23 January 2018

ACP Top Tournaments 2017

Feeling under the weather? Looking for an easy subject that doesn't require any deep thought? That's me today, so I was happy to find the results of the latest poll by the Association of Chess Professionals (ACP).

Our Tournament of the Year 2017 poll, which this year has been anticipated to the earliest part of the year in order to make it even more relevant, saw quite a few tight races for the best tournament in several categories.

After listing top tournaments in specific categories like 'Round-Robin' and 'Official [FIDE] Events', the ACP gave combined results.

The Overall Best category, perhaps the most important one, saw our members’ preference for open tournaments. First was the Tradewise Gibraltar and second was Chess.com Isle of Man International. Third and fourth were the preferred Round-Robins Sinquefield Cup and Tata Steel Chess, with a rather peculiar swap in places between these two excellent events.

Here are the top-10 tournaments in the combined category.

Tournament of the Year 2017 Results

Three 2017 Gand Prix events were among the four lowest ranked tournaments overall. Is the ACP trying to tell FIDE something? For the previous ACP survey on this blog, see ACP Survey 2016 - Results (April 2016).

22 January 2018

Interview Videos : Aronian

It's time to close the series on improving my chess engines -- at least for now -- and move on to another topic. I've summarized the engine series at the end of this post and have calulated that, at the rate of one player per week, I have just enough time to review the eight players who will be starting the 2018 Berlin Candidates Tournament in March. I did the same for the 2016 Moscow Candidates Tournament, which I started in Instructional Videos : Carlsen (January 2016), and summarized in Instructional Videos : the Candidates (March 2016):-

We started this series of instructional videos with the current World Champion, GM Carlsen, then worked through each of the eight candidates for a title match later this year: Anand, Aronian, Caruana, Giri, Karjakin, Nakamura, Svidler, and Topalov.

In 2016, I featured instructional videos showing each player analyzing a game. This time I'll feature each player being interviewed after a game. The eight players, in alphabetical order, are GMs Aronian (*), Caruana (*), Ding Liren, Grischuk, Karjakin (*), Kramnik, Mamedyarov, and Wesley So. Players with an asterisk ('*') after their names also played in the 2016 Candidates. Let's start with the first player in the list, the ever-popular GM Aronian, who is certainly one of the favorites to win the event.

Levon Aronian Wins Chess World Cup 2017 (6:32) • 'Published on Sep 27, 2017'

The video's description said,

Levon Aronian Beats Ding Liren; Chess World Cup 2017; Final; Tie Breaks

Aronian had just won the 2017 Tbilisi World Cup, where he and his final opponent, Ding Liren, both qualified into the 2018 Candidates.


As for the series on chess engines, I started with a look at the most important components.

Then I looked at TCEC Season 10, which was entering its final weeks.

A powerful newcomer, AlphaZero, appeared during the last days of the TCEC, and I spent some time to review its underlying technology.

I'll come back to the subject for TCEC Season 11, which is currently underway, and for a deeper look at AlphaZero.

21 January 2018

Escape from Gaming

This next episode of The Sociology of Chess (November 2016) is from the Youtube channel Game Quitters. The channel description says,

New to Game Quitters and need to learn the basics of how to quit playing video games? What should you do if you're bored? What about all of your friends?

I've never been a keen video game player, but I know that online chess can be addictive. What do non-chess gamers think?

Does Chess Count as Gaming? Should You Play It? (4:40) • 'In this video we talk about chess. Does it count as gaming? Should you play it? Does it break your detox? Is there a difference between online chess and playing it in-person?'

Here are some excerpts from the comments:-

'I think chess is only bad if you are playing it to defeat boredom. The point of quitting games is to reshape your life so that you always have strong ambitious goals that you have to fulfill. So basically working towards that goal prevents boredom from occurring.'

'You can't escape life by playing chess. And that's the good part. So I guess chess is okay.'

'There are a lot of games like chess that can be good with relationships and you have to use your brain etc, like you said it's good as long as you aren't doing it in the Internet and turning it into an escape.'

'Chess is definitely ok to play. More so in person because you've something to talk about and it's a relationship builder. It might be kinda awkward but if you play online. I don't know HOW you could get addicted to online chess, lol, if I played I'd prefer the feel of wooden/glass pieces and a real person to play against.'

'I think chess in general is extremely good for it's logical reasoning etc. But like said it does use some of the key skills involved in gaming so you aren't letting you mind be free of these feelings so i would agree to avoid it until your "cured" from a gaming addiction.'

'I started playing 16 years ago and from my experience playing chess in a club is totally fine, because you can not ever binge game there. Online chess is a completely different story though. Especially with 1 minute games becoming trend and recently even 0,5 minute games becoming more popular. It's easy to justify "only one more game. It's only 1 minute so why not?", only to find realize 1 hour later what one has just done.'

'The things you talk about are a big issue in today's society. I have used online chess in the past as a substitute for gaming and it ultimately led to another relapse.'

'Even in person; if you gamble on chess it is very addictive. But then that's just trading a gaming issue for a gambling issue. Now just a social game of chess is different.'

'Online chess can also be a problem for me. I like playing in person. Sometimes I will play a long slow game against an online opponent with my board set up physically in front of me. What triggers me is playing shorter time constraints. I'm not really growing at the game, just slinging pieces around in blitz or bullet. [...] I'm "escaping" from reality, stress, boredom etc. and trying to game or play chess online.'

At 3:30 into the video, the speaker [Cam Adair] says, 'Chess is OK. Online chess not so much. In person it's awesome. You have to be super careful that you're not using these things as an escape, for instant gratification.' Next question: How to give up chess blogging?

19 January 2018

'Chess Is Serious Business'

Last November, when I posted about Multi-dimensional Chess Imagery ('For more about New York City's Chess Forum, see chessforum.com: "Your Gateway to the World of Chess".'), and A Democratic Game ('By one of those coincidences that can't be explained, Chess Forum was featured on this blog a week or so ago.'), little did I know that I was viewing the aftermath of 'The Civil War on Thompson Street'.

A Chess Shop Owner Achieves Business Expansion by Applying the Rules of the Game (5:42) • 'By OPEN Forum: Each week, MSNBC's Your Business features experts to share their secrets for improving your business.'

The video's description continues,

A New York small business owner had to fight for his chess shop’s life when he went to war with the competition. The battle was a little too close for comfort. That’s because his rival and former colleague was right across the street.

Meet Imad Khachan of the Chess Forum. He has a story to tell.

18 January 2018

Downsizing Chess

At the end of Chess on a Bearskin Rug, the most recent edition of 'Top eBay Chess Items by Price', I noted,

It might be worth looking at 'Top EBTH Chess Items'.

EBTH stands for 'Everything But The House', and specializes in online estate sales. The home page, Ebth.com, suggests,

Let Us Do The Heavy Lifting. Whether you have an entire collection or just a few items, EBTH makes downsizing profitable.

A search on 'chess' returns more than 1700 items, which can be sorted in different ways. The composite image below shows the top items in four important sort orders.

Most Followed (upper left) • 2017-12-27: Vintage Miniature Library Room From The Charles Tebelman Collection; Final Bid $705; 46 Bids • A chess set is behind the chair in the center. The second item in the sort was another miniature.

Bid Amount - high to low (upper right) • 2015-10-05: Frank Duveneck Original "The Chess Players" Oil Painting; Final Bid $5699; 111 Bids • The painting needs cleaning. I tried to brighten it digitally, without much success.

Most Bids (lower left) • 2013-04-02: Antique ivory chess set; Final Bid $3028; 128 Bids • The keyword here isn't 'chess', it's 'ivory'.

Bid Amount - low to high (lower right) • 2017-10-30: Ink Drawing of a Two-Faced Figure; Final Bid $1; 1 Bid • One of dozens of items selling for the lowest price. The description said, 'This unsigned piece depicts a chess piece-like shape with a pair of faces looking in opposite directions, sitting to the center of a gridded ground.'

A Google search told me the company EBTH Inc. was founded 2008. With 1700 items over ten years, we should see a new item related to chess every couple of days.

16 January 2018

Some Numbers for Rating Activity

After taking the time to download and prepare the FIDE Rating List - January 2018, what can be learned from the data? The left side of the chart below shows numbers similar to last year's post The Lower Rating Band (January 2017), which compared numbers of rated players by federation in 2016 and 2017.

The table on the bottom left is particularly noteworthy, not only because of the two new federations, but because of the disappearance of Bulgaria. What happened to the more than 1550 Bulgarian players shown in 2017? They have been subsumed into the 'FID' (FIDE) numbers shown in the table on the top left. For more about the reasons behind this, see last week's post on the FIDE's Ethics Commission 2017.

January 2017/-18 FIDE Rating Lists

Left top: Federations with largest increase
Left bottom: Federations appearing/disappearing
Right: Largest % active players 2018 (>100 players)

The table on the right is a new analysis I created after calculating the numbers of inactive players in the 'FRL January 2018' post. It shows the percentage of active players in 2018 for federations having 100 players or more. I chose the number 100 to demonstrate that small and medium size federations can have an impact on the growth of interest in chess. The top two federations are both countries in Africa.

15 January 2018

AlphaGo Netflix

A few days after writing last week's post, The Lineage of AlphaZero, I was looking to relax in front of the TV by watching Netflix, but what to watch? I started by browsing a list of recommended titles (or 'popular now' or something like that) and one of the first to appear was a documentary about AlphaZero's predecessor AlphaGo. Was that a coincidence or are the search engines also following me on TV? Whatever the reason, here's a Youtube trailer for the film.

AlphaGo Official Trailer (1:30) • 'Published on Sep 19, 2017'

The Youtube description says,

AlphaGo chronicles a journey from the halls of Cambridge, through the backstreets of Bordeaux, past the coding terminals of DeepMind, to Seoul, where a legendary Go master faces an unproven AI challenger. As the drama unfolds, questions emerge: What can artificial intelligence reveal about a 3000-year-old game? What will it teach us about humanity?

The documentary had only two stars out of five on Netflix, perhaps because it's at times somewhat tedious. The trailer shows many of the most exciting moments, but the full film was still worth watching. The 'legendary Go master' is Lee Sedol (or 'Se-dol Lee' as his name is sometimes written and which looks more Korean).

The film reminded me of the chess documentary Game Over: Kasparov and the Machine by Vikram Jayanti, which chronicled Garry Kasparov's 1997 loss to IBM's Deep Blue. Many years ago on this blog, I featured the trailer for that film in A Milestone in Computer Chess History (May 2007).

When I was still in school, I learned how to play Go and played a few games with a friend. I understand a little about the game, but only a little. Extrapolating from my own experience with Go, I can easily imagine how casual players of chess react to the chess documentary.

Let's have some reference links. First, here are a couple of pages from sources who want us to like the movie:-

And here are a couple of pages from sources who don't have a direct interest in the film, but want to know what we think:-

Finally, here are a couple of opinion pieces from a neutral source:-

Since this a 'Chess' blog, not a 'Go' blog (unlike the word 'chess', the word 'go' has to be capitalized to distinguish the game), this is probably the last I have to say about the subject. Future time would be better spent understanding the technologies that drive the AlphaZero family.