27 February 2015

MIT Media & Millionaire Chess

Today's selection for Video Friday ties into a previous selection: Millionaire Wrapup. For more about the collaboration between MIT and the Maurice Ashley / Amy Lee project, see At work with MIT's Media Lab (millionairechess.com; February 2014).

Chess: A spectator sport (1:28) • 'BBC Click's LJ Rich met MIT researchers [e.g. Greg Borenstein, Researcher, MIT Media Lab] from who are trying to turn chess into a spectator sport like American football or poker.'

The description continued,

The group wants to make the game more accessible to the uninitiated, by presenting complex information on matches in a simple, visually appealing way and give an expert insight into the state of a game.

See also Moves to make chess more accessible to spectators (bbc.com). I'm not sure if the video embedded on the BBC page is the same or not. It always gives me the message, 'This content doesn't seem to be working'.

26 February 2015

Into the Melting Pot

Let's squeeze one more post out of the January 2015 FIDE rating list. In GM Players and Their Mobility, I developed a chart showing the number of GMs in strong federations and counting the number of federations where those GMs started their careers. While there are some surprising results there -- ENG and ISR have no foreign GMs (at least in the 15 years since FIDE started assigning FIDE IDs to individual players) -- the most interesting numbers are for the USA, which has 84 GMs from 14 different federations.

I'm the type of person who likes to check and doublecheck everything, especially numbers, and I decided to look at the USA numbers in more detail. The chart on the left shows the USA data broken down further, adding IM counts to the GM data.

The second column is the key to the table. It is extracted from the FIDE ID and shows which federation initially registered a player with FIDE. The top row shows that most of the USA players have spent their entire careers in the U.S., and accounts for most of the USA numbers. No surprise there.

The 'GM' column confirms the numbers in that previous 'Mobility' post, and shows where the other, non-USA players originally played. For example, four strong players now listed as USA originally came from Cuba and four from Georgia. As a further check and doublecheck, here is a list of the four players from Cuba. The first data item is the player's FIDE ID.

3501728; Becerra Rivero, Julio; USA; GM
3506690; Corrales Jimenez, Fidel; USA; GM
3501841; Gonzalez, Renier; USA; GM
3504387; Hernandez Carmenate, Holden; USA; GM

Before signing off for today, I'll list all of the recent posts in the rating series:-

Thanks, FIDE, for restoring the rating lists!

24 February 2015

Fischer's Seiko Connection

The most recent post on my chess960 blog, Chessmaniac Comments on Chess960, quoted a long passage from a 2002 essay by Rene Chun. It mentioned [circa 1996?],

Fischer desperately wanted the Tokyo-based watch company Seiko to manufacture his [chess960] products but couldn't generate interest.

I couldn't find anything about Fischer's Seiko connection during that time period, but I did find references from the early 2000s. For example, from Interview with Miyoko Watai by En Mafuruji (Chessbase.com, September 2004)

Q: Why did he come to Japan in 2000? A: He came to Japan to develop a new chess clock with Seiko Inc. I won't tell you what it is, it's a corporate secret. A prototype of the clock will complete in September. It may go on sale later. That clock would be used for matches of other games like "go" and "shogi" Japanese chess games.'

Miyoko Watai was 'reportedly married' (Wikipedia's phrase) to Fischer in 2004, and eventually inherited his estate. A few weeks after his arrest in Japan, Fischer wrote the following note, originally available at home.att.ne.jp/moon/fischer/.

It doesn't appear to have been transcribed elsewhere, so allow me (with some minor format changes):-

August 12, 2004
Ushiku immigration detention center lockup

To the Hattori family, owners of the Seiko group.

I am Robert James Fischer and I am unjustly and illegally prisoned(?) in the Ushiku immigration detention house. They are threatening to deport me any day to my death in the U.S.A. As you know I've been working on a chess clock project with Seiko Precision Co. in Chiba for several years now. I've spent hundreds of thousands of dollars dollars in payments to your company through the Japanese chess association. And I've given of my time and best ideas to your Seiko group. If I'm deported to the U.S.A. the project and me myself will be dead!!!

I would appreciate it if you would immediatelly [sic] become my sponsor for provisional release from the detention center here. It would make a big public impact all over the world and put heavy pressure on the immigration [sic] to accept and it would save my life because the U.S. government wants to put me in prison for 10 years and while I'm there murder me! I would be most grateful if you would accept this request. I am not exaggerating at all about what the U.S. government wants to do to me and will do to me once I am in there [sic] hands.

Thank you very much.

Robert James Fischer ("Bobby" Fischer)

What differentiated this clock from the earlier model, patented by Fischer in 1989? I doubt it's still a 'corporate secret'.

23 February 2015

FIDE ID Prefix and Federations

Continuing with FIDE Country and Federation Codes, I spent some time analyzing the 'FIDE ID', a numeric code 'used by a federation to assign individual FIDE IDs to players belonging to that federation'. First a word on how I initially determined the codes.

Using the January 2015 rating list as a reference, for each player I noted the federation (aka country) and extracted the federation prefix from the player's FIDE ID. Then I built a table of all combinations of federation and FIDE ID prefix, of which I found 855 pairs. Then I noted which prefix had the highest count for a given federation. That is the prefix shown on my page of federation codes.

After creating the base data, I checked duplicate prefixes. For example, I found that both 'SRB' (Serbia) and 'MNE' (Montenegro) were assigned the prefix '9'. When I looked at all prefixes used in those federations (column 'FedID' in the image on the left), I discovered that MNE had a second frequent prefix ('165'). I assumed that players from MNE were once administered by SRB, but had since been split off. Ditto for 'RSA' (South Africa) and 'LES' (Lesotho).

Another duplicate prefix ('100') is found for 'UGA' (Uganda) and 'TAN' (Tanzania). Here I discovered that UGA has more players than TAN and assumed that UGA is handling the player registrations for both federations, so no change to my table is necessary. I found a similar relationship for 'EGY' (Egypt) and 'GAB' (Gabon), although the political connection is less obvious.

One curious duplicate was 'USA' (United States) and 'CAM' (Cambodia). There is only one rated player listed for CAM, who turns out to be 'Truong, H. Paul', Susan Polgar's husband. Indeed, the Fide.com page, Transfers in 2014, lists '2001390 Truong, H. Paul CAM USA', where USA is the former federation.

After applying these changes plus a few other corrections, I updated my page FIDE Country and Federation Codes (unofficial). For anyone who has managed to read this far, a few other anomalies might be worth mentioning.

Along with the FIDE IDs listed on my 'unofficial' page, there are more than two dozen other prefix codes in use. Most of these are additional codes for a single country, where I imagine the task of assigning new codes has been split geographically within the country. For example, 'IND' (India) has four additional prefixes in use:-

India, 'Prefix', 'No.Players'
IND, 250, 3892
IND, 350, 3329
IND, 450, 1502
IND, 466, 2591

Do old codes also disappear? Going back a few years, when I first looked at the FIDE ID for the January 1999 rating list (see Structure of the FIDE ID), I found 148 different federations. I dragged the file out my archive, recreated the data for the 148 federations, and compared it to the 2015 list. I found prefixes for five federations missing from the 2015 data:-

'Federation', 'Prefix', 'No.Players in 1999'
GUY, 83, 1
MAU, 89, 1
GAM, 95, 2
MLI, 96, 8
SEN, 109, 3

What happened to this data? That question will have to wait for a rainy day.

22 February 2015

A One Person Bidding War

After a short pause, Top eBay Chess Items by Price returns to the artwork category last seen in Chess of the Gentry and Military. The painting below, titled 'Carlo Canevari Oil on Board of Chess Game Lot 1251', subtitled 'Part of a live auction event on Sunday, Feb 15', sold for US $2200 after 16 bids from a single bidder.

Not understanding what could trigger that bidding scenario, I looked at the bidding history. The period covered by the bidding lasted less than a minute with the bid starting at $1000, incrementing by $100 every few seconds, and ending at the price shown. It must be a bidding strategy peculiar to live auctions.

The description was also unusual. About the art itself, it added only

Seller's Estimate: USD 300.00 - 600.00 • 12" x 8.25" including frame. Signed lower right: Carlo Canevari.

followed by detailed payment and shipping instructions. Another auction, from Christies.com, informs, 'Carlo Canevari (Italian, 1922-1996)'. Is that a porthole near the top of the painting?

20 February 2015

You Think This Is Art?

789 views, 20 faves; I Think This Is Art! AWARD

model: benjamin benedek (stella models) // outfit: selina rottmann // hair and make-up: julian burlacu © Flickr user whythedarkdays under Creative Commons.

Tags: chess, fashion, concept, mirror, loneliness

19 February 2015

Inaccurate Data on the Rating List

Now that we have FIDE Rating Lists Restored, let's return to Other FIDE Titles (February 2013) and create an overview similar to Titled Players and Their Continents.

The results are shown on the left, where the continents are numbered:-
1: Europe,
2: Americas,
3: Asia, and
4: Africa

Continent '0' was explained in the post on 'Titled Players and Their Continents'. As for the titles themselves, they are

International Arbiter
FIDE Arbiter

FIDE Instructor
National Instructor
Developmental Instructor

FIDE Senior Trainer
FIDE Trainer

International Organizer

All of the categories have more titleholders today than they did two years ago, except for FST, where I previously counted 103. Something is wrong here, so lets do a quick analysis...

FIDE's online list, FIDE Senior Trainer (FST), currently has 150 names compared to the 102 shown in my chart. Similarly, the FIDE page for International Arbiter (IA) lists almost 1900 names compared to my 760. Conclusion: the FIDE rating list is out of sync with the titles awarded.

Indeed, the 'FIDE Chess Profile' for the first name on FIDE's list of 150 FSTs, Aagaard, Jacob, does not show that he is an FST. The profile for the second name, Abramovic, Bosko, says 'FIDE Senior Trainer (2013)'.

...Looks like my numbers are worthless. Sorry about that!

17 February 2015

Wesley So & Kenneth Rogoff

What do those two names have in common? Besides being GM-level chess players and besides having been featured on this blog for infamously short draws -- WS: Next Short Draw: 2750, KR: 1.c4 Draw! -- the players are currently no.1 & no.2 on the Chessgames.com Chess Statistics page for 'Which pages on CG.com have the most kibitzing?'. See my recent post, Chessgames.com and the Odd Lie, for more.

From Chessgames.com:-

Left: Kenneth Rogoff; Right: Wesley So

With both players having more than 170.000 kibitzes (that's CG.com jargon for 'comments') against their names, how do you reduce that mass of material to something comprehensible? Short answer: You don't. Long answer: You can try, but you still don't.

Here's how I tried. Since the comments are displayed 25 to a page, they currently take nearly 7000 pages to display in entirety. For each player, I looked at the first page and noted the date of the first comment, then did the same for page 1000, ditto for page 2000, ..., up to the last page. After calculating the time period covered by each sequence of 1000 pages, I used the same technique and drilled down to discover the time period having the most activity. What did I find?

For Wesley So, I discovered that his CG.com page is a true fan site. With many of the comments in a language that Google Translate detects to be 'Filipino', it's clear that, like So, many of the kibitzers are themselves Filipino. The most concentrated sequence of comments for So starts on page no.2000, dated November 2009. This coincides with the start of the 2009 World Cup, So's first participation in a top-level World Championship event. The comments follow his progress through the first four rounds, beating GMs Guseinov, Ivanchuk, and Kamsky, before losing to GM Malakhov in the fourth round. The excitement of his fans is almost palpable. Given that another top Filipino player, Eugenio Torre,

Born in Iloilo City, the Philippines and is the strongest Filipino chess player of his generation. He reached a peak world ranking of 20 in January 1983 and was in the world's top 100 players for most of the period from 1975 until 1992. (1) At the age of 60, he remains ranked among the top players in the Philippines.

is no.22 on the 'Most Kibitzing' list, we can conclude that there are a significant number of Filipinos who are keen members of the site.

For Kenneth Rogoff, the reason for the popularity of his CG.com page is completely different. The first page of 25 kibitzes starts in April 2004,

Kenneth Rogoff is not only an international GM, but he also was the Economic Counsellor and Director, Research Department of the IMF!

meanders lazily through four years of occasional remarks, then explodes on page two in August 2008, at just about the same time that the world's financial systems began their long, scary implosion. The first comments from that period are about the so-called 'Illuminati', from which we understand that the rest of the thousands of pages will be more about the World Bank and the IMF than about Rogoff or his chess. It's worth noting that no.3 on CG's Chess Statistics page, The Kibitzer's Cafe, is another largely off-topic page.

A few years ago I wrote another post about the well known GM economist, Kenny Rogoff as You've Never Seen Him (February 2012), where I mentioned,

His page at Chessgames.com, Kenneth Rogoff, currently has 2827 pages of kibitzing. I doubt that more than a few of those pages have much to do with chess, and are more likely filled with flame wars related to the subject of economics, aka the dismal science.

Looks like I was right.

16 February 2015

FIDE Country and Federation Codes

I'm interrupting this series on engine operators, last seen in Houdini, Komodo, Stockfish, to solve an unrelated problem. Recent posts like Titled Players and Their Continents and GM Players and Their Mobility depend on reliable data that links other data together: for example, how are FIDE federations related to the FIDE continent structure.

Until now I've relied on a half-dozen data tables collected since 2003. Every time I started a new post on FIDE ratings, the tables required re-checking to determine if they were sufficiently up-to-date. They also deserved to be more public, because the assumptions built into them were exactly that -- assumptions -- and other knowledgeable persons might not agree.

To tackle these concerns, I consolidated the existing tables into a single new table and loaded the result into a web page. You can see the new table in a page titled FIDE Country and Federation Codes.

I know the data is far from perfect. Here are a few more issues to be addressed:-

  • Some data is missing.
  • The last column ('FIDE ID') is not always unique to each federation.
  • The zone numbers for Europe (continent '1') are perhaps obsolete and no longer used.
  • The zones and subzones for other continents are not up-to-date (my base FIDE data is from 2003).
  • The data should be reconciled with FIDE Country Codes [chessgames.com; 'research by member Zanzibar'] and FIDE Immigration Patterns (and "Country Codes") [zanchess.wordpress.com; May 2014].

Nevertheless, those bullets gives me a clear roadmap to improve the data. I'll tackle them as time permits.

15 February 2015

Confusion about Facts

After looking at Chess and Cognitive Training and The Cognitive Training Swamp, let's get back to the original topic: 'chess makes you smarter'. On submitting that phrase to Google, the first result turns it into a question, Does Playing Chess Make You Smarter? [examinedexistence.com]. The article is undated, but a couple of copies on Chess.com place its creation before August 2014.

Despite some confusion about facts that I happen to know something about, i.e,

'first played in Afghanistan back in 600 AD' • 'Dr. Robert Ferguson (a cardiologist at the Northeast Georgia Diagnostics Clinic)'; • 'Grandmaster Chess Research Project [...] collaborative effort between Israel’s University of Haifa and Grandmaster Boris Delfand',

the structure of the article is not at all confusing:-

  • What Cognitive Neuroscience Has to Say
  • The Cognitive Benefits of Chess According to Other Relevant Studies
    • Chess boosts brain power in kids
    • Chess improves IQ
    • ...
  • Benjamin Franklin's Viewpoint
  • ...

The list of eleven unlinked URLS at the end isn't particularly useful in its current format, so let's turn them into links and examine their own content.

  1. Some important events and names in chess • More confusion about facts: 'The game of chess is thought to have originated in what is now northern India or Afganistan sometime before 600 AD' [...] 'well-established across all of Europe by 1400 AD, with the game rules which we use today' [...] 'Fischer irritated the US government in 1972 by playing another former world champion (Boris Spassky) in Belgrade, Yugoslavia' [...] 'A dispute over tournament procedures between Kasparov and the international chess organization F.I.D.E. resulted effectively in TWO World co-champions: Karpov and Kasparov'

  2. Check Mate: How Chess Improves Math Scores, Dr. Eric Gottlieb • 'For over a decade, scientists and educators have studied the intellectual benefits of playing chess. Research has shown that chess improves the player’s problem-solving abilities, self-discipline, and deductive reasoning—all of which are skills utilized in math.'

  3. Chess and problem solving involving patterns [PDF] by Dores Ferreira & Pedro Palhares • 'Abstract: In this paper we present the context and results from a study, with 3rd to 6th grades children, about the relationship between chess and problem solving involving geometric and numeric patterns.'

  4. Educational Value of Chess by Wendi Fischer • 'It's not about Kings, Queens, and Rooks, but rather, quadrants and coordinates, thinking strategically and foreseeing consequences. It's about lines and angles, weighing options and making decisions. Chess might just be the perfect teaching and learning tool.'

  5. The Effects of Chess Instruction on the Mathematics Achievement of Southern, Rural, Black Secondary Students, Smith, James P.; Cage. Bob N. • 'Studied the effects of 120 hours of chess instruction on the mathematics achievement of southern, rural, black secondary students. Analysis of covariance results show the treatment group (11 females, 9 males) scored significantly higher than the control group (10 females, 10 males) in mathematics achievement. Discusses results in terms of altering students' perceptual ability.'

  6. Chess: Improving Academic Performance by David Howard • 'In an environment of increasing emphasis on measurable educational progress as exhibited through the results of standardized tests, a proven method of improving both problem solving and reading skills goes underutilized. In fact, it is rarely used in American schools. There is a large body of evidence that instruction in the game of chess provides measurable improvement in several areas of academic achievement. Chess instruction should be incorporated into education curricula for all students.'

  7. Benjamin Franklin - Author • 'The Game of Chess is not merely an idle amusement. Several very valuable qualities of the mind, useful in the course of human life, are to be acquired and strengthened by it...'

  8. Chess and Benjamin Franklin - His Pioneering Contributions [PDF] by John McCrary • 'In 1999, Benjamin Franklin was inducted into the US Chess Hall of Fame. He joined 28 others among the greatest players, writers, and leaders in American chess as members of that Hall, which is now housed in a magnificent building in Miami, Florida. What did Franklin do to justify that very rare honor, which was granted by the US Chess Federation and the US Chess Trust?'

  9. Harnessing the Brain’s Right Hemisphere to Capture Many Kings By Dylan Loeb McClain • 'When inexperienced chess players sit down to play against experts, they probably wonder what it is that makes the experts so good that it seems they are almost playing a different game. New research suggests that one difference is that the experts use more of their brains.'

  10. Large-Scale Brain Networks in Board Game Experts: Insights from a Domain-Related Task and Task-Free Resting State, Xujun Duan et al • 'Abstract: Cognitive performance relies on the coordination of large-scale networks of brain regions that are not only temporally correlated during different tasks, but also networks that show highly correlated spontaneous activity during a task-free state.'

  11. It Takes Two–Skilled Recognition of Objects Engages Lateral Areas in Both Hemispheres, Merim Bilalic et al • 'Our object recognition abilities, a direct product of our experience with objects, are fine-tuned to perfection. [...] Expert chess players were faster than chess novices in identifying chess objects and their functional relations.'

As for the article's conclusion,

Kasparov and [Judit] Polgar: 'Thoroughbred' Geniuses? Or 'Byproducts' of Chess? [...] One thing's for sure, playing chess magnified their cognitive ability and catapulted them to the top of the list of the world's smartest people.

Kasparov's IQ was once tested -- Genieblitze und Blackouts (Spiegel.de; December 1987) -- and shown to be less than one of the 'world's smartest people'. More confusion about facts?

13 February 2015

The Day's Play 2015

The description of this clip lists the featured GMs,

Final daily news broadcast featuring Peter Svidler GM, seven-time Russian Champion, David Howell GM, current British Chess Champion, Hikaru Nakamura GM, three-time USA Chess Champion and Hou Yifan GM, Women's World Chess Champion. Chess Festival Director Stuart Conquest and some of the elite chess players during the 2015 Tradewise Gibraltar Open Chess Festival. Presented by: Tania Sachdev IM.

GM Veselin Topalov also appears between GMs Nakamura and Hou Yifan.

The Day's Play - Final Episode - 12 (2:12) • 'Tradewise Gibraltar Open Chess Tournament 2015'

For the other productions from the same tournament, see Channel: The Day's Play 2015 Gibraltar Open Chess Tournament.

12 February 2015

GM Players and Their Mobility

Based on the number of views this blog received on two recent posts about Titled Players -- Their Ratings and Their Continents -- there is some real interest in the geographical distribution of chess players. At the risk of beating the subject to death, let's look at one more set of statistics based on the January 2015 FIDE rating list.

The table on the left shows a count of GMs by federation. Nothing special there and I could easily have produced the same table on any other title or combination of titles.

It's the third column that makes the table different. It shows a (rough) count of the number of federations where those GMs started their chess career. Note that it only shows federations with more than 20 GMs, of which there are exactly 20.

How is this table possible? It is based on the FIDE ID, a unique identifier attached to every player with a FIDE rating. I first discussed the code some years ago in Structure of the FIDE ID. Introduced at the end of the 1990s, it is now an integral feature of the FIDE rating system.

A good explanation of the concept behind my table can be found in FIDE ID’s – a Question (zanchess.wordpress.com).

Realizing that the FIDE ID is uniquely given to a player for their entire life allows an interesting analysis of migration patterns of chess players. That is because the FIDE ID gives the location of the player’s first chess federation, while the FIDE nationality gives the location their current federation.

My table only counts GMs by their current federation. I could have done a similar analysis counting GMs by their original federation.

For more about the use of the FIDE ID, see the FIDE Handbook, Regulations on Registration & Licensing of Players. For more from the same source about player mobility, see Registration, Transfer & Rules of Eligibility for Player.

10 February 2015

Chessgames.com and the Odd Lie

For this post I intended to return to the exciting topic of Blog Maintenance, with an update on transferring my personal bookmarks to the Diigo.com cloud. The transfer itself went without a hitch and I ended up with around 6000 bookmarks in a strange land that had the potential to be far more public than I ever intended. Edward Snowden showed us that the web is anything but private, and if you're contemplating a similar transfer, watch out what you place in the cloud. Notes related to security or to your private garden are two areas that require particular concern. The less said here the better, so I'll shut up.

While I was checking the results of my bookmark transfer, I discovered a few other uses of chess on Diigo and noted them for a future post. This being that post I returned to my notes and discovered that the resources were of no real interest to anyone, especially not to me. What to write about? Perhaps the ~1200 bookmarks collected in 2014 might provide some food for thought. After looking at collections of links for various web domains and deciding 'not this, not that', I came to Chessgames.com. Plenty of food there.

One particularly interesting page on Chessgames.com is Chess Statistics. The site's stats are useful not so much for '# of games in database: 741,415' or '# of games with kibitzing: 116,840', nor for questions like 'Which players most often make winning sacrifices?' No, I originally bookmarked the stats page as a guide to 'Which CG pages have the most kibitzing?'. In other words, which Chessgames.com pages are most interesting to Chessgames.com members? The following table shows the stats as of today.

'Which pages on Chessgames.com have the most kibitzing?'

These are not the subjects I would have expected to see. Wesley So and Kenneth Rogoff at no.1 and no.2, well ahead of Magnus Carlsen and Bobby Fischer at no.4 and 5? Garry Kasparov down at no.16, just ahead of the famous Odd Lie ('Number of games in database: 42, Years covered: 1954 to 1988'; First kibitz: 'Now THIS is a GREAT name!'). Chesshistory.com's favorite whipping boy -- Raymond Keene -- at no.30? Now THIS is REALLY food for thought.

09 February 2015

Houdini, Komodo, Stockfish

In a recent post, Overcoming the Operators, I noted how difficult it can be to play a correspondence game against an opponent who is simply relaying the best move suggested by his engine.

What techniques, if any, can be used against the operators? Over the next weeks I'll devote a few posts to look at this question.

A few years ago, in Sources of Inspiration, I flagged the blog 'Tartajubow On Chess' as a source for ideas on both correspondence play and engines. Last month, in Even Engines Need Time to Think, Tartajubow listed some telltale signs of an operator.

33 running games. That's how many my opponent had going and quite often he replied to my move within a few minutes so he was effectively playing at a blitz pace in most of his games. He eventually got into a position where even the engine needed some time to sort things out and 2-3 minutes simply were not enough.

He went on to discuss the three most popular engines in use today.

Houdini, Komodo and Stockfish differ in their search and evaluation functions. Stockfish aggressively prunes the analysis tree and while it searches deeply, its search is more narrow than Komodo or Houdini. Sometimes this is an advantage, sometimes it's not. Komodo is the most positionally accurate of the three and it is slower in its search than either Stockfish or Houdini. It's initial evaluation can be more accurate, but it's usually a good idea to let it think a little longer just to make sure.

Since about a year ago, I'm also using those three engines in practical play. Thanks to a series of blog posts from two years ago -- Engine Evaluation through a summary Practical Evaluation -- I understand how the engines evaluate and am always looking for new approaches to understand better their internal mechanisms. The 'Evaluation' series relied on work done by GM Larry Kaufman, and I was happy to find a subsequent interview where he discussed their strengths: Q&A with Larry Kaufman (qualitychess.co.uk; December 2013).

Q: What are the different properties of Komodo, Stockfish, Houdini, Rybka and Fritz and how would the person who wants to improve their chess use these differences to his advantage?

A: Komodo is best at evaluating middlegame positions accurately once the tactics are resolved. Stockfish seems to be best in the endgame and in seeing very deep tactics. Houdini is the best at blitz and at seeing tactics quickly. Rybka is just obsolete; I like to think of Komodo as its spiritual descendant, since I worked on the evaluation for both, although the rest of the engines are not similar. Fritz is just too far below these top engines to be useful.

Stockfish appears to be the engine of choice for many operators. Its apparent speed and tactical accuracy are impressive indeed and make it a particularly difficult opponent to overcome.

08 February 2015

This Knight Is 'Grimm'

In this fortnightly series on Top eBay Chess Items by Price, I see a fair number of chess sets, artwork, and philatelic items, like the Fischer - Spassky 1992 covers on the previous post. Once in a while I discover an item that defies classification. See, for example, Anton Chotka (18??-19??) and Red and Yellow Speed Wheels Included.

When you look at the image below, you probably have no idea that the auction was for 'The Black Night Chess Piece from Grimm Episode 319'. It sold for US $740.15, after receiving 39 bids from 16 bidders.

The description explained,

This "Grimm" memorabilia appears when Theresa "Trubel" Rubel appears in Season 3 of the show. Trubel is a Grimm that grew up with a troubled past and never benefited from a guide to explain the implications of the Grimm status to her. She carries around a black knight chess piece because she likes the way it moves differently than any other piece. You can own this chess piece for yourself, which will be displayed in a shadowbox, along with a certificate of authenticity.

The producers of NBC's hit TV series Grimm have donated an incredible collection of authentic, screen-used props to be auctioned off for the Grimmster Endowment benefiting OHSU Doernbecher Children's Hospital. Each production item was used on set.

Living outside of the USA, I had never heard of 'NBC's hit TV series Grimm' and the first paragraph in the description might as well have been written in Greek. Then I consulted Grimm (TV series) [Wikipedia]; 'Grimm is an American police procedural fantasy television drama series'. Now I know.

06 February 2015

Bundi, Rajasthan, ca.1700

For this edition of Flickr Friday I had a good selection of chess images to choose from. See, for example, the photo set on Open Tradewise de Ajedrez de Gibraltar 2015, with some great shots of chess players both famous and not-so-famous. Since I had already featured the 2014 event a year ago in Gibraltar's Tradewise Chess, I chose another image.

Women Playing a Game of Chess © Flickr user Ashley Van Haeften under Creative Commons.

The title was further qualified with the identifier 'LACMA M.79.191.15', meaning 'Los Angeles County Museum of Art something, something, something', plus the description,

India, Rajasthan, Bundi, circa 1700
Ink and opaque watercolor on paper
5 5/8 x 8 in. (14.29 x 20.32 cm)
Gift of Paul F. Walter (M.79.191.15)

where the last line mentions those 'somethings' again. What caught my attention here was the question, 'Are we sure these players are all women?' See, for example, File: Krishna welcomes Sudama, Bhagavata Purana, 17th century, India.jpg on Wikipedia, where the women all look similar. Whatever the truth with the LACMA piece, it's an attractive drawing either way.

05 February 2015

Titled Players and Their Continents

After looking at Titled Players and Their Ratings, based on the January 2015 FIDE rating list, I decided to look at where the players are from. The following chart shows a count of titled players by continent (where untitled players are counted in the first 'blank' row), using the FIDE system of numbering continents: 1: Europe (representing 54 federations), 2: Americas (34), 3: Asia (48), 4: Africa (39). The numbers in the 'Total' column match the numbers in the 'Players / Rating' post, so my numbers are consistent.

A few weeks ago I featured a news video, Africa’s First Grandmaster, which mentioned,

[Kenny Solomon has] become South Africa and the continent's first ever grandmaster and it all started with a game of marbles.

At the time I was sceptical about the claim to 'the continent's first ever grandmaster'. Since my chart shows nine other GMs from Africa, my instinct was right. Digging further in the data, I found four GMs from Egypt, two each from Algeria & Tunisia, and one from Zambia. Solomon was still listed on the January list as an IM, so Africa will soon have ten GMs.

Another anomaly is the column under continent '0'; what's that all about? It turns out those 64 players are all listed against federation 'FID'. The highest rated player on the list has a FIDE card, Gonzalez Perez, Arian - FIDE Chess Profile, confirming 'Federation: FIDE'. Going back to the January 2013 list, Gonzalez Perez was listed under federation 'CUB', a fact confirmed by his FIDE ID, which starts with '35' (see my post Structure of the FIDE ID from July 2008 for more info).

Of the 64 players with 'Federation: FIDE', 60 have FIDE IDs tied to three countries: 'CUB', 'ECU', and 'SRB'. There is undoubtedly a story or two in these statistics, but I have no idea what.

I have one more observation to make on the chart: the preponderance of players from Europe. Five federations currently have more than 10.000 players listed, with four of them from Europe (the second column indicates the continent):-

RUS, 1, 19396
GER, 1, 18871
IND, 3, 16726
ESP, 1, 15788
FRA, 1, 14072

There are other stories in the numbers -- why so few WCMs from Europe? -- but that's all the time I have today.

03 February 2015

February 1965 'On the Cover'

This month's 'On the Cover' marks a full year since the first post in the series, March 1964 'On the Cover'.

Left: 'A New Title'
Right: '50 Years Ago: Chess Hoax of the Century?'

Chess Life

Reshevsky Wins National Open • A bright new tournament made a stylish debut on the American chess scene at the Stardust Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada. Signed up for a one-week engagement in the first National Open Chess Championship were 138 players, headed by four international grandmasters. All had a chance for a share of a record breaking prize fund of $4500. [...] Our Cover • Samuel Reshevsky, first National Open Champion, is awarded his trophy by Mark Swain, Director of Sales at the Stardust Hotel. USCF President Ed Edmondson is on the left, Tournament Director Koltanowski on right.

This would be a good place to mention something about 'the shortest and the tallest' chess players, but I'm not sure where to start. How tall was Reshevsky?

Chess Review

In 1915, with the Great War on, chess activities were necessarily somewhat limited. But, under that date, an astounding game appeared. Both sides advanced Pawns, Black taking a piece in the process. Queens appeared, to the number of five, all on the board at one time. Black snatched another piece, and White announced a mate in five!

Alas! Research has indicated, notably that of Dr. Buschke who wrote a volume on the subject, that the winner, the great Alekhine, must have concocted the game, or at least the finish, much as he did his brilliant "win" against Oscar Tenner. But the game long flourished in books and may well rate the title, "Chess Hoax of the Century".

Albrecht Buschke's research was published in Chess Life as a column titled 'Alekhine's Early Chess Career', starting December 1949. For more about both the 'Gregorieff' game (the name given to Black on the CR cover) and the Tenner game, see Meine Besten Gefälschten Partien, on Chessgames.com.

02 February 2015

Overcoming the Operators

A few years ago, in a post titled Operators and Things (February 2010), I put together the following table 'Success Factors in Correspondence Chess'.

Although the meaning of the different categories and cells is nearly self-explanatory, there is further discussion of them in the 'Operators' post. I concluded with the thought,

As stronger chess engines become commercially available, the playing strength of operators is constantly on the rise. Will they eventually occupy the highest tier? This would mean that chess knowledge and work capacity will ultimately count for little to nothing.

In the five years since writing the post, the engines have become noticeably stronger and the engine operators have achieved a corresponding success. While it was once true that

Operators currently fall in the band between Master/Expert and Average Player, overlapping both. This means that it is possible to defeat them with good chess knowledge and some concentrated work on that specific game.

the boundary has shifted. The operators now occupy the band between Titled Player and Master/Expert (where I am). In other words, they are capable of playing equally with very good players and sometimes capable of defeating them.

What techniques, if any, can be used against the operators? Over the next weeks I'll devote a few posts to look at this question.

01 February 2015

The Cognitive Training Swamp

I ended the previous post in this 'Chess in School' series, Chess and Cognitive Training, with a question: 'One of the mantras is 'Chess Makes You Smarter'. Does it really?' Before I tackle that crucial point I need to backtrack to another question, this one from the ScientificAmerican.com Q&A that was the heart of the post,

Q: What in the world compelled you to jump into the swamp that is the cognitive training literature?

The word 'swamp' carries decidedly negative baggage. The associated link leads to another SciAm.com article, New Cognitive Training Study Takes on the Critics by Scott Barry Kaufman, the same author responsible for that first SciAm.com Q&A article. While I can't pretend to understand all of the subtleties around far transfer and fluid intelligence, the debate is still interesting.

Some studies have reported absolutely no effect of working memory training on fluid intelligence, whereas others have found an effect. The results are mixed and inconclusive. Various critics have rightfully listed a number of methodological flaws and alternative explanations that could explain the far transfer effects.

The second SciAm.com article goes on to describe a months-long experiment designed to eliminate the weaknesses of previous studies.

The Results: Even after addressing the major criticisms of their past work, [Susanne] Jaeggi and colleagues still found far transfer. In particular, they found far transfer to visuospatial reasoning when people engaged in working memory training. In contrast, no effects were found when people were trained on trivia knowledge (the active control group).

But there are a couple of kickers here. The first is an observation.

In terms of the long-term effectiveness of their training, they found no significant effect at a three-month follow-up.

The second is a hypothesis that the individual matters more than the training.

First, they found that people who have a growth mindset about intelligence (believe that intelligence is malleable) showed greater improvement on the visuospatial reasoning tests than those who have a fixed mindset about intelligence (believe intelligence can’t change). [...] Second, the researchers found that intrinsic motivation mattered.

What impact does this have on the 'Chess in School' movement? It's far too early to say, but it's something to keep in mind as we continue to investigate the idea that 'Chess Makes You Smarter'.