06 July 2015

Computer Chess in the Early 1990s

When it comes to chess history, it takes some discipline to stay on topic. A simple exercise like Searching for Fritz invaribly leads to other subjects, which lead to others, and before you know it, there's no more time left for the original topic. I try to keep this under control by making a note on the side-topic, then coming back to it when I'm done with the first.

Fritz led to many topics which are worthy of a post, but right now I'm going to concentrate on two: the Aegon tournaments and rating lists. What was Aegon? The page Aegon Tournaments [chessprogramming.wikispaces.com] explains,

The Aegon Man-Machine Tournaments, were initiated and organized by members of the CSVN, Cock de Gorter et al., and hosted by the Aegon insurance company in The Hague, the Netherlands. An equal number of human players and computer chess programs were playing six (1986 seven, 1989 five) rounds of a swiss system, with the constraint of man playing machines only. The Aegon tournament started almost with local chess players and anti-computer chess specialists. Later more and more International Masters and Grandmasters were invited, with increasing costs for the sponsor. Apparently due to the 1997 Kasparov versus Deep Blue match, the 1997 Tournament was the last edition.

A related table lists 12 events played from 1986 to 1997. Here is a sample of the many posts from the rec.games.chess (rgc) newsgroups:-

  • 1990-05-25: Aegon Tournament 1990; Hitech best overall • 'Hitech wins International Chess Tournament; beats former World Candidate [David Bronstein]' by Hans Berliner
  • 1993-05-05: AEGON TOURNAMENT [1993] • 'A huge number of top micros are entered, including 2 versions of Zarkov, 4 versions of the Chess Machine, Fritz II, Mephisto, MChess Pro, 3 different Saiteks, Socrates II, Chess Genius, Mephisto RISC, and many others.'
  • 1997-04-10: Aegon Tournament • 'Below is the press release announcing the 12th Aegon tournament.'
  • 1997-04-11: AEGON 1997 breakdown of opponents • 'THE PROGRAMMES [e.g. Fritz] ... The GM's [e.g. Bronstein]'
  • 1997-11-01: AEGON tournament disappears, do we let this happen? • 'I talked with Cock de Gorter and he confirmed that there will be NO 13th Aegon tournament next year.' by Ed Schroder [Rebel]

The concept of rating lists doesn't require much of an introduction. I started by looking for references to the SSDF [chessprogramming... again] list where,

The SSDF - Svenska schackdatorföreningen, the Swedish Chess Computer Association, is an organization that tests computer chess software by playing chess programs against one another and producing a rating list.

Some early rgc references:-

  • 1992-08-15: Computer Ratings/Versions • 'SSDF is an association of computer chess enthusisiasts, some of which help update the list by playing computer v computer matches.'
  • 1993-10-01: SSDF-Computer List • 'Here is the SSDF-Computer List from 6/93 (taken from German magazine 'Computer, Schach und Spiele' 3/93).'

That first link starts with a discussion of Computer Chess Reports [chessprogramming...], which largely predates rgc:-

An American computer chess periodical published quarterly from 1985 until 1996 by Computer Chess Digest Incorporated associated with ICD Corporation, as successor of the annual Computer Chess Digest, released in 1983 and 1984. Computer Chess Digest was primary edited by Enrique Irazoqui, CCR by Robert Sostack and from 1987 by Larry Kaufman.

From all of the above I noted other topics worthy of a future post. Twenty years ago people still had a fighting chance against a chess playing machine, but that would soon change.

05 July 2015

Chess Curriculum - Short Versions

I ended my previous post, Chess Curriculum Inventory, saying,

That makes four posts, seven resources, eight documents. What chess wisdom do the documents contain? I'll look at that in my next post.

Two of those eight documents stand out because of their brevity:-

No.3: Think Like A King - A Curriculum Guide for Scholastic Chess • David MacEnulty • 21 pages • school chess curriculum guide.pdf

No.4: CURRICULUM FOR BEGINNERS AND INTERMEDIATES, Highland Park Scholastic Chess • Jerry Neugarten • 36 pages • HighlandParkCurriculum.pdf

Is it possible to teach chess with so little guidance? Let's look at what the two contain. The 'Think Like A King' curriculum, copyright 1998, starts,

About the Author • Six years ago David MacEnulty became the first full-time New York City public school teacher to teach chess as an academic subject. Working in a large elementary school in the South Bronx, his team has won first place trophies at the New York City Scholastic Chess Tournament for four consecutive years, and is one of the top five elementary chess teams in the nation. From 1994 to 1997, his students won more than 500 individual and team trophies.

The table of contents lists 12 chapters, called 'phases'.

A: Beginning Curriculum
01 Pre-Chess Skills
02 Basic Moves & Rules
03 The King
04 Special Moves
05 The Value of Pieces
06 Beginning Tactics
07 Opening Principles

B: Advanced Curriculum
08 Strategic Thinking - Getting Beyond the Basics
09 Creating Opportunities
10 More Checkmates
11 Endgame Strategies
12 Specific Openings

How is it possible to cover all of this in a few pages? It turns out that the document is marketing material for related software. Another section of the document, titled 'Basic Equipment & Teaching Materials', informs,

Food for Thought Software’s Think Like a King™ School Chess Software System was designed specifically for schools, to provide the necessary Educational, Motivational and Management tools for a successful chess program.

If I had realized that at the beginning of my survey, I might not have included the document on my short list. But there it is and I'll leave any further investigation for another time. The Highland Park curriculum, dated 2010, starts,

This curriculum dates to 1995, when I began teaching chess. It began as a list of topics to be taught in a sequence that I thought made sense. Over the years I fleshed it out and added new sections. This year Phillip Yontez, one of our coaches, gave it a careful edit, added some additional sections and improved the diagrams. We have tried to keep it as short as possible while still covering the basics. Combined with game reviews, it contains enough material for approximately fifty 45-minute lessons aimed at grades K-8, sufficient to fill a school year for a club meeting twice a week. - Jerry Neugarten

The table of contents lists five chapters.

The rules of the game and a few basics (5 pages)
Basic strategy (5)
Basic tactics (11)
The endgame (10)
Playing in tournaments (3)

Once again, 34 pages are not enough to cover chess in any depth, and we quickly see that the document is a list of topics to be covered in a certain order. The two longest chapters consist mainly of diagrams giving examples in basic tactics and endgames. This is obviously not a standalone document, but is more of an outline to be supplemented by other material. It assumes that the instructor is already fairly knowledgeable about how to play chess.

While reviewing the two documents, one curiosity caught my attention. Food for Thought Software, the company behind MacEnulty's 'Think Like A King', is listed with a PO box in Highland Park IL. Is there a connection with Neugarten's Highland Park Scholastic Chess or is this just a coincidence?

03 July 2015

The Travelling Chess Statue

The first time we saw this statue of Jan Karski playing chess, Chess and the Polish Underground, it was located in Washington, DC. Here it is located in New York, NY.

Chess in front of the Polish Consulate © Flickr user Nano Anderson under Creative Commons.

Maybe the statues are twins.

02 July 2015

July 1965 'On the Cover'

What? No cover for Chess Life? Like the April 1965 'On the Cover', the cover of CL looks more like the first page of a newspaper. Including front and back covers, the issue had only 20 pages, of which three and a half were 'How the Chess Openings Got Their Names' by John W. Collins.

Left: 'Tal, Larsen Win'
Right: 'Fischer Returns'

Chess Life

Only three of the original eight challengers are still in the running for a match with World Champion Tigran Petrosian. Ex-champion Mikhail Tal and Danish grandmaster Bent Larsen have won their quarter-final matches and will soon play one another to determine which of them will advance to the final match of the Candidates' series -- against Boris Spassky.

Chess Review

Robert J. Fischer played 21 United Nations Chess Club members and 5 other experts in a simultaneous in June at the U.N. [...] On the cover, Fischer is interviewed by Joan Parr of CBS-TV.

'The Unknown Bobby Fischer' by IM John Donaldson & IM Eric Tangborn (International Chess Enterprises, 1999) has more about the U.N. event.

Simul at the United Nations, 1965 One of Bobby's more unusual exhibitions was held at the Church Center of the United Nations on May 21, 1965. Results for the event are contradictory. Chess Review has Bobby facing 26 players with a score of 23 wins plus losses to Vladimir Vakula of the USSR and club secretary Luis Loayza of Peru and a draw with Evgeny Zhukov of the USSR. Chess Life and Zhukov have it +18=1-2. Neither of these may be right, as the two games from the event which have surfaced are both draws! It doesn't make things any clearer to know that Chess Life gives Ivan Grischenko, not Vakula, as a winner.

The event was sponsored by games manufacturer TAG, Inc., and its newly designed Manchurian chess tables and chessmen were used. From the look of the photo published on page 196 of the July 1965 issue of Chess Review, Bobby must have finished the exhibition with an aching back: the tables were less than two feet off the ground! His eyes might also have been sore -- the Manchurian pieces were definitely not based on the Staunton design.

Re 'Fischer Returns', had he left?

30 June 2015

Six Times U.S. Champ

Walter Browne (1949-2015) won the U.S. Chess Championships (Closed/Invitational) six times -- three times consecutively outright; 1974, 1975, 1977; and three times consecutively shared: 1980, 1981, 1983. It could have been seven times consecutively, but he failed to play in 1978, quitting the tournament just before the first round in a dispute over lighting.

The photo below appeared 40 years ago to the day. The caption on my copy is blurred, but I think it says 'AP'.

Trophy: '1975 United States Chess Champion'

The caption read,

Oberlin, Ohio, June 30 -- TWO-TIME CHAMP • Walter Browne, 26, of Berkeley, Calif., won the U.S. chess championship Saturday for the second year in a row. The board shows his final game, a draw with Kim Commons. But it was Sunday before he and other players in the nearly month-long competition in Oberlin, Ohio, knew the outcome. He played his last game a day early because of a conflicting commitment for Sunday, when the pack finished.

For an earlier photo of Browne on this blog, see Name that Player.

29 June 2015

Searching for Fritz

How can I follow-up my post on the Origin of 'Chess Engine'? Using the techniques described in Early Chess Newsgroups, I looked for early mentions of a name that has been nearly synonymous with 'chess engine' for more than 20 years: Fritz. My searches were hampered by a chronic problem producing the message, 'There was an error performing the search. Please try again later', so something might be missing. Here's a sample of what I learned:-

  • 1991-06-28: Games of the 1991 AEGON Tournament • 'E. Blokhuis - Fritz...'
  • 1991-07-19: Commercial Chess Programs • 'Fritz. Yet to be released ChessBase compatible program.'
  • 1992-03-15: Software Reviews • 'Knightstalker: the German version of this program is called "Fritz"'
  • 1992-09-30: ChessBase vs. NICBase • 'Fritz is a chess playing program the engine of which can be used within Chessbase so that at a particular time you can get an analysis of a game you are looking at in the database'
  • 1992-11-30: 7th World Computer Chess Championship / Crosstable • '5 Fritz 2 | Netherlands / Germany | 11w= 8w= 15b+ 9b+ 2w= * 3.5 *'
  • 1992-12-09: Chess computer game... which one? • 'Knightstalker 2 seems to be pretty improved. Also, news has it that Richard Lang is releasing his own PC program - it seems that his employer (Hegener & Glaser, Munich) for whom he wrote the MEPHISTO programs does a fast decline since they bought Fildelity [sic] America and lost a lot of money [...] I think it's now called Fritz II'
  • 1992-12-27: Softwares & Ratings! • 'Fritz II and Zarkov 2.6 are strong chess programs that you're unlikely to find in computer stores. [...] I supplemented my Mac with a PC is for MChess (Pro), RexChess, Zarkov, and Fritz (II)'
  • 1993-01-09: Chess Computer Ratings • 'Someone has asked for a list of chess computer ratings. [...] 28. Fritz AT 80486 (PC) 2.158'
  • 1993-01-21: pc chess programs • 'Anand reached only 70 percent against Fritz 2 on 486, recently.'
  • 1993-02-11: chess program speed • 'Fritz (=Knightstalker) [...] Fritz2 (successor of Fritz)'
  • 1993-02-15: Some chess program news • 'an informal blitz match between GM Kasparov and Fritz 2 (i486/33 4MB) ended 26:11 (+24 =4 -9) [...] newest ratings for some PC programs from the Swedish list'
  • 1993-05-05: AEGON TOURNAMENT • 'A huge number of top micros are entered, including 2 versions of Zarkov, 4 versions of the Chess Machine, Fritz II, Mephisto, MChess Pro, 3 different Saiteks, Socrates II, Chess Genius, Mephisto RISC, and many others.'
  • 1993-05-10: COMPUTERS ELO LIST • 'I post this list in accordance to the various requests of a bigger list. [...] 22 Fritz 2 486dx 50 8 8 22.1 2240; 23 Fritz 2 486dx 33 4 4 15.2 2200'
  • 1993-05-13: Aegon computer-human tournament result • 'These are the results of the 8th anual aegon computer chess tournament held in Voorburg (The Hague) The Netherlands.'
  • 1993-09-13: FritzII strength? Comments? • 'KightStalker [sic] is the US version of Fritz, the predecessor of FritzII.'
  • 1994-05-22: Kasparov (funny game, played in german television) • 'Kasparov was guest in german television (ZDF Sportstudio) and played the following game against Fritz3 running on a pentium'
  • 1994-05-30: Fritz3's performance looks a little less impressive • 'PCA Munich Blitz Tournament: I am absolutely astonished to learn tonight that the players played Fritz3 in this tournament at a computer terminal.'; M.D.Crowther

The entries for 1993-02-15 and 1994-05-22 indicate that Kasparov was routinely hired to promote important milestones in the evolution of Fritz. Using my page Garry Kasparov's Tournament, Match, and Exhibition Record (1973-) as a reference, here's what I found:-
1992-12 Match vs. Fritz 2, Cologne • +26-11=3 (?)
1994-05 Intel Express Challenge (Blitz), Munich • 1-2/18, +12-4=1
1994-05 Intel Express Challenge (Blitz) - Playoff vs. Fritz, Munich • +3-0=2
1995-12 Match vs. Fritz4, London • +1-0=1
1999-03 Simul and Rapidplay (15') vs. Fritz, CeBit, Hannover • S:? F:+0-0=2
2003-11 X3D Match w/ Fritz, New York USA • +1-1=2

From this I would guess that Fritz4 was released end-1995, a conjecture I'll leave for another time. Other keywords for further research: Aegon, ChessBase (& other databases), World Computer Championship, Computer Ratings.

28 June 2015

Baffled by 'Wot Not'

Sometimes the items featured here on Top eBay Chess Items by Price aren't at all something that interests me, but if it's related to chess, it gets its moment of glory. For this current post I would rather have featured an Irving Amen woodcut. Since the artist appeared a few years ago in Chess Art? Amen!, I went for a couple of dollhouse items.

The item on the left, titled 'Vintage EUGENE KUPJACK Georgian SILVER Dollhouse MINIATURE CHESS BOARD SET', sold for US $558.88 after 24 bids from five bidders. The item on the right, titled 'ANTIQUE NAPOLEONIC MINIATURE CARVED WOT NOT PRISONER WAR DOLL HOUSE CHESS TABLE', sold for US $600.00 after a single bid.

As for the descriptions...

Left: Selling a nice collection of hand crafted silver dollhouse miniature accessories made by the worlds foremost miniaturist, Eugene Kupjack. They are circa 1770s with a Georgian period style and design -- all solid silver with original rhodium plating to preserve the bright finish. This is an 18th cent. chess board set -- comes with a wooden checkerboard pattern game board and 31 chess pieces (1 missing, replaced with a little cup) the playing pieces include Knights on horseback. One set is tinted a copper color. All complete and intact with no excessive wear or damages -- some of the pieces were glued to the board and are still attached, others are loose. The game board is about 1 1/2" x 1 1/4". Cant find the EK mark. Great for a period dollhouse miniature diorama or room.

Right: Superb & Highly Intricate Napoleonic Miniature "Wot Not". Wonderful Chess table, early 19th Century prisoner of war work miniature, ingeniously turned & carved from used camp soup & mutton bones with beautiful, pierced fret work panel doors all in perfect miniature & beautiful from any angle. Outstanding craftsmanship & incredibly intricate. The skill, patience & man hours required to create such an item from such humble materials is truly breathtaking. The entire piece is pegged & fixed by hand to ensure the pieces remain in position & they are still here to this day. The fret work pierced centre door opens & closes perfectly. The pierced, reticulated design, is again highly complex & intricate. Original finish throughout & a particularly fine, early example. 6 cm tall x 4.2 cm wide.

...Challenged by metric conversions? Then I guess you're not a dollhouse collector either (1" = 2.5 cm). As for the meaning of 'Wot Not', I'm baffled.