23 October 2016

Chess and Social Trends

This blog's association with Chess Club Live (CCL) has been running for 4 1/2 years now. It started with one of those messages in the rare category that I call 'big things in small packages'.

Subject: New message from Michael Chukwuma Mkpadi
Sent: April 26, 2012

I like your chess articles. I run the Facebook page www.facebook.com/chessclublive and the website www.chessclublive. I would love to have your permission to post your articles by RSS as I know our fans would love them.

Regards, Michael, Chess Club Live
Twitter: @ChessClubLive
Wiki: http://wiki.chessclublive.com/

I acknowledged the relationship in a previous post, Chess Club Live (August 2013; 'it's high time I collected those posts into a separate category to give credit where credit is due'). For the past few years I've been including the series of Chess in School posts in that category, Posts with label CCL, but it's now time to change direction.

I offloaded that series of posts into a new category -- Posts with label CIS -- in preparation for a new series where I'm going to look at the sociology of chess. It's a big subject and I won't be surprised if it also runs for more than a year or two.

CCL is a modern phenomenon made possible by the success of social media. While it's had its ups and downs -- squabbles over copyright, surreptitious injections of inappropriate material, heated discussions over the boundaries of the envelope -- the primary direction has been straight up. The following chart shows that it reaches many tens of thousands of people every day.

Chess Club Live (Facebook)

CCL currently accounts for about half of the traffic to this blog -- I know this because the RSS feed breaks from time to time. I'm looking forward to delve further into its mysteries and into the overall sociology that surrounds chess as a global cultural phenomenon.

21 October 2016

No Controversy Here

In the previous edition of Video Friday, Animating a Controversy,

I had the choice between two topics that were exceptionally popular over the past fortnight: the flap over the Women's World Championship -or- the 'Queen of Katwe'. Since Disney's story of Phiona Mutesi will likely be with us for some time, let's go with the other topic.

The flap died down after a week or so, while the 'Queen of Katwe' is still gathering steam. For this edition I had a number of good Katwe clips from which to choose, including interviews with two of the movie's principals.

Entertainment.ie talks to Queen of Katwe director, Mira Nair (7:47) • '...about the production of the Disney true life tale.'

The other interview on my short list was also from Entertainment.ie: David Oyelowo talks chess and Queen of Katwe. What role does David Oyelowo play? In its page on the film Queen of Katwe, Wikipedia informs,

[10-year-old Phiona's (Madina Nalwanga)] world changes one day when she meets Robert Katende (David Oyelowo) at a missionary program.

See also the Queen of Katwe - Official Trailer from Disney Movie Trailers.

20 October 2016

Front Page News

How does chess manage to become front page news? With a little bit of luck and a lot of perseverance.

On several occasions I've repeated stories from Alan Lasser’s Game of the Week newsletter (GOTW; a little over 100 subscribers; last seen here in A $20.000 Endgame, October 2014), but this one is the best so far. The GOTW issue of 1 October announced,

I became the 2016 Rhode Island State Champion last weekend. It was somewhat flukey of course. The tournament was under-promoted, they didn’t bother putting the ad in Chess Life and I didn’t see it on the web until ten days before the event. Maybe that was the reason that the eleven player Open section contained only two players who were actually from Rhode Island.

After congratulating Alan, I received some more info.

The Norwich Club [Connecticut] was the first to use me for publicity, it only took them a week to include in their emails, "the 2016 Rhode Island Champion plays here". When I pointed this out to Dan Smith at Westerly, he got it together to call the local newspaper. The interview didn't go all that well. It seemed at the time like the reporter cared neither for the message nor the messenger, that she was laughing inside at the crazy chess players, as if she had just seen the Fischer movie.

We expected that if the news was printed at all, it would be a small article in the back section of the paper, just in front of the classifieds. We were all shocked to see a reasonable portrayal of the club on the front page. The world seemed upside down. When was the last time chess players were on the front page? Not since Robert J, I reckon.

So much for 'a small article in the back section of the paper'.

The online version of the article is available at Westerly Man Is State's Chess King. It starts, 'Age checkmated youth in the 2016 Rhode Island State Chess Championship this year. The new state champion, Al Lasser, 65, of Westerly said he was the "underdog" against opponents less than one quarter his age. "The average age of my opponents was 15 -- they were either masters or nationally ranked in the top 100 list for their age," he said. "One of my opponents in the tournament was eight years old and there was an 11-year old who beat me."'

In his message to me, Alan continued,

As you can tell from the grin in my face; I thought me winning the title was the funniest joke in the world, and I was in on it!

He thinks that there is a crucial part to the back story.

The reporter asked "why is chess fun?" I was dumbfounded. I didn't know the answer to this very simple question and knew the reporter wasn't going to publicize the chess club if we couldn't say it was fun or why it was fun. I thought I must know the answer but I just couldn't remember it.

As I lay awake in bed that night, haunted by the spectre of failure, finally I recalled that the appeal was biological and dashed off an email to explain the fight-or-flight adrenaline rush. I think that saved the day for us.

A couple of years ago I posted about GM Kasparov's #WhyILoveChess, and followed it with my own answer, Endless Discovery (both September 2014). It's a question that every keen chess player should be able to answer.

Small state + small city + small tournament + small newspaper = big result, plus the newspaper article is packed with human interest. Every state chess champion deserves to have his or her story told.

18 October 2016

'Alekhine's Early Chess Career'

Last month, in Buschke in Chess Life, I mentioned a 'series of Albrecht Buschke history columns titled "Alekhine's Early Chess Career"'. Buschke started writing for CL a few months earlier, where the first column was a historical calendar:-

  • 1949-08-20: Memorable Chess Dates (2 issues of CL)

This was followed by a series that took over a column previously written by 'Guilherme Groesser', a pseudonym used by CL's editor, Montgomery Major.

  • 1949-09-05: Chess Life Abroad : Moscow - Budapest match (more++; 8 issues of CL)

The last of those columns coincided with the first for 'Alekhine's Early Chess Career', subtitled 'Additional Data':-

  • 1949-12-20: I. Mannheim 1914

That first column is reproduced below (split into three pieces to keep the image compact).

Chess Life 1949-12-20

The objective of that column was to introduce two previously unknown Alekhine games. The objective of Buschke's next two columns was to show examples of 'a remarkable "lack of sportsmanship" on the part of Alekhine':-

  • 1950-01-05: 'The Unknown Alekhine' by Reinfeld : Nenarokov match & Tenner game
  • 1950-01-20: (cont.) Alekhine - Nimzovich 1914

After this early meandering, Buschke found his stride, writing over 50 columns on the early Alekhine. These covered various themes that usually continued over multiple issues of CL (which was usually only four pages at the time, published twice a month).

  • 1950-02-05: II. The Quadrangular Tournament, St. Petersburg 1913?
  • 1950-02-20: III. The Match with Levitsky, 1913 (9 issues of CL)
  • 1950-07-05: IV. The Moscow Championship Tournament 1916 (15 issues)
  • 1951-03-05: V. Alekhine in Soviet Land (30 issues)
  • 1952-07-20: VI. Stockholm 1912 ('slightly out of sequence')

Part IV ('The Moscow Championship', which wasn't!) uncovered another of Alekhine's indiscretions: the 'Five Queens' game. Some years later, Chess Review called it the 'Chess Hoax of the Century'; see February 1965 'On the Cover' (February 2015). An extensive discussion of Buschke's discovery is in Tim Krabbé's Alekhine's 5 Queen game (timkr.home.xs4all.nl). For the game itself, see Alexander Alekhine vs NN (1915) "The Harem" (chessgames.com). Buschke's final column was about the 'Chess Olympics of 1920':-

  • 1952-11-20: V. Alekhine in Soviet Land

Although the column mentioned 'following installments', there were none.

17 October 2016

Korchnoi's Events 2002-03

Take Korchnoi's Events 2000-01 and add two more years. What have you got? For now, let's call it Viktor Korchnoi's Tournament, Match, and Exhibition Record (TMER; 1946-2003). While I was working on this, I realized that many of the previous events said only 'Match', without any mention of the opponent. Here's a list:-

1982 -- Match vs. Timman, 6 gms; Hilversum (Netherlands)
1991 -- Match vs. Morovic, 6 gms; Santiago (Chile)
1993 -- Match vs. Piket, 8 gms; Nijmegen (Netherlands)
1995 -- Match vs. Greenfeld, 3 gms; Beer-Sheva (Israel)
1995 -- Match vs. Xie, Jun 4 gms; Wenzhou (China)
1996 -- Match vs. Brunner, 6 gms; Bern/Zurich (Switzerland)
1996 -- Match vs. Hernandez, 8 gms; Merida (Mexico)
1997 -- Match vs. Bacrot, 6 gms; Albert (France)
1998 03 Match vs. Miton, 6 gms; Krynica POL
1999 03 Match vs. Spassky, 10 gms; St Petersburg RUS
2001 01 Match vs. Ponomariov, 8 gms; Donetsk UKR
2003 01 Match vs. Sadvakasov, 8 gms; Astana KAZ
2003 11 Match vs. Navara, 2 gms; Prague CZE

The same info is now on the Korchnoi TMER as well.

16 October 2016

'Just Like You and Me'

In this fortnightly series on Top eBay Chess Items by Price, a live auction usually involves a painting. We saw this a few months ago in Not Your Typical Black Knight (July 2016), and we're seeing this again in the latest item.

Titled 'ALBERT PELS (AMERICAN, NY, 1910-1998), OIL ON CANVAS, THE CHESS GAME, ... Lot 261', the item pictured below sold for US $700.00 after 15 bids on a starting price of $250. The auction apparently lasted 30 seconds.

To see the details of a closed auction on eBay, you have to follow the page returned by eBay search and click on 'See original listing'. Clicking for this auction I received the message

We had trouble finding some information about this item. Please come back to try again in a few minutes.

but the message persisted. The abbreviated description on the search page added only 'Seller's Estimate: USD 500 - 800' and repeated the auction title plus 'SIGNED. 16 X 20"'.

Who was Albert Pels? Tumblr.com has a page Albert Pels '1910-1988; Born May 7, 1910, Cincinnati, Ohio; The Paintings of Albert Pels' [NB: d.1988 looks to be correct] with dozens of examples of his work. One section informs,

1937-40 WPA Artist, NYC. Paid $24 a week plus supplies, Albert had to turn in a painting every week. Plus several mural projects in the East and Midwest.

Wikipedia explains that WPA stood for Works Progress Administration:-

The Works Progress Administration (renamed in 1939 as the Work Projects Administration; WPA) was the largest and most ambitious American New Deal agency, employing millions of unemployed people (mostly unskilled men) to carry out public works projects, including the construction of public buildings and roads. In a much smaller but more famous project, Federal Project Number One, the WPA employed musicians, artists, writers, actors and directors in large arts, drama, media, and literacy projects.

In The 'flavor' of life in 91 paintings Cincinnati.com informs,

CPS [Cincinnati Public Schools] got a donation of 91 paintings from Cincinnati native Albert Pels. The work will be spread among the district's 55 schools. [...] "It was incredible," said [Isidore] Rudnick, Cincinnati Public Schools' Fine Arts Curriculum Manager. The work "captures the spirit, flavor and imagination of everyday life -- people just like you and me." The paintings are a posthumous donation from Cincinnati native Albert Pels, who grew up in the city and studied at the Art Academy of Cincinnati. In the early 1930s, he moved to New York on a scholarship for the Art Student’s League. Albert died in 1988, but his son, Richard Pels, sent the art to CPS.

I like that: chess players 'just like you and me'.

14 October 2016

Olympiad Veterans

Who said chess was a young man's game?

First photo: Eugenio Torre © Flickr user Andreas Kontokanis
Other photos by the same photographer: GMs Beliavsky, Bareev, and Kramnik.
(Under Creative Commons)


There's just a smidgen of gray in Kramnik's hair.