29 July 2021

Three Times Yahoos

After last month's Yahoos post, Speculative Yahoos (June 2021; see the footnote below for an explanation of the term), Google News changed its format. Previous posts in the series were based on a title/subtitle combination for each story, but for the month of July, Google returned only the title.

For my homemade database software, this change didn't present much of a challenge. I simply inserted a blank line as subtitle. The downside is that for searches on relevant keywords, e.g. 'Netflix' or 'streamer', less data means fewer hits.

Taking a look at the news sources, Chess.com alone accounts for 46 stories. That number eclipses the 38 stories from last month, which was already the largest number of stories for any month.

What to make of this? Are there fewer chess stories from non-chess sources or is there some other, more benign explanation? The other eight sources with two or more stories account for 23 stories total, leaving 31 stories from sources with a single story.

The count of sources shows three sources with 'Times' in the name of the source. Let's use that observation to sample the non-chess sources. First, here are the stories from the New York Times (NYT):-

Where's the third? That second story, 'Dark Side of Chess' by Ivan Nechepurenko and Misha Friedman, accounted for two Google references. The NYT loves to tell me that 'You’ve reached your limit of free articles', but I can usually manage to find a way to read the story. The 'dark side' -- focusing on Sergei Karjakin and Abhimanyu Mishra -- is a long exposé about how young chess talents *really* earn their GM titles. The NYT story quoted a former World Championship challenger (1993):-

'We have a dog called Pasquales,' said Nigel Short, the vice president of FIDE. 'I believe it is possible that if I went to the effort, I think I could get my dog a grandmaster’s title.'

The reason for the tattletale gossip was a widely reported story that appeared in both chess and non-chess sources, e.g. Abhimanyu Mishra Becomes Youngest Grandmaster In Chess History (chess.com). He thereby grabbed the record from Karjakin, who later became a World Championship challenger himself (2016).

Another 'Times' source had three stories. All of them featured Indian teenagers:-

The third 'Times' source was the Financial Times:-

Of the 100 total number of chess stories for the month, 17 were about the World Cup. Of those, 13 were from Chess.com. The site consistently reported on the main chess event of the month. Is that the reason for the record 46 stories from that source? If so, let's hope that the other sources catch up in August, when the World Cup reaches its final round.

[Yahoos (mainstream news stories about chess) are derived from Google News top-100 (or so) stories from the past month.]

27 July 2021

2021 CJA Award Entries

It's been two months since I posted about the 2021 CJA Awards Announcement (May 2021), so it's time to look at the entries. In last year's post, 2020 CJA Award Entries (July 2020), I was critical of the entry process, mainly because the list of entries -- as far as I could see -- was disorganized and hard to understand.

The CJA appears to have learned from that unfortunate exercise and has improved the presentation of the entries by an order of magnitude. There are two pages listing the entries:-

That first link, 'Awards Entry List', is particularly useful. Every single entry is associated with a link leading to an online, digital copy of the entry, using drive.google.com where there is no online copy available directly from its source. I didn't count the number of entries, but there might well be over 100, enough chess literature to keep the most ardent enthusiast occupied for months to come.

In the category 'Best Online Blog', there are four entries. This might be the most competitive year for the blog category in the 15+ years (I've lost track) that I've been following the CJA awards. A sure winner is the Chess Life cover for August 2020, titled 'New Chess Boom'. It was nominated in two categories : 'Best Art' and 'Best Single Chess Magazine Cover'.

The award winners will be announced in early August. I'll follow up this current post as soon after that as I can.

26 July 2021

Stockfish vs. ChessBase

Near the end of the post The Condemnation of Fat Fritz (March 2021), I wrote,

This controversy could go on for months, maybe years.

The latest salvo in the dispute was documented last week in Our lawsuit against ChessBase (stockfishchess.org). The blog post started,

The Stockfish project strongly believes in free and open-source software and data. Collaboration is what made this engine the strongest chess engine in the world. We license our software using the GNU General Public License, Version 3 (GPL) with the intent to guarantee all chess enthusiasts the freedom to use, share and change all versions of the program. Unfortunately, not everybody shares this vision of openness. We have come to realize that ChessBase concealed from their customers Stockfish as the true origin of key parts of their products. [...]

The basis for the lawsuit goes back to March.

In the past four months, we, supported by a certified copyright and media law attorney in Germany, went through a long process to enforce our license. Even though we had our first successes, leading to a recall of the Fat Fritz 2 DVD and the termination of the sales of Houdini 6, we were unable to finalize our dispute out of court. Due to Chessbase’s repeated license violations, leading developers of Stockfish have terminated their GPL license with ChessBase permanently. However, ChessBase is ignoring the fact that they no longer have the right to distribute Stockfish, modified or unmodified, as part of their products.

The complaint continues,

Thus, to enforce the consequences of the license termination, we have filed a lawsuit.

What do chess fans think? Unfortunately, Talkchess.com is currrently returning '403 Forbidden; You don't have permission to access...' messages, so I'll come back to that forum another time. For a discussion of the issues by the wider world, see Our lawsuit against ChessBase (hacker-news.news). It appears the case will be decided in German courts.

25 July 2021

Historical Chess Sets

You might think that chess sets would be an important component in The Sociology of Chess (November 2016), but the facts say otherwise. I scrolled through the relevant posts from last few years of this blog and could't find a single example.

Gulag chess set (1:00) • '[Published on] Jun 27, 2021'

The description of the video said only,

Series of videos about the CFR Chess Museum's exhibits.

The acronym CFR stands for 'Chess Federation of Russia' and we find related videos on the YouTube channel, CFR Chess Federation of Russia. A snippet of that is shown here:-

The relevant videos are duplicated -- once with Russian text, once with English text -- and the English language Gulag clip is shown in the last thumbnail in the top row. The five videos shown are:-

  • Space chess set
  • Chess set of the besieged Leningrad
  • Gulag chess set
  • "Victrix" chess set
  • "Fish tooth" chess set

There are more after these, all lasting about a minute. Why were these sets chosen? The title page of the Gulag video says,

A special page of chess history belongs to chess sets made in prisons and camps, the Gulag institutions among them.

My guess is that the sets were chosen because of their importance to chess history. Russian chess history alone would be reason enough.

22 July 2021

July 1971 & 1996 'On the Cover'

Last month's post on U.S. chess from 50 and 25 years ago, June 1971 & 1996 'On the Cover' (June 2021) was 'all about records'. This month's post is all about the World Championship.

Left: ?
Right: 'Dmitry Gurevich Dominates U.S. Masters'

Chess Life & Review (50 Years Ago)

Historic Scene as Fischer ponders 15th move in final game of incredible 6.0 sweep over Taimanov in their Quarter-Final Candidates Match. • Photograph by Ken Oakes, "Vancouver Sun."

For the previous post with Fischer on the cover, see December 1970 & 1995 'On the Cover' (December 2020; 'Bobby Fischer. Leading at the Interzonal!'). The headline for the first story in the July 1971 issue announced, 'Fischer Wins, 6-0!!' The full record of the Fischer's march to challenge Spassky in 1972 is at 1970-72 Candidates Matches (m-w.com).

Chess Life (25 Years Ago)

Dmitry Gurevich certainly deserves a cover, for his 7-0 sweep of the U.S. Masters. The resurrection of this USCF event (and there is a commitment to hold it again in 1997) can only be viewed in a positive light. But that rich, red velvet background was too much to resist. Thus, Dmitry shares the spotlight with one of the many chess sets on display at the Chess and Chessmen Through History exhibition at the John G. White Collection, Cleveland Public Library.

The U.S. Masters was covered in a four-page story, illustrated in color. It included a box titled, 'The Invited Juniors', which presented a short history of the event:-

The U.S Masters, which of course grew from and remains part of the Midwest Masters. was a small attempt to replace the terrible loss of Lone Pine from the chess scene in 1981. When Louis Statham chose to discontinue his series of magnificent tournaments, there was a rather large hole in the American chess scene.

One of the features of Lone Pine was the fact that junior players were allowed to compete even though they were not as highly rated as adults. The Warrens attempted to continue that tradition by specifically inviting not otherwise eligible junior players. This year, there were five specifically invited juniors, and all did well.

The Chess and Chessmen exhibition (does anyone still call the pieces 'chessmen'?) was covered in another four-page illustrated story. It was connected withh the 'Seventh Bi-annual meeting of Chess Collectors International (CCI)'. The story started,

The John G. White Collection of chess opened a major exhibit on March 18, 1996, entitled Chess and Chessmen Through History. The display will be open through August 1996, and is the largest held on chess since 1975. It occupies all exhibit areas of the third floor of Main Library, 125 Superior Avenue, Cleveland, Ohio.

That's all nice and dandy, but what does it have to do with the World Championship mentioned in the first paragraph? The issue's cover introduction was followed by a second section titled 'On-Off-On'

The Karpov - Kamsky match for the FIDE World Championship is now scheduled to begin no later than June 5 in Elista, Kalmykia, with a prize fund of $1,100,000. No draw odds. This match -- a necessity before Kasparov and the PCA will even consider a unification match -- has been on again, off again during the past few months, with about as much frequency as your living room light switch. After the flirtation with Baghdad, and an outcry from the FIDE member countries of Western Europe, Canada, and the United States, it would seem as though the match is on -- for real. We wish the best of luck to Gata Kamsky in his quest for the FIDE title.

The Baghdad botch was mentioned in May 1971 & 1996 'On the Cover' (May 2021); CL: 'Brickbats and barbs to FIDE for accepting a bid from Iraq to hold the Kamsky - Karpov World Championship match in Baghdad.' An overview of the match is on 1996 Karpov - Kamsky FIDE Title Match (m-w.com). No one realized at the time that Kasparov's PCA was on the verge of collapse. See FIDE/PCA Chronology (ditto) for the full story.

19 July 2021

TCEC Prepares S21 Sufi; CCC in Romantic Mode

After a short break, let's return to the world of engine vs. engine competitions. The previous post was TCEC Prepares S21 DivP; CCC Gives Black a Chance (June 2021). Following is a summary of that post:-

TCEC: There have been no further reports from Chessdom.com since the S21 L4 results. L2, with 12 engines, was won by Pedone. L1, with 8 engines, was won by Igel. The site is currently conducting tests for its Premier Division, 'DivP' in TCEC jargon. • CCC: Are we braced for more unorthodox openings? Yes, we are. After the 'Double Bongcloud' (the junkiest of the junk openings), and the 'Hillbilly Attack', the site is now running an event called 'Mini-Match: Leela vs Dragon, Muzio Gambit', 200 games.

That info is from four weeks ago. Now let's get up to date.

TCEC: After its initial flurry of interest in TCEC, Chessdom.com continued to report zilch. DivP ran for about three weeks and finished as shown in the following chart.

The top two finishers, Stockfish and LCZero, will meet in the S21 Superfinal ('Sufi'). The next two, KomodoDragon and Stoofvlees II, duked it out in the S21 Infrafinal, won by KomodoDragon with a score of +17-5=28, making it the no.3 chess engine on the planet.

The S21 Sufi will mark the fifth consecutive Sufi match between the same two engines. For the previous match, see Stockfish Wins TCEC S20 (February 2021), where I noted,

Stockfish beat LCZero in the S20 Superfinal match +14-8=78, for a convincing final score of 53.0-47.0. The victory was clinched after 95 games. This was Stockfish's third straight victory over LCZero, as documented by the list of posts on this blog that recorded the winners [...]

For a different pair of opponents, we have to go back nearly two years to Stockfish Wins TCEC S16 (October 2019), where AllieStein was the Sufi loser. The TCEC is currently conducting 'Sufi Testing'.

CCC: The site continues to feature offbeat openings. Here is a list of events played since the previous post, where the first three were already mentioned:-

The Hillbilly Attack (10|2)
Mini-Match: Leela vs Dragon, Muzio Gambit (10|3)
The Hillbilly Attack (10|2) [NB: the second event with this name]

Testing Fischer random chess (1|1)
Romantic Openings: Danish Gambit Accepted (3|2)
Allie test 30/06/2021 (1|2)
Romantic Openings: Evans Gambit Accepted (3|2)
Romantic Openings: Urusov Gambit Accepted (5|2)

The numbers in parentheses, e.g. '(5|2)' for the Urusov Gambit, indicate the time control. For that event it means five minutes per side per game plus two seconds per move.

As for the reasons behind the two test events -- 'Testing FRC' (aka chess960) and 'Allie Test' -- mixed in with the 'Romantic Openings', your guess is as good as mine. The site is not particularly focused on communicating with the outside world.

[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]

18 July 2021

Mystery Film

What exactly are we looking at here? The title of the photo isn't particularly helpful.

We are all just Pawns in a game of chess © Flickr user Lacuna Festivals under Creative Commons.

Neither is the description.

My collaborator was a film maker and I am a visual artist. I decided to select still images from the film that I found interesting and add to the reflecting on the overall theme for the exhibition of distance and related issues of displacement and separation.

There were two names attached to the title -- Aleksandra Hewelt and Zita Holbourne -- although a search on each only establishes that the first is the film maker (Polish) and the second is the visual artist (British?). A search on both together leads back to the Flickr photo.

How about the name of the Flickr user, Lacuna Festivals. LacunaFestivals.com informs,

The Lacuna Festivals are an offshoot of The Lacuna Studios. Through the Lacuna Festivals we hope to:-
• Promote quality, contemporary (and sometimes challenging) art to communities isolated from mainland Europe which, therefore have limited access to international, contemporary arts.
• [...]

LacunaStudios.com informs,

The Lacuna Studios shall be residential studio spaces in the Canary Islands, created by and for artists, makers, designers, craftspeople, thinkers, writers, musicians, educators and students from around the world.

Back to the Flickr photo, I'm still not sure what I'm looking at -- 'still images from the film'; what film? -- but I like it.

11 July 2021

How Much Do the Artisans Get?

This month's featured video is from the Business Insider #soexpensive YouTube channel, currently with 3,843,191 views and 5,600 Comments.

Why Championship Chess Sets Are So Expensive (7:42) • '[Published on] Jul 3, 2021'

The video's description says,

An inexpensive chess set can sell for $20, but a handcrafted wooden set certified for the World Chess Championship costs $500. Much of the set's value lies in just one piece: the knight. Each knight must be carved by hand to look exactly the same. Making this one piece takes two hours, and there are fewer than 10 people trained to carve knights for the championship chess sets. So, how are these chessmen made? And why are they so expensive?

At 3:10 into the video, we see that the set is sold by Worldchess.com. A marketing email I received from the group last year informed,

Since 2013, the sets in this design have been exclusively used in the World Chess Championship matches top events.

Will the same be true of the forthcoming Carlsen - Nepomniachtchi (m-w.com; Dubai, XI-XII, 2021) title match? We'll find out in a few short months.

As for Business Insider, it was last seen on this blog in Fabulous Fabiano (August 2017; 'All three [stories] are from businessinsider.com and were written by Matthew DeBord'). At 6:35 into the video we see a fake photo of Kasparov playing Fischer. For some reason, Business Insider has a tendancy to use fake photos. A few years I managed to do a couple of posts on the subject:-

For another take on the video, see GMHikaru's Youtube commentary, $500 Chess Set vs $1,000,000 Chess Piece, currently with 383,978 views and 814 Comments. For the previous monthly video featuring GM Hikaru Nakamura on this blog, see The Responsibility of Fame (February 2021) : 'It's been six months since a pair of previous Naka videos were turned into posts ... so it's high time for another.'

04 July 2021

Steinitz Cabinet Cards

Make that Steinitz and Zukertort cabinet cards, as in Top eBay Chess Items by Price (March 2010). The basic information for the two cards shown below, both from the same seller was:-

Left: 'Vintage World Chess Champion Wilhelm Steinitz Cabinet Card Photograph c. 1890s'; Ended: May 2021; Sold for US $681.00; 13 bids from six bidders

Right: 'Vintage Chess Player Wilhelm Steinitz Johannes Zukertort Cabinet Card c. 1890s'; Ended: Jun 2021; Sold for US $864.00; 23 bids from eight bidders

The images on both cards are well known. In fact, I found no other copies of the image on the right. More common is a similar image with Zukertort facing the camera and Steinitz studying the board.

The description of both cards added only the dimensions:-

Left: Approximate dimensions: 4.25” W x 6.5” H. • Back of card (handwritten): 'William Steinitz, Chess player; Champion of the world for 25 years; New Yorker but lived in Upper Montclair (N.J.)'

Right: Approximate dimensions: 4” W x 6.5” H. Cabinet card appears to have been trimmed on left side.

I have another copy of the image on the left. The eBay description for that card said,

An extremely rare cabinet photograph of William Steinitz (1836-1900); Chess champion of the world, 1866-1894. by Benj. Falk (New York). c.1880. Image measures approx. 4 x 6 1/2 inches. Very good condition.

What's a cabinet card? The Wikipedia page Cabinet card starts,

The cabinet card was a style of photograph which was widely used for photographic portraiture after 1870. It consisted of a thin photograph mounted on a card typically measuring 108 by 165 mm (4+1/4 by 6+1/2 inches). [...] The carte de visite [NB: CDV] was displaced by the larger cabinet card in the 1880s.

A few years ago I did a couple of posts on chess CDVs, where the more recent was Brady CDVs (September 2016).