29 November 2011

Meet Olivia

Born 26 November 2011

She is Alessia's little sister. My only hope of getting these two girls interested in chess will be to locate a Hello Kitty chess set. A Dora set might also work, but I'm afraid she's too outdoorsy to be caught playing board games.

28 November 2011

Been There, Done That with the FIDE World Championship 2004

Today is Monday, which means a little more work on Been There, Done That. I added two pages about the FIDE World Championship 2004,

to my page on Chess History. For a more recent treatment of the event, held in Tripoli, Libya, see The Worst World Championship Ever.

25 November 2011

Occupy the Center

We are the 99%.

46.OccupyDC.McPhersonSquare.WDC.8November2011 © Flickr user ElvertBarnes under Creative Commons.

The caption explained,

Chess at Occupy DC at McPherson Square Park between K and I and 14th Street and Vermont Avenue, NW, Washington DC on Tuesday afternoon, 8 November 2011 by Elvert Barnes Protest Photography

They are the 1%: USCF Rating Distribution.

24 November 2011

Averbakh's Convekta

After writing the post on Averbakh's Endings, I became curious about the digital version of 'Comprehensive Chess Endings' (referred to below as CCE). Originally published by Convekta, there's a product page on their site titled Comprehensive Chess Endings.

FOREWORD by Yury L. Averbakh: The first English edition of Comprehensive Chess Endings was published almost twenty years ago. Much water has flowed under the bridges since that time; swift computerization has caused many changes in all realms of human life. Chess is no exception. The computer program has already defeated the world champion, and there exists a stage of the game where the computer is infallible. That stage is the endgame with few pieces left on the board.

The new time control has led to a drastic acceleration of play taking away both adjournments and resumptions into the past. If one could previously adjourn a game and analyze a certain position calmly, now everything is to be done right at the board and in a short time. This makes a good fundamental knowledge of basic endgames all the more important.

The main objective of this new edition is to unite the experience accumulated by many generations of chess players with the latest computer technologies. So no wonder that it is not released as a printed book but as a software product, prepared in co-operation with the famous chess software company Convekta.

I managed to procure a copy of the software, installed it on my laptop, and was disappointed to discover that it wouldn't execute. That same product page mentions that the software is compatible with Convekta's 'Chess Assistant Light', a product that I also have, although I haven't used it much. Sure enough, it worked without a hitch and even allowed me to extract the CCE data into an external PGN file. The PGN text format is useful for loading header data (event, players, etc.) into standard database software for further analysis.

For example, Averbakh claims that CCE includes 'over 4100 examples in total'. More specifically, I counted over 2100 studies and over 750 games. The other examples are mainly the sort of fundamental theoretical positions covered in all instructional endgame texts along with a generous number of schematic explanations. Of the studies, nearly 300 were composed by Averbakh himself, with over 200 by V.Khenkin and somewhat less than 200 by N.D.Grigoriev.

Of the games, Averbakh was one of the players in almost 50 of them, with nearly 30 each by Alekhine, Keres, Botvinnik, and Smyslov. Capablanca and Rubinstein break the dominance of the Soviet School with 20 and 19 games respectively.

Along with the digital version of Averbakh's texts, the software includes almost 3000 complete games (the 'Examples' database) illustrating various endgame themes in practice. The Convekta manual (see the Google HTML version) mentions a limitation here:-

If you have Chess Assistant installed on your computer, you can load the Averbakh and Examples databases, as well as the classifier, and operate them in all CA modes. In this case, however, you will be unable to use a unique feature of Comprehensive Chess Endings, which is not available in Chess Assistant. This is jumping to referenced games, described in Section 3.4 View Mode.

Maybe I'll eventually figure out why the CCE software won't run on my laptop. In the meantime I have a powerful tool for further exploration of endgame themes.

22 November 2011

Morphy, Loewenthal, Young Man, and Lady

Here's a little mystery that I haven't been able to solve. The image on the top is a well known photo of Paul Morphy playing Johann Loewenthal (1810-1876). I've seen it several times on eBay, the last time with the description

Here's a copy from an 1860's stereoview of a young man and older gent, perhaps his father playing a game of chess. Note that this is a high quality pair of photos created from the original 1860's stereoview and affixed to a period mount.

The image on the bottom, which I've also seen before, was offered on eBay by the same seller at the same time. Its description said,

Here's a copy from an 1860's stereoview of a young man and his lady playing a game of chess.

plus the same note about being 'created from the original', etc.

Looking at the images separately, I had never noticed the similarity, but, viewed side-by-side, it's obvious that they were taken using the same setting. Although the angle of the camera (or whatever they used in the 1860s) is slightly different, the chess table is the same and the urn-shape behind the heads of the players sitting to the right is the same object.

Are the 'young man and his lady' related to or somehow connected to Morphy (or maybe to Loewenthal)? If so, how exactly?

21 November 2011

Been There, Done That with TWIC

After I discovered that the next article to be converted on Been There, Done That, namely Improve Your Chess Game, was already on How To Improve at Chess, I could have had a day free of blogging. Instead, I added TWIC 500! to my page on Chess History. The TWIC article, which relied already in 2004 on both Archive.org and the Google groups archives, presented a special challenge since the article to be converted was also in Archive.org. After resolving the double archive references, I managed to find all of the original material.

At the time of writing this post, the current edition of TWIC is no.888, meaning that in 112 issues -- about two years and two months -- Mark Crowther will be producing TWIC 1000. Will he reach that milestone? I certainly wouldn't bet against it.

18 November 2011

The National Sport of Azerbaijan

I stopped watching CNN last year when it seemed like they were broadcasting more and more features at the expense of less and less news. The following segment on chess is a good example of one of their features.

Chess: The national sport of Azerbaijan (2:25) • 'The young in Azerbaijan are obsessed with chess. CNN's Jim Boulden reports from the capital of Baku.'

For an introduction to the entire show, see CNN International - Eye on Azerbaijan. A few years ago, Azerbaijan ran a series of ads on tourism, one of them highlighting chess: Azerbaijan - Leyla Aliyeva. I believe the lovely Leyla Aliyeva is the daughter of Ilham Aliyev, the President of Azerbaijan.

17 November 2011

Real Olympiad Gold

In this series on Top eBay Chess Items by Price, I've already featured an Olympiad souvenir in 1924 Olympiad Gold (sort of) and a gold coin souvenir in Gold for Fischer - Spassky. Pictured below is an Olympiad gold coin souvenir which was titled 'Slovenia: 20.000 tolar 2002 PROOF UNC GOLD Chess Olimpics Horse RARE 500 MINTAGE'. It sold for $1800, 'Best Offer'.

The accompanying certificate of authority said,

On the occasion of the 35th Chess Olympiad Bled, Slovenia 2002, the Republic of Slovenia herby issues a gold coin associated with the event (Official Gazette of the RS, no.53/02). Specifications: Denomination 20,000 Tolars. Alloy: 900/1000 gold. Weight: 7 grams. Diameter: 24 millimetres. • BANK OF SLOVENIA

The item's description added,

Full PROOF Uncirculated Coin, DEEP cameo and mirror like fields. Issued to commemorate 35th Chess Olympics held in Bled, Slovenia. On obverse there is a celtic horse and it's mirror look in the lake, reverse chess board and chess figures. MEGA RARE PIECE, mintage ONLY 500 PIECES!

and provided a web address -- More on coin -- where we learn that a silver coin with a face value of 2,500 Tolars was also issued.

15 November 2011

Averbakh's Endings

Along with Levenfish and Smyslov's Rook Endings, last seen in The Bridge, the Diversion, and the Best Defense, one of my favorite endgame references is the multi-voume set by Averbakh, last seen in More R+P vs. B+P Magic. I've encountered several different versions of Averbakh's work, and before referring to it in any more posts, I decided it would be a good idea to catalog the various publications. Here are the sets I know of:-

  • The original work was published in Russian in the 1950s; I'll call this (A).
  • Batsford published a translation in the 1970s; (B).
  • A second Russian edition was published at the beginning of the 1980s; (C).
  • Pergamon published another translation in the mid-1980s; (D).

Wikipedia, in Chess endgame literature, mentions (A), (B), and (D).

Yuri Averbakh published a monumental set of books in Russian in 1956. The works were first published in English as several individual books [list of eight books] and later collected into the five-volume Comprehensive Chess Endings. It was also published in other languages (Golombek 1977). Bobby Fischer had these books sent to him during his World Championship match (Averbakh & Chekover 1977).

Comprehensive Chess Endings, by Yuri Averbakh, et al., 1983. In five volumes. A pretty detailed, advanced, and comprehensive look at various endings. intended for players with a rating of roughly 1880 or higher. Published by Pergamon Press. The work originally appeared as a series of smaller books (e.g. Bishop Endings, Knight Endings, etc.). Out of print in book form, but available on computer CD-ROM. [list of five books]

Three separate volumes made up the first Russian edition (A). I have the second edition (C) and there are five volumes -- B/N vs. same piece, R/B/N vs. different piece, Q, P, and R -- published in that order, one per year starting in 1980. The Pergamon edition (D) followed the same order and schedule, starting in 1983.

As for the Batsford edition (B), Wikipedia listed eight volumes, which I've determined were published in the following order -- P, Q&P, B vs. N, B, N, R vs. B/N, Q vs. R/B/N -- starting in 1974. Wikipedia also mentioned a volume on Rooks alone, but it must be less common than the other seven volumes, because I was unable to locate any info on it while preparing this post. Even the image on the left, from a recent eBay auction, shows only seven Averbakh volumes plus the Levenfish and Smyslov book on Rook endings.

As for the digital version of Comprehensive Chess Endings, the FOREWORD by Yuri L. Averbakh mentions,

Acknowledgements: First of all I would like to remark that the first three-volume edition of Shakhmatnye Okonchaniya, published in 1956-1962, was prepared with the assistance of the Soviet masters N.Kopayev, V.Chekhover, V.Khenkin and the famous endgame theorist I.Maizelis. The first English edition, published in 1983-1987 by Pergamon Press, was based on the second Russian edition, and was translated by Kenneth P. Neat. The latter was published in 1982-1986 by "Fizkultura i sport".

Will there be future hardcopy editions of Averbakh's monumental work? I doubt it, but I wouldn't be surprised to see another digital edition.


Later: In that last quote, it's curious that Averbakh mentions, 'the first English edition, published in 1983-1987 by Pergamon Press'. I would have guessed that the Batsford edition was the first in English.

14 November 2011

Been There, Done That with Ratings

Moving along slowly but steadily with Been There, Done That, I added FIDE Top-10 Players (1975-2004) to my page on Chess History. The year 2004 seems like ages ago and while it might be interesting to bring the page up to date through 2011 (or 2012 in a few months), there are other fish to fry.

11 November 2011

Ripollés, Not Picasso

Place: IVAM (Instituto Valenciano de Arte Moderno) • Artist: Juan García RipollésMore: Juan Ripollés from Google Images.

Picasso chess © Flickr user boolker under Creative Commons.

There's a post about the set on susanpolgar.blogspot.com -- Biggest Chess of Murano in the World -- although the text reads like a machine translation, probably from the Spanish.

10 November 2011

Signing Up for Stuff

A few months ago, in a post titled Spraggett on Smirnov, I wondered about some obvious differences in opinion between those two GMs, one a former World Championship candidate, the other a purveyor of chess courses using online marketing. Curious about the chess courses, I followed the link from the video that was the source of the disagreement, found Smirnov's home page at Chess-Teacher.com, and signed up for the 'FREE video course'.

Since then, I've received about 15 email messages from GM Smirnov. The first few were about the promised free video course, the rest were a mixture of links to new videos and promotions for the not-so-free courses, e.g. 'The Grandmaster's Opening Laboratory'. While I'm not willing to sign up for any of the not-so-free courses, the free videos I watched were all of a reasonable quality, comparable to the one that first caught my attention. Smirnov knows what he's talking about and although his English is far from perfect, it's good enough to get his points across.

One problem I had while working on this post was to understand exactly what was being offered and by whom. Emails link to pages that link to other pages that offer discounts on products that don't seem relevant to the original email. The original video that got my attention appears to be part of an affiliate program. Would I run those affiliate links on this blog or on my own site? No, not yet, but I'll keep it in mind.


As I once explained in a post titled Apples to Apples, I use Google AdSense as a cheap source of statistics. Lately I've been seeing a proliferation of ads on my pages like this:-

Hottest Brazilian Girls
Connect with 100s Brazil Beauties Find your Perfect Match & be happy!

[domain name]

Are these services legitimate? To find out, I signed up for membership on three of these sites. I know, it's a thankless job, but someone has to do it (and, no, I didn't tell my wife). I never heard again from one of the services, while the other two were obviously part of a network of related sites, probably run by the same promoter.

For those two sites I was immediately bombarded by several email messages every day. The emails were links to the sites where I could read messages from the 'ladies', send them virtual gifts, etc. etc. Of course, none of this was free. I was expected to buy credits that could be tapped for each message I read or each gift I sent. After a few weeks, I got tired of these emails and tried to remove my pseudonym from the sites. The unsubscribe options led to dead ends -- one of them was a captcha that displayed no garbled text to copy -- so I was eventually forced to enter a bogus email address that wouldn't come anywhere near me.

Google AdSense has a function to 'Allow & Block Ads' and lists these sites, collectively known as 'Dating' sites, under 'Sensitive Categories' along with 'Cosmetic Procedures & Body Modification' and 'Ringtones & Downloadables'. Should I turn them off? No, not yet, but I'll keep it in mind.

08 November 2011

The Bridge, the Diversion, and the Best Defense

One of the quirks of blogging is that you don't have to follow an idea from start to finish, in chronological order, whether as writer or reader. Earlier this year I started a series on Levenfish's Rook Endings, the well known endgame book by Levenfish and Smyslov. After a few related posts using tablebases I dropped the topic to move onto other subjects, but recently returned to it for a deeper insight into a couple of Rook & Pawn endings I'm currently playing.

At the end of that initial post I listed the general conclusions from the last chapter of Rook Endings and am just now starting to appreciate how helpful they can be in a practical context. One of the conclusions, however, baffled me...

11. With two disconnected Pawns against one passed Pawn important roles are played by the bridge and diversion.

...because I didn't take the time to study the text of the book:-

In no.11, I'm not sure what is meant by 'bridge and diversion', so I'll come back to this and other points in a future post.

Ten months later, I'm coming back to it. As you would expect, both terms are illustrated in the position accompanying that 11th point.

Levenfish & Smyslov no.314
After 2.e6-e7

The 'bridge' is illustrated in the continuation: 2...Re6 3.Rf7 (bridge) 3...Kb4 4.g4 a3 5.Rf4+ Kb5 6.Rf3 a2 7.Ra3. White uses his own Rook to shield his King from checks by the opponent's Rook. The maneuver is best known in the 'Lucena position', a technical procedure for winning with Rook & Pawn vs. Rook.

The 'diversion' is illustrated in the continuation 2...Rf6+ 3.Ke3 Re6+ 4.Kd3 Rd6+ 5.Kc3 Re6 6.Rg5+ Kb6 7.Rg6 (diversion). White's Rook pins the opponent's Rook against its King, eliminating the attack on the White Pawn and allowing it to promote.

Black avoids both of these attacks by playing 2...Rc8! 3.Rg5+ Kb4 4.Re5 Re8 5.g4 a3. When behind in material, a passed Pawn rushing to promote is the weak side's best defense in Rook endgames. I don't know if this concept also has a term to describe it, but it should.


Later: This post appeared in Happy Birthday, Carnival!, the last of the blog carnivals organized by Confessions of a Chess Novice [chessconfessions.blogspot.com].

07 November 2011

Been There, Done That with Steinitz

Continuing with Been There, Done That, I added Steinitz on the 'Relative Value of the Pieces' to the 'Advanced Beginner' section of Learn to Play Chess. That Steinitz page is an introduction to a much longer excerpt from Steinitz's Modern Chess Instructor : Relative Value of Pieces and Principles of Play.

04 November 2011

Life's Too Short for Chess

Here's another candidate for the 'Not Everyone Likes Chess' department (*):-

Chess is a quite repulsive game. ♪
Fills me with such frustration. ♪
And in the end my patience runs out. ♪

Life's too short for chess. ♪
Cold and calculating, such a boring mating. ♪
So give me a game of chance and there's romance.

That's Life! N°10 Stephanie De-Sykes (2:58) • 'That's Life! (1974) "World Chess Championship"'

Near the end, I don't get it at all:-

Some girls try to stay cool and play it by the rulebook. ♪
They just wind up in the end a talemate, stalemate.

Or maybe it's 'a tail made, stale maid'. ♫ La di da di da... ♫


(*) Last seen in Not Everyone Likes Chess.

03 November 2011

Chess Art? Amen!

In the previous edition of Top eBay Chess Items by Price, I featured a Barleycorn Chess Set and mentioned,

The set received 41 bids from 15 bidders, and the winning bid was GBP 2527.00 ('approximately US $4000.49' according to eBay). In the year and a half that I've been tracking Top eBay Chess Items by Price, I don't recall another chess set selling for so much.

By some sort of a blogger's application of Murphy's Law, along the lines of 'An unequivocal statement in writing is always proven wrong', I could have featured a 'Pulpit set' in this post. The very attractive set ('could have been made by a French prisoner of war') received 15 bids from six bidders and sold for GBP 6,100.00 (approximately US $9,742.92). That's more than double the barleycorn set. Featuring the pulpit set would have meant three chess sets in a row -- the first was Tweezer Chess -- so I chose instead an item from my favorite category, chess art.

The painting shown below, titled 'Original Irving Amen Large Oil on Canvas Pensive Girl', sold for US $1697. The auction didn't have any bidding information, so I guess it went to the best offer.

The description said

Title: Next Move (untitled on canvass) • Date: 1970s • Medium: oil on canvas • Dimension: image (76 x 101 cm or 30 x 40 inch), frame (84 x 109 cm or 33 x 43 inch) • Credit: Irving Amen (original artist) • Special Attributes: artist signed (bottom right corner)

This original painting was done by Irving Amen (1917 ---, an influential and well-respected American artist and printmaker) around 1970s. Amen was particularly known for his distinctive artworks via woodcut, etching, lithograph, and many other media depicting various human subjects/activities in the 40s - 70s. Very prolific and active even in the late 1990s, his artworks are widely collected by individuals and institutions in the United States.

Popular Amen subjects are girl or young woman in pensive mood, music activities, and chess scenes. Highly decorative yet sensitively treated, the current painting had combined all these elements together and depicted a young woman contemplating her next move (in chess or life) with a balalaika or a book as her opponent (she might have made a wrong move as she was touching the pawn, hence, forgoing the opportunity of a draw, though the board and chessmen depicted were irregular as usual). A rare and original Amen item indeed.

For more of Amen, see Google Images chess Irving Amen.

01 November 2011

No Nose for Navigation

At the same time I looked at Chessnc.com in my post No Nose for FIDE News, I took screenshots of three of my favorite chess news sites with the same software used for the images in The Longest Sidebar. I did this because, unlike my other favorite news sites TWIC & Chessbase, all three of these sites have new designs (Whychess is completely new since some time before this past summer), that I really don't like very much. The screenshots are shown below, side by side.

Chessdom.com Chessvibes.com Whychess.org

The two sites that have been with us for a few years both announced redesigns within a few of weeks of each other.

As for Whychess, Google digs up a few odd posts from April & May,

but the floodgates opened some time in June.

I congratulate everybody on launching a website WhyChess.org! Starting from this week we’re going to record regularly the best novelties of the week at the same time remembering not very successful ones. • Top-10 Theoretical Novelties. TWIC 867 [18 June 2011; author unknown]

So why don't I like the designs of these sites? Because I don't know how to navigate them efficiently. I'm the type of person who reads a newspaper (remember those?) from front to back.

It's well known that most people scan a newspaper the same way they read -- for English that's top to bottom, left to right -- which is why newspaper layouts have the most important story in the upper left corner of the page. I start on the front page, scan the headlines, then start reading the stories that interest me most. Then I turn to the second page, using the same technique, third page, etc., stopping for a bit longer on the editorial page, the finance page, the sports page, and the comics. On these chess news pages, I haven't yet found a comfortable way to read them. I didn't have this problem with the old layouts of Chessdom and ChessVibes, and I'm really not sure why it changed with the redesigns.

One problem might be the column sizes that change arbitrarily. The Chessdom page starts with two columns (plus a column for the ads; I have no problem with that) then shifts to four columns, where the four columns vary in size. Looking at the page as a whole, like I've captured it in the image, it seems obvious where to jump to the top of the next column, but when I'm scrolling down a screen at a time (the Chessdom page is about four screens long on my laptop), I don't have that complete overview to guide me. On top of that, I often find that the same story is linked multiple times from the same page. Can you imagine a newspaper doing that -- 'Please turn to page two for the full story' -- printed in different places on the front page for the same story? I find it all very disconcerting.

Maybe the problem will disappear as I use these sites more, but it's already been a few months and I just can't shake the feeling that I'm not getting as much from these sites as I should.