Monday, December 31, 2007

Sicilicide or Suicide? Treger - Charbonneau, Marshall CC Ch. 2007

Sicilicide or Suicide?
1.e4 c5 2.Nc3 Nc6 3.Nf3 g6 4.h4!?
I enjoyed seeing the games from the recent Marshall Chess Club Championship (see crosstable), some on ICC and most in the club's tournament bulletins (see Rounds 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 at the club's website). Dylan Loeb McClain discusses two of the GM games at his Gambit blog (see "Ehlvest Wins Marshall Chess Club Championship"), but it was actually the games of FM Effim Treger (also spelled "Yefim"), with their frequently amusing openings, that interested me most.
I have annotated the game Treger-Charbonneau, where Treger eventually drew by perpetual check against the GM after a wild ride.
The game features a line in the Two Knights Sicilian recommended by Nigel Davies in a Foxy video titled "Sicilicide" which goes 1.e4 c5 2.Nc3 Nc6 3.Nf3 g6 4.h4!? Whether it is really sicilicide or suicide is yet to be determined, but it sure looks like fun! Another idea in this line for the adventurous, by the way, is 4.a3!? (planning an eventual b4 push) which was discussed by Hikaru Nakamura in SOS 5 and featured in the game Ljubojevic-Miles, Tilburg 1985. It's nice to get out of book against the Sicilian!
You might enjoy checking out other games by Treger, if only to see the crazy ideas he cooks up in lines like the Apocalypse Attack (1.e4 c6 2.Nf3 d5 3.exd5 cxd5 4.Ne5!?) and Nakamura's Matrix (1.e4 e5 2.Qh5!?). Checking out some of Treger's past games online (see especially Moulin-Treger, Marshall CC 1995), I see a player who knows how to have fun in the opening, even if it sometimes gets him into trouble! But I like his attitude and his creative spirit, which I have always tried to achieve in my own approach to the game.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Documentary Portraits of Chess Professionals

It is common to see in-depth video portraits of sports stars and other celebrities, but only recently have I begun to notice similar quality productions about noted chess players. There was an interesting five-part Indian TV documentary about World Champion Viswanathan Anand recently featured at the ChessBase website. And today I watched the artistic 43-minute documentary "Chess Me Out" (in Flash, or view the Quicktime version) by Davide Fasolo featuring interviews with over a dozen chess professionals, including Lev Aronian, Anatoly Karpov, Alexandra Kosteniuk, Rusudan Goletiani, Elisabeth Paehtz, and Alex Wohl. Both are worth seeing and offer some insight into the life of the professional player.

The Anand film is a typical surface portrait of a "sports star," as befits India's latest national hero. He comes across as a very affable fellow and there are some amusing stories, including one where Anand relates a conversation he had with an older stranger on a train who asked him what he did for a living. When Anand told him he played chess, the man was at first incredulous, then tried to convince him that he should really consider a much more stable profession. "After all," he said, "it's not like you are Vishy Anand!"

Fasolo's film is more meditative than the Anand piece and tries to achieve more depth and more aesthetic engagement. It is in both English and Italian (with English subtitles), and mixes black and white and color footage. It opens and closes with a Borges poem about chess and in between mostly shows the talking heads of players reflecting on various topics, from how they learned the game (most from their fathers) to how they have all suffered from their losses. There are some nice moments, including a musical interlude which shows scenes from the Olympiad, amusing footage of Ivanchuk pulling at his bushy eyebrows throughout a game, and some discussion of women and chess. I would have liked to see more reflection on what it is like to be a professional player, but I predict we will see a film along those lines in the not too distant future. Meanwhile, Fasolo's effort is very much worth seeing, and you can download a high-quality MP4 version from the his website. (Hat tip to Alexandra Kosteniuk).

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

USCL "Game of the Year" Top 20

Arun Sharma has posted a detailed article discussing all 20 competitors for the US Chess League's "Game of the Year" honors. The top game wins $1,000 (with additional prizes for 2nd-5th place finishers), so this is quite a significant "brilliancy prize." My favorite games on the list were Martinez-Zilberstein, Christiansen-Wolff, Bonin-Molner (annotated here), Molner-Arnold (annotated here), and Molner-Kaufman (annotated here).

The Art of the Game

These German ivory chessmen sold
for $299,100 at Christie's.

Rebecca Knapp Adams's "The Art of the Game" (originally in the December issue of Art & Auction) offers a useful primer on collecting chess sets. A more complete chess collecting 101 article can be found at Ciaran Rochford's website. Those just out to browse, like myself, might enjoy a tour of The House of Staunton's Antique Chess Shoppe.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

2007 Holiday Party

There were over 20 members in attendance for the annual Holiday Party (including NM Scott Massey, founding member Andy Wolman, and past president Mike Stallings), so we held the Annual Business Meeting as well, postponed from last time due to weather. Joe Demetrick, who did a great job this past year organizing inter-club team play and lectures, said that he did not wish to run again for president due to family and work commitments. Three candidates were nominated to take his place -- John Moldovan, Joe Renna, and Howard Osterman -- which necessitated the first secret ballot that I can recall in one of our elections.

Joe Demetrick and Greg Tomkovich
count the secret ballot for president.

John Moldovan, a.k.a. The Chess Coroner, carried the vote (though Howard received a significant percentage), making him our new club president. The other officers elected were: VP Greg Tomkovich, Treasurer and TD Geoff McAuliffe, Secretary Joe Renna, and Webmaster Mike Goeller.

President John Moldovan

The other important business of the evening was discussion of the Annual Club Championship, set to begin January 17. It was decided that, for the first time in many years, the event should be rated. Otherwise, the event will be the same as last year but with fewer trophies to make up for the rating fee.

I had to leave a little early to pick up a holiday visitor at the airport, but I was able to get in two 5-Minute games with NM Mark Kernighan. They were rather messy affairs but interesting, if only because in both of them Black's king steps out for a walk via d7.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Kamsky Wins World Cup, Joins World Championship Cycle

U.S. GM Gata Kamsky today won the FIDE World Cup by forcing a draw in game four of his championship match against GM Alexei Shirov. The win gives him the right to play Topalov in a 2008 semi-final match leading up to the 2009 World Championship against the winner of a Kramnik-Anand match. It's a great come-back for the 1990s star, who went undefeated in the entire tournament! Based on his play--and especially his deep opening preparation in these matches--I think he has a very good chance of going all the way.

News, pictures, notes, and video regarding the final game of the match:

Read more about the history of the World Chess Championship at Mark Weeks's site or in the latest Kibitzer column ("How Many World Champions?" - PDF) by Tim Harding.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Kamsky Leads Shirov 2-1

U.S. GM Gata Kamsky today drew the third game of his championship match against GM Alexei Shirov (now of Spain) in the FIDE World Cup in Khanty-Mansiysk, Russia. He has White in the final game (barring tie breaks). The winner of this match will play Topalov for the right to challenge for the 2009 World Championship against the winner of the expected Anand-Kramnik match.

Kamsky won the second game of the match yesterday. That second game was a very interesting and closely-contested encounter that featured attacks and counter-attacks by both sides and will likely attract much high level commentary. Several sources have already provided extensive annotations to the game, and I will try to add others as they appear:

Updated at 11:00 Sunday-- thanks for the corrections and additional links.

Holiday Party Next Week

As predicted, the KCC Business Meeting was postponed due to inclement weather and will be held December 27th. Next week, December 20th, is the Annual Holiday Party (which has been a success for several years, including in 2005 and 2006).

Thursday, December 13, 2007

KCC Website Stats for 2007

I'm not sure that the Kenilworth Chess Club's Annual Business Meeting will be held tonight (even if The Chess Coroner is optimistic) given that the expected snow significantly lowers the likelihood of a quorum. But in case that meeting is held, I thought I'd issue a report on the state of the club's website, which has continued to grow in popularity, serving its function as a web portal for many chess fans.
We do not keep extensive web stats for the main Kenilworth site since I've never bothered to install a tracker (it's not like we are selling ads, after all). Our host gives us some useful stats -- though they are confined to page view traffic and do not tell you how many individuals visited the site. The following statistics reflect the state of things as of December 12, 2007. Since we have half of a month left to the year, our numbers will likely be 1/24th higher.
The website has continued to grow in popularity since I started it back in 2005. We have had 642,370 page views this year, as of this writing, which projects to about 670,000 for the year, or nearly double our numbers last year.

The monthly views as of December 12, 2007, suggest that (but for a dip around
September) site traffic is trending upward.

Daily views for November 2007 suggest wide fluctuations from day to day, with weekends showing low numbers and weekdays (especially Mondays and Wednesdays in my experience) seeing significantly higher numbers.

The Kenilworthian weblog tracks more information about its visitors. It has been ranked by Blogshares in the top ten of chess blogs for most of the year and rose as high as #6 recently. The blog accounts for only about 20% of the page views for our site as a whole, but is likely one of the main engines driving site traffic.

More detailed blog stats can be seen by clicking on "View My Stats" beneath the StatCounter icon near the bottom of the right-hand nav bar of this blog.

The Chess Coroner also tracks visitors through StatCounter, and John Moldovan reflected on his "Blog Stats" extensively in a September posting. No specific stats are kept for The Center Square or KCC Minutes blogs.

Overall, I think our site is doing great and is probably among the better chess portals on the web. Not bad for an annual investment of $130 or so. Whether or not the website is encouraging attendance or improving membership is tough to judge. My own feeling is that the site helps to stabilize membership but may even lower attendance, especially since members can learn so much about what's happening at the club without showing up. But I'll leave such speculation to others...

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Google Books III

Jonathan V. Last's "Google and Its Enemies" (printer friendly) from last week's Weekly Standard made me realize that it has been a while since I had visited Google Books (see posts in January and May of last year). I think Google is moving toward a much friendlier user experience, but there seemed a lot less "free chess" there on my most recent visit than I had found on my first. Based on my experience, Google's enemies need hardly worry about their copyrights, and there is a lot of opportunity down the road for them to profit from wider exposure.

A search for "chess" yields 7840 hits, but the vast majority list "no preview available," "snippet view" (meaning they are searchable but with limited access to the original text), or "limited preview." Only those books very much out of copyright are available in full text. These include Philidor's Chess Analyzed and The Elements of Chess, Staunton's Chess Player's Companion and Chess Praxis, Steinit'z Modern Chess Instructor, Bird's Chess History and Reminiscinces, Walker's Chess and Chess Players, and Edge's The Exploits and Trimphs...of Paul Morphy. As this brief list suggests, there are many joys for the chess historian or antiquary who now has easy access to texts he could previously have seen only by visiting the Special Collections of some inaccessible library. Those interested in free access to the latest opening theory will have to buy some books. But those interested in history and knowledge will find some occasional free treats, such as:

Among the books with limited preview, there are also some nice things. Dover Books editions will sometimes have quite extensive previews. These include:

In the end, anyone who trolls through Google Books in search of chess will know that the concept's promise is much greater than what it currently delivers. I'll have to check back next year to see if they have managed to make any more progress toward that goal.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

A Saemisch Surprise vs. the Alekhine Defense

I have posted a little article titled The Saemisch Surprise: Sideline the Alekhine Defense with 1.e4 Nf6 2.e5 Nd5 3.Nc3 Nxc3 4.bxc3 d5 5.Ba3!? It also discusses Black alternatives, offering a complete repertoire against the Alekhine for those looking for a surprise weapon.

You will find 5.Ba3!? mentioned in several books (including Lev Alburt's classic The Alekhine for the Tournament Player), but it is unlikely that your opponent has had to face it over the board. I know that almost everyone I play it against on ICC takes a very long pause at this point. White's idea is to inhibit Black's natural development: he will need some preparation to play ...c5 or ...e6. Play might return to normal Saemisch positions, but Black has to think on his own a bit and both sides have a lot of room for originality. The Saemisch Attack was a favorite of Mikhail Tal's, and his games with it sparked my interest many years ago, so I include some classic Tal attacks with it in my notes. Tal was not always successful with the Saemisch because he often played it a bit too speculatively, as in our first game (from the first round of the 1988 National Open against an Expert level opponent) and in a 1988 simul game against Swami Shankaranda I came across online (though the opening was hardly to blame in either case). If you like the Saemisch Attack and want to learn more, I know of a couple good resources. The best, in my view, is an article on Alekhine Defense Sidelines from Leonid's New Archive, which includes quite a few games in PGN format. Nigel Davies has also written about some of these lines in Gambiteer I (Everyman 2007), but his main focus is on Keres's preferred 3.Nc3 Nxc3 4.dxc3!? striving for speedy development rather than the central dominance that follows 4.bxc3. FM David Levin has some interesting analysis of the line 1. e4 Nf6 2. e5 Nd5 3. Nc3 e6 4. Nxd5 exd5 5. Qf3 Nc6!? -- which I mention in my analysis.

I think the Saemisch Attack makes a good fit with other dark-square systems I have written about here, including The Grand Prix with a3, The Caveman Caro-Kann, The Apocalypse Attack, The Simplified Pirc, and The Paulsen Petroff. Taken together, these practically constitute a 1.e4 repertoire, to which I might some day add the French Wing Gambit (1.e4 e6 2.Nf3 d5 3.e5 c5 4.b4!? -- also discussed in Gambiteer I), and maybe some lines of the Giuoco Piano and Two Knights Defense. And, if you like dark square systems, you might be interested in the Stonewall Attack, which is practically a repertoire in itself.

Monday, December 03, 2007

French Defense Lecture 5

The Chess Coroner reports on FM Steve Stoyko's Lecture #5 on the French Tarrasch (java here and PGN here) this past Thursday. Great stuff. Will there be a Lecture #6?

Friday, November 30, 2007

Chess Amateurism

"Amateurism seeks the development of the total awareness of the individual and the critical awareness of the groundrules of society. The amateur can afford to lose."
-- Marshall McLuhan's "The Medium is the Message"

I recently discovered an excellent essay by Federico Garcia that has gotten me thinking about the history of chess amateurism and its implications for today. In his paper “Steinitz and the Inception of Modern Chess” (2003/2005), Garcia argues that the break between romantic and modern chess should be understood as marking the difference between amateur and professional play. He begins with a very interesting question: why is it that the Romantics so rarely defended (accepting every offered sacrifice, for instance), most evidently in games like the Evergreen or the Immortal? To this Garcia responds:

To find an answer we must turn back to the social conditions that influenced chess at the time—in fact, the answer is closely related to what has been said about professionalism. The ethics of the amateurism, that ethics which finds so offensive any material, ‘mundane,’ interest, is also the ethics of ‘what matters is competing, not winning.’ A passive defence, or a passive attack for that matter, would be seen as cowardice. If you are attacked, anything other than a counterattack is an offense to chess and to your opponent. It is a matter of fair play not to escape your opponent’s bright combination with fastidious stubbornness (should the occasion arise, look for an even brighter combination!) In Romantic times, “you either won gloriously, or you succumbed to a counterattack and lost gloriously.” At stake, amateur decorum required, was honor—fairly independent from victory or defeat. Now, what is decidedly not independent from the victory or defeat is the accorded prize for the winner. The establishment of chess as a profession, one of whose consequences is an upheaval in priorities (for, no matter what, money, when needed, will always be a higher priority than honor), is probably the major factor at play for the appearance of defensive play and technique. Again, the fact that Steinitz was the first to assume his professionalism helps explain why it should be he the first to develop the defence. For even if Zukertort and the rest were professionals (in the sense that they earned a living through chess), they were—tied to the received scale of values—still ashamed of it, and they would not pursue the ignoble business of not fighting with knightly disinterest.
To look back at chess history through the lens of amateurism vs. professionalism is very compelling. Was it his amateurism that made Paul Morphy indulge in a sometimes unsound and tactical mode of play that causes some to devalue many of his games today? Was Mikhail Botvinnik's completely scientific approach to the game simply a natural expression of Soviet-era professionalism, and practically an extension of his work as an engineer? Was Frank Marshall's well-deserved reputation as a tactical swindler due to his occupying a liminal position, having absorbed the romantic ideals of the past but needing to make a living as a professional?

I am less interested in the answers to these historical questions than I am in thinking about the meaning of amateurism today, especially since I think we are entering a new era of chess amateurism, not just among players (since it seems very few U.S. players live as full time chess professionals) but most importantly among those who are promoting, writing about, and generally contributing to the game. This new form of chess amateurism, encouraged by the transformations of the internet, can only have a positive long-term effect on chess. After all, the word "amateur" (Latin root amat = "to love") is related to "amoré," and an amateur is one who participates for the love of it.

I am not sure I can say what effects it has had on the type of game played by the top players. In fact, I'm not even sure that's so important any more. This is the new age of the amateur, and the professionals are not necessarily setting the audience's agenda. For instance, very few try to keep up on "main line" theory anymore -- how could they? The amateur game is getting more interesting for amateurs (certainly more worth looking at and commenting on), and amateur participation in the game more important to its continued evolution.

Chess in the schools (though it certainly provides some professional opportunities for coaches) is one institutional mechanism that feeds the growing tide of amateurism by creating more educated chessplayers. Ann Hulbert develops this point in her essay "Chess Goes to School: How, and why, the game caught on among young Americans" (Slate, May 2, 2007), arguing that "chess has held onto a certain purity, along with its penury" and that's a good thing:
In an era when sports in the United States are a big business, as well as a fraught element of college admissions, chess offers kids in our overprogrammed youth culture a rare exposure to the real meaning and value of amateurism—the mastery of something for its own sake. Chess isn't going to earn anybody much of a living, but it can teach kids about learning....
Chess is not only entering grade school, it is now becoming important at the college level as well, as described by recent articles: "Rah! Rah! Block That Rook!" in The American (regarding the recruiting practices at UTD and UMBC) and Dylan Loeb McClain's "Good Opening Can Be a Scholarship" (focused on academic chess scholarships at Texas Tech). Even Judith [Susan] Polgar, always on the cutting edge, has an academic appointment. And while you can argue that chess scholarships, like athletic scholarships, are a form of "pay for play," I think that having chess in the schools has only reinforced its amateur status. But schools are only one institution.

Chess is increasingly being sustained by amateur involvement on the internet, where Web 2.0 and user paticipation has made it possible for amateurs to play extensively, produce knowledge (chess blogs have proliferated beyond measure, and amateurs even produce quality videos), join online discussion forums, and generally help to sustain chess culture. Some suggest that "the cult of the amateur," by producing lots of free content, is making it more difficult for the professionals to sustain themselves. But personally I think the rise of amateurism simply means that the professionals will have to raise the bar for what they do if they want to distinguish themselves from the rest.

In the short term, more voices online will mean more noise. But in the long term, more voices mean more varied and original ideas. As Sir William Haley argued in an essay on "Amateurism" (American Scholar 1976), in defense of amateur writers:
Mankind has benefited immeasurably from the cross-fertilization of ideas. It is from amateurs, and these include specialists straying out of their own domain, that cross-fertilization comes. Cross-fertilization is a desirable end.
As John Watson has argued, cross-fertilization is certainly a desirable end in chess theory. And while amateurs may not always unearth forgotten chess analysis or ideas, they will always enrich our cultural understanding of the game. You no longer have to be a professional chessplayer, after all, to write about chess, and amateur players have contributed a great deal
to cross-fertilizing and reframing our understanding chess in history and politics. Witness the work of Daniel Johnson, Paul Hoffman, and David Shenk, to name just a few amateur players who have nonetheless made very important contributions.

It's a mistake to think that the decline of professional chess in the U.S. suggests that the game itself is in decline. Nothing could be further from the truth. Perhaps the possibility of a lucrative professional U.S. chess circuit built from the top down basically "jumped the shark" in 2005 with the $500,000 HB Global Chess Challenge. There may be more top-down developments (such as the US Chess League's promise to pay top players) that make life a little easier for some professionals. But America's titled players make more from poker these days than they do from chess and that "Tournament for the Rest of Us," the US Amateur Team, will always be much bigger than all of them and more important to the longterm health of chess...and of professionals. It seems to me that to focus on professional players of the game in the U.S. is a mistake until we have built up the amateur base significantly. The places to focus our attention, then, are the amateur institutions: amateur tournaments, the schools, the web, and literature. If you focus on the amateur institutions, you will be very hopeful about the future....

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

French Defense Lectures 3 and 4

The Chess Coroner has posted notes on FM Steve Stoyko's lectures 3 (java and pgn) and 4 (java and pgn) online. Notes on lectures 1 and 2 were featured previously. Steve will be lecturing again on December 6 at 8 p.m.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

East Brunswick Public Library Chess Club

A burgeoning chess club meets about twice a month on alternate Saturdays and Sundays from 1:30-3:00 p.m. at the East Brunswick Public Library in East Brunswick, NJ. Over 30 kids and their parents and a few adult players were in attendance when I visited recently. Kids ranged in age from 5- to 12-years-old, so I was amazed by the general order and quiet of the scene. But it was the library, after all, and this was chess! Future meetings are as follows:
  • Sunday, December 9
  • Saturday, January 12
  • Sunday, January 20
  • Saturday, February 2
  • Sunday, February 17

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Boston vs. Dallas in USCL Championship Final

boston vs dallas
Dallas beat Miami on Monday night and Boston beat New York last week to set up the widely predicted Boston Blitz vs. Dallas Destiny US Chess League Championship final on Wednesday, November 28, at 8:00 p.m. on ICC. Dallas will have White on Boards 1 and 3. Lineups will be posted soon at the USCL website.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Sloan vs. Truong, et al.

Sam Sloan's lawsuit (mentioned here last month) has received its first reply with the preliminary to a motion to dismiss filed by Proskauer Rose LLP on behalf of Truong et al. Other than the failure in parallel construction at the end of the first paragraph, it looks like a pretty solid argument from the defense.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Philidor Clamp

"The Philidor Clamp" after 1.e4 e5
2.Nf3 d6 3.Bc4 f5 4.d3 c6 5.O-O f4!

NM James R. West posted his win over FM Steve Stoyko at the 4-County Open in Mt. Arlington this past weekend, and I liked it enough that I've annotated it.
I have been playing the Philidor myself of late, generally seeking the Antoshin Variation by 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 exd4 4.Nxd4 (4.Qxd4 is similar) 4...Nf6 5.Nc3 Be7 and Black has good chances, as Christian Seel demonstrates in his excellent little book The Philidor: A Secret Weapon (Chessgate 2007). Often, however, I have opponents averse to theory playing 3.Bc4!? when I usually respond 3...Be7, hoping to transpose back to Antoshin lines. But I also sometimes play 3...f5! hoping for what I like to call "The Philidor Clamp" that follows 4.d3?! (typical of the theory fearing) 4...c6! 5.O-O?! (practically a blunder) 5...f4! and Black has a winning bind, even though he has only moved pawns. Watch how James West, the Philidor Counter Gambit expert, demonstrates the utter hopelessness of White's position....
You can find the game on West's blog without notes. West also posted some great links today to analysis in Kaissiber #27 (see pages 32, 33, and 34) which offers an even stronger version of the PCG "refutation" that I suggest in my notes, beginning 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4! f5!? 4.exf5!

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Paul Hoffman's Attack on Lies in Chess

On the chessboard, lies and hypocrisy do not survive long. --Emanuel Lasker

When people have asked me what I like most about chess, I have said that chess is one of the few areas of human knowledge where you can actually arrive at the truth. You may never get to the truth, but at least you know you could. Paul Hoffman, whose book King's Gambit: A Son, a Father, and the World's Most Dangerous Game has been drawing well-deserved rave reviews, seems to have a similar interest in the game. But he approaches it from the opposite side of the coin: rather than seeking truth in chess, he seems obsessed with chasing out lies. That is the central theme of his book, which traces his own interest in the game and his obsession with the overly competitive liars who have played it (including his father) with a win-at-all-costs attitude. Hoffman's opinion piece in this weekend's Washington Post, "Winning by Rook or by Crook," gives you some sense of his concerns.

I recommend King's Gambit highly -- one of the best books I've read this year -- and if I had more time I would write a long and glowing review, complete with annotated games (for there are many referenced and described in the book), a lengthy discussion of Claude Bloodgood's 1.g4, and reflections on Hoffman's adventures in Tripoli. Not having the time, though, I thought I'd just post a little webliography devoted to Hoffman, which should give you some idea of his chess qualifications and access to fascinating figures. I also recommend that you check out his excellent website and chess blog, The PH Test ( where you can read an excerpt from the book.

A Selected Paul Hoffman Webliography

Profiles, Reviews and Interviews

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

School Corruption Hurts D.C. Chess Program

In "A Most Wicked Chess Game: The D.C. Schools" (also here), Washington Post columnist Marc Fisher describes how $70,000 raised for a chess program to help struggling kids at the Moten Elementary school in Southeast Washington was stolen by an embezzling business manager. This is a very troubling case of school corruption, which Fisher uses to indict the whole system. Related coverage here:

Sunday, November 11, 2007

"The Center Square" Returns

No, not Paul Lynde--but Glen Hart, whose chess blog "The Center Square" at the Kenilworth Chess Club website had one post in July 2006 before Glen suddenly became an itinerant engineer, working on a number of projects in Los Angeles, Seattle, and Palo Alto that kept him away from New Jersey for an entire year. Now he's back, and back to blogging too (though we had to do some re-engineering to get him up and running again). His first post is about chess in LA, though he claims he was too busy at work to play much out there.... Welcome back, Glen!

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Daniel Johnson's "White King and Red Queen"

Daniel Johnson's White King and Red Queen: How the Cold War was Fought on the Chessboard, reviewed quite favorably today by David Edmonds at the Times Online (with an extract) and recently by Sally Feldman ("Check Republics") at New Humanist, is the latest in a long line of culturally and historically informed books on chess, which includes David Shenk's The Immortal Game (reviewed here last year), Paul Hoffman's King's Gambit (which is great and I've been meaning to review it forever), Michael Weinreb's The Kings of New York (also great, with a review half-written), J. C. Hallman's The Chess Artist, and Edmonds and John Eidinow's Bobby Fischer Goes to War. I imagine Johnson's will be a very fine addition to this mushrooming literature, and better (in my view) than Edmonds's own book focused on the Fischer-Spassky match, which seemed satified merely to retell (albeit in excellent detail) the story of the 1972 World Chess Championship, with little in the way of cultural context.
I've referenced Johnson's work here before, and likely some of the current book derives from his excellent essay "Cold War Chess" (also in PDF) in Prospect, which was mentioned here in connection with NM Scott Massey's 2005 lecture on Moscow 1925. He also had one of the earliest reviews of Kasparov's How Life Imitates Chess (see "Garry Kasparov's Deadly Game"), which--like Josh Waitzkin's The Art of Learning, Bruce Pandolfini's Every Move Must Have a Purpose, and Peter Kurzdorfer's The Tao of Chess--analyzes the meanings of the game for the PowerPoint crowd. Though these books are also interesting in their way, I generally prefer my chess analysis to go a little deeper than that, and Johnson's writings show that he has an impressive ability to do just that. I look forward to getting my copy for Holiday reading.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Reviews of "How Life Imitates Chess"

Carl Schreck's "Game Theory" (online today at Moscow Times website) presents a balanced but ultimately very critical review of Kasparov's How Life Imitates Chess, even calling the former champion a "bad businessman," in apparent reference to the failure of "Kasparov Chess Online" (for which Kasparov himself was hardly to blame). I have read reviews both positive (The Wall Street Journal's "It's Your Move") and negative (The Observer's "He was more fun when he was in the pawn squad"). For those seeking to judge for themselves, BusinessWeek features two excerpts from the book: Garry Kasparov's Endgame and Kasparov's Crisis in Seville. I welcome comments from anyone who has read the book.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

FM Steve Stoyko on the French Defense

The Chess Coroner has been doing an excellent job of covering FM Steve Stoyko's lecture series on the French Defense, which continues tonight at the club. Part One dealt with early White deviations, including the Exchange and Advance Variations. Part Two focused on lines where Black plays an early ...dxe4 exchange (as recommended in Andy Soltis's The Fighting French). This seems to make a great companion to Steve's Lasker Defense Repertoire, not to mention his other lectures on the French in the past, as documented in Anti-Tarrasch, French Defense Repertoire: Winawer with 6...Ne7 and 7...O-O, and French Defense, Part Two: Winawer - Petrosian Variation.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Najdorf - Szapiro, Lodz 1928

Robson - Vigorito, Chicago 2007 Najdorf - Szapiro, Lodz 1928
White to play.

Someone sent me the score to the little known gem Najdorf - Szapiro, Lodz 1928, which I will have to add to my collection of Bishop and Rook mates:

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Labate Grand Prix Draws 12 Titled Players

The Chess Coroner reports that GM Sergey Kudrin won the Labate Grand Prix held Sunday at the Westfield Chess Club. There were 38 participants, 12 of whom were titled players.

Monday, November 05, 2007

13-Year-Old Ray Robson Makes IM Norm

Robson - Vigorito, Chicago 2007 Robson - Vigorito, Chicago 2007
White to play.

The first-place finish and first IM norm of 13-year-old Ray Robson at the 6th North American FIDE Invitational in Chicago has led to widespread recognition of the youngster's Fischer-like talent. That recognition is well deserved. Robson played some great games, but none more impressive than his victory over closest tournament rival, IM David Vigorito, which I have annotated. This was probably Robson's most flawless performance in the event and an important contribution to opening theory--suggesting that Black has a bit more work ahead of him in this critical line of the Loewenthal Sicilian.

Those interested in finding out more about the tournament should check out the following articles (though there will likely be more news coverage in the coming week):

Sunday, November 04, 2007

IM David Levy's Robot Fetish

PC World has an article online today titled "A Robot Bride by 2050? Humans will love and marry robots by the mid-21st century, an AI researcher forecasts," reviewing IM David Levy's recent book, Love and Sex with Robots. My first reaction was, "When chess players are also computer geeks, they inevitably play into every stereotype..." My second: "Not that there's anything wrong with that..." My third: "I wonder if Republicans will raise this issue in the next election cycle..." The ad copy for the book includes the following:

Shocking but utterly convincing, Love and Sex with Robots provides insights that are surprisingly relevant to our everyday interactions with technology. This is science brought to life, and Levy makes a compelling and titillating case that the entities we once deemed cold and mechanical will soon become the objects of real companionship and human desire. Anyone reading the book with an open mind will find a wealth of fascinating material on this important new direction of intimate relationships, a direction that, before long, will be regarded as perfectly normal.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Blogshares Chess

Blogshares ChessCheck it out, since it is not likely to last beyond this weekend: The Kenilworthian is ranked #6 among chess blogs at Blogshares: The Fantasy Blog Stock Market. Of course, just as with the regular stock market, these rankings have little connection to real value. Quite a few prominent chess blogs (including The New York Times's Gambit blog) don't even get listed, and the rankings have no relation to the number of visitors each receives (otherwise The Daily Dirt could knock everyone else off the list). But it's nice to see that people are reading, referencing, and linking to my blog sufficiently to gain some standing in my "industry."

Friday, November 02, 2007

Season Ends for NJ Knockouts with Loss to NY

Bonin - Molner, USCL 2007
White to play.

In Round 10 of US Chess League action, the New Jersey Knockouts fell to the New York Knights, putting an end to their season. New York will take the final playoff spot and New Jersey will have to wait until next year. As usual, I have annotated the games online.

Wins by Irina Krush and Jay Bonin on Boards 2 and 3 put New York in the driver's seat early, and despite Joel Benjamin's win on Board 1 there was not much realistic hope of a tied match, though Evan Ju played until the 50 move rule to test his opponent as much as possible in a drawn position. The game of the night was definitely Bonin's stunning victory over Mackenzie Molner with some flashy attacking play (see diagram above).

I guess we will have to root for New York to go all the way...

Other coverage of the final round of the season can be found online:
Though they did not make the playoffs, New Jersey made a good showing for their first season in the league, which predicts good things for the future, especially considering that many of their lower boards are very young.

You can play through the games from the entire season, now concluded, with annotations at our website:
  • Round 1, Tie with Queens Pioneers, 2-2
  • Round 2, Tie with Tennessee Tempo, 2-2
  • Round 3, Tie with Baltimore Kingfishers, 2-2
  • Round 4, Loss to Queens Pioneers, 1.5-2.5
  • Round 5, Win over New York Knights, 2.5-1.5

  • Round 6, Win over Carolina Cobras, 2.5-1.5

  • Round 7, Loss to Philadelphia Inventors, 1.5-2.5

  • Round 8, Tie with Boston Blitz, 2-2

  • Round 9, Tie with Baltimore Kingfishers, 2-2

  • Round 10, Loss to New York Knights, 1.5-2.5

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Ernesto Labate Grand Prix, November 4th

This coming Sunday, November 4th, The Westfield Chess Club is hosting the Ernesto Labate Grand Prix, with 30 Grand Prix Points and $2000 in guaranteed prizes. Here is the basic info:
  • Five Round Swiss Game/40
  • Westfield Y, 220 Clark Street, Westfield N.J.
  • $2000 Gtd: $650-$350-$250-$150-$100 U2200: $200 U2000 $150 U1800: $100
  • Best game prize $50 (Judge Ernesto Labate)
  • EF: $75, $60 by October 28th Reg: 9:30-11:30 a.m.
  • Rds: 12:00,1:35,3:10,4:45,6:20 p.m.
  • Early EF: Todd Lunna, 36 Maple Drive, Colts Neck, New Jersey 07722.
  • Make checks payable to Westfield Chess Club please bring identification to enter the building. Todd Lunna 732-946-7379.

IM Dean Ippolito

New Jersey IM Dean Ippolito, who has been playing Board 2 for the NJ Knockouts, is profiled in a nice interview by New York Knight WFM Elizabeth Vicary. Neither Ippolito nor Vicary will play in the NJ vs. NY match-up tomorrow to determine the final seat for the USCL playoffs.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Knockouts Keep Playoff Hopes Alive by Drawing Kingfishers

In Round 9 of US Chess League action, the New Jersey Knockouts drew the Baltimore Kingfishers for the second time this season to keep their playoff hopes alive. New Jersey plays rival New York next week in a match that will decide which of those teams makes the playoffs.

When New Jersey played Baltimore in Round 3, they were only able to draw due to a lucky break that turned a possible loss into a win for Dean Ippolito. This time it was Baltimore that got lucky, scoring wins in two games that seemed headed for an even result.

White was victorious in every game, even though all of the Black players were able to gain equality using rather unusual defenses. On Board 1, Benjamin reached his favored Ruy Lopez-like position out of the anti-Sicilian against Blehm and used it to gain enough of an edge to carry him through to victory in a very close game. On Board 2, Friedman used the Chigorin Defense to reach a very drawish position before he blundered badly and lost to Enkhbat's swift tactics. On Board 3, Molner played an interesting line against Kaufman's unusual Nimzo-French (1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Nc6!?) and ended up sacrificing a Bishop to gain an intuitive attack that eventually carried him to victory through some very complicated thickets. And on Board 4, Khodarkovsky seemed to gain easy equality with the Alekhine Defense only to lose to some very interesting endgame tactics by Battsetseg.

Other coverage of Round 9 action:

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Kasparov on Bill Maher

Kasparov's book tour continues, also serving (it appears) as a public relations campaign to solidify Western support behind his bid for the Russian presidency. It almost makes you glad that Kasparov has given up chess, since that means he is more likely to appear on TV. His appearance on Bill Maher's show went much better than his mock-interview with Colbert. But both appearances made me recognize the accuracy of Paul Hoffman's portrait of him in King's Gambit as a pugilistic interlocutor, always out to win an argument--or to turn ordinary conversations into arguments to be won. In this case, it served him well and he ruled the board according to ChessBase, Maher's guests, and even Maher himself. I'm curious to see if he can sustain this level of play into the endgame.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

NJ Knockouts Stop the Blitz

Williams - Shen, USCL 2007 (8)
Black to play

In last night's US Chess League action, The New Jersey Knockouts answered their critics and kept their playoff hopes alive by drawing the most highly ranked team in the league, the Boston Blitz. I have annotated the games and posted them online.

The best games of the night were the decisive ones. On Board 2, Jorge Sammour-Hasbun played an attractive tactical game using an underestimated line of the Scotch Gambit (beginning 1.e4 e5 2.d4 exd4 3.Nf3 Bb4+) against Dean Ippolito. Though Ippolito held onto the gambit pawn and made no obvious errors, Sammour was able to use his initiative to create a decisive attack that left him up the Exchange, which he was able to turn into a win despite evident time pressure. This game will certainly be a contender for game of the week. The loss for New Jersey on Board 2 was fortunately balanced by a win on Board 4 by the young Victor Shen in a wild game where both sides created second Queens. Shen has struggled against his usually more mature opponents, but this game showed him at his best.

The common criticism of the New Jersey Knockouts has been that their even record was achieved against the lowest ranked opponents in the League. They continued their even record, but they raised their level of respect considerably last night. Let's hope that the draw also raises their spirits so that they can make it to the playoffs.

Other coverage:

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Kasparov on Colbert Tonight (Must See TV)

Garry Kasparov will appear tonight on Comedy Central's The Colbert Report. The former World Chess Champion and Russian presidential candidate will likely use the time to promote his book How Life Imitates Chess, but he will no doubt talk politics with the brilliant fake-conservative talk-show host. BTW: if you do not know Colbert's work, be sure to check out the amazing video of him roasting President Bush (and the press) at the White House Correspondents Association dinner.

NJKO - Blitz Preview

The New Jersey Knockouts and the Boston Blitz meet tonight in US Chess League action with important playoff implications. If New Jersey can pull out a win or draw, they will have a very good chance of making the playoffs, despite their ups and downs this season. If Boston wins, they are guaranteed a playoff berth. I thought it would be interesting to preview the action by looking at a couple of games from the past which suggest that this could be a very tight contest, despite the two teams' recent records.

Here are the match-ups:
  1. GM Joel Benjamin (2653) - GM Larry Christiansen (2663)
  2. IM Dean Ippolito (2447) - SM Jorge Sammour-Hasbun (2558)
  3. NM Evan Ju (2268) - NM Denys Shmelov (2251)
  4. NM Victor Shen (2218) - NM Chris Williams (2175)
GMs Benjamin and Christiansen have met many times before, of course, including in a critical US Championship match in 1997, from which I take the main game in my preview. They have played many interesting games over the years, including a fascinating game in the Kevitz Variation in the 2000 US Championship in Seattle which was nicely annotated online at TWIC by John Henderson. I expect this to be a very tough slug-fest. Though they were major rivals about a decade ago, they do not seem to have played each other recently. But one of Benjamin's Anti-Sicilians articles may offer a preview to the opening we might see....

Sammour-Hasbun and Ippolito have only one match-up in the databases, where Ippolito played the opening poorly and then struggled to hold on in a complex double-rook ending. I imagine his opening preparation will be a little better this time, and I think the games on every board could go either way.

Follow the action on ICC or with the NJKO's "Real Time Blog" of the match. Other good sources include the Boston Blitz Blog, the BCC Weblog, US Chess League, and USCF.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Sloan vs. Truong / Polgar

I have not wanted to discuss this case, but it has become so newsworthy that it would be wrong not to mention it, especially as it will likely cast a pall over the US chess scene for some time to come. As you have probably already heard, Sam Sloan has filed suit against Paul Truong, Susan Polgar, and the USCF, seeking to void the recent election, reinstate his own position on the board, and hold new elections due to election fraud. That fraud amounts to the Trulgar camp making a number of misrepresentations, including: posing as Sloan and others on the internet to post highly defamatory statements about Sloan and other candidates and concealing the marriage of Truong and Polgar from the electorate (both of which appear pretty much proven). You can read the lengthy, sometimes rambling, and artfully written filing online (also available from Sloan's website). It is worth reading for some of the interesting facts, opinions, and speculations it reveals. Some may wish to balance that by also reading Bill Goichberg's assessment of Sam Sloan and his character.

Dylan Loeb McClain has done an excellent job of covering the story for The New York Times and in his Gambit weblog:
Other worthwhile commentary and coverage around the net includes:

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Magnetic Sumo Kings

Continuing the theme of teaching the basics of chess one piece at a time, I present you with my handout on "Magnetic Sumo Kings," which makes a game out of lone Kings in order to teach "the opposition." It's practically the chess equivalent of tic-tac-toe.

The Kings are set up opposite each other and the first to force his way across to the other side of the board wins (unless they reach a position where neither can make progress, in which case it's a draw). The idea of imagining the Kings as "magnetic" (of the same polarization) struck me as a good metaphor to help explain how they can influence each other even though they must remain one square apart. A puzzle position from Capablanca then helps show how the principle of the opposition can be used to win games.

The main idea of "Magnetic Sumo Kings," as with "Pawn Battle," is to create an active learning environment where kids pick up complex theoretical concepts by engaging with them directly in practice. Active learning has its limitations, but it does keep kids involved and having fun, especially in group lessons. Have you ever tried to lecture to a group of 8-year-olds? Good luck.

Another good game to get kids to try is "The Szen Position," which is especially effective for brining home the idea of "zugzwang"--though it's unlikely you will get kids to cement the lessons from their practice by playing over the detailed analysis of the position by Jon Speelman in EG 73.5 (July 1983): 185-190. My group of a dozen 8-year-olds seemed to enjoy playing with the Szen position last week. Will they really gain much from the experience without some study? Tough to say. But at least I have made a start and sparked their curiosity and engagement.

It would be nice if the kids I teach would use what they have learned so far to go study the ending some more on their own. But it takes a rare child (or especially committed parents) to do that. That's too bad, since there are so many excellent online resources for learning the endgame these days, especially in the ChessCafe Archives. I especially enjoyed the following articles, which reinforce the themes of "the opposition" and "zugzwang" I have emphasized so far:
Will any of the kids I teach read this stuff? Maybe in a few years....

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

First American Chess Congress, October 1857

GM Andy Soltis's ever-excellent Chess to Enjoy column in this month's Chess Life and Chess Life Online reminded me that the First American Chess Congress began 150 years ago this week in New York on October 6, 1857. You can find his column online, along with the puzzles section that features six selections from the tournament. You might also like my own "Puzzles from New York 1857" along with the selected games from which the puzzle positions come.

I would like to take a moment to compliment the editors of Chess Life for producing one of the best issues I have seen (not to mention the sexiest-ever chess magazine cover photo!) and for putting all of this excellent content online for the entire chess community to enjoy. Bravo!

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

NJ Outwitted by Inventors

The New Jersey Knockouts lost to the Philadelphia Inventors in a tough match in which they could easily have been blanked on every board last night in early USCL action. The more experienced top board players managed to hold draws, but our young bottom board fell in the sole decisive game. The loss leaves New Jersey with an even record so far for the season as they prepare to face league leader Boston next week.

Friday, October 05, 2007

NJ Knockouts Slay Carolina Cobras

Friedman - Zaikov
Can White try for a win here?

The New Jersey Knockouts won their second match in a row on Wednesday night by defeating the Carolina Cobras 2.5-1.5 in Round 6 of US Chess League action thanks mostly to a brilliant victory by 15-year-old Expert Jayson Lian over a master on Board 4. I have annotated the games, all of which featured very interesting opening struggles. The most complex and interesting game of the night was Friedman - Zaikov, where Black played a very interesting gambit in a wild line of the Najdorf to which White responded with a gambit of his own -- giving up three pawns for a strong initiative. In the diagram above, could White have tried for more than the drawish ending he achieved after 26.Ng7+?

You can read more about the match at the NJ Knockouts blog. The victory places New Jersey a respectable 6th out of 12 in the US Chess League Quantitative Power Rankings.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Pawn Battle Rules and Strategies

I have posted “Pawn Battle Rules and Strategies” on the web for chess teachers to use in their classes. I developed it for the dozen 8-year-olds I am currently teaching once a week after school. I found it very effective for covering complex terms, strategies, and ideas in chess all within the first two sessions – and this in a group where over half of the kids had never even learned the rules prior to taking the class. I especially liked that by the end of the first session they already knew some fancy foreign words to impress their parents with...

I am trying something a little different this year with the kids, since many didn’t even know the rules and all but three never had any formal instruction. Generally I start all my teaching to groups by getting the kids to play simplified games such as “Pawn Battle” and “Sumo Kings.” But this year, I’m trying to stick to a strict program where I introduce only a piece at a time and get them engaged with an activity with that piece (or in combination with any others we have discussed).

Pawn Battle

Usually, because the kids already know how the pieces move and are anxious to get to play with the full set (as they are used to doing), I generally have to give up on the strict progression method and just jump into full-blown play. One of the inevitable problems with full-blown play, though, is that the kids start to teach each other the game, so a lot can go wrong. If one kid doesn’t understand that there are three ways to get out of check (you don’t always have to move the King, of course!) then he can start spreading that mistaken idea to the rest of them as fast as a stomach flu. And if the kids have only a tenuous grasp of how en passant capturing works, they’ll be using their pawns to capture Knights, Bishops, and Rooks en passant and exercising that right in every mistaken situation conceivable. Besides getting the rules all muddled, they also start to learn bad strategy, like the inevitable plan of getting their Rooks out first or, for the somewhat more sophisticated, going for the three move mate every time. I’d prefer to have the chance to teach them some good ideas before letting them loose on each other.

So far the approach is working well. Whereas last year, I struggled to the bitter end to teach some less attentive 10-year-olds the meaning of “stalemate” and “en passant,” this year’s younger group already have mastered those ideas completely and even understand things my previous kids never got, such as “zugzwang,” “a pawn majority,” and “the passed pawn’s lust to expand” (OK, maybe I didn’t put the last one quite that way with them). And when one of the kids pulled off a masterful stalemate combination in Pawn Battle, I knew I was already making more rapid progress than I’ve ever seen before.

The handout helped a lot, and eventually I hope to have several like it, including one on “Kings and the Opposition” featuring “Sumo Kings,” “Queening a Pawn,” “The Szen Position,” and “King and Pawn Battle.” I’ve even decided to get them learning Rook endings by lesson four. I’ll tell you how that works out. But if I succeed, none of them will have my own nagging doubts about playing an endgame if they go on to take chess more seriously. As a friend once told me, winning an endgame is at least 50% attitude. If you believe you are a great endgame player, your chances of actually winning in the endgame go up tremendously, no matter what your actual skill level. I hope I can instill such confidence in these kids. And I think we are off to a great start.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Articles List Updated

I have updated the list of Articles on the Kenilworth Chess Club website. It's not quite the ChessCafe Archives, but easier to navigate than Jeremy Silman or Chessville.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Elroy N. Mess

Elroy N. Mess, 85, father to long-time Kenilworth Chess Club Champion NM Scott Massey, died September 23, 2007. The funeral will be held at the Growney Funeral Home, 1070 N. Broad St., Hillside, on Tuesday, Oct. 2, 2007, at 10 a.m. Friends may call Monday, Oct. 1, from 2 to 4 and 7 to 9 p.m.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Chess Fest in Asbury Park

Just a reminder that Chess Fest 2007 in Asbury Park is tomorrow, September 29th, from 10-2 at the Asbury Park Convention Hall (get map). The highlight of the day will feature Monmouth County children ages 5 to 18 playing GM Maurice Ashley in a simultaneous exhibition.

Lasker's Defense to the Queen's Gambit

Back in 2005, FM Steve Stoyko gave a wonderful series of lectures at the Kenilworth Chess Club on a Black 1.d4 repertoire built around Lasker's Defense to the Queen's Gambit Declined. I recently compiled those lectures (along with some new material) into a single article. Steve will return, beginning next week, October 4, at 8:15 p.m. to begin his long-anticipated lecture series on a 1.e4 Black repertoire built around the French Defense. The fee will be $5 per lecture and I will present more information early next week.