Monday, September 30, 2013

Blue or Red Pill? XX

Not much going on in the chess world right now. I mean, it's not like there's a dubious candidate hoping to be elected ECF President or a national newspaper columnist up to no good.

So I think I'll pop back to Torquay and have a look at some of the rook endgames played in the championship. We'll kick-off by revisiting Stephens - Balaji from round three and ask ourselves the following question: the perfect example of what can go wrong if you find yourself short of time and lacking theoretical reference points or a total irrelevance?

White to play

To recap: well after the first time control the chaps reached the position above. White could have killed the game dead with 52 Ra3. Instead, apparently never having made it as far as Lesson Number One in his study of rook endings, he played 52 Ra8. The objective evaluation of the game then swung back and forth between 'draw' and 'win for black' for 30 or so moves until White found a neat stalemate trick on move 89.

White to play

Curiously our man got another crack at the Philidor position in his game against McCullough a couple of days later. This time he did indeed bring his rook back to cut off the enemy king in approved fashion and eventually, after 83 ... Rc1-c4, reached our second diagram.

The reason the Philidor defence works is that any attempt to block the action of the rook like this allows a trade into a drawn king and pawn ending. Even if you weren't aware of that, though, if you'd got further than The Square in your study of king and pawn endings you'd see straightaway that trading rooks is the logical way to secure the draw. What White actually did, however, was to play his rook to f3 although five moves later the game the players agreed to draw anyway (the pgn files incorrectly give the result as a Black win).

Now, I think most of us would acknowledge that our understanding of the endgame is rather lacking, but on the basis of these two games it's hard to come to any other conclusion than that our friend Mr Stephens hasn't studied that area of the game at all. I mean not even the briefest glance. After all, if you don't have Phildor or that king and pawn ending in your locker, what do you have?

Well, each to his own. There's no reason at all why he should look at endings if he doesn't want to. What about the general principle, though? What can the rest of us take from this?

What's the problem? White drew both games in the end anyway, didn't he? He scored a very respectable 5/11 in a tournament for which most folk (certainly not you, blogger boy) wouldn't even qualify and his grade is considerably higher than than most (and certainly higher than yours) too. Clearly acquiring ending knowledge is an unnecessary waste of time.

Knowing endgame stuff doesn't make you a good chesser any more than not knowing it makes you a bad one. Still, while these games might have been saved there will be others one day. However good you are, sooner or later this sort of thing will cost you points.

Conscious or unconscious, implicit or explicit, this is a choice that everybody makes in one way or another.

Rook and pawn Index
BORP? Index

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Shatranj Ke Khilari

Ray. No, not Ray Our Great Regurgitator discussed in other posts, but the late, and maybe rather greater, Indian film director Satyajit Ray. His film The Chess Players (Shatranj Ke Khilari in Hindi) first came out in 1977. I think I saw it then, but it's half a lifetime ago and I'm not terribly sure. Anyway, S&B Chess Blog wasn't around then to blog it, so I popped along to the recent Satyajit Ray retrospective at the British Film Institute to check out this famous example of chess-in-film.

We are in mid-19th Century India, and the centre-piece is the chess - and ongoing distractions from it - that Mirza Sajjd Ali (Sanjeev Kumar) and Meer Roshan Ali (Saeed Jaffrey) attempt to play throughout. They come across as no stronger than enthusiastic social players, with a fondness for early moves of their rook pawns. That's "attempt to play" because the game is rather like another famous running joke from the same era: the meal that Fernando Rey and his chums try to enjoy in the sly The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie - they start, but they never seem properly to finish.

Mirza (left) playing the white pieces, Meer (right) playing the, um, white pieces
after their own set was confiscated - see below. (From here)
It is on the domestic front that the two friends get some grief: but they are so feckless as not to clock what is actually going on right under their noses, which is to say behind their backs, viz., Meer's wife (Farida Jalal) is indulging in some extra-curricula activities with her cousin (yes, cousin), and Mirza's Mrs is looking ominously mutinous because he is underperforming on his conjugal obligations.

Khurshid, Mirza's wife, is played by the beautiful Shabana Azmi who is featured in the film's publicity and video packaging as below, it being industry standard to gratuitously portray the leading lady as druggy seductress. She makes her point about marital neglect by surreptitiously relieving them of their set - a strategy in the style of Marcel Duchamp's spouse, though she preferred the tactic of gluing his bits to the board.  

(From here)
They try and borrow a set from their friend the lawyer. Frustration. They improvise with tomatoes, chillies and the like but end up with a salad of a game (fit only for rabbits? - ho, ho!). But Kurshid relents and to their comic relief their own set returns, like the monsoon rains, from the heavens. Their obsession is played for gentle laughs throughout as a foil to the main business, the real game of colonial manoeuvre, calculated by a dour cigar-chomping Scot, General Outram (Richard Attenborough) - the action is set in 1856 in the long run up to Queen Victoria anointing herself Empress of India in 1876, the culmination of Britain's imperialist project.

Meer and Mirza play their escapist game at home in their sumptuous apartments as befits the discreet charm of the Indian bourgeoisie. Meanwhile General Outram, installed in the colonial HQ of the East India Company (the attack dog of British imperialism), is plotting to expand Her Majesty's dominion by revoking an earlier treaty and annexing the northern Indian Kingdom of Oudh. This is ruled by the hitherto complacent, but now much exercised, Nawab Wajid Ali Shah (Amjad Khan) - seen left in the bottom half of the advert above.

The Nawab is given an offer that he could only refuse if he took on the might of the British Army, aka the military wing of the East India Company, which he wisely chooses not to do - a humiliating decision, but it spares his loyal troops (commendable), and nets him a nice pay-off for his voluntarily abdication (so, not so difficult after all). 

All this colonial business (and I mean "business") was conducted, as the film rightly tells it, by the Company  acting as a proxy for HMG.
Oudh surrounded by the EIC (from here)
You might think that it is modern governments that have adopted, as an article of faith, the notion that the private sector does it best (witness today's sale of the Post Office). But you'd be wrong. Over a hundred and fifty years ago the Victorians let rip laissez-faire as if there was no tomorrow, on, you might say, an industrial scale; thus privatising even their foreign policy to the likes of the East India Company. And of course, not for the last time in history, the private sector failed the nation. The EIC was eventually sacked after its heavy-handedness provoked a real Indian Mutiny in 1857, and the administration of India had to be brought "in-house" by Queen Victoria and HMG.

At the beginning of the film we see, in an odd, Pythonesque, animation, the Kingdom of Oudh as the next cherry to be gobbled down by the voracious Lord Dalhousie, the architect of Britain's colonial strategy in India. As this comes to pass the two chess-playing friends finally wake up to the realpolitik, symbolically coming to blows as they do in the one episode of bad blood between them. But they patch up their quarrel - it was precipitated, not so much by the loss of sovereignty of the Kingdom, but by teasing over marital infidelity (unconcerned, as they always were, by the bigger picture) - and go back to their game as the Redcoats march in to take over the Kingdom.
The Redcoats arrive (from here)
The twin, echoing, themes of chess and power politics are neatly tied together at the beginning and end of the film as the two friends discuss the novel, new-fangled, way of playing Shatranj promoted by those all-conquering Brits. viz., that the queens start on their own-coloured squares, and the pawns may move two squares initially (no mention, though, of the extended queen move - another reform of the ancient Indian game). To start with Mirza and Meer jest that it will never catch on. But by the close, when the Brits have arrived and the new reality dawns, they are seen trying out this new, and faster, version, as if to curry favour with the new power in the land; and perhaps now they'll manage to finish a game. 

In general, from what one can make out, the chess looks plausible - just - including one position (in a scene well into the film) that Mirza thinks is winning for him, and about which Meer has come to the same conclusion. Mirza is distracted on discovering the cousin in the bedroom with his wife, though she deftly pulls the wool over hubby's eyes. Meer seizes his chance and in a neat bit of camera work we, and only we, catch Meer j'adoube the knight when he thinks no one is watching - after which Mirza returns, to be hoodwinked yet again.            

It is a subtle, funny and absorbing film, with considerable political bite, by a GM of the genre. It is seldom shown in cinemas these days but is available on video, and on Youtube, though unfortunately without English sub-titles. If you have seen it at any time I hope this post will evoke fond memories. If you haven't, maybe this has whetted your appetite.              

Friday, September 27, 2013

Sixty Memorable Annotations

#22: Gligoric - Euwe, Zurich Candidates' Tournament 1953

 39 ... Rb3

Either Euwe had not time left to think, or else he considered he could draw as he pleased; in any case, he was not paying sufficient attention to his opponent's plan.

David Bronstein, Zurich International Chess Tournament 1953 (Dover, 1979)

Today we have a little bit of afters from the '4v3 pawns all on the same side' rook ending of a couple of  weeks back. Gligoric - Euwe had a cameo there, you may recall.

It was when I was back from Penarth and doing a bit of 4v3 research that I came across Bronstein's note. It reminded me of a Chess Vibes interview with Harikrishna filmed just after his game with Giri at Wijk earlier this year. Check out what he's got to say at 0:36.

This is drawn > Almost anything will draw > Everything will draw > Oops. There seems to be something about rook endgames that encourages this line of thought. From guys fighting for the right to contest a World Championship Match to 'ordinary' GMs to common or garden club chessers. I've certainly been guilty of it myself.

Who to blame, though? Who to blame?

Rook and pawn Index
Sixty Memorable Annotations Index

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Would you really, Mr Kamm?

Here's Oliver Kamm, Times leader-writer and opinion columnist, writing on Tuesday on the subject of plagiarism.

Mr Kamm writes:
Plagiarism is theft and I'd lose my job if I did it.

Would you, Mr Kamm?

Would you really?

[Thanks to Matt Turner]
[Ray Keene plagiarism index]
[Ray Keene index]

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Checked and expanded upon

By and large, Ray Keene's many plagiarisms over the past three years have been outrageous, blatant, in-your-face examples like the every-word-is-stolen example we had for you a fortnight ago.

Most of it has been like that and we'll have more plagiarism in that style in columns to come, but today's exhibit is a more complex example, dating from the time when Ray bothered to try and disguise his copying, even if he was too lazy to do it properly.

It dates from that time, even though the notes in question were in the Spectator only last month, in Ray's column for 10 August 2013, titled Miles gloriosus.

Ray's column annotates a game played back in 1983, when Tony Miles beat Anatoly Karpov to win the final series of The Master Game.

Miles died in 2001 but his annotations to the game appear on pages 162-164 of It's Only Me, Geoff Lawton's 2003 Batsford book devoted to Miles' memory.

These are the annotations plagiarised by Keene, in a bits-and-pieces fashion, in his Spectator column last month.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Absolutely fatuous

I often say that when you're in your forties it becomes impossibly hard to tell the difference between satire and reality. This feeling is not eased by the similarity between

(a) the Edwards vs Paulson contest for the role of President of the English Chess Federation; and
(b) the Marge vs the Monorail episode of The Simpsons.

This is not because of any resemblance Roger Edwards bears to Marge Simpson.

Now I find it hard to know exactly what to say about Andrew Paulson. It is glaringly obvious what is wrong with his candidacy.

Why is it glaringly obvious?

It is glaringly obvious because people who never in their lives have played a competitive game of chess in England do not suddenly wake up one morning and decide that their lives should be dedicated to the transformation of the English Chess Federation. Do they?

Of course they don't. That much is glaringly obvious.

It's like turning up one day, in a country where you have never lived and of which you know nothing, and expecting to be made Prime Minister next day. It's ludicrous, isn't it?

So if you don't already view his candidacy with disbelief and scepticism, then I'm not sure how much more can be usefully said.

Whatever is happening here, it's not about somebody who suddenly had a vision for the transformation of the ECF. If you think it is, then I reckon Lyle Lanely could probably sell you a monorail.

So, what follows is largely for form's sake. We have a candidacy, so let's discuss who the candidate is and what he says. But really, it shouldn't be necessary. This is a crock. You surely know that already.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Deighton time

I was buying secondhand books in Oxfam last month and picked up a copy of Funeral in Berlin. It was only when flicking through it that I remembered I'd written about it before, once as an entry in our series A Literary Reference and once, the previous day, commenting on the chapter headings, most of which are about chess and which had given me the impression of having come from a chess book. But what book?

To quote myself:
...taken as a whole, various strange aspects to the snippets - unfamiliar terminology, clumsy English - give the impression that they are from an work in another language, translated into English by a non-native speaker. The occasional omission of the article may suggest that the original language (and presumably its translator) could be Russian, which lacks "a" and "the", and shoddy production would not be atypical of the Soviet publishing industry. (Or indeed, the chess book publishing industry elsewhere, har har.)

It has the feel of a translation. Perhaps from some chess primer, a beginners' guide, an introductory work. But is it? And if so, what? I don't know. There's nothing in the book to say so, to indicate (if this is indeed so) what the original work was, or who translated it. Nor to say, if this isn't so, where all these little snippets come from.
Naturally on seeing the chapter headings again this started to bug me so I looked around the internet a bit, in search of a biographer or somebody else who might be able to help - and via a Twitter account came across Deighton Dossier, which advertises itself as "the Internet's most comprehensive resource for information about British author Len Deighton".

It has a blog, which right then just happened to be asking:
Having had some contact with Len I'm hoping to catch up with him in the UK in October and this might well create another opportunity for a fourth Deighton Dossier interview, so welcome ideas now of questions and themes which readers might want me to explore this time with Len.
So I asked:

In the spirit of the Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy, I will not cause stress to the reader by making you speculate on whether or not we find out the answer to the question: unfortunately we do not.

Just to ensure that there's something exciting in this piece, though, we do actually get an answer from Len Deighton. Moreover, he does in fact confirm that the headings are, indeed, taken from a beginners' book.

How frustrating.

As you'll have seen if you've scrolled down, I speculate that it might have been a book originally in another language translated into English, or even one in a foreign language translated by Deighton himself (which would knock the "non-native speaker" theory on the head). But as yet, we still don't know what book it was.

Any ideas?

[Thanks to Rob Mallows and Len Deighton]

[A Literary Reference index]

Friday, September 20, 2013

Hackney in Clerkenwell

No, that's not a misspeak by a deranged sat nav.

And there's no need to adjust your set for this, either. It is supposed to look like that.

The Chess Game II (detail) [2013]
25 x 30 cm, oil on aluminium panel
©Tom Hackney
It is one of Tom Hackney's new, intriguing and tantalizing works on show in his latest exhibition where he continues his exploration of the mental landscape of chess as the raw material for his art. The show is on until the 5th October at the BREESE LITTLE Gallery in London EC1 (on the edge of Clerkenwell). Pop in and have a look if you are close by. 

As you know from earlier posts (herehere, and here) in which we have discussed Tom's work, he has, for a few years now, been transforming the games of Marcel Duchamp from moves on the board to images on the wall. But Tom's art is not just about the end product - though the finished works are indeed absorbing in their own right - but is as much (or more) about the process and the thought that lies behind, or that has "gone into" the work.  

His new show demonstrates further variations on the games of Duchamp, and also gives us another chesser or two, (both rather better known, though, for other things) to ponder upon. If you can't figure out who it is playing in The Chess Game II above, then Tom's website, or that of the BREESE LITTLE Gallery, will explain all. Looking at your screen from the other side of the room helps, too.

You can hear directly from Tom when he will be in conversation with Benjamin Cohen, the artist in a parallel exhibition, at the gallery at 7.00pm on Wednesday 2 October.

Unfortunately your blogger will be otherwise engaged in an important Streatham match in the London League at its venue near the Barbican not a quarter of a mile away - but perhaps my opponent will agree a quick draw in the interests of chess-in-art, and we'll be free to hotfoot it over to the BREESE LITTLE to kibitz.

Hackney will be in Clerkenwell until 5 October,
at BREESE LITTLE 30b Great Sutton Street EC1V 0DU.
Tuesdays to Saturdays 12noon-6pm
We'll review Tom's show of his latest chess-art in posts coming soon (see here and here) - when we'll also try and expose a bit of the chess implicit in the work.

Thanks to Tom for use of the image, and apologies to him for taking geographical liberties with his family name - but better anyway to be a Hackney in Clerkenwell than, as in my case, a Smith in Tooting.      
Chess in Art Index

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Bad Max

As you can't have helped noticing if you've been following our series, many of the annotations plagiarised by Ray Keene are by Garry Kasparov, from his Predecessors books and others. But not all - we've had Viswanathan Anand and we've had Bobby Fischer - and today's piece is another non-Kasparov interlude.

We're looking at Ray's Times column for 7 March 2012, which annotated the game Euwe-Capablanca from the AVRO tournament of 1938.

Ray, of course, gives no source for the notes, which the reader will therefore assume were written by the Times chess correspondent.

But I think not.

I think the original author of the notes was the winner of the game, Max Euwe. I think this because I have seen Alexander Münninghoff's book on Euwe, Max Euwe - The Biography, published by New in Chess in 2001, which book reproduces a lot of games originally annotated by the late world champion.

One of these games is his victory over Capablanca at the AVRO tournament, which appears in the book on pages 234 and 235. Ray's own notes bear a startling resemblance to the notes on those pages - or it would be startling, were we not more than used to this already.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Sixty Memorable Annotations

#21: Larsen - Donner, Master Game (BBC TV) 1980

32 ... Kxg5

Bill Hartston:
With just two rooks and four pawns each, it's very difficult to see how Larsen can make progress in this ending

Jeremy James:
Both players reached the time control of two hours without any great difficulty getting their 40 moves in, but then they did have a slight problem: they've got to play all the rest of their moves in just one hour. And so far all that's happened is that they've swapped off a pair of rooks.

We're going to join the game forty moves later on with Larsen, White, having just played his king from d3 to c4.

Master Game series 6, BBC TV (Odeon Entertainment Group)

It is my birthday tomorrow. I gather to mark this occasion I can expect to collect £10 from every player. Or is that for securing second prize in a beauty contest? I forget and at 45 I believe I have license not to worry too much about such details.

Anyhoo, in addition to a tenner from each of you, dear readers, I very much wanted to celebrate by getting my hands on the new(ish)ly released Master Game DVDs. So much so, in fact, I decided to eschew the usual plan of spending August dropping increasingly unsubtle hints to my family and instead I simply went out and bought them myself. And, if you'll forgive me a moment of immodesty, what a very good idea that was too.

I don't want to give too much away - you really should be having a look yourself - but I will say that if it's rook endings that you're after then go for Series 7. In the first one  (Series 6, that is) there is but one solitary rook ending: the monumental effort from which the above snapshots are taken.

After the game finished host and expert summariser had a bit of chat. What was Larsen up to? Why didn't he just get on with it? Why mess about for 40 moves?

What Larsen was doing, of course, was really just waiting Donner to get into time trouble ...

Is it really sporting to do that? When the position is clearly drawn?


I love how Hartston lapses into silence here, the smile that forms on his face and the deep breath that he takes. If Master Game was a cartoon we'd see a thought bubble above his head: "How do I say, 'what's sporting go to do with anything?' without looking bad on national TV?". But it isn't a comic it's the BBC so what we actually get are three seconds of silence before Jeremy James comes to the rescue and gives Hartston an out.

All very entertaining, but what of those missing 40 moves? They're not to be found on chessgames - which has an earlier televised game between Larsen and Donner, but not this one - but luckily they are in the second edition of the Master Game book.

So here's another prezzie to myself: 40 moves of rooks and pawns shuffling about. Happy birthday to me.

(with thanks to Richard)

Rook and pawn Index

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Chess Art en Guerre

On holiday in Northern Spain back in June I encountered a remarkable chess set, and it provides the basis for this post on an episode of chess in war. It was a sobering reminder, if a reminder were needed, that for some chess is an escape, a respite, a life-line to be grabbed in the flux of a brutal world - not for them is it to be indulged in the rarified hush of the tournament hall. 

This is the set.
Reproduced with kind permission of Fonds Stroppolo
It was hand-carved by one Giodarno Stroppolo in an internment camp in France in 1939 at the first knockings of World War 2.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Back When We Were Beautiful

JMGB writes: 
Some people need no introduction. Jack Rudd is one of those people. 
If you've had even a passing acquaintance with English chess at any point over the last I don't know how many years you know who Jack is. If you haven't, well it's enough to say that we're very happy that he agreed to join us here at the S&BCB.
Here's his first post ....

Cast your mind back to April 2007. I was feeling on top of the world; I was about to wrap up my first IM norm in the 4NCL, my FIDE rating had reached its new peak of 2385, and I managed to delight the crowds with this little gem:

Six and a half years later, it has all gone horribly wrong. That rating of 2385 was as good as it got (although I did sneak over 2400 for just long enough for me to gain the IM title), and I have now tumbled to 2230, my worst rating in over a decade. I'm still producing the occasional gem like the above, but I'm also producing a lot of stuff like this, where I struggle to beat a 1500-strength player with white:

So what explains this collapse? Well, I can think of three factors. One is the lack of a target: while I was trying to become an IM, that was an important goal to focus on; now that I've got it, there is no logical next step - I'm far too far away from GM strength for that to be a remotely serious goal at the moment. Another is chronic deflation in the FIDE rating system over that time period, which is probably a subject worthy of a blog post in itself. And the third, which I'm focusing on in this post, is my general health.

Anyone who talks to me for any length of time will soon discover that I have Asperger's Syndrome. This is no doubt also something worthy of a blog post in itself, but as it's a lifelong condition, I don't think I can attribute my decline to it - indeed, it's arguable that it may help as much as it hinders. Nevertheless, it's important to mention it, as I believe studies have shown people on the autistic spectrum have higher than average rates of the other two conditions I shall talk about.

I have also, since my late teens, suffered on and off with clinical depression. I would expand more on this, but Phil Makepeace's earlier blog post did it so well, I don't feel I can add much to it. Suffice to say, that would be plenty to be going on with on its own.

It's not on its own.

Some time in 2007, I contracted epilepsy. I do not know how, and I do not know what form. But I do know that it's a really annoying thing to have as a chess player. Every so often, while thinking about a critical move, I'll suddenly get a huge electrical impulse surging through my brain and disrupting my concentration, and I'm left all shaken up. It's like trying to play chess and fight a blue dragon at the same time.

Sometimes, the dragon hits to such an extent that I'm missing simple ideas: take the game against Dow. I don't know how I could have missed 18...d5; that's such a thematically obvious move for black in that position, and if he plays 22...f5 at the end of the line, I'm a pawn down for very little. Not always, and not to that extent, but I am noticing myself miss things I should easily spot more and more.

So where do I go from here? Well, keep taking the tablets, I guess. But apart from that? What do I do if my condition doesn't get better? I can carry on as I am, doing whatever the chess equivalent is of spoiling the memory and ending up at a Conference club. Or I can move the other side of the desk to a greater extent than I already do; turning up to big tournaments as an arbiter, rather than as a player.

It's a choice I'm glad I have. But it's not a choice I want to have to be making, nor is it one I would have envisaged, back in April 2007, having to make now.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

In the hope of exploiting

Here's a special treat: one of the most spectacular of Ray's thefts, a double-decker of a plagiarism in which despite writing up a game in two different publications and annotating largely different moves in each, Ray managed to plagiarise every single word of every note in both. Two sets of notes under his own name - without a single original word being his.

The game was played between Garry Kasparov and Anatoly Karpov, the fourth game of their 1986 world championship match. It appeared in Ray's Times column of 8 December 2011.

It also appeared in Special Ks, Ray's Spectator column for 5 January 2013.

It also appeared on pages 44-52 of the Everyman book Garry Kasparov on Modern Chess, Part III, which covers the 1986 and 1987 world championship matches and was published in 2009.

Every last word of Ray's Times and Spectator notes is plagiarised from this source.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Global consequences

Ray's response, in the Spectator, to the 9/11 attacks was to write a column, Towers Remembered, in the issue for 22 September 2001, annotating the game Anand-Kasparov, the thirteenth in their 1995 match for the world championship, which took place in one of the subsequently demolished towers.

Below (taken from since we do not have the original) are the annotations in that piece.

The editor of the Spectator in 2001 was one Boris Johnson.

Johnson, we must assume, was unaware that practically the same piece had already been published under the previous editor, in a piece called Dragon's Fire, which had appeared in the issue for 13 December 1997.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Let's Make a Deal

Last week we had quite a time for ourselves here at the blog. Monday we reached 2000 posts, Wednesday we found ourselves in Private Eye (again) and if that weren't enough to fill our cup of joy to overflowing we also registered hit counts two to four and a half times our usual 1000 or so a day.

Let's be honest, none of that was about us. It was RDK that interested the Eye not S&BCB and those extra page views were mostly* the result of Edward Winter linking to us in his most recent Chess Explorations column at Chessbase.

We're pretty much back to normal as far as I can tell. I picked up one or two followers on Twitter and perhaps some of last week's new visitors will stick around I suppose, but otherwise it's as you were. Maybe that makes now the perfect time to step back from the details and ponder the question of why we do what we do.  Why do we write this blog and why do you read it?

Wrong kind of bishop

Justin has been busy recently. You may have noticed the article or two he's produced on the subject of Ray Keene's plagiarism and generally shoddy journalistic practice.

Yes, maybe you've noticed. And maybe your response to each newly appearing piece has become (or always was) 'bored now', 'enough is enough', 'you've made your point, time to move on', 'this is hardly news' or something about the benefits of lashing equine livestock. I know at least some of you feel this way because, aside from the comments we've had, some of you have been kind enough to tell me so to my face. Perhaps many of the rest of you feel the same way.

And yet the flood of visitors we had last week, not to mention our (well, Justin's) appearance in what by chess standards is the mainstream media, demonstrates very clearly that there is a market for this kind of material.

Not that you'd ever know that from what by our standards is the mainstream chess media. Chessbase's introduction to Winter's piece was doublethinktastically amusing in this regard. "The Editor of Chess Notes steps back from the details of the case" they said, in order "to reflect on how the game's media outlets cover controversies and what constitutes chess news". As if they weren't one of them. As if they didn't share the same very partial and limited view of what chessers might want to read with all the others.

It's rather reminiscent of all that icky de Mooi business. Where was Fred Friedel then? Or the British Chess Magazine or Chess come to that? On holiday perhaps? Busy auditioning for the part of Constable Savage in a Not the Nine O'Clock News revival? Simply not bothered?

Well I don't know about the others, but one person very much involved at the BCM was interested. Interested enough to send me two unsolicited messages asking what I knew about the events of Sheffield 2011 and the subsequent fallout, anyway. Too busy to answer when I sent a reply suggesting an article on the matter,  but the issue was very much on his agenda. He just didn't want it on his readers', apparently**.

It was ever thus, I suppose. I've mentioned the baffling editorial policy of the 1970s British Chess Magazine before (WwwK XVIII). Probably one of the starkest example is their coverage of the 1976 Amsterdam tournament***. Specifically Korchnoi defecting from the Soviet Union as soon as it was finished. A story of more than passing interest to amateur chessers you might think - and Viktor legging it was even considered to be sufficiently newsworthy to justify a front page article in The Times - but it didn't earn so much as a cursory mention in a specialist chess mag. Forty years on that seems laughable. Are things really any different today, though?

As it was four decades ago, so it was two years ago, so it is now? Consider the various adventures of Sabrina Chevannes this summer:

  • she stiffs a venue for two tournament's worth of unpaid rent (John Lewis IIIJohn Lewis II);
  • she has a book published;
  • she wins the WIM title.

All three are valid stories. Which one do you think won't be appearing in print any time soon? It's the kind that of tricky multiple-choice question you might expect to see on a daytime TV phone-in.

Yes, I know the whole print media as an industry is struggling****. Yes, I know that not everybody cares about the stuff that the chess press doesn't cover. No, I wouldn't expect a print magazine to give the sort of coverage to Ray and the other stuff that we do.

Time and again, though, we get weeks like last week when the oft-repeated claim that this kind of material isn't published because nobody cares is exposed as nonsense. My conclusion: it doesn't appear not because the readers don't want to see it, but because - for whatever reason - the publishers don't.

So, no, I don't think that Chessbase and the rest of the mainstream chess media are covering themselves in glory today any more than they ever did. Still, credit to Fred's mob for at least running Winter's piece and allowing him to link to us (and to Chess Cafe who Justin tells me haven't written anything themselves, but have drawn attention to each of his RDK posts). That's a considerably better effort than the nothing we find elsewhere.

Happy side-benefit of ageing chess population:
I can hope that most of our readers will recognise this

Which brings us to the question of what we are doing hanging about in this particular corner of the internet. Neither writing nor reading 2000 posts takes talent necessarily, but it does require a certain commitment. Even if that's a just a euphemism for a pigheaded refusal to turn off one's internet and go out and do something more socially useful instead, it can't be denied that there's effort involved here. What's that all about?

Well, for those of us on this side of the blog I think it's us enjoying the opportunity to write about what we want to write about. Justin, I'm quite sure, is just as aware that his Predecessors series gets on the tits of some our readers as I am conscious of the dip in our page views whenever the rooks and pawns come out. Equally, Martin's Chess in Art and Asylum started as much by accident as anything else. If he'd have sat around and thought about what would be popular they'd never have seen the light of day.

What of the other side of the coin? Seven years in and I'm still surprised and delighted that anybody at all visits these pages. Why do you do it? I wouldn't presume to say. My best guess, though, is that it might have something to do with the fact that there seems to be a reasonable overlap between the subjects that we happen to enjoy writing about and those that the mainstream press don't care to prod with the proverbial ten foot pole.

There's something appealing, I think, about an opportunity to read the kind of writing - be it subject or style or attitude - that you struggle to find elsewhere. We ain't perfect by any means, but neither are we trolling or churning out pap just to fill space. Even - perhaps especially - when you don't particularly care for our topic of the day, a certain authenticity comes as part of the package.

You might not give a toss about our subject of the day, but you can be sure as shit you know that we do. For what my opinion is worth, I think this is the main reason why there are folk who are kind enough to drop by and take a look from time to time*****.

So, if it's all the same to you, why don't we all just keep on doing what we do? We'll keep writing not giving a sliver of a stuff about whether anybody will actually want to read what comes out and you'll keep turning up or not as you see fit. If every now and then we stumble into something you happen to
we'll consider that a bonus.

How's that for a deal?

* A fair chunk of the Monday action was folk looking for Let's Talk About Nigel
** The same fellow, I mention as a by-the-by later sent us a message (via an intermediary) asking if we'd remove W(h)ither the British Chess Magazine?
*** See the October 1976 BCM (No. 10 Vol. 96)
**** As it happens, I came across a piece on the forthcoming death of journalism by Christina Patterson even as I was writing this post.
***** That and habit.

Monday, September 09, 2013

The Survival Guide to 4 v 3

Black to play
Keith Arkell v JMGB, Penarth (4) 2013

Time (for me if not EJH) to say cheerio to Penarth. Hard to believe it was a month and a half ago already. Time seems to fly past ever faster these days. Anyhoo, in this last post I'll finally fulfil a promise and take a closer look at the '4 v 3, pawns on the same side' rook ending that I didn't get against Keith Arkell.

I'll be back - although sadly not next year as the tournament is moving to Cardiff

Before Penarth any knowledge I had of these rook endgames with the pawns all on one side of the board came from John Emms' The Survivial Guide to Rook Endings (Everyman Chess, 1999). Since returning to London I've looked at Levenfish & Smyslov and found out about Gligoric - Euwe, Zurich 1953. Back in Wales, though, I was entirely reliant on what I'd picked up from Emms' book.

I certainly didn't have a clear memory of his analysis during the game. Far from it.  Of the fragments given below I had a good idea of the starting positions and final results of Cohen-Timoshenko and Kramnik-Kasparov, but no definite idea of how they got from one to the other. Of Sokolov-Chernin, Xu Jun-Liang Chong and Nikolic-Ftacnik I had no conscious recollection whatsoever. Even so, after rereading The Survival Guide and reflecting on my thoughts at the board I can see just how heavily Emms' book influenced the decision that I made.

So from the starting position I spent most of my thinking time on 25 … c5. The idea being that after 26 dxc5 Bxc5, 27 Nxd5 Qxd5, 28 Qxc5 Qxc5, 29 Rxc5 ...

...  we'd reach a rook endgame with me a pawn down, but with everything on one side of the board. I knew that the ideal defensive set-up in this kind of 4 v 3 position is to push … h7-h5

e.g as we might have got after something like 25 … c5, 26 dxc5 Bxc5, 27 Rd1 d4, 28 Ne2 Rc8, 29 Nxd4 Bxd4, 30 Rxd4 Rxc2, 31 Rxd7 h5

It’s still possible to go wrong [in the excerpts that follow I'll simply reproduce the game scores and the punctuation. If you want the analysis go get a copy of the book for yourself - it's worth it]

… but on the whole saving the game is much easier when you’ve pushed your rook’s pawn forward two squares.

Notice, by the way, how Black is happy to let his king get cut off on the back rank here (Amateur Hour IV). Anyhoo, I clearly didn'’t have the option of advancing my pawn two squares, so what about 29 … h6 instead?

The problem there is that with less space you can easily end up squished and then zugzwanged …

… so I didn’t fancy that. I paid most attention to 29 … g6.

I’d be threatening … h5, so White would play 30 g4.

That would be dandy if the h-pawns fell off the board, e.g. after something like 30 … h6, 31 h4 Kg7 (in reality Black would throw a spanner in the works with ... Re4 here), 32 g5 hxg5, 33 hxg5 ...

… but if Keith doesn’t push his g-pawn …

… I felt things could get rather unpleasant …

So in the end, given my position seemed perfectly serviceable at that moment (as indeed it was, although it wouldn’t be a second later) I decided not to trade down after all.

A book in the second edition of which the current game is unlikely to feature

During the game I wasn't clear whether I wanted my pawn on h6 or h7 in this ending. Later I concluded that it would be better to leave it at home with something like 29 ... g6, 30 g4 Re4, 31 h3 Kg7, 32 Kg2 Ra4, 33 Kg3 Rb4, 34 h4 Ra4, 35 h5

Later still I (re)discovered that almost this exact position (the only difference is Black's rook is on a8 rather than a4) is the end of the only variation that Emms offers on Nikolic-Ftacnik which he doesn't conclude is lost for Black*.

Not that I'd have saved the game in any event. The reality of defending that kind of ending is that Keith finds ways to keep the game going for as long as it takes for him to win it - a sentence I'd written before Anderson-Arkell from round 5 in Torquay, by the way - and if Ftacnik and Euwe can't hold this kind of position I'm certainly not going to. It would have been fun to try, though. Not to mention that it would have made a good blog post.

Holes in my understanding of this kind of endgame notwithstanding, I think rejecting the exchanges must have been objectively the right choice. It's not like I was obliged to toss the game away with 25 ... h5 instead.

And after all, you can't choose your moves on the basis of future blogging opportunities can you?  Can you?

Rook and pawn Index
Tournament Diaries Index

* With the White rook on a5 and the Black rook on b1 the position would match Gligoric-Euwe at move 39 although there it was White to move. Which was supposed to be saveable, but Euwe lost in the end anyway.