19 October 2017

Understanding Lombardy

In my previous post, GM William Lombardy I promised to 'do a short series of posts on Lombardy', with the objective of getting up-to-speed on the man. It turns out that the fastest way to understand Lombardy is to study his book, 'Understanding Chess: My System, My Games, My Life', which is available via his own site Understanding Chess | Grandmaster William Lombardy (williamlombardychess.com).

'Understanding Chess' (Russell Enterprises, 2011)

The back cover of the book says,

In His Own Words... William Lombardy made his mark early and often. Still in his teens, he became the first American to win the World Junior Chess Championship. His 11-0 record in his 1957 title run still stands today. He followed up by leading the U.S. Student team to the gold at the 1960 Student Olympiad.

He has been a mainstay of chess in the United States for decades, participating in seven Olympiads, many U.S. Championships, and winning three U.S. Open titles.

Along the way, he briefly retired from competitive play when he entered the priesthood, only to return as Fischer's sole second in Reykjavik during the "Match of the Century" against Boris Spassky, where Fischer was crowned World Champion.

The 119 annotated games (including several unpublished games and 37 supplemental appendix games) are embellished by anecdotes and observations drawn from Lombardy's remarkable career, spanning almost 60 years, from the early 1950s to the present.

A short 'Biographical Sketch' ends with an anecdote:-

I was about 10 when I decided to see if I could get a game at Lion's Square Den Park. So I crossed [Faile Street] to PS 75, walked to the end of the playground at Bryan Avenue, crossed that street, turned right to the corner and entered the park where in the afternoon I discovered those I dubbed "the old men in the park." Conservatively, the men ranged in age from their 20s through 70s. Most of them were Jewish, so I not only won a lot of chess games early on, but also learned a fair quantity of Yiddish. "Mach aah moof chal-yee-kah!". One day, an old man approached me, "How come you're not dressed up?" I was wearing my usual dungarees play clothes. As everyone was dressed up, I was reminded that the Jewish High Holy Days in the fall had arrived. Almost everyone else wore shirt, tie and suit coat. The neighborhood was almost exclusively Jewish. So although I was secluded at St. Athanasius Catholic Grammar School, I had learned something of Judaism. I answered the man's question, "I'm not Jewish." Fearful of embarrassing me, the man adroitly exclaimed, "You're not Jewish? You look like such a nice Jewish boy!" Without further formalities, we played chess.

Day after day I came to play chess in the park. About a week later, the same old man singled me out to talk and brought me something that would change my life. He took out a marble design notebook from a brown paper bag. "Here," he said, pushing the notebook into my hands, "You will have better use for this than me. I'm finished with it." I thanked him for the book, put it back in the bag and played chess with the man. When I got home, I looked at my book. For a kid I played better than every other kid I knew and quite a few adults. But I had never even heard that there were chess books, let alone seen one. Back in those days, there were five or six newspapers that carried a chess column. Over many, many years the old man had studiously pasted some two thousand of those chess clippings into his book. I had never asked him whether he had actually played over the games in those clippings. I was about to do what he himself may not entirely have done.

I was very enthusiastic. I had to decipher the games' code by discovering the ins and outs of descriptive chess notation with a trip to the public library around the corner from my school. Once I had grasped the notation, I began enthusiastically playing over the games with a vengeance! I would estimate that within a month of receiving the gift, I had played over some 20% of its contents. The process was necessarily slow. After all, I had to set up the pieces for every game on my little chessboard. But the process was becoming more and more a great and exciting pleasure. Without knowing what really was happening to me, I was becoming a better and better player in the process of reviewing the games. Using that book I discovered the power of eidetic imaging. I had improved to become a very powerful player and I was also a thorough student of the game.

I have never forgotten the "old man" who kindly gave me that awesome gift. I can still see his dear face, although he never thought to tell me his name. I hope he learned that his gift brought me along to make a special mark on world chess. I am not a general but as a "chess general," I will likely never be forgotten. A strange little magical book with lots of chess diagrams transformed me from a wandering kind to a wunderkind! And that wunderkind taught Bobby Fischer from the time the crew cut, blond-haired boy in a flannel shirt and dungarees was six months short of his twelfth birthday. That I was Bobby's only chess teacher from that time, and right through Reykjavik, is a fact. Some may not like hearing this surprising news, but I assume that they will get over the shock. I don't know who taught the Byrne brothers, for example, but it was not Jack Collins. The Byrne brothers were tutored at the Manhattan Chess Club and other chess haunts around New York City, as was I, Bobby and Raymond Weinstein. Thus Spake Zarathustra!

As for Lombardy's claim that he was "Bobby's only chess teacher" starting end-1954, I am astounded!

17 October 2017

GM William Lombardy

The death of GM Lombardy -- see William Lombardy, Chess Grandmaster Turned Priest, Dies at 79 (nytimes.com; Dylan Loeb McClain) -- reminded me how little I knew about one of the USA's strongest chess players of the 20th century. The first paragraph of Wikipedia's article, William Lombardy, sums up nearly everything I know.

William James Joseph Lombardy (December 4, 1937 – October 13, 2017) was an American chess grandmaster, chess writer, teacher, and Catholic priest. He was one of the leading American chess players during the 1950s and 1960s, and a contemporary of Bobby Fischer, whom he coached from the time Fischer was age 11½ through the World Chess Championship 1972. Lombardy led the U.S. Student Team to Gold in the 1960 World Student Team Championship in Leningrad. He was the only World Junior Champion to win with a perfect score.

Google search returns not only the principle Lombardy page of top chess resources,

it also returns some specialized material.

As for my blog, Posts for query lombardy picks up only nine posts, most of which are brief references to GM Lombardy in a monthly 'On the Cover' post. The only post about Lombardy, A Chess Playing Priest (August 2017), has little to with chess.

I also searched my collection of chess images, the majority from eBay, and among the many thousands of images, found exactly eleven. Half of those mentioned Lombardy only in passing in the associated text. Of the other half, two were copies of the same photo, shown below.

Combining the essential elements of the text for both photos gives,

14th Chess Olympiad, 1960, Leipzig, Germany; William Lombardy watching over Ghitescu vs Fischer.

To rectify this unsatisfactory situation, I'll do a short series of posts on Lombardy. One angle worth exploring is from 'Spraggett on Chess':-

One of the fondest memories of the time I was a high school student at Rosemount High in Montreal was hiding away in the library stacks, poring over the back issues of Chess Review, at that time the most popular chess magazine in North America. [...] In particular, the articles written by Grandmaster William Lombardy (who was also at that time a Roman Catholic Priest) were among my favourites. There was something unpretentious about the GM’s style of writing that made it seem as though he was speaking directly to the reader, one on one as it were.

This ties into another of my own posts, The Trainers’ Tree (June 2015), where I learned that the FIDE Trainer Awards listed 'Lombardy William (USA), 2014' in the Hall of Fame.

16 October 2017

Harkness Pairings for the Swiss System

In the two previous posts for this series on early U.S. chess ratings,

I outlined a series of eight articles written in 1952 by Kenneth Harkness. He added a ninth article in the 20 September 1952 edition of Chess Life (CL).

Swiss System Pairings
by Kenneth Harkness
USCF Rating Statistician

The pairings of a Swiss system tournament produce some peculiar results, as anyone who has played in those results knows well. The winner's title may be clouded because he failed to meet some of his strongest competitors. Others place high in the final standings after meeting comparatively weak opposition. A player may shoot up from nowhere in the last round or two and outdistance contestants who played far stronger opponents.

In a tournament for an important title, the Swiss System must be regarded as inferior to a round-robin if the winner does not meet all the strong contenders. However, the Swiss has a great many practical advantages. These advantages so greatly outweigh its known defects that the system is now used in practically all state, regional and national tournaments with the exception of the United States Championship. If a better method of pairing contestants will cure the faults of the Swiss System, the quality of all the present tournaments will be improved and the system can he used for the U.S. Championship itself.

As an example of what can happen, we present in the table below an analysis of the pairings for the top twenty players in this year's U.S. Open Championship at Tampa. In doing so, we imply no criticism of the tournament director. Our quarrel is with the present method of pairing by lot, not with the director who follows standard procedure in this respect.

The table showed how many top players each top player faced.

Rank, Player, Score, Opponents Among Top 20, Opponents Below Top 20

Harkness continued with comments on the table. They provide more detail than is needed for this blog post, but I like the background about U.S. chess in the early 1950s.

Bearing in mind that the winner's pairings are the first consideration, we are bound to ask why Larry Evans played the men who came in 42nd, 47th and 49th instead of three of the strong contenders he did not meet -- especially Hearst. Mengarini and Donovan, three rated masters who performed well at Tampa. The answer is that Larry played the opponents who finished below the top twenty in the first three rounds of the tournament. With 76 players in the contest, the luck of the draw gave Larry three opponents who failed to make the grade later. Being the highest rated player by a wide margin, the U.S. Champion would probably have kept the open title in any case. Even if he had played Hearst, Mengarini and Donovan, Larry would probably have risen to the occasion and put forth the extra effort needed to win the tournament. However, the actual outcome cannot be considered entirely satisfactory. After all, Mengarini beat Reshevsky in the last U.S. Championship!

Below top place, it is clear that some of the men in the list might have finished lower if they had met stronger opponents. Our sympathy goes to Jimmy Sherwin who was unlucky enough to draw the strongest field of the entire tournament. Measured by the rating system, Sherwin's competition averaged 2306 points! Steiner also met pretty stiff opposition -- stronger than most of the players who finished above him. While Sherwin and Steiner were batting their brains out against practically every master and leading contender in the field, some of the other players coasted in ahead of them by scoring against comparatively weak opponents. Needless to say, the players who came in below the top twenty were not pushovers by any means. Many were probably stronger than some of the prize-winners who slipped into the money brackets on pairing flukes. However, all the active masters placed among the top twenty. and only a few of the strong experts failed.

It has occurred to this writer that the rating system might be used to advantage when pairing the contestants in a Swiss System tournament. Based on this conception, we have developed a method of pairing which may correct most of the faults and inequities described above. At present, the method is theoretical. It has not been tested in practice, so it remains in be seen whether the theory is sound With the co-operation of the directors of some forthcoming tournaments, we hope to check the results achieved and report the outcome later.

To use the method successfully, most of the players in a tournament must have national ratings. We hope the day will come soon when practically all players are rated, and we are rapidly reaching that goal. In the U.S. Open this year, only 5 of the 76 entries had no previous ratings. However, we cannot guarantee that this method will help much if you are running a tournament with a large number of unrated players. Furthermore, the method Will prove most effective when nearly all the entries have given us an opportunity to measure their ability by playing in several tournaments. A rating that is based on the results of only one or two tournaments is not necessarily a true indication of a player's strength.

Since the method is based on the rating system, the ranking of the entries must be done by your rating statistician who alone has all the necessary data. The up-to-date ratings of some players may be higher or lower than the published list indicates, and a great many names in our files may be missing from the list. If you wish to test this method, mail a list of all the possible entries, giving their full names, to this writer at the address given in the masthead of CHESS LIFE. We will send you by return mail the up-to-date ratings of players on your list. The provisional ratings of players who have competed in only one rated tournament will be marked with asterisks. Then, about an hour or two before the tournament begins. You may telegraph the full names of unexpected entries and we will wire back their ratings (collect!) adding the prefix "pro" to the name of a player with a provisional rating. For example, PROWILLIAMS 1850 Would mean that player Williams, has a provisional rating of 1850. Please note that all ratings supplied for the purpose of ranking tournament entries are confidential, for your own use exclusively as tournament director.

The pairing method is explained in the following paragraphs:

1. Make up a ranking list of all entries, arranged in the order of their ratings, from the highest down to the lowest. Add at the bottom the names of all unrated players, arranged in alphabetical order. [...]

The rest of the Harkness article, which nearly filled the equivalent of a full page in an issue of CL having only six pages, gave eight steps for making the pairings. These steps -- including advice about the 'fundamental rule' of Swiss system events ('a player must not meet the same opponent twice'), about color allocation, and about unrated players -- are well known to anyone who has played in a Swiss. What tournament was the first to use this method of pairing?

15 October 2017

A Three Day Kiss

After my first idea fizzled for this current edition of The Sociology of Chess (November 2016), I had to fall back on the idea from the previous edition, Only a Million Dollar Game ... show a video. Since the most recent Video Friday, Update on FIDE's CIS, already used the best sociological choice from my current short list of videos, I looked at a few other choices.

A discussion of the recent marriage between Levon Aronian and Arianne Caoili (congratulations to both!), Should Armenians marry a non-Armenian -- the Armenian Chess player story, was topical, but it delved into too many non-chess issues that I don't want to confront on a chess blog. What about another romantic story, The Thomas Crown Affair - chess scene kiss - spin and crossing the line? The video pointed to a quote from TCM.com's The Thomas Crown Affair (1968)...

One of the film's most famous sequences is the chess match between Crown and Vicki, played in the study of Crown's mansion. The scene is played with very little dialogue, rapid cuts and a mixture of extreme close-ups and regular shots. After Vicki defeats Crown, he suggests that they play something else, then kisses her. In his DVD commentary and autobiography, [director Norman Jewison] stated that the chess and kissing scenes took three days to shoot.

...but again I had a small problem -- the video doesn't show any chess; it's just about the kiss. Here's a longer version showing the chess game *and* the kiss.

Chess Scene - The Thomas Crown Affair (1968) (6:57) • 'The chess scene from the film "The Thomas Crown Affair" (1968) with Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway playing a game of Chess (Music composed by Michel Legrand).'

The description said,

While this scene is famous (or infamous), the whole film is great and worth watching. McQueen and Dunaway have charisma individually and chemistry together. Intertwined with a cat-and-mouse game of detective and thief, it's a near perfect film. It was nominated for two Academy Awards -- Best Original Score and Best Original Song -- winning Best Original Song for Michel Legrand's "Windmills of Your Mind".

Some of the Youtube comments:-

'No more fancy first date dinners. I'm buying a chess board tomorrow!' • '007's Daniel Craig has stated that this scene is by far the sexiest scene in cinema, because Faye Dunaway was acting natural and not forcing sexiness. His point proven!' • 'Makes me wish I knew how to play chess!' • 'Michel Legrand appropriately named the classic jazz improv background music to this scene "His Eyes, Her Eyes".' • 'This is maybe the longest kiss I've ever seen.'

More from TCM.com about the music:-

Another hit song from the film was set to the love theme heard during the chess game. Alan and Marilyn Bergman later wrote lyrics for the theme, and under the title "His Eyes, Her Eyes," the song has been recorded by numerous singers.

Who said chess isn't romantic?

13 October 2017

Update on FIDE's CIS

The video starts,

Our main objective is to persuade ministries of education and other educational establishments to incorporate chess, because to get chess into schools all around the world is beyond the capability of almost all national chess federations.

The arguments for chess in school are compelling and are based on Bloom's taxonomy (wikipedia.org; 'a set of three hierarchical models used to classify educational learning objectives into levels of complexity and specificity'). According to Kevin O'Connell, 'Chess is the perfect vehicle'.

"Chess should be used as an educational tool", Kevin O'Connell, Chairman of FIDE CIS Commission (4:59) • 'Role of chess in education; 88th FIDE Congress.'

Although it's been a year since I stopped following CIS regularly on this blog -- see 'Chess in School' Summarized (October 2016) for the signoff -- I haven't lost interest in the subject. For more about O'Connell, see a previous post in that series, FIDE's CIS Chairman O'Connell (January 2016). The Youtube channel that made this video available, European ChessTV, started about six months ago and has other recent clips that are worth viewing.

12 October 2017

Another Chess Metaphor

Remember the post Only a Million Dollar Game? 'Why settle for a million dollar game when you can have a billion dollar game?', featuring a video 'How to make chess a billion dollar game'. Be careful what you wish for; seen on eBay earlier this year...

Billionaire's Fantasy • A Game of Living Chess

...The eBay description said,

Original old French historical magazine color engraving folio print with text on the back (not a modern reproduction) comes from old magazine "La Petit Journal", 1904. The overall size of this print with margins approximately 17" x 12".

The text on the left says, '232 - Supplement illustré du Petit Journal'. Wikipedia's Le Petit Journal (newspaper) informs,

Le Petit Journal was a conservative daily Parisian newspaper founded by Moïse Polydore Millaud; published from 1863 to 1944. Together with Le Petit Parisien, Le Matin, and Le Journal, it was one of the four major French dailies.

Is this illustration a chess metaphor for life in the world of 1904? In today's world?

10 October 2017

Bogart and Chess in Photos

In my latest eBay post, Bogart's MCO, I wrote, 'it's fairly well known that Humphrey Bogart played chess'. This is confirmed by Google.

Google image search on 'chess bogart'

Let's use chess notation to identify the three rows of six images. Calling the rows 'A' to 'C' (from top to bottom) and numbering the images in each row '1' to '6' (from left to right), we find:-

  • Lauren Bacall in seven photos: A4, A5 ('*' = see notes), B2, B3, B4, B5, C5.
  • The movie 'Casablanca' in six: A3, B1, B6, C1, C3, C6.
  • Miscellaneous subjects in the other five (all '*'): A1, A2, A6, C2, C4.

As for the notes ('*'):-

  • A1: Casablanca Rare Photos (cineweekly.com) • 'Claude Rains watching Bogart during a break', although Rains has been cropped out of the Google image
  • A5 (& A2): Actor Humphrey Bogart and Chess (chess.com; June 2011) • From Chess Review, June-July 1945; the photo on p.18 of the same magazine is Google's A2.
  • A6: We're No Angels (1955; imdb.com) • Joan Bennett and Humphrey Bogart
  • C2: Chess and Hollywood (chesshistory.com) • Chess Review, May 1954, page 131 (the web page has another half-dozen Bogart photos)
  • C4: Bogart with Scottish Terriers; see similar photos with other props.

All photos present and accounted for?

09 October 2017

Harkness Ratings for the Swiss System

Continuing with The Harkness System Explained, in that post I used excerpts from Harkness's own writings in Chess Life (CL), more than 65 years ago:-

[Harkness, CL 1952-05-20] was the first in a series of eight articles under the title 'How the Rating System Works'. [...] The last two articles in the Harkness explanation of his rating system described rules for rating a Swiss System. I'll cover that in my next post in this series.

1952-08-20: '7. Rating Swiss System Tournaments' • In this post, I'll look at those last two articles.

To rate a Swiss System event we evaluate the performance of each player as though he were competing in an independent tournament. No contestant plays against the same set of opponents as any other contestant, so we must measure the strength of the competition each player meets. We do this in the same way as we determine the average strength of a round-robin tournament -- by listing the ratings of a player and all his opponents, then finding the median value. This value is called a player's "competition average." Then we compute performance ratings as described in parts 5 and 6 of this series, adding or subtracting points from each player's competition average in accordance with his score.

The process of rating Swiss System tournaments is summed up in the above paragraph, but a great many of the details have been omitted. For the sake of those who want to know exactly what we do, this article and the next in the series are devoted to a fuller explanation. If you find the description too boring to read, you will have to take our word for it that we go to a lot of trouble to achieve a high degree of accuracy.

Perhaps the simplest way to explain the process is to describe the various steps in detail, using the recent U.S Open Championship as an example.

1. After correcting the usual mistakes in the round-by-round analysis of the tournament report, and after cancelling all byes and defaults, we list down on our work-sheet the names of all players and their net scores. By net scores we mean the points won and lost for games actually played. Although the U.S. Open was a 12-round event, some of the contestants played less than 12 games.

2. The second step is to write down what we call the "work-sheet ratings" of all players whose performances during the previous five years have been recorded on cards in the active files. Each player's rating is written after his name. As described below, some ratings are taken from the records of rating one tournament. [...]

3. The third step is to issue performance ratings to the unrated contestants. so that these figures may be used to find the competition averages of the rated contestants. The process is complicated and consists of three operations: [...]

Harkness introduced his next article with a visual overview of his calculations.

U.S. Open championship, Tampa 1952; Average: 1980
(Column Headers:) No., Player, Net Score, Last Avg., Work-Sheet (1 & 2), Competition, Performance

1952-09-05: '8. Rating Swiss System Tournaments (continued)'

In the seventh article of this series we started a description of the various steps that are taken to rate a Swiss System tournament, using the U.S. Open of 1952 as an example. In the present article we continue the explanation.

4. The fourth step of the process is to issue performance ratings to the players with provisional ratings. This is done as a separate operation so that we may correct the work-sheet ratings of these players before tackling the fully-rated contestants.

When a player has never before competed in a rated event we have to accept the performance as the only available indication of his ability; but we can do something about correcting a possible error in the figure used to represent the strength of a player who has competed in one previous tournament. What we do is to average his provisional rating and his performance rating, then substitute this new figure in the column of work-sheet ratings. We use this corrected rating when finding the competitive averages of his opponents [...]

5. As the final step, we issue performance ratings to the fully rated contestants in the tournament. As a result of the work done up to this point we now have a column of work-sheet ratings that is more accurate than our original list. (The final list is column 2 of the work-sheet ratings in the table above.) We have done all that we possibly can to make sure that the performances of the players with established ratings will not be distorted by mistakes in the ratings of their less experienced opponents. [...]

In that series of eight articles written in 1952, Harkness went to great lengths to describe the mechanics of his system. I've left out (indicated by '[...]') most of the detail and all of the examples. He also considered the use of ratings to produce Swiss System pairings. In the next post in this series, I'll look at his thoughts on pairings.

08 October 2017

Bogart's MCO

Although it's fairly well known that Humphrey Bogart played chess -- he even has a page on Chessgames.com, Humphrey Bogart -- he has never been mentioned on this blog. Thanks to this ongoing series on Top eBay Chess Items by Price, that's about to change.

The item below was titled 'Chess book signed by Humphrey Bogart'. It sold for US $666.00 after four bids from two bidders. The first bidder entered the auction with an unknown maximum bid and a few days later the second bidder placed three bids, finally giving up at US $656.

The description said only,

This is a chess book presumably owned by Humphrey Bogart, who was a 2100 ranked player. (Google it.) The book is in tattered shape but the collectible value to the right individual is "priceless".

Under Bogart's signature are two phrases. Taking a clue from the 'p' in his signature, the first phrase appears to be 'Comparative Chess' (no clue what that means), while the second is 'Chess Fundamentals'. The title page says something like,

Modern Chess Openings
By Griffith and White

Completely revised
(Author of Morphy's Games of Chess, etc.)

R.C.Griffith (Editor, British Chess Magazine; British Chess Champion, 1912-13)
M.E.Goldstein, B.Sc. (Middlesex Champion, 1924-25)

Specially Compiled for Match and Tournament Players

Fifth Edition

Whitehead & Miller Ltd.
Elmwood Lane


This appears to be the 1932 edition. (Project for a rainy day: sort out the various editions of MCO.)

06 October 2017

No Knight Presence

But that could be a (half) Bishop on the left or maybe a Pawn. As for the piece on the right, it could be a King/Queen fusion sort of thing.

Art on Park Ave Chess Pieces © Flickr user J J under Creative Commons.

The description said,

Night Presence IV • This sculpture of welded Cor-Ten steel was given by Louise Nevelson to the City to commemorate her 50th year of living and working in New York. Said Nevelson, "New York represents the whole of my conscious life and I thought it fitting that I should give it something of myself."

Other sources say the gift was made in 1973. Nevelson's Wikipedia page, Louise Nevelson, says,

Louise Nevelson (1899–1988) was an American sculptor known for her monumental, monochromatic, wooden wall pieces and outdoor sculptures. Born in the Poltava Governorate of the Russian Empire (present-day Ukraine), she emigrated with her family to the United States in the early 20th century.

For more about the sculpture, see Night Presence IV, Not Present (full-stop.net), where the word 'chess' isn't mentioned. The game doesn't appear to have had much additional influence on Nevelson's work.

05 October 2017

1967 World Juniors

My previous post October 1967 'On the Cover', had a paragraph on the 1967 World Junior Championship. Quoting from Chess Review (CR),

Puerto Rican Champion Julio Kaplan, who is 17, won the Junior World Championship, held in Jerusalem. [...] Raymond Keene of Great Britain was runnerup with a total of 5 1/2 points; and Jan Timmans [sic; Timman] of the Netherlands was third with 5.

Along with a photo of winner Kaplan, the article included photos of Keene and Timman, reproduced below.

As far as I can tell, Kaplan never advanced to a World Championship qualifying tournament. Keene and Timman both played in European zonals in the 1970s, without qualifying further:-

In subsequent zonal cycles, Keene was replaced by other English players, of whom the strongest was Tony Miles:-

Timman tied for first with Miles in the 1978 Amsterdam zonal, and qualified to play in the Interzonal stage:-

In 1979, Timman finished a half point behind a trio tying for 1st-3rd, narrowly missing qualification into the Candidates matches. He was less successful in 1982, when he was seeded by rating, but starting in 1985, qualifed into the Candidates stage for four consecutive cycles.

03 October 2017

October 1967 'On the Cover'

Fifty years ago, the Chess Life half of the two major American chess magazines got a new look. See last month's post, September 1967 'On the Cover', for an example of the old cover.

Left: 'International Master William Addison'
Right: 'World Junior Champion'

Chess Life (report by tournament runner-up 'Sammy' Reshevsky)

A serious problem arose just before the start of the recent International Tournament at Maribor, Yugoslavia. The organizing committee was anxious to have the event classified as a "1A" tournament, which required, according to FIDE regulations, the participation of eight International Grandmasters and four International Masters. However, William Addison of San Francisco was erroneously considered the fourth International Master. The problem was solved when International Master N. Minev was substituted for Yugoslav Master S. Puc. Fortunately, Minev was in Yugoslavia at the time and was contacted just as he was about to depart. The advantage of a "1A" tournament is that a Master has the opporunity of acquiring the coveted International Master title by achieving a 50% score.

The tournament classification worked in Addison's favor. He scored exactly 50% to make the norm and gain the IM title.

Chess Review

Puerto Rican Champion Julio Kaplan, who is 17, won the Junior World Championship, held in Jerusalem. He looks a fighter and, scoring 6 1/2 - 1 1/2, went undefeated. Raymond Keene of Great Britain was runnerup with a total of 5 1/2 points; and Jan Timmans [sic; Timman] of the Netherlands was third with 5. [...] Most communist entrants boycotted the tournament. Our Sal Matera had an unfortunate preliminary result.

Where are they now? Enshrined in Wikipedia, like so many other chess players of yesteryear. Addison's page, William Addison (chess player), informs that he died 29 October 2008 in San Francisco. Kaplan's page, Julio Kaplan, tells us, 'born 25 July 1950, Argentina [...] emigrated in 1964 to Puerto Rico', and that the World Junior Championship earned him the IM title.

02 October 2017

The Harkness System Explained

My previous post on early U.S. chess ratings, The Harkness Rating System, ended with a direction for further investigation.

This was the first in a series of eight articles under the title 'How the Rating System Works'. I'll look at the following articles in the next post.

1952-05-20: That first Harkness article was in the 20 May 1952 edition of Chess Life (CL). Here is its first paragraph repeated:-

Many readers of CHESS LIFE were favorably impressed by our recent forecast of the results of the international tournament at Havana. With one or two exceptions, which we will hasten to explain now that the race is over, the predictions were about as near as you can come without the use of a crystal ball. [...]

1952-06-05: Following are the first paragraphs from subsequent articles in the series. They provide some insight into the technical underpinnings of the rating system.

The National Rating System, now in operation for two years, is like one of those mechanical brains you read about in the papers. Tournament results are fed in at one end and ratings come out at the other. The machine has no feelings or emotions. When presented with the results of a tournament, it pays no attention to fancy titles. The sponsors may call it a Masters' Tournament to Decide the Championship of Fifteen Counties; but the system adds up the ratings of the players, strikes an average, and calls the contest an 1843-point Class B event, if that is how it turns out.

If you win a tournament you get the highest rating. Others may claim that you were just lucky and got all the breaks, but the system looks at your score. It knows nothing about luck. Never heard of it. Sad to relate, though, the eagle eye of the rating system sees your name as clear as can be if it shows up at the bottom of the final standings. The machine measures your failures as well as your successes. This is not a one-way system. Your rating can go up or down. [...]


If your ambition is to become recognized as a chess Master the rating system gives you the opportunity to prove your ability and earn the title. In fact, the system will seek you out and shout Your name from the housetops. You are listed as a Master if you average 2300 points or more in at least two tournaments, not counting preliminaries. Or you are listed as an Expert if you average 2100 to 2299. Other officially rated players below the Expert division are grouped in Classes A, B, C and D, each class covering a range of 200 points.

In the upper echelons, there are grades of Masters, too. The common or garden variety ranges from 2300 to 2499. Above this comes the Senior Master class, between 2500 and 2699. At the top of the pyramid is the Grandmaster Class, from 2700 points up. The air up there is pretty thin.

Unless you live in one of the big chess centers, where strong players congregate, you cannot expect to qualify as a Master by playing only in local events. You can probably reach the rank of Expert, but you will not go beyond this point until you compete in stronger tournaments. [...]


The use of median values to represent the average strength of tournaments is one of the latest refinements of the rating system. As another example, we give below the results of the 1951 Pittsburgh Metropolitan Championship.

[list of 7 players in order of rating]

The sum of the ratings divided by the number of contestants (13,143 divided by 7) gives 1878 the average, but a player who made an even score in this company would not be entitled to such a high rating. The distortion is caused by the presence of one highly-rated expert among two Class A and four Class B players. In such cases, a median value is more accurate.

Since there is an odd number of contestants, one rating is at the middle of the list. Waltz' 1785 is lower than the top three and higher than the bottom three. However, one player's rating in such a small group may be off center, so we find a better medium value by averaging the three middle ratings. Thus, we add the figures 1922, 1785 and 1750 (the ratings of Taylor, Waltz and Leiter) for a total of 5,457, and divide by 3 to get an average of 1818 points for this tournament. [...]

1952-07-20: '5. Round Robin Performance Ratings'

After the average strength of a round-robin tournament has been determined, each player is given a performance rating. When there are ten or more rounds, the ratings are issued as follows:

1. A player who makes a 50% score gets the tournament average as his performance rating

2. A player who makes a score of more than 50% gets the tournament average plus 10 rating points for each percentage point of his score above 50%.

3. A player who makes a score of less than 50% gets the tournament average less 10 rating points for each percentage point of his score below 50%.

Applying these rules to the 1951 Log Cabin Chess Club Championship, performance ratings were issued as shown in the table below and in the chart [below].

1952-08-05: '6. Rating Short Tournaments'

When a tournament has ten or more rounds, the performance ratings are issued in proportion to the percentage scores, but this relationship cannot be maintained successfully when rating shorter tournaments. As the number of rounds decreases, ratings based on percentages become less and less accurate.

The natural inclination of a statistician is to reject competitive events that do not furnish data in sufficient quantities to use percentages. Fortunately, the popularity of short tournaments in the United States has forced us to labor and bring forth a practical method of evaluating performances in thew contests. A new measurement scale makes it possible for us to rate competitions with any number of rounds from one to nine and opens the way to rate team tournaments and matches, hitherto impossible.

The development of this yardstick required several weeks of unpaid labor in tests and experiments, but the result is beguilingly simple. We just substitute game scores for percentage scores. As before, a 50% score earns the tournament average. but for each half-game above or below an even score, a player gets the average plus or minus 50 rating points. This puts a necessary brake on the number of points that can be won or lost in a short tournament or match. [...]

The last two articles in the Harkness explanation of his rating system described rules for rating a Swiss System. I'll cover that in my next post in this series.

01 October 2017

Only a Million Dollar Game

Continuing with the Sociology of Chess (November 2016), why settle for a million dollar game when you can have a billion dollar game?

How to make chess a billion-dollar game (10:01) • 'Chess is a great game, and people have been trying to figure out how to market it for years.'

The description continues,

I follow it myself, and came up with a few ideas, both in marketing and radical technical changes, that I think would make a huge difference in how entertaining the game is to casual fans, and the amount of money that top players are able to make. Of course, a billion dollars may seem like a lot, but single NBA teams are worth more than that now, so I do believe that chess as a whole could be worth 1/30th of the NBA. Anyway, check out the vid to hear how!

While there are no really new ideas in the clip, it presents a few ideas that have never been put into practice. Here are a few external references from early in the video:-

The main advice near the end of the video is to follow the lead of poker, although with a novel, live-action twist. For previous posts on this blog about the same subject see:-

Perhaps one of the problems in these analyses is the excessive focus on chess in America. The 'How America Forgot' article from 2012 linked above knocks the influence of GM Anand and speculates on the potential of GM Nakamura. Which of the two players has done more to raise the popularity of chess, Anand in India or Nakamura in the USA? Chess is, after all, an international game.