Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Mac Attacks

USCF online has posted some of IM-elect Mackenzie ("Mac") Molner's "Macnificent Games" from the recent 25th North American Masters tournament, March 20-24th in Skokie, IL (alongside the World Amateur Championship).  The former New Jersey stand-out and current NYU student tied for first with GM Ben Finegold, securing both his final IM norm and first GM norm.  His games are worth a look, including an interesting example of the Gunsberg Variation of the Two Knights as White (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6 4.Ng5 d5 5.exd5 Na5 6.Bb5+ c6 7.dxc6 bxc6 8.Bd3!?)

Monday, March 29, 2010

Etymologist and Chess Player

Chess and other puzzle-solving activities seem to attract people of the same habits of mind: people who, when faced with a mystery, feel compelled to figure it out (no matter what else they should be doing).  I touched on this subject in "Why Chess Sticks," where I suggested that the game continually presents those who study it with "knowledge gaps." As each new gap is filled a new one opens up, so we are continually drawn into new mysteries to explore.  That abyss of ever expanding problems to solve represents both the attraction and the danger of the game. To outsiders, the danger is significant, since chess players out to solve a chess mystery seem to be tilting at windmills (as the "Knights Errant" well know).   

Thinking about these issues, I was naturally intrigued by Michael Brick's "Etymologist on a word quest, from 'Big Apple' to 'Dallas'" (The Dallas Morning News, March 28, 2010), which tells the story of amateur word sleuth and chess master Barry Popik, best known for tracing the origins of the term "Big Apple" to describe New York City.  The story of Popik's quest to solve the mystery of "The Big Apple" is well told -- beginning with his motives for taking it up:
[Popik thought:] "I'll answer the question about the Big Apple; it's the most asked question at the New York Public Library. People asked about it because there wasn't an answer – this was before the Internet – and I'll answer it and the mayor will give me a gold medal." 
After a considerable amount of squinting into microfilm, Popik tracked the term far beyond its use as a tourism slogan in the 1970s, all the way to 1920s horse racing writer John J. Fitz Gerald, who had likely appropriated it from New Orleans stable hands. 
He scoured reports from the winter racing season, a feat of diligence at which mainstream researchers would later marvel. His work, which would eventually become grist for an eight-part series on his Web site (one part is called "1970s-present: False Etymologies"), gained the attention of prominent lexicographers. 
"The Big Apple racing circuit had meant 'the big time,' the place where the big money was to be won," Popik wrote. "Horses love apples, and apples were widely regarded as the mythical king of fruit." 
Respectful citations followed, but no gold medal.
Popik's story may be every chess player's story.  Some of us just take on problems that other people care about enough to give out gold medals....

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Vasily Smyslov (1921-2010)

Former World Chess Champion Vasily Smyslov died Friday night at the Moscow hospital, having turned 89 on March 24th. There is a report and obituary at ChessBase and there will likely be many remembrances over the coming weeks.  Though he held the world title for only a short time (1957-1958), he was the best player in the world throughout the 1950s, during which he played a series of closely contested championship matches with Mikhail Botvinnik.  His best and most famous result was finishing first (two points ahead of the field!) at Zurich 1953, considered by many one of the greatest chess tournaments of all time and made immortal by David Bronstein's widely admired bookHis games have a positional character rather like that of Vladimir Kramnik today (who admired his play) and he often proved himself the Endgame Virtuoso, as demonstrated in his great book by that title.  His chess career continued to late in his life as he participated in the 1980s candidates matches (losing only to Kasparov in a match at Vilnius 1984), won the first senior championship in 1991, and last played in the Ladies vs Veterans tournaments through 2001.  I have looked closely at several of his late games in my series on A Black Fianchetto System in the Open Games and was very impressed by his play at such an advanced age.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Marshall's 1.d4 d5 2.c4 Nf6!?

Rick Kennedy's well-researched Alekhine vs. Marshall's 1.d4 d5 2.c4 Nf6!? at ChessCafe (originally in Kaissiber #27) would almost lead you to believe that Frank James Marshall's center-surrendering experiment against the Queen's Gambit might be fully playable.  Alekhine's notes on Alekhine - Marshall, Baden Baden 1925 suggest as much, and 12…Nxe5 13.0-0 0-0 14.Be2 Be6 would clearly have improved on Marshall's play.  However, there are two lines that Kennedy does not consider which seem to keep the line in doubt, and both are examined in Matt Pullin's excellent two-part video series from 2008 (see above).  

I always admire Pullin's objectivity, and he does his best to demonstrate Black's chances as well as White's most powerful challenge with 1.d4 d5 2.c4 Nf6 3.cxd5 Nxd5 4.Nf3! (objectively better than the natural 4.e4 Nf6! 5.Nc3 e5!) 4...Bf5 5.Qb3! and if 5...Nc6 6.Nbd2! gives White a strong variation of the Baltic (1.d4 d5 2.c4 Bf5), as demonstrated in the game Takacs-Havasi, Budapest 1926.  Kennedy also does not mention the game Alekhine - Mooyman/Citroen, Surabaya 1933 (surprising, given his focus on Alekhine) where White was definitely better following 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 d5 3.cxd5 Nxd5 4.e4 Nf6 5.Nc3 e5 6.Nf3 exd4 7.Nxd4 (7.Qxd4 is also slightly in White's favor).  Pullin suggests Black may have a playable game here after 7....Bc5 8.Be3 O-O (better than the tempting but tempo-wasting 8...Ng4?! as Alekhine's opponents tried) and if 9.Ne6 Bxe6 10.Bxc5 (gaining the two Bishops in an open position) 10...Re8 11.Qxd8 Rxd8 he thinks Black has reasonable chances, which may be true, though Black's position is hardly inspiring.  Conclusion: Marshall's variation of the Queen's Gambit Declined may have more to it than commonly thought, but it does not inspire confidence against White's best counters.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Caro-Kann Defense, Fantasy Variation

    White has a "fantasy" that features 3...dxe4?!

    There has been a lot of interest of late in the Caro-Kann Fantasy Variation (1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.f3!?), which is looking more and more like one of the more viable alternative to the more mainstream Advance Variation (3.e5), Classical (3.Nd2 or 3.Nc3) and Exchange / Panov Attack (3.exd5). Though there was Nikolai Minev's decades-old pamphlet Caro-Kann, Fantasy Variation and Nigel Davies chapter in Gambiteer I (see games at Chessgames), the line otherwise seems mostly discussed in books from the Black perspective (including by Ian Rogers in SOS #3 on 1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.f3 e5!?).  It does seem a fertile territory for analysis since there is not yet a lot of theory and the lines can get very sharp (so computers can be of great assistance here).  ChessBase points out the line's popularity in the recent European Individual Championships and has published a few articles from their ChessBase Magazine [which no longer appear at their website]. For those with subscriptions, I have also seen videos online by Bryan Smith (at ChessLectures.com), by Boris Alterman (at ICC) and by Nigel Davies for Foxy Videos.  As my interest is piqued, I figured I'd put together a little webliography.  As always, I welcome additions.

    No longer on the web (nor in the Internet Archive):
    • Fantasy Variation Analysis by Marcus Schmuecker at ChessBase Magazine Online
      Analyzes the innovative 1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.f3!? dxe4 4.fxe4 e5 5.Nf3 Bg4! 6.Bc4 Nd7 7.c3! (instead of 7.O-O first).  This is probably the most important line to know since it is widely recommended for Black, including by Jovanka Houska in Play the Caro-Kann.
    • Fantasy Variation EICC from ChessBase
      A collection of games featuring the line from the recent European Individual Championships.
    • Analysis by Alfredo Cueva at ChessBase
      A reader's analysis of the line1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.f3 dxe4 4.fxe4 e5 5.Nf3 Bg4 6.Bc4 Nd7 7.c3 b5 8.Bd3!
    • Nepomniachtchi-Jobava by Knaak at ChessBase
      An interesting recent game from the European Ch that began with 3...Qb6 4.a4.

    Tuesday, March 23, 2010

    Nakamura Takes Dos Hermanas Blitz

    U.S. Champion and world famous blitz player GM Hikaru Nakamura won the 11th Dos Hermanas online blitz championship, played on ICC.  As you can see from the Finals Grid, Nakamura (Smallville), author of Bullet Chess: One Minute to Mate,  began the finals by beating former Kenilworth Chess Club Champion Yaacov Norowitz (a tough first pairing for YaacovN!) and went on to beat GM Yaroslav Zinchenko (MEGAYARICK) in the final match.  You can download the games in PGN from the ICC site.

    Anand - Topalov Countdown

    The World Chess Championship match between Viswanathan Anand and Veselin Topalov begins in exactly a month, on April 23, in Sofia, Bulgaria.  Prematch predictions have tended to favor Topalov, if only because he is playing on his home turf -- as Vladimir Kramnik points out in a recent interview.

    Saturday, March 20, 2010

    Chess Mates in the News

    Kenilworth Chess Club Champion Arthur Macaspac, who expects to open his Chess Mates cafe soon, is featured in an article in Central New Jersey's Home News & Tribune titled "Chess lover opens cafe in Rahway."

    Friday, March 19, 2010

    IM Dean Ippolito at SPICE

    New Jersey IM Dean Ippolito came very close to gaining a GM norm at the 2010 SPICE Spring Invitational in Lubbock, Texas. But his loss to IM Gergely Antal in Round 8 (see video above of his resignation) ended his title chase in this tournament -- though it gave Antal a shot at his own norm. Dean did score a couple of nice wins along the way, though, including a tactically sharp victory over celebrated youngster Darwin Yang.

    BBC's "How to Win at Chess"

    The BBC has produced a wonderful hour-long documentary titled "How to Win at Chess," most of which has been posted at zaphod319's YouTube channel.  It is also widely available for download, though not yet available for sale.  Structured rather like David Shenk's The Immortal Game, it follows an arranged game between British chess personalities Ray Keene and Daniel King (which the two players use as a vehicle for instruction) while jumping off into various aspects of chess history, culture, and competition.  Highly recommended.

    Hat tip to Mark Weeks, who often posts about videos on Friday.

    Tuesday, March 16, 2010

    Left Hook Grand Prix Videos

    Matt Pullin put together a great two-part series on what I like to call the Left Hook Grand Prix against the Sicilian.  I think he pinpoints some of the critical Black defenses, though he says he has played it from both sides.  Since my most recent Left Hook outing at USATE, I have been moving toward a different repertoire as White, including the Open Sicilian and even the Smith Morra (gasp! -- more on that in upcoming articles anticipating IM Marc Esserman's Smith-Morra lecture at the KCC on April 15th).  The Left Hook is a lot of fun in blitz, though, but I suspect it will become less fun now with everyone following Pullin's excellent recommendations!  For those who want to learn more about the line, here is a complete webliography:
    I think Pullin is right that White might prefer the center gambit 1.e4 c5 2.Nc3 Nc6 3.f4 g6 4.Nf3 Bg7 5.a3 e6 6.d4!? over the wing gambit 6.b4!? -- though that does raise the question of why 5.a3 in the first place.  If anyone can suggest a better waiting move after 1.e4 c5 2.Nc3 Nc6 3.f4 g6 4.Nf3 Bg7 looking to meet 5...e6 with 6.d4! I'd like to hear it. The move 5.Be2 does not look like much, as Welling - Ree 1984 and Romanishin - Polugaevsky, Tilburg 1985 demonstrate. Maybe 5.h3 is worth a go, as in Novikov - Korotylev, Moscow 2007I would also mention Nigel Davies's fun Gambiteer II, which covers the reverse line 1.c4 e5 2.Nc3 Nc6 3.g3 f5 4.Bg2 Nf6 5.e3 d5! which I have had great success with as Black.  

    Hat tip to Katar for alerting me to these videos.

    Monday, March 15, 2010

    Der Spiegel Interviews Magnus Carlsen

    "I am Chaotic and Lazy" is Magnus Carlsen's headlining self-description in a recent Der Spiegel interview reprinted by ChessBase.  It is a remarkable interview, most for the self-deprecating comments of the World Number One and for the insight into his own quite level-headed attitude toward the game.  One exchange amused me:
    Carlsen: What is important is that I have a life beyond chess.

    SPIEGEL: Why?

    Carlsen: Chess should not become an obsession. Otherwise there’s a danger that you will slide off into a parallel world, that you lose your sense of reality, get lost in the infinite cosmos of the game. You become crazy. I make sure that I have enough time between tournaments to go home in order to do other things. I like hiking and skiing, and I play football in a club.

        SPIEGEL: Do you have a favourite club?

    Carlsen: Real Madrid, the royals.

        SPIEGEL: Many football players use music to get in the mood before a game. Do you do that too before sitting down in front of the board?

    Carlsen: Oh, yes. If I am feeling gloomy before a game, I listen to gloomy music.

        SPIEGEL: Such as?

    Carlsen: You probably won’t know it, a song by Lil Jon. A silly rap song, but it does me good, I loosen up. I listen to music on the Internet, but don`t download any songs. It’s all totally legal. Many people may find that boring, but I think it is important.
    I am sure many will speculate about the song that inspires the best chess player in the world, if only to add it to their own playlists....  Perhaps it's Give It All U Got?

    Sunday, March 14, 2010

    First "Only NJ" Championship, March 20-21

    On March 20th and 21st, the Dean Of Chess Academy (3150 U.S. Route 22 West in Branchburg, NJ) will be hosting the First "Only New Jersey" Championship (see USCF for official details). You can enter online at http://entryfeesrus.com or by mail, sending checks (payable to NJSCF) to Ken Thomas, 115 West Moore Street, Hackettstown, NJ 07840-2233 or by making an on-site cash payment from 8:00-9:45 a.m. on Saturday 3/20.  Due to space limitations, only the first 100 paid entries (total, regardless of section) will get to play.  The Masters-Experts (rated 2000 or higher) is a 4 Round Swiss, 40 moves/120, SD/60, $70 entry (half price for former NJ State champs).  Prizes : $500-300-200-100 (for 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th), $100 to Top Expert, plus trophies to 1st, 2nd, 3rd & Top Expert.  Rounds : Saturday 3/20 @ 10 a.m. & 4:30 p.m., Sunday 3/21 @ 9 a.m. & 4 p.m.  Entries so far include current NJ champ Dean Ippolito, former champ Steve Stoyko, Jim West, and Anna Matlin.

    Class A-B (For those rated 1600-1999) and Class C (For those U1600 & unrated) are 5 Round Swisses, G/100, with $65 entry fee.  Rounds at Saturday 3/20 @ 10 a.m., 2 p.m. & 6 p.m., Sunday 3/21 @ 11 a.m. & 3 p.m.

    For more information, contact Ken (the Tournament Director), at acn@goes.com or (908)763-6468.

    Thursday, March 11, 2010

    Support "Chess Movie"

    I.S. 318 at NY State Championships
    Katie Dellamaggiore, an independent documentary filmmaker from Brooklyn, is raising money for her Chess Movie, about the award-winning I.S. 318 team.  Visit her "Kickstarter" page to learn more about the project and to pledge your support.  Though they have already met their minimum goal of raising $4,000, they definitely need a lot more than that to finish this important documentary, which I think could do for scholastic chess what Mad Hot Ballroom did for kids' ballroom dancing.  Here is Katie's appeal:
    Over the last 2 years I have been producing and directing a documentary about scholastic chess with my company Rescued Media.  Chess Movie (working title) goes inside one of the best junior high chess program in the nation, Intermediate School 318 in Brooklyn, New York. Many students at 318 come from difficult circumstances and 60% are from low-income families, but being part of a winning chess team gives them a unique opportunity to experience success at a young age. Justus, Patrick, Alexis, Pobo & Rochelle are 5 of 50 team members that are learning on the chessboard the skills they need to face challenges of adolescence and their working class circumstances.

    In April 2009 we embarked on our first trip with the team to Nashville, Tennessee, to the USCF Super Nationals. Once we witnessed how big the scholastic chess world was, we were hooked. Over the next year we embedded ourselves with the team-- at home, at school and away at tournaments -- and slowly, the kids' individual stories began to take shape.  Please view our five minute teaser for an idea of where the film is now headed. It’s our ultimate goal to secure a national television broadcast for Chess Movie and maybe even a small theatrical release. We also plan to build a strong community outreach campaign in the hopes the film will build support for scholastic chess programs in under served communities as we have witnessed firsthand the profound effect the I.S. 318 chess program has had on its students.

    Right now we have a fundraising campaign underway at Kickstarter.com. Kickstarter is an online funding platform for artists to engage with their audiences and build support for their projects. Our Kickstarter campaign has been pretty successful so far, reaching our initial goal of $4,000 in just a few short weeks. But we still have 50 days to go and we need more than 4k to finish this film. When you log onto Kickstarter you will see that we are offering some really cool rewards and incentives for backers. For example a $10 donation gets you exclusive access to video updates and deleted scenes and a $55 donation secures you a "Special Thanks" credit in our film. We also offer chess-centric rewards like free memberships to WORLD CHESS LIVE and CHESS.COM but at the end of the day I hope you are most inspired to give because you love chess and are moved by the kids and their stories. We believe this film has the potential to breakdown false stereotypes about chess and present a new and fresh perspective to one of the world's oldest and most beloved games.

    Monday, March 08, 2010

    Moving from Blogger FTP to WordPress, Part 1

    Life was easy when I set up this blog (and others) way back in May 2005 using Blogger's friendly FTP service.  Then in January 22 of this year, Blogger announced that they are shutting down FTP access in March -- since pushed back to May 1, 2010 -- and had set up a blog and some migration tools to help users shift to other Blogger-supported methods.  It's good to know that switching to a simple blogging method would be easy and painless -- but I don't trust Blogger now and want to maintain some of our traffic.  So I have decided to switch over to WordPress (which I've been admiring for a while anyway) and see if I can continue to maintain the same web addresses for our blogs.  Some things may change -- such as the RSS feeds (from what I have read) and certainly the blogging interface -- but I hope to pull off the switch with a minimum of downtime and no change to our link structure (fingers crossed).  Here are some guides I have been reading on the subject, in case you are in the same boat:
    These seem pretty helpful, but I get the sense that WordPress may be working behind the scenes to make the process even easier.  Just wish they would do more to announce what they are up to.  Seems like a great opportunity for them to gain customers.  I have backed up our site and started experimenting with The Center Square blog to see how this will go.  I'll keep you posted on my progress and welcome reader advice.

    Tuesday, March 02, 2010

    USATE 2010 Games

    The Week in Chess has posted TWIC #799 with USATE games, which I have collected in a USATE 2010 PGN for convenience.  The NJSCF or NJoyChess usually posts a cleaned up version that includes team names and accurate ratings.