28 February 2014

Practicing for a Title Match?

Of all the possible matchups for Carlsen's defense of the World Championship later this year, these two players would be the most exciting. Will Aronian win the forthcoming Candidates Tournament 2014?

Aronian vs Carlsen (13:36) • '2014 Zurich Blitz Chess'

To play through the complete game, see Levon Aronian vs Magnus Carlsen; Zurich Chess Challenge (Blitz, 2014) on Chessgames.com.

27 February 2014

Secrets of Kirsan

Everything you wanted to know about Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, but were afraid to ask: lenta.ru/lib/14161210/full.htm And if you don't understand Russian, here's a translation: Ilyumzhinov, Kirsan - FIDE President. It starts,

President of the International Chess Federation (FIDE) since 1995. Member of the party "United Russia". Created by New Vasiukov - luxury hotel complex on the outskirts of Elista. In 1993-2010, he led the Republic of Kalmykia, during which time repeatedly dismisses his government in 1998 announced its intention to withdraw from the Kalmykia of the Russian Federation, has repeatedly been accused of numerous financial irregularities and violations of federal law, but never prosecuted.

Kirsan Ilyumzhinov was born April 5, 1962 in Elista, the capital of the Kalmyk ASSR [62], [35]. Ilyumzhinov father was a party worker, his mother - a veterinary surgeon [63].

At age 14, he became the champion Ilyumzhinov of Kalmykia Chess [63]. In 1979 he graduated with honors from high school [62]. In 1979-1980 he worked as a fitter at the "Star" ("DIR") [35], [63]. In 1980-1982 years serving in the Soviet Army, in parts of the North Caucasus Military District [62], [35].

Don't expect much about chess. In fact there are only two further references, both of which you knew already. [BTW, the numbers in brackets '[nn]' refer to footnotes.]

In November 1995, Ilyumzhinov was elected president of the International Chess Federation (Federation Internationale des Echecs, FIDE). Subsequently, repeatedly re-elected to this post (for the last time - in 2006) [36], [29]. [...]

In September 1998, was completed Ilyumzhinov initiated construction New Vasiukov or Chess City (City Chess) - a hotel complex on the southeastern outskirts of Elista [42]. [...]

Have you ever seen 'Chess City (City Chess)'? The top image is an aerial view. If you go to Google Earth, you'll see that it lies just outside Elista, to the southeast.

Image: Google Earth

Image: Google Street View

The bottom image shows the entrance to 'Chess City'. Unfortunately, you can't go any further in Street View. I imagine it's top secret or something.

25 February 2014

Chess and Spatial Intelligence

A few weeks ago, as part of an ongoing 'Chess in School' series, I wrote a post titled 'Chess in School' Is Experimental, based on Howard Gardner's Multiple Intelligences. As background for that post,

I located a copy of Gardner's book, 'Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences', and searched for references to chess. I found more than 50 references, half of them in the chapter titled '8. Spatial Intelligence'.

While the exercise didn't shed much light on the 'Chess in School' movement, it did pique my curiosity about Gardner's theories and their relation to chess.

The different intelligences are explained in six chapters:-

Part II - The Theory
5. Linguistic Intelligence
6. Musical Intelligence
7. Logical-Mathematical Intelligence
8. Spatial Intelligence
9. Bodily-Kinesthetic Intelligence
10. The Personal Intelligences

The discussion of chess takes three pages of the 35 page chapter on 'Spatial Intelligence' and is largely based on the work of Binet. Here is how Gardner introduces the topic (p.192).

If one had to choose a single area to illustrate the centrality of spatial intelligence, chess would suggest itself as a strong candidate. The ability to anticipate moves and their consequences seems closely tied to strong imagery. And, indeed, chess masters have generally had outstanding visual memory -— or visual imagination, as they call it. Yet a close examination of these individuals reveals that they possess a special kind of memory.

In a pioneering study nearly a century ago, Alfred Binet, the founder of intelligence testing, examined mnemonic virtuosity in blindfolded chess. This is a form in which, classically, individuals play several games simultaneously against an equal number of opponents. The opponents can each see the relevant board, but the blindfolded chessplayer cannot. His only cue is a recitation of the last move made by his opponent, and on that basis he must make his move.

What do the players themselves say? In Binet's report, we get an initial clue from a Dr. Tarrasch who writes, "Some part of every chess game is played blindfold. For example, any combination of five moves is carried out in one's head -— the only difference being that one is sitting in front of the chess board. The sight of the chessman frequently upsets one's calculations." We encounter here evidence that the game is typically represented at a relatively abstract level: the identities of the pieces, let alone their physical attributes, are completely extraneous. What is important is the power of each piece -— what it can and cannot do.

This struck me as a curious angle from which to observe chess. While there is no denying that the spatial element is important to chess -- as it is to any board game I can think of -- most good chess players would consider the 'Logical-Mathematical Intelligence' to be just as important. I'll continue with that thought in a future post.

24 February 2014

Short List for an Online Chess Database

In a recent post, Searching for an Online Chess Database, I listed five chess game databases for further consideration, then added,

To go further, I need a practical exercise. I'll report on that in a future post on this blog.

For convenient reference, here are links to the five databases plus a sixth that was recommended in a comment to that first post.

One of the first questions is the relative size of the databases. I queried each database on From's Gambit (1.f4 e5) and noted the game counts for the first moves. Following the table are notes specific to each database.

1: database.chessbase.com • According to Introducing the online ChessBase database, the latest incarnation of this well known tool was released in January 2014.

Fairly recently, a new online tool was released by ChessBase with little if any fanfare, but that is of no small use for casual users: an online searchable version of the ChessBase database, accessible from your browser, and free. It brings well over 6.5 million games, includes the playerbase pictures, move statistics, and even the Let’s Check computer evaluations. Here is a tutorial.

PGN download? No.

2: 365chess.com • The service is the 'Chess Opening Explorer' running on the 'Big Database'. The corresponding counts for the 'Masters Database' are 1.f4: 519 and 1... e5: 21. • PGN download? No. 'As a free member you can download only one game at a time. Become a Supporter now and you'll have unlimited downloads!'

3: chess.com/explorer • The counts are for 'Master Games'. • PGN download? Yes, but I'm a full member and am not sure if free members have the same access.

4: shredderchess.com • PGN download? No.

5: chessgames.com/explorer • '705,230 games · 1475-2014'; After a few more moves, 2.fxe5 d6 3.exd6, I received the message 'The links below [i.e. further moves] are restricted to premium members.' • PGN download? Unknown.

6: chess-db.com • No search on openings

As for my requirements (stated in the 'Searching' post) that I be able to restrict the search to top rated players and recent games, none of the services offered that functionality. The best I could get was sort by rating or by year played.

At this point, the best of the six services to suit my purposes appear to be those offered by Chessbase.com and Chess.com. I'll come back to these with a further practical exercise.

23 February 2014

'Chess in School' Is Individual

Over the past few months I've had a good run with the 'Chess in (the) School/Schools' series. The posts to date have been 'Chess in School' Is:-

For the next few posts in the series I'm going to switch gears and look at some of the best known personalities in the field. The first is a name I encountered in the post titled 'Chess in School' Is Quantifiable:-

  • Robert Ferguson

The others are familiar names who have built a reputation through field work:-

  • Richard James
  • Alexey Root
  • Susan Polgar

I'm sure I'll think of other names as I look at these first four.

21 February 2014

Chess Slugfest

This photo was tagged 'Steampunk' and 'Pioneer Square, Seattle'. I can guess what Pioneer Square means, but Steampunk? And what's the connection with Jules Verne?

Jules Verne's Birthday 2014 © Flickr user helix90 under Creative Commons.

Steampunk [Wikipedia]:-

Steampunk is a sub-genre of science fiction that typically features steam-powered machinery, especially in a setting inspired by industrialised Western civilization during the 19th century. Steampunk works are often set in an alternative history of the 19th century's British Victorian era or American "Wild West", in a post-apocalyptic future during which steam power has regained mainstream use, or in a fantasy world that similarly employs steam power.

Steampunk perhaps most recognisably features anachronistic technologies or retro-futuristic inventions as people in the 19th century might have envisioned them, and is likewise rooted in the era's perspective on fashion, culture, architectural style, and art. Such technology may include fictional machines like those found in the works of H. G. Wells and Jules Verne [...]

Now I get it, but slugging it out with giant chess pieces will have me baffled forever.

20 February 2014

Federations Large and Small

Are the FIDE rating lists once again complete? A year ago, in Countries with World Top-100 Players, I complained about finding entire countries missing, where Argentina (ARG) was the most visible example. ARG is back on the list for the first time since 2009, now with 2238 players, an increase of more than 50% over five years ago.

Alas, no, the lists are not complete. Three federations with rated players in the four previous years are missing from the 2014 list. The missing country with the most players is Ecuador (ECU), which had 706 players at the start of 2012. Somewhat curiously, a search for 'ECU' on ratings.fide.com lists the players without their standard ratings, but with their rapid and blitz ratings. Silly, no? But that's FIDE.

The missing data means that posts like last year's Other FIDE Titles or The Youngest and the Oldest might be misleading, but that's a risk I have to acccept.

Not at all misleading is the chart on the left. Of the 169 federations on the January 2014 rating list, it shows a count of countries having approximately the same number of players, rounded to the nearest 100. For example, the first row says 54 federations have less than 50 players. The second row says 28 federations have 50-149 players, and so on.

The numbers say that exactly 100 federations have fewer than 250 players. Together they represent almost 7000 players. Sounds like a lot, except when compared to the more than 170.000 players, both active and inactive, on the full list.

One more thing: the last row in the chart on the left is not the last row in the table. There are nine more federations with more than 3500 players. The top five have more than 12.000 players each. Their votes in the forthcoming FIDE elections count the same as the five smallest federations with one or two players each.

18 February 2014

Chess Behanced

After nearly six years of the Flickr Friday series, where the most recent post was Gibraltar's Tradewise Chess, I discovered another source of chess images on Behance.net ('Showcase & Discover Creative Work'): behance.net/search?search=chess.

Katerina Dubovik -> Chess Story © under Creative Commons.

This was one of nearly 40 drawings for Chess Story on Behance, 'Illustrations for "Chess story" by Stefan Zweig', many of them in color. Wikipedia, on the page titled The Royal Game, introduces the well known story,

The Royal Game (or Chess Story; Schachnovelle in the original German) is a novella by Austrian author Stefan Zweig first published in 1942, after the author's death by suicide. [...] Driven to mental anguish as the result of total isolation by the National Socialists, Dr B, a monarchist hiding valuable assets of the nobility from the new regime, maintains his sanity only through the theft of a book of past masters' chess games which he plays endlessly, voraciously learning each one until they overwhelm his imagination to such an extent that he becomes consumed by chess.

Wikipedia also has a page on a film adapted from Zweig's novella: Brainwashed with Curd J├╝rgens and Claire Bloom.

17 February 2014

Searching for an Online Chess Database

As I mentioned in Fishing on the River Chess, my favorite source of top level games has gone belly-up.

Chesslab.com has been problematic lately, throwing up Java security warnings. I checked my settings and couldn't determine the cause of the errors. If I can't fix it, I'll need a new source of games. That will require some research.

I've spent several hours looking into the Java security issues, have tried all of the recommendations I could locate, and nothing has worked. The service, which I have been using since the 1990s (see Chess History on the Web [2000 no.3] for my early experiences with it) has been out-of-order since late last year and I need a replacement.

Some people like to maintain their own database of top level games, but I have no time for that. I go online when I'm researching a specific opening, usually for a new correspondence game, and my methodology changes as I get further into the opening.

The first few moves are usually played on auto-pilot. I'm a 1.e4 player, and I don't need to refer to a database for the first few moves of the Najdorf Variation (1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6). At this point I have a couple of favorite moves (6.Be2 and 6.Be3), but I'm willing to play most alternatives for White, of which there are many.

When I reach this point in a game, the first decision after auto-pilot, I want to see what the top players have been playing in their recent games. This means going to the database and researching what 2600+ players have been playing during the last few years. I don't do a deep analysis at this point. I assume that the top GMs have done their homework and that their systems are sound.

After a few more moves, usually in variations that I have played before, the number of sample games starts to diminish and I broaden the research to include 2400+ players over, say, the last ten years. Here I have somewhat less confidence and I start to check variations that I haven't seen before.

At some point, usually around moves 10-12 in the Najdorf, I start to run into moves and ideas that I haven't seen before. Here I want to see every game played in the variation since the beginning of time and the research involves playing through the games until the early endgame has been reached.

I use SCID (see the recent post Frontend and Backend for an overview) to keep my own copy of the games. It does a good job of searching the games I've collected, of producing basic statistics on the results, and of scrolling through the games and moves.

In a nutshell, the functions I need in an online games database are:-

  • Search on games by rating
  • Search on games by when played
  • Download all relevant results in PGN format

What alternatives are there to Chesslab? I did a web query on 'chess database online', spent some time looking at the top results, added a few resources that I've tried before, and developed a short list of databases to investigate further (in no particular order):-

To go further, I need a practical exercise. I'll report on that in a future post on this blog.

16 February 2014

Real Olympiad Silver

The drought continues on Top eBay Chess Items by Price, but rather than another generic post like Luxury Chess Sets, I decided to continue looking under my normal cutoff price of US $500 until I found something I liked. Glad I did, too.

The item pictured below was titled 'GREECE 500 Drachmes 1988 SILVER PROOF 28th Chess Olympiad', was listed at US $550, and finally sold 'Best offer accepted' for around $440. It wasn't entirely clear what was on offer, because most of the photos showed a gold colored coin encased in plastic, rather than the silver coin shown here.

The description added,

Cut on the occasion of the 28th Chess Olympiad. On one side labeled "GREEK REPUBLIC", value, and two ancient chess [players]. On the other side labeled "Thessaloniki 1988 28th Chess Olympiad", the mark of the Olympics, some geometric patterns and owl. The composition of the metal is 90% silver and 10% copper. • Mintage : 3000; Weight : 18 gr.; on official case and COA!

The last time I featured a coin in this series was for Real Olympiad Gold. They don't come up often for auction.

14 February 2014

'Valentine, Be Mine' ... Does Not Compute!

When this blog's Video Friday falls on Valentine's Day, what to do? Find a recent romantic video that has something to do with chess? Good luck with that! And luck it was...

Could You Fall in Love With a Robot? (3:34) • 'Valentine's Day is just around the corner, and love is all around us. In the future, will humans and robots fall in love with each other and develop romantic relationships?'

♥ ♥ ♥

What's the connection with chess? The clip commentary includes a transcript of the dialog, which starts, 'Could I.T. fix your broken heart?':-

I know it sounds silly but that hasn't stopped people from asking these questions, like Dr. David Levy. He's a chess master who, in his chess tournament days, noticed the rise of A.I. and now predicts that in 2050 it'll be legal, at least in some places in the United States, for a human to marry a robot. Now he's not just some A.I. enthusiast, he actually earned his PhD with a thesis on human-robotic relationships. And he says it's not just probable that this is gonna happen - it's inevitable.

Yes, it sounds silly, especially coming from the ICGA's own David Levy.

13 February 2014

FIDE's Longest Running Joke?

A few days ago, in Gibraltar's Tradewise Chess, I mentioned that the annual open had been won by GM Ivan Cheparinov. Now I see on ChessNC.com the image shown below, titled 'Tradewise Gibraltar Chess Festival' and captioned,

English GM Nigel Short receives his winners trophy and cheque for £20,000 from Tradewise CEO James Humphries. (Photo (c) Morris-Hill)

Did I get it wrong again?

On closer look, I see that the title is 'Tradewise Gibraltar Chess Festival 2012', making the *news* two years old. If that's the case, why is 'CNC' (ChessNC.com) linked from the top of every page on FIDE's flagship site, Fide.com?

Now I remember! I wrote about CNC on several earlier occasions: No Nose for FIDE News in 2011, and 83rd FIDE Congress in 2012.

This isn't funny anymore. Perhaps FIDE should admit the joint venture with CNC was/is a failure. Maybe they should look at Agon at the same time.

11 February 2014

FIDE Electioneering

There is a remarkable video on Youtube.com, Tata Steel Chess 2014 - Press conference - Garry Kasparov, that I've already referenced on my chess960 blog, in It's Not About Short Draws, Garry. Kasparov also discussed the current FIDE presidential election. A little after 24:00 into the clip, he had this to say.

I hope that [FIDE officials] will stop using the FIDE web site for their campaign. This is something that I think we -- I hope that journalists will help me to carry the message -- we have to understand that this is not Garry Kasparov's team against FIDE. This is Garry Kasparov vs. Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, and Kirsan Ilyumzhinov doesn't own FIDE.

Stop using these words 'FIDE did...'. No, it's Kirsan Ilyumzhinov's campaign and we have to teach them to separate these things: to separate the web site from campaign purposes. They cannot use it for publicizing the support of national federations. They have to do their own web site. They cannot use FIDE money to pay for the trips of FIDE officials to the Pacific or other regions to campaign.

If we are talking about transparency I would be very happy to hear who has been paying FIDE officials to travel around the world. Geoffrey Borg, Ali Nihat. Who is paying for them? They are campaigning; they are asking for federations to give them votes and I believe they are paid by FIDE, which is wrong.

While I would be the last person to characterize the random scribblings on this blog as journalism, I'm happy to 'carry the message', at least as I understand it.

First, if this election isn't about 'Garry Kasparov's team against FIDE', then Kasparov needs to work on his message. Two years ago I wrote a post titled Out to Ruin FIDE?. The two lawsuits mentioned in the post are still fresh in everyone's mind.

Second, I agree that FIDE must 'separate the web site from campaign purposes'. In December, I was surprised to read on Fide.com that the Russian Chess Federation supports Kirsan Ilyumzhinov. Press releases like this are inconsistent with 'Gens una sumus'.

Third, Kasparov raises a good question about campaign expenses. FIDE answered a few days later in Statement of the Executive Director.

FIDE only pays Mr. Borg's expenses when they specifically relate to FIDE business, such as SportAccord. FIDE pays Mr. Yazici's expenses relating to his work as Chairman of the Chess in Schools Commission and his work for the FIDE Playzone.

The incumbent advantage of sitting FIDE officials already gives them a head start. The chess world shouldn't be expected to pay for more of the same. Having said that, I find the accusations are another example of 'Kasparov's team against FIDE'. Both sides can work on improving their approach to this election.

10 February 2014

Frontend and Backend

After Fishing on the River Chess and Testing an Engine, I still had two other chess packages to install and test: SCID and Arena. Why use both? I've discovered through the years that it's useful to separate the frontend from the backend when analyzing a chess position.

SCID is the software I use for the frontend. It lets me build a chess game the way I like to do it -- move by move, variation by variation, note by note. Because it recognizes PGN, which is essentially a text format, I can rearrange a game's components using a standard text editor. Unfortunately, SCID doesn't recognize chess960, but I have procedures to get around that limitation.

Arena is the software I use for the backend. It handles the details of running an engine. Whatever noteworthy results it discovers, I record using SCID.

Having two pieces of software means I have two copies of a game. The SCID version contains everything I've collected about the game, while the Arena version contains only what I need to analyze specific positions of interest. The advantage of being able to annotate and analyze simultaneously outweighs the slight disadvantage of maintaining two versions of a game.

The biggest challenge in switching to a new version of any software is to tailor it according to my preferences. This is never as easy as it should be and I didn't finish the job before completing this post. Looks like I'll be running the older versions of both SCID and Arena for at least a few more days.

09 February 2014

'Chess in School' Is Experimental

My most recent post on 'Chess in School', CIS Is Mantric, was a bit of a bust. After failing to find a noteworthy connection between CIS and FIDE's recommendation of 'Howard Gardner's Multiple Intelligences', I decided to look at other aspects of the topic. Wikipedia's page, Theory of multiple intelligences, makes no mention of 'chess', not that I expected to find any, but does have a section titled 'Use in education'. It says,

Gardner's system has not been accepted by most academics in intelligence or teaching. [...] In spite of its lack of general acceptance in the psychological community, Gardner's theory has been adopted by many schools, where it is often used to underpin discussion about learning styles, and hundreds of books have been written about its applications in education. Gardner himself has said he is "uneasy" with the way his theory has been used in education.

At this point I started to think I was paddling a backwater. I located a copy of Gardner's book, 'Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences', and searched for references to chess. I found more than 50 references, half of them in the chapter titled '8. Spatial Intelligence'. That's the same intelligence connected with chess in the 'Mantric' post. Chapter eight starts with a quote by Capablanca:-

To play chess requires no intelligence at all.

That's not the sort of insight I expected to see when researching a post on 'Chess in School'. Even worse, I was unfamiliar with the quote. Now I was sure that I had landed in a backwater, not the best place to be when you are Gone Fishing.

The next time I return to the subject of CIS, I'll look at a completely different topic. The Gardner angle is taking me nowhere in a hurry.


Later: At the time of writing the post, I overlooked that Gardner sourced the Capablanca quote in a note (p.411).

Capablanca is quoted in B. Schechter, "Electronic Masters of Chess," Discover, December 1982, p. 110.

I haven't been able to locate a copy of Discover magazine to determine Schechter's source.

07 February 2014

Gibraltar's Tradewise Chess

What's the world's strongest annual open chess tournament? I'm not sure how to measure 'strongest', but many say it is Gibraltar's Tradewise Chess Festival.

Tradewise Chess Festival entrevistas y ambiente 25 © Flickr user infogibraltar under Creative Commons.

The caption said, 'El gran maestro y director del evento, Stuart Conquest, junto al cartel anunciador del festival Tradewise', which Google translates as 'The great teacher and event director, Stuart Conquest, next to the poster of the festival Tradewise.' Change 'gran maestro' to granmaestro and we get 'grandmaster and event director, Stuart Conquest'. • For more about the event, won by GM Ivan Cheparinov, see Tradewise Gibraltar Chess 2014.

06 February 2014

Chess Leaks Like a Sieve

Confused by the recent leaks and accusations surrounding the FIDE Presidential election? I certainly was, so I assembled an overview. The first to strike was Dylan Loeb McClain (NYTimes.com) regarding a 2013 Kasparov contract.

A few days later, Tim Rayment (TheSundayTimes.co.uk) brought news of a 2012 deal between Ilyumzhinov and Andrew Paulson of Agon. The web version is incomplete, but the full text is available on ECForum.org.uk.

A few days more passed and the full text of the Ilyumzhinov - Paulson deal was posted on kevinspraggettonchess.wordpress.com. It was followed by a rebuttal from Paulson on the same blog.

Chessvibes.com followed both stories, along with many informed comments from chess fans. The 'Kasparov / Leong' post included an exchange between NYT's McClain and a heckler.

What effect this will have on the forthcoming election? Probably not much. Whatever the outcome, chess loses.

04 February 2014

Contest No.3 With No Prize

Remember Another Contest With No Prize? The rules are simple:-

The following image is a screen capture of the highest ranked images from a Google image search on 'chess' plus one other word.

Don't forget that proper nouns are also words.

What is the other word?

03 February 2014

Testing an Engine

After posting Fishing on the River Chess, it took me a few days before I found the time to install the chess software that I had downloaded. I started with Komodo, the engine that won the Thoresen Chess Engines Competition (TCEC; Wikipedia) a few months ago.

Starting with Komodo meant I had to plug it into the previous version of Arena. This suited me just fine because I don't like grappling with too many new unknowns at the same time. It took me some time to rediscover the parameters that require tailoring in Arena, but after a few minutes everything was up and running as expected.

For a history of the engine, see Komodo on chessprogramming.wikispaces.com. For some inside info from one of its developers, see Q&A with Larry Kaufman. Last year I ran a series largely based on GM Kaufman's work, Practical Evaluation, and know that he is one of the best in the field of chess programming.

I was a bit concerned when I noticed that the engine seemed to run considerably slower than Houdini, the engine I'm using currently. I found a plausible explanation on the same chess programming wiki under Nodes per second.

Whereas comparing different version of the same program is fine, comparisons between different engines are more difficult, since programmers use different schemes of counting nodes.

I also encountered a few tuning parameters I hadn't seen before. These are explained on the same wiki under Late Move Reductions (LMR) and Null Move Pruning. I decided to leave them alone, again so as not to introduce too many new unknowns. A discussion of the concepts by Don Dailey, another Komodo developer, can be found on a forum thread, Relationship between move ordering and pruning.

Over the next few days I'll run some comparison tests between Houdini and Komodo on a few of my current games where engines are allowed. Then I'll decide which engine will be my primary tool.

02 February 2014

Luxury Chess Sets

In this fortnightly series on Top eBay Chess Items by Price, I look for two attributes after chess, eBay, and price. The first is novelty: the item should be one I haven't covered before. The second is visual: the item should have an accompanying image that shows why it is special.

As I noted in the previous post, Alekhine Dozes at the Board, the series is suffering from a small drought just now. There is less on offer after the year-end holiday season and I've already covered many of the unusual items. The less covered categories, e.g. books, are visually unattractive. What is less interesting than a photo of a tattered book cover with a broken spine even if it sold for $1000?

So it's back to Chess Set Brands and Character Families for a look at specifics. Even before opening a popup window for the list of all eBay's choices, the top five brands and character families are shown to the left of the page. Today's list has the following.


  • Cardinal Industries (164)
  • Drueke (197)
  • House of Staunton (283)
  • Mattel (113)
  • Parker Brothers (231)

Character Family:

  • Harry Potter (186)
  • Lord of the Rings (181)
  • Star Wars (174)
  • The Simpsons (107)
  • Transformers (56)

Somewhat surprisingly, for me at least, the most popular of those choices is an upscale retailer, the House of Staunton. The current list of their recently successful auctions looks like this:-

House of Staunton on eBay

Since their most expensive items were all 'Best offer accepted' or 'Buy It Now', it's safe to conclude that the company is selling directly to individual customers. We don't have to scroll down too far to find the first competitive auction. An item titled 'Arrezo Series Luxury Chess Set - 4.4" King - Blood Rosewood' sold for US $740 after 48 bids. A little further down is an 'Arrezo Series Luxury Chess Set - 4.4" King - Genuine Ebony', which sold for $600 after 34 bids.

The seller's page, hstaunton on eBay, tells us, 'Based in United States, hstaunton has been an eBay member since Jun 06, 1998'. The seller's store, eBay Stores > The House of Staunton, currently lists 199 results, with the top items priced at $1995. The company also maintains an off-eBay site, called House of Staunton, where we learn,

The History of the Staunton Pattern Chess Pieces • During the first half of the 19th century, a surge in the global popularity of chess brought about the demand for a uniform model of chess pieces. While the variety and styles of chess pieces that were in use at the time were extensive, they were decorative in nature and considered unsuitable for play. It is important to remember that chess has historically been enjoyed by the wealthy, a fact that is reflected in the artistic designs of chess sets that dominated the marketplace.

While aesthetically beautiful, the chess pieces of the period were not very practical. The chess pieces were expensive to produce, cumbersome to use, prone to tipping over and had such ornate details that they were unable to withstand the wear and tear of regular use. However the greatest disadvantage of these chess sets was the lack of uniformity of the pieces within a chess set - a player's unfamiliarity with a particular chess set could affect the outcome of the game.

Complaints such as these led to the search for a standard design of chess pieces. On September 1, 1849, #58607 - An Ornamental Design for a Set of Chess-Men was registered by Mr. Nathaniel Cooke under the British Ornamental Designs Act of 1842.

The rest of the story is one of the longest enduring traditions in chess, Staunton style chess pieces. Almost 165 years later, the design lives on as the most popular brand on eBay.