one of his own books.

For Winter's version of the BCO - Kasparov story, see 'Batsford Chess Openings', the first section in Cuttings [Chesshistory.com]. The page is a long summary of the Keene - Winter feud.

Keene wrote a later book on Petrosian, titled Petrosian Vs the Elite [amazon.co.uk]. The publication date (Batsford, 2006) suggests that it contains the same games listed by Keene on Chessgames.com.

25 May 2015

Going Mobile : Responsive Design

I ended my last post, Going Mobile : The Viewport with a small dilemma.

Now I have to decide which is more important -- having mobile visitors understand at a glance the full content of a page, or having Google rank my pages as mobile-friendly.

It turns out that both are possible. The technique is called Responsive Web Design and here's how Wikipedia defines it:-

Responsive web design (RWD) is an approach to web design aimed at crafting sites to provide an optimal viewing experience—easy reading and navigation with a minimum of resizing, panning, and scrolling—across a wide range of devices (from desktop computer monitors to mobile phones).

Since no one comes to a chess blog to read about web design, I won't attempt to survey the many resources on the subject. One that I found particularly useful is the Responsive Design View tool in Firefox. This lets me experiment with the view of my pages the same way a mobile visitor sees them. The following image shows screen captures of the two home pages in both portrait and landscape orientation.

Mobile Views

Top row: World Chess Championship
Bottom row: Chess for All Ages (CFAA)

From this it's obvious that I can improve the look of both sites with just a few simple changes. The big Adsense banners, which serve mainly as counters, can be reduced in importance, and the CFAA logo can be reduced in size. I'll work on a different look for both pages and present the result in a future post.

24 May 2015

FIDE Chess Curriculum

Continuing with the mini-series that started with a post looking for a Chess Curriculum, the second post, S.Polgar Chess Curriculum, ended with

In my next post I'll look at No.5 in the 'Chess Curriculum' list which is (apparently) FIDE's curriculum.

Thanks to some previous work I did, FIDE's 'Chess in Schools' 2014, it wasn't hard to locate FIDE's suggested curriculum. The relevant link is behind a banner on the FIDE home page.

The subdomain, cis.fide.com, in turn leads to Teaching Materials, where the first resources listed are 'Kulac - Teacher's Guide - Year 1',

This is the first English translation of the book by Dr Olgun Kulac that is used by more than 49.000 teachers in Turkish schools. It is the cornerstone of a series which includes several class books.

and 'Kulac - Class Book - Year 1',

This is the English translation. This is the class book used by the first year students (age 6-7-8).

'Kulac - Class Book - Year 2' is also listed, but

This is the Turkish language version. An English translation will follow when the translation of Class Book Year 1 has been completed. We are also awaiting the Teacher's Guide for Year 2.

Now that I've rounded up the five curricula (curriculums) identified in my initial post, there are two more that deserve a look: (1) from the Kasparov Chess Foundation and (2) from Chess Cafe.

22 May 2015

Chess at Clandon Park

The caption said, 'Following the fire at Clandon Park, I've found a few more photos in old albums. Presumably this was destroyed.'

Clandon Park 15 September 1991 © Flickr user Paul Appleyard under Creative Commons.

For more about the fire, see Clandon Park House fire: Investigation 'will take time' [bbc.com/news]. For more about the painting, see nationaltrustcollections.org.uk/object/1441467, where we learn

The Hon. Edward Onslow (1758-1829), John FitzWilliam, 8th Viscount FitzWilliam (1752–1830) and George Augustus Herbert, 11th Earl of Pembroke (1759-1827) playing chess; Daniel Gardner (Kendal 1750 – London 1805).

For more about the artist, see Daniel Gardner [Wikipedia].

21 May 2015

The Engines' Value of Castling

While archiving old support files on my hard drive, I found a strange PGN file and a related spreadsheet. 'What were those for?', I wondered, and used the files' datestamps to relate them to an unfinished post, The Value of Castling (August 2013). That post included a useful summary:-

1.0 - Value of castling : Where '1.0' is the well-known value of a Pawn. Ever since encountering that statement by GM Kaufman, I've wondered if there was any way to verify it. I've also wondered about the value of castling O-O as opposed to O-O-O. Armed with the three variations at the beginning of this post, I can plug the resulting positions into an engine and record the results.

Those three variations had afterwards expanded to 16, all of them using different paths to reach the position shown in the following diagram.

1.e4 e5

The 16 variations lead to different combinations of castling in the diagram -- (1) Both sides [i.e. wings: Kingside O-O & Queenside O-O-O] possible, (2) No O-O possible, (3) No O-O-O, and (4) Neither side possible -- for both White and Black. For example, the variation 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Rg1 Ng8 4.Rh1 Nf6 5.Ng1 Ng8 leads to the diagram with White unable to castle O-O, but with Black retaining the option of castling to either side.

After constructing the 16 variations, I ran three engines -- Houdini, Komodo, and Stockfish -- on each of the resulting positions and recorded their evaluations after 15 ply had been reached. None of these engines is the most recent version -- I acquired all of them in the period 2013-2014 -- but that isn't important for this exercise.

The results are shown in the following table. White's four castling options are in rows 3 to 6, Black's are in columns B to E. Values are rounded off to a single decimal place. I know it's hard to read, but that's life. The many data points -- 16 variations x 3 engines -- handled manually mean there is potential for error. On top of that, 15 ply for Stockfish is perhaps not enough. If I ever redo the table, I'll make it more readable.

As an example to explain the data, cell B3 shows the results after the normal 1.e4 e5. The cell says,

H:0.1, K:0.2, S:0.3

meaning 'H' (Houdini) evaluated the position at 0.1, 'K' at 0.2, and 'S' at 0.3. Cell E3 shows the results where White retains both castling options, but Black has neither.

H:0.8, K:0.6, S:1.2

The results here are somewhat less than the hypothetical '1.0 - Value of castling', but are significantly greater than most of the other cells. Only cell E5, which is like E3 where White has lost the O-O-O option, comes close.

Note that four cells -- B4, D4, B6, & D6 -- contain '(*)'. This is to flag an anomaly I encountered during my investigation. Before, I explain it, let's make a brief detour.

I use all three engines in my chess research and have often noticed that they treat triple repetition differently. Houdini declares a repetition (value 0.00) after both moves of a pair repeat a position. That means if a move, e.g. 30.Nf3, repeats a position for White the repetition is confirmed if Black's next move, e.g. 30...Nf6, also repeats the position. Komodo and Stockfish declare a repetition after a single move repeats the position. Using the same example, they would assign a value of 0.00 to 30.Nf3, and stop calculating the line.

Getting back to the four cells (B4 etc.) Houdini calculated a negative value in all four, indicating that Black has the advantage. Komodo and Stockfish both assigned value 0.00, because they noticed that White could repeat a previous position and stopped there. A particularly surprising example is cell B6, 1.e4 e5 2.Ke2 Nf6 3.Ke1 Ng8, where White has lost both castling options, while Black retains them. K & S saw that White could play 4.Ke2(!), repeating the position, and then stopped without giving Black the chance to play something other than 4...Nf6.

In all of these '(*)' situations, I recorded the first non-zero value given by the engine to its second or third choice. Even with this tweak, Komodo still gave near-equality to White.

What does all of this show? First, that castling is indeed a valuable weapon to possess. Second, that O-O is valued significantly higher than O-O-O. It might be useful to extend this investigation to the full family of chess960 start positions, but that will have to wait for another time.