29 September 2017

GM Fressinet: 'In Blitz You Always Sacrifice Something'

A couple of Danes show that chess isn't all serious. (Warning: occasional profanity.)

What's a Top Level Chess Tournament like? (7:51) • 'Outray Chess travels to Berlin to check out a "top level genius fest" (featuring Svidler, Chessbrah, Fressinet).'

The description continued,

We have a talk with fascinating characters like Peter Svidler, Eric Hansen (the Chessbrah) and Laurant Fressinet and discuss the future of chess. The event was World Blitz and Rapid Championship 2015.

The Berlin event was played in October 2015. Why did it take two years to upload the video? If you like this clip, see also Guy uses Soviet Tank to explain INSANE chess game (Tal - Smyslov, 1959).

28 September 2017

Averbakh's R+P vs. B+P Endgames

For the last day the house wifi has been behaving badly, so for today's post I needed a subject that didn't demand too much online time. My first idea was to return to the Aronian - Dubov game from the fourth round of the just-completed 2017 World Cup in Tbilisi. I discussed the R+P vs. B+P endgame in

I knew I had covered other R+P:B+P endgames in the past, but when exactly? Here's a list:-

That last post ('Magic') discussed a couple of positions from Averbakh's multi-volume set of endgame books, specifically the volume on Rooks vs. minor pieces. The Rook vs. Bishop endgames can be extremely tricky and often contain hidden resources. The following diagrams shows two of Averbakh's first (and simplest) examples.

The top position is a typical example of how a single tempo can be the difference between a win and a draw in an endgame. White to move draws with 1.Rxf2. Black to move wins with 1....Ke2, because after 2.Re8+ Be3 3.Rf8 Bc1 4.Re8+ Kf3 5.Rf8+ Bf4, the Bishop interferes with the Rook's attack on the file.

The bottom position (Mattison 1914) shows the Bishop and the King coordinating to stop the Rook's attack. The key move is 1.Be3+. After 1...Kb7 2.e7 Rxa3, first the Bishop limits the scope of the Rook with 3.Ba7 Ra1. Then the King finishes the job with 4.Kf4 Rf1+ 5.Bf2 Rxf2+ 6.Ke3 Rf1 7.Ke2.

All of Averbakh's examples contain equally surprising moves and deep plans. For more info on his books, see

If I can't get the wifi tamed quickly, I might come back to the subject again.

26 September 2017

TCEC Season 10 Kickoff

Fans of engine-to-engine play -- and who isn't? -- know that the TCEC (Top Chess Engine Championship) is the toughest tournament of them all. Many consider it to be the real World Championship of chess engines. The TCEC takes place on Chessdom.com, and over the past month the site has announced plans for season 10.

2017-08-22: TCEC 2017 season coming soon – information and details • 'The new edition of TCEC is scheduled to take place in the last quarter of 2017. Once again the main goal of the championship will be to provide equal and fair conditions for the top chess engines to face each other and compete on a superb hardware. [See also:] Schedule, Duration, Format, Server, Participants, Staff, Finances'

2017-09-02: TCEC weekly update • 'After a constructive discussion and feedback from the TCEC fans, the new season will have the following parameters: [...]'

2017-09-12: TCEC – structure and participants • 'TCEC Season 10 is starting in about a month. Behind the scenes active preparation is going on for holding the 2017 season of the world’s premium computer chess event.'

2017-09-23: TCEC Season 10 participants • 'TCEC Season 10 is going to start in the beginning of October. It is confirmed that this season’s Top Chess Engine Championship is going to be record breaking both in terms of average ELO of the participants and their rating. [...] The top three seeded are again the open source Stockfish and the commercial Komodo and Houdini.'

For a summary of posts on this blog about the 'TCEC Season 9 Superfinal', see Engines, (Google), Korchnoi (December 2016). For the TCEC Facebook page, see TCEC - Top Chess Engine Championship.

25 September 2017

The Harkness Rating System

One of the first posts on this series covering the introduction of chess ratings in the U.S. was The First USCF Rating System (July 2017). The main article in the post, 'National Rating System by William M. Byland, USCF Vice President in Charge of Rating Statistics', ended with

For the long labor of compilation and computation involved in these listings. which furnish an invaluable base for future ratings, we are deeply indebted to Rating Statistician Kenneth Harkness.

The Wikipedia page, Kenneth Harkness, credits him with having 'introduced the Harkness rating system, which was a precursor to the Elo rating system'. Harkness wrote his first feature article on ratings for the 5 March 1952 edition of Chess Life (CL), the same issue where the fourth National Rating List appeared; see USCF Rating Lists in the 1950s (August 2017), for a summary of all early rating lists. Titled 'Picking the Winner at Havana', the Harkness article started,

As this is written the big international tournament at Havana is getting under way. Although the final line-up has not yet been announced. the list of probable competitors includes some top-flight masters from Europe, South America and the United States. This country is represented by U.S. Champion Larry Evans, Grandmaster Samuel Reshevsky, former U.S. Champion Herman Steiner, Senior Master Israel A. Horowitz, veteran U.S. Master Edward Lasker.

Naturally, we all hope that one of our boys will bring home the bacon. And even with the price of meat these days, you can buy a lot of bacon with the $2500.00 first prize being offered by our good friends in Cuba. If our brilliant young champion Larry Evans brings home that much dough he can pay his taxes and still play bridge at the Marshall Chess Club for a fifth.

Good chessplayers being even more consistent than racehorses, it is no trouble at all for your Rating Statistician to lay down his copy of Racing Form for a few moments and give you the probable order of finish at Hialeah -- I mean Havana. Judging by their past performances, as measured by the rating system, the boys will pass the line in the following order:

1. Samuel Reshevsky, USA...2704
2. Miguel N. Najdorf, Argentina...2714

It should be a photo-finish between these two Grandmasters. They ended up one-two at Amsterdam, 1950, and New York, 1951, alternating for first prize. We give Reshevsky the edge because he has made higher ratings than Najdorf in the past and because he is out to avenge the loss of the U.S. Championship to Larry Evans last year. Sammy will play harder than ever to recover his prestige. [...]

A few months later, in the 20 May issue of CL, Harkness wrote a follow-up article. It appeared under the following banner.

'How the Rating System Works'

The article started,

Many readers of CHESS LIFE were favorably impressed by our recent forecast of the results of the international tournament at Havana. With one or two exceptions, which we will hasten to explain now that the race is over, the predictions were about as near as you can come without the use of a crystal ball.

To get some idea of how closely the national rating system measures tournament playing strength, let us compare the ratings earned at Havana with the last averages of the contestants:

['Player, Last Average, Havana Rating' for Najdorf, Reshevsky]

We predicted a photo-finish between these two grandmasters, giving the edge to our ex-champion. An unexpected draw with one of the tailenders cost Sammy the first prize, so be tied with Najdorf.

Note how the ratings earned at Havana confirm the correctness of the previous ratings -- and vice versa. A difference of less than 50 points is negligible.

[Ditto for Gligoric, Eliskases, Evans]

We claimed that any one of these three could take third prize. It was Gligoric who came in third. with Eliskases and Evans tied for fourth and fifth. [...]

This was the first in a series of eight articles under the title 'How the Rating System Works'. I'll look at the following articles in the next post on early U.S. chess ratings.

24 September 2017

The 12th Soviet Championship

I've occasionally remarked that the series on Top eBay Chess Items by Price is often a case of feast or famine. In the previous post, Man Ray Chess Photos, I noted, 'the short list had only a single item and I had to go well under my usual cutoff price to find it.' For this current post I had plenty to choose from, even if I again went under my usual cutoff price.

The item pictured below was titled 'Soviet Chess Photo: Panorama of 12th USSR Chess Championship 1940', and sold for US $316 after seven bids from two bidders. Just after the auction opened, the first bidder entered his maximum price. Some days later the second bidder came in with a lower price. Finding that it was insufficient to win, he increased it gradually over the next day, finally giving up. The first bidder had obviously decided that this was a valuable photo. How high was he willing to go?

Top: The entire item

Bottom: Detail from the item

The description said,

Original Soviet chess panoramic photo from 12th USSR chess championship in 1940. On the photo - Moscow conservatory, the place of the tournament. Size of the photo - 19,5 cm x 7 cm. Please notice that the photo was made by the original author by the process of bonding five smaller photos. Probably that was the only way to make a panoramic photo in 1940.

If you look carefully at the top photo, you can see the lines showing where the different photos have been joined. The description continued,

12TH SOVIET CHESS CHAMPIONSHIP: • This is a photograph from the famous 12th Soviet Chess Championship held in the Grand Hall of the Moscow Conservatory from September 4th through October 3rd, 1940. The 12th Soviet Chess Championship was truly a battle of the titans. Outstanding players such as Mikhail Botvinnik, Paul Keres, Vasily Smyslov, Alexander Kotov, Isaac Boleslavsky, Igor Bondarevsky, and Andre Lilienthal took part. This so-called "absolute championship" is rightfully considered one of the strongest USSR chess championships ever held.

Here’s an excerpt from Mikhail Botvinnik’s memoirs. "It was a tough tournament. There were many participants and very few off-days. The Grand Hall of the Conservatory has excellent acoustics. The spectators behaved impudently, made a great deal of noise, and clapped all the time. The excellent acoustics only made matters worse. Supposedly, Sergei Prokofiev applauded Keres vigorously after the latter won a game. The other people in his box reprimanded him,, and then the composer remarked, "I have every right to express my feelings." Would my friend Mr. Prokofiev be happy if he were playing a trio and spectators applauding the violinist’s performance drowned out his piano piece? Chess players are in a worse position, though. A pianist can afford to play a few false notes amid booming applause, something a chess player isn’t allowed to do."

The results of the 12th Soviet Chess Championship were truly sensational, since two young players, Andre Lilienthal and Igor Bondarevsky, came in first and second, respectively, leaving grandmasters Mikhail Botvinnik and Paul Keres, the tournament favorites, far behind. The unprecedented hype surrounding this tournament matched its historical significance. After all, the unofficial right to contend for the world championship crown, as well as the prestigious title of USSR champion were on the line.

"The most difficult and most monumental tournament in which I’ve ever taken part has come to a close," Andre Lilienthal wrote. "I have no reason to be displeased with myself. First off, my win over Botvinnik himself wasn’t too bad. Secondly, I snatched what seemed to be an irrevocably lost point from Bondarevsky in the last round. Thirdly, I managed not to lose a single game. Fourthly, I wound up in the wonderful young company of Bondarevsky and Smyslov at the top of the leaderboard. A decisive match for the title of USSR champion is up next. I have to prepare thoroughly for it, which, first and foremost, means getting some much needed rest."

Three months after the tournament was completed, on January 14th, 1941, the Soviet Committee on Physical Culture and Sports issued an order approving the tournament results and awarding Bondarevsky and Lilienthal, the tournament winners, grandmaster titles; however, this order was missing a key point, since it did not mention any sort of match between the two victors. That strange inconsistency came to light a month later when it was decided -- through a behind-the-scenes power struggle -- that one more tournament for the title of absolute USSR champion would be held, a tournament Mikhail Botvinnik won.

Unless I'm misreading something, that description is not entirely accurate. The first paragraph mentions the '12th Soviet Chess Championship', and refers to it as the 'so-called "absolute championship"'. The last paragraph implies that the absolute championship was played later, which is confirmed in Botvinnik's book on the 1941 tournament.

22 September 2017

Chess in the Sky

Anyone can see that's a chess King, right? But how was it made?

The world’s a game of chess, and we’re just pawns. Who’ll make the next move? © Flickr user Rasagy Sharma under Creative Commons.

Hint: One of the tags said, 'Bangalore', which is 'the third most populous city and fifth most populous urban agglomeration in India', according to Wikipedia's page on Bangalore.

21 September 2017

Win a Million Bucks

Seen on Slashdot.org ('News for nerds, stuff that matters'): Solve a 'Simple' Chess Puzzle, Win $1 Million. Sounds good to me! What's the catch?

Researchers at the University of St Andrews have thrown down the gauntlet to computer programmers to find a solution to a "simple" chess puzzle which could, in fact, take thousands of years to solve, and net a $1 million prize. [...] Devised in 1850, the Queens Puzzle originally challenged a player to place eight queens on a standard chessboard so that no two queens could attack each other. This means putting one queen in each row, so that no two queens are in the same column, and no two queens in the same diagonal. Although the problem has been solved by human beings, once the chess board increases to a large size no computer program can solve it.

The catch is in that last sentence, 'the chess board increases to a large size'. As the original article, "Simple" chess puzzle holds key to $1m prize (st-andrews.ac.uk; August 2017), put it,

Once the chess board reached 1000 squares by 1000, computer progams could no longer cope with the vast number of options and sunk into a potentially eternal struggle akin to the fictional "super computer" Deep Thought in Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which took seven and a half million years to provide an answer to the meaning of everything.

A related paper, 'Complexity of n-Queens Completion' by Ian P. Gent, Christopher Jefferson, and Peter Nightingale (School of Computer Science, University of St Andrews), published in the Journal of Artificial Intelligence Research 59 (2017) explains everything. But be careful -- you'll need to be a math whiz just to get through the 'Abstract'.

Google image search on 'chess eight queens'

Even the 8-by-8 version isn't that easy to solve. An algorithmic approach of using the Knight's move to place the next Queen -- shown above in the top row, third from left (or bottom row, ditto) -- leaves two Queens on the long diagonal (a8-h1). 'Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?', indeed.

19 September 2017

Chess at the IMDb

In a recent post, Was Fischer Really Against the Whole World?, I referenced IMDb page for the chess documentary by Liz Garbus, Bobby Fischer Against the World (2011) (imdb.com), and wrote,

See also the section titled 'People who liked this also liked...'

That section looks something like the following image.

IMDb: 'People who liked this also liked...'

The eight thumbnails each lead to a corresponding IMDb page, which I've summarized in the following list.

The first seven titles are well known chess movies, while the last title is another documentary by Liz Garbus. As you might expect, clicking on any title leads to another set of 'People also liked' titles. The first film in the list, 'Me and Bobby Fischer', leads to almost the same list, with the exception of the last title, which shows another Magnus movie. (It carries the same name as the current World Champion, but has nothing to do with him.)

For hundreds of chess references from IMDb, see Results for "chess" [imdb.com].

18 September 2017

A Quarrel About Ratings

In the previous post, Ratings Correlated to Performance, I looked at the 1951 U.S. Chess Championship, the first U.S. championship played after the introduction of U.S chess ratings. In this post I'll introduce a small quarrel about the use of ratings to determine participants in that event. The 5 December 1951 issue of Chess Life (CL) included the following letter.

Dear Mr. Major,

I aspire some day to play in the U.S. Championship Finals. I have never had the honor. The only way I know how is to do well enough in tournament competition, so as to attain a rating that will merit an invitation to the preliminaries. This year I thought I did, but I discovered it was not enough. Three of the participants in the U.S. Championship Preliminaries were rated below me in the Rating List of December 31, 1950. I have no way of telling how many others who were rated below me were extended invitations which they declined, or for that matter how many rated above me were likewise skipped.

I wrote a letter of inquiry to Mr. Hans Kmoch in his capacity as Tournament Director. Specifically I asked him the basis for the invitations. His reply appeared to me as a masterpiece of double talk. For example, on the one hand he said that he would have invited me if be had known I was eager to play, and on the other hand that he tried to contact me but failed to do so. Consider this contradiction further in the light of these facts: The USCF had canvassed me more than once regarding my availability and I had always replied in the affirmative. Mr. Phillipps had no trouble at all in reaching me in his drive for tournament contributions.

On my fundamental question regarding the basis for the invitations. Mr Kmoch had this to say: that the Rating System so far has not been accepted as binding for the order of invitations, that the original selections were made by a committee, and that there were subsequent withdrawals and last minute substitutions. No explanation of the basis for either the original selections or the later substitutions.

I present these facts not primarily as a personal grievance, since obviously it is too late to undo past events. However. I am interested in correcting a bad situation.

How long shall we tolerate a double standard in American chess -- a rating system for window dressing and a little black address book for extending invitations to the National Championship Tournaments?

I lay no claim to the infallibility of the U.S. Rating System, or for that matter to any other quantitative method for evaluating qualitative performance. On the contrary, I have some serious quarrels with it. Nevertheless I admit I know of no large equitable method for evaluating relative performance of a large number of players.

Can Mr. Kmoch or anybody else suggest a better way to evaluate relative skill? The fact remains that another system was used in issuing invitations to the last National Championship.

Perhaps Mr. Kmoch can explain it in detail to the satisfaction of Chess Life readers. If it is superior, it can be incorporated into or substituted for future ratings. The other possibility is that factors other than skill were considered in issuing invitations. If so, may I ask what they were?

Jack Soudakoff
New York City, N.Y.

The 5 January 1952 issue of CL included the following article by Hans Kmoch. Although it mentions ratings only once, it serves a second purpose in documenting the difficulties of organizing the 1951 championship.

The U. S. Championship Tournament; by Hans Kmoch
USCF Vice-President and Secretary of Tournament Committee

Two years ago the Tournament Committee, under the co-chairmanship of Messrs George E. Roosevelt and Maurice Wertheim, worked out a tentative schedule for the 1950 Championship, to be held as an invitational tournament, and the championships thereafter, to be open for especially qualified participants. On December 1, 1949, Mr. Wertheim sent a summarizing report of the Tournament Committee's suggestions to President Giers. On April 4, 1950, President Giers wrote the Tournament Committee that its suggestions had been accepted by the Board of Directors.

Unfortunately, a number of unforeseen events caused delay in the 1950 Championship. There was first of all the paralyzing blow delivered to the Tournament Committee by the death of Mr. Wertheim; there was the participation of a U.S. team in the so-called Chess Olympics at Dubrovnik, Yugoslavia, in August and September 1950; then there was the change in the Presidency of the USCF which had been impending for some months before it became a fact. I may add, if it matters, that I myself as the secretary of the Tournament Committee, had been absent from this country for seven months (June-December, 1950).

Our new President, Mr. Phillips, did great efforts to reactivate the Tournament Committee and get the postponed 1950 Championship held in 1951.

On March 1951 the Tournament Committee met and came to the conclusion the postponed Championship should he held in August 1951 with 14-16 participants. On April 19, 1951 the Tournament Committee decided on a list of 16 participants by name. On May 5, 1951, the Tournament Committee changed the schedule for the 1951 Championship in such a way that 24 players could participate instead of 16 while the number of rounds would increase only from 15 to l6.

On June 11, 1951, invitations were sent out to the selected players. As for the additional names, the Tournament Committee had accepted the National Rating List as a guide, emphasizing, however, it had no obligation to follow that List.

The 1951 Championship tournament was held in New York from July 28 to August 19. 1951

During June 11 to July 28 many changes in the list of the participants became necessary, because some of the invitees were unavailable, some made claims which USCF had no chance to fulfill, some needed time to decide, and some didn't answer at all.

As time went on. the difficulUes to get substitutes were mounting. To many players, the idea of acting as a substitute had a humiliating touch. Others could not accept at short notice, while still others did but later withdrew at zero notice. During the last week before the tournament, I had to work frantically so as to present a complete list of 24 players at the draw on July 28. On that day, just before the draw was to start, Herman Hesse from Pennsylvania and George Eastman from Michigan announced their withdrawals by wire. And there was still no answer from U.S. Champion Steiner.

However, I had foreseen possible trouble of this kind and was fortunate enough to find a number of distinguished players who would not mind acting, so to say, as substitutes for substitutes, willing to step in at any moment. The names of the gentlemen who by their comprehensive attitude substantually contributed to the tournament are: Edgar McCormick, Jack Collins, Dr. Ariel Mengarini, Dr. Joseph Platz, and Ed. Schwartz. McCormick had even to wait until the first round had started, for I felt that Steiner's place must be kept open until the very last minute.

The emergency job of looking for substitutes was largely done by Mr. Phillips and myself. We acted in accordance with the decisions the Tournament Committee had previously taken. Our bid to get some of the best-placed players from Fort Worth netted only Jim Cross; Eliot Hearst from New York and Lee Magee from Nebraska were unavailable.

As for our critics, we had New Yorkers who would wonder what non-New Yorkers were doing in this tournament, as well as non-New Yorkers who simply couldn't imagine why so many New Yorkers should participate. We had these who wouldn't mind a few thousand dollars if these dollars were to be produced by the USCF, those who considered themselves second to nobody in importance, those who would blame the Tournament Committee for a player's failure, and those who generally seemed to believe that ill-will was the only guide the Tournament Committee ever had.

By and large, however, the Tournament Committee's good-will was recognized. It ought to he at least as far as its members, Mrs. Wertheim, Mr. Alexander Bisno, and Mr. George E. Roosevelt, are concerned. Sapienti sat ['A word to the wise is sufficient']. The thankless job of raising the funds was accepted and in spite of tremendous difficulties satisfactorily done by Mr. Phillips.

The tournament itself was a smooth affair. There were no incidents of any importance.

Nowadays, the use of ratings to determine invitations is done routinely. When would U.S. ratings be accepted to determine invitations for the U.S. championship?

17 September 2017

Was Fischer Really Against the Whole World?

The first lesson I learned from this ongoing series on The Sociology of Chess (November 2016), is that the subject of sociology can be stretched to cover just about everything. Since chess pops up in all sorts of different cultural settings, there are plenty of sociological angles to examine.

Bobby Fischer Against The World -- Full Documentary (1:32:52) • 'A really inspiring as well as heartbreaking documentary film on Robert James Fischer, who was famously known as Bobby.'

For more about the film, see Bobby Fischer Against the World (2011) (imdb.com). Its 'Storyline' says,

'Bobby Fischer Against the World' is a documentary feature exploring the tragic and bizarre life of the late chess master Bobby Fischer. The drama of Bobby Fischer's career was undeniable, from his troubled childhood, to his rock star status as World Champion and Cold War icon, to his life as a fugitive on the run. This film explores one of the most infamous and mysterious characters of the 20th century.

See also the section titled 'People who liked this also liked...', which lists a number of chess-related movies. This documentary by Liz Garbus should not be confused with the book by Brad Darrach, 'Bobby Fischer vs. the Rest of the World', last seen on this blog in 'They Got Spies on the Line!' (April 2016). The IMDb page on Liz Garbus includes references to two more chess titles by Garbus: Chess History (Video 2011) and The Fight for Fischer's Estate (Video 2011), both running for less than ten minutes.

15 September 2017

Smallest Chess Set?

This might not have the allure of Most Hamburgers Eaten in Three Minutes or Most Pool Balls Held In One Hand, but it's still impressive.

Smallest chess set - Guinness World Records (2:02) • 'Artist Ara Ghazaryan has an exceptional eye for detail, particularly with his latest work, the world’s smallest handmade chess set'

For more about the set, see Check out the world’s smallest handmade chess set (guinnessworldrecords.com):-

Made on an incredibly minute scale, the entire board with accompanied pieces measures a total of 15.3 x 15.3 mm (0.6 in x 0.6 in), a size that amounts to be smaller than a U.S. quarter coin.

Is this really the smallest? Guinness also lists the Largest chess set: 'measures 5.89 m (19 ft 4 in) on each side'. Last year on this blog we saw Chess with Walkie-Talkies (August 2016), which beats the Guinness record holder by a country mile. Hasn't someone already constructed a small chess set molecule by molecule?

14 September 2017

A Difficult Tablebase Position

Tablebase (TB) positions make for an interesting class of endgames. While best play in most TB positions is obvious to a good player, some positions defy accurate analysis even for world class players. A recent example is a tiebreak game from the fourth round of the 2017 World Cup, currently being played in Tbilisi, Georgia.

TB games between top players are particularly difficult to annotate. On the one hand, we can't criticize a world class player for not knowing an esoteric endgame which has probably never occurred in his previous experience. On the other hand, we can't pass without comment on positions where one or both players overlook a winning or drawing continuation.

An additional problem is that every single move by either player leads to a new branch of the TB's tree of variations. The TB doesn't explain the winning plan; it just lists moves together with their eventual evaluations. It is the annotator's job to make sense of the moves played and to explain why they work or not.

Another question is how a position compares with similar positions. If we shift a TB position a file to the left or right, or a rank up or down, how does the evaluation change? Similarly, if we leave the Pawn structure the same, but move the Kings (or other pieces) to completely different squares, how then does the evaluation change?

This blog's most recent TB post was Q vs. 2B in TCEC Season 9 Superfinal Followup (December 2016). For this current post, the TB position is R+P vs. B+P, shown below. It helps to know that R vs. B is almost always a draw.

After 47.Rb6-b5(xP)

Here is the PGN for the full game, followed by a brief analysis of the critical positions reached during the game.

[Event "FIDE World Cup 2017"]
[Site "Tbilisi GEO"]
[Date "2017.09.13"]
[Round "4.2"]
[White "Aronian, Levon"]
[Black "Dubov, Daniil"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "D85"]

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nf3 Bg7 4.Nc3 d5 5.cxd5 Nxd5 6.e4 Nxc3 7.bxc3 c5 8.Be3 O-O 9.Be2 b6 10.Qd2 cxd4 11.cxd4 Bb7 12.e5 Nc6 13.h4 Qd5 14.h5 Rfd8 15.Rc1 Qa5 16.h6 Bf8 17.e6 f6 18.O-O Qxd2 19.Bxd2 Nxd4 20.Nxd4 Rxd4 21.Be3 Rdd8 22.Bb5 Bd5 23.Bd7 g5 24.f4 Bxh6 25.fxg5 Bg7 26.Bd4 fxg5 27.Bxg7 Kxg7 28.Rf7+ Kg6 29.Rxe7 Rf8 30.Re1 Bxa2 31.Bb5 a6 32.Bd3+ Kf6 33.Rxh7 b5 34.Rh6+ Ke7 35.Rh7+ Kf6 36.e7 Rg8 37.Rh6+ Kf7 38.Rh7+ Kf6 39.Be4 Rae8 40.Rh6+ Kf7 41.Bc6 Bc4 42.Bxe8+ Rxe8 43.Rxa6 Rxe7 44.Rxe7+ Kxe7 45.Kf2 Kf7 46.Rb6 Be6 47.Rxb5 Kf6 48.Kf3 Bf5 49.Rc5 Bd3 50.Ke3 Bf5 51.Kd4 Bb1 52.Rc1 Bg6 53.Rc6+ Kg7 54.Ke5 Bb1 55.Ra6 Bc2 56.Rd6 Kf7 57.Rf6+ Kg7 58.Rf2 Bb1 59.Rb2 Bd3 60.Rd2 Bb1 61.Ke6 Be4 62.Re2 Bd3 63.Rd2 Be4 64.Ke5 Bb1 65.Rd4 Kf7 66.Ra4 Bc2 67.Ra5 Bb1 68.Rc5 Kg6 69.Rc1 Bd3 70.Rd1 Bc2 71.Rd2 Bb1 72.Ke6 Be4 73.g3 Bb1 74.Rb2 Bd3 75.Ke7 Be4 76.Rb6+ Kg7 77.Rb5 Kg6 78.Rb4 Bc2 79.Kf8 Kf6 80.Kg8 Bd3 81.Rd4 Bc2 82.Rd2 Bb1 83.Rf2+ Kg6 84.Rb2 Bd3 85.Rb6+ Kf5 86.Rb4 Kf6 87.Rd4 Bc2 88.Rd2 Bb1 89.Rf2+ Kg6 90.g4 Be4 91.Rd2 Kf6 92.Rb2 Bd3 93.Rb6+ Ke5 94.Kg7 Kf4 95.Rb4+ Be4 96.Rxe4+ Kxe4 97.Kg6 1-0

47.Rxb5: The diagrammed position shows the first TB position reached in the game, where the Pawn capture starts a countdown for the 50-move rule. The TB says, 'Given optimal play on both sides, White will win in 72 moves.' The main variation undoubtedly includes moves that reset the 50-move count.

47...Kf6: The first mistake, giving White a win in 47 moves, which is just inside the 50-move rule. For the next few moves both players find the right plan and make the best moves.

51....Bb1 52.Rc1 Bg6: Both players make a suboptimal move. This is followed by a long sequence of moves which maintain the status quo. White fails to make progress, while Black does not let the position deteriorate prematurely. The TB consistently indicates that White wins in around 30 moves.

73.g3 Bb1: White makes a Pawn move, thereby resetting the 50-move count. Unfortunately for White, the move hands Black a TB draw. Unfortunately for Black, he fails to take advantage of the opportunity and moves into another lost position. The double blunder starts another long sequence where White often lets Black escape with a draw, but Black overlooks the chance and plays into yet another lost position. The right plan for White revolves around a timely g3-g4, while Black needs to prevent this.

92.Rb2 Bd3: White again overlooks the win (the TB says 92.Re2 is the fastest) while Black misses the only move to draw (92...Ke5). After this, White plays accurately to score the win although Black overlooks opportunities to prolong the game for as long as possible.

A discussion of the winning plan in this game and an overview of similar positions in other endgames with R+P vs. B+P would take too much time for a single post. I suppose that someone could even write a book on the subject.

12 September 2017

The Not-So-Bad Opening

Remember Alan Lasser, last seen on this blog in Front Page News (October 2016)? On a recent visit to the U.S., I met him for the first time in something like 25 years. We played a few chess games together and he chose one for his weekly Game of the Week newsletter (Warning: double blunder on move 37).

Subject: Game of the Weeks
From: Alan Lasser
Sent: 2 September 2017

Mark Weeks, of the 1975 Connecticut Bughouse Champions and author of the web sites,
- chessforallages.blogspot.com, and
- chess960frc.blogspot.com
chose a small college town in America for his first over-the-board play in a dozen years.  Amused as he was by the unknown variations of the Bad Opening, he still beat me 3-1-1. 

[Event "Skittles"]
[Site "Amherst, MA"]
[Date "2017.08.31"]
[Round "?"]
[White "Alan Lasser"]
[Black "Mark Weeks"]
[Result "1/2-1/2"]
[ECO "A45"]

1. d4 Nf6 2. Qd3 c5 3. c3 b6 4. e4 Ba6 5. Qf3 Bxf1 6. Kxf1 Nc6 7. e5 Ng8 8. Ne2 e6 9. Be3 Qc7 10. g3 d5 11. exd6 Bxd6 12. Nd2 Nf6 13. Nc4 O-O 14. Nxd6 Qxd6 15. dxc5 bxc5 16. Kg2 Ne5 17. Bf4 Rfd8 18. Bxe5 Qxe5 19. Rhd1 Ne4 20. Qe3 Qf5 21. Qf3 Qxf3+ 22. Kxf3 Nd2+ 23. Kg2 Rd7 24. b3 Rad8 25. f3 Rd3 26. Rac1 e5 27. Ng1 e4 28. fxe4 Nxe4 29. Rxd3 Rxd3 30. Re1 f5 31. c4 Kf7 32. Nf3 Kf6 33. Re2 g5 34. Ne1 Rd1 35. Nc2 Nc3 36. Ne3 Rd3 37. Nd5+ Nxd5 38. cxd5 Rxd5 39. a4 h6 40. h3 h5 41. Kf2 f4 42. gxf4 g4 43. hxg4 hxg4 44. Re3 Rh5 45. Rc3 Rh2+ 46. Kg1 Rh3 47. Rxc5 Rxb3 48. Ra5 Ra3 49. Kg2 1/2-1/2

The following diagram shows the opening in quantum format, after 1.d4 {1...d5 or 1...Nf6} 2.Qd3.

The Bad Opening

Alan insists that I named it.

It was you who gave the "Bad Opening" it's name. Back when I had a 1000 rating, a 1200 named Flynn beat me with it at one of those old tournaments at the Henry Hudson Hotel. When I tried it against you in one of our high school board challenge matches you played c6 and b5 and Qa5 and crushed my early queenside castle position in 17 moves, commenting afterwards, "That's a bad opening". I revived it in 2007, in time to show it to the "Invisible Kid"; nowadays, when I see c6, I chicken out and castle kingside.

I have a vague recollection of the incident, unlike the title of '1975 Connecticut Bughouse Champions', where I recall that Alan and I lost the final match. Given that I'm a big fan of 'Extravagant Openings' (see, for example, What Makes an Opening Extravagant?, December 2009, which partially explains my fondness for chess960), expect more about the Bad Opening on this blog.

11 September 2017

Ratings Correlated to Performance

Continuing with Early USCF Rating Issues, the chart on the left, from the 20 August 1951 issue of Chess Life (CL), shows the result of the 1951 U.S. Championship. The tournament started at the end of July 1951, and consisted of two stages.

The event was the subject of an editorial by Montgomery Major titled 'Consider the Rating System' in the 5 November 1951 issue of CL. The rating system had been introduced a year earlier and this was the first major test of its correlation to actual performance.


No MATHEMATICAL system of grading skill and proficiency will ever be quite accurate. for no system can evaluate the deviations from the expected to which the human mechanism will inevitably turn. Nor can the logics of mathematics evaluate and make allowance for the incalcuable human factors of weariness, stamina, digestion and moodiness. Why a master will be unbeatable in one tournament and in the next become the victim of numerous losses is physical or psychological, and it cannot be reduced to mathematical terms.

For that reason the National Rating System cannot perform the miracle of placing players in their exact relation to each other; and it is just as well that it cannot, for if it could predict in advance the relative ranking of players in a tournament there would not be much incentive for playing tournaments!

But the National Rating System can (and does) indicate the relative groupings of players in categories with more than casual accuracy. This is its justification; and the necessity for determining such categories is the reason for its existence. The Rating System does select players in groups and while it cannot with real accuracy determine the exact ranking of players in any one group, it can determine quite accurately the grouping in which any player belongs, when sufficient data is available on that player's performances,

Nowhere are these facts demonstrated more conclusively than in the recent U.S. Championship. Consider the first five players in the final standing. They were Evans (2554), Reshevsky (2747), Pavey (2441), Seidman (2451), and Horowitz (2565). The remaining contestants were in order Bernstein (2309), Santasiere (2304), Mengarini (2310), Shainswit (2444), Hanauer (2325), Pinkus (2421), and Simonson (2345).

Immediately it is obvious that with the exception of Shainswit and Pinkus all the players in the upper bracket of the Master Class (2400 or better) finished at the top, while those in the lower bracket (2300 to 2400) finished in the lower positions. This is what we would expect, if the Rating System lay any claims to accuracy as distinguishing between groups.

The fact that Shainswit and Pinkus were exceptions merely indicates the incalcuable human factor in playing chess which no system can evaluate -- the physical and psychological factor.

Turning to the preliminary rounds, the same general rule was in full evidence. Only one player with a rating over the 2300-2400 series failed to qualify for the finals; and as this player was Kevitz (2610) it is quite obvious that the physical strain to the elderly master was a decisive factor, for tournament chess remains a young man's game.

Within each grouping there is not, of course, the same accuracy. It is mathematically impossible to determine the exact shade of difference in strength between players of relatively the same strength; and the Rating System was not intended to do this. In addition there is the added factor that between players of relatively the same strength there is no conclusive determination possible as to which may be the stronger. Upon one occasion one may win, in the next encounter the other may be victorious.

Therefore, it is well advised to remember that the National Rating System is primarily designed to designate classes of players, and not to determine with precise accuracy the relative ranking of players within a class. That is to say, a player with the rating of 2304 may possibly be stronger than player rated 2325 -- the difference in points may be a reflection of the relative strength of the tournaments in which each has played recently. It may be even the reflection of temporary factors such as indigestion, melancholia, or simply weariness. But the difference between a player with a rating of 2450 and one with 2350 should be a difference in playing strength that as demonstratable over the chess board.

Montgomery Major

NB: This anecdotal analysis was produced some months after the event completed. The next post in the series will look at the use of ratings before a chess event takes place.

10 September 2017

Man Ray Chess Photos

For this edition of Top eBay Chess Items by Price, I had one of the shortest lists ever of interesting items sold on eBay since the last post. Was it because of the hurricanes -- Harvey, Irma, Jose and Katia? Or because of the back-to-school season? Or because of something else?

Whatever it was, the short list had only a single item and I had to go well under my usual cutoff price to find it. The item pictured below was titled '1920's ACME Photo Series (2) Artist Man Ray with His Beautiful Chess Set', and sold for US $299.99 after a single bid.

The item's description was unusually brief:-

Both photos measure 8 1/2" x 6 1/2". They are both in great condition. I hate to let go of these. They are amazing!

Fortunately, there was identical publicity info on the back of both photos. Signed 'Acme Newspictures, 461 Eighth Ave., New York City', and dated 10 March 1927, it said,

THE LAST WORD IN CHESSMEN -- AND THEY COME FROM PARIS • PARIS, France - PHOTO SHOWS: Man Ray, well known American, artist, photographer and sculptor with his set of modern chessmen, exhibited in the Paris Art Galleries. Simplicity is the keynote of this, his latest ovation, each piece being symbolic of its function and meaning in chess. The pieces are wrought in silver, the dark set being oxidized. The transition of chessmen from the earliest pieces of long ago has been gradual. Here we have the final design reached today, with the influence of modern art tending toward simplicity, yet retaining the tradition of that ancient game. • YOUR CREDIT LINE MUST READ (ACME)

The item reminded me of another post from a couple of years ago, Man Ray Chess Set (September 2015), where I signed off with,

While researching the item, I discovered that there were several styles for 'Man Ray chess set'. Exactly how many would make a starting point for another post.

Some time later I noticed Wot a Lot (lostontime.blogspot.com; November 2016; 'Oh no! Another Man Ray chess set.'), which points to Manny (chess.com; May 2015; 'Certain artists or writers are, in fact, known for the inclusion of chess in their works. Man Ray was one of those people.') by batgirl. That last post includes photos of several Man Ray chess sets, where one photo is similar to the eBay auction featured here.

08 September 2017

Bucket Chess

The tags for this photo said only 'buckets, alaska, girdwood', plus 'chess', of course. Can we make a story out of that?

Taken on August 15, 2017 © Flickr user Mike Linksvayer under Creative Commons.

First, does 'girdwood' have something to do with the stumps on the ground in front of the White pieces, or is it a place? According to Wikipedia, it's a place: Girdwood, Anchorage.

Girdwood is a resort town within the southern extent of the Municipality of Anchorage in the state of Alaska. Located near the end of the Turnagain Arm of Cook Inlet, Girdwood lies in a valley in the southwestern Chugach Mountains, surrounded by seven glaciers feeding into a number of creeks, which either converge within the valley or empty directly into the arm

What about the pieces? In Chess in the Park (April 2016), the Glacier City Gazette informs,

Tommy O'Malley repurposed 5-gallon plastic buckets into chess pieces by removing the handles, cutting a hole in the bottom and painting them. The chess board is at Girdwood Town Square and the buckets were donated by local business owners Michael Flynn, Jud Crosby, and Spike and Suzanne Farley.

As for the stumps on the ground, I can only guess what purpose they serve. They are too short to sit on. Do they hold down the board in case of wind?

07 September 2017

September 1967 'On the Cover'

After last month's 'On the Cover', August 1967 ('not a particularly inspiring month for the regular "On the Cover" post'), the two main U.S. chess magazines returned to business as usual. CL featured the top American junior tournament and CR featured a top international tournament.

Left: 'Salvatore Matera : U.S. Junior Champion'
Right: 'Victor of Moscow'

Chess Life

Salvatore [Sal] Matera, a 16-year-old Junior at Brooklyn Preparatory School, forged ahead at the halfway mark and clinched the title in the semi-final round in winning the second annual United States Junior Chess Championship with a 5 1/2 - 1 1/2 score. The tournament, an eight-player event conducted by the U.S. Chess Federation in cooperation with the Piatigorsky Foundation, was played July 10-16 at the Henry Hudson Hotel in New York City.

For the 'first annual' event, won by Walter Browne, see last year's July 1966 'On the Cover'. Browne finished second in the 1967 event.

Chess Review

As someone has said before us, the international tournament at Moscow must be surely the strongest of 1967, even more so than the coming Interzonal. We would of course have liked to see Robert J. Fischer in it, and Boris Ivkov, Bent Larsen and, on his showing of late, Milan Matulovich ought to have been invited. But others could doubtless be suggested including a raft of Russians -- Viktor Korchnoy conspicuously! Dr. Petar Trifunovich has a story on this tournament coming up for us (just too late for this issue) next month.

[The name is 'Stein', Leonid Stein. Nowhere in CR's brief preliminary report is the full name of the winner mentioned.]

Let's anticipate next month's CR report with some links. Chessgames.com has two reports on the event, a 'TID' (tournament ID?) and a 'CID' (collection ID?):-

I should know more about CG's TIDs and CIDs -- but I don't -- so I'll try to come back to this in another post. Another top result on a search for 'chess moscow 1967' is:-

Echoing the CR writeup, that forum post raises questions about the politics surrounding the event. I'll also examine that topic in a future post.