30 April 2013

Not Lost at the Outset

After GM Portisch and The Mysterious Third, the next point on 'Black Is OK' - 12 Discussion Points is psychological.

People do not win too often with the BLACK pieces because they do not even want to, and that’s why White has a psychological advantage.

This is a good time for a digression to 'Chess for Zebras' by GM Jonathon Rowson. The book is subtitled 'Thinking Differently about Black and White', the last chapter is 'Black's Advantage', and the first section of that chapter is has the same name as my first post in this series on Adorjan: Is Adorjan OK? (Hmmm!). The bulk of that section deals with eleven of Adorjan's points, one less than the number I selected (double Hmmm!). [I read the book a few years ago and posted about it on my chess960 blog: Rowson's 'Three Types of Theory'. This is a case of (1) egregious plagiarism, (2) an active subconscious mind, or (3) a remarkable coincidence. You'll have to accept my word that it's not (1), but I have no idea whether (2) or (3) is the real culprit.]

Back to Adorjan's assertion that 'White has a psychological advantage', Rowson wrote,

This strikes me as an exaggeration, which, by his own admission, is not untypical for Adorjan. However, our pre-game attitude is definitely affected by the color we are due to play with. [...] If players thought about the game as a whole more than the first phase of the game, they might approach their Black games more confidently.

He went on to explain,

This is why I think it is important to broaden your ability to play different kinds of positions and have a wide repertoire of mental attitudes. To do well with Black you need to be less dependent on the initiative and more comfortable with defending, counterattacking, and endgame grinds.

This is an excellent suggestion and reminds me of the saying 'In the Sicilian, White wins the short games, while Black wins the long'. As for skill in 'defending, counterattacking, and endgame grinds', two players come to mind -- Karpov and Korchnoi. This also appears to be Carlsen's area of unique expertise.

Rowson underscored another important point when he wrote,

I have always felt that a simple point knocks the steam out of Adorjan's ideas: 'White is better' and 'Black is OK' need not be mutually exclusive claims.

I agree wholeheartedly, although I also believe that it is part of Adorjan's basic message. In another post on my chess960 blog, Random Position, Random Results?, I mentioned that Adorjan admits a 55:45 ratio of White wins to Black, which corresponds to an advantage of a half-tempo for the first move. That is far from being lost at the outset.

29 April 2013

Comparing 'Wonderboy' with TMER

Now that I have summaries of Simen Agdestein's biography of GM Carlsen's early career -- 'Wonderboy' 2000-2001, 2002, and 2003-2004 -- what to do with them? I started by comparing the events discussed in 'Wonderboy' with the events already on my page Magnus Carlsen's Tournament, Match, and Exhibition Record (2000-). I identified 42 matching events, added Carlsen's results to my page where they were missing, and included the reference to Agdestein's book.

I should also improve the names of the events on my page, but that will wait for another time. First I have to add events that are missing completely.

28 April 2013

From Pocket to Wrist Watch

Maybe it's eBay slowing down or maybe it's because I'm getting choosier, but I'm finding less and less of interest for my ongoing series on Top eBay Chess Items by Price. Just like for my previous post in the series -- First Chess Postcards in the World? -- I had to go under my normal cutoff of $500 to find an interesting item. At least I found two related items to discuss.

The auction for the watch pictured on the left was titled 'Mens DOXA CHESS ANTIQUE MEDAILLE D’OR MILAN 1906 SWISS AMAZING HIGH-GRADE WATCH'. It sold for US $409.64 after 16 bids.

The auction for the watch on the right was titled 'Mens DOXA CHESS ANTIQUE 1900-1910's SWISS AMAZING HIGH-GRADE WATCH'. It sold a few days after the first watch for US $406.51 after 20 bids. Both watches were offered by the same seller and both carried the same long description of 'DOXA's History':-

DOXA was founded in 1889 in the heart of one of Switzerland's major and most inventive watch making areas, the canton (district) of Neuchatel's Jura Mountains. Today DOXA brings to the industry a perspective forged over a century of often pioneering watch design.

The founder Georges Ducommun (1868-1936), the founder of DOXA, was born in Le Locle among the Jura hills of canton Neuchatel in Switzerland. He was one of 13 children of a poor family. At the age of 12, he became an apprentice in a manufacture specialised in casing-up watch movements. He started his own watch repair business when he was 20.

He worked hard to set up his business, walking the 10 kilometers to La Chaux-de Fonds to deliver his products personally, even in the depth of winter. The success of his watches enabled him to live in Chateau des Monts, today home of the world-renowned Le Locle horological museum. [...]

The descriptions of the watches were substantially different, although both started with the same two sentences:-

For your appreciation, a rare antique Swiss collectables, mechanical (with manual winding) wristwatch DOXA CHESS. This watch was altered from pocket [to] wrist watch.

The description of the watch on the left also mentioned,

[The] surface of this lid fully engraved five medals with exquisite miniature detailing in the center and inscription: MEDAILLE D’OR. MILAN 1906 - DOXA - HORS CONCOURS LIEGE - 1905.

Watches with chess themes seem to have been popular at the beginning of the 1900s. See Time Is on My Side and White Christmas on Ebay for previous examples on this blog. By coincidence, a second auction featuring a watch like the one pictured on the right closed a few days after the first. It sold for US $400 after 11 bids. Although the seller had a different name, the long description was very similar to those for the first two watches.

26 April 2013

Kramnik on the Unification Match

Portion of an interview with GM Kramnik where he discusses the cheating allegations from his 2006 match with Topalov. He also discusses measures that can be taken against cheating. The video's description is straight out of Wikipedia:-

On September 28, 2006, the rest day between games 4 and 5, Topalov's manager Silvio Danailov complained to the match organizers and the press about Kramnik's repeated visits to the bathroom. He noted that the bathrooms are the only place not under audio or video surveillance, and called the frequency of the breaks "strange, if not suspicious". Danailov suggested that Topalov would abandon the match if the concerns were not addressed

The clip is not sourced or dated. The interviewer's voice sounds like Frederic Friedel of Chessbase, and appears to have been recorded a few months after the match.

Did KRAMNIK cheat @ 2006 World Championship ?? (8:00) • 'Bathroom controversy. Allegations and forfeit: Part 1'

See also Part 2.

25 April 2013

The Mysterious Third

Has it already been a month since I last discussed Adorjan? Judging from the post 'Black Is OK' - 12 Discussion Points, so it would appear. A week after that post I looked at Adorjan's first three discussion points on my chess960 blog -- Random Position, Random Results? -- where I concluded,

Getting back to traditional chess, the foundation of the 'Black Is OK' philosophy rests entirely on the second point. To quote the original statement in full: 'Qualified players will mostly come up with the same reply as a great number of world champions or chess thinkers since Lasker: the logical outcome of the game is a draw.'

What do the other nine points add to the discussion? The fourth point on which I quoted Adorjan was

Portisch said something to the effect that he had tried almost all openings and defences during his long chess career, and found that about two-thirds of these were disadvantageous for BLACK. So there is the remaining one-third, and all BLACK has to do is play these openings and defences, and then he has nothing to fear.

This is a mysterious, thought provoking statement. First, how do we count openings and defenses? ECO has 500 top level codes (5 volumes A-E with 100 codes per volume). Does this mean that only 170 of these codes are good variations for Black? No, because variations that are balanced for both sides receive far more attention than variations that are clearly much better for White.

GM Lajos Portisch, an eight-time candidate for the World Championship, contributed a chapter to Adorjan's third book, 'Black Is OK Forever!' (2005): 'Lajos Portisch: BLACK IS OK if s(he) finds the right lines!'. There he wrote,

I have tried practically all normal defences with BLACK during my long career. (Except for such defences as the Scandinavian, Alekhine, and Philidor. I 'respect' the two latter ones only because the namegivers were great figures in the history of chess [...] but I am still not willing to play either of them.) In my opinion, at least two-thirds of all 'tested' openings give White an apparent advantage. But do not ask me, dear reader, to name these systems. Considering all this, it is logical that statistics show White's advantage in the final account. (p.109)

The Scandinavian (1.e4 d5; ECO B01) and Alekhine (1.e4 Nf6; B02-05) defenses together account for five ECO codes. The Sicilian (1.e4 c5; B20-99) accounts for 80 codes. The three opening moves represent 15% of Black's 20 legal responses to 1.e4. Some of the 80 Sicilian ECO codes are unsuitable for Black (and a few are unsuitable for White). The task of counting openings and defenses seems hopeless.

Rather than identify one-third of something that can't be easily quantified, I decided to look at what Portisch really played. I happen to have a PGN collection of his games and loaded it into a chess database (SCID). It counted 2738 games played through the year 2000, and let me derive the following chart. The numbers (like 'x99') are game counts; for example, in response to 1.e4, Portisch played 1...c5 in 306 games.

From this we see that Portisch, who was known as a thorough analyst and well-prepared opening theoreticion, played the Sicilian Najdorf, the Sicilian Kan (Paulsen), and the Closed Spanish after 1.e4. He played the 1...Nf6/2...e6 complex (including the Queen's Gambit) after 1.d4.

I also thought it would be useful to look at the systems Portisch played as White. He was primarily a 1.d4/1.c4/1.Nf3 player, and avoided the 1...Nf6/2...g6 complex as Black. How he played against it as White is shown near the bottom of the diagram. In 'Presumption of Innocence', Adorjan wrote,

Lajos is a great player and he is right in most cases, the element of subjectivity is present with him as well as any of us. I saw him, for example, experiment with the Gruenfeld, and he could not make heads or tails of it. Somehow it was not his cup of tea. On the other hand, I have also seen him play strategies I considered much more difficult with a devastating effect.

The preceding analysis exposes only the tip of the iceberg. In each of Portisch's preferred opening systems -- the Najdorf, the Kan, etc. -- there are good moves to be played by Black and bad moves to be avoided. Ditto for White. No one ever said that chess was simple.

23 April 2013

Kasparov at 50

Ten years ago I wrote Garry Kasparov at 40, while I was with About.com (now linked in Archive.org), and five years ago I wrote Catching Up with Kasparov, on the occasion of his 45th birthday. How could I resist continuing the trend with a post for his 50th birthday?

The background for the 'Catching Up' post was a list of Chessbase.com posts on Kasparov -- working file through April 2008. To get started on this current post I created a similar file of Chessbase articles, Working file for Kasparov's 50th, through April 2013. It's noteworthy what Kasparov has accomplished in the last five years. Here's a partial list.

  • Matches: Valencia match vs. Karpov (Sep 2009); Clichy (France) match vs. Vachier-Lagrave (Sep 2011); Leuven (Belgium) match vs. Short (Oct 2011); 'Game' vs. Alan Turing (Jun 2012)

  • Simuls: Clock simul Corsica (Nov 2008); Antwerp simul (Nov 2009); Naples simul (Apr 2011)

  • Training: Carlsen (Sep 2009 to Feb 2010; NB: Carlsen said, 'Working with Garry Kasparov over the last twelve months has been a unique experience'); Nakamura (Nov 2011 to Dec 2011)

  • Chess in School: Launched Kasparov Chess Foundation Europe (Jun 2011); European Parliament (Feb 2012)

  • Politics: Backed Karpov's failed bid to become FIDE President (May 2010 to Sep 2010); plus his well publicized run-ins with Russian authorities

Kasparov is one of those people who, rather than resting on his laurels, constantly asks, 'What can I do next?' The next five years promise to be full of surprises.

22 April 2013

'Wonderboy' 2003-2004

Continuing with 'Wonderboy' 2002, here is a summary of the last four chapters of GM Agdestein's 'Wonderboy'. It covers the years 2003 and 2004, through Carlsen's participation in the 2004 FIDE World Championship at Tripoli.

Next step: Incorporate the basic data about Carlsen's early events into my index of Magnus Carlsen's Tournament, Match, and Exhibition Record (2000-).

21 April 2013

Mystery Photo

Even though I'm not a chess collector, I get a fair amount of email on the subject. I assume this is because of my ongoing series on Top eBay Chess Items by Price, last seen in First Chess Postcards in the World. I'm always happy to get this sort of mail, because I invariably learn something about chess history.

Recently I received a message related to a post from June 2012, titled 'A' Is for Alekhine's Autograph. The sender of the message was the seller of the item pictured in that post, and he sent me a couple of scans which I've reproduced below.

The top scan is a photo showing (left to right) players that I believe are Kashdan, Flohr, Alekhine, Pirc, and Stoltz. The bottom scan is the reverse side of the photo -- apparently a postcard -- showing signatures of the same five players (top to bottom with Pirc and Stoltz on the bottom line). The bottom scan also shows a pencilled notation 'Nice 31' over the names of the five players (in the same order as the top photo). The uppermost pencilled note says 'consultation tournament' in Dutch, followed by a reference that I can't decipher.

My correspondent, himself a knowledgeable collector, noted, 'Nice 1931 seems doubtful because the info about the consultancy games there do not match the autographs.' Alekhine, Flohr, and Stoltz played there, but I could find no mention of the other two. If this is true, where was the photo taken?

After a little digging I discovered that all five players were on different teams at the Prague 1931 Olympiad. Was this the source of the photo and autographs? Perhaps an astute visitor to this blog can provide additional information.

19 April 2013

More Menchik

London schaken voor meisjes 1926 © Flickr user janwillemsen under Creative Commons.

My Dutch is just good enough to understand the caption, which says,

In de Imperial-Schaakclub te Londen werd dezer dagen een internationale schaakwedstrijd gehouden voor meisjes onder 21 jaar : op onze foto ziet men Engelsche en Russische kampioenen in den strijd.

For a more reliable translation I relied on Google Translate, which returned,

In the Imperial Chess Club in London these days was an international chess competition held for girls under 21 years: our photo shows English and Russian champions in battle.

The Flickr page doesn't give any information about the source other than the date (1926). Vera Menchik is standing in the center looking at the game on the right. According to my page, World Chess Championship for Women, she first became Women's World Champion in 1927. For another photo of Menchik, see my post titled Folkestone 1933.

18 April 2013

A Softspoken Warrior

San Juan, Puerto Rico, 12 Jan 1974

LAST MINUTE DETAILS -- Former World Chess Champion Boris Spassky of the Soviet Union, right, and Robert Byrne of the United States talk Friday in San Juan, Puerto Rico about the details of their quarter-final World Championship chess match scheduled Monday in San Juan.

12 Nov 2006: A Farewell, After 34 Years, and a Memorable 1952 Game, by Robert Byrne • 19 Nov 2006: Robert Byrne, a Late Starter, Still Became a World-Class Star, by Dylan Loeb McClain • 13 Apr 2013: Robert Byrne, Chess Grandmaster, Dies at 84, by Bruce Weber

16 April 2013

Planning for Continuity

Once in a while circumstances force me to reduce blogging. When I return, I usually have to spend time pulling loose threads together in order to provide continuity. An example earlier this year was Some Closure Required, which resulted in several series of posts that kept me occupied for a few months.

This time the situation is easier. Looking back at the last two months, the only open subject is 'Black Is OK' - 12 Discussion Points, based on GM Adorjan's work. I've already used that post on my chess960 blog (see Random Position, Random Results?), but there is more gold to be mined from his discussion points.

I'm purposely ignoring long running series like About.com (most recent post: 'Wonderboy' 2002) and Video/Flickr Friday (most recent: How to Train for Chess), because those get done even when there's little time. I'm also ignoring posts that promise followups (most recent: First Chess Postcards in the World?), because that list is so long that I might as well throw it away.

As for my other blogs, on the World Chess Championship I've finished London Candidates - Wrapup, leaving the zonal project, last seen in

On Chess960 (FRC), I have

Back to 'Closure Required', one of the resulting series was Practical Evaluation. I had the opportunity to reference it again on rec.games.chess (rgc): Turning computer evals into winning probabilities. Wading into the muck at rgc might not be the smartest move when pressed for time, but the subject was too relevant to pass up.

Two events occurred this past weekend that deserve a post: Robert Byrne's passing and Garry Kasparov's 50th birthday. I hope to tackle those before too much more time slips away.

15 April 2013

'Wonderboy' 2002

After posting 'Wonderboy' 2000-2001, I fell behind schedule because of the London Candidates tournament (see Congratulations to GM Carlsen!) followed by a vacation (if you consider a house full of toddlers to be a vacation). The events covered in the next two chapters of 'Wonderboy' by GM Simen Agdestein are shown in the following table.

In my next post I'll cover the last chapters of the book, then apply the three summaries to Magnus Carlsen's Tournament, Match, and Exhibition Record (2000-).

14 April 2013

First Chess Postcards in the World?

For my series on Top eBay Chess Items by Price, once in a while there are no auctions over the previous fortnight that attract my attention. When this happens, I usually fall back on a composite post like Top Computer Items from a few months ago.

Another trick -- one that I don't use often -- is to go under my cutoff minimum of US $500. The item pictured below, which sold for $399 after only one bid, was considerably below this target, but it was unlike anything else I've seen before. The item's title was 'Romania - The first postcards stationeries CHESS in the WORLD - used - 1963'.

The description gave a bit more information.

Romania - CHESS - 2 stationeries - used - 1963 (The first CHESS postcards in the world) very very rare. The second postal card have the signature of the international great master Florin Ghiorghiu, (only exemplar). Very good quality.

How much would each postcard sell for individually? How about GM Gheorghiu's autograph? Lots of questions without answers...

12 April 2013

How to Train for Chess

Pioneer Challenge - Chess Club (4:29) • 'Carlos & Matt's Chess Adventure'

'This piece won 1st Place at the Kansas Technology Student Leaders Association competition in the category of Video Production.'

05 April 2013

No.1 Chess Bod

The additional info said,

This photo was taken on 2 April 2013 in Whitehall, London, England, GB. [...] Taken at 11 Downing St'.

That would be the closing ceremony for the 2013 London Candidates Tournament.

Some chess bods chatting at the chess party © Flickr user mrlerone under Creative Commons.

The 'chess bod' on the left is Magnus Carlsen, the winner of the tournament. I don't recognize the fellow he is chatting with. I guess he's a political bod. The fellow behind him to the right looks like a well known English 'chess bod' and organizer.


Later: Got it, thanks to Google: 11 Downing Street -> Chancellor of the Exchequer -> George Osborne. 'Political bod', indeed!

04 April 2013

London Candidates - Tiebreaks

The 2013 London Candidates Tournament was a good show from start to end. The last three of the 14 rounds featured a neck-and-neck race between ex-World Champion Kramnik and GM Carlsen.

Leading Kramnik by a half-point after 11 rounds, Carlsen lost in the 12th round while his main rival won. After the Norwegian won in the 13th against a draw by the Russian, the two went into the last round with an equal score. Carlsen's 13th round win gave him more than equality -- it also gave him the tiebreak advantage in case of an equal score after the last round. The tiebreaks specified in FIDE's 'Rules & Regulations' were 'in order of priority':-

(a) The results of the games between the players involved in the tie.
(b) The total number of wins in the tournament of every player involved in the tie.
(c) Sonneborn – Berger System.

Going into the last round, Carlsen and Kramnik had drawn both games with each other, while Carlsen had one win more. (Many observers pointed out this was equivalent to having one loss more.) The 'number of wins' rule favors risk taking and put Kramnik in the unpleasant position of having to earn at least a half-point more than Carlsen in the all-decisive round. Adding to the unpleasantness were the last round color assignments: Carlsen had White, Kramnik Black.

As we know, both players lost their last game, thereby catapulting Carlsen into a title match with World Champion Anand. It's a twist of fate that if tiebreak '(b)' had not resolved the deadlock, tiebreak '(c)' would have been in Kramnik's favor. The somewhat arbitrary resolution to an exciting tournament brought widespread condemnation, especially from Kramnik's supporters. Most commentators preferred to see a tiebreak match, which would have happened had tiebreak '(c)' also been inconclusive.

The tiebreak rules were not new. They were essentially the same for the previous World Championship title tournament, 2007 Mexico City, where Anand grabbed the crown from Kramnik. He has held it ever since, beating three challengers in the process. My guess is that FIDE simply copied the 2007 tiebreak rules for the 2013 event. The 2007 rules were similar to those used in the 2005 San Luis FIDE title tournament, won convincingly by GM Topalov. In 2007, the Sonneborn – Berger system was added as a third tiebreak system in case of a tie after the first two systems were applied.

I'm not convinced that another tiebreak system would have been better than the one that gave Carlsen the tournament win. From a sporting point of view, a rapid/blitz match would have been the ideal scenario, but the players already seemed so tired at the end that it could easily have become a blunderfest. Tiebreak '(b)' also had a significant sporting element in that both players were obliged to play the last game for a win. An impending tiebreak match might have convinced both of them to steer for an easy draw, reserving their energy for the following day. That's the strategy we saw throughout the 2011 Candidates Matches, which produced few decisive games at standard time control and which were roundly condemned as dull. The 2013 London tournament was anything but dull.

02 April 2013

Carlsen's Closing Comments

Two videos featuring GM Magnus Carlsen after winning the 2013 Candidates Tournament at London.

Winner's Press Conference (17:39)

Bonus Interview (7:30)

For more archived videos from the last round, see Round 14 - Commentary. Production credits are given at the end of the first clip above.

01 April 2013

Congratulations to GM Carlsen!

I failed miserably. I tried working on the follow-up to 'Wonderboy' 2000-2001, while watching the last round of the 2013 Candidates Tournament, but I couldn't divert my attention from the live games.

As most of the active chess world was aware, GM Carlsen needed a win to ensure victory in the tournament and snare the qualification for a shot at the World Championship later this year. He lost, but so did his main rival, GM Kramnik. Instead of Anand - Kramnik II, we'll be seeing Anand - Carlsen I.

For a comprehensive set of links to the London event, see the post on my WCC blog: London Candidates - Second Week. I'll return to Magnus Carlsen's Tournament, Match, and Exhibition Record as soon as I can.