31 March 2011

Tales of Tripoli

I can't think of a tournament book that was published for Tripoli 2004, which I recently nicknamed The Worst World Championship Ever, nor can I think of a tournament book that was published for any of the other four FIDE World Championship Knockouts. There have been books written for just about every other World Championship event, but not for the five KOs. Maybe there's an opportunity here, but I rather doubt it.

A few years after Tripoli, a first rate chess book appeared that discussed the Libyan event: 'King's Gambit: A Son, A Father, and the World's Most Dangerous Game' by Paul Hoffman. Three chapters of the book (ch.8-10, around 90 pages) focus on Hoffman's experience accompanying Canadian GM Pascal Charbonneau (an IM at the time of the tournament) to the Libyan capital.

In the first round of the knockout, Charbonneau faced French GM Etienne Bacrot, world no.27 in April 2004, and lost both games. The account of the two games occupies only a small place in Hoffman's narrative, which spends far more time on Charbonneau's career, on Hoffman's mostly unpleasant encounters with Libyan security, and on two games Hoffman played during his last day in Tripoli -- one with FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov and one with Bulgarian GM Antoaneta Stefanova, the 2004 Women's World Champion.

After losing to Bacrot in the first game, Charbonneau had a must win situation in the second game. Here's what happened.

Tripoli 2004
Bacrot, E.

Charbonneau, P.
After 11.Nd4-b5

After 11.Nb5, the game continued 11...O-O 12.Bxb6, where White undoubtedly expected an automatic recapture of the Bishop. Hoffman wrote,

'When I played Nb5', [Charbonneau] said, 'I was happy but not completely happy. I thought it was my only real chance to do something interesting. But I also knew that my position was risky and might turn out badly because my Kingside was a little weak.' Live by the sword, die by the sword -- Pascal had mixed things up to give himself winning chances.

'Then came the shocker', he continued. 'Bacrot banged out 12...Bh3 and I froze. I thought, "Oh my God, I'm lost immediately." I sat there in a state of denial. The Bishop move was so unusual, and he played it so quickly, that I suspected he had not found it at the board. I felt so dumb that I had fallen for some preparation trick. I couldn't think straight or calculate, so for a moment I just looked at him. He was expressionless, but I sensed he was smugly satisfied because I knew he had me.'

The Canadian struggled on, but resigned on his 23rd move, a devastating loss with the White pieces in a clutch game. For the full score of both games, see Game 1: Bacrot - Charbonneau and Game 2: Charbonneau - Bacrot on Chessgames.com.

When I first encountered King's Gambit, just prior to its publication, I panned it -- Tales of Hoffman and Notes -- based on a highly dubious excerpt from Hoffman's own site ThePHtest.com. I was concerned that we were faced with another book like 'Idle Passion: Chess and the Dance of Death' by Alexander Cockburn, the worst chess book I've ever tried to read.

A few months later, after reading the entire book, I wrote a favorable review: King's Gambit (Paul Hoffman). Now, after rereading the chapters on Tripoli, I'm even more convinced that it is one of the best books in the genre chess-for-the-(very)-casual-player. The PHtest excerpt has since been replaced by another, more representative, section.

During the Tripoli tournament, Chessbase.com posted an article on Hoffman and Charbonneau's last day in Libya: Postcards from Tripoli. The photo of Magnus Carlsen ('Commotion ensues when a small child is evicted from the simul because the organizers believe he is too young to play.') is worth the click.

29 March 2011

The Worst World Championship Ever

With Libya in the news for the last month or so, anyone who has been following world class chess for the last decade can't help but be reminded about the events of 2004, when the last FIDE World Championship using the knockout format was held in Tripoli. I made the mental association just a few days ago while working on The U.S. Championship as FIDE Qualifier, where 2004 Tripoli received a passing mention.

The saga started, as so many recent chess sagas have, as an apparent whim of FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov. Let's follow it through the stories by Chessbase, which at that time had no real competition in the day-to-day reporting of top level chess events.

In an interview conducted by Yuri Vasilyev with the premier Russian sports site, ‘Sport Express’, Ilyumzhinov states that the 17th FIDE World Championships will be held in Tripoli from 8th May 2004 to 2nd June 2004, in a knock-out format. Sponsored by the Libyan government, the prize fund is a healthy $1,508,000, the spoils for the eventual champ being $100,000. The organisation itself has secured $700,000.

Chess fans have longed for an announcement regarding the championships, but reaction to this news has been mixed to say the least, due in no small part to the choice of venue. Libya’s past links to terrorist activities (the 1988 bombing of Pan-Am flight 103 over the Scottish town of Lockerbie being one) and animosity towards the West made the country a no-go area. Recently Libya has made efforts to raise its international profile, paying compensation for the Lockerbie atrocity and opening its borders to international visitors. • A Tale of Two Cities [Chessbase.com; 28 February 2004]

Note the time lapse between the Chessbase story and the proposed start date for the tournament, a little more than two months. Compare that with the recent hullabaloo surrounding the 2012 London World Championship, where the organizers said they needed 18 months to prepare properly. In fact, the organization of the 2004 event involved two venues (from the same Chessbase story):-

Israeli nationals are not allowed to travel to Libya, which has obvious ramifications for the participants, some of whom will not be permitted to play. [...] The FIDE president will not be stopped in his tracks. "I will endeavour to persuade Gaddafi to make an exception for Israeli players. If the plan succeeds, it will be a fantastic breakthrough. If not, then [the proposal] is to split the championship into two groups. One group will play in Tripoli, the other in Malta (it is a half-hour flight from Tripoli)."

The formal announcement followed a few weeks later.

The full wording of the announcement is as follows: "FIDE has a pleasure to announce the dates and venue of the World Chess Championship 2004 – Tripoli, the capital of Libya, from June 18 till July 13, 2004 under the patronage of the Leader of the Libyan Jamahiriya, H.E. Moammar Al Gathafi, who also provides the prize fund for the Championship." • FIDE world championships in Libya, Hanoi [19 March 2004]

Let's not forget that the Tripoli event was itself another chapter in an even larger chess saga, the reunification of the World Chess Championship title. I don't want to recount those events here, so I'll defer to my page of that name, The Saga of Chess Unification (1994-2006), and another page filled with relevant contemporary links, World Chess Championship : 2002-04 Unification. In brief, the Tripoli event was organized to identify a FIDE World Champion to replace the reigning champion, Ruslan Ponomariov, who had been unable to play a reunification semifinal match with Kasparov in 2003.

Ruslan Ponomariov is still technically the FIDE world champion, but not for long. The next cycle begins in Libya in June, and the winner is to play Kasparov in Hanoi at the end of the year. There is no indication that Ponomariov intends to participate. The reunification match, should it take place, will be between Kasparov and the winner of the Libyan World Championship tournament. • Ponomariov's Open Letter to the ACP [7 April 2004]

The exclusionary policies of Libya could not be ignored,

So what if FIDE is hosting its 2002, no, 2003, I mean 2004 world championship in a country that will not admit players from one of FIDE’s own member federations? Isn’t a million dollars more important than quibbles over anti-Semitic bigotry? No doubt it is to the players and politicians who will be pocketing the Libyan cash. It’s not fair to ask chessplayers to choose between eating and taking a vague stand. • To the Shores of Tripoli [Mig on Chess #201; 15 April 2004]

but FIDE backtracked on its earlier pledge to accommodate all players by providing a second site. At about the same time, its first list of qualified players indicated that some players, including two from the USA, had already refused to play in the event.

PRESS RELEASE (27 April 2004): [...] The Libyan Olympic Committee (LOC), the local organizing body of the event, guarantees entry visas to all the 128 qualified participants of the Championship and the invitation to the players is signed by the President of LOC, Eng. Mohammad Moammar Al Gathafi. Consequently, all the games of the championship will be played in Tripoli, Libya and no parallel event will be organized in Malta. [...] • To all participants of the World Chess Championship 2004 (26 April 2004): Invitations will be sent to Libyan embassies in all the countries and for the countries which have not a Libyan embassy or consulate, entry visas will be provided upon arrival at the Tripoli airport. • List of Participants (29 April 2004): 1. Ivanchuk, Vassily (UKR), 2. Zvjaginsev, Vadim (RUS) [...] The following 13 players did not sign their participation and will be replaced by the reserve list: [...] 12. Kaidanov, Gregory (USA) – Americas qualifier (Zone 2.1), 13. Benjamin, Joel (USA) – Americas qualifier (Zone 2.1) • World Championship in Libya – for all participants! [28 April 2004]

To the surprise of no one, the Libyan powers-that-be soon backtracked on FIDE's pledge to guarantee 'entry visas to all the 128 qualified participants of the Championship'.

Just hours ago several Israeli newspapers reported statements by Khaddafi's son denying that Israelis had ever been invited and insisting that they would not be allowed in for the event. [...] from Khaddafi's son: "We know the Zionists will seize such occasions to enter the Arab society ... but we will not give up our principles even if that leads to canceling holding the tournament in Libya." • Libya will not allow Israelis in for FIDE KO [6 May 2004]

FIDE continued to deny the obvious.

FIDE is of course in no position to follow unofficial reports and rumours spread through the internet. Therefore, FIDE would like to express its appreciation to the vast majority of worldwide media who did not enter into the reproduction of reports which do not contribute to the establishment of good relations between all nations. FIDE is also calling worldwide chess media to follow carefully the official announcements of FIDE and the Organizing Committee of WCC 2004 for authoritative information about the 2004 World Chess Championship. • FIDE says Israelis can play in Libya [7 May 2004]

Despite appeals for sanity,

President of the USCF: Ever since FIDE announced that Tripoli (Libya) would be the venue of the 2004 World Championship it has been increasingly evident that players from many countries would experience insurmountable problems in traveling to and competing in the event. Many nations have national laws preventing their citizens from traveling to and doing business with Libya. It was premature for the FIDE Presidential Board to award the FIDE World Championship event to Tripoli at a time when the United Nations had not lifted its sanctions.

Players unable to compete in Tripoli were due to be given an alternative way of participating in the cycle, i.e. by playing in a parallel competition in Malta. Unfortunately, the Maltese event has been cancelled, which means that some players of FIDE member nations currently find themselves barred from the competition. The host nation of the FIDE World Championship is required to permit safe travel for all competitors, and since Libya is unable to offer such guarantees we call upon FIDE, in the spirit of its own motto, Gens una sumus, immediately to reinstate a parallel event in Malta so that all players entitled to participate in the World Championship cycle may do so. • USCF, Israeli GM protest FIDE decisions [10 May 2004]

FIDE made no further changes to the format. Three more USA players eventually joined the boycott.

Gulko's Open Letter: Gulko notes that the phrase "Zionist enemies" refers to citizens of Israel, but also to Jews generally. As a Jew who holds Israeli citizenship (in addition to American citizenship) he concludes that Libya has withdrawn its invitation to him as well as to participants from Israel. This is a clear violation of the charter and spirit of FIDE. Gulko supports the demand by Israel’s Chess Federation that the world championship be moved to a more suitable country. "Mr. President, I implore you not to be the first president of FIDE to preside over the first world chess championship from which Jews are excluded. Our magnificent and noble game does not deserve such a disgrace." • World Chess Politics – a review [14 May 2004; 'we provide, as an additional service, brief summaries of all documents']

Here are a few other relevant Chessbase articles posted in the weeks leading to the start of the Tripoli KO.

As summary of Chessbase articles on the event itself can also be found on the Chessbase site.

GM Rustam Kasimdzhanov won the event by beating Veselin Topalov in the semifinal round and Michael Adams in the final round. At the start of the tournament, the Uzbek was rated 44th in the world. He did not qualify for the event directly, but earned his spot via the Reserve List, as did many other players.

GM Vadim Milov, who qualified via the 2003 European Championship, was unable to play, took FIDE to court, and lost. He put forth another reason why FIDE was so eager to hold the event in Libya.

The choice of Libya was highly controversial from the beginning as due to its political situation the country hasn't organised big sport events for decades. But as Libya offered a sum of 2.2 Mio. dollars for the tournament it's understandable that Fide was happy to finally find the sponsor for the World Championship. It's widely known that previous knock out World Championships held in 1997, 1999, 2000 and 2001 had no sponsor and the prize fund came from the Fide President. Fide's constant failure to find a sponsor explains a significant time gap between 2001 and 2004. Fide was probably even more pleased to hold the tournament in Libya since the prize fund was 1.5 Mio. dollars and the rest sum of 700,000 dollars (!) was announced as Fide's expense for organizing the tournament. Plus Fide received its usual 20% from the prize fund of 1.5 Mio. dollars which means another 300,000 dollars so all together Fide made 1 Mio. dollars from the event. • Open letter by GM Vadim Milov [9 August 2005]

The Tripoli KO was the last of five FIDE World Championships using the knockout format. With the exception of Anand, who won the knockout stage in 1997 and the full event in 2000, none of the other winners stands on the pedestal of World Champions stretching from the first champions Steinitz and Lasker to the most recent champions Kasparov, Kramnik, Topalov, and Anand.

FIDE was unable to find a sponsor for the Kasparov - Kasimdzhanov match and the search for a unified title remained in limbo until Kasparov retired in 2005. For more about subsequent events, see my page World Chess Championship : 2004-05 Unification, with links to ChessChrono articles from my days as the Chess Guide at About.com.

28 March 2011

Accomplishing Multiple Objectives

Continuing with More Capablanca, the followup to a series on
Capablanca's Games 'To be studied very carefully', the position I discussed in Did Capablanca See What the Engine Sees?, turns out to be more double-edged than the one-sided position in the diagram, where the players have just swapped Rooks on d1. Capablanca played 37...Qd4, and wrote, 'The winning move. The student should, from now on, examine the ending move by move.'

New York 1913
Capablanca, J.R.

Kline, Harry
After 37.Ne3-d1(xR)

The most interesting aspect of the position is the winning procedure, since Capablanca's moves all fit into a straightforward, sequential plan. The centralizing move 37...Qd4 accomplishes at least three tactical objectives:-

  • The Queen attacks the Pawn on c4;
  • it threatens ...Qa1+ with mate if White is unable to defend the back rank; and
  • it attacks g1, confining the White King to the corner.

It's no coincidence that I used two positions from Capablanca in my chess tutorial Maximize the Usefulness of Your Moves. His games are full of examples where one move accomplishes multiple objectives. In the present game, the attack on c4 is particularly strong because Black is able to undermine the Pawn chain that protects the Pawn.

White continued 38.Nf2, threatening to remove the Pawn on h3 which traps the King on corner. Capablanca ignored the threat with 38...b5 39.cxb5 axb3 40.axb3 Bxb3, weakening White's remaining Queenside Pawn. Since White can't play 41.bxc6??, because of 41...Qa1+, the game continuation 41.Nxh3 is the best try. Now 41...Bc4 should win, but the Cuban played the flashier 41...Bd1, when after 42.Qf1 cxb5, White can't play 43.Qxb5, because of the mate on f3.

White was unable to stop the march of the b-Pawn to promotion, tried to get a perpetual check by sacrificing the Knight for a couple of Black's Kingside Pawns, failed to achieve that, and resigned. Was there another player who could make chess look as easy as Capablanca did?


Later: This was one of the posts appearing in Chess Blog Carnival IV: Omelette Edition.

25 March 2011

Artists Like Chess

And if I'm at all typical, chess players like art. Just don't give me that Duchamp quote about all chess players being artists or whatever he said. It might have been true at his level of play, but it's not at mine.

Winner! © Flickr user zadoc under Creative Commons.

The tags for this photo point to Santiago, Chile as its origin.

24 March 2011

Political Chess

No, I'm not talking about chess politics as in USCF Members Beware, Be Aware!. And I'm not talking about the sort of global politics where you hear that some confrontation between two nations is a 'real chess game' or that one side is playing chess while the other side is playing checkers. I'm talking instead about the sort of chess set that sometimes pops up in Top eBay Chess Items by Price.

For this latest edition of the series on uncommon chess items, I chose an item titled 'NORTHERN IRELAND CHESS SET - RUC IRA Sinn Fein Belfast', pictured below. It sold 'Buy It Now' for GBP 379.95, which eBay converted to US$ 617.23.

The description said

NORTHERN IRELAND POLITICAL CHESS SET by World Renowned Belfast Sculptor Anto Brennan: Landmark work from the Belfast based sculptor. Hand cast and hand painted to order by Gerard Brennan (also a professional artist), this well known work is offered as an online exclusive to Celtic Craft Works. The character models measure 4" - 5" in height and the pawns 2" each. The map of Ireland playing board (22" x 22") comes as an unframed graphic, of the finest quality, which the purchaser can have framed to their specification on receipt of their set. The set, although humourous, demonstrates not only the artists skill but also a typical Belfast outlook towards our dark past. The sides pitted against each other are Loyalist and British against Nationalist and Irish.

British: King - Tony Blair; Queen - Elizabeth II; Bishops - Robin Eames; Knights - Dr Ian Paisley & David Trimble; Rooks - David Irvine & Dr Mo Mowlam; Pawns - R.U.C.

Irish: King - Bertie Ahern; Queen - Mary McAleese; Bishops - Sean Brady; Knights - John Hume & Seamus Mallon; Rooks - Martin McGuiness & Gerry Adams; Pawns - I.R.A.

Note that there are no 'White pieces' or 'Black pieces', symbolism I understand. The British side also has nine Pawns, which I don't understand at all. There's a lot of modern history encapsulated in this set.

22 March 2011

USCF Members Beware, Be Aware!

Last October, the U.S. Chess Federation (USCF) announced a major change in the voting procedures that apply to its members.

Effective with the 2011 Executive Board election, voting members will have to be registered in order to be eligible to vote. Only registered eligible voting members will be sent a ballot. • Register as a USCF Voting Member and USCF Affairs: Register to Vote

I registered without problem at that time, but many members didn't see the announcement or put it off. The most recent initial instructions say,

There are fewer than two weeks to register as a USCF voting member in time to cast a ballot for the 2011 Executive Board Election. As of today only just under 7% of eligible USCF members have registered. • Voting Registration Deadline Closing in

Linked from that page is the main registration page, USCF Voting Member Registration. It advises,

You will need to enter your USCF ID and either your PIN or your birthdate in order to confirm your identity. Your PIN is a five digit number and can be found on the back cover of Chess Life or the TLA Newsletter.

If you're like me you have dozens of userids and passwords (I have over 150) for different online services, and have trouble keeping track of them. Since I live overseas, nothing is printed on the back cover of CL, but is instead on the mailing envelope, which gets thrown out immediately. Fortunately, I noted my USCF ID and PIN back in 2000, and have referred to them whenever necessary since then. I don't remember ever giving the USCF my birthdate, but it works as well. There are undoubtedly a certain number of USCF members whose birthdate is incorrect on the USCF file and they have no choice but to use the PIN. Once you've entered your identity on the same Voting Member Registration page, you click 'Fetch Current Voting Member Status'. It registers you if you're not already registered.

To see your registration status, go to Member Services Area and click 'Look Up a Member'. You can use the same tool to look up someone else's Voting Member Status. I looked up the status of the current U.S. Champion, Gata Kamsky, and verified that he is a 'Registered Voting Member'. Good going, Gata! The editor of Chess Life is also registered, but the editor of Chess Life Online is not. Neither is her equally well known brother. I guess some people just like to wait until the absolute last moment!

21 March 2011

Did Capablanca See What the Engine Sees?

Before I get to the first post in More Capablanca, a position flagged as one of Capablanca's Games 'To be studied very carefully', I have one digression to get out of the way. In the diagrammed position, White played 22.g4. Analysis by Nimzovich, copied by Chernev in 'Capablanca's Best Chess Endings', concluded that White missed a win with 22.Nf5 hxg3 23.hxg3 Bxf5 24.exf5 Ne7 25.Kg2 Kg7 26.Kxh3 Rh8+ 27.Kg2 Qh6 28.Kf2 Qh2+ 29.Ng2 Rh3 30.Ke1 Rxg3 31.Ne3.

New York 1913
Capablanca, J.R.

Kline, Harry
After 21...h5-h4

The machine comes to a different conclusion after 22.Nf5 hxg3 23.hxg3 Bxf5 24.exf5 Ne7 25.Kg2, and now instead of 25...Kg7, Black plays 25...Nd5, threatening a family fork on e3. The point is that if 26.Qd2, Black has the sacrificial variation 26...Nhf4+ 27.gxf4 Nxf4+, when 28.Kg3 (28.Kf2 is similar) gives Black at least a draw with 28...Rad8.

One line is 29.Rd1 Qh8 30.Qh2 Qxh2+ 31.Kxh2 Kg7 32.Kg1 Rh8 33.Bc2 Nh3+ 34.Kg2 Nf4+ with perpetual check. The move 29...Qh8 is hardly forced, as Black has more speculative moves like 29...Kg7, 29...e4, and 29...c5. I wasn't able to work through all of the complications in the time I had available, but I found nothing where Black was in any danger of losing.

Calculation or intuition: did Capablanca see what the engine sees? To play through the complete game, including the analysis by Nimzovich, see...

N Kline vs Jose Raul Capablanca; New York 1913

...on Chessgames.com.

18 March 2011

'Korchnoi = Don Quixote'

'Korchnoi was really the first [chess grandmaster] to leave the USSR and the reason for that is actually very simple. You had to be crazy to do it.'

An old segment on a younger Korchnoi (4:34) • 'Insightful accounts on the life of the great chess grandmaster Viktor Korchnoi.'

Lone Pine, Coudari, Ljubojevic, Arrabal ('Korchnoi = Don Quixote'), plus lots of footage showing other top players. Can you identify them?

17 March 2011

Tablebase 1 - Levenfish & Smyslov ½ (Again)

In Levenfish's Rook Endings, I discussed the book Rook Endings, co-authored by Levenfish & Smyslov, and in Tablebase 1 - Levenfish & Smyslov ½, I gave an atypical error in analysis from the book. No one could reasonably expect that to be the only error and I recently spotted another.

The position in the diagram is from a section on Rook plus a-/h-Pawns vs. Rook. Two Rook Pawns are the sort of position that good players steer for when they realize they are losing. The authors first analyzed the diagrammed position with the g-Pawn shifted to the h-file, showing that it was drawn. Then they analyzed the diagrammed position, showing that it was won for White. Although their conclusion was correct, the analysis was not.

The authors started by giving a variation that White should avoid: 1...Rc4 2.a5 Rc5 3.a6 Rc6 4.g5 Kh7 5.Kg4 Rd6 6.Kh5. Now Black plays the surprising 6...Rh6+! 'with a draw or stalemate'. The draw occurs on 7.Kg4, when 7...Rd6 repeats the position after 5...Rd6, while 7.gxh6 is stalemate. So where is the error?

Levenfish & Smyslov no.130a
Black to Move

In fact, after 5.Kg4 Rd6, the move 6.Kh5 is not the best, precisely because it allows the (pseudo) sacrifice of the Rook. White should play instead 6.Kf5, when the best continuation (although one of many) for both sides is 6...Rd5+ 7.Kf6 Rd6+ 8.Kf7 Rd7+ 9.Ke6 Rd4 10.Ke5 Rb4 11.Rc8 Ra4 12.Rc6 Kg7 13.Kd5 Ra5+ 14.Kd6 Kg6 15.Kc7+ Kxg5 (sacrificing the g-Pawn) 16.Kb6 Ra4 17.a7, promoting the a-Pawn. The White King has just the right number of files between the Pawns to harrass the Black Rook and watch the g-Pawn.

I'm not sure what idea Levenfish & Smyslov missed in that last line. After 1...Rc4, they warned that White should avoid 2.a5 and play 2.Kh4 instead, but both moves are good for a win.

15 March 2011

More Blogs @ Chess.com

While working on the post about Blogs @ Chess.com, I ran into a couple of ideas worth recording.

Is This Position Legal?

The first was a series on legal positions by blog.chess.com/CuzinVinny. Vinny's first two posts were:-

His right sidebar currently shows two more positions. This looks like a good idea for players who are just learning the rules of chess, but might also be challenging for more experienced players. Another puzzle in the same direction is from blog.chess.com/DandyDanD:-

I haven't yet figured out the 'extra credit' in that last post.


Another post, which has since been deleted (a frequent, annoying occurrence at Chess.com blogs), asked,

Does anybody know, can you promote a pawn to a bishop if you still have that SAME COLOR BISHOP on the board?

This is a typical beginner's question, but it got me wondering if underpromotion to a second Bishop of the same color had ever been the only way to win/draw a game or a study. I couldn't find an example, but I did learn a few other things. First, it appears that chess engines don't often consider underpromotion.

Rybka does accept Bishop underpromotions. She just won't suggest them as best moves. • Bishop Underpromotion [Rybkaforum.net]

Then I found a cute anecdote on the theme.

I remember an incident from when I was a teenager involving Bishop underpromotion. An expert and an "A" player were paired in a local tournament. In this particular game the expert was frustrated as he had an extra Bishop and his opponent was still playing on. Expert simplified down to a position where he had a King, Bishop, and Pawn versus a lone King...and STILL the A player wouldn't resign! Expert nursed the pawn to the 7th rank, and in a gesture of contempt...underpromoted to a Bishop. Only AFTER slamming the newly born Bishop down on the last rank and hitting his clock did he realize...IT WAS ON THE SAME COLOR AS THE OTHER ONE. • Thread: Underpromotion [chesscircle.net, post by dancingbear]

It also adds another argument to the never ending discussion of why some people never resign. Finally, I found a long essay by Tim Krabbé that started,

In 1912, in The Theory of Pawn Promotion, Alain White wrote that he had 'never heard of a game where victory was won by a promotion to Rook or Bishop'. In 1936 the great endgame connoisseur Harold Lommer wrote something to that effect too. In my own Chess Curiosities (1985) I mentioned the 'extreme rareness of such promotions', and quoted 12 examples from all of chess history, including trivial ones. Ten years later Harold van der Heijden, in his Pawn Promotion, extended the list to 27. We had entered the database era - he had used a 400,000 game one. Over the following two years, in the magazine EBUR, he showed some 15 new cases. My turn again - in the meantime the databases have grown to almost 2,000,000 games, and if I used the same criteria as in 1985, I could show over 60 examples now. • Practical Underpromotion [xs4all.nl/~timkr]

Considering the rarity of legitimate Bishop underpromotions of any kind, it seems unlikely that an example exists for a second Bishop of the same color.

14 March 2011

More Capablanca

A few years ago I did a series called Capablanca's Games 'To be studied very carefully', based on positions from My Chess Career that Capablanca recommended 'be studied very carefully' (see the summary for a list of games and blog posts). I recently discovered that I overlooked two games:-

p.076 1913 New York, Kline - Capablanca
p.078 1913 Havana, Corzo - Capablanca

I'll spend a few posts covering those. While I'm at it, I'll compare Capablanca's annotations to his 1921 match with Lasker against the notes for games from that match selected by Kasparov for Predecessors I: games 5, 10, & 11. Kasparov seems to have overlooked that Capablanca wrote notes to the games, and since their annotation styles are opposite -- minimal for Capablanca, detailed for Kasparov -- I might learn a thing or two.

11 March 2011

An Impromptu Tribute to Jeremy Gaige

Philly.com: Jeremy Gaige, 83, chess expert, newspaperman (10 March 2011);

Jeremy Gaige, 83, a newspaperman and chess archivist, died of emphysema Saturday, Feb. 19, at his home in the Spring Garden section of the city. In the early 1960s, while working as an editor at the Evening Bulletin, Mr. Gaige began compiling detailed records of chess events, particularly tournaments, and collecting data about players and writers. [...]

Bookfinder.com: Author is Gaige; Title is chess.

Todos Saudem MacBeth! © Flickr user RxHxS under
Creative Commons.

Google Translate('Todos Saudem!',&sl=pt&tl=en) -> 'All Hail!'

10 March 2011

Capablanca Off-Center

The most recent post in the series on Top eBay Chess Items by Price, titled Gold for Fischer - Spassky, featured a coin, so it's fitting that the next post features a stamp. The title of the item pictured below was 'CUBA 1951 CAPABLANCA CHESS VERY RARE ERROR'. The stamp on the left has the error, while the stamp on the right is normal.

I was never very good at the kids' game where you have to spot all the differences between two drawings or two photos, and it took me a while to see the error. Once I spotted it, I wondered why I hadn't seen it immediately.

The description of the item was bilingual Spanish / English and was all about terms & conditions, saying nothing about the stamp itself. One potential buyer asked, 'Q: What catalog is registered this error?', and received the answer (I've tidied the spelling a little),

A: Hi, the error is one of the rarest and Cuban philatelic and rare errors of word chess thematic. A block of 4 is in the collection of Karpov world champions chess. Is known only from a leaf is shifted only in the 4 lines higher. The more up is the position of but moved this error. We can assure you 100% its total authenticity and rarity. Capablanca is the emission of one of the most studied in Cuba and that his error more important.'

Another person asked, 'Q: Do you have a certificate of authenticity for this item? Do you know how many copies exist with this error?', and got the same answer. One intrepid buyer finally bid and won the stamp, without competition, for US $599. How much did Karpov pay for his block of four?

08 March 2011

Spring Cleaning on Blogs

I know it's not yet spring, but being a perfect spring day makes it a good time to look at 'Blogs I Follow', listed under my profile to the right. I last looked at the entire list a year ago in Good Blogs Gone. Starting with '65 Blogs', I deleted the following for the reasons given...

...then added about the same number, ending up with '63 Blogs'. While I'm on the subject of blogs, I can't figure out how to link individual posts from SPRAGGETT ON CHESS. As you might expect from a former World Championship candidate, it's one of the best blogs around, but the individual posts are unlinkable. Do you know a workaround?

07 March 2011

18 Memorable Games, Full Circle

The series that I started more than three years ago, 18 Memorable Games, a comparison of Fischer's and Kasparov's annotations, is finally over. What did I learn from this exercise, based on the published analysis of the two greatest players of all time? Probably more than I realize and certainly more than I can document in a single blog post.

Most importantly, I learned to what extent Kasparov's My Great Predecessors relies on computer analysis. Every improvement offered by Kasparov on Fischer's play and analysis is confirmed by the engines, which indicates that the engines were the start point for analysis. Kasparov's analytical predecessor, GM Huebner, also seems to have gone this route. Both players are known for their concrete approach to chess, where the calculation of variations takes precedence over all else, so their use of engines conforms to that approach.

If the Predecessor books offered nothing more than reams of computer analysis, a digital data dump, then they wouldn't be worth buying or studying. Fortunately, there is much more to them than that: the selection of games is first rate; the identification and evaluation of many monumentally unclear lines in those games will keep armchair analysts and their own chess engines busy for years to come; the narratives tying the games together offer a historical perspective that only a world class player can provide; and Kasparov's personal observations, whether you agree with what he says or not, add a human touch that is often missing in the dry compilations of professional chess historians.

As for Fischer, writing thirty years before chess computers attained super grandmaster strength, his positional intuition cut to the core of complicated positions. In contrast to Kasparov, who has a tendency to overanalyze, to analyze the unfathomable, Fischer often summarized an evaluation in a few words and he was usually right. Like Capablanca and Karpov, he just knew where to place his pieces to get the most out of them and it is a great tragedy of 20th century chess that Fischer and Karpov never met over the board.


For future ease of finding related ideas, I like to pull my posts together with links. The first half of the series ended with 18 Memorable Months, where nine games are linked, and the second half started with About Face to Fischer (and Larsen). The games covered in the second half were:-

Along the way I discovered a few more games that I had overlooked the first time, where Fischer drew or lost, documented in 18 -> 21 Memorable Games, and I covered one of those in Fischer - Geller, Skopje 1967, as a follow-on to Fischer - Geller, Bled 1961. Geller was, after all, one of Fischer's toughest opponents. All of their games are worthy of study, but I'll leave that as a future project.

04 March 2011

Just For Laughs

Who said you couldn't have fun with chess?

Rocket DVD Ruins Chess Game (1:22) • 'A DVD flies out of a computer and disturbs a game between two chess Grandmasters.'

Wikipedia: Just For Laughs Gags.

03 March 2011

Learn from Your Engines?

Continuing with Arena, Rybka, Houdini, & Scid, I installed all of the above named software to my main machine and tailored everything to suit my taste. Since I had never used Houdini before, I decided to run it against one of the games from Learn from Your Losses?, where I listed all of my losses during my first eight years of correspondence play. I chose the last game on the list (Soreghy - Weeks, a Modern Benoni), then spent an hour stepping back & forth through the game with Houdini, trying to find some point where I had gone wrong.

The first diagram shows the game just after I departed from theory. After 13.Bc1-f4, I had found a couple of games with 13...Qc7 and another couple with 13...c4, so I played 13...Qb6 instead, not finding anything disadvantageous about the move. Houdini agrees that the position is equal.

After another 20 moves, the game reached the position shown in the second diagram. White played 34.Rc4, with a definite advantage that was eventually converted into a win. Between 13...Qb6 and 34.Rc4, Houdini offered many alternate moves, but there was no position where I had played a move that was obviously inferior.

It seems that my 'mistake' was to play reasonable moves that didn't fit into any overall plan to improve my position. To compare it to a game of tennis, it was as if I had just been content to return the ball without ever putting any real pressure on my opponent. It was my opponent who eventually put the pressure on me and I cracked.

How can I use an engine to improve on this aspect of my play? It's not at all clear to me.

01 March 2011

Arena, Rybka, Houdini, & Scid

A year is a long time in the world of computing. Since it's been more than two years I last upgraded my chess GUI and engines -- see Arena / Rybka Analytical Upgrade & Adventures with Arena & Rybka -- I downloaded the latest version of Arena (from Arena Chess GUI 3.0 - Download), a newer version of Rybka, and for good measure, a copy of Houdini (from Houdini Chess Engine). To make sure I wouldn't interrupt my main analysis lab, I downloaded and installed all software on a test machine. Everything worked fine and I'll install the same ASAP on my main machine.

While I was at it, I checked for a new release of Scid -- see Scid @ Mark's -- and discovered that version 4.3 was just released in February 2011. I downloaded that as well (from Scid - Downloads), but haven't tried it yet.

That's a lot of new toys for a few hours work. I'll report on any results if I think it's worth mentioning.