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Friday, May 31, 2019

Abram Khasin - Nonagenarian

     Abram Iosifovich Khasin was born on February 15, 1923 and is the world's oldest master on the FIDE active list...his last rated game was played in June of 2015. 

Further reading:
# Today's 90 Year Olds Are Mentally Sharper Than Their Predecessors  
# How To Keep Your Brain Young  
# Brutal Truths About The Aging Brain 

     Khasin was awarded the IM title in 1964 and the Correspondence GM title in 1972. Currently his FIDE rating is 2318. Chessmetrics estimates his highest rating was in 1969 at a hefty 2625 placing him at number 45 in the world.
     Khasin was born in Zaporozhye in the Ukraine, but his parents soon moved to Kiev, the capital and most populous city of Ukraine. He taught himself to play chess at the rather later age of 16 and joined the Pioneers’ Palace where Bronstein and other famous players trained. His progress was rapid and he was soon playing at the Candidate Master (2125-2250) level. 
     In 1941 he qualified for the finals in the Kiev City Championship, but the tournament was not finished because of the war and the Khasin family was evacuated. Khasin volunteered to go to the front where he served in a mortar division. 
     In December 1942, he was severely wounded in Stalingrad and was hospitalized suffering from wounds which resulted in both legs being amputated. If that wasn’t bad enough, he was suffering from frostbite, pneumonia, blood infection and other illnesses. 
     After the war, Khasin graduated from the institute of foreign languages and went to work in a school as a teacher of English. He continued to play chess and became one of the USSR’s strongest players. Khasin often participated in Moscow’s championships and performed well. He qualified for the final USSR championship five times. Gradually he abandoned play and focused on teaching.
     In 1968 he was recognized as a trainer in the USSR and taught chess in the Central Chess Club, the Pioneers’ Palace and the chess faculty of a sports school that was attended by talented children from all over the country. Among his pupils were Olga Rubtsova, Elena Fatalibekova, Yuri Razuvaev, Boris Gulko and Evgeny Bareev. Since 2002, Khasin has been living with his family in Essen, Germany. 
     Khasin was Bronstein’s victim in a celebrated game from the 1957 USSR Championship in a game that has been praised for Bronstein’s unusual 25th move.  

White to play
    Kirby, writing in Chess World in 1957, called Bronstein's 25 Qa3 "the most remarkable, the most unbelievable winning move in chess. Believe it or not, Russian analysis has shown that it is the only clearly winning move.” 
     Bronstein’s explanation was that Khasin had a weak nervous system, so he decided to sac the Pawn because he knew that this was his best winning chance against an emotionally unstable opponent. 
     It’ not clear to me why 25.Qa3 was singled out as the winning move except that it was “unusual.” According to Stockfish it was indeed a do-nothing move in a position that was quite equal after Khasin grabbed the c-Pawn with 25...Bxc4.
     But...here’s the big reveal...Stockfish evaluates the position after Bronstein’s 26.f4 as being at least -1.50, so it’s strongly in black’s favor. White should have played 26.Bf3 or even 26.Ne5?! 
     Khasin went badly astray on move 28. After the moves 25.Qa3 Bxc4 26.f4 g4 27.e4 Bd4+ 28.Bf2 Bxf2+?? white is better, but it took further mistakes by Khasin to lose. Correct was 28...b5!! and it’s black who has a winning attack. 
     Of course in those days they didn’t have engines and in many cases the game was annotated based more on the result than anything else. 
     The following game was played in the third World Senior Championship. The first three were all held in Bad Wildbad, Germany. Originally, the age limit was 60 years for the men, and 50 for the women. 
     Since 2014, the Senior Championship is split in two different age categories with consequently two male and two female titles: 50+ and 65+. The championship is an eleven-round Swiss and is open tournament. A separate women's tournament is held if there are enough participants (at least 10 women from four different FIDE zones). The men's winner is awarded the title of GM; the women's winner receives the Woman GM title. 
    So far only two World Champions have won the Senior title: Vasily Smyslov for the men and Nona Gaprindashvili for the women. The loser of this game, Evgeny Vasiukov, won the title in 1995. 

Addendum: Zugzwang!!

Reader Mike Steve has provided additional information that appeared in a 1927 issue of Wiener Schachzietung. The participants included practically all the top players in Prague. Mr. Steve added that at some later date, likely after the world war, Dr. Karel Skalicka changed his first name to Carlos and dropped the accent mark on his last name. The crosstable:

Shortly after the Kautsky Memorial, the Prague City Championship took place. Thelen won with a score of 10-1 (no losses). The remaining finishers were Hradsky (7.5), Reifir (7.0), Hromadka (6.0), Ceha and Vecsey (5.5), Kubanek and Poisl (5.0), Grguric, Reimoser, and Runza (4.0) and Dr. Vitkovsky (2.0)

After the city championship a double round tournament was held in Prague. Hromadka won with 9.5-4.5, followed by Prokes, Rejfir, Skalicka (7.5) then Prokop, Schulz, Thelen, and Treybal (6.0).

Thursday, May 30, 2019


     Zugzwang (German for compulsion to move) is a situation found in chess and other games wherein one player is put at a disadvantage because they must make a move when they would prefer to pass and not move. The fact that the player is compelled to move means that their position will become significantly weaker. A player is said to be "in Zugzwang" when any possible move will worsen their position. 
     Although the term is used less precisely in chess, it is used specifically in combinatorial game theory to denote a move that directly changes the outcome of the game from a win to a loss. Putting the opponent in Zugzwang is a common way to help the superior side win a game, and in some cases, it is necessary in order to make the win possible. 
     The term was used in German chess literature in 1858 or earlier and the first known use of the term in English was by World Champion Emanuel Lasker in 1905. The concept of Zugzwang was known for centuries before the term was coined, appearing in an endgame study published in 1604 by Salvio, one of the first writers on the game. 
     Positions with Zugzwang occur fairly often in endings, especially K and P endgames. Zugzwang in the middlegame is an anomaly. The most famous examples in the middlegame are probably Alekhine-Nimzovich, San Remo 1930 and the Immortal Zugzwang Game, Saemisch-Nimzovich, Copenhagen 1923. How odd is it that Nimovich was a victim twice? 
     In the following game which appeared in Chernev’s The Chess Companion he wrote, “Even the great Houdini could not have wriggled out of this paralyzing Zugzwang.” The game was played in the Kautsky Memorial, Prague 1927. 
     I was unable to unearth much information about the tournament or the players except that it was held in memory of the Czech player Vaclav Kautsky (1880-1924). 
     The participants were Karel Hromadka, Ladislv Prokes, Carlos Skalicka, Joseph Rejfir, Bedrich Thelen, Frantisek Prokop, Jan Schulz Sr. and Frantisek Treybel, but I am not sure that is the order of finish. 
     Nor was I able to find anything about the players, Jan Schulz, Sr. (May 1899 – May 1953) and Bedrich Thelen (May 1905 – July 1972). Black’s play was pretty weak, but it’s still amusing to watch him get himself all tangled up to the point that he doesn’t have a single reasonable move. 

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

The 1951 US Open

Larry Evans
     The 1951 US Open, the 52nd, was held in Fort Worth, Texas July 9-21. The attendance of 98 was down a bit from the previous year. By round 7 there had been a total of 17 players who had withdrawn. Between them they had a score of +5 -36 =0 and 20 games were lost on forfeit. Officially though the 98 entries was the second-highest in the tournament's history. 
     The youngest of the new generation, 19-year-old Larry Evans, finished a clear first. A few months later, still 19 years old, Evans would win the US Championship ahead of Reshevsky. He aslo won his second title the next year (1952) by winning a match with Herman Steiner. 
 After 10 rounds the leading scores were: 
1-2) Evans and Whitaker 8.0 
3-5) Sandrin, Hearst and Cross 7.5 
6-10) Kashdan, Donovan, Magee, Fink and Fajan 7.0 

     In the 10th round Kashdan had lost to Whitaker and was out of the running...even his final two wins against Edmar Mednis and James T. Sherwin didn't improve his position much. Whitaker faded when he lost his last two games to Hearst and Cross. 
     In the last two rounds Evans only managed draws against Hearst and Magee, but it was enough. Albert Sandrin moved up to second place by winning his last two games against Sherwin and Cross. 

Final top scores: 
1) Larry Evans 10.0 
2) Albert Sandrin 9.5 
3-4) Eliot Hearst and Isaac Kashdan 9.0 
5-8) James Cross, Jeremiah Donovan, Lee Magee and Jose Florido 8.5 
9-13) A.J. Fink, Norman T. Whitaker, Juan Carlos Gonzalez, Harry Fajans and Alfred Ludwig 8.0 
14-21) Edgar T. McCormick, George Eastman, Robert S. Brieger, Edmar Mednis, James T. Sherwin, Raymond Martin, Thomas Jenkins, Lewis J. Isaacs and Arthur R Spiller 7.0 

     Here’s a fun game from the first round. Whitaker is, of course, quite well known. In the mid-1960s while playing in a tournament in North Carolina I arrived in the tournament room before the start of the round on Sunday morning and there was a likable old fellow on crutches who was adjudicating a game and telling stories. I did not know who he was at the time, but it was Whitaker. He was peddling his book, written with Glen Hartleb, titled 365 Selected Chess Endings. The book was written in both German and English and consisted of fairly difficult endgame studies. Whitaker was selling autographed copies for five dollars and promised, “If you learn everything in this book, you'll become a master.” 
     Become a master...those were the magic words, so like a lot of guys I bought a copy. I really didn't like the book and never learned everything in it so maybe that's why I never became a master. Who knows? Or was it a Whitaker mini-swindle? 

     Sam Sloan wrote that Whitaker played in several US Opens in the late 1940s and by the late 1950s, he was past his prime and so headed down South where he played in tournaments in North Carolina and Georgia where there were no masters. In those events, Whitaker would generally use only fifteen minutes. Sloan did not remember him winning any of those tournaments and on occasion he even lost to Experts and class players. 
     Whitaker’s opponent in this game was not Raymond Martin who tied for place 14 to 21 with 7 points, but the 55th place finisher D. B. Martin who scored 5.5-6.5. 
     Chessgames.com gives 95 games by Benjamin Martin, but I believe they have confused two players. The games date from 1951 to 2003 and includes games played by the New Zealand player Benjamin Martin, an IM who was joint New Zealand Champion in 1989/90 with Ortvin Sarapu. That Benjamin Martin was born in 1969, so he obviously wasn’t playing in the 1951 US Open. 
     Whitaker’s opponent was likely Dean B. Martin, who at the time was from Fort Worth, Texas. He won the won the Southwestern Junior Championship in 1952 and in 1953 was elected youth activities chairman of the Texas Chess Association. 
     I have a copy of the January 1955 issue of Chess Life and there is a D.B. Martin from San Marcos, Texas listed with a rating of 1957. San Marcos lies about half way between Austin and San Antonio. 
     In 1955, Whitaker was listed as having a rating of 2313, but had been kicked out of the USCF and barred "forever" from playing in USCF tournaments because he had circulated a mimeographed letter that “transcended all bounds of free speech in its attacks upon the character and integrity of USCF officials.” It also didn’t help his cause when Whitaker sued the USCF for what amounts to about $900,000 today for damages resulting from the publication of a brief reference to his connection with the Lindberg kidnapping hoax. At some point Whitaker’s tiff with the USCF was finally resolved. 

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Bukhuti Gurgenidze

     There was a lot going on in the US in 1968. It started in January when North Korea captured the American surveillance ship USS Pueblo in international waters, held the crew hostage and sparked an 11-month crisis that threatened to worsen already high Cold War tensions in the region. 
     Also in January, North Vietnam launched the bloody Tet Offensive. The coordinated attack by 85,000 Viet Cong and North Vietnamese targeted 36 major cities and towns in South Vietnam and caught the US military completely by surprise. 
     I remember this well because I had just gotten out of the military five months earlier and began receiving a letter every month promising me a promotion if I would return to military service. Meanwhile, I was watching the nightly news reports telling us how badly things were going in Vietnam and watching the body count pile up. I knew why they wanted be back. No thanks!  As it turned out, the Tet Offensive was the beginning of the end of US involvement in the Vietnam War. 
     On April 4th, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated as he was standing on the second floor balcony at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. Just two months later Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated in the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. 
     On a lighter note, in 1968 a movie entitled The Thomas Crown Affair was released that starred Steve McQueen as Thomas Crown. Crown staged a two million dollar bank heist and when he invited Vicki Anderson (played by Faye Dunaway), an insurance investigator who suspects that Crown was the brains behind the bank job, to his mansion where she saw a fancy chess set. 
     They ended up playing a game and by the 12th move they had reached a position that occurred in the game Zeissl-Walthoffen, Vienna 1898, a Ruy Lopez, Schliemann variation. In was a very seductive scene lasting about 7 minutes and ends with Crown saying, "Let's play something else" and the rest is up to your imagination. 
     One of the music scores for this scene was "The Chess Game," composed and conducted by Michel Legrand. The chess scene was spoofed in Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me.

    On an even lighter note, in November, actors Nichelle Nichols and William Shatner performed the first interracial kiss on American TV in an episode of the popular television series Star Trek. William Shatner, in his book Star Trek Memories, insists that they never actually kissed during the scene...their lips never touched. However, Nichols positively declares that they did actually kiss. In 1967, the year before the scene aired, the Supreme Court struck down nationwide laws that made marriage illegal in some states between blacks and whites, between whites and Native Americans, Filipinos, Asians and, in some states, "all non-whites.”
     In December, Apollo 8 was the first manned spacecraft to orbit the moon.
     The year 1968 saw several major tournaments taking place. There was the Olympiad in Lugano, won by the Soviet Union, of course. In Vinvovci, Yugoslavia Bobby Fischer scored +9 -0 =4 to finish in first place two points ahead of Hort and Matulovic who tied for second. 
     Palma de Mallorca was the strongest tournament in 1968.  It featured the World Champion Petrosian, his challenger Spassky, and Korchnoi, who had just lost to Spassky in the Candidates final match. Larsen, who had lost to Spassky in the Candidates Semifinal was there as was Gligoric, who had lost to Tal in the quarterfinal. In the tournament Korchnoi went undefeated and finished first ahead of Larsen and Spassky (tied). The World Champion finished 4th.
     Unbeknownst to most of the world, in Kislovodsk, a spa city in southwestern Russia, there was a chess tournament that received no publicity. The final standings were: 

1) Efim Geller 10.0 
2-3) Evgeni Vasiukov and Bukhuti Gurgenidze 9.0 
4) Eduard Gufeld 8.5 
5-6) David Bronstein and Abraham Khasin 8.0 
7-8) Felix Ignatiev and Victor Ciocaltea 7.0 
9-10) Leonid Shamkovich and Milorad Knezevic 7.0 
11) Karoly Honfi 6.0 
12-13) Vladimir Simagin and Stanimir Nikolic 5.0 
14) Ivo Ryc 3.5 
15) Petar Orev 3.0 

     The following game is a good example of the Gurgenidze Variation by its inventor, Bukhuti Gurgenidze (November 13, 1933 – May 24, 2008). A geologist by profession he was born in the small town of Surami in Georgia and was Georgian Champion many times; he also played in nine USSR Championships.
     His best result was his tie for first with Tal inTbilisi in 1969–70 and placed first at Olomouc in 1976. He was a member of the Soviet team that won the gold medals at the World Student Olympiads of 1957 and 1958. He was awarded the IM title in 1966 and the GM title in 1970. 
     Gurgenidze was a trainer to several women GMs in the Soviet Union, most notably former women's world champion Nona Gaprindashvili and her successor, Maia Chiburdanidze. He also worked with two of Chiburdanidze’s leading challengers, Nana Ioseliani and Nana Alexandria. During the 1990s, Gurgenidze was vice-president of the Georgian chess federation. 
     In the following game Gurgenidze played his system in the Modern Defense (or Robatsch Defense as it is called in Modern Chess Openings 14th edition) against Hungarian IM Karoly Honfi (October 25, 1930 - August 14, 1996). Honfi was awarded the GM title shortly after his death. 

     The Gurgenidze Variation is a very solid system where black aims to hold things on the K-side and gradually develop Q-side counterplay which is exactly what happens in this game. 
     There are a number of books available on this slippery defense (Pirc and Modern) claiming it can be played by black against absolutely any white opening system and it is an ambitious, counterattacking weapon, favored by dynamic players. While this is true, very often the implication is that as a “system” it doesn’t require a lot of preparation, which is not true. 
     As GM Alex Yermolinsky pointed out, white has a wide range of options and what he decides to do will depend on his own preferred opening repertoire. As a result, what black does to meet white’s moves is going to require a lot of knowledge of different setups. Only then can black take advantage of the defense’s flexibility. 

Monday, May 27, 2019

To My Friends Who Didn’t Make It Home

     For many of us here in the US this Memorial Day is a time to spend with family and enjoy cookouts, but the real meaning of the holiday is for remembering and honoring people who died while serving in the United States military. 
     In remembrance of my friends who were killed in action in Vietnam...I remember them like it was yesterday. 

Andrew Alderman, Hospital Corpsman Third Class (Fleet Marine Force), Navy, Mar 17, 1967 
Claude Howard, Sergeant, Marine Corps, May 26, 1967 
Thomas Gopp, Corporal, Marine Corps, Aug. 3, 1967 
Larry Walton, Lance Corporal, Marine Corps, Jan 7, 1968 
Joseph Wiltsie, Hospital Corpsman (Fleet Marine Force), Navy, May 31, 1969
Gregg Heidrich, Private First Class, Army, Sep 21, 1969 

Special tribute to: James E. Soliday, Commander, Navy, April 1, 2012. Commander Soliday served in Vietnam as a Hospital Corpsman Second Class (Fleet Marine Force) from 1967-68, where he received two Purple Hearts and a Bronze Star with Combat V. He suffered serious wounds and his death at the age of 66 was, in part, due to the wounds he received.

More information on Navy Corpsmen (aka "Devil Docs")

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Was Thomas Paine Really Saved By A Chess Game?

Thomas Paine
     Thomas Paine (1737 – 1809) was an American Revolutionist who is famous in US history as the author of The Rights of Man and Common Sense
     In 1793 he was arrested in France for treason. Before moving to France, Paine was an instrumental figure in the American Revolution as the author of Common Sense, writings used by George Washington to inspire the American troops. 
     Paine moved to Paris to become involved with the French Revolution, but the chaotic political climate turned against him and he was arrested and jailed for crimes against the country. 
     When he first arrived in Paris, Paine was heartily welcomed and granted honorary citizenship by leaders of the revolution who enjoyed his anti-royalty book The Rights of Man. However, before long he ran afoul of his new hosts because he favored the exile of King Louis XVI rather than his execution. Paine was strictly opposed to the death penalty under all circumstances and he vocally opposed the French revolutionaries who were sending hundreds to the guillotine. 
     He also began writing a provocative new book, The Age of Reason, which promoted the controversial notion that God did not influence the actions of people and that science and rationality would prevail over religion and superstition.
     Although Paine realized that sentiment was turning against him in the autumn of 1793, he remained in France because he believed he was helping the people. 
     After he was arrested, Paine was taken to Luxembourg Prison. The jail was formerly a palace and was unlike any other jail. He was treated to a large room with two windows and was locked inside only at night. His meals were catered from outside and he was permitted servants although he did not take advantage of that particular luxury. While in prison, he continued to work on The Age of Reason
     Paine’s imprisonment in France caused an uproar in America and future President James Monroe used all of his diplomatic connections to get Paine released in November 1794. 
     Ironically, it wasn’t long before Paine came to be despised in the United States, as well. After The Age of Reason was published, he was called an anti-Christ and his reputation was ruined.  
     Thomas Paine died a poor man in 1809 in New York. After his death in New York City the newspapers read: He had lived long, did some good and much harm. 
     There is a story that says Paine was scheduled to be guillotined, but his wife intervened. This happened in July of 1794 in the midst of the Reign of Terror during which tens of thousands were executed. Robespierre’s belief was “Spare the guillotine, spoil the revolutionary.”
     The Cafe de la Regence was a famous chess venue in Paris just beside the Louvre museum. During the Age of Enlightenment, many philosophers played chess and expounded on their new ideas about the game. The Cafe was opened in 1670 and was owned by an American. 
     In 1740 the Cafe de la Regence inherited the title of the chess Mecca where many famous chess players came to play. High class citizens could be found there at any time and many famous people played chess there including Ben Franklin, Rousseau, Robespierre, and Napoleon. 
     According to the story Paine’s wife supposedly frequented the Cafe de la Regence where Robespierre often played chess and defeated him in a game. Robespierre challenged her again and promised to grant any wish if she won again which she did and asked that her husband’s life be spared and as a result Paine was released from prison. This story seems improbable because it’s unlikely that women were even allowed in the Cafe at that time. 
     One source discounts the story claiming that Paine wasn't married at the time. His first wife died in 1760 and he and his second wife were legally separated prior to his move to America in 1774. 
     In that version Paine’s avoiding the guillotine is attributed to his fellow prisoners. Paine had two talents: speaking in favor of revolutions and making enemies. The American minister to France, Governeur Morris, had no love for Paine and after a few half-hearted attempts to secure his release gave up claiming he couldn’t do anything because Paine was an English citizen. 
     The story continues: In jail, Paine developed a severe fever, possibly typhus and for several days it seemed he might die. To aid his fever, the other prisoners asked the guards to keep the door open at night to let the air circulate more freely. The guards agreed and that's what saved Paine’s life. 
     The night before an execution, a guard would walk around the jail cells and mark an X in chalk on the door of the prisoner who was to be executed the next morning. Because Paine’s cell door was opened so wide that it lay flat against the wall, the man marked the X on the inside of the door. In the morning, the prisoners closed the door and the executioner walked right by. Three days later the Reign of Terror ended with Robespierre’s head in the guillotine. This does not sound plausible to me. How could one miss seeing the door was open even if it was at night?! 

     The official historical version is that soon after Paine’s arrest James Monroe was selected as the new American Ambassador to France and he was a huge fan of Paine and worked tirelessly for his release, which he secured in November.
     Paine spent the next two years living with the Monroes and continuing to write on the Revolution. 
     The site US History states that Paine was freed in 1794 (after narrowly escaping execution) thanks to the efforts of Monroe and remained in France until 1802 when he returned to the US on an invitation from Thomas Jefferson. 
     Paine discovered that his contributions to the American Revolution had been all but eradicated due to his religious views. Derided by the public and abandoned by his friends, he died on June 8, 1809 at the age of 72 in New York City. When Paine was buried on his farm in New Rochelle, New York his grave didn’t even get the low stone wall around it that he specified in his will. 
     There are similar stories of women defeating Robespierre at a game of chess and securing the release of a condemned man that don’t involve Thomas Paine at all. 
     One story goes that the lady was Jacqueline Armand, the fiance of a duke about to be guillotined. She cut off her hair so she could enter the Cafe de la Regence. When the seat in front of Robespierre became vacant, she took it, asking a special favor if she won, offering money if she lost. She won, and her lover went free. 
     Yet another story says it was the wife of the Marquis de Merin who defeated Robespierre. She was disguised as a man, wearing a wig. When she beat him, Robespierre reached for his wallet and asked how much he. She responded, "Yes, you lost the game, but all I claim is the life of an innocent man." She then handed Robespierre a release note for the Marquis, who had recently been condemned to death by guillotine. Robespierre admired her courage and signed the release note. 
     There is still another story that appeared in Fraser's Magazine in 1840. It says the condemned man was a young French officer, not Tomas Paine, and a young girl (no mention of fiancee or wife) came to the cafe attired in men's clothing. She checkmated Robespierre, then revealed she was a woman and demanded the life of the French officer. She left with a written order for his immediate release and with a passport to safely leave France. 
     Thomas Paine was quite an interesting fellow and his story continues even today. Some ten years after his death a journalist named William Cobbett dug up Paine's body and shipped it to England where he hoped to build a proper memorial. In England customs agent found the body, but let it pass. 
     Cobbett couldn't raise the money for the memorial so Paine remained in a trunk in his attic. After Cobbett's death, Paine's remains began disappearing as family members started selling body parts. 
     Legend has it that his bones were turned into buttons and in the 1930s, a woman in Brighton claimed to have his jawbone. 
     When in 2001 the Citizen Paine Restoration Initiative of New Rochelle planned to bring his remains back to yet another “final resting place” they struck a snag...it seems bits and pieces of his body are scattered all over the world. 
     Parts of Paine might still be in England, possibly in the form of those buttons. A rib might be in France and a man in Australia who claims to be a descendant says he has Paine's skull. 
     His mummified brain stem and a lock of hair is in possession of the farm’s historical association which says it is keeping in a secret location. The historical society was unsuccessful tracking down as many bones as possible for an eventual reinterment.
      So, who, if anybody, escaped getting their head lopped off by defeating Robespierre in a chess game?

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Henry Bruce Cobb Ellenband aka Bruce Hayden

     Way, way back I had a chess book titled Cabbage Heads and Chess Kings by Bruce Hayden. It is a book of witty remarks about unusual chess positions and strange games by famous old masters. Sam Sloan republished it in 2017.
     The book says Bruce Hayden is a chess writer of repute, a skilled player and as a commentator he possesses, in addition to considerable learning, a quick sense of the strange and curious. 
     His articles are not mere comments and exhaustive analysis of famous games, nor are they lessons on how to play chess. They are in the fullest sense of the word chess essay. Certainly they are often concerned with particular games or points of play but they are essentially the reflections and musings of a humorous, intelligent, informed journalist with many years of club and tournament experience. 
     This is a book for all players and enthusiasts a book to dip into at idle moments an ideal companion for the chess player whether a type (sic) or a master. 
     Sloan’s bio on Hayden can be read on Amazon’s “Look Inside” feature HERE. Chess Scotland has more detailed information on him. 
     The following game against William A. Winser (December 9, 1906 – June 12, 1991) is Hayden’s only known serious game. Winser holds the distinction of winning the Hasting Chess Club Championship 25 times between 1933 and 1978! The Hastings club website has a bio on him HERE

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Tinkering With Chess King Diamond Pro

     I have two chess programs on my laptop, ChessOK Aquarium 2014 and the ancient (2010) Fritz 12. I used to have Chess Assistant, but that was lost when the old hard drive crashed. I still have access to it on the old drive, but can't get it to run. Somehow I got Aquarium and Fritz up and running off the old hard drive. Then I found the Fritz CD lurking in the drawer of a file cabinet. The CD was purchased at the now defunct Office Max for $20 which was a fraction of what it was selling for on all the chess sites of the day. 
     I also have a couple of other old programs I received free from the owner of a chess mail order business when I e-mailed the company looking for a specific database. The one program is so old it won't work on Windows 8 and up, but I have a really old laptop that it works on. I got the programs free because they are so old they are off the market and also because the owner is a friend. In any case, all I was interested in was the database. 
     Aquarium doesn't get used much. It's a nice program and I like its appearance, but Fritz is just a whole lot easier to use. 
     But, the whole point of this post is that a while back I got to tinker with Chess King Diamond Pro 2018 which sells for $100, give or take a few dollars depending on where you buy it. Or, I see you can get the Chess King Standard 2017 version for a fraction of that...about $40. The big difference seems to be that it comes with the single core Houdini 2 engine. 
     It is sold with both Mac and PC installers and what is really nice is that it allows up to 4 activations! Very handy if you have more than one laptop, especially if, as happened to me a few months ago, a hard drive goes bad. 
     A few days ago I got to tinker with a friend's newly installed Chess King Diamond Pro and was interested to see how it stacks up against my other programs. 
     As with all programs, some reviewers liked it, some didn't. One reviewer didn't like it at all and said it's like a donkey you can't get to move or analyze, the videos are hard to follow and of poor quality. This may or may not be a problem with his computer because nobody else seems to have had issues.
     Chess King Diamond Pro includes the Houdini 6 Pro and a game database with over 6 million games, a database of commented games and a large correspondence database, bringing the total of games included to 6.8 million games. 
     The blurb in their ads says Houdini 6 Pro is the choice of most of the world’s GMs. I don't know how true that is, but on the CCLR 40/40 list the top engines are Stockfish 10 (3464), Komodo 11.3 (3398) and Houdini 6 Pro (3397). The ratings don't tell the whole story though...Houdini has an equal score against Komodo, but against Stockfish it's result are a dismal +0 -11 =39!! Of course, unless you are playing correspondence chess on which engine use is permitted or you are preparing to play a GM, then Houdini's record against Stockfish is pretty meaningless because it's still very strong. 
     Both installers for PC and Mac are included. The PC version is compatible with all windows versions from XP, Vista, 7, 8, up to Windows 10. It can be installed English, French, German, Spanish and Russian. Internet connection required only during installation for engine Houdini activation. 
     There are a lot of Chess King tutorials by Alexandra Kosteniuk and Steve Lopez on Youtube. I think you could use some of the advice on how to train with Chess King and make it applicable to any program so some of the information in the video may be valuable regardless of what program you use. 
     How did it stack up against Fritz 12?  While playing around with Chess King, I found it intuitive and easy-to-use, much like the old Fritz GUI. There are a lot of training features, but because none of them appeal to me, I didn't check them out. 
     You can play against the engine in the Fun Mode that offers hints and take backs or in Rated Mode where the program estimates your Elo rating after every game. I am not sure how accurate this feature really is. Naturally, the engine playing strength is adjustable. 
     One feature I did not get to check out was creating a database of a particular player's games and then generating a tree to analyze their tendencies. You can then set the engine to analyze what the best move would be against those tendencies. Again, I am not sure how useful or accurate this feature would be. 
     It proved very easy to annotate games and insert diagrams and you can even create PDF files from a game. The user interface is attractive and easy to use, maybe even a little more so than Fritz' which is much simpler than Aquarium or Chessbase. 
     Engines: This is one thing I really forgot to check!  I am not sure if the Chess King Diamond Pro 2018 allows you to download and use other engines. I couldn't find an answer on the internet! 
    The basic Chess King is optimized to use a custom version of Houdini 2 and Chess King Pro uses Houdini 6 Pro. They say that if you want to use another engine, you could edit the file engines.xml file or simply rename the new engine. In any case, not being able to use Stockfish would be a deal breaker for me. 
Good if you like plain vanilla
     In the end, I found Chess King to be a pretty decent program and it was certainly easy to navigate. I would describe it as good and label it plain vanilla. 
     If I was in the market for a program today, I would go for Fritz 16. It costs about $80 and has a ton of training features if that's important to you.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Sixth American Congress and a Couple of Forgotten Giants

     In 1889, the President was Grover Cleveland, the only president to serve two non-consecutive terms in office. Cleveland was an interesting fellow. 
     There were juicy allegations of philandering, an illicit pregnancy and a coverup. A bachelor, he was ill at ease at first with all the comforts of the White House. “I must go to dinner,” he wrote a friend, “but I wish it was to eat a pickled herring, a Swiss cheese and a chop at Louis’ instead of the French stuff I shall find.” In June 1886 the 49 year old Cleveland married 21-year-old Frances Folsom; he was the only President married in the White House. 
     He was different from today’s politicians. He said, “What is the use of being elected or re-elected unless you stand for something?” 
     He was tight fisted with Federal money. He vetoed a bill to appropriate $10,000 to distribute seed grain among drought-stricken farmers in Texas and wrote: “Federal aid in such cases encourages the expectation of paternal care on the part of the Government and weakens the sturdiness of our national character. . . . ” 
     He rightfully vetoed many pension bills to Civil War veterans whose claims were fraudulent. When Congress, pressured by the Grand Army of the Republic, passed a bill granting pensions for disabilities not caused by military service, Cleveland vetoed it, too. 
     He angered the railroads by ordering an investigation of western lands they held by Government grant and forced them to return 81,000,000 acres. He also signed the Interstate Commerce Act, the first law attempting Federal regulation of the railroads. When railroad strikers in Chicago violated an injunction, Cleveland sent Federal troops to enforce it. “If it takes the entire army and navy of the United States to deliver a post card in Chicago,” he thundered, “that card will be delivered.” 
     Naturally his policies were generally unpopular and his party deserted him and nominated William Jennings Bryan in 1896. 
     In 1889, four states—North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, and Washington—were created. A dollar was worth the equivalent of $26.64 in 2017 dollars. 
     In March a German naval force shelled a village in Samoa, destroying some American property. As a result three American warships enter the Samoan harbor and prepared to fire on the three German warships, but before they could open fire a hurricane commenced blowing and sunk all six ships. The result was an armistice was called because of the lack of warships.  
     In June the Johnstown Flood hit and in November the first jukebox went into operation at the Palais Royale Saloon in San Francisco. 
     After the new title of World Champion was invented and claimed by Wilhelm Steinitz after he defeated Johannes Zukertort in a match in 1886, and then adopted the US as his home with the result that the popularity of chess was on the upswing during the late 1880s. 
     In New York the strongest chess tournament ever held up until that time took place. It was supposed to be for the World Championship, but it has never been recognized as such, primarily because Steinitz, who helped organize the event and who was present as a journalist ans wrote a book on it, refused to play
     According to the rules, the tournament was to be for the World Championship as long as four Europeans played, but actually half the field was from Europe: Chigorin, Gunsburg, Blackburne, Burn, Bird, Mason, Pollock, Gossip, Taubenhaus and Weiss...all of the leading players of the world except for Steinitz. 
     The Sixth American Congress’ main event would be a double round robin tournament of twenty players. A world championship match would then follow based on the results. 
     When the required sum of $5,000 became available in 1888, the tournament was scheduled for the following year. It was during this period that Steinitz and Mikhail Chigorin played their first world championship match in Havana from January 20th until February 24th 1889 with Steinitz winning 10.5-6.5 and the New York tournament started only one month later. Steinitz was scheduled to play, but withdrew leaving the organizing committee horrified. 
     The schedule called for six games played per week with rounds beginning at at 1pm and continuing until 5pm with a break for dinner and then resumed as necessary at 7pm with games adjourned at 11pm. Adjourned games were completed on rest days. The time limit of was moves per hour. 
     The rules concerning draws was somewhat unique. They counted as a half a point in the first cycle of nineteen rounds, but had to be replayed once during the second cycle, with the second result standing. 
     The tournament lasted from March 25th until May 27th 1889. The Congress consisted of 38 normal rounds, 8 replay rounds, and 4 playoff rounds, for a grand total of 50 rounds. 
     At the end Weiss shared first prize with Chigorin and a four game playoff was intended to determine a clear winner to face Steinitz for the world crown, but they drew all four playoff games. 
     Lipschutz, as the highest placing American, lobbied to be considered the American champion that year, but was unable to generate unanimous support. Jackson Showalter was also making a name for himself in the Midwest at this time, winning at Cincinnati 1888, and at Saint Louis, in February 1890. The rivalry between the two culminated in a short match in 1890, won by Showalter, who claimed the National Title. 
     New York 1889 can be regarded as the first candidates’ tournament because the winner had the obligation to start a match against Steinitz within a month. But, as neither Weiss nor Chigorin wanted to play a championship match against Steinitz, the Committee cancelled the match. 
     The third prize winner Gunsberg was interested in a match against Steinitz in New York. First Gunsberg drew a match against Chigorin in Havana at the beginning of 1890 and based on that result, Steinitz accepted the challenge. They played a match at the Manhattan Club later that year. Steinitz won with 10.5-8.5. 

1-2) Weiss and Chigorin 29.0-9.0 
3) Gunsberg 28.5-9.5 
4) Blackburne 27.0-11.0 
5) Burn 26.0-12.0 
6) Lipschutz 25.5-12.5 
7) Mason 22.0-16.0 
8) Judd 20.0-18.0 
9-10) Delmar and Showalter 18.0-20.0 
11) Pollock 17.5-20.5 
12-13) Bird and Taubenhaus 17.0-21.0 
14) D. Baird 16.0-22.0 
15) Burille 15.0-23.0 
16) Hanham 14.0-24.0 
17-18) Gossip and Martinez 13.5-24.5 
19) J. Baird 7.0-31.0 
20) MacLeod 6.5-31.5 
First Place Playoff: all four games drawn 

     For winning the following game Pollock was awarded a special prize of $50 donated by Professor Isaac Rice for the most beautiful game in the second round. Steinitz described the game: Mr Pollock’s play from the 17th move renders this game one of the finest monuments of chess ingenuity, and altogether it belongs to the most brilliant gems in the annals of practical play.
     Neither Pollock nor Weiss are well known today. In his time W.H.K. Pollock (February 21, 1859 – October 5, 1896) was celebrated for his spectacular combinations and original style of play. He seldom won any tournaments, but in Belfast, 1886 he scored 8-0 and finished ahead of Blackburne and Burn. 
     Pollock was a surgeon. He studied in Dublin from 1880–82, at which time he was a member of the Dublin Chess Club. In 1882, he joined the Royal College of Surgeons in Dublin and his first published game and problem appeared in The Practical Farmer. Upon receiving his medical license Pollock returned to England and worked as a surgeon. 
     After Pollock participated in the Sixth American Congress he moved to Baltimore, Maryland as the resident chess professional and soon was writing a chess column for the Baltimore Sunday News, as well as reports on American chess for the British Chess Magazine. In 1892, he was Wilhelm Steinitz's secretary. 
     In 1895 he represented Canada at the famous Hastings 1895 tournament where he finished 19th out of 22, but did defeat Tarrasch and Steinitz. 
     Following the tournament, Pollock's health progressively deteriorated due to tuberculosis, commonly called “consumption” in those days. Without proper treatment up to two thirds of people ill with TB will die. 
     It was only March 24, 1882, that Dr. Robert Koch had announced the discovery of the bacteria that causes tuberculosis. During this time, TB killed one out of every seven people living in the United States and Europe. It wasn’t until 1943 that Selman Waksman discovered a compound that acted against the bacteria. Called streptomycin, it was first given to a human patient in November 1949 and the patient was cured. 
     In August 1896, Pollock returned to England, where he died at the age of 37 at his father's home in Clifton. 
     Max (aka Miksa) Weiss (July 21, 1857 – March 14, 1927) is probably even less well known than Pollock. Born in the Kingdom of Hungary, Weiss moved to Vienna where he studied mathematics and physics at the university and later taught both subjects there. 
     Weiss learned to play chess at age 12 and his strength increased steadily throughout the 1880s. After having become one of the top players in the world, Weiss quit international chess after this tournament, though he did play a few Viennese events. In 1905 Weiss was employed by S. M. von Rothschild bank in Vienna. 
     These two fellows have been forgotten by the chess world. Chessmetrics assigns Pollock an all time high rating of 2451 in 1889 ranking him number 23 in the world. Weiss gets assigned a rating of 2779 on the same list putting him at number 4 in the world behind Steinitz, Gunsberg and Chigorin. By the time Weiss retired from chess, Chessmetrics has him rated at 2580 and he was still in the world’s top 25 players. Truly. Weiss was a forgotten man, having been among the world’s elite players during his short career.