30 January 2008

Fischer News Boom

In Fischer's Keywords, I wondered, 'How do you sort through 1500 [Fischer] stories [dredged up by Google News] to find those that are interesting? What can you learn from this mountain of information?' Six days later, there are now over 1750 Fischer stories. In a few weeks the oldest of those will start to disappear from the results. Which of these stories are worth highlighting and sharing; which are instantly forgettable?

There are three kinds of stories that match a search on 'chess fischer'.

  • The first kind are stories that mentions Fischer in passing. A few of the most recent are 'Imagine Bobby Fischer petitioning to change the rules of chess' and 'The first "non-Soviet" champion since Bobby Fischer, Anand believes...'

  • The second kind are stories that reprint an Associated Press (AP) or other news service article. These stories aren't particularly interesting and Google has tools to filter them out.

  • The third kind are stories that tell us something we don't know. This is not so easy because, like many chess players, I know a lot about Fischer.

My goal is to locate that third kind of story. First, keywords count. A story that mentions Fischer's mother by name is likely to be more informative than a story that mentions only that he was a chess grandmaster who beat Spassky in Iceland in 1972. Second, sources count. A story from the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, or the Guardian is going to be better written and more accurate than a story based on old AP articles.

Here are a few stories, a few historical, a few current, returned by searches on 'Regina' (24) and 'Targ' (3).

  • Prodigy by Bernard Taper • 'The latest prodigy of the chess world is a fourteen-year-old Brooklyn boy named Robert Fischer, who a few weeks ago, at a tournament held in Cleveland, upset some two hundred of his elders and putative betters, including a number of the country’s top-ranking players, to win the United States Open Chess Championship.' (7 September 1957!)

  • Notes of a Fringe-Watcher • 'William Targ's beliefs in the paranormal trickled down to his son Russell, and now they have descended on Russell's attractive and energetic daughter Elisabeth. Her mother Joan, by the way, is the sister of chess grandmaster Bobby Fischer.' (March/April 2001)

  • Bobby Fischer's final bizarre act • 'The American chess prodigy's eccentricities didn't end with his death. As Neil Tweedie discovered in Reykjavik this week, the reclusive genius had arranged his own secret 'guerrilla' burial. Now its legality is being questioned.' (25 January 2008)

  • Bobby Fischer, chess genius, heartless son • 'He thrust chess on to the front pages when he beat the defending Soviet world champion at the height of the Cold War. But Bobby Fischer, the prodigy from Brooklyn who died this month, was a deeply disturbed individual with a cruel streak that he turned on his own mother.' (28 January 2008)

  • Fischer's 'widow' and nephews in legal tussle for £1m estate • 'Document may show chess master wed in Japan. Question remains over 'daughter' in Philippines' (28 January 2008)

That's a useful catch for a few minutes spent fishing.


In a comment to my previous post, Stephen Dann, chess columnist for the Worcester Telegram and Gazette, wrote,

I've done about 50 Google Alerts on Fischer during the last week, seeking interesting headlines and blog comments, and received noteworthy results, and non-Fischer chess info purely by accident. How can all this info be put into a useful consensus? My usual tech circle has other ideas. I think it is worthwhile because of Fischer's role. What is your take?

I don't find much of the Google News information to be truly useful. In fact, the bulk of it is repetitive, therefore useless. Having said that, if 10% of it is worth reading, that makes nearly 200 Fischer articles that are worth considering. As for consensus, I'm not sure it's possible, or even desirable. It's always interesting to know what other people think, and if they disagree with each other, where's the harm? We have to rely on each other to uncover the gems, and no single person holds exclusive rights on the area to be mined.

The unfortunate truth is that there is nothing online that comes close to 'Profile of a Prodigy' or 'Bobby Fischer's Chess Games', two printed resources I refer to whenever I'm confronted with writing about Fischer. The printed word is eternal, the electronic word ephemeral. I don't see that changing anytime soon.

28 January 2008

Chess Spam

Yesterday I received the following message...

To: carnival@mark-weeks.com
From: Giant Chess
Subject: BIGGEST CHESS - smallest price
Date: Fri, 25 Jan 2008 18:43:41 -0500 (EST)

These 25 inch tall Giant Chess sets are great for schools, resorts, campgrounds, cruise ships and hotels - or your own backyard! Even if you don't play chess, these make great decorations. Made of a all-weather plastic suited for indoor or outdoor use, the chess pieces are light-weight, sturdy, and easy to move. If additional weight is desired, each piece can be filled with gravel. We recommend creating an indoor chess board using standard floor tiles or carpet squares. An outdoor board is easily created using preformed cement squares available at any do-it-yourself home store.

...as I'm sure many other chess players did. I received two more copies at my About.com email addresses. The incident would have been entirely unexceptional except for two things: 1) it's chess spam, and 2) it was sent to the email address that I use for the chess blog carnival.

My first reaction, a natural one, was to assume that the blog carnival hosts at BlogCarnival.com were selling email addresses attached to the submissions. Then a Google search on "carnival@mark-weeks.com" returned 14 hits. This reminded me that the organizer of the chess carnival used my submission as an example and posted it on various blogs and discussion groups. I don't have a problem with this and am happy to have helped in a small way, but the person responsible should have stripped out my email address.


I would have hoped that everyone knew that by now, but I am an eternal optimist. Twice I have been contacted by chess spammers asking for email addresses from my newsletters targeted at chess players and twice I have turned them down.

The small print at the bottom of the image says, 'NOTICE: This is a one time mailing. You have not been added to any email list, nor will you receive any further emails from us.' If I haven't been added to any email list, how did I get the message?

26 January 2008

Fischer's Soviet Opponents

Game counts from 'Russians Versus Fischer' by Plisetsky and Voronkov (PGN file):-


Next: Compare the opponent counts to Wade & O'Connell's stats.

24 January 2008

Fischer's Keywords

I'm a big fan of Google news. By a fortunate chain of events, I happened to be browsing it just as the reports of Fischer's death started popping up. Before the first report came through (I think it was BBC News) there were a little more than 40 items matching 'chess Fischer'. Today there are 'about 1,526'. How do you sort through 1500 stories to find those that are interesting? What can you learn from this mountain of information?

One trick is to count how often certain keywords are repeated across the stories. For example, a search on 'chess fischer Iceland' returns 'about 1,241' stories; 'chess fischer Spassky' returns 'about 1,162'; 'chess fischer grandmaster' 'about 800'. [For the rest of this post and in the interest of readability, I'll leave off both 'chess fischer' when mentioning a search, and 'about' for the count of results. The meaning of 'grandmaster' (800) should be obvious.]

Since the stories are mainly obituaries -- 'died' (1314) and 'kidney failure' (145, although the cause of death has not been confirmed) -- I expect Fischer's residences to be well represented. This works for his childhood: 'Chicago' (453) and 'Brooklyn' (534); fails for his early adult life: 'Pasadena' (36) and 'Los Angeles' (31); and works again for his years in exile: 'Philippines' (125) and 'Japan' (290). The popularity of Japan undoubtedly has a lot to do with his arrest at 'Narita' (101).

His family and friends are less well represented: mother 'Regina' (22), father 'Gerhardt' (9) or 'Gerhard' (1), sister 'Joan' (28) and her married name 'Targ' (1), biological father 'Nemenyi' (6), teacher 'Nigro' (6), trainer and friend 'Collins' (10), and biographer 'Brady' (21). The 'Church of God' (12) and 'Armstrong' (7) receive some notice, while 'Watai' (83) shows that people were paying attention as Fischer's life neared its end.

The public perception of his personality turns to 'genius' (501), 'anti-Semitic' (208) / 'anti-Semite' (30), 'reclusive' (185), 'tragic' (33) / 'tragedy' (125), 'prodigy' (111), 'legend' (88), 'crazy' (46), and 'paranoid' (31) / 'paranoia' (42). The trigger phrases 'mental illness' (8), 'deranged' (6), and 'racist' (5) are less popular.

Besides Spassky, the only other chess players who figure significantly are 'Karpov' (231) and 'Kasparov' (223). 'Anand' (36) gets noticed for the recent possibility of a match, while 'Petrosian' (20), 'Larsen' (12), and 'Taimanov' (13) barely make a dent. They still do better than 'interzonal' (10) and 'zonal' (1), which in fact is used as 'Inter-Zonal'.

Of Fischer's other accomplishments 'random chess' (78) is better known than 'chess960' (17), while 'fischer clock' (16) is largely overlooked. As for 'Hollywood' (15), is this about the inevitable movie documenting the story of his life?

22 January 2008

18 Memorable Games

My next blog project falls timely: a look at games from Kasparov's My Great Predecessors IV, the volume on Fischer, that overlap Fischer's own My 60 Memorable Games. Here are the games (round numbers in parentheses):-

1958 Portoroz, Fischer - Larsen (8)
1959 Zuerich, Fischer - Keres
1959 Zuerich, Fischer - Unzicker
1959 Bled/Zagreb/Belgrade, Fischer - Benko (10)
1959 Bled/Zagreb/Belgrade, Fischer - Gligoric (4)
1959 Bled/Zagreb/Belgrade, Keres - Fischer (1)
1960 Leipzig, Fischer - Euwe (7)
1961 Los Angeles, Fischer - Reshevsky (2)
1961 Los Angeles, Reshevsky - Fischer (5)
1961 Bled, Fischer - Geller (6)
1961 Bled, Gligoric - Fischer (1)
1961 Bled, Fischer - Tal (2)
1962 Varna, Fischer - Najdorf (2)
1962 Varna, Unzicker - Fischer (7)
1963 New York, Fischer - Benko (10)
1963 New York, Byrne - Fischer (3)
1966 Santa Monica, Portisch - Fischer (11)
1967 Sousse, Fischer - Stein (7)

Since I'm nowhere near understanding either Kasparov or Fischer, I'll concentrate on identifying differences in opinion between the 11th and the 13th World Champions.


Later: On that first pass I overlooked Fischer's draws and losses that are recorded in other sections of the Predecessors series.

1959 Yugoslavia, Fischer - Tal
1962 Varna, Botvinnik - Fischer
1967 Skopje, Fischer - Geller (Vol.II, in the section on Smyslov)

20 January 2008

Convergence of Two Themes

Weekend post on Soviet players + Fischer's death = 'Russians Versus Fischer' by Plisetsky and Voronkov. • Plisetsky is the same writer who assisted Kasparov on the Predecessors series. If you are familiar with all of the standard Fischer material and stories, the Russians/Fischer book is a good source of new information. Here is an excerpt (p.355).


(Korchnoi:) 'In February and March 1975, on the pretext of intensive preparations for the match between Karpov and Fischer, the leading Soviet grandmasters were asked to submit in writing their assessment of Fischer's chess style and power plus, for the sake of comparison, a similar assessment of Karpov.'

(Polugaevsky:) 'Analysis of Fischer's Chess Strengths (mainly on the benefit of the Spassky vs. Fischer match)

'Prior to his match with Spassky, Fischer's play revealed the following strong points:

  1. a profound understanding of openings;
  2. a solid game strategy;
  3. a good technique in exploiting advantages and efficient use of good positions;
  4. a commitment to the original game plan;
  5. superb technique, especially in the endgame; and
  6. a large arsenal of technical and strategid devices.

'At the same time certain drawbacks were also noted in his play;

  1. a straightforward and sometimes obstinate choice of openings;
  2. insufficiently precise play in unfamiliar positions;
  3. a lack of dynamism in his play, poor adaptation to twists and turns in the course of a game;
  4. a lack of flexibility in implementing his plans (the motto of his play is usually "onward, onward!"); and
  5. mistakes in the analysis of adjourned positions.

'What has the Spassky vs. Fischer match shown? [...]'.

This last section was broken into Openings, Middle Game, Endgame, Analysis of adjourned games, Physical fitness and sportsmanship, with concrete observations based on examples from specific games. Some people take chess very seriously.

18 January 2008

Bye, Bobby

Bobby Fischer Tribute (5:18) • 'A little movie clip I put together with the help of online resources.'

'Fischer is like Zeus. He is the god of the gods.' - GM Nigel Short


Later: Judging from the comment in Touching video created by Mark Weeks, it's not clear to everyone that the videos featured in Chess for All Ages: Video are from YouTube, Google, or other web video services. I don't link to the sources because it's easy enough to derive them from the HTML code used to embed particular videos. I found this particular clip at...

Bobby Fischer Tribute

...on YouTube. The identifying info says, 'From: AQJ, Added: July 20, 2006'. I join the author of 'Touching video' in saying to AQJ, 'Well done Sir!'.

16 January 2008

The Capablanca Variation

The diagram shows the position after 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 d5 4.Nc3 Be7 5.Bg5 O-O 6.e3 h6 7.Bh4 Ne4 (Lasker Defense) 8.Bxe7 Qxe7 9.Rc1 c6 10.Bd3 Nxc3 11.Rxc3 dxc4 12.Bxc4 Nd7 13.O-O. It is from game 8 of Karpov - Yusupov, semifinal candidate's match, London 1989. Karpov played 13...e5, and wrote, 'From the Lasker Defense, the game has transposed to lines of the less weighty Capablanca System, and moreover the position of the Pawn on h6 (instead of h7) is favorable for White, as it gives him an additional object of attack.' (Anatoly Karpov's Best Games, no.36)

This is the sort of comment that I always find a little irritating. Across different chess cultures, there can be large differences in the names of openings. Capablanca played the QGD so often that it is not immediately obvious which line would bear his name, especially for someone like me who has played the QGD only a handful of times.

Using Google, I set out to discover which Capablanca variation Karpov meant. I quickly located a few pages which all contained similar expositions of the names of chess opening. On top of two D30 lines with the name 'Capablanca', I found the following:

  • D51 QGD : Capablanca Anti-Cambridge Springs Variation; 1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Bg5 Nbd7 5.e3 c6
  • D52 QGD : Cambridge Springs Defense, Capablanca Variation; 1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Bg5 Nbd7 5.e3 c6 6.Nf3 Qa5 7.Bxf6
  • D63 QGD : Orthodox Defense, Capablanca Variation; 1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Bg5 Be7 5.e3 O-O 6.Nf3 Nbd7 7.Rc1 b6 8.cxd5 exd5 9.Bb5
  • D67 QGD : Orthodox defense, Bd3 line, Capablanca Freeing Maneuver; 1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Bg5 Be7 5.e3 O-O 6.Nf3 Nbd7 7.Rc1 c6 8.Bd3 dxc4 9.Bxc4 Nd5

After studying the four lines with software, I established that Karpov was referring to the D67 line. The continuation 10.Bxe7 Qxe7 11.O-O Nxc3 12.Rxc3, is the same position after 13.O-O in Karpov - Yusupov game 8. The numbering is one move greater because Black has played the extra move ...h6, and White has lost a tempo with 7.Bh4 and 8.Bxe7. Note how the Black Knight passes through e4 in one line and d5 in the other.

While I'm on the subject, here are a few other opening lines bearing Capablanca's name:-

  • A12 English : Capablanca Variation; 1.c4 c6 2.Nf3 d5 3.b3 Nf6 4.Bb2 Bg4
  • A28 English : Four Knights, Capablanca Variation; 1.c4 e5 2.Nc3 Nc6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.d3
  • C10 French : Rubinstein, Capablanca line; 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 dxe4 4.Nxe4 Nd7 5.Nf3 Ngf6 6.Nxf6+ Nxf6 7.Ne5
  • C49 Four Knights : Symmetrical, Capablanca Variation; 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Bb5 Bb4 5.O-O O-O 6.d3 d6 7.Bg5 Bxc3 8.bxc3 Qe7 9.Re1 Nd8 10.d4 Bg4
  • D83 Gruenfeld : Gruenfeld Gambit, Capablanca Variation; 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 d5 4.Bf4 Bg7 5.e3 O-O 6.Rc1
  • E16 Queen's Indian : Capablanca Variation; 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 b6 4.g3 Bb7 5.Bg2 Bb4+
  • E29 Nimzo-Indian : Saemisch, Capablanca Variation; 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.a3 Bxc3+ 5.bxc3 O-O 6.e3 c5 7.Bd3 Nc68.Ne2 b6 9.e4 Ne8

This makes a good example why I always encourage people to give the moves when they mention a lesser known opening by name.

14 January 2008

Chess Life Advertising

Someone recently made a comment to me exposing the fact that I rarely look at the ads in Chess Life. That's not good, because it's a reasonable way to keep up with the commercial side of chess in the U.S. Since December is a big month for retailers, I decided to investigate all of the ads carried in the December CL. I excluded the classified ads because I had looked at those in a 2006 post titled June Chess Life.

The USCF ad rates are online -- see USchess.org's Advertising -- with rates for both the magazine and the web site. The page starts, 'Membership and Demographics : The US Chess Federation has 85,000 members, of whom 35,000 are adults and 50,000 are youth or scholastic members. The population is predominantly male. Adult members are generally college-educated and affluent.'

The best locations in the magazine were occupied by heavyweights in the business side of chess:-

The rest of the mag carried the following advertising, not counting tournament ads or USCF ads for member services:-

It's not too surprising that all but one ad had an associated URL.

12 January 2008

Fizkultura i Sport Black Books (Not!)

In my last post for this thread, Fizkultura i Sport Black Books, I mentioned, 'The books that I have can be compared against the Gambitchess PGN files to verify whether it is the same book or not. The book on Kotov (marked '*') appears to be an addition to the list.'

This was a good test and confirmed that the 2-3 PGN files I compared were in fact based on the Black Books. The Kotov book, which I also have, is from another series, titled something like 'World Class Players'. Here is a scan of the cover.

I have five books in this series, two of which were not about Soviet (or Russian) masters:-

  • Flohr (1985, Knight)
  • Kotov (1984, Queen)
  • Polugaevsky (1982, Rook)
  • Schlechter (1984, King)
  • Tarrasch (1983, Bishop)

The cover artwork is noteworthy. It appears to be symbolic of a chess Queen, while the spine of the same book shows the figurine notation symbols of a Pawn and a Queen. The spines of the other four books show a Pawn and a different piece, specified in my list after the publication date. The cover artwork is typical of that particular piece. Are there other books in the same series?

While I was rummaging through my Russian books, I found another book on Ragozin, published by Fizkultura i Sport in 1964. It appears to be an earlier edition of the Black Book on Ragozin, although it has fewer numbered games and no photos.

10 January 2008

Index to Petrosian's Exchange Sacrifice

Index to Petrosian's Exchange Sacrifice:

Petrosian's examples were repeated by other authors in other works. The games against Reshevsky, Tal, Gligoric, and Portisch were used in Kasparov's chapter on Petrosian in Predecessors III (see section 'Favorite Sacrifice'). The same games plus the game against Troianescu were used in Watson's 'Exchange Sacrifice' chapter in Secrets of Modern Chess Strategy (see Watson's Example Exchange Sacs for the full list).

08 January 2008

I Lied!

NOT!How Addicted to Blogging Are You?

They didn't:-

Results 1 - 10 of about 139 for chess "how addicted to blogging".

06 January 2008

Fizkultura i Sport Black Books

I have a small collection of chess books published by Fizkultura i Sport, each one covering a single Soviet master. The cover for the book on Lilienthal is pictured below. The others in the series have similar covers; I call them the 'Black Books', after their covers.

I have books on the following masters (spelled according to Gaige and listed with date of publication):-

  • Aivars Gipslis (1987)
  • Eduard Gufeld (1985)
  • Ratmir Kholmov (1982)
  • Alexander Konstantinopolsky (1985)
  • Andor (book cover: 'Andre') Lilienthal (1989)
  • Rashid Nezhmetdinov (1987)
  • Viacheslav Ragozin (1984)
  • Peter Romanovsky (1984)
  • Alexey Suetin (1987)
  • Alexander Tolush (1983)
  • Alexander Zaitsev (1986)

A few others in the series that I know of, but haven't yet acquired:-

  • Semen Furman (1988)
  • Vladas Mikenas (1988)
  • Vasily Panov (1986)
  • Vladimir Simagin (1981)
  • Vladimir Makogonov (1990)

How many books were published in this series? Gambitchess.com lists the following (author; title; publisher; year), which appear to be Black Books:-

  • Gipslis; Best Games; Moscow, Fizkultura i sport; 1987
  • Arkhangelsky & Kimenfeld; Alexander Zaitsev; Moscow, Fizkultura i sport; 1986
  • Karpov; Semen Furman; Moscow, Medicina i fizkultura; 1988
  • Kholmov; Best games; Fizkultura i sport; 1982
  • Malkin; Alexander Kotov; Fizkultura i sport; 1984 (*)
  • ?; Vasilij Panov; Fizkultura i sport; 1986
  • Suetin; Alexej Suetin; Moscow, Fizkultura i sport; 1987
  • Tolush V.; Alexander Tolush; Moscow, Fizkultura i sport; 1983
  • Yudovich; Viacheslav Ragozin; Moscow, Fizkultura i sport; 1984

The books that I have can be compared against the Gambitchess PGN files to verify whether it is the same book or not. The book on Kotov (marked '*') appears to be an addition to the list. Are there more?

04 January 2008

Robot Learns to Move a Chess Piece

'Swiss researchers have created software that allows robots to learn in a similar way to children.'

The Robot that Learns like a Child (0:53) • Read more...

The comments indicate that there's some controversy over the difficulty of the task 'at hand'.

02 January 2008

How Did the Rook Get There?

Starting the New Year with the seventh and last game from Petrosian's Exchange Sacrifice, it isn't easy to see the sacrifice occurring anytime soon in the diagrammed position. Petrosian wrote:

In the Sicilian Defense, an attack on the Pawn e4 along the 4th rank from the squares b4, c4, even d4, is quite a usual matter. But the idea, which I managed to discover in this game, is interesting mainly due to its paradoxical character.

Even after seeing the next move, 21...Rh5, an exchange sacrifice is not easily discerned. Petrosian again:

This move seems to be absurd. The Rook will be surrounded by White's pieces; when the Queen goes away, g2-g4 threatens, and what should Black do with the Rook.

The game continued 22.Qf3 e5 23.f5. If you showed this position to another player, I'm sure they would have some trouble explaining how the Rook got to h5.

Moscow 1971
Petrosian, Tigran

Parma, Bruno
(After 21.Nd2-b3)
[FEN "rq4k1/1b2bppp/3ppn2/pNr5/Pp2PP2/1N1B3Q/1PP3PP/4RR1K b - - 0 21"]

After 22...e5, Petrosian gave some useful advice on conducting an attack against a weakness:

This move is necessary. Black intends to attack the Pawn e4 in one form or another. An object of attack should first be fixed and deprived of mobility; then follows the attack itself.

After that hint, and the further moves 23...d5 24.Nd2 Rh4, it suddenly becomes clear that Black plans to sacrifice the Rook for the Pawn on e4. There followed 25.g3 dxe4 26.Nxe4 Rxe4. Now since 27.Bxe4 Nxe4 28.Rxe4 gives Black the better game, Parma tried 27.Rxe4. Petrosian continued 27...Qd8 and won ten moves later without having to recapture the sacrificed material.

To play through the complete game see...

Bruno Parma vs Tigran Vartanovich Petrosian, Moscow (Russia) 1971

...on Chessgames.com.