31 January 2014

The Saving Power of Chess

'Murder has been one of the leading causes of death among teenagers in America. That's what motivated one man to spend more than thirty years trying to save lives, and he did it with a board game. His story is told in a new movie starring Oscar winner Cuba Gooding Jr.'

'Life of a King' Shows the Saving Power of Chess (6:59) • 'The Christian Broadcasting Network'

For a review of the film, see Life of a King Movie Review & Film Summary (2014) [RogerEbert.com].

30 January 2014

Chess Nebula

My recent post, Happy Anniversary, Chess Federations!, might also have included chess periodicals. The February 2014 issue of Europe-Echecs included the following full page announcement.

The top of the page, almost written in invisible ink, says, '1959-2014'. Under the Horsehead Nebula, written in the same ink, it says, '55e ANNIVERSAIRE', meaning '55th ANNIVERSARY'.

As you might have guessed after another recent post, Do You Know Where Nancy Is?, I only read Europe-Echecs for the pictures. Full color wins every time.

28 January 2014

Carlsen vs. Gates, The Aftermath

Ever since Yahoo ran a couple of articles on GM Carlsen, I've been looking forward to the next one. Why? Because of the comments. They give me a good idea what most of the world thinks about chess. See, for example, Mainstream Comments on Magnus for person-in-the-street remarks on the two previous articles. The latest Yahoo piece was captioned,

The billionaire shows he's a good sport to take on the world's best chess player, but how fast he loses is a shocker. "Unlucky"

and reached the top five in the Yahoo headlines, after 'Record-sized fish speared' and 'Where your home ranks'.

For the full article, see Bill Gates obliterated by chess champ in just over one minute. It starts,

Bill Gates is a smart guy. A really smart guy. But when it comes to chess, he's a regular Joe. The world's richest man (or thereabouts) met the world's best chess player Thursday night on Skavlan, a Norwegian-Swedish television talk show hosted by Norwegian journalist Fredrik Skavlan.

Some of the more than 1000 comments imagined what might have happened after the show.

  • Bill promptly bought [Carlsen's] house, his family's house and their family's houses and quickly burnt them to the ground. Who's the champ now!?
  • In related news, Microsoft has just purchased the rights to chess and banned its play worldwide.
  • Gates is REALLY #$%$. He paid that guy $1 million to LOSE.
  • The 23 year old chess champ will be on Gates list for world de-population.
  • Gates called Microsoft immediately after the game to start a new project for a supercomputer that will defeat the world champion.
  • Afterwards, Bill Gates foreclosed on Carlsen's home and threw him out into the streets. The Microsoft robots "escorted" Mr. Carlsen to a black van with tinted windows and he was never heard from again.
  • And then Bill bought Norway and felt better immediately.
  • Then Bill whipped out his checkbook and showed Carlsen the balance. Carlsen started crying.

I wonder what it would cost to buy Norway. If you laid all of the world's billionaires end-to-end, I bet they still couldn't afford it.

27 January 2014

Fishing on the River Chess

Just because I'm Gone Fishing (*), doesn't mean all chess activity stops. Today I caught up on chess software downloads.

Komodo: The first stop was an offer for 'three months of ICC free' with the purchase of the Komodo TCEC. Since I was planning to extend my ICC membership, this offer was too good to pass up.

Arena: The Komodo product page mentioned a newer version of Arena than I'm currently running, so I picked up a copy from PlayWithArena.com.

It's been a few years since I last updated most of my chess software, documented in Arena, Rybka, Houdini, & Scid and Learn from Your Engines?. It's never good to let this slide for too long.

Scid: Sure enough, I found a newer version of this useful database program on Scid at SourceForge.net. There was also a more recent version, released a few months ago, but I decided to take it one step at a time and opted for one version older.

Chesslab.com: My favorite source of recent games has been problematic lately, throwing up Java security warnings. I checked my settings and couldn't determine the cause of the errors. If I can't fix it, I'll need a new source of games. That will require some research.

That's not a bad way to spend a rainy afternoon. I'll report on further progress if anything seems worthwhile.


(*) Photo: 'Fishing on the River Chess', Gone fishing...on the River Chess [watfordobserver.co.uk].

26 January 2014

'Chess in School' Is Mantric

In a recent post on 'Chess in School', CIS Is Quantifiable, I overviewed the literature on cis.fide.com, and ended with,

The page 'Documents and FAQ' points to 'Resource and Information Center', which lists some of the papers mentioned above, plus a few others. Which are the most important for a busy person who wants an introduction to the subject? The paper 'Multiple Intelligency' by Prof.Dr.Howard Gardner is marked 'MUST TO READ!!', so that looks like a good place to start.

The page titled 'Resource and Information Center' is split into five sections:-

  • Materials from Conferences and CIS Comission [sic] meetings
  • Benefits of Chess
  • Literature and Research
  • Antiaging Researches on Neurology
  • Teaching Materials

The Gardner paper, an eight page PDF, is the first reference under 'Literature and Research'. The paper is titled 'Howard Gardner's Multiple Intelligences' and starts,

Some theorists believe believe [sic] that intelligence is a basic ability that affects performance on all cognitively oriented tasks. Consequently, an 'intelligent' person will do well in computing mathematical problems, in analysing poetry, in taking history essay examinations, and in solving riddles.

It's not immediately clear what this has to do with chess in school, and chess is mentioned only once in the paper:-

Visual spatial intelligence [the third of Gardner's eight 'intelligences'] refers to the ability to represent the spatial world internally in your mind –- the way a sailor or aeroplane pilot navigates the large spatial world, or the way a chess player or sculptor represents a more circumscribed spatial world.

While reading the paper, I concluded that Gardner was not the author. Since I could find no mention of another author, I turned to the web for help and searched on the phrase from the introduction, 'intelligence is a basic ability that affects performance'. I found more than 500 references to that phrase.

After refining my search with the grammatically incorrect preface 'theorists believe believe that', I still found more than 400 references. At this point I decided that people are just copying the paper without bothering to read it; otherwise they would have corrected the introduction. I'll come back to this topic another time. I am, after all, Gone Fishing.

24 January 2014

Knights of the Rijks (Museum)

If I had known I would get a second opportunity to use the Tata / Rijksmuseum theme, I would have saved one of the titles I used on my previous post: 'Knight Watch' -or- 'Museum Pieces'. The hybrid doesn't work as well.

Tata Steel 2014 Rijksmuseum © Flickr user Frans Peeters under Creative Commons.

Left to right: Van Wely, Naiditsch, Dominguez Perez, Nakamura, So, Harikrishna, Gelfand, Aronian, Karjakin, Caruana, Giri, Rapport. • For more about the tournament, see 76th Tata Steel Tournament 2014 [TheWeekInChess.com].

23 January 2014

Chess Comics No.4: Mad's Modern Chess

After Comic Interlude, you might think I've had enough of Mad Magazine, but there's more. Going back to April 1963 (No.78, 'One False Move Dept.'), we find a four-page spread that starts,

Basically, the game of chess is a game of 'war'. It was created many centuries ago, and so it was naturally based on war as it was waged in those times. [...] The kind of war the traditional chess game represents is a far cry from the kind of war nations would be moronic enough to fight today. And so, we propose that the game be brought up to date, that all the pieces be re-designed, and that, while there's still time, we start playing MAD's MODERN CHESS.

The first page of the spread shows a 'normal' chess set -- not Staunton design, but otherwise recognizable, assuming you ignore the h1-square of the wrong color and the Pawns all being different -- plus the caption:-

Note how accurately this fine old antique chess set depicts the glory of ancient war. Note splendid royalty. Note proud bishops. Note grand castles. Note haggard, tattered, hungry pawns who are in the front rows ... and have to take most of the beating.

The second page of the spread is shown below.

Artist: Bob Clarke • Writer: Al Jaffee

The text here is readable enough that I don't have to transcribe it. As for the moves of the pieces, both 'old' and 'new' moves are detailed in the last two pages of the spread and are pretty much what you would expect from Mad Magazine.

21 January 2014

Comic Interlude

The digital ink had barely dried on my previous post, Gone Fishing, when I remembered what I did the last time I had limited time for blogging : I ran a mini-series on chess in comics. Why comics? The time consuming portion of a blog post is not the writing, it's the research. With comics, there's not much to research -- someone wrote a silly story about chess and someone else illustrated it.

My last post about comics was Chess Comics No.3: Batman vs. Penguin, from which I still had material stored for future use. There was, for example, Surprising Developments in the World Chess Championship Match [MadMagazine.com]. It starts,

Yesterday, Viswanathan Anand successfully defended his title as World Chess Champion by defeating Boris Gelfand. Now, we know what you’re thinking — the only thing more boring than playing chess has got to be watching chess be played. Well that’s where you’re wrong! The match was filled with exciting, surprising events! Don’t get us wrong, it was still boring – but for a chess game, pretty exciting!

If you think that article belongs in the Not-Everyone-Likes-Chess department, you're right. Here are its last three-and-a-half bullets, plus a rare photo of Anand and Gelfand playing with a Simpsons chess set.

'Surprising Developments'

Thank goodness that's the only chess-related piece on the site. There have been, however, other chess features in past print editions of Mad Magazine. Stay tuned for 'Chess Comics No.4'.

20 January 2014

Gone Fishing

CFAA will return in a week or two. In the meantime, expect occasional light blogging if anything.

Bye for now!

19 January 2014

Alekhine Dozes at the Board

The number of interesting items has picked up since the previous edition of Top eBay Chess Items by Price (see Chess Set Brands and Character Families), but is still not up to usual standards. Of the two auctions I had on today's short list, I chose the item pictured below. It was titled 'Alexander ALEKHINE ALEJIN Russia World CHESS Champion AUTOGRAPH Argentina 1925', and sold for US $650 after a single bid.

I liked the item more for the photo than for the signature, which I already featured once in 'A' Is for Alekhine's Autograph. The description said,

You are bidding for a large picture (20x28cm) with Original AUTOGRAPH of the French-Russian World CHESS Champion. ALEXANDER ALEKHINE signed in his visit to Rosario (Argentina) on October of 1925, before he won the challenge to Capablanca in Buenos Aires.

The position on the board might occur after the moves 1.d4 d5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Bg5 e6 4.e3. The Queen's Gambit puts me to sleep as well.

17 January 2014

'Knight Watch' -or- 'Museum Pieces'

I couldn't decide which title I preferred for this post, so I used both.

Tata Steel Chess 2014 (0:52) • 'Chess on Tour - Rijksmuseum rd.4'

For more about the painting, see The Night Watch [Wikipedia]:-

The painting may be more properly titled by its long since forgotten name The Company of captain Frans Banning Cocq and lieutenant Willem van Ruytenburch preparing to march out. In the 18th century the painting became known as The Night Watch. It is prominently displayed in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, the Netherlands, as the best known painting in its collection.

Some of the players in the video clip look bored?!

16 January 2014

The Winning Formula

'The Road to the World Championship' -- yesterday I posted Part I on my WCC blog -- has seen numerous format changes in recent times. The sequence of Zonal -> Interzonal -> Candidates -> Title Match was unchanged from 1948 to 1993, when the Kasparov - FIDE schism brought on overlarge attempts at new formats that would somehow unify the split title. The format of the current, four-stage cycle uses a different type of event for each of the stages.

Continental Championships: First introduced in 2000, the Continental Championships have been based exclusively on the Swiss system. Since tiebreaks are always an issue, both playoffs and Buchholz-style calculations have been used to determine the last qualifiers advancing to the next stage.

World Cup: The functional equivalent of the old round-robin Interzonals, the knockout format of the World Cup reduces many qualifying players to a handful of true, world-class title hopefuls. The format was used four times to determine the World Champion -- 1999 Las Vegas, 2000 India/Iran, and 2001 Moscow (the 1997 Groningen event was a title tournament in name only) -- before it was abandoned as being too random to pick a true champion. Unfortunately, it survives in this capacity for the women's cycle.

Candidates Tournament: The 2013 London tournament was a return to the eight-player, double round-robin format used until 1962 Curacao. Although it produces more hard-fought games than the knockout match format last used at 2011 Kazan, its disadvantage is that it can be manipulated by collusion among the players.

World Championship Match: While few people have a problem with the tournament format last used in 2007 Mexico City, most fans prefer that the champion earn his title in a head-to-head match against the strongest opponent. The popular success of the 2013 Carlsen - Anand match should guarantee the use of the match format for years to come.

Swiss system, knockout matches, double round-robin, and head-to-head match : four different formats each well-suited for the stage where it is used. Has FIDE finally found the winning formula?

14 January 2014

Happy Anniversary, Chess Federations!

The bottom right corner of the cover on the January 2014 issue of Chess Life (CL) displays the small graphic reproduced on the left. It reads, 'USCF 75th ANNIVERSARY 1939 - 2014'.

To determine the origin of that cryptic message, I turned to the November 1939 issue of The Chess Review. Its cover bore the message 'The OFFICIAL ORGAN of the UNITED STATES of AMERICA CHESS FEDERATION' and inside (p.222) I found an explanation.

THE PRESIDENT'S MESSAGE • To lovers of chess everywhere in the U.S.A.:-

It is a great pleasure and satisfaction for me to announce the formation of the United States of America Chess Federation -- a merger of the National Chess Federation and the American Chess Federation. I feel deeply honored that I have been chosen first president of the new federation, and I am greatly pleased that Mr. Maurice S. Kuhns who has been president of the National Chess Federation for many years has consented to serve as president emeritus and will aid me with his advice and counsel.

For the past fifteen months committees of the N.C.F. and A.C.F. have labored long and arduously in the merger negotiations. There were times in the deliberations when it seemed as though the obstacles in the way of a merger were insurmountable. But finally, thanks to the friendly spirit shown by both sides, and their very real determination to iron out all difficulties, the committees reached complete accord and the merger agreement which was drawn up has now been signed by Mr. Kuhns and his directors on behalf of the N.C.F. and signed by me and our directors on behalf of the A.C.F. A charter is now being prepared by our counsel and the date of this charter will be considered the birth date of the new United States Chess Federation. [...]

Cordially yours,
President, United States of America Chess Federation

The previous issue of The Chess Review, October 1939, had indeed carried the message 'The OFFICIAL ORGAN of the AMERICAN CHESS FEDERATION'. I have no idea what was meant by 'the obstacles in the way of a merger', but will save that investigation for another time.

Flipping forward to 2014, this is the second consecutive month -- following GM Benko's Last Column -- that CL has served as a source of inspiration for this blog. I detect a shift in its content and outlook and will be watching to see what future months bring.

On a related topic, FIDE will be celebrating its 90th birthday later this year in Paris. The main chess news sources will undoubtedly carry the story and photos.

13 January 2014

Carlsen TMER: Last updated 2014-01-13

As the title says, I followed through the actions from Carlsen TMER: Reconciling the PGN, and updated my page on Magnus Carlsen's Tournament, Match, and Exhibition Record (2000-). It's time to put this project on the shelf and move on to something else.

First, I'll finish the actions for the Anand TMER mentioned in TMERs : One Step at a Time. Then, I'll update another TMER. Garry Kasparov's Tournament, Match, and Exhibition Record (1973-); Last updated 2003-03-17, looks like a good candidate. Has it already been nine years since he retired?

12 January 2014

'Chess in School' Is Sociable

My previous post on the topic of Chess in School -- CIS Is Quantifiable -- listed academic studies recommended by FIDE. Those who prefer listening to CIS experts can watch live presentations from a recent conference.

KVDC London Chess and Education Conference 2013; Introduction - Malcolm Pein (7:39) • London Chess Classic

For more presentations from the conference, see Karel van Delft - YouTube. For more about the conference, see Chess and Education London Conference (londonchessclassic.com), especially the link for 'Chess Ed Conference'.

10 January 2014

Photoshopped Chess

The caption said, 'A game of chess among friends - me, myself, and I.'

Your Move © Flickr user yeahbouyee under Creative Commons.

Trick photos with the same person playing both sides of the chessboard have been common since the 19th century. This is the first photo I can remember with that person also spectating.

09 January 2014

On the Edge with a Tablebase

In the past I've used Alan Lasser’s Game of the Week (GOTW) as a source of inspiration for this blog -- see, for example, Tablebase Monster for a post on a nontrivial Queen and Pawn endgame. A recent GOTW featured an unusual endgame of Rook vs. Pawns.

Endgame theory originated in the Rosendale Chess Club this week in a post-mortem analysis of a skittles game position. After the game ended in a draw we wondered what would have happened if White had pursued a different approach to that ending and I showed how Black could have sacrificed a Rook to obtain a position that appeared to be an obvious endgame win: White has the King on e6 and Rook on c7 while the Black King is on g8 with Black Pawns on e4, d4, and c3.

The position is shown in the following diagram. What do you think the correct outcome of the game will be?

White to move

Here's how Alan Lasser explained it.

After 1.Ke5 d3 2.Rc3 d2, the d-Pawn must queen. Basic Chess Endings says that, with no enemy King in front of them, three connected passed Pawns on the fifth rank will win; and here one of the Pawns is even further advanced than that. If you've studied endgames, you know these advanced Pawns are unstoppable; that's why instinctively I gave up my Rook without hesitation to obtain the menacing Pawns. Not so says the computer, in this particular position those magnificent Pawns can be held to a draw. How can such a mind-blowing thing happen?

A tablebase confirms the analysis, which I won't repeat here. The White King and Rook work together to threaten checkmating the Black King on the side of the board. Black is kept busy dodging mate threats and doesn't have time to promote the Pawns.

I conducted a small tablebase experiment to determine whether the position was unique. I moved the Black King around the side of the board -- a1, a2, ..., a8, b8, ..., h8, ..., h2, h1 -- stopping each time to note what the tablebase said for the particular position. For example, with the Black King on e8 (instead of g8, as in the diagram), White mates immediately. With the Black King on f8, White wins in 21 moves with Ke6-f6.

Of the 19 legal positions with the Black King on the a-file, eighth rank, or h-file, White wins seven times and nine positions are draws. That leaves three positions where Black wins, even with White on move: King on a1, b8, and h1.

There are several basic themes at work in the 19 different positions. A next step would be to identify the themes and perhaps catalog them, but there are only so many topics that can be tackled in a single blog post.

07 January 2014

TWIC 1000

Congratulations, Mark Crowther!

London Fireworks 2014 - BBC One (11:23) • 'More about this programme: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b03mth1n'

See also 1000 issues and a 20th year for TWIC by Mark Crowther ('The Week in Chess').

06 January 2014

Carlsen TMER: Reconciling the PGN

Returning once more to Magnus Carlsen's Tournament, Match, and Exhibition Record (2000-), I took the action mentioned in last week's Carlsen TMER: 'Under Construction' (Not!):-

The data shown in the 'Score' and 'Games' columns can be reconciled with the data in the associated 'PGN File'. I've never done this for any of the TMERs, but it's essentally a database manipulation.

After fixing format errors, I identified a handful of events that need more investigation. I'll look at those when I bring the file up-to-date through end-2013.

05 January 2014

Chess Set Brands and Character Families

Just as in years past, the number of interesting items for the next edition of Top eBay Chess Items by Price dwindled to near-zero after Christmas. I could have fallen back on a composite listing like last year's Top Computer Chess Items by Price, and started to create one. After getting a few ideas to investigate -- Star Trek chess sets was one such idea -- I noticed that eBay has built-in categories for chess sets.

As you can see in the upper right corner of the popup window, Star Trek sets are listed under 'Character Family' and there were 28 successful auctions in that family (I limit my searches to items that sold) over the past three months. The top five character families are also listed to the left of the popup. I decided not to take the idea any further for this post, but will keep it in mind for future editions of 'Top Items by Price'.

I'm not sure what to make of 'Age Level', also listed on the left. Are there really chess items for age 12-18 months?

03 January 2014

'Chess for Africa' on Youtube

In the upcoming FIDE presidential election, African chess federations are destined to play a key role in determining the winner. Both of the opponents, Ilyumzhinov and Kasparov, have identified 'Chess in School' as an important plank in their respective platforms. Is this professionally made video associated with either of them?

African Chess Impressions 2013 (7:22) • '"Chess for Africa" is dedicated to the implementation of methodical chess lessons at Primary Schools throughout Africa.'

Chess for Africa: 'This channel is meant for the training of teachers wishing to become a chess teacher/ chess coach at Primary Schools.' The opening credits mention the Deutsche Schachstiftung ['German Chess Foundation'] and MedienLB. See also 1.1 Introduction - Chess for Teachers at Primary Schools in South Africa.

02 January 2014

Counting the World Champions

After ringing out the old year with a post on chess history -- Cat Fight -- what better way to ring in the new year than with a look at the January 2014 edition of Europe Echecs (EE), shown on the left. Even though he has held the title less than six weeks, the young man pictured on the cover might already be the most photographed World Champion of all time. The caption says, 'MAGNUS, 20th World Champion'. The 20th? How does the traditional count arrive at that number?

The last World Champion for which there is no argument was Kasparov, the 13th (his 'lucky number'). Many observers agree that when Kramnik beat no.13 in 2000, he became the 14th. Skipping ahead to 2013, if Carlsen became no.20 when he beat Anand, then the Indian must have been the 19th. Here's a recap.

  • 13 - Kasparov
  • 14 - Kramnik
  • 19 - Anand
  • 20 - Carlsen

What about the 15th through 18th champions? Since there were four FIDE World Champions anointed at various times, assigning them sequential numbers gives

  • 15 - Khalifman (1999)
  • 16 - Ponomariov (2002)
  • 17 - Kasimdzhanov (2004)
  • 18 - Topalov (2005)

That list looks reasonable, except for one problem. Anand won the FIDE title in 2000, so he should be no.16, not no.19. Alekhine, after all, is counted only as no.4, because he beat no.3 Capablanca. Although Alekhine later beat no.5 Euwe in their 1937 return match, Botvinnik is considered no.6 because of his tournament win in 1948. Similar counting logic applies to Botvinnik, who won return matches over no.7 Smyslov and no.8 Tal. Only the first title counts for the numbering.

I can think of other ways to count the champions. A reasonable method is as follows: The first three FIDE champions, the knockout winners, are dropped from the list, and Topalov resumes the count at no.15. His win at San Luis in 2005 was equivalent to Botvinnik's win in 1948. This gives

  • 13 - Kasparov
  • 14 - Kramnik
  • 15 - Topalov
  • 16 - Anand
  • 17 - Carlsen

Anand can be assigned no.16 either for his win at Mexico City in 2007 or for his win over Topalov in 2010; take your pick. Then the numbering continues with Carlsen. Given the Norwegian's current dominance, we might wait a long time to see no.18.


The latest EE had two other features of special interest. The first was a four page insert serving as a communication from the French chess federation (FFE). Since EE is not funded directly by the FFE, the insert is intended for both FFE members and non-members.

The second feature of interest was a four page article containing campaign statements from FIDE President Ilyumzhinov and his opponent in the forthcoming election, former World Champion (no.13!) Kasparov. This is a big topic and I would like to return to the subject in a future post.