10 December 2017

Giraffe and AlphaZero

Start with the sociology of chess, last seen two weeks ago in FIDE's Social Commissions 2017, and add artificial intelligence, as in the previous post, A New Style of Chess, about Google/DeepMind’s AlphaZero. What have you got? I didn't know, so I asked Google.

The first answer it gave me (in fact, the first three answers) was a paper by Nathan Ensmenger: Is chess the drosophila of artificial intelligence? A social history of an algorithm. (ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed; February 2012):-

Abstract: Since the mid 1960s, researchers in computer science have famously referred to chess as the 'drosophila' of artificial intelligence (AI). What they seem to mean by this is that chess, like the common fruit fly, is an accessible, familiar, and relatively simple experimental technology that nonetheless can be used productively to produce valid knowledge about other, more complex systems. But for historians of science and technology, the analogy between chess and drosophila assumes a larger significance.

As Robert Kohler has ably described, the decision to adopt drosophila as the organism of choice for genetics research had far-reaching implications for the development of 20th century biology. In a similar manner, the decision to focus on chess as the measure of both human and computer intelligence had important and unintended consequences for AI research.

This paper explores the emergence of chess as an experimental technology, its significance in the developing research practices of the AI community, and the unique ways in which the decision to focus on chess shaped the program of AI research in the decade of the 1970s. More broadly, it attempts to open up the virtual black box of computer software -- and of computer games in particular -- to the scrutiny of historical and sociological analysis.

A little further down the list of Google's results was An AI computer learned how to beat almost anyone at chess in 72 hours (qz.com; September 2015):-

Matthew Lai, a computer scientist at University College London, recently published his master’s thesis, which demonstrated a machine learning system -- called Giraffe, after this cartoon about evolution -- that can learn to play at the International Master level of chess in just 72 hours. According to MIT Technology Review, Lai’s machine is a deep neural network -- a computer system that’s inspired by the structure of the brain and attempts to learn and make decisions in a similar way. According to Lai’s paper, Giraffe performs "moderately better" than contemporary computer programs that analyze every possible move at once, as opposed to the few that might actually lead to success.

Matthew Lai and Giraffe. Where have we seen those names recently? They were in the paper that announced AlphaZero to the world: Mastering Chess and Shogi by Self-Play with a General Reinforcement Learning Algorithm (PDF). Matthew Lai was listed as one of the 13 authors of the paper and received a mention in the references:-

Matthew Lai. Giraffe: Using deep reinforcement learning to play chess. Master’s thesis, Imperial College London, 2015.

Giraffe was mentioned again in the section titled 'PriorWork on Computer Chess and Shogi':-

Giraffe evaluated positions by a neural network that included mobility maps and attack and defend maps describing the lowest valued attacker and defender of each square. It was trained by self-play using TD(leaf), also reaching a standard of play comparable to international masters.

Looks like we're on the right track:-

Chess + Sociology + AI => Matthew Lai + Giraffe => AlphaZero

Where to take the subject from here? That will have to wait for another post.

08 December 2017

A New Style of Chess

Historical moments in chess are few and far between. Here are a half dozen events from the past 50 years that made a big impression on me. Almost all were World Championship matches.

Add to these significant career events in the lives of the greatest players.

  • 2005 Kasparov retires
  • 2008 Fischer dies

Twenty years ago, chess engines started to take over as the best players.

This week we learned of another historical event.

  • 2017 Google's AlphaZero - Stockfish

One of the best known chess channels on Youtube is Agadmator's. Of the five games he analyzed from the match, here's his first.


Google Deep Mind AI Alpha Zero Devours Stockfish (13:22) • 'Published on Dec 6, 2017'

Although it's still too early to measure the impact of AlphaZero's accomplishment on the future of chess, it will be profound. Earlier this year, in another episode of Video Friday, we saw Kasparov with DeepMind’s CEO Demis Hassabis: Kasparov Talks at Google (June 2017). There will certainly be more discussions to come.

07 December 2017

1959 Yugoslavia Candidates

With the last two editions of 'Top eBay Chess Items by Price' dominated by big-ticket auctions from Sotheby’s -- A Six-Figure Chess Item at Auction and A Chess Painting and a Namesake -- I haven't had the chance to feature any of the lesser auctions. The item shown below would have made the cut on any average eBay day for 'Top Chess Items'. Titled 'Chess book signed by eight masters, incl. Fischer, Keres, Petrosian, Smyslov and Tal', it sold for around $1500, 'Best offer accepted'.


Top row: Keres, Petrosian, Smyslov, Gligoric
Bottom row: Fischer, Olafsson, Benko, Tal

The description said,

A chess book signed by Benko, Fischer, Gligoric, Keres, Olafsson, Petrosian, Smyslov and Tal: "Kandidatenturnier für Schachweltmeisterschaft" by S. Gligoric and V. Ragozin/Ragosin (Belgrade, 1960). In German. A 320-page hardback in good condition, although the cover is worn (especially on the corners).

The eight participants in the world championship candidates' tournament in Bled, Zagreb and Belgrade all signed this book on the event. Fischer signed it on the front fly-leaf (which also has the name and address of a previous owner, Alan Benson, whose signed book label is on the inside front cover). The book has eight full-page photographs of the participants, and Benko, Gligoric, Keres, Olafsson, Petrosian, Smyslov and Tal -- though not Fischer -- signed their respective photographs (the pages of which already featured a printed signature). Tal signed the book a second time, on page 153, at the end of a combinational win against Fischer

Ignoring the autographs, several of the photos are well known on their own, e.g. Fischer and Tal, and it's useful to know their source. The wall boards are the same in the background of five photos, indicating that they were taken at the same time. For more about the tournament, see 1959 Yugoslavia Candidates Tournament.

05 December 2017

December 1967 'On the Cover'

For the first time since I started this 'On the Cover' series in 2014, the December edition does not feature a scene reminding us of the year end holidays.


Left: 'Interzonal Qualifiers'
Right: 'Manhattan Chess Club President'

Chess Life

The following players have emerged from the Interzonal Tournament at Sousse, Tunisia, just completed, as those who will join Spassky and Tal (already seeded) in a series of matches to determine which of them will play Tigran Petrosian for the World Championship. Reshevsky, Stein and Hort, who finished with identical scores, will participate in a playoff in February to determine the sixth qualifier. A full report follows soon.

That full report will recount a dark moment in American chess. My page on the tournament, 1967 Sousse Interzonal Tournament ('Sousse, X-XI, 1967'), says, '[Bobby] Fischer withdrew while leading the tournament after playing ten games of his schedule.' The event was, however, a bright moment in Bent Larsen's career. The 'Doughty Dane', who was featured on the CR side of the November 1967 'On the Cover', finished first with a score of +13-3=5.

Chess Review

On the cover this month is Manhattan Chess Club President Jacques Coe. His speech on the 90th anniversary of the club appeared [in November].

That speech started,

In the summer of 1877, while people were still talking about whether Hayes or Tilden should have been President, and the Civil War was fresher in memory than World War II is for us, the Manhattan Chess Club was born.

Its members met at the Cafe Logeling, 49 Bowery, between Bayard and Canal Streets, where over their beards they drank lager beer, and under their beards they played chess. The proprietor, Mr. Logeling, kept on hand one of the greatest selections of German, American, English and French newspapers. He was also a chess enthusiast, and eventually built a room over the garden at the back of the cafe which was set aside for the players.

The rest of the speech, which covered nearly a full CR page, was a recap of the club's New York residences. A query on this blog (see the search box in the right column) reveals its importance to the history of American chess.

04 December 2017

Engine-to-engine, Head-to-head

Let's wrap up the series on Engine Trouble (September 2017; 'investigate what sort of engine setup I would need to improve my [chess960] result'), last seen in Improve Engine Software - Tablebases, and look at a couple of engine-to-engine tournaments -- a veteran and a newcomer -- that were taking place in parallel with the series. In the few months since I posted about the veteran, TCEC Season 10 Kickoff (September 2017; 'Top Chess Engine Championship'), the competition has reached the final stage.

2017-11-20: Komodo – Houdini is the Superfinal of TCEC Season 10 • 'Komodo and Houdini are the two finalists in this years edition of the premier event for computer chess. The two engines finished top of the table at the Candidates stage with equal score 18.5/28, half a point ahead of Stockfish.'

The engines are slugging it out as I write this and have finished 80 games out of the 100 scheduled for the event. Houdini leads with a score of +13-7=60, meaning that we can project a final score of something like +16-9=75. I'll come back to the event when it's over.

The newcomer was Chess.com's Computer Chess Championship. The announcement, preliminary results and, final results are all stuffed into a single article, which first appeared in September, but carries the date of its last update:-

2017-11-16: Chess.com Announces Computer Chess Championship, 'Updated With Results' (chess.com) • 'The world's strongest computer engines will compete in a first-of-its-kind speed chess tournament on Chess.com this November, the site announced today. As computer engines have claimed the undisputed title as the best chess-playing entities on earth, interest in the machines has risen among chess fans. The first annual Chess.com Computer Chess Championship (CCCC) will decide which engine is the best at the format of chess most played online: speed chess.'

Chess.com navigation has always been unusual. For this event, if you want to understand it chronologically, you first have to scroll to the bottom of the page then work your way back up, instead of reading the article from top to bottom.

The Computer Chess Championship is scheduled for Nov. 13-16, with all four days featuring full live coverage on Chess.com/TV with master commentary and high production values to promote computer chess as a fun viewing experience for the modern gaming audience. The top-two scoring engines in the round-robin will face each other in a thrilling super-final, where time controls will transition from rapid to blitz and finally to bullet chess as the match proceeds. Chess.com will provide four days of live coverage with master commentary, broadcasting all 90 games of the round-robin and all 20 games of the super-final.

According to Norm Schmidt, the author of the computer engine Fire and Chess.com's advisor for computer chess, the technical details for the tournament are below. The tournament will be run from an Amazon Web Services server farm located in Northern Virginia. Each engine will utilize its own dedicated AWS virtualized instance of a hyperthreaded Intel Xeon E5-2666 v3 2.90 GHz (two processors each with 18 cores) with 60.0 GB RAM running on Windows Server 2016 Data Center Edition.

That 'announcement' includes coverage of the event's two stages: Round Robin Crosstable & Final Standings, plus Superfinal Crosstable. Those results are also summarized in classic top to bottom reporting in a follow-up piece.

2017-11-18: Stockfish Wins Chess.com Computer Championship (chess.com) • 'The powerful, open-source chess engine Stockfish narrowly beat out two strong commercial engines to win the first Chess.com Computer Chess Championship this week. Stockfish placed clear first in the 10-engine round robin to reach the superfinal, and then edged the second-place Houdini in the rapid, blitz, and bullet finals to win the championship.'

The entire event is summarized in a series of live shows, now available on Chess.com's Youtube channel under the title 'Computer Chess Championship':-

One of these days I hope someone explains to me the difference between a superfinal and a final. In the meantime, I'll continue to admire the likes of Houdini, Komodo, and Stockfish as they go head-to-head in the chess version of core wars.

03 December 2017

A Chess Painting and a Namesake

Two weeks ago, in the previous edition of Top eBay Chess Items by Price, we saw A Six-Figure Chess Item at Auction, featuring a Sotheby’s live auction for 'Marcel Duchamp : Pocket Chess Set'.

After a starting price of US $160.000, the auction lasted two minutes, with the bid rising by increments of $10.000 every ten seconds or so. The winning bid was $340.000 after 13 bids.

By some odd coincidence, this edition of 'Top eBay Chess Items' also features a Sotheby’s live auction for a six-figure painting. The item pictured below was titled 'Edwin Lord Weeks : A Game of Chess', and sold for US $110.000 after 20 bids. Although the item had a starting price of $40.000, the first four bids were under that amount. Once the bidding reached $50,000, the price climbed in increments of $5.000.

The description informed,

After years of travel through Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and India, the American artist Edwin Lord Weeks remained captivated by the sights he encountered abroad. Toward the end of his career he began an ambitious series of paintings based on A Thousand and One Nights.

Having documented his travels through sketches, paintings and photographs, Weeks was well equipped with the source material for the present scene, and was careful to render the architecture, complete with its delicately carved stone latticework, as well as the costumes of the two figures. The lounging woman is swathed in elaborately embroidered silks, reminiscent of the Nautch dancing girls whom Weeks had painted in India.

For the complete description, see the Sotheby’s page, weeks, edwin lord; a game of chess. There we learn that the painting was part of an auction for European Art that took place on 21 November 2017 in New York, that its estimate was 50.000-70.000 USD, that the lot sold for '137.500 USD (Hammer Price with Buyer's Premium)', and that the work is an oil on canvas (55 1/4 by 73 1/4 in., 140.3 by 186.1 cm).

Is Edwin Lord Weeks a distant relative? Wikipedia has a page Edwin Lord Weeks, that says,

Weeks was born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1849. His parents were affluent spice and tea merchants from Newton, a suburb of Boston, and as such they were able to finance their son's youthful interest in painting and travelling. As a young man Weeks visited the Florida Keys to draw, and also travelled to Surinam in South America.

The page also mentions, 'In 1872 Weeks relocated to Paris, becoming a pupil of Léon Bonnat and Jean-Léon Gérôme.' The painter Gérôme executed two well known works of caissart titled 'Arnauts playing chess' and 'Almehs playing chess in a cafe', although I'm not convinced that the game pictured in both is indeed chess. A work similar in composition to those two is 'A game of chess in a Cairo street' by Weeks.

***

Later: Re the sentence 'Although the item had a starting price of $40.000, the first four bids were under that amount', a note at the top of the eBay page says, 'Live auction bidding may start higher or lower'. I assume this means 'higher or lower than the starting price'. A link at the bottom of the page leads to: How live auctions work (at Sotheby’s).

01 December 2017

Flickrless Friday

Today's Flickr Friday post became Flickrless Friday when I was unable to find an image to suit my taste. I found a couple of photos worth adding to my 'Flickr Favorites' (see the right sidebar for the latest), but nothing worth further investigation. What to do? Borrowing an idea from last week's post Sotheby's Chess, I produced the following composite image of Flickr chess paintings. It shows the first screen of 4.118 images.


flickr.com/search/?text=chess+painting
(sorted on 'Relevant')

Using the same method of identification, based on chess notation, as in the 'Sotheby's' post...

Call the rows 'A' to 'C' (from top to bottom) and number the images in each row '1' to '7' (from left to right).

...is there anything here that will advance our knowledge of anything else? For example, what does that image in the upper left corner ('A1') have to do with chess? Titled Captain Rex Snow Assault, it's in four groups having names like 'Lego Star Wars'. The only association with chess is via a white tag assigned by Flickr, i.e. if the image looks like a group of chess pieces, let's assign it to 'chess'. We already saw this in Giant Chess Pieces in Mandalay (February 2016), and know that the Flickr robots are over-enthusiastic when it comes to tagging things.

How about the image in the lower right corner ('C7')? Titled Kayla, the description says, 'Her main work consists of murals depicting computers playing chess with genetically enhanced parrots.' That sounds like a sentence generated by a text-writing robot. Apparently, software robots in the year 2017 do not advance our knowledge of anything.

After this, there are a pair of similar images in 'B7' & 'C4' showing a yellow dog wearing sunglasses (or something like that). The 'B7' image is titled From gallery chess P1150440, which is as close to chess as the page comes. The C4 image is from the same photographer with a similar title. Why 'gallery chess'? Of the various searches I used to research this question, none answered it.

The image in the center ('B4') looks promising. At least it's a real painting and not a photo of a lego construction. Titled 1986.147 : Scene from a Novella, the extra long description informs,

This and its companion panel are from the front of a chest (cassone) and show two episodes from an as yet unidentified story, or novella. In one, a youth is smitten by a maiden who appears at a window. In the other, they engage in an erotically charged game of chess (she is about to lose). Both were common themes in the amatory literature of the Renaissance.

While this image shows the 'maiden who appears at a window', the mention of metmuseum.org and of Liberale da Verona eventually leads to Liberale da Verona | The Chess Players | The Met, a well known chess painting dated 'ca. 1475'. Another potential example from the 'amatory literature' of chess (seriously?) is in 'C2': The Chess Players by Jacques Clément Wagrez (1846-1908 France). While trying to find more about this piece, I was inundated by copies from Pinterest.com and gave up.

That's another lesson from this exercise. Images copied to Flickr or to Pinterest, without a smidgen of additional explanation, don't advance our knowledge of anything. I hope to have a real Flickr Friday post two weeks from now. If not, I'll explore those little colored boxes at the top of my screen capture.

30 November 2017

November Yahoos

Last month's October Yahoos had two stories and this month's could have had as many as four. On top of the two shown below, GM Kasparov figured in two others, but not for chess.

The first story was widely reported because it's about Magnus and because the premise is decidedly silly. For a typical angle from the chess press, see Frederic Friedel's Beating Magnus after a month of training? (chessbase.com).

2017-11-17: When an Amateur Challenges a Chess Grandmaster (finance.yahoo.com; The Wall Street Journal)

Self-described "obsessive learner" Max Deutsch challenged grandmaster Magnus Carlsen to a game of chess. What could possibly go wrong? [EOM; the video is the article]

One of the reasons I follow these Yahoo stories is to read the comments. Here are a few of the better ones.

  • 'So in the end, a person who has massive experience and competency in some field is better than someone who thinks he can just learn it? Sounds about right.'
  • 'Chess is sort of like composing or cooking. In all three cases a complete novice can memorize and copy the moves of an expert with really good results, but to be able to master any of them to the point where you can create a masterpiece all by yourself takes many years of practice.'
  • 'Magnus Carlsen is not just "a grandmaster". He is the world champion, and possibly the strongest chessplayer in history.'
  • 'Put this guy up against the dudes in Washington Square Park and see what happens. Those guys can play.'

The second story might be a seismic geopolitical shift or it might be FIDE's usual stumbling around with its foot stuck in the trash basket. We'll know by the end of December.

2017-11-28: Israeli chess players could make history at Saudi tourney (yahoo.com; AFP)

Jerusalem (AFP) - Israeli chess players could make history by participating in a tournament in Saudi Arabia after the international chess governing body on Tuesday said it was pushing to allow it to happen. A spokesman for the Israel Chess Federation told AFP seven players had filed requests for visas to participate in the games to be held in Riyadh on December 26-30 as part of the world rapid and blitz chess championships.

For the corresponding FIDE announcements, see:-

  • 2017-11-09: World Rapid and Blitz Announcement • 'FIDE is pleased to announce that, under the aegis of the General Sports Authority of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the 2017 King Salman World Rapid and Blitz Chess Championships will be held in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia between the 26th and 30th December 2017.'

  • 2017-11-14: King Salman Rapid & Blitz 2017 – Historic Agreement • 'FIDE is pleased to announce that we have reached an agreement with the organisers that the dress code for the event will be dark blue or black formal suits, with white shirts, either open necked or with a tie, for men and dark blue or black formal trouser suits, with high necked white blouses for women.'

It took two weeks for the mainstream press to catch wind of the story, but the dress code angle isn't a barnburner. Will a Yahoo chess story turn up in December?

28 November 2017

A Seven-Figure Chess Item at Auction

Lurking in the composite image I used for Sotheby's Chess was another item worthy of mention (see 'B5' in that post). It makes the sum paid for A Six-Figure Chess Item at Auction look like chump change.

The item pictured below, 'The Chess Players' by William Roberts, R.A. (1895-1980), was estimated at 300.000 - 500.000 GBP (483.360 - 805.600 USD). That's already the highest amount I've ever seen at auction for anything chess-themed, but it sold for even more: 1.161.250 GBP (1.871.006 USD; 'Hammer Price with Buyer's Premium').


roberts, william the chess play | painting
(sothebys.com)

The description said,

Signed; oil on canvas; 101.5 by 92cm. (40 by 36 in.); executed circa 1929-30.

The 'Catalogue Note' said,

To Roberts, every situation must have seemed to teem with possibilities. People in the street, a park, a yard, or a café, everywhere there were ideas for subjects, and his ability to fix the details he observed in his daily life into his painted compositions must have been the envy of many of his contemporaries. [...]

It continued,

In The Chess Players, we find ourselves witness to just such a moment. In the corner of a room, a chess game is underway. The players are reaching the final stages, and the tension has drawn in the observers who wait, with us, to see the outcome. The board sits at the heart of the composition, the taken pieces littering the table top. Facing us is the man playing black, idly dangling his opponent's just-captured queen from his hand, a taunting gesture towards his foe. [...]

Of the artist, in William Roberts (painter), Wikipedia says,

William Roberts R.A. was a British painter of groups of figures and portraits, and was a war artist in both World War One and World War Two.

A further Wikipedia link explains that 'R.A.' stands for 'Royal Academician', a member of the Royal Academy of Arts. Digging a little deeper into 'Royal Academy', I might have tapped into another important source of caissart.

27 November 2017

Improve Engine Software - Tablebases

After the previous post in this series on improving my engine infrastructure, Improve Engine Hardware - High Performance, what's next? If I go back to the first post in the series, Improve Engine Software (October 2017), the next bullet is:-

  • Link engine(s) directly to tablebase

Wikipedia gives an overview of the technology in Endgame tablebase. The three evolutions of tablebases to date have been:-

  • Nalimov - six-piece (~2000)
  • Lomonosov - seven-piece (2012)
  • Syzygy - six-piece optimized (2013)

The Houdini 6 User's Manual has two sections covering tablebases. They discuss technical considerations for downloading the tablebases, installing them, and accessing them from the engine.

The same article by Albert Silver that I referenced in the 'High Performance' post, Building the ultimate chess machine (chessbase.com), gives a useful tip on the hardware (certain comments are also relevant):-

The choice of two SSDs for storage as opposed to a single centralized one is deliberate. One SSD should be reserved for the six-piece Syzygy tablebases and not be mixed with the one used for the operating system and databases. It wil be consulted non-stop by engines in analysis, and it would be a mistake to place it on a drive that is also being used for other purposes, since it could lead to unnecessary slowdowns.

What's the future of tablebases? Seven-piece Lomonsov technology hasn't yet arrived for the hobbyist, but it can't be too far off. A back-of-the-envelope calculation tells me that there is a difference of (roughly) two orders of magnitude in complexity (x 100) between an n-piece and an n+1-piece tablebase. An eight-piece tablebase will arrive when advances in processing and storage support it. Beyond that, I wouldn't even begin to guess.

26 November 2017

FIDE's Social Commissions 2017

Last year's post on FIDE's Social Commissions (December 2016) was one of the first in the series on the sociology of chess, which I had just started the previous month. Last week's post on Spectating the 88th FIDE Congress promised to look again at both commissions, and we find their recent reports together with other documents from the Congress (see the 'Spectating' post for links):-

26. Social Action Commission’s meeting minutes [SAC]
27. Social Projects Commission’s meeting minutes [SPC]

Of the two commissions, the SAC produced the more comprehensive minutes. Adding the SAC report that I featured in Applying Chess Skills to Life (May 2017), gives the impression that it is more active than the SPC. The SAC reported on five activities of which I've summarized four in the following composite image showing photos from the minutes.

Top row, left: Smart Girl Chess Project • 'SOM Chess Academy through the support of the Uganda Chess Federation has continued to implement the ‘Smart Girl Chess Program’ which was created by Beatriz Marinello and is supported in part by the FIDE Social Action Commission through the leadership of FI, FA Robert Katende.'

Top row, right: First International Congress on Social and Educational Chess in Argentina • 'The FIDE Social Action Commission, together with the Province of Cordoba Chess Federation and the National University of Córdoba organized the First International Congress on Social and Educational Chess in Argentina. This event was held in July 2017 with the participation of 180 teachers, social workers, chess trainers and organizers from Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, Paraguay, Spain and the USA.'

Bottom row, left: "Children of the World" - Spain • 'Children from the five continents are again united by the Cross Culture of Chess in this new edition of EXPOCHESS CHILDREN OF THE WORLD. This intercultural project will be presented in Budapest (Hungary) on 14 October at the Global Chess Festival with Judit Polgar. [...] In addition, we will convene one of the main activities of the festival, the second edition of the International Drawing Contest.' • The Polgar Festival was the subject of another post on this blog: Chess Knives Chopping (October 2017).

Bottom row, right: Cameroon • 'The SAC Chair, Beatriz Marinello, met with the Minister of Women's Affairs and the Family, Abena Ondoa, and other officials during her visit to Cameroon.'

As for the SPC, the minutes are badly written and frequently hard to understand. The projects mentioned in the minutes (I'm quoting their titles) are:-

  • Chess in Prisons
  • Chess as a tool working with Autism & Asperger syndrome and Down syndrome
  • Chess and Environment Education and Sustainability program
  • Chess to help integration for minority groups in society
  • Chess and Peace
  • Chess as a tool in treatment for chemical dependence

The high point of the year was a high profile match:-

We did for the first time by the SPC Commission an online match between prisoners took place. This historic online international match between prisoners from the project "Chess that Gives Freedom" in the Municipality of Viana, Espirito Santo, Brazil, and the project in Cook County, Chicago, Illinois USA, was held on 17 May 2017, on the FIDE and CBX Online Platform (Chess Arena). [...] The match generated national and international media.

Given the potential positive impact on society and on chess, it's a pity the SPC projects aren't explained more clearly.

24 November 2017

How About a Game of 3D-Chess?

Three dimensional chess, three dimensional chess, three dimensional chess...


Does It Take A Genius To Play 3D Chess? We Asked The Masters (5:56) • 'In order to fully unpack the metaphor, VICE News (HBO) spoke with 3D Chess experts to find out what the game actually is, and if [President] Trump would be any good at it.'

The clip features Mike Klein, Leroy Dubeck ('the mastermind behind the world's most beloved version of multi-dimensional chess'), and Tony Britton ('Founder, Amateur Tri-Dimensional Chess League'). The VICE News description for the video added,

Donald Trump supporters [tout] his ability to see moves ahead of his political adversaries. Even after some of his more baffling policy decisions or tweets, they claim Trump is playing 3D Chess, making moves massively more complicated and clever than normal people can comprehend. Most people have never sat down to play a game of 3D chess, and probably only know of the game from a brief scene in a 1976 episode of Star Trek, where Kirk and Spock play it on futuristic glass board on the Enterprise.

What's VICE News? Wikipedia's Vice News says,

Vice News (stylized as VICE News) is Vice Media, Inc.'s current affairs channel, producing daily documentary essays and video through its website and YouTube channel. It promotes itself on its coverage of "under-reported stories". Vice News was created in December 2013 and is based in New York City, though it has bureaus worldwide

The 'Amateur Tri-Dimensional Chess League' is a Facebook group -- Amateur Tri-Dimensional Chess League (with rules and notation) -- lightly maintained in connection with Facebook's Tri-Dimensional Chess.

23 November 2017

Sotheby's Chess

Start with the recent eBay post A Six-Figure Chess Item at Auction ('the auction was conducted by the well-known Sotheby’s') and apply the technique described in A Collage of Chess Collages. What do you get? Something like the image shown below.


Google image search on 'site:sothebys.com chess'

Using the same referencing scheme described in 'Collages'...

Let's use chess notation to identify the three rows of six images. Calling the rows 'A' to 'C' (from top to bottom) and numbering the images in each row '1' to 'n' (from left to right).

...what can we learn from Sotheby’s images? First of all, about half of the 19 thumbnails show chess sets. Some of them could be mistaken for other household objects, like the photo in the upper left corner ('A1'). Is that a collection of salt and pepper shakers? No, they are chess pieces:-

  • Early Chess Pieces Reveal Origins of the Game (March 2016) • 'An important collection of early chess pieces reveals how the the origins of the game are rooted in India and the Middle East. Each of these remarkable pieces carries huge significance in its evolution, including an extremely rare, early and almost complete 10th-century set.'

How about the lower right corner ('C7') -- is that a chess piece? Yes, indeed, and quite a valuable piece:-

  • Danish or North German, circa 1400 (July 2015) • 'This unusual marine ivory chess piece represents a knight in armour riding a monster, flanked by a court jester and a foot soldier. [Sold. 173.000 GBP (266.489 USD)]'

Smack dab in the middle of the collage ('B4') is another chess Knight, and a modern one:-

  • Marcel Duchamp, Chess Knight (October 2017) • 'This work is a study for the Knight in Duchamp’s Pocket Chess Set assembled in an edition of approximately 150 sets in 1943. [Sold. 72.500 EUR (85.319 USD)]'

The image of the Knight shown in the Google thumbnail is not shown on the Sotheby’s auction page. There it says only 'Image under artist copyright'. So where did Google image search find the image it displayed?

By coincidence, the Duchamp auction brings us full circle to the Pocket Chess Set described in 'A Six-Figure Chess Item'. What other caissart treasures are exposed by this image search?

21 November 2017

Spectating the 88th FIDE Congress

FIDE has just published its annual set of internal documents emanating from its most recent Congress, 88th FIDE Congress: Executive Board Minutes and Annexes (fide.com); 'FIDE publishes the minutes and annexes of the Executive Board meeting that was held in Goynuk, Antalya, Turkey, 13-14 October 2017.' As in nearly every year, they provide the best view that an outsider has of the internal workings of the organization.

Just as I've always done after previous Congresses, I looked first at the 2017 Executive Board Minutes. I was not surprised to see that the U.S. sanctions against Kirsan Ilyumzhinov are still FIDE's most pressing issue. I discussed the background for those sanctions in last year's post, Spectating the 87th FIDE Congress (December 2016), and they are not to be taken lightly. According to the U.S. Treasury Department, Ilyumzhinov served as a middleman between two groups who were unable to conduct business openly. Following are initial, relevant excerpts concerning the impact of the sanctions as taken from the minutes of the 88th FIDE Congress, Executive Board meeting.

1. Brief of President K. Ilyumzhinov.

[Ilyumzhinov] said that as for his sanctions, are they in the way when he travels, develops and promotes chess? You know that since December 2015 he is in the process of clarifying his situation with the U.S. Department of Treasury. He has officially signed two contracts with the U.S. lawyers who defend his interest in this case. Lately there had been four hearings on his case in the U.S. Dept. of Treasury. He was sure that he will be invited to the USA very soon. As for trips, besides the USA, he is able to visit all countries in all continents. He paid his trips in air company Lufthansa and others, he stayed in hotels and organised events and this did not interfere with his activities abroad.

He also established the Chess for Peace Foundation in Washington, London, and Brussels. During this year he has organised many events, by paying and assisting through this foundation, to many chess clubs in quite a few countries. He attracted many companies and many businessmen from all over the world. He has received invitations from more than a hundred countries and many Russian regions, to come and give a lecture, to bring books and chess equipment, to attend opening of various chess clubs, and to help chess federations. Yesterday many Presidents whom he met, invited him to visit their countries.

1.1. Report of the Deputy President. [G. Makropoulos]

I would like to say that after Baku [87th FIDE Congress] we had successfully organized, probably the best World Championship in chess that we have organized, ever in New York. And it was on a very high level organized with great success in media and internet. I think Mr. Merenzon, will refer later to specific numbers. And I remind you that this was an idea of Kirsan to organize this championship in New York. And it was very pity that at the end he was not able to go there. He said that few days before the event, he tried, and they stopped him.

I was there but I tried to avoid going to the opening ceremony or to the closing ceremony. Other officials from FIDE, they have represented FIDE in these ceremonies. When I was there, I tried to keep a very low profile for one reason. I didn’t want to downgrade the importance of Kirsan on that period because we were giving a fight, first of all, to protect our Organization of the fact that Kirsan has been under sanctions, but at the same time, we didn’t want, of course, Kirsan to leave FIDE, and we didn’t want Kirsan to be insulted from all these… that were going in our family. I will refer to this later in my report. [...]

One of the most important efforts that we have to do in the last period… it was, despite of the problems that we were facing, to try to keep the stability in our organization. The truth is that it’s not easy. We face really serious problems that I have to refer to them, but what I want to say is that for me, all these problems, they were not political and they were not personal because many times it has been an effort for these problems to be presented as political problems between the people or personal problems.

I would like to remind you that in Baku, in General Assembly, there was an effort to go to a voting against Kirsan Ilyumzhinov being president in FIDE under sanctions. It was not clear what exactly the people that had the initiative to present their proposals were looking for, vote of non-confidence, whether they were going to go farther to force Kirsan to resign. We stand by Kirsan, and we make it clear: we understand that the sanctions are a big problem that we have in FIDE, but we don't believe that this Organization should insult Mr. Ilyumzhinov by trying to force him to resign. We don't want this. We're not looking for this, and at least few people there, they made it very clear.

I can remember myself, Jorge Vega, Israel Gelfer, that we made very clear that what we believe is that Kirsan should not run to the next elections. And maybe on that moment there were people in the meeting that were thinking that we don't believe really on this, and we say we are expressing this view because we just wanted to protect Kirsan on that moment. The truth is that we really believe this. And we have to make a big effort the next months to convince Kirsan that he should not run.

I think Adrian [Siegel, FIDE Treasurer] can refer to the problems that already we have faced with our banks and our insurance company in Switzerland, and the situation, of course, it can be worse in case that Kirsan is the president because now we have stopped everything, all the efforts in Switzerland to take out our accounts from the banks there, because we have explained that Kirsan is not a part of the decision making procedure, that he is not involved in the business of FIDE, he’s our president only. And somehow we convinced them that they should not insist.

But the truth is that if Kirsan could win these elections and comes back, they will believe, all of them, that we were cheating them, that we were lying to them, that we are not a serious organization. Immediately they will kick us out. So all these months we were trying to convince Kirsan not to run, to find an alternative. Somebody else could. We had even discussions about the possibility that Mr. Filatov could run. We had discussions even one year and a half about such a possibility or somebody else from FIDE, even from another country. Unfortunately, we could not reach an understanding that this is what we should do in FIDE. Kirsan really wished very much that he should run at least for one more term.

Later in the meeting, Ilyumzhinov gave a more detailed defense of his personal actions, but I'll save that for another post. Along with that item, I'll look at the same subjects I covered in connection with last year's 'Spectating the 87th Congress':-

On my other chess blog, I'll do a follow-up to last year's report:-

That should keep me busy for the next month or so.

20 November 2017

Improve Engine Hardware - High Performance

The heart of last week's post, Improve Engine Hardware - Parts List, was a three-column table:-

The following table gives a side-by-side comparison of those two sources for the 'most important' components.

A list of components for a high-end chess engine was posted last month by Chessdom.com, 44 cores server to power TCEC Season 10 (October 2017):-

The premier computer chess event TCEC Season 10 is starting next week with the participation of the strongest chess software. The event will not only be record breaking regarding the ELO and strength of the engines, but also the hardware for S10 will be a 44 core server.

Another reliable source appeared last week on Chessbase.com, Building the ultimate chess machine (November 2017):-

Pros travel around the world almost constantly, and the elite players more than any. You might imagine this would mean they are dependent on top-of-the-line laptops, which they certainly have as well, but they all know that a top desktop computer will always outgun even the most formidable laptop. The solution is simply to access their desktop computer remotely, via the internet.

Here are the specific hardware recommendations from both sources.

  TCEC Chessbase
CPU Intel Dual Xeon 2699 v4 - Total 44 cores AMD RYZEN Threadripper 1950X 16-Core
Mobo Supermicro X10DRL-i ASRock X399 Professional Gaming sTR4
RAM 64 GB RAM meaning max of 16 GB hash per engine G.SKILL TridentZ Series 32GB (2 x 16GB) 288-Pin DDR4 3200
Cooling ? Arctic Liquid Freezer 240

The Chessbase article raised another relevant question:-

What if you could put together three full computers, each with 50% of the performance, for the price of one Threadripper [i.e. AMD Ryzen Threadripper 1950X]? In other words, getting 50% more analysis power at your fingertips. The recommendation would still be one Threadripper.

For a discussion of the Dual Xeon 2699, which might be the highest performance hardware currently running chess engines, see Two 22 Core Xeon CPUs!? (youtube.com). I like the use of the chess symbol ('!?') in the title.

19 November 2017

A Six-Figure Chess Item at Auction

Here on Top eBay Chess Items by Price, four-figure auction items -- selling for $1000 or more -- are not unusual. Five-figure items are less usual. The only such items I can recall appeared during the last few years:-

  • Man Ray Chess Set; (September 2015); 'With a starting price of US $10.000, the set sold for US $18.000 after receiving six bids.'
  • Chess Sculpture at Auction (November 2016); '$10.000 after five bids at live auction'
  • Chess Sets at Live Auction (December 2016); 'A Swiss Pearwood Animal and Bird Chess Set, 19th Century; sold for US $11,000 after 9 bids.'

The item pictured below was titled 'Marcel Duchamp : Pocket Chess Set'. After a starting price of US $160.000, the auction lasted two minutes, with the bid rising by increments of $10.000 every ten seconds or so. The winning bid was $340.000 after 13 bids.

The previous edition of 'Top eBay Chess Items', Marcel Duchamp on eBay, featured an etching where 'the auction was conducted by the well-known Sotheby’s', and the auction behind this current post was also by Sotheby’s. The description started,

PROVENANCE: Harold M. Phillips, New York (a gift from the artist). Thence by descent.

It continued with 'EXHIBITED:', which was empty, and 'LITERATURE', which listed four references that I omit here. The rest of the description was a long note on the overlap of Duchamp's art and his chess. It started,

CATALOGUE NOTE: Marcel Duchamp had a lifelong fascination with chess. Ostensibly "retiring from art" in 1923, he devoted the next ten years of his life to professional tournaments and by 1925, he had attained the rating of Master from the French Chess Federation.

The rest of the description can be found on duchamp, marcel pocket chess set (sothebys.com), where a few other important details about the auction can be found:-

Estimate: 200.000 - 300.000 USD
Lot Sold: 423.000 USD (hammer price with buyer's premium)
Signed Marcel Duchamp and dated NY 1944
Pocket chessboard in leather, celluloid and pins
6 1/2 by 4 in.; 16.5 by 10.1 cm
Executed circa 1944

The description also mentioned,

In 1944, Julien Levy organized an exhibition called The Imagery of Chess and asked thirty-two Surrealist artists to submit their own chess set designs. Duchamp submitted an example of his Pocket Chess Set, to which he added a single rubber glove (this work has since disappeared but was later replicated).

For more about that exhibition on this blog, see a post from earlier this year, The Imagery of Chess, St. Louis (August 2017).

17 November 2017

Knight Solo

Whenever a chess piece appears solo in a photo or drawing, nine times out of ten it's a chess Knight. Take, for example, another edition of Flickr Friday earlier this year, A Lonely Knight. So far, the photo below has had 2504 views and 41 faves ('favorites', including mine), indicating that its appeal is more than artist inspiration alone.


Chess Knight © Flickr user Michal Kosmulski under Creative Commons.

The description says only,

A recent origami design of mine -- chess knight with a corrugation-based mane.

Eliminating the tags for chess leaves 'origami', 'corrugation', and 'Khepera paper', which leaves little doubt as to its construction. Among the 13 Flickr groups to which it belongs, two groups are for chess:-

The 'Top Contributors' to these groups are also worth exploring.

16 November 2017

The Einstellung Effect

Spotted in the March 2014 issue of Scientific American, under the heading 'Psychology'. The introduction on the magazine's contents page said,

The human brain has a dogged tendency to stick with a familiar solution to a problem -- the one that first comes to mind -- and to ignore alternatives, even when they are superior.

The first two pages of the related article are shown in the following image.

'Why Good Thoughts Block Better Ones'

Article by Merim Bilalic and Peter McLeod
Illustration by Danny Schwartz

The caption on the right says,

While we are working through a problem, the brain's tendency to stick with familiar ideas can literally blind us to superior solutions.

The article starts,

In a classic 1942 experiment, American psychologist Abraham Luchins asked volunteers to do some basic math by picturing water jugs in their mind. [The participants had to figure out how to transfer liquid between the containers to measure out precisely 100 units.] Luchins presented his volunteers with several more problems that could be solved with essentially the same three steps; they made quick work of them. Yet when he gave them a problem with a simpler and faster solution than the previous tasks, they failed to see it. [...]

The water jug experiment is one of the most famous examples of the Einstellung effect: the human brain's dogged tendency to stick with a familiar solution to a problem -- the one that first comes to mind -- and to ignore alternatives.

What does that have to do with chess?

In recent eye-tracking experiments, familiar ideas blinded chess players to areas of a chessboard that would have provided clues to better solutions.

The article (with a different title?!) is available to subscribers on the magazine's site: Why Your First Idea Can Blind You to a Better One (scientificamerican.com). Another, shorter article on the same site, How Psychologists Study the Einstellung Effect in Chess (also March 2014), deals with the chess experiment: 'Cognitive bias can prevent even the most talented chess players from seeing the swiftest path to victory'.

The full article (with 'PDF Download Available') can be found on Why Good Thoughts Block Better Ones (researchgate.net). As for the illustration of the two geezers playing chess in front of the fireplace -- which caught my attention before the rest of the article -- it can also be seen on the artist's site, Danny Schwartz Illustration.

Articles in Scientific American occasionally focus on chess to make a point. Recent examples that I featured on this blog were Are Boys Good at Chess? (March 2015) and Chess and EEG (December 2014), and there were more posts before those.

While I was looking at the version of the Bilalic & McLeod article on Researchgate.net, the site proposed two more articles by the same authors:-

It turns out the site has an entire category about the game, 'Recommendations: Discover more publications, questions and projects in Chess'. How have I managed to overlook this for so long?

14 November 2017

Kids Crafting Tips?

Whatever happened to chess.about.com? As my page linked on the sidebar, 'Chess for All Ages (site)', explains,

From September 2002 to August 2008, I was privileged to serve as the Chess Guide for About.com. During that time, I produced one feature article per week. Although About.com has an exclusive, perpetual license to use my material, it's unlikely that they will ever use it again. After I left, the company gave me permission to reuse the material: 'It would be fine to use your content as you please.' Here are copies of those articles.

First let's have a recap of the site's history, as tracked on this blog. In my last months at the company, when it was still a subsidiary of the New York Times (NYT), I noted a couple of changes at the top:-

In the month that I left, I wrote two posts giving my own perspective from within the company:-

Four years later, the NYT sold the operation to IAC (aka Answers.com, aka Ask.com):-

After that I stopped paying attention to the company, except to check on its content from time to time. I do the same for many chess sites. Wikipedia's page on About.com now goes to Dotdash, with the mention 'Redirected from About.com'. The last paragraph currently informs,

2017–present: Closure of About.com, rebranding to multiple publications under Dotdash • On May 2, 2017, IAC announced that they had renamed About.com to Dotdash, after about a year of transition. CEO Neil Vogel said that the company had lost mind share, and needed to change their marketing strategy. The company elected to refocus on vertical markets through its niche websites: The Balance (personal finance), Lifewire (consumer electronics), The Spruce (home and food), VeryWell (health), TripSavvy (travel), and ThoughtCo (education).

It turns out that chess is now included under 'The Spruce (home and food)', and its current address is thespruce.com/chess-4127460.

The breadcrumb trail for the chess articles shows:-

Thespruce.com > Crafts & Hobbies > Kids Crafting Tips > Chess
Kids crafting tips? Talk about clueless! For more about the most recent transition, see About.com launches The Spruce, a standalone site for Home Decor and Food (techcrunch.com; February 2017).

13 November 2017

Improve Engine Hardware - Parts List

Continuing with the previous post in this series, Improve Engine Hardware - Specs, the 'Advanced Chess' (serverchess.com) article from which I gathered the hardware specs, gave me another good lead:-

FirebrandX, a player and blogger on the Chess.com site, advises he's in the process of building a new computer for advanced chess. He revealed his list of components with the estimated street price of only $2325.

The list was part of a discussion about Best CPU for chess engine game analysis (chess.com; March 2013):-

I happen to be in the process of starting a new build. [...] I decided the Intel Hex core [Hexa] was the best way to go instead of the infinitely more expensive Xeon machines.

Another source of detailed information, with links to Amazon.com product pages (and some budget recommendations), is Best Computer Specs for a Chess Engine (castledrook.com; May 2017):-

Make sure that the CPU, motherboard, and RAM you choose are compatible with each other. You can do this by checking the socket information on the store page. [...] The CPU, motherboard, RAM, and cooling are all the most important, so budget most of your money towards those.

The following table gives a side-by-side comparison of those two sources for the 'most important' components.

  2013 2017
CPU Intel i7-3930K Hex Intel Boxed Core i7-6950X
Mobo Asus P9X79 Asus Rampage V Extreme
RAM Ram 64GB G.Skill 64GB (4 x 16GB)
Cooling Heat-sink/fan Corsair H115i Liquid CPU Cooler

The Intel i7-3930 is a 6-core chip, the i7-6950 is a 10-core chip, and the budget recommendation i7-7700 is a 4-core chip. Wikipedia's Intel Core explains,

Intel Core is a line of mid-to-high end consumer, workstation, and enthusiast central processing units (CPU) marketed by Intel Corporation. These processors displaced the existing mid-to-high end Pentium processors of the time, moving the Pentium to the entry level, and bumping the Celeron series of processors to low end.

Identical or more capable versions of Core processors are also sold as Xeon processors for the server and workstation markets. As of June 2017, the lineup of Core processors included the Intel Core i9, Intel Core i7, Intel Core i5, and Intel Core i3, along with the Y - Series Intel Core CPUs.

As for the other recommendations, the table gives enough info for further investigation. At first I was puzzled why chess engine users would want to build their own systems from scratch. Then I realized that it's standard operating procedure in the larger community of gamers.

12 November 2017

'A Democratic Game'

Where's the chess capital of the USA? Some people think it's St.Louis, as in How St Louis became America’s chess capital (economist.com), but how many New Yorkers would agree?


Tom D's NYC: Chess (7:52) • 'Comedian and tour guide, Tomas "Tom" Delgado, gives you a quick look around the world of chess in NYC. Shot by Keith Glidewell.'

Shot on location at: Union Square; Washington Square; and Chess Forum, Thompson Street. By one of those coincidences that can't be explained, Chess Forum was featured on this blog a week or so ago: Multi-dimensional Chess Imagery.

10 November 2017

Chess Educators of the Year

This edition of Video Friday is in fact a series of six videos, with promises of more to follow. Since 2004, the University of Texas at Dallas has been making an annual 'Chess Educator of the Year' award. The winner in 2010 was Scottish Grandmaster Jonathan Rowson (wikipedia.org).


Chess Educator of the Year - Jonathan Rowson - 2010 (1:06:03) • 'Published on Nov 8, 2017'

For clips of other acceptance addresses from other years, see Chess Educator of the Year (utdallas.edu). Although GM Rowson's work has been mentioned several times on this blog (see, for example, Chess Psychology/Philosophy; June 2013), it was discussed more extensively on my chess960 blog in Rowson's 'Three Types of Theory' (February 2011).

09 November 2017

A Collage of Chess Collages

If a picture is worth a thousand words, what are two pictures worth? Ten pictures? A hundred pictures? Last month I used a new (for me) technique to explore the topic of Bogart and Chess in Photos. Based on a snapshot of a Google image search, it was easy to reference individual images, to document their visual connections with other images, and to investigate their origins on the web. The referencing goes something like this:-

Let's use chess notation to identify the three rows of six images. Calling the rows 'A' to 'C' (from top to bottom) and numbering the images in each row '1' to '6' (from left to right).

Here's another example.


Google image search on 'chess collage'

The image in the top row, left ('A1') is from Chess club in a collage (chess.com), where someone meant 'college', but typed 'collage', and someone else gave an example of a chess collage. This must be a common mistake, because Google confirms 'collage' before executing the search.

The image in the bottom row, right ('C5') is from Marcel Dzama: A Game of Chess (seesaa.net). The original image is titled 'The Hyper-modern Revolution' (2011), and is explained as 'Diorama: wood, glass, cardboard, paper, collage, watercolor and ink'. The rest of the page is full of unusual chess imagery. As for the other images in the collage of collages they all tell other stories.

As far as I can tell, I first used the Google image technique (I often call it a 'composite' image) in A Contest With No Prize (September 2012). Lately I've been using it more frequently, for example:-

I've also used the composite technique in other contexts, like:-

What copyright issues are involved? I really don't know. Google freely uses the images returned by a search, without permission from the owning sites. If the owner of an image asked me to remove it (which has happened twice in the 20 years that I've been creating material for the web), I would have to research the question of 'fair use' in this specific context. In the meantime, I have a few other ideas for chess collages.

07 November 2017

Reconsidering an Online Chess Database

Decisions, decisions. A few years back, faced with a technical problem, I scrambled to find a new online chess database and documented the effort in a series of posts on this blog (February/March 2014):-

In that 'Choosing' post, I described the way I use an online database to keep up with opening theory. Basically, I start by looking at what the top players have been playing in a particular variation during the last couple of years, then broaden the parameters as the game goes deeper. I discovered that none of the databases could support this methodology and I decided to continue using the same toolset as before, accepting an increased security risk.

The database I've been using, Chesslab, was conceived around the year 2000 and is based on Java. This was adequate at the time, but the times have changed and the technology is no longer robust enough to protect against malicious activity, which is nowadays the primary disadvantage of doing anything online. Earlier this year, Firefox withdrew support for Java, effectively disabling Chesslab. Explorer still supports Java, but throws up so many warnings that I have to doubt my judgement in continuing to use it. On top of this, the downloaded PGN files are not usable 'as is' and have to be converted into a text format that can be loaded into PGN readers.

These days my main interest in online correspondence chess is chess960, where online databases have no value in the opening. A year or so before those posts on online chess databases, in Cup Play (May 2013), I wrote about continuing to play the traditional start position ('RNBQKBNR'). A new tournament will start in a week. If I play, I'll need a database to guide me through the opening phase, but which database?

Looking again at the work I did in 2014, there was one service that was still under development, Chess-db.com. I decided to take another look at it. Indeed, its 'Opening Explorer' is now an improvement over what I found in 2014, and in the direction of what I need. It has a filter on rating, but no filter on when a game was played. Is the glass half-empty or half-full?

Unfortunately, the filter on rating is not up-to-scratch. It restricts results based on the rating of the player(s), but unnecessarily adds a +/- 100-point band around the search. If I'm looking for the current practice of 2700+ players, I don't want 2600 players included in the search, but I do want 2800 players. In addition, the results look dubious. Here is a side-by-side comparison of the results for the traditional start position filtered on a 2700 rating and on 2800.

The results are identical, indicating that something is amiss. Having said that, the ability to go deeper into any variation and see what top players have tried is an advantage. Is this good enough for a tournament section of six games? The event will be the quarterfinal stage of a multi-stage tournament. Because I always prefer to finish what I've started, I'm reluctant to abandon the tournament now.

In the 'Resurrecting' post mentioned above, I wrote, 'As for giving up traditional chess and switching to chess960, I am certain that day will come. It just won't be today.' Perhaps that day is now. I have a week to decide.

06 November 2017

Improve Engine Hardware - Specs

The first step to attain the objective established in Engine Trouble ('to investigate what sort of engine setup I would need to improve my result') was to Improve Engine Software. The second step will be to 'Improve Engine Hardware'. Because the subject is so broad, this can't be covered in a single post.

The best introduction to using chess engines is undoubtedly Advanced Chess - Hints to Get Started in Computer Assisted Play (serverchess.com). Although it rambles from topic to topic, it covers nearly everything worth knowing. The first piece of advice about hardware is:-

If purchasing a new computer, order the largest power supply, speediest motherboard / multi-core processor, most memory, largest hard drive and best cooling system you can fit into the case. Think high-end gaming machine, not a generic or "internet" computer.

In other words, consider the attributes of each component of the system on its own. More specifically,

You will need a "deep" or multi-core version of a chess engine and 64-bit motherboard version of Windows®. And, last but not least, enough memory (8, better 16 gigabytes) to hold the millions of positions generated by an engine.

In other words, the more parallelism in the system, the better. The top chess engines thrive on multi-processing.

You will not be able to purchase such a computer for $500 at Best Buy or Walmart! A desktop x64 with i7 processor (4 actual cores, not 2 cores and hokey hyper-threading) and 16 gigabytes of memory will be more like $2.000.

In other words, be prepared to spend more than you usually spend on computing equipment.

Robert Houdart advertises his state-of-the-art chess engine, Houdini 4 Pro, as capable of utilizing 32 threads (16 cores) and 256 gigabytes of hash memory. There's not a PC in the world can meet those standards (Intel and AMD just began offering 8, 10 and 12-cores in a single processor configuration). One must move up to the workstation class of computer to run that many cores and that much memory.

Before going any further, it might be useful to define some of that non-chess jargon. From Wikipedia's Multi-core processor:-

A multi-core processor is a single computing component with two or more independent actual processing units (called "cores"), which are units that read and execute program instructions.

The 'Advanced Chess' article I've been quoting also mentions a 'dual quad-core machine'. A photo of one is shown below, where the two processor chips are easily seen on the left..


aTCA-6100 Dual Quad-Core Intel Xeon L5518 AdvancedTCA Processor Blade (embeddedstar.com)

The related article explains,

The aTCA-6100 features two 2.13 GHz quad-core Intel Xeon 5500 series processors, Intel 5520 chipset, up to 48 GB of DDR3 memory, and an optional PICMG mid-size AMC bay for maximum computing performance and flexibility.

The 'Advanced Chess' article touches on 'hyper-threading', although used pejoratively. Wikipedia's Hyper-threading says,

For each processor core that is physically present, the operating system addresses two virtual (logical) cores and shares the workload between them when possible. The main function of hyper-threading is to increase the number of independent instructions in the pipeline.

In the next post in this series, I'll go a little deeper into these concepts.

05 November 2017

Marcel Duchamp on eBay

Life is full of coincidences. The previous post, Multi-dimensional Chess Imagery, was about 'Marcel Duchamp in the Village [NYC] - 50 Years Later', and this current post, the next in the long-running series Top eBay Chess Items by Price (March 2010), is also about Marcel Duchamp.

Titled 'MARCEL DUCHAMP : The Chess Players (Schwartz 621)', the item shown below sold at live auction for US $8000 after seven bids. The starting price was $5000 and the entire auction lasted less than 90 seconds.

The description said,

MARCEL DUCHAMP: The Chess Players (Schwartz 621) • Estimate: 14,000 - 18,000 USD • Plate: 437 by 574 mm, 17 1/4 by 22 5/8 in • Etching, 1965, signed in pencil, dedicated 'for Robert Motherwell', dated and numbered 25/50 (total edition includes ten artist's proofs), on handmade laid paper, framed.

CONDITION REPORT: The full sheet. Faint light-stain, slightly darker at mat opening and slight undulation to the sheet. Adhesive residue along the right and left sheet edges on the verso, showing through. The margins with a few tiny fox marks and spots of surface soiling and some slight creasing. The verso unevenly toned, with a few fox marks and traces of surface soiling.

The auction was conducted by the well-known Sotheby’s, first seen on this blog in Chess Sculpture at Auction (November 2016). At that time I wrote,

I couldn't remember seeing Sotheby’s on eBay. The seller's feedback listing was a modest 'sothebys (23); 90.9% positive feedback', with the earliest item going back about 18 months. The relatively low feedback rating seems to be related to shipping costs and communication problems.

The seller's feedback listing is now 'sothebys (33); 100% positive feedback', indicating that the auction house has improved its customer service on eBay. As for the reference 'Schwartz 621' in the title of the etching, Google auto-corrects a search on 'duchamp schwartz' to 'duchamp schwarz'. Whichever term is used, the first result is Wikipedia's Arturo Schwarz:-

Arturo Umberto Samuele Schwarz (born 2 February 1924) is an Italian scholar, art historian, poet, writer, lecturer, art consultant and curator of international art exhibitions. He lives in Milan, where he has amassed a large collection of Dada and Surrealist art, including many works by personal friends such as Marcel Duchamp, André Breton, Man Ray, and Jean Arp.

Wikipedia's first selected work concerning Schwarz is 'Marcel Duchamp: Sixty-six Creative Years; From the First Painting to the Last Drawing, Gallery Schwarz (Milan, Italy), 1972'. Is that the origin of the numbering? Whatever the origin, the Schwartz/Schwarz confusion is rampant in the art world.

03 November 2017

Multi-dimensional Chess Imagery

This is one of those Flickr Friday photos that has little to do with its related story. I could have picked almost any photo from the album, Marcel Duchamp in the Village, 50 Years Later, but I liked this one because of the chess memorabilia on the wall.


Artist Serkan Ozkaya in conversation with poet Robert Fitterman © Flickr user Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation under Creative Commons.

The album's description matches the content of another page, Marcel Duchamp in the Village - 50 Years Later (thoughtgallery.org). It says,

For twenty years, Marcel Duchamp secretly worked on his final art piece, Étant donnés, in his New York City studio. After his death on October 2nd, 1968, his close friends and the world were stunned to find, hidden in his studio on East 11th Street in the former St. Denis Hotel, the completed Étant donnés, an elaborately detailed and beautifully disturbing room-encompassing tableau, which could be peered at through two peepholes upon entering the room.

Four years ago, Serkan Ozkaya imagined Étant donnés as a camera obscura. What if the peepholes weren't only peepholes? (When has Duchamp's work only ever been one thing?) What if the peepholes were also meant to project an image? Ozkaya built a scale model to see; to his surprise, the projected image resembled a face. He further secured the studio in which the piece was originally completed. [...]

That's all very nice, but what does that have to with chess?

Join artist Serkan Ozkaya and poet Robert Fitterman for a conversation about Duchamp's enigmatic final work and contemporary artists' response to it. [...] Chess Forum is the perfect venue as chess featured throughout Duchamp's career, from his early painting Portrait of Chess Players to Reunion, the performance/chess game he staged with John Cage in 1968, and Duchamp frequently played the game in Greenwich Village.

For more about the artwork, see Wikipedia's Étant donnés. Google translates the French phrase as 'Since', but I'm sure there is more to it than a single word. For more about New York City's Chess Forum, see chessforum.com ('Your Gateway to the World of Chess').

As for the memorabilia on the wall, it's not all about chess. Partly visible to the left of the chalk board ('Prices per person/hour: Chess___$5 ...'), is a small poster for the documentary 'Game Over - Kasparov and the Machine'. To the right is a sketch of Ralph Waldo Emerson, whose connection to chess is tenuous.

The large frame under the horseshoe is an an excerpt from T.S.Eliot's poem 'East Coker' (1940), that starts 'You say I am repeating / Something I have said before'. Beneath that poem is American poet Walt Whitman, and to the left of Whitman is a scene from 1886 Steinitz - Zukertort, 'the first match for the title of World Chess Champion accepted by all chess historians'. Other photos from the Flickr album also show walls filled with both chess and non-chess imagery. Who said chess players are two-dimensional only?

02 November 2017

November 1967 'On the Cover'

Fifty years ago, the two major American chess periodicals both featured players who, on multiple occasions, reached the World Championship Candidate stage.


Left: 'U.S. Open Champion Pal Benko, "King of the Opens"'
Right: 'Fine Victory at Havana and Good Tie at Winnipeg'

The first three CL articles were about Benko.

Chess Life

'Benko First in U.S. Open' by William Goichberg • 'The Return of the Ruy' by Pal Benko (Benko - Rossolimo, U.S. Open, Atlanta 1967) • '"King of the Opens": An Interview with Pal Benko' by Burt Hochberg

Chess Review

Bent Larsen, our doughty Dane who scored so well in the Interzonal at Amsterdam in 1964, is hitting the high spots again -- possibly in anticipation of this year's interzonal (being held in Sousse, Tunisia). Larsen won a fine first in the Capablanca Memorial at Havana ahead of Marc Taimanov of the Soviet Union, defeating Taimanov in the process.

He also turned in another fine performance at Winnipeg, but Klaus Darga of West Germany equaled it. The two tied for first, ahead of an all-grandmaster field, at 6-3. But Darga deserves credit for a moral victory, perhaps, as he defeated Larsen and went undefeated himself. Paul Keres and Boris Spassky of the Soviet Union had to settle for a tie for third and four as they scored 5.5 each. Pal Benko of the United States placed fifth with an even five points -- really one up on even.

Benko's previous 'On the Cover' appearance was the CR side of April 1967 'On the Cover'. Larsen's was the CL side August 1966 'On the Cover' in a group photo from the Piatigorsky Cup. His previous solo was the CR side of July 1964 'On the Cover'. It used the same photo shown above and also referred to him as the 'Doughty Dane'. Google search defines 'doughty (adjective archaic humorous)' as 'brave and persistent'.

31 October 2017

October Yahoos

Has it been nearly three months since Yahoo last found a newsworthy chess story? The last one I posted was about Fabulous Fabiano (August 2017), and this month there were two more.

The first story was picked up by many mainstream news sources, probably because it was distributed by the Associated Press. Most of the AP story appeared in the Yahoo summary above.

2017-10-02: Chess player fired by Iran over headscarf joins US team (foxnews.com; AP)

TEHRAN, Iran – An Iranian news agency says a woman who was kicked off the national chess team for attending an international competition without wearing an Islamic headscarf has joined the U.S. team. The semi-official ISNA news agency reported Monday that Dorsa Derakhshani, who refused to wear the headscarf, known as a hijab, during a February competition in Gibraltar, has joined the U.S. national team. Since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Iran has required women to wear the hijab in public places.

The second story was a feature. It was frequently shared on social media, where the level of skepticism was considerable.

2017-10-28: This NYC chess hustler makes $400 a day (nypost.com)

Six years ago, Ambakisye Osayaba made his big move -- he quit his part-time city job cleaning Central Park and began playing chess full-time. Now he earns up to $400 a day, taking on all comers from a 2-by-2-foot fold-out table, chairs and chess board he rolls in a metal shopping granny cart every morning to the southwest strip of Union Square Park. "It’s the best living I’ve ever made," said Osayaba, 59, known by the initials T.C., which stand for "teaches chess."

Back to the first story, the chess press provided a more comprehensive report: US Chess Welcomes Dorsa Derakashani, IM and WGM (uschess.org). And no, it hasn't been a three month lapse since the last of the 'Fabulous Fabiano' Yahoo reports. It was two months between the last Caruana story and the first story in this post. In the meantime there were several Kasparov stories. Good thing we have Garry to take up the slack.

30 October 2017

Improve Engine Software

At the end of last month I wrote a post on my chess960 blog titled Engine Trouble. It started, 'Talk about a disastrous tournament!' and made some general observations about a particularly poor result. One of the observations was 'Insufficient engine power' and at the end of the post I set myself the task 'to investigate what sort of engine setup I would need to improve my result.'

I've been using chess engines long enough to know that I have four specific areas to investigate. Here they are in the order they should be addressed:-

  • Upgrade software
  • Upgrade hardware
  • Link engine(s) directly to tablebase
  • Improve GUI

All of this needs to be within a certain budget, but I would also like to know what I could do given (nearly) unlimited funds. As for the tablebase, what are the possibilities of using a seven piece (or more) TB?

A Google search on 'chess engine best software' returns a list of results in a format unlike most Google searches. There is no count for the number of results and certain top results are displayed above the traditional results in a banner that scrolls left and right. I've seen the format before, but have never understood why it is used in certain searches. Perhaps it has something to do with shopping.

I split the 16 'best software' results into a 4x4 display that reads top-to-bottom, left-to-right in the same order presented by Google, where the most important results are presumably presented first. It works for me in a second way because I've used the four engines that are displayed in the top row


chess engine best software

All engines have their peculiarities, their strengths and weaknesses. I often run two different engines on the same position to see if their evaluations match. If they don't match, I try to determine why not -- which engine understood the position better?

For the next few posts in this series, I'm going to assume that my main engine will be Stockfish. Because it is open source, more information about its internals is available to the public. I can come back to this decision after I've investigated the other points on my list.

29 October 2017

'Chess Behind Bars'

In this ongoing, fortnightly series about The Sociology of Chess, a few months ago we saw An Education in Hustling (May 2017), which featured a video titled 'How Prison Taught This Man How to Play Chess'. This video discusss the organizational side of the same topic.


Interview with Carl Portman on Chess in Prisons (12:48) • 'Published on Oct 15, 2017'

In the screen capture for the embedded version of this video, Portman is holding up a book titled 'Chess Behind Bars', written by himself. He discusses it during the interview. The product page, at Chess Behind Bars (Hardcover) by Carl Portman (qualitychess.co.uk), says,

At a time when prisons are in the news due to increasing violence, drug taking and low morale, it has never been more important to focus on education and rehabilitation. [...] Carl Portman is the English Chess Federation’s Manager of Chess in Prisons. In 2015 he was awarded the ECF President’s award for services to chess.

Also visible in the video behind Portman is the domain name www.chessplus.net. Its home page says,

ChessPlus is changing the world of chess education. Our unique approach is based upon decades of experience of teaching games to develop thinking skills.

Portman is pictured on a page on the site, ECU Chess Teacher Training Course – London, dated 20 October 2017.

27 October 2017

Lombardy Documentary

This video appears to have been published at the same time I was looking for a selection for this current edition of Video Friday. It said 'No views'!


WILLIAM LOMBARDY - WikiVidi Documentary (12:48) • 'William James Joseph Lombardy was an American chess grandmaster, chess writer, teacher, and Catholic priest.'

The description continued,

He was one of the leading American chess players during the 1950s and 1960s, and a contemporary of Bobby Fischer, whom he coached from the time Fischer was age 11½ through the World Chess Championship 1972. Lombardy led the U.S. Student Team to Gold in the 1960 World Student Team Championship in Leningrad. He was the only World Junior Champion to win with a perfect score. After attending the City College of New York for three years, Lombardy received his B.A. in philosophy, an M.A. in ethics, and an M.Div., all from Saint Joseph's Seminary . He also studied educational psychology at Saint Louis University....

The 'documentary' sounds like it is read electronically from another source. At about 2:20 into the clip, the text is the same as the anecdote I used last week from Lombardy's book, 'Understanding Chess'; see that post, Understanding Lombardy, for more.