Monday, 16 October 2017

Closing time

I'd like this to be good.

It's my favourite sporting event ever, the 1978 match. Not just my favourite chess match, my favourite anything match, and I'd like a film about it to live up to that status.

You can't judge a film by its trailer, but my impression is that I'm liable to be disappointed, and to explain why, I want to make reference to a book I like, which is Edmonds and Eidinow's Bobby Fischer Goes to War (Faber & Faber, 2004).

You might say that you know more, after reading a good book, than you did before you read it, and that's true of Edmonds and Eidinow. But it's also the case that a good book leaves you knowing less, that what you thought you knew turns out not to be so simple, and that's what I liked about it most. Fischer v Spassky has been sold to us as the one-man band against the system, the lone genius against the Soviet system: and truth by told, that's part of the story, that's a theme you couldn't properly leave out.

But Edmonds and Eidinow write such that your sympathies aren't divided quite so unequally by the end. By then you probably like Fischer less than Spassky, and more to the point you probably like Fischer's entourage a good deal less than you like Spassky's, never mind the political systems behind them. It's not the story you expected, but it's a truer one, and a more detailed one, and it doesn't stop you thinking that Fischer was a lone genius against the Soviet system nonetheless.

Of course when I say "you" I mean the general reading public, since if you're a chessplayer, you might well already have a more nuanced and complex view of that match than other people. But it's that public, as well as chessplayers like us, which was well-served by the Edmonds/Eidinow book.

Will the cinema-going public be equally well-served by Closing Gambit?

Monday, 9 October 2017

International Man of Mystery

A curiosity indeed.

I did not know this.

I probably should have, and when I looked up the Black Friday case - and it's a doozy - it certainly rang bells. If I played poker, I'm sure the name Isai Scheinberg would have meant something to me. But as it is, it was only last week that I learned that one of our major chess tournaments is sponsored by a man who is wanted in the US, on very serious charges involving very large sums of money.

In fact I've been exceptionally slow on this, because Mr Scheinberg has been sponsoring the tournament, either directly or through his one-time company PokerStars, every year since 2014.

On the run

But if did not know this, a lot of other people probably did. And if they did, they presumably didn't think the charges against Mr Scheinberg were of any importance at all. Nothing in which the chess-watching public might be interested. Nothing that ought to preclude him from sponsoring a chess event.

Which is pretty revealing, as statements of values go.

Friday, 6 October 2017

Streatham Strolls West: Outward

Back in 2012 we instigated the practice of strolling chess-wise around Streatham and its environs - and occasionally even further afield. This is of obvious interest to those who live hereabouts and are members of the local chess club, but as chess knows no boundaries our wayfaring may have a broader appeal. So please follow as we set off for another chessic forage, this time to pastures, places, and games anew.

After Streatham Strolls East sometime ago (we got as far as Brockley and its cemetery, a few miles away, only to be stopped dead in our tracks by Joseph Blackburne, who pops up again below, large as life), now we go West - though not as far as Canada, the destination of our last outing. No, this time we go only as far Cornwall; and although our principal quarry is chess, there's another board game that will detain us en route: one as unfathomable as our own...

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Demonstration board

Chess maintaining its middle-of-the-road image during the Catalonian strike yesterday.

Monday, 25 September 2017

V šachu

Last month when I was playing chess in Prague I had a short draw on the final day, and hoped to do pretty much a full day's sightseeing. Alas, it started ratting down like nobody's business and after lunch I had no option but to retreat to my hotel room, where I nodded off while waiting for the rain to stop. When I woke up, out of habit I picked up the remote control and...

...Good God, is that chess on the telly?

It surely was.

I was so impressed I took a load of really poor-quality photographs.

Friday, 22 September 2017

Les Chesseurs Britanniques de Paris: Part 7 Addendum bis

In a series beginning here we followed the fortunes of the short-lived British Chess Club of Paris. It has some surprises yet, and this episode provides an update.

The club sprang into life in 1926, meeting in café venues, more or less regularly, until the final pawn was pushed in 1939 on the eve of World War 2. Its membership fluctuated from an initial 15 or so, down to a low point when just a handful of dedicated souls kept the flame alive, and back up to around 30 towards the end. The club's most high-profile appearance was in 1931 in a cable match against the Manhattan Chess Club - alas they lost. In its glory days the club fielded teams in the Paris league, competing for the Coupe de Paris (of which more below). The BCCP was represented on the organising committee of the competition, as well as on the French National Chess Federation.

The BCCP's membership was a mélange of businessmen and diplomats posted in Paris, and resident Anglo-Francs. Les anglais visiting Paris for un bon moment were welcome. Some members can be spotted on the chess scene back in Blighty before or after the years of the BCCP, but others seem to be undocumented in all the usual places. In the previous series we compiled a partial list of members, sourced from occasional reports of the club's activities (see the Appendix below); and now, thanks to further research by Dominique Thimongier of Héritage des Echecs Français - to whom we once again express our gratitude - we can add more names, the first of which turned up in the French sporting daily L'Auto. 
Accessible via Gallica@BNF

As we go along we can also tap into some of the chess incident at the Coupe, on and off the board.

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

So what?

I'll be rooting for Ding today. Partly because I like to support the underdog, but partly because this gets on my nerves.

Normally it's in rather bad taste to publicly criticise a sporting competitor's religious views, since they're not intrusive and they're not our business, but if a player's going to make a public claim that they won because God helped them win - so what made Fedoseev less worthy, are you a better person than he is? - that's the kind of circumstance that alters cases. Different things get up different noses, but this is the kind of thing that gets up mine.

As it happens, Wesley discussed this very question in a recent article for Christianity Today. What Wesley said is this:

which is all well and good but it doesn't go on to ask the obvious question as to whether, if God helps Wesley win chess games, that means it's God who makes other people have cancer, say, or die in car crashes. Think it through, man. Think about what it would mean if we applied it to the lives of other people. Is that like Daddy too? Is that like being punished by Daddy, because they've been bad?

Monday, 18 September 2017

Now you don't

As it's the rest day, let's scroll back to Thursday for a moment, since something odd seems to have happened towards the end of the first Fedoseev-Rodshtein game - but nearly everybody seems to have missed it. It's something to do with this, though this doesn't tell you what it is., too, give us the facts, but not, in this particular instance, the story.

So what is the story?

Let Matt Fletcher tell us.

Hang on, what was that again? Black tried to reply to Rf8+ with ...Kg8?

How very odd. They're adjoining squares.

Let's look at the position. White checked on f8...

....and Black somehow moved his king like so...

under the impression that it was a legal square?

I think we'd better look at some footage.

Thursday, 14 September 2017

Slurs and shorts

Anyway, Azmai.

I'm sure people have read everything there is to be read about this already (not that that selection of links is exhaustive) and anybody who wants to sign the petition against Azmai has probably already done so. My name's there, as it happens.

Still, I'm as sure as you are that no harm will come to Azmai as a result of his conduct in Tbilisi. I'm also sure that what ought to happen is that he ought to lose his official posts, and that one of the reasons why he should do so is that any official who engages in ethnic slurs should lose their post.

Regarding which, some observations.

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Broadcast news

Let's put back any thoughts on Azmai for another day or two (he'll wait - he's a patient man) since the venue for the Candidates Tournament was announced yesterday, fitting in nicely with the FIDE World Cup that's in progress at the moment. Still no news on where the World Championship will be, mind, but at least we do know that Magnus Carlsen's challenger will be decided in March next year, and in Berlin. Which is nice.

Less nice, when you scroll down through the waffle in the press release, is this short paragraph.

First thing is, that's broadcast not broadcasted. Second thing is - what does this actually mean?

Monday, 11 September 2017

Unattractive approach

We'll get on to shorts, racial slurs and all the rest in a short while (hopefully tomorrow) but in the meantime, I wouldn't want us to entirely overlook this less-than-meritorious moment in Peter Doggers' round report for Saturday.

Should it really be necessary to point out that two of the world's leading grandmasters might like to discuss the world's leading woman player without reference to what they think of her appearance? Or that if they don't, it isn't really "witty"?

[Also see]

Friday, 8 September 2017

Hackney Hits A Hundred

It's been some time since we caught up with Tom Hackney - who has a very particular take on chess in art. We have discussed his work several times over the years (see full set of links at the end), and so it's a pleasure to pre-view his new exhibition, opening today at 57W57 Arts in New York, and re-view one that has recently closed in London (blast, I missed it).

Tom paints the games of Marcel Duchamp, who as you know was a pretty decent chess player between the wars, and was of course the artist responsible for the urinal. Duchamp could be said to have invented "conceptual art", though his preferred term was "non retinal". Chess appeared in his art, as you might expect; until, as he claimed later, he gave up art for chess. Many learned treatises have been written about Marcel, and some of them deal at length with his chess/art/life mix. You can get a flavour of it from our earlier blogs herehere, and here.

Back in 2009 Tom started out on a long and demanding journey: to reproduce all of Duchamp's chess games as works of art, and he did so nailing his own "conceptual art" colours to the mast - although for all that, his work has a compelling "retinal" impact. Beyond that their hidden depth - the "conceptual" aspect of his art - resides in the chess-thought that underpins the moves and their implied geometry, the symbolic notation of the game, and the unseen procedure that transforms all that into an artwork.

If you are lucky enough to understand chess, then you might read off something of the game from what you see. If you are not, then it's the thought that counts: ultimately, you don't need to play chess to get it. Here is an early effort of Tom's, one that we have seen before.

Chess Painting No. 2
(Duchamp vs. Crépeaux, Nice, 1925)

You can see what Tom has done: the tracks of the moves are painted across an 8x8 grid in black (and opaque) or white (and translucent), one on top of another in the sequence of game, abruptly or gradually obscuring the traces of earlier manoeuvres. If no move crosses a square (as here at h2, h3 and h4), then it remains as raw, unpainted, canvas.

Notice that Tom's rendering of the Duchamp v Crépeaux game was "Number 2" in his output. So where has he got to now, so many years later?

Thursday, 7 September 2017

The Duel

So I was saying yesterday about how I was playing through an online game on a giant chess set in a campsite near Rouen.

Anyway, after the game ended abruptly and I was looking to kill a little more time, I started flicking through the contents of a bookcase and much to my surprise, I came across this.

Funny, it looks like they're using the same set as the people in the B&O Play photograph.

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Travel sets

We're back!

Couple of days later than I'd planned, to be honest, but it was a particularly knackering journey back home on Saturday, including several hours at Stansted Airport, perhaps my least favourite place on Earth - though while running the gauntlet of the duty free shops, which go on for about the length of the Streatham High Road, I did spot this advert.

So who are B&O Play and what do they want from us? They're Bang & Olufsen of Leeds and as far as I can see they want us to play chess while listening to one of their devices, thereby no doubt ruining both experiences.

I've got a chess set like that though, which I bought at the end of Charles Bridge in Prague, albeit not this year but 1997. Leaving Prague after playing chess this year, I passed this set at the airport

tantalisingly out of reach, downstairs from Departures where I was headed. So where is it, Arrivals? Is there somewhere for your guests to wait when their plane's arrived and you need to finish your game?

Friday, 11 August 2017

Herbert Jacobs: 16. Finale

We started this extended investigation of the chess and life of Herbert Levi Jacobs (1863-1950) at the end: with his obituary. In a pleasing symmetry we end it by going back to the beginning, and asking the question: how did he learn the game in the first place.

But, before we finally begin, here is a youthful picture of our subject that we have not used before, from an article in The Chess Monthly February 1895 (when he was 32), occasioned by his winning the City of London CC championship for the first time.

An accompanying biographical note suggests that Jacobs learnt his chess from...  

Friday, 4 August 2017

Holidays in the sun

This blog's on holiday!

Martin will be bringing you the final part of his Herbert Jacobs series, but as far as I'm concerned, it's see you later.

It's my one month a year for actually playing a bit of chess rather than writing about it, to the advantage of everybody except myself. So I'll be playing the Prague Summer Open (starts today, as it happens) and there'll be some Bank Holiday chess too. Back, hopefully, in the first week of September.

Thursday, 3 August 2017

Not right said Fred

There's a piece on the death of Fred* Yates in the August issue of the British Chess Magazine.


Here's what Olimpiu has to say about it.

Do read the thread.

Here is the piece from Chessbase, which the BCM seem to have started by quoting, and ended by copying out in its entirety.

They interviewed Ray a few months ago. Did he give them any tips?

[* Thanks to Ilkley Chess in comments]

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Past and presents

On Monday we were discussing the thirteenth century role of Serjeant Warden-of-the-Chessmen, by which the Russell family kept their Dorset manor through the grace and favour of King Henry III.

I don't have vast amounts to add to what I wrote then, but after a bit of research (Googling henry iii chess) I did discover some useful information in a piece by Professor Nicholas Vincent published in The Growth Of Royal Government Under Henry III (Crook and Wilkinson, eds, Boydell and Brewer 2015)

entitled An Inventory of Gifts to King Henry III, 1234-5.

It so happens that, Professor Vincent tells us, we have a record of the gifts that were made to the King over a six month period covering both those years, and that this list includes some chess sets. A footnote quotes MAE Green, Lives of the Princesses of England from the Norman Conquest (London 1849-55) which says that the previous Christmas, the Prior of Jerusalem had sent Henry "a chess-table and chess-men, enshrined in a casket of ivory" while the records of which Vincent writes directly included "two gaming sets, with chess and other gaming pieces".

These were courtesy of the Prior of the Hospitallers and the Countess of Ponthieu: but, Vincent continues, "in due course both sets were presented to Isabella", the king's sister, who was married off to the Holy Roman Emperor. One hopes she found a couple of chess sets adequate compensation. Two sets fewer, anyway, for our man Russell to have to worry about.

To be honest, I don't have the information, or the period knowledge, to say or even guess whether Russell's duties were serious ones, a joke at his expense, or a whim dreamed up because no more serious duty to perform could be thought of. I don't know enough. But I was interested in Vincent's footnote which informed me that Eleanor of Aquitaine, Henry's grandmother, was properly interested in the game

and doesn't have appeared to have offloaded her present at the first opportunity. Quite right too. And if the chess sets were anything like this one

you'd want someone to look after them properly - and count the pieces too.

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Dom and dumber

Dominic Lawson is at it again.

No sooner have the England women's cricket team had the effrontery to win the World Cup than Dominic Lawson arrives to tell us how rubbish they are, because that's the really most important and appropriate thing to say. You were thinking that this might change the way that women's sport is thought of? The President of the English Chess Federation is here to put you right.

Mail on Sunday

Daily Mail on Monday

Great effort Dom. It even comes with a Nigel Short-style scientific explanation for women being no good at this sort of thing:

Monday, 31 July 2017

Counting the King's chessmen

Putting away the sets and pieces is a thankless task, yes? Not always. Around nine hundred years ago it was a task which allowed the Russell family to hold the Manor of Kingston Russell - the service being performed for the King, the King in this instance being Henry III.

I owe this information to, among other sources, The Gentleman's Magazine for 1840

which in the course of that year published a review touching on the matter of Serjeanty.

What is Serjeanty? It's a feudal concept by which land was held in return for the performance by the tenant of a particular service, and our reviewer lists a number of the more interesting ones.

Most interesting to us, of course, is the Serjeant Warden-of-the-Chessmen.

Friday, 28 July 2017

Herbert Jacobs: 15. Down the Line

But what's this got to do with Herbert Jacobs?

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Annanother one

Thanks to our reader Adam Ponting for spotting the latest manifestation of the 600 million myth, brought to us less than a week ago by IM Anna Rudolf on Banter Blitz.

Fast forward to about 59:36 or click here to hear Anna telling us:
You know that there are six hundred million people playing chess. Six hundred million.
Unfortunately though, Anna, we don't know that, because as everybody should know by now, there aren't.

Friday, 21 July 2017

Herbert Jacobs: 14. Still at the Bar

In this episode we are continuing to follow Herbert Jacobs' legal career by looking at cases of his reported in the press. However, before we pick up again from 1914 a little backtracking to the previous episode is necessary consequent upon digging up some more reports from the first years of Jacobs career. Contrary to what was suggested in episode 13, the British Newspaper Archive shows Jacobs as early as 1887 (he was formally called to the Bar in January of that year), so it seems that he didn't have to wait until 1889 for his press debut. In 1887 Jacobs was still only at the very start of his career, and so rather junior, and he was mentioned only as second fiddle to more senior Counsel.

The first case that turned up during this additional ferreting was a contract of employment (as we would know it these days) dispute in November 1887 (London Evening Standard 18 Nov). Jacobs was on the winning side, and the wronged employee won his damages. The second was a rather dry bankruptcy case where the Jacobs team was engaged in formal proceedings to condemn some unfortunate soul to financial oblivion (Huddersfield Chronicle 8 Dec 1888). The third case (Bristol Mercury 7 Dec 1889, and countless others) was altogether more shocking, as it was about extortion from, and abuse (including possible rape and impregnation) of, a domestic worker - a Miss McShane -  and speaks of the dark side behind the veneer of late Victorian respectability. She was mercilessly taken advantage of, and yet the case was heard in the London Sheriff's Court merely for the assessment of damages. The miserable defendants (he, an organist in the local church, his wife and their son) didn't defend themselves and were obliged to pay retributions, though hardly punitive, and it is not obvious that criminal charges were ever brought; but at least Herbert helped her obtain a measure of justice.
Now let's pick things up again in 1914, the year when war broke out.

Thursday, 20 July 2017

What sort of person?

This is jerk behaviour, isn't it?

The bloke's been dead for maybe twenty-four hours and Nigel Short is picking a fight with him already.

Now as it happens, I wasn't a great admirer of Andrew Paulson. Nor I am of the school of thought that says that when a controversial figure passes away, that's a reason for forgetting all the doubts you had about them.

But at the same time there is such a thing as respect for the dead (and in this case, dead from cancer, well before his time) and pursuing feuds with them while the body is still warm is a distance outside the bounds of decency.

I'm sure there are people, who, if they said it was nothing personal, they were just trying to keep some truths in the public eye, you could probably believe them.

But Nigel Short ain't one of them. Because Nigel's got form on this subject. Unpleasantness about the dead as well as the living is what Nigel does. With Nigel, it's always personal. It's always a feud.

So when Nigel says this....

...he maybe wants to say it looking in a mirror, because one day people will be remembering what kind of a person he was.

I'm in no hurry to read Nigel's obituary. But when it's written, I hope it's by somebody who's less of a lousy human being than he is.

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Black, white and yellow

This season Oxford United have a new manager.

Why do you care, you may ask.

Well I might assume you spend part of any given day thinking about Oxford United - I certainly do - but should that not actually be the case, you might nevertheless like to take a look at this.

We'll maybe overlook the Iron Maiden, but what's this about chess and real ale? Or to cut to the chase, what's this about chess?

It transpires that next to football, Pep Clotet's favourite sport is...ours.

Well never mind what "some people" think. What do they know?

What we know is that Pep Clotet likes real ale, playing guitar and chess.

We have a friend in high places. And going higher.

Saturday, 15 July 2017

They boast

I'm a member of a Facebook group called British Chess News, which by and large I recommend, albeit not everything I see there can entirely be recommended. That thought was prompted by this posting yesterday, which came as a surprise to me and not a pleasant one.

? Jon might never have heard of CCF

but a lot of other people have. Indeed we last heard from them (or rather, didn't hear from them) only a week or so ago. And although some things about CCF certainly are very unusual, some of them are not at all welcome.

But here's Scott Freeman to tell us about them.

Scott was number two to the club's chairman and centre manager for many years. So who could be better informed?

As Jon suggests:

- but not, perhaps too little.

That's too little all right. Is there anything else unusual about the club, Scott? Or about some of its members, past and present?