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Saturday, June 30, 2012

The von Neumann Affair

      At the World Open 1993 in Philadelphia a completely unknown black player with dreadlocks and wearing headphones participated.  He entered under the name John von Neumann which also happens to be the name of a well-known pioneer in computer science.  
      von Neuman scored 4.5/9 in the Open Section, including a draw with a GM and a win over a 2350 rated player.  It was the bulge in one of his pockets which appeared to make a soft humming or buzzing sound at important points in the game that aroused suspicions.
      Von Neumann won the unrated prize of $800 but before organizers handed over the check he was quizzed by the tournament director and was unable to demonstrate even a rudimentary knowledge of some simple chess concepts.  When asked to solve a simple puzzle he refused, turned and left, and has never been seen again at a tournament.
      von Neumann drew with GM Helgi Olafsson in the second round. But in round four he suddenly stopped playing at move nine and lost on time against Danny Shapiro who went on to gain the IM title. Here’s that game:


This is how his game from round nine went:

Friday, June 29, 2012

Nice Puzzle from a Recent Game


While poking around one of this Blog’s readers named “Peter” who has an interesting site called dollyknot I came across Leonard Barden’s Column in the London Evening Standard.  He gives the following position from Axel Rombaldoni v Mikhail Gurevich, Cappelle 2012 which I found really tricky.  Barden writes, “as White's small material edge is offset by Black's far advanced passed pawn. Rombaldoni had calculated accurately, however, that White (to play) can win decisive material here by force. How did he do it?”

White to move

Highlight for solution:  1.Rb7 Kg7 2.Bc4 b2 3.Rxf7+ Kg6 4.Rf1 (or 4.Rb7)

Pillsbury’s Syphilis


      Harry Nelson Pillsbury (December 5, 1872 – June 17, 1906) at the age 22 won one of the strongest tournaments of the time, Hastings 1895, but illness and early death prevented him from challenging for the world championship. His poor mental and physical health prevented him from realizing his full potential and he succumbed in a Philadelphia hospital in 1906.  Pillsbury is buried in Laurel Hill Cemetery in Reading, Massachusetts.
      Many explanations have been offered for Pillsbury's decline. The general consensus for a long time was that he caught syphilis from a prostitute while playing in St. Petersburg 1895 and that caused his poor performance in the second half of the tournament. Others have suggested it was not the effects of the disease but that he received the diagnosis of the disease on the day of his game with Lasker and the news had psychological effects that prevented his giving his best performance.
       These explanations do not seem to make sense because if Pillsbury was infected with syphilis while playing in the St. Petersburg tournament it is highly unlikely he would have suffered any serious symptoms until sometime afterwards. The symptoms of syphilis may take up to 3 months to appear after initial infection. So it doesn’t seem possible that he would have been diagnosed as having the disease immediately after catching it and no blood test for syphilis existed in those days.
       There is no question that Pillsbury was ill during the second half of the tournament because many of his games were postponed. An article from the Brooklyn Eagle in January 1896 said that Pillsbury was suffering from influenza that had afflicted him during the second half of the tournament. Interestingly, one of the symptoms of second-stage syphilis is similar to severe flu. Thus it is possible Pillsbury caught syphilis some time earlier and the symptoms were manifested during the tournament. On the other hand, it is quite possible that he did have the flu. Obviously if Pillsbury was suffering from second stage during the tournament it would mean he contracted it some time before.
       In A Catalog of USA Chess Personalia by Jeremy Gaige (Worcester, 1980) the following comments about Pillsbury appeared:

“... it should be noted that his death certificate said he died of “general paresis”, i.e. syphilis. I have found many other indications in Philadelphia that this was in fact the case, e.g. the scrapbooks of Walter Penn Shipley contained a typewritten obituary (presumably by Shipley himself) that said Pillsbury died of general paresis.” 
      According to the PubMed Health website, general paresis is a problem with mental function due to damage to the brain from untreated syphilis. This damage can cause abnormal mental function including hallucinations and delusions, brief sharp pains, decreased mental function, eye changes and abnormal pupil response, mood changes, overactive reflexes, personality and speech changes.  General paresis usually begins about 15 - 20 years after the syphilis infection. Risks include syphilis infection and infection with other sexually transmitted diseases, such as gonorrhea which may hide symptoms of syphilis infection.
W.D. Rubinstein wrote to chess historian Jeremy Gaige on27 October 1982:
“I have no documentation on where he (Pillsbury) contracted syphilis. Interestingly, Friends Asylum still has the day-by-day log and medical records of Pillsbury, but strictly forbids any inspection of same. Tantalizingly, a hospital official read me a few innocuous sentences from the records, but that is all. I did have two indirect accounts that he did in fact contract the disease in St Petersburg (from Bill Ruth 1886-1975 and J. Edmund Peckover 1896-1982). Peckover said he was told that version by A.B. Hodges, who said he was told that by Pillsbury himself.”

The July 1906 edition of the British Chess Magazine gave Pillsbury’s obituary:

“On his return to Philadelphia he was examined by the best medical experts, one of whom, Dr. Charles K. Mills, a noted specialist of great repute in the United States, expressed the opinion that Mr. Pillsbury’s affliction was not caused by his chessplaying, and this testimony was supported by Dr. Chase, also an expert on the subject of paresis. The probability is that the real cause of the breakdown was irregularity in time of eating and sleeping, and the neglect of out-door exercise, together with excessive smoking.”

      In America's Chess Heritage Walter Korn documents numerous symptoms that would indicate Pillsbury actually was suffering from aneurysm, which would have caused erratic, sometimes suicidal behavior.
      Many people infected with syphilis do not have any symptoms for years and the latent (hidden) stage begins when the primary and secondary symptoms disappear. Without treatment, the infected person will continue to have syphilis even though there are no signs or symptoms and this latent stage can last for years. The late stages of syphilis appear 10–20 years after infection was first acquired. In the late stages the disease may subsequently damage the internal organs, including the brain, nerves, eyes, heart, blood vessels, liver, bones, and joints. Signs and symptoms of the late stage of syphilis include difficulty coordinating muscle movements, paralysis, numbness, gradual blindness, and dementia. This damage may be serious enough to cause death.
       So, because syphilis is a disease that does not show up immediately but can take years to develop, how could Pillsbury pinpoint St. Petersburg 1895 as the place where he contracted it?  As mentioned earlier, according to PubMed Health, if general paresis shows up 15–20 years after syphilis infection then Pillsbury would have contracted syphilis at the unlikely age of around seven.  Thought: is it possible he was infected with syphilis at birth, the disease possibly having been transmitted through his mother? I suppose it’s also conceivable that he had contacted the disease much earlier in his teen years.

      Pillsbury was also known for his blindfold play and mental feats of memorization. Before he died psychologists were studying Pillsbury’s brain and his mental powers. After he died, his brain was actually studied.
       In 1906, Emmanual Lasker wrote the following about Pillsbury’s brain and death in the New York Times:

      “Pillsbury, the American chess champion, died last Sunday (June 17, 1906). The cause of his premature departure was a stroke of apoplexy. The mechanism of his brain had become defective. With the examples of Morphy and Steinitz in their minds, many writers have commented on the tendency of famous chess players to insanity. A general belief has consequently been engendered that chess playing, or any very intensive purely mental occupation disorganizes the intellect. But this belief is entirely unfounded. It is in the highest degree mischievous.
      Physiologically it is clear why the man who cares most for the development of his physique and the senses should suffer. He puts a load on the heart that the brain is not allowed to share. Thus both organs deteriorate the one from overexertion, the other one from lack of use.
       The man whose critical faculty is developed will never strain any more of his organs beyond the power of endurance. The uncritical mind, in the quest for pleasure, often oversteps this limit. Happiness is entirely a state of mind.
      Chess has an important function to fulfill. Opportunities for enjoying works of art or for studying scientific books are afforded in plenty. But the spirit of fight – calling into being so many faculties of man – in modern society rarely finds occasion for manifestation and practice. The ancient game of chess fills out this gap. While the two armies of 16 pieces each contend with each other in mimic warfare according to acknowledged rules, the brain of the player is in constant agitation. Here he must foresee the result of a hostile maneuver, analyzing its outcome sharply to find out whether it is time for defense or whether he should make his opponent press him still harder before he parries.
       Chess requires courage thus to expose one’s self to the certainty of danger, yet his strategic convictions tell him that the offered sacrifice is unsound, that if he only finds the right replies he should win. But he anxiously asks himself whether he is not mistaken. His moral courage struggles in him. The struggle on the board has a counterpoint in the soul of the man.
       A long series of such experiences must develop in the chess player certain portions of his mind that, unless circumstances are very favorable, are usually dwarfed. A belief in the logic of events, not alone in the chessboard, must take hold of him.
       For these and many other reasons it cannot be doubted that the brain considerably gains in force by the practice of chess play. And therefore, according to our thesis, we must conclude that in modern society the ideal man would be a chess player.”

      A quaint argument but Morphy didn’t go insane on account of chess and during the last 30 years of his life he never played and did not show any signs of insanity until about 10 years before he died.  Steinitz was mildly insane in spite of chess and Rubenstein showed signs of mental illness early in his career.
      Pillsbury allowed himself to be exploited.  He gave blindfold performances where the promoters insisted he play a number of games that was at the very limit of his capacity while at the same time he did memory tricks, played checkers and whist.  At the same time he also smoked heavily and drank whisky.  These sessions were very exhausting and friends warned him of the danger to his health, but he never listened.
      In the early part of the twentieth century, Dr. Elmer Southard, Professor of Psychology at Harvard University, studied Pillsbury’s brain in an attempt to decide whether a genius for chess tends to deteriorate the mind. He found no difference between a chess player’s brain and anyone else’s.  No surprise there.


Thursday, June 28, 2012

Alekhine Slept Here


Alekhine's Chateau
You can stay at Alekhine’s old chateau in France. After WW2 it was purchased from his widow and turned into a hotel.  To stay in Alekhine’s room, with breakfast for two, will cost you about $100 a night. That’s pretty good considering a night at the Marriott in New York City will set you back over $350; they don’t serve breakfast, but a Sunday brunch costs $59 per person.  Of course New York is pretty pricey. Here in Butt Crack where I live you can stay at the Ramada Inn for $80 and eat breakfast at McDonalds.

Homes of other famous players:
Blackburne's in London
Bogoljubow's in Berlin
Morphy's in New Orleans
Fred Reinfeld's in East Meadow NY
Reubinstein's in Brussels
Tartajubow's Cahteau in Butt Crack

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Bobby Fischer and The Worldwide Church of God


      Most players are aware that there was a time in his life when Fischer, like Reshevsky, would not play on the Sabbath (sundown Friday until sundown Saturday) but it had nothing to do with Fischer having been born Jewish.  It had to do with his membership in the Worldwide Church of God.

First, some background on the church:

      The church was founded by Herbert W. Armstrong (31 July 1892 - 16 January 1986) in the late 1930s.  He also founded Ambassador College with campuses in California and Texas.   Armstrong was an early pioneer of radio and televangelism.  His teachings eventually came to be known as Armstongism and they included the interpretation of Biblical prophecy in light of something called British Israelism.  This doctrine teaches that people of Western Europe, especially those of Great Britain, are direct descendants of the so called Ten Lost Tribes of Israel.  In addition he taught observance of parts of the Law including dietary prohibitions, and the covenant law, Holy Days as well as observing the Sabbath from sundown Friday until sundown Saturday.  He also taught many other ideas that were rejected by orthodox Christianity.
      Armstrong founded the Ambassador International Cultural Foundation which promoted the arts, humanities, and various humanitarian projects.  It was in this role that he met with heads of governments in various nations.
      Armstrong taught, and his followers believed, he was Jesus’ first apostle since the first century and that God only works through one man at a time and that he was God's man for his time.
       Eventually Herbert turned the organization over to his son, Garner Ted Armstrong (February 9, 1930 – September 15, 2003). Noted for his charisma, movie star looks, and for being a music enthusiast, he toyed with becoming a nightclub singer before following his father into the ministry. In radio and TV programs he mixed political, economic, and social news of the day with Bible-based commentary. Armstrong's voice, style and presentation attracted millions. Eventually Garner Ted got involved with disagreements with church leadership and his father and was involved in some sexual scandals and was disfellowshipped by his father in 1978.
       In 2009, the Worldwide Church of God officially changed its name to Grace Communion International, underwent major changes in doctrine, rejected the Armstrong’s teaching and claim to have embraced orthodox Christianity.
       During the time of the Armstrong’s great popularity their appeal to a lot of people was the free literature they offered.  Literature covered their ideas on prophecy and salvation, but the big attraction was their advice on how to handle things close to everyone’s heart: finances, marriage and family.  When a convert joined the church they discovered Armstrong’s teaching concerning tithing of one’s income.  He claimed the Bible taught paying three tithes.  If you can imagine paying, say, 20 percent of your income in taxes, then paying 30 percent (of the gross) to the church, you can imagine the hardship this would cause, but people were told that if they didn’t pay or left the church they would go to hell and it was this fear that held a lot of them.
       This brings us to Fischer.  He followed the church in the late 1960's to its headquarters in Pasadena and remained there despite his eventual break with the church.  After winning the World Championship he “tithed,” measured by today’s purchasing power, nearly a half a million dollars.

Further reading:

Studying to Improve or Just Studying?


      Writing in the introduction to How to Reassess Your Chess Jeremy Silman comments how most instructional books really offer no instruction at all; most of them are a lot of positions that cater to a theme but never explain how to implement the examples into you own games. In writing about the classics, Alex Yermnolinsky admits that Tarrasch, Capablanca and Nimzovich were giants of chess but opines that he’s not sure any of them would do better against the Najdorf Sicilian than he did in some of his games.
      Yermo comments that just like with language, the ability to speak doesn’t have much to do with teaching others and that Capa and Nimzovich were chess ‘orators’ in a day when chess players were starving for knowledge.  Those guys had the ability (like all GM’s) to select and reject moves, as Yermo puts it, “nearly subconsciously on some higher level of understanding, which may very well be defined by…calculating ability multiplied by the pattern recognition power developed by years of training.”  The question is, how do you teach what you know to others? 
      In Yermo’s opinion they had no choice but to try a “scientific” approach by breaking things down into the elements of the positions. The problem starts, he says, when an average player wants to progress to the Expert or Master level.  Classical positional theory no longer helps and his advice is that when that happens, the time has come to “set those books aside and start working on your own.”
      Yermo points out that Alekhine wrote his My Best Games 1908-1923 when he was seeking backers for a match with Capablanca and so wrote a book extolling his genius and selected games (or in some cases, made them up) that would present himself in a favorable light.  Reading some of his notes you would think he had it all figured out right out of the opening up to the point his opponent resigned or that he played a long combination and saw everything.   A few years later Nimzovich was in the same situation of trying to get a match for the world championship so he penned My System. Many of the books written after WW2 just repeated each other. Then we got to today where the pendulum has swung from strategy to tactics and a plethora of How to Play the (insert opening) books.  Games by today’s top GM’s usually don’t have the clean cut positional themes like you see in the games of the old masters because today’s modern players are much more flexible in what they consider a playable position. This makes it even more difficult to explain what’s going on in a position because elementary rules are often broken.  Explaining those situations to his students was a problem Yermolinsky found difficult. 
      In HTRYT Silman says most average players don’t understand the true purpose of the opening, have no knowledge of planning and the thinking process, no understanding of elementary endings and how all three phases of the game are connected.  In fact, the first thing he did in the book was look at basic endings.  Only then does he take up his teaching on the middlegame.
      Silman also gives the hypothetical case of a player he called “John Everyman” and described how he memorized various mating patterns, forced himself to study a few boring endings and studied basic tactics.  After reaching a certain level Everyman’s play was described as, “He would try to attack, but his cowardly opponents would take a Pawn, trade off all the pieces, and eventually win the resultant endgame.”
      Silman’s hypothetical description sounds like Yermolinsky’s real student about whom he wrote that he had an “attacking style” and ended up with “the weirdest opening repertoire I have ever seen.  He would open 1.e4 with one idea in mind: to sac a P as soon as possible…as a result nearly every game of his saw the same scenario:  he would drop a P in the opening, then invest more material into sustaining his non-existent initiative, get a couple of fireworks out of it and soon resign.  It was painful to watch him struggle with positions I would find difficult to play.”  The poor guy was getting into positions where he had to find the only moves that would justify his sacrificial strategy. Space does not permit writing what Yermo and some other brutally honest GM’s have to say about modern opening books that recommend all kinds of offbeat openings and gambits.
      So when these guys who know something about chess and are brutally honest in presenting the hard facts about what it takes to improve speak, why do we insist on buying all the crappy books being offered that promise to make playing chess easy?  Maybe it’s the same reason we vote for the politician who’s going to fix the bridges & highways, strengthen our military, increase social security and make sure we all have good insurance, stamp out drugs flowing into the country, etc, etc and lower our taxes.  We know he’s lying, but something deep down inside of us causes us to hope that maybe, just maybe, he can pull it off. That’s all for today…I’m going to go study my book on the Grob Attack now.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Incredible Draw!


The other day I was playing through a couple of games in Alexi Shirov’s Fire On Board and finally got around to playing over a game given without notes in the Foreword by GM Jonathan Speelman who expressed regret that Shirov did not include the game in the book.  I have to agree with Speelman that it’s unfortunate Shirov didn’t annotate it for us.  In fact I wasn’t able to find annotations anywhere.  It’s not possible for me to present it here with any notes because it’s way too complicated and I don’t trust engine analysis; the material is too imbalanced and I don’t think an engine evaluation could be trusted.  An amazing game.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Emil Kemeny

      Emil Kemeny (13 January 1860, Budapest – 1 May 1925, Budapest) was a Hungarian–American master, editor and publisher.  Chessmetrics ranks him number 17 in the world on their 1901 rating list with a highest rating ever achieved of 2638.
      Kemeny was born in Budapest and immigrated to the United States in the late 1800's and lived in various cities (New York, Philadelphia and Chicago).  He returned to Budapest in the early 1900's. While in the US he worked for the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1893 and at the same time edited and published the American Chess Weekly in Philadelphia and went on to edit a chess column in the Philadelphia Public Ledger and in the North American.
       During the mid-1890s, Kemeny was one of the strongest players in the US. He took 2nd at Skaneateles 1891, lost a match to James Hanham (4–5) at New York 1891, and won at Skaneateles 1892. He also won the 1892-93 Franklin Chess Club championship tournaments as well as the Championship of Philadelphia, the nation’s second strongest chess metropolis, with a score of 14–4, a full point over Walter Penn Shipley. The next Franklin and city championship, that of 1893-94, however, showed Kemeny crushing his opposition with a score of 23–1, a full three points ahead of Mordecai Morgan, and four and a half points ahead of Hermann G. Voigt. In 1896, he had challenged Jackson W. Showalter, the U.S. Champion, to a match, which Kemeny lost, with the final score of +4 –7 =4.
      He tied for 4-5th at Philadelphia 1898, shared 1st at Philadelphia 1899-1900, took 3rd at Philadelphia 1900-1901, and took 4th at St. Louis 1904 (the 7th American Chess Congress which was won by Marshall.
      Between January and July 1897, he published correspondence chess games in the Philadelphia Public Ledger. In 1903 Kemeny went to Monte Carlo to report the Monte Carlo tournament for the North American. He published at Philadelphia for one year a weekly entitled the American Chess Weekly. This paper contained a full account of the Monte Carlo Tournament of 1903.
      As strong a player as Kemeny was, he was best known for his annotations. The American Chess Magazine stated that "not since the withdrawal of Mr. Steinitz from the New York Tribune has the analysis of games been conducted in so complete and entertaining a style as Mr. Kemeny presents them."
      Although not a correspondence player himself he appreciated correspondence play and gave a great deal of attention to correspondence chess in the Ledger.
      Kemeny knew correspondence players studied positions in detail and in general conduct games at a higher level than otherwise would have been possible. In the Ledger for January 15, 1897 he wrote that "in correspondence play, where three days time is given to each move, high grade chess may be justly expected, but such flawless play in a complicated position, as exhibited by Mr. Ferris in the present contest, must be regarded as a rare occurrence."
      The Continental Correspondence Tournament began modern correspondence tournament play in the United States. Seventy players began the tournament, which was conducted first in sections in a Preliminary Round followed by a Final Round. Shipley wrote that the tournament included "many of the best-known players of this country," and "was the largest and strongest Correspondence Tournament ever inaugurated up to that date this side of the water."
      Kemeny kept up close watch on chess developments in Hungary, especially the first correspondence tournament to be held in Hungary and elaborated on his views on correspondence chess: "Chess by correspondence has of late become popular, and, though it requires considerable time to play a game, the result, as a rule, proves satisfactory to the contestants. Errors and oversights are minimized and in the majority of cases the game is won on its merits. Correspondence play especially benefits those who do not reside in the large cities and have, therefore, but few chances to meet opponents of equal strength. But the best feature of correspondence play is the quality of chess it produces. Ample time being given, the contestants are enabled to penetrate the position much deeper, and very often players of average strength conduct a correspondence game in a way that would do credit to a master."
      He returned to his native homeland in the first decade of the 20th century, where he died in 1925.

How To Defeat a Stronger Opponent

Greg Serper gives his advice on playing a stronger opponent in articles at Chessdotcom.

"Most chess players face this problem pretty frequently: what should I do against a much stronger opponent? And here when we say "a much stronger opponent" , we talk about somebody who is at least 300-400 rating points higher. Let's start from major mistakes in this situation."  Part 1    Part 2

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Alexandr Lazarevich Alpert


      Alexandr Lazarevich Alpert (born Moscow, January 1948 – died Moscow June 2009) graduated with a degree in physics and mathematics but mostly he worked as a teacher in a chess school.
      His whole life was devoted to chess and he was a pupil of the well-known coach and IM Abraham Khasin.  In his youth, Alpert had a reputation as a very strong player and took part in the championship final of the Central Chess Club of the USSR. Later he obtained a FIDE Master title. He played several times against eminent grandmasters in OTB chess and was fairly successful.
      Handicapped by weak eyesight since birth he also played tournaments of the USSR institute for the blind where he had a reputation of being one of the strongest players. As a member of the USSR team he won a gold medal at a one of the blind Olympiads.
      But it was correspondence chess where Alpert left his mark.  He obtained an ICCF International Master title in 2001, represented Russia in the ICCF Olympiad.  He also served in administrative capacities for Russian correspondence chess organizations and was the prime mover of the very first CC events played on the Internet including ICCF web-server and Russian web-server Chess Planet. He organized almost all friendly matches and and served as team captain of the Russian team.
      Taking in consideration Alpert’s great services for correspondence chess the ICCF Congress of 2009 awarded to him a title of an International Arbiter posthumously, and supported also the RCCA in organizing an International CC Open in memory of him.
      Alpert once wrote about CC as it’s played nowadays and here is his article in abridged format:

       In reality correspondence chess players use chess engines while playing CC games. This is an irrefutable fact! If a chess player wants to play against a human being, he should OTB or online on the Internet.
      The games of grandmasters against engines have no connections with our variety of chess. The fact is that Kasparov or Kramnik when playing against a computer keep the rules of OTB play while a correspondence player moves the pieces constantly. 
      In a game where "man + engine" are acting as a team the role of a man must not be forgotten. I am ready to play any such a player when they blindly play only moves his engine suggests. Moreover I am almost sure I will win.
      I'll agree his computer and engine are more powerful than me. In a game "man + engine" against "man + engine" HUMAN BEINGS compete each other.  In these games one must solve the task how to defeat a well-equipped opponent and this can be done using one's own intuition and with the help of an artificial assistant.
      A win is usually achieved applying many techniques and such a win is more valuable than a win on a blunder, on worthless trap or better knowledge of theoretical variations in an opening.
      I want to play interesting chess and to restrict the number of oversights. I do not like to automatically accept the engine's analysis. Analyzing a position with an engine is a complicated process that involves both man and machine.

     How do I analyze a position? First of all I want to know the 4-5 best moves with rough variations.
      Step 1. I have a look at a position with my own eyes and try to add my own thoughts to these moves. 
      Step 2. I examine moves suggested by an engine by playing moves on the board which the engine considers as best ones and watch closely the valuation of those positions.
      It sometimes happens that my position turns into bad one after I make several moves following the engine’s advice and that means I erred somewhere earlier. WHEN I find a good move it is too early to be happy because you then must seek where the opponent could have played better.
      If there is a refutation to my mover, I must accept it and look further.  However, sometimes right and the engine is not.
      Step 3. Psychology. Playing versus an inexperienced player it is sometimes possible to figure out what engine he is using and there is an opportunity to set traps. One should find variations (it is not too difficult to do) which are estimated as good by an engine but which are, in fact, not.
      Step 4. Endgame intuition. I have used it many times. In complicated endgames an engine often evaluates positions incorrectly. But when there are 6 pieces or less on the board, thanks to the Nalimov tablebases, perfect play is possible. The idea is to analyze an endgame as deeply as possible to reach one of these positions.  It is not important at all what intermediate valuation is given by an engine; one has to be focused on a final valuation taken from the Nalimov tablebases.
      What is the main idea of modern correspondence chess?
To answer the question above we should address the nature of chess. It is well known chess consists of four components:
• art,
• science,
• sports and
• game


      There are several varieties of chess as well. They are classical chess, amateur chess, rapid and blitz chess, correspondence chess and composition. Each component has a different weight in each variety of chess.
      Chess as an art shows itself in games played by very strong players in classical chess. Composition is a variety of chess art is seen most clearly. Sports play the main role in blitz and rapid chess. Amateur chess is just a game.
      Playing an online game I would never use a chess engine to assist me. Sports are sports. If the time is a decisive factor of a game it means we must obey it. When playing a game for fun one is expected to play fast and while playing a game with a standard time control one can think on a move for 30 minutes.
      In correspondence chess one can seek the best move as long as he wants and may use any kind of assistance in the process.
      Ethical norms for each variety of chess are relative.  Solving a problem with an engine kills the pleasure for the solver but an engine is an ideal tool when one wants to check out reasonableness of a problem.
      In correspondence chess there are sports, games and art but the main role belongs to science. One must go deep into position searching for the truth. It is too difficult to do it without computer assistance in any kind of modern science. If one is not interested in doing such a job he should leave it. One should avoid playing correspondence chess if he doesn't enjoy it.
       In fact the appearance of strong chess engines has raised a couple of questions. Indeed it has already caused damage to classical chess. The main problem for classical chess is losing the process of adjourning a game and analyzing it subsequently at home. Any game is played in a few hours nowadays. As a result the level of endgame skills has considerably decreased.
       A ban of using engines as assistants while a game is being played has resulted in anti-computer controls. But, on the other hand the progress of new technologies makes it more and more complicated. Engines are a direct threat to chess as a kind of sport.
      As a science, correspondence chess has no such problem at all!


Nightmare on LSS



      This interesting position recently came up in one of my cc games and I spent a lot of time trying to figure out (as White on the move) what I should play next.  
      My database had three games in it with this position with the results of +1 -0 =2 so that wasn’t much help.  The continuations were 23.Nxh7, 23.e5 and 23.Qg4.  Houdini suggested 23.e5 and my other “go to” engine, Fire 1.5 xTreme liked 23.Qg4. Still, I was fascinated by 23.Nxh7 and spent a great deal of time examining it especially because in my db of correspondence games by top-level players white had won. I reasoned that 1) white was a strong cc player and 2) he surely had carefully analyzed the position before playing 23.Nxh7 and 3) the engines evaluated the resulting positions at nearly 0.00.  So, not being able to find anything wrong with the move, I decided to go ahead and play it and the game continued 23.Nxh7 Kxh7 24.f6 g6 25.e5 Kg8 27.Bxg6 fxg6 28.f7+ Kg7 29.Bxd8 Rxd8 30.Qd2 Rf8 31.Rae1 reaching the following position which I realized was critical.


      In the game in my db Black continued 31…Bd4+ and eventually lost.  However, Houdini was suggesting 31…b4 as the best move and evaluating it at about 0.20 P’s in Black’s favor, so I decided to spend some time examining its suggestion. I ended up not liking what I was seeing; White always seemed to be slowly but surely drifting into slightly inferior positions!  Eventually after much analysis on my part we reached this position:
      Black has just played 54…Kxh5 and the engines are evaluating his position as about 3.5 P’s in Black’s favor but I realized that if I can keep checking the game will be drawn by the 50-move rule.  However Black discovered a plan where he boldly played his K over to the Q-side and captured my b-P arriving at the following position:
      Black has just played 75…Kxb2 so now I have to keep checking until move 125 and not allow his b-P to move.  Can it be done?  The answer is, “No.”  If you remove Black’s b-Pawn and setup the position in the Shredder Endgame Database, Black wins in 34 moves and if my math is correct, that puts us at move 122.  Still, all is not lost because if Black relies totally on engine moves to make his selection, it’s highly unlikely that any engine will recognize this and will possibly suggest less than optimal moves…or so I reasoned.  I ran several shootouts from this position and found some positions where black was threatening mate on the next move and white was compelled to capture the black B which would start the count all over again.  But…this situation always occurred slightly the other side of move 122.  Of course Black could probably find an improvement and save a couple of moves.  It was going to be very close!  Here’s the position after Black’s 88…Ke4:
      Shootouts were suggesting that Black was going to mate within the 50 move rule, but I’m still going to hang in there and play 89.Qe2+ and see what happens.  So what did happen? I know you’re dying to find out.
       I made a mouse slip on the server and played 89.Qd2 and resigned after 89…b2.  Disgust can’t describe my feelings.  How does one make such a stupid mistake on a server where you have to verify your move by answering the question “Do you really want to pay 89.Qe2+”  I don’t know, but this was a very painful post.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Stasch Mlotkowski


Stasch Mlotkowski (10 March 1881, Clifton Heights, New Jersey – 16 August 1943, Gloucester City, New Jersey) was born into a Polish family in the United States. According to the American Chess Bulletin, 1904, his parents were born in Poland and in 1890 the family moved to Camden, New Jersey.
       At the beginning of his career, he tied for 9-10th at Philadelphia 1900/01. He played several cable matches for Franklin Chess Club of Pennsylvania against Chicago CC in 1904 and Manhattan CC (1904, 1905, 1906, 1907, 1908, 1909, 1910, 1911, and 1912), as well as in a cable match USA vs. England in 1909.   He won at St. Louis 1904 (U.S. Open Chess Championship).
       He finished 9th at St. Louis 1904 (the 7th American Chess Congress, won by Frank Marshall, tied for 9-10th at Philadelphia 1904, took 2nd, behind C.S. Martinez, at Philadelphia 1911, participated in the American Chess Bulletin tournament in 1914/15, tied for 3rd-4th at Atlantic City 1920 (Marshall won), took 10th at Atlantic City 1921 (the 8th American Chess Congress, won by David Janowsky), shared 1st with Norman Whitaker at San Francisco 1923 (US Open), took 8th at Detroit 1924 (US Open, Carlos Torre won), tied for 3rd-5th at Kalamazoo 1927 and took 6th at Bradley Beach 1928 (won by Abraham Kupchik).
Młotkowski was an odd character who had a serious hearing defect.  He lived in a very messy room on Mickel Street in Camden, near the historic locale of the poet Walter Whitman. He was unpredictable and could never be depended on to show up for appointments.  His room was described as “messy’ with the bed always littered with  empty bottles of ketchup and the room full of beverage containers.
       Members of the chess club would give him a lot of items of clothing in an attempt to improve his appearance, but he had a habit of not matching anything.  He might show up, for example, wearing  a green jacket, brown pants and a purple tie.
       During his games he would chain smoke cigarettes and he would often get a nervous tick then get up and walk around, returning only when he had calmed down and was able to concentrate.
       Młotkowski was a strong player and did many of the annotations in P.W. Sergeant’s book, Morphy Gleanings.
       He was friends with the infamous Norman T. Whitaker and in San Francisco in 1923 he and Whitaker shared first place in the US Open.  At that time Młotkowski lived in California, and according to one acquaintance, he had tried to marry a minor movie star. Shortly after the tournament in San Francisco, Młotkowski had to appear in Federal Court in Los Angeles where he was compelled to identify the handwriting of Whitaker. The result was Whitaker being sent to prison (again), this time for transporting a stolen car. Whitaker never held a grudge though and they remained friends.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

What Opening or Defense Should You Play?

      There is an interesting Webpage I recently came across on opening statistics. These statistics show the percentages of games won by white and black and the amount of games drawn from over 2 million games for 60 of the most common openings and 230 further variations of those openings. This page should give you a good idea of what openings and variations are the most successful for white and black. There is also a written summary below the table that summarizes all the best and worst variations in the table. As well as that there are lists of the top 10 best and worst openings for white and black and the most and least drawn openings.
      Of course results depend on a lot of factors, skill and knowledge being a couple of big ones, but if you just want to go by database statistics, take a look at the chart. Of course the results are probably skewed by the inclusion of games by low rated players, but that doesn’t matter because few of us will be meeting GM’s any time soon.

Monday, June 18, 2012

World Championship Fiasco

      To be honest I haven’t followed a world championship match since Fischer-Spassky. Oh, I followed the off the board politics of the K-K matches and the shenanigans of Toilet Gate, but all the other ones didn't interest me...especially those ridiculous knockout events.
      This last one didn’t interest me either...too short and decided by rapid/blitz games. Really?! Some posters on one forum complained the match was rigged. The comment I liked the best was the one by the fellow who said he felt like was watching a WWE/WWF wrestling match, where the script is pre-written. I don’t know if I’d go so far as to say the games/match was faked, but I like the comparison. Take the following gem.