28 August 2015

Chess in Jakarta

The tags for the photo say, 'Kota Jakarta', which means 'Old Town Jakarta'.

5 menit saje © Flickr user Emile Krijgsman under Creative Commons.

Google Translate doesn't know what to do with '5 menit saje', but it translates '5 menit saja' to 'only five minutes'. That must be the time it takes to make a silhouette.

27 August 2015

TCEC Season 8 - Preliminary Info

If you follow chess at all, you've probably heard about the tournament that just started a few days ago featuring the planet's strongest players. No, I'm not talking about the 2015 Sinquefield Cup. Those players, with the likes of Carlsen and Anand, are strong -- at least for humans -- but the world's strongest players are battling it out in TCEC season 8, the Thoresen Chess Engines Competition.

For the original announcement, see Information and Participants List; for more details, see Complete Information, both pages courtesy Chessdom.com, the event's 'Partner'. Earlier this year I covered the previous season in TCEC Season 7. For season 8, I'll be looking for further clues about What Makes the Engines Tick.

25 August 2015

Ethics in Chess Journalism

Here's the scenario: 'A' runs a popular web site devoted to an important aspect of chess history. 'B' copies large portions of the web site to create a book which is sold commercially. 'C' notices the excessive copying and publishes an article exposing the act. 'B' makes a formal complaint to the world chess federation, citing 'C's alleged unethical behavior; the complaint is rejected. 'D' notices the official record of the complaint and mentions it in passing, without understanding its history. Years later, 'C', who was never notified of the complaint against him, discovers 'D's writeup and sets the record straight.

Here's the cast of characters: 'A' is Wojciech Bartelski of Olimpbase.org. 'B' represents the Turkish Chess Federation. 'C' is Dr. Daaim Shabazz of TheChessDrum.net, writing Olympiad book copied from Olimpbase.org?. 'D' is me (D is I?), writing Ethics and Cheating, about FIDE's Ethics Commission.

Dr. Shabazz has documented the entire affair in a recent post, Turkish Chess Federation vs. Dr. Daaim Shabazz (2012). See in particular the link to the 'Official Complaint of Turkish Chess Federation' (PDF), which is almost surreal. The Ethics Commission should perhaps have contacted Shabazz about the complaint, but this was, at worst, a procedural lapse.

By coincidence, I was in touch with Wojciech Bartelski this past weekend and asked him what he thought. He replied,

My database grows courtesy of hundreds of volunteers who devote their time and offer money to build up the database. This is why everybody has and will always have free access to it and permission to use the data. Of course this has nothing to do with simple copy and paste of my own texts.

Of course English is not my native language and texts are not verified by professionals so there must be errors and awkward phrases in there. They charged €28 per book and did not even hire a professional [editor] to correct buggy text!

To this he added, 'Litigation and other legal actions are open questions.' I'm familiar with several cases of copyright violation in chess literature and understand that any civil awards are not likely to produce a windfall, perhaps not even covering the cost of legal action. Perpetrators of copyright violation also know this and it is their first line of defense.

The Ethics Commission is a wonderful resource for righting the wrongs of international chess. In covering their activities I am glad to have rendered a small service to chess journalism and will continue to do so.

24 August 2015

Google Is Watching You

In Google and the Brussels Bureaucrats, I wrote,

I have to return to the same sort of web site maintenance that I did for the 'Going Mobile' series, once again dictated by Google policies: 'We want to let you know about a new policy about obtaining EU end-users' consent that reflects regulatory and best practice guidance.'

To be specific, we're talking about my web site mark-weeks.com, its use of Google's Adsense, and the cookies that Adsense drops on visitors to the site. I have three options on Google's policy:-

  • Ignore it
  • Do enough to satisfy the minimum requirements
  • Remove any code that uses cookies

Ignoring the policy probably won't work in the long term and removing the code means knowing which third-party services are doing what (my pages also have links to Amazon.com, another black box service). Only Google knows how Adsense operates internally and only Google can satisfy the EU's requirements to the letter. Google is essentially doing the minimum by pushing the EU requirements on to the owners of the web sites that use the Adsense service. I'll follow Google's example by also doing the minimum.

Blogspot.com (together with the related Blogger.com) is another Google service that encourages the use of Adsense. On that service Google has grabbed the bull by the horns and introduced a message that is repeated over-and-over across all Blogspot.com subdomains. For example, when I clicked to the Adsense blog's post Introducing a new user consent policy (adsense.blogspot.com), I was greeted with the message,

Deze site gebruikt cookies van Google om services te leveren, advertenties te personaliseren en verkeer te analyseren. Informatie over je gebruik van deze site wordt gedeeld met Google. Als je deze site gebruikt, ga je akkoord met het gebruik van cookies. • Meer informatie • Ik snap het

Yes, it's in Flemish/Dutch and, yes, I've seen the same message dozens (hundreds?) of times on the various computers that I use. It doesn't matter that I've told Google many times that I prefer English and it doesn't matter that I've already accepted the message ('Ik snap het') on other blogs. Google intends to annoy me along with millions of other blog visitors and to blame it on the EU: 'Take that, Eurocrats!'

Clicking on 'Meer informatie' ('More information') leads to a page written in English, How Google uses cookies.

We use cookies for many purposes. We use them, for example, to remember your safe search preferences, to make the ads you see more relevant to you, to count how many visitors we receive to a page, to help you sign up for our services and to protect your data.

Why can't they use cookies to note my language preference or to remember that I've already accepted their cookie policy? And why do they need cookies 'to count how many visitors we receive to a page'? In reality, it's all about targeted ads.

Another link on that 'How' page goes to Managing cookies in your browser. Here the only instructions are for the Google Chrome browser. Users of other browsers have to figure it out for themselves. Google, Google, Google; get it?

Back to satisfying the minimum requirements on my own site, what does that entail? I'll look at that in my next post in this series.

23 August 2015

It's All About Money

Let's take a break from the chess curriculum series, last seen in Pre-chess, and return to a related subject last seen in The Riddles of Chess. The related subject is chess and Alzheimer's disease, about which a nasty fight has broken out on English blogs.

How is a chess curriculum (i.e. chess in schools) related to chess and Alzheimer's disease? Because both are areas in which their proponents tout the magical benefits of chess on the brain. Anyone buying into those magical benefits might very well buy into chess, meaning more money for everyone involved in chess instruction and training. Given that there is so little money in chess today, any additional sums would go far.

The English blog fight began quietly more than four years ago with a post titled Chess Against Alzheimer’s on Chessimprover.com. The post has been removed, recently I suppose, and now returns a 'Page not found' message, although it still survives in the Google cache.

There's no need to look in the Google cache, because the Streatham & Brixton blog (S&B) has copied most of it into a post from last week titled DG XXIII: Doctor Nigel. In case you're not up-to-date with S&B terminology, 'DG' stands for 'Doctor Garry', as in GM Garry Kasparov, and XXIII means the 23rd post in a series rooting out all proponents of the magical benefits of chess on Alzheimer's. Kasparov was S&B's first target in the series. 'Doctor Nigel' is GM Nigel Davies, the latest target. He replied to S&B with Dear Professor Verghese..., which starts,

Due to some recent controversy on the matter I have been considering writing to Professor Verghese about his Alzheimer's study. Although 'board games' were cited as being associated with a lower risk of dementia, would this happen to include chess?

and then went on to accuse the S&B crowd of 'pedantry', along with a Wikipedia reference in case anyone doesn't know the meaning of the word. I happen to agree with the S&B line of reasoning, as overzealous as it might seem, and would replace the word 'pedantry' with the phrase 'responsible journalism'.

Responsible journalists don't overhype the direction of medical research. They don't give false hope to people who find themselves in difficult circumstances, or to their families. No one knows what effect chess might have on Alzheimer's disease -- that 'no one' includes GM Kasparov, GM Davies, the S&B crowd, and me. In his original 2011 post, Davies wrote,

As this research has been around for a few years it amazes me is that chess federations around the world are not singing this from the rooftops.

Perhaps the chess federations understand their responsibility to society in a larger context.

21 August 2015

Watered Down Chess

For this edition of Video Friday, I couldn't decide which clip I liked better.

1) Too little water...

ZIP EXPERIMENTS : Can A Glass of Water Help a Kid Beat Chess Grandmaster? (2:14) • 'It’s all too easy to take water for granted, it’s almost everywhere and it’s free. But new scientific research is suggesting that regularly drinking plain old H2O may give you remarkable powers.' • For more about the experiment, see Zip Experiment 4. Poor GM Rogers!

2) Or too much water...

The 2015 Diving Chess World Championship (1:53) • 'The Diving Chess World Championship took place on August 9, 2015 at the Third Space Gym in Soho, London. [...] Diving Chess is like normal chess but played in a swimming pool with submerged chessboard. Each player can only think as long as they are able to hold their breath.'

Editing Matters

In my previous post, 2015 CJA Awards, I wrote,

Another piece deserving special note was 'Winner: Reconnecting with Caissa' by GM James Tarjan, which received two awards: 'Best Features Article' and 'Best Story of the Year'. An Honorable Mention for 'Best Features Article' went to 'How to Catch a Chess Cheater' by Howard Goldowsky. [...] The Tarjan story didn't impress me as much, so I'll return to it in a future post.

Why did I like the Goldowsky piece better than the Tarjan piece? This question has been bothering me since I learned that the Tarjan piece won two awards. Both stories were based on topical ideas, developed into feature length articles by writers who know their subject matter thoroughly. I read the nine-page Goldowsky piece straight through in one sitting, but put down the six-page Tarjan piece after two pages. I had to force myself to pick it up again and read it to the end. Here are the first few paragraphs of the Tarjan story.

In case you don’t know, chess is ruled by a goddess; her name is Caissa. She presides over a beautiful kingdom, but she is fickle and difficult. If you are lucky (or should we should say, if you are unlucky), she will call you to worship.

Caissa called me when I was very young. In my adulthood, it was time to worship at other altars. Caissa was not happy to lose a devotee, but she talked it over with her fellow gods and goddesses. Some of the other devotees did not understand, but Caissa herself did, and accepted it.

Years later, with the aid of a human-created silicon monster, she called on me again, and I heard the call.

The start is very good, but note the first paragraph : 'should we should say'. The entire piece is badly edited. Later on:

So if you said to me, Jim, you scored seven of nine in the U.S. Open. Big deal. Who cares? If you said that to me, I would be happy to concur.

That sort of unfocused writing is tedious to read and the meandering article is full of it. This criticism is not against GM Tarjan, but rather against the editors of Chess Life. Someone should have taken a red pencil to the whole thing and turned a promising story into a great story. As it was published, it didn't merit two CJA awards.


I don't want to end this post on such a negative note, so let's look at a chess story that happened more than 46 years ago, 'Battle of Junior Giants' by Andrew Kempner.

The genesis of a six-game match between the top two ranking juniors (according to USCF rating tables), Walter Shawn Browne, formerly of Brooklyn, now a citizen of Australia, and James E. Tarjan of Sherman Oaks, California, was a simple question: who is better?

Walter's answer was instantaneous: "l'm better!" Tarjan's was reflective: "Maybe Browne's better." The result, a 3-3 tie, was thus a mild surprise to even the staunchest Tarjan supporters, who found themselves in the vast majority. Only one fan hoped for a Browne victory, stating simply: "Tarjan won't analyze with me any more."

The report included the following photo.

Chess Life, March 1969

Browne made a lifelong career out of chess; Tarjan retired at age 32. Who could have guessed that their chess careers would have turned out so differently?