29 April 2022

The Joke's on Me

It was stunning news from the U.S. chess federation: 'Announcing the World Premiere of "Fischer in Iceland," a Jazz Opera in 3 Acts'. The news was illustrated by the poster shown below.

The small print on the poster said,

[Top] 'Libretto by: Dr. Frank Brady based on his book Endgame: Bobby Fischer's Remarkable Rise and Fall • Music by: National Master Alex King'

[Bottom] 'A jazz opera commissioned by the US Chess Federation premiering in St.Louis this fall!'

The post included capsule bios of both Dr. Brady and NM King. It ended with, 'The opera ain't over until Fischer mates Spassky!'.

The news included a not-so-subtle clue; the date was 'April 1, 2022'. Yes, the date was true, and, no, the news was not: APRIL FOOLS! Announcing the World Premiere of "Fischer in Iceland," a Jazz Opera in 3 Acts (uschess.org).

I'm only a little ashamed to admit that it fooled me. I wasn't going to mention the USchess joke, because April 1st was gradually slipping into the misty past, but an earlier post this week on my World Chess Championship Blog, It's Not an April Fool's Joke (April 2022), gave me a new opportunity.

I'm not usually a fan of April Fool chess jokes -- too many of them are stuff like 'FIDE abolishes draws!' -- but this year brought a good crop. Two worth mentioning are New chess table to ensure security (chessbase.com), and Hackers Leak Lichess Source Code (lichess.org; 'All our inner workings exposed!'). The Chessbase news included a list of previous April Fool's jokes -- Chessbase calls them 'pranks', which is probably the more accurate word.


On a related, more serious(?) topic, while working on this month's 'On the Cover' post, April 1972 & 1997 'On the Cover' (April 2022), I discovered another musical work inspired by Fischer. Page 227 of the April 1972 issue of 'Chess Life & Review' carried an ad:-

* An historic, seven minute, 33 1/3 record of Bobby's life and chess exploits with a preview of his match with Spassky.
* Sung and performed by Joe Glazer and his Fianchettoed Bishops.
* For single record send one dollar (plus 25 [cents] mailing charge)
* For two or more records send only one dollar per record. (We absorb Mailing costs.)

Make checks payable to —
Suite 209, 8422 Georgia Ave.
Silver Spring, Md. 20910

Have any copies of Bobby's Ballad survived?

28 April 2022

Yahoos of War and NFTs

Last months post on chess news in the mainstream press, Yahoos of Resilience (March 2022), was mostly about the war started by Russia in Ukraine. The theme continued in April, the second full month of war, but first let's have the facts about the so-called Yahoos' pool of stories for the month.

For our April end-month search, Google News returned 99 stories. Of those, 85 were dated April; the others dated from previous months.

The chart on the left shows six news sources returning two or more stories. Since the six sources accounted for 35 stories, there were 50 other sources with only a single story.

While the stories on the Russia - Ukraine war were less numerous than in the previous month, they were nevertheless compelling. The first story that attracted my attention was:-

  • 2022-04-24: Chess.com Banned By Russia (chess.com) • 'Yesterday, Chess.com was banned by the Russian government agency Roscomnadzor, the "Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology and Mass Media." Roscomnadzor is responsible for censorship within Russia, a busy occupation these days. Since the start of Russia's war against Ukraine on February 24th, Roscomnadzor has banned hundreds of sites including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google News, BBC News, NPR, and Amnesty International.'

The second story attracting my attention was about 'the only non-Russian to be targeted by the American authorities'. What could that possibly have to do with chess? Read on:-

  • 2022-04-23: War in Ukraine: Joel Lautier, the French chess star on the US sanctions list (france24.com) • 'French chess star and businessman Joel Lautier was added to the list of people targeted by US sanctions over the war in Ukraine back in March, French business daily Les Echos reported on Wednesday, the only non-Russian to be targeted by the American authorities. [...] Ironically, Lautier was put on the US sanctions list on the same day as Anatoly Karpov, the former world chess champion who became a Russian MP and voted for the war in Ukraine.'

Twenty years ago, GM Lautier was better known in the chess world than he is today. In its 'stub' page Joel Lautier (wikipedia.org), Wikipedia sums up his chess career as follows:-

Born in Scarborough, Ontario, Canada in 1973, Lautier first major success came in 1986, when he won the World Under-14 Championship. He earned his international master title in 1988, also winning the World Junior Chess Championship that year. He was awarded his grandmaster title in 1990. He won the French Chess Championships in 2004 and 2005. [...] Lautier is one of the founders of the Association of Chess Professionals [ACP], and served as its president from 2004 to 2005. He was a second to Vladimir Kramnik in the Classical World Chess Championship 2000 against Garry Kasparov.

Of the many other non-war chess stories worth mentioning, one received coverage in three disparate sources:-

That third story, from Cointelegraph.com, outlined the technical details:-

Wyre, a fiat-to-crypto and payment infrastructure firm, partnered up with the online chess community Chess.com to launch a new NFT marketplace called Treasure Chess. The platform allows users to turn a chess game played on treasure.chess.com into a Treasure NFT. Users can then purchase, sell, mint and collect their "Treasures" on the layer-2 blockchain, Polygon.

Although NFTs specific to chess have been seen before in the chess world, the involvement of Chess.com adds weight to their importance. Is this the stuff of fad or future? We'll find out soon enough.

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

25 April 2022

TCEC S22, the Fish Again; CCC17 Bullet Top-3

Relative strength doesn't change quickly among the top engines competing in the two foremost engine vs. engine competitions. In the previous fortnightly post, TCEC Stockfish; CCC Stockfish (April 2022), the no.1 dog was Stockfish, no.2 dog was Dragon. Here's a summary of that post:-

TCEC: In the S22 Superfinal, Stockfish is beating KomodoDragon +12-3=17. Extrapolating this gives a final score of +38-9=53 [64.5-35.5]. • CCC: In the 'CCC17 Rapid Final' match, Stockfish beat Dragon +91-28=181. The site is currently running the 'CCC17 Bullet Qualification'.

Two weeks later, the dogs are holding their positions. The no.3 dog is LCZero, hard at the heels of no.2.

TCEC: In the S22 [Season 22] Superfinal, Stockfish beat KomodoDragon +28-9=63 [59.5-40.5], confirming its status as the world's top engine. To put this in historical context, we can go back to TCEC Stockfish Wins S21; CCC Romance Continues (August 2021), where I noted,

Stockfish beat LCZero in the S21 Sufi by a score of +19-7=74 (56.0-44.0) [...], Stockfish's fourth straight [Sufi] victory.

Now we can talk about the Fish's fifth straight Sufi victory. The TCEC is currently running the S22 Subfinal ('Subfi') between KomodoDragon and LCZero, the two engines that earned second and third places in S22. After a little more than 10% of the 100 games have been played, LCZero is leading by one point.

CCC: In last week's off-week post, The CCC16 Season (April 2022), I mapped the sequence of tournaments for that first season under new management: Rapid, Bullet, Blitz. In a post last year TCEC Swiss 2, CCC16 Rapid : Both Underway (November 2021), I mapped the sequence of four stages for the first tournament: Qualification, Main, Semifinals, Finals. The stages have evolved since that 'CCC16 Rapid' post. The format for the 'CCC17 Bullet' tournament is:-

• Qualification (eight engines, three promoting),
• Main event (twelve engines, six promoting),
• Semifinals (six engines, two promoting), and
• Challenger (810 rounds, 1620 games)
• Finals (810 rounds, 1620 games).

As useful as that overview of the stages is, it doesn't tell the complete story. Since each stage is scheduled to last a week, the number of rounds/games for a stage depends on the time control, bullet being the fastest (meaning more rounds).

'Semifinals (two promoting)' is also misleading. The engine finishing no.1 promotes into the 'Finals', while the engines finishing no.2&3 battle it out in the 'Challenger' for the other spot in the 'Finals'. At least that's what I determined in TCEC S22 DivP, CCC17 Rapid : Both Underway (March 2022), and I have no reason to believe that the current 'CCC17 Bullet' tournament is any different.

Back to the status of the 'CCC17 Bullet' tournament, still underway, three engines promoted from the 'Qualification' stage to the 'Main' stage: Rubi, Seer, Igel. In fact, Igel and Stoofvlees finished with the same score and I wasn't able to determine what tiebreak system was used. The tournament rules ('Info' tab) only mention tied matches. Igel beat Stoofvlees in their individual mini-match, which might well have been the basis of the tiebreak.

The three promoting engines from the 'Qualification' stage finished at the bottom of the next 'Main' stage. In the 'Semifinals', the leaders are Stockfish, Dragon, and Lc0, well ahead of the other three engines.

[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; Dragon = KomodoDragon]

24 April 2022

Women in Chess Podcasts

In this monthly series on The Sociology of Chess (November 2016), women's chess plays a recurring role. In the last year or so we've had two posts featuring women:-

This video features the current women's world no.1, Hou Yifan. She is the only woman ranked in the top-100 'open' list (both men and women).

Hou Yifan: "It's the starting point of women's chess" | FIDE Podcast - Episode 3 (1:03:17) • '[Published on] Mar 28, 2022'

The podcast's YouTube description said,

Former Women's World Champion GM Hou Yifan is the third guest on the FIDE podcast in this series of interviews by Lilli Hahn for the Year of the Woman in Chess.

For more about the FIDE series, see:-

That second link leads to a list of related podcasts on FIDE Podcast (podbean.com). For the previous post on this blog featuring a chess podcast, see USchess in Podcasts (June 2018).

18 April 2022

The CCC16 Season

Last month, in TCEC S22 DivP, CCC17 Rapid : Both Underway (March 2022), I made a mistake. Although I was trying to prepare an overview of the first CCC season that took place in 2021 under new management, I overlooked one of the main events.

The chart I prepared for the post was missing the 'CCC16 Bullet' event. The chart showed the most recent event at the top ('CCC16 Blitz') and the oldest event at the bottom ('CCC Blitz Championship 2021'), so 'CCC16 Bullet' should have been sandwiched between 'CCC16 Blitz' and 'CCC16 Rapid'.

The correct order of all four events is shown in the new chart on the left. Since the purpose of the chart was to show the evolution of the different stages (qualification, main, semifinals, ...) from one event to the next, it was wrong to leave out one of them. The correct order -- top to bottom -- of the four events is:-

  • CCC16 Blitz
  • CCC16 Bullet
  • CCC16 Rapid
  • CCC Blitz Championship 2021

The links to four corresponding posts on this blog are documented in the post with the original, erroneous chart. When the current season (CCC17) finishes, I can prepare a similar chart if necessary.

I decided not to change the chart in the original post, because this would likely have led to discrepancies in the text. Apologies for the error.

17 April 2022

War in Simpler Times

For this month's Flickr favorite, I could easily have done another post on the Russia - Ukraine war, like last month's Black and White, Good and Evil (March 2022). Instead, I'll keep the war theme, but go back a century and a half.

Robert O. Tyler playing chess © Flickr user CW Van Deusen under Creative Commons.

The description explained,

From Elizabeth L. C. Dixon's collection of Civil War photos. Original is in the Dixon-Welling family collection at the Connecticut Historical Society.

For more about General Tyler, see Wikipedia's page Robert O. Tyler. It starts,

Robert Ogden Tyler (1831–1874) was an American soldier who served as a general in the Union Army during the American Civil War. He was commander of the Artillery Reserve of the Army of the Potomac at the Battle of Gettysburg in July 1863, where his artillery batteries played an important role in the Union victory.

William Tecumseh Sherman, another general who served during the American Civil War, was the originator of the phrase 'War is hell'. In the 1860s they had newspaper accounts and still photographs of generals playing chess. Today we have smartphone videos of corpses lying in the street. Sherman spoke the truth.

11 April 2022

TCEC Stockfish; CCC Stockfish

In the previous fortnightly post on the world's leading engine vs. engine competitions, The TCEC/CCC Hegemony (March 2022), I established that Stockfish is starting to look uunbeatable. Here's a summary of that post:-

TCEC: In S22 DivP, Stockfish finished a half point ahead of KomodoDragon, which finished three points ahead of LCZero. First there will be an 'Infrafinal' between the engines that finished 3rd and 4th in DivP. Then follows the 'Superfinal' between Stockfish and KomodoDragon. • CCC: Dragon is currently getting crushed by Stockfish in the 'CCC17 Rapid Final' match.

Did I jump the gun on Stockfish? Let's look at the current situation.

TCEC: In the S22 Infrafinal, LCZero beat rofChade +21-1=28. Yes, LCZero lost only one game, confirming a large difference in strength between the top three engines and the rest of the pack.

In the S22 Superfinal, Stockfish is beating KomodoDragon +12-3=17. Extrapolating this gives a final score of +38-9=53. This confirms a large difference in strength between Stockfish and the next two engines. In the previous 'Hegemony' post, I wrote,

Then follows a 'Subfi' (Subfinal?) between the winner of the 'Infrafinal' and the loser of the 'Superfinal', probably LCZero and KomodoDragon.

Neither of the two matches after S22 DivP produced any suspense. What will the third match bring?

CCC: In the 'CCC17 Rapid Final' match, Stockfish beat Dragon +91-28=181. As the footnote below says, 'Dragon = KomodoDragon', making Stockfish a likely double winner -- both TCEC and CCC-- over Dragon. In the 'Hegemony' post, I also wrote,

In 2022, Stockfish is the engine to beat. Between Lc0 and Dragon, it's a tossup. Other engines are far behind.

After the TCEC S22 Subfi match, we'll know if 'tossup' is the right word. If KomodoDragon beats LCZero convincingly, all suspense will have disappeared.

Back to the CCC, the site is currently running the 'CCC17 Bullet Qualification'. And so a new cycle begins once again with most of the suspense happening in the preliminary events.

[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; Dragon = KomodoDragon]

10 April 2022

'Making Moves Against Russia'

I'm a news junkie and Euronews, both in English and in French, is one of my favorite news sources. I turn to its channels several times a day. The pan-European focus sets it apart from national news stations.

How Ukraine's chess community are making moves against Russia (0:59) • '[Published on] Mar 22, 2022'

I missed this particular segment when it was aired. The Youtube description said,

Lviv is said to be the birthplace of as many as 20-30 chess grandmasters, such as Andrei Volokitin, who signed an open letter from players refusing to face Russian opponents

The action of the Ukrainian players is largely symbolic. Top Russian chess players are well aware of the situation in Ukraine and have little influence over Vladimir Putin. As someone once said, 'Chess players are mostly harmless'. For more on the Euronews story, see How Ukraine's chess community are making moves against Russia (euronews.com).

05 April 2022

April 1972 & 1997 'On the Cover'

Seeing red? This month's post on U.S. chess magazines from 50 and 25 years ago is the chronological follow-up to last month's March 1972 & 1997 'On the Cover' (March 2022).

Left: '?'
Right: 'Mickey, can you spare $6,000 for a chess set? • Krush takes silver at Disney's World Rapid Chess Championship'

Chess Life & Review (50 Years Ago)

Andy Soltis, winner at Reggio Emilia, his second international tournament and his first international win. His story appears [inside]. Photo at the Manhattan Chess Club by Burt Hochberg.

The story inside was titled 'Fun and Games at Reggio' by Andy Soltis. It started,

It was an enjoyable return to Reggio Emilia this past holiday season and, for me, a profitable one, With the value of the [Italian] Lire up and the number of grandmasters down, I took a bigger than usual first prize in a festive tournament with 12 players from 10 countries.

The competition was relatively weak -- a Category 3 event under the new FIDE system -- and there were only four titled players: Grandmaster Damjanovic and International Master Masic of Yugoslavia, IM Kovacs of Hungary, and IM Silvino Garcia of Cuba, I had a chance to renew old Students' Olympiad acquaintances with Garcia, Lombard of Switzerland and Skalkotas of Greece. The able, multilingual Enrico Paoli played host and tournament director after dropping out as a player just before it began to make room for Lombard.

The mention of the Students' Olympiad harks back to a previous 'On the Cover': November 1970 & 1995 (November 2020). The CL&R cover there explained, 'Andy Soltis and Ken Rogoff, Members of the World Champion Student Team'.

On the same page as Soltis's Reggio Emilia story was a second story with a headline in a more prominent type than 'Fun and Games'. It blared a question in caps, 'GOING TO SEE FISCHER - SPASSKY?', then answered,

Please do not call or write to USCF about transportation to the match or accommodations at either Yugoslavia or Iceland. We are not involved in arranging transportation. tours, or tickets. Because we are swamped with essential work, we regret that we cannot find time to answer any inquiries on this subject.

Whatever information we have which might be helpful to persons planning to attend the match will be published in this magazine. The following information [about Belgrade] is all we have at present; we hope to give you an Icelandic address in our next issue.

For more about the 1972 match venue, see last month's 'On the Cover', referenced in the first paragraph at the top of this post.

Chess Life (25 Years Ago)

The April 1997 CL lacked an introductory paragraph explaining the choice of cover art and text. It featured three consecutive two page articles relating to the cover, all illustrated with many color photos. The first article was 'Manhattan Chess Set Auction Likely to become Annual Event' by Ed Pfeiffer. It started,

Auctions of collectible chess sets are nothing new for the Phillips gallery. The venerable British firm, which is celebrating its 200th Anniversary this year, has held such sales twice a year in London for the past decade.

On November 6 in Manhattan, Phillips staged its first chess set sale in the U.S. Obviously pleased with the results, auctioneer Claudia Florian, who manages the Phillips salesroom in New York, told the auction audience there would be another one next year. In a post-sale interview Luke Honey, the London-based specialist who arranged the first-time sale, said he expected them to become annual events.

The Phillips sale brought 115 lots to the block including books, games, and other chess-related items: and sets from Britain, Africa, the Orient, Mexico, Europe, and the U.S. Of particular interest were about 100 lots from Laurence I. Wood, a well-known chess set collector from Washington, DC.

The second illustrated article was 'The Art of Chess: A Celebration' (unsigned). Although similar in appearance to the story on the Phillips auction, there was no obvious connection between the two stories other than the art theme.

Between September 16 and October 3 of last year, New York City, home to countless galleries, exhibits, and museums, hosted one more exhibit -- one much closer to the hearts of most chessplayers. "The Art of Chess: a celebration" was held at the Shirley Fiterman Gallery at the Borough of Manhattan Community College, and funded by the Fiterman Family, the BMCC Chess Club and the BMCC Student Government Association.

The organizing force behind this two-week long celebration was this month's Volunteer of the Month, Dean Howard Prince. It was a monumental task, as can easily be ascertained by a partial list of artists: Yoko Ono, Samuel Bak, Elaine B. Rothwell, Stepan Shrem, Claire Becker, James Todd, Marko, Smyth, Despo Magoni, Sofia Polgar, Mitchell Beja, William Lombardy.

The third illustrated article was 'Disney à Paris' by Aviv Friedman. It heralded a future star of U.S. chess.

One of the most colorfully pleasant chess events in the world takes place annually at the Disneyland Paris theme park in France. On December 15, 1996, 164 kids from 42 countries with their coaches, guests, and guardians joined to take part in the second annual "Mickey for Kids" FIDE World championship for children under 14. [...]

The US team: The most successful representative was our "two-weeks-shy-of-13" New Yorker 1rina Krush. With an admirably positive fighting spirit and discipline she scored a fantastic seven points (including a last-round win against the already-sure winner of her section, [Regina] Pokorna) to win the silver medal. With a rating of 2200 USCF she is indeed a name to watch for in the years to come.

Make that 'a big name to watch'! According to Wikipedia's Irina Krush,

Irina Krush was born in Odessa, USSR (now Ukraine). She learned to play chess at age five, emigrating with her parents to Brooklyn that same year (1989). At age 14, Krush won the 1998 U.S. Women's Chess Championship to become the youngest U.S. women's champion ever. She has won the championship on seven other occasions...

For more about the Disney events, see the previous post Karpov at Disney (October 2015), where I mentioned Karpov appearances at Disneyland Paris in 1993, 1994, and 1998. I'm guessing that the 1996 event, where Karpov made an appearance, flew under my radar because he didn't play. To be confirmed...

04 April 2022

Stockfish Breaks All the Barriers

Two weeks ago the off-week engine post was Stockfish Sparkles (March 2022). This post continues with the Stockfish theme.

NCM Stockfish Dev Builds

The small print above the chart is self-explanatory:-

NCM plays each Stockfish dev build 20,000 times against Stockfish 7. This yields an approximate Elo difference and establishes confidence in the strength of the dev builds.

Another recent off-week engine post was Breaking the 3400 Barrier (February 2022), where I reckoned that Stockfish broke that rating milestone around March 2019. According to the NCM chart above, Stockfish is currently playing 200 Elo above its March 2019 strength.

The Fish blew past the 3500 mark when it switched to NNUE evaluations. That corresponds to a post on this blog from the same period: Stockfish NNUE = +90 Elo (August 2020). I'll come back to this current post if I ever need to do a 'Breaking 3500' post.

03 April 2022

eBay 'Stands with Ukraine'

Last month's edition of Top eBay Chess Items by Price (March 2010), was titled, 'Does Not Ship to Belgium' (March 2022). The title had to do with the Russian attack on Ukraine, which happened near the end of February. I wondered,

Is there any connection between my location (Belgium) and the seller's location (Russia)? Indeed there is. [...] When will eBay stop listings from sellers in Russia?

The answer to that last question came during the week after the post: San Jose-Based EBay Suspends Transactions to Russian Addresses (nbcbayarea.com; 12 March 2022).

[eBay:] "We stand with Ukraine and are taking a number of steps to support the Ukrainian people and our sellers in the region" ... In addition, eBay confirmed they've removed all Putin-related products "that are not clearly anti-Putin."

This resulted in a non-trivial reduction -- I calculate 10-20% -- in the number of sold items listed by eBay for March. These are, of course, chess items and Russia is one of the strongest chess playing countries in the world. I don't know if this reduction has anything to do with the low number of interesting items sold in March, but I couldn't find anything visually attractive that I hadn't discussed before.

The item I chose for this post is shown in the image below. It relates to a 'Top eBay Chess Items' post from a year ago, Lasker, Buschke, Euwe, and Keres (April 2021), where Dr. Lasker's non-chess book 'The Community of the Future' ('Price: $2.50' when it was published) played a small but important role. The March 2022 auction was titled, 'RARE VINTAGE EMANUEL LASKER (Chess Champ) COMMUNITY of the FUTURE 1st Ed 1940 HC'. The book sold for somewhat less than $400, 'Best Offer'.

The description said,

In 1940, the great second Chess Champion of the World, Emanuel Lasker (having reigned 1894-1921), summed up his worldly philosophy and advised his readers on what was to be done to struggle toward a better future. Lasker’s final book.

A great holiday gift for chess players, philosophers, history aficionados, public policy researchers.

Written in 1940 as WWII is ravaging Europe (while the USA bides its time) this prescriptive book of 295 pages addresses education, employment and the exodus of Jews (those so fortunate) from Europe. To Alaska, suggests Lasker (see a fictional treatment of the Alaska plan in Michael Chabon’s Yiddish Policemen’s Union, in which a character calls himself Emanuel Lasker).

For Lasker’s 60th birthday, Albert Einstein wrote: “Emanuel Lasker is one of the strongest minds I ever met in my life. A Renaissance man, gifted with an untamable urge for liberty; averse to any social bonds…. As a genuine individualist and self-willed soul, he loves deduction; and inductive research leaves him cold…. I love his writings, irrespective of their content of truth, as the fruits of a great original and free mind...” (quote from “Albert Einstein and Chess,” posted online by Bill Wall. Also see Hannak's biography of Lasker).

This copy has some chips on spine and back and is marred on cover boards, but not excessively (see photos). The pages have no tears and the binding is fully intact. Deckle-edged pages.

There was another book sold during the month, a bound magazine annual, that related to a previous post on this blog. I'll try to add it ASAP.