31 December 2020

A Yahoo Backstory

This month we have two real chess Yahoos -- chess stories from the mainstream press. The story on the top asks, 'Obsessed With the Wallpaper in The Queen’s Gambit?'

If obsessed, go here: Here’s How to Get the Look (yahoo.com; NB: nothing to do with chess except the title):-

We'll help you become a retro decor grandmaster. Originally appeared on Architectural Digest.

If not obsessed, skip to the story on the bottom.

The chess story is the first box in the bottom row: 'Meet the chess champion who can barely see the...'. The missing word is 'board', as in 'chess board'. Here's the story:-

  • 2020-12-29: She's a Chess Champion Who Can Barely See the Board (yahoo.com; The New York Times, Dana Mackenzie) • 'Have you heard this story before? Girl has rough start in life, discovers chess. She becomes a United States champion. She studies Russian. And now she needs to find a way to get to Russia to play chess, because she can’t afford it. No, I’m not talking about Beth Harmon, the fictional hero of the Netflix megahit "The Queen’s Gambit." Meet Jessica Lauser, the reigning three-time U.S. Blind chess champion. You can call her Chessica -- the nickname her math teacher gave her in eighth grade.'

Dana Mackenzie. Where have we heard that name before? Among other activities, he's a well known chess blogger. He gave us the backstory for the NYT article on his blog: Jessica Lauser, U.S. Champion (danamackenzie.com). The post starts,

Two days ago I hinted at a piece of good news that I had to keep secret for the time being. I can now reveal what it is. This morning, the New York Times published my article about Jessica Lauser, the U.S. Blind Chess Champion.

That makes two Yahoo stories this month inspired by 'The Queen’s Gambit'. More to come? I'm thinking, 'Yes, for sure!'

29 December 2020

Breaking the 3200 Barrier

The post Breaking the 3100 Barrier (May 2020) was the fifth in the 'Breaking the Barrier' series, where I keep track of reaching the milestone of another 100 posts on this blog, at the same time drawing attention to some obscure aspect of chess ratings. Post no.3200 was yesterday's TCEC/CCC 2020-H2 Summary.

For the corresponding look at rating trivia, I chose Chess.com Computer Ratings: Nov. 2020 (chess.com; 31 October 2020). It started,

Chess.com is pleased to announce the Chess.com Computer Chess Ratings. These ratings are calculated based on performances in the Chess.com Computer Chess Championship, Chess.com's 24/7 computer tournament platform where the best engines are constantly battling. To ensure accurate ratings, we conducted a benchmarking tournament under the Computer Chess Rating List (CCRL) conditions which included engines from the CCRL blitz rating list running on 4 CPUs and the current Ethereal engine, running on our hardware with 90 CPUs. Ethereal scored a performance rating of 3578. All ratings are then derived from performances in this event.

The acronym 'CCC' in the title of post no.3200 and the Chess.com 'Computer Chess Championship' are one and the same. In an earlier TCEC/CCC post, TCEC S19 Sufi 75% Finished; CCC15 Still Halted (October 2020), I noted,

The report from two weeks ago mentioned the [CCC] was running matches for 'CCRL Ratings Standardization'. Now it is running 'CCRL Calibration'.

So now everything is tied up nicely. For the record, the second CCC rating list was published in Chess.com Computer Ratings: Dec. 2020 (chess.com). Of the 27 engines on the list for 'Bullet Ratings', all but the last were rated over 3200. BlackMamba, you're a slacker!

28 December 2020

TCEC/CCC 2020-H2 Summary

Six months I posted my first semi-annual summary of weekly posts on developments in the world of chess engines: TCEC/CCC 2019-Q4 & 2020-Q1/Q2 Summary (June 2020). Here's the second semi-annual summary.

The first column lists the fortnightly posts covering the two most important, ongoing engine vs. engine tournaments. The second column lists the posts that appeared in the intervening week.

TCEC/CCC Off-week
Stockfish Wins TCEC S18; Leela Wins CCC14
A Chess Monsterpiece? [Stockfish NNUE]
Alliestein Wins TCEC Cup 6; CCC Tests 'Stockfish NNUE'
Stockfish NNUE = +90 Elo
TCEC S19 Underway; CCC in 'Pre-CCC15'
TCEC S19 DivP Started; CCC15 in Brackets
TCEC S19 DivP Chugging Along; CCC15 Halted
Stockfish NNUE Dev
TCEC S19 Preparing Sufi; CCC15 Still Halted
Stockfish NNUE - Three Early Threads
TCEC S19 Sufi 75% Finished; CCC15 Still Halted
Parsing Engine Names
Stockfish Wins TCEC S19; CCC15 Still Halted
Stockfish NNUE - Three Useful Pins
Stockfish Wins TCEC Cup 7; CCC GPUs Back
Komodo NNUE
TCEC FRC2 Underway; CCC 'Currently Uncertain'
A Mind-boggling Tactical Battle [video]
TCEC S20 Underway; CCC Less Uncertain
Maia, not Maya [video]
TCEC S20 Reaches L1; CCC Regrouping

That blank cell in the last row represents this post. For the year 2020, that's a wrap...

27 December 2020

Superstar Status

In this monthly series on The Sociology of Chess (November 2016), last month's post Hopelessly Entangled Topics (November 2020), asked,

Which of the two themes -- Netflix 'Queen's Gambit' -or- the online boom -- will turn out to be the biggest chess story of 2020? I vote for Netflix. The online boom still has to prove it won't turn into a bust, like so many previous chess booms.

Both themes turned in strong performance reports for the month of December. Just this past week we saw Botez Sisters Sign With Esports Organization Team Envy (chess.com), in a unique show of support for the online boom. Reading like a press release, it started,

Dallas, Texas (December 21) – Meet the dynamic duo taking the online chess world by storm: 24-year-old Alexandra Botez and her 18-year-old sister, Andrea. The pair, known online as the Botez sisters, signed as content creators and streamers officially representing Texas-based esports organization Envy Gaming.

The article also mentioned,

Leading online chess platform Chess.com added 2.8 million new users in November 2020, an all-time monthly high, and unit sales of chess sets grew more than 87% in the U.S. in recent weeks according to market research firm NPD Group.

Those millions of new users might explain the following snippet.


Six digits (343.000 views) for Beth Harmon, the isoLanni (chess.com) by Batgirl! The views for the other two Chess.com articles listed -- three digits and four digits -- are more normal statistics that I would be happy to get on any given day. We all knew that Batgirl is a great promoter for chess history -- see Best of Batgirl (October 2013) for plenty of examples -- but now she has superstar status.

P.S. For the other two Chess.com articles in the snippet, see:-

The 'Vote' article includes 'Story of the Year' as one of its nine categories. How will the Netflix and online boom stories rate?

25 December 2020

Ghosts of Christmas Past

After spending last Christmas mingling with the World Champions -- see Merry Christmas! from a Family of Blogs (December 2019) -- the annual Christmas post returns to its roots, only to find that the chess landscape has been devastated by a coronavirus, aka Covid-19. Here's what the landscape looked like a year ago, thanks to Mark Crowther's 'The Week in Chess', aka TWIC.

TWIC 1311 & TWIC 1312
(published on Mondays)

We'll come back in a few weeks to compare with TWIC 1363 & TWIC 1364 (or something like that). In the meantime have a Merry Christmas! and please drive safely.

21 December 2020

TCEC S20 Reaches L1; CCC Regrouping

For the previous fortnightly report on the two most important, ongoing engine vs. engine competitions, see TCEC S20 Underway; CCC Less Uncertain. The situation at that time can be summarized,

TCEC: In the FRC2 final league, LCZero and Stockfish finished first and second to qualify for the 50-game final match. Stockfish beat LCZero +8-0=42. S20 kicked off with a seven-engine 'Qualification League', followed by 'League 4' (L4). L3 is currently underway • CCC: The top six engines of the 'CCC Blitz Championship 2020' qualified into the semi-final stage. Stockfish and Lc0 then qualified into the 500-game final match where Stockfish has a comfortable lead over Lc0. Chess.com had been looking for a new CCC TD and a name was given on the CCC's Discord site

This current post is the last report for the year 2020. Next year should start with both sites advancing in their respective plans.

TCEC: L3 finished with a pair of NNUE engines qualifying into L2. One of them, Nemorino, also qualified into L1, which is currently underway and should finish this week.

CCC: The 'CCC Blitz Championship 2020' final match finished with Stockfish beating Lc0 by a score of +123-69=308. All of the wins were by White, except for two wins by Stockfish as Black. This was followed by an 'Odds ladder', format unknown except '!book • "Odds ladder" by Erik', perhaps better left unknown. After weeks of repeating '!next • soon', the site announced,

!next • Bonus with updated Leela and SF. Then testing and showcase of engines new to CCC. CCC main event with over twenty engines coming later with a new hardware rig.

The suspension of the current season, CCC15 (now previous season?), was first reported on this blog in TCEC S19 DivP Chugging Along; CCC15 Halted (September 2020). Since then, the TCEC has cycled through nearly an entire season, with S20 DivP scheduled to start soon.

[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. • NB: Leela = LC0 = LCzero]

20 December 2020

Queen's Gambit Mosaic - Chess Symbols

Last month I established the Queen's Gambit Staying Power (November 2020). How much of the credit for that goes to the actress who plays Beth Harmon?

Lower left: The Queen's Gambit: It's mostly about my being a girl. -- Beth Harmon © Flickr user Charis Tsevis under Creative Commons.

The description of that lower left image explained,

'Intelligence' is a feminine word in Greek. This is another mosaic portrait of Anya Taylor-Joy as Beth Harmon made out of chess symbols.

'Mosaic' - I like that word. It rolls off the tongue. The mosaics aren't composed of chess pieces; they are chess symbols.


'Eyes to the right.'

[Portion of image in lower left (above)]

14 December 2020

Maia, not Maya

In my previous TCEC/CCC interstitial post, A Mind-boggling Tactical Battle (November 2020), I wrote,

No one can accuse me of overusing an easy idea. It's been ten months since I last featured a video on this weekly engine series.

Now you can start accusing. The video on this current post was on my short list for this month's featured video, The Chess Boom of 50 Years Ago, and was too good to pass up. Why too good? Because it led me on a new path of discovery.

Maia Chess: A human-like neural network chess engine (34:48) • '[Published on] Dec 1, 2020'

I've already mentioned ChessNetwork (aka Jerry), the maker of the video, several times on this blog, as the search box in the right navigation column will verify. The video's description starts,

Microsoft researchers and collaborators at the University of Toronto and Cornell University have created chess AI that better matches human play at various skill levels. Unlike AlphaZero and LeelaZero which learned through self-play, Maia learns from millions of online human games.

At this time nine versions of Maia have been trained, one for each Elo milestone between 1100 and 1900. Maia 1100 for example was only trained on games between 1100-rated players, and so on. [...]

The video has already attracted more than 35.000 views and more than 360 comments. As usual, right-click the embedded video to find its address on Youtube. Here are a couple of important links included in its description:-

  • Maia Chess (maiachess.com) • 'A human-like neural network chess engine : Maia’s goal is to play the human move -- not necessarily the best move. As a result, Maia has a more human-like style than previous engines, matching moves played by human players in online games over 50% of the time.'

  • The human side of AI for chess (microsoft.com) • 'Chess stands as a model system for studying how people can collaborate with AI, or learn from AI, just as chess has served as a leading indicator of many central questions in AI throughout the field’s history.'

When AlphaZero was announced three years ago, its developers explained that it couldn't train on human games, because there were too many errors in the play. It turns out that there's much to be learned from that style of play as well.

13 December 2020

The Chess Boom of 50 Years Ago

Introducing last month's featured video on this blog, Queen's Gambit on the Tomatometer (November 2020), I wrote,

Given the current wave of Queen's Gambit Mania, I wasn't surprised to see that half of my picks on the short list for this month's video were also about the Netflix series titled 'The Queen's Gambit'.

I could have said exactly the same this month, but I'm sure that some chess old-timers are starting to experience Queen's Gambit Fatigue, along with a hint of deja-vu. Their next challenge will be to build on the current level of interest in chess.

The Bobby Fischer boom of 50 years ago was another chess phenomenon that eventually went nowhere, largely because there was no follow-up performance by Fischer. He came, he played, he enchanted the world with his charisma, and then he disappeared for his World Championship match in 1975. Here's a great clip showing Fischer as he was approaching his peak popularity.

Bobby Fischer Gives Dick Cavett A Chess Crash Course | The Dick Cavett Show (8:08) • '[Published on] Nov 9, 2020'

The description of the video says,

Ralph Nader and Sandy Duncan help Dick Cavett question American Chess Grandmaster Bobby Fischer who gives everyone a quick crash lesson on how to play chess and demonstrates his winning moves in his previous match against grandmaster Tigran Petrosian. • Date aired - January 4th 1972 - Bobby Fischer, Sandy Duncan and Ralph Nader

That date places the original broadcast between the 1970-72 Candidates Matches and the 1972 Fischer - Spassky Title Match. This was Fischer's second appearance on the Dick Cavett Show. For his first appearance, see A Very Different Bobby Fischer (youtube.com).

How will 'The Queen's Gambit' be followed-up? Given today's short cycle time for viral concepts and social network memes, I bet we won't have to wait three years to find out.

10 December 2020

Queen's Gambit First Edition

For this month's 'Top eBay Chess Items by Price', Marquetry and Pyrography, I had a good runner-up on my short list, shown below. Titled 'THE QUEEN'S GAMBIT Walter Tevis CHESS 1st Edition First Printing NETFLIX Fiction', the book sold on eBay for US $1,124.96, 'Best offer accepted'.

If that seems rich, it probably is. Another copy ('1st Edition & Printing SIGNED by the Author') sold a day later for US $1,077.00 after 30 bids from eight bidders.

Bookfinder, Author is tevis : Title is gambit (bookfinder.com), currently lists at least six copies of the 1983 hardcover version, starting at $700. I say 'at least', because there are so many matches for the book using so many titles -- Ex: 'The Queen's Gambit Series 3 Books Collection Set by Walter Tevis (The Queen's Gambit, The Hustler & The Color of Money) NETFLIX' -- that it would take longer to collate the results than I want to spend on this post.

So much has been written lately about the Netflix series and so little about the original book, that it would be worth another post to say more about the book. In case I never get there, I should mention that the cover illustration is the same that I featured in a previous 'Top eBay Chess Items' post: The 'Seventh Season' Is Chess (April 2017).

07 December 2020

TCEC S20 Underway; CCC Less Uncertain

Two weeks ago, as I reported in the post TCEC FRC2 Underway; CCC 'Currently Uncertain' (November 2020), the two world-class, ongoing engine vs. engine competitions were running side events. The situation was the following:-

TCEC: The site ran a chess960 event, dubbed 'FRC2'. It started with 16 engines which were eventually reduced to four engines in a 'Final League', currently underway. This will be followed by two engines in a 'Final' match. • CCC: The site is currently running the 'CCC Blitz Championship 2020' with 16 engines, scheduled to finish in a few days. According to the site's !Command, '!next = Currently uncertain'. Former TD Greco hasn't been seen on Chess.com since early October.

In the meantime, both sites have advanced in their plans. Here is the current situation.

TCEC: In the FRC2 final league, LCZero and Stockfish finished first and second to qualify for the 50-game final match. Stockfish beat LCZero +8-0=42.

The next edition of the TCEC's showcase event, Season 20 (S20), kicked off with a seven-engine 'Qualification League', won by Seer, another NNUE engine. Seer also won the next stage of S20, a ten-engine event called 'League 4'. The following stage, 'League 3', also a ten-engine event, is currently underway. A command on TCEC informs,

!nnues • Engines at TCEC that support NNUE: Ethereal, Halogen*, Igel*, Koivisto, Komodo, Marvin*, Minic*, Nemorino*, rofChade, RubiChess*, Scorpio, Seer*, Stockfish*, * = Have used NNUE at TCEC.

We'll know in a few weeks how many of those NNUE engines reach the last round-robin stage, the 'Premier Division'.

CCC: The top six engines of the 'CCC Blitz Championship 2020' qualified into the semi-final stage; the final crosstable for the semi-finals is shown below. Stockfish won all of its mini-matches to qualify easily into the final match. Lc0 struggled, winning two matches by a single game and drawing another match, to qualify as the second engine. With a little more than half of the 500-game final match completed, Stockfish has a comfortable lead over Lc0.

In the previous post, 'CCC Currently Uncertain', I mentioned that Chess.com was looking for a new CCC TD. The job description has disappeared from the site's 'Work At' page and a name has been given on the CCC's Discord site. Since I'm not a Chess.com insider, I'll wait for them to announce the new responsible(s).

[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. • NB: Leela = LC0 = LCzero]

06 December 2020

Marquetry and Pyrography

The last time I featured a chess set on Top eBay Chess Items by Price (March 2010), was Vasarely Set, Board, or Both? (November 2019). I started that post saying, 'We don't see many chess sets here on...', so here we go again.

The item's description said, 'Antique Marquetry Folding Book Style Chess Set - Azerbaijan or Soviet/Russia'. It sold for 'US $875.00 or Best Offer'; eBay won't say which...

The item is not easy to describe, so let's start with the description by the seller:-

This early 20th century board is a show-stopper -- we feel lucky to have had it in our collection. Time and again people have commented on both how beautiful it is and how they've never seen anything like it.

The title's 'Book Style Chess Set' is shown in the composite image above. The top row shows the book's two covers, and the bottom row shows the book being opened, then lying flat. The item description continued,

This is no-doubt handmade. Both the exterior and interior of the board feature marquetry edges and details. Even the folding side is inlaid with stripes of wood of varying colors. There are also copies of religious paintings on both the front and the back -- very beautiful.

What's marquetry? Wikipedia says, Marquetry: 'the art and craft of applying pieces of veneer to a structure to form decorative patterns, designs or pictures.' Back to the item description:-

The interior has two large cut-outs with scalloped edges where the pieces can be kept. The playing board itself is marquetry with pyrography letters/numbers along the edges denoting the squares.

When lying open, the measurements are 23"x14", with the playing surface measuring 10.25" x 10.25". The hand-carved pieces (in blonde and red) are 3" (tallest piece). They fit perfectly on the board, but we don't think they're original to the board itself. The board is expertly done and the pieces are more rustic -- definitely a different maker. Either way, the estate they came from had them paired together, and so we'll keep them that way.

The "book" is secured by two brass hinges and a brass hook. That said, the book has warped slightly over time, and we don't force it all the way closed anymore. Additionally, there is a crack (to the lacquer only) on the front and a few small stress cracks to the interior lip of one side of the opening for pieces (likely from being forcibly closed at some point). Don't fear though -- the playing surface is perfect and the book both stands and lays nicely.

This is truly an antique one-of-a-kind handmade piece. The only others we've seen like it can be found in current day Azerbaijan or in the Soviet Union.

What's pyrography? Wikipedia again; Pyrography: 'the free handed art of decorating wood or other materials with burn marks resulting from the controlled application of a heated object such as a poker. It is also known as pokerwork or wood burning.'

The seller of this item did a great job of explaining a unique chess set. What a difference that makes with sellers who say only, 'Old chess set', in the description.

01 December 2020

December 1970 & 1995 'On the Cover'

The World Chess Championship was in the news both 50 years ago and 25 years ago. Both cycles featured two of the strongest players of all time.

Left: 'Bobby Fischer. Leading at the Interzonal!'
Right: 'Kasparov crushes Anand for PCA title!; A winning combination at the World Trade Center'

Chess Life & Review (50 Years Ago)

Flash! • The hot news this month is that Bobby Fischer has agreed to play in the Interzonal and is at this writing in the lead with a score of 5-1. He was accompanied by Larry Evans as his official second, who will be reporting on the event and annotating all of Fischer's 23 games for CL&R. USCF's Executive Director Ed Edmondson has also gone to the tournament and has thus, unfortunately, been unable to prepare for publication (intended for this issue): minutes of the USCF meetings at the 1970 U.S. Open, an important story on the rating system, and a report on the Olympiad at Siegen. These stories will appear in coming issues.

The last time we saw Fischer on the cover was July 1970 & 1995 OTC (July 2020): 'Fischer and Larsen at the World Match Banquet'. For more about his latest tournament, see 1970 Interzonal Tournament; Palma de Mallorca, XI-XII, 1970, where Fischer's only loss in the event was to Larsen. The Interzonal was the start of his march to win the title and I expect we'll see more about in the coming months.

Chess Life (25 Years Ago)

It was a winning combination for the city of New York and Mayor Giuliani (left), Garry Kasparov (center), the Professional Chess Association, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and the Alliance for Downtown New York. George Maikish, representing the World Trade Center, stands at the right. The Intel PCA World Championship match drew the attention of mainstream media for the better part of five weeks.

The last time we saw Kasparov on the cover was May 1970 & 1995 OTC (May 2020): 'The Men Who Would Be King': Kasparov, Anand, Karpov, Kamsky. For more about the WTC match see 1995 Kasparov - Anand PCA Title Match; New York, IX-X, 1995. A contemporary account of the match, 1995 World Chess Championship Overview (chabris.com), informs,

The event was originally to be held in Cologne, Germany, but the PCA backed out of their arrangements there and switched the venue to New York after receiving an invitation from New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani. The mayor had been impressed with recent chess events in the city, such as the Chessathon and the Intel Grand Prix in June, and wanted to add another chess extravaganza to the calendar.

The match turned out to be Kasparov's last successful defense of his title. For more about the Chessathon, see Chessathons and SuperNationals (September 2014). Neither Rudy Giuliani (wikipedia.org)...

Rudolph William Louis Giuliani (born May 28, 1944) is an American attorney and politician who served as the 107th Mayor of New York City from 1994 to 2001. A Democrat and then Independent in the 1970s, Giuliani has been a Republican since the 1980s.

...nor 7 World Trade Center (ditto)...

7 World Trade Center (7 WTC or WTC-7) refers to two buildings that have existed at the same location within the World Trade Center site in Lower Manhattan, New York City. The original structure, part of the original World Trade Center, was completed in 1987 and was destroyed in the September 11 attacks in 2001. The current structure opened in May 2006.

...needs an introduction. Both have become iconic symbols in U.S. history. What is Mayor Giuliani up to today? See, for example, Rudy Giuliani's attempt to sow chaos on behalf of Trump and steal the election (cnn.com).

One more piece of the cover is worth a mention. That blurb in the CL 1995 corner says, 'Page 16: Your First Move'. The short article was about how to use Chess Life as a study guide.

30 November 2020

A Mind-boggling Tactical Battle

No one can accuse me of overusing an easy idea. It's been ten months since I last featured a video on this weekly engine series -- see Stockfish vs. Leela Explained (February 2020).

Stockfish 12 Wins TCEC Season 19! (17:19) • '[Published on] Nov 3, 2020'

The description of the current video said,

Join NM Sam Copeland as he breaks down this epic matchup between computer chess engines Stockfish 12 NNUE and Leela Chess Zero during the TCEC Season 19 Superfinals!

Sam Copeland? Where have we seen that name before? The first reference was 2018 CJA Awards (August 2018):-

For my favorite category, 'Best Chess Blog', the winner was not a blog, but a single blog post: 'Playing The Quintessential American Tournament: The 2017 World Open' (chess.com) by Sam Copeland.

The most recent reference was earlier this month in Komodo NNUE (November 2020):-

We learned, 'Komodo Releases Powerful New "Dragon" Chess Engine' (chess.com; by Sam Copeland).

The game featured in the video is one of those mind-boggling tactical battles where the winner sacrifices heavy material for an enduring attack. I don't remember if the video mentioned it, but the game was no.18 in the 100 game match that I documented in Stockfish Wins TCEC S19; CCC15 Still Halted (October 2020). To play through the moves, see Stockfish 202009282242_nn-baeb9ef2d183 vs. LCZero v0.26.3-rc1_T60.SV.JH.92-190 - TCEC - Live Computer Chess Broadcast (tcec-chess.com/archive). That is one long title! Good thing I wrote the post about Parsing Engine Names (October 2020).

It's also a good thing that Chess.com is allowing resources to be used for covering the TCEC, a rival to its own Computer Chess Championship (CCC). For more Sam Copeland videos, see youtube.com/c/chess/search?query=copeland.

26 November 2020

Queen's Gambit Staying Power

Last month's Yahoo post Queen's Gambit Mania (October 2020) -- where 'Yahoo' is a code word for chess in the mainstream press -- started,

Of the 100 chess stories that appear at the end of every month on Google News, three or four on the same topic will signal strong interest in that topic from the mainstream press. What to say of 15 stories on the same topic?

Another month has passed and the mainstream interest in the blockbuster Netflix series continues unabated. It's possibly the biggest mainstream chess story since Bobby Fischer died in 2008. While working on the 'Mania' post, I captured the Google 'Full Coverage' page shown below at the end of this post.

It goes without saying that the chess press coverage was even more maniacal than the mainstream news coverage. Kudos for the most intense chess press interest go to Chessbase. I counted ten stories, many of them with user comments, to which I could have added a few more stories:-

As for mainstream news sources, The Guardian tops the list of stories that I noted during the past month.

The Netflix series appeared unexpectedly on my radar at one other time during the past month. Near the beginning of the month, one of my pages zoomed to first on the 'Top 10 Pages' for my domain, eclipsing the perennial leader, Index to the World Chess Championship (m-w.com). The new leader, a page I wrote in 2006, titled Top 10 Myths About Chess (ditto; 'People say the darnedest things about chess'), is frequently in the top-10, but rarely leads it. At first I was baffled, but then I noticed the last myth was:-

10. Women can't play chess as well as men • To date it is true that women have not performed as well as men in chess events. There are many possible reasons for this. One may be that male players are often expert at making female players feel uncomfortable at chess events. The Polgar sisters have gone a long way to convince the chess world that women can play very well. Perhaps one day we will discover that women can even play better than men. No one really knows.

Thanks Beth Harmon, Netflix, and Walter Tevis, for making us all think in new ways about our ancient game.


Google News 'Full Coverage', end-October 2020

23 November 2020

TCEC FRC2 Underway; CCC 'Currently Uncertain'

Two weeks ago, in Stockfish Wins TCEC Cup 7; CCC GPUs Back, I reported,

TCEC: In TCEC Cup 7, Stockfish confirmed its S19 domination by beating LCZero in the final match. The site is currently running 'Sufi Bonus 3'. • CCC: The GPU problems are apparently over. The site is currently running an event called 'Checkmate in 4' with a GPU engine, Lc0. Before that it ran an event called 'Mystery Engine Debut and Tuning'. Will CCC15 be resumed anytime soon or will it be abandoned?

Last week's post was about the 'Mystery Engine', Komodo NNUE, aka 'Dragon'. What has happened on the two main engine vs. engine sites in the last fortnight?

TCEC: After 'Sufi Bonus 3', the site ran a chess960 event, dubbed 'FRC2'. It started with 16 engines in four 'Leagues' (A to D), followed by eight engines in two 'Semileagues' (1 to 2), followed by four engines in a 'Final League', followed by two engines in a 'Final' match. The 'Final League' is currently underway.

CCC: The site is currently running the 'CCC Blitz Championship 2020' with 16 engines, scheduled to finish in a few days. Stockfish appears to have an insurmountable lead over a group of five engines bunched within a two point range, three of them GPU engines. What's next? According to the site's !Command, '!next = Currently uncertain'. The page Work At Chess.com (chess.com) currently has a listing for:-

Computer Chess Championship Tournament Director • Do you love chess engines? Are you a fan of the Computer Chess Championship? Do you know how to run cutechess and configure engines on servers? If so, send us a message telling us about you and your background to: [email address]

Former TD Greco hasn't been seen on Chess.com since early October.

[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. • NB: Leela = LC0 = LCzero]

22 November 2020

Hopelessly Entangled Topics

Another post on the Queen's Gambit Mania (October 2020) would be a great choice for this month's continuation of the series on The Sociology of Chess (November 2016). Since I already used the subject in this month's video selection, Queen's Gambit on the Tomatometer, let's go with a different idea. There's only one problem: it's not exactly a new idea either. The subject has already been seen on this blog several times this year, including a previous sociology post of the month, Political Pundits and Pogchamps (August 2020).

Online chess makes its biggest move (5:09) • '[Published on] Nov 1, 2020'

The video clip is from the CBS Sunday Morning show. Its description says,

The pandemic has hurt most professional sports, but it's done wonders for one game: chess! Players and fans, looking for competitive thrills, are logging into online chess platforms like never before. Correspondent David Pogue talks with a chess grandmaster and an online chess star about the boom in the game.

The chess grandmaster is Maurice Ashley, the focus of last month's sociology post, Wild Rabbit, Meet Black Bear (October 2020). The online chess star is Alexandra Botez, the focus of a previous month's sociology post, The Dilemma of Women's Chess (July 2020).

Which of the two themes -- Netflix 'Queen's Gambit' -or- the online boom -- will turn out to be the biggest chess story of 2020? I vote for Netflix. The online boom still has to prove it won't turn into a bust, like so many previous chess booms.


I had a good runner-up video for this post, World's hardest "Chess puzzle" | Fun Puzzles | Chess piece placement puzzle, from Youtube's MathsSmart channel.

Over a hundred years ago, Kempelen's famous chess player could not only beat most players that challenged him, but he could also formulate chess puzzles that stumped the best minds of the day. Here is one of the hardest. You are required to place four Black Queens and a Black Bishop on a chessboard so that they control the entire board. In other words, after the five pieces have been positioned, it will be impossible to place the White King on any vacant square without being in check.

The solution is available from the video page. Math and chess will always be hopelessly entangled.

19 November 2020

2020 Candidates - Early World Championship Steps

I ended a post last week, Karjakin/Carlsen's Early World Championship Steps, saying,

While we're waiting for the '2020 Candidates Tournament, Yekaterinburg' to resume, I might take the time to determine how all eight of the current candidates first qualified into a World Championship cycle.

To do that, I took the names of the eight players from my page on the 2020 Candidates Tournament, then looked up each name in the Index of Players to find the first World Championship event for that player. The following table summarizes the results of that exercise:-

Alekseenko K 2019 WCup
Caruana F 2009 WCup
Ding Liren 2011 WCup
Giri A 2013 WCup
Grischuk A 2000 KO
Nepomniachtchi I 2011 WCup
Vachier Lagrave M 2009 WCup
Wang Hao 2005 WCup

The 'KO = Knockout' format was the same as the 'WCup = World Cup'. For each of the KO/WCup events, I looked up the qualifying paths ('QP') in the 'Clippings' section at the bottom of the Index of Zonals. The following overview summarizes the result for each of the six unique events listed in the table above.

2000 KOZonal Qualifiers 2000-2001 (C19)

Qualified as Junior

2005 WCupZonal Qualifiers 2004-2005 (C22)

110,8602883,"Wang, Hao",,"CHN",,,"Zone 3.5, 2005",

2009 WCupZonal Qualifiers 2008-2009 (C24)

e) 46 players from European Championships 2008 & 2009
34. M. Vachier-Lagrave (FRA) 2008
h) 6 nominees of the FIDE President
122. Caruana, Fabiano (ITA)

2011 WCupZonal Qualifiers 2010-2011 (C25)

e) 46 players from European Championships 2010 & 2011
29. I. Nepomniachtchi (RUS) 2010
i) 6 nominees of the FIDE President
122. Ding Liren (CHN)

2013 WCupZonal Qualifiers 2012-2013 (C26)

d) From FIDE Rating List, average 3/2012 up to 1/2013
24. A. Giri (NED) 2715,33

2019 WCupZonal Qualifiers 2018-2019 (C29)

Alekseenko K [?]

Only for the last event (2019 WCup), did the relevant QP page fail to identify the qualifying path for the player. According to Wikipedia's page on Kirill Alekseenko:-

Although [Alekseenko] failed to qualify for the Chess World Cup 2019 through European Championship placement, he was chosen as a wildcard nominee by the organiser of the tournament.

Indeed, my page 'Zonal Qualifiers 2018-2019' has a number of blanks for the various nominees:-

Nominees of the FIDE President
1. Kovalenko Igor (LAT)
2. Salem A. R. Saleh (UAE)
3. Urkedal Frode Olav Olsen (NOR)
4. Ziska Helgi Dam (FAI)
Nominees of the Organizer
1. Iljiushenok Ilia (RUS)
2. Pridorozhni Aleksei (RUS)

The exercise was useful not only to learn more about the importance of the different qualifying paths, but also to identify some weaknesses in my own pages. • To do: (1) Fill in those three blanks for the nominees to '2019 WCup'. (2) Crosslink (in both directions) the IZ/KO/WCup pages with the corresponding QP page for faster navigation between them.

16 November 2020

Komodo NNUE

In last week's post on chess engines, Stockfish Wins TCEC Cup 7; CCC GPUs Back, I mentioned a CCC event called 'Mystery Engine Debut and Tuning'. This led to the question:-

What was the 'Mystery Engine'? We may never know, although some sources are certain it was 'Komodo NNUE'.

When I wrote that, I reckoned that 'We may never know' was likely to be short lived. Indeed, a few days after the post we learned, Komodo Releases Powerful New 'Dragon' Chess Engine (chess.com; by Sam Copeland). It started,

The Komodo team has released Komodo 14.1 and a new chess engine dubbed "Dragon." Dragon adds powerful NNUE (Efficiently Updatable Neural Networks) technology to the successful Komodo engine.

After a short explanation of the NNUE technology...

NNUE engines have proven to be a major advancement in chess engine technology, allowing traditional tactically powerful "brute force" engines to incorporate the deeper positional understanding evinced by neural network engines such as AlphaZero and Leela Chess Zero.

...the article confirmed that Komodo NNUE was the mystery engine:-

In a debut and tuning tournament in the Chess.com Computer Chess Championship, Dragon finished fourth behind Stockfish 12, Leelenstein and Leela Chess Zero.

That sentence was followed by the crosstable for the 'Mystery Engine' tournament. Along with some marketing hype for the Komodo engine -- multiple 'World Champion' (i.e. ICGA) titles -- the article included a link to a previous article by the same author about Stockfish NNUE, Stockfish Absorbs NNUE, Claims 100 Elo Point Improvement (chess.com; August 2020), which I don't think I had seen before.

15 November 2020

Chess Movie 1927/1938

Since the year 2020 is the year of the chess movie -- a few months we had Chess Movie 2020 (August 2020; 'Critical Thinking' by John Leguizamo), and more recently Queen's Gambit Mania (October 2020) -- it's easy to forget the old classics. Let's go back more than 80 years to a chess movie of yesteryear.

"Le joueur d’échecs" (1938) © Flickr user manhhai under Creative Commons.

The Flickr description, given first in Vietnamese then in English, is a copy/paste of the introduction to Wikipedia's The Chess Player (1938 film):-

The Chess Player is a 1938 French historical drama film directed by Jean Dréville, released by Compagnie Française Cinématographique in France and Columbia Pictures in the United States and starring Françoise Rosay, Conrad Veidt and Bernard Lancret. It is a remake of the 1927 silent film The Chess Player.

A link in the description leads to Le joueur d’échecs (1938; conradveidt.wordpress.com; 'The Conrad Veidt Website'), with 25 photos from the film, including the poster shown above. For the IMDb writeups on the two versions of the film, see:-

  • The Chess Player (1927; imdb.com); • 'In 1776, an inventor conceals a Polish nobleman in his chess-playing automaton, a machine whose fame leads it to the court of the Russian empress.'

  • Chess Player (1938; ditto) • 'A toymaker in Poland specializes in building lifesize mechanical men. He builds a chess-playing "automaton" to hide a pretty young Polish activist who is being hunted by occupying Russian forces.'

The red text in the image above is not on the original poster. It is a watermark that says, 'Scanned by Monique classique'.

12 November 2020

Karjakin/Carlsen's Early World Championship Steps

Yesterday, in a post titled Opens for Discussion on my World Chess Championship Blog, I wrote,

The Association of Chess Professionals (ACP) recently issued a Proposal For The World Championship Cycle, where the essence of the proposal was: "It seems natural then to make the open tournaments part of the World Championship cycle."

While I was researching the topic, I wondered which early steps the current World Champion had taken on his path to the World Championship. A few years ago, in Karjakin/Carlsen's World Championship Careers (May 2016), I started a similar analysis for the two players who were preparing for a title match later that year.

In a curious coincidence of parallel paths, I discovered that both players had launched their careers at the 2004 FIDE Knockout Matches, Tripoli, and were both eliminated in the first round. The next step for both was the 2005 World Cup, Khanty-Mansiysk, the first in a new series of World Cup events which carried on the tradition of the knockout format.

Since writing that post, I've added a few more pages to my history of the World Championship. The page 2002-2004 Zonal Cycle Qualifiers says that both players qualified the same way into the 2004 Knockout event:-

106. Karjakin, Sergey (UKR) – President’s nominee
109. Carlsen, Magnus (NOR) – President’s nominee

Continuing with the parallel path, a similar page, 2004-2005 Zonal Cycle Qualifiers, says that both qualified via the same event into the 2005 World Cup:-

42, 1503014, Carlsen Magnus, g, NOR, Warsaw 2005
49, 14109603, Karjakin Sergey, g, UKR, Warsaw 2005

The official name for Warsaw 2005 was the '6th European Individual Chess Championship'. It is one of the events mentioned on my page of clippings for the 2004-2005 Zonal Cycle. Karjakin finished a full point ahead of Carlsen, although Carlsen was more successful in the 2005 World Cup. According to the post on 'Karjakin/Carlsen's Careers':-

Karjakin was again eliminated in the first round. Carlsen survived to the fourth round, where he lost the match but continued to play for a qualifying place in the subsequent candidates matches. He succeeded, but in the first match was eliminated from the rest of the cycle by Aronian.

That rupture of the parallelism was the first sign that Carlsen would eventually be more successful than Karjakin on the path to become the World Champion. While we're waiting for the 2020 Candidates Tournament, Yekaterinburg to resume, I might take the time to determine how all eight of the current candidates first qualified into a World Championship cycle.

09 November 2020

Stockfish Wins TCEC Cup 7; CCC GPUs Back

In the previous post on the world's two foremost engine-vs-engine competitions, Stockfish Wins TCEC S19; CCC15 Still Halted (October 2020), I reported,

TCEC: Stockfish beat LCZero in the S19 final by a final score of +18-9=73. The match was technically decided after 93 games. • CCC: The title 'CCC15 Still Halted' said it all, although there was a short, unconfirmed rumor that the 'GPUs are back'.

In the meantime, the TCEC has conducted its premier side event, while the CCC shows signs of resuming normal operation.

TCEC: In TCEC Cup 7, Stockfish confirmed its S19 domination by beating LCZero in the final match. Stoofvlees beat Komodo in the consolation match for 3rd and 4th places. The last time I reported on a TCEC Cup, Alliestein Wins TCEC Cup 6; CCC Tests 'Stockfish NNUE' (August 2020), the main takeaway was 'In Cup 6, the AI/NN engines dominated.' How could we have known that NNUE would breathe new life into Stockfish ?

The site is currently running 'Sufi Bonus 3'. The '!next' plan says, 'next FRC2 testing and FRC2 ~1.5 weeks'. When was FRC1? As far as I can tell, it was more than six years ago. In Stockfish, the Strong (July 2014; Chessdom.com: 'Stockfish is TCEC double champion'), I started the post asking 'Which engine is the strongest at chess960?' Then I went on to feature the event in two posts on my chess960 blog:-

I'm looking forward to reporting on FRC2 for the same blog.

CCC: The GPU problems are apparently over. The site is currently running an event called 'Checkmate in 4' with a GPU engine, Lc0. Why is it called 'Checkmate in 4'? We may never know. The associated 'Info' tab lists the four engines that are participating, says 'Testing and tuning new engine', and gives an associated PGN file. I downloaded the file and discovered that it was for an event called 'Mystery Engine Debut and Tuning', which was the name of the event preceding 'Checkmate in 4'.

What was the 'Mystery Engine'? We may never know, although some sources are certain it was 'Komodo NNUE'. Whatever the mystery engine was/is, it finished fourth out of seven engines, including Lc0 plus two other GPU engines.

Will CCC15 be resumed anytime soon or will it be abandoned? For the first report on the CCC15 GPU problems, see TCEC S19 DivP Chugging Along; CCC15 Halted (September 2020).

[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. • NB: Leela = LC0 = LCzero]

08 November 2020

Queen's Gambit on the Tomatometer

Given the current wave of Queen's Gambit Mania (October 2020; 'The trailer has almost 1.4 million views and 2500 comments'), I wasn't surprised to see that half of my picks on the short list for this month's video were also about the Netflix series titled 'The Queen's Gambit'.

How Anya Taylor-Joy Became Beth Harmon in 'The Queen's Gambit' | Rotten Tomatoes (9:04) • '[Published on] Oct 20, 2020'

After reading the video's description by Rotten Tomatoes...

How do you turn yourself into the world’s most formidable chess prodigy when you barely know how to play the game yourself? That was the question facing Anya Taylor-Joy as she prepared to step into the mind of Beth Harmon, the protagonist of Walter Tevis's novel 'The Queen’s Gambit' and its lavish Netflix adaptation, which arrives on the service this month.

Set in the 1950s and '60s, the series follows Harmon’s rise from orphan with a talent to teen prodigy to national champion, all as she deals with addiction to tranquilizers -- crippling, but sometimes useful when she’s plotting her moves alone at night -- and the men of the chess-world boys' club who want to keep her out.

...you might think you don't have to watch the series or read the book, but there's much more to the story than that. The description continues by explaining that the clip is about the back story:-

Ahead of the series’ release, Taylor-Joy sat down with us to break down how she tapped into Harmon’s pain, why she relates to her solitary pursuit, and how her dance training helped her feign a mastery of pawns, rooks, and knights.

For more from Rotten Tomatoes, see The Queen's Gambit (rottentomatoes.com). There's nothing rotten here. The series gets 100% on the Tomatometer from the critics and 97% on the Audience Score.

03 November 2020

November 1970 & 1995 'On the Cover'

It's been one year since the post November 1969 & 1994 'On the Cover' (November 2019) announced,

In November 1969, Chess Life and Chess Review were merged for the first issue of Chess Life & Review. Let's continue the 'On the Cover' series with CL&R from 50 years ago, together with CL from 25 years ago.

The 1970 CL&R had 60 pages with less than six pages of 'Tournament Life' announcements. The 1995 CL had 84 pages with 17 pages of tournament announcements. The 6th American Open (1970, Santa Monica), the premier tournament held over the long Thanksgiving weekend, had a $25 'Regular' on-site entry fee and a $1000 first prize. The 31st American Open (1995, Los Angeles) had a $129 on-site entry fee in the top section, with a $3300 first prize.

Left: 'Andy Soltis (foreground) and Ken Rogoff, Members of the World Champion Student Team'
Right: 'Dato' Tan: World's Richest Amateur?!; Botvinnik Remembered...'

Chess Life & Review (50 Years Ago)

The headline and byline for the featured event said, 'Haifa 1970 : U.S. Student Team Captures World Title by Frank Skoff and Dick Verber'. The first paragraph said,

With a last-minute spurt, the U.S. Student Team captured 1st place in the 17th Annual World Student Team Championship, held this summer at Israel's beautiful Mediterranean Seaport, Haifa. England led from the very start, and it was not until the final round that we nosed them out in a dramatic finish. Eleven countries participated; Russia, and her Eastern allies, chose to boycott the tournament, protesting Israel's "imperialist aggression" against her Arab neighbors.

The Skoff/Verber report placed Rogoff on first board for the U.S. team, Soltis on second board. Today both Andrew Soltis and Kenneth Rogoff are prominent ambassadors of the chess community -- Soltis as a world class historian and writer, Rogoff as a GM celebrity thanks to his status as one of the world's leading economists.

Chess Life (25 Years Ago)

The upper right corner of the CL cover said, 'Inside: Official U.S. Chess Holiday Catalog'. The 'On the Cover' writeup opposite the masthead had two parts. Both related to the part of the world bordering the Pacific Ocean:-

Dato' Tan may arguably be the richest man in the world of chess organization and sponsorship. While most of his largesse is evidenced on the Pacific Rim, he played a large part in securing sponsorship for the U.S. Amateur Team playoff at the Harbor View Marina and Yacht Club in Baltimore, in 1993.

Grandmaster Utut Adianto won the Pacific Zonal, which was held in Malaysia. Scoring 9-2, a full point and a half ahead of the rest of the field, is certainly noteworthy, but the event captured the attention of the world press for another reason. Ian Murray of the Queensland Chess Association issued a statement on behalf of the players, protesting France's resumption of nuclear testing in the Pacific. The statement called for all chessplayers to boycott the use of the French Defense ...

Boycott the French Defense? Tongue in cheek?

As for ex-World Champion Mikhail Botvinnik, who had passed away 5 May, the issue had a three page writeup by ex-Soviet refugee and American GM Leonid Shamkovich (translated by GM Alex Fishbein), followed by a one page appreciation by Anthony Saidy.

02 November 2020

Stockfish NNUE - Three Useful Pins

A month ago, in Stockfish NNUE - Three Early Threads (October 2020), I tried to understand the structure of the technology behind Stockfish NNUE, but ran into some basic questions. It turns out that some of my questions are answered in the Stockfish Discord pinned messages, i.e. posts that members of Stockfish Discord have flagged as particularly useful.

Many of the Discord pins are intended for Stockfish developers who need guidance on how to access various elements of the underlying software. Other pins explain the theory behind NNUE. All three of the following messages were posted in July 2020 by nodchip, who is identified by the Chessprogramming wiki page Stockfish NNUE (chessprogramming.org) as the father of the concept:-

Stockfish NNUE [is] a Stockfish branch by Hisayori Noda, aka Nodchip.

First, I wondered whether the board representation included both Kings. Indeed it does:-

A standard input feature is called HalfKP. "K" is the one-hot encoding [NB: a group of bits with a single '1'; the rest are '0'] of the position of a King. "P" is the one-hot encoding of the position and the type of a piece other than the Kings. Note that "P" consists of the friend's pieces and the opponent's pieces. "P" also contains a feature representing that a piece is captured, and removed from a game. This is "+1". The number of the dimensions of "P" is 10 * 64 + 1 = 641. HalfKP is the direct product of "K" and "P". The input feature vector represents a board state.

NNUE holds two HalfKP vectors both of White's King and the other pieces, and Black's King and the other pieces. It inputs the White's input feature vector into the upper half of the input layer, and the Black's into the lower half of the input layer in a White's turn. It inputs the Black's into the upper half of the input layer, and the White's into the lower half of the input layer.

I also wondered about the apparent inefficiency of the encoding. It is related to the 'UE' portion of the NNUE acronym, 'Updatable Efficiently'.

If we calculate the output of the neural network with a simple way, we need to execute the calculation above for each layer. It takes a long time, and the nps [NB: nodes per second] will be extremely low.

At this time, we can speed up the calculation by using a special characteristics of the feature vector. When a move is played in a position, only a few elements in the corresponding feature vector are changed. For example, if a Pawn is advanced, the element in the feature vector corresponding to the previous position of the Pawn will be set to 0, and the element corresponding to the current position will be set to 1. If we calculate only about the changed elements, we can speed up the calculation. This technique is called "difference calculation" in computer shogi.

Difference calculation can be applied only for the calculation between the input layer and the first hidden layer. Because the input vector of the second and later hidden layer are changed drastically when a move is played. But this is fine because the number of the network parameters between the input layer and the first hidden layer is very large, and the others are very small.

We can not use difference calculation if a king is moved in HalfKP. Because all the elements in the feature vector corresponding to the king will be changed.

Finally, much of the early Discord discussion centered on selecting the positions for training. This assumes some familiarity with neural network training, but will make sense to anyone who knows the basics.

Training data: The training data are FENs [NB: chess positions] generated from games where Stockfish plays itself at fixed depth or nodes. The recommended move, the searched score, and outcome of the game are recorded in each position.

Training: The network is trained on these positions, and aims to output the searched score and the predicted output of the game. (Note that the predicted outcome can be converted to/from the searched score.) As it trains, it automatically updates the network parameters after each iteration. When the training is finished because the loss cannot be lowered, you get your network.

Evaluation: In a general neural network, all the output of each layer are computed everytime. But NNUE only calculates the difference between the previous position and the current positon to calculate the output of the first hidden layer. This drastically speeds up the calculation because NNUE has almost all the network parameters between the input layer and the first hidden layer, which is why it is called an efficiently updatable neural network. That is what makes it so interesting.

Together that makes three important pieces of the NNUE implementation: the structure of the input positions, the reason for that structure, and how known positions are used. I think I'm finally starting to grasp the NNUE concept. It's only taken three and a half months!

01 November 2020

Chess as Caprice

In last month's post, French or Italian?, the most recent post in the long-running, monthly series on Top eBay Chess Items by Price (March 2010), I wrote,

According to my informal selection rules, I should pick an item from the previous month, i.e. September 2020, but the item shown below ended on 1 October and none of the alternatives on my short list were particularly interesting. I'm also hoping that the rest of October will offer other items for the next eBay post.

Hoping sometimes works. The item pictured below was titled 'William Gropper b.1897-d.1977 etching Chess Players Blacklisted shop Studio' and sold for 'US $1,195.00 or Best Offer'. So which was it, $1,195.00 or Best Offer? I don't remember the final eBay price being so ambiguous, but maybe I haven't been paying sufficient attention.

The description said only,

William Victor "Bill" Gropper, was a U.S. cartoonist, painter, lithographer, and muralist. A committed radical, Gropper is best known for the political work which he contributed to such left wing publications as The Revolutionary Age, The Liberator, The New Masses, The Worker, and The Morning Freiheit.

That description happens to be the first paragraph of the artist's Wikipedia page, William Gropper. But what about the word in the title, 'blacklisted', or the phrase in the description, 'committed radical'. What's that all about? Wikipedia continues,

His parents were Jewish immigrants from Romania and Ukraine, who were both employed in the city's garment industry, living in poverty on New York's Lower East Side. His mother worked hard sewing piecework at home. Harry Gropper, Bill's father, was university-educated and fluent in 8 languages, but was unable to find employment in America in a field for which he was suited. This failure of the American economic system to make proper use of his father's talents doubtlessly contributed to William Gropper's lifelong antipathy toward capitalism.

Gropper's alienation was accentuated when on March 24, 1911, he lost a favorite aunt in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, a disaster which resulted from locked doors and non-existent exits in a New York sweatshop. Some 146 workers burned or jumped to their deaths on that day in what was New York's greatest human catastrophe prior to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. [...]

Due to his involvement with radical politics in the 1920s and 1930s, Gropper was called before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1953. The experience provided inspirational fodder for a series of fifty lithographs entitled the Caprichos.

'The Caprichos', aka 'The Capriccios', in English 'The Caprices', are also described in Wikipedia, Los caprichos, although in a different context:-

Los caprichos are a set of 80 prints in aquatint and etching created by the Spanish artist Francisco Goya in 1797 and 1798, and published as an album in 1799. The prints were an artistic experiment: a medium for Goya's condemnation of the universal follies and foolishness in the Spanish society in which he lived.

A century and a half later, Goya's Caprichos/Capriccios were an inspiration for Gropper. Is this month's chess etching one of 'The Caprichos'? My guess is 'No, it isn't', but it's certainly a caprice, at least for some people.

29 October 2020

Queen's Gambit Mania

Of the 100 chess stories that appear at the end of every month on Google News, three or four on the same topic will signal strong interest in that topic from the mainstream press. What to say of 15 stories on the same topic? That's what I'm seeing this month for the Netflix production of 'The Queen's Gambit'. On top of that, I'm seeing a special Google box titled 'View Full Coverage' that I've never seen before. It looks like this:-


It leads to a 'Full Coverage' page that goes on and on and on. Where to start? How about the Netflix trailer.

The Queen's Gambit | Official Trailer | Netflix (2:31) • '[Published on] Sep 24, 2020'

The trailer has almost 1.4 million views and 2500 comments, although as far as I know, this is normal for Netflix. Its description says,

When winning takes everything, what are you left with? The Queen's Gambit follows a young chess prodigy's rise from an orphanage to the world stage. But genius comes with a cost. A riveting adaptation of Walter Tevis' groundbreaking novel comes to Netflix on October 23rd, starring Anya Taylor-Joy.

This week I opened Netflix to add the program to my personal list. I was half expecting not to find it. A few years ago the company offered a Magnus Carlsen documentary that I've never been able to find. That led me to believe that their catalog in the USA is not the same as their catalog in Europe. This time I was more fortunate. At the top of my Netflix home screen, 'The Queen's Gambit' was the main offering.

I also flipped through my chess books, looking for the paperback copy of the Tevis' novel that I read sometime back in the 1980s. The name 'Beth Harmon' has stuck in my memory ever since. Between the Netflix program and the book, not to mention Google's 'Full Coverage', I'll be busy for a while.

Good timing, too, as Belgium is expected to go back into coronavirus lockdown this weekend. Maybe I'll get another blog post or two out of 'The Queen's Gambit'.

26 October 2020

Stockfish Wins TCEC S19; CCC15 Still Halted

Two weeks ago, in my fortnightly report on the world's foremost engine vs. engine competitions, the title of that post gave the entire story: TCEC S19 Sufi 75% Finished; CCC15 Still Halted. To summarize the situation at that time:-

TCEC: After 75 games of the 100 game match, Stockfish leads LCZero by +11-7=57. • CCC: Still no news on the technical problems affecting the GPU engines, which I first reported four weeks ago.

Once again, the title of this report gives the most important info on the current situation. Should I stop writing the reports and just post the titles? Fortunately, there's still a bit more to be said this time.

TCEC: In the previous post, I calculated,

Extrapolating to 100 games gives a final score of +15-9=76. The most recent 25 games went +6-3=16 for Stockfish.

The last 25 games finished +7-2=16 for a final score of +18-9=73 for Stockfish. The match was technically decided after 93 games. What's next? The TCEC '!commands' announce,

!next • Now GPU (Lc0, Allie, Stoof, Scorpio) !VSOB ~4d , Cup7 testing, Cup7 ~1week, StockfishClassical-LCZero Sufi Bonus 3 ~4d (might be earlier or later), FRC2 testing and FRC2 ~1.5 weeks. Then S20 QL+L4+L3, L2+L1, DivP, Sufi

VSOB stands for 'Viewer Submitted Openings Bonus', last seen on this blog in VSOB PGN (January 2020). The current event is titled 'GPU VSOB 1' and still has a couple of days to run.

CCC: The previous post, 'CCC15 Still Halted', gave a *running* commentary:-

The report from two weeks ago mentioned the site was running matches for 'CCRL Ratings Standardization'. Now it is running 'CCRL Calibration'.

And now the site is running 'Bullet Chess Is Fun'. What happens next? Who knows. A recent comment on the site's Discord resource informed, 'Since no one has said anything, the GPUs are back', but that was a week ago and has not been confirmed elsewhere.

[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. • NB: Leela = LC0 = LCzero]

25 October 2020

Wild Rabbit, Meet Black Bear

What do chess and cognac have in common? Well, Maurice Ashley for one.

Hennessy Presents: Maurice Ashley & The Black Bear School (2:00) • '[Published on] Sep 14, 2020'

The video description said,

Maurice Ashley gives us a look into his mind -- one that knows infinite possibilities, one that’s been shaped as much by his opponents as himself, and one that crowned him the world's first Black Chess Grandmaster in history. Never Stop, Never Settle.

Sounds like it might be a good choice for this month's edition of The Sociology of Chess (November 2016). Except the description went on to say,

This video is not intended to be seen by persons under the legal alcohol drinking/buying age nor in countries with restrictions on advertising on alcoholic beverages. Do not share it with people under the legal alcohol drinking age and/or purchasing age in their country of residence.

Oh! It's not For All Ages. So stop trying to click on the image above. It's not a video; it's a photo of a video. If you really want to see the video, go here: Hennessy Spotlights Living Legend and International Chess Grandmaster Maurice Ashley In Latest Chapter of Award-Winning "Wild Rabbit" Advertising Campaign (prnewswire.com). The press release starts,

Hennessy, the world's best-selling Cognac, is proud to announce the next chapter of its award-winning Wild Rabbit advertising campaign with "Maurice and The Black Bear School." Narrated by hip-hop legend Nas, new creative debuted last night celebrating Maurice Ashley, who by force of will, relentless determination and mental mastery, earned the outstanding title of International Chess Grandmaster.

The press release says nothing about 'restrictions on advertising on alcoholic beverages'. Nor does it embed the video.

22 October 2020

More Chess Sightseeing

The previous Flickr photo post, Keres' Last Move, already spawned one additional post with Soviet Era Chess Photos. A second additional post, based on the following composite photo, is also demanding to be explored.

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

The 'Keres' Last Move' post mentioned 'Picture of Monument to Paul Keres, Narva (tripadvisor.com)', and it turns out there are thousands of other chess photos on the site. Most of them feature giant chess sets like the ones shown in the composite. For example, the photo in the top left is titled 'Giant chess game; we've had so much fun here with the kids', and shows the Los Abrigados Resort and Spa, Sedona, Arizona.

The page returned by the image search has the usual tags at the top of the page -- phrases like 'giant chess board', 'bali', 'vancouver mall', 'montego bay' -- aggregating related photos togther. On top of that is a feature I'd never seen before: a 'Popular topics' box, with three related tags for further exploration. The second such box is shown above, second from right in the top row, including tags 'Chess piece', 'Salzburg', and 'Max Euweplein'.

Clicking through those tags returns photos based only on that key phrase, i.e. not necessarily 'site:tripadvisor.com' and not necessarily 'chess'. How were these tags chosen? The phrase 'Max Euweplein' makes sense, because the giant chess set in the middle of the square ('plein' is Dutch for a place like a town 'square') is the most notable feature there, but what about 'Salzburg'? Those photos are mostly beautiful wide angle shots of that picturesque town in Austria. Adding 'chess' as a search term reveals the connection -- another giant chess set. The 'Salzburg' tag added to my original search must be a further example of AI in action.

A few years ago I featured another inspiration for chess tourism in Chess Sightseeing (March 2014). The next time I take a trip somewhere, I'll check Google images before I leave; just add destination to the site search for chess.

20 October 2020

Soviet Era Chess Photos

For the previous post featuring a Flickr photo, Keres' Last Move, I went with the photo that offered the best story. On my short list there was another series of photos, shown in the composite below, that risked offering too many stories.

Photo top left: 1971 USSR Chess Championship © Flickr user Boris Galatiknova under Creative Commons.

That composite shows all but one of the photos that were available at that time from that Flickr user, indicating that the Flickr page is for a new user. Since then, several more photos have been added. Is this the start of a major new source of Soviet era chess photos? Time will tell.

For more about the event in the linked photo, see 1971 USSR Chess Championship (wikipedia.org). It starts,

The 1971 Soviet Chess Championship, held from 15 September to 18 October 1971 in Leningrad, was the 39th edition of the USSR Chess Championship. The tournament was won by Vladimir Savon, [a] little-known International Master.

The other thumbnails in the composite photo are from different years, events, and settings. Two of them show GM Mikhail Tal.


Later: The individual photo linked under my composite is one of the photos used on the Wikipedia page. Both photos have the same width and height. Coincidence?


Even later: No, it's not a coincidence. Another Wikipedia page, 1985 USSR Chess Championship (wikipedia.org), uses another photo from the Boris Galatiknova collection on Flickr, 52nd USSR Chess Championship 1985 (flickr.com). The previous photo, '1971 USSR Chess Championship', and this photo, '1985 USSR Chess Championship', were both uploaded to Wikipedia by the same Wikipedia user, Scoopbh. As far as I know, Soviet era photos are not covered by international copyright laws, so this activity is perfectly legitimate. What is the source of these scanned photos?

19 October 2020

Parsing Engine Names

In last week's post on engine competitions, TCEC S19 Sufi 75% Finished; CCC15 Still Halted, I wrote,

For the record, the full names of the two [TCEC S19 Sufi] engines are:-
- Stockfish 202009282242_nn-baeb9ef2d183
- LCZero v0.26.3-rc1_T60.SV.JH.92-190
In a future post, I'll try to parse those names.

Under 'Main seasons', Wikipedia TCEC page has a list of all finalists including the full name/version of the engines in the finals.

Top Chess Engine Championship (wikipedia.org)

Stockfish has competed in every TCEC final since S11. The following table shows a naming evolution from DDMMYY to YYMMDD, to adding a version, to YYYYMMDD + version, to NNUE plus some sort of a version probably taken from the contents of the file ('nn-baeb...'):-

S11: Stockfish 260318
S12: Stockfish 180614
S13: Stockfish 18102108
S14: Stockfish 190203
S15: Stockfish 19050918
S16: Stockfish 19092522
S17: Stockfish 20200407
S18: Stockfish 202006170741
S19: Stockfish 202009282242_nn-baeb9ef2d183

Leela has competed in every TCEC final since S14 (except S16). The following table shows an evolution based on incorporating codes into the version:-

S14: LCZero v0.20.2-32930
S15: LCZero v0.21.1-nT40.T8.610
S16: %
S17: LCZero v0.24-sv-t60-3010
S18: LCZero v0.25.1-svjio-t60-3972-mlh
S19: LCZero v0.26.3-rc1_T60.SV.JH.92-190

For an explanation of the T40/T60 codes, see Leela Evolution (February 2020). For an explanation of the other codes, see [TBD]...

18 October 2020

Keres' Last Move

The title of this Flickr photo said only 'Chess player', so I used the photo's description as its title. This reminded me of Two More Chess Statue/Sculptures (October 2016), where I wrote that I was 'always on the lookout for chess statues (aka sculptures)'.

A sculpture of a chess player in Narva © Flickr user Aigred under Creative Commons.

A semi-official page, Statue of Paul Keres, Estonia (visitestonia.com), settles on the word 'statue' and informs,

The statue was installed for the 100th birthday of Paul Keres [...] The statue depicts the game between Keres and Walter Browne in Vancouver in 1975. It mistakenly shows Keres playing with White pieces.

Narva is the town of Keres' birth. Another page, A Chess master from Narva - Picture of Monument to Paul Keres, Narva (tripadvisor.com), calls the work a 'monument' and offers another half-dozen photos including one of a memorial plaque that says,

This chessboard depicts the Grandmaster's last game.

Was it the last position of the last game? The page Walter Shawn Browne vs Paul Keres, 1975 (chessgames.com), gives one more move before White resigns. A comment on the same page says,

The monument to Paul Keres in Narva, Estonia, depicts the position after move 43...Rd1+. The last move of his career.

In another Flickr post featuring Keres, The Last Flickr Friday (May 2018, Flickr tag: Tallinn), I wrote, '[The photo] appears to be an exterior wall plaque, perhaps on the house where Keres lived.' The Keres bio on Chessgames.com says,

Paul Keres was born in Narva, Estonia, where he would reside his entire life.

Paul Keres, 1916-1975.

15 October 2020

2020 CJA Awards - Part 2

Compared to last year's post on this blog, 2019 CJA Awards - Part 2 (August 2019), the 2020 Awards are being highlighted nearly two months later than usual. Just like last year, I'll focus on the awards that are my personal favorites:-

  • Chess Journalist of the Year
  • Best Chess Book
  • Best Chess Art
  • Best Chess Blog

'Chess Journalist of the Year' went to John Hartmann, Chess Life/CLO Editor, who was the only nominee in the category. Along with the big one, Hartmann won four other awards, among them 'Best Interview' ('GM Aagard On The Candidates') and 'Best Tournament Report' ('Aagard on the Candidates')

'Best Chess Book' had two winners: 'Best Book - Instruction' ('In the Zone: Winning Streaks' by Cyrus Lakdawala) and 'Best Book - Other' ('The Best I Saw in Chess' by Stuart Rachels). A third award was 'Best Self Published' ('Humor in Chess', Ralph Bowman and Dewain Barber, editors).

Last year I noted that 'Best Chess Art' had been split into two categories. This year both categories were won by Chess Life (CL) covers: 'Chess Art' ('Scholastic Nationals' by James Oses, CL August 2019) and 'Single Chess Magazine Cover' ('Pal Benko' by Patrick Morales-Lee & Frankie Butler, CL November 2019).

Last but not least: 'Best Blog' ('Learning from Each Game' by Ray Linville), currently known as Learning with Each Game (chess.com/blog). Linville, the John Hartmann of the chess blogosphere, walked away with three other awards, which I presume were individual posts on his blog.

For a full list of CJA winners, see CJA Awards 2020 (chessjournalism.org). The main reason this current post is appearing 'two months later than usual' was a move of the CJA site from one server to another. Unfortunately, a casualty of the move was all of the content formerly available on the site. That content is still available at the Wayback Machine - chessjournalism.org (archive.org).

Congratulations to all winners!

12 October 2020

TCEC S19 Sufi 75% Finished; CCC15 Still Halted

Two weeks have passed since our last look at the world's foremost engine vs. engine competitions. Although the title of that post, TCEC S19 Preparing Sufi; CCC15 Still Halted (September 2020), told the whole story, let's start with the usual summary.

TCEC: In Premier Division (DivP), Stockfish and LCZero finished 1st/2nd to qualify into the S19 Superfinal. • CCC: There is no news on the technical problems affecting the GPU engines.

The keywords in the title of that post -- TCEC Sufi & CCC Halted -- are just as relevant for this current post.

TCEC: After 75 games of the 100 game match, Stockfish leads LCZero by +11-7=57. Extrapolating to 100 games gives a final score of +15-9=76. The most recent 25 games went +6-3=16 for Stockfish. For the record, the full names of the two engines are:-

  • Stockfish 202009282242_nn-baeb9ef2d183
  • LCZero v0.26.3-rc1_T60.SV.JH.92-190

In a future post, I'll try to parse those names.

CCC: There is still no news on the technical problems affecting the GPU engines, which I first reported four weeks ago. The report from two weeks ago mentioned the site was running matches for 'CCRL Ratings Standardization'. Now it is running 'CCRL Calibration'.

Last year the site also ran into technical problems, which I reported in TCEC S16 L1; CCC10 GPU Blues Continue (August 2019). It took about three weeks to resolve those problems.

[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. • NB: Leela = LC0 = LCzero]

11 October 2020

An Existential Crisis?

After this introduction...

Hello and welcome to week seven of chess month in which our team shines a light on two player games. Today we're looking at all the fun you can have with a chess board -- so this should be a short video!

...you might guess that anything can happen. And that's also what you'd expect from a Youtube channel that calls itself 'Shut Up & Sit Down'. Did he say 'chess tickles'?

Nine Easy Ways to Make Chess Fun (13:58) • '[Published on] Sep 23, 2020'

The 'Nine Easy Ways' are chess variants, including bughouse. Why variants?

If we can just put down the worthy analogies for a second, and if we can make an effort to cut through the choking cultural fog that billows off of the chess set and makes it quite hard to judge, as a game we're left with an uncomfortable truth, which is simply that playing chess is a bummer.

With nearly 100.000 views, the video attracted over 500 comments, many of them discussing other chess variants or board games. Coming on top of GM Kramnik's Nine Chess Variants (September 2020), we might conclude that chess is facing some sort of an existential crisis -- another casualty of the coronavirus.