30 September 2010

Blue Ribbon Chess Books 2009

Since my page on Award Winning Chess Books was last updated May 2009, I added three books that had received awards since then -- Herman Grooten's 'Chess Strategy for Club Players', Eliot Hearst & John Knott's 'Blindfold Chess', and Garry Kasparov's 'Kasparov vs Karpov 1975-1985'. Although the book on 'Blindfold Chess' won the 2009 Cramer Award, I couldn't find a formal announcement for it. Nor could I find any mention of a 2008 Cramer Award.

28 September 2010

Olympiad Size PGN

In the Introduction to the current issue of TWIC, no.829, Mark Crowther offered some thoughts on PGN and on the FIDE rating lists:-

My enjoyment of the Olympiad has somewhat been curtailed by the processes I have created for dealing with the games in this Olympiad. The official site coverage has not been at all bad but the games are capable of some improvement.

I created a master list of players from the chess-results.com list which is the site which has the correct results. However they made life hard by not giving the FIDE ID for the player and not punctuating the players' names. However once I did that I collected the results from there and compared them with the results from the games. I also added board numbers (Match followed by Board) which allowed me to find some incorrect results. I have also created a completely new pair of tags, WhiteFideId and BlackFideId.

The PGN standard is badly in need of some work on it. (FIDE would be the place for such discussions but I would have to think long and hard about contributing if they reelect Ilyumzhinov.) Its simpilicity has made the dissemination of games possible and standard. But additional tags would be helpful. If (as it would have been possible to do because of the way I process games) I had processed games in the past with black and white FideIds in it then the material would have gained a huge amount of value (although even here there are problems as unbelievably FIDE reuse the IDs of dead players, like there aren't enough numbers).

I also want to move to full names, a complex issue, the FIDE rating list, particularly in some areas such as the Indian part of the list, is a mess and as always what do you do about duplicate names? (the many Alexey Ivanovs or other such common name pairs, Hungarian names also seem to have a lot of duplicates).

Anyhow the Olympiad is the place to test some ideas because there is so much material. Comments and errors in the PGN on the website with full names and in this issue with the shortened form, are welcome. I hope to move to a better and more streamlined way of processing games. Anyway I think I made big progress and I hope in the second week I can settle down to enjoy the chess.

The TWIC PGN game scores are used to populate many downstream databases. Another important online resource is Chessgames.com, who had this to say about the Olympics on the same day Crowther made his remarks (from User Profile chessgames.com):-

Sep-27-10: We have software that automatically imports data every several times a day. Sometimes it tries to get the games from the official site, but for some events like the Olympiad we prefer to get the PGN from an indirect source, in this case from The Week in Chess (http://www.chess.co.uk/twic/twic.html). We prefer TWIC over the "real thing" because their version of the PGN is tends to be much more refined, especially when it comes to normalized name spellings, dates, and details like that.

An import nuance to understand is that this software does not recognize what round we are on; it doesn't say "OK, this should be round 9, where are the round 9 games?" It simply takes a gigantic file of PGN and says "OK, which games in here aren't already in the database?" Usually these are the games from the most recent round, but not necessarily -- if some game from round 1 suddenly became available at the end of the event, it would grab that too.

So: if TWIC currently has bad game scores for the early rounds of the Olympiad, and at the same time we embarked on a project to delete the bad games and import from the official site, eventually our import software would identify the erroneous TWIC games we deleted as "new" and end up inserting them all over again. We'd end up with duplicates like crazy (both the wrong scores and the right ones side by side).

Now if TWIC was an unreliable source -- if we weren't sure that they would fix this problem in a timely manner or perhaps not at all -- then I agree we should go elsewhere. But Mark Crowther is immaculate and his fans are quick to alert him to problems. If he hasn't fixed round 1 already I'm sure he'll get to it it soon. When that happens it's just a matter of deleting the aberrant games and then our automatic import script will take care of the rest.

So in short, if we simply wait, this problem is 99% likely to take care of itself and probably within a day or two. If we try too hard to fix it ASAP we could end up ith an even bigger mess on our hands.

As someone who has also grappled with PGN inconsistencies, although not on the scale that these giants do regularly, I wholeheartedly support any effort to improve the PGN standard, whether managed by FIDE or not.

27 September 2010

Some Truths Cannot Be Proven?

Continuing with Fischer - Geller, Bled 1961, the most interesting position for further analysis is shown in the following diagram. White's last move attacked the d-Pawn for a second time.

Bled 1961

(After 18.Bc1-f4)

Geller played 18...d5. Fischer gave the move a '?' and commented

Loses outright. In the post-mortem Tal tried to hold the game with 18...Rd8 19.Qe2 hxg4; but after 20.hxg4 Black is in virtual zugzwang (*). If 20...Qh7? 21.Bxd6+ wins.

Spending a half page on the same position, Kasparov also gave Geller's move a '?', but for different reasons. After 18...Rd8, he first dismissed Fischer's suggestion, 19.Qe2 hxg4 20.hxg4, with the move 20...f5, eventually arriving at a Queen endgame on move 40. He concluded that 'the win for White is problematic'. He then gave two 'more interesting continuations', 19.Qb3 and 19.g5. On the first move he concluded, 'Black retains drawing chances', and on the second, 'White should win'.

Kasparov's analysis in the Predecessors series, while always impressive, has been dogged by the criticism that it depends too much on the work of computers. I was reminded of this in a comment to my previous post in this series, Fischer Overestimates His Position.

Fischer saw the truth in this game. Dmitry Plisetsky and Kasparov's super computers only show that some truths cannot be proven.

These days you don't need a supercomputer to get an amazingly accurate tactical analysis. I submitted the position after 18.Bf4 Rd8 to two different engines. After Fischer's suggestion 19.Qe2, both found 20...f5 within a few seconds. Likewise, both engines quickly found Kasparov's suggestions 19.Qb3 and 19.g5, and ranked them well ahead of their third choice, 19.Qe2.

The problem with this sort of analysis is that it risks becoming obsolete as computers get faster and as chess playing software becomes stronger. In Rybka 1 - Fischer / Huebner / Kasparov 0, I already discussed one well known position where Kasparov missed the strongest move.

In the position under examination in this post, the engines improve on Kasparov's 19.Qb3 Qf6! 20.Qb6 hxg4 21.Rad1! (leading to 'Black retains drawing chances') with the zwischenzug 20.Qb4, when 20...c5 looks forced, but further weakens the d-Pawn. Only now does White play Kasparov's suggestion 21.Qb6 hxg4. In addition to 22.Rad1, White has 22.h4, stopping all counterplay on the h-file and leading to the win of the exchange. This looks stronger than the positions after 19.g5; we go from 'White should win' to White wins.

Refinements like these don't mean we should just dismiss the analysis in Predecessors. It means we should take the analysis with a grain of salt (like all chess analysis) and use Kasparov's investigations as a map for discovering interesting positions and as a starting point for further analyses. That's exactly what I intend to do with future posts in this series.


(*) I'm not sure what Fischer meant by 'virtual zugzwang'. Is it a position that is almost a zugzwang, but not quite?

24 September 2010

Calgary's "Winner"

As a followup to Chess and the Polish Underground, here is the second post in what could turn out to be a series on chess playing statues.

Little Statue in Calgary © Flickr user Jasmine Streisel under Creative Commons.

According to Marching off to Battle in Calgary

It is called "The Winner" by J. Seward Johnson Jr. and was made in 1988. I tried to figure out the position on the board that the subject is staring at but unfortunately the piece has suffered vandalism over the years and many of the chess pieces are missing.

On Chess.com, a Calgary resident attempted to reconstruct the full position: Calgary Chess Statue... Odd Position. Then came Batgirl to the rescue!

23 September 2010

Cavaliers or Conquistadors?

In my series on Top eBay Chess Items by Price, when I have a choice of several items to feature I usually favor the most artistic. I'm not sure why this is -- maybe it has something to do with my conviction that the web is a visual medium. The last painting I featured was the post on Fr.Dumar...l?, the next one is 'Antique Painting of Cavaliers Playing Chess by G Appert', pictured below. It sold 'Buy It Now' for US $1,500.

The description said,

This is an absolutely fabulous Antique Painting of Cavaliers Playing Chess by G Appert IN EXCELLENT CONDITION!!! This wonderful painting is a genuine original oil painting by listed artist Georges Appert. It is a superb example depicting a group of conquistadors playing chess. It has a spectacular composition and is extremely well executed. It measures approximately 23" by 27" framed, 17" by 21" site.

Note the use of 'cavaliers' in the title and 'conquistadors' in the description. In many eBay descriptions, the seller guesses at the period covered by the subject matter, e.g. if it's probably English and it looks old, call it 'Victorian'. Since the artist of our featured painting was Georges Appert (French, 1850-1934), I guess that 'cavaliers' is more likely to be correct. The word 'cavalier' also happens to be the French word for the chess Knight, bringing this post full circle.

21 September 2010

A Few Careless Seconds

A couple of months ago, commenting on the game in Symmetry Misjudged, I mentioned,

It is rare for competent correspondence players to blunder, with or without computers. The errors are almost always more subtle, like misjudging long term factors.

Not too long after that, I received my first gift via a blunder in a long, long time (*). Moreover, I'm almost certain that it happened because the game was played on a server that allows the use of computers.

I had White in the position shown in the top diagram. Two Pawns down with a King confined to the corner, my position was hopeless. On several previous moves I had already decided to resign if my opponent (rated around 2200) found what appeared to be the killer move. I hadn't resigned because, since gaining the decisive advantage, he had started moving quickly (sometimes taking only a few minutes to respond) and had played a series of second-rate moves. Even so, he retained a huge advantage and my play was reduced to a desperate search for theoretical draws. I wrote about one of those ideas in the post on R vs. B Plus Knight Pawns.

My last move threatened mate by h2-h3+, but this is easily parried by 46...Re3. After this I still had a few tricks to try -- positions with Rook plus a- & h-Pawn ( or f- & h-Pawn) vs. Rook -- but against correct play none of these would have worked.

The bottom diagram is the same as the top diagram, except the board has been rotated to show Black on the bottom. This is the orientation used by the particular server when entering a move for Black. Here I imagine that my opponent let his engine run until he was convinced that 46...Re3 was by far the best move, then made it. Unfortunately for him, he forgot that Black was moving up the board, first clicked the Rook on e5, then clicked the target square on his own third rank, then quickly clicked SUBMIT.

My first reaction on seeing the move 46...Re6 was to think, 'How can he keep making moves that I haven't considered?' My second reaction was to congratulate myself for not having resigned earlier. My third reaction was to send 47.h3+, after which my opponent promptly resigned. What was that about misjudging long term factors?

The moral of this story is not 'Never resign!'; sometimes it's best to abandon a lost game and use your energy for more fruitful endeavors. The moral is 'Double check your move before you click SUBMIT.' There are few situations more frustrating than throwing away months of good work because of a few careless seconds.


(*) In fact it was the second gift in the space of a few weeks, but that's a different story. Does server chess render good players sloppy?

20 September 2010

Fischer - Geller, Bled 1961

My first task in restarting 18 Memorable Months (August 2009), the most recent post in the series on 18 Memorable Games (January 2008), was to remember why I was doing it in the first place. I often leave myself sticky notes in my posts and the 2008 post was no exception: the purpose of the series is to identify 'differences in opinion between the 11th and the 13th World Champions'. With that in mind, I'll start with a PGN game score showing the punctuation from the game that was no.29 in Fischer's 60 Memorable Games and no.66 in Kasparov's Predecessors IV.

[Event "Bled"]
[Site "?"]
[Date "1961.??.??"]
[Round "6"]
[White "Fischer, R."]
[Black "Geller, E."]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "C72"]

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 d6 5.O-O Bg4 {KAS: '!?'} 6.h3 {FIS: '!'; KAS: '!'} 6...Bh5 7.c3 Qf6 {FIS: '?'; KAS: '?'} 8.g4 {FIS: '!'; KAS: '!'} 8...Bg6 9.d4 {FIS: '!'; KAS: '!'} 9...Bxe4 10.Nbd2 Bg6 11.Bxc6+ bxc6 12.dxe5 {KAS: '!'} 12...dxe5 13.Nxe5 {FIS: '!'; KAS: '!'} 13...Bd6 14.Nxg6 {FIS: '!'; KAS: '!'} 14...Qxg6 15.Re1+ Kf8 16.Nc4 h5 17.Nxd6 cxd6 18.Bf4 d5 {FIS: '?'; KAS: '?'} 19.Qb3 {KAS: '!'} 19...hxg4 20.Qb7 {FIS: '!'; KAS: '!'} 20...gxh3+ 21.Bg3 Rd8 22.Qb4+ 1-0

There's not much difference in opinion on this game, a Fischer steamroller from start to finish. Maybe an engine can find something interesting on the alternatives to 18...d5. I'll look at that in another post.

To play through the complete game, see...

Robert James Fischer vs Efim Geller, Bled 1961

...on Chessgames.com.

17 September 2010

So Cool and Interesting

Maurice Ashley: 'We have a great match in store -- World no.1 Magnus Carlsen about to play against the world -- but they get a litle help: three top grandmasters.' • Liv Tyler: 'I thought it was brilliant that they thought of Magnus. He's just so cool and interesting.'

The RAW Chess World Challenge: MTV News report #2 (1:01) • 'G-Star Presents: Magnus Carlsen Takes on the World'

For the complete series of clips from GStarRawTV, see The RAW World Chess Challenge.

16 September 2010

'The Sun Will Be Bright in the Morning'

On hearing of the death of Bent Larsen, I turned to his annotations in the tournament book of the 1966 Piatigorsky Cup. There is much wisdom to be gleaned in his notes and much to be discovered about the Dane himself in the notes of his opponents. The section on Larsen in the book's introduction by Gregor Piatigorsky is also a gem.

Many years ago my wife wrote, 'I met in Los Angeles a very young man named Larsen. What a chess player! What a bubbling personality. Fabulous. He will go far.'

To make predictions (which were seldom realized) and to rave, had always been strictly my department in the family, and I knew at once that my good wife would not trespass this territory without solid reason. And right she was. Soon everyone witnessed a new star being born. There were no astronomers to discover it. A chess player has to create his own star, to name it, to earn it, and to place it according to its worth.

Larsen did all these with as little inventive originality as all the other true stars in the world of chess. With blood-sweat-sacrifice and another little ingredient some people call 'genius'.

In every chess gathering Larsen was discussed, admired, and criticized. At one time mostly criticized; 'I don't think much of his playing.' 'But you lost to him.' 'Only because I underestimated him.' 'But you lost to him again!' 'True, but this time only because I overestimated him.'

But everyone soon agreed that a loss to Larsen is dishonor to none! The eminent master, exuberant and fascinating, was one of the great heroes in this tournament. To see him analyze his game, still vibrant after a brilliant win, was a memorable experience.

His sparkling vitality and his friendliness had a special charm. Even his self-assurance which one spectator mistook for excessive self-esteem (he will not die of an inferiority complex) could not make him less attractive. Though emotional and not self-sparing he kept good humor and he showed remarkable endurance throughout the grueling tournament.

Only once I noticed a trace of tiredness and sadness on his face. As if sensing my thought he said with a smile, 'The sun will be bright in the morning'. It was.

What about his chess?

Ivkov, rd.1: 'Before my game with Larsen, Najdorf had asked me: "What would Larsen reply if you offered him a draw in advance?" It was not difficult to answer that question, because the combativeness of Larsen, that fearless Viking of the chess board, is very well known to me. Our encounters have always been eventful and hard fought, played to the bitter end.'

Najdorf, rd.5: 'Larsen is one of the great players against whom it is impossible to make any kind of preparation. He plays sharply in any variation.'

Everyone remembers that Spassky won the double round robin tournament and that Fischer finished second after ending the first half in next to last place. How many remember that Larsen finished third? He beat reigning World Champion Petrosian in both games and won a total of seven, equalling Fischer's count.

14 September 2010

'50 Great Blogs'

Over the past week I noticed that a new list of blogs -- 50 Great Blogs to Improve Your Chess Game (Onlinemasters.org) -- has been linked several times from some of my own favorite blogs (listed under my profile on the right). Although many of the 50 blogs have little to do with improvement and several truly great blogs are missing from the list (ChessVibes and Streatham&Brixton are two obvious choices), it's still a good starting point to construct a list of personal favorites. I compared the list against my own favorites and discovered that I was missing about half of them:-

4. The Blogs at MonRoi (*)
5. Chessvine.com (*)
11. Chess Blog For Girls
12. Blogs at Chess.com (*)
13. Chess-Coach.net
15. The Hip-Hop Chess Federation Blog
16. MyChessBlog.com
19. The Week in Chess (*)
23. chessblogger
25. Greenpoint Chess and Go Club (*)
26. About.com: Chess
31. The Chunky Rook
33. The Prodigal Pawn
34. ChessCafe.com (*)
36. Getting to 2000
37. ELO2000.com
38. Rolling Pawns
39. Rocky Rook
40. Kenilworth Kibitzer
41. Beginchess.com
44. Rob’s Chess Blog
45. Grandmaster Growl (*)
47. Kindred’s Kaleidoscope
48. Claus Jensen Chess Blog (*)
50. Mark Bluvshtein’s Blog

The numbering is from the original list of '50 Great Blogs'. The blogs I've marked with an asterisk '(*)' are top candidates for my own list. It's not that I don't like the others; I'm just not particularly interested in blogs whose goal is to improve my game. A few of the links carry asterisks (TWIC and ChessCafe) because I didn't realize they had an RSS feed. For that reason alone, I'm glad I did the exercise.


Later: Another list was promoted a few months after the first: Top Computer Chess Blogs. Although few of these blogs have anything to do with 'Computer Chess', it would still be a useful exercise to see how many of these blogs are on my own list of favorites. I'll leave that for another time.

13 September 2010

About Face to Fischer (and Larsen)

Just like last year in Year End Pause on Old Material (17 August 2009), and for the same reasons, I'm going to take a break from converting my About.com material. Sometime early next year, I'll repeat the analysis from Apples to Apples (19 April 2010), What's Popular, What's Not (26 April), and Where to Go From Here? (07 June) to chart a new direction.

What should I do with my free day? I'll take a hint from a brand new comment ('Rest in peace, Bent !') to Fischer - Larsen, Portoroz 1958 (7 February 2008), and return to the series on 18 Memorable Months, last seen in August 2009.

Like many players, I have fond memories of Bent Larsen. I reminisced about these a few years ago on the About.com forum in unrelated posts titled Fischer vs. Petrosian at Belgrade 1970 and What was the top chess story of 2004? (both February 2005), as well as an episode of Top eBay chess items by price (September 2006). These memories are why I took exception to the petty characterization of Larsen that I criticized in Tales of Hoffman and Notes (both August 2007). Larsen was a great man as well as a great player.

10 September 2010

Battle vs. Chess

'This is *not* a remake of Battle Chess. It's called Battle vs. Chess. It has standard chess modes as well as a cool strategy/action game element. I enjoyed my brief time with it.'

Battle vs. Chess © Flickr user DocBadwrench under Creative Commons.

Product home page: Battle vs Chess.

09 September 2010

Saavedra and Grondijs

For the first time since I started the series on Top eBay Chess Items by Price, the item I've chosen is a book. Given the choice between Duchamp's Opposition and Sister Squares (1932; 1 bid, winning bid: US $600.00) and No Rook Unturned - 2nd Ed - Harrie Grondijs (2004; 6 bids, winning bid: US $750.00), I chose the Grondijs book, mainly because I had never heard of it. It's description said,

No Rook Unturned, A Tour Around the Saavedra Study by Harrie Grondijs: The "story/history" of the Saavedra Position. A 384 page book on a single position! Sounds boring, doesn't it? Mr. Grondijs makes it come alive, a history of the position which was fascinating to read! This is a wonderful piece of research! Corrections and additions have been made to this 2nd edition. This edition, as well as the 1st edition, was published in 2004 although it is not so stated in the book.

Mr. Grondijs is well known for his small edition, unique, well produced and signed publications, most of which deal with small well researched topics. He has brought considerable interesting material to us over a long period of time. His books are almost always signed and numbered in small limited editions. This edition of this book was produced in 30 copies of which this is # 9. (The 1st edition only had 30 copies also.) His books are difficult to obtain due to the small editions and a unique distribution method, e.g., one was given to members who attended a meeting of the Ken Whyld Association.

There is a price sticker on the back cover which I will not try to remove. It is priced at €64 and the publisher is Van Stockum Boekhandel, The Hague. Also enclosed is a postcard created for this book with a picture of Saavedra and a circular "No Rook Unturned" superimposed on the bottom left side of the picture. On the back/message side, there is a P. Rynd quote and two hand-drawn diagrams both in Mr. Grondijs' handwriting, as well as his signature.

The Wikipedia entry on the Saavedra position pointed me to A.J.Roycroft's 'Test Tube Chess' (1972; for another post on Roycroft, see Tablebase 1 - Roycroft ½). The position on the left is Roycroft's no.115, 'unquestionably the most famous of all endgame studies'.

It was initially published in an 1895 chess column with the solution 1.c7 Rd6+ 2.Kb5 Rd5+ 3.Kb4 Rd4+ 4.Kb3 Rd3+ 5.Kc2 Rd4, followed by 6.c8=Q Rc4+ 7.Qxc4 stalemate. When Fernando Saavedra, a sharp-eyed reader of the column, pointed out that 6.c8=R Ra4 7.Kb3 wins, the Saavedra position was born.