31 January 2016

The Kitten Theme

I'm not sure when the evolution took place, but here on Top eBay Chess Items by Price, live auctions have become the standard method of selling artwork on eBay. The latest example, pictured below, was titled 'GÉRARD JOZEF PORTIELJE, (BELGIAN 1856-1929), CHESS MATCH Lot 185', and subtitled, 'Part of a live auction event on Tuesday, Jan 26'.

The title of the live auction was 'European Art & Old Masters offered by Freeman's, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA'. This chess painting sold for US $7500 after 15 bids, attracting more interest than some of the works by better known artists.

The description said,

Seller's Estimate: USD 2,000 - 4,000 • GÉRARD JOZEF PORTIELJE (Belgian 1856-1929); CHESS MATCH; Signed and located 'Gerard Portielje Antwerp' bottom right, oil on canvas; 18 1/4 x 23 in. (46.4 x 58.4cm); Provenance: Private Collection, New Jersey.

Condition Report: The relined canvas with visible surface craquelure; in fair overall condition with some areas that are difficult to accurately 'read' under u.v. light due to pigments used and varnish inconsistencies. There are some restored areas, including in background at left, center left, center and center right, and to parts of tablecloth.

A few common devices appear in the painting. The fellow on the left is sleeping, presumably after a few drinks from the bottle on the table; the fellow on the right, deep in concentration, is oblivious to his partner's condition; and kittens are playing with chess pieces on the floor. A search on 'chess Portielje' brings up two other works by the same artist.

In contrast to the live auction in the previous 'Top eBay Chess Items' post, Something Smells Fishy, this one looks normal.

29 January 2016

Tata 2016 in Pictures

For the third year running, a January Flickr Friday features the annual Tata tournament, held at Wijk aan Zee, Netherlands. Two years ago we had Knights of the Rijks (Museum), and last year saw 'Nice Jacket!'. This year I couldn't find any single photo that I preferred over the others, so I decided on a composite.

Center photo: Magnus Carlsen v Shakhryar Mamedyarov © Flickr user Frans Peeters under Creative Commons.

For the complete set of all photos, see Search: tatasteel chess tournament 2016. Note that many (all?) of the photos can be reused for noncommercial purposes. Thanks, Frans Peeters!

28 January 2016

Thousands of Comments

Even before the most recent Video Friday post, No Comment -- about a video titled 'Saudi Arabia king (sic) Grand Mufti bans chess, says forbidden in Islam' -- I had already spotted a related Yahoo article. Its introduction is shown below.

Twitter erupts after Saudi cleric says chess is forbidden

The Grand Mufti and the Saudi cleric are one-and-the-same, but what exactly is a Grand Mufti?

The Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia is the most senior and most influential Muslim religious and legal authority in Saudi Arabia. The holder of the position is appointed by the King. The Grand Mufti is the head of the Permanent Committee for Islamic Research and Issuing Fatwas. • Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia [Wikipedia]

One reason I like Yahoo articles (last seen earlier this month in Hunk-o'-Junk Chess) is their comment section. A few years ago we had Mainstream Comments on Magnus and The Graffiti Wall - Is Chess a Sport? (both December 2013), and the 'Chess Is Forbidden' theme promised to be another trove of mainstream wisdom. Indeed, the number of comments swelled from around 500 when I first noted the Yahoo article to over 2300 when I started preparing this post.

Unfortunately, most of the comments that I read showed the same sort of intolerance for Islam that the Grand Mufti showed for chess. I'll continue to scroll through them as I watch the final rounds of the 2016 Tata tournament, but don't expect a follow-up on this subject.

26 January 2016

FIDE's 'Not Rated' Players

Two weeks ago, when I first looked at the FIDE Rating List - January 2016, I noted,

The main download page, FIDE Download Rating List, offers six different lists:-
* Full list of players (not rated included)
* STANDARD rating list
Last year I decided to stick with the 'STANDARD rating list' and this year I'm doing the same. Some day I might look at the 'full list', but I don't have the time or the interest for that now.

I haven't found the time to take a proper look at the full list, but I have found the interest, so I downloaded it (Thanks again, FIDE!) into a database. The first thing I noticed was the size of the list. It has 560.640 players, while the STANDARD rating list has 231.238 players. How do those >300.000 unrated players break down by federation? The following table shows the federations with the largest number of 'not rated' players.

Count by federation of players with:
'S' = standard rating
'R' = rapid rating
'B' = blitz rating
'<>' = no rating

The counts of standard rating don't quite match the counts in the previous post -- they are a generally a little higher -- but I didn't download the lists at the same time. The difference isn't enough to bother me.

To double-check my results, I looked at the USA players with 'no rating'. None of the 8336 players were marked inactive and a few of them had CM/WCM titles. About 30 had FIDE Online Arena (FOA) titles. Many of the players had FIDE IDs that looked unusual to me.

Why is FIDE interested in keeping track of so many additional players? That is a question for which I have no answer unless it's something to do with FOA.

25 January 2016

Instructional Videos : Aronian

In last week's Instructional Videos : Anand, I decided to take the eight participants in the 2016 Candidates Tournament in alphabetical order, so after GM Anand we have GM Aronian. It's a happy coincidence that the 2016 Tata Steel tournament is being played as I write this.

Tata Steel Chess 2012 - Analysis - Levon Aronian shows his win against Giri round 10 (17:10) • 'Uploaded on Jan 25, 2012'

The wooden demo board isn't as convenient as an electronic demo board, but I can live with its deficiencies. To follow the complete game, see Anish Giri vs Levon Aronian; Tata Steel 2012 (chessgames.com).

24 January 2016

FIDE's CIS Chairman O'Connell

Earlier this month Chessdom.com posted an Interview with CIS Commission Chairman Kevin O'Connell, a good read for anyone interested in the Chess in School movement. It lists O'Connell's accomplishments, then opens with some historical background.

I was one of the founders of the Commission in 1984. Despite the hard work and financial support of founding chairman Nicola Palladino, few of the initial goals were achieved. It seems that the time was not quite right, with too much emphasis on chess development and not enough on using chess to help children develop educational and life skills.

Since 2010 we have refocused on using chess for education, for absolute beginners, mainly in the age range 4-12. The appearance of chess players from these programs (about 5% of those in CiS programs go on to play some sort of competitive chess, joining chess clubs and their national federation) is a happy by-product, but not the principal objective. This is in contrast to the previous focus (and current TRG – Trainers’ Commission – focus) on developing chess players, coaches and trainers.

There's much more, including a discussion of the materials I included in Chess Curriculum - Summary (December 2015).

22 January 2016

No Comment

Saudi Arabia king Grand Mufti bans chess, says forbidden in Islam (1:14) • 'The highest official of Saudi Arabia, Grand Mufti, has banned chess in the country, quoting that playing chess is forbidden in Islam. He said it is a waste of time, promotes gambling and causes hatred among players. Grand Mufti Abdul Aziz bin-Abdullah issued the fatwa ahead of a major chess tournament in Mecca tomorrow.'

21 January 2016

Still There After All These Years

What's the first thing everyone does when they get a new rating list? They look up their own name. That's exactly what I did when I downloaded the FIDE Rating List - January 2016, even though my rating history can be summed up in three bullets.

  • 'The last time I played a rated FIDE game was at the 1990 Paris Open in Paris, France.' (Where I Play, May 2006)
  • In 1998, 'I took a hit for 30 rating points even though I hadn't played a FIDE event in years.' (The Other M.Weeks, May 2006)
  • 'FIDE IDs were introduced in the [rating] data for 1999. For example, I was assigned FIDE ID 2003740, even though I hadn't played a FIDE event since 1990.' (FIDE Struggles with the Growing Popularity of Ratings, June 2008)

Seventeen years later I'm still on the FIDE Rating List. I wonder which player holds the record for being on the list the longest without having played?

I was reminded of all this while preparing the last post of 2015, More Rummaging, when I found the photo shown below. While not from the 1990 Paris Open, it does show the 1989 Paris Open, where I also played. There are even a couple of players in the photo that might be me. Then again, they might be someone else.

Europe Echecs, June 1989 p.10

My purpose in writing this isn't to rattle on about my long gone, active playing days. It's an introduction to the photographer listed beneath the photo, Catherine Jaeg. I'll come back to her in another post.

19 January 2016

Hunk-o'-Junk Chess

Don't you just love Yahoo articles that have something to do with chess? Just last month we had Propaganda Is Awesome and a few days ago I noted 22 Ingenious Ways To Repurpose Old Junk. The third of the 22 ways was:-

(5/44) Before: Random Pipe Fittings • An old pile of rusted pipe ends and fittings destined for the junk pile.

(6/44) After: Steampunk Chess Set • With a bit of rust remover to make them shine, you can transform your old fittings into a steampunk chess set. Source: 9 Bizarrely Beautiful DIY Chess Sets

Better understood in photos as...

...The 'Source:' in the 'After:' photo wasn't actually linked to anything, but with the usual search engine magic I found 9 Bizarrely Beautiful DIY Chess Sets (pinterest.com), which references an article from Popular Mechanics supplemented with dozens of other examples.

Now that I've documented that bit of Yahoo for posterity, I can move on to the other 19 'ways to repurpose old junk'. Nice word there -- repurpose.

18 January 2016

Instructional Videos : Anand

Continuing with this short series of instructional videos by each of the eight participants in the forthcoming Moscow Candidates Tournament, in what order should I take them? After the previous clip from the player they hope to challenge -- Instructional Videos : Carlsen -- I could take them in order of current rating (which in many people's mind is equivalent to ranking) or I could take them in alphabetical order (as listed in the Carlsen post).

Taking them in alphabetical order puts GM Viswanathan Anand next. This is doubly appropriate since he was the previous World Champion and battled Magnus Carlsen in the last two title bouts: 2013 Chennai (India) and 2014 Sochi (Russia).

Anand shows his win against Wang Hao (8:57) • 'A smooth victory for Viswanathan Anand got the World Champion into shared first place after four rounds at the 2011 Tata Steel Chess Tournament.'

The video by Chessvibes.com is similar in style to the Carlsen video. To follow the complete game, see Viswanathan Anand vs Wang Hao; 2011 Tata Steel (chessgames.com).

17 January 2016

Something Smells Fishy

This series on Top eBay Chess Items by Price isn't just about pricey chess auctions. It's also about eBay. Since the annual post-Christmas drought -- also seen in Bak to Basics -- continues, I looked into an unusual item that caught my attention, pictured below.

Three times the same item, titled 'James C. Christensen - The Chess Match', sold at live auction (as did 'Bak to Basics') during a two month time span? That's definitely unusual.

The description for the first item -- Nov 8, $2,960.00 -- said,

Hand Signed - Extra Large Canvas Edition - Image Size: 72"w X 48"h. Limited Edition Of: 40

The description for the second item -- Jan 9, $2,950.00 -- said the same, followed by a long, long paragraph (*) that started,

There Are 1,327 Named Openings And Variations To A Match In The Oxford Companion To Chess, But How Can A Player Remember Any Of Them When The Days Spectators Include A Pair Of Dragons?

The third item -- Jan 14, $2,950.00 -- went missing. Its auction detail page said only,

We had trouble finding some information about this item. Please come back to try again in a few minutes.

And the message persisted. What does all this mean? It means that something smells fishy.

(*) The same text -- with normal word capitalization, the grammatically correct "when the day’s spectators", and properly formatted in multiple paragraphs -- can be found at James C. Christensen - The Chess Match (greenwichworkshop.com), along with prices for the different editions. The most expensive is 'MUSEUMEDITION CANVAS; Image size: 72"w x 48"h.; Limited Edition of: 40; $2,950.00'.

15 January 2016

U.S. Chess Hall of Fame

The endless Video Flickr Friday series returns after a one month hiatus with a photo from the World Chess Hall of Fame (worldchesshof.org) St.Louis, Missouri. The wall appears to be decorated with plaques honoring inductees into the U.S. Chess Hall of Fame.

Chess Hall of Fame © Flickr user Nick Normal under Creative Commons.

For the complete set of HOF photos from the same photographer, see World Chess Hall of Fame. (NB: There are a few photos there that aren't typical chess material and aren't really suitable 'For All Ages'!)

14 January 2016

Fischer - Keres, 1962 Curacao

I wanted to use this photo for the recent post on the Paul Keres Centenary, but decided against it because it shows more than Keres. It's still a great photo.

I found it on eBay a few years ago (August 2013 to be exact), where the description said,

7" x 5" black and white photograph of Fischer during a match, signed on the reverse: "Here I am playing Paul Keres of the USSR in Curacao, Dutch West Indies. Yours truly, Robert Fischer." There is a vertical fold.

The position the players are analyzing is around move 40 of the game Robert James Fischer vs Paul Keres; Curacao Candidates 1962 (chessgames.com). Keres won that game.


Later: I didn't realize until after posting that the photo is another example of Bobby's Big Hands.

12 January 2016

FIDE Rating List - January 2016

It's that time of year time again, when I download the January edition of the FIDE rating list, load it into a database, and do some simple queries. Last year I did a series of nine posts, starting with FIDE Rating Lists Restored (January 2015) and ending with Into the Melting Pot (February 2015; including a summary of the other posts).

Through the years, the FIDE rating lists (FRL) have become more complicated. The main download page, FIDE Download Rating List, offers six different lists (the following bullets are copied from that page):-

  • Full list of players (not rated included) STD, RPD, BLZ combined
  • FIDE rating list in old format (not rated included - only Standard rating)
  • Full list of players LEGACY format (not rated included with only over the board titles) STD, RPD, BLZ combined
  • STANDARD rating list
  • RAPID rating list
  • BLITZ rating list

Last year I decided to stick with the 'STANDARD rating list' and this year I'm doing the same. Some day I might look at the 'full list', but I don't have the time or the interest for that now.

In 2015, the FRL listed 197.590 players, of which 82.407 were marked inactive; in 2016, the FRL has 231.238 names, of which 96.535 are marked inactive. The following chart shows which of the 180 federations had the largest increase in the number of players, whether active or inactive.

FIDE Rating Lists: Jan 2015 & Jan 2016

Left: Increase in players; Right: New federations

The four federations on the right did not appear on the 2015 list. They should be merged into my table of FIDE Country and Federation Codes, but I'll save that task for another day.

11 January 2016

Instructional Videos : Carlsen

The 2016 Candidates Tournament (Moscow, 10-30 March) starts in two months, which gives me just enough time to run a weekly video series featuring the eight participants: Anand, Aronian, Caruana, Giri, Karjakin, Nakamura, Svidler, and Topalov. I'll be looking for clips that show the players explaining one of their own games. Let's start with a presentation by the young man they hope to challenge, World Champion Magnus Carlsen.

Carlsen Smeets 10 rd Corus 2009 (14:25) • 'Published on Nov 29, 2012'

I recall that this was first published by Chessvibes.com around the time of the 2009 Corus tournament, but I couldn't find the original version. For the full game, see Magnus Carlsen vs Jan Smeets; Corus 2009 on Chessgames.com.


Later: More multi-part Youtube videos of the same type from the same tournament in the previous year. The first link for each round is the game on Chessgames.com. Carlsen was 17 years old at the time.

Rd. 1: Shakhriyar Mamedyarov vs Magnus Carlsen; Corus 2008; Part I, Part II, Part III

Rd. 6: Magnus Carlsen vs Judit Polgar; Corus 2008; Part I, Part II

Rd. 12: Vladimir Kramnik vs Magnus Carlsen; Corus 2008; Part I, Part II, Part III

10 January 2016

London Chess Conference 2015

For the third year running -- last year's post was London Chess and Education Conference 2014 (January 2015) -- I'll use this blog's 'Chess in School' series to feature a video from the recent London Chess Conference, held in conjunction with the London Chess Classic 2015. At the beginning of the clip, Malcolm Pein introduces himself as

Chief Executive of 'Chess in Schools and Communities', a U.K. charity that organizes, hosts, and facilitates the conference.

IM Pein goes on to explain, 'This year we're going to look at projects that use chess not just as a development tool for children but also as a positive force that impacts both the individual and society as a whole'.

London Chess Conference 2015 Opening Session extract (5:20) • 'Opening session introduction by Conference Director John Foley introducing Chess Festival Director Malcolm Pein.'

For more videos from the same Youtube channel, see London Chess Conference, 'Presentations and interviews from the London Chess Conference 2015: Chess and Society held at the Hilton Olympia'. For another video on the same conference, see KVDC London Chess Conference 2015 workshop impressions, which leads to a different Youtube channel highlighting other conference sessions. For more about the conference itself, see London Chess Conference - Making Chess Work for Society (londonchessconference.com).

08 January 2016

Chess Kids in Somerset

After the previous Video Friday post, Nakamura on the Grand Chess Tour, I took a short break for the Christmas holiday. There was plenty to choose from in the intervening month, including more from the 'London Chess Classic' (aka 'Grand Chess Tour'), but this next clip was my favorite.

Chess Kids: Checks & Balances (7:28) • 'Short film about a day long kids' chess tournament.'

The filmmaker, Gabriel Gilson, added,

Something about chess fits perfectly in to the childhood tendency for obsession. I wanted to explore how the children think about chess and how parents and children cope with the competitive pressure you get even at a small local tournament like this.

Other, non-chess clips on the same Youtube channel feature Bath, UK.

07 January 2016

Paul Keres Centenary

Paul Keres (Estonian, 7 January 1916 - 5 June 1975) was born 100 years ago today.

'Chess prop photo of Paul Keres with title "Grandmaster of USSR".
Press photo with mintage, made by LENPHOTO photo laboratory in Leningrad in year 1950.'

See also The Soviet Grandmaster Title. I once annotated a vintage Keres game in Every Move Explained - A Keres Game

05 January 2016

January 1966 'On the Cover'

We start a new year of American chess magazines from 50 years ago with echoes of the previous year. The January 1965 'On the Cover' also highlighted Chess Life's 'See you at the NATIONAL OPEN!' -- for that initial event the cover girl was named. The same magazine, for its December 1965 'On the Cover', showed Pal Benko as 'First American Open Champion'.

Left: 'See you at the NATIONAL OPEN!'
Right: 'Winner of American Open at Santa Monica'

Chess Life (two page ad)

Announcing the Great Second Annual
FEBRUARY 27 - MARCH 4, 1966
Biggest Ever in an 8-Round Swiss!

Chess Review

ON THE COVER: The Mission Bay Open at the Steiner Chess Group of San Diego, which drew 30 participants and about 100 spectators, was won, not surprisingly, by grandmaster Pal Benko of San Diego with a 5-0 sweep. [...] Benko later won the American Open.

The equivalent CL ad for the 1965 National Open had announced '$4,500 IN CASH PRIZES!'. The 1966 event offered early-bird hotel rooms at the Stardust for $8 single and $10 double.

04 January 2016

Chess Engine Summary

For the last three months of Mondays I've been running a series on chess engines. It started with a long video overviewing basic engine concepts.

Then I looked at some technical aspects introduced in the video. These were areas which were largely new to me.

By coincidence, the Thoresen (or 'Top') Chess Engines Competition (TCEC) was running at the same time. Stockfish, the star of the video, was playing Komodo, another super-engine, in the final match ('superfinal' in TCEC jargon).

After 100 games Komodo emerged with a convincing victory. I spent a few weeks looking at specific games that promised insights into the engines' play.

Where do we go from here? I haven't decided yet, but I'll certainly come back to chess engines at some time in the future.

03 January 2016

Bak to Basics

How is it possible that after nearly 200 posts in this blog's eBay category, including dozens of artists, I've never featured a work by one of the best known chess artists of our time? This current edition of Top eBay Chess Items by Price gives me the chance to rectify that. Good thing, too, because just like last year's post-Christmas eBay auction, Chess Stone Lithograph, there was little else to choose from.

The item below, titled 'Samuel Bak b.1933 (Israeli) Chess oil on canvas Lot 69', subtitled 'Part of a live auction event on Sunday, Dec 20', sold for US $3600 after five bids on a starting price of $3000. As with other eBay live auctions (last seen on this blog in Chess Charcoal Drawing), there is no information on the number of distinct bidders.

The description added somewhat cursorily,

Samuel Bak; b.1933 (Israeli); Chess; oil on canvas; H:33 W:24 cm.; signed lower right • Seller's estimate: USD 3500 - 4000

A page titled Chess in the Art of Samuel Bak (chgs.umn.edu: 'Center for Holocaust & Genocide Studies - University of Minnesota'), subtitled 'A Question of Survival', informs,

Bak's paintings of battlefields of chess pieces and chessboards seem to describe our world today. The terminology of battle – sacrifice, foot soldiers, construct lines of defense, destroy the enemies, command centers and leaders is represented in these works.

In the dozens of Bak's paintings displayed on that page, the blue Pawn from our eBay auction does not appear. The auctioneer's catalog page Israeli & International Fine Art Auction, offered by Matsart Auctioneers & Appraisers, Tel Aviv, Israel, shows four works by Bak. The only work featuring chess sold for the lowest amount among the four. Someone got a bargain.

01 January 2016

Welcome to 2016!


It's already the future!