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Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Bobby Fischer Treasure Trove

     There is an interesting Facebook page called Bobby Fischer's True History that is a treasure trove of Fischer material. The "About" section says the purpose of the page is, "dispelling the HYPE and FICTION spread by the Media about Bobby Fischer's religion and politics." The author states, "The true story of what happened to my church brother, Bobby Fischer, who attended the Herbert W. Armstrong cult from 1962 into the 1970’s. The cult utilized terror and destructive mind control methods to maintain a hold over Bobby and other members of the Worldwide Church of God. I intend to educate people about the WCG, Armstrong and the personal aftermath of cult victims lives." 
     The page also contains a link to newspaper archives about Fischer that is quite interesting and the author has obviously spent a good deal of time putting all this together. You will also find posts about President Trump, Kasparov and others. Interesting stuff...some of which may be controversial depending on your views.

Jerry Fink

     Older readers will remember the days before the Fischer Boom when chess players were just a small community and membership in the U.S. Chess Federation doubled between 1972-1974. The USCF membership numbers: 
1940 - About 1,000 
1955 - 2,408 
1960 - 4,579 
1965 - 8,625 
1970 - 22,623 
1975 - 51,842 
1980 - 47,800 
1985 - 54,599 
1990 - 52,898 
1995 - 81,808 
2000 - 85,396 
2005 - 82,846 
2010 - 76,812 
2012 - 77,254 
    When my foray into tournament chess began in 1961, masters were rare, Experts (2000-2199) were highly vaunted and possessed crowing rights. Even players rated over 1900 were considered strong. 
     Weekend tournaments were all one section and usually the first round was a “gimme” point for players in the top half of the tournament. Larger tournaments boasted $100 for first and class prizes were often a book or a cheap trophy. My goal in such events was always to get a plus score; 3-2 was considered a success. Eventually I threw away my trophy collection because they weren’t engraved or anything and I could no longer remember when or where they were won. Besides, they collected a lot of dust. 

     One strong Expert/Master that I remember who was prominent in my home state of Ohio and later in my home away from home state, North Carolina, was Jerold Fink, a man of many accomplishments.
     Fink was born on July 16, 1941 in Dayton, Ohio and after high school attended Duke University in Durham, North Carolina where he received his Bachelor of Arts in 1963 and his Bachelor of Laws in 1966. 
     The first Dayton Chess Club Championship was played in late 1958 and its first champion with a score of five wins and a draw was the 17-year old Fink, then a high school senior. He had earlier tied for first place in the Ohio Junior Championship. At the time his rating was 1963. 
     In August, 1959, Fink again won the Dayton Junior Championship and finished third in the Ohio Championship behind Richard Kause and Ross Sprague. When the second Dayton CC Championship came around in 1959, Fink didn’t play because he was attending college in North Carolina. 
     In 1960 he was an Expert with a 2060 rating. In 1961, Fink won the Ohio Championship on tiebreaks over Saul Wachs and Thomas Lajcik. 
     While a college student in North Carolina in 1962 he won the state closed championship and in 1964, tied for first place with Dr. Albert Jenkins. Due to the tournament director losing the pairing cards, the 1964 event was not USCF rated! 
     After college Fink returned to Ohio, settled in Cincinnati, was admitted to the Ohio Bar in 1966 and began work as an Associate with a legal firm in which he became a Partner in 1973. Also, in 1973, he was appointed to the Board of Directors of a valve manufacturing company in Cincinnati. In addition, from 1974 to 1979, Fink was on the Board of a Cincinnati broadcasting company. 
     Fink continued to play chess and in the 1972 Ohio Championship he tied with Thomas Wozney, Ross Sprague and Richard Kause, with Wozney winning on tiebreaks. Fink had a Master rating of 2228. 
     The following year his rating had slipped to Expert at 2188 and he again lost the Ohio Championship on tiebreaks. This time to Robert H. Burns. Also tied for first were James Voelker, Thomas Wozney and Arthur Keske. 
     Professionally, Fink practiced tax law for more than 30 years as well as pension, profit sharing and employee benefits law. He designed the firm's master profit-sharing, pension, and 401(k) plans and wrote ERISA rules (employee retirement) used by hundreds of the firm’s clients. Fink established a reputation in the Cincinnati area as one of the leading ERISA experts. 
     He served as a member of the Executive Committee of the Cincinnati Bar Association and as chairman of the Bar Association's Taxation Section. He has also served as chairman of the Southwestern Ohio Tax Institute and as co-chairman of the special Bar Association Committee on drafting Hamilton County Property Division Rules for use by the Domestic Relations Court. He is included in The Best Lawyers in America. 
     In between his professional career and his chess exploits, Fink managed to serve as President Cincinnati Musical Festival Association in 1978-1979 and as a trustee for the Cincinnati Playhouse from 1976 to 1995. But wait! There’s more. Fink is also a prominent bridge player who co-authored American Forcing Minor System and Count Coded Leads and also Cincinnati Power Defense Carding.
     Unfortunately I was unable to uncover any of Fink’s games except a 12-mover in 500 Miniature Ruy Lopez’ by Bill Wall, but the game is hardly worth presenting,

Monday, March 18, 2019

Eduard Gerstenfeld, Another Tragic Loss

     By summer 1941, British intelligence agents were listening in on classified German radio transmissions that described systematic mass murders in Lithuania, Latvia and later Ukraine. On August 14, 1941, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill summarized the news in a public broadcast in which he stated, “We are in the presence of a crime without a name.” 
     In the Spring of 1942, American journalists stranded in Germany when the United States entered the war were exchanged for Axis nationals stranded in the United States and they described what had happened to Jews in Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania as an “open hunt.” 
     The Lvov Ghetto (German: Ghetto Lemberg) was a World War II Jewish ghetto in the city of Lvov (now Lviv, Ukraine) in the territory of Nazi-administered General Government in German-occupied Poland. It was one of the largest Jewish ghettos and was a home to over 110,000 Jews before the outbreak of World War II in 1939. By the time the Nazis occupied the city in 1941 that number had increased to over 220,000 Jews as result of Jew fleeing for their lives from Nazi-occupied western Poland into the then relative safety of Soviet-occupied eastern Poland. 
     The ghetto, set up in the second half of 1941 after the Germans arrived, was liquidated in June 1943 with all its inhabitants who survived prior killings sent to their deaths in cattle trucks in extermination camps at either Belzec or Janowska. 
     After the beginning of German invasion of the Soviet Union tens of thousands of refugees, including many Jews, came to Rostov-on-Don. In September-November 1941 the Soviet authorities organized a large-scale evacuation from Rostov-on-Don. About 10,000 Jews succeeded in leaving the city during this period. 
     The Germans occupied Rostov-on-Don on November 21, 1941. This occupation lasted only about a week before the Red Army counterattacked and the city was retaken.
     In the short period of their rule in Rostov-on-Don the Germans ordered the establishment of a Jewish council, the registration of all the Jews, and the forcing of Jews to wear yellow Stars of David. About 1,000 Jews were murdered in Rostov-on-Don and the surrounding area during this time. 
     After the liberation of the city many of the Jews who left the city in autumn 1941 returned, but in the summer of 1942, he Germans approached the city for the second time and another evacuation began, but not many Jews succeeded in escaping before the city was reoccupied by the Germans on July 24, 1942. 
     Soon after the start of the second German occupation Jew were identified and the resettlement of Jews in a separate quarter was ordered. On August 11, 1942 all the Jews who appeared, supposedly for resettlement in the ghetto, were taken by truck northwest of the city and either shot or murdered in gas vans in a several day massacre which claimed the lives of at least 2,000 people, but Soviet sources put the number at more than 10,000. 
     It is difficult to establish the number of Jews murdered in Rostov-on-Don during the German occupation, but it is estimated to be between 15,000 and 30,000. The city was recaptured again by the Red Army on February 14, 1943.
     Somewhere in all that slaughter was a victim named Eduard Gerstenfeld, a Polish master who by the age of 22 had twice won the Polish championship. He was born into a Jewish family in Lvov, then Austria-Hungary. 
     In the period between 1935 and 1939, he lived in Lodz and was active in many Polish tournaments. In summer 1939, before World War II broke out, he returned to Lvov. 
     According to the secret agreement between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany (Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact), Lvov was captured by the Soviets and then incorporated to the Ukraine in 1939 and he then began playing in Soviet tournaments. 
     He was last heard from in June 1941, when he was in 3rd place in Rostov-on-Don (the 13th USSR Championship Semi-final) when Operation Barbarossa, the German attack on the Soviet Union, interrupted the event. After that nobody knows what happened to him. 
     Some reports say he became a victim of Nazi atrocities in Autumn 1942 in either in the Lemberg Ghetto or the Belzec extermination camp. Other reports have him being shot by Nazis during the mass killing of Jewish people in Rostov-on-Don in December 1943 just before it was liberated by the Soviet Army on February 14, 1943. Thus, Gerstenfeld's promising career was cut short and he joined the list of more than 40 prominent chess players who perished in World War II. 

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Accident or Suicide?

Suicide painting by Edouard Manet
     In 1880, Captain George Mackenzie won the 5th American Chess Congress in New York after winning a two-game playoff against James Grundy, who also tied for 1st place. There was a sequel to the to the tournament that involved buying and selling games which I posted about HERE.
     What's not generally known is that there was also a concurrent minor tournament. It took place from February 3rd to the 10th, also at the Manhattan Ches Club. The prizes for this minor event were $100, $60, $30 and $20. That $100 in 1880 would amount to over $2,600 today...not a bad prize for a minor tournament. The final standings: 


    I posted on David Baird and J.W. Baird back in July. But, of special note was the fourth place finisher Nicolai Gadalia who was born in Denmark on February 13, 1857 and died on November 13, 1880, just a few months after the tournament. 
     He was the youngest son of Baron Gedalia, the Railway King of Denmark and a financier in Denmark. The Baron’s parents were destitute and as a youth he was apprenticed to a saddler in Copenhagen where he worked as a journeyman saddler there for years. He saved enough to open his own saddling firm and later a banking house in Copenhagen. His success was speculator and enabled him to become the agent of the Rothschilds in Denmark. He was bestowed the title of Baron by the Austrian government after he helped them in several financial transactions. He served as the consul general of Portugal in Copenhagen and received the Order of Jesus from the King of Portugal. 
     He encountered financial reverses in 1875 and 1876, finally going bankrupt after unsuccessfully speculating in railroads. He came to the United States in 1877 in the hopes of starting a new career, but when that failed he returned to Denmark the same year where he began a small banking business. His wife, Nicolai and Nicolai’s older brother Charles remained behind in New York.
     Nicolai had been educated in the office of his father in Copenhagen and after arriving in the US had been employed in the financial office of W.W. Hanly when he decided to start in business for himself as a stockbroker. 
     After only eighteen months he had lost money on 200 shares of stock and was unable to make good on the debt. They were sold under the rule of the Mining Board on which he had a seat. His friends, however, came to his aid and a settlement was made with his creditors. This turn of events left him greatly discouraged, but more financial woes were lurking just around the corner. 
     As a result, he decided his best course of action was to sell his seat on the mining board and find employment in a bank or broker’s office. Unfortunately, he found it impossible to sell his seat and became even more depressed, moody and despondent to the point he stayed out of his office for a week. 
     Then one morning his mother and brother sat down to breakfast at about 8 o’clock on Saturday, November 13, 1880 and sent a maid to summon Nicolai. While walking down the hall she heard the report of a pistol. Charles also heard the shot and hurrying into Nicolai’s room found him lying dead on the floor with a bullet wound in his right temple and the pistol still clutched in his right hand.
     His brother maintained the shooting was accidental because Nicolai had bought the pistol to defend against any would be burglars but discovered it was defective. They planned to take the gun to a gunsmith that Saturday, so his brother believed that he may have been examining it when the weapon accidentally discharged. 
     Lasker’s Chess Magazine, May-October, 1905, mentions the passing of long time Manhattan club member Charles de Gadalia, son of Baron de Gadalia of Copenhagen. Gedalia was known to club members as “Mr. Gedalia.”  He had been employed by leading banking firms and according to the article died of “rheumatism of the heart” at the home of his sister, Mrs. Rosalie Dufrenois. Apparently Charles was also a strong player as his name appears in many old magazines in the late 1800s as a participant in the Manhattan CC championships. 
     Sarah’s Chess Journal has written an interesting history of the first 21 years of the Manhattan Chess Club and the Gadalia’s name is mentioned several times.
Manhattan CC west room about 1905







Friday, March 15, 2019

Postal Chess, John W. Collins and Other Stuff

Collins
     The first known correspondence games that have survived were played by Friedrich Wilhelm von Mauvillon, a Prussian officer in 1804, when he was stationed in The Hague. The games were against a friend living in Breda in The Netherlands and three of the games were published in von Mauvillon’s book, Anweisung zur Erlernung des Schachspiels (Instruction to Learning the Game of Chess) which was published in 1827. 
     From 1834 to 1836 London and Paris played a city match which began 1.e4 and when Paris played 1...e6 the French Defense, popular in France because it was championed by Saint Amant, was born. We also got the Scotch Game from a correspondence match between London and Edinburgh in 1824. 
     Postal chess didn’t become popular until postal system improved in 1840 when Sir Rowland Hill developed the postage stamp. Prior to that the recipient paid a messenger for delivering the mail. Hill’s new prepaid system revolutionized postal chess! 
International postal chess card

     In 1870 the first correspondence chess club was founded in England, the Caissa Correspondence Club and in 1884 the French chess magazine La Strategie organised the first international correspondence tournament. It was a popular magazine and many countries began founding their own postal chess organizations. 
     Then in Berlin in 1928, a handful of German players got together and formed Internationaler Fernschachbund, the first international correspondence league. They began publishing the world’s most popular chess magazine devoted to correspondence play. Then in 1939, a short time before the outbreak of Word War II their activities ceased, but in 1951 their successor, the International Correspondence Chess Association (ICCF), was founded. 
 
Required postal equipment: opening books, foreign magazines and a recorder album
    The first World Championship of Correspondence Chess began in 1950 and ended 1953 and was won by the Australian Cecil Purdy. 


1) CJS Purdy 10.5 
2-3) Harald Malmgren and Mario Napolitan 10.0 
4) Olaf Barda 9.5 
5) Graham Mitchell 8.0 
6) Leopold Watzl 6.5 
7-8) Gabriel Wood and Edmund Adam 6.0 
9) Theo van Scheltinga 5.5 
10) Janos Balogh 5.0 
11-12 Sverre Madsen and John W Collins 4.5 
13) Antonio Cuadrado 3.0 
14) P van't Veer 2.0 
Adolphe Viaud’s games were cancelled after he went 0-6 and withdrew. 

     John (Jack) W. Collins (September 23, 1912 – December 2, 2001, 89 years old) is a well known name especially as having been one of Fischer’s early teachers as well as William Lombardy, Robert Byrne, Donald Byrne, Raymond Weinstein, Salvatore Matera and Lewis Cohen. In fact he wrote a book about them titled My Seven Chess Prodigies. Collins was confined to a wheelchair due to a birth injury and was cared for all his life by his unmarried sister Ethel, a nurse.
     William Lombardy took exception to the claim by stating, “Jack Collins was not in any way capable of teaching me, the Byrne Brothers, Raymond Weinstein, let alone Bobby Fischer.” Lombardy claimed that they had all visited his apartment as friends. . Lombardy stated that during that time all five of them were already stronger than Collins and superior “far past the ability of Collins to impart anything but trivial knowledge...I cannot imagine even today that anyone could consider that Collins had the strength of knowledge to coach the champion that Bobby already was by the time he reached Collins apartment” Lombardy somewhat condescendingly wrote that he didn’t want to say anything in those days because of “my misplaced sympathy.” 
     At some point his sympathy departed and Lombardy wrote that he wanted “to correct and inform.” What happened between Collins and Lombardy I do not know, but in his later years Lombardy had become a bitter and crotchety old man. I’m willing to give Lombardy some slack. By the end of his life he had left the priesthood, was estranged from his wife and son, sick, kicked out of his apartment, broke and living off the generosity of friends. When I met him in the mid-1970s he was a smiling, gregarious fellow always willing to pose for a picture or sign an autograph. That’s the Lombardy I prefer to remember. 
     Collins admitted that he never actually gave Lombardy lessons and never "taught Bobby in the strictest sense" and that Fischer "knew before instructed."
     I read Collins’ My Seven Chess Prodigies when it first came out hoping to find out how he taught his prodigies. They analyzed openings, played over games and played blitz all while being fed cookies, soda and other assorted junk food by Collins’ sister. It seems they were fun gatherings with nobody actually receiving any formal lessons. 
     Collins was born in Newburgh, New York and lived most of his life in New York City. His father was a flutist and piccolo player who was frequently in John Philip Sousa's orchestra. When Collins was in his teens Frederick Huhn, the family's 80-year-old German landlord of their home at 69 Hawthorne Street in Brooklyn, taught Collins how to play chess. Collins started reading chess books, eventually amassing over six hundred. 
     He tried to join the Marshall Chess Club, but the players were too strong and the club too far away for him to travel so he formed the Hawthorne Chess Club in his apartment. Many high-school inter-club matches between his club and the high-school teams were played in his living room. He later moved to 91 Lenox Road where the club gradually changed from a chess league to a casual hang out for chess celebrities. 
     Over the board Collins was a low-rated master and because there were no numerical correspondence ratings in those days it’s hard to say exactly how good he was. The rule of thumb used to be that you could play correspondence chess a class, maybe two, higher than your OTB rating. I think that was probably about right. 
     Here is a nice OTB win against George Baumanis from the 1958 US Open in Rochester, Minnesota. The event was unique in that it was held at the world headquarters of the IBM Corporation and programmers had programmed a computer to do the pairings. 
     The tournament was won by the little-known Cuban Eldis Cobo-Arteaga. He lost to National Master Allen Kaufman in the second round, but after that scored 7 wins and 2 draws to finish a half point ahead of Larry Evans, Robert H. Steinmeyer and Donald Byrne. 
     Collins tied for 16th place with 16 other players with a score of 7.5-4.5. His only loss was to Evans. The following game shows the ease with which a Master can defeat a non-master. 

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Duras Gambit aka The Fred

     I have posted on the two players of a bygone era involved in the following game before. Oldrich Duras was a leading Czech player of the early 20th century and Ossip Bernstein was one of the world’s best players in the early 1900s. 
     1.e4 f5 is known bt a number of names: Duras Gambit, the Fred, Reversed From and the Tiers Counter-Gambit. Whatever name you call it, it is a discredited defense. White gets a clear advantage, but that does not necessarily mean he wins the game. 2.f4 transposes into the Bird Opening Swiss Gambit normally reached by 1.f4 f5 2.e4, while 2.d4 transposes into the Dutch Defense Staunton Gambit. 
     Occasionally this defense is discussed on forums with some players even insisting it should be perfectly sound, even 1.e4 f5 2.exf5 Ke7 which is known as the Southern Fred. 
     The idea is to sacrifice 1 or 2 Ps and castle by hand. Logic says that simply cannot be true! One witty poster observed, “Anyone who would play it should probably be placed on suicide watch.” And, “If stupid were chocolate, this opening would be a Godiva boutique. We only see this defense when someone goes off their medications against medical advice.” 
     One must be aware that these unusual openings often have a hidden trap, but if the opponent avoids them with careful play he will have a superior position. 
     In his course, Unsound Openings and How to Exploit Them, GM Roman Dzindzichashvili shows how to tackle this gambit. His method is about as straightforward as you can get. After 1.e4 f5 2.exf5 Nf6 3.Nf3 d5 he recommend simply defending the P with 4.Nh4. Black gets advantage in development but white quickly catches up. 
     In the following game Bernstein took a different approach to defending the P by playing 4.Bd3. A cursory glance at the position seems to show that white’s pieces were gummed up and Duras had successfully occupied the center. But white’s pieces had a lot of latent energy and were aimed at black’s weakened King. It didn’t help that Duras ignored white’s P on e6. 
     After a seesaw middlegane Bernstein blundered and had to give up his Q leaving him with a R and B against Duras’ Q, yet he somehow managed to draw.
     As with many inferior openings there is no immediate crushing refutation and often the superior side only gets positional compensation. Most club players have little concept of positional niceties and so are often unable to exploit them. Thus, the game hinges on who makes the last blunder. If it’s the gambiteer’s opponent the win is chalked up to the soundness of the gambit. 

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

The Chess Club Murders

     In this February 23, 1941 radio program of The Shadow characters at the chess club are killed by the villain, who then commits suicide once The Shadow corners him. 
     The Shadow was a collection of serialized dramas, originally in 1930s pulp novels and then in a wide variety of Shadow media. The Shadow has been featured on the radio, in a long-running pulp magazine series, in American comic books, comic strips, television, serials, video games, and at least five feature films. The radio drama included episodes voiced by Orson Welles. 
     The program debuted on July 31, 1930, as the mysterious narrator of the radio program Detective Story Hour, which was developed to boost sales of the monthly Detective Story Magazine. 
     The introduction was: "Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows!", spoken by actor Frank Readick Jr. and accompanied by an ominous laugh and a musical theme. 
     At the end of each episode The Shadow reminded listeners that, "The weed of crime bears bitter fruit! Crime does not pay... The Shadow knows!" Though not given the literal ability to become invisible, The Shadow was characterized as having "the power to cloud men's minds so they cannot see him.”

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

When Amateur Brilliancies Were Possible

     Back in the old days when the USCF had under way 10,000 members, there were less than 50 masters in the whole country and nobody ever dreamed there would be anything like chess engines that made millions of players armchair Grandmasters, a few of us living out in the vast American wilderness played postal chess. The USCF didn’t dabble in that form of the game; it was the domain of the Correspondence Chess League of America and Al Horowitz’ Chess Review, the Postal Chess Magazine. 
     There were books and pamphlets on openings, but almost everybody referred to Modern Chess Openings. Even Chess Life told you the page and column number of the opening when they published a game. 

     Over the board tournaments were scarce. For example, the May 1955 issue of Chess Life listed the following tournaments.  It should be mentioned that in 1955 a dollar was worth about 9-1/2 of them today! 

Hoboken, New Jersey. Entry fee $1.00. Prizes: Medal and other valuable prizes.
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Entry fee $3.00. Cash and book prizes depending on entries. 
Spokane, Washington. Entry fee $3.00. First prize $25. 
Baltimore, Maryland. Entry fee $3.00 plus $3.00 deposit to be returned upon completion of all games. No prizes announced. 
Beloit, Wisconsin. Entry fee $4.00. No prizes mentioned. 
St. Paul, Minnesota. Entry fee $2.50. Trophy and cash. 
Hutchinson, Kansas. Write TD for details. 
Logansport, Indiana. $3.00 or $5.00 to be determined at players meeting. First place gets half the money. 
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Entry fee $10.00 with $5.00 refunded upon completion of all games. First prize of $150.00. 
Phoenix, Arizona. Entry fee $5.00. No prizes announced. 
Dallas, Texas. Entry fee $10.00. First prize $75.00. 
Chicago, Illinois. Write for entry fee and details. $175.00 first prize. 
Davenport, Iowa. Entry fee $7.00. $100.00 first prize. 

     So, for many players postal play was a way to play some serious chess. In fact, Chess Review had a few over the board masters playing and three or four times I played opponents who had actually participated in some of the old U.S. Championships. Naturally I lost, but I got to play them. 
     The great thing about postal chess was that sometimes an unheralded amateur could pull off a real brilliancy. I, myself, pulled off a few of them...at least I thought so until chess engines made their appearance. 
     I especially recall one brilliant game involving a sacrifice on my part that topped my list of brilliancies. Playing over it with an early engine revealed that my move that merited two exclamation marks actually allowed my opponent a mate in one, but he didn’t see it! 

     In the following game Dr. Maxwell Sturm plays some inspired chess. Sturm was a British consul who lived in Trinidad. His opponent was Lee T. Magee (April 11, 1928 – April 20, 2015, 87 years old) who was Nebraska State Champion in 1950, 1951, 1953 and 1955 and Omaha city champion in 1947, 1953, 1955 and 1956. On the 1955 USCF rating list he was rated 2160. While that rating might not seem very impressive today, at the time were were only 41 players in the country that had a Master rating which was then over 2300. A rating of 2100 - 2299 was classified as Expert. 
  The game was played in a Gambit Tournament. I played in a few and they were great fun. Sections were made up of 7 players with two games against each opponent. Players were supplied with the opening moves to 20 or so gambits and white got to choose which one was played in each game. It’s unfortunate that engines have killed off playing chess this way and deprived amateurs of a moment of, if not glory, a great deal of personal satisfaction. 

     Of course even in those days most “real” players (i.e. OTB players) didn’t think much of postal chess. In one, for me, eye opening incident was when I had a game published in Chess Review and annotated by the legendary John W. Collins. Only one person out of about 20 at the chess club in the big city of Toledo, Ohio saw it. All he said was, “Saw your game.” 
     In one incident a TD announced free entry to titled players, so when a titled correspondence player showed up the TD refused him the free entry...correspondence titles didn’t count. In a way the TD was right because they are two different animals. If a titled OTB player wanted to play in a postal tournament they would have had to start at Class A (1800) and work their way up, so I guess it was fair. 

Forward Chess

I received an email from a site called Forward Chess describing their product...an interactive Chess e-book reader for mobile (iOS and Android) and desktop (Windows and Mac). You can purchase e-books from leading publishers, play through the moves and try out your own lines as well as analyze moves with Stockfish. There are currently over 300 titles available. They are also on Facebook. I have no financial interest in the site and am publishing this as a public service announcement.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Stockfish 10 Contempt Settings

     I am not an engine guru, but after using Stockfish 10 for a while I have noticed some strange behavior in its evaluation function that has to do with its contempt setting. 
    The contempt setting controls how readily the engine will play for a draw. The higher the value the stronger the effect on the engine and the more it will try to avoid a draw even if it means playing something other than the optimal move. If the engine has high contempt setting it might exhibit a more attacking style. 
     The default contempt setting for Stockfish 8 was zero, Stockfish 9 was 20 and for Stockfish 10 it is 24. Programmers did this because in some computer tournaments Stockfish was playing too many draws and by raising the contempt setting, the engine was able to score more points against weaker engines without losing too much objective strength against the stronger engines. This idea may sometimes be seen in games between human players when a player tries to keep the tension in a position which creates more scope for his weaker opponent to make a mistake. 
     But, what if you are playing in engine assisted tournament against other Stockfish users? Might not the higher settings result in losing more games by trying to avoid the draw because the engine is not recommending the absolute best move? 
     If you are looking for the absolute best move in a given position, it might not be the engine's first choice. According to Russell Sherwood of the Welsh Chess Federation, "General opinion for CC has been that contempt settings should be set to zero to get a more accurate assessment of the position, however, there are different views on this." Mr. Sherwood has written some interesting articles on correspondence chess and the use of engines on the Welsh website
     I am not exactly sure how the contempt setting works. On one site I read that when the engine starts analyzing from a position it gives a “bonus” in the form of the contempt setting to whichever side is on the move. The result that the evaluation keeps bouncing back and forth and, according to the poster, the transposition table is filled with conflicting evaluation scores. 
     Another person wrote that was incorrect. According to him, the engine searches and returns its best move and the expected reply (known as the ponder move) so the engine is always searching from the same side to move.
     Whatever is going on, when analyzing with Stockfish 10 I have noticed what one person called “a strange yo-yo-effect especially at the beginning of the game” (also referred to as the “roller coaster effect”) that results in wild fluctuations in the evaluation every time a move is actually made on the board. His explanation was, like previously mentioned, it is because the contempt factor is switched back and forth to whichever side has the move. 
     I don’t know who is correct, but take the following position. 


I used two cores with the hash table at 1168 and gave Stockfish 10 five minutes to evaluate the position. 
Contempt setting: 24 Evaluation: -1.71 
Contempt setting: 20 Evaluation: -1.42 
Contempt setting: 0 Evaluation: -1.27 

     Clearly the contempt setting changes the evaluation, the difference in this case by as much as almost a half a Pawn. For anybody that’s interested, there is an interesting discussion at Talkchess,com.

Friday, March 8, 2019

Alexander McDonnell, Slavery Apologist

     In the days before Steinitz became the first official world champion there were a number of unofficial world champions and the Irish player Alexander McDonnell (1798–1835) was one of the briefest. 
     The son of a surgeon, McDonnell was born in Belfast, trained as a merchant and worked for some time in the West Indies. In 1820 he settled in London, where he became the secretary of the Committee of West Indian Merchants, a lucrative post that made him a wealthy man and left him with plenty of time to indulge his passion for chess. 
     Politically McDonnell was a committed Whig. The Whigs were a political party in the parliaments of England, Scotland, Great Britain, Ireland and the United Kingdom. Between the 1680s and 1850s, they contested power with their rivals, the Tories. The Whigs opposed an absolute monarchy. They supported the Exclusion Bill which set out to disinherit James, Duke of York, who eventually became James II of England and VII of Scotland. 
     The Tories emerged in 1678 and between 1783 and 1830 and they established a hold on the government. They were conservative supporters of Charles II, who endorsed a strong monarchy as a counterbalance to the power of Parliament. 
     McDonnell’s father, also named Alexander, was a noted surgeon in Belfast. It was said that he attended the execution of Henry J. McCracken (August 1767 – July 1798) who was an Irish Republican and industrialist from Belfast and a founding member of the Society of the United Irishmen which made him a target of the authorities. The SUI was a radical or liberal political organization that evolved into a revolutionary organization that launched the Irish Rebellion of 1798 with the objective of ending British rule over Ireland and founding a sovereign, independent Irish republic. McCracken was hanged in Belfast at the age of 30 on July 17, 1798. 
     McDonnell’s uncle, Dr. James McDonnell, was the founder of the Belfast Fever Hospital, which exists today as the Royal Victoria Hospital
     McDonnell trained and worked as a merchant in the West Indies in the early part of the 19th Century. He supposedly arrived in the West Indies at the age of 17 and ended up in the colony of Demerara-Essequibo, now part of modern day Guyana where he dealt mainly with the export of sugar and coffee. 
     The year 1820 saw him returning to London to act on the behalf of the coffee and sugar merchants as secretary of the Committee of West Indian Merchants. In this role he represented the interests of the British colonists in the West Indies and liaised with persons of importance and members of Parliament.
     For those with a financial interest in the West Indies it was a crucial time because there was a growing abolitionist movement in Britain and the West Indies plantations were almost totally operated by slave labor. 
     In 1807 the British had outlawed slave trading and although the capture of slaves in West Africa had ceased, slavery itself remained legal. Those slaves and children born into slavery that were already in the possession of plantation owners remained their chattels. 
     In 1823 the Anti-slavery Society, which sought to abolish slavery completely, was founded in Britain and it was also the year Demerara became the focus of international attention after a slave revolt was ruthlessly put down by the local colonists. 
     Initially public sentiment favored the plantation owners, but when details of the conditions of the slaves was discovered, mostly due to an abolitionist preacher named John Smith, public sentiment began to shift. Charged with promoting discontent and dissatisfaction among the plantation slaves, Smith was convicted and sentenced to death but died of consumption (pulmonary tuberculosis) before they could hang him. 
     Smith’s death caused uproar in Britain that lead to over 200 petitions being delivered to Parliament. As a result of the furor, in Demerara over 20 slaves who had been part of the mostly peaceful uprising were executed and their bodies strung up a warning to the other slaves. 
     What did all this have to do with Alexander McDonnell? He strongly advocated the continuation of slavery and wrote a book entitled “Considerations on Negro Slavery with authentic reports illustrative of the actual conditions of the Negroes in Demerara.” 

     In the book he defend the conditions and practices of the planters. His book was mainly based on reports he received from plantation managers when they replied to a series of letters he had sent. 
     While he criticized the slave trade and the cruelty of kidnapping slaves from Africa, he defended the present conditions of slavery that existed in Demerara.
     He argued that the West Indian colonies were financially extremely important to the British Empire and this worth was based on slave labor. Therefore, if slavery was abolished it would drain the Empire financially. 
     He also argued that plantation owners had a right to their property and should not be denied a living and the end of slavery would lead to their loss of income. 
     It was also his contention that the slaves in Demerara could not be freed because they weren’t civilized and would slip into complete idleness. To help prove this point he compared the motivation that lead the diligent, hard working English farmers and merchants who were always striving for greater security and wealth to the irresponsible farmers of West Ireland who he claimed were lacking in initiative and strength of character. 
     McDonnell suffered from Bright's disease which is now known as acute or chronic nephritis. Symptoms included inflammation of serous membranes, hemorrhages, apoplexy, convulsions, blindness and coma. Bright's disease was treated with warm baths, blood-letting, squill (a coastal Mediterranean plant of the lily family), digitalis, mercury compounds, opium, diuretics, laxatives and dietary therapy, including abstinence from alcoholic drinks, cheese and red meat. 
     Some other famous people who reportedly died of Bright’s disease include legendary Old West lawman Bass Reeves, famed gunfighter Luke Short. Rowland H. Macy Sr. founder of the Macy department store chain, Richard W. Sears founder of Sears, Roebuck and Company, Alice Roosevelt first wife of Theodore Roosevelt, poet Emily Dickinson, Chester A. Arthur 21st President of the United States, Union Civil War General Francis Barlow, James S. Sherman Vice President of the United States, Booker T. Washington founder of Tuskegee University and Charles H. Spurgeon, legendary English preacher. 

Edward Winter has published a featured article on McDonnell HERE

Thursday, March 7, 2019

The Man Behind The Turk

     Every chess player knows about Wolfgang von Kempelen’s (1734 - 1804) chess playing automaton hoax, The Turk, but he was famous for a lot more than that. 
     Von Kempelen was born in Pressburg, part of the Kingdom of Hungary within the Habsburg Empire. He studied law and philosophy in Pressburg and attended the Academy in Gyor, Vienna and Rome, but it was mathematics and physics also interested him. He spoke Hungarian, German, Latin, French, Italian some English and Romanian. 
     He held a number of government positions and constructed steam-engines, water pumps, a pontoon bridge, patented a steam turbine for mills and a typewriter for the blind Viennese pianist Maria Theresia von Paradis. He built a theater house in Buda (now Budapest) and the famous fountains at Schoenbrunn in Vienna. He was also a talented artist and etcher, wrote poems and epigrams and composed a German light opera, Andromeda and Perseus, performed in Vienna. 
     He married twice, first in 1757 and after his wife died suddenly in 1758 of an abdominal obstruction he married again in 1762. His second wife bore five children, two survived into adulthood. 
     Though he had a long and successful career as a civil servant, von Kempelen was most famous for his construction of The Turk, a chess-playing automaton presented to Maria Theresa of Austria in 1769. 


    von Kempelen also created a manually operated speaking machine. Although his machine received considerable publicity, it was not taken as seriously because of his deception involving The Turk. 
     His speaking machine was a legitimate device that used a bellows to supply air to a reed which excited a resonator which could be manipulated to produce voice-like sounds. 
     An improved version was built from von Kempelen's description by Sir Charles Wheatstone who is credited in Britain with the invention of the telegraph. 
     von Kempelen's manually operated speech synthesizer began development in 1769, the same year that he completed The Turk, but while The Turk only took him six months to complete, the speaking machine occupied the next twenty years of his life. 
     His first experiment with speech synthesis involved only rudimentary elements of the vocal tract necessary to produce speech-like sounds. A kitchen bellows, used to stoke fires in wood-burning stoves, was used as a set of lungs to supply the airflow and a reed from a bagpipe was used for the glottis (part of the larynx consisting of the vocal cords and the opening between them). The bell of a clarinet was used for the mouth. His model was able to produce simple vowel sounds only, though some additional articulation was possible by positioning one's hand at the bell opening to obstruct airflow. 
     Sounds made by consonants are classed as nasals, plosives and fricatives and his machine couldn’t make those sounds. The hardware for constructing the nasals, plosives and fricatives that most consonants require resulted in his abandoning the single-reed design for a multiple-reed approach in his second design. 
     The second design involved a console, similar to that of a musical organ of the period, in which the operator manned a set of keys, one for each letter. The bellows that fed air through various pipes with the appropriate shapes and obstructions needed to produce that letter. Although not all letters were represented, von Kempelen was able to produce most vowels and several consonants and was able to begin forming syllables and short words. There was a flaw in that the sounds were very uncharacteristic of human speech. That lead to a third approach. 
     It consisted of a bellows, a reed and a simulated mouth (this time made of India rubber, for better creation of vowel sounds via manipulation by hand) and included a throat to which a nasal cavity was attached complete with two nostrils. These improvements helped with making n, m, s and sh sounds. At one point there was an alternate mouth assembly consisting of a wooden box with a pair of hinged shutters that acted as lips. 
     Inside the box was a hinged, wooden, string operated flap that acted as a tongue. This was supposed to make b and d sounds, but he later removed them because without a proper tongue, the machine would never be able to produce sounds for t, k, d and g. 
     He later discovered that even with the mispronunciations he believed that people were more forgiving of the errors due to the frequency of the reed and vocal tract resonant length. 
     This third design, unlike those before it, was capable of speaking complete phrases in French, Italian and English. It could also speak in German, but required a greater skill level by the operator due to the more frequent use of consonants in the German language.
     The biggest limitation was the bellows. Even though they were six times the capacity of human lungs they ran out of air much faster than human lungs.
     This machine spoke in monotone, a problem he was never able to resolve. Shortly after the completion and exhibition of his Speaking Machine, in 1804, von Kempelen died, though not before publishing an extremely comprehensive journal of the past twenty years of his research in phonetics. 
     In 1837, Sir Charles Wheatstone created an improved replica of von Kempelen’s Speaking Machine and was able to further analyze and synthesize components of acoustic speech, giving rise to the second wave of scientific interest in phonetics. After viewing Wheatstone's version Alexander Graham Bell set out to construct his own speaking machine and his experiments and research ultimately led to the invention of the telephone in 1876. 
     At the time of his death in 1804, von Kempelenowned a country estate in Gomba near Pozsony, but died in his apartment in Alser, a suburb of Vienna.



Wednesday, March 6, 2019

IdeA Analysis With Aquarium

     Complex positions are the only way to play for a win is a quote from ICCF SIM Kostas Oreopoulos of Greece who is rated 2490. There is a site called LIPEAD, a non-profit Peruvian association affiliated with ICCF that represents ICCF in Latin America, that has a two part series by Oreopoulos in which he describes how to prepare and maintain an opening repertoire for correspondence chess using the Aquarium program. 
     The articles warn that it is an involved and difficult task and it assumes you have a fair working knowledge of Aquarium because it uses the program’s IdeA feature. PART 1  PART 2  ChessPub also an old discussion on using IdeA. 
     With Interactive Deep Analysis you start with a position called a root node and the program will keep exploring possibilities and build a tree from that position for as long as you want it to run. You can mark moves as good, bad, dubious, interesting, etc. The program won’t analyze the ones marked bad and will spend extra time on those marked as good or interesting. 
     According to the description of IdeA, instead of analyzing the same position forever, it behaves like a strong chess player analyzing a position. If you ever studied Kotov’s Think Like a Grandmaster, you no doubt remember his well known advice to identify candidate moves and methodically examine them to build an “analysis tree.” That’s how IDeA works. 
     I will throw this in about Kotov’ book. According to the late James R. Schroeder, this book, which caused a sensation when first published in the US by Kenneth Smith, was written because Kotov was weak with Ns, but he wasn’t aware of it and so created an artificial system which he hoped would avoid blunders. Schroeder claimed that because Kotov was weak when it came to playing with Ns he sometimes misjudged a position. 
     The purpose of IDeA is to dig deeply into a position and return as much information about it as possible. IDeA keeps its analysis in a tree structure which is unlimited in size and the user can browse at will, even while the analysis is in progress. And, you can stop the analysis and go back later and it will pick up where it left off. You can do neither of those things with the Infinite Analysis feature in other programs. 
     As I have mentioned in previous posts, I find Aquarium difficult to use and somewhat confusing; one has to read page after page in the manuals just to learn how to perform basic stuff. So, for me, I have done nothing more than tinker with IdeA because most of my correspondence chess has been played on LSS in rapid tournaments and line most players I don’t spend a lot of time selecting moves. Most people play whatever move the engine suggests after only a few minutes of analysis, but I do like to experiment a little bit. Because everybody is playing pretty fast and a lot of opponents have a ton of games going, you can experiment with unusual openings. 
     One such opening has been the Urusov Gambit (1.e4 e5 2.Bc4 Nf6 3.d4) and my current score with it is +6 -0 =5 (including one opponent who lost twice against it)! The Urusov might be a good IdeA project, but if you read the articles you’ll see why I am reluctant to bother with doing it! Back in October, I published an article titled Is Opening Theory Wrong About the Urusov? I relied heavily on analysis by Michael Goeller found on his site HERE
     It’s interesting that in Victor Bologan's Black Weapons in the Open Games: How to Play for a Win if White Avoids the Ruy Lopez, he thinks it’s too dangerous for black to accept the gambit! In all 11 of my engine assisted games nobody declined it, so it would seem Bologan is correct. 
     According to my modified version of the opening book that came with Fritz, in OTB play black accepted the gambit with 3...exd4 over 75 percent of the time and the percentage results for white are +39 -33 =28. Accepting the gambit with 3...Nxe4 is even worse: white scored +69 -16 =15. 
     If black declines the gambit with 3...Nc6 white does even better, scoring percentage-wise +63 -18 =19. The Fritz opening book has zero lines in which black has a plus score. Of course, those statistics are no doubt skewed because the Urusov isn’t played by titled players so the results are not always related to the choice of opening. But, what the stats do show is that unless you’re playing titled players, the Urusov has a lot going for it! 
     Declining the gambit with 3...Nc6 is interesting because it leads to a line also discussed by Michael Goeller called the Perreux Variation of the Two Knights Defense. For a fascinating discussion of this line visit HERE and HERE.  I have also seen this opening classified as the Bishop’s Opening, Ponziaini Gambit. 
     After toying with Aquarium’s IdeA on the Urusov it appears that theoretically the best move for black is to accept the gambit, but accepting it, based on Bologan’s advice and my results in quick games, black might do better with the Perreux Variation despite the horrible results shown in the Fritz opening book. 
     I let Fritz do a deep position analysis on the Perreux Variation using both Stockfish 10 and Komodo 10. The deep position analysis feature in Fritz is good for getting deep and detailed analysis of a critical position, and is especially interesting for correspondence players. 
     DPA generates a detailed analysis tree for a given position and you can determine how deep and broad the tree should be and what moves should be included or excluded from the analysis. It’ similar to IdeA, but, as mentioned, once you stop the analysis, that’s it; you can go back and pick up where you left off. 
     The move most chosen by humans after 1. e4 e5 2. Bc4 Nf6 3. d4 Nc6 is 4.Nf3 which according to the DPA with Komodo and Stockfish results in equality. Instead, they both prefer 4.d5. 
     Here is an interesting game by a couple of masters using the Bishop’s Opening Perreux Variation where white played 4.d5. In the game white managed to establish a winning position. But, as often happens, even with masters, white did not follow up correctly and lost. At move 23 he missed a chance to win a piece and soon reached a position where there was only one move that wins...26.Rxe4. 
     Had white’s tactical antenna been out he might have seen a signpost or two that there may be a winning tactic available. At move 23 black’s B had limited mobility. And, at move 26 the alignment of black’s N, B and Q coupled with the pin on the N was suggestive.  Refer to my post Tactics, the Pornography of Chess