Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Mark Ginsburg's History of USATE Stacking

Dr. Mark Ginsburg offers a wonderful history of stacked teams at the U.S. Amateur Team East (see "The Fabulous 00s: Curing the GGGg Debacle at the US Amateur Team East 2008"). That history includes his own winning teams, one of which instigated the original anti-stacking rule in effect after 1994 for the four-team playoffs (that is, until the famous "Karpov exception"). Ginsburg writes of his 1994 team with Ilya Gurevich, Victor Frias, himself, and "the requisite low-rated kids": "What a trio of scum-sucking stacked opportunists. It was Karmic revenge that we forfeited in the playoffs after Frias pulled a no-show in our first match versus the South."

Though I'm not sure I like Ginsburg's "competency test" solution (to disqualify teams where the bottom board can't even put together one non-forfeit, non-bribed point), it's really wonderful to hear a famous reformed USATE team stacker discuss the GGGg case with the brilliant insight that only he can provide!

I always enjoy Ginsburg's nostalgic chess blog, which offers more proof that those who do not know chess history are doomed to repeat it. As for Steve Doyle: what's his excuse?

Monday, February 25, 2008

USATE 2008 Called "An Amateur Event Sham"

"An Amateur Event Sham" is the headline of David Sands's chess column in The Washington Times. Sands writes: "this year's winner, GGGg, won all six matches employing a lineup of three grandmasters (Zviad Izoria, Eugene Perelshteyn and Roman Dzindzichashvili) and 5-year-old (yes, that's right) Stephen Fanning. Young Fanning's microscopic 178 rating helped get the squad below the mandatory maximum team average rating of 2200, but the whole setup simply is not in the spirit of such a populist event. / No one broke the rules, but it would be nice to see some changes next year (just two GMs per team, perhaps) to keep the event competitive for those without international titles." I could not agree more. Steve Doyle made a mistake in allowing this team to compete, apparently not consulting fully with the other organizers and putting the interests of GMs above those of the vast majority of amateurs who support this event each year.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

USATE 2008 in New York Times

Dylan Loeb McClain discusses the GGGg controversy in his New York Times chess column today: "Team of Three Grandmasters and a 5-Year-Old Highlights the Question of Who Is an Amateur." He notes that the 5-year-old's father, John Fanning, "is an uncle of Shawn Fanning, the founder of Napster, the pioneering Web-based file-sharing company, and for a time he was a majority owner of the company. Dzindzichashvili has taught father and son." As to whether the players were paid, Izoria admits that "his expenses had been covered by John Fanning" but regarding additional payment the GM would only say, “I don’t really want to talk about that.... In European leagues, players are paid 400 to 500 euros for each game.”

The article includes an annotated game -- the last round victory of GM Eugene Perelshteyn over NM Thomas Riccardi to decide the championship. Kenilworth Chess Club members might be pleased to note that the photograph accompanying the story shows members from the Kenilworth B team.

Update: GM Joel Benjamin usefully summarizes the GGGg controversy at the New York Times's "Gambit" blog: "GGGg: A Great Idea or a Stretch?"

Friday, February 22, 2008

USATE 2008: GGGg Cannot Play in Finals

The following e-mail exchange was posted online in the comments section of another blog:

Carol Jarecki wrote:

Hi Eugene,
There is some misunderstanding, and lots of controversy, regarding your team's acceptance into the Playoff. As you said, the team members understood they could not play, as established in past years, because of it's rating configuration. Since the restriction wasn't in writing in the East's TLA Steve Doyle feels the team is allowed although others disagree, asserting the rule of not more than a 1000-point difference between boards 3 and 4 has been in place for so long that it no longer needs annual publication. This has caused such national contoversy that he has gone so far as to suggest the Playoffs be cancelled this year. This would be very unfortunate and most likely would not be agreed. I need to know if I may contact the second-place team to partipate in the Playoffs on April 12th which would satisfactorily resolve this problem in the interest, intention and tradition of the US Amateur Team tournaments.
Many thanks for a quick reply and cooperation.

Eugene Perelshteyn wrote:

Yes, going into the event it was our understanding that we would not be eligible to play in the final in case we win 1st. I believe Steve Doyle mentioned it to Roman, and we were fine with this. Either way, we are not interested to play in the final as it will be online. Our goal was to have fun, play next to each other over-the-board, and enjoy the great atmosphere of the tournament. You can contact the 2nd place team.

Note: The second place team "1.d4" (Dan Yeager, Victor Shen, Scott Low, and Jared Defibaugh) finished at 5.5/6 and never played GGGg.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Perelshteyn Interview on USATE 2008

GM Eugene Perelshteyn, who played Board #2 on the winning GGGg team at this year's US Amateur Team East, is interviewed at Chris Bird's Boston Blitz blog -- see "Blitz Player on Winning Team at USATE." Besides showing his nice win over Teddy Coleman, Perelshteyn says of his team's victory: "If someone thinks this win is a walk in the park, they should think again. I believe that playing with so much pressure on the top boards, needing to win in every round, is not easy. Particularly if we face a team with a GM or IM on board one. I commend Izoria for his tough wins against Schneider and Lapshun."

The final wall chart from the tournament is available from the NJSCF website.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

USATE 2008 Concludes

I got a nice win in Round 6 of the USATE 2008 with the Nimzovich Defense (see Briones-Goeller, USATE 2008) to help our team finish 5-1 and thus give us a good shot at taking the Best New Jersey Team title. That cheered me up a bit and changed my outlook on the tournament -- which had not been helped by a forfeit win in Round 5 followed by a very long wait for Round 6. I had been in a very gloomy mood all day until the end, but the win helped me go home happy.

I think our whole team had been feeling down following our loss to the Three-Gs, which basically meant that our chances of winning the title were completely sunk in Round 3. In fact, one of our players was so upset about it that (in my opinion) it caused the medical condition that made it impossible for him to continue. That meant that Bob Rose and I would have to play two games on the last day.

At least Bob and I actually got to meet each other after over two years of playing on the same team! "Yeah, it had been sort of like that movie Ladyhawke with you two," Stoyko joked; "you played in the morning and he played in the evening and you were doomed to never meet."

As predicted, the Three-Gs finished 6-0, taking the title with never a doubt.

According to Steve Doyle, I was mistaken regarding the 1000-point rule. The USATE has never disallowed stacked teams, even when the national event imposed an anti-stacking rule from 1994-1998. So the Grandmasters will play for the championship. I wonder how the other three teams will feel about that?

I engaged a lot of people in conversation about the Three-Gs, especially during my hours of waiting around after my forfeit win in Round 5. I encountered a surprising diversity of opinion on some matters, and was shocked that many people saw little wrong with the idea of three GMs playing on the same team. Here are some things people said:
  • Rather universally, people thought the Three-Gs made it impossible for ordinary master and expert teams to challenge for the title, but this only diminished the morale of those who held onto "the dream of glory." While some play for no other reason than that they have a chance to win a national championship, most go to "the Teams" just to have fun. And even those out to win the championship were generally philosophical about it, saying "there's always next year" or "these stacked teams come and go." Only a couple people were "outraged" by the Three-Gs.

  • Everyone I spoke to believed that the three GMs had been paid off (Three-Gs plus room and board was the standard estimate) so that the youngster could take home a share of the title. But they generally added "it's a free country" or "his Napster-rich parents are welcome to buy a title if they want to do that -- it's their money." Several thought it was nice that the GMs got a pay day.

  • When I suggested to people that this was an "amateur" event, and a paid team had no place there, I rarely found much support for my view, to be perfectly honest. One player, whose team had won before, thought that the word "amateur" should be stricken from the event's title since he thought it had really diminished his achievement in the eyes of his friends and co-workers when he had won. In fact, he said, some people had even teased him about his "amateur" status. When I mentioned this to other players, they agreed and said that it was about time that we just called it the "World Team." One even suggested that it be modeled it after the World Open, with lots of cash prizes, though he balked at raising the entry fee to pay for that. The meaning of the word "amateur" in the event's title seemed completely lost on most people I spoke to, especially anyone under 40.

  • The organizers suggested that something might be done to address the issue of stacked teams in future events. But they did not think the 1000-point rule was workable, especially since they want to encourage both GMs and juniors to play. The strongest recommendation I heard mentioned was that there should be no more than two GMs per team. One proposal I heard batted around was that individual scores could be factored more strongly into the results, so that any team that regularly lost on bottom board might suffer when compared to teams with more uniform results. I didn't much care for this proposal, since there are many occasions when players might want to take a draw once a match had pretty much been decided, and it struck me as onerous and hardly fun to always have to play for the win.
With so much complacency among chess players, I don't think there is much sense in complaining about the Three-Gs. No doubt they will go on to win the national title (who could possibly stand in their way?) and get their pictures on the cover of Chess Life.

For the rest of us, there's always next year.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

USATE 2008: "Speak of the Devil"

Kenilworth A vs. GGGgSteve Stoyko sits down to play Zviad Izoria

As I mentioned in my USATE 2008 Preview, there is a three-GM team this year at the World Amateur Team and U.S. Amateur Team East featuring Izoria, Perelshteyn, and Dzindzi. They call themselves "GGGg" (and not "The Three Tenors," as I had suggested). Obviously this team goes against the spirit of amateurism that the event intends to promote, and in previous years the organizers have explicitly forbidden such imbalances. It's clear that the rule that no teams field players with more than a 1000 point difference between any board needs to be re-instated. While we all love seeing the GMs come out, it's simply unfair to use them to stack the deck against truly "amateur teams."

I was not so angry about the Three-Gs while their existence was still a rumor and the chances of actually meeting them seemed remote. But now that we were paired against them in Round Three, I naturally take the whole thing more personally. As I took piece after piece from my 101-rated opponent on Board 4 (whom I mated in under 10 minutes), I felt a bit cheated out of my usual experience of competitive team play. This was not why I came to USATE.

The Kenilworth Chess Club again sponsored three teams for the event:
  • Kenilworth A: FM Steve Stoyko (captain), NM Scott Massey, NM Ed Allen, Bob Rose, and Michael Goeller (alternate)

  • Kenilworth B: NM Mark Kernighan, Geoff McAuliffe, Greg Tomkovich, and Joe Demetrick

  • Kenilworth Rookies: John Moldovan, Joe Renna, Gordon Agress, and Jim Cole

Kenilworth BKenilworth B

Our A and B teams had the pleasure in Round One of sitting next to each other on Boards 14 and 15 (with the A-Team playing down and the B-Team playing up). Fortunately, the organizers saw fit not to pair us, though that was likely an option for them...

Kenilworth RookiesKenilworth Rookies: Cole, Renna, and Agress

The Rookies were started last year by team captain Jim Cole and feature players relatively new to competitive play. This year they include our new club president, John Moldovan, who at 1800+ seems hardly a "rookie," except that this is his first USATE!

Kenilworth Rookies T-shirt

Long-time Kenilworth Chess Club regular Mike Wojcio fielded six teams playing under the "Chessaholics" banner, including many of the scholastic players he coaches. And a number of our club members are on other teams. So the KCC has come out in force to support the USATE and I'm sure that most of us will enjoy the long weekend. But the Three-Gs have really spoiled my fun this year...

Friday, February 15, 2008

Kasparov's "Life After Chess"

"Life After Chess" is the title of an interview with Kasparov that appears in Newsweek (February 25, 2008). With the death of Fischer (which still receives daily comment in the press) and Kasparov's continued high profile, chess seems quite prominent in the popular press. But as these two giant figures become less central to the game, who will represent chess on the public stage? One of the more interesting exchanges in the Newsweek interview is quite suggestive:
Q: Do you think you're the last chess champion to be well known so broadly?
A: I think it's probably a correct assessment, because chess has changed, you know. It's more like tennis, because the champions are changing too often. If somebody's No. 1, so what?

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Dick Cavett Remembers Bobby

The great American talk show host Dick Cavett today describes the Bobby Fischer he got to know through several interviews in his touching and fond remembrance "Was It Only a Game?" (The New York Times, February 9, 2008 -- also at his blog). As he suggests, there were many sides to Bobby Fischer (as many as you can see on YouTube), but Cavett's famously friendly interview style brought out the very best in the man, as we see in the charming clip he includes. Add it to the list of warmer remembrances of Bobby, which include Kasparov's "The Chessman" and Hans Ree's "At the Kibbutz with Bobby" (temporary HTML version here). If we see a few more pieces like this, it may well be the Fischer of '72 that lives longest in our cultural memory.

Monday, February 04, 2008

The Story of the Lewis Chessmen

There is a wonderful article by Allan Burnett (see "Stale Mate") in the Sunday Herald of Scotland about the famous Lewis Chessmen. It is also widely excerpted by other blogs, including Susan Polgar and the BCC Weblog. Whether or not you are interested in the Scottish claim on these beautiful pieces, you will surely enjoy Burnett's compelling tale, which makes history come to life.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Irving Ellner (1918-2008)

Former Kenilworth Chess Club president (1975-1985) and correspondence master Irving Ellner passed away on Thursday. He was 90 years old. I have annotated two of his better games at our site. One of those games appeared today in The Newark Star Ledger. It had been sent in by his long time friend Mike Wojcio, who intended it as a surprise for Irving, who always read the Ledger's chess column. As fate would have it, Irving died only days before the game appeared. Read more about Irving's role as president of our club in A History of the Kenilworth Chess Club.