14 October 2019

Stockfish Wins TCEC S16; CCC11 Underway

In last week's post TCEC S16 Final Widens; CCC10 Bonuses on the two foremost engine-vs-engine tournaments, I decided,

After following the TCEC & the CCC for nine months, and with both events transitioning to new seasons, this looks like a good time to end the blog's coverage. I'll produce a summary of those nine months for my next post

I jumped the gun with that decision. Here's a summary of the rest of that post:-

TCEC: Stockfish now has an eight point lead over AllieStein. This extrapolates to a 56-44 match win for Stockfish. • CCC: No plans for CCC11 have been announced.

Two significant evolutions took place during the week. Both signal a logical break in my ongoing series on engine tournaments.

TCEC: Stockfish beat AllieStein by a final score of 54.5-45.5, more specifically +14-5=81.

CCC: Chess.com announced, CCC11 Starts Now!: 'Title says it all. So head over to chess.com/ccc and join the fun.'

The announcement continued, 'CCC11 format is available here', with a link to a document on docs.google.com/spreadsheets. When I tried to access the document, I received the message 'Access Denied: You need permission', so I'm out of luck. The 'CCC11 Qualification' is already underway with 12 engines competing.

What about that summary of the past nine months? I'll have that in my next post. In the meantime, here's a reminder of other winners during the past few months:-

In a nutshell, recent winners were -- TCEC S15: Leela; S16: Stockfish • CCC8: Stockfish; CCC9: Stockfish; CCC10: Leelenstein. Neither the traditional A/B engines (represented by Stockfish), nor the more recent AI/NN engines (Leela & Leelenstein) can claim dominance.

[For further information from the various stakeholders in the engine-to-engine events, see the tab 'TCEC/CCC Links' at the top of this page. • NB: Leela = LC0 = LCzero]

13 October 2019

'How Is This Not a Thing Yet?'

With World Championship qualifying events like the World Cup (finished a week ago) and the Grand Swiss (happening now), my short list for this month's featured video had more quality clips than I've seen in a long time. Too bad I'm a sucker for the offbeat. From Youtube's channel 'The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon':-

Jack White and Jimmy Fallon Play Grape Chess (1:17) • '[Published on] Sep 26, 2019'

The description said only,

Jack White and Jimmy take an intense game of chess to a whole new level.

The video has attracted nearly 250 comments. For example:-

'I mean do I really have to say it? Jack White should play chess with Jack Black.' • 'Did you know Jack White and Jack Black are actually really good friends?' • 'Whoever the writer is on Fallon who every so often comes up with these ridiculous and random sketches, props to you my friend.' • 'Grape Chess... How is this not a thing yet?' • 'Berries, the most royal and lovely of fruits, should have been the edible of choice.'

If you're wondering who Jack White is, see Wikipedia's Jack White ('an American singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer'). If you're wondering who Jimmy Fallon is, you're on your own.

07 October 2019

TCEC S16 Final Widens; CCC10 Bonuses

In last week's post on two important engine-vs-engine tournaments, the title summarized the status: TCEC S16 Final Underway; Leelenstein Wins CCC10. More specifically,

TCEC: After 22 games in the 100-game final match, Stockfish has a two point lead over AllieStein. • CCC: Leelenstein beat Stockfish by a score of +19-15=166 in the CCC10 final. No plans for CCC11 have been announced.

The intervening week has seen no substantial change in either tournament. Here's the current status:-

TCEC: After 64 games in the 100-game final match, Stockfish now has an eight point lead over AllieStein. This extrapolates to a 56-44 match win for Stockfish, which has been the victor in the last six decisive games.

CCC: Still no plans for CCC11 have been announced, although a planning spreadsheet is available via the server's !Commands. Last week I neglected to mention that, following the CCC10 final, a 'Bonus' event had been played and that a 'Bonus III' event was underway. What happened to 'Bonus II' is anyone's guess.

After following the TCEC & the CCC for nine months, and with both events transitioning to new seasons, this looks like a good time to end the blog's coverage. I'll produce a summary of those nine months for my next post.

[For further information from the various stakeholders in the engine-to-engine events, see the tab 'TCEC/CCC Links' at the top of this page. • NB: Leela = LC0 = LCzero]

06 October 2019

Easton Chess Press

To blog or not to blog. In The End of Daily Blogging (September 2019), I wrote,

Sunday: I've been rotating monthly through eBay, Youtube, Flickr, and sociology. These are all subjects that expand on some random, chess-related topic, where I always learn something new. I'll continue with some of these until I finally close the blog.

The eBay series is Top eBay Chess Items by Price (March 2010) and -- today being the first Sunday of the month -- by force of habit I scrolled through eBay's closed items for September looking for a subject worthy of a blog post. Of the half-dozen items that made my short list, four were for autographs. I rejected three of those autographed items because they weren't visually interesting or were similar to other posts on this blog. Here are their titles and selling price:-

  • '1958 PRODIGY BOBY FISCHER & 15 Grandmasters Signed Portoroz Chess World Champion'; US $2,314.00
  • 'Original document SIGNED by CAPABLANCA chess moves world champion 1929 Autograph'; US $400.00
  • 'ICELAND CHESS Bobby Fischer vs. Spassky match - Fischers autograph'; US $400.00

The fourth item was something new for me:-

  • 'Easton Press - Burgess Mammoth Chess, Karpov and Kasparov (Signed 1st editions)'; US $650.00

The following composite image of the item shows the books on the left and the autographs on the right (Kasparov top, Karpov bottom).

The description of the eBay item listed the full titles:-

* Anatoly Karpov - Karpov on Karpov: Memoirs of a World Chess Champion (Signed First Edition 1991)
* Gary Kasparov - How Life Imitates Chess (Signed First Edition 2007)
* Graham Burgess - Mammoth Book of Chess (First edition 2010)

After long excerpts from reviews of each book, the description continued,

Easton Press books are bound in genuine premium leather and come with moire fabric end-sheets and a permanent satin ribbon page marker. The spines of these luxurious books are accented in 22-karat gold and are hubbed with traditional raised rings. Each unique binding is decorated with a deeply inlaid design of 22-karat gold. The page ends are gilded in 22-karat gold for beauty and protection against dust and humidity. Easton Press Books are also printed on archival-quality acid-neutral paper that is Smyth-sewn for strength and durability. • Condition: Near mint, no nameplates.

I have paperback copies of all three books and I never would have guessed that they might be treated like 'Moby Dick' or 'The Great Gatsby'. The Kasparov book, although worth reading, is not one of his best. I once blogged about it in Me, Myself, and I (May 2011). I found another description of the eBay item on Signed by Garry Kasparov "How Life Imitates Chess" Easton Press Signed First Edition (veryfinebooks.com), where it is offered for $295.00:-

Personally signed by Garry Kasparov directly onto a limitation page. Condition: As New - Still sealed in the original shrink-wrap from Easton Press. The condition is of the highest quality.

Easton Press. Norwalk, CT. 2007. Garry Kasparov "How Life Imitates Chess: Making The Right Moves, From The Board To The Boardroom". Signed Limited First Edition. Limited to only 1,350 signed and numbered copies. Full genuine leather. Certificate of Authenticity from Easton Press guarantees the signature.

I had to look up the meaning of 'limitation page', which is also called a 'signature page' and which refers to numbered copies of a limited edition. Like I said at the beginning of this post, when it comes to the Sunday series, 'I always learn something new'. Next stop: Youtube.

01 October 2019

October 1969 'On the Cover'

Even though I announced The End of Daily Blogging two weeks ago, there is another ongoing, monthly series on this blog that needs to be closed separately. The first post in the 'On the Cover' series, March 1964 'On the Cover' (March 2014), asked, 'What was happening in the U.S. chess press 50 years ago?' I've been answering the same question monthly for over five-and-a-half years. This current post, pegged to October 1969, is the logical end of the series.

Left: 'The Benko Family : 3-week-old Palma, Giselle and Pal, Triple Crown Champion'
Right: 'Message of Progress'

Chess Life

It's been only a month since I took a special look at GM Benko in Pal Benko 'On the Cover' (September 2019). Fifty years ago we learned that he had become a family man. Although there was nothing in that month's publication related to the cover, there was an article by Benko on an emerging variation that would eventually bear his name: the 'Benko Gambit'.

BENONI COUNTERGAMBIT CONTINUED by Pal Benko • After my last victories with this gambit, I was asked why I never use the opening in international tournaments if I was so convinced it was good for Black. I had, in fact, played it against International Master Vukic at Sarajevo 1967 with success. In my most recent European tour following the 1968 U.S. Open, I played it twice against International Masters. In my next report, perhaps you will see how this opening fares against Grandmasters!

Chess Review

Many people will recognize I.A. (Al) Horowitz in the cover photo. The October 1969 issue of CR carried a note from its editor/publisher.

MESSAGE of PROGRESS • Dear Chessplayer: Happy days! I have good news for you. CHESS REVIEW as a periodical and its auxiliary operations, Postal Chess, the sale of books and equipment and news of chess, are being acquired by the U.S. Chess Federation. In. the pages of CHESS LIFE, the official organ of the USCF, will appear the results of postal competitions and the other outstanding features of CHESS REVIEW together with the notable writings of CHESS LIFE.

Key personnel of the Review, including Jack Straley Battell and Al Horowitz, will join CHESS LIFE in what purports to be the biggest, greatest and the best periodical in all the world. The interests of subscribers, customers and postalites of CHESS REVIEW will be well secured. Through an amalgam, to be known as CHESS LIFE AND REVIEW, a new dynamic force in the royal game will dominate the American scene. Those who get both magazines now should notify us so that the subscriptions may be adjusted accordingly.

Cordially yours,

And so ended one of the most important chapters in American chess journalism. Chess Review had been published continually since January 1933. And so ends this series on American chess in the 1960s.

30 September 2019

TCEC S16 Final Underway; Leelenstein Wins CCC10

Last week's report on two world class engine-vs-engine competitions, TCEC S16 DivP & CCC10 Final Nearly Complete, saw both nearing the end of an advanced stage. To summarize that report:-

TCEC: The Premier Division will finish later today. Stockfish is almost certain to qualify for the final match. The other two engines are neck-and-neck. • CCC: Leelenstein and Stockfish finished tied for 1st/2nd in the 'CCC10 Semifinals', thereby advancing to the final match.

Both competitions finished their respective stages within a day after the report. What happened then?

TCEC: The Premier Division finished with Stockfish, AllieStein, and LCZero at 1st/2nd/3rd, each separated by a half-point. The following chart shows the top four of the eight participating engines.

After 22 games in the 100-game final match, Stockfish has a two point lead over AllieStein. The match will last another week and a half.

CCC: Leelenstein beat Stockfish by a score of +19-15=166 in the CCC10 final. No plans for CCC11 have been announced.

I've been tracking the two competitions weekly since Results: TCEC S14-P / CCC3 S3 (January 2019). The time has come to close the series and move on to other topics. I'll summarize the previous nine months in the next post.

[For further information from the various stakeholders in the engine-to-engine events, see the tab 'TCEC/CCC Links' at the top of this page. • NB: Leela = LC0 = LCzero]

23 September 2019

TCEC S16 DivP & CCC10 Final Nearly Complete

Last week's post, TCEC S16 DivP & CCC10 S3 Both Underway, summarized, 'Both the TCEC and the CCC have reached the stage that will determine the participants in the finals.' More specifically:-

TCEC: The Premier Division has another week to run with three engines -- AllieStein, LCZero, and Stockfish -- within a half point of each other. • CCC: The 'CCC10 Semifinals' stage is underway with three engines -- Stockfish, Lc0, and Leelenstein -- well ahead of the other three.

The current status of the two engine-vs-engine competitions is summarized below.

TCEC: The Premier Division will finish later today. Stockfish is almost certain to qualify for the final match. The other two engines are neck-and-neck.

CCC: Leelenstein and Stockfish finished tied for 1st/2nd in the 'CCC10 Semifinals', thereby advancing to the final match. The following chart shows that Lc0 was well behind the two finalists.

Chess.com issued a report, CCC10 Finals: Leelenstein vs Stockfish. Of the 200 games scheduled for the 'CCC10 Finals', 190 games have already been played. Leelenstein has a narrow but convincing lead over Stockfish.

[For further information from the various stakeholders in the engine-to-engine events, see the tab 'TCEC/CCC Links' at the top of this page. • NB: Leela = LC0 = LCzero]

22 September 2019

2019 US Chess Delegates Meeting

Look like it wasn't really The Last Sociology Post (*; August 2019). How could it have been when there is so much compelling material to be reviewed (the following video had 34 viewers in its first month!):-

US Chess 2019 Delegates Meeting 1.1 (2:43:37) • 'Published on Aug 22, 2019'

The description added only that the meeting was held on a Saturday:-

Part 1 of the Saturday Delegates Meeting for US Chess

For more of the same from Youtube's USChessFederation channel, see:-

If that doesn't satisfy your appetite for the ins-and-outs of chess administration, see last year's Delegates Meeting and US Chess Annual Awards [Full Video] (August 2018)

(*) The most recent post in this blog's series on The Sociology of Chess (November 2016)

17 September 2019

The End of Daily Blogging

I ended last week's post, Breaking the 3000 Barrier, with a short statement of direction:-

This current post is no.2999 on this blog, making tomorrow's post [Beyond AlphaZero] no.3000. It's a goal I've been working toward since the beginning of the year, because it will be the last regular post on the blog. Some of the ongoing series need to be closed separately, but I'll look at those some other time.

I tackle those ongoing series on a weekly cycle:-

Sunday: I've been rotating monthly through eBay, Youtube, Flickr, and sociology. These are all subjects that expand on some random, chess-related topic, where I always learn something new. I'll continue with some of these until I finally close the blog.

Monday: Since the beginning of the year, I've been following the TCEC and CCC engine tournaments. I'll continue with these for the near future, but might decrease the frequency of posts.

Tuesday/Thursday: These are free days, unrelated to any series, so I'll stop. This current post is the last.

Wednesday: I'll continue with my World Chess Championship Blog at least through the end of the current cycle. Who will challenge Magnus next year?

Friday: I use Friday posts to develop topics that can't be covered in 1-2 posts. The most recent post in the current series was 'Beyond AlphaZero', which is a good stopping point.

Saturday: Two posts a month have been for Chess960 (FRC). I'll continue at least through the climax of the FWFRCC (FIDE World Fischer Random Chess Championship) in November.

Chess is a wonderful subject and there are much worse pastimes. Whether you've been a regular or an occasional visitor to this blog, I offer a big 'Thank You!' and I hope you'll continue to stop by from time to time.

16 September 2019

TCEC S16 DivP & CCC10 S3 Both Underway

To summarize last week's post TCEC S16 DivP & CCC10 S2 Both Underway:-

TCEC: The 'Premier Division', to determine which two engines will compete in the Superfinals, is underway with eight engines. • CCC: The 'CCC10 Quarterfinals' are underway with 11 engines.

In the world's strongest engine-vs-engine competitions, what's changed since then?

TCEC: The Premier Division has another week to run. Three engines -- AllieStein, LCZero, and Stockfish -- are currently within a half point of each other, two points ahead of the rest of the field.

CCC: As Chess.com reported in CCC10 Quarterfinals Finished; CCC10 Semis Start Now!, six engines advanced from the quarterfinals. The following chart shows a partial crosstable for those six, with Stockfish, Lc0, and Leelenstein finishing well ahead of the others. None of the other engines managed to win against the top three.

The 'CCC10 Semifinals' stage is currently underway with the same three engines again well ahead of the other three. When I gathered the basic info for this post, the schedule said the event would finish in a couple of days, but later an announcement appeared that said, 'Due to unexpected hardware issues, CCC10 Semifinals will resume [later]'.

Both events have reached the stage that will determine the participants in the finals. If the tournaments progress as the intermediate results show, we will see two AI/NN engines battling against each other -or- Stockfish against one of those engines.

[For further information from the various stakeholders in the engine-to-engine events, see the tab 'TCEC/CCC Links' at the top of this page. • NB: Leela = LC0 = LCzero]

15 September 2019

Four Player Chess Pawns

Whether these are chess Pawns or Parcheesi pieces, their messages are identical.

Photo top middle: Mentoring © Flickr user Marco Verch under Creative Commons.

'Mentoring' and 'Support' look the same, as do 'Diversity' and 'Friends'. Is there another message here? It looks like The Last Flickr Photo (August 2019) wasn't.

13 September 2019

Beyond AlphaZero

For the last two months, I've used this blog's Friday post to wander around topics relevant to AlphaZero:-

As everyone knows by now, although AlphaZero never played in a neutral, supervised competition, it was quickly copied by Leela Chess Zero (aka Lc0, LCZero), which improved rapidly to become one of the strongest chess engines in the world. Leela has since been joined by other AI/NN engines, which are also making a mark in the engine-vs-engine competitions that I've been following since the beginning of the year. Not too long ago, in TCEC S16 Qualification; CCC9 Bonuses (July 2019), I reported,

The first stage of S16, the Qualification League, is well underway. Two neural network (NN) engine newcomers, ScorpioNN and Stoofvlees, are currently leading, while a third NN, ChessFighterNN, is fighting to stay out of last place. A Leela clone running on CPUs instead of GPUS [LCZeroCPU], is in third place. TCEC chat commands point to resources describing the three NNs [see links].

ScorpioNN and Stoofvlees first survived the qualification stage, then the two league stages (finishing ahead of another NN engine, FireNNb, along the way), and are currently playing in the TCEC Premier Division. There they were joined by two other NN engines, LCZero and AllieStein, along with four non-NN engines: Stockfish, Houdini, Komodo, and KomodoMCTS.

As for the other engine-vs-engine event, the CCC, four NN engines competed in the qualification stage. I reported last week in TCEC S16 L1 Finished; CCC10 S1 in Trouble, that the tournament did not go smoothly. In spite of the difficulties, all four NN engines -- Lc0, Stoofvlees, DarkQueen, and Leelenstein -- eventually qualified to the next stage.

The upshot of this activity is that the NN engines and the non-NN engines are roughly equal in strength. Will this continue or will one of the two technologies soon prove dominant?

12 September 2019

Breaking the 3000 Barrier

Remember this post: Breaking the 2900 Barrier (April 2019), marking both post no.2900 on this blog and a historical point in Elo chess ratings? I wrote,

For 2900 ratings, we have to turn to the world of chess engines. Here is a relevant chart signed Luke Muehlhauser and dated 2011. I've marked the 2900 crossover point with a red star. The engine under the star is Shredder 8.0 and the year was 2003 or thereabouts.

As for 'Breaking the 3000 Barrier', the same chart points to Rybka 1.2 a few years later. Looks like I won't have to write the 3000 post at all.

This current post is no.2999 on this blog, making tomorrow's post no.3000. It's a goal I've been working toward since the beginning of the year, because it will be the last regular post on the blog. Some of the ongoing series need to be closed separately, but I'll look at those some other time.

10 September 2019

'Smart Is the New Sexy'

I don't remember where I saw the news first. Maybe it was Chessable joins the Play Magnus chess24 family (chess24.com):-

We're excited to be able to announce that Chessable is now part of the Play Magnus and chess24 group. Play Magnus will invest heavily in the fast-growing chess improvement site, and although nothing will change at first on chess24 or Chessable we’re looking forward to a great opportunity to combine our forces to provide more and better resources for chess players of all levels.

Maybe it was Chessable joins Play Magnus and chess24 – yes, it’s true! (chessable.com/blog; by David Kramaley, 'Chessable's CEO and Chief Scientist'):-

Dear Chessable members, today is simply unbelievable! We are delighted to announce that Chessable has become part of the Play Magnus & chess24 family. That’s right, The World Champion himself, Magnus Carlsen, is now part of our Chessable family! It’s been an exciting and incredible journey, and we wanted to thank you for being part of it.

Both announcements were dated a week ago, 3 September. My first reaction was, 'What is the "Play Magnus Chess24 family'"? Then I remembered an announcement from a few months ago, Chess24 and Play Magnus join forces (chess24.com; March 2019):-

Today we’re proud to announce that chess24 has merged with Play Magnus, the Norwegian company behind a family of apps building on the brand of World Chess Champion Magnus Carlsen. Play Magnus and chess24 will continue to operate independently online, but with our joint resources and know-how we believe we’re better equipped than ever to provide the very best possible chess experience.

One of the comments noted,

WildBillHickok: Chess24 owners [Enrique] Guzman and [Jan] Gustafsson will own 38% of the newly merged company according to Norwegian business paper Dagens Naeringsliv.

By one of those coincidences that often seems to be more than a coincidence, Chess24 and 'Play Magnus' both started operating within a few months of each other; see Play Magnus! (chess24.com; August 2014):-

Canadian Kate Murphy is the CEO of Play Magnus, the company behind the chess app of the same name. Her ambition is to popularize cultural and educational activities for youngsters, and Magnus Carlsen seemed like the perfect man to do this with chess. (Interview by GM Jonathan Tisdall)

For some reason the Wikipedia pages for Play Magnus and Kate A. Murphy do not link to each other. For more from the comely Canadian, see Youtube channel 'TEDx Talks', Chess and the Game of Life | Kate Murphy | TEDx UWCRCN (December 2016), 'Smart is the new sexy.'

09 September 2019

TCEC S16 DivP & CCC10 S2 Both Underway

A week ago, in TCEC S16 L1 Finished; CCC10 S1 in Trouble, I reported,

TCEC: TCEC admins are currently testing a new server in preparation for Premier Division, which will run for about three weeks. • CCC: In the 'CCC10 Qualification', all non-AI/NN engines have finished playing against each other, while the four AI/NN engines are currently completing their schedules.

Both engine-to-engine events have moved to the next stage.

TCEC: The Premier Division (DivP), to determine which two engines will compete in the Superfinal (SuFi), is underway with eight engines. The URL for the live broadcast changed to tcec-chess.com, and I updated the tab 'TCEC/CCC Links' to record the new address.

CCC: The 'CCC10 Quarterfinals' are underway with 11 engines instead of the 10 announced; I couldn't find an explanation for the change. The top six engines will advance to the semifinal.

The previous event 'CCC10 Qualification' is not in the archive, although a crosstable and a PGN file are available. Stockfish won, followed by Leelenstein and LC0, which were well ahead of the rest of the field. The top seven engines were joined in the quarterfinals by four others: Fire, Houdini, Komodo, and Komodo MC.

[For further information from the various stakeholders in the engine-to-engine events, see the tab 'TCEC/CCC Links' at the top of this page. • NB: Leela = LC0 = LCzero]

08 September 2019

A Special Chess Board

It's been a few years since I last featured a DGT (Digital Game Technology) video: DGT at the Olympiad (August 2014). Here's a new one from Denmark.

What's Special about a Professional Chess Board? (3:07) • 'Published on Aug 13, 2019'

The video description didn't have much to add. In response to a comment, 'Nice commercial', the video's creator wrote,

Per Danish law we cannot make a commercial without stating it clearly in the video and description. This is not a commercial. We have not been paid for this video and neither the DGT company nor Chesshouse [NB: the distributor supplying the board] has had ANY editorial rights. Not that we would have any problems with making commercials mind you -- but any such paid content would be clearly marked both in the video and the description.

Danish law or not, that's a good guideline for anyone producing online content.

06 September 2019

'Game Changer' PGN Explored

Last month, in 'Game Changer' PGN, I collected PGN files relevant to Sadler & Regan's book 'Game Changer', and noted,

As a bonus, the 'Annotator' tags in the NIC file match the 'Round' tags in the AZ_vs_SF files. This provides a cross-reference between the two sets of files. I'll use these files for further explorations.

The 'NIC file' is a PGN file covering the games in the book. I used the NIC file to prepare last week's post, Playing Without a Horizon. The 'AZ_vs_SF files' are two PGN files of games between AlphaZero and Stockfish provided by DeepMind to Sadler & Regan. Those games were behind the authors' motivation to write the book.

Having a little time on my hands, I used it to dig deeper into the three files. The 'NIC file' contains 106 games in the same sequence as the games presented in the book. Of these, 69 games are AZ_vs_SF, while the other 37 games are from various sources. Many of the other games were played between world class players and were used by Sadler & Regan to illustrate recurring themes from the AZ_vs_SF games.

Of the 69 AZ_vs_SF games, 48 have AlphaZero playing White. One peculiarity of the 'NIC file' is that only 51 of the 69 games can be cross-referenced to the AZ_vs_SF files. That means 18 games are from other sources. I looked at the first two of those games (no.12 and no.17 in the NIC file) and confirmed that they are indeed missing from the AZ_vs_SF files, although they are discussed in the book. Were there other game files examined in the preparation of the book?

Of the 51 games from the AZ_vs_SF files, 32 are unique, meaning that many of the games were used more than once in the book. One game appears four times. By some sort of pleasant coincidence, this is the same game I discussed in last week's 'Horizon' post.

Despite the massive effort that went into Sadler & Regan's book, there are still plenty of the original AZ_vs_SF games to explore. What other chess secrets might those games reveal?

05 September 2019

Pal Benko 'On the Cover'

Pal Benko has been on my mind lately -- and I imagine he's been on many chess players' minds. While I was preparing the previous post, September 1969 'On the Cover', I decided to find Benko's earliest appearance on the covers of the two main American chess magazines.

The earliest Chess Life (CL) cover is shown below on the left. The year 1961 was the first with CL published in magazine format, switching from the newspaper format of previous years. By coincidence, Benko appeared on the cover of Chess Review for the same month, October 1961.

Left: 'Pal Benko - U.S. Open Champion'
Right: 'Open Champion'

Chess Life

Benko Wins U.S. Open Championship; Highest Score Ever Attained At Largest Open • Hungarian born International Grandmaster Pal Benko, of New York City, topped a record field of 198 players at the U.S. Open held in San Francisco August 14th to 26th with a record-breaking score of 11-1. By drawing only two games and winning 10, Benko's score was the highest ever achieved in the sixty-three consecutive years that the event has been conducted.

The tournament conducted in the picturesque city of San Francisco was the largest attended Open -- Milwaukee, 1953 -- with 183 players holding that first place spot for the last eight years.

Although the article mentions '63 consecutive years' of the U.S. Open, a table at the bottom of the page ('Former U.S.Open Champions') starts with '1941 Reuben Fine'. For the complete list, see Wikipedia's U.S. Open Chess Championship; the 1961 U.S. Open is given as no.62.

Chess Review

Hungarian Day at USCF Open • Two Hungarian-born players finished first and second respectively in the United States Open Championship at San Francisco. Pal Benko, international grandmaster residing in New York, went undefeated through twelve Swiss rounds to gain the crown and a $1,000 first prize with a tally of 11-1. Runner-up was his compatriot, California champion Zoltan Kovacs, 10-2, who lost only to Benko.

The earliest photo of Benko in Chess Life was the 20 January 1958 issue (CL was published twice a month at that time). It showed Benko with the 'Players and Officials at Dallas International 1957'. The players included Reshevsky, Evans, Gligoric, Larsen, and Najdorf, plus other international luminaries. Since Benko was neither a player nor an official in the tournament, what was he doing in the photo? The last CL issue of 1957 explained,

By-products of this assemblage of masters were two challenges: an exhibition match between Dallas Master Kenneth R. Smith and the recently defected Hungarian International Master Paul Benko; and a blindfold match between International Masters Miguel Najdorf and George Koltanowski.

As for Chess Review, we find Benko on the cover for March 1959 (composite photo, centered on Fischer, of U.S. Championship); and August 1959 ('Twice Champion', New York and Western Opens). He also appeared numerous times on interior pages.

03 September 2019

September 1969 'On the Cover'

Fifty years ago, the two main American chess magazines were only two months from being merged into a single publication. Their covers featured American chess players from two different centuries.

Left: 'Marshall Rohland; USCF Secretary 1956-66, President 1966-69'
Right: 'A Morphy Sidelight'

Chess Life

Presidential Report by Marshall Rohland • At the end of one's Presidency, it is appropriate and constructive to look back over the progress in USCF during the three year term, and also the preceding years. Looking back in perspective reveals a long story of struggle and accomplishment.

For a similar report from Rohland's successor (in CL November 1972), see The USCF in Numbers (June 2014).

Chess Review

A Morphy Sidelight by Manfred Zitzman • Paul Morphy! The name remains a magic one for countless chess players past, present and yet to be born. As someone has said, it is because we remember other chess greats not in the plenitude of their powers, but as dethroned champions -- bitter, disillusioned men who, more often than not, avoided their most dangerous challengers for years before they finally played and succumbed.

Alekhine, it is true, died with the World Championship still in his possession; but his twenty years of dodging a re-match with Capablanca will forever cloud his reputation. In contrast, Paul Morphy's light blazes undiminished across more than a century of time! Here there was no dodging or evasion. Morphy actively sought out the strongest challengers he could find and blasted them off the board.

The CR cover shows the October 1859 cover of 'The Chess Monthly', published almost 110 years before the CR issue. We saw the earlier magazine on this blog a few months in Five Volumes of 'Chess Monthly' (May 2019), and looked at Morphy's role in Paul Morphy, Editor (ditto). The author of the three page Morphy article also featured on the CR side of December 1965 'On the Cover' (December 2015).

02 September 2019

TCEC S16 L1 Finished; CCC10 S1 in Trouble

Another Monday, another report on the two ongoing engine-vs-engine competitions. Last week, in TCEC S16 L1 Wrapping Up; CCC10 S1 Underway, I noted,

TCEC: 'League 1' is almost finished. • CCC: The first stage, 'CCC10 Qualification', is already more than one-third completed and should finish this week.

Since 'almost finished' and 'should finish' are only forecasts, what's the current status of the two events?

TCEC: After 'League 1' finished, the top four engines participated in a playoff to determine which two engines would advance to the Premier Division (aka 'DivP'). The two AI/NN engines, Stoofvlees and ScorpioNN, finished 1st/2nd in the playoff. The results of both events are shown in the following chart.

TCEC admins are currently testing a new server:-

TCEC webserver has proven to not have been stable always. Therefore we are currently configuring a completely new webserver, and will continue with DivP when ready, which should be within a day (at most). This new webserver will eventually completely replace the old one.

The Premier Division will run for about three weeks.

CCC: Last week's forecast -- 'CCC10 Qualification should finish this week' -- ran into some kind of a brick wall. All non-AI/NN engines have finished playing against each other, while the four AI/NN engines are currently completing their schedules. During the past week, the CCC ran a 'Sanity Test GPU Server' with those same four engines. I couldn't find a discussion of the problem.

[For further information from the various stakeholders in the engine-to-engine events, see the tab 'TCEC/CCC Links' at the top of this page. • NB: Leela = LC0 = LCzero]

01 September 2019

1974 Spassky - Byrne Poster

We don't see many posters in this blog's series for Top eBay Chess Items by Price (March 2010), and I'm not sure why. Is it because there aren't many chess posters that command three or four digit prices? Or because there aren't many chess posters in existence? Or because of some other reason.

The item shown below was titled 'Genuine 1974 Vintage Chess Poster Boris Spassky vs. Robert Byrne in Puerto Rico'. It sold for US $599.95 'Buy It Now'.

The description added,

Here we offer a scarce (perhaps singular) relic from the apogee of the 1970's worldwide chess craze: an original silk-screened poster promoting the January 1974 Cold War chess match between USSR champion Boris Spassky and American grandmaster Robert Byrne, held at the College of Engineers, Architects, and Surveyors, San Juan, Puerto Rico.

The poster is signed in the plate, "AM". I purchased this poster 35 years ago from the front window of the renowned Village Chess Shop in Greenwich Village, NYC. Though it's got some minor tears, stains, pin holes, and creases, it is printed on very thick stock and looks absolutely wonderful. The design is remarkable and worthy of a centerpiece location! Measures 18.25 x 25.75 inches.

The match is documented on my World Championship page 1973-75 Candidates Matches as:-

Quarterfinal match; San Juan, Puerto Rico; I, 1974; Spassky - Byrne; +3-0=3 (4.5-1.5)

For another eBay poster from the same era, see 1972 Fischer - Spassky Poster (March 2013). By coincidence, an alternative item for this current post was also from the 1972 Fischer - Spassky match. Its decription said,

Exceptional memorabilia from the closing ceremony of The World Chess Championship in Reykjavik, Iceland 1972 where Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky played the match of the century in Reykjavik, Iceland 1972. An item like this only comes on the market every 10-15 years.

A signed conclusional banquet menu from the closing ceremony of the World Chess Championship 1972. With official stamp and cancel of the match, dated September 3rd 1972. Signatures of the newly crowned world champion Bobby Fischer and the newly defeated champion Boris Spassky and the chief arbiter Lothar Schmid. Size approx. 24 x 10,5 cm (folded).

The menu sold for US $1525 after five bids from two bidders.

30 August 2019

Playing Without a Horizon

After a few digressions for the ongoing Deepmind/AlphaZero saga (last seen a week ago in A Chess Epiphany), let's return to AlphaZero's Zeros (July 2019). After a few excerpts from Sadler & Regan's book 'Game Changer', we left GM Sadler lamenting the 0.00 evaluations offered too often by the traditional A/B (alpha/beta) engines like Stockfish. He wrote,

It’s perhaps the most irritating and obstructive thing that these otherwise fantastic engines do during analysis.

I would add that their habit of trading off many active pieces in mass exchanges is just as irritating. Could it be that the 0.00 evaluations and the mass exchanges are somehow related? Later in the same chapter, GM Sadler continues his discussion:-

The meaning of these 0.00 evaluations is something puzzling. At the point when the possibilities should be boundless, a draw by repetition is apparently the best option. However, if you attempt to take on the engine and prove it to be wrong, then you often end up losing... or discovering more repetitions.

That's a good statement of the issue, which is then illustrated by positions taken from published games between AlphaZero and Stockfish:-

We’ll examine a series of positions in which AlphaZero’s evaluation and that of Stockfish and other top engines varied significantly. In each position, we will try and understand the reason for the evaluation of both sides, attempt to assess the position (both objectively and from the human perspective) and also attempt to assess what effect the evaluation might have on subsequent play.

At this point, the book launches into a brief discussion of a key difference between the two engines : how they calculate evaluations as a single number. I covered this a few weeks ago in Winning Percentage to Centipawns.

Sadler & Regan give three examples of positions where AlphaZero has a more nuanced evaluation than the A/B engines, which all return 0.00 evaluations for their main lines. The first position resembles a typical position from the family of openings known as King's Indian Attack, where AlphaZero uses an atypical idea.

The second position is shown below. AlphaZero is playing White.

After 55.Bf2-e3

The five A/B engines used in the example all consider three lines...

55...bxa3 56.bxa3
55...Re8 56.Bf4
55...Qd7 56.Bf4

...where all of these lines result in a 0.00 evaluation. In the published game, Stockfish played 55...bxa3, which AlphaZero answered with 56.Ka2 (Sadler: 'a total shock for me'), sacrificing a Pawn. AlphaZero went on to win the game. Sadler summarizes the third (and last) example of a 0.00 position as 'another epic struggle':-

Unfortunately, there is a period in the middle in which AlphaZero seems determined to enjoy its position without taking immediate action, which makes it rather long! [...] My feeling when playing through the game was that Black was making steady progress. I felt that AlphaZero was playing well, but I felt that the main progress was due to needless concessions from Stockfish.

All three example positions are analyzed elsewhere in 'Game Changer' within the context of the full game. For me, it's obvious that AlphaZero is often playing beyond Stockfish's horizon. I regularly see the symptoms of this when a strong A/B engine plays a weaker A/B engine. The act of reducing a complicated chess position to a single number is fraught with danger.

29 August 2019

The Last Yahoo

No question mark here, as there was in The Last Sociology Post? earlier this week. The July Yahoo post, A Cheating Yahoo, was definitely the last in the monthly Yahoo series. In August, the Yahoo news feed served zero headlines relevant to chess. That makes the fifth dry month since the beginnning of the year. Yahoo posts need Yahoo stories.

When this happened in the past, I used the Google chess news feed to select a story that I would have liked to see in the Yahoo feed. This month I selected

  • 2019-08-22: Russian Chess Legend Karpov Unable to Get U.S. Visa, His Friend Says (themoscowtimes.com; Reuters) • 'Russian chess grandmaster Anatoly Karpov has been unable for several months to obtain a visa to travel to the United States, his friend, the owner of a chess academy in New York [GM Maxim Dlugy] who invited him to teach a summer camp there, said on Wednesday.'

The story went on to explain,

"This processing cannot be waived or expedited as it is crucial for the final decision regarding the issuance of a visa," the [Moscow] embassy's public liaison unit said in a July 2 letter to [U.S. Representative Carolyn Maloney's] office. "Mr. Karpov will be notified as soon as this process is complete. Be assured that as of today, no further documents or actions are needed from Mr. Karpov," the embassy said.

Another story I would have been happy to use was:-

But wait! There's more:-

In a paper published on Monday, an international team of researchers outlined the results of a longitudinal study that gathered data on 90 chess players over their lifetimes. By looking at how these factors affect one another, they showed that more intelligent players benefited more from practice.

Who would have guessed? And with that coda, the Chess for All Ages Yahoo team bids, 'Sayonara!'

27 August 2019

GM Pal Benko

On hearing the news of Pal Benko's death, my first reaction was to create a small tribute like the recent Four Faces of Tal. The only problem was -- I didn't have four photos to use. Fortunately, I had one very good photo saved in 2010.

The eBay description said,

Vintage 8 x 10, rare photo of USA chess champion Paul Benko, hand signed photo, in the XVII world-wide chess olimpiad in "La Havana Cuba" October 1966, Hotel Havana Libre Cuba.

In mint condition. this photo and others in this auction come from the state of Rodolfo Santovenia, a Cuban journalist and chess lover, from the "Bohemia" magazine in the 40s and 50s and 60s. This photos have been in storage about 50 years, but all are in mint condition.

Why 'Paul' Benko? Because that's how he signed his name on the American flag, followed by 'Cuba 1966'. For tributes to Benko from chess news sites, both of which hit my news reader at about the same time, see:-

For tributes from two chess organizations that played an important role in his career, see:-

I was disappointed with the headline in the only mainstream media report that crossed my radar:-

Stepping aside for Fischer in 1970 was far from Benko's major achievement. I'm sure other mainstream media reports will follow, hopefully with a more objective focus.

As for this blog, Benko has probably appeared in more 'On the Cover' posts than any other player. The most recent was April 1969 'On the Cover' (April 2019). For another angle, see GM Benko's Last Column (December 2013). GM Benko was a giant in American chess.

26 August 2019

TCEC S16 L1 Wrapping Up; CCC10 S1 Underway

Last week's post, TCEC S16 L1; CCC10 GPU Blues Continue, had news about three separate world class engine-to-engine tournaments:-

TCEC 'League 1' is still running and CCC10 is still on hold. The ICGA held its 'official' World Championship.

I've been following the first two of those organizers for the last six months:-

TCEC: 'League 1' is about half way through its schedule of 120 games. • CCC: A half-dozen small tournaments have been run publicly since a week ago. The CCC10 delay was attributed to 'GPU breakage, cable loss, and multiple rounds of testing'.

Let's have an update on those same two.

TCEC: 'League 1' is almost finished. Stoofvlees has a 2.5 point lead over three engines tied for 2nd through 4th places.

CCC: After more small tournaments, three of them 'trillion-node' events (I couldn't find an explanation of the name), 'CCC10 Qualification' is finally underway with 13 engines. The info page specifies four stages:-

  • Qualification (10|3): 13 engines, 3 rounds [CCC9 places 1-3 and four others qualify]
  • Quarterfinals (10|3): 10 engines, 7 rounds [Six engines advance]
  • Semifinals (10|3): 6 engines, 20 rounds [Two engines advance]
  • Finals (10|3): 2 engines, 100 rounds

The first stage is already more than one-third completed and should finish this week.

[For further information from the various stakeholders in the engine-to-engine events, see the tab 'TCEC/CCC Links' at the top of this page. • NB: Leela = LC0 = LCzero]

25 August 2019

The Last Sociology Post? (*)

From Youtube's ESPN channel, where we learn, 'Chess boxing [chessboxing] is a philosophy'.

What is chess boxing, and how did it become a sport? | The Ocho (7:34) • 'Published on Aug 7, 2019'

What can we learn from the description? It said,

Chess boxing inventor Iepe Rubingh explains the origins and rules of his quirky sport, which was inspired in part by a comic.

Quick takes:-

  • That chess boxing had an inventor.
  • That the name Iepe Rubingh is indeed the correct spelling (it's a Dutch name).
  • That the philosophy/sport was inspired by a comic.

That second bullet is confirmed by the Wikipedia page Iepe Rubingh. That page points to Froid Equateur, which confirms the third bullet.

(*) The Sociology of Chess (November 2016). For another angle on the same subject, see Ilyumzhinov as a Chess Boxer (March 2008).

23 August 2019

A Chess Epiphany

Last week's post, The Value of Deep Learning, featured a Wired.com article by Gary Marcus, titled 'DeepMind's Losses and the Future of Artificial Intelligence'. This week I discovered another article appearing this month in the same source, Inside DeepMind's epic mission to solve science's trickiest problem (wired.co.uk), written by Greg Williams. The subtitle explains,

DeepMind's AI has beaten chess grandmasters and Go champions. But founder and CEO Demis Hassabis now has his sights set on bigger, real-world problems that could change lives. First up: protein folding.

The article is much more about protein folding than it is about chess, but it has a long chess anecdote that I had seen elsewhere. I located the first version in Sadler & Regan's book 'Game Changer', in its 'Introduction by Demis Hassabis'. It starts, 'Far from being just a game, chess has always been a part of me.' The 'Game Changer' version of the anecdote goes like this:-

One particular moment would end up having a big impact on the direction I would take for the rest of my life. I was 11 years old and in the middle of a gruelling eight hour match with a veteran Danish master at a big international tournament in Liechtenstein. We had reached a highly unusual endgame, which I had never seen before -- I only had my queen, and my far more experienced opponent had a rook, bishop and knight. He was ahead in material but if I could just keep his king in check with my queen, I could force a draw. Hours rolled by as he pushed his pieces around trying to outmaneuver me, and the vast playing hall slowly emptied as everyone else finished their games. Then suddenly, after dozens of moves of not making any progress, he finally somehow managed to trap my king, with checkmate seemingly forced on his next move. Exhausted and shocked, I resigned.

Immediately he stood up, perplexed. He laughed as he dramatically gestured that I could have secured a draw if only I had sacrificed my queen, to achieve a stalemate. At the last moment he had just tried a final cheap trick, and it had worked! I felt sick to the pit of my stomach. The next day I reflected over what had happened, and as I looked out over the packed hall filled with brilliant minds, I vividly remember wondering, what if all this incredible collective mental effort being expended could instead somehow be channelled into something beyond games, perhaps an important area of science or medicine, what might it be possible to achieve?

That epiphany marked the beginning of the end of my professional chess career, but also sowed the initial seeds for what would eventually become DeepMind, the artificial intelligence (AI) research company I co-founded in 2010.

The Wired.co.uk version ends with a slightly different conclusion:-

Hassabis recalls that, at that moment, he had an epiphany: he questioned the purpose of the brilliant minds in the room competing with each other to win a zero-sum game. He would go on to play the game at the highest level, captaining his university team, and still talks of his continued love of complex games, but the experience led to him channeling his energy into something beyond games. “The reason that I could not become a professional chess player, he says. “Is that it didn't feel productive enough somehow.”

The first version ('incredible collective mental effort'), presumably written by Hassabis himself, is kinder to chess players than the second version ('brilliant minds competing to win a zero-sum game') by a professional writer. The sentiment that professional chess is somehow a waste of talent is often expressed by people who don't play or like the game.

Would Demis Hassabis have been more useful to society as a professional chess player? Certainly not. Would Bobby Fischer have been more useful as something other than a chess professional? Probably not. Garry Kasparov? He is the rare player who has also excelled in a field other than chess after retiring. Magnus Carlsen? It's too early to say.

The discussion invariably comes around to the chess-in-school programs. Is their purpose to expand the ranks of professional players? To expand the pool of keen chess fans? To accelerate the development of young, bright minds? Maybe all of the above -or- maybe something else. I have the questions, not the answers.

22 August 2019

Tal with Other Players

After posting Four Faces of Tal a few weeks ago, I had so many photos left over that I decided to create another composite image before moving on.

I needed help to identify the man standing in the middle of the photo on the bottom right. The photo's description said that he is Alexander Nikitin, Kasparov's trainer.

20 August 2019

Not for Chess Historians

Rummaging through old issues of Chess Life, looking for background stories about the 1970s Fischer boom, I noticed the following book review.

Chess Life, July 1974, p.470

The review continued,

Writing about chess is abundant; more has been written about this game than about all other games combined. One of the reasons is that chess players often find it necessary to write in order, one might say, to support their habit. But of the less than one hundred grandmasters in the world today, very few indeed can express themselves in words with any grace or style or wit. That, after all, is not what we expect from grandmasters. The attitude of a few of them -- that their ability to make a high proportion of correct decisions over the chess board and create beauty under competitive conditions gives them a kind of magic credit card with which they can buy acceptance in other fields of art -- is both absurd and arrogant.

Thus started a positive review of the book 'Grandmasters of Chess' by Harold Schonberg. The reviewer, Burt Hochberg, was the editor of Chess Life from 1966 to 1979, and happens to be one of my favorite chess writers. Schonberg's book, in contrast, doesn't have a good reputation among chess historians. I didn't have to go far to find an example. A post on this blog, Chess History Cat Fight (December 2013), quotes Tim Harding calling it a 'very bad book'.

Edward Winter has about two dozen references to Schonberg on Chesshistory.com, many of them appearing in a 'Chess Note', then repackaged into a feature article. Winter's primary reproach is Schonberg's own repackaging of dubious material, although the note on '4857. Spielmann’s longevity' is much ado about an obvious typo that was corrected in subsequent editions of the book. The site's last word is probably a sentence from the review of William Hartston's The Kings of Chess (1985), where Winter writes,

[Hartston's] book does not claim to be a work of original research. It aims at the same popular end of the market as did Schonberg’s Grandmasters of Chess, but is much superior since it makes better use of better secondary sources.

Back to Hochberg:-

It has been said that the distinction between literature and journalism is becoming blurred. Harold C. Schonberg, the Pulitzer Prize-winning senior music critic of The New York Times, who describes himself as a journalist, confirms that comment in "Grandmasters of Chess." This very handsome book is a contribution to the literature, not the journalism, of chess.

And later:-

Those who have done little or no reading in chess history will find "Grandmasters of Chess" a treasury of discoveries. The author has done his research well and has unearthed a number of fascinating quotations. [...] Nothing in "Grandmasters of Chess" is new -- no startling revelations, no controversial theories -- just solid history, biography, and dozens of good stories. Nor is anything left out. In fact, the thoroughness with which Schonberg illuminates everyone who was anyone in chess is remarkable. It is a tribute to his journalistic flair that he is able to sum up a character and his achievements so succinctly.

I have a copy of Schonberg's book, the Fontana 1975 paperback edition. In the past I've started it several times, but never read more than a few pages. Perhaps this is because the material looked too familiar, perhaps because of opinions like the two chess historians I quoted above, both of whom I admire and respect.

I decided to give the book another chance and was glad I did. I'm always looking for tips about writing style and Schonberg was a master stylist. It's a great read. I haven't finished the book, but can confirm that there is dubious material and I even managed to spot a few gaffes. I imagine that almost every page contains at least one story or 'fact' worth further investigation. Maybe I'll read it a second time with the idea of doing just that. One of the best lessons of chess is to think for yourself.

19 August 2019

TCEC S16 L1; CCC10 GPU Blues Continue

The title of last week's post on the world's top engine-vs-engine competitions, TCEC S16 L1; CCC9/-10 GPU Blues, could just as well serve as the title for this week's post. Here's a summary of last week's status:-

TCEC: 'League 2' finished and 'League 1' started. • CCC: CCC10 is on hold. The filler tournament running now is 'CCC Bonus: Waiting On The GPU'.

This week, TCEC 'League 1' is still running and CCC10 is still on hold. Let's fill in some of the details.

TCEC: 'League 1' is about half way through its schedule of 120 games and should be nearing completion for next week's post on this blog. In a previous post, TCEC S16 Starts; CCC9 Finishes (mid-July 2019), I quoted the rules:-

The best placed two engines from League 1 will qualify for the Premier Division (also two will relegate).

Stoofvlees currently has a 1.5 point lead over five engines that are grouped within a half point of each other.

CCC: The following chart shows a half-dozen small tournaments that the CCC has run publicly since a week ago. The name under the white line ('Waiting On The GPU') was running exactly a week ago; the name at the top ('Resetting') is running now. A few of the events between those two ('GPU Server Test', 'CCC10 Settings Verification') were apparently used for testing modifications.

So what happened? A post on the LCzero forum dated almost two weeks ago, CCC10 Qualifications have official started!, gives a sequence of events:-

Aug 7: At the moment there seems to be an issue at CCC with LC0. She forfeited her games against Stovflees and no further games were played. • Aug 9: Issue still persists. No further LC0 games. Does anyone know whats going on?? • Aug 9: It seems [LC0] 42850 is such a hardware intensive network that it destroyed the GPUs!

A few days ago, Chess.com released an announcement, CCC10 Starts Now!:-

After GPU breakage, cable loss, and multiple rounds of testing... CCC10 is back!

Like previous announcements, this might have been overly optimistic. The situation reminds me of an old adage:-

There are no technical solutions to management problems. There are only management solutions to technical problems.

Or something like that. Talking about management problems, the ICGA held its 'official' World Championship last week: World Computer Chess Championship 2019 (icga.org; see the home page for more news). Did anyone notice?

[For further information from the various stakeholders in the engine-to-engine events, see the tab 'TCEC/CCC Links' at the top of this page. • NB: Leela = LC0 = LCzero]

18 August 2019

The Last Flickr Photo

More precisely: the last Flickr photo on this blog is the inevitable conclusion to The Last Flickr Friday (May 2018). Of 100 Creative Commons photos on Flickr over the past month, I added three to my Flickr Favorites. This was my favorite of the favorites.

Schach-Figuren am Ufer der Mosel in Ernst © Flickr user Janko Hoener under Creative Commons.

The photographer translates the photo's title as:-

Chess pieces at the bank of River Moselle in Ernst, Germany.

Compared to the 100 Creative Commons photos on Flickr, there were almost 1250 fully copyrighted photos on the same service for the same month. That means I can't use them without requesting permission in writing to the photographer and waiting for a response (that might never come). A blog post isn't important enough to waste that kind of time.

Why would any photographer -- except perhaps a professional with an established reputation to maintain -- not want wide, attributed distribution of his/her work? I don't know, but copyright means just that, the right to copy, and there is no 'fair use' to invoke here. Thank you, Creative Commons!, and thanks to the many photographers who use it to distribute their work.

And so the pieces go back into the box waiting for the next game. Chess games are free; they can't be copyrighted.

16 August 2019

The Value of Deep Learning

Let's take a break from DeepMind's AlphaZero, seen last week in 'Game Changer' PGN, and consider AlphaZero's underlying technology. The motivation is an article that appeared this week, DeepMind's Losses and the Future of Artificial Intelligence (wired.com) by Gary Marcus. It starts,

Alphabet’s DeepMind lost $572 million last year. What does it mean? DeepMind, likely the world’s largest research-focused artificial intelligence operation, is losing a lot of money fast, more than $1 billion in the past three years. DeepMind also has more than $1 billion in debt due in the next 12 months. Does this mean that AI is falling apart?

Author Marcus asks several important questions, of which one touches on chess. Here's the question:-

Is DeepMind on the right track scientifically?

It's a good question, although I suspect it's one of those questions that seven wise men couldn't answer. Here's the chess connection:-

DeepMind has been putting most of its eggs in one basket, a technique known as deep reinforcement learning. That technique combines deep learning, primarily used for recognizing patterns, with reinforcement learning, geared around learning based on reward signals, such as a score in a game or victory or defeat in a game like chess. [...] The trouble is, the technique is very specific to narrow circumstances

While working on posts for this blog, I frequently rely on services like OCR and language translation that have improved considerably over the last five years, mostly thanks to the same technology that was used to develop AlphaZero. How do we put a value on those services?

15 August 2019

2019 CJA Awards - Part 2

I ended 2019 CJA Awards - Part 1 with a promise:-

I'll be back in a few days with the post that I intended for today.

Taking the lead from last year's post, 2018 CJA Awards (August 2018), I'll mention four awards:-

  • Chess Journalist of the Year
  • Best Chess Book
  • Best Chess Art
  • Best Chess Blog

'Chess Journalist of the Year' went to the incomparable Al Lawrence. It's only been three years since he last won the same award, which I covered in 2016 CJA Awards (August 2016):-

The most prestigious of the awards is undoubtedly 'Chess Journalist of the Year', won by Al Lawrence for the second time; the year 2000 was the first (see Chess Life, November 2000).

'Best Chess Book' had two winners:-

  • Instruction: GM Joel Benjamin; Better Thinking, Better Chess
  • Other: GM Andrew Soltis; Tal, Petrosian, Spassky, and Korchnoi: A Chess Multibiography with 207 Games

Last year's 'Best Chess Art' is now split into two categories:-

  • Best Chess Art: Val Bochkov, Melinda Matthews, Natasha Roberts; Chess Adventures with FM Alisa Melekhina, Chess Life Kids, February 2019
  • Best Single Chess Magazine Cover: Joe Jennings, Frankie Butler; Timur Flies High, Chess Life, November 2018

The category 'Best Chess Art' had two honorable mentions, one for Carlotta Notaro and one for Willum Morsch. The artwork behind all three awards can be seen in my previous post 2019 CJA Award Entries (July 2019).

That 'Entries' post also mentioned two candidates for 'Best Chess Blog'. The CJA award went to First Move Chess by John Henderson. In the 'Entries' post I wrote, 'As far as I can tell, the first post in the full blog is dated after the deadline for CJA entries.' This was an error on my part, perhaps provoked by a lack of obvious navigation tools on the blog. The first post appears to have been Advantage Anand (August 2017). Old timers like me can remember Henderson's 'Scotsman' column stretching back to the early days of the web. The chess blogosphere is markedly enhanced by his presence.

With nine award categories and more than 40 subcategories, I've only mentioned a small fraction of the many CJA awards. Congratulations to all winners!

13 August 2019

2019 CJA Awards - Part 1

For this post I intended to follow up last month's post on 2019 CJA Award Entries. Last week the Chess Journalists of America (CJA) published their annual list of awards at Awards 2019 (chessjournalism.org).

The intended post would have looked something like last year's 2018 CJA Awards (August 2018), with a short write-up about the winners in my favorite categories and congratulations to all winners. Unfortunately, the list of 2019 awards is so long and so unstructured that I was compelled to load it into a database to understand it.

Due to a number of technical obstacles that presented themselves along the way, what should normally have been a 5-10 minute task turned into a two hour chore, and I finally ran out of time. While I can't yet say much about specific awards, I can say that there are 64 awards total, categorized as follows:-

43 First Place
20 Honorable Mention
   1 ?

That single '?' is in fact a nearly blank award where only the 'Nominator' is listed. Perhaps there are only 63 awards.

While creating the database, I noticed a few other anomalies. One article, 'The 2019 Denver Open - Chess Life Online May 18, 2019' by IM John Watson, received two first place awards -- one for 'Best Analysis - online', and one for 'Best Tournament Report - State/Local - online'. Another category, 'Best Photojournalism Article', had two first place winners.

I'll be back in a few days with the post that I intended for today.


Later: A day after I posted the above, the CJA distributed an email with its list of winners in a more structured format. There's not much to gain by comparing the email to my database, but it did confirm the two separate awards for the same article by IM Watson and a 'tie' in the photojournalism category.

12 August 2019

TCEC S16 L1; CCC9/-10 GPU Blues

In last week's post on the world's top-2 engine tournaments, TCEC S16 L2; CCC9/-10 Endless Bonuses, one event was well underway and the other was marking time. Which was which?

TCEC: 'League 2' is underway and has completed the first of the two round-robins. • CCC: The current tournament, the 'CCC Bonus: CPU Showdown' with five engines, is almost finished.

After a week, the comparison 'well underway' vs. 'marking time' still holds true.

TCEC: 'League 2' finished and 'League 1' started. The following chart shows the top half of the final 'League 2' crosstable.

CCC: A month ago I wrapped up reporting on CCC9 in TCEC S16 Starts; CCC9 Finishes (July 2019). In that post I noted,

It's surprising to see that Leela did not qualify for the [CCC9] final match. I haven't found any Chess.com reports on the series of events, but I'll be patient before looking elsewhere for the reason(s)

Last week Chess.com issued a final report in Stockfish Wins Computer Chess Championship As Neural Networks Play Catch-Up. It summarized CCC9 with:-

Stockfish won CCC9 over Leelenstein, a neural-network chess engine based on Lc0, the leading machine-learning chess project. The champion engine triumphed in the blitz time control of CCC9, beating 17 other engines in a "gauntlet" format.

There was no mention of Leela, other than passing references like 'based on Lc0' in that paragraph. The report gave further details about CCC10:-

Stockfish now looks to defend its title in 'CCC10: Double Digits', an 18-engine tournament played in four rounds. CCC10 is now in progress. The first three rounds of CCC10 will all be played at a time control of 10 minutes plus a three-second increment, on the border between blitz and rapid. The two-engine finals of CCC10 will be 400 games split up among three blitz and rapid time controls to determine the champion.

The declaration that 'CCC10 is now in progress' may have been premature. A few days later, in GPU and CCC10 Status Update, we learned,

I've just been told not to expect the GPU machine to be ready until early next week. That means CCC10 is on hold. Super disappointing, I know, but there's nothing to be done.

That explains the steady stream of bonus events running only CPU engines. Since the GPU engines are the cutting edge of computer chess technology, occasional glitches are to be expected. The filler tournament running now is 'CCC Bonus: Waiting On The GPU'.

[For further information from the various stakeholders in the engine-to-engine events, see the tab 'TCEC/CCC Links' at the top of this page. • NB: Leela = LC0 = LCzero]

11 August 2019

Mainly for Mathletes?

Some people have way too much time on their hands. I'm talking about the people behind the 129.536 views that this video has notched to date.

30 Weird Chess Algorithms : Elo World (42:35) • 'Published on Jul 15, 2019'

The description explains,

An intricate and lengthy account of several different computer chess topics from my SIGBOVIK 2019 papers. We conduct a tournament of fools with a pile of different weird chess algorithms, ostensibly to quantify how well my other weird program to play color- and piece-blind chess performs. On the way we "learn" about mirrors, arithmetic encoding, perversions of game tree search, spicy oils, and hats.

What's SIGBOVIK? It's The Association for Computational Heresy (sigbovik.org), named after Harry Quokka Bovik. And what about those SIGBOVIK 2019 papers? They're here: tom7 / papers / chess (tom7.org). After that, you're on your own.

09 August 2019

'Game Changer' PGN

Continuing with AlphaZero's Zeros (July 2019), about Sadler & Regan's book 'Game Changer', digging deeper into the book requires the corresponding PGN file. In Chapter 2, titled 'ZeroZeroZero', Sadler wrote,

At the beginning of 2018, I was invited to the DeepMind offices at St Pancras in London to study 210 games from the newest series of matches between Stockfish and AlphaZero. [...] I was provided with two files: a file of 110 games played without an opening book from the starting position, and a file of 100 games starting from various pre-determined opening positions (the positions used in the 2016 TCEC World Championship). The games in each file were grouped by colour so that I first played through AlphaZero’s Black games, and then its White games.

Last December, DeepMind released two files:-

  • alphazero_vs_stockfish.pgn
  • alphazero_vs_stockfish_tcec_positions.pgn

The game counts in each file match the numbers that Sadler gives, meaning that we're probably looking at the same files. Maybe I should say, 'almost the same files', because the two AZ_vs_SF PGN files are not grouped by color as Sadler describes. Where Sadler gives a game number, I also noticed differences.

Another PGN resource is available from newinchess.com (NIC). The product page, Game Changer: AlphaZero's Groundbreaking Chess Strategies and the Promise of AI, says, 'You can download all the games from the book as a PGN-file.' Although the first game in the book -- Kaissa - Chaos, World Computer Championship, Stockholm 1974 -- is missing from the NIC file, the next games in the book match the file. As a bonus, the 'Annotator' tags in the NIC file, e.g.:-

[Annotator "17293012532641473451"]

match the 'Round' tags in the AZ_vs_SF files, e.g.:-

[Round "17293012532641473451"]

This provides a cross-reference between the two sets of files. I'll use these files for further explorations.

06 August 2019

1946 Groningen Participants

While working on an unrelated project involving my photo archive, I discovered a group photo picturing the participants of the 1946 Groningen. Many of the participants were familiar, but there were a few I didn't know. Had anyone identified everyone in the photo?

Google image search on 'chess 1946 groningen' (expanded)

A Google image search returned two versions of the photo, of which the second expanded to 6425. Groningen, 1946 (chesshistory.com; December 2009). All of the participants are identified here, including the tournament director Hans Kmoch.

The tournament has a unique place in chess history, because it was the first event in the long list that I include in the index of World Chess Championship Zonals. Although not a zonal, it was designated as a title tournament qualifier by FIDE.

The format of the Google image search results is also worth a mention. The thumbnails previously expanded to a horizontal row in the middle of the page. Now they expand to a vertical column on the right of the page. The column scrolls independently from the thumbnail display, meaning that more information can be attached to the image.

The photo and list of participants figured in an earlier post on this blog: Blog -> Email -> Facebook -> Ebay (November 2010). A few months after I wrote that post, the item reappeared on eBay. [Later: In fact, the second appearance of the item had some signatures in different places. Ergo: not the same item!]

05 August 2019

TCEC S16 L2; CCC9/-10 Endless Bonuses

To summarize last week's post, TCEC S16 Leagues; CCC9/CCC10,

TCEC: The 'Qualification League' finished and 'League 2' was to start soon. • CCC: The CCC9 'Gauntlet Bonus III' was still running. Some of the details for CCC10 are available from planning documents.

A week later, what is happening with the two foremost engine-vs-engine tournaments?

TCEC: 'League 2' is underway and has completed the first of the two round-robins. I recorded the rules a few weeks ago in TCEC S16 Starts; CCC9 Finishes, where I noted, 'The top 4 of League 2 will promote to League 1 (also 4 will relegate)'. Two NN engines, Stoofvlees and ScorpioNN, have good chances to promote.

CCC: The 'Gauntlet Bonus III' finally finished with Terminator ahead of Stockfish and Lc0. The last two of the five engines were Leelenstein and Turbofish. Since this is the third post mentioning the event, a crosstable is appropriate.

The chat commands explain that the first and last engines are variants of two other participants in the event.

!terminator : Lc0 using jhorthos net
!turbofish : Stockfish running with contempt value 100

The current tournament, the 'CCC [CCC9?] Bonus: CPU Showdown' with five engines, is almost finished. Stockfish has an insurmountable lead; LC0 CPU is firmly in the basement.

[For further information from the various stakeholders in the engine-to-engine events, see the tab 'TCEC/CCC Links' at the top of this page. • NB: Leela = LC0 = LCzero]

04 August 2019

Not a Coincidence

This series on Top eBay Chess Items by Price (March 2010) often features curious items. Once in a while it also features a curious auction. A few years ago, in Something Smells Fishy (January 2016), I noted,

This series isn't just about pricey chess auctions. It's also about eBay.

A curious auction isn't necessarily suspicious; it can be curious for any one of a number of reasons. Case in point: last year I posted about The Imagery of Chess, New York 1944 (September 2018), a 'single sheet' that sold for US $500, 'Best offer accepted'. The exact same auction -- different title, same photos, same description -- appeared last month. This time it sold for US $550, again 'Best offer accepted'. Was this the original buyer flipping an item for a small profit? The original seller with more than one copy of the item on his hands? Only the second seller knows for sure.

A few years before the 'Fishy' post, in Top eBay Chess Item Twins (November 2012), I noted,

I've seen items relisted after a lapse because the first buyer never paid, but I can't recall seeing the same item sold twice in the same fortnight.

While preparing this current post I noticed an item, obviously one-of-a-kind, sold twice in two days. Titled 'Signed By Famous Actor & Historical Chess Fever Jose R Capablanca JR Feb 11 1909', it sold for US $500.00, 'Best offer accepted'. A day later it sold for US $650.00, also 'Best offer accepted'.

The description said,

Signed by famous actor and chess player Jose R Capablanca. Post card he wrote and sent while on US chess tour from Memphis to New Orleans on February 11 1909, only four days prior to his New Orleans simultaneous exhibition tour of February 15 1909. Many flaws but this is the real deal.

Feedback to the seller from the second buyer said, 'Beware of this seller. I paid for the item and was strung along.' What will the first buyer say?

02 August 2019

Winning Percentage to Centipawns

Before continuing with last week's post, AlphaZero's Zeros, on the problem with 0.00 evaluations in traditional A/B chess engines, one point needs clarification. NN engines like AlphaZero don't use centipawn evaluations of a position; they calculate the probability of a win from the position using a scale of 100% (a certain win) to 0% (a certain loss).

When engine competitions like TCEC/CCC (see the tab at the top of the page) compare the thinking of the engines, how do they handle the A/B and NN results? I don't know what AlphaZero would do, since it's never competed in a tournament setting, but Leela converts its winning percentage to a centipawn evaluation. Both the TCEC and the CCC explain the conversion with identical language:-

!formula • Leela's conversion from win pct to centipawns: cp = 290.680623072 * math.tan(3.096181612 * (feval - 0.5))

That formula was recently tweaked. The result is documented on Technical Explanation of Leela Chess Zero (github.com/LeelaChessZero):-

How does Lc0 calculate the cp eval? • Lc0 uses an average expected score Q in the range [-1,1]. This expected score is converted to a traditional centipawn (cp) eval using this formula: cp = 111.714640912 * tan(1.5620688421 * Q)

How were those numbers derived? Another page on the same GitHub resource explains the process in detail: Recalibrate centipawn formula.

01 August 2019

August 1969 'On the Cover'

Last month, in July 1969 'On the Cover', we saw the Soviet World Champion from 50 years ago. This month we see two of the top American players from the same era.

Left: 'Sammy Reshevsky - Winner at Netanya' (Drawing by Bob Brandreth)
Right: 'And Still Champion!'

Chess Life

America's Sammy Reshevsky, the 58-year-old veteran of the event, won the eighth annual international tournament at Netanya, Israel, May 14-30. Reshevsky seized the lead in round two and notched seven wins and six draws to win going away, for a final score of 10-3.

Reshevsky was last seen in this series for the January 1968 'On the Cover'. The August 1969 cover story on Netanya was written by Anthony Saidy. 'Drawing by Bob Brandreth', where have we seen that before? It was for a CL story on Bent Larsen in the December 1968 'On the Cover'.

Chess Review

As with the woman's world championship, we hope to have a fuller story of the U. S. Women's championship soon. For the moment, however, we can only report that Mrs. G. K. (Peggy) Gresser performed with that skill and distinction which marked her winning the title eight times before so that, despite the handicap of one early loss, she is again our undisputed national champion.

Gresser featured on the CL side of July 1967 'On the Cover', as the '1967 U.S. Women's Champion'. As for the 'fuller stories', they never appeared in Chess Review.

30 July 2019

A Cheating Yahoo

Last month's chess story discovered by the mainstream press was A Political Yahoo (June 2019). This month we have a story on every cheater's nightmare -- getting caught.

Summer doldrums? Hardly. Chess was the top Yahoo story after 'Coast Guard nabs drug-smuggling sub' and attention-getters like 'Fox News contributor sent vulgar texts to co-host'.

2019-07-12: Chess grandmaster accused of cheating after using phone on toilet during tournament (yahoo.com; The Telegraph).

The world of elite chess has been engulfed in a cheating scandal after a picture emerged of a top grandmaster sat on a toilet allegedly using a mobile phone to cheat. Police are investigating after Igors Rausis, who has represented Latvia, Bangladesh and the Czech Republic, was caught "red-handed", the game's governing body Fide said today. Mr Rausis, aged 58, stunned the chess world by reaching the game's top echelon at an age most players decline in strength. The former Latvian champion was hailed as an inspiration to older players as he climbed from a Fide rating of around 2500 - the level of an average grandmaster - to the verge of 2700 in six years.

That report was by Leon Watson (also of Chessable?), but the same story appeared on other news sources. The next report looks to be a rewrite of The Telegraph version.

2019-07-14: A star chess player admitted to cheating with his phone on the toilet at a tournament (yahoo.com; insider.com, related to businessinsider.com?).

The chess grandmaster admitted that though they are typically banned, a phone found in a toilet at a tournament in France belonged to him.

The Telegraph version of the story attracted nearly 500 comments.

29 July 2019

TCEC S16 Leagues; CCC9/CCC10

Let's see. Where were we in last week's coverage of the world class engine tournaments? To summarize that post, TCEC S16 Qualification; CCC9 Bonuses:-

TCEC: The first stage of S16, the Qualification League, is well underway. • CCC: The 'Gauntlet Bonus III' is just getting started. • Both events might be finished in time for next week's post.

That last sentence was half right. The TCEC event finished, but the CCC event is still running.

TCEC: The chart shows the top half of the Qualification League. According to the current TCEC rules, the top six engines qualify for the next stage, now called 'League 2'. It should start soon.

CCC: Some of the details for CCC10 are available from planning documents. Called 'Neverending Story' (how true!), it will have the following rounds: Qualification (13 engines), Quarterfinal (12), Semifinal (6), and Final (2).

[For further information from the various stakeholders in the engine-to-engine events, see the tab 'TCEC/CCC Links' at the top of this page. • NB: Leela = LC0 = LCzero]