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Chess, Ha Ha Ha

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Oddly enough I find myself in Montreal this weekend on a spontaneous dash north of the border with my girlfriend. Of course - and doesn't it always happen this way, if you think not, ask your girlfriend - we stumble by a local chess shop on day one. There's a pamphlet for the Quebec Open Championship and so we stop by and see Moiseenko in the lead in the final round. Talked to the organizer Richard Berube about the MonRoi system for a bit. He's quite happy about it and most of the players seem to like it. (They decided not to pester a 93-year-old participant with it. Good call.)

It took a bit of wandering to find the tournament hall, which is right in the middle of where the giant Montreal "Just For Laughs" ("Juste Pour Rire") Comedy Festival is in full swing. If you've ever wondered who has hahaha.com, wonder no longer. The chess tournament is considered part of the festivities, believe it or not. The logo is a bouncing jester with chess pieces in his hands. Of course we know all about chess jokes around here.


Hi Mig,

It is a small world. I was in Montreal this weekend myself, it was my sister's 21st birthday party, although 21 is not such a magic number in Quebec where majority (18) is (logically) accompanied by a right to consume alcohol. However I came to surprise her.

I would have showed up for Sat. morning's game, in fact my dad was playing, but let's say I woke up a little too late!

The festival (preceded with the Jazz one, too) is great; hope you had a good time. Would have been happy to show you around had I known.

Enjoy your stay in Canada!
Posted by: Pascal at July 16, 2006 12:22

Played in that in 2002, when it was the Canadian Open as well. Fun place, good tourney, and one hell of a party outside.
Posted by: John Fernandez at July 16, 2006 17:09

By far, the best city in the world. If you get a chance visit the old Montreal area. There is a gorgeous cathedral.
Posted by: peach at July 16, 2006 17:16

Inside jokes are usually painfully unfunny. It takes a rare combination of whimsy, originality, and immaturity to make them funny (e.g. Slashdot).

Many chess "jokes" are actually stupid puns or prolonged "A man plays a dog in the park..." type jokes -- those are no longer funny in this day and age.

Chess culture is largely imported from Soviet culture, which seems ponderous and anachronistic nowadays -- and decidedly unfunny.

Let's face it: there's no way you could make a Capablanca joke funny. Chess is overburdened by its own history. It takes itself too seriously.

To be funny, you'd have to take a vicious potshot at some contemporary player or something.
Posted by: macuga at July 16, 2006 19:49

Addendum: when it comes to chess humor, Mig has the right idea. Focus on contemporary foibles and events. Do *not* be telling an Alekhine anecdote from 1928.
Posted by: macuga at July 16, 2006 19:53


Alekhine's "Deux foux gagnes toujours; trois foux, non!" is still funny.
Posted by: Babson at July 17, 2006 07:50

Jester = "Fou" in french = also Bishop (the chess piece), hence the tournament's logo...
Posted by: Ray Derivaz at July 17, 2006 09:27

I must play in this tournament someday as most of my opponents consider my play comical!
Posted by: Zinger at July 17, 2006 10:41

Soviet culture not funny? The peoples of the Soviet Union produced a legendary array of biting, satirical jokes. Consider the many jokes about being in a bread line or the gulag joke already posted here. Small, often subtle jokes are one the few ways to express discontent under that sort of regime.
Posted by: Gutting at July 17, 2006 13:01

Soviet culture not funny? The peoples of the Soviet Union produced a legendary array of biting, satirical jokes. Consider the many jokes about being in a bread line or the gulag joke already posted here. Small, often subtle jokes are one the few ways to express discontent under that sort of regime.
Posted by: Gutting at July 17, 2006 13:02

Soviet culture not funny? The peoples of the Soviet Union produced a legendary array of biting, satirical jokes. Consider the many jokes about being in a bread line or the gulag joke already posted here. Small, often subtle jokes are one the few ways to express discontent under that sort of regime.
Posted by: Gutting at July 17, 2006 13:02

Hello Mig, can you tell us more about this MonRoi system? It looks like this is a terrific idea and I am curious to hear more opinions about it.
Posted by: ecm at July 17, 2006 13:54

In regards to the question on the MonRoi system: The MonRoi PCM (Personal Chess Manager), replaces the traditional scoresheet. The player inputs his moves on a diagram, using a stylus to click on the start square and destination. If you have entered a game in Chessbase, you know how it works.

When used in conjunction with the MonRoi tournament manager, games can be broadcast on the internet in real time. In the Quebec Open, the top 6 boards were shown in a small theater on site while all the games of the top section were broadcast live. A big advantage is that all games are then available and none are lost. No more trying to read scribbled scoresheets either!

The company is located on the island of Montreal. Their location has given many of us here an opportunity to use the device. Personally, I found the adaptation period to be quite brief. After a couple of games, I was inputting moves with no trouble. Errors are easy to correct and using the device quickly becomes second nature. As it is already approved by FIDE, it remains only for it to be seen by more players to gain in popularity. I can certainly see the day when they become commonplace.

Here is a link to Quebec Open photos. Many of them show the devices being used.

Neil Sullivan
Posted by: Neil Sullivan at July 17, 2006 15:05

I suppose it might be worthwhile to enlighten those who do not know what Babson is talking about.

If I remember the story rightly, Alekhine was watching a game between two "less experienced" (as the euphemism is) players, one of whom was (unsuccessfully) trying to mate with 2B against a lone King. He explained his difficulties by stating that the two Bishops did not always win.

Alekhine then commented that "Deux fous gagnent toujours; trois fous, non."

"Fou" can mean more than jester, namely madman, crazy person...
Posted by: Charles Milton Ling at July 17, 2006 15:28

Posted by: greg koster at July 17, 2006 15:52

Thanks Neil. Just a quick question: I know the device is approved by Fide but a number of pictures show the players using the MonRoi wireless handheld device AND a regular scoresheet. Why is it so? Is the use of a scoresheet still required by Fide in such situations?
Posted by: ecm at July 17, 2006 17:36


The MonRoi handheld device plus the MonRoi tournament manager is a great idea. The handheld device is however expensive (almost $400.00 according to MonRoi website) for the individual player. When (if) prices come down I agree with you this will become commomplace. I assume for the time being chess organizers in Montreal lend the device to players during tournaments. Am I correct?
Posted by: ecm at July 17, 2006 17:53

To answer the above questions ...

There were only enough devices to allow one person at each board to use it. The other had to do it the old-fashioned way. The organizers put out 2 ncr scoresheets per table before the round. Only a few people declined the new technology. It wasn't imposed on anyone. I came to prefer it to a written record. I didn't see anyone using both methods simultaneously.

At the end of the game, when you returned the unit, you received a printout of the game with the thinking times recorded.

Yes, the devices were loaned out. There are a few keeners who have bought them, but almost everyone is waiting for a price drop before they would consider a purchase. The Quebec federation and Montreal's largest club have bought the systems.

This means, for example, that the MCC can show games live from a FIDE rr starting this Wednesday. It's lovely to be able to sit at home and watch real-time transmission of interesting games.

It's like any new technology inasmuch as the price is exorbitant at start-up and should drop over time. It's a great idea and works quite well, but I would have to see it under $100 before I [OK, the wife and I :) ] would even think about it.

Neil Sullivan
Posted by: Neil Sullivan at July 17, 2006 18:14

Thanks Neil. As soon as the price drops to $100 I will be buying one too! In the meantime I will suggest the MonRoy system to chess organizers here in Vancouver, BC. This is really a simple and elegant solution to storing and transmitting games over the internet.
Posted by: ecm at July 17, 2006 18:39

Can we see pictures of you with your girlfriend ? I just want to see if your girlfriend measures upto your standards.
Posted by: peach at July 17, 2006 22:29

Alekhine then commented that "Deux fous gagnent toujours; trois fous, non."
.. and google language tool translates:
"Two insane always gains; three insane, not "
i guess jokes are not meant to be explained..
Posted by: stringTheory at July 18, 2006 05:09

By Chuck, yes. By google, no.
Posted by: greg koster at July 18, 2006 09:11

In regards to the Alekhine story...

The patzer with the two bishops wasn't *that* incompetent as to be unable to mate with two bishops; he had the bishop pair to his opponent's bishop and knight, and an advantageous position as well.
Posted by: cynical at July 18, 2006 10:20

Couple of things:

1. This jester thing is a bit of a red herring. Jesters were originally called fools in English as well as in French. It makes much more sense to translate "fou" as fool, as is most commonly done. Our 'bishops' are French 'fools' which is why french chess diagrams have pieces with a little fool's cap and bells.

Thus Alkekhine's "Two fools always win, three fools - no". Given that French was not his mother tongue - not too shabby in the word play dep't. Not to mention just a touch of snark which one would expect from A.A. - not one to suffer fous gladly.

2. Cynical, I was under the impression that A.A's comment concerned an unknown amateur position. Can you let us know the details? Thanks.

Posted by: Babson at July 18, 2006 12:38

The Alekhine joke the way I heard it matches "cynical"'s version. The position itself wasn't given in the story, but that detail was (the 2 B's presumably in an endgame configuration where they conferred a decisive advantage).

Now it's been more than 30 years, so I can't be too sure of this, but my vague recollection is I first learned of this joke when I read it in Assiac's "The Pleasures of Chess." Of course that probably wouldn't have been the original source anyway, but Assiac is considered relatively reliable among chess sources, I think.
Posted by: flyonthewall at July 18, 2006 14:44


I remembered it basically just as you did - cynical says the position was BB(+pos) vs NB, so presumably he has some more info...
Posted by: Babson at July 18, 2006 19:11

Translated jokes tend not to be very funny, unless one starts out from a position of sympathy to the culture in question.

At any rate, translated Soviet *chess* jokes tend to be mildly amusing at best, although there are many exceptions.

And again, Alekhine jokes from 1928 are mildly entertaining, but they're generally not funny in this day and age.

Obviously, "funny" is relative to culture and depends on the individual. I'm using the average American (-born) chess player as a reference point.
Posted by: macuga at July 18, 2006 21:09

Babson, flyonthewall:

Assiac's 'Pleasures' was my source as well, though just about any anecdotal book about Alekhine has the story, the same way any anecdotal book about Lasker has the 'Lasker of my club' story.

The frittered-away advantage was inferred, as after the patzer drew, he tried to defend it as claiming that two bishops don't always win--leading to Alekhine's snarky comment.

Posted by: cynical at July 19, 2006 12:32

When I lived in Belgium, there was a television ad (and in movie theaters) that ended with "Perrier, c'est fou!" .....I thought a good comeback was "Vittel, c'est cavalier..." but I don't think Vittel ever came up with such a campaign! :)

AHOJJ, MHDAHHD (Ok Jeff, figure that one out!)
Posted by: Ben Finegold at July 19, 2006 22:18

That is funny, Ben.

A number of Jewish prayers express yearning for a time in the future (presumably, the far distant future) when the whole world has awakened to righteousness and bowed to the One G-d, allowing mankind to live in peace, harmony, fulfillment, etc.

Maybe the parallel occurred to me only because I just started reading J.C. Hallman's The Chess Artist, which contends that chess has much in common with religion (especially the way it's employed in Kirsanland: Kalmykia).

Anyway we chess players will know the Messiah has arrived for us, when major consumer-product branding campaigns can't afford to ignore the chess-player market niche ... so that if a major brand's ads use a word that also happens to mean "bishop," the main rival responds with an ad linking its own brand with a knight.
Posted by: flyonthewall at July 19, 2006 23:20

You'd know more about Jewish prayers than my husband does.
Posted by: kelly at July 20, 2006 11:47

I laughed at the anecdote about Kholmov, who showed up for a game completely drunk. The game started 1.e4 Nc6 2.f4 b6 3.Nf3 e5 4.fxe5. Ratmir plunged into deep thought, mumbling, "I've played the Grunfeld my whole life but I've never gotten into such a bad position!"
Posted by: Jon at July 20, 2006 20:15

If you like Belgian humour, there are two "cat" strips by Geluck about chess. One goes "What I don't like about chess is that my opponent keeps looking at my game" (as in "my hand" in a card game, I'm not sure how to translate this well to English), and the other one : "Some chess players are better than others, however there are as many winners as losers". And of course there are countless jokes in French based on the word "échecs" (chess) since it can also mean "failures", as in "Karpov and Kasparov are playing [échecs] while [insert politician's name] is collecting them".
Posted by: ozhegan at July 25, 2006 10:51

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