31 August 2008

Some Chess Players Fib About Their Birthdays

Continuing with More About Chess Players' Birthdays, the following diagram, besides revealing my subpar skills charting Excel data, tells us something about the distribution of chess players' birthdays. The data is taken from the 2005 FIDE rating list, the last list I have that included date of birth. Subsequent lists had only year of birth.

Taking the 47661 players with birthdays on the 2005 rating list, and using 365.25 days in a year, I calculate that an average of 130.5 players were born on any random day. The chart is a histogram showing how the days of the year, grouped by the number of players born on a particular day, cluster together.

For example, the tallest bar on the chart is the black line that peaks at 52. You'll have to take my word for it, but it represents the value 130 on the horizontal axis. It means that there were 52 days in the year where more than 125 players, but less than 131, were born on that day (125 < x < 131, where x is the number of players born on a particular day). The blue bar to the right of it peaks at 49, and means that there were 49 days where more than 130 players, but less than 136, were born on a certain day. My own birthday falls on 14 November. On the FIDE list there were 109 other players having the same birthday and our common day clusters into the second blue bar from the left.

Now let's consider the extremes on the chart. If you look carefully, you'll see that there is a small blip at greater than 320. That bar, at 325, represents the number of players who have given 1 January as their birthday. Since it's very unlikely that so many players were born on the first day of the year, with that day so far off the chart, it's safe to conclude that these players either don't know their real birthday or don't want to reveal it.

Looking at the leftmost blip on the chart, it stands for 29 February, when 22 players were born. I find it curious that, even after multiplying that number by four, it is still less than the second least frequent day, 7 October when 97 players were born. It is more likely that some people prefer not to give their birthday as 29 February, but give instead 1 March, which is indeed one of the top-10 most frequent days on which chess players claim to be born.

Also curious is the second blip from the right, representing 1 July with 187 players. It means that the second most frequent birthday -- significantly higher than the third most frequent day, 2 February with 169 players -- falls exactly midyear. I have a non-chess playing friend who was born in India. His exact date of birth wasn't recorded, but his mother remembers that it was 'during the monsoon season'. He has adopted a birthday according to his mother's memory. I suspect that a non-trivial number of players have given their birthdays as 1 July, because they only know it was around midyear.

The top-10 most frequent birthdays include 1 January, 1 March, and 1 July. What about the other first days of the month? Three of them also fall in the top-10 most frequent birthdays and another misses it by a whisker. I find this all very curious and conclude that some players, for whatever reason, simply fib about their birthdays.

What does all this have to with chess? Not much, I admit, except to show once again how the small world of chess reflects the larger world around us.


Going back to my post Chess Players Prefer to Be Born in February,
a consequence of this current post is that the earlier number of chess players born in January is overstated. The number for 1 January skews the result.


Note: Listed under 'CHESS CULTURE' on Chess Blog Carnival 1/09.

30 August 2008

On Blogs and Business Models

Following up Blogging on Chess.com, I posted my second blog piece there: Kicking Chess.com's Tires. The Chess.com blog tools aren't built to the same standard as Blogger.com (the backend site for Blogspot.com), but they are very good and have certain chess-specific add-ons (that I haven't tried yet) to incorporate a chess position or a game.

That second Chess.com post discusses the reason for my move from About.com to Chess.com, especially since the About.com chess page currently looks like an advertisement for Chess.com. While I'm on the subject of advertising, if you're interested in knowing how the About.com business model works, it was explained in the 2007 Annual Report for the New York Times Company (NYSE:NYT).

'How About.com Generates Revenues'
(Source: NYT 2007 Annual Report, Form 10-K, p.6)

The screen capture shows a page from About's PC Hardware / Reviews. The look is the same that I captured for my post on Jiggly Ads. That look has since been superseded by About.com's Redesign, but the ad components are the same.

If you're thinking about investing in NYT stock, think again. I bought a few shares shortly after the Times acquired About.com in early 2005, and the stock has declined steadily from around $38 per share to its current price of $13 per share. I could say a lot more about this, but since this is a chess blog, not a media-watch or an investing blog, I'll stop here.

29 August 2008

St. Louis Chess Club

Here's a chess club that has been getting its share of publicity lately.

St. Louis Chess Club (3:56) • 'The mission of the chess club is to promote chess throughout the St. Louis area, especially amongst students.'

Web site: Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis • See also St.Louis Chess Club Opens ('It was a spectacular opening for what promises to be a spectacular chess club.') and 2009 U.S. Champs Set for St. Louis, both from the USCF's USchess.org. • Plus Rex Sinquefield's Chess Mecca in the CWE: 'As promised, the über-rich libertarian political activist and philanthropist Rex Sinquefield has created a beauty of a chess club. The Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis, located in the heart of the heart of the Central West End, opens to the public tonight. [...] The club is sponsoring a five-year study of chess and schoolchildren.'

28 August 2008

Soviet Era Photos II

Following up Soviet Era Photos, another eBay seller has offered a number of interesting photos on eBay: Show only: Items from seller glad9.

The description for this photo said, 'USSR Russia Latvia Riga. 25th chess championship of the USSR. Grandmasters Bukhuti Gurgenidze and Semjon Furman. Original vintage photo. Photographers by V. Veders. Approx. size 4,75 x 7,25 inc (12 x 18,5 cm). Very good/fine condition.' For more about the event pictured, see Graeme Cree's 25th USSR Championship and Zonal.

What causes the halo effect around the heads?

26 August 2008

'Fischerandom Chess' or 'Chess960'?

The title of my first post -- Shall We Play Fischerandom Chess? (*) -- on Fischer's proposal to reduce the influence of opening preparation in general, and the influence of computer preparation in particular, was taken from GM Svetozar Gligoric's book of the same name. When the book was published in 2002 by Batsford, the synonym 'Chess960' had not yet been invented. Has the choice of name been settled, or is it still open to discussion?

Here is the current page count for the terms that I am most familiar with, plus a link to the related Google search.

44,200chess "fischer random"
5,500chess fischerandom
2,460"shuffle chess"
2,110chess fischerrandom

Google indicates that the choice has indeed been settled: 'Chess960' it is.

25 August 2008

Blogging on Chess.com

Everyone else is blogging on Chess.com, so I might as well join them: bemweeks's Blog. • My profile: bemweeks on Chess.com.

The Quantcast Profile for chess.com currently shows 'Estimated Monthly Traffic 113.3K US People'. A comparison with my old site on About.com ('Estimated Monthly Traffic 35.1K US People') is shown in the following composite graphic.

'Addicts 7%' out of '113.3K US People' amounts to a lot of chess addicts!

24 August 2008

More About Chess Players' Birthdays

Continuing with Chess Players Prefer to Be Born in February, which was based on FIDE rating data for 2002, I ran the same queries on the data for 2005. The list for the year 2005 had a little more than double the number of players -- and double the number of players with birthdays -- as the list for 2002. After determining that the same monthly patterns held in 2005 as in 2002, I checked a few other patterns.

In a comment to my previous post, SonofPearl wrote, 'being born at certain times of the year can mean that your competitive peers during childhood are younger than you, thus giving you an edge'. At first, I took this at face value, but when I started to think about it, I realized that I didn't understand what the statement meant.

The stats say that the average number of players born in a particular month declines during the year. This means there are more serious chess players born near the beginning of the year. It doesn't mean that they are more successful. Or does it?

The pool of FIDE rated players represents only a small fraction of the total number of people who like to play chess. FIDE rated players have taken chess more seriously and have been more successful at chess than non-FIDE rated players. To rephrase that first sentence, 'the average number of {Pick one: GOOD / SERIOUS / FIDE RATED} players born in a particular month declines during the year'.

With that in mind, how does the average FIDE rating of players born in each month compare to other months? Like this:-

With around 4000 players born in a typical month, the differences in average rating don't appear to be statistically significant.

23 August 2008

RIP Blogroll

I deleted the link to my blogroll -- Other Chess Blogs -- that I've been maintaining since November 2006: Rethinking Blogrolls. The main reason for keeping it was to track the links on my list of Top Blogs, but that isn't necessary anymore.

Has the blog craze peaked? For several months the total number of posts has been declining on the ~120 active chess blogs that I tracked each month (out of ~175 active in the past six months). A few months ago I searched for new blogs: Seen on the Chess Blogosphere. While some of these were very good, none of them made the list of Top Blogs in the short time that I tracked them.

The current craze in the online world is the social networking phenomenon, which I documented a few months ago: Chess Networking. Facebook, MySpace, etc. don't require as much knowledge or dedication as blogs do, and the community is much larger.


While I was making the blogroll change to the sidebar, I deleted the RSS feed for Chess - MySpace News. The news.myspace.com domain now redirects to www.myspace.com. The service was announced in April 2007, and appears to have died a quiet death near the end of July 2008. The last entry on the feed was Beware the Robots at Delta Airlines on scholasticchess.blogspot.com.

22 August 2008

Flickr Friday

One of my last posts on About.com was intended to be the start of a series called Chess Fun on Flickr. Since I can't continue the series there, I'll continue it here, starting with another image from the same Flickr user.

yellowchess © Flickr user fdecomite under Creative Commons.

For more in the set, see Chessboards experiments. In the future I'll alternate Flickr photos fortnightly with posts from Video Friday.

One advantage of doing this on Blogger instead of on About.com is not having to check whether the Flickr user has imposed a Creative Commons restriction on commercial use. Another is not being limited to About's ridiculous restriction on images larger than 170x170.

21 August 2008

Kasparov on Huebner on Fischer

Continuing with Fischer - Unzicker, Zurich 1959, Kasparov criticized Fischer's analysis on the diagrammed position. Fischer played 35.Be2, which was awarded '!' by both the 11th and 13th World Champions. Unzicker answered 35...Re7, to which Kasparov assigned '?'. There is a sequence of nice tactical shots hidden in the position.

In his notes Fischer asked, 'How can Black defend the Pawn?', and gave four variations:-

'(a) 35...b4? 36.Ra6 Nxe4 37.Qh4 Qd5 38.Bf3 Qd3 39.Ra7 wins

'(b) 35...Nxe4? 36.Qh6 Re7 37.Qf8 mate

'(c) 35...Qb6 36.Rf7 Ng8 37.Qh4 h6 38.Qg4 Rd8 39.Bxb5! wins

'(d) 35...Rb8 36.Rf7 Ng8 37.Rd7 Qf6 (37...Qxd7 38.Qxe5+ Qg7 39.Qxb8 Qxc3 40.Qxb5) 38.Qe3 Qc6 39.Rd5 when one of Black's hanging Pawns must fall.'

Kasparov repeated Fischer's analysis and then quoted GM Robert Huebner, '"However, Fischer fails to take an important defensive resource into account though tactical and positional reasons suggest to play 35...c4", writes Huebner'.

Zurich 1959
Unzicker, Wolfgang

Fischer, Robert
(After 34...Qc6-d6)
[FEN "4r2k/R6p/3q1np1/1pp1p1Q1/4P3/1PP5/5PP1/3B2K1 w - - 0 35"]

After continuing to quote Huebner,

"35...c4 36.bxc4 (36.Rf7? cxb3!) 36...Qb6 (36...bxc4? 37.Bxc4 Qd1+ 38.Bf1 Ng8 39.Qh4! h6 40.Qh3) 37.cxb5 Qxa7 38.Qxf6+ Qg7 39.Qc6 Rf8 and, "it is not clear whether the position can be won for White; but at any rate, tremendous work is necessary before he can secure victory."

Kasparov added his own analysis,

In my view, after 40.Qd6!, this task is not so great: tied to the defense of the e-Pawn, Black is unable to halt the victorious march of the b-and c-Pawns. 39...Qe7 is more tenacious, but even then after 40.b6! Kg7 41.b7 Rb8 42.Ba6 with the threat of Qc8 and c4-c5-c6-c7 White should win.

plus a typical gratuitous remark about how much better the players are today:

Nevertheless 35...c4 36.bxc4 Qb6 was the best practical chance (bearing in mind that after 37.cxb5 Black can also consider 37...Nxe4) and in our time, when the level of resistance has increased sharply, any grandmaster would play this without much thought.

Not only would any grandmaster play this without much thought, so would any computer. Mine finds it after a few seconds. Was Huebner's discovery of 35...c4 also due to computer assisted analysis? In deference to the analytical ability of the great German GM, my instinct says 'No!', but I'm not really sure.

After Unzicker's 35...Re7, Fischer won a Pawn with 36.Rxe7 Qxe7 37.Bxb5, and went on to notch the full point in another 30 moves.

19 August 2008

18 August 2008

Events on the Agenda

I often have trouble remembering exactly when upcoming events will start, so I added Events on the Agenda to the sidebar. This is a list of events that interest me, along with dates and a link to the official site. A few chess calendar services worth knowing are:-

The calendars of other national federations can be found by following FIDE Directory > Member Federations.

17 August 2008

Chess Players Prefer to Be Born in February

Continuing with Chess Players Have Birthdays, I took the data from the year 2002, counted the number of players born in each month, corrected for the number of days in a month (January = 31.00; February = 28.25, etc.), and derived the following table.

For each month it shows the average number of players born on a day in that month. It appears that more chess players are born in the first half of the year than in the second half. How significant are these numbers statistically?

16 August 2008

Chess Columns

In June I ran a reference piece -- Resources for Blogs/Magazines/Columns -- that didn't work the way I intended. It was a list of 'local' chess columns to supplement the list of 'national' columns maintained on my category Chess Columns.

The mechanism behind the list was a Google date search, but for some reason the date restriction 'over the past 3 months' went missing. It's important because, on top of returning only the recent columns, Google displays the date a page was first detected by its spider. That lets us see approximately when the column first appeared on the Web. Following is the corrected list.

I'll update this post whenever I discover a new column, so you can bookmark it with peace of mind.



15 August 2008

State Champion on Cable TV

USA state chess champions don't get much coverage in their local newspapers. Interviews on cable TV must be exceedingly rare.

Time Out Interviews Chess Champion Adnan Kobas (Part 1) (30:08) • 'Time Out Productions interviewed three time Connecticut chess champion Adnan Kobas in 2001.'

The show starts at around 0:50. Kobas has some problems speaking English, the show has some awkward quiet moments, and the commentators make some factual errors, but the clip makes a favorable impression. I didn't watch Part 2.

Kobas' FIDE Card still lists his federation as Bosnia & Herzegovina, although he has lived in the U.S. since the mid-1990s. For more about him, see the National Scholastic Chess Foundation (NSCF) instructor profile : FM Adnan Kobas.

14 August 2008

Soviet Era Photos

There's a nice collection of Soviet era chess photos on offer at eBay:
Show only: Items from seller bulkcover.

The description of this photo said, 'Press photo by V.GAalaktionov. Chess championship of USSR tournament in Moscow (no date). At the game GM N.Grigoryan (USSR) and GM M.Taimanov (USSR). GM Tigran Petrosian is watching. Sized about 23.4 x 14.7 cm.' Petrosian is featured in many more photos, along with Karpov, Spassky, Tal, and others.

12 August 2008

In Defense of Chess Book Reviewers

In the June 2008 edition of The Chess Journalist, Howard Goldowsky wrote a piece titled 'In Partial Defense of Chess Book Publishers'. In it he laid out the basic economics of chess book publishing and castigated reviewers for their amateurism. As an amateur reviewer who has written more than 40 book reviews plus a handful of product reviews, with the book reviews including one on Goldowsky's Engaging Pieces, I feel qualified to comment from the reviewers' point of view.

Goldowsky points out the low interest in chess books: 'A typical chess title sells between 500 and 3,000 copies', where 'a typical 192-page 6" x 9" paperback that retails for $24.95 nets roughly $5.00.' Mirroring this is a relative lack of interest in reviews of chess books. Speaking from experience, but prevented from giving real numbers, I know that a book review draws fewer visitors than most other feature articles. If a typical weekly feature attracts 1000 views (not a real number) the first week it is published and promoted on the Web, a typical book review might receive 25% of that. A review of a book on a popular subject like Fischer might get 50%, or 500 views, its first week.

After the first week, the typical weekly feature will continue to draw visitors via the search engines. Let's say it gets 500 views per week. Chess books and book reviews, however, are not frequent targets of Web searches, and might get as little as 50 views per week. This means that the popularity of a typical review is only 10% of other feature articles. Since the purpose of commercial writing for the Web is to attract visitors, it's obvious that a web writer is quickly going to lose interest in doing book reviews.

Compared to other types of feature articles, a book review also represents a disproportionate expenditure of time. A conscientious reviewer has to read the book twice, has to research the author and his past work, has to write the review, and has to execute the mechanics of publishing the review. If the book includes games and annotations, the reviewer has to spend time studying the analysis.

When Goldowsky suggests that 'a book reviewer should strive to judge a book based on what the book tries to accomplish, what the book adds to the canon, and comparisons should be made based on what similar books have already accomplished', the amateur reviewer steps back and asks, 'What is the purpose of a book review?' I might tackle this question in another post.

11 August 2008

The Influence of Time and Schedules

When I said, 'Bye, Bye, About.com!', I recovered around 20-25 hours per week that I had been using to to create material for their chess site. Of that, around five hours per week were used to keep up to date with chess news, five hours for email and forum correspondence, a few hours for administrative chores, and the rest was for real content like a weekly feature and a handful of blog posts. Since I intend to continue to keep up to date with the news, my net gain is 15-20 hours per week. Some of that time I plan to invest in this blog.

For more than two years, since Shifting Gears, I've been posting to this blog at a steady rate of one post every two days. This is an unusual rhythm that is equivalent to posting on the same day of the week every two weeks. This means that I post on Saturday every other weekend and on Sunday during the intervening weekends. It also lets me post every two weeks on a particular subject like Video Friday.

I don't know how other people feel about schedules, but I am more likely to produce something when writing to a schedule. It's not always good writing, or interesting writing, but at least I've produced something. I've occasionally been surprised when a post that was written to meet a schedule and, in my opinion, held little interest for anyone else, pulled a comment or two from elsewhere in the blogosphere.

Maybe writing to a schedule works because a good portion of life is also synchronized with natural cycles. The annual, monthly, and daily cycles are in tune with planetary rhythms, while the weekly cycle appears to be linked to another kind of natural process described in Genesis. Other units of measure are the three month period known as the 'quarter', the double half-day period recorded on clocks and watches, and the fortnight. The fortnight might not be used for much, but it is in fact the cycle I worked to when I posted here every other day.


Measures of time are also important in chess. The basic measure of time in chess is the 'move' (e.g. 1.e4), but it's often an ambiguous measure. Sometimes when we speak of a move we mean White's move or Black's move; sometimes we mean a pair of moves, White's followed by Black's, or vice versa. For example, a problem with 'White to mate in two moves' means two moves by one side, because it's really White to mate in three moves: White's move, Black's move, and again White's move.

To resolve the ambiguity, some people use the term 'half-move', meaning a single move by White or by Black. Then a pair of consecutive moves is called two half-moves. A half-move can also be called a 'tempo', but this is another ambiguous term. Sometimes a tempo means an undefined move, as in 'to win this position, White must lose a tempo', or 'somewhere in the opening, White won a tempo'. Computer chess has added the word 'ply' to the vocabulary, although this really refers to the depth of a search tree, which is itself a count of half-moves in a forward direction.

The element of time in chess is not limited to moves. It also refers to the clock, invariably present in a serious game. Clocks have also become more sophisticated in the computer era. It used to be enough to identify a game by its time control -- 40 moves in 2 hours, followed by 20 in 1, followed by the rest of the game in 30 minutes -- assumed to apply to both players unless otherwise stated. With the advent of the microprocessor we now have time increments per move and different increment schemes like the 'Fischer control' and the 'Bronstein control'.

On top of all this, chess has the concept of a 'match', a linked series of individual games usually played to a schedule. Just as life is controlled by multi-level time factors, so is chess.

10 August 2008

2008 CJA Best Blog

The Chess Journalists of America have made a preliminary announcement for their 2008 Awards. The winner of Best Blog in 'Category 13: Best Chess Blog, Video, or Podcast' is Michael Goeller's Kenilworthian. Congratulations, Michael!

09 August 2008

Chess Players Have Birthdays

In 2002, FIDE added birthdays to the data kept for FIDE-rated players. The world federation distributed birthday data for four years, then started broadcasting birthyears only. The following table shows the number of rated players listed with their birthday. (For an explanation of the big jump in number of players from 2002 to 2003, see Inactive Players Missing.)

The percentage of players listed with a birthday is higher than I expected. I was also surprised to find my own name listed with a birthday. At the time the field was incorporated into the data, I hadn't played a FIDE event for over 10 years, and couldn't remember ever giving my birthday when registering for a tournament. I obviously did, and FIDE must have retained the data until ready to use it.

07 August 2008

Google Trends

A useful Google gadget, called Google Trends, is illustrated in the following diagram. It shows the relative popularity of search terms 'Anand' and 'Kramnik'.

For an explanation of the spikes labelled A, B, C, etc., see the full page returned by Compare: anand, kramnik. This will also tell you that Anand's overall popularity is sourced in India. What percentage of searches on 'Anand' is for the chess player rather than other Anands? That is a good question that I can't answer.

05 August 2008

Bye, Bye, About.com!

Can you spot the difference between these two pages? The first is from my post of 2 July, About.com's Redesign. The second is from today...

...Yes, the ads are different, but that's not what I'm talking about. Look closer. Reason: 'Our main concern was the quality of the reader experience with the site.' • I also had a concern: Wikipedia is eating About's lunch and About staffers think it's a problem of SEO.

In parting, I would like to say, 'Good luck, About.com! You might need it.' I don't want to sound disgruntled, so I'll end this post by saying that I enjoyed my time working there, which started September 2002.

03 August 2008

FIDE Rating Growth in 1999-2001

With the introduction of FIDE IDs in 1999, we have a good measure for the growth of the rating system. Here are some counts of players in the first few years, along with new FIDE IDs (i.e. new players) added each year:-

1999: 30204; 3564 not 1999, but 2000 & 2001
2000: 33383; 4062 not 1999 & 2000, but 2001
2001: 36976

Taking 1999, 2000, and 2001 together, there were 37984 different FIDE IDs used. Of these, 543 were on the 1999 list, but not on the 2000 list, while 498 were on the 2000 list, but not on 2001.

01 August 2008

Family Ties - Checkmate

Family Ties - Checkmate (1/3) (09:30) • 'When Alex, as Leland chess club champion, duels reputed Soviet guest Ivan Rozmirovich, he takes it as a personal and patriotic challenge, stirred by a telegram from the White House.'

The chess looks good, but the mechanics of the game don't. All in all, not bad at all.