21 November 2017

Spectating the 88th FIDE Congress

FIDE has just published its annual set of internal documents emanating from its most recent Congress, 88th FIDE Congress: Executive Board Minutes and Annexes (fide.com); 'FIDE publishes the minutes and annexes of the Executive Board meeting that was held in Goynuk, Antalya, Turkey, 13-14 October 2017.' As in nearly every year, they provide the best view that an outsider has of the internal workings of the organization.

Just as I've always done after previous Congresses, I looked first at the 2017 Executive Board Minutes. I was not surprised to see that the U.S. sanctions against Kirsan Ilyumzhinov are still FIDE's most pressing issue. I discussed the background for those sanctions in last year's post, Spectating the 87th FIDE Congress (December 2016), and they are not to be taken lightly. According to the U.S. Treasury Department, Ilyumzhinov served as a middleman between two groups who were unable to conduct business openly. Following are initial, relevant excerpts concerning the impact of the sanctions as taken from the minutes of the 88th FIDE Congress, Executive Board meeting.

1. Brief of President K. Ilyumzhinov.

[Ilyumzhinov] said that as for his sanctions, are they in the way when he travels, develops and promotes chess? You know that since December 2015 he is in the process of clarifying his situation with the U.S. Department of Treasury. He has officially signed two contracts with the U.S. lawyers who defend his interest in this case. Lately there had been four hearings on his case in the U.S. Dept. of Treasury. He was sure that he will be invited to the USA very soon. As for trips, besides the USA, he is able to visit all countries in all continents. He paid his trips in air company Lufthansa and others, he stayed in hotels and organised events and this did not interfere with his activities abroad.

He also established the Chess for Peace Foundation in Washington, London, and Brussels. During this year he has organised many events, by paying and assisting through this foundation, to many chess clubs in quite a few countries. He attracted many companies and many businessmen from all over the world. He has received invitations from more than a hundred countries and many Russian regions, to come and give a lecture, to bring books and chess equipment, to attend opening of various chess clubs, and to help chess federations. Yesterday many Presidents whom he met, invited him to visit their countries.

1.1. Report of the Deputy President. [G. Makropoulos]

I would like to say that after Baku [87th FIDE Congress] we had successfully organized, probably the best World Championship in chess that we have organized, ever in New York. And it was on a very high level organized with great success in media and internet. I think Mr. Merenzon, will refer later to specific numbers. And I remind you that this was an idea of Kirsan to organize this championship in New York. And it was very pity that at the end he was not able to go there. He said that few days before the event, he tried, and they stopped him.

I was there but I tried to avoid going to the opening ceremony or to the closing ceremony. Other officials from FIDE, they have represented FIDE in these ceremonies. When I was there, I tried to keep a very low profile for one reason. I didn’t want to downgrade the importance of Kirsan on that period because we were giving a fight, first of all, to protect our Organization of the fact that Kirsan has been under sanctions, but at the same time, we didn’t want, of course, Kirsan to leave FIDE, and we didn’t want Kirsan to be insulted from all these… that were going in our family. I will refer to this later in my report. [...]

One of the most important efforts that we have to do in the last period… it was, despite of the problems that we were facing, to try to keep the stability in our organization. The truth is that it’s not easy. We face really serious problems that I have to refer to them, but what I want to say is that for me, all these problems, they were not political and they were not personal because many times it has been an effort for these problems to be presented as political problems between the people or personal problems.

I would like to remind you that in Baku, in General Assembly, there was an effort to go to a voting against Kirsan Ilyumzhinov being president in FIDE under sanctions. It was not clear what exactly the people that had the initiative to present their proposals were looking for, vote of non-confidence, whether they were going to go farther to force Kirsan to resign. We stand by Kirsan, and we make it clear: we understand that the sanctions are a big problem that we have in FIDE, but we don't believe that this Organization should insult Mr. Ilyumzhinov by trying to force him to resign. We don't want this. We're not looking for this, and at least few people there, they made it very clear.

I can remember myself, Jorge Vega, Israel Gelfer, that we made very clear that what we believe is that Kirsan should not run to the next elections. And maybe on that moment there were people in the meeting that were thinking that we don't believe really on this, and we say we are expressing this view because we just wanted to protect Kirsan on that moment. The truth is that we really believe this. And we have to make a big effort the next months to convince Kirsan that he should not run.

I think Adrian [Siegel, FIDE Treasurer] can refer to the problems that already we have faced with our banks and our insurance company in Switzerland, and the situation, of course, it can be worse in case that Kirsan is the president because now we have stopped everything, all the efforts in Switzerland to take out our accounts from the banks there, because we have explained that Kirsan is not a part of the decision making procedure, that he is not involved in the business of FIDE, he’s our president only. And somehow we convinced them that they should not insist.

But the truth is that if Kirsan could win these elections and comes back, they will believe, all of them, that we were cheating them, that we were lying to them, that we are not a serious organization. Immediately they will kick us out. So all these months we were trying to convince Kirsan not to run, to find an alternative. Somebody else could. We had even discussions about the possibility that Mr. Filatov could run. We had discussions even one year and a half about such a possibility or somebody else from FIDE, even from another country. Unfortunately, we could not reach an understanding that this is what we should do in FIDE. Kirsan really wished very much that he should run at least for one more term.

Later in the meeting, Ilyumzhinov gave a more detailed defense of his personal actions, but I'll save that for another post. Along with that item, I'll look at the same subjects I covered in connection with last year's 'Spectating the 87th Congress':-

On my other chess blog, I'll do a follow-up to last year's report:-

That should keep me busy for the next month or so.

20 November 2017

Improve Engine Hardware - High Performance

The heart of last week's post, Improve Engine Hardware - Parts List, was a three-column table:-

The following table gives a side-by-side comparison of those two sources for the 'most important' components.

A list of components for a high-end chess engine was posted last month by Chessdom.com, 44 cores server to power TCEC Season 10 (October 2017):-

The premier computer chess event TCEC Season 10 is starting next week with the participation of the strongest chess software. The event will not only be record breaking regarding the ELO and strength of the engines, but also the hardware for S10 will be a 44 core server.

Another reliable source appeared last week on Chessbase.com, Building the ultimate chess machine (November 2017):-

Pros travel around the world almost constantly, and the elite players more than any. You might imagine this would mean they are dependent on top-of-the-line laptops, which they certainly have as well, but they all know that a top desktop computer will always outgun even the most formidable laptop. The solution is simply to access their desktop computer remotely, via the internet.

Here are the specific hardware recommendations from both sources.

  TCEC Chessbase
CPU Intel Dual Xeon 2699 v4 - Total 44 cores AMD RYZEN Threadripper 1950X 16-Core
Mobo Supermicro X10DRL-i ASRock X399 Professional Gaming sTR4
RAM 64 GB RAM meaning max of 16 GB hash per engine G.SKILL TridentZ Series 32GB (2 x 16GB) 288-Pin DDR4 3200
Cooling ? Arctic Liquid Freezer 240

The Chessbase article raised another relevant question:-

What if you could put together three full computers, each with 50% of the performance, for the price of one Threadripper [i.e. AMD Ryzen Threadripper 1950X]? In other words, getting 50% more analysis power at your fingertips. The recommendation would still be one Threadripper.

For a discussion of the Dual Xeon 2699, which might be the highest performance hardware currently running chess engines, see Two 22 Core Xeon CPUs!? (youtube.com). I like the use of the chess symbol ('!?') in the title.

19 November 2017

A Six-Figure Chess Item at Auction

Here on Top eBay Chess Items by Price, four-figure auction items -- selling for $1000 or more -- are not unusual. Five-figure items are less usual. The only such items I can recall appeared during the last few years:-

  • Man Ray Chess Set; (September 2015); 'With a starting price of US $10.000, the set sold for US $18.000 after receiving six bids.'
  • Chess Sculpture at Auction (November 2016); '$10.000 after five bids at live auction'
  • Chess Sets at Live Auction (December 2016); 'A Swiss Pearwood Animal and Bird Chess Set, 19th Century; sold for US $11,000 after 9 bids.'

The item pictured below was titled 'Marcel Duchamp : Pocket Chess Set'. After a starting price of US $160.000, the auction lasted two minutes, with the bid rising by increments of $10.000 every ten seconds or so. The winning bid was $340.000 after 13 bids.

The previous edition of 'Top eBay Chess Items', Marcel Duchamp on eBay, featured an etching where 'the auction was conducted by the well-known Sotheby’s', and the auction behind this current post was also by Sotheby’s. The description started,

PROVENANCE: Harold M. Phillips, New York (a gift from the artist). Thence by descent.

It continued with 'EXHIBITED:', which was empty, and 'LITERATURE', which listed four references that I omit here. The rest of the description was a long note on the overlap of Duchamp's art and his chess. It started,

CATALOGUE NOTE: Marcel Duchamp had a lifelong fascination with chess. Ostensibly "retiring from art" in 1923, he devoted the next ten years of his life to professional tournaments and by 1925, he had attained the rating of Master from the French Chess Federation.

The rest of the description can be found on duchamp, marcel pocket chess set (sothebys.com), where a few other important details about the auction can be found:-

Estimate: 200.000 - 300.000 USD
Lot Sold: 423.000 USD (hammer price with buyer's premium)
Signed Marcel Duchamp and dated NY 1944
Pocket chessboard in leather, celluloid and pins
6 1/2 by 4 in.; 16.5 by 10.1 cm
Executed circa 1944

The description also mentioned,

In 1944, Julien Levy organized an exhibition called The Imagery of Chess and asked thirty-two Surrealist artists to submit their own chess set designs. Duchamp submitted an example of his Pocket Chess Set, to which he added a single rubber glove (this work has since disappeared but was later replicated).

For more about that exhibition on this blog, see a post from earlier this year, The Imagery of Chess, St. Louis (August 2017).

17 November 2017

Knight Solo

Whenever a chess piece appears solo in a photo or drawing, nine times out of ten it's a chess Knight. Take, for example, another edition of Flickr Friday earlier this year, A Lonely Knight. So far, the photo below has had 2504 views and 41 faves ('favorites', including mine), indicating that its appeal is more than artist inspiration alone.

Chess Knight © Flickr user Michal Kosmulski under Creative Commons.

The description says only,

A recent origami design of mine -- chess knight with a corrugation-based mane.

Eliminating the tags for chess leaves 'origami', 'corrugation', and 'Khepera paper', which leaves little doubt as to its construction. Among the 13 Flickr groups to which it belongs, two groups are for chess:-

The 'Top Contributors' to these groups are also worth exploring.

16 November 2017

The Einstellung Effect

Spotted in the March 2014 issue of Scientific American, under the heading 'Psychology'. The introduction on the magazine's contents page said,

The human brain has a dogged tendency to stick with a familiar solution to a problem -- the one that first comes to mind -- and to ignore alternatives, even when they are superior.

The first two pages of the related article are shown in the following image.

'Why Good Thoughts Block Better Ones'

Article by Merim Bilalic and Peter McLeod
Illustration by Danny Schwartz

The caption on the right says,

While we are working through a problem, the brain's tendency to stick with familiar ideas can literally blind us to superior solutions.

The article starts,

In a classic 1942 experiment, American psychologist Abraham Luchins asked volunteers to do some basic math by picturing water jugs in their mind. [The participants had to figure out how to transfer liquid between the containers to measure out precisely 100 units.] Luchins presented his volunteers with several more problems that could be solved with essentially the same three steps; they made quick work of them. Yet when he gave them a problem with a simpler and faster solution than the previous tasks, they failed to see it. [...]

The water jug experiment is one of the most famous examples of the Einstellung effect: the human brain's dogged tendency to stick with a familiar solution to a problem -- the one that first comes to mind -- and to ignore alternatives.

What does that have to do with chess?

In recent eye-tracking experiments, familiar ideas blinded chess players to areas of a chessboard that would have provided clues to better solutions.

The article (with a different title?!) is available to subscribers on the magazine's site: Why Your First Idea Can Blind You to a Better One (scientificamerican.com). Another, shorter article on the same site, How Psychologists Study the Einstellung Effect in Chess (also March 2014), deals with the chess experiment: 'Cognitive bias can prevent even the most talented chess players from seeing the swiftest path to victory'.

The full article (with 'PDF Download Available') can be found on Why Good Thoughts Block Better Ones (researchgate.net). As for the illustration of the two geezers playing chess in front of the fireplace -- which caught my attention before the rest of the article -- it can also be seen on the artist's site, Danny Schwartz Illustration.

Articles in Scientific American occasionally focus on chess to make a point. Recent examples that I featured on this blog were Are Boys Good at Chess? (March 2015) and Chess and EEG (December 2014), and there were more posts before those.

While I was looking at the version of the Bilalic & McLeod article on Researchgate.net, the site proposed two more articles by the same authors:-

It turns out the site has an entire category about the game, 'Recommendations: Discover more publications, questions and projects in Chess'. How have I managed to overlook this for so long?

14 November 2017

Kids Crafting Tips?

Whatever happened to chess.about.com? As my page linked on the sidebar, 'Chess for All Ages (site)', explains,

From September 2002 to August 2008, I was privileged to serve as the Chess Guide for About.com. During that time, I produced one feature article per week. Although About.com has an exclusive, perpetual license to use my material, it's unlikely that they will ever use it again. After I left, the company gave me permission to reuse the material: 'It would be fine to use your content as you please.' Here are copies of those articles.

First let's have a recap of the site's history, as tracked on this blog. In my last months at the company, when it was still a subsidiary of the New York Times (NYT), I noted a couple of changes at the top:-

In the month that I left, I wrote two posts giving my own perspective from within the company:-

Four years later, the NYT sold the operation to IAC (aka Answers.com, aka Ask.com):-

After that I stopped paying attention to the company, except to check on its content from time to time. I do the same for many chess sites. Wikipedia's page on About.com now goes to Dotdash, with the mention 'Redirected from About.com'. The last paragraph currently informs,

2017–present: Closure of About.com, rebranding to multiple publications under Dotdash • On May 2, 2017, IAC announced that they had renamed About.com to Dotdash, after about a year of transition. CEO Neil Vogel said that the company had lost mind share, and needed to change their marketing strategy. The company elected to refocus on vertical markets through its niche websites: The Balance (personal finance), Lifewire (consumer electronics), The Spruce (home and food), VeryWell (health), TripSavvy (travel), and ThoughtCo (education).

It turns out that chess is now included under 'The Spruce (home and food)', and its current address is thespruce.com/chess-4127460.

The breadcrumb trail for the chess articles shows:-

Thespruce.com > Crafts & Hobbies > Kids Crafting Tips > Chess
Kids crafting tips? Talk about clueless! For more about the most recent transition, see About.com launches The Spruce, a standalone site for Home Decor and Food (techcrunch.com; February 2017).

13 November 2017

Improve Engine Hardware - Parts List

Continuing with the previous post in this series, Improve Engine Hardware - Specs, the 'Advanced Chess' (serverchess.com) article from which I gathered the hardware specs, gave me another good lead:-

FirebrandX, a player and blogger on the Chess.com site, advises he's in the process of building a new computer for advanced chess. He revealed his list of components with the estimated street price of only $2325.

The list was part of a discussion about Best CPU for chess engine game analysis (chess.com; March 2013):-

I happen to be in the process of starting a new build. [...] I decided the Intel Hex core [Hexa] was the best way to go instead of the infinitely more expensive Xeon machines.

Another source of detailed information, with links to Amazon.com product pages (and some budget recommendations), is Best Computer Specs for a Chess Engine (castledrook.com; May 2017):-

Make sure that the CPU, motherboard, and RAM you choose are compatible with each other. You can do this by checking the socket information on the store page. [...] The CPU, motherboard, RAM, and cooling are all the most important, so budget most of your money towards those.

The following table gives a side-by-side comparison of those two sources for the 'most important' components.

  2013 2017
CPU Intel i7-3930K Hex Intel Boxed Core i7-6950X
Mobo Asus P9X79 Asus Rampage V Extreme
RAM Ram 64GB G.Skill 64GB (4 x 16GB)
Cooling Heat-sink/fan Corsair H115i Liquid CPU Cooler

The Intel i7-3930 is a 6-core chip, the i7-6950 is a 10-core chip, and the budget recommendation i7-7700 is a 4-core chip. Wikipedia's Intel Core explains,

Intel Core is a line of mid-to-high end consumer, workstation, and enthusiast central processing units (CPU) marketed by Intel Corporation. These processors displaced the existing mid-to-high end Pentium processors of the time, moving the Pentium to the entry level, and bumping the Celeron series of processors to low end.

Identical or more capable versions of Core processors are also sold as Xeon processors for the server and workstation markets. As of June 2017, the lineup of Core processors included the Intel Core i9, Intel Core i7, Intel Core i5, and Intel Core i3, along with the Y - Series Intel Core CPUs.

As for the other recommendations, the table gives enough info for further investigation. At first I was puzzled why chess engine users would want to build their own systems from scratch. Then I realized that it's standard operating procedure in the larger community of gamers.

12 November 2017

'A Democratic Game'

Where's the chess capital of the USA? Some people think it's St.Louis, as in How St Louis became America’s chess capital (economist.com), but how many New Yorkers would agree?

Tom D's NYC: Chess (7:52) • 'Comedian and tour guide, Tomas "Tom" Delgado, gives you a quick look around the world of chess in NYC. Shot by Keith Glidewell.'

Shot on location at: Union Square; Washington Square; and Chess Forum, Thompson Street. By one of those coincidences that can't be explained, Chess Forum was featured on this blog a week or so ago: Multi-dimensional Chess Imagery.

10 November 2017

Chess Educators of the Year

This edition of Video Friday is in fact a series of six videos, with promises of more to follow. Since 2004, the University of Texas at Dallas has been making an annual 'Chess Educator of the Year' award. The winner in 2010 was Scottish Grandmaster Jonathan Rowson (wikipedia.org).

Chess Educator of the Year - Jonathan Rowson - 2010 (1:06:03) • 'Published on Nov 8, 2017'

For clips of other acceptance addresses from other years, see Chess Educator of the Year (utdallas.edu). Although GM Rowson's work has been mentioned several times on this blog (see, for example, Chess Psychology/Philosophy; June 2013), it was discussed more extensively on my chess960 blog in Rowson's 'Three Types of Theory' (February 2011).

09 November 2017

A Collage of Chess Collages

If a picture is worth a thousand words, what are two pictures worth? Ten pictures? A hundred pictures? Last month I used a new (for me) technique to explore the topic of Bogart and Chess in Photos. Based on a snapshot of a Google image search, it was easy to reference individual images, to document their visual connections with other images, and to investigate their origins on the web. The referencing goes something like this:-

Let's use chess notation to identify the three rows of six images. Calling the rows 'A' to 'C' (from top to bottom) and numbering the images in each row '1' to '6' (from left to right).

Here's another example.

Google image search on 'chess collage'

The image in the top row, left ('A1') is from Chess club in a collage (chess.com), where someone meant 'college', but typed 'collage', and someone else gave an example of a chess collage. This must be a common mistake, because Google confirms 'collage' before executing the search.

The image in the bottom row, right ('C5') is from Marcel Dzama: A Game of Chess (seesaa.net). The original image is titled 'The Hyper-modern Revolution' (2011), and is explained as 'Diorama: wood, glass, cardboard, paper, collage, watercolor and ink'. The rest of the page is full of unusual chess imagery. As for the other images in the collage of collages they all tell other stories.

As far as I can tell, I first used the Google image technique (I often call it a 'composite' image) in A Contest With No Prize (September 2012). Lately I've been using it more frequently, for example:-

I've also used the composite technique in other contexts, like:-

What copyright issues are involved? I really don't know. Google freely uses the images returned by a search, without permission from the owning sites. If the owner of an image asked me to remove it (which has happened twice in the 20 years that I've been creating material for the web), I would have to research the question of 'fair use'. In the meantime, I have a few other ideas for chess collages.

07 November 2017

Reconsidering an Online Chess Database

Decisions, decisions. A few years back, faced with a technical problem, I scrambled to find a new online chess database and documented the effort in a series of posts on this blog (February/March 2014):-

In that 'Choosing' post, I described the way I use an online database to keep up with opening theory. Basically, I start by looking at what the top players have been playing in a particular variation during the last couple of years, then broaden the parameters as the game goes deeper. I discovered that none of the databases could support this methodology and I decided to continue using the same toolset as before, accepting an increased security risk.

The database I've been using, Chesslab, was conceived around the year 2000 and is based on Java. This was adequate at the time, but the times have changed and the technology is no longer robust enough to protect against malicious activity, which is nowadays the primary disadvantage of doing anything online. Earlier this year, Firefox withdrew support for Java, effectively disabling Chesslab. Explorer still supports Java, but throws up so many warnings that I have to doubt my judgement in continuing to use it. On top of this, the downloaded PGN files are not usable 'as is' and have to be converted into a text format that can be loaded into PGN readers.

These days my main interest in online correspondence chess is chess960, where online databases have no value in the opening. A year or so before those posts on online chess databases, in Cup Play (May 2013), I wrote about continuing to play the traditional start position ('RNBQKBNR'). A new tournament will start in a week. If I play, I'll need a database to guide me through the opening phase, but which database?

Looking again at the work I did in 2014, there was one service that was still under development, Chess-db.com. I decided to take another look at it. Indeed, its 'Opening Explorer' is now an improvement over what I found in 2014, and in the direction of what I need. It has a filter on rating, but no filter on when a game was played. Is the glass half-empty or half-full?

Unfortunately, the filter on rating is not up-to-scratch. It restricts results based on the rating of the player(s), but unnecessarily adds a +/- 100-point band around the search. If I'm looking for the current practice of 2700+ players, I don't want 2600 players included in the search, but I do want 2800 players. In addition, the results look dubious. Here is a side-by-side comparison of the results for the traditional start position filtered on a 2700 rating and on 2800.

The results are identical, indicating that something is amiss. Having said that, the ability to go deeper into any variation and see what top players have tried is an advantage. Is this good enough for a tournament section of six games? The event will be the quarterfinal stage of a multi-stage tournament. Because I always prefer to finish what I've started, I'm reluctant to abandon the tournament now.

In the 'Resurrecting' post mentioned above, I wrote, 'As for giving up traditional chess and switching to chess960, I am certain that day will come. It just won't be today.' Perhaps that day is now. I have a week to decide.

06 November 2017

Improve Engine Hardware - Specs

The first step to attain the objective established in Engine Trouble ('to investigate what sort of engine setup I would need to improve my result') was to Improve Engine Software. The second step will be to 'Improve Engine Hardware'. Because the subject is so broad, this can't be covered in a single post.

The best introduction to using chess engines is undoubtedly Advanced Chess - Hints to Get Started in Computer Assisted Play (serverchess.com). Although it rambles from topic to topic, it covers nearly everything worth knowing. The first piece of advice about hardware is:-

If purchasing a new computer, order the largest power supply, speediest motherboard / multi-core processor, most memory, largest hard drive and best cooling system you can fit into the case. Think high-end gaming machine, not a generic or "internet" computer.

In other words, consider the attributes of each component of the system on its own. More specifically,

You will need a "deep" or multi-core version of a chess engine and 64-bit motherboard version of Windows®. And, last but not least, enough memory (8, better 16 gigabytes) to hold the millions of positions generated by an engine.

In other words, the more parallelism in the system, the better. The top chess engines thrive on multi-processing.

You will not be able to purchase such a computer for $500 at Best Buy or Walmart! A desktop x64 with i7 processor (4 actual cores, not 2 cores and hokey hyper-threading) and 16 gigabytes of memory will be more like $2.000.

In other words, be prepared to spend more than you usually spend on computing equipment.

Robert Houdart advertises his state-of-the-art chess engine, Houdini 4 Pro, as capable of utilizing 32 threads (16 cores) and 256 gigabytes of hash memory. There's not a PC in the world can meet those standards (Intel and AMD just began offering 8, 10 and 12-cores in a single processor configuration). One must move up to the workstation class of computer to run that many cores and that much memory.

Before going any further, it might be useful to define some of that non-chess jargon. From Wikipedia's Multi-core processor:-

A multi-core processor is a single computing component with two or more independent actual processing units (called "cores"), which are units that read and execute program instructions.

The 'Advanced Chess' article I've been quoting also mentions a 'dual quad-core machine'. A photo of one is shown below, where the two processor chips are easily seen on the left..

aTCA-6100 Dual Quad-Core Intel Xeon L5518 AdvancedTCA Processor Blade (embeddedstar.com)

The related article explains,

The aTCA-6100 features two 2.13 GHz quad-core Intel Xeon 5500 series processors, Intel 5520 chipset, up to 48 GB of DDR3 memory, and an optional PICMG mid-size AMC bay for maximum computing performance and flexibility.

The 'Advanced Chess' article touches on 'hyper-threading', although used pejoratively. Wikipedia's Hyper-threading says,

For each processor core that is physically present, the operating system addresses two virtual (logical) cores and shares the workload between them when possible. The main function of hyper-threading is to increase the number of independent instructions in the pipeline.

In the next post in this series, I'll go a little deeper into these concepts.

05 November 2017

Marcel Duchamp on eBay

Life is full of coincidences. The previous post, Multi-dimensional Chess Imagery, was about 'Marcel Duchamp in the Village [NYC] - 50 Years Later', and this current post, the next in the long-running series Top eBay Chess Items by Price (March 2010), is also about Marcel Duchamp.

Titled 'MARCEL DUCHAMP : The Chess Players (Schwartz 621)', the item shown below sold at live auction for US $8000 after seven bids. The starting price was $5000 and the entire auction lasted less than 90 seconds.

The description said,

MARCEL DUCHAMP: The Chess Players (Schwartz 621) • Estimate: 14,000 - 18,000 USD • Plate: 437 by 574 mm, 17 1/4 by 22 5/8 in • Etching, 1965, signed in pencil, dedicated 'for Robert Motherwell', dated and numbered 25/50 (total edition includes ten artist's proofs), on handmade laid paper, framed.

CONDITION REPORT: The full sheet. Faint light-stain, slightly darker at mat opening and slight undulation to the sheet. Adhesive residue along the right and left sheet edges on the verso, showing through. The margins with a few tiny fox marks and spots of surface soiling and some slight creasing. The verso unevenly toned, with a few fox marks and traces of surface soiling.

The auction was conducted by the well-known Sotheby’s, first seen on this blog in Chess Sculpture at Auction (November 2016). At that time I wrote,

I couldn't remember seeing Sotheby’s on eBay. The seller's feedback listing was a modest 'sothebys (23); 90.9% positive feedback', with the earliest item going back about 18 months. The relatively low feedback rating seems to be related to shipping costs and communication problems.

The seller's feedback listing is now 'sothebys (33); 100% positive feedback', indicating that the auction house has improved its customer service on eBay. As for the reference 'Schwartz 621' in the title of the etching, Google auto-corrects a search on 'duchamp schwartz' to 'duchamp schwarz'. Whichever term is used, the first result is Wikipedia's Arturo Schwarz:-

Arturo Umberto Samuele Schwarz (born 2 February 1924) is an Italian scholar, art historian, poet, writer, lecturer, art consultant and curator of international art exhibitions. He lives in Milan, where he has amassed a large collection of Dada and Surrealist art, including many works by personal friends such as Marcel Duchamp, André Breton, Man Ray, and Jean Arp.

Wikipedia's first selected work concerning Schwarz is 'Marcel Duchamp: Sixty-six Creative Years; From the First Painting to the Last Drawing, Gallery Schwarz (Milan, Italy), 1972'. Is that the origin of the numbering? Whatever the origin, the Schwartz/Schwarz confusion is rampant in the art world.

03 November 2017

Multi-dimensional Chess Imagery

This is one of those Flickr Friday photos that has little to do with its related story. I could have picked almost any photo from the album, Marcel Duchamp in the Village, 50 Years Later, but I liked this one because of the chess memorabilia on the wall.

Artist Serkan Ozkaya in conversation with poet Robert Fitterman © Flickr user Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation under Creative Commons.

The album's description matches the content of another page, Marcel Duchamp in the Village - 50 Years Later (thoughtgallery.org). It says,

For twenty years, Marcel Duchamp secretly worked on his final art piece, Étant donnés, in his New York City studio. After his death on October 2nd, 1968, his close friends and the world were stunned to find, hidden in his studio on East 11th Street in the former St. Denis Hotel, the completed Étant donnés, an elaborately detailed and beautifully disturbing room-encompassing tableau, which could be peered at through two peepholes upon entering the room.

Four years ago, Serkan Ozkaya imagined Étant donnés as a camera obscura. What if the peepholes weren't only peepholes? (When has Duchamp's work only ever been one thing?) What if the peepholes were also meant to project an image? Ozkaya built a scale model to see; to his surprise, the projected image resembled a face. He further secured the studio in which the piece was originally completed. [...]

That's all very nice, but what does that have to with chess?

Join artist Serkan Ozkaya and poet Robert Fitterman for a conversation about Duchamp's enigmatic final work and contemporary artists' response to it. [...] Chess Forum is the perfect venue as chess featured throughout Duchamp's career, from his early painting Portrait of Chess Players to Reunion, the performance/chess game he staged with John Cage in 1968, and Duchamp frequently played the game in Greenwich Village.

For more about the artwork, see Wikipedia's Étant donnés. Google translates the French phrase as 'Since', but I'm sure there is more to it than a single word. For more about New York City's Chess Forum, see chessforum.com ('Your Gateway to the World of Chess').

As for the memorabilia on the wall, it's not all about chess. Partly visible to the left of the chalk board ('Prices per person/hour: Chess___$5 ...'), is a small poster for the documentary 'Game Over - Kasparov and the Machine'. To the right is a sketch of Ralph Waldo Emerson, whose connection to chess is tenuous.

The large frame under the horseshoe is an an excerpt from T.S.Eliot's poem 'East Coker' (1940), that starts 'You say I am repeating / Something I have said before'. Beneath that poem is American poet Walt Whitman, and to the left of Whitman is a scene from 1886 Steinitz - Zukertort, 'the first match for the title of World Chess Champion accepted by all chess historians'. Other photos from the Flickr album also show walls filled with both chess and non-chess imagery. Who said chess players are two-dimensional only?

02 November 2017

November 1967 'On the Cover'

Fifty years ago, the two major American chess periodicals both featured players who, on multiple occasions, reached the World Championship Candidate stage.

Left: 'U.S. Open Champion Pal Benko, "King of the Opens"'
Right: 'Fine Victory at Havana and Good Tie at Winnipeg'

The first three CL articles were about Benko.

Chess Life

'Benko First in U.S. Open' by William Goichberg • 'The Return of the Ruy' by Pal Benko (Benko - Rossolimo, U.S. Open, Atlanta 1967) • '"King of the Opens": An Interview with Pal Benko' by Burt Hochberg

Chess Review

Bent Larsen, our doughty Dane who scored so well in the Interzonal at Amsterdam in 1964, is hitting the high spots again -- possibly in anticipation of this year's interzonal (being held in Sousse, Tunisia). Larsen won a fine first in the Capablanca Memorial at Havana ahead of Marc Taimanov of the Soviet Union, defeating Taimanov in the process.

He also turned in another fine performance at Winnipeg, but Klaus Darga of West Germany equaled it. The two tied for first, ahead of an all-grandmaster field, at 6-3. But Darga deserves credit for a moral victory, perhaps, as he defeated Larsen and went undefeated himself. Paul Keres and Boris Spassky of the Soviet Union had to settle for a tie for third and four as they scored 5.5 each. Pal Benko of the United States placed fifth with an even five points -- really one up on even.

Benko's previous 'On the Cover' appearance was the CR side of April 1967 'On the Cover'. Larsen's was the CL side August 1966 'On the Cover' in a group photo from the Piatigorsky Cup. His previous solo was the CR side of July 1964 'On the Cover'. It used the same photo shown above and also referred to him as the 'Doughty Dane'. Google search defines 'doughty (adjective archaic humorous)' as 'brave and persistent'.

31 October 2017

October Yahoos

Has it been nearly three months since Yahoo last found a newsworthy chess story? The last one I posted was about Fabulous Fabiano (August 2017), and this month there were two more.

The first story was picked up by many mainstream news sources, probably because it was distributed by the Associated Press. Most of the AP story appeared in the Yahoo summary above.

2017-10-02: Chess player fired by Iran over headscarf joins US team (foxnews.com; AP)

TEHRAN, Iran – An Iranian news agency says a woman who was kicked off the national chess team for attending an international competition without wearing an Islamic headscarf has joined the U.S. team. The semi-official ISNA news agency reported Monday that Dorsa Derakhshani, who refused to wear the headscarf, known as a hijab, during a February competition in Gibraltar, has joined the U.S. national team. Since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Iran has required women to wear the hijab in public places.

The second story was a feature. It was frequently shared on social media, where the level of skepticism was considerable.

2017-10-28: This NYC chess hustler makes $400 a day (nypost.com)

Six years ago, Ambakisye Osayaba made his big move -- he quit his part-time city job cleaning Central Park and began playing chess full-time. Now he earns up to $400 a day, taking on all comers from a 2-by-2-foot fold-out table, chairs and chess board he rolls in a metal shopping granny cart every morning to the southwest strip of Union Square Park. "It’s the best living I’ve ever made," said Osayaba, 59, known by the initials T.C., which stand for "teaches chess."

Back to the first story, the chess press provided a more comprehensive report: US Chess Welcomes Dorsa Derakashani, IM and WGM (uschess.org). And no, it hasn't been a three month lapse since the last of the 'Fabulous Fabiano' Yahoo reports. It was two months between the last Caruana story and the first story in this post. In the meantime there were several Kasparov stories. Good thing we have Garry to take up the slack.

30 October 2017

Improve Engine Software

At the end of last month I wrote a post on my chess960 blog titled Engine Trouble. It started, 'Talk about a disastrous tournament!' and made some general observations about a particularly poor result. One of the observations was 'Insufficient engine power' and at the end of the post I set myself the task 'to investigate what sort of engine setup I would need to improve my result.'

I've been using chess engines long enough to know that I have four specific areas to investigate. Here they are in the order they should be addressed:-

  • Upgrade software
  • Upgrade hardware
  • Link engine(s) directly to tablebase
  • Improve GUI

All of this needs to be within a certain budget, but I would also like to know what I could do given (nearly) unlimited funds. As for the tablebase, what are the possibilities of using a seven piece (or more) TB?

A Google search on 'chess engine best software' returns a list of results in a format unlike most Google searches. There is no count for the number of results and certain top results are displayed above the traditional results in a banner that scrolls left and right. I've seen the format before, but have never understood why it is used in certain searches. Perhaps it has something to do with shopping.

I split the 16 'best software' results into a 4x4 display that reads top-to-bottom, left-to-right in the same order presented by Google, where the most important results are presumably presented first. It works for me in a second way because I've used the four engines that are displayed in the top row

chess engine best software

All engines have their peculiarities, their strengths and weaknesses. I often run two different engines on the same position to see if their evaluations match. If they don't match, I try to determine why not -- which engine understood the position better?

For the next few posts in this series, I'm going to assume that my main engine will be Stockfish. Because it is open source, more information about its internals is available to the public. I can come back to this decision after I've investigated the other points on my list.

29 October 2017

'Chess Behind Bars'

In this ongoing, fortnightly series about The Sociology of Chess, a few months ago we saw An Education in Hustling (May 2017), which featured a video titled 'How Prison Taught This Man How to Play Chess'. This video discusss the organizational side of the same topic.

Interview with Carl Portman on Chess in Prisons (12:48) • 'Published on Oct 15, 2017'

In the screen capture for the embedded version of this video, Portman is holding up a book titled 'Chess Behind Bars', written by himself. He discusses it during the interview. The product page, at Chess Behind Bars (Hardcover) by Carl Portman (qualitychess.co.uk), says,

At a time when prisons are in the news due to increasing violence, drug taking and low morale, it has never been more important to focus on education and rehabilitation. [...] Carl Portman is the English Chess Federation’s Manager of Chess in Prisons. In 2015 he was awarded the ECF President’s award for services to chess.

Also visible in the video behind Portman is the domain name www.chessplus.net. Its home page says,

ChessPlus is changing the world of chess education. Our unique approach is based upon decades of experience of teaching games to develop thinking skills.

Portman is pictured on a page on the site, ECU Chess Teacher Training Course – London, dated 20 October 2017.

27 October 2017

Lombardy Documentary

This video appears to have been published at the same time I was looking for a selection for this current edition of Video Friday. It said 'No views'!

WILLIAM LOMBARDY - WikiVidi Documentary (12:48) • 'William James Joseph Lombardy was an American chess grandmaster, chess writer, teacher, and Catholic priest.'

The description continued,

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. After attending the City College of New York for three years, Lombardy received his B.A. in philosophy, an M.A. in ethics, and an M.Div., all from Saint Joseph's Seminary . He also studied educational psychology at Saint Louis University....

The 'documentary' sounds like it is read electronically from another source. At about 2:20 into the clip, the text is the same as the anecdote I used last week from Lombardy's book, 'Understanding Chess'; see that post, Understanding Lombardy, for more.

26 October 2017

California Chess Periodicals

I ended my previous post, Of Grass Stains and Prison Breaks, with a quote:-

A striking feature of the early issues of the USCF's flagship publication, Chess Life (CL), was the lack of balance between the two coasts of the United States. Particularly in the 1950s, the East Coast was heavily favored. Did the [The California Chess Reporter, CCR] provide sufficient counterbalance?

An index for PDF copies of CCR is at California Chess Reporter (chessdryad.com). It says, 'Most of these magazines were digitized by Sam Sloan; whom I heartily thank.'

That first issue started,

The unhappy demise of CHESS DIGEST early this year left the chess players of California without any organ for the systematic publication of chess news. It has been the fate of chess publications in the past to quietly expire unless they enjoyed the support of some solid organization of chess players. The present issue of the Reporter is made possible by the generous financial support of the San Francisco Bay Area Chess League, which voted funds for publication at the meeting of May 6, 1951.

Which Chess Digest publication was that? Gino Di Felice's book, Chess Periodicals, 1836-2008, informs,

543. Chess Digest [USA] (1950) Vol.3, no.1 (Jan 1950) - Vol.3, no.10 (Dec 1950). 10 issues per year. Senior Editor George Koltanowski; Editor-in-Chief Phyllis Seidkin. Publisher Chess Digest. Santa Rosa, CA. USA. Illus., 23 cm. Magazine. General. English. Note: Continues California Chess News and News of the Pacific Coast, with the same numbering. No longer published.

As for the California Chess News mentioned in the note, the same book says,

420. California Chess News and News of the Pacific Coast (1947-1949) Vol.1, no.1 (Nov 1947) - Vol.2, no.10 (Dec 1949). Monthly. Editors George Koltanowski (Nov 1947), R.D. Taylor (Vol.1, no.10/1948), George Koltanowski (Feb 1949). Publisher George Koltanowski. Santa Rosa, CA. USA. Newsletter, from Vol.2 magazine. General. English. Note: Continued by Chess Digest.

As long as we're tracking chess periodicals, let's add Di Felice's entry for CCR:-

421. California Chess Reporter (The) : Official Organ of the California State Chess Federation (1951-1976) Vol.1, no.1 (June 1951)-Vol.25, no.6 (May/June 1976). 10 issues per year, later 8 issues per year, more later 6 issues per year. Editors H. J. Ralston (Jun 1951), W. Guthrie McClain (Oct 1953), W. Guthrie McClain & Robert E. Burger (July 1971). San Francisco. USA. Illus., 21-23 cm. Magazine. General. English. Note: With supplements California Chess Reporter: Special Bulletin, and California Chess Reporter Supplement. No longer published.

The mention of Sam Sloan on the Chessdryad page triggered a few memories, because he has appeared on this blog in the past. The last occasion was Sam Sloan and Gulf News (July 2014). The first issue of CCR had a note about ratings that triggered another memory.

NORTHERN CALIFORNIA CHESS RATINGS • The second revised version, as of May 1, will be published in the San Francisco Chronicle and in Sacramento Chess News. Hereafter, the Reporter will be the official organ for publication of ratings. It is strongly to be hoped that the Northern California and Southern California ratings will be incorporated into a single system and published simultaneously.

According to my recent post, The First USCF Rating List (July 2017), 'The first rating list was published in the 20 November 1950 issue of CL.' How long did it take California chess to adopt the new national rating system?

24 October 2017

Of Grass Stains and Prison Breaks

While researching any topic in old chess magazines, one thing invariably leads to another, and other topics offer frequent distractions. A case in point is yesterday's post on Early U.S. Ratings : A Summary and an Exercise, where I noted dozens of other, non-rating topics during the months that I was working on it. Here are a couple of short takes that I noted over the last week.

The first short take, from CL 1953-09-20, is a photo that illustrated the Chess Life report on the 1953 U.S. Open at Milwaukee. Who said mass interest in scholastic chess was a recent phenomenon?

The caption says,

View of the open-air Milwaukee Children's Tournament at Hawthorne Glen where 400 finalists competed for the Milwaukee Junior titles -- an event written up in Collier's and sponsored by the Milwaukee Journal and the Milwaukee Department of Recreation. • Photo: Courtesy Milwaukee Sentinel

From Wikipedia's page on Collier's:-

Collier's was an American magazine, founded in 1888 by Peter Fenelon Collier. It was initially launched as Collier's Once a Week, then changed in 1895 to Collier's Weekly: An Illustrated Journal, and finally shortened in 1905 to simply Collier's. The magazine ceased publication with the issue dated January 4, 1957, though a brief, failed attempt was made to revive the Collier's name with a new magazine in 2012.

The second short take, from CL 1954-08-05, is an atypical filler that appeared on the same page as CL's first photo of William Lombardy. It left me scratching my head.

Chess problemist William J. Couture injured his back in an abortive attempt to escape from Norfolk Prison Colony, Mass. He is now hospitalized and limited to one letter per month. This will explain his inability to continue with his numerous correspondence chess games.

I imagine that escaping from prison would also have resulted in an 'inability to continue with his numerous correspondence chess games', unless he didn't think the whole thing through. The 'MESON Chess Problem Database' has a List of problems by Couture, William J, of which five of the six problems are from other Chess Life issues of the 1950s. Another short item on Couture was in The California Chess Reporter, Vol.1 No.9 (chessdryad.com; PDF):-

William J. Couture is a well-known American problemist and correspondence player. He recently finished serving a long sentence at Rhode Island State Penitentiary, and upon being paroled was reincarcerated in Suffolk County Jail, Boston, on an old charge.

It was during Couture's imprisonment in Rhode Island that his chess talents as player and composer became manifest. He is in need of funds for attorney fees, and has asked THE REPORTER to help him. He is trying to raise $250, and promises to pay back any money lent him. Letters should be addressed to Mr. Couture at 163 West Canton Street, Boston, Massachusetts. (CCR p.189)

A striking feature of the early issues of the USCF's flagship publication, Chess Life, was the lack of balance between the two coasts of the United States. Particularly in the 1950s, the East Coast was heavily favored. Did the CCR provide sufficient counterbalance?

23 October 2017

Early U.S. Ratings : A Summary and an Exercise

After three months of exploring early U.S. ratings, it's time to move on to other topics. Here is a summary of the posts so far:-

I'll probably continue the rating topic sometime in the future. In particular, the transition from the Harkness system to the Elo system might be worth exploring.


Last week I did a preliminary post on GM William Lombardy. Since the start of the GM's career coincided with the early U.S. rating lists, what can we learn about him from the lists? The third post above, 'Rating Lists in the 1950s', is a useful starting point and we discover that Lombardy's first published rating was in the December 1953 issue of Chess Life.

CL 1953-12-20: EXPERTS (2100 to 2299 points); Lombardy, W.J. (Bronx, NY) ... 2250* (where '*' meant 'Provisional rating, representing performance in only one tournament.')

At the end of the list of published ratings, we find:-

RATED TOURNAMENTS • To compute ratings for the Fall 1953 official ranking list, the performance of 2435 players in 172 tournaments and matches were measured and recorded.

The list included around 20 foreign tournaments, of which the first was the 1953 Zurich Candidates Tournament. The first U.S. event in the list happened to be the tournament where Lombardy played.

U.S. Open, Milwaukee, Wis., Aug. 10-21, 1953, 181 players (marked with '*', which here meant '100% USCF Rated Tournament.'

The result of the tournament, one of the most important annual events on the U.S. chess calendar, had been reported in full.

CL 1953-09-20: U.S. Open, Milwaukee; Final Standings of [all 181] Players
1. Donald Byrne (Brooklyn, NY) +9-1=3 / 10.5-3.5
24. Wm. James Lombardy (Bronx, NY) ... +7-3=3 / 8.5-4.5

The tie for places 13 to 26 was broken by something called a 'Percentage'. CL 1953-10-20 included a full crosstable for the 50 top players. Skipping ahead a few months, we find more mentions of Lombardy.

CL 1953-12-05: 'Chess Life in New York' by Eliot Hearst [...] 'Manhattan C.C weekly rapids now attract about 40 players each Friday night. The contestants are divided up into three classes, A, B, and C, and there are prizes in each three sections; such an arrangement gives one a chance to work his way gradually up the ladder toward 'A' (as Willy Lombardy did, for example), while not missing out on a chance to be a prize winner.'

CL 1953-12-20 [the same issue as the rating list]: 'Chess Life in New York' by Eliot Hearst [...] 'Willy Lombardy of LaSalle High School is unbeaten in the N.Y. Interscholastic Championship and should easily take the title wich last year's champ, Edmar Mednis of Stuyvesant H.S. was unable to defend this year. Lombardy has also scored two straight wins to take an early lead in the annual Marshall CC Junior Championship.'

Lombardy's progress over the next few years can be measured by his USCF rating.

CL 1954-06-05: EXPERTS; Lombardy, W.J. (Bronx, NY) ... 2168

CL 1955-05-05: MASTERS; Lombardy, W.J. (Bronx, NY) ... 2302

CL 1956-05-20: MASTERS; Lombardy, W.J. (Bronx, NY) ... 2349

CL 1957-05-20: SENIOR MASTERS; Lombardy, W.J. (Bronx, NY) ... 2464

That 1957 issue of CL listed him at no.7 of the '15 Top-Ranking Active U.S. Players (1955-56)'. Lombardy mentioned his first rating in his book 'Understanding Chess: My System, My Games, My Life' (see another recent post, Understanding Lombardy, for more about the book). Re the 1953 U.S. Open (p.31):-

I arrived at Milwaukee with my first USCF Rating of 2250! My performance more than justified that preliminary rating and my prize almost covered my living expenses.

Although this doesn't match the facts given in Chess Life, where the 2250 rating was earned during the 1953 U.S. Open, it's a minor detail. It's worth noting that Lombardy's first published USCF rating was the same as my peak FIDE rating, which I achieved after nearly 20 years of playing chess. That's the difference between talent and no-talent.

[NB: While writing this, I noticed that CL 1953-10-05 is missing from the digital file containing all issues of CL from 1953.]

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.