03 July 2015

The Travelling Chess Statue

The first time we saw this statue of Jan Karski playing chess, Chess and the Polish Underground, it was located in Washington, DC. Here it is located in New York, NY.

Chess in front of the Polish Consulate © Flickr user Nano Anderson under Creative Commons.

Maybe the statues are twins.

02 July 2015

July 1965 'On the Cover'

What? No cover for Chess Life? Like the April 1965 'On the Cover', the cover of CL looks more like the first page of a newspaper. Including front and back covers, the issue had only 20 pages, of which three and a half were 'How the Chess Openings Got Their Names' by John W. Collins.

Left: 'Tal, Larsen Win'
Right: 'Fischer Returns'

Chess Life

Only three of the original eight challengers are still in the running for a match with World Champion Tigran Petrosian. Ex-champion Mikhail Tal and Danish grandmaster Bent Larsen have won their quarter-final matches and will soon play one another to determine which of them will advance to the final match of the Candidates' series -- against Boris Spassky.

Chess Review

Robert J. Fischer played 21 United Nations Chess Club members and 5 other experts in a simultaneous in June at the U.N. [...] On the cover, Fischer is interviewed by Joan Parr of CBS-TV.

'The Unknown Bobby Fischer' by IM John Donaldson & IM Eric Tangborn (International Chess Enterprises, 1999) has more about the U.N. event.

Simul at the United Nations, 1965 One of Bobby's more unusual exhibitions was held at the Church Center of the United Nations on May 21, 1965. Results for the event are contradictory. Chess Review has Bobby facing 26 players with a score of 23 wins plus losses to Vladimir Vakula of the USSR and club secretary Luis Loayza of Peru and a draw with Evgeny Zhukov of the USSR. Chess Life and Zhukov have it +18=1-2. Neither of these may be right, as the two games from the event which have surfaced are both draws! It doesn't make things any clearer to know that Chess Life gives Ivan Grischenko, not Vakula, as a winner.

The event was sponsored by games manufacturer TAG, Inc., and its newly designed Manchurian chess tables and chessmen were used. From the look of the photo published on page 196 of the July 1965 issue of Chess Review, Bobby must have finished the exhibition with an aching back: the tables were less than two feet off the ground! His eyes might also have been sore -- the Manchurian pieces were definitely not based on the Staunton design.

Re 'Fischer Returns', had he left?

30 June 2015

Six Times U.S. Champ

Walter Browne (1949-2015) won the U.S. Chess Championships (Closed/Invitational) six times -- three times consecutively outright; 1974, 1975, 1977; and three times consecutively shared: 1980, 1981, 1983. It could have been seven times consecutively, but he failed to play in 1978, quitting the tournament just before the first round in a dispute over lighting.

The photo below appeared 40 years ago to the day. The caption on my copy is blurred, but I think it says 'AP'.

Trophy: '1975 United States Chess Champion'

The caption read,

Oberlin, Ohio, June 30 -- TWO-TIME CHAMP • Walter Browne, 26, of Berkeley, Calif., won the U.S. chess championship Saturday for the second year in a row. The board shows his final game, a draw with Kim Commons. But it was Sunday before he and other players in the nearly month-long competition in Oberlin, Ohio, knew the outcome. He played his last game a day early because of a conflicting commitment for Sunday, when the pack finished.

For an earlier photo of Browne on this blog, see Name that Player.

29 June 2015

Searching for Fritz

How can I follow-up my post on the Origin of 'Chess Engine'? Using the techniques described in Early Chess Newsgroups, I looked for early mentions of a name that has been nearly synonymous with 'chess engine' for more than 20 years: Fritz. My searches were hampered by a chronic problem producing the message, 'There was an error performing the search. Please try again later', so something might be missing. Here's a sample of what I learned:-

  • 1991-06-28: Games of the 1991 AEGON Tournament • 'E. Blokhuis - Fritz...'
  • 1991-07-19: Commercial Chess Programs • 'Fritz. Yet to be released ChessBase compatible program.'
  • 1992-03-15: Software Reviews • 'Knightstalker: the German version of this program is called "Fritz"'
  • 1992-09-30: ChessBase vs. NICBase • 'Fritz is a chess playing program the engine of which can be used within Chessbase so that at a particular time you can get an analysis of a game you are looking at in the database'
  • 1992-11-30: 7th World Computer Chess Championship / Crosstable • '5 Fritz 2 | Netherlands / Germany | 11w= 8w= 15b+ 9b+ 2w= * 3.5 *'
  • 1992-12-09: Chess computer game... which one? • 'Knightstalker 2 seems to be pretty improved. Also, news has it that Richard Lang is releasing his own PC program - it seems that his employer (Hegener & Glaser, Munich) for whom he wrote the MEPHISTO programs does a fast decline since they bought Fildelity [sic] America and lost a lot of money [...] I think it's now called Fritz II'
  • 1992-12-27: Softwares & Ratings! • 'Fritz II and Zarkov 2.6 are strong chess programs that you're unlikely to find in computer stores. [...] I supplemented my Mac with a PC is for MChess (Pro), RexChess, Zarkov, and Fritz (II)'
  • 1993-01-09: Chess Computer Ratings • 'Someone has asked for a list of chess computer ratings. [...] 28. Fritz AT 80486 (PC) 2.158'
  • 1993-01-21: pc chess programs • 'Anand reached only 70 percent against Fritz 2 on 486, recently.'
  • 1993-02-11: chess program speed • 'Fritz (=Knightstalker) [...] Fritz2 (successor of Fritz)'
  • 1993-02-15: Some chess program news • 'an informal blitz match between GM Kasparov and Fritz 2 (i486/33 4MB) ended 26:11 (+24 =4 -9) [...] newest ratings for some PC programs from the Swedish list'
  • 1993-05-05: AEGON TOURNAMENT • 'A huge number of top micros are entered, including 2 versions of Zarkov, 4 versions of the Chess Machine, Fritz II, Mephisto, MChess Pro, 3 different Saiteks, Socrates II, Chess Genius, Mephisto RISC, and many others.'
  • 1993-05-10: COMPUTERS ELO LIST • 'I post this list in accordance to the various requests of a bigger list. [...] 22 Fritz 2 486dx 50 8 8 22.1 2240; 23 Fritz 2 486dx 33 4 4 15.2 2200'
  • 1993-05-13: Aegon computer-human tournament result • 'These are the results of the 8th anual aegon computer chess tournament held in Voorburg (The Hague) The Netherlands.'
  • 1993-09-13: FritzII strength? Comments? • 'KightStalker [sic] is the US version of Fritz, the predecessor of FritzII.'
  • 1994-05-22: Kasparov (funny game, played in german television) • 'Kasparov was guest in german television (ZDF Sportstudio) and played the following game against Fritz3 running on a pentium'
  • 1994-05-30: Fritz3's performance looks a little less impressive • 'PCA Munich Blitz Tournament: I am absolutely astonished to learn tonight that the players played Fritz3 in this tournament at a computer terminal.'; M.D.Crowther

The entries for 1993-02-15 and 1994-05-22 indicate that Kasparov was routinely hired to promote important milestones in the evolution of Fritz. Using my page Garry Kasparov's Tournament, Match, and Exhibition Record (1973-) as a reference, here's what I found:-
1992-12 Match vs. Fritz 2, Cologne • +26-11=3 (?)
1994-05 Intel Express Challenge (Blitz), Munich • 1-2/18, +12-4=1
1994-05 Intel Express Challenge (Blitz) - Playoff vs. Fritz, Munich • +3-0=2
1995-12 Match vs. Fritz4, London • +1-0=1
1999-03 Simul and Rapidplay (15') vs. Fritz, CeBit, Hannover • S:? F:+0-0=2
2003-11 X3D Match w/ Fritz, New York USA • +1-1=2

From this I would guess that Fritz4 was released end-1995, a conjecture I'll leave for another time. Other keywords for further research: Aegon, ChessBase (& other databases), World Computer Championship, Computer Ratings.

28 June 2015

Baffled by 'Wot Not'

Sometimes the items featured here on Top eBay Chess Items by Price aren't at all something that interests me, but if it's related to chess, it gets its moment of glory. For this current post I would rather have featured an Irving Amen woodcut. Since the artist appeared a few years ago in Chess Art? Amen!, I went for a couple of dollhouse items.

The item on the left, titled 'Vintage EUGENE KUPJACK Georgian SILVER Dollhouse MINIATURE CHESS BOARD SET', sold for US $558.88 after 24 bids from five bidders. The item on the right, titled 'ANTIQUE NAPOLEONIC MINIATURE CARVED WOT NOT PRISONER WAR DOLL HOUSE CHESS TABLE', sold for US $600.00 after a single bid.

As for the descriptions...

Left: Selling a nice collection of hand crafted silver dollhouse miniature accessories made by the worlds foremost miniaturist, Eugene Kupjack. They are circa 1770s with a Georgian period style and design -- all solid silver with original rhodium plating to preserve the bright finish. This is an 18th cent. chess board set -- comes with a wooden checkerboard pattern game board and 31 chess pieces (1 missing, replaced with a little cup) the playing pieces include Knights on horseback. One set is tinted a copper color. All complete and intact with no excessive wear or damages -- some of the pieces were glued to the board and are still attached, others are loose. The game board is about 1 1/2" x 1 1/4". Cant find the EK mark. Great for a period dollhouse miniature diorama or room.

Right: Superb & Highly Intricate Napoleonic Miniature "Wot Not". Wonderful Chess table, early 19th Century prisoner of war work miniature, ingeniously turned & carved from used camp soup & mutton bones with beautiful, pierced fret work panel doors all in perfect miniature & beautiful from any angle. Outstanding craftsmanship & incredibly intricate. The skill, patience & man hours required to create such an item from such humble materials is truly breathtaking. The entire piece is pegged & fixed by hand to ensure the pieces remain in position & they are still here to this day. The fret work pierced centre door opens & closes perfectly. The pierced, reticulated design, is again highly complex & intricate. Original finish throughout & a particularly fine, early example. 6 cm tall x 4.2 cm wide.

...Challenged by metric conversions? Then I guess you're not a dollhouse collector either (1" = 2.5 cm). As for the meaning of 'Wot Not', I'm baffled.

26 June 2015

Trustworthy Videos?

For this edition of Video Friday, I had a good selection for my short list, but my first picks fizzled.

  • Chess: A Growing Force for a Changing World, Adarsh Jayakumar, TEDxCornell, started well, but the speaker's message just didn't work for me.

  • BBC - How to Play Chess Properly, with Short changing his Knight to a unicorn and Kasparov trying to change his Rook to the same, had some good moments, but was spoiled at the end when someone added an inappropriate message regarding 9/11.

  • Play Like Tal - Sunday Chess TV, with GM Simon Willams explaining one of Tal's best games from his first match against Botvinnik, was obviously taken from another (unattributed) source.

My next choice was the following clip.

Hungarian chess teacher eyes world record (0:55) • 'A chess teacher in Budapest is hoping to win the world record for playing the most games simultaneously'

By coincidence, I had just read Gone missing from the Streatham & Brixton blog, which starts, 'Who's Brigitta Sinka?', and then raises some interesting questions. If you can't trust 'an 87-year-old grandmother', who can you trust?


Later: That was a great choice for a post titled 'Trustworthy Videos?'. When I run the embedded clip, it tells me,

This video contains content from AFP who has blocked it from display on this website.
AFP is Agence France Presse. I should have titled the post 'Untrustworthy Videos'.

25 June 2015

Origin of PGN

Anyone who collects computerized chess games knows the importance of Portable Game Notation (PGN). In The Rise of Internet Chess, I included it as the third major topic:-

It may seem unusual to include PGN in an account of Internet chess. The moves of a chess game are easy to digitalize, and the Internet made the data easy to transfer. Before PGN, every chess software vendor had a different way of encoding chess data. PGN, developed in 1993 by Steven J. Edwards, was discussed and disseminated via rec.games.chess (rgc). It became an immediate success because, as a readable text format, it satisfied the needs of people as well as of computers.

My recent post, Early Chess Newsgroups, motivated me to take another look at the birth of PGN, 'developed in 1993 by Steven J. Edwards'. The work started in 1992, and is documented in a series of rgc posts written by Edwards himself. The PGN development was preceded by work on other aspects of chess transmission by digital encoding. • New and improved SAN Kit chess source kit available (September 1992):-

The SAN Kit is designed to help chess software efforts by providing common routines for move notation I/O, move generation, move execution, and various useful position manipulation services. [...] Acronyms:

SAN: Standard Algebraic Notation. This is a notational system for recording chess moves based upon the FIDE Laws of Chess used worldwide. It is the same as FAN (Figurine Algebraic Notation) except that ASCII piece letters are substituted for piece figurines. [...]

FEN: Forsyth-Edwards Notation. While SAN is used for universal move representation, FEN is used to describe a position. It is based on the 19th century Forsyth system used in the United Kingdom with some extensions of my own for giving extra information about a position. This extra information includes: the active color, the castling availability (if any), the en passant target square (if any), the count of halfmoves since the last irreversible move, and the fullmove number. [...]

ICC: Intermachine Chess Communication. This is a standard for linking various chess software programs together. It is both a language and a communication protocol that will allow simplified communication among chessplaying programs, chess position repositories, chess opening libraries, and human interface systems. Using SAN and FEN, the ICC standard will be both easily readable by humans and machines. [...]

The PGN work followed shortly. It coincided with the 1992 Fischer - Spassky Rematch, aka FS II. • PGN: FS II games 1..23 in proposed ASCII portable format (November 1992):-

The SAN Kit currently has source code support for both SAN (Standard Algebraic Notation) representing chess moves and FEN (Forsyth-Edwards Notation) representing chess positions. The current direction of the work is towards developing a standard, portable representation for entire games (and lists of games). Unless someone comes up with something better, I'm going to call this yet to be fully developed scheme PGN (Portable Game Notation). There are four main goals for the PGN design:

1) The design should be reasonably complete [...]
2) The design should be truly portable [...]
3) The design should be intelligible by humans without extensive training in deciphering [...]
4) The design should be intelligible by computer programs without extensive coding effort [...]

The following list in PGN gives the first twenty three games of the Fischer-Spassky II match.

Those 23 games were given in a format remarkably similar to the PGN used today. The most important difference was the lack of a '[Result]' tag. Here are two more rgc posts by Edwards from the end of 1992, documenting the progress of the standard.

Over the next months, Edwards and other rgc users provided files of games in PGN format. A formal specification was issued at the end of the following year.

Discussions of the standard continued until the end of the year. In 1994 PGN use increased dramatically, making it the dominant method of transmitting chess game scores. I'll cover that evolution in a future post.