30 December 2016

Cheers for Chess

The Video Friday picks on this blog are always chosen from new Youtube clips uploaded during the two weeks preceding the post, but this time I'm making an exception. This is a film I've always wanted to see and I missed it when it first became available.

Knights of the South Bronx (1:29:08) • '2005 TV film : Inspiring Chess Movie for Kids; Published on May 23, 2013'

For more about the story, see:-

IMDb: 'On the chessboard it doesn't matter how much money you have or what clothes you wear or where you come from; it's only the moves you make.' • Wikipedia: 'Ted Danson received a nomination for a Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a TV Movie or Miniseries.'

29 December 2016

No Lobrow Category?

You mean there's no such thing as lowbrow? So says From Lowbrow to Nobrow (wikipedia.org):-

A book on literary culture written by Peter Swirski, professor of American literature and culture at the University of Missouri, St. Louis [...] Having gone through several printings, the book is by now a staple in American popular culture studies. It furnishes a series of analyses of the relation of popular fiction to high literary culture. In his work, Swirski challenges the highbrow vs lowbrow categorization of literary culture, and popular culture in general by focusing attention on what he terms the nobrow taste culture, whereby "authors simultaneously target both extremes of the literary spectrum".

What about these images?

Google image search on 'chess lowbrow'

The image in the bottom row, third from the left, is from Graffiti Pieces (May 2014) on this blog. The 'lowbrow' keyword is from How to Hold Chess Pieces (ditto; in fact, it's a video). It's just another example of Google applying a keyword to the wrong image; it happens all the time.

I wanted to make a new 'lowbrow' category for blog posts, but it looks like I'll have to settle for a 'nobrow' category instead. I can always change to 'lowbrow' later.

27 December 2016

FIDE's Anti-Cheating Commission 2016

What's happened in the year since I last reported on the FIDE Anti-Cheating Guidelines (December 2015)? Continuing with Spectating the 87th FIDE Congress, let's look at the minutes:-

Annex 80 - Anti-Cheating Committee; MINUTES OF THE ACC CONGRESS MEETING - BAKU, 7 September 2016

1. Chairman’s report [Israel Gelfer] • 'anti-cheating rules for the 42nd Olympiad were [Baku 2016] not drafted by the ACC but rather by the people who are involved in the organization of the Olympiad'

2. ARB-ACC online seminar • 'almost 120 arbiters attended the webinars live (and many more offline)'

3. Finalized cases: Nigalidze, Sandu, Ricciardi, Tetimov, Valles

4. Becoming a Commission, a report from Constitutional Chairman Rivello

5. PGN screening tool development • 'no progress has been made in the implementation of the all-important web-based PGN screening tool'

6. ACC site development • 'in dire need of an efficient web-based front-office / back-office tool for everyday operation and for communicating with the public.'

For more about that first bullet, see Anti-Cheating Procedures for 42nd World Chess Olympiad (August 2016; fide.com). A few days after the committee meeting, how did the General Assembly react? From the minutes:-

5.18. Anti-Cheating Committee.

Mr. Makropoulos said he would not like to confuse guidelines with the regulations. There is a need to discuss how to solve this issue. Mr. Gelfer agreed that they will discuss how to use the guidelines when needed. About the report he said that there is one remark at the end stating that the budget is not sufficient for their work. This is not a complaint for the Treasurer, it is just describing the situation.

The General Assembly noted the change of Anti-Cheating Committee to Anti-Cheating Commission with Mr. Gelfer as a Chairman.

And that was that. After the rapid progress in previous years, has the group become bogged down in bureaucracy? For more about its members, see Anti-Cheating Commission (ACC; fide.com).

26 December 2016

Engines, (Google), Korchnoi

It's time for a transition. For the last six weeks of Mondays, I've been following the 'TCEC Season 9 Superfinal':-

What's next? Before returning to Korchnoi's Events (November 2016), I have to tackle a chore.


For the last few months Google has been bugging me to add 'Matched Content' to my m-w.com site. See, for example, Matched content: designed to engage your users and increase visitor duration (adsense.googleblog.com). I followed the instructions in About the Matched content feature (support.google.com; AdSense Help), and added a trial to my most popular page, How to Set Up a Chess Board. The result is shown below, where the matched content appears after the page's text and consists of links to eight similar pages on the site.

My first impression is that its appearance is not well coordinated with the rest of the page, so I'll come back to it later for a second look. I should also determine why the subtitles are inconsistent and fix that if possible.

25 December 2016

Christmas Watch

So to speak. It's more like a chess watch -- as in a post from a few months ago, Skeleton, Marriage, Chess Watch (October 2016) -- but when the fortnightly Top eBay Chess Items by Price falls on Christmas, we make do. Last year we had Felican Kristnaskon! (December 2015), and this year we have the item pictured to the left.

Titled 'GV2 by Gevril Men's 9500 Scacchi Automatic Leather Chess Design Dial Date Watch', the watch was offered for US $2195 ('3 available / 1 sold'). The Gevril Group home page tells us, 'Luxury, Swiss and Fashion Watches and Watch Brands'. The item's eBay description added,

Quality and fun combine with this playfully designed exquisite Gevril men's watch. Encased in stainless steel, its chess designed dial is sure to bring a smile to your face, with its chess pawn indices and king shaped crown.

Featuring the convenience of a date window, second hand and minute track, the accuracy and convenience of this timepiece are unbeatable. Soft genuine black leather straps with an alligator pattern comfortably close with a tang buckle for safe and secure all day wear. Powered by Technosablier Swiss Automatic movement and water resistant to 50 meters, it is an ideal addition to any timepiece collection.

Have a Merry Christmas and please drive safely!

23 December 2016

Dressing Up or Dressing Down?

So you thought 'chess dressing', as seen in FIDE's Journalist Commission 2016, wasn't serious? The laugh's on you!

Bradford Chesstival © Flickr user John Seb Barber under Creative Commons.

For the 2013 event, see Bradford Chesstival in the Park (yorkshirechess.org). The photo above is from the 2014 event. As far as I can tell, that was the last year the Bradford Chesstival was held.

22 December 2016

Alekhine 1921

Let's take a short break from Spectating the 87th FIDE Congress, and go back to one of the last posts before the Carlsen - Karjakin match started. For some reason, Alekhine 1914-1920 (November 2016), received about ten times the number of views that my posts usually get.

After writing that post, I remembered that I had already touched on the subject more then seven years ago, in Alekhine's Record in Russia (July 2009) and Alekhine Leaves Russia (ditto). In that last post, I wrote,

Kasparov, in My Great Predecessors I, noted that Alekhine received permission to leave Russia at the same time that Capablanca was playing Lasker in their 1921 World Championship match. In his book Alexander Alekhine, Kotov noted that Capablanca's victory over Lasker, combined with Alekhine's first place finishes, also in 1921, at Triberg, Budapest, and The Hague marked the Russian as Capablanca's main challenger.

The following photo is from the tournament book isssued for the 1921 Hague event (Kagan, Berlin 1921?).

Chessgames.com's page on the event, 1921 The Hague, includes a crosstable (1st Alekhine, 2nd Tartakower, 3rd Rubinstein) and says,

In October of 1921, ten chess players of strength ranging from master to amateur met at The Hague (Netherlands) to particpate in a round robin tournament. Among the participants were veterans like Jacques Mieses and Georg Marco, and established masters like Alexander Alekhine, Akiba Rubinstein, and Savielly Tartakower. Max Euwe, an amateur, participated by virtue of having become the new Dutch champion earlier in the year.

October 1921 dates the photo to about six months after Alekhine left Russia. What struck me most was how gaunt he looked. Instead of a young man aged 28-29 years, we see a middle-aged man aged 50-55 years. The war years and the aftermath of the Russian revolution had evidently taken a toll on his health.

20 December 2016

FIDE's Journalist Commission 2016

Next up on Spectating the 87th FIDE Congress is

89. Minutes of Journalists Commission.

For the record, the previous post on this blog was FIDE's Journalist Commission 2015 (September 2015). What's new in the world of FIDE chess journalism? Let's look at the minutes ('87th FIDE Congress; FIDE Journalists Commission report'):-

1. The website of the Commission
2. The press cards of FIDE journalists
3. Fees for accreditation and participation in the Olympiad and other FIDE events
4. Anti-cheating and security measures influence on the work of journalists
5. Journalists awards
6. Letter from Commission member
7. Other matters

Some of those bullets are self-explanatory. As for the others...

1. The website: journalists.fide.com.

5. Journalists awards: see the website under 'Awards'; 'special FIDE award to recognize outstanding contributions for the popularisation of chess by journalists, who have successfully created and made TV chess programs'.

One award goes to chess journalists Sergey Makarichev and Marina Makaricheva, who have successfully made chess programmes on the Russian channel NTV Plus since 1996. In nearly 20 years, they have made almost three and a half thousand chess programmes, ten documentaries and more than a hundred TV lessons.

The other award goes to NRK TV Channel, which has succeeded in popularizing chess for the Norwegian audience and built broadcasts around the live feed from chess tournaments.

6. Letter: 'suggested improvement of the FIDE website and creation of FIDE TV/Video channel'.

7. Other matters:

  • 'Join AIPS - International Sports Press Association in order to establish a chess group within the agency and "push" chess news into distribution'
  • 'Launch "chess dressing" products because the niche is empty at the present'

The first idea sounds like it's worth pursuing. Although the AIPS Web Site ('Association Internationale de la Presse Sportive') has a few chess stories, I saw nothing worth special mention.

The second idea is more mysterious, partly because I couldn't think of a better phrase. Are we talking chess wear or maybe chess bling?

Google image search on 'chess dressing'

Whatever it means, what does this have to do with journalism?

19 December 2016

TCEC Season 9 Superfinal Openings

In last week's post, TCEC Season 9 Superfinal Followup, I listed three opening variations which were won by White in both of the games where they were forced on the engine protagonists, Stockfish and Houdini. For two of those variations, the diagram below shows the position and evaluation one full move after the forced variation ended, i.e. after both engines were able to apply their own evaluation algorithms to the given position.

For example, in game 65, after 9...Be7, Stockfish playing White showed 'Eval = 0.54', Houdini playing Black showed 'Eval = 0.60'. I could also have chosen game 66, Houdini playing White and Stockfish Black, because the picture would be similar. In both positions shown here, from games 65 and 71, the engines agree that White has an advantage of about a half-Pawn.

In the top diagram, a 1.d4 Slav System, White has a better center, a space advantage, and perhaps a slight lead in development. In both games played with the variation, White eventually won a Queenside Pawn, which was sufficient to win the game.

In the bottom diagram, a 1.e4 French Defense, White has a space advantage, the better Bishop, and threatens to place a strong Knight on d4. In both games, White advanced the Kingside Pawns to create a blocked position where the Black King was immobile and passive, then played on the Queenside using the White King as an extra piece, eventually breaking through.

In the 'Superfinal Followup' post I called these 'busted(?) openings'. According to a calculation I did a few years ago, A Pawn Equals 200 Rating Points (February 2013), when one side starts with an advantage of 0.50, that's equivalent to an advantage of 100 rating points, which gives a 64% chance of winning. It's hard to overcome those sorts of odds.

18 December 2016

FIDE's Social Commissions

What happens when the sociology of chess, last seen on this blog in World Championship Social Media, meets Spectating the 87th FIDE Congress? For starters, you get meetings, like these:-

83. Minutes of Social Projects Commission.
84. Minutes of Social Action Commission.

13. Report and proposals of the International Chess Association of French-speakers.
68. Minutes of European Small Nations Association.
81. Minutes of Small Nations Association.
93. Minutes of Commonwealth Chess Association.

I briefly covered the two commissions last year in More FIDE Reports from Tromso (March 2015):-

What is the difference between the 'Social Action Commission' and the 'Social Project Commission'? According to FIDE's Handbook > A. Administrative Subjects > 02. Non-Elected Commissions...

But I wasn't able to answer the question. Maybe the minutes from the 87th FIDE Congress would help.

Annex 83; Minutes of Social Projects Commission [SPC] • The Chairman GM Darcy Lima welcome the participants and made an explanation about the agenda. Then a report was made about the activities of the Commission. It was remembered all the programs and projects we already done. Like chess and environment education and sustainability program, chess to help integration for minority groups in society (like the Pomerans etc…), chess and peace, chess as a tool in treatment for chemical dependence, chess as a tool working with autism and Asperger syndrome and Down syndrome, chess in prisons among others.


Annex 84; FIDE Social Action Commission [SAC] • Beatriz Marinello, Chairwoman, extended greetings to those members present. She asked for Robert Katende, to be excused as he was unable to attend the meeting. [...] Beatriz stated the role of the Social Action Commission and described it as the next movement for chess, similar to Chess in Schools. She was very optimistic that the projects undertaken by the commission will have significant impact on chess throughout the world.

You might sense that responsibilities have shifted since my 'Tromso' post above, where all topics were listed under SPC, except Alzheimer’s, which was the only topic under SAC. You might also recognize the name Robert Katende. I mentioned him a few months ago in No Controversy Here (October 2016), as a main character in the Disney movie, 'Queen of Katwe', based on the real life story of Phiona Mutesi. Of the two commissions, only one has a web presence.


To make real progress here, I'll have to include minutes and reports from previous FIDE Congresses. This will take more time than I have for this post, so I'll come back to the subject another time. Ditto for the FIDE Associations.

16 December 2016

Judit Polgar on Stage

Sheesh! Two recent Video Friday picks went missing within days after I posted them: Carlsen - Karjakin 2013 ('This video does not exist') and Chess on 'CBS This Morning' ('This video is private'). Sorry about that.

I hope I have better luck with this TED talk from the TED Archive. The youngest and strongest of the three Polgar sisters gives a thumbnail sketch of her career.

Giving checkmate is always fun : Judit Polgar (14:52) • 'From a young age, Judit Polgar’s parents wanted her to be a genius. They got their wish.'

The description continued,

By age 7, she was playing chess against 15 opponents simultaneously -- and beating them all. At age 12, she won the gold medal for Hungary as part of the women’s team at the Chess Olympiad. Regarded as the strongest female chess player in history, Polgar shares her dream to see chess taught in every elementary school worldwide.

TED Archive presents previously unpublished talks from TED conferences. Enjoy this unedited talk by Judit Polgar. Filmed at TED in 2016.

At the end of the talk, she presents the final combination from one of her games: Judit Polgar vs Anatoly Karpov; Essent 2003 (chessgames.com).

15 December 2016

Spectating the 87th FIDE Congress

It's that time of year again -- no, not the yearend holiday festivities, but a look at what's happening inside FIDE. Just before last month's World Championship, FIDE released a set of documents titled,

The nearly 100 documents recorded there are more than anyone can review, so I'll limit myself to the topics I looked at last year:-

One topic I can drop is the 'Chess in Schools' subject, which I wrapped up on this blog after a three year series; see 'Chess in School' Summarized (October 2016). The annexes involved are:-

24. Trainers’ Commission’s report.
28. Proposed requirements on treatment of schools tournaments.
33. Chess in Schools Commission’s report.
34. Minutes of the CIS Councillors’ meeting.
35. Chess in Schools Commission’s proposals.
69. Minutes of Trainers’ Commission.
74. Minutes of Chess in Schools Commission.

The main minutes -- 87th FIDE Congress; Baku, Azerbaijan; General Assembly; 11-13 September 2016 -- always start with a report by President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov. After the usual platitudes, he jumped to the subject that interests everyone who follows FIDE.

He then briefed the delegates on the situation regarding the US sanctions. He said that he had no idea as to why he was placed on the sanctions list as he was completely innocent of the charges. He has appointed lawyers and was challenging the decision. He had been stopped at the last minute from visiting the USA where he was planning to prove his innocence in person. He said that he had requested to take up US citizenship in order that the case can be considered according to US laws.

The reasons for the sanctions aren't a secret. According to Treasury Sanctions Networks Providing Support to the Government of Syria (treasury.gov; November 2015),

Kirsan Ilyumzhinov was designated today for materially assisting and acting for or on behalf of the Government of Syria, Central Bank of Syria, Adib Mayaleh, and Batoul Rida. Ilyumzhinov is a wealthy Russian businessman, former president of the Russian Republic of Kalmykia, and long-time World Chess Federation president. He is linked to financial transactions involving Khuri-associated companies as early as 1997 and owns or controls the Russian Financial Alliance Bank, along with Khuri. [...]

In his talk to FIDE, Ilyumzhinov discussed this.

No single cent or ruble has been transferred to the Central Bank of Syria. That is why his declaration about financing, is a lie. He told the US representatives that yes he was supporting Syria, he was supporting Syrian kids, and chess players. Dr. Hani from Syria is here and they organised tournaments and he met Mr. Assad who was asking about chess developments.

A careful reading of the sanctions document indicates that money was paid *by*, not *to*, the Central Bank of Syria for procurement services rendered to Syria. The FIDE minutes also mentioned,

Mr. Wilkinson of Jamaica said that their Federation filed a request calling for the President’s resignation.

After a long discussion,

The General Assembly rejected the request of Mr. Wilkinson to amend the GA Agenda by including a proposal for the FIDE President to resign.

As with all legal disputes, this will work its way through the various legal systems. In the meantime, it's clear that the entire affair is having a negative effect on FIDE's self image. While the World Championship was being held in New York, I wondered why there seemed to be no Americans involved. When the sanctions document says,

U.S. persons are generally prohibited from engaging in transactions with [sanctioned individuals]

I understand that it was a precaution.

13 December 2016

Carlsen - Karjakin, Chess Press Overview

Before I wrap up this blog's coverage of the 2016 World Championship, let's have one post featuring reports from the major chess news sites, like I did for Carlsen - Anand II, Chess Press Overview (December 2014). This time around, I"ll start with Youtube videos. The award for the best coverage goes to Chess24.com, who fought hard to establish their right to broadcast the games, then followed through with with first class performances.

For the sake of completeness, I should also mention Chess24's written reports. The report on the tiebreaks has a list of earlier reports at the end.

For concise analysis of individual games, I'll go with 'Power Play Chess' by GM Daniel King.

Again for the sake of completeness, I'll mention the official organizers of the event. Although their game broadcasts are locked away somewhere, they've released excerpts.

Finally, here are round-by-round written reports from the same news sources that consistently produce timely reports.

Chessbase Chess.com
10 Nov: New York 2016: Press conference and Opening gala Carlsen Plays White In Round 1; Agon's Injunction Denied
11 Nov: Newsblog : Game 1 draw Carlsen Presses But Karjakin Holds In World Champs 1st Round Draw
12 Nov: Newsblog : Game 2 drawNew York 2016: In the EpicenterNewsblog : 2016-11-13New York 2016: Game two brings in huge lines of fans Carlsen Rejects The Berlin In Game 2
13 Nov:
14 Nov: Newsblog : 2016-11-14Newsblog : 2016-11-15New York 2016: Dramatic near-win in game three Carlsen Can't Airlift Karjakin's Berlin In Round-3 Draw
15 Nov: Newsblog : 2016-11-16New York 2016 G4: Persistence vs Resilience Carlsen Draws World Champs Game 4 In 'Weak Moment'
16 Nov:
17 Nov: Newsblog : 2016-11-17New York 2016 G5: The tables are turned Carlsen Fights Off Karjakin To Draw Again As White
18 Nov: Newsblog : 2016-11-18Newsblog : 2016-11-19 Karjakin And Carlsen Take Half Day With Short Draw In Game 6
19 Nov:
20 Nov: Tiger Hillarp Persson annotates Game 7In the crowd with Max Karjakin Switches To 1.d4, Still Can't Make Headway
21 Nov: Game 8: Karjakin takes the lead / Notes by Fabiano CaruanaKarjakin wins with Black! Game 8 with notes by Fabiano CaruanaThe Day the Challenger won Karjakin Beats Carlsen, Leads World Championship
22 Nov:
23 Nov: Game 9: Carlsen escapes Sudden Death / Notes by Fabiano CaruanaThe crowd in the VIP area Carlsen Escapes, Draws Karjakin In Game 9
24 Nov: Game 10: Carlsen wins and is back in the match / Notes by Wesley SoGame 10: Carlsen strikes back / Notes by Wesley SoTragicomedy on Thanksgiving Carlsen Wins Marathon Game To Even Match With Karjakin
25 Nov:
26 Nov: Carlsen vs Karjakin, Game 11: A fighting draw!Wesley So: How Carlsen tried to spice up game 11While game 11 was on Karjakin Unmoved By Surprising Pawn Sacrifice, Holds Game 11
27 Nov:
28 Nov: Game 12 draw / Showdown on Wednesday / Notes by Yasser SeirawanA short visit to a short game Carlsen, Karjakin Draw Game 12; Playoffs Wednesday
29 Nov:
30 Nov: Carlsen wins tie-break and remains World Champion!Tie-break time: We have a Champion World Championship Tiebreak Live UpdatesCarlsen Wins Rapid Playoff, Defends World Championship
After: Ponomariov: "Carlsen has stopped making progress"Inside Team Carlsen: Q&A with Peter Heine Nielsen Magnus Carlsen: "I was calm, I was confident"

There is plenty of material for further study here.

12 December 2016

TCEC Season 9 Superfinal Followup

In last week's post, TCEC Season 9 Superfinal Week 4, I wrote,

Congratulations to the Stockfish team on becoming the defacto, unofficial World Computer Chess Champion.

Now that the event is over, what can be said about the games? I'll leave annotations of complete games to the experts, because I don't know how to start understanding engines that routinely calculate variations to depths of 40 ply. Instead I'll look at the openings where White won both games (all decisive games were won by White) like I did last year in Battering the Gruenfeld (March 2015; TCEC Season 7). The game pairs were:-

  • g.17/18 Sicilian: Dragon, Yugoslav, Main Line, 12.h4 Nc4: 14.h5
  • g.65/66 Slav: Smyslov, 6.e4 Bg4 7.Bxc4 e6
  • g.71/72 French: Classical, Steinitz, 9.Qd2 Nc6 10.dxc5 Qxc5

As documented in TCEC Season 9 Superfinal Week 2, the first game in the list (g.17) has already received attention for the way it was scored.

A Stockfish win in game 17 provoked a genuine controversy. The final position of Queen vs. two Bishops [Q:2B] is shown in the following diagram, Black to move.

The position is shown below in the diagram on the left, which is a tablebase win for White. Instead of continuing a discussion of the controversy, I would rather focus on the position itself. I had always thought that Q:2B was generally a draw, because the two Bishops should be able to prevent the enemy King from getting too close. The diagram on the right shows position 605 (attributed to Lolli, 1763; flipped on the horizontal axis) from Fine's 'Basic Chess Endings', which is a draw. Why is the first diagram a win and the second a draw?

I did some simple manipulations of both positions, moving all pieces up/down a rank or left/right a file. If you move the left position down a rank, so that the Black pieces are on the same squares as in the right position, the game is a draw. If you move the right position up a rank, the game is a win for White. The squares of the White pieces don't seem to matter much, as long as there are no immediate tactics.

If you move either position up/down or left/right an arbitrary number of ranks/files, the position is always a win for White. From this I concluded that the position in BCE 605 forcing a draw is a special case. Black defends successfully because the White King can't get 'behind' the huddled Black pieces, as it can in the position on the left.

You might think it would be a simple matter to go from the left position to the right position by regrouping the Black pieces, especially since the White King is so far away. It turns out that the White Queen can singlehandedly prevent any regrouping. All that Black can do is mark time. When the White King gets close, one of the Bishops is inevitably lost.

I also looked at the final positions of other games that ended by reaching a 'TB position', i.e. terminated by a five-piece tablebase. All of them were draws and none of them was particularly interesting. Most were Bishops of opposite color or Rook against two Pawns, where any good player can foresee the result. More interesting are those three pairs of busted(?) openings that I flagged earlier. I'll tackle those in another post.

11 December 2016

Chess Sets at Live Auction

Here on Top eBay Chess Items by Price, I don't feature many chess sets, even though they constitute the most important category of chess collectibles. I don't know much about them and I'm not familiar with available online resources. The last sets I featured, Top eBay Giant Chess Sets (May 2016), were more for their novelty and trendiness.

A few days ago there was a live auction of dozens of collector sets. I wanted to feature one of them, but which one? In 'Giant Chess Sets' I had around a half-dozen sets to choose from, but the live auction had more than three dozen. I finally decided to show all of them.

Collection of Important Museum Exhibited 19th and 20th Century Chess Sets offered by ZQ Art & Auction
(8 December 2016)

Of those sets, I'll give more information about the three that sold for the highest prices. The additional info includes the original description, which is a full story on its own.

  • Lot 20 - A Swiss Pearwood Animal and Bird Chess Set, 19th Century; sold for US $11,000 after 9 bids. • Seller's Estimate: USD 4,000 - 6,000 • 'A Swiss Pearwood Animal and Bird Chess Set, 19th Century, finely carved from light and dark wood. King: 7.3 cm A similar set is illustrated in "Chessman" by Mackett Beeson, G.P. Putnam's Sons, page 110. Swiss nineteenth-century carvers produced high quality, detailed softwood chess sets. While craftsmen in the wood industry would carve sets, schools of carvers would work on the finest of them. Birds and animals were a regular theme, with "Bears of Bern" the most popular. The open winged eagles of this set are particularly rare and impressive.'

  • Lot 30 - Jan A. Votruba Boxwood Chess Set (Czechoslovakia, circa 1939-45); sold for US $9,500 after 24 bids. • Seller's Estimate: USD 1,500 - 2,500 • 'Jan A. Votruba Boxwood Chess Set (Czechoslovakia, circa 1939-45) Votruba was a member of the national orchestra in Prague as well as an avid chess player. Through the duration of World War II he documented the 2714 hours it took him to carve this set. He chose to depict historically and culturally significant Bohemian and Moravian figures.'

  • Lot 29 - A Meissen 'Moors Versus Turks' Chess Set, German, 20th Century; US $8,000 after 11 bids. • Seller's Estimate: USD 8,000 - 11,000 • 'A Meissen 'Moors Versus Turks' Chess Set, German, 20th Century, after a design by Johann Kaendler, incised numerals and pressnumern; King is 7.2 cm and Pawn 5.6 cm high; German, 20th Century, one side Turks, the other side Moors.'

As usual, I don't link to the individual auction pages, because their lifetime is limited by eBay policy. In the past, auctions were kept for three months, now it seems to be longer. Whatever the shelf life of the original listings, they can be located by searching on keywords from the item titles.

09 December 2016

Chess with the Jacobites

After a brief detour for the World Championship, Flickr Friday returns with an 18th century historical image.

Chess Players © Flickr user Keppoch's Regiment under Creative Commons.

From Facebook, Keppoch's Regiment:-

Previously known as the Northwest Jacobites, we're a group of reenactors portraying the Scottish Highlanders of Keppoch's Rgt. in the 1745 Jacobite Rising.

From Wikipedia, Jacobite rising of 1745:-

The Jacobite rising of 1745 was the attempt by Charles Edward Stuart to regain the British throne for the exiled House of Stuart. The rising occurred during the War of the Austrian Succession when most of the British Army was on the European continent. Charles Edward Stuart, commonly known as "Bonnie Prince Charlie" or "the Young Pretender", sailed to Scotland and raised the Jacobite standard at Glenfinnan in the Scottish Highlands, where he was supported by a gathering of Highland clansmen.

The drawing is also in an album, 1746 Edinburgh Figures ('Figure sketches made in Edinburgh and the neighbourhood after the rebellion of 1745').

08 December 2016

December 1966 'On the Cover'

Fifty years ago in American chess, the two major U.S. chess publications wrapped up a stellar year for chess.

Left: 'American Open Champion -- Photo by Art Zeller'
Right: 'To Chessplayers Everywhere : Season's Greetings'

Chess Life

Larry Kaufman (center), winner of the 1966 American Open at Santa Monica, receives his check from USCF Vice-President (and International Grandmaster) Isaac Kashdan. Miss Vardit Hirsch stands by to present the American Open Trophy to the new champion.

Inside the magazine, a half-page article started,

Larry Kaufman, a 19-year old student at MIT, scored a surprising victory in the second American Open, held November 24-27 at the Club Del Mar in Santa Monica, California. Kaufman nosed out Robion Kirby, a professor of mathematics at UCLA, on tie-breaking after each scored 7-1 to head the field of 128 players. Although Kaufman and Kirby are both rated Masters, their triumphs were unexpected in view of the participation of Grandmaster Pal Benko and Senior Master Anthony Saidy.

GM (since 2008) Kaufman has figured many times in this blog, mainly for his pioneering work in computer chess. See, for example, Practical Evaluation (February 2013).

Chess Review

A XMAS CARROLL [NB: before you shout 'sic', think!] • We herewith re-submit as a sort of Xmas Carroll what Ward Fenner sent us and we first published in January 1959. [NB: as a letter; ...] 'follows the original version of Alice's Jaberwocky' [NB: sic!; ...]

T'was Lasker and the Alekhine
Did Bird and Morphy in the Breyer.
All Falkbeer were the Rubinstein and the Lopez Allgaier.

[NB: ...; remainder mercifully deleted]

There was nothing about Xmas (or Christmas) in the poem. As for the funky green cover, it carried on a CR tradition: see December 1964 and December 1965, 'On the Cover'.

06 December 2016

Last World Championship Hubbub

Tomorrow I'll be wrapping up the 2016 Carlsen - Karjakin match on my World Chess Championship blog, which should be one of the last posts in the current cycle, C27: 2015-16. That gives me one last opportunity to squeeze in another post on this current blog. After World Championship Sizzle (the tiebreaks) and Closing Ceremony, what could I write about that might interest a few people? I could mention the report on Karjakin and Kasparov lock swords after match (chess24.com), which started,

Garry Kasparov was almost alone in failing to praise Sergey Karjakin after the World Championship match, describing the challenger as "drab".

Given ex-World Champion Kasparov's long-standing habit of kicking people when they're down or his hateful obsession with anyone even remotely supportive of his sworn enemy, Vladimir Putin, this is a dog-bites-man story. I could also mention the matched pair of Reuters Breakingviews opinion pieces:-

  • One-knight stand (video) • 'Chess officials were hoping this year's world championship would kick off a lucrative new effort to commercialize the sport.'
  • Chess: a 1,500-year-old startup that doesn't scale (opinion) • 'A fresh attempt to popularize the game using this year's championship between Magnus Carlsen and Sergey Karjakin is destined to be checkmated.'

While this is more of a man-bites-dog story, there really isn't anything new in the analysis. No, I think I'll go with the most recent Yahoo News stories, last seen in World Championship Fizzle, my post on the final long game of the match (if you can call a half-hour game 'long'). It's probably the only chance I'll ever get to use a photo of a jet engine in this blog.

The first story pictured was in the Sports section; the second was in the Finance section, which still happens to be the best part of the slowly crumbling Yahoo empire.

2016-12-01: Magnus Carlsen wins third world chess title; 'The games were watched by about six million people around the world' (bbc.com) • 'Magnus Carlsen of Norway has won the World Chess Championship for the third consecutive time after defeating challenger Sergey Karjakin of Russia. Carlsen, 26, sealed victory following a series of tiebreakers at the finals held in New York. Karjakin tied against Carlsen in 12 regular rounds but was beaten in the final phase of four quickfire games.'

2016-11-30: ‘We haven’t captured the magic’: Chess missed out on a massive opportunity (finance.yahoo.com) • 'For the past two weeks, the FIDE World Chess Championship has been going on in New York City, and on Wednesday the event culminates in a thrilling tiebreaker of "rapid blitz" games. But most Americans, even those living in New York City, are likely unaware.'

The Yahoo Finance piece was written by Yahoo's Daniel Roberts, the same journalist featured in my previous post, The Money Game (May 2016), where he interviewed GM Maurice Ashley. I don't want to end this series of posts on the Carlsen - Karjakin match with a thumbs-down story ('most Americans are likely unaware'), so I'll slip in those two sub-stories shown under the BBC report.

Given that the match started on 11 November, I spent three and a half weeks covering it. Who said chess was slow?

05 December 2016

TCEC Season 9 Superfinal Week 4

It's all over! In last week's post, TCEC Season 9 Superfinal Week 3, we left Stockfish leading Houdini by a score of +12-5=52, with 31 games still to be played. The 100th game finished this morning, giving a further score of +5-3=23. Adding those scores together gives us a total score of...

+12-5=52 after week three
+ 5-3=23 week four

...in favor of Stockfish. Congratulations to the Stockfish team on becoming the defacto, unofficial World Computer Chess Champion.

In my first report on the competition, Superfinal Underway, I took the results of the first few days...

In the nearly three days since the event started, the engines have played 12 complete games non-stop with Stockfish leading Houdini by +3-0=9.

...and extrapolated to a crushing final score of +25-0=75. I was right about the number of draws, but dead wrong about the margin of victory. Houdini won twice in the second week and three times in each of the two following weeks to put up a fight, although the final outcome was never in doubt.

The controversial scoring of game 17 in Superfinal Week 2, where Stockfish was awarded a win in a game that both engines evaluated as a draw, prompted some sticklers to declare a final score of +16-8=76. I'll give the event's organizers the privilege of scoring the game according to how they interpret the rules. Chessdom.com reported the result of the event in Stockfish is the TCEC Season 9 Grand Champion

Stockfish, the open source chess engine by Tord Romstad, Marco Costalba, Joona Kiiski, and Gary Linscott, is the winner of the 2016 edition of the Top Chess Engine Championship. Stockfish 8 won the 100 games Superfinal match against Houdini 5 with a total score of 54,5 – 45,5. This is the second TCEC gold medal for Stockfish and it comes after the title in Season 6 and two runner up positions in Seasons 7 and 8. The third position in 2016 is for the ex-champion Komodo.

Given that Stockfish is open source -- anyone can go to its site and download the latest version for free -- why would someone pay money for a commercial engine like Houdini? That is a question that I can't answer. The day before the TCEC ended, Chessbase.com ran the following 'news' item on the home page of the English version of the site.

'Houdini 5 won the "Top Chess Engine Championship"
(TCEC, Season 9)'

The blurb neglected to mention that Houdini won the rapid event that preceded the Superfinal. As I write this, there has been no mention by Chessbase of the Superfinal result. The 'Impressive...' link went to a product page offering Houdini for Euro 99.90. Impressive, indeed.

04 December 2016

World Championship Social Media

Let's get back to The Sociology of Chess, and specifically World Championship Sociology. Many chess players might not remember a time when a World Chess Championship had no related web site, like nyc2016.fide.com for the recently concluded Carlsen - Karjakin match, but most can remember when there was no related social media. One of the first articles to appear on Worldchess.com, the host domain for the nyc2016 site, was Chess Players Are Surprisingly Bad With Social Media (October 2015):-

Most everyone agrees that chess is ideally suited for the Internet. But, when it comes to one of the most powerful and omnipresent uses of the Internet -- social media -- some chess players, even elite ones, have been slow to adapt.

That observation doesn't apply to Worldchess itself, which promotes three social media services on every one of its own pages:-

Following is a sample from that last service, which captures key moments from the match.


Add to the Worldchess list a service for the many excellent videos produced by the group:-

As most keen observers of chess know by now, Agon Limited was both the organizer of the match and the owner of the Worldchess site. It tried to establish a monopoly over the transmission of the moves of the match (see my posts from another blog, World Championship Broadcasting and World Championship Bullying, for background) but was stopped at the last moment by a Manhattan court. Worldchess also doesn't have a monopoly on chess in the social media. Two popular Twitter hashtags for the match were

both of which tracked match progress through GM Carlsen's ultimate victory. While I was preparing this post, I discovered Seven Reasons Why Social Media Is a Chess Game (globalsevenagency.com):-

1. Sometimes you WIN, sometimes you LOSE
2. Practice makes PERFECT
3. It’s not always YOUR move
etc. etc.

With social media, everyone wins and it's always your move.

02 December 2016

World Championship Closing Ceremony

Ever since the 2016 Carlsen - Karjakin match started, I've been wondering who would represent FIDE at the award ceremony. In November 2015, FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov was barred from entering the U.S. for "materially assisting and acting for or on behalf of the government of Syria", and I haven't seen any other FIDE officials at the match except those who have some responsibility in running it.

Closing Ceremony (30:50) • 'Published on Nov 30, 2016'

Joining hostess Kaja Snare on stage were Agon CEO Ilya Merenzon, FIDE Treasurer Adrian Siegel, Phosagro CEO Andrey Guryev (a sponsor), and Chief Arbiter Takis Nikolopoulos. Merenzon awarded the runner-up medal to Sergey Karjakin, after which Siegel awarded the winner's medal to Magnus Carlsen; Guryev then awarded the champion's trophy.

I was happy to find the video on the WorldChess Youtube channel. Except for the title 'Closing Ceremony', the clip has no keywords or other identifying information -- not even the names Carlsen or Karjakin. Ditto for the official copy of the clip I used yesterday in World Championship Sizzle; it's here: Final press conference.

01 December 2016

World Championship Sizzle

My previous post, World Championship Fizzle, about the last match game at standard time control, contained more than a glimmer of hope for the rapid / blitz tiebreaks.

I watched the press conference, where the players said that they understood spectators might have been disappointed by the short, bloodless draw. They also pointed out that there will be considerable compensation in having the tiebreaks. [...] After the game 12 fizzle, the tiebreaks promise plenty of sizzle.

Sizzle they did. After two draws in the four game rapidplay mini-match, including a narrow escape by Sergey Karjakin in the second game, Magnus Carlsen won the last two games to retain the title of World Chess Champion. The post-game press conference is available in entirety on Youtube.

Magnus Carlsen Vs Sergey Karjakin - Rapid - Press Conference (31:32) • 'Published on Nov 30, 2016'

I picked out two key points that were especially revealing. Early in the press conference, GM Carlsen explained the quick draw in game 12.

As for the tiebreaks, I pretty much knew this was going to happen when we made a draw in the 11th game. [...] I felt good coming today. I had a few days of rest, days to prepare.

He later expanded on this in reply to a question from Chess.com's Peter Doggers.

It was an advantage for me that I didn't have to think about game 12 and he did. [...] I thought that playing four games instead of one seemed like a very good idea. Besides that, it was refreshing to play a bit faster after all these weeks.

In other words, before game 12 even started, Carlsen had planned the fizzle to give himself a head start in preparing for the tiebreaks. Later on, Agon's CEO Ilya Merenzon offered 'some numbers'.

90% of people followed the match on smartphones. Over 10.000.000 people from pretty much all countries in the world followed the championship live on the official website. Over 10.000 people attended the championship live. Over 400 media organizations were accredited here. Total media value of coverage was over $25.000.000.

Congratulations to GM Carlsen on winning the title for a third time. Congratulations to GM Karjakin for being a true world-class competitor. I hope that we see both players in World Championship competitions -- at any level -- for many years to come.