Friday, May 31, 2013


I was reading about the kerfuffle in Edinburgh the other day and I couldn't help noticing the name Lord Monckton, who was apparently somewhat discomforted when another gentleman
allegedly emptied a can of Coca-Cola over Lord Monckton's head and was immediately arrested.
Could you actually do that, I wondered? It take ages to actually empty a tin. But to keep somewhere near the point just for the moment, why should I be interested in UKIP's only member, more than likely leader in Scotland?

I knew I'd seen the name somewhere before. But where could it have been?

Well, let's tick off the boxes. Money, a hereditary peerage, a liking for junk science, aspirations to the House of Lords, an interest in heraldry, climate change denial and barking-right views on a variety of subjects.

So, given that it's a small world when you move in certain circles -

- to whose table do you imagine this might be leading?

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

If John Lewis ran chess tournaments

The Golders Green Open – the one about which I’ve been banging on for the past couple of weeks (BORP? XIX; My Light Shines on) – was my fifth appearance in a row at Adam Raoof's event. I’ll be back for more on 8th June and trying out the new King’s Place Chess Festival on the 15th too. Add on the two S&BCC events (the first three rounds of the summer championship were played last night) and I’ll have notched up 9 tournaments before the first half of 2013 is out. Not bad for somebody who began the year claiming that he wasn't playing much chess.

Today’s post is about why it will be only 9 tournaments from January to June and not 10. Specifically, it’s why I didn’t play at the recent Richmond Rapidplay and why I won’t be playing there for the foreseeable future. Since today’s theme is good service let me cut to the chase for anybody who lacks the time (or, indeed, the enthusiasm) to read the whole post: the new Richmond is no John Lewis.

Never knowingly ran a chess tournament

I bought a washing machine from John Lewis a couple of months ago. The precise reasons as to why need not concern us here. Today we need know only that I paid Mr Lewis not just for the washing machine, but also to install it. We need know only this and the fact that whilst said washing machine was indeed inserted into my kitchen as per our agreement, the delivery chaps left with the bugger entirely unplumbed in.

Situation fucked.

What was the nature of the problem? Who cares? It’s not important. Although I dare say there was a good reason that things went pear-shaped.

What matters is what happened next. Which was:-

  • A kindly chap called Simon called to ask what had happened;
  • Simon immediately accepted that his company’s service hadn’t reached an acceptable standard;
  • Simon apologised;
  • Simon arranged for the delivery costs to be refunded;
  • Simon agreed that John Lewis would cover the additional expense to which I’d been put;
  • Simon arranged for that money – some £100 – to be transferred to my bank account.

Situation unfucked.

That, my friends, is service. Service and the reason why, screw-up notwithstanding, I’d go back to John Lewis in a heartbeat.

Works better when attached to the water supply

And so to the Richmond Rapidplay.

After 100+ successful editions under the old management(s), this time around, as some amongst our esteemed and valued readership might already be aware, the tournament was cancelled at very late notice. Only 45 minutes in fact. 30-odd players turned up at the venue but the organiser had experienced “an emergency” so there was no chessing to be had.

What was the nature of the emergency? Who cares? It isn’t important. Although I dare say there was a good reason that things went pear-shaped.

What matters is what happened next. Which was:-

  • Absolutely;
  • nothing;
  • at;
  • all.

At the time of writing no acknowledgement of the cancellation has appeared on the Richmond website. There has been no apology (should one be warranted) or any reassurance that the next or any future tournament will be going ahead.

If the cancellation itself isn't at all important, the absence of response is.

Something else that matters is the editor of one of the country’s two printed chess magazines having to ask whether the Richmond Rapidplay has ceased to be. Ditto that he can ask the question and not receive a reply and while we're making a list we could add the necessity to merge sections at previous tournaments due to lack of entries and the fact that somebody who is in a position to know says that this is because the tournament has not been publicised properly. Since we're here, why not round things off with an observation that the tournament's website makes it really rather difficult to discover even the most basic information (like the scheduled start times of the first round, for instance)?

Lots of ways to get there, but I doubt I'll bother

The real problem, it seems to me, is not that one tournament didn't take place for whatever reason, it's the lack of any evidence that the organiser gives much of a damn . And if they don’t care why should I?

As it happens I was thinking of entering Richmond this month, but the website was so unhelpful* I decided that I’d take my chessing trade somewhere that I knew for sure would be well organised. Somewhere else, I mean. Ironic I suppose, but it was their online presence being so utterly piss-poor that saved me a fruitless journey.

Not sure that’s much of a recommendation for the future, though, and I think I’ll be giving Richmond a miss until there’s some evidence that it’s sorted itself out. That’s assuming that there are going to be more tournaments, of course.

So, no, I won’t be playing in Richmond anytime soon. On the other hand, if I’m ever back in the market for consumer durables I’ll definitely be returning to John Lewis. Yes, they mistakes too - things can go wrong for anybody - but at least when John Lewis fuck things up they do it in style.

* Richard James (who is no longer responsible for the event), on the other hand, was very helpful indeed.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Random Rook Endings VIII

White to play

What’s the most difficult KRP v KR position there is? Could it be this one?

If Black's rook was on e1 we'd have the relatively simple ('simple'!) theoretical draw that we looked at last week. The only difference is one piece one square to the left and yet of this position Jon Speelman writes,

Forearmed with Diagrams 16-19 you might try to solve the position. But I ought to warn you that it is very difficult! … it took a considerable time for my head to clear to the extent that I understood what was going on.

Jon Speelman, Analysing the Endgame Batsford (1981)

That’s Jon Speelman endgame expert (e.g. SMA #15; Random Rook Endings IV) and a man who within a few short years of penning those words would find himself ranked amongst the top half dozen chessers in the world, mark you. Still, just in case Spess was having an off day, let’s listen in to an anecdote from Mark Dvoretsky,

I recall an episode at one of the sessions at my school for gifted chessplayers held in Moscow in October 2001. Participating were not only young candidate masters, but also masters and even grandmasters. I was discussing the theory of rook-and-pawn-versus-rook endgames. The students accurately took down everything. They were later presented with the following position …

[White] has to precisely consider concrete variations, supported by, of course, the evaluation of core theoretical positions.

I divided the students into two-player teams. Teams competed among themselves, playing out this ending. On each team, one member played White, another Black, so the overall chances in these matches were objectively equal. Teams were given time (30 to 45 minutes) to prepare – analysis of a position, reference to notes and moving pieces on the board (but naturally without the help of a computer) …

Alas, not one of the games finished properly; in each, one of the players (in most cases both) made serious errors, and, as rule [sic], right from the outset.

Mark Dvoretsky, Tragicomedy in the Endgame Russell Enterprises Inc (2011)

So, a bit tricky. Best get cracking, then, hadn’t you?

(For those that want a hint: scroll down for a peek at Speelman’s positions 16-19 which are, I imagine, the “core theoretical positions” of which Dvoretsky speaks.)

Black to play

White or Black to play

White or Black to play

White or Black to play

Saturday, May 25, 2013

And Here's To You, Mrs. Robinson

There is a good case for filing this under "The Other Talent of..." in the Chess In Art Index. Except that we'd have to say "talents" plural. The subject of today's post has them in buckets, starting with her jazz singing; much acclaimed among those in the know. She is Nette Robinson, but I'm not sure if she has recorded a cover of the Simon and Garfunkel hit on any of her albums. It is not, for example, on the retrospective Remembered Time (a homage to jazz pianist Bill Evans) that she made with the doyen of British jazz, Michael Garrick.
Mrs. Robinson and Mr. Garrick
Pic by Sisi Burn, from here
Hmmm...A successful jazz vocalist who is also an aspiring chesser - Nette is a member of Richmond and Twickenham Chess Club - that's a vanishingly small demographic, unlikely to be found elsewhere, and certainly not in the suggestive compilation below, which is hardcore instrumental.
  Another cover version.
As if chess-playing and jazz-singing were not enough to keep her busy, Nette has mixed and matched another of her multi-talents to make jazz art.
Left: Coltrane by Nette Robinson.
Right: Prestige and Blue Note Album covers
As you can see above, Nette's celebrations of the jazz greats are reworkings of images, invariably of solo performers, memorable from album covers such as on the classic Blue Note label. Here her emphatic brushwork and simplified tonality animate Coltrane in soaring flight. It has something of the quality of the grainy footage of his performances in the 60s. You can sense the ecstatic ascension as he surfs the crescent of his favourite thing: a twenty minute solo ("I don't know how to finish," he complained; "Just take the horn out of your mouth" Miles Davis famously suggested). Nette's painted portrait isn't earth-bound either. It, too, breaks free from the bare facts of a photographic image, however artful the latter may be.

Re-mix and now we get chess art. Before we continue: yes, that was Nette with an article in the April 2013 issue of Chess.
Emanuel Lasker front cover design,
based on a painting by Nette Robinson, based on a...
If you can't find her in the ECF grading list, it may be because she is there under her married name of Woods (so apologies to Miss. Robinson, or Mrs. Woods, for the small liberty with the title at the top), and very much on the lower reaches of the chess learning curve, as she would be the first to admit. But she clearly knows enough already about the game for it to inform her chess art, her other talent, and the one that interests us in this post.

Many readers of Chess were at the private view of her chess art exhibition in the Muse Gallery in London's Portobello Road ten days ago (and now closed), though your blogger had, unfortunately for him, to be elsewhere, embroiled, as Streatham and Brixton CC was, in a crucial London League relegation battle. But a visit to the show the next day provided a chance to see her chess art in the flesh - and there is no substitute for seeing the real thing, paint, brush-marks, actual size, and all.

First, let's look at her photo-sourced images of chess players - all well-known. Some are straightforwardly in pencil, delicately done; and there is one of Gary Kasparov, painted Coltrane-style, although it didn't seem to me to be as successful for a chess great as a jazz legend. This style works best, IMHO, when it is called on to do energy, and for this image Gazza models dead-pan.

Going a step further in the exploitation of flat tone (white, black and a grey or two), now in defined blocks with the painterly gestures suppressed, Nette has developed a simplified style that has surprising expressive power - less is more indeed - especially with a cropped, raking, assymetric composition; and the familiarity of the subjects does not get in the way, far from it.

Mikhail Tal
The one that appealed to me the most was of Tigran Petrosian, as recognisable for his hairline as Tal was for his stare.  

Deep in Thought
Both Tal and Tigran, caught in their solitary absorption, are pushed over to their side of the frame, their opponents occluded though their presence is palpable. Tal is highly-strung, on a short fuse. He restively surveys the killing field stretching before him. He imposes his presence. It is his domain. He waits to see the whites of their eyes as he bamboozles his prey and strikes. It is war of manoeuvre and it's personal. Petrosian is turned in on himself, and merges with the background. All around is void. He will quarter his quarry by smell alone. His plan is patience - no rush - to encircle and to suffocate, and it will be done by stealth. It is war of position; it's nothing personal. Tigran and Tal: art imitates chess.

In many of these images of chess-maestros past and present hands play an expressive part. It's a subject we've touched upon before in chess art. However hard we try, we can't read a chess player's mind (it would help my grade no end) but body language or, more precisely, hand signals, give us a clue. For this reason chess artists have grabbed at them for an interpretive leg up. There is a stunning convergence between Nette's portrayal of Iron Tigran shutting out all distraction, narrowing his field of vision, focussing his cogitation, and one of Bill Hook's works (we blogged about it before) which, moreover, also uses a similar tonal economy, albeit with more actors on stage. It makes telling chess art.
Pal Benko (right) in action.
Bill Hook (1925-2010)
Another string to Nette's bow is her paintings of positions, the frozen moment of a key move played or imminent. The ones on show are from famous games; the classics. They are a "Find the Move" challenge transformed and elevated, in which the chess diagram is no longer a means to an end but the end itself - it wants to be looked at for its own sake.

Any chess player might covet one of these, especially if it was created, bespoke, from their favourite move, even one of their own. Unlike the Tal and Tigran in action (or inaction) portraits above, with these position-pieces the chess player has a privileged level of appreciation, and you'd have to ask a non-chesser whether they work for them devoid of chess meaning. But we can apply a test (taught in any art class) to see for ourselves. One way of trying to assess whether the formal compositional qualities of an artwork stand up independently is to look at it in a mirror, or upside down (the picture, obviously), or both, so as to defeat its content. So here we go:

That is quite revealing, and I almost prefer it that way! There is something about having the weight of the textual border and all the black bits in the lower half that gives stability and equilibrium. I suppose that means the obverse for the original orientation. The experiment makes us confine our gaze to the plane of the humble diagram and the pattern of the elements (busy and linear, with a white bit enigmatically stranded among the black) on the unforgiving checkered ground, and the two empty rows now assert themselves. Try the re-orientation trick on the other position-pieces on Nette's website and see what you think. Resist the urge to look beyond the picture plane supposing that there is a game somewhere to be found.

Finally we have the most recent development of Nette's chess art, seemingly the natural consequence of the above: abstracts based on mapping the chess moves of a complete game. A couple of examples were on display in her Muse Gallery expo, here is one of them: Jose Raul Capablanca vs. Rudolf Spielmann, New York (1927). 

It is acrylic on canvas, 30 inches high, 30 inches wide, and - another crucial dimension - just 26 moves long. As we found with Tom Hackney's chess artworks based on actual moves (we blogged about him here), the temptation to play the game through and "see" it in the painting is irresistible. In the exhibition she gave the relevant game score alongside. It works remarkably well.

Tom Hackney, though, was less interested in the look of his finished works (seductive though they are) than how they got there - the process - as we found when we interviewed him. So let's put him on one side and compare two other artists who have heroically created artworks from the complete move-sets of well-known games. They are Dominique Digeon and Ugo Dossi. We looked at them in posts some time back, and each had their own way dealing with the challenges of complexity, sequencing, and legibility according to their particular artistic intentions.

Digeon depicts the moves as a surge of organic growth, and they intertwine in a floral carpet of many colours. Dossi maps them as geometric incisions as if forged by precision engineering (or perhaps a circuit diagram is more apt as an analogy) in which the moves democratically ignore hierarchy - all pieces are equal - as they mutate through the colours of the rainbow. The labelling of their works is not entirely clear, but I think that the two D's have both, by coincidence, represented the same game by the two K's from Leningrad 1986. Dossi is on the left.

Frankly, I'm not sure that these make a convincing case for presenting all the moves unedited, whether serpentine or straight, as artwork. There is obviously no reason why, ipso facto, the moves of a game should produce a compelling configuration; and adding colour or symbolic coding may not save the day, even if they add a bit of interest otherwise lacking.

Nette Robinson's work however shows that active artistic intervention ("pruning"? "re-wiring"?), can construct order in the chaos, and may re-present the drama of a game in a way that rises above the visual contingency of the moves. She has overpainted some moves to simplify the image, and uses a combination of signs and symbols as indications of the action. The colour assists our reading of the moves - it is not mere decoration. Here is another example in the same style; and it also works sans chess.

Alexander Alekhine vs. Emanuel Lasker , Zurich (1934)
Nette's art work will be on display, and sale, at various chess events as you can see from the forthcoming exhibitions listing on her website.

So here's to you, Nette Robinson - good luck, and we'll be following all your many careers (we haven't yet mentioned the belly-dancing) with considerable interest.  

Thanks to Nette Robinson for kindly letting us use images of her work, all are her copyright.
Tom Hackney
Dominique Digeon
Ugo Dossi

Chess in Art Index

Friday, May 24, 2013

Much of a MacCutcheon

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Bg5 Bb4

I've always liked the MacCutcheon, though it's never been a fashionable line.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Blue or Red Pill? XIX

White to play

Here we are back at the Golders Green Open. You may recall that I had a bit of a stinker in the morning rounds. Three games and three defeats with two of those zeros coming from the White side of the position you see above. Not that my pre-lunch failure to trouble the scorers is particularly relevant for this post. It's more how I lost that interests us today.


In the first round I was up against Peter Poobalasingham. With an ECF 213 and FIDE 2270, he is by some distance the strongest opponent I've ever faced in rapid chess and comfortably inside the top ten of highest-rated opponents that I've ever played in any form of chess.

Round three was rather different. There I was paired with Chris Andrescu who doesn't have a FIDE rapidplay rating and his ECF grade is getting on for 90 points lower than Poobalasingham's.

In both games I played 6 dxc3. Two games with the same moves and the same plan: head directly for a queenless middlegame without passing Go.

I'm reminded of some recent comments made, albeit in a different context, by our regular visitor RdC:-

So the opening choice was a deliberate attempt to treat the grade as misleading as to strength and exploit the inexperience ...

Whether you regard a draw as a acceptable result, can affect the choice of opening moves ....

Roger, if you don't know him, is a strong player. Presumably he faces this kind of situation more frequently than the average bear simply by virtue of having more people below him on the rating list and as an experienced competitor I suspect he has a broader opening repertoire than most. So maybe Roger both gets to choose more often and has a wider range of openings available to him from which he can make that choice

What about the rest of us, though? What's the best strategy when facing opponents of very different strengths?

Play your normal game

Take your opponent's grade into account when choosing your opening 

BORP? Index

Monday, May 20, 2013

Sixty Memorable Annotations

Author's note:
On last Friday's lost rook ending -

The Future World Champion himself: "Too many bad decisions today, got what I deserved in the end."
Mark Crowther: "Wang Hao says most of the time the ending against Carlsen was completely drawn."
Jonathan Rowson: "Remarkable to see same seemingly drawn rook ending, won both times at 2700+ level within 2 weeks."
Harikrishna: "Rook and pawn endgames are tough even for World no.1 !!"

Although, to be fair, Baburn does conclude that the rook ending, "offers the stronger side excellent winning chances" in Chess Today.

Was this carelessness after Magnus' unfortunate game with Ivanchuk at the Candidates'? Was it merely chance or a is a pattern emerging?
While we ponder that, today's post happens to include a reference to another botched rook ending by The Lad. On with the show ....

#18: the short-side defence

White to play

Although it is fairly frequent, even masters go astray: in 1931 Capablanca won two games with it despite the fact that a "book" draw has been reached.

Reuben Fine, Basic Chess Endings (1941)

'Frequent'? 'Astray'? True that.

Examples of this 'draw' going pear-shaped are ten a penny. Still it's the Jose Raul ones that stick most in my mind.

Winner of drawn endgames/wearer of rather spiffing hats

Despite the assistance of Angus and his admirably large database, I've only managed to track down one of those Capablanca games.

Capablanca - Turover, New York 1931 ...

White to play

Amongst the gazillions of other games we could add to the Cuban's we have Aronian - Carlsen, Moscow 2006, of course [SMA #17; Purposeful Shuffling; Ending 57] ...

Black to play

... not to mention the century-old Burn - Spielmann, San Sebastian 1911 that has been cited in endgame books ever since, Fine's classic text included.

Black to play

100 years since Spielmann ballsed it up and still folk are getting it wrong. Even 2698-rated Norwegian F.W.Cs. It's not as if the correct defence is outrageously difficult either. Tricky if you don't know it, sure, but when it comes down to it all you've got to do is the one thing that everybody knows you should do in rook endings - get your rook behind the pawn.

F.W.C/hanger abouter with models/cocker upper of basic rook endings

So, from the position at the head of today's blog White goes 1 Kb6 (after 1 Kc6 Black has ... Rg6+: Lesson Number One) and Black just answers with  ... Rc1. White can threaten mate with 2 Kc6 which admittedly looks a bit scary at first sight, but in truth there's nothing to worry about after 2 ... Kb8!

White to play

Be careful Nalimoving this position. There are many draws, but, as we know they were not born equal. If we're running a tablebase while we play any one of them would be as good as the next . If we're not we need a plan. To wit:-

  • There is no mate (a knight's or rook's pawn would be different) so the only way White is going to win is by advancing the pawn
  • Keeping our rook behind the pawn prevents the king from advancing and opening up the path for the pawn
  • White can only make progress by defending the pawn with the rook and then moving the king ...
  • ... but 3 Rh5 would be no good because after 3 ... rook waits on the c-file Black can answer 4 Kd7 with ... Kb7 and the pawn's not going anywhere ...
  • ... so the only option for White is to bring the rook to the c-file in front of the pawn
  • 3 Rc7?? allows the immediate ... Rxc5 
  • Therefore 3 Rh8+ Ka7, 4 Rc8 is White's only idea

The tablebases don't think that this is a critical position at all. Black has a dozen legal moves and almost every one of them draws. Actually the only way to acquire a lost position at this point is to lose your rook or walk into an immediate mate.

This, though, is exactly the kind of position where a human will let things slip unless s/he has a specific plan in mind. Ours starts with 4 ... Rh1.

  • If White's king moves now we'll just drive it away with checks from the side
  • If the rook comes to d8 to block those checks we'll just just come back to the c-file

And that's all you need to know. It's a defence which amounts to

  1. put your king on the queening square if and when you can
  2. tie the attacking king to the pawn
  3. be ready to check from the side

and it's one that goes wrong time and again. Proof positive, I suppose, that while the strategy might be very simple, it's not the sort of thing that you can find at the board if you don't already know it.

And evidently Capablanca's opponents didn't know it.

Mr Turover doesn't have an entry in the Oxford Companion to Chess and I don't know anything else about him other than this one game.  For this alone, though, he's worth remembering. Imagine how it would feel to have a simple theoretical draw against one of the greatest players in chess history ... and to throw it away.

Sixty Memorable Annotations Index
Rook and pawn Index

Capa via wiki
FWC/model via this lot
Lisa via MysticAlpha

Saturday, May 18, 2013

A Literary Reference : The Quiet American

I found Mr Chou's godown and mounted to Mr Chou's house. Nothing had changed since my last visit. The cat and the dog moved from floor to cardboard box to suitcase, like a couple of chess knights who cannot get to grips.

Graham Greene, The Quiet American, Penguin, 1967, p.170. (Original date of publication 1955.)

[A Literary Reference index]

Friday, May 17, 2013

My Light Shines On

This popped up on Mrs LondonLeagueSecondTeamCaptain's facebook page last Saturday morning. Rather timely, I thought.  I was, after all, just about to head off to play in my very first Golders Green Open.

The GG u-170 had very much become my comfort zone. After a rather miserable start - in January's first round I contrived to lose to a nipper by simply leaving a pawn en prise (in an IFE too, for shame) - I have, entirely uncharacteristically, managed to put together some consistent results in 2013. I finished equal second in the first tournament of the year followed by equal third in February, equal second again in March and second place on my own in April.

In truth, that's a little misleading. With the possible of exception of February, I was never in any danger of actually winning the event and one or two of the games I ended up winning could easily have gone the other way. Nevertheless, ending up towards the top of the table had ceased to be a surprise and for the most part I got there by playing most of my games either against the highest-rated players in the section or those who'd scored the most points.

So, what to do next?

Carry on? Try to actually win the thing? Stay in a section where I was notching up four wins for every defeat?

There's nothing wrong with that sort of thing if that's what you want to do, it's just that it wasn't what I wanted to do. The longer this sequence of reasonable finishes went on, I thought, the harder it would be to give up. It seemed my grade might well get pushed over the cut-off point in the next list anyway. If I aspired to improve enough to move on up a section - which I did (and do) - making the jump sooner rather than later seemed preferable. Before I got too comfortable.

So I entered the Open. Previous winners: Peter Roberson (ECF 221), John Richardson (218) and Alex Cherniaev (241). Daunting, but it's where the magic happens, right?

'Magic' turned out to be me getting my arse kicked.

By lunchtime I was on 0/3. As many in losses in one morning as in my previous 23 games at the tournament put together. For this I paid £20?

OK, I turned things around somewhat in the afternoon. Chessically speaking, though, in no way can the tournament be deemed a success. Still, getting walloped like that wasn't the end of the world and, taking a wider view I think it was actually worth doing.

Breaking the habits of a life time it might be, but I'm prepared to see this glass as 50% full rather than half way to empty. I'll be back for more in June. While I'm at it, I think I'll play in the Open that's part of the Kings Place Chess Festival too.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Unhappy ending

Run that one by me again.
Some well-placed observers have long been convinced that that was the regime's endgame, and even that the Russians would be in favour, envisaging the same kind of relationship with such an entity as the Americans have with Israel.
So says BBC correspondent Jim Muir, in a passage which suggested to this particular reader either that he had omitted an adjective, or that he doesn't know what an endgame actually is.

I've noticed the term endgame cropping up in journalism over the past couple of years, generally (though not always) in foreign affairs coverage and generally (though again, not always) in the reporting of armed conflicts. I seem to recall particularly noticing the term during the Libyan civil war and it's certainly the case that a Google search for endgame libya gets you a variety of examples. We have, for instance,
1. We've had a few commenters asking about the "endgame" now the intervention has taken place
2. A messy endgame approaches
3. Gaddafi's driver on the endgame
4. Libya war reaches endgame with 100 loyalists left fighting
5. Libya: battle for Sirte reaches endgame
6. Endgame in Libya: how the world called time on Gaddafi
Then there's this in which the term makes it into the URL if not actually the text. Also, for variety, mention is made of a CNN correspondent using the term but rendering it "end game" instead. As did Middle East expert Juan Cole:

a little learning, Professor Cole, is a dangerous thing.

That was 2011. I happened to come across three examples in February the followng year. There was
the endgame for Greece is supposed to be that it gradually weans itself off support from official sources and returns to the capital markets
as well as, also on the subject of Greece:

Ho very ho.

As chess metaphors go it's not too bad, particularly given the normal standards of the genre. It does at least identify the endgame (but not "end game") as the final stage of an encounter, although it seems to me to identify that endgame as a relatively short affair - whereas, as we know, it is very often the longest phase of the game. But it's all right as these things go.

Not sure about this though:
There is an endgame to this sort of abuse, and it's to make people disappear
This isn't right, is it? There is something awkward, clumsy, not-quite-right about it, as there is with the example cited at the top of this column. I think it is the same thing in each case - it seems to characterise "endgame" as a particular state of affairs which a given party is attempting to bring about.

But it isn't. The endgame is simply a phase of the game, like, say, extra time. To use the noun as it is being used in these examples you would have to qualify it in some way, to attach some appropriate adjective. But neither of these examples does so, giving the impression that the term is being misused, that it is being employed without the writer understanding what it means. (You might also say the same about our example above which refers to "the endgame for Greece".)

Maybe this is bound to happen when a term suddenly enters into mainstream journalistic language from a particular, obscure and technical area of activity, but being inevitable does not prevent it from being irksome. Being interested both in chess and my native language, and - you may feel - having nothing more useful to do with my time, I put it to Mr Muir that he was using a term without knowing what he meant by it.

We had something of a false start:

but once we both clarified that we were not talking of offence, nor headlines, nor this piece (and the fact that the term has cropped up in three recent pieces is perhaps evidence of its overuse) Mr Muir was kind enough to discuss it with me.

He argued that words do evolve beyond their original meaning, which of course is true - that's a normal process, by which a word is unshackled from its precise origins, which process allows it to be reinterpreted. He also said, in a phrase interesting enough that I take the liberty of quoting directly from his email, that there has been
a need for a word to cover the idea of a given party's strategy for the final decisive phase of a particular struggle.
Is that true? I confess that I can't immediately think of an alternative (but it is late and I am tired). It does however occur to me that conflicts have been written about since at least Herodotus and in recognisable English for at least half a millennium and it's not clear to me why that need would not have arisen before.

The other point to be made here usually involves the invocation of Humpty Dumpty and I would be loth to disappoint:

what I think is that language does necessarily change, not always logically, and what may seem an incorrect usage today may be current, accepted and in your dictionary tomorrow (in which case, presumably all the people who were wrong are retrospectively right).

Nevertheless to employ a metaphor one needs to think reasonably clearly about its actual meaning. When goalposts are claimed to have been moved, for instance, we are aware that there has been an aim, a target, an objective, which has been altered. So with an endgame: even if a new term is required, as Mr Muir is arguing, I am far from sure that the simple, standalone, unqualified "endgame" does the job. Before the endgame, Tarrasch wrote, the gods have placed the middlegame - and before the noun, the gods have often placed an adjective. "Preferred endgame" might be a preferable choice.

But of course, if people choose to use "endgame" in this new and irksome way, then it will indeed become proper usage and it will be one of these things, like the capitalisation of T in terms like "the Oval", which irks me often.

Still, there are those who take their terminology from chess yet know whereof they speak. It is almost a pleasure to come across "endgame" with a qualification that allows it to make sense.

Say what you like about Ken Rogoff, at least he knows what an endgame is.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Sixty Memorable Annotations

#17: Alekhine - Capablanca, Buenos Aires World Championship 1927

White to play

The tablebase tells us the fastest win starts with 82 Rg7, from a human point of view of course 82 Re7 is much more sensible, preventing the Black king from joining the action.

Jonathan Hawkins, Amateur to IM (Mongoose Press, 2012)

Nalimov tablebases, God I love them. That six-piece tablebases are freely available to anybody with a 'pooter and an internet connection has got to be the greatest learning tool of the century. For those of us who are trying to hack our way through the mysteries of rook and pawn endings, anyway.

It took me a while to work out how best to use them, though. Their cast-iron certainty can, paradoxically, mess with your understanding if you're not careful.

So you've got a choice between Rg7 (which leads to mate in 24) and Re7 (mate in 29). Does that mean the first move is better? In a sense, yes, but knowing which move leads to the quickest win doesn't necessarily mean you've grasped the essential logic of a position.

Drawn positions are even worse. That's where you have to be really careful with Nalimov, I think.

The look of a man who reckons he's better than any tablebase

So let's take another look at Aronian - Carlsen, Moscow 2006 (see Purposeful Shuffling from a couple of weeks back and its predecessor Random Rook Endings VII). A rook ending that should have been drawn but which our teenage Future World Champion managed to lose.

At what point does that half-point go adrift?

28 ... a5

36 ... h4

43 ... Rb5+

51 ... Rb1

60 ... Kf8

67 ... Kf8

69 ... Ra1

72 ... Ra8

73 ... Ra7+

74 ... resigns

Nalimov isn't - yet - any help in the first couple of positions and while Angus tells me that seven-piece tablebases have now been created they're not yet available online so we can forget the next three as well. From move 69 onwards, though, we can be absolutely sure. Check it and you'll see that it was only after Black's very last move, the awful 73 ... Ra7+, that the position becomes winning for White.

So it's whilst it's true to say, as a kibitzer at does, that

Neither of the players left the drawing path until 73...Ra7+ ....

it's misleading. What you could never find out if you rely solely on a tablebase, is that in no way was Carlsen's first mistake that losing final move.

There are paths and there are paths aren't there? The one Carlsen chose took him close to the edge of a cliff. From there it only took one slip and he tumbled over.

Nalimov might tell you it makes no difference, that one draw is as good as any other. For a human, though, it's obviously best to stay as far away from the precipice as we can. We'll come back to this next week.

Sixty Memorable Annotations Index
Rook and pawn Index