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December 22, 2002

What's wrong with this picture?

If you followed the K-K games on the internet you had a much better view than if you flew to NY and were present at the site. For day two, Karpov showed up at the last moment and the sensory board software wasn't booted yet. Kasparov had been cooling his heels and wondered aloud to arbiter Carol Jarecki why Karpov's clock had not been started, considering that this was a rated game. (FIDE rapid list) He had a point, and the game was started, with no board images in the room and no automatic move transmission on the internet. The problem persisted for the second game so they set up the "bald-spot cam," a camera pointed straight down at the board (and at the top of Kasparov's head). It looked like a checkers game from that angle. The best view of the board was from outside in Times Square!

The computer wins the psychological war

Kasparov admitted to having been distracted in recent days by waiting to see if his match against Deep Junior was going to happen or not. After two postponements it was finally announced on the second day of the K-K match. "I'm not used to not knowing if I'm playing next month or not," said Kasparov. Waiting for Fritz ruined 2002 for Kramnik, and Kasparov is missing Wijk aan Zee thanks to this match against Junior. He also missed it in 2002, but because of the flu.

December 23, 2002

The final protest

According to Vladimir Barsky of Russia's 'Chess Weekly' Viktor D. Baturinsky died Saturday night, December 21, 2002. Colonel Baturinsky was once vice president of the USSR Chess Federation and also a former director of Moscow's famous Central Chess Club. Most will know his name from when he was head of Anatoly Karpov's delegation in his 78 and 81 world championship matches against Viktor Korchnoi. Both matches were filled with surreal sideshow antics on both sides. In 1978, hypnotists, suspicious yogurt, mirrored glasses, chanting yogis, and refused handshakes stole the show. A former secret police official, Baturinsky was one of the real 'heavies' of the Soviet chess scene for decades. He authored or co-authored many books, including several Karpov books, wrote a collection on Botvinnik, and owned one of the largest private chess libraries in the world.

Look at the talent assembled here tonight

The Kasparov-Kramnik rapid match in New York on December 19th and 20th brought out just about every local chess VIP. It also brought out a collection of what must have been a dozen very young, attractive, Russian-speaking women with too much make-up and dressed in the latest Victoria's Secret fashion. GM Lev Alburt seemed to know them all by name, but somehow I don't think they were chess students.

You're not in Kansas anymore

The biggest laugh in the post-event press conference with the two K's came as a surprise to the speaker. When asked how he had prepared for the match, Karpov earnestly began, "I spent a few days in Kansas..." and was interrupted by laughter and amused applause from the crowd.

The baffled Karpov, who really had been training in Kansas (apparently with recent emigre Alexander Onischuk), thought for a second that he had said something dumb until realizing that we weren't laughing AT him. Of course he had no idea that to a crowd of New Yorkers, just having a Russian chess champ say he was in Kansas (or Iowa, et al.) is hysterical.

December 26, 2002

Youngest ever to play Hastings?

The annual Hastings tournament is one of the oldest regular events in the world. 12-year-old GM Sergey Karjakin is breaking many records this year, and in a few days he will play in Hastings. It seems likely that he will be the youngest player ever to play in the main event. Judit Polgar played in the 92-93 event at 16 (and won first place!).

December 28, 2002

FIBI Checks Kasparov

At 10am GMT, the Salt Lake Tribune ran a financial news service report stating that Garry Kasparov is being sued by First International Bank of Israel. Story is here. I spent almost three years with Kasparov Chess Online, from its beginning in July, 1999. I certainly wasn't privy to these financial dealings, but it sounds bizarre to me. So many KCO board members had conflicts of interest that the company was practically doomed from the start, although the site itself did well.

To my knowledge, Garry hasn't been much involved with KCO since having a big battle with the investors in mid-2002. The Israeli money-men thought it was more important to employ a group of Israeli programmers costing over $100,000 per month than have Grandmasters, writers, and other chess people costing a fraction of that.

Instead of cutting back, they went down with the ship over Kasparov's protests. The investors insisted on cutting all the talented Moscow employees that Kasparov considers family (and who ARE family in at least one case) and their relationship went downhill after that.

Kasparov got tired of watching them throw money away and make a mess of the website that had his name all over it. I'm not surprised he bailed out. It looks like the question now is if he is allowed to leave at all.

December 31, 2002

More Random Fischer Rumors

Although it was on the rumor mill last summer, New In Chess magazine mentions in their new (#8/2002) issue that they've heard rumors of "serious plans" for a shuffle chess match between Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky. I don't know if they missed the first rumors, mentioned by GM Ian Rogers in August, 02, or if this is new information. If they had anything concrete they would have listed it, so don't hold your breath.

Last I heard, the match was going to be in Reykjavic, Iceland, the site of their famous 1972 world championship match. But Fischer was demanding live, uncensored TV time and that wasn't going to happen. Considering the X-rated radio interviews he's given in the past few years, that's no surprise. (Including one gleefully celebrating 9/11 the day after it happened.) The great Bobby has been using his chess fame to get media time to promote his virulent anti-Semitic (and now anti-American) ranting.

When I met Fischer in Argentina in 1996 he could act normally for long periods but would always end up back at "it's the Jews, they're trying to get me." He could talk chess, even real chess and not "Fischerandom" and make jokes, although he was mostly in his own world. From listening to him on the radio in the past few years he is deteriorating rapidly. Sad to say, but in his current state having him back in the public eye is a disaster.

A long article in the renown Atlantic Monthly recapped his plunge. Not much new and there are some outsider imprecisions, but a good and accurate chronology.

Fischer has his own web page here: http://home.att.ne.jp/moon/fischer/ PLEASE BE WARNED that there is a lot of profanity and offensive content. He mentions the Atlantic article at the end of the page, but only to refute a stupid bit about toilets that the Atlantic writer should never have put in. Still, reading Fischer's ravings is depressing for any fan of his brilliant chess.

January 1, 2003

Kasparov Elo Astro

Love him, hate him, or sue him, but you've got to give up the major props to Garry Kasparov the chessplayer. The new FIDE rating list is out and Kasparov added nine points to his lead over Kramnik and is now at 2847. His record three years ago was 2851. Kramnik played exactly one rated game in 2002, making him the least active champ since Botvinnik took a few years off to get his PhD.

Judit Polgar hit 2700 for the first time, but it's been a while since that once-magical number meant top-10 status. She's at 13-14 tied with Gelfand. (She once hit #11 if memory serves.) Crowd favorite Morozevich plummeted out of the top 20, Grischuk made the top 10. Onischuk is now USA and is number 35 at 2658, the highest American. ChessBase has a report here. Official FIDE site here.

Not Good Odds

No news is bad news when it comes to chess reunification. Last heard, FIDE champion Ruslan Ponomariov was still insisting on getting draw odds in his match with Kasparov tentatively scheduled for next Spring. He may just be holding out for more cash, something he has done several times already. (Linares and Prague 02)

All respect to Super Mariov, he's a great player with a bright future. But he should realize that winning a FIDE KO doesn't make him king of the world. It makes him the winner of a tough semi-rapid tournament with a huge randomness factor. Still, he's only 19 and he may figure he's got time on his side. But if he doesn't play and then can't break through the Kasparov-Kramnik-Anand triangle that has dominated for so long he's going to go down in history as "that Ukrainian kid who didn't play Kasparov back in 2003."

January 2, 2003

FIBI - KC - GK Part II

Ninja member jackiechan sends us an update on the lawsuit against Kasparov mentioned below (28-12-02). (This isn't really chess news but when something new pops up we'll let you know. The future of what was the largest chess website is news.) According to a Russian news source, it seems the bank can take complete control of KCO if Kasparov doesn't come to court, but control over a closed and traffic-less website won't mean anything. It doesn't take long for people to delete their shortcuts and find new places to play and read. So uplugging the site might have been a tactic in this legal battle.

Garry's mother and personal manager, Klara Kasparova, said that Garry will be making a statement on the matter soon. I think he would love to be able to walk completely clear of KCO and start from scratch with worldchessrating.com, which has much of the old Russian KC staff and is currently only in Russian. (Full disclosure: I was supposed to be working there but after five months of delays I decided paying the rent would good!) Kasparov can probably protect the use of his name even if the bank takes over the site and company assets, so the domains kasparovchess.com and kasparov.com would not be usable if he forbids it. What a mess!

January 3, 2003

Just Say "Lo" to Kasparov-Junior in Israel

You read it here first, the January 7-9th Jerusalem "exhibition games" between Kasparov and Deep Junior have been cancelled. The match was originally scheduled to be in held entirely in Jerusalem back in October 2002. These two exhibition games were to be a consolation for the locals on behalf of the Israeli program (by Amir Ban and Shay Bushinsky). This must cast doubt on the dates for the six official New York games, scheduled for Jan.22-Feb.2. But the Dirt says the match has organization and funding and will be going ahead some time this month.

January 4, 2003

E=$<0

Some fresh dirt from the UK. Private Eye magazine had a lot of fun exposing GM Ray Keene and BrainGames.net and their various legal and financial shenanigans. Keene and BGN handed off to the UK Einstein Group, apparently telling them they had rights to Kramnik and Kasparov. Oops, just Kramnik as it turned out. But that's a separate lawsuit... Anyway, Private Eye didn't have to worry about getting bored and recently wrote that some of the $400,000 in prize money for the July, 2002 Dortmund candidates tournament partially organized/sponsored by Einstein has not been paid to the players.

According to the magazine, the extra pile of money French culture patron Madame Ojjeh (who could fill a few DD sections on her own, but that's not the topic today) kicked in was sent to Einstein, but not all of it has reached the players. From "Private Eye": "One of them, the Bulgarian grandmaster Topalov, complained to the French grandmaster Joel Lautier, a member of Madame Ojjeh's club in Paris. Ojjeh was "furious" to learn that Einstein hadn't already dished out the loot: Topalov was paid shortly afterwards." Let's hope that any remaining obligations are taken care of quickly.

(Full disclosure: I worked for Einstein running the brainsinbahrain.com website for the Kramnik-Fritz match in 2002. I may also do some web work for them in 2003.)

January 5, 2003

Slipped Him a Mickey

Just in from Spain comes the news that Peter Leko will play Linares, not Mickey Adams as had been announced long ago. No explanation for this change has been provided by the organizers.

Vik-ahn-Sea

Speaking of supertournaments, Wijk aan Zee starts on January 10. The annual beer and pea-soup festival will be without Kasparov for the second consecutive year after he won three straight. Last year he was sick; this year he'll be playing the program Deep Junior in New York. Kramnik wasted his entire 2001 waiting for his Fritz match, was it worth it? Now we lose 13 Kasparov games for six against a computer nobody will care about the day after. I'm starting to look forward to the day when computers are so strong humans won't have to waste their time playing them. Give it five years.

Ah yes, back to Wijk aan Zee. In Elo order: Kramnik, Anand, Topalov, Ponomariov, Bareev, Ivanchuk, Grischuk, Shirov, Karpov, J.Polgar, Krasenkow, van Wely, Timman, Radjabov. This will be Kramnik's first serious chess against a human in a year. Only two locals this year in a very strong event. Karpov will try to match his rapid chess success, Radjabov will try to break through, Timman, van Wely, and Krasenkow will try not to finish last. I bet you can't remember last year's winner! Hint: he's the fifth seed this year and is pictured above.

lee-NAH-race

The annual Spanish supertournament in Linares has concreted Vladimir Kramnik's participation for 2003. The announced field is now Kasparov, Kramnik, Anand, Leko [not Adams], Ponomariov, Vallejo, and Radjabov! It will assuredly follow its usual double round-robin (all-play-all twice) and should start in mid to late February. (Yes, that does leave someone free each round, which is completely idiotic. Why 7 and not 6 or 8? Seven was necessary when there was a last-minute dropout a few years ago, but now?)

Kasparov has dominated "his" tournament, winning convincingly in 99, 01, and 02, and tying for first with Kramnik in 2000. (When, in a charitable move, he gave the trophy to Kramnik saying, "I have quite a few of them already and this will be his first." We all wondered if Garry regretted his largesse when Kramnik beat him in their world championship match later that year.

Vallejo is the local star who stunned everyone by not finishing last in 2002 (Shirov did). Radjabov will be outranked by an average of over 100 points so this is a bit of a shock. The 15-year-old certainly has star power, but he could have waited a year so Topalov could play. He's in Wijk aan Zee earlier so we can see if he can live up to his rapid chess performance in Moscow last year. That reminds me, where is Topalov?! The Battling Bulgarian has practically disappeared since losing the Dortmund final to Leko way back in July. He is playing in Wijk aan Zee in a few days.

January 6, 2003

FIBI - KC - GK Part III - A Win for Kasparov

ChessBase has some documents detailing the latest developments in the First International Bank of Israel's lawsuit against Garry Kasparov. As I conjectured below, (DD 7, 11) they were trying to go after Kasparov instead of the company KasparovChess Online although the loan in question was made to KCO. They're after the Kasparov name and "brand" since those are the only things left of any value. It's been kicked out of a US court. (KCO is incorporated in Delaware for tax reasons, like millions of other companies.) Kasparov's lawyer has more.

FIBI is now threatening to sue Kasparov in Israel. This is the reason given for Kasparov canceling the exhibition games against Deep Junior scheduled for this week. (DD 12) The official schedule for the main GK-DJ event in New York is here. It finally starts on January 26 at the New York Athletic Club and lasts two weeks (six games). The organizer is X3D Technologies, the tech company that sponsored the Kasparov-Karpov match in Times Square last month. They have a promo up here. There is a bit of irony in that Kasparov lost the X3D match to Karpov. At the very least, not a good omen! The Head Ninja will be back from the US Championship in plenty of time for inside reports at ChessBase.com.

(Full disclosure: I was the vice president of content for KasparovChess Online until April, 2002.)

January 7, 2003

2000 + 0 = 2036

After a major screw-up in rating the games from the 2002 Bled (Slovenia) Olympiad it appears that FIDE will have to recall the January list. Hundreds of players were given free gifts when the chief arbiter in Bled counted all the unrated players as having 2000 ratings. Since most are far weaker than that, someone who scored 1/5 against 2143 average-rated competition ended up with a 2036 rating thanks to wins against unrateds!

Unrated players are usually counted as 2000 for seeding purposes, but of course that number should not be used for calculating rating changes. All the details and the full correspondence dealing with the mess are reported in the Chess Scotland website. Several other FIDE rating errors are documented in the same report. None of this should affect the top 100. Thanks to John Henderson for the link.

All of this can't but help provide impetus to the Kasparov-backed World Chess Rating project (which I worked on), which plans to blend in rapid and blitz ratings, make the formula more dynamic, and, one hopes, run it all competently! Maybe FIDE can take over the elections in Florida.

Toilet Moves

ChessBase has a hilarious report by the inimitable (and, sadly, too often untranslatable) Andre Schultz on a case of computer cheating at a recent tournament. (The answer, for those of you who remember the boardgame 'Clue': "The patzer, in the restroom, with Pocket Fritz.") Andre is usually just on the German ChessBase site and is always very funny, and not just for a German.

This episode reminded me of one of my favorite Nigel Shortisms, "a toilet move." This was defined to me by Nigel as "when you really have to go to the loo so you make any move that won't ruin your position and run off." The less literal-minded will take it to mean a planless waiting move.

My last toilet chess reference (for now) is from the Kramnik-Deep Fritz Bahrain match. Kramnik had a rest area with a well-stocked fridge, a sofa, and a nice fruit basket. Every room in the complex was labeled, and they had put "Kramnik's Rest Room" on this one, although there wasn't a toilet. I guess it was true, literally. Anyway, I thought it was funny and when the match was over I grabbed it off the door as a souvenir. It now adorns my bathroom door (just in case Vlady stops by). Posing in the picture is one of my cats, Bagley (from Argentina). What do you mean photos of my bathroom are too much information?!? This is the Daily Dirt, not the Economist!

Computer cheating in chess has become quite an issue, and not just in online play when every loss quickly becomes, "aww, he's a comp" to the paranoid (like me). In the 2000 London world championship match between Kasparov and Kramnik there were metal detectors and security personnel for players, guests, and fans alike. No cell phones, nothing electronic at all. This sounds paranoid, but it's not too much when you consider that a person at home with a powerful program could send a phone text message to someone in the audience who gives a few head gestures to a player on stage at a critical moment. Easy to do, hard to detect, impossible to prove. (Having Pocket Fritz in your lap would be a bit easier to catch.)

I'll use this space to plug a nifty little program for those who have Palm Pilots like I do. Chess Tiger for Palm looks good and will give you a decent game even on an old Palm (and compatible) and can import and export PGN.

January 9, 2003

You Ess of A

The US Championship begins today in Seattle. Defending champ (and future Black Belt contributor) Larry Christiansen faces Kaufman in the first round of nine. One of the various changes made after America's Foundation for Chess saved the event a few years ago was integrating the women into the same Swiss-system tournament. This was a very positive step that maintains prize incentives, but allows the ladies to play stronger competition instead of ghettoizing them. The total prize fund is a record $250,000, a stunning amount and probably the largest fund of any annual tournament in the world.

First prize is $25,000. A few weeks ago I had a few beers with Joel Benjamin, a former champ and one of the top seeds in Seattle. Joel is outspoken on the future of US chess and he made the point that so fragile is a chessplayer's economy in the US that how well you do in the championship has a big impact on how much you need to work for the rest of the year. Keep that in mind toward the end because a difference of one point will probably mean over $10,000 in cash! Last year 6.5/9 was enough for Christiansen and de Firmian (Go Bears!) to tie for first. A rare and welcome standard time control playoff match breaks a tie this year.

Maurice Ashley is back in the news as the "first black grandmaster" and playing in his first US Championship. The story is good to mention that Stephen Muhammad, who is also black, is also playing this year. I'll be there on the 14th till the finish on the 18th. (And I can't miss the closing banquet!)

January 10, 2003

US Championship Dirt

Most of the favorites won in the first round. (Last year six-time champ Walter Browne lost to 16-year-old Cindy Tsai in the first.) One of the top US juniors, IM Hikaru Nakamura, was not happy when defending women's champion Jen Shahade claimed a three-fold repetition draw in their game. He didn't believe it, he complained loudly ("tantrum" is the word my source used), he was wrong, draw. It wasn't even a complicated one. Plus, he was worse on the board...

Nakamura also endeared himself by asking about "players like Akobian" at the players meeting before the event, but this seems like a good question to ask if done politely. [An unimpeachable source has now let me know that this did NOT take place at the players meeting but was done in private and without rancor. Good to hear. 13-1-02] There has been some controversy about the recent immigrant's special invitation. Usually there is a waiting period, like the one fellow 2003 participant Goldin just finished. If you don't think strong foreign players will move to the USA because of a $250,000 annual prize fund then you don't know much about the economy of Eastern Europe and of chessplayers in general.

There was a 270-point upset when IM Greg "Samford and Son" Shahade blundered a pin tactic that probably isn't tough enough to make the next issue of White Belt. Julia Shiber, the lowest-rated player in the event, polished him off nicely after that. (Diagram, white to play and win.) Btw, if you go to the official site, don't freak out when you see the ratings. They are USCF, not FIDE, and are usually 40-100 points higher.

The players drew for colors by having the defending champions play "pin the tail on Seattle." They were blindfolded and then had to stick a pin in a US map, closest to Seattle won. Whatever. The Mayor bailed out on making the first move and a nine-year-old scholastic player was deputized by the Mayor's office to do it. Since when do Seattle mayors have "urgent city board meetings"? What, was a Starbucks four minutes late in opening? Did Bill Gates need his boots licked?

The Ultimatum Chess Championship

Just in comes a vaguely coherent panicky message from the one-man-band of Ukrainian chess journalism on the web, Grandmaster Mikhail Golubev. He says the Ukrainian chess federation has delivered an ultimatum from FIDE to Ruslan Ponomariov: sign this contract today or we announce Kasparov-Ivanchuk as a replacement match! Golubev gives this link, which I hope isn't a Russian porn site. Mikhail has some of his own comments in that funny alphabet here. (He regularly updates the English portion of his site.) So far there is no official statement on this at all.

Ponomariov should already have arrived in Wijk aan Zee by now. The first round is tomorrow. The main sticking point in negotiations has been the question of draw odds. (I.e. if he and Kasparov draw the match, he wants to go forward into the unification match with the winner of Kramnik-Leko.) See DD 9 below. Ivanchuk lost to Ponomariov in the FIDE KO WC final.

I've said before that I don't think Ponomariov deserves draw odds, but that's just my opinion. It would be idiotic of him to bail out of this match over this issue. At least when Karpov created all sorts of bizarre conditions IT WAS KARPOV and he had some serious cred. You don't get to pull these stunts after winning one KO, and Super Mariov is a bit young to be a martyr.

January 11, 2003

Mark Your Calendars

The Corus Wijk aan Zee pairings are up and the tournament starts today. Start counting down until Round 8 on Monday the 20th when we'll see Kramnik-Anand. The Ukrainian grudge-match Ivanchuk-Ponomariov is in the final round. There's no "Dutch Open" this year, i.e. no pack of weaker local players. Every round will be tough. The lowest-ranked player, Timman, is world-class on any given day, particularly early in an event before tiredness and too much free beer and wine set in. ChessBase will have daily coverage.

"Those birthday candles are ruining my lighting!"

Here's GM Walter Browne on his 54th birthday during yesterday's second round of the US Championship in Seattle. I hope the present wasn't a hand-me-down vest from Yasser Seirawan. (It was wine, there was singing, he drew with Gulko.)

January 13, 2003

A Man of Letters

Ponomariov's letter to FIDE regarding the negotiations around his match with Kasparov (DD 21) was quickly translated into English thanks to two ChessNinja Boardistas, IdleKilla and jackiechan. The global (chess) village in action!

The incoherency of Ponomariov's missive helps illustrate the trap he's in. He has to try and act the part of World Champion while acknowledging that Kasparov's big name clearly relegates him to second fiddle in these negotiations. Ponomariov has to demand his rights and then let them go. Kasparov will get what he wants not because he demands it, but because FIDE needs/wants him more than Ponomariov. (Super Mariov was sufficiently distracted to need 38 moves to beat world champ Vladimir Kramnik in Corus Wijk aan Zee on the 12th. My daily Wijk reports are appearing at ChessBase.com.)

Unlike many, I do not blame Kasparov for playing his superior hand. Just because he has the advantage doesn't mean he should roll over and not stand up for himself. If he doesn't want to give Pono draw odds and wants to play classical chess instead of semi-rapid, then he has the right to say so. If FIDE gives him everything he wants, who is to blame?

A question: If Kasparov beats Ponomariov to go on to face the winner of Kramnik-Leko in a title unification match, is Ponomariov still the FIDE champion at least until that unification match takes place? As far as I know Pono-Kasparov is not a FIDE title match.

Mind you, in 50 years I don't think the history books will pay much attention to these four turn of the millenium FIDE titles, at least not if unification is successful and lasting. Karpov 96, Khalifman 99, Anand 00, and Ponomariov 01 will be footnote* champions. Of course Karpov and Anand will have chapters in the books anyway, and Ponomariov could well be writing one himself.

January 14, 2003

Chess FM

US women's champion Jennifer Shahade has been invited to do the "Bob Rivers and Twisted Radio" morning show at Seattle classic rock radio station KZOK on the Tuesday the 14th. (US Ch off day.) If you're in the Seattle area and are up at 8:00am, check it out (102.5 FM) and let us know how it went! They are going to do an interview with her and let her pick out a few favorite songs. Nothing from Tim Rice, we hope. Maybe Vue, The Vines, or Otep?

From the KZOK website: "Jennifer Shahade (rhymes with “hottie”), defending U.S. women’s chess champion, competing in the U.S. Chess Championships this week in Seattle."

I nominate Jen (above in Seattle with her new Reindermanesque hairstyle) as the first chessplayer in history to be mentioned on a classic rock radio station's website as 'rhyming with "hottie."' I bet Maya Chiburdanidze didn't have to put up with this! (Nothing rhymes with "Chiburdanidze.") I leave for Seattle later today and will be there till the beer runs out. I mean, until the event finishes.

January 15, 2003

New York Ninja in Seattle

Hello from the great Northwest! Safely on the ground and with a DSL connection, what more could I ask? Tomorrow I'll be hanging out at the US Championship at the Seattle Center. Here's a pic of defending women's champ Jen Shahade taken this morning by chess photographer extraordinaire John Henderson, who has escaped the cold and rainy confines of his native Scotland for the cold and rain of Seattle working for America's Foundation for Chess. (They're the ones who are sponsoring and running the US Championship. The AF4C saved the event in 2000 from the bungling of the US Chess Federation.)

The radio hosts (DD 26) were amazed that Jennifer was a chess player, let alone a women's champion. Assorted jokes about whether or not she undid a few buttons on her blouse before playing against men were about as intellectual as their conversation got. Shahade took it with good humor despite the early hour. She currently has 2/4 with four draws and a loss in a tough field. Her brother Greg is also playing and has 2.5. A little family rivalry never hurts.

January 16, 2003

Ken ye getchyer feckin camra aughta here?

Yes, I know this pic is an abrupt change from the one of Jennifer Shahade I had up. No, this isn't the case for mandatory drug testing in chess. No, it's not the "after" photo from a case study on electro-shock therapy. It's John Henderson, press officer of the AF4C here in Seattle.

Not only does he take pictures and write reports for them, write his daily column for The Scotsman newspaper, and perform countless other tasks, but he is also letting me sleep on his futon. The downside is having to see this in the morning, but I'm no Audrey Hepburn in the A.M. myself considering the late hours and jet lag! (When he stayed at my place in New York last month for the Kasparov-Karpov rapid match he had to fight with my cats for space.)

John has photos of just about every chess player and event known to man or beast, so if you're looking to buy some write to him for his reasonable rates.

Free Ojjeh!

Yesterday was the first time in a while we have heard from Mrs. Nahed Ojjeh, a Syrian-born French millionaire who has spent piles of money supporting the arts in France and who turned her eye to supporting French chess. A rumored romance with Kramnik was at the very least a firm friendship as she chipped in $300,000 for the Dortmund qualifier last year (well it's Euros not dollars but my keyboard doesn't have that funky symbol). This was organized by Einstein, who have a contract with Kramnik.

As mentioned in DD 13 below, Einstein apparently didn't pay out all the money to the players and now Ojjeh has issued a statement breaking off all relations with Einstein. Call it chapter 93 of that classic book, "101 Ways to Alienate Chess Sponsors". Considering reports of Einstein's financial woes, maybe that should be Chapter 11.

I'd heard of these problems earlier and tried to contact the players, including Gelfand. But in general they don't like to go public with these things, as was also the case when FIDE checks were bouncing after the Vegas KO WC in 1999. They are told that if they shut up they will get paid eventually and they don't make waves, or maybe that's just what they think.

January 17, 2003

Garry, is that you?

The latest rules and regulations fun happened today in round eight. Kriventsov's mobile phone rang during his game with Markzon. And he answered it! He spoke for a few seconds before arbiter Carol Jarecki showed up on the scene. He said something about it being his wife, who had lost her credit card and offered to switch into English! He was told to hang up immediately and was only penalized 10 minutes off his clock instead of the immediate forfeit that some expected.

The Saga Continues

The latest episode of the FIDE-Ponomariov soap opera ran yesterday, with FIDE replying to Ponomariov's letter. FIDE is clearly winning the battle if you go by word count.

One thing that is finally clear to me from this latest document is that the Kasparov-Ponomariov match is to be played for the FIDE world championship title. At first that seems to give more weight to Pono's arguments, which are mainly that he should get draw odds as defending champ and that they should play at the FIDE time control under which he won the title.

The contradiction is that there weren't any draw odds in the event under which Pono won the title, or any plans to give a defending champion any such special treatment. And if this match is part of a classical chess unification plan, after which world championship chess will continue to be played at classical time controls, there is no reason to have this match at the knock-out time control (may it rest in peace).

The Rules!

You would think that most internationally ranked players (and arbiters!) would be familiar with the laws of chess. On the same day in the US Championship we had two cases to challenge this theory, both about the same rule. Most players know that to claim a draw on three-fold repetition of position you have to notify the arbiter of your intent to repeat the position for the third time and claim a draw. You do this before you make the move.

First it was FM Aaron Pixton to get a lesson on this rule he'll never forget. He was a pawn down against GM Serper and must have been delighted when Serper accidentally allowed a complicated repetition as they finished the first time control. Pixton made the move (42.Rf1) that repeated the position for the third time and then went to tell the arbiter. Ooops. The arbiters (Jonathan Berry and Carol Jarecki) ruled in favor of Pixton, awarding him a draw. Serper appealed and the committee was quickly assembled. They overruled the arbiters and the game continued. Serper won 20 moves later. A painful way to lose a half point for Pixton.

Left: Rulebook in hand, not Averbakh

Just in case anyone missed that one, a few hours later IM Hikaru Nakamura had been struggling for survival in a lost endgame against GM Yasser Seirawan. (Whose comments on the game were included in Black Belt #5 last night!) Nakamura claimed a much more obvious repetition draw, but also did so after making his move! After a brief discussion with arbiter Carol Jarecki, who brought the rulebook to the table, this claim was denied on the spot. This timedraw was agreed moments later, however. (From the way they played that endgame, maybe an Averbakh book would have been better.)

January 19, 2003

What a pair!

The women's playoff for the title (won in an upset by Anna Hahn just moments ago) was almost as exciting as the press center was the night before round nine. The original round nine pairings had women's leader Jennifer Shahade playing against second-place Irina Krush! This was a legal but "slightly irregular" pairing according to arbiter Jonathan Berry. Of course it was the most exciting possible match-up, so they decided to use that set of pairings.

Soon after the pairings were released, late into the night, an agitated Jennifer Shahade called the press center to question the validity of the pairing. After she had a long talk with arbiter Carol Jarecki the pairings were changed to their "most correct" iteration. So instead of black against Krush, Shahade had black against the higher-rated Ben Finegold. But now Krush also had black, against Perelshteyn. All the players affected were quickly called and notified.

This event highlights something I learned this week here in Seattle. Swiss-system pairings are an art form masquerading as a science. Despite the use of computer programs there are still often several answers to what you would think is a simple question: who plays who? In most rounds there are several sets of pairings that are legal; nothing is handed down from the mountain on stone tablets.

Jen Shahade went on to lose to Finegold and then lose in the playoff. It's easy in hindsight to say she should have taken a game with draw odds against a weaker opponent by playing Krush. I wonder more about why she (or the arbiters!) had any influence on what should be a completely objective process. I think the arbiters did the right thing in the end under difficult circumstances, but it is curious nonetheless.

January 21, 2003

Yet more on rules

The official rules to Kasparov-Junior were finally released today. They are almost identical to the preliminary ones I looked at and made small contributions to many months ago. Overall they are vastly superior to the favoritism built in to the Bahrain rules in Kramnik's favor. He got an exact copy of the program, access to the match machine, adjournments, and the Fritz team wasn't allowed to do more than add a dozen or so moves to the opening book between games.

The GK-DJ rules are a fair fight. You bring your computer, I bring my brain, let's get it on. The Junior team can make any changes they like between games. The only non-scientific bit is this: "10.a.: Should a position be reached which is in the machine's endgame databases and if the result from that position with correct play is a draw, then the game ends immediately and the machine operator must promptly advise the human player and the arbiter that the game has been drawn."

This is a strange thing to include if you are going to allow the use of tablebases at all. There are many endgame positions that a tablebase can draw that humans have a very hard time with and in which only one move will draw. We might all remember the Kasparov vs The World game that required reams of analysis of a queen + pawn versus queen endgame. It's unlikely this situation will occur, but it's a bit odd. (Radjabov forced Karpov to defend 50 moves of R+B vs R in Wijk aan Zee just the other day. GMs can lose these things.)

January 22, 2003

The pawn could.. go.. all.. the.. way!

Q: What do you get when you take French organizers, Russian and Israeli players, German designers, and Canadian promoters and have them stage a big event in America? A: A high-profile chess match that launches on Super Bowl Sunday! The biggest media coverage day of the year in the USA is the final day of the American football season. On the next day (heck, the week before and week after) every paper in America will be completely full of every single detail about the game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and my beloved Oakland Raiders, leaving even less space for chess than usual. I'll be doing live web commentary from the site and expect me to give an online shout when the Raiders win.

January 24, 2003

The Soundbite Grandmaster

Apart from being the top player in the world for 17 years, Garry Kasparov is the uncontested chessplayer champion of the press conference. His long answers, clever replies, and controversial opinions never fail to bring out the media in droves. The opening of his match with Deep Junior here in New York was no exception. It was by far the largest gathering of media for a chess event I have seen since Deep Blue. There were around 150 journalists packed in there. (To give credit where it's due, sponsor/organizer X3D did an amazing job of getting out the word in a month's time.) Check out some of the media coverage here.

I filmed the entire thing for ChessBase Magazine and I'll also be reporting on it at ChessBase.com tomorrow with pictures. Some highlights include yet another goofy drawing of lots, this one a coin flip filmed in 3D. (If there's anything I love, it's a goofy drawing of lots. Oh yeah, and folkloric dancing at opening ceremonies, but we were spared that.) The Junior team of B&B (Ban and Bushinsky) won the toss, and then decided to take black in the first game! Garry said he would have taken white first, so everyone was happy.

January 26, 2003

Deep Junior Junior

In case of a major technical problem, the Deep Junior team has prepared an entire backup machine that can take over a game in an instant. (They have to make any repairs on their clock time.)

The main machine is an eight-processor beast from Canvas Systems. It has eight 1.6 GHz Intel processors and eight gigabytes of RAM! The backup machine has just four processors, but they are 1.9 GHz each ( four GB RAM). According to machines' builder and babysitter from Canvas, Scott Rogers, the Junior team might actually use the four-processor machine as the primary. The faster chips and the slightly more efficient processing from four vs eight processors make them very similar in chess performance.

This machine is roughly double the speed of the machine Deep Fritz ran on in Bahrain in its match against Kramnik last October. That sounds great, but in chess terms that's still less than seeing another move ahead.

January 27, 2003

Et Tu, Boris?

Israeli Grandmaster Boris Alterman is a friend of mine. We worked together at KasparovChess.com in Israel and for several years afterwards after I moved to New York. It was great to see him again now that he's here for the Kasparov-Deep Junior match. For several years now he has worked as 'trainer' to Junior, providing feedback to its programmers and tuning its opening book.

His job description needs to undergo a radical revision. Not because he's bad at what he does, but because his job is being made obsolete, like a telegraph operator or bank teller. Against a top-level GM like Kasparov, it's simply too hard to patch up all the holes in an opening book. Programs are strong enough now that they should be taught how to play the opening themselves so they don't fall into holes like DJ did in game one against Kasparov. The first program that can do this well will have a big advantage over other programs as well as against humans. In the beginning there will be hybrid programs that have a book, but evaluate the lines before playing from it. Some programs already 'tune' their books themselves as preparation, but this clearly isn't good enough.

A big photo gallery and DJ-GK reports are at ChessBase.com.

January 30, 2003

Not PC (press conference)

The delighted programmers of Junior, Amir Ban and Shay Bushinsky of Israel, had just finished speaking at the game three postgame press conference when Kasparov surprised us by showing up.

I sincerely thought Kasparov was joking when he responded to Seirawan's question about Shay and Amir's comments with, "The program is stupid and the programmers are arrogant!" Whoa! I wasn't videotaping it, unfortunately, because we didn't expect GK to come down after a loss. The audacious comment drew a good laugh from the audience, but before he recovered a to talk variations I think he was very much angered by Ban and Bushinsky's comments, or lack thereof.

The issue was that they had said nothing about how Kasparov had been winning at one point and later passed up a likely drawn line to blunder away the game in one move. Kasparov wanted this on the record and repeated several times that he had outplayed Junior completely in all three games and could be leading 2.5-0.5 or even 3-0 if he had managed to finish off his good positions.

Of course this is always the problem against computers! It's a coincidence that game three worked out like this when you look at the article I wrote on game two at ChessBase. I talked about how the top humans are stronger overall, but a computer's ability to instantly punish a blunder evens things out. Migstradamus rides again!

January 31, 2003

Time for a Chat

A common tradition in chess matches is that only the winner has to show up at the press conference. The loser is in no frame of mind for polite conversation. After a draw, both players come. Kasparov lost game three against Deep Junior today, but he showed up to talk to the crowd.

He had an online chat at AOL anyway, so he couldn't leave for his usual postgame walk. The chat was done by Garry talking on the phone and someone from AOL transcribing his words and reading him the questions. Here is a photo of his chat. Note the distinctly unhappy expression that comes from outplaying a world champion program on an eight processor computer and then blundering into a mate in five.

February 4, 2003

DJ Garry?

The entertaining high-traffic 'unusual news' linking site FARK.com has gotten the chess bug lately. They discussed Kasparov's loss to Deep Junior in game three (linked to my report at ChessBase instead of the usual wire report).

Then they had a Photoshop contest with a picture of Garry moving! Most of these are pretty silly, but there are a few inspired ones.

February 6, 2003

ESPN2 Does Chess

As announced in many places, the famous cable sports network is going to provide live coverage of the sixth game of the Kasparov-Deep Junior match on Friday, February 7! They are sending a crew to the New York Athletic Club. After game five, Barbara Demaro of the US Chess Trust was was telling everyone at the site about this coup. This is a big deal for chess in the USA and probably the first live national TV coverage of a chess event since Fischer-Spassky.

In 1995, ESPN broadcast packaged spots on the Kasparov-Anand match, but they were produced by the PCA. This time around ESPN is footing the substantial bill and will do interviews with the commentators (GMs Ashley and Seirawan) and produce other onsite material on the air live on ESPN2. I'll be there doing the official live web commentary but I'll try to poke my head in front of the camera!

Google News is always good place to track recent coverage of chess in the US and international media.

February 8, 2003

The Man of Man-Machine

I talked with Kasparov this morning before he left for the CNN offices. Among other things that will be covered in my long piece at ChessBase.com in the next day or two, he talked about his frustration with the effort to unify the world championship and uphold the Prague agreements. In particular, Prague was supposed to be about 1) establishing a calendar to unify the title and 2) preserving the classical time control. Now the Kramnik-Leko classical title match is foundering and organizers Einstein have spoken of postponing unification till 2004. (As Kasparov put it, "How can we begin the second cycle this year as agreed if we haven't finished the first one?!") And Ponomariov wants to use the fast time control in his FIDE title match with Kasparov. Oy.

Chess News Network

Garry Kasparov was on the CNN science and technology show today for a 5-8 minute interview about his match with Junior. It covered the usual territory about what it's like to play a machine, when will machines crush us all, etc.

I taped it, so if CNN doesn't release a transcript on its website I'll put one together in a few days. [They did, it's here.] Several of the factoids CNN put on the screen about him were wrong to varying degrees. ("Grandmaster at 14" "Nicknamed 'Monster from Baku'" etc.) Just another reason not to trust the news networks... I think they're just biding their time until the US starts bombing somebody.

Rumblin' Stumblin' Blunderin'

Even without an IBM PR machine, media coverage of the Kasparov-Junior match was amazing. ESPN2 showed all of game six live yesterday! (DD 41) An ESPN anchor was at the table with commentators Maurice Ashley and Yasser Seirawan throughout, it was excellent stuff. They had a huge camera and light setup in the game room as well, which must have been more than a little distracting, at least for one of the players...

Feedback about the coverage from chess people has been very positive so far. Write to ESPN (or e-mail them) and tell them you liked it and want more. For that matter, also write your local newspaper to say you want more chess coverage, especially if they ran a few articles on the Kasparov-Junior match.

February 10, 2003

Chess on Wall Street

In case you didn't notice the update of DD 43, CNN has posted a transcript of Kasparov's appearance on their Tech show.

You should also check out the Wall Street Journal this week. Garry has a long piece on this match (particularly as compared to the Deep Blue match) that will probably run on Tuesday, Feb.11. Not sure if it's in both the US and European editions (and the online edition, a pay service). Kasparov is a contributing editor at the WJS, but usually on foreign relations issues.

While you're reading the papers, I made Mom and Dad proud by getting my name into various print publications with soundbites on the Kasparov-Junior match. (My parents aren't nearly as impressed by millions of people reading my online commentary as when I show up in the Contra Costa Times.) Many papers ran Paul Hoffman's excellent wrap-up of the match in the New York Times. (Ever-ready for a deadline, Paul had outlined three versions of his article, one for each possible result of game six.)

New Scientist calls me a "Dutch chess columnist" for no reason I can possibly imagine, no offense to the Dutch. The Wired writer actually phoned me, perhaps that's why they didn't change my nationality to Swedish. Kudos to them for making the effort. Reuters' Grant McCool knows chess and it shows, especially when compared to the mistakes and stupidities often found in major media chess coverage.

February 13, 2003

Game On!

Breaking news in the world championship unification saga. Ponomariov met with the FIDE brass in Moscow on Feb.12 and the unverified word is that he has agreed to play his FIDE title match with Kasparov at the classical time control (seven hours) and without draw odds. Rumors say that there's a good chance it will be in my old home, Buenos Aires, Argentina this Spring. Que grande! There's a report here in Russian. ChessNinja member penguin_with_visor translated the facts (and he notes that it's from a Ukrainian news agency and written by someone close to Ponomariov and probably isn't very objective. I (Mig) add that most of the news on this that comes from the Ukraine plays Ponomariov to be a martyred saint.) Thanks for the quick work, PWV!

Yesterday in Moscow Ponomariov met with Omuku and Ilyumzhinov's aid Berek Balgabaev. The meeting started at 6 pm and went, with some breaks, till 6 am in the morning. Kirsan himself showed up at 10 pm. According to Ponomariov, no translators were present, despite his requests and the fact that all documents read by Omuku were in English.

When Ilyumzhinov came, he told Ponomariov that FIDE is currently having problems with sponsoring Kramnik-Leko match because "FIDE will not be a hostage of the Einstein Group." Ponomariov says Ilyumzhinov offered him to consider his match with GK as "final", which Ponomariov declined, insisting on the full implementation of the Prague protocol.

In the end, Ponomariov signed the protocol concerning his match with Kasparov (no details given), at the same time obtaining Ilumzhinov's guarantee that all 3 matches (Leko-Kramnik, Pono-GK and the final) will take place under the same rules. The details of the match with Kasparov will be elaborated after the Linares tournament.

This seems to confirm that Ponomariov is playing Kasparov, but the final word will have to come from FIDE. This development puts more pressure on Einstein, who hold the rights to world champion Vladimir Kramnik's title contests. They are broke and the one person who gave them money for chess, Nahed Ojjeh, has broken off relations with them. She's a big Kramnik fan (wink wink) and this might lead to Big Vlad breaking off with Einstein. Certainly if they can't organize his title match with Leko before the middle of the year, it might not happen at all.

Unless unificiation stays on track, FIDE will just declare the winner of Kasparov-Ponomariov to be the champion and good night. Apparently the rumors about FIDE being involved with the Leko-Kramnik match were true. In way that works out nicely. If Einstein really is out of the picture, sooner or later, it will be sad news for chess. Problems aside, Einstein did put some effort into the game. (Come to think of it, they only auspiced Dortmund, a traditional event, so really the only thing they produced was the Kramnik-Fritz match last year.)

February 14, 2003

Don't Panic

The CEO of Einstein, the company that holds the rights to world champion Vladimir Kramnik's world championship bouts, has responded briefly to me about the rumors they are having trouble finding a place and sponsor for the Kramnik-Leko world championship match. CEO Steve Timmins writes:

"The current state of play is that we are still negotiating with 2 locations with sponsorship for the match to be held on schedule in 2003. The rumour about FIDE is totally untrue."

That first part is good to hear. An early report from the FIDE-Ponomariov negotiations (see DD 46) included a comment that FIDE was "having trouble sponsoring the Kramnik-Leko match." Why would FIDE be involved in that match at all, especially if Timmins says FIDE has never been asked help? Kasparov, now working closely with FIDE, is so anxious to get this whole thing to work out he would probably varnish Vlady's pieces himself.

Regarding Einstein's relationship with Kramnik, Timmins replied, "Our relationship with Vladimir (and Carsten Hensel) remains good." Hensel is Kramnik's commercial representative (and also Leko's!). Some background and Kasparov's feelings on this in the new Mig on Chess #186.

February 15, 2003

FIDE Confirms

In a brief press release pointed out by ChessNinja member Globular, FIDE has confirmed that, "World Chess Champion Ruslan Ponomariov reaffirmed his willingness to defend his title against World no 1 rated player Garry Kasparov under the Match Regulations as approved by the FIDE President and the Presidential Board of FIDE." Thank you Super Mariov.

This means he has conceded in his attempt to play the match at the 'modern' time control and with draw odds. No draw odds and the classical control (40/2, 20/1, g/30) will be in effect. Long live classical chess. I'm only just now recovering from all the endgame butchery that took place in the Bled Olympiad played with the modern control (90 minutes + 30 second increment, single control). I've said it before, twenty years from now people are going to look at some of the games from this era and wonder why we started to play the endgame like idiots. Or, if controls keep getting faster they will look back at pre-2000 games and wonder how we played the endgame so well!

February 18, 2003

Escape from New Jersey

A full report is forthcoming on how the ChessNinja.com team first navigated the US Amateur Team East tournament in Parsippany, New Jersey this past weekend and then navigated their way through one of the worst snow storms ever to get home! Team Ninja scored 4-2, despite our best attempts to play like Alzheimer hamsters. At first it looked like I was okay after a six-year layoff from tournament chess. I started out with 3.5/4 on first board. But <random excuse generator tag> exhaustion set in </excuse> and I lost both of my games on the final day (although we won both matches thanks to teammates Rob Huntington, Alex Beltran, Mike Grant, and Jack Martin). It was a marvelous event and really what amateur chess is all about. A full report with annotated games, photos, and an incident about an ill-timed trip to the bathroom is coming soon.

February 19, 2003

Mi Buenos Aires Querido

I lived in Buenos Aires for almost seven years (1993-1999) and it's a great chess city. Along with hosting the FIDE WC match, BA is also an inside favorite for the October-November unification world championship match between the Kaspy-Pono winner and the Kramnik-Leko winner, assuming that latter match happens at all. New York City, my current home, is another candidate for the final. Coincidence?! Well, yes, probably.

Argentine Grandmaster and chess promoter Miguel Quinteros was in New York during the Kasparov-Junior match. He told me it was just to see the match, but there were undoubtedly meetings about the WC. Miguel's reputation in Argentine chess circles rises and falls, but he probably deserves to be included with Campomanes and Keene if on a smaller scale.

An old friend of Bobby Fischer's, Quinteros was instrumental in bringing Fischer to Buenos Aires to launch his "Fischerrandom Chess" project in 1996. Most of that episode turned into a total disaster when Fischer cancelled his remaining appearances and left Argentina in a huff over money problems. His parting words at the airport: "Miguel is a bastard." In Quinteros' defense, from my experiences with Fischer during that week I'd call an insult from him a real compliment!

Hey Buddy, Got a Match?

The FIDE world championship match between Garry Kasparov and Ruslan Ponomariov has been announced for Buenos Aires, Argentina starting on June 19, 2003 and ending July 7. The prize fund is reported to be at least 1 million dollars, the big round number du jour in the chess world. (I'm not a real conspiracy nut, but I have tiny suspicions that some of these big events announce big prizes to get attention but that the real amounts paid out are considerably less.) All this came in a press conference with Kasparov and FIDE prez Kirsan Ilyumzhinov in Moscow yesterday.

The official announcement will come in next weekend's FIDE Presidential Board meeting. When I spoke with Kasparov on the phone today he mentioned an interesting fact: Carsten Hensel, the representative of both Kramnik and Leko, has been especially invited to the board meeting. FIDE is really starting to worry about what could happen to unification if the Kramnik-Leko world championship match collapses this year. They have to keep to a schedule or how can they raise funding and find sponsors for the unification match? "We need three million dollars. No, we don't know when the match will be or who is playing." Gooooood. Much more on this in the next Mig on Chess at ChessBase this week.

Bilangguan for Campo?

Former FIDE president, Florencio Campomanes of the Philippines, has been sentenced to almost two years in prison on corruption charges related to funding for the 1992 Chess Olympiad in Manila. Over a quarter-million dollars from the Philippine Sports Commission was unaccounted for by FIDE. According to Campo, FIDE never accounted for such monies by providing receipts until 1993. With his usual grace Campo tried to pass the buck (no pun intended) to FIDE treasurer Willi Iclicki.

This was reported over a week ago, but I was hoping more news would come out about whether or not he will actually go to jail, which seems unlikely according to insiders. Campo is still well-connected in his homeland. It's remarkable it made it to court at all, considering the variety of allegations Campomanes survived during his FIDE tenure. This would be a bit like convicting Saddam Hussein of illegal possession of a handgun.

FIDE and chess politics have been corrupt for ages, but since everyone benefits except for the poor sponsors, whose money disappears, it continues. Deal-makers like Campomanes and England's Ray Keene have long dealt with accusations (and lawsuits) of sticky fingers and sharp practice. They and others like them have done a great deal for chess and chessplayers, but it's an open question regarding the long-term benefits. For every sponsor that is brought in another dozen might be driven off by a reputation for graft and scandal. Boxing is big enough to be a corrupt mess and still get major corporate sponsorship, chess is not.

February 20, 2003

In the News

The Russian news service Interfax has posted a summary of the Kasparov-Ponomariov announcement that was reported here in DD 51. Nothing new, but one interesting paragraph at the bottom: "Asked to comment on the chess strength of Deep Junior, Kasparov cited prominent U.S. chess player Yasser Seirawan as saying it is a chess player with a rating of 2,400 that does not make mistakes." Funny, that's almost exactly what I wrote in one of my articles at ChessBase during the match! Great minds think alike? Many places have the Associated Press report with the same announcement.

The American media are always fascinated by professional athletes who play chess, as if they were Nobel Prize winners or something. Here's another fine example of the "and he plays chess!" phenomenon. Why WOULDN'T they play chess? It takes 20 minutes for someone to learn, this isn't calculus. I really don't think chess benefits from this rarified view at all. Players might think it's cool that people find them exotic, or suspect them of genius, but it's also part of the barrier that keeps chess from being mainstream in many places.

February 22, 2003

Kramnik-Kasparov Launches Linares

The draw has started things off with bang in the annual supertournament. 14th world champion Vladimir Kramnik has white in the first round against the man whose title he took in 2000. Kramnik hasn't beaten Kasparov in a classical game since that match. Then again, NOBODY HAS. Yep, Kasparov is undefeated in classical chess since losing game 10 of the world championship to Kramnik on October 24, 2000. That includes four supertournament first prizes and the four classical games against Kramnik in the Botvinnik Memorial. Kasparov is also going for his eleventh consecutive supertournament victory. Going back to Wijk aan Zee 1999, Kasparov has 52 wins, 62 draws, and 1 loss in a little over four years of supertournament play. (Counting the 2002 Olympiad would add six more wins and three draws.) Terrifying.

ChessBase will have daily coverage of the games and should also be showing them live on the Playchess.com server. As usual there is a pretty and graphics-heavy official website. It should go down in a heap around 15 minutes into the first round, just like every year. I'd like to be wrong on this for once.

February 24, 2003

Timmaaaay!

15-year-old Teimour Radjabov beat Garry Kasparov in the second round in Linares. (Both are from Baku, Azerbaijan.) It was easy for chess writers everywhere (myself included) to say that he was the youngest player ever to be a world number one. Not that we did any research, mind you, but it's hard to imagine anyone else coming even close. I can only think of three possibilities: Reshevsky, Fischer, and Arturo Pomar.

Fischer had his chances. At 15 he drew a game with Tal in the 1958 Portoroz Interzonal and beat Larsen in the same event. He was 16 when he added victories against Smyslov and Keres. Fischer was already 18 when he finally got wins against Tal and Petrosian. Radjabov may retire by then.

"Arturito" Pomar of Spain was quite a prodigy himself. He also had the chance to play several games against the ailing Alekhine in the champion's final years in Spain. One of these was a draw when Pomar was just 13 years old. (Gijon, 1944). According to Alekhine's own notes to that game, Pomar was a move away from winning and instead played for a draw. Of course Alekhine was far from being the best in the world by then.

The famous win by the 11-year-old (although his age has been disputed) Sammy Reshevsky over Janowsky in 1922 is a worthy contender for most impressive win by a youth even if he was 13 and not 11.

February 25, 2003

ESPN2 Two

Several people have sent in this alert from ESPN2: The FIDE Man vs. Machine World Chess Championship, between Garry Kasparov and Deep Junior is scheduled to reair on ESPN2 Wednesday,
March 5 at 2:30 p.m. ET, 11.30 a.m. PT
. Don't forget to set your VCR this time, it might be the last chess we see on TV for a while...

My father listens to ESPN radio and told me that the other ESPN guys were giving Jeremy Schaap, the broadcaster who covered the chess match, a hard time about going to a chess match. Sure, it's not a real sport like, oh, say, macho stuff like walking or synchronized swimming or billiards or bowling or playing first base. Schaap, son of the legendary sports writer Dick Schaap, defended us well, I hear.

Onsie, twosie, threesie...

The fantastic battle between Leko and Kasparov in round three of Linares ended in a three-time repetition draw claim by Peter Leko. Surprisingly this apparently surprised Kasparov, who protested to the arbiter. But the arbiter verified the claim and announced the game drawn.

Leko had less than a minute left on his clock and since the penalty for a faulty repetition claim is five minutes, he would have forfeited the game had he been wrong. [As several people have told me, this is no longer true: The facts: You can't lose on time anymore (since 1997 if memory serves me) if you claim a draw incorrectly with less than 5 minutes on the clock. The old penalty of 5 minutes was thought to dissuade unfairly players to make correct draw claims.

The penalties now in the event of an incorrect draw claim are (50 moves or repetition):

Your opponent always gets 3 minutes more. You lose 3 minutes. Unless:
1) you have between 2 and 6 minutes: you lose half your time
2) you have between 1 and 2 minutes: the arbiter leaves you with 1 minute
3) you have less than 1 minute: no further penalty!

Stephen Boyd. International Arbiter, French Chess Federation (formerly Canada)

Thank you, Mr. Boyd!] The repetition occurred on moves 80, 82, 84, and 87. (Yes, that's FOUR, as GM Lubos Kavalek pointed out to me, and as I pointed out during the live commentary but managed to forget!) The position was a dead draw by then anyway. Kasparov had missed a simple mate in 62 back on move 71! Who says he has silicon in his blood? If you think it's easy, try playing that position against Fritz or Junior, especially if you have the Q vs Q+P tablebases installed. One move that's not perfect and it's a draw.

February 26, 2003

Linares Photos

As usual, the official Linares website is mostly useless in two languages. Some day they will figure out that covering a website in sponsor banners doesn't mean anything if nobody has a reason to go there. As I predicted in DD 54, their live game broadcast crashes regularly. Luckily, we have Playchess.com for that and I've been hanging out there most rounds watching and kibitzing the games. But what about photos and reports? The official site has nothing. The self-anointed"ChessBase web team" (aka Frederic Friedel) is arriving in Linares in a few days and then we'll get the good stuff. Until then, AP has some photographs here. (Photo AP Photo/ EFE, Enrique Alonso)

Theory of Relative Value

Einstein Group PLC, the company that has the rights to Vladimir Kramnik's world championship encounters and that organized the Kramnik-Fritz match in Bahrain last year, announced that they have received over a million dollars in loans "to pay existing creditors and to satisfy working capital requirements." That means bills, salaries, and rent, not organizing a Kramnik-Leko match! If they default on these loans, the lenders may end up with the subsidiary company (Intellectual Leisure Limited) through which Einstein has the contract with Kramnik. Not that it's been worth much to either of them as far as I can tell. Good luck, Einstein. Spend it wisely!

March 1, 2003

World Chess Rated?

Toward the bottom of the FIDE communique is this paragraph: "The Board noted that while FIDE was holding discussions with the WorldChessRating Company on an integrated rating program, it directed that the current rapid rating system be reviewed under the control of the Elista FIDE Rating Office." I was in Moscow in 2002 helping to develop rating models for this integrated system, and I think it's a great idea.

But today the new worldchessrating.com site, the new home of most of the Russian ex-KasparovChess.com employees as well as some guys from the old FIDE site, had this on its front page: "Dear readers! Due to financial problems we have to suspend the updating of our site. We offer our apologies and hope to resume our work in the near future."

Ouch! So soon? The English site was only launched at the start of the Kasparov-Junior match a month ago. Many talented people work there, but chess and technical talent do not mean internet success. I hope this is a misunderstanding and is temporary. Meanwhile, hello and good luck to my Moscow friends Denis (x2), Gene, Mark, Ilya, Sergey, Max, Evgeny, Vladimir, and the rest. At least Garry still has his day job!

Communiquetions

Fide.com has the official communique from the FIDE Presidential Board Meeting that just concluded in Bucharest, Romania. Mostly it's non-information with lots of "ongoing" this and "reaffirmed the commitment" that with a few "subject to the availabilities" tossed in. They did confirm the Ponomariov-Kasparov FIDE championship match for Buenos Aires, although they didn't mention the dates, supposedly June 19, 2003 and ending July 7. The document mentions "positive and fruitful" meetings with Einstein CEO Timmins and Leko/Kramnik manager Hensel. Unless Einstein puts something more than fruit on the table very soon, Hensel and FIDE are going to scamper off together, perhaps with Madame Ojjeh

They also congratulated Argentine President Duhalde, who has always had an interest in chess. When I was living in Argentina, Duhalde was the powerful governor of the province of Buenos Aires. In 1996 Bobby Fischer came to Buenos Aires and La Plata to present his version of shuffle chess, Fischerandom, in a trip mostly sponsored thanks to Duhalde. But claiming Duhalde is a "chess player of Master strength" is too much even for a press release! His enthusiastic pokes at the board in 1996 only made it clear he knew the rules. He's far from challenging the most famous Argentine chessplayer-politician, Che Guevara.

March 4, 2003

A Qualified Qualifier

I sure hope the second cycle of the world championship goes forward at the end of the year because we sure have a lot of players for it already! As you'll read here in my favorite paper and yours, the Jakarta Post, Indonesia beloved Utut Adianto was one of ten qualifiers for the next world championship. These were the top ten finishers in the Asian Championship in Doha won by India's second son, Sasikiran.

This FIDE calendar lists other Asian zonal but none for other continents, although I assume the European Championship is a zonal too. But a zonal for what? The Post article says there is a "World Championship scheduled tentatively in Netherlands in December." That's certainly not on the FIDE calendar! What IS on the calendar is also suprising: the Kramnik-Leko classical championship match. "World Chess Championship Match Kramnik-Leko - Venue to be announced - 2003-05-31." Whoa, a date!? Hadn't seen that one anywhere before. Is that an announcement or a deadline?

March 5, 2003

WCR II

Following up the freeze of Kasparov's new project, worldchessrating.com, there is no big news. People haven't been paid since the beginning of the year and they had warned that they would stop work on March 1 unless paid. They will return to work as soon as they are paid and are optimistic that they will be. Apparently this happened late last year back when the site was only in Russian. Although Kasparov is involved in the project, he is not the one financing it or signing the checks.

The raison d'être of the WCR is supposed to be a new rating list that will be more dynamic and also combine classical, rapid, and blitz play into one list that will include everyone from beginners to Kasparov around the world.

I think this is a great idea, but launching a big web chess portal before that system even exists is a bit of putting the cart before the horse. There is no revenue to be seen at the WCR site right now.

March 10, 2003

Matchmaker, Matchmaker

Now that Leko and Kramnik have tied for first place in Linares, maybe it will be easier to get their classical world championship match put together. The latest rumors are that they are sticking with Einstein and hope to have a match announcement in April. That is very, very late, even if it happens. Announcing an announcement is a bit ridiculous anyway, although everyone does it. I may as well say I'm expecting to announce my impending wedding to Uma Thurman in April. No facts are required to announce an announcement. More to the point, if you had any facts, you would be announcing those instead of announcing the announcement!

Leko 2.0's energetic play and deep preparation make him a worthy competitor for Big Vlad (aka "Tall, Dark, and 2800"), but I would still put Kramnik down as the favorite in a match. Leko actually has a plus score against Kramnik in classical chess and has never lost to Kramnik in a long game. But Vlady's experience and incredibly solid chess put him on par with Petrosian when it comes to match play.

One Blow to Beauty, One Blow to Manners

Every year at the end of the Linares supertournament, a prize is given for the most beautiful game. It is voted on by the attending journalists and awarded at the closing ceremony. This year it was given to Teimour Radjabov for his win over Kasparov in the second round. Of course this was the crucial game of the standings (all the other top players beat Radjabov), and the world #1 losing to the teen from his hometown made news around the world. So a "most important" prize would have been fine. But a chess beauty prize for a game in which Kasparov was winning until he blundered is horrible. They should have found another way to congratulate Radjabov for his landmark performance.

Then things got weird. According to David Llada, a Spanish chess writer (who also does Paco Vallejo's website), in the Spanish magazine Jaque, Kasparov marched up to the stage to protest during the closing ceremony when the prize was awarded to Radjabov! The following is a translation of Llada's translation (and my friend David would be the first to admit he doesn't have perfect English, which is what Kasparov was speaking in), so word-for-word accuracy is not going to be possible. (Reprinted at the Spanish-language ChessBase site here. Update: Spanish GM Miguel Illescas, one of Kramnik's trainers, gives a more detailed account here in Spanish.)

Kasparov at the podium: "I don't believe that this was the best game of the tournament. It has been selected only because it was the only game that I lost and I consider this to be a public insult and humiliation."

While everyone looked on in shock, Garry walked over to a group of journalists and worked his rage up to shouting level. "This is the worst insult you have ever done to me in my life! It is an insult to me and to chess! You consider yourselves chess journalists? If you think this was the most beautiful game of Linares, you are doing a great deal of damage to chess with your reports and articles. Radjabov was completely lost in that game!"

Apparently this was all videotaped by.... Radjabov's mother (who went to school with Garry in Baku). Kasparov's mother asked her to stop and tried to calm Garry down. What to say? I and a few other people also thought that the selection of the Radjabov game was a slap in Kasparov's face, even if it was intended to recognize the kid's big moment. Kasparov losing his first Linares game in six years on a blunder in a winning position was bad enough! Giving a beauty prize to that game IS an insult to chess and every other game to ever win a beauty prize. But that doesn't excuse Kasparov's behavior there in front of Radjabov and the world. You wait until you get the journalists alone and then rip them apart! And of course he would have many of these same journalists eager to carry his opinions and outrage in editorials and interviews.

According to Illescas, Kasparov even went after Australian journalist-GM Ian Rogers, asking if he had voted and exploding when Rogers acknowledged he had voted for Radjabov. Then it was Spanish journalist Leonxto Garcia's turn. Also according to Illescas, Kasparov departed with the famous words, "Don't count on me for next year."

Kasparov blew up more than once over the Wijk aan Zee audience prizes as well. These were voted on every round and usually went to short, tactical games that the amateurs in the crowd found entertaining (as do most of us). Kasparov complained loudly several times and even cancelled a press conference once when a game he considered unworthy won the audience prize. (Not that he always said he should win, he once protested when a nice Timman game didn't win.)

In the four+ years I worked closely with Garry, I often tried to tell him that his chess and his results spoke for themselves and that as the #1 he was always going to receive the lion's share of the criticism too. Most people don't like to cheer for the favorite, and journalists can get bored with the same guy winning all the time. Let the dogs bark, take the high road, winning is the best revenge, etc. Nope! Kasparov has always worn his emotions on his sleeve and is very sensitive to any criticism, even after nearly 20 years at the top. It drives him to succeed, but his hair turned gray years ago.

Anyway, it's Leko and Kramnik who should be complaining. They both had very attractive games worthy of a beauty prize. Both of them wins against Radjabov! As GM Illescas puts it, ".. at the end of the day Kasparov was right: his game with Radjabov was not beautiful, it wasn't even a good game. Kasparov was better, Teimour offered a desperate piece sacrifice as a last resort, Kasparov didn't take it and later he committed a tremendous blunder that cost him the point. Kasparov is partially right when he says it takes a certain level of chess to comment well on a game. Leonxto told me later that he had quite liked the knight sacrifice. About taste one cannot argue, but evidently the appreciation of an expert would not be the same."

March 13, 2003

Drawn Out

US GM Maurice Ashley has posted at TWIC a long and interesting argument in favor of regulating draw offers. This has been a hobby-horse of mine as well over the years, although I have been more in favor of publicly shaming Grandmasters who draw too early, too often. (I developed a formula called the Chicken Factor that, to my great surprise, not only seemed to be accurate but was well received by the chess community, if not the professional players.) I was even accused by several players of trying to ruin their careers by suggesting they shouldn't be invited to tournaments if they didn't want to play chess. Ashley suggests prohibiting draw offers until after move 50.

Similar projects have been tried in the past, once at Fischer's insistence when his Soviet opponents made too many short draws amongst themselves. (Fischer famously flouted his own rule by playing a <30 move draw soon afterwards and answered the obvious questions with, "That rule is for commie cheaters, not for me!") Anything to help prevent the disasters Ashley describes (final round of this year's US Championship and the sixth game of the Kasparov-Junior match) is very welcome.

There are practical difficulties by the bunches, of course. Ashley mentions the rarity of short perpetual checks (short, sharp forced repetitions like Alekhine-Botvinnik, Nottingham, 1936 were also a problem for the Chicken Factor). But the problem are all move repetition draws, whether check is involved or not. Players could make a mockery of a rule by just repeating moves thirty times to fill the scoresheet. (Xiangqi, Chinese chess, has complicated rules that can force one side to break off repetitions and perpetual checks. Shogi also has rules like this. I don't see why they couldn't be applied to chess.)

I agree with Ashley that it's a generational thing. If today's young players are brought up with not being able to offer a draw before move 50, they aren't going to worry about coming up with bizarre ways to circumvent the rule. Today's professionals, on the other hand, we can expect to prearrange draws more than ever if the early draw offer is disallowed. They are just too used to playing the occasional non-game, and these non-games are ruining the sport.

He doesn't mention some of the old methods for handling drawn games. In many 19th century tournaments, up until 1867, drawn games were replayed immediately until somebody won. (I believe this is current practice with shogi matches.) Colors were reversed, so you really tried hard to win with white because you had black next if you drew. Of course few games were drawn back then; today's pros are much more consistent and they would be there all night. Another method I remember reading about is simply turning the board around when a draw is agreed and continuing play with the colors reversed!

March 15, 2003

Name Calling

Fresh from his Linares victory, Peter Leko gave a brief interview to the Indian website Chathurangam. Vijay Kumar made the slip of calling Leko's match against Kramnik, "a candidates match," in direct violation of the law that says everyone must pretend everything is a world championship these days. I expect Vijay has been hunted down and given a brutal wedgie by Leko/Kramnik representative Carsten Hensel by now.

I've gone to completely in the other direction and feel we are back in 1998-1999, and 1886 for that matter. Kramnik was supposed to defend his title after two years and instead stopped playing almost completely in 2002. The FIDE KO title last won by Ponomariov just isn't worthy of more than a year's duration. (Ask him now what's harder to win, Wijk aan Zee, Linares, or the KO!)

Now that the reunification train is rolling, we can all pretend that yes, Vladimir and yes, Ruslan, you are BOTH world champions. And if you both get to the board like good boys this summer we'll all go out for ice cream later. Oy. Before you go to sleep tonight, say a quick prayer to Caissa that we can navigate the obstacle course of egos and financial disasters and make this work.

March 16, 2003

Reign in Spain

It's never too early to take a shot at the "advanced chess" tournament in Leon, Spain. It runs June 5-8. The problem is that this year the Leon event isn't going to be advanced chess. Instead of having Grandmasters play while using computer assistance, it will be a normal rapid-chess event with Topalov, Ponomariov, Vallejo, and 13-year-old Karjakin. The time control is 20 minutes plus a 10 second increment. It's not a round robin, it's a knock out system.

This may be the end of the short life of advanced chess, created by Kasparov in 1998 in a quest for "near-perfect chess." I don't think it has ever been played outside of this annual event in Leon. (And on every chess server in the world of course... Playchess.com even has a "centaur" room for people who want to play with computer assistance and not get flagged by their anti-cheating system.) Kasparov himself fell out with organizer Marcelino Sion Castro before the second event was held in 1999 and abandoned his brainchild.

I was never a big fan of the concept. Chess is boring without mistakes. Seeing the players' ChessBase files after the games were over was interesting, however. You could see what lines they had been looking at and it was a sort of view into their minds. Kramnik ruined even that by refusing to release his game logs after he beat Anand last year! So advanced chess, RIP 1998-2002. (If they did this on the Playchess server with real-time live broadcast of the lines they were looking at, I could see resurrecting it.)

The official Leon website is graphics and animation heavy as are all Spanish chess sites. Even if you can't read Spanish you can enjoy a catch-phrase on the site that is sure to surprise the organizers of Linares: "The most prestigious Chess Spectacle in Spain." NB The game download page at the Leon site has a broken link to the ChessBase Light page and a direct link to download the program in a zip file from the Leon servers. The Chessbase Light page reads in part: "ChessBase holds the exclusive copyright to ChessBase Light. ChessBase Light may not be made available on other web sites or ftp servers."

March 19, 2003

American Woman

From the front lines of the Elo wars comes the news that 2003 US Women's champion Anna Hahn is unlikely to make the Olympiad team because of her rating isn't high enough. Even 2002 champion Jennifer Shahade, whose rating is 100 points higher, wouldn't make the current cut. Several recent emigres have raised the bar and apparently former women's world champion Susan Polgar is ready to get back into action and represent the US for the first time. The eldest Polgar has lived in Queens, NY for many years and hasn't played a professional game since 1997. Somewhat surprisingly her 2565 rating from back then still makes her the third-highest rated woman in the world, a few points behind the woman she easily beat for the women's title in 97, China's Xie Jun (also inactive). Of course both are far behind Susan's little sister Judit's 2700.


Anna Hahn, Irina Krush, Jennifer Shahade, Susan Polgar

"Title versus Elo" goes back long way, Hahn and Shahade would just be the latest victims of rating-obsession. 2002 US champ Larry Christiansen would have been left off the men's team had a few players not declined their invitations. [Not true, see update below.] Nice reward for winning what is supposed to be a prestigious title! Back in the 60s in the USSR there was a mini-scandal when some players and some politicians wanted to leave Botvinnik off the Olympiad team, something akin to leaving God off of the Heaven team.

UPDATE: GM Joel Benjamin, himself a many-time US champion and Olympiad player, tells me that a recent rule change DID make it so the champion automatically made the Olympiad team, and that Larry Christiansen made the 2002 team because of this rule and not because of declined invitations. (This change came too late for Benjamin, who was twice left off of Olympiad teams despite being the reigning champion.) This is good news, but why is it only for the men's team? If the US champ deserves that respect, and he does, why doesn't the women's champion?

If you are good enough to win the Championship you are good enough to be on the Olympiad team. R-E-S-P-E-C-T. Elo should not always be its own reward. I hereby table a motion to make the most recent champions automatic Olympiad players, even if Elo is used to sort board order. There is precedent otherwise, such as in 2000 when FIDE champion Khalifman played first board for Russia ahead of several higher-rated players.

The two players Hahn beat in the playoff for this year's title, Shahade and Irina Krush, are playing a two-game rapid chess match one the 20th in a Manhattan art gallery. From the press release: "The Viewing Gallery at 114 17th St. between 6th and 7th avenues, just a few blocks from the Marshall Chess Club! The match will begin at 7:00 pm and will last until 9:30 pm." More importantly, further down it says, "wine will be served." The tough life of a chess writer. It's open to all, so if you are in the area, stop by.

March 20, 2003

'Ello?

I spoke with Garry Kasparov on Tuesday, although much of the conversation was about Iraq. (He's pro regime change, as his upcoming article in the Wall St. Journal makes clear.) (Much more from Kasparov will be included in the next Mig on Chess at ChessBase.com this week.)

Kasparov apologized for his ten minutes of outrage at the Linares closing ceremony. He is still hot about the game winning a beauty prize and angry at the journalists who voted for it. "I'm ashamed of my over the top behavior but Rogers and Garcia should be ashamed of their votes."

He added, "If it had been a prize for 'most memorable game' I would have given Radjabov the award myself. It was the first time I lost to someone born after I won the title!" He said that while he was upset after the game and didn't analyze with Radjabov, he did shake his hand afterward and they and Radjabov's father (who has known Kasparov since the early 70's) talked about the game together.

Kasparov said he was insulted by The Week In Chess editor Mark Crowther's recent comments regarding the end of the game, "He deliberately lost on time and left the board without shaking hands with Radjabov." I'm not sure how you can "deliberately lose on time" on move 39 with a few minutes left on your clock in a losing position. Crowther later added, in TWIC 436, "This could be seen on Spanish TV on the days following the game." No surprise that Kasparov talking with Radjabov and his father afterward wasn't shown on Spanish TV, or mentioned by the Spanish writers at the site. Not so much fun.

Kasparov will be playing a large internet clock simul on April 4 on the ChessBase Playchess.com server. The German tech company ZMD, which has used chess and Kasparov in various promotions previously, is sponsoring the event. Kasparov will play from Dresden and will face players who are logging in from ZMD offices worldwide. I'll be coordinating things at their Long Island office. Details will be announced here and at ChessBase.com.

This seems like a good time to point out that ChessNinja newsletter subscribers get a free six months at Playchess.com. Subscribe now!

Yuesovay

America's Foundation for Chess (AF4C), which runs the US championship, is planning many more big changes for next year. First they changed the event to a large Swiss system and had the women play together with the men, both positive steps that have worked out well. Next they want to move the event from its home in Seattle, where the AF4C is based, possibly to Las Vegas. They also want to make competition fiercer by lowering the number of players who automatically qualify by rating, forcing the GMs to participate in what will be an increased number of qualifying events.

The latest news has the US Chess Federation (USCF) lowering the number of years of US residency required to play in the Championship from three to just one. The three-year rule was to discourage strong players from coming to the US just to pick up a paycheck in the US championship, which wasn't really much of a factor back when there wasn't much money in the event. Now with over a quarter-million dollars in prizes and a $25,000 first prize, coming to live in the US looks a lot more attractive to the many ex-Soviets who already spent much of their time here but hadn't bothered with formalizing their status.

The only points of dropping the three years to one is to increase the strength of the event and encourage/reward immigration, which will certainly happen. 2600+ players like Onischuk and Yudasin will be able to play next year. I don't imagine that this will have a positive impact on growing chess at a youth and grassroots level, ostensibly the mission of the AF4C, which is not directly related to the USCF. We await an official explanation for this decision, which may not even be final. But this looks like a potential conflict on the horizon between the USCF and the organization that has saved them and the US Championship, the AF4C.

I've never had much sympathy with American GMs who complain about strong GMs coming in to take the top prizes in the big US opens. You're a professional and hey, play better chess. But I don't think the US Championship should just become the World Open II. It can be a powerful tool to promote chess at many levels and if 80% of the participants have entered the US in the past two years it's not going to do much to promote the growth of US chess at the amateur and junior level. I have nothing at all against the foreign players and many of them are good friends of mine. But asking them to play regularly in US events and show they are going to stick around for a while isn't too much to ask.

March 23, 2003

Aeroflot Open West

More on what will likely be an ongoing story for a while, the reduction to one year of the three-year residency requirement to play in the US Championship and the US Olympiad teams. Since they are somewhat related I'll bundle in the matter of whether or not the US Champions should automatically qualify for the Olympiad.

Several American GMs I have spoken with are angry about the cut in the residency period. There were earlier negotiations with the USCF, which wanted to cut it to two years. One year was never even on the table. The drop to one year was apparently the initiative of GM Susan Polgar, related to her return to the game and desire to have the strongest possible team behind her in 2004. Anna Zatonskih is a 2400 from Ukraine who has been in the US for around six months and would be third board after Polgar and Krush.

The biggest surprise in all this is that the USCF made this decision without consulting or even telling the AF4C! This change will have a huge impact on the US Championship, especially in how it may attract many more foreign players to the ever-expanding prize fund the AF4C has created. Not consulting with them was ridiculous and may have dire consequences. The AF4C has considerable weight to throw around and they have made it clear their priority is using the Championship to build grassroots chess in the USA, not just make it the strongest possible event by Elo.

US women's champion Anna Hahn tells me that she wasn't even told about the meeting of top women that took place at the USCF offices last week. ChessBase software was handed out and further sponsorship and training are forthcoming, so who exactly formed this team and what were the criteria? There are several players higher on the rating list than several in this "Training Squad." And discarding the 2003 champion, who won a playoff for the title over two of those who were invited, is bizarre. Are they so desperate for medals that they will invalidate their own titles?

The actual team won't be selected until mid-2004 before the Menorca Olympiad. Plenty of time to recruit a few more internationals and perhaps bump Jennifer Shahade off the team. Joel Benjamin pointed out that she is probably the strongest native-born American woman player in history. As with what happened with Akobian and the Samford scholarship last year, it is hard to encourage American talents to focus on chess when they know that at any moment they could be supplanted by someone from a more mature chess culture.

March 26, 2003

Go for the Throat

A follow-up on Kasparov's beauty prize tantrum at the Linares closing ceremony (DD 64). According to one of the subjects of Kasparov's wrath, Australian GM Ian Rogers, it was more violent than as presented in initial reports. His Sun-Herald column of March 16 includes the paragraph, "With a crowd of spectators gathering, including Linares officials, Kasparov, with his hand not far from my throat, launched into a 10 minute volley of abuse and then turned his fire on a local journalist."

More from Rogers and other Australian columnists can be found here.

March 27, 2003

Rules, Schmools

It looks like the USCF has put its new rules in opposition to those of FIDE, the international chess federation. According to the FIDE handbook here (scroll down to 2.2 and 3.2), non-citizens need reside for at least three years after they have given FIDE notification of their change of chess federation in order to be eligible for FIDE team and individual events.

So by dropping the USCF residency requirement to one year like they did a few weeks ago, they place the US rules in a contrary state. The USCF has many rules that differ from FIDE's and that's no crime, but this means they will end up producing qualifiers from US events who are ineligible to play in the events they qualified for! The US championship functions as a zonal for the world championship and (some) winners are placed on Olympiad teams. So they would have to skip some ineligible players and move down to the next eligible player.

The question is whether or not players should be participating in US championships if they aren't considered eligible by FIDE to represent the US. I believe the Netherlands had the most complications with this sort of thing. They had no restrictions and ended up with Sokolov and Nikolic playing in the Dutch championship and representing Bosnia in the Olympiad in the same year (Twice! 1998 and 2000), which seems completely ridiculous.

Ludek Pachman RIP

Hardly breaking news, but now we can put up some links to the various obituaries that have come out on the German-based Czech Grandmaster. He reached many more people through his prodigious writings than with his tournament successes. Perhaps his death will inspire a reprinting of his much-sought-after series "Modern Chess." I believe it's the third book that is almost impossible to find. I've heard offers of hundreds of dollars from collectors. Pachman's political activism and time in a Communist prison cell are why the NY Times has an obituary. (Free registration required.) His countryman Lubomir Kavalek has an obit in his Washington Post column. Note that the newspaper pieces will be archived and the links eventually won't work anymore. ChessBase has this piece by Frederic Friedel to which I contributed a few paragraphs from my copy of his biography, "Checkmate in Prague."

Mo' Money, Mo Women

I'm not going to provide daily updates on this, but I don't see any other sources talking about what could be a large issue soon enough. (DD 69, 70, 72) My main concern is becoming to keep everyone talking amicably and not let personalities become an issue. As a progressive political veteran I know how easy it is to let little battles divide people who really want the same thing. In this case that thing is the success of US chess. (See the message boards for more on this.)

I've corresponded several times with my friend FM Paul Truong on the matter. He is "Team Captain, Business Manager, Training Coordinator" of the women's training squad and a friend and co-author of Susan Polgar. The salient points he makes are 1) The initiative to change the residency requirement for playing on the Olympiad teams and the US championships did not come from Susan Polgar. 2) The women's training squad that assembled last week was based only on the rating list. From the top seven women, six invitations were sent out and five accepted.

The one that didn't accept is apparently Camila Baginskaite, who is also GM Alex Yermolinsky's wife. The one who wasn't invited is Elena Donaldson. Sources say she refused to play in several games during the Bled Olympiad and is unwelcome on the 2004 team.

The only info I have from the USCF so far is that the US champions ARE seeded onto the Olympiad teams, but only the champion from the year of the Olympiad. As I mentioned before, having only one champion make it is not unreasonable, but it runs into calendar issues. The 2004 US championship will likely be held in the Fall, right before the Olympiad. If the winner is then thrown on the team and isn't one of the members of this training squad, it's a double blunder. Training resources have gone to someone not on the team (the lesser evil since that will happen anyway because there are only four Olympiad slots) and someone on the team hasn't benefited from any of the training! With that in mind it actually makes much more sense to seed the champion from the previous year on the team, if they will only seed one. If the USCF wasn't aware of a scheduling change for the Championships it's only another reason why they should be talking regularly with the AF4C.

Of course putting both champions on the team also makes sense. True, that's half the team of four, but I'd rather have respect for the title than the tyranny of Elo. And how often will the champion not also be an Elo qualifier? You'd imagine that at least one of the two seeded champions would be among the top four women by Elo. And if they're not it would only prove that there is more to life and chess than rating points!

Regardless, this training squad is a great idea and kudos to the USCF, Paul Truong, and Susan Polgar for making it happen. The early noise from the AF4C is that they aren't happy about seeing their champion not on the team.

March 28, 2003

Last Plane Out

I've been hoping more information would come out about this, but I admit failure. 10 days ago Reuters reported that Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, the president of the Russian republic of Kalmykia and also the president of FIDE, visited Baghdad, Iraq the day before the American attack commenced. He left on "the last Russian charter flight out of Iraq" on March 18.

Ilyumzhinov was part of a delegation of Russian politicians and religious leaders led by the Russian chief mufti (a Muslim scholar/religious leader). The chess connection was mentioned in passing in a few reports and some also said Ilyumzhinov met with Saddam Hussein's eldest son, Uday, who is in charge of Iraq's Olympic Committee. An Associated Press report at an Arab news website said, "The Kalmykian governor, Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, described being summoned to see Odai Hussein, Saddam’s eldest son, at 5 a.m. after US President George W. Bush’s ultimatum, and being told that Saddam and his family would stay and 'defend our country and our people.'"

Some reports say that the delegation was made up of representatives of those most sympathetic to the Iraqi plight, although none of the quotations along those lines are from Ilyumzhinov.

April 1, 2003

Around It Goes

I've heard from the missing links in the USCF / women's Olympiad / training squad and after giving their rebuttals here I'm staying out of this until the relevant parties can work things out amongst themselves, or not!

Elena Donaldson writes in to say that in the Bled 2002 Olympiad team captain Ilya Gurevich didn't want her to play because, according to him, her style of play wasn't aggressive enough. In rounds 10 and 11 she was sick and could not play. She went on to say that the attempt to label her as "uncooperative" is likely a smear to keep her off the next team.

Her fellow 2002 team member Kamile Baginskaite informs us that she never received an invitation to the training squad meeting and only found out about it after it had ended. Something about a changed e-mail address is going around, but I don't think it would have too hard to reach her and she has reason to be miffed.

This is quickly getting personal, if it wasn't before, and it is clearer than ever that transparent rules need to be laid down. The training squad is a great idea that deserves support, but unconditional support is not what an organization like the USCF should be about.

As Donaldson puts it, "I am sure USCF will invite players to the next Olympiad based on official criteria such as residency and rating. If I do not qualify by USCF criteria, hopefully announced in advance, it is fine with me." Exactly. If the USCF wants to remove a player it must be done following published guidelines, and there should be something like an appeals committee for such strong actions. I have yet to see in print the exact qualification guidelines for the Olympiad teams. They must exist, right?

As for the training squad, is it part of the USCF or an independent project? Obviously they can choose whomever they want in the latter case. They could put me on the squad if they wished. The only conflict is if the USCF auspices the program, in which case they have some responsibility to protect the interests of their members. To me this means qualification by rating, seeding the US champions, and making sure in advance that all the players are eligible to play for the US under FIDE's rules.

April 5, 2003

Unreunification 2003

Get out the butter and jam because reunification is toast, at least for 2003. Kramnik-Leko is still vapor and both are playing in Dortmund at the end of July. Reports say Kramnik has already agreed to play in Cap d'Agde in October, when a unification match was supposed to occur. The second cycle was supposed to start in December. What will we have now?

We are back to 1998-1999, when Kasparov couldn't get a title match together and the FIDE title was the only one in town. The chess world more or less waited for Kasparov-Kramnik 2000 because 1) Kasparov was clearly the world's top player and 2) the FIDE system was not satisfactory to many. Kramnik might be hoping to emulate that scenario, but he's out of luck on at least one count in comparison, and maybe both counts.

The winner of the Kasparov-Ponomariov FIDE title match in July will either be the world's number one player or someone who beat the world number one in a 12-game match. If FIDE then holds a qualifier in December and begins candidate matches, a legitimate system with a legitimate champion will be in place and Kramnik will be out in the cold unless he plays.

All that would be particularly horrible for Peter Leko, who won a very tough qualifier last year and is playing the best chess of his life. If his match doesn't happen because Kramnik wants more money, should Leko be allowed to play in the unification match?! If the Kramnik-Leko match does occur the winner still needs to get to the board in a unification match, which will be even harder if the second cycle has already begun.

April 9, 2003

Hungarian Patience

Heard the latest about the Kramnik-Leko world championship match? Neither have I. Maybe the Prime Minister of Hungary, Peter Medgyessy, knows something we don't. At the opening of the Hunguest Hotels tournament in Budapest the PM said he would do "everything he possibly can" to bring the Leko-Kramnik match to the Hungarian capital. This from a Hungarian website and my thanks to reader Gyorgy Nagy for sending it in. The window for holding such a match is rapidly closing. It would take a month to play and announcing it less than two months in advance would make organization very difficult. Not to mention getting the media sorted out.

You can discuss and vote on the winner of the Budapest tournament here. Participants include Leko, Polgar, Korchnoi, Gelfand, and Short.

Elo Plays Basketball

Reader Jim Bartle sends in this link to sports statistician Jeff Sagarin's pages. He provides team rankings in various sports to the USA Today newspaper. In his page on US university basketball he talks about an "Elo Chess" rating for teams. He uses this term for a formula that only considers the result, not the score margin. Apparently this is because in chess it doesn't matter how long the game is, only the result. The new national champion team, Syracuse, was rated #5 by his system but #2 by the "Elo Chess" formula. As in chess, that's why we play the games...

In case you are thinking it would liven chess up to give a rating bonus to the winner of a short game, think again. No one would ever resign! All games would be played out to mate. This would be great for beginners and I'm sure the pros' technique would improve a lot. Still, it would be pretty ugly watching GMs play on in hopeless positions just to salvage a rating point or two. The ability to agree to a draw is ruining chess, but the ability to resign is one of its mercies.

April 17, 2003

The Greatest Generation

With three rounds to play Nigel Short is in clear first of the category 17 Hunguest Hotels tournament in Budapest. You don't have to be all that old to remember that Short challenged Kasparov for the last truly legit world chess championship in 1993. Yes, they had broken off from FIDE before the match was played, but Short won the official qualification process, beating the likes of Karpov and Timman in candidates matches.

Many might take Short's subsequent lack of top ten status as proof that his lunge to the top was a fluke. And of course he was pummelled by Kasparov, as everyone predicted. But unless you were following the match you might only look at the lopsided score (12.5-7.5 and -5 after nine games) and not know that Short really put the heat on Kasparov in many games with white. (Much more than Anand did two years later.) Short attacked relentlessly and had several winning positions that he failed to convert.

So "what happened to Short?" is an excusable question, although he has never dropped all that far. His occasional excellent results make me think that it was never really a problem with his play, but the outstanding talent that was growing up right behind him a decade ago. First it was Anand, Ivanchuk, Gelfand, Bareev, then a few years later came Adams, Kramnik, Shirov, Topalov. Add Kasparov and Karpov and you have a top 10 for the ages.

You have to go back 40 years to find its equal. Look at the 50-60's generation that included Botvinnik, Smyslov, Tal, Fischer, Petrosian, Keres, Korchnoi, Geller, Bronstein, Portisch, Spassky, and Larsen. You could add another ten great players from that decade with room to spare.

Kramnik Berlined him in London 2000, but one of the most impressive things about Kasparov's run has been staying a half-step ahead of this incredible pack of talent. Now you have Leko, Ponomariov, Morozevich, Polgar, Grischuk, Svidler, Radjabov... What defines their strength as a group is that any one of them could (and do) legitimately defeat Kasparov, Kramnik, or Anand on a given day, or even finish ahead of them, and it wouldn't be a big shock.

From 1972-1990, "the Karpov generation," there weren't more than three or four contemporary players who could threaten Karpov, Kasparov, and Korchnoi without lightning striking. Certainly not a dozen or more like you have today. Timman, Ljubojevic, maybe Andersson, Vaganian, Jussupow, Seirawan. Most of Karpov's competition came from that older 50's-60's group until Kasparov arrived.

I think a 2003 Dream Team would give a 1965 Dream Team a pretty good run for its money on a dozen boards. Sacrilege?

April 18, 2003

Goulash a Go-Go

You didn't hear it from me, but the little birds tell me a Kramnik-Leko match announcement is coming next Monday. Budapest for $1.2 million in June, tweet tweet? I don't know if these birds really know anything but they'd better not get too close to my cats. These dates would probably end up bumping into the Kasparov-Ponomariov match. Oy. Budapest is better for the chess press, which is mostly centered in Europe, but Buenos Aires actually has the edge when it comes to championship chess. Alekhine-Capablanca, anyone? I've seen the board they played on, a treasure of my beloved Club Argentino chess club in Buenos Aires.

EloOOOOOOOOOOO!!!

GM Ian Rogers writes in from Down Under to point out that someone is doing something useful with the Elo rating formula. Applying it to football! (soccer) Eloratings.net tracks all the international matches and teams. Brazil tops the chart at 2012, followed by Netherlands, Argentina, Spain, France, England, Portugal, Germany, Czech Republic, and Italy.

Of course unlike chess football has a legit world champion. Brazil wouldn't care if it were number 200 on the list as long as it had its World Cup trophy. USA made it to the final eight but are only #17 on this rating list. The lowest-rated team? Eastern Samoa at 550. Eastern Samoa?!

April 21, 2003

Do What I Say, Not...

Nigel Short finished off his great performance in the Budapest "Talent and Courage" tournament by coasting in the final round with a nine-move draw against Almasi. Short had black, but Almasi was in last place and just wanted to get out of there instead of trying to get a little redemption with a win over the leader. It guaranteed Short clear first place.

Certainly not an unusual situation, but there was an irony here if you read Short's 13-4 column in the Sunday Telegraph. (Free registration required.) Some excerpts:

"A few weeks ago I noticed an article by Maurice Ashley, the first black grandmaster, entitled The End of the Draw Offer? . . . Nevertheless, I have to admit that Maurice has a very good point. It is not that draws per se are bad (after all the most popular sport, football, seems to live fairly comfortably with the concept), but the perfunctory early agreed draw, which is done normally out of fear – “mutual respect” being the technical term. . . .

I succumbed to temptation, however, in the final empty game when the match [with Maghami] had already been decided. I still felt terrible pangs of guilt. Yes, we swindled the public that day. They deserved something better.

The recent Dos Hermanas event in Spain was likewise blighted by a spate of non-fights. Even dynamic tacticians like Shirov contracted the disease to a degree. It was a pity because there were still several exciting encounters. When games are allowed to reach their natural conclusion, it is amazing what can be achieved. . ."

Okay, the draw against Almasi yesterday guaranteed him first place, so it's not the same as an exhibition match, and criticism should be leveled at the Hungarian, not Short. But the coincidence of this game and the above paragraphs was too much to resist. Here it is, don't blink: 1.e4 Nf6 2.Nc3 e5 3.Nf3 Nc6 4.Bb5 Bb4 5.0-0 0-0 6.d3 d6 7.Bxc6 bxc6 8.Ne2 Re8 9.Ng3 d5 ½-½

April 23, 2003

Death of the Draw?

American GM Maurice Ashley (the first black GM, as his e-mail address does not let you forget!) is putting his tournament where his mouth is. He has put together the "Generation Chess International Tournament" taking place from April 23 to May 2 at the Marshall Chess Club in New York City. It's a ten-player GM-norm tournament with three Grandmasters and seven hungry IMs.

The concept behind the tournament is that "no player is allowed to prematurely stop the game by offering a draw before move 50." This format concurs with Ashley's article of earlier in the year about abolishing the draw offer (or at least postponing it to avoid GM draws).

It's also an interesting field that includes 2002 US Champion Larry Christiansen. The official site of the event says they invited players who play "risky, cut-throat" chess, although it's hard to see how Leonid Yudasin fits in there! But he's in the NY area nowadays, so we'll give him and his high percentage of short draws a break.

Fans always push for a 3-1-0 scoring system, as exists in many professional team sports. (Instead of the current 1-1/2-0 system in chess.) Many believe it would create more exciting games and avoid draws. First of all, I doubt this is true unless the rating formula is also changed to reward wins more. Secondly, we don't need to change the game itself by forcing GMs to play wildly. Just getting them to PLAY all the time is good enough for now.

We'll be keeping an interested eye on this experiment in "long games by legislation" by Ashley's new company. I'll be stopping by the event myself and you can check Chessbase.com for updates.

April 25, 2003

I Deny that Denial!

Faster than you can say "que lo pariö!" a denial has been circulated by FIDE. (Very tight circulation, but hey, this the DD.) They sent out an e-mail saying that the report at ChessBase is wrong and that the Kasparov-Ponomariov match has not been postponed. Funny, because the main organizer, Argentine GM Miguel Quinteros, has continued saying that it IS postponed!

From what Quinteros says, FIDE prez Ilyumzhinov and Argentine prez Duhalde met and discussed the lack of funds for a June match two weeks ago. So maybe Ilyumzhinov has a few aces (or bags of rubles) up his sleeve. Might he fund a Buenos Aires match himself or go with another site to keep things on schedule? It will probably take a few days for this to shake out.

The bottom line: the Argentine organizers are saying it's postponed, FIDE is saying it is not postponed. This may mean that FIDE is still planning on June, but not in Buenos Aires. (Then they would both be correct, in a way...)

Sweet November

I don't know how this has stayed under the radar for so long, but sometimes you have to hablar español to get things done. According to several Spanish-language newspapers, including this report in the major Argentine daily La Nación, the Kasparov-Ponomariov match has been postponed to November. This was apparently announced four days ago!

My translation: "The semifinal [sic] match for the world championship, scheduled to be played in Buenos Aires from June 19 to July 7 between the current monarch Ruslan Ponomariov and Garry Kasparov has been postponed to next November. The dates will be confirmed by the players. This according to the announcement of Miguel Angel Quinteros, member of the organizing committee, and the head of FIDE, Kirsan Ilyumzhinov." Thanks to Christian Sánchez from the home of Fito Paez, Rosario, Argentina.

The bad news is obvious. The match is at risk, there may not be any KO or qualifier in December, and FIDE is a mess (shock, surprise). The good news is that 1) now we won't have both WC matches at the same time (assuming Kramnik-Leko is announced next week for Budapest in June-July) and 2) the weather is much nicer in mi Buenos Aires querido in November. Unification was already in the toilet for 2003. Let's hope they can get their acts together for May 2004.

April 28, 2003

Denials but no Affirmations

Today from the FIDE Secretariat:

We write to inform you herewith, that according to the information sent to this office by Mr. Miguel Quinteros on behalf of the Organising Committee of the World Chess Championship match R. Ponomariov-G. Kasparov, "they are very sorry about the article in the La Nacion newspaper", as they never told the journalist about the intention to move the match to November.

Umm, so where did the journalist get the information? And what does this mean? I think the phrase they are looking for is "Oops." They are now backtracking and covering their behinds, but that's to be expected. More importantly, they still haven't said anything positive. They have not asserted that the match IS taking place in Buenos Aires in June on schedule. They need time to get things sorted out, and that is reasonable. I just wish they were honest about it. "We had some problems with the Buenos Aires bid and we are exploring our options right now" would be about right.

April 30, 2003

Reversal of Fortunes?

It's getting hard to keep up with the FIDE reality blender. According to our usually reliable Russian-speaking source in the Ninja message boards, the dear Penguin (as in Linux, not as in Ray Keene), this is a summary of what FIDE prez Kirsan Ilyumzhinov had to say upon his return to Russia in an interview with Yuri Vassiliev today.

Last week Ilyumzhinov was in New York and Washington. They want to have the computer vs human match in California next year. This December Kirsan wants to have the currently defunct FIDE Cup in New York City. 128 players, knock-out system, determination of the challengers for the new WC cycle. Also, NYC proposed to host the reunification final.

Buenos Aires organizer of the Kasparov-Ponomariov match Miguel Quinteros faxed his confirmation of the Buenos Aires plan to FIDE Executive Director Omuku. Omuku also says that Einstein has no money, and Budapest does not seem to be happening as a venue for Kramnik-Leko. However, Argentina now proposes to host BOTH matches! (These are the same guys who were saying they didn't have money for one match a week ago.)

Of course just a few days ago I heard from Einstein that they were absolutely positively cross their hearts and hope to die going to announce the Kramnik-Leko match for Budapest next Monday. (If you're keeping score at home that's the third week in a row with a promise for "announcement next Monday.")

I love all these guys, even if FIDE can't figure out PR to save their lives and Einstein keeps crying wolf. [Sorry Zena!] It's easy to poke fun at them, but they are fighting hard to put on great chess, so we owe them big time. Let's hope both matches happen this summer.

May 7, 2003

With Friends Like These...

It is with the usual sense of curiosity, elation, and horror that we read the news that another millionaire is trying to drag Bobby Fischer out from under his rock. The Mainz organizers were smart enough to call their shuffle chess events "Chess960" instead of "Fischerandom" but now they are trying to bring the man himself?

ChessBase has a translation of a German newspaper article about this that is part breathless and mostly erroneous. (Claiming Fischer invented shuffle chess, an ancient variant, although even some chess fans think this. That there is an "international arrest warrant" out for Fischer, which is untrue. (It's in the USA.) It's not as if he's in hiding if he's still getting checks and making radio appearances.)

They probably just want the publicity of Fischer's name. Be careful what you ask, the old saying goes. If he actually did show up in Mainz it would be a complete fiasco, of course, just like his last appearances. Fischer sightings (or rumors of them) put chess in the news, but anti-Semitic paranoid schizophrenics are not the publicity chess needs. Maybe the Mainz people could offer to pay for his medical and psychiatric care instead. Why give Fischer a stage from which to spew his hatred? Why use chess as a pretext to hand him a microphone to cheer the 9/11 attacks again?

Here's a link to his website, with a very serious warning about how offensive most people will find the content and profane language. It's still being updated with links about China dated April 13, 2003. Very scary, very sad. Actually, it makes me wonder if Fischer might be arrested for hate speech if he did his usual routine in Germany. They have very strict laws about that sort of thing in Germany.

Do Science Writers Think?

Yet another log has been tossed on the fire of computer chess related artificial intelligence writing. Yawn. This facile piece is a summary of human-machine matches with a few usual stabs about whether or not chess-playing machines are "thinking." Yaaaaaawn. Almost none of it will be new to you, most of it repeats the basic facts, although prefacing many with "rumored to.." in case he gets it wrong.

This doesn't help eliminate a dozen or so factual errors, but we're used to those by now. Even when non-chess writers bother to ask experts (not the case here) they often get it wrong before it makes it to the page. It's hard to write about something as technical as chess when you don't have the background. Knights become bishops, as in this article's description of Kramnik-Fritz match game six. The description of Kasparov-Junior game three is farcical (also game 5). Even when 90% of the information is rehashed, the wrong assumptions are made in the remaining 10%.

The rest of the article is occasionally correct history of chess programming, inaccurately summarized in most cases. Bizarre things like, "It’s the optimization of a chess program rather than the evaluation algorithm that affects the playing manner" are aplenty. And nonsense like, "Having played for a while against chess programs, I came to my own recipe: try to make the best move possible in every situation. When you just make a move that looks like good, without any plan in mind, it may bring you to trouble against the computer." Huh?

And to make his points about how computers don't understand some positions as well as humans he uses a purely tactical example. (Heissler-Kasimdzhanov, 1999). True, it's a deep combination that some programs take a while to find, but others, like Junior 7, find ..Re4 in a few minutes on my machine. Bad example.

May 10, 2003

Get Your Match Rumors While They're Hot

From sources around the world, some in print, some by phone, some by Speckled Jim.

Argentine organizer of the Kasparov-Ponomariov match, GM Miguel Quinteros, has been back in the news saying that the match is back on for June. He has also been quoted as saying he was contacted by someone from the organization of the Kramnik-Leko match about hosting it in Buenos Aires. This has been denied by Einstein.

This makes me assume that the manager of both Leko and Kramnik, Carsten Hensel, has been fishing in Rio de la Plata. He has said that he will give Einstein every chance to organize the match, but it would make sense to keep his eyes open. He may believe he can find a sponsor without Einstein's overhead. Kramnik has a contract with Einstein, but I don't know what it would be worth if they can't put a match together.

The Moscow News says something about Einstein turning down Budapest because they don't want to spend money in Eastern Europe, and that they have sought Dubai as a host. Their casting a wide net is to be expected. But I doubt they are turning anyone down if the money is right.

One of the curious things about this latest round of rumors is how much FIDE is talking about the Kramnik-Leko match. I'm not sure what to think about this apparent change of heart. I had thought they would be happy to let it die if Einstein couldn't put it together, but several FIDE people have talked about hosting the match together with the Kasparov-Ponomariov match. I guess that would be a coup of sorts, and two matches aren't much more expensive than one, other than the prize funds, which are probably dropping daily.

I think part of this is Kasparov wanting a shot another shot at Kramnik. The politicians find it easy to ignore the past, but a man who is releasing a series of books called "My Great Predecessors" (Everyman Chess) and who majored in history cannot. Although Kasparov has stated he believes Kramnik's title has expired since he was obliged to defend it in 2002, he badly wants to beat Kramnik in a match. Of course he'll take Leko if the Hungarian manages to beat Kramnik. Kasparov thinks often of his legacy and it would be Hollywood Goes to Baku if the 40-year-old recaptured the unified title he was the last man to hold.

May 13, 2003

GM in Trouble

According to many reports, including the Associated Press, Mobile Register, and the Baltimore Sun, American Grandmaster Alex Sherzer has been arrested. According to AP: "Sherzer was charged with interstate travel with the intent of engaging in a sexual act with a person under 18. The charge carries a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison." He is in jail in Alabama where the arrest took place.

The 32-year-old Sherzer is, by all reports – including several chess people quoted in the news stories – the last person you could imagine doing such a thing. I do not know him personally, but he was a good friend of several friends and they spoke highly of him and recommended him for lessons and articles. (Photo from 1998.)

Some of the reports prominently mention his chess career, others do not. Sherzer received a medical degree in Hungary and was back in the US where he was playing chess for the powerhouse UMBC (Baltimore, Maryland) but was currently not taking classes. In 1992 one game away from a stunning upset win of the US Championship. (He tied for second with Gulko behind Wolff after losing in the last round.) He has been playing regularly for the past year.

Tempting though it may be to immediately defend or censure, these are very serious charges and it is very early (the arrest took place Friday the 9th). The man is innocent until proven guilty and though it may be hard to offer unconditional support in these circumstances, he does not deserve our condemnation as of yet. At this early time I don't know of a way to contact him or his family to offer support at what must be a horrible time for them.

May 17, 2003

GM in Trouble Update

Several Alabama news organizations are reporting that GM Alex Sherzer will be released pending trial. He will be monitored electronically, but can go to his new job at, a medical residency at LSU. (A job that he might now lose.) Prosecutors wanted him in jail until trial, but they always do. Seeing that this was a crime of intent, releasing him makes sense to me. (I.e. nothing actually happened, making this a little like Minority Report. Although you obviously don't wait until something does happen in these cases.) He did have to hand in his passport.

A Resounding Silence

Repeated inquiries by various parties have resulted in no official word on the world championship matches to be. Einstein isn't saying anything about Kramnik-Leko. Rumors say Budapest has hit the rocks.

FIDE has not responded to questions. Meanwhile, two different sources in Argentina say Kasparov-Ponomariov will happen at the end of the year. One even gave a starting date, December 9! A Russian source says November, which is the first postponement rumor I reported a few weeks ago. That about sums things up. No official word about whether it will happen or not, but the rumors are getting more specific! Next we'll be hearing they've already drawn for colors.

The FIDE calendar still says it will start June 19, the original dates...

May 21, 2003

ChessBase Cafe

Coming to a monitor near you on May 28 and on the fourth Wednesday of every month after that: I am starting a new column dedicated to ChessBase software at the ChessCafe.com website. As explained in the weekly Chess Cafe newsletter:

Next week, on May 28, ChessCafe.com will begin a regular monthly column dedicated to the use and enjoyment of the many ChessBase products. It will be called ChessBase Cafe and will feature none other than Mig Greengard helping you use the world's best chess software to your best advantage. Mig's entertaining writing style has long been a favorite of chessplayers and he now brings his wit and expertise to ChessCafe.com. He will take occasional questions from readers and also provide free email tech support to ChessCafe readers who purchase their ChessBase software here. Don't miss ChessBase Cafe by Mig Greengard, debuting next week, May 28.

I'd blush, but I'm a shameless glutton for flattery. I'm hoping it will be entertaining even for you malcontents who have yet to purchase something from ChessBase. It's an honor to take a place among the many talented columnists at ChessCafe.com.

May 22, 2003

All We Need Is Lobe

From the esteemed magazine Psychology Today: "Chess: Not All About Logic? Spatial processing may be the key to a good game. Chess is not necessarily a game reserved for people with IQ scores on par with Einstein. In fact, chess strategy may rely more heavily on spatial processing than on logic and computational skills."

Doh. The research mentioned in the short article is based on doing MRI scans of amateur players' brains while they are playing. This is an interesting, but hardly a groundbreaking theory. From de Groot's many studies to the opinion of just about any chess coach you meet, spatial relationships and pattern recognition are the main elements of most "chess thought." Are these scientists really ignorant of all the prior research in this area? But it is interesting to have so much theory backed up by a brain scan. Next they should scan some Masters and compare their brain activity to the amateurs in their study. In most studies these are very different things.

Strangely enough I had a conversation about this two nights ago at a charity dinner hosted by the marvelous people at X3D Technologies, the company that made the Kasparov-Deep Junior match happen in January. A friend and chess tyro asked me and top coaches GM Lev Alburt and IM Michael Khodarkovsky if we saw "quadrants or triangles" on the board. A bit of a silly question, but we all agreed that an aptitude for applying geometric and spatial concepts is essential and a good indicator of talent in students.

Let's Make It Official

Sources say FIDE is close to making the new November dates for Kasparov-Ponomariov official. (This might be news to a few hermits without access to the DD.) All the delays in announcing the postponement have earned FIDE considerable ill will from journalists who need to have travel expenses and plans approved months in advance. If they don't think this hurts media attendance at future events they are very, very wrong. A free tip to them for next time: funding first, big press conference second.

GM in Trouble Update II

A discussion making the rounds has it that GM Alex Sherzer's arrest could interfere with his chess career even if it doesn't result in jail time. The administrator and organizer of the US Championship, the AF4C (America's Foundation for Chess) is engaged in many youth activities and if Sherzer is convicted he could end up on a watch list and/or probation that could preclude his interaction with minors. They and their sponsors might have a tough time accepting his participation under those circumstances.

Meanwhile the Mobile Register has a fascinating article on the myriad of contradictions present in the laws governing the types of crime Sherzer is accused of. For example, the girl involved was a few month away from the legal consent age in Alabama, where the arrest took place. But the federal laws say 18, and you can marry at 14 in Alabama. A local assistant DA says, "It's an area where the law is slightly schizophrenic."

May 26, 2003

Good Airs

Argentina just inaugurated a new president, and it looks like this one will stick around for a while. He's the sixth in 18 months, but this is a formal transition after an election. Chess fan Duhalde is out and Nestor Kirchner is in. One of the last things Duhalde signed, apparently, is approval for state financial support of the rescheduled (Novemberish) Kasparov-Ponomariov FIDE world championship match in Buenos Aires.

The new vice-president of Argentina, Daniel Scioli, was a famous boat racer. He also claims to love to play chess, and to have played many times with Duhalde! (In this interview.) This would seem to be a good omen. But back in the 90's he was on a sports commission where he had several conflicts with GM Miguel Quinteros, one of the main organizers of Kasparov-Ponomariov. Not a problem, I hope. Scioli supported chess when he was the tourism and sports secretary, his previous job.

The latest rumor (god forbid someone from FIDE go on the record or make an official release) is that a $1 million guarantee from the Argentine organizers has been paid to FIDE.

So even if everything goes perfectly from now on (ha ha), unification is a year away at best. If there is no Leko-Kramnik match this year it may be irrelevant. FIDE might just declare that they can't wait any longer, at least assuming that their own plans go forward. The sides have taken turns accusing the other of breaking with the Prague reunification accords.

Playing with Matches

Where to begin? In this press release Einstein basically says they have failed to find a sponsor for the Kramnik-Leko classical world championship match. This is the confirmation of what we knew (else they would have announced one), but it's a good and honorable thing for Einstein to announce this instead of keeping the world wondering and the journalists wondering if they will have to dash off to Budapest on short notice.

I wish the good people of Einstein the best of luck in and out of chess. The idea of a company trying to make money from chess didn't pan out. The only model that has worked has been investing in chess for publicity (see X3D and their events). Trying to make cash from chess has been a bust at that level.

As I mentioned in DD 93, this leaves the door open for Carsten Hensel. He represents both Leko and Kramnik and in today's interview at ChessBase.com he sounds confident of finding sponsorship for the match himself. No doubt. I'd be shocked if Hensel didn't have Plan B, C, and W already in mind. It doesn't seem unreasonable to assume that a player's representative might think the best thing would be to wait until the Einstein contract expired. If Einstein can't put anything on the table, why give them a piece of the pie, the logic would go.

I expect a polite mourning period and then a Kramnik-Leko announcement in July for a match in December. It seems unlikely that the name Einstein will be attached to it in more than name only. Migstradamus has spoken!

I do wonder if both players having the same business representative helps or hinders the match. I would assume Leko's financial demands would be much less than Kramnik's. He wants a shot at the title, Kramnik already has it. But there won't be any pressure put on since one guy is handling the negotiations for both sides, so it comes down to what he is happy with.

June 3, 2003

Hitting the Books

From a Publisher's Weekly report on the poor book market comes a mention that Deep Blue designer Feng-Hsiung Hsu's book "Behind Deep Blue" was a commercial success.

"[Publisher] Princeton attributes its "rather solid year despite the volatile political climate and erratic economy," in the words of assistant director Adam Fortgang, to a combination of a broad list and serendipity. Its Behind Deep Blue by the inventor of the chess-playing computer, Feng-Hsiung Hsu, had a "phenomenal" run which was not hurt by the chess battle between the computer and champion Gary [sic] Kasparov."

I assume they are talking about Kasparov-Junior, played in January. But the book came out a few days before the Kramnik-Fritz match in October, 2002. My copy arrived from Amazon as I was waiting for the car to take me to the airport for my flight to Bahrain and it was the second-most borrowed item during my stay. (The first were the pair of floppy diskettes I always bring on trips. People always seem to need one no matter how much the industry says they are obsolete.)

Speaking of Amazon, Hsu's book has a 4.5/5 star rating there after 14 reviews and is ranked #29,806 in the sales rank. (For blue perspective, pre-teen classic "Island of the Blue Dolphins" is #1,081 and Dr. Seuss's "One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish" is #602. But "Emily Insatiable" by Blue Moon Books is only 57,246. Go chess!

I thought the information in the Deep Blue book was interesting, but I found the tone strident and the text halting at best and vacuum-cleaner-instruction-manual at worst. I know edited second-language writing when I see it, but if this is the best it could be he should have worked with a ghost writer instead of having so many chopped-up sentences. It flows like granite in many parts and that was for a computer chess fanatic like me. Still, it's a must-read even if you know much of the computer chess history parts. (I'm mentioned in the book but as "a chess journalist," possibly for my own protection...)

Read Jonathan Schaeffer's book "One Jump Ahead" about his creation of the top checkers program, Chinook. Great read, if overlong in parts. Plus, Jonathan is an A1 nice guy. (Now back into checkers after years away. He plans to solve the game once and for all.)

While I'm at it, Paul Hoffman writes on chess for the New York Times and a few other mainstream publications while paying the rent with popular books and articles on science and history. His new book just came out and it looks fascinating. "Wings of Madness: Alberto Santos-Dumont and the Invention of Flight"

June 4, 2003

Ubiquity R Us

I admit that I rarely spend more than eight minutes thumbing through "Chess Life" when it comes each month so it wasn't much of a surprise that I had to be told by e-mail that the latest issue contains a photo of me in it. I thought it might be in the coverage of the Kasparov-Junior match in NY where I was doing the official online commentary for X3D.

Nope, it's in the report on the Amateur East team even in New Jersey. (Yes, these events were way back in January and February. Now you can understand the eight minutes.) For better or for worse, I have attained the level of ubiquity at which my photo is captioned only with "Mig," with no last name. At last I have reached the status of my idols Cher, Sting, and Moses.

Bashing Chess Life is a tradition in the US but I'll be constructive. The report on the Kasparov-Junior match (by Robert Rizzo, with contributions by Jennifer Shahade and Brian Killigrew) is fine. They were there, they attended the press conferences, they talked to people. Good. But the first thing you notice is that the 7-8 page report in the USA's premier chess magazine does not contain an interview with Kasparov or the Junior team. Not only did they not bother to do one ("they" being the editors who should have assigned this) but they didn't ask around afterwards. For example, I have hours of post-match one-on-one material with Kasparov and Junior programmer Shay Bushinsky.

Of course maybe I'm just disgruntled. Chess Life filled page after page (and the cover) with my photographs from the Kramnik-Fritz match in Bahrain half a year ago and I still haven't been paid! Various e-mail and face-to-face promises about checks in the mail have gone unfulfilled. So let's say I have a bunch of great stuff their readers would be interested in, why would I pitch it to them? Sad.

June 5, 2003

Mark Your Calendars

Exclusive, just confirmed today by publisher Everyman: Garry Kasparov will be signing copies of his new book at Barnes & Noble in Manhattan on Monday, July 14! This is the first book of the "My Great Predecessors" three-volume set of Kasparov's opinions and game analysis of the 12 world champions that came before him.

The full info: Monday 14th July, 7.30 pm at Barnes & Noble. 2289 Broadway (at 82nd Street). Map here. I'll be there for sure and I know the only good Chinese restaurant up there...

The Everyman site has a "sneak preview," 12 pages of the book in Acrobat format.

This page has an early review of the book by a Russian chess writer/editor (in English). It's incredibly enthusiastic and you might be concerned because the site is partially under the sponsorship of one Garry Kasparov. (Yes, the on-again-off-again worldchessrating.com is on again.)

But Kasparov has been putting in a lot of work on this book for years, off and on, and I don't expect anything less than sensational. I've seen excerpts of the game annotations, some of which have been included in ChessBase Magazine in the past year or two. This first book covers Steinitz, Lasker, Capablanca, and Alekhine and runs 464 pages.

The article mentions a name you probably won't hear too often in the media blitz to come, that of well-known Russian chess writer Dmitry Plissetsky. He assisted Kasparov with research and it's good of the site to mention him. (Because his name sure ain't gonna be on the cover!)

It's both impressive and disappointing that Kasparov has so few books in print. He hasn't given in to pressure to capitalize on his fame by letting a publisher churn out dozens of books with his name. On the other hand a game collection or four is long overdue. He has always said he'll have plenty of time to write when he retires from active play, so we might have a while to wait.

Kasparov to Place or Show

Google searches can turn up some strange things. It appears that the horse "Kasparov" is still in the running, at least from this race report. (Scroll down to the 4:31pm race, horse #8.)

A few years ago there was a Karpov and and a Kasparov on the circuit. There have been quite a few racehorses named for chess players or with other chess-themed names. Anyone recall where such a list appeared? It's in this pile of books behind me somewhere...

June 14, 2003

The Henderson One

Seattle has become the home of Scottish chess journalist John Henderson, here pictured hard at work in his apartment.

(Yes, that is a copy of "Men's Health" magazine sitting on the table. Somehow I doubt that's where he picked up the recipe for his favorite bacon sandwiches on buttered white bread.)

Despite being ten thousand kilometers from Edinburgh John continues to put out his daily column for The Scotsman newspaper. This while consulting on chess matters for the AF4C and going to as many Seattle Mariners baseball games as he can.

Meanwhile, last week Seattle lost its greatest contribution to the chess world, GM Yasser Seirawan. He and his wife Yvette Nagel Seirawan just moved to her hometown of Amsterdam. The departure of the greatest American player since Fischer is a blow. Seirawan will stay active in chess and you might say that he's closer to its epicenter than before.

June 15, 2003

P-K$

The Daily Dirt hasn't been daily lately but with good reason. I'm on the road and in the United States all chess roads run through Seattle, Washington. That's because Seattle is the home of the AF4C, better known as America's Foundation for Chess. They run the US Championship as well as promote a major scholastic initiative.

I spent an hour interviewing multi-millionaire venture capitalist Erik Anderson, President and co-founder of the AF4C. He talked about future plans for American chess and his own chess interests. The video interview will run on an upcoming ChessBase CD-ROM Magazine. Excerpts will likely soon appear in Chess Magazine (UK) and possibly Chess Life (US) (although not unless Chess Life first pays me for the photos they published six months ago!).

This is a bit of a coming out party for the affable Mr. Anderson, who has been content to stay behind the scenes and dish out piles of money, mostly raised for the AF4C as well as quite a bit from his own pocket. (At the closing ceremony of the 2003 Championship he personally wrote Akobian and Shabalov checks for $5,000 each for having fought hard in the final round instead of joining the other four top boards in agreeing to non-game GM draws.)

At his gorgeous corner office practically atop Lake Washington he shared his thoughts on the success of the AF4C, and his opinions of the USCF, FIDE, and the World Championship. And what could this have to do with the New York Yankees? You'll have to find out in this don't-miss interview.

The Murder Variation

Chess again makes the news in a bad way with this item on a man killing his roommate with a knife during a chess game. There is no reason at all for chess to be mentioned in the story other than that it adds color. It seems clear from the story that they haven't disclosed what the argument was about, and the killer was apparently drunk and is claiming he doesn't remember anything. But a chess board was on the scene...

Speaking of ches and the law, GM Alex Sherzer was indicted in Alabama on June 2 and the combined counts have sentences of 5-60 years and fines of up to half a million dollars. His court date will likely be in August. Several lawyerly sources have said he is unlikely to go to jail.

Packing the Bags

When you think about the center of chess in the United States you think of New York City. Many of the country's top players live in and around New York and the histories of the Marshall Chess Club and the currently defunct Manhattan Chess Club have no equal.

On the other hand, the tiny town of Crossville, Tennessee has much to offer as well. It must, because it looks like it will become the new home of the United States Chess Federation. (Currently located in New Windsor, NY, an hour north of NYC.) Recently Crossville (population 7,000, but that doubles when you include the hound dogs and their fleas) was also selected as the fourth-best location in the US for retirement...

Apparently there aren't any buildings ready so they have some land on which to build. This even more bizarre when you hear that Erik Anderson and the AF4C floated the possibility of the USCF coming closer to them with two years of rent-free offices in Spokane, Washington, plus cash for relocation.

If Tennessee works out it could be dirt cheap in the long run, one reason why many US businesses have relocated to the South in the past decade. But this also means moving far from the chess culture of the Northeast. Anyone can tell you that Tennessee is checkers (draughts) country.

June 16, 2003

Play Ball!

Here I am hard at work in Seattle after watching the Mariners beat the Atlanta Braves on a beautiful summer day.

(Lest I be accused of treason, that's a NY Yankees cap I'm wearing.)

John and I spent most of our time here at Safeco Field. And you thought Erik Anderson had a nice office!

June 19, 2003

National Closed

The current format of the US Championship still has a few kinks to be worked out. Having most of the players come as qualifiers from the major Open tournaments is great because it encourages the top GMs to play in US events and it also allows for surprises to make it to the big show. To qualify you have to play a $75 fee before the event begins, all the money from these fees going to the Championship. (That is, even if your score is good enough, if you didn't play the fee, no qualification.)

So far, so good. Another rule is that you can't take any byes if you want to qualify. You have to play all your games. (In many big opens titled players are allowed full-point and half-point byes in the early rounds.) Sounds fine, take away the freebies. But what happens if you pay your fee, qualify, but it comes to light that your first round opponent didn't show up for your game, disqualifying you? In that case your name is Michael Casella. That's what just happened to the American FIDE Master at the National Open in Las Vegas.

After some debate it was decided that Casella will get his ticket to the Championship due to a precedent, especially since the forfeit win wasn't in the last round. It's up to the tournament director to find him an opponent but there's not much they can do if the clocks have been started and someone doesn't show up at the board.

Quite a few people finished ahead of him in the standings but all of them except for GM Joel Benjamin were either already qualified, not eligible, and/or didn't pay the $75 before the event. So Benjamin and Casella get the two spots. (Trivia: 21 players paid the qualifying fee.)

June 20, 2003

Not My Plan!

A strange document is currently making the rounds. FIDE's World Chess Championship Committee has sent out a sort of summary of their meetings during the Bled Olympiad last October. They want "the world's top 200 GMs" to send them feedback on the proposal. It also includes questions about which time control the players prefer.

Strangely enough, the godfather of this movement toward a new championship cycle, American GM Yasser Seirawan, didn't receive a copy until over a month after it was first sent out! He is troubled by the fact that they are referring to what they sent out as "the Seirawan Plan" despite how it differs in many respects from his original "Fresh Start" proposal. He was the secretary of the Bled meetings but he only recorded the comments made and the document he produced was not purely of his views.

One of the additions to the original plan is a "Last Chance Super Tournament" that would give high-rated players a second chance to qualify for the candidates matches if they didn't make it through the big KO. Sound silly to me. I'm also against having the incumbent world champion play in more than one match. Title succession is a very powerful symbol in chess and having a new champion never face the old champion sacrifices 90% of the drama and makes the final just another match.

(And no, I don't care if that's not the way it's done in tennis or golf. Think boxing. Chess world champions define eras and become legends. Why throw that away for the sake of a false "democracy"? What's wrong with the best player being champion? Trivializing the title won't help the chess world.)

Another suggestion is that the initial KO be at the rapid time control previously used but that they shift to classical controls for the matches and final. This is weird, sort of like running sprints to qualify for a marathon final. On the other hand the winner will have proved himself master of all different time controls. What do you think about mixing controls over the course of a world championship cycle? Perversion, improvement, or a necessary evil?

The full document and comments by Seirawan will be published later today at ChessBase.com and I'll update this link to go right to it.

Tic-toc-tic-toc

Speaking of the ICC, they have done the chess world another favor by putting Gene Venable's ChessWatch back on the air. The peripatetic review of online chess has had many homes and was the reason I met Gene online in 1999 and in person in 2000.

He started it himself on a free website and when I was put in charge of building site content and staff for the nascent KasparovChess.com I asked Gene to come on board as an editor-by-email. When KC opened an office in New York and I moved there I asked Gene if he would move from San Diego to join KC full time as an editor, and to continue Chess Watch under the glaring red of KC. (He couldn't really argue with the palette considering his own predilection for a painful shade of yellow.)

He packed his bags, moved to New Jersey, and commuted to our Broadway & Wall St. office each day. When KC started to shut down operations bit by bit and the NY office was closing (Spring 2001) it was suggested that I move to Moscow to work with the Russian content team. I declined and suggested that Gene go and sure enough he surprised us and jumped at the chance. He just needed to get a passport first! (For a few months it was just Gene, controller Anthony Milazzo, and me wandering around the large office, the other dozen employees having been let go.)

Gene continued work in Moscow until KC folded up shop completely and then decided he liked Moscow so much he would stick around! When the aforementioned Moscow content folks reappeared with the new Kasparov-supported worldchessrating.com Gene was recruited again but the site's financial backing was never on solid ground. Now he and ChessWatch are at the ICC website, which has never had any content worth speaking of before.

It's definitely worth a bookmark. Good luck to Gene, with whom I shared many a plate of bean dip at the Wall St. Bar and Grill (which followed the lead of KasparovChess and closed up shop over a year ago, RIP).

Here's a picture of Gene with some chess VIP visiting our offices in March, 2000.

For more nostalgia, try this:
(Yes, I save everything.)

December 26, 1999

Hello Gene,

This is Mig at the newly renamed KasparovChess.com. We're launching our completely new site early in the coming year and I'm looking for fresh contributors. I like the concept of your ChessWatch site and instead of stealing it I was wondering if you would be interested in doing what you're doing now, but be paid for it and get a few hundred times the number of hits!

Please write back if you're at all interested. GM Ronen Har-Zvi is my assistant here and will be following things up on this end. (Basically this means annoying you constantly until you acquiesce.) (No, there are no Kasparov tattoos or "we love Garry" brainwashing sessions.) I hope your holidays are happy ones, take care. Saludos, Mig

Internet Check Club

The grand old man of online pay-to-play chess sites, the Internet Chess Club (ICC) has written a big check to support US chess. They just put up $100,000 to become funding underwriters of the AF4C for the next four years. The AF4C (#110, 107 etc.) puts this money into developing its scholastic programs and the US Championship. There is no truth to the nasty rumor that some of it goes to support John Henderson's bacon habit. Kudos to the ICC for digging deep and giving back, even if my online chess heart is still with the new hotness, Playchess.com.

Get Out the (correct) Map Again

Mikhail Langer writes in: "Sport-Express (Russian sports daily) reports that Ponomariov and Kasparov received letters informing them that their match will take place in September in Yalta. The report also states that the official match anouncement is planned for late June - early July.

What's Ponomariov's oscillating frequency? Would he be able to peak again in September, so soon after his professed peaking in June? :)"

Hey, I'll do the jokes around here! You've heard of Yalta but can't remember why and have no idea where it is? It's the southern tip of Ukraine, in the Crimea region on the Black Sea and it's famous because of the 1945 War Conference that included Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin. (Now shown in the correct, non-Microsoft map above. Thanks to the several people who pointed out the mistaken map.)

I guess earlier is better than later, although press coverage suffers every time the match site and/or dates are moved. The annual Prague event is scheduled for September and it would be a shame to have two great events conflict.

June 24, 2003

School Daze

A somewhat depressing story about a 7-year-old kid in England whose parents have pulled him out of school so he'll have more time to work on chess. The kid has already won several adult tournaments (!!) and so must be considered quite a talent, but really, out of school at seven to work on chess, or anything?

His 6/6 performance at the Central London Rapidplay in May was mentioned at the BCF website: "But the show stealer was 7-year-old Peter Williams, who swept all six games in the U120 Minor. Organiser John Weightman used epithets like 'outclassed' and 'slaughtered' to describe the Alton, Hampshire boy's treatment of his opponents, four of whom were graded over 100. His best win was against runner-up Adrian Riley (who won his other five games), and he won even in the final round when a draw would have netted £100.

Peter today appears on the Junior Prix leaderboard in 19th place, and he is currently third in the U11 Prix behind Subin Sen and Callum Kilpatrick. He already won the bottom section at Coulsdon Easter, but that was at U90 level.
At seven years two months, Williams is probably England's third youngest winner of an adult tournament, after Murugan Thiruchelvam and Jack Rudd who both won adult events aged six. He belongs to Richmond Junior Chess Club and is coached by Gavin Wall."

Duly terrifying no doubt. But even such precocity does not guarantee you are the next Polgar or Karjakin. Thiruchelvam is now 14 and is rated 2259 at an age when he would need to be a GM to impress a jaded chess world.

June 28, 2003

Opening the World

I don't want this to turn the DD into a personal blog, but the kind folks in the message boards have shown more interest than I have in my return to competitive chess at next week's World Open in Philadelphia. (Thanks for the support, guys!) After some initial confusion because of my ancient US rating and my much higher and more recent but still old Argentine rating (2300), I will be playing in the open section.

I figured that after a six-year layoff I might as well jump into the deep end and get some fodder for training. It will be painful but I decided I shouldn't worry about results until 2004. I hope that by then I'll have found time to study a bit. Either that or I'll have to start only including openings I want in my own repertoire in the Black Belt newsletters! (My "preparation" for the World Open has included trips to Seattle and now California and now my laptop is broken!)

Last February at the US Amateur Team I played my first six classical games in six years. It's a great event but hardly conducive to serious chess. My main goal in Philly will be to stay at the board for nine games and work so I have some decent material to analyze when it's all over. I'll try to post updates from Philly and also post photos and reports at ChessBase.com during the event.

July 8, 2003

Back in Action

Sorry for the long layoff and thanks to everyone writing in to ask if this should now be the Weekly Dirt or the Whenever Dirt. I didn't have the time or software to work on the site while I was in Philadelphia at the World Open with my broken laptop. And no, I didn't throw myself off a high rook because of my result! My nerves were a mess and my chess wasn't much better. I had to start somewhere, but I wish I'd played in a few more casual events in the month before jumping into the World Open. My stomach still has a few knots in it.

At least I got to see friends and make new friends, as well as meeting several Ninjas for the first time in person. (And having a few readers come up to have their picture taken with me or have me sign something, which is cool if weird. One guy told me I was a "cult figure" so I asked him if he had paid his cult dues yet!)

I'll definitely be updating the DD more frequently from now on. Not only am I home finally but there is a lot going on. Plus, a World Open report with many photos will be appearing at ChessBase.com later today.

July 9, 2003

Beat Him While You Can

This priceless picture of 11-year-old American wunderkind Fabiano Caruana was taken by ChessNinja message board moderator (den mother) inky1 during the World Open. Fabiano is already a FIDE Master. We scored the same miserable number of points in the Open section in Philly (3/9) but he's on the way up while I'm neither a wunder nor a kinder!

Here I was telling him to tell his parents that I got this tall from avoiding vegetables and eating only Twinkies and Pepsi. From the look on his face he has already learned to see through the media. Get in on the ground floor and join the Fabiano Fan Club now.

July 10, 2003

All Roads Lead to New York

Garry Kasparov and his manager are in New York City and there is more afoot than his much-anticipated book signing at Barnes & Noble next Monday. Some online chat events are being organized and announcements will be made as soon as the schedules can be worked out. (It took place on July 12.)

My refrigerator has orange soda in it and there are potato chips on the counter, what could this mean? Only that the Germans are coming! Well, THE German, Frederic Friedel of ChessBase, is invading my apartment tonight, along with Jeroen of the ChessBase technical staff. (He is Dutch, he would like me to point out.)

Hmm, ChessBase and Kasparov in the same city at the same time, what could this all mean? Something good, no doubt. The first time they got together a chess database was created. The last time they got together we got the Kasparov-Deep Junior match. What's not to like? But next time I hope they program the machine to say, "I think I'd like to play on a little longer, Garry" in an eerie HAL 9000 voice.

Ineke Bakker Passes on July 6


Originally posted in the Ninja message boards by Susan Grumer: " Ineke Bakker, former Secretary-General of FIDE, passed away last Sunday, July 6. She was a beautiful, warm person, and the backbone of the World Chess Federation for many wonderful years under the presidencies of Dr. Max Euwe and Fridrik Olafsson. I spent many delightful hours with Ineke, and will always cherish my wonderful memories of those times. She will be missed by all who knew her.

Here is a picture I took of Ineke Bakker at the opening meeting of the FIDE Commission for Chess Developing Countries in 1975. Also in the picture from left to right are Yuri Averbakh, Florencio Campomanes and Dr. Max Euwe."

July 11, 2003

World Tittle Match

Don't blame me, that's the way they spelled it in the Interfax "breaking news" story announcing that Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma has signed an order to organize the Kasparov-Ponomariov FIDE World Championship match. Dates mentioned are September-October 2003 in Yalta, as previously rumored. A shame, at least for me, because I'm going to be in Prague for the Eurotel event in September. Maybe a double dip trip? They'll probably have the Yalta match whittled down to a tidy eight or ten games by then.

July 13, 2003

Kasparov 3D Again

Breaking news was just released in Newsweek. Garry Kasparov will play another man-machine match in November, 2003 against Deep Fritz. It's a special X3D version of the ChessBase flagship program.

The project has been under wraps (under threat of a painful death) but now that the announcement has been made, we can reveal that Kasparov has been here in NY several times (including his current trip) to help perfect the software that will allow him to play against Fritz on a giant X3D screen! Yes, that means he will be wearing those black glasses and looking at a giant screen instead of sitting at a normal board. And he won't need a mouse thanks to voice recognition. This should be massively cool. Yes, it's a circus, but it's a massively cool circus! It's also great that X3D is sticking with chess.

Many more details will appear at ChessBase.com and X3dWorld.com soon.

Chat chat chat

On July 12 Garry Kasparov gave a live chat on Playchess.com. I served as moderator, question picker, and manic typist at Garry's hotel room. I'm glad I had the transcript because it was a fascinating discussion and I really didn't have a chance to pay much attention to it at the time!

It was hard to find good questions in the morass of chat coming in from the over 1500 people online. Challenges for a game, questions about his favorite eau de toilette, and those weren't the strangest of the lot!

Before publishing the whole thing at ChessBase.com here I edited the transcript down to the questions and answers and made additions and corrections based on the video we took. Some paraphrasing was necessary to keep up during the chat and a few times some good Kasparov comments didn't make it online during the chat.

If you want the raw feed of the chat as I saw it, here it is in a 124KB text file. Lucky for everyone else they could only see the questions and answers I sent. It was hard to find questions and comments in the mess, but it worked out pretty well in the end.

All of that on my trusty laptop on a 28.8 dial-up connection! Not exactly a dream scenario but it worked great. The Playchess.com Fritz 8 software worked just fine despite the low bandwidth.

July 18, 2003

They Say They Said

According to the well-connected Russians at worldchessrating.com, FIDE has given September 19 as the starting date of the Kasparov-Ponomariov FIDE championship match. They quote FIDE President Ilyumzhinov's assistant Berik Balgabaev.

The often comically out of date FIDE calendar has even been updated with new dates for the match: 19/9 – 10/00 [sic]. I'm guessing that means October 10. That means a 20-day event with maybe a dozen game dates. That the number of games hasn't even been mentioned (decided) should illustrate how far this thing still has to go before we should get really excited. The Ukrainians still don't have any money. Politics first (Putin and Kuchma are on board) and then they can shake some money out of the regional oil/gas barons. As usual.

The match will coincide with a summit meeting of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), basically the Soviet Union Lite. Unfortunately these dates conflict with the final two days of the Prague Eurotel event I will be running. Sigh.

I doubt Kasparov and Ponomariov were told of these new dates before the announcement was made. Kasparov hadn't heard anything from FIDE in months (!) as of yesterday and the players still don't have contracts. Word to the wise: don't book your flight and hotel until there are signed player contracts.

July 21, 2003

My Kinda Town

In this Ninja message board thread BlkSabb quickly posted these links (here and here) to some interesting posts on another board from someone who played Garry Kasparov in his Belzberg simul in Chicago last week. At least the guy was supposed to play Kasparov. It turned out his rating was too high for the event but this wasn't noticed by Kasparov until the game was underway. (The other links go to a fun story of how Kasparov made it up to the guy.) There is a 2000 rating cut-off for most of Kasparov's promotional simultaneous exhibitions, something that surprises many people.

This is discussed in more detail in the thread at the first link above, but the bottom line is that these are promotional events and the organizers are on a tight time schedule. The Belzberg simul at the Stock Exchange here in NY earlier this year included dinner and drinks and had to be wrapped up on time.

This is not serious chess and the addition of just one or two strong players can slow things down dramatically. When time isn't such a factor and the players are there just for the chess (at clubs and against juniors, etc.) I've seen many large Kasparov simuls with players rated over 2300 FIDE.

I suppose that Kasparov could simply try to play faster regardless of the strength of the players. He would lose and draw more games, something he despises even in simuls. Some of the great simul players of the past didn't mind losing so much and played more to the gallery. Alekhine would experiment with wild gambits and unsound defenses, Capablanca played with unbelievable speed against everyone.

Kasparov doesn't want to have fun in these events. He plays conservatively and classically and feels that he should have a shot at a perfect score each time out in the time allotted. He believes that's what the sponsors (and players) want from the world #1. This is probably true in these promotional simuls. No one there would appreciate that he played a few spectacular games (most players don't even keep score) They would only understand the final score. Of course WE prefer a few brilliancies to a 20-0 score, so it's really a greater loss to chess. To have that shot at 100% in a two-hour exhibition (or any fixed, short, amount of time) some rating limit is required.

I think this is more of an example of how Kasparov sees his role and image as standard bearer than anything else. He believes losing is simply not acceptable and that others feel the same. Is it too late for him to change?

Buy the Book

Just a day after Kasparov's book signing in New York, the NY book dealer Julian's had this up on the web:

"ON MY GREAT PREDECESSORS PART 1 - STEINITZ, LASKER, CAPABLANCA, ALEKHINE. by KASPAROV, GARRY LONDON EVERYMAN CHESS 2003. AN/AN. ... Small 4to; 464 pages; Signed by Author. First Edition. Binding is Hardcover. The price of the book is US$ 175.00"

And the London Chess Centre is selling "signed" copies of the book on Ebay, the first of which went for a hundred dollars. (Retail cover price is $35, most online sellers seem have it for around $27.) The odd thing is that according to the auction the books weren't signed by Kasparov. They have a signed label affixed to the inside cover!

No doubt someone from Julian's was one of the many people in line with a dozen or more books for Kasparov to sign (but not personalize, which would harm the resale value unless it's to someone famous). It's a good case for limiting the number of copies per person because there were dozens of disappointed people who didn't get a book before they sold out (after 15 minutes). Of course that's an even better case for the bookseller to have more books!

July 25, 2003

One Ukrainian as Good as Another?

FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov has made it clear that FIDE won't be paying Ponomariov a dime in compensation for the postponement of the his FIDE title match with Kasparov.

"Ponomariov addressed me in a letter and stated that he’d lost out financially. But as far as I know, he was training in the Crimea, and flying far didn’t suit him. But how many trainers and masseurs he needs to pay out for, well, that’s his problem. He had his prize money and divided it up accordingly. That’s the way business is carried out in the sporting world. Solving Ponomariov’s problems is nothing to do with FIDE."

Masseurs! A cheapo from the Prez. He also said that FIDE would be taking its customary chunk of the prize fund despite Ponomariov's objection. In a spiky interview with the Russian paper Sport Express, Ilyumzhinov also talked about the unification match, the next championship cycle, and the Kasparov-X3D Fritz match. (It won't be considered a "serious" match by FIDE.) And if Ponomariov balks?

"You want me to tell you what will happen if Ponomariov refuses to play Kasparov? This is a point of law under FIDE rules. If the champion or contender refuses to take part, the next in line gets to play. In this case, Vassily Ivanchuk. If not Ponomariov, then Ivanchuk."

Kudos and thanks to Ninja message board stalwart jackiechan for her quick translation of this important interview.

July 28, 2003

Anand by Vote

There is a poll in the Ninja message boards where you can vote for the Dortmund 2003 winner and post your opinions. So far Vishy Anand is a heavy favorite with 50% of the votes to take the top prize. Leko and Kramnik are even behind him. Leko has had the most activity lately, playing in Budapest, where he came third. Radjabov also had a mediocre result in his most recent event, Enghien-les-Bains. The only shame will be if all the games between Leko, Kramnik, and Anand are drawn. Go vote and post your thoughts.

July 29, 2003

But Can She Cook?

2002 US Women's Champion Jennifer Shahade is the subject of a long, interesting article in Smithsonian Magazine. The author is Paul Hoffman, a player himself who also writes on chess for the NY Times and is working on a book about his obsession with the game.

There is a short excerpt with some photos here. At the bottom of that page there is a link to a PDF file (Acrobat) with the full text of the article. It appears with some larger photos (some by me) in the August issue, which should be available in bookstores and magazine shops. Great read.

Jen is hailed as the strongest American born female chessplayer ever. The article centers around her exhibition match against Irina Krush at a NY art gallery earlier this year. (My short report on it here.)

August 3, 2003

A Snip for Chess

Just when you think you've seen it all, the innovating fund-raising methods of Seattle-based America's Foundation for Chess strike again. I suppose a well-manicured hand could intimidate an opponent. Maybe a set of those long, twisty dragon-lady nails, too.

"Join us for a $20 pedicure, manicure and/or haircut at the Aveda concept salon Euphorico in Seattle’s Belltown and $10 of every purchase will help bring chess to children. During the months of August, September and October, Euphorica Salon is designating America’s Foundation for Chess as the beneficiary of its First Time Fridays/Fabulous Mondays program. Guests can choose from a $20 service menu for first-time visitors:

• precision hair cut with a stress relieving treatment or an aroma therapeutic towel • manicure • pedicure • o precision hair cut with a manicure ($20 each) • precision hair cut with a pedicure ($20/each)

50% of all proceeds benefit the Scholastic Initiative at America's Foundation for Chess – where bringing chess into the classroom is improving problem solving skills and self-confidence in children.

Call 206.256.9900, visit www.euphorico.com, or stop by 2505 2nd Ave (on 2nd Ave and Vine St.) to set up an appointment. Make sure you mention AF4C and remember to do well for yourself and a child!"

August 5, 2003

Book of Matches

I just finished reading Garry Kasparov's new book for the second time. The first time it was as a reader, the second time as a reviewer with a pile of other books next to me for reference. (The full review will appear at ChessBase.com in the next day or two.)

My overall impression is the same as my first impression: "My Great Predecessors, Vol. 1" is an amazing book and you should buy it immediately. It's an enjoyable read with tremendous breadth and depth of content. There is a huge amount of analysis from Kasparov and historical sources. The overview of Kasparov tracing the development of chess from Philidor through Alekhine is very interesting and I expect it will only get better in the next books as he begins to write about more modern players whom he knew and faced.

The first time through I found some of the writing stilted and there are definitely too many grammatical errors and style violations (ellipses, exclams) for a work of this magnitude. This could be improved but is hardly a fatal flaw and I barely noticed it the second time.

The lack of a bibliography and the degree of insufficient attribution of analysis are more serious issues (although this doesn't affect the enjoyment of the book for the reader, just the integrity/thoroughness of the authors and editors). In at least a few games there are swaths of analysis taken from other books that go unmentioned. This means the Russian "Chess Stars" series in most cases, which is somewhat ironic because they do the same thing in most of their books. (Those books are just dense variations without text for the most part.)

Obviously two, or ten, analysts can come up with the same lines, and they often do. But when the same lines begin and end on the same move over and over for entire blocks, that's rarely a coincidence. This occurred in several Capablanca games I looked at carefully. (I don't have the Chess Stars Alekhine books.) But as dubious a practice that may be, it doesn't mean it's not a fantastic book. A beginner won't get much from the annotations, although it would still be a fun and informative read.

August 6, 2003

Chess (Not) in the News

The Dortmund supertournament is halfway through. The German event is obviously the biggest from Linares to the Ponomariov-Kasparov match in September. The whole chess world is watching Kramnik, Anand, and Leko battle with outsiders Bologan, Radjabov, and Naiditsch. There is even a great man bites dog story with Bologan scoring 4/5 in the first half and leading the tournament a full point ahead of Kramnik.

And I know my friend Rob Huntington, who does chess for the Associated Press, is there because he called me right before leaving for the airport! And of his reports, exactly one has been circulated by AP, that from the first round. Since then it's been radio silence for what we usually call "the mainstream press." Some newspapers have daily or weekly columnists, but they often ignore current events and aren't enough anyway.

What would it take to get AP and its outlets to run more chess stories? Upset wins haven't done the trick in Dortmund, what would? This is YOUR cue to write your favorite news source and ask, no, TELL them to publish more chess coverage. Your newspaper, your newspaper's website, whatever. They all have feedback links for e-mail or forms. Write them and say, "where the heck is your coverage of the Dortmund chess tournament?! AP is covering this, run the story!" Write them now, before you forget! They don't know unless we tell them what we want! Now, now, now!!

August 9, 2003

Games in the Home

A local paper has a little story on the increasing popularity of games in the US home, including chess. This is apparently based on the increase in sales of fancy game tables. The given causes include everything from 9-11 to an aging population choosing more sedentary leisure activities.

I spent a lot of time with dozens of board games with my sister and friend when I was a kid. Even when computers and video games started taking over when I was around 12 the game closet was visited regularly to pull out things like Stratego or Monopoly. We also played card games all the time. I won't criticize video games because not all of them are mindless, and few of the board games I remember required much in the way of thinking. (Lots of spinners and rolling dice.)

They say that Americans are going out less after 9-11 and so are spending more time at home with the kids. When is the last time you and/or your family spend an evening at home playing a game together? What was it? Most people learn chess from a family member, do you play with your family?

August 12, 2003

The Last Train to Crossville

(With apologies to the Monkees.) Speaking of monkeys and trains, the United States Chess Federation has been doing their best impression of a train wreck this month. Little of this will come as a surprise to anyone who has watched them in action over the past, oh, forever, but what they thought was going to be a small profit for the last fiscal year turned into an audited loss of $365,000. A tidy thou per day.

Oops! Now wait, just a sec, where did I put that three hundred thousand dollars? Gosh. Maybe it fell into the sofa cushions. The USCF now begins a struggle to avoid bankruptcy, having lost money for the last seven years in a row despite its captive audience. (You can't play a rated game in the US without signing up for $50/year, which may now increase.)

This mess has led to a massive shake-up, as well it should. My friend Beatriz Marinello, who was only just elected to the Board, has hastily been made the new President of the USCF and a new VP Finance and Secretary have also been named. Executive Director Frank Niro (insert "fiddled ... burned" joke here) has resigned for those time-honored health reasons and a replacement is being sought. Maybe if Schwarzenegger doesn't win the governorship of California...

From my limited knowledge beyond the excellent Ms. Marinello (with whom I had the pleasure of working at KasparovChess where she consulted and helped with our world school chess championship) this seems like a competent group. They've been dealt a very bad hand, however, and cleaning house isn't just a case of tossing out the rascals. The official magazine (Chess Life) needs a lot of work and new ideas if it's going to drive membership and not drive it away. Meanwhile, here in Ninja land we've been profitable since we opened the doors...

This happens just as the USCF plans its move from New York to the tiny town of Crossville, Tennessee. But they're excited down there, let me tell you. This article proclaims Crossville the new "Chess Capital of the World" now that they'll host the USCF. (Notify Moscow.) The locals also seem amused in this column on the "mixing of cultures." Reserve your ad today!

August 18, 2003

Black(out) is Okay

Well, as David Mamet said, that happened. In February we had a newsletter delayed by a blizzard when I couldn't get home from a tournament to send it. Last week it was the largest blackout in US history to delay Black Belt. My area of Manhattan (East Village) was one of the last in NY to get power back, around 29 hours after it went out Thursday afternoon. Chess in the parks benefited, however, because public spaces were full of people who didn't want to stay inside without air conditioning on a hot, stuff day.

August 19, 2003

GMs Draw

You would think the sheer ignominy of pathetic non-games nicknamed "GM draws" would be enough, but no. John Henderson brings to our attention this tidbit from the interesting notes of Jerry Hanken on the just-finished US Open in Los Angeles:

"We had our first test of the draw rule Monday in the 6-day schedule. In accordance with the Rulebook, we are requiring that players stay at the board and play at least 15 moves and 1/2 an hour before they can agree to a draw. This is not a new rule. The Rulebook says "It is unethical and unsportsmanlike to agree to a draw before a real fight has begun." Penalties for such behavior are at the discretion of the TD. In keeping with this rule, we wrote and posted a notice to all players that this would be the way we enforced the rule.

Two GMs chose to ignore this rule and tried to draw in 1 move! Admonished by International Arbiter Carol Jarecki, they returned to the board, played four more moves, and disappeared without turning in a scoresheet. marking the result as a draw."

For the rest of the story, go here and scroll down to August 13. What I really don't understand is why Mr. Hanken over-politely declines to name the culprit GMs. Why? Name them, shame them, nothing wrong with that at all. If they choose to do it they should live with the repercussions of their actions. Why protect them from their own destructive (to the game) behavior? Celebrate them when they fight, criticize when they don't. It's the only way.

It would have been history repeating itself if the game in question had been Shabalov-Ehlvest, which is in the books as a 20-move draw. At the World Open in July they were almost double-forfeited when they phoned in a draw. The "castling" score (0-0) was even on the initial results page but it turned out the arbiters (one of whom the same Carol Jarecki who was in Los Angeles) let them come down and "play" a short draw at the board later.

August 21, 2003

A Fine Whine

Speaking of interviews and expired titles, Ruslan Ponomariov finally got a contract from FIDE for his FIDE world championship match against Garry Kasparov scheduled to begin in Yalta on September 19. And he's not happy about it. No specifics were given in this article (in Russian, translation in the Ninja message boards by her highness jackiechan here with a few corrections and additions below it) by the sympathetic Ukrainian GM Komarov, but Ponomariov's manager, Silvio Danailov, says his young charge isn't happy with FIDE's statement that no changes will be made to the contract and that he must sign by Aug. 25th or be replaced by Ivanchuk.

Things like this are why I haven't bought my ticket to Yalta yet and it might just be too late soon. I think Ponomariov just thinks that he is supposed to protest everything or he "loses" somehow. Danailov says, "It seems to me that FIDE blatantly wish Kasparov to win in Yalta, and is fulfilling all his requirements." But he doesn't mention any specifics and I don't see how Kasparov could be gaining an advantage as long as the rules apply to both players equally. True, Pono didn't get the time control he wanted, but that was decided a long time ago. I wrote to Danailov asking about what items Ponomariov is unhappy with.

I still think this match is a big, fat gift horse to both Ponomariov and Kasparov, but Pono seems intent on giving it a dental exam. Nobody likes to be bullied or treated like a stepchild, but a gift from heaven is a gift from heaven.

Interviews a Go-Go

A set of interesting new interviews and news items from the world's elite has hit the web in the past few days. A few weeks ago Anand spoke about the current world title mess. Nothing new and Vishy is always polite. There's really nothing new to add. It's been a mess for a long time and everybody knows who is who. Some comments from Dortmund winner Viktor Bologan are here at Chessbase.com, from an upcoming Europe Echecs article. A longer Bologan interview by Loeffler and Tischbierek includes this sage advice:

What do you think about the poor showing of Kramnik, Leko and Anand?

Bologan: "This is bad news for these top players: the youngsters and myself played more interesting games. The new faces refreshed the tournament. The truth is that Kramnik and Anand are tired from all these big tournaments. They don´t feel the pressure to perform any more, they need some new challenge."

Word up. That's another reason why the classical world championship cycle is so important. It wasn't just another tournament. The tension, the preparation, and the level of chess simply make it better when it's for real.

Speaking of Kramnik, after his one win, nine consecutive draw result.... ZZZzzzzz huh, oh, sorry, I drifted off there for a moment. Kramnik did an interview after Dortmund and he talks about his style and his increasingly fictional match world championship match with Leko. (NB: The Associated Press has ceased referring to Kramnik as world champion.) Vlady is always thoughtful and interesting, although a couple of things were not convincing. 1) Blaming your opponents for your nine consecutive draws when you are rated 2800 is disingenuous at best. To a certain point I agree when Kramnik says Kasparov wins more because players try hard to beat him and he gets more chances. On the other hand, Kasparov has been wiping people out for 20 years and style does matter. A lot.

2) Kramnik saying he couldn't help much with setting up the Leko match while Einstein was still in the picture doesn't make any sense. It's not as if Einstein didn't need or want help from anyone this side of magic elves. In a perfect world his manager and his sponsors would have found something, but we all know the chess world is far from perfect. He should have been busting his butt to make something happen.

I still think they will end up playing it in Budapest or Dortmund or Paris or anywhere that will pay the organizing bills. They will play with virtually no prize fund (but they'll say it's a million dollars, the big round number du jour). Rob Huntington suggests they pay the loser from the share the winner gets from the unification match against the winner Kasparov-Ponomariov. It would be hard to write a check on that promise, but since Leko and Kramnik have the same manager (Carsten Hensel) it's a reasonable suggestion in a desperate situation. Every day that passes makes the match less marketable, in part because of Kasparov-Ponomariov-FIDE.

A New Chapter for the USCF

There's a new chapter in the USCF rulebook and it might be Chapter 11. The United States Chess Federation – fresh from board elections, the discovery of a massive fiscal shortfall, and a spate of resignations (DD 135) – just laid off 40% of its staff, 17 people. I've been in charge of such mass head-chopping myself and it isn't pretty for the choppees or the choppers. Drastic action was obviously called for. New El Presidente Beatriz Marinello will try to step through the landmines and in a press release she spoke of the "daunting challenges ahead." Apart from the disasters that have been made public, sources say there are several more scandals yet to be unveiled. Maybe they thought Arthur Anderson was Erik's brother?! Plenty of her countrywoman Isabel Allende's brand of magic realism will be required for Marinello and the USCF to survive.

[ Don't forget to vote in our poll on how to save the USCF! ]

The USCF's line of credit at the bank is soon to be cut off and the line of vendors and others who are owed money is long and getting longer. (John Henderson applies a Dennis Miller line: "They're more overdrawn than M.C. Escher's doodle pad!") This means the USCF might not be able to afford to move to their new location in Tennessee. (My "last train to Crossville" joke in #135 appears to have been prescient.) Revelations about contracts signed regarding the US Women's Olympiad training squad are also expected and I very much hope that program is not harmed. Apparently former executive director Niro was pulling so much wool over so many eyes that he must own his own sheep ranch. (Maybe his own eyes? What did he know and when?) The phenomenally named Grant Perks is now serving as office manager. No word if his assistant Ivana Steele is coming with him.

The casualties included most of the senior staff of Chess Life magazine, which to be honest has been a joke of long standing to much of the US chess community (the magazine, not the staff). Now there will be much less to laugh about after unavoidable cutbacks. Will they bring in someone with experience who can also move things toward a significantly cheaper web magazine presence? I'm sitting by the phone...

August 25, 2003

Pono Says No-no

Quick update to DD141. Ponomariov has refused to meet FIDE's deadline to sign the player contract for his FIDE world championship match with Kasparov, according to a Russian sports site. Siberian posted this Russian news link in the message boards and summed up: "Pono didn't sign. Ponomariov officially notified the organizing committee of the match that the rigidity in FIDE's position forces him to consider the possibility of asking the President of Ukraine, Leonid Kuchma, to revoke his decree about conducting the match in Yalta."

Pono is seriously overestimating his influence from what we've seen so far. The last world championship match that went off as planned was 1990. Sigh. Will it be postponed? Will Ivanchuk be dropped in? If yes, will they reschedule or have Ivanchuk play on the same schedule? (Sept 19-Oct 5)

This may end up with another marathon negotiating session with Ponomariov signing in the end late tonight. Stay tuned.

America, America

The biggest current chess event you probably don't know anything about is the American Continental Championship going on in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Most of the top players from Canada all the way down to Chile are fighting for slots in the next FIDE world championship (whenever that is) and $72,000 in prizes.

US champion Alexander Shabalov is there, as is recent emigre Alexander Onischuk, the top seed. But after six rounds it's another Russian-speaking American Alex, Goldin, who is in the lead. He's tied on 5.5 with Cuban Lenier Dominguez. American teen sensation Hikaru Nakamura is showing his stuff too and he moved up to clear third by beating leader Granda Zuniga with the black pieces in the sixth round.

Then there is a massive pack at 4.5 that includes Shabalov, Onischuk, and Gulko. There are four rounds to play. Check out the round six games here. Official site in Spanish here. Some players apparently didn't make it. De Firmian, Lesiege, and Ashley are all listed as "loss by default" for each round. Strange. Irina Krush is currently the top-scoring woman with 4.

If Nakamura continues his rapid rise he will enter the top 100 next year. If so he would be the first American-raised player to do so since, ummm, since, well... who? Maybe Patrick Wolff in 94? To further illustrate the dearth of talent and opportunity for young US players in recent decades. (Richard Ehrman writes in to point out that Maurice Ashley got his GM title just a few years ago. But he had only needed time to work on his game and at 37 can't be called an up-and-comer anymore, I'm afraid!)

There is only one other American player under 20 years old rated over 2500, Akobian. Going down to 2400 adds just two more names, Krush and Pixton. Dropping to 2300 adds four more. Ouch. After Nakamura America may be waiting for Fabiano Caruana (see DD120), rated 2160 at 11 years old.

Don't Book that Flight!

Oy. An interview with FIDE Prez Kirsan Ilyumzhinov in the Russian paper Sport Express explains some of Ponomariov's protests (see DD140 below) and really makes it sound like the Ponomariov-Kasparov FIDE world championship match will not happen as scheduled. Here is the original article in Russian and here is a quick English translation posted to the ever-more-essential ChessNinja message boards by new member Siberian. Thanks to him and Penguin for their timely assistance in making the Dirt the place to be for your daily dose of disaster.

To sum up: 1) Ponomariov wants to eliminate the rest day before a potential playoff if the match is tied. 2) Wants to keep his title until the end of the unification process. 3) Wants $100,000 as compensation for the cancellation of the match, which was originally supposed to take place in Argentina in June. 4) He wants all of these items reviewed in a Yalta court, or even in a European court in Strasbourg.

Bizarre, really. Items 2 and 3 have already been categorically rejected by FIDE and Ilyumzhinov loudly and clearly. Item 1 convinces me further that Pono is protesting just to protest as a form of gamesmanship. Threatening not to play because of a rest day?!? With such trivial claims and delays and such rapid recourse to the court system to keep his title for a few hours more, Ponomariov really does seem to be a combination of Fischer and Karpov, but not at the board!

Ilyumzhinov also states that Kasparov signed the contract already, "without any clauses or remarks." Well, you would expect that if he helped draft the thing as Ponomariov seems to suspect!

All in all I do feel sorry for Ponomariov. He feels pressured (IS pressured) and wants to hit back to show he's not going to be pushed around. But he's picking his fights poorly thus far and is very much outgunned. I suppose it's easy for outsiders to wonder why the 19-year-old wouldn't just say, "Cool, a match with Kasparov to prove I'm the top dog and a pile of money too, and all in my home country! Fantastic!"

Ponomariov clearly feels that this off-the-board fight is an important part of the psychological over-the-board fight. Maybe he's right, but so far he has barked up the wrong trees. Fischer could do this against Spassky, among others, because he was Fischer. If Kasparov started pulling these stunts it would also be taken more seriously because he's Kasparov. Off the board silliness is only tolerated when your credibility and indispensability have been established on the board. Ponomariov's win at the FIDE knock-out never gave him that credibility and it seems no one is taking him seriously. FIDE believes that they can put in Ivanchuk instead of Pono and the resulting winner will be just as credible.

That may or may not be true, but since this was supposed to be a quickie extracurricular match to unify the title, I'm inclined not to care. I'm far more interested in unification and the real cycle that follows and would just love to have this charade over with. The deadline for Pono to send in the signed contract is today, the 25th. If he doesn't sign, says Ilyumzhinov, "If needed, I'm obliged to change the player that did not obey to the regulations of the General Assembly and the Presidential Council."

August 29, 2003

A Losing Endgame

In ten years of chaos in chess politics this may be the most bizarre storyline yet. The FIDE championship/unification semifinal between Ruslan Ponomariov and Garry Kasparov has been cancelled. Now things move to the next cycle with 128 players in December, and with the winner playing a match with Kasparov next year to qualify for the unification match against the winner of Kramnik-Leko, which FIDE is now helping to put together. Sigh. Details here. FIDE press release here (Word format). (It actually says that Ponomariov signed "with reservations," so at least he's alive.)

Several sources in his circle told the Russian press that Ponomariov would, or even that he already had, signed the contract and sent it in. His final protests had an air of desperation about them and made me wonder if there was something going on behind the scenes.

Rumors of health problems have been discounted. His final two issues with the contact were 1) he didn't want any language in the contract that would allow FIDE to remove either player. This is saying, "I'm going to hold the match hostage unless you make remove the part that can punish me for taking the match hostage." 2) The original schedule formulated months ago did not have a rest day before the potential play-off day required if the match was tied. One was later added. Ponomariov wanted that rest day removed. Huh?

These are not things over which to scrap the big-money match of your life. They make so little sense that it was almost like he was trying to make a point of some sort. I guess he made it.

September 2, 2003

You Say Mumbai...

Srini Karri writes in to point out this announcement in The Hindu about a supertournament to be held in India next December. Kasparov, Kramnik, Anand, and Karpov are listed as participants, as well as most of the top 20. And the big FIDE KO world championship, touted by FIDE as taking place in December?! It looks like the players aren't going to listen to FIDE's cries of wolf. But from what I can find out, this participant list is far from confirmed. Some of the parties named have agreed "in principle" but some haven't even been contacted yet (!) and no dates are set.

Rules, Schmules

When Ponomariov refused to agree to the player contract, FIDE cancelled the match with Kasparov, breaking their own rules. In Bled the FIDE Congress decided that if someone didn't play he would be replaced by Ivanchuk. Instead, they dumped the match entirely and say that Kasparov will face the winner of the next KO instead. Why?

Word on the street says FIDE Prez Ilyumzhinov still needs Ukrainian cash for the KO. Canceling the match lets Ponomariov keep his title, for whatever that's worth. The KO title was barely worth anything anyway and it's certainly not worth two years. I'm certainly not calling him the world champion anymore! He was the last FIDE champ, but he's nothing now. If the KO depends on some of the same Ukrainians that sunk the Ponomariov-Kasparov match, they may have an equal incentive to sink the KO too. Without transparency this is the way it's going to be.

We've put all our eggs into the basket of shadowy politics and funny money and are reaping the painful rewards. When the sun was shining on Ilyumzhinov in the late 90's all was well, but now that he's out of money we're screwed. There is no infrastructure for bringing corporate sponsorship into the game, and who would want to put money into the mysterious black hole FIDE has become?

On the Road to Nowhere?

The American Continental Championship is over in Buenos Aires. Victory was shared by Goldin (USA) and Vescovi (Brazil) with 8.5. Seven players qualified for the next FIDE world championship, supposedly to occur in December 2003. The rest were Morovic, Nakamura, Bruzon, Onischuk, and Shulman. Notable misses include Granda Zuniga, Shabalov, and Kaidanov.

Charbonneau had already qualified from the Canadian zone. It looks like there will be a quite a passel of Americans in the next KO. Nakamura will be 16 by then (or maybe 26 with the mess FIDE is in these days) and might be the youngest player unless Karjakin is there.

September 11, 2003

Kasparov in Crete

The Dirt is back from vacation and with news about a Kasparov match. No, not against Ponomariov, but against the current European Champion, Zurab Azmaiparashvili. They will play four rapid and four blitz games in Crete on 23th-24th September as a warm-up for the 2003 European Club Cup. Both will also be playing in that, Kasparov a late addition to the already powerful "Ladia Kazan 100" team from Russia.

FIDE gave Kasparov and Ponomariov special exemptions to allow them to play in the ECC as the cancellation of their match came after the deadline for naming team members. Khalifman played first board for Ladia-Kazan last year but this year their listed top board is Rublevsky. Pono didn't play for Donetsk last year and I don't know if he will play in this event or not.

Azmai, as he is known, is also a FIDE politician and was a member of Kasparov's team during several of his world championship matches against Karpov. According to the organizers the games will be broadcast live here: http://www.venizelia.gr/clash/

September 13, 2003

Chess in Schools, Da!

If you thought that chess already was a school subject in Russia, this article from Pravda (in English) will disabuse you. Getting chess into the curriculum, and not just as an after-school or lunchtime school-sponsored activity, has been a holy grail for many groups. In 2001 I went to Mexico with some other people from KasparovChess Online (including the now new president of the US Chess Federation, Beatriz Marinello. Hey, I did tequila shots with the USCF Prez!) as part of a KCO initiative to put chess into Mexico. Garry had been there earlier to meet with all the government education bigwigs and there was a great deal of fanfare. (Photo) In the end pomp didn't lead to pawns and things petered out along with KCO.

The most amusing part of that trip for me came after my requisite trip to the fantastic Fine Arts Museum in Mexico City. (I lived in Guadalajara for two years and visited this museum whenever I came through the capital to commune with the murals.) There are a huge number of chessplayers in the large park in front of the museum. Not just on little chess tables, but with covered areas and clubs that organize tournaments.

Of course I had to stop by for some blitz and was warmly greeted, especially when they found out I could speak Spanish. I told them I worked for KasparovChess and showed them my card. A few moments later I heard that "an advisor of Garry Kasparov is here to play blitz!" over a loudspeaker! Suddenly there was a big crowd around my board and a line of people waiting to play me. I was trying to explain that I ran his website, I wasn't his coach, so my chessboard exploits shouldn't be held against me. But it turned out well in the end when I managed to go undefeated with a few draws and even a win against a local IM (admittedly IMs in Mexico have a 50-50 chance of being rated around 2100 due to a title-giveaway scandal a few years ago).

September 14, 2003

Kasparov the Director

In my recent article on his book I compared it to Spielberg writing about great movie directors. Perhaps Garry Kasparov might be interested in writing that book himself. The documentary film "Game Over: Kasparov and the Machine" just debuted at the Toronto Film Festival and the early reviews are excellent. In fact, they might be better than Kasparov's own opinion of it, although not for reasons of content.

"I could be a little tighter, shorter," was his summary, although he said he enjoyed the film and thought it "a good look at human ego and corporate greed." The Vikram Jayanti directed film is feature length at 86 minutes instead of the usual hour for a documentary. Kasparov hopes it might be edited down a bit for its upcoming release on the BBC to make it more dramatic.

It hasn't been released in NY yet but I don't think you mess with success! As Kasparov himself pointed out, he is so familiar with the facts and the story that all the background info needed for someone who isn't makes the film drag in parts for him. I don't know, for the rest of us familiar with the details (or who are actually IN the film, ahem ahem) we'll be so excited to see a chess documentary we won't notice a bit, I'm sure.

Watch Nigel Read

English GM Nigel Short's latest column in the Sunday Telegraph is dedicated to some recent books, mostly Kasparov's "My Great Predecessors, Part I." In short (ha ha), he loves it. The Nige shows himself to be a GM of the blurb: "It is probably the most enjoyable chess book I have ever read. Here is a master artist deftly painting the giant canvas of chess history with broad and powerful brush-strokes."

September 19, 2003

GM on Trial

The trial of American GM Alex Sherzer has begun in Alabama. The entire thing is sad and confusing, and I won't be keeping tabs on it here in the DD. The Mobile Register appears to be your best bet if you want to follow things. The case has several of the cliche ingredients US papers like: the supposed dangers of the internet, a prominent citizen fallen (Sherzer is a doctor), and sex. So local news coverage shouldn't be lacking. I heard that Judit Polgar, a friend of Sherzer's, was planning to visit the trial to support him but I can't confirm that. (I know she was just in China.) Any Mobile readers want to wander by and send in a report?

The case has become a hot topic in the message boards if you'd like to find out more or participate in the discussion.

September 20, 2003

Dutch Corus

The field for the 2004 edition of the Corus Wijk aan Zee supertournament has been finalized. At a time when events are being cancelled left and right, having one confirmed over three months in advance is nice. The field: Kramnik, Anand, Leko, Shirov, Svidler, Bareev, Adams, Akopian, Sokolov, Morozevich, van Wely, Zhang Zhong, Bologan, Timman.

Fantastic field, as always. Kasparov, winner in 99, 00, and 01, said the invitation didn't fit his schedule. The last time Kasparov had a similar long layoff due to a cancelled world championship match was in 1998. Wijk aan Zee 99 was the beginning of the road back from his relatively poor 1998 Linares and the start of a 10-tournament win streak. Quite a few parallels there to the current situation. That streak ended in Linares this year, so you might think Corus 2004 would be a good chance to try and continue the symmetry for Kasparov. If not, he's waiting for Linares in February, which hasn't been confirmed yet.

Coming to a Theater?

The new documentary "Game Over: Kasparov and the Machine" will likely be seen by British audiences on the BBC before anyone in the US or elsewhere sees it. Barring festivals, the BBC has first dibs on showing the film. I spoke with producer Hal Vogel and he said that they would definitely show the film in New York at some point. He's sending me a copy, but I just want to see my shiny head on the big screen.

A friend suggested that if it is released here I should take dates to go see it without first telling them that I'm in it. That would be funny, but if you are taking your dates to chess documentaries you aren't going to see them again even if you are in the chess documentary. Or maybe especially if you are.

September 27, 2003

Computers and the Buddha

"The person who makes a program for playing chess naturally needs to know how to play chess. So if a mediocre chess player makes a program for the computer, and the computer could come around and beat the mediocre player, doesn't this suggest that the computer is thinking?"

Umm, no. No it doesn't. But if you're up for more about western science and eastern philosophy, this article on a Tibetan website has lots more. We'll add here that FIDE president Kirsan Ilyumzhinov's republic of Kalmykia is a Buddhist nation.

A Match Uncancelled

From Dublin Chess Club Secretary Jonathan O'Connor: "I'm amazed that you missed the new business model FIDE have cooked up. Being the world chess federation, they have always had a monopoly on mating. In a remarkable effort at improving their finances and taking advantage of their traditional strengths, FIDE have gone into match making. The first couple to tie the knot are Ireland's Mark Heidenfeld and Kalmykia's Dzhirgal (Dzhiga to her friends) Ulyumdzhieva. Kirsan brought the happy couple together in 1998, and they finally married in Dublin on September 8. We all wish them long life and happiness together. Further details and a photo of the bride and groom with some friends can be found here: http://www.fide.com"

Of course FIDE has been in the matchmaking business for decades unofficially, the Olympiads in particular. There are so many chess couples the main point of interest has been trying to determining the highest rated one. Of course many of them don't last long.

Sherzer Acquitted

For the past week, half of the news searches for the word "chess" have turned up updates from the trial of American Grandmaster Alex Sherzer in Alabama. Kudos to the Polgars and Sofi's husband Yona for traveling to Mobile to serve as character witnesses for their friend. Now that he has been declared not guilty maybe the news searches will go back to finding references to how every football game, car race, and political debate is like "a chess match."

October 2, 2003

Nigel Walks

As given in phenomenal detail at Isle of Man Online here, GM Nigel Short walked out of the 12th Monarch Assurance Isle of Man Chess Tournament. After his opponent didn't show up, he notched the win but was then told he would be paired with another opponent. I can understand re-pairing someone, but after they had sat at the board for an hour waiting for someone else?! What kind of rule is that? More details and the conclusion are now posted at ChessBase here.

October 3, 2003

Fact Check, Mate

Garry Kasparov will be giving another simul on behalf of Belzberg Technologies on October 20 in London. Traders and stock market people like chess, and Belzberg uses these events to showcase their trading technology. The full press release is here, and you would think they would have the facts straight about Kasparov by now. But no. Just off the top of my head I can see a couple of gaffes. Kasparov was 22 when he won the world championship title, not 21. And he hasn't been the highest-rated player since 1984. Karpov briefly retook the lead in early 1985 (as a result of their marathon first match). So Garry has been #1 for 18 straight years, not 19. Okay, my Edward Winter moment is over.

The simul will be at the Cafe Royal, but it probably isn't open to the public.

Caught 22

After starting out with 4/4 and an incredible performance rating at the Euro Club Cup, Garry Kasparov lost his round six game in 22 moves!! He had black in a complicated position against the Israeli Huzman and simply blundered a knight fork of king and queen. He bailed out, but that cost two pawns and he resigned.

Kasparov has just played 20...Bc8?? A White Belt tactics puzzle here: White to play and win...

Obviously there is some rust on his brain after not playing since February, despite the 4/4 start. Much more on this and the event will be at ChessBase.com soon.

Meanwhile, this game enters the very short list of games lost by world champions in so few moves. Certainly there aren't many in this century. Karpov has famous losses in 19 and 12 (!) moves, so Garry is far from the record at least. He lost in 19 against Deep Blue, but counting that is a little absurd. This is, no doubt, the shortest loss of Kasparov's career in a classical tournament game. The previous "record" was his loss to Kramnik in 25 moves in the 2000 World Championship, game 10. This is also the worst Kasparov blunder I can recall. Amazing.

The winning move is 21.Rxd5.

October 9, 2003

Strange documents

Soon after I wrote my summary of the collapse of the Ponomariov-Kasparov Yalta match last month I exchanged e-mail with Pono's manager, Bulgarian IM Silvio Danailov. Despite the fact that I largely blamed FIDE for the disaster, Danailov criticized my article as somehow praising FIDE and Kasparov and putting on the blame on Ponomariov.

Even for the typically shrill and black-and-white (no pun intended) world of eastern European chess politics it was a bit over the top and it gave the impression that either he hadn't actually read my article or hadn't understood it. (I get this a lot from GMs who aren't English first language. Wordplay and sarcasm don't translate well and several times I've received with things like, "how dare you say that about me and by the way, what did it mean?") I pointed out that I had criticized FIDE and saw no reason to criticize Kasparov, since he hadn't made much noise during the entire affair.

To make a long story short, his next message included a letter that he said had been sent to FIDE right before the match was finally cancelled (after the second deadline, or was it the third?). Several things caught my eye. It was in English, the internal Word document properties showed it had been created well after the date he said it had been sent, and it was apparently written by Ukrainian chess journalist Komarov.

I don't know what that all means. The original was in Russian and they were just translating it for me? Regardless, it's four pages of rambling complaints and accusations of injustice. You would think that Pono was being burned at the stake as a martyr instead of being handed the chance of a lifetime. Ponomariov says he signed the earlier agreement, which is sort of true. He signed but he had crossed out several provisions!

As I stated in my article, the agreement itself was a horribly written document and it seems reasonable that Ponomariov would want clarifications and Russian translations. (See 3a in the document.) But why would such things take weeks? Was FIDE dragging its feet? Then (3b) there is bluster about adding the off day to the original schedule and I still say this is a total joke. Nobody in their right mind risks canceling a match because a rest day is added.

Most of the document seems to be about complaining about how FIDE has treated him and used language that he doesn't like. All in all it's a poorly written as the FIDE player agreement, maybe worse. He constantly wonders what Kasparov says, no doubt with the intent to press for the opposite. Ponomariov makes new demands in random spots, guaranteeing more confusion. Overall, it adds to the original impression that FIDE acted in bad faith. But if this is the sort of silliness Ponomariov and his people were sending, there was never any hope of a match. On the other hand, FIDE kept saying that Ponomariov never communicated with them directly until this after-the-last-hour message.

That brings me to the final point about this thing. I've been trying to get confirmation from FIDE that this letter was received by them, and find out when and by whom. So far, no dice. Parts of this letter were released in the press as quotes from the Ponomariov camp. You can download the letter as sent by Danailov with his approval for publication. It's in Word format. If I hear from FIDE I'll write it up at ChessBase.

October 10, 2003

X3Dchess.com

The official site of the Kasparov-X3D Fritz match in now online. The pretty homepage design was done by the talented Tanja Schissler in Germany, I believe for the design company Morgenrot. I am to blame for the rest of the site and its contents and I'll be running the site and the live online game commentary. The only thing left is the ticket registration page. (The page design is done, but the folks at X3D have to hook it up to a database on their server.)

Tickets to attend the match in person are free with a limit of four per registration. There shouldn't be a problem getting tickets. The venue at the New York Athletic Club is quite large and people come and go during the games. The page should be up today or tomorrow.

Most of the news content currently up at the site are versions of the X3D-related stories that appeared at ChessBase.com, but plenty of original material will be added on an ongoing basis. We'll have interviews with the Fritz team, Kasparov, and comments and predictions from various GMs. I'll be running polls and taking questions for the GMs, Garry, and the Fritz programmers. (Frans Morsch, Mathias Feist, and Alex Kure on book.)

I spent an enjoyable three weeks with them in Bahrain at the Kramnik-Fritz match last year (where I ran THAT site and commentary). They are much more forthcoming with inside information than the secretive Ban and Bushinsky team behind Junior. Shay Bushinsky is a good friend and former co-worker from KasparovChess Online. But they were very tight-lipped about the goings on inside their program even after the match. Trade secrets!

October 14, 2003

Developing Moves

Anyone who regularly uses the fantastic Google News search to look for chess news might have noticed an interesting tendency. A majority of the stories are from India and there are an ever-increasing number from Africa. India has a remarkable number of newspapers and a well-known national and regional chess infrastructure. Africa is more of a surprise. News stories from Nigeria, Malawi and South Africa are currently in the results list.

Does this mean anything for the future of chess? Success at the highest level requires support for both youth and professional chess, unless you have a once-in-a-generation prodigy like Mecking or Fischer. Major media attention can result in both. Kids and parents are exposed to the game as a healthy sport and sponsors see it in the news and can imagine associating their company with it.

October 21, 2003

National Chess Week

12-year-old David Howell is flying around England in a helicopter to promote chess. The young hope's tour is part of "National Chess Week," which has included several events with Garry Kasparov. Quoth Howell: "Chess is a very exciting game and unlike football it can be played in all weathers. Anybody can play chess and winning a game is a great feeling."

The "cool" thing has always been a major topic of discussion, mostly in the UK and the USA, where chess is often seen as geeky. Particularly in the US there is an anti-intellectual undercurrent that makes some people distrust any game or sport that doesn't involve tackling. You see this as early as elementary school, where kids who get good grades are made fun of by their peers for being nerds and eggheads. This is so common in the US that people here are often surprised to hear it doesn't happen everywhere in the world, at least not at the same level.

Harry Potter, a prototypical "geek," plays chess, but you would be hard pressed to find anyone or anything considered cooler right now. Kudos to David Howell and to the initiative overall in the UK. The USA is bit big for a helicopter tour, but National Chess Week would still be a great idea. Young stars like Nakamura and Caruana make good ambassadors.

How is chess promoted in your country or city? Have you contacted anyone to suggest such things? Written local papers, government representatives? Libraries, schools? Don't wait for it to happen; make it happen! It starts with you. Go to the websites of your local newspapers and write them, too. If you have contact information for good places to propose more chess in your country, send it to me and we'll put a great page together. If you're in the US, contact your state representative here.

October 31, 2003

Say Hello to Bollywood

Even if you aren't an aficionado of Indian film you should be happy to have star Mahima Choudhary in a movie about chess. She'll be paired with major star Anupam Kher. The short news item says the film will be launched in India, so your chances of seeing it may be limited.

The ever-marvelous Internet Movie Database lists over twenty films with the word chess in the title. But that doesn't include recent ones like the big Hollywood production of Nabokov's "The Luzhin Defence" (aka "The Defence") or "Searching for Bobby Fischer".

Nor does that list include the mediocre "Knight Moves" a serial killer thriller with a Grandmaster protagonist. Decent performance by Christopher Lambert. You can find those and more by going to the IMDB special search page and looking for chess in the plot description. Pudovkin's silent classic "Shakhmatnaya goryachka" (Chess Fever) from 1925 is available on DVD. Capablanca himself cameos capably.

Chessplayers are usually equal parts delighted and frustrated by chess in the movies. It's great, but they get so many things wrong it can drive you crazy. The preposterous Hollywood cliche happy ending added to Nabokov's brilliant book is a good example.

Chess in Public

Do you have guy like this in your town? Chess is played in parks and other public places around the world. Washington Square Park in New York was celebrated in the book and movie "Searching for Bobby Fischer. The parks of Moscow and St. Petersburg are known for hosting players of GM strength. Then you have the people who star in these places and others who take it a step further. Many New Yorkers are familiar with this guy near Columbia University. Master Jude Acers in New Orleans has played tens of thousands of people over the years. Have you thought about ways YOU could take chess public in your town? Offer classes at a library?

November 9, 2003

We Call It Work

It's hard to keep things updated around here now that the Kasparov-X3D Fritz match is about underway. I'm running the official site, www.x3dchess.com and doing live online commentary there during the games. It will be a lot of fun so I hope you have internet access at work since the games start at 1:00pm EST.

You can also watch the games live on ESPN2 (a separate channel) with commentary by GMs Seirawan and Ashley plus writer Paul Hoffman. Initial announcements said they would carry five hours of the games on the 11, 13, and 18, with 2.5 hours of coverage of the Sunday game on the 16th, making 17.5 total hours. But now that the event is listed at the ESPN website it shows far less time.

It's listed as "2003 MAN VS. MACHINE WORLD CHESS CHAMPIONSHIP
NEW YORK ATHLETIC CLUB NEW YORK, NY USA". The listings show 1-4pm on Tue, 1-3pm on Thu, 1-2:30pm on Sun, and 1-4pm on Tue.

That makes, umm, 9.5 hours total if it goes as scheduled. More relevantly, it's extremely unlikely that any of the games will be completed on TV! No exciting time scrambles either. The ESPN producer seemed unaware of this, although they said they would show updates throughout the day.

November 10, 2003

Were They Speaking Russian?

On the way to the airport to head to New York for the Kasparov-X3D Fritz match, some members of the ChessBase Fritz team had to stop by their offices in Hamburg first to pick up some tablebase CDs and a laptop. When they arrived they found the building surrounded by heavily armed police. The building had been robbed and they police weren't letting anyone go inside.

"But we have to catch a flight to go play a match against Kasparov," they told the police. The thieves were believed to still be inside and, as the saying goes, armed and dangerous. Eventually they negotiated a SWAT escort up to ChessBase office, which was found to be completely destroyed and looted. The thieves had smashed their way in with a heavy metal manhole cover and taken every computer in the place other than the server, which was bolted in.

The laptop was gone and there were CDs all over the place. They decided it was better just to leave, but the police said they had to stay and fill out reports. Inventing some story about needing a key from the car downstairs, they walked out, got in the car and drove to the airport! No word as yet on whether or not the thieves have been captured and/or the computers recovered.

Also unknown is if the the bandits were speaking Russian. Maybe Garry really wanted to make sure he had the the latest version of X3D Fritz?! On a serious note, to our knowledge no one was hurt.

November 17, 2003

Put Yer Glasses On

It's been hard to find time for the Dirt while running the x3dchess.com website and doing the live online commentary at the match. But I've been storing up lots and lots of good stuff for when I catch up on my sleep! We'll have dozens of exclusive photos from behind the scenes, plus:

  • Inside the ESPN broadcast, or, the joy of not going to the bathroom for many, many hours.
  • The mystery of X3D Fritz's opening in game three, or, why would it play something that earlier versions of the program were forbidden to play?
  • Who's on second, or, a conversation with Kasparov's analysts, Yuri Dokhoian and Mikhail Kobalia here in New York.
  • The Great Ninja Party, or, what happens when you toss a bunch of Ninja, chess stars, and adult beverages together?
  • The future of chess on TV, or, surely this beats bass fishing.

November 30, 2003

And Now These Commercial Messages

The ESPN2 broadcasts of the Kasparov-X3D Fritz match were a big success by any standard. The only complaints I've heard are from chess fans who, while delighted to see chess on TV and live coverage no less, were disappointed by the "light" chess content. Most of the talk was about Kasparov's psychology and how much time each move took. In other words, things that non-players could understand

GM Seirawan was the go-to analyst to give variations, but little was shown that would interest even a club player. The reason for this is obvious; the broadcast goes out to the lowest common denominator and they try to make it at least comprehensible to everyone. Chess fans will watch anyway and get the more serious commentary online or read it on the web later.

ESPN was scrambling to think of interesting graphics, statistics, and other things to inform and entertain the audience, with mixed success. Pieces captured: useless and boring. Time taken per move: good. (My father, who taught me to play but should be considered a non-player for our purposes, found this very interesting.) They should have amplified this with Bronstein's "chess cardiograms," which the Fritz interface can generate automatically anyway. They also should have done much more with the computer's own evaluation of the position. I have a long list of suggestions for better TV chess and I'm sure you have some too. I'll be putting an article about this up on ChessBase.com this week so send me your suggestions.

December 1, 2003

Another World Championship Mess

Even the computers are making a mess of the world championship these days. The WCCC just finished in Graz, Austria. The program Shredder beat Fritz in a playoff to take the title this year. The controversy came in the final round of the tournament. Fritz and Shredder were tied for the lead and both were beating their opponents. Then the amateur program Jonny announced a three-time repetition against Shredder in a totally losing position! (Much more on this at chessbase.com.)

Most programs have code to detect repetitions and so avoid them in advantageous positions. A bug in Shredder allowed it to repeat three times although it was close to announcing checkmate. Basically what happened after that is that the programmer of Jonny, embarrassed at getting a draw this way (and a draw that would keep Shredder out of the playoff and therefore make Fritz the champion) went to the arbiter to ask to continue playing (and losing). The arbiter didn't understand and after some confusion, the game continued and Shredder duly won.

The game was continued because the machine didn't claim the draw correctly by FIDE rules. It made the move instead of claiming first. Of course this is the way the interface is programmed, not in accordance with FIDE rules. Clearly this is idiotic since a computer is perfectly aware of a repetition, unlike a human. (In human play the rule is designed to make you confirm the repetition on your clock, hard to do in time trouble.) So either all the programs have to change to giving notification before they make the third repetition or the ICGA needs to discount FIDE rules that are irrelevant in comp-comp play.

Then there is the problem of the operator/programmer stepping in to throw the game that was drawn. If he didn't want to lose on a programming bug in Shredder he should have resigned earlier, or perhaps not played at all and forfeited the game to make a sincere gift of the full point. Since when are bugs invalid reasons for winning (or not winning)? Isn't a bad move a bug? If Jonny had claimed the draw according to FIDE rules would its operator have been allowed to voluntarily throw the game anyway?

Can You Forfeit Me Now? Part II

Paul Hoffman was engaged in his addiction to watching live GM games online, viewing Nakamura-Dominguez from the Santo Domingo Open Great Cup Nazir Atallah from yesterday's round four. The game ended rather abruptly in a pawn-up endgame for Nakamura. Word came through on the ICC that Dominguez's cell phone had gone off and he had been disqualified. No other confirmation of that, but if so it follows Ponomariov's disqualification a few months ago for the same offense. Players are usually sharp enough to turn their cells off, spectators are another story. Unfortunately they can't be disqualified so easily.

X3D Fritz Doesn't Hit the Books

Game three of the Kasparov-X3D Fritz match was a horrific display of the worst of computer chess. (From one perspective. It was also a nice control game by Kasparov.) The game was basically lost on move five when the computer, still in book, played 5...a6. This allowed Kasparov to close the game and although the machine was in book for a while longer, it could have easily been determined in advance that X3D Fritz was hopeless in this position. Basically that's what the computer's "book trainer" is supposed to do. It's not about finding stunning novelties, but get the machine safely to positions it can play well.

Alex Kure, the Fritz Team's book guy, has a very tough job. Imagine trying to prepare for Kasparov and ruling out thousands of variations that could lead to: 1) positions with locked centers, 2) trading the queens, 3) static pawn structures in which the human can pick the machine apart in the endgame.

Much of this goes into the massive opening books that are included with every program. The books are tuned and tell the program which lines to play how often and which moves to avoid completely. It was therefore interesting to find that 5...a6 is prohibited in the book that is included with Fritz 8. (See image) Kure was hoping Kasparov would play a line he had played before, but was outfoxed.

December 8, 2003

Predecessors Successor

Get ready to plunk down another $30 for a chess book because the massive Part 2 of Kasparov's "My Great Predecessors" series on the world champions is coming into stores now. The English version already available in the UK but probably won't make landfall in the USA for a few weeks. Probably not in time for Christmas unless you can get an IOU or gift certificate from Santa. Kasparov will be back in the USA at the start of 2004 but no word yet on any book signings.

Part 2 covers Euwe, Botvinnik, Smyslov, and Tal. That Kasparov was Botvinnik's prize student and was close to both the man and his way of thinking adds an extra dimension. That Kasparov played many games against Smyslov and Tal is another big difference between Part 2 and Part 1.

USCH

It sounds like the next US Championship is close to being announced and it will be on the move to San Diego, California. December 2004 is the likely time slot. The original plan for October ran into trouble with the change in the Olympiad dates. This will make it almost two years since the last championship, in Jan. 2003. That's a significantly longer delay than when there wasn't a championship at all in 2001. (Oct 2000 to Jan 2002)

This is no small thing when you consider how important the Championship paycheck is to US professionals. How they schedule their year can depend on how well they do. On the other hand, since the AF4C took over the event, one tournament pays out more than three or four did before they took over.

FIDE Filches Photos

While they're doing their best to make things bad for the players that doesn't mean FIDE has forgotten about the rest of the people in the chess world. They've moved on to taking player photographs from around the web and reproducing them without permission in their online player profiles.

Chess journalist John Henderson needed only a few minutes to find dozens of his photos at fide.com, including most of the top American and Chinese players as well as Vladimir Kramnik. All were apparently taken from various reports at ChessBase and The Week In Chess websites. No photo credit is given and no one contacted the easily contactable Henderson to negotiate a purchase or ask permission.

Copying content on the web is so easy that many people sincerely believe that it's legal. But copyright infringement is just as serious online as off (just ask the RIAA what they think of MP3 file sharing). FIDE can't hide behind the "criminal or stupid" defense. It is also very unlikely that each player submitted his own photo and it happened to be one taken by Henderson. (FYI, the subject of a photo does not own the rights to that photo, particularly if they are a public figure or competitor in a publicly viewed event. On the other hand I don't know of any photographer who wouldn't give his subject a copy for personal use.)

I suggested that Henderson just submit an invoice to FIDE for all the photos he can find on their site. If someone uses one photo accidentally and removes it when asked, you can be more understanding. I was on both sides of that situation several times when I was editor-in-chief of KasparovChess.com. But FIDE ripping off chess journalists is sad. Photo credit and a link is all most would ask, but FIDE seems to be intent on poisoning the water of ever well it can find. They continue to make enemies of the people that could help them.

More amusing is that they can't get the photos right either. Sergey Shipov has replaced Alexei Shirov!

December 16, 2003

Author Anand

An interesting article announces that world #3 Vishy Anand will be working on an autobiography to be completed in 2006. The piece has charming tidbits about how his parents miss him and cook his favorite foods when he is home. (He and his wife have long lived in Spain.)

Anand is 34 and has many good years ahead of him if you look at Kasparov, to say nothing of Korchnoi and Lasker. I remember reading something about the youngest players to write a game collection (I think it was Pomar but I don't recall). Few players have the fame to write an autobiography and Anand is definitely one of them. It might end up a bestseller in India, although it's not likely to sell nearly as well to non-Indian chess fans as a chess book penned by Anand would.

His straightforward collection of games ("My Best Games of Chess") is a routine collection of notes without much in the way of insight. To be fair, few active top players can devote the time and energy to the introspection and research a top-notch game collection requires. And not everyone is a naturally gifted and entertaining writer like Tal was. Maybe it's something about Latvians. Shirov's "Fire on Board" remains the best modern "auto-" game collection in the past decade, perhaps two. (Amazon.com inexplicably lists Mark Taimanov as a co-author of "Fire on Board.")

Kasparov's fine "Test of Time" is outdated and out of print and we won't see him look in the mirror for a few years, when the fifth volume of his "Predecessors" series comes out. Kramnik's "My Life and Games" was hastily produced and is too often given over to an obsequious third person (Damsky).

Staying with contemporary players, I strongly recommend Yermolinsky's "The Road to Chess Improvement" and both John Nunn game collections. His original "Secrets of Grandmaster Play" was my first "serious" chess book and it took me years to really dig into it. Great book.

Getting back to autobiographies, Kasparov has various iterations of his bombastic but revealing book. Botvinnik's "Achieving the Aim" is a guarded chronology. Smyslov's "In Search of Harmony" hasn't been translated into English. Korchnoi and then Karpov both liked "Chess is My Life" for a title.

Russian is probably the only language that can support such books consistently these days. Maybe an Indian reader could inform us as to how many languages popular books there are usually translated into.

Chilean Exchange

New US Chess Federation President Beatriz Marinello is reported to be back at home in Chile due to a serious illness. Of course you want to be near family in such situations, but being in a country with guaranteed universal medical care doesn't hurt either.

[When I lived in Latin America it often surprised Americans to hear that these supposedly "backwards" countries had things like free universal health care and free university education. Such things are also normal in Europe but are viewed with suspicion by "get what you pay for" Americans. That the corollary is "if you can't pay you get nothing" doesn't bother them until they need it. But we have a nice military.]

Meanwhile, another Chilean has come to the US, if just to visit. GM Ivan Morovic is playing in Kansas along with Karpov and Onischuk. (Karpov won the all-play-all rapid.) Morovic has long been one of the top players in Lat.Am, coming up in the 80's with Cuban Jesus Noguieras and the Brazilian Milos.

December 22, 2003

Where in the World is the US Championship?

San Diego. (DD #175 below) After three years in the rainy northwest, the US Championship is leaving the home of its sponsor group and getting some sun in Southern California. The Swiss-system tournament will take place during the first two weeks of December at the new NTC Foundation's Promenade Centre.

The NTC Foundation is a nonprofit corporation in charge of renovating and developing a large area that used to be home to the Naval Training Center. The space will be used for civic and cultural purposes and the 2004 US Championship will be the inaugural event of the flagship Promenade Centre. (Why they spelled it wrong I've no idea. Americans using "quaint" British spelling intentionally has always bothered me. Why not "Ye Olde Promenade Centre"?)

NTCF will co-sponsor the Championship with organizers AF4C, which is A-OK. The prize fund stays at the world's largest: $250,000. (Rumor has it that the Aeroflot Open (January) is trying to squeeze some more money out of the airline to take the prize fund title. AF4C honcho and sponsor Erik Anderson says that would be great because then he could use that to raise even more! Now this is a US-Russia arms race I can get behind!)

Quoth Anderson in a press release scheduled to come out in full this week: "AF4C has been looking for a partner whose mission is aligned with ours: NTC supports creative education and believes in the value the U.S. Chess Championships can bring to the national expansion of the AF4C classroom chess curriculum."

I believe there will also be chess tournaments open to the public running alongside the Championship. This will create a great festival atmosphere like you see during many of the summer events across Europe.

ChessMaster is again a sponsor and I believe the ICC is already committed as well. It will be interesting to see if the organizers decide to have a serious web presence for the 2004 event or if they will continue to basically outsource coverage and analysis to ChessBase (and ChessNinja...) One thing I've found while running the official sites for major events like the Kramnik and Kasparov man-machine matches is that quickly releasing media-friendly reports dramatically increases coverage in the general press.

When one game of the 2002 Kramnik-Fritz match in Bahrain match went late and I wasn't allowed to stay and publish a report, the next day the news coverage had dropped dramatically. Few news agencies will bother to have a specialist figure out what's going on and write a chess report based only on the gamescore and result and the non-chess writers don't know what's going on. But if you spoon-feed them a nice summary in plain English with a little drama they'll copy-paste and run the story. In San Diego perhaps this should also be done in Spanish to increase local coverage. Did I mention I'm fluent in Spanish?! Chess, sun, and good Mexican food. Sign me up!

December 27, 2003

Kalmykians to the Barricades

jackiechan sends in a link to this Moscow Times report on civil unrest in Kalmykia, the Russian republic ("republic") led by FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov. Choice quote from a reformist party ("Yabloko") leader: "Over the past 10 years of Ilyumzhinov's rule, an elections system has been formed under which the candidates favored by him always win."

Funny, sounds just like Ilyumzhinov's rule in FIDE. The rulers of the Russian satellite republics get support from Moscow only insofar as they get out the vote for the ruling party come election time. We may use this latest flare-up to remember the 1998 murder of journalist (and Yabloko party member) Larissa Yudina in Kalmykia. Former bodyguards of Ilyumzhinov were implicated.

Another Moscow Times column sums up nicely: "In a society where the primary asset is control of the government machine, some owners of this invaluable resource -- notably the regional leaders -- could encounter a few problems. Judging by the demonstrations in Kalmykia and the runoff election in Bashkortostan, their problems are just beginning."

Problems for Ilyumzhinov inevitably mean problems for FIDE. Since he can buy any FIDE election we may be waiting for him to lose power in Kalmykia before his hold on FIDE loses its grip.

January 6, 2004

Moro Out, Topa In

World #7 Alexander Morozevich has dropped out of Corus Wijk aan Zee with the flu. He will be replaced by #6, Veselin Topalov. If Morozevich dropping out of supertournament sounds familiar, you have a good memory. The Russian star was hotter than hot in 1998 and everyone was looking forward to seeing how his dynamic, unorthodox style would do in a supertournament. He was scheduled to play in Dos Hermanas in 1999, but bowed out at the last second.

As I wrote in Mig on Chess #114 way back then: "World number five Alexander Morozevich of Russia has bowed out of the Dos Hermanas tournament at the last minute due to illness and will be replaced by Belorussian Boris Gelfand. This is a great disappointment to all of us who were eager to see the young Russian tested against the world's best after a year of amazing results. Expectations had been high so maybe nerves had an effect on the wispy lad's immune system? Whatever it is it seemed to come on fast because Morozevich had already arrived in Dos Hermanas!"

Moro is one of many top players to claim retirement in the past few years, while playing just as many games. Mostly they seem to do this to protest the decline in big-money invitations and the loss of the FIDE KO in the past two years. That's it, guys. When the going gets tough, the tough, umm, whine and say they're going to retire.

Topalov has stronger claims on inactivity. He played in many rapid events in 2003, but his only classical games of the last year were back in the last edition of Corus in January.

January 7, 2004

Speaking of Books

Through insider sources I've been keeping tabs on the best-selling chess books at one of America's largest online and offline booksellers. (No, not just checking their popularity rankings online, which vary dramatically due to complex and rigged formulas.) "Chess for Dummies" outsells the rest, with the classic "Bobby Fischer Teaches Chess" close behind. Both of these outsold the new Kasparov "My Great Predecessors" book if you take the average of its first few months of availability. Of course the massive "Predecessors" hardback costs two to four times as much as the others.

There has been a great deal of conjecture over which chess book is the best selling of all time, with most plumping for "Fischer Teaches..." That would certainly seem to be fair claim based on how well it still sells. Chess historian Edward Winter has discussed the various claims in his Chess Notes column (ChessCafe.com) and compilations.

The top chess books far outsell the top bridge books. On the other hand, the top-selling non-fiction book, "The South Beach Diet," sells 250 times the top chess book, "Dummies." The good news is that the Dummies book, by Jim Eade, is an excellent primer. Even better is GM Patrick Wolff's book "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Chess". Put decorative paper dust-jackets on them if you're embarrassed to read them on the bus.

Shabalov Writes

Mentioned in this brief interview with US Champion Alexander Shabalov is that he plans to begin work on a book. "I want to write something entertaining about modern tournament life, the life of a tournament player."

Chess anecdote books have been out of fashion since the Chernev-Horowitz heyday three decades ago. I'm sure the light-hearted Shabalov is a fine candidate to pen one, although of course he'll be expected to fill most of the book with his exciting games and analysis.

January 8, 2004

Seeds of (un)Change

The US Championship is forming slowly but surely. The field is 64 players, up from 56 in 2003. There will be 16 women and 48 men in the nine-round Swiss and a stunning $250,000 prize fund, still the largest in the world. The top six men and the top five women on the February, 2004 USCF rating list are automatically seeded into the Championship. Then you have the junior champion and the former champions. The rest are from the many qualifying events, usually the top opens. Players pay $75 pre-event to be eligible for qualification. This turns out to have become quite a nice earner for the championship as dozens of players in each event have paid the fee despite only a handful of slots being available. The qualification system adds many new (and hungry) faces to the usual suspects every year.

January 10, 2004

Chess on the Screen

The American cable channel A&E is releasing a television movie Fall 2004, on inner-city kids who play chess and revitalize their school lives. No doubt more than loosely based on the many success stories from dedicated coaches like GM Maurice Ashley in Harlem. Speaking of, Disney has optioned "I Choose to Stay," the 2003 book by Salome Thomas-EL who used chess as a tool to inspire inner-city schoolkids in Philadelphia. There have been many such films in recent years, not all of them with soundtracks by Coolio, but chess is new ingredient to the usual "tough kids with hearts (and minds) of gold" Hollywood line. (Stand and Deliver comes to mind.)

January 16, 2004

Chess Trailer

You know how the trailer for a new movie often turns out to be better than the movie? They take all the funniest jokes and best special effects and put them into a one or two-minute clip to suck you in. Then you go see it and it just sucks, period. That you've already seen the best bits doesn't help.

In a documentary about chess you don't get many special effects or jokes, so the trailer is likely to be a pretty good guide to the movie. If that's the case, start lining up now for tickets to "Game Over: Kasparov versus the Machine." It's about to be released (Friday, January 23rd) in theaters in the UK and the new trailer is out and on the web. It's incredibly cool.

The film's producer sent me three links directly to the streaming media files (.asx format) for different connection speeds. Pick the one that works for you. The file should launch in Windows Media Player.

Broadbandhigh speedlow speed

I was interviewed extensively for the film but only appear for a minute or two, which makes sense no matter how cute I am since I wasn't one of the pricipals. (It wasn't until the third time I watched the trailer that I noticed it's my voice at the start saying "here comes this 17-year-old..." Funny how you can't recognize your own voice. Skull vibrations, so they say.) Members of Kasparov's team and the Deep Blue team are interviewed, and of course Kasparov gets a lot of screen time. The film isn't as dramatic as the trailer, of course, but we both know you'll see it anyway. Probably twice.

There's no date for release in the US yet and negotiations are still up in the air.

January 29, 2004

Wijk In, Wijk Out

I'm coming up for air after doing the daily round reports and analysis on Corus Wijk aan Zee for ChessBase.com for the past few weeks. Argh. So much analysis only to show a a couple of diagrams and lines, but you don't want to miss any of the decisive moments. That's always embarrassing. Is this where I can yet again tell my story about showing a win that Short and Radjabov missed in analysis of Radjabov-Anand, Linares 2003? It was in my report the same day of the game, for goodness sake. A few days later Short gives an erroneous draw in his Sunday Telegraph column. A few weeks later Radjabov himself gives the same nonexistent draw in New In Chess. Months later GM Krasenkow writes in to New In Chess to say some students of his found 'this amazing win for Black" blah blah. Same thing I gave the day of the blooming game. But I'm not bitter.

I think even GMs are so dependent on computers these days that many of them don't really know how to use them for analysis. They scroll through the moves expecting a few second to illuminate the secrets. This isn't true even in very tactical positions. I find out more things because I often use Fritz and Co. to explain to me why my ideas don't work. On rare occasions they DO work and it's something the machine would have needed a long time to find on its own. After I use Fritz to auto-check games for blunders I always have to spend a few minutes going through the score to remove some of the silly evaluations it gives. Trust them for most tactics, and you have to love endgame tablebases, but it's not going to revolutionize chess looking each move of a super-GM game for five seconds.

This is what drives me crazy about kibitzing live games at Playchess.com, and it's no better on other chess servers. Having 800 amateurs shouting about how Anand and Kramnik are "blundering" because their moves are rated -0.34 worse than what their chess engine wants to play. This is a joke. Unless the eval drop is more than a full pawn (1.00) after a good five minutes of computer time, skip it!

Here's an experiment you can try that proves my point. Take a handful of super-GM classical games. Have Fritz auto-annotated them with the analysis threshold at 60, so it will only add variations if it thinks its suggestion is that much better (over half a pawn) than what was played in the game. Give it five or ten seconds per move. When it's done, have it do the same games again but with one or two minutes per move, or even more if you can let it run overnight.

The result? The more time you give it the LESS analysis it adds. That is, Fritz comes around to agreeing with the GMs instead of finding more so-called mistakes. Viva la humanidad!

January 30, 2004

Show Me a Sign

Garry Kasparov is scheduled to sign copies of his "Great Predecessors Volume 2" in New York City on Wednesday, February 4. It's not at the same place as his Vol. 1 signing last summer. It's at Borders 461 Park Ave, Manhattan on February 4 at 6.30 pm. It's on the corner of 57th Street in a large complex. Many subway lines stop nearby, including the 4, 5, 6, N & R at 59th Street and Lexington.

As for the book, it is unlikely it, or any book, will attract the incredible attention that the first volume received, both positive and negative. I think it's great, but then again I try to look at it as a chess fan and not as a critic who owns over 500 other books. This remains the biggest point of contention I have with those who write things like, "And that is the main shortcoming in this book’s handling of history: too much recycled, standard, easy-to-find material, too little effort to go beyond."

That was penned by Taylor Kingston at ChessCafe.com regarding Volume 2, but it could have come from any number of reviewers about either book. He and others also talk about the "overly familiar" games in the books. Overly familiar to whom? Easy to find for whom? Talk about ivory tower! Taylor's is an informed and informative review, as are many of the others, but most seem to miss the point of the book.

Continue reading "Show Me a Sign" »

February 4, 2004

Hey Garry...

I'll be at Garry Kasparov's book signing today and will be working with him on the weekend. If you have some questions for him I'm always happy to pass on a few good ones and report back. Of course subscribers to White Belt and Black Belt get first priority! Try to skip the stuff that has been asked a million times already, please. He's playing in Linares in a few weeks, the Leko-Kramnik match has just been announced, and most relevantly the second volume of his "My Great Predecessors" books is out.

"More Black Nerds"

I didn't manage to post this on the weekend when it would have been of more use to you, but the new PBS documentary "America Beyond the Color Line" showed yesterday and today. It's on at 9pm in most places. Americans should check their public television schedule. I mention it because the film includes a look at American GM Maurice Ashley and his activities teaching chess in Harlem. One of the many news stories out online that mention him is this one in the Denver Post.

Chess won't draw kids away from basketball until its champions make the millions of dollars NBA players do. Maybe the sneaky tack of telling kids that playing chess will make them better basketball players is worth a try. There are enough famous athletes who play chess and talk about it to give this some credibility. Then the mental and psychological benefits of chess will be acquired, which will come in handy in the classroom and elsewhere when that one-in-a-million shot at the NBA doesn't work out...

Priest Holmes, arguably the best running back in American football, is a chess nut. He has a "chess room" in his house, although with all those aforementioned millions he probably also has a Nintendo room, a Chinese checkers room, and a room just for keeping light brown shoes. An unofficial biography of Holmes on a kids' website includes this: "Priest Holmes used the strategy of chess to make him a better football player. Just like a chess player needs to figure out the best plan to attack the King, Holmes reasoned that a running back needs to plot the best strategy to maneuver through defenders to reach the end zone." Good stuff. Holmes also founded and sponsors chess clubs.

February 15, 2004

Despot Chess

FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov has once again shown that he's willing to rent chess out to aid the legitimacy of any two-bit dictator. First it was trying to hold the FIDE WCh in Baghdad, then actually having the final in Tehran in 2000, now this report says Tripoli, Libya is next.

Don't get me wrong, I'm as forgiving as the next guy. Far be it from me to hold weapons of mass destruction, blowing up airliners, and hijacking cruise ships against a guy. Let bygones by bygones, I always say, and apparently many of the world's governments feel the same way. "The Lockerbie Memorial Cup" would be such a nice name for a trophy.

This is a disturbing trend if only because Ilyumzhinov is slowly running out of potential despot sponsors. There's only one axis of evil member left to approach, so Kirsan had better hurry before some clever person figures out that North Korea's nuclear program is a hoax and takes out Kim Jong-Il. If that happens FIDE might be stuck looking for honest corporate sponsorship.

Then there are the practical matters. Even if UK players can stomach playing under the auspices of someone who bombed flight 103 and gave weapons to the IRA, what about the Israeli players? Like most Arab and/or Muslim nations, Libya has many official restriction regarding Israelis and even people who have visited Israel. (My US passport was actually issued in Israel after I lost one while living there in 1999. This caused no end of panic when I went to Bahrain to run the website for the Kramnik-Fritz match in 2002. It apparently had to go all the way up to the office of some prince or other, although that may be true with parking tickets.) Many countries, including the US, have special requirements for visiting Libya.

I suppose it would be a positive thing if hosting this event broke down some of those barriers, but this seems unlikely. FIDE is usually the one making the concessions, not visa-versa. Wouldn't it be lovely, if symbolic, if Ilyumzhinov came out and said they would only host the event in Libya if leader Khaddafi lifted such restrictions? If Khaddafi is serious about bringing his country in from the cold it could be an opportunity. But a repeat of the Dubai/Haifa Olympiad fiascos seems more probable.

February 19, 2004

A Hydra By Any Other Name

The world of computer chess long ago moved beyond a room full of programmers eating pizza while their creations battled it out. Since Kasparov matches against Deep Blue in 96 and 97 is has been in the public consciousness.

The nationalistic aspect of computer chess has receded since Kaissa and CHESS played out the cold war in the 70's. It's still a coup for some small countries – who find it hard to compete in major sports – to find a geek champion. The Israeli world champion program Junior and its programmers Ban and Bushinsky are an example of this.

Now we've have an interesting case of carpetbagging. The ChessBase hardware project Brutus is now being sponsored by a Pakistani-run company that is bankrolled by a Saudi. This has led to a name change ("Hydra") and a change in the nationality of the program in tournaments to the United Arab Emirates although Austrian Chrilly Donninger of Nimzo fame is still in charge of the project. Hydra just won the strong Paderborn event ahead of Fritz and Shredder but it's play wasn't all that impressive.

That bottom line is that people aren't going to pay the $200+ for a piece of chess hardware unless it is much, MUCH stronger than $40 software that gets stronger every time you upgrade your PC. Hydra is far from being that strong despite the use in Paderborn of a distributed system with eight specialized chess cards on four dual Xeon servers, hardly something you would have in your home unless you live at NASA.

20 years ago Ken Thompson's Belle made it clear that the best hardware money could buy would beat the best software on the fastest CPUs. Deep Blue was further proof of this, even though its win over Kasparov practically guaranteed there wouldn't be another "money could buy" situation and hardware chess pretty much disappeared while software kept getting smarter and microprocessors kept getting faster.

Brutus/Hydra is sort of like Deep Blue on the (relative) cheap, using upgradeable FPGA cards that piggyback on PCs. There doesn't seem any reason to doubt that with continued investment it will dominate the computer chess circuit for a while. Will it be good enough to reach the big time, meaning a match against a Kasparov or Kramnik? (Call me a polemicist but with the Palgames sponsor being mostly Pakistani, India's Anand might not be on the menu.)

To reach that level Hydra will have to utterly dominate. The comically hyperbolic press release at the Hydra site is not a good start. It also seems more than a little disingenuous to go on about this as a triumph of UAE development when all they are doing is signing checks to the original creators. (It even says "created by PAL Group," which is simply false.) True, the sponsor gets what the sponsor wants on the sponsor's website, but it's a little like my buying a BMW and calling it a triumph of Mig technology.

But new money coming into chess is rarely a bad thing and if PAL wants to wrap itself and its new toy in a big Arab Emirates flag and use it for national publicity, that's their right. If they have any sense they'll stay close to ChessBase, who know computer chess and promoting it and who developed the product to begin with.

February 20, 2004

New York Calling

My first serious ChessBase Radio broadcast was yesterday during the first round of Linares. It's done via Windows Media Encoder built in to the Playchess.com server. You can download a free demo at that link and you may also need to install Windows Media Player 9. (If you subscribe to a ChessNinja newsletter you get a six-month subscription to Playchess.com.)

Install the software, launch it, click Playchess.com, create a new account, and when you enter the interface go to the Broadcasts room in the list in the bottom-right pane. You might need to go the Windows --> Panes --> Chess Media System and click the > Play button.

We had a guest star during round 1, GM Nigel Short. The world #17 and former world championship challenger shared some thoughts about the wild Shirov-Kasparov game and talked about his recent globetrotting and tournament successes. Nigel disagreed with my recent criticism of FIDE's idea to hold its championship in Libya under the auspices of Khaddafi. (See below and Mig on Chess #200.) Short reminded me and the listeners that he went to Tripoli last year for several appearances including a simul.

Short has not only become the true chess tourist , visiting 70 countries at his estimation, but he is also playing better chess than he has in a decade, or at least more successful chess, which isn't always the same thing. He admitted, and admitted it was hard to admit, that he'd been working very hard on his chess in the past year.

March 7, 2004

Linares 04 Stock Exchange

After more than two grueling weeks, the Linares supertournament is over. At least it was grueling for me. Live radio commentary and analysis during the rounds and then a report at night after analyzing the games. The real problem was that in the middle of the tournament I moved to a new apartment. It was only across the river from the East Village in Manhattan to Brooklyn, but packing, moving and unpacking during the middle of event coverage wasn't the best timing.

Now it's over and from looking at the crosstable it was one of the most boring supertournaments on record. 79% of the games were drawn, likely a modern record at this level. I remember the 98 Groningen Festival, a respectable category 16, had only seven decisive games out of 30, or 81% drawn. But the crosstable doesn't tell the whole story and it wasn't that boring for the most part.

The worst part for chess fans is that the worst culprit of the short draws, Vladimir Kramnik, also won the tournament. This tournament success at the expense of the game and the fans and the sponsors can only encourage other players to imitate this style, what Kasparov deprecatingly calls "stock market chess" because of the way Kramnik plays the percentages. If you offer a draw the moment you have a roughly equal position against a strong opponent, even if it's at move 18, you save your energy for when you get an good edge out of the opening and/or are playing someone weaker.

Kramnik played four non-game draws to start Linares. In the fifth round he was pressed by Kasparov with black and had to work for 44 moves for the draw. The he caught Topalov out in the opening and won a nice game for his first win. Another short draw followed, then a real game draw with Shirov and an attempt to beat the lowest seed, Radjabov that finished drawn. In the 11th round he was close to a loss against Leko only to find an excellent tactical shot to turn the tables in time trouble and notch his second win. He concluded with two more non-game draws.

Kramnik averaged 26 moves per game in Linares, and that must be close to a record too. Leko averaged 31, Kasparov 39. With opening theory running into the middle teens on the average this made for seven games in which Kramnik played maybe five original moves. This philosophy can be summed up as "if the game is probably going to be drawn anyway, why not get it over with early and save your energy for a better chance?" The answer, one that doesn't seem to occur to most of these guys, is "because you are ripping off the fans and sponsors and destroying the game and its future as a serious sport." They whine about lack of events and sponsors; do they think people will pay to watch 26 moves? To not know if they'll get to see a real game or not each day?

It's not fair to single Kramnik out; he's only the top exponent and happened to win this recent event, which on the whole just happened to epitomize this philosophy. The table shows Kasparov as the drawing master of the event with one win and 11 draws. But if you watched the tournament or look at the games you see Kasparov drove the event round after round with aggressive play and long, hard-fought games. He missed three clear wins (documented in Black Belt #64) and got into time trouble in just about every game. He had two short draws, one on his account against Leko and one with black against Kramnik in round 12 when Vlady was trying to force a draw from the start.

Kramnik again lived up to the "Mister Plus Two" sobriquet I gave him years ago. He won the tournament, but hearts, minds, and sponsorship aren't going to follow. 26 moves per game!!

Fischer Goes to Cliche

Reviews continue to multiply of the new book on the Fischer-Spassky 1972 match, "Bobby Fischer Goes to War". I wrote some comments on early British reviews at ChessBase here. Now that the book is out in the US we've been inundated with reviews and commentary, all of them rehashing the already stale hash that the book covers. The New Yorker even weighed in. Here's the NY Times review at a site that doesn't require registration. (I used to deliver that paper, the Contra Costa Times!) Then the SF Chronicle, and NY Newsday.

I didn't have my hopes too high, but it seems like fears have been confirmed. Judging from reviews, respected authors David Edmonds and John Eidinow have produced little new and, even worse, have used just about every old canard and urban legend that Horowitz and Chernev ever saw fit to confabulate.

The long-debunked bit about Morphy being found dead surrounded by women's shoes is dusted off, as is the ancient and untrue tale about a 300-page book for chess spectators with 300 blank pages and "SHUT UP" at the back. Har har. These are all funny anecdotes but there are plenty of good chess stories that also happen to be true. I don't blame them too much for repeating a good story from a book, no one has limitless sources. But it's still sad.

The book may well be useful to bring an interesting old story to a new general, audience. But chess fans and Fischer fanatics who know the story are unlikely to find much of interest. I'm still waiting for my review copy so I shouldn't be so categorical. Non-chess reviewers are likely to repeat the same "sensational" bits and make the same errors.

March 8, 2004

Shores of Tripoli

I'm still on the fence regarding FIDE's announcements that they are planning to hold their 2004 world championship tournament in Libya. Money to chessplayers is good. A tournament that could move us toward unification is good. Using sport to encourage the opening of political doors is good. Being a sport USED by a dictator to fool people into thinking he is opening doors is bad.

Imagine this press release: "As a gesture to the global community and to chess, Libya will welcome players from Israel and those who have visited Israel to the 2004 world championship. These restrictions will henceforth be lifted in the spirit of FIDE's motto, gens una sumus."

Great! Let's go to Libya! I'm still not shaking Khaddafi's bloody hand, but it would be an achievement of sorts. Still ridiculous, still damaging to the sport's reputation, still harmful to bringing serious corporate sponsorship into the game, but progress.

But it appears that instead of that, FIDE may stick its head in the sand. They are prepared to split the event into two: one in Libya and one in Malta where the Jews will play. How nice of them. So chess concedes morality for a few bucks yet again. Right now FIDE is asking for three special visas to let Israelis into Libya to play. No word about those who have visited Israel, who are currently forbidden entry as well.

Many countries are now making moves to welcome Libya back into the fold despite Khaddafi's continued control of the country. (In other places at other times they might have demanded the dictator in question relinquish control at least symbolically.) In light of all the movement inside and regarding Libya I'd be willing to support the tournament in Libya if they lift the visa restrictions for the tournament. Without even that tiny concession, what's to support?

March 15, 2004

Dueling Rapids

For the second year in a row we see two powerful rapid tournaments scheduled for the same week, this week. This will be the 13th Melody Amber tournament in Monaco and as usual it includes most of the world's top players. Anand and Kramnik top the list. The Spaniard Vallejo gets his first invite to this pleasure cruise of chess tournaments. Fantastic conditions with every need catered to, a $200,000 prize fund, short work days, and no rating points in play so you are free to take risks and bomb out.

Each day you play a match consisting of one rapid game and one blindfold chess game against the same opponent. The blindfold game allows us to chuckle when the world's best players make foolish mistakes and occasionally marvel when they play a grand conception without sight of the board. But I've never seen the point of watching 2700s play like 2400s with a 1400-style blunder tossed in every once in a while. "Ooh, you could barely tell this game was blindfold!" isn't a big deal when we have plenty of such games. At the end of the day it's just a dancing bear show. But with such conditions the players certainly aren't going to complain.

The other rapid event is in Reykjavik, Iceland, and it boasts Garry Kasparov's participation. Kasparov has never played the Melody Amber (named for the daughter of the tournament's patron: the rich, amiable, and charmingly eccentric correspondence chess GM J.J. van Oosterom). Kasparov considers blindfold chess a sideshow not for serious competition. Karpov and Short are also playing in Reykjavik, making it a sort of 80s-early 90s reunion. I don't think they have played against each other in the same event since Linares 1992. Showing that talent ages well, they are the top seeds in Reykjavik.

March 16, 2004

Chess Education in the News

Much of the chess that pops up in the chess news searches at Google and elsewhere is of the scholastic variety. Most is of the little Timmy wins first prize in the Sasweego Elementary tournament variety. This one on America's Foundation for Chess is more interesting.

The AF4C is the Seattle-based group that has sponsored the last three US Championships. The 2004 championship will instead be in San Diego and there are rumors that the organization itself might head down to the border too. The dates for the championship have been in flux due to some construction and scheduling messes at the originally announced venue in San Diego. (Moving the Championship from Seattle was apparently contingent upon a commitment from the mayor to introduce chess in schools.)

It's now looking like it will run through Thanksgiving and into the first week of December, almost two years after the last championship (Jan. 03). Official announcement is expected this week.

Speaking of the US championship, I am again hearing things about controversy around the 04 US women's Olympiad team selection process. The rules seem to change weekly, for one. The main question is still whether or not Anna Hahn will be given an automatic spot as reigning US champion. It seems the rules have recently been altered to say that the champ does get put on the team EXCEPT in 2003-2004! The Anna Rule?

In both national and world titles, whenever the winner isn't one of the top-rated players there is controversy. Basically, if you're going to whine about the results, don't play the tournaments and just go with the rating list. "That's why they play the games" is the wholly correct platitude.

March 17, 2004

A Chessplayer by Any Other Name

The China View news service is reporting that 2001 FIDE Women's World Champion Zhu Chen is involved in a battle to retain the rights to her name. Apparently a foreign (non-Chinese) company tried to register the rights to the 28-year-old's name without her knowledge.

Maybe she should also have a talk with a Mr. Carlos Moreno, who registered zhuchen.com a month ago! (Earlier here I mistakenly identified the registrar as the registrant due to fine print and laziness. My bad. Thanks for the corrections.) It can take time, but it is now fairly routine for well-known individuals and brands to get their name domains taken away from other people. Carlos would have to make a good case for having zhuchen.com for something other than reselling it to prevent a court from handing it over to Zhu Chen. (Loads about this in the case regarding sting.com here.)

The unsavory practice of cyber-squatting also popped up in the chess world in several places. When we started work on KasparovChess in 1999 one of the biggest behind-the-scenes battles was about how some nut was squatting on kasparov.com. He'd met Garry years earlier, done nothing with the project, and ended up causing no end of trouble until it was finally awarded to Kasparov in a long and expensive court battle.

We went on a domain-buying spree back then and many of those I registered for the now-defunct company still show the old contact information. Back then I noticed that a Spanish chess group had registered the domains of the names of many top players.

There are some other curious ones out there. vishyanand.com, vladimirkramnik.com, and peterleko.com are owned by my friends at the London Chess Centre (who also have the coveted chess.co.uk). kramnik.com is owned by his friend Miguel Illescas's chess school in Spain. KasparovChess offered big bucks for chess.com, but in the net madness of the late 90s the fellow at Chess Mentor turned down enough to retire on. Whoops.

It's interesting that the LCC has registered so many full names, which could likely be taken away by their namesakes in court. (Even if they make peterleko.com into a Peter Leko fan site a court could still call him the rightful owner as a public figure in need of protecting his name and earning power.) Meanwhile, paulmorphy.com is still available!

March 18, 2004

It's a Date

(See March 16, 04) From America's Foundation for Chess: "America’s Foundation for Chess (AF4C) and NTC Foundation have set the dates for the 2004 U.S. Chess Championships. The national title tournament will take place from November 24 through December 5, 2004, at the Hilton Torrey Pines in La Jolla."

"This will be the fourth year that AF4C has hosted the annual tournament and its first year doing so with a co-sponsor. Expected to maintain its $250,000 prize fund, the 2004 U.S. Chess Championships will be held over 12 days and is expected to attract attention from around the world. Chessmaster® is returning as a 2004 corporate sponsor."

Allow me to say "Yay!" More good chess, more good money, more of a good thing. It would also be nice to see some serious live coverage of the event this time around. I'm sure their sponsors would appreciate it. Thousands of Americans get up early to watch the top European events; I'm sure many more would love to watch the US Championship live with commentary at a decent hour!

Instead of having sponsor-free rebroadcasting by the ICC, Playchess.com, et al, they could have a nice page with information and links for their sponsors and their own agenda. The design wasn't the most subtle thing I've ever done, but you can't deny that X3D got their money's worth of name recognition from this!

Or we could show all the games at Playchess.com and have audio commentary like we did during Linares. I'd promise to mention the AF4C, the sponsors, and a mission statement every 30 minutes or so on the air. And now for these messages from our sponsors....

March 20, 2004

Alternate Reality

News clips about chess are often incorrect and are usually stilted at best. The difference between a game and a match confounds most wire services, although it's quite similar to the same terms in tennis. Then there's the fact that they are usually getting incorrect or contradictory information from various so-called official sources. FIDE politicians are rarely willing to admit they don't know or, more to the point, that they have no authority on a matter. Then things trickle down to regional politicans who further mangle the news before issuing a statement, which is then picked up by the news services. Argh.

Still, you have to wonder how many mistakes can be crammed into a single small item when you see things like this. The first paragraph: "HANOI: Russian chess king Garry Kasparov has agreed to play his countryman and official world number one Ruslan Ponomariov in Vietnam, the Vietnam Chess Federation said Friday."

About the only thing they got right was that Kasparov is Russian. He's not going to play Ponomariov unless the Ukrainian (not his countryman) wins the 2004 KO in Libya. This is unlikely since Pono has already said he won't play in the next FIDE championship, considering himself king for life a la Fischer. Nor is Pono the number one anything, although I believe he officially retained the FIDE title after dodging a Kasparov match last year.

March 28, 2004

Chess Edumacation

It has become commonplace to hear references to how playing chess improves kids' performance in school, helps them concentrate better, and does just about everything this side of eliminating cavities. Data to back this up is important when it comes to things like getting funding for chess clubs or adding chess to the curriculum. Groups like America's Foundation for Chess and Chess-in-the-Schools know that school districts prefer thick piles of charts and test scores (that they will likely never read) to mountains of anecdotal evidence from teachers, parents, and students. (I speak as a former teacher and the son of a teacher. School systems are just like any other bureaucracy.)

This recent Press-Enterprise story is a typical one, although it actually mentions two studies instead of just acting like it is an intuitive step to say that playing chess improves student performance in other areas. That site requires a rather onerous registration process, so an excerpt:

"The connection between chess and math, reading and critical-thinking skills is well-documented. In the 1980s, researchers studying chess in Pennsylvania schools during a five-year period showed that critical thinking skills improved by 17 percent for students in chess classes, compared with a 5 percent improvement for students in other classes.

Similarly, a study in 1996 by educational psychologist Stuart Margulies showed a marked improvement in reading skills for students learning chess in New York schools."

The Margulies study is mentioned in more detail here. An interesting summary of that and many other findings regarding chess and thinking is here. The evidence is strong that regular chess play improves cognition in various ways, likely differing from child to child. One problem with several of the studies, at least at first glance, is that old bugbear correlation vs causation. Kids who take to mind games like chess seem likely to have greater aptitudes for other mental disciplines, including test-taking, problem solving, reading, etc. Even if selection is random, kids who stay with a school chess program are likely to be ahead of those who drop out of one.

Of course it's not a coincidence that many of these experiments were created and conducted by chessplayers, who would have at least a mild interest in putting a positive spin on the game. Someone with no knowledge of chess is unlikely to come up with the idea. (Margulies was co-author of Bobby Fischer Teaches Chess.)

But when the rate of improvement increases with the introduction of chess into group, you've got something, and this happens consistently with high correlation. And I'll take the word of teachers, parents, and kids over statistics any day. Hundreds have testified to the many positive effects on individuals and groups.

March 29, 2004

Georgia On My Mind

I hope someone out there understands what went on with this chess tournament in Karabakh. The Petrosian Memorial recently finished in Stepanakert, Karabakh. I can't say exactly where that is, which seems to be the problem. This story at an Azerbaijani news page doesn't help much. Apparently the Azerbaijanis are annoyed that a Georgian played in an Armenian tournament because it was being played in a region that is claimed by both Azerbaijan and Armenia. Got that? (More on the conflict here.)

FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov apparently warned the Armenians that the tournament wouldn't be recognized. 21-year-old Georgian GM Jobava was caught in the middle of all this and has been punished by his national federation (although I somehow doubt he will really be forbidden from playing, as if that were possible).

I bet if the Armenians were putting up, say, 1.5 million dollars for a FIDE event Ilyumzhinov would have no trouble overlooking any troublesome political issues.

Blair Watch Project

Speaking of political issues, with Tony Blair going to Libya the door is wider open for the 2004 FIDE KO championship to be held in Tripoli this summer. I'm all in favor of Libya coming in from the cold, making reparations, and selecting a new, sane, leader in at least a vaguely democratic fashion. But if they don't let the Israeli players participate it's a joke, especially considering the FIDE motto is "Gens Una Sumus" or We are One Family. Maybe someone who had more than one semester of Latin can tell us how to amend the FIDE motto to "We Are One Family, Except the Jews." At one point the FIDE site said that they were hoping for a special dispensation to allow the Israelis to play, but the latest FIDE reports on the event don't mention this.

I'd love to go cover the KO like I did the last one in Moscow (2001). But since my passport shows I have visited Israel I won't be allowed into Libya to do so. While I have disagreed with most of the directions Ilyumzhinov has pushed chess (time control, KO, political instead of corporate sponsorship), I believe he thinks he is helping chess with his actions. I also think FIDE can be worked with and transformed and doesn't need to be discarded and/or replaced, as many suggest. But is this really the best we can hope for? Places that radically restrict event attendance for profane racial, religious, and political reasons? Background and current status of Libya and its relations with the US here.

April 19, 2004

New Look, New Dirt

Thanks to the good folks at Movable Type there's a whole new look here at the Daily Dirt. We'll be tweaking and designing for a few days yet, as well as importing all the old dirt, which is still available here. I'll be getting to all the interesting material you've been sending in, as well as the usual rants. Thanks for your patience.

April 20, 2004

Georgia on My Mind II

There used to be something in the water in Georgia that turned out great women chessplayers. Now the rivers of the former Soviet republic seem to be tainted with the famous local wines. The past week has seen a barrage of news reports about the 2004 women's world championship that is scheduled to take place in Batumi.

The gist seems to be that the Adjarian region, of which Batumi is the capital, is semi-autonomous and the Georgian capital wants to give the impression that it is violatile and too dangerous to host a prestigious sporting event. This doesn't seem to be much of an exaggeration, especially when a Georgian news site reporting the chess story links to the mutiny of a local military leader.

The Georgian government has said they can't guarantee the safety of the participants, which in my opinion puts them in good company with the men (and Judit Polgar) off in Libya. Not that I have much faith in the proclamations of the US government, but they list Libya as one of the most dangerous places to visit and anecdotal evidence for this isn't lacking. The Arab world is a rather dodgy place to be American these days, for obvious reasons. (And an even dodgier place to be an Arab, according to the casualty lists.) This is why the US Chess Federation has asked FIDE if its players can join the exiled Israelis in playing in Malta instead of Tripoli.

I just stumbled across this new fascinating and horrific depiction of Khadaffi (pick your own spelling). Ah, the chess world sure can pick'em.

April 21, 2004

The Anna Hahn Memorial Tournament

Don't worry, she's still alive, but it's hard to imagine more being done to bury a player than what the US chess scene has seen this year regarding Hahn.

In January, 2003 she committed the terrible crime of winning the US Women's Championship. She didn't break any rules or legs and won fair and square. She finished the regular tournament tied with past winners Irina Krush and Jennifer Shahade and then beat them both in a rapid-chess playoff to take the title and the $12,500 first prize put up by Erik Anderson and his fabulous America's Foundation for Chess (AF4C).

As I documented in my report from Seattle, the three finalists played very different tournaments. That's the nature of the event, a Swiss in which the women are mixed in with the men. The top women finish in the middle of the pack and the middle of a Swiss system is incredibly random. But Hahn shouldn't be blamed for winning just because she is rated lower than Krush and Shahade.

The problems started when a US women's Olympiad training squad was formed a few months later and Hahn wasn't on it. As the 2003 US Champion she was automatically seeded onto the team for the 2004 Olympiad in Spain, but the organizers of the team believed, and still believe, Hahn is too weak to play on the team. (Susan Polgar and her business partner Paul Truong are behind the training squad and have done a huge amount of work on it.)

Hahn has played on the national team before, but this time around several high-rated women have parachuted into the picture. Anna Zatonskih (2444) has moved to the US and USCF rules were changed and new FIDE rule exceptions are being requested so she can play for her new country despite playing for Ukraine in 2002. The biggest news was that former women's world champion Susan Polgar (2565, inactive) was considering coming out of retirement to lead the team.

Continue reading "The Anna Hahn Memorial Tournament" »

April 22, 2004

Samford and Daughter

Rusudan GoletianiTo continue with the Yanqui-centric theme of the week, the US Chess Federation today announced that Rusudan Goletiani has won the lucrative 2004 Samford Chess Fellowship. My congratulations to her. The 23-year-old from Georgia (the country) is the first woman to win the Samford in its history. Joel Benjamin was the first recipient of the Samford, in 1987.

I haven't been able to find a comprehensive list of all the winners, but I described it as "lucrative" instead of the cliche "prestigious" for a reason. It means $32,000 per year and the ability to hire a trainer and work exclusively on chess instead of flipping burgers. It's a great idea that helped US chess legends like Benjamin, Dlugy, and Kamsky. Winners include two world junior champions, I. Gurevich and Shaked.

That's all good, but when it comes to recent winners, "where are they now?" is a tough question. Not that they aren't lovely people and not that they don't do good things for US chess, but if the point is success at the board then names like Shahade, Ippolito, Mulyar, Waitzkin, Kreiman, and Finegold aren't going to ring a bell for most. (Dmitry Schneider just won a year ago so we'll give him some time.) Akobian, the controversial 2002 winner who had just arrived in the US, is considered to have more promise but hasn't gotten his GM title yet either. Playing a heavy diet of big American open tournaments makes those GM norms hard to find.

Continue reading "Samford and Daughter" »

April 23, 2004

The Road to Heck

Saint Francis probably said it first, but Shaw said it best: "Hell is paved with good intentions, not with bad ones. All men mean well." The hailstorm of e-mail and comments about the April 21 entry on Anna Hahn and the 2004 US Championship included some new information and reflected a few misconceptions.

The first relates to an omission on my part. Hahn made it very clear to me that the AF4C has been very supportive of her throughout. I was aware of this and should have made it clear that the AF4C's intentions have been very much in the right place. They consistently went to bat for Hahn with the USCF to make sure Hahn was on the Olympiad team.

All of this left incoming USCF Executive Board President Beatriz Marinello in an impossible position and she already had a massive financial crisis on her plate. (Full disclosure: she's a friend and former co-worker at KasparovChess Online.) She wanted to keep the A4FC happy and do right by the US title and Hahn. On the other side she was suddenly presented with a paper signed by the disgraced former executive director (Niro) changing the rules for Olympiad team qualification.

My beef is with the solution and my point was to highlight how secrecy (and stupidity) led to a disaster. The AF4C ran into the USCF's burning house to try and save a messy situation, but the blaze was already out of control by the time the facts came out (assuming they are all out now). The solution we are left with, an ad hoc US championship with convoluted rules, is a tough pill to swallow.

The irony is that according to the current (new) qualification rules, Hahn isn't on the team and this tournament is being held as a compromise to give her a chance to be on the team. This is a surreal twist. Two months ago she was told she was on the team and now she's asked to defend her spot and her title on two month's notice. (I guess 'A' for effort, and the AF4C is footing the bill. [Actually it is not the organization itself, but some of its founders making personal contributions. Erik Anderson, Yasser Seirawan and Yvette Nagel Seirawan.])

Everyone was pushing so hard behind the scenes that it apparently never occured to anyone make a public statement. Of course it's easy to criticize with 20/20 hindsight, but that's pretty much the job description around here and no one asked me a year ago anyway. (Although I did write about it. Scroll down to #69. (Dude.) And various others on that page.)

April 24, 2004

USCF Watergate?

I don't believe in the black helicopters, the second gunman, or crop circles. But I stumbled onto something more than curious while I was looking around for the current and previous qualification regulations for the US Olympiad teams.

I'd heard that the so-called secret agreement between former USCF Exec Director Niro and Susan Polgar may have been known to other members of the executive board, something they have, to my knowledge, denied. I know these matters were discussed during the March, 2003 meeting of the Executive Board. It was controversial because they changed the policy regarding residency required to play in the US Championship and the Olympiad. (The "secret" part specified that the 2003 champion wouldn't play on the 2004 team. The Hahn Rule.)

So I headed to the USCF website where they archive all the minutes from these meetings, which even include digital audio downloads of the open sessions. Great! Here we'd find the details. Was Hahn's 2004 Olympiad participation discussed or not? Was anything other than residency requirement on the table?

I found the page and scrolled down to the March 15-16 meetings. This is when things got weird. The files for that meeting are gone! All the other links on the page work fine. But the minutes and audio links for the March meeting are 404, page not found, content removed! Coincidence? (The link to the agenda is still working.)

The link names on the page are not standardized. That is, the files were there at some point and were removed. Does anyone have the minutes or the recordings? Will they reappear with suspicious edits a la Nixon? Calling Woodward and Bernstein!

I've written a few USCFers about this; I can't wait for the answer. I hope they just put them back up and pretend this never happened.

Sam Sloane attended the meeting and posted a few of what were highlights in his opinion, but only mentions the well-known residency requirement changes. (I'd link to it if it weren't for the obnoxious music that plays when you go to the page.)

It seems unlikely the Olympiad requirements were discussed vis-a-vis the champion, but, as usual, when it looks like something is being covered up your imagination starts to run wild.

[April 25: The minutes from the meeting are found in the Internet Archive here. Thanks to Richard for finding and posting the link. From the minutes it appears the Board did not discuss the Olympiad seeding of the champion so we can continue to assume they were unaware of the agreement between Niro and Polgar/KCF. So why were these minutes removed from the USCF site? And the audio files?]

Calm in the Eye of the Hurricane

You might have missed the eloquent comment from US Women's Champion Anna Hahn that she posted today to the April 21 story, so we give it here in full:

Anna Hahn The statement published by Mig has stirred up quite a furor. Mig's article has brought to light, if abruptly and antagonistically to some, an unfortunate situation which has been going on quietly for over a year, and at last it must be resolved. No doubt, I am saddened and angered to have been at the center of this preposterous controversy.

Although I cannot ethically endorse the final decision of the 2004 tournament, both AF4C and USCF have been supportive in trying to resolve the crisis, and I would like to thank them for that. Perhaps there was no better solution, given the regrettable deals that only came to life in the middle of the discussion.

United States chess has greatly suffered. Let us look at the lessons engendered by our actions and build a better, united, and open system which can help to build rather than destroy, our efforts as a community. Like Mig said, the AF4C has "done so much to add much-needed luster" to US Chess. I sincerely hope that they will not be discouraged from continuing to offer their much needed support.

Personally, I will continue to play chess for the pure joy of it.

Anna

April 24, 2004

April 28, 2004

Get In, Yes. Get Out?

Score a point for constant harping. It looks as though Libyan leader Khaddafi may let the Israel players into Tripoli for the 2004 FIDE world championship. (Here on March 8 I wrote "In light of all the movement inside and regarding Libya I'd be willing to support the tournament in Libya if they lift the visa restrictions for the tournament.")

Not that I think the Lockerbie bomber himself was reading, but it appears that FIDE has managed to get them to agree. We posted the Libyan invitation (not explicitly to Israelis, but to "all 128 players") at ChessBase today. Congratulations to veteran FIDE arm-twister Makropoulos for getting it done and FIDE for expressing will for the good for the first time since Euwe was President.

The Jerusalem Post has more on this development. (Also here and here.) It also brings up the obvious problem with this success, quoting an Israeli chess federation official: "Even if we get permission from security officials and the Foreign Ministry, we are not sure that we will go, since the players are afraid," one official said. "If the Libyans agree, however, to allow us to travel with armed security guards, then that might prove to be a determining consideration for the players."

Oh, that. Yes, hmm. Getting your head into the lion's mouth isn't the hard part. I could understand the players not wanting to risk life and limb while trying to play chess at the same time. I hope they can get security guarantees. It would be a step even though it's likely Israelis would still be banned the day the last one was out of the KO.

So the next question: if the Israelis feel it's too dangerous (and the other players might not even want to be around them) will there still be an alternative venue available to them? FIDE say no. ("No parallel event will be organized in Malta and all the games of the Championship will be played in Libya.") Other countries were already lining up to request to play in Malta instead of Libya, which would have been a publicity disaster. I don't doubt that's why FIDE and Khaddafi finally realized it would be better to have only one event.

No Sign of Anand

This Times of India story reveals that world #2 Vishy Anand is one of the invited players yet to sign and submit his player contract for the 2004 FIDE world championship in Tripoli (June 18-July 13).

Today FIDE announced that 114 of the 128 invitees had signed. A few days ago they posted something about extending the signing deadline until April 27 because their website was down.

Of course they desperately need Anand to play. He's a former champion and will be the favorite in Tripoli. In the Times story Anand said he wasn't yet ready to reveal his reasons.

April 30, 2004

Objectivity Under the Microscope

My recent Mig on Chess (the "Back-scratch Fever" part) caused a flare-up of that old bugbear, accusations of not being objective. Apart from the obvious "no one is, not even in calculus," I've always said opinion is what I'm giving. Facts can be found scattered all over the ground; I try to make some sense of them.

Someone professing to be objective is far more dangerous. Fox News is probably the best example of this, but obviously anything other than someone's birthday is subjective. It's not just how you report something, it's what you choose to report.

Anyway, I recently read the excellent Michael Lewis book "Losers" about the 1996 American presidential campaign. Its afterword is all about writers and journalists who get "too close" to a subject and much of it rang familiar to my situation with Kasparov. I have posted below a lengthy excerpt from it with intro notes on how it relates to my situation with Kasparov. Food for thought.

Continue reading "Objectivity Under the Microscope" »

Call of the Mild

MIA FIDE champion (de jure) Ruslan Ponomariov and/or his spokespeople in the Ukrainian sports federation have popped up with another letter. (Given in full below.) This time instead of just complaining he wuz robbed, they suggest an alternative unification solution.

In short, it's a 1948-style match-tournament "in which could take part the best chessplayers: Ruslan Ponomariov, Garry Kasparov, Vladimir Kramnik, Viswanathan Anand, Peter Leko and the winner of a tournament which will take place in Tripoli (Libya) .... TWIC editor Mark Crowther has been suggesting variations of this off and on for a long time.

It has immediate attraction for the fans because it "settles everything over the board" and that's what we want most: chess. But just about every player would have complaints about why they had to play and why others were being allowed to play. Now that both the FIDE KO and Kramnik-Leko have sponsorship there is zero chance of this happening. (Down from the 0.0000001% chance of a year ago.) Speaking cynically, everyone but Ponomariov (and maybe Anand) would have more to lose than to gain.

Continue reading "Call of the Mild" »

May 1, 2004

We Aren't the World

Thirteen players who qualified for the 2004 FIDE world championship in Libya have failed, according to FIDE, to sign and submit their player agreement contracts and so have been replaced by reserves. We knew Kramnik, Leko, and Ponomariov weren't showing up. The first two have their own classical championship match in October and Ponomariov is too busy sending out press releases.

More surprising are the absences of Vishy Anand and Alexei Shirov, who played in the final of the 2000 FIDE KO in Tehran, Iran with Anand winning the title. Also on the no-play list are stars Peter Svidler, Evgeny Bareev, Boris Gelfand, Anatoly Karpov, Judit Polgar, and 1999 FIDE champion Alexander Khalifman. Two top American players, Gregory Kaidanov and Joel Benjamin, complete the list.

That's hardly a list of nobodies and the Tripoli KO definitely loses much of its already limited appeal. Topalov, Morozevich, and Adams are the only top-ten players left, and there are no previous winners in the field. I've written to half of the drop-outs, but it seems obvious that there will be as many reasons as players. It's a long, grueling event in a location many deem unsafe. The prize money is good but far from what it used to be. The $80,000 first prize is 20% of that of the 2000 event.

Anand has long spoken of his desire to get another piece of Kasparov and a chance to avenge his 1995 world championship loss. Perhaps the prospect of a month in Libya just isn't worth it?

Meanwhile, the women's event was, inevitably, moved to the Kalmykian capital of Elista, home town of FIDE President Ilyumzhinov and perpetual venue of last resort.

May 3, 2004

Bad math and FIDE's Disappearing Players

I've spent a few days trying to get a straight answer about FIDE's latest excursion into the twilight zone, but so far without success. One of my favorite admonishments in the White Belt training newsletter is "DO THE MATH!" Many amateurs are afraid of complications and shy away from lines that require calculation, so they never get better at it. It appears FIDE needs to do the math as well. Even more troubling is the impression that the breakthrough of Libya accepting the Israeli players (see 28/4) might be a sham.

FIDE published a new list of players for the 2004 FIDE KO world championship to be held in Tripoli, Libya. They removed those who didn't send in their player agreement forms and added reserves. They gave the list of the 13 players removed and the 113 who qualified. Umm, that makes 126, not the 128 they need. The two who disappeared are Israeli Emil Sutovsky and American Alexander Goldin. FIDE now says that 115 have signed, so they seem to feel free to add new players to the main list without touching the reserve list. This gives them room to negotiate behind the scenes with marquee names like Anand and Svidler despite being past the signing deadline.

GM Sutovsky posted below: "Hi Mig, thanks for raising an issue. In fact, I signed the contract conditionally (''my confirmation is valid only if I am allowed to play all my matches in Malta''), but FIDE added my name to the list of confirmed players. I protested, they removed me from that list but didn't add to the list of those who refused. Suddenly, my name is just absent at all... But you could confidently enlist myself among those who refused to play in Libya :) Basically, according to the laws of Israel, I'm just not allowed to go there... So, Israeli players (Gelfand, me and Smirin - who is second reserve and would definitely get a place) are just ignored by FIDE and left out of KO. Quite an issue, isn't it?

This means that before FIDE announced that Libya would accept Israelis, they knew no Israelis had submitted signed agreements. Ouch! As Woody Allen put it, "No matter how cynical you are, you can't keep up." Just when I thought FIDE had done something decent and achieved something, it turns out they may have told the Libyans "don't worry, there aren't any Israelis on the list anymore so go ahead and welcome them. You'll get positive PR without having protests, security problems, or ticking off your Arab neighbors." Ow ow ow. There's no way to know this for sure, but the timing is very suspicious.

FIDE puts their event in a country to which it is illegal for one of their member federation's players to travel. They arrange an alternative venue for those players. Then they pull that venue out from under the players' feet. All in all this highlights the insanity of holding an event like this in such controversial location.

May 4, 2004

Bobby Fischer Goes to War

We mentioned this new book by Edmonds and Eidinow in the March 7 entry. Harper-Collins was kind enough to send a review copy so I could confirm most of my suspicions. The book tells the story of Fischer-Spassky 72, its run-up and post-mortem. It is told well and in great detail. It adds perspective but little new information to the well-known facts.

Chess fans who have a few of the match books will still enjoy the new focus on Spassky, who is usually in the distant background. The day-to-day haggling behind the scenes of the match is presented in great detail, probably too much detail. The appendix on Fischer's parentage and family has the most new information.

Of most value is how well the book reconstructs how the match was seen at the time. The post-script is suprisingly hasty, even considering how little solidly sourced information is available about Fischer since 1973. His 1996 appearance in Buenos Aires is not mentioned at all, and I don't bring that up just to say that's where I met him. The incredible attention his brief resurfacing received speaks volumes about Fischer's legacy, but the authors don't seem much interested in that.

The book doesn't alter the convention wisdom around the match and the players. But it's thorough and a good read and not intended for those who are familiar with the story. I just wish they hadn't gone and perpetuated that idiotic bit about Morphy and the shoes...

May 5, 2004

Wayback Machine

I've now added ALL of the old entries to the archives from the old DD pages. It now goes back to December 22, 2002 with 221 entries including this one. Many of the links to newspapers and such are no doubt broken but are preserved for posterity. (And because I'm too lazy to check them all.) You can browse them month by month. The most useful aspect of the transition is the handy search feature on the left of the main page.

Libya Denies Inviting Israelis!

In stunning, if not surprising, news, Libya is denying they ever invited the Israelis to Tripoli for the FIDE WCh and insists they are not welcome. An alert reader sent in this link to an Israeli news page (in Hebrew) and this translation: "Muhammad Gaddafi, son of Libya's leader, denied inviting Israeli chess players to the international tournament that will be held this summer in Tripoli. He said: "We did not invite, and will not invite the Zionist enemy to this tournament." Also here where it adds: "[Muhammad] Gaddafi said today that his country will not allow Israelis to participate in the tournament, even if that will result in Libya losing the right to host the event."

Now that sounds more like those lovable nutcases. (Chess pundit John Henderson wonders, "Who's Ghaddafi's chess advisor, Bobby Fischer?!") It was noted before that the invitation "to all 128 participants" sent out by aforementioned son, who is in charge of sports in Libya (much the same way Saddam Hussein's son Uday was in charge of sports in Iraq, coincidentally enough) did not explicitly invite anyone or mention Israel. But FIDE was quick to say that this meant the Malta venue wasn't needed anymore because everyone was welcome in Libya. The Israeli newspapers and chess federation talked about this breakthrough.

As mentioned below, at least one qualified Israeli GM, Sutovsky, signed and submitted his player agreement with the understanding he would be able to play in Malta, as FIDE promised. It is blindingly obvious that an alternative venue is still required. Of course for the Israelis but also for anyone else whose federation deems it unsafe for their players to go to Tripoli. Imagine if it was "no Russians" or "no Africans"!

Another Sponsor Lost

The BBC reports here that Aslan Abashidze, leader of the Georgian region of Ajaria and thug-of-all-trades, has fled. This just days after the FIDE women's world championship was moved out of his capital for safety reasons. Nice of him to still hand over the money to sponsor the event while he was busy looting the treasury and packing his bags. Let's hope Ilyumzhinov cashed that check quickly! Ilyumzhinov is running out of friends and sponsors. First it was Saddam and Uday, and now his buddy Aslan.

May 6, 2004

The Garry Speaks

I just had a long talk with Kasparov at his home in Moscow where he's doing prosaic things like playing Warcraft with his son and trying to get over a cold. We talked about the progress, or lack thereof, of unification, the ACP ("all they could do was reverse the letters") and corporate sponsorship in the chess world past and present. Tomorrow a full article based on this interview will appear at ChessBase.com. I guarantee you will be surprised. I digitally recorded the whole thing and will put up a few MP3 clips here and there, although the sound of a long-distance call from someone with the sniffles isn't exactly audiophile conditions.

May 7, 2004

Libya Says No, FIDE Says Libya Says Yes

FIDE is trying to tap-dance around the recent denunciations by Libyan Olympic Committee President Mohammad Khaddafi that "We didn’t invite nor will we invite the Zionist enemy to the competition." In today's press release FIDE insists that the "LOC invitation to all WCC 2004 participants, dated 26-4-2004, is still valid."

Umm, hello? Which is it? The LOC President was quoted by the Associated Press saying "We know the Zionists will seize such occasions to enter the Arab society ... but we will not give up our principles even if that leads to canceling holding the tournament in Libya." That doesn't sound very welcome to me, or like it has anything to do with whether or not he extended a personal invitation to Israelis.

Nor does FIDE explicitly say that Israelis will be welcome to play in Tripoli, for an obvious reason: they can't because they aren't. They use the same weasel-words the Libyan invitation used. "All 128 players are welcome" when we know the only real question is whether or not the Israelis will be allowed to enter. They are hoping that by removing the Israelis from the list because they didn't send in their agreements, this dilemma will be swept under the carpet. FIDE wants to have its cake and eat it too. Or maybe that should be matzah.

May 9, 2004

What About Bent?

Vishy Anand just won his third Chess Oscar for his near-total domination of the rapid chess circuit in 2003. He also won Corus Wijk aan Zee at the start of the the year. Peter Svidler also had an incredible year and I actually put him first on my ballot, classical chess snob that I am.

The news was deservedly trumpted in the Indian press, but many of the reports talked about Anand being "the only non-Russian other than Fischer to win the award." One even quoted Anand saying this. I thought this odd, because legendary Bent Larsen of Denmark won the first Oscar in 1967 and this is hardly unknown. Then I discovered that the "official" Chess Oscar site starts its list at 1968 with Spassky! No doubt the Indian journos got their info from that site and while trying to come up with a stat to further glorify their man, came up with the Fischer bit.

Oscar voting used to be a fairly closed affair, mostly people who knew the editor of the Russian magazine 64, Alexander Roshal, who runs the prize contest. Now it appears it has been opened up to all and sundry, not that it wasn't mostly a popularity contest anyway. For a long time Kasparov didn't even bother accepting his string of awards.

May 11, 2004

Libya, Oy

If someone was going to break the omerta around FIDE's decision to hold the world championship in Libya, Boris Gulko was a logical candidate. (GM Sutovsky and the USCF have also spoken out.) The US GM and answer to the popular trivia question, "who is the only player to win the US (94) and USSR (77) championships?" has written an open letter to FIDE prez Ilyumzhinov. (See in full below.) Gulko is no stranger to speaking truth to power. He and his chessplayer wife Anna were famous refuseniks in the USSR and their hunger strike drew much attention. They were finally allowed to emigrate to Israel, where Gulko still holds joint citizenship.

The powerful letter protests staging the event in a country whose leaders denounce the "Zionist enemy" even while FIDE says all is well. Gulko and four other qualified American Jewish players will be absent from Libya, over half of the US contingent. (Goldin, Kaidanov, Stripunsky, and Benjamin are the others, although they have not stated their reasons to my knowledge.) Add Israelis Gelfand, Sutovsky, and Smirin and you have what should be a proper scandal.

Continue reading "Libya, Oy" »

May 12, 2004

Kasparov Goes Fischering

Garry Kasparov is on his way to Italy for a book signing event. His "My Great Predecessors" series is coming out in a remarkable number of languages. With the third book headed to the printers now and two more on the way, in a year or so there will be over 100 editions of the series in print around the world.

He is quite excited about the Fischer section in the third book. "The first serious modern analysis of his games." Ah, such modesty. Kasparov says much has been overlooked even in the 1972 world championship match, about which many dozens of books have been written.

I'll have more from Garry on Volume Three in a week or so. He's coming by to give testimony to the prestigious Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe in Washington DC. They are having a hearing on human rights in Russia and Kasparov leads a pro-democracy reform group.

May 14, 2004

Mickey Mouse Chess

Actually it's Aladdin, not the Mouse. This Disney press release talks about new chess software for kids. There is an "Aladdin-themed Adventure mode" and you can play against another person or the computer. No mention of online play. This might make for stiff competition for ChessBase's acclaimed Fritz and Chesster title. On the other hand, too often do software companies know far more about cool graphics than about teaching chess.

Mr. Kasparov Goes to Washington

This press release has been, well, released about the Helsinki Commission Hearing where Garry Kasparov will be giving testimony on human rights in Russia next Thursday. Note it calls him "World Chess Champion," which he seems content to use among hoi polloi (certainly not in chess crowds) as a sort of honorific instead of a sporting title.

There is precedent for this. National presidents usually keep that title, for example. But that's usually for retired presidents, and players. If I wrote "this variation is often played by world champions Karpov and Kasparov" it wouldn't sound bad. Having to write "ex-" and "former" all the time is annoying, especially when you assume 99.9% of your audience know what you mean. With Kasparov in front of non-chessplayers that's not the case, however, and "former" should certainly be used. "World's #1 chessplayer" would be a politically correct way around this since he still has the top spot on the rating list.

May 16, 2004

Ears to the Ground

A good reporter is always willing to make personal sacrifices to get the story. With this in mind I forced myself to hang out with Almira Skripchenko, Anna Hahn, and Irina Krush last Friday night. The occasion was the press conference for the ChinaCom.com (com.com.com?) match between French female #1 Skripchenko and her American counterpart Krush in September. You can read my report and interview with them here at ChessBase.com.

As is usually the case, the activities afterwards were more interesting than the press conference. The event was held at the Russian Samovar restaurant on the West Side of Manhattan and it is justly famous for Russian specialties and Russian vodka.

The latter is probably what led to the ear pulling. (Not to mention the photos of the ear pulling.) Of course I wasn't going to stand for this and quickly called New York's Finest. Photogenic Officer Robert Giannetta was quickly on the scene to sternly admonish the French ear puller in question, Almira Skripchenko.

US Women's Champion Anna Hahn came to her friend's rescue, as you'll see in the photo below.

Continue reading "Ears to the Ground" »

May 18, 2004

Grande Occasione

As mentioned below, Kasparov just finished a lightning-quick trip to Italy to promote his Great Predecessors book series. He set his new record for books signed in one day, 570! "They were organized like the Ferrari racing team," was how he put it. I stumbled into this page in Italian about his visit to Turin a day earlier to promote the 2006 Chess Olympiad there. I Miei Grandi Predecessori well illustrates the differences between the various editions and translations. Like the Spanish version it includes an incredible number of historical photos while the English editions have none at all. Meanwhile the Germans want to chop the books into smaller volumes. Who out there will collect them all in every language?! More on the Bologna book signing here.

Perhaps the oddest thing about the series is that Kasparov is insistent that the publishers add the volumes of analysis improvements (mostly in Vol. 1) in future printings. Many people will probably end up buying the same (not cheap) book twice, maybe even three times.

May 19, 2004

Do Not Adjust Your URL

We've successfully moved to a newer, bigger, and faster web server. No need to change your bookmarks/favorites, the numbers will disappear in a day or two and the link will continue to be www.chessninja.com/dailydirt.

May 20, 2004

The Neocon Opening

The clever capitalists at the Wall Street Journal rarely give away any content for free, but the May 19 editorial by Garry Kasparov was made their feature article and can be viewed by lowly non-subscribers (likely Communists) here. Those eager to dismiss his stuff as "celebrity politics" (Streisand for Clinton, Maradona for anything, etc.) should realize that Kasparov has been writing for the WJS since 1991, over 30 articles. Even when he's not giving press conferences, testimony (today in DC), or interviews on politics, he's always up to date and looking for an argument. I like to tease him that he's a step to the right of Reagan and goose-step to the left of Mussolini. Agree or disagree with his politics, his work for pro-democracy groups in Russia is all good. But can he do both this and chess full time? His results of the past year or so suggest not. I think he should spend the next five years just on chess and then he'd still be young for politics. He's in danger of doing many things poorly instead of one thing well.

May 21, 2004

Women Live Online!

FIDE has hastily slapped together this site for the hastily slapped together women's world championship in Elista, the Kalmykian capital and hometown of FIDE president Kirsan Ilyumzhinov. There's a nice photo report that doesn't explain who anyone is and none of the players are visible in the photos. Lots of Ilyumzhinov though, and the inevitable folkloric dancing. The website mentions live games, but doesn't say when they will start.

The top seeds are an interesting contrast. Former Soviet stalwarts Galliamova, Chiburdanidze, and Matveeva are at the top along with teen stars Koneru of India and Lahno of Ukraine. But there are plenty of powerful Chinese there as well, and they have held the title since FIDE stole it from Susan Polgar in 1999. Those champions, Zhu Chen and Xie Jun, aren't playing, however. It should be an interesting event, full of the usual so-called upsets that are just business as usual in a knock-out format with fast time controls. Trivia: Judit Polgar is rated over 200 points higher than the top seed in Elista.

May 22, 2004

Fritz .00001?

mack posted an interesting clip in the message boards. A 1972 book "Mathematics" has this amusingly antiquated photo of a chess-playing computer. This was just a passing puff-piece reference, if a revealing one. The earliest literature on chess machines is composed mostly of academic journals full of technical language and equations. Huge strides in improving the chess algorithms were made every few years, quite a contrast to today.

Most of the programmers you talk to today say that it's all about steady incremental improvements in the search and evaluation. When a new version is sufficiently stronger than the last - and at least on par with its peers - it is published. Rather boring stuff, really. It is eternally interesting to watch how programs with roughly the same performance level play significantly different stylistically just as humans do. It makes you wonder how much style difference between human players is personality and how much is simply different math.

May 24, 2004

Remember the Memorial?

A while back I wrote about a big Petrosian Memorial event to be held in June this year. (Not the controversially located one held in March in Stepanakert. Nor the one scheduled for Armenia in November.) Amazingly, nothing more has been heard about it. Even more amazingly, it's still on! I got the scoop from Kasparov last night.

It's in Moscow from June 9-15. It's a Scheveningen-format team tournament, classical chess (yay). Each of the six players on the "Petrosian team" will play each member of the "World team." The Petrosian team is Kasparov (half Armenian), Gelfand (Petrosian's top student), Leko (married to a Petrosian. His father-in-law Arshak will be the team's coach) and the top Armenian players Akopian, Lputian, and Vaganian. The World team is Anand, Svidler, Adams, Vallejo, van Wely, and Bacrot.

Great event, despite the lack of rest days due to the FIDE WCh starting in Libya on the 18th. It's going to be at the Hyatt Ararat hotel, bonus points if you know why that's fitting. It was to have finished on June 17, which would have been Petrosian's 75th birthday. He died in 1984.

May 25, 2004

Plan of the Week

Over at ChessBase.com we've basically given up trying to keep up with all the plans to save the chess world and are forced to post them in packs of three or more. As well-meaning as Seirawan, Ponomariov, Levy, Kasparov, and Lautier may be, most of these plans are utopian. They willfully ignore how certain participants would have to go against their own best interests to make these plans work. And for the most part they are putting the cart before the horse, or the format before the cash.

The 2002 Prague agreements were remarkable because they were made without any money on the table. Everyone committed in principle to unify the title for the greater good. We now see how far you get in the chess world relying on principles. Despite a two-year delay, as soon as he got sponsorship for his match with Leko Kramnik was quick to threaten to bail on Prague and FIDE. Of course now he's talking through the Kramnik Association of Chess Professionals, but the message is the same.

You have to wonder how many dues-paying (K)ACP members are going to be in Tripoli taking FIDE money while the ACP leaders declare FIDE and its titles irrelevant and invalid. As always, it's going to be about money. If the ACP can put together serious cash for a qualifying event, the players will play, just like they all showed up for the FIDE KO events when the Ilyumzhinov money was flowing freely and just like they played in the PCA events back in the mid-90's. Most players aren't ideological about it, they just want to play and get paid. That makes the ACP's haste to abandon FIDE misguided at best. If FIDE can get the money together for unification and a new world championship cycle, why not take it? [I meant that from the players' perspective, not mine. As long as FIDE can scratch together some money, the players will be there.]

May 26, 2004

Libya, Oh Libya...

Does that remind anyone else of an old Groucho Marx song? (MP3 here) And it's something like a Marx Brothers movie, too. "A Day at the Camel Races" maybe. GM Joel Lautier of the ACP took a break from promoting the Kramnik-Leko match to write this strongly worded letter castigating FIDE and Ilyumzhinov for having the event in Libya, where Israeli players will be at a serious disadvantage if indeed they are allowed into the country at all.

Great, if a bit on the late side. I started ranting about this in February, about two months before "Libya" was mentioned by the ACP, and that was only in regard to the player agreement. If the ACP has any clout at all, which is still an open question because their members seem to prefer to sacrifice the other guy's pieces, so to speak, it needed to be exercised immediately, the moment FIDE announced Libya. If you can show overwhelming resistance to something this stupid quickly enough you can get results. (E.g. Ilyumzhinov backing down from playing the 1996 FIDE WCh in Iraq.) Waiting three months allows FIDE to say it's too late to make changes and gives the impression you really don't care that much.

Of course FIDE did use the bait-and-switch with the Malta alternative venue in order to gain time. No one said they were stupid. No, wait, I just did. But they have been crafty. American writer Paul Hoffman is determined to attend the WCh in Tripoli and has been jumping through an amazing number of hoops with the State Department to do so. The best part? You can't use American credit cards or traveler's checks there, so it's cash only. Then they warn you about the high level of street crime! Libyan thieves, take note!

May 28, 2004

Making a List, Checking It Twice

FIDE has released the "final" list of players for the 2004 FIDE world championship in Tripoli, Libya starting on June 18. No Israelis are on the list. Smirin was the top reserve and had sent in his agreement so I hope this will be explained. Perhaps he was a little put off by the tournament organizer calling him the enemy. American Boris Gulko is on the list, something of a surprise after his impassioned letter. I'm not sure he answers e-mail on Shabbat but I'm hoping to get the full story from him this weekend. Perhaps he felt that FIDE had done all it could to let his fellow "Zionist infiltrators" into the event, even if it is being run by a lunatic. Or maybe the list is simply wrong; it would hardly be the first time.

[ Update 1hr later: GM Gulko just informed me he will NOT be playing and tells of his e-mail exchange today with FIDE veep Israel Gelfer. FIDE seemed to be of the opinion that all of the issues Gulko raised in his letter were invalid ("denied" is the word they use). Gulko disabused them of this notion, and writes "until the Libyan authorities renounce the notorious statement of the President of the Libyan Organizing Committee, Mohammad Qaddafy, I will not be participating in this tournament." ]

Even without Kasparov, Kramnik, Karpov, Khalifman, Ksvidler, and Kbareev, there are 19 (!) Russians on the list of 128 players. The USA is next with seven six players. Kasparov opines that there is a 99% chance of one of the top six "heavyweights" winning the event. Topalov, Morozevich, Adams, Grischuk, Ivanchuk, Short. For FIDE the dream is for a Russian to win, making it much easier for Ilyumzhinov to negotiate unification plans with a Kasparov match in early 2005. The FIDE wet dream is for FIDE VP Azmaiparashvili to win!

It's a little early to start handicapping, but Adams always comes to mind in these events. It's a lottery, especially when you have very strong players like former Russian champion Lastin seeded 53rd!

Brissago Sighting!

When the Kramnik-Leko world championship match was announced for Brissago, Switzerland, I hope I wasn't the only one whose first reaction was "Where?" I consider myself geographically informed for an American. I can name the leaders of Canada AND Mexico, something fewer than 10% of my countrymen can do. (Weep weep.) I've even been to Switzerland, but the tiny (population 1,981) resort town on Lake Maggiore stumped me. It wouldn't have had I remembered my Hemingway. It's the town where Frederic and Catherine escape to from Italy in A Farewell to Arms. (My memory was refreshed when the 1932 film version with Helen Hayes and Gary Cooper was on cable today.)

Brissago looks charming and I hope a chess match there will receive at least as much attention as the 1999 FIDE KO did in that other chess Mecca, Las Vegas. For cigar-maker sponsor Dannemann the Leko-Kramnik match is a boutique highlight for their various cultural sponsorships. They aren't trying for the major media coverage and PR a bigger sponsor would want. So they are holding the match in their backyard. According to the Brissago website (conveniently in Italian and German) one of the main attractions in Brissago is the old tobacco factory. For pure chess PR purposes, a larger metropolis would be nice, but some great matches have been played in out of the way places. Reykjavik, for example.

May 30, 2004

More from the Garrython

It's been all Kasparov all the time here in New York over the past week. From fundraisers for the Kasparov Chess Foundation charity to teaching sessions for the US women's training squad to appearances and interviews about chess, Russia and Iraq, Garry Kasparov has been a whirlwind in the Big Apple.

Free time he spends with his daughter or hunched over his laptop looking at analysis of Bobby Fischer games for the upcoming third volume of his "My Great Predecessors" books. "These Fischer games are incredibly complicated," he says, "but we are finding all sorts of amazing stuff." He showed me several examples - including one from the Karpov section - of famous masterpiece games that have flaws that have gone undiscovered for decades. I won't spoil the surprises, but I did dig through my own over-large collection of books without finding the main lines Kasparov was talking about.

One of these, in a Fischer win that won the Informant's best game prize, a natural move leading to a draw late in the game has apparently escaped notice. (I say "apparently" because there are countless chess books out there and you can't have or read them all.) In a way it's always a shame when an immortal game meets a refutation. The canon of golden games took a beating when computers and their ruthless objectivity came fully into effect in the 90's. Now Kasparov and his co-author (with help from the latest and greatest from Intel and ChessBase) are grinding the mill finer than ever before. That is, after a lamentable lack of rigor in the first edition of the first volume.

June 2, 2004

Shabalov withdraws from FIDE WC

From Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania comes the announcement by US Champion Alexander Shabalov (pictured with women's champion Anna Hahn) that he will not travel to Libya for the 2004 FIDE World Championship. He writes,

"The reluctance of FIDE to deal with the issues raised in the ACP open letter of May 26th and the publishing of "final list of participants" with my fellow chess players and friends excluded based on their nationality makes it impossible for me to participate in WCC in Tripoli."

A classy move of solidarity that follows a protest from the USCF, the withdrawal of Boris Gulko, and the refusal of many American qualifiers to send in their player agreements. It is rumored that top American qualifier Alexander Onischuk will also withdraw. [Update 19:00: His withdrawal is now confirmed. American/Polish GM Wojtkiewicz is one of the replacements. At least one of my old Argentine pals might make it in as well. Dale Ariel!] It's a terrible shame that FIDE's decision to hold its championship where all players cannot participate equally has cost Israel all of its qualifiers and most of the Americans as well.

When Gulko confirmed his withdrawal four days ago FIDE hastily took down their "final" list of players and put up a bizarre list of "candidates to replace him." Huh? What happened to the reserve system? Are the four players listed supposed to play for the spot, or does the first one to sign the agreement get the spot, like a radio call-in contest for AC/DC tickets? (Two of the players, D. Gurevich and Novikov, are Jewish and may have their own concerns about playing in Libya.)

June 4, 2004

Women's Chess

The term "women's chess" has always bugged me. I figured now that the FIDE women's world championship final is underway in Elista, Kalmykia it was a good moment to share. The games in top women's events are more aggressive, more tactical, and have a much higher percentage of decisive results than top open (i.e. "men + Judit Polgar") events. This fact is occasionally trotted out to say that women players are more aggressive than men.

What is ignored in these arguments is that the average rating in top women's events is over 200 points lower than that in top open events. Open events of similar average Elo (2450) are just as tactical and decisively inclined as women's events. 2400-rated players are simply more aggressive and make more mistakes than 2600-rated players. That means more tactics and more excitement, if that's the word.

The FIDE time control and the tension of a KO and a world championship makes for more errors, as we saw in game one of the final between Stefanova and Kovalevskaya yesterday. White throws away a pawn for no compensation and loses a horrible game (if well played by Stefanova). When someday we look back and list the crimes of the current FIDE administration, let us hope we do so from a day when world championships once again mean great chess.

June 5, 2004

Oh Pair

FIDE has released its no really it's final final list (Word format) of players for the 2004 FIDE World Championship. They even released pairings for the first round (Excel format). You can't expect too many upsets on the first 20 boards, which are mostly devoid of GM vs GM play, but in a two-game mini-match with a fast time control we'll probably have a few anyway.

I still remember the look on Frenchman Olivier Touzane's 2368-rated face when he beat Vishy Anand with black in the first game of his round one match in the last FIDE KO in Moscow, 2001. (That's him on that very day on the left. The arm around him belongs to his fellow French representative Vlady Tkachiev.) It was a fun but short-lived celebration as Anand wiped him out the next day and then won the rapid tiebreak. Leko also lost a first-round game, to Watu Kobese.

Getting back to the Libya pairings, only the Kazaks have the bittersweet certain knowledge that one of their three representatives will be eliminated and one will make it to the second round. Amazingly with 19 Russians in the field, none will meet in the first round.

June 6, 2004

Rated X

X for canceled, that is. The long, troubled tale of worldchessrating.ru (and .com) seems to be over, and this time for good. The site and the concept behind it was a Garry Kasparov initiative, fruit of his newfound association with FIDE in 2002. The rating system would be revamped, computerized, brought down to the amateur level, and include rapid and blitz games in the same rating.

Funding, which came indirectly from FIDE when it came, was always a problem, as documented hereabouts here and here. Now Ilya Gorodetsky posted below that the WCR doors were closed for good on May 6.

Continue reading "Rated X" »

June 7, 2004

Get Your Vote On

There's a poll in the message boards to pick the winner of the Petrosian Memorial team event that starts Wednesday. (I lobbied to get the name changed to the Mig Memorial since it starts on my birthday. [Actually it starts on the 10th, not 9th. Oh well, another strike.] This generous offer was declined because 1) my chess contributions fall a tad short of Petrosian's and 2) I'm not dead. I remember the Buenos Aires Herald calling the 1994 Sicilian Thematic the Polugaevsky Memorial, apparently unaware that Lev was alive and in attendance, although not playing.)

So far the Kasparov-led Petrosian team is leading the voting over the Anand-led World team. There are three top-ten regulars on each team, but I think many might underestimate the strength of the Armenian players. I'd say Akopian, Vaganian, and Lputian have at least as many major successes as van Wely, Bacrot, and Vallejo. They just don't appear in Wijk aan Zee and Linares.

June 9, 2004

Opening Letters

What would a week in the chess world be without an open letter or two? Resisting the urge to yell "Catfight!" I post below one from two Georgian WGMs from June 4 protesting the way the recently completed women's world championship was organized, or not organized. Today FIDE sent out a reply in the form of a letter signed by the event's winner, Antoaneta Stefanova, and the other finalist.

A cynical student of FIDE would wonder whether they received their prize money before or after agreeing to sign this letter, but of course we aren't that cynical yet, are we? Ahem. What was clear from the beginning of this mess was that FIDE and its leadership [sic] bet on the wrong horse in Georgia with Abashidze and had to save face in a hurry when their thug-du-jour had to run for his life. (Mentioned in the DD here and here.) It's great that they managed to get the event together at all, and from all reports it was run smoothly in Elista. But that doesn't mean they can sweep the entire disaster under the carpet. Full text of both letters below.

Continue reading "Opening Letters" »

June 11, 2004

FIDE, Israel, Libya

GM Ilya Smirin is still the missing link in the chain of events that has left all three Israeli players out of the FIDE KO. Roman Parparov, a board member of the Israeli chess federation, recently posted this:

"Israeli players have been invited. But, they are refused to a) verify their visa receipt before they step on Libyan land b) get a description of what security measures are taken to protect their safety c) bring their coaches and their wives along. Also the Israelis were forbidden to send their journalists and their federation officials to Libya."

My, how paranoid. After all, who wouldn't trust Ghadafi? Well, here's one possible reason. And here's today's poll question at CNN. I guess they didn't ask anyone at FIDE. Of course voting doesn't mean much, at least not here in the USA or we'd have a different president. Hmm, did Ilyumzhinov win Florida?

June 12, 2004

Kalmyk Kalamity

As linked to from ChessBase.com, the Russian newspaper Pravda ran a scathing attack on FIDE president Kirsan Ilyumzhinov today. (An unrelated tidbit here.) Few if any of the accusations are theoretical novelties. What is new is the coverage. As anyone following Kasparov's crusade against the Putin regime knows, every major media outlet in Russia is under Kremlin control these days. Pravda is almost as much of a state organ now as it was under Brezhnev. This bodes ill for Ilyumzhinov. Putin knows how to use the media to rally opinion before taking action. First the subject is vilified in the press, then the prosecutors move in. This is a choice (unsourced) quote.

"We don"t want holidays in poverty-stricken region. When you, participants of the chess championship, are enjoying yourselves with the concerts of the poverty-stricken performers and dinners in expensive restaurants, the majority of children in Kalmykia have no enough food. Poor Kalmykia cannot be donor and money-bag for FIDE!"

Not that I much doubt the veracity of the charges and the article has lots of quotes from the Kalmykian opposition. (The same folks who couldn't get a word published in the same papers when Ilyumzhinov was in favor in Moscow.) It's still worth pointing out that the article doesn't quote him at all. The stuff about making Kalmykia into a "second Chechnya" sounds like complete fantasy. That's just the sort of thing the Kremlin would whip up to excuse removing someone in a hurry and Ilyumzhinov isn't dumb enough to actually say something like that. It would be like the leaders of Iran saying "Hey Bush, we've got WMDs right here and we dare you to come and take them!" Either Putin is using this to fire a warning shot to keep Ilyumzhinov in line or the warnings are over.

It's long overdue to set up a sort of shadow government to prepare for Ilyumzhinov's exit from FIDE and the chess scene. Letting his lieutenants take over certainly wouldn't help. Who is out there setting up a reform ticket that could salvage some of the FIDE infrastructure? Does Seirawan have a day job? He even has rating list experience from when he set up the "active chess" list long, long ago.

June 14, 2004

My Great Annotators

I was just thumbing through my battered copy of Alekhine's My Best Games of Chess 1908-1923. Alekhine's notes include some droll gems.

Page 206, vs Muffang after move 22: "This move is not really an actual mistake. But in this laborious position all other moves would equally give the impression of being mistakes." Page 156, vs Rubinstein after move 20: "This move is not a whit better than those which precede it."

Leaving aside the best-known, do you have a favorite clever annotation? Post it in the comments below if you do, and please give the source.

June 15, 2004

Ratings, Damned Ratings...

and Statistics, to paraphrase Twain. Like many chess geeks I'm fascinated with ratings, but I'm also horrified by the fascination with them and what the list has done to the game and the culture of the game. Before the FIDE list debuted in 1971 the concept of world-class player was determined by results in important tournaments. Now you can score less than 50% in practically every event you play in but still stay in the top 20 and those invitations keep coming in.

Chess stats man and database dude Jeff Sonas has a new article up at ChessBase.com with statistical predictions about the FIDE world championship starting on June 18 in Libya. In it he tries to explain his concept of a player's "true strength" as compared to rating and TPR (tournament performance rating). All the explanation seems confusing, but the examples clear it up somewhat.

The point is something of a tautology, basically saying that if you win a FIDE KO, you are a strong player regardless of your rating and the luck often involved in two-game mini-matches at semi-rapid time controls. His example of Khalifman and Ponomariov both having excellent Linares results months after their KO wins helps distinguish between what Sonas calls "true strength" and what most people call "good form." Any top-20 player with good form and a little luck can win the KO. On the other hand, we knew Khalifman had been world class and that Ponomariov was a dangerous up-and-comer (and former youngest-ever GM ). The other two KOs were won by Anand, no comment necessary.

So how about the semifinals? 1997: Adams, Short, Gelfand, Anand. 1999: Nispeanu, Khalifman, Akopian, Adams. 2000: Shirov, Grischuk, Anand, Adams. 2001: Ivanchuk, Svidler, Ponomariov, Anand. Hmm! The lowest rated players on that list are the Vegas Boyz (aka "tourists" in Kasparov's now-legendary appellation). Khalifman has sunk again, but was always a top-ten talent. Akopian and Nisipeanu, relatively unknown in 1999, are now recognized as solid top-20 performers. So for all the talk (and evidence) of the KOs being lotteries, in the end the guys who are left standing can seriously bring it over the board. Of course the chess is usually crap, but that's hard to measure with statistics...

June 17, 2004

Kamsky Conundrum

So Gata Kamsky is back at the public chessboard. I wish him the best and very much hope his off-the-board combativeness has mellowed after eight years in the normal world away from the spotlight. (Apart from a three-day appearance at the Vegas KO in 1999.) It's easy to forget how young Kamsky was when he played Karpov for the FIDE world championship in 1996, having turned 22 the week before the match started.

Those who have become chess fans in the past eight years won't remember what controversial figures he and his father Rustam were. I'm all for new beginnings and whether he comes back to chess full-time, part-time, or not at all, Kamsky deserves to start again with a clean slate. Focused on his climb to the world title he wasn't involved much with American chess in his final years of activity. (Nor was I, of course, since I was living out of the country. I met Kamsky and his father in my old home of Buenos Aires during the Polugaevsky Sicilian Thematic in 1994.) Perhaps the newly lucrative US Championship has attracted his interest.

Kamsky, who once reached #4 on the rating list (behind Kasparov, Kramnik, and Karpov), is probably the second-highest rated chess drop-out ever, after Fischer of course. Many other strong US players young and old have left the game, but none were forces on the world stage at the time. Morphy should also be mentioned. Is this a uniquely American disease?

Now No Moro

In the latest edition of TWIC, #501, it is casually mentioned that Alexander Morozevich, the number two seed in the 2004 FIDE KO world championship starting Saturday, June 19, has dropped out at the last minute. The exciting young Russian, always a crowd favorite, has a history of such behavior, and no matter what you think of holding the event in Libya, it's not kosher to bail out after the pairings are up, especially if you are one of the top seeds in a KO. At this point FIDE will probably just give a bye to his amateur Libyan opponent, screwing up the balance of the brackets and giving someone (either Smirnov or Bruzon) an easy ride to round three. At least Morozevich did it (assuming he did) without one of the long, incoherent open letters that are all the rage these days. I haven't seen any other mention of the dropout. Anyone?

June 18, 2004

The West Is Best

You may have to expand your browser to see it, but the Chesschamps website dedicated to Garry Kasparov's "My Great Predecessors" book series made an announcement today. An extra book will be added to the series, "Best of the West." This is because Vol. 3 was turning into a 700+ page monster. The much-awaited Fischer section has been moved to a fourth volume, one that will include subsections on Reshevsky, Larsen, and a new section on Miguel Najdorf. Vol. 3, already headed to the printer, covers Petrosian and Spassky. When I spoke to Kasparov today he said it would be hard, but "we still plan to have Fischer out before Christmas!"

I used to see Najdorf all the time and lost several rapid and blitz games to him as well. (Not exactly worthy of inclusion in the book, alas.) Even in his 80s he was a tough opponent for the young IMs and GMs at the Club Argentino. His habit of announcing a draw instead of proposing one didn't hurt, but who was going to argue with Don Miguel?! He was world class for decades and adding him to the series is a great move. If you have a nice, unpublished Najdorf anecdote send it in to me or post it here.

June 20, 2004

Hey, Chess!

With dubious location and years of shenanigans left behind, actual chess was played in Tripoli, Libya this weekend. The Israeli federation isn't going quietly and the noise is percolating around after being covered by AP last week. From today's UK Telegraph story:

"The exclusion of Israel is a severe embarrassment to Fide, whose motto is Gens una sumus - We are all one people. Mohammed Gaddafi, the son of Libyan leader Col Muammar Gaddafi, only landed the contest for his country after promising that Israeli players would be allowed in to play. Last month he went back on his pledge, however, describing the Israelis as "the Zionist enemy"."

Not that FIDE has shown any embarrassment or accepted any fault at all for the Israelis and the many, mostly Americans, sympathetic to them being absent. Speaking of embarrassment, the NY Times has a piece on Kalmykia today. We've become so used to how bizarre the place and its leader are that it's good to see it from an outsider's view.

"What is left - both inside and outside Chess City - belongs to President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, the republic's whimsical strongman and, in a forking move, the respected leader of the World Chess Federation, known as FIDE, for its acronym in French."

"Whimsical strongman" is cute, but I'm not sure where he comes up with "respected." Ilyumzhinov has a sincere passion for chess, and I think FIDE is still necessary in some way, but King Kong had a sincere passion for Fay Wray.

June 21, 2004

Hate the Sin

In the latest of the dozens of open letters flying around the chess world these days, Ms. Nahed Ojjeh has fired one off criticizing the FIDE KO currently underway in Libya. Apart from sponsoring the the NAO Chess Club of Kramnik and Lautier, she is also active behind the scenes in their other activities.

While it's blatantly ridiculous to have the event where the Israelis cannot participate equally, attacking Ghaddafy seemed strange considering Ojjeh's own very colorful past. I'm all for rehab. I also differ in that I can't condemn the players for going to Libya, although I support those who didn't. They aren't to blame for FIDE's crimes nor those of Ghaddafy. Love the sinner, hate the sin and all that. It's hard enough to make a living playing chess without having ponder a moral crisis each time out. It's up to each player. FIDE's members are federations.

June 22, 2004

Bulgarian Burqa

It's not 100% clear, but from this short report in a Bulgarian paper it appears that new women's world champion Antoaneta Stefanova was not allowed to give her planned charity simul in Tripoli because of her gender. (It also mentions that she wasn't allowed to replace Morozevich in the KO, but that seems to be a separate issue.) Her presence in Libya is also notable because of the scandalous case of five Bulgarian nurses being sentenced to death in Libya in May. It has been front page news in Bulgaria for a month.

June 24, 2004

Women In The City

You probably don't know and you might not care, but the 2004 US women's championship is underway at St. John's University in Manhattan. In fact, it is down to Friday's final round. I finally tracked down the official website. (Background here.) It also covers the "St. John's International Tournament" running in the same place at the same time. It includes GMs Fedorowicz, Benjamin, Yudasin, and venerable Yugoslav Boris Ivkov. Organizer Frank Brady (yes, the author of "Profile of a Prodigy" on Fischer) works at St. John's.

I haven't been able to find what looks to be the critical game of the Women's event, Shahade's win over Zatonskih. The game files are a mess and even the crosstables seem out of whack. There are an odd number of players in the women's event (7), but it should still be impossible to have one player with five results and others with three! (The site mentions some webmaster-scoresheet communication problems.) After four of six rounds 2002 champion Jennifer Shahade led with 3.5/4. I'm going to attend the event tomorrow for the final round. Maybe we'll even be able to figure out who won! [Update 0200: Apparently at least one game was postponed. The crosstables have been updated and it looks like Shahade has already clinched victory with 4.5/6. Allow me a Huzzah! for my friend and, interestingly, only non-Russian speaker in the field.]

The winner will get the fourth spot on the Women's Olympiad team and be the US women's champion for a few months, until the 2005 (?!?) championship in San Diego in November. (A fitting duration for a title won in a six-round event, really.) If the winner is Krush or Zatonskih, who are already on the team, there will be a playoff between the top finishers two not on the team. Defending women's champion Anna Hahn, who had been told the fourth spot was hers and felt railroaded by this impromptu event, declined to play.

June 25, 2004

G'day Israelies

If you want news on the exclusion of Israelis from the FIDE KO in Libya AND you like the way Australians talk, this is your article. Two developments come from down under, but you only get one today. It's a radio interview with top Israeli GM Boris Gelfand. There is a transcript and links to listen to the interview. (It's pronounced "chis" down there. Isn't that adorable?) Not much new, reiterating that the Israeli players will seek compensation from FIDE and the Israeli federation may sue Libya. Hmm, it took Khaddafi 15 years to pay compensation for murdering 270 people, this could be a long wait. Tomorrow will bring the curious case of Vadim Milov, who plays for Switzerland but holds an Israeli passport and was absent from Tripoli.

June 26, 2004

Worth 1000 Bulgarian Words

On June 22 we saw a Bulgarian news report that said women's world champ Antoaneta Stefanova's simul in Tripoli was cancelled. Thanks to writer Paul Hoffman we know this is not the case. At the very least we know she gave one simul, because he played in it and took photos. (Maybe another was cancelled?) A full set of Paul's entertaining pictures from Tripoli will be posted at ChessBase.com later today.

June 28, 2004

Quo Vadim?

More meat from down under comes from the indefagitable, peripatetic, perspicacious, and jocund personage that is Australian GM and chess journo Ian Rogers. He writes for the Sydney Sun-Herald and has a scoop on "the forgotten Israeli," Vadim Milov. Like Gulko, the USSR-born Swiss Milov holds an Israeli passport. In his June 27 Sun-Herald column (not available online), GM Rogers writes:

"Despite constant requests from Milov and the Swiss Chess Federation, Milov's invitation - necessary to obtain a visa - was delayed until 23.30 on the night before the arrival day. At that time Milov was informed that after a long meeting with FIDE chief Iljumzhinov, Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi had agreed to allow Milov to play. FIDE even offered to pay for Milov's travel expenses but the offer came too late for Milov to find a flight to Tripoli which would allow him to arrive on time. Earlier that evening Milov had been told by a FIDE official that FIDE had been tricked by the Libyans, who had never intended to allow any Israelis to play."

Thanks to Ian for ferreting this out. Milov now has posted a letter at the ACP website about his plans to sue FIDE for forcing him to miss the event. Most of this jibes with my original take on FIDE trying to have their cake and eat it too. Promise Israelis they can play, promise the Libyans that they will make it impossible for it to happen. Then blame the victims. Win-win. Let's hope they lose-lose the court case. Milov would have been the 12th seed in Libya, a favorite to reach the fourth round and earn at least $22,000. Jeff Sonas's original odds on the event gave Milov the 29th-best chance to win the event, or 134 to 1.

June 30, 2004

Machine-Machine

The 12th World Computer Chess Championship starts July 4 in Ramat-Gan, Israel. There's an event summary at ChessBase, which is also the publisher of all three of the favorites: Fritz, Shredder, and Junior.

Computer chess is a thriving subculture. Thousands of fans are more interested in Fritz vs Shredder than in Kasparov vs Anand. They swap test positions, play tournaments, and brag about suite scores. Most of them aren't chess programmers, they just love to fool with and talk about chess programs. Computer chess has even followed the humans in getting caught up in Middle Eastern politics.

One of the most interesting computer chessplayers is Hydra, the hardware-based system formerly known as Brutus and programmed by the author of the program Nimzo, Austrian Chrilly Donninger. (The official Hydra website has no information on the machine at all, but has plenty of chess news "borrowed" from other websites like ChessBase and TWIC.) Hydra won the short but strong Paderborn computer tournament last February, but won't be playing in the WCCC.

Hydra is now officially a program from the United Arab Emirates. From my my e-mail exchange with Donninger:

"The UAE has declared 1967 war to Israel. There is so far no peace-treaty between the 2 countries. It is therefore for political reasons not possible that Hydra participates. Personally I have also no interest to travel with an Arabic-stamp in my passport to the WC. I assume that I would be specially checked by Israeli security forces. I do not like this idea. There were plans to organize the WC-2005 in Abu-Dhabi. But the negotiations were canceled, because Israeli citizens get no visa for the UAE."

One of the Ramat-Gan organizers sent me this:

"When the Hydra team asked if they can play in Israel under the UAE flag, we replied that there is no problem with that, and they are most welcome here. But when the WMCCC was held in Indonesia (Jakarta 1996) the Junior team was not allowed to participate."

As is the case with the humans in Libya, chess loses.

July 1, 2004

Listless

The new FIDE rating list is out. Nothing too interesting, although France's Bacrot crashed the 2700 club with a huge leap. He took the French #1 spot from Lautier by a wide margin and will likely play board one in the Olympiad. The former youngest-ever GM is finally showing the promise already displayed by fellow prodigies Leko and Ponomariov.

Speaking of prodigies, Teimour Radjabov dropped a little on the list and has been playing very unambitious chess. His semifinal appearance in the FIDE KO, where he lost game one to Adams today, actually proves this theory. Advancing is really all that matters, but when you look only at the first two games of each match, the only ones that will be rated, he is seeking draws and actually playing well below his rating. Last month Garry Kasparov expounded to me that we would soon see Magnus Carlsen surpass Radjabov on the rating list. "Carlsen knows how to win. Radjabov is playing in Linares and other top events where drawing is a good result for him. He's never won a tournament!"

It's a little early to write off Timmmaaay!, of course. He shows flashes of brilliance when pushed up against the wall, usually when he has black. It's not a coincidence that he has wins against Anand and Kasparov with black. But his rocket to the top has clearly stalled. He gave up draw after draw in the recent European Championship. Many thought he would be top-10 by 18 years old.

July 6, 2004

Mobile Chess

Just as the FIDE WCh in Tripoli hits the finals I'm off to Toulouse, France for my sister's wedding. You know how hard it can be to get an internet connection in these third-world countries, so updating may be sporadic at best. I'm armed with a wireless card and a global dialing account, so I'm hoping to be able to send at least small "vacation" versions of White Belt and Black Belt while on the road.

Apart from the usual ChessBase suspects on my laptop, I have my trusty old (and I mean old) Palm Pilot with me. It has Chess Tiger on it. It's a fine program (and they gave me a review copy) but since it's not very strong on my slow Palm Vx I've never bothered to try out other Palm platform chess programs. And since I wouldn't use a Pocket PC for much I haven't tried Pocket Fritz 2 or the other sophisticated and pretty programs for the mobile Windows OS. I keep hoping that ChessBase will realize the marketing value of giving me a nice Pocket PC so I can promote Pocket Fritz, mention how handy it is on the subway and while traveling, etc., but so far they haven't fallen for it.

Since chess programs max out the CPU they can drain batteries like Dracula. What is your favorite mobile chess program? Comments are especially welcome from those who have tried more than one. Not looking for full reviews, of which there are plenty on the web, just some testimonials. How much use do you get out of it? Good user experience overall?

July 8, 2004

Very Plane Chess

A 33.6 dial-up connection at my Toulouse hotel isn't a dream, but it works. Had a chess experience on the flight from New York to Paris. The Air France Airbus plane had an "Echecs" game installed on the personal video system. I saw a few other people on the plane playing it and of course I had to give it a try. Decent 3D graphics, although the screen was a bit too small. I confidently set the play level to "difficult" and played 1.d4. This was surprisingly met with 1...e5 and I thought "wow, they have this thing playing sharp gambit chess, cool." That illusion was dispelled very quickly when 2.dxe5 was met with the less-than-incisive 2...Qg5??? The rest of its play was equally pathetic. It would avoid a mate in one, but other than that it was almost random. (Another game 1.e4 e6 (French Defense on Air France!) 2.d4 Qg5??? Oy.)

A Kasparov-branded game is being rolled out on a few airlines in a few markets. I hope it's a lot better than this one or it'll be an embarrassment. In an age in which your shoes have more computer power than the 1969 moon lander, this is ridiculous. I can only assume they believe this is the average level of play, or maybe they just want their passengers to feel good about themselves.

July 9, 2004

À la Recherche du Échecs Perdu

Not that I really care with so much good food and wine around, but of course I keep my eyes peeled for chess when on the road. After hitting a few dozen bookstores and magazine stands here in Toulouse I have found no chess magazines and exactly two chess books, both primers. I don't doubt there are specialty stores and clubs here for the chess fan, but it's definitely a place where you have to find chess, it doesn't find you.

It's conventional wisdom to say that the USA is chess ignorant, but every large chain bookstore you go into (Barnes & Noble, Borders) has a respectable chess section, often a quite large one. They usually have plenty of new books as well as a selection of classics. They also usually have Chess Life in the periodical section. How accessible is chess where you live? Local club? Play in the parks? Books easy to find? Outcast with online play only?

July 12, 2004

No Sleep Till Brooklyn

Just a quick note to say I'm back home and that "daily" will be back in the Daily Dirt again as soon as I pay off my massive sleep deficit. Now I need to go over all the Kasimdzhanov-Adams games too. Even the cool as the other side of the pillow Mickey Adams has shown plenty of nervous play in the final. Kasimzhanov has played the strongest possible field in Tripoli, one of Linares caliber, and is more than holding his own. And yet I haven't seen a one win from him that I would call an excellent game, although I haven't had a good look at the final games yet. It's not Kasimdzhanov's fault; I blame the silly semi-rapid time control.

July 14, 2004

Gimme a K!

Uzbekistani GM Rustam Kasimdzhanov triumphed over odds, Elo, and four world-class opponents to become the new FIDE world champion. Despite eliminating Ivanchuk, Grischuk, Topalov, and Adams he will be a heavy underdog in his unification match against Garry Kasparov, which is (very) tentatively scheduled for January 2005.

Clearly the odds-makers underestimated the K-factor. No, not the number used to calculate rating changes after a game, but the first letter of Kasimdzhanov's name. Karpov, Kasparov, Kramnik... 1999 FIDE WCh Alexander Khalifman's name was often transliterated as "Halifman" but he wisely went with the K to clinch the title. Only the letter S has as many classical champs: Steinitz, Smyslov, Spassky. In Russian the Ks have it because Capablanca also starts with K!

The Kasparov-Kasimdzhanov match is supposed to be played under the same rules as the Ponomariov match that never happened. 12 games, classical time control. Kasimdzhanov has lived in Germany for a while, but is still getting a hero's welcome in Uzbekistan. That nation is a tidy dictatorship, but it's a very open question whether or not they will be interested in sponsoring a big chess match. Not every despot likes attention as much as Ghaddafi and Ilyumzhinov. [Edit 08:52: Serendipity.]

July 15, 2004

Israeli Wins WCh Anyway

As if just to spite FIDE, the Israeli program Deep Junior just won the 12th World Computer Chess Championship. Israelis were banned from the human WCh, but this one was held in Israel. It was a narrow win over Shredder to which I credit the home (magnetic) field advantage. Junior is programmed by Amir Ban, Shay Bushinsky and opening book trainer GM Boris Alterman. Kudos to Amir and my former Herzlia comrades Shay and Boris.

The consistent dominance of very few names shows the primacy of programming, but as Ban himself recently said, book training is critical. From a recent message board post:

"Book work is tremendously important in these tournaments. It sometimes seems as if Boris is in charge, while I and Shay are delegated to the role of technicians."

This is unavoidable in a competition situation in which program tweaks could be disastrous but the book must be tuned for each opponent. With hundreds of millions of positions in a database custom-designed by a strong Grandmaster, the line between human and machine play is blurred beyond recognition. I wonder how far this will go until such databases are either limited or banned altogether to put the focus back on artificial intelligence. The way it is now many games don't really start until move 20 or beyond and many of the decisive games are already evaluated as a winning advantage by the time both programs are out of book!

Of course this is the case in human-human chess as well. But study (and what to study) and memorization are part of the human challenge of chess. Adding a few more gigs of databases is not machine chess. When Deep Boris prepares an opening trap for Fritz, that's not computer chess, it's a hybrid. Junior must play what it is told by the human. (Just using Junior as an example here; all the programs are like this.)

Using opening ballots like checkers seems to be the unavoidable future. The starting position of each game (or even all the games in each round) would be drawn at random from a long list of positions. In a perfect world they would play each position with both colors.

Fishing for Fischer

Alert reader Sean Evans tells us that Bobby Fischer's scrofulous website has just added the news that he has been detained at the Narita airport in Japan. (Be warned that the item, like most of the page, contains profane and disturbing content, especially if you would still like to remain a Fischer fan.)

"The World Chess Champion Bobby Fischer has been viciously attacked brutalized seriously injured and very nearly killed when he was illegally detained and arrested by the Japanese immigration authorities at Narita international airport in Tokyo Japan."

Some ranting follows, then a request for political asylum. If it were a request for an asylum he'd be on the right track. Hard to tell what's really going on, but it seems he may have worn out his welcome in Japan. If you'd care to compare Fischer's last tragi-comic jailhouse rant to this one you can read it here. If you're wondering how Fischer ended up where he is, much of what is known is capably recapped in this Atlantic Monthly article.

Update: The Washington Post is the first to get the story. An excerpt:

"The hunt for Bobby Fischer, the unpredictable chess legend, ended this week when he was detained in Japan, where he awaits possible deportation on charges that he attended a 1992 match in Yugoslavia in violation of a U.S. ban.

The Japanese Immigration Bureau detained the 61-year-old Fischer on Tuesday at Narita International Airport in Tokyo at the urging of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which had recently stepped up efforts to track the fugitive, U.S. authorities said yesterday.

"He's in custody in Japan, and we are awaiting a determination whether he'll be deported back to the United States to face charges," said Allan Doody, special agent in charge of the immigration agency's Washington field office."

It's surprising that they have decided to hold Fischer on US charges based on his playing Spassky in Yugoslavia in 1992. Someone bumped this up on the priority chart because he hasn't really been all that hard to find. No one really wanted to prosecute a former American hero as long as he stayed away. Why not go after Roman Polanski?

July 16, 2004

Fischer Mania

Yes, that is a double meaning in the title. It looks like we're going to have to live with Bobby Fischer in the headlines for a while, unless the media storm around his detention in Japan dies down very quickly. He'll either be extradited to the US and prosecuted or given his own talk show or both. According to the treaty between Japan and the USA he MUST be handed over if the US requests it. It seems unlikely the US cancelled his passport just for laughs.

What does this all mean for that dread inanimate object, "chess"? If there's no such thing as bad publicity, it's all good. But it seems obvious that some potential chess parents and sponsors will shy away from chess because of the ill-repute Fischer brings to the game and its players.

Who knows, maybe this could be the best thing for him. Instead of being paraded around by exploiters/enablers like Philippine GM Torre, Fischer might get the treatment and reality check he has needed for years. I'm sure a nice Jewish doctor can be found to administer the medication and shock treatment. By the time Fischer gets out he'll still be younger than Korchnoi is today. He can write a sequel to "My 60 Memorable Games," play in the US Championship, join a local synagogue, and play for the unified title (not as defending champ, sorry).

July 18, 2004

Gata Go to San Diego?

As mentioned here before, former world championship contender and US champion Gata Kamsky recently returned to play chess for the first time since 1999. The newly lucrative US Championship in San Diego in November could be a tempting target for his comeback. The problem is that since the rating qualification uses the February list, when he was inactive, Kamsky would have to qualify.

According to the AF4C calendar, the only qualifier left is the US Open in Florida in August. His only other chance to get in would be to cadge one of the wildcard spots the AF4C honchos dole out each year. These have traditionally gone to up-and-coming junior players like Laura Ross (who qualified directly this year, go girl!) instead of Grandmasters.

In general I'm a letter-of-the-law kinda guy and wouldn't want to see the rules bent even to aid a comeback that could have great significance for US chess (although it doesn't seem like Kamsky is really considering a full-time comeback to the game). Kamsky had the chance to qualify and still does. As much as I would love to see him play in San Diego, giving a prodigal son dispensation would set a bad precedent. Every GM who failed to qualify would be asking for a wildcard next year.

On the other hand, what is the point of a wildcard if you can't use it for special occasions like the best American player since Fischer returning? It would almost certainly gain some PR for the championship. On the third hand, Kamsky might just want a quick paycheck and giving a wildcard when he's not really going to return would be a little embarrassing. Maybe they could ask him what his plans are. Anyway, let's hope we see Kamsky in Fort Lauderdale, where four qualifying slots are up for grabs.

July 19, 2004

Kasparov on Fischer

UPDATE: We have posted Kasparov's full article at ChessBase.com.

Garry Kasparov has been working on the Bobby Fischer section of his Great Predecessors book series. It will cover an amazing 55 Fischer games and 250 pages! Even if he hadn't been up to his eyeballs in Fischerania for the past year everyone would want to know the world #1's thoughts on his legendary predecessor, especially with him back in the news.

Kasparov long ago tired of fielding Fischer questions and he had to answer them all again when Fischer briefly resurfaced in 1992. "I can't play a ghost," was the answer he gave during an Argentine television interview I interpreted in 1998.

Today the Wall Street Journal has an exclusive editorial by Kasparov on Fischer. (On Friday the Journal's European edition ran a piece by Kasparov on Iraq, so it's a back-to-back.) It's a must-read and you have plenty of time to run out to your local newsstand. (Also available at WSJ.com, a pay service.) In the piece Kasparov praises Fischer's OTB achievements and their importance:

"Despite his short stay at the top there is little to debate about the chess of Bobby Fischer. He changed the game in a way that hadn't been seen since the late 19th century. The gap between Mr. Fischer and his contemporaries was the largest ever. He singlehandedly revitalized a game that had been stagnating under the control of the Communists of the Soviet sports hierarchy."

He laments the opportunity lost when the international star left the game in 1972. He also worries that Fischer hitting the headlines may damage the reputation of the game. Toward the conclusion comes this:

"Despite the ugliness of his decline, Bobby Fischer deserves to be remembered for the great things he did for chess and for his immortal games. I would prefer to focus on not letting his personal tragedy become a tragedy for chess."

Can I get an amen?

July 20, 2004

Looking for a Few Good GMs

At a time in which you hear of GMs retiring or threatening to retire because of a lack of income, you would think it would be easy to find contributors of chess content. Not exactly. I spent two years as editor-in-chief and VP of content at KasparovChess Online and started ChessNinja in December, 2002. In that time I've learned that trying to pay Grandmasters can be like herding cats.

No disrespect intended, I'm not exactly the most organized person in the world myself. There is also the matter of fair pay. Many GMs simply don't consider it worth their time to annotate games or write articles when magazines pay so poorly. (The flip side are the pack of Brit GMs who have all but become full-time writers, churning out an endless supply of books, most of them written in less than a month and showing it.)

Where I'm going with this is that I'm looking for IM/GM contributors for the Black Belt newsletter and I thought I'd take the search public. I'd like to do my part for US chess by giving work to American chessplayers if possible, especially since 60% of my subscribers are American. I'm not looking for charity. ChessNinja has been profitable since its inception and it growing steadily thanks to a great community and a phenomenally low cancellation rate. If a Grandmaster spends a couple of hours to nicely annotate a game, adding insightful commentary instead of just variations and symbols, and if the readers enjoy it, he should be fairly compensated.

Moreover, if I get more and happier subscribers because of the GM's contributions, the rewards should be shared, either by more work offered or by profit sharing the money from new subscribers. ChessNinja's business model is predicated on low price, many subscribers. Black Belt is $5/month for four issues, each around 10 pages. If I pay a GM $200 for a game each month I'll need 40 new subscribers to make up the expense. A GM title isn't essential, but I am well aware of the prestige factor it can lend.

Our readers won't be fooled by a big name or a title, it's got to be quality goods. That's another reason for this open call. Who are your favorite annotators, particular American ones who are based in the US? Barring favorites, who would you like to hear from? Personally I'd also like to go after young, active players who can delve into their own games. Nakamura, Shahade, Akobian? Or seasoned veterans? All suggestions welcome.

July 21, 2004

Follow the Money

In a follow-up to yesterday's casting call for titled contributors, I wanted to mention one of the problems of the chess publishing trade and a suggestion that might help many in the community. If a Russian or Israeli or Brazilian Grandmaster wants to contribute material to ChessNinja it can be quite complicated to pay him or her. Stuffing a wad of bills into an envelope isn't wise. Many countries (including Russia) don't accept one of the current standards - and the system I use at Ninja - Paypal. Many will offer bank transfers but this costs both sides money, often over 10% of the fee.

Since I am now a card-carrying member of the Association of Chess Professionals (thanks Almira!), I'll make a suggestion to the leadership. (There isn't really an ACP card, but it beats the FIDE forearm tattoo.) They could establish a payment distribution system by which they act as a sort of bank for their members. They could receive and distribute payments to their members, taking advantage of good faith dealings instead of exorbitant fees. Setting up a merchant account would allow them to accept credit card transactions. Even Paypal would work in the interim.

With the wide membership of the ACP regional treasurers could be established to disburse funds on a regular schedule. If the money is held in a central corporate account you avoid transfer fees. This could be a simple but useful way of improving the lot of many Grandmasters. An additional step could be establishing links with translators so more GMs have access to the global information market.

July 22, 2004

Fischer In Brief

A few more tidbits of information have trickled out about the Fischer case. You are just as capable of I am of going to Google News and searching for the words "Fischer" and "chess" so I'll keep it brief. Reuters reported that Japan has decided to deport Fischer, but he is appealing the decision.

Agence France-Presse (AFP) has more from Miyako Watai, the only person who has been speaking to the press on Fischer's behalf. She says Fischer has complained of "rough treatment" from Japanese immigration officials. Apparently the 61-year-old Fischer, still the fighter, struggled with the officials. The other factoid in the AFP report was that the US embassy in Manila issued a notice about revoking Fischer's passport last year, but he wasn't aware of it.

The Jewish weekly Forward has a useful summary of Fischer's anti-Semitism. They even talked to old Fischer acquaintaince and American chess legend Arnold Denker. He postulates that Fischer was picked on as a kid because his mother was Jewish. I'm very skeptical, considering the Jewish schools and surroundings in which Fischer grew up.

Many of the wire reports have contained the usual small errors. The most pervasive so far is saying that Fischer lost his title in 1978 instead of 1975.

July 24, 2004

Urals Gone Wild

Following the North Urals Cup this week? Didn't think so. With powerful events going on in Biel, Dortmund, and Taiyuan right now, a remarkable event in Russia probably escaped your notice. It is also a supertournament, but of the women-only variety. The ten players include many of the top women in the world who aren't from China or named Polgar. Recently crowned FIDE women's world champion Antoaneta Stefanova is the top seed.

I've always said that elite "women's chess" is more exciting and instructive for amateurs and club players than most games between the top 10. Not because they are women, but because they are lower-rated and make more mistakes. Mistakes lead to tactics and decisive games, which are what most fans find exciting. You can't tell the difference between the games of 2500-rated women and 2500-rated men, which is why I like to put "women's chess" in quotes. However, there ARE women's titles, which are archaic, patronizing, unnecessary, and should be eliminated. The North Urals Cup website annoyingly lists Stefanova and Chiburdanidze as WGMs, when they also hold the true Grandmaster title.

July 25, 2004

Willkommen Bobby?

Salon.com has an article by Rene Chun on the Fischer Incident. He wrote about Fischer in the Atlantic Monthly a few years ago and has a few new facts this time around. (The new article is for paying Salon.com subscribers, or you can get a free "day pass" to read it.) Most of the article rehashes Fischer's chess legacy and recent history. Newer data includes the revelation that Fischer is trying to get a German passport based on his father's nationality.

"The German Foreign Office in Berlin was contacted on Wednesday by the Fischer camp and it has confirmed that Germany's "blood law" stipulates that if documents can be produced that prove that Regina's husband was German (which he was) and that Bobby was born before his parents were divorced (also true), he would be issued a German passport. Bobby's passport, birth certificate and Regina's divorce papers have already been located in various parts of the world and are on the way to Tokyo."

Chun also discusses the speculation, and its new relevance, that Hans-Gerhardt Fischer was not Bobby Fischer's biological father. Plus, even if Fischer gets a German passport it is doubtful that Germany will grant him asylum. But if he has EU citizenship Fischer can apply to the European court and drag things out for much longer than the two-month maximum for Japan's deportation process.

As in his Atlantic article Chun writes well and has some good info, but makes a few rookie mistakes that make you wish he would let someone who knows about chess read his articles first. Calling the 1972 Fischer-Spassky match "the 11th World Chess Championship" is just silly. The "about the writer" blurb at the end of the article, which Chun may or may not be responsible for, says he is "completing the first Fischer biography for Viking." Eh? Apart from a few in other languages, Brady's "Profile of a Prodigy" is still in print and sufficiently famous, one would think.

July 26, 2004

Augury

Some thought-provoking items from a thought-provoking and rather forgotten book.

"What needs emphasis is the plain fact that a chess genius is a human being who focuses vast, little-understood mental gifts and labors on an ultimately trivial human enterprise. Almost inevitably, this focus produces pathological symptoms of nervous stress and unreality."

While it's undeniable that chess isn't going to cure cancer, that's beside the point. Tarrasch's oft-repeated statement about chess (like love, like music, etc.) having the power to make men happy is good enough for me. We don't worry about basketball players or musicians doing "trivial" work. They love what they do and it also entertains millions.

More than a few famous chessplayers have expressed their concerns about chess being a waste of time. Most famous of these would be world champion Emanuel Lasker, who was also accomplished in math and science. Before WWII it was almost unseemly to be considered "only" a chessplayer. It's also true that being great at chess doesn't necessarily mean you would be great at anything else. So maybe that talent isn't being squandered at all.

"There is evidence, moreover, that the capacities for highly abstract spatial imagining, for the rapid mental calculation and projective analysis that are needed in mathematics, music, and chess may be inherited. The large Jewish presence in topflight chess, as in modern mathematics or mathematical physics and in the performance (though not the composition) of music, does not look accidental."

– George Steiner, Fields of Force, Fischer and Spassky at Reykjavik, 1974 (Previously titled The Sporting Scene: White Knights of Reykjavik, 1972)

I'm a committed Darwinist, but the heavy emphasis on education and study (and music) in Jewish culture surely has much to do with these achievements. The jokes about every Jewish mother wanting her little boy to be a doctor or a lawyer exist for a reason.

July 27, 2004

Dumb Chess News #1

There exists a special category of chess appearing in the news. It's whenever there is a mundane crime that makes the news only because someone in the scene was playing chess at the time. This dull gem popped up yesterday on AP, and something like it appears in the news trawl every month or so.

Police: Men Brawl Over a Game of Chess

Slidell, Louisiana. - An argument over a game of chess ended with a fight in which one player rammed the other's head through a plate-glass window, St. Tammany Parish authorities said. Robert Talley, 34, was booked with second-degree battery and later released on bond, Sheriff's department spokesman James Hartman said.

Har har! A fight about a chess game! Hilarious! Needless to say, if they'd been playing checkers, cards, Nintendo, or just about anything else, this wouldn't make the news. That's because these things are "man bites dog" stories, something supposedly curious and abnormal. After all, aren't chessplayers quiet nerds you wouldn't expect violence from?

To casual and non-players, chess is another relaxing board game. Some know that it can be "hard" or that "it's for smart people." But unless you have played tournament chess (or watched your child play tournament chess), the furious mental stress chess can cause is unknown. 100%-information games like chess are different from games with dice or hidden cards. There is no luck or coincidence for your ego to hide behind. The simple fact that you know that while you play and after a loss can twist you into knots.

What is your most dramatic, traumatic, or thrilling experience as a chessplayer? That you have witnessed? I saw Ivanchuk jump off the stage and walk off into the crowd after losing to Ponomariov. But that's Ivanchuk...

July 29, 2004

Fischer In Brief 2

The latest has Japan announcing it would deport Fischer, but saying that Fischer could appeal that ruling. (He has yet to hire a lawyer.) Better hope for his avoiding arriving in the US is promised by his attempt to secure a German passport based on his father's citizenship. The LA Times has the best summary.

I strongly doubt anyone would bother to make any case on the strong possibility that the father on Fischer's birth certificate wasn't his biological father. The US government has been very quiet so far, perhaps waiting to estimate the political consequences of prosecuting Fischer. They basically canceled his passport and took a powder. I'm not even sure which area of government would be in charge of taking further action, but it's likely they'd be happy to let Germany have Fischer at this point.

The LA Times article concludes with this:

Japanese immigration officials do not deny they used force to bring Fischer into custody.

"We tried to put the handcuffs on him but he resisted firmly," said Yogi Koga, spokesman for Narita's Immigration Bureau. "So we needed to take him with about 10 people because he's a rather big guy.

"He may have gotten some light cuts or something. But he hasn't asked for any kind of medical treatment."

July 30, 2004

Stock Exchange Chess

Garry Kasparov, no doubt with a few sour grapes underfoot, coined that term to describe the conservative, play-the-percentages chess style epitomized by the man who took away his world championship title in 2000, Vladimir Kramnik. I consider these to be the basic precepts:

1) Don't lose. That sounds obvious, but it means not risking a loss, or playing what the Russians call "for two results," win or draw only.

2) Save energy to maximize advantages. Don't tire yourself out playing for a win if you get an equal or even a better position with black. Take the draw asap so you are fresher when you have the white pieces. This combines the advantages of energy and the first move.

3) Don't press too hard. If you lose the advantage with white, offer a draw immediately. Again, maximize advantages. Don't risk overpressing just because you have white. Be pragmatic. This is contrary to the old conventional wisdom - still followed by many players - that you need to press hard to win with white even if your opening advantage is gone.

4) Play the position, never the player. Ignore factors like opponent's tournament standing or rating, etc. These can interfere with your best judgment at the board, and it's not pragmatic to waste time and energy considering them.

It doesn't take examples to realize that following these rules leads to lots and lots of draws, many of them short and without interest as chess games. GMs today make very few mistakes, so being good at avoiding mistakes and punishing errors does not guarantee tournament success. UNLESS you are in a match situation like a FIDE KO or a tournament with a format like this year's Dortmund. Then, by never losing, you win!

I should point out that I have tremendous respect for Vladimir Kramnik as a chessplayer. He has created things on the chessboard that will stand forever as brilliancies. In a way, that makes results like his current showing in Dortmund even more disappointing. Here is this massive talent drawing eight consecutive games, four of them against players he out-rates by a wide margin.

It's not just the results, it's the innocuous games themselves. Anand, Kasparov, Shirov, and Morozevich draw too, it's the nature of the high level of the modern game. But you can see from the games that they are usually making every effort to outplay their opponent and will risk to do so instead of being 100% sure that a move cannot backfire. Today nobody plays each game to the death the way Fischer and Larsen did in the 60's. Now it's all "professionalized." Do they think the profession will last long with games like these?

Peter Leko reinvented his game a few years ago, playing risky chess after years of drawishness. Lately he seems to have backslid a bit, but it's hard to tell if he's just being cautious before his match with Kramnik. Still, seeing them play a combined 16 consecutive draws in Dortmund is painful.

Kramnik, thanks to winning some blitz games, is now in the final match against Anand, starting tomorrow. If they draw both games and Kramnik wins in rapid or blitz he could become the first player ever (?) to win first prize in a tournament without winning a single game! Then get ready to hear that old refrain, "you can't criticize the winner." Join me for a beer?

[Update: I should have mentioned some previous comments on draws in chess. Related comments on Dortmund 2003 including some by Bologan.]

August 1, 2004

Kasparov Radio

National Public Radio (NPR) interviewed Garry Kasparov yesterday and the audio stream is available online. They called Kasparov at his annual training camp in Croatia for the five-minute interview. They started with Fischer, but, refreshingly, quickly moved on to talk about Kasparov's Predecessors book series and its other subjects.

Oddly, Petrosian is singled out for discussion by interviewer Scott Simon. (Who starts out the piece by calling Fischer a "genius, and also a bit of a jerk.") Kasparov does a good job of explaining Petrosian's style in layman's terms, comparing him to a baseline tennis player who never rushed the net. His relationship with Botvinnik was also mentioned. Interesting stuff, if not revelatory for those who know the basics about the champions.

Can you be too old at some point to play chess at the level you want to play it?

"Absolutely. It's a quite young game, the average age in of the top 10 now is under 30. ... For many of these kids, I look like a dinosaur who played Petrosian and Spassky and was taught by Mikhail Botvinnik. Many of them probably see me as a historical link between the very old generation and young players. I learned from players that grew up in the 30s and 40s. I played with the great players who dominated chess in the 50s, 60s and 70s and now I'm playing the kids in the 21st century."

August 3, 2004

CheckBack 1

In the tradition of my beloved Slashdot's "Slashback", these sections will update past items and highlight useful reader comments. I'm also changing DD policy to not opening external links in a new browser. You can do that yourself by right-clicking a link and selecting 'Open in New Window'.

Fischer. The latest on Fischer's detention in Japan has him filing for asylum there (odd since he's been going on about how it's such a horrible, USA-Jew-controlled place). Several reports mention how Fischer's anti-Jewish and Holocaust-denying rants may hurt his chances on various legal fronts.

Legal eagle Rob Huntington points out that "Asylum is for refugees who are defined (in the Geneva Convention) as those 'unwilling or unable to return home due to a well-founded fear of persecution on account of their race, creed, political opinion, membership in a particular social group.'"

Fischer apparently doesn't qualify. Serbia-Montenegro has offered to take him, but only if the USA and Japan agree to it. You can read Fischer's side of things (many, many things) here.

SEC. Stock Exchange Chess and the draw problem ("problem"?) has stirred much debate. Yes, draws are a part of chess. But 25-move draws with all the pieces on the board will destroy the game as a sport. If you can win tournaments by only playing hard in one or two games, something has gone very wrong and the rules need to be changed. Is it unfair to blame the players for exploiting the rules in order to do less work? Perhaps. Would you pay admission (or sponsorship) to a chess event (online or in person) knowing that it could end in 30 minutes and 14 moves? (Kasparov-Kramnik, London 2000. Twice.)

August 4, 2004

New Republic, Old News

When an article about chess appears in the mainstream press, fans are usually so excited that they don't really mind that there is nothing new for them in the article. Occasionally an "outsider" author will cast new light on an old subject, but more often it's conventional wisdom with information gleaned from a few chess sites and a few cliches tossed in.

One positive is that most non-chess journalists have both knowledge of the trade and experienced editors. While this rarely results in fact-checking, it usually means they go after primary sources and interviews, something most chess writers never bother to do. Today's article in the once-prestigious American magazine The New Republic is a good example of the breed.

Titled "The Game of Dictators," it rehashes what most of us already know about Kirsan Ilyumzhinov and the debacle around his selection of Libya as the host nation for the 2004 world championship. (A story pursued closely here. Search for "Libya".) The piece includes useful comments from Israeli GM Emil Sutovsky (perhaps contacted by the author because of Emil's contributions here while the scandal was unfolding) and US FIDE delegate Bill Kelleher. I wrote in to correct a few factual errors in the piece and they made the corrections and responded with commendable velocity.

My letter also included several expansions and interpretations of items in the article. Most serious is the author's statement that interest in chess in the West, particularly in the USA, has waned since the end of the cold war. No supporting evidence for this is given, because there isn't any. Chess is more popular than ever in the US. I doubt they will publish it, but my letter is below.

Continue reading "New Republic, Old News" »

August 5, 2004

Reality Check

Former US Champion GM Alex Yermolinsky added some needed perspective to our discussion of the perceived problem of too many short draws at the top level. A shout-out to my Contra Costa roots..

"The absolute majority of 9-round tournaments are Swisses. Who's going to get more wins, a guy who played on Board One throughout the event or somebody who raised to the top at the last moment? Do you want to reward the winners of mismatched games or worse yet the cheaters of pre-arranged encounters? It's no secret how people act when facing a last round situation when a draw gives no prize. Is that the kind of "fighting chess" you want to encourage? Same goes for the 3 point soccer scoring system. People will just dump games, period.

Secondly, the problem with abundance of draws in top-level chess runs deep and cannot be fixed unless you break up the entire system of invitational tournaments. Linares, yawn...

Knockouts are actually quite cool. The only problem I have is that the clock-bangers KNOW that the blitz tie-break is coming and do nothing but kill the play in the slow games. Solution? Forget blitz, and toss a coin. We're all big boys now, we can handle a little bit of bad luck.

Thirdly, I'm not even going to reply to proposals of changing the scoring system. Every issue of Chess Lies magazine has yet another letter from a backwood nutso full of "abolish the stalemate rule" ravings. Enough.

And finally, a sociological comment. Our chess heroes do not exist in outer space void, they live, think and act according to the real world that surrounds them. It's funny how chess fans demand greater altruism from top GM's while being pragmatic, sober and responsible people themselves." - Yermo

Now you can see why I want GM Yermolinsky to annotate for Ninja. Sane, perceptive, Oakland A's fan, cute as a button. What's not to like? Must read: The Road to Chess Improvement

The two most reasonable and practical ideas I know of, neither of them at all new: 1) Minimum move rule. 40-50 moves are not too much to ask at a professional event. (If the players are paying an entry fee they have no obligation to entertain and can do what they like. 2) .4 points for a draw with white, .6 for a draw with black. Both can be done by the organizers without messing with rating formulas. Neither force players to be wildly aggressive or treat draws as the disease instead of a symptom. The second item would eliminate the logjam of ties and the need for trigonometric tiebreak formulas, or at least make them required far less often.

The worry is that it would give black draw odds in a final-round game between two tied players at the top of the standings. I don't think that's necessarily bad. Most top players already try only for a draw with black anyway, so it can't get worse from that perspective.

August 7, 2004

Do Your Bidding

Everyone's favorite science-fiction website, FIDE.com, recently posted Word documents related to the 2005 unification match between Garry Kasparov and new FIDE world champion Rustam Kasimdzhanov. (Couldn't they find a photo of Kasparov from the last 10 years?) Bidding for sponsorship of the match ends September 15.

It's hard to judge the market interest. The stakes are high, and Kasimdzhanov proved himself by beating Adams, Topalov, Grischuk, and Ivanchuk in Tripoli. But the Unknown Uzbekistani will still be a huge underdog against Kasparov. Last week's suicide bombings in Tashkent don't augur well for local sponsorship, but dictator Karimov is far from predictable. Kasimdzhanov is contractually obligated to play and I doubt Kasparov will hold out for big bucks here when what he really wants is a shot at Kramnik/Leko. The 12-game Kasparov-Kasimdzhanov match is very tentatively scheduled for January, 2005.

Drug testing the players isn't mentioned in the match regulations, but paying for it is in the sponsorship bidding form. Was there drug testing in Tripoli? I don't recall hearing anything about it. A section in the bidding document asks whether or not visas will be guaranteed for players' delegations, guests, and journalists. Better late than never!

August 8, 2004

Sand Castles

Remember when the construction of "Chess City" in Kalmykia for the 1998 Elista Olympiad was going to make FIDE president Ilyumzhinov's fiefdom the global capital of chess? Me neither, but that's what he said. Now Ilyumzhinov is saying it again about a different city. On a recent trip to the Arab Emirates city of Dubai, he announced plans for an International Chess City.

"It is Dubai's destiny to become the center of such a magnificent game," His Excellency President Ilyumzhinov added. "Dubai will play host to over 60 million amateur and professional chess followers from around the globe annually. They will have a permanent venue where they can congregate and play 24 hour championships throughout the year, while some other 500 million lovers of the game will have the chance to follow the excitement via interactive electronic screens. Chess lovers from around the world will also have the chance to take part in the first Dubai World Chess Cup."

"All the buildings that will make up the International Chess City," HE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov clarified, "will be shaped like chess pieces and have the traditional black and white colors of the game. The "King" buildings will be the highest," he continued. "Work is now underway to collect all building plans, as well as deciding the location of the project."

This is just another example of how this FIDE administration is making ilfe very difficult for chess humorists everywhere. How can you parody something so goofy? The obvious jokes about inviting Bobby Fischer to take up residence in the rook-shaped house of his teenage dreams have already been made. With so many to choose from I can't decide which of these phrases from the article is the funniest. You decide:

1) "the King and Minister towers will be categorized as seven-star"
2) "some other 500 million lovers of the game will have the chance to follow the excitement via interactive electronic screens"
3) "After much deliberation"

August 9, 2004

Winning Is In

On July 31 in Dortmund, GM Joel Lautier, the president of the Association of Chess Professionals, gave a statement to the press. It announced the creation of the ACP Tour, a grand prix of events culminating in a Masters event toward the end of 2005.

The goal is a very good one and it's not without precedent. There has long been a grand prix of established events in the USA. The main advantages are 1) it co-opts established events instead of conflicting with them and 2) it doesn't need a pile of money to start out. It's a math formula applied to existing events, not new events that need money. Only the concluding Masters event will need sponsorship. Technically, they don't even need an event's participation to count it as an ACP Tour event. But it could quickly become a hot ticket, especially since open events will be included.

That last is no small thing. Bringing in some new blood is critical to put a fire to the feet of the big guns who have grown complacent. Not that I think the top ten are overrated, but they are definitely underworked. (At least at the board. They study like madmen.) I hope the ACP formula is aggressive enough to encourage some of the elite to play in open events the way tennis players on the cusp scramble to play in smaller events to gain enough points to make the ATP final. The hypothetical list of players who would qualify for the final based on the first half of 2004 results is interesting: (in order of points) Anand, Rublevsky, Kramnik, Leko, Mamedyarov, Kasparov, Grischuk and Short.

The crucial thing is to heavily reward winning events and winning games. Years of being rewarded for cautious seconds or thirds has made it possible to win a cautious first. Let's hope appearance fees and rating obsessions are out and winning is in.

August 10, 2004

Cross In Crossville

Why is it so many of my stories about chess federations include the phrase "I'm not making this up"? First, the backstory. As mentioned in these pages here and later here, the United States Chess Federation was planning to move from New Windsor, New York to the town of Crossville, Tennessee. That was before the financial scandal, near bankruptcy, and an almost entirely new USCF board and leadership.

Now the village, sorry, city, of Crossville is threatening to sue the USCF for breach of contract. The Crossville law firm of Looney & Looney (really, I'm not making this up) has sent a very thorough and forceful letter to the USCF. (See below) If the USCF follows through and moves to Crossville it sounds like all will be forgiven. The USCF has asked them for an accounting of Crossville's expenses, perhaps hoping to arrange a settlement. This letter is only the first shot in what could be a protracted negotiation.

Apart from the seriousness of the subject, the timing is also ugly. The USCF was hoping to put on a happy face and roll out good news at their meeting at the US Open this week.

Continue reading "Cross In Crossville" »

August 12, 2004

Breaking the Hoodoo

Don't ask me, that's what they call it over there. That's the jinx or curse or karma that has kept a Scotsman from winning the British Championship since Combe did it in 1946. Even having the tournament in Scotland last year didn't help. This year, however, Jonathan Rowson is one of the top seeds and has a half-point lead with one round to play. He got a nice pairing against a FIDE Master in the final round, albeit with black.

This year saw the British Ch become the British instead of the Commonwealth Ch after the "Indian takeaway" of the last two years ruffled feathers. Top Brits Adams and Short still aren't playing. Maybe if Rowson wins they'll make it English-only next year. (Rowson won Hastings, too.) There was a brief sensation this year as Georgian-born Ketevan Arakhamia-Grant took the lead for a moment. She's a woman and plays for Scotland, but two consecutive losses have put her out of the running. Have there been any female national champions other than Judit Polgar? [Andy McFarland points out that Victoria Cmilyte won the open Lithuanian championship. It was in 2000 and she was only 16 at the time and rated just 2329. Quite a feat, although she tied for first with five other players in a massive Swiss. Interview with her from 2000.]

Being a national champion is prestigious, but few elite players bother because of poor conditions (small prize funds) in most countries. They also worry about losing precious rating points to the non-elite players they will face. Boo-hoo. That changed in the USA when the AF4C took over, although right now the USA doesn't have anyone in the world's top 40 to worry about rating or conflicting invitations to gravy-train European invitationals.

It's a credit to Yasser Seirawan that he played in the US Ch and on the Olympiad teams when he was a WCh Candidate and World Cup player in the 80s, when US Ch conditions were often quite poor. And how about Joel Benjamin's 21-consecutive US Ch appearances! Of course this is what we should hope for, but it's not always what we get.

I can see why Anand doesn't play in the insanely long Indian championship (he'd score +18 or so), but why not the Olympiad team? [Rimfaxe gives a link to an interview that confirms Anand will play in the 2004 Olympiad after an absence of 12 years.] Many of the top Russians don't play in their championship, although this year they are trying to organize a "super-final" that will include Kramnik, Kasparov, Svidler, et al. Do your country's best players play for your country?

August 13, 2004

Let the Games Begin

The Olympics are underway in Athens, Greece. Chess is, as ever, absent, in line with an Olympic commission suggestion to prohibit mind sports a few years ago. Ilyumzhinov scored a coup in 2000 by wrangling an exhibition match at the Sydney Olympics. Anand and Shirov drew two rapid games played at the Olympic Village. Chess has made it to the Olympics in one way, however, thanks to the Cubans. According to one report on the Olympic village in Athens: "The largest banner in the village is the one of Fidel Castro hanging on the Cuban dorm. It covers almost the full side of a building. Castro is playing chess in the poster." There's a tiny pic here. There's also one of Che Guevara at a chessboard. According to a Mexican newspaper the Castro photo is of him playing in the record-setting Havana simultaneous in 2002. The Olympic Committee has told the Cubans to take down the banners.

You'd hope that with chess definitively out of the Games, FIDE (and a few national federations) would dump the idiotic drug-testing they still have written into the rules of official events, although I'm not sure they are actually testing anymore. Were players tested in the Libya KO?

USCF executive director Bill Goichberg commented on the subject for an article in the Pittsburgh Trib today.

"I think maybe the best thing would be if there was a separate mind sports Olympics."

Of course there is exactly such a thing. The 8th Mind Sports Olympiad starts on August 19th in Manchester! The idea sprang from the fertile mind of David Levy, who is still the organizer. Bill may have had something under the actual Olympic banner in mind.

August 14, 2004

Jogo Bonito

Quick, in which country will Kasparov, Anand, and Karpov be playing next week? We're back with another edition of "great events with zero PR." That country is Brazil, but Kasparov won't be playing Anand and Karpov. As part of the Sao Paulo 450th anniversary festivities, a rapid tournament will pair the best of Brazil against Anand and Karpov in a rapid chess double round robin. Milos, Vescovi, Leitao, and token Chilean Morovic round out the field of the four-day "Desafio de Xadrez" event. It begins on August 20 and ends on the 23rd.

The day before that begins there is a giant simul with ten titled players. On the 21st Kasparov will give a 20-board simul at the Morumbi Hilton site, but he's not playing in the rapid. After the simul there is a launch event for the Portuguese edition of the second volume of his Predecessors series. Most of this I learned from this official event page, the only info I could find on it after Garry told me there was a rapid tournament with Anand and Karpov at the same time as his simul. I've got some info from the organizers so we'll be covering this event daily at ChessBase.com.

Another interesting thing is that the organizers seem to be selling spots for the Kasparov simul. Usually these all go to celebrities, government officials, local players and juniors, and other people the organizers want to favor or use for publicity. I'm sure most spots were reserved for those ends, but it's still strange to see an online sign-up request form with a $500 registration fee! A few days later Kasparov will be giving lectures on strategy at a management event. "Part I: Don't get involved in dot-com bubble."

August 15, 2004

Dumb Chess News #2

Two Colorado politicians were ensnared by the dark right-hand corner square mafia this month. That's the title Dutch author and chessplayer Tim Krabbe once bestowed on those who, infernally, set up chess boards turned 90 degrees in the public view. Just about every chess board you see in an advertisement or TV show has a dark square in the right-hand corner. (Absolutely don't go to Tim's website unless you have nothing to do for the next many hours. Diary items 30, 51, and 83 have to do with the DRHCS Mafia.)

This story in a Colorado newspaper is written by a US Master. It tells of how four senatorial candidates played their favorite game against a reporter. Two chose chess and both were photographed with the board turned sideways. (Apparently the reporter didn't notice either.)

Many casual players don't know the en passant rule, or have trouble remembering where to put the king and queen. "Light on right" isn't that hard, but we've all seen this gaffe. I recently saw it in an old episode of The Simpsons, usually a very savvy show with this sort of detail. You'd think with a 50/50 chance they'd do better. Far more annoying is how in just about every movie and TV chess scene "check" is spoken aloud and is clearly meant to be devastating. The Bogo-Indian must be very popular in Hollywood.

August 17, 2004

Book Burning

The ongoing Hydra-Shredder match is the latest example of why it's nonsense to use unregulated opening books in computer chess events. Instead of learning about the relative strengths of the top programs and hardware, we get the computers leaving their books in a position either very advantageous for one side or, just as bad, that one side doesn't understand at all.

The first two games of this match in Abu Dhabi saw Shredder in horrible positions (for a computer) before it even started thinking for itself. Sacrificing a pawn for initiative is suicide against a super-computer, even if you're one yourself. Limiting book usage in comp-human matches is inevitable as storage capacity increases, but you can't expect a machine to reinvent the openings every time out against GM with knowledge.

I can't see a reason to use them at all in comp-comp play. What's the point of using a human book expert to bring your creation to move 22? If they actually started working on opening algorithms and tested them against each other, comps might have an impact on the openings like they have had on the endgame. (I doubt that, but the idea is there.) One counter-argument I have heard is that the games would be boring, with lots of tedious symmetrical play. To that I'll add that the games would also be less "normal" and less useful to humans. Okay, then maybe you aren't playing good chess, figure it out! Give'em a Reuben Fine book and teach them to play the openings. The happy medium is to use balloted openings, sometimes called Nunn matches. Programmers still need to use standard openings to test their creations and so are playing "real" chess.

Other items on computer opening books.

August 19, 2004

Catch 64

The latest Fischer fun is that he might not be able to marry the Japanese woman he hopes will save him from deportation unless he has a valid passport, which he doesn't, which is why he was detained in the first place! His intended bride to be, Miyoko Watai, said she wouldn't mind even if this only a desperate gambit by Fischer. Continuing the plague of chess analogies, she is quoted as follows by the NY Times:

"I could be a sacrifice pawn," Ms. Watai, the 59-year-old acting president of the Japan Chess Association, said in remarks to reporters intended to explain a faxed statement on Tuesday that she and Mr. Fischer are in love and want to marry.

"But in chess there is such a thing as pawn promotion, where a pawn can become a queen," said Ms. Watai, four times the women's chess champion in Japan. Breaking into a smile, the soft-spoken chess strategist vowed: "Bobby-san is my king, and I will become his queen. We want to win the game by joining hands."

Then comes this report, in which Watai denies the rumors that Fischer has a wife and child in the Philippines. Maybe it would help if Fischer buddy and exploiter GM Eugenio Torre would stop petitioning the Philippine government to grant Fischer asylum based on his having a wife and child there...

August 21, 2004

Chess for Blood (Sugar)

The Scotsman newspaper, home of the well-known chess column by John Henderson, has an interesting if typically hyperbolic article on new UK champ Jonathan Rowson. His battles at the board are accompanied by a life-long battle against diabetes. Perhaps a sponsorship from Snickers is on the way? I've been watching the Olympics while in California for my sister's wedding reception. Gold medal winning American swimmer Gary Hall also has diabetes.

August 24, 2004

Higher, Faster... Smarter?

I'm back home in humid New York after a week in the California sun. While staying at Mom's without my beloved TCM, I was left watching the 2004 Olympic Games all night. I really have to agree with the current Olympic ban on mind sports. Having chess, or bridge, or checkers, in the Olympics would be ridiculous.

Perhaps it would be only slightly more ridiculous than shooting, which requires great physical control but is basically tool using. But I'm a purist. "Race walking" is also stupid as an Olympic sport. Getting from point A to point B faster than everyone else is the ideal. Adding artificial limitations (one foot on the ground at all times) is bizarre. If walking can be a sport the sack race could be next. (Any swimming event other than freestyle has similar problems, but at least you can clearly tell what they are doing.)

Not that chess isn't a sport in its own right. Physical conditioning can be important and there can be great physical stress during a game. Notice the "can be." Also, a sport that allows the players to agree to short draws is about as contrary to the Olympic ideal as I can imagine. If chess were put in the Games you would never see it. The IOC wants attractive games to market. Presenting chess on TV requires a tremendous amound of expertise.

Kasparov vs X3D Fritz did okay on ESPN, but heavily hyped man-machine matches are a different breed. In the Olympics you'd be lucky hear about the chess results, and that only in countries that win the medals. We already have the spectacular Chess Olympiad. It would be great if the IOC would sanction the Mind Sports Olympiad in some way shape or form.

August 25, 2004

Speaking of Faster

If I'm not answering the phone it's because my new computer arrived today and I'm neck-deep in getting it ready to take over from my old workhorse desktop. The new one is a custom-made machine built by Monarch PC. It's based on an AMD Athlon 64 3800+ processor. Combined with two 10,000 rpm hard drives in a RAID array and 2GB of RAM, it might even give Fritz a chance to beat me in blitz. Cough cough.

It's not as if most people really need a new computer these days. I bought my last one, an Athlon 1800+, over two years ago and it is still fine for 90% of common tasks. Surfing the web or opening Word in two seconds instead of four isn't a reason to drop a few grand on a new box. Unfortunately, chess and video work aren't common tasks, but they take up a lot of my time. Both crave CPU speed and the new hard drives will be handy for pushing around giant video files of the sort I'll be working on for ChessBase video materials.

As expected, Fritz and Co have more than doubled their node count on the new machine. That means the same quality in half the time or significantly better quality in the same time. A ChessBase search through three million games for Karpov's collected efforts returns its 3300 results in around two seconds instead of the old twenty. Trivial, but satisfying. I've no interest in matching my computer chessplayers against others online. These results can be worked out with a formula for the most part. More practical is cutting the filtering and encoding of a 30-minute video from 40 minutes to under 10. And did I mention the silent case? No more aircraft carrier behind my desk. Yay.

August 27, 2004

It's Good to Be the King

And with that tip of the hat to Mel Brooks... Oh what the hell, it's Friday. http://www.lovechess.nl/

(WARNING! Only for those not offended by erotic virtual marble statuary.)

# A beautiful 3D board and state-of-the-art realistic models in an elegant setting.
# Freedom of movement, watch the chess pieces make love from every angle you want.
# Diverse and unique animations for all movements varying from very tender to very bizarre.

Now you can get screwed on the board and over the board at the same time. Next up, an S&M version so you can get your ass whipped and kicked simultaneously. FIDE may sue the makers on the grounds that it's THEIR job to do this to chess. Okay, your turn with the bad jokes. Keep it clean, kids. No points for the obvious bishop jabs.

August 28, 2004

Checkback 2

Back with another revisiting of recent posts and your comments.

Regarding this much-commented entry on computer opening books, I got an e-mail from a man who knows, Chrilly Donninger. He came to fame as the programmer of Nimzo and is now running the hardward-based Hydra chess project (formerly Brutus).

His machine just beat the elite program Shredder convincingly in a match. In that great report Donninger makes the points he made in his e-mail: Hydra uses a drastically truncated book, going out on its own after move 10 in most cases. He explains "It is just to set the program on the right track. No special book tricks, play just the main line." That's certainly a good start. A rumor on the computer chess streets said that the well-funded Hydra team in the UAE prepared for the match by meticulously going through the Shredder book looking for weaknesses, a la Kasparov. But looking for weak spots up to move ten wouldn't be useful enough to bother with, although you could certainly find lines your opponent isn't comfortable with. More relevant is that Shredder is a commercially available program, making it relatively easy to prepare for if you want.

Regardless of rumors, Hydra outplayed Shredder even when it wasn't winning out of the opening as in the first few games. It is safe to postulate that Hydra, running on as many cards as it did in Abu Dhabi, is the strongest chess machine extant. It would be interesting to let it play a few hundred games to see if it can even lose to a PC program, and I assume the Hydra team has done that and more.

I'm up to my eyeballs in chess programmers these days. Friend and former KasparovChess Online colleague Shay Bushinsky is in town on vacation with his family. Shay, together with Amir Ban, is half of the Israeli programming team behind the current computer world champion Junior. He's enthusiastic about the next version of Junior, number nine, number nine, number nine...

August 29, 2004

OTB vs Online

What does the increasing popularity of online chess mean for OTB (over-the-board) chess? This one is discussed often, but there's no way to prove anything. Between playing against their PCs and online chess, many players first encounter serious chess thanks to the computer, and many then go on to seek out OTB chess. By "serious" I mean tournaments, ratings, openings, all those things a majority of the world's oft-cited 400 million chessplayers don't know anything about. For most of those millions chess is just another board game, if perhaps one they understand has a serious side.

Anyone out there go from online chess to OTB chess instead of the other way around? I know from various posts on the Ninja message boards that this is not unusual, especially among the youth crowd. Most who go from offline to online play feel they are different games. If you started online, what encouraged you to play your first OTB tournament? Can exclusively online play create a strong player? Most find it hard to concentrate enough playing online (or against a program) to see the improvement you get OTB, but I'm speaking as an old fogey of 35. Most online players only play blitz, and that's not going to create a Master. Why do you/don't you play OTB/online?

September 1, 2004

The Good Old Days

With all the Bobby Fischer blather coming out of Japan these days over his ridiculous predicament, let's not miss an important anniversary. Today in 1972 Fischer won the world title from Boris Spassky. The final game started on August 31, but Spassky phoned in his resignation on September 1.

September 2, 2004

Elder Gods of Olympus

The US Men's Olympiad team has been announced. There are new faces on the team, although they are only new for the US. Onischuk is the highest-rated player and is also the youngest, turning 29 tomorrow. Novikov and Goldin are making their Olympiad debuts for the US, although both are 40-year-old veterans. Gulko, Kaidanov, and Shabalov round out the Soviet, I mean American, squad. According to John Donaldson's Mechanic's newsletter, even the USA team captain will be a Soviet veteran; Boris Postovsky led many Soviet teams in his long career and will now do the same for the US. (It's possible he may have even led a few of his current charges back when they were juniors.)

Two years ago it was already trite to suggest that the US team was getting too long in the tooth to compete under the rigors of the faster time controls and fewer off days of the Olympiad. The US won silver with a veteran team in 1998, but has shown more wear and tear in the last two events. From top to bottom the US team is one of the highest rated in the field. You still have to wonder why top young American stars Nakamura and Akobian aren't on the squad.

Not literally; we KNOW why. The selection formula goes back to April, 2003, so their strong performances in recent months don't have much impact. They focus on the US rating. Using the latest FIDE list would put Nakamura on the team as #6 since Seirawan has largely retired and Kamsky hasn't been active. Young American players have very few chances to gain international experience. While the "ratings only" system avoids controversy (witness the brouhaha over the women's team), it seems a shame. John Henderson suggests that the team's plane take a detour on the way to Calvia and play in the world senior championship!

September 4, 2004

Star Chess

Sometimes it seems every American football player is a chess fan. Hall of Famer Barry Sanders is appearing at a Kansas club. Top star Priest Holmes has been on TV in his home's "chess room" complete with suits of armor for decorations. Then we have boxers like the Klitschkos, tennis players like Boris Becker, and many more. Such crossover appeal is an effective, if somewhat cheesy and desperate, way to promote chess, particularly in the USA where the game has a reputation for geekiness. List a few other stars into chess, with links if possible.

September 6, 2004

Column Like You See'em

Let's look in on the state of the regular chess column. If you're new here, this is one of my regular cheerleader sections to find more and to get more chess out there. Daily doesn't exist (even here, ahem) since George Koltanowski passed in 2000 after over 19,000 columns starting in 1948.

One of the best out there is GM Lubomir Kavalek's in the Washington Post. The UK Telegraph Chess Club section is also good. I believe both require free registration. The Scotsman column by John Henderson has been made hard to find. Go here to the Games section and click Chess on the right. His name isn't on it for some reason, but he assures me it's still him.

Few newspaper columns contribute much in the way of new news if you are already reading sites like ChessBase and TWIC (the aforementioned are exceptions), but they usually have an analyzed game. Does your local paper have a chess column? If not, write the editors online AND with a letter. Make suggestions, talk about kids and the game, be personal. Get other chess friends to do the same. I'll send'em a column for free if they'll run it.

Post links to other good columns, or mention offline ones you like. There's a list here, but I'd rather hear the ones you like and why. Too many just phone it in.

September 7, 2004

Kamsky in US Ch

Big exclusive. Former US champion and FIDE world championship challenger Gata Kamsky will play in the 2004 US Championahip in San Diego on Nov. 24. He has been awarded one of the two wildcard spots by the AF4C, necessary if he was to play because his long inactivity left him ineligible by rating and he declined to play in any of the many qualifiers.

UPDATE 12:09 - The AF4C now has a press release announcing his participation. Full text below.

Despite my earlier waffling on the matter, I agree with the choice to break with the AF4C tradition of giving the spots to juniors (the other wildcard almost surely will go that way). I'm still concerned about giving a player a spot after he passed up a chance to play in a qualifier. It's a precedent that the organizers may regret next year when every GM who didn't make it will plead his case. Giving wildcards to GMs also contradicts the commendable policy of emphasizing qualification over free tickets by rating. It's a worthy prize, players should be willing to fight for it.

Kamsky is an exception for several reasons, mostly due to his long inactivity and recent return to the game. Past glories alone shouldn't cut the mustard. (Walter Browne played in many qualifiers and didn't make it from what I can tell.) I've heard that Kamsky offered his services to the US Olympiad team and was turned down.

Speaking of spots, another good AF4C idea is about to see the light. An online tournament of state champions starting in a few weeks will decide an entry spot to the US Championship. It's blitz and it's online, but it's an exciting idea that could add a lot of needed pizzazz to state championships, which get little to no publicity. There wasn't much time for such PR this time, but next year should be different.

Continue reading "Kamsky in US Ch" »

September 8, 2004

Red Hot Poker

The Washington Post has an interesting article on the popularity boom poker is enjoying.

"Poker is on fire, its popularity fanned by a combination of television, technology and, for some, the allure of big money.

The game Mark Twain once complained was "unpardonably neglected" in the United States is now played by hundreds of thousands of people online 24 hours a day and by celebrities on television."

Ah, what the elements of chance and money can do for a game. Sure, poker has a fairly high skill quotient and the longer a game goes the better chance the more skilled players will win. But chess it ain't. An amateur with good nerves and a few months of study can beat the world's best if he has a lucky streak. The last few poker championships were won by amateurs. With so many amateurs flooding the game, their sheer numbers overwhelm the pros for the top prizes. Still, the pros benefit overall from all the "dead money" coming into the game since they win more on the percentages over time.

Not much of a model for chess to imitate. The bluffing and odds-beating that make poker fun for amateurs, even beginners, to gamble on don't exist in chess. Some people just like to gamble, period. Bluffing, losing money, and beating odds all translate directly to television viewers, even if they barely understand the rules. And without the gambling element you won't see the massive promotion poker is getting from casinos.

Many chess players are heavily into card games, including poker. Six-time US champion Walter Browne is a veteran card shark. There are countless anecdotes about Lasker and other pre-WWII champions' addiction to whist, changing the names and the game to bridge post-war.

September 9, 2004

ICC Hacked

A trio has published a fascinating paper on how they hacked the Internet Chess Club. They produced a client with which they could easily cheat by controlling the amount of time they used per move, even setting it to zero. They also hacked the communications stream and could eavesdrop on all communications between any user and the ICC server, including credit card info, or even take control of the system to solicit information from an unsuspecting user. Read the abstract of their paper below.

They say they won't release their code and they offer suggestions to fix the problems. They also made their info available to the ICC before they published last week. I just chatted with George MacDonald, the general manager of the ICC, and they are still working on the system. Today they updated their help file to include a security disclaimer (see below).

As for it being easy, as the paper's authors imply, that's from a mathematical standpoint not a practical one. It's not as if anyone with a few hours free time would be able to whip up a cheat client. The danger would be an expert distributing such a thing.

Continue reading "ICC Hacked" »

September 11, 2004

Let's Go, Toto

Safely ensconced as I am in a blue state, it would take more than Swedish meatballs to get me to Kansas. But I like chess and I love a parade. Next weekend Susan Polgar and Anatoly Karpov will play an unusual three-format match in the tiny town of Linsborg, Kansas, which is becoming something of a chess Mecca these days. They'll play two games each of rapid chess, blitz, and shuffle chess (aka Fischerandom, aka Chess960, some of my thoughts on it here). The official press release (below) has enough hyperbole for six DD items. NPR has a truncated audio file of the note they did with the event's organizer, Mikhail Korenman. The Kansas City Star has a story on it, but it's a long registration page required, so they clearly don't want anyone to read it.

It's a shame there isn't any classical chess involved. After their last training session, Kasparov told me that Polgar is likely to be playing at a 2600 level come the Olympiad, where she'll lead the US women's team. It will be something if she can reach that level without playing a public game of serious chess before Calvia. That's a seven year break!

Anyone else remember an old Chess Life that had Karpov (and Polgar?) on the cover dressed up as a king and queen? Post or send me a scan if you've got it.

Continue reading "Let's Go, Toto" »

September 13, 2004

Kasparov Online

Garry Kasparov is keeping up his attacks on the government of Vladimir Putin. Since January he has done so as the Chairman of the Committee 2008: Free Choice, a Russian pro-democracy coalition that is dedicated to stopping Putin from keeping power in 2008. Last week Kasparov had another strong editorial in the Wall Street Journal, bashing Putin's government on its reaction to the Beslan horror and on Chechnya. You might wonder if Kasparov won't become the second world champion to have his passport revoked this year...

This week, today actually, Kasparov in in Hamburg speaking to the Baltic Development Forum on the prospects for relations between Russia and Europe. Even if the subject matter doesn't interest you, that there will be an online video of the event might. The organizers say there will be streaming video of Kasparov's 15-minute address this evening at their website. You probably have to go to the "Videofeatures" link.

Update: Still no sign of a video link, but we've posted the entire address at ChessBase.com with pics. Video of it should be on a future ChessBase Magazine.

Chain Reaction

Vladimir Putin's latest power grab will do away with the direct election of local governors and presidents in the far-flung Russian republics. Although not mentioned in any of the reports I can find, that should include Kalmykia, where FIDE president Kirsan Ilyumzhinov rules. The Kremlin's move means Ilyumzhinov will, come next election, be serving at the whim of Moscow. Putin backed Ilyumzhinov's opponent last time around (third item). Next time Putin will essentially pick the candidates, if I understand the early descriptions of the changes.

Ilyumzhinov has proven a canny operator and a survivor, and the next elections there are far off. He might even steal enough money to stay in charge of FIDE after losing in Kalmykia. Still, it's fun to fantasize about restoring the game under a beneficent administration. My big three: 1) A return to classical chess. 2) A more dynamic rating system. 3) A rigorous world championship system.

Notifaction

I've added an email notification list sign-up on the left. Submit your address and receive an email + excerpt of each new Daily Dirt item. You'll receive a one-click address verification e-mail and that's it. When I tested it, SpamAssassin flagged the verification email, so check your junk box if you don't see the verification message in a few minutes. I won't sell your address to porn spammers, even if you ask.

Please click the Add button and the verification e-mail link ONCE or you could be added multiple times. I'll cull the doubles, but try to help out.

UPDATE: I'll put the usual XML link up on the left later, but if you are into the wide and wonderful world of RSS news feeds, there IS one for the Daily Dirt. http://www.chessninja.com/dailydirt/index.rdf. I recommend FeedDemon or if you want browser-based RSS, Bloglines.com. If you've never heard of RSS it basically culls news headlines from thousands of sites and blogs in channels you select. Very handy.

September 14, 2004

Anand Speaks

Viswanathan Anand is always in the news in India, not that he hasn't deserved it with his dominance of the past year and a half at the board. He's about to embark on a tour of India to promote chess. Vishy has also been in the papers in the past week talking about the chances of the Olympiad team he will lead for the first time in a decade and corporate sponsorship of chess in India. It's nice to see the easy-going Anand taking an active role, and playing for the national team is a huge part of that. Even with the strongest board one (Kasparov isn't playing, as was revealed here) and Sasikiran on board two, Anand doesn't sound too optimistic, at least not about the men's team.

"We will be playing some top chess playing countries like Russia, Israel, Ukraine, USA and Armenia among others and it will be a tough task for us to win a medal as all the members of the team will have to do well consistently," Anand told reporters here.

"Compared to the men's team, probably the women's team has a very good chance of winning a medal as they not only have a very good team but their opponents too are not as formidable as in the men's field," he added.

Touching on various topics, the champion said that his next important assignments are to see that his team does well at the Olympiad and to win the Chess Oscar.

On his recent performances this year, Anand said, "this year has been very good for me and I hope it will continue for some time. I think I did pretty well to win the Corus Grandmasters tournament in Wijk Aan Zee and then the Dortmund Chess and Mainz Chess in Germany which had chess greats like Garry Kasparov and Vladimir Kramnik in the fray."

Perhaps a misquote, as Kasparov didn't play in any of those events. But they did meet in the Armenia vs the World match in Moscow this year, a 26-move draw. (My report here.)

September 15, 2004

Accoona Tamatas

The press conference announcing the event was so long ago you might not remember it. (And there was so much vodka after the press conference I wouldn't remember it myself without the photos.) The match between Almira Skripchenko and Irina Krush has finally arrived.

The match is two rapid games tomorrow (not four over two days as originally planned), starting at 2pm NY time. The control is 25'+10" and tiebreak will be a pair of 5'+10" blitz games. Then there's a sudden-death "armageddon" game of six minutes for white versus five minutes for black (no increment), with a draw being a win for black. The name of the sponsor has also changed. It's now Accoona, a new technology company. The money behind the curtain is the same (well, similar) as the sponsor of the X3D Kasparov matches I worked on.

I'll be at the Russian Samovar sitting near the board doing live commentary at Playchess.com. Download and install the client, log in and go to the Broadcast room to see the show. We'll also be filming for a future issue of ChessBase Magazine (CD-ROM) and some clips will be available on the web at ChessBase.com and the Accoona site. Contrary to what we were first told, the match WILL be open to the public, within reason. So if you're in midtown Manhattan Thursday afternoon, stop by. There will be live expert commentary downstairs.

I think they have more space than they thought because they scheduled the match on Rosh Hashanah. Oops. I'll bring the apples if you bring the honey. Susan Grumer writes in to point out that the Kramnik-Leko match starts on Yom Kippur, a major blunder. Quick, someone tell Fischer that maybe Jews really don't run the chess world.

September 17, 2004

Accoona Caption Contest

Been a bit busy with the aftermath of the Krush-Skripchenko match and the beforemath of Kasparov's arrival in NY. Meanwhile, the remnants of some hurricane or other has arrived here in Brooklyn and it's getting biblical out my window. Okay, it's not exactly what happened in Florida or Jamaica, but I'm still not going outside.

Some Dirt from in and around the Accoona match. As mentioned below, today there is an event with Susan Polgar facing Anatoly Karpov in Kansas. It was originally announced they would play blitz, rapid, and advanced chess (computer assisted). The advanced chess was later changed to shuffle chess (aka Fischerandom). From the press release: "Due to the current situation of Bobby Fischer, both World Champions agreed to change the format to include 2 Fischer random chess games instead. This is to show support and respect to their fellow World Champion Bobby Fischer for what he has accomplished over the chess board."

The word is that Karpov freaked out when he heard it was advanced chess, at which the veteran is predictably horrible. He was massacred in that format by ChessBase whiz Anand 5-1 in Leon in 1999. So it was hastily changed to Fischerandom. To show respect to Fischer they could have just had some sushi. Or played to 10 wins, draws not counting! I don't know how much Polgar has been training in private, but Karpov has been playing the worst chess of his life in the past year.

Of the four or five noise interruptions during the Krush-Skripchenko match, two were caused by Accoona employees. One with a cell phone ringing three meters from the board, another yelling across the room downstairs. But the worst was a restaurant worker, as mentioned in my onsite photo report on the match. The video of Irina waving at arbiter John Fernandez will be priceless.

Speaking of, as I pointed out to my chess-newbie friend Ann LePore, a video artist who was there to film the match for ChessBase Magazine, no matter what countries the players represent, the post-mortem is always in Russian. It was. See below for photos and a caption contest.

Continue reading "Accoona Caption Contest" »

September 19, 2004

It's a Date

Either someone in FIDE actually has a sense of humor, or it's an amusing coincidence that they extended the deadline for bids on the Kasimdzhanov-Kasparov match to September 25, the day that the Kramnik-Leko world championship match starts in Brissago, Switzerland. Extended deadlines are rarely good news.

I heard about the HB Global Chess Challenge a week or so ago, but didn't want to rain on Maurice Ashley's press conference. It's quite an amazing sum: a $500,000 open tournament, doubling the prize fund of the US Championship, which had claims on being the richest annual tournament in the world. When I told Kasparov about it he responded that maybe he should play in that if the Kasimdzhanov match doesn't get off the ground!

Update: As several people have pointed out, perhaps an equally amazing sum is the entry fee: $350!

September 20, 2004

Kramnik-Leko WCh

I suppose it's time to start talking about the Kramnik-Leko classical world championship match that starts on September 25. And why not? Nobody else is talking about it. With a roomful of chessplayers and fans at the Accoona match, nobody mentioned it once. It was all about the Olympiad. The two most consistently conservative elite players in a 14-game match. Yawn. Not that the 2000 Kasparov-Kramnik match wasn't a draw-fest. I was there for the duration. But the ongoing shock of seeing the heavily favored Kasparov down and increasingly desperate added tension and drama.

Anand said it best when he called Kramnik-Leko a battle of immovable object versus immovable object. Kasparov favors Kramnik, and thinks there will be more action than many predict. ("At least three or four decisive games. Two wins each if it's a draw. If Leko wins it will be plus two minus one.") What happens if both players just wait for mistakes? In K-K 2000 both decisive games (wins by Kramnik) were directly out of the opening. As well-prepared as Leko and Kramnik are, and as cautious as they tend to be, this could be a drag.

But let's be optimistic. Kramnik and Leko have played some very exciting games in the past. Leko has the game and the mental toughness to be able to beat Kramnik, who has the edge in experience and, I would say, in sheer talent and depth. If I were betting even money I'd go with Kramnik. But since you can get good odds on Leko, that's the smart bet. Leko even has a career plus against Vlady in classical chess.

Go vote on the winner in our message board poll and predict the score.

September 21, 2004

Poker in the Back

Poker bots? An interesting article on using computers to play online poker. It serves as a follow-up to our interesting discussion of poker a few weeks ago. A comparison to chess is again made. Slashdot has a long discussion thread on the story with many insightful posts.

"The strategy of [poker] is difficult and to sit down and write a program that can beat a table of experienced human players is no trivial task," he said.

While bots have been used to play the optimal strategy in other online card games, like blackjack, poker is a different animal. The biggest obstacles lie in the amount of information unavailable to the player and the need for the program to be able to employ a variety of strategies at different times, such as bluffing and laying traps for opponents, explained Billings, a doctoral student and master poker player.

"With chess – I don’t want to trivialize it – but it’s just a matter of calculation," he said. “With poker, you really need to write a program that can think about the game and reason.”

The solution, in the case of the Vex Bot, was adding a layer of artificial intelligence over its ability to calculate probabilities.

Of course the implications of computer cheating for a game based on gambling are severe. Online chessplayers obsess about computer cheating, but that's about ego, rating points, and the occasional small prize. With the typical love of Big Round Numbers, they describe poker as a "billion dollar industry." I'm not sure gamblers would even care. These are people who pour money into slot machines, roulette, and other games in which they have only the casino's word that they have an honest chance of winning. Online poker is the same. You trust that it's not rigged or cheatable.

September 22, 2004

Kasparov A's for Q's

It's a pretty slow week as things ramp up for the Kramnik-Leko match that starts on Saturday. Meanwhile Garry Kasparov in here in NY for meetings with publishers, among other things. In a few hours I'll post a long article at ChessBase.com about Kasparov's recent stay in Pamplona, Spain. There are also some interesting comments about the third volume of his My Great Predecessors book series. I'll see him again before he leaves this weekend, and if you have some good questions that haven't been answered many times already, post'em if ya got'em.

September 24, 2004

Watch Swiss

The tiny town of Brissago, Switzerland will be the center of the chess world for the next three weeks. It is already drawing the usual suspects of the chess world in like a black hole. Let's hope it doesn't suck like one. Oh yes, I forgot, I'm trying to be positive. It's going to be great. I mean, GREAT!

My partner in crime at ChessBase.com, Frederic Friedel, just arrived in Brissago and will be filing reports and photos. I'll be spectating and commenting on some of the games at Playchess.com and we can expect a host of GMs to be there too. They are really playing up the betting angle at the official match website. So we have smoking and gambling, all we need is some sex and booze and we'll really have a match!

Let's look back four years to the 2000 world championship match, where Kramnik took the title from Kasparov. Below is the transcript of the post-match press conference. Unfortunately, most of the questions were for the dethroned Kasparov, who hardly needs an invitation to talk, so we didn't hear much from the quiet new champion. It seemed odd to many of us in attendance (including Kasparov) that Kramnik didn't say anything to honor his victim's 15 years on top. But really he just didn't say much.

Continue reading "Watch Swiss" »

September 25, 2004

Better than ChessBase

I've found something much better than ChessBase or Playchess.com for watching live games. Even the new ChessBase 9 coming out next week doesn't come close. It's watching games live with Garry Kasparov in the room making comments. Really, ChessBase needs to incorporate this feature. Watching game one of Kramnik-Leko at Playchess.com with Garry in the room is a great user experience. He's reasonably user friendly, his graphics aren't bad for 41, and his endgame evaluations are much better than Fritz's.

We had the game on in the background as Garry packed to leave New York for Turkey, where he'll play in the Euro Team Championship next week. Every once in a while he'd wander by the screen, work through a few lines in his head, render a verdict, and go back to packing. For the record, Kasparov pronounced Leko "dead meat" when he played 44.Qf4 instead of taking on g6. (Kramnik won with black, analysis and report coming at ChessBase.com.)

September 26, 2004

You Asked, He Answered

It was pretty informal, but I managed to get a few answers to your questions for Garry Kasparov. He dodged a few of the more complicated ones, but at least he was funny about it. Thanks for all your questions.

He considers Kramnik the favorite against Leko (game one was in its early stages at this point).

About Kramnik getting a rematch if he loses to Leko, Kasparov said, "It's none of my business. Probably Kramnik will think he should!"

Re if he would play in a qualifier if he loses to Kasimdzhanov or Kramnik/Leko, "That's too many "ifs" for FIDE."

Re if there will be rule changes in chess in the future. "I wouldn't rule it out. Many people are thinking about the openings." [Meaning things like balloted openings.]

Re getting his My Story videos on DVD, or continuing them: "There are no plans, but these ChessBase [Fritz Trainer] DVDs are a better format anyway. No interviewer, just speaking directly to the camera." For those who don't know, Kasparov is making a series of these with many of them already recorded. I think the first to be released is on the Najdorf.

Re who will be world champion in 2010. "A better question is how many champions will there be. And who will run such an event in 2010?"

Re Kamsky comeback: "He may fall short of Fischer's comeback! Who knows, it's up to him."

Re the last book he read: "Dan Brown's Angels and Demons, better, or more believable, than Da Vinci Code. And Jefferson's Second Revolution." Kasparov is a serious American history buff, btw.

Re are GMs over-reliant on computers these days: "Yes, but there's really no choice."

Re has his style of play changed in the last few years. "It evolves, but I'm not playing like Karpov yet!"

Re is there any particular child prodigy he is watching: "Not really watching, but probably Carlsen is the most promising."

Re playing Hydra. He'd heard of it, and said he is always willing to play a computer opponent. "To continue the experiment" is how he usually puts it.

Re 2004 Olympiad predictions (he's not playing): "Russia of course, India could surprise. Anand on board one changes everything, it's huge. The young Ukrainian team."

I asked him what he thought of Nakamura not being on the US men's team and he initially didn't want to comment. "They got us (the Kasparov Chess Foundation) to work with the women's team only!" Eventually he settled for "I'll just say it's strange to see a US team without Nakamura."

Re the current hierarchy: "The results speak for themselves. Obviously Anand has been in great form." He then went on to point out the irony of people complaining about his benefiting from the static FIDE rating system when he organized the development and the propagation of the more advanced and much more dynamic Thompson rating system (aka Professional list) a decade ago. Just two years ago he started the now-defunct World Chess Rating with the hopes of reforming the system.

Note the September 2004 Professional list below. It is much more dynamic, but still doesn't punish inactivity, so GK is still #1. That last number is an index of volatility. The lower the number, the more stable your rating.

1 Kasparov,Garry 13.04.1963 RUS 2764 137
2 Morozevich,Alexander 18.07.1977 RUS 2734 163
3 Anand,Viswanathan 11.12.1969 IND 2725 142
4 Topalov,Veselin 15.03.1975 BUL 2714 153
5 Kramnik,Vladimir 25.06.1975 RUS 2692 120
6 Polgar,Judit 23.07.1976 HUN 2690 161
7 Adams,Michael 17.11.1971 ENG 2687 143
8 Leko,Peter 08.09.1979 HUN 2680 130
9 Svidler,Peter 17.06.1976 RUS 2677 128
10 Shirov,Alexei 04.07.1972 ESP 2669 150

He blew off the New Chronology stuff and said he didn't want to discuss his political aspirations.

September 27, 2004

Turkey Leg

Slipping in one more Kasparov item before the Kramnik-Leko match starts up again. GK just arrived in Turkey, where he will be playing in the Euro Club Championship starting next week. There is a brief item on his presence in a Turkish paper online.

When I talked to Kasparov today he said he was "in the middle of nowhere" 100 kilometers from the event site of Cesme. The Turks run these events on a for-profit basis, something that has brought them into conflict with the ACP on occasion. Kasparov called the energetic organizer and federation chief Ali Nihat Yazici "sort of a Turkish Bill Goichberg."

Kasparov arrived early to finally focus on chess and train for a few days after so much running around in the past few months. Last year in this event he started very strongly, winning four games in a row, several of them excellent, before blundering into the ugliest loss of his career against Huzman. That's what a combination of age and lack of practice will do to you. Kasparov hasn't played since June.

September 29, 2004

Tennis, Anyone?

There's a fluffy little piece on Anand's current chess promotion tour in India. Most mainstream chess news coverage in English comes from India or the Philippines. Spanish and Latin American papers are also good. As for other languages, a Google news search in German turns up 76 hits for "Kramnik" right now and only 24 in English. That despite there being over six times as many English sources, although many of them are small, local US newspapers. US and UK papers feel that chess needs to be ghettoized with the classified adds or the comics instead of included in the sports pages. It's one thing (and a good thing) for the Olympics to rule us out again, but being dumped in with the crossword is humiliating.

Where was I? Oh yes, tennis. Anand joked about how his mother originally put him into a tennis program.

Explaining to them what aptitude means, Anand, who is the Brand Ambassador of NIIT, said, "it is that quality through which one naturally excels in his chosen field. I guess I didn't have any aptitude for tennis as it meant that I had to get up early in the morning, go to the courts and run five rounds first," Anand said."

No doubt. I'm much more likely to be going to bed at 5am than getting up. Actually, I'm even more likely to be playing blitz online. We don't know what tennis lost by Anand's defection; certainly it was a coup for chess. Reminding me of the immortal line about Reuben Fine's retirement from the game: "a loss for chess, at best a draw for psychology".

September 30, 2004

Chess Imitates Life

Okay, I know I was supposed to be taking a break from Kasparov items, but this is a good one. The NY Post reveals that Penguin books has won the bidding war for Garry Kasparov's next book project. The fee? How about half a million dollars! First off, it won't have any chess notation in it. It's called "How Life Imitates Chess" and is about, well, life's lessons from chess.

After three days of incremental bidding, Emily Loose at Penguin agreed to pay close to $500,000 for "How Life Imitates Chess," by champion Garry Kasparov. The Azerbaijan-born Kasparov has been the No. 1 ranked chess player in the world since 1984, according to the 31-page proposal that was sent to nine publishers.

"Before I knew much about life, I understood chess," it begins — and then goes on to explain how advantage, initiative, opinion, threat and hope (among other ideas) influence both life and game.

Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Crown and Simon & Schuster were the underbidders for the philosophical self-help tome. Kasparov's co-author, is Mark Reiter, who is also acting as agent. Reiter performed the same two services for Twyla Tharp's best-selling "The Creative Habit" last year.

I've perused the proposal and sample chapter, but I'm not the best person to comment. I'm sure there are many insights to be gleaned from a life of top-level chess, but this sort of forced authorial introspection is weird coming from someone you know. It's not really a self-help book, but it's not a memoir either. On the other hand, maybe he could write one on getting in touch with your inner child!

Okay, cheapo there. If this is as big a hit as they must expect considering the price tag, it could push Kasparov fully into the American mainstream. His regular Wall Stree Journal articles keep him visible, but his Q-rating still isn't that great, at least not for someone who was in a Pepsi Super Bowl commercial a few years ago. And if it's good enough for Twyla Tharp...

October 3, 2004

The Bitter End

Been down with a nasty cold this weekend. Yes, yes, how hard could it be to type out a few entries, especially with so much going on in the chess world this week. Leko struck back to equalize his classical world championship match against Kramnik. Leko missed a drawing continuation in game one (as documented in Black Belt #94).

Adjournments are untenable in this computer age, but in 50 years when players compare the endgames of 20th century with those of today, they'll think we forgot how to play. The top players may know as much or more today, but faster time controls and no adjournments mean lower quality.

October 4, 2004

Turkey Website

The Euro Club Cup started yesterday and many of the world's top 20-30 players are there. Kasparov is leading the Ekaterinsk team, but he didn't play in the first round in the typical lopsided matches of superpowers versus teams with barely a GM. His team paid the price as his board-one replacement lost. We'll be covering the event at ChessBase.com.

The official website looks like it was designed by Mrs. Butterbee's third-grade class. We seem to go from super-heavy Flash and animation-crazed chess event sites to amateurish and confusing ones. Everybody wants to build a site from scratch, fill it full of cruddy images and applets, and host it somewhere ill-equipped to serve such heavy stuff. They get a friend or someone else with connections to make it, and it's usually junk.

October 6, 2004

Kramnik-Leko at the Half

After seven of fourteen games, the Kramnik-Leko classical world championship match in Brissago, Switzerland is tied up 3.5-3.5. Kramnik will have four whites in the second half, although his three so far have been unimpressive. Five of the seven games have been draws, four of them very short. That's no surprise and doesn't compare unfavorably to other recent matches. Kasparov-Kramnik saw only two decisive games of 15. Kasparov-Anand 95 started with eight draws and ended with 13/18 games drawn. With incredible preparation and risk-averse attitudes prevailing it's only going to get worse, at least until Morozevich gets a title shot.

Game 6 was a good illustration of today's rules. They agreed to a draw on move 20 with all the pieces and seven pawns each on the board. If there was any advantage, Leko had it with black. As I posited in my "stock exchange chess" polemic a few months ago, reaching equality with black is now a cue to offer a draw, unless you can play for a win without any risk of losing. Matches make things worse because match strategy (needing a rest, testing an opening) takes precedence. With private sponsorship I don't know why they don't insist on move minimums. If you have paying spectators you shouldn't have to risk a sham like the 11 and 14-move draws of K-K 2000. Draws are part of the game, short ones with all the pieces on the board shouldn't be.

October 7, 2004

Chess Guts

The "management, leadership, and career advice for executives" magazine Fast Company has an article by Garry Kasparov. He's been writing on politics since the early 90's, although it's only in the past year or two that he has branched out from Russia-centric items. Now Kasparov is hitting the lucrative business circuit for lectures on strategic thinking and decision-making. (Not to mention life-coach-style instruction in an upcoming book.) No matter how these new endeavors go it's a shame he couldn't give another four or five years purely to playing chess. (Not counting writing about it.) The debate about whether or not he is past his prime is beside the point since he started putting so many irons in so many fires.

"Smart executives, correspondingly, must understand that their competitors are at least as smart as they are. Only the most arrogant fail to acknowledge that they do not have a monopoly on brainpower, ideas, or will. In chess, I know that my rival sees everything I see. Even if I do the unthinkable -- a bold, unprecedented move calculated to leave him gasping -- I must assume he has anticipated it and will have an equally daring answer. Call it the courage to accept humility."

October 8, 2004

2005 US Championship

That's right, 2005. In order to accomodate the wacky and impromptu 2004 US women's championship, this year's regularly scheduled event (Nov. 24 - Dec 5, San Diego) has been dubbed the 2005. I think this should be their cue to do what the Soviets did to avoid this sort of confusion with their haphazardly scheduled championships: number them instead of using years. Plus, Roman numerals always look cool.

Anyway, the field is now complete and posted to the AF4C website (further changes may occur). Of interest: Yasser Seirawan and Susan Polgar declined their invitations. Kamsky got a wild card. IM Ron Burnett qualified by winning a tournament of state champions online blitz event. This was hastily arranged and little publicized this year, but is a great concept to lend nationwide PR to the main event. It could also add a lot to the state championships, many of which barely exist anymore. It will be the strongest of these new Swiss-system championships thanks to Kamsky and Onischuk. Nakamura must be tipped as a favorite after his remarkable FIDE KO run.

October 10, 2004

Man-Machine Beef

Greetings from Seattle. I don't drink coffee so they are deporting me back to New York tomorrow. But first, I've got a beef with these endless man-machine matches. Sure, they put food on the table for many, myself included, and they attract more spectators - chess and non-chess alike - than human-human or comp-comp events. Even a championship match like Kramnik-Leko won't bring out as many online and in-person spectators as Kasparov versus the latest version of Fritz, Shredder, Junior, et al, all of which play at roughly the same level.

The problem is that we've known for quite a long time now that Grandmasters play better chess than computers. The humans still get tremendous positions in most games at classical time controls. It's true that the comps get a little better every generation, but as game three of Kasparov - X3D Fritz showed, machines can still play like brain-damaged gerbils in the wrong positions. (And they are still overly dependent on their human-designed opening books, but don't get me started on that right now.)

We also know why humans usually lose to machines: they blunder and computers don't, and a blunder is usually required to win a chess game. The Bilbao event saw the humans winning only a single game against the silicon, and Fritz was running on a laptop. Multiprocessors and other hardware advantages make a big difference against other machines when every half-ply is life and death. But within a certain range, that's not why humans win or lose to computers. Hydra will probably kill any other computer these days, but it didn't outscore Fritz on a laptop in Bilbao against humans.

If the human blunders, the computer wins. If the human doesn't blunder, it's a draw. If the human gets a great anti-computer position in the opening or in an endgame, the human can win. So we sit around waiting for a blunder, pretty much. Can the heroic human hang on? It's a compelling narrative, but with what should be limited attraction for a chess audience. If the human wins one we get a man-bites dog story and some "we're not dead yet!" feelgood. It's just that almost all the games a human can win against a computer these days are so ugly that it's hard to cheer. We know that in "normal" chess we get ripped to pieces 99% of the time.

October 12, 2004

Abu Dhabi Doo

After months of disquieting quiet, an announcement has been made for the Kasimdzhanov-Kasparov FIDE championship match. As previously rumored it will take place in Dubai of the United Arab Emirates in January, 2005. Combined with Leko leading his Brissago match with Kramnik, this is the brightest title unification has looked since Prague, 2002. Leko would have more to prove than Kramnik and a high-profile match against Kasparov would be all he could hope for.

As mortal as Kasparov has been in his past few events, I doubt I'm alone in giving Kasimdzhanov scant chances to beat him in a match. The Uzbek will have a cultural home-field advantage of sorts. Earlier he spoke of how comfortable he felt in Tripoli.

October 14, 2004

Chess Art

This almost made the "dumb chess news" section since idiots are involved, but perhaps chess art is a more interesting tangent. A couple of guys tried to steal a chess sculpture in an Oregon town. (Gee, I wonder if alcohol was involved.) This earlier story has a small pic of it.

Chess has an powerful visual element that has attracted playing and non-playing artists for centuries, beyond the metaphorical connections of the game. Dubai's planned Chess City is likely to be the largest display of this affinity. We know of Marcel Duchamp's love of the game. Many other well-known artists designed chess sets or included the game in paintings or works of fiction. Any chess art in your area? A quote of Duchamp's is worthwhile in this age of chess sponsorship.

"I am still a victim of chess. It has all the beauty of art - and much more. It cannot be commercialized. Chess is much purer than art in its social position."

A 19th century Russian set, one of my favorites from the chess set exhibition at the Philadelphia art museum in 2002.

October 15, 2004

Calvia Olympiad

Round one of the Olympiad is today. There is a wealth of information at chess-olympiad.com, which is handling the details for the official portal site 36chessolympiad.com (the English pages don't appear to be up there). The first round is full of slaughters and the favorites won't have tough match-ups until the third or fourth round.

Russia is again a prohibitive rating favorite, with a 42 point advantage over Ukraine. Things tighten up considerably after that with a remarkable 17 teams having average ratings over 2600. Thanks mostly to Anand's return to top board, India is a new presence among the favorites. Nigel Short will miss the first half of the event for England, severely damaging their hopes. I was surprised to see the Netherlands so highly seeded with Timman's long slide, but Sokolov has finally stopped playing for Bosnia. Bacrot isn't playing for France. With his lofty new rating they would have been a contender. Shirov is back for Spain after skipping Bled.

On the ladies' side of the aisle, the usual suspects of China, Russia, and Georgia have been joined by the well-trained and heavily hyped American team. Susan Polgar leads the team and will be playing her first serious chess in seven years. Her old world championship foe Xie Jun is back to lead the top-seeded Chinese team.

Handicapping these events is impossible, but I always like the Armenians. And much as with the club events, it's fun to watch the world's best face lower-rated competition. Kasparov made the point to me that if Russia fails to win gold and if Leko finishes off Kramnik, there won't be a Russian (/Soviet) title holder for the first time probably since before Botvinnik's day. (Junior, women's, men's, national team, club.)

October 17, 2004

Leko's Big Day

Tomorrow in Brissago, Switzerland, is 25-year-old Peter Leko's chance to enter the history books. Even if this annoyingly fractured era in chess history is littered with asterisks and footnotes in the chess encyclopedias of 2050, a match win over Vladimir Kramnik would stand on its own as a formidable achievement. Kramnik lost candidates matches to Kamsky (94), Gelfand (94), and Shirov (98), but showed an impeccable ability to pick his spots in 2000 by beating Kasparov.

On the other hand, if Kramnik beats Leko in the final game to tie the match and retain his title, Brissago becomes an instant classic. He'll have done what only Emanuel Lasker (1910) and Garry Kasparov (1987) have done: win the final game to change the result of a world championship match. Everyone is incredibly hard to beat at this level, but it's interesting that Leko fits the uber-defensive-expert profile of the two guys on the wrong side in 1910 and 1987, Schlechter and Karpov.

Few have had even the opportunity, of course. Alekhine, Bronstein, Smyslov, and Korchnoi had the chance and couldn't do it. In 1984 Karpov had 21 games to knock out Kasparov and failed. Karpov could have kept or taken the title from Kasparov in the final game in 1985 with a win and in 1987 with a draw.

Leko basically stopped playing after his win in game eight put him ahead. But he has risen to the occasion when pressed and has outplayed Kramnik consistently after the opening. The overall standard of play is nothing to write home about, but Leko has been better when it counts.

October 18, 2004

Kramnik Wins, Sort Of

Vladimir Kramnik beat Peter Leko in game 14 to draw their match and keep his classical world championship title. Kramnik joins Lasker, Botvinnik (twice) and Kasparov in the list of defending champs who retained their titles by virtue of draw odds. Quite a few people, only partly joking, said before the match that between these two conservative players having draw odds would likely be decisive.

Bad news for Leko, good news for Kramnik, bad news for unification. (Good news that we don't have to see the Danneman logo with the misplaced white king and queen for a while.) Kramnik keeping the title drops unification chances down close to zero, at least if Kasparov beats Kasimdzhanov in January. (If Kasimdzhanov wins it rises to maybe a ten percent chance.) Kramnik was dragged to the table in Prague in 2002, signed under duress, and wants no part of anything with Kasparov that would put his old rival on equal or near-equal footing. (E.g. no long qualifier, no draw odds.) Kramnik's reasons are not unreasonable and they have been well covered over the past two years, but sign he did.

Kramnik and Brissago match director Joel Lautier run the ACP, so the organization's first post-match statement about unification is eagerly anticipated.

October 19, 2004

Conspiracy Theories

The latest Fischer news isn't much news. Fischer has a new lawyer, who immediately started banging the conspiracy drum.

At a news conference at the Foreign Correspondent's Club of Japan in Tokyo, Vattuone presented a copy of an internal U.S. government fax as proof the U.S. government was behind Fischer's arrest by Japanese authorities. The U.S. Embassy officials presented the copy of the fax at Friday's hearing.

The fax, dated Nov 18, 2003, states that the Department of Homeland Security had requested the assistance of the Passport Office "in effecting the revocation of the passport privileges" of Fischer "in order to secure his deportation from the Philippines."

Well, yes. When the US government revokes the passports of everyone with outstanding federal indictments I guess you could say they are out to get you when you are one of those under indictment. Doh. As I said before, the case against Fischer and its continued pursuit are silly at best. Just as silly are Fischer's claims that he is the victim of particular persecution. I'll be very surprised it turns out anything special was done regarding Fischer's case prior to his detention.

October 20, 2004

A Mohel's Best Friend

Better information on the latest Fischer chapter.

Way too much information on the latest Fischer rants.

In the News (Not)

The English-language news coverage of the Kramnik-Leko match was very disappointing. Coverage in German was 15 times greater than that in English, which means the organizers didn't have very many contacts with English-language media. Basically, unless they are spoon-fed stories it's just too confusing for the press to explain about the different champions each time so they don't bother. Not that chess was front page news before 1993, but things have clearly gone downhill and the schism is largely to blame.

If Kramnik had lost it would have been in a few more places, just as Kasparov's loss was trumpeted in 2000. Still, ZERO stories?! Reuters and the AP ignored it entirely, a first. The only English-language news sources to mention the result of the match were two in Moscow and a couple more in India. I mean, the world junior badminton tournament got 51 stories. Scary. On the other hand, many places are covering the Olympiad, which has local interest.

In the various Spanish, French, and German reports, a few note that Kramnik will face the winner of the Kasimdzhanov-Kasparov match. Several in Spanish even say that this is a unification match "scheduled for 2005"! Jumping the gun a bit there. Even in FIDE fantasy-land (where they had the Kasparov-Ponomariov match on their calendar even after the dates had passed) they haven't gone as far as saying it's scheduled!

Have your contacted your local paper by letter or e-mail to request, to demand, more chess coverage and/or a column? If not, do it. If yes, do it again. It just takes a minute and now is a good time. "Hey, the world chess championship just finished and your paper/website/channel didn't even mention it!" In turn they might ask the wire services why there wasn't anything.

UPDATE: Duif points out that a French wire service had a Kramnik-Leko final report in English (and in Spanish) online.

Commentator

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Thanks for your help.

October 21, 2004

Zeus, Guide Your Humble Servant

The most interesting scoresheet you'll see today comes from the Calvia Olympiad. Iranian women's team member Shadi Paridar signs her scoresheets "In the name of God" at the top. We can see it didn't help in this loss, but she's on 4.5/6 on board one, so you might consider giving it a try.

Then it occurred to me that maybe this is a curse after a loss: "In the name of God, how could I lose to this idiot!?" Somehow I doubt it. Also interesting that it's not in Farsi. Maybe that would make the arbiters suspicious of note taking. US Women's Champion and current women's team reserve Jennifer Shahade wrote an interesting interview with at least one Iranian player a year or two ago in Chess Life. I wonder if it was Paridar. (I know, "interesting" and "Chess Life" in the same sentence. But every once in a while something sneaks through.)

October 25, 2004

When In Doubt

I'm not right all the time, but my prediction about Kramnik's attitude toward reunification were accurate. In his post-match comments he states that Prague and Kasparov-Kasimdzhanov should be thrown out in order to have a different qualifier that would include Anand and Ponomariov.

Of course that would be great, and similar things were suggested in 2002, but it's the same old "when in doubt, hold another qualifier" argument. Nothing is ever good enough, nothing is going to be perfect. If you include Ponomariov, why not Khalifman? Why not Shirov? Why not Leko (this is a separate title, after all)? If we include the #1 and the #2 on the rating list, why not the #4? That's Morozevich, and Topalov is just one point behind him. In 2002 Kramnik said rating and tournament success weren't good reasons to include Kasparov in unification. Now he gives the same as reasons to include Anand. Why have we be sitting around for two years waiting for something that he's going to junk when it finally moves forward?

New qualifiers ALWAYS sound great; that's the problem. You keep talking about new ones and nothing ever happens. The qualifier in the hand is worth two in the bush. The more people you add, the more potential you have for disagreements. What if Moro takes over the #2 spot in the meantime? If you organize something based on current circumstance you can't keep changing it with the circumstances or you never do anything at all.

And try using the "well, it's obvious" argument on the guys who are shut out. Anyway, a quadrangular would be dandy. It would be even better if it were a five-player event with Kramnik tossed in. If Prague 2002 is tossed out and Anand dropped in, why weren't Dortmund 2002 and Leko dumped? We all know that FIDE screwed up their part of the unification plan. Using that as an excuse when it took Kramnik-Leko two years to happen seems a bit petty, or disingenuous.

David Levy's prediction for 2005 is disturbingly realistic:

2005 FIDE President Ilyumzhinov announces Kasparov vs Kramnik reunification match to take place in Dubai in December 2005 for a purse of $2.5 million. Also announces that if either player refuses to sign the match contract within 30 days he loses his right to play and will be replaced by the highest available player in the FIDE rating list. Kasparov signs. Kramnik refuses to sign, saying he wants to play the winner of a 4-player tournament with Kasparov, Anand, Kasimdzhanov and Ponomariov. Ilyumzhinov agrees to Kramnik's proposal, in the interest of bringing peace to world chess. Kasparov also agrees. Anand agrees. Ponomariov's lawyer sues FIDE on the basis that Ponomariov and Kasimdzhanov have both held the FIDE WC title since the Prague agreement was signed but Anand has not. Leko's lawyer announces that if Ponomariov wins the case, thereby eliminating Anand, Leko will sue FIDE unless he is given the fourth spot in the tournament.

I think Kasparov is a little tired of agreeing to things that he figures will never happen, but you never know. Perhaps such a qualifier could be organized in time for his 50th birthday in 2013. Seriously, if we start over again we would be looking at a qualifier in 2006 and then 2007 for a new cycle. Assuming we don't need another qualifier, of course.

UPDATE: It should be obvious that we're all Anand fans. Taking the very real problems with starting over as an attack on Anand is a strawman. There are serious logistical and legalistic concerns. The fastest way to get Anand involved in the world title fight is probably to continue with Kasparov-Kadimzhanov and unification. Then Anand and the rest of the world can play for the unified title. Scheduling a new unification qualifier would take at least as long. Anand (and Ponomariov) is playing in Wijk aan Zee in January. Players have schedules and contracts.

Look, a Kitty!

To take your mind of the horrors of chess politics for a moment. Awwwww.

Okay now, do you think my cat favors a quadrangular qualifier? Discuss. I guess we can just call this an open thread. Anything on your mind? Something you'd like to know? Something ticking you off?

October 26, 2004

Game and Match

It's interesting that the Olympiad uses board points instead of match points. (I explained this a bit in an Olympiad report.) It makes things more dynamic and could encourage more aggressive play, because beating a team 4-0 is much better than 2.5-1.5.

One downside is that when combined with Swiss pairing it creates weird cascades. With 20-30 teams just a few board points apart, a single big match win changes everything and it cascades up the table as in an individual Swiss. This can really distort things if it happens in the final round. Jumps of 20 or even 30 places aren't unusual. For example, Malaysia busted up Lebanon in the eighth round. That big score put them up against Turkey, who duly crushed them 4-0. That shot #69-ranked Turkey up in the pairings, where they got stomped by Slovakia 3.5-0.5. That puts #32 Slovakia up against #9 Poland today. #5 India has #43 Canada (Canada wiped out a stronger Macedonian team to jump up, so it's not always a chain of mismatches.)

Another aspect of Swiss pairings is that in a long event the top teams will have faced each other long before the end of the event. But there are so many strong teams now it doesn't matter so much. That underdog Slovakian team includes veteran GMs Movsesian and Ftacnik!

The US Men came through 2-2 against Ukraine yesterday and now have Russia. Some reward. The US has a history of "playing up," doing well against the top teams while struggling against teams they should beat. They are so balanced they should be beating weaker teams on boards three and four consistently, but it never seems to work that way. The US doesn't have a 2700, but only Russia and Ukraine have stronger reserves.

October 27, 2004

Bring Back the K's?

When Russia won the Olympiad a few years ago without Kasparov, Kramnik, or Karpov, there was celebration and good-natured singing about how the famous K's weren't needed. With two rounds to go in Calvia, a similarly composed team is on course to finish well behind Ukraine. It will be the first time a Russian team failed to gain the gold medal. (The USSR missed it once.) Ukraine has played very well, but not tremendously well. Second board Ponomariov only has a 50% score. Russia has had lackluster performances from Grischuk and Khalifman (who took a draw with black against Gulko in a position he really should have played out if Russia wanted to push to catch Ukraine).

When the USA lost the Olympic basketball gold medal in 1988 they responded with the Dream Team of top professionals in 1992. I wonder if the Russian Chess Federation, revitalized under Alexander Zhukov, will be able to bring Kasparov and Kramnik together for Russia in 2006. Russia obviously has the talent to win without them, and they played half the event without Svidler, but a K-K-led team with four 2700's would be a sure thing. It would also be quite a spectator draw. Getting Kramnik and Kasparov to play in the name of reclaiming Russia's honor shouldn't be too hard.

Anybody else notice that the big, flashy official Olympiad website has been down for a while? (36chessolympiad.com) I guess everyone just uses the handy tournament results site. They spent a lot of time and money on the official site, so this is a bit weird. Maybe David Llada will clear this up in a few days.

October 28, 2004

Brain Activation

Phil Ross sends in a link to the cover of Science magazine. It's not easily available on newsstands, at least not in New York. Nice cover, anyway. There have been many studies of what goes on in a brain that is playing chess. One group was recently surprised to find the flare-ups had less in common with those of doing math problems than of solving word puzzles.

There's no doubt chess can discipline the mind to work more effectively in many ways. Those benefits are promptly negated when you become addicted to online blitz and cease to be a productive member of society.

October 30, 2004

Medal Maniacs

The Olympiad is finally over. It was an impressive showing by the favorites and by the US men. Actually it's not that surprising. They were only the 10th seed, but that's because they don't have a 2700, and only one player over 2620. But they do have six 2600's, meaning that against any team other than Ukraine or Russia, the USA is as strong or stronger when reserves are in action. The depth and balance of the US men's team has long been their strength. It would be nice to have a +6 first board, but being able to rest your guys is important in these marathon events. Having the very experienced Postovsky as a captain couldn't have hurt.

I'm delighted for the US women's team and their silver medal. China sprinted out to such a lead that the gold was out of reach, although the US has the symbolic victory of beating the Chinese in their match. I'm disappointed for Jen Shahade, however. The current US women's champ played just two games, both early on and with black, and caught a cold in the middle of the event. It's hard to imagine a better result for the team, but not using a reserve as strong as Shahade is a little strange. (She finished ahead of Krush and Zatonskih in the US Ch.) It also casts the epic wrangling about the fourth spot in a cold light. Remember that an entire US women's championship was organized just to end the controversy around the fourth spot. To stay in the moment, congratulations to both US teams, particularly the women for their first medal ever.

November 1, 2004

Boy Named Sue

With apologies to Johnny Cash. From the Oct. 27 Chess Today:

"What attracts attention here, is Vasilyev's interview with Boris Postovsky. This chess coach has won everything with Russia in the past, but now he lives in the United States and is working with the US team. According to Postovsky, the US chess officials intended to break [their own] very strict rules for the team's lineup - in order to include on the team the young star, Hikaru Nakamura, who performed impressively in Tripoli earlier this year. But Boris Gulko threatened that the officials would be forced to defend such a decision legally in court. So the idea was rejected."

[Quoted from the original interview published in Sport Express on Oct. 27.]

The problem isn't Gulko; he deserves to have his federation obey its own rules. The problem is that the rules emphasize USCF ratings for international competition, and qualification is based on ratings so old that upcoming players are punished and recent form isn't considered. It's not fair to single out Gulko. But rules that allow any player who has barely played in the past year are ridiculous.

Depending on USCF games or rating is silly because a strong American player must pursue opportunities in Europe. They should be encouraged to play in US events, so counting USCF games for the activity minimum seems reasonable. But FIDE rating should trump when it comes to qualifying for an international event.

Anyone want to bet against Nakamura playing board one for the USA in Turin, 2006? When was the last time someone played their first Olympiad on board one, for any country? I think Kamsky did this for the US at Manila, 1992, his only Olympiad. That adds to the trivia quest: only Olympiad appearance on board one?

November 3, 2004

Boot to the Head

Well, back to chess. I'll try to avoid reading a newspaper for the next four years. Hey, it works for Bush. I could make a contrived election connection to chess by making the case that having an avowedly anti-intellectual president isn't good for a game with an egghead reputation in the US. But I won't.

Instead I'll touch on the already-infamous case of FIDE vice-president and Georgian Grandmaster Zurab Azmaiparashvili's altercation with Spanish police at the closing ceremony of the Calvia Olympiad. Azmai is out of jail now and an interview with him will be at ChessBase.com soon. Basically they thought it was best to wait until Azmai was safely back in Georgia.

The unrepentant attitude of the organizers and Spanish federation is the worst of it. Instead of apologizing for what was bad policy to start and a dangerous overreaction by security, they act as though having an unarmed man beaten to the ground on the stage of a chess event was perfectly normal.

Azmaiparashvili has some thuggish qualities that have manifested at various times in public and private. There had been friction between him and the organization at several points in Calvia already. I don't doubt he tried to step by security to get to the stage. But this is really beside the point. The Olympiad is a FIDE event and if the FIDE VP wants to get on the stage and perform a naked tap-dance, well, cover the eyes of the kids and stand back. Okay, maybe not, but clearly the organizers have gone power mad when they have crack security police bludgeoning chess politicians. That should be left to the fans and the journalists.

Legal Time

The latest Fischer hearing and shuffling of papers has put the case back in the news. Nothing big, although several reports say that the case could drag on to the end of next year. As usual, the lawyers win. It would be obscene to see Fischer incarcerated for what will be over a year and a half if that prediction comes true. Apparently Fischer was hoping for a Kerry win, so it hasn't been a good week for Bobby.

November 5, 2004

Match Off, Match On

After a few days of rumors that it had been officially delayed, the Dubai Kasimdzhanov-Kasparov match is officially on. The money is in the bank and the dates have been announced. (January 14 - February 1) Kasparov was somewhat relieved, but he is still troubled about the entire process after Kramnik's statements about ditching Prague and starting from scratch again.

That's the real issue here. What happens if Kramnik, as predicted, refuses to play? Since FIDE screwed up their side of Prague it's not unreasonable for Kramnik to have some new conditions. The question is whether or not he is willing to keep his word that he will put his classical title on the line for unification. We don't even know where to begin negotiations. Having Kasparov as FIDE champion instead of Kasimdzhanov might make sponsorship easier to find, but doesn't achieve squat in the way of unification on its own, especially since Kramnik is less likely to want to play Kasparov than Kasimzhanov. I say that not because Kramnik is afraid of Kasparov – he's not – but because he doesn't feel Kasparov deserves to be there.

Kramnik has considerable leverage, and I hope he and the ACP use it to push FIDE and to work with them to design and commit to a reasonable qualification system. Getting rid of the KO and the fast time control that came with it are right behind unification on the "save chess" wish list. But you have to have something to replace it instead of being nihilistic.

November 6, 2004

Measure of Success

It's hard to imagine something less controversial than scholastic chess, but controversial it is. The movement is huge in the US, and while the benefits for kids seem beyond doubt, the benefits to chess federations and the traditional chess community are less clear. In general I believe more chess is always good, period. It would be nice if kids who learned in school continued to play in tournaments, but with nowhere for them to go as professionals in the US, finding the next Fischer will still depend on rare genius.

This item stems from reading this curious little note from a Utah paper about teachers getting funding to start using chess in an elementary school with the express hope that it will improve math test scores. Maybe things are getting desperate now that the US has decided that test scores are easier than actually educating.

A must-read overview on the scholastic chess topic is this article (Acrobat format) by Tom Braunlich entitled "Scholastics and the Soul of Chess". Among other things, it makes the case that there is a growing conflict of interest between scholastic chess and those who play it as a sport, with the US Chess Federation in the middle.

The underlying problems are not new: How best to divide up a small pie of resources and how to define success. More players = good, but what if, as is happening in the US, fewer adults play while more kids play? There are many other such mind-benders. Is 4th place in the Olympiad a credit to American chess when all the players are Soviet-bred? How to save top-level chess, where the US has produced just one GM in the past seven years? Nakamura, who recently turned 17. Before him you have to go back to Tal Shaked, then to the generation of Sherzer, Ilya Gurevich and Wolff to find the GMs whose chess was developed in the USA. Tellingly, none of them has played seriously in years. (Also interesting is that both Shaked and Gurevich won the World Junior.)

Ashley got his GM title fairly recently, but after a long layoff. Perhaps a better way to to put it is that Nakamura is the only US GM under 30 other than the inactive Shaked. Eugene Perelshteyn will likely make the title, although he's already 24.

November 8, 2004

Places to Play Chess

This little article from a college paper on places to play chess seems more about using chess as a metaphor for making out. But it seems like a good idea to make a list of places to play casual chess. It could be a list to check before traveling. (Because doesn't your girlfriend just love it when you go to a lovely, exotic place on vacation and you get into a street chess game.)

Clubs that allow free drop-in play can be included. List the country, city, name of the place you could tell a taxi driver or find in a guide book, whether play is serious (with clocks, strong players, for money) or casual, and the usual hours of play. Add comments as you like after that. If it's an obscure place give an address, directions, or a link to a map. When we have a good list here I'll post it to a separate page and maintain it with a submission form.

I'll start with an obvious one.

USA, New York City, Washington Square Park, serious play, including blitz for money with expert-level players, all day until dark. Most are hustlers who only play for money. Rather mangy crowd with occasional drug trafficking, not recommended for unattended kids. Players often move to the nearby Chess Shop or Chess Forum shops to play in winter or after dark. Both are on the same block, two blocks south of the park on Thompson Street. They charge a few bucks for use of set and clock.

November 9, 2004

Kramnik Bails

With the tournament a week away from starting, classical world champion Vladimir Kramnik has bailed out of the much-awaited Russian Championship super-final. Bearing a note from his mother, Vlady claims stress from his title defense against Leko. This is pretty thin gruel considering that fewer than half the games were hard-fought and there were plenty of free days.

The most ridiculous part of this is that the tournament was originally scheduled for September, but back in Spring it was moved to November at the request of... Vladimir Kramnik! A few months ago Kasparov told me he doubted Kramnik would play, but I don't think that is on the record anywhere. My biggest problem with this is that it's simply unprofessional. One of the biggest names in the game backs out of a big event a week before it starts? In a real sport the sponsors would be getting their money back and the player would be fined unless there were serious health issues. I'm sure he's tired, but that doesn't cut it. Part of being a pro means playing even when you're not 100%. That responsibility increases when you are the champ.

This bailout has already led to much of the usual "Kramnik's afraid of Kasparov" talk among fans. I think it's more of the champion's malady of not wanting to risk playing at less 100%. They pick their spots and often feel they have more to lose than to gain by playing. When I spoke to Kasparov today he said he was relieved about one aspect of the super-final field. Not about Kramnik, but that thanks to Tseshkovsky he wasn't the oldest player in the field!

November 10, 2004

Free Speech

Going through the mail regarding the "Bush vs Kerry" chess game article at ChessBase.com was predictably disappointing. Of course complainers usually write more than supporters about anything, but it's the nature of most of the complaints that bugs me. Of course you can't expect Bush fans to really enjoy an article that pokes fun at their guy, but the ritual demands to remove anything political, anything "non-100%-chess" from a chess site mystify me.

Why should chess exist in a vacuum? ChessBase.com isn't a kids' site that published porn. It boggles my mind so much that I assume these people are annoyed mostly due to partisan reasons and that if the target had been Kerry they wouldn't have written at all. Had a group of well-known players sent in a faux game dissing Kerry that was equally entertaining, we would have run that too. That's not to say the political leanings of editors aren't relevant, of course. I might not have written an intro to such a game. But maybe I would have since I was no Kerry fan. (He is now safely in the Gorian past-tense.)

"Not appropriate" is a common substitute for "I don't agree" and when successful is nothing more than censorship. As long as an item is related to chess and, above all, entertaining, our tent should be big enough to handle it. I had to put up with this all the time during my first year of writing Mig on Chess at TWIC. I was disrespectful, insulting, opinionated, and a host of other things I won't bother to put between quotes. Lucky for me enough people liked those things as well as, I like to imagine, that I managed to be those things while being funny and informative on a good day. (If something is funny enough even the partisans can cut you some slack. The only people who had a problem with my "Weapons of Match Destruction" article wrote rabidly entertaining responses. I'm still trying to figure out the "Fascist communist" remark.)

We're going to publish an article with the feedback on the Bush-Kerry game, including some post-election gloating. Overall they are a good example of how partisanship is the worst enemy of free speech. If it's not funny, say so. If you don't like it, fine. But saying a satire chess game is not appropriate on a chess site is just another way of saying you think the wrong guy won the game but instead of stating an opinion you get self-righteous. (The next step for an American is to sue, I suppose).

Maybe you only want chess and your chess websites to be a total escape from the real world and bumping into a political satire was jarring. I understand that, but trust me, you'll recover. I'd rather continue to drag chess into the real world with other sports.

November 11, 2004

A Bust of a Boom

According to this press release masquerading as a news story, the supermarket chain Tesco is selling far more of its chess sets than expected. This is bad reporting in many ways. A surge in sales compared to what? The only stat is that they are selling more than they expected to sell. That doesn't mean more sets are being sold this year than last year overall. They didn't even launch their chess set until earlier this year. Basically it says they did a lousy job of forecasting. We don't know if there is a boom or not at all. It's dandy they may sell 35,000 sets, but it doesn't mean much if that's 35,000 sets not sold by other manufacturers.

There is always a big increase in set and board sales around Christmas, often together with a primer as a gift for a junior. I'm sure we can poke around and see if such sales are up this year over last.

November 12, 2004

Iran Plans Ban

Iran just banned four of their top players for not agreeing to participate in the Calvia Olympiad.

"The federation will never forget their immoral conduct."

It's tempting to react harshly to this this just because it's Iran, not exactly a hotbed of liberal democracy. But other than the reactionary wording, it's not hard to imagine other federations penalizing players for refusing to play on the national team.

As Alexander Shabalov points out, despite the report's statement that they "avoided attending the world meet in Spain," the banned Iranian players were actually IN Calvia. This must be regarding not playing during the Olympiad or some other "immoral" offense. Mahjoob and Ghorbani were forfeited in the 10th round against Kyrgystan and the other two didn't play that round either.

The USSR teams were highly politicized and Botvinnik's Achieving the Aim goes into detail about the shenanigans around team formation, although I don't recall anything about pressuring someone to play. (Although if they wanted you to and you didn't it's hard to imagine there wouldn't be repercussions.) It was more about maneuvering to get on the team or keeping someone else off. FIDE removed Kasparov and Short from the rating list when they broke away to form the PCA in 1993. Have you heard of any similar penalties, perhaps from countries without authoritarian fame?

November 15, 2004

Championship Talk

Ah, a nice weekend off before the panic ensues. The Russian championship is underway. Karpov, incensed at Kramnik for stealing his drop-out thunder, waited until the last minute before bailing out to save himself from a beating. With Karpov such treachery is expected by now. He fled the Botvinnik Memorial in 2001 to jump into the FIDE KO. In both cases he attended the press conference first. I wonder what karma will have in store for Karpov this time. In 2001 he was dumped from the KO by Zhang Pengxiang in his first match.

The US Championship is starting in a week. I'm going to be buried finishing the design of official website this week and as of the 22nd I'll be in San Diego to run it. Your suggestions and feedback are very welcome below. It's a hasty job, but it should be a great event and I hope to make the website a lot of fun. We'll have contests and prizes just about every round.

November 16, 2004

Park Chess Rats

The NYU newspaper has an article about how renovations to Washington Square Park may endanger the famous chess corner.

"I'm just going to get a mat and sit out there and play," he said.

His younger opponent chimed in, saying getting rid of chess in the park is "like saying you're going to get rid of pigeons and rats." In other words, it's impossible.

I recently mentioned the park in our places to play chess item. Most players use roll boards instead of the banged-up cement chess tables, but anyway we can hope that if they put in new tables they get the white squares on the right.

November 18, 2004

uschesschampionship.com

Well, it was a rush job and there isn't much content yet, but at least I didn't have to resort to Viagra to get this site up. www.uschesschampionship.com is the official site of the 2005 US Chess Championships in San Diego. There are a few things I need to tweak (Mozilla/FireFox mangling my style sheets for one) and it's probably riddled with typos. But I think all the links and images are working okay at least. And the essential info is there except the rules and regulations page. That's because they haven't quite decided the rules yet!

Apparently even more funding has come in at the last minute, so it could go over the current $255,000. Then there's the tiebreak situation. Shabalov and Akobian saved us from embarrassment in 2003 by fighting hard while all the other leaders played pathetic 10-move draws in hopes of going to rapids or splitting the big prize a dozen ways. AF4C honcho Erik Anderson is very keen (an understatement) to avoid such a possibility by carrot and/or stick. They are still considering the best way to break ties without swinging thousands of dollars on a few rapid games.

November 21, 2004

Off to San Diego

Tomorrow morning I'm headed to San Diego for the US Championships. Apart from the official reports I'll keep blogging and also incorporate this blog into the official site. I'll grab players and others to guest-blog various entries during the tournament. It should be good fun. Who would you most like to hear from in their own words?

Here's another reason to leave Brooklyn for San Diego. I like crisp Fall days as much as anyone, but it's going to be cold and rainy around here and I'm not sure they know what rain is in San Diego. As long as the hotel internet holds up, all should be well.

Despite being only the fourth seed by rating, Jennifer Shahade leads the voting to predict a winner in the Women's event by a large margin. She won in this format in 2002 and won the women-only event this year. Or is the voting influenced by the fact that she just became a regular contributor to my Black Belt newsletter? Last week she annotated her recent win against one of her competitors in San Diego, Anna Zatonskih.

Hikaru Nakamura has 40% of the vote for the overall title. (No Ninja favoritism here, although I'll be interested to see if he'd like to contribute. Sign him before he wins the title and raises his prices!) He's had a tremendous 2004 and could well be the favorite for the next 10 years unless Kamsky really comes back to chess full-time. Kamsky is second in the voting but has got to be terribly rusty.

November 22, 2004

Start Your Engines

Greetings from San Diego. Actually, it's La Jolla, a rather exclusive and upscale village 15 minutes north of the city center. The site of the 2005 US Championship is the Hilton Torrey Pines hotel. It's between the sea and the beautiful Torrey Pines State Park.

It was no problem getting here from the small airport, which is practically in the middle of San Diego. I waited a few minutes for a shuttle bus that cost $12.50. (Company "Cloud 9".) Apparently it's a little trickier to get back to the city since there is no public transportation from the hotel to downtown San Diego! I guess you could just take the airport shuttle. They have free hotel shuttles into La Jolla and there must be a bus or something from there. I hope so, because a taxi is $40+.

The hotel and site are spectacular. Here is the view from the mini-patio of my room, which is right next to the tournament ballroom.

More importantly, the DSL internet in my room is working fine, although there is something about it costing $13/day. I hope I get a webmaster exemption for that! That's money I need to spend on caffeinated beverages in order to work on the site.

I'll be blogging from behind the scenes throughout the tournament and inviting participants and organizers to guest blog as well. That's in addition to the analysis, interviews, and photo galleries.

November 23, 2004

Welcome to the Big Time

One of the players, an older fellow, came by where we were setting everything up last night and was delighted to find out that clocks were provided! He explained that he had forgotten to bring his own...

The reverse is usually the case when European Grandmasters come to play in the big US open tournaments and are stunned to find out the players are usually expected to bring their own clocks and sets.

Welcome Back

Gata Kamsky just arrived. First trouble already started, although not really his fault. He just bought a new computer with his credit card and apparently there wasn't enough credit left to use it for his room at check-in!

[I'm going to be adding many tiny tidbits throughout, sort of liveblogging the event. I won't send email notifications for each of these because it would be serious spamming. The ChampBlog at the official site will have items from the players and staff, not just me.]

Gonna Party Like It's Your Birthday

Hmm, I guess the party has started and as usual I'm the only one sitting down here in a room full of computers. Wait, the tech guys setting up the live game broadcasts are still working too. That makes me feel better.

The ChampBlog is now up at the official site. I grabbed Chief Arbiter Carol Jarecki for the first guest entry. I'm hoping for a cool, unfiltered experience by getting the players to blog. But I think Carol has dreams of being a novelist instead of an arbiter. I bet the players will be looser after the cocktail party, so stay tuned.

November 29, 2004

Hitting the Wall

Howdy all. I thought I'd be able to keep up here, but so far I haven't had a spare second here in San Diego. Apart from the www.uschesschampionship.com website, I'm doing the daily bulletins for the players and spectators and helping staff and players with their various computer problems. I literally have not been outside of the hotel since I arrived Monday afternoon, which is pretty pathetic.

Things should settle into a routine and get easier with each round, but I've been saying that for three days now. I'm going to put a sign on the wall above me saying "Next question: $5". I like to help, but it's hard to focus on analysis and the website for more than five minutes straight without an interruption.

Still, it's great! I don't want it to sound like I'm suffering; I love it. It's just that it's 4:20am, I've been up alone working on the site all night again, and I slept for three hours last night. (The core: results, games, downloads, analysis, annotated games, photos, report, poll, trivia, press releases, blog updates all day.)

So I'm getting tired and cranky despite the luxurious surroundings and living the chess fan's dream. I just got another personal lesson from Walter Browne as he came in and wanted to show me some lines from his game with Yermo. It's coming in Black Belt tonight, guys! Thanks to IMs Watson and Donaldson I don't have to do much serious analysis of my own, at least not for publication on the site. But I have to keep up with all the games so I can talk competently about them with the players for their analysis contributions and/or blog entries. This is the most chess-immersed I've been in a while and it's inspiring.

I'm very happy with the website. I only wish I'd had more time to work on the content before launch. (I had three days!) Player bios are still incomplete, many players don't like the ones we have for them, and it seems weird to roll them out now, not that I've had much time anyway. Thanks to everyone who has sent in suggestions and corrections on the site, especially Duif.

The ChampBlog was last-minute inspiration and it's far exceeded my expectations. Reaction has been tremendous from both fans and players. I know a few club events have used a blogging format to report on a tournament, but having the players unfiltered at such a prestigious event is very cool. As with my writing, I just make what I would like and hope others like it too. Forget press conferences and demo boards; I want a Linares blog and an Olympiad blog and a world championship blog! This is where the fans are, which means it's where the sponsors should want to be.

We have two IMs and the players themselves talking to an audience of maybe 20 people in the commentary room. They are also doing audio to the ICC, which is great, if limited. I doubt they ever mention the AF4C, Chessmaster, and the other sponsors. Meanwhile, tens of thousands visit the site each day. I hope the ICC is recording the audio; the system looked a little primitive compared to what's built into Playchess.com, but I haven't fooled around with it so I shouldn't talk. Still, multimedia is clearly the way to go no matter where you watch it.

(I was doing audio and even video stuff on my own for Real and then KasparovChess.com's "Champions Club" back in 2000, well before ChessFM and such. It was pretty raw, sort of like bad reality chess television, but it was fun. The ones I made for Real at the London 2000 Kramnik-Kasparov match were completely ad-libbed and I was as tired then as I am now, so they're a little embarrassing to listen to now. Plus, the technical glitches. I just put an oldie up for download here. It's of the 2001 Botvinnik Memorial, one of many clips that few ever saw. Real format.)

I hope to do some more blogging of my own, although I realized that it's not appropriate for me to do it at the official site in the ChampBlog. Who wants to read me babbling when the focus should be on the players? I just didn't know then that so many players would participate and thought some filler would be needed! Even if the gossip is fun, it's a distraction and should be separate. That's what this place is for, no?

My entries might not be as entertaining as Serper's or as linguistically cutting edge as Ross's, but I think my job security is okay until they learn to design websites. (Serper requested his first "boring chess" entry be removed after some haters on the ICC gave him a hard time about it. Sad, because he has a great sense of humor.) Next time around the players should have their own logins so they can blog at any time from their own computers throughout the event. I didn't have time to set something like that up this time around. In fact, they should be able to use the site as a blog and homepage permanently. I get asked all the time to put people in touch with various players for lessons or simuls, or just to pass on greetings and fan mail.

Okay, time to grab some sleep before I have to run in to set the live games link on the homepage to 05!

Kamsky 2.0

It was cool that Kamsky came in today to blog after his win. He is clearly watched and seen as a little different from the rest because of his past star status and he's just as clearly intent on leaving that behind. He socializes and post-mortems with players he would have been giving simuls to a decade ago. It's got to be very hard to not have that magic at your fingertips anymore. Most never have it, but to have it and lose it is extra tough. Let's hope he sticks around long enough to get it back. Watching how well he is dealing with this has put him on my cool list.

December 9, 2004

A REAL Chess Ninja

Yow, finally back and yes, I'm still alive. Thanks for asking. San Diego was nice, or so I hear. I never saw it other than the trip from and back to the airport. I did get into the La Jolla for two hours on the last day I was there. Monday was supposed to be my free day to check out the area and my girlfriend Ann came from NY for the last few days. Instead I ended up doing exciting things like trying to update the official site with final info while everything was being torn down and packed up around me.

Ann's a video artist and was also put to work, filming the last days of the tournament for ChessBase Magazine and on Monday filming my interview with new champion Hikaru Nakamura. We also did a quick "commercial" with Nakamura for the AF4C to send to the Tonight Show. I suppose they wanted to see if the new chess star had whatever qualities they are looking for. (How bad can you be next to Jay Leno?) Hikaru won't need much work on his comic timing. "One advantage I had in winning the championship is that most of my opponents were old guys, like 30 or 40!"

Some footage Ann got Sunday night will make some chess fans drool in anticipation. The same day he wins the US Championship, Nakamura is in the lobby of the hotel playing game after game of 1-minute chess against all comers, mostly with Gata Kamsky! I've never seen Anand play 1-minute games, but let's just say that if Ilyumzhinov's next brilliant plan is to make the world championship a one-day 1-minute knock-out, we could have an American world champion sooner than we think. Unbelievable.

Nakamura, who turns 17 today, is currently in Cuernavaca, Mexico for a six-game match against 14-year-old Sergey Karjakin of Ukraine. It's classical chess and the first game is today. We'll be covering it at ChessBase.com.

Garry and Bobby

One thing I missed while I was in San Diego, other than a decent bagel, was Garry Kasparov's book signing at Barnes and Noble on the weekend. Volume IV on Fischer and other Western greats is in stores now. (At first Garry accidentally went to the wrong B&N, where they, unsurprisingly, had no idea what he was talking about.) This is the first of the My Great Predecessors titles to come out first in English and Kasparov says the analysis quality is the highest yet.

Despite the huge number of books on Fischer, mostly on the '72 match, modern, in-depth analysis of his games is sparse. According to Kasparov there are many old mistakes and omissions have been ignored and perpetuated for decades. (At least the ones he considers important in Vol. 4.) Soltis came out with the enjoyable Bobby Fischer Rediscovered last year. Silman lists some Fischer game collections in this review of Rediscovered.

In seven hours I'll be talking to Kasparov about this new book, among other things. If you post quickly you can have your good question for Kasparov on Fischer included in the interview. The video of it will be on ChessBase Magazine, with text excerpts at chessbase.com in a day or two.

Turkey Surprise

As has now been documented here at ChessBase.com, the January Dubai match between FIDE champ Kasimdzhanov and FIDE #1 Kasparov has been terminated. At least negotiations with the Dubai guys have been cut off and there is no hope of a match anywhere before April or May.

Sheik Mohammad's negotiator was such a sweet talker that had just about everyone believing it was for real. (But not Kasparov, who was called a liar by Ilyumzhinov assistant Balgabaev when he publicly denounced the status of the Dubai negotiations.) FIDE has again been proven a band of inept fabulists. Now the spotlight falls on Turkish federation honcho Ali Nihat Yazici, who has been criticizing the Dubai bid and saying he's sure he can bring K-K to Turkey.

That gives FIDE more time to say something intelligent about their plans for after the match. Yesterday Kasparov joked that getting a match to happen was harder than playing in one. Making it a useful step toward unification will be even harder. To get Kramnik to buy in (or at least to put pressure on him to do so), FIDE needs a blueprint for where they want things to go after a match between the Kasimdzhanov-Kasparov winner and Kramnik. The old last-second dictatorship knock-out isn't going to cut it. Recognizing the ACP and beginning work - in public - on an acceptable WC cycle would be a start.

December 13, 2004

Official Bash Kasparov Thread

Here's a thread just for the playa-haters so we can stay on topic in the other posts. To recap Kasparov's recent crimes against humanity:

Chess: +5 undefeated clear first in Russian championship ahead of Grischuk, Svidler, Morozevich, et al. Kramnik didn't play. Clearly it is unfair for a 41-year-old to be finishing ahead of three young top-10 players.

Chess politics: Wrote open letter to FIDE during Olympiad over their continuing with Dubai plans (since dropped) while ignoring Turkey's offer to host Kasparov-Kasimdzhanov match.

Merc: The English edition of My Great Precessors Vol. 4 on Bobby Fischer and other great Western players just came out. In it, Kasparov postulates that Fischer was far from a lock to beat Karpov in the cancelled 1975 match.

Checkmate! : My First Chess Book came out in October. Stirs controversy by saying a pawn can move one or two squares on its first move.

ChessBase "Fritz Trainer" DVDs with Kasparov on the Queen's Gambit and the Najdorf released. "Champion edition" of Fritz 8 with Kasparov video lessons.

Extra-curricular: Appeared in NY with silver-medal-winning US women's Olympiad team his Foundation sponsored and trained. (Also rumors of baby-eating, as yet unconfirmed.)

Politics: Continued to criticize Vladimir Putin for various anti-democratic actions in Russia, as well as for interference in disputed Ukraine election.

Commentary: A few cheapos about the Brissago match being boring (largely similar to those made by just about everyone else in the chess world, the last three games notwithstanding), but got through three interviews without a serious poke at Kramnik.

Although it's best to stick to these most recent horrors, we'll understand if you can't resist the classics.