19 September 2017

Chess at the IMDb

In a recent post, Was Fischer Really Against the Whole World?, I referenced IMDb page for the chess documentary by Liz Garbus, Bobby Fischer Against the World (2011) (imdb.com), and wrote,

See also the section titled 'People who liked this also liked...'

That section looks something like the following image.


IMDb: 'People who liked this also liked...'

The eight thumbnails each lead to a corresponding IMDb page, which I've summarized in the following list.

The first seven titles are well known chess movies, while the last title is another documentary by Liz Garbus. As you might expect, clicking on any title leads to another set of 'People also liked' titles. The first film in the list, 'Me and Bobby Fischer', leads to almost the same list, with the exception of the last title, which shows another Magnus movie. (It carries the same name as the current World Champion, but has nothing to do with him.)

For hundreds of chess references from IMDb, see Results for "chess" [imdb.com].

18 September 2017

A Quarrel About Ratings

In the previous post, Ratings Correlated to Performance, I looked at the 1951 U.S. Chess Championship, the first U.S. championship played after the introduction of U.S chess ratings. In this post I'll introduce a small quarrel about the use of ratings to determine participants in that event. The 5 December 1951 issue of Chess Life (CL) included the following letter.

Dear Mr. Major,

I aspire some day to play in the U.S. Championship Finals. I have never had the honor. The only way I know how is to do well enough in tournament competition, so as to attain a rating that will merit an invitation to the preliminaries. This year I thought I did, but I discovered it was not enough. Three of the participants in the U.S. Championship Preliminaries were rated below me in the Rating List of December 31, 1950. I have no way of telling how many others who were rated below me were extended invitations which they declined, or for that matter how many rated above me were likewise skipped.

I wrote a letter of inquiry to Mr. Hans Kmoch in his capacity as Tournament Director. Specifically I asked him the basis for the invitations. His reply appeared to me as a masterpiece of double talk. For example, on the one hand he said that he would have invited me if be had known I was eager to play, and on the other hand that he tried to contact me but failed to do so. Consider this contradiction further in the light of these facts: The USCF had canvassed me more than once regarding my availability and I had always replied in the affirmative. Mr. Phillipps had no trouble at all in reaching me in his drive for tournament contributions.

On my fundamental question regarding the basis for the invitations. Mr Kmoch had this to say: that the Rating System so far has not been accepted as binding for the order of invitations, that the original selections were made by a committee, and that there were subsequent withdrawals and last minute substitutions. No explanation of the basis for either the original selections or the later substitutions.

I present these facts not primarily as a personal grievance, since obviously it is too late to undo past events. However. I am interested in correcting a bad situation.

How long shall we tolerate a double standard in American chess -- a rating system for window dressing and a little black address book for extending invitations to the National Championship Tournaments?

I lay no claim to the infallibility of the U.S. Rating System, or for that matter to any other quantitative method for evaluating qualitative performance. On the contrary, I have some serious quarrels with it. Nevertheless I admit I know of no large equitable method for evaluating relative performance of a large number of players.

Can Mr. Kmoch or anybody else suggest a better way to evaluate relative skill? The fact remains that another system was used in issuing invitations to the last National Championship.

Perhaps Mr. Kmoch can explain it in detail to the satisfaction of Chess Life readers. If it is superior, it can be incorporated into or substituted for future ratings. The other possibility is that factors other than skill were considered in issuing invitations. If so, may I ask what they were?

Jack Soudakoff
New York City, N.Y.

The 5 January 1952 issue of CL included the following article by Hans Kmoch. Although it mentions ratings only once, it serves a second purpose in documenting the difficulties of organizing the 1951 championship.

The U. S. Championship Tournament; by Hans Kmoch
USCF Vice-President and Secretary of Tournament Committee

Two years ago the Tournament Committee, under the co-chairmanship of Messrs George E. Roosevelt and Maurice Wertheim, worked out a tentative schedule for the 1950 Championship, to be held as an invitational tournament, and the championships thereafter, to be open for especially qualified participants. On December 1, 1949, Mr. Wertheim sent a summarizing report of the Tournament Committee's suggestions to President Giers. On April 4, 1950, President Giers wrote the Tournament Committee that its suggestions had been accepted by the Board of Directors.

Unfortunately, a number of unforeseen events caused delay in the 1950 Championship. There was first of all the paralyzing blow delivered to the Tournament Committee by the death of Mr. Wertheim; there was the participation of a U.S. team in the so-called Chess Olympics at Dubrovnik, Yugoslavia, in August and September 1950; then there was the change in the Presidency of the USCF which had been impending for some months before it became a fact. I may add, if it matters, that I myself as the secretary of the Tournament Committee, had been absent from this country for seven months (June-December, 1950).

Our new President, Mr. Phillips, did great efforts to reactivate the Tournament Committee and get the postponed 1950 Championship held in 1951.

On March 1951 the Tournament Committee met and came to the conclusion the postponed Championship should he held in August 1951 with 14-16 participants. On April 19, 1951 the Tournament Committee decided on a list of 16 participants by name. On May 5, 1951, the Tournament Committee changed the schedule for the 1951 Championship in such a way that 24 players could participate instead of 16 while the number of rounds would increase only from 15 to l6.

On June 11, 1951, invitations were sent out to the selected players. As for the additional names, the Tournament Committee had accepted the National Rating List as a guide, emphasizing, however, it had no obligation to follow that List.

The 1951 Championship tournament was held in New York from July 28 to August 19. 1951

During June 11 to July 28 many changes in the list of the participants became necessary, because some of the invitees were unavailable, some made claims which USCF had no chance to fulfill, some needed time to decide, and some didn't answer at all.

As time went on. the difficulUes to get substitutes were mounting. To many players, the idea of acting as a substitute had a humiliating touch. Others could not accept at short notice, while still others did but later withdrew at zero notice. During the last week before the tournament, I had to work frantically so as to present a complete list of 24 players at the draw on July 28. On that day, just before the draw was to start, Herman Hesse from Pennsylvania and George Eastman from Michigan announced their withdrawals by wire. And there was still no answer from U.S. Champion Steiner.

However, I had foreseen possible trouble of this kind and was fortunate enough to find a number of distinguished players who would not mind acting, so to say, as substitutes for substitutes, willing to step in at any moment. The names of the gentlemen who by their comprehensive attitude substantually contributed to the tournament are: Edgar McCormick, Jack Collins, Dr. Ariel Mengarini, Dr. Joseph Platz, and Ed. Schwartz. McCormick had even to wait until the first round had started, for I felt that Steiner's place must be kept open until the very last minute.

The emergency job of looking for substitutes was largely done by Mr. Phillips and myself. We acted in accordance with the decisions the Tournament Committee had previously taken. Our bid to get some of the best-placed players from Fort Worth netted only Jim Cross; Eliot Hearst from New York and Lee Magee from Nebraska were unavailable.

As for our critics, we had New Yorkers who would wonder what non-New Yorkers were doing in this tournament, as well as non-New Yorkers who simply couldn't imagine why so many New Yorkers should participate. We had these who wouldn't mind a few thousand dollars if these dollars were to be produced by the USCF, those who considered themselves second to nobody in importance, those who would blame the Tournament Committee for a player's failure, and those who generally seemed to believe that ill-will was the only guide the Tournament Committee ever had.

By and large, however, the Tournament Committee's good-will was recognized. It ought to he at least as far as its members, Mrs. Wertheim, Mr. Alexander Bisno, and Mr. George E. Roosevelt, are concerned. Sapienti sat ['A word to the wise is sufficient']. The thankless job of raising the funds was accepted and in spite of tremendous difficulties satisfactorily done by Mr. Phillips.

The tournament itself was a smooth affair. There were no incidents of any importance.

Nowadays, the use of ratings to determine invitations is done routinely. When would U.S. ratings be accepted to determine invitations for the U.S. championship?

17 September 2017

Was Fischer Really Against the Whole World?

The first lesson I learned from this ongoing series on The Sociology of Chess (November 2016), is that the subject of sociology can be stretched to cover just about everything. Since chess pops up in all sorts of different cultural settings, there are plenty of sociological angles to examine.


Bobby Fischer Against The World -- Full Documentary (1:32:52) • 'A really inspiring as well as heartbreaking documentary film on Robert James Fischer, who was famously known as Bobby.'

For more about the film, see Bobby Fischer Against the World (2011) (imdb.com). Its 'Storyline' says,

'Bobby Fischer Against the World' is a documentary feature exploring the tragic and bizarre life of the late chess master Bobby Fischer. The drama of Bobby Fischer's career was undeniable, from his troubled childhood, to his rock star status as World Champion and Cold War icon, to his life as a fugitive on the run. This film explores one of the most infamous and mysterious characters of the 20th century.

See also the section titled 'People who liked this also liked...', which lists a number of chess-related movies. This documentary by Liz Garbus should not be confused with the book by Brad Darrach, 'Bobby Fischer vs. the Rest of the World', last seen on this blog in 'They Got Spies on the Line!' (April 2016). The IMDb page on Liz Garbus includes references to two more chess titles by Garbus: Chess History (Video 2011) and The Fight for Fischer's Estate (Video 2011), both running for less than ten minutes.

15 September 2017

Smallest Chess Set?

This might not have the allure of Most Hamburgers Eaten in Three Minutes or Most Pool Balls Held In One Hand, but it's still impressive.


Smallest chess set - Guinness World Records (2:02) • 'Artist Ara Ghazaryan has an exceptional eye for detail, particularly with his latest work, the world’s smallest handmade chess set'

For more about the set, see Check out the world’s smallest handmade chess set (guinnessworldrecords.com):-

Made on an incredibly minute scale, the entire board with accompanied pieces measures a total of 15.3 x 15.3 mm (0.6 in x 0.6 in), a size that amounts to be smaller than a U.S. quarter coin.

Is this really the smallest? Guinness also lists the Largest chess set: 'measures 5.89 m (19 ft 4 in) on each side'. Last year on this blog we saw Chess with Walkie-Talkies (August 2016), which beats the Guinness record holder by a country mile. Hasn't someone already constructed a small chess set molecule by molecule?

14 September 2017

A Difficult Tablebase Position

Tablebase (TB) positions make for an interesting class of endgames. While best play in most TB positions is obvious to a good player, some positions defy accurate analysis even for world class players. A recent example is a tiebreak game from the fourth round of the 2017 World Cup, currently being played in Tbilisi, Georgia.

TB games between top players are particularly difficult to annotate. On the one hand, we can't criticize a world class player for not knowing an esoteric endgame which has probably never occurred in his previous experience. On the other hand, we can't pass without comment on positions where one or both players overlook a winning or drawing continuation.

An additional problem is that every single move by either player leads to a new branch of the TB's tree of variations. The TB doesn't explain the winning plan; it just lists moves together with their eventual evaluations. It is the annotator's job to make sense of the moves played and to explain why they work or not.

Another question is how a position compares with similar positions. If we shift a TB position a file to the left or right, or a rank up or down, how does the evaluation change? Similarly, if we leave the Pawn structure the same, but move the Kings (or other pieces) to completely different squares, how then does the evaluation change?

This blog's most recent TB post was Q vs. 2B in TCEC Season 9 Superfinal Followup (December 2016). For this current post, the TB position is R+P vs. B+P, shown below. It helps to know that R vs. B is almost always a draw.


After 47.Rb6-b5(xP)

Here is the PGN for the full game, followed by a brief analysis of the critical positions reached during the game.

[Event "FIDE World Cup 2017"]
[Site "Tbilisi GEO"]
[Date "2017.09.13"]
[Round "4.2"]
[White "Aronian, Levon"]
[Black "Dubov, Daniil"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "D85"]

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nf3 Bg7 4.Nc3 d5 5.cxd5 Nxd5 6.e4 Nxc3 7.bxc3 c5 8.Be3 O-O 9.Be2 b6 10.Qd2 cxd4 11.cxd4 Bb7 12.e5 Nc6 13.h4 Qd5 14.h5 Rfd8 15.Rc1 Qa5 16.h6 Bf8 17.e6 f6 18.O-O Qxd2 19.Bxd2 Nxd4 20.Nxd4 Rxd4 21.Be3 Rdd8 22.Bb5 Bd5 23.Bd7 g5 24.f4 Bxh6 25.fxg5 Bg7 26.Bd4 fxg5 27.Bxg7 Kxg7 28.Rf7+ Kg6 29.Rxe7 Rf8 30.Re1 Bxa2 31.Bb5 a6 32.Bd3+ Kf6 33.Rxh7 b5 34.Rh6+ Ke7 35.Rh7+ Kf6 36.e7 Rg8 37.Rh6+ Kf7 38.Rh7+ Kf6 39.Be4 Rae8 40.Rh6+ Kf7 41.Bc6 Bc4 42.Bxe8+ Rxe8 43.Rxa6 Rxe7 44.Rxe7+ Kxe7 45.Kf2 Kf7 46.Rb6 Be6 47.Rxb5 Kf6 48.Kf3 Bf5 49.Rc5 Bd3 50.Ke3 Bf5 51.Kd4 Bb1 52.Rc1 Bg6 53.Rc6+ Kg7 54.Ke5 Bb1 55.Ra6 Bc2 56.Rd6 Kf7 57.Rf6+ Kg7 58.Rf2 Bb1 59.Rb2 Bd3 60.Rd2 Bb1 61.Ke6 Be4 62.Re2 Bd3 63.Rd2 Be4 64.Ke5 Bb1 65.Rd4 Kf7 66.Ra4 Bc2 67.Ra5 Bb1 68.Rc5 Kg6 69.Rc1 Bd3 70.Rd1 Bc2 71.Rd2 Bb1 72.Ke6 Be4 73.g3 Bb1 74.Rb2 Bd3 75.Ke7 Be4 76.Rb6+ Kg7 77.Rb5 Kg6 78.Rb4 Bc2 79.Kf8 Kf6 80.Kg8 Bd3 81.Rd4 Bc2 82.Rd2 Bb1 83.Rf2+ Kg6 84.Rb2 Bd3 85.Rb6+ Kf5 86.Rb4 Kf6 87.Rd4 Bc2 88.Rd2 Bb1 89.Rf2+ Kg6 90.g4 Be4 91.Rd2 Kf6 92.Rb2 Bd3 93.Rb6+ Ke5 94.Kg7 Kf4 95.Rb4+ Be4 96.Rxe4+ Kxe4 97.Kg6 1-0

47.Rxb5: The diagrammed position shows the first TB position reached in the game, where the Pawn capture starts a countdown for the 50-move rule. The TB says, 'Given optimal play on both sides, White will win in 72 moves.' The main variation undoubtedly includes moves that reset the 50-move count.

47...Kf6: The first mistake, giving White a win in 47 moves, which is just inside the 50-move rule. For the next few moves both players find the right plan and make the best moves.

51....Bb1 52.Rc1 Bg6: Both players make a suboptimal move. This is followed by a long sequence of moves which maintain the status quo. White fails to make progress, while Black does not let the position deteriorate prematurely. The TB consistently indicates that White wins in around 30 moves.

73.g3 Bb1: White makes a Pawn move, thereby resetting the 50-move count. Unfortunately for White, the move hands Black a TB draw. Unfortunately for Black, he fails to take advantage of the opportunity and moves into another lost position. The double blunder starts another long sequence where White often lets Black escape with a draw, but Black overlooks the chance and plays into yet another lost position. The right plan for White revolves around a timely g3-g4, while Black needs to prevent this.

92.Rb2 Bd3: White again overlooks the win (the TB says 92.Re2 is the fastest) while Black misses the only move to draw (92...Ke5). After this, White plays accurately to score the win although Black overlooks opportunities to prolong the game for as long as possible.

A discussion of the winning plan in this game and an overview of similar positions in other endgames with R+P vs. B+P would take too much time for a single post. I suppose that someone could even write a book on the subject.

12 September 2017

The Not-So-Bad Opening

Remember Alan Lasser, last seen on this blog in Front Page News (October 2016)? On a recent visit to the U.S., I met him for the first time in something like 25 years. We played a few chess games together and he chose one for his weekly Game of the Week newsletter (Warning: double blunder on move 37).

Subject: Game of the Weeks
From: Alan Lasser
Sent: 2 September 2017

Mark Weeks, of the 1975 Connecticut Bughouse Champions and author of the web sites,
- chessforallages.blogspot.com, and
- chess960frc.blogspot.com
chose a small college town in America for his first over-the-board play in a dozen years.  Amused as he was by the unknown variations of the Bad Opening, he still beat me 3-1-1. 

[Event "Skittles"]
[Site "Amherst, MA"]
[Date "2017.08.31"]
[Round "?"]
[White "Alan Lasser"]
[Black "Mark Weeks"]
[Result "1/2-1/2"]
[ECO "A45"]

1. d4 Nf6 2. Qd3 c5 3. c3 b6 4. e4 Ba6 5. Qf3 Bxf1 6. Kxf1 Nc6 7. e5 Ng8 8. Ne2 e6 9. Be3 Qc7 10. g3 d5 11. exd6 Bxd6 12. Nd2 Nf6 13. Nc4 O-O 14. Nxd6 Qxd6 15. dxc5 bxc5 16. Kg2 Ne5 17. Bf4 Rfd8 18. Bxe5 Qxe5 19. Rhd1 Ne4 20. Qe3 Qf5 21. Qf3 Qxf3+ 22. Kxf3 Nd2+ 23. Kg2 Rd7 24. b3 Rad8 25. f3 Rd3 26. Rac1 e5 27. Ng1 e4 28. fxe4 Nxe4 29. Rxd3 Rxd3 30. Re1 f5 31. c4 Kf7 32. Nf3 Kf6 33. Re2 g5 34. Ne1 Rd1 35. Nc2 Nc3 36. Ne3 Rd3 37. Nd5+ Nxd5 38. cxd5 Rxd5 39. a4 h6 40. h3 h5 41. Kf2 f4 42. gxf4 g4 43. hxg4 hxg4 44. Re3 Rh5 45. Rc3 Rh2+ 46. Kg1 Rh3 47. Rxc5 Rxb3 48. Ra5 Ra3 49. Kg2 1/2-1/2

The following diagram shows the opening in quantum format, after 1.d4 {1...d5 or 1...Nf6} 2.Qd3.


The Bad Opening

Alan insists that I named it.

It was you who gave the "Bad Opening" it's name. Back when I had a 1000 rating, a 1200 named Flynn beat me with it at one of those old tournaments at the Henry Hudson Hotel. When I tried it against you in one of our high school board challenge matches you played c6 and b5 and Qa5 and crushed my early queenside castle position in 17 moves, commenting afterwards, "That's a bad opening". I revived it in 2007, in time to show it to the "Invisible Kid"; nowadays, when I see c6, I chicken out and castle kingside.

I have a vague recollection of the incident, unlike the title of '1975 Connecticut Bughouse Champions', where I recall that Alan and I lost the final match. Given that I'm a big fan of 'Extravagant Openings' (see, for example, What Makes an Opening Extravagant?, December 2009, which partially explains my fondness for chess960), expect more about the Bad Opening on this blog.

11 September 2017

Ratings Correlated to Performance

Continuing with Early USCF Rating Issues, the chart on the left, from the 20 August 1951 issue of Chess Life (CL), shows the result of the 1951 U.S. Championship. The tournament started at the end of July 1951, and consisted of two stages.

The event was the subject of an editorial by Montgomery Major titled 'Consider the Rating System' in the 5 November 1951 issue of CL. The rating system had been introduced a year earlier and this was the first major test of its correlation to actual performance.

CONSIDER THE RATING SYSTEM

No MATHEMATICAL system of grading skill and proficiency will ever be quite accurate. for no system can evaluate the deviations from the expected to which the human mechanism will inevitably turn. Nor can the logics of mathematics evaluate and make allowance for the incalcuable human factors of weariness, stamina, digestion and moodiness. Why a master will be unbeatable in one tournament and in the next become the victim of numerous losses is physical or psychological, and it cannot be reduced to mathematical terms.

For that reason the National Rating System cannot perform the miracle of placing players in their exact relation to each other; and it is just as well that it cannot, for if it could predict in advance the relative ranking of players in a tournament there would not be much incentive for playing tournaments!

But the National Rating System can (and does) indicate the relative groupings of players in categories with more than casual accuracy. This is its justification; and the necessity for determining such categories is the reason for its existence. The Rating System does select players in groups and while it cannot with real accuracy determine the exact ranking of players in any one group, it can determine quite accurately the grouping in which any player belongs, when sufficient data is available on that player's performances,

Nowhere are these facts demonstrated more conclusively than in the recent U.S. Championship. Consider the first five players in the final standing. They were Evans (2554), Reshevsky (2747), Pavey (2441), Seidman (2451), and Horowitz (2565). The remaining contestants were in order Bernstein (2309), Santasiere (2304), Mengarini (2310), Shainswit (2444), Hanauer (2325), Pinkus (2421), and Simonson (2345).

Immediately it is obvious that with the exception of Shainswit and Pinkus all the players in the upper bracket of the Master Class (2400 or better) finished at the top, while those in the lower bracket (2300 to 2400) finished in the lower positions. This is what we would expect, if the Rating System lay any claims to accuracy as distinguishing between groups.

The fact that Shainswit and Pinkus were exceptions merely indicates the incalcuable human factor in playing chess which no system can evaluate -- the physical and psychological factor.

Turning to the preliminary rounds, the same general rule was in full evidence. Only one player with a rating over the 2300-2400 series failed to qualify for the finals; and as this player was Kevitz (2610) it is quite obvious that the physical strain to the elderly master was a decisive factor, for tournament chess remains a young man's game.

Within each grouping there is not, of course, the same accuracy. It is mathematically impossible to determine the exact shade of difference in strength between players of relatively the same strength; and the Rating System was not intended to do this. In addition there is the added factor that between players of relatively the same strength there is no conclusive determination possible as to which may be the stronger. Upon one occasion one may win, in the next encounter the other may be victorious.

Therefore, it is well advised to remember that the National Rating System is primarily designed to designate classes of players, and not to determine with precise accuracy the relative ranking of players within a class. That is to say, a player with the rating of 2304 may possibly be stronger than player rated 2325 -- the difference in points may be a reflection of the relative strength of the tournaments in which each has played recently. It may be even the reflection of temporary factors such as indigestion, melancholia, or simply weariness. But the difference between a player with a rating of 2450 and one with 2350 should be a difference in playing strength that as demonstratable over the chess board.

Montgomery Major

NB: This anecdotal analysis was produced some months after the event completed. The next post in the series will look at the use of ratings before a chess event takes place.