23 February 2018

Thomas Jefferson Read Philidor

I cropped out most of the parlor setting to highlight the chess set, so click through to the linked Flickr page to see the original photo. (NB: Tough luck that the pieces are set up incorrectly and the position is artificial.)

Play Chess - Thomas Jefferson's Monticello © Flickr user Geoff Livingston under Creative Commons.

The page Chess | Thomas Jefferson's Monticello (monticello.org) says,

Chess was one of Jefferson's favorite games. The following are references to chess in Jefferson's and his family's papers compiled by Monticello researchers.

Here is a selection of the most interesting of those references.

1801 December 4. (Jefferson to Thomas Mann Randolph). "I will pray you at the same time to send me Philidor on chess, which you will find in the book room, 2d. press on the left from the door of the entrance: to be wrapped in strong paper also."

1818 December 4. "When Dr. Franklin went to France on his revolutionary mission, his eminence as a philosopher, his venerable appearance, and the cause on which he was sent, rendered him extremely popular. For all ranks and conditions of men there, entered warmly into the American interest. He was therefore feasted and invited to all the court parties. At these he sometimes met the old Duchess of Bourbon, who being a chess player of about his force, they very generally played together. Happening once to put her king into prise, the Doctor took it. 'Ah,' says she, 'we do not take kings so.' 'We do in America,' says the Doctor. "At one of these parties, the emperor Joseph II, then at Paris, incog. under the title of Count Falkenstein, was overlooking the game, in silence, while the company was engaged in animated conversations on the American question. 'How happens it M. le Compte,' said the Duchess, 'that while we all feel so much interest in the cause of the Americans, you say nothing for them?' 'I am a king by trade,' said he."

c.1853. (Ellen Wayles Randolph Coolidge). "So he was, in his youth, a very good chess-player. There were not among his associates, many who could get the better of him. I have heard him speak of 'four hour games' with Mr. Madison. Yet I have heard him say that when, on his arrival in Paris, he was introduced into a Chess Club, he was beaten at once, and that so rapidly and signally that he gave up all competition. He felt that there was no disputing such a palm with men who passed several hours of every evening in playing chess."

c. 1853. (Ellen Wayles Randolph Coolidge). "My grandfather taught me to play chess, liked to play with me, and after our dinner, in summer time, he would have the chess board under the trees before the door, and we would have our game together. He had made, by his own carpenter and cabinet maker, John Hemmings, and painted by his own painter, Burwell, a small light table, divided in squares like a chess board and with a sort of tray or long box at two of the sides to hold the men and put them into as they were taken off the Board. It was a very nice, convenient little thing and purfectly answered the purpose for which it was intended. This was called one of Mr. Jefferson's contrivances."

For more about the chess set, see Chess Set (English) on the same site.

22 February 2018

Patreon Chess

A few days ago I wrote a post titled The Week in Podcasts, subtitled 'Interview with Mark Crowther'. Although the focus of that particular post was chess960, another topic also caught my interest. At about 21:00 into the interview, Crowther talked about remuneration for his work. He said,

Charging for TWIC is a non-starter, so I have to find some other way of financing my own time to do it. It's more than justified in terms of its utility.

Having prepared for the topic, the interviewer, Ben Johnson, launched a dialog:-

Q: Here's a question from Greg Shahade, a name that may sound familiar. He says, 'Why doesn't Mark have a Patreon page? He would make huge money.' • A: I'm sorry? • Q: Do you know what Patreon is? • A: No clue at all. That's probably the answer to his question. • Q: I'll tell you, because Perpetual Chess has a Patreon page. Basically it's a way for people to support independent art.

I had never hear of it either, so I located its home page, Patreon.com ('Best way for artists and creators to get sustainable income and connect with fans'), and its Wikipedia entry, Patreon:-

Patreon is a membership platform that provides business tools for creators to run a subscription content service, as well as ways for artists to build relationships and provide exclusive experiences to their subscribers, or "patrons." It is popular among YouTube videographers, webcomic artists, writers, podcasters, musicians, and other categories of creators who post regularly online. It allows artists to receive funding directly from their fans, or patrons, on a recurring basis or per work of art.

I found the interviewer's Patreon page at...

...and then found a number of pages for creators of Youtube chess videos, whose work I have admired many times:-

I'm sure there are many more like these. I frequently use TWIC for research on chess history and would certainly contribute to a TWIC Patreon page. As usual with anything involving money, some caution is required. How much of a donation eventually reaches the content creator? That's a question that I'll leave for another day.

20 February 2018


I ended a recent post, Bobby Speaks from the Grave, with the comment:-

For the rest of the commentary, see Nakamura-Carlsen... (twitch.tv/chess).

That reminded me of a few links that I had bookmarked some months ago, but never followed up. The first was Twitch, Chess.com Partner To Promote Chess Streaming (chess.com; November 2017), 'FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE':-

Chess.com and Twitch today announced a multi-year partnership to benefit chess streaming and major chess events. Twitch had long been the broadcast partner for Chess.com's regular chess programs and major events like the Speed Chess Championship and PRO Chess League. Now the social video service will officially partner with Chess.com as a sponsor for its entire lineup of chess events and to help grow the global brand of chess as an online spectator sport.

The press release included a comment from Mr. Chess.com himself:-

"I've been a video gamer my whole life," said Erik, CEO and founder of Chess.com. "To see the game of chess reach this status among other top online games is a dream come true and something I never imagined when starting Chess.com. I'm more excited than ever about the future of online chess. I cannot imagine a better partner than Twitch."

Not being a video gamer, I had trouble parsing those sentences into any coherent narrative. Wikipedia came to the rescue in Twitch.tv:-

Twitch is a live streaming video platform owned by Twitch Interactive, a subsidiary of Amazon.com. Introduced in June 2011 as a spin-off of the general-interest streaming platform, Justin.tv, the site primarily focuses on video game live streaming, including broadcasts of eSports competitions, in addition to creative content, "real life" streams, and more recently, music broadcasts. Content on the site can either be viewed live or via video on demand.

That helped immensely. Another bookmark dated the same day as the press release, What Are The Best Chess Streams On Twitch? (chess.com), anticipated my next question:-

What are some of the best chess channels on Twitch? First, the obvious one: Twitch.tv/chess. But outside of the biggest events, who else is streaming Chess.com and where can you find them? There are already dozens of streamers and channels listed right here at Chess.com/streamers.

Turning those two italicized references into clickable format gives:-

The logically next question was answered by yet another bookmark from November, How To Become a Chess.com and Twitch Partnered Streamer (chess.com):-

Chess.com has partnered with Twitch to bring chess fans around the world more options to watch their favorite players. To grow the chess streaming ecosystem, Chess.com and Twitch are offering a number of benefits to chess players of all skill levels who want to get involved.

An 'Apply here' link on that page goes to How To Become A Streamer On Chess.com (chess.com; January 2017):-

How do I start streaming on Chess.com? • First, singup [sic] for a username and channel url at twitch.tv (your channel will be twitch.tv/yournamehere with whatever name you choose).

That's pretty much everything I needed to know. Now I'll go watch some chess 'streams' and maybe even look at some other video games.

19 February 2018

Interview Videos : Karjakin

After the previous post, Interview Videos : Grischuk, in this series on the players who will be competing in next month's 2018 Candidates Tournament (Berlin), next up alphabetically is GM Sergey Karjakin.

Candidates Tournament 2016 | Round 14 – Interview with Sergey Karjakin (3:53) • 'Published on Nov 24, 2016'

The description said,

Interview with the winner of the Candidates Tournament 2016. In the last round of the Candidates Tournament, Sergey Karjakin won the game over Fabiano Caruana and ended up first.

My page on that Moscow event is 2016 Candidates Tournament. My final post on the tournament was Moscow Candidates - Wrapup (April 2016). Karjakin went on to lose the 2016 Carlsen - Karjakin title match in November 2016, thereby qualifying for the 2018 Candidates tournament. He has to be considered one of the favorites to qualify for the 2018 title match against Carlsen.

18 February 2018

The Week in Podcasts

Many of the recent posts in my series on The Sociology of Chess (November 2016) have featured videos. For a change of pace, let's have a podcast.

Interview with Mark Crowther, founder of The Week in Chess, about the story of TWIC (1:03:27) • 'Published on Feb 14, 2018'

The description said,

Mark Crowther is the founder, editor, and writer behind the indispensable online periodical The Week In Chess (TWIC). In our conversation, we talked about Mark’s origins, TWIC’s humble beginnings, and how he manages the workflow of writing about and publishing a relentless torrent of chess games played by top players. Mark and I [Ben Johnson] also talked about the chess world more broadly. He shared a rumor he recently heard about the next FIDE election and discussed his own chess playing, plus shared book recommendations.

I imagine that everyone with a keen interest in chess knows about Mark Crowther's TWIC and has the site bookmarked somewhere, but as a courtesy I'll repeat the URL: TheWeekInChess.com. At about 44:00 into the clip, the interviewer turns to chess960. I have another blog that concentrates on chess960 and once featured Crowther in a post titled The Week in Chess960 (December 2013). There I quoted him tweeting,

Mark Crowther @MarkTWIC 10 Nov • @AndreyDeviatkin @mikhail_golubev • If Fischer Random is the answer then it's time to take up a completely different game.

At that time I dismissed the comment by putting him in the same category as publishers who specialize in books about chess openings:-

I'll cut Crowther some slack, because the success of TWIC is partly based on his weekly distribution of recent games. The interest in his work stems from players maintaining chess databases for opening research and would shrink (disappear?) if the game scores were chess960 games.

Back to the podcast:-

Q: You're not a fan of chess960. As we're recording, we've got the Nakamura - Carlsen chess960 match as the next big event in the chess world. What is it about chess960 that you don't like?

A: I think that the opening positions are ugly. Chess is a classical game. The pieces are on the starting squares that they're on for a reason. There's a balance, a symmetry to it that's just not there if you randomly rearrange the pieces. I was thinking about it this week. Why did I have such a viscerally anti-anti-chess960 reaction. It seemed a bit over the top when I reflected upon it.

I think in part it was disappointment with Fischer himself. Fischer came back in 1992. There was an expectation that he might come back as a venerable gentlemen to play some other events. Then he came up with this chess960 which seemed to me to be a way of avoiding to come back at all. I think I'm right in thinking that. He didn't want to come back to lose, the main reason that he stopped in the first place and chess960 was his excuse.

It has to be said that in the World Championship matches, particularly Gelfand vs. Anand, if the two players are highly booked up it's not interesting. That match was the pinnacle of preparation. Gelfand didn't like it when people said the match was boring. Theoretically it was fascinating for those who liked the positions they were playing, but there was very little chess in that match. It was all prep and that was not a good feeling.

But Carlsen... I like the way that Carlsen plays. Most everyone does, but he's more anti-theory. That said, maybe this is the only way. Maybe chess960 in another five or ten years will be the only way to keep chess going. If theory really starts to get exhausted and people can draw well with Black, then where do you go?

I had an email about that with David Navara. He was saying that he would very much like to play some professional chess960 events. At the moment, if he wants to, the only events available to him in the Czech republic have 30 pound prizes, very low prize funds. He would like to play proper chess960 and he thinks he's good. A number of top players are enthusiastic about playing chess960, so maybe I'm wrong.

The Crowther interview includes 'EP.59' in the podcast title. For the previous 58 episodes and for future episodes, see the YouTube channel Perpetual Chess Podcast.

16 February 2018

Another AI Engine

This edition of Video Friday ties together two recent posts: The Lineage of AlphaZero (January 2018) and AlphaGo Netflix (ditto).

Interview with Rhys Rustad-Elliott, creator of the chess engine "Shallow Blue" (9:21) • 'Published on Feb 7, 2018'

The clip's description explains,

On February 2nd, Hart House Chess Club hosted a very interesting event on Chess, Computers and AI, featuring the screening of the award-winning documentary "AlphaGo", followed by an elite lecture by our guest speaker, Rhys Rustad-Elliott (sophomore at [University of Toronto] in Computer Science). Rhys, originally from Vancouver, had an interest in Computer Science and Software Engineering since elementary school, when he started toying around with simple programs in Python. Nowadays, he’s interested in a wide variety of Computer Science related topics and recently finished work on his chess engine, Shallow Blue (a play on words of Deep Blue).

For more about the lecture, see Rhys Rustad-Elliot introduces “Shallow Blue” and reflects on “Alpha Go”, Computers and AI (harthousechess.com).

15 February 2018

Bobby Speaks from the Grave

During the recent Carlsen - Nakamura match, Fischer Random 2018 (frchess.com), the setting received considerable attention.

Fischer: 'The *Old* Chess Is Dead'
(chess960frc.blogspot.com; February 2010)

The photo is a screen capture from the start of the live commentary for the match, where we learned,

IM Anna Rudolf: 'The two players are part of an art performance, an exhibition of fine art photography by Dag Alveng, Norwegian photographer. The photos are representing the tombs of former World Chess Champions.' • GM Yasser Seirawan: 'We say standing on the shoulders of giants. Here they'll be crossing their graveyards. There you see the two players, the black and white chairs, how appropriate.' • IM Rudolf: 'In front of the tomb of Bobby Fischer. [...] If you look at the table, this beautiful white table, it is exactly the same marble as the tomb of Bobby Fischer.'

Standing behind Magnus Carlsen is Erna Solberg, the Prime Minister of Norway, who made the ceremonial first move for GM Carlsen. For the rest of the commentary, see Nakamura-Carlsen 960 Fischer Random Match, Day 1 | Part 1 (twitch.tv/chess).