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.

12 October 2017

Another Chess Metaphor

Remember the post Only a Million Dollar Game? 'Why settle for a million dollar game when you can have a billion dollar game?', featuring a video 'How to make chess a billion dollar game'. Be careful what you wish for; seen on eBay earlier this year...


Billionaire's Fantasy • A Game of Living Chess

...The eBay description said,

Original old French historical magazine color engraving folio print with text on the back (not a modern reproduction) comes from old magazine "La Petit Journal", 1904. The overall size of this print with margins approximately 17" x 12".

The text on the left says, '232 - Supplement illustré du Petit Journal'. Wikipedia's Le Petit Journal (newspaper) informs,

Le Petit Journal was a conservative daily Parisian newspaper founded by Moïse Polydore Millaud; published from 1863 to 1944. Together with Le Petit Parisien, Le Matin, and Le Journal, it was one of the four major French dailies.

Is this illustration a chess metaphor for life in the world of 1904? In today's world?

10 October 2017

Bogart and Chess in Photos

In my latest eBay post, Bogart's MCO, I wrote, 'it's fairly well known that Humphrey Bogart played chess'. This is confirmed by Google.


Google image search on 'chess bogart'

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), we find:-

  • Lauren Bacall in seven photos: A4, A5 ('*' = see notes), B2, B3, B4, B5, C5.
  • The movie 'Casablanca' in six: A3, B1, B6, C1, C3, C6.
  • Miscellaneous subjects in the other five (all '*'): A1, A2, A6, C2, C4.

As for the notes ('*'):-

  • A1: Casablanca Rare Photos (cineweekly.com) • 'Claude Rains watching Bogart during a break', although Rains has been cropped out of the Google image
  • A5 (& A2): Actor Humphrey Bogart and Chess (chess.com; June 2011) • From Chess Review, June-July 1945; the photo on p.18 of the same magazine is Google's A2.
  • A6: We're No Angels (1955; imdb.com) • Joan Bennett and Humphrey Bogart
  • C2: Chess and Hollywood (chesshistory.com) • Chess Review, May 1954, page 131 (the web page has another half-dozen Bogart photos)
  • C4: Bogart with Scottish Terriers; see similar photos with other props.

All photos present and accounted for?

09 October 2017

Harkness Ratings for the Swiss System

Continuing with The Harkness System Explained, in that post I used excerpts from Harkness's own writings in Chess Life (CL), more than 65 years ago:-

[Harkness, CL 1952-05-20] was the first in a series of eight articles under the title 'How the Rating System Works'. [...] The last two articles in the Harkness explanation of his rating system described rules for rating a Swiss System. I'll cover that in my next post in this series.

1952-08-20: '7. Rating Swiss System Tournaments' • In this post, I'll look at those last two articles.

To rate a Swiss System event we evaluate the performance of each player as though he were competing in an independent tournament. No contestant plays against the same set of opponents as any other contestant, so we must measure the strength of the competition each player meets. We do this in the same way as we determine the average strength of a round-robin tournament -- by listing the ratings of a player and all his opponents, then finding the median value. This value is called a player's "competition average." Then we compute performance ratings as described in parts 5 and 6 of this series, adding or subtracting points from each player's competition average in accordance with his score.

The process of rating Swiss System tournaments is summed up in the above paragraph, but a great many of the details have been omitted. For the sake of those who want to know exactly what we do, this article and the next in the series are devoted to a fuller explanation. If you find the description too boring to read, you will have to take our word for it that we go to a lot of trouble to achieve a high degree of accuracy.

Perhaps the simplest way to explain the process is to describe the various steps in detail, using the recent U.S Open Championship as an example.

1. After correcting the usual mistakes in the round-by-round analysis of the tournament report, and after cancelling all byes and defaults, we list down on our work-sheet the names of all players and their net scores. By net scores we mean the points won and lost for games actually played. Although the U.S. Open was a 12-round event, some of the contestants played less than 12 games.

2. The second step is to write down what we call the "work-sheet ratings" of all players whose performances during the previous five years have been recorded on cards in the active files. Each player's rating is written after his name. As described below, some ratings are taken from the records of rating one tournament. [...]

3. The third step is to issue performance ratings to the unrated contestants. so that these figures may be used to find the competition averages of the rated contestants. The process is complicated and consists of three operations: [...]

Harkness introduced his next article with a visual overview of his calculations.


U.S. Open championship, Tampa 1952; Average: 1980
(Column Headers:) No., Player, Net Score, Last Avg., Work-Sheet (1 & 2), Competition, Performance

1952-09-05: '8. Rating Swiss System Tournaments (continued)'

In the seventh article of this series we started a description of the various steps that are taken to rate a Swiss System tournament, using the U.S. Open of 1952 as an example. In the present article we continue the explanation.

4. The fourth step of the process is to issue performance ratings to the players with provisional ratings. This is done as a separate operation so that we may correct the work-sheet ratings of these players before tackling the fully-rated contestants.

When a player has never before competed in a rated event we have to accept the performance as the only available indication of his ability; but we can do something about correcting a possible error in the figure used to represent the strength of a player who has competed in one previous tournament. What we do is to average his provisional rating and his performance rating, then substitute this new figure in the column of work-sheet ratings. We use this corrected rating when finding the competitive averages of his opponents [...]

5. As the final step, we issue performance ratings to the fully rated contestants in the tournament. As a result of the work done up to this point we now have a column of work-sheet ratings that is more accurate than our original list. (The final list is column 2 of the work-sheet ratings in the table above.) We have done all that we possibly can to make sure that the performances of the players with established ratings will not be distorted by mistakes in the ratings of their less experienced opponents. [...]

In that series of eight articles written in 1952, Harkness went to great lengths to describe the mechanics of his system. I've left out (indicated by '[...]') most of the detail and all of the examples. He also considered the use of ratings to produce Swiss System pairings. In the next post in this series, I'll look at his thoughts on pairings.

08 October 2017

Bogart's MCO

Although it's fairly well known that Humphrey Bogart played chess -- he even has a page on Chessgames.com, Humphrey Bogart -- he has never been mentioned on this blog. Thanks to this ongoing series on Top eBay Chess Items by Price, that's about to change.

The item below was titled 'Chess book signed by Humphrey Bogart'. It sold for US $666.00 after four bids from two bidders. The first bidder entered the auction with an unknown maximum bid and a few days later the second bidder placed three bids, finally giving up at US $656.

The description said only,

This is a chess book presumably owned by Humphrey Bogart, who was a 2100 ranked player. (Google it.) The book is in tattered shape but the collectible value to the right individual is "priceless".

Under Bogart's signature are two phrases. Taking a clue from the 'p' in his signature, the first phrase appears to be 'Comparative Chess' (no clue what that means), while the second is 'Chess Fundamentals'. The title page says something like,

Modern Chess Openings
By Griffith and White

Completely revised
by
P.W.Sergeant
(Author of Morphy's Games of Chess, etc.)

R.C.Griffith (Editor, British Chess Magazine; British Chess Champion, 1912-13)
and
M.E.Goldstein, B.Sc. (Middlesex Champion, 1924-25)

Specially Compiled for Match and Tournament Players

Fifth Edition

Leeds:
Whitehead & Miller Ltd.
Elmwood Lane

 

This appears to be the 1932 edition. (Project for a rainy day: sort out the various editions of MCO.)

06 October 2017

No Knight Presence

But that could be a (half) Bishop on the left or maybe a Pawn. As for the piece on the right, it could be a King/Queen fusion sort of thing.


Art on Park Ave Chess Pieces © Flickr user J J under Creative Commons.

The description said,

Night Presence IV • This sculpture of welded Cor-Ten steel was given by Louise Nevelson to the City to commemorate her 50th year of living and working in New York. Said Nevelson, "New York represents the whole of my conscious life and I thought it fitting that I should give it something of myself."

Other sources say the gift was made in 1973. Nevelson's Wikipedia page, Louise Nevelson, says,

Louise Nevelson (1899–1988) was an American sculptor known for her monumental, monochromatic, wooden wall pieces and outdoor sculptures. Born in the Poltava Governorate of the Russian Empire (present-day Ukraine), she emigrated with her family to the United States in the early 20th century.

For more about the sculpture, see Night Presence IV, Not Present (full-stop.net), where the word 'chess' isn't mentioned. The game doesn't appear to have had much additional influence on Nevelson's work.

05 October 2017

1967 World Juniors

My previous post October 1967 'On the Cover', had a paragraph on the 1967 World Junior Championship. Quoting from Chess Review (CR),

Puerto Rican Champion Julio Kaplan, who is 17, won the Junior World Championship, held in Jerusalem. [...] Raymond Keene of Great Britain was runnerup with a total of 5 1/2 points; and Jan Timmans [sic; Timman] of the Netherlands was third with 5.

Along with a photo of winner Kaplan, the article included photos of Keene and Timman, reproduced below.

As far as I can tell, Kaplan never advanced to a World Championship qualifying tournament. Keene and Timman both played in European zonals in the 1970s, without qualifying further:-

In subsequent zonal cycles, Keene was replaced by other English players, of whom the strongest was Tony Miles:-

Timman tied for first with Miles in the 1978 Amsterdam zonal, and qualified to play in the Interzonal stage:-

In 1979, Timman finished a half point behind a trio tying for 1st-3rd, narrowly missing qualification into the Candidates matches. He was less successful in 1982, when he was seeded by rating, but starting in 1985, qualifed into the Candidates stage for four consecutive cycles.

03 October 2017

October 1967 'On the Cover'

Fifty years ago, the Chess Life half of the two major American chess magazines got a new look. See last month's post, September 1967 'On the Cover', for an example of the old cover.


Left: 'International Master William Addison'
Right: 'World Junior Champion'

Chess Life (report by tournament runner-up 'Sammy' Reshevsky)

A serious problem arose just before the start of the recent International Tournament at Maribor, Yugoslavia. The organizing committee was anxious to have the event classified as a "1A" tournament, which required, according to FIDE regulations, the participation of eight International Grandmasters and four International Masters. However, William Addison of San Francisco was erroneously considered the fourth International Master. The problem was solved when International Master N. Minev was substituted for Yugoslav Master S. Puc. Fortunately, Minev was in Yugoslavia at the time and was contacted just as he was about to depart. The advantage of a "1A" tournament is that a Master has the opporunity of acquiring the coveted International Master title by achieving a 50% score.

The tournament classification worked in Addison's favor. He scored exactly 50% to make the norm and gain the IM title.

Chess Review

Puerto Rican Champion Julio Kaplan, who is 17, won the Junior World Championship, held in Jerusalem. He looks a fighter and, scoring 6 1/2 - 1 1/2, went undefeated. Raymond Keene of Great Britain was runnerup with a total of 5 1/2 points; and Jan Timmans [sic; Timman] of the Netherlands was third with 5. [...] Most communist entrants boycotted the tournament. Our Sal Matera had an unfortunate preliminary result.

Where are they now? Enshrined in Wikipedia, like so many other chess players of yesteryear. Addison's page, William Addison (chess player), informs that he died 29 October 2008 in San Francisco. Kaplan's page, Julio Kaplan, tells us, 'born 25 July 1950, Argentina [...] emigrated in 1964 to Puerto Rico', and that the World Junior Championship earned him the IM title.

02 October 2017

The Harkness System Explained

My previous post on early U.S. chess ratings, The Harkness Rating System, ended with a direction for further investigation.

This was the first in a series of eight articles under the title 'How the Rating System Works'. I'll look at the following articles in the next post.

1952-05-20: That first Harkness article was in the 20 May 1952 edition of Chess Life (CL). Here is its first paragraph repeated:-

Many readers of CHESS LIFE were favorably impressed by our recent forecast of the results of the international tournament at Havana. With one or two exceptions, which we will hasten to explain now that the race is over, the predictions were about as near as you can come without the use of a crystal ball. [...]

1952-06-05: Following are the first paragraphs from subsequent articles in the series. They provide some insight into the technical underpinnings of the rating system.

The National Rating System, now in operation for two years, is like one of those mechanical brains you read about in the papers. Tournament results are fed in at one end and ratings come out at the other. The machine has no feelings or emotions. When presented with the results of a tournament, it pays no attention to fancy titles. The sponsors may call it a Masters' Tournament to Decide the Championship of Fifteen Counties; but the system adds up the ratings of the players, strikes an average, and calls the contest an 1843-point Class B event, if that is how it turns out.

If you win a tournament you get the highest rating. Others may claim that you were just lucky and got all the breaks, but the system looks at your score. It knows nothing about luck. Never heard of it. Sad to relate, though, the eagle eye of the rating system sees your name as clear as can be if it shows up at the bottom of the final standings. The machine measures your failures as well as your successes. This is not a one-way system. Your rating can go up or down. [...]

1952-06-20:

If your ambition is to become recognized as a chess Master the rating system gives you the opportunity to prove your ability and earn the title. In fact, the system will seek you out and shout Your name from the housetops. You are listed as a Master if you average 2300 points or more in at least two tournaments, not counting preliminaries. Or you are listed as an Expert if you average 2100 to 2299. Other officially rated players below the Expert division are grouped in Classes A, B, C and D, each class covering a range of 200 points.

In the upper echelons, there are grades of Masters, too. The common or garden variety ranges from 2300 to 2499. Above this comes the Senior Master class, between 2500 and 2699. At the top of the pyramid is the Grandmaster Class, from 2700 points up. The air up there is pretty thin.

Unless you live in one of the big chess centers, where strong players congregate, you cannot expect to qualify as a Master by playing only in local events. You can probably reach the rank of Expert, but you will not go beyond this point until you compete in stronger tournaments. [...]

1952-07-05:

The use of median values to represent the average strength of tournaments is one of the latest refinements of the rating system. As another example, we give below the results of the 1951 Pittsburgh Metropolitan Championship.

[list of 7 players in order of rating]

The sum of the ratings divided by the number of contestants (13,143 divided by 7) gives 1878 the average, but a player who made an even score in this company would not be entitled to such a high rating. The distortion is caused by the presence of one highly-rated expert among two Class A and four Class B players. In such cases, a median value is more accurate.

Since there is an odd number of contestants, one rating is at the middle of the list. Waltz' 1785 is lower than the top three and higher than the bottom three. However, one player's rating in such a small group may be off center, so we find a better medium value by averaging the three middle ratings. Thus, we add the figures 1922, 1785 and 1750 (the ratings of Taylor, Waltz and Leiter) for a total of 5,457, and divide by 3 to get an average of 1818 points for this tournament. [...]

1952-07-20: '5. Round Robin Performance Ratings'

After the average strength of a round-robin tournament has been determined, each player is given a performance rating. When there are ten or more rounds, the ratings are issued as follows:

1. A player who makes a 50% score gets the tournament average as his performance rating

2. A player who makes a score of more than 50% gets the tournament average plus 10 rating points for each percentage point of his score above 50%.

3. A player who makes a score of less than 50% gets the tournament average less 10 rating points for each percentage point of his score below 50%.

Applying these rules to the 1951 Log Cabin Chess Club Championship, performance ratings were issued as shown in the table below and in the chart [below].

1952-08-05: '6. Rating Short Tournaments'

When a tournament has ten or more rounds, the performance ratings are issued in proportion to the percentage scores, but this relationship cannot be maintained successfully when rating shorter tournaments. As the number of rounds decreases, ratings based on percentages become less and less accurate.

The natural inclination of a statistician is to reject competitive events that do not furnish data in sufficient quantities to use percentages. Fortunately, the popularity of short tournaments in the United States has forced us to labor and bring forth a practical method of evaluating performances in thew contests. A new measurement scale makes it possible for us to rate competitions with any number of rounds from one to nine and opens the way to rate team tournaments and matches, hitherto impossible.

The development of this yardstick required several weeks of unpaid labor in tests and experiments, but the result is beguilingly simple. We just substitute game scores for percentage scores. As before, a 50% score earns the tournament average. but for each half-game above or below an even score, a player gets the average plus or minus 50 rating points. This puts a necessary brake on the number of points that can be won or lost in a short tournament or match. [...]

The last two articles in the Harkness explanation of his rating system described rules for rating a Swiss System. I'll cover that in my next post in this series.

01 October 2017

Only a Million Dollar Game

Continuing with the Sociology of Chess (November 2016), why settle for a million dollar game when you can have a billion dollar game?


How to make chess a billion-dollar game (10:01) • 'Chess is a great game, and people have been trying to figure out how to market it for years.'

The description continues,

I follow it myself, and came up with a few ideas, both in marketing and radical technical changes, that I think would make a huge difference in how entertaining the game is to casual fans, and the amount of money that top players are able to make. Of course, a billion dollars may seem like a lot, but single NBA teams are worth more than that now, so I do believe that chess as a whole could be worth 1/30th of the NBA. Anyway, check out the vid to hear how!

While there are no really new ideas in the clip, it presents a few ideas that have never been put into practice. Here are a few external references from early in the video:-

The main advice near the end of the video is to follow the lead of poker, although with a novel, live-action twist. For previous posts on this blog about the same subject see:-

Perhaps one of the problems in these analyses is the excessive focus on chess in America. The 'How America Forgot' article from 2012 linked above knocks the influence of GM Anand and speculates on the potential of GM Nakamura. Which of the two players has done more to raise the popularity of chess, Anand in India or Nakamura in the USA? Chess is, after all, an international game.

29 September 2017

GM Fressinet: 'In Blitz You Always Sacrifice Something'

A couple of Danes show that chess isn't all serious. (Warning: occasional profanity.)


What's a Top Level Chess Tournament like? (7:51) • 'Outray Chess travels to Berlin to check out a "top level genius fest" (featuring Svidler, Chessbrah, Fressinet).'

The description continued,

We have a talk with fascinating characters like Peter Svidler, Eric Hansen (the Chessbrah) and Laurant Fressinet and discuss the future of chess. The event was World Blitz and Rapid Championship 2015.

The Berlin event was played in October 2015. Why did it take two years to upload the video? If you like this clip, see also Guy uses Soviet Tank to explain INSANE chess game (Tal - Smyslov, 1959).

28 September 2017

Averbakh's R+P vs. B+P Endgames

For the last day the house wifi has been behaving badly, so for today's post I needed a subject that didn't demand too much online time. My first idea was to return to the Aronian - Dubov game from the fourth round of the just-completed 2017 World Cup in Tbilisi. I discussed the R+P vs. B+P endgame in

I knew I had covered other R+P:B+P endgames in the past, but when exactly? Here's a list:-

That last post ('Magic') discussed a couple of positions from Averbakh's multi-volume set of endgame books, specifically the volume on Rooks vs. minor pieces. The Rook vs. Bishop endgames can be extremely tricky and often contain hidden resources. The following diagrams shows two of Averbakh's first (and simplest) examples.

The top position is a typical example of how a single tempo can be the difference between a win and a draw in an endgame. White to move draws with 1.Rxf2. Black to move wins with 1....Ke2, because after 2.Re8+ Be3 3.Rf8 Bc1 4.Re8+ Kf3 5.Rf8+ Bf4, the Bishop interferes with the Rook's attack on the file.

The bottom position (Mattison 1914) shows the Bishop and the King coordinating to stop the Rook's attack. The key move is 1.Be3+. After 1...Kb7 2.e7 Rxa3, first the Bishop limits the scope of the Rook with 3.Ba7 Ra1. Then the King finishes the job with 4.Kf4 Rf1+ 5.Bf2 Rxf2+ 6.Ke3 Rf1 7.Ke2.

All of Averbakh's examples contain equally surprising moves and deep plans. For more info on his books, see

If I can't get the wifi tamed quickly, I might come back to the subject again.

26 September 2017

TCEC Season 10 Kickoff

Fans of engine-to-engine play -- and who isn't? -- know that the TCEC (Top Chess Engine Championship) is the toughest tournament of them all. Many consider it to be the real World Championship of chess engines. The TCEC takes place on Chessdom.com, and over the past month the site has announced plans for season 10.

2017-08-22: TCEC 2017 season coming soon – information and details • 'The new edition of TCEC is scheduled to take place in the last quarter of 2017. Once again the main goal of the championship will be to provide equal and fair conditions for the top chess engines to face each other and compete on a superb hardware. [See also:] Schedule, Duration, Format, Server, Participants, Staff, Finances'

2017-09-02: TCEC weekly update • 'After a constructive discussion and feedback from the TCEC fans, the new season will have the following parameters: [...]'

2017-09-12: TCEC – structure and participants • 'TCEC Season 10 is starting in about a month. Behind the scenes active preparation is going on for holding the 2017 season of the world’s premium computer chess event.'

2017-09-23: TCEC Season 10 participants • 'TCEC Season 10 is going to start in the beginning of October. It is confirmed that this season’s Top Chess Engine Championship is going to be record breaking both in terms of average ELO of the participants and their rating. [...] The top three seeded are again the open source Stockfish and the commercial Komodo and Houdini.'

For a summary of posts on this blog about the 'TCEC Season 9 Superfinal', see Engines, (Google), Korchnoi (December 2016). For the TCEC Facebook page, see TCEC - Top Chess Engine Championship.

25 September 2017

The Harkness Rating System

One of the first posts on this series covering the introduction of chess ratings in the U.S. was The First USCF Rating System (July 2017). The main article in the post, 'National Rating System by William M. Byland, USCF Vice President in Charge of Rating Statistics', ended with

For the long labor of compilation and computation involved in these listings. which furnish an invaluable base for future ratings, we are deeply indebted to Rating Statistician Kenneth Harkness.

The Wikipedia page, Kenneth Harkness, credits him with having 'introduced the Harkness rating system, which was a precursor to the Elo rating system'. Harkness wrote his first feature article on ratings for the 5 March 1952 edition of Chess Life (CL), the same issue where the fourth National Rating List appeared; see USCF Rating Lists in the 1950s (August 2017), for a summary of all early rating lists. Titled 'Picking the Winner at Havana', the Harkness article started,

As this is written the big international tournament at Havana is getting under way. Although the final line-up has not yet been announced. the list of probable competitors includes some top-flight masters from Europe, South America and the United States. This country is represented by U.S. Champion Larry Evans, Grandmaster Samuel Reshevsky, former U.S. Champion Herman Steiner, Senior Master Israel A. Horowitz, veteran U.S. Master Edward Lasker.

Naturally, we all hope that one of our boys will bring home the bacon. And even with the price of meat these days, you can buy a lot of bacon with the $2500.00 first prize being offered by our good friends in Cuba. If our brilliant young champion Larry Evans brings home that much dough he can pay his taxes and still play bridge at the Marshall Chess Club for a fifth.

Good chessplayers being even more consistent than racehorses, it is no trouble at all for your Rating Statistician to lay down his copy of Racing Form for a few moments and give you the probable order of finish at Hialeah -- I mean Havana. Judging by their past performances, as measured by the rating system, the boys will pass the line in the following order:

1. Samuel Reshevsky, USA...2704
2. Miguel N. Najdorf, Argentina...2714

It should be a photo-finish between these two Grandmasters. They ended up one-two at Amsterdam, 1950, and New York, 1951, alternating for first prize. We give Reshevsky the edge because he has made higher ratings than Najdorf in the past and because he is out to avenge the loss of the U.S. Championship to Larry Evans last year. Sammy will play harder than ever to recover his prestige. [...]

A few months later, in the 20 May issue of CL, Harkness wrote a follow-up article. It appeared under the following banner.


'How the Rating System Works'

The article started,

Many readers of CHESS LIFE were favorably impressed by our recent forecast of the results of the international tournament at Havana. With one or two exceptions, which we will hasten to explain now that the race is over, the predictions were about as near as you can come without the use of a crystal ball.

To get some idea of how closely the national rating system measures tournament playing strength, let us compare the ratings earned at Havana with the last averages of the contestants:

['Player, Last Average, Havana Rating' for Najdorf, Reshevsky]

We predicted a photo-finish between these two grandmasters, giving the edge to our ex-champion. An unexpected draw with one of the tailenders cost Sammy the first prize, so be tied with Najdorf.

Note how the ratings earned at Havana confirm the correctness of the previous ratings -- and vice versa. A difference of less than 50 points is negligible.

[Ditto for Gligoric, Eliskases, Evans]

We claimed that any one of these three could take third prize. It was Gligoric who came in third. with Eliskases and Evans tied for fourth and fifth. [...]

This was the first in a series of eight articles under the title 'How the Rating System Works'. I'll look at the following articles in the next post on early U.S. chess ratings.

24 September 2017

The 12th Soviet Championship

I've occasionally remarked that the series on Top eBay Chess Items by Price is often a case of feast or famine. In the previous post, Man Ray Chess Photos, I noted, 'the short list had only a single item and I had to go well under my usual cutoff price to find it.' For this current post I had plenty to choose from, even if I again went under my usual cutoff price.

The item pictured below was titled 'Soviet Chess Photo: Panorama of 12th USSR Chess Championship 1940', and sold for US $316 after seven bids from two bidders. Just after the auction opened, the first bidder entered his maximum price. Some days later the second bidder came in with a lower price. Finding that it was insufficient to win, he increased it gradually over the next day, finally giving up. The first bidder had obviously decided that this was a valuable photo. How high was he willing to go?

Top: The entire item

Bottom: Detail from the item

The description said,

Original Soviet chess panoramic photo from 12th USSR chess championship in 1940. On the photo - Moscow conservatory, the place of the tournament. Size of the photo - 19,5 cm x 7 cm. Please notice that the photo was made by the original author by the process of bonding five smaller photos. Probably that was the only way to make a panoramic photo in 1940.

If you look carefully at the top photo, you can see the lines showing where the different photos have been joined. The description continued,

12TH SOVIET CHESS CHAMPIONSHIP: • This is a photograph from the famous 12th Soviet Chess Championship held in the Grand Hall of the Moscow Conservatory from September 4th through October 3rd, 1940. The 12th Soviet Chess Championship was truly a battle of the titans. Outstanding players such as Mikhail Botvinnik, Paul Keres, Vasily Smyslov, Alexander Kotov, Isaac Boleslavsky, Igor Bondarevsky, and Andre Lilienthal took part. This so-called "absolute championship" is rightfully considered one of the strongest USSR chess championships ever held.

Here’s an excerpt from Mikhail Botvinnik’s memoirs. "It was a tough tournament. There were many participants and very few off-days. The Grand Hall of the Conservatory has excellent acoustics. The spectators behaved impudently, made a great deal of noise, and clapped all the time. The excellent acoustics only made matters worse. Supposedly, Sergei Prokofiev applauded Keres vigorously after the latter won a game. The other people in his box reprimanded him,, and then the composer remarked, "I have every right to express my feelings." Would my friend Mr. Prokofiev be happy if he were playing a trio and spectators applauding the violinist’s performance drowned out his piano piece? Chess players are in a worse position, though. A pianist can afford to play a few false notes amid booming applause, something a chess player isn’t allowed to do."

The results of the 12th Soviet Chess Championship were truly sensational, since two young players, Andre Lilienthal and Igor Bondarevsky, came in first and second, respectively, leaving grandmasters Mikhail Botvinnik and Paul Keres, the tournament favorites, far behind. The unprecedented hype surrounding this tournament matched its historical significance. After all, the unofficial right to contend for the world championship crown, as well as the prestigious title of USSR champion were on the line.

"The most difficult and most monumental tournament in which I’ve ever taken part has come to a close," Andre Lilienthal wrote. "I have no reason to be displeased with myself. First off, my win over Botvinnik himself wasn’t too bad. Secondly, I snatched what seemed to be an irrevocably lost point from Bondarevsky in the last round. Thirdly, I managed not to lose a single game. Fourthly, I wound up in the wonderful young company of Bondarevsky and Smyslov at the top of the leaderboard. A decisive match for the title of USSR champion is up next. I have to prepare thoroughly for it, which, first and foremost, means getting some much needed rest."

Three months after the tournament was completed, on January 14th, 1941, the Soviet Committee on Physical Culture and Sports issued an order approving the tournament results and awarding Bondarevsky and Lilienthal, the tournament winners, grandmaster titles; however, this order was missing a key point, since it did not mention any sort of match between the two victors. That strange inconsistency came to light a month later when it was decided -- through a behind-the-scenes power struggle -- that one more tournament for the title of absolute USSR champion would be held, a tournament Mikhail Botvinnik won.

Unless I'm misreading something, that description is not entirely accurate. The first paragraph mentions the '12th Soviet Chess Championship', and refers to it as the 'so-called "absolute championship"'. The last paragraph implies that the absolute championship was played later, which is confirmed in Botvinnik's book on the 1941 tournament.

22 September 2017

Chess in the Sky

Anyone can see that's a chess King, right? But how was it made?


The world’s a game of chess, and we’re just pawns. Who’ll make the next move? © Flickr user Rasagy Sharma under Creative Commons.

Hint: One of the tags said, 'Bangalore', which is 'the third most populous city and fifth most populous urban agglomeration in India', according to Wikipedia's page on Bangalore.

21 September 2017

Win a Million Bucks

Seen on Slashdot.org ('News for nerds, stuff that matters'): Solve a 'Simple' Chess Puzzle, Win $1 Million. Sounds good to me! What's the catch?

Researchers at the University of St Andrews have thrown down the gauntlet to computer programmers to find a solution to a "simple" chess puzzle which could, in fact, take thousands of years to solve, and net a $1 million prize. [...] Devised in 1850, the Queens Puzzle originally challenged a player to place eight queens on a standard chessboard so that no two queens could attack each other. This means putting one queen in each row, so that no two queens are in the same column, and no two queens in the same diagonal. Although the problem has been solved by human beings, once the chess board increases to a large size no computer program can solve it.

The catch is in that last sentence, 'the chess board increases to a large size'. As the original article, "Simple" chess puzzle holds key to $1m prize (st-andrews.ac.uk; August 2017), put it,

Once the chess board reached 1000 squares by 1000, computer progams could no longer cope with the vast number of options and sunk into a potentially eternal struggle akin to the fictional "super computer" Deep Thought in Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which took seven and a half million years to provide an answer to the meaning of everything.

A related paper, 'Complexity of n-Queens Completion' by Ian P. Gent, Christopher Jefferson, and Peter Nightingale (School of Computer Science, University of St Andrews), published in the Journal of Artificial Intelligence Research 59 (2017) explains everything. But be careful -- you'll need to be a math whiz just to get through the 'Abstract'.


Google image search on 'chess eight queens'

Even the 8-by-8 version isn't that easy to solve. An algorithmic approach of using the Knight's move to place the next Queen -- shown above in the top row, third from left (or bottom row, ditto) -- leaves two Queens on the long diagonal (a8-h1). 'Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?', indeed.

19 September 2017

Chess at the IMDb

In a recent post, Was Fischer Really Against the Whole World?, I referenced IMDb page for the chess documentary by Liz Garbus, Bobby Fischer Against the World (2011) (imdb.com), and wrote,

See also the section titled 'People who liked this also liked...'

That section looks something like the following image.


IMDb: 'People who liked this also liked...'

The eight thumbnails each lead to a corresponding IMDb page, which I've summarized in the following list.

The first seven titles are well known chess movies, while the last title is another documentary by Liz Garbus. As you might expect, clicking on any title leads to another set of 'People also liked' titles. The first film in the list, 'Me and Bobby Fischer', leads to almost the same list, with the exception of the last title, which shows another Magnus movie. (It carries the same name as the current World Champion, but has nothing to do with him.)

For hundreds of chess references from IMDb, see Results for "chess" [imdb.com].

18 September 2017

A Quarrel About Ratings

In the previous post, Ratings Correlated to Performance, I looked at the 1951 U.S. Chess Championship, the first U.S. championship played after the introduction of U.S chess ratings. In this post I'll introduce a small quarrel about the use of ratings to determine participants in that event. The 5 December 1951 issue of Chess Life (CL) included the following letter.

Dear Mr. Major,

I aspire some day to play in the U.S. Championship Finals. I have never had the honor. The only way I know how is to do well enough in tournament competition, so as to attain a rating that will merit an invitation to the preliminaries. This year I thought I did, but I discovered it was not enough. Three of the participants in the U.S. Championship Preliminaries were rated below me in the Rating List of December 31, 1950. I have no way of telling how many others who were rated below me were extended invitations which they declined, or for that matter how many rated above me were likewise skipped.

I wrote a letter of inquiry to Mr. Hans Kmoch in his capacity as Tournament Director. Specifically I asked him the basis for the invitations. His reply appeared to me as a masterpiece of double talk. For example, on the one hand he said that he would have invited me if be had known I was eager to play, and on the other hand that he tried to contact me but failed to do so. Consider this contradiction further in the light of these facts: The USCF had canvassed me more than once regarding my availability and I had always replied in the affirmative. Mr. Phillipps had no trouble at all in reaching me in his drive for tournament contributions.

On my fundamental question regarding the basis for the invitations. Mr Kmoch had this to say: that the Rating System so far has not been accepted as binding for the order of invitations, that the original selections were made by a committee, and that there were subsequent withdrawals and last minute substitutions. No explanation of the basis for either the original selections or the later substitutions.

I present these facts not primarily as a personal grievance, since obviously it is too late to undo past events. However. I am interested in correcting a bad situation.

How long shall we tolerate a double standard in American chess -- a rating system for window dressing and a little black address book for extending invitations to the National Championship Tournaments?

I lay no claim to the infallibility of the U.S. Rating System, or for that matter to any other quantitative method for evaluating qualitative performance. On the contrary, I have some serious quarrels with it. Nevertheless I admit I know of no large equitable method for evaluating relative performance of a large number of players.

Can Mr. Kmoch or anybody else suggest a better way to evaluate relative skill? The fact remains that another system was used in issuing invitations to the last National Championship.

Perhaps Mr. Kmoch can explain it in detail to the satisfaction of Chess Life readers. If it is superior, it can be incorporated into or substituted for future ratings. The other possibility is that factors other than skill were considered in issuing invitations. If so, may I ask what they were?

Jack Soudakoff
New York City, N.Y.

The 5 January 1952 issue of CL included the following article by Hans Kmoch. Although it mentions ratings only once, it serves a second purpose in documenting the difficulties of organizing the 1951 championship.

The U. S. Championship Tournament; by Hans Kmoch
USCF Vice-President and Secretary of Tournament Committee

Two years ago the Tournament Committee, under the co-chairmanship of Messrs George E. Roosevelt and Maurice Wertheim, worked out a tentative schedule for the 1950 Championship, to be held as an invitational tournament, and the championships thereafter, to be open for especially qualified participants. On December 1, 1949, Mr. Wertheim sent a summarizing report of the Tournament Committee's suggestions to President Giers. On April 4, 1950, President Giers wrote the Tournament Committee that its suggestions had been accepted by the Board of Directors.

Unfortunately, a number of unforeseen events caused delay in the 1950 Championship. There was first of all the paralyzing blow delivered to the Tournament Committee by the death of Mr. Wertheim; there was the participation of a U.S. team in the so-called Chess Olympics at Dubrovnik, Yugoslavia, in August and September 1950; then there was the change in the Presidency of the USCF which had been impending for some months before it became a fact. I may add, if it matters, that I myself as the secretary of the Tournament Committee, had been absent from this country for seven months (June-December, 1950).

Our new President, Mr. Phillips, did great efforts to reactivate the Tournament Committee and get the postponed 1950 Championship held in 1951.

On March 1951 the Tournament Committee met and came to the conclusion the postponed Championship should he held in August 1951 with 14-16 participants. On April 19, 1951 the Tournament Committee decided on a list of 16 participants by name. On May 5, 1951, the Tournament Committee changed the schedule for the 1951 Championship in such a way that 24 players could participate instead of 16 while the number of rounds would increase only from 15 to l6.

On June 11, 1951, invitations were sent out to the selected players. As for the additional names, the Tournament Committee had accepted the National Rating List as a guide, emphasizing, however, it had no obligation to follow that List.

The 1951 Championship tournament was held in New York from July 28 to August 19. 1951

During June 11 to July 28 many changes in the list of the participants became necessary, because some of the invitees were unavailable, some made claims which USCF had no chance to fulfill, some needed time to decide, and some didn't answer at all.

As time went on. the difficulUes to get substitutes were mounting. To many players, the idea of acting as a substitute had a humiliating touch. Others could not accept at short notice, while still others did but later withdrew at zero notice. During the last week before the tournament, I had to work frantically so as to present a complete list of 24 players at the draw on July 28. On that day, just before the draw was to start, Herman Hesse from Pennsylvania and George Eastman from Michigan announced their withdrawals by wire. And there was still no answer from U.S. Champion Steiner.

However, I had foreseen possible trouble of this kind and was fortunate enough to find a number of distinguished players who would not mind acting, so to say, as substitutes for substitutes, willing to step in at any moment. The names of the gentlemen who by their comprehensive attitude substantually contributed to the tournament are: Edgar McCormick, Jack Collins, Dr. Ariel Mengarini, Dr. Joseph Platz, and Ed. Schwartz. McCormick had even to wait until the first round had started, for I felt that Steiner's place must be kept open until the very last minute.

The emergency job of looking for substitutes was largely done by Mr. Phillips and myself. We acted in accordance with the decisions the Tournament Committee had previously taken. Our bid to get some of the best-placed players from Fort Worth netted only Jim Cross; Eliot Hearst from New York and Lee Magee from Nebraska were unavailable.

As for our critics, we had New Yorkers who would wonder what non-New Yorkers were doing in this tournament, as well as non-New Yorkers who simply couldn't imagine why so many New Yorkers should participate. We had these who wouldn't mind a few thousand dollars if these dollars were to be produced by the USCF, those who considered themselves second to nobody in importance, those who would blame the Tournament Committee for a player's failure, and those who generally seemed to believe that ill-will was the only guide the Tournament Committee ever had.

By and large, however, the Tournament Committee's good-will was recognized. It ought to he at least as far as its members, Mrs. Wertheim, Mr. Alexander Bisno, and Mr. George E. Roosevelt, are concerned. Sapienti sat ['A word to the wise is sufficient']. The thankless job of raising the funds was accepted and in spite of tremendous difficulties satisfactorily done by Mr. Phillips.

The tournament itself was a smooth affair. There were no incidents of any importance.

Nowadays, the use of ratings to determine invitations is done routinely. When would U.S. ratings be accepted to determine invitations for the U.S. championship?

17 September 2017

Was Fischer Really Against the Whole World?

The first lesson I learned from this ongoing series on The Sociology of Chess (November 2016), is that the subject of sociology can be stretched to cover just about everything. Since chess pops up in all sorts of different cultural settings, there are plenty of sociological angles to examine.


Bobby Fischer Against The World -- Full Documentary (1:32:52) • 'A really inspiring as well as heartbreaking documentary film on Robert James Fischer, who was famously known as Bobby.'

For more about the film, see Bobby Fischer Against the World (2011) (imdb.com). Its 'Storyline' says,

'Bobby Fischer Against the World' is a documentary feature exploring the tragic and bizarre life of the late chess master Bobby Fischer. The drama of Bobby Fischer's career was undeniable, from his troubled childhood, to his rock star status as World Champion and Cold War icon, to his life as a fugitive on the run. This film explores one of the most infamous and mysterious characters of the 20th century.

See also the section titled 'People who liked this also liked...', which lists a number of chess-related movies. This documentary by Liz Garbus should not be confused with the book by Brad Darrach, 'Bobby Fischer vs. the Rest of the World', last seen on this blog in 'They Got Spies on the Line!' (April 2016). The IMDb page on Liz Garbus includes references to two more chess titles by Garbus: Chess History (Video 2011) and The Fight for Fischer's Estate (Video 2011), both running for less than ten minutes.

15 September 2017

Smallest Chess Set?

This might not have the allure of Most Hamburgers Eaten in Three Minutes or Most Pool Balls Held In One Hand, but it's still impressive.


Smallest chess set - Guinness World Records (2:02) • 'Artist Ara Ghazaryan has an exceptional eye for detail, particularly with his latest work, the world’s smallest handmade chess set'

For more about the set, see Check out the world’s smallest handmade chess set (guinnessworldrecords.com):-

Made on an incredibly minute scale, the entire board with accompanied pieces measures a total of 15.3 x 15.3 mm (0.6 in x 0.6 in), a size that amounts to be smaller than a U.S. quarter coin.

Is this really the smallest? Guinness also lists the Largest chess set: 'measures 5.89 m (19 ft 4 in) on each side'. Last year on this blog we saw Chess with Walkie-Talkies (August 2016), which beats the Guinness record holder by a country mile. Hasn't someone already constructed a small chess set molecule by molecule?

14 September 2017

A Difficult Tablebase Position

Tablebase (TB) positions make for an interesting class of endgames. While best play in most TB positions is obvious to a good player, some positions defy accurate analysis even for world class players. A recent example is a tiebreak game from the fourth round of the 2017 World Cup, currently being played in Tbilisi, Georgia.

TB games between top players are particularly difficult to annotate. On the one hand, we can't criticize a world class player for not knowing an esoteric endgame which has probably never occurred in his previous experience. On the other hand, we can't pass without comment on positions where one or both players overlook a winning or drawing continuation.

An additional problem is that every single move by either player leads to a new branch of the TB's tree of variations. The TB doesn't explain the winning plan; it just lists moves together with their eventual evaluations. It is the annotator's job to make sense of the moves played and to explain why they work or not.

Another question is how a position compares with similar positions. If we shift a TB position a file to the left or right, or a rank up or down, how does the evaluation change? Similarly, if we leave the Pawn structure the same, but move the Kings (or other pieces) to completely different squares, how then does the evaluation change?

This blog's most recent TB post was Q vs. 2B in TCEC Season 9 Superfinal Followup (December 2016). For this current post, the TB position is R+P vs. B+P, shown below. It helps to know that R vs. B is almost always a draw.


After 47.Rb6-b5(xP)

Here is the PGN for the full game, followed by a brief analysis of the critical positions reached during the game.

[Event "FIDE World Cup 2017"]
[Site "Tbilisi GEO"]
[Date "2017.09.13"]
[Round "4.2"]
[White "Aronian, Levon"]
[Black "Dubov, Daniil"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "D85"]

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nf3 Bg7 4.Nc3 d5 5.cxd5 Nxd5 6.e4 Nxc3 7.bxc3 c5 8.Be3 O-O 9.Be2 b6 10.Qd2 cxd4 11.cxd4 Bb7 12.e5 Nc6 13.h4 Qd5 14.h5 Rfd8 15.Rc1 Qa5 16.h6 Bf8 17.e6 f6 18.O-O Qxd2 19.Bxd2 Nxd4 20.Nxd4 Rxd4 21.Be3 Rdd8 22.Bb5 Bd5 23.Bd7 g5 24.f4 Bxh6 25.fxg5 Bg7 26.Bd4 fxg5 27.Bxg7 Kxg7 28.Rf7+ Kg6 29.Rxe7 Rf8 30.Re1 Bxa2 31.Bb5 a6 32.Bd3+ Kf6 33.Rxh7 b5 34.Rh6+ Ke7 35.Rh7+ Kf6 36.e7 Rg8 37.Rh6+ Kf7 38.Rh7+ Kf6 39.Be4 Rae8 40.Rh6+ Kf7 41.Bc6 Bc4 42.Bxe8+ Rxe8 43.Rxa6 Rxe7 44.Rxe7+ Kxe7 45.Kf2 Kf7 46.Rb6 Be6 47.Rxb5 Kf6 48.Kf3 Bf5 49.Rc5 Bd3 50.Ke3 Bf5 51.Kd4 Bb1 52.Rc1 Bg6 53.Rc6+ Kg7 54.Ke5 Bb1 55.Ra6 Bc2 56.Rd6 Kf7 57.Rf6+ Kg7 58.Rf2 Bb1 59.Rb2 Bd3 60.Rd2 Bb1 61.Ke6 Be4 62.Re2 Bd3 63.Rd2 Be4 64.Ke5 Bb1 65.Rd4 Kf7 66.Ra4 Bc2 67.Ra5 Bb1 68.Rc5 Kg6 69.Rc1 Bd3 70.Rd1 Bc2 71.Rd2 Bb1 72.Ke6 Be4 73.g3 Bb1 74.Rb2 Bd3 75.Ke7 Be4 76.Rb6+ Kg7 77.Rb5 Kg6 78.Rb4 Bc2 79.Kf8 Kf6 80.Kg8 Bd3 81.Rd4 Bc2 82.Rd2 Bb1 83.Rf2+ Kg6 84.Rb2 Bd3 85.Rb6+ Kf5 86.Rb4 Kf6 87.Rd4 Bc2 88.Rd2 Bb1 89.Rf2+ Kg6 90.g4 Be4 91.Rd2 Kf6 92.Rb2 Bd3 93.Rb6+ Ke5 94.Kg7 Kf4 95.Rb4+ Be4 96.Rxe4+ Kxe4 97.Kg6 1-0

47.Rxb5: The diagrammed position shows the first TB position reached in the game, where the Pawn capture starts a countdown for the 50-move rule. The TB says, 'Given optimal play on both sides, White will win in 72 moves.' The main variation undoubtedly includes moves that reset the 50-move count.

47...Kf6: The first mistake, giving White a win in 47 moves, which is just inside the 50-move rule. For the next few moves both players find the right plan and make the best moves.

51....Bb1 52.Rc1 Bg6: Both players make a suboptimal move. This is followed by a long sequence of moves which maintain the status quo. White fails to make progress, while Black does not let the position deteriorate prematurely. The TB consistently indicates that White wins in around 30 moves.

73.g3 Bb1: White makes a Pawn move, thereby resetting the 50-move count. Unfortunately for White, the move hands Black a TB draw. Unfortunately for Black, he fails to take advantage of the opportunity and moves into another lost position. The double blunder starts another long sequence where White often lets Black escape with a draw, but Black overlooks the chance and plays into yet another lost position. The right plan for White revolves around a timely g3-g4, while Black needs to prevent this.

92.Rb2 Bd3: White again overlooks the win (the TB says 92.Re2 is the fastest) while Black misses the only move to draw (92...Ke5). After this, White plays accurately to score the win although Black overlooks opportunities to prolong the game for as long as possible.

A discussion of the winning plan in this game and an overview of similar positions in other endgames with R+P vs. B+P would take too much time for a single post. I suppose that someone could even write a book on the subject.

12 September 2017

The Not-So-Bad Opening

Remember Alan Lasser, last seen on this blog in Front Page News (October 2016)? On a recent visit to the U.S., I met him for the first time in something like 25 years. We played a few chess games together and he chose one for his weekly Game of the Week newsletter (Warning: double blunder on move 37).

Subject: Game of the Weeks
From: Alan Lasser
Sent: 2 September 2017

Mark Weeks, of the 1975 Connecticut Bughouse Champions and author of the web sites,
- chessforallages.blogspot.com, and
- chess960frc.blogspot.com
chose a small college town in America for his first over-the-board play in a dozen years.  Amused as he was by the unknown variations of the Bad Opening, he still beat me 3-1-1. 

[Event "Skittles"]
[Site "Amherst, MA"]
[Date "2017.08.31"]
[Round "?"]
[White "Alan Lasser"]
[Black "Mark Weeks"]
[Result "1/2-1/2"]
[ECO "A45"]

1. d4 Nf6 2. Qd3 c5 3. c3 b6 4. e4 Ba6 5. Qf3 Bxf1 6. Kxf1 Nc6 7. e5 Ng8 8. Ne2 e6 9. Be3 Qc7 10. g3 d5 11. exd6 Bxd6 12. Nd2 Nf6 13. Nc4 O-O 14. Nxd6 Qxd6 15. dxc5 bxc5 16. Kg2 Ne5 17. Bf4 Rfd8 18. Bxe5 Qxe5 19. Rhd1 Ne4 20. Qe3 Qf5 21. Qf3 Qxf3+ 22. Kxf3 Nd2+ 23. Kg2 Rd7 24. b3 Rad8 25. f3 Rd3 26. Rac1 e5 27. Ng1 e4 28. fxe4 Nxe4 29. Rxd3 Rxd3 30. Re1 f5 31. c4 Kf7 32. Nf3 Kf6 33. Re2 g5 34. Ne1 Rd1 35. Nc2 Nc3 36. Ne3 Rd3 37. Nd5+ Nxd5 38. cxd5 Rxd5 39. a4 h6 40. h3 h5 41. Kf2 f4 42. gxf4 g4 43. hxg4 hxg4 44. Re3 Rh5 45. Rc3 Rh2+ 46. Kg1 Rh3 47. Rxc5 Rxb3 48. Ra5 Ra3 49. Kg2 1/2-1/2

The following diagram shows the opening in quantum format, after 1.d4 {1...d5 or 1...Nf6} 2.Qd3.


The Bad Opening

Alan insists that I named it.

It was you who gave the "Bad Opening" it's name. Back when I had a 1000 rating, a 1200 named Flynn beat me with it at one of those old tournaments at the Henry Hudson Hotel. When I tried it against you in one of our high school board challenge matches you played c6 and b5 and Qa5 and crushed my early queenside castle position in 17 moves, commenting afterwards, "That's a bad opening". I revived it in 2007, in time to show it to the "Invisible Kid"; nowadays, when I see c6, I chicken out and castle kingside.

I have a vague recollection of the incident, unlike the title of '1975 Connecticut Bughouse Champions', where I recall that Alan and I lost the final match. Given that I'm a big fan of 'Extravagant Openings' (see, for example, What Makes an Opening Extravagant?, December 2009, which partially explains my fondness for chess960), expect more about the Bad Opening on this blog.

11 September 2017

Ratings Correlated to Performance

Continuing with Early USCF Rating Issues, the chart on the left, from the 20 August 1951 issue of Chess Life (CL), shows the result of the 1951 U.S. Championship. The tournament started at the end of July 1951, and consisted of two stages.

The event was the subject of an editorial by Montgomery Major titled 'Consider the Rating System' in the 5 November 1951 issue of CL. The rating system had been introduced a year earlier and this was the first major test of its correlation to actual performance.

CONSIDER THE RATING SYSTEM

No MATHEMATICAL system of grading skill and proficiency will ever be quite accurate. for no system can evaluate the deviations from the expected to which the human mechanism will inevitably turn. Nor can the logics of mathematics evaluate and make allowance for the incalcuable human factors of weariness, stamina, digestion and moodiness. Why a master will be unbeatable in one tournament and in the next become the victim of numerous losses is physical or psychological, and it cannot be reduced to mathematical terms.

For that reason the National Rating System cannot perform the miracle of placing players in their exact relation to each other; and it is just as well that it cannot, for if it could predict in advance the relative ranking of players in a tournament there would not be much incentive for playing tournaments!

But the National Rating System can (and does) indicate the relative groupings of players in categories with more than casual accuracy. This is its justification; and the necessity for determining such categories is the reason for its existence. The Rating System does select players in groups and while it cannot with real accuracy determine the exact ranking of players in any one group, it can determine quite accurately the grouping in which any player belongs, when sufficient data is available on that player's performances,

Nowhere are these facts demonstrated more conclusively than in the recent U.S. Championship. Consider the first five players in the final standing. They were Evans (2554), Reshevsky (2747), Pavey (2441), Seidman (2451), and Horowitz (2565). The remaining contestants were in order Bernstein (2309), Santasiere (2304), Mengarini (2310), Shainswit (2444), Hanauer (2325), Pinkus (2421), and Simonson (2345).

Immediately it is obvious that with the exception of Shainswit and Pinkus all the players in the upper bracket of the Master Class (2400 or better) finished at the top, while those in the lower bracket (2300 to 2400) finished in the lower positions. This is what we would expect, if the Rating System lay any claims to accuracy as distinguishing between groups.

The fact that Shainswit and Pinkus were exceptions merely indicates the incalcuable human factor in playing chess which no system can evaluate -- the physical and psychological factor.

Turning to the preliminary rounds, the same general rule was in full evidence. Only one player with a rating over the 2300-2400 series failed to qualify for the finals; and as this player was Kevitz (2610) it is quite obvious that the physical strain to the elderly master was a decisive factor, for tournament chess remains a young man's game.

Within each grouping there is not, of course, the same accuracy. It is mathematically impossible to determine the exact shade of difference in strength between players of relatively the same strength; and the Rating System was not intended to do this. In addition there is the added factor that between players of relatively the same strength there is no conclusive determination possible as to which may be the stronger. Upon one occasion one may win, in the next encounter the other may be victorious.

Therefore, it is well advised to remember that the National Rating System is primarily designed to designate classes of players, and not to determine with precise accuracy the relative ranking of players within a class. That is to say, a player with the rating of 2304 may possibly be stronger than player rated 2325 -- the difference in points may be a reflection of the relative strength of the tournaments in which each has played recently. It may be even the reflection of temporary factors such as indigestion, melancholia, or simply weariness. But the difference between a player with a rating of 2450 and one with 2350 should be a difference in playing strength that as demonstratable over the chess board.

Montgomery Major

NB: This anecdotal analysis was produced some months after the event completed. The next post in the series will look at the use of ratings before a chess event takes place.