31 May 2013

How They Play Chess in New Orleans

Villere Street Chess © Flickr user Infrogmation under Creative Commons.

The caption said, 'Here's how we play chess in New Orleans. Memorial Day afternoon on Villere Street, St. Roch, New Orleans.'

30 May 2013

Another Contest With No Prize

Following the wildly successful idea presented in A Contest With No Prize, here's part two. The following image is a screen capture of high ranked images from a Google image search on 'chess' plus one other word.

What is the other word?

28 May 2013

The Adorjan Series to Date

Today marks three months since I started my latest analytical series, a look at GM Andras Adorjan's 'Black Is OK!' thesis. I started with an overview of its basic principles.

Then I looked at two practical applications of the thesis.

GM Jonathon Rowson has given some serious thought to Adorjan's viewpoint.

  • 2013-04-30: Not Lost at the Outset • 'Chess for Zebras' by Rowson.
  • 2013-05-09: The Language of Logic • Rowson: 'The role of [an] initial assessment [is] not to be right or wrong in any absolute sense, but to make a good guess.'

The latest posts digressed into the coding of assessments.

That makes an even ten posts to date. I might very well find another ten subtopics for further treatment.

27 May 2013

Comparing Carlsen's Early PGN

This long series on building Magnus Carlsen's Tournament, Match, and Exhibition Record (2000-) is reaching its natural conclusion. After last week's Working with Wonderboy, I returned to Comparing 'Wonderboy' with TMER, compared its 112 games with the 1602 games on my Carlsen PGN file, and identified seven new games. While I was doing that, I discovered another good source of Carlsen games at NorBase. I'll take a look at those, add any new games from his early career, add the events that GM Carlsen has played since Tata Steel in January, and upload the expanded file to the TMER page.

26 May 2013

Lay up Your Treasures

Collector's corner? Last week, we had A Gentleman and a Scholar, a short post on GM Lothar Schmid's 'fabulous collection of chess books'. Today, on Top eBay Chess Items by Price, we have 'A Few Old Friends 1st & 2nd Limited Editions Chess Books by David Delucia'. The two books sold for US $600, 'Buy It Now'.

The description said,

Two mint copies of David Delucia's A FEW OLD FRIENDS, the first and second editions. David Delucia is the owner of the largest the largest collection of chess memorabilia in the United States and possibly the world. These two volumes are 236 and 394 pages. Hardcover. Limited editions. High quality glossy pages. Beautiful color photographs and item descriptions. It is a vast collection of all types of chess memorabilia containing significant historical items from all eras. Amazing collection.

The two pages in the image I've copied from the auction show Fischer memorabilia. Top left is an autographed copy of Fischer's article, 'The Ten Greatest Masters in History', which appeared in Chessworld, Vol. 1, No. 1 (1964). Bottom left is an address book. On the right are 'Seven first day covers from the 1966 Olympiad in Havana, all signed by Fischer'.

For more about the second edition of Delucia's book, see A Few Old Friends (NewInChess.com).

24 May 2013

Lip Service

There are many stop motion chess animations available on Youtube, but this clip by Joel Osborne stands above most of the rest.

"Check Animate" - A Stop Motion Chess Animation (16:42) • 'This animation is my final project for my BA (Hons) degree course in Media and Cultural Studies at the University of the West of England, Bristol.'

From the description: 'The production is an animation of a real, historical game of chess played between Henry Atkins and Herbert Jacobs in London in 1915.'

23 May 2013

A Gentleman and a Scholar

Which of GM Lothar Schmid's (1928–2013) many exploits will be remembered the longest? His near win of the 2nd ICCF World Correspondence Championship (1956)? His arbiter's role in the 1972 Fischer - Spassky Title Match, the 1978 Karpov - Korchnoi Title Match, the 1986 Kasparov - Karpov Title Match (KK3), and the 1992 Fischer - Spassky Rematch? His fabulous collection of chess books?

I think it will be the books.

21 May 2013

Chess NAGs

While I was writing last week's post, Informant No.1, Game No.1, I included an awkward explanation:-

A '?' on Black's 9th leads to a plus-over-minus on White's 10th, which is awarded a '!'. A couple of White's subsequent moves are also awarded a '!', after which Black is lost.

Certain that there must be a better way to use the 'plus-over-minus' notation, I discovered Wikipedia's page Numeric Annotation Glyphs, which equates various chess notation symbols to Unicode. Here's a table of the relevant symbols and codes.

8252 '‼' vs. '!!'
8263 '⁇' vs. '??'
8265 '⁉' vs. '!?'
8264 '⁈' vs. '?!'
9633 Wikipedia shows '9632' (which is ■)
8734 See also Unclear Positions (and follow ups)
± 177  

Now here's the same awkward explanation using Unicode:-

A '?' on Black's 9th leads to a '±' on White's 10th, which is awarded a '!'. A couple of White's subsequent moves are also awarded a '!', after which Black is lost.

Looks good, but more trials necessary... Thanks, Wikipedia!

20 May 2013

Working with Wonderboy

After the little detour for Carlsen on Confidence, let's continue with More Early Carlsen, which was based on GM Agdestein's book about Magnus Carlsen, titled 'Wonderboy'. After writing those posts, I turned my attention to the subject of chess teaching and picked up the book 'The Chess Instructor 2009' (New in Chess, 2008), edited by Jeroen Bosch and Steve Giddins. The book is a collection of 16 essays about -- you guessed it -- chess instruction, primarily for children.

Here I was surprised and pleased to find 'Chapter 15 - Simen Agdestein: Working with Magnus', a short, six-page chapter which summarizes the early material in 'Wonderboy' (New in Chess, 2004), and continues where 'Wonderboy' left off, when IM Carlsen became GM Carlsen. Here, for example, is one anecdote from that chapter.

After Magnus became a GM, Garry Kasparov was in Norway in connection with a film that was made on Magnus and he suggested that Magnus should play fewer tournaments and train more. Kasparov also gave Magnus a little homework: 'Analyze four losses and spend at least four hours on each game.' That meant about 16 hours of work and he was only given five days on the assignment. I suggested we could do the job together, but it just wasn’t so tempting for Magnus and he actually declined an offer from Kasparov of a full time coaching program. He rather wanted to just play and have fun.

Carlsen eventually changed his mind. In another recent post, Kasparov at 50, I noted that one of the ex-World Champion's post-retirement accomplishments was

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

What was the film and where can we see it? I'll tackle that some other time. At the end of his 'Working with Magnus' essay, Agdestein offered 'three favorite books on chess teaching':-

  • 'My Great Predecessors' by Kasparov
  • 'Secrets of Modern Chess Strategy' by John Watson
  • 'Fundamental Chess Endings' by Karsten Mueller and Frank Lamprecht (also mentioned in 'Wonderboy')

Something tells me that 'Working with Magnus' is not the last word from either GM Agdestein or New in Chess.

19 May 2013

A Big Hole in Chessvibes

Oops! A few weeks ago, on my World Chess Championship Blog, I wrote a post about London Candidates - Second Week. The post was basically a set of links to different primary resources for the 2013 Candidates tournament, which I later extended to include rounds played after the second week.

One of those resources was Chessvibes.com, which had some great content and comments about the tournament, destined to go down in chess history as one of the great chess events of all time. A few weeks after writing the post, the Chessvibes links stopped working, and pointed instead to the first page in the site's 'Archive for Reports'. Scrolling down to the time period covering the Candidates tournament, the archive shows only this...

...where nearly all content between 15 March and 25 April is missing. A Chessvibes post, Back up, dated 28 April explained,

After a downage of almost two days, and one of the most unpleasants weekends we've ever had, were finally back up. So what happened? Well, our hosting provider's fire alarm went off on Friday night, and the sprinklers in the data centre then damaged many hard drives, including ours.

The post, which could have been titled 'Back up But No Backup', went on to admit that the site was 'still missing quite some content', and nearly a month later I guess that it will be permanently missing. Fortunately, we always have the Archive.org Wayback Machine: Internet Archive : http://www.chessvibes.com/. My previous experience with Archive.org is that it is normally a year or two behind the current web, but for Chessvibes.com, the most recent crawl is currently 20 April 2013.

Is all of the missing Chessvibes content present and accounted for? I can't say. Are the user comments intact? They seem to be present, but I doubt they are complete. Will I change the links on my 'Second Week' post? No, but I'm glad to know that they are still working in at least one corner of the web.

17 May 2013

St.Louis Chess Mural

I'm always impressed when I see a new chess mural. This one is located in St.Louis, the current 'chess capital' of the USA.

Chess Mural on Tower Grove © Flickr user pasa47 under Creative Commons.

The photo appears to capture a work in progress; see "Allowing The Choir To Paint:" Artist Grace McCammond And The Boys And Girls Club Create A New Mural.

16 May 2013

Informant No.1, Game No.1

In The Language of Logic, I copied the explanation of the Informant code system given in Informant no.1. Here's a copy of game no.1 from that same Informant.

To play through the complete game, see...

Vladimir Simagin vs Alexey Sokolsky; corr-1 1966

...on Chessgames.com. The first Informant didn't give the names of the annotators, and we can see at a glance that the notes are very basic. A '?' on Black's 9th leads to a plus-over-minus on White's 10th, which is awarded a '!'. A couple of White's subsequent moves are also awarded a '!', after which Black is lost. The analysis gives the impression that Black was in deep trouble after the 9th move.

I'm always reluctant to use an engine to analyze a correspondence game between two masters, because they undoubtedly spent many, many hours analyzing the different positions before making each move. Stepping through this game with an engine reveals a wealth of sidelines and complications, none of which can be explored for a short blog post like this one. The engine considers the position after White's 10th to be roughly balanced and offers several suggestions for improving Black's subsequent play.

Also worth noting is the Rabar opening classification attached to the game ('R00'). I discussed the Rabar codes once before in Explaining Dynamics with Symbols, and the first Informant used around 75 of its 240 pages to explain the classification system. (It used 140 pages to present its 466 games.)

When we consider that, in the 1960s, the Informants and their symbols were a revolutionary system for distributing chess knowledge, we can appreciate how far our knowledge of the game has progressed in the nearly 50 intervening years. The language of logic transcends words.

14 May 2013

The Youngest and the Oldest

In response to a request about historical ratings, I dragged my rating database out of storage (last used for Countries with World Top-100 Players) to look at a couple of tables. While I was there, I decided to calculate the average age of rated chess players around the world. The results, using the January 2013 rating list, are shown on the left.

The first column is the federation country code, the second is a count of active players in that country, and the third is the average birthyear of those players. I believe that FIDE flags players as inactive after one year without a rated game, so active players would be those that played a game in 2012. I excluded players without a valid birthyear, which came to a little more than 2% of active players. I also excluded federations with less than 100 players.

The table shows the federations with the oldest players (average birthyear <= 1969) and those with the youngest (>= 1987). I also included the U.S. and Russia out of curiosity; they are highlighted in blue.

As you can see from the table, Denmark has the oldest players (average age > 50 years old), while Sri Lanka has the youngest (< 20). Can we conclude from these numbers that interest in chess is shifting from Europe to Asia?

13 May 2013

Carlsen on Confidence

Let's interrupt this series on GM Carlsen's competitive record, last seen in More Early Carlsen, to highlight a section of the interview from Magnus Carlsen on Charlie Rose. The following discussion starts at 21:30 on the clip embedded in that post.

CR: Every champion has to have confidence. [...] As you said about Anand, 'I'm going to take you down'.

MC: You need to be absolutely confident. It's always better to be overly confident than pessimistic. I realize sometimes after a game that I was actually way too confident. I was way too optimistic, but if you're not optimistic, if you're not looking for your chances, you're going to miss opportunities. There are plenty of players in history who have been immensely talented, but they are just too pessimistic. They see too many dangers that are not there, so they cannot perform at a high level.

CR: That's very interesting: 'They see dangers that are not there, so therefore they don't play at the highest level.'

MC: Yes. I realize from time to time -- people who are not particularly strong players, but who still are very good players -- could be one of the best if they just had more confidence. When I'm analyzing with them, when I'm looking at chess, I realize they know everything about the game, but nevertheless they cannot play.

CR: There's a missing thing, like a winner's edge.

MC: You need to have that. You need to have that edge, that confidence. You need to have that absolute belief that you're the best and that you'll win every time.

CR: Were you born with that?

MC: I don't know.

CR: Were you born with something so that when you learned chess those two things merged, they came together. There was a confidence and once you had the skills, the confidence served your skill and your skill served your confidence.

MC: It didn't come immediately for me.

CR: At what age did it come?

MC: I think it only came a few years ago.

CR: How old are you now?

MC: I'm 22. I think at about age 16 or 17, I realized that I'm probably going to be the best at some point and I need to be more confident -- I need to take a different approach because before that sometimes I would be too pessimistic. At first that change in approach was a total disaster. I would lose several games because I would constantly overestimate my chances. Eventually that became a good thing, because when my playing strength caught up to my optimism, that was it.

CR: Well said! I love the idea that at 16 you knew that you were going to be the World Champion. You just knew.

MC: I didn't 'know', but I had a good idea.

CR: Because you were beating everybody or because you just...

MC: It was a feeling I had because before that I was always surprised how far I was going. At that point I realized 'now it's time'.

Rose jumped the gun when he said, 'you knew that you were going to be the World Champion'. GM Anand, the reigning World Champion, will have something to say about that later this year.

12 May 2013

Crystal for Mom

It's a happy coincidence when this fortnightly series on Top eBay Chess Items by Price, usually posted on Sunday, coincides with Mother's Day. It gives me a different angle on choosing an appropriate item as if it were a gift for someone special, like last year's Mice for Mom.

Most chess products are oriented more toward male tastes. A couple of items that I might have considered if today had been Father's Day were

Antique Mettlach Chess Kings Stein (sold for US $1800 after 1 bid), also seen last year in Stein, Mettlach (not Leonid).


Vintage Chess Computer Collection ($763.89 after 41 bids), eight chess computers of which the earliest was 'Boris by Applied Concepts (1978)' and the latest 'Novag Sapphire II (1997)'

The only item that looked suitable for Mother's Day was a 'Swarovski Crystal Chess Set', pictured below.

I've seen auctions for similar sets many times before, and never even considered them for my short list. There were two sold over the last two weeks. The first went for $526.88 after 15 bids, the second a few days later for $500, apparently 'Buy-It-Now'. The description of the first said,

Reference #155753. Full Chess set in faceted jet and clear crystal, mirror chess board. Brand new, Mint Condition in Original Box with certificate. Retail Price is $1500.00. Dimensions: 13 3/4" inches.

Why is this something I would consider buying for Mom, but not for Dad? Maybe it's me; maybe it's cultural. I really don't know.

10 May 2013

Carlsen on Charlie Rose

A few weeks ago many of the blogs I follow pointed to the official video of GM Carlsen's appearance on the Charlie Rose show. Before I found the time to watch it, the clip had already been taken down. For this present edition of Video Friday, I was pleased to find another copy on Youtube.

Charlie Rose - Magnus Carlsen (26:37) • 'Number 1 ranked chess player in the world'

I wouldn't be surprised to find this copy also disappear, so I watched it immediately.

09 May 2013

The Language of Logic

I would like to take one more point from GM Rowson's discussion of the 'Black Is OK' concept, last seen on this blog in Not Lost at the Outset. I'm going to take it out of context, because the idea stands on its own merit irrespective of Black's initial outlook. Rowson wrote,

I noticed that in many chess positions White seems to be slightly better, doesn't make any mistakes from a human perspective, and then seems to be slightly worse. Those with a logical cast of mind rebel against this idea and suggest that all that this means is that the initial assessment was mistaken. [...] An assessment of 'slightly better' can change from one side to another without the implication that the initial assessment was 'wrong'. The role of the initial assessment was not to be right or wrong in any absolute sense, but to make a good guess. ['Chess for Zebras', p.229]

This reminded me of a beef I've often had when studying games that use the Informant style of annotation: codes rather than words. The assessment sometimes shifts from 'White is better' to 'Black is better' (or vice versa) without any indication of why the shift happened.

Nowadays we rely on a computer evaluation that reduces a complex position to a single number (or two numbers if you also consider the depth of the calculation). An evaluation of a 0.5 advantage for one side gives more information than the phrase 'stands better'. Going further, as I learned recently in A Pawn Equals 200 Rating Points, the 0.5 advantage translates to a 64% chance that the side with the advantage will win the game.

I don't know how much of the Informant code system predated the first publications of the ongoing series. The symbols '!', '?', etc., have been in use for a long time, but what about the rest? Here is an explanation of the system as it appeared in Informant no.1, covering the first half of 1966.

How accurate were those early, pre-engine assessments of 'has the upper hand', 'is slightly better', and so on? How well did those position assessments mesh with move assessments like '!?' and '?!'? I'll take a look at some of these questions in a future post.

07 May 2013

Danailov's Puzzles

For various reasons that I won't bore you with here, I'm not a big fan of Twitter. Even so, I spend a little time on it every week to catch up with a few personalities who occasionally have something interesting to say. One of my favorites is the current president of the European Chess Union (ECU), who can be found here: Silvio Danailov on Twitter. Over the last month or so, he has been tweeting an occasional 'puzzle', usually related to the World Championship. The first one I noted was

Silvio Danailov - 29 Mar: Chess puzzle of the day: Guess who is the most happiest player in the world after today's round in London? Small track: He doesn't play there??

That date marks one of the last rounds of the recent 2013 Candidates Event, specifically Candidates R12 – Kramnik wins, overtakes Carlsen, as Chessbase.com summarized it. A few days later, after Carlsen had won the event, Danailov asked,

Silvio Danailov - 2 Apr: Puzzle of the day: Please name the other two players from London besides Carlsen who ever have qualified for WCC match?

Unlike the previous puzzle (if you're still stumped, the initials of the 'most happiest' player are V.A.), the ECU president provided an answer, probably because he wanted everyone to know that Kramnik wasn't a member of the group. Danailov isn't known for subtlety.

Silvio Danailov - 4 Apr: The right answer of my yesterday puzzle is: Ivanchuk and Gelfand

If you're scratching your head about Ivanchuk, he lost the final match to Ponomariov in the 2001-02 FIDE World Championship. A week later Danailov tweeted,

Silvio Danailov - 13 Apr: Very appropriate day for the puzzle of the weekend: Who is the most privileged top player on the recent chess history? The answer next week.

I'm not sure what he meant by 'appropriate day for the puzzle of the weekend', unless he was referring to Kasparov's 50th birthday on 13 April. The phrase 'recent chess history' is open to interpretation. If this means the last 50 years, I would say Karpov was the most privileged, but I suppose has was taking another swipe at Kramnik.

The next puzzle had the entire chess world puzzled, and still does.

Silvio Danailov - 21 Apr: Puzzle of the week: Why FIDE is on such a rush to organize the match Carlsen - Anand in Chennai without bidding procedure?

My guess was that FIDE wanted Carlsen to withdraw from the match, thereby handing his place to Kramnik. Ilyumzhinov, after all, depends on the Russian Federation to nominate and endorse him before each election, and 2014 will be an election year (during the Olympiad in Norway!). I can think of other, equally outlandish, reasons. A few days later Danailov gave a hint.

Silvio Danailov - 23 Apr: Many interesting theories on my puzzle but so far nobody have a clue. Do you remember the slogan of my ECU electoral campaign? "I know.."??

I doubt that anyone remembers the slogan. What did he know and when did he know it?

Silvio Danailov - 2 May: Puzzle of the week: FIDE WCOC commission will have balls to introduce Sofia Rules in Carlsen - Anand WCC match this year or not?

Re having balls, is there something controversial about the Sofia Rules? They make complete sense to me.

Getting back to the previous tweet, maybe he meant something like, "What evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows!" Whatever Danailov knows or doesn't know, I hope he keeps tweeting his puzzles. Chess needs more of this sort of entertainment.

06 May 2013

More Early Carlsen

Continuing with GM Carlsen's competitive record, while Comparing 'Wonderboy' with TMER, I identified several dozen events that were not yet recorded on my page about Magnus Carlsen's Tournament, Match, and Exhibition Record (2000-). Many of these were obscure team and club tournaments with only sketchy details, so I decided to add only those that were recorded in the last chapter of Agdestein's book 'Wonderboy': the 'Table of Main Results'.

05 May 2013

Over 10.000.000 Served!

Five years ago to the month, I noted, Over 5.000.000 Served!, on my chess site.

Time marches on and the web never sleeps.

03 May 2013

All that Chess Jazz

Drummer piece © Flickr user Esteban Manchado under Creative Commons.

'Detail of drummer piece (equivalent of Knight) in a jazz-themed chess set in the Jazz Museum in Harlem.'

02 May 2013

Cup Play

Even though my online play these days is centered on chess960, I always like to have a few active games of traditional chess. My favorite type of chess tournament is the cup format, which suits any number of participants of any strength.

In cup play, the players are first assigned arbitrarily to a number of preliminary round robins ('all play all'), where the highest scoring players in each section qualify for the next stage. Each round uses the same format until a single winner emerges from the final round. Most players take the event seriously, there are few dropouts, and the competition gets stiffer at each round.

Since 2002, I've played every two years in the IECG/LSS Cup (the IECG eventually became LSS), which uses a four stage format. For the first five tournaments -- 2002, 2004, 2006, 2008, and 2010 -- I always managed to qualify from the preliminary round to the quarterfinal round, and I should qualify for 2012 as well, barring a last minute accident.

In each of the first three tournaments, I was eliminated in the quarterfinal round. In 2006 (quarterfinal start January 2008), I finished 6th out of seven with a score of +1-4=1, and decided that I had to improve my approach. The steps that I took are documented elsewhere on this blog.

In the 2008 tournament, I qualified for the first time from the quarterfinal to the semifinal round with a score of +3-1=2. There was some luck involved here, because I should have lost a key game: A Few Careless Seconds. I was eliminated in the semifinal round with a respectable score of +2-0=6, a half point away from qualifying for the final.

In the 2010 tournament, I again qualified from the quarterfinal to the semifinal round: this time with a score of +3-0=3, and no luck involved. After five years of playing chess960, I'm finding the opening phase of traditional chess considerably less interesting. It's always based on the same initial moves following the same set of limited ideas. I documented this a few years ago in Differences Between Chess and Chess960. Eventually the opening phase exits theory and the game starts for real -- that's when things really get interesting and that's what keeps me coming back.