30 March 2012

Chess at Disney's Magic Kingdom

The caption said, 'What's your next move? Apparently these guys couldn't decide and died trying.'


Magic Kingdom - Concentrate © Flickr user SpreadTheMagic under Creative Commons.

Have you ever been to a Disney park? They were more likely waiting in line for the next ride.

29 March 2012

The Giant Claw

This photo reminded me of a horror film with the same name as the title of this post. I saw it when I was six or seven years old and it gave me the heebie-jeebies -- or was it the willies? -- for days afterwards. I was afraid of falling asleep at night because the giant bird might stick its claw through my bedroom window and grab me while I was sleeping. Not too long ago, I saw a scene from the film on YouTube and wondered how the silly bird could frighten anyone. I think the movie even earned a place in cinematic history for the worst special effects ever.

The photo's description said,

19 July 1977 • Gulliver at Guildhall? • Guildhall Yard, City of London Silver Jubilee Fete continued today with a living chess tournament. The Robert Silk Chess Living Lightning tournament pieces are made up of children from three of the City's most famous schools -- Prior Weston Primary School, Arts Educational School, and the Sir John Cass Foundation School.

The players are William Hartston and John Nunn, renowned in chess circles as International Masters. The umpire is Mr. Paul Buswell of the British Chess Federation, and the giant chessboard, measuring eight meters square, has been constructed from 256 carpet tiles. The prize is a study tour to Russia. • PRESS ASSOCIATON PHOTOS

One prize, three schools, 32 children. Since the prize doesn't sound like it was intended for Hartston or Nunn, how did the organizers determine who won it? Maybe it was for the winner of the 'Living Lightning tournament'. That raises another question: how do you play lightning chess with living pieces? Something doesn't make sense here and it's probably me. Time for a vacation from blogging?

27 March 2012

Chess Even Sells Women's Accessories

The bag pictured below isn't going to be featured in my series on Top eBay Chess Items by Price, where the most recent post was Another Alekhine Manuscript, but it still fetched US $123.50 after four bidders placed 17 bids on eBay.

The item's title was 'ANYA HINDMARCH Photo Bag "Ladies Playing Chess" EXCELLENT Condition!'. It reminded me of the lipstick used in the logo for the recent European Women's Championship, Gaziantep, Turkey. The description said,

This eye-catching shade of red, ANYA HINDMARCH handbag / tote bag is ideal for you to carry everyday. This is a classic yet stylish from Anya Hindmarch Photo Bag collection.

Condition: Pre-owned - in excellent condition; all corners and base are in good condition; no stain inside & outside; no rips or tears; no bad odors.

Details: Outer material: satin like fabric; Lining: cotton; Handles: leather; Trim: gross grain ribbon; Piping & base: patent leather; Two inner pockets, one with zip; Closure: double snap-buttons; Measurements in inches (approx): 12.5" x 9.5" x 3.5"

Website: Anya Hindmarch.

26 March 2012

Been There, Done That with the Top Ten

Heading down the home stretch with Been There, Done That, I added Chess Top Tens to my page on Chess for Fun.

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Later: By coincidence (?), the day after finishing this skimpy post I received an email promoting 10 Big Brain Benefits of Playing Chess. Unlike most similar correspondence, it seemed relevant, so there it is.

25 March 2012

FIDE/ECU Chess in Schools

My most recent post, Chess as a Compulsory Subject, introduced an initiative taking place in Armenian schools. There are also several cross-border initiatives involving 'Chess in School/Schools' (CIS). On the international level, FIDE is taking the lead and launched its website in February 2011: Website of the FIDE Chess in Schools Commission.

On the European level, the European Chess Union (ECU) is working with Garry Kasparov -- Silvio Danailov: "Reaching New Frontiers" [chess-news.ru; November 2011] -- ECU President Danailov, who was first elected in September 2010, offered a historical summary.

I had [an] election program and one of the main points there was 'Chess in Schools'. [...] I knew that Kasparov had a fund in America and that it successfully worked there; and chess nowadays is in almost every school in US. Michael Khodarkovsky is working there. They have a great experience. I contacted them and offered cooperation for creating the same project in Europe. That’s because I have some contacts in European Parliament in Brussels [Bulgarian MEP, Slavi Binev].

He agreed, we started to work and 'Kasparov Chess Foundation' was opened in Europe. He found a Belgian businessman, one of the best managers in Belgium, Jan Callewaert, who agreed to be the head of ECU in 'Chess in schools'. [Susan] Polgar and Malcolm [Pein] have also joined it -– serious people who love chess and who want to work. At the same time sponsors found 100.000 Euros for everything and this committee created a very good program which we successfully presented a month ago in Brussels in front of 150 European deputies. So, I’m very glad because I think that we've done a great job during the year.

Now there will be a written declaration of the deputies on official adoption of chess in 27 EU member countries. The European Parliament with 780 deputies has to vote for this program next year. We need 51% for approving it which means we need approximately 390 deputies to vote positively. And then chess will officially become... I mean European Parliament will make a recommendation for all 27 EU member countries to adopt chess in schools as an official (two hours per week) subject for children under the age 6-9 or 6-12.

If it's true that 'chess nowadays is in almost every school in U.S.', it's partly because extra-curricular school activities are more popular in the U.S. than they are in Europe. Whatever the reason, here are some relevant links for the European initiative.

Last December, I posted about the ongoing friction between FIDE and Kasparov: Out to Ruin FIDE? Chess politics being what it is, that conflict spilled over to the CIS programs: Official Statement by Ali Nihat Yazici, Chairman of Chess in School Commission [Fide.com; November 2011]. Like many other observers of the international chess scene, I'll be following the ensuing evolutions with considerable interest.

23 March 2012

Chess as a Compulsory Subject

A few months I featured The National Sport of Azerbaijan on my Video Friday series. The description for the following clip starts, 'Armenia is a country facing many problems. Its ceasefire with neighboring Azerbaijan is rocky, and its economy is struggling. Now Armenia is hoping chess could help improve its fortunes.'


Armenia: Compulsory Chess | European Journal (6:32) • 'Armenian schools are introducing chess as a compulsory subject. The idea comes from chess Grandmaster Smbat Lputian, who founded a chess academy in Yerevan.'

It's ironic that these two chess-crazy countries can't get along with each other.

22 March 2012

The Iron Logicians

The phrase 'iron logic' is something of a cliché when applied to chess. I was reminded of this while working on the post Botvinnik's Legacy, where the phrase kept popping up in various apprecations of the sixth World Champion's style.

But what exactly does it mean? Is there some quality of 'iron logic' that makes it more logical than 'logic' alone? Even though it's often applied to reasoning that has nothing to do with chess, I searched high and low for a definition and came up empty handed. It's one of those phrases that people use without explaining what they mean. Curiously, the use of 'iron logic' is often associated with extreme opinions like 'the iron logic of mutual assured destruction' or 'the iron logic of nature'.

As for chess players, the phrase is always used to describe a particular style of play. It's less often applied to the classical players, where Capablanca gets tagged with the epithet more than Lasker and Alekhine. Petrosian is as likely as Botvinnik to get tagged and I even found the phrase on one of my pages: 1953 Zurich Candidates Tournament : Highlights. In the famous game Reshevsky - Petrosian, the future Soviet World Champion played 25...Re6, sacrificing the exchange; 'iron logic', wrote Bronstein. As for more recent players, Fischer and Karpov often exhibit 'iron logic', while of contemporary players, Carlsen gets tagged far more often than his opponents.

Botvinnik, Petrosian, Capablanca, Fischer, Karpov, Carlsen. String the names together and the connection is obvious. They were the most outstanding of the positional players. So 'iron logic' means positional play of the highest order. To test my hypothesis, I looked for 'iron logic' applied to Tal and couldn't find a single example. Magicians aren't logicians and magic isn't logical. That's why there are so few players like Tal.

20 March 2012

Chess Informant Endgames

In Four Endgames to Know, where I built a database of endgame positions from a number of books on the subject, there was one important resource missing : Chess Informant (CI). Through the years, the company has released a number of useful endgame products, encompassing both hardcopy and digital formats.

The most comprehensive CI endgame product is the 'Encyclopaedia [Encyclopedia] of Chess Endings', published in the 1980s in five volumes:-

  • Vol.1 - Pawn Endings
  • Vol.2 - Rook Endings 1
  • Vol.3 - Rook Endings 2
  • Vol.4 - Queen Endings
  • Vol.5 - Minor Piece Endings- Knight & Bishop

The CI endgame classification scheme has always been a mystery to me, so I was glad to find an explanation at EG online (EG90).

No. 90 - (Vol. VI) • NOVEMBER 1987 • THE "ECE" ENDINGS CLASSIFICATION SYSTEM • by Paul Lamford, London

"ECE" is the ENCYCLOPEDIA OF CHESS ENDINGS. The classification system of the twice-yearly Yugoslav CHESS INFORMANT ("CI") will be known to active chessplayers: each opening is given a code from A00 to E99, with transpositions cross-referenced.

In 1982 CI published the first volume of five that will systematically cover all endgames. The series draws on the data base built up since 1966. In addition many other endgame books, including 'Averbakh', have been keyed in. (What about copyright? A JR.) When complete the whole will represent the most comprehensive reference work available. Of the five volumes, PAWN ENDINGS and ROOK ENDINGS I and II have been published, with MINOR PIECE ENDINGS and QUEEN ENDINGS expected over the next few years.

The first principle of the classification system adopted is the "most valuable" piece on the board. Thus R + P vs. S will be found in ROOK ENDINGS; Q vs. R + B + S will be in QUEEN ENDINGS. Within each volume will be found up to 100 subclassifications, for example Q00 to Q99 (ECE actually employs figurines, not Q, R, B, S, P). It is at this point that there is a radical departure from GBR principles. With the ECE code it is not possible to determine the sub-classification without referring to a detailed index and this varies with each piece-ending.

The full index runs to 53 pages and was published in 1978 as part of the CI anthology THE BEST ENDINGS OF CAPABLANCA AND FISCHER, a pilot run for the five-volume series.

Certain general observations about the second level classifications are possible. The first breakdown of each volume is into ten sections, generally by material, ignoring PP. For example, RO comprises (all) R vs. PP and R vs. bare K, while R8 comprises (all) double-R endings, with R9 containing endings with more than 4 pieces. This covers the first "decimal place" of the hundred sub-classifications.

The second decimal place is generally by the number or disparity of PP. For example R3n (single -R endings) starts with R30 which includes R vs. R endings (without PP) and R + P (one P only) vs. R, while R38 is all single-R endings with 2 extra Pp. In all volumes the final classification (n9) includes all material not in the previous 0-8.

The 'data base built up since 1966' undoubtedly refers in part to the endgame section of CI's flagship product, the 'Informant' itself. The company sells a digital version of those endgames: Chess Informant 5-99 Endings Section. I located a copy, loaded it into my own database, and ran a few queries. The first result that popped out was a count of the types of endgames in CI 5-99, using the ECE classification scheme. The 2494 endgames are distributed as shown in the following table.

EG Tot 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
NB 857   50   44 156 9 133 110 82 167   20 86
P 183 7 3 17 105 7 4 13 14 10 3
Q 267 2 4 19 12 92 23 19 10 51 35
R 1187 26 43 91 6 22 96 252 205 88 358

In other words, there are 857 minor piece endgames in the database, of which 50 are classified NB0 (whatever that means). Of the four sub-classification schemes, the only explanation I could locate for this post was the scheme for Rook endgames, shown in the following diagram.


From CI's ECE 'Rook Endings'

That means of the 1187 Rook endgames, 358 are classified R9, 'not covered by another section'. The first page of each sub-class covered in the volume, R3 through R7, has its own sub-index for that section. There's a lot more that can be said here, so I'll come back to the CI resources in a future post.

19 March 2012

Been There, Done That with Chess Informant CDs

Next on the list for Been There, Done That was an About.com blog post titled 'The Third Best Player of All Time?'. The Wayback Machine misplaced many of those old posts and this is one of them. I'm almost certain that my candidates for third best were Capablanca and Karpov, but that wasn't the point of the post. It was to introduce my review of a Chess Informant CD:-

While converting that review, I encountered references to reviews of two other CI products, which I converted at the same time:-

Reviewing CI products can be frustrating. The chess material is outstanding, but technically they are never quite as good as they could be. For the first review (Chess Combinations) I gave the CD four stars out of five, then the next two products lost a half-star on each review. Whatever the merits of the CDs -- or of my reviews -- I added all three to my page on Improve Your Chess Game.

18 March 2012

Another Alekhine Manuscript

The item for the next edition of Top eBay Chess Items by Price, pictured below, isn't visually exciting, but does have some historical importance. Its title was 'Aljechin (Alekhine) handwritten manuscript'. It received 15 bids from 5 bidders, finally selling for US $1475.

I've already mentioned an Alekhine manuscript in BCM, Aljechin, Lord of the Rings, Fattorini, and a Pretty Face. This current example had more material and sold for more. The description said,

A. Aljechin (Alekhine) manuscript, consisting of the original carbon copies, 98 handwritten paper slips. Titled: "La valeur théorique de mon match avec Bogoljuboff", and signed "Aljechin,?? ; 19??" place and date on the last slip (numbered 59/115) almost illegible.

with details on the organization and structure of the paper slips. A substantial portion of the manuscript was missing.

It isn't clear which Bogolyubov match the fourth World Champion was writing about, although I assume it can be worked out from the material on offer. There are several web references to another Alekhine publication, 'La valeur théorique du Tournoi de Baden Baden (1925)', most notably in 4431. Books by Alekhine on Chesshistory.com (June 2006).

16 March 2012

Chess Sells Groceries

If you take a good look, the bottom image is spatially located to the right of the top image. The two images share an 'M'.


make moves #chess © Flickr user _lmc under Creative Commons.

The yellow sign to the left of the top image says, 'Cash & Carry - Smart Foodservice'. The store is located in the Intermission neighborhood, San Francisco. For another mural, see Asheville Mural Project No.2.

15 March 2012

Chess and the New Yorker

A recent eBay auction for a cover of the New Yorker (bottom right in my composite) reminded me that chess has been an occasional cover subject for the magazine. While searching my archive of chess images, I found the following.

A few of these covers, including one not pictured here, are available at New Yorker Cartoons, Cover Art Prints & Posters - The Condé Nast Store, along with dozens of highbrow chess cartoons.

13 March 2012

Botvinnik's Legacy

If I were to conduct an opinion poll of which World Champion was least liked by chess fans, I wouldn't be surprised to discover Botvinnik at the top of the list. His shouldering aside of other title hopefuls to arrange a match with Alekhine, the suspicions surrounding the Soviet treatment of Keres, the stacking of early FIDE title regulations in his favor, the contemptuous manner in which he often dismissed other top players -- all of this reinforces any negative impression one might have of the sixth World Champion.

In spite of this, there is no doubt that he was one of the best chess players ever; he was certainly in the top-10 of all time, maybe in the top-5. He handled all aspects of the game equally well, and I have known several strong players who claim to have attained mastery primarily through a study of his games and his writings. Unlike many other world class players, he left us a substantial body of written work.

Botvinnik has figured in a number of previous posts on this blog, the most notable being the following.

The dark side of his personality is a recurring theme in those posts. The drawing I've copied, taken from the program of the 1960 Botvinnik - Tal title match, captures it well.

12 March 2012

More Chess Books to Read Without a Board

I could have titled this post Amazon Carousel (Part 2). This week I added Top 10 Chess Books to Read Without a Board (Fiction) to last week's Top 10 ... (Nonfiction), also on the page Chess for Fun. Only five more articles to convert on the list for Been There, Done That.

11 March 2012

Blog Business

It's the time of year again for Spring Cleaning on Blogs. Starting with '64 Blogs' on my reading list, I checked that each one was still active and (for the record) removed the following:-

There are a few other blogs that haven't been updated since September last year, but I'll keep those for now. After adding new blogs that have been on my radar since the last update, I ended up with '66 Blogs', according to Blogger.com's count. The current list of blog feeds is behind my profile.

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Following up my post on Blog Carnivals Continue, see The Best Of! Chess Blogging, Part I: Openings and Best of Chess Blogging, Part II!. More to come?

09 March 2012

The Most Talented Polgar

Have you ever met anyone who didn't like Judit Polgar?


Judit Polgar Making Chess History (2:17) • 'Judit Polgar the Greatest Female Chess Player of All Time. 25 Years of Chess History in 2 minutes!'

More: Juditpolgardotcom's Channel, which leads to Judit Polgar's website.

08 March 2012

Four Endgames to Know

A few months back I was posting once a week on endgames, but have been quiet on the subject since my post on the Tablebase Monster. This week I got the endgame itch again and decided to figure out which endgames are the most widely seen in endgame treatises.

To do that, I first downloaded all of the PGN files for endgame books that I could find on Gambitchess.com. Then I loaded the files into a database, polished some of the rough edges, and ran a few queries to determine frequency.

Four endgame positions, shown in the following diagram, popped out equally at the head of the list. These should be familiar to anyone who has spent time studying chess endgames.


White to move first in all positions

All of these positions are solved by tablebases. Isn't it astonishing how simple positions are solved by such elegant maneuvers.

06 March 2012

Google Likes Me Why Exactly?

A recent spike in page views on my personal domain (m-w.com) prompted me to feed February log data into my database log software, last seen in Access to Referrers. I couldn't pinpoint the reason for the spike, but running out of time and desperate for a subject for today's blog post, I asked the database which of my pages were most favored by Google searches in February. Here are the top-25 out of the ~500 pages which received at least one view in February thanks to Google:-

The code 'W:' means a page from my World Championship site, while 'A:' means a page from my About.com material. The next logical step would be to see what searches returned those particular pages, but that will have to wait for another time.

05 March 2012

Been There, Done That with the Amazon Carousel

After substituting the Amazon Carousel for the original links to About.com's Pricegrabber service, I added Top 10 Chess Books to Read Without a Board (Nonfiction) to my page on Chess for Fun. The next article to be converted for Been There, Done That will be the corresponding Chess Books to Read Without a Board (Fiction).

04 March 2012

Who's Really Winning?

For this series on Top eBay Chess Items by Price, I last featured a painting a few months ago on a post titled Canadian Caissart. Although that piece fetched a lower price, I much prefer it to the piece pictured below. This latest example of chess art, '19th C Antique O/C German Chess Game Genre Oil Painting *Check Mate!*', received 39 bids from 18 bidders, finally selling for US $742.

The description said,

The aristocratic gentleman on the right has a look of satisfaction on his face as his opponent looks defeated after playing a game of chess. The chairs & table look German and on the wall are armor, spurs, a powder flask and the crossbow of a soldier. There is a tall glass of ale on the table and a German stoneware flagon on the floor.

I keep looking for a signature on this circa 1870s oil painting, but it is unsigned. There is an original paper label on the back of the stretcher, but I cannot make out most of the writing.

What don't I like about the piece? I'm not really sure, but the cartoonish look of the two players might have something to do with it. The perspective is also annoying. That 'tall glass of ale on the table' looks more like a glass candleholder. As for the 'crossbow of a soldier', I'm not convinced. Maybe it is, maybe it isn't.

At first I was puzzled about the acronym 'O/C' in the title, but when I read the following paragraph I understood that it means 'original condition'.

Hand painted on stretched canvas this 14 3/4" by 18" painting was relined many years ago with a piece of early 20th century fiber board. I looked at this painting under a strong blacklight and it is perfect with no repairs or any in-painting. The original frame however is in poor condition and does not have to be shipped with this painting if the high bidder does not want it. In the corners are damage to the gesso and this frame has been painted gold.

The paper label almost certainly says 'Schach' something -- my guess is 'Schachspieler' -- but the rest is indeed illegible.

02 March 2012

Chess Carnaval

Not a blog carnival, but the real deal: Carnaval Torres Vedras 2012, Lisbon, Portugal.


Chess Heads © Flickr user wHaTEvEr- under Creative Commons.

I know I've seen those hats before, but where?

01 March 2012

A Bright Future for Chess History

Even though it's been nearly a month since my last post on the Kings of Chess Journalism (see Hunting Treasure in Chess Review), the subject has been just beneath the surface of several recent posts. Both Kenny Rogoff as You've Never Seen Him and Fischer on the 'Rubbish' Defense were motivated by issues of Chess Life from the 1960s, while 1890 Chigorin - Gunsberg and The First World Championship were inspired by the first decade of the British Chess Magazine (BCM).

If you have any sort of interest in chess history, delve into old issues of chess magazines only when you have nothing urgent to do. One topic leads to another which inevitably leads to another and, before you know it, your available time has vanished. A case in point is BCM. While browsing 19th century issues I discovered that a journalist's primary means of acquiring information in that era was through reading the work of other journalists. I doubt I could find a single issue of the early BCM which did not directly acknowledge another journal elsewhere in the world. For example, BCM Volume 1, Number 1 (January 1881) had the following on one of its first pages.

Note the references to Delannoy, Chess Monthly, Deschapelles, and Chess Player's Chronicle -- all historically important topics -- among others. Other items in the same issue were from Italy, Denmark, Brazil, France, and Germany, not to overlook the cities and regions of Britain itself.

As more of these old periodicals are digitized and placed on the web, researches will be possible that, until now, could only be conducted in a well-endowed chess library. It's a bright future for chess history.