22 September 2017

Chess in the Sky

Anyone can see that's a chess King, right? But how was it made?

The world’s a game of chess, and we’re just pawns. Who’ll make the next move? © Flickr user Rasagy Sharma under Creative Commons.

Hint: One of the tags said, 'Bangalore', which is 'the third most populous city and fifth most populous urban agglomeration in India', according to Wikipedia's page on Bangalore.

21 September 2017

Win a Million Bucks

Seen on Slashdot.org ('News for nerds, stuff that matters'): Solve a 'Simple' Chess Puzzle, Win $1 Million. Sounds good to me! What's the catch?

Researchers at the University of St Andrews have thrown down the gauntlet to computer programmers to find a solution to a "simple" chess puzzle which could, in fact, take thousands of years to solve, and net a $1 million prize. [...] Devised in 1850, the Queens Puzzle originally challenged a player to place eight queens on a standard chessboard so that no two queens could attack each other. This means putting one queen in each row, so that no two queens are in the same column, and no two queens in the same diagonal. Although the problem has been solved by human beings, once the chess board increases to a large size no computer program can solve it.

The catch is in that last sentence, 'the chess board increases to a large size'. As the original article, "Simple" chess puzzle holds key to $1m prize (st-andrews.ac.uk; August 2017), put it,

Once the chess board reached 1000 squares by 1000, computer progams could no longer cope with the vast number of options and sunk into a potentially eternal struggle akin to the fictional "super computer" Deep Thought in Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which took seven and a half million years to provide an answer to the meaning of everything.

A related paper, 'Complexity of n-Queens Completion' by Ian P. Gent, Christopher Jefferson, and Peter Nightingale (School of Computer Science, University of St Andrews), published in the Journal of Artificial Intelligence Research 59 (2017) explains everything. But be careful -- you'll need to be a math whiz just to get through the 'Abstract'.

Google image search on 'chess eight queens'

Even the 8-by-8 version isn't that easy to solve. An algorithmic approach of using the Knight's move to place the next Queen -- shown above in the top row, third from left (or bottom row, ditto) -- leaves two Queens on the long diagonal (a8-h1). 'Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?', indeed.

19 September 2017

Chess at the IMDb

In a recent post, Was Fischer Really Against the Whole World?, I referenced IMDb page for the chess documentary by Liz Garbus, Bobby Fischer Against the World (2011) (imdb.com), and wrote,

See also the section titled 'People who liked this also liked...'

That section looks something like the following image.

IMDb: 'People who liked this also liked...'

The eight thumbnails each lead to a corresponding IMDb page, which I've summarized in the following list.

The first seven titles are well known chess movies, while the last title is another documentary by Liz Garbus. As you might expect, clicking on any title leads to another set of 'People also liked' titles. The first film in the list, 'Me and Bobby Fischer', leads to almost the same list, with the exception of the last title, which shows another Magnus movie. (It carries the same name as the current World Champion, but has nothing to do with him.)

For hundreds of chess references from IMDb, see Results for "chess" [imdb.com].

18 September 2017

A Quarrel About Ratings

In the previous post, Ratings Correlated to Performance, I looked at the 1951 U.S. Chess Championship, the first U.S. championship played after the introduction of U.S chess ratings. In this post I'll introduce a small quarrel about the use of ratings to determine participants in that event. The 5 December 1951 issue of Chess Life (CL) included the following letter.

Dear Mr. Major,

I aspire some day to play in the U.S. Championship Finals. I have never had the honor. The only way I know how is to do well enough in tournament competition, so as to attain a rating that will merit an invitation to the preliminaries. This year I thought I did, but I discovered it was not enough. Three of the participants in the U.S. Championship Preliminaries were rated below me in the Rating List of December 31, 1950. I have no way of telling how many others who were rated below me were extended invitations which they declined, or for that matter how many rated above me were likewise skipped.

I wrote a letter of inquiry to Mr. Hans Kmoch in his capacity as Tournament Director. Specifically I asked him the basis for the invitations. His reply appeared to me as a masterpiece of double talk. For example, on the one hand he said that he would have invited me if be had known I was eager to play, and on the other hand that he tried to contact me but failed to do so. Consider this contradiction further in the light of these facts: The USCF had canvassed me more than once regarding my availability and I had always replied in the affirmative. Mr. Phillipps had no trouble at all in reaching me in his drive for tournament contributions.

On my fundamental question regarding the basis for the invitations. Mr Kmoch had this to say: that the Rating System so far has not been accepted as binding for the order of invitations, that the original selections were made by a committee, and that there were subsequent withdrawals and last minute substitutions. No explanation of the basis for either the original selections or the later substitutions.

I present these facts not primarily as a personal grievance, since obviously it is too late to undo past events. However. I am interested in correcting a bad situation.

How long shall we tolerate a double standard in American chess -- a rating system for window dressing and a little black address book for extending invitations to the National Championship Tournaments?

I lay no claim to the infallibility of the U.S. Rating System, or for that matter to any other quantitative method for evaluating qualitative performance. On the contrary, I have some serious quarrels with it. Nevertheless I admit I know of no large equitable method for evaluating relative performance of a large number of players.

Can Mr. Kmoch or anybody else suggest a better way to evaluate relative skill? The fact remains that another system was used in issuing invitations to the last National Championship.

Perhaps Mr. Kmoch can explain it in detail to the satisfaction of Chess Life readers. If it is superior, it can be incorporated into or substituted for future ratings. The other possibility is that factors other than skill were considered in issuing invitations. If so, may I ask what they were?

Jack Soudakoff
New York City, N.Y.

The 5 January 1952 issue of CL included the following article by Hans Kmoch. Although it mentions ratings only once, it serves a second purpose in documenting the difficulties of organizing the 1951 championship.

The U. S. Championship Tournament; by Hans Kmoch
USCF Vice-President and Secretary of Tournament Committee

Two years ago the Tournament Committee, under the co-chairmanship of Messrs George E. Roosevelt and Maurice Wertheim, worked out a tentative schedule for the 1950 Championship, to be held as an invitational tournament, and the championships thereafter, to be open for especially qualified participants. On December 1, 1949, Mr. Wertheim sent a summarizing report of the Tournament Committee's suggestions to President Giers. On April 4, 1950, President Giers wrote the Tournament Committee that its suggestions had been accepted by the Board of Directors.

Unfortunately, a number of unforeseen events caused delay in the 1950 Championship. There was first of all the paralyzing blow delivered to the Tournament Committee by the death of Mr. Wertheim; there was the participation of a U.S. team in the so-called Chess Olympics at Dubrovnik, Yugoslavia, in August and September 1950; then there was the change in the Presidency of the USCF which had been impending for some months before it became a fact. I may add, if it matters, that I myself as the secretary of the Tournament Committee, had been absent from this country for seven months (June-December, 1950).

Our new President, Mr. Phillips, did great efforts to reactivate the Tournament Committee and get the postponed 1950 Championship held in 1951.

On March 1951 the Tournament Committee met and came to the conclusion the postponed Championship should he held in August 1951 with 14-16 participants. On April 19, 1951 the Tournament Committee decided on a list of 16 participants by name. On May 5, 1951, the Tournament Committee changed the schedule for the 1951 Championship in such a way that 24 players could participate instead of 16 while the number of rounds would increase only from 15 to l6.

On June 11, 1951, invitations were sent out to the selected players. As for the additional names, the Tournament Committee had accepted the National Rating List as a guide, emphasizing, however, it had no obligation to follow that List.

The 1951 Championship tournament was held in New York from July 28 to August 19. 1951

During June 11 to July 28 many changes in the list of the participants became necessary, because some of the invitees were unavailable, some made claims which USCF had no chance to fulfill, some needed time to decide, and some didn't answer at all.

As time went on. the difficulUes to get substitutes were mounting. To many players, the idea of acting as a substitute had a humiliating touch. Others could not accept at short notice, while still others did but later withdrew at zero notice. During the last week before the tournament, I had to work frantically so as to present a complete list of 24 players at the draw on July 28. On that day, just before the draw was to start, Herman Hesse from Pennsylvania and George Eastman from Michigan announced their withdrawals by wire. And there was still no answer from U.S. Champion Steiner.

However, I had foreseen possible trouble of this kind and was fortunate enough to find a number of distinguished players who would not mind acting, so to say, as substitutes for substitutes, willing to step in at any moment. The names of the gentlemen who by their comprehensive attitude substantually contributed to the tournament are: Edgar McCormick, Jack Collins, Dr. Ariel Mengarini, Dr. Joseph Platz, and Ed. Schwartz. McCormick had even to wait until the first round had started, for I felt that Steiner's place must be kept open until the very last minute.

The emergency job of looking for substitutes was largely done by Mr. Phillips and myself. We acted in accordance with the decisions the Tournament Committee had previously taken. Our bid to get some of the best-placed players from Fort Worth netted only Jim Cross; Eliot Hearst from New York and Lee Magee from Nebraska were unavailable.

As for our critics, we had New Yorkers who would wonder what non-New Yorkers were doing in this tournament, as well as non-New Yorkers who simply couldn't imagine why so many New Yorkers should participate. We had these who wouldn't mind a few thousand dollars if these dollars were to be produced by the USCF, those who considered themselves second to nobody in importance, those who would blame the Tournament Committee for a player's failure, and those who generally seemed to believe that ill-will was the only guide the Tournament Committee ever had.

By and large, however, the Tournament Committee's good-will was recognized. It ought to he at least as far as its members, Mrs. Wertheim, Mr. Alexander Bisno, and Mr. George E. Roosevelt, are concerned. Sapienti sat ['A word to the wise is sufficient']. The thankless job of raising the funds was accepted and in spite of tremendous difficulties satisfactorily done by Mr. Phillips.

The tournament itself was a smooth affair. There were no incidents of any importance.

Nowadays, the use of ratings to determine invitations is done routinely. When would U.S. ratings be accepted to determine invitations for the U.S. championship?

17 September 2017

Was Fischer Really Against the Whole World?

The first lesson I learned from this ongoing series on The Sociology of Chess (November 2016), is that the subject of sociology can be stretched to cover just about everything. Since chess pops up in all sorts of different cultural settings, there are plenty of sociological angles to examine.

Bobby Fischer Against The World -- Full Documentary (1:32:52) • 'A really inspiring as well as heartbreaking documentary film on Robert James Fischer, who was famously known as Bobby.'

For more about the film, see Bobby Fischer Against the World (2011) (imdb.com). Its 'Storyline' says,

'Bobby Fischer Against the World' is a documentary feature exploring the tragic and bizarre life of the late chess master Bobby Fischer. The drama of Bobby Fischer's career was undeniable, from his troubled childhood, to his rock star status as World Champion and Cold War icon, to his life as a fugitive on the run. This film explores one of the most infamous and mysterious characters of the 20th century.

See also the section titled 'People who liked this also liked...', which lists a number of chess-related movies. This documentary by Liz Garbus should not be confused with the book by Brad Darrach, 'Bobby Fischer vs. the Rest of the World', last seen on this blog in 'They Got Spies on the Line!' (April 2016). The IMDb page on Liz Garbus includes references to two more chess titles by Garbus: Chess History (Video 2011) and The Fight for Fischer's Estate (Video 2011), both running for less than ten minutes.

15 September 2017

Smallest Chess Set?

This might not have the allure of Most Hamburgers Eaten in Three Minutes or Most Pool Balls Held In One Hand, but it's still impressive.

Smallest chess set - Guinness World Records (2:02) • 'Artist Ara Ghazaryan has an exceptional eye for detail, particularly with his latest work, the world’s smallest handmade chess set'

For more about the set, see Check out the world’s smallest handmade chess set (guinnessworldrecords.com):-

Made on an incredibly minute scale, the entire board with accompanied pieces measures a total of 15.3 x 15.3 mm (0.6 in x 0.6 in), a size that amounts to be smaller than a U.S. quarter coin.

Is this really the smallest? Guinness also lists the Largest chess set: 'measures 5.89 m (19 ft 4 in) on each side'. Last year on this blog we saw Chess with Walkie-Talkies (August 2016), which beats the Guinness record holder by a country mile. Hasn't someone already constructed a small chess set molecule by molecule?

14 September 2017

A Difficult Tablebase Position

Tablebase (TB) positions make for an interesting class of endgames. While best play in most TB positions is obvious to a good player, some positions defy accurate analysis even for world class players. A recent example is a tiebreak game from the fourth round of the 2017 World Cup, currently being played in Tbilisi, Georgia.

TB games between top players are particularly difficult to annotate. On the one hand, we can't criticize a world class player for not knowing an esoteric endgame which has probably never occurred in his previous experience. On the other hand, we can't pass without comment on positions where one or both players overlook a winning or drawing continuation.

An additional problem is that every single move by either player leads to a new branch of the TB's tree of variations. The TB doesn't explain the winning plan; it just lists moves together with their eventual evaluations. It is the annotator's job to make sense of the moves played and to explain why they work or not.

Another question is how a position compares with similar positions. If we shift a TB position a file to the left or right, or a rank up or down, how does the evaluation change? Similarly, if we leave the Pawn structure the same, but move the Kings (or other pieces) to completely different squares, how then does the evaluation change?

This blog's most recent TB post was Q vs. 2B in TCEC Season 9 Superfinal Followup (December 2016). For this current post, the TB position is R+P vs. B+P, shown below. It helps to know that R vs. B is almost always a draw.

After 47.Rb6-b5(xP)

Here is the PGN for the full game, followed by a brief analysis of the critical positions reached during the game.

[Event "FIDE World Cup 2017"]
[Site "Tbilisi GEO"]
[Date "2017.09.13"]
[Round "4.2"]
[White "Aronian, Levon"]
[Black "Dubov, Daniil"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "D85"]

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nf3 Bg7 4.Nc3 d5 5.cxd5 Nxd5 6.e4 Nxc3 7.bxc3 c5 8.Be3 O-O 9.Be2 b6 10.Qd2 cxd4 11.cxd4 Bb7 12.e5 Nc6 13.h4 Qd5 14.h5 Rfd8 15.Rc1 Qa5 16.h6 Bf8 17.e6 f6 18.O-O Qxd2 19.Bxd2 Nxd4 20.Nxd4 Rxd4 21.Be3 Rdd8 22.Bb5 Bd5 23.Bd7 g5 24.f4 Bxh6 25.fxg5 Bg7 26.Bd4 fxg5 27.Bxg7 Kxg7 28.Rf7+ Kg6 29.Rxe7 Rf8 30.Re1 Bxa2 31.Bb5 a6 32.Bd3+ Kf6 33.Rxh7 b5 34.Rh6+ Ke7 35.Rh7+ Kf6 36.e7 Rg8 37.Rh6+ Kf7 38.Rh7+ Kf6 39.Be4 Rae8 40.Rh6+ Kf7 41.Bc6 Bc4 42.Bxe8+ Rxe8 43.Rxa6 Rxe7 44.Rxe7+ Kxe7 45.Kf2 Kf7 46.Rb6 Be6 47.Rxb5 Kf6 48.Kf3 Bf5 49.Rc5 Bd3 50.Ke3 Bf5 51.Kd4 Bb1 52.Rc1 Bg6 53.Rc6+ Kg7 54.Ke5 Bb1 55.Ra6 Bc2 56.Rd6 Kf7 57.Rf6+ Kg7 58.Rf2 Bb1 59.Rb2 Bd3 60.Rd2 Bb1 61.Ke6 Be4 62.Re2 Bd3 63.Rd2 Be4 64.Ke5 Bb1 65.Rd4 Kf7 66.Ra4 Bc2 67.Ra5 Bb1 68.Rc5 Kg6 69.Rc1 Bd3 70.Rd1 Bc2 71.Rd2 Bb1 72.Ke6 Be4 73.g3 Bb1 74.Rb2 Bd3 75.Ke7 Be4 76.Rb6+ Kg7 77.Rb5 Kg6 78.Rb4 Bc2 79.Kf8 Kf6 80.Kg8 Bd3 81.Rd4 Bc2 82.Rd2 Bb1 83.Rf2+ Kg6 84.Rb2 Bd3 85.Rb6+ Kf5 86.Rb4 Kf6 87.Rd4 Bc2 88.Rd2 Bb1 89.Rf2+ Kg6 90.g4 Be4 91.Rd2 Kf6 92.Rb2 Bd3 93.Rb6+ Ke5 94.Kg7 Kf4 95.Rb4+ Be4 96.Rxe4+ Kxe4 97.Kg6 1-0

47.Rxb5: The diagrammed position shows the first TB position reached in the game, where the Pawn capture starts a countdown for the 50-move rule. The TB says, 'Given optimal play on both sides, White will win in 72 moves.' The main variation undoubtedly includes moves that reset the 50-move count.

47...Kf6: The first mistake, giving White a win in 47 moves, which is just inside the 50-move rule. For the next few moves both players find the right plan and make the best moves.

51....Bb1 52.Rc1 Bg6: Both players make a suboptimal move. This is followed by a long sequence of moves which maintain the status quo. White fails to make progress, while Black does not let the position deteriorate prematurely. The TB consistently indicates that White wins in around 30 moves.

73.g3 Bb1: White makes a Pawn move, thereby resetting the 50-move count. Unfortunately for White, the move hands Black a TB draw. Unfortunately for Black, he fails to take advantage of the opportunity and moves into another lost position. The double blunder starts another long sequence where White often lets Black escape with a draw, but Black overlooks the chance and plays into yet another lost position. The right plan for White revolves around a timely g3-g4, while Black needs to prevent this.

92.Rb2 Bd3: White again overlooks the win (the TB says 92.Re2 is the fastest) while Black misses the only move to draw (92...Ke5). After this, White plays accurately to score the win although Black overlooks opportunities to prolong the game for as long as possible.

A discussion of the winning plan in this game and an overview of similar positions in other endgames with R+P vs. B+P would take too much time for a single post. I suppose that someone could even write a book on the subject.

12 September 2017

The Not-So-Bad Opening

Remember Alan Lasser, last seen on this blog in Front Page News (October 2016)? On a recent visit to the U.S., I met him for the first time in something like 25 years. We played a few chess games together and he chose one for his weekly Game of the Week newsletter (Warning: double blunder on move 37).

Subject: Game of the Weeks
From: Alan Lasser
Sent: 2 September 2017

Mark Weeks, of the 1975 Connecticut Bughouse Champions and author of the web sites,
- chessforallages.blogspot.com, and
- chess960frc.blogspot.com
chose a small college town in America for his first over-the-board play in a dozen years.  Amused as he was by the unknown variations of the Bad Opening, he still beat me 3-1-1. 

[Event "Skittles"]
[Site "Amherst, MA"]
[Date "2017.08.31"]
[Round "?"]
[White "Alan Lasser"]
[Black "Mark Weeks"]
[Result "1/2-1/2"]
[ECO "A45"]

1. d4 Nf6 2. Qd3 c5 3. c3 b6 4. e4 Ba6 5. Qf3 Bxf1 6. Kxf1 Nc6 7. e5 Ng8 8. Ne2 e6 9. Be3 Qc7 10. g3 d5 11. exd6 Bxd6 12. Nd2 Nf6 13. Nc4 O-O 14. Nxd6 Qxd6 15. dxc5 bxc5 16. Kg2 Ne5 17. Bf4 Rfd8 18. Bxe5 Qxe5 19. Rhd1 Ne4 20. Qe3 Qf5 21. Qf3 Qxf3+ 22. Kxf3 Nd2+ 23. Kg2 Rd7 24. b3 Rad8 25. f3 Rd3 26. Rac1 e5 27. Ng1 e4 28. fxe4 Nxe4 29. Rxd3 Rxd3 30. Re1 f5 31. c4 Kf7 32. Nf3 Kf6 33. Re2 g5 34. Ne1 Rd1 35. Nc2 Nc3 36. Ne3 Rd3 37. Nd5+ Nxd5 38. cxd5 Rxd5 39. a4 h6 40. h3 h5 41. Kf2 f4 42. gxf4 g4 43. hxg4 hxg4 44. Re3 Rh5 45. Rc3 Rh2+ 46. Kg1 Rh3 47. Rxc5 Rxb3 48. Ra5 Ra3 49. Kg2 1/2-1/2

The following diagram shows the opening in quantum format, after 1.d4 {1...d5 or 1...Nf6} 2.Qd3.

The Bad Opening

Alan insists that I named it.

It was you who gave the "Bad Opening" it's name. Back when I had a 1000 rating, a 1200 named Flynn beat me with it at one of those old tournaments at the Henry Hudson Hotel. When I tried it against you in one of our high school board challenge matches you played c6 and b5 and Qa5 and crushed my early queenside castle position in 17 moves, commenting afterwards, "That's a bad opening". I revived it in 2007, in time to show it to the "Invisible Kid"; nowadays, when I see c6, I chicken out and castle kingside.

I have a vague recollection of the incident, unlike the title of '1975 Connecticut Bughouse Champions', where I recall that Alan and I lost the final match. Given that I'm a big fan of 'Extravagant Openings' (see, for example, What Makes an Opening Extravagant?, December 2009, which partially explains my fondness for chess960), expect more about the Bad Opening on this blog.

11 September 2017

Ratings Correlated to Performance

Continuing with Early USCF Rating Issues, the chart on the left, from the 20 August 1951 issue of Chess Life (CL), shows the result of the 1951 U.S. Championship. The tournament started at the end of July 1951, and consisted of two stages.

The event was the subject of an editorial by Montgomery Major titled 'Consider the Rating System' in the 5 November 1951 issue of CL. The rating system had been introduced a year earlier and this was the first major test of its correlation to actual performance.


No MATHEMATICAL system of grading skill and proficiency will ever be quite accurate. for no system can evaluate the deviations from the expected to which the human mechanism will inevitably turn. Nor can the logics of mathematics evaluate and make allowance for the incalcuable human factors of weariness, stamina, digestion and moodiness. Why a master will be unbeatable in one tournament and in the next become the victim of numerous losses is physical or psychological, and it cannot be reduced to mathematical terms.

For that reason the National Rating System cannot perform the miracle of placing players in their exact relation to each other; and it is just as well that it cannot, for if it could predict in advance the relative ranking of players in a tournament there would not be much incentive for playing tournaments!

But the National Rating System can (and does) indicate the relative groupings of players in categories with more than casual accuracy. This is its justification; and the necessity for determining such categories is the reason for its existence. The Rating System does select players in groups and while it cannot with real accuracy determine the exact ranking of players in any one group, it can determine quite accurately the grouping in which any player belongs, when sufficient data is available on that player's performances,

Nowhere are these facts demonstrated more conclusively than in the recent U.S. Championship. Consider the first five players in the final standing. They were Evans (2554), Reshevsky (2747), Pavey (2441), Seidman (2451), and Horowitz (2565). The remaining contestants were in order Bernstein (2309), Santasiere (2304), Mengarini (2310), Shainswit (2444), Hanauer (2325), Pinkus (2421), and Simonson (2345).

Immediately it is obvious that with the exception of Shainswit and Pinkus all the players in the upper bracket of the Master Class (2400 or better) finished at the top, while those in the lower bracket (2300 to 2400) finished in the lower positions. This is what we would expect, if the Rating System lay any claims to accuracy as distinguishing between groups.

The fact that Shainswit and Pinkus were exceptions merely indicates the incalcuable human factor in playing chess which no system can evaluate -- the physical and psychological factor.

Turning to the preliminary rounds, the same general rule was in full evidence. Only one player with a rating over the 2300-2400 series failed to qualify for the finals; and as this player was Kevitz (2610) it is quite obvious that the physical strain to the elderly master was a decisive factor, for tournament chess remains a young man's game.

Within each grouping there is not, of course, the same accuracy. It is mathematically impossible to determine the exact shade of difference in strength between players of relatively the same strength; and the Rating System was not intended to do this. In addition there is the added factor that between players of relatively the same strength there is no conclusive determination possible as to which may be the stronger. Upon one occasion one may win, in the next encounter the other may be victorious.

Therefore, it is well advised to remember that the National Rating System is primarily designed to designate classes of players, and not to determine with precise accuracy the relative ranking of players within a class. That is to say, a player with the rating of 2304 may possibly be stronger than player rated 2325 -- the difference in points may be a reflection of the relative strength of the tournaments in which each has played recently. It may be even the reflection of temporary factors such as indigestion, melancholia, or simply weariness. But the difference between a player with a rating of 2450 and one with 2350 should be a difference in playing strength that as demonstratable over the chess board.

Montgomery Major

NB: This anecdotal analysis was produced some months after the event completed. The next post in the series will look at the use of ratings before a chess event takes place.

10 September 2017

Man Ray Chess Photos

For this edition of Top eBay Chess Items by Price, I had one of the shortest lists ever of interesting items sold on eBay since the last post. Was it because of the hurricanes -- Harvey, Irma, Jose and Katia? Or because of the back-to-school season? Or because of something else?

Whatever it was, the short list had only a single item and I had to go well under my usual cutoff price to find it. The item pictured below was titled '1920's ACME Photo Series (2) Artist Man Ray with His Beautiful Chess Set', and sold for US $299.99 after a single bid.

The item's description was unusually brief:-

Both photos measure 8 1/2" x 6 1/2". They are both in great condition. I hate to let go of these. They are amazing!

Fortunately, there was identical publicity info on the back of both photos. Signed 'Acme Newspictures, 461 Eighth Ave., New York City', and dated 10 March 1927, it said,

THE LAST WORD IN CHESSMEN -- AND THEY COME FROM PARIS • PARIS, France - PHOTO SHOWS: Man Ray, well known American, artist, photographer and sculptor with his set of modern chessmen, exhibited in the Paris Art Galleries. Simplicity is the keynote of this, his latest ovation, each piece being symbolic of its function and meaning in chess. The pieces are wrought in silver, the dark set being oxidized. The transition of chessmen from the earliest pieces of long ago has been gradual. Here we have the final design reached today, with the influence of modern art tending toward simplicity, yet retaining the tradition of that ancient game. • YOUR CREDIT LINE MUST READ (ACME)

The item reminded me of another post from a couple of years ago, Man Ray Chess Set (September 2015), where I signed off with,

While researching the item, I discovered that there were several styles for 'Man Ray chess set'. Exactly how many would make a starting point for another post.

Some time later I noticed Wot a Lot (lostontime.blogspot.com; November 2016; 'Oh no! Another Man Ray chess set.'), which points to Manny (chess.com; May 2015; 'Certain artists or writers are, in fact, known for the inclusion of chess in their works. Man Ray was one of those people.') by batgirl. That last post includes photos of several Man Ray chess sets, where one photo is similar to the eBay auction featured here.

08 September 2017

Bucket Chess

The tags for this photo said only 'buckets, alaska, girdwood', plus 'chess', of course. Can we make a story out of that?

Taken on August 15, 2017 © Flickr user Mike Linksvayer under Creative Commons.

First, does 'girdwood' have something to do with the stumps on the ground in front of the White pieces, or is it a place? According to Wikipedia, it's a place: Girdwood, Anchorage.

Girdwood is a resort town within the southern extent of the Municipality of Anchorage in the state of Alaska. Located near the end of the Turnagain Arm of Cook Inlet, Girdwood lies in a valley in the southwestern Chugach Mountains, surrounded by seven glaciers feeding into a number of creeks, which either converge within the valley or empty directly into the arm

What about the pieces? In Chess in the Park (April 2016), the Glacier City Gazette informs,

Tommy O'Malley repurposed 5-gallon plastic buckets into chess pieces by removing the handles, cutting a hole in the bottom and painting them. The chess board is at Girdwood Town Square and the buckets were donated by local business owners Michael Flynn, Jud Crosby, and Spike and Suzanne Farley.

As for the stumps on the ground, I can only guess what purpose they serve. They are too short to sit on. Do they hold down the board in case of wind?

07 September 2017

September 1967 'On the Cover'

After last month's 'On the Cover', August 1967 ('not a particularly inspiring month for the regular "On the Cover" post'), the two main U.S. chess magazines returned to business as usual. CL featured the top American junior tournament and CR featured a top international tournament.

Left: 'Salvatore Matera : U.S. Junior Champion'
Right: 'Victor of Moscow'

Chess Life

Salvatore [Sal] Matera, a 16-year-old Junior at Brooklyn Preparatory School, forged ahead at the halfway mark and clinched the title in the semi-final round in winning the second annual United States Junior Chess Championship with a 5 1/2 - 1 1/2 score. The tournament, an eight-player event conducted by the U.S. Chess Federation in cooperation with the Piatigorsky Foundation, was played July 10-16 at the Henry Hudson Hotel in New York City.

For the 'first annual' event, won by Walter Browne, see last year's July 1966 'On the Cover'. Browne finished second in the 1967 event.

Chess Review

As someone has said before us, the international tournament at Moscow must be surely the strongest of 1967, even more so than the coming Interzonal. We would of course have liked to see Robert J. Fischer in it, and Boris Ivkov, Bent Larsen and, on his showing of late, Milan Matulovich ought to have been invited. But others could doubtless be suggested including a raft of Russians -- Viktor Korchnoy conspicuously! Dr. Petar Trifunovich has a story on this tournament coming up for us (just too late for this issue) next month.

[The name is 'Stein', Leonid Stein. Nowhere in CR's brief preliminary report is the full name of the winner mentioned.]

Let's anticipate next month's CR report with some links. Chessgames.com has two reports on the event, a 'TID' (tournament ID?) and a 'CID' (collection ID?):-

I should know more about CG's TIDs and CIDs -- but I don't -- so I'll try to come back to this in another post. Another top result on a search for 'chess moscow 1967' is:-

Echoing the CR writeup, that forum post raises questions about the politics surrounding the event. I'll also examine that topic in a future post.

29 August 2017

2500 / 20 / 500

This post is no.2500 on this CFAA blog. On top of that it has been almost 20 years to the day since I uploaded my first page on the World Chess Championship site to the web. The oldest active file on the site still carries a timestamp of 28 August 1997. By another curious near-coincidence, my World Championship blog has 498 posts, meaning that it will reach no.500 in a week or so.

28 August 2017

Early USCF Rating Issues

In a previous post on the early USCF rating system, Master Ratings and Master Titles, I noted,

Between the publication of the second and third lists of USCF ratings, the USCF grappled with a number of new issues provoked by the introduction of ratings.

The third list, published in the 5 October 1951 issue of Chess Life, was accompanied by another long editorial by Montgomery Major that addressed those issues. I've appended his complete statement below, but summarize the main points here:-

  • Restricting published ratings to USCF members only
  • Rating club level events
  • Submitting timely & complete tournament reports
  • Excluding inactive players

Additional details on the calculation of ratings were included in notes to the lists.

Top: Notes to 'National Chess Ratings'
Bottom: Notes to 'List of Rated Tournaments'

Here is a copy of the full editorial.


In this issue we publish the Third National Rating List; and the first feature of it that strikes the eye is the evident reduction in the number of names listed as compared with previous listings. For in this list only the names of USCF members in good standing are published, and a regrettably large number of tournament players have yet to realize that it is to their own advantage to join the Federation. The very simple truth that the growth of the Federation is reflected by the increase in the number of tournaments staged throughout the United Status and that chess activity as a whole has received much of its impetus from the constant (if sometimes intangible) influence of the Federation has not penetrated into their consciousness. So a list that is composed of some 2503 names of active chess players has been drastically reduced in culling out the names of non-members.

Those active chess players, not represented on the present list, may assure the listing of their names in the next list (as of December 31, 1951) by joining the USCF before the end of the year, or by submitting to the Editor of CHESS LIFE a 50c rating fee to cover the second half of 1951.

The second feature that attracted our attention in editing this list for publication was the remarkable fact that there were more Federation members who were not represented on the list than there were those whose names appeared among the 2503 players. This curious fact means, of course, that the backbone of the Federation consists of the unassuming club players who never compete in organised tournaments, yet recognize nevertheless the essential fact that chess must be supported through a national organization to continue in healthy growth and to create the additional outlets for the playing of chess that are so necessary and desirable.

Yet many of these USCF members, not represented on this present list of rated players, should have their names enrolled, for they do play in club tournaments even if they modestly refrain from competition on a state or regional basis. But for them to have their names enscribed on the next listing, will necessitate a little affirmative cooperation from them and their chess clubs. All that is needed is the submission of detailed reports on club tournaments. There is no charge whatever for the service of rating such tournaments, and the cost to the club is limited to a postage stamp and a little well-rewarded effort in compiling and forwarding the necessary data. Some clubs have alertly recognised the duty of the club to submit such data on behalf of the membership; but the majority of chess clubs have not yet realised that either the opportunity or duty exists.

In this connection, it might be well to point out that the strength of the tournament (or its lack of strength) has no bearing whatever upon its value to a well-balanced rating system. Some clubs have submitted data on their "Class A" tournaments and omitted information on the "Class B" and "Class C" events in the mistaken assumption that these latter events wore unimportant. But, actually, no event that fulfills the requirements as to number of rounds, etc. of the rating system, is unimportant. It is just as necessary to compute the rating of the veriest dub that ever pushed a pawn as it is to compile the record of a master. All are equal in importance to the ratings; and a well-rounded ratings system finds the "Class C" and "Class D" players just as important to its computations as the "Grandmaster."

Finally, for a completely balanced system, it is very important that all possible events be reported. as otherwise the system becomes unbalanced and may eventually give undue importance to players in certain sections of the country at the expense of other regions. For this last requisit, it is essential that clubs and associations cooperate by sending in official reports, which contain data that can frequently be obtained in no other way. A newspaper or chess publication report of a tournament (in fact, almost never) contains all the essential detalls for rating.

For example, in any Swiss System event, it is no help whatever to know the final points scored by each player, unless it is also indicated the individual players that each contestant faced with the results of all individual encounters. The total scores alone are absolutely meaningless for rating purposes. Some players apparently do not understand this fact, for they blithely submit for rating the total scores without any of the needed details.

It has been unfortunate that despite the most excellent cooperation received in most localities, there remain still a few blind spots where no cooperation has been accorded, despite all attempts of the Editor by personal letter to gain contact and information, We still hope by persistence to remove some of these blind spots from the next rating, and request the assistance of our readers in doing this.

For example, although personal reguests for information have been sent to these regions, we have been as yet unable to gain any detailed information for rating on the fairly recently played New Mexico State Championship, Vermont State Championship, Georgia State Championship, and the Southern Ass'n Tournament at Asheville, N.C. We have also been unable to recover details of earlier tournaments in Minnesota and Delaware, although we understand that State Championships were held in these states this year.

In more recent events, while we know that in California there were two preliminary qualifying tournaments in North and South California, we have just now received reports on these qualifying events. We have also now obtained full information on the California opened and closed championship events.

We trust that our readers will lend assistance in seeing that these and other events are reported, as well as any events in 1950 which have not been listed in any List of Rated Tournaments. A rating system is a cooperative venture, and it can only succeed over a period of time if It receives complete support from those who play in or manage tournaments. Players in the future, on entering a tournament, should make certain that its results are to be reported for the National Rating System. Otherwise, they may fail to gain their just due for participation in the event.

In the National Rating List as published, there are one or two omissions which may require explanation. For example, the name of Herbert Seidman is missing from the list of "Masters." This does not mean he has dropped in rating, but merely that he has not played in any rated event during the required period to maintain an active status. His name will be restored in the next listing, due to his participation in the U.S. Championship and New York State Championship. Other names of USCF members have been omitted for the same reason of inactivity and will be restored as soon as record of participation in a rated event is received. While in the list of Canadian players, there is the noticeable omission of Frank R. Anderson from the list (notable for the fact that he has been very active in Canadian chess events). But Mr. Anderson has not participated in any U.S. event in the required period, and his activity in Canada is not therefore pertinent. For the reason of non-participation in any rated event within the limits of the system, the name of U.S. Co-Champion Miss N. May Karff is also omitted. Her appearance at Detroit in the Women's Open Championship was not subject to rating because it was an event of too few participants for calculation. Miss Karff's name will, of course, reappear promptly on the next list after the holding of the U.S. Women's Championship in New York this fall.

Montgomery Major

As for 'N. May Karff', her obituary in the New York Times, Mona May Karff Dies at 86; A Dominant Figure in Chess (nytimes.com; January 1998), explained,

By [1950], the woman who had styled herself "N. May Karff," typically without explaining what the "N" stood for, had moved to New York and emerged as Mona May Karff, a name she used when she made a tour of Europe in 1948 for the One World movement.

She was listed on the previous (2nd) rating list at 2086.

27 August 2017

Chess (the Musical) Is a Love Story

There are so many sociological angles to the musical Chess, that it's hard to know where to start.

Murray Head (Chess - ABBA) : One Night In Bangkok (3:50) • 'Murrary Head joined by Benny, Bjorn, Frida & Karen Glenmark on TV in 1984.'

The description quotes Wikipedia,

Chess is a musical with music by Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus, formerly of ABBA, and with lyrics by Tim Rice. The story involves a romantic triangle between two top players, an American and a Russian, in a world chess championship, and a woman who manages one and falls in love with the other; all in the context of a Cold War struggle between the United States and the Soviet Union, during which both countries wanted to win international chess tournaments for propaganda purposes. • See also Chess (musical)

On another Youtube channel, 'Sandra Shevey Interviews', in Tim Rice on Chess, chess and political pawns, the interviewer (who talks more than the interviewee) twice makes the point,

Chess was not Tim's most respected or most successful work -- [Jesus Christ] Superstar and Evita have those honors.

At the end of the interview, Tim Rice manages to say,

I'm not trying to make any major political points. It's a love story. People tend to think that if you get involved in politics -- by mistake, as many people in show business and sport do -- that because politics is something that is sophisticated and complicated, that to get involved in them you have to be sophisticated and complicated, but most people who get caught up in politics unintentionally never really know what's going on.

A recent piece of news, Tim Rice: Chess Revival on Tap for Broadway "Late Next Year" (theatermania.com; June 2017), informs,

A revival of the storied musical Chess is getting ready to make its Broadway debut, lyricist Tim Rice told TheaterMania's sister site, WhatsOnStage.

[I once used the same music in a previous post, One Night In Bangkok (February 2008), but that clip is long gone.]

25 August 2017

Kasparov Talks MasterClass

A few months ago, in an episode of Video Friday about Kasparov Talks at Google (June 2017), I mentioned Kasparov's MasterClass. Here is the GM talking about it himself.

2017 Saint Louis Rapid & Blitz: Garry Kasparov's MasterClass (1:57) • 'GM Garry Kasparov talks to GM Yasser Seirawan about his first-ever online class via MasterClass.'

For whom is the class intended?

Kasparov: 'The final product looks quite entertaining for, I would say, mediocre players, ranging from 1300 to 1800.'

Say no more.

24 August 2017

Chess Players Aren't 'A Barrel of Laughs'

Spotted on Facebook (FB).

'Dear Abby' (Abigail Van Buren) probably belongs to the 'Not Everyone Likes Chess' crowd, as in Life's Too Short for Chess (November 2011) and Mainstream Comments on Magnus (December 2013).

A few years ago we had another advice columnist in 'Ask Marilyn' (November 2015); 'I recently played a game of chess against a woman in my chess club, and she defeated me in front of many of her girlfriends. [...] One of her friends said, "Her female piece, her Queen, executed the mating... Oh, yes!"' • Snort!

Here's a transcript of the Abby advice:-

Women can meet men by joining chess club

DEAR ABBY: You have often been asked a question like this: I am a 26-year-old female who would like to meet a decent, eligible man. I've tried the bar scene, but most men are after a one-night stand. I've tried church groups, but the few men who are present came because their wives made them go. So where do I go from here?

Abby, I have a suggestion: Join a chess dub. Women are always welcome. Furthermore, they will find that men outnumber women 10-to-1. Not bad odds! Also, from 25 percent to 40 percent of the men will be unmarried. Men who play chess on a regular basis are usually of good character. The game requires that the player make individual, intelligent, patient and logical decisions. These attributes carry over into everyday life. For example, I estimate that 95 percent of steady tournament players do not smoke, and I have never met one who abuses alcohol or drugs. They are almost always employed, are high achievers and have a stable family life.

A woman could counter with, "But I don't know anything about chess." Well, that could be to her advantage. What better way to break the ice than to ask a man of her choice to show her the moves?

If you print this, some women will probably write in and say, "I married a chess player, and you can have him!"

I realize that not every chess player is necessarily an ideal prospect for marriage, but it's a good way to meet eligible men.


DEAR LYLE: It's a novel idea for a place for women to meet decent men, but the typical chess player (as I perceive him) is not exactly a barrel of laughs. He's apt to be quiet and pensive, more of an introvert than an extrovert, highly competitive, and slow to make decisions -- which isn't all bad. The moves in chess have often been compared with those made by two opposing generals on a battlefield. A chess game resembles a war in that it consists of attack and defense, whose object is making the "King" surrender. On second thought, it could be a good training ground for marriage.

A comment to the FB page provided a useful link to an online version with a different title: Check This Out, Singles: Chess Clubs (chicagotribune.com; 27 March 1986). Another comment gave a woman's point of view on the suggestion:-

S.M.: I'm afraid to say too much about this, but this is another case of "the odds are good but the goods are odd".

I definitely would say "women are always welcome" is not true. While I was largely welcomed as something of a novelty, there's a LOT of sexism, and a lot of assumptions that women are not as good at chess. This kind of attitude keeps women away from many male-dominated activities and perpetuates the stereotypes, so women aren't likely to give these kinds of activities a fair try -- it's just not worth it!

So it might be useful for meeting men, but pretty terrible if you want to pursue it as a serious hobby as a woman, or want to be evaluated based on your own merit rather than as representing your gender.

And as far as "I have never met one who abuses alcohol", I remember so many people at the chess tournaments REEKING of alcohol. Chess is definitely not the upper-class elite intellectual pursuit people think it is. For a lot of players, you could use that "not sure if chess player or homeless" meme.

Lyle was almost certainly overstating the attraction of chess for women, but you can't blame a fellow for trying.

22 August 2017

Bobby's Family

While working on the recent post Young Bobby and Sister Joan, the same photos of Bobby Fischer's family members kept appearing on various searches. Here's a composite.

1st row: Regina Wender Fischer & Hans-Gerhardt Fischer, Joan Fischer Targ & Regina
2nd row: Bobby & Joan, Bobby & Paul Nemenyi [also a composite]
3rd row: Paul Felix Nemenyi [work permit 1940]

Since most of the photos are easily found in different versions on various image searches, I won't give the sources. I previously used the composite of Bobby and his biological father Paul in Bobby's Parents (October 2007), where it was a screenshot from a Fischer documentary that might be its origin. A fuller scan of the work permit is on Paul Nemenyi & Bobby Fischer, along with a few other little known photos. For a biography of Bobby's biological father, see Paul Felix Neményi (geni.com).

21 August 2017

Masters Emeritus in the 1950s

In the previous post on early U.S. chess ratings, Master Ratings and Master Titles, I quoted an editorial in the July 1951 issue of Chess Life (CL).

CHESS LIFE will further propose that the list of recognized Masters Emeriti be published in connection with the semi-annual printing of the National Ratings.

The first list was published in the 5 March 1952 issue of CL, and included 12 names.

The introduction said,

Master Emeritus have been conferred by the U.S. Chess Federation upon the following players who have compiled outstanding records in American chess competition, in many cases even prior to the initial year (1921) covered by the National Rating System, and whose present ratings do not reflect their outstanding past performances. Some have retired from active tournament play and some still indulge in competitive events, but all have reflected glory upon the practice of chess in the United States.

Eight more names would be added in the 1950s (see USCF Rating Lists in the 1950s for details). The 20 names are shown below along with year-month of first mention on the list and state of residence. I've also added links to relevant pages on Chessgames.com, Wikipedia.org, Tartajubow.blogspot.com, and other sites; these are not exhaustive.

Generally speaking, these players had their most notable chess successes in the decades before the introduction of U.S. ratings.

20 August 2017

Rococo Chess

I can't remember another auction on Top eBay Chess Items by Price which was not primarily in English, so this might be a first. The item pictured below was titled 'AUGUST STEPHAN (*1868 Wien) Rokoko Schachspiel. Orig. antik Ölgemälde AP:-22000€', which Google translates to 'AUGUST STEPHAN (*1868 Wien) Rococo chess game. Orig. antique oil painting AP: -22000 €'. The word 'Wien' would better be translated as 'Vienna', but I have no idea what 'AP' means in German.

The painting was listed 'Sold for: EUR 2,750.00 (Approximately US $3,231.39)', although the index entry had a bar through that price. It was placed after an item listed at $2399 and before an item at $2000. I've never understood why eBay is so coy about the actual selling price, and probably never will understand.

For the rest of this post, I'll dispense with the original German and will give only the English translation with a few corrections of my own. The description started,

Galante dinner party ['Tischgesellschaft'] at chess in the rococo parlor. 19th Century, signed A. STEPHAN (August Stephan, very well-listed Viennese history painter * 1868 Königsstetten - 1936 Vienna). Perfectly preserved historical painting approx. 1890. Artprice up to 22000,- €.

Now I know that 'AP' means 'Artprice', which must mean Artprice.com. Wikipedia informs, 'Artprice is a French online art price database created in 1987 by its now CEO'. The mention of 22000 Euro must be the highest price recorded for the artist. The description continued,

The dimensions are: With frame approx. 75 x 60cm, Picture size approx. 47 x 32cm. Technique: Oil on painting cardboard ['Malkarton'], exceptional frame.

Very well preserved antique painting: rococo parlor with gallant society at the chess game. Origin: Berlin private collection. Conclusion: A very well painted historical oil painting in rare condition of good condition and of high quality. Viennese painter with best auction results. Surely a worthwhile investment.

State: The painting is antique, but in very good condition as seen on the original photos. Strong colors and good varnish. No flaws recognized. Overall impression: Apparently perfect.

How much of the selling price was for the frame?

The richly decorated stucco frame is very handsome, only minimally bumped, partly restored. It is to be regarded as free admission ['Gratiszugabe'], not part of the auction and evaluation - FREE. Value of the frame alone approx. 200-250 Euro (incl. VAT).

If your knowledge of art movements is as shaky as mine, Wikipedia's Rococo says,

Rococo, less commonly roccoco, or "Late Baroque", is an early to late 18th-century French artistic movement and style, affecting many aspects of the arts including painting, sculpture, architecture, interior design, decoration, literature, music, and theatre. It developed in the early 18th century in Paris, France as a reaction against the grandeur, symmetry, and strict regulations of the previous Baroque style, especially of the Palace of Versailles, until it was redone.

In the past I've used Tableaux ayant pour sujet les échecs ('Paintings with chess as a subject') as a reference, but the underlying domain jmrw.com has disappeared. Fortunately for fans of chess art, it lives on in archive.org.

18 August 2017

Fun with Tags

For the second consecutive Flickr Friday, we have a black and white photo -- the previous was A Chess Wardrobe -- but what do you expect from a chess blog?

Challenge © Flickr user S Demmer under Creative Commons.

With 294 views and 12 faves ('favorites'), the photo attracts attention, but why exactly? The start of a long list of tags says,

chess, game, King Richard’s Faire, renaissance, fair, ...

In King Richard's Faire, Wikipedia informs,

King Richard’s Faire is a renaissance fair held in Carver, Massachusetts, which recreates a 16th-century marketplace, including handmade crafts, foods, musicians, singers, dancers, [...another long list of 'tags'...], and the fictional King Richard. King Richard’s Faire is the longest-running renaissance fair in New England.

Getting back to the tags on the photo, another series mentions,

..., eye contact, candid eye contact, fun with tags, ...

After telling us, 'This photo is in 23 groups', the first group is candid eye contact. When it comes to chess, players probably make more eye contact with spectators than they do with each other.


While browsing the various chess photos published on Yahoo's Flickr during the previous two weeks, I was informed, Yahoo is now part of Oath:-

Yahoo is now part of ‘Oath’, a digital and mobile media company with more than 50 brands globally (including Yahoo, HuffPost, Engadget, TechCrunch, Moviefone and Makers), and a member of the Verizon family of companies working to shape the future of media


Yahoo and Oath plan to share some user information within the Verizon family of companies which will enable us to integrate our business, allowing us to coordinate more and improve your experiences.

Knowing that someone (or something) is spying on me won't improve my 'experiences', but there's not much I can do about it. Eye contact is better.

17 August 2017

Young Bobby and Sister Joan

Here are two photos of Bobby Fischer and his sister Joan (later Targ) that I hadn't seeen before.

Top: Chess Life, 5 October 1958; 'While Bobby's sister tells two Belgrade reporters her impressions of Europe, the U.S. Champ listens attentively to Yugoslav Master Janosevic, who met them at the airport.' (Portoroz Interzonal)

Bottom: Chess Review, February 1960; 'Fischer and fan: his sister.' (U.S. Championship; more photos ['by R. Echeverria'] of Fischer and other players on same page)

15 August 2017

Who Knows? Google Knows!

As soon as I finished last week's post on Prokopljevic's Cartoons, I performed my usual quick check on the final result to ensure that everything was OK. I was very surprised to see that the Google Adsense link was for a set of cards featuring Prokopljevic's cartoons!? (That's the ad just beneath the photo of my head.)

The related link for the ad went to Echecs: lot de 12 cartes postales 'Gens Una Sumus' de Jovan Prokopljevic (priceminister.com). Was this because the post was for Prokopljevic's cartoons -or- because I had been looking at the same Priceminister.com page earlier that day while preparing the post? When it comes to Google, who knows?

A few years ago, to help a friend who is not web savvy, I spent 30 minutes looking at web pages for robot cleaners of swimming pools. The pesky Adsense ads for robot cleaners are still following me. "Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?" Google knows!

14 August 2017

Master Ratings and Master Titles

Between the publication of the second and third lists of USCF ratings (see the previous post in this series, USCF Rating Lists in the 1950s, for a chronology), the USCF grappled with a number of new issues provoked by the introduction of ratings. The following editorial was published in the 5 July 1951 issue of Chess Life, under the title 'Masters -- and Masters in the National Rating System'.

From letters recently received, it becomes apparent that many players are still confused regarding one phase of the National Rating System, and that they insist, despite all that has been written to the contrary, in considering that the Rating System does the one thing that it very definitely does not attempt to do.

Let us therefore repeat again, in the fond hope that this time our statement will be understood, that the National Rating System does not determine the permanent status of any chess player nor indicate how he will be ranked ultimately in the history of the game. The National Rating System does no more than indicate the current effective playing rank of a player at one particular period in his career, without regard to his achievements in past decades beyond the scope of the system and without prophesy as to his possible future attainments.

For a number of reasons which we will not catalogue at this time, there is a definite need for this current evaluation of how a player is actually performing at a given period. But the value of this current and transitory rating is sadly distorted when some misinformed chess players insist upon considering this current performance rating as conferring or withholding honorary titles. This the National Rating System does not do. and it was never intended to do. In the Rating System a player may shift from Senior Master to Expert classifications in the matter of a few years, according to his performances in current tournament play -- the fact that he may temporarily hold the classification of Master in the rating system does not actually make ham a Master in the honorary sense that the term has been applied in the past; the fact that another player, long considered a Master in the honorary sense, slips in more recent play to the Expert classification, does not deprive him of the many honors gained as a Master, nor the right to be considered as a Master in the honorary sense.

It is to be expected that even the most formidable player, if he continues to play tournament chess after his prime, will eventually lose rank in the National Rating System which can evaluate only current performances and cannot, except in a very limited sense, make exceptions for past heroics. If the recognised Master continues to play tournament chess long enough, in his final years he is almost certainly doomed to a reduction in his current performance ratings to an Expert classification. But this reduction does not actually make him any the less a Master in the honorary sense.

This was further explained by an example from baseball, showing how the performance of a great player can decline in the twilight of a career.

National Chess Ratings are merely the chess equivalent of the yearly baseball batting averages, and the confusion over them has arisen solely because some chess players insist upon considering them so much more than that.

However. since there has been so much confusion in players' minds between "Master" as an honorary title conferred for outstanding performance in the world of chess and the ”Master classification" in the National Rating System, CHESS LIFE will recommend to the annual meeting of the USCF Board of Directors at the Fort Worth meeting that the Federation create and recognize, outside of the scope of the National Rating System, an honorary classification of "Masters" in the same sense that the present FIDE titles of "International Master" [IM] and "International Grandmaster" [GM] are conferred for outstanding performances of the past as well as of the present.

CHESS LIFE will recommend specifically that the honorary rank of "Master Emeritus" be conferred upon all chess players of the USA who may be deemed to have at any time in the past earned the right to the title of "Master" before the operations of the National Rating System became effective, and whose present standings in the current performance ratings are below that of the "Master classification"; that the selection of those players entitled to such recognition be placed in the charge of a special committee qualified to judge and assess past records of tournament performance.

CHESS LIFE further will recommend that it be provided that in the future any chess player in the USA who has held a "Master classification" in the National Rating System for a period of years (exact length of tenure to be determined by the Board of Directors) automatically becomes a Master Emeritus upon dropping in the current performance ratings to a classification lower than that of "Master".

CHESS LIFE will also recommend that the Board of Directors make full provision for conferring the title of Master Emeritus upon such qualified chess players who have won recognition as "Masters' in European events and have since become Americans, whether they participate actively in tournament play in the USA or not, provided that they contribute substantially to the promotion of chess in the USA.

CHESS LIFE will further propose that the list of recognized Masters Emeriti be published in connection with the semi-annual printing of the National Ratings.

Montgomery Major

For a discussion of FIDE IM and GM titles, see Early FIDE Titles (November 2014).

13 August 2017

The Imagery of Chess, St. Louis

What's the connection between sociology and art? The Wikipedia page Sociology of art is little more than a stub that says, 'Studying the sociology of art throughout history is the study of the social history of art, how various societies contributed to the appearance of certain artists' and 'This article needs attention from an expert in Sociology.'

The phrase I've highlighted appears to be an independent topic, but only redirects to Wikipedia's History of art, a subject large enough for a college degree. The 'Sociology of art' page also points to Art in Cyberspace — Sociology of Art (sociosite.net), a huge page that starts,

The creation of works of art, their distribution and their effect on people are processes which can observed all through history. They represent a universal phenomenon of human society in action. As such they are open to sociological examination and imagination. They are the object of a sociology of art.

The connection between chess and art, while also too broad to be easily digested, can be reduced to bite-size chunks. Here's one.

Living St. Louis | The Imagery of Chess: St. Louis Artists (4:35) • 'A diverse group of St. Louis artists and musicians interpreted the game of chess for the exhibit, "The Imagery of Chess: St. Louis Artists" at the World Chess Hall of Fame.'

World Chess Hall of Fame chief curator Shannon Bailey explains,

It was inspired by the Imagery of Chess that took place in 1944 in New York City. It was arranged by three art enthusiasts and artists, Julien Levy, who owned the Julien Levy Gallery where the exhibition took place, Marcel Duchamp, who's one of the most important artists of the 20th and 21st centuries and was an avid chess player, and Max Ernst, a very famous artist.

For more about the exhibit, see World Chess Hall Of Fame Chief Curator Shannon Bailey On New Exhibition (alivemag.com; February 2017). I once wrote about a previous exhibition with the same name, Elsewhere on the Web : The Imagery of Chess Revisited (archive.org -> chess.about.com; January 2006).

Chess and art have their closest relationship in the 32 pieces of wood, glass, or just about any other material used to make chess sets. The Imagery of Chess Revisited, one of the current exhibits at the Noguchi Museum, Long Island City (Queens), New York, is the latest look by the art world at that relationship.

The artist featured in the video, Martin Brief, mentions Yoko Ono's white chess set. I covered it in another post, Chess Sightseeing (March 2014).

11 August 2017

GM Confession Booth

Top GMs Nakamura, Svidler, Wesley So, Caruana, and Aronian confess their worst childhood sin at the chessboard. As for Carlsen, 'In Norway, kids are very well behaved'.

2017 Sinquefield Cup: Worst Behavior as a Kid? (2:05) • 'Grandmaster Alejandro Ramirez talks with the 2017 Sinquefield Cup players about their worst behaviors as kids playing chess.'

Who exhibited the worst behavior? The least worst? I'll go with Nakamura ('quite a few instances') and Wesley So ('sleepless nights').

10 August 2017

Prokopljevic's Cartoons

A few weeks ago, in The Fifth Entry, I ended a post about Jovan Prokopljevic with an action.

Several collections of Prokopljevic's cartoons have been published, but I wasn't able to catalog them in the time available for this post. I'll save that for another time.

I tackled the material again today, and again ran out of time. Prokopljevic's cartoons have been published and re-published in so many different editions that I can't get a grip on them. For example, the 13 caricatures of the World Champions, shown as a collage in the 'Fifth Entry' post, have been published as postcards with the Chess Informant logo over a short game by the featured champion and in a book 'Black and White Evergreen' with Informant style annotations of famous games by the champions.

What to write about in this post? I noticed that Prokopljevic's non-chess cartoons are even more well known than his chess cartoons, because they often use political themes. The following is a good example.

Source: Serbian Cartoon Show Banned Ahead of Polls (balkaninsight.com; February 2014) • 'Serbian caricaturist Jovan Prokopljevic says his exhibition was abruptly pulled, apparently because of sensitivities about the March 16 elections.'

The article mentioned,

Prokopljevic has been as a caricaturist for his entire working life. His work includes more than 15.000 cartoons and has won him many domestic and international awards.

How many awards? According to another Serbian source, Jovan Prokopljevic awarded for the 101st time (inserbia.info; March 2013),

Architect Jovan Prokopljevic, one of the most awarded Serbian cartoonists, has recently received his 101st caricature award. Prokopljevic, full-time caricaturist at Serbia’s oldest daily Politika, has won three awards over the last month at international competitions in Iran, China, and Turkey exceeding the number of 100 international and domestic awards.

I might come back to the chess cartoons another day, but I have no reason to believe that I will be more successful.

08 August 2017

2017 CJA Awards

If it seems like only two weeks ago that I posted about the 2017 CJA Award Entries, that's because it was indeed exactly two weeks ago. The Chess Journalists of America announced their annual awards last week and the full list can be found at Prize List for 2017 CJA Awards (chessjournalism.org), along with many links to the winning material. Just as in last year's post, 2016 CJA Awards (August 2016), I'll concentrate on the four categories that interest me the most.

  • Best Book
  • Chess Journalist of the Year
  • Best Chess Art
  • Best Chess Blog

The 'Best Book' categories had three winners: two in the 'Instructional' category, by Mark Dvoretsky and Cyrus Lakdawala, and one in the 'Other' category (that's a CJA code word for chess history), published by McFarland. The 'Other' category also included an Honorable Mention, also published by McFarland. Three and a half awards for one category? Good thing I no longer maintain my page on Award Winning Chess Books.

The winner of 'Chess Journalist of the Year' was Vanessa West, with Honorable Mention to Pete Tamburro. Of the four nominees, my money was on Peter Doggers of Chess.com, who by any objective standard is head-and-shoulders above the others. I am certain that his time will come. Statements by all four nominees can be found on Nominations received for Chess Journalist of the Year (chessjournalism.org).

For 'Best Chess Art', I used four of the five nominations to illustrate the '2017 Entries' post. The winner was the entry showing the big '70', for 'Chess Life Turns 70!, Chess Life, Cover, September 2016, by Scott Raymond'. In the related photo categories, 'Best Chess Photojournalism' and 'Best Single Photo', David Llada was the winner of both.

Since there were no nominations for 'Best Chess Blog' for the second consecutive year, I should follow last year's '2016 Awards' and mention the winner of 'Best General Chess Website'. Unfortunately, there were no nominations for that category either, so I'll just stop here.

A detail I hadn't noticed until writing this post is that nominations (and winners) for the ten 'News and Features' categories were doubled: one for 'Print' and one for 'Online'. Just like chess itself, chess journalism is a growth industry. Heartfelt congratulations to all the winners!

07 August 2017

USCF Rating Lists in the 1950s

Two recent posts covered the introduction of USCF ratings in 1950:-

The second USCF rating list was published in the 5 March 1951 issue of Chess Life (CL). It was introduced by an editorial titled 'National Ratings', signed Montgomery Major, the editor of CL.

In this issue we publish the second list of National Performance Ratings, as of December 31, 1950. Before we comment upon certain of the changes in rating of individual players, it may be well to state that for the second and last time, we publish the complete list of available ratings of U.S. chess players, regardless of membership in the USCF. It was not originally our intention to do this, but the National Rating System has aroused so much interest throughout the country that we feel it is a very definite service to chess to publish once again the whole list for comparison and study.

Hereafter, however, below the rank of master we well publish only the names of USCF members. This is not an attempt at dictatorship as we have been accused illogically by certain readers, but merely the recognition of a basic principle in America that the average American expects and is willing to pay for what he receives, provided he gets value received for his money. The cost of maintaining a rating system is considerable, for it demands careful statistical computations by a trained statistician. Such expert services cannot be obtained without charge, even if the charge is a nominal one in comparison with the work accomplished. Since the members of the Federation are footing this bill with their dues, it is only just that the benefits should be exclusively theirs. And since any chess player can become a member of the Federation tor the nominal dues of $3 per year, it is obviously ridiculous to claim that this restriction of published ratings to the USCF membership works any hardship on any player. Any player, who cannot persuade himself to part with $3 for the many benefits to chess provided by the Federation, cannot be very much interested in the rating system, however much he may profess to be.

Comparison between the first list of ratings and the second list provides some interesting studies as well as a very definite illustration of the effect of the "lag" in computation of ratings. But quite possibly some readers may be confused by the apparent discrepancies, and tberefore the subject demands a few illustrative comments.

It will be noted, undoubtedly, that Isaac Kashdan has dropped from the list of senior masters to the list of masters, and that he has done this without competing in any rated event since the list as of July 31 was published. This may at first glimpse seem illogical, but it actually is a very clear example of the principle of the "lag" in computing ratings. The ratings (as of July 31, 1950) covered each player's career from 1947 through the first half of 1950, and the published rating was his highest rating in any one of these four periods.

In the case of Kashdan, 1947 was a gala year. He won the U.S. Open Championship at Corpus Christi. This bolstered up an already high past record of performance, including his second to Reshevsky in the 1946 U.S. Biennial Championship. But 1948 told a somewhat different story. Kashdan only placed second in the 1948 US. Open Championship at Baltimore, and again was second in the 1948 U.S. Biennial Championship at South Fallsburg. So, when the performances in 1947 were removed from the current computation In the listing as of December 31, Kashdan's rating then was determined by his highest scoring in 1948, 1949 or 1950 and the resultant drop in his performance rating reflected his less successful appearances in recent tournaments. It is noteworthy that if Kashdan had followed his poorer year in 1948 with a more successful performance in 1949 or 1950, due to the "lag" procedure in rating, his one bad year would not have made any appearance in the ratings. Thus the "lag" tends to protect a player against one bad season, but cannot continue to bolster up his ratings over a period at years.

As Kashdan through a series of circumstances, including illness, has not competed in any rated event since 1948, he has not had an opportunity to reestablish a senior master rating performance.

An illustration of the reverse principle in the "lag" comes from the advent into the master class from the expert group of Eliot Hearst, F. S. Howard and Walter Shipman in the ratings as of December 31, 1951. These younger players began to be felt in chess as far back as 1946 and 1947, but their climb into the master class was slightly delayed by the drag effected by the lower performance points of their earlier chess career. To overcome the effect of this "lag" it was necessary for each of them by consistent performance to prove that their successes were not merely a flash in the pan. For Eliot Hearst it was the New York State Championship in September, 1950 that provided the ultimate boost into master class. for F. S. Howard it was the New Jersey State Championship.

In many cases, it will be noted that there has been no change in the rating. These players have not competed in rated events in the last half of 1950, while their peak period of performance has been since the year 1947, so no change is effected by removing the choice of 1947 from their performance rating basis. Their standings will only be effected by their performances in 1951 in tournaments yet to be played and rated.

The composite image below shows some of the highlights of the second list.

A total of 16 rating lists were published in the 1950s. Some years, e.g. 1954 through 1956, saw only a single list.

CL 1950-11-20; as of 31 July 1950
CL 1951-03-05; as of 31 December 1950
CL 1951-10-05; as of 31 July 1951
CL 1952-03-05; as of 31 December 1951
CL 1952-10-05; as of 31 July 1952
CL 1953-05-20; Spring 1953
CL 1953-12-20; Fall 1953
CL 1954-06-05; Spring 1954
CL 1955-05-05; Spring 1955
CL 1956-05-20; as of 31 December 1955 (A)
CL 1957-05-20; Spring 1957
CL 1957-08-20; as of 31 March 1957 (B)
CL 1958-03-05; as of 30 September 1957 (C)
CL 1959-02-05; as of 30 September 1958
CL 1959-08-20; as of 31 May 1959
CL 1959-12-05; as of 30 June 1959 (?; D)

(A) List No.10; 'New Classifications Adopted'
(B) 1st 1957 Supplementary List
(C) 2nd 1957 Supplementary List
(D) Supplement No.1; signed Frank R. Brady, USCF Rating Statistician

Kenneth Harkness retired mid-1959. The 1950s were the 'Harkness' decade for U.S chess ratings.

06 August 2017

A Chess Playing Priest

I can't remember doing a post for Top eBay Chess Items by Price that had nothing to with chess, so this must be a first. The item pictured below was titled 'Chess Grandmaster Reverand William Lombardy's very own Chalice' and sold for US $900.00 after one bid.

The left photo shows the chalice standing on its case. The bouquet behind it gives an idea of its size. The eBay description of the item was brief.

This chalice once belonged to Rev. William Lombardy. He is the famed chess grandmaster who trained Bobby Fischer. Lombardy was also Fischer's second in the 1972 World Chess Championship in Reykjavik vs Boris Spassky.

The bottom of the chalice is inscribed,

To our son
Rev. William J. Lombardy
Ordained May 27, 1967
Wishing you many blessings

Love, Mother & Dad

For more about Lombardy, see William Lombardy (wikipedia.org) and The chess games of William James Lombardy (chessgames.com).

04 August 2017

A Chess Wardrobe

Holy Caissa! Not only is this photo reminiscent of a previous Flickr Friday, 'Nice Jacket!' (January 2015), it also appears to be the same fellow.

Chess Fever © Flickr user schaakbond under Creative Commons.

Flickr also informs, 'This photo is in 1 album': 2017 Condigne Dutch Open Round 1 by Alina l'Ami. The same photographer figured indirectly in yesterday's post, Fabulous Fabiano.

03 August 2017

Fabulous Fabiano

The last time I used a Yahoo headline, More about 'Outliers' (March 2017), I wrote,

Whenever chess pops up in my Yahoo News feed, I try to use it as the basis of a blog post.

In fact, that's not completely true. Since the beginning of 2016, I've accumulated Yahoo chess headlines at about the rate of one a month and have used only a few of them. Today I spotted another one, this time about Fabiano Caruana. While adding it to the collection of the others, I reviewed all of the headlines.

Which chess personality has been featured the most? Garry Kasparov is near the top of the list: twice for chess and once for his latest book on AI. The player who has received the most chess headlines is GM Caruana himself. Here's a visual list.

Here's the same list with links to the the original articles. All three are from businessinsider.com and were written by Matthew DeBord.

2016-03-12: The World Chess Champion could be an American for the first time since Bobby Fischer in 1972

It's been a very long drought for Americans when it comes to the World Chess Championship. The last American to win was, famously, Bobby Fischer in 1972. Fischer defeated Boris Spassky in Iceland, but never defended his title. It was of course a long drought before 1972: in the modern era, post-1900, there had never been a World Chess Champion from the United States, prior to Fischer, and the only players who even had a shot after him were Robert Byrne and Gata Kamsky. Norways's Magnus Carlsen, the current WCC, is actually the first player from the West since Fischer to claim the title. Starting Friday in Moscow, the next World Championship cycle is beginning, with the 2016 Candidates Tournament.

2016-04-24: One of the biggest comebacks in chess is happening right now in St. Louis

The US Chess Championship and US Women's Chess Championship are underway in St. Louis. On the women's side, 2015 champion Irina Krush is shooting for history and her 8th title, putting her just one behind Gisela Kahn Gresser, a mid-20th-century player who dominated the game in her era. Krush is currently trailing the leaders by half a point. On the men's side, the field is phenomenally strong -- possibly the "strongest ever," according to Grandmaster Maurice Ashley, who dropped by Business Insider's offices before the tournament kicked off to discuss all things chess, including his historic induction into the US Chess Hall of Fame, the first African-American to be according [sic] the honor.

2017-08-03: America's best hope for a World Chess Champion is returning to the tournament that marked his most epic victory

The Sinqufield Cup is underway at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis, and once again, the world's most elite players have turned out to battle for the prize. The Cup is a stop on the Grand Chess Tour, which also includes tournaments in Paris and London and is intended to function as a sort of counterpoint to the World Chess Championship. The WCC has been won the last three times by Norway's Magnus Carlsen, who is once again the field at the Sinquefield Cup. In his first game, he's facing down American Fabiano Caruana, currently the number three player in the world -- and the number two in the US, behind Wesley So.

Credit for the photo of Caruana used in the first and third articles is given to Alina L'Ami.