16 October 2017

Harkness Pairings for the Swiss System

In the two previous posts for this series on early U.S. chess ratings,

I outlined a series of eight articles written in 1952 by Kenneth Harkness. He added a ninth article in the 20 September 1952 edition of Chess Life (CL).

Swiss System Pairings
by Kenneth Harkness
USCF Rating Statistician

The pairings of a Swiss system tournament produce some peculiar results, as anyone who has played in those results knows well. The winner's title may be clouded because he failed to meet some of his strongest competitors. Others place high in the final standings after meeting comparatively weak opposition. A player may shoot up from nowhere in the last round or two and outdistance contestants who played far stronger opponents.

In a tournament for an important title, the Swiss System must be regarded as inferior to a round-robin if the winner does not meet all the strong contenders. However, the Swiss has a great many practical advantages. These advantages so greatly outweigh its known defects that the system is now used in practically all state, regional and national tournaments with the exception of the United States Championship. If a better method of pairing contestants will cure the faults of the Swiss System, the quality of all the present tournaments will be improved and the system can he used for the U.S. Championship itself.

As an example of what can happen, we present in the table below an analysis of the pairings for the top twenty players in this year's U.S. Open Championship at Tampa. In doing so, we imply no criticism of the tournament director. Our quarrel is with the present method of pairing by lot, not with the director who follows standard procedure in this respect.

The table showed how many top players each top player faced.

Rank, Player, Score, Opponents Among Top 20, Opponents Below Top 20

Harkness continued with comments on the table. They provide more detail than is needed for this blog post, but I like the background about U.S. chess in the early 1950s.

Bearing in mind that the winner's pairings are the first consideration, we are bound to ask why Larry Evans played the men who came in 42nd, 47th and 49th instead of three of the strong contenders he did not meet -- especially Hearst. Mengarini and Donovan, three rated masters who performed well at Tampa. The answer is that Larry played the opponents who finished below the top twenty in the first three rounds of the tournament. With 76 players in the contest, the luck of the draw gave Larry three opponents who failed to make the grade later. Being the highest rated player by a wide margin, the U.S. Champion would probably have kept the open title in any case. Even if he had played Hearst, Mengarini and Donovan, Larry would probably have risen to the occasion and put forth the extra effort needed to win the tournament. However, the actual outcome cannot be considered entirely satisfactory. After all, Mengarini beat Reshevsky in the last U.S. Championship!

Below top place, it is clear that some of the men in the list might have finished lower if they had met stronger opponents. Our sympathy goes to Jimmy Sherwin who was unlucky enough to draw the strongest field of the entire tournament. Measured by the rating system, Sherwin's competition averaged 2306 points! Steiner also met pretty stiff opposition -- stronger than most of the players who finished above him. While Sherwin and Steiner were batting their brains out against practically every master and leading contender in the field, some of the other players coasted in ahead of them by scoring against comparatively weak opponents. Needless to say, the players who came in below the top twenty were not pushovers by any means. Many were probably stronger than some of the prize-winners who slipped into the money brackets on pairing flukes. However, all the active masters placed among the top twenty. and only a few of the strong experts failed.

It has occurred to this writer that the rating system might be used to advantage when pairing the contestants in a Swiss System tournament. Based on this conception, we have developed a method of pairing which may correct most of the faults and inequities described above. At present, the method is theoretical. It has not been tested in practice, so it remains in be seen whether the theory is sound With the co-operation of the directors of some forthcoming tournaments, we hope to check the results achieved and report the outcome later.

To use the method successfully, most of the players in a tournament must have national ratings. We hope the day will come soon when practically all players are rated, and we are rapidly reaching that goal. In the U.S. Open this year, only 5 of the 76 entries had no previous ratings. However, we cannot guarantee that this method will help much if you are running a tournament with a large number of unrated players. Furthermore, the method Will prove most effective when nearly all the entries have given us an opportunity to measure their ability by playing in several tournaments. A rating that is based on the results of only one or two tournaments is not necessarily a true indication of a player's strength.

Since the method is based on the rating system, the ranking of the entries must be done by your rating statistician who alone has all the necessary data. The up-to-date ratings of some players may be higher or lower than the published list indicates, and a great many names in our files may be missing from the list. If you wish to test this method, mail a list of all the possible entries, giving their full names, to this writer at the address given in the masthead of CHESS LIFE. We will send you by return mail the up-to-date ratings of players on your list. The provisional ratings of players who have competed in only one rated tournament will be marked with asterisks. Then, about an hour or two before the tournament begins. You may telegraph the full names of unexpected entries and we will wire back their ratings (collect!) adding the prefix "pro" to the name of a player with a provisional rating. For example, PROWILLIAMS 1850 Would mean that player Williams, has a provisional rating of 1850. Please note that all ratings supplied for the purpose of ranking tournament entries are confidential, for your own use exclusively as tournament director.

The pairing method is explained in the following paragraphs:

1. Make up a ranking list of all entries, arranged in the order of their ratings, from the highest down to the lowest. Add at the bottom the names of all unrated players, arranged in alphabetical order. [...]

The rest of the Harkness article, which nearly filled the equivalent of a full page in an issue of CL having only six pages, gave eight steps for making the pairings. These steps -- including advice about the 'fundamental rule' of Swiss system events ('a player must not meet the same opponent twice'), about color allocation, and about unrated players -- are well known to anyone who has played in a Swiss. What tournament was the first to use this method of pairing?

15 October 2017

A Three Day Kiss

After my first idea fizzled for this current edition of The Sociology of Chess (November 2016), I had to fall back on the idea from the previous edition, Only a Million Dollar Game ... show a video. Since the most recent Video Friday, Update on FIDE's CIS, already used the best sociological choice from my current short list of videos, I looked at a few other choices.

A discussion of the recent marriage between Levon Aronian and Arianne Caoili (congratulations to both!), Should Armenians marry a non-Armenian -- the Armenian Chess player story, was topical, but it delved into too many non-chess issues that I don't want to confront on a chess blog. What about another romantic story, The Thomas Crown Affair - chess scene kiss - spin and crossing the line? The video pointed to a quote from TCM.com's The Thomas Crown Affair (1968)...

One of the film's most famous sequences is the chess match between Crown and Vicki, played in the study of Crown's mansion. The scene is played with very little dialogue, rapid cuts and a mixture of extreme close-ups and regular shots. After Vicki defeats Crown, he suggests that they play something else, then kisses her. In his DVD commentary and autobiography, [director Norman Jewison] stated that the chess and kissing scenes took three days to shoot.

...but again I had a small problem -- the video doesn't show any chess; it's just about the kiss. Here's a longer version showing the chess game *and* the kiss.

Chess Scene - The Thomas Crown Affair (1968) (6:57) • 'The chess scene from the film "The Thomas Crown Affair" (1968) with Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway playing a game of Chess (Music composed by Michel Legrand).'

The description said,

While this scene is famous (or infamous), the whole film is great and worth watching. McQueen and Dunaway have charisma individually and chemistry together. Intertwined with a cat-and-mouse game of detective and thief, it's a near perfect film. It was nominated for two Academy Awards -- Best Original Score and Best Original Song -- winning Best Original Song for Michel Legrand's "Windmills of Your Mind".

Some of the Youtube comments:-

'No more fancy first date dinners. I'm buying a chess board tomorrow!' • '007's Daniel Craig has stated that this scene is by far the sexiest scene in cinema, because Faye Dunaway was acting natural and not forcing sexiness. His point proven!' • 'Makes me wish I knew how to play chess!' • 'Michel Legrand appropriately named the classic jazz improv background music to this scene "His Eyes, Her Eyes".' • 'This is maybe the longest kiss I've ever seen.'

More from TCM.com about the music:-

Another hit song from the film was set to the love theme heard during the chess game. Alan and Marilyn Bergman later wrote lyrics for the theme, and under the title "His Eyes, Her Eyes," the song has been recorded by numerous singers.

Who said chess isn't romantic?

13 October 2017

Update on FIDE's CIS

The video starts,

Our main objective is to persuade ministries of education and other educational establishments to incorporate chess, because to get chess into schools all around the world is beyond the capability of almost all national chess federations.

The arguments for chess in school are compelling and are based on Bloom's taxonomy (wikipedia.org; 'a set of three hierarchical models used to classify educational learning objectives into levels of complexity and specificity'). According to Kevin O'Connell, 'Chess is the perfect vehicle'.

"Chess should be used as an educational tool", Kevin O'Connell, Chairman of FIDE CIS Commission (4:59) • 'Role of chess in education; 88th FIDE Congress.'

Although it's been a year since I stopped following CIS regularly on this blog -- see 'Chess in School' Summarized (October 2016) for the signoff -- I haven't lost interest in the subject. For more about O'Connell, see a previous post in that series, FIDE's CIS Chairman O'Connell (January 2016). The Youtube channel that made this video available, European ChessTV, started about six months ago and has other recent clips that are worth viewing.

12 October 2017

Another Chess Metaphor

Remember the post Only a Million Dollar Game? 'Why settle for a million dollar game when you can have a billion dollar game?', featuring a video 'How to make chess a billion dollar game'. Be careful what you wish for; seen on eBay earlier this year...

Billionaire's Fantasy • A Game of Living Chess

...The eBay description said,

Original old French historical magazine color engraving folio print with text on the back (not a modern reproduction) comes from old magazine "La Petit Journal", 1904. The overall size of this print with margins approximately 17" x 12".

The text on the left says, '232 - Supplement illustré du Petit Journal'. Wikipedia's Le Petit Journal (newspaper) informs,

Le Petit Journal was a conservative daily Parisian newspaper founded by Moïse Polydore Millaud; published from 1863 to 1944. Together with Le Petit Parisien, Le Matin, and Le Journal, it was one of the four major French dailies.

Is this illustration a chess metaphor for life in the world of 1904? In today's world?

10 October 2017

Bogart and Chess in Photos

In my latest eBay post, Bogart's MCO, I wrote, 'it's fairly well known that Humphrey Bogart played chess'. This is confirmed by Google.

Google image search on 'chess bogart'

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), we find:-

  • Lauren Bacall in seven photos: A4, A5 ('*' = see notes), B2, B3, B4, B5, C5.
  • The movie 'Casablanca' in six: A3, B1, B6, C1, C3, C6.
  • Miscellaneous subjects in the other five (all '*'): A1, A2, A6, C2, C4.

As for the notes ('*'):-

  • A1: Casablanca Rare Photos (cineweekly.com) • 'Claude Rains watching Bogart during a break', although Rains has been cropped out of the Google image
  • A5 (& A2): Actor Humphrey Bogart and Chess (chess.com; June 2011) • From Chess Review, June-July 1945; the photo on p.18 of the same magazine is Google's A2.
  • A6: We're No Angels (1955; imdb.com) • Joan Bennett and Humphrey Bogart
  • C2: Chess and Hollywood (chesshistory.com) • Chess Review, May 1954, page 131 (the web page has another half-dozen Bogart photos)
  • C4: Bogart with Scottish Terriers; see similar photos with other props.

All photos present and accounted for?

09 October 2017

Harkness Ratings for the Swiss System

Continuing with The Harkness System Explained, in that post I used excerpts from Harkness's own writings in Chess Life (CL), more than 65 years ago:-

[Harkness, CL 1952-05-20] was the first in a series of eight articles under the title 'How the Rating System Works'. [...] The last two articles in the Harkness explanation of his rating system described rules for rating a Swiss System. I'll cover that in my next post in this series.

1952-08-20: '7. Rating Swiss System Tournaments' • In this post, I'll look at those last two articles.

To rate a Swiss System event we evaluate the performance of each player as though he were competing in an independent tournament. No contestant plays against the same set of opponents as any other contestant, so we must measure the strength of the competition each player meets. We do this in the same way as we determine the average strength of a round-robin tournament -- by listing the ratings of a player and all his opponents, then finding the median value. This value is called a player's "competition average." Then we compute performance ratings as described in parts 5 and 6 of this series, adding or subtracting points from each player's competition average in accordance with his score.

The process of rating Swiss System tournaments is summed up in the above paragraph, but a great many of the details have been omitted. For the sake of those who want to know exactly what we do, this article and the next in the series are devoted to a fuller explanation. If you find the description too boring to read, you will have to take our word for it that we go to a lot of trouble to achieve a high degree of accuracy.

Perhaps the simplest way to explain the process is to describe the various steps in detail, using the recent U.S Open Championship as an example.

1. After correcting the usual mistakes in the round-by-round analysis of the tournament report, and after cancelling all byes and defaults, we list down on our work-sheet the names of all players and their net scores. By net scores we mean the points won and lost for games actually played. Although the U.S. Open was a 12-round event, some of the contestants played less than 12 games.

2. The second step is to write down what we call the "work-sheet ratings" of all players whose performances during the previous five years have been recorded on cards in the active files. Each player's rating is written after his name. As described below, some ratings are taken from the records of rating one tournament. [...]

3. The third step is to issue performance ratings to the unrated contestants. so that these figures may be used to find the competition averages of the rated contestants. The process is complicated and consists of three operations: [...]

Harkness introduced his next article with a visual overview of his calculations.

U.S. Open championship, Tampa 1952; Average: 1980
(Column Headers:) No., Player, Net Score, Last Avg., Work-Sheet (1 & 2), Competition, Performance

1952-09-05: '8. Rating Swiss System Tournaments (continued)'

In the seventh article of this series we started a description of the various steps that are taken to rate a Swiss System tournament, using the U.S. Open of 1952 as an example. In the present article we continue the explanation.

4. The fourth step of the process is to issue performance ratings to the players with provisional ratings. This is done as a separate operation so that we may correct the work-sheet ratings of these players before tackling the fully-rated contestants.

When a player has never before competed in a rated event we have to accept the performance as the only available indication of his ability; but we can do something about correcting a possible error in the figure used to represent the strength of a player who has competed in one previous tournament. What we do is to average his provisional rating and his performance rating, then substitute this new figure in the column of work-sheet ratings. We use this corrected rating when finding the competitive averages of his opponents [...]

5. As the final step, we issue performance ratings to the fully rated contestants in the tournament. As a result of the work done up to this point we now have a column of work-sheet ratings that is more accurate than our original list. (The final list is column 2 of the work-sheet ratings in the table above.) We have done all that we possibly can to make sure that the performances of the players with established ratings will not be distorted by mistakes in the ratings of their less experienced opponents. [...]

In that series of eight articles written in 1952, Harkness went to great lengths to describe the mechanics of his system. I've left out (indicated by '[...]') most of the detail and all of the examples. He also considered the use of ratings to produce Swiss System pairings. In the next post in this series, I'll look at his thoughts on pairings.

08 October 2017

Bogart's MCO

Although it's fairly well known that Humphrey Bogart played chess -- he even has a page on Chessgames.com, Humphrey Bogart -- he has never been mentioned on this blog. Thanks to this ongoing series on Top eBay Chess Items by Price, that's about to change.

The item below was titled 'Chess book signed by Humphrey Bogart'. It sold for US $666.00 after four bids from two bidders. The first bidder entered the auction with an unknown maximum bid and a few days later the second bidder placed three bids, finally giving up at US $656.

The description said only,

This is a chess book presumably owned by Humphrey Bogart, who was a 2100 ranked player. (Google it.) The book is in tattered shape but the collectible value to the right individual is "priceless".

Under Bogart's signature are two phrases. Taking a clue from the 'p' in his signature, the first phrase appears to be 'Comparative Chess' (no clue what that means), while the second is 'Chess Fundamentals'. The title page says something like,

Modern Chess Openings
By Griffith and White

Completely revised
(Author of Morphy's Games of Chess, etc.)

R.C.Griffith (Editor, British Chess Magazine; British Chess Champion, 1912-13)
M.E.Goldstein, B.Sc. (Middlesex Champion, 1924-25)

Specially Compiled for Match and Tournament Players

Fifth Edition

Whitehead & Miller Ltd.
Elmwood Lane


This appears to be the 1932 edition. (Project for a rainy day: sort out the various editions of MCO.)

06 October 2017

No Knight Presence

But that could be a (half) Bishop on the left or maybe a Pawn. As for the piece on the right, it could be a King/Queen fusion sort of thing.

Art on Park Ave Chess Pieces © Flickr user J J under Creative Commons.

The description said,

Night Presence IV • This sculpture of welded Cor-Ten steel was given by Louise Nevelson to the City to commemorate her 50th year of living and working in New York. Said Nevelson, "New York represents the whole of my conscious life and I thought it fitting that I should give it something of myself."

Other sources say the gift was made in 1973. Nevelson's Wikipedia page, Louise Nevelson, says,

Louise Nevelson (1899–1988) was an American sculptor known for her monumental, monochromatic, wooden wall pieces and outdoor sculptures. Born in the Poltava Governorate of the Russian Empire (present-day Ukraine), she emigrated with her family to the United States in the early 20th century.

For more about the sculpture, see Night Presence IV, Not Present (full-stop.net), where the word 'chess' isn't mentioned. The game doesn't appear to have had much additional influence on Nevelson's work.

05 October 2017

1967 World Juniors

My previous post October 1967 'On the Cover', had a paragraph on the 1967 World Junior Championship. Quoting from Chess Review (CR),

Puerto Rican Champion Julio Kaplan, who is 17, won the Junior World Championship, held in Jerusalem. [...] Raymond Keene of Great Britain was runnerup with a total of 5 1/2 points; and Jan Timmans [sic; Timman] of the Netherlands was third with 5.

Along with a photo of winner Kaplan, the article included photos of Keene and Timman, reproduced below.

As far as I can tell, Kaplan never advanced to a World Championship qualifying tournament. Keene and Timman both played in European zonals in the 1970s, without qualifying further:-

In subsequent zonal cycles, Keene was replaced by other English players, of whom the strongest was Tony Miles:-

Timman tied for first with Miles in the 1978 Amsterdam zonal, and qualified to play in the Interzonal stage:-

In 1979, Timman finished a half point behind a trio tying for 1st-3rd, narrowly missing qualification into the Candidates matches. He was less successful in 1982, when he was seeded by rating, but starting in 1985, qualifed into the Candidates stage for four consecutive cycles.

03 October 2017

October 1967 'On the Cover'

Fifty years ago, the Chess Life half of the two major American chess magazines got a new look. See last month's post, September 1967 'On the Cover', for an example of the old cover.

Left: 'International Master William Addison'
Right: 'World Junior Champion'

Chess Life (report by tournament runner-up 'Sammy' Reshevsky)

A serious problem arose just before the start of the recent International Tournament at Maribor, Yugoslavia. The organizing committee was anxious to have the event classified as a "1A" tournament, which required, according to FIDE regulations, the participation of eight International Grandmasters and four International Masters. However, William Addison of San Francisco was erroneously considered the fourth International Master. The problem was solved when International Master N. Minev was substituted for Yugoslav Master S. Puc. Fortunately, Minev was in Yugoslavia at the time and was contacted just as he was about to depart. The advantage of a "1A" tournament is that a Master has the opporunity of acquiring the coveted International Master title by achieving a 50% score.

The tournament classification worked in Addison's favor. He scored exactly 50% to make the norm and gain the IM title.

Chess Review

Puerto Rican Champion Julio Kaplan, who is 17, won the Junior World Championship, held in Jerusalem. He looks a fighter and, scoring 6 1/2 - 1 1/2, went undefeated. Raymond Keene of Great Britain was runnerup with a total of 5 1/2 points; and Jan Timmans [sic; Timman] of the Netherlands was third with 5. [...] Most communist entrants boycotted the tournament. Our Sal Matera had an unfortunate preliminary result.

Where are they now? Enshrined in Wikipedia, like so many other chess players of yesteryear. Addison's page, William Addison (chess player), informs that he died 29 October 2008 in San Francisco. Kaplan's page, Julio Kaplan, tells us, 'born 25 July 1950, Argentina [...] emigrated in 1964 to Puerto Rico', and that the World Junior Championship earned him the IM title.

02 October 2017

The Harkness System Explained

My previous post on early U.S. chess ratings, The Harkness Rating System, ended with a direction for further investigation.

This was the first in a series of eight articles under the title 'How the Rating System Works'. I'll look at the following articles in the next post.

1952-05-20: That first Harkness article was in the 20 May 1952 edition of Chess Life (CL). Here is its first paragraph repeated:-

Many readers of CHESS LIFE were favorably impressed by our recent forecast of the results of the international tournament at Havana. With one or two exceptions, which we will hasten to explain now that the race is over, the predictions were about as near as you can come without the use of a crystal ball. [...]

1952-06-05: Following are the first paragraphs from subsequent articles in the series. They provide some insight into the technical underpinnings of the rating system.

The National Rating System, now in operation for two years, is like one of those mechanical brains you read about in the papers. Tournament results are fed in at one end and ratings come out at the other. The machine has no feelings or emotions. When presented with the results of a tournament, it pays no attention to fancy titles. The sponsors may call it a Masters' Tournament to Decide the Championship of Fifteen Counties; but the system adds up the ratings of the players, strikes an average, and calls the contest an 1843-point Class B event, if that is how it turns out.

If you win a tournament you get the highest rating. Others may claim that you were just lucky and got all the breaks, but the system looks at your score. It knows nothing about luck. Never heard of it. Sad to relate, though, the eagle eye of the rating system sees your name as clear as can be if it shows up at the bottom of the final standings. The machine measures your failures as well as your successes. This is not a one-way system. Your rating can go up or down. [...]


If your ambition is to become recognized as a chess Master the rating system gives you the opportunity to prove your ability and earn the title. In fact, the system will seek you out and shout Your name from the housetops. You are listed as a Master if you average 2300 points or more in at least two tournaments, not counting preliminaries. Or you are listed as an Expert if you average 2100 to 2299. Other officially rated players below the Expert division are grouped in Classes A, B, C and D, each class covering a range of 200 points.

In the upper echelons, there are grades of Masters, too. The common or garden variety ranges from 2300 to 2499. Above this comes the Senior Master class, between 2500 and 2699. At the top of the pyramid is the Grandmaster Class, from 2700 points up. The air up there is pretty thin.

Unless you live in one of the big chess centers, where strong players congregate, you cannot expect to qualify as a Master by playing only in local events. You can probably reach the rank of Expert, but you will not go beyond this point until you compete in stronger tournaments. [...]


The use of median values to represent the average strength of tournaments is one of the latest refinements of the rating system. As another example, we give below the results of the 1951 Pittsburgh Metropolitan Championship.

[list of 7 players in order of rating]

The sum of the ratings divided by the number of contestants (13,143 divided by 7) gives 1878 the average, but a player who made an even score in this company would not be entitled to such a high rating. The distortion is caused by the presence of one highly-rated expert among two Class A and four Class B players. In such cases, a median value is more accurate.

Since there is an odd number of contestants, one rating is at the middle of the list. Waltz' 1785 is lower than the top three and higher than the bottom three. However, one player's rating in such a small group may be off center, so we find a better medium value by averaging the three middle ratings. Thus, we add the figures 1922, 1785 and 1750 (the ratings of Taylor, Waltz and Leiter) for a total of 5,457, and divide by 3 to get an average of 1818 points for this tournament. [...]

1952-07-20: '5. Round Robin Performance Ratings'

After the average strength of a round-robin tournament has been determined, each player is given a performance rating. When there are ten or more rounds, the ratings are issued as follows:

1. A player who makes a 50% score gets the tournament average as his performance rating

2. A player who makes a score of more than 50% gets the tournament average plus 10 rating points for each percentage point of his score above 50%.

3. A player who makes a score of less than 50% gets the tournament average less 10 rating points for each percentage point of his score below 50%.

Applying these rules to the 1951 Log Cabin Chess Club Championship, performance ratings were issued as shown in the table below and in the chart [below].

1952-08-05: '6. Rating Short Tournaments'

When a tournament has ten or more rounds, the performance ratings are issued in proportion to the percentage scores, but this relationship cannot be maintained successfully when rating shorter tournaments. As the number of rounds decreases, ratings based on percentages become less and less accurate.

The natural inclination of a statistician is to reject competitive events that do not furnish data in sufficient quantities to use percentages. Fortunately, the popularity of short tournaments in the United States has forced us to labor and bring forth a practical method of evaluating performances in thew contests. A new measurement scale makes it possible for us to rate competitions with any number of rounds from one to nine and opens the way to rate team tournaments and matches, hitherto impossible.

The development of this yardstick required several weeks of unpaid labor in tests and experiments, but the result is beguilingly simple. We just substitute game scores for percentage scores. As before, a 50% score earns the tournament average. but for each half-game above or below an even score, a player gets the average plus or minus 50 rating points. This puts a necessary brake on the number of points that can be won or lost in a short tournament or match. [...]

The last two articles in the Harkness explanation of his rating system described rules for rating a Swiss System. I'll cover that in my next post in this series.

01 October 2017

Only a Million Dollar Game

Continuing with the Sociology of Chess (November 2016), why settle for a million dollar game when you can have a billion dollar game?

How to make chess a billion-dollar game (10:01) • 'Chess is a great game, and people have been trying to figure out how to market it for years.'

The description continues,

I follow it myself, and came up with a few ideas, both in marketing and radical technical changes, that I think would make a huge difference in how entertaining the game is to casual fans, and the amount of money that top players are able to make. Of course, a billion dollars may seem like a lot, but single NBA teams are worth more than that now, so I do believe that chess as a whole could be worth 1/30th of the NBA. Anyway, check out the vid to hear how!

While there are no really new ideas in the clip, it presents a few ideas that have never been put into practice. Here are a few external references from early in the video:-

The main advice near the end of the video is to follow the lead of poker, although with a novel, live-action twist. For previous posts on this blog about the same subject see:-

Perhaps one of the problems in these analyses is the excessive focus on chess in America. The 'How America Forgot' article from 2012 linked above knocks the influence of GM Anand and speculates on the potential of GM Nakamura. Which of the two players has done more to raise the popularity of chess, Anand in India or Nakamura in the USA? Chess is, after all, an international game.

29 September 2017

GM Fressinet: 'In Blitz You Always Sacrifice Something'

A couple of Danes show that chess isn't all serious. (Warning: occasional profanity.)

What's a Top Level Chess Tournament like? (7:51) • 'Outray Chess travels to Berlin to check out a "top level genius fest" (featuring Svidler, Chessbrah, Fressinet).'

The description continued,

We have a talk with fascinating characters like Peter Svidler, Eric Hansen (the Chessbrah) and Laurant Fressinet and discuss the future of chess. The event was World Blitz and Rapid Championship 2015.

The Berlin event was played in October 2015. Why did it take two years to upload the video? If you like this clip, see also Guy uses Soviet Tank to explain INSANE chess game (Tal - Smyslov, 1959).

28 September 2017

Averbakh's R+P vs. B+P Endgames

For the last day the house wifi has been behaving badly, so for today's post I needed a subject that didn't demand too much online time. My first idea was to return to the Aronian - Dubov game from the fourth round of the just-completed 2017 World Cup in Tbilisi. I discussed the R+P vs. B+P endgame in

I knew I had covered other R+P:B+P endgames in the past, but when exactly? Here's a list:-

That last post ('Magic') discussed a couple of positions from Averbakh's multi-volume set of endgame books, specifically the volume on Rooks vs. minor pieces. The Rook vs. Bishop endgames can be extremely tricky and often contain hidden resources. The following diagrams shows two of Averbakh's first (and simplest) examples.

The top position is a typical example of how a single tempo can be the difference between a win and a draw in an endgame. White to move draws with 1.Rxf2. Black to move wins with 1....Ke2, because after 2.Re8+ Be3 3.Rf8 Bc1 4.Re8+ Kf3 5.Rf8+ Bf4, the Bishop interferes with the Rook's attack on the file.

The bottom position (Mattison 1914) shows the Bishop and the King coordinating to stop the Rook's attack. The key move is 1.Be3+. After 1...Kb7 2.e7 Rxa3, first the Bishop limits the scope of the Rook with 3.Ba7 Ra1. Then the King finishes the job with 4.Kf4 Rf1+ 5.Bf2 Rxf2+ 6.Ke3 Rf1 7.Ke2.

All of Averbakh's examples contain equally surprising moves and deep plans. For more info on his books, see

If I can't get the wifi tamed quickly, I might come back to the subject again.

26 September 2017

TCEC Season 10 Kickoff

Fans of engine-to-engine play -- and who isn't? -- know that the TCEC (Top Chess Engine Championship) is the toughest tournament of them all. Many consider it to be the real World Championship of chess engines. The TCEC takes place on Chessdom.com, and over the past month the site has announced plans for season 10.

2017-08-22: TCEC 2017 season coming soon – information and details • 'The new edition of TCEC is scheduled to take place in the last quarter of 2017. Once again the main goal of the championship will be to provide equal and fair conditions for the top chess engines to face each other and compete on a superb hardware. [See also:] Schedule, Duration, Format, Server, Participants, Staff, Finances'

2017-09-02: TCEC weekly update • 'After a constructive discussion and feedback from the TCEC fans, the new season will have the following parameters: [...]'

2017-09-12: TCEC – structure and participants • 'TCEC Season 10 is starting in about a month. Behind the scenes active preparation is going on for holding the 2017 season of the world’s premium computer chess event.'

2017-09-23: TCEC Season 10 participants • 'TCEC Season 10 is going to start in the beginning of October. It is confirmed that this season’s Top Chess Engine Championship is going to be record breaking both in terms of average ELO of the participants and their rating. [...] The top three seeded are again the open source Stockfish and the commercial Komodo and Houdini.'

For a summary of posts on this blog about the 'TCEC Season 9 Superfinal', see Engines, (Google), Korchnoi (December 2016). For the TCEC Facebook page, see TCEC - Top Chess Engine Championship.

25 September 2017

The Harkness Rating System

One of the first posts on this series covering the introduction of chess ratings in the U.S. was The First USCF Rating System (July 2017). The main article in the post, 'National Rating System by William M. Byland, USCF Vice President in Charge of Rating Statistics', ended with

For the long labor of compilation and computation involved in these listings. which furnish an invaluable base for future ratings, we are deeply indebted to Rating Statistician Kenneth Harkness.

The Wikipedia page, Kenneth Harkness, credits him with having 'introduced the Harkness rating system, which was a precursor to the Elo rating system'. Harkness wrote his first feature article on ratings for the 5 March 1952 edition of Chess Life (CL), the same issue where the fourth National Rating List appeared; see USCF Rating Lists in the 1950s (August 2017), for a summary of all early rating lists. Titled 'Picking the Winner at Havana', the Harkness article started,

As this is written the big international tournament at Havana is getting under way. Although the final line-up has not yet been announced. the list of probable competitors includes some top-flight masters from Europe, South America and the United States. This country is represented by U.S. Champion Larry Evans, Grandmaster Samuel Reshevsky, former U.S. Champion Herman Steiner, Senior Master Israel A. Horowitz, veteran U.S. Master Edward Lasker.

Naturally, we all hope that one of our boys will bring home the bacon. And even with the price of meat these days, you can buy a lot of bacon with the $2500.00 first prize being offered by our good friends in Cuba. If our brilliant young champion Larry Evans brings home that much dough he can pay his taxes and still play bridge at the Marshall Chess Club for a fifth.

Good chessplayers being even more consistent than racehorses, it is no trouble at all for your Rating Statistician to lay down his copy of Racing Form for a few moments and give you the probable order of finish at Hialeah -- I mean Havana. Judging by their past performances, as measured by the rating system, the boys will pass the line in the following order:

1. Samuel Reshevsky, USA...2704
2. Miguel N. Najdorf, Argentina...2714

It should be a photo-finish between these two Grandmasters. They ended up one-two at Amsterdam, 1950, and New York, 1951, alternating for first prize. We give Reshevsky the edge because he has made higher ratings than Najdorf in the past and because he is out to avenge the loss of the U.S. Championship to Larry Evans last year. Sammy will play harder than ever to recover his prestige. [...]

A few months later, in the 20 May issue of CL, Harkness wrote a follow-up article. It appeared under the following banner.

'How the Rating System Works'

The article started,

Many readers of CHESS LIFE were favorably impressed by our recent forecast of the results of the international tournament at Havana. With one or two exceptions, which we will hasten to explain now that the race is over, the predictions were about as near as you can come without the use of a crystal ball.

To get some idea of how closely the national rating system measures tournament playing strength, let us compare the ratings earned at Havana with the last averages of the contestants:

['Player, Last Average, Havana Rating' for Najdorf, Reshevsky]

We predicted a photo-finish between these two grandmasters, giving the edge to our ex-champion. An unexpected draw with one of the tailenders cost Sammy the first prize, so be tied with Najdorf.

Note how the ratings earned at Havana confirm the correctness of the previous ratings -- and vice versa. A difference of less than 50 points is negligible.

[Ditto for Gligoric, Eliskases, Evans]

We claimed that any one of these three could take third prize. It was Gligoric who came in third. with Eliskases and Evans tied for fourth and fifth. [...]

This was the first in a series of eight articles under the title 'How the Rating System Works'. I'll look at the following articles in the next post on early U.S. chess ratings.

24 September 2017

The 12th Soviet Championship

I've occasionally remarked that the series on Top eBay Chess Items by Price is often a case of feast or famine. In the previous post, Man Ray Chess Photos, I noted, 'the short list had only a single item and I had to go well under my usual cutoff price to find it.' For this current post I had plenty to choose from, even if I again went under my usual cutoff price.

The item pictured below was titled 'Soviet Chess Photo: Panorama of 12th USSR Chess Championship 1940', and sold for US $316 after seven bids from two bidders. Just after the auction opened, the first bidder entered his maximum price. Some days later the second bidder came in with a lower price. Finding that it was insufficient to win, he increased it gradually over the next day, finally giving up. The first bidder had obviously decided that this was a valuable photo. How high was he willing to go?

Top: The entire item

Bottom: Detail from the item

The description said,

Original Soviet chess panoramic photo from 12th USSR chess championship in 1940. On the photo - Moscow conservatory, the place of the tournament. Size of the photo - 19,5 cm x 7 cm. Please notice that the photo was made by the original author by the process of bonding five smaller photos. Probably that was the only way to make a panoramic photo in 1940.

If you look carefully at the top photo, you can see the lines showing where the different photos have been joined. The description continued,

12TH SOVIET CHESS CHAMPIONSHIP: • This is a photograph from the famous 12th Soviet Chess Championship held in the Grand Hall of the Moscow Conservatory from September 4th through October 3rd, 1940. The 12th Soviet Chess Championship was truly a battle of the titans. Outstanding players such as Mikhail Botvinnik, Paul Keres, Vasily Smyslov, Alexander Kotov, Isaac Boleslavsky, Igor Bondarevsky, and Andre Lilienthal took part. This so-called "absolute championship" is rightfully considered one of the strongest USSR chess championships ever held.

Here’s an excerpt from Mikhail Botvinnik’s memoirs. "It was a tough tournament. There were many participants and very few off-days. The Grand Hall of the Conservatory has excellent acoustics. The spectators behaved impudently, made a great deal of noise, and clapped all the time. The excellent acoustics only made matters worse. Supposedly, Sergei Prokofiev applauded Keres vigorously after the latter won a game. The other people in his box reprimanded him,, and then the composer remarked, "I have every right to express my feelings." Would my friend Mr. Prokofiev be happy if he were playing a trio and spectators applauding the violinist’s performance drowned out his piano piece? Chess players are in a worse position, though. A pianist can afford to play a few false notes amid booming applause, something a chess player isn’t allowed to do."

The results of the 12th Soviet Chess Championship were truly sensational, since two young players, Andre Lilienthal and Igor Bondarevsky, came in first and second, respectively, leaving grandmasters Mikhail Botvinnik and Paul Keres, the tournament favorites, far behind. The unprecedented hype surrounding this tournament matched its historical significance. After all, the unofficial right to contend for the world championship crown, as well as the prestigious title of USSR champion were on the line.

"The most difficult and most monumental tournament in which I’ve ever taken part has come to a close," Andre Lilienthal wrote. "I have no reason to be displeased with myself. First off, my win over Botvinnik himself wasn’t too bad. Secondly, I snatched what seemed to be an irrevocably lost point from Bondarevsky in the last round. Thirdly, I managed not to lose a single game. Fourthly, I wound up in the wonderful young company of Bondarevsky and Smyslov at the top of the leaderboard. A decisive match for the title of USSR champion is up next. I have to prepare thoroughly for it, which, first and foremost, means getting some much needed rest."

Three months after the tournament was completed, on January 14th, 1941, the Soviet Committee on Physical Culture and Sports issued an order approving the tournament results and awarding Bondarevsky and Lilienthal, the tournament winners, grandmaster titles; however, this order was missing a key point, since it did not mention any sort of match between the two victors. That strange inconsistency came to light a month later when it was decided -- through a behind-the-scenes power struggle -- that one more tournament for the title of absolute USSR champion would be held, a tournament Mikhail Botvinnik won.

Unless I'm misreading something, that description is not entirely accurate. The first paragraph mentions the '12th Soviet Chess Championship', and refers to it as the 'so-called "absolute championship"'. The last paragraph implies that the absolute championship was played later, which is confirmed in Botvinnik's book on the 1941 tournament.

22 September 2017

Chess in the Sky

Anyone can see that's a chess King, right? But how was it made?

The world’s a game of chess, and we’re just pawns. Who’ll make the next move? © Flickr user Rasagy Sharma under Creative Commons.

Hint: One of the tags said, 'Bangalore', which is 'the third most populous city and fifth most populous urban agglomeration in India', according to Wikipedia's page on Bangalore.

21 September 2017

Win a Million Bucks

Seen on Slashdot.org ('News for nerds, stuff that matters'): Solve a 'Simple' Chess Puzzle, Win $1 Million. Sounds good to me! What's the catch?

Researchers at the University of St Andrews have thrown down the gauntlet to computer programmers to find a solution to a "simple" chess puzzle which could, in fact, take thousands of years to solve, and net a $1 million prize. [...] Devised in 1850, the Queens Puzzle originally challenged a player to place eight queens on a standard chessboard so that no two queens could attack each other. This means putting one queen in each row, so that no two queens are in the same column, and no two queens in the same diagonal. Although the problem has been solved by human beings, once the chess board increases to a large size no computer program can solve it.

The catch is in that last sentence, 'the chess board increases to a large size'. As the original article, "Simple" chess puzzle holds key to $1m prize (st-andrews.ac.uk; August 2017), put it,

Once the chess board reached 1000 squares by 1000, computer progams could no longer cope with the vast number of options and sunk into a potentially eternal struggle akin to the fictional "super computer" Deep Thought in Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which took seven and a half million years to provide an answer to the meaning of everything.

A related paper, 'Complexity of n-Queens Completion' by Ian P. Gent, Christopher Jefferson, and Peter Nightingale (School of Computer Science, University of St Andrews), published in the Journal of Artificial Intelligence Research 59 (2017) explains everything. But be careful -- you'll need to be a math whiz just to get through the 'Abstract'.

Google image search on 'chess eight queens'

Even the 8-by-8 version isn't that easy to solve. An algorithmic approach of using the Knight's move to place the next Queen -- shown above in the top row, third from left (or bottom row, ditto) -- leaves two Queens on the long diagonal (a8-h1). 'Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?', indeed.

19 September 2017

Chess at the IMDb

In a recent post, Was Fischer Really Against the Whole World?, I referenced IMDb page for the chess documentary by Liz Garbus, Bobby Fischer Against the World (2011) (imdb.com), and wrote,

See also the section titled 'People who liked this also liked...'

That section looks something like the following image.

IMDb: 'People who liked this also liked...'

The eight thumbnails each lead to a corresponding IMDb page, which I've summarized in the following list.

The first seven titles are well known chess movies, while the last title is another documentary by Liz Garbus. As you might expect, clicking on any title leads to another set of 'People also liked' titles. The first film in the list, 'Me and Bobby Fischer', leads to almost the same list, with the exception of the last title, which shows another Magnus movie. (It carries the same name as the current World Champion, but has nothing to do with him.)

For hundreds of chess references from IMDb, see Results for "chess" [imdb.com].

18 September 2017

A Quarrel About Ratings

In the previous post, Ratings Correlated to Performance, I looked at the 1951 U.S. Chess Championship, the first U.S. championship played after the introduction of U.S chess ratings. In this post I'll introduce a small quarrel about the use of ratings to determine participants in that event. The 5 December 1951 issue of Chess Life (CL) included the following letter.

Dear Mr. Major,

I aspire some day to play in the U.S. Championship Finals. I have never had the honor. The only way I know how is to do well enough in tournament competition, so as to attain a rating that will merit an invitation to the preliminaries. This year I thought I did, but I discovered it was not enough. Three of the participants in the U.S. Championship Preliminaries were rated below me in the Rating List of December 31, 1950. I have no way of telling how many others who were rated below me were extended invitations which they declined, or for that matter how many rated above me were likewise skipped.

I wrote a letter of inquiry to Mr. Hans Kmoch in his capacity as Tournament Director. Specifically I asked him the basis for the invitations. His reply appeared to me as a masterpiece of double talk. For example, on the one hand he said that he would have invited me if be had known I was eager to play, and on the other hand that he tried to contact me but failed to do so. Consider this contradiction further in the light of these facts: The USCF had canvassed me more than once regarding my availability and I had always replied in the affirmative. Mr. Phillipps had no trouble at all in reaching me in his drive for tournament contributions.

On my fundamental question regarding the basis for the invitations. Mr Kmoch had this to say: that the Rating System so far has not been accepted as binding for the order of invitations, that the original selections were made by a committee, and that there were subsequent withdrawals and last minute substitutions. No explanation of the basis for either the original selections or the later substitutions.

I present these facts not primarily as a personal grievance, since obviously it is too late to undo past events. However. I am interested in correcting a bad situation.

How long shall we tolerate a double standard in American chess -- a rating system for window dressing and a little black address book for extending invitations to the National Championship Tournaments?

I lay no claim to the infallibility of the U.S. Rating System, or for that matter to any other quantitative method for evaluating qualitative performance. On the contrary, I have some serious quarrels with it. Nevertheless I admit I know of no large equitable method for evaluating relative performance of a large number of players.

Can Mr. Kmoch or anybody else suggest a better way to evaluate relative skill? The fact remains that another system was used in issuing invitations to the last National Championship.

Perhaps Mr. Kmoch can explain it in detail to the satisfaction of Chess Life readers. If it is superior, it can be incorporated into or substituted for future ratings. The other possibility is that factors other than skill were considered in issuing invitations. If so, may I ask what they were?

Jack Soudakoff
New York City, N.Y.

The 5 January 1952 issue of CL included the following article by Hans Kmoch. Although it mentions ratings only once, it serves a second purpose in documenting the difficulties of organizing the 1951 championship.

The U. S. Championship Tournament; by Hans Kmoch
USCF Vice-President and Secretary of Tournament Committee

Two years ago the Tournament Committee, under the co-chairmanship of Messrs George E. Roosevelt and Maurice Wertheim, worked out a tentative schedule for the 1950 Championship, to be held as an invitational tournament, and the championships thereafter, to be open for especially qualified participants. On December 1, 1949, Mr. Wertheim sent a summarizing report of the Tournament Committee's suggestions to President Giers. On April 4, 1950, President Giers wrote the Tournament Committee that its suggestions had been accepted by the Board of Directors.

Unfortunately, a number of unforeseen events caused delay in the 1950 Championship. There was first of all the paralyzing blow delivered to the Tournament Committee by the death of Mr. Wertheim; there was the participation of a U.S. team in the so-called Chess Olympics at Dubrovnik, Yugoslavia, in August and September 1950; then there was the change in the Presidency of the USCF which had been impending for some months before it became a fact. I may add, if it matters, that I myself as the secretary of the Tournament Committee, had been absent from this country for seven months (June-December, 1950).

Our new President, Mr. Phillips, did great efforts to reactivate the Tournament Committee and get the postponed 1950 Championship held in 1951.

On March 1951 the Tournament Committee met and came to the conclusion the postponed Championship should he held in August 1951 with 14-16 participants. On April 19, 1951 the Tournament Committee decided on a list of 16 participants by name. On May 5, 1951, the Tournament Committee changed the schedule for the 1951 Championship in such a way that 24 players could participate instead of 16 while the number of rounds would increase only from 15 to l6.

On June 11, 1951, invitations were sent out to the selected players. As for the additional names, the Tournament Committee had accepted the National Rating List as a guide, emphasizing, however, it had no obligation to follow that List.

The 1951 Championship tournament was held in New York from July 28 to August 19. 1951

During June 11 to July 28 many changes in the list of the participants became necessary, because some of the invitees were unavailable, some made claims which USCF had no chance to fulfill, some needed time to decide, and some didn't answer at all.

As time went on. the difficulUes to get substitutes were mounting. To many players, the idea of acting as a substitute had a humiliating touch. Others could not accept at short notice, while still others did but later withdrew at zero notice. During the last week before the tournament, I had to work frantically so as to present a complete list of 24 players at the draw on July 28. On that day, just before the draw was to start, Herman Hesse from Pennsylvania and George Eastman from Michigan announced their withdrawals by wire. And there was still no answer from U.S. Champion Steiner.

However, I had foreseen possible trouble of this kind and was fortunate enough to find a number of distinguished players who would not mind acting, so to say, as substitutes for substitutes, willing to step in at any moment. The names of the gentlemen who by their comprehensive attitude substantually contributed to the tournament are: Edgar McCormick, Jack Collins, Dr. Ariel Mengarini, Dr. Joseph Platz, and Ed. Schwartz. McCormick had even to wait until the first round had started, for I felt that Steiner's place must be kept open until the very last minute.

The emergency job of looking for substitutes was largely done by Mr. Phillips and myself. We acted in accordance with the decisions the Tournament Committee had previously taken. Our bid to get some of the best-placed players from Fort Worth netted only Jim Cross; Eliot Hearst from New York and Lee Magee from Nebraska were unavailable.

As for our critics, we had New Yorkers who would wonder what non-New Yorkers were doing in this tournament, as well as non-New Yorkers who simply couldn't imagine why so many New Yorkers should participate. We had these who wouldn't mind a few thousand dollars if these dollars were to be produced by the USCF, those who considered themselves second to nobody in importance, those who would blame the Tournament Committee for a player's failure, and those who generally seemed to believe that ill-will was the only guide the Tournament Committee ever had.

By and large, however, the Tournament Committee's good-will was recognized. It ought to he at least as far as its members, Mrs. Wertheim, Mr. Alexander Bisno, and Mr. George E. Roosevelt, are concerned. Sapienti sat ['A word to the wise is sufficient']. The thankless job of raising the funds was accepted and in spite of tremendous difficulties satisfactorily done by Mr. Phillips.

The tournament itself was a smooth affair. There were no incidents of any importance.

Nowadays, the use of ratings to determine invitations is done routinely. When would U.S. ratings be accepted to determine invitations for the U.S. championship?

17 September 2017

Was Fischer Really Against the Whole World?

The first lesson I learned from this ongoing series on The Sociology of Chess (November 2016), is that the subject of sociology can be stretched to cover just about everything. Since chess pops up in all sorts of different cultural settings, there are plenty of sociological angles to examine.

Bobby Fischer Against The World -- Full Documentary (1:32:52) • 'A really inspiring as well as heartbreaking documentary film on Robert James Fischer, who was famously known as Bobby.'

For more about the film, see Bobby Fischer Against the World (2011) (imdb.com). Its 'Storyline' says,

'Bobby Fischer Against the World' is a documentary feature exploring the tragic and bizarre life of the late chess master Bobby Fischer. The drama of Bobby Fischer's career was undeniable, from his troubled childhood, to his rock star status as World Champion and Cold War icon, to his life as a fugitive on the run. This film explores one of the most infamous and mysterious characters of the 20th century.

See also the section titled 'People who liked this also liked...', which lists a number of chess-related movies. This documentary by Liz Garbus should not be confused with the book by Brad Darrach, 'Bobby Fischer vs. the Rest of the World', last seen on this blog in 'They Got Spies on the Line!' (April 2016). The IMDb page on Liz Garbus includes references to two more chess titles by Garbus: Chess History (Video 2011) and The Fight for Fischer's Estate (Video 2011), both running for less than ten minutes.

15 September 2017

Smallest Chess Set?

This might not have the allure of Most Hamburgers Eaten in Three Minutes or Most Pool Balls Held In One Hand, but it's still impressive.

Smallest chess set - Guinness World Records (2:02) • 'Artist Ara Ghazaryan has an exceptional eye for detail, particularly with his latest work, the world’s smallest handmade chess set'

For more about the set, see Check out the world’s smallest handmade chess set (guinnessworldrecords.com):-

Made on an incredibly minute scale, the entire board with accompanied pieces measures a total of 15.3 x 15.3 mm (0.6 in x 0.6 in), a size that amounts to be smaller than a U.S. quarter coin.

Is this really the smallest? Guinness also lists the Largest chess set: 'measures 5.89 m (19 ft 4 in) on each side'. Last year on this blog we saw Chess with Walkie-Talkies (August 2016), which beats the Guinness record holder by a country mile. Hasn't someone already constructed a small chess set molecule by molecule?

14 September 2017

A Difficult Tablebase Position

Tablebase (TB) positions make for an interesting class of endgames. While best play in most TB positions is obvious to a good player, some positions defy accurate analysis even for world class players. A recent example is a tiebreak game from the fourth round of the 2017 World Cup, currently being played in Tbilisi, Georgia.

TB games between top players are particularly difficult to annotate. On the one hand, we can't criticize a world class player for not knowing an esoteric endgame which has probably never occurred in his previous experience. On the other hand, we can't pass without comment on positions where one or both players overlook a winning or drawing continuation.

An additional problem is that every single move by either player leads to a new branch of the TB's tree of variations. The TB doesn't explain the winning plan; it just lists moves together with their eventual evaluations. It is the annotator's job to make sense of the moves played and to explain why they work or not.

Another question is how a position compares with similar positions. If we shift a TB position a file to the left or right, or a rank up or down, how does the evaluation change? Similarly, if we leave the Pawn structure the same, but move the Kings (or other pieces) to completely different squares, how then does the evaluation change?

This blog's most recent TB post was Q vs. 2B in TCEC Season 9 Superfinal Followup (December 2016). For this current post, the TB position is R+P vs. B+P, shown below. It helps to know that R vs. B is almost always a draw.

After 47.Rb6-b5(xP)

Here is the PGN for the full game, followed by a brief analysis of the critical positions reached during the game.

[Event "FIDE World Cup 2017"]
[Site "Tbilisi GEO"]
[Date "2017.09.13"]
[Round "4.2"]
[White "Aronian, Levon"]
[Black "Dubov, Daniil"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "D85"]

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nf3 Bg7 4.Nc3 d5 5.cxd5 Nxd5 6.e4 Nxc3 7.bxc3 c5 8.Be3 O-O 9.Be2 b6 10.Qd2 cxd4 11.cxd4 Bb7 12.e5 Nc6 13.h4 Qd5 14.h5 Rfd8 15.Rc1 Qa5 16.h6 Bf8 17.e6 f6 18.O-O Qxd2 19.Bxd2 Nxd4 20.Nxd4 Rxd4 21.Be3 Rdd8 22.Bb5 Bd5 23.Bd7 g5 24.f4 Bxh6 25.fxg5 Bg7 26.Bd4 fxg5 27.Bxg7 Kxg7 28.Rf7+ Kg6 29.Rxe7 Rf8 30.Re1 Bxa2 31.Bb5 a6 32.Bd3+ Kf6 33.Rxh7 b5 34.Rh6+ Ke7 35.Rh7+ Kf6 36.e7 Rg8 37.Rh6+ Kf7 38.Rh7+ Kf6 39.Be4 Rae8 40.Rh6+ Kf7 41.Bc6 Bc4 42.Bxe8+ Rxe8 43.Rxa6 Rxe7 44.Rxe7+ Kxe7 45.Kf2 Kf7 46.Rb6 Be6 47.Rxb5 Kf6 48.Kf3 Bf5 49.Rc5 Bd3 50.Ke3 Bf5 51.Kd4 Bb1 52.Rc1 Bg6 53.Rc6+ Kg7 54.Ke5 Bb1 55.Ra6 Bc2 56.Rd6 Kf7 57.Rf6+ Kg7 58.Rf2 Bb1 59.Rb2 Bd3 60.Rd2 Bb1 61.Ke6 Be4 62.Re2 Bd3 63.Rd2 Be4 64.Ke5 Bb1 65.Rd4 Kf7 66.Ra4 Bc2 67.Ra5 Bb1 68.Rc5 Kg6 69.Rc1 Bd3 70.Rd1 Bc2 71.Rd2 Bb1 72.Ke6 Be4 73.g3 Bb1 74.Rb2 Bd3 75.Ke7 Be4 76.Rb6+ Kg7 77.Rb5 Kg6 78.Rb4 Bc2 79.Kf8 Kf6 80.Kg8 Bd3 81.Rd4 Bc2 82.Rd2 Bb1 83.Rf2+ Kg6 84.Rb2 Bd3 85.Rb6+ Kf5 86.Rb4 Kf6 87.Rd4 Bc2 88.Rd2 Bb1 89.Rf2+ Kg6 90.g4 Be4 91.Rd2 Kf6 92.Rb2 Bd3 93.Rb6+ Ke5 94.Kg7 Kf4 95.Rb4+ Be4 96.Rxe4+ Kxe4 97.Kg6 1-0

47.Rxb5: The diagrammed position shows the first TB position reached in the game, where the Pawn capture starts a countdown for the 50-move rule. The TB says, 'Given optimal play on both sides, White will win in 72 moves.' The main variation undoubtedly includes moves that reset the 50-move count.

47...Kf6: The first mistake, giving White a win in 47 moves, which is just inside the 50-move rule. For the next few moves both players find the right plan and make the best moves.

51....Bb1 52.Rc1 Bg6: Both players make a suboptimal move. This is followed by a long sequence of moves which maintain the status quo. White fails to make progress, while Black does not let the position deteriorate prematurely. The TB consistently indicates that White wins in around 30 moves.

73.g3 Bb1: White makes a Pawn move, thereby resetting the 50-move count. Unfortunately for White, the move hands Black a TB draw. Unfortunately for Black, he fails to take advantage of the opportunity and moves into another lost position. The double blunder starts another long sequence where White often lets Black escape with a draw, but Black overlooks the chance and plays into yet another lost position. The right plan for White revolves around a timely g3-g4, while Black needs to prevent this.

92.Rb2 Bd3: White again overlooks the win (the TB says 92.Re2 is the fastest) while Black misses the only move to draw (92...Ke5). After this, White plays accurately to score the win although Black overlooks opportunities to prolong the game for as long as possible.

A discussion of the winning plan in this game and an overview of similar positions in other endgames with R+P vs. B+P would take too much time for a single post. I suppose that someone could even write a book on the subject.

12 September 2017

The Not-So-Bad Opening

Remember Alan Lasser, last seen on this blog in Front Page News (October 2016)? On a recent visit to the U.S., I met him for the first time in something like 25 years. We played a few chess games together and he chose one for his weekly Game of the Week newsletter (Warning: double blunder on move 37).

Subject: Game of the Weeks
From: Alan Lasser
Sent: 2 September 2017

Mark Weeks, of the 1975 Connecticut Bughouse Champions and author of the web sites,
- chessforallages.blogspot.com, and
- chess960frc.blogspot.com
chose a small college town in America for his first over-the-board play in a dozen years.  Amused as he was by the unknown variations of the Bad Opening, he still beat me 3-1-1. 

[Event "Skittles"]
[Site "Amherst, MA"]
[Date "2017.08.31"]
[Round "?"]
[White "Alan Lasser"]
[Black "Mark Weeks"]
[Result "1/2-1/2"]
[ECO "A45"]

1. d4 Nf6 2. Qd3 c5 3. c3 b6 4. e4 Ba6 5. Qf3 Bxf1 6. Kxf1 Nc6 7. e5 Ng8 8. Ne2 e6 9. Be3 Qc7 10. g3 d5 11. exd6 Bxd6 12. Nd2 Nf6 13. Nc4 O-O 14. Nxd6 Qxd6 15. dxc5 bxc5 16. Kg2 Ne5 17. Bf4 Rfd8 18. Bxe5 Qxe5 19. Rhd1 Ne4 20. Qe3 Qf5 21. Qf3 Qxf3+ 22. Kxf3 Nd2+ 23. Kg2 Rd7 24. b3 Rad8 25. f3 Rd3 26. Rac1 e5 27. Ng1 e4 28. fxe4 Nxe4 29. Rxd3 Rxd3 30. Re1 f5 31. c4 Kf7 32. Nf3 Kf6 33. Re2 g5 34. Ne1 Rd1 35. Nc2 Nc3 36. Ne3 Rd3 37. Nd5+ Nxd5 38. cxd5 Rxd5 39. a4 h6 40. h3 h5 41. Kf2 f4 42. gxf4 g4 43. hxg4 hxg4 44. Re3 Rh5 45. Rc3 Rh2+ 46. Kg1 Rh3 47. Rxc5 Rxb3 48. Ra5 Ra3 49. Kg2 1/2-1/2

The following diagram shows the opening in quantum format, after 1.d4 {1...d5 or 1...Nf6} 2.Qd3.

The Bad Opening

Alan insists that I named it.

It was you who gave the "Bad Opening" it's name. Back when I had a 1000 rating, a 1200 named Flynn beat me with it at one of those old tournaments at the Henry Hudson Hotel. When I tried it against you in one of our high school board challenge matches you played c6 and b5 and Qa5 and crushed my early queenside castle position in 17 moves, commenting afterwards, "That's a bad opening". I revived it in 2007, in time to show it to the "Invisible Kid"; nowadays, when I see c6, I chicken out and castle kingside.

I have a vague recollection of the incident, unlike the title of '1975 Connecticut Bughouse Champions', where I recall that Alan and I lost the final match. Given that I'm a big fan of 'Extravagant Openings' (see, for example, What Makes an Opening Extravagant?, December 2009, which partially explains my fondness for chess960), expect more about the Bad Opening on this blog.

11 September 2017

Ratings Correlated to Performance

Continuing with Early USCF Rating Issues, the chart on the left, from the 20 August 1951 issue of Chess Life (CL), shows the result of the 1951 U.S. Championship. The tournament started at the end of July 1951, and consisted of two stages.

The event was the subject of an editorial by Montgomery Major titled 'Consider the Rating System' in the 5 November 1951 issue of CL. The rating system had been introduced a year earlier and this was the first major test of its correlation to actual performance.


No MATHEMATICAL system of grading skill and proficiency will ever be quite accurate. for no system can evaluate the deviations from the expected to which the human mechanism will inevitably turn. Nor can the logics of mathematics evaluate and make allowance for the incalcuable human factors of weariness, stamina, digestion and moodiness. Why a master will be unbeatable in one tournament and in the next become the victim of numerous losses is physical or psychological, and it cannot be reduced to mathematical terms.

For that reason the National Rating System cannot perform the miracle of placing players in their exact relation to each other; and it is just as well that it cannot, for if it could predict in advance the relative ranking of players in a tournament there would not be much incentive for playing tournaments!

But the National Rating System can (and does) indicate the relative groupings of players in categories with more than casual accuracy. This is its justification; and the necessity for determining such categories is the reason for its existence. The Rating System does select players in groups and while it cannot with real accuracy determine the exact ranking of players in any one group, it can determine quite accurately the grouping in which any player belongs, when sufficient data is available on that player's performances,

Nowhere are these facts demonstrated more conclusively than in the recent U.S. Championship. Consider the first five players in the final standing. They were Evans (2554), Reshevsky (2747), Pavey (2441), Seidman (2451), and Horowitz (2565). The remaining contestants were in order Bernstein (2309), Santasiere (2304), Mengarini (2310), Shainswit (2444), Hanauer (2325), Pinkus (2421), and Simonson (2345).

Immediately it is obvious that with the exception of Shainswit and Pinkus all the players in the upper bracket of the Master Class (2400 or better) finished at the top, while those in the lower bracket (2300 to 2400) finished in the lower positions. This is what we would expect, if the Rating System lay any claims to accuracy as distinguishing between groups.

The fact that Shainswit and Pinkus were exceptions merely indicates the incalcuable human factor in playing chess which no system can evaluate -- the physical and psychological factor.

Turning to the preliminary rounds, the same general rule was in full evidence. Only one player with a rating over the 2300-2400 series failed to qualify for the finals; and as this player was Kevitz (2610) it is quite obvious that the physical strain to the elderly master was a decisive factor, for tournament chess remains a young man's game.

Within each grouping there is not, of course, the same accuracy. It is mathematically impossible to determine the exact shade of difference in strength between players of relatively the same strength; and the Rating System was not intended to do this. In addition there is the added factor that between players of relatively the same strength there is no conclusive determination possible as to which may be the stronger. Upon one occasion one may win, in the next encounter the other may be victorious.

Therefore, it is well advised to remember that the National Rating System is primarily designed to designate classes of players, and not to determine with precise accuracy the relative ranking of players within a class. That is to say, a player with the rating of 2304 may possibly be stronger than player rated 2325 -- the difference in points may be a reflection of the relative strength of the tournaments in which each has played recently. It may be even the reflection of temporary factors such as indigestion, melancholia, or simply weariness. But the difference between a player with a rating of 2450 and one with 2350 should be a difference in playing strength that as demonstratable over the chess board.

Montgomery Major

NB: This anecdotal analysis was produced some months after the event completed. The next post in the series will look at the use of ratings before a chess event takes place.

10 September 2017

Man Ray Chess Photos

For this edition of Top eBay Chess Items by Price, I had one of the shortest lists ever of interesting items sold on eBay since the last post. Was it because of the hurricanes -- Harvey, Irma, Jose and Katia? Or because of the back-to-school season? Or because of something else?

Whatever it was, the short list had only a single item and I had to go well under my usual cutoff price to find it. The item pictured below was titled '1920's ACME Photo Series (2) Artist Man Ray with His Beautiful Chess Set', and sold for US $299.99 after a single bid.

The item's description was unusually brief:-

Both photos measure 8 1/2" x 6 1/2". They are both in great condition. I hate to let go of these. They are amazing!

Fortunately, there was identical publicity info on the back of both photos. Signed 'Acme Newspictures, 461 Eighth Ave., New York City', and dated 10 March 1927, it said,

THE LAST WORD IN CHESSMEN -- AND THEY COME FROM PARIS • PARIS, France - PHOTO SHOWS: Man Ray, well known American, artist, photographer and sculptor with his set of modern chessmen, exhibited in the Paris Art Galleries. Simplicity is the keynote of this, his latest ovation, each piece being symbolic of its function and meaning in chess. The pieces are wrought in silver, the dark set being oxidized. The transition of chessmen from the earliest pieces of long ago has been gradual. Here we have the final design reached today, with the influence of modern art tending toward simplicity, yet retaining the tradition of that ancient game. • YOUR CREDIT LINE MUST READ (ACME)

The item reminded me of another post from a couple of years ago, Man Ray Chess Set (September 2015), where I signed off with,

While researching the item, I discovered that there were several styles for 'Man Ray chess set'. Exactly how many would make a starting point for another post.

Some time later I noticed Wot a Lot (lostontime.blogspot.com; November 2016; 'Oh no! Another Man Ray chess set.'), which points to Manny (chess.com; May 2015; 'Certain artists or writers are, in fact, known for the inclusion of chess in their works. Man Ray was one of those people.') by batgirl. That last post includes photos of several Man Ray chess sets, where one photo is similar to the eBay auction featured here.

08 September 2017

Bucket Chess

The tags for this photo said only 'buckets, alaska, girdwood', plus 'chess', of course. Can we make a story out of that?

Taken on August 15, 2017 © Flickr user Mike Linksvayer under Creative Commons.

First, does 'girdwood' have something to do with the stumps on the ground in front of the White pieces, or is it a place? According to Wikipedia, it's a place: Girdwood, Anchorage.

Girdwood is a resort town within the southern extent of the Municipality of Anchorage in the state of Alaska. Located near the end of the Turnagain Arm of Cook Inlet, Girdwood lies in a valley in the southwestern Chugach Mountains, surrounded by seven glaciers feeding into a number of creeks, which either converge within the valley or empty directly into the arm

What about the pieces? In Chess in the Park (April 2016), the Glacier City Gazette informs,

Tommy O'Malley repurposed 5-gallon plastic buckets into chess pieces by removing the handles, cutting a hole in the bottom and painting them. The chess board is at Girdwood Town Square and the buckets were donated by local business owners Michael Flynn, Jud Crosby, and Spike and Suzanne Farley.

As for the stumps on the ground, I can only guess what purpose they serve. They are too short to sit on. Do they hold down the board in case of wind?

07 September 2017

September 1967 'On the Cover'

After last month's 'On the Cover', August 1967 ('not a particularly inspiring month for the regular "On the Cover" post'), the two main U.S. chess magazines returned to business as usual. CL featured the top American junior tournament and CR featured a top international tournament.

Left: 'Salvatore Matera : U.S. Junior Champion'
Right: 'Victor of Moscow'

Chess Life

Salvatore [Sal] Matera, a 16-year-old Junior at Brooklyn Preparatory School, forged ahead at the halfway mark and clinched the title in the semi-final round in winning the second annual United States Junior Chess Championship with a 5 1/2 - 1 1/2 score. The tournament, an eight-player event conducted by the U.S. Chess Federation in cooperation with the Piatigorsky Foundation, was played July 10-16 at the Henry Hudson Hotel in New York City.

For the 'first annual' event, won by Walter Browne, see last year's July 1966 'On the Cover'. Browne finished second in the 1967 event.

Chess Review

As someone has said before us, the international tournament at Moscow must be surely the strongest of 1967, even more so than the coming Interzonal. We would of course have liked to see Robert J. Fischer in it, and Boris Ivkov, Bent Larsen and, on his showing of late, Milan Matulovich ought to have been invited. But others could doubtless be suggested including a raft of Russians -- Viktor Korchnoy conspicuously! Dr. Petar Trifunovich has a story on this tournament coming up for us (just too late for this issue) next month.

[The name is 'Stein', Leonid Stein. Nowhere in CR's brief preliminary report is the full name of the winner mentioned.]

Let's anticipate next month's CR report with some links. Chessgames.com has two reports on the event, a 'TID' (tournament ID?) and a 'CID' (collection ID?):-

I should know more about CG's TIDs and CIDs -- but I don't -- so I'll try to come back to this in another post. Another top result on a search for 'chess moscow 1967' is:-

Echoing the CR writeup, that forum post raises questions about the politics surrounding the event. I'll also examine that topic in a future post.

29 August 2017

2500 / 20 / 500

This post is no.2500 on this CFAA blog. On top of that it has been almost 20 years to the day since I uploaded my first page on the World Chess Championship site to the web. The oldest active file on the site still carries a timestamp of 28 August 1997. By another curious near-coincidence, my World Championship blog has 498 posts, meaning that it will reach no.500 in a week or so.

28 August 2017

Early USCF Rating Issues

In a previous post on the early USCF rating system, Master Ratings and Master Titles, I noted,

Between the publication of the second and third lists of USCF ratings, the USCF grappled with a number of new issues provoked by the introduction of ratings.

The third list, published in the 5 October 1951 issue of Chess Life, was accompanied by another long editorial by Montgomery Major that addressed those issues. I've appended his complete statement below, but summarize the main points here:-

  • Restricting published ratings to USCF members only
  • Rating club level events
  • Submitting timely & complete tournament reports
  • Excluding inactive players

Additional details on the calculation of ratings were included in notes to the lists.

Top: Notes to 'National Chess Ratings'
Bottom: Notes to 'List of Rated Tournaments'

Here is a copy of the full editorial.


In this issue we publish the Third National Rating List; and the first feature of it that strikes the eye is the evident reduction in the number of names listed as compared with previous listings. For in this list only the names of USCF members in good standing are published, and a regrettably large number of tournament players have yet to realize that it is to their own advantage to join the Federation. The very simple truth that the growth of the Federation is reflected by the increase in the number of tournaments staged throughout the United Status and that chess activity as a whole has received much of its impetus from the constant (if sometimes intangible) influence of the Federation has not penetrated into their consciousness. So a list that is composed of some 2503 names of active chess players has been drastically reduced in culling out the names of non-members.

Those active chess players, not represented on the present list, may assure the listing of their names in the next list (as of December 31, 1951) by joining the USCF before the end of the year, or by submitting to the Editor of CHESS LIFE a 50c rating fee to cover the second half of 1951.

The second feature that attracted our attention in editing this list for publication was the remarkable fact that there were more Federation members who were not represented on the list than there were those whose names appeared among the 2503 players. This curious fact means, of course, that the backbone of the Federation consists of the unassuming club players who never compete in organised tournaments, yet recognize nevertheless the essential fact that chess must be supported through a national organization to continue in healthy growth and to create the additional outlets for the playing of chess that are so necessary and desirable.

Yet many of these USCF members, not represented on this present list of rated players, should have their names enrolled, for they do play in club tournaments even if they modestly refrain from competition on a state or regional basis. But for them to have their names enscribed on the next listing, will necessitate a little affirmative cooperation from them and their chess clubs. All that is needed is the submission of detailed reports on club tournaments. There is no charge whatever for the service of rating such tournaments, and the cost to the club is limited to a postage stamp and a little well-rewarded effort in compiling and forwarding the necessary data. Some clubs have alertly recognised the duty of the club to submit such data on behalf of the membership; but the majority of chess clubs have not yet realised that either the opportunity or duty exists.

In this connection, it might be well to point out that the strength of the tournament (or its lack of strength) has no bearing whatever upon its value to a well-balanced rating system. Some clubs have submitted data on their "Class A" tournaments and omitted information on the "Class B" and "Class C" events in the mistaken assumption that these latter events wore unimportant. But, actually, no event that fulfills the requirements as to number of rounds, etc. of the rating system, is unimportant. It is just as necessary to compute the rating of the veriest dub that ever pushed a pawn as it is to compile the record of a master. All are equal in importance to the ratings; and a well-rounded ratings system finds the "Class C" and "Class D" players just as important to its computations as the "Grandmaster."

Finally, for a completely balanced system, it is very important that all possible events be reported. as otherwise the system becomes unbalanced and may eventually give undue importance to players in certain sections of the country at the expense of other regions. For this last requisit, it is essential that clubs and associations cooperate by sending in official reports, which contain data that can frequently be obtained in no other way. A newspaper or chess publication report of a tournament (in fact, almost never) contains all the essential detalls for rating.

For example, in any Swiss System event, it is no help whatever to know the final points scored by each player, unless it is also indicated the individual players that each contestant faced with the results of all individual encounters. The total scores alone are absolutely meaningless for rating purposes. Some players apparently do not understand this fact, for they blithely submit for rating the total scores without any of the needed details.

It has been unfortunate that despite the most excellent cooperation received in most localities, there remain still a few blind spots where no cooperation has been accorded, despite all attempts of the Editor by personal letter to gain contact and information, We still hope by persistence to remove some of these blind spots from the next rating, and request the assistance of our readers in doing this.

For example, although personal reguests for information have been sent to these regions, we have been as yet unable to gain any detailed information for rating on the fairly recently played New Mexico State Championship, Vermont State Championship, Georgia State Championship, and the Southern Ass'n Tournament at Asheville, N.C. We have also been unable to recover details of earlier tournaments in Minnesota and Delaware, although we understand that State Championships were held in these states this year.

In more recent events, while we know that in California there were two preliminary qualifying tournaments in North and South California, we have just now received reports on these qualifying events. We have also now obtained full information on the California opened and closed championship events.

We trust that our readers will lend assistance in seeing that these and other events are reported, as well as any events in 1950 which have not been listed in any List of Rated Tournaments. A rating system is a cooperative venture, and it can only succeed over a period of time if It receives complete support from those who play in or manage tournaments. Players in the future, on entering a tournament, should make certain that its results are to be reported for the National Rating System. Otherwise, they may fail to gain their just due for participation in the event.

In the National Rating List as published, there are one or two omissions which may require explanation. For example, the name of Herbert Seidman is missing from the list of "Masters." This does not mean he has dropped in rating, but merely that he has not played in any rated event during the required period to maintain an active status. His name will be restored in the next listing, due to his participation in the U.S. Championship and New York State Championship. Other names of USCF members have been omitted for the same reason of inactivity and will be restored as soon as record of participation in a rated event is received. While in the list of Canadian players, there is the noticeable omission of Frank R. Anderson from the list (notable for the fact that he has been very active in Canadian chess events). But Mr. Anderson has not participated in any U.S. event in the required period, and his activity in Canada is not therefore pertinent. For the reason of non-participation in any rated event within the limits of the system, the name of U.S. Co-Champion Miss N. May Karff is also omitted. Her appearance at Detroit in the Women's Open Championship was not subject to rating because it was an event of too few participants for calculation. Miss Karff's name will, of course, reappear promptly on the next list after the holding of the U.S. Women's Championship in New York this fall.

Montgomery Major

As for 'N. May Karff', her obituary in the New York Times, Mona May Karff Dies at 86; A Dominant Figure in Chess (nytimes.com; January 1998), explained,

By [1950], the woman who had styled herself "N. May Karff," typically without explaining what the "N" stood for, had moved to New York and emerged as Mona May Karff, a name she used when she made a tour of Europe in 1948 for the One World movement.

She was listed on the previous (2nd) rating list at 2086.