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Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Real Men Play Chess!

     When you think about it all that time most of us spend playing chess, a game which frankly, as far as I know, has never helped me in anything, sometimes you have to ask yourself if it isn’t a waste of time. Obviously if you good enough to make a living at it, it’s not a waste of time, but what about the rest of us?
     Of course millions of people spend time and money on hobbies such as collecting things, bowling, golf, photography, you name it and I am sure there must be psychological and emotional benefits from having a hobby. Anyhow, I have this nagging feeling that I should be doing something more productive with my spare time, but so far I haven’t come up with anything, but that’s not what this post is about.
     I came across an amusing site the other day named The Art of Manliness and there was a post listing 45 manly hobbies and guess what? Chess was the first one listed! Maybe I'm not wasting my time as badly as I thought.

QGD Exchange Variation

     This opening used to be a favorite of Reshevsky and he scored many wins with it by using the Minority Attack and in the process making things look easy, so naturally I used to use it a lot. Unfortunately my games weren’t as slick as Rehevsky’s.
     However, White has more than one way to play the positions arising from the Exchange Variation.  He can play a central advance with f2-f3 followed by e2-e4 or he can castle Q-side and play for a K-side attack.
     While chances are balanced, Black is usually more or less forced to use his superior activity to launch a piece attack on White's K as the long-term chances in the QGD Exchange structure favor White. Black will often pay an early …Ne4 so that after the N is exchanged and his P on d5 lands on e4, the change in P-structure alters the strategy.
     It was the Minority Attack that always interested me but as I said, unlike Reshevsky, I could never get it to work out because my opponents never seemed to have any trouble meeting it and I ended up with a lot of draws. In this game things were, according to Houdini 2, nearly dead equal until Black shot himself in the foot with 29…c4.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Nezhmetdinov vs.Paoli

For a Youtube video biography on Nezhmetdinov see my post HERE.  His opponent in this game, Enrico Paoli (January 13, 1908 – December 15, 2005), was an Italian International master. He was born in Trieste, Italy, and learned chess when he was nine years old. Paoli was winner of International Tournaments of Vienna (1951) and Imperia (1959). He won his last Italian Championship at age 60, and organized the famous Reggio Emilia chess tournament. He beat Soviet GM Alexander Kotov with the black pieces in Venice in 1950, but missed receiving the Grandmaster title by only half a point at a tournament in 1969. He was awarded the title of Honorary GM in 1996 by FIDE.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Fun with Rooks

     Most everybody knows the basics of Rook handling: the power of Rooks on open or semi-open files, Rooks on the seventh rank, behind passed Pawns, etc. One lesser known Rook handling scenario is what Tartakower called the “Hyper-modern Rook,” a Rook in front of the Pawn chain. This method can be very effective when the normal methods, e.g. open files, are ineffective or not available. In the following game Alekhine uses his Rooks in front of the Pawn chain to conduct a direct attack on Kmoch’s King.  What makes the game interesting is watching Alekhine's attack appear from what appears to be nowhere.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

An Opening Test for Engines

     The website Chess Openings offered this challenge: fire up the engines and see when, or if, they could find the brilliant 11.Rc1 as was discovered by former ICCF World Champion Aleksandr Dronov who played it against Jeurgen Buecker in the 2007 championship.

     I gave each engine about 5 minutes using 3 cores and 1024 Mb of RAM and all they all displayed 11.Nef3 as their first choice and none displayed Dronov’s 11.Rc1 in their top four selections.  Here are their evaluations and ply depth:
StockfishDD64SSE4.2: +0.30, depth 26
Deep Rybka 4.32: +0.30, depth 18
Houdini 2.0c 64c: +0.16, depth 22
Critter 1.64 64bit: +0.23, depth 21
     When I entered the move manually the engines displayed the following evaluations: StockfishDD64SSE4.2: +0.05
Deep Rybka 4.32: +0.15
Houdini 2.0c 64c: 0.00
Critter 1.64 64bit: 0.00
     I decided to try using IDeA in Aquarium 2014 using Stockfish set at 20 seconds, depth 17 to see what results I would get. After about 2.5 hours here are the results:

     As you can see, the engine has not gotten very deep into the position, but 11.Rc1 is pretty far down the list. So why is this important? Because these days correspondence chess as played on ICCF or LSS where engine use is allowed (you’ll probably lose all your games if you don’t use one) analysis has to be very deep and detailed, especially openings. Openings represent about 50% of your results in these events so excellent opening preparation is necessary.
     I prefer to play on LSS in the “Rapid” events because 1) I enjoy tinkering with engines and 2) I don’t have the patience to fiddle with the kind of opening preparation and analysis that is required to win consistently as explained HERE.
     The point is that to play successfully on sites like LSS and ICCF there is a whole lot more work involved than just letting an engine run for a minute or two then playing whatever its first choice is. Dronov is only rated 2043 with FIDE and I would be curious to know how such a low-rated player discovered 11.Rc1 even using engines. Perhaps it could be done if you had a really good opening book, a couple of powerful computers and more patience than I have accumulated in a lifetime, but I prefer to stick to LSS Rapids and hope my farrago leads to success.

Kotov – Bondarevsky Leningrad 1936

     I have occasionally seen the position after White’s 23rd move presented as a tactics puzzle, but rarely has the complete game been given. That’s a shame because it's an interesting game. Bondarevsky conducts a beautiful attack even though the game was full of errors by Kotov. It should be remembered that at the time this game was played neither of these players had yet achieved GM status.
     All of the references that I checked maintained that Kotov missed holding the draw by not playing 23.Kf1 but it appears that Houdini 2 found a way for Black to keep the attack going by 24…Qxd4+. After playing around with the position for about an hour, it seems that even after 23.Kf1 that Black is still winning. If anyone finds a way that White can save the game, please post it.

Chess Cartoon: Alexander Kotov vs Aron Nimzovich Chat Battle! - Who wins...

Friday, April 18, 2014

Nottingham 1936

     My favorite chess books are game collections and tournament books and Nottingham 1936 by Alekhine is one of my favorites.
     Nottingham, a 15-player tournament held August 10–28 at the University of Nottingham, was one of the strongest tournaments of all time. W. H. Watts in the introduction to the tournament book called Nottingham 1936 "the most important chess event the world has so far seen”. That’s because it included five past, present, or future world champions (Lasker, José Raúl Capablanca, Alekhine, Euwe and Botvinnik).  A number of other prominent players, such as Reuben Fine, Samuel Reshevsky and Salo Flohr, were in the tournament, too. The event is also notable for being Lasker's last major event, and for Botvinnik achieving the first Soviet success outside the Soviet Union.

1-2 Botvinnik and Capablanca (10.0)
3-5 Euwe, Fine and Reshevsky (9.5)
6 Alekhine (9.0)
7-8 Flohr and Lasker (8.5)
9 Vidmar (6)
10-11 Bogoljubow and Tartakower (5.5)
12 Tylor (4.5)
13 Alexander (3.5) 1
4 Thomas (3.0)
15 Winter (2.5)

     As for the book itself, it was a historic tournament and no serious player should be without it because Alekhine’s annotations, while not as meticulous or impressive as those in New York 1924, are still very good. The latest translation is figurine algebraic and Russell Enterprises has produced a quality book. GM Andy Soltis does the introduction.
     Now, why would anybody be interested in this old tournament? It was Lasker’s last tournament, the last major victory for Capablanca, Botvinnik’s second trip outside the Soviet Union and his first tournament victory with the subsequent emergence of the “Soviet School of Chess.” It was Alekhine’s poorest performance of the 1930’s and it confirmed the world class strength of Euwe, Fine and Reshevsky.
     Some of the games are lacking high quality, but that’s OK. In magazines and “best games” books you usually see only the best and not the way most games are really played; that's one reason why I like tournament books; you get to see the warts and all.
     Of Alekhine’s annotations Soltis wrote , “This was the last of Alekhine’s splendid tournament books, and it helped make Nottingham a legend. It falls thematically between New York 1924, with its remarkably intense analysis of moves, and New York 1927, with its emphasis on sporting qualities and psychological factors. This is a book that devotes attention to 'playing the board' as well as to 'playing the man…It was written by a more mature, self-confident Alekhine. Earlier in his career he embellished if not outright lied about some of the moves he played and how much he had calculated.” Also, the round by round commentary helps create a sense of being there. 
     Besides all that, it’s enjoyable just to watch them play! Take the following game; it’s not perfect and would probably never make it into a best games collection, but it’s a good example of the ups and downs of typical tournament games.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Analyzing the Wrong Position, Playing the Wrong Move

     How, you might ask, when playing on a server, does one analyze the wrong position and then play the wrong move? After all, the correct position is right there in front of you when you click on your move and hit send. Believe me, it happens.
     I know a lot of players make their moves right off the computer screen like chess was a video game, but most players either set up the position on a board or use a program to keep track of the position using an analysis board or software to analyze.  Using software is the problem. Actually, the use of software isn’t the problem, it’s just plain carelessness.
     Usually you have a lot of analysis saved and it can be easy after selecting a move to jump to the server screen and make your move without really looking at the position. If you aren’t careful to double check that the position on the server board is the same as the one on your program’s screen, you can send the wrong move. Sometimes it just isn’t the optimal move, sometimes it will cost you the game.
     Last year I had one game that went: 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.e5 Be7? And after I played 5.exf6 my opponent resigned. Obviously he had been expecting the more popular 4.Bg5 after which 4…Be7 is acceptable, didn’t look at the position when he played his 4th move and had to resign after I captured his N
     Or, take the following position where I was Black.  I should have played 6…b5 and then after 7.Bb3 there is a wide choice of moves. I was intending to play 7…Nf6 and with that move in mind, I played it immediately. It’s not that 7…Nf6 is all that bad, but the train wreck that followed was due to my careless mindset.

I was all mixed up. After 6…Nf6 the game continued 7.d4 and now I played 7…Bb6?? (7…exd4 is acceptable and, I suppose, so is 7…Ba7) 8.d5 0–1 More recently, I had this disaster:

     After a lot of analysis, instead of capturing the Pawn I entered 14.Qa4? on the server. Then after 14…e5 he already had a significant advantage. I replied 15.Qb5 which would have given me winning advantage had Black’s Q been where I thought it was. You see, I had his previous move as 12…Qd6 and it was only after he played 15…Bxc5 that I realized it wasn’t on d6. 
     I spend a lot of time trying to find a line that gave me a halfway decent position but couldn’t and so instead of wasting time on a lost game decided to resign and concentrate on my other games.
     In his preparation for the 10th World Correspondence Championship the eventual winner, Victor Palciauskas, wrote, “It's bad enough to be beaten by your opponent's fine play, but it's much more painful when you beat yourself. Recording errors have plagued me during most of my CC career. Often I see the forest, but not the trees. I develop a deep plan and write down the next move incorrectly.” 
     This was the last WCCC played by mail and Palciauskas was determined not to let any recording errors ruin his chances. His advice to check and recheck, then check again is still good even on server play.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Aquarium 2014...My New Toy

     Back in May, 2012 I posted about how I had ordered the download version of ChessOK Aquarium 2011 because I was interested in using their highly acclaimed IDeA for analysis.  I had installation problems but after an e-mail to ChessOK they responded quickly and the problem was easily resolved.  Apparently the issue was with the way Windows 7 copied and pasted the serial number, not the program.
     As it turned out I didn’t like Aquarium 2011 because, for me, it was not user friendly.  I felt like I had to be a computer programmer to use it and relegated it to occasional use but after the old laptop’s motherboard died and I bought a new one with Windows 8, I dug out the old download link and serial number for ChessOK 2011 and downloaded it on the new laptop “just in case.”  Of course it didn’t run under Windows 8.
     Several days ago I decided I wanted to invest in Houdini 4 so decided to purchase the download version from ChessOK.  In the process of “shopping” on their site I ended up with two items in my shopping cart: Houdini 4 Aquarium (which I wanted) and Aquarium 14 with the Rybka 2.3 engine.  I am not sure how it happened but I inadvertently purchased the latter!  I was a little miffed at my stupidity at having been so careless at spending $35 for something I didn’t want but determined that after they sent me the download link I would learn how to use the program.
     There was download problem!  The download kept getting hung up and after several tries I got a message that the link had expired.  They responded to my e-mail explaining the problem the next day and the new link they supplied resolved the problem.
     After about three days of reading everything I could find and setting up a practice database and doing exercises on saving and deleting games, engine settings, manipulating databases and analyzing with infinite analysis and IDeA I finally began to learn the basics. I have to admit that there are some nice features to be found in the program.  In fact, the program offers more information than I will ever need unless I decide to write an opening book or play for the world correspondence championship...that's a joke.
     I’m not all that familiar with IDeA yet, but one thing that is beginning to grow on me is the Infinite Analysis feature. One of the unique features is that it stores the results of all infinite analysis that is sufficiently deep. If you run into a position that you have analyzed previously, Aquarium will let you know.
     If you have a multiprocessor or multicore computer Aquarium allows you to store different infinite analysis configurations. There are a lot of different configurations, but on my quad-core laptop I chose to run infinite analysis using one core each for Houdini 2, Stockfish and Critter with a single analysis tab showing the best line of all three engines. I could have chosen, for example, to show 3 tabs with as many lines as I wanted for each engine, but I want to keep it simple.  Another nice thing is that by setting things up this way I still have one core available for other stuff without the engines slowing things down.  On the downside it takes longer to analyze using a single core, but that's not a problem for me.
Click to enlarge
     As you know, engines often show different first choices and evaluations, so the question is how to know which move is actually the best one.  In the lower left corner there are three green lights which give information about which engines are analyzing and the best move found so far.  I am not sure exactly what determines why +0.29 is listed in this example.
    Of course as is always the case, it will up to the user to determine which engine and which evaluation to believe if there is a wide discrepancy in the engine outputs, but it is still a very handy feature.  Also, in some cases if one is well-versed in engine analysis and has the patience, it is possible go very deeply into the position and find moves that don't show up in a routine analysis, but I can't help there because I am not that savvy.
     In any case, I am forcing myself to use Aquarium instead of my old favorite Fritz 12.  Will Aquarium become my new favorite?  Maybe.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Which Analysis Engine?

     I found this question asked on a forum and the one of the “engine experts” gave his opinion which was based on the number of engines being used (I assume when using Aquarium’s IDeA).  What I found interesting was his evaluation of the strengths of the engines.  One note though: the post was made a little over a year ago and so is somewhat outdated but it gives a general idea of the capabilities of different engines, especially the free versions.

Top choice for a single engine - Houdini 3
Stockfish - sometimes better in closed positions
Houdini 1.5a - reliable for an analysis in depth
Critter 1.6a sometimes better in endgame analysis and the second best after Houdini
Komodo 5 - sometimes yields some good ideas that are different from the others

Ivanhoe B46 - like Komodo 5
Deep Rybka 4.1 - it's good
Zappa Mexico II - because of its unique options for solving tactical positions that Houdini 3 "tactical mode" won't solve
Critter 0.90 - good for some endgame analysis and closed position analysis
Deep Fritz 10 - the most "human" engine

Houdini 2.0c is best on short time controls and it prunes lines recognized as bad better than others
Houdini 1.5a - almost as good as Houdini 2.0c
Critter 1.4a - some say it's better in closed positions and good at endgames without tablebases…very fast, but not as fast as Houdini 2.0
Rybka 4.1 is…most balanced one in all kinds of positions
Komodo 4 has original dynamic evaluation of the pieces' activity.
Strelka 5.1 - Very fast and original but with wrong numerical evaluations (for example +1.47 in a += position) which can be trusted only for a suggestion of the best move
Stockfish 2.2 or Ivanhoe 9.. - both good for a second engine
Robbolito 0.10 SMP - good as a second analyzing engine, too. It doesn't use endgame tablebases though

Friday, April 11, 2014

New Site: Simple Chess

From their webpage:
As you can tell from the name, SimpleChess is simple to navigate around the site. It is designed for amateur players who would like to have a good time by playing and /or learning online. Our playing zone has more than 800,000 members. You can play 24/7 against players from all over the world.

You can also play against computer at various levels. In addition, you can solve puzzles, read news or improvement tips, and watch instructional videos. To celebrate this historic World Championship in Chennai, India, between legendary World Champion Vishy Anand and world #1 Magnus Carlsen, you can play and learn FREE on SimpleChess until February 1, 2014. After that, some parts of the server will remain free, while others will be available at nominal fees. There will plenty of additions in the next few months. In the meantime, have fun and enjoy the greatest game on earth!

I have not played there but find it curious that it says you can play and learn FREE on SimpleChess until February 1, 2014. After that, some parts of the server will remain free, while others will be available at nominal fees.  Apparently things haven't been updated recently and when I visited and logged on 'Play' there were, according to the server, 270+ games being played.  Also, over 800,000 members?! If you are interested, check them out.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Should I play the Marshall Counterattack?

I recently started a new server game and the opportunity presented itself to play the Marshall, but a couple of bad memories made me decide otherwise. In one game (included in the notes) my opponent offered a draw in a position in which he stood better and in this game I lost rather badly. I was also dissuaded from playing the Marshall because I remembered my opponent’s remark when I played …d5 in this game: he said, ”I’m always happy to play against the Marshall.” I chickened out in my new game.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

ICCF, LSS and QueenAlice

     It has been a number of years since I played at ICCF so I was under the mistaken impression that one had to be a member of the CCLA in order to play at ICCF. However, I was recently informed that because the no engine rules in the USCF and CCLA were at odds with the ICCF’s allowance of them, one is no longer required to be a member of either the CCLA or the USCF to play in ICCF events. The top US player is GM Alik Zilberberg rated 2604 which puts him at number 40 on the rating list.
     I am in the North American Pacific Zone which includes Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, Japan, New Zealand and the US. They offer NAPZ Individual Open Class, NAPZ Individual Higher Class and NAPZ Individual Master Class. All events consist of 7 players (6 games) with a time limit of 10 moves in 40 days and the sections start when filled.

Qualifications for the tournaments are:
Individual Open (a) a player new to ICCF or without an ICCF rating. (b) a player rated below 1900 at the time of application.
Individual Higher Class (a) a player rated 1900 to 2099 at the time of application. (b) a player who has won an Open class tournament is entitled to one start in the Higher class, regardless of rating. (c) a player without an ICCF rating who is nominated by the National Federation and accompanied by a statement of qualification.
Individual Master Class a) a player rated 2100 or above at the time of application. (b) a player who has won a Higher-class tournament is entitled to one start in the Master class, regardless of rating. (c) a player without an ICCF rating who is nominated by the National Federation and accompanied by a statement of qualification.

     The entry fee for any of these events is $9.25 and must be paid using PayPal. Regarding ICCF play, I had to ask myself, because I would be playing CC in an organization that allows engine use, is having an “official” correspondence rating worth paying $9.25 per tournament?  Not to me. 

     Lechenicher SchachServer is free…totally. No dues and no tournament entry fees. They offer a full range of tournaments. Currently you can sign up for the LSS Anniversary 2014 Open. Players can register by subscribing to the waiting list and entries close on 15th April, 2014. In this event the group size is 11 players (10 games) with pairings done to create all groups of approximately the same rating average. The time limit is 30 basic plus 2 days per move.
     In addition to other open and class events they also have Chess960 tournaments. My personal preference is the Rapid tournaments, 7 players, 10 Basic plus 1 day per move and no vacations allowed because I no longer want to play a game lasting 2-3 years.
     Of course LSS ratings are “officially” meaningless, but in the world of “real” (OTB) chess, all correspondence ratings are meaningless. They always have been. Years ago, before engines, one CC GM went to an OTB tournament that advertised free entry to GM’s and the organizer wouldn’t let him enter for free; the CC GM title didn’t count. The top US player there is number 20 ranked Edward Kotlyanskiy at 2495.

    Queen Alice isn’t a bad site and for a couple of years I played there quite a bit, but apparently the site admin hasn’t been around for months and in the past they’ve had some server crashes; I had trouble logging on the site today because the server was moving at a snail’s pace. 
     It’s totally free and tournaments are automatically generated by the server and you are limited to the ones you qualify for based on your rating, beginner, intermediate, advanced, and master. Group sizes are 4 players, 2 games per opponent (i.e. 6 simultaneous games) with a time limit of 7 days per move. Or, if you want, you can also play as many individual (open) games as you want. 
     The one disadvantage to the tournaments is that if you win, you are automatically entered in the second round and have to play another 6 games. One advantage is that I didn’t run into a lot of engine users there even at the “master” level. Unlike the ICCF and LSS, real names are not used.

On all of these sites it appears that at the beginner and lower levels engine use is not an issue.  I have looked at some of the lower rated players' games and they definitely were not using engines.  Beyond that I cannot say, but you need to be aware that especially at ICCF and LSS from about 1800 and up engine use is  the norm and this means that whatever rating you start at is probably where you will stay unless you a) reach about 2300-2400 OTB and know when engines are recommending faulty moves or b) you become an expert at using engines.  For example, you go to the length to prepare openings as described HERE or you want to invest in a lot of software and master IDeA analysis with Aquarium as described HERE.  Obviously, these days correspondence chess is another animal and these days it's a far cry from the days when we used these:

"Sam" is Samuel Reshevsky

Monday, April 7, 2014

A Nice Win by Chigorin

     In 1890 Chigorin defeated Steinitz twice in a cable match. This game was mirrored in Gunsberg vs. Steinitz match of 1890 in which Steinitz claimed that his defense of the Evan's Gambit could, with best play for white, result in no more than a draw. The game with Gunsburg occurred while this game was adjourned at move 16. Steinitz lost both that game and this one. Steinitz never again played this line, opting for 6...d6, the more commonly accepted move.
     This game is worthy of study because Chigorin demonstrates how to play against an opponent’s cramped position and the way he finished off the game (i.e. winning a won position) is very instructive.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Prison Chess

     I have never been in prison and only know a couple of people who have but NM James R. Schroeder’s program for prisoners was a project I occasionally supported. But due to Schroeder’s age, the program is no longer in operation. Also, over the course of my postal chess career I played a few prisoners. The USCF at one time (maybe they still do) had a special request on their entry forms one could check if they did not want to be paired with prisoners. Obviously these opponents knew my name and home address, but I never had one show up at my door or anything.
     Sometimes playing prisoners can be problematic because of incidents like the one that that happened with the last prisoner I played. His chess material was confiscated in a shakedown and he was transferred to another prison. I didn’t know what happened to him for six weeks. When he contacted me and requested to continue the game even though he had been forfeited by the postal chess organization involved of course I agreed.
     Schroeder’s claim was that the rate of recidivism of inmates who played chess in prison is 10% while the rate of recidivism of inmates who did not play chess is 90%. For many years Schroeder accepted donations and bought books sets and boards which he sent to prisons. He wrote to every prison in the state of Ohio when he lived there and later in the state of Washington after he moved asking if they needed chess supplies. One prison, for example, wrote back that they could use 40 sets. Obviously such a program would require a tidy sum to fund.
     The USCF’s Patron Program says donations will be used for USCF projects consistent with the U.S. Chess Trust's activities: scholastic chess, junior chess, prison chess, and U.S. representation in international events. I checked their website and didn’t find anything specifically on prison chess. I suspect that it’s the other activities that get the bulk of the funds.
     A few years back Cook County (Chicago) Sheriff Tom Dart launched a chess program at the county jail. His hope was that inmates could take what they learned from a game that rewards patience and problem-solving and apply it to their own lives. He said, "We see it day-in and day-out that people want instant gratification and that often individuals do not think before they act…Thoughtless actions will hurt you while playing chess and hurt you more on the street."
     Does anyone know of a chess program for prisoners existing anywhere? If one had the time, ambition and funds, it might be a worthwhile project.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Fake Houdini 4 Engine

    A couple of days ago I ran into an old chessplaying friend at the local mall and he told me he runs Arena and had recently downloaded an illegal copy of Houdini 4 and was happy with it.  I warned him about the dangers of getting a virus doing that, but he stated he had scanned the program with antivirus software and everything was OK.
     I expressed some doubt about it being the real Houdini 4 and he agreed to e-mail me a copy.  I scanned it with Webroot and it looked OK so I installed in my Fritz 12 GUI and it worked fine.  I decided to run a G5 engine match with Houdini 2 vs Houdini 4 and went off to do something else.  When I returned I discovered 13 games had been played and Houdini 2 had scored +10 -1 =2.  Conclusion:  I don’t know what engine that the “Houdini 4” is, but clearly it’s not the real thing.  Watch those illegal downloads!!