30 March 2018

Berlin Candidates - Final Press Conference

Just like the previous edition of Video Friday, Game and Mistake of the Day ('Kramnik - Caruana / Round 4'), the 2018 Berlin Candidates Tournament accounted for nearly the entire short list of choices for this post. I had decided beforehand to feature one of the final videos from Youtube's World Chess channel, and was pleased to find the press conference from the decisive game of the last round.

Press conference with the winner of Candidates 2018 Fabiano Caruana (15:30) • 'Published on Mar 27, 2018'

The session started well: 'We have with us the winner of the tournament, Fabiano Caruana. Congratulations!', followed by a warm round of applause, followed by a statement from GM Caruana ('I'm absolutely thrilled!'). Then things became atypical, which is typical for chess, when Agon/Worldchess CEO Ilya Merenzon took the microphone.

It's the first press conference I take part in. I just wanted to say, 'Wow!', to all the players who are here -- and especially to Fabiano -- but also to those who are maybe in the VIP room drinking (at least I hope). The tournament has been amazing.

Lots of journalists have been asking me as an organizer, 'Who do you cheer for? What do you hope for?'. There are many answers, obviously. From a marketing point of view, it was obviously interesting to see Sergey Karjakin win. It would be interesting to see [Vladimir] Kramnik win, especially after his games. But for Fabiano to win, it's not only me -- it seems like it's everyone -- hoped for it. Now the event in London is going to be so exciting and I can't wait to be there. We'll discuss it more in detail later. [Fabiano] is the hero for now.

The FIDE calendar says, 'World Championship Match 2018; London, UK; 9-Nov-2018; 28-Nov-2018'. Let's keep our fingers crossed that Agon/Worldchess sorts out the problems that plagued their online presentation in Berlin.

29 March 2018

March Yahoos

In last month's February Yahoos, I noted, 'This post marks five straight months of this blog ending the month with a Yahoo title.' Thanks to Fabiano Caruana's convincing victory in the 2018 Berlin Candidates tournament (which I documented on my World Chess Championship blog in yesterday's post Berlin Candidates - Third Week), we can now make that six straight months. Unlike all chess stories that I can remember, the first story recorded below was at the top of the Yahoo news feed. It's also unusual to have no photo attached to either headline.

2018-03-28: Fabiano Caruana Wins The Candidates Tournament, Becomes First American to Challenge for World Chess Championship Title Since Bobby Fischer in 1972 (yahoo.com)

The Candidates Tournament held in Berlin, Germany, has come to a conclusion and, at the end of a grueling 18 days of chess, American Grandmaster Fabiano Caruana has emerged victorious and will be the next Challenger for the World Championship title. The Candidates brought together the best players in the world to determine the next Challenger, and it was an incredibly tight race. A crucial victory by Caruana against Armenia'sLevon Aronian in the penultimate round put him half a point ahead of his closest rivals - he even increased his lead in the final round with a victory with the black pieces against Russia's Alexander Grischuk. This is a historic result for American chess.

That Yahoo stub led to a story with the same title, Fabiano Caruana Wins The Candidates Tournament... (businessinsider.com), which was marked 'PRESS RELEASE PR Newswire'. The source of the stories was Fabiano Caruana Wins The Candidates Tournament... (prnewswire.com). Since it's not good journalistic practice to copy a press release verbatim, the chess story must have caught the mainstream press unprepared. The source of the press release was the Saint Louis Chess Club.

2018-03-28: US chess grandmaster Caruana wins shot at world title match (yahoo.com; Associated Press)

American chess grandmaster Fabiano Caruana has won the candidates tournament for the right to take on world champion Magnus Carlsen of Norway for his title in November. The 25-year-old Caruana is the first American to challenge for the world title since Bobby Fischer in 1972. Caruana beat Russia's Alexander Grischuk in the candidates' last game on Tuesday to bring his points total to 9.0 after 14 rounds.

Comparisons between Bobby Fischer in 1972 and Fabiano Caruana in 2018 are inevitable. They aren't particularly helpful and I'll try to avoid doing the same.

27 March 2018

Berlin Candidates - Tiebreaks

In the previous post, Two Championship Qualifying Events, I gave the standings with two rounds to go in the 2018 Berlin Candidates Tournament. Everyone knew that a complicated tiebreak scenario was looming, but it was still too early to calculate the permutations.

The tiebreak rules play an important role in a Candidates tournament even when they are not invoked at the end of the event. Five years ago, after the London Candidates - Tiebreaks (April 2013), I wrote,

The 2013 London Candidates Tournament was a good show from start to end. The last three of the 14 rounds featured a neck-and-neck race between ex-World Champion Kramnik and GM Carlsen. [...] Carlsen's 13th round win gave him more than equality -- it also gave him the tiebreak advantage in case of an equal score after the last round.

Both players lost in the last round and Carlsen went on to challenge World Champion Anand and gain the title. Two years ago, in Moscow Candidates - Third Week (March 2016), I noted,

Going into the last round, the tiebreak situation was complicated. The two players leading the pack, Karjakin and Caruana, were due to play each other, so a win for either would be sufficient to win the event. In case of a draw, Karjakin would win on tiebreak if Anand, the third placed player, also drew. If Anand won, thereby achieving the same score as the other two, Caruana would win on tiebreak.

Karjakin beat Caruana and earned the right to challenge Carlsen. In the 2018 Berlin event, the standings before the last round, along with the pairings, are shown in the following chart taken from Chess24.com.

The players with a chance of winning the tournament (plus their scores going into the last round) are:-

8.0 Caruana
7.5 Mamedyarov, Karjakin
7.0 Ding Liren

It's still not easy to calculate each player's chances to win. I listed the tiebreak criteria in the '2013 London Candidates' post and they haven't changed since. For an overview of the possibilities today, see this article from yesterday: Candidates tiebreak scenarios (chessbase.com). Even for Chessbase, I'm not certain the situation is completely clear. The URL for the article says, 'Candidates Tiebreak Favours Mamedyarov', but the article starts, 'Advantage Caruana'. I tried to work out the odds for myself, but it requires manipulating a three-dimensional array, and I gave up.

In another post for today, one top player/organizer pleaded, Can We Please Fix the Tiebreak Situation at the Candidates? (gregshahade.wordpress.com):-

The only reasonable way to break a tie in an event of this magnitude is to play a tiebreak match for it. I could easily end the blog here, and the majority of the chess playing community would agree with me. However it’s not quite as simple as it seems.

Indeed, it's not so simple. Remember World Championship Fizzle (November 2016), when World Champion Carlsen effectively refused to engage in any combat during the last game of a title match and to take his chances in the tiebreak games? The whole chess world groaned, but Carlsen's strategy was straightforward. While his opponent, GM Karjakin, was preparing his opening for the last round game, Carlsen was preparing his openings for the tiebreak. The strategy worked brilliantly and Carlsen retained his title. Back to IM Greg Shahade's post, he continued,

What does it mean that there is no tiebreak after tomorrow’s games? It means that these are going to be the most intense classical chess games that you’ve ever seen.

I'm watching the games as I write this, and 'intense' is the right word. The tiebreak rules are working better here than they did for that 2016 Carlsen - Karjakin title match. IM Shahade goes on to suggest that, to maintain the tension into the last round,

The tiebreak should take place before the first round!

I'm on record favoring that scenario before a match, but I'm not sure how well it works before a tournament. Whatever the case, the situation two hours into the last round of the 2018 Candidates is no clearer than it was when the round started. Whether the tiebreak rules are finally invoked or not, they played a role and Carlsen's challenger will be known in the next few hours.

26 March 2018

Two Championship Qualifying Events

After ending the series of 'Interview Videos' with last week's post on World Champion Carlsen, I had planned to return to the series of posts about engines. The previous series ended with AlphaGo Netflix (January 2018), and was summarized in Interview Videos : Aronian (ditto). As the first, partial crosstable below shows (from TCEC - Live Computer Chess Broadcast), the recent post TCEC Season 11 in Full Swing (March 2018) hasn't played out completely, but Stockfish and Houdini are headed for the final stage, barring a catastrophic breakdown of either engine.

An even more important world class event, the 2018 Berlin Candidates Tournament, is also reaching its climax and here the results are anything but clear. As the second crosstable above shows, courtesy TWIC's coverage of the FIDE Candidates Tournament 2018, five players are bunched within a half-point of each other. The third chart above shows the pairings for the last two rounds, courtesy 2018 FIDE Candidates' Tournament Pairings (fide.com).

25 March 2018

Elite Avant Garde Upgrade

Items like the one pictured below occasionally appear on the short list for Top eBay Chess Items by Price. Since I've never been certain what purpose they served, I always passed over them for a more familiar item.

For this current edition of 'Top eBay Chess Items', the only other item was a 1972 Fischer - Spassky Poster (March 2013), but as that post attests, I already featured it five years ago. For the record, this time around the poster sold for US $437 after six bids from five bidders.

The circuit board in the photo received even more attention than the 1972 poster. Titled 'Chess Computer v11 upgrade; Condition: New', it sold for GBP 391 (approximately US $553.27) after 12 bids from ten bidders.

What's a V11 upgrade? The description said,

For auction a v11 mainboard for use with the Fidelity Elite Avant-Garde chess computer. The system utilises a quality heatsink which affords a silent operation and runs at 50-MHz core-speed. The system contains a 75-MHz rated microprocessor and can be made to run at higher speeds by simply changing the oscillator module which is a socketed device for convenience. A manual and power-adaptor is included which is suitable for both European and American power systems.

A second photo showed the cover of a booklet that said,

V11 Elite Avant Garde Owner's Manual
Also Versions 2-5 (6114), Versions 6-10 (6117)

A similar item at Fidelity Elite Avant Garde V.11 (chesscomputeruk.com) gives an explanation of the purpose it served:-

I believe Wilfried Bucke has created around 40 upgraded “Elites” using high-end PCBs remaining after the Fidelity company was closed and sold to Mephisto. Wilfried has fitted these PCBs into Elite A/S, Elite Avant Garde or Prestige boards. They are not all 68060 Avant Gardes by any means. Each one is probably a little different from the next in terms of its origins and accessories, board used, cpu and clock speed. This individuality and the fact that only around 25 68060 v.11s have been built makes them rare by any definition

The page includes a photo showing a booklet titled 'Custom Elite Avant Garde Owner's Manual', but the rest of the cover is too blurry to read. At least I know what the circuit board was used for: to upgrade the electronics of an attractive chess computer from the end-1980s.

23 March 2018

The Noyon Chess Pieces

The image shown below makes up about 25% of the photo behind the corresponding link to Flickr.com. The other 75% is the text on the museum label explaining this particular display.

Chess Pieces - 11th c. Noyon, France © Flickr user Dan McEwan under Creative Commons.

The French caption in the photo says, 'Identification of the pieces from the Noyon chess game, first half of the 11th century.' I could have copied the other 75% of the Flickr image to a text file and translated it. Instead I ran the image through an OCR conversion service which gave me the French text as its output. Then I ran that text through a translation service that gave me the English text. Here is the result after some minor corrections I made:-

The chess game of Noyon was unearthed in 1986 during a dig site carried out prior to the construction of a hotel about fifty meters to the south of the cathedral. It was discovered in the filling of a well whose abandonment was dated to the first half of the 11th century. The introduction of the game of chess in France being dated from the second half of the 10th century, the pieces of Noyon are among the oldest known in the country.

The origin of the game of chess • The birth of the game of chess is still difficult to locate, although it is agreed to place it in Asia, between India and China, around the year 500. The earliest known archeology pieces were found in Uzbekistan and date back to the year 700. The game then represents the allegory of a battle with pieces composed of soldiers armed with swords and shields, mounted elephants or warships.

The spread of the game to the Arab world, from the middle of the 7th century, is accompanied by a stylization of motifs because of the religious prohibition to represent animate beings. It's this game which will be broadcast in Europe, probably through Muslim Spain or southern Italy, around the 10th century.

The kingdoms of Europe then take up the stylized forms of the game before appropriating them and developing motifs specific to their culture, replacing the councilor (the fierce) by the lady ['la dame'] and the elephant by the madman ['le fou'] or the bishop for the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms.

The chess pieces • In its Arabic version, chess pieces are called the king (shah), the counselor (vizier or farzin), the elephant (al wire), the horse, the roukh (represented by a battle tank) and the soldier.

The museum label has an additional paragraph explaining the evolution of the Arabic names for the pieces into their French equivalents. Since that becomes confusing when translated into English, I left it out. In the previous edition of Flickr Friday (see Not so Flickrless Friday), I discussed briefly an important aspect of AI:-

A convolutional neural network (CNN) is also the key to the technology behind Deepmind's AlphaZero. When people talk about artificial intelligence, they are often referring to a CNN.

This post uses two more examples of AI -- an OCR conversion service input to a translation service -- that again illustrate how AI is altering our world in ways that are not always evident. Not so long ago, OCR software combined with translation software would have produced mostly gibberish.

22 March 2018

Berlin Candidates - Broadcasters

A few days ago, in Berlin Candidates - Broadcasting, when I wrote,

Every time I write about live broadcasting of FIDE events, I end with something like 'I'm certain we haven't seen the last of this topic',

I hardly expected to see two of the most respected commentators in chess broadcasting letting their hair down the same day.

Round 9 - 2018 FIDE Berlin Candidates - Live Commentary

From Youtube's Chess24media channel:-

Streamed live on Mar 20, 2018 • Live commentary with Grandmaster Peter Svidler and Grandmaster Jan Gustafsson on Round 9 of the FIDE Berlin Candidates in Berlin, Germany.

Who said, Chess Players Aren't 'A Barrel of Laughs' (August 2017)?

20 March 2018

Berlin Candidates - Broadcasting

Just as spring is followed by summer is followed by autumn, so a FIDE World Championship event is followed by live online broadcasting is followed by threats from FIDE/Agon/Worldchess against the broadcasters. The latest example of this (un-)natural phenomenon is FIDE Live Moves Broadcasting Policy (fide.com; 15 March 2018):-

In an effort to maintain the commercial viability of chess, FIDE is inviting federations, organisers and other interested parties to submit their comments and provide feedback with regard to the draft "Live moves broadcasting" policy published herewith. • Comments and feedback can be sent by 31 May 2018.

Anyone surprised by this wasn't paying attention to last year's FIDE Congress. As I reported on my World Chess Championship blog, in 2017 FIDE Congress : Whither the World Championship? (November 2017),

The first/last point, Annex 67, is perhaps the most important for the future of the World Championship:-

"To: Members of the Working Group to Study the Proposal of Agon Limited on Protection of Live Chess Moves [...] The Draft Policy recognizes the right of the World Chess Federation to control the live dissemination of the FIDE events' moves. Furthermore, it provides for the measures to be taken against persons interfering with this right. [...] Sincerely, Matvey Shekhovtsov"

We've already seen Shekhovtsov once on this blog in 2016 Candidates, Moscow (November 2015), regarding a 'change in the Agon/FIDE interface team' (Andrew Paulson out, Merenzon & Shekhovtsov in). We've also seen the subject of the draft in World Championship Bullying (November 2016). It's not clear to me how FIDE expects to contravene well-established copyright law with an internal procedure, so I'm certain we haven't seen the last of this topic.

The latest document on 'Live moves broadcasting' is an evolution of that 'Annex 67'. A comparison of the two documents gives some insights into the thinking of FIDE insiders, but I won't bore readers of this post with the details. There is a portion of the document that would even apply to small-fry bloggers like me:-

3.1. The following actions shall be regarded as violations of the Broadcasting right:
- unauthorized live move-by-move broadcast of FIDE events via any means of communication including, but not limited to Internet, Radio and Television;
- contributing to organization of unauthorized live move-by-move broadcast;
- advertising and/or promoting unauthorized live move-by-move broadcast.

So if I write a post promoting, say, Chess24.com's broadcasts of the forthcoming World Championship in London, I might be guilty of 'promoting unauthorized live move-by-move broadcast'. What would my punishment be? From the FIDE draft, section 6.1:-

  • First-time violation. For the first time violation a fine in the amount of 1 Euro is imposed.
  • Second-time violation. For the second-time violation a prohibition on taking part in a chess competition, or in any chess-related activity for 3 months and prohibition to hold official positions at FIDE and its member organisations for 3 months shall be imposed.
  • Third-time and further violations. For the third-time violation, as well as for any subsequent violation, a prohibition from taking part in a chess competition, or in any chess-related activity for 1 year and a prohibition to hold official positions at FIDE and its member organizations for 1 year shall be imposed.

Since the phrases 'chess competition' and 'any chess-related activity' aren't restricted to FIDE-controlled activities, I'm wondering how FIDE plans to enforce that punishment. In the meantime, I've set aside a Euro (currently about US$ 1.25) to pay the fine for any first-time violation.

For a more nuanced discussion of the FIDE draft policy, see Consultation on the Draft FIDE Live Moves Broadcasting Policy (ecforum.org.uk). For a less nuanced, more entertaining discussion of the same policy, see FIDE Live Moves Broadcasting Policy (reddit.com). Every time I write about live broadcasting of FIDE events, I end with something like 'I'm certain we haven't seen the last of this topic'. I wish I could use a better closing.

19 March 2018

Interview Videos : World Champion Carlsen

For the past eight weeks, I've been posting interviews with the eight players competing in the 2018 Candidates Tournament. Now that the tournament is well underway in Berlin, let's have one final interview with the man they are chasing, GM Magnus Carlsen. The off-camera interviewer introduces the current World Champion with the reason for the interview:-

Magnus, you have just beaten Anish Giri in the playoff to win a record sixth title here in Wijk aan Zee. Congratulations.

A poised and relaxed Carlsen makes a sharp contrast with other recent interviews we've seen, like Magnus Carlsen on his London Chess Classic.

Tata Steel Chess - Interview - Magnus Carlsen - Winner (2:41) • 'Published on Jan 28, 2018'

When asked, 'This is the first time we've had a playoff in Wijk aan Zee. Before there were shared winners. What's your take on that? Are you a fan of playoffs or would you have preferred to share the title with Anish?', he says,

The only thing I'm not a fan of is deciding things away from the board with some kind of tiebreak system that is not a playoff. A shared win is fine and a playoff is fine, because even though it's a different format, it's decided over the board.

There is considerable irony in that statement, given that five years ago Carlsen won the 2013 Candidates Tournament, London on tiebreak, thereby getting his first shot at a World Championship match. When I started the series of 'Interview Videos', all eight players had equal theoretical chances of winning the tournament:-

Now that the half-way point of the 14 round event has been reached, about half of the players have been practically eliminated. Which player will ultimately succeed in getting the coveted title match with Carlsen?

18 March 2018

The Capablanca Cocktail

How did the word 'bar' get so many different meanings? In this series on The Sociology of Chess (November 2016), we've already seen Chess Behind Bars (October 2017; 'Interview with Carl Portman on Chess in Prisons'). Here's another meaning of the word, from Youtube's World Chess coverage of the 2018 Berlin Candidates Tournament:-

In the World Chess Club Moscow we have 11 cocktails and we brought three of them to Berlin, to this lounge. We have the Smyslov [cocktail], the Fischer, and the Capablanca, based on Cuban rum.

If you're in Moscow and need a map to find the place, see club.worldchess.com. Hint: the map is under the banana.

A visit to the chess bar / Candidates 2018 (3:56) • 'Published on Mar 15, 2018'

Around the middle of the video, commentator Lennart Ootes asks 'Cannon', the Beverage Director of the Moscow Club,

Q: If you would make a cocktail about Alexander Grischuk, what would the cocktail look like? A: I guess it would be something with samogon. [Sasha] has the appearance of a typical Russian male, who has patriotic feelings, who believes in the best future for the nation, for the country, who could drink spirits like samogon, straight without the [mixers].

Samogon? Wikipedia to the rescue:-

Russia: The Russian name for any homemade distilled alcoholic beverage is called samogon, meaning "self-distilled", literally "self-ran". [...] Samogon is one of the most popular alcoholic beverages in the country. It directly competes with vodka, which is more expensive (in part due to taxes on distilled alcohol), but contains fewer impurities. • Moonshine by country (wikipedia.org)

For more about the Moscow club on Youtube, see Opening party of the World Chess Club Moscow (December 2017). For more about the chess bar commentator, who has other, similar videos on the same channel about the look-and-feel of the tournament venue, see About Lennart | Lennart Ootes (lennartootes.com).


16 March 2018

Game and Mistake of the Day

For this edition of Video Friday, I had a big choice of clips about the 2018 Berlin Candidates Tournament. I chose the video below for a number of reasons:-

The two players -- both of whom are among the favorites to win -- were among the leaders of the event after round three; see Berlin Candidates - First Week for the standings at the time (2.5 Kramnik; 2.0 Caruana, Mamedyarov; ...) and for projections of the eventual winner. • It had one of the highest view counts on YouTube's World Chess channel. • It's a fascinating game.

Before you watch the press conference / postmortem, you might want to watch two other clips from the World Chess channel -- Game of the Day and Mistake of the Day -- both subtitled 'Kramnik - Caruana / Candidates 2018 / Round 4', and both hosted by GM Evgeny Miroshnichenko.

Round 4. Press conference with Kramnik and Caruana (11:36) • 'Published on Mar 14, 2018'

The top comment currently says,

Can't remember when I saw such a complex endgame last time.

Some of the other adjectives used to describe the game: 'astonishing', 'crazy', 'seesaw', 'cruel'. The game was played the round after another exciting Kramnik game: Game of the day: Aronian - Kramnik / Candidates 2018 / Round 3 (also commentated by GM Miroshnichenko).

15 March 2018

Berlin Candidates - Organizer

In my previous post I discovered so much about the Berlin Candidates - Venue, that I decided to use the same technique again. In a nutshell, that means using a search on images to create a composite image, then following the links for individual images wherever they lead. This time I decided to look at the main site of the official organizer, Worldchess.com.

Google image search on 'site:worldchess.com' for 'Past month'

It's striking that all images are in black and white, except the color photo in the bottom row (C2), where Judit Polgar is talking to Magnus Carlsen at the 2016 Carlsen - Karjakin World Championship match. The photo is from Making Chess Broadcasting Dramatic (worldchess.com, as are most of the other links used here). I discussed that page last week on my World Chess Championship blog (see Berlin Candidates - Resources) There my focus was the 'stickers', which are also visible in abundance in the composite image above: A3, B5, C4, C5.

Of the other images, many -- A4, B3, C1, C3 -- are from Official Digital Chess Set Released (in Beta):-

In 2014, Pentagram has developed for World Chess the official chess set, a beautiful rendition of the classic Staunton that had become the official chess set of the World Chess Championship cycle (a limited edition of 500 sets is produced for each Championship by hand in India). But 99% of chess is played online, and with the update of the official World Chess chesscasting service (to be released soon), we have been developing the official digital set, which will be used in official chesscasting.

The other images shown above are for index pages like News - World Chess and Latest News - World Chess, which lead to individual news stories. Both pages link to the same stories, but use a different format for the index. One story that is not represented in the composite image, but shows up on the news index pages, is Branding the Headquarters of Chess in Berlin: Smart or Sexy.

All eyes in the chess world are on Kuhlhaus Berlin, the venue for the World Chess Candidates Tournament, the qualifier for the Championship Match. The loft-style building near the Potsdamer Platz in German capital, a former ice factory, has been fitted inside and set-up as a five-story chess stadium. World Chess, the organizer of the Tournament, decided to brand the building itself to market chess and to give spectators and the media a clear positioning of the venue and the event and the sport.

This relates to my 'Berlin Candidates - Venue' post, where I picked up the slogan displayed on the side of the Kühlhaus:-

Entering this building might substantially increase your IQ. Chess does that to humans.

It turns out that this slogan is just one of many considered for the event, including a 'selfie-magnet'. One recurring feature about all of the above is the heavy-handed emphasis on marketing, branding, and selling (e.g. that weird logo again in B2 and B4, 'Online Sponsorship Store is Open'). Other than a table summarizing round-by-round progress, there is no news on Worldchess.com about the progress of the Candidates tournament itself.

News and photos about the event can be found on the FIDE site in stories like 2018 FIDE World Chess Candidates Tournament Started Today (fide.com; 10 March 2018). That page links back to the site we've been looking at, worldchess.com/berlin, where we are told,

After the 2016 Championship Match in New York chess has been steadily moving from being an elitist game towards a becoming a [sic] global spectator sport. With an increased worldwide coverage, stunning locations, digital broadcasting, superstar players and high profile guests, chess is now enjoying one of the most exciting times in its history. The intriguing tournament in Berlin is expected to be yet another breakout for big chess.

That's brilliant marketing: insult the current fans of the game by calling them 'elitist', then promise 'high profile guests'. Agon/Worldchess, I'm guessing that your days are numbered. In related news, World Chess announces London as its new global HQ (February 2018):-

World Chess, the commercial rights holder and promoter of the World Chess Championship, will follow its incorporation as a UK-registered company last December by establishing a new worldwide headquarters in London this year.

The announcement included a statement about UBS in Geneva having closed FIDE bank accounts.

13 March 2018

Berlin Candidates - Venue

Some strange stories about the venue have been escaping from the 2018 Candidates Tournament, Berlin. Where exactly is it being played?

Google image search on 'Berlin Kühlhaus' -> 'Candidates'

Using the same notation as in Chess and Art Movements (December 2017) -- 'Call the rows 'A' to 'C' (from top to bottom) and number the images in each row '1' to '5' (from left to right)' -- let's see where those images take us. Two images in the top row (A1, a bird's eye view of the playing area, & A3) lead to Candidates in "cool" venue (chessbase.com; October 2017):-

Agon today announced the venue for the 2018 Candidate Tournament in Berlin. The players will compete in the "Kühlhaus Berlin" next March 10th to 28th.

Sandwiched between those (A2) is Venue for the World Chess Candidates Tournament Announced: Kühlhaus Berlin (worldchess.com; October 2017):-

The venue is a historic building located in Central Berlin at the meeting point of the most vibrant districts. The simple, yet modern cubic architecture of Kühlhaus will provide guests with the space of five floors to enjoy the dramatic chess competition.

'Entering this building might substantially increase your IQ. Chess does that to humans.' • That not-so-catchy phrase appears in a couple of images. The first image (B4) leads to Battle of the non-Candidates (chess24.com), the report of an unfriendly Twitter exchange between GMs Carlsen and Giri, including more than 100 comments reminding us that top chess players sometimes behave like jerks with each other. The second image (C3) leads to #fide hashtag on Twitter (see 9 March), showing the phrase above the Kühlhaus entrance.

What about those 'strange stories' I mentioned in the lead sentence? They are documented in "Playing conditions are absolutely terrible" (reddit.com; subtitled 'Grischuk's comments about the candidates so far'). Reddit also picked up the 'Entering this building...' catch phrase: This advertisement for the chess candidates tournament 2018 in Berlin. : iamverysmart, e.g. 'Fun fact about me, I don't think I'm stupid, but I'm terrible at chess'.

Should we be surprised by any of this? After all, the organizers of the Candidates tournament -- Agon / Worldchess -- are the same people that brought us that weird logo documented in Dirty Mind Games (December 2017).

12 March 2018

Interview Videos : Wesley So

Let's continue with the weekly interviews featuring the eight players from the 2018 Berlin Candidates Tournament. We started seven weeks ago with Interview Videos : Aronian (January 2018) and have arrived at the alphabetically last player (after Interview Videos : Mamedyarov), GM Wesley So.

Wesley So on beating Vladimir Fedoseev at the World Cup (15:48) • 'Published on Sep 18, 2017'

The description of the video, which is on Youtube's Chess.com channel, set the context:-

Wesley So discusses his win vs Vladimir Fedoseev at the World Cup, and also talks about the upcoming Chess.com Isle of Man tournament.

The win over GM Fedoseev, in round five of the 2017 World Cup, Tbilisi (Georgia), was GM So's ticket into the semi-final round of the event. In that next round, where the winner was guaranteed qualification into the Candidates tournament, he lost to GM Ding Liren.

The Berlin Candidates tournament started two days ago and GM So started badly by losing his first two games. Can he recover to challenge the leaders? For more about all eight players, see Berlin Candidates - Resources on my World Chess Championship blog.

11 March 2018

Mephisto/Gunsberg CDV

Today marks the eighth anniversary of the ongoing series on Top eBay Chess Items by Price and the second appearance of a CDV. See Morphy CDV (September 2016) for the first.

The item shown below was titled 'CDV Mephisto (automaton) Mechanical Chess-Player. Early Robot, Gunsberg c 1880'. It sold for GBP 321.00 (approximately US $445.13) after ten bids from eight bidders.

The Marvellous Automaton

The description said,

Photographic studio: The London Stereoscopic Co. Photo measures: 102 mm x 62mm approx. Condition: Good.

The image was accompanied by a printed tag that said,

"Mephisto" is a slim figure of life-size, seated in an easy position on a library chair, the left arm and hand leaning on and grasping the elbow of it; the right hand resting on the table ready for moving the chessmen on the board.

Another printed tag, with unreadable portions on its left and right sides, included the following sentence fragments:-

acted the Automaton) assuming such a position • the (sham) machinery, so as to conceal him • this opening of the doors was only permitted • NEVER DURING PLAY for the simple reason

For more about chess CDVs, see Brady CDVs (September 2016) on this blog.

09 March 2018

Not so Flickrless Friday

Another Flickr Friday, another bust in locating a suitable image. What to do this time? A few months ago I featured Flickrless Friday (December 2017). Now I have to find a different angle. I know! Let's have a quiz. Question: What do the four Flickr 'chess' photos shown below all have in common?

Photo top left: Beer Can House © Flickr user Thomas Hawk under Creative Commons.

Answer: They all have a white tag that says 'chess'. As I explained for one of the images in the 'Flickrless Friday' post,

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'.

Those white tags are now infamous. The headline of one news article said, Flickr’s auto-tagging feature goes awry, accidentally tags black people as apes, (independent.co.uk; May 2015) along with the subtitle 'The site’s tool was built to help people easily identify features of pictures -- but has run into problems as it learns'. No kidding! The article went on to explain,

Though the racist implications were obvious, it has also identified a white women [sic] with the same tag.

If I had been in charge of that project, I would have pulled it immediately and insisted on zero classification errors when identifying people. Imagine the potential for lawsuits. The same article said later,

Flickr launched the features a couple of weeks ago. The team behind it explained to the Independent just before the launch that it uses "convolutional neural networks", or computers that act like human brains, to identify the photos.

A convolutional neural network (CNN) is also the key to the technology behind Deepmind's AlphaZero. When people talk about artificial intelligence (AI), they are often referring to a CNN.

Here are links (photos left to right, top to bottom) to the Flickr pages associated wth the four photos I selected. I repeated the first link to be consistent.

If I ever run into a Flickrless Friday again, I'll have to think up something really special.


Later: While working on the next Flickr Friday post, The Noyon Chess Pieces, I looked at a number of photos returned by Flickr search but which had no visible mention of chess. Then I noticed that the white 'chess' tags had disappeared from the photos used in this 'Not so Flickrless Friday' post. They are apparently still present and being used for search.

08 March 2018

Stockfish in a Straitjacket?

It was one of those coincidences you can never plan. Near the end of last year Houdini won TCEC Season 10 at the same time that AlphaZero appeared on the scene. I covered both of those significant computer chess events in a single post, Houdini, Komodo, Stockfish, and AlphaZero (December 2017). The first three names are the top three chess engines in the world, of roughly equal strength, but AlphaZero had apparently crushed one of the trio in a match. In my post I wrote,

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.

I was reminded of those words while writing my most recent post, TCEC Season 11 in Full Swing. One of the sources I consulted, without referencing it in the post, was TCEC 11: Premier Division starts (chessbase.com; February 2018). The Chessbase site is well known and well respected for its expertise in computer chess and always attracts comments from informed readers. This particular article launched a discussion on why AlphaZero wasn't participating in TCEC Season 11 and whether the AlphaZero - Stockfish match had been too heavily rigged in AlphaZero's favor. The discussion mentioned four factors that could have hurt Stockfish's performance:-

  • Restricted hash size
  • Fast time control
  • No opening book
  • No endgame tablebases

I knew that the first two points were an issue, but wasn't certain if the last two were true. I went back to the Deepmind paper that had announced AlphaZero to the world (titled 'Mastering Chess and Shogi by Self-Play with a General Reinforcement Learning Algorithm') and re-read the relevant section:-

Evaluation • To evaluate performance in chess, we used Stockfish version 8 (official Linux release) as a baseline program, using 64 CPU threads and a hash size of 1GB. [...] The Elo rating of the baseline players was anchored to publicly available values. We also measured the head-to-head performance of AlphaZero against each baseline player. Settings were chosen to correspond with computer chess tournament conditions: each player was allowed 1 minute per move, resignation was enabled for all players (-900 centipawns for 10 consecutive moves for Stockfish and Elmo, 5% winrate for AlphaZero). Pondering was disabled for all players.

Since 'publicly available [Elo] values' depend both on configuring engines properly and on a level playing field, I started to have serious concerns that this controversy was more than a quibble. What did the Stockfish developers think about the match? On Stockfish's Fishcooking forum, in a long thread titled Open letter to Google DeepMind (December 2017), the opening message said,

AlphaZero won the 100 game match against Stockfish very impressively by a total score of 28 wins and 72 draws and 0 [losses]. This translates to an Elo difference of 100. However the details of the match described in your paper show that this match might have been much closer and more interesting had it not been for some IMO rather unfair conditions.

That first post and the subsequent discussion repeated the four complaints from the Chessbase comments listed above, and added,

In the match version 8 of Stockfish was used which is now over a year old. The latest version of Stockfish is over 40 Elo stronger in fast self play.

That makes five significant objections to the conduct of the match. Later in the same Fishcooking thread, TCEC insider Nelson Hernandez wrote,

This "match" was like a boxing match where one fighter had no seconds in his corner, the referee and judges were picked by his opponent, there was no audience to validate what happened in the ring as it happened, and the post-match story was written by the opponent's hirelings. It may well be that Alpha Zero is indeed better than the latest version of Stockfish in fair test conditions. But it is almost criminal to announce very biased test results such as these, thereby rubbishing the work of hundreds of people, in order to gain some PR benefit. What the computer chess community expects is fairness and decency.

The clincher to the above discussion is that three months have passed since Deepmind's bombshell announcement, which made available only ten games from the match. None of the other 90 games have been released for dissection by the experts. AlphaZero might be a better chess engine than Stockfish, but it might also be much worse. If we can't have a match where the Stockfish developers configure their creation for its full strength, let's have the other games from the first match.

06 March 2018

TCEC Season 11 in Full Swing

Two world class computer championships in a twelve month period? Less than six months ago on this blog we had TCEC Season 10 Kickoff (September 2017), where I wrote,

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.

I could have used that same paragraph for this current post by changing 'Season 10' to 'Season 11'. I covered the end of TCEC Season 10 in Houdini, Komodo, Stockfish, and AlphaZero (December 2017), where I noted, 'With the score at +14-9=73 after 96 games, Houdini was declared the winner [over Komodo]'. While that season was itself in full swing, Chessdom issued a TCEC Season 11 press release (November 2017):-

Starting with its 11th season in early 2018, TCEC will adopt a league format consisting of four divisions of eight chess engines. The five divisions will be called the Premier, First, Second, Third, and Fourth Divisions. Each division will conduct a tournament which will lead to the top two engines in the Premier Division facing off in a 100-game Superfinal for the TCEC seasonal championship.

The league’s mechanics are straightforward. Divisional tournaments will be conducted in sequence from the lowest (Third Division) to the highest (Premier Division). At the end of the Third, Second and First Division tournaments the top two finishers will be promoted to the next-higher division. At the end of the Second, First and Premier Division tournaments the bottom two finishers will be relegated to the next-lower division.

That preliminary announcement was further embellished with TCEC Season 11 - information and participants (December 2017):-

TCEC Season 11 will start this January 3rd. It will involve 30 of the strongest computer chess software programs in the world. One more time the engines will be provided with a high quality hardware -- a 44 cores server -- and will compete in equal conditions to crown the strongest one in the Top Chess Engine Championship.

The last of the four divisions finished a month and a half later with Andscacs wins TCEC Division 1 (February 2018; includes links to results for lower divisions):-

With this division gold medal Andscacs earns the right to participate in the race for the TCEC title in the Premier Division, an event which will be the strongest computer chess championship in history.

This was immediately followed by the computer version of a candidates tournament: TCEC Premier Division – the strongest computer chess event in history (February 2018):-

After four divisions of exciting qualification battles, we are at the doorstep of the highest category of the Top Chess Engine Championship. The eight best chess software programs, that any professional player or aficionado can use on a home computer, are going to meet in a direct battle to determine the best of the best in the field. The eight participants include the defending champion Houdini, the vice champion Komodo, the top open source program Stockfish, as well as the challengers Fire, Ginkgo, Chiron, Andscacs, and Fizbo.

The November 2017 press release provided details about the format of the Premier Division:-

Top two Premier Division finishers advance to Superfinal competition; bottom two finishers relegated to First Division. • 6x double round-robin (engines play each other 12 times); 84 games each engine.

As I write this post, the tournment is at the start of its second half, the seventh round. The action goes on 24/7 at TCEC - Live Computer Chess Broadcast.

05 March 2018

Interview Videos : Mamedyarov

Next up in our series of interviews with the eight players taking part in the 2018 Candidates Tournament, Berlin (starts this coming weekend!), after Interview Videos : Kramnik is Azerbaijani grandmaster Shakhriyar [Shahriyar] Mamedyarov. He qualified into the Candidates event by finishing first in the 2017 Grand Prix.

Tata Steel Chess - Interview - Shakhriyar Mamedyarov - Round 13 (4:31) • 'Published on Jan 28, 2018'

The interview was conducted after the last round of the recent supertournament in Wijk aan Zee. Mamedyarov finished tied for 3rd-4th with Kramnik, after Giri and Carlsen.

Q: Was this your last tournament before the Candidates? A: No, I will play in the Tal Memorial before the Candidates -- maybe it's also not the last. I just want to play chess and not only to sit home and prepare for the Candidates.

GM Mamedyarov is currently ranked world no.2 on the March 2018 FIDE rating list. For an overview of his record against the other candidates, see Berlin Candidates - Kickoff (February 2018) on my World Chess Championship blog.

04 March 2018

Chess in Education and Health

FIDE has just issued a new booklet, Chess - A Tool for Education and Health (fide.com).

This new 48 page booklet is now freely available to download as a PDF from cis.fide.com. In this new edition, we hope to disseminate throughout the worldwide chess community the benefits of education, health, as well as the use of chess in different social and therapeutic areas. We hope it serves as a letter of introduction, not only for amateurs, instructors and teachers, but also for the entire community that wants to know the work that is being carried out with chess as an educational and socialization tool.

The booklet overlaps many of the topics that we've seen on this blog in this ongoing series about The Sociology of Chess (November 2016). Here are its first two pages, the cover and the table of contents:-

If that table of contents is too small to read, here's the list in a more readable format:-

2 Morals of Chess
3 Chess in Bloom
4 Thinking Skills
5 Educational Cutlery
6 Critical & Creative Thinking - Chess in the Educational Process
7 Chess as a Teaching Tool
8 Educational Benefits of Chess
10 Psychomotor Skills
11 STEM Skills
12 Cognitive Abilities
13 Life Skills & Counselling
14 Ethical Sense
15 ADHD & Autism
16 Social Benefi ts & Minorities
18 Health Bene fits
19 Beating Cognitive Decline
20 Smart Girl Uganda
21 Queen of Katwe
22 Prisons - Chess That Brings Freedom
26 Alzheimer's - Checkmating Dementia
28 Teaching Programs - 4-6 Early Years Skills
30 Teaching Programs - 7-11 Planet Chess and others
32 Teacher Training
33 FIDE School Instructor title
34 FIDE School Chess Leader diploma
35 Support for Teachers
36 European Parliament
38 European Union – Erasmus+
39 European Chess Union
40 CiS Around the World
42 Chess & Education Conferences
44 Research
46 Bibliography

Several of these topics are controversial, for example 'Alzheimer's - Checkmating Dementia', a topic I last covered in More on Chess and Alzheimer's (July 2016). The FIDE booklet says,

Research among those over the age of 60 strongly suggests that chess is valuable in combating Alzheimer's.

The phrase 'strongly suggests' is less provocative than the usual phrase 'studies show', and I imagine that FIDE is making an effort to avoid adding fuel to the controversy. Other topics in the booklet show similar circumspection. For more about these topics on this blog, follow the links for 'Chess in School' Summarized (October 2016), and FIDE's Social Commissions 2017 (November 2017).

02 March 2018

Magnus Streams on Youtube

Nearly four hours of World Champion Magnus Carlsen talking about his own games in progress. What's not to like?

Special guest Magnus Carlsen streaming his PRO Chess League games (3:56:10) • 'Published on Feb 25, 2018'

From the Jon Ludvig Hammer channel, GM Hammer is an official friend of Magnus. The hundreds of comments make up for the lack of a description on the clip. Take this comment, for example:-

Wow, this is a revolution in the history of chess. Being able to watch the World Champion and leading chess player over the last 10 years, sit in a comfortable environment and play and comment on both his own and others' games, is a huge source for insight. Thank you so much for sharing this Jon Ludvig, I think this video will live a long life on Youtube.

The first game on the video can be found at Magnus Carlsen vs Roman Yanchenko, Pro Chess League 2018 (chessgames.com; GM Carlsen opens 1.h3). The other games can be found by following that link.

01 March 2018

March 1968 'On the Cover'

Every month, the 'On the Cover' series goes back 50 years for a glimpse at what the top American chess magazines were reporting. This month marks four years since the first in the series, March 1964 'On the Cover'.

Left: 'Jerry Spann, Oklahoma City' (Badge)
Right: 'Medieval Manikins'

Chess Life

'Good Man Gone' by Ed Edmondson • There was a man, a man named Jerry. For that's how he was known to all of us -- simply, warmly, "Jerry" to his thousands of friends wherever chess is played. Jerry fought with characteristic verve and courage throughout the final months of an encounter with the toughest opponent of them all, succumbing to the last check early this year.

In the February 1968 'On the Cover', the cover of Chess Review informed us that Spann was a former USCF president. The March 1968 Chess Life included a second article, 'Legacy from Jerry' by Fred Cramer, Past President, USCF.

Chess Review

Mark Freeman reports to us: The recent "Artists as Craftsmen" exhibition at the East Side Gallery displayed the work of the gallery artists in their lighter moods. Whimsy, humor and originality marked many of the truly unique objects in this Annual.

A feature of the exhibition was a series of "Knights" by William D. Gorman. Using beach pebbles for heads and wood carving for bodies, he created beautifully crafted chess desk pieces, each of individualistic character. [...] CHESS REVIEW regrets not being able to present the set in its proper colors on its cover but is using green for St. Patrick's day.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary informs us that Manikin is a variant of 'mannequin' and 'mannikin', is 'dated, usually disparaging', means 'a little man', and has 'Popularity: Bottom 40% of words'. I don't recall the word ever being used to describe a chess set.