30 June 2008

The Cone of Silence

The Chess Grand Slam continues to make progress off the radar. The page covering the Grand Slam Chronology (last update 13 May 2007) asks,

Have you ever wondered why chess players receive 10 to a 100 times less money than Roger Federer or Tiger Woods? Or why even 2600+ rated Grandmasters have to worry every day about paying bills and supporting families? Answering those questions is not as easy as it seems. The main cause is that chess is lacking sponsors.

Why is chess lacking sponsors? One reason is that chess organizers are hopeless at publicizing their events. Why would any sponsor want to drop $500K into the cone of silence that surrounds professional chess. I'll use the latest announcement on the Grand Slam as an example.

First, the announcement Chess Grand Slam Final in Bilbao is undated. Is this recent news or old news? The copyright notice at the bottom of the page says 2007, but Google dates it to '15 Jun 2008'. That makes it recent news, but good luck trying to find a mainstream news service that picked it up.

Second, the article starts, 'Since the Mtel Masters in May, there have been many rumors around the Chess Grand Slam.' Assuming that's May 2008, I read a lot of chess news and I hadn't encountered a single 'rumor' anywhere. I even went looking for news on the Grand Slam when I wrote, 'What happened to the Chess Grand Slam?' in Ivanchuk Wins 2008 M-Tel Masters (23 May 2008).

Third, the three news items (rumors?) in the announcement are

  • 'There will not be a Chess Grand Slam tournament in Mexico City.'
  • 'The Chess Grand Slam in Bilbao will take place 1-13 September 2008.'
  • 'Seattle will join the Grand Slam Chess tournaments in 2009. [...] China is one of the candidates to join in 2010.'

Which of those items is the most important? I'd say it's the second, especially since the prize fund will be Euro 400K. So why does the piece start with the bad news about Mexico City? Why even mention Mexico City?

Revealingly, the subtitle of that piece (just after 'Chess Grand Slam Final in Bilbao') is 'exclusive information update'. This gets to the heart of the issue. All of these chess news web sites -- no names, you know who they are (and I don't mean TWIC) -- are vying with each other to be the first reporting chess news/rumors. Their main objective is to scoop the others. Not a single one of them is interested in getting the news/rumors to a wider public.

No news means no interest. No interest means no sponsors. No sponsors mean no money.


A few days after announcing the Grand Slam Final, the same news/rumors site published Mexico City Open Letter (subtitled 'Cancelation of the Chess Grand Slam in Mexico'; Google: 17 Jun 2008). The 'Open Letter' (dated 16 May 2008) by HiquĂ­ngari Carranza, the (ex?)-organizer of the Morelia side of Linares/Morelia blaims, 'the disastrous handling of the World Chess Tournament in Mexico City, in which, as you know, I did not participate', when 'the chess world in Mexico was severely damaged'. • What 'disastrous handling' is he talking about?

28 June 2008

FIDE Struggles with the Growing Popularity of Ratings

Continuing with Growth of the FIDE Rating System, the years 1997-9, show an anomaly similar to the years 2001-3, which I discussed in my post on Inactive Players Missing. The following table shows a count of players for each year:-

1997 - 22.670
1998 - 20.916
1999 - 30.204

Why did the count decrease slightly from 1997 to 1998, then increase dramatically from 1998 to 1999? The first point to notice is that FIDE IDs were introduced in the data for 1999. For example, I was assigned FIDE ID 2003740, even though I hadn't played a FIDE event since 1990.

The second point is that the format of players' names was standardized in 1999. For example, the first two names on the 1997 list were 'Aaberg,Anton' and 'Aagaard,Jacob'. The third name was 'Aarland, Stein Arild'. There is no space after the comma in the first two names, but there is a space in the third. This, it turns out, is related to the decrease in the number of players from 1997 to 1998.

A total of 5576 names were listed with comma-space (', ') on the 1997 rating list. As far as I can see, they follow no particular pattern. Of those names, 4329 disappeared from the list in 1998, then reappeared in 1999. 'Aarland, Stein Arild' was one of them.

My own rating history was a victim of the delayed introduction of the FIDE ID. In one of my first posts on this blog, The other M.Weeks, I mentioned, 'I took a hit for 30 rating points even though I hadn't played a FIDE event in years.' This happened on the 1998 list, when I went from 2235 to 2205. Manuel Weeks (FIDE ID 3202500) first appeared on the FIDE list in 1999, listed with his first name and with a 2245 rating. I continued to be listed as M.Weeks with a 2205 rating. As far as I'm concerned, FIDE owes me 30 rating points, plus interest, but I'll accept cash.

Why did so many players enter the FIDE rating pool at the same time that FIDE IDs were assigned? I'll look at that in another post.

26 June 2008

Keres on the 1948 Title Tournament

I was pleased to discover recently on eBay that Paul Keres wrote a book on the 1948 World Championship tournament played in The Hague and Moscow. There were no other bidders, so I snapped it up. Now if I can just find someone who speaks Estonian.

How do Keres' annotations to his games with Botvinnik compare with Larry Evans' comments in the October 1996 Chess Life, 'The Tragedy of Paul Keres'?

24 June 2008

The Soviet Grandmaster Title

In Soviet Players I wrote, 'The Soviet lists of grandmasters and masters are *not* the same as those based on the FIDE titles. I wasn't able to pin down the exact criteria for awarding titles, which will have to wait for another day.' That other day has finally arrived:

In 1929 Soviet chess counted 25 masters: by 1934 there were 43, at the outbreak of the Second World War nearly 50. The first player to receive the grandmaster title was Botvinnik, in 1935. By the outbreak of the Second World War he had been joined by Levenfish, Kotov, and Smyslov and also by the two new Soviet citizens, Liliental and Keres. (Liliental remained in the USSR. after the 1935 Moscow tournament and became a Soviet citizen in 1939; Keres became a Soviet subject in 1940, when the Baltic States were annexed by the U.S.S.R.)
From 1933, when the first Uniform Chess Codex of the USSR. was formulated, the grandmaster title was awarded to the victor in a Soviet championship or to a player finishing second or third in two championships. This title can also be gained in an official match with a recognised grandmaster or by achieving outstanding international tournament results.

Source: Soviet Chess by D.J.Richards (Clarendon Press, 1965), p.51-52


In 100 Selected Games, Botvinnik (1911-1995) attributed the grandmaster title to his tie for 1st/2nd with Flohr in the 1935 Moscow international tournament. In the same book, he mentioned that he was awarded the master title in 1927.

In The Complete Games of Paul Keres, the great Estonian player (1916-1975) didn't mention the Soviet grandmaster title. His narrative skipped the years 1940-41, when Estonia was annexed by the Soviet Union (August 1940). Although he included one game from the 12th Soviet Championship (September 1940), there is no mention of the USSR Absolute Chess Championship (March 1941), where he finished second behind Botvinnik.

The introduction by Romanovsky to Smyslov's Best Games, 1935-57 mentions that Smyslov (b.1921) received the grandmaster title for third place in the 1941 Absolute Championship. From this, we can infer that Keres received the title at the same time.

22 June 2008

Inactive Players Missing

My post on the Growth of the FIDE Rating System identified a number of anomalies in the data. These are years where the count of players declines from Year(N) to Year(N+1), then jumps from Year(N+1) to Year(N+2). For example:-

2001 - 36.977 (my original table had 36.976; one anomaly at a time)
2002 - 29.283
2003 - 45.015

Since FIDE IDs are available in the data starting in 1999, it's easy to match players from one list to the next without the headache of trying to match names. After a short investigation, I determined that 11.314 FIDE IDs were present in the 2001 & 2003 rating lists, but not in 2002 (I'm one of them: FIDE ID 2003740). Looking at the 2001 data, 11.008 players had no games in the preceding period and 7.055 were marked inactive ('i'). It appears that FIDE dropped inactive players from the list at some time in 2001, then reinstated them in 2002.

20 June 2008

Mr. Personality?

"GM Gata Kamsky was at the top of a six-way tie for first at the National Open (June 5-8), part of the Las Vegas International Chess Festival. In this 8 minute interview with Chess.FM, Kamsky discusses his time in Vegas and his thoughts on the upcoming World Championship candidates match with Veselin Topalov, scheduled for November in Lvov, Ukraine. — Macauley"

8 Minutes with Gata (8:13) • 'ICC Chess.fm. This is Macauley wrapping up a long weekend in sin city, Las Vegas...'

If you've ever wondered why chess isn't featured more on network television, this might help explain it...

Q:[On the upcoming match with Topalov] If it was a choice between having the spot go to Shirov or playing in Bulgaria? A: Well, it's a difficult question and I can't really answer it, so I'm going to skip it. [...] Q: Is there anybody you're working with now or plan to this summer? A: Do you want me to divulge all my secret preparation? Q: Are you working with some trainers? A: I don't know. I don't feel like I'm qualified to answer that question because my hands are tied. [...] Q: What do you have planned in terms of training? Are you playing any matches? A: I have no idea.

...In all fairness, if you take those bits out, it's a good interview.

18 June 2008

More on '!?'/'?!'

In The Meaning of !? and ?!, I asked, 'Assuming that Fischer's use of notation is consistent, in what circumstances did he apply '!?' and '?!' to other moves in My 60 Memorable Games?'

I flipped through the book looking for instances of the two symbols. I found plenty of examples for '!?', but none for '?!'. Fischer used '!?' to mean speculative, sharp, or risky. In the Keres game under discussion he attached the comment 'a risky selection in time-pressure'. I found one other example where '?!' might have been more appropriate than '!?' : Fischer - Bednarsky, Havana 1966 (game no.55) 9...Nfxe4!?, where Fischer wrote, 'Playing with fire.' This is consistent with 'risky'.

Interested in the history of the symbols, I first checked Winter's Chesshistory.com. There I found Chess Notes Archive [21] (April 2006), '4330. Punctuation: Can readers improve on past efforts to find the earliest instances of moves being awarded exclamation and question marks?', and '4335. Punctuation: There are plenty of examples of exclamation marks in the BCM of 1881 before page 124.'; plus Chess Notes Archive [22] (May 2006), '4342. Punctuation (C.N.s 4330 & 4335): Exclamation marks became prevalent in the Deutsche Schachzeitung in 1861, but at first the custom was to attach them to moves by Black in compositions, in the sense of ‘the best defensive try’.' I found nothing about the hybrid symbols '!?'/'?!'.

While I'm on the subject, Winter's generic term 'punctuation' is not used universally, although it is concise and descriptive. Hooper & Whyld used the phrase 'conventional symbols'.

When did the symbols '!?'/'?!' come into standard use? The earliest Informant I have at hand is no.15 (1973H1), where they are used. Some other resources at hand: Alekhine's Best Games (1927 & 1939): no; Keres' Complete Games (1964): no; Larsen's 50 Udvalgte Partier (1969): yes, also '(!)' and '(?)'are used frequently; Wade & O'Connell's Fischer's Chess Games (1972): yes; Botvinnik's Best Games (1972): no, but Karpov's Road to the World Championship (1978): both used at least once, perhaps no more; Tal's Life and Games (1976): yes.

The symbols '!?'/'?!' appear to have come into use in the 1960s and were widely adopted in the 1970s. Their adoption was undoubtedly due to the widespread popularity of Informant's publications. Why did Informant decide to use them?

NB: All of these book searches were done quickly. It's possible I overlooked something. • Wikipedia's page on Punctuation (chess) has several alternate definitions, but no history.

16 June 2008

The Meaning of !? and ?!

Continuing with Fischer - Keres, Zurich 1959, Keres played 38...f4 in the diagrammed position. Fischer gave the move a '!?' and noted,

A risky selection in time pressure, aimed against 39.Kd3?? Bf5+. On 38...Be6 39.Rc6 is strong. Best is simply 38...Kf6 39.Ra7 (not 39.f4 Be6 40.Rc6? Rg7 41.Kf2 Rxg2+!) 39...Bc8 40.Rxf7+ Kxf7=

Kasparov copied this analysis and added,

After missing a certain draw, Keres is not yet losing the game, but he simply loses a Pawn.

This is straightforward enough, except that Kasparov assigned '?!' to Keres' 38...f4.

Zurich 1959
Keres, Paul

Fischer, Robert
(After 38.Kf2-e2)
[FEN "8/2Rb1rkp/p2p4/1p3p2/3p4/5P1P/PP2K1P1/1B6 b - - 0 38"]

Informant defines '!?' as 'a move deserving attention' and '?!' as 'a dubious move'. This means that Fischer's use of '!?' does not conform to current practice. I like to think of '!?' as halfway between a neutral no comment and '!', while '?!' is between neutral and '?'.

This leads to two questions: Assuming that Fischer's use of notation is consistent, in what circumstances did he apply '!?' and '?!' to other moves in his book? When did Informant's definition become standard practice?

14 June 2008

New CEO at About.com

Following up my post About.com's CEO Exits (8 March 2008), NYtimes.com announced this week that Times Hires New Chief of the About Group: 'The New York Times Company announced on Wednesday the appointment of Cella M. Irvine as chief executive of the About Group, which includes About.com, the information and advice Web site.'

If you're interested in the business side of web media, you might like this: Boosting About's Display Ad Revenue Is Top Priority for New CEO.

Boosting About's display ad business is a top priority for the new CEO. [...] Irvine indicated one of her focus areas will be to build more display ad revenue. She noted About's cost-per-click advertising business continues to perform well, but added it's dealing with display ad price pressure and issues related to unsold inventory.

Display ads are the banners and images that promote a product or service. The phrase 'unsold inventory' refers to content pages that don't carry a real ad. In other words, About.com has more content than they can sell ads for. This explains why so many of their pages carry ads pointing at other About.com services, or even worse, at disreputable services like downloading ring tones.

12 June 2008

Insiders' Perspectives on World Championship Matches

Two books worth reading for their unique take on World Championship matches are:-

  • 'The Day Kasparov Quit : and other chess interviews' by Dirk Jan ten Geuzendam • Almost half of the 30 interviews deal with aspects of World Championship matches.

  • 'From London to Elista' by Evgeny Bareev & Ilya Levitov • Close looks from Kramnik's side at the London 2000, Brissago 2004, and Elista 2006 matches.

Both from New in Chess. Both recommended.

10 June 2008

Blogger.com Widgetitis

Following the instructions in Show off your favorite blogs with a Blog List, I deleted the right column feed for my World Chess Championship blog and added it to a new 'Blog List'. This was just to try it out. I have so many favorite chess blogs that I wouldn't want to display the feeds using a blog list. It would make the page too long and slow to load.

08 June 2008

Growth of the FIDE Rating System

Rating list from January each year (except for earliest years), number of players, average rating.

06 June 2008


AMD Cricket Ad (0:41) • 'In India everyone wants to be a cricketer.'

02 June 2008

60/61 Memorable Games

Curiously, and by sheer coincidence, Fischer - Keres, Zurich 1959, figured in the 61 Memorable Games (61MG) hoax. Starting at the position in the diagram, the game continued 25...Bd5 26.Qf5 (Kasparov thought 26.Bf4! was better) 26...Re5. This is the first move shown in 61 Memorable Games: A Hoax, by GM Larry Evans.

Zurich 1959
Keres, Paul

Fischer, Robert
(After 25.Qg4-d7(xN))
[FEN "1q2rb1k/1b1Q1p1p/p2p3p/1p6/3pP3/7P/PP3PP1/1BB1R1K1 b - - 0 25"]

After 27.Qf3 f5 28.Bf4 Re8, Fischer commented,

On 28...Re7 29.Qd1 Bxe4 30.Bxe4 fxe4 31.Qxd4+ Bg7 32.Qd5 maintains pressure against the weak Pawns.

Kasparov copied Fischer's comment and wrote,

28...Re6 was a more reliable way of equalizing, for example: 29.Qd1 Bxe4 30.Bxe4 Qe8 31.Qxd4+ Bg7 32.Qd5 Rxe4 33.Rxe4 Qxe4 34.Qxd6 Qb1+ 35.Kh2 Qxa2.

The author of 61MG noted,

That's all well and good until you get to the fourth White move in the line [32.Qd5]. I didn't have any 13-year old schoolboys around to query at the time, but maybe an ancient Icelandic moss clump might consider that after 32.Qa7! Black is well on the way to being busted with 32...Bxb2 33.Qxa6! d5 (this must have been Weinstein's blind spot) 34.Qb7! dxe4 35.Rb1 Re7 36.Qd5 Be5 37.Bxh6 Rd7 38.Qxb5 and -- I'll say this only once -- Fischer beats Kasparov!

Note how both Weinstein and Kasparov are mentioned in the same sentence. How well does the 61MG analysis hold up?