02 August 2015

Chess Curriculum - Pre-chess

Returning to Chess Curriculum Inventory, after Chess Curriculum - Short Versions comes a full, stand-alone version.

No.2: Teaching Chess the Easy and Fun Way with Mini-Games • Kathy Price, Andre E. Zupans • 84 pages • Randolph-TeachingChesstheEasyFunWaywithMiniGames.pdf • subtitled 'Teach Clear Thinking, Promote Math Skills, Enhance Memory & Reasoning; Supporting the Common Core State Math Standards'

The philosophy behind the document can be gleaned from the section 'About the Authors' [p.03 (of the PDF)],

Kathy Price [...] developed this system of teaching chess to entire classrooms by trial and error with students in 1st through 6th grade classrooms. When one adult is facing 24 eager second graders with a variety of skills and interests, it became necessary to have an effective format that allows effective teaching and learning within constrained time limits to take place. • Andre Zupans [...] discovered that un-packing the game of chess in small Mini-Games was an effective way to teach chess. This educational guide has been designed on this principle.

and from the 'Introduction' [p.05]

The value of teaching chess to elementary age children is well researched. Occasionally we see schools that offer optional chess clubs or after school programs but arely we see it instituted in a whole classroom. Why? It is because most teachers do not know how to play or more importantly don’t have an effective system to teach chess to 24 or more active elementary students at once. This book is for that teacher!

Assuming a significant difference between 1st and 6th grade students, I would place the material at the younger end of that range. The document talks to a teacher responsible for a full class -- 'Classroom/Club Management' [p.15, with some good tips] and 'Supporting the Common Core State Standards in Math' [p.65-72, eight full pages] -- not to the students, and not to classes of one or two students.

The exercises can best be described as pre-chess or proto-chess. There is a full page of 'Game Variations' [p.56], e.g. Pocket Knight, Checkless Chess, etc. There are no full games, no openings, and few real-game situations. I expect that students come away eager to play a real chess game, when a more experienced chess teacher would necessarily take charge.

31 July 2015

Shannon's Number

Published a week ago, already with 232.410 views and 855 comments, this is not your average chess video.

How many chess games are possible? (12:10) • 'Dr James Grime talking about the Shannon Number and other chess stuff.'

The last minute-and-a-half is publicity for a web service. For more about chess and math, see Chess from Wolfram MathWorld


Several chess blogs have posted about the recent announcement that AP makes one million minutes of historical footage available on YouTube. For a search on the videos, see chess : AP Archive.

30 July 2015

What's Hot on CFAA?

Of the first 2000 posts on this blog -- a milestone mentioned in Another 1000 CFAA Posts -- which have been the most popular? Blogger.com (the domain used to manage blogs on blogspot.com) started reporting statistics in May 2010, meaning that I have just over five years of numbers covering all sorts of trivia.

Since most of the ongoing traffic comes from web searches, it's not too surprising that the most popular posts have less to do with chess than with some mainstream topic. The no.1 post on my blog, with more than double the views of no.2, is Access to Referrers, where I analyzed my website's log using MS Access. No.2, with 50% more views than no.3, is Crash Course in Soviet Geography, which features a map of the USSR. No.3, the first real chess post on the list, is Magnus vs. the Hustlers, my first Video Friday post for this year. In a footnote to the post, I commented,

Although it's been less than a day since I posted the link to the video, the post has received more than ten times the views I normally get on the first day of a new post.

A few days later, the clip was removed from Youtube and replaced with the message 'This video is no longer available due to a copyright claim by VGTV'. Since VGTV is hardly a household name, a more productive approach might have been to add a comment to the clip's Youtube page with pertinent details.

Rounding out the top-10 (that's all blogger.com returns in its summary of stats) popular posts, the following all have similar numbers of views.

A few months ago I explored the popularity of 'Top eBay Chess Items' in a pair of Chess Collectors' Corner posts : What's Hot? and What's Not?. What will the next 1000 posts bring? Check back here in four or five years.

28 July 2015

Another 1000 CFAA Posts

Start with My 1000th CFAA Post and add another 1000 posts. What have you got?

Google image search on '2000'

As I explained in 'My 1000th Post' (April 2011), the count might be adjusted for Find Earliest Possible Post (January 2000 ?!), but who's going to pick nits?

27 July 2015

'The Chips Are Down!'

In the previous post, Deep Thought/Blue in the Early 1990s, I looked at what was happening 20+ years ago on the research side of computer chess, but what about the commercial side? One set of clues can be found in the USCF's '1995 Official Catalog', a publication apparently dating to early 1995 (*). The front cover of its 32 pages (counting the covers) is shown below.

Five of the 32 pages dealt with computer chess. The following bullets, all quoted directly from the catalog, list the products that were promoted on each of the five pages.

p.03 1995's Newest Chess Computers

  • A. Ultra-portable Topaz II
  • B. Novag Tourmaline
  • C. Kasparov Travel Champion

p.26 Chess Software

  • A. Fritz3 is killer software!
  • B. Boost your rating by studying with these instructive disks! Chessworks Unlimited offers you hundreds of data files...
  • C. Chessbase for Windows
  • D. Turn Fritz into your openings coach with Power Books!
  • E. DejaVu Chess gives you a database of 350.000 games

p.28-29 Chess Computers for Every Budget

  • A. Stiletto II
  • B. USCF Chess Academy
  • C. Excalibur improves a Legend! [Legend II]
  • D. Kasparov Travel Companion
  • E. Excalibur's travel version of Legend II. Sleek Comet goes anywhere...
  • F. Kasparov Turbo Advanced Trainer
  • G. ECO battery re-charger
  • H. Kasparov President

p.32 The Chips are Down! Novag's 2383 Action-rated Diamond and Sapphire are the Year's Best Buys!

You can now have a strong, master training partner without breaking the bank! Novag's Diamond and Sapphire are officially USCF Action-rated 2383. [...] You can be confident of their USCF 2383 rating. It comes from a 48-game USCF Computer Rating Agency event, witnessed by the public, in which human players with high, officially established USCF ratings -- from Expert to Senior Master -- took on Novag, competing for cash prizes.

I'm not sure that the 'The Chips are Down!' is the best title for a page selling computer chess products, but what do I know about marketing? Back to the catalog cover, the raven-haired woman in the near-center photo is holding a Kasparov Travel Champion. Above her to the right is a Novag Tourmaline, while on the bottom right of the page is a Topaz II. Above that ('Action-rated 2383!') is the left side of a Novag Diamond.

The long explanation on p.32 of the 'USCF 2383 rating' indicates the importance of ratings in choosing a chess computer. I'll look at ratings in my next post in this series.


(*) I have three 1995 USCF catalogs: the 'Official Catalog', the 'Summer Catalog', and the 'Holiday Catalog' (subtitled 'Biggest USCF Catalog Ever!'). The 'Official Catalog' lists 'Searching for Bobby Fischer on Video!' (p.02) as 'Available in April!'; the 'Summer Catalog' lists it (p.29) as a 'Best Seller'; the 'Holiday Catalog' lists 'Kasparov vs. Anand: The Inside Story' by GM Wolff (p.07) as 'Available in November!'.

26 July 2015

Novag Robot Adversary

After a short break from blogging, what better way to get back in the groove than a post on Top eBay Chess Items by Price. Although it's only been a few months since the previous chess computer post -- Mephisto Portorose 68030 -- an item titled 'Novag Robot Adversary chess computer - working' caught my attention.

With a starting price of US $1.00, the machine eventually sold for $1748.48 after 24 bids from eight bidders. Of the 12 photos attached to the item, I thought the following best captured its look.

The description added,

Novag Robot Adversary - in working order. The robotic arm and the inner electronics work perfectly, however the outside is not perfect: there are small scratches and spots on the metal and plastic parts of the machine. The clean plastic dust cover is missing, the power supply is a modern switching PSU replacement (see among the pictures).

The pieces are not original, they are from another computer chess set (perhaps a Mephisto). The kings and the queens are slightly taller than the original ones, therefore the robotic arm can knock them over sometimes when moving neighbouring pieces.

The magnetic piece detection mechanism under the board may needs some contact cleaning: sometimes the detection is uncertain on some fields (the black queen's place for example). If the detection fails, a discrepancy LED lit and one have to lift and put back or slightly swing the piece until the detection is done.

Though the mechanical and electronical parts are in perfect working order, the Robot may need some maintenance due its old age. The machine contains a rechargeable battery soldered on the PCB (I think it is NiCd). I assume that the battery is the original (more than 30 year old) piece, so the replacement is recommended. Also the fine mechanical parts may need some lubrication.

A few days later 'seller added the following information',

Seems like the pieces are the original ones. Someone told me that the Robot would not work with other pieces. I tried it with several other sets and it seems to be true: I am unable to place foreign pieces in the middle of the fields due the magnetic force (maybe the polarisation of the magnets is special). I talked with the same guy and we compared the sizes of the pieces and they were the same as in the original set - the king is 55 mm tall, and the shape of the pieces is the same as well.

More info came in a Q&A.

Q: Can you tell us anything about the history of your machine? Bidders will be most curious about: * How long have you owned it, * How often/much it has been used (hours/games), * And especially has the machine ever been serviced/repaired. • A: I bought it in 2005 from a second-hand dealer, therefore I know nothing about its previous history. The machine shows the signs of heavy usage as you can see on the photos. I guess I played about hundred games on it. Cannot estimate the usage in hours. I never serviced or repaired it, or even opened it.

Chess playing robots are commonplace now -- see, for example, my 2007 post Bughouse for One -- and are often the subject of of a student research project. Thirty years ago, things were different.

17 July 2015

Chess with a Cardinal

For the second time in less than a week -- the first was Affluent Gentlemen Playing Chess -- I discovered a painting not listed in Tableaux ayant pour sujet les échecs.

Interior scene with a lady and gentleman playing chess with a cardinal (Roberto Raimondi) © Flickr user Long Tinh under Creative Commons.

Three times lucky?