24 June 2022

Hatchet Job

My favorite book about the 1972 Fischer - Spassky Title Match is 'Bobby Fischer vs. the Rest of the World' by Brad Darrach. I've mentioned the book before, most recently in Was Fischer Really Against the Whole World? (September 2017). Sometimes described as a Fischer 'biography', the book is neither that nor is it about the chess of the match. It is instead a first hand account of what it took to get Fischer to play the match, organized chronologically.

The book has been much maligned by leaders of the chess community. In Brad Darrach and The Dark Side of Bobby Fischer, Edward Winter, the foremost chess historian of the modern era, quotes several key sources who panned the book. Although Winter never gives specific instances of Darrach having misstated facts, it is clear that his opinion aligns with those he quotes when he mentions that 'demeaning phrase: "According to Darrach"'. He twice quotes others who called Darrach's book a 'hatchet job'.

Winter gives many quotes from Fischer's main biographer, Frank Brady, in the September 1977 CHESS magazine. All of the quotes beg further comment, but one quote struck me as particularly unfair:-

A large part of the book covers Fischer’s peregrinations before deciding to go to Iceland. Darrach weaves a colourful account of those moments and quotes long sections of dialogue, as though he were on the scene and heard the specific conversation. In fact, Darrach was already in Iceland, Fischer was in New York and most of the material that Darrach relates as history is just an exercise of his imagination.

In another recent post, Bobby Fischer Day by Day (May 2022), I introduced 'a site that offers [Fischer] newspaper clippings in chronological order'. More accurately described as a family of blogs, the site includes a post Brad Darrach's History of Defamation Before Bobby Fischer Met Him (bfchos.blogspot.com; June 2018; 'Bobby Fischer Chess Hall of Shame'). Although the writer/blogger is not at the same level as Winter, the post echoes Brady's criticism, saying,

This demonstrates the lack of personal knowledge of Darrach about Bobby Fischer. His articles persistently cite third parties, as if Darrach had an "inside scoop" on Fischer's personal life, relying on hearsay and embellishing with his wild imagination and passing his speculation off as "factual news" and even a "biography".

In the last section of his book, 'Acknowledgments', Darrach wrote,

The summer of '72 was one of those moments when life imitated art. Sometimes it seemed that The Author of Us All -- part Sophocles, part Mel Brooks -- had decided to write, produce and direct the damnedest happening that ever happened. More often it seemed that Bobby Fischer was in full charge of everything and everybody.

I want to thank Bobby for this book -- without him, nothing it describes would have happened.

I also want to thank everyone Bobby drew into the vortex of his demon -- all the people who appear in the pages of this book and dozens who do not. They gave me hundreds of interviews that took up hundreds of hours. More essential, they gave me the chance to lean in close and watch them live.

I cannot thank them all here but I must expressly thank Gudmundur Thorarinsson, Fred Cramer, Paul Marshall, Andrew Davis, Ed Edmondson, Frank Skoff, Saemundur Palsson, Boris Spassky, Chester Fox, Richard Stein, Jack and Ethel Collins, Joan Targ, Bill Lombardy, Larry Evans, Robert Byrne, Lubomir Kavalek, Arthur Bisguier, Isaac Kashdan, Don Schultz, Frank Brady, Milunka Lazarevich, I. S. Turover, George Koltanowski, James Slater, David Frost, Leonard Barden, Nicholas Bethell, Hans Indridason, Tedd Hope, Bob Hallowell, Herb Hochstetter, Morris Dubinsky and the Saidy family.

Darrach apparently took the notes from his 'hundreds of interviews that took up hundreds of hours', storyboarded them in chronological order, and constructed dialog based on the words of his interviewees. The result might not be literally true, but it's not fiction either. Near the end of his analysis, Winter writes,

At the end of the Brady article CHESS [B.H.Wood] opined: 'Darrach is sometimes grudgingly fair to Fischer but obviously loathes him.'

I've read the Darrach book several times and found little to support that last statement. In the November 1972 Chess Life, Anthony Saidy, one of the most quoted personalities in Darrach's book, wrote a four page article, 'A Tale of Two Titans Ten Weeks That Shook the Chess World'. In the first paragraph he revealed a telling anecdote about Fischer's behavior during the match and gave its source in a footnote:-

Revealed in LIFE by Brad Darrach, one of the minority of journalists sympathetic to Fischer. - AS

The same anecdote is repeated in chapter nine of 'BF vs. the World', where we learn that Darrach was present at the scene. How many of his critics can say the same?

21 June 2022

June 1972 & 1997 'On the Cover'

Our monthly look at American chess magazines from 50 and 25 years ago, like last month's May 1972 & 1997 'On the Cover' (May 2022), always shows two covers. This month we have three. All three covers relate to major milestones in chess history, as I mentioned this last month in A Year of Anniversaries (May 2022).


Top: '"But, Boris, what if he doesn't play 1.P-K4?"'
Bottom Left: '$700,000 for the winner ... Deep Blues for the loser!'
Bottom Right: 'Deeper Blue beats Kasparov'

Chess Life & Review (50 Years Ago)

A commissioned drawing marvelously executed by Bob Walker, a New York commercial artist. The likenesses of Spassky, Kosygin and Brezhnev have been magnificently captured.

In order from left to right: Spassky, Brezhnev, and Kosygin, plus Lenin on the wall. The books on the left are opening references for 1.e4. The newspaper at the bottom lists Fischer's crushing scores against his three opponents from the 1970-72 Candidates Matches. Ten years ago I featured the same famous cover in The Vanishing 1.P-K4 Prophecy (January 2012).

Chess Life (25 Years Ago)

If you noticed a similarity in design between this month's cover and this month's catalog cover, it is because the same person is responsible for both -- David Marsh. The popular Yugoslavian artist, Jovan Prokopljevic, provided the sketch of Kasparov. While it might seem more appropriate to portray Garry as the favorite (as the defending champion), IBM (thus far) has displayed a greater braggadocio than the world champion. Our money is still riding on Garry -- we know who he has been consulting!

A second paragraph explained the reason for two issues of CL in one month. Although I've read it many times, I don't understand what it says ('retarding the cover date'?).

Next month you will not see a date on the cover. We will be publishing a special issue about the Kasparov - Deep Blue match. Your July issue will arrive in early July. By retarding the cover date we will be able to consolidate our supplemental mailings (mailings that are made between the monthly magazine mailings) and realize a considerable savings.

Inside the June issue was a 'Spotlight' paragraph announcing that the match would take place 3-11 May in New York City. The cover story consisted of three color pages starting with an IBM press release. (When did the June issue go to press? In April? When was it mailed?) Another two page color spread was an advertisement for the 1997 U.S. Chessathon, 7 June, with an application to play in the event. 'Send [checks] with completed form by May 5th, 1997.' NB: CL coverage of the Chessathon will appear in the September issue.

Chess Life (Special Summer Issue)

This is definitely not a pretty picture. But Kevin Dyke has captured the essence of this man-versus-machine confrontation. The pressure on Garry Kasparov was unbelievable and Kevin was there at the right moment. IBM kept referring to this incarnation as "Deeper Blue" -- but perhaps that is better suited to describe Garry after game six.

The cover story filled 11 pages. The lead photo showed Kasparov at the board (next to a huge chess clock) and looking upwards. It was captioned, 'Did Garry see the handwriting on the wall?'. The story started,

"I've come to watch the best chessplayer in the world and Garry Kasparov", said IBM President Louis Gerstner on his arrival at the $1.1 million IBM Chess Challenge rematch on the eve of the fifth game.

The match story was written by IM Danny Kopec. The six games were annotated by GM Leonid Shamkovich or by GM Gabriel Schwartzman.

20 June 2022

Stockfish Wins TCEC Cup 10; TCEC Swiss 3, CCC17 Blitz both Underway

Due to a vacation, it's been four weeks since my fortnightly report on the world's two foremost, ongoing engine vs. engine competitions: TCEC Cup 10 Underway; Stockfish Wins CCC17 Bullet (May 2022). The summary of that report is shorter than most summaries:-

TCEC: The site launched the 'Cup 10' event, using a 32-engine knockout format. • CCC: In the 'CCC17 Bullet Finals' Stockfish beat Dragon. The site is currently preparing the 'CCC17 Blitz Qualification' event, the first stage in the next multi-stage competition.

Given that Stockfish is the undisputed no.1 in the universe of chess engines, the last few posts have all tackled the issue of no.2:-

Back to the question 'Dragon, LCZero - Who's Better?'

Let's look at what happened during the month since the previous report.

TCEC: In 'Cup 10', Stockfish beat LCZero +4-2=4 in a semifinal match, then beat KomodoDragon +2-1=9 in the final match. LCZero beat Revenge +5-1=4 in the match for third place. Less than a week after 'Cup 10', the site launched 'Swiss 3' with 48 engines competing over 11 rounds. The event is currrently in the seventh round and should finish early in July.

For the final post on the TCEC's previous Swiss event, see KomodoDragon Wins TCEC Swiss 2; CCC16 Bullet Semifinals Underway (December 2021). Will KomodoDragon repeat its success? It is currently trailing tournament leader Stockfish by 1.5 points, with both engines still to play their seventh round matches.

CCC: In the 'CCC17 Blitz' event, the three engines that promoted from the 8-engine Qualification stage all finished in the bottom half of the 12-engine Main stage. Of the six engines that promoted from the Main stage, Stockfish, Dragon, and Lc0 finished in that order, well ahead of the other three engines.

The same pattern is holding for the Semifinal stage, with Dragon and Lc0 tied for second/third place. If they hold those places, they will meet in a 480-game Challenger match to decide which engine meets Stockfish in the match for the 480-game Final stage. The Semifinal finishes in a few days.

[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]

19 June 2022

Caissartistic License

For this month's Flickr Favorite, I had two photos on the short list, neither of which I understood. Since I couldn't choose between them, I decided to use both.


Left: A Deeper Form of Chess, 2017 by Sanford Biggers © Flickr user Peter E under Creative Commons.
Right: Robots Playing Chess © Flickr user Joe Shlabotnik under Creative Commons.

The description of the photo on the left said,

Medium/Technique: Found quilt and assorted textiles, polystyrene, aqua resin, and tar [...] Description: Work is formed of two pieces: a found antique pieced quilt hanging behind a life size figural sculpture, painted with tar and patches of found quilt. When the sculpture is placed in alignment with the hanging quilt it creates an impression of intersection and blending as the quilt segments align.

What does that mean? Pass. It definitely looks like it has something to do with chess.

The description of the photo on the right said,

In a store at the Grand Canal Shoppes at the Venetian.

That has nothing to do with the Grand Canal in Venice, Italy. It has everything to do with Las Vegas, Nevada. What I didn't understand about the photo: How do the robots move the pieces? Their arms are too short.

17 June 2022

Legends of the 1972 Match

During the third calendar year of this blog I wrote a post titled Halldor Petursson Cartoons (February 2008). It started,

Ever wonder how many cartoons Halldór Pétursson drew for the 1972 Fischer - Spassky match? I did, so I used the cards that have been issued to count them.

There were 18 cards, which I displayed in order. A few years later I acquired two posters, similar to the cards, but that had been issued in color. The first of the two is shown below. The scan, taken from the original eBay auction, isn't particularly good, but I would need a large scanner to do better.

A comparison with the 2008 'Cartoons' post shows that it is the same drawing used on the black & white card labelled 'no.01'. The description of the eBay auction for the poster informed,

Color poster from the World Chess Championship in Reykjavik, Iceland 1972 between Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky. Size 43 x 36,5 cm. Artist Halldor Petursson. The poster has never been used but is soon 40 years old and there can be a little yellowing on the sides. All characters and their role are named on the bottom, in Icelandic and English.

In creating the image shown above, I started with the color portion of the poster and appended the English legend. The legend says,

WORLD CHESS CHAMPIONSHIP - REYKJAVIK 1972
Scene one: Bobby's Arrival. The exciting moment, the whole world had been waiting for.
From left to right:
1. Jim Slater: "Saviour of the day". The British Millionaire, who doubled the Prize Money.
2. Fridrik olafsson: Grand Master. The "M.I.P." in Icelandic Chess Life.
3. Gudmundur G. Thorarinsson: President of the Icelandic Chess Federation (dead-beat).
4. Freysteinn Grettisfang: "The-almost-go-between".
5. Bobby Fischer: Challenger of the Century.
6. Dr. Max Euwe: President of FIDE. World Chess Champion 1935-1937.
7. Harry Golombek: The "never-out-of-balance" Vice President of FIDE.
8. Lothar Schmid: Principal Arbiter and "Master of Silence".
9. Gudmundur Arnlaugsson: Assistant Arbiter.
10. Chester Fox: The "Desperate" Film Producer.
11. Boris Spassky: World Chess Champion.
12. Efim Geller: Grand Master. Spassky's Second. Speciality: Bobby.
13. Ivor Nei: International Master. Spassky's Second.
GENS UNA SUMUS: We Are One Race.
FIDE: Federation Internationale Des Echecs: International Chess Federation.

The sack that Bobby carries is labelled '$ - Principles - £'. The crown that Boris holds is decorated with numerous Soviet hammer and sickle icons.

There are a few mysteries embedded in the legend. The no.2 acronym 'M.I.P.' probably means 'Most Important Person', but no.3 'dead-beat' and no.4 'almost-go-between' go well beyond my familiarity with the match. I'll leave them to real historians to explain.

12 June 2022

The Second Incarnation of Kasparovchess.com

A year ago, in Business Yahoos (May 2021), I wrote,

Let's start with the two stories from PRNewswire, where 'PR' is an acronym for 'press release':-
* 2021-05-25: Grand Chess Tour Partners With Vivendi To Kick Off Chess Platform Kasparovchess.com (prnewswire.com)
* [...]
The Kasparov story was picked up by a few other sources. I might come back to it if it doesn't fizzle as fast as many Kasparov stories.

Fizzle it didn't. A reminder about the site appeared on this month's short list for featured video.


The Best Educational Chess Website You Haven't Heard Of | KasparovChess.com (50:17) • '[Published on] May 27, 2022'

The description of that clip, on the Eric Rosen Youtube channel, explained,

Thanks to Kasparov Chess for sponsoring this video! Visit https://kasparovchess.com/upgrade-acc... and use code ROSEN to get a 7-day free trial, 50% off memberships and receive a KASPAROV AUTOGRAPHED BOOK of “How Life Imitates Chess”...

Once upon a time I reviewed that book in a post titled, Me, Myself, and I (May 2011). My conclusion? 'Recommended.'

What was the first incarnation of Kasparovchess.com? See site:mark-weeks.com kasparovchess.com for details.

05 June 2022

Napoleon vs. Cornwallis

The last time I featured a watch on Top eBay Chess Items by Price (March 2010) was Christmas Watch (December 2016). We are well overdue for another watch.

The item pictured below was titled '18k Gold Napoleon and Cornwallis - Chess Fusee Verge Pair Case Pocket Watch 1802'. It was listed 'Best offer accepted' for GBP 3,395.00 ($4,075.53 according to eBay). Based on other available info, it sold for somewhere between $3000 and $4000.


Left: Watch • Right: Dial

The description was long and technical, so I reduced it to:-

A mint and very rare condition solid 18k gold Georgian era verge chain driven fusee pair-case pocket watch made by Goldsmiths of Liverpool fully serviced, overhauled and keeping good verge time. The watch comes from a private collection where it has clearly been looked after. Watches from this period with the fire-gilding to the watch movement and cases in such bright condition are very uncommon.

This is a beautifully made English key-wound man's verge pocket watch, dating from ca. 1802. The watch is in full working order and comes complete with a key for winding and presentation box.

The dial with a picture of Emperor Napoleon playing chess against Lord Cornwallis, clearly out manoeuvring him and at the time still the dominant force in Europe. Bonaparte (left) and Lord Cornwallis play chess. Bonaparte, not caricatured, alert and military, wearing his large plumed cocked hat, leans forward, pointing to his move; his left arm lies on the table and in his left hand is his sheathed sabre.

This political cartoon was published by S. W. Forbes and a print made by Charles Williams in 1802 in London.

If, like me, the term 'verge watch' isn't part of your vocabulary, see Verge escapement (wikipedia.org). The story about Napoleon vs. Cornwallis is also worth knowing, but I'll leave that to people who are really interested.