31 January 2009

Arena / Rybka Analytical Upgrade

My recent post on Rybka's prowess (see Rybka 1 - Fischer / Huebner / Kasparov 0), combined with several years of complacency in the face of ever more powerful chess engines, convinced me to upgrade my analytical workbench. After conducting a little research, I decided to go with the Arena GUI coupled with Rybka 2.2. The package can be found in the Downloads area of the Arena 2.0.1 Chess GUI. It's free.

I easily installed the software, along with a few other engines distributed with Arena, and configured the GUI to match the working method that I currently use. Adapting tools to work the way you do is more important than adapting the way you work to fit the tools. The software might be free, but the time spent learning how to use it isn't.

30 January 2009

Chess Needle


Chess Needle © Flickr user fdecomite under Creative Commons.

This is the same artist I featured in my first post in this series: Flickr Friday.

29 January 2009

Rybka 1 - Fischer / Huebner / Kasparov 0

Continuing with Fischer - Gligoric, CT 1959, in the diagrammed position Fischer played 23.Qd3. Annotating the game, he assigned his move '!' and wrote,

The more obvious 23.f5 looks good, but Black still has defensive resources with 23...exf5 24.Rxh5 gxh5 25.Nf4 Rxc3 26.bxc3 Rxc3 27.Qxh5 Rxb3+ 28.cxb3 Qe3 etc.

According to Kasparov, Huebner gave Fischer's move '?', because of the variation

23.f5 exf5 24.Rxh5 gxh5 25.Qxh5 [instead of 24.Rxh5] Be6 26.Bxe6 fxe6 27.Qg6 Qc7 28.Rh1 Qe7 29.Nf4 Qe8 30.Qh7+ Kf8 31.Rh6 Bxh6 32.Qxh6+ Ke7 33.Qxe6+, 'when the Queen and Knight make short work of the Black King'.

Kasparov assigned Fischer's move '!?', because of

23.f5 exf5 24.Rxh5 gxh5 25.Qxh5 Be6 26.Bxe6 fxe6 27.Qg6 Re5! [instead of 27...Qc7] 28.Nf4 d5

with analysis of 29.Nd3, 29.Nh5, 29.Rh1, and 29.Ka1.


1959 Candidates Tournament (round 4)
Gligoric, Svetozar

Fischer, Robert
(After 22...Rc6-c5)
[FEN "2r3k1/pp1b1pb1/1q1pp1p1/2r3Pn/4PP2/1BN2Q2/PPP1N3/1K1R3R w - - 0 23"]

Fischer and Kasparov, joined this time by Gligoric, then settled into analysis of 23...Bxc3, which everyone assigns a '?'. While studying the analysis, which hinges on the sacrifice Rxh5, I wondered why Fischer couldn't play it on his 23rd move. I plugged 23.Rxh5 into my software, which quickly came up with 23...gxh5 24.Qxh5 Be8 25.f5 exf5 26.g6 Qc7 27.Nd4, when White has a nice attack.

I then wondered whether anyone on Chessgames.com (see link on the original post) had pointed this out. Indeed:

Fischer missed the winning 23. Rxh5!!. After 47 years a piece of chess software called Rybka, the strongest commercial chess software today, spotted this move overlooked by Fischer, all GM commentators, including Kasparov, who only gave the alternative 23. f5!?.

The analysis, given by another kibitzer, goes 23.Rxh5 gxh5 24.Qxh5 Be8 25.f5 exf5 26.Ng3 [instead of 26.g6] 26...fxe4 27.Ngxe4 etc., or 26.Nf4 etc. See Chessgames.com for the moves after 'etc.'

This Rybka contraption is frightening!

27 January 2009

Chess960 Opening Theory

In Undefended Pawns in Chess960 Start Positions, Tom Chivers commented,

I've started questioning whether comparing % scores of any of the 959 positions with chess makes any sense at all. After all, the 959 positions are basically played out with zero theory: so it would make more sense to compare them with chess results around the time of Greco, not chess now. This leads to a further thought. Do the %'s change with rudimentary theory applied? For instance, in the position where 1.Ne3 c5 2.d4! is extremely good for white, does 1.Ne3 e6 score much more moderately? Perhaps one way to test this would be using 'Monte Carlo' analysis?

The point in my previous posts wasn't necessarily to compare W-L-D statistics of the 959 positions with traditional chess (SP518). It was rather to compare all 960 positions with each other. A key question for the acceptance of chess960 is knowing whether all chess960 positions are equally fair, and, if not, are they reasonably fair.

If the numbers in Advantage in Chess960 Start Positions Revisited, can be taken at face value, then I have to conclude, 'No, they aren't equally fair.' A 76% success for White in one position is manifestly unfair. If the statistic applied to a variation in SP518, the line would be dropped quickly by players of the inferior side at master level.

The kicker in that last paragraph is 'if the numbers can be taken at face value'. Using SP518 as a reference, its 39% success, combined with the knowledge that White has a small advantage in traditional chess, means that the numbers can't be taken at face value. What's wrong with them? My guess is that the number of sample games for each start position is too small to be meaningful.

As for the second question -- 'Do the percentages change with rudimentary theory applied?' -- I would suppose, 'Yes, they do'. The source of the data, CCRL 404FRC : Downloads and Statistics (www.computerchess.org.uk), explains where the percentages come from.

CCRL means "Computer Chess Rating Lists". We are a club of people inspired by watching computers play chess. We want to compare the strength of different chess programs, and we want to share our findings with others. We are achieving this by running thousands of games between chess programs, collecting the games into a single database, and then computing and publishing a rating list. • CCRL 40/4 FRC: This is the first FRC [Fischer Random Chess] testing project, done in 40/4 time control.

Additional CCRL explanation relevant to this discussion is:

  • Time Control: Equivalent to 40 moves in N minutes
  • Book learning: Off for all engines

This method would appear to be compatible with Monte Carlo analysis. Curious about how close the CCRL tests compare to known opening theory, I downloaded the test games for SP518 and SP534 (the same as SP518 with the King and Queen switched).

The 32 games in the SP518 sample started: 17 x 1.e4, 7 x 1.Nf3, 5 x 1.Nc3, and 3 x 1.d4. The 22 games in the SP534 sample started: 13 x 1.d4, 7 x 1.Nf3, and 2 x 1.Nc3, roughly mirroring the results for SP518. The line that ocurred most frequently for the 13 x 1.d4 games is shown in the following diagram. It is a mirror of 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3, also known as the Open Game, in traditional chess.



Start Position 534
1.d4 d5 2.Nc3

The chess playing machines in the CCRL experiment are not learning from their results in the opening ('Book learning: Off'), but suppose they were. Furthermore, suppose that they played millions of traditional games (SP518) with each other, enough to establish a theory of the opening comparable in volume to what we have created since the time of Greco. How would that machine theory compare to what we humans have developed over the centuries? Would 16% of the games continue to start 1.Nc3, or would these shift to another first move, like 1.d4?

As for those of us who play chess and who are not machines, considering that we will play the same chess960 position only a few times during our entire lives, is it even worth bothering with questions of theory? Didn't Fischer promote his variant to free us from the burden of theory?

26 January 2009

Years in Review (2002-2007)

Continuing with Links related to my About.com material, I added Years in Review -- 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, and 2007 -- to my page on Chess History.

25 January 2009

1893 Tarrasch - Chigorin (Long Struggles)

Taking another look at the match table I developed for 1893 Tarrasch - Chigorin (Anatomy), the games marked 'long struggle' are candidates for closer inspection. There are seven:-

4: C-T, C00, 62, 0-1, =0, long struggle
6: C-T, C00, 59, 0-1, +2, long struggle
9: T-C, C67, 63, 1-0, +1, long struggle, misplayed with 28...Rf6 & 43...Ra2 [MGP1 no.28, 'C82']
12: C-T, C00, 51, 1/2, +2, long struggle, drawn with Black somewhat better
18: C-T, C00, 62, 1-0, +2, long struggle; blundered with 54...Rc1, overlooking draw [MGP1 no.30]
20: C-T, C00, 66, 1-0, =0, long struggle; outplayed in endgame
22: C-T, C00, 58, 1-0, =0, long struggle; outplayed in endgame

A few points emerge from this abbreviated table. The first is that six of the games started with the opening classified by ECO as C00, i.e. Chigorin's favorite 1.e4 e6 2.Qe2. Is this why Chigorin found it so appealing, because it leads to an unclear struggle where both players are forced to think over the board rather than rely on preparation?

Another point is the pattern of victories. The first three games in the table were won by Tarrasch, the next was drawn, and the last three were won by Chigorin. Does this mean that Chigorin had better stamina? Or that he developed a better appreciation of the C00 lines during the match?

Another point is the detail attached to games 9 and 18. This came, of course, directly from Kasparov's analysis in Predecessors I (MGP1) and indicates that he also finds long, tense games to be worthy of particular attention.

***

I looked at game four, the first game in the list, in more depth, and was attracted to the position shown in the following diagram.

1893 St.Petersburg Match (game 4)
Tarrasch, Siegbert

Chigorin, Mikhail
(After 47...Qa6-d6)
[FEN "3b1kn1/6p1/3q1p2/4pPP1/pP1pP1N1/3P1NQ1/1rr5/5RRK w - - 0 48"]

The game continued 48.gxf6 Bxf6 49.Qh3 a3 50.Nxf6 Qxf6 (50...gxf6 51.Qh7) 51.Rg6 a2!. Black's last move is a Queen sacrifice. It is practically forced, because after 51...Qf7, White has 52.Ra6 or 52.Nxe5. After 52.Rxf6+ gxf6 53.Rd1 Rb1 54.Qf1 Rcb2, Black regained the material and won quickly. To play through the complete game see...

Mikhail Chigorin vs Siegbert Tarrasch, Petersburg (Match) 1893
http://www.chessgames.com/perl/chessgame?gid=1036370

...on Chessgames.com. It turns out that I'm far from being the only person attracted to the diagrammed position. The kibitzers on Chessgames.com analyzed 48.Qh3, with variations by Chigorin (via Reinfeld) and Seirawan, and showed that the move appears to win by force.

That discovery leads to the further question: where could Black have improved in the moves leading up to the diagram? Was it 47...Qd6, or was it something earlier? That answer will certainly lead to more questions, and those answers will lead to even more. This is, after all, chess we're talking about.

24 January 2009

Comments on Comments

One of the fringe benefits of blogging is getting public reactions in the form of comments. Unfortunately, any further discussion in the comments is likely to be overlooked and/or forgotten. Here are a few comments I've received over the past month, along with some thoughts.

1893 Tarrasch - Chigorin (Anatomy)Justonovich: 'Do you analyze games with software?' • Yes, I do and I believe that most keen players do. One trick I use is to step through a game with the analysis engine turned on. Skipping over five or six move pairs at a time (easily done with 'cursor down') isolates the turning points, the moves where the evaluation jumps from roughly equal to a significant advantage for one side. Those turning points can then be analyzed in more depth. I use other tricks, but to describe them properly would take a full post.

Odd Year Means USCF ElectionJohn Hillery: 'Am I an insider? I must have forgotten to ask Them to teach me the secret handshake.' • Yes, John, anyone who can give an informed opinion on the EB candidates within a day after their names are revealed -- as in Just when you thought it was safe ... -- qualifies as an insider or, at worst, a keen observer.

Useless Stats/Qs about RatingsJames Stripes: 'I saw that you've started following my Chess Skills blog, so I stopped in to say hello.' • Hello, James! The Blogger.com feature allowing bloggers to track ('follow') blogs via the dashboard is the best tool I've found to stay up-to-date with other blogs. The list of the blogs I follow is visible in my profile. It appears that anything producing an RSS feed can be tracked.

As an aside, I discovered both of the preceeding bloggers (John Hillery and James Stripes) thanks to the latest blog carnival (see label in my sidebar). Discovering new blogs that are worth following is an important challenge for which I don't have a reliable method.

Undefended Pawns in Chess960 Start PositionsTom Chivers: 'I've been thinking about the 960 start positions too. In particular, I've started questioning whether comparing % scores of any of the 959 positions with chess makes any sense at all. After all, the 959 positions are basically played out with zero theory: so it would make more sense to compare them with chess results around the time of Greco, not chess now.' • This comment raises so many points that it's also worth a separate post.

Dragons and ConcretenessWahrheit: 'Edward Winter had a Note about an amateur beating Lasker with Rxc3 in the Dragon WAY back, but the game remained virtually unknown, and that the idea was "rediscovered" in the 1960s. I'll see if i can track it down when I have a little more time.' • Thanks for the tip. I searched Winter's site, but couldn't find the reference. Any help would be appreciated.

I've been sitting on other interesting comments that are even older than these. Maybe I'll tackle them one of these days.

23 January 2009

YouTube as a Marketing Tool

Many snippets of ChessBase videos have been showing up on YouTube the last few days. Here's an example.


Alexei Shirov (3:07) • 'My best games in the Spanish Vol 2'

For more, see ChessBaseGmbH's Channel.

22 January 2009

USCF Election Means Odd Year

Later this year, the USCF will hold an election for its Executive Board (EB). From the Bylaws of the U.S. Chess Federation ('Includes all changes passed at the 2006 Annual meeting'):

Article VI: Executive Board • Section 1. Composition. The Executive Board shall consist of seven members elected for staggered terms of four years. The Executive Director serves as a non-voting member of the Executive Board, with the right to debate and make motions, but without the right to vote. All Executive Board members are national officers of the USCF. • Section 2. Functions. The Executive Board shall manage the affairs of the Federation, including employment and other contracts, between meetings of the Board of Delegates and shall perform other duties as specified in these Bylaws. The Executive Board shall be subject to the authority of the Board of Delegates, and none of its acts shall conflict with actions taken by the Board of Delegates. The Executive Board’s direction to the staff shall generally be given by the USCF President.

In July 2005, Bill Goichberg, Greg Shahade, Joel Channing, and Robert Tanner were elected to the EB for four year terms, although three of them resigned without completing the full term: Shahade resigned in January 2006, Tanner in December 2006, and Channing in April 2008. In July 2006, Randall Hough was elected for a three year term, replacing Shahade. In July 2007, Susan Polgar, Randy Bauer, and Paul Truong were elected for four year terms; Jim Berry was elected for two years, replacing Tanner.

Shortly after my first post on the 2009 election (see Odd Year Means USCF Election), the USCF announced the candidates. They are (with names linked to Google searches, * = incumbent) Mike Atkins, Jim Berry (*), Bill Goichberg (*), Ruth Haring, Eric Hecht, Mikhail Korenman, Brian Lafferty, Blas Lugo, Brian Mottershead, Mike Nietman, and Sam Sloan. For a copy of the announcement, which was originally posted on a discussion forum open only to USCF members, see USCF Executive Board Candidates [16 January 2009; Chessusa.net], along with links to other relevant pages. • To be continued...

20 January 2009

Chess960 World Championships

2008 CCM Poster It's time to take a break from the posts related to the chess960 database, of which the most recent was Undefended Pawns in Chess960 Start Positions, and tackle some other aspect of Fischer's variant. After putting together Chess960 @ Chess Classic Mainz, an overview of past events at the premier chess960 festival (Chess Classic Mainz, CCM), I've been wanting to go into more depth on CCM's history.

The original pages describing CCM events since 2001 have been archived on the Chesstigers.de domain, making it easy to select key facts and highlights from each year. In this post, I'll focus on why certain players were selected for the main chess960 event each year.

In past years the main chess960 event at CCM was a match featuring two (or more) of the world's top chess players (traditional chess, SP518), but the main event for the year 2008 was a four player women's championship. I haven't been able to determine if this was a one time event, if the overall and women's championships will be held on alternate years, or if there is some other pattern planned for the future.

  • 2008 Proposal • 'Rapid Women World Championship: Kosteniuk, Alexandra / World Champion; Zhukova, Natalia / Qualifier 2006; Cmilyte, Victorija / Qualifier 2007; Lahno, Kateryna / Invitation'

  • 2007 Proposal • 'FiNet Chess960 & Rapid World Championship; Participants in both tournaments; Anand, V. Rapid Chess World Champion; Aronian, L. Chess960 World Champion; Bacrot, E. Winner FiNet Open 06; Kasimdzhanov, R. Winner ORDIX Open 06.'

  • 2006 Proposal • 'Peter Svidler, Chess960 World Champion, vs Levon Aronian, Winner of Qualification-Open 2005' • 'Clerical Medical Chess960 World Championships; Women: Alexandra Kosteniuk vs Elisabeth Pähtz; Juniors: Arkadij Naiditsch vs Pentala Harikrishna; Seniors: Vlastimil Hort vs Lajos Portisch'

  • 2005 Proposal • 'FiNet Chess960 Weltmeisterschaft; Peter Svidler, Chess960 Weltmeister, vs Zoltan Almasi, Gewinner des Qualifikations-Open 2004'

  • 2004 Chess Classic Mainz • 'Two press conferences started off the Chess Classic Mainz. Vishy Anand, his challenger Alexei Shirov, WNCA Chess 960 world champion Peter Svidler and the winner of last year´s Chess960 Open, Levon Aronian joined organiser Hans-Walter Schmitt and the mayor of Mainz Jens Beutel. Schmitt was proud to tell that the Chess960 Open has attracted more players than last year.'

  • 2003 Chess Classic Mainz • 'Judit Polgar is the name of the challenger of Chess Classic Champion Vishy Anand in a classical 8-game rapid chess match. At the same time, Peter Leko and Peter Svidler will play the first Chess960 World Championship Match. Both world-class players will also play in a unique Chess960 simultanious exhibition on Wednesday.'

The year 2003 also featured a couple of articles describing the early years of chess960 at CCM.

  • Judit Polgar challenges Anand; Chess Classic Mainz: First Chess960 World Championship Match between Leko and Swidler by Hartmut Metz • 'On 13 August 2003, the Chess Classic will officially be opened by Jens Beutel, Mayor of Mainz. The chief of the capital of Rhineland-Palatinate state will surely once again participate in one of the simuls that start at 4.30 P.M. The next day the favourite brain child of Hans-Walter Schmitt starts: the Chess960 Open (in which the initial position is determined by drawing lots) is slated to attract more than last year’s 131 players. The 51 year old has proclaimed this competition to be the "official world championship qualification". Peter Svider won the first tournament of this kind gaining 9:2 points. Simultaneously with the duel between Anand and Polgar, he will play against Peter Leko. The world championship candidate in classical chess, who will meet Kramnik in their world championship final in May or June, in 2001 already proved his talents in Chess960. In a dramatic match, Leko beat the number four in the world rating list, Michael Adams, with 4.5:3.5. Between 14 and 17 August he will meet a challenge from the winner of last year’s strong open tournament which was dominated by 30 grandmasters amongst the first 32 places. Schmitt intends to take advantage of the favourable situation and join forces with the world chess elite in order to set up a world Chess960 association.'

  • A pleading for Fischer’s ideas - say "Yes" to Chess960
    by Hans - Walter Schmitt [long] • '"Experts are playing for experts", with breakneck speed, the two world champions Ponomariov and Anand are playing the 21 opening moves of the Najdorf variation in the Sicilian Defense. The time used so far is 16 seconds on one side, 21 seconds on the other side -- one observer in the tournament hall sighs protestingly "The organiser should make them play slower in the opening -- there’s no chance of enjoying the game". Despite grandmasters Yussupov’s and Lobron’s commentary via headphone, despite a video screen 4 times 5 meters in size as in a cinema, despite the directly visible players on stage, the ordinary chessplayer sitting comfortably in his chair understands nothing at all.'

I'm crossing my fingers that CCM, especially its chess960 events, will survive the current global economic slowdown. Are we sure to see a 2009 edition?

19 January 2009

Image Galleries Standardized

Building on the work started for Chess History Index, I converted all existing image galleries...

...to a standard format and moved each to an appropriate index page...

...The site is starting to take shape and display its own personality.

18 January 2009

1893 Tarrasch - Chigorin (Anatomy)

Pity the amateur chess writer. When delving into the art of the world's best players, it's often difficult to explain a single move, where a verbal description proves insufficient and can require the analysis of myriad variations streaming toward infinity.

As for a complete game, itself the sum total of many moves, charting the twists and turns, the tactics and strategies, the ideas and their refutations, risks trying the patience of the most faithful reader. What to say of a complete match, the sum total of many games, played (though not always) sequentially over many weeks or even months?

Today, to analyze a single move or follow a single game, we have a tool which was not available to the writers of the pre-computer age. We can step through the moves of a game, both played and unplayed, with the help of chess playing software. This is often a mixed blessing, especially when complex positions and moves are reduced by the software to a single number, like +0.33, leading us astray from the essence and the understanding of the unique position on the board.

Confronted with the problem of outlining the Tarrasch - Chigorin match, St. Petersburg 1893, I developed the following schema. For each game, it shows the players, the opening, the result plus running total, and a brief description of the action [MGP1 is Kasparov's Predecessors I]. Time will tell if it helps to understand the match.

1: T-C, C80, 29, 1-0, +1, blundered with 21...f5
2: C-T, C00, 43, 1-0, =0, blundered with 36...Rf8
3: T-C, C66, 62, 0-1, -1, outplayed in middle game
4: C-T, C00, 62, 0-1, =0, long struggle
5: T-C, C77, 26, 1-0, +1, blundered with 10...Ne7
6: C-T, C00, 59, 0-1, +2, long struggle
7: T-C, C77, 42, 0-1, +1, blundered with 41.Rc1 in a difficult position
8: C-T, C00, 34, 1-0, =0, misplayed in late opening [MGP1 no.27]
9: T-C, C67, 63, 1-0, +1, long struggle, misplayed with 28...Rf6 & 43...Ra2 [MGP1 no.28, 'C82']
10: C-T, C00, 31, 1/2, +1, drawn with Black somewhat better
11: T-C, C77, 53, 1-0, +2, blundered with 52...Bc7 in a won game [MGP1 no.29, fragment]
12: C-T, C00, 51, 1/2, +2, long struggle, drawn with Black somewhat better
13: T-C, C77, 32, 1/2, +2, drawn in an equal endgame, R+B vs. R+N
14: C-T, C00, 77, 0-1, +3, outplayed in middle game
15: T-C, C77, 45, 0-1, +2, blundered with 43.Qa4
16: C-T, C34, 27, 1/2, +2, drawn in an equal game
17: T-C, C77, 46, 1-0, +3, outplayed under attack in middle game
18: C-T, C00, 62, 1-0, +2, long struggle; blundered with 54...Rc1, overlooking draw [MGP1 no.30]
19: T-C, C77, 42, 0-1, +1, outplayed in middle game
20: C-T, C00, 66, 1-0, =0, long struggle; outplayed in endgame
21: T-C, D00, 31, 1-0, +1, outplayed in middle game
22: C-T, C00, 58, 1-0, =0, long struggle; outplayed in endgame

***

While I was studying the games of the match, I noticed the following position. What would you play and why?

1893 St.Petersburg (match; game 3)
Tarrasch, Siegbert

Chigorin, Mikhail
(After 34.Rf1-e1)
[FEN "4rrbk/2pq2bp/p2p2p1/1p3n2/3PN3/1PPQ1N1P/P1B1R1PK/4R3 b - - 0 34"]

To see what Chigorin played (or to step through the complete game) see...

Siegbert Tarrasch vs Mikhail Chigorin, Petersburg (Match) 1893
http://www.chessgames.com/perl/chessgame?gid=1036369

...on Chessgames.com.

***

Later: In the match table I added the move count to the data shown for each game.

17 January 2009

! Isn't Necessarily Better

After multiple digressions related to Fischer - Gligoric, CT 1959, it's time to get back to the game itself. In the diagrammed position, White played 17.Nde2. Fischer gave his move a '!', and noted,

Black holds out after 17.g5 hxg5 18.hxg5 Nh5 19.f4 Qc5, threatening 20...e5.

Kasparov agreed with the '!' and repeated Fischer's variation.

1959 Candidates Tournament (round 4)
Gligoric, Svetozar

Fischer, Robert
(After 16...e7-e6)
[FEN "2r2rk1/pp1b1pb1/3ppnpp/q7/3NP1PP/1BN1QP2/PPP5/2KR3R w - - 0 17"]

Black played 17...Rc6, which Fischer passed over without comment, and the game continued 18.g5 hxg5 19.hxg5 Nh5 20.f4 Rfc8. Kasparov, however, assigned the move 17...Rc6 a '?' and noted analysis by Huebner:

17...Ne8!; Avoiding the opening of lines on the Kingside was essential: 18.f4 (18.g5 h5) 18...Qc5! 19.Qxc5 (After 19.Qd3 b5! Black's counterattack looks stronger.) 19...Rxc5 with approximate equality.

Indeed, after 17...Ne8 18.f4 Qc5 19.Qxc5 (19.Qd2 b5 doesn't look any better than 19.Qd3 b5) 19...Rxc5, White has nothing special and I can't imagine how Fischer could have maintained an edge. Since White has no particular advantage here, it looks like the move 17.Nde2 doesn't really merit a '!'.

Going back to Fischer's note on the diagram -- 17.g5 hxg5 18.hxg5 Nh5 19.f4 Qc5 -- White can play 20.f5, when 20...e5 gets Black into trouble after the nice 21.Nd5 exd4 22.Ne7+ Kh8 23.Qf3. Better would be 20...b5, when White has 21.fxg6 fxg6 22.Nce2 or 22.Ncxb5. This is no worse than 17.Nde2 Ne8, or am I missing something?

16 January 2009

Making a Statement with Chess Pieces

I wish he would at least protect his eyes.


making chess pieces © Flickr user austinevan under Creative Commons.

'Boy manufacturing chess pieces in a small shop above a souk. Note the lack of any safety equipment.' • Click to the original photo for more explanation.

15 January 2009

Useless Stats/Qs about Ratings

Most people, when they see the new rating lists like the January 2009 FIDE rating list, go immediately for the lists of top players, and you can find the 2009 lists copied on many sites and blogs across the web. I'm a little different in that I like to load the new rating data into a database, do various queries, and discover all sorts of useless statistics which lead to even more useless questions.

For example, a useless statistic is in the following table, which shows that the number of chess players on the FIDE list increased by 11657 from January 2008 to January 2009, a 13.3% increase.

2008: 87562
2009: 99219

The useless question is how many of the players were considered active by FIDE at the time of the list? The answer is in the following table, which shows that the number of active players, as flagged by FIDE, declined by 8122, a 12.3% decrease.

2008: 66006
2009: 57884

A cornucopia of useless statistics is in the following table, which shows the number of titled players at the start of 2008 and 2009.


After the obvious questions -- what's a 'c' title? an 'h' title? -- less obvious is how is it possible that FIDE minted more GMs ('g' in the table) than IMs ('m') in 2008? Or what is the highest/lowest current rating for each of the different titles?

I can't answer the question about more GMs (maybe lots of players received IM and GM in the same year?), but I can answer the highest/lowest question, which is shown in the following table of 2009 players, including those who are inactive.

GM: 2812 - 2216
IM:  2586 - 2007
FM: 2646 - 1724

There are so many other useless stats and questions, like those based on players' federations and/or ages, that I had better stop here or there will be no end to this post.

***

Note: Listed under 'Chess Culture and Politics' on 2010 Chess Blog Carnival [2010/02]. I originally submitted it for Next Chess Blog Carnival 2/15/09, which never appeared. After I ignored the call for 2010 Chess Blog Carnival [2010/01], it was used there instead.

***

Later: Long after writing the note above, I discovered that the post had been used in Chess Carnival - February 15, 2009 Edition, which I mention here for completeness.

13 January 2009

Undefended Pawns in Chess960 Start Positions

Returning to A Followup, an Error, and an Insight, the 'insight' was a possible relationship in SP024 between Black's difficulties (a 76% success rate for White) and the characteristics of the start position ('the e-Pawn is undefended, while the g-Pawn is protected only by the King' where 'both Pawns can be attacked in two moves by the Queen and the d-Knight'). This started me thinking about another question: 'Is there a general relationship between the characteristics of chess960 start positions (SPs) and the resulting tactics?' Considering the weakness of f2/f7 revealed by the Fools Mate and the Scholars Mate in traditional chess (SP518), the obvious answer is 'Yes'. How to verify this?

I decided to investigate undefended Pawns across the 960 different SPs. I went back to my Database of Chess960 Start Positions and developed a method of counting defended Pawns for each SP. For example, in any start position a Rook always defends exactly one Pawn, the Pawn in front of it. A Bishop always defends two Pawns, except when it starts in a corner and defends one Pawn. Combining these basic observations allows a count of how many times each Pawn is defended in a specific SP.

Taking SP518 (RNBQKBNR), the eight Pawns are defended in a pattern that looks like 1-1-1-4-4-1-1-1; the a/b/c and f/g/h Pawns are all defended exactly once, while the d/e Pawns are each defended four times. This symmetric result for SP518 is partly because the King and Queen protect the same number of Pawns from a particular start square.

It turns out that there is only one other SP that has the same start profile as SP518, its 'twin' SP534 (RNBKQBNR), where the King and Queen swap places on the central squares. I've introduced the term 'twin' to denote two SPs which are the mirror image of each other; the pieces in one twin (running from the a- to the h-file) are in the same sequence as the other twin (running from the h- to the a-file). It follows that the profile of defended Pawns for twins also presents a mirror image.

One property of twins is that they present exactly the same opportunities for the initial development of the pieces. Only when castling becomes possible do they start to take on individual characteristics.

Another classification of the various SPs is by the total number of times that Pawns are protected by pieces. The Pawns in both SP518 and SP534 are protected a total of 14 times by pieces (1+1+1+4+4+1+1+1 = 14). As shown in the following table, there are 442 other SPs where the Pawns are protected 14 times:

12 -     8
13 - 148
14 - 444
15 - 316
16 -   44

SP295 (QNBRKRNB) and its twin SP370 (BNRKRBNQ) are two examples of the eight SPs where the Pawns are protected 12 times. SP404 (RBBQNNKR) and its twin SP750 (RKNNQBBR) are two examples of the 44 SPs where the Pawns are protected 16 times.

My database tells me that there are 360 SPs where all eight Pawns are defended at the outset. That leaves 600 positions where at least one Pawn is undefended. The 600 SPs are summarized in the following table, which shows the number of SPs having one, two, and three undefended Pawns.

1 - 452
2 - 144
3 -     4

Three undefended Pawns(!); how is this possible? Both SP059 (NNRQBKRB) and SP075 (NNRKBQRB) have the eight Pawns defended according to the same profile -- 0-0-3-3-2-2-3-0 -- and their respective twins are SP897 (BRKBQRNN) and SP881 (BRQBKRNN).


Start Position 059
Three undefended Pawns (a/b/h)

Do any of these database discoveries help to play better chess960? I doubt it, but they might help to differentiate the 960 SPs more rapidly. At first glance they all tend to look very similar.

12 January 2009

Chess History Index

Continuing with Links related to my About.com material, I converted all pages, except image galleries, to a standard format. I also created four new index pages, of which, only Chess History is worth mentioning. The others are stubs.

11 January 2009

1893 Tarrasch - Chigorin (Openings)

Chigorin had his idiosyncratic opening -- 1.e4 e6 2.Qe2 -- which, as detailed in that previous post, he played five times at Hastings 1895. He also played it 10 times in his 1893 match with Tarrasch, out of 11 games where he had White, achieving a +5-3=2 result.. To achieve that sort of consistency, Tarrasch had to cooperate, which he did by playing the French Defense in all but one game, where his 1...e5 was answered by Chigorin's 2.f4.

The players were also consistent in their opening moves with colors switched. Tarrasch opened 1.e4 in 10 games of 11 as White, Chigorin answered 1...e5 each time, and seven games continued 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.Nc3, as shown in the following diagram.


After 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.Nc3

If the position looks unusual, it is. Most players continue 5.O-O without giving it a second thought.

What's wrong with 5.Nc3? I'm not sure, except that it's just not popular. Chesslab.com has a single game with a player over 2700, where White was Morozevich, who is capable of playing anything. The only example by a 2600+ player was Short in 2000. Chesslab's W-L-D stats for 5.Nc3 are 35%-36%-29%, with 5...b5, the move of choice, improving White's odds to 38%-33%-29%. As for Chigorin's responses -- 5...d6 in five games and 5...Bb4 in two -- there has been so little experience that the stats are meaningless.

In The Game of Chess, Tarrasch wrote,

The best defense [to 5.Nc3] is the natural move 5...Bc5 whereupon there follows 6.Nxe5 (After 6.d3 b5 7.Bb3 d6 the game is similar to the Giuoco Piano.) 6...Nxe5 7.d4 Bd6 8.f4 (8.dxe5 Bxe5, with an even game, is better.) 8...Nc4 (The only good move. If 8...Nc6 or 8...Ng6 then White gets the advantage by the advance of the Pawns.) 9.e5 O-O! 10.Bb3 b5! 11.O-O Bb7! (Black develops with each move.) 12.exd6 (If 12.exf6 then 12...Qxf6 also with advantage to Black.) 12...cxd6! 13.Bxc4 bxc4. In spite of the doubled Pawns Black has decidedly the better game. White's King has been weakened by the move f2-f4 so that Black controls e5 and the Bishop at b7 acting along the open diagonal, rakes White's position in a very threatening way. (p.290)

The result for 5.Nc3 in the 1893 Tarrasch - Chigorin match was +3-3=1.

10 January 2009

Alexander Bisno

Following up Soviet GMs on Fischer's Style, I mentioned that Predecessors IV (MGP4; p.316) touched on 'Fischer's desire to bypass the 1964-65 FIDE qualification cycle and play a direct match with the World Champion. "The negotiations with the Soviet side (and, to all appearances, the financing of the match) were taken on by the businessman Alexander Bisno".' As it happens, the text of this agreement is available on the Web, and appears to be the source of the MGP4 discussion.

Bobby Fischer - Alex Bisno Agreement 1964 • 'By the Spring of 1964, the 21-year-old American Grandmaster Bobby Fischer had already established himself as one of the pre-eminent players in the West. However even then, Bobby knew well that any road to the top spot was blocked by the Soviet hegemony. What is not widely known is that he retained an American businessman to help him arrange a match with one of the top Soviet players. A copy of this incredibly interesting document resides in the Russell Collection' (Chesscafe.com)

The passage from MGP4 continues, 'Alexander Bisno -- the same Bisno who was captain of the American team in the USSR-USA match (1954) which had such an influence on the young Bobby.' Here's how MGP4 had earlier described the event (p.209):

With both Capablanca and Alekhine a passion for chess was ignited by blindfold simultaneous displays given by the legendary Pillsbury before their very eyes. For Fischer a similar unforgettable spactacle was the four-round USSR - USA match (June 1954) to which he was taken by Carmine Nigro. Here for the first time Bobby saw Smyslov, Reshevsky, Bronstein, Keres, and other participants in the recent Candidates tournament.

Other references to Bisno connect him to the American Chess Foundation (ACF),

Bobby Fischer, Profile of a Prodigy by Frank Brady • 'When Bobby's tour took him to Los Angeles that spring [1964], he actually secured through Alexander Bisno, a former American Chess Foundation official powerful support in his attempt to renew this practice [when a challenger could get a match with the World Champion simply by putting up enough money].' (p.77; the only reference to Bisno in the index)

Jacqueline Piatigorsky,

Chesquire, November 1961, Herman Steiner Chess Club Bulletin, Vol. 1, No. 4 • 'From a letter written by Jerry Spann to Al Bisno: "...A prime reason for my visit to Los Angeles recently, was to congratulate Mrs. Piatigorsky, not only for her fine contribution in connection with the match, but for the construction of the magnificent new Steiner club, the most beautiful in the United States..."'

Lessing Rosenwald,

American Chess Foundation (also Bill Wall) • 'Formed in 1955, and leading philanthropic organization in U.S. chess. Its original members were Alexander Bisno, Jacques Coe, Walter Fried, Morris Kasper, Rosser Reeves, Lessing Rosenwald, and Cecile Wertheim. It changed its named to Chess-in-the-Schools in 1986.'
Bisguier - Sherwin, New York (Rosenwald) 1955 • 'I visited FM Steve Stoyko the other day and rummaged through his library, where I stumbled across Larry Evans's wonderful little book Trophy Chess: An Account of the Lessing Rosenwald Tournament, New York, 1954-1955 [...] A note in passing: the Rosenwald Tournament, like a number of later events bearing that name, was made possible through the generosity of (to quote Evans's introduction) "a small, unselfish band of chess connoisseurs--like Alexander Bisno, Jose Calderon, Maurice Kasper, and Lessing Rosenwald" who had formed The American Chess Foundation to help advance the game in the U.S.'

and the 1955 USSR - USA match.

Photo Source: The ChessCafe.com Holiday Quiz [2007-8] • 'A: The photo was taken during the US chess team’s July 1955 visit to Moscow, where they played the Soviet team, losing 25-7. 'A' is Gabriel Reiner, travel manager for the American team, 'B' is team captain Alex Bisno. 'C' is Max Pavey, who alternated with Horowitz at 6th board for the American team. (source: Life magazine, July 18, 1955, p. 26)'

A similar photo is on The age of love -- Mark Taimanov at 80 (Chessbase.com). Another photo of Bisno, missing date and venue, is on a review of The Art of Bisguier: Selected Games 1961-2003: A Collection of Art by Steve Goldberg.

Strong Polish connections to Bisno are the Reshevsky - Najdorf match

The California Chess Reporter; Vol. 1, No. 3, August 1951 • 'Alexander Bisno, president of the Manhattan Chess Club, has announced that S. Reshevsky and M. Najdorf have been matched to play 20 games beginning in Buenos Aires, November 1, with the last 10 games to be played in New York.'

and Samuel Factor.

Samuel Factor - wielokrotny mistrz Chicago, which Google translates as 'Samuel Factor - multiple champion Chicago' • Original: 'Max Factor to jedna...'; Google: 'Max Factor is one of the most well-known cosmetic companies in the world. In no way we can associate it with chess, but .... It turns out that the company founder Max Factor had several siblings, including his brother Samuel, a strong chess player from Chicago. Wzmiankowal about Reuben Fine in an interview with the monthly "Chess Life" in October 1984.' • Original: 'Samuel urodzil sie...'; Google: 'Samuel was born - according to some data - September 22, 1892, in Lodz. However, other sources indicate year 1883. This date seems quite likely, since necrology Factor, published in the New York Times in January 1949 provides, inter alia, that the deceased had 65 years.' • Original: 'Latem 1940 roku Factor...'; Google: 'In summer 1940 years Factor Whitaker visits with his family in Washington. After returning home to post to thank him for his stay. Factor all the time he lived in Chicago, working in the company Bisno & Bisno, Real Estate Investments, whose owner was Alexander Bisno, well known in those years chess patron.'

What became of Bisno? That might be determined by following the real estate angle ('Bisno & Bisno, Real Estate Investments'), but would take me too far afield for this post.

09 January 2009

'How About Another Game, Dad?'


Frasier - Chess Pains - Part 1/3 (4:27) • 'Season 3 Episode 18'

'Those guys at the park make chess look great. Eating baloney sandwiches, smoking cigars. Sometimes a fist fight even breaks out!' • Part 2 & Part 3

08 January 2009

Odd Year Means USCF Election

This being a USCF election year, I plan to spend a few posts on the election, of which the most important issue will be the several lawsuits that popped up as a direct consequence of the 2007 election. They were nicely summarized by Bill Wall in a blog post for Chess.com.

Six lawsuits? I count four: the Sloan suit, the Parker suit, the USCF email suit (in two flavors), and the Polgar suit, with a fifth -- the removal of two USCF directors -- added since Wall's post in November. Have I missed an action worthy of counting as a separate suit?

The chess journalist best qualified to cover these lawsuits is undoubtedly Dylan Loeb McClain of the New York Times. The Times has the reputation, the stature, and the reach to make the most jaded observers of chess politics sit up and take notice. To date McClain has written well over a dozen articles covering the lawsuits in his Times column and blog.

  • 2007-05-25: An Opening Gambit With an Odd Acronym • 'Texas Tech announced with some fanfare on May 12, the day of its graduation exericises, that it had hired this year’s commencement speaker -- Susan Polgar, the former women’s world champion -- to head something called the Susan Polgar Institute for Chess Excellence, or (wait for it) Spice.' (thelede.blogs.nytimes.com)

  • 2007-10-08: Chess Group Officials Accused of Using Internet to Hurt Rivals • 'A lawsuit filed in federal court last week accuses two officers of the nation’s leading chess organization of posting inflammatory remarks on the Internet under false names in order to win election to the group’s board.' (www.nytimes.com)

  • 2007-10-08: The Lawsuit Against Polgar and Truong, et al • 'A federal lawsuit accuses Susan Polgar and Paul Truong, two members of the executive board of the United States Chess Federation, of posting inflammatory remarks on the Internet under false names in order to get elected. The lawsuit was filed by Samuel H. Sloan, who ran unsuccessfully for re-election to the board.' (gambit.blogs.nytimes.com)

  • 2007-10-10: Interview With the U.S.C.F. President; a Chess Sponsor Says He’s Had Enough • 'The United States Chess Federation, the governing body of chess in the United States, finds itself in a difficult position following the filing of a federal lawsuit accusing Susan Polgar and Paul Truong, who are married and are members of its executive board, of posting inflammatory remarks on the Internet under false names in order to get elected. The lawsuit by Samuel H. Sloan, who ran unsuccessfully for re-election to the board, was brought a week after an administrator of the federation’s Web site published a report showing that Mr. Truong was most likely the author of the posts.' (gambit.blogs.nytimes.com)

  • 2007-10-23: Polgar Responds on Her Blog; Texas Tech Voices Its Support • 'Under the headline, "Stating the Fact," Susan Polgar has posted a long comment on her blog in which she says that the lawsuit and allegations against her and Paul Truong, her husband, are the actions of a group of "small minded people will do everything to protect the status quo." She adds, "Due to the legal situation, I cannot go into details. But once the legal issues are over, I will speak out about this extensively." Here is her entire statement.' (gambit.blogs.nytimes.com)

  • 2008-01-15: Member of U.S. Chess Federation’s Board Is Asked to Resign in Dispute Over an Election • 'A majority on the executive board of the United States Chess Federation plans to formally ask a member to resign amid allegations that he had posted messages under other people’s names to Internet bulletin boards to get elected to the board.' (www.nytimes.com)

  • 2008-01-24: Second Computer Expert Offers Opinion on Report at Base of USCF Lawsuit • 'A report released yesterday by a computer expert supports the methodology of another report that concluded a member of the executive board of the United States Chess Federation posted messages under other people’s names to Internet bulletin boards to get elected to the board.' (gambit.blogs.nytimes.com)

  • 2008-02-23: New Lawsuit Against Chess Federation • 'Gordon Roy Parker has filed a lawsuit in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania accusing several current and former chess officials of conspiring to destroy the United States Chess Federation to profit from its demise.' (gambit.blogs.nytimes.com)

  • 2008-03-29: Drive to Recall Member of Chess Federation’s Board Is Under Way • 'A petition has been started seeking a recall election to remove a member of the executive board of the United States Chess Federation. The petition, which was posted on the Internet on March 3, seeks the removal of Paul Truong from the board because he has “neglected his fiduciary duties.”' (gambit.blogs.nytimes.com)

  • 2008-04-02: Polgar on the Lawsuit Against Her and Her Husband, the Recall Petition and Her ‘Departure’ • 'Susan Polgar, a member of the executive board of the United States Chess Federation, said she and her husband, Paul Truong, who is also a member of the board, are not planning on stepping down despite a lawsuit against them and the federation and a petition to hold a recall election to have Mr. Truong removed.' (gambit.blogs.nytimes.com)

  • 2008-04-11: United States Chess Federation Executive Board Member Resigns • 'Joel Channing, one of the seven members of the executive board of the United States Chess Federation, has resigned citing concerns about his personal liability by continuing as a board member.'(gambit.blogs.nytimes.com)

  • 2008-08-16: Claims of Fake Web Postings Roil the Chess World • 'On June 25, the federation, contending that the e-mail messages had been stolen, filed a lawsuit in San Francisco Superior Court seeking subpoenas for Internet service providers to turn over the Internet protocol addresses that had been used to gain access to the board’s e-mail accounts. The federation was also seeking to take depositions from Ms. Polgar and Mr. Truong about the issue.' (www.nytimes.com)

  • 2008-09-03: Federal Lawsuit Against Chess Officials Is Dismissed in Dispute Over Online Messages • 'A lawsuit in Federal District Court in Manhattan against the governing body of chess in the United States and some of its members was dismissed last week, but the dispute is not about to go away. The lawsuit was filed in October by Samuel H. Sloan of the Bronx, a former member of the executive board of the United States Chess Federation.' (www.nytimes.com)

As part of that last article, McClain covered the Polgar suit en passant.

  • 'Last month, Ms. Polgar filed a lawsuit in Lubbock, Tex., against the federation, four board members, Mr. Sloan and others involved in the case. She claimed libel, slander and business disparagement, among other things, and seeks $25 million in damages. Last week, she offered to settle her lawsuit against the federation if it would pay her $1, publicly apologize to her and Mr. Truong and stop its investigations into the postings.'

I'm a Life Member of the USCF, and I take an attack on its assets to be an attack on my own interests and on the best interests of chess. I'm pleased that two of the lawsuits have already been settled in the USCF's favor.

  • 2008-09-10: Second Lawsuit Against Federation Is Dismissed • 'Less than a week after a lawsuit in Federal District Court in Manhattan against the United States Chess Federation and some of its members was dismissed, another lawsuit in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania against the federation and many of those same officials was also dismissed.' ('first lawsuit was brought by Samuel H. Sloan [...] second lawsuit was filed by Gordon Roy Parker'; gambit.blogs.nytimes.com)

  • 2008-11-04: Chess Federation Says E-Mail Was Filched • 'The United States Chess Federation, the nation’s governing body for the game, has sued one of its board members, claiming she unlawfully gained access to e-mail between some members of the board and a lawyer hired to investigate accusations against her and her husband.'(www.nytimes.com)

  • 2009-01-03: U.S. Chess Federation Seeks to Oust 2 Board Members • 'In the latest twist, the federation filed a lawsuit last week in the Seventh Judicial Circuit Court in Illinois seeking the removal of Susan Polgar and Paul Truong, who are married, from its board.' (www.nytimes.com)

I trust that the other lawsuits will be settled to exert the maximum positive influence on the election. • To be continued...

***

Later: The latest blog carnival pointed to another page on the same subject by John Hillery, a USCF insider.

  • 2008-09-12 (plus updates): Nut Cases • 'There have been four lawsuits filed since last October, maybe five if you stretch a point.' (westernchess.blogspot.com)

Hillery also serves as editor of the CJA's quarterly journal.

06 January 2009

Advantage in Chess960 Start Positions Revisited

Returning to the botched table in Theoretical Advantage in Chess960 Start Positions, here's a correction. For the given chess960 start positions (SP), the following table shows the number of games played (#), the percentage of games won by White, won by Black, and drawn (%W, %B, %D), and the overall score for White (%S).


SPFEN#%W%B%D%S
Highest Overall Score White
024NBQNBRKR4261.99.528.676.2
376NBRKBRNQ2669.319.311.575.0
868QBBRKRNN4062.615.022.573.8
266NRKNBBQR3066.723.310.071.7
729RKNBBQNR2864.325.110.769.6
Highest Overall Score Black
537RNKBBQNR2817.853.628.632.1
396QBRNNKBR3622.255.622.233.3
764RBKNNRBQ3023.453.423.335.0
201QNRBBKNR4420.550.029.535.2
082BNNRKBRQ3426.555.917.635.3
Traditional Start
518RNBQKBNR2828.650.021.439.3
Traditional Start (K&Q switched)
534RNBKQBNR2227.340.931.843.2

Since the previous table showed (incorrectly) the highest overall score for White and for Black, I've used the same selection here. With some overlap to be expected between the two versions of the table, three SPs are the same for White and two are the same for Black. The previous table showed highest and lowest % draws correctly, so I haven't repeated the data here.

The corrected calculations for the traditional start position (SP518) raise a red flag over the validity of the data. They show White's overall score to be slightly more than 39%, when modern master experience says it should be around 55%. This indicates that the margin of error for the other SPs is significant.

05 January 2009

Look and Feel

After preparing a little more than two dozen articles for mark-weeks.com/aboutcom, it was high time to impose some structure on them. One design issue was to create a common look for pages issuing from a variety of tools. Another was to decide on navigation. I tackled the first issue by calling the set of pages 'Chess for All Ages' (original, eh?), and the second by categorizing the pages into Learn To Play Chess, Improve Your Game, Chess History, and Chess for Fun. The first cut looks like this:


The only working link is the Chess Blog. The rest will follow.

04 January 2009

Soviet GMs 1950


A series of period photos offered on eBay: 'Press photo with mintage, made by LENPHOTO photolaboratory in Leningrad in year 1950.'

From left to right, top to bottom: Boleslavsky, Botvinnik, Flohr, Keres, Kotov, Levenfish, Lilienthal, Ragozin, Smyslov, Tolush.

03 January 2009

Soviet GMs on Fischer's Style

In Dragons and Concreteness, I started a summary of Fischer's playing style as presented in Predecessors IV, where, drawing from various sources, Kasparov quoted the opinions of top Soviet GMs. The first set of opinions (p.316) was taken from Russians Versus Fischer by Plisetsky and Voronkov. Plisetsky was also Kasparov's assistant on the Predecessors series; I'm gradually coming to the conclusion that he was responsible for writing many of the historical passages, the glue that holds the books together. These first opinions were originally collected as group preparation for the 1964 Amsterdam Interzonal, when the Soviets were not aware that Fischer had declined to participate. Excerpts:

Korchnoi: 'Fischer's main strength is his versatility. In his style a striving for the initiative and "respect for material" are harmoniously combined.'

Polugaevsky: 'When Fischer knows what he has to do, he plays very accurately. But if the position is of a non-concrete nature, Fischer often loses the thread and plays planlessly.'

Geller: 'Both in the opening and in the middlegame, Fischer's main strength is that he quickly and excellently solves simple functions. He does not devise deep plans, but leaps from position to position.'

These passages are not in my copy of Russians Versus Fischer (RVSF for the rest of this post), published by Chess World Ltd, 1994. The bibliography of Predecessors IV (MGP4) lists as source the Russian title, published Moscow 2004. Of the other English language editions -- Chess World Ltd, 1998; Thinkers' Press, 2002; Everyman Chess, 2005 -- it's not clear which editions are based on which version of the Russian editions.

MGP4 also mentions Fischer's desire to bypass the 1964-65 FIDE qualification cycle and play a direct match with the World Champion. 'The negotiations with the Soviet side (and, to all appearances, the financing of the match) were taken on by the businessman Alexander Bisno'.

The next opinion recorded by Kasparov was at the time of the 1967 Monte Carlo (Monaco) event, held seven months before the 1967 Sousse Interzonal. Fischer finished first at Monaco, 1/2 point ahead of Smyslov, who was 1/2 point ahead of Geller and Larsen.

Geller: 'Fischer's moves are rational and constantly pursue concrete aims. Even if the opponent is considerably weaker and it would appear that he can have a bit of "fun", the American operates like a splendudly programmed calculating machine, which is indifferent to who is sitting opposite it.' (MGP4 p.324)

The next recorded opinion followed the 1970 Palma de Mallorca Interzonal. Fischer finished first with 18.5 points, 3.5 ahead of the runners-up. Taimanov also qualified with 14.0 points.

Taimanov: 'Botvinnik says that Fischer's style reminds him most of the style of the young Smyslov. The same clarity, the same classical approach to the building up of the position. For this reason, when you are playing Fischer, you don't feel a great sense of danger. You can guess each of his moves. It is another matter that each of his moves may be slightly stronger than it appears, as used to happen with Smyslov. (MGP4 p.368)

After Fischer's success at the Interzonal, Taimanov was his first opponent for the Candidate Matches.

Realising what a difficult task he faced, Taimanov turned for help to Botvinnik, his first mentor and the 'world champion in preparing for competitions'. Mikhail Moiseevich, who a year before [MW : 1969?] had himself been intending to play Bobby, generously shared his conclusions with his pupil, and even presented him with a fairly detailed dossier on Fischer. (MGP4 p.370)

That 'dossier' can be found in RVSF • To be continued... (along with a closer look at the Bisno business)

02 January 2009

How Many Person-Years?

Person-year: 'One person's working time for a year, or the equivalent, used as a measure of how much work or labor is required or consumed to perform some task. '


IBM Deep Blue © Flickr user Pedro Villavicencio under Creative Commons.

All that effort to win a game of chess. • See also: Kasparov vs. IBM's Deep Blue.