31 October 2013

Not the Halloween Gambit (*)

The couple that plays together, stays together?

Castro King & Queen Chess Pieces © Flickr user Lynn Friedman under Creative Commons.

I had to look up the meaning of 'Castro'. It's not Fidel, as in my recent post Castro's Favorite Hobby. It's The Castro, San Francisco [Wikipedia].

The Castro District, commonly referenced as The Castro, is a neighborhood in Eureka Valley in San Francisco, California. The Castro is one of the first gay neighborhoods in the United States, and it is currently the largest.

Now you know, too. File under 'chess costumes'.


(*) 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Nxe5

29 October 2013

Best of Batgirl

What a pretentious title for an unpretentious subject! How could I possibly identify the 'best' of an oeuvre where I've hardly scratched the surface? I thought of adding a '?' to the title, but I already used that trick for my first post on the subject, Bye, Bye Batgirl?. Let's just say it's 'best' in the personal sense I used earlier this year in a post on Sources of Inspiration.

After that awkward introduction I'll further circumscribe the subject by limiting the discussion to work posted on Chess.com. In the 'Bye, Bye' post, I pointed to a few additional resources, while Batgirl's first post on Chess.com, SBChess (June 2007), links to much more.

Chess.com is a great site, but it does have weaknesses. One of its biggest failings, at least from my point of view, is a lack of resources to navigate the site. Finding relevant material is a hit-or-miss operation, depending largely on general web search engines like Google. Batgirl's material is scattered across her blog ('site:chess.com inurl:batgirl') and the forums ('site:chess.com inurl:forum batgirl'). With that caveat as my excuse, meaning that I've undoubtedly overlooked important material, I'll list posts in the categories that I like best. The overriding subject, if there's any doubt, is 'chess history'.

For some reason I have a particular interest in the early 19th century French players. Perhaps it's because I've lived in French-speaking countries, or perhaps it's because their careers coincided with the first rumblings of the World Chess Championship. Whatever the reason, there's plenty of Batgirl material to choose from. For example,

Batgirl is a specialist in 19th century chess history and has covered the development of the game in other countries.

Her great specialty, however, is Morphy, and she is probably the greatest expert of our time. I couldn't possibly list all of her work on the subject (Batgirl: 'Over the years I've invested many thousands of hours reading, researching and writing about Paul Morphy, the Chess King'), so I'll just mention a post that combines Morphy with another particular interest of mine, D.W.Fiske.

  • Paul Morphy by Willard Fiske, 'the fact that Fiske was intimate with Morphy helps establish the accepted perspectives as most likely accurate'.

After 19th century chess and Morphy, another large area of her expertise is women in chess. For example,

Much of Batgirl's work is amply illustrated. She frequently mentions her collection of images and occasionally uses them as the focus of a post.

Going back to the 19th century, that last link reminded me that I almost forgot her researches into Russian chess history.

Like many people with a keen interest in chess history, Batgirl pays attention to the meta-subject itself.

In a comment to that last post, when asked, 'Which group (if any) would you put yourself in?', she answers, 'I'm not a historian.' I don't think many people would agree with that assessment. Thanks again, Batgirl, for your many contributions to chess history.

28 October 2013

Anand's TMER 1983-2013

That's a wrap! After uploading Anand's Game Scores 2004-2013, I updated Viswanathan Anand's Tournament, Match, and Exhibition Record (1983-). The TMER index now includes W-L-D data for all events through 2013.

What will I do next in this ongoing series that started with About.com? I can't say for sure, but something will spring to mind. All I am planning for the short term is to enjoy the Anand - Carlsen title match that starts next week. On the web everyone has ringside seats!

27 October 2013

Castro's 'Favorite Hobby'

Most auctions of photographs featured in this ongoing series of Top eBay Chess Items by Price are of interest because of an associated autograph rather than the photo itself. The item below, titled '"Joy of a Hobby" Cuban Leader Fidel Castro Playing Chess by Alberto Korda' is an exception. It appears to have sold for about $800, 'Best offer accepted'.

The left half of the composite image shows the original item that was listed on eBay. The right side shows enlargements of the central photos from the first three rows. A smiling, thoughtful Castro is thoroughly enjoying the game.

The description added more detail about the item,

Contact Sheet Print. Full story of "Joy of a Hobby" Photo Collection 1960-1968. Revolutionary Cuban Leader Fidel Castro playing chess. Signed by the author, my father, Alberto Korda. Museum Quality. Print in Black & White. Paper Gelatin Paper Process.

and about the photographer,

Author: Alberto Korda, my father, best known for his photo "Guerrillero Heróico" Ernesto ("Che") Guevara the photo that made a man's life a legend. The Maryland Institute of Art called "Guerrillero Heróico" the most famous photograph in the world, and a symbol of the 20th century. It also appears in the book The Photos of the Century: 100 Historic Moments by Marie-Monique Robin. It's known as the new Christ. It's declared a masterpiece, and is part of the Louvre Museum's photo collection.

However, this is not the only photo that made my father's work epic. This Contact Sheet Print shows a full story of a day in the life of the Cuban leader enjoying his favorite hobby. My father was one of the few Cuban photojournalists responsible for capturing the world's attention with the Cuban Revolution Propaganda. He followed the Cuban leaders around and became Fidel Castro's personal photographer for more than a decade (request from Fidel Castro, who was one of his admirers).

My father's passion and exceptional skills as a photographer made every event of The Cuban Revolution a magnificent moment, a genuine representation of an era of changes and beauty. He once said, "My photographs are vivid memories of my country's history. They gave me the opportunity to succeed as a photographer."

This blog's archives don't divulge any other posts about Castro, although one comes close: The Game of Warriors.

25 October 2013

GM King on Anand vs. Carlsen

This week on my World Championship Blog, I featured a couple of Anand - Carlsen Interviews, one with each player. For this edition of Video Friday, the last before the big match starts, let's have some of their games explained by one of the best GM commentators in the business.

Chess World Championship 2013 Preview: Carlsen vs Anand #7 (9:17) • 'Daniel King demonstrates one of the early encounters between Carlsen and Anand, from Arctic Chess 2010.'

If that was no.7 for GM King, where are nos.1 through 6? They're here: Power Play Chess, Anand - Carlsen Preview.

24 October 2013

Endgame: Geller - Fischer, 1970 Interzonal

In my recent post on Fischer's Endgame (see that post for links to various examples on Chessgames.com), I gave extracts from 'Russians Versus Fischer' by Plisetsky and Voronkov, where several strong Soviet GMs summarized the strengths and weaknesses of Fischer's endgame play. Two of his games were referenced twice, once in the section on strengths and once in weaknesses. Let's take a look at the first of those games, the Geller - Fischer game from the 1970 Palma de Mallorca Interzonal.

The game is noteworthy for a number of reasons. In their three previous meetings -- Geller - Fischer, Havana 1965; Fischer - Geller, Monte Carlo 1967; and Fischer - Geller, Skopje 1967 -- Geller had won each time, including twice with the Black pieces in 25 moves or less.

At the time the 1970 game was played in round 12, Geller was leading the tournament with Fischer a half point behind. On the seventh move Geller offered a draw. Fischer declined 'without the slightest hesitation', according to Plisetsky and Voronkov, quoting Vasyukov. 'Geller's face showed his chagrin. He realized that his moment of weakness had caused him irreparable psychological damage.'

A few moves later, Geller went astray, lost a Pawn, and simplified into an endgame where both players had two Rooks. The remaining Pawns were arranged in a drawish 3-4 structure with fgh-Pawns opposing efgh-Pawns. Among Fischer's strengths, the Soviet GMs noted,

He plays the endgame particularly forcefully, making use of every chance to achieve his goal. Even in the simplest positions, which seem absolutely drawn, he does not give up the struggle and continues seeking the slightest opportunity to confuse his opponent. No sooner does Fischer's opponent slacken his attention for a moment than retribution is imminent.

In the current game, the players reached a position with Rook and Pawn on each side. Although Fischer had the upper hand, Geller could have used a well known drawing device where the player at a disadvantage sacrifices the Rook for the opponent's Pawn, then runs for the Queening square with the last Pawn, forcing the opponent to give up his own Rook. He missed this opportunity and lost.

Among Fischer's weaknesses, the GMs noted,

In endgames difficult to evaluate, where everything cannot be calculated, Fischer's play is not faultless. Small wonder that, say, in Rook endings, which are often difficult to evaluate, Fischer at times underestimates the latent opportunities available to his opponent.

The following diagram shows the position at adjournment, which both players had the opportunity to analyze in depth.

Geller - Fischer, Palma de Mallorca Interzonal 1970

After 40...Rb1-h1; White's next move was sealed

Geller sealed 41.Rea6, threatening to force the exchange of the Rook on f4, after which the draw is much easier. Again from 'Russians Versus Fischer',

[The game] culminated in a four-Rook ending, in which Black was one Pawn up. The subsequent battle showed that Fischer had underestimated the defensive resources of Geller, who was able to pose threats to Fischer along the seventh rank. Indeed, after the adjournment, Fischer did not give our grandmaster much trouble, although Geller's defense in the endgame was very difficult.

I analyzed the game from the point where the four-Rook ending began up to the moment of adjournment. I haven't found any position where Fischer missed an obvious maneuver. The four-Rook endgame with 4-3 Pawn structure is more complicated than the drawish two-Rook version, because the extra pair of Rooks allows to gang up on enemy Pawns and to threaten mates. It was Geller's choice to go into this endgame and his judgement appears to have been correct.

As for the adjourned position, if the Soviet GMs found a better opportunity for Black, it is not obvious what resource they found. The game continued with four Rooks for almost another 25 moves before the players swapped a pair of Rooks. Geller blundered on his 71st move and resigned two moves later.

22 October 2013

Chess Saves Horses

Here's a French twist on the Chess Sells series. I picked up this postcard over the weekend when we took our new dog to the vet for the first time.

The top two lines say,

Let's put their suffering in check

That's a teardrop under the Knight's eye. Source: Gaia.be.

21 October 2013

Anand's Game Scores 2004-2013

After compiling the data for Anand's W-L-D Record 2009-2013, I uploaded the PGN game scores to the 'Chess for All Ages' web site:-

The file includes 939 games from 101 events, starting with 'Armenia vs. Rest of the World' in June 2004 (TWIC 502). The ZIP file contains one PGN file per event with full PGN headers as distributed by TWIC. I know the small PGN files are an inconvenience for some people, but they are easy to concatenate when necessary. I work more with individual events than with the complete file, so I prefer the small files.

The ZIP file isn't yet linked from Viswanathan Anand's Tournament, Match, and Exhibition Record (1983-). I'll do that when I add the W-L-D data for 2004-2013.

20 October 2013

'Chess in (the) School/Schools'

I wrote about it once before -- FIDE/ECU Chess in Schools -- but I'm still not sure what it means. Once upon a time it meant this...

Chess in School (1931)

Source: Unknown

...but those days are long gone. Bear with me while I try to figure it out.

18 October 2013

Chess Is NOT a Crime!

What's this all about? After almost four decades, Market Street chess games are taking a break (SFExaminer.com):

People from all walks of life brought their own chess sets and spent a few hours Sunday afternoon playing on Market and Fifth streets, as had been a San Francisco tradition for decades. They were not bothered by police, who last month confiscated chess sets, tables and chairs after businesses complained about drug dealing, gambling and theft.

The poster says, 'Join your community for a CHESS-IN! Bring your chess boards, tables, and friends...'

Chess is not a crime San Francisco protest © Flickr user Steve Rhodes under Creative Commons.

For all photos in the set see: Chess is not a crime San Francisco protest. Other slogans in the photos: 'Good Queen Fun'; 'Sit, Lie, Play Chess'; 'Not Pawns in Their Game - We Won't Move!'; 'Let Us Play'; 'Sidewalks are for everyone!'; 'Public Space for ALL!'; 'Homes & Chess Boards NOT Jails'; 'SFPD, Stay in "Check"' [SFPD : San Francisco Police Department] ...

17 October 2013

Bye, Bye Batgirl?

Although Chess.com gives a free blog to all of its members, only a few members post regularly and, of those who do, only a very few have anything new to say about chess history. That's one reason why Le blog de la Batgirl shines out of the Chess.com blogosphere. Another reason is that Batgirl's posts are well researched and well written, so it's no surprise that she routinely receives thousands of views and dozens of comments.

Batgirl's many fans, among which I count myself, were dismayed to see her recent post, Final Blog, where she announced,

This is my last blog on chess.com. I may continue to contribute an occasional article on chess history, but that's all.

I was particularly dismayed because I've corresponded with Batgirl on and off for a dozen years and have watched with great interest while her career developed. Our first meeting was on an ancient Yahoo! Group for ChessHistory (which through the years has been converted so many times by Yahoo that it is impossible to navigate) in July 2001.

I started playing chess about 5 years ago. I don't play competitively, just for fun. Actually, I think I'm more interested in the history and background than in improving or playing.

She appeared again a few years later on an About.com forum, where I recall an early, lengthy discussion about chess blogs, appropriately titled Chess blogs (February 2004).

Does anyone have a chess blog... or know of any?

Talk about being ahead of her time! She later penned an article for the About.com chess site (May 2007, now on Archive.org): The Art of Odds Giving, by Sarah Cohen, Sarah's Chess Journal. I introduced it with

This article is a portion of a much longer essay A Perspective on the Art of Odds-giving, and grew from a forum discussion on the Ehlvest vs. Rybka match ('Man-Machine Match at Odds'). The longer essay has examples of many of the types of odds discussed here.

All of that is just small potatoes compared with the bulk of her work. She hung out for a few years at Chessgames.com, SBC; Member since Mar-26-04, where she still contributes from time to time. Her big break came when she started writing for Chess.com, shortly after it was founded; first post: SBChess (June 2007).

Batgirl has left so many articles scattered across the web and has left them on so many sites -- mainly of the free hosting variety that disappear suddenly -- that I wouldn't know where to begin to locate them all. The SBChess post above has links to the current home, edochess.ca, which seems to be a permanent address.

Who is Batgirl in real life? While I was writing this post, I discovered another blog post on Chess.com, Chessy Talk: Interview with Batgirl (August 2011).

I've been at chess.com almost since its inception a little over 4 years ago. Since I do a lot of online research involving chess, the site came to my attention relatively quickly. My chess activity goes back 15 years. I'm not sure chess.com has actually changed anything for me. I've had blogs before; I've written for different chess sites before; and I've published my chess history explorations before in various forms - most commonly though my websites. I think what chess.com offers - and this is not little thing - is a ready-made reader base within a friendly and supportive atmosphere with access to some very nice-to-use tools.

Is her leaving Chess.com the end of an era or the start of something even bigger? Like her other fans, I'll be waiting eagerly to find out.

15 October 2013

Fischer's Endgame

I learned so much from writing the series of posts on Fischer's Middlegame, that I decided to summarize the further analysis of his endgame. To recap, the quoted bullets are from the chapter on preparing for the 1972 Spassky match titled 'Fischer's play: An analysis', from 'Russians Versus Fischer' by Plisetsky and Voronkov (1994 edition). Here are extracts from the section on the 'The Endgame' together with links to Chessgames.com for the referenced games.

'1. Even in the simplest positions, which seem absolutely drawn, he does not give up the struggle'

'2. Fischer draws upon an extensive arsenal of strategic devices'

'3. Fischer is superb at endgames that provide scope for sharp combinative play, which require that his opponents calculate far ahead'

'4. Fischer feels very confident in endgames in which he has some kind of definite advantage'

'5. In positions in which his opponent is deprived of opportunities to play vigourously, Fischer plays faultlessly'

'6. In defending difficult positions he displays great ingenuity and staunchness.'

The Soviet GMs also pounced on some weak spots. 'In Fischer's record there are cases of inferior playing on his part.'

'1. When his opponent plays vigourously, Fischer always feels insecure.'

'2. In endgames difficult to evaluate, where everything cannot be calculated, Fischer's play is not faultless.'

'3. If a defensive idea is well camouflaged and does not strike the eye, Fischer may not notice it.'

'4. Sometimes Fischer makes mistakes in the endgame that are not characteristic of him but are, rather, a result of the strain of the struggle.'

'5. Fischer is sometimes inaccurate when he is worse off in the endgame'

What to make of all this? These 'cases of inferior playing' all have a strong psychological quality. Is it really possible to learn anything from them? In future posts I'll take a look at a few of the endgames to see what can be gleaned. The two games mentioned in both the strengths section and the weaknesses section would be a good place to start.

14 October 2013

Anand's W-L-D Record 2009-2013

Continuing with Anand's W-L-D Record 2004-2008, I picked up where I left off and brought the W-L-D (win, loss, draw) data up to date through Anand's most recent tournament, the Tal Memorial, held at Moscow in June. I haven't applied any of the 2004-2013 W-L-D data to the public page, Viswanathan Anand's Tournament, Match, and Exhibition Record (1983-), because there are still many gaps to fill.

The most recent years covered two title matches,

The next event, in November, will be the much anticipated title match,

While I'm filling those aforementioned gaps, I'll compile the record of Anand - Carlsen encounters in reverse chronological order. It will give me the opportunity to compare my page on Anand's record with Magnus Carlsen's Tournament, Match, and Exhibition Record (2000-).

13 October 2013

Double Dutch Clocks

The last time I featured a chess clock on Top eBay Chess Items by Price was a year and a half ago in A Vintage Schachuhr. Since it's high time to have another, I'm happy to feature two similar items, pictured below, from the same seller.

The item on the top, titled 'Antique Chess Clock Hague Netherlands 1910s', sold for US $1850 after receiving 46 bids from six bidders. The item on the bottom, titled 'Antique Chess Clock Haagsche Arbeiders Schaakclub 1915' [Hague Workers Chess Club], sold for US $1225 after 19 bids, also from six bidders. Were they the same six bidders? Of course, I have no idea, but since the clock in the bottom image was chronologically the first to be offered, it appears that interest is headed north.

The descriptions for the two clocks were similar, so I'll give only the description for the second clock sold (top image):-

Clock measures approximately 3 1/8"D x 10 1/4"W x 6 1/2"H. The faces of both clocks are identical. The body of this clock almost exactly matches one that we sold recently that came from The Hague in the Netherlands, so it is reasonable to guess that this one is from the same place and that it also dates from around the 1910s. Piece is made of steel and brass with a wood base and glass face covers. Faces appear to be made of card stock. Metal has surface patina in areas.

Both clocks wind up, but only run for a short time before stopping. Main springs are good but the mechanisms are in need of cleaning. We cannot guarantee the continued functionality of the mechanical portions of this or any item we sell as per our company policy, regardless of condition.

If a third such clock should appear on eBay, I bet that it would sell for even more.

11 October 2013

Chess.com(?) Interviews Kasparov

This video incorporates two recent news reports -- Chess.com to acquire ChessVibes and Kasparov announces candidacy for FIDE President -- both with the potential to have a profound impact on top-level chess.

Chess News: Garry Kasparov Interview! (31:13) • 'Kasparov sits down with Peter Doggers to discuss his plans to run for the World Chess Federation Presidency in 2014.'

The interview covers mainly World Championship chess politics from the 1980s to the present. For more about Kasparov's FIDE candidacy, see kasparov2014.com.

10 October 2013

Fischer's Middlegame : Defending an Attack

After writing the posts on Fischer's Middlegame and Fischer's Middlegame : Isolating Pieces, I wasn't convinced that I had understood the concept behind 'isolating his opponent's pieces from the battlefield'. Fortunately, the Soviet authors of 'Fischer's play: An analysis' (see that first 'Middlegame' post for references and links) provided a second example of the mysterious technique.

Unlike the well known Portisch - Fischer game seen in 'Isolating Pieces', the 1967 Maric - Fischer game is almost unknown, at least judging by the number of references on the web. This meant that I was on my own to locate the relevant positions. After some analysis, I decided that the position in the diagram is a key part of the critical sequence.

White has sacrificed a Pawn for a do-or-die attack on Black's King. All of White's pieces are aimed at the Black King. If the attack doesn't work, White will be off-balance for the next phase, struggling with a Pawn down.

White continued with 26.Qg4, attacking the Rook on c8 and making way for the h-Pawn. The game continued 25...f5 27.Qg5 Qxd4 28.h4 f4 29.Rg4, when Fischer unleashed a nice combination with 29...Rc5 30.Qxf4 Rxf4 31.Rgxf4 Rf5. This led to simplification into a Rook and opposite colored Bishop endgame, where Black retained the extra Pawn. Along with the passed, connected center Pawns, it was enough to win.

Maric - Fischer, Skopje 1967

After 25...Ra8-c8

Nice play by Fischer, isn't it? So I thought until I examined the variation with an engine. Instead of 29.Rg4, White has 29.Qg4!, attacking the Rook a second time and avoiding Fischer's combination. Fischer could have strengthed the variation a few moves earlier with 27...Qc4, forcing the Rook from the f-file before capturing the d-Pawn. In our time it's easy to criticize top players of yesteryear based on engine analysis, just as in former times it was easy to praise their play uncritically. Had the machine suggestions been played, the game would still have been a hard fight.

The game illustrates another characteristic of Fischer's play. After Maric's irregular first move 1.f4, Fischer continued 1...Nf6 2.Nf3 g6 3.d3 Bg7 4.e4 O-O. He often used the King's Indian formation as Black against unorthodox openings. The idea is simple : play the first five moves without much thought, then see what the opponent has cooked up in the same time.

08 October 2013

Fischer's Middlegame : Isolating Pieces

Let's return to Fischer's Middlegame one more time to look at a point which mystified me. The Soviet authors of 'Fischer's play: An analysis' wrote,

7. Typical of Fischer is a flair for isolating his opponent's pieces from the battlefield. [ala Capablanca]

along with giving a few concrete examples, including one Capablanca game. Since this was a concept I hadn't encountered before, I decided to take a closer look. The first example from Fischer's games is one I've discussed in the past: Portisch - Fischer, Santa Monica 1966 and Watch Out for 'Etc.'. It was annotated at different times by Fischer, Portisch, and Kasparov; see those two posts for references.

The top diagram shows the best known position from the game. Portisch played 14.Qxa8, to which Kasparov gave a '?' and commented,

Portisch is seduced by the traditional evaluation 'two Rooks are stronger than a Queen'. But in the given instance it is just the opposite: the more numerous White army is unable to achieve coordination!

The italics are mine and are meant to highlight a phrase that corresponds to 'isolating pieces from the battlefield'. In other words, isolated pieces are uncoordinated pieces, and vice versa. (*) The game continued a few more moves before reaching the bottom diagram.

Portisch - Fischer, Santa Monica 1966

Here we see what the commentators mean by isolated / uncoordinated pieces. The White pieces are unable to whip up any threats and are ultimately overwhelmed in the endgame.

There is an unusual angle to this instructive example. The Capablanca game (documented in the aforementioned 'Fischer's Middlegame' post) appears to have little to do with this topic. It was a rather poorly played game by Capablanca. His opponent, William Winter, overlooked a winning move, blundered instead, and resigned immediately. It's not the sort of game one uses to illustrate an important positional theme. I wonder if the Soviet authors of 'Fischer's play' mixed it up with another Winter - Capablanca game, William Winter vs Jose Raul Capablanca; Ramsgate 1929. That game, although I didn't take the time to analyze it any depth, has distinct similarities to the Portisch - Fischer game.


(*) Kasparov considered that Portisch was 'seduced by the traditional evaluation', but Portisch wrote,

White has no compensation for the doubled Pawn and he is condemned to passive defense. Therefore I decided to give up my Queen for the Rooks in a hope to save the game, which nearly succeeded.

He knew he wasn't gaining material -- he was sacrificing material.

07 October 2013

Anand's W-L-D Record 2004-2008

Continuing with Viswanathan Anand's Tournament, Match, and Exhibition Record (1983-), after creating Anand's TMER PGN for the years 2004 to 2013, I started adding the events, including W-L-D (win, loss, draw) data, to the TMER index page. I managed to work through 2008 before running out of time. These were among Anand's best years and included three World Championship events:-

He finished 2nd-3rd in the 2005 title tournament, won the 2007 title tournament, and defended the title in the 2008 match. The entire list of events can be found in my September post, Anand's TMER 2004-2008.

06 October 2013

The Asian Team Championship

A few weeks ago, in China and India Top-20, I looked at the top-20 players in the two powerhouse nations of Asian chess. How do they fare in head-to-head competition? While China routinely finishes well ahead of India at the biennial Olympiad, the results are closer at the Asian Team Championship.

Source: OlimpBase

Asian Team Chess Championship

In the last five events, the two countries have swapped the no.1 position, but looking at the individual events, we see that India only won in years where China did not participate. For example:-

Thanks to the detailed records maintained by OlimpBase, we can drill down to the records for individual countries in specific team competitions. Here are the team records for the Men's Asian Team Chess Championship.

Which Asian country is no.3? I would have expected to see the Philippines, but the chart above shows Vietnam as next in line for the last four competitions. It turns out that the Philippines hasn't competed since 1999. What's the story behind that?

04 October 2013

Chess in Schools in Central Park

A week ago, for Video Friday, I wanted to feature a clip for the recent Chess-in–the-Schools Central Park event, but I got sidetracked by the Fischer News Clips 2004-2005. This week, for Flickr Friday, I was happy to find the following photo.

Chess in Central Park © Flickr user Laddir under Creative Commons.

For more about the event, see Hundreds Compete At Largest U.S. Chess Tournament In Central Park.

The tournament is a partnership between the Parks Department and Chess-in–the-Schools, which works to teach public school students the game of chess.

I'm not sure it qualifies as 'the largest chess tournament in the United States', but it's certainly impressive.

03 October 2013

Anand on World Championship Opening Preparation

At the end of my previous post, Opening Wisdom from Anand, I noted,

The last set of quotes I collected were related specifically to World Championship opening preparation [...] a topic I've covered many times in this blog.

The wrapup for the initial series was World Championship Opening Preparation - Summary, followed a few months later by World Championship Opening Preparation in 2010, on the Anand - Topalov title match. Although I never addressed the preparation for the 2012 match itself, there's a photo of the team on my World Championship blog: Anand - Gelfand Wrapup. The 2008 Anand - Kramnik match is still unexplored on this blog, so I hope to come back to it eventually.

As for the 1995 PCA match with Kasparov, Anand discussed several aspects in 'My Best Games of Chess'. The following page references are to the 1998 edition of the book.

Preparation for a World Championship match needs to be extremely thorough -- one must not only take the existing theory a little bit further, but in fact almost reinvent the lines you expect to use since it must withstand several months of scrutiny by a team of grandmasters. (p.137)

The days when chess was a game between two players are long gone.

When I finally reached the Kasparov match there was a feeling of anticlimax, as if I was already spent from the earlier efforts. I had the feeling that, having played so many matches, I was fairly exposed because I had already shown most of my best ideas trying to reach the World Championship itself. The champion can be much better prepared, as he only has to play when and where he chooses and can just wait to see how the cycle develops. Of course, every challenger says much the same thing! [...]

I had to assemble a team in a hurry, and it was a unique experience suddenly going from having at most two seconds to having four. [...]

It was amazing how much more you could accomplish with such help, but it was also much more confusing comparing the results of one person's analysis with another's. Trying to get everybody to work together in the most efficient manner was a major task in itself. You can't have all five people analyzing on one board -- it's just too many heads and hands. On the other hand, splitting into groups analyzing the same position often leads to the groups heading off in entirely different directions and then it can be hard to decide which line you are actually going to play. Thanks to the information explosion, the amount of material you have to deal with is gigantic. [...]

With hindsight, and given that we were new to the job, I think we did a reasonably good job with our preparation. I am sure that we would do better next time, based on our experience in 1995. Still, this was an area where Kasparov had an advantage due to his vast experience preparing for World Championship matches. His preparation was able to survive the close scrutiny of a World Championship match while mine took some heavy blows. (p.181)

The following quote isn't about preparation, but is still worth noting.

I had noticed that a number of players had been badly affected by match defeats. [...] After my defeat by Kasparov, I gave some thought as to how to get my career back on track. The memory of the chess world can be very short-lived -- you can become a nobody within a year if you don't back your reputation up by good results. (p.188)

The value of the preparation lasts long after the match is over.

A position on which I had done a lot of work for the Kasparov match. Although I wasn't so successful in the match itself, the analysis paid off over the succeeding months. At the time this game was played, I was still far ahead of other grandmasters in my understanding of this line. Later on they caught up with me, but not before I had notched up several wins. (p.202)

With only a month to go until the Anand - Carlsen title match starts, I imagine that the teams are in full swing.

01 October 2013

Opening Wisdom from Anand

After creating the file of World Champion Anand's games over the past ten years (see Anand's TMER PGN for background), I started to study the games to see what I could learn. The first thing I looked at was his basic opening repertoire -- what early moves does he favor, up to the fifth move or so. I discovered that his repertoire tends to follow the current trend: sharp variations of today's most popular openings.

Not seeing how I could write a post around that observation, I opened his book 'My Best Games of Chess' (I have the 1998 edition) to see what I could learn there. I discovered many pithy examples of grandmaster wisdom applied to the opening, especially in the context of chess as a game between two players. Here are a few given with the game reference from the book. To play through the full game, see the collection My Best Games of Chess by Vishy Anand on Chessgames.com.

Anand vs K Ninov, 1987

These were still the pre-computer days, when players were much more intuitive. Nowadays everybody goes home and checks everything with [an engine]. The use of computers has made people more sceptical and now they are more prone to go Pawn-grabbing unless there is definite compensation.

Anand vs S Agdestein, 1987

[My opponent] is fond of offbeat systems [...] I was quite happy to see it on the board. White can play natural moves and there is not much risk even if he commits a slight inaccuracy -- a pleasant situation when placing the top seed.

Tal vs Anand, 1989

How do you explain a move that violates the rule not move the same piece twice in the opening? Well, I can't really find a general principle that justifies it, but it does seem to work!

Anand vs Spassky, 1989

During the course of his career, [my opponent] has played just about every opening there is. [...] I felt that [his] knowledge of the main lines would be much greater than mine, so I tried, with some difficulty, to find a relatively unexplored continuation.

R Kuijf vs Anand, 1990

Technically, it may be a novelty, but I am reluctant to call it that. To my mind, novelties should be at least a bit difficult to find. If you play the most obvious move and then discover that by an accident of history nobody has played it before, I am not sure that it deserves any special appellation.

Anand vs Kasparov, 1991

I hadn't really bothered to prepare for this game -- I decided that whatever I did, it would be inadequate. He'd played this line so many times I couldn't hope to outprepare him, so I preferred to concentrate on keeping a clear head for the game. Although the strategy worked well on this occasion, it would be easy to exaggerate its advantages!

Anand vs Ftacnik, 1993

I had quite a few interesting ideas [in this line], but this is a very difficult and complex variation to analyze. It has taken many years for theory to converge on what are now considered 'main lines'. The positions are so tricky that you can never be sure that your ideas are correct; the advantage is that your opponent has the same problem!


In such messy and complex positions, I think it is better not to calculate too much -- the tree of variations can get enormously dense. I prefer to wait to see what my opponent plays, and that immediately removes a large percentage of possible branches.

Anand vs Kamsky, 1994

At the time [my opponent] played many openings, but I wasn't sure whether he had really studied them or whether he gave priority to being difficult to prepare for. Later it became clear that he does study and understand a lot of different openings, but not too well! I often encountered holes in his repertoire.

Anand vs Timman, 1995

Even chess professionals are human beings, and if you have seen a position hundreds of times then it is possible to become stale. A bit of variety helps to keep one's interest alive.

The last set of quotes I collected were related specifically to World Championship opening preparation. Since that is a topic I've covered many times in this blog, I'll return to it in a separate post.