30 April 2012

A Note to Myself on Openings

Reaching the end of Been There, Done That, the last two of my About.com articles to be converted are high level indices dealing with a specific phase of the game (both links are to Archive.org):-

In fact, the two resources repeat what I already have on the page Learn to Play Chess, under the heading 'For the Advanced Beginner'. What about openings? The equivalent Archive.org index is

I converted this to a page of the same name on my own site -- Chess Opening Fundamentals (m-w.com) -- but will leave it hidden, i.e. unlinked from anything else, for now. It references too many resources that I don't yet have on my own site. These are all marked offsite, and if I ever decide to convert these, I'll release the new page on the opening.

29 April 2012

A Vintage Schachuhr

For some reason, I don't feature many chess clocks on this fortnightly series on Top eBay Chess Items by Price. I shortlist them often enough, but usually choose another item for a new post in the series. The only previous clock I could locate is Elegant Classical Chess Clock, from two years ago.

The title of the current item was 'Vintage German chess clock – Schachuhr', from a seller in Denmark. It received 39 bids from 11 bidders, finally selling for GBP 620. Ebay calculated this to be 'approximately US $1,006.69'.

The no-frills description said,

German made chess clock from the 20’s – in fully working condition. Steel and brass on wooden base. Height: 19 cm, length: 26 cm, depth: 8 cm. I am a retired watchmaker selling out of my spare parts and stock.

The move lever appears to be the horizontal bar with two knobs above the clocks. My guess is that the assembly is one-of-a-kind, perhaps homemade. Whatever it is, a thousand bucks for a vintage chess clock indicates a serious collector.

27 April 2012

Yakety Pawns

Chess Monsters © Flickr user Southern Rhapsody under Creative Commons.

Or maybe they're 'Mitreless Bishops'.

26 April 2012

CJA in Transition

I normally write a couple of posts per year about the Chess Journalists of America (CJA) and last year I did three:-

April is the month when my internal clock reminds me to check the CJA awards page for the current year's announcement. This year there is not yet an awards announcement -- see below for the reason -- but there are several announcements on the CJA's home page and in the latest issue of the CJA publication, The Chess Journalist.

  • President: 'The CJA search committee, led by Daniel Lucas, has secured the services of Al Lawrence as the association’s interim president. Al will serve in this capacity until the next formal meeting, this August 2012 at the Vancouver, Washington, U.S. Open.' • The group's former president was GM Alexandra Kosteniuk

  • Webmaster: 'In the near future CJA will be welcoming a new webmaster. Daniel Freeman, webmaster and co-founder of Chessgames.com, has agreed to take over as webmaster for CJA replacing the current webmaster J. Franklin Campbell, who created the original CJA web site in 1999 and has served as webmaster since then.'

  • Awards: '[Ramon] Hernandez has resigned as chair of the CJA Awards Committee and Chief Awards Judge. [...] Stay tuned to this website for additional information on the Annual CJA Award competitions.'

  • Editor's Note: 'I’m pleased to announce a new column beginning with this issue of The Chess Journalist. Hank Anzis will take on a practicum for chess bloggers and would-be bloggers. [...] Hank’s own blog, Broken Pawn, won the 2011 CJA Best Blog award.'

The first column of 'The Blogger Within' appears in the same issue as the announcement. Editor Mark N. Taylor introduced the blog topic with

The challenges are, first, getting started, which requires the motivation all non-professional writers need but also a certain amount of technical savvy; second, there is the challenge of getting your blog to stand out and get noticed from the many.

Taylor also mentioned, 'I am looking for someone willing to take on a parallel column devoted to a practicum for state chess association and private chess websites.' Are the CJA's dark days finally coming to an end?

24 April 2012

Davidson's Mismatch

In A Difference of Centuries, I compared an illustration from Henry Davidson's 'Short History of Chess' (1949) with another from Dylan Loeb McClain of the New York Times. Both purported to show the spread of chess from its origin in India, but there was a difference of hundreds of years between the two. What was the reason for this?

I looked at Davidson's book more carefully and extracted relevant passages on the introduction of chess into major Western European regions. Here is a summary.

  • Spain: Nursery of European Chess • At the turn of the millenium chess was a Moslem activity, and Spain was the country in Europe most intimately associated with Islamic influences. It is not surprising then that modern European chess began in Spain. [...] The date at which chess entered Spain may be fixed at sometime between the years 900 and 1000. (p.123)

  • Italy as a focus of European Chess • While for much of its early culture Italy was indebted to Greece, this current was reversed in the case of chess. [...] Chess reached Italy in the middle of the 11th century, not many decades after the game was known on the Spanish peninsula. It was ferried over the Mediterranean from North Africa, either through Sicily, which retained Moorish influences for many centuries, or through Marseilles. (p.128)

  • Chess in Medieval France • Chess was not played in France before the end of the 11th century. [...] Medieval France acquired chess from two sources: Spain and Italy. (p.134)

  • Germany • Chess entered Germany by two routes. The earlier was the pass through the Alps connecting with Italy [...] The second source of German chess knowledge was France, and the two streams amalgamated to form a center for the subsequent dispersal of the game into Scandinavia and Eastern Europe. (p.137)

  • Scandinavia • The Scandinavian countries acquired chess from Germany. It is hard to accept [Daniel Willard] Fiske's theory that the game was introduced more or less directly from the East [i.e. Russia]. (p.139)

  • Britain • There is nothing to indicate that chess was played in Great Britain prior to the Norman conquest in 1066, and the linguistic evidence points to a French source. (p.140)

Compare that to the centuries shown in Davidson's March of Chess: Spain: 1300, Italy: 1300, France: 1400, Germany: 1500, Scandinavia: 1600, & Britain: 1500. Davidson's illustration simply doesn't match the information given in his book. I have no idea why that should be, but if Davidson's text is right, it is entirely possible that the Lewis pieces were carved in the 12th century in Northern Europe.


Later: Davidson had an unorthodox opinion on the origin of the Lewis pieces.

They are often assigned to the 12th century, but the 16th century seems more likely since the pieces are probably of Icelandic origin, and it is doubtful if the game was known in Iceland prior to the 16th century. The fact that the Rook is represented as a soldier establishes the Icelandic origin of the set. In Icelandic, the piece is called brokur which means 'hero' or 'soldier'. In no other language in the world is the Rook so named. (p.166)

The mystery around their geographical origin also popped up recently. Even more fundamental: are they really chess pieces?

23 April 2012

I Once Caught up with Kasparov

That's speaking figuratively, because 'No one catches up with Garry Kasparov' was my lead for Catching Up with Kasparov, written on the occasion of his 45th birthday. This latest addition to Been There, Done That is now slotted into my page on Chess History. • See also Working file for Catching Up with Kasparov (April 2008).

22 April 2012

A Difference of Centuries

My most recent post in the Video Friday series, Chess Lectures at the MMA, inspired a number of ideas for future posts. The first lecturer, Dylan Loeb McClain of the New York Times, is best known in the chess world as the columnist for that newspaper. During his introduction by a curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (MMA), we learn that he is an 'informational graphics editor', which must be his bread-and-butter function at the Old Gray Lady.

At around 6:50 into the clip, McClain displays a graphic which I've captured in the following image. It shows how chess spread from its origin in India ['(1)'] to other regions of the Eastern hemisphere.

When I saw this, it reminded me of an image I once reused on a web page titled The March of Chess. It's an illustration from the inside cover of Davidson's 'Short History of Chess'. McClain's graphic and Davidson's image are similar, except for one important difference : the dates don't match. For example, McClain indicates that chess arrived in France in the 9th century, while Davidson shows it at the beginning of the 15th century. That's a difference of at least 500 years.

Davidson also shows chess being introduced to Scandinavia and the British Isles around 1600, i.e. the beginning of the 17th century. The MMA lectures were motivated by a display of the Lewis chess pieces, discovered in 1831 and dated to the 12th century. That was at least 400 years before chess was introduced in Northern Europe, according to Davidson. Has Davidson's research been discredited?

20 April 2012

Chess Lectures at the MMA

This clip, 'introduced by Barbara Drake Boehm, Curator, Department of Medieval Art and The Cloisters, Metropolitan Museum of Art (MMA)', is more than two hours long, so leave yourself plenty of time to watch it.

The Game of Kings: Medieval Ivory Chessmen from the Isle of Lewis (2:10:15) • 'Discover what the Isle of Lewis chessmen can tell us about the development of chess as both a game and an art form.' [4 March 2012]

It features Dylan Loeb McClain, New York Times; James Robinson, British Museum; and Charles T. Little, Metropolitan Museum of Art. See also The Metropolitan Museum of Art - The Game of Kings, with a further podcast.

19 April 2012

Lasker on Computer Chess

An added bonus in researching old chess magazines for posts like 1889 Steinitz - Chigorin Background is discovering all sorts of material which, although not related to the specific research, is worth pursuing. A case in point is the image on the left, showing 23 year old Emanuel Lasker. I don't believe I'd ever seen it before. It appeared in the April 1892 issue of British Chess Magazine and was accompanied by a summary of his career up to that time. Early info about Lasker is hard to locate and the BCM article leads to earlier mentions of Lasker in the same periodical.

Lasker has always been one of my favorite players and his Manual one of my favorite books. I've returned to it many times since I first became interested in chess and each time I've learned something new. After finding the BCM material on Lasker I reread his chapter on 'Position Play' and was surprised to discover a description of the difference between computer play and human play.

A spirit with a large and roomy brain who without error could keep in mind millions of variations would have no need of planning. Frail, weak man can clearly keep in mind only half a dozen variations since he has but little time to spare for Chess. And if he by chance had more time for it and in addition had genius for the game, to see through hundreds of variations would turn his brain. His reason was not made to be a substitute for a printed table. His mind has a marvellous faculty which enables him to conceive deep and far-sighted plans without being subject to the necessity of examining every possibility.

I took that quote from a full length copy of Lasker's Manual that can be found at xspace.com/kloro. A few years ago I spent a lot of time on a series titled Lasker's Moves that Matter. It was time well spent.

17 April 2012

From the Complex to the Simple

Here's a theoretical position that I encountered in one of my recent games. Is it a win or a draw? That depends on which side is to move.

If Black is on move, it's a draw. The move 1...b6 (or 1...b5) practically forces the exchange of Pawns. White can't catch the a-Pawn with the King, because it's outside the Pawn's square.

If White is on move, it's a win for White, despite the a-Pawn of the wrong color for the Bishop. White eventually confines the Black King to the corner square with the Bishop on the a7-g1 diagonal and the King on c7. The ensuing zugzwang forces Black to move the b-Pawn, when it's quickly over.

Note that with White on move, the zugzwang only works because the Bishop is on the dark squares. With Bishop on the light squares, the game is drawn.

Another surprising point is that White to move can win if the King starts on h1. While 1.Kg1, reaching the diagram with Black to move, doesn't work, the move 1.Kg2 sets up another maneuver which works because the Bishop is on the long diagonal. After 1...b6, White can stop the a-Pawn with the Bishop because the White King arrives just in time to take over the defense of the b-Pawn.

These observations allowed me to resolve more complicated positions. Reducing from the complex to the simple is one of the basic tools for endgame play.

16 April 2012

Been There, Done That with the Lesser Moves

Returning to Been There, Done That, I added The Lesser Moves after 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 to Improve Your Chess Game. Although the idea of 'Lesser Moves' could be used to analyze other opening positions, I've never thought of any as striking as the well known position after 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3.

15 April 2012

The Great Pretenders

I've already noted that There's Gold in Them Thar Score Sheets!, and the item pictured below is another example. The title of the auction was 'Soviet Chess Score Sheet 1974 Karpov - Polugaevsky Signed, Pretenders Tournament', where 'Pretenders Tournament' means 'Candidates Matches', as in 1973-75 Candidates Matches.

The seller of the item was bulkcover, who is often featured in this series on Top eBay Chess Items by Price and was last seen in World Championship Chess Pins. The scoresheet received 36 bids from six bidders, finally selling for US $741. The description mentioned that it is indeed the original (not a carbon copy).

Up for the auction the original score sheet of the World Chess Crown Pretenders Selection Tournament played in Moscow in Jan 1974, from the game Karpov - Polugaevsky (game nr.6). The official stationery printed sheet of Moscow Central Chess Club, game recorded by hand of GM Anatoly Karpov in Russian chess notation and signed by him in front side and by GM Lev Polugaevsky on the backside, not signed by the arbiters of tournament. In very good condition, unique item. Sized 10 x 29 cm.

For the complete game score, see Anatoli Karpov vs Lev Polugaevsky; Moscow cqf 1974 on Chessgames.com. Karpov won the quarterfinal match against Polugaevsky, then beat Spassky in the semifinal match and Korchnoi in the final match. In 1975 he won the World Champion title by default when Fischer refused to play.

13 April 2012

Wearing Stripes with Checks

My most recent post, A Range of Mental States, was not appropriate for April 1st, and this next post is not suitable for Flickr Friday the 13th. I liked the photo anyway.

Gondoliers Playing Chess © Flickr user mswern under Creative Commons.

The tags mentioned Venice, Italy, in case you hadn't figured it out.

01 April 2012

A Range of Mental States

You know it's a slow week on Chess for All Ages when every post features a chess image. So far we've had Chess Even Sells Women's Accessories, The Giant Claw, and Chess at Disney's Magic Kingdom. For this post, the next in the series Top eBay Chess Items by Price, we have the image shown below.

Titled 'Federico Andreotti chess game painting 1876 London, Italian artist Italy', the painting sold as 'Best Offer' for US $2400 (plus $600 shipping). It was also a slow fortnight on eBay, as this was one of only three auctions that interested me. If I hadn't picked the painting, I would have chosen a tournament book signed by Fischer. The otherwise unremarkable book sold for $837.77 after a bidding frenzy involving ten bidders where the price doubled in the last 30 seconds.

I much prefer this painting to the previous one featured in Who's Really Winning. Its description said,

Stunning 1876 painting by international Italian artist, Federico Andreotti (1847-1930). Oil on canvas measures 20 x 30 inches. Depicted here is a dramatically and intense game of chess between two courtly gentlemen of the 17th century. Andreotti's ability and level of competence to express a range of attitudes and mental states is quite impressive. Lighting effects are masterful. Beautiful detailing in documentation of costumes. The painting was clearly made in London (and almost certainly for an English patron) as indicated [by] the canvas maker, and attests to Andreotti's presence in London during this time. [...]

Signed and dated lower right. Signature is revealed to be original and authentic under UV light investigation. Windsor & Newton of London stamp on canvas, verso.

This was followed by a three paragraph bio of Andreotti. Curious about the bio's source, I entered the phrase 'studies prepared him well for his chosen subject matter' and got dozens of matches. I couldn't figure out which one was the original.