Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

If I could go back in time and stop civilization at a certain moment - stop all human ingenuity, invention and innovation that came after - I would do so at the moment that both the bath and the sofa had just been invented. And if I could do the same thing but only in the realm of chess computers, then I think the point of development captured in this lovely video (via Mark Weeks) -

- would probably be about right.
The Fritzes and Rybkas - those destroyers of dreams, those refuters of our fantasies, those merciless machines - no more.

Still, I suppose I must admit that the internet is quite good.
 After all, according to Grandmaster Var Akobian it's responsible for "Without a doubt, the finest chess apparel [he's] ever seen," in the form of Endgame Clothing (via). An example is to the right. 

Finest? Maybe, maybe not. If you don't agree with Var, 
perhaps the more macho Chess Fight Gear (via) will prove more to your taste?
An example is to the left. 

(And don't forget, previous t-shirt related posts can be found here and here.)

As to what out of these three I deem good, bad or ugly, I leave to the readers' imagination.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Ain't it just like the knight...

On Bob Dylan and chess

Tomorrow sees the release of Bob Dylan's 33rd studio album, Together Through Life. This is much more of a cause for celebration than it would have been, say, fifteen years ago - his last three albums have, thankfully, been spectacularly un-boring (and un-Christian). The omens are good, too: 'Beyond Here Lies Nothin'', Together Through Life's opener, is sexy and stellar, despite its fairly obvious similarities to Fleetwood Mac's 'Black Magic Woman'. One never really needs an excuse to write about Bob Dylan, of course, but given that this is the Streatham and Brixton Chess Blog there really ought to be some accent on chess. Instantly the question is begged: is Bob Dylan a chess player?

In so much as anyone who knows the rules of chess and who has pushed a few pawns around can be called a chess player, then the answer is yes. Indeed, there is photographic evidence:

The above, to which we shall return soon, was one of many photographs of Dylan in Woodstock taken by Daniel Kramer in 1964 and 1965. On the left is Dylan's roadie Victor Maimudes. But as we all know only too well, being a chess player, and describing oneself as such, is far, far less about playing and more about that intangible state, both overwhelmingly joyous and depressing, whereby the game begins to dominate your waking thoughts, your bookshelf, your life. What interests me is that in the early-to-mid 1960s chess continues to crop up as a minor motif in Dylan's work. On the Minnesota Hotel Tapes (recorded 22 December 1961, before the release of his eponymous debut album), for example, he tells the following story about his travels and travails in East Orange County:

Note the tone and pace of Dylan's speech, all rather suggestive of someone heavily under the influence of Woody Guthrie. Note, too, the accompanying photo taken from the same Kramer session. (For many years Hardinge Simpole have hosted a page containing a transcript of the Orange County tale - here again it is juxtaposed with yet another Kramer chess photo.)

In January 1964 Dylan released The Times They Are a-Changin'. We need not make too much of that album's famous protest song, 'Only a Pawn in their Game', besides noting the pleasing central use of some vague chess imagery. (Dylan later returned to pawns as metaphor on 'Caribbean Wind', an outtake from 1981's terrible Shot of Love: 'Could I have been used and played as a pawn? / It certainly was possible as the gay night wore on.') More interesting is Another Side of Bob Dylan, released later in 1964 and specifically its liner notes, which contain the following elevated prose:

"i could make you crawl
if i was payin' attention"
he said munchin' a sandwich
in between chess moves
"what d' you wanna make
me crawl for?"
"i mean i just could"
"could make me crawl"
"yeah, make you crawl!"
"humm, funny guy you are"
"no, i just play t' win,
that's all"
"well if you can't win me,
then you're the worst player
i ever played"
"what d' you mean?"
"i mean i lose all the time"
his jaw tightened an' he took
a deep breath
"hummm, now i gotta beat you"

It was in the same month that Another Side was put out that Daniel Kramer began his year-long photo shoot: chess was seemingly on Dylan's mind. This is further evidenced by his stream-of-consciousness novel Tarantula (released, finally, in 1971 but written in the years 1965-6), which also contained a few references to chess. Tarantula had its critics - viz. most people who read it - and certainly, it is not the most re-readable book in the world. But it is an eminently important text in and of itself by virtue of the fact that it illuminates, poetically, the inner workings of an artist at his creative peak. We should therefore be at least mildly curious at passages such as

in a hilarious grave of fruit hides the wee gunfighter warm bottle of roominghouse juice in the rim of his sheep skin/ lord thomas of the nightingales, bird of youth, rasputin the clod, galileo the regular guy & max, the novice chess player


Darling the Hypocrite immediately lights a fire to the floor & People Gringo pounds his fist on a book & says that rocking chair & watermelon are the same word only with different letters ...St. Bread from the riot squad-entering with his chess pieces & a hilarious hard on & he laughs too


MAMMOTH NOAH & the orient marauders all on the morality rap & Priest of Harmony in a narrow costume-he's with the angels now & he says "all's useless-useless" & Instinct, poet of the antique zenith-putting on his hoofs & whinnying "all's not useless-all is very signifying! " & the insane pied piper stealing the Queen's Pawn & the conquering war cry "neither-neither" & jails being cremated & jail in I fall' g & newly arrived spirits digging-digging their finger nails-their fingernails into each other...

...all of which suggests that the Royal Game was a sort of stock ad-libbing port of call for the young Dylan. Did this interest in chess persist, however? A 2002 article in The Atlantic suggested as much, claiming that the singer was one of many to engage in a phone conversation (worth $2,500) with Bobby Fischer in the 1980s. But Fischer was Fischer, a celebrity in his own right with a titilating aura: I wouldn't mind speaking to OJ Simpson, but that doesn't mean I'm into American football or murder. Besides, Dylan's manager allegedly paid for it.

Improbably it was everyone's least favourite Irishman, Bono, who got to the heart of the matter. When Dylan came to play at Dublin Castle in 1984, the saviour of the world and part time U2 singer interviewed him for Hot Press magazine. Most definitely a chess player himself, Bono couldn't help but ask:

Bono: Chess, do you play chess?
Dylan: Yeah, I play chess. Are you a chess player?
Bono: I am a chess player.
Dylan: I'm not that good actually.
Bono: I'll challenge you to a game of chess.
Dylan: I don't have it right now actually, I just don't have one on me, but the next time you see me!
Bono: Oh, you can get these little ones you know, that you can carry around.
Dylan: Yeah, I take them on tour all the time, but nobody in the band will play me.
Bono: Really?
Dylan: Yeah, they say it's an ego trip. They say I want to win, I don't want to win, I just like to play.
Bono: When you put out a record that causes trouble - is it part of an overall plan, or do you just do it?
Dylan: No, I don't ever put out a record to cause trouble - if it causes trouble, it causes trouble, that's apart from me. If it causes trouble, that's other people's problem. It's not my problem. I'm just not going to put out a record that I just feel - you know, if I feel like I'm inspired to make a statement, I'll make that statement. But what happens after I do it, I don't care about that.
Bono: What's your opening game?
Dylan: My opening game, you mean king's pawn up two - and all that? I don't know.
Bono: You just takes it as it comes.
Dylan: Yeah. I don't really play that seriously.
Bono: Well, I thought I did until I played Adam's brother Sebastian - he was only about 13 years old and he beat me!
Dylan: Somebody may have a chess game here.
Bono: I'd love to play.

And then, just as they were on the search for a chess board, Van Morrison entered the room and spoilt everything. Isn't that always the way?

All we really know about Dylan and chess, then, is that he played a bit, admired Bobby Fischer, didn't know any opening theory and would often bash out drug-fuelled doggerel about the game. Sounds a lot like me. But we're not quite done:

Dylan - Maimudes, Woodstock, 1965. White to play

Yegads! Looks like the insane pied piper's gone and stolen the Queen's Pawns again. So far as I'm aware this is the position on the board in the first Kramer photograph. Why white to play? It's not just that Dylan's evidently distracted by some interesting patter while his roadie is deep in thought. If we look at the photo which accompanied the Orange County yarn it appears that the same game is progress, only seven half-moves later:

I suspect that we have seen the moves 1...Qf6 (hitting c3) 2.Ne2 Nge7 3.g3 Rd8 4.Bg2 (a fianchetto! Bravo, Bob!) 0-0. Provided Dylan plays something like 5.Rf1, young Victor Maimudes should have no play for his piece and a pawn.

Clearly Bob Dylan was not the worst chess player in the world; perhaps his roadie was. Either way, it is refreshing to know that not all of my heroes (cf. Andre Breton, Frank Zappa) have feet of clay when it comes to chess.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Cocotte minute - muj cas

"Nice animation, not a terrible song -- shame about the one fairly
obvious chessical mistake..."

- Morgan Daniels

A good find from my friend and fellow blogger ... but might there be two chessical mistakes?

Friday, April 24, 2009

Friday Quiz

Ok it's not Morgan's Ron Passant Murder Mystery but I didn't get where I am today without enjoying a Friday quiz so ...

Get from Question A to Question B in three easy steps:-

Question A:
The programme I'm thinking of watching which stars Martin Clunes and is starting tonight on BBC is ... ?

Step 1 ................................................................

Step 2 ................................................................

Step 3 ................................................................

Question B:
A new book from Quality Chess I'm thinking of buying is ... ?

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Sword And The Chess (Publisher) Of Death

Readers of older posts on this blog - where older means not in the last week and hence not on the front page - may have been surprised to see the message This Account Has Been Suspended in the place where they might otherwise expect to see a game to play through: for instance here, or here. Which, I confess, detracts a little from the value of the posts.

We apologise for the interruption but we cannot be sure that normal service will be resumed. The reason for the message is that the Chess Publisher site, as you can see (or not see) if you try to visit, is out of commission. It has been for a while: and though it's occasionally been on the blink before, this hiatus has been rather longer in duration than a blink. We think it may have gone, and not be coming back.

This would be a pain, not just because of all our past posts that now look like they've had a traffic warden after them - nor solely because if the site has died then it's taken a lot of game scores with it, making the job of restoring the old posts a great deal harder. It also means we can't build play-through games into blog posts again until we locate an adequate substitute. We've used Chesspublisher since we started the site: we should probably have found ourselves a backup before we needed one. Still, it's not like losing your thesis or something.

Anyway, the intention of this post was originally to say this: to say that if Chess Publisher has gone the way of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, we need to find another site to take its place and to that end, because I for one am woefully underinformed on the subject, any suggestions from our readers would be welcome.

However.... the course of locating the video clip which opens this post (chess site dies, hence chess and death, you get the joke) I found something far more interesting....

....which is this....

....which induces me to ask a far more interesting question.....

...which is does anybody have a sliver of a clue what on Earth this is all about?

Monday, April 20, 2009

Still Memorable - a review of

My 60 Memorable Games
by Bobby Fischer
Batsford 2008 edition, 384 pp., £14.99

It's Fischer as white to play here against Reshevsky, from the 1962-3 USA Championship:

Quite why Fischer's next is my favourite move from a book full of such memorable moments, I don't know.

After all, there is much to choose from. In games such as number 14 v Keres, 53 v Portisch and 57 v Larsen, Fischer's annotations conjure a sense of that remarkable thing: the superiority of his judgment and intuition over that of such nearly-great opponents. Then there are the victories on the white side of the Closed Lopez, where Fischer seems totally at home, smoothly commanding the whole of the board with such subtle strokes, his position seemingly-effortlessly improving to inevitable victory. Not to mention the black defences of hypermodern kingside openings, such as the King's Indian and Grunfeld, where my amateur eyes look at his lack of space and the invading enemy pieces and fear terrible things, but where an untrembling Fischer perceives only ghosts, which he invites into his position only to waft away.

And of course it's not just the games themselves that are memorable, but the variations provided by Fischer in the notes too.
Originally these were praised for their painstaking completeness, but in today's computer-era they come across more as a mixture of the indicative, fantastical and only sometimes-exhaustive. Indicative particularly in endgames, exhaustive particularly in exciting tactical finales. Take the position to the right, to be found in the notes to Fine's 14...Qxh4 in game 44. Fischer gives 17.Qh6 a !! and analyzes 17...gxh6 to a lovely win, and indeed it's a wonderful move and sequence. Except after 17...Be7! the computer's evaluation initially dives from +- to close to equal; further analysis suggests however that black can at best escape to a close-to-lost endgame. Meanwhile, the undramatic and unanalysed by Fischer 17.d6! wins material without much fuss.

This is an example of another attraction to the 2008 edition which (algebraic-notation aside) is mostly unchanged from the original: even amateurs such as myself can use the computer to hunt for improvements and mistakes, to update the analysis. On which note, I can also recommend Mark Weeks' serieson the 18 Memorable Games that are analysed both in Fischer's book and Kasparov's Great Predecessors book about Fischer, in which Mark fruitfully compares their annotations and judgements with Rybka at his side.

Perhaps future publications of historic chess books should follow the lead here for this very reason, allowing classics to stand as-was, reprinting them as artefacts, partly for historical intrigue - and partly to facilitate a second life of analytical correction and addition online. And perhaps they could even go further and enhance the memorabilia value of such works, say by including extras such as photographs. I should also mention here that the minor updates in this Batsford edition have received criticism from Edward Winter at the bottom of this interesting article. And for those with a particularly strong interest in textual felicity and technical accuracy, I found two errors in this edition. In the position to the left, Pilnik's 39.Rxf7 is given incorrectly as "39.Rcxf7" - but 39.Rfxf7 is illegal, because the f-rook is pinned. The second, similar error occurs in the note to Pilnik's resignation.

What else? Fischer's writing style is certainly entertaining. There are pithy one-liners such as his annotation to 1.e4 in the final game of this collection: "I have never opened with the d-pawn - on principle." There's quizzical remarks - and quirky terminology, such as describing one particular blunder as "a terrible boner". And sometimes the juxtaposition of his analysis with those he quotes is particularly sharp; in game 39 his straight-to-the-point comments contrast remarkably with elaborate, long-winded and perhaps even self-indulgent analysis.

And of course there's the much-debated specialness of Fischer himself. Not just the style of his play - intangible? universal?, or the superiority of his judgements at the board - but also displayed in the book also is his astonishing work-ethic, competitiveness, drive. I should add that it's a popular reflex nowadays to explain any sort of exceptionalism or personal difficulty in terms of a medical or psychological condition: and in Fischer's case this usually calls for a mention of Asperger's syndrome. Maybe, maybe not; but to me at least, nothing in this book indicates this to be the case. Instead the picture emerges of a competitive, talented, hard-working, individualistic and psychologically-sharp chess player.

In his Preface, Fischer says he has tried to be "candid and precise in [his] elucidations in the hope that they would offer insights into chess that will lead to fuller understanding and better play." His book still offers more beside this, and if you're not sure why 30.Rh4! is such a good move in the diagram at the top of this review, then I recommend Fischer's memorable work as a guide to why.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Announcement II

A month ago the T.C. formerly known as blog editor told us that due to his impending arrival and EJH's forthcoming marriage the S&BCCBlog would become the S&BCBlog and appear four days per week.

The eagle-eyed amongst you may have noticed that while we managed the former we have in fact been continuing as normal with daily posts. Nevertheless today it is my solemn duty to inform you that for the next little while we are going to cut down to a four day week and this time we mean it.

So next week there'll be something new on the blog on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. For sure.

By 'Sunday' I meant 'Saturday or Sunday'. There. Clear as mud.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Chess in Art Postscript : Slow Triangulation

Guest post by Martin Smith

ChessinArtoholics will remember this miniature (in chess-problem parlance) Abstractish piece from Paul Klee in Chess in Art XIV and comment at Chess in Art Collected.

Paul Klee (1937)

No players, no moves, just a kind of a board and some cut-out pieces, though so few that the position must have been abandoned as a draw some time ago. Not a lot going on, not much to paint, and seemingly not much to blog about. Absent-minded rather than Abstract. But it sets us off on an exploration of threesomes or, more precisely, threesome-ness (but sorry to disappoint, we are talking only pictorially).

One of three. Übershach has a trio of pieces, obviously, which the conceptually departed players have carelessly left lying about, and the illusion of a third dimension created by the roughed-up board. But there's a more subtle rule of three at work. "Squares" of colour, for which black counts as much as the other three, crimson, vermillion and cobalt blue, are separated by a white and grey pair. They go: white, grey, colour; that's one, two, three; and two, two, three; and three, two, three; counting out a waltz, just as you may have done when learning your ballroom foot-work. But it is more than strict tempo (RIP Victor Silvester). The colours change places, and the squares modulate; it is a pulse; a groove. The three pieces (just so) now appear to precess in a courtly sarabande following the rhythm of the board.

Two of three. In the 20s and 30s Klee taught at the Bauhaus in Germany, that hot-house of modernist design. Another K, Vassily Kandinsky, was there as well (note 1).

Kandinsky (left) and Klee at the Bauhaus in 1926,
not smiling for the camera.

Compare these two K's to their successors: Klee's art is to Karpov’s chess (incremental; cerebral; introvert), as Kandinsky’s is Kasparov's (Sturm und Drang; emotive; extravert) and that in spite of sharing the same taste in hats. In Gazza mode, this is a crash bang wallop Kandinsky from his later years, "Composition VIII" of 1923.

Klee didn't like to be called "Abstract", but Kandinsky did, and here he shows why. His Theoretical Novelty was to insist that shapes and colours have emotional and spiritual potency. His earlier loose wiffly-waffly new-agey (he was a fully paid up Theosophist) expressionistic stuff - not quite my cup of tea - became more organised and geometric after a spell with the no-nonsense cadres of the Soviet cultural avant-garde (1917 and all that). They, certainly, would have tested his analysis to destruction. Perhaps (with a capital P doubling for the start of a sentence and for emphasis) they succeeded in tempting him with the bracing rigours of Dialectical Materialism as a complement to his recent conversion to corners.

Three of three. Hats off, though, to Kandinsky for this aperçu: "The meeting of the pointed angle of a triangle and a circle is not less effective than the finger of God touching Adam's finger in Michelangelo".

So, for example, the kinetic energy in this...

El Lissitsky (1919)
Beat the Whites with the Red Wedge "not less effective" than the potential energy in this:

Michelangelo (c. 1511)
The Creation of Adam

Four of three. And now, having triangulated to the point of this Postscript: what are we to make of the composition below?

It is Saveilly Tartakower's "diagram" (that's the translation) of the game Maroczy-Euwe, Scheveningen 1923 (see the game at the end) and comes from his Die Hypermoderne Schachpartie published in 1924.

Compare it with other chess-game artworks discussed in Postscripts Game On, and Games Go On, in which we saw composites of the moves overlaid on a background board, but whatever their qualities there was no narrative of the game, no sense of development, no movement to a conclusion. They were essentially and deliberately superficial, and relied for their effect on decoration or minimalism.

Not so with Tartakower's accidental masterpiece. This picture tells a story. OK, granted that the game it elucidates was pretty much a one–way street, a lot of flow and not much ebb, and so easier to "diagram"; and there are NOTES BY Saveilly Tartakover to help (note 2) but it succeeds with an economy of means to convey its charge of meaning, and show the unfolding of the game.

The "diagram" (can't we do better; "flow chart" maybe; or "story-board" – what a shame they are spoken for) captures the purposeful march of the f pawn around the fulcrum in the centre, the white queen's activity becoming angular and aggressive, the latent, or rather dormant and so never realised, X-ray of the b7 bishop on the white king. The field of action is a vectored triangle with f8 (the f pawn's promotion square) as its focus. While the white king, in its safe haven, is removed from this three-cornered theatre of battle, a thunderbolt strikes its counterpart.

Was Tartakower au fait with art, including the modernism of his time? Did he know Kandinsky or Klee? Had he ever popped in for lunch at the Bauhaus? Good questions, Perhaps (sic); awaiting good answers, Maybe (sic). But consider: Tartakower was by all accounts a cultured European, so surely would have read the Sunday supplements, gone to the exhibitions, and discussed them at length in the café – it's not too fanciful to suggest some kind of influence, is it?

And to cap it all there’s the "all chess-players are artists" remark by Duchamp in 1952. Duchamp (not, on this occasion, Rrose Salévy (see Postscript: My Fair Ladies) was talking about chess players making chess art on the board. But here we have a chess player, Tartakower, cross-checking Duchamp, the artist, and creating chess art on the page.

Look again and savour the triangular force field and its forward propulsion à la Kandinsky, the expressive and elegant asymmetry of the loops and arrows and their progressing dance à la Klee, the triangle piercing the f8 circle after El Lissitsky, and the poise and suspense in the centre after Michelangelo. It has it all and, with economy and élan, delightfully squares the triangle.

Maroczy-Euwe, Scheveningen 1923.


1. There is a work by Kandinsky on the web - for example here - given as "Schach-Theorie" dated 1937, which sounds relevant to this postscript, except that the title and date are wrong. It is in fact "Montée Tendre" of 1934.

2. The bold font is a reference to the sub-head style adopted for annotated games by the excellent and recommended, New In Chess magazine. In Issue 4 of 2008 there is a review article by Hans Ree on Tartakower, which this Postscript is indebted too, but for which NiC bears no responsibility.



Hajo Düchting. Wassily Kandinsky, 1866-1944: A Revolution in Painting. Taschen, 2007. (For the quote from Kandinsky, among other things.)

Hajo Düchting. Paul Klee. Prestel, 2008. (For a helpful annotation to the Klee sketch for Überschach, among other things.)

[Chess in Art index]
[Chess in Art collected]

Friday, April 17, 2009

There are more questions than answers III

It's Friday, I think, and so it must be time for another series of chess-related quotations derived from non-chess centric sources. Please feel free to try and intuit the author of each one. (The answers from the last time 'we' 'played' this game are now in the comments box.)

Some clues: a) went to the same school as Hitler; b) created a detective to rival Our Ron; c) was exiled in Siberia; d) was speaking after losing to a world champion in a simul held in the Strand; and e) was an editor of France Libre. Good luck...

a) 'Let us say that the meaning of a piece is its role in the game. Now let it be decided by lot which of the players gets white before any game of chess begins. To this end one player holds a king in each closed fist while the other chooses one of the two hands at random. Will it be counted as part of the role of the king in chess that it is used to draw lots in this way?'

b) '[M]ost of the mad doctors are mad doctors in more senses than one. They all have exactly that combination we have noted: the combination of an expansive and exhaustive reason with a contracted common sense. They are universal only in the sense that they take one thin explanation and carry it very far. But a pattern can stretch for ever and still be a small pattern. They see a chess-board white on black, and if the universe is paved with it, it is still white on black. Like the lunatic, they cannot alter their standpoint; they cannot make a mental effort and suddenly see it black on white.'

c) ‘With the ant-heap the respectable race of ants began and with the ant- heap they will probably end, which does the greatest credit to their perseverance and good sense. But man is a frivolous and incongruous creature, and perhaps, like a chess player, loves the process of the game, not the end of it.’

d) 'What have I learned from this? I have come to the conclusion you need more intelligence for chess than politics. You need to apply yourself every hour of every day to achieve the type of genius he has.'

e) ‘In chess the rivalry of intelligence appears in the purest state.’

Thursday, April 16, 2009

A Bad Move V

Black to play

Once more unto the breach, dear friends.

I'm not sure exactly why this position, or more precisely this mistake, has become so fascinating to me. I certainly didn't intend to dedicate quite so many posts to it when I started out. Anyhoo, following on from the original post I've already looked at how I miscalculated a tactical line but perhaps only because I'd applied a faulty template and misapplied a perfectly good one to guide my thinking.

Today I want to move away from the litany of my shortcomings, as numerous as they may be, and look at the specific position in which I blundered. It was chess itself, you see, that led me astray. Well how humans tend to play chess anyway.

To explain what I mean I'll need to take another look at Jacob Aagaard's book Excelling at Chess. Specifically it's chapter 4 which addresses what the Overly Voweled One calls 'Unforcing Play' that concerns us. Here Aagaard suggests that we are inherently attracted to forcing sequences of moves when considering a chess position.

"We have a tendency to force play (as opposed to searching for good moves), and the less we feel the need to do so, the freer we are to address the matter of finding the best move."

(emphasis from the original)

At first sight this is a somewhat odd concept. What would be our motive for choosing a move that was not one which we considered in some sense to be the best one?

For Aagaard,

The reason we employ forcing moves is obvious - forcing variations gives us a sense of control, while less forcing play, in contrast, can leave us with a sense of floating in air and lacking control, which is not a naturally welcome feeling when anxious about the outcome of the game.

Our rational conscious minds, then, sometimes take a back seat allowing an unconscious process to take over. Our emotional need to feel in control trumps every thing else, however much that might lead to an outcome that is counterproductive in terms of our goal of winning the game.

My friend and fellow blogger Morgan Daniels
demonstrating the human need for control

Applying Aagaard's concept to blunder ground zero, if we compare ... Qxd5 with ... Qc8 (see previous posts and comments) we can see the queen exchange is the much more forcing option.

After 1. ... Qxd5 I can be pretty sure White is going to respond 2. cxd5 and for that matter he's almost certainly going to follow my intended 2. ... Na5 with 3. Nd2 to stop my knight getting back into play. There's a huge chance, then, that the position I'm expecting to get at move three will actually appear on the board.

For 1. ... Qc8, however, things are very different. It's not at all obvious what White's next move is going to be let alone what might happen thereafter. I mentioned last time that I did not think about 1. ... Qc8 long enough to even consider what White's response might be. Aagaard's would perhaps see this as me steering myself away from an emotionally difficult option of not being sure what might happen in favour of a course of action that I could be pretty sure - or at least that I could believe - that I'd be able to chart with some accuracy.

Just my bad luck that 1. ... Qc8 happened to be a better move then? Well no, not really.

Implicit in Aagaard's idea is the point that, leaving aside possibilities of miscalculation, there's a sense in which forcing moves are more likely to be mistakes than unforcing moves. Maintaining the tension is sometimes the best approach in a given position but we will nevertheless be tempted to force matters because we always are but there is no equivalent in reverse, i.e. when a forcing continuation is best but we'd be psychologically tempted to keep things steady.

Thus for Aagaard when mistakes happen our tendency to force matters, driven by our human need to feel in control, is disproportionately likely to be a factor.

The idea that we should be wary of forcing continuations is far from uncontroversial. It's also obviously the case, as Aagaard himself fully recognises, that you can't play chess without sometimes finding yourself in a position when it's the best thing to do. Nevertheless, when explaining chess mistakes, our at least explaining my mistakes, it seems to me that there's much of value to explore here and I feel very strongly that if I could learn when to avoid directing play down concrete lines it could well lead to a big improvement in my play. After all, isn't this line from Aagaard familiar to all of us?

"I have long had the feeling that Real chess players are less inclined to force variations, perhaps because they do not have the same insecurity as the rest of us, where we always fear (don't lie to me, I know you do it too) that we are about to mess up our position."

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Half a point?

A couple of Saturdays ago my club team in Spain arrived at the final round of the 2009 league season, sitting just above the play-off zone. A win would guarantee us another season in top division and a 2-2 draw would almost certainly do as well. Meanwhile the same was true for our opponents - who, like us, were seeded quite low in the rankings and had therefore done a little better than expected. We were the home team. When the visiting team arrived, their captain approached us and offered us a prearranged draw on all four boards.

We turned them down. I don't know for sure whether any of my colleagues was minded to accept, but of its nature such an arrangement can only work if everybody agrees to it. I didn't, we didn't, and when the match actually took place we went on to win 4-0. Subsequently we were praised for our principle and our adherence to the principles of "fair play". (The English term is used in contemporary Spanish.)

There was some irony in this, since although my own motives in refusing the prearranged draw included a degree of principle, they were more pragmatic than anything else. Of course I thought we ought to play, perhaps as much as anything else because I'm a football supporter - I recall such incidents as the West Germany v Austria match of 1982 and the principle, flouted in that particular game, that other teams who may be affected by your result are entitled to expect you to perform your best. It's a sport thing.

But I was also aware that we were the stronger of the two teams - and that if things went wrong and we lost, we would almost certainly be stronger than anybody we met in a play-off. Had this been a last-chance situation and the opposition stronger, I can't be sure I would have felt quite so able to take a stand on principle. Which makes it questionable how much of a stand on principle it actually was.

To be honest, I was more concerned by what other people might think. There would be nothing secret about the arrangement - even if there hadn't been other matches going on in our playing room, everybody would have known about it before the weekend was out. And then - or so I thought - people would remember for a very long time how we'd been too cowardly to play. Surely better actually to lose than to acquire a reputation as somebody afraid to.

Moreover, I wondered whether any team that did make such an agreement might be subject to sanctions. I had no idea of what the rules said on the subject, or what they did not say, but even if I had, it is possible to find yourself in trouble for doing something that is within the letter of the rules but some way outside its sprit. (While I rather doubt that Aragonese chess is much guided by the experience of English county cricket, I confess I had a particular long-ago Benson and Hedges match at the back of my mind.) Might it not be possible that we could prearrange a drawn match to avoid the chance of relegation - and find ourselves administratively relegated in response?

Sporting principle, the existence of a second chance, concern for reputation, the fear of blowback. Whichever order you put these things in, all of these things indicated the wisdom of playing the games and playing them properly. But in my mind, the questions of reputation and possible penalties were undoubtedly uppermost.

It appears, though, that that my fears were entirely groundless. Because on looking at the other match scores in the final round, as I did a couple of days after our apparent sporting and ethical triumph, it appeared that pre-match agreements were common practice - and not at all morally frowned upon, let alone subject to any penalties or fear of same. Of sixteen matches in the division, no fewer than four finished in 2-2 draws with all the individual games being halved. I've located the game scores of three of these matches: twelve games, none of which made it beyond seventeen moves and most of which reached their conclusion in about half that time. (The fourth match I haven't yet found, although I have no reason to think it was any different.) It is, apparently, normal. Standard operational practice. Absolutely the done thing.

I'm surprised by this, perhaps because I was under the impression that artificial draws were frowned upon in contemporary chess to, perhaps, a greater extent than was the case in my youth. I can recall plenty of 2-2 draws in Olympiads, both those prearranged and those negotiated by the captains in the middle of the playing session. I wasn't aware (quite possibly through lack of observation) that they were so common now. I had thought that, as witness the introduction of the Sofia rules, not playing genuinely competitively was not well thought-of nowadays.

As it happens, I have no real objection, as mentioned on this blog any number of times, to the short draw where professional reasons dictate it. But the prearranged drawn match, particularly in the last round of a competition, seems to me a little more controversial than that.

However - isn't it a question of what people do that matters? If it's considered acceptable, widely, within a given community, to prearrange a drawn match, is it not, in fact, acceptable pretty much by virtue of this? Questions of sporting ethics are difficult, often contradictory, and can't properly be addressed without reference to custom and practice. In practice, if not entirely in principle, what's OK is what people decide is OK.

Still, I think I'd rather things were otherwise. And just as with my decision to play a proper match rather than a charade, there's a good measure of pragmatism involved. Because what do I do if the same situation recurs in another season? What happens then?

[Thanks to Chris Manners for help.]

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Last of the Summer Wine

Following on from the bank holiday I think we all need a gentle reintroduction to the working week. So, nothing too taxing today. All we want to know is who's impersonating Foggie, Clegg and Compo here?

[Photo from ChessBase News]

Monday, April 13, 2009

The Thirty-Third Piece

What's the earliest you've blundered? I don't mean as a beginner - when you were probably on the receiving end of at least one 4.Qxf7 check and mate, or were maybe even tempted to avoid all that mainline theory malarkey with 1.e4 f5? - but as a serious player.

Somewhere between move 10 and 20? Maybe a bit earlier, if you play super-sharp stuff like Sicilian mainlines, or something provocative like the Pirc, something off-beat like Owen's? Well, I can out-do you, all of you. Because I've blundered in this position before:

That's right, I've blundered at move zero: I've blundered before a piece or pawn has even been touched: I've blundered right there in the initial position. And not only that, I've done it twice.

The first time was at a Surrey League match toward the end of last year, and my opponent was late. I had black, and I sat merrily watching the clock on my left tick his time away - 5, 10, 15, 20 minutes - and finally, he arrived. We shook hands, he sat down and played 1.e4, at which point I noticed the clock was on the wrong side. So I switched it over to my right, played 1...c5, and pressed it. All jolly good, except a few moves later, in a super-sharp mainline, I looked to my right and wondered how I could already be half an hour behind on the clock.

The second time, a London League match earlier this year. I was on board 6, and when I arrived a bag was on the seat of the white player - my opponent's bag, I assumed. So I put down my pen on the black side, started his clock, and strolled around waiting for him to shift his bag, sit down, and make a move. Except he didn't, because when he arrived quarter of an hour later, he pointed out that he had the black pieces, and that I had the white pieces, and that no, that wasn't his bag anyway. In retrospect this should have been rather obvious, since it was sat between two of my teammates. But alas as usual, I was all Watson and no Holmes; every bit a Hastings and not a jot a Poirot. Rather nobly, he offered to rewind the clocks to reflect his lateness, but of course that's just not fair. It was my turn to move, and thus I had taken fifteen minutes to decide upon 1.e4.

The moral of the story? I don't know. Maybe I could work it out, if only I had given myself more time.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

A sudden sound and a strange subsequent silence

Here's an odd thing. A couple of weeks ago I was reading a thread on the English Chess Forum in which the following story, from the most recent 4NCL weekend, was recounted in the opening post:
a Grandmaster's mobile rang, but ownership of the phone was claimed by someone else, who wasn't playing, so nothing happened.
Being keen on keeping the readers of this blog properly informed, and more importantly being a nosey sort of individual, I was keen to find out who the Grandmaster concerned actually was, and who made the claim of ownership that conveniently (and not necessarily correctly) got him or her off the hook.

So I asked - and nobody said. I asked again - and nobody said. Which is odd, because several of the contributors to a very long thread must have been present during the event.

The silence intrigues me almost as much as the original story. Why, I wonder, the Omerta? What actually happened at the 4NCL?

So, should anybody reading this actually know who was involved, and what actually happened? No speculation please and no anonymous contributions. No more than you actually know. But at the very least, it would be interesting to find out the answer to the question "who?".

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Places to go

Amsterdam. "The city of canals and the city of Anne Frank".

Or so say the Chess Vibers but you know it for that other stuff don't you? Yes you do, you bloody liar.

Anyhoo, now there's another reason to go.

The S&BC blog will be taking the day off tomorrow. We're going to be rather busy you see - one of us will be stuffing our face with easter eggs, one of us will be stuffing our face with drugs, one of us will be scraping baby poo out of his hair and one of us will be travelling abroad (which curiously enough means being in England). I'll leave you to work out which is which.

Happy Easter all.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Blue or Red Pill? II

Capablanca - Teichmann,
Berlin 1913

White to play

Another straight choice to end the week.

White's a pawn up and is looking to win the game, but what is the best way to proceed? Moving the rook away surrenders control of the c-file yet exchanging leads to one of those notoriously drawish - even more so than rook endings - opposite coloured bishop endings.

Eeney meeney miney mo...

Thursday, April 09, 2009

In The Library with a Blindfold ...

... was never the solution in Cluedo if memory serves but it is an outline of what Rawle Alicock will be up to on the 23rd of April.

It seems to be announcement week here at the S&BC blog.

We've already trumpeted young Peter's arrival (and a second time with photos). Today it's time to tell you about Rawle Alicock's blindfold simul that will be held at the library in a couple of weeks time.

You may recall Rawle taking on the club in a similar challenge last October. He won 6.5 - 1.5 back then and we're hoping for another tough fight this time around. Organiser Stan 'the library man' Rodriques tells me that Rawle will be taking on 'at least eight' and that the whole thing kicks off around 7pm.

More details, should you want them, from Stan himself -

Finally, since we've broken with our usual custom of publishing just one post each day on a couple of occasions this week, let me point you in the direction of a couple of items you might have missed.

Tuesday our first post of the day was the 13th in EJH's Miss Easy Tactics series.

Wednesday it was was Tom's Art in Chess Pieces

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Art in Chess Pieces

Via ALCHEssMIST, we learn of this exhibition of modern-art chess pieces at the Reykjavik Art Museum. If you want to see them in person, you'll have to hurry: the exhibition only runs until April 13th.

But if you can't make it, here are some examples:-

Modern-art is usually a bit of a love/hate thing, and I must confess that typically I find myself saddled with the second of those emotions. However, that last set gets my seal of approval as being particularly Jurchessic.

Future World Champion II

An early coaching session -
T.C. whispers strings of Najdorf theory into Peter's ear

Mother and son doing well

Peter: "In 15 years I'll be kicking your arse".

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Future World Champion

From: Tom
Sent: Monday April 06 11:16 PM
Subject: RE: ?

yes!! He was born this morning at 8.58am, weighing a whopping 9 pounds and 3 ounces. More later!!

Miss Easy Tactics! with Justin XIII

[Our pedagogical series in which we look at a portion of a game I played recently in which some obvious tactic was overlooked. Readers are invited to practice their skill by seeing if they can spot what was missed.]

Horton - Hernández Delgado, Aragón Team Championship 2009, Casino Jaque v Estadio M. El Olivar C, board one, position after Black's 22...c6-c5.

White was winning back a pawn he had sacrificed for pressure: Black chose to return it on c5, rather than c6. Both players saw that if 23.Qxc5 Black could play 23...Ne6, gaining a little more space for his pieces, so White preferred to capture with the knight instead via 23.Nd3 Ne6 24.Nxc5, leaving him, after 24...Nxc5 25.Qxc5 c6, with an edge in an equal-material ending (which Black mishandled, losing rather quickly).

But in the above sequence, what did both players miss?

[Miss Easy Tactics! index]

Monday, April 06, 2009

What Happened Next IX

COKO III - Genie, United States Computer Chess Championship, 1971. White to move.

Not, you might suppose, the trickiest position a computer has ever faced. After all, white not only has a mate in one available, but a choice of mates in one - not to mention various mates in two (including the artistic 38.Qa1+! Kxa1 39.Bc4#), mates in three, four, and more. Except, for COKO III, this choice was the problem itself: it had not been programmed how to choose between alternate mates.

So it didn't. Instead it played something else entirely, the game continuing 38. Kc1 f5 39. Kc2 f4 40. Kc1 g4 41. Kc2 f3 42. Kc1 fxg2 43. Kc2 gxh1=Q, and thus reaching this position:

The damage done by white's time-wasting is not yet final; COKO still has a choice of two one-move mates. Ah, two: that terrible number, still one too many. Christian Kongsteds in How to Use Computers to Improve Your Chess: "the program could still not decide to mate the black king and so it chose a line that does not lead to mate at all. COKO III's programmers were quite depressed at this point."

So in our second diagram COKO chose 44.Kc1?? and the game concluded 45... Qxf1+ 46. Kd2 Qxf2+ 47. Kc1 Qg1+ 48. Kc2 Qxh2+ 49. Kc1 Qh1+ 50. Kc2 Qb1+ 51. Kd2 g3 52. Qc4+ Qb3 53. Qxb3+ Kxb3 54. e4 Kxb4 55. e5 g2 - at which point the programmers resigned for COKO, rather than wait with the faint hope that Genie's programming suffered from a similar bug.

[What happened next? index]

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Definitely Got Something To Do With Chess And Definitely Rubbish

A series of bizarre, ritualistic murders lock a master chess player and a beautiful psychologist in a deadly game of deception, seduction and betrayal in Knight Moves. When a shocking murder rocks an international seaside resort, all evidence points to arrogant, visiting chess master Peter Sanderson ....

Or so it says here.

I may have been judging a book by its cover before but on this one I can speak with some authority. I saw this film at a drive-in cinema in Perth, Australia, on New Year's Eve 1992. Double bill with Single White Female if I recall correctly.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Perhaps Not Rubbish

Cast your minds back first to Sunday 15th March.

I'll admit it ... I was judging a book by it's cover (well that and the claim that the author was Dan Brown two decades before Dan Brown was Dan Brown).

Yesterday evening I was flicking through a twenty year old chess magazine trying to find a theoretical article on the Slav I'd remembered that the Pein formerly known as Speedy Malc had written when I found this ...

"34. The Eight

A better bet
[ than Jeffrey Archer's chess short story from his 'A Twist in the Tale' collection - JMGB ] is The Eight, a blockbuster of a first novel by the American author Katherine Neville (Headline, £6.95). Our heroine, a female computer expert, is engaged on a quest to collect the pieces of Charlemagne's chess set, which when complete will reveal The Secret Of The Ages. (Yes, we know Charlemagne didn't really play chess, but why spoil a good story?) Intertwined with this is the story of a nun at the time of the French Revolution engaged on the same quest.

It's a heady combination of adventure story, political thriller and historical novel with elements of chess and mysticism: it's settings span three continents and nearly 200 years Maybe not great literature but certainly a gripping read."

Addicts' Corner, Mike Fox & Richard James
Chess Monthly October 1989, 54(7)

So perhaps I've dismissed the book too quickly. Anybody out there who's read it and willing to provide an independent opinion?

In a pleasing Plaskettesque coincidence RJ turned up in the comments box to yesterday's post.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Ron Passant investigates...

The detective stubbed out his seventh consecutive Hamlet and reached for the bottle. It was late, very late, and he was getting nowhere.

'Well, Watson? What do you think?'

'I don't even know what I'm doing here' replied William, the English chess grandmaster. 'You've just been staring at a wall for six hours. And is Ron Passant really your name?'

'Yeah, it is.'

There was a long pause. William, formerly a great hope for British chess but now a lawyer, was perfectly used to sitting in silence for forever and a day, but even he was getting impatient.

'There's no easy way to say this' said Ron finally. 'There's a serial killer on the loose - and he's picking off British club chess players that nobody has ever really heard of, one by one. Watson, I need your help.'

'Why me?'

'Because there's a pattern to these murders. So far this guy's killed ten players - and he's going to kill again. He has an intricate knowledge of chess, and so I need a chess player to figure this one out.'

'But why me?'

'Oh, I was just looking up grandmasters on Wikipedia and liked the way Spassky described you as being like a drunk with a machine gun. Reminded me of myself.'


'Now, take a look at this.'

Ron passed Watson the chessboard that had been found by the first victim three weeks ago.

'Oh god, it's covered in blood!' Watson exclaimed.

'Well, yes. We think there's some order to his madness. If we can decipher this odd code we might be able to figure out who he's going to kill next, and catch him in the act. Oh, and there was also this note...'

First 128 of 128;
Z v A, 1988.

'So far he's killed, in order: Tom Halford, Mike O'Connell, Neville Twitchell, Ewart Smith, Mark Ozanne, Andy Tipper, Nathan Talbot, Tom Huband, Eddie Ridley and Tom Iveson. There's no way of telling where he'll strike next.'

Watson stared long and hard at the board. 'Ah, but there is. If I know my British club chess like I think I do, there are only two people who could possibly fit the bill. And given our killer's propensity to murder players rated below 200 ECF, I think we can narrow it down to just one. Ron, we're going to Lichfield.'

'Oh god, that's a long way from New York. I really don't know why they put me on this case.'

Who is the serial killer's next intended victim?

Thursday, April 02, 2009

The fundamental things do not apply

I've not seen Guy Ritchie's 2005 film Revolver, the simple reason being that nobody has seen fit to pay me to watch it. It may seem to you unlikely that anybody would wish to pay me to watch one of Mr Ritchie's movies, and reasonably so: but it's even more unlikely that I'd pay anybody else to let me see one.

Tragically, therefore, I seem to have let pass me by a film of which chess is a major theme,  provided we allow that any of Mr Ritchie's films possess such a thing as a "theme", major or otherwise. Apparently this is my loss more than his, since apparently, another "theme" of his movie is the game of chess.

I was unaware of this until Tuesday morning, when my attention was drawn to a piece by Jonathan Wilson in the Guardian discussing the philosophical musings of Anatoliy Tymoshchuk, seen last night wearing the Ukranian shirt against England. Mr Wilson seems very taken by these musings, which apparently recall "Shakespeare, Churchill and Herodotus", though to those of us with longer memories and more cynical reactions, they may rather recall Eric Cantona.

Mr Wilson informs us:
Other footballers may cite lines from Guy Ritchie films but few would recognise that the quote "the only way to get smarter is to play a smarter opponent" from Revolver is drawn from an [sic] 1883 book, The Fundamentals of Chess. "You have to raise the qualification standard," Tymoshchuk said. "And once you've cleared the bar you have to set it at a higher level."
As you will have gathered, I didn't recognise it either. Actually it's not all I didn't recognise. I didn't recognise the
1883 book, The Fundamentals of Chess

I might have recognised, for instance, Chess Fundamentals, written by JR Capablanca and first published in 1921 - somewhat later than 1883, though it would have to have been since although he was a prodigy Capablanca himself was not born until 1888. He's not, as it happens, hard to identify as the author of that work - unlike the mystery author of our 1883 book, with whom we have rather greater difficulty. Perhaps, we may wonder after searching awhile, the author does not exist. Perhaps, we may even wonder - as Mr Wilson apparently did not - the book itself does not exist.

We may wonder this especially if we search on the online catalogues for the British Library and finding the only results for the phrase Fundamentals of Chess are for Fred Reinfeld's 1962 book The Modern Fundamentals of Chess and its 1971 edition. Or if we check the online library catalogue for Oxford University, incorporating as it does the Bodleian Library, with no greater success. Or in the Chess and Draughts Collection of the Bibliotheca Van der Linde-Niemeijerian or in the Cleveland Public Library in Ohio or in the University Centre Hastings, these being quite likely the three most significant publicly-available specialist collections of chess books. In each of these cases we get Capablanca, if we are lucky, or we get nothing.

Now it should be said that while the present writer has a slight advantage here, being not only a chessplayer but a qualified librarian, there are certain items in the record, as presented by Mr Tymoshchuk and retailed by Mr Wilson, which might have caught anybody's eye and inspired anybody's scepticism. One would be the mysterious absence of the author's name from this apparently inspiring book. A second would be the idiom
get smarter
which to my ears sounds a little late for 1883, in print at least. A third would be the name Guy Ritchie (and indeed that of Luc Besson). A fourth would be the fact that Revolver was already connected with people playing fast and loose with printed sources - as reported, for instance, in the Guardian. But a fifth and perhaps most obvious would be - who on Earth takes their information from a fiction without checking it first? Would anybody (including Mr Wilson) assume without checking that Jules' Ezekiel routine in Pulp Fiction is precisely the same as the original passage?

All of which tells you, I suppose, not to believe everything you see in the movies. Or everything you read in the papers. Or anything you research on the internet.

Or anything you read about chess.

(PS Mr Wilson's opinion on the matter has been sought, but to date is yet to be received.)

[thanks to Richard]

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Chess in Art postscript : My Fair Ladies

Guest post by Martin Smith

The Chess in Art series was a creature of its time, so we shouldn't be surprised if it dealt a poor hand to they whom some refer patronisingly as the fairer sex (note "patronisingly" – even our language is masculinised). There was only one female artist, Sofonisba Anguissola, (Chess in Art X) in the whole series, unless "Anon" of Chess in Art VIII link was also, but in the patriarchal structure of society in 15th Century Iran, surely it is unlikely that a woman would have been trusted with something as dangerous as a paint brush. The same goes for the players. If we pre-empt charges of child exploitation, and leave Alice (Chess in Art XVIII) and other minors out of the reckoning, then you could count the ladies on the fingers of less that one hand. Though, to be fair, there is one winning a game in Cornelis de Man's masterpiece (there we go again...); see Chess in Art IX.

Sofonisba Anguissola and her chess playing sisters remind us of Lazlo Polgar and the product of his pedagogic experiment: his daughters Susan, Sofia and Judit (see Chess in Art Collected). Not only is Sofia a Woman Grandmaster (...and again...) but she is also an artist and so gets special mention here.

Sofia Polgar

I suppose one risks a charge of lèse-majesté if one dares to wonder about the wisdom of inflicting a chess-rich diet on one's children. But my, fair ladies, you seem to have emerged as regular people! We rejoice that one of you can also wield a paint brush with flair and a distinctly feminine sensibility, as witness the above.

Sofia Polgar is a modern example of the female chessplaying artist. We have to go back to the first half of the last century for another, Rose Sélavy, a largely forgotten name, who came to prominence between the wars in France and America.

Rose Sélavy
Photo by Man Ray 1921

Her chess prowess is demonstrated a 1929 miniature against blindfold maestro Koltanowski, who for the occasion paid his adversary due respect and looked. Not that it helped much in the game as he was routed with white in just 15 moves, but the better, one suspects, to ogle his beguiling opponent between moves. In those patriarchal times she wasn’t afraid to flaunt her femininity, when necessary, to gain advantage. The visible/invisible polarity is, in a way, eerily reminiscent of her major opus of 1923, which we discuss, eventually, below.

Rose Sélavy in 1929

She was also given to thirties demi-monde-style cross-dressing, perhaps to intimidate opponents of a nervous disposition. But a role model, such as the diminutive Vera Menchick, might have encouraged her, in the male dominated world of chess, to nail her female colours to the mast, rather than sail under a flag of convenience, so to speak. But alas no, and in the chess, as in the art world, her male nom de guerre, Marcel Duchamp, by which she may be better known, definitely opened doors for a fair wind to blow her through

This early work of 1910 shows how she was exploring issues of gender and role, using chess as the mise en scène.

Partie d'echecs

The female figures wait patiently, and step visually aside to give their male alter egos the viewer's attention as the focus of the composition. The men's gazes are reciprocal and reinforcing, they share each other's world. The women look elsewhere, at nothing in particular; they are dislocated and alone. Even their tea has gone cold. The grass arena has been organised around a polarity of male/female domains, in a way eerily prescient of her major opus of 1923. The locus of power in the picture is more or less unambiguous. To get a decent game of chess, better be a man.

Sélavy's major work, which confirmed her development into conceptual abstraction from her realist post-impressionism of 1910, was evocatively, pregnantly, and perhaps, or perhaps not, autobiographically titled "The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Batchelors, Even". It was declared "definitively unfinished" in 1923, after an incubation of eight years.

The Bride Stripped Bare
by Her Batchelors, Even

"The Bride..." is constructed on glass panels and stands nine feet tall and six feet wide, so Salévy is obviously trying to say something big. It is divided into two domains: the bride's above; the bachelors below; in a way eerily reminiscent... etc etc. The work comes with copious explanatory notes by its creator, (dis)organised in loose leaf form so they may be tossed in the air, carried on the fair wind now blowing, and read in the order in which they choose to fall.

Like the artist herself, the work is usually known by another name, "The Large Glass", possibly a reference to a favoured form of relaxation. Rrose Salévy (to give her preferred spelling) also coined for herself another "nom de pinceau", female this time, Belle Haleine, which translates as Beautiful Breath. This must be another tipple reference.

But my favourite is Avril Duper.

[Chess in Art index]
[Chess in Art collected]