Saturday, May 30, 2009

Study repays study

This was last Saturday's study by Gurgenidze: White to play and win, the solution* found in the comments by Jonathan and the cook** - if the rook is placed on g6 instead of g5 - by Richard.

Thanks and congratulations to all concerned, but especially to John Beasley of the British Chess Problem Society whose website can be found here and of which organisation he is the Honorary Libarian.

This is by way of belated thanks to John for providing the final puzzle in our 2008/9 Xmas sequence. It's not the only kindness he has done the website, also sending us a copy of British Endgame Study News, including a "special number" from which I took the lovely Gurgenidze study (the position after 6.Rgg1! is on the front cover).

Regrettably John tells me that his magazine (four numbers a year, usually including a special issue) will cease publication at the end of 2010 but subscriptions until then, at the price of £16 (cheques payable to J.D. Beasley) are available. Contact him via or at 7 St James' Road, Harpenden, Herts AL5 4NX England to get more of what you've just tasted.

* 1. Rg1! f2 (1...e2 2. Rxf3+) 2. Rf1 d1Q+ (2...e2 3. Rxf2+) 3. Rxd1 e2 4. Rf3+ Kg7 5. Rg3+ Kf6 6. Rgg1! Ke5 7. Rge1! (Also 6...Kf5 7. Rdf1!)

** cooked because there's a second solution:
1.Rf6+ and now:

1...Kg8 2. Ra8+ Kg7 3. Rd6 Kf7 4. Ra7+ Ke8 5. Ka2! f2 (5...e2 6. Rh6 and mate) 6.Re6+ and 7. Rh6 or 7.Rb6 according to where the king goes, with mate following.

1...Ke7 2.Rxe3+ Kxf6 3.Rxf3+

1...Kg7 2.Rd6 Kf7 (2...f2 3.Ra7+ and mate) 3. Rxe3.

The puzzle was originally produced with the rook on g6 - hence the second part of last Saturday's question.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Lucky Opponents

Do you have a lucky opponent? Not just somebody you really look forward to playing or even somebody that you often beat but an opponent against whom you score much higher than you might reasonably expect to?

I first met my lucky guy (MLG) sometime back in 2000 when we played out a quick draw in an Interesting French Exchange. A rather unremarkable start perhaps but in our half a dozen encounters since then I’ve managed to notch up four wins and another couple of draws.

My +4 =3 -0 against MLG is pretty good I think but if anything it might even understate just how lucky an opponent MLG has been for me. For a start I didn’t get jammy with the colours - I’ve had Black in five of our seven games – and secondly I didn’t just fluke my way to these results against the run of play.

Three of my wins (here and its double here) were rather one sided from beginning to end and the fourth, while my opponent missed a couple of a chances to secure an advantage in the middle game, ended in an extremely pleasing fashion. In only one of the three draws was I in any serious danger of losing but although I was dead lost for a fair proportion of that encounter even then my luck held and I managed to wriggle out of trouble in the end.

What’s really astonishing about my score against MLG is that he’s actually much the better player. Since our first meeting his grade has remained pretty much constant in the 150s ECF (2000-2045 elo) whereas mine started the century at 135 ECF (1925), rose steadily over a couple of years to the mid 150s and then fell back at an almost identical rate to leave me pretty much where I started.

In only one year in the last decade can I claim to have achieved results even remotely as good as MLG’s and yet when we play each other something strange happens – something so weird that that my performance rating for our seven games comes out at over 180 ECF (2160+) which is just ridiculous.

Generally speaking I’m suspicious of the idea of luck in chess. True in any given game a player might get the rub of the green or a bad break but this evens out for groups of games taken together and as a whole results don’t lie.

Here, though, I really can’t conceive of any factor that might counteract the disparity in our playing strengths to such an extent that the results of our games become in any way understandable. The only thing I can think of that might remotely go in my favour is that five our games - both my Whites, three of the Blacks - have been fought over French Defence territory, an opening with which I’m fairly familiar with both colours. That said, over the years I’ve found that while I often leave the opening in very good shape in my Black games that start 1. e4 e6 I don’t tend to go on to score excessively well.

Aside from the run of wins, I’ve also been really lucky to have played MLG so frequently. The most I’ve played anybody else is three times and yet fate has chosen to bring me and MLG together twice as often.

It shouldn’t happen, it can’t happen and yet it does happen – and while my run of good fortune lasts I shall continue to enjoy it, pushing to the back of my mind the rather troubling thought that one day it must inevitably coming crashing to a halt.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Bonus Thursday Post

Martin Smith informs us that the Lewis Chessmen will be appearing on the Telly Box tonight - BBC4 at 7.30pm.

Balls-up Clarification:
The fault was mine not Martin's - I misread his email. Once i realised my mistake I hoped to be able to give the link to the i-player page for the programme here but it turns out there isn't one.

Sorry for any false hopes raised. Please file this one under 'post in haste, repent at leisure'.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

We are not amused

Today the S&BC Blog's resident art expert Martin Smith returns for another post. Both words and pictures are his ....

Chess is war! War is chess! You’ll find proof-positive of this eternal verity at Tate Britain. Climb the stairs in the new extension and there it confronts you. Elizabeth 1 plays geo-political chess with Phillip II of Spain, brought to life in a magnificent full-size sculpture by Victorian William Reynolds-Stephens, called “A Royal Game”.

Their bitter rivalry is played out on the board with Galleons for pieces and Skiffs for pawns (Liz: Galleons- b1; c1; d2; g1; Skiffs- g2; f3 ;f4; h2. Phil: Galleons- e8; g7; Skiffs- g6; h7.) Phillip is playing Galleon to c4, and although he has the initiative is behind in material. Maybe he can make something of Elizabeth’s nasty doubled Skiffs on the f file. Certainly Liz is a bit taken aback by his audacious thrust. She is regally not amused.

No worries! With W.R-S. doing his patriotic duty I think we can be sure she will win. Tate Blurb says it is Drake’s fleet for Blighty against the (doomed, thanks to an ill-wind) Armada of the avaricious Spaniards; sculpted in 1906-11 in the run up to World War One it reflects, they say, the “edgy fervour” of the time.

Unfortunately, I don’t think I’ve really caught the perfidious glint in Phillip’s scheming eye.

But W.R-S. got it spot on, and as you look you have to pinch yourself and ask if they are made of bronze or are really those living-sculpture people you see on the South Bank and all over.

Tate Security will politely, and infuriatingly, ask you not to take photographs, but you can sketch away for hours (bothered only by inquisitive kibitzers who will sidle up for a sneak preview). In case anyone from the Tate is reading: this particular blog is copyrighted, and may only be reproduced if you apply in triplicate, and on bended knee.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Of Fatherhood & Form

Say goodbye to your grade. It's downhill from here. Your chess will never be the same again.

I can't say I wasn't warned of the effect of fatherhood on chess form, and so it has proven. And how! Of all the points I've ever tried to prove in my life, never before have I been blessed/cursed with so many examples to choose from. Come join me in my further descent into chess mediocrity, with four examples from three rapidplay games played as a part of the Streatham & Brixton Chess Club Championship.

In the first round we reached the following position with myself as white to move:

Now, at the board I remembered I had played for this position for a reason. But unable to recall what that reason was, and admittedly short of time, I shrugged and played 1.Qc3, after which the game was soon drawn. Can you see what I forgot? I did, moments after releasing my fingers from her majesty.

The next game -my only victory from the night- was a particular low. But before the details, a warning: here black has two more or less winning moves, and one of them is implied in the note below. So if you want to solve this one puzzle-style, then it's black to play; read no further.

Anyway, having won the opening battle against the Orangutan in the above position I played, 1... Nh5, and after 2. Qd2 Qf4 3. Qxf4 Nxf4 4. Bb5 Re2 5. Bxe2 Nxe2+ 6. Kf2 Nxc1 7. Rxc1, I decided to cash in my chips and make amends for my earlier oversight in this position,

by playing 7...Rxc3. The game continued 8. Rxc3 Bxd4+ 9.Ke2 Bxc3 and I went on to win comfortably. Comfortably - and totally undeservedly, and I'm sure it won't take you more than a split second to tell me why.

Now to the final position from the night.

Here, admittedly conscious of the pub closing time, I played 1.Rxd7+ and offered a draw, which was accepted. But another move might have concluded the game almost as quickly, except ending it in a victory for me.

Even without a baby on their knee -happily reminding them again that their future does not lie in chess- this one at least might take our readers a bit of time to solve. Right?


Saturday, May 23, 2009

White to play and win and

Study by Gurgenidze

Without further computer assistance:

(a) show how White wins ;

(b) show why the study is cooked if the White rook on g5 is moved to g6.

Friday, May 22, 2009

93 Chessmen, One Wedding and a Question

S&BCC's new champion Angus French may be very good at our favourite game but he is, by his own account, somewhat less handy wielding a camera than he is chess pieces. Talking of our fellow blogger EJH's wedding he says,

I’m afraid I did a rubbish job of taking photos for this, leaving my camera in the car for the main ceremony; you can barely see Ruth but she’s in white and with hat; Justin was giving a speech at the reception – a boat trip on the Norfolk Broads

The happy couple are now honeymooning in Scotland and recently, according to EJH's postcard which arrived yesterday morning, have spent some time in Edinburgh. Specifically my fellow blogger has been in the National Gallery of Scotland seeing, amongst other things, the "Arabes jouant aux échecs" from Chess in Art XV.

Had he instead visited Edinburgh's National Museum of Scotland he would have been able to have a peek at the 11 Lewis Chessmen that have stayed in Scotland.

In a rather pleasing coincidence the very day Justin was doing cultural stuff in Edinburgh I was at the British Museum looking at the 82 Lewis chessmen that now reside in London.

According to the British Museum website the Lewis chessmen were, "probably made in Norway, about AD 1150-1200 [and] found in the vicinity of Uig on the Isle of Lewis in mysterious circumstances ... All that is certain is that they were found some time before 11 April 1831"

The museum has a set of the Lewis pieces on display like so:-

White to move?

It struck me as a rather unlikely and inappropriate position at first. Then it occurred to me that since the Lewis men preceded even Greco by some 500 years, and were only a century and a half behind Al-Adli (here if you prefer T.C.'s version), I didn't really have a clue what would be a good way to display these rather lovely chess pieces. Any suggestions?

Wednesday, May 20, 2009


White to play and win

White's in trouble ... but if you've got a move you've got hope.

It's Two for One day here at the S&BC Blog so,

  1. What should happen now?

  2. Why is this puzzle important?

Monday, May 18, 2009

Will it bloom this year?

Chess coverage in the British mainstream media is a half-butchered corpse, and last week it had yet more flesh hacked from it last week: The Times cut Ray Keene's chess columns from its online edition, whilst Leonard Barden's column for The Evening Standard was sliced to just one appearance per week in their print edition. Stewart Reuben is busy encouraging us to do something about it.

Personally, I like both columns a lot. Keene's has a truly unique quality, in that it is the only chess column in the world that can usually be solved blindfolded, simply by guessing 1.Qxh7+. Barden, meanwhile, is master of the instant intrigue, writing with genuine skill and impressive economy to make the reader really feel like they are playing the position set in the puzzle.

On the subject of chess in the media, two American newspaper articles recently caught my eye. In San Francisco, a judge has ruled that chess players shouldn't be drug tested in order to compete, since it constitutes an invasion of privacy. This wholly sane and commonsensical decision could pose an interesting problem for any FIDE competitions held in the States, since FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov's Quixotic quest to make chess an Olympic sport requires doping controls on players.

Meanwhile, further south the Los Angeles Chronicle reports that
Aloha Mischeaux, a finalist in the fourth season of the popular American Idol TV show, kicked off the 2009 U.S. Chess Championship in rousing fashion with a stirring rendition of the national anthem at the opening ceremonies for the tournament at the Saint Louis University Museum of Art on Thursday, May 7.
Who, what, why? Surely not newsworthy, you might be thinking? Exactly my point: yet there it is. Perhaps tie-ins with TV programmes and pop music is precisely what the mainstream media want from big chess occasions. Just what do we chess players know! Incidentally, today is a rest day at the M-Tel Masters, and the chess players will play a football match. Perhaps next year they should instead compete at Karaoke?

What do you suggest our top players should sing?

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Black to play and draw and

Position after White's move 57.

Without further computer assistance:

(a) demonstrate with variations how Black draws ;

(b) identify the position (from high-level grandmaster praxis).

Friday, May 15, 2009

It was John Bennett Wot Won It

Last time we gave a sneak preview of the news that S&BCC President Angus French is the new club champion.

It turns out that in securing victory cunning old Angus recreated a moment from S&BCC history that has become almost legendary ... but more of that later - let's back up a moment and catch up from the half way point.

Round 4:
The top board clash was Robin (3) against Alan (2.5). Alan won to give himself a half-point lead.

Round 5:
Alan (3.5) against Angus (3) this time around - and Angus winning meant the lead changed yet again.

Round 6:
The most appropriate pairing you could imagine. Angus (4) against reigning champ Tom Chivers (4). When the dust settled it was game, set and match to Angus leaving the final standings as follows:-

Angus F

James M, Jonathan B

Tom C, Robin H, Morgan D

Alan H

Jan K, Barry B, Gary S, Dean L-M, Ash K, Hector H

Thierry H

Mohamed M (from 4 games), Vad K

David S

Mohsin N (3 games), Stan S (5 games), Robert B, Marc P (4 games)

Sam E (3 games)

Angus's victory is particularly impressive because not only was he burdened with the responsibility of organising the tournament but he also only actually played five games because he gave himself a zero point bye in the first round because an odd number of players had turned up at at that stage.

Aside from our new champ, amongst other performances worthy of note are:-

  • ten-year-old Hector Huser (more of him in the next week or two)

  • library players Dean and Gary who both faced very tough opposition

  • Barry 'the barman' Blackburn who set all the boards up at the start of the night and managed to get to play the odd game of chess in between meeting the beer demands of certain former club champions.

Tom hands the trophy over to Angus...

... who celebrates

Last Men Standing

So what was the legendary moment of which I speak and who is John Bennett?

I remember it was several years ago that I first heard the story of what happened when an old S&BCCer (way before my time) took on a young Danny Gormally. The yarn can't ever have reached Alan Hayward's ears though because in round four history repeated itself.

I'll let the new champion explain ...

S&BCC Championship 2009
Round 4
Alan Hayward v Angus French

My opening against Alan was a ‘John Bennett Gambit’:

1. f4

In a London League game against Danny Gormally, played maybe 15 years ago when Danny was about 190 strength, Danny was adjusting his pieces at the start of the game without having announced "j’adoube". John pounced when Danny centred his ‘f’ pawn – "You’ve touched that…"

1… Nf6 2. Nf3 d6 3. b3 Nbd7 4. Bb2 e5

Oops. John released the pawn and, as he did so, made as though he was having second thoughts about the move. But, especially given what had gone before, there was no way Danny would allow John to play anything else.

5. fxe5 dxe5 6. Nxe5 Nxe5 7. Bxe5

White has apparently capitalised on Black’s mistake and won a pawn...

7. ... Ng4

... however he is much, much worse due to his weak dark squares. I don’t remember the moves but John went on to win his game comfortably. My game against Alan continued...

8. Bg3 Bd6 9. e3 Qf6 10. Bb5+ c6 11. Qf3 Bxg3+ 12. hxg3 cxb5

... and eventually I was able to convert the material advantage although Alan put up a lot of resistance.

So well done Angus.

By the way, the version of the John Bennett saga that I heard has Danny Boy being less than pleased with the whole turn of events ... though whether or not he proceeded to challenge our man to a fight in a nightclub remains a matter of speculation.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009


Club Championship Flash Update:

Angus wins!! Fittingly his was the last game to finish and he won the title by beating last year's champion, the Tom Chivers formerly known as T.C.

A full report follows on Friday but meanwhile ...

Many congratulations to S&BCC stalwart, and multiple promotion winning captain, Chris Morgan who with the assistance of partner Siobhan acquired twin girls on Friday 8th May.

Erin and Kiera
- although I confess I'm not sure which is which

Isn't less than a week old a bit young to be trying out
the new Saw ride at Thorpe Park?

With young Peter going strong too the S&BCC youth section is looking a good bet for an under eight's championship around 2017 or so.

Finally, as a taster to Friday's report, a quick trip back to the Club Championship.

It's well known that anything can happen in a blitz finish. Consider this interesting position from, I think, round 4.

Black to play

It's Black to follow White's interesting Kb5-c6. Both sides flags are hanging - and not the 'approaching twelve' variety either but the severely likely to fall at any second kind.

So what happened next?

Monday, May 11, 2009

Fifteen Minutes of Rook Endgame

Stop the press, rewrite the classics, cut out the cliches forever: because it turns out, not all rook endgames are drawn.

Not only that, but they're a great deal less drawish than many other endgames - at least according to Andrei Volokitin and Vladimir Grabinsky in Perfect Your Chess (page 38):
"All rook endings are drawn", according to a common piece of chess folklore. We decided to distrust emotion and check the figures, comparing the percentages of draws in different types of endings, using a database of more than three million games. The results were very surprising. Bishop endings turned out to be the most drawish, with 47%. Second place went to queen endings on 43%. Even more surprising was the third place for knight endings, at 40%. And the notorious rook endings came only second-last at 38%, with pawn endings naturally turning out to be the least drawish at 27%.
And what else can I tell you?

Unfortunately, not much. Volokitin and Grabinsky don't say what the database was. They don't say what criteria qualified a position as a rook endgame: only one rook each? two rooks each as well? what about one rook + pawns v two rooks? They don't say whether they factored out trivial cases, e.g., where one of the rooks is instantly lost, the player only playing on because of say the clock. And it seems a shame they didn't repeat their analysis for tablebase positions only, and then again for Grandmaster games only - assuming the database wasn't GM games only to begin with, that is.

So! Can any of our more-knowledgeable readers fill in the gaps? Or might any of our more tech-savvy readers like to research all this further, for instance by analyzing with their own data and tablebases?

If so - let us know what's what in the comments. Or indeed if you're able to put in a lot of work into answering these types of questions, you could even drop me a line and I'll see if I can make a whole future post out of it, since rook endgames are now statistically proven to be not at all boring.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Bad book covers VII

Perfect Your Chess, Volotikin and Grabinsky, Gambit 2007.

[Bad book covers index]

Friday, May 08, 2009

Half a Club Championship Report

First off today, here are the scores on the doors at the halfway stage of the 2009 S&BCC Championship.

3 - Robin H

2.5 – Alan H

2 – Tom C, Angus F, Morgan D, Jonathan B, Barry B, Gary S, Dean L-M

1.5 – David S

1 – Jan K, Asheque K, Mohamed M, Vad K, Hector H, James M*, Mohsin N*

0.5 – Thierry H, Sam E

0 – Stan R, Robert B, Marc P

Many thanks to Angus for running the event. I'm sure he'd be doing even better than 3rd equal if he wasn't burdened with the arbiter responsibilities.

The second half next Tuesday looks promises to be an interesting evening. With the top three rated players - Robin, Alan and our own T.C. - still to face each other it's all to play for.

For now though, here's a puzzle to finish up the week. An Ordinary Chessplayer spotted that my flashy finish from Wednesday came from a Dutch Defence. Today I offer you another one.

A. Nother-Bloke v JB, October 2008
White to play

My opponent had just played 1. Ba3, with the intention, I thought, of taking on c6 then taking on e5 - and thus winning the pawn since d6 is pinned against the bishop on e7.

After a fairly lengthy ponder I decided to fall into his trap with 1. ... Rf6 and the game continued

2. Bxc6 bxc6, 3. dxe5 Rh6, 4. h4 Bxh4

It's not too difficult to see that after 5. gxh4 Qxh4 White is getting mated - which is how the game finished - but I was pleased to spot the bishop sac in advance. In particular I was chuffed to forsee from the beginning of the combination that if White had tried to throw a spanner in the works with 5. Rxd6 I would have been able to respond with the amusing 5. ... Bf6. Again it's not so hard to see that from the second diagram but for me it's quite an achievement to work it out from the first one.

To be fair 2. Bxc6 was always going to be a risky move. Giving up the fianchettoed bishop just to win a pawn is asking for trouble. Had White not played that, however, I'd thought I could go ... Rh6 anyway with a similar attack to the game - albeit one that White would probably be better placed to defend against because of the extra defensive piece.

I travelled home feeling smug but unfortunately Fritz put an end to that. It turns out there was a huge flaw in all of this and we'd both missed a chance for White to secure a solid advantage. I'm sure you, the esteemed readership of the S&BC Blog, will be able to do better.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Not a Club Championship Report

As you read this we will be three rounds into the club championship - to be concluded Tuesday 12th.

As I write this, however, it's an hour and a half or so before the whole event kicks off so I have no idea yet what's happened. An update will appear as soon as we have it. In the meantime, total lack of modesty forbids me not putting up my favourite finish for quite some time.

A. Geezer v JB, April 2009
Black to play and win

It's one of those where you might be able to guess what the winning move is just because it's a position where you're told there is one. It's the proving it without moving the pieces around that's the tricky part. Well for me it is anyway - although this time I managed it.

Robin Haldane leads on 3/3.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Not Cricket

Today in Britain it's the May Day Bank Holiday; a national holiday invented more or less so that we can all head off and watch the start of the cricket season. But since you're reading this, I imagine that the sixty-four squares are more on your mind than the knock of leather on willow, and so perhaps you'd prefer news of four chess competitions coming up?
  • Well, the Ilford Congress has much to recommend it. Exciting players, good prizes, easy to reach on the Central Line, and six rounds spread leisurely across three days toward the end of May (a weekend plus the next Bank Holiday Monday). Details of this year's and previous competitions can be found here.
  • Now, if the Ilford Congress is a Test Match, then what's the ten-second-per-move, five-round buzzer-competition known as the Trost Trophy? Well, whatever it is it's also the 50th anniversary of this tournament, for which the first prize of four is now appropriately enough £50. The Trost takes place a week from today on Monday 11th May from 7.45pm at Crystal Palace Chess Club, Coombe Road, Sydenham; for more details or to enter contact David Hodgson via email or on 020 8663 2553.
  • At only a slightly less brutal pace, the six-round rapidplay Streatham and Brixton Chess Club Championship 2009 will take place on the evenings of Tuesday 5th May and Tuesday 12th May at Woodfield Grove Tennis Club from 7.30pm. Club members can enter by emailing Angus French; non-members looking to knock the current champ (now who might that be?) off his perch will need to first join the club to do so.
  • Finally, I suppose I'm not alone in having fun childhood memories of cricket radio commentary; all the silly stuff between overs about which bus was passing where, the digressions about cakes that female listeners have sent in, the giggles at an accidental double entendre, the lyrical descriptions wiling away an afternoon in the sun. Is there a chess equivalent? If there is, I'm pretty sure it's not kibitizing, which the website specializes in. However, there is no doubt some innocent fun to be had with their Pun Contest: you can enter here, and/or vote here.
Best of luck in any of these that you enter.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Chess in Art Postscript : Here Come Du Champ

Guest post by Martin Smith

If he had been called an elephant in the room artist and chess player Marcel Duchamp would have been dead chuffed. Along with the chess piece reference....

Rook from India (16th century)
(see note 1)

.....the epithet has an "anti-retinal" nature: there's not actually one in the room, obviously, but if there was we wouldn't talk about it anyway. He, well, championed the "anti-retinal" when he stopped painting pictures that depend for appreciation on what falls on the back of the eye, in favour of creating, or choosing, artworks, that rely on what goes on at the front of the brain. At least, I think that's what he meant.

Duchamp is where 20th century modern art and chess collide, but in the Chess in Art series the nearest we got to him was Max Ernst in Chess in Art XIII who was one of the art-collaborating-partner-swapping set in New York who appeared in gallery owner Julien Levy's "the Imagery of Chess" Exhibition of 1944/5. Duchamp designed the flyer for the show, and displayed his work alongside Ernst's ambiguously titled "The King Playing with the Queen".

Otherwise we were sans Duchamp in all twenty Chess in Arts, though there were some passing references in subsequent Postscripts, and a joke at the expense of Rrose Salévy on April 1st (note 2). So, adapting a portentous line from Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited (a rather Duchampian title, that), it is time to talk of Marcel.

But before we leave pseudonyms: it shouldn't be necessary to remind Chess in Art aficionados that Rrose Salévy is an extravagant pun in French on "Eros, c'est la vie", and even "Arrosez la vie" (a toast to life). Someone (himself, natch) coined a partial anagram "Marchand du Sel", which seems to hint that he might be offering more than a mere pinch of it to sex-up his creations. Too much of it - salt - we are cautioned, isn't good for the blood pressure, so here's another health warning for the hypertensively inclined, courtesy of Julien Levy: Duchamp was given to a certain (trying to put this delicately) "smuttiness" of humour.

Let's start in 1917, where we find Duchamp decamped in New York as the war was un peu disagréable in France. He was on the committee for the Society of Independent Artists whose exhibition guaranteed display of any work submitted, except that a famously notorious entry from a Mr. Richard Mutt, more or less like this...

Fountain (1917)

...was refused on grounds of decency (it's a urinal!) originality (some places you see rows of them!) and integrity (Mutt didn’t make it!). A ferocious onslaught which Duchamp deftly parried thus: "[Mutt, c'est moi!] took an ordinary article of life, placed it so that its useful significance disappeared under the new title and point of view – created a new thought for that object". It is not recorded whether they surmised - heed now Mr. Levy's warning - that he was taking the piss (a gag as old as the piece itself but which, like a well patronised urinal, sees repeated exposure). In his defence Marcel/Mutt adopted a rigorously anti-retinal position, and refused to have anything to do with the aesthetically motivated point, offered by others trying to be helpful, that his convenience looked like a seated Buddha.

Not a 4th century urinal

By rejecting such an insensitive comparison Duchamp would have been making a minor, and unsung, contribution to harmony in New York's community relations, though his further jibe that "the only…art that America has given are her plumbing and her bridges" may have undone his good work and provoked a spasm of Francophobia some 90 years before the neo-con apoplexy of, for Pete's sake, the "Freedom Fries" episode.

Now for a bit of chess: Duchamp learnt the game at thirteen or so. He played with his brothers whom we saw, on April 1st, engrossed in their game. They were perhaps inadvisedly leaving their demoiselles alone with their thoughts turning by degrees from ennui to Lysistratian revenge. From there on, chess, art, life and les femmes were interwoven inextricably for Duchamp. He married his first wife in 1927. According to Man Ray she rapidly realised his preference for the seductive diversions of Caissa and one night glued his set to the board. Fellow chess players will understand if, through the fog of his obsession, he thought she was merely, and wittily, emphasising the perils of neglected development: a reminder not to allow our pieces to be stuck on the first rank. Alas, that would have been a tragic misevaluation of the position. The flag fell on the marriage three months later.

The career of Duchamp, including his alleged resignation from art so he could play more chess, his alleged renunciation of OTB for correspondence chess (CC is alleged to be "non-retinal", you see), his alleged debt to hypermodernism in his strategic style, his alleged preference for combinative complexity, the alleged influence of chess on his art and vice allegedly versa, have all been analysed in exhausting depth (see some references at note 3). But, as ever and in all things he was a bit of a tease, including in his endgame problem christened by Beliavsky and Mikhalchishin (1995) the Riddle of Duchamp. Below is the position he set in 1943 with a cupid and arrow pointing to the b file (oh that today's chess press would adopt such endearing devices) and the stipulation that it is a win for white. B&M however give analysis to demonstrate that it is a draw, allegedly.

One entertaining and, to this endgame rabbit, instructive line after 1.Ke4 finishes with lone white king and queen somewhere up top left, and a black pawn on f2, with its king in close proximity, down bottom right. Every other man and his chess playing dog, bar moi-même, knows that this retinal white win is in fact a draw (see note 4).

And so to one last Duchamp-related conundrum: Ray Keene (2007) wrote that "Aron Nimzowitsch...preached the doctrine that a move is less beautiful than the thought behind it – a view clearly echoed in Duchamp's own artistic production". It's the anti-retinal again, and with Keene's rather imprecise formulation as a fig leaf I'll continue to think beautiful thoughts while I play blindingly obvious blunders. But not if Levitt and Friedgood (2008) (note 5) have their way, for they pray in aid Tarrasch, with quote-marks but no source, as follows: "The beauty of a move lies in the thought behind it". Spoilsports; so my moves have to be decent in the first place for the thoughts-beautiful to count. But help, dear reader. Who first penned the epigram with that thought-provoking-thought attached, was it the Good Doctor or Systems Man? Chapter and verse, please.

There is so much to Duchamp. The above is not the half of it. Personally I'm dead chuffed that one of most iconclastic artists of the 20th century was also a committed chess player.

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

Notes and References

1. This Postscript's topographical reference is to the much maligned neighbourhood of South London called "the Elephant and Castle" three or four miles north of Streatham and Brixton. Locally anyone will tell you it is a corruption of "Infanta de Castile" whether it is or not.

2. The My Fair Ladies postscript referred to the game that Koltanowsky lost to Duchamp in 15 moves. You'll find it here.

3. Arturo Schwarz. The complete works of Marcel Duchamp. Delano Greenidge, 2000.

Dawn Ades, Neil Cox and David Hopkins. Marcel Duchamp. Thames and Hudson, 1999.

This article by Ian Randall deals in depth with the relationship between Duchamp's art and chess, and discusses Keene et al.

This is a link to a forthcoming book (May 2009) by Naumann and others, Marcel Duchamp: the Art of Chess that will include games of Duchamp analysed by Jennifer Shahade, which looks like a cracker.

4. Alexander Beliavsky and Adrian Mikhalchishin, Winning Endgame Technique. Batsford, 1995, pages 80-83. The line goes 1. Ke4 h4 2. Kd5 h3 3. Kc6 h2 4. Rg7+ Kf2 5. Rh7 Kg2 6. Kc7 Rg8 7. b8Q Rxb8 8. Kxb8 h1Q 9. Rxh1 Kxh1 10. b6 f5 11. b7 f4 12. Kc7 f3 13. b8Q f2 =. They also analyse 1. Rg7+ and 1. Ke3.

See Francis Naumann's 2008 article A Problem With no Solution for the full story.

5. Julius Bryant (ed), The tomorrow of my yesterday; the complete works of Barry Martin. Veenman, 2007. Chapter 8: Raymond Keene, "The Artist as Chess Player". Barry Martin is our very own chess-savvy contemporary artist of note.

Jonathan Levitt & David Friedgood, Secrets of Spectacular Chess (2nd ed). Everyman, 2008.

Friday, May 01, 2009

That Friday Feeling

After a brace of erudite posts - from Morgan and Tom respectively - today I offer up something rather less weighty to lead us into the weekend.

A couple of days ago, while researching a matter completely unrelated to chess, I stumbled across this photograph.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to guess the three word search term I plugged in to google images that led to me finding the picture.