31 December 2009
29 December 2009
As I expected, the number of articles in Scientific American favorable to chess far surpasses the number that were unfavorable (see Not Everyone Likes Chess for the original post). I didn't expect that the types of article split neatly into three categories : chess puzzles, computer chess, and chess neuroscience.
Chess puzzles appeared regularly during the SciAm reigns of two of America's greatest puzzlists -- Sam Loyd (1841-1911) and Martin Gardner (b.1914). Here's an excerpt from Gardner's 'Hexaflexagons and Other Mathematical Diversions: The First Scientific American Book of Puzzles and Games' (University Of Chicago Press, 1988), Chapter 9, 'Sam Loyd: America's Greatest Puzzlist'.
For ten years Loyd apparently did little except push chess pieces about on a chessboard. At that time chess was enormously popular; many newspapers carried chess columns featuring problems devised by readers. Loyd's first problem was published by a New York paper when he was 14. During the next five years his output of chess puzzles was so prodigious that he became known throughout the chess world. When he was 16 he was made problem editor of Chess Monthly, at that time edited by D.W. Fiske and the young chess master, Paul Morphy. Later he edited several newspaper chess columns and contributed regularly, under various pseudonyms, to a score of others.Scientific American Supplement: 'a weekly supplement to Scientific American Magazine that ran during the 19th and early 20th centuries. It featured new inventions, scientific discoveries, and biographies of scientists and inventors.' While chess problems represented a significant portion of Loyd's work, they were a small portion of Gardner's. A list for Martin Gardner: Mathematical Games starts,
In 1877 and 1878 Loyd wrote a weekly chess page for Scientific American Supplement, beginning each article with an initial letter formed by the pieces of a chess problem. These columns comprised most of his book Chess Strategy, which he printed in 1878 on his own press in Elizabeth, New Jersey. Containing 500 of his choicest problems, this book is now much sought by collectors.
The great Martin Gardner's "Mathematical Games" columns in Scientific American were assembled, over the years, into fifteen volumes. I put together this simple listing to help me trace which book a remembered essay actually appears in.
and references four collections of chess puzzles.
- The Eight Queens and Other Chessboard Diversions
- Eccentric Chess and Other Problems
- Chess Tasks
- Mathematical Chess Problems
As for computer chess and chess neuroscience in Scientific American, watch this space...
28 December 2009
Continuing with Two World Champions in Combat, the following remarks by Kasparov must have impressed GM Taimanov as much as they impressed me. He quoted the entire second paragraph ['World Chess Championship, Karpov - Kasparov, Moscow 1985' by Averbakh & Taimanov; p.136].
Q: What was the basis of your preparation for this second match?
A: This time the preparation was both more complicated and more straightforward. More complicated because there was so little time. I had to renew my reserves of nervous energy. We all understood that the nervous tension would be much greater. We were all convinced that the fight would be of a totally different nature and we would need to be prepared for the widest variety of possible situations.
As for the purely theoretical work, we managed to work through a whole mass of information and we evaluated it correctly. We took a great deal into consideration. Our choice of new openings was based on all this work. Let us take, for example, the Nimzo-Indian Defense, which was so successful for us. It is incidentally, one of the cornerstones of Karpov's openings which we had not tested until now in our games. And using this opening he got, as we say, "minus three" he lost three games [with no wins]. That is the advantage of preparatory theoretical study! And I am convinced that it is possible to impose one's own play on a game only if one has had the best possible preparation and can create a sufficient number of surprises for one's opponent.
Q: What do you think of Karpov's play in this match?
A: [...] The decisive factor was how each player approached the second match, who had the richer store of ideas, and who had evaluated the first match the better.
In my opinion, Karpov made a serious mistake in not drawing his conclusions from the final games of the first match, and in not properly assessing the facts at his disposal. We managed to understand Karpov's game, which is easier said than done, but it took us until the tenth game of the new match before we were sure that we had made the right preparation. We got the impression that Karpov had exaggerated his abilities when playing on "my" territory, and had underestimated the strong sides of my game.
I'm not completely certain what Kasparov meant in the first paragraph when he wrote about being 'prepared for the widest variety of possible situations'. At first reading I thought he meant different scenarios where he would be leading or behind after 'X' number of games with 'Y' number still to be played. Then it occurred to me that he might be talking about situations (i.e. positions) appearing on the board.
Kasparov wrote his own book on the second K-K match, where he had further comments on the subject of World Championship Opening Preparation. I'll discuss those another time.
25 December 2009
What do you do when Video Friday falls on Christmas Day? You do the best you can...
Wizard Chess - Harry and the Potters (1:26) 'A music video about Harry wanting to play Wizard Chess all Christmas Break.'
...'Oh, oh, oh-oh-oh, we'll spend our Christmas playing Wizard Chess. Oh, oh, oh-oh-oh, we'll play Wizard Chess this Christmas.'
24 December 2009
22 December 2009
A few months ago there was this...
- Is the World Chess Hall of Fame History? 'Does anyone have any information on the future of this chess institution and the relics it housed?' [Kenilworthchessclub.org]
A few days ago there was this...
- Chess.com Welcomes ChessPark Members 'On Dec 21, 2009, Chesspark.com became part of Chess.com. Chess.com did not acquire the technology, servers, or team behind Chesspark - just the name.' [Chess.com]
A few hours ago I noticed that, except for a few small items under 'Pablo's Chess News', Chessville.com hasn't been updated since end-November...
- Web > Sorted by date > Jan 1, 2000 - Dec 23, 2009 [...] about 16,000 from chessville.com. Most recent result: '27 Nov 2009' [Google.com]
Later: I found out more about the demise of Chessville and documented my findings in Chess960 @ Chessville.com.
21 December 2009
Continuing with World Championship Opening Preparation, here is an excerpt from GM Taimanov's introduction to 'World Chess Championship, Karpov - Kasparov, Moscow 1985' by Averbakh & Taimanov (1986, Raduga Publishers). The second match between the two K's took place a little more than six months after the first match (1984-85) was terminated. By winning the second match, Kasparov became World Champion for the first time.
Only on rare occasions did Karpov manage to employ his favorite razor-sharp positional armory, which he generally uses so impeccably. How did Kasparov entice Karpov, a man who believes so strongly in the right of classical concepts, into [Kasparov's] "romantic territory"? The answer is given by an analysis of the games: Kasparov was better equipped theoretically, his choice of opening was far richer, and he therefore more easily laid his roads into battle.
It is worth noting that the new champion has paid great attention to the study of openings from his earliest years. In his book 'Ordeal of Time' he asserts: "Matches between two high-class players often become testing grounds for certain types of opening. In a number of consecutive games the players first and foremost try to vindicate their creative conceptions. Obviously, success in this theoretical duel, by its very nature, has a great bearing on one's success in the whole match."
Kasparov's shrewd assessment was fully corroborated in this match. Kasparov was superior to his opponent in the openings, and this automatically gave him the initiative in each ensuing battle, as well as making a significant contribution to his overall success. Suffice it to say that by his exhaustive study of the Sicilian and Nimzowitsch defenses he was able to destroy those very weapons which had brought Karpov so much success in the past. Using these openings he gained five victories without suffering a single defeat -- a most decisive achievement!
Of course, the outcome of each game was not firmly decided in the opening stages, but the whole character of the struggle was formed according to the creative aspirations of Kasparov. (p.25)
Taimanov continued with a quote from a post-match interview by Kasparov that I'll give another time.
18 December 2009
'Major Sir William Newenham Montague Orpen, KBE, RA, RHA (27 November 1878 - 29 September 1931) was an Irish portrait painter. He studied art at the Metropolitan School and at the Slade School in London where, at the time, great emphasis was put on the study of old masters. Orpen was a highly sought after society portraitist in his day.'
Portion of a larger work. Follow the first link for the complete painting.
17 December 2009
The player who makes Serial Draw Offers, doesn't always appreciate that he is offering his opponent a valuable psychological clue about the game at hand. A few months ago I encountered a good example of the pitfalls in this practice.
The following position is from a chess960 game at Schemingmind.com, although there is no trace of the original start position and it isn't even relevant. A dozen moves earlier my opponent had already offered a couple of draws. The first offer came on ...a6-a5, when the a-Pawn was already passed, and the second offer came two moves later on ...a5-a4. The material was already unbalanced, Black having three Pawns for a Knight, but I was comfortable with my position, didn't feel any real danger from the a-Pawn, and decided to play on.
Chess960 @ Schemingmind.com
[FEN "7r/6k1/3ppp2/1R6/p1N1P2P/5Kp1/7b/4B3 b - - 0 45"]
In this position I was expecting 45...Rxh4 46.Nxd6 Rh8 47.Kg2. Black can force the exchange of White's last Pawn, when the reduced material gives Black the opportunity to swap down into a drawn endgame of Rook plus minor piece vs. Rook. For my part, I was planning to win the a-Pawn -- note that the Black Bishop is out of play on h2 and can't participate in the defense -- while keeping Black's King confined to its Kingside, threatened by a mating net. At the right moment my own King would join the attack and perhaps force a win. The plan was very tentative, but the winning chances were all on my side and I suspected my opponent was not looking for my plan.
Instead of 45...Rxh4, Black played 45...d5 and offered another draw. He was undoubtedly thinking that any Pawn swap was a step in the direction of a drawn endgame. I continued 46.exd5 Rxh4, followed by the surprising 47.d6! Rxc4 48.Rb7+, when Black was forced to give up the Rook for the d-Pawn. He resigned a few moves later.
Obvious draws are not always so simple.
15 December 2009
The diagram, a followup to my recent post ECO B33 & B44, illustrates a couple of famous and surprising Sicilian ...d5 moves that occurred in world class matches. On the left is a position from game one of Fischer - Petrosian, 1971 Candidates Final; on the right is game 16 of Karpov - Kasparov, World Championship 1985. What finally became of these two variations, which kept chess analysts busy around the world in the months after they were played?
The initial moves of Fischer - Petrosian were 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nc6 5.Nb5 d6 6.Bf4 e5 7.Be3 Nf6 8.Bg5 Be6 9.N1c3 a6 10.Bxf6 gxf6 11.Na3 d5. The position after 11.Na3 had been analyzed by Fischer in '60 Memorable Games' (no.54, Fischer - Najdorf, 1966 Santa Monica), where he gave 8...Be6 a '?' and concluded that Najdorf's 11...Nd4 was no better than Black's alternatives 'all favoring White'. In the 1971 game, Petrosian inexplicably varied from his home preparation, failed to play the best line, and lost a game he could have won.
The initial moves of Karpov - Kasparov were 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nc6 5.Nb5 d6 6.c4 Nf6 7.N1c3 a6 8.Na3 d5. The same moves had been seen in the 12th game, which ended in an 18-move draw. During the week and a half between that game and the 16th, Karpov and his assistants had time to analyze 8...d5, but Kasparov, showing confidence in his own analysis, did not hesitate to repeat it. He won one of the best games of his illustrious career, as well as one of the most important. It was the turning point in the match which brought him the title of World Champion.
To play through the complete games see...
Robert James Fischer vs Tigran Vartanovich Petrosian, Buenos Aires cf 1971
Anatoli Karpov vs Garry Kasparov, World Championship Match 1985
...on Chessgames.com. What was the ultimate fate of the two variations? Petrosian's move held up to the test of time, and Fischer's 9.N1c3 has been replaced by 9.Nd2. Kasparov's move was refuted a few months later by Karpov himself: 9.cxd5 exd5 10.exd5 Nb4 11.Be2 Bc5, and now not 12.O-O, but 12.Be3 Bxe3 13.Qa4! (Karpov - Van der Wiel, Brussels 1986). It was one of the rare cases where Kasparov's preparation later proved to be faulty.
14 December 2009
From 'Five Crowns' by Seirawan and Tisdall, an account of the fifth Kasparov - Karpov match (New York / Lyon, 1990), here's another angle on World Championship Opening Preparation:
A note on the violent side of chess: a remarkable story surrounding the match was reported in the days leading up to play, by the Soviet wire service TASS. According to them, Kasparov second GM Zurab Azmaiparashvili was approached by a man claiming to be a Latvian businessman, Artur Ionis. Forces high up (?) were greatly interested in taking some of the wind out of the controversial champion's sails by relieving Kasparov of his title, Azmaiparashvili was informed. He offered Zurab a $7.000 advance to sell Kasparov's opening secrets.
The Georgian GM would get $50.000 if his employer managed to beat Karpov anyway, or $100.000 if Karpov won. When Azmai turned the offer down, Hollywood style mafiosi tactics followed, with the Georgian being warned about his health and particularly the safety of his loved ones. Later his mother-in-law in Tbilisi received a fire-bomb through the letter box. The incident resulted in slight injuries, according to the TASS report.
This kind of skullduggery has been absent from chess since the heated political days of Viktor Korchnoi as far as I [Tisdall] know. In Merano 1981 I remember the hall being swept for explosives every day and all sorts of fanatical mail coming in to the organization.
It is difficult to know what to think of the TASS story.
The Kasparov camp confirm it, but say they do not wish to associate Azmai's ordeal with the Karpov camp in any way. Karpov and company dismiss the whole idea as fantasy. The whole thing has overtones of the black-market thrillerdom that is an essential in the massive conspiracy theories that proliferate around the match -- but more of that later. I leave it to the reader to decide whether this bizarre jaunt into the criminal side of life is true or false, motivated by political terrorism or by crooked bookmakers trying to orchestrate a gambling coup. [p.5]
It is also difficult to know what to think of this story as written. Did anyone follow up with 'Latvian businessman Artur Ionis'? Re 'the Kasparov camp confirm it, but say they do not wish to associate Azmai's ordeal with the Karpov camp in any way', to whom else would the sale of opening secrets confer an advantage? To 'crooked bookmakers' making book on which opening will be played in the next game, like in The Dorfman Affair? If so, why the extra $50.000 if Karpov won? Surely this implies that Kasparov's opening secrets would somehow reach the ex-World Champion. It doesn't add up.
And what about 'the massive conspiracy theories that proliferate around the match', promised for later? Looks like I'll have to read the book carefully and report back when I understand more.
Later: About those 'massive conspiracy theories', here is part of the commentary for game 11, the fourth consecutive draw.
There is a growing cynicism that the match is no longer on the level. The conspiracy theorists are out in force, claiming that the players have decided to draw out and leave New York at 6-6, guaranteeing both sets of sponsors full value for their money. [p.16]
This sounds like something that the attendant journalists, having too much time on their hands between games, would invent.
11 December 2009
Never trust a man who wears a bow tie? A day after my post Keen on Keene, and by sheer coincidence, I discovered a video with the British GM (aka 'The Penguin') in person.
World Chess Championship 1972 Spassky v. Fischer (1/3) (4:40) 'The match was played during the Cold War, but during a period of increasing détente. The Soviet chess system had long held a monopoly on the game at the highest level.'
'Thames Television presents "Duels of the Mind : The 12 Best Games of Chess", in association with Grandmaster Video Magazine. A Mozart Symphony, Fischer v. Spassky, Reykjavik 1972'; Keene: 'With me is the celebrated author and journalist Donald Woods...' The Fischer - Spassky game, no. 11 in the '12 Best Games' series, was the sixth game of the match, the Queen's Gambit Declined which put Fischer ahead for the first time in the match.
The clip is a low quality video capture, the lips are out of sync with the sound, and the upload is possibly unauthorized -- all business as usual at YouTube. A description of the original product ('originally broadcast on Thames television in 1989') is available from the London Chess Centre: Duels of the Mind - Raymond Keene (4 DVDs).
10 December 2009
Just so no one gets the wrong idea from last week's post Pinning the King, I'm a big fan of GM Raymond Keene. How could anyone serious about chess not be? -- British champion, assistant to a World Champion candidate, organizer of three World Championship matches, FIDE insider, prolific writer -- the man has done it all.
I have a number of Keene's books on World Championship matches of the last 30+ years and they all make good reading, with or without a chess board. They follow a consistent formula : an account of the historical setting for the match followed by light, occasionally skimpy, annotations for each game with an informative introduction on the importance of that particular game.
Keene understands chess as few writers do. Having said that, I'm not naive and I wouldn't transact any business with him. Nor would I take for granted everything he has written without confirming it against another source. Chess fans who ignore him or who dismiss him because of his obvious faults are overlooking a wonderful resource.
08 December 2009
The chess player is an alchemist. Starting with 16 pieces in a particular formation and alternating single moves of those pieces with an opponent having the same force, he converts the base forces of material and time into a solid gold position where his opponent's King is checkmated, i.e. can't escape capture. A player uses each single move to improve his position, where the improvement is measured according to tangible values. I described these well known values in Positional Play in Chess:
- The center
- Open lines / Piece activity
- Pawn structure / Strong and weak squares
- King safety
These are supplemented by a few intangible values that are easier to recognize than to describe:
- The initiative
- Interference with the opponent's plans
In other words, a chess player spends a move to improve his position, in the same way one might spend time or money to improve one's house or apartment. For some moves, particularly in the opening, a player can speculate on certain values at the expense of other values.
For example, the move 1.a3 ignores both the center and piece activity in the goal of interfering with the opponent's plans. This is accomplished by forcing the opponent to abandon his prepared repertoire and to think for himself. Similarly, a gambit ignores the material value of a Pawn and seeks compensating value in more control of the center, better piece activity, a clear initiative, or a combination of these factors.
Following the definitions in Extravagant Openings -- 'lacking in moderation, balance, and restraint', 'spending much more than necessary', or 'extremely or unreasonably high in price' -- this is what makes an opening extravagant. Just as in life, extravagance in chess is not necessarily punished, nor should it be.
07 December 2009
Continuing with World Championship Opening Preparation, here's an insight from Petrosian into a common opening strategy.
During a tournament, many forms of subtle psychological warfare are practiced. For example, occasionally an opening is used against an opponent who is known to favor it himself. The idea is to force him against his own weapons, when he will have to face not only real dangers but, very often, imaginary ones as well. This trick is, of course, not quite safe for one who adopts it...
Spassky did it several times against me in our matches for the World Championship. He tried this method in the line 1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 e6 3.Bg5, in the seventh game of our match in 1966. ('Petrosian's Legacy', p.29),
Of White's third move, Petrosian noted, 'Someone has remarked that Spassky has invited Petrosian to play in the yard of the house in which he grew up.' Although the game is well known, Petrosian's positional angle is less well known.
1966 World Championship (game 7)
[FEN "r3k2r/pbqnbp2/1p2p3/2ppP1pp/1P6/2PBPNB1/P4PPP/R2Q1RK1 w kq - 0 15"]
The following punctuation and comments are from the same source and are all Petrosian's: 15.h4 ('After the natural 15.h3, Black would advance his g-Pawn sooner or later, and White would not maintain his e5-Pawn.') 15...gxh4! ('Now Black should not be tempted by 15...g4, because of 16.Ng5 Nxe5 17.Bb5+') 16.Bf4 ('So White, for a moment has secured the e5-Pawn.') 16...O-O-O!
A significant moment: the players have got the maximum from the pieces that are in play, but the Rooks still have to be brought into play. The first priority for both sides is to find the best positions for the Rooks. With this in mind, note that the capture on h4 has opened the g-file for Black's Rooks.
Spassky seemed not to understand this particular feature of the position, otherwise, he, for better or worse would have taken at c5 to open the b-file for his Rooks or, if Black were to recapture with a piece, to activate his Rook on a1.
The game continued 17.a4? c4!.
After the game I discovered that this move amazed the spectators. Its disadvantage is obvious as the square d4 is now at White's perfect disposal -- but I would add, only verbally. His Queen and Rook can make no use of this square, and even his Knight, which normally would work best on such a square, cannot get there because it is tied to the defense of the Pawn on e5. Thus Black has free hands for operations along the g-file.
While analyzing the future course of the game one should [not] forget that the idea of the maneuver Be7-f8-g7 was still in the air, gaining the e5-Pawn which has now become White's sorrow, not pride.
To play through the complete game see...
Boris Spassky vs Tigran Vartanovich Petrosian; World Championship Match 1966 (game 7)
04 December 2009
'The first garden gnomes were made in Gräfenroda, a town known for its ceramics in Thuringia, Germany, in the mid-1800s. Philip Griebel made terracotta animals as decorations, and produced gnomes based on local myths as a way for people to enjoy the stories of the gnomes' willingness to help in the garden at night. The garden gnome quickly spread across Germany and into France and England, and wherever gardening was a serious hobby.' - Wikipedia
Gnomes in the gnews: Google News on 'gnomes'.
03 December 2009
How do I get on these lists? A few weeks ago there was the email message I copied to Who Owns the World Championship? Today's morning mail had this:
Subject: An open letter to the Chess World
Date: Wed, 2 Dec 2009 23:14:16 +0100
From: Ida Eddis Foster
Dear Chess World - Please find attached a request for urgent action by the Chess World. - Yours truly, Ida Eddis Foster
Kingpin should be banned -- an open letter to the Chess World
Dear Chess World,
Shocked is scarcely the word for my reaction to issue 40 of Kingpin magazine. Reading the detailed article about Ray Keene, "Machiavelli on Ice", anyone would conclude that such a man merits no place at all in the chess world.
It was bad enough when the previous issue uncharitably put Ray's writing under the spotlight for 15 pages, together with some dark hints about his financial dealings. There should be a law against such things.
And now 13 more pages about what supposedly happened to investors' millions, and another unseemly charge of plagiarism, as if anybody cared. The heading contains a word not even in my dictionary, "Grandfraudster", and I regard this shambles with total disgust. Nobody's interested in such exposés, however much "documentary evidence" Kingpin finds to put on its website kingpinchess.net/penguin-files.
Enough is enough, and ideally Kingpin should be banned (or burned - or both). Failing that, I urge Ray's supporters, as well as all right-thinking chess-lovers, to:
1) Tell the Editor of Kingpin what he can do with copies of his magazine. The address is: firstname.lastname@example.org.
2) Write to the Editors of The Times and The Spectator, expressing dismay at the precise accusations against their chess correspondent and telling them they look ridiculous.
3) Send congratulatory messages to the British Chess Magazine and CHESS for steadfastly defending Ray's interests, by omission and/or commission.
4) Persuade leading officials of the English Chess Federation to make Ray the Finance Director, with unfettered powers.
5) Swamp chessgames.com with messages summarizing the attacks on him, so that Ray can respond at a safe site where, mercifully, there are still people who look up to him.
Please act now because Ray really needs help.
Yours truly, Ida Eddis Foster, Newtown, Rochester
2 December 2009
The KingpinChess.net URL included above is worth following if you have oodles of time to
waste spend; note especially the 'Archives' links in the left sidebar. The site uses Wordpress as its publishing tool, meaning that it has a builtin RSS feed: kingpinchess.net/feed. (Mark Crowther's TWIC and Edward Winter's Chess Notes should both take note.)
01 December 2009
Looking for a term to describe unusual openings in chess960 (you might be asking, 'Aren't they all unusual?'), I searched on various expressions that describe these openings in traditional chess. Here's what I found.
- 2,910 for chess "irregular openings"
- 2,420 for chess "unorthodox openings"
- 1,390 for chess "offbeat openings"
- 1,270 for chess "unusual openings"
- 153 for chess "strange openings"
- 71 for chess "curious openings"
The most used phrase was a variation of one of those above. It exceeds the combined count of all the above, a phenomenon for which I have no explanation (*).
I wanted my phrase to include openings like gambits. These are usually not included in any of the above, unless they are openings like the Halloween Gambit (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Nxe5), which might also be considered for the following list.
Then the phrase I was looking for popped into my head. It encompasses all of the above, and then some. Most importantly, it's not in widespread use.
From Merriam-Webster.com extravagant:
1 a obsolete : strange, curious; b archaic : wandering
2 a : exceeding the limits of reason or necessity (extravagant claims); b : lacking in moderation, balance, and restraint (extravagant praise); c : extremely or excessively elaborate (an extravagant display)
3 a : spending much more than necessary (has always been extravagant with her money); b : profuse, lavish
4 : extremely or unreasonably high in price (an extravagant purchase)
Yes, that's exactly what I was looking for: Extravagant Openings! Any one of those definitions could serve the purpose I have in mind.
(*): Re 'a phenomenon for which I have no explanation', it seems to be caused by a Google idiosyncrasy: 'In order to show you the most relevant results, we have omitted some entries very similar to [those] already displayed.' This line of thought led to another candidate...
...which I'll save for another time.
Later: I received another suggestion via email; 'Since traditional chess has been depicted as a refuge for the logical mind, may I suggest MIND-BLOWING Openings, which would certainly cover most of my preferences.' As you can see in the stats...
...it's not in widespread usage.
Even Later: Two more terms are...