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Friday, February 26, 2021

Polar Owl's Most Famous Chess Prisoner

     Polar Owl is an unofficial name of a correctional facility that lies beyond the Arctic Circle almost 1,200 miles from Moscow in the settlement of Harp. It's near the banks of the Sob River and is surrounded by tundra and hills. 
     Referred to as a colony, it was established in 1961 as a camp for prisoners engaged in the construction of a railway. Later, the camp was transformed into a strict-regime colony for especially dangerous recidivists and these days it is a place for life-term convicts...serial killers, state criminals, dangerous recidivists and such like serve their term here. 
     Prisoners are sent there from Moscow either by train or plane. The train trip takes two days, but it's only three hours by plane. Upon arrival prisoners are taken by motor transport and cross the Ob River by ferry and then are driven on to the Polar Owl. 
     The Polar Owl colony functions autonomously and includes a boiler house, bakery, diesel power station, canteen and production departments for the making of cinder blocks and crushed stone. It also has marble, sewing, tailor, machine and carpentry shops. Prisoners provide themselves and the nearby towns with the necessary items. They also breed birds and pigs. 
     Life there is not pleasant. Convicts are allowed to receive one parcel a year and they can go for a walk in a small cage once a day for 90 minutes. Once a week they get 10 minutes in the shower. 
     Their cells have a bed, table, bedside table, closed shelf where they can store food, a shelf for toiletries, water tank, clothes hanger and a toilet. Prisoners are not allowed to lie down on the bed during the day and they can only talk to cellmates in a whisper. 
     When they leave the cell they are searched and must answer their guards with, "Yes, citizen chief." All movements are carried out in handcuffs and in a bent over at the waist position. Convicts are not allowed to communicate during walks or when visiting the bath. Visits with relatives are allowed for no longer than two hours. Sporting events, watching movies and the opportunity to improve their education are all prohibited.    

     The only prisoners are those who committed particularly serious crimes like serial killers, terrorist and, also, the former leader of a neo-Nazi terrorist organization. The climate is not nice either. Full summer lasts only a month. 
     One of the most infamous prisoners is serial killer Alexander Yuryevich Pichushkin (born April 9, 1974), also known as The Chessboard Killer. He was a man far more evil than Claude F. Bolldgood III who only smashed one person's head in with a hammer...his mother. Pichushkin smashed in dozens. 
     Nobody knows for certain how many victims he had, but he is believed to have killed at least 48 people, and possibly as many as 60, between 1992 and 2006 in Southwest Moscow's Bitsa Park where most of the victims' bodies were found.
     In his early years Pichushkin was a sociable child, but this changed after he fell backwards off a swing which then struck him in the forehead as it swung back. It's been speculated that this damaged his frontal cortex. This sort of damage is known to produce poor impulse regulation and a tendency towards aggression. Since Pichushkin was still a child, the damage would have been more severe, as a child's forehead provides only a fraction of the protection for the brain compared to an adult's. 
     Following this accident, he frequently became hostile and impulsive and his mother soon transferred him to a school for children with learning disabilities. Prior to his transfer, children physically and verbally bullied him referring to him as "that retard." This abuse only intensified his rage and hostility. 
     By the time he reached early adolescence his grandfather recognized that Pichushkin was highly intelligent and felt his talents were being wasted because he wasn't involved in any activities at home and at school they were focused only on overcoming his disabilities. For that reason his grandfather took Pichushkin into his home and encouraged him to pursue intellectual pursuits outside of school. His was especially interested in chess and eventually began playing games against men at the public park. It turned out that Pichushkin was pretty good and chess was a channel for his aggression. 
     In the public school the bullying continued throughout his adolescence and he suffered an emotional blow when his grandfather died and he had to return to his mother's home. At that time he began consuming large quantities of vodka. He continued to play chess and joined the older men in drinking vodka. 
     It was at this time that whenever Pichushkin knew he was going to come into contact with children, he would take a video camera along and then threaten the children. In one case he held a young child upside down by one leg and informed the child he was was in Pichushkin's power and he was going to drop him to death out of the window. 
     By 1992, this practice had become insufficient to satisfy his urges. Russian media speculated that Pichushkin was motivated, in part, by a macabre competition with another notorious Russian serial killer, Andrei Chikatilo, the Rostov Ripper. 
     Pichushkin told authorities his aim was to kill 64 people, the number of squares on a chessboard, but he later admitted that he would have continued killing indefinitely had he not been caught. 

     Pichushkin committed his first murder on July 27, 1992 when he was 18 years old. The victim had been classmate and Pichushkin had invited him on a killing expedition. Pichuskin had told his former classmate that he wanted to kill someone and suggested they team up. When Pichushkin realized that his partner was not serious, he killed him instead. 
     Pichushkin stepped up his crimes in 2001, targeting primarily elderly homeless men by luring them with the offer of vodka. After drinking with them, he would kill them with blows to the head with a hammer then throw them down sewers in a park. His trademark was a vodka bottle shoved into the wound in their skulls.
     Eventually this ceased to satisfy him; "I needed more emotions." He also targeted younger men, children and women. He would always attack from behind in order to take the victim by surprise and to avoid getting his clothes bloody. 
     The murder of a 36-year old woman in June 2006, was his last. When her body was found there was a metro ticket in her possession which led authorities to review surveillance tape footage from the Moscow metro system. She was filmed just hours before her death walking on the platform accompanied by Pichushkin. 
     After Pichushkin was arrested he led police to the scenes of many of his crimes and remembered in detail how he committed each one. He claimed that while killing people he felt like God. "In all cases I killed for only one reason. I killed in order to live, because when you kill, you want to live." And, "For me, life without murder is like life without food for you. I felt like the father of all these people, since it was me who opened the door for them to another world." 
     Pichushkin was found sane, but suffering from antisocial personality disorder and narcissistic personality disorder. During his trial Pichushkin was housed in a glass cage for his own protection. In October 2007, he was convicted of 49 murders and 3 attempted murders. He asked the court to add an additional 11 victims to his body count, bringing his claimed death toll to 60, and 3 surviving victims. He was sentenced to life in prison with the first 15 years to be spent in solitary confinement. 
     In March of 2008, Pichushkin gave the Russian tabloid Tvoi Den an exclusive interview and some of what he said seems incoherent. He admitted that he liked toying with the police and risky murders made him feel powerful. In fact. during the trial he bragged about how he carried out of all the murders. 
     He usually befriended his victims (he knew 20 of them from playing chess with them in the park) who varied in age and sex, by offering them to have a drink of vodka to mourn his dead dog, which he said he’d buried in a secluded area of the local park. 
     He never raped his victims, but after he'd bash their head in with a hammer he stuck empty vodka bottles and twigs into the holes because he liked the sound of a skull splitting. A few were strangled or killed with a homemade pipe pistol. To get rid of the corpses, he’d dump the bodies into the sewer, sometimes while they were still alive. Many of the victims were never found. 
     In prison he liked the hot water, but complained that the time in the shower was too short. As for human life, he claimed it's cheaper than a sausage and he would cut his lawyer open like a fish. He also added, "I would have killed him like an insect, and I would receive much pleasure from the process. I would cut him up and make belts out of his flesh." 
     Commenting on religion and politics, Pichushkin stated he would not read the Bible, never prayed to God and never would. Those who sacrificed themselves to the State Russian government were weak. He added that he never missed a chance to vote. 
     Pichushkin said he had nightmares about a dog that lived with him. He sometimes lured his victims by asking them to go mourn at dog's grave in the park and have a couple of shots of vodka before killing them. It claimed it was his fault the dog died because he treated it badly. 
     He stated that he received more pleasure from killing people whom he knew personally. He had no regret over the murders. He knew he was caught when authorities started questioning him about 12 victims then added that they were surprised to find he actually killed 60. 
     He told the interviewer that he never watched sports and that he would like to live in Mexico because it's warm there and there are forests. After the reporter told Puchushkin that Mexico doesn’t have forests, he replied, "Do you want to tell me there are no jungles? Like Freddy Krueger said, Elm Street exists in every city." 
     None of his chess games exist.

Thursday, February 25, 2021

The Death of Correspondence Chess (and an Alleged Soviet Mole)

     After returning to correspondence chess 20 years ago after a long hiatus, I quickly discovered that even on sites where engines weren't allowed many players were using them anyway. At first it wasn't much of a problem because with some effort an engine could be beaten. Of course, things eventually reached the point where they couldn't be beaten and I quit playing correspondence chess again.
     Then around 10 years ago I discovered Lechenicher SchachServer, a site where engines are allowed and thought it might be interesting to experiment with different openings and engines. Over 80 percent of my games were drawn. Of course a few games will produce decisive results, but how can you increase your chances of winning? 
     A while back I was following a forum conversation between players who are more successful at correspondence chess than I and found their methods interesting. As one of them observed, there is not a great deal of life left in CC because Stockfish is just too strong and even on a modest laptop it rarely loses even in positions that were once felt to be promising. 
     With decent hardware, diligent time management and careful play a draw seems almost unavoidable. In fact, most losses are due to 1) entering the wrong move (it happens!) or 2) not checking the engine's suggestions properly, and 3) a scant few players aren't using the strongest engines. 
     A fourth factor that results in lost games is playing a bad opening. One fellow wrote that when playing on ICCF (engines allowed) he used Aquarium and created an opening tree with almost 5 million positions!! At the start of a game the opening tree is his main decision maker. When he gets to a position where the tree has fewer than "a few thousand" positions he begins a hunt for the best move using Infinite Analysis; other players prefer to use Aquarium's IDeA. 
     It wasn't always that way. In the old days players could consult books, but the moves were their own. And, in those days top correspondence players were REAL masters and Grandmasters, not an average player with an engine and a penchant for conducting deep research. 
     After C.J.S. Purdy won the first world correspondence championship he vowed never try and repeat the performance because it was simply too time consuming and too much work. 
     On his way to winning that first world championship Purdy lost one game and it was to a British player Graham Mitchell who was a most interesting character. He was a Correspondence IM who served in MI5 (British Intelligence), eventually rising to Deputy Director-General of the service, reporting to a fellow named Sir Roger Hollis who was the father of Adrian Hollis, a top correspondence player. Mitchell and Hollis were involved in an intriguing web of spy stuff that has been of 
interest even to this day.
Further Reading: 
Graham Mitchell's story on Spartacus Educational...HERE 
The Spy Who Checkmated Me: Why Postal Chess Was Banned During Wartime...HERE 

Graham R. Mitchell - C.J.S. Purdy

Result: 1-0

Site: 1st World Correspondence Championship

Date: 1950

Ruy Lopez

[...] 1.e4 e5 2.♘f3 ♘c6 3.♗b5 Even in the days before engines postal chess required careful opening preparation. And, here we are going to see one of the long variations of the Ruy Lopez. 3...a6 4.♗a4 ♘f6 5.O-O ♗e7 6.♖e1 b5 7.♗b3 O-O 8.c3 d6 9.d4 ♗g4 10.♗e3 exd4 11.cxd4 ♘a5 12.♗c2 ♘c4 13.♗c1 c5 14.b3 ♘a5 15.♘bd2 ♘c6 16.h3 ♗h5 17.g4 Theory on this position is starting to get pretty thin and white will play this sooner or later in any case, so Mitchell does it at once. However, the move seems to give black a slight advantage. The move 17.d5 might be worth investigating.
17.♗b2 ♘xd4 18.♗xd4 cxd4 19.g4 ♗g6 20.♘xd4 ♕b6 21.♘f5 Espinosa Aranda,A (2419)-Ibarra Jerez,J (2545)/Madrid 2015. The position is about equal.
17...♘xg4 This move is also playable. 18.hxg4 ♗xg4 19.d5 After this black gets the advantage. Best was keeping the tension in the center with 19.Bb2. 19...♘d4 20.♗b2 ♗f6 21.♗xd4 ♗xd4 22.♖b1 ♕f6 Vidic,T (2235)-Batchimeg,T (2391)/Pardubice 2016. Black is better and went on to win.
18.♗b2 ♘d7 19.♖c1 ♖e8
19...♖c8 20.d5 ♘cb8 21.e5 ♗xc2 22.♕xc2 ♘xe5 23.♘xe5 dxe5 24.♗xe5 ♗d6 White is better. Janosevic,D (2455)-Balshan,A (2415)/Amsterdam 1978
20.♘f1 White might well have done better to have closed the center with 20.d5 20...♗f6 21.♗b1 ♕b6 After this Purdy finds himself facing problems.
21...♘xd4 22.♘xd4 cxd4 23.♗xd4 h5 would have given him some play on the K-side.
22.h4 was better as after 22...d5 23.e5
23.dxc5 ♕d8 (23...♘xc5 24.♗xf6 gxf6 25.♕xd5 is winning for white.) 24.♗xf6 ♘xf6 25.exd5 ♖xe1 26.♘xe1 ♘xd5 27.♗xg6 hxg6 white is slightly better.
23...♗xb1 24.exf6 ♗e4 25.dxc5 ♘xc5 White's position is quite promising.
22...dxc5 23.♗xf6 ♘xf6 24.e5 ♖ed8 25.♕e2 ♗xb1 26.exf6 ♗d3 27.♕e3 ♘b4 28.♕xc5 ♕xc5 29.♖xc5 ♘xa2 30.♖e7 ♘b4 31.♘e3 ♖ac8 32.♖xc8 ♖xc8 33.♘d4 gxf6 34.♘df5 ♘c6 35.♖d7 ♗xf5 36.♘xf5 a5 37.♘h6+ ♔f8 38.♖xf7+ ♔e8 39.♖xh7 ♘d4 40.♖a7 Up until this point the game has been even but Purdy's next move is a serious mistake. Surprisingly the correct course is to obtain a passed a-Pawn and not the b-Pawn. 40...♘xb3
40...♘c6 41.♖b7 ♖b8 42.♖xb8+ ♘xb8 43.♘f5 a4 44.bxa4 bxa4 45.♘d6+ ♔e7 46.♘c4 and this ending is drawn. Just one example... 46...♘c6 47.♔g2 ♘e5 48.♘a3 f5 49.f4 ♘c6 50.♔g3 ♔f7 and white can make no progress because his N is tied down blockading the a-Pawn.
41.♘f5 ♖b8 After this black is dead lost.
41...♖c1+ 42.♔g2 ♖d1 43.h4 ♖d7 44.♖a6 ♘d4 45.♘g3 b4 46.h5 and black at least has a fighting chance. Shootouts using Stockfish resulted in white scoring +3 -0 =2.
42.h4 This secures the win as black is unable to successfully deal with the h-Pawn. 42...♘c5 43.h5 ♘d7 44.h6 ♘f8 Losing immediately.
44...♔f7 was also hopeless though. 45.♖xd7+ ♔e6 46.♖e7+ ♔d5 47.♖g7 ♖h8 48.h7 ♔c4 49.♘h4 b4 50.♘g6 ♖xh7 51.♖xh7 b3 52.♘f4 b2 53.♖b7 ♔c3 54.♘d5+ ♔c2 55.♘e3+ ♔c1 56.♖c7+ ♔b1 57.♘c4 ♔a2 58.♘xb2 ♔xb2 59.♖a7
45.♘g7+ It's mate in 12 so Purdy resigned.
45.♘g7+ ♔d8 46.♘e6+ ♘xe6 47.h7 ♔c8 48.h8=♕+ ♘d8 49.♕f8 ♖b7 50.♖a8+ ♖b8 51.♕c5+ ♔d7 52.♖xb8 a4 53.♕d5+ ♔c7 54.♖xd8 a3 55.♕d6+ ♔b7 56.♖b8+ ♔a7 57.♕b6#
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Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Edward Lasker's Last Major Tournament

     Today if you wanted to fly the 5,500-plus miles from New York to Mar del Plata in Argentina it would take 11 hours. Back in1949 it took 28 hours. 
     By the way, did you know that all of South America is situated east of Cleveland, Ohio? A while back I was surprised to find out that if you flew straight south from my hometown you would not even fly over anyplace in South America. After leaving the US around Tampa, Florida you would fly over Havana and then the western end of Panama. Then you'd pass a few miles to the west of Peru. You don't actually hit land until Antarctica. But enough of fun with maps. 
     In 1949 the 64-year old Edward Lasker accepted his invitation to play in Mar del Plata and made the flight. He left New York at 2:30pm, reached Miami 4 hours later and after a 4 hour layover it was off to South America on a plane scheduled to arrive at Lima, Peru at 7 the next morning and from there it was a series of hops to Buenos Aires where he was met by Miguel Najdorf and the president of the local chess club. Then it was a harrowing ride to his hotel with Najdorf at the wheel. 

     According to Najdorf, any one of the players had a shot at being a prize winner. He may have been right. Last place finisher Cesar Corte blundered away a dead won game against Hector Rossetto in time pressure. And, Erich Eliskases barely escaped defeat at the hands 17-year old Arturo Pomar who finished next to last. 
     For Lasker, the tournament was a valuable lesson. As he had suspected, the five-hour playing sessions proved to be too much of a strain. when fourth hour fatigue set in. After this tournament he decided to swear off tournament chess.
     Here is an example of Lasker's play against tournament winner Rossetto in a game with a lot of action packed into it. By the way, don't ever take Lasker's annotations at face value because generally they are, to put it mildly, horrible. He was always very optimistic and seems to have thought he was winning almost every game, frequently awarding himself a "!" or sometimes even two when they weren't merited. After awarding himself all those exclamation marks he then had to explain why he blundered away the win. See my post How Edward Lasker Almost Won the US Championship HERE.

Edward Lasker - Hector Rossetto

Result: 0-1

Site: Mar del Plata

Date: 1949

French Tarrasch

[...] 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.♘d2 With this move white can in some circumstances support the P with c3 and this move also avoids the once dreaded Winawer (...Bb4). The disadvantage is that the N will soon have to move again to unblock the B. 3...♘f6 4.e5 ♘fd7 5.♗d3 c5 6.c3 b6 Infrequently played. The idea is to exchange his bad B for white's good one. 7.♕e2 While this poses a difficult problem for black, it would be preferable to play 7.Ndf3 7...♘c6 More exact is first 7...dxc4. That way black can avoid white's attempt to prevent ...Ba6 exchanging his good B.
7...cxd4 8.cxd4 ♘c6 9.♘df3 ♘b4 and if white tries to avoid the exchange of his B black gains the upper hand after 10.♗b1 Better is 10.Bg5 10...♕c7 11.♕d1 ♗a6
8.♘df3 In his annotations Lasker gave this move "!!" and said it took him 45 minutes to decide on it because it involves the sacrifice of a P.This involves the sacrifice of a P and such sacrifices always require extremely difficult considerations. .
8.♗b5 ♕c7 9.♘gf3 a6 10.♗xc6 ♕xc6 11.O-O Black has a slightly the better chances. Vlasov,E (2250)-Yemelin,V (2559)/St Petersburg 2013.
8...cxd4 9.♗b5 Lasker generously awarded himself another "!" for this move.
9.cxd4 ♘b4 10.♗d2 ♘xd3+ 11.♕xd3 a5 12.♘e2 ♗a6 13.♕e3 ♖c8 14.O-O is equal. Pinternagel,E (1893)-Streltsyn,G (2106)/Friedrichroda 2007
9...♕c7 10.♘xd4 Here Lasker gives himself another two exclamation marks adding that this is the point of his 9th move...after black wins the e-Pawn black must lose a good deal of time with his N which is exposed to attack by P moves which further white's development. 10...♘cxe5 Komodo disagrees with Lasker and thinks black is slightly better here. 11.f4 Rather than this slightly weakening move 11.Bf4 seems preferable. (11.♗f4 ♘d3+ 12.♕xd3 ♕xf4 13.♘gf3 and black has a comfortable position.) 11...♘c4 12.♘gf3 White had vague hopes of sacrificing on e6.
12.♘xe6 is not good at the moment. 12...fxe6 13.♕xe6+ ♔d8 14.♕xd5 ♗b7 15.♕h5 and white has no compensation for his sacrificed piece.
12...♗e7 13.O-O
13.♘g5 is no threat... 13...♗xg5 14.fxg5 O-O with the advantage.
13...a6 This should have allowed white to equalize with 14.Bc6. Black needs to get his K out of the center in order to claim any advantage.
13...O-O was better. 14.f5 e5 15.♗c6 ♗b7 16.♗xd7 ♕xd7 17.♘xe5 ♘xe5 18.♕xe5 ♗d6 leaves black slightly better.
14.♗c6 was better. After 14...♗b7 15.♗xd7+ Black's N is more valuable than the B which is blocked by its own Ps. 15...♕xd7 16.f5 and white can regain his P. 16...O-O (16...e5 17.♘xe5 ♘xe5 18.♕xe5 favors white.) 17.fxe6 fxe6 18.♕xe6+ ♕xe6 19.♘xe6 with about equal chances.
14...b5 15.♗c2 ♘f6 All this fiddling around instead of castling costs black the initiative. 16.a4 b4 (16...bxa4 17.♗xa4+ ♗d7 18.♗xd7+ ♕xd7 19.♘e5 ♘xe5 20.fxe5∓) 17.b3 ♘a5 Also good was 17...Nd6 18.f5 After the game Najdorf analyzed the alternative 18.cxb3. During the game Lasker had spent a good deal of time looking at it before rejecting it in favor of the text.
18.cxb4 ♗xb4 19.♗b2 (19.f5 e5 20.♗g5 ♗d6 21.♖ae1 O-O with an excellent position.) 19...O-O 20.♘e5 with about equal chances.
18...e5 This move, which happens to be the best, gives back the P and it took Rossetto more than an hour to decide to play it. 19.♘xe5 Lasker commented had already consumed more than two hours and with the fourth hour of play coming to an end, he was fatigued and was incapable of seeing through the looming complications.
19.♕xe5 was correct. After 19...♕xe5 20.♘xe5 O-O the position is equal. (20...bxc3 21.♗a3 ♗xa3 22.♖xa3 O-O 23.b4 is unclear.)
19...O-O 20.♘d3 Lasker made no comment on this move which throws the advantage over to black in big way.
20.cxb4 ♗xb4 21.♘g4 ♘xg4 22.♕xg4 ♗c3 23.♗h6 ♗xd4+ 24.♕xd4 gxh6 25.♖f3 with an interesting position.
20...bxc3 21.♗f4 ♗d6 22.♕f2 ♘c6 23.♖ad1 White has been blitzing out his last few moves.
23.♗xd6 Lasker mistakenly believed this would have given him excellent chances because of the immobility of black's B. That's simply not true. 23...♕xd6 24.♘xc6 ♕xc6 25.b4 d4 26.♕xd4 ♗b7 27.♖f2 ♖fd8 and black is calling the tune.
23...♗b7 Of course there was nothing wrong with 23...Bxf4 24.♘c5 This move, which is simply bad, can be explained by both Lasker's time pressure and fatigue. He chooses complications rather than something simple. (24.♗xd6 ♕xd6 25.♕f4 at least avoids immediate disaster.)
24.♘xc6 was Lasker's recommendation, but it's not really any better than the move he played... 24...♕xc6 25.♗xd6 ♕xd6 26.♕c5 ♕d8 27.♕xc3 ♖c8 28.♕d2 ♕b6+ 29.♘f2 d4 with the advantage.
24...♘g4 Playing 24...Nb4 was also a good option. 25.♕g3 His position was bad, and this mistake simply loses a piece.
25.♗xd6 Lasker wrongly asserted that this move offered "at least drawing chances." That's hot air. 25...♕xd6 26.♕f4 ♕xc5 27.♕xg4 ♖fe8 28.f6 g6 29.♕h4 ♖ac8 30.♕h6 ♕f8 Here in Shootouts white managed only one draw in five games.
25...♘xd4 26.♕xg4 ♗xf4 27.♘xb7 White still has some hope that black makes the wrong recapture! 27...♗e3+ This shows why it's necessary to be vigilant to the end.
27...♕xb7 is a bad alternative 28.♖xf4 ♘xc2 29.f6 and white is right back in the game! 29...g6 30.♕g5 ♕b6+ 31.♔h1 ♘e3 32.♕h6 ♕xf6 33.♖xf6 ♘xd1 34.♕c1 ♖fe8 35.♕xd1 c2 36.♕c1 d4 37.♖f1 d3 and although 5 Shootouts were all drawn, practically the game could go either way. 38.♕f4 ♖e7 39.♕d6 ♖ae8 40.♕xd3 c1=♖ 41.♖xc1 ♖e1+ 42.♕f1 ♖xf1+ 43.♖xf1 ♖b8 44.♖f3 is drawn.
28.♔h1 ♘xc2 29.f6 g6 30.♕e2 ♕xb7 31.♕xc2 d4 Lasker resigned.
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