Saturday, 24 June 2017

One more for the road

I was idling through the BBC Sport page yesterday, not expecting to see much to interest my chessplaying side, when I came across the invitation:
Ready for another round of 200mph chess?
So I was bracing myself for another tenuous and wince-inducing comparison of another sport to ours, when...

...hang on... that who I think it is?

So it is. Very different shot, of course from another time and  fromthe other side of the the board, but so it is.

This weekend's Grand Prix is in Baku. And who's famous who's from Baku?

I'd drop the final caption, myself, but I was less interested in that than in what a strange photo it is (from 1995, I'm guessing) with Garry apparently watched from behind by a shadow-Garry.

It's a decent enough piece but you'd have tought they could have found a less weird photo - it's not like it's hard to find one of Garry, is it? These days he's everywhere, you just can't get away from him.

Anyway I hope those of you who are into this stuff enjoy the race and that the chap who went to my old school* wins the thing.

And I suppose we'd rather have a random mention of chess than not. Oscar Wilde, who much like Garry was Formula 1 class when it comes to vanity, said "there is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about". The only thing worse than people talking about Garry Kasparov would be people not talking about Garry Kasparov.

[* well kind of - my school merged with another school and that's the one Lewis Hamilton went to]

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Do they mean us?

I'm not sure how chuffed I am at the Institute of Psychiatry associating chess with being "socially aloof", let alone "intelligent", but what I really want to know is...

...what have they done with the White king?

Friday, 16 June 2017

Herbert Jacobs: 11. Votes For Jacobs!

We have come across it several times in this extended exploration of the life and chess of Herbert Jacobs (1863-1950): his propensity to express himself in poetic form. He was at it again in 1910 (now age 47) with a piece presented carte de visite-style (reproduced below). It is in a file of material at the LSE Women's Library from the General Election of that year - the one when Herbert stood on a Women's Suffrage ticket.

With thanks to the LSE Women's Library

It is not clear whether the sentiment of the poem - "To the Old Year and the New" - was occasioned by the turn of 1909 into 1910 (looking forward hopefully), or of 1910 into 1911 (relieved to leave that one behind). Anyway, it's a nice photo of Herbert - which we will see used again in the General Election. As for 1910, was it annus mirabilis or annus horribilis? Find out below.

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Share and enjoy

It's my birthday tomorrow, and because I am not just a good guy but generous with it, I am going to give you all a present. Same present for everybody, mind, so you'll have to share, but it's a nice one.

There you go.

It's a large pgn file of the collected games and annotations of Raymond Keene, all in one place for your comfort and convenience. It stretches from 1961, the first annotated game being an Old Indian Defence against John Sugden from that year, to 1988, the last one being from a little earlier, a King's Indian Attack essayed by Zarb.

I can't actually remember how I came across it first. I thought I had discovered it by accident when, in 2013, I was researching Ray's habits of reproducing his own notes, or other people's, on the sly - Googling a phrase must have produced, among the results, our pgn file. Not so, though, since checking my old emails I find I've been aware of it since 2010 having come across it by chance on this site, maintained by Philip Hughes. The site actually promises us a collection of Ray's games

and though I can't locate it now, it must have been there at some point. Whatever - here it is, and what an invaluable resource it is.

Of course you may have come across some of the material before, and more than once.

Saturday, 10 June 2017

He didn't win

A lot of people didn't win on Thursday.

But Mike Basman didn't win more than most.

Friday, 9 June 2017

Becoming clear

I don't think I've  got the answer to yesterday's question - where Ray's notes to Keene-Basman originate - but I do know that the notes from the fifty-year-old game are at least forty years old, since they appear in Ray's Batsford compilation, Becoming a Grandmaster.

Here (with thanks to Jonathan) is the original.

I say "the original", but while that takes us back to 1977 at least. the notes in all likelihood are from before that year, because though Becoming a Grandmaster is a very entertaining read, it's notoriously a read of material that had been previously published elsewhere (this being an example) not that Ray or Batsford bothered to tell that to the paying customer.

So the hunt continues - where did the notes come from? Maybe Ray or could tell us.

Thursday, 8 June 2017

A curious blend

General election day in the UK and Mike Basman has been setting out his views on the NHS: apparently it represents "a culture which pushes drugs relentlessly onto the populace", whatever he may think that means. Don't worry Mike, if the Tories win the NHS will be doing a lot less of that and everything else in the future.

Mike will have gained a boost from being the subject of Ray's widely-read Spectator column for June 3:

Given that Ray's political associates are normally titled members of the barking right, Mike Basman might be an improvement.

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

An imperfect match

And after John Naughton reviewing Kasparov in the Observer, here's Chuck Culpepper writing about Wesley So in the Washington Post.

No sign of that note-taking business, either.

Monday, 5 June 2017

More of the same

To go with yesterday's piece, here's something from John Naughton's Guardian/Observer* review of Garry Kasparov's new book.

Donner said of Prins that he "cannot tell a knight from a bishop". I wonder - would a book about tennis be reviewed by somebody who didn't know the difference between a game and a match?

[* Guardian website, but as it appeared on a Sunday I'm assuming it was the Observer in print.]

Sunday, 4 June 2017

The same treatment

How long does it take you to see what's very wrong with this?

The answer, if you're a chess player, is no time at all.

If you're not a chess player (which is a few of our readers, though probably not many) the answer is that Capablanca did not win the world championship "every year from 1921 until 1927", because there was no world championship every year from 1921 until 1927. Between those years no world championship matches took place. It is not and was not an annual event.

This is not an easy thing to get wrong - if you're a chess player, if you know anything about chess. Even if you do not, it is an easy thing to look up.

but it is not an easy thing to get wrong.

I mean it is like saying that Brazil won the World Cup every year between 1970 and 1974. Or that Barack Obama won the Presidency every year between 2008 and 2016. You would never say either of those things, because you would know - if you knew anything - that these were not annual events. And anybody who did say those things could expect to be laughed at.

But not Brin-Jonathan Butler, who gets to write a magazine article about Capablanca, among the most famous of world chess champions, without apparently knowing the most elementary facts about the world chess championship.

Friday, 2 June 2017

Herbert Jacobs: 10. Votes For Women!

In 1907 a new organisation joined the campaign for votes for women: the Men's League for Women's Suffrage (MLWS), and its first chairman was the 54 year-old Herbert Jacobs (1863-1950), the subject of this extended series (it started here), which is covering all aspects of his life - chess and otherwise - in some detail. But before we go any further, a reminder: I am not a professional historian who might have made a specialised study of the fight for women's suffrage in the late 19th/early 20th Centuries. Please bear that in mind when reading this and the following episode (indeed, for the series as a whole) which, apart from any other deficiency, barely scratch the surface of suffrage history.    

According to the Men's League's first Annual Report in 1908, it was inaugurated at a meeting on the 2 March 1907 in Jacobs' office at 1, Harcourt Chambers in the Inner Temple. Three years later he was standing for parliament on a women's suffrage platform. This episode will begin to tell the story of Jacobs' political career, and we'll start at the beginning....

Monday, 29 May 2017


What's this?

Well of course I know what it is, it's the Twitter account of International Master and financial-misconduct-suspect-about-town Silvio Danailov. I don't see it very often, having been blocked by Silvio some years back.

What I mean is, what's this?

Why has Silvio Danailov got more than fifty thousand followers on Twitter? And how?

It's not unusual for ridiculous numbers to be bandied about in chess and this strikes me as another one. Are there really fifty thousand people who want to follow Silvio Danailov? What would they be following him for?

I mean even Kirsan only has five thousand or so.

All right, that's a Russian-language account; his English-language one has never taken off, in an unusual instance of him failing to come through on his promises.

So perhaps there's a huge audience for seeing chess administrators of dubious reputation make a lot of noise on Twitter - in English if not in Russian. Or, for that matter, Turkish.

Or perhaps there isn't.

Friday, 26 May 2017

Where's the rest?

I wanted to get back, just one more time, to that BCM interview with Ray we looked at a couple of times previously, headed chess is in danger of becoming a superior crossword puzzle.

Now, as it happens, if you want to access Ray's daily Times* column online, you can't really get away from the crossword, since you have to go from the front page

where we would click on Today's sections. and then to Puzzles

- I thought we were looking for a chess column, but it seems to be classified under Puzzles -

and there's our crosswords! Scroll down, and down...

and there it is, almost at the very bottom. There's only Bridge between our man and Show Less

but it is at least a chess column.

Bit of a comedown when we're talking about a newspaper which used to have chess on the front page

but no big deal. A chess column is still a chess column wherever they put it.

But what I want to know is, where have they put all Ray's other columns?

Where's the rest of him gone?

Monday, 22 May 2017


Let me point you in the direction of a couple of items, one recent, one less so, the two of them connected. The first is the first ever posting on this blog, which touches on the journalism of Dirk Jan Ten Geuzendam. The second is a comment recently placed by Hylen on a posting from February.

This discussed the question of Jaap Van Oosterom's world correspondence chess titles, and who might have illicitly helped him win them. The comment draws our attention to a passage from the recent New In Chess eulogy to Van Oosterom

the author of which is Dirk Jan Ten Geuzendam.

The passage referred to is this one.

Let's take, for instance, this:
Needless to say, he used all the advice he could get.
What does this mean?

Friday, 19 May 2017

Herbert Jacobs: 9. Jacobs Crackers

I know, but I've been wanting to use that headline since the series started.

This episode is, once again, a little interlude while the next, on Herbert's political adventure, is in course of preparation. Talking of taking a break, I was over in France a couple of weeks ago, in Dieppe on the north coast, when I stumbled on a pretty decent bookshop. It had an impressive array of magazines, including something you wouldn't find on the shelves over here: a chess mag. There were five copies of the May edition of the excellent Europe Echecs. I bought one: 74pp; attractive layout; comprehensive news round-up (France, Europe, World) including a report on the 4NCL by Romain Edouard (of Guildford!) ("Le niveau est inférior à la Bundesliga ou la Liga"); interesting games with instructive analysis by French GMs and IMs; nice historical articles (Tal 25 years after his demise; AVRO 1938); a report of the Pro Chess League on the Internet ("La Révolution du jeu par équipe") and of a seminar on Echecs et Pensée Stratégique in Valence. Most of it is in guessable French; all for 6,95 Euros. Worth every penny.

You can't go to northern France, i.e Picardy or Normandy, without noticing how it is marked by the battles fought on its soil in two World Wars (1914-18, and 1939-45). Herbert Jacobs lived through both of them - albeit in London - and they are the reference points for this slender episode.

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Couple of questions to the candidate

From that manifesto biog:

You sure about that Mike? I always thought you lost a tie-break match to Bill Hartston, who became Champion, no "joint" about it.

You sure about about that Mike? You introduced "about a million"? You "introduced" about a million?

Monday, 15 May 2017

Mike Basman in the House!

Good Lord!

It appears Mike Basman is standing for Parliament, in the Conservative/Liberal Democrat marginal of Kingston and Surbiton. Our VAT-averse International Master even has a manifesto. Or, indeed, a (Bas)Manifesto.

Mike's standing as an Independent (or in his own words, as a Alt-Conservative/Independent candidate) and not, as we might expect, for the Tax Evaders and Bankrupts Party. His manifesto is the kind of charmless sub-UKIPpery that you kind of expect if you've come across him, with a few extra eccentricities which do not move his platform any further towards the world of coherence.

Here's Mike, for instance, resolving our problems with climate change, which apparently come down to an "impasse".

Mike's understanding of the state of climate science is not exceeded by his knowledge of political life abroad

and this is an analogy which I think is supposed to explain certain relationships of power

but mostly explains that Mike doesn't know how to construct a coherent analogy. Really, who knows what Mike is raving about. Come to that, who has ever known?

Best of luck trying to wade your way through the manifesto, should you really wish to. If it has any practical function it might be to help dispel the idea that chessplayers are any smarter than the rest of us.

Saturday, 13 May 2017

Back To The Seventies

You can read an interview on Medium in which the economist and one-time chess player Tyler Cowen talks to Garry Kasparov. (You can also listen to the interview if you prefer.) There's a good gag about pieces on Medium - "they're neither rare, nor well done" - but the chess bits at least are diverting enough, and though I don't care much for subject or interviewer, readers might be advised to ignore my opinions and look for themselves.

Naturally the questioning is mostly the usual patball, do-you-have-any-further-wisdom-to-add that Kasparov usually enjoys - not once in all the coverage of his new book have I see him asked whether he is really some kind of authority in the field of Artificial Intelligence, let alone whether he actually knows any more about American or Russian politics than any other clown with too many followers on Twitter.

Let it pass, it's no worse than the usual and rather more enlightening than most, provided you concentrate on the chess.

I thought I'd pick this nit though. Cowen and Kasparov have this exchange:

Not just close, Garry: in the rating list of January 1979 Timman was ranked joint fifth, with Polugaevsky.

A small and unimportant error, but at least it's Kasparov's field of expertise. I wonder how many experts in AI, or in US or Ukrainian/Russian politics, are queueing up to see what they can learn from Garry Kasparov?

Friday, 5 May 2017

Herbert Jacobs: 8. Madame Larkcom

This series on Herbert Levi Jacobs (1863-1950) ("one of the strongest chess players" in the country, at his peak) continues. We looked at Jacobs' chess in some detail in episodes 1 to 5, and 7, and we will return to it later, but in this one we stick with non-chess themes and continue to examine the significant other in Herbert's life. She emerged fully in episode 6: Charlotte Agnes Larkcom (1856-1931). We'll get back to Herbert and his brief political career in an upcoming episode.

At the end of episode 6 we left him, and his bride-to-be Agnes, just as they were displaying the tell-tale signs of suffragist sympathies. She was about to leave behind her brief celebrity in the field of chess problems (October 1886 is the last reference that I could find), in favour of a more sustained renown in another, and Herbert was about to get stuck into his career in the law. He was called to the bar in 1887, and was thus now secure in his chosen profession. It is maybe consequential that he and Agnes were married the following year: on 14 April 1888. Here they are again, in those photographs as close to the happy event as I have been able to find in publicly available sources (even though it inverts their relative ages).

Agnes aged 21 in 1877, and Herbert aged 32 in 1895
This is where this episode will start, but it will go well beyond, into the new century, in pursuit of Charlotte Agnes and her independent path.

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Communist quiz

More from Ray.

Questions arising:
  1. The present women's world champion is Chinese, the fifth person of her nationality to hold that title. How did they manage to overcome the collectivist nature of their culture to achieve these heights?
  2. Can anybody think of any countries whose "communist tradition" failed to stop them doing rather well where world titles in chess were concerned?
  3. Why does this drivel get published?

Monday, 1 May 2017

Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer

Well I finally tracked down that Ray Keene interview from a couple of weeks ago, which is to say that somebody was kind enough to send me a copy of it. Unlike its subject, it's pretty thin, but there's a couple of points arising, shall we say, that might be worth looking at over the course of the next week or so.

In the meantime this load of old bosh stood out, not least because a few people posted it on Twitter:

Just leaving aside the manifest absurdity of thinking either Lennox Lewis or Henry Kissinger could be FIDE President, I wondered what "diplomatic skills" Ray was proposing that Kissinger might bring to the job.

Will he overthrow Kirsan in a coup and have his supporters tortured in a football stadium?

Will he have FIDE headquarters secretly and illegally bombed?

I think we should not be told.

Friday, 28 April 2017

Brixton Byways 2½ : Peyers You Went

This impromptu post registers an echo in the outer reaches of the ever-expanding universe of chess-historical trivia (where the lost outnumber the winning?).

Start, please, by casting your mind back to a post three years ago concerning the embryonic origins, in the early 1870s, of Streatham and Brixton Chess Club or, as it then was, the Endeavour Chess Club of North Brixton. We told the relevant part of the story in Brixton Byways 2: Peyers As You Go, which related the tale of the unfortunate de Peyer brothers, who put their considerable energies into the nascent club. Today's post notes a recent reverberation in the de Peyer sector and recalls a close encounter some twenty years ago.

Friday, 21 April 2017

Herbert Jacobs: 7. Congress Man Replayed

This is a little intermezzo in the Jacobs saga.  

Back to Jacobs in Malvern 1921 

Episode 4 of this series on Herbert Jacobs covered his participation in several tournaments for the British Chess Championship, including the one at Malvern in 1921, when he finished 9th. Since publication of that episode I have stumbled on a photo-feature on the tournament in British Newspaper Archive. It must have already appeared elsewhere in the regular chess sources and history websites (though I've not found it), in which case credit to them where it is due.  

In the picture Jacobs has just played 1. e3 against Thomas. 

The Sphere August 20 1921

False news! In the game the first move was 1. e4. And Jacobs had the black pieces. The full game score is given below. It is typical Jacobs: habitual opening, fighting tenaciously every inch of the way, resourcefulness, spurning a draw by repetition, losing.

The photo-caption above refers to Jacobs' response "to the welcome offered by the local authorities on the opening of the congress". This is not the first time we have found him on such occasions in the role of spokesperson for the BCF: more on this in the last section of the post.

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Something is in danger, but it isn't chess as such

If Ray's around, it's normally somebody else's wallet. Or somebody else's copyright.

Now I confess I don't read the British Chess Magazine. If they sent it to me post free it still wouldn't be worth the postage. At least that's the impression I got the last few times I saw it, one of which, a few years ago now, was a seventeen-page interview with this month's cover model, carried out by professional arse-kisser Steve Giddins. [CORRECTION: not so, says Steve in comments.]

I've not really had the stomach for it since, which is a shame in several ways.(I'd have liked to see March's Time To Grow Up Guys! by Mike Basman, just for the sheer effrontery.)

So for all I know, April's Ray Keene interview is in reality a searching examination of its subject, in the finest traditions of the journalistic art, and includes questions like the following:

  • When are you going to pay back the money you defrauded from members of the British Chess Federation?

  • Who is the bigger charlatan, you or your friend Tony Buzan?

  • Did Viktor Korchnoi ever recover from you cheating him in 1978?

  • How did you get away with the BrainGames scam?

  • Do you actually write any of your own columns, or does Byron do them for you?

  • Who at the Times protected you from being sacked for rampant plagiarism?

I could go on. I mean Ray has. For about forty years too long, protected by his friends, who couldn't give a stuff what he does as long as it's not their pockets that get picked.

Monday, 10 April 2017

À la recherche d'un jeu perdu

Akobian-Caruana, US Championship round nine, 7 April 2017, position after 44. Nc3-e2

Ah yes, I remember it well. Or I do now I'm reminded.

I didn't have my Proust moment then and there. In fact, what I was doing right that moment was ceasing active mental operations and going to bed: So had beaten Xiong, Nakamura looked like he might scrape a draw out of Onischuk and Akobian was presumably going to resign in the next couple of moves.

So when I woke up to this

I was so shocked that I had to check that it had really happened and that the wrong result hadn't been recorded by mistake. A world-class player couldn't possibly have lost a simple symmetrical position with two connected passed pawns to the good.

But I could.

Toll-Horton, Witney v Cowley, 23 November 1992, position after 37...Ra1xa2.