31 December 2017

Old Year Porcelain

The last post of the old year will be another edition of Top eBay Chess Items by Price, the longest running series on this blog, currently well into its eighth year. The item pictured on the top was titled 'Unterweissbach Germany Dresden Lace Couple Playing Chess Porcelain Figurine' and sold for US $999 on a single bid. A similar item sold a few months ago, but didn't make its way into 'Top eBay Chess Items'. Pictured on the bottom, it was titled 'Huge group porcelain chess player German Unterweissbach' and sold for around $800, 'Best offer accepted'

The structure of the two items appears to be identical although there are differences in their decoration. The description on the top item said,

Unterweissbach Germany Dresden Lace Couple Playing Chess 9347 Porcelain Figurine. Blue crown mark on the lower back of the settee. A seal stating "Made In DGR". Measurements: 9 1/4" height by 16 3/4" width. Condition: Excellent with a hairline crack that starts from the base to under the ruffled hem of her skirt. Couldn't locate any broken laces or parts.

The description on the bottom item said,

Beautiful antique very large group figurine man and woman playing chess amazing detail made by Unterweissbach factory in Germany about 100 years old, item looks great but has damage to woman's lace on the back; other than that no more damage to it. This item before packaging is about 4.5 kilo, it is 17" long by 10 1/2"wide and 9 1/2" tall.

The Wikipedia entry, Unterweissbach, is the shortest Wikipedia entry I have ever seen. Here it is in its entirety:-

Unterweissbach is a municipality in the district Saalfeld-Rudolstadt, in Thuringia, Germany.

The entry is not even marked as a stub. There is more to be said about the town's porcelain industry, for example, Unterweissbach Porcelain History (antique-china-porcelain-collectibles.com):-

Unterweissbach porcelain is yet another example of a company that undergoes many twists and turns, success followed by bankruptcy followed again by even greater success. [Located] in the Thuringia region of Germany, home to other famous porcelain manufacturers such as Von Schierholz and Volkstedt, the Porzellanfabrik Unterweissbach was founded in 1882 by Herman Jost. Having started production making primarily dishes and kitchenware, the factory evolved to making some of the finest figural pieces in the famous history of German porcelain.

In my archive of chess images I found four other auctions featuring this same porcelain piece. For the previous example of chess porcelain on this blog, see Napoleon and Josephine Biscuit (July 2017).

29 December 2017

Light Is Magical

Like another, recent Flickr Friday post, Chess in the Sky (September 2017), the question here is 'How were these chess pieces created?'

The Knight, The Pawn & The Bishop © Flickr user Maureen Barlin under Creative Commons.

In her description of the photo, the photographer said,

Beautifully sculpted lanterns at Chiswick House & Gardens, London -- The Magic Lantern Festival, December 2017. The size of some of these lanterns is astonishing!

For a similar photo of other pieces in the same set, see Anyone For Chess? (flickr.com). For info about the festival, see Magical Lantern Festival (magicallantern.uk).

28 December 2017

December Yahoos

In last month's November Yahoos, I wondered, 'Will a Yahoo chess story turn up in December?' As the month continued, there were at least three stories grabbing headlines.

Note the four different classifications:
Technology, Lifestyle, World, Sports

2017-12-06: Google's AlphaGo AI can teach itself to master games like chess (yahoo.com; Engadget)

Google's DeepMind team has already advanced its AlphaGo AI to dominate Go without human input, but now the system is clever enough to master other board games without intervention. Researchers have developed a more generalized system for AlphaGo Zero that can train itself to achieve "superhuman" skill in chess, Shogi (a Japanese classic) and other game types knowing only the rules, all within less than a day. It doesn't need example games or other references.

I addressed this evolving subject in two posts -- Houdini, Komodo, Stockfish, and AlphaZero and The Constellation of AlphaZero -- and I'm sure there will be more. Will it ultimately result in chess being solved?

2017-12-20: People Think The New World Chess Championship Logo Is 'Pawnographic' (yahoo.com; HuffPost)

The World Chess Championship logo for next year’s match is raising eyebrows with folks online. World Chess this week unveiled promotional artwork for its November 2018 title event in London. It included this image of two people around a chessboard, which some wags have dubbed "pawnographic".

I also addressed this in several posts -- the last two were A Collection of Chess Logos and Dirty Mind Games -- and I hope this is the last I see of it. The logo doesn't deserve a long shelf life.

The last two stories are related to a previous story from 'November Yahoos'. Was it wishful thinking?:-

Jerusalem (AFP) - Israeli chess players could make history by participating in a tournament in Saudi Arabia after the international chess governing body on Tuesday said it was pushing to allow it to happen.

Of course it was wishful thinking. What was everyone expecting? In December we learned,

2017-12-24: Chess federation says Israel excluded from Saudi-hosted match (yahoo.com; Reuters)

ATHENS (Reuters) - Israeli players have been denied visas to participate in a speed chess championship hosted by Saudi Arabia this week, a vice president of the World Chess Federation (FIDE) said on Sunday. Seven Israeli players had requested visas for the tournament on Dec. 26-30. It would have marked the first time Saudi Arabia had publicly hosted Israelis as the Gulf state does not recognize Israel and there are no formal ties between them

This was followed by a second Yahoo story on the same tournament.

2017-12-27: Saudi chess PR gambit checked by controversies (yahoo.com; AFP)

Dubai (AFP) - Saudi Arabia brushed aside rulings from top clerics to host a big money chess tournament, but the gambit to improve the kingdom's image has been jolted by regional powerplays. [...] But a refusal to give Israeli players visas, doubts whether Iranians and Qataris will come, and a no-show over Saudi Arabia's record on women's rights have all cast their shadows.

That 'no-show over women's rights' received widespread attention. I saw it on three different network news stations, each one mentioning Anna Muzychuk by name.

2017-12-27: Chess champion to miss Saudi Arabia tournament over women's rights (yahoo.com; The Guardian)

A two-time world chess champion has said she will not defend her titles at a tournament held in Saudi Arabia because of the way the kingdom treats women as "secondary creatures". Anna Muzychuk, of Ukraine, turned down the chance to travel to the event despite modest signs of reform in the kingdom under the young crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman.

Why did FIDE award the event to a country with such a spotty score on relations, international and otherwise? For the answer we have to go back to a report on my other chess blog, 2017 FIDE Congress : Whither the World Championship (November 2017). I didn't cover it at the time, but the section of the minutes titled 'FIDE World Rapid and Blitz Championship 2017' mentioned that no bids were received. The Saudi bid must have come in shortly after the Congress ended. If you were in FIDE's shoes, what would you do -- cancel the tournament or accept the bid? -- knowing that cancelling the tournament would give FIDE an operating loss for the year 2017.

26 December 2017

Widget Inventory

I added a couple of widgets to the right sidebar. Is it possible to annotate them using a bird's eye view? Here's a look at the blog using yesterday's Merry Christmas post, along with a few notes.

About Me
Adsense (C)
My links
My blogs
Google News (A,C)
Calendars (B)
Feeds (B)
Flickr (C)
Popular Posts (A)

(A) New
(B) Useful?
(C) Not expanded

That's a long sidebar! For a previous iteration, see The Longest Sidebar (October 2011).

25 December 2017

Merry Christmas 2017!

Google image search on 'chess christmas card'

For last year's Christmas post, see Christmas Watch (25 December 2016). And please remember to drive safely!

24 December 2017

London Chess Conference 2017

After the transition on this blog from the long series on Chess in School (Summarized; October 2016), to the current series on The Sociology of Chess (November 2016), I skipped a year featuring a video from the London Chess and Education Conference. The first three years were:-

The video summarizing the 2017 conference is the following.

KVDC London Chess Conference 2017 Impressions (12:04) • 'Published on Dec 10, 2017'

I found a total of 12 similar videos from the same conference, all labeled 'KVDC London Chess Conference 2017':-

For the conference program, which lists all speakers in order, see 2017 Programme : London Chess Conference 2017 The videos from 2016, the year I missed, can be found on the same YouTube channel (the 'KVD' portion of 'KVDC'): Karel van Delft (search?query=london).

Writing this post reminded me that I still haven't looked at all of the videos flagged in the recent post, Chess Educators of the Year (November 2017). That makes more than enough material to keep me busy during the yearend holiday season.

22 December 2017

Dirty Mind Games

How often does chess grab mainstream headlines twice in one month for different stories? Two weeks ago on Video Friday we had AlphaZero and A New Style of Chess. For this edition we have a controversial World Championship logo (and video).

Chess.com Founders React to World Chess Logo (5:24) • 'Among the most excited by the World Championship 2018 logo were Chess.com's founders, Erik (CEO) and Jay (CTO). Jay and Erik decided to take a shot at playing a game as depicted by the new World Chess logo, and were captivated by the tremendous spirit generated by this unique chess-playing position.'

The description warned,

NOTE: This was meant purely as a silly joke to show how ridiculous the new World Chess Championship logo is. This is not meant to offend or be taken seriously as any kind of political or moral statement. It is just for comedy. Enjoy (or don't)!

The controversial nature of the subject was further underscored by two standard, non-routine warnings: 'Age-restricted video (requested by uploader)' and 'Comments are disabled for this video'. An accompanying story on Chess.com, Chess.com Founders Explore World Chess Logo, started,

The new world chess championship logo revealed this week for next year's London match has drawn strong reactions from chess fans and the general public.

After a slew of mostly vulgar comments that were far more inappropriate than either the logo or the video, Chess.com's CEO Erik shut them down:-

I regret having to post this AGAIN, but ok, I will: This is obviously a SATIRE/JOKE to show how uncomfortable and impractical the World Chess Championship logo is. It is not meant to be offensive. It is meant to be silly - just like the logo. There is nothing more to it.

I will now be locking the comments since we have some incredibly upset people. It's almost like we have two different sides here in the comments section, locked in a psychological battle of words, but who's feelings are getting uncomfortably close to each other...

Happy Holidays! Now go enjoy some chess!

Another story on the same site, World Chess Championship 'Kama Sutra' Logo Goes Viral, this one from Chess.com's Peter Doggers, embedded a half-dozen tweets plus a video statement from Ilya Merenzon, CEO of Agon/WorldChess, who said,

We love the logo very much. Don't worry if you feel it's a little bit controversial and you don't want, let's say, your kids to see it. It's not going to be a logo used in this place; it's going to be something different and this one is just limited editions. But again, collectors are loving it and we hope you'll love it too and also we appreciate the fact that chess is in the news in design media.

Chess.com's CEO Erik closed the comments on that story with,

I guess this is one more post that got out of control. Many people have been offended, and many people have been offended at other people's offendedness, and many people are offended by the fact that they could not find something to be offended about. And now I'm offended that we can't have interesting things happen in this world without people taking it to the extremes. So now I'm locking these comments.

Finally, Chess.com's Mike Klein issued another story, The Top 10 Chess News Stories Of 2017, saying,

After this story was written and before publication, the "suggestive" world championship logo was announced, which surely would have made the list, and which shows that this interesting year is not yet over!

Has a World Chess Championship ever generated this much attention a year before the match and months before even knowing who both players will be?

21 December 2017

A Collection of Chess Logos

If someone had to write a song about chess logos, it might be something like,

Ninety-six logos of chess on the site,
Ninety-six logos of chess!
Take one down and pass it around,
Ninety-six logos of chess on the site!

I might have overlooked one or two, but I counted the logos on my World Chess Championship site (see link on the sidebar) and came up with 96. Here they are in barely viewable format.

Honestly speaking, they aren't all logos. There are a number of banners, like the seven to the left of the top row (A1-A7), and I invented a couple of those myself.

The logo causing the current ruckus, the one that I mentioned in World Championship Branding on my other blog, is in the middle of the bottom row (G8). See, for example, World Chess Championship's 'Kama Sutra' logo criticised (bbc.com).

My favorite logo is probably the panda shown last on the fourth row (D14). It was created for the fifth leg ('Beijing, VII, 2013') of the 2012-2013 Grand Prix. Many of the most interesting logos were created for women's events, like the 2011-2012 FIDE Women's Grand Prix (fourth row, D2-D7).

As for the lack of logos from the 20th century, I've never made any systematic attempt to find them. I simply collect various images as I create the corresponding pages. The first event where I used a logo appears to be 1995 Kasparov - Anand PCA Title Match : Highlights (G9).

19 December 2017

FIDE President: Sanctions Are 'Stone Age'

I ended last month's kickoff post for a series on FIDE, Spectating the 88th FIDE Congress, with an idea for a follow-up.

Later in the meeting, Ilyumzhinov gave a more detailed defense of his personal actions, but I'll save that for another post.

You might recall that the controversy goes back to March/April 2017, when I documented it in a pair of posts on my two chess blogs: Did He Resign? and He Didn't Resign. Let's move forward to October 2017, and listen to more of the discussion started in the 'Spectating' post.

Prof. A. Siegel [FIDE Treasurer; ...] proposed to the Executive Board in the interest of FIDE, we request Kirsan Ilyumzhinov not to run in the next Presidential elections. He requested a secret ballot vote.

This was discussed by the Board and seconded by the President of FIDE America: 'Mr. J. Vega seconded the proposal of Prof. Siegel.' Kirsan Ilyumzhinov began a long defense of his position. I hesitated about including it in its entirety, but there are so many fascinating elements here, that I finally decided to use it unabridged.

President Ilyumzhinov said that the elections will take place in September 2018 in Batumi at the General Assembly. Officially the campaign starts three months in advance, when a ticket is submitted and a person declares himself a candidate. Officially the announcement should be made that a person is running or not running, three months in advance. Therefore there can be many candidates, and not only among those who are present here.

He said he understands everything said by the members of the Presidential Board. He respects all said by Prof. Siegel and Mr. Borg, he understands the concern and he is also concerned but he has always defended the FIDE interests. The amount of his current travels is not more or less that during previous years, and he would like to underline that all his trips are in connection with the chess propaganda.

The minutes suddenly switch from third person to first person.

If you take any country he goes to -- be it Mongolia, Costa Rica, Zambia, Zimbabwe -- I meet with the leadership everywhere, make TV presence, popularize chess, speak at press-conferences, and no elections were discussed.

Yesterday we spoke a lot with those present here, with my Vice-Presidents, and I fully agree with their concerns. I do not see any critical in the continuation of their work, to continue my travels, to speak about people, children, to give simuls, to bring manuals and chess boards as gifts.

Of course you can make a motion and vote for it so I am forbidden to run in the FIDE Presidential elections. But why to vote, if I can refuse participating myself? Why to force me to do so? We are here in a democratic process. I hope the situation in the USA will also be clarified. I am under sanctions of one department in only one country, member of the UN and FIDE. Tomorrow any other country, a ministry -- of fire-fighters, finances, economics of Mongolia, Andorra, other countries -- will announce that someone of the audience is under sanctions. So will this mean that this person will have no right to run for the parliament, municipality, international organisations?

I am not in prison, officially I was not accused in any point by any court, prosecutor of the USA, FBI, CIA. I replied to all their questions in London, Paris, Zurich, Moscow. I showed them my 40 passports and 1500 trips abroad, I wrote an official letter to the FBI director, so I am checked at polygraph, and invited to Washington.

I came to London on purpose last year, as there is a FBI branch in London, to be tested at polygraph, to be interrogated. They refused. I wrote a letter to the U.S. President, to be invited, and asked him -- if the USA is a democratic country, please invite me and listen to me. If I am wrong, if I violated the U.S. laws, I am ready to go to prison. I am ready to go to prison for truth. But if the U.S. Dept of Treasury is wrong, they have to apologise to me -- this was my only request.

A month ago I wrote a letter to D. Trump. I am grateful to the USA President, and there have been several hearings on my case in the U.S. Department of Treasury in the USA, in their Administration. Among those who was invited to this Congress, is my representative, a U.S. lawyer, who was ready to reply to all questions about the hearings, which were held in the Dept of Treasury and the U.S. President’s Administration.

As you know, last May we had a Presidential Board in Moscow, and Candidates’ tournament. One of the EB members present here could not come to Russia because he was on a sanctions list of one of the Russian Ministries. I wrote an official letter to the President of Russia, and the head of this department and I succeeded to lifting of the sanctions from this person.

I have recently visited several African countries, and there all their Presidents, all members of the governments and parliaments are under the U.S. and U.K. sanctions. But despite this, the members of these countries work in the international organisations, and are heads of banks. Therefore I am as a Russian, am under sanctions.

In 2004 may of those present here, participated in the Presidential Board and World Championship in Tripoli. Libya was under sanctions, the chess players who played there, received money from people under sanctions -- son of Qaddafi, ministers, members of the Libyan Government, who sponsored the event, financed our World Championship where R. Kasimdjanov won.

In March in Tehran we organized the World Women’s Championship (as Mr. Makropoulos mentioned), but despite the fact that Iran is under sanctions, despite their ministries were under sanctions, we received the money and organized the championship there.

My lawyer Robert Amsterdam insists that the hearings are open, so that I could make a speech in the U.S. Congress and the U.S. Senate. I am ready to travel to the USA, to buy a ticket, so I wrote about it to the U.S. President. Therefore the sanctions policy carried out by several countries, is past, Stone Age.

This is not only about me -- this is about many citizens of this world. When I meet presidents of countries, presidents of international organisations, they tell to me: "Don’t give up, fight against this administration, fight against the U.S. Department of Treasury".

I have sent to all of you the list of points as basis for my inclusion in the list of sanctions. It includes only the Guardian publications and other Internet publications. Therefore I am open to come and reply to all their questions. And as I was told yesterday, the invitation has arrived to the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, and I hope that I will be able to visit Washington soon.

As for my participation or non-participation in the FIDE elections, I should be the one to announce. This is my personal decision and my right, to participate or not in the elections. Maybe we can take a joint decision, and agree who we will all support, right here. But I do not want my rights to be violated or limited, as a Russian citizen, as one of persons who work in international organisations.

When I travel to countries, I represent not only FIDE, I represent Kalmykia, where I have been President for 18 years, Russia where I have been a Parliament member several times. If I had been such a terrible person, a dangerous person, I would not have been received by Presidents and Prime Ministers of many countries.

Therefore, if I hurt anybody, made some mistakes, please accept my apologies. But all my work since 1995 for 22 years has been transparent and all of you have witnessed everything what I have done. I was spending my time, my health, my fortune, money not to promote myself, but to support and develop our chess, our country.

Once again I would like to underline -- if it is necessary, I will decide myself which I will take on my time -- to resign, to run or not to run in the elections. I am asking you not to force me. If you want, I will think, and can make an announcement myself -- we discussed this yesterday. But give me some time. I think all I have done during these 20 years -- give me a right to deserve a decent treatment and to request this.

I thank you once again for your concern and for your speeches. I understand you were speaking sincerely, therefore I am with you. But allow me to take a decision on my own.

Nowhere does Ilyumzhinov mention the specific accusations levelled against him, detailed in Treasury Sanctions Networks Providing Support to the Government of Syria (treasury.gov; November 2015), unless this is what he means by 'other Internet publications'. The accusations imply that he has been using his post as FIDE President, especially the travel privileges, to further his private business interests.

Mr. Gelfer announced the results of 59 secret ballots cast as follows: In favour of the motion - 37; Against the motion - 20; Abstained - 2

As Ilyumzhinov said, the vote has no legal significance. It was basically a vote of no-confidence. As for the notion that sanctions don't work, why were they being discussed by FIDE's Executive Board?

18 December 2017

The Constellation of AlphaZero

Starting with a post to Improve Engine Software (October 2017), I've been running a weekly series 'to investigate what sort of engine setup I would need to improve my result'. Last week I did a series of three consecutive posts on AlphaZero:-

It sounds like AlphaZero might be the answer to my quest. What exactly do I need to install and run it? The 'Giraffe' post included a link to the paper announcing AlphaZero: 'Mastering Chess and Shogi by Self-Play'. Pages two and three of that paper included a three paragraph overview of AlphaZero's nuts-and-bolts. I'm copying it here as an image because it includes math symbols that I don't want to replicate yet.

Two phrases in that passage highlight the base technologies:-

  • 'Deep neural network', and
  • 'Monte-Carlo tree search (MCTS)'

That's a short list of the software underlying AlphaZero, but what about the hardware? Later, the same paper says,

We applied the AlphaZero algorithm to chess, shogi, and also Go. Unless otherwise specified, the same algorithm settings, network architecture, and hyper-parameters were used for all three games. We trained a separate instance of AlphaZero for each game. Training proceeded for 700,000 steps (mini-batches of size 4,096) starting from randomly initialised parameters, using 5,000 first-generation TPUs to generate self-play games and 64 second-generation TPUs to train the neural networks. Further details of the training procedure are provided in the Methods.

I had never before heard of a TPU, an acronym for 'tensor processing unit'. Before I go any further, I'd better learn a little more about these concepts that I've just bulleted. As usual, I'll call on Wikipedia to explain the basics. The introduction to deep neural networks is on a page about Deep learning.

A deep neural network (DNN) is an ANN with multiple hidden layers between the input and output layers. Similar to shallow ANNs, DNNs can model complex non-linear relationships. DNN architectures generate compositional models where the object is expressed as a layered composition of primitives. The extra layers enable composition of features from lower layers, potentially modeling complex data with fewer units than a similarly performing shallow network.

Deep architectures include many variants of a few basic approaches. Each architecture has found success in specific domains. It is not always possible to compare the performance of multiple architectures, unless they have been evaluated on the same data sets. DNNs are typically feedforward networks in which data flows from the input layer to the output layer without looping back.

So a DNN is based on an ANN, but what's an ANN? It is explained in the preceding section of the same page.

Artificial neural networks (ANNs) or connectionist systems are computing systems inspired by the biological neural networks that constitute animal brains. Such systems learn (progressively improve their ability) to do tasks by considering examples, generally without task-specific programming. [...]

An ANN is based on a collection of connected units called artificial neurons, (analogous to axons in a biological brain). Each connection (synapse) between neurons can transmit a signal to another neuron. The receiving (postsynaptic) neuron can process the signal(s) and then signal downstream neurons connected to it. [...]

Typically, neurons are organized in layers. Different layers may perform different kinds of transformations on their inputs. Signals travel from the first (input), to the last (output) layer, possibly after traversing the layers multiple times.

Now here's an explanation of Monte Carlo tree search.

In computer science, Monte Carlo tree search (MCTS) is a heuristic search algorithm for some kinds of decision processes, most notably those employed in game play. [...] The focus of Monte Carlo tree search is on the analysis of the most promising moves, expanding the search tree based on random sampling of the search space. The application of Monte Carlo tree search in games is based on many playouts. In each playout, the game is played out to the very end by selecting moves at random. The final game result of each playout is then used to weight the nodes in the game tree so that better nodes are more likely to be chosen in future playouts

TPUs are explained in a page describing a Tensor processing unit.

A tensor processing unit (TPU) is an application-specific integrated circuit (ASIC) developed by Google specifically for neural network machine learning. Compared to a graphics processing unit, it is designed for a high volume of low precision computation (e.g. as little as 8-bit precision) with higher IOPS per watt, and lacks hardware for rasterisation/texture mapping. The chip has been specifically designed for Google's TensorFlow framework.

While I was poking around in various documents, I kept running into that word, 'TensorFlow'. It's explained in another page, TensorFlow.

TensorFlow is an open-source software library for dataflow programming across a range of tasks. It is a symbolic math library, and also used for machine learning applications such as neural networks. It is used for both research and production at Google, often replacing its closed-source predecessor, DistBelief. TensorFlow was developed by the Google Brain team for internal Google use. It was released under the Apache 2.0 open source license on November 9, 2015.

The Wikipedia page on TPUs also says, 'Google's TPUs are proprietary and are not commercially available'. Looks like I'm not going to be installing and running AlphaZero anytime soon. Basically, it's a neural network that uses a Monte Carlo search to evaluate chess positions. The idea isn't completely new, but Google's DeepMind was the first to make it work.

The excerpt I copied from the paper also talks about parameters. It ends, 'The updated parameters are used in subsequent games of self-play.' I wonder if I can find out more about those parameters. I'd also like to know how all of this was used in the match that crushed Stockfish.

17 December 2017

The Grossmeister Creates

After three consecutive posts on Top eBay Chess Items by Price featuring live, high-priced auctions from Sotheby’s...

...I was starting to wonder if we had entered some brave new world of chess auctions. With the item pictured below, we revert to the sort of auction that has kept the series on 'Top eBay Chess Items' running for so long.

Titled 'Russian Lacquer Box by Zhiryakov Alexey "Grandmaster" Palekh Chess Circus', subtitled 'Wow what a box. Use pics as your guide. Fantastic. This is as good as they get. Really!', the box sold for around $975, 'Best offer accepted'.

Although the lighting on the box is uneven, chess pieces are visible in the lower center of the box and chess board patterns serve as background throughout. The description said,

This auction is for another one of the owners favorites from Palekh by Zhiryakov Alexey. Looks like a circus and chess game. Really the best artwork I've seen from Palekh. The drawing around the sides is more than exceptional. Also famous for his fairytale paintings. This one is a masterpiece and big: 8" by 4 5/8". The details are superb.

To understand this piece, I used the keywords in the title to find out more. First, Wikipedia's Russian lacquer art told me,

Russian lacquer art developed from the art of icon painting which came to an end with the collapse of Imperial Russia. The icon painters, who previously had been employed by supplying not only churches but people's homes, needed a way to make a living. Thus, the craft of making papier-mâché decorative boxes and panels developed, the items were lacquered and then hand painted by the artists, often with scenes from folk tales.

Wikipedia's Palekh miniature added,

Palekh miniature is a Russian folk handicraft of a miniature painting, which is done with tempera paints on varnished articles made of papier-mâché (small boxes, cigarette and powder cases, etc.) Palekh Russian lacquer art on papier-mâché first appeared in 1923 in the village of Palekh, located in the Palekhsky District (Ivanovo Oblast), and is based on a long local history of icon painting.

Finally, in Russian Lacquer Art Gallery, Sunbirds.com told me that Alexey Yevgenievich Zhiryakov:-

Was born 1974 in the village of Palekh, Ivanovo region, where he currently resides now. In 1996 he graduated from the Palekh Art School, where he studied under talented Palekh masters Buldakov and Peskov. At present Alexey Yevgenievich works at the Union of Palekh artists. His artworks are held in private collections all over the world.

The artwork shows a young man grinding out chess pieces onto a checkered road. Under his orange feet, the box is titled 'Grossmeister' [Grandmaster] and signed 'Palekh, 2006, A.E.Zhiryakov'.

15 December 2017

Chess in the Street

With 2321 Flickr views and 89 faves (favorites), this photo has received more than the usual amount of interest. But why?

Checkmate © Flickr user Luis Alvarez Marra under Creative Commons.

What are we looking at anyway? There must be more to the image than just two guys playing chess. The photo's description said,

They were so focused that I could spend several minutes photographing. I was seduced by how submerged they were in the game. By the way, I took it on the Pau Buscató Workshop that I attended. It was incredible and I highly recommend it. For those interested, this is the link: www.buscato.net/spw/.

That page is titled, 'WORKSHOPS : Pau Buscató : STREET PHOTOGRAPHY'. Add that to the names of some of the 32 groups to which the photo belongs -- 'Street Photography - Fotografia di Strada', 'Street Photographers', and 'Street Scene Shooters', etc. -- and we start to understand that this represents a particular form of art.

One comment to the photo said (translated from the original Spanish), 'Very original photo with chess players blurred by the reflections.' Another said, 'Very well framed. One is almost the mirror reflection of the other.' The 'WORKSHOPS : STREET PHOTOGRAPHY' page informs,

Pau Buscató is a street photographer from Barcelona, currently based in Oslo, Norway. He studied architecture but after some years of practice abandoned his career to focus exclusively on photography. He is a member of the international street photography collective Burn My Eye.

The Pau Buscató - Burn My Eye page adds,

I walk around looking for those 'poetic accidents' that sometimes take place in our most mundane and repetitive daily lives. An open mind, intuition and fresh eyes will help me see and translate them into a personal photographic language, but as with many translations it won't be exact and literal: I'm not documenting the world as it is, I'm re-presenting it as I see it.

Earlier this year on Flickr Friday we saw a street performer in Posing for Euros (March 2017) and street art in No Monkey Business Here (July 2017). Now we have street photography.

14 December 2017

Chess and Art Movements

It seems like every time I do a post about chess art -- for example, Dube and Chotka (June 2017) -- the discussion touches on the topic of art movements. I thought it might be interesting to map chess art on to the different movements, but then discovered that it's already been done. In Chess Art History (Carolus Chess), more than 40 art movements are listed with an example featuring chess. Wikipedia's Art periods says,

An art period is a phase in the development of the work of an artist, groups of artists or art movement.
and lists six major periods further subdivided into dozens of movements. For example, the major period 'Modern art' encompasses 'Cubism: 1907-1914, France', along with a note:-
The countries listed are the country in which the movement or group started. Most modern art movements were international in scope

Here are examples of cubist art featuring chess, using the same collage technique last seen in Flickrless Friday; 'Call the rows 'A' to 'C' (from top to bottom) and number the images in each row '1' to '7' (from left to right).'

Google image search on 'chess cubism'

About half of the examples show chess sets (e.g. 'A1' in the upper left and 'C6' in the lower right), while the other half are paintings. The image in 'B3' could be a sculpture, but is in fact a photo of Cubism-Inspired Game Pieces : Artistic Chess Set (trendhunter.com).

With so many recognized art periods, there is plenty of source material here. I'll come back to the subject the next time I'm looking for an idea for my daily post.

12 December 2017

FIDE's Journalist Commission 2017

The next group to look at in Spectating the 88th FIDE Congress is the Commission of Chess Journalists, last seen in FIDE's Journalist Commission 2016 (December 2016). For 2017, we first turn to the general report for the 88th FIDE Congress in Antalya, Turkey (fide.com; October 2017). The journalists received three mentions.

Day 1: The 88th FIDE Congress started today at the Avantgarde Hotel in Antalya, Turkey. The Congress is organized by the Turkish Chess Federation and attended by the FIDE Executive & Presidential Board, the FIDE Commissions, the FIDE Delegates and the National Chess Federations. On the first day there were meetings of the Central Board of Commissions, the Marketing Committee, the Technical Commission (TEC), [...] and the Commission of Chess Journalists (CCJ).

Also in the report for the first day:-

The Commission of Chess Journalists reviewed the Media Regulations which should be forwarded to the Executive Board for the final approval. The Commission also reported on the progress on issuing the FIDE Journalist accreditations and the plans for the 2018 SportAccord Convention.

The third mention was as a caption for a photo of the meeting, but the photo was missing due to some glitch. I found it here:-


The agenda for the meeting (Annex_34; all annexes can be located via the 'Spectating' post) was:-

- Media regulations
- Accreditation of journalists
- SportAccord Convention 2018
- Journalists awards
- Proposal from Intonation Ltd / City Legal Translations
- Other matters

Only the 'Intonation' item is not mentioned in the minutes of the meeting (Annex_76), which start...

Commission of Chess Journalists (CCJ) meeting, Goynuk, Antalya, Turkey, 8 October 2017 [...] Chairman: G. Makropoulos (GRE), Secretary: A. Karlovich (UKR), Present: [11 names representing nine federations]

...and end...

Media regulations recommended for the approval of the Executive Board.

The 'Media regulations' were an 11 page attachment to the 13 pages of the minutes. Unfortunately, they are not well structured and are difficult to summarize. They start with a jumble of headings and definitions:-

Media Press Center: A Media Center (Press Office) should be set-up to handle the media matters for the chess event. Its proper work requires technical and personnel conditions. • Technical conditions: Facilities: The press area must [...]

Also covered are the 'Official website' (specified elsewhere: hostcity20xx.fide.com), 'Photography and Television', 'FIDE’s official Youtube channel' (fidechannel - YouTube), 'FIDE Press Officer', 'Interviews' (details for different events), 'Special regulations for FIDE events' (ditto), and 'FIDE Chess Journalists'. The 'Special regulations' start,

World Chess Championship Matches: The players are obliged to attend the "Media Day" (estimated 120 minutes) and are expected to co-operate reasonably with the media.

and contain a long extract, '4.7 Media facilities', from FIDE's Handbook :: Regulations for the Chess Olympiad. The section on 'FIDE Chess Journalists' is mainly a list of how many hotel nights organizers are required to give to 'accredited FIDE journalists during FIDE events', for example, 'FIDE Grand Prix - 9 nights'. One more point from the 2017 minutes worth mentioning is:-

A. Karlovich informed the meeting about the next SportAccord Convention due for April 2018. There is a proposal that Commission Secretary should travel to this world's biggest sports meeting to establish connections with major journalist organizations and exchange the experience with other sports associations.

This promises to be another step forward for chess journalists. The commission has come a long way since I first reported on it in FIDE Journalists' Commission (December 2013; 'A suivre...').

11 December 2017

Houdini, Komodo, Stockfish, and AlphaZero

Last week's report on TCEC Season 10, Engine-to-engine, Head-to-head, finished with a prediction:-

The engines are slugging it out as I write this and have finished 80 games out of the 100 scheduled for the event. Houdini leads [Komodo] with a score of +13-7=60, meaning that we can project a final score of something like +16-9=75. I'll come back to the event when it's over.

With the score at +14-9=73 after 96 games, Houdini was declared the winner; Houdini is TCEC Season 10 champion! (chessdom.com):-

With its gold medal Houdini becomes the engine with most titles in TCEC history. Robert Houdart shared, "I’ve worked non-stop for the past two years to bring Houdini back to the top level, and I’m really happy that this has resulted in a new TCEC title, which is the equivalent of World Champion status."

Houdini won one more game to achieve a final score of +15-9=76. The match was punctuated by two events. The first was a technical problem; Houdini with a six point lead near the halfway point of TCEC:-

Komodo Team Reports Compiler Glitch – Version Update Rejected [...] At the beginning of the Superfinal many noticed that Komodo’s speed (in nodes per second) was lower than previously seen. Tournament director Anton Mihailov, with the help of the server administrator Martin Thoresen, double- and triple-checked that the engine was installed correctly. The details were sent to the Komodo team and everyone agreed there was no problem during the Superfinal setup.

Statement by team Komodo [...] In summary, there is indeed a slowdown in the version now running in TCEC, which appears to be due to a compiler bug.

In a software development chain, the compiler is the tool that translates the high-level code that the developer writes into the low-level code that the processor understands. The Komodo team asked to submit a substitute executable, but the request was rejected by Houdart and Mihailov. TCEC openings for all games of the superfinal were announced in advance and any new version of an engine introduced mid-match might conceivably take advantage of this knowledge.

The second event, external to the TCEC, was the publication of a paper by Google's DeepMind titled, 'Mastering Chess and Shogi by Self-Play with a General Reinforcement Learning Algorithm'. The paper appeared a few days before the TCEC's close, when the winner was nearly certain. Its abstract said,

The game of chess is the most widely-studied domain in the history of artificial intelligence. The strongest programs are based on a combination of sophisticated search techniques, domain-specific adaptations, and handcrafted evaluation functions that have been refined by human experts over several decades. In contrast, the AlphaGo Zero program recently achieved superhuman performance in the game of Go, by tabula rasa reinforcement learning from games of self-play.

In this paper, we generalise this approach into a single AlphaZero algorithm that can achieve, tabula rasa, superhuman performance in many challenging domains. Starting from random play, and given no domain knowledge except the game rules, AlphaZero achieved within 24 hours a superhuman level of play in the games of chess and shogi (Japanese chess) as well as Go, and convincingly defeated a world-champion program in each case.

The phrase 'tabula rasa' can be understood as 'blank slate'. In Tabula rasa, Wikipedia says,

Tabula rasa refers to the epistemological idea that individuals are born without built-in mental content and that therefore all knowledge comes from experience or perception.

In other words, starting with only the rules of chess, AlphaZero progressed in a few hours of computational time to a level where it 'convincingly defeated a world-champion program'. For chess, its opponent was '2016 TCEC world-champion program Stockfish' (TCEC season 9). In the season 10 semifinal, Stockfish finished a half point behind the two eventual finalists. Informed observers consider the three engines to be of approximately equal strength, comfortably ahead of the competition. The DeepMind paper continued,

We evaluated the fully trained instances of AlphaZero against Stockfish, Elmo and the previous version of AlphaGo Zero (trained for 3 days) in chess, shogi and Go respectively, playing 100 game matches at tournament time controls of one minute per move. AlphaZero and the previous AlphaGo Zero used a single machine with 4 TPUs. Stockfish and Elmo played at their strongest skill level using 64 threads and a hash size of 1GB. AlphaZero convincingly defeated all opponents, losing zero games to Stockfish and eight games to Elmo (see Supplementary Material for several example games), as well as defeating the previous version of AlphaGo Zero.

We can quibble about whether the AlphaZero - Stockfish match was indeed a fair fight -- 1 GB hash size is a severe restriction -- but the final score of +28-0=72 for AlphaZero was more than convincing to all but the most vehement skeptics. The new TCEC champion expressed his thoughts just after the TCEC finished; Interview with Robert Houdart, author of the champion engine Houdini (chessdom.com):-

Q: AlphaZero just defeated last year’s champion Stockfish 8. Your opinion on the paper published and the match that took place?

A: It’s fascinating and amazing, and at the same time very much expected! We even discussed this during the interview with Nelson and the Komodo authors. It opens entirely new, astonishing possibilities for chess engines! I do hope Google will publish more details about their approach, so that the chess world in general and the computer chess world in particular can benefit from their achievement.

Q: Now that Houdini is the reigning champion, would you issue a challenge for AlphaZero? Under what conditions?

A: It’s normally up to the challenger to issue a challenge, not the reigning champion :) A big discussion point about a possible match between a "normal" engine and AlphaZero would be the hardware to use -- how can you make sure that hardware is comparable? If I can run Houdini on 2000 cores it will be a lot stronger than when running on 64 cores. That said, I’m not sure how Google is viewing their project -- is it a research/marketing project (like Deep Blue was for IBM), or do they intend to use AlphaZero competitively or as an analysis engine available to the general public?

The 'interview with Nelson [Hernandez] and the Komodo authors', which appeared two weeks before the end of season 10 was Interview with Robert Houdart, Mark Lefler and GM Larry Kaufman (chessdom.com). Now that the TCEC event has finished, I would like to look a little more at the technology behind AlphaZero. I started with yesterday's post Giraffe and AlphaZero, which included a link to the DeepMind paper, and will spend the next few Mondays following up.

10 December 2017

Giraffe and AlphaZero

Start with the sociology of chess, last seen two weeks ago in FIDE's Social Commissions 2017, and add artificial intelligence, as in the previous post, A New Style of Chess, about Google/DeepMind’s AlphaZero. What have you got? I didn't know, so I asked Google.

The first answer it gave me (in fact, the first three answers) was a paper by Nathan Ensmenger: Is chess the drosophila of artificial intelligence? A social history of an algorithm. (ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed; February 2012):-

Abstract: Since the mid 1960s, researchers in computer science have famously referred to chess as the 'drosophila' of artificial intelligence (AI). What they seem to mean by this is that chess, like the common fruit fly, is an accessible, familiar, and relatively simple experimental technology that nonetheless can be used productively to produce valid knowledge about other, more complex systems. But for historians of science and technology, the analogy between chess and drosophila assumes a larger significance.

As Robert Kohler has ably described, the decision to adopt drosophila as the organism of choice for genetics research had far-reaching implications for the development of 20th century biology. In a similar manner, the decision to focus on chess as the measure of both human and computer intelligence had important and unintended consequences for AI research.

This paper explores the emergence of chess as an experimental technology, its significance in the developing research practices of the AI community, and the unique ways in which the decision to focus on chess shaped the program of AI research in the decade of the 1970s. More broadly, it attempts to open up the virtual black box of computer software -- and of computer games in particular -- to the scrutiny of historical and sociological analysis.

A little further down the list of Google's results was An AI computer learned how to beat almost anyone at chess in 72 hours (qz.com; September 2015):-

Matthew Lai, a computer scientist at University College London, recently published his master’s thesis, which demonstrated a machine learning system -- called Giraffe, after this cartoon about evolution -- that can learn to play at the International Master level of chess in just 72 hours. According to MIT Technology Review, Lai’s machine is a deep neural network -- a computer system that’s inspired by the structure of the brain and attempts to learn and make decisions in a similar way. According to Lai’s paper, Giraffe performs "moderately better" than contemporary computer programs that analyze every possible move at once, as opposed to the few that might actually lead to success.

Matthew Lai and Giraffe. Where have we seen those names recently? They were in the paper that announced AlphaZero to the world: Mastering Chess and Shogi by Self-Play with a General Reinforcement Learning Algorithm (PDF). Matthew Lai was listed as one of the 13 authors of the paper and received a mention in the references:-

Matthew Lai. Giraffe: Using deep reinforcement learning to play chess. Master’s thesis, Imperial College London, 2015.

Giraffe was mentioned again in the section titled 'PriorWork on Computer Chess and Shogi':-

Giraffe evaluated positions by a neural network that included mobility maps and attack and defend maps describing the lowest valued attacker and defender of each square. It was trained by self-play using TD(leaf), also reaching a standard of play comparable to international masters.

Looks like we're on the right track:-

Chess + Sociology + AI => Matthew Lai + Giraffe => AlphaZero

Where to take the subject from here? That will have to wait for another post.

08 December 2017

A New Style of Chess

Historical moments in chess are few and far between. Here are a half dozen events from the past 50 years that made a big impression on me. Almost all were World Championship matches.

Add to these significant career events in the lives of the greatest players.

  • 2005 Kasparov retires
  • 2008 Fischer dies

Twenty years ago, chess engines started to take over as the best players.

This week we learned of another historical event.

  • 2017 Google's AlphaZero - Stockfish

One of the best known chess channels on Youtube is Agadmator's. Of the five games he analyzed from the match, here's his first.

Google Deep Mind AI Alpha Zero Devours Stockfish (13:22) • 'Published on Dec 6, 2017'

Although it's still too early to measure the impact of AlphaZero's accomplishment on the future of chess, it will be profound. Earlier this year, in another episode of Video Friday, we saw Kasparov with DeepMind’s CEO Demis Hassabis: Kasparov Talks at Google (June 2017). There will certainly be more discussions to come.

07 December 2017

1959 Yugoslavia Candidates

With the last two editions of 'Top eBay Chess Items by Price' dominated by big-ticket auctions from Sotheby’s -- A Six-Figure Chess Item at Auction and A Chess Painting and a Namesake -- I haven't had the chance to feature any of the lesser auctions. The item shown below would have made the cut on any average eBay day for 'Top Chess Items'. Titled 'Chess book signed by eight masters, incl. Fischer, Keres, Petrosian, Smyslov and Tal', it sold for around $1500, 'Best offer accepted'.

Top row: Keres, Petrosian, Smyslov, Gligoric
Bottom row: Fischer, Olafsson, Benko, Tal

The description said,

A chess book signed by Benko, Fischer, Gligoric, Keres, Olafsson, Petrosian, Smyslov and Tal: "Kandidatenturnier für Schachweltmeisterschaft" by S. Gligoric and V. Ragozin/Ragosin (Belgrade, 1960). In German. A 320-page hardback in good condition, although the cover is worn (especially on the corners).

The eight participants in the world championship candidates' tournament in Bled, Zagreb and Belgrade all signed this book on the event. Fischer signed it on the front fly-leaf (which also has the name and address of a previous owner, Alan Benson, whose signed book label is on the inside front cover). The book has eight full-page photographs of the participants, and Benko, Gligoric, Keres, Olafsson, Petrosian, Smyslov and Tal -- though not Fischer -- signed their respective photographs (the pages of which already featured a printed signature). Tal signed the book a second time, on page 153, at the end of a combinational win against Fischer

Ignoring the autographs, several of the photos are well known on their own, e.g. Fischer and Tal, and it's useful to know their source. The wall boards are the same in the background of five photos, indicating that they were taken at the same time. For more about the tournament, see 1959 Yugoslavia Candidates Tournament.

05 December 2017

December 1967 'On the Cover'

For the first time since I started this 'On the Cover' series in 2014, the December edition does not feature a scene reminding us of the year end holidays.

Left: 'Interzonal Qualifiers'
Right: 'Manhattan Chess Club President'

Chess Life

The following players have emerged from the Interzonal Tournament at Sousse, Tunisia, just completed, as those who will join Spassky and Tal (already seeded) in a series of matches to determine which of them will play Tigran Petrosian for the World Championship. Reshevsky, Stein and Hort, who finished with identical scores, will participate in a playoff in February to determine the sixth qualifier. A full report follows soon.

That full report will recount a dark moment in American chess. My page on the tournament, 1967 Sousse Interzonal Tournament ('Sousse, X-XI, 1967'), says, '[Bobby] Fischer withdrew while leading the tournament after playing ten games of his schedule.' The event was, however, a bright moment in Bent Larsen's career. The 'Doughty Dane', who was featured on the CR side of the November 1967 'On the Cover', finished first with a score of +13-3=5.

Chess Review

On the cover this month is Manhattan Chess Club President Jacques Coe. His speech on the 90th anniversary of the club appeared [in November].

That speech started,

In the summer of 1877, while people were still talking about whether Hayes or Tilden should have been President, and the Civil War was fresher in memory than World War II is for us, the Manhattan Chess Club was born.

Its members met at the Cafe Logeling, 49 Bowery, between Bayard and Canal Streets, where over their beards they drank lager beer, and under their beards they played chess. The proprietor, Mr. Logeling, kept on hand one of the greatest selections of German, American, English and French newspapers. He was also a chess enthusiast, and eventually built a room over the garden at the back of the cafe which was set aside for the players.

The rest of the speech, which covered nearly a full CR page, was a recap of the club's New York residences. A query on this blog (see the search box in the right column) reveals its importance to the history of American chess.

04 December 2017

Engine-to-engine, Head-to-head

Let's wrap up the series on Engine Trouble (September 2017; 'investigate what sort of engine setup I would need to improve my [chess960] result'), last seen in Improve Engine Software - Tablebases, and look at a couple of engine-to-engine tournaments -- a veteran and a newcomer -- that were taking place in parallel with the series. In the few months since I posted about the veteran, TCEC Season 10 Kickoff (September 2017; 'Top Chess Engine Championship'), the competition has reached the final stage.

2017-11-20: Komodo – Houdini is the Superfinal of TCEC Season 10 • 'Komodo and Houdini are the two finalists in this years edition of the premier event for computer chess. The two engines finished top of the table at the Candidates stage with equal score 18.5/28, half a point ahead of Stockfish.'

The engines are slugging it out as I write this and have finished 80 games out of the 100 scheduled for the event. Houdini leads with a score of +13-7=60, meaning that we can project a final score of something like +16-9=75. I'll come back to the event when it's over.

The newcomer was Chess.com's Computer Chess Championship. The announcement, preliminary results, and final results are all stuffed into a single article, which first appeared in September, but carries the date of its last update:-

2017-11-16: Chess.com Announces Computer Chess Championship, 'Updated With Results' (chess.com) • 'The world's strongest computer engines will compete in a first-of-its-kind speed chess tournament on Chess.com this November, the site announced today. As computer engines have claimed the undisputed title as the best chess-playing entities on earth, interest in the machines has risen among chess fans. The first annual Chess.com Computer Chess Championship (CCCC) will decide which engine is the best at the format of chess most played online: speed chess.'

Chess.com navigation has always been unusual. For this event, if you want to understand it chronologically, you first have to scroll to the bottom of the page then work your way back up, instead of reading the article from top to bottom.

The Computer Chess Championship is scheduled for Nov. 13-16, with all four days featuring full live coverage on Chess.com/TV with master commentary and high production values to promote computer chess as a fun viewing experience for the modern gaming audience. The top-two scoring engines in the round-robin will face each other in a thrilling super-final, where time controls will transition from rapid to blitz and finally to bullet chess as the match proceeds. Chess.com will provide four days of live coverage with master commentary, broadcasting all 90 games of the round-robin and all 20 games of the super-final.

According to Norm Schmidt, the author of the computer engine Fire and Chess.com's advisor for computer chess, the technical details for the tournament are below. The tournament will be run from an Amazon Web Services server farm located in Northern Virginia. Each engine will utilize its own dedicated AWS virtualized instance of a hyperthreaded Intel Xeon E5-2666 v3 2.90 GHz (two processors each with 18 cores) with 60.0 GB RAM running on Windows Server 2016 Data Center Edition.

That 'announcement' includes coverage of the event's two stages: Round Robin Crosstable & Final Standings, plus Superfinal Crosstable. Those results are also summarized in classic top to bottom reporting in a follow-up piece.

2017-11-18: Stockfish Wins Chess.com Computer Championship (chess.com) • 'The powerful, open-source chess engine Stockfish narrowly beat out two strong commercial engines to win the first Chess.com Computer Chess Championship this week. Stockfish placed clear first in the 10-engine round robin to reach the superfinal, and then edged the second-place Houdini in the rapid, blitz, and bullet finals to win the championship.'

The entire event is summarized in a series of live shows, now available on Chess.com's Youtube channel under the title 'Computer Chess Championship':-

One of these days I hope someone explains to me the difference between a superfinal and a final. In the meantime, I'll continue to admire the likes of Houdini, Komodo, and Stockfish as they go head-to-head in the chess version of core wars.

03 December 2017

A Chess Painting and a Namesake

Two weeks ago, in the previous edition of Top eBay Chess Items by Price, we saw A Six-Figure Chess Item at Auction, featuring a Sotheby’s live auction for 'Marcel Duchamp : Pocket Chess Set'.

After a starting price of US $160.000, the auction lasted two minutes, with the bid rising by increments of $10.000 every ten seconds or so. The winning bid was $340.000 after 13 bids.

By some odd coincidence, this edition of 'Top eBay Chess Items' also features a Sotheby’s live auction for a six-figure painting. The item pictured below was titled 'Edwin Lord Weeks : A Game of Chess', and sold for US $110.000 after 20 bids. Although the item had a starting price of $40.000, the first four bids were under that amount. Once the bidding reached $50,000, the price climbed in increments of $5.000.

The description informed,

After years of travel through Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and India, the American artist Edwin Lord Weeks remained captivated by the sights he encountered abroad. Toward the end of his career he began an ambitious series of paintings based on A Thousand and One Nights.

Having documented his travels through sketches, paintings and photographs, Weeks was well equipped with the source material for the present scene, and was careful to render the architecture, complete with its delicately carved stone latticework, as well as the costumes of the two figures. The lounging woman is swathed in elaborately embroidered silks, reminiscent of the Nautch dancing girls whom Weeks had painted in India.

For the complete description, see the Sotheby’s page, weeks, edwin lord; a game of chess. There we learn that the painting was part of an auction for European Art that took place on 21 November 2017 in New York, that its estimate was 50.000-70.000 USD, that the lot sold for '137.500 USD (Hammer Price with Buyer's Premium)', and that the work is an oil on canvas (55 1/4 by 73 1/4 in., 140.3 by 186.1 cm).

Is Edwin Lord Weeks a distant relative? Wikipedia has a page Edwin Lord Weeks, that says,

Weeks was born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1849. His parents were affluent spice and tea merchants from Newton, a suburb of Boston, and as such they were able to finance their son's youthful interest in painting and travelling. As a young man Weeks visited the Florida Keys to draw, and also travelled to Surinam in South America.

The page also mentions, 'In 1872 Weeks relocated to Paris, becoming a pupil of Léon Bonnat and Jean-Léon Gérôme.' The painter Gérôme executed two well known works of caissart titled 'Arnauts playing chess' and 'Almehs playing chess in a cafe', although I'm not convinced that the game pictured in both is indeed chess. A work similar in composition to those two is 'A game of chess in a Cairo street' by Weeks.


Later: Re the sentence 'Although the item had a starting price of $40.000, the first four bids were under that amount', a note at the top of the eBay page says, 'Live auction bidding may start higher or lower'. I assume this means 'higher or lower than the starting price'. A link at the bottom of the page leads to: How live auctions work (at Sotheby’s).

01 December 2017

Flickrless Friday

Today's Flickr Friday post became Flickrless Friday when I was unable to find an image to suit my taste. I found a couple of photos worth adding to my 'Flickr Favorites' (see the right sidebar for the latest), but nothing worth further investigation. What to do? Borrowing an idea from last week's post Sotheby's Chess, I produced the following composite image of Flickr chess paintings. It shows the first screen of 4.118 images.

(sorted on 'Relevant')

Using the same method of identification, based on chess notation, as in the 'Sotheby's' post...

Call the rows 'A' to 'C' (from top to bottom) and number the images in each row '1' to '7' (from left to right).

...is there anything here that will advance our knowledge of anything else? For example, what does that image in the upper left corner ('A1') have to do with chess? Titled Captain Rex Snow Assault, it's in four groups having names like 'Lego Star Wars'. The only association with chess is via a white tag assigned by Flickr, i.e. if the image looks like a group of chess pieces, let's assign it to 'chess'. We already saw this in Giant Chess Pieces in Mandalay (February 2016), and know that the Flickr robots are over-enthusiastic when it comes to tagging things.

How about the image in the lower right corner ('C7')? Titled Kayla, the description says, 'Her main work consists of murals depicting computers playing chess with genetically enhanced parrots.' That sounds like a sentence generated by a text-writing robot. Apparently, software robots in the year 2017 do not advance our knowledge of anything.

After this, there are a pair of similar images in 'B7' & 'C4' showing a yellow dog wearing sunglasses (or something like that). The 'B7' image is titled From gallery chess P1150440, which is as close to chess as the page comes. The C4 image is from the same photographer with a similar title. Why 'gallery chess'? Of the various searches I used to research this question, none answered it.

The image in the center ('B4') looks promising. At least it's a real painting and not a photo of a lego construction. Titled 1986.147 : Scene from a Novella, the extra long description informs,

This and its companion panel are from the front of a chest (cassone) and show two episodes from an as yet unidentified story, or novella. In one, a youth is smitten by a maiden who appears at a window. In the other, they engage in an erotically charged game of chess (she is about to lose). Both were common themes in the amatory literature of the Renaissance.

While this image shows the 'maiden who appears at a window', the mention of metmuseum.org and of Liberale da Verona eventually leads to Liberale da Verona | The Chess Players | The Met, a well known chess painting dated 'ca. 1475'. Another potential example from the 'amatory literature' of chess (seriously?) is in 'C2': The Chess Players by Jacques Clément Wagrez (1846-1908 France). While trying to find more about this piece, I was inundated by copies from Pinterest.com and gave up.

That's another lesson from this exercise. Images copied to Flickr or to Pinterest, without a smidgen of additional explanation, don't advance our knowledge of anything. I hope to have a real Flickr Friday post two weeks from now. If not, I'll explore those little colored boxes at the top of my screen capture.

30 November 2017

November Yahoos

Last month's October Yahoos had two stories and this month's could have had as many as four. On top of the two shown below, GM Kasparov figured in two others, but not for chess.

The first story was widely reported because it's about Magnus and because the premise is decidedly silly. For a typical angle from the chess press, see Frederic Friedel's Beating Magnus after a month of training? (chessbase.com).

2017-11-17: When an Amateur Challenges a Chess Grandmaster (finance.yahoo.com; The Wall Street Journal)

Self-described "obsessive learner" Max Deutsch challenged grandmaster Magnus Carlsen to a game of chess. What could possibly go wrong? [EOM; the video is the article]

One of the reasons I follow these Yahoo stories is to read the comments. Here are a few of the better ones.

  • 'So in the end, a person who has massive experience and competency in some field is better than someone who thinks he can just learn it? Sounds about right.'
  • 'Chess is sort of like composing or cooking. In all three cases a complete novice can memorize and copy the moves of an expert with really good results, but to be able to master any of them to the point where you can create a masterpiece all by yourself takes many years of practice.'
  • 'Magnus Carlsen is not just "a grandmaster". He is the world champion, and possibly the strongest chessplayer in history.'
  • 'Put this guy up against the dudes in Washington Square Park and see what happens. Those guys can play.'

The second story might be a seismic geopolitical shift or it might be FIDE's usual stumbling around with its foot stuck in the trash basket. We'll know by the end of December.

2017-11-28: Israeli chess players could make history at Saudi tourney (yahoo.com; AFP)

Jerusalem (AFP) - Israeli chess players could make history by participating in a tournament in Saudi Arabia after the international chess governing body on Tuesday said it was pushing to allow it to happen. A spokesman for the Israel Chess Federation told AFP seven players had filed requests for visas to participate in the games to be held in Riyadh on December 26-30 as part of the world rapid and blitz chess championships.

For the corresponding FIDE announcements, see:-

  • 2017-11-09: World Rapid and Blitz Announcement • 'FIDE is pleased to announce that, under the aegis of the General Sports Authority of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the 2017 King Salman World Rapid and Blitz Chess Championships will be held in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia between the 26th and 30th December 2017.'

  • 2017-11-14: King Salman Rapid & Blitz 2017 – Historic Agreement • 'FIDE is pleased to announce that we have reached an agreement with the organisers that the dress code for the event will be dark blue or black formal suits, with white shirts, either open necked or with a tie, for men and dark blue or black formal trouser suits, with high necked white blouses for women.'

It took two weeks for the mainstream press to catch wind of the story, but the dress code angle isn't a barnburner. Will a Yahoo chess story turn up in December?

28 November 2017

A Seven-Figure Chess Item at Auction

Lurking in the composite image I used for Sotheby's Chess was another item worthy of mention (see 'B5' in that post). It makes the sum paid for A Six-Figure Chess Item at Auction look like chump change.

The item pictured below, 'The Chess Players' by William Roberts, R.A. (1895-1980), was estimated at 300.000 - 500.000 GBP (483.360 - 805.600 USD). That's already the highest amount I've ever seen at auction for anything chess-themed, but it sold for even more: 1.161.250 GBP (1.871.006 USD; 'Hammer Price with Buyer's Premium').

roberts, william the chess play | painting

The description said,

Signed; oil on canvas; 101.5 by 92cm. (40 by 36 in.); executed circa 1929-30.

The 'Catalogue Note' said,

To Roberts, every situation must have seemed to teem with possibilities. People in the street, a park, a yard, or a café, everywhere there were ideas for subjects, and his ability to fix the details he observed in his daily life into his painted compositions must have been the envy of many of his contemporaries. [...]

It continued,

In The Chess Players, we find ourselves witness to just such a moment. In the corner of a room, a chess game is underway. The players are reaching the final stages, and the tension has drawn in the observers who wait, with us, to see the outcome. The board sits at the heart of the composition, the taken pieces littering the table top. Facing us is the man playing black, idly dangling his opponent's just-captured queen from his hand, a taunting gesture towards his foe. [...]

Of the artist, in William Roberts (painter), Wikipedia says,

William Roberts R.A. was a British painter of groups of figures and portraits, and was a war artist in both World War One and World War Two.

A further Wikipedia link explains that 'R.A.' stands for 'Royal Academician', a member of the Royal Academy of Arts. Digging a little deeper into 'Royal Academy', I might have tapped into another important source of caissart.

27 November 2017

Improve Engine Software - Tablebases

After the previous post in this series on improving my engine infrastructure, Improve Engine Hardware - High Performance, what's next? If I go back to the first post in the series, Improve Engine Software (October 2017), the next bullet is:-

  • Link engine(s) directly to tablebase

Wikipedia gives an overview of the technology in Endgame tablebase. The three evolutions of tablebases to date have been:-

  • Nalimov - six-piece (~2000)
  • Lomonosov - seven-piece (2012)
  • Syzygy - six-piece optimized (2013)

The Houdini 6 User's Manual has two sections covering tablebases. They discuss technical considerations for downloading the tablebases, installing them, and accessing them from the engine.

The same article by Albert Silver that I referenced in the 'High Performance' post, Building the ultimate chess machine (chessbase.com), gives a useful tip on the hardware (certain comments are also relevant):-

The choice of two SSDs for storage as opposed to a single centralized one is deliberate. One SSD should be reserved for the six-piece Syzygy tablebases and not be mixed with the one used for the operating system and databases. It will be consulted non-stop by engines in analysis, and it would be a mistake to place it on a drive that is also being used for other purposes, since it could lead to unnecessary slowdowns.

What's the future of tablebases? Seven-piece Lomonsov technology hasn't yet arrived for the hobbyist, but it can't be too far off. A back-of-the-envelope calculation tells me that there is a difference of (roughly) two orders of magnitude in complexity (x 100) between an n-piece and an n+1-piece tablebase. An eight-piece tablebase will arrive when advances in processing and storage support it. Beyond that, I wouldn't even begin to guess.

26 November 2017

FIDE's Social Commissions 2017

Last year's post on FIDE's Social Commissions (December 2016) was one of the first in the series on the sociology of chess, which I had just started the previous month. Last week's post on Spectating the 88th FIDE Congress promised to look again at both commissions, and we find their recent reports together with other documents from the Congress (see the 'Spectating' post for links):-

26. Social Action Commission’s meeting minutes [SAC]
27. Social Projects Commission’s meeting minutes [SPC]

Of the two commissions, the SAC produced the more comprehensive minutes. Adding the SAC report that I featured in Applying Chess Skills to Life (May 2017), gives the impression that it is more active than the SPC. The SAC reported on five activities of which I've summarized four in the following composite image showing photos from the minutes.

Top row, left: Smart Girl Chess Project • 'SOM Chess Academy through the support of the Uganda Chess Federation has continued to implement the ‘Smart Girl Chess Program’ which was created by Beatriz Marinello and is supported in part by the FIDE Social Action Commission through the leadership of FI, FA Robert Katende.'

Top row, right: First International Congress on Social and Educational Chess in Argentina • 'The FIDE Social Action Commission, together with the Province of Cordoba Chess Federation and the National University of Córdoba organized the First International Congress on Social and Educational Chess in Argentina. This event was held in July 2017 with the participation of 180 teachers, social workers, chess trainers and organizers from Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, Paraguay, Spain and the USA.'

Bottom row, left: "Children of the World" - Spain • 'Children from the five continents are again united by the Cross Culture of Chess in this new edition of EXPOCHESS CHILDREN OF THE WORLD. This intercultural project will be presented in Budapest (Hungary) on 14 October at the Global Chess Festival with Judit Polgar. [...] In addition, we will convene one of the main activities of the festival, the second edition of the International Drawing Contest.' • The Polgar Festival was the subject of another post on this blog: Chess Knives Chopping (October 2017).

Bottom row, right: Cameroon • 'The SAC Chair, Beatriz Marinello, met with the Minister of Women's Affairs and the Family, Abena Ondoa, and other officials during her visit to Cameroon.'

As for the SPC, the minutes are badly written and frequently hard to understand. The projects mentioned in the minutes (I'm quoting their titles) are:-

  • Chess in Prisons
  • Chess as a tool working with Autism & Asperger syndrome and Down syndrome
  • Chess and Environment Education and Sustainability program
  • Chess to help integration for minority groups in society
  • Chess and Peace
  • Chess as a tool in treatment for chemical dependence

The high point of the year was a high profile match:-

We did for the first time by the SPC Commission an online match between prisoners took place. This historic online international match between prisoners from the project "Chess that Gives Freedom" in the Municipality of Viana, Espirito Santo, Brazil, and the project in Cook County, Chicago, Illinois USA, was held on 17 May 2017, on the FIDE and CBX Online Platform (Chess Arena). [...] The match generated national and international media.

Given the potential positive impact on society and on chess, it's a pity the SPC projects aren't explained more clearly.

24 November 2017

How About a Game of 3D-Chess?

Three dimensional chess, three dimensional chess, three dimensional chess...

Does It Take A Genius To Play 3D Chess? We Asked The Masters (5:56) • 'In order to fully unpack the metaphor, VICE News (HBO) spoke with 3D Chess experts to find out what the game actually is, and if [President] Trump would be any good at it.'

The clip features Mike Klein, Leroy Dubeck ('the mastermind behind the world's most beloved version of multi-dimensional chess'), and Tony Britton ('Founder, Amateur Tri-Dimensional Chess League'). The VICE News description for the video added,

Donald Trump supporters [tout] his ability to see moves ahead of his political adversaries. Even after some of his more baffling policy decisions or tweets, they claim Trump is playing 3D Chess, making moves massively more complicated and clever than normal people can comprehend. Most people have never sat down to play a game of 3D chess, and probably only know of the game from a brief scene in a 1976 episode of Star Trek, where Kirk and Spock play it on futuristic glass board on the Enterprise.

What's VICE News? Wikipedia's Vice News says,

Vice News (stylized as VICE News) is Vice Media, Inc.'s current affairs channel, producing daily documentary essays and video through its website and YouTube channel. It promotes itself on its coverage of "under-reported stories". Vice News was created in December 2013 and is based in New York City, though it has bureaus worldwide

The 'Amateur Tri-Dimensional Chess League' is a Facebook group -- Amateur Tri-Dimensional Chess League (with rules and notation) -- lightly maintained in connection with Facebook's Tri-Dimensional Chess.

23 November 2017

Sotheby's Chess

Start with the recent eBay post A Six-Figure Chess Item at Auction ('the auction was conducted by the well-known Sotheby’s') and apply the technique described in A Collage of Chess Collages. What do you get? Something like the image shown below.

Google image search on 'site:sothebys.com chess'

Using the same referencing scheme described in 'Collages'...

Let's use chess notation to identify the three rows of six images. Calling the rows 'A' to 'C' (from top to bottom) and numbering the images in each row '1' to 'n' (from left to right).

...what can we learn from Sotheby’s images? First of all, about half of the 19 thumbnails show chess sets. Some of them could be mistaken for other household objects, like the photo in the upper left corner ('A1'). Is that a collection of salt and pepper shakers? No, they are chess pieces:-

  • Early Chess Pieces Reveal Origins of the Game (March 2016) • 'An important collection of early chess pieces reveals how the the origins of the game are rooted in India and the Middle East. Each of these remarkable pieces carries huge significance in its evolution, including an extremely rare, early and almost complete 10th-century set.'

How about the lower right corner ('C7') -- is that a chess piece? Yes, indeed, and quite a valuable piece:-

  • Danish or North German, circa 1400 (July 2015) • 'This unusual marine ivory chess piece represents a knight in armour riding a monster, flanked by a court jester and a foot soldier. [Sold. 173.000 GBP (266.489 USD)]'

Smack dab in the middle of the collage ('B4') is another chess Knight, and a modern one:-

  • Marcel Duchamp, Chess Knight (October 2017) • 'This work is a study for the Knight in Duchamp’s Pocket Chess Set assembled in an edition of approximately 150 sets in 1943. [Sold. 72.500 EUR (85.319 USD)]'

The image of the Knight shown in the Google thumbnail is not shown on the Sotheby’s auction page. There it says only 'Image under artist copyright'. So where did Google image search find the image it displayed?

By coincidence, the Duchamp auction brings us full circle to the Pocket Chess Set described in 'A Six-Figure Chess Item'. What other caissart treasures are exposed by this image search?