30 May 2006

What is wrong with this position?

What is wrong with the following position?

Budapest 1921
Sterk, Karoly

Alekhine, Alexander
(After 8...O-O)
[FEN "r1bq1rk1/pp1nbppp/2p1pn2/3p4/2PP4/2N1PN2/PPQ2PPP/R1B1KB1R w KQ - 0 9"]

Hint: Consider the last move, then count the moves made by both players. To play through the complete game see...

Alexander Alekhine vs Karoly Sterk, Budapest 1921

...on Chessgames.com.

28 May 2006

Alekhine - Bogoljubov, Triberg 1921

The following position, from Alekhine's annotated brilliancies, was played against the fourth World Champion's future title challenger (1929 and 1934). Kotov also chose to include the game in his biography of Alekhine.

Of his 16th move, Alekhine wrote,

The reader will clearly perceive a similarity with other games (which also gained brilliancy prizes). The leading characteristic in these games is an unforeseen but immediately decisive attack. The chief point in these attacks lies in the fact that none of them was prepared in the immediate vicinity of its objective. On the contrary, all the preliminary maneuvers which tended to divert the adverse pieces from the defense of their King took place in the center or on the opposite wing.

Those other games (the italics are mine) were Alekhine - Sterk, 1921 Budapest; Alekhine - Rubinstein, 1923 Karlsbad; and Alekhine - Selesniev, 1922 Pistyan. In 'My Best Games of Chess 1908-1923', the game against Selesniev was not marked as having received a brilliancy prize. I'll add it to my list as though it had been so marked.

Triberg 1921
Bogoljubov, Efim

Alekhine, Alexander
(After 11...d5-c4(xP))
[FEN "r2q1rk1/pb3ppp/1pn1pn2/8/2p4Q/2N3P1/PP2PPBP/R1B2RK1 w - - 0 12"]

12.Rd1! Qc8 Alekhine:

Forced. If 12...Qe7 13.Bg5 h6 14.Bxf6 Qxf6 15.Qxf6 gxf6 16.Rd7.

13.Bg5! Nd5

On 13...Nd7 14.Ne4, with a strong attack for White.

14.Nxd5 exd5 15.Rxd5! Nb4 16.Be4!! f5 (16...h6 17.Bxh6; or 16...g6 17.Bf6 Nxd5 18.Bxd5) 17.Bxf5! Rxf5 18.Rd8+ and White won easily. The '!'s are all Alekhine's.

To play through the complete game see...

Alexander Alekhine vs Efim Bogoljubov, Triberg 1921

...on Chessgames.com.

26 May 2006

Gruenfeld - Alekhine, Karlsbad 1923

One of the curiosities on the list of Alekhine's annotated brilliancies is that Alekhine won two brilliancy prizes in each of three different events: 1922 Pistyan, 1923 Karlsbad, and 1926 Semmering. There are undoubtedly good reasons for this. One game might have been awarded a prize for the most brilliant game in the event, while the other might have won a prize for best game featuring an attack on the castled King. I'll check this the next time I visit a chess library.

The following position is from Karlsbad (Carlsbad) 1923. Just like the other brilliant game from the same event (Alekhine - Rubinstein), Kasparov selected this game for 'My Great Predecessors' and Kotov chose it for his biography of Alekhine.

This game against Gruenfeld was played in the round before the game with Rubinstein. Both games saw the same opening, a Queen's Gambit Declined, with Alekhine varying on his ninth move as White against Rubinstein (9.a4 instead of 9.a3); 'I wished to avoid fighting against the defence which I considered then, and still consider now, the best.'

The idea behind pushing the a-Pawn is seen in Black's last move in the diagram. It has allowed White's light squared Bishop to move from f1 to c4 (after ...d5xc4) to a2 to b1. The Queen and Bishop form a battery aiming at h7, a weak spot in Black's position. If it were now White's move and if the Knight were missing from f6, White could force mate in two.

Karlsbad 1923
Alekhine, Alexander

Gruenfeld, Ernst
(After 16.Ba2-b1)
[FEN "r1b1r1k1/3nbpp1/pq2pn1p/1p6/3N3B/P1N1P3/1PQ2PPP/1B1RK2R b K - 0 16"]

Alekhine first pointed out that White's last move, 'appears to prevent 16...Bb7 owing to the possibility of 17.Ndxb5 axb5 18.Rxd7 with a winning attack for White.' 16...Bb7! Anyway! This note and the following notes are all by Alekhine:

Black plays this move all the same, for 17.Ndxb5 would be refuted by 17...Qc6 18.Nd4 (forced) 18...Qxg2 with a strong counter-attack. In this way Black has successfully completed his development. There consequently remains nothing else for White than castling, after the failure of his premature attack.

17.O-O Rac8 18.Qd2

Hindering the double threat 18...Be4 or 18...Ne4.


This Knight will occupy the square c4, thereby fixing the weakness of the Queenside, induced by 9.a3.


In order to exchange Black's dangerous QB; White's next maneuver is finely conceived, but insufficient to equalize.

19...Bxf6 20.Qc2 g6

Not at all to prevent a harmless check at h7 but rather to secure a retreat subsequently for the KB, whose action on the long diagonal will be very powerful.

21.Qe2 Nc4 22.Be4!

Feeling himself in a strategic inferiority, Gruenfeld attempts to save himself by tactical skirmishing. He now hopes for the variation 22...Nxa3 23.Qf3! Bxe4 24.Nxe4 Bxd4 25.exd4 etc., which would ensure him the gain of the exchange.

22...Bg7! 23.Bxb7

But by this simple move, which is part of his plan, Black retains his advantage.

23...Qxb7 24.Rc1

The threat 24...Nxa3 compels White to retrace his 14th move.


The advance of the e-Pawn will give Black's Knight a new outpost on d3, still more irksome for the opponent than its present position.

25.Nb3 e4

Renewing the threat 26...Nxa3.

26.Nd4 Red8!

To make the following Knight maneuver still more effective, for now when it reaches d3 it will intercept the defence of the White Knight by the Rook.

27.Rfd1 Ne5 28.Na2

After this move, which removes the Knight from the field of action, White is definitely lost.

Alekhine wasn't shy about giving '!' to his moves. The five '!'-moves in the preceding sequence are as annotated by the fourth World Champion. He finished the game with a nice combination where he awarded himself two more '!'-moves as well as a '!!'-move! To play through the complete game see...

Ernst Gruenfeld vs Alexander Alekhine, Karlsbad 1923

...on Chessgames.com.

24 May 2006

Alekhine - Rubinstein, Karlsbad 1923

Continuing with Alekhine's annotated brilliancies, the following position is from Karlsbad (Carlsbad) 1923. Although no longer at the peak of his game, Akiba Rubinstein was one of the top five players in the world at the time the game was played.

Kasparov selected this game for the first volume of 'My Great Predecessors'. Kotov also chose it for his biography of Alekhine.

Karlsbad 1923
Rubinstein, Akiba

Alekhine, Alexander
(After 11...Nf6-d5)
[FEN "r1bqr1k1/1p1nbppp/p1p1p3/3n2B1/P1BP4/2N1PN2/1PQ2PPP/2R1K2R w K - 0 12"]

12.Bf4! (Most players would continue 12.Bxe7 without too much thought.) 12...Nxf4 13.exf4 c5 Alekhine:

Dictated by the wish to eliminate White's troublesome Pawn on f4. The position of the Black Rook at e8 is less favorable than on f8, where it hinders a subsequent attack on the point f7.

14. dxc5 (14.O-O cxd4 15.Nxd4 Nb6. This variation and the rest are Alekhine's.) 14...Qc7! 15.O-O! (15.g3 Qc6 16.Be2 e5) 15...Qxf4 (If 15...Bxc5 16.Bd3 Nf6 17.Ne4, or 15...Nxc5 16.Ne5) 16.Ne4! (16.Ne2 Qh6 17.b4 a5)

16...Nxc5 Here Alekhine pointed out that accepting the Pawn sacrifice with 16...Bxc5 17.Neg5 g6 (17...Nf8 18.Bd3) 18.Rfe1 Nf6 19.g3 Qd6 20.Red1 Qe7 21.Ne5 gives 'an overwhelming attack for White.' 17.Nxc5 Bxc5 18.Bd3 b6 (18... Bd6 19.Bxh7+ Kh8 20.Rfd1 and 21.Rd4) 19.Bxh7+ Kh8. Alekhine:

After 19...Kf8 Black's King would be less endangered than after the text move and it would have been very difficult for White to show how he could win, despite his positional superiority.

Alekhine went on to win the game with a series of precise, decisive blows and a combination that gained the exchange. To play through the complete game see...

Alexander Alekhine vs Akiba Rubinstein, Karlsbad 1923

...on Chessgames.com.

22 May 2006

Alekhine - Zubarev, Moscow 1916

Continuing with the list of Alekhine's annotated brilliancies, the following position is from the earliest game, a Moscow Championship. In a footnote to the game, Alekhine mentioned that he won first prize without losing a single game.

Brilliant games almost always finish with a surprising sacrifice, and this game is no exception. Finding the winning sacrifice in a winning position is the mark of a good player. Playing to get that winning position is the mark of a great player. I have often enjoyed watching how Alekhine constructed his overwhelming attacks move by move. This game is a good example.

In the following position, the result of an inaccuracy by Black in a Nimzo-Indian, White has built a strong center. Alekhine's next move was prophylactic.

Moscow 1916
Zubarev, Nikolay

Alekhine, Alexander
(After 11...Qd8-e7)
[FEN "r4rk1/pbpnqpp1/1p1ppn1p/8/2PPPP2/2PB2N1/P1Q3PP/R1B2RK1 w - - 0 12"]

12.Qe2! Alekhine:

Preparing 13.Ba3, which if played at once, would cause unnecessary complications after 12...Ng4, threatening 13...Nxh2!.

12...Rae8 Alekhine:

Black has completed his development very rapidly, but none of his pieces has any scope. It is easy to foresee that he will be unable to withstand the attack which his opponent is preparing in the center.

The game continued 13.Ba3 c5 14.Rae1 Kh8 (Preparing the next move.) 15.d5! Ng8 (If, on this move or the next, 15...exd5 then 16.Nf5) 16.e5 g6 (How should White continue after 16...dxe5?) 17.Qd2 exd5 Alekhine:

17...dxe5 18.fxe5 exd5 19.e6 fxe6 20.Bxg6 Rxf1+ 21.Nxf1 Rf8 22.cxd5 and 'White's advantage is sufficient to win.

18.cxd5 dxe5 19.c4! Alekhine:

The opening of the long diagonal for the QB decides the game in a few moves.

The two White Bishops aimed at Black's King on adjacent long diagonals played a key role in the final combination. To play through the complete game see...

Alexander Alekhine vs Nikolay Zubarev, Moscow 1915

...on Chessgames.com. (Note: 'My Best Games 1908-1923' gives the year as 1916.)

20 May 2006

Alekhine - Alexander, Nottingham 1936

Continuing with the list of Alekhine's annotated brilliancies, I looked at another game from the great Nottingham 1936 tournament, Alekhine - Alexander played in the 11th round.

In his book 'My Best Games of Chess 1924-1937', Alekhine wrote that it had been awarded a Brilliancy Prize. In fact, the tournament book tells us that the brilliancy prize ('for the most brilliant game in the tournament') went to Mikhail Botvinnik for his game against Savielly Tartakower. Alekhine's game against Alexander won a prize for 'the most brilliant King-side attack'.

The interesting play starts from the following diagram, where Black has just threatened White's d-Pawn. Alekhine wrote, 'White can easily protect it by counter-attacks.' The moves are not obvious and make a pretty continuation.

Nottingham 1936
Alexander, C.H.O'D.

Alekhine, Alexander
(After 14.Nd7-f6)
[FEN "1r1q1rk1/pbp3pp/1p1p1n2/3P1p2/4n3/1P2QNP1/PB2PPBP/3R1RK1 w - - 0 15"]

The first move 15.Nh4, is obvious enough if you see 15...Nxd5? 16.Rxd5 Bxd5 17.Qd4. Better is Alexander's 15...Qd7 16.Bh3 g6 (16...Nxd5 17.Qxe4) 17.f3 Nc5 18.Qg5 Qg7 (18...Nxd5 19.Nxg6) 19.b4 Ncd7 (19...Na4 20.Ba1) 20.e4! Nxe4 21.Qc1!. Here Alekhine pointed out two inferior continuations.

21.Bxg7 Nxg5 22.Bxf8 Nxh3+ 23.Kg2 Rxf8 24.Kxh3 Nf6 and 25...Nxd5; and

21.fxe4 Qxb2 22.exf5 Qf6 'yielding White a possible win after a laborious endgame'

21...Nef6 22.Bxf5! Kh8 (if 22...gxf5 23.Nxf5 and the Queen has no retreat) 23.Be6. Alekhine: 'At last the d-Pawn is definitely safe'. A few moves later White sacrificed an exchange and Black resigned. To play through the complete game see...

Alexander Alekhine vs Conel Hugh O'Donel Alexander, Nottingham 1936

...on Chessgames.com. To play through the Botvinnik game that won the overall brilliancy prize see Botvinnik vs Tartakower, Nottingham 1936, also on Chessgames.com.

18 May 2006

Tartakower - Alekhine, Nottingham 1936

Following up my previous post, Alekhine's annotated brilliancies, I'm going to look at some of the interesting positions from Alekhine's brilliancies. I'll take the last game first because I'm curious to know what a Quality Prize is. The game is from Nottingham 1936, one of the greatest tournaments of all time. Alekhine finished in 6th place (+6-2=6, 9.0/14) behind Botvinnik, Capablanca (both 10.0), Euwe, Fine, and Reshevsky (all 9.5). Alekhine suffered losses to his arch-rival Capablanca and to Reshevsky.

The tournament book, also annotated by Alekhine but with substantially different notes for this game, said that it 'was awarded a special prize for the best game in the 14th round.' The introduction explains that there was a special prize for 'the best game in each round of the last week' (rds. 12-15) .

Now that I know what a Quality Prize is, here is a key position from the game.

Nottingham 1936
Alekhine, Alexander

Tartakower, Savielly
(After 19.Nb1-c3)
[FEN "r4rk1/p3bppp/2p5/8/2P2Bn1/2N2QPq/PP3P2/R2R2K1 b - - 0 19"]

Alekhine wanted to play 19...Bc5, attacking the f-Pawn, but this is easily answered with 20.Ne4, attacking the Bishop and defending the f-Pawn. To stop the Knight move, he played 19...f5!. The game continued 20.Qg2 Qh5 21.Re1 (preparing the next move) 21...Bc5 22.Nd1 g5! 23.Be5 Rad8. Now Black threatened 24...Rxd1, removing a defender of the f-Pawn. White has no defense to this threat.

A few moves later Alekhine played a nice concluding combination, and the game was his. To play through the complete game see...

Savielly Tartakower vs Alexander Alekhine, Nottingham 1936

...on Chessgames.com.

16 May 2006

Alekhine's annotated brilliancies

Alekhine left a rich legacy of annotated games. Among his most popular books are 'My Best Games of Chess' 1908-1923 and 1924-1937. While thumbing through the two books, I noticed that quite a few games had received brilliancy prizes. Here is a list of those games...

1-46, BP, 1916 Moscow, Alekhine - Zubarev
1-55, BP, 1921 Triberg, Alekhine - Bogoljubow
1-56, BP, 1921 Budapest, Alekhine - Sterk
1-62, BP, 1922 Pistyan, Tarrasch - Alekhine
1-65, BP, 1922 Pistyan, Alekhine - Wolf
1-80, BP, 1923 Karlsbad, Alekhine - Rubinstein
1-81, BP, 1923 Karlsbad, Grunfeld - Alekhine
2-10, BP, 1926 Semmering, Davidson - Alekhine
2-11, BP, 1926 Semmering, Rubinstein - Alekhine
2-14, BP, 1926 Dresden, Rubinstein - Alekhine
2-16, BP, 1927 New York, Alekhine - Marshall
2-17, BP, 1927 Kecskemet, Alekhine - Asztalos
2-25, BP, 1929 Bradley Beach, Alekhine - Steiner
2-38, BP, 1930 Hamburg ol, Stahlberg - Alekhine
2-51, BP, 1932 London, Alekhine - Koltanowski
2-86, BP, 1936 Nottingham, Alekhine - Alexander
2-88, QP, 1936 Nottingham, Tartakower - Alekhine

...The first column is the book (1 = 1908-1923, 2 = 1924-1937) and the game number from the book. The second column is the prize won by the game (BP = Brilliancy Prize, QP = Quality Prize). The first item in the list (1-46, BP, ...) means that game no.46 in 'My Best Games 1908-1923', played by Alekhine and Zubarev at Moscow 1916, won a brilliancy prize.

Since brilliancy prizes are usually awarded to tactical games and Alekhine was a first rate tactician, there should be more than a few interesting positions in these games. I'm going to look at some of them in future blog posts.

14 May 2006

Shifting gears

Following up my post from two days ago...

Blogging balance

...I'm going to switch to a rhythm of one post every two days. The post a day that I've been doing for the first two weeks of this blog demands too much time.

My next post will be in two days. Since today is an even numbered day (Happy Mothers Day to all Moms!), I'll post on even numbered days. I'll try that rhythm for a couple of weeks to see how it affects my overall schedule.

Why not just post when I feel like it? I don't think it's disciplined enough. The best way to tackle a repetitive responsibility is to do it on a regular cycle: daily, weekly, monthly, or whatever. Posting every two days should be feasible. If not, I'll switch to every three days.

13 May 2006

Different referring pages change display

Today I'm hijacking the blog for the sake of demonstrating something unusual to someone else. The following image shows two cropped views of the same page on About Chess.

The top image is a normal view of the page; the bottom image is a view of the page after I clicked through my RSS feed on MyYahoo (my.yahoo.com). The bottom view says, 'Welcome to About.com What is About.com? I'm Mark Weeks, your Guide to Chess. If this Yahoo! search is not what you were looking for, you may want to see our other popular topics, such as...'

The URL of the two views is the same. The server has detected that the visitor is coming from Yahoo.com and has changed the welcome message to mention Yahoo and to point to popular pages on the About Chess site. I like it!

12 May 2006

Blogging balance

One reason I started this blog was to get a better feel for blogging. I've recently run several articles about chess blogs on About Chess. While the main page of About Chess is created using blog technology -- the tool is called WordPress -- there are so many additional functions available to create the site that I don't think of it as a blog. I wouldn't be surprised if not many other people thought of it as a blog either. I haven't seen it listed on anyone's blogroll.

There are at least two skills required to create a blog. The first is a deep interest in the subject of the blog. The second is writing ability.

Since I'm talking about chess blogs, chess is obviously the subject. A blogger doesn't have to be a good chess player to have a good chess blog. There are some very good chess blogs written by novice players who are just starting to learn the game. More important than chess knowledge is a passion for the game. Beginners can have just as much passion as an experienced player and may have even more. All experienced players undoubtedly had the passion in the past, but it tends to fade with age and when the peak in ability is reached.

The ability to write well is in many ways incompatible with the ability to play chess. Chess is a game of logic based on well defined rules. The object is to win. Writing is an art with some rules, but these are secondary to the imagination required to construct sentences and paragraphs that no one else has ever constructed. The object is to make them interesting.

Yes, I know that chess can also be an art. Composers of studies and problems require great imagination and players like Alekhine, Tal, and Shirov are often branded as artists of the chessboard. Only great players become chess artists, while all writers are artists, although usually not great artists.

There is one point that chess and writing have in common. Both can be done without any formal training. While a lack of training limits the height that a chess player or a writer can attain, it doesn't limit the enjoyment. Not having any formal training in either discipline myself, I suspect that there is at least one area where training might confer a big advantage in writing: speed.

Anyone who has to write professionally knows that writing is not easy work. The rules of grammar, punctuation, and spelling must be respected. Ideas must be clearly stated and unambiguous. The construction must be orderly and fit into some framework that makes sense and propels the reader forward. The obstacles are many. Do I use this word or that word? What's the word that means this? Have I used this word too frequently? This sentence construction? Does this paragraph make a logical unit? How do I start? Finish? Does the whole thing make sense?

I'm not a fast writer and it can take 30 to 60 minutes to finish a single blog post. Concentration is required, which means that nothing else gets done at the same time. This is the first thing I've learned in the short time I've been blogging. The frequency of the posts is critical. Blog too long or too often and important tasks elsewhere are left undone. Blog too short or too infrequently and you might as well not do it.

What's the right balance? I don't know because I haven't discovered it yet. A post like this every day isn't feasible. There isn't enough time.

11 May 2006

Welcome Dan Lucas

Referencing a post I wrote a few days ago...

My two mags

...I received the March 2006 CL in the mail today. It's the first issue listing Dan Lucas as editor. Of course I don't know how much of the content is due to Lucas and how much to the previous editor(s), but there are a few bright spots. The first thing I noticed was a seven page story on the Khanty-Mansiysk World Cup, including seven annotated games and a couple of partial games. After that is a fully annotated game by Kamsky that he played in the same event.

The CL content is still 1/3 columns and 1/3 tournament announcements (TLAs). I believe the columns will start changing -- either disappear or be replaced -- in the May issue. The TLAs may never disappear. I wonder why USCF management doesn't steer readers to the online version. It would either save a lot of trees or free some space for more interesting content. There are surely other advantages as well. I can't think of any disadvantages, other than 'That's the way we've always done it!'

GM Andrew Soltis has aged 20 years since the previous issue. Yesterday I received a review copy of his book on Lasker. I can't wait to read it. Lasker has been one of my favorites since I read his manual cover to cover as a C-player.

10 May 2006

Shrinking range of openings

This recent comment by GM David Marciano caught my eye: 'Modern chess is very different from the chess of the 1990s, and even more so than the chess of preceding decades. The exponential growth in the strength of computers has effectively transformed the work of opening preparation into computer aided scientific research, and the range of playable variations doesn't stop shrinking as the years pass ("ne cesse de se rétrécir au fil des années").' [Europe Echecs, April 2006, p.15] I'm fairly certain that my translation is correct, except perhaps for the last clause, which is exactly the part that caught my eye.

I know that opening theory is advancing steadily and that many opening variations (Marshall Gambit, Najdorf Poison Pawn) are analyzed well into the middlegame and even the endgame. I also know that a few popular openings of yesteryear have almost been refuted (Benoni). This is certainly a negative trend for chess.

I was also under the impression that computer aided opening research (CAOR?) is helping to open up promising areas of play in variations that have never been seriously investigated. This includes just about any reasonable move that has never been played at the GM level. This should offset the number of lines which have received the most CAOR.

The largest chess databases only contain about 10.000.000 (10^7) games covering maximum 10^9 positions, the majority of them played by amateurs. With chess having over 10^100 postions, and even taking into account that many of these are clear wins for one side or the other, that still leaves many positions which have not been, and may never be, investigated.

Is GM Marciano being overly pessimistic, or am I being overly optimistic? If I'm being too optimistic, perhaps it's time to take Chess960 more seriously.

09 May 2006

My two mags

I read two chess magazines every month. One is 'Chess Life' (CL), which is published by the USCF; the other is 'Europe Echecs' (EE), published in France. I receive CL because I'm a life member of the USCF and I buy EE at the local newsstand because I like it. I have been reading both for over 20 years and there have always been big differences between the two publications.

The first difference is the publishing schedule. My most recent copy of EE, dated April 2006, which I bought the second week in April, has stories on Linares 2006 (18 Feb - 11 Mar), the Moscow Aeroflot Open (8-16 Feb), and the Cuernavaca Young Masters (1-11 Feb). My most recent copy of CL, dated February 2006, has a story on the final match of the 2005 U.S. Chess League (played 23 Nov). That is the only news story in CL, besides four short articles and an obituary on the 'Chess News' page.

Because I live overseas, it takes a few months for CL to arrive. This is certainly not the USCF's fault. Earlier today I saw a post on rec.games.chess.politics asking about the May CL. That tells me that EE and CL both are distributed around the beginning of each month. The difference is that EE has stories 1-2 months old, while CL has stories 2-3 months old.

This has been the situation with both magazines for as long as I can remember. Another example is the 36th Olympiad, which finished 31 Oct 2004. This was reported in the Dec 2004 issue of EE and the Jan 2005 issue of CL. That same issue of CL carried the news that Kramnik had retained his title against Leko, which was reported in the Nov 2004 issue of EE.

Like many people, I get most of my chess news on the Web, almost always within a day or two of its becoming news. Also like many people, I like to read about an event later, away from my PC. It will be a long time before my digital news completely replaces my hardcopy news.

I have archives of both magazines going back 15-20 years. I consult them frequently, usually when I'm doing some kind of research. I always check EE first, because it generally has a story on the piece I'm researching.

Getting back to the most recent issues I have at hand, CL has 66 pages, not counting the front and back covers, EE has 72 pages, not counting covers. CL has 20 pages of tournament announcements; EE has 4 1/2 pages. CL uses color only on its glossy cover pages, three of which are full page ads; EE uses color throughout.

When I look at content, CL is filled with columns, many of them written by inactive GMs. Larry Evans' column leads with a question on Fischer - Spassky 1972. Following that is a question about a Bobby Fischer game from 1957. Benko's column presents two endgames by Isaac Kashdan (1905-1985). Both columns could have been written 20 or 30 years ago.

EE has six fully annotated games from Linares 2006, including two played by Topalov and two by Aronian, the winner of the event. Later on there is a game played and annotated by Karjakin, and another by Moiseenko.

The only advantage CL has over EE is cost. An adult membership for the USCF, which includes 12 issues of CL, costs $49 per year. EE costs 5.95 Euro per issue in France (11 issues per year).

In spite of the many CJA awards which have gone to CL, American chess has not been well served. I know that there is a new editor of CL and I know that he has announced sweeping changes in the magazine. I hope that the changes close the gap between the two mags, my two mags.

08 May 2006

C.J.S. Purdy's correspondence skullduggery

The position in the following diagram is from the book 'How Purdy Won : The Correspondence Chess Career of a World Champion' by Hutchings, Purdy, and Harrison (Thinkers' Press, 1998, p.109). C.J.S. Purdy (Australia, 1906-1979, IM 1951) was the first World Correspondence Champion, a four-time winner of the Australian Championship, and a prolific chess writer. The diagrammed position arose in a game from the event where he qualified for the World Championship final.

In his notes to the game for the position after move 56, Purdy wrote , 'The game is now a "dead draw." Black has the "second rank absolute", which would virtually ensure a draw, even without the Bishops on opposite colors. White, however, must have reasoned that it was impossible to lose, and agreeing to a draw was equivalent to defeat since it gave his opponent first place, he might as well continue. A miracle might happen. It did!'

Preliminary, 1st World Correspondence Championship, 1947

(After 58.Rc5-c4)
[FEN "8/4k1p1/8/8/2Rb4/1P6/3r3P/5B1K b - - 0 58"]

Purdy's notes continued, 'Black, at this stage, was giving "conditionals" against all the obvious moves to show a forced draw by exchange of Rooks. This inveigled White into an error. He wished to anticipate ...Be5.'

Conditionals, also known as 'if' moves, were used more frequently in the days of postal chess. They saved the players time when it could take days or even weeks for a move to be sent internationally. In the current era of email chess, where moves can be received a few seconds after being sent, conditionals are used less frequently. Many of the email servers do not even provide this feature.

Purdy again: 'I did not need a win but conceived the idea out of sheer devilment. I saw that there was one plausible move that might lose for White, and by carefully giving conditionals against the other plausible moves, I might head him into it. Using conditionals psychologically is perfectly legitimate, i.e. you can tell your opponent what you will do against good moves, in the hope of his avoiding them and playing a bad one. Many a win is shortened thereby; and here winning chances are manufactured out of thin air.'

Black played 58...Kd6 and the game continued 59.h3 Ke5 60.Ra4. In his notes Purdy gave both White's moves a '?', and added, 'Incredible as it may seem, White now has only one line to avoid defeat! It is the self-pin 60.Bg2 and 61.Kh2, which prevents a successful invasion by Black's King. So ugly was this that Dr.Bigot [of France], perhaps influenced by the characteristic national preference for elegance in all things, searched for a more pleasing method and believed that he had found it in 60.Ra4?'

After 60...Kf4 61.b4 Be3 62.Ra3 Kf3 63.Bg2+ Kf2 64.Ra1 Kg3 65.Re1 Bd4 66.Rb1 Re2, White resigned. Purdy's long distance psychology had worked. This anecdote impressed me for several reasons:-

  • That there was a win in the position (for Black!) and that Purdy found it.
  • That Purdy used conditionals to steer his opponent away from drawing lines and into the only variation that lost.

Although 'How Purdy Won' was not written by Purdy alone, many of the notes were taken directly or adapted from the large body of work he left behind. Purdy understood chess on a level that few people reach, but was able to explain his ideas to players of intermediate ability.

Spell check


'skull·dug·ger·y or skul·dug·ger·y (skŭl-dŭg'ə-rē) • n., pl. -ger·ies. • Crafty deception or trickery or an instance of it. • [Probably alteration of Scots sculduddery, obscenity, fornication.]'

07 May 2006

Displaying a chess board

For a week I've been blabbering on about this, that, and the other thing. It's time for some real chess.

It's almost impossible to discuss chess without using a chess board. Given no other option, I could just use a FEN string to represent the board, but the web is a visual medium. It's better to show a diagram when discussing a chess position. To do this I'll have to address a few minor technical issues:-

  • Choosing an image format - I'm going to start with the same format I use on About Chess and its related Forum: copy/paste from ChessBase Lite to Paint Shop Pro 3. Fellow cheapskates might recognize the thread uniting those two choices of software. There are certainly classier methods of displaying a chess board, but I don't want to tackle too much on this first attempt. I can always review the decision later. As for file format, line art displays well in GIF format.

  • Hosting the image - I see that blogger.com (the tools side of blogspot.com) has an image hosting service. Once again, I don't want to make this first image effort more complicated than it has to be. I'll use the same technique that I use on the About Chess Forum and host the image on my own mark-weeks.com domain.

  • Writing a post in HTML - This should be a no-brainer, but since computer technology has a knack of biting you when you least expect it, I won't try anything fancy.

Here's the first effort...

...It appears to have worked! Writing in HTML was incredibly clumsy. I usually prepare my work offline and then paste the HTML into whatever tool I'm forced to work with. In this case the blogger.com software insisted on changing my HTML to suit its own purposes. I'll need to become more familiar with it to avoid wasting time. All in all, I'm pleased with the first result.

In tomorrow's post I'll explain why I chose that position.


A few minutes later...

I see on the published page that something has added a thin line around the image. When I look at the HTML source in compose mode, I don't see a BORDER attribute on the IMG tag. The only odd thing I see, other than rearranging the order of my IMG attributes, is a stray slash before the closing greater-than character. I'm not familiar with that and will have to investigate. While composing the post, the image displays without the thin line. Strange; not really WYSIWYG, is it. I'll look at the source for the published page when I have a moment.

06 May 2006

Olympiad tickets

By a happy coincidence, my travel plans were such that for a few days I would not be far from Turin while the Olympiad was being played there. How could any chess fan pass up a once in a lifetime chance to visit the greatest chess show on earth?

The official site...

37e Olimpiadi degli Scacchi : Torino 2006

...had instructions for buying tickets to enter the playing area...

'Silver Ticket : 5.00 euro - availability: 1500 tickets per day; With this ticket you can access the trade fair area, the technical area for live comment on some of the top games of the day, and the galleries and walkways around the Parterre, the playing area.

'Golden Ticket : 20.00 euro - availability: max 300 per day; In addition to the possibilities given by the Silver ticket, this ticket gives direct access to the Parterre to follow the games from close up.'

...That sounded great and I decided to buy two Golden Tickets, one for me and one for a friend, also a chess fan, who would be traveling with me. I sent an email inquiry to the designated agent ('Blubs viaggi'), waited a week without response, and then sent a follow-up. This time I received a response after a few working days. Along with a form for ordering tickets ('Step 1'), the response mentioned the following payment instructions.

'Step 2 - Payment; The payment can be made in one of two solutions:
'a. CREDIT CARD : To pay with a credit card we need absolutely by fax:
1) Authorization to debit the card the entire amount of the tickets, credit card issuer and number, and the expiration date.
2) The signature from the owner of the credit card.
3) A photocopy of the credit card (front and back)
4) A photocopy of two different identifications (for example: drivers license and passport)
N.B.: For the payment with credit card we charge 2,5% commission of the entire amount. (because when you pay through card we have additional cost).

'b. SWIFT BANKING : To pay with Swift, a copy of the bank statement by fax with the following explanation: "payment tickets for Chess Olympiad", and your name.'

I discussed the credit card conditions with my friend and we agreed that the requested documents were more appropriate for buying a luxury item than for buying two tickets to a sporting / cultural event. In this era of rampant identity theft, no prudent person would send all of those documents to a complete stranger. I also inquired into the cost of a Swift bank transfer and determined that it would add at least 50% to the cost of the tickets.

I then sent off a third email to Blubs viaggi suggesting either a cheaper form of European bank transfer, a postal money order, or direct electronic payment via another friend who lives in Italy. That email was never answered. My friend and I decided that we would let the opportunity pass. Reserving hotel rooms for four in Turin (our wives would be joining us on the trip) was not attractive if there was no guarantee of visiting the Olympiad.

I am really curious why the payment conditions were so onerous. It would have been a wonderful chance to visit a unique chess event.

05 May 2006

A note about blogrolls

Just like you have to send mail to get mail, you have to give links to get links. If outgoing links breed incoming links, why don't I link to other blogs? The answer is that I do, but not here. I don't have the time to maintain them here.

I currently have around 750 external sites listed on About Chess. Along with hierarchical navigation under 'Topics' in the left column of each page, I maintain an alphabetical list of all categories...

About Chess Site Map : A to Z List of All Resource Categories

...I add at least 1-2 sites per week to those categories. To keep track of which sites I've linked and where they are in my hierarchy, I maintain a database of sites. Along with the 750 sites that I link, I have another 1250 that I don't link. Many of these are sites that no longer exist, but many others are sites that I've chosen not to link, always for a good reason.

On top of this I have an off-database list of sites that I haven't decided to link or not. I review this list from time to time to see if a site merits a decision. Many of these are new sites where I want to see if they have staying power. People will send me any number of messages demanding that I list their site, but no one ever sends a message when a site disappears. I've observed that new sites have a higher mortality rate than old sites.

I should also mention that I don't particularly enjoy maintaining links to external sites. It's a time consuming job that few people appreciate. About.com is decreasing its emphasis on these links and doesn't require that I link to all chess sites on the Web. They ask only that I link to sites that complement my own articles. As a public service, as well as for my own benefit in keeping track of interesting chess sites, I do more than this.

My personal database of chess sites includes a separate table for chess blogs. This table is the source for the occasional article that I do on blogs. I publish my list of blogs via links from this page...

Chess Blogs

...where I encourage visitors to inform me of any blogs that I might have overlooked. Several times a year I visit all of the active blogs listed in my table and note the date of each blog's most recent post. This determines the active blogs for the next cycle of visits.

Finally, there are several blogs that do a good job of keeping track of other blogs. Instead of maintaining my own list here on 'Chess for All Ages', I prefer to link to the experts. Since I also consult those experts to maintain my private database, I should find out if they stop keeping their list up to date.

The bottom line is that you shouldn't be upset if your blog is not listed here. The chances are very good that I have already visited it many times!

04 May 2006

The other M.Weeks

There is another M.Weeks in the chess world....

Manuel William Weeks

...People sometimes point to something about him and ask me if it's me. My answer is always, 'No, it's not me, it's the other M.Weeks'. I suppose he gets the same questions from people pointing to something about me.

For the record, my full name is Mark Alan Weeks. A few of my tournament games have also found their way into the mega databases. I'm not particularly proud of them and I won't say which ones they are.

The advantage of being confused for another chess player is that opponents will study his games, thinking that they are preparing to play against me. The disadvantage is that the results of the other player might be confused for mine. This happened once before FIDE assigned player IDs. I took a hit for 30 rating points even though I hadn't played a FIDE event in years. I'm fond of saying that if I had played I probably would have lost even more, so I escaped with only a scratch.

03 May 2006

Where I play

The last time I played a rated USCF game was at the 1984 World Open in Valley Forge, PA. The last time I played a rated FIDE game was at the 1990 Paris Open in Paris, France.

As many keen amateur players eventually discover, serious OTB chess is not compatible with the demands of a family and a career. Wanting to get back into chess play, I started playing email chess in 2001. I joined a free tournament that the ICCF set up to celebrate its 50th anniversary...

EM / J50 / P198

...and have been happy with email chess ever since. It is a good complement to the demands of the real world. Moreover, it allows me to penetrate to the deep secrets of a chess position in a way that is not possible when playing OTB.

While I still play in the ICCF, I have also tried many other email chess services. I should have a lot more to say about email chess in future posts.

02 May 2006

Why 'Chess for All Ages'?

Everything has a name. There's no way to avoid it. Things that don't have names don't exist. People can't talk about them, point to them, complain about them, or anything else that people do about things that have names. Which is everything.

I set up this blog to enter a comment on another blog. The process of registering as a bona fide commenter (commentator?) led me through a process that required setting up a new blog whether I wanted it or not. This often happens in the computer world. You start to do one thing, which leads to another thing, which leads to another thing, and suddenly you are at interrupt level five, solving problems that have nothing to do with the original task. When you finally finish level five, you step back through the sequence of interrupts to accomplish whatever it was that started them. Which was? Name the blog.

The blog naming procedure required me to create a subdomain in the blogspot.com domain. In less technical terms, I had to replace the [something] in [something].blogspot.com with a name of my choosing. There was a nice built-in function that let me try different [something]'s until I found one that hadn't been used. All of the obvious names had been taken: chessblog, chessguy, chessmaster, chessexpert, and a dozen other chess related names that popped into mind at interrupt level four.

Then I remembered a feature that I do from time to time on About Chess. There's an index here...

Chess for all Ages

...I finished creating that index an hour ago at interrupt level six or seven to explain why I chose this blog name. I started to create it last summer to keep track of the different About.com 'Chess for all Ages' posts. I found last summer's aborted effort on my hard drive, added links for a few 'Chess for all Ages' pieces written since then, and published the whole thing as a new index. I categorized it as a ChessChrono, a name I invented at interrupt level five for another little project.

The 'Chess for all Ages' posts on About Chess are far from being the most popular articles on the site. They are buried so far down in the site statistics that I've never noticed them when browsing the stats. Their lack of popularity isn't a problem for me -- chess itself is far from the most popular topic on the planet -- but they happen to be among my personal favorites.

Everyone who is interested in chess news uses Google News with a search on chess. Along with thousands of stories that have nothing to do with chess ('the football game was a real chess match'), the Google News search uncovers all sorts of local news stories where chess plays a central role. These are stories about senior citizens who have started a chess club in the local library, or grade school teachers who have discovered that chess makes their students think and keep quiet, or high school chess teams that have just won an important team event in the state capital.

I have often been impressed by the many ways that chess affects everyday people in everyday situations. Since the Google News stories are rarely interesting enough to merit a story highlighting them individually, I often pull several of them together under the 'Chess for all Ages' header.

Chess needs its heros. It needs its skunks. It also needs all the people like you and me, neither hero nor skunk, people who will never win the national championship, the regional championship, or even the local club championship, people who just enjoy playing chess.

I never returned to the blog I wanted to comment at interrupt level zero. I was smitten by blog fever, by 'Chess for all Ages', and that's where I'll be for the near future.

01 May 2006

Another head?

I need a blog like I need another head. Now that I think about it, another head would be useful to keep the first one from getting out of control. It might have kept me from setting up this blog.

Too late!