31 January 2021

FIDE's Social Commission 2020

Getting back to the recent post Spectating the 91st FIDE Congress (January 2021), let's have a follow-up to FIDE's Social Commission 2019? (February 2020), this time without the question mark ('?'). We learn from Commissions (fide.com), that the Social Commission's officers have changed to...

  • Chairman: Klerides, Paris
  • Secretary: Chatelain, Philippe Victor

...plus three councillors and 13 members. Of the 18 commissions listed on that page, 14 have their own web sites. The last to appear, some time during Summer 2020, was the FIDE Social Commission. It describes its 'Mission' as:-

The FIDE Social Commission "SOC" is dedicated to using chess as a tool for social development. SOC advocates for the use of chess as a tool for social change through action as [e.g.] An equalizer for gender, social and economic development. [...]

The 'Members' page still lists the same officers as recorded in my 'Social Commission 2019' post, where the current chairman was at that time the secretary. The 'Reports' page lists a single item, dated September 2019, the First FIDE Social Commission meeting. The three paragraph report starts,

The first FIDE Social Commission meeting was held in Havana, Cuba, on Saturday, 11 May 2019, at Tryb Habana Libre Hotel, during the Capablanca Memorial Festival.

This commission is obviously a work-in-progress and I hope we will hear more about it during the coming year.

28 January 2021

A Database of Yahoos

As another month nears its end, we take another look at any chess stories that have been adopted by the mainstream press during the month. Last month we had A Yahoo Backstory (December 2020), and this month we have ... zilch. In fact, most months we have zilch and that's when I turn to Google News for inspiration.

This month Google News was also uninspiring. Stories about online chess were again popular, but nothing surfaced that hasn't been seen before. I decided to take a different approach. First I scraped the news screen to collect the story headlines and their sources. Then I loaded the scraped file into a database. Then I analyzed the result.

All in all, Google News listed 70 different news stories. The image on the left shows a count of the stories provided by each source, where those stories numbered at least two for a particular source. The top three sources -- Chess.com, USchess.org, and Chessbase News -- all traffic exclusively in chess news; the next three are mainstream news organizations that often follow important chess stories. Those six sources account for 37 stories, leaving 33 other sources with a single story.

Of the 39 stories coming from non-chess sites, eight were inspired by the Netflix ‘Queen’s Gambit’ series. Only one story from the three chess sites was similarly inspired. For an example of real chess news, the chess sites had five stories about the Tata tournament at Wijk aan Zee, while the non-chess sites had four, which was more than I expected to find.

As for stories about streamers, the chess sites had three, the non-chess sites one: This chess teacher quit his full-time job to become a streamer: 'It's become [the primary source of income]' (yahoo.com). And that is a real Yahoo.

Don't forget that all of these numbers are based on what Google News considers to be top chess news. Pogchamps rated four stories, all from Chess.com (of course).

25 January 2021

Engine Scaling

Two weeks ago, in the post CCC Hardware Upgrade (January 2021), I referenced a thread on the Talkchess forum, CCC has serious hardware update! (talkchess.com). That thread went further than a discussion of the CCC's hardware. It addressed the key question about what performance gains can be expected from an upgrade in hardware. As one commenter put it,

Both [CCC & TCEC] have massive hardware. Will it change any results? If you notice even on much smaller hardware, the [relative] ranking of the engines does not really change. And this is also what I am seeing in my testing.

It's a good point, but it wasn't the only point of the thread. We all know that if a single processor executes faster, an engine will perform better because it analyzes more positions and variations in the same amount of time. But what happens when you add a second processor of the same speed? Or a third and fourth?

The concept is called 'scaling'. How does the performance of an engine scale as it runs on increasingly more cores? During the past ten years we learned that the traditional engines -- Stockfish, Houdini, Komodo, et al -- scale well. They analyze significantly faster, with huge gains in playing strength.

After Stockfish 12 (aka Stockfish NNUE) was released last year, an earlier Talkchess thread, CCRL flawed testing : SF12 above SF12 8CPU (talkchess.com), observed that Stockfish 12 showed no improvement running on eight cores instead of a single core. As the title of that thread suggests, the first post assumed that the phenomenon was caused by inadequate CCRL test procedures. Other commenters suggested that it might instead be a characteristic of NNUE engines: they don't scale well, perhaps not at all.

As another commenter to 'Serious Hardware Update!' noted,

I don't see the point in this huge hardware. The results are probably the same on 32 cores, and I'd guess none of the authors have tested their engines on this level of hardware. Better quality chess however you define that, maybe, but you also probably increase the draw rate as well.

And more cores give you less and less real speed because of diminishing returns, as you can only effectively subdivide the search of the engine so many times. What is a bigger benefit in the new hardware is the improved IPC [Instructions Per Cycle? Interprocess Communications?] and frequency of each core.

I doubt that's the last word on 'massive hardware'. As with most everything in technology, it's two steps forward and one step back.

24 January 2021

ChessTech2020 Online Conference

In the ongoing series about The Sociology of Chess (November 2016), December is chess conference month. A year ago we had London Chess Conference 2019 (December 2019), and now we have ChessTech 2020.

Chess: Driving Technological Innovations in the 21st Century (16:50) • '[Published on] Dec 13, 2020'

The video description explained,

Keynote speech by Arkady Dvorkovich, President of the International Chess Federation (FIDE), at the ChessTech2020 Online Conference 5-6 December 2020. • Conference organised by ChessPlus Limited. Session hosted by John Foley.

A second video on the same channel continues with questions and answers that followed the presentation: Chess: Driving Technological Innovations in the 21st Century - Q&A (youtube.com). For more about the conference, see ChessTech2020, 5-6 Dec 2020 (chesstech.org), and ChessTech, 5-6 Dec 2020 (chessconference.org). That Chesstech.org page explains,

ChessTech2020 is the premier chess related conference in the world. Its name reflects the topic: Chess and Technology. This is the 8th in the sequence of the London Chess Conference since 2013.

I think I've covered about half of those conferences on this blog. Will the organizers continue to use the online format for the 9th edition?

18 January 2021

TCEC S20 Sufi Underway; CCC Back in the Saddle

Continuing the long series on the two most visible engine vs. engine competitions, at the end of the previous super-short post, TCEC S20 Reaches DivP; CCC Testing, I wondered, 'How will I summarize it for the next post in two weeks?' Like this:-

TCEC: S20 L1 finished with Ethereal and rofChade qualifying into Premier Division (aka DivP), which is currently underway. • CCC: The 'testing and showcase of engines new to CCC' mentioned in the previous report has evolved into 'testing and showcase of new engines at CCC and of the new hardware rig'.

Last week I expanded on the CCC's 'new hardware rig' in CCC Hardware Upgrade. Let's look at today's situation for both the TCEC and the CCC.

TCEC: S20 DivP finished with LCZero and Stockfish in a dead heat and an identical score, +24-4=28. That result includes +2-2=6 in their head-to-head mini-match. The following crosstable shows the final result for all eight engines.

TCEC S20 - Division P

The same engines that qualified from S20 L1 finished in the last two places, which should relegate them to S21 L1 for the next season. LCZero and Stockfish have already started duking it out in the final match, which is tied at one win each, and which is scheduled to run until the end of the month.

CCC: After a four month break for technical problems that started in CCC15, the CCC is back with 'CCC Rapid 2021: Qualifiers'. The site's 'Info' tab lists a total of six events for 'CCC Rapid 2021':-

Qualifiers; eight engines
NNUE League; eight engines
Main League; eight engines
NN vs Classic; Stockfish, Leela, three engines from 'NNUE League', five from 'Main League'
Elite Round; Engines #1 to #6 from the "NN vs Classic" event
Finals; Engines #1 and #2 in the elite round

The six events will run for about three months. Some past CCC events, like CCC6, have finished in less a month.

[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]

17 January 2021

Observing a Game in the District

It's a question that arises from time to time on this blog. Is the subject of the following photo a statue/sculpture, as in Keres' Last Move (October 2020), or something else, as in Posing for Euros (March 2017)?

Sylvia Watches Chess Match, Washington DC © Flickr user Observe the District under Creative Commons.

The photo had no description and no tags, so no help there. The only clue was an album with the same name as the photographer, 'Observe the District'. The photos in that album were all unretouched shots of objects and places in D.C., and that was enough help to identify the players in the photo: From Wikipedia's The Chess Players (sculpture):-

The Chess Players is an outdoor 1983 sculpture by Lloyd Lillie, installed in John Marshall Park in Washington, D.C., United States.

As for the chess set, other photos consistently show the same board, pieces, and position, which are not those shown here. Have they been ripped out/off?

15 January 2021

FIDE Rating List - Inactive Players

Last week, in FIDE Rating List - January 2021, (FRL) I noted,

The number of inactive players declined, but growth in active play also declined. How to explain this contradiction? I'll look at that in another post.

First I looked at the assertion that 'growth in active play declined'. Here's a table that shows some statistics for the last five years.

The three columns show:-

  • the total number of players on the FIDE list that played at least one game,
  • the total number of games played, and
  • the maximum number of games played by a single player.

Remember (1) that each of those five rating lists is from January of the year indicated and, (2) that the lists are produced monthly. The FIDE download page (see last week's FRL post for the link) says that the data shows 'rated games in given period'. I looked at the player corresponding to 31 'MaxGms' in 2021 -- from federation POL, current STD rating 1890 -- and discovered that he played four tournaments that counted in the January 2021 FRL. [NB: the FIDE rating site is very well done.]

The table shows a large drop in all columns from January 2020, i.e. pre-pandemic, to January 2021. Rated play has still not recovered.

Next I looked at the assertion that 'the number of inactive players declined'. Of the 189 federations with inactive players (Flag = 'i') at the start of both 2020 and 2021, 141 had a decrease in the number of inactive players and only one had an increase (of one player).

To allow for the decreased activity during 2020, FIDE must have changed the rule for inactivity and applied it retroactively. According to Resolution of FIDE Council regarding the rating list (fide.com; 2 November 2020):-

The lack of rated events due to the coronavirus pandemic could have led, under the existing regulations, to many players being considered as "inactive". As such, they could have been removed from the rating list. In order to prevent that, the Qualification Commission has made the recommendation to temporarily extend the period required to be considered "inactive" from 12 to 24 months.

As for 'removed from the rating list', I haven't played a rated game since 1990, and I'm still on the list (FIDE ID 2003740). The photo shown on my rating profile is not me, it's Manuel Weeks, but I'll deal with that another time.

12 January 2021

Spectating the 91st FIDE Congress

Chess had a good year in 2020. Thanks to the Switch to Online Chess (June 2020) and Queen's Gambit Mania (October 2020), there were many more fans of the royal game at the end of the year than there were at the beginning.

FIDE, on the other hand, had a not-so-good year in 2020. The bungled Coronavirus Candidates (March 2020) might have been the low point, but the Olympiad fiasco, Splitting a Gold Medal (September 2020), wasn't much higher. Toward the end of the year, FIDE held an online pow-wow, documented in a number of administrative posts:-

That gives me the opportunity to continue with the 'Spectating FIDE' series, last seen in Spectating the 90th FIDE Congress? (February 2020), a month before the covid pandemic started wreaking havoc with the world's traditions, chess or otherwise. Just like in previous years, last year I made a series of posts out of the Congress:-

Supplementing that series were a couple of posts on my World Championship blog:-

Last year the title of the kickoff post ended in a question mark: 'Spectating the 90th FIDE Congress?'. This year I'm sure I'll be doing some serious spectating: no question mark required.

11 January 2021

CCC Hardware Upgrade

Between the two previous posts on the TCEC/CCC tournaments -- TCEC S20 Reaches L1; CCC Regrouping (December 2020), and TCEC S20 Reaches DivP; CCC Testing (January 2021) -- the CCC made a major hardware upgrade. The 'CCC Testing' post reported,

The 'testing and showcase of engines new to CCC' mentioned in the previous report has evolved into 'testing and showcase of new engines at CCC and of the new hardware rig'. The current event is called 'CCC Testing system changes V'.

The following image compares the hardware before and after the upgrade.

CCC 'Info' tabs

Too small to read? A post on the Talkchess forum, CCC has serious hardware update! (talkchess.com) repeats the 'New' specifications:-

CPUs: 2 x AMD EPYC 7H12
GPU: 2x A100 (40 GB GPU memory)
Cores: 256 cores (128 physical)
RAM: 512GB DIMM DDR4 2933 MHz (0.3 ns)
SSD: 2x Micron 5210 MTFD (2TB) in RAID1
OS: CentOS 8

The upgrade occurred between two CCC events:-

  • New: CCC testing system changes II (1|1)
  • Old: CCC testing system changes (5|2)

What does the change mean in terms of relative engine performance? To find out, we'll have to wait for the resumption of CCC tournaments.

10 January 2021

He:'Do You Play?'; She:'Try Me...'

For the previous two posts on the monthly featured video, where the last post was The Chess Boom of 50 Years Ago (December 2020), I used the same introduction:-

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'.

Now it's over. This month I had two QG videos on the short list of 25 clips. Add two more if you think current discussions about women in chess are motivated by the Netflix series. Of those 25 clips, a handful merited serious consideration for the final choice, and the winner is...

Top 10 Mind Blowing Facts About Chess (11:28) • '[Published on] Dec 21, 2020'

...The description of the video nevertheless reveals that its motivation brings us back to the QG mania:-

"The Queen's Gambit" has thrust this iconic game back into the spotlight! For this list, we’ll be looking at the most fascinating facts about the game of chess. Our countdown includes The Pieces Look Like They Do for a Reason, “Checkmate” Has a Cool Origin Story, There Are Billions of Potential Play Combinations, and more! How close are you to becoming a Grandmaster? Let us know in the comments below!

As for the 'Mind Blowing Facts', a few of them might be candidates for the B-list on Top 10 Myths About Chess (m-w.com). But who's quibbling? The embedded snippets of films and other videos about chess are worth the watch.

08 January 2021

FIDE Rating List - January 2021

It's become a tradition on this blog. In January I download the latest FIDE Rating List (FRL) from FIDE Ratings Download., and note the version I'm using:-

TXT format (09 Jan 2021, Sz: 7.98 MB)

Then I compare the total number of players with last year's post, FIDE Rating List - January 2020:-

  • 2021: >362K players; >174K marked inactive
  • 2020: >354K players; >181K marked inactive
  • [...]

Then I document changes of federation codes, along with federations that have shown the strongest growth in absolute number of players and in percentage of players over the previous year (for federations starting the year with 100 players or more).

Federation CAY (Cayman Islands) makes a total of 191 different federation codes in FIDE. It's the only federation with a single player (a transfer from ENG), although there are four other federations with five players or less.

Spain's increase of 730 players (ESP) would have placed it only eighth on last year's list. Similarly, Sudan's increase of 34.8% (SUD) would have placed it fifth in January 2020 (showing growth in 2019). The lower growth is undoubtedly due to the slowdown in traditional tournament play (as opposed to online play) in reaction to the coronavirus pandemic that started in 2020.

That last observation presents a small mystery. The number of inactive players declined, but growth in active play also declined. How to explain this contradiction? I'll look at that in another post.

05 January 2021

January 1971 & 1996 'On the Cover'

In last month's 'On the Cover' post December 1970 & 1995 (December 2020), I noted,

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. [Fischer and Kasparov]

A month later, Fischer disappeared from the cover while Kasparov made a second consecutive appearance.

Left: '?'
Right: 'Was There Ever a Doubt?'

Chess Life & Review (50 Years Ago)

International Master Bernard Zuckerman, the latest addition to the U.S. list of international titleholders. But he doesn't resemble this photo any more -- he has recently grown a full beard. Photo by L. Kwartler.

IM Zuckerman won his title at Bari 1970 and wrote the corresponding two page tournament report. Fischer's win at the 1970 Palma de Mallorca Interzonal wasn't entirely overlooked. GM Larry Evans wrote the first installment of a three part report.

Chess Life (25 Years Ago)

A picture is worth a thousand words, and in this case, Garry Kasparov's expansive pose was also worth almost a million dollars. While his chessic preparations may not have been as high as in previous title defenses, Kasparov was certainly on target psychologically.

This was no more clearly evident than after game nine. Instead of being confident and enthusiastic after winning, Anand was heard to say, "I feel as though I've just grabbed a tiger by the whiskers." Now that is true domination.

That 'On the Cover' blurb was followed in the same column by a longer section titled 'FIDE Update'. I'm including it here because it contained a number of organizational details around the troubled FIDE World Championships that were new to me.

Xie Jun, Zsuzsa Polgar, Anatoly Karpov, and Gata Kamsky are still in limbo concerning their respective world championship matches. While no progress is reported by FIDE, Anatoly Karpov has traveled to at least four continents in search of a sponsor. He seems to have struck paydirt in Montreal. On October 25th, he gave a live video conference (he was in New York at the World Trade Center, organizer Shiloh L. Quinn was in Montreal) in which he said he was fed up with all the confusion -- especially media confusion -- concerning who is really the World Champion.

He went on to say that both Kasparov and Fischer claim to be world champions -- he called them former FIDE world champions. He recounted his 134 tournament victories, his victory over Kasparov by 2 1/2 points in Spain in 1994; he wants to re-affirm FIDE's position as the world's official chess organization. To that end, he also wants to insure the success of the Woman's World Championship by holding the Jun - Polgar match in Montreal at the same time as the Karpov - Kamsky World Championship match.

AND he offered to play Bobby Fischer a match -- under any conditions. He has even offered Fischer the opportunity to be exclusive commentator in Montreal, for the championship matches, along with "...a publishing deal he won't believe."

In addition to Fischer-Spassky II, and the formation of the PCA, we may have yet another "story of the decade." Or not. Stay tuned.

'Story of the decade'? No, it wasn't. Ask today's knowledgeable chess players, 'Who was the World Champion at the end of 1995?, and most will answer, 'Kasparov, of course'.

04 January 2021

TCEC S20 Reaches DivP; CCC Testing

The previous post on the world's two most visible engine vs. engine competitions, TCEC S20 Reaches L1; CCC Regrouping (December 2020), might have been the shortest report in the two years since I started following the events regularly; that first post was TCEC S14 Underway (January 2019). To summarize the post from two weeks ago:-

TCEC: S20 'League 3' (L3) finished with a pair of NNUE engines qualifying into L2. One of them, Nemorino, also qualified into L1, which is currently underway. • CCC: The site announced, '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.'

This current post is even shorter. How will I summarize it for the next post in two weeks?

TCEC: S20 L1 finished with Ethereal and rofChade qualifying into Premier Division (aka DivP), which is currently underway. The top two engines will qualify into the S20 final match (aka Superfinal, aka Sufi). With a week and a half remaining, DivP is nearing the half way point. Stockfish has a comfortable lead over LCZero which has a similar lead over third placed KomodoDragon (once known simply as 'Dragon').

CCC: Who knows what evol lurks in the heart(s) of the CCC admin(s)? The 'testing and showcase of engines new to CCC' mentioned in the previous report has evolved into 'testing and showcase of new engines at CCC and of the new hardware rig'. The current event is called 'CCC Testing system changes V'.

[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]

03 January 2021

'A Private Party Deal'

For the December 2020 edition of Top eBay Chess Items by Price (March 2010), I hoped to find some good items offered for the year-end holidays, but I came up short. The most interesting items were echoes of previous posts in the series -- like One Painting, Three Versions (October 2015; 'Jean Henri Marlet "19th game of chess match" Staunton - Saint-Amant, oil / canvas') and Niue in Chess (March 2020; '2018 Niue Chess Antiqued Silver Coin 2oz COA with REAL MINI CHESS PIECES') -- so I had to look elsewhere.

I decided to investigate a small mystery. For some time now, chess items titled 'Vintage Allan Troy...' have been consistently appearing near the top of the list, but when I looked at the details of the items I could see nothing to explain their price. The following composite image shows the top four such items appearing for December, which includes items from the last three months, back to October.

The item in the top left was titled 'Vintage Allan Troy Chess Book - Ed#9 SWEETHEART MICHELLE 2/3'. It sold for around $950, 'Best offer accepted'. The description said,

Six books: The Oxford Companion to Chess, A Guide to Chess Endings, Brilliancy Prize Games of the Chess Masters, Epic Battles of the Chessboard, The Art of Sacrifice in Chess, and Chess to Enjoy. This is a private party deal.

None of those titles is particularly rare. Next to that item is an auction titled 'Vintage Allan Troy SWEETHEART KAT', same selling price, 'Best offer accepted'. The description doesn't even mention that the item being auctioned is Capablanca's book 'Chess Fundamentals', although it does say, 'This is a private party deal', again.

Who is Allan Troy and why are his auctions so expensive? For the answer to the first question, see Allan Troy 1932-2005 (uschess.org). For the answer to the second question, maybe 'This is a private party deal' has something to do with it. See, for example, How do I make a private sale to my ebay customer? (ebay.com):-

I'd recommend listing with a high ['Buy It Now'] price and Best Offer. Unless someone takes the high BIN, you simply reject or ignore all offers except the one from the desired buyer at the agreed upon price.

Using eBay for a direct, personal transaction. Why not? Mystery solved?