31 March 2019

Drawing the Gender Line

A fifth weekend this month gives me the opportunity for an immediate followup of last weekend's post Chess and Gender Lines. I ended that post saying,

This topic is one of the most awkward that chess has to offer and I need to gird my loins before wading further into it.

This isn't the first time I've addressed the topic. As far as I can remember, the first time was an About.com article, Elsewhere on the Web : Women in Chess (March 2005), still available on Archive.org. There I discussed 'Birth of the Chess Queen' by Marilyn Yalom, followed by Jennifer Shahade, Susan Polgar, and the 'ongoing chess controversy : Why have women players not been able to achieve the same results as men?'.

The subject isn't a one-way street. Criticism across gender lines cuts in both directions. A few years ago I wrote a post on this blog, Chess Players Aren't 'A Barrel of Laughs' (August 2017), where some 'Dear Abby' advice ended with:-

A chess game resembles a war in that it consists of attack and defense, whose object is making the "King" surrender. On second thought, it could be a good training ground for marriage.

That advice was probably tongue-in-cheek, but it's still insulting to men. The heart of the 'Gender Lines' post was a video titled, 'Is Chess Sexist?'. One commenter said,

Is chess sexist? Yes, the King is portrayed as a weak submissive male, while the Queen's domain and power are unlimited. The poor King may only move one spot any direction, the Queen's movements are unbounded.

Although that idea exaggerates the rules, it also contains a large dose of truth. For more about the gender aspect, I turned to the January post in my 'Sociology of Chess' series. There I introduced the book 'Players and Pawns' by Gary Alan Fine. On page 164, in a section titled 'The Girl and the Game', the author writes,

Perhaps the first question that an outside observer asks when visiting a chess tournament is, where are the girls? Where are the women? In so many areas of American life that were once dominated by men, women are edging toward parity: medicine, law, fiction, even politics. Wherever elites gather, there are women. Extreme gender disparity is rare.

I do not explain why women are underrepresented, but I will discuss why women are said to be underrepresented. The evidence of that underrepresentation is clear. No woman has won the world championship, no major tournament has a female champion, and only about 1 percent of all of the world's grandmasters are women.

After more facts and statistics, the author continues,

To understand the role of women in chess, it is worth noting that many of the top players -- Bobby Fischer and Garry Kasparov among them -- have a low opinion of female players. Not only are women not good at chess, but by nature they will never be good, some believe. Of course, one could also dig up antique quotations about female doctors or novelists. This view stands in contrast with research that indicates biology plays a small role in ability. While women and men might have different cognitive skills, with male skills benefitting chess ability, the more sociological view is that opportunity structures matter more. Analyses of life histories of players, as well as surveys, support the opportunity-structure theory. Boys enter chess in greater numbers, and those who are successful continue. Boy culture dominates.

After some anecdotal evidence comes a series of key observations.

One of the main passages is the father-child relationship, often the father-son relationship. If fathers are less inclined to teach their daughters, the parental bond is lost. In schools girls face other obstacles. An ethnographic study of a mixed-gender chess club in elementary school found that girls dropped out at a much higher rate than by because of hostility, criticism, and distaste for the aggression of the games. In second-grade talk, boys are "really mean" or, later, they are "so annoying". Despite support from the club organizer, these girls felt that the boys didn't want them there. Male chess players have the dual reputations of being nerds and boors. Perhaps chess, unlike medicine, is too trivial to be worth the bother. As anthropologist Margaret Mead remarked, "Women could be just as good at chess, but why would they want to be?"

That Margaret Mead quote, which is again insulting to male chess players, is followed by a section titled 'Nerds and Boors'. It starts,

To understand sexism I begin at the pinnacle. Bobby Fischer, who could read the board, even if he was less proficient at reading the world, commented in 1962, "They're all weak, all women. They're stupid compared to men. They shouldn't play chess, you know."

The Fischer quote is well known. Other grandmasters, Kasparov among them, have said similar, although not in language as direct as Fischer. The latest in the series of demeaning sentiments by grandmasters came from former World Championship challenger Nigel Short, and we can be sure that there will be future statements from other players. If men want women to enjoy chess and to respect chess players, why are the men so unchivalrous? Maybe they're afraid of the competition.

29 March 2019

Chess Player’s Chronicle

Continuing with investigations into early chess periodicals available via Google Books, in last week's post, Le Palamede, I wrote,

After 'Berliner Schachzeitung', my second effort concentrated on 'Palamède'.

My third effort concentrated on 'The Chess Player’s Chronicle'. Once again, I'll use Di Felice's 'Chess Periodicals, 1836-2008' as a starting point.

617. Chess Player’s Chronicle (The) [England] (1841–1862) Vol.1 (1841)–Vol.13 (1852); Second Series Vol.1 (1853)–Vol.4 (1856); Third Series Vol.1 (1859)–Vol.4, no.43 (July 1862). Monthly. Editors Howard Staunton (1841–54); R.B. Brien (1854–56). Publisher R. Hastings (1841–52, 1853–56), J.H. Starie (1859–62). London. England. Illus., 22 cm. Magazine. General. English. Note Vol.1 (first series) has title British Miscellany and Chess Player’s Chronicle (The). Editor of third series not given in the text. Superseded by Chess Player’s Magazine (The).

It's not immediately clear what differentiates the three series, but here is the same information in tabular form:-

  • 1st series: Vol.1 (1841) – Vol.13 (1852);
  • 2nd series: Vol.1 (1853) – Vol.4 (1856);
  • 3rd series: Vol.1 (1859) – Vol.4, no.43 (July 1862).

The first series covers 12 years, but includes 13 volumes. It appears there were two volumes issued in the first year. The following image shows the title pages for the initial volumes of the first and second series.

Left: S01V01, 1841; Right: S02V01, 1853

After locating the 21 volumes (13 + 4 + 4) on Google Books, my next task was to classify the content. Di Felice's description says, 'Monthly', but this seems not to describe the real frequency. The first three volumes (S01V01-V03) are composed of a series of 16-page publications, numbering around 26 per volume. Each publication starts with a composed problem, followed by game scores and text articles. As with all of the early periodicals I've looked at, dates are given infrequently, meaning that other clues are necessary to ascertain the time of publication. Di Felice's book mentions a few other incarnations of Chess Player’s Chronicle.

  • 619 The Chess Player’s Magazine (1863–1867)
  • 621 The Chess Player’s Quarterly Chronicle (1868–1871)
  • 618 The Chess Player’s Chronicle [England] (1872–1900)

I'll look at those another time.

28 March 2019

March Yahoos -- A Viral Story

The drought is over. In last month's post, February Amazon Yahoos, I wrote,

For the third consecutive month, my Yahoo news feed served no chess news. [...] Maybe we'll see some mainstream coverage of chess in March, but I'm not optimistic.

I should have been more optimistic. A great story, which was picked up by most major news services, appeared twice in the same Yahoo news feed. The first appearance was a featured story at the top of the feed, captioned, 'Homeless refugee chess champion goes viral'.

2019-03-18: Homeless 8-year-old refugee wins New York State chess championship, inspiring viral fundraiser (yahoo.com). The story started,

Tanitoluwa Adewumi just said checkmate. Despite learning the game a little over a year ago, the 8-year-old boy -- homeless refugee from Nigeria -- was crowned the New York State Primary Chess Champion in the kindergarten-to-third-grade bracket of the 52nd New York State Scholastic Championships. The elementary school student, better known as "Tani," went undefeated at the championships, where he outsmarted opponents from top private schools with pricey chess tutors.

The story attracted more than 1500 comments, many of them about immigration policy in the U.S. Most of the comments were supportive of the boy's achievement, but some were downright mean.


As shown in the screenshot above, the second story appeared above other, similar stories, The photo is from Tani's GoFundMe page.

2019-03-18: Homeless 8-year-old boy wins New York State chess championship (yahoo.com; AOL.com) 'The 8-year-old refugee, whose family fled northern Nigeria in 2017 in fears of Boko Haram's attacks on Christians like themselves, first learned how to play chess at Manhattan's P.S. 116.'

Tani plans to play in the USA's national elementary championship in May. His participation might mean that the tournament will attract far more than the usual media attention.

26 March 2019

Palamede Portraits

In last week's post, Le Palamede, I introduced the world's first chess periodical.

All 11 volumes from the two series are available via Google Books, although the last two volumes of the first series are combined into a single PDF file.

The seven volumes of the second series, which started in 1841, were prefaced with portraits of distinguished French players of the period. The first of those volumes was further distinguished by not having a portrait. Edward Winter, in Chess Statues and Sculpture, (chesshistory.com) explained,

C.N. 5176 added that at the start of its 1842 run, in a note entitled 'Portrait', Le Palamède stated that no picture of Labourdonnais had existed and that when the master died Deville took a plaster cast of his head. Marlet then undertook a portrait of Labourdonnais.

No portrait:-

  • 1841 Labourdonnais

The portraits for the following six volumes are shown in the following composite image.

Left to right, top to bottom:-

  • 1842 St.Amant
  • 1843 Philidor
  • 1844 Alexandre (author of the Encyclopedia of Chess)
  • 1845 Calvi (author of a Chess Course)
  • 1846 Philidor's handwriting
  • 1847 Devinck (president of Cercle de Paris)

Philidor and St.Amant are familiar names to students of chess history. The others might be less familiar, but all three are present on Wikipedia:-

The first two Wikipedia articles appear to be based on the corresponding entries in 'The Oxford Companion to Chess'. Calvi's 'Chess Course' ran for five years in Palamède.

25 March 2019

TCEC S15 Div3 Finishes; CCC7 Starts

Another Monday, another look at the top-two ongoing engine competitions. I'll summarize last week's report, TCEC S15 Div4 Finishes; Stockfish Wins CCC6, with:-

TCEC: S15 division 3 is currently underway. [...] The AI/NN engine AllieStein (Allie + Stein) was one of the two qualifying [from division 4]. • CCC6: According to reports on other sites, the site is preparing CCC7. In the meantime, it is conducting the 'Bongcloud Bonus (10|10)'.

TCEC: This week's situation is an echo of last week's: S15 division 2 is currently underway. The AI/NN engine AllieStein was one of two qualifying from division 3. With the event nearing the 3/4 mark, AllieStein is in second place.

CCC: The Bongcloud event, a thematic opening tournament using 1.e4 e5 2.Ke2 as the first moves, finished as expected. White managed to draw a few games, which determined the final ranking shown in the following diagram. Chess is a game of logic and 2.Ke2 is a weak attempt to defy that logic. All other things being equal, poor moves lead to a loss.

Chess.com issued a report on CCC6:-

The same report outlined the plan for CCC7.

The CCC7 field includes the "big four" engines of Stockfish, Lc0, Houdini and Komodo, and adds three more neural-network engines that are expected to challenge for the finals in Antifish, Leelenstein and Allie.

That makes four AI/NN engines: Lc0, Antifish, Leelenstein and, Allie. The report continued,

Stage one of CCC7 is a 24-player round-robin, where each engine will play every other engine three times as White and three times as Black. The top four engines from stage one will advance to a 100x round-robin final stage.

Four AI/NN engines, four places in the CCC7 final stage. This is an event worth watching.

[For further information from the various stakeholders in the engine-to-engine events, see the tab 'TCEC/CCC Links' at the top of this page.]

24 March 2019

Chess and Gender Lines

The last two posts in this series on The Sociology of Chess (November 2016) have been about a book, 'Players and Pawns' (January 2019; Gary Alan Fine), and about a drawing, Dagmar and Strange Ebbesen (February 2019; 'chess as an accessory to legend'). It's time for a video. The recent Cairns Cup provided plenty of material.

For the first time, the Saint Louis Chess Club will host the Cairns Cup, an elite level tournament for the top female players from around the world. Inspired by its mission to further promote the game of chess to women and girls, the Chess Club aptly chose the name Cairns Cup in honor of co-founder Dr. Jeanne Sinquefield’s maiden name. Fans can look forward to a chess tournament similar in style to the prestigious Sinquefield Cup with the ten best female players from around the world competing in the Chess Club’s world-renowned facility for the $150,000 prize fund.

That introduction is from 2019 Cairns Cup (uschesschamps.com; why that domain?). For the tournament results see Cairns Cup 2019 (theweekinchess.com):-

The 1st Cairns Cup was a women's tournament in Saint Louis that took place 5th to 15th February. 2019. [...] Valentina Gunina drew against her closest rival Alexandra Kosteniuk in the final round to take clear first place.

Youtube channel Saint Louis Chess Club released dozens of videos related to the event.

2019 Cairns Cup: Is Chess Sexist? (10:03) • 'Published on Feb 15, 2019'

The video's description explained,

Before the 2019 Cairns Cup, IM Tania Sachdev and WGM Jennifer Shahade discuss sexism in chess and why gender lines exist in the game,

This topic is one of the most awkward that chess has to offer and I need to gird my loins before wading further into it. In the meantime, other videos about the Cairns Cup from the same channel can be found via Youtube search STLChessClub query=cairns.

22 March 2019

Le Palamede

After Berliner 'Schachzeitung', where...

I discovered that various 19th century chess periodicals were available via Google Books. My first effort concentrated on 'Schachzeitung'.

...my second effort concentrated on 'Palamede'. From Di Felice, 'Chess Periodicals, 1836-2008':-

1778. Palamède (Le) : Revue Mensuelle des Échecs et Autres Jeux (1836–1847) Vol.1 (1836)–Vol.4 (1839); New Series Vol.1 (1842)–Vol.7 (1847). Monthly. Editors Joseph Mery and Louis Charles Mahé de La Bourdonnais (1936–39), Pierre Charles Fournier de Saint-Amant (1842–47). Publisher Au Bureau de la Revue. Paris. France. Illus., ports., cm.21.5 x 14, and from 1842 cm.24.5 x 16.5. Magazine. General. French. Subtitle varies "Revue Mensuelle des Échecs," "Revue Mensuelle des Jeux."

La Bourdonnais' death in December 1840 was undoubtedly related to the gap between the series. All 11 volumes from the two series are available via Google Books, although the last two volumes of the first series are combined into a single PDF file. From Wikipedia's Le Palamède:-

Le Palamède was the world's first periodical devoted to the game of chess. It was founded in France in 1836 by Louis-Charles Mahé de la Bourdonnais, who is often considered to have been an unofficial world chess champion. It ceased publication in 1839, but was revived in December 1841 by Pierre Charles Fournier de Saint-Amant, who continued publishing it until the end of 1847.

The Wikipedia page uses an illlustration similar to the one I created for this post.

Left: S01V01, 1836; Right: S02V01, 1842

What does Palamede mean? From Wikipedia's Palamedes (mythology):-

In Greek mythology, Palamedes was the son of Nauplius and Clymene. He joined the Greeks in the expedition against Troy. Pausanias in his Description of Greece says that in Corinth is a Temple of Fortune in which Palamedes dedicated the dice that he had invented.

Wikipédia's page in French, Palamède (mythologie), expands on the dice theme:-

Palamède est l’inventeur mythique du jeu d’échecs, de l’arithmétique, des jeux de dés et des signaux de feu servant à transmettre un message; et Théophraste dit Palamède inventeur des lettres et des chiffres. => 'Palamède is the mythical inventor of the game of chess...'

The first time I visited the Royal Library (Koninklijke Bibliotheek; KB) in The Hague, the stack for the chess collection was open to the public. I picked up the bound copies of Palamède, flipped through them, and thought how useful it would be to have the time to examine them in depth. Afterwards the chess collection was closed to the public, but much of its content became accessible through Google Books. Will I now find the time to examine the Palamède volumes?

21 March 2019

Chess Playing Celebrities

The gist of a recent post, Celebrity Chess Players, was something like this:-

Curious about which chess players have celebrity status, I asked the oracle. It told me which celebrities play chess. [Long detour...] I still don't know which chess players have celebrity status. Maybe none of them do.

Later I went back to the oracle and asked the same question, looking this time for pictures. The oracle's first page looked like this:-

Google image search on 'chess celebrities'
[Call the rows 'A' to 'C' (from top to bottom) and number the images in each row '1' to '7' (from left to right).]

The last time I constructed a post on a similar visual foundation was Chess and Impressionism (September 2018). My technique worked well enough then, so I'll use it once again. As so often happens with any search on images, many of the results are from Pinterest. One page, 10 Best celebrities playing chess images (pinterest.com), provides two images -- B1 and B6 -- and three other Pinterest pages provide one each.

Those five Pinterest pages are matched by the same number from Bill Wall. B2 leads to Celebrities, Movies, and Chess 1 (chessmaniac.com), the first in a series of four pages that provide two more thumbnails in the Google composite: A3 and B5. A6 leads to the same writer and the same site in Celebrities Who Play Chess (humor). The inimitable Bill Wall also shows up in A2, which leads to Celebrities and Chess (chess.com).

A1 leads to another Chess.com page, Can You Win Our Fake Chess Celebrity Contest?, that gave me a couple of good laughs. Less of a laugh and more of a gaffe is in C5, Woody Harrelson’s major flub at World Chess Championship (besttvnews.com). I covered the Harrelson incident in a post last year, World Championship Yahoos (November 2018).

What about chess players who have celebrity status? Vishy Anand appears in A5, which leads to London Chess Classic 2013: The Celebrities Attack! (chessib.com; 'DJ Alex Zane of England and former World Chess Champion grandmaster Viswanathan Anand of India'). The same event appears in one other thumbnail, C3.

In C1, every keen chess player recognizes Magnus Carlsen, but who are those other guys? The referenced page is 10 Celebrities With Pretty Strange Hobbies, and the photo is captioned 'Red Hot Chili Peppers – Chess Masters'. Magnus doesn't get a mention, although he's conducting a small simul. Granted he was younger then, but even today does he have the same name/face recognition from the general public as do Bobby Fischer and Garry Kasparov?

19 March 2019

Wilhelm Hanstein, Schachzeitung

Continuing with a recent post, Berliner 'Schachzeitung', I wrote,

I discovered that various 19th century chess periodicals were available via Google Books. My first effort concentrated on 'Schachzeitung', which, according to Di Felice's 'Chess Periodicals, 1836-2008', was published during 26 years.

There is such an enormous amount of material in these 'Schachzeitung' volumes that I can do little more than examine an occasional curiosity. For example, the image below left shows one of the first pages in volume 5, 1850. The signature says, 'W.Hanstein'. The image on the right is the first page of his obituary. I've done so little work on this particular volume that I'm not even sure in what month the obituary was published. Based on the PDF page number (which is p.337 in the original volume) and on other visual clues, I guess it's the first page of the November 1850 issue.

Schachzeitung [v05; 1850], PDF p.8 & p.359

In Wilhelm Hanstein, Wikipedia informs,

Wilhelm Hanstein (3 August 1811 in Berlin – 14 October 1850 in Magdeburg) was a German chess player and writer. Hanstein was one of the Berlin Pleiades. He helped found Berliner Schachzeitung, later to become Deutsche Schachzeitung. He was a civil servant.

Those are the first three of the five sentences on the Wikipedia page. Hanstein's obituary in Schachzeitung is 13 pages long.

What does the obituary say? My knowledge of the German language isn't sufficient to translate the original text, so I turned to some aids. First I ran the initial paragraph of the PDF scan through an OCR conversion. Then I ran the OCR output text through Google Translate. Here's what I got:-

A hard blow hit us! - As in the narrower
circles of friends, so also in the common fatherland,
yes we can say in Europe and over the ocean, the
news of this loss in each of the great master,
knew the sensible poet, the deepest conscience
he egen.

To facilitate comparison, the line breaks correspond to the original German text. The paragraph makes some sense until the last line, where the phrase 'er egen' is translated as 'he egen'. In fact, 'er egen' is undoubtedly a single word where the third letter is missing from the PDF scan. For some reason, missing characters occur frequently, not only in the Schachzeitung scans, but in other scans that have nothing to do with chess. Add this to the (long) list of things that can go wrong with digitized documents. Also add 'Pleiades' to the list of topics for future Schachzeitung posts.


Later: Re 'I guess it's the first page of the November 1850 issue', if I had checked the table of contents, which is separated into months, I would have seen that the obituary was the first page of the October 1850 issue. I excluded this possibility because Hanstein died 14 October 1850. He was only 39 years old.


Even later: Re 'missing characters occur frequently', some time after writing this I realized that the missing characters happen when I view the PDF document using an Amazon Kindle. The Adobe Acrobat PDF reader does not exhibit the problem.

18 March 2019

TCEC S15 Div4 Finishes; Stockfish Wins CCC6

In last week's post on two top ongoing engine competitions, TCEC S15, CCC6 S3 : Both Underway, the title hinted that both events were just getting started.

TCEC: The first event, 'S15 - Division 4a', has already finished and 'Division 4b' is underway. • CCC6: The 200-game [final] match started two days ago and is moving quickly, with about 1/4 of the games already finished.

A week is a long time in an engine tournament and those stages have finished and morphed into other events.

TCEC: TCEC S15 division 3 is currently underway. The two top placed engines in divisions 4a and 4b all met in a playoff, from which the two top engines qualified into division 3. The AI/NN engine AllieStein (Allie + Stein) was one of the two qualifying. The TCEC also published a wrapup report on S14:-

TCEC deserves credit for setting the standard in engine competitions.

CCC: Just as in the latest TCEC final (see the February post, Stockfish Wins TCEC S14) Stockfish edged Leela in the CCC6 final match. The following chart shows the game-by-game result of the match (10 rows with 20 games per row) from the Stockfish point of view.

Stockfish score: +19-16=165 (101.5-98.5)

In the two days since the match ended, the chart is the only official record published by Chess.com. Let's hope the match PGN will also be made available.

According to reports on other sites, the site is preparing CCC7. In the meantime, it is conducting the 'Bongcloud Bonus (10|10)', where ten top engines are forced to start the game with 1.e4 e5 2.Ke2. Ugh! Which engine will achieve the most draws as White?

I'm a big fan of unorthodox openings, but attacking with the King on the second move is void of interest. Since there are so many better ideas for a thematic tournament, you have to ask what the organizers were smoking.

[For further information from the various stakeholders in the main events, see the tab 'TCEC/CCC Links' at the top of this page.]

17 March 2019

Stock Post

As far as I can tell, stock chess photos are mainly used to illustrate articles that have nothing to do with chess, except through an indirect reference. 'To avoid checkmating your budget, ...', stuff like that.

Close up of knight chess figure on white background © Flickr user Marco Verch under Creative Commons.

The description said,

Stock Photos / Fotos Download • Please leave a comment and add my picture to your favourites • Thanks and greetings from Cologne, Germany

The photographer also added a comment that showed more stock photos, some of them having nothing to do with chess. I added the photo to my favorites, but decided against leaving a comment. When I first started this Flickr series, I routinely added a comment to the original photo with a link to my post. I can't remember why I stopped.

15 March 2019

Berliner 'Schachzeitung'

After last week's Closing an AI/NN Chapter, I returned to last month's Down the Rabbit Hole, where I discovered that various 19th century chess periodicals were available via Google Books. My first effort concentrated on 'Schachzeitung', which, according to Di Felice's 'Chess Periodicals, 1836-2008', was published during 26 years:-

2321. Schachzeitung: In Monatl (1846–1871) Organization Berliner Schachgesellschaft. Vol.1 (1846)– Vol.26, no.12 (Dec 1871).

In a related post, 'On Anderssen' (February 2019), I mentioned,

So far I've collected 23 of the first 26 annual editions of Schachzeitung (1846-1871).

I eventually located the three missing volumes, meaning that Google Books has the complete series. Here is the title page and the first page of the table of contents (TOC) for the first volume. Publishing started in July 1846.

As useful as these magazines are for documenting the development of chess in the mid-19th century, they are not perfect. Some problems were introduced when the individual issues were initially published (there are very few dates to confirm the period covered) and others were introduced when the issues were bound into an annual volume (wrong dates, incorrect TOCs). Other problems arose during the scanning process (blurred or missing pages). Google supplies only minimum descriptions, sometimes wrong, to identify scanned files and only a visual check of a document can determine its true content.

Fortunately there are multiple scanned copies of many documents, gathered from different physical libraries around the world. If one scan turns out to be bad, another is often available. While I was collecting the 26 volumes of the Berliner Schachgesellschaft's 'Schachzeitung', I noted other periodicals having 'Schachzeitung' in their title. I'll cover these in another post.

14 March 2019

Celebrity Chess Players

Curious about which chess players have celebrity status, I asked the oracle. It told me which celebrities play chess. It also drew a picture for me, captured below.

Google search on 'chess celebrities'

That link goes to Chess Playing Celebrities (imdb.com), where 50 people are listed. Some of them I've never heard of, but most are bona fide celebrities. Beneath the search box displayed above is some small print that says, '(?) About this result', and that leads to Featured snippets in search - Search Console Help (support.google.com). There I learned,

When a user asks a question in Google Search, we might show a search result in a special featured snippet block at the top of the search results page. This featured snippet block includes a summary of the answer, extracted from a webpage, plus a link to the page, the page title and URL.

So that box is called a search 'snippet'. The page also explains how page owners can prevent their content from appearing in snippets -- a copyright notice is not sufficient -- and ends with a Q&A exchange:-

Q: Is this part of Knowledge Graph? • A: No, this is a normal search result, emphasized with special layout.'

Knowledge Graph? It turns out it's the box that Google displays to the right on the first page of search results, so that you don't have to click on any of the results. Wikipedia starts its explanation of Knowledge Graph by saying,

The Knowledge Graph is a knowledge base used by Google and its services to enhance its search engine's results with information gathered from a variety of sources. The information is presented to users in an infobox next to the search results.

The article goes on to complain that this particular Google feature leads to 'Declining Wikipedia article readerships'. So Wikipedia takes content from all over the web and Google takes content from Wikipedia and no one goes to the original content. Is there no honor among thieves?

Meanwhile, I still don't know which chess players have celebrity status. Maybe none of them do.

12 March 2019

A Not So Googly Gadget

A few months ago, in a post titled A Googly Gadget (October 2018) on my chess960 blog, I wrote about a Google search result called 'Your Site on Google'. Everything I wrote about it is still true and I won't repeat it here, but this week I received the same result for a search on 'chess'. The following image captures what it looks like.

Google search on 'chess'

I know that chess960 is a very small topic and I wasn't too surprised to see my site had a search presence there. Chess is a much larger topic, with thousands of relevant pages, and I'm certain that my site isn't appearing for a simple query on 'chess'. It might appear for 'origin of chess' or 'chess setup', but not for 'chess'. The most important info in the image above says,

See how your site has been showing for this query for the past 90 days and compare to the previous 90 days:
- Clicks 3
- Impressions 116
- Average position 9,7

'Average position 9,7' means that the site is shown on the first page of results. That's where you normally see big chess sites like chess.com, wikipedia.org/chess, lichess.org, etc. etc. Little sites like mine are buried many pages deep, if they show up at all. I double checked this by clicking to the second page of results, the third, etc. etc., and, as I expected, there was no trace of my pages. The results stopped at 17 pages, where I received the message,

In order to show you the most relevant results, we have omitted some entries very similar to the 170 already displayed.

That sort of message is normally shown at the end of queries that produce only a few pages of results. Now we go from the first page ('About 262.000.000 results') to the last page ('Page 17 of about 168 results') with a few million pages ignored along the way. Have I stumbled on a temporary discrepancy or has Google changed something fundamental to its search?

11 March 2019

TCEC S15, CCC6 S3 : Both Underway

In last week's post, TCEC S14/S15 Interlude; CCC6 S2 Wrapping Up, we left the two ongoing engine-to-engine competitions both preparing for their respective next stages. What has happened since then?

TCEC: In the 'S14/S15 Interlude' segment of the post I mentioned 'three short competitions', aka bonus events, that were conducted between the end of S14 and the start of S15:-

The first event was a 48-game three-way match that lasted a day or so. • The second event was a 240-game four-way round robin featuring the four top engines: Houdini, Komodo, Leela (LCZero), Stockfish. I couldn't find a final crosstable for the event, although the final PGN is available in the TCEC archive. • The third event was a 100-game match between Stockfish and Leela that lasted about three days.

It turned out that I was referring to an old archive, one that uses the site's old GUI. A new archive, based on the new GUI, is at tcecbeta.club/archive, under 'Seasons', and has all of the info that I was looking for last week. I added the new archive link to the 'TCEC/CCC Links' tab at the top of this page. For the S15 kickoff report from TCEC, see

The report includes a list of competitors for each stage of the new season. The first event, 'S15 - Division 4a', has already finished and 'Division 4b' is underway.

CCC: Chess.com issued a report on the current status of its CCC:-

The 200-game match started two days ago and is moving quickly, with about 1/4 of the games already finished. The two engines, Stockfish and Leela (Lc0), are running neck-and-neck.

10 March 2019

Mesmerized by Ratings

Maybe it's the music, but this video is about as mesmerizing a chess video as I've ever seen.

Top 20 Best Chess Players Ranking History, 2000-2019 (10:13) • 'Published on Feb 25, 2019'

With more than 94.000 views, 1200 likes, and 378 comments, the subject obviously hit a pleasure center. The description said,

In this video we rank the best chess players in the world according to their FIDE chess ratings from 2000-2019. This list includes famous chess players like Magnus Carlsen, Garry Kasparov [and] Fabiano Caruana.

Of the many notable comments, I liked this one best (besides 'I still adore Mikhail Tal and Rashid Nbdshbfheqrdinov'):-

There are three types of players in this list...
1. Absolute domination
2. Longevity
3. Sudden rise and fall

Kasparov starts out at no.1. At about 1:50 (a year after his retirement) he drops off the chart completely, replaced first by Topalov, then by Anand, then Topalov again. Carlsen appears at about 3:00 and, after a brief tussle with Anand, stays there. He's been there for nine years and could easily be there for another nine.

08 March 2019

Closing an AI/NN Chapter

It's finally time to close the AI/NN series that I've been running for the last five months. It started with a look at Leela (aka LCzero, LC0).

That was interrrupted by a staged sequence of promotions that started during the 2018 Carlsen - Caruana match (London, XI, 2018), in DeepMind's backyard.

The conversation first turned to AlphaZero itself...

...then turned to a well-timed book about AlphaZero.

Finally I examined a component of the emerging engine technology that I hadn't previously understood.

Because the AI/NN chess engine evolution is destined to continue, I can follow it via two world class engine-vs-engine competitions, seen earlier this week in TCEC S14/S15; CCC6 S2. I now want to jump from the 21st century to the 19th century. The same technologies that are driving the evolution of chess engines are also opening doors into the past.

07 March 2019

Poetic Versatility

The hardest aspect of daily blogging is coming up with the inspiration for each post. Sometimes the ideas just come from elsewhere, like magic.

Greetings from Australia, Mark. - I am a chess player and published poet, who likes to be rather incognito. If you like my chess poems below, feel free to publish them on your blog or wherever. - Good wishes from Bob Cowley.

No need to embellish the poems with unnecessary verbiage. Here is the first one.

pieces dance
in changing patterns;
drama, intrigue and mystery
for those who know

Since the web is a visual medium, I needed an image. This is a suitable task for Creative Commons.

Opposing Pieces © Flickr user Kate Russell under Creative Commons.

My Australian correspondent sent three poems. Here are the other two.

Good chess players
can their clarity
at the board
pierce life's fogs
away from it?
they wonder also

Veteran chess
too old to play well?
the abyss looms -
but wait;
a lucky escape
and maybe persistence
can still find treasure

Last week, in 'On Anderssen', I used a 19th century German poem to make a point. Poetry, like photography, is amazingly versatile.

05 March 2019

March 1969 'On the Cover'

From the March 1964 'On the Cover' ('What was happening in the U.S. chess press 50 years ago?') through last month's February 1969 'On the Cover', this post marks the fifth anniversary of the monthly 'On the Cover' series.

Left: 'Shooting(?) for No.3; Tigran Petrosian Meets Boris Spassky in Moscow April 14; ?? World Championship Match Victory'
Right: 'From Knocks at Kiev to Palms at Palma'

The Chess Life photo caption is partially obscured by what must have been the mailing address label. I imagine the caption had something to do with the camera that Petrosian is holding.

Chess Life

[Burt Hochberg:] Let me describe my first impression of the World Champion. He had earlier that day bought a book of endgame studies ("2,500 Finales," by Kasparian). He was sitting at the table examining the book, flipping through the pages. He stopped, his eye caught by a position, and after studying it for a moment, his head would start bouncing from side to side, in the manner of a man listening to a rhythmic and familiar piece of music. All the while, the fore-finger of his right hand was "conducting" the "music." After a couple of minutes of this, he would frown and nod his head in approval or appreciation, and then resume flipping the pages.

Petrosian's physical appearance came as something of a surprise. Although I knew he was shorter than average, I was not expecting a man of such obvious physical power. He is rather broadly and thickly constructed, with powerful arms and hands, and an I-can-take-care-of-myself aura.

Chess Review

[Dr. Petar Trifunovich:] The Tournament at Palma de Mallorca has become an annual and has already acquired world-wide renown. It takes place at the end of November and the first half of December which sets it in line for the timely awarding of the Oscar in chess [reported in same issue]. Quite aside from that factor, however, the tournament bids to become one of the greatest and most attractive chess events of the year. And it is no exaggeration to say that, though as a tradition the tournament is hardly ancient, the chess world is so accustomed to it that it would be considered a catastrophe if the event ceased to be promulgated. [...]

Viktor Korchnoy [Korchnoi] lived up to his first name. He scored fourteen points out of a possible seventeen, eleven victories, six draws and not a single loss. His was a veritable triumph! And it was for him so much more important in that it came immediately after his defeat in the match with Spassky. His main rivals in the fight for first place, Larsen and Spassky, he eliminated in direct meetings toward the end of the tournament, in the fourteenth and fifteenth rounds.

Fifty years ago, the international chess calendar coalesced around the World Championship, just as it does today. Korchnoi's 'defeat in the match with Spassky' refers to the final match of the 1967-69 Candidates Matches ('Kiev, IX, 1968'), where he lost to Spassky +4-1=5.

04 March 2019

TCEC S14/S15 Interlude; CCC6 S2 Wrapping Up

Getting back to the top-two chess engine competitions of our time, the title of last week's post, Stockfish Wins TCEC S14; CCC6 S2 Underway, summed up the situation well enough. What has happened in the intervening week?

TCEC: Chessdom issued reports on the results of S14:-

After the finish of S14, while S15 preparation was underway, the site conducted three short competitions. The first event was a 48-game three-way match that lasted a day or so. It finished with the result Stockfish 17.5/32, Leelenstein 16, Antifish 14.5. According to the site's Nightbot chat,

Leelenstein aka Dr. Leelenstein, aka The Doctor, is a 20x256 SE net built using games from CCRL, Sergio's 40 block variant, and T30. Novelties: TP + GGT + SGDR • AntiFish is a Neural Network [...] designed to exploit weaknesses within Stockfish. The hope is that one day AntiFish can be used to improve Stockfish itself.

The second event was a 240-game four-way round robin featuring the four top engines: Houdini, Komodo, Leela (LCZero), Stockfish. I couldn't find a final crosstable for the event, although the final PGN is available in the TCEC archive (see the 'TCEC/CCC Links' tab at the top of the page for references). This event was documented better in the archive than the preceding 48-game three-way match, which is also missing the final PGN.

The third event was a 100-game match between Stockfish and Leela that lasted about three days. I couldn't find any trace of this event in the archive, but one post-match reference in the Leela forum, Leela - Stockfish "no opening book" match results, said, 'Final result: Leela 56, Stockfish 44. Leela: +16-4=80'. What 'no opening book' means is anybody's guess. It appears to have favored Leela substantially.

The TCEC has so far issued one announcement about the new season, due to start this week:-

  • 2019-03-02: Allie+Stein, the new neural network entering TCEC S15 (chessdom.com) • 'Season 15 is about to start and one more neural network is going to enter TCEC. This is a combined project by Adam Treat and his Allie and Mark Jordan and his Leelenstein. The new engine is called Allie+Stein, a unique engine by the TCEC rules that will start its quest for top positions and climb of the ladder from Division 4'

Both AI/NN engines, Allie and Leelenstein, competed in CCC6 stage 1, with markedly different results.

CCC: As for CCC6 stage 2, the event is nearing completion with Stockfish in a comfortable lead. It will face the second placed engine in a 200-game match.

03 March 2019

Cats Attacking Royalty

This latest edition of Top eBay Chess Items by Price (March 2010) marks the ninth anniversary of the series. It appears that I've managed to get this far without a single post featuring cats. I imagine that's because cats and kittens playing chess are a common theme and most artwork based on the theme sells on eBay for less than $100.

A few years ago we saw The Kitten Theme (January 2016), where the kittens were only a detail in the work. A few years before that we had Moonwhisker Chess (December 2014) in the old Flickr Friday series. In the ongoing fight btween cats and dogs, neither has the upper hand on this blog.

Titled 'Nora Chease - Two Tabby Cats Playing Chess! - 19th century oil panting - 1881', the painting shown below initially listed for US $2000. It sold for between $1300 and $1500, 'Best offer accepted'.

The description of the auction repeated the title and added,

Oil painting on canvas -- Signed and dated
Frame size 27 x 32"
Canvas size 16 x 19"
In excellent condition

A Google image search on 'Nora Chease' picks up other examples of the same work, including Exquisite Nora Chease - Two Tabby Cats... (decaso.com; once listed for $2900, 'This product is no longer available') with the same picture frame. I couldn't find any biographical info about the artist, except that she was British. She also liked painting animals.

01 March 2019

MCTS Data Flow

In last week's post, Monte Carlo Tree Search (MCTS), I featured a video to explain the fundamental concepts of MCTS. Here's a diagram that takes the explanation several steps further. Note that it's based on AlphaGo Zero, but the concepts apply largely to AlphaZero as well.

Extracted from:
AlphaGo Zero Cheat Sheet
(applied-data.science; big PNG: 8333 x 7500)

I added the red numbers in parentheses to connect the left portion of the diagram, an inverted tree structure ('How AlphaGo Zero chooses its next move'), with the right portion, a step-by-step explanation of the left portion ('First, run the following simulation 1600 times...'). The following text is (mostly) copied from the 'cheat sheet'.

(1) Start at the root node of the tree (the current game state). Choose the action that maximizes 'Q + U'. Continue until a leaf node is reached

(2) The game state of the leaf node is passed into the neural network [NB: the tall stack of blocks; explained elsewhere on the 'cheat sheet'], which outputs predictions about two things:-
      • P - Move probabilities
      • V - Value of the state

(3) The move probabilities (P) are attached to the new feasible actions from the leaf node.

(4) Backup previous edges. Each edge that was traversed to get to the leaf node is updated.

'After 1600 simulations'

(5) The move can either be chosen:-
      • Deterministically (for competitive play)
      • Stochastically (for exploratory play)

Values like 'N', 'W', 'Q', and 'P' are explained in the notes to the diagram. After studying the diagram, I felt that I was finally starting to understand the basic concepts of MCTS. How do they work with AlphaZero? That will require further study.