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Thursday, July 26, 2012

Karlis Ozols

     Karlis Ozols (9 August 1912, Riga – 23 March 2001, Australia) was a Latvian-Australian master.
      Ozols represented Latvia on eighth board in the unofficial Olympiad at Munich 1936, where he won the individual bronze medal. He also played on fourth board in the 7th Olympiad at Stockholm 1937. In 1937 and 1939 he had poor results at Kemeri and Kemeri-Rigaand in 1942 he finished in the middle of the 1st Latvian SSR-ch. In 1944, he won the Riga championship.
      In spring 1945, he left Riga by sea just ahead of the advancing Soviet forces, landing in West Germany, and spent the next several years in various Displaced Persons camps across Germany. Ozols’ name vanished from chess periodicals until after the War, when he played in a few tournaments in Germany for displaced persons. Other participants in these events were Endzelins, ahead of Zemgalis, Bogoljubow and Hönlinger. In 1949 Ozols immigrated to Australia where he won the Victorian Championship nine times. He jointly won the Australian Championship in 1956 and became an International Master at Correspondence Chess in 1972. 
      Ozols was accused of taking part in war atrocities during WW2 but never prosecuted.  Many of the players who participated in the Kemeri 1937 tournament had charges of Nazi war crimes leveled against them. A 12-page report in The Australia/Israel Review Vol. 22 No. 14 (1-22 October 1997) states that Karlis Ozols “executed thousands of Jews and liquidated entire Latvian villages during World War II.” Among the specific claims were that on 1 July 1941 he joined the Latvian Security Police in Riga; that in early 1942 he was trained at Fürstenberg (Germany), an establishment run by the Sicherheitsdienst (the security service of Himmler’s SS); that he commanded a unit of about 100 Latvians which, between 24 July 1942 and 27 September 1943, assisted in the transportation, guarding and execution of Jews; that between July 1942 and September 1943 over 10,000 Jews from the Minsk ghetto were murdered, with Ozols personally carrying out some killings; that on 8-9 February 1943 Ozols and 110 Latvians under his command assisted the SS to kill more than 2,000 Jews of the Slutz ghetto. “The killings [open-air shootings and gas vans] were efficiently organized. Orders directly from Hitler were passed down the SS hierarchy to the Latvian officers under their command.” On 20 April 1944 Ozols was promoted to the rank of Obersturmführer and was decorated with the KVK II (Kriegsverdienstkreuz – the War Merit Cross). The following December, he disappeared.
      In Australia in June 1992 the Senior Counsel advised the Director of Public Prosecutions that a prima facie case existed against Ozols concerning war crimes and genocide. However, that same month the Federal Government shut down the Unit. The Director of Public Prosecutions wished to continue, but was stopped by the Attorney General. The case was closed. The result was Ozols was never prosecuted for war crimes.
      Ozols refused to talk about his war time activities and in a 1979 interview he stated that he had been in Riga when the Germans had arrived in 1941, that former officers of the Latvian reserve had been asked to offer their services and that he had merely carried out guard duties.
      In July 2002 a program was launched calling on Baltic citizens to identify suspected Nazi collaborators for monetary rewards. The result was the Latvian government investigated Ozols who was accused of collaboration with the Nazis while serving in the SS-affiliated Arajs Commando.  Of course Ozols had dies in 2001, rendering the investigation moot.
      In the October 1-22, 1997 issue of the Australia/Israel Review the article titled Our shame; His haven Australia's Nazi cover-up wrote:
      "Ozols is tall, thin, has a back like a ram rod and a peculiarly strident voice…of the masters who have come to Australia since World War II, Ozols has taken the biggest part in competitive play and has been the most successful. And for 37 years the deception had been very successful.”
      In 1986 Mark Aarons, a journalist with ABC radio, broadcast years of research. It was called "Nazis in Australia" and went to air on April 13 1986. The program raised dramatic allegations and evidence about Nazi war criminals who had been allowed to immigrate to Australia, many with the knowledge of Australian authorities.
      In another article for the same issue of the Australia/Israel Review, entitled Fingering the SS, which presented findings on Ozols the author wrote:
      “Karlis Ozols was not yet 30 when the Germans marched into Latvia in July 1941. A former law student at Riga University…Within a year, the then tall and slender young man was a member of a brutally efficient SS killing machine, the Arajs Kommando. Ozols' activities between July 1941, when the Nazis arrived in Latvia, and March 1942 when he can definitely be traced to a Nazi SD (Security Police) training school in Germany where he learned the fine points of mass murder, cannot be accounted for precisely…By some accounts Ozols was active in slaughtering Jews from the Riga ghetto in the Bikinieki forest, a site notorious in this period as the "role model" for the techniques adopted at similar mass exterminations throughout Central and Eastern Europe. Other accounts place him at the site of similar mass murders in and around Liepaja in the second half of 1941.”
      All the evidence linking Ozols to the Arajs Kommandos  was circumstantial, but on victim wrote in a signed statement: "I remember Karlis Ozols well.  He was company commander and his rank was initially lieutenant and then senior lieutenant. At that time Ozols was about 30 years old, rather tall, slim and slender. I personally served in the security police and SD company commanded by Ozols from the summer of 1942 to the autumn of 1943."
      Ozols stated that on one occasion towards the end of his term, he was ordered to guard the site of a mass execution, about twenty kilometers from Minsk. Ordered to stand guard about 200 meters from the grave and said that Karlis Ozols was at the site where the Jews were being shot.
      In another signed statement one Private Zuika said he remembered that Senior Lieutenant Ozols was among the persons who executed peaceful Soviet civilians. He was armed with a sub-machine gun. Usually during such actions, “Ozols was a little drunk, because he took alcoholic drinks before executions."
      In his brief to the , former Director of the National Crime Authority, Peter Faris presented all his damning evidence to the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecution, recommending the prosecution of Ozols:
"....it is my view that the circumstances are so overwhelming and the period of time so long (14 months) that, putting aside evidence of direct killing by Ozols, a jury would find that, beyond reasonable doubt, he knew that his men were, upon his orders, either killing, assisting in the killing or guarding.

      "Further, the evidence is equally strong that he knew that this was all done in the pursuit of a policy of genocide. I believe that knowledge can be established beyond reasonable doubt, and that upon further investigation, the evidence will probably become stronger."
      For most of his life in Australia he lived quietly with his wife Erika in an outer suburb of Melbourne. During the 1990s he was a frequent visitor to a Latvian retirement village wherein resided his boyhood friend Konrad Kalejs (another alleged war criminal), who had been deported from Canada.
      Ozols, on his alleged involvement in Nazi war crimes said, “It is all finished. No one have I killed and I have never asked anyone to kill. I don't know anything. I have nothing to say." However, some years earlier when questioned by a local newspaper, he had acknowledged sympathy for the German occupation of Latvia while denying any collaboration with the Nazis in the extermination of Jews.
      Ozols died in Melbourne in March 2001 at age 88, spending the last years of his life institutionalized for dementia. Dementia is a serious loss of cognitive abilities in a previously unimpaired person, beyond what might be expected from normal aging. It may affect memory, attention, language and problem solving.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Dumbing Down Engines for Practice

      First, it’s extremely difficult to get an engine to play human-like chess because humans don’t crunch numbers and deal in absolutes. Humans use a lot of intuition. Sometimes if you ask a GM why he played a certain move he doesn’t know.  All he can say is it looked good.  Why did it look good?  He can’t say.  Intuition was involved. Engines don’t calculate that way. They recommend a move because they have calculated it to be the best in mathematical terms.

There are two general ways to dumb down an engine:
1) Limit the depth of the search. Changing how deep and how long the computer thinks changes its strength.  The problem with changing only the time an engine is allowed to think is that today’s engines can spot strong moves in an instant so even giving them 2 seconds to think means they will still play a pretty strong game.
2) Changing the evaluation criteria. Engines count material and evaluate positional characteristics in a certain way. Change these parameters and you will change its strength.

      Most often strong players make subtle positional mistakes while weaker players make serious tactical errors and gross blunders. As you drop down the rating list you find players making little mistakes that allow their opponent to accumulate small advantages with a few tactical errors thrown in and the further down you go, the more glaring these mistakes become. Hard to duplicate.
      Here is a dirty little programming secret.  In order to dumb down an engine many programs are disguised to give you material odds!  They either just make a stupid outright blunder and hang material or in some cases deliberately set up situations where you can execute a little combination to pick up your material. The problem often is that after the engine gives you your material advantage it starts playing like Anand.
      The result of all this is you can never get an engine to play like a human, especially at lower levels because it is extremely difficult to program to play like humans and not, well, machines.
      My suggestion for getting an engine to practice against at lower levels is twofold.  First, using your program, make an opening book from games played by players below whatever rating level you select.  Personally, I’d make the opening book maybe 15 moves deep.  Second, go to a place like Jib Alblett’s Winboard Project site (link listed on this Blog) and download one of the weaker engines. Then you can play against the weaker engine using actual opening moves of lower rated players and afterwards let your GM strength engine show you all the missed wins.  It’s not an ideal solution, but it’s the best I can think of.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

4-Shared Snafu

      On Sunday, July 15 I received an email from the file storage site 4Shareddotcom advising me that it was reported that I “offer unlicensed copies of, or been engaged in other unauthorized activities relating to copyrighted works. The abuse report came to us from LeakID. Storing and sharing of such material violates proprietary rights of the file copyright owner as well as 4shared Terms of Use”
      What was involved was my offering for download my 28 page pdf booklet on the Dallas 1957 chess tournament.  This is, of course not the case, because this booklet consists of a brief description of the tournament and some anno-Fritzed games. 
      I sent an e-mail back describing the material and received what appeared to be an automated reply signed by someone name “Josh” at 4Shared.  Basically the e-mailed advised me it wasn’t their problem and I should please “get in touch with the reporter via email (e-mail listed for Leak) and figure this out.”
      According to their website, LeakID “is the first digital agency and was founded by experts from the world of radio, television and internet. We undertake the design, management, strategy ...etc.”  According to LinkedIn they are Specialists in Law Enforcement IP, content protection, anti-piracy, Anti Counterfeiting.
     According to the customer service people, leakid is spamming Sendspace with takedown notices: "We keep being sent takedown notices by leakid.com. You will probably wish to take this up with them."  Interesting that even Sendspace, like 4Shared, doesn't seem to care that this is a problem for some of their site's users.  Obviously if LeakedID is doing spamming they won't be too concerned about complaints will they?
      As expected, I never heard from LeakID. Apparently I have not been the only person to have experienced problems with this issue involving both 4Sahred and LeakIt.  As a result I have deleted my 4Shared account and am no longer offering my pdf booklets for download unless I can find another site.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Dilemma of the Engines

In regards to the recent post concerning the dilemma of choosing from a variety of moves and evaluations, here is a good example of what kind of problems one can face when it comes to using engines.  In the following position what move would you choose as White?  All the suggested moves are likely good, but you want to choose the BEST.

Note: move recommendations are after about 5 minutes:
By move:

Deep Saros 14.a4 (0.00)
Critter 14.a4 (0.13)
Houdini 14.a4 (0.12)
Rybka 14.Qb1 (0.10)
Spike 14.Qb1 (0.30)
Stockfish 14.Qb1 (0.48)
Fritz 12 14.e5 (0.24)
Fire Xtreme 14.b4 (0.30)
Komodo 14.Rc1 (0.21)

By Evaluation:

Stockfish 14.Qb1 (0.48)
Spike 14.Qb1 (0.30)
Fire Xtreme 14.b4 (0.30)
Fritz 12 14.e5 (0.24)
Critter 14.a4 (0.13)
Houdini 14.a4 (0.12)
Rybka 14.Qb1 (0.10)
Deep Saros 14.a4 (0.00)

Andriy Sliusarchuk Defeats Rybka

April 28, 2011 WNU (Worldwide News Ukraine) ran the above headline stating Sliusarchuk beat the chess engine Rybka-4.
“It took neurosurgeon only 50 minutes to beat the machine. The computer gave up. Sliusarchuk won after two games with a score of 1.5:0.5. To ensure the experiment was fair, the professor, prior to the tournament, was checked for possible cheating or receiving any tips, reports TSN. Sliusarchuk taught himself to play chess only eight months before the tournament took place to beat “artificial intelligence”. The winner stated that he would like to create a Brain Institute to investigate unrecognized capabilities of human beings. Previously, the Ukrainian professor became famous for memorizing the record 30 million digits of “pi”. He also claims to have memorized 20 thousand books.”

      Slyusarchuk (born May 9, 1971 in the Ukraine) was as impostor who became, among other things, neurosurgeon, medical doctor and professor. He also claimed to have set a number of unverified world records in memorizing data and figures, while being able to perform highly complex computer-speed calculations mentally. He was commonly known as Doctor Pi.

      He was taken seriously in Ukraine where he even had a meeting with the President. One of the major TV channels in Ukraine even hosted a few TV events in which Slyusarchuk demonstrated many of his extraordinary abilities.
      Slyusarchuk claimed to be a chess amateur who read three thousand books about the game and then went on to beat Rybka blindfold. He also performed other mental feats like memorizing 80 chess boards in 4.5 minutes and then identifying changes made to them. Of course it was faked.

     Journalists of Lviv newspaper "Express", in a series of articles in October-November 2011, accused him of forgery, fraud, illegal medical practice, which led to injuries and deaths of patients treated by him.

     Of course he publicly denied them and pleaded not guilty in a number of interviews to other press sources. He announced that he had resorted to court and applied to General Prosecutor of Ukraine in order to clarify the situation and officially disprove the statements made by "Express".
    On November 14, 2011, under the pressure of press the Ukrainian police detained him for the period of investigation on suspicion of forgery and fraud. In the investigation officials officially announced to press that all the documents and scientific titles of Andriy Slyusarchuk are valid, according to the Ukrainian legislation and procedures. As per their statements, major parts of Slyusarchuk's scientific works would not be disclosed, as they are classified and fall under the category of State secrets privilege both in Ukraine and Russia.
     In Summer 2012 Ukrainian newspapers reported that Andriy Slyusarchuk left Lukyanivka jail and was placed in psychiatric hospital. The Head of Department for Public Affairs of MIA of Ukraine said that "independent examination were conducted to check the mental health of Slyusarchuk, as well as his possible psychic and hypnotic abilities"When he tried to fake the chess position memory on TV, his scam was revealed by experts. In the May 30, 2011 edition of the Boston Globe authors Harold Dondis and GM Patrick Wolff wrote, “We must conclude that the so-called Memory Man, who did not know how to castle or move a knight, is the latest in ingenious chess frauds.”

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Bellyaching about Engines

        I saw it again.  On one of the forums there was a discussion about correspondence play, specifically playing for the ICCF which allows engine use.  It was mentioned by a couple of people that engine use was cheating and there was no point in playing engine assisted games because it would be very boring anyway.
        First of all if a site allows the use of engines for analysis it is not cheating any more than the use of opening books and databases is cheating on sites that say you can consult them.  I don’t understand the thought process that says even if something is within the organization’s guidelines and you do it, it’s still cheating.  I even heard one guy say that he considers using books in correspondence chess cheating. How can that be?!  Anyway, he probably cheats, too. When he plays correspondence chess, I bet he uses a lot more time than OTB players and I’d go even further and say he touches the pieces and moves them around which is cheating in over the board chess. Hey!  If it’s cheating in tournament chess, it’s got to be cheating in correspondence, right?  What they don’t realize is that OTB chess and correspondence chess are not the same thing. 
      Maybe they don’t want to use engines in their games, and that’s OK.  If that’s the way they feel then I have no problem with it and the solution for them is simple…don’t play on ICCF or any site that allows engine use…problem solved.
      I don’t like chess problems, but I know one guy who does; in fact he’s a Master Solver with the US problem solving organization.  If that’s what he likes to do then I don’t have a problem with it and I’d never tell him it’s a waste of time to mess around with positions that will never come up in real play.  They also have problems where pieces move in ways they don’t move in regular chess.  So what?  That’s what those guys enjoy. I don’t, so I don’t get involved, but neither do I belittle an aspect of the game they like.
      Some time back the ICCF had an interview with an OTB GM who was just getting into CC.  He said he did it because he was not interested only in the competitive nature of the game, but appreciated the search for hidden and deep ideas and thought he could be more creative in correspondence games without the tension found in OTB.
       I found it interesting that he mentioned a point I’ve made here is some posts…most engines do not understand positions with a material imbalance. He also commented that even with computers, one can never be lazy, adding that sometimes the search for the best move can take days and even then there is no guarantee you will find the proper answer.
       In his correspondence games he uses all engines available. The search for the best move, which is what he is trying to find, should, in his opinion, meet no boundaries. He pointed out that blindly following engine suggestions will usually lead to disaster and that in the end the best players will win anyway
       On ICCF where deep engine analysis drives most of your opponents' moves, it becomes paramount to be well-prepared in the opening. His procedure is to create a database of all ICCF games and then extract the first 40 moves into a new opening book. This gives him an opening overview which he can use to maximize his chances against the best engines. He also added that he has found several examples of top GMs building their opening lines based on ICCF games.
       He believes preparation is just as important (if not more so) than having an engine churning out moves. The main aspect is opening preparation. Without solid preparation, you can lose the game before your engine can save it.  Simply using the moves an engine comes up with is usually not enough to win; you have to use everything at your disposal, including human intuition.
       If a player is what is known if the CC world as a “postman” and just delivers what the engine says is the best move after a minute’s thought, then yes, it would be boring and there wouldn’t be much point in playing. But, how can a 1500 second guess an engine?  They probably can’t but what they can do is do a lot of research, compile opening books and databases of top level games that will allow them to get good positions for the engines to work on.
       Then using different engines they will often find there are different alternatives and different evaluations of the same position.  Also in some positions engines are fickle and will keep changing their mind on the evaluation. It is then up to the player to decide which move is best. What does a 1500 do in these situations?  He keeps on analyzing and researching, running shootouts and engine tournaments from the position in question until he thinks he’s found the best move then he plays it.  What if it turns out it isn’t the best move and his judgment was wrong?  He loses just like he would in any OTB game.
      Is playing chess this way enjoyable?  Depends on the individual.  If it isn’t, play on sites that disallow engines. Of course if you’re playing on a site where they are prohibited and you run into an engine user then you have a right to complain.  Otherwise keep your cybermouth shut. Thank you.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Odd Openings

       There exist a lot of openings that you never see in master practice, but not all of them are unsound; in some cases they just aren’t popular while in other cases they may be, if not positionally suspect, just not dynamic enough to generate any interest.  I remember GM Robert Byrne writing an article where he discussed what he called, if memory serves, twilight openings.  He gave the Budapest Gambit as one example stating that it’s playable even if rarely seen.  In a recent correspondence game I met a 2400+ opponent who played an unbooked opening as white against me.  Engines rely on opening books because so far with their books turned off, none of them have succeeded in discovering a “new” opening that GM’s consider worthwhile.
       In the game in question, I am assuming my opponent wanted to get me out of the book and at the same time, get into a position where it’s likely his positional judgment will outweigh mine and/or an engine. The game opened:

1.e4 e5 2.Qf3 Nc6
A game Dimitrov,P (2404)-Mazi,L (2374) Zadar 2008 continued 2...Nf6 3.Bc4 d6 4.h3 c6 5.d3 Be6 6.Bb3 Nbd7 7.c3 g6 8.Ne2 Bg7 9.0–0 0–0 and what can you say?  The position is fully equal.
Also good is 3.Bc4 Nf6 4.Ne2 Bc5 and now black can play 4...d6 5.Nbc3 Bg4 6.Qg3 Qd7 7.d3 h6 8.0–o as in Varavin,V (2399)-Tolstikh,N (2425) Alushta 2004 or, for that matter, any number of engine recommendations all of which look OK for black.
3...Bc5 4.Ne2 Nf6 5.d3 d5
And now Black seems to have full equality, if not slightly the better game.

       That got me to thinking maybe I ought to try something different in one of my own games.  So in the following game I decided to forego my usual standard solid, mainline stuff and play something crazy, but not totally unsound.

1.d4 d5 2.Bg5 Qd6
Entering uncharted territory.  This move looks like an old time engine move from days gone by when they didn’t have much of a book.  Obviously it violates opening principles and isn’t something you’d want to play against a GM, but the move is not totally new.
3.e3 Qb6
This really takes us out of the books! Black played it safe in the game Urbina,C-Elflow,K Mallorca 2004 continued 4.Bd3 g6 5.Nf3 Bg7 6.0–0 0–0 7.Nc3 Nc6 8.Qe2 Bg4 9.Qe1 Bxf3 10.gxf3 e5 11.Nb5 Qe7 12.e4 dxe4 13.Bxe4 Nxd4 14.Nxd4 exd4 15.Rd1 Rfd8 16.Bxb7 Qxe1 17.Rfxe1 Rab8 18.Bc6 Rxb2 19.Re7 Rxc2 20.Rxc7 Rd6 21.Rc8+ Bf8 22.Bh6 Nd7 23.Bb7 Rxc8 24.Bxc8 Bxh6 0–1 Urbina,C-Elflow,K Mallorca 2004.

While Ivanova,D-Vladimirova,D, Ruse 20073...Bf5 4.Bd3 Qg6 5.Nf3 h6 6.Bxf5 Qxf5 7.Bf4 and it’s obvious White has a comfortable game. 
4.Nf3 …
There is lots of room for analysis at this point. The engines prefer 4.Nc3 when 4...Qxb2? 5.Nxd5 loses for black.
There wasn’t much point to playing 3…Qb3 if this isn’t the followup! This is safe now.  By safe I mean there is no immediate disaster as a result of the move, but after a likely continuation of:
5.Nbd2 Nf6 6.Rb1 Qc3 7.Rb3 Qa5 8.c4 c6

It should be pretty clear that black’s position is not one you would find many player’s willing to accept over the board, but in correspondence play it might be defensible.

In seems that in these two examples there isn’t any clear refutation and these lines might be worth looking into with the idea of generating some engine analysis and creating your own variations.  You probably won’t want to play them against Anand the next time you meet him though.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Ruy Lopez Exchange Variation

     Lasker used the Exchange Variation at St. Petersburg in 1914 to defeat Alekhine and Capablanca but after that it fell into obscurity because black found ways to equalize.  Fischer infused new life into the variation in three games at the Havana Olympiad in 1966. Those wins catapulted the variation into a wave of popularity in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s.
      White damages Black's Q-side pawn structure and will usually try to trade pieces to get into a favorable endgame where he can create a passed e-Pawn. For his part black generally tries to avoid piece exchanges and hopes to get some attacking chances with the help of his 2B’s.
      Current statistics show White wins about 36.8 percent, Black wins about 26.7 percent and 36.5 percent of the games are drawn. My database, which contains nearly 6900 games with the Exchange Variation, shows it to yield results nearly identical to those percentages.
      I have only faced the Exchange Variation five times in correspondence play and my record is +2 -2 =1, including one miserable loss when I tried 4…bxc6. I really don’t like facing it because it’s a tad too boring for my taste.
      Here is my latest game against it.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Steinitz vs. Blackburne

In an article published in the March 1913 Chess Amateur and the June 1913 American Chess Bulletin columnist Robert Buckley wrote of  Steinitz:  “Enraged he became sub-human. During the Paris Tourney of 1867, in a trifling dispute, he spat on his opponent, an English player, who promptly knocked his head through a window, the subsequent extrication a sight for the gods.”
      Harold C. Schonberg writing in the book Grandmasters of Chess told it this way:  “When enraged he became subhuman. During the Paris Tournament of 1867, in a trifling dispute, he spat on his opponent, a British player – some say it was Blackburne – who promptly knocked his head through the window.”
      In Chess  Magazine, January 1975, Wolfgang Heidenfeld wrote, “This may, or may not, be true. But in order to lend substance to a thin story which might otherwise be disbelieved, the author inserts his comment “some say it was Blackburne”. This makes it interesting – or does it? Bad luck, chum: Blackburne did not even play in Paris, 1867.”
      Then in the next issue Paul H. Little wrote, “A few years later, at a City of London Chess Club game, it was said that Blackburne so angered Steinitz that he spat at the “Black Death”, who promptly knocked his head through a window.”
      So what really happened? Paul H. Little’s pointed out that Schonberg’s book wrongly cited the incident as taking place at Paris, 1867 however Steinitz’s magazine, International Chess Magazine, Steinitz himself referred to the incident.  Steinitz angrily accused Blackburne  of being a bullying man-handler. Blackburne made an insulting remark, Steinitz spit at him, but missed whereupon Blackburne punched him in the face with his fist. It happened at the City of London Chess Club.
      L. Hoffer’s Chess Monthly in the May 1889 issue referred to Steinitz as “Quasimodo” and wrote:  “Another reason why we do not follow the advice of friends to treat Quasimodo with silent contempt is that he is not so charitable himself as to expect it from those he constantly maligns. Did he hold out his left cheek when Blackburne gave him a smack on the right, both here at Purssell’s and during the Paris Tournament at the hotel? He did not take the chastisement meekly, but tried to retaliate with his cane, which Blackburne broke in twain and threw in the fire; and did not he attempt, in his impotent rage, like a fish-fag, to spit into his adversary’s face, just as he is doing now in the International?”
      Steinitz’ response to Hoffer was published in the November 1889 International Chess Magazine where he referred to Hoffer as “Dreckseele”:  “Allow me to tell you, Dreckseele, that you lie again deliberately with your usual Long Champs lying insolence, when you talk of Blackburne having merely smacked my right, “both here at Purssell’s and during the Paris Tournament at the hotel”. Here is my version, Dreckseele. Blackburne suffered some 22 or respectively 11 years ago even more frequently from fits of blackguardism on the J.Y. Dreck principle, which you and all your Dreck chums worship, than he does now. And on one occasion at Purssell’s about 1867, in a dispute between us, he struck with his full fist into my eye, which he blackened and might have knocked out. And though he is a powerful man of very nearly twice my size, who might have killed me with a few such strokes, I am proud to say that I had the courage of attempting to spit into his face, and only wish I had succeeded, Dreckseele.
      And on the second occasion, in Paris, we occupied adjoining rooms at the same hotel, and I was already in bed undressed when he came home drunk and began to quarrel, and after a few words he pounced upon me and hammered at my face and eyes with fullest force about a dozen blows, until the bedcloth and my nightshirt were covered with blood.
      But at last I had the good fortune to release myself from his drunken grip, and I broke the window pane with his head, which sobered him down a little. And you know well enough too, Dreckseele, if any confirmation of anything I say were needed, that the same heroic Blackburne performed a similar act of bravery on a sickly young man, Mr. Israel, who died some years afterward, and whom he publicly gave a black eye at Purssell’s during his first match with Gunsberg.
      And you also know, Dreckseele, that this gallant Blackburne struck in a similar manner, publicly, in the City of London Chess Club, the secretary, Mr. Walker, as nice a little gentleman as I ever met, who was even a head and shoulder shorter in stature than myself, and who has also, I am sorry to learn, died since. And I may tell you, moreover, Dreckseele, that this brave Blackburne, whose blackguardly fisticuff performances you want to glorify at my expense, has never to my knowledge struck a man of his own size, unless it were in the case of an assault on board ship, during his journey to Australia, for which he was fined £10 at the police court, on his landing in Melbourne. And if your valiant Blackburne, Dreckseele, is not thoroughly ashamed of such performances by this time, he would deserve to be spat upon by any gentleman, just as I spit upon you now, Dreckseele … And in my opinion, Dreckseele, poor Blackburne cannot redeem himself otherwise than by giving you a sound thrashing, Dreckseele, for having without his authority, I assume, dragged his name and a falsified account of his conduct toward myself into the controversy, thus compelling me to give my version of his performances, most reluctantly, I must say, for I am thoroughly ashamed of it on behalf of chess in general, but in no way, Dreckseele, on my own account personally.”
      From Steinitz’ account we see there were two separate punching and spitting incidents.  Also, the Paris tournament was the one in 1878, not 1867.  Steinitz did not play in Paris, 1878 but he was there.
      So we have Blackburne, the drunken pugilist and Steinitz, the heroic spitter.  Note that Steinitz not only spit in person, but he also spit at people in print…in the above article he told Hoffer, “…just as I spit upon you now…” And Fischer, the serial biter.  Interesting.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Play Unsound and Refuted Gambits?!

      Savielly Tartakower occasionally experimented with bizarre openings and wrote "A chess game is divided into three stages. The first, when you hope you have the advantage, the second when you believe you have an advantage, and the third... when you know you're going to lose!"
      Any unsound gambit is likely to be a successful weapon at lower levels.  But just because 99 percent of us aren’t good enough to refute them does that mean it’s a good idea to play such an opening?  It’s argued that by playing them you can improve your tactics.  Is that so?  Couldn’t you just as likely win with the Najdorf Sicilian or the Nimzo-Indian? If your opponent is weaker (or maybe even a little better) than you isn’t he just as likely to make a tactical mistake in the Ruy Lopez as in the Latvian Gambit?  Are you less likely to blunder material in the Queen’s Gambit Declined than you are the Blackmar Gambit?
       John Nunn made some observations about the strengths and weaknesses of chess books. He said the main point of buying an opening book is that it gives a good overview of the opening, along with its plans and ideas. He then offered this advice: "In order to choose a good opening book, check to see if the author has played the opening himself; someone who has practical experience in an opening is far more likely to be aware of move-order finesses, doubtful evaluations and untested but interesting ideas."        Nunn went on to say about opening books in general, "Many chess books feature good advice supported by doubtful examples. While it would be nice to have totally clear-cut examples of every principle, real-life positions tend to have messy details and distracting sidelines. The author then has the choice of ignoring the messiness and pretending that everything is clearer than it really is, or giving a totally objective commentary which risks obscuring the point his is trying to explain."         Nunn also railed against the common practice of many authors, especially those who write books on gambits claiming you can win a lot of games by playing them, who lead gullible readers to believe that some unsound gambit line will score lots of points. What does Nunn really think of these books?  "Less honest authors are entirely shameless about such matters. They recommend the most outrageously unsound lines without blushing even slightly. They would never play such lines themselves, of course."  He recommended avoiding these books because their unscrupulous authors are doing nothing more than trying to pull the wool over their readers’ eyes and make some money.
       Alex Yermolinsky advised amateurs "to stand on the shoulders of giants", and study and play critical mainline opening lines, especially against higher-rated opponents. He confessed that nothing relieved him more than when a weaker opponent shied away from the main lines.
       When it comes to teaching chess, Yermolinsky is big on teaching by example.   He wrote, "The idea is to teach by example, rather than offer ready-to-consume recipes. Who knows, maybe chess should be observed, just like a language should be spoken around you, in order to be understood and transformed into a skill. I'll select a few examples on each area--knowledge, tactics, ability, and intuition--that...serve as illustrations of how such work of improvement can be done."
       Yermolinsky is also critical of books that offer simple systems "to play and win," or which promise to reveal "the secrets of the Soviet School of Chess."  He is also critical of books  advertised to as "'secret' openings that would allow players to handle the resulting positions with ease, operating with 'ideas' and 'schemes' instead of memorizing variations and calculating tactics."
       When Yermolinsky lived in Cleveland, Ohio he ran, along with the very strong master Boris Men, the Yermolinsky Chess Academy.  He wrote of the Academy, "we do not practice a 'quick fix approach' that is popularized by many teaching GMs," and students are urged to avoid "primitive set-ups designed to avoid theory."
       He admitted, "Like many amateur teachers, I was tempted to cut down...by offering 'simpler' opening systems. But soon I realized that...to teach chess off the top of my head...is not reliable. In fact, it's no more than an illusion, and practicing it borders on plain old cheating."
       If strong players and respected teachers like John Nunn and Alex Yermolinsky tell you to avoid weird, disgusting, unsound and refuted gambits, it seems to me that that’s what you should do.  Study current opening theory…openings the GM’s play.  You are going to have to study anyway, so why study worthless material?  Instead, study stuff that will actually improve your understanding of chess and make you a better player in the long run.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Bobby Fischer was Biter

       In the book Endgame by Brady he describes some of Fischer’s nastier moments and apparently there were a lot more than most of us knew about. He described the ride home Fischer shared with other players after he won the US Junior Championships in 1957.
       The car kept breaking down and everyone chipped in to have it repaired so that they could keep going. Riding through the hot desert with no air conditioning led to petty arguments and a fist fight broke out between Bobby and Gilbert Ramirez who had finished second. Fischer reportedly got a black eye out of it, but that healed.  Only Ramirez was scarred for life. Bobby bit Ramirez on the arm leaving permanent scars which Ramirez proudly displayed as a souvenir of the trip. Who wouldn’t love to pull up their shirt sleeve and point to scars on their arm and say, “This is where Bobby Fischer bit me!”  Man, that's better than showing off scars where a bear bit you!
      Eventually, the car broke down entirely and had to be abandoned.

EDIT:  I forgot to mention Bobby also bit one of the Japanese police officers when he was arrested.  The Hannibal Lecter of chess?!

You can read an excerpt from the book HERE and it’s available on Amazon, both the book and for the Kindle:

Nellie Showalter

            The American Chess Bulletin, Volume 1, proclaimed, “Mrs. Jackson W. Showalter, the beautiful wife of ex-United Staes Chess Champion Showalter, who is without a doubt the strongest player of her sex in America.  In the early ninties she started a match with Mrs. Harriet Worral, of Brooklyn, and, when the contest was abandoned, the score stood 3 to 1 in Mrs. Showalter’s favor, with one game drawn. (The match had to be abandoned because the illness of Mrs. Showalter)…Mrs Showalter comes from a proment Kentucky family, but was born in the state of Missouri in 1872;  although hre maiden name was Nellie Love Marchall, she claims no family realtionship with the new champion bearing the same surname.  This fair devotee is a natural player, never having studied books.  Instead she picked up the rudiments of the game easily and rapidly and improved by imitating the methods of leading experts, especially those of her husband, playing purely by common sense and intuition.”

       The newspaper, The Mansfiled Daily Shield (Mansfield, Ohio) in a December 21, 1894 article carried a story on the Showalter vs. Worrall match.  By the way, Mrs. Worrall once defeated Steinitz and Mrs. Showalter, Lasker, in a knight-odds game. Nellie commented on her defeat of Emmanuel Lasker in an 1894 interview:
"When I first came to New York I played with Mr. Lasker a match of five games up. He gave the odds of a knight and I beat him five to two. Lasker had beaten everybody in Germany and England, then he came and beat my husband, and his astonishment, he said, was great that I could whip him with the odds he gave me."

Lasker offered another perspective on Nellie’s strategy in their games: At the critical juncture in the games, Mrs. Showalter would smile coyly, and then flash a bit of ankle. I was extremely flustered by such antics. When I complained to Mr. Showalter, he just guffawed and said, ‘My Nellie is such a card! Have a cigar!’
     “The chess match is now in progress between Mrs. Nellie Love Showalter, of New York City, and Mrs. Harriet Worrall, of Brooklyn, for the woman's championship of the world. It is strictly conducted, no one being admitted to the room in which the games are in progress, save the principals, umpires, referee and scorer.

     Mrs. Showalter, the charming wife of J. W. Showalter, the champion chess player of America, is only twenty-three years old, and was challenged by Mrs. Worrall to play a match of seven games up, draws not counting. 
Mrs. Worrall ranks high among chess players and reckons her victories as far back as the days of the great Paul Morphy. She and her husband spent years in Mexico and there, for lack of other entertainment, the evenings were generally spent in playing match games of chess. Mrs. Worrall won the sobriquet of the "Mexican Champion," and in 1859 played several games with Paul Morphy, receiving from the champion a rook and scoring an occasional draw.
      Capt. Mackenzie allowed her a pawn and two moves and she was more successful. In 1885, at the Manhattan Chess club, she played a game with Herr Steinitz and beat him, he giving the odds of a knight.
     Mrs. Worrall's record in games played with men ranks her equal to any of the second class, while among women she has found few opponents worthy of her skill.
     Mrs. Gilbert, of Hartford, Conn., considered one of the finest correspondence players in the world, was vanquished by Mrs. Worrall without difficulty. Mrs. Worrall is a quiet, gentle, womanly woman, with calm eyes and low voice. When playing she leans back in her chair, often with one arm thrown over the back, and the other resting in her lap, while her eyes fix themselves steadily on the board. She is a widow and lives in Brooklyn.
      Mrs. Showalter is a Kentuckian and possessed of all the Kentucky woman's charms.
      "Don't say that my husband won me at a game of chess," said she, when interviewed, and her big blue eyes opened wider in her excitement. "Let me see. I was married at sixteen and now am twenty-three, that makes seven years' playing with the champion chess player of the United States. It would be funny if I did not know a little, would it not? I never played with a woman before and would not have thought of challenging Mrs. Worrall. I always think I see ahead about eight moves; sometimes I don't carry right, but more often I do. When I make a blunder it makes me ill."
      Mrs. Showalter is petite with golden brown, curly hair. She wears when at play a simple black blouse and greenish gray skirt, plain and of light weight, clearing the floor. Her curls are pusked back and caught up with a jeweled comb. She takes off al her rings but two, a plain circle of gold and a gem setting.
      At half-past two o'clock the ladies enter the parlor of 438 West Twenty-third street, when playing in New York, each taking her place at the board. Mrs. Showalter sets her feet firmly, and resting her elbows on the table, runs her fingers up through her wealth of hair. If the game is long and exciting, before its close the comb falls to the floor and the mass of curls rests on her shoulders in wild confusion, each ringlet seemingly aiming to reach the chess board and assist its mistress to win the game.
     Mrs. Showalter has a dimpled face rather round and exceedingly sweet in expression. Her eyes are large and limpid and violet blue in color. Her complexion is fresh and ruddy, and she speaks in contralto tones, with a slow, measured thoughtfulness for which no one is ever prepared. It is naturally supposed that a quick impulsiveness goes with the makeup of such a vivacious little body.
   She has defeated some of the most celebrated chess players in the world and even played with some champions. Her husband, who won first prize in the United States Chess Association four consecutive times, began playing match games with her by giving her odds of a queen. Now she receives only odds on pawn and two moves.
      "My first great victory," she says, "was in a match game I played with Arthur Peters, who won the "free for all" tournament in the United States association at Lexington, Ky., in 1891. I go with my husband when he plays, and when he went to Kokomo, Ind., to take part in the Lasker-Showalter match for the championship of the world. I met Mr. C. A. Jackson, champion of Indiana, and answered his challenge to play a match - I drew the first game and won the next three. When I first came to New York, I played with Mr. Lasker a match of five games up. He gave me odds of a knight and I beat him five to two,"
     The fact that Mrs. Showalter has beaten Champion Lasker with the same odds with which Mrs. Worrall has beaten Herr Steinitz points to a very interesting match between the two women. A privilege of a return match will be givin to the one beaten, then the victor will be prepared to defend the title of lady champion of the chess world against all contestants.
     "Lasker had beaten everybody in Germany and England," said Mrs. Showalter; "then he came and beat my husband, and his astonishment, he said, was great that I could whip him with the odds he gave me.
     When asked "Is it hard work to play?" she relied, "Indeed it is. There is a severe mental strain, and at the close of the game, I am thoroughly exhausted. I have regular stage fright, too, while Mrs. Worrall seems perfectly calm and collected."
     Mrs. Showalter is fond of horseback riding, driving and walking. As a rifle shot she is energetic and charming. She fished, hunts and is an expert in all outdoor exercises. Mrs. Worrall spends her winters in Brooklyn and her summers at College Point.”
     The Brooklyn Eagle article of January 3, 1895, gives more information on why the match was abandoned. "In an interview with the Eagle reporter on Tuesday last, Mrs. Showalter, who until recently competing with Mrs. Harriet Worrall of this city for the woman's championship of the United States, stated that she discontinued the match at the urgent request of her husband, she being also ordered to do so by her doctor. The severe strain consequent upon a contest of this nature had begun to tell upon her and she was force to seek a change of scene and action. Although convalescent she is not yet prepared to resume play but hope to be able to do so shortly. Mrs. Showalter spoke highly of her opponent, Mrs. Worrall, in consenting to wait when properly the latter was entitled to claim the match by forfeit.”
      A further article in the Brooklyn Eagle, dated May 14, 1896, read: “Showalter was accompanied by his charming wife, Mrs. Nellie Marshall Showalter, whose prowess at chess is second only to her husband's. Mrs. Showalter has recently recovered from a most serious illness and is still obliged to be careful of her newly regained strength, for which she expects the sea air of the East will be beneficial.”
     Of interest is the fact that Edo Historical Ratings gives her a solid master rating of 2290. After playing through the following game, I see no reason to dispute that rating!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

History of Chess Ratings in the USA

“Before Prof. Elo stamped numbers on our foreheads, people played to win tournaments or place as high as they could in the standings or simply win as many games they could. Forget ratings. Play to win and let others figure out how good you are.” Leon Poliakoff, US Master

1933 – The Correspondence Chess League of America was the first national organization to use a numerical rating system. The CCLA used what was known as the Short System which clubs on the west coast had been using. In 1934 the CCLA switched to the Walt James Percentage System but in 1940 switched to a point system designed by Kenneth Williams.
1942 Al Horowitz’ Chess Review magazine which sponsored correspondence events used the Harkness system, an improvement of the Williams system.
1944 – The CCLA changed to an improved version of the Williams system devised by William Wilcock.
1949 – The Harkness system was proposed to the USCF. The British Chess Federation adopted it later and used it at least as late as 1967.
1950 – The USCF started using the Harkness system and published its first rating list in the November issue of Chess Life.  Dr. Reuben Fine topped the list at 2817 and Samuel Reshevsky was second with 2770.
1959 – The USCF named Prof. Arpad Elo the head of a committee to examine all rating systems and make recommendations.
1961 – Elo developed his system and it was used by the USCF.
1970 – FIDE started using the Elo system.
1993 – The German Chess Federation replaced  the Ingo System in Germany with Elo’s system.
2001 – the Glicko System was published.  

      The rating system is used to calculate the strength of the player based on his performance versus other players. Most of the systems recalculate ratings after a tournament or match but some are used to recalculate ratings after individual games. In general, a player's rating goes up if he performs better than expected and down if he performs worse than expected.

Ingo system
      The Ingo system was designed by Anton Hoesslinger and published in 1948. This is a simple system where a player's new rating is the average rating of his competition minus one point for each percentage point above 50 obtained in the tournament. This system is somewhat confusing because lower numbers indicate better performance

Harkness system
       The Harkness System was invented by Kenneth Harkness who published it in 1956 and it was used by the United States Chess Federation until 1960.
       Under the Harkness system, basically when a player competed in a tournament, the average rating of his competition is calculated. If the player scored 50 percent he receives the average competition rating as his performance rating. If he scored more than 50 percent his new rating was the competition average plus 10 points for each percentage point above 50. If he scored less than 50 percent his new rating was the competition average minus 10 points for each percentage point below 50.

Elo rating system
       The Elo system was invented by Prof. Arpad Elo and is the most common system in use today. The USCF uses a modification of the Elo system, where there are bonus points for superior performance in a tournament. USCF ratings are generally 50 to 100 points higher than the FIDE equivalents
       Over the years the USCF has tweaked the system several times.  One tweak is rating floors for players who have maintained a certain level of play over the course of a specified number of games.  Once a player has an established floor his rating will not drop below his floor.  The objection to having a floor is that they distort the rating system. If a player’s rating drops below his floor it does not go any lower.  i.e. if a player’s floor is 1800 and his rating drops below that, he is still rated 1800 and if he loses, points are added to his opponent's rating but not subtracted from his. The idea of floors was instituted because during the Fischer Boom when there was a great influx of new players they were winning points from established players who saw their rating going down.  This drop in rating discouraged many older players whose ability was waning from playing.  The problem was new players came into the rating pool with zero points which they won from established players and the result was a gradual lowering of player’s rating across the board.
       During the Fischer Boom when great numbers of players started entering tournaments deflation became serious and disturbed a lot of people.  As a result the USCF instituted bonus points, feedback points and activity points, collectively known as "fiddle points." For the first 30 years of the rating system deflation had not been a problem but around 1980 it was discovered that players of relatively stable strength had lost points over time when their ratings should have stayed about the same.  As a result activity points, bonus points and feedback points were introduced to protect them.  These were known as "fiddle points" and resulted in inflation of the ratings.  It was possible, if one played enough games against higher rated players to actually gain points even if you ended up with a minus score.
       Elo rating calculates (and this is an important point) the results, not the skill of players and can be used in any two-player game. Of course better players usually have better results…but more on this at the end of this post. It is named after its creator Prof. Arpad Elo, a Hungarian born U.S. player who was also a physics professor.  Elo invented his system to be used in chess, but today it is also used in many other games. An important point is that ratings measure the relative skill of players in the rating pool.  For this reason, ratings from various servers, correspondence organizations and even OTB groups (for example, players in different countries) are not comparable.
      Elo was a master and an active participant in the USCF from its founding in 1939. The first USCF rating system was devised by Kenneth Harkness but in some circumstances gave ratings which many people thought weren’t accurate so Elo devised a new system with a sounder statistical basis.
      Although a player might perform significantly better or worse from one game to the next, Elo assumed that the performances of  a player changes slowly over time and a player's true skill is the mean of that player's performance over time.
      Several people, most notably Mark Glickman,  have proposed using more sophisticated statistical methods to estimate ratings, but the simplicity of the Elo system remains one of its greatest assets.
      The USCF implemented Elo's suggestions in 1960 and the system quickly gained recognition as being both more fair and accurate than the Harkness Rating System. Elo's system was adopted by FIDE in 1970.
      Performance can only be inferred from wins, losses, and draws against other players. A player's rating depends on the ratings of his opponents, and the results scored against them. Elo scaled ratings so that a difference of 200 rating points would mean that the stronger player has an expected score of approximately 75 percent.
      An increase or decrease in the average rating over all players in the rating system is referred to as rating inflation or rating deflation.  For example, a modern rating of 2500 means less than an old rating of 2500 and so using ratings to compare players between different eras becomes impossible.
      It is commonly believed that at the top level modern ratings are inflated but it has also been suggested that an overall increase in ratings reflects greater skill. The number of people with ratings over 2700 has increased. Around 1979 only Karpov was over 2700.  This increased to 15 players in 1994, and by 2009 there were 33 players over 2700. 
      In the mid-1990’s, the USCF realized that young players were improving faster than the rating system was able to track and as a result, established players started to lose rating points to the young and underrated players. Several of the older players were frustrated over what they considered an unfair rating decline and some gave up tournament chess as a result.  As a result the USCF included a bonus point system which feeds rating points into the system.
      As mentioned earlier, better players usually have better results, and thus higher ratings, but it is important to remember ratings are a measure of results. Claude F. Bloodgood III was a controversial American player. As a young man, he was arrested several times and eventually ended up being sentenced to death after murdering his mother, although this sentence was later commuted. While in prison, he remained a very active player and played a large number of postal games as well as OTB rated games with other inmates. Over time, he achieved a very high USCF rating by manipulating the system.
      Bloodgood set up the Virginia Penitentiary Chess Program in 1972 and taught inmates the game and they competed against each other in tournaments. Bloodgood, using state money obtained in a grant, bought a bunch of cheap chess sets and registered his 50 or so prisoners with the USCF and became a TD so that he could hold VaPen Open tournaments that were USCF rated.  There were no entrance fees for these events and inmates played thousands of rated games.  This resulted in Bloodgood racking up hundreds of rating points until he finally reached a rating of 2702 and was ranked number 2 in the US.
      As far back as 1958 Bloodgood had warned USCF officials of a serious statistical flaw in their rating system but nobody listened. When his rating got to the point that it qualified him for a spot in the US championship, the USCF finally realized there was a problem and they solved it quickly and painlessly…they deleted Bloodgood’s name from the rating list.  That’s what Elo meant when he pointed out that ratings measure performance and not ability.  At best Bloodgood was likely a high-rated Expert.