31 January 2013

Countries with World Top-100 Players

It's been a few years since I looked at FIDE rating lists. When I went back to the last post, Players Missing from FIDE Ratings (January 2011), I remembered why. The lists are crippled. Entire countries are missing, apparently because their federations haven't paid their dues.

Mark Crowther, in THE WEEK IN CHESS 948 (7 January 2013), also complained about this.

I use the full rating list for working on tournaments and games and noticed that for [Schachfestival Basel 2013] players outside the top 100 from Hungary (now back in as of 3rd Jan) and Montenegro don't have ratings, presumably their Federations have fallen behind in payments. This and the complete removal of players from the list (eg 20 English players who aren't ECF members, Cubans who have left Cuba those are just the ones I know about) is not terribly convenient if you actually want to use the list for real work.

FIDE earns massive fees from its rating service. A look at the number of players from the 1 January list for each of the past four years shows tremendous growth.

  • 2010: 109556
  • 2011: 114806
  • 2012: 135537
  • 2013: 151322

These numbers don't tell the full story; the last time Argentina, for example, appeared on the list was in 2009, with over 1400 players. It's beyond me why the organization would want to cripple this sort of cash cow, but FIDE often takes mercurial action that makes no sense. Remember when Kasparov and Short were removed from the list after organizing their 1993 PCA World Championship match? Shooting itself in the foot is a long FIDE tradition.

Not having a valid rating list to work with, I decided to look at the January list of top-100 players instead. The chart on the left shows the number of players from each country having at least two players on the list. Not surprisingly, Russia (RUS) leads with 24 players out of the 102 names on the list (three players are tied at no.100 with ratings of 2650).

The 17 countries listed here plus the 14 countries with a single player (Norway included, but what a player!) mean that nearly 20% of FIDE national federations are represented. The Ukraine at no.2 isn't too much of a surprise, but France at no.3? China at no.4? These aren't the results I expected to see.

I would like to take a closer look at the players from the countries that lead the list, so I'll come back to it in a future post. I'll also come back to the full January 2013 list. There are a few changes from a year ago that are worth noting.

29 January 2013

Soltis on Kaufman's Material Imbalances

In a pair of recent posts, I introduced some important references for the theory of material imbalances in chess: Kaufman's Material Imbalances and Notes on Material Imbalances. I ended that second post with a reference to Soltis's 'Rethinking the Chess Pieces'. The primary value of Soltis's work is in its numerous examples of unusual material that appeared in master play, where he documented the positions and analyzed their continuations. To put his examples into context, he made nearly two dozen references to Kaufman's earlier work. These provide avenues for further investigation.

p.17 - In 'Rethinking', as are the other page references below.

Jose Capablanca acknowledged the transitory nature of piece values when he wrote, in 'A Primer of Chess', that a Knight becomes weaker as pieces are traded off but a Rook becomes stronger. Timoshchenko quantified this, saying computer programs should be adjusted so that a Knight increases in value 3 to 5 percent after a trade of Rooks and decreases 5 to 10 percent after a swap of Queens.

American IM Larry Kaufman, in his own database survey of 300,000 games, concluded Capa's observation about Rooks and Knights was true about Pawn exchanges, not just piece exchanges. Soviet-era trainers gave this a different slant: Bishops increase in value compared with other pieces as the game goes on, they said. Even a casual look at the board can tell you that.


If we can't trust the chart [1/3/5/9], what can we rely on? Today's masters try to answer this in either of two ways. Some argue that the chart is skewed and the numbers just have to be tweaked. Kaufman, for example, said a Queen should be seen as worth 9.75 units. A Knight is worth 3.25 but that should be increased by 1/16th, he said, for each of his Pawns more than five that is traded.

Even if this is mathematically correct it is virtually useless when you are playing a game of chess. The other approach, taken by some top grandmasters, is that charts, rules, and guidelines do not matter - only calculation does. But calculation has to be based on some element of evaluation. Chess is more than visualizing a position four moves ahead.

I suspect we can get better answers than this in judging and appraising material - and to start we need to examine what goes into a piece's value.


Kaufman's database statistics indicated a normal Rook Pawn is 0.15 less valuable than other Pawns. It simply improves in value after it shifts one file toward the center.

p.37 - Timoshchenko's work is referenced in my 'Notes' post.

Timoshchenko's database survey indicated that the average Bishop is equal to the average Knight when there are· four Pawns each on the board. If there are more Pawns, the Knight is better. Fewer Pawns, the Bishop is better. (Kaufman's survey said the break-even point was five, not four.)


Leaving positional considerations aside for the moment, Kaufman's statistical analysis of 300,000 games offered this conclusion: Every "even" exchange is apt to favor one side or the other, sometimes by a substantial amount.

This sounds paradoxical but is consistent with what we know about the way piece values change in the course of the game. They change because trades of pieces and Pawns will improve or decrease the value of the material that remains on the board. We can readily see that in certain endings, such as with Rooks and Bishops of opposite color. The presence of Rooks gives the superior side more winning ideas, such as mate or an Exchange sacrifice.


Kaufman's observation also applies to many early and late middlegame situations. For example, a player with the two Bishops generally benefits by trades of Rooks. This can be explained by saying that the trade cuts down Rook counterplay, clears the path for his King and allows the Bishops to dominate.

p.110 - 'Tournament chess is not played with fractions', unless the player is an engine.

Some imbalances are fairly "even" but rare, such as Queen -vs.- three minor pieces. The Exchange (Rook -vs.- [minor] piece) is not close to even but increasingly common today and that makes it an appropriate place to start. What would make it "even"? Tarrasch offered the most widely accepted equation when he put the difference between Rook and minor piece at 1 1/2 Pawns. He said this "holds more for the endgame, not for the opening and the first part of the middlegame."

That is the most widely accepted formula today but the debate has been going on for generations. Sarratt, Staunton and later Capablanca, felt two Pawns was just about right. Petrosian said one Pawn. Steinitz said a Rook was slightly superior to a Knight and two Pawns but slightly worse than a Bishop and two Pawns. Purdy said proper compensation depended on the total number of Pawns on the board. Kaufman's database survey concluded that the Exchange was worth one and three quarter Pawns -- and this was reduced to one and a quarter if the player with the minor piece held the two Bishops.

But tournament chess is not played with fractions. Most players translate Tarrasch into a guideline: One Pawn may be sufficient compensation, two Pawns almost always is.


In endings a trade of Rooks is likely to benefit the player with the Exchange. But as noted in the diagrams on p.60 and p. 112 [both endgames] there are exceptions here too. Kaufman said the value of the Exchange becomes more than two Pawns when Queens and a pair of Rooks are off the board.

Trading minor pieces is likely to help the player with the Rook. But there is a major exception: when it is a Bishop-for-Knight trade that gives the opponent the two Bishops.

p.148 - The reference to Neishtadt isn't sourced. Neither is the reference to Spielmann, although his name appears as often as Kaufman's.

Perhaps the most accurate conclusion is that the Rook and piece need one and a half Pawns to balance the Queen. "In order to draw a fine line between profit and loss it's necessary to cut a Pawn in two," Neishtadt wrote.

Spielmann felt this was true if the minor piece was a Knight. If it was a Bishop, one Pawn was enough, he said. Kaufman's database indicated the difference between the two pieces was marginal.


This is a crucial point that can't be emphasized enough: extra pieces usually help the Queen more than the Rooks. Kaufman's survey found that the chart-based claim of Queen+Pawn being equal to two Rooks "is only true with no minor pieces on the board. With two or more minors each, the Queen needs no Pawn to equal the Rooks."


The addition of other material helps the Queen so much that Kaufman claimed that if you begin a game with one player removing his Queen and the other his Rooks, the Queen would have a big edge. (Staunton and Sarratt would surely have agreed.) This is something the reader can test for himself.


There is no better imbalance than Queen -vs.- pieces to illustrate Kaufman's conclusion about trades - "every 'even' exchange is apt to favor one side or the other, sometimes by a substantial amount." Trades will generally hurt the Queen as we saw in the second diagram on p. 162. But there are exceptions, based on the availability of targets and the degree of piece cooperation.


This provides support for another generalization, suggested by Kaufman. Based on his database survey, he found that the two Bishops were worth almost the same as a tempo. So, if you have to decide whether to spend a tempo on retreating a Bishop, or trading it off, "it's a tough call," he wrote in Chess Life.


Sacrifices such as 9...Nd4 are sound when two conditions are met - (a) the opponent's Pawns are fixed on one color and (b) he must give up his good Bishop for a Knight. The result is that the sacrificer obtains the two Bishops and his opponent has a bad Bishop. The two factors, added together, are worth a Pawn. (This has been confirmed by Kaufman's database survey.)


"Once a player no longer has both his Bishops, Knights and Bishops become practically equal," Purdy wrote. Kaufman's database survey came to the same conclusion: "An unpaired Bishop and Knight" -- such as in positions in which the minor pieces are Bishop+Knight -vs.- two Knights or Bishop -vs.- Knight -- "are of equal value."

But, Kaufman added, a pair of Bishops are worth on average an extra half Pawn. Timoshchenko's earlier database offered evidence for this. It found that two Bishops scored at least 62% against Bishop+Knight when each side has at least two Pawns each.


Trades of Pawns will, of course, change the value of Bishops and Knights. Timoshchenko came to the conclusion that Knights decrease by three to five percent after each pair of Pawns are swapped. Kaufman went further and concluded that the two Bishops were worth less than half a Pawn when less than half of the 16 Pawns had been traded -- but more than half a Pawn when most of the Pawns have been traded.


Spielmann felt that two Bishops+Rook+Pawn for two Rooks+Knight is even. Kaufman's database confirmed that but found that if a pair of Rooks is traded, the second player is slightly better. (His redundancy has been reduced.)


Nevertheless, the superiority of Queen+Knight is vastly overstated. When the Pawns are flexible and the Bishop is not bad, the edge is slight. Kaufman said the difference was "trivial" in his database survey.

p.191 - The January 2003 Chess Life is a resource I had overlooked until now.

Kaufman tested Lasker's chart in another way, as he reported in the January 2003 Chess Life. Kaufman used 25 different versions or settings of strong computer programs to play matches of 50 games to see what would happen if a game began with missing Pawns. He concluded that Lasker vastly overrated the value of center Pawns and "somewhat" underestimated the value of Rook Pawns but was otherwise fairly accurate.


Kaufman found that a player with an extra piece -vs.- three Pawns will have a winning advantage if he also holds the two Bishops. It would only be a slight disadvantage if the difference is four Pawns, he added.


This led some players to think that three pieces naturally dominate the Rooks regardless of extra Pawns. Yet Steinitz said two Bishops+Knight is only slightly better than two Rooks. Kaufman's database survey found evidence to support that but he said the superiority of the pieces was solely due to the two Bishops. If the imbalance is two Knights+Bishop -vs.- two Rooks there is no appreciable edge, he said.

The many references to Spielmann need to be pursued, as does the Kaufman article in the January 2003 Chess Life.

28 January 2013

Karpov TMER (1985-)

The logical follow-on to last week's Karpov TMER (1960-1984) is Karpov's Tournament, Match, and Exhibition Record (1985-), again added to my page on Chess History. For more about the TMER project, see About to Tripod and Green Light for TMERs.

27 January 2013

Things I Learned from the WCF (*)

The last time I featured Stan Vaughan on my blogs was for a couple of posts in November 2009: Who Owns the World Championship? and Counting Down to the 2010 FIDE Election. Thanks to his frequent press releases sent by email, I've been following Vaughan ever since. Here are a few of the things that I've learned in the past year (with minor editing for spelling and punctuation).

Subject: Updated World Chess Federation World Champions listings
Sent: Tuesday, January 31, 2012 9:37 PM

The updated official World Chess Champions recognized by World Chess Federation through the 2011 WCF World Chess Congress in Las Vegas is at www.wcfchess.com under World Chess Federation hall of Fame. The new changes reflect 2010 nominations by GM Larry Evans to include Tarrasch, Rubinstein, Schlechter and Trifunovic as having earned shares of the official WCF titles through matches played.

Subject: 5 million WCF title match 2012 coverage inquiry
Sent: Friday, May 25, 2012 12:28 AM

After the two previous sites scheduled Mizpah Resort and thereafter Stirling Club las Vegas both went bankrupt, a contract for the site of the WCF 2012 5 million title match first to 11 wins has been set for THE MOB MUSEUM, Las Vegas, Nevada scheduled for approx start mid June. The world's largest online shoe company sponsors are requesting before Monday when they meet with WCF President Martirosyan that we provide email committments from potential media coverage of this historic event.

The winner of the match is tentatively set to accept challenge from Pal Benko to play a followup WCF title match also in 2012 to start approx Sept as a 20th anniversary of WCF #1 Fischer Spassky 1992, to be played in Montenegro. Benko had given up his spot to Fischer so that Fischer-Spassky 1972 was able to occur and now gets his belated shot at the WCF title. The same sponsor, Janos Kubat would be sponsoring that second title match. So lots of exciting WCF title match first to 11 wins Fischer rules draws don't count and 10 moves per hour chess is ahead! Please RSVP asap of any chess media outlets we can inform sponsors will be giving live coverage commentary on the games.

Subject: Vaughan sets another world record in international chess tournament today!
Sent: Sunday, June 10, 2012 5:46 PM

Fresh off the heels of a 12-0 sweep at the Bulgarian Open 2012, Vaughan set another record today with a knockout over his round 1 opponent from India which is the shortest checkmate in international chess tournament history. Here was the game! (Now can he also win in November versus Dina Titus for US Congress District 1 Nevada?) Vaughan had Black.

1. a4 d5 2. g4 Bxg4 3. f3 e5 4. fxg4 Qh4 checkmate 0-1 !!

Subject: Famed chess artist LeRoy Neiman passes away at age 91
Sent: Thursday, June 21, 2012 2:23 PM

LeRoy Nieman, the painter and sketch artist best known for the world's biggest sporting and leisure events, has died Wednesday at age 91. Nieman was a media savvy artist who knew how to enthrall audiences with his instant renditions of what he saw. In 1972 he sketched the world famous chess match between Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky in Reykjavik, Iceland for a live television audience.

Subject: WHAT WERE THEY THINKING? Tobey McGuire as Bobby Fischer?
Sent: Friday, August 24, 2012 9:49 PM

It has just been reported today that the 5' 6" actor Tobey McGuire [sic; 'Maguire'], noted for appearing as superhero Spiderman in 3 movies, will be playing the towering 6' 3" Bobby Fischer in upcoming movie PAWN SACRIFICE which focuses on Fischer in the sixties through defeat of Spassky in 1972. This chess journalist is wondering what were they thinking in casting McGuire who is nine inches shorter than the tall, handsome Fischer?

Subject: Story I just did for chess magazine about Bobby Fischer's father
Sent: Saturday, August 25, 2012 6:42 PM

Exclusive for GEORGIA CHESS: In the fall of 1962, Peter Nemenyi, the older brother of Bobby Fischer, went to Atlanta, GEORGIA to work with the SNCC (Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee) that had organized the Greensboro lunch counter sit-ins. The SNCC was affiliated with another Atlanta organization, that of Martin Luther King and the Southern Christian Leadership Council. (SCLC). Peter was later also involved with his skills in statistics with voter registration drives that took him to places such as Jackson, Mississippi where he was at when civial rights activist Medgar Evers was killed and attended his funeral. He also was in the Selma march with John Lewis, etc.

Anyway Peter related the story of how after his and Bobby Fischer's father Paul Nemenyi was arrested April 1, 1933 by the Nazis in Berlin at which time he was stripped of his professorship at the University of Berlin, that he came to the United States where Albert Einstein got him a job with his son at the University of Iowa.

Peter related how his father was scolded for showing up at a meeting without a tie. He related that his father responded that he thought America was a place where one was judged on their intellectual content and not on their external appearance. The story made an impression upon King he decided to change it slightly to content of your character instead of intellect and color of your skin instead of external appearance. And so now you know the chess connection to the famous 1963 'I Have A Dream' speech of Martin Luther King inspired by Bobby Fischer's father, Paul Nemenyi.

Subject: World Chess Federation "The World Chess Championship " Title match underway in Las Vegas
Sent: Monday, November 5, 2012 7:46 AM

The Red carpet Grand Opening for the World Chess Federation WCF #11 World Chess Championship Title Match Opening Ceremony took place today at Tivoli Village in Las Vegas. The event was attended by over 100 members of the media and was opened by a speech from WCF President Martirosyan. WCF champion Vaughan gave a simul with all proceeds going to Nevada Blind Children Foundation and won all games.

Official Challenger Ron Gross manned the demonstration board as Vaughan also gave a Blindfold Knight Tour which will be posted on Youtube within next couple of days. Prizes were donated by numerous sponsors including Chess N Games and a silent auction also held. The evening was completed with the drawing of colors using matroisyka dolls one of which had a black pawn the other a white pawn. The result is that the challenger selected a doll with the black pawn and so the defdning champion will have white in game 1. Rounds will be held each Monday Wednesday and Friday with the winner being the first to win 11 games, draws not counting.

Subject: Photos from World Chess Federation World Chess Championship Opening ceremonies after party in Las Vegas
Sent: Tuesday, November 6, 2012 1:42 AM

http://www.facebook.com/#!/LasVegasRussianClub/photos_stream • [For the first photo in the chess series, see LAS Vegas Russian CLUB's Photos, and click 'Previous' for more].

Subject: New Report today Nov 12 in Trends in Genetics says humans must start playing chess to reverse an alarming trend of lowering intelligence IQ
Sent: Monday, November 12, 2012 9:09 PM

A new report out today, November 12, in the medical journal Trends in Genetics suggests that we are seeing what was spoofed in the movie Idiocracy is indeeed true. Human intelligence is seeing average intelligence lowering at an alarming rate. The journal suggests an attempt to reverse this alarming trend by introducing the teaching of chess to humans to develop intelligence skills.

Subject: World Chess Federation Blindfold Exhibition
Sent: Tuesday, November 20, 2012 4:03 AM

Now on Youtube.com. Search 'World Chess Federation Blindfold Knight Tour' to get the amazing 9 segment WCF Opening ceremonies exhibition

For Vaughan's latest exploit, see Bobby Fischer to be made a SAINT! on kevinspraggett.blogspot.com. For more about the man behind the WCF, see Stan Vaughan on tartajubow.blogspot.com. Some people have characterized Vaughan as a humorist. While there might be some tongue-in-cheek in the WCF news, I believe he is serious about his chess and I might come back to some of the more controversial of his missives.

(*) WCF = World Chess Federation

25 January 2013

An Ice Rook

Chess Piece in Ice, London Ice Sculpting Festival 2013, Canary Wharf © Flickr user chrisjohnbeckett under Creative Commons.

'This photo was invited and added to the London Ice Sculpting Festival group.'

24 January 2013

The Simple and the Complex

One of the standard techniques to understand an endgame is to introduce small changes into the position, then determine how the changes affect the initial evaluation. I applied this technique to a position I discovered in a recent post on Drawn Rook Endgames Despite a Two Pawn Advantage (the reference no.2378 is explained in that post).

The position on the left is a draw. According to the tablebase, Black's only move to achieve it is 1...Rf2+. Now if 2.Ke6, 2...Rg2 wins the g-Pawn, leaving an elementary Rook and Pawn draw. White to move in the diagram wins with 1.e5

The same start position, shifted one file to the left is shown in the right diagram. I expected this to be a draw also, but White wins whichever side is on move. With Black to move, 1...Re2+, echoing the solution in the first diagram, fails to 2.Kd6. The try 2...Rf2 loses to many moves, of which 3.d5 gives the fastest win.

At first I was baffled by this result, but then realized that the reason is simple. In the first diagram, the surviving Pawn is on the e-file. After eliminating the g-Pawn, the Black King ends up on the 'short side' of the Pawn (the three files to the right of the e-Pawn), while the Black Rook is on the 'long side' (the four files to the left). The Rook has sufficient space to harrass the White King with checks from the side.

In the second diagram, the surviving Pawn is on the d-file. This time the Black King ends up on the 'long side', while the Black Rook is on the 'short side', with insufficient space to harrass the White King.

Chess can be so simple and so complex at the same time. This is even more true of the endgame than of the other phases.

22 January 2013

Notes on Material Imbalances

The chess piece values calculated from Kaufman's Material Imbalances are the latest in a long line of approximations. The history of their evolution is documented in The Value of the Chess Pieces by Edward Winter.

In the 19th century, Staunton, and later Steinitz, presented a curious set of values which seem too complicated for practical play.

In Staunton's Handbook, page 34, it is stated that some scientists have calculated the approximate mathematical value, to be as follows: Taking the pawn as the unit, the Knight is worth 3.05; the Bishop 3.50; the Rook 5.48; and the Queen 9.94.

On this basis, which in the main is in accordance with our own experience and observations, we shall proceed to indicate, in connection with the above approximate valuation, some of the most important general principles of regulating the actions of the men which we believe are now mostly accepted by the strongest masters of the day, and the knowledge of which very often enables the player to dispense with analysis, or at any rate greatly assists his calculations. • Relative Value of Pieces and Principles of Play, 'From The Modern Chess Instructor by Wilhelm Steinitz'

This was eventually simplified to the 1/3/5/9(10) system that all players learn as beginners. Skipping ahead to Kaufman's ground breaking essay, a book which predated it by a year or two was 'Secrets Of Modern Chess Strategy' by John Watson (Gambit 1998), a winner of several 'Book of the Year' awards. He underscored the evolution of thought on the value of pieces by spending one chapter in the first half of the book ('Traditional'),

Part 1: The Refinement of Traditional Theory
6: Minor-Piece Issues

and five chapters in the second half ('Modern'),

Part 2: New Ideas and the Modern Revolution
4: The Modern Bishop
5: The Contemporary Knight
6: Bishops versus Knights 1: One-on-One
7: Bishops versus Knights 2: Minor-Piece Pairs
8: The Exchange Sacrifice

Introducing the subject, he wrote,

The relative value of minor pieces stands at the core of modern chess. Time and again, superiority in the middlegame is decided by who has the better minor pieces. (p.66)

Watson also referenced another resource, 'Bishop versus Knight - The Verdict' by Steve Mayer (Batsford 1997). Kaufman noted two other essays on the subject,

  • Timoshchenko, G. (1993). 'Bishop or Knight?', ICCA Journal, Vol. 16, No. 4
  • Sturman, M. (1996). 'Beware the Bishop Pair' ICCA Journal, Vol. 19, No. 2

The most comprehensive treatment of imbalances to date is 'Rethinking the Chess Pieces' by Andrew Soltis (Batsford 2005), which pulls together much of the historical matter. I'll come back to this book in a future post.

20 January 2013

When Is a Chess Auction Not a Chess Auction?

Unlike the previous episode of Top eBay Chess Items by Price, eBay auctions over the past fortnight showed a little more life. I could have chosen a 'Complete Run 1946-67 "CHESS WORLD" C.J.S. Purdy Australia', first listed at US $2800, but finally selling 'Best offer' at around $2500 (the final price doesn't appear to be recorded on the listing). Unfortunately, the single image accompanying the auction, was uninspiring and not worth preserving for posterity.

I could also have chosen 'ALEKHINE vs BOGOLJUBOV Autographs CHESS World Championship Rematch (1934)', which sold for $1,568.99 after two bids. Unfortunately, the seller decided to uglify (is that a word?) the associated image with a watermark indicating that the image was not to be used elsewhere.

Further down the list was a '1966 Chess Olympiad Bobby Fischer in Cuba Original Vintage Photo', which sold for $517.00 after 7 bids. This was a well known photo of Fischer that is no.8 in Wade and O'Connell's book of Fischer's collected games. I decided this was too common to be interesting. We already know that Fischer photos sell like hotcakes. Further evidence is not required.

Not wanting to post another piece like Top Computer Chess Items by Price, I decided to go with the item shown on the left, 'HARD ROCK CAFE 19 CHESS KING + 15 QUEEN SERIES COMPLETE PIN SETS'. It sold for $555.00 after a single bid.

Getting back to the title of this post, 'When Is a Chess Auction Not a Chess Auction?', I would answer, 'When there's no board in sight and the six different pieces are not easily identified.' Here there are 34 guitar players wearing a crown and standing on a pedestal. It's an interesting collection, but it's not chess.

18 January 2013

Kasparov on the Day Fischer Died

Although the history books record that Bobby Fischer died on 17 January 2008, his death wasn't announced until the following day. Here is the news clip from Sky News that was broadcast five years ago today.

Bobby Fischer Chess Champion dies age 64 (6:32) • 'Uploaded on 18 Jan 2008'

Kasparov: 'He could be called the pioneer and founder of professional chess.'

17 January 2013

Drawn Rook Endgames Despite a Two Pawn Advantage

In my post on endgame statistics from the ICCF World Championships, Endgames with Equivalent Piece (and Pawns) I wrote,

What does this table show? Not much, I'm afraid. The counts are too small to draw any real conclusions, but they give a few directions for further investigation.

One of the directions for further investigation is in the section on Rook and Pawn (R+P) endgames. There we find six endgames where one side was two Pawns down, but still managed to achieve a draw. I located the six games, found the point where the specified R+P endgame started, and created the following composite diagram. (The game numbers are relative to the ICCF database I used; WTM/BTM = White/Black to move.)

The players of the six games were as follows (WC01 was the first championship, WC09 the ninth, etc.):-

  • No.0023: WC01 Collins - Van Scheltinga
  • No.0898: WC09 Porreca - Sanchez
  • No.1036: WC10 Sanakoev - Boey
  • No.1199: WC12 Krzyszton - Maeder
  • No.2378: WC22 Dronov - Kurth
  • No.2458: WC23 Almiron - Geenen

For more about the championships, including links to the corresponding PGN, see my page on Correspondence Chess Champions. The most unusual endgame for me is No.2378; the tablebase confirms the draw.

15 January 2013

Kaufman's Material Imbalances

I signed off the post on Engine Evaluation just as I was getting ready to put up the Christmas tree. The tree went up, came down just after the new year started, and is now in a compost heap somewhere. As for IM Kaufman's article 'The Evaluation of Material Imbalances', which I linked in the 'Engine' post, he identifies four types of material imbalance:-

  • Unmatched minor pieces
  • Minor piece vs. three Pawns
  • Rook vs. minor piece (the exchange)
  • Queen vs. pieces (without Queen)

Using his database analyses of these imbalances, he assigns the following values to the pieces.

  • 1.00 - P
  • 3.25 - B/N plus 0.50 for the Bishop pair
  • 5.00 - R
  • 9.75 - Q

These values are subject to modification based on other pieces still on the board. For example, the advantage of the exchange is higher for the Rook if there are no other major pieces on the board.

His values are particularly important because they are used in engine evaluations. Rybka is one example.

13 January 2013

Chess Madness

My review of Joseph G. Ponterotto's Fischer Psychobiography was generally positive except for one aspect --


-- a subject I recognized as 'a standard chapter in 21st century popular chess literature'. The chapter's subheadings are:-

  • Mental Illness Among Chess Legends of the Past
  • A Neurological Link between Creativity and Mental Illness
  • Are Elite Chess Players More Prone to Mental Illness?
  • Are Certain Career Paths More Hazardous to One’s Mental Health?
  • Well, What Are We to Make of this Data?

After previous lengthy discussions of Fischer and Morphy, the chapter lists '15 elite chess players who may have suffered from mental illness'. To save some time for future researchers on this subject, here are the 15 players (I count 16):-

  • Wilhelm Steinitz (1836-1900)
  • Akiba Rubinstein (1882-1961)
  • Alexander Alekhine (1892-1946)
  • Carlos Torre-Repetto (1905-1978)
  • Tony Miles (1955-2001)
  • Raymond Weinstein
  • Curt von Bardeleben (-1924)
  • Karen Grigorian (-1989)
  • Gregory Ilivitzky (-1989)
  • Alvis Vitolins (-1997)
  • Lembert [sic; Lembit] Oll (-1999)
  • Jessie Gilbert (-2006; at Pardubire [sic], Pardubice)
  • Gustav Neumann
  • Johannes Minckwitz
  • George Rotlewi
  • Aron Nimzowitsch

The list is a fusion (with surprisingly little overlap) of players mentioned in David Shenk's 'The Immortal Game' (Ch.8 '"Into Its Vertiginious Depths": Chess and the Shattered Mind') and Paul Hoffman's 'King's Gambit' (Ch.1 'The Insanity Defense'). As source for the Alvis Vitolins material, Hoffman cites Sosonko's 'The Jump', a New in Chess article later reprinted in 'Russian Silhouettes'.

11 January 2013

Guy Fawkes Chess

I chose this photo for the current edition of Flickr Friday with the goal of finding out if the 'occupy' masks had a name. Indeed they do: 'Guy Fawkes mask'.

keystone_jan08 © Flickr user Michael Fleshman under Creative Commons.

The photo's caption explained, 'Anonymous are anything but Pawns in their global chess game with evildoers. Union Square, New York. January 8, 2013'. Among the photo's many tags were 'Keystone XL pipeline protests' and '350 divestment campaign'.

10 January 2013

Fischer Psychobiography

It's been two weeks since I first opened Ponterotto's 'Psychobiography of Bobby Fischer' (see The Broken Bridge) and I've had plenty of time to reflect on my comment that 'I can't remember reading a more depressing chess book'. Yes, suffering from a flu and fever certainly had something to do with that assessment, but there is more to it than that.

Perhaps most significantly, depressing chess books are few and far between. I'm looking at my chess library right now and I don't see another example. Chess, for those who are intimate with its subtleties and depths, is an uplifting subject. There is so much beauty in the game that, short of a study on chess and the criminal mind, it would be hard to write anything other than an uplifting book.

What puts Ponterotto's 'Psychobiography' in its own category is that it is not really a chess book. It is a psychological study of one of the greatest chess players, where the game of chess takes a back seat to the role of psychology. Going inside someone's head can't be a pretty experience in the easiest of personalities, and Fischer was far from an easy personality.

Five years after Fischer's death, we can observe his entire lifetime in a single wide-angle view and the image is also not easy. We know that the super intelligent, quirky kid was destined for greatness, but the odds of getting there seem insurmountable. His single parent mother had no money and few prospects as she shuttled around the country with her two young children. His absent fathers -- one legal, the other biological -- left no positive marks on the boy. FBI agents were always out-of-sight just around the corner as they compiled a 1000 page dossier on his mother. The chess powers-that-be were reluctant to interfere with a phenomenon that promised to be their bread and butter for years to come (see Not So Funny). Is it any wonder that the boy was tortured by demons for his entire life? Ponterotto, a professional psychologist, explains how and why.

'A Psychobiography of Bobby Fischer' by Joseph G. Ponterotto; Charles C Thomas Publisher; May 2012; 189 pages; • 'The world knows the story of Fischer's ascent to the pinnacle of chess genius and brilliance, and it knows of his psychological decline into social isolation, paranoia, and likely mental illness. Now, for the first time, we come to understand the inner workings of Fischer's mind the genetic, personal, family, cultural, and political factors that collectively provide a penetrating window into the why of Bobby Fischer's genius and bizarre behavior.' (from the back cover) • Contains no chess games or chess positions.

Let's look at the logical flow of the book. After 30 pages of an academic style introduction, we get a short lesson on the nature of psychobiography.


This is followed by two chapters on Fischer's childhood, career, and position in chess history.


For veteran Fischer followers, like me, the most original material here is 'How did Bobby Fischer Get so Good?' This is followed by two chapters on the relationship between Fischer and his (three) parents.


Then we get to the heart of the book, Fischer's psychology.


As I hinted in the article behind Objective About Fischer, I'm not competent to comment on the medical aspects of Fischer's condition. After numerous cautions on the limits of blind diagnosis, Ponterotto offers two known medical conditions to account for Fischer's behavior: Paranoid Personality Disorder (PPD) and Delusional Disorder. His discussion dismisses the numerous speculations, whether informed or uninformed, made by other Fischer observers to account for his peculiar behavior. It also lays the foundation for further discussions as new information is brought to light. For a first hand summary of Ponterotto's analysis, see A Psychological Autopsy of Bobby Fischer (psmag.com; December 2010).

After this unique analysis, the book takes a strange, perhaps even a wrong, turn. It is unclear to me why Morphy makes an appearance, other than to introduce the unpleasant topic of a connection between chess mastery and madness.


Once again the diagnosis, this time for Morphy, is Delusional Disorder, once again after numerous cautions. This leads to what is now becoming a standard chapter in 21st century popular chess literature.


Ponterotto cites both David Shenk's The Immortal Game: A History of Chess and Paul Hoffman's King's Gambit, two popular books published in the last ten years; the links are to my (archived) reviews of those books. After this digression, he returns to the nominal subject of his own book.


Missing in this final discussion is another favorite subject of amateur Fischer psychologists: Did chess make him crazy or did chess keep him sane? It's often pointed out that the Fischer's most bizarre behavior came later in his life, well after he stopped playing professionally. The 1992 match against Spassky served mainly as a checkpoint to confirm his decline.

Also missing is any mention of his two major accomplishments from the last two decades of his life: the Fischer clock and Fischer random chess (chess960). Both inventions have already changed the course of chess history and the idea for random chess might eventually turn out to have been his most important contribution to chess, eclipsing even his overthrow of the Soviet chess hegemony in 1972.

Fischermania will continue to be an important aspect of chess for a long, long time. So will Joseph Ponterotto's conclusions.

08 January 2013

Some Closure Required

A month of casual blogging has left me scratching my head about what I was working on before the year end holidays. After a long series of light posts, it's time to get back to weightier subjects, but what exactly? I know there's a book review lingering from

I also have extensive notes somewhere to pull together on

  • Engine Evaluation, a subject which threatens to fragment into a multitude of related topics.

Endgames are always an important topic on this blog. The latest incipient series was

Before the 'Equivalent Piece' idea, I had an endgame series started on

Going back even further was

It's no wonder I couldn't remember what I was working on. It's a huge pile of loose threads! Let's see what I can do with it in the weeks to come.

07 January 2013

Green Light for TMERs

Three weeks have passed since I noted in Light and Lustre, 'In a few weeks I'll look at the statistics for Anand's TMER and Kasparov's TMER to decide if it's worth converting any of the other TMER [Tournament, Match, and Exhibition Records] pages'. Here are all of the pages converted for the About to Tripod project, in descending order of average page views per day:-

Since the two TMER pages both rank in the top half of the list, I'll take that as a green light to continue with the rest. TBD: Kramnik, Staunton, and Karpov (x2). Then I'll bring all TMERs up-to-date and add a new page for A Magnus Carlsen Game Collection.

06 January 2013

Top Computer Chess Items by Price

Just as I predicted in the pre-Christmas post for Top eBay Chess Items by Price (see A Chess Set Fit for the Queen of England), auction listings dry up in the weeks after Christmas. When nothing in particular attracts my attention, I tend to use a composite listing like the one shown below. Call it 'Top eBay Computer Chess Items by Price'.

Since the bidding details are just barely discernible from the image, I won't repeat the information. The most striking aspect of these auctions is that all items sold on their first listing.

04 January 2013

University Project

Documentary short - Chess (5:40) • 'A university project I was given, to produce a 4 minute documentary on any topic & demonstrate use of camera shots + editing techniques.'

Very well done, indeed!

02 January 2013