27 February 2008

Google Redirects on Chess.com

For the last week or so, Google has been displaying Chess.com, the no.1 entry on a search for 'chess', in a format that I've seen used elsewhere, but never for a chess site. The search results are shown in the following screenshot, where I've enlarged the Chess.com results to keep them readable.

The lower level entries are redirected through Google, e.g...

Against the Computer

...etc. Does this technique have a name? The key might be the '&usg=' parameter in the redirected URL, but I can't find it documented anywhere.

25 February 2008


Here's a neat trick that comes in handy for power searching...

Google Shows the Indexing Date for Each Search Result

...For example...

Results 1 - 10 of about 367,000 over the past 24 hours for chess

...That's a real number, though its normally lower. Note the indexing date on each entry.

Does it sometimes seem that ChessBase.com is obsessed with Kasparov? It has been, after all, three years since he retired from chess...

...Yessiree, Bob. Henceforth the site can be called ChessBias.com, unless they run one of their regular features showing attractive women players in revealing outfits, when it's CheeseBase.com.

23 February 2008

Crash Course in Soviet Geography

In my previous post The Year of Big Changes, I worked out the number of Soviet players absorbed by the 15 ex-USSR federations (countries) after the breakup of the Soviet Union. I also remarked that the numbers didn't look right to me. After a little more work, I determined that they look very good indeed. First, here's a political map of the USSR in 1989.

Taking Russia first, then circling it counterclockwise starting with the Baltic republics, here is the population (in millions, July 2007 est.) and the number of FIDE players in 1991 for each country.

141.4 706 RUS (Russia)
    1.3   17 EST (Estonia)
    2.3   15 LAT (Latvia)
    3.6     9 LTU (Lithuania)
    9.7   27 BLR (Belarus)
  46.3 197 UKR (Ukraine)
    4.3   10 MDA (Moldova)
    4.6   51 GEO (Georgia)
    3.0   23 ARM (Armenia)
    8.1   12 AZE (Azerbaijan)
    5.1     2 TKM (Turkmenistan)
  27.8   28 UZB (Uzbekistan)
    7.1     4 TJK (Tajikistan)
    5.3     7 KGZ (Kyrgyzstan)
  15.3   15 KAZ (Kazakhstan)


21 February 2008

Targeted Advertising for Chess

It's no secret that About.com uses targeted ads on its network of topics, of which there are currently over 650. What sort of ads are targeted at chess players?

At the top of the screen is a banner for 'Bookworm Adventures [Play Now]'. It leads to a page from arcade.about.com touting the game as 'The ultimate test of linguistic skills!'.

Below it on the right is an announcement that 'Vanessa Hudgens Apologizes for Racy Photos', with the further info that 'Disney star Vanessa Hudgens has apologized to her fans for nude photos of her that leaked onto the internet recently... [Click Here]'. It leads to a page where you can download the 'Starware Celebrity Toolbar'.

Of course, there's nothing saying these ads were targeted at chess players. They could have been general ads used around the About.com network. Still, it makes you wonder. Are chess players

  • Bookworms who like racy photos, or
  • Game players who like Disney movies?

Take your pick.

19 February 2008

My 15 Minutes of Fame?

Let it be known to all interested parties that on or about 9:00 AM GMT on Friday, 15 February 2008, chess.about.com, aka About Chess, reached no.4 on a Google search for 'chess'. The following image is testimony to that fact.

Above the Fold!

The page remained in that position for an unknown length of time before it dropped to a more usual spot at no.10. Was this the 15 minutes of fame that Andy Warhol promised me? It ranks with my name's mention on p.242 of David Shenk's book 'The Immortal Game', along with many other people you've never heard of.

17 February 2008

The Year of Big Changes

In Soviet Players on the FIDE Rating Lists, I noted that Soviet players disappeared from the FIDE rating lists between 1990 and 1991. Where did they go? We know that the Soviets were reclassified by FIDE as Russians, Ukranians, Georgians, etc., but can we be a little more precise? How many players were reclassified into which nationalities? I decided to look at the FIDE rating data to find out.

The first point to note is that the quality of FIDE's rating lists changed dramatically from 1990 to 1991. Until 1990 the names were listed with only surname and first initial, e.g. 'Kasparov,G.'. In 1991, the names were fleshed out with additional data related to the first name, e.g. 'Kasparov,Gary'. (FIDE started spelling the ex-World Champion's name as 'Kasparov, Garry' at some time in 2001.)

I had already done some work on the 1990-91 rating lists for an article I wrote in 2006, Chess in the Balkans. In 1990, FIDE changed the federation (country) codes for ex-Yugoslavia to follow the political changes in the Balkan countries. This was the same year it changed federation codes for the ex-USSR, and I suspect that the improvements to players' names were done to facilitate the matching of players to federations for both Yugoslavia and the USSR.

Anyone who has worked with matching data on databases knows that names are not a reliable way to identify people. When I matched the 695 players classified as 'USR' in 1990, I found 620 of them listed in 1991. Where did the others go? They were victims of name changes. For example, 'Arakhamia,K.' in 1990 became 'Arakhamia-Grant,Ketevan' in 1991, 'Azmayparashvili,Z.' became 'Azmaiparashvili, Zurab', and so on.

Looking at the 620 names listed in both 1990 and 1991, I found that they had been reclassified into 29 other federations. Here is a list of federations that absorbed at least 10 ex-Soviet players:-

328 RUS
126 UKR
  23 GEO
  20 UZB
  17 ISR
  16 ARM
  12 USA
  12 BLR
  10 EST etc.

On that list there are two kinds of federations: those that did not exist before 1990-91 (e.g. RUS & UKR), and those that did (ISR & USA). Of the 29 federations that absorbed Soviet players, 17 were missing from the 1990 list. This included the countries of SLO (Slovenia), which was involved in the political breakup of Yugoslavia, and GER (Germany), which had previously been split between FRG and DDR (West & East Germany).

The 15 federations created in 1990 from the political breakup of the USSR covered 1123 players in 1991. Why the difference between 695 'USR' players in 1990 and 1123 ex-USSR in 1991? I'm not sure, but it may have something to do with the increase from 7786 players on the 1990 list to 10067 on the 1991 list. Here is the breakdown of the 1123 players:-

706 RUS
197 UKR
  51 GEO
  28 UZB
  27 BLR
  23 ARM
  17 EST
  15 LAT
  15 KAZ
  12 AZE
  10 MDA
    9 LTU
    7 KGZ
    4 TJK
    2 TKM

Now that I have some numbers, they don't look right to me. The Baltic states, for example, appear to be under-represented. I'll investigate that another time.


If you are interested in more background about the rating lists, the following threads on the forum for About Chess might be useful.

15 February 2008

One Night In Bangkok

Murray Head - One Night In Bangkok (1984) (4:01) • 'Released on 12" in 1984, and one of the main tracks in the 1984 concept album for the musical, "Chess".'

This is the latest in a dozen or so YouTube versions of the original music video. It's hard to say which is best.

13 February 2008

David Bronstein, Poet

While working on my latest 'Every Move Explained', 1960 Leningrad - Spassky vs. Bronstein, I spent some time on Bronstein's 200 Open Games, published in 1970. He had a marvelously refreshing outlook on chess. Here are samples of his thinking, all taken from his chapter on the King's Gambit.

'It is no secret that any talented player must in his soul be an artist, and what could be dearer to his heart and soul than the victory of the subtle forces of reason over the crude material strength! Probably everyone has his own reason for liking the King's Gambit, but my love for it can be seen in precisely those terms.' (p.8)
'Whatever you might say and whatever I might say, a machine which can play chess with people is one of the most marvellous wonders of our 20th century!' (p.15)
'When you have a free moment, you most certainly should find Alekhine's book on the 1924 New York tournament and play through the Tartakower - Capablanca and Tartakower - Alekhine games. You can acquaint yourself at the same time with many other games from that great tournament, annotated in masterly fashion.' (p.21)
'Find some old collections of gambit tournaments and play each game through. It is an extremely pleasant occupation. While doing it one should be thinking not about who is winning or losing, but only about the immortality of real beauty, in whatever form it presents itself.' (p.22)
'While preparing for my match for the World Championship of 1951 I just could not discover for myself the secret of Botvinnik's continuous run of successes. On the other hand I was lucky enough to find out something more important: the plan for my own play in the forthcoming duel. After studying more than a hundred of the World Champion's games, I took an important decision: at all costs, and notwithstanding the obvious risk, to improvise tirelessly at the board. • It is perfectly obvious why Botvinnik himself is always right at the front in chess theory; what becomes known to us today, was known to him yesterday. And that means that what will be understandable to us tomorrow, Botvinnik already knows today.' (p.23)
'Our magazines are filled with various kinds of chess material: articles, problems, studies, and so on. There are few just simple tales about the chess players themselves. But surely people are the most important thing.' (p.24)
'If your library is crammed with weighty tournament bulletins and if millions of chess combinations are preserved in those yellowing volumes, then, willingly or unwillingly, your heart cannot remain indifferent to them; you are afflicted with an unquenchable thirst for exploration and chess adventures.' (p.27)

The introduction to the book has a page titled, 'The following are characteristic aims for all positions of an open type' (p.xiv). I found some of the most important points repeated in a post on Takchess' blog at Open Games.

11 February 2008

Why Play Correspondence Chess?

A story titled 'Dopage par Ordinateur' ('Doping by Computer') is the lead story in this month's L'Echiquier Belge, the official bulletin of the Belgian correspondence chess federation (circulation 117). It repeats a story from Rochade Europa, a German chess magazine that I've never seen.

The story is about the Hermann Heemsoth Memorial, a strong ICCF tournament that started last month and that counts four ex-World Correspondence Champions among the participants. One of the other players sports a correspondence GM title but has an OTB rating of only 1661, a class B rating by USCF standards. That player has apparently climbed the ranks of correspondence chess thanks to a 'battery of computers'. The story concludes, 'Strong players no longer have any chance unless they spend the necessary money to procure regularly the strongest computers and the most up-to-date and powerful [chess] software.'

The most surprising aspect of this story is why anyone would be complaining about it in 2008. Ten years ago it might have been news, but today it's a 'dog bites man' story. Anyone who plays correspondence chess in search of an impressive title or a stratospheric rating is ignoring the reality of chess in the 21st century. Correspondence titles and ratings have been meaningless for years.

09 February 2008

Soviet Players on the FIDE Rating Lists

Having managed to collect some data for FIDE ratings since their inception (see FIDE Historical Ratings 1971-79 for details), I decided to look at the evolution of Soviet players on the lists. The following table shows the count of Soviet players per year.

1971:   74 URS
1972: 108
1973: 211
1974: 213
1975: 282 USR
1976: 266
1977: 265
1978: 273
1979: 317
1980: 388
1981: 417
1982: 446
1983: 434
1984: 366
1985: 395
1986: 353
1987: 360
1988: 448
1989: 537
1990: 695

The switch of federation codes from URS to USR in 1975 is a reminder that the data comes from multiple sources and is not 100% reliable.

Note how the count of Soviet players drops to zero in 1991. I'll look at this in more detail in another post on the subject. It might also be useful to investigate why the counts drop in certain years, e.g. 1982-83-84 and 1985-86.

07 February 2008

Fischer - Larsen, Portoroz 1958

The first game in 18 Memorable Games is game no.2 in My 60 Memorable Games and no.52 in Predecessors IV. I'm not completely sure where I'm going with this yet, so I'll start by giving the punctuation assigned by Fischer and Kasparov to the moves of the game. I'll come back to it in a few days to see what it does for me, if anything.

[Event "Interzonal"]
[Site "Portoroz"]
[Date "1958.??.??"]
[Round "8"]
[White "Fischer, R."]
[Black "Larsen, B."]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "B77"]

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 g6 6.Be3 Bg7 7.f3 O-O 8.Qd2 Nc6 9.Bc4 Nxd4 {GK: ?!} 10.Bxd4 Be6 11.Bb3 Qa5 12.O-O-O b5 13.Kb1 b4 14.Nd5 {GK: !} 14...Bxd5 15.Bxd5 {GK: ?!} 15...Rac8 {BF: ?; GK: ?!} 16.Bb3 {BF: !; GK: !} 16...Rc7 {GK: !} 17.h4 Qb5 18.h5 {BF: !; GK: !} 18...Rfc8 {GK: !} 19.hxg6 hxg6 20.g4 {GK: !} 20...a5 21.g5 Nh5 22.Rxh5 {BF: !; GK: !} 22...gxh5 {GK: ?} 23.g6 e5 {GK: ?!} 24.gxf7+ Kf8 25.Be3 d5 {BF: !} 26.exd5 {BF: !} 26...Rxf7 27.d6 Rf6 28.Bg5 Qb7 29.Bxf6 Bxf6 30.d7 Rd8 31.Qd6+ 1-0

To play through the complete game see...

Robert James Fischer vs Bent Larsen, Portoroz 1958

...on Chessgames.com.

05 February 2008

Halldor Petursson Cartoons

Ever wonder how many cartoons Halldór Pétursson drew for the 1972 Fischer - Spassky match? I did, so I used the cards that have been issued to count them.

The cards are numbered on the back and this image shows them in sequence. It also shows some of the variations in the different cards that appear for sale from time to time.

03 February 2008

A Small Error in Wade & O'Connell

In Fischer's Soviet Opponents, I made a note to 'Compare the opponent counts to Wade & O'Connell's stats.' This is a reference to 'Bobby Fischer's Chess Games' by Robert G. Wade & Kevin J. O'Connell (Doubleday 1972). Along with 'Profile of a Prodigy', it is one of my two most useful references on Fischer.

The data from 'Russians Versus Fischer' (RvsF) matches the data from 'BF's Chess Games' (BFCG) in all but two places. First, RvsF uses the spelling 'Kholmov' instead of BFCG's 'Holmov'. Second, RvsF lists 10 Fischer - Geller games; BFCG lists 11 with an overall score of +4-5=2 in Geller's favor.

It turns out that the first Geller game referenced in BFCG is RJF vs. Sidney Geller from the 1956 U.S. Junior Championship in Philadelphia, which Fischer won. This means that the correct score between Fischer and one of his toughest opponents was +3-5=2, as given in an appendix to RvsF.

What a scoop! You heard it here first.


Later: Re 'You heard it here first', there's nothing new under the sun! A Chessgames.com member named Sneaky discovered the same in 2002; see Paul Keres vs Mikhail Botvinnik, Leningrad - Moscow 1941 (page 2). That's the game where Botvinnik destroyed Keres in 22 moves with the Black pieces.

01 February 2008

The Best Fischer Clip Ever

I've Got a Secret - Bobby Fischer (3:10) • 'Chess champion Bobby Fischer appears on an "I've Got a Teen-Age Secret" special on March 26, 1958.'

'TEEN-AGER'S STRATEGY DEFEATS ALL COMERS!!' • Dick Clark: 'This strategy, did it make people happy?'; Mr.X: 'It made me happy!'


Later: About 2:30 into the clip, Bobby receives two tickets to Moscow to play in a tournament. This was the Interzonal in Portoroz (Portorose) that started August 1958. Moscow is a long distance from Portoroz, which is on the Adriatic coast of Slovenia. What's the story?