19 November 2017

A Six-Figure Chess Item at Auction

Here on Top eBay Chess Items by Price, four-figure auction items -- selling for $1000 or more -- are not unusual. Five-figure items are less usual. The only such items I can recall appeared during the last few years:-

  • Man Ray Chess Set; (September 2015); 'With a starting price of US $10.000, the set sold for US $18.000 after receiving six bids.'
  • Chess Sculpture at Auction (November 2016); '$10.000 after five bids at live auction'
  • Chess Sets at Live Auction (December 2016); 'A Swiss Pearwood Animal and Bird Chess Set, 19th Century; sold for US $11,000 after 9 bids.'

The item pictured below was titled 'Marcel Duchamp : Pocket Chess Set'. After a starting price of US $160.000, the auction lasted two minutes, with the bid rising by increments of $10.000 every ten seconds or so. The winning bid was $340.000 after 13 bids.

The previous edition of 'Top eBay Chess Items', Marcel Duchamp on eBay, featured an etching where 'the auction was conducted by the well-known Sotheby’s', and the auction behind this current post was also by Sotheby’s. The description started,

PROVENANCE: Harold M. Phillips, New York (a gift from the artist). Thence by descent.

It continued with 'EXHIBITED:', which was empty, and 'LITERATURE', which listed four references that I omit here. The rest of the description was a long note on the overlap of Duchamp's art and his chess. It started,

CATALOGUE NOTE: Marcel Duchamp had a lifelong fascination with chess. Ostensibly "retiring from art" in 1923, he devoted the next ten years of his life to professional tournaments and by 1925, he had attained the rating of Master from the French Chess Federation.

The rest of the description can be found on duchamp, marcel pocket chess set (sothebys.com), where a few other important details about the auction can be found:-

Estimate: 200.000 - 300.000 USD
Lot Sold: 423.000 USD (hammer price with buyer's premium)
Signed Marcel Duchamp and dated NY 1944
Pocket chessboard in leather, celluloid and pins
6 1/2 by 4 in.; 16.5 by 10.1 cm
Executed circa 1944

The description also mentioned,

In 1944, Julien Levy organized an exhibition called The Imagery of Chess and asked thirty-two Surrealist artists to submit their own chess set designs. Duchamp submitted an example of his Pocket Chess Set, to which he added a single rubber glove (this work has since disappeared but was later replicated).

For more about that exhibition on this blog, see a post from earlier this year, The Imagery of Chess, St. Louis (August 2017).

17 November 2017

Knight Solo

Whenever a chess piece appears solo in a photo or drawing, nine times out of ten it's a chess Knight. Take, for example, another edition of Flickr Friday earlier this year, A Lonely Knight. So far, the photo below has had 2504 views and 41 faves ('favorites', including mine), indicating that its appeal is more than artist inspiration alone.


Chess Knight © Flickr user Michal Kosmulski under Creative Commons.

The description says only,

A recent origami design of mine -- chess knight with a corrugation-based mane.

Eliminating the tags for chess leaves 'origami', 'corrugation', and 'Khepera paper', which leaves little doubt as to its construction. Among the 13 Flickr groups to which it belongs, two groups are for chess:-

The 'Top Contributors' to these groups are also worth exploring.

16 November 2017

The Einstellung Effect

Spotted in the March 2014 issue of Scientific American, under the heading 'Psychology'. The introduction on the magazine's contents page said,

The human brain has a dogged tendency to stick with a familiar solution to a problem -- the one that first comes to mind -- and to ignore alternatives, even when they are superior.

The first two pages of the related article are shown in the following image.

'Why Good Thoughts Block Better Ones'

Article by Merim Bilalic and Peter McLeod
Illustration by Danny Schwartz

The caption on the right says,

While we are working through a problem, the brain's tendency to stick with familiar ideas can literally blind us to superior solutions.

The article starts,

In a classic 1942 experiment, American psychologist Abraham Luchins asked volunteers to do some basic math by picturing water jugs in their mind. [The participants had to figure out how to transfer liquid between the containers to measure out precisely 100 units.] Luchins presented his volunteers with several more problems that could be solved with essentially the same three steps; they made quick work of them. Yet when he gave them a problem with a simpler and faster solution than the previous tasks, they failed to see it. [...]

The water jug experiment is one of the most famous examples of the Einstellung effect: the human brain's dogged tendency to stick with a familiar solution to a problem -- the one that first comes to mind -- and to ignore alternatives.

What does that have to do with chess?

In recent eye-tracking experiments, familiar ideas blinded chess players to areas of a chessboard that would have provided clues to better solutions.

The article (with a different title?!) is available to subscribers on the magazine's site: Why Your First Idea Can Blind You to a Better One (scientificamerican.com). Another, shorter article on the same site, How Psychologists Study the Einstellung Effect in Chess (also March 2014), deals with the chess experiment: 'Cognitive bias can prevent even the most talented chess players from seeing the swiftest path to victory'.

The full article (with 'PDF Download Available') can be found on Why Good Thoughts Block Better Ones (researchgate.net). As for the illustration of the two geezers playing chess in front of the fireplace -- which caught my attention before the rest of the article -- it can also be seen on the artist's site, Danny Schwartz Illustration.

Articles in Scientific American occasionally focus on chess to make a point. Recent examples that I featured on this blog were Are Boys Good at Chess? (March 2015) and Chess and EEG (December 2014), and there were more posts before those.

While I was looking at the version of the Bilalic & McLeod article on Researchgate.net, the site proposed two more articles by the same authors:-

It turns out the site has an entire category about the game, 'Recommendations: Discover more publications, questions and projects in Chess'. How have I managed to overlook this for so long?

14 November 2017

Kids Crafting Tips?

Whatever happened to chess.about.com? As my page linked on the sidebar, 'Chess for All Ages (site)', explains,

From September 2002 to August 2008, I was privileged to serve as the Chess Guide for About.com. During that time, I produced one feature article per week. Although About.com has an exclusive, perpetual license to use my material, it's unlikely that they will ever use it again. After I left, the company gave me permission to reuse the material: 'It would be fine to use your content as you please.' Here are copies of those articles.

First let's have a recap of the site's history, as tracked on this blog. In my last months at the company, when it was still a subsidiary of the New York Times (NYT), I noted a couple of changes at the top:-

In the month that I left, I wrote two posts giving my own perspective from within the company:-

Four years later, the NYT sold the operation to IAC (aka Answers.com, aka Ask.com):-

After that I stopped paying attention to the company, except to check on its content from time to time. I do the same for many chess sites. Wikipedia's page on About.com now goes to Dotdash, with the mention 'Redirected from About.com'. The last paragraph currently informs,

2017–present: Closure of About.com, rebranding to multiple publications under Dotdash • On May 2, 2017, IAC announced that they had renamed About.com to Dotdash, after about a year of transition. CEO Neil Vogel said that the company had lost mind share, and needed to change their marketing strategy. The company elected to refocus on vertical markets through its niche websites: The Balance (personal finance), Lifewire (consumer electronics), The Spruce (home and food), VeryWell (health), TripSavvy (travel), and ThoughtCo (education).

It turns out that chess is now included under 'The Spruce (home and food)', and its current address is thespruce.com/chess-4127460.

The breadcrumb trail for the chess articles shows:-

Thespruce.com > Crafts & Hobbies > Kids Crafting Tips > Chess
Kids crafting tips? Talk about clueless! For more about the most recent transition, see About.com launches The Spruce, a standalone site for Home Decor and Food (techcrunch.com; February 2017).

13 November 2017

Improve Engine Hardware - Parts List

Continuing with the previous post in this series, Improve Engine Hardware - Specs, the 'Advanced Chess' (serverchess.com) article from which I gathered the hardware specs, gave me another good lead:-

FirebrandX, a player and blogger on the Chess.com site, advises he's in the process of building a new computer for advanced chess. He revealed his list of components with the estimated street price of only $2325.

The list was part of a discussion about Best CPU for chess engine game analysis (chess.com; March 2013):-

I happen to be in the process of starting a new build. [...] I decided the Intel Hex core [Hexa] was the best way to go instead of the infinitely more expensive Xeon machines.

Another source of detailed information, with links to Amazon.com product pages (and some budget recommendations), is Best Computer Specs for a Chess Engine (castledrook.com; May 2017):-

Make sure that the CPU, motherboard, and RAM you choose are compatible with each other. You can do this by checking the socket information on the store page. [...] The CPU, motherboard, RAM, and cooling are all the most important, so budget most of your money towards those.

The following table gives a side-by-side comparison of those two sources for the 'most important' components.

  2013 2017
CPU Intel i7-3930K Hex Intel Boxed Core i7-6950X
Mobo Asus P9X79 Asus Rampage V Extreme
RAM Ram 64GB G.Skill 64GB (4 x 16GB)
Cooling Heat-sink/fan Corsair H115i Liquid CPU Cooler

The Intel i7-3930 is a 6-core chip, the i7-6950 is a 10-core chip, and the budget recommendation i7-7700 is a 4-core chip. Wikipedia's Intel Core explains,

Intel Core is a line of mid-to-high end consumer, workstation, and enthusiast central processing units (CPU) marketed by Intel Corporation. These processors displaced the existing mid-to-high end Pentium processors of the time, moving the Pentium to the entry level, and bumping the Celeron series of processors to low end.

Identical or more capable versions of Core processors are also sold as Xeon processors for the server and workstation markets. As of June 2017, the lineup of Core processors included the Intel Core i9, Intel Core i7, Intel Core i5, and Intel Core i3, along with the Y - Series Intel Core CPUs.

As for the other recommendations, the table gives enough info for further investigation. At first I was puzzled why chess engine users would want to build their own systems from scratch. Then I realized that it's standard operating procedure in the larger community of gamers.

12 November 2017

'A Democratic Game'

Where's the chess capital of the USA? Some people think it's St.Louis, as in How St Louis became America’s chess capital (economist.com), but how many New Yorkers would agree?


Tom D's NYC: Chess (7:52) • 'Comedian and tour guide, Tomas "Tom" Delgado, gives you a quick look around the world of chess in NYC. Shot by Keith Glidewell.'

Shot on location at: Union Square; Washington Square; and Chess Forum, Thompson Street. By one of those coincidences that can't be explained, Chess Forum was featured on this blog a week or so ago: Multi-dimensional Chess Imagery.

10 November 2017

Chess Educators of the Year

This edition of Video Friday is in fact a series of six videos, with promises of more to follow. Since 2004, the University of Texas at Dallas has been making an annual 'Chess Educator of the Year' award. The winner in 2010 was Scottish Grandmaster Jonathan Rowson (wikipedia.org).


Chess Educator of the Year - Jonathan Rowson - 2010 (1:06:03) • 'Published on Nov 8, 2017'

For clips of other acceptance addresses from other years, see Chess Educator of the Year (utdallas.edu). Although GM Rowson's work has been mentioned several times on this blog (see, for example, Chess Psychology/Philosophy; June 2013), it was discussed more extensively on my chess960 blog in Rowson's 'Three Types of Theory' (February 2011).

09 November 2017

A Collage of Chess Collages

If a picture is worth a thousand words, what are two pictures worth? Ten pictures? A hundred pictures? Last month I used a new (for me) technique to explore the topic of Bogart and Chess in Photos. Based on a snapshot of a Google image search, it was easy to reference individual images, to document their visual connections with other images, and to investigate their origins on the web. The referencing goes something like this:-

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).

Here's another example.


Google image search on 'chess collage'

The image in the top row, left ('A1') is from Chess club in a collage (chess.com), where someone meant 'college', but typed 'collage', and someone else gave an example of a chess collage. This must be a common mistake, because Google confirms 'collage' before executing the search.

The image in the bottom row, right ('C5') is from Marcel Dzama: A Game of Chess (seesaa.net). The original image is titled 'The Hyper-modern Revolution' (2011), and is explained as 'Diorama: wood, glass, cardboard, paper, collage, watercolor and ink'. The rest of the page is full of unusual chess imagery. As for the other images in the collage of collages they all tell other stories.

As far as I can tell, I first used the Google image technique (I often call it a 'composite' image) in A Contest With No Prize (September 2012). Lately I've been using it more frequently, for example:-

I've also used the composite technique in other contexts, like:-

What copyright issues are involved? I really don't know. Google freely uses the images returned by a search, without permission from the owning sites. If the owner of an image asked me to remove it (which has happened twice in the 20 years that I've been creating material for the web), I would have to research the question of 'fair use'. In the meantime, I have a few other ideas for chess collages.

07 November 2017

Reconsidering an Online Chess Database

Decisions, decisions. A few years back, faced with a technical problem, I scrambled to find a new online chess database and documented the effort in a series of posts on this blog (February/March 2014):-

In that 'Choosing' post, I described the way I use an online database to keep up with opening theory. Basically, I start by looking at what the top players have been playing in a particular variation during the last couple of years, then broaden the parameters as the game goes deeper. I discovered that none of the databases could support this methodology and I decided to continue using the same toolset as before, accepting an increased security risk.

The database I've been using, Chesslab, was conceived around the year 2000 and is based on Java. This was adequate at the time, but the times have changed and the technology is no longer robust enough to protect against malicious activity, which is nowadays the primary disadvantage of doing anything online. Earlier this year, Firefox withdrew support for Java, effectively disabling Chesslab. Explorer still supports Java, but throws up so many warnings that I have to doubt my judgement in continuing to use it. On top of this, the downloaded PGN files are not usable 'as is' and have to be converted into a text format that can be loaded into PGN readers.

These days my main interest in online correspondence chess is chess960, where online databases have no value in the opening. A year or so before those posts on online chess databases, in Cup Play (May 2013), I wrote about continuing to play the traditional start position ('RNBQKBNR'). A new tournament will start in a week. If I play, I'll need a database to guide me through the opening phase, but which database?

Looking again at the work I did in 2014, there was one service that was still under development, Chess-db.com. I decided to take another look at it. Indeed, its 'Opening Explorer' is now an improvement over what I found in 2014, and in the direction of what I need. It has a filter on rating, but no filter on when a game was played. Is the glass half-empty or half-full?

Unfortunately, the filter on rating is not up-to-scratch. It restricts results based on the rating of the player(s), but unnecessarily adds a +/- 100-point band around the search. If I'm looking for the current practice of 2700+ players, I don't want 2600 players included in the search, but I do want 2800 players. In addition, the results look dubious. Here is a side-by-side comparison of the results for the traditional start position filtered on a 2700 rating and on 2800.

The results are identical, indicating that something is amiss. Having said that, the ability to go deeper into any variation and see what top players have tried is an advantage. Is this good enough for a tournament section of six games? The event will be the quarterfinal stage of a multi-stage tournament. Because I always prefer to finish what I've started, I'm reluctant to abandon the tournament now.

In the 'Resurrecting' post mentioned above, I wrote, 'As for giving up traditional chess and switching to chess960, I am certain that day will come. It just won't be today.' Perhaps that day is now. I have a week to decide.

06 November 2017

Improve Engine Hardware - Specs

The first step to attain the objective established in Engine Trouble ('to investigate what sort of engine setup I would need to improve my result') was to Improve Engine Software. The second step will be to 'Improve Engine Hardware'. Because the subject is so broad, this can't be covered in a single post.

The best introduction to using chess engines is undoubtedly Advanced Chess - Hints to Get Started in Computer Assisted Play (serverchess.com). Although it rambles from topic to topic, it covers nearly everything worth knowing. The first piece of advice about hardware is:-

If purchasing a new computer, order the largest power supply, speediest motherboard / multi-core processor, most memory, largest hard drive and best cooling system you can fit into the case. Think high-end gaming machine, not a generic or "internet" computer.

In other words, consider the attributes of each component of the system on its own. More specifically,

You will need a "deep" or multi-core version of a chess engine and 64-bit motherboard version of Windows®. And, last but not least, enough memory (8, better 16 gigabytes) to hold the millions of positions generated by an engine.

In other words, the more parallelism in the system, the better. The top chess engines thrive on multi-processing.

You will not be able to purchase such a computer for $500 at Best Buy or Walmart! A desktop x64 with i7 processor (4 actual cores, not 2 cores and hokey hyper-threading) and 16 gigabytes of memory will be more like $2.000.

In other words, be prepared to spend more than you usually spend on computing equipment.

Robert Houdart advertises his state-of-the-art chess engine, Houdini 4 Pro, as capable of utilizing 32 threads (16 cores) and 256 gigabytes of hash memory. There's not a PC in the world can meet those standards (Intel and AMD just began offering 8, 10 and 12-cores in a single processor configuration). One must move up to the workstation class of computer to run that many cores and that much memory.

Before going any further, it might be useful to define some of that non-chess jargon. From Wikipedia's Multi-core processor:-

A multi-core processor is a single computing component with two or more independent actual processing units (called "cores"), which are units that read and execute program instructions.

The 'Advanced Chess' article I've been quoting also mentions a 'dual quad-core machine'. A photo of one is shown below, where the two processor chips are easily seen on the left..


aTCA-6100 Dual Quad-Core Intel Xeon L5518 AdvancedTCA Processor Blade (embeddedstar.com)

The related article explains,

The aTCA-6100 features two 2.13 GHz quad-core Intel Xeon 5500 series processors, Intel 5520 chipset, up to 48 GB of DDR3 memory, and an optional PICMG mid-size AMC bay for maximum computing performance and flexibility.

The 'Advanced Chess' article touches on 'hyper-threading', although used pejoratively. Wikipedia's Hyper-threading says,

For each processor core that is physically present, the operating system addresses two virtual (logical) cores and shares the workload between them when possible. The main function of hyper-threading is to increase the number of independent instructions in the pipeline.

In the next post in this series, I'll go a little deeper into these concepts.

05 November 2017

Marcel Duchamp on eBay

Life is full of coincidences. The previous post, Multi-dimensional Chess Imagery, was about 'Marcel Duchamp in the Village [NYC] - 50 Years Later', and this current post, the next in the long-running series Top eBay Chess Items by Price (March 2010), is also about Marcel Duchamp.

Titled 'MARCEL DUCHAMP : The Chess Players (Schwartz 621)', the item shown below sold at live auction for US $8000 after seven bids. The starting price was $5000 and the entire auction lasted less than 90 seconds.

The description said,

MARCEL DUCHAMP: The Chess Players (Schwartz 621) • Estimate: 14,000 - 18,000 USD • Plate: 437 by 574 mm, 17 1/4 by 22 5/8 in • Etching, 1965, signed in pencil, dedicated 'for Robert Motherwell', dated and numbered 25/50 (total edition includes ten artist's proofs), on handmade laid paper, framed.

CONDITION REPORT: The full sheet. Faint light-stain, slightly darker at mat opening and slight undulation to the sheet. Adhesive residue along the right and left sheet edges on the verso, showing through. The margins with a few tiny fox marks and spots of surface soiling and some slight creasing. The verso unevenly toned, with a few fox marks and traces of surface soiling.

The auction was conducted by the well-known Sotheby’s, first seen on this blog in Chess Sculpture at Auction (November 2016). At that time I wrote,

I couldn't remember seeing Sotheby’s on eBay. The seller's feedback listing was a modest 'sothebys (23); 90.9% positive feedback', with the earliest item going back about 18 months. The relatively low feedback rating seems to be related to shipping costs and communication problems.

The seller's feedback listing is now 'sothebys (33); 100% positive feedback', indicating that the auction house has improved its customer service on eBay. As for the reference 'Schwartz 621' in the title of the etching, Google auto-corrects a search on 'duchamp schwartz' to 'duchamp schwarz'. Whichever term is used, the first result is Wikipedia's Arturo Schwarz:-

Arturo Umberto Samuele Schwarz (born 2 February 1924) is an Italian scholar, art historian, poet, writer, lecturer, art consultant and curator of international art exhibitions. He lives in Milan, where he has amassed a large collection of Dada and Surrealist art, including many works by personal friends such as Marcel Duchamp, André Breton, Man Ray, and Jean Arp.

Wikipedia's first selected work concerning Schwarz is 'Marcel Duchamp: Sixty-six Creative Years; From the First Painting to the Last Drawing, Gallery Schwarz (Milan, Italy), 1972'. Is that the origin of the numbering? Whatever the origin, the Schwartz/Schwarz confusion is rampant in the art world.

03 November 2017

Multi-dimensional Chess Imagery

This is one of those Flickr Friday photos that has little to do with its related story. I could have picked almost any photo from the album, Marcel Duchamp in the Village, 50 Years Later, but I liked this one because of the chess memorabilia on the wall.


Artist Serkan Ozkaya in conversation with poet Robert Fitterman © Flickr user Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation under Creative Commons.

The album's description matches the content of another page, Marcel Duchamp in the Village - 50 Years Later (thoughtgallery.org). It says,

For twenty years, Marcel Duchamp secretly worked on his final art piece, Étant donnés, in his New York City studio. After his death on October 2nd, 1968, his close friends and the world were stunned to find, hidden in his studio on East 11th Street in the former St. Denis Hotel, the completed Étant donnés, an elaborately detailed and beautifully disturbing room-encompassing tableau, which could be peered at through two peepholes upon entering the room.

Four years ago, Serkan Ozkaya imagined Étant donnés as a camera obscura. What if the peepholes weren't only peepholes? (When has Duchamp's work only ever been one thing?) What if the peepholes were also meant to project an image? Ozkaya built a scale model to see; to his surprise, the projected image resembled a face. He further secured the studio in which the piece was originally completed. [...]

That's all very nice, but what does that have to with chess?

Join artist Serkan Ozkaya and poet Robert Fitterman for a conversation about Duchamp's enigmatic final work and contemporary artists' response to it. [...] Chess Forum is the perfect venue as chess featured throughout Duchamp's career, from his early painting Portrait of Chess Players to Reunion, the performance/chess game he staged with John Cage in 1968, and Duchamp frequently played the game in Greenwich Village.

For more about the artwork, see Wikipedia's Étant donnés. Google translates the French phrase as 'Since', but I'm sure there is more to it than a single word. For more about New York City's Chess Forum, see chessforum.com ('Your Gateway to the World of Chess').

As for the memorabilia on the wall, it's not all about chess. Partly visible to the left of the chalk board ('Prices per person/hour: Chess___$5 ...'), is a small poster for the documentary 'Game Over - Kasparov and the Machine'. To the right is a sketch of Ralph Waldo Emerson, whose connection to chess is tenuous.

The large frame under the horseshoe is an an excerpt from T.S.Eliot's poem 'East Coker' (1940), that starts 'You say I am repeating / Something I have said before'. Beneath that poem is American poet Walt Whitman, and to the left of Whitman is a scene from 1886 Steinitz - Zukertort, 'the first match for the title of World Chess Champion accepted by all chess historians'. Other photos from the Flickr album also show walls filled with both chess and non-chess imagery. Who said chess players are two-dimensional only?

02 November 2017

November 1967 'On the Cover'

Fifty years ago, the two major American chess periodicals both featured players who, on multiple occasions, reached the World Championship Candidate stage.


Left: 'U.S. Open Champion Pal Benko, "King of the Opens"'
Right: 'Fine Victory at Havana and Good Tie at Winnipeg'

The first three CL articles were about Benko.

Chess Life

'Benko First in U.S. Open' by William Goichberg • 'The Return of the Ruy' by Pal Benko (Benko - Rossolimo, U.S. Open, Atlanta 1967) • '"King of the Opens": An Interview with Pal Benko' by Burt Hochberg

Chess Review

Bent Larsen, our doughty Dane who scored so well in the Interzonal at Amsterdam in 1964, is hitting the high spots again -- possibly in anticipation of this year's interzonal (being held in Sousse, Tunisia). Larsen won a fine first in the Capablanca Memorial at Havana ahead of Marc Taimanov of the Soviet Union, defeating Taimanov in the process.

He also turned in another fine performance at Winnipeg, but Klaus Darga of West Germany equaled it. The two tied for first, ahead of an all-grandmaster field, at 6-3. But Darga deserves credit for a moral victory, perhaps, as he defeated Larsen and went undefeated himself. Paul Keres and Boris Spassky of the Soviet Union had to settle for a tie for third and four as they scored 5.5 each. Pal Benko of the United States placed fifth with an even five points -- really one up on even.

Benko's previous 'On the Cover' appearance was the CR side of April 1967 'On the Cover'. Larsen's was the CL side August 1966 'On the Cover' in a group photo from the Piatigorsky Cup. His previous solo was the CR side of July 1964 'On the Cover'. It used the same photo shown above and also referred to him as the 'Doughty Dane'. Google search defines 'doughty (adjective archaic humorous)' as 'brave and persistent'.