22 October 2017

Lombardy's MCO

For the second consecutive edition of Top eBay Chess Items by Price, the featured item is a copy of 'Modern Chess Openings' (MCO). The first was described in Bogart's MCO, and the second is shown in the composite image below. The item was titled 'RARE Historic "Modern Chess Openings" + Photo SIGNED John Collins BOBBY FISCHER' and sold for around $700, 'Best offer accepted'.

The description said,

9th edition copy of Modern Chess Openings 1957 by Walter Korn and John W. Collins. Interior is signed "Ex Libris [Grand Master] Lombardy" and signed and dedicated by the author "John W Collins" to his cousin Clara "for [her] help with this book!"

Book itself is in absolutely mint condition, zero marks damage or wear to the cover or any of the pages, minus the inscriptions and signatures of the chess players themselves. Dust jacket has much foxing and some fading as well as very slight tears here and there along the top and bottom edges, please see all photos and close ups!

Additionally, this listing includes a photograph of John W. Collins playing chess with Bobby Fischer as a young man in the same exact place and table at his apartment that he played with Bill Lombardy and Bobby Fischer as seen in the photo on his Wikipedia article.

The same article explains the 'urban legend' around Collins having been the person who taught Bobby Fischer (whose coach was Lombardy) and several other grand masters as well as Lombardy himself; it states Lombardy as having said -- "All had entered his home in friendship and were already superior masters, far past the ability of Collins to impart anything but trivial knowledge [...] I cannot imagine even today that anyone could consider that Collins had the strength of knowledge to coach the champion that Bobby already was by the time he reached Collins apartment! Somehow the myth of Collins' professional skills persists." -- in regards to having been taught by Collins who was nonetheless a renowned chess teacher.

Photograph measures 8x8. Both items are signed by John W. Collins.

The referenced Wikipedia page is John W. Collins. The quote ('All had entered his home in friendship') is from Lombardy's book 'Understanding Chess: My System, My Games, My Life' (p.219 & p.28). By coincidence, last week I featured the book in Understanding Lombardy, and expect to have more to say about it in future posts.

As for the copy of MCO sold in the auction, the copyright page listed previous editions as: 'Seventh edition 1946 • Reprinted 1947 • Revised and reprinted 1948 • Eighth edition 1952 • Reprinted 1954 • Reprinted 1955 • Ninth edition 1957'. The full inscription said,

Dec. 25, 1957 • To My Dear Cousin Clara A. Collins • Merry Christmas and many thanks for your help with this book! • Love, John W. Collins

Inside the front cover (shown in the composite image) was 'Ex libris W Lombardy'. Given that the book was in 'absolutely mint condition', I doubt that he used this particular copy as a reference.

20 October 2017

Chess Knives Chopping (*)

For this week's edition of Flickr Friday, I noted a handful of interesting photos, all from the same source and all lacking additional information. I'm not even sure how Flickr associated them with the search term 'chess', other than through the name of a common album: 2017 Wereldschaakdag (Global Chess). Here's a composite image showing several of the photos in the album...


Photo bottom row, center:
Taken on October 14, 2017 © Flickr user schaakbond under Creative Commons.

...The album carries a description in the Dutch language, which Google translates as...

On 14 October 2017, it was the world chess day (Global Chess). On this day, it's the goal of chopping as many knives around the world as possible. The strongest female Grandmaster allertijde [of all time], Judith Polgar, is the initiator of this action. Thousands of chessmen have already heard of her call. In the Netherlands, in the Huttonto tournament in Rotterdam, an important contribution was made by the strongest 150 youth scouts in the Netherlands. Also, a special match was organized by the Royal Dutch Chess League between Oscar Verwer and the 97-year-old Win Witvliet. Under the slogan #chessconnectsus, social media received successful attention for the world chess day.

...I suspect that the part about 'the goal of chopping as many knives around the world as possible' was mangled in translation, but the rest is clear enough. For more about the Judith Polgar initiative, see Global Chess Festival. For a previous post on this blog, taken from the Chess in School series, see Polgar Global Chess Festival, Budapest (February 2016).

(*) Another catchy phrase from the translation that I considered using as a title was 'Thousands of chessmen have heard her call'. Take your pick.

19 October 2017

Understanding Lombardy

In my previous post, GM William Lombardy, I promised to 'do a short series of posts on Lombardy', with the objective of getting up-to-speed on the man. It turns out that the fastest way to understand Lombardy is to study his book, 'Understanding Chess: My System, My Games, My Life', which is available via his own site Understanding Chess | Grandmaster William Lombardy (williamlombardychess.com).


'Understanding Chess' (Russell Enterprises, 2011)

The back cover of the book says,

In His Own Words... William Lombardy made his mark early and often. Still in his teens, he became the first American to win the World Junior Chess Championship. His 11-0 record in his 1957 title run still stands today. He followed up by leading the U.S. Student team to the gold at the 1960 Student Olympiad.

He has been a mainstay of chess in the United States for decades, participating in seven Olympiads, many U.S. Championships, and winning three U.S. Open titles.

Along the way, he briefly retired from competitive play when he entered the priesthood, only to return as Fischer's sole second in Reykjavik during the "Match of the Century" against Boris Spassky, where Fischer was crowned World Champion.

The 119 annotated games (including several unpublished games and 37 supplemental appendix games) are embellished by anecdotes and observations drawn from Lombardy's remarkable career, spanning almost 60 years, from the early 1950s to the present.

A short 'Biographical Sketch' ends with an anecdote:-

I was about 10 when I decided to see if I could get a game at Lion's Square Den Park. So I crossed [Faile Street] to PS 75, walked to the end of the playground at Bryan Avenue, crossed that street, turned right to the corner and entered the park where in the afternoon I discovered those I dubbed "the old men in the park." Conservatively, the men ranged in age from their 20s through 70s. Most of them were Jewish, so I not only won a lot of chess games early on, but also learned a fair quantity of Yiddish. "Mach aah moof chal-yee-kah!". One day, an old man approached me, "How come you're not dressed up?" I was wearing my usual dungarees play clothes. As everyone was dressed up, I was reminded that the Jewish High Holy Days in the fall had arrived. Almost everyone else wore shirt, tie and suit coat. The neighborhood was almost exclusively Jewish. So although I was secluded at St. Athanasius Catholic Grammar School, I had learned something of Judaism. I answered the man's question, "I'm not Jewish." Fearful of embarrassing me, the man adroitly exclaimed, "You're not Jewish? You look like such a nice Jewish boy!" Without further formalities, we played chess.

Day after day I came to play chess in the park. About a week later, the same old man singled me out to talk and brought me something that would change my life. He took out a marble design notebook from a brown paper bag. "Here," he said, pushing the notebook into my hands, "You will have better use for this than me. I'm finished with it." I thanked him for the book, put it back in the bag and played chess with the man. When I got home, I looked at my book. For a kid I played better than every other kid I knew and quite a few adults. But I had never even heard that there were chess books, let alone seen one. Back in those days, there were five or six newspapers that carried a chess column. Over many, many years the old man had studiously pasted some two thousand of those chess clippings into his book. I had never asked him whether he had actually played over the games in those clippings. I was about to do what he himself may not entirely have done.

I was very enthusiastic. I had to decipher the games' code by discovering the ins and outs of descriptive chess notation with a trip to the public library around the corner from my school. Once I had grasped the notation, I began enthusiastically playing over the games with a vengeance! I would estimate that within a month of receiving the gift, I had played over some 20% of its contents. The process was necessarily slow. After all, I had to set up the pieces for every game on my little chessboard. But the process was becoming more and more a great and exciting pleasure. Without knowing what really was happening to me, I was becoming a better and better player in the process of reviewing the games. Using that book I discovered the power of eidetic imaging. I had improved to become a very powerful player and I was also a thorough student of the game.

I have never forgotten the "old man" who kindly gave me that awesome gift. I can still see his dear face, although he never thought to tell me his name. I hope he learned that his gift brought me along to make a special mark on world chess. I am not a general but as a "chess general," I will likely never be forgotten. A strange little magical book with lots of chess diagrams transformed me from a wandering kind to a wunderkind! And that wunderkind taught Bobby Fischer from the time the crew cut, blond-haired boy in a flannel shirt and dungarees was six months short of his twelfth birthday. That I was Bobby's only chess teacher from that time, and right through Reykjavik, is a fact. Some may not like hearing this surprising news, but I assume that they will get over the shock. I don't know who taught the Byrne brothers, for example, but it was not Jack Collins. The Byrne brothers were tutored at the Manhattan Chess Club and other chess haunts around New York City, as was I, Bobby and Raymond Weinstein. Thus Spake Zarathustra!

As for Lombardy's claim that he was "Bobby's only chess teacher" starting end-1954, I am astounded!

17 October 2017

GM William Lombardy

The death of GM Lombardy -- see William Lombardy, Chess Grandmaster Turned Priest, Dies at 79 (nytimes.com; Dylan Loeb McClain) -- reminded me how little I knew about one of the USA's strongest chess players of the 20th century. The first paragraph of Wikipedia's article, William Lombardy, sums up nearly everything I know.

William James Joseph Lombardy (December 4, 1937 – October 13, 2017) was an American chess grandmaster, chess writer, teacher, and Catholic priest. He was one of the leading American chess players during the 1950s and 1960s, and a contemporary of Bobby Fischer, whom he coached from the time Fischer was age 11½ through the World Chess Championship 1972. Lombardy led the U.S. Student Team to Gold in the 1960 World Student Team Championship in Leningrad. He was the only World Junior Champion to win with a perfect score.

Google search returns not only the principle Lombardy page of top chess resources,

it also returns some specialized material.

As for my blog, Posts for query lombardy picks up only nine posts, most of which are brief references to GM Lombardy in a monthly 'On the Cover' post. The only post about Lombardy, A Chess Playing Priest (August 2017), has little to with chess.

I also searched my collection of chess images, the majority from eBay, and among the many thousands of images, found exactly eleven. Half of those mentioned Lombardy only in passing in the associated text. Of the other half, two were copies of the same photo, shown below.

Combining the essential elements of the text for both photos gives,

14th Chess Olympiad, 1960, Leipzig, Germany; William Lombardy watching over Ghitescu vs Fischer.

To rectify this unsatisfactory situation, I'll do a short series of posts on Lombardy. One angle worth exploring is from 'Spraggett on Chess':-

One of the fondest memories of the time I was a high school student at Rosemount High in Montreal was hiding away in the library stacks, poring over the back issues of Chess Review, at that time the most popular chess magazine in North America. [...] In particular, the articles written by Grandmaster William Lombardy (who was also at that time a Roman Catholic Priest) were among my favourites. There was something unpretentious about the GM’s style of writing that made it seem as though he was speaking directly to the reader, one on one as it were.

This ties into another of my own posts, The Trainers’ Tree (June 2015), where I learned that the FIDE Trainer Awards listed 'Lombardy William (USA), 2014' in the Hall of Fame.

16 October 2017

Harkness Pairings for the Swiss System

In the two previous posts for this series on early U.S. chess ratings,

I outlined a series of eight articles written in 1952 by Kenneth Harkness. He added a ninth article in the 20 September 1952 edition of Chess Life (CL).

Swiss System Pairings
by Kenneth Harkness
USCF Rating Statistician

The pairings of a Swiss system tournament produce some peculiar results, as anyone who has played in those results knows well. The winner's title may be clouded because he failed to meet some of his strongest competitors. Others place high in the final standings after meeting comparatively weak opposition. A player may shoot up from nowhere in the last round or two and outdistance contestants who played far stronger opponents.

In a tournament for an important title, the Swiss System must be regarded as inferior to a round-robin if the winner does not meet all the strong contenders. However, the Swiss has a great many practical advantages. These advantages so greatly outweigh its known defects that the system is now used in practically all state, regional and national tournaments with the exception of the United States Championship. If a better method of pairing contestants will cure the faults of the Swiss System, the quality of all the present tournaments will be improved and the system can he used for the U.S. Championship itself.

As an example of what can happen, we present in the table below an analysis of the pairings for the top twenty players in this year's U.S. Open Championship at Tampa. In doing so, we imply no criticism of the tournament director. Our quarrel is with the present method of pairing by lot, not with the director who follows standard procedure in this respect.

The table showed how many top players each top player faced.


Rank, Player, Score, Opponents Among Top 20, Opponents Below Top 20

Harkness continued with comments on the table. They provide more detail than is needed for this blog post, but I like the background about U.S. chess in the early 1950s.

Bearing in mind that the winner's pairings are the first consideration, we are bound to ask why Larry Evans played the men who came in 42nd, 47th and 49th instead of three of the strong contenders he did not meet -- especially Hearst. Mengarini and Donovan, three rated masters who performed well at Tampa. The answer is that Larry played the opponents who finished below the top twenty in the first three rounds of the tournament. With 76 players in the contest, the luck of the draw gave Larry three opponents who failed to make the grade later. Being the highest rated player by a wide margin, the U.S. Champion would probably have kept the open title in any case. Even if he had played Hearst, Mengarini and Donovan, Larry would probably have risen to the occasion and put forth the extra effort needed to win the tournament. However, the actual outcome cannot be considered entirely satisfactory. After all, Mengarini beat Reshevsky in the last U.S. Championship!

Below top place, it is clear that some of the men in the list might have finished lower if they had met stronger opponents. Our sympathy goes to Jimmy Sherwin who was unlucky enough to draw the strongest field of the entire tournament. Measured by the rating system, Sherwin's competition averaged 2306 points! Steiner also met pretty stiff opposition -- stronger than most of the players who finished above him. While Sherwin and Steiner were batting their brains out against practically every master and leading contender in the field, some of the other players coasted in ahead of them by scoring against comparatively weak opponents. Needless to say, the players who came in below the top twenty were not pushovers by any means. Many were probably stronger than some of the prize-winners who slipped into the money brackets on pairing flukes. However, all the active masters placed among the top twenty. and only a few of the strong experts failed.

It has occurred to this writer that the rating system might be used to advantage when pairing the contestants in a Swiss System tournament. Based on this conception, we have developed a method of pairing which may correct most of the faults and inequities described above. At present, the method is theoretical. It has not been tested in practice, so it remains in be seen whether the theory is sound With the co-operation of the directors of some forthcoming tournaments, we hope to check the results achieved and report the outcome later.

To use the method successfully, most of the players in a tournament must have national ratings. We hope the day will come soon when practically all players are rated, and we are rapidly reaching that goal. In the U.S. Open this year, only 5 of the 76 entries had no previous ratings. However, we cannot guarantee that this method will help much if you are running a tournament with a large number of unrated players. Furthermore, the method Will prove most effective when nearly all the entries have given us an opportunity to measure their ability by playing in several tournaments. A rating that is based on the results of only one or two tournaments is not necessarily a true indication of a player's strength.

Since the method is based on the rating system, the ranking of the entries must be done by your rating statistician who alone has all the necessary data. The up-to-date ratings of some players may be higher or lower than the published list indicates, and a great many names in our files may be missing from the list. If you wish to test this method, mail a list of all the possible entries, giving their full names, to this writer at the address given in the masthead of CHESS LIFE. We will send you by return mail the up-to-date ratings of players on your list. The provisional ratings of players who have competed in only one rated tournament will be marked with asterisks. Then, about an hour or two before the tournament begins. You may telegraph the full names of unexpected entries and we will wire back their ratings (collect!) adding the prefix "pro" to the name of a player with a provisional rating. For example, PROWILLIAMS 1850 Would mean that player Williams, has a provisional rating of 1850. Please note that all ratings supplied for the purpose of ranking tournament entries are confidential, for your own use exclusively as tournament director.

The pairing method is explained in the following paragraphs:

1. Make up a ranking list of all entries, arranged in the order of their ratings, from the highest down to the lowest. Add at the bottom the names of all unrated players, arranged in alphabetical order. [...]

The rest of the Harkness article, which nearly filled the equivalent of a full page in an issue of CL having only six pages, gave eight steps for making the pairings. These steps -- including advice about the 'fundamental rule' of Swiss system events ('a player must not meet the same opponent twice'), about color allocation, and about unrated players -- are well known to anyone who has played in a Swiss. What tournament was the first to use this method of pairing?

15 October 2017

A Three Day Kiss

After my first idea fizzled for this current edition of The Sociology of Chess (November 2016), I had to fall back on the idea from the previous edition, Only a Million Dollar Game ... show a video. Since the most recent Video Friday, Update on FIDE's CIS, already used the best sociological choice from my current short list of videos, I looked at a few other choices.

A discussion of the recent marriage between Levon Aronian and Arianne Caoili (congratulations to both!), Should Armenians marry a non-Armenian -- the Armenian Chess player story, was topical, but it delved into too many non-chess issues that I don't want to confront on a chess blog. What about another romantic story, The Thomas Crown Affair - chess scene kiss - spin and crossing the line? The video pointed to a quote from TCM.com's The Thomas Crown Affair (1968)...

One of the film's most famous sequences is the chess match between Crown and Vicki, played in the study of Crown's mansion. The scene is played with very little dialogue, rapid cuts and a mixture of extreme close-ups and regular shots. After Vicki defeats Crown, he suggests that they play something else, then kisses her. In his DVD commentary and autobiography, [director Norman Jewison] stated that the chess and kissing scenes took three days to shoot.

...but again I had a small problem -- the video doesn't show any chess; it's just about the kiss. Here's a longer version showing the chess game *and* the kiss.


Chess Scene - The Thomas Crown Affair (1968) (6:57) • 'The chess scene from the film "The Thomas Crown Affair" (1968) with Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway playing a game of Chess (Music composed by Michel Legrand).'

The description said,

While this scene is famous (or infamous), the whole film is great and worth watching. McQueen and Dunaway have charisma individually and chemistry together. Intertwined with a cat-and-mouse game of detective and thief, it's a near perfect film. It was nominated for two Academy Awards -- Best Original Score and Best Original Song -- winning Best Original Song for Michel Legrand's "Windmills of Your Mind".

Some of the Youtube comments:-

'No more fancy first date dinners. I'm buying a chess board tomorrow!' • '007's Daniel Craig has stated that this scene is by far the sexiest scene in cinema, because Faye Dunaway was acting natural and not forcing sexiness. His point proven!' • 'Makes me wish I knew how to play chess!' • 'Michel Legrand appropriately named the classic jazz improv background music to this scene "His Eyes, Her Eyes".' • 'This is maybe the longest kiss I've ever seen.'

More from TCM.com about the music:-

Another hit song from the film was set to the love theme heard during the chess game. Alan and Marilyn Bergman later wrote lyrics for the theme, and under the title "His Eyes, Her Eyes," the song has been recorded by numerous singers.

Who said chess isn't romantic?

13 October 2017

Update on FIDE's CIS

The video starts,

Our main objective is to persuade ministries of education and other educational establishments to incorporate chess, because to get chess into schools all around the world is beyond the capability of almost all national chess federations.

The arguments for chess in school are compelling and are based on Bloom's taxonomy (wikipedia.org; 'a set of three hierarchical models used to classify educational learning objectives into levels of complexity and specificity'). According to Kevin O'Connell, 'Chess is the perfect vehicle'.


"Chess should be used as an educational tool", Kevin O'Connell, Chairman of FIDE CIS Commission (4:59) • 'Role of chess in education; 88th FIDE Congress.'

Although it's been a year since I stopped following CIS regularly on this blog -- see 'Chess in School' Summarized (October 2016) for the signoff -- I haven't lost interest in the subject. For more about O'Connell, see a previous post in that series, FIDE's CIS Chairman O'Connell (January 2016). The Youtube channel that made this video available, European ChessTV, started about six months ago and has other recent clips that are worth viewing.