06 December 2016

Last World Championship Hubbub

Tomorrow I'll be wrapping up the 2016 Carlsen - Karjakin match on my World Chess Championship blog, which should be one of the last posts in the current cycle, C27: 2015-16. That gives me one last opportunity to squeeze in another post on this current blog. After World Championship Sizzle (the tiebreaks) and Closing Ceremony, what could I write about that might interest a few people? I could mention the report on Karjakin and Kasparov lock swords after match (chess24.com), which started,

Garry Kasparov was almost alone in failing to praise Sergey Karjakin after the World Championship match, describing the challenger as "drab".

Given ex-World Champion Kasparov's long-standing habit of kicking people when they're down or his hateful obsession with anyone even remotely supportive of his sworn enemy, Vladimir Putin, this is a dog-bites-man story. I could also mention the matched pair of Reuters Breakingviews opinion pieces:-

  • One-knight stand (video) • 'Chess officials were hoping this year's world championship would kick off a lucrative new effort to commercialize the sport.'
  • Chess: a 1,500-year-old startup that doesn't scale (opinion) • 'A fresh attempt to popularize the game using this year's championship between Magnus Carlsen and Sergey Karjakin is destined to be checkmated.'

While this is more of a man-bites-dog story, there really isn't anything new in the analysis. No, I think I'll go with the most recent Yahoo News stories, last seen in World Championship Fizzle, my post on the final long game of the match (if you can call a half-hour game 'long'). It's probably the only chance I'll ever get to use a photo of a jet engine in this blog.

The first story pictured was in the Sports section; the second was in the Finance section, which still happens to be the best part of the slowly crumbling Yahoo empire.

2016-12-01: Magnus Carlsen wins third world chess title; 'The games were watched by about six million people around the world' (bbc.com) • 'Magnus Carlsen of Norway has won the World Chess Championship for the third consecutive time after defeating challenger Sergey Karjakin of Russia. Carlsen, 26, sealed victory following a series of tiebreakers at the finals held in New York. Karjakin tied against Carlsen in 12 regular rounds but was beaten in the final phase of four quickfire games.'

2016-11-30: ‘We haven’t captured the magic’: Chess missed out on a massive opportunity (finance.yahoo.com) • 'For the past two weeks, the FIDE World Chess Championship has been going on in New York City, and on Wednesday the event culminates in a thrilling tiebreaker of "rapid blitz" games. But most Americans, even those living in New York City, are likely unaware.'

The Yahoo Finance piece was written by Yahoo's Daniel Roberts, the same journalist featured in my previous post, The Money Game (May 2016), where he interviewed GM Maurice Ashley. I don't want to end this series of posts on the Carlsen - Karjakin match with a thumbs-down story ('most Americans are likely unaware'), so I'll slip in those two sub-stories shown under the BBC report.

Given that the match started on 11 November, I spent three and a half weeks covering it. Who said chess was slow?

05 December 2016

TCEC Season 9 Superfinal Week 4

It's all over! In last week's post, TCEC Season 9 Superfinal Week 3, we left Stockfish leading Houdini by a score of +12-5=52, with 31 games still to be played. The 100th game finished this morning, giving a further score of +5-3=23. Adding those scores together gives us a total score of...

+12-5=52 after week three
+ 5-3=23 week four

...in favor of Stockfish. Congratulations to the Stockfish team on becoming the defacto, unofficial World Computer Chess Champion.

In my first report on the competition, Superfinal Underway, I took the results of the first few days...

In the nearly three days since the event started, the engines have played 12 complete games non-stop with Stockfish leading Houdini by +3-0=9.

...and extrapolated to a crushing final score of +25-0=75. I was right about the number of draws, but dead wrong about the margin of victory. Houdini won twice in the second week and three times in each of the two following weeks to put up a fight, although the final outcome was never in doubt.

The controversial scoring of game 17 in Superfinal Week 2, where Stockfish was awarded a win in a game that both engines evaluated as a draw, prompted some sticklers to declare a final score of +16-8=76. I'll give the event's organizers the privilege of scoring the game according to how they interpret the rules. Chessdom.com reported the result of the event in Stockfish is the TCEC Season 9 Grand Champion

Stockfish, the open source chess engine by Tord Romstad, Marco Costalba, Joona Kiiski, and Gary Linscott, is the winner of the 2016 edition of the Top Chess Engine Championship. Stockfish 8 won the 100 games Superfinal match against Houdini 5 with a total score of 54,5 – 45,5. This is the second TCEC gold medal for Stockfish and it comes after the title in Season 6 and two runner up positions in Seasons 7 and 8. The third position in 2016 is for the ex-champion Komodo.

Given that Stockfish is open source -- anyone can go to its site and download the latest version for free -- why would someone pay money for a commercial engine like Houdini? That is a question that I can't answer. The day before the TCEC ended, Chessbase.com ran the following 'news' item on the home page of the English version of the site.

'Houdini 5 won the "Top Chess Engine Championship"
(TCEC, Season 9)'

The blurb neglected to mention that Houdini won the rapid event that preceded the Superfinal. As I write this, there has been no mention by Chessbase of the Superfinal result. The 'Impressive...' link went to a product page offering Houdini for Euro 99.90. Impressive, indeed.

04 December 2016

World Championship Social Media

Let's get back to The Sociology of Chess, and specifically World Championship Sociology. Many chess players might not remember a time when a World Chess Championship had no related web site, like nyc2016.fide.com for the recently concluded Carlsen - Karjakin match, but most can remember when there was no related social media. One of the first articles to appear on Worldchess.com, the host domain for the nyc2016 site, was Chess Players Are Surprisingly Bad With Social Media (October 2015):-

Most everyone agrees that chess is ideally suited for the Internet. But, when it comes to one of the most powerful and omnipresent uses of the Internet -- social media -- some chess players, even elite ones, have been slow to adapt.

That observation doesn't apply to Worldchess itself, which promotes three social media services on every one of its own pages:-

Following is a sample from that last service, which captures key moments from the match.


Add to the Worldchess list a service for the many excellent videos produced by the group:-

As most keen observers of chess know by now, Agon Limited was both the organizer of the match and the owner of the Worldchess site. It tried to establish a monopoly over the transmission of the moves of the match (see my posts from another blog, World Championship Broadcasting and World Championship Bullying, for background) but was stopped at the last moment by a Manhattan court. Worldchess also doesn't have a monopoly on chess in the social media. Two popular Twitter hashtags for the match were

both of which tracked match progress through GM Carlsen's ultimate victory. While I was preparing this post, I discovered Seven Reasons Why Social Media Is a Chess Game (globalsevenagency.com):-

1. Sometimes you WIN, sometimes you LOSE
2. Practice makes PERFECT
3. It’s not always YOUR move
etc. etc.

With social media, everyone wins and it's always your move.

02 December 2016

World Championship Closing Ceremony

Ever since the 2016 Carlsen - Karjakin match started, I've been wondering who would represent FIDE at the award ceremony. In November 2015, FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov was barred from entering the U.S. for "materially assisting and acting for or on behalf of the government of Syria", and I haven't seen any other FIDE officials at the match except those who have some responsibility in running it.

Closing Ceremony (30:50) • 'Published on Nov 30, 2016'

Joining hostess Kaja Snare on stage were Agon CEO Ilya Merenzon, FIDE Treasurer Adrian Siegel, Phosagro CEO Andrey Guryev (a sponsor), and Chief Arbiter Takis Nikolopoulos. Merenzon awarded the runner-up medal to Sergey Karjakin, after which Siegel awarded the winner's medal to Magnus Carlsen; Guryev then awarded the champion's trophy.

I was happy to find the video on the WorldChess Youtube channel. Except for the title 'Closing Ceremony', the clip has no keywords or other identifying information -- not even the names Carlsen or Karjakin. Ditto for the official copy of the clip I used yesterday in World Championship Sizzle; it's here: Final press conference.

01 December 2016

World Championship Sizzle

My previous post, World Championship Fizzle, about the last match game at standard time control, contained more than a glimmer of hope for the rapid / blitz tiebreaks.

I watched the press conference, where the players said that they understood spectators might have been disappointed by the short, bloodless draw. They also pointed out that there will be considerable compensation in having the tiebreaks. [...] After the game 12 fizzle, the tiebreaks promise plenty of sizzle.

Sizzle they did. After two draws in the four game rapidplay mini-match, including a narrow escape by Sergey Karjakin in the second game, Magnus Carlsen won the last two games to retain the title of World Chess Champion. The post-game press conference is available in entirety on Youtube.

Magnus Carlsen Vs Sergey Karjakin - Rapid - Press Conference (31:32) • 'Published on Nov 30, 2016'

I picked out two key points that were especially revealing. Early in the press conference, GM Carlsen explained the quick draw in game 12.

As for the tiebreaks, I pretty much knew this was going to happen when we made a draw in the 11th game. [...] I felt good coming today. I had a few days of rest, days to prepare.

He later expanded on this in reply to a question from Chess.com's Peter Doggers.

It was an advantage for me that I didn't have to think about game 12 and he did. [...] I thought that playing four games instead of one seemed like a very good idea. Besides that, it was refreshing to play a bit faster after all these weeks.

In other words, before the game even started, Carlsen had planned the game 12 fizzle to give himself a head start in preparing for the tiebreaks. Later on, Agon's CEO Ilya Merenzon offered 'some numbers'.

90% of people followed the match on smartphones. Over 10.000.000 people from pretty much all countries in the world followed the championship live on the official website. Over 10.000 people attended the championship live. Over 400 media organizations were accredited here. Total media value of coverage was over $25.000.000.

Congratulations to GM Carlsen on winning the title for a third time. Congratulations to GM Karjakin for being a true world-class competitor. I hope that we see both players in World Championship competitions -- at any level -- for many years to come.

29 November 2016

World Championship Fizzle

For the first time in the 2016 Carlsen - Karjakin World Championship match I was all set to watch a game in its entirety. And what a game it promised to be: the last of the games at standard time control with the score tied at 5.5 for each player! After getting agreement from my wife, we had an early dinner (the games start at 20:00 our time), did the dishes, and I headed up to my attic office just in time to see the first moves on my second PC. It was another Berlin Defense -- not the sort of opening that makes for exciting games -- but I knew that Magnus can whip up complications in any opening if he so desires.

At one point I must have spent too much time looking at some new email on my first PC, because when I turned my attention back to the game, the Chess24 chat squad was already announcing that a draw had been agreed. Huh? A few moments later the official result was appended to the move list. Half an hour to play the last game of the match! I turned off the second PC, set up the first to analyze a position I was interested in, and headed down to the living room to rejoin my wife. She was watching a movie starring Cameron Diaz and Kate Upton, so the evening wasn't an entire loss.

Good thing I didn't realize that dream to travel to New York and watch the match live. With my luck, I would have arrived just in time for the 12th game. This morning I watched the press conference, where the players said that they understood spectators might have been disappointed by the short, bloodless draw. They also pointed out that there will be considerable compensation in having the tiebreaks, but I doubt I'll have the opportunity to watch.

Despite the lack of resolve by the players, the mainstream press continued to show the same level of interest seen in More World Championship Hubbub. Here is another composite of Yahoo News stories.

This time all four stories are filed under the Sports section.

2016-11-22: Lightning strikes at the World Chess Championship as Magnus Carlsen loses Game 8 (businessinsider.com) • 'After seven straight draws, we've finally witnessed a decisive result at the World Chess Championship. Sergey Karjakin of Russia, the challenger, claimed the first full-point on Monday against titleholder Magnus Carlsen of Norway.'

2016-11-23: The World's Best Chess Player Beat Bill Gates in 9 Moves. Here Are 3 Business Lessons (inc.com) • '1. Know who [sic] you're dealing with. 2. The devil is in the details. 3. It's important to fail.' • As derived from 9 Lessons to Learn from Bill Gates’ 9 Move Loss to Magnus Carlsen (chessimprover.com; January 2014). • My own contribution, Carlsen vs. Gates, The Aftermath (January 2014), might also be titled '8 Quips to Learn from Bill Gates'.

2016-11-26: Chess grandmasters on track for possible ‘Armageddon’ at world championship • 'The situation looked dire for reigning world chess champion Magnus Carlsen on Tuesday when a slew of uncharacteristic errors allowed his opponent, Sergey Karjakin, to break a seven-game tie at the World Chess Championship. [...] On Thursday, Carlsen recovered by winning Game 10 to even the score at 5-5.'

2016-11-28: Game 12 of the World Chess Championship was nothing like what chess fans were hoping for from Magnus Carlsen (businessinsider.com) • 'Chess is a game of strategy, and reigning World Champion Magnus Carlsen was nothing if not strategic in Game 12 of his match against Russia's Sergey Karjakin on Monday. With the score tied at 5.5-5.5, the title-holder from Norway, with white, invited Karjakin to play the Berlin Defense, and the challenger obliged. The Berlin yet again lived up to its drawish reputation, and after a mere 30 moves and roughly 45 minutes of play, the men shook hands.' • The first substory -- 'The Strange Politics of the World Chess Championship' -- is even more interesting than the main story. It led to World Chess Has a Big Problem; While grandmasters earn millions, the sport still can’t shake ties to tyrants and a leader under U.S. sanctions (bloomberg.com).

That's not too shabby -- full reports on games 8, 10, & 12; a taste of Magnus folklore; and a basket of chess politics. After the game 12 fizzle, the tiebreaks promise plenty of sizzle.

28 November 2016

TCEC Season 9 Superfinal Week 3

One week ago, I left TCEC Season 9 Superfinal Week 2 with Stockfish leading Houdini by a score of +7-2=31. During the intervening week another 29 games have been played with a cumulative score of +5-3=21, again in favor of Stockfish. That makes an overall score of

+ 7-2=31 after week two
+ 5-3=21 week three

Five wins for Houdini is a better score than I had extrapolated after the first few days of play. How does it manage to prevail against an opponent who consistently calculates variations more deeply? The following chart shows the evaluation during the course of the game for four of the five wins, Houdini playing White each time.

The beginning of each game shows a similar pattern. After the mandatory book moves have been played, Houdini gives a higher evaluation to the position than does Stockfish. After more moves have been played, Stockfish's evaluation eventually catches up to Houdini's, then surpasses it as Stockfish realizes the game is lost.

Is Houdini's evaluation of an opening position more accurate than Stockfish's? To help answer that question, I would compare the results of the same openings with Stockfish playing White, but that will have to wait for another time. It's worth noting that Stockfish also won G65, i.e. playing the White side of G66. Perhaps that provides an additional clue to its evaluation of openings.

Houdini won another game not shown here, game 58 (G58). The opening of that game followed the same pattern as the other four games, but something strange happened in the middlegame. At around move 65, in a position where the center was blocked, Houdini (White) calculated that it had an advantage of a third of a Pawn, while Stockfish evaluated the position at 0.00 (dead even). The engines maintained their evaluations for another 30 moves, after which Houdini's dropped to a slight advantage for its opponent. After another 15 moves, Houdini's evaluation climbed to a half-Pawn advantage for itself, then continued to climb with Stockfish still showing 0.00. A few moves later, both engines gave a winning advantage for White. On move 144, the game was declared a win for Houdini.

It's well known that engines often have a problem evaluating blocked positions. Was this a contributing factor to the other four wins for Houdini?

While I was writing this, Houdini also won game 70. Although it's putting up a better fight than I had anticipated, I don't expect the overall match result will change in the 30 games left to be played. At a rate of four games per day, we'll find out in another week.