Greengard's ChessNinja.com

First They Came for the Chess Columnists...

| Permalink | 108 comments

It's bad enough that newspaper chess columns in the US, when they exist at all, are stuck in with the comics and that it's usually only enough room for a puzzle. I'm sure we're also competing for space with mental jumping jacks like the epic vapidity that is sudoku. (They say that sudoku delays the onset of senility, but has it occurred to anyone that enjoying sudoku IS the onset of senility?) Anyway, tragic news from the front of this very one-sided war. The best newspaper column in the US, that of my friend GM Lubos Kavalek in the Washington Post, is being threatened with the knife, if not yet the axe. Lubos not only brings a wealth of knowledge and insight, but he also has the strength to give quality analysis and the space to present it.

Please join me in writing and asking your friends to write to save this essential resource. And back it up by reading regularly; every hit counts. Follow the link below and bookmark that baby. Forward liberally. While you're at it, this is also a good time to hassle your local paper about intruducing a chess column and/or adding chess event coverage, one of my regular rants.

What should newspapers do to gain space in their printed editions? "Cut the chess guy, " was a humorous advice from a television serial.

Readers of GM Lubomir Kavalek’s chess column in the Washington Post might have noticed that today’s column (March 19, 2007) is shorter than usual. It is not an optical illusion. The Washington Post decided to reduce the award-winning chess column by almost a third to accommodate other features on the comics pages. Readers who would like to make comments about the change or about the chess column can contact the Washington Post by e-mail: comics@washpost.com; by phone calling the comics hotline 202-334-4775; or writing Comics Feedback, The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington D.C. 20071.

You can read GM Kavalek’s column here. Some older columns can be accessed here.

So don't complain tomorrow if you don't write today! To the ramparts!



I used to be a regular online reader of Kavalek's column but for some reason, over a year ago, I was unable to find it online so I stopped. I'm not sure if others experienced the same problem.


I emailed Kavalek several months ago inquiring--politely--about the possibility of the Post offering an "interactive" version of his column--to play through his analyses in a manner available just about everywhere (e.g., Chessbase). The query didn't merit the slightest reply. So, I can't have too much sympathy....


The e-mail could have been bounced back by the spam filter, accidentally deleted in the inbox, or Kavalek might have no had the time...I can think of many reasons none of which would be his fault. I find it difficult to think badly of celebrities or rather semi-celebrities for not responding to every piece of mail they get. Even Mig I am sure gets a lot--he doesn't reply to everything or to every post on here.

BTW, across town, David Sands I believe has a column in the Washington Times. I usually read that one too. http://www.washingtontimes.com/entertainment/20070316-090554-7947r.htm

I sent off an e-mail the other day when this was posted on Susan Polgar's Blog. Kavalek writes the best newspaper chess column by far.

Just a _little_ bitter there about Sudoku there, Mig?

Not that I much disagree. I've been to too many bookstores where there are perhaps ten or twenty chess books but a whole book-case devoted to Sudoku. And why not? Even crossword puzzles take considerable effort in the composition but Sudoku puzzles can be churned out in the thousands from a simple computer program.

The same thing has happened in Holland a few years ago. We have the luxury of several national newspapers running a chess column but I believe most of them were cut down in space a while ago. And Hans Ree recently told me that it took him years to convince the editors that there are better online game viewers available. Most people just don't believe in chess, it's part of the image problem.

As long as chess problems are referred to as 'puzzles', they and their authors will be treated as something that belongs on the comic page.

In his column, Kavalek himself always writes about the solution to "today's problem" or "today's composition" or "today's study" - never "today's puzzle".

To an editor, replacing chess with sudoku is replacing an old puzzle with a newer and more popular one. If you write to the editor asking to get your chess puzzles back I don't think you'll get anywhere.

It's hard to keep a column nowadays - just ask Short, but allowing your game to be associated with sudoku, spot the difference and find the word makes it even harder.

Express support for your chess column and columnist (or if your local only runs a diagram, your chess problem and problemist).

Words have power. Chess is serious and worthy of respect. Puzzles are not.

The reason why sudoko is more popular is because you don't get frustated when playing it. Even a talented hobby chess player gets frustated when playing against a 1300 club player. He will lose because of his lack of basics and opening theory. It takes one year of learning opening theory to be competitive even on a 1300 level.
Sudoka is like crossword puzzles. You feel good when you solve it, and if you don't you try again.

Sudoku is a better form of entertainment for most people. Hey, we like chess and find it nice, entertaining and somewhat worthy. Most people don't.

No reason to try to belittle other games. As much as I like chess, I'm not crazy enough to think that it is an activity much better than Sudoku or any other passtime. It is not.


This isn't a situation where everybody wins. You have to belittle other games in order to save the chess column. Sudoku sucks!

Tal on You Tube, all in Russian- he looked desperately ill, but the linked videos from this page are fantastic. Will be interesting for those of you who speak Russian


You're right, of course. My email may never have reached Mr. Kavalek, but it didn't "bounce," and I question the wisdom of having unreviewed spam filters on the public email accounts of Washington Post columnists. In any case, Mr. Kavalek could easily verify whether he received the message or not. It's certainly his prerogative to completely ignore chess column-related email traffic (questions, comments, corrections, compliments) from his readers, but in the interest of maintaining public support (and as a matter of simple common courtesy), I would be careful with that privilege.

Chess vs. Sudoku, 1-0 white wins! Yes, Lubomir Kavalek's chess column is AWESOME and we all must support it by contacting the appropriate people to keep it going.

C'mon, guys!

As much as we regret the loss of yet another clumn, there very little 25/50 weirdos like us can do to stop it. Let's face it: this blog is a nice little corner to debate our bizarre ideas, but it has no more that 200-300 regular visitors (Mig will claim it is more like 300,000), of which perhaps 2 dozen post regularly (with 30% percent of the postings belonging to Dimi). What can we do?

I'll just sit back, relax and watch one more golden nail volutuosly penetrate the coffin where Caissa lies, killed by the 2900 Silicon Beast.

Where can I order a case of those volutuos golden nails?

Now now, let's not exaggerate. Even the cruddy numbers from Alexa and Google pagerank roughly reflect this site's reach. Nothing spectacular, but I average 12,000 daily visitors. How many are regulars doesn't really matter to the bots as long as it doesn't count them twice. I've had 227,958 visitors so far in March. My pagerank is 6/10, same as Chesscafe and TWIC. ChessBase.com is really the only big gorilla in this jungle. Mostly due to the sheer volume of Dirt and message board pages, this site is one of the first hits on many chess searches, as reflected by how many people come here from Google.

There's plenty you can do, the question is whether or not you want to do anything. Chess matters if enough people say it matters. They are making business decisions. For example, the NY Times replaced 34 years of Byrne with a staff writer who is an amateur chessplayer.

thank you Al for the youtube link with the Tal videos. Can someone please translate what does Kasparov say in the 'Last days of Tal' video? If I remeber correctly Kasparov won the tournament, but he lost that game with Tal.

The reasons are clear:

You can learn Sudoku, The Jumble, etc., right from the pages of the comics when you pick them up if you've never played them before.

Chess you cannot.

And remember: The newpapers have been dumbing down for years to the common denominator (those who can marginally read or write) so they can sell the dying print.

As Egon said: 'Print is Dead.'

Perhaps some of the ideas in this might be helpful (?) to help persuade the powers-that-be re: Kavalek's column; at any rate, in case any of you agree with it, I thought I'd share...

Subject: please don't cut Kavalek's chess column!

To: comics@washpost.com

By doing so you would be pandering to the least common denominator, i.e., the dumbing-down of intelligence. Consider that chess is a valuable tool for children's education and in delaying the onset of senility/Alzheimer's (as proven in numerous studies)!

Thank you,
Richard Fireman

While I do admit to getting the warm fuzzies when I see a chess column in a mainstream newspaper, truth is that it has never seemed like a very efficient use of space. I know that any chess news or analysis that is interesting to a serious chess player (e.g. me) will be meaningless to the vast majority of the reading public, and vice versa. I get up to date chess news on the Internet. Dozens of the latest chess books sit mostly unread on my shelves. Why should I want a major newspaper to waste space on chess?

"They say that sudoku delays the onset of senility, but has it occurred to anyone that enjoying sudoku IS the onset of senility?" - Hehe, nice one.

Ok, amigo Mig, I'll accept your numbers. I don't expect you to dispute the fact that we are weirdos by any standards.

In fact, about the only satisfaction I get from the game is when my friends refer to chess tournaments as "homeless conventions".

Now, I'll go back to my Sudoku - level 3.

Are you freaking crazy, Mig?

I mean, chess is a competitive sport, right?

That means that every little advantage counts. I don't mind seeing GM Kavalek lose his income; that means he will have things in head other than chess; he will be hungry, he will be desperate.

With a bit of luck, he will be forced to enter weekend swisses where his physical deterioration will be such that patzers like me will be able to score the occasional point against him. I don't see how I can waste this golden opportunity to improve my rating.

Long live Sudoku!

This shows the poor marketing of chess. To even put sudoku in the same conversation with chess (in terms of sporting/gaming content) is ludicrous. I used to read Robert Byrne's article and clipped many a game from the pages. What will I do after I have solved a sudoku puzzle? Probably chuck it in the trash.

Someone above said something about chess not being "better" than sudoku. Maybe they'll have a sudoku Olympics to see who can solve puzzles the fastest. Of course, they'll use a chess clock and probably have opponents solving the same puzzle. What about blitz sudoku? I'll give you 5:3 odds... how about blindfold sudoku? Maybe the sudoku puzzles will have structural "variations." Of course, all of this is possible, but is quite a ridiculous thought.

The whole idea of even comparing sudoku is a moot argument. I believe the editors have totally different reasons for replacing chess content and that is because they can reach a wide variety of people who think chess is played by only a small percentage of rich, elite people with IQs of 180.

We have poor marketing of chess... worldwide. Chess media coverage is part to blame for not showing that chess has widespread appeal worldwide and not limited to the 20 elite players. It is perceived by the public that chess is not played by the average person. Who's making the decisions to cut chess? The public.

Obviously, only a small percentage of the readers will be interested in a chess column. Fewer still will know enough about Chess notation to be able to decipher a game. Nor are they liable to be interested in the professional chess world. That is why some chess columns consist merely of a Chess "puzzle", where one can solve a simple "Mate in Two" (although one still needs to know notation to check their answer). Many newspapers still carry a DAILY Bridge column, yet Bridge is not that much more popular than Chess. It's a question of demographics: The median age of Bridge players is approaching 60! Senior Citizens are still avid readers of newspapers, even as circulation figures are plummeting overall. And they have extra clout, since they have the time and the inclination to complain, and they peruse through more of the paper--something advertisers like.
Pretty soon, the USA might start losing a serious number of Daily newspapers. The loss of a Chess Column within is indicative of the challenges facing the print media, but ultimately only a small tragedy.

"In fact, about the only satisfaction I get from the game is when my friends refer to chess tournaments as "homeless conventions"."

Good point. I'm playing a weekly tournament these days where 90% of the participants look like they come directly out of the closet. Sometimes I think those people ruin the reputation of chess a lot. I myself don't see much of a difference of playing chess tournaments or billiards tournaments (it is both sports), just the people are completely different.


the only reason you think chess is much better than Sudoku is because you are weird, like the rest of us chess sickos.

The general public does NOT give a crap about chess. That's a fact.

Don't let your weirdness cloud your better judgement. Last time any SANE person checked it, chess was a passtime, like dominoes, backgammon, poker, sudoku, monopoly, checkers and a thousand other games.

People think of chess as a game. We sickos think it is more than that.

OK, if sudoku is a bad example, then how about bridge? Bridge is even more difficult to learn than chess, in my opinion. I don't know if more people play it but, while I have several friends who are at least familiar with chess but who don't play it much, I don't know anyone who knows how to play bridge. The sample is, of course, skewed. Also bridge, being a four-person game, is even less adaptable to solitary play (e.g. working out a composition).

Anyway, given a choice between cutting the bridge column and cutting the chess column, chess will probably lose every time.

Sudoku's not a game, malik, it's a puzzle. A fairly trivial one which computers can be programmed to solve more or less instantly.

Incidentally, Daiim, they already have sudoku championships........


I played bridge to a fair level, Ernest T. I don't agree really that it's harder to learn. But it's certainly a better medium for a column, since a hand is a shorter story than a game of chess and can be dealt with in a more manageable amount of newspaper space.

A lots of more people are of course playing chess than bridge, but I doubt the Post has a bridge column. Serious newspapers just have a chess column because it fits their image of being serious.
But societys change. Today you are a serious person when you have more qualities than Paris Hilton - which is not difficult. To play or understand chess is not important anymore.

One possibility few considered is that even in a market where chess is fairly popular newspaper columsn on chess probably still would not be. People who seriously follow chess can be better served by databases where you can play through the games, magazines that have more room to provide detailed analysis, webpages where you can come to watch the game live, blogs where you can talk to other chess fans.

Then you have the other extreme. Soviet Union saw recaps of World Championship Match games on evening news. It was something to see elderly grandmothers follow Taimanov's manipulations of the pieces on the board, when these ladies couldn't move a rook to save their life, but they sure did like that nice Russian boy Vasya Smyslov or that youngster Gari Kasparov. Even if were to achieve similar status for chess today, the younger more masculine versions of those grandmothers would probably not be interested in a quarter page of game analysis and puzzle solving. Casual fans will follow the WCCs and play each other in the yard/food court/wherever.

Having a chess column in the paper is not so much an indication of chess popularity. There is little market force behind it, you could probably replace the entire thing with classifieds for Siamese kittens or extra FOOD section insert and more people will read. Existence of chess columns in mainstream press is more than anything a paean to how much respect the culture has for intellectualism.

Chess gets what press it does because somebody playing chess still means something to the onlooking populace: it's an indication of intelligence, of tradition, of being an initiate in an intricate and beautiful manipulation of pieces; it is a battle for proof of intellectual superiority that is acknowledged to require skill and smarts. The geek stigma of chess hurts it more than anything else but in a world worshipping glamour and discourse what other kind of status do you expect for the game where achievement is related to neither?

I hate to say it about venerable GMs and authors like Byrne and Kavalek, but they are so yesterday.

With competition from the Web and other media, we're lucky that newspapers still exist at all, let alone that they have abbreviated chess columns.

Kavalek's column is fine for the infinitesimal minority of newspaper readers who play tournament chess. But the Post might as well have a "Fun with Math" column aimed at MIT grad students. A column like Kavalek's, at least the annotated games, is like anti-advertising for chess. It says to the general public, look how arcane this game is!

Just a little rant as I am in an unusually foul mood today. :-)

Set up a 9x9 grid, with chess pieces in some of the spots. Assign a number to each type of chess piece (black and white being different) Have the reader figure out how to fill in the other spots, by only placing one kind of chess piece in each row, column, and 3x3 square.

i'm sure one could write a computer program to solve this puzzle quickly, but they already have computer programs that solve chess (from the perspective of playing against them) against every human on earth (give or take .0001%).

Mig wrote: "For example, the NY Times replaced 34 years of Byrne with a staff writer who is an amateur chessplayer."....

...as if that were something bad.

Actually, that is a GOOD thing, from the very perspective that is the subject of this entire thread: fostering and feeding the popular appeal, and popular understanding, of the Royal Game.

The NY Times replaced Byrne with Dylan Loeb McClain, a staff writer who regularly covers the arts. Not a GM, but a bit more than an amateur: he is FIDE Master strength, with a USCF rating that's been in the 2300s lately.

More important, McClain is deeply interested in the broad panoply of issues associated with the social, artistic and philosophical aspects of chess...and has proven he has the smarts to convince his editors at the New York Times (an anti-chess bunch if ever there was one -- and I'm not quoting my own opinion, but that of McClain himself) to give serious page space to his various riffs on those issues.

In short, McClain knows how to "sell" chess -- something that few if any GMs ever have known how to do.

Placing someone like him in charge of covering chess with a view toward reaching the newspaper's overall readership, must be healthier for the game than ghettoizing chess within a remote fiefdom in which a GM writes a column that doesn't even try to speak to anyone beyond the 0.1% or so of Times readers who are semi-serious chess players.

In the last 2 or 3 years, McClain has been the most serious writer about chess for a general audience -- not only in the US, but probably in the world.

He's doing now what the Wall Street Journal used to do when Roger Lowenstein (an active Marshall Chess Club member who I've played a few times in the past couple of years, and who pays for lessons from Asa Hoffman) was a staff writer there.

It seems to me that covering the chess world from the standpoint of such broader social issues as gender equity, the development of computers and artificial intelligence, the meaning of "genius" (as in Michael Weinreb's book that's all over the papers these days), and how to improve educational motivation and opportunities for disadvantaged kids....we should all be hailing that sort of approach to covering chess, rather than denigrating it.

Writing about chess in a way that places it in broader context marks an IMPROVEMENT over articles of the "Anand sprung a TN on move 17 of a well-known Catalan subline....," or the "Game 7 of the World Championship match ended in a split point after 34 moves..." variety (and I won't even mention either the Toiletgate or Beauty Contest school of chess coverage).

So, I agree wholeheartedly with the comment by "r" above, who said:
"Kavalek's column is fine for the infinitesimal minority of newspaper readers who play tournament chess. But the Post might as well have a "Fun with Math" column aimed at MIT grad students. A column like Kavalek's, at least the annotated games, is like anti-advertising for chess. It says to the general public, look how arcane this game is!"

And in conclusion, I'll note that Chess Life also dropped Byrne a year or so ago. Their editor felt his quality had declined to a point where he was operating on cruise control, he no longer was fully engaged.

I agree with ‘r’ above. Considering the power of the Internet and how the newspapers are finding it hard to compete even on their traditional grounds, chess on their medium is an archaic concept. Now, I do remember the time as a kid when the evening newspaper carried each game between Karpov and Korchnoi with full analysis and all, a few hours after it had completed…

Sudoku? Putting chess and sudoku in the same sentence is an offense to the former. Writing a simplistic program to solve any sudoku is a perfect assignment for an elementary computer programming course. I’ve no idea why people enjoy solving such mechanical puzzles.

Bridge… I love the game, but hard to get it going logistically. On-line is fun to a degree, but one needs a steadier partner. Now everybody is always in a hurry and pulls a tail of wives and kids… The time when we played bridge like mad was in the ‘mandatory’ military service many moons ago – we had plenty of people who we weren’t going anywhere, no immediate plans, and far fewer things to worry about…



I knew they had championships. They even have Rubix cube tournaments with 5x5 cubes and blindfold portions. However, these activities are merely puzzles as someone said.

I enjoyed Byrne's games and his introductions, but they are unintelligable to non-tournament people. I think the mate in two are better than nothing, but as someone pointed out, it makes chess appear to be a trivial exercise in finding a simple move sequence... like sudoku, which is trivial. Give us the hardest possible sudoku problem and any of us (on this blog) can solve it. ANY of us.

My point stands... we need to market the game a bit better. All the bickering and WCC fights we've had in the past 25 years hasn't helped. AGain... chess needs to show broader appeal and until that happens, it will be shunned to the fringes and "sickos" like Malik. (smile)


you just called me "sicko" with a smile to your face. I'll stalk you for the next 3 years, until I become your Greg Koster.

And yes, I agree that an 1825 player like Mig would do much better writing for the NY Times than a moribund 2500 GM like Byrne. What they call "asses for the masses" in Virginia.

In defense of Sudoku, I think you are just jealous because, unlike chess, you can't memorize opening theory for Sudoku. That's a clear advantage Sudoku has over chess. I'm working on Ramdom Sudoku and Sudoku 360 championships on the internet. BTW, I hold the world record solving Black Belt Sudoku puzzles: 17 minutes for 47 puzzles blindfolded.

You won't unlock the real power of Sudoku until you become a Sudoku Fen Master. Until then, stop comparing it to chess.

Really bad news for chess.

It is generally a good time now to try to make chess attractive, or at least less unattractive for general public. Rapid, Fischer Random are two known solutions. Classical chess is often too boring. 20 moves of theory, 5-6 hours of play... and anyway computer can play better. IMHO it is critical to legalise rapid (i.e. to count it for rating).

For the past 1.5 years, I have written a weekly chess column for a major metropolitan newspaper in the USA. I'm one of those lifelong "amateurs" (USCF 1960) who replaced a syndicated chess legend.

I get 300 words, one unannotated game (45 moves or less), and one puzzle diagram per week. I get regular reader mail -- probably about an average of one per week, not counting if there is an error when every Ed Winter writes in to let me know.

90% of the mail is from new enthusiasts to the game. Where can I play? How can I improve? Can you recommend a book or on-line sites? How do I learn chess notation? How can I introduce chess to kids or seniors?

For master-level and strong class players, there is little to be offered in such a short column that isn't more abundantly accessible and complete on the web, and in a much better format, like this site.

My goal is to make the column interesting, current, and to take an opinion when possible. Hopefully I can generate enough curiosity about the published game to get readers to set up a board or find it on-line to take a look.

The other thing I do is make sure I answer every single reader e-mail and let the newspaper know about it: taking the good with the bad. Otherwise, they really have no feel for how many people are reading at all.

4 years ago, I wrote for another major paper. When revenues dropped, the whole page in the Sunday edition, shared by bridge, antiques, chess, was killed without a thought.

I'm saddened when chess is further marginalized in the print media, but let's not kid ourselves into believing that the people who read chessninja (bless all you sickos) are representative of their readers.

As the great poet said once, "the times they are a-changin"... I do not see much tragedy in some newspaper dropping their Chess column, unless it's more a matter of posturing by those who failed to adapt to the new reality. Face it, the papers are not what they used to be. The major newspapers are not the kings of the information domain anymore. I dropped my subscription to the NYT 7-8 years ago. The only time I get a stack of papers is when I board an airplane. The rest of the time I scan 15-20 sources of information daily and no paper can beat that. Not to mention that the printed information is always late to for me being spoiled by the digital media.

All in all today, due to the advent of the Internet, we have 100 times greater volume of current chess information. It ranges from knowing what move Kramnik played yesterday to who is having a birthday, and soon I have no doubt we'll be informed on who's sleeping with whom in the world of chess this week. We have huge virtual clubs where thousands compete. We have the software that can make you play, anytime, anywhere. That is clearly visible in the number of outstanding young players, fast improving amateurs and even yours truly getting interested again. I think that things are on the upswing, not in a downturn. Yes, it's easy to get somewhat jaded and the chess fans seem to be a particularly sour bunch at times. But is there someone who wants to go to the past?


Dimi, touche! Your last comment is one of the most compelling I've ever seen here.

The evidence is all around us for anyone who cares to see, that both information about and interest in chess is more abundant than ever...and grows more abundant by the day. This is true both in the world at large, and in the US specifically. Even the amount of money being spent on chess is climbing (albeit with some volatility, such as the recent withdrawal of AF4C's $250,000 sponsorship of the US Championship).

Since the financial resources going into chess have grown more slowly than the number of professional-strength chess players (GMs and IMs), it is a tough slog for most of those pros to earn a living from prize winnings -- as is often pointed out here. That is a real problem, but should not be confused with any imagined decline of chess economics or public interest.

Chess will never be popular in the USA again, until we get some bonafide young GM's, or until they solve the draw problems.

'r' wrote:
I hate to say it about venerable GMs and authors like Byrne and Kavalek, but they are so yesterday.

'Jon Jacobs' wrote:
It seems to me that covering the chess world from the standpoint of such broader social issues as gender equity, the development of computers and artificial intelligence, the meaning of "genius" ..., and how to improve educational motivation and opportunities for disadvantaged kids....we should all be hailing that sort of approach to covering chess, rather than denigrating it.

Writing about chess in a way that places it in broader context marks an IMPROVEMENT over articles of the "Anand sprung a TN on move 17 of a well-known Catalan subline....," or the "Game 7 of the World Championship match ended in a split point after 34 moves..." variety

'Mikhail Goubev' wrote:
It is generally a good time now to try to make chess attractive, or at least less unattractive for general public. Rapid, Fischer Random are two known solutions. Classical chess is often too boring. 20 moves of theory,
- - - - - - -

I partly agree with all three of the above writers.

Mig's blog is extra interesting because its prompts and discussions mix in chess philosophy, or other topics that go beyond the latest game in the current tournament.
The same thirst is why Larry Evans and Andy Soltis are the two most popular sections of each month's Chess Life; or they were until Evans was fired because, uh because, uh why was Evans fired again? To make the paying subscribers happy?

Here are the latest articles on the new Chess Life Online:

[] Ehlvest Takes US Masters
[] Muhammad Earns IM Title
[] Girls Battle in Chicago
[] Joel on Maurice in the Hall of Fame
[] Pruess Wins Norm in France: Part I
[] Jennifer on Women's Chess
[] Juniors Rating Update
[] U.S. Masters in Full Swing

Hey, rdh! All this time I was thinking you were Eddie Dearing! I even wrote in a post a couple months back that I "bought your book"!!! (referring to the excellent Dragon book, of course).

Accidentally stumbling upon another well-run chess blog just now, I discovered that you're not him after all. Mea culpa.

I have observed a strong resistance in the chess world against moving chess closer to the mainstream. I don't know whether this resistance is representative of the majority of professionals or whether it's an especially vociferous minority faction, but the idea behind this resistance is that the existing rules/time controls are perfect.

I disagree with this notion, and I am more persuaded by Dr. Milan Vukcevic, who in his US Chess Hall of Fame induction speech argued that the game of chess will either disappear or evolve. I also find David Bronstein's idea of an eight game match (to be played in one day) with accelerated time controls interesting.

Couldn't care less. What is is the point with chess coloumns in the newspapers? And I can not see the problems with putting it beside the comics. Comics is art.


rdh has always said he was English. Eddie Dearing is a Scot, so it is even more unlikely than a Canadian claiming to be American.

As an amusing aside, an urban myth (like all based (very) loosely on fact) says that walking into a pub in Glasgow, you'll have a 50% chance of a handshake and 50% a Glasgow kiss (if you haven't heard the term, look it up). If you want to increase your chances of receiving the latter to nearly 100%, 'accuse' them of being English.

Agree fully with your post at March 21, 2007 16:49. There is no doubt that newspaper articles should be aimed at the general public, because, as in any field, specialists shouldn't rely on the mainstream media to keep up to date with their field.

I'd rather get something like Chess Today which is an excellent summary of what is going on in the chess world with informed opinion and excellent analysis and puzzles. TWIC is unparalleled for raw results and games service and Chessbase for fluffy presentation and "human interest" nonsense. Also this blog is ideal for us to bullsh!t all day long about how we how much we know, who is the greatest and how we'll solve FIDE problems.

So in summary, for those of us who take the interest further, we don't need more chess in the newspapers. For occasional players it may be their only source to read about chess and columns should relate to them far more.

I could have been Eddie in a way, JJ (he's a very Anglicised Scot, or at least generally mid-Atlanticised), but I'm not. I did wonder which my 'best-known book' that you'd bought was. And now I'm wondering what other blog unmasked me - still, probably not a matter of much general interest.

Some good points being made about the direction newspaper columns should take, but it doesn't alter the fact that them being cut in size is a bad sign.

The amount of money being spent on the game, by the way, certainly isn't climbing in the UK. In my generation (say 1975-85) it was possible more or less to make a living on the weekend circuit, and several GMs, most notably Hebden and Arkell, emerged from it. Now the idea is ludicrous and almost all British GMs have had to work outside the game or emigrate (Joe Gallagher, Glenn Flear, Stuart Conquest, Tony Kosten). Or of course play internet poker. Even Hebden I think has had to abandon his proud I'm-a-player-I-don't-write-I-don't-coach policy.

I don't dispute that most chess pros can't make a living from playing chess alone. Nor can the majority of professional-quality performers in many other, far better-publicized fields -- from classical music to cycling.

So of course potential income from teaching, coaching and writing (about chess) are meant to be included in the total amount of money available to support serious chess playes.

In the US at least, money continues to flood into chess teaching programs in the public and private schools; and lately there seems to be some upward migration to the university level as well (the number of colleges offering chess scholarships appears to be widening beyond the original pathbreaking duo of UMBC and UTD).

Moreover, the fact that players who could make a living on the weekend chess tournament circuit circa 1980 cannot today, may have a lot to do with the other factor I mentioned: the proliferation of strong players. I'd guess the total prize funds they compete for are larger than in 1980, even after accounting for inflation. But the sum probably hasn't grown as quickly as the number of formidable competitors, who consequently are finding it a tough slog.

Obviously the number of GMs and IMs in the UK (as most everywhere else) is a large multiple of what it was 25 years ago. In fact in the early '70s, when I was coming up -- a mere 5 years before the start of the period you mentioned -- my recollection is that the entire UK had just ONE titled player, and a rather weak one at that -- Jonathan Penrose.

The UK's GM/IM explosion may be mostly home-grown, while here in the US it's almost entirely from immigration. But the results are the same. And in the US at least, prize funds have soared in these decades, even if the ever-larger prizes are receding ever-further into the distance from the perspective of the "average" titled player.

Oh, change the above to: the average titled MALE player. Females, even without titles, are doing far better. Just last month a tournament was held in Oklahoma that offered appearance fees plus expenses to ANY FIDE-rated woman, title or no title. You didn't even need one of those bogus FIDE titles that starts with "W"; all you needed was the right genitalia. Nor were these appearance fees offered in lieu of prize money; there was a separate, additional schedule of prizes available only to the female particpants in that event -- who I believe remained eligible for the gender-neutral prizes as well.

Maybe Gallagher, Flear, Conquest and Kosten picked the wrong "continent" to emigrate to...perhaps they would have been better off consulting a surgeon, rather than a travel agent.

"Just last month a tournament was held in Oklahoma that offered appearance fees plus expenses to ANY FIDE-rated woman"

Horrible. I think you should persuade organizers to cut down on these ridiculous and unfair prizes. We don't want women making MONEY out of chess, when MALE GRANDMASTERS are forced to play online poker!
This unjust, cruel world.

The guy that organized (and I presume sponsored) that Oklahoma tournament is the same guy that's now sponsoring the US Championship. In fact, the Championship will have his name on it!

Daaim wrote: "I think the mates-in-two are better than nothing, but as someone pointed out, it makes chess appear to be a trivial exercise in finding a simple move sequence . . ."

Daaim makes a lot of great points, and I don't mean to quibble, but mates-in-two and other tactical puzzles are the bread and butter of chess pedagogy and enjoyment! (I'm speaking about game-based, practical puzzles, not Sam Lloyd-type chess compositions, which are a whole other realm.)

I doubt that Kramnik, Topalov, and Anand can see a mate-in-two without compulsively (and instantaneously) solving it.

That's one of the great things about hearing the likes of Kaidanov and Speelman on chessFM with Mig. GMs take pleasure in spotting a nice mate-in-two! They're just like us after all (only much much better).

As I said, I don't mean to quibble. But when Botvinnik annotates a grand strategic scenario with which he pushes Ragozin to the edge of the board in a Winawer French, along the way there are going to be lots of short tactics, and the pay off is, not infrequently, a mate in two!

Who was it that said chess is 99% tactics? I think it was Jen Shahade, who got started when her dad gave her a book of tactical puzzles.

Viva la Reinfeld!

It's usually said to be Richard Teichmann, I think, r, although I fancy I recall dimly an Edward Winter where's-the-source rant.

Now, now, JJ - Penrose was not a rather weak titled player. He was a strong IM. Not many players have outplayed a sitting world champion in the latter's favourite opening as thoroughly as he did Tal.

You are mistaken about UK prizes, by the way. The Islington Open in 1980 had a first prize of £500 off an entry fee of, I would guess, £12 or so, and to get that you had to negotiate Nunn and Littlewood for a start, and no doubt others. An equivalent event today would be lucky to offer £300 off an entry of £25, and you still mind find Hebden, Gormally and Chernaiev standing in the way. There are also fewer of them, and it is not uncommon to find the top section's prizes reduced because of low entries.

Local organisers used to want to attract strong players to their events. Now they tend to feel that it spoils it for the locals. I've never understood this attitude - they can play each other any time, how else are they going to get a chance against a GM? - but it's widespread.

The difference is largely because much larger prizes are now offered in the restricted-entry events run alongside, whereas these used to be regarded as essentially grading prizes and thus have much lower prizes than the open prize money. Also, the organisers are now professional and take a cut, whereas in 1980 they were lovers of the game working for nothing. The US model, in fact. Inimical to chess in my view, and I gather it is precisely this phenomenon which exists much less in continental Europe, hence the exodus. That and the fact there are just far more tournaments.

Thanks, rdh.

The point of my above screed about mates-in-two is that they are perfect for newspapers. Beginners will be challenged by mates-in-two, and even hardened chess sickos (I do like Daaim's appellation!) can enjoy such exercises.

Again, I'm talking about practical, game-based puzzles, not a composition featuring Grimshaw interference or anything like that.

Although I read somewhere that Capablanca had a standing bet that he could solve any Sam Lloyd-type position super quickly.

To drift even further off-thread then I usually do, I wonder to what extent GMs (especially the current crop) take an interest in chess compositions? Maybe some of you who rub shoulders with top professionals can say?

Of course there's Pal Benko. . . .

I wonder if compositions play any sort of role in the chess education system of the Russians, for example?

In the past, when I've given advice to a beginner who owns, say, the massive Polgar book of chess puzzles, I tell the person to concentrate on the diagrams that look like real openings or middle-games or endgames, and to skip the "crazy" looking positions (assuming of course the player is advanced enough to know the difference). Maybe that's narrow-minded of me.

I think Wade was also an IM (since 1950).

I agree that Penrose was a strong IM in the 1960's (nearly GM strength, I heard).
However, I think his achievement against Tal (1960 Olympiad) is overrated. Penrose himself said he just copied Ojanen's invention [7.Bd3 & 8.Nge2 on the white side of the Modern Benoni] in his (Ojanen's) win over Keres earlier in the year, a game Tal was not aware of. Keres said he watched Tal make all the same mistakes he did!

The real achievement was Ojanen's, and he was not given sufficient credit for it (I think this was discussed in the magazine 'CHESS' a few years ago).
In his early editions of 'The Benoni', Hartston called this system 'The Penrose-Tal Line'. Nowadays, it does not seem to have a name. Ojanen has been done a serious injustice here. In my opinion, the line should be called 'The Ojanen System'.


The polgar book is used to get you to understand various chess patterns with different combinations of pieces. You'd do well to methodically go through all of the problems instead of cherry-picking 'game-like' ones to solve.

Chris, Wade is a New Zealander - his return in 2006 for the Queenstown Chess Classic was widely reported there.

However, I'm sure it was the improvement during his time in the UK which was responsible for him reaching the IM title. I don't know how active he was in the 60s-70s.

Thanks, Kibbles. As I recall in the Polgar book, the great majority of puzzles are "game-like" with just a few that are more composition-like thrown in. I guess I would encourage beginning players to concentrate on game-like positions to become familiar with patterns that arise in play.

Polgar pere probably threw in a few "crazy-looking" positions to highlight certain things, like the power of knight, say.

That's why I was wondering whether chess compositions play a role in the education or training of a top player. I always thought compositions were a separate world, but maybe not? Again, I don't mean something like a Reti K&P composition, that has obvious practical value, but the type of composition that would never occur in a game. I think I read in an Andy Soltis column about certain completely theoretical exercises (positions without kings, for instance) used in Russian chess education to measure a child's chess aptitude?

By the way, chris and rdh, that is a great story about Ojanen/Keres/Penrose/Tal!

He's a New Zealander by birth but he's been a UK citizen and living here for a long long time.

r, I was surprised to find on armchess an advert for the sale of a book of 111 compositions (studies and problems) by Akopian, so at least some top GMs of today take an interest.

I'm not sure the Russians have such a monolithic system as you imply, but certainly Dvoretsky's books place a lot of emphasis on solving studies.

In my experience GMs are like the rest of us; a given study may or may not catch their interest.

He = Wade, of course. Still active in the London League at the age of 80-odd.

Sorry, r, should've read your whole post. Don't know about that kind of competition. Jon Levitt in Genius in Chess gives an exercise of that sort he reckons is useful in measuring ability: put a black queen on d4 and a white knight on b1; now have the knight visit every unattacked square in the board without putting itself en prise. I forget what he says a goo time would be.

rdh, What about Andrew Whiteley? Is he still bopping around somewhere, I hope?

I have a fond memory of meeting him during my first (and alas, only) visit to England.

It was in 1986 or '87 and by sheer coincidence I stayed in a flophouse in Bayswater, a block or two from the Kings Head.

I knew nothing of London's "chess pubs", but I learned quickly. My first night there, I made friends with a gaggle of people who were playing in the Kings Head. Whiteley was among them.

Armed with a gallon of Scotch, we retired to someone's apartment and stayed up playing blitz and drinking literally all night.

By the time the sun came up, the five of us had consumed the whole gallon. Whiteley drank at least his fair share, yet showed not the slightest sign of it, in either his demeanor or his blitz play. I believe he won every single game he played that night; I remember for certain I lost each of my dozen or so encounters with him (and felt a little embarrassed, since based on what I knew of him I'd figured he should be at most 200 points stronger than me, hardly enough difference to explain a 12 / 12 rout).

Nor did all that alcohol dent his calm, professorial manner; he even gently upbraided me several times for banging the clock! Hey, by that point I was lucky to even find the board, let alone the clock.

After staggering back to my hotel in the morning light, I hit my head on a wardrobe door in my tiny room while getting out of my clothes. I was so plastered I hardly felt anything; only a few minutes later when standing over the bathroom sink and seeing said sink fill up with blood, did I become aware of the gash that had opened on my forehead.

I count that night as a fond memory, despite the small vertical scar I carried between my eyes for the next several years.

Sorry Malik.. that was intended for "troll." I looked at the wrong post. It was in response to his playful post at calling me a "sicko."

Thanks, r.

Wade emigrated to Britain in the late 1940's as there was no competition in New Zealand. He represented Britain 6 times in Olympiads.

He was good enough to claim the scalps of Korchnoi, Portisch, Uhlmann, Benko, and Olafsson in his overall career.

In 1970, Wade won a strong British Championship.
However, apparently this was not good enough for the British Chess Federation selectors to select him for the English team for the Seigen Olympiad that year!! So he played for New Zealand instead.

Keene has a very interesting article on him at:

Darned, we're loosing battle after battle in the global war on chess columnists. Same thing with Swedens' largest daily paper last a year ago. Had full anotated games before, now down to a daily diagram (which is still good in comparison with some other papers I'm afraid).

I'm not sure the strategy of complaining to papers that have cutted their columns work. Why not focus on the few good one's left and salute them by giving them multiple readings and hits?

I standardized the name to 'troll' since it was the same person posting under the names of several regulars (koster, malik). Standard ISP abuse report for identity theft threat to follow. Further proof that the internet makes you stupid.

Getting back to the thread, I suppose the NY Times should drop reviews of art and opera and theater and two and three star restaurants and other elitist fare. Let's all do sudoku and watch American Idol and eat McDonald's and three cheers for us. Not all last bastions are antiques or anachronisms, some are worthy of defense. We don't have to embrace the lowest common denominator, certainly not with a smile on our collective face.

I'm all for populism and am obviously the last person to say you must be a veteran GM to write about chess. But just like chess shouldn't be a reserve of GMs writing for GMs, nor should it be reduced to all amateurs writing for amateurs. And there are bad GM columnists and bad amateur columnists as well as good ones of both stripes. Let's try to keep the good ones on their specific merits instead of denigrating them on general grounds of market forces and similar blather.

I'm for saving every inch of Lubos's column because I like it, simply enough. Stand up for yourselves, dammit. You aren't obliged to make excuses for the masses who don't understand his analysis and never will for the sake of popularizing the game, as if generic information culled from the web will do that. I learn something from reading Kavalek's column. Why should we lower our standards? I'd like the NY Times to also have a chess column I'd bother to read, but they didn't in Byrne and they don't now with McClaine. This doesn't mean they aren't good for others or that they don't serve some purpose. There are enough chess fans to warrant different types of columns, at least I hope so.

This is also related to Larry Evans and his old Q&A column in Chess Life, which someone mentioned above. In a magazine like CL there are enough newbies who are going to enjoy asking and answering the same questions over and over to run an evergreen Q&A column. That doesn't mean it's the best thing for the magazine, especially if it's going to try and attract (and keep) other readers.

Not knowing anything at all about algorithm theory, is Sudoku an NP game? It doesn't seem so trivial as rdh says.

Should have looked this up before posting, the consensus is that Sudoku is NP hard actually. So much for it being uninteresting computationally, you just need bigger grids.

sorry to deviate, but are you seeing what gabriel sargissian is doing at the ruy lopez fest? +5=1-0 with a performance of 2998? incredelicious!


Maybe we should ask what's behind the trend .. what's the disease, versus just trying to address the symptons. I have never been a reader of newspaper chess columns. First, because my local paper long ago stopped having one, and second because I never sought out other paper's columns on the Internet, and therefore never became a reader. I'm sure Lubosh is a great columnist, but perhaps the individual newspapers are no longer a viable distribution channel for chess columns. Among the many source of chess news that I do regularly read are the monthly entries on The Chess Cafe. It's a great central source for monthly columns.

JJ, Andrew Whiteley is still around and playing regularly in the London League. I've played him twice this season, in fact.

He has always been noted for his ability to continue playing at the same level when drinking, and was unbeatable for many years in King's Heads pint-a-round blitz events.


Glad to hear Whiteley is still alive and active. I doubt he'd remember my name, but he might possibly recall that all-night blitz and Scotch marathon with an American visitor and a local named Bill Dillon (a woodpusher, but an exceedingly colorful and entertaining character).

So if you have the opportunity and the inclination, I'd be grateful if you could mention this to Whiteley, and pass along my regards. You might also mention that said American visitor wrote the current Chess Life cover story.

Jon, congratulations on the cover story. What is it about, if you please?

Newspapers just consider: "Will this sell more copies?" Who still buys the paper for the chess bit when you've got the internet?

Maybe Mig should cancel his blog and put it into a newspaper column. ;)

So 'tgg' goes on vacation, posts under other regular poster's names, and then HE complains about it when I correct the names? I didn't even delete the moron's posts. It's just an interesting theory, but it appears that mentioning my high school USCF rating has 100% correlation with being a jackass. What do psychologists call such love-hate obsessions? Isn't this sort of stalking behavior usually limited to Britney Spears? How pathetic do you have to be to become obsessed with a part-time chess blogger? (That's a rhetorical question.)

Wade's book on the 1963 WCC is one of my favorites. When the book first came out I used to take my chess set to the public library, grab the book, and play the games over and over.

People who weren't around 30 years ago may not realize what a wonderful writer Kavalek is, when given sufficient space.

From what I've read, Jonathan Penrose seems to have been recognised as being around GM strength (pre-inflation!). I vaguely remember the BCF trying to get FIDE to award him the title retrospectively in the 80s.

Penrose was an amateur, whose profession was University lecturer in Psychology. (His brother, Roger, is a well-known mathematical physicist).

He seems to have had a problem with nerves, culminating in an incident where he fainted during a critical game in the 1970 Olympiad. He then turned to correspondence chess and eventually got the GM title there.

I stand corrected. My apologies to Mr. Penrose (or his heirs and/or biographer).

Well, it doesn't affect your point as I understood it, which was that England circa 1970 was not exactly a chess super-power.

From memory, the critical game I mentioned above was to decide whether England would qualify for the "B" group in the finals - the "A" group must have seemed like an impossible fantasy. And yet just over a decade later they were serious contenders for a medal!

The catalysts for change were the Fischer-Spassky match in 1972, and the campaign to find an English grandmaster launched by Jim Slater (the British businessman who saved the match by agreeing to pay Bobby an extra $50,000 at the last minute), which between them generated a huge amount of enthusiasm among both players and sponsors.

I was looking through an old copy of Chess the other day, and saw a picture of a 13 year old Nigel Short, who had just won a tournament sponsored by Goodyear, being presented with a set of tyres by four of their senior managers. Inconceivable today.

On the other side of the coin, the result of the Kasparov-Short match (where Nigel's chances were hopelessly over-hyped in the British media) caused a lot of people to lose interest. Jon Speelman remarked after the match that it would take 15 years for English chess to recover, and he was probably right.

The loss of the Cold War "beat the Russians" glamour after the fall of the USSR, and the corporate obsession with controlling "costs", probably didn't help either.

Just a few points so that a casual reader doesn't get the wrong impression of British chess.

Britain has had a good standing in chess for a long time. There are very few countries of its size and population which have produced so many strong players. Staunton, Blackburne, Miles, Speelman, Nunn, Short and Adams to name just the ones who were either the best in the world in their time or close to it. There might have been a short period in the 1960 to 1970s where we weren't a 'superpower' but in practically every other time there have been very strong players in England.

America really needs to start worrying about its players. There hasn't been a player born in the USA who's got into the world top 60 since Fischer.

I would have thought the short period during which we were not a superpower could be dated more accurately to about 1870 to 1984, and from 1989 to the present day.

"There hasn't been a player born in the USA who's got into the world top 60 since Fischer."

I have no idea as to the answer to this question, but how many players born in the USA got into the world top 60 before Fischer?


You know very little chess history. Have you ever heard of Paul Morphy?


You're also need to brush up on your knowledge of chess history. Heard of Reshevsky?

There are many others, but you research them for yourself.


... and since Fischer? Why is born in the USA important? What matters is where the player learned to play. In that case, there is a whole slew of players including people like Seraiwan and Nakamura.

The Dutch newspaper 'Trouw' has just confirmed that it is dumping it's chess column, written by Herman Grooten. Not as traumatic as the loss of Dirk Jan ten Geuzendam's column in 'Vrij Nederland' a few years ago but a sign that, even in a country with a chess culture such as Holland, chess columns may be becoming an endangered species.

I know my history fine thanks. I was being a bit conservative about saying 'top 60 since Fischer' as I think there might have been one or two at most who crept into the top hundred after Fischer born in the USA.

Even using the 'learnt to play' factor, few have got into the top 50. This is coming from a country many times the size of England in terms of area and population.

I know my history fine thanks. I was being a bit conservative about saying 'top 60 since Fischer' as I think there might have been one or two at most who crept into the top hundred after Fischer born in the USA.

Even using the 'learnt to play' factor, few have got into the top 50. This is coming from a country many times the size of England in terms of area and population.

Pre-Fischer there were Marshall, Kashdan, Fine, Reshevsky (oops born in Poland), Steiner, Denker, Byrne brothers, Lombardy, L Evans, Kavalek and some others who regularly played on the world stage.

Post-Fischer does seem much fewer, but includes Christiansen, Seirawan, Benjamin, de Firmian, and Walter Browne.

Oops, Kavalek was born in Czechoslovakia.

Another oops, as Walter Browne is born in Australia! Welll there's always Arthur Bisguier.

Walter Browne born in Australia? I think he was born in Brooklyn. He did switch his FIDE affiliation to Australia at one point in the late '60s or early '70s to play in one or more Olympiads, before he got strong enough to make the US team; but he was and is an American from the get-go.

On the other hand, Kavalek clearly doesn't belong in the list: he was already a GM, and a strong one at that, before emigrating to the US around 1970.

Many if not most of the other guys on tjallen's list were never world-class players, which is what I think Howitt was talking about.

Marshall, Fine, Reshevsky (but born in Poland, and a well-traveled chess prodigy before becoming American at a young age), R. Byrne, clearly were top contenders. And why forget Pillsbury?

As for Denker, Lombardy, Seirawan and Browne -- maybe world-class, maybe not. The other ones, not a chance; legitimate GMs, sure, but never top 50 or top 60 or whatever. (As noted above, Kavalek can't be considered at all.)

I agree with Daaim that where a player was born shouldn't matter...so Nakamura and Seirawan do count (and Browne, if indeed he was born in Austrialia, which I doubt).

Larry C surely must have been in the top fifty in the world about the time he won Linares, wasn’t he?

Looking up the history on Olimpbase, I was surprised to find that an England team won the bronze medal in the very first Olympiad! In the other pre-war events, they finished in the middle of the table, which is probably about right.

England usually qualified for the "A" group in the 1950s, finishing in the bottom half of the table. In the 60s, a top place in the "B" group was the norm. The "C" group in 1970 was the nadir.

England qualified for the "A group again in 1974 (they even bought back poor old Penrose, who had a dreadful result), and got a bronze medal in 1976 - the one that was boycotted by the entire Soviet bloc and won by the USA.

The real breakthrough came in 1984, the first of three successive silver medals. England were usually contenders in the 90s, but couldn't manage higher than fourth place (twice). This was mainly because the single team representing the USSR had been replaced by several teams of similar strength.

In recent years, too many of the squad have been out of form and only Adams's good results have saved them from total embarrassment (30th in 2004, 19th in 2006).

According to Wikipedia, Walter Browne was born in Sydney, Australia to an American father and an Australian mother. The family moved to New York when he was three.

He represented Australia in the late 60s and early 70s, gaining the IM title in the 1969 Asian Zonal.

Sierawan wasn't born in the US either. Lol I didn't know that Browne wasn't though! And Reshevsky... well he doesn't even quality under the 'learn to play' ruling ;).

Larry Christiansen was in the top dozen for sure. Benjamin and de Firmian probably got close into the top 60 on their best lists. It seems arbitrary to not include Seirawan and Nakamura, who came to the US as children not knowing how to play. It's not as if there is a genetic argument based on Syrian or Japanese parentage.

It's always been clear that the US isn't much of a chess country and hasn't been since the game professionalized after WWII. Talented individuals could get by before that and the US had a large population and an immigrant class (i.e. Jewish) that valued the game. But to compete with the Botvinnik-led pros was another matter entirely. Then came Fischer, who inspired a whole generation of players, a generation that included just about every US born GM until Nakamura. Only a handful of American-bred players got the GM title after that famous Fischer boom class. Wolff and Ashley are the only ones that comes to mind immediately. Shaked also, although for the record neither Shaked nor Ashley are US born.

By the way, one of the many places this has been discussed here in the past:


"Many if not most of the other guys on tjallen's list were never world-class players, which is what I think Howitt was talking about."

Wrong again. Actually doing a little research usually helps.

I don't have access to numerous old FIDE lists, but by Jeff Sonas Chessmetrics site, we can compare these players' ratings against their contemporaries.

Marshall - in World Top 10 from 1904-1921, #3 or #4 several times.

Kashdan - in World Top 10 from 1930-1938, #2 in 1933.

Fine - in World Top 10 from 1936-1943, #1 and #2 in 1939-42.

Reshevsky - in World Top 10 from 1934-1958, #1 in world twice in 1943 and 1953.

Steiner (Herman) - in world top 100 1928-1947, as high as World #38 in 1933.

Denker - World top 100 from 1934 to 1949, as high as #8 in 1935.

D Byrne - World top 100 from 1955-58, and again off and on through the 60s, #38 in 1955.

R Byrne - Peaked at world #11 in 1974, world top 100 from 1948 to 1984!

Lombardy - World top 100 from 1958-1979, often in the top 20-30, peaked at #19 in 1961.

L Evans - top 100 1951-1972, often in top 30, World #19 in 1952.

Christiansen - In and out of world top 100 from 1981 to 1999, often in top 30, peak #27 in 1992.

Seirawan - World Top 50 from 1980 through 2000, peaked at #14 in 1987.

Benjamin - In and out of world top 100 from 1980 to 2005, often in top 60 or 70, peaked at #42 in 1994.

de Firmian - not listed?

I also omitted accidently some others, like Patrick Wolff, (#76 in 1993).

Nakamura has had a big rating jump sine CM website has last update, so I didn't investigate him.

Walter Browne - World #27 in 1975, in world top 100 from 1969 to 1985.

Arthur Bisguier - World #32 in 1956, in world top 100 from 1954 to 1964.

I'm sure there are others.

Does Pal Benko count? World #17 in 1958, but born in France and raised in Hungary. American 1958-present. World top 100 from 1948-1975.

Oh you can never go wrong using Sonas' lists! You might as well pull numbers out of thin air. Those numbers are his subjective opinion. And often his little maths projects have no relation to how strong players are.

If the statistical analysis of actual results doesn't move you, then we have no common ground to argue. I guess you also would not accept the less accurate rating system of elo (FIDE), either.

I've never played any of the people in question, so I can't relate how strong one feels they are when they sit across the board from you. All I can do is show you numbers which are directly related to their won/lost record against other rated players. There's no guesswork or fudging in Sonas's results, at least not any fudging that affects players unequally. The Sonas Chessmetrics rating is nothing more than an index to the players' recent won/lost percentage against other rated players.

And I want to apologise, I'm not trying to sound snippy, and I certainly don't want to be the next Mr. Winter. On the other hand, some of our joy as fans of chess must come from sharing hypotheses about our favorite players, and then subjecting those hypotheses to test, and rejecting the false ones. I've certainly been wrong before, about many things, but I am willing to (reluctantly) reject my false opinions in search of something better.


I have the 1973 Top 60 FIDE list at hand. The US had seven players (Fischer, Byrne, Kavalek, Reshevsky, Evans, Benko, and Browne) in the top 50 and another (Lombardy) at 55. No other country (other than the USSR, of course) had nearly as many. (England had 0.)

Five of those US players learned their chess here. There's no denying, though, that the US peaked back then and hasn't produced another generation of top level players (which England certainly did). Seirawan is the only US product I'd consider truly world class since the 70s (and he definitely was, making it to the Candidates and, I think, top 15 in the world).


Top fifty then is nothing like top fifty now. Now by some definition player 50 is world class. At that point, 50 probably was nothing close.

Indubitably. Clearly players from the bottom half of that top 50 list, such as Bronstein, Mecking, Ljubojevic, Szabo, Uhlmann, Andersson, Gheorghiu, Averbakh, Unzicker, Ribli, and Najdorf weren't in the same class as Tiviakov, Alekseev, Inarkiev, Zvjaginsev, Eljanov, Gashimov, and Miton from today's list.


My bad. But still maybe you just got lucky, alot of the players there were much better 20+ years earlier or alternatively on the rize.

rise. Don't know how I let such an abomination slip.

It is rather hard to accept Kashdan as number two in the world in 1933, though. Statistics are all well and good, but they are't going to persuade me that Kashdan would have been favourite in a match against Alekhine in his prime or even Capablanca in 1933.

It seems like Kashdan was only #2 because between July 1931 and December 1934 Capablanca only played one game and ChessMetrics punishes for inactivity. Chessmetrics may not be good for comparing people across eras, but it usually is ok for ratings in the same time period, except, of course, situations like this one where people get punished by inactivity.

Also, Nimzowitsch has only played in one tournament between February 1930 and January 1933 (Bled 1931, where he only done half a point better than Kashdan) so he was probably punished, too. I don't know what is it with those years, but it seems like there were very few tournaments, even compared to earlier years. Maybe the Great Depression kicked in?

For Lasker, the gap between tournament was even bigger: there is nothing (at least in chessmetrics) between Chicago, 1926 and Zuerich, 1934 and he actually dropped out of the CM list in 1928.

But anyway, Kashdan was not better than Capablanca and Nimzo and some others but his results in 1930-1933 were very good and he probably was a top 5 player for a couple of years. He kinda got to the top in between the generation change, when Flohr and Botvinnik were not there yet and when old guard were not as good as before (Bogolyubov).

Mr. Kavalek's column ended today. It is a real shame. Did he retire?

Twitter Updates

    Follow me on Twitter



    About this Entry

    This page contains a single entry by Mig published on March 20, 2007 5:52 PM.

    Melody Amber 07 r4 was the previous entry in this blog.

    Rapid Light is the next entry in this blog.

    Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.