Sunday, December 31, 2006
I visited FM Steve Stoyko the other day and he showed me a couple of his most recent games. Despite his occasional health problems, Steve still plays with vigor and is able to conduct a nice attack, as he did against NM James West in a recent Westfield Quad (see diagram above). I look forward to seeing him in action at the U.S. Amateur Teams in February.
Friday, December 29, 2006
"My first goal is to create an attractive, interactive website that forms a community of chess lovers. I want to keep it light and keep people coming back--heavy on photos, humor, and simple chess tactics and strategies. I want to promote our top players to increase their visibility and their chances to make a living at chess.
I have a blog there, and I want to connect things like what I ate for breakfast, or the movie I just saw to chess. I think that with all the energy being poured into the redesigned magazine, Chess Life, and the website, raising the number of USCF members from 80,000 to 100K+ should happen naturally."
Thursday, December 28, 2006
Wednesday, December 27, 2006
Tuesday, December 26, 2006
Monday, December 25, 2006
Hat tip: Scholastic chess Gateway
McFarland & Company has added another book to the chess history shelves: Thomas Frère and the Brotherhood of Chess: A History of 19th Century Chess in New York City, by Martin Frère Hillyer (one of his descendants). It receives favorable mention in Lubomir Kavalek's chess column today and is available from Amazon for $39.95. I suspect it will fit my definition of a social or cultural history of chess, since it discusses the development of "liesure society" in the 19th century as the back-drop for the game's popularity: "Enjoying numerous technological advances, people had free time to indulge in a variety of pursuits. An assortment of board games flooded American homes. By the middle of the century, chess had surpassed all other games with its popularity. The author of three important chess texts, Thomas Frère was instrumental in the growth of chess as a significant American pastime" (McFarland). Another for my wish list. Too bad Santa has come and gone....
Sunday, December 24, 2006
Here's a heartwarming Christmas tale where a beach bum does the same with chess:
"On Christmas Day a local guy named Al Dukes, who lived up on top of the hill above Pupakea, invited myself and another surfer named Johnny Fain to have dinner with him and his wife at their house.
Johnny was a hot surfer and a good tennis player from Malibu at the time and had a great sense of humor. He and I used to hang out together surfing and playing tennis a little bit.
It was a beautiful meal, and we had eggnog, and everything was fantastic. Al's house was set way back up in the pine trees and was a mountain cabin-style A-frame.
After dinner we were sitting around talking, and Johnny spotted a chess set sitting on a shelf. He asked Al if he played chess, and Al said he loved chess, and they proceeded to get involved in what seemed like an eternity of what actually was only one game.
I knew nothing about chess at that time. But it looked interesting.
After they finished, Johnny briefly showed me how to play, and we had a few games. He gave me both his castles and knights and still kicked my butt. But it hooked me on the game. I liked it.
After that we went back down to the beach and found perfect 6- to 8-foot waves with nobody out at a spot called Kammieland. A great way to finish off a nice Christmas Day.
The next day I went to town and bought two books on playing chess and a plastic chess set. I read the books and started practicing on Rodney Sumpter, who I was sharing a house with that year.
Rodney knew how to play a little bit and at first beat me every time. But I kept reading the books and practicing moves on my own, and within days I had him dead each time.
Two weeks later I was finished with the books and had thumped Rodney over and over. Now I was ready to play Johnny Fain...."
Read the rest online at the ocregister.com.
Saturday, December 23, 2006
- 12 ready made mini pie shells (I used two packages of Keebler® Ready Crust® Mini Graham Cracker Pie Crust)
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 stick butter, softened
- 1 tablespoon flour
- 2 eggs
- 2 cups peeled and grated Granny Smith apples (about 3-4 regular sized apples)
- 1 tsp. lemon juice (optional)
- 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon (optional)
- Cream butter and sugar using a hand-mixer.
- Add eggs and flour and mix until well-blended, but do not over-mix.
- Grate apples using a standard cheese grater, trying to avoid getting too much apple juice into the mix. You want nice shreds of apple, loosely measured at about 2 cups. I recommend Granny Smith apples, but any relatively firm and tart apple will do.
- Mix in lemon juice (for added tartness) and cinnamon. Both are optional. Some people prefer the taste of the apple to come through. I like most of all to accentuate the tartness of the apples. The cinnamon just makes it seem more like good old apple pie.
- Fold grated apple mixture into the batter. Don't worry if it gets a little runny with the lemon and apple liquid.
- Divide mixture equally among 12 mini pie shells.
- Bake on a cookie sheet (or foil) for 8 min. at 400 degrees, then 35-40 minutes at 325 degrees or until lightly browned on top.
I made these for our Annual Holiday Party on Thursday and they were a big hit. I adapted the recipe from one for chess pie that I have seen posted several places on the internet. There actually is no connection between "chess pie" and the game of chess, by the way: likely the name derives from a corruption of the word "cheese," either because cheese was often added to the recipe (it was popular among Southern farmers) or because the solids tend to "cheese up" at the surface of the pie, no one really knows. Even if the name has no real connection to the game, though, it is fun to make for a chess-related function.
I've been playing around with apple "chess" recipes of late (see here and here, here and here). I decided to go with apple chess tarts over chess pie because the pie gets rather gooey and is not easy to slice up without making a mess. I definitely do not recommend the pie version if you are going to share it at a social function. But the tarts or mini-pies are really perfect for parties. The only tricky part is figuring out how best to eat them.... Likely I should have removed them from the foil before serving, since people ended up either using a spoon on them (not the best solution) or plopping them out onto a plate (hardly very elegant).
Here's a recipe for "chess cake" that I've been meaning to try. I wonder if that can be made in mini-form? Chess cupcakes, anyone?
The Kenilworth Chess Club's Annual Holiday Party was a great success. No special events were planned, so everyone enjoyed a night of casual play and socializing. Mike Wojcio attempted to introduce a new tradition of "Christmas song karaoke," but since none were willing to join him the idea seems unlikely to be revived next year. Joe Demetrick baked his annual puzzle cake. And I introduced The Kenilworthian's Chess Tarts (recipe to follow shortly), which were a great hit, especially with a particular NM who will remain nameless....
Monday, December 18, 2006
At the Annual Business Meeting, most of the current slate of club officers were approved for another term, including Joe Demetrick as President, Greg Tomkovich as Vice President, and Geoff McAuliffe as Treasurer. I stepped down as Secretary, nominating John Moldovan (The Chess Coroner) to take my place, which met with unanimous approval. I will remain as Webmaster for the club. We also approved the same rules as last year, including the same rules for the Club Championship, which will begin the second week of January. Shortly before the meeting began, John and I played a blitz game (I'll try to post a better version of that photo soon!) You might title it "The Coroner and the Kenilworthian."
To the Members of the Kenilworth Chess Club,
The Club had an extremely productive year in 2006. I have included a summary of our activities below:
The Annual Club Championship was split into two sections this year, an Open section and an U1800 section. This format appeared to be well received by the members, and produced a fair number of exciting games (see Rounds 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and Final). For the second straight year, Steve Stoyko claimed the Club Championship (after a G30 playoff with Mark Kernighan). Bob Pelican won the U1800 division, and Pat Mazzillo claimed the U1400 prize. Other tournaments held by the Club included our annual rated Game-30 tournament (see Week One, Week One Updated, and Week Two results), a Theme Tournament featuring the Reversed Dragon, and a blitz tournament.
The Club partially sponsored two teams in the U.S. Amateur Team East Tournament held in February (see games here, here, and here). The Kenilworth A Team, consisting of Steve Stoyko, Ed Allen, Scott Massey, Michael Goeller, and Brian Meinders finished 21st out of 272. The Kenilworth B Team of Greg Tomkovich, Joe Demetrick, Ray Massey, and Michail Kruglyak finished in 179th place overall. Member Glen Hart scored an impressive 6 out of 6 in the tournament.
Lectures provided learning opportunities for our members. This year, we featured three main lectures. In late May, Ari Minkov gave a talk on music and chess and Mike Wojcio organized a lecture given by Yaacov Norowitz on the Stonewall Attack. In October, Scott Massey lectured on Paul Keres. We also had a study group on the French Defense that was held in the Spring (see French Defense Repertoire, Parts One and Two).
Team matches with local Clubs have now become a major activity for us. This year featured 5 matches, the most in recent memory. These included home and away with West Orange, home and away at Holmdel, and an away match with Roselle. For all of these matches we were able to get together 10 boards, in and of itself an impressive feat given that some of the matches were held on nights other than our ordinary meeting night of Thursday and often involved travel. Despite our overall record of 2-3 in these matches (including a crusher to Roselle), these matches have become an excellent way for members to meet others in the NJ Chess community.
We held a couple of new events this year. The Consultation game that we held in the Fall spanned two weeks. This game gave lower rated members insight into the thought processes of stronger players. In the Spring we featured a theme tournament. The opening selected, English – 4 Knights – Kingside Fianchetto (or Reversed Dragon), was new to many (especially me) and thus gave members an opportunity to expand their opening repertoires. These two events were very well received by everyone and are likely to be repeated in the future.
Greg Tomkovich ran the Summer tournament with great success (see news of Rounds 1, 2, 3, 4, 8, 9, 10 and wrap ups one and two). Now an annual tradition for the Club, the Summer Tournament brings an impressive number of people weekly at a normal slow time due to vacations.
We continue to have a strong presence on the Internet. Mike Goeller’s blog, The Kenilworthian, has gained a substantial following on the Internet. It has been mentioned on About.com, and now gets approximately 6,700 hits per month (with a peak of 11,665 in September). John Moldovan now contributes to the Web Site as well via his blog, The Chess Coroner. The Internet remains a strong way to communicate to members between meetings, to keep less active members informed as to current goings-on, and to attract new members to the Club.
To meet members’ ongoing fashion needs, we ordered golf shirts featuring a newly designed Club logo this year. With the design now made and paid for, we have the option of ordering other items (e.g. bags, hats, shirts, etc.) in the future. (NOTE: We have a couple shirts left over for those interested.)
The Club continues to benefit from having a diverse rating distribution in its membership. Members range from unrated to 2300+, giving everyone someone of similar ability to play or to analyze their games with. Having people new to chess is an important part of the Club. Our fiscal situation remains strong due in large part to the free availability of the Kenilworth Community Center to us. As a result, our low annual dues generally do not make financial considerations a hindrance to joining the Club.
It has been my pleasure to serve as your Club President in 2006. I thank everyone who assisted in suggesting, running, and organizing the various events during the year. I wish you all a Happy Holiday season and look forward to another year of chess in 2007.
President, Kenilworth Chess Club
14 December 2006
The position above comes from the game Thorfinsson - Gunnarson, which was broadcast live on Icelandic TV. In time pressure, Black briefly picked up his King and was forced by the touch move rule to play 37...Kg8?? upon which the game ended 38.Qxg7#. After picking up his King, Gunnarson had tried to play instead 37...Qd7?! There was a much better move, however, than either of these. It was discovered by the most famous American exile turned Icelandic citizen, Bobby Fischer, who phoned in to describe it to the commentators shortly after the game concluded. Can you find Fischer's solution? Full story and game at ChessBase News.
Friday, December 15, 2006
Russian 'Crazy Chess Killer' Charged (multiple other articles via Google News)
A Moscow man has been formally charged with murder in connection with a killing spree where he claimed 62 victims. He was stopped two shy of his goal of 64: one for every square on a chess board.
Father of British Chess Prodigy Cleared (multiple other articles via Google News)
In the sad tale of Jessie Gilbert (mentioned here previously in August), chess was aligned with suicide and charges of rape and incest.
Monday, December 11, 2006
Peter Doggers recently posted a commentary on just how superior Rybka is (it's rated at least 100 points higher than its nearest competitor). He includes a brilliant Shredder-Rybka game to illustrate its ability to see material sacrifices. You can see a great illustration of its endgame technique in the game Rybka-Christiansen at Goran's website. And more of Rybka's games can be seen at Chessgames.com.
I think I know another present I want from Santa....
Saturday, December 09, 2006
The game Rublevsky-Alekseev, Moscow 2006 from the Russian Superfinal (going on now) offers an excellent illustration of White's latent attacking possibilities in some of the Rossolimo-type positions that can arise from the Two Knights Sicilian. In some ways, the positions resemble those that can emerge from Sutovsky's Anti-Rubinstein line in the Spanish Four Knights, demonstrating the kinship that makes both part of the Knightmare Repertoire.
Friday, December 08, 2006
Suggested solutions to the human error problem include giving the human more time, the ability to move pieces around on an analysis board (which the computer is basically allowed to do), or access to a database (which the computer has built in). All this points to the idea of pitting an unaided correspondence player against the computer. Though this would hardly be as interesting for the audience, it may be the best challenge for the computer programmers and something they are more likely to learn something from than the inevitable blunder-fest that staged matches have become.
Thursday, December 07, 2006
There is an excellent essay by Sarah Beth Cohen titled "Chess: Romance, Love, and Sex" at her blog. It offers a wide-ranging survey of the ways chess has been associated with relations between men and women, both throughout history and across all sorts of media (from medieval poems to contemporary films). The collection of advertising images alone is worth the visit. Of course, Cohen might add how Gormally-gate made us ponder chess as "sex by other means," or how the Britney Spears / Kevin Federline debacle gave us the phrase, "They did nothing all day but have sex - and play the odd game of chess." But she makes her case, and suggests why women might be put off from attending a chess club: playing with men just seems a bit too intimate. If only they knew the truth... As Cohen quotes Bobby Fischer: "Chess is better than sex."
Wednesday, December 06, 2006
There are some wonderful tributes on the web to David Bronstein (who passed away yesterday in Minsk), including by Mark Crowther at TWIC, Peter Doggers at his Doggers-Schaak blog, and Ben Finegold at his blog. Today there is an obituary in The New York Times by Dylan Loeb McClain. There will likely be others in the coming days.
Silman's site is full of treasures for any willing to take the time to poke around in his archive. Among my favorite pieces have been those by Joel Benjamin on the Tango and Anti-Sicilians (often mentioned here), a free Chigorin Defense e-Book by Dr. Manuel Gerardo Monasterio, Larry Christiansen's "How to Attack" series, Georgi Orlov's articles on the Middlegame and Endgame, a great collection of articles on opening theory, an incredible collection of book reviews, and too much other good stuff to mention -- all by noted players and authors.
Tuesday, December 05, 2006
I recently posted my analysis of Guseinov's Anti-Paulsen Gambit complete with a PGN file so that you can continue on your own (which you will need to do in some lines where things remain a bit murky for me). The position above arises after 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.Nc3 (I typically reverse the order of the Knights with 2.Nc3 e6 3.Nf3 to allow the Grand Prix against some Black choices) 3...a6 4.g3 b5 5.d4 cxd4 6.Nxd4 Bb7 7.Bg2 Nf6 8.O-O! b4 9.Na4 Bxe4 10.Bxe4 Nxe4 11.Re1 d5(?) 12.c4! dxc3 13.Nxc3 Nxc3 (see diagram). And now GM Gadir Guseinov has analyzed a stunning novelty to a clear advantage for White (at least a pawn plus against perfect play by Black, but often much more).
Can you imagine what that move might be?
My analysis of this line is an important addition to my notes on the Two Knights Sicilian (see Part One, Part Two, and Part Three). I think you'll find it fits nicely with the Grand Prix Attack (see my Grand Prix Attack Bibliography and Grand Prix Attack, Explained) as part of the overall Knightmare Repertoire as a way of meeting some of Black's better anti-Grand Prix set-ups.
Against Black's Paulsen move order (with 1.e4 c5 2.Nc3 e6 or 2...a6), the Grand Prix Attack does not work out so well, so White needs some other system to supplement it. I had previously relied upon a transposition to the traditional Closed Sicilian (as illustrated in my game from last year against Ken Chieu), which is often recommended when Black plays an early ...a6, since that move is usually not necessary in the Closed and therefore looks like a wasted tempo. But it's hard to take advantage of a wasted tempo in a closed opening and, more recently, I have had trouble finding an edge for White against the Instant French Set-up with 1.e4 c5 2.Nc3 e6 3.f4 d5! followed by ...dxe4.
Finding little in the Grand Prix against 2...e6, I began playing 1.e4 c5 2.Nc3 e6 3.Nf3, when White gets a nice edge against the frequently-played 3...d5?! after 4.exd5 exd5 5.Bb5+ etc. and can transpose to some interesting lines of the Bb5 Sicilian after 3...Nc6 4.Bb5 or play the fianchetto lines with 4.g3--only later deciding whether to go into Open Sicilian territory with d4 or to stay in a sort of Closed Sicilian with Nf3 (as described by Joel Benjamin in Part Four and Five of his Anti-Sicilian series at the JeremySilman website).
Of course, if Black plays 3...a6 (or even 1.e4 c5 2.Nc3 a6 followed by 3...e6, which I see frequently) then I more or less have to fianchetto the Bishop if I want to avoid Sicilian main lines. And since I do find I prefer the open games to the slow maneuvering of the Closed Sicilian, I generally try to play an early d4. Hence my interest in Guseinov's Anti-Paulsen Gambit, which seems an absolute necessity to master if I am going to continue on this course.... For those put off by the murkier lines, I have included some coverage of Benjamin's recommended lines, but you'll have to see his articles to supplement my notes if that is your choice.
If anyone has some additional analysis they would like to share (either in the Comments section or via e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org), I welcome it since some lines have me stumped.
Friday, December 01, 2006
Black to play.
The recent Tal Memorial Tournament marked the 70th Anniversary of Mikhail Tal's birth (November 9, 1936), and there have been several remembrances of the great attacking genius and former World Champion, including a nice article yesterday by Dominic Lawson ("Computers have power but they can't dance.") There was also a nice birthday remembrance by Frederic Friedel at ChessBase News ("The Immortality of Mikhail Tal") and the classic online bio by Terry Crandall ("Mikhail Tal, The Game is Afoot") -- the latter of which recounts Tal's famous story of trying to calculate a deep piece sacrifice only to find himself imagining what it would be like to drag a hippopotamus out of the marsh....
Here is a trio of intuitive Knight sacs by the Magician from Riga from Chessgames.com:
Tuesday, November 28, 2006
Monday, November 27, 2006
I am still not sure I believe it. But, yes, it is true. The worst ever blunder by a World Champion--and by the man considered the least blunder-prone of any champion in history--was committed today before a stunned and saddened chess world. After demonstrating for the second time that a human could still get slightly the better of a machine (while holding the draw in hand), Vladimir Kramnik walked into a mate in one. Incredible. See the story at the Daily Dirt Chess Blog, the Susan Polgar Chess Blog, or the official Kramnik vs. Deep Fritz match website.
We should mention that in Chess Notes #3686, Edward Winter established (based on signature) that the correct spelling of Spielmann's first name was actually "Rudolf" and not "Rudolph."
Tuesday, November 21, 2006
Chess Opening Links
I have been planning to update my links to opening analysis, because I noticed recently that it has accumulated quite a few broken links and I know there is lots of new stuff to add since my last update (including practically everything I've written at my blog!) Unfortunately, I did not think to organize my listings by ECO codes, which would have made it much easier to use (especially those not familiar with the English names for the openings they like.) It is still a very good resource.
World Chess Links: Theory
Follow the links on the left to navigate to either general resources or links to specific opening lines, by ECO categories and common names. Then be sure to use the page buttons to access everything. This is a very strong and deep site with more information than my own. It is relatively new (less than a year old), so most of the links are fresh and good.
Described as a directory or a database of opening analysis links, this seems a very promising site, only recently re-opened. They also publishe some original analysis, including an excellent and detailed article on the Alekhine's Defense, Two Pawns Attack.
The Chess Portal (Schackporalen): Chess Theory: Specific Openings
One of the better links collections, but like my own rather out of date. Written in multiple languages.
I think my own site is more up to date than this one, which means it is very out of date indeed.
MECCA - CLINK! - Click the link - Theory: Openings
This one also seems a bit out of date, but it does offer lots of links.
Saturday, November 18, 2006
I have lately begun playing the Two Knights Defense as Black more often than I do as White, and was surprised by how often I've had to face the Perreux Variation (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6 4.d4 exd4 5.Ng5). I suppose it is what I deserve for having popularized it with my website.... I now think the line basically stinks, but it is certainly hard to prove in blitz games, where sharp tactics, a good memory for theory, and a bit of nerve can change a bad opening into a winning middlegame. My recent game with "joesixpack" was more proof, however, that the Perreux should be laid to rest...
Friday, November 17, 2006
Monday, November 13, 2006
Most chess historians are like scientists bent over their lab tables; they rarely step back to view the larger meaning of their subject or to find ways of communicating their insights to non-specialists. It often takes an outsider to construct a paradigm that can help interpret the insiders' knowledge for the rest of us. In his excellent new book, The Immortal Game: A History of Chess, or How 32 Carved Pieces on a Board Illuminated Our Understanding of War, Art, Science, and the Human Brain (Doubleday 2006), David Shenk serves that outsider's role, and he demonstrates a remarkable capacity for explaining the power of our game for both masters and the masses, even though he admits to playing it himself no better than Paul Morphy's romantic contemporaries. He succeeds because his thesis is large enough in scope to frame the full sweep of chess history. Put simply, he argues that chess offers a model, metaphor, problem, or symbol that is complex enough to help people comprehend their world in important ways. His thesis thus not only explains why chess has fascinated us throughout history but also offers an implicit argument for why chess will be useful in the future, despite the fact that computers are already better at it than all but the best human players.
If anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss claimed that "animals are good to think with" (especially among hunter-gatherers), Shenk would claim that chess is even better (especially for those living in large, complex societies), and he traces how multiple generations have used the game as a model for explaining their world. Along the way, he touches on some of the following ways that the game has been an aid to human thought and expression:
- Chess offered kings used to bloody conflict over land a powerful model for the "bloodless war" of diplomacy.
- Understood the way Philidor saw it, where "pawns are the soul of chess," the game offered a social model where everyone, including the most lowly, could see themselves as making important contributions to society.
- Its dialogic and dualistic nature helps to train the healthy mind to understand the world and anticipate the motives of others, but it equally can cause a psychologically disturbed player's undoing, offering a vehicle for schizophrenic cleavage from reality or for delusional paranoia (after all, in chess someone really is always out to get you).
- It "became a symbol of nationalistic pride for totalitarian regimes seeking to prove their moral and intellectual superiority" (163).
- It provided modern artists with a powerful symbol for the type of abstract and complex (even difficult) aesthetic experience that they wished to convey in their art.
- It provided a perfect problem for computer scientists seeking to improve the ways that computers solved problems, with the goal of duplicating or perfectly imitating human intelligence.
Though his book explores complex ideas like these, it remains accessible even for those who barely know more than the way the pieces move. After all, Shenk is an experienced writer of creative non-fiction, and he knows how to present even technical material without making it boring. His style is very engaging and readable. He also has lent his book two narrative elements -- one personal and one historical -- that help carry the reader along and stitch the chapters together.
The personal element gives our chess-outsider author an insider's credential: his great great (and maybe great great again) grandfather on his mother's side was Samuel Rosenthal, one of the better (if lesser known) players of the nineteenth century (see pictures above). Rosenthal lost a few more spectacular games than he won, including Rosenthal-Steinitz, Vienna 1873 which is featured in a lecture at our website. Shenk's personal narrative of trying to understand his distant ancestor's legacy not only helps him move from chapter to chapter, it also gives him a place to stand and a personal voice in telling the story (what rhetoricians might call his "ethos" or ethical claim to the tale).
The second narrative element, while somewhat more artificial (except for the fact that it lends the book its rich title) is the interspersed discussion of "The Immortal Game" itself, Anderssen - Kieseritsky 1851, which is annotated between the chapters with a diagram for each move. The story of this game carries the book from beginning to end and helps to lend it a narrative unity to supplement the conceptual unity created by his overarching motif of chess as multivalent metaphor.
The book is a great success and, given its vigorous promotion, is bound to do well in the marketplace, especially during the upcoming holiday season. Where it may not do as well is among chess historians, but I think it would be a mistake for the members of that tribe to dismiss it for being popular. They would instead do well to use it as a guide to the type of socially and culturally engaged history that might win chess a more prominent place both in the academy and in the wider market.
If some reject Shenk's book, it may be because it is not in the style of chess writing that we know well, even though it is a style we should know better. We might divide chess historians into four types: the "lorists," the theorists, the archivists, and the social or cultural historians of the game. Shenk is one of these last and he therefore is in the small company of those who have made chess understandable outside its own narrow paradigms. The other three make up the bulk of what we think of as chess history.
- Lorists include Fred Reinfeld (The Treasury of Chess Lore and The Human Side of Chess) and Edward Lasker (The Adventure of Chess) among others. They are our early story-tellers, often spinning yarns about the players of the past drawn from first-hand experience or oral tradition in order to promote them as heroes for the next generation. They work with anecdotes to make historical personalities both humanized and super-human. You might say they are really precursors to modern historians since they generally do not check their facts very carefully or use end notes.
- Theorists include Imre Konig (Chess from Morphy to Botwinnik), Anthony Saidy (March of Chess Ideas), Max Euwe (The Development of Chess Style), R.N. Coles (Dynamic Chess), and Garry Kasparov (My Great Predecessors). These writers explain historical developments in the way the game was played, tracing the various schools of chess that have grown up over time (from "Romantic" to "Hypermodern" for instance), and thus offering a historical understanding that might actually help improve your game, since the development of the individual player usually retraces the development of chess theory itself (ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny).
- Archivists include Edward Winter (Chess Facts and Fables), John S. Hilbert (Shady Side: The Life and Crimes of Norman T. Whitaker and Young Marshall), and Olimpiu Urcan, among others. These writers are focused on unearthing game scores, photographs, forgotten opening theory, and confirmed factual information about the players of the past, often in direct contradiction of their lorist predecessors. They are doing the very important work of laying a foundation for the theorists and the social historians, but they typically assume a very limited field of observation and are more focused on excavating historical information (especially the ever elusive game scores) than on generating usable knowledge or social context to explain their findings to a non-specialist reader. I would characterize my own attempts at historical opening research (discussed in Chess Restoration and the Usable Past, An Opening Novelty from 1923, and my series on The Panther) as archival work. So I certainly do not mean to disparage my fellow archivists. But I think we would all benefit if more archivists tried to write larger narratives of the social or cultural type.
- Social or cultural histories of chess, such as Shenk's wonderful book, are a little harder to classify or organize, mostly because there have been so few. The most compelling of these is probably Marilyn Yalom's The Birth of the Chess Queen, which argues that the changes in the Queen's powers in chess coincided with an important moment in European history where real queens ruled and women had increasing power within the culture (especially due to changing rituals of courtship). Her book found a relatively wide audience (with a sales rank comparable to Kasparov's) yet also was accepted as valid academic work. Other social or cultural considerations of the game might include Alexander Cockburn's Idle Passion (which combines Freudian and Marxist explanatory systems), George Steiner's Fields of Force (which does an excellent job of using the Fischer-Spassky match to review the history of the game and of the championship), Jennifer Shahade's Chess Bitch (which chronicles the history of women's chess through the lives of its most important players), and perhaps J.C. Hallman's The Chess Artist (though this last is more a travel-log with some history thrown in). I might include Tom Standage's The Turk or David Edmonds and John Eidinow's Bobby Fischer Goes to War, which at least allude to social or cultural history, but both fell a bit short of exploring the larger social dimensions of their subjects and tended more toward the archivist. One would expect Edmonds and Eidinow, for example, to tell us more about how the Cold War influenced the interpretation of the Fischer-Spassky match in the media. Instead, we get more of a focus on the players themselves and their individual stories, as though they were the ones who made history.
Part of why we do not have many social histories of chess is that chessplayers have always been heavily invested in the individualist ethos. The seemingly sui-generis Bobby Fischer is our modern anti-hero because he seems to have stood alone against his cultural moment and, if anything, bulldozed his way across the historical landscape with no regard for the prior features of its terrain. Readers seem to crave the stories of the "Great Predecessors," following the "great man" theory of history, accepting that it was the singular achievements of a few forefathers (rather than the organized behavior of many players and writers) as giving us the game as we have it. Chessplayers are all, at heart, libertarians and want, most of all, to be left alone so they can study or play, practically in rejection of (or retreat from) the larger society. The stories of our heroes feed into that self-isolating tendency and keep our historical literature from reaching a broader audience who might have only a passing interest in the game (or intense interest long past and waiting some revival by the right book).
What stories might our most pre-eminent chess historians tell if they attempted to write the larger social narratives associated with our game? And to what uses could that type of history be put? I can think of many. For now, here are three topics or questions that interest me, and about which I might some day get around to writing:
(1) A historical analysis of how the world chess championship as it has been received and written about within the framework of global politics, from the French-English power struggles of the 18th-19th Centuries (as mirrored in Labourdonnais - McDonnell and Staunton - Saint-Amant) to the emerging U.S. cultural power in opposition to the British empire (reflected in the non-match between Morphy and Staunton) to the Soviet-American Cold War conflict (as reflected in the reception of the Fischer-Spassky match). Such a study might conclude with a reflection of how, in this post-statist moment, many petty dictators of "failed states" (including Kirsan of Kalmykia) use chess to create an image of authority in front of their people and to project a falsely legitimate image on the world stage.
(2) Chess and philanthropy: What lessons does the role of philanthropy in chess, especially in the U.S., have for how chess philanthropy might be cultivated today? I am thinking especially about the New York philanthropists who aided Frank Marshall in founding the Marshall Chess Club or those that supported the Alamac Hotel tournaments (from New York 1924 to Lake Hopatcong 1923 and 1926). We might also examine the group that sponsored the Rosenwald events.
(3) A journalistic consideration of the positive role that chess has played in the lives of academics, many of whom abandoned the game as young people after achieving sigificant success. Does chess train young people to solve complex problems or are the people most capable of solving complex problems most attracted to chess? And in what ways does training in chess affect the sort of projects or areas of specialization that chess-playing academics choose?
As Shenk suggests, the castle gate that surrounds our game presents a high barrier for would-be players and readers. Though the basic rules might be learned in an hour, it can take many years to play even a halfway decent game. At the same time, a large number of people enjoy the game and enjoy reading about it, and it can be a great vehicle for learning more about history in general. As Shenk argues, chess offers a powerful model of society in miniature, so that a focused consideration of its role in history could provide just the tool for encapsulating the past in comprehensible and useful ways. I hope this small essay inspires some to take on that task.
The Chess Coroner has posted a java-replay and zipped PGN of the completed and annotated consultation game played at the Kenilworth Chess Club during its last two meetings. The critical moment occured (as it often does) at the adjournment, when the Black team did not correctly choose 25....d4! (as suggested later by our reader, Patrick), after which Black appears to have an advantage, but instead chose 25....Ng5? after which White exchanged dark squared Bishops with 26.Bd4! and dominated the critical d4-square. Note that, in the diagram above from the end of the game, it's from that same d4-square that the White Knight launches into the attack (hint, hint).
I was in Chicago for a conference and so was unable to see the end of the game myself. But reports all around are that the consultation game was a very successful experiment and one likely to be repeated next year.
Sunday, November 12, 2006
An Editor's note appended to the column says, "The Chess column will continue. A permanent successor to Robert Byrne has not yet been named." Several candidates come to mind, most notably super-blogger GM Susan Polgar, NY Times chess writer Dylan Loeb McClain (who did an excellent job of covering the recent World Championship match), pro-poker player and New York Masters director IM Greg Shahade, chess writer WGM Jennifer Shahade, author GM Eugene Perelshteyn, and super chess organizer and promoter GM Maurice Ashley....
Any other suggestions from my readers?
Some Additional Thoughts
After making the post above, I had some further ideas and thought I'd make a few comments about the future of newspaper chess columns generally. In this age of live chess broadcast on ICC and elsewhere, rapidly updated chess databases, mutliple sources of rapidly published chess analysis (even in video format), and chess bloggers of every stripe, you have to wonder what the best format for a chess column would be in the current climate.
One things is certain: GM Byrne's column, which had been very important (and twice-weekly) when he first began writing it had more recently become an afterthought for most chessplayers. There are at least three reasons for that.
First, it was simply too slow to have news value, often publishing games that had been contested over a month before. Ljubomir Kavalek's column at the Washington Post, meanwhile, often features games that were played a week ago or less. I have noticed a few occasions where his column features a game played on the weekend, and his column comes out Monday! Pretty amazing turn-around time and about equivalent to what you'd expect from a blog.
Second, his notes were generally very superficial. On some occasions, I have found them completely worthless, especially when I've already seen much better notes weeks before on the web. It used to be that the value of a chess column was mostly in the games themselves. But now, with all major international games available quickly on the internet, you can pretty much find major game scores -- often with commentary or analysis. So, if a column is going to stick to major games available from other sources, the notes become pretty important.
Third, there was very little news value in Byrne's column. If you compare the columns at the Post or LA Times, you'll see that they regularly feature recent chess news even when the game under review is not related to the most current events. The lack of news and notes in Byrne's columns arose, in part, because of his format--often opening with a long prelude devoted to drawing the moral lesson from the game at hand. That left no room for what was happening around the world.
Byrne's column was conceived in the pre-internet age (even the pre-computer age!) and has not changed to keep up with the times. I'd say just look at Kavalek's column in the Washington Post if you want to see something really excellent and relevant in a chess column. Everyone reads that. And I think he has won the Chess Journalist's of America award for a chess column several years running. Kavalek seems to be doing a much better job of showing that the weekly chess column can be relevant and worthwhile. If the Times wants to do the traditional chess column right, one easy way would be to woo Kavalek away from the Post...
But I think there are other ways they could make a chess column that was still relevant for the internet age. Here are three suggestions:
1) The "New York" chess column. The City is, after all, one of the centers of the chess universe -- and certainly the center of chess in the U.S. Why not feature relatively local, NY or regional games in regional events? The LA Times does that pretty often. And if you look at the great classic columns, like the Brooklyn Eagle columns of Herman Helms for many years at the beginning of the 20th century (especially great in the 1920s) you'd find a wonderful model for the coverage of local chess news. A New York chess column could be both international and local, featuring recent international news and a local game that you are not likely to see annotated elsewhere on the web (or even found on the web, since many local games never make the news or even the databases).
2) The "Feature Story" or Commentary chess column. Why, after all, does a chess column have to analyze a game? With games so ubiquitous and so few good feature stories and little authoritative commentary or news analysis, doesn't it make sense to simply drop the games altogether or make them an afterthought? I think that is one way to go. In any event, the game could be made less central to the presentation.
3) Chess for the Masses. A final suggestion would be to make a more popular presentation. Who actually reads chess columns anymore anyway? Just the few thousands of chessplayers capable of getting something out of them. Why not broaden the appeal of the column by turning it into an educational vehicle to reach a wide range of players? It could also include thoughts about the value of chess in everyday life. Sort of Chess for Living.... And maybe a puzzle or a few puzzles on a theme drawn from recent games. Maybe a discussion of good sources on the web. Stuff like that.
Obviously, these ideas are mutually exclusive. But I've tried to imagine ways that the chess column could be reconceived to keep it relevant for today or to reach a broader readership. I'd love to hear alternative ideas.
One last note: why is the New York Times's chess column in the Metro Section? Herman Helms's column generally was in the Sports section on Thursdays, many others are in entertainment. Does the chess column have to follow the Crossword Puzzle? Why not move it to the Sports section and treat it more like Sports coverage with real news value? That's the European standard.
Saturday, November 11, 2006
Thursday, November 09, 2006
White to Play and Win
After publishing a few losses (here, here and here) by NM James R. West on our blog, it seemed only fair to share some of his better games, along with a profile to add to our growing gallery of New Jersey masters, who include FM Steve Stoyko, FM Tom Bartell, NM Peter Radomskyj, NM Mark Kernighan, NM Evan Ju, NM Victor Shen (also here), and (formerly of our state) NM Tyler Cowen.
Asked to name his most memorable games, West suggested his 2005 Hamilton Quad victory over long rival Kernighan (see diagram above), which included a nice Queen sacrifice, and two games with the Philidor Counter-Gambit, a line which he has championed for many years.
Jim West has been one of the most active New Jersey chess players for at least three decades. A Life Master, he can be found playing rated games practically every weekend and sometimes during the week as well. He is a member of the Marshall Chess Club in Manhattan, a frequent visitor to the Polgar Chess Center in Queens, and a ubiquitous contestant in weekend quads and swisses throughout the tri-state area. When I asked what drives him to play so frequently, he could only say, “it’s better than staying home to watch sports. At least you get out of the house and meet people.”
West works at a large law firm where he specializes in asset location, mostly for purposes of judgment recovery. This involves a lot of research and problem solving, but he refused to accept my suggestion that his skill in researching and playing chess had in any way contributed to his choice of career. “Work and chess are two totally compartmentalized parts of your brain,” he said, though he granted that chess “trains you to be disciplined in your thinking” which is good in any line of work.
As a chess player, West looks back most fondly upon his team victory in the U.S. Amateur Teams East in 1999. His most salient individual achievements include a clear first place in the 1990 FIDE-rated NJ Futurity tournament in Elmwood Park, which unfortunately came during a year when the Atlantic Chess News (which gave extensive coverage to other Futurity events) stopped publication due to Glenn Petersen taking on the editorship of Chess Life. He also tied for first at the New Jersey Open of 1985, but the trophy went to Ken Potts on tie-breaks.
Outside of the competitive arena, West is best known for his many publications on the Philidor Counter-Gambit, in Atlantic Chess News, the Virginia Chess Newsletter, and in two books: The Philidor Countergambit (Chess Enterprises 1994) and The Dynamic Philidor Counter-Gambit (Chess Digest 1996).
I asked him how he became such a strong believer in the Philidor Counter-Gambit, to which he responded, “It’s not a matter of belief. I don’t know how it got its bad reputation to begin with,” though he suggested it probably had “some connection to criticism of Morphy” who played the gambit in the 19th Century, at the peak of Romantic chess, and whose games are often seen as flawed by modern standards. “Back in the 1970s when I first tried out the line I was told by someone, ‘How can you play that—that isn’t chess!’ I think that’s intellectual snobbery. There is a coffeehouse reputation to the opening, but that doesn’t mean it’s not good.” In West’s opinion, the PCG is no less viable than other sharp Black openings. “I played the Sicilian for 15 years, and that’s no picnic either for Black.” In the introduction to the 1994 edition of his book, which I own, he writes something similar: “Where it once seemed madness to play into the unclear complexities of the [Philidor Counter Gambit], it now seems foolhardy to play the Sicilian Defense, when even Class C players know the first fifteen moves from memory.” Meanwhile, with the PCG, his opponents have to think for themselves, sometimes spending as much as an hour by move 4!
According to West, the opening is quite principled…at least, according to Philidor’s principles, anyway! As Philidor famously wrote, “the pawns are the soul of chess,” and when White plays 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 he is practically inviting Black to play …f5 since exf5 invites ….e4! kicking the Knight and gaining space. Some may see the PCG as wasting time—it seems to involve too many pawn moves in the opening. But for Philidor, you had to develop your pawns as well as your pieces.
So what is the best move against West’s system? Well, he’s not about to reveal it. But in the only game I’ve seen where West himself played White against the line, he chose 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 f5!? 4.Bc4, which is encouraging for a Bishop’s opening fan like myself who might reach this position by transposition. On the black side of that line, West usually has played Morphy’s odd looking 4…Nc6!? which suggests that he does not fully trust the standard 4….exd4. Food for thought!
We welcome the games and stories of other New Jersey masters, and perhaps over the coming years we can profile all of them. Appropriately for our game of 8x8 squares, they currently number 64.
Sunday, November 05, 2006
An excellent and FREE alternative to Adobe Photoshop for general graphics creation and image editing, The Gimp can be downloaded from www.gimp.net. Windows users should be sure to download and install the proper Runtime Environment before installing the program itself.
I've been trying it out recently and like it a lot. Having gotten a new machine not long ago and misplaced my Photoshop installation disk, I was glad to find this alternative. Many of the tools are the same or similar to those offered by Photoshop so it is easy to just jump in and start working intuitively, learning as you go. If you want to add graphics to your blog or edit your photos before posting them, and you have some time to learn a new tool or Photoshop experience to guide you (but no money to buy Photoshop itself), then this might be the perfect solution.
I welcome suggestions for any other free programs you have found useful for chess blogging.
Friday, November 03, 2006
I have two books on my wish list, both due out soon and promising to provide perfect bookends for my "Knightmare Repertoire." Taken together, in fact, they will offer an almost complete repertoire for Black.
The first is Mihail Marin's Beating the Open Games (Quality Chess), which will likely supplant John Emms's Play the Open Games and Nigel Davies's Play 1.e4 e5! as the premiere Black 1.e4 e5 repertoire book, especially when he follows up with his long-anticipated Berlin Defense repertoire against the Spanish / Ruy Lopez some time later in 2007.
The second is IM Christoph Wisnewski's Play 1...Nc6! (Everyman) which I expect to update and improve upon A Complete Defense for Black by Keene and Jacobs (now out of print). Like that earlier book, it will focus on transpositions to the Chigorin Defense (e.g.: 1.d4 Nc6 2.Nf3 d5) and other lines I cover in my 1...Nc6 Bibliography. Unfortunately, that volume may not be out until 2007. But it gives me something to look forward to...
John Moldovan (The Chess Coroner) has posted the Zipped PGN and Java replay of the adjourned consultation game played at the Kenilworth Chess Club last night. I wish I could have been there and will make an effort to come next week to see the conclusion. The adjourned position is roughly equal, with White having the better structure but Black the better dynamic chances.
What should Black do next? What are the plans for each side?
Monday, October 30, 2006
You have to hear Mackenzie's excellent 50-minute lecture (by far the longest at the site) to believe how much work went into that single tournament victory. As Josh Friedel reported at his USCF blog (where you can also play over the game in a java applet), Mackenzie had been rehearsing for this game using Fritz for over two years. In his lecture, Mackenzie explains the various principles he developed through extensive experience in order to guide him in completing his long-awaited triumph of home cooking. His explanations are so clear that the site rates the lecture as being appropriate even for beginners. I'd say that lecture alone would be worth the $12.95 fee for a one-month subscription.
Though I was impressed by Mackenzie's game and lecture, I also had a feeling of deja vu. A little Google-ing helped refresh my memory: there is a link in my Grand Prix Attack Bibliography (Updated) to Thomas Johansson's online article discussing the correspondence game Bryntse - Smith, corr SWE 1967 which features the same idea. Apparently there are several others who have played this (including Bryntse's fellow-Swede, GM Johnny Hector), though that does not diminish Mackenzie's achievement. Sometimes knowing how a magic trick was performed (and how much training, research, and analysis went into it) just enhances the viewer's awe.
Here is the PGN of Mackenzie-Pruess for those interested in doing their own analysis:
[Event "Western States Open"]
[Site "Reno, NV USA"]
[White "Mackenzie, Dana"]
[Black "Pruess, David"]
1. e4 c5 2. f4 d5 3. Nf3 dxe4 4. Ng5 Nf6 5. Bc4 Bg4 6. Qxg4 Nxg4 7. Bxf7+ Kd7 8. Be6+ Kc6 9. Bxg4 e6 10. Nc3 Na6 11. a3 Bd6 12. O-O Nc7 13. Ncxe4 Qe7 14. Nxd6 Qxd6 15. d3 Raf8 16. Bf3+ Kd7 17. c3 Nd5 18. g3 h6 19. Ne4 Qc7 20. b4 cxb4 21. axb4 b6 22. Bd2 Rf7 23. c4 Nf6 24. Bc3 Ke7 25. Be5 Qd7 26. Nd6 Rd8 27. Nxf7 Kxf7 28. d4 Kg6 29. g4 Rc8 30. c5 Qb5 31. Rxa7 Qd3 32. h4 h5 33. g5 Ne8 34. Kg2 b5 35. Re1 Kf5 36. Be4+ Qxe4+ 37. Rxe4 Kxe4 38. Ra5 Nc7 39. Bxg7 Kxf4 40. Be5+ Kg4 41. g6 Kxh4 42. g7 Rg8 43. Ra7 Nd5 44. Rf7 Ne3+ 45. Kf3 Ng4 46. c6 1-0
Remember, though: you have to train for two years to pull that off!
Related post: The Grand Prix Attack, Explained
Sunday, October 29, 2006
Of course, I should have seen that idea coming quite a while back when I first watched the wonderful lectures at ChessFM and ICC. But the creators of ChessLecture.com had the foresight back in the Summer of 2005 to assemble a team of great lecturers and to create a place on the web where subscribers could watch video lectures 24/7 with complete access to the archive. ChessFM and ICC do not currently allow archive access (likely due to the way they set up their contracts with lecturers), though perhaps the competition from ChessLecture will drive them to explore that idea. I can imagine ICC offering something similar as part of a multi-tiered membership system where super-premium subscribers pay about what ChessLecture charges for the privilege of accessing the full set of videos they have produced. Or maybe they can team up with ChessLecture… Until they do, though, ChessLecture.com is the only place to really appreciate the power of chess video on demand.
In the interest of full disclosure, a member of the ChessLecture.com support team gave me a weekend pass to the site because I told him I was interested in writing a review. I am not, however, the type to give anybody free publicity that they do not deserve, and I was as prepared to write a critical review as the present laudatory one. I think they should really consider giving anybody who asks a 24-hour pass, because they really have a great product and would win many customers from among the skeptics out there who think that chess on video or on your computer just is not as worthwhile as something in a book or magazine. I have watched over a dozen videos at the site, and I have come away more impressed than I had imagined possible.
I think that the way our time is structured has changed so much that on-demand video chess on the computer (combined with other computer-based chess activity) may be one of the most worthwhile methods of studying available for most people. Just ask yourself how much time you were able to devote to sitting down at a board with a book in the past week…. For me, outside of my weekly visit to the chess club, even setting up a real board at home almost never happens. Chess is either on the computer or not at all. And it can only come in small portions. Watching a 20 minute video at ChessLecture.com on the Two Knights Caro-Kann in the morning. Downloading some games mentioned by the lecturer from an online database and doing 20 minutes of analysis with the help of Fritz in the afternoon. Playing a couple games with the line during a 30-minute session of ICC blitz in the evening to help reinforce the lessons I’ve learned. I tell you, ChessLecture.com fits right into such a manageable study plan for those who only have a half-hour here or there to spend with the game.
We all know that slowly working through problems and annotated games in front of the board is probably the best real practice for classical game situations, especially for the young. But we also know that we have work to do, kids to feed, and lawns to cut and that most of us also have less and less time for classical play. It would be great to work through deeply annotated games or opening analysis at a real chess board, but for most of us that is just not going to happen any time soon. As I suggested in my review of Chess Openings for White, Explained, there are the chess books we buy because we would like to read them and then there are those we actually find time to read because they are user-friendly. ChessLecture.com is the most user-friendly mode of chess learning available and it is one you will actually use.
Further disclosure: I actually have not been a great fan in the past of chess on DVD. The videos I have watched over the years, mostly of the Foxy Opening and Roman’s Forum variety, have been useful, but something about settling into my couch to watch them tends to put me off to sleep sooner than it leads me to any knowledge. Not to say that I haven’t gotten knowledge from them—especially the very nice set of videos by Aaron Summerscale on his Barry Attack and 150 Attack (which I spent more time with than I did his excellent Killer Chess Opening Repertoire in book form, truth be told).
But that Andrew Martin just knocks me out. Literally.
I still remember the year it took me to make my way through all of Andrew Martin’s videotape on the Nimzovich Defence with 1…Nc6. I admire IM Martin very much as a writer and I think his "Bits & Pieces" columns are first rate. But something about his accent to my American ears, or the dim lighting on his face, or his overly calm demeanor and monotonous speech patterns just puts me to sleep quicker than three Ambien. A friend of mine says he always turns to his Andrew Martin video library when he needs a restful night’s sleep, and now I know why. I tell you, to make it all the way through that Martin video took me a full year, during which I must have fallen asleep on my couch two dozen times. Of course, I learned a lot – mostly because I had to watch parts of that tape over and over again. And maybe I got some hypnopaedic benefit from hypnagogic listening. But by the end of that year, I was convinced that chess on video and DVD just was not for me….
The videos at ChessLecture.com, though, are very different. They are shorter (generally 14-25 minutes), better produced than most, with very charming lecturers who have mastered a style of quick and varied delivery. Most of all, though, it is on your computer and accessible from anywhere you have an internet connection. If you spend as much time online as I do, you could probably fit that more easily into your life than an hour long DVD or video on the TV. What’s more, you can even multi-task while watching (I found myself checking and deleting e-mail and writing a portion of this review while a video was playing in another window). Somehow I just cannot manage that with the VCR or DVD.
ChessLecture charges $12.95 per month, which is just over $150 per year. That probably sounds like a lot to some people, and it’s over twice what ICC charges (and without the online play). But it is also a lot less than cable and, if you watch as little TV as I do, much more worthwhile. You can also cancel at any time, so they likely get quite a few customers who just sign on for a few months, take a break, and then return when the archive has grown.
The website is very user-friendly and very well designed. They add at least one new video every weekday (Monday through Friday) and currently have a library of over 300. Most videos are from 12-25 minutes in length, which is about what you can really absorb at one sitting (and, for me, about how long I have to spend on my lunch and coffee-breaks, both at work and at home, what with kids and chores!) You do need a high speed internet connection (Cable or DSL), because you cannot download the lectures to view later, but a sizable number of chess players now have that.
The videos are categorized according to level, with some for beginners, intermediate, and advanced players. Most are for intermediate players, but all levels are fairly well represented. They also have lectures on endgame, middlegame and opening themes—with most on the opening, which is every chess merchant’s bread and butter. I was impressed, though, by how quickly they were able to produce annotations on the recent World Championship match games, and I think I got more out of one of their lectures on Kramnick-Topalov than I got out of any newspaper annotations I had read elsewhere.
I mostly watched videos on opening lines that were part of my repertoire or which I have written about at my blog. I found all to be very good and was impressed at how well they could pull together the most important issues in such a short time. That ultimately is the value of a lecture: giving you the big picture and the key themes to help your own analysis and thinking. The lectures at ChessLectures.com do an excellent job of preparing you to master the openings that interest you. They are not an end in themselves, but what is?
I was especially impressed with one lecture on the Two Knights Caro-Kann by IM Jesse Kraai. I have been playing this line at ICC and in blitz with some success. I have also read the few bits of analysis out there. So I know quite a bit. But it was not until I saw IM Kraai’s lecture that I recognized how important the Bishops are in the Two Knights. One of the main themes is that White’s play discourages Black from developing his light-squared Bishop in the normal Caro fashion, most famously in the line 1.e4 c6 2.Nc3 d5 3.Nf3 dxe4 4.Nxe4 Bf5?! (Black’s favorite move against 3.d4 lines) 5.Ng3 Bg6? 6.h4 h6 7.Ne5 Bh7 8.Qh5 g6 9.Bc4! (stronger than Kraai’s 9.Qf3) 9…e6 10.Qe2 when Black is busted and usually succumbs to 10…Nbd7? 11.Nxf7! Kxf7 12.Qxe6+ Kg7 13.Qf7#. Meanwhile, in the main line with 1.e4 c6 2.Nc3 d5 3.Nf3 Bg4! 4.h3 Bxf3 5.Qxf3 e6, White gains the two Bishops but usually fails to capitalize on them because the position remains closed. Kraai therefore suggests the gambit line with 6.d4, surrendering a pawn in order to open the position for the Bishops. And while he does not give a lot of analysis here of the critical lines, he definitely provides the key ideas I needed for my own further exploration and study. Most importantly, by drawing my attention to the power of the Bishops, his presentation really opened my eyes to what I was missing in ways that games, play, and analysis alone could not.
I also enjoyed lectures on the Albin with …Nge7, the Grand Prix Attack, the Reversed Grand Prix as Black against the English, and the Pirc (the last by IM John Watson). I was impressed both by how many of my favorite lines were represented here but also by how much I learned from these short lectures, especially considering that I already knew quite a bit about these lines. Their team of lecturers know their stuff and make a great presentation to boot.
I do have a few criticisms, but they really take more the form of suggestions for how to improve their product than any critique of what they offer. They seem open to suggestions (they are even willing to produce lectures in response to member questions), so here goes:
1) In the video list it would be useful to have a full annotation of what the video contains, including what specific opening lines it covers. Perhaps they could require their lecturers to submit a short annotation along with the lecture so they could post it on the site.
2) I do not know what sort of technical problems it might involve, but it would be nice to have the lectures more segmented, like a DVD, allowing easy navigation to specific variations (or scenes). You can fast forward or rewind, but without the sort of precision a viewer spoiled by his DVD player or TIVO would like to have. Perhaps this is a problem with video generally, which can never giveyou the same control as a Java Applet, a GUI interface, or an actual chessboard. But they could do more to approximate that freedom.
3) They may want to think about ways of selling at least some of their lectures for i-Pod viewing (the latest i-Pods now have over 30GB of memory after all), though I suppose the copyright and pirating issues make that a problem currently. Wouldn’t it be great to watch a 15-minute chess video on the train into work or while waiting at the dentist? I think that is pretty much a future market, but a promising one, unlike chess audio podcasts, which are pretty much worthless (even if some people like to hear Kosteniuk’s lovely Russian accent). Other than maybe an audio lecture on how to play chess blindfold (which is pretty much what audio lectures would have to be) or the occasional news report (which would hardly have the longevity of a lecture), I can only think of one chess program I’d really like to listen to on my i-Pod and that’s Fred Wilson’s great ChessFM interviews, which really ought to be made available on CD or as podcasts for purchase. I think there is a market for that--starting with me. But video podcasts hold a lot more promise. And I’ll tell you, if ChessLecture.com starts offering downloads for i-Pod viewing, I’d actually run out and buy a video i-Pod in order to be their first customer….
4) Finally, I think they should consider teaming up with ICC, ChessBase, or another game server in order to present users a one-stop portal for video lectures, online play, and other modes of online or computer chess study. Though some may think that model has had its day (as the demise of KasparovChess.com seemed to prove), my own view is that its full potential has just now arrived. You see, in the early days of chess online, people just were not prepared to pay anything for access, especially for access to chess. And that severely limited potential revenues. Now, however, most people have adjusted to paying for services, internet advertising has grown tremendously, and the range of online services has expanded considerably to attract an even bigger audience. I think if I had ChessLectures.com, ChessFM, ICC, an online database, and an online engine for analysis, all in one place, I would be in chess heaven. And I’d pay the full fare for premium membership for that.
In short, the future of chess on the net looks brighter and brighter. And a very interesting part of that is ChessLecture.com. Check it out.