23 November 2015

TCEC Season 8 Superfinal Week 3

My first post about the TCEC Season 8 Superfinal in Progress closed with the comment, 'It is, after all, showing us the future of chess.' My second post, Superfinal Week 2, noted that the then-current score, with Komodo leading Stockfish, was '+4-1=41, with 54 more games to be played'.

During the intervening week, another 29 games have been played, with a score of +1-0=28, the sole win again for Komodo. That gives an overall score of +5-1=69. At this point it's safe to conclude that the future of chess is a snoozefest.

What's going on? The following composite chart shows some basic TCEC statistics from game 74, although it could have been taken from almost any of the drawn games.

Top: Evaluation, Time usage, Depth
Bottom: Speed, Tablebase hits

The first graph ('Evaluation') shows White starting with an advantage of ~0.60 Pawns in the opening, eventually dropping to 0.00 in the endgame. The third graph ('Depth') shows the principal variation ('PV' in chess engine jargon) consistently at ~40 ply, i.e. 20 moves for each player. The fifth graph ('TB hits') shows the number of times an engine reached a six-piece position that can be looked up in a tablebase. TB hits were registered before move 10 was reached in this game.

In other words, the pattern of a typical game is start with a position that favors White, trade off most of the pieces, reach a known draw. How much of this is caused by the choice of opening? The 'Opening Book' tab on the TCEC Archive Mode page informs,

Stage 1 will be bookless: every engine will compete from the starting position. We’re not worried about repetitive openings; with a good mix of engines we don’t expect that to be much of a problem.

Stage 2 [...] will have a double round-robin format, but this time we will use a two-move book

Stage 3, the qualifying round for the Superfinal, will revert to the format we’ve used in recent seasons: an eight-move book

Superfinal [...] will use 50 positions selected by our guest IM Erik Kislik, of which 33 are his own and the remaining 17 are made by [Nelson Hernandez, aka Cato].

This season, as you can see, we’ve decided to cover more numbers on the roulette table. Bookless, short-book, medium-book advocates should all be satisfied that their cause is at least being represented and that the responsibility for selecting these positions is distributed among multiple individuals, thus mitigating possible biases.

For the superfinal, possible opening biases have been 'mitigated', except perhaps the bias of the experts doing the selection. Chess engine competitions, whether man-machine or engine-to-engine, have always been skewed by the unseen human hands creating the engine's opening book. Isn't there another way? How about offering the engine an incentive to take a risk that a human wouldn't take.

22 November 2015

Chess Charcoal Drawing

In the previous edition of Top eBay Chess Items by Price, titled A Lot of Live Auctions, I noted,

When I started the series on 'Top eBay Chess Items', there were no live auctions. Now they pop up every fortnight and are always good candidates for the final post.

I could have said the same for the present auction. I had two live auction candidates on my short list and picked the item pictured below because it looked less commercial.

The eBay auction was titled 'Russian Charcoal Drawing -– Children Playing Chess Lot 422; Part of a live auction event'. It sold for US $1750 after 21 bids starting at $400.

The description added,

Russian charcoal drawing on paper of six children gathered in a field, two of the children are playing chess; signed lower left in Cyrillic script; in excellent condition with no rips, tears, foxing, staining or visible repairs. 26 in. high x 28 in. wide. • Seller's Estimate: USD 800 - 1,200

Out of curiosity I clicked through to the eBay page, About Live Auctions, where I learned,

We’re opening the doors of traditional auction houses, giving global shoppers a new way to bid on world-class art and collectibles. This is the classic auction house experience, with an innovative twist.

I should have looked into that when I first encountered live auctions.

20 November 2015

Petrosian's 'Dining Room'?

I can't explain why I like this photo. Because it's a tribute to a former World Champion? Because it looks like a typical chess club of yesteryear? Because it's perfect for a serious tournament? All of the above? Something else? Like I said, I can't explain it.

Tigran Petrosian Chess House, Yerevan © Flickr user Rob Schofield under Creative Commons.

The caption added,

House of Chess Players, Yerevan
Architect: Zhanna Meshcheryakova
Built: 1970

On top of typical tags like Yerevan, Armenia, Russian, and architecture, the photo had more tags like modernist, concrete, and brutalist. A Flickr search on tags=brutalist+chess brings up a few related photos by the same photographer, who carries a '[PRO]' designation next to his name. His personal site, Rob Schofield Photography, has a category titled 'Brutalist/Social Housing' that explains the subject, although the photos there are far less charming than the Flickr chess photos. A few years ago, I did an eBay post, Brutalism in Chess, which might be worth exploring some day.

While I was preparing this current post, I discovered that Flickr tags could be combined on search, like tags=petrosian+chess. More interesting than that search is tags=art+chess, which delivers all sorts of ideas for Caissart-style posts.

My previous Flickr post, It's All About Pattern Recognition, introduced the subject of gray & white tags. For this current photo, the Flickr robots suggested that the photo be tagged 'dining room'.

19 November 2015

The Resurrection of Agon

A few months ago I prepared a short series on Spectating the 86th FIDE Congress (September 2015), with closer looks at two topics of particular interest: Chess in Schools and the Journalist Commission. FIDE has just released a new batch of documents -- 86th FIDE Congress: Executive Board Minutes and Annexes (November 2015) -- where a cursory inspection shows the first 30 annexes were available in September and the rest are new.

One of the most interesting documents for me is 'Annex 54: Report by Ilya Merenzon, CEO of AGON Limited'. While this will eventually become fodder for the next edition of Whither the World Championship?, one section is relevant on a broader level.

2. The Financial Times and Chess • We have agreed that the Financial Times will publish an annual section called ‘Chess and Business’. The first installment will be published on October 8, 2015, a day before opening of the Rapid and Blitz Championship. The section will have 4 pages of interviews and editorials about chess and how it affects global culture. Until chess, the newspaper had only one section dedicated to sport - it was Formula 1.

Presence in the Financial Times is really good for chess, as the elite audience of over 1 million people who read the Financial Times see that chess is a major part of the global business life. It’s also good for sponsors who support chess and can place advertisements in a section dedicated to the sport they support and love. Once the first installment is published, we’ll send it to all members of the Presidential Board.

The rest of us will have to make do with the headlines.

The annual section for 2015 is available on the web at ft.com > reports > Chess. Its introduction 'IN THIS REPORT' explains, 'The latest technological revolution has provided big online opportunities for players, fans and businesses, as the worldwide web proves to be a natural home for the venerable game.'

The 11 articles are only available via a paywall. I'm not an FT subscriber, but I might have a trial subscription by the time you read this post. In the meantime, a typically British review is available online at Hip To Be Square (KingpinChess.net).

Back to Annex 54, there's a second section of general interest.

6. Media site • Sponsors have been demanding digital presence within chess, it was their absolute requirement. To address the issue, Agon (in cooperation with FIDE) has developed a media and chess broadcasting site, www.worldchess.com, which will feature exclusive broadcasts, ratings, events (all federations will have a capability to add their events and sell tickets and publicize their events globally).

That domain, worldchess.com, has been active for a few months now and the Agon report to FIDE informs, 'Dylan Loeb MacClain, chief chess reporter for the New York Times, is the WorldChess.com's editor-in-chief'. One of the site's contributors is The Chess Mind blog, as in This Week's World Chess Column: In Praise of Amateur Players.

After a promising launch in 2012, Agon stumbled badly. How will it fare during its second life?


For another recent post about Agon, see 2016 Candidates, Moscow.

17 November 2015

'Ask Marilyn'

From Marilyn vos Savant's Parade.com column of 14 November, Double Standards Among Chess Players...

'A.C. in Brooklyn, New York, writes: • I recently played a game of chess against a woman in my chess club, and she defeated me in front of many of her girlfriends. As you probably know, the object of the game is to trap the opponent’s King so that it cannot escape -- this is known as "checkmating" the King or simply "mating" the King.

'As my opponent was closing in on my King, I started to feel very embarrassed. I was in a helpless position. Then she did it -- she moved her Queen up against my King, executing the "mating." I was blushing in embarrassment when she declared, "Checkmate," and I conceded defeat in front of her cheering friends.

'One of her friends said, "Her female piece, her Queen, executed the mating... Oh, yes!" Again, I felt very embarrassed. I also felt as if all women had defeated me. Do you have any thoughts about this?'

...This would make a suitable question for the final exam of 'Chess Journalism 101'.

Q: Write a one page essay on whether you think this story is true. Explain your reasoning.

For more about the author see, Marilyn vos Savant [Wikipedia], 'known for having the highest recorded IQ according to the Guinness Book of Records'.

16 November 2015

TCEC Season 8 Superfinal Week 2

A week ago in TCEC Season 8 Superfinal in Progress, I noted

Komodo won the first game of the match and currently leads +2-0=14, with an average of five games played per day.

Since then the world's top two engines, Komodo and Stockfish, have played another 30 games with a result of +2-1=27 in Komodo's favor. Komodo scored both of its wins with Black, bringing the total score of the match to +4-1=41, with 54 more games to be played.

The week's most memorable game was undoubtedly no.22, where Stockfish seemed to throw away a huge advantage with White in the following position.

TCEC Season 8 Superfinal, game 22
Stockfish - Komodo

After 63...Qd6-Qf6

The position was discussed at length in the FishCooking forum (see my recent post Chess Engines : FishCooking for background), especially From +26.13 to 0.00 in two moves (11 November).

What happened in game 22 of the final? Stockfish's evaluation was steeply raising, until at move 62 it evaluated its position as +26.13. Komodo agreed to a degree by evaluating it at +4.22. Then two moves later both evals had dropped to 0.00, and it ended in draw. Rather unusual, I would say.

The post included a link to the original game, TCEC Archive game 22, where the moves and evaluations are preserved for posterity. The incident just goes to show -- in case there is any doubt -- that even the strongest chess engines in the world can have trouble coping with the depths of chess.

15 November 2015

Chess Curriculum - ChessCafe/ChessEDU

Continuing with Chess Curriculum Inventory, after Chess Curriculum - FIDE II, we come to the last title identified in the preliminary survey, described in Chess Curriculum No.6 (June 2015). The title page says, 'ChessEdu.org, White Belt Chess Curriculum, by Mark C. Donlan', introducing the 'ChessEdu.org Belt System' as a series of colored belts: white, blue, purple, brown, black, and red. The belts are defined at the beginning of the document, e.g.

White Belt • The white belt signifies the beginning of the students journey to chess mastery. The student will learn the basics of chess along with the following material:
1) knows the number of squares on the chessboard.
2) knows the number of light squares.
3) knows the number of dark squares.
4) knows to place the board so that there is a light square on the right.
5) knows the definition of ranks.
48) knows which direction the pieces move in a diagram.
49) knows how to name each square in algebraic notation.
Blue Belt • A blue belt signifies that the student knows the basic rules and is ready to progress from beginner to novice level. At this level the student will learn the following material:
1) abides by the touch-move rule.
2) knows what a "fork" is.
3) knows what a "pin" is.
4) knows what a "skewer" is.

And so on. I start to stumble on the requirements for the brown belt -- 'Alekhine's Gun', 'Anastasia's mate', etc. -- although my rating should qualify me for the black belt. The red belt is reserved for players with the FIDE titles GM & IM. The white belt curriculum covers the Chessboard and the Chessmen, developed with a series of puzzles like the following from page 28.

Early credit is given to a trio of heavyweights in chess education.

The ChessEdu.org belt system is based on the adult Brazilian Jiujitsu belt system with inspiration from Pandolfini's Diagnostic Chess Checklist, ChessCafe.com January 2014, and input from NM Dan Heisman, NM Bruce Pandolfini, and GM Karsten Mueller.

In case there is any doubt, the system is for classroom use.

Introduction • The ChessEdu.org curriculum is designed to use chess as a tool for teaching problem-solving, creative thinking, and abstract reasoning in a classroom setting, be it in a public or private school, home school or other institution, or for personal use.

While the entire document appears to hold together very well, I have some doubts about the concept. First, a 200 page document that introduces only the board and pieces risks serious overkill. I can understand a belt system for a martial art where beginners might easily hurt themselves, but we're talking about a board game here.

Second, before embarking on the white belt program I would like some assurance that material for the subsequent belts -- at least the next two -- is available. I could find no mention of these on the Chessedu.org site. That site is anchored to Chesscafe.com, which 'has fallen on hard times' according to a post titled Chesscafe.com 2015 that I wrote earlier this year. How much of an 'ongoing concern' are we dealing with here?