24 April 2015

Fischer's Final Resting Place

Robert James Fischer, 9 March 1943 - 17 January 2008


Bobby's Rest © Flickr user Andy Cross under Creative Commons.

The photo's description starts,

Laugardaelir Church, near Selfoss, South Iceland • This tiny churchyard about an hour outside of Reykjav√≠k is the final resting place of chess legend Bobby Fischer.

Even in death, Fischer did not find peace: Details of Fischer's exhumation revealed (Chessbase.com, August 2010).

23 April 2015

FIDE Knockout Events

While I was working on the previous post -- A Partial Interview, with Natalia Pogonina -- I decided to catalog the number of high-level FIDE events that used the knockout format. First there were five World Championships:-

I once summarized these in an About.com post, FIDE World Championship 2004 : Results, without knowing that 2004 Tripoli would be the last such event. After years of criticism that the format was not appropriate for determining a World Champion, FIDE introduced the World Cup as a World Championship qualifier. To date there have been five of these events, with the next scheduled for later this year.

The first of the Women's World Championships to use the knockout format was played concurrently with the unrestricted event, 2000 New Delhi. Five of these events were held as the sole means of determining the Women's World Champion.

Shortly after 2008 Nalchik, FIDE announced that the women's format would change. I documented this in Interview with Makropoulos (November 2008). In a two year cycle, the Women's World Champion would be determined in the first year by a knockout event and in the second year by a match. We are currently in the third such cycle.

For details about the cycles, see my page on the World Chess Championship for Women. When was the last time a women's cycle used the traditional Interzonal > Candidates > Match format?

The 1997 Groningen Candidates Tournament, won by Galliamova, used a double round robin format. This was followed by the 1999 Xie Jun - Galliamova Title Match. Between these events were two forfeited matches: Xie Jun - Galliamova at the candidates stage, and Xie Jun - Z.Polgar at the title stage. I've never documented these two matches on my pages and will do so ASAP.

21 April 2015

A Partial Interview

After the close of the recent Women's World Championship in Sochi, Chessbase.com published a two part Interview with Natalia Pogonina: Part 1 & Part 2. Pogonina was the runner-up in the event, losing the final round to Mariya Muzychuk. I was particularly interested in Pogonina's comments on the knockout format, which I recently discussed on my World Chess Championship Blog in A Pseudo World Championship.

The knockout format is too vulnerable to random factors to be taken seriously as a World Championship. The winner of the event deserves our full respect for achieving a major tournament victory, but doesn't deserve the title of World Champion.

One of the first questions from the Chessbase interviewer was,

Q: What do you think of the knockout format? How objective is it? Would you prefer the "men’s" system or some other approach?

Pogonina answered,

A: Men have a rather interesting scheme with the World Cup being the knockout event. Getting rid of the knockout tournament altogether doesn’t look like a good idea to me. A system when there is the World Cup, the Grand Prix series, the Candidates tournament and the World Championship match is very attractive. The only drawback is that it is very complicated and costly. This time FIDE had trouble finding sponsors for the Women’s Championship, so they had to postpone the event. If we adopt a more expensive system, wouldn’t there be even more potential problems? This is what bothers me. If FIDE manages to attract additional funding, I guess it will be interesting to universalize the systems. If not, then maybe we should just keep the current system.

Knockout is a very specific format. Two-game matches are a real challenge. Sometimes even top-tier rating favorites are eliminated in the very first rounds. Lose one game, fail to strike back, and you are out. There is barely any room for mistakes. You have to be prepared very well and have nerves of steel to prosper under such a system. Let me repeat my statement: I would love to play under the “men’s” system, but at the moment this doesn't seems realistic to implement.

I took two discussion points from this. The first is the assumption about 'additional funding' needed. A more obvious fix would be to have the winner of the knockout format seeded as the challenger into a subsequent title match. This would require no additional tournaments. Perhaps 'FIDE had trouble finding sponsors' for the Sochi event precisely because of the dubious reputation of the knockout format as a World Championship tournament.

The second discussion point is the observation that 'top-tier rating favorites [can be] eliminated in the very first rounds'. This implies that the format favors lower ranked players, who would have little chance of becoming World Championship in a fixed match. It is perhaps for this very reason that the format endures. There are more lower ranked players than there are top players -- Hou Yifan is currently in a class by herself -- so any political decisions that favor the majority will choose the knockout format. Is the World Championship really a place for democratic considerations?

As for the interview itself, I found it curious that the relationship between Peter Zhdanov, the interviewer, and Pogonina was not disclosed in the introduction. Not everyone can be expected to know that they are married. I was happy to discover in the comments that other readers agree with me, e.g.

There is nothing wrong publishing an interview between a husband and wife. There IS something wrong with not disclosing that the interview is between husband and wife. It's not up to us to decide what that information means, but it violates journalistic integrity to hide it from the readers.

Zhdanov commented in Part 2,

I don't quite get what my marital status has to do with the quality of the interview. I mean, it's not a secret. It is on the Wikipedia. As someone mentioned already, the bio does say that I am Natalia's manager and editor of her site. I have read quite a few interviews with Natalia; most of them had more softball questions than this one. Also, I happen to know her well as person, so I don't really know what "tough" questions I could ask her. Some ridiculous insinuations which have nothing to do with reality?

Although Zhdanov might not understand the importance of an upfront declaration, Chessbase.com should. And one more point: There is no '"men’s" system' or '"men’s" scheme' to the World Championship. As the Regulations for the World Chess Cup 2015 clearly state,

3.1. Qualifiers - There are 128 qualifiers (in order of priority): World Champion + four (4) semi-finalists from the World Cup 2013, Women's World Champion, World Junior U-20 Champions 2013 & 2014, [...]

The World Cup is the next qualifying event leading to the title of (unrestricted) World Champion. The Women's World Champion is a restricted title like the Junior World Champion. Has everyone already forgotten that ten years ago Judit Polgar played in the 2005 San Luis World Chess Championship?

20 April 2015

What Ticks Off Engine Users? (Part I)

Before I get back to What Makes the Engines Tick?, I would like to share an email exchange sent to me by a frequent visitor to this blog. It seems he took a liking to Komodo after learning that the engine had won TCEC Season 7. It also seems that he is somewhat inexperienced in the world of chess engines and was struggling with the engine's software from the beginning.

[Used with permission of my correspondent, whom I'll call MacUser. The messages from the Komodo side are copied without the knowledge of Komodochess.com, although I can't imagine it's a problem if it spares them further discussions of this type.]

MacUser to Komodo Help: Can you walk me through this? I just spent $60 on something that doesn’t run without an engine. I was unable to download an engine from Arena, which says it is not available for Mac. I’m not good with computers. The help video did not run for me. I am very unhappy.

That's already a bad start. MacUser has confused the engine he bought from Komodo with the GUI he needs to operate the engine.

Komodo Help: I would be glad to help. SCID vs Mac is a free and good chess GUI and database that runs on the Mac: scid-vs-mac. If you have any other chess GUIs for your Mac, I can try and help you install Komodo in them. If not, try downloading the program at the link above, and then we can go over how to install the engine.
M: Failure. I accessed the Scid page but the download is not operating at this time, I get the "cannot connect to server" message. In the meantime I have been trying to upload it into the HIARCS GUI but there is no setting there for "Lmr", the threads cannot be adjusted, and your guidance for table base settings is inadequate on this GUI.
K: I know J. has the Hiarcs GUI on his Mac. I will let him respond, but I know Komodo 8 does work in the Mac. I unfortunately do not have a Mac, but I am sure J. can help you. It sounds like you at least got the Komodo engine installed in the Hiarcs interface. In the mean time, here is an online manual for Hiarcs Chess Explorer: Explorer.html. In the Engine Preferences section (Preferences - Engine Preferences - Configure engine), it shows a dialog box with a scroll bar on the right edge. Perhaps you have to scroll that down to see the remaining engine settings lke Lmr, Syzygy settings and Threads?
M: The Komodo on the HIARCS GUI is not running well, much slower and weaker than the HIARCS, it hasn’t got over 21 ply yet. Maybe I don’t have the settings right, I have the i7, 3.4GHz.
K: Here is a video showing how to change engine settings in Hiarcs: PC Chess Explorer - Managing engines.
M: [Message missing]
K: Ah, so you at least got it running. Good. With an i7, which has 4 "cores", you should set the number of "Threads", which is an engine setting, to 4. The default is "1", so you will want to increase that. Of course if you are running two engines at a time to do analysis, you should select 2 Thread for each, so they both have the same amount of hardware available. Are you trying to play games between the engines, or just analyzing games? • Note you cannot really directly compare search depth between programs, since some programs (like Stockfish) reduce the search a lot, while other like Komodo extend critical lines a lot. A better comparison is the length the of principal variation displayed. As for strength, on the same hardware, Komodo 8 is about 230 (or more) Elo stronger than Hiarcs 14. Several rating lists show this like CCRL and CEGT.
M: The click they make on the video to configure the engine has no effect on Komodo. It has no effect on the HIARCS programs either. I can make adjustments to the engines in "section preferences". "Got it running" but plys in the 20s are a joke, we live in a 40 ply world. I am convinced my installation is a failure.
M: I finally found the engine configuration tab. Komodo was default set at one thread. I have changed that to your recommended four. The HIARCS programs are set at eight threads. Komodo still seems to be slow. I don’t have this set right yet, do I?
K: In the TCEC (which many consider the work championship), Komodo was searching to depths of typically 27 or 28. Komodo won season 7 against the "higher depth" Stockfish. But as I said, compare PV length and you will see Komodo searches much deeper that its iteration depth.
K: I do not know why Hiarcs is using eight. There is something called hyperthreading which uses two threads per CPU core. We do not think this helps Komodo. Just match threads to actual cores for Komodo. If you have two i7 chips in your machine, then eight threads would be right. You can contact Mark Uniacke at Hiarcs.com to see what he recommends for Hiarcs.
K: I checked Wikipedia here: List of Intel Core i7 microprocessors. I see most i7 processors have 4 cores, but there are a few with 6 and one version with 8. I thought they all had 4, but I see I was wrong. What is the name and number of your cpu chip and we can look up the correct number of threads to use?
M: I have no idea where to find the name and number of the CPU chip. All it says on "about this Mac" is Intel core i7. There is a tab on the HIARCS interface that has configurations including the thread. If you go to the HIARCS "preferences" section and click "engines", you can set the hash table size there. Of course, I don’t know the correct setting for that either.

Will MacUser finally succeed in installing Komodo? Find out in Part II of What Ticks Off Engine Users? (coming soon to this blog!).

19 April 2015

The Anonymous Artist

After a pause from blogging for the last week, I'll resume with a new post in the series on Top eBay Chess Items by Price. In the previous post, The Artist and the Artwork, I wondered,

In the chess world we often devote as much time to the careers of outstanding players as we do to their specific games. In the art world, is it only the value of the art work that matters?

Given the number of times that the artist is unknown, I would have to answer 'Yes!'. The item pictured below, titled 'Early 20th Century French Original Oil on Copper "Ladies Playing Chess" Elegant', sold for US $417 after receiving 33 bids from 10 bidders.

The description listed a few more attributes of the piece.

Medium: Oil on Copper
Age: Circa 1900-1949
Listed Artist: Unknown
Painting Size: 16" x 12"
Frame Size: 21" x 17"
Signature: Unsigned
Condition: Great
Frame: Antique wood frame
Subject: French ladies playing chess
Style: Traditional

The copper is in great condition. There is no signature on the art. It comes with a beautiful gold wood frame.

Copper and frame: Brilliant! Artist: Who cares? It's still worth $400...

10 April 2015

Youngest GM in U.S. History

From FOX Sports Live with Yasser Seirawan, Jennifer Shahade, Tony Rich, and more.


Sam Sevian: America’s Youngest Chess Grandmaster (4:37) • 'Sam Sevian made history this past November in becoming the youngest Grandmaster in US history at just 13 years old.'

Sevian: 'It's hard to explain chess to someone who doesn't play, because it's like explaining the beauty of music to someone who is deaf.' • Seirawan: 'Anyone who plays competitive chess at such an elite level as Sam aspires to be World Champion. That's it, full stop. That's the Mount Everest'

09 April 2015

Keene on 1993 & 2000 WCCs

Continuing with Controversial Keene, here are a few more statements on everyone's favorite chess topic -- the World Championship -- where GM Keene had a front row seat in three matches. Re the 1993 Kasparov - Short PCA Match, a knowledgeable Chessgames.com member asked a direct question, received a direct answer, and followed up with another direct question.

kpage=27 (July 2004): WMD: Considering the turmoil in the chess world over the last decade, and with the benefit of hindsight, do you now regret the Kasparov-Short breakaway in 1993, and your part in the sorry saga of the PCA?

ray keene: 1993 - absolutely the right thing to do - and there was a flourishing world championship cycle which grew out of it culminating in kaspy v anand in 1995. after that and only after that something went wrong - i suspect it may have had something to do with tensions between different sponsoring computer companies ibm microsoft intel but i was not privy to what precisely occurred.

WMD: I suppose we must be thankful it lasted all of two years. In NIC 2/99, Kasparov was asked 'What was you biggest mistake?' He replied: 'The PCA. That was stupid. I should have played this match against Short in Manchester and then express my demands to FIDE.'

Keene replied,

ray keene: yes that remark of kasparovs has always puzzled me!! • 1 it wasnt just up to him - short had a say too! • 2 kasparov seemed to have completely forgotten all about the successful wcc cycle and the grand prix tournaments all sponsored by intel. in my opinion it was losing intel which was the mistake and only gazza knows how that was achieved. [...]

GOLDEN AGE FOR CHESS - about to clock off for the night - one last thing - i believe the period from 1993 to 1995 was in fact a golden age for chess - the wcc match in london attracted huge publicity - both channel 4 tv and bbc made an immense number of programmes about it - from that time date the daily chess columns in the times the telegraph and the independent - a wcc cycle grew out of the intel sponsorship and grand prix knockouts were held all around the world eg moscow london - twice - and i think paris.

channel 4 seemed committed to coverage and then -- but something @#$%* off intel. interest in chess continued with kasparovs two ibm sponsored matches v deep blue 1996 and 1997 - the pr was enormous but the upshot was that the world as a whole was led to believe that the championship was no longer so important since a machine had defeated the best human. this -combined later with 9/11 has made it very hard to drum up former levels of chess sponsorship.

and added,

kpage=28: ray keene: i wanted to add a point about the events of the wcc between kasparov and short in 1993. this was 11 years ago and some of our younger members may not even recall precisely what happened. the roots of the troubles went back even further to 1985 - almost two decades ago - when fide president campomanes stopped the first kasparov - karpov challenge - WITHOUT RESULT. it was the perception of many of us in the chess community at that time - some now sadly dead - ricardo calvo for instance - as well as im david levy - lincoln lucena - larry evans gm... david goodman im... and many federations as well that campomanes was corrupt and that something had to be done.

an attempt to unseat him electorally failed in 1986 - not least because the host country paid air fares for any nation that promised campomanes their vote. it will be recalled that this was another fide event which banned israel from competing. i think our actions and perceptions were vindicated when a filipino court recently convicted campomanes of corruption. nobody expects a man of his age - almost 80 - to serve his jail sentence - but the principle is clear, campomanes was officially corrupt and condemned by a court from his own country. any who followed the events of the bidding process for 1993 will see that fides own rules were flagrantly ignored when the match was originally awarded to manchester. this led to the joke - whats the difference between campomanes and the british empire - answer - britannia rules the waves but campo waives the rules!

Several months later the forum discussion centered on the 2004 Kramnik - Leko match.

kpage=69: iron maiden: < i feared before the start that there might be just one decisive game.> So did I. But already nearly half of the games are decisive, compared with just two out of fifteen in Kasparov - Kramnik. I don't think it was boring even when Kramnik was leading; we saw a lot of fight from both players in the fourth and fifth games.

ray keene: it depends if kramnik curls up and dies like kaspy did last time against him or whether he comes out fighting. what struck me aout the london match was that garrys downfall seemed to be connected to a desire to analyse to victory in advance. if he cdnt do this and his prep some how got upset he seemed to be creatively maimed. here kramnik is doing the same thing - he seems to be relying on heavy openings anlysis and when it doesnt produce the desired goods he falls apart. game 8 was a clear and obvious example - just look at the times - of leko being "caught" in opening prep that in fact didnt work.

the other interesting thing is that kramnik as white is a natural d4 player. he used d4 against kaspy and won the match. in the intervening 4 years he has convinced himself that d4 doesnt work and has switched to e4 to ginger up his play - the result - zilchissimo. leko used to be e4 but has won a d4 game and a fine game it was. in london 2000 kaspy used e4 most of the time - got nowhere. kramnik used d4 and won 2 games. so over the past 23 world title games 1e4 is minus two while 1 d4 is plus three. the grunfeld nimzo and qgd have all lost one for black while the petroff and marshall have both stymied white. one of the very encouraging things from this match is that black has won two games. after london 2000 i thought that black might never ever win another game in a wcc match!

Keene's stream-of-consciousness writing style is sometimes difficult to follow -- he says that he writes faster when he leaves CAPS off -- but I've resisted the temptation to apply more than minimum edits to his material. There is much more on the forum.