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 ago 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.


Later: Re 'We'll come back in a few weeks to compare with TWIC 1363 & TWIC 1364', here are the TOCs for the Christmas TWICs of yearend 2000.

On the left we see both the 'Sunway Sitges Festival' and the 'Kazakhstan Cup', so the time frames for 1999 and 2000 are roughly equivalent. 'Active Team Events', the second-to-last item for both weeks in 1999 was missing completely in 2000. In 1999 there were 43 and 37 items in each of the two weeks; in 2000 there were 28 and 23 items, a significant reduction.

Ignoring the first item and the last item(s) in the list, the boilerplate items, the upshot is that there were approximately two-thirds the number of events in 2000 when compared to the previous year. Maybe I'll come back to this at the end of 2021, to estimate how much of a recovery was made in 2021.


A Year Later: Re 'the time frames for 1999 and 2000 are roughly equivalent', huh? Seems I lost 20 years while writing that note! On the principle that...

Laugh and the world laughs with you, cry and you cry in your soup.

...I'll add this post to category 'Gaffes' and leave it at that. All's well that ends well.

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.