Monday, 21 January 2019

Three years ago Today...


...since the Today Programme ran an interview with Nigel Short about a ban on chess that hadn't happened.

(And within a couple of years, he'd be playing there himself.)

Tuesday, 15 January 2019

No way Ray

Well this is amusing.


But also a little curious.


Good, Ray's book got the push. Great news. Excellent.

Still, one wonders - what did Chess and Bridge think the book was going to be like? Did they think there was any chance in the world that it was going to be anything other than a cut-and-paste job?

Course they didn't. They knew what Ray is like because everybody knows what Ray is like. They must have known, before they received the book towards the end of 2018, that it was going to be precisely the sort of thing than which "our customers deserve better" halfway through January of 2019.

So - unless the proprietor, having previously thought Ray was some kind of reputable character, suddenly read Olimpiu's review and it opened the doors of perception - what's brought this on now?

Monday, 14 January 2019

Delayed awareness


There's an odd little thing that I'm not too fond of tucked away in the latest ECF monthly email.


It's on a Word document in an ECF email, so if you're a member you may have seen it already. Actually, if you're not a member you may also have seen it already, since you can read the whole thing here in a link from 2015.

Why the ECF are treating us to "an interesting article from John Foley around the definition of chess as a sport" is left unexplained, but it may be connected to a short line in the (less than interesting) piece which says
There is an emerging awareness of the effectiveness of chess in delaying the onset of Alzheimers.
Should that look familiar, it may be because Jonathan wrote about it back in 2015, specifically here and here. Do read, or re-read his pieces, but to cut a couple of longer stories short, there is not "an emerging awareness of the effectiveness of chess in delaying the onset of Alzheimers" because there is no apparent evidence that it does.

Why are we talking about this again? I'm guessing it may be connected to a recent press release from the Health and Social Care Secretary on the subject of dementia.


I confess my heart sank on seeing the press release, not because it says anything that's wrong as such, but because it brings up the subject of "memory and thinking games" and of chess specifically, and experience leads me to believe that whenever chess and dementia are linked, people start saying things I'm not sure they ought to. The press release came out on Wednesday 5 December: this was Saturday 8.


And this was Tuesday 11.


The key line in the report might be this:
No studies have shown that brain training prevents dementia.

Thursday, 10 January 2019

Barry remorse

Why did nobody tell me about this major publishing event?


Who's Barry Martin? He's a minor figure in the history of British art over the past half-century but a relatively major figure in the history of Ray Keene's circle of friends and cronies. He also has an interest in chess, and this combination - Ray, art and chess - is nicely illustrated by this book cover from a decade or so back.


Apparently Barry writes a chess column in his local paper. I say "apparently" not because I doubt its existence, but because I doubt its relevance, given that the only person I have ever seen refer to this column is Ray himself. Fitting, then, that Ray and Barry should continue their collaboration with a book compiled from Barry's columns, of which Ray himself is the only known reader. It is available in all good bookshops, says the ad. I think I need to say "apparently" again.

There's an introduction by your friend and mine, promising that
On the back cover, we see Barry in play against a vital link to the chess art traditions of the past, his opponent being Marcel Duchamp’s widow, Mme Teeny Duchamp herself
which judging by what I can see on Amazon, may not be a promise fulfilled.


Among the other tendentious claims made by our normally reliable guide is that Barry
has also gained a world chess ranking. In Duchamp's time, such ratings had not been invented, so Barry is the only artist on the planet who has achieved this accolade.
Your suggestions are invited for candidates who would disprove this assertion. So, indeed is your assistance in demonstrating that Barry possesses such a thing, since I can't locate one. (Maybe he had one in the past. No doubt he did, for if this is not about living in the past, what is?)

Ray also tells us:
the theme of chess, of course, is a prominent thread throughout his oeuvre, ranging from the biodegradable potato chess set
I would genuinely like to know more about this set - I've come across it mentioned before, and wanted to write about it
through portraits distributed by The Times of Garry Kasparov and Nigel Short.
Well well, it's Nigel again. That's right about the portrait, mind, and Nigel crops up at the artist's launch - Chess stars flock to Barry Martin's book launch, it says here.

Nigel in company

Funny, it seems these days that every time you come across one of Nigel or Ray, you come across the other too.

Monday, 7 January 2019

Dive bomb

What nonsense is this?


It's not new nonsense, that's for sure: see for instance this piece from August 2016 (and indeed this one from April 2012) which I wrote after coming across a similar nonsense in the Financial Times, allowing Etan Ilfeld to repeat various implausible claims such as this.


Remarkably I am yet to come across the results from the Spanish league in the sports papers here. Perhaps I could catch them on breakfast television.

Mr Ilfeld has been operating this particular hoax for seven years now. Obviously its existence as a genuine, functioning sport is nil. As a genuine, functioning way of getting Mr Ilfeld's name in the media it has performed a little better: the notes to his Wikipedia entry list the Telegraph and Toronto Star among the marks, along with Chess Life and the Financial Times as above.

Also Chessbase, who have always been prepared to write up any old rubbish, and scrolling down their 2016 piece I was delighted to find an old friend


from the similar chessboxing hoax.

Friday, 4 January 2019

Broadmoor Chess - A Feast of Stephens

A bit late for Boxing Day this post may be....but even further back in the mists of time, on the Streatham and Brixton Chess Blog, we examined the chess played by the patients of Broadmoor high-security hospital at Crowthorne, west of London - though it would be more accurate to say that we examined the patients who played the chess, rather than the play itself. It all started with Richard Dadd, Victorian artist and patricide, who painted - in 1857 - a puzzling chess-themed picture 'The Child's Problem'. We've shown it before, we analysed it at length in several posts, and here it is again...
This is how the now-faded picture may have looked originally,
as suggested by reader David Roberts.

The series continued with other Broadmoor chessers: Edward Oxford (who took a pot-shot at Queen Victoria - or did he? See Postscript below), Reginald Saunderson (a Jack the Ripper might-have-been) and Robert Coombes (the "Wicked Boy" of Kate Summerscale's excellent recent book). It is especially pleasing to see that another of our subjects, problemist Walter Stephens (1857-1947) - he shot his wife while he was 'sodden with drink' - has come to the attention of Bob Jones, who adds to the Stephens story in a fascinating article in the January 2019 issue of Chess magazine. It now becomes the tale of two Stephens....but we'll not be a spoiler in relation to the other one: for that you really should get hold of Chess.

Walter Stephens of Clapham Park (hence our particular local interest) was to become a dedicated problemista at some time after confinement 'at his Majesty's pleasure' in Broadmoor in 1905. He became a competent solver winning, for example, in January 1926, the Grantham Journal's 19th Solving Tourney, and his own compositions were published widely in the newspaper chess columns and the BCM - often declaring himself as W. Stephens of 'Crowthorne' or 'Broadmoor'. Irked by the lack of recognition of the good work done at the hospital he had complained in a letter to the Daily Telegraph in July 1922 (alongside two of his problems) about "the piffle" that had been written about the place.

Now more has come to light about Broadmoor Stephens, thanks on the one hand to a piece of serendipidy that befell Bob, and on the other to some local newspaper reports that befell me. 

Thursday, 27 December 2018

Ace Of Wands


Now here's frustrating.

While I was researching yesterday's piece - or trying to - I came across this link, via one set of search terms or another, I forget what.

Just because I thought I might as well, I put chess into its search box, and flicked through to one of the references. And this is what I found.
Ace of Wands concerned Tarot, who was a master magician and telepathic super sleuth, who would use his gifts in order to fought evil criminals, such as Madam Midnight and Mr. Stabs...

...a diamond gives its name to the final second season story, "The Eye of Ra". It is a diamond reputed to have magical powers, one of which is the ability to turn people into chalk statuettes. A wheelchair bound chess-master Ceribraun (Oscar Quitak) wants to obtain the diamond. He tries to force Tarot to steal it for him by kidnapping Mr. Sweet and making it appear he has been turned to chalk. His statuette is then knocked over and smashed by accident causing Tarot to think Mr. Sweet has been killed. Lulli, as well as Mr. Sweet, finds herself a prisoner of Ceribraun and his servant, Fredericks, and in trying to rescue her, Tarot finds himself on Ceribraun's giant robotic chess board being crushed by two huge chesspieces.
This sounds fantastic, you are saying. Show us some pictures, you are saying.

Alas, there are none to show.


They were wiped. Well, the first two series of the show were wiped, and our episode was the final segment of the second series. "This story no longer exists."

Even that's not quite true: three parts of it can be found on YouTube, but in audio form only. (I've not listened to them.) But no footage, apparently, nor any publicity shots, photos taken on set, nothing to show us our wheelchair-bound chess master, or our hero under threat from gigantic robotic chess pieces.

I'd never heard of Ace of Wands. I was a touch young for it, being six when these shows were broadcast, though I do remember a little of The Tomorrow People, which seems in some senses to have replaced it. (If any comparison can be made with Doctor Who, I saw my first episodes of that show in January 1972, just a few months later.)

Too late, too late. There's a few web pages available about the show, but they all say essentially the same thing, that while the third series is available, the first two are (almost entirely) lost to us forever.

Oscar Quitak is still with us: for all I know, he might have some old photos, but as he's in his nineties and lives on Ibiza, I don't think I'll be troubling him to ask. His other credits, coincidentally, include the 1983 ITV series Chessgame.


I don't reckon there's any chess in it.

Wednesday, 26 December 2018

A second look

You might recall this piece from early last year, in which I was, ah, sceptically non-committal about a Guardian story involving Donald Sutherland, not previously known to me as a chess enthusiast, intervening in a game between two newlyweds to point out a win in what appeared to be a hopelessly lost position.

It may be that I scoffed too soon. I'm indebted to Mike in comments for finding an interview with Paul Darrow, most famous for playing Avon in Blake's Seven and, as such, no stranger to hopelessly lost positions.


What does Darrow have to tell us? It transpires that he was once in a series called The Odd Man - during which time he played chess with another member of the cast - none other than our man Donald Sutherland. How did it go?


Not well for Darrow.

So not only does Sutherland play - at least, he did in 1963, and in 2006 - but maybe he can play a little bit better than the average near-beginner.

Still, this leaves us with the mystery of why it is that I have been able to find so little on Donald Sutherland's interest in the game, given that normally, if a celebrity so much as looks at a chessboard, we hear how much of a chess fan they are for years afterwards.

I got excited by this, for a moment, but there's no more to it than Donald saying "the chess game begins", and it's a metaphorical game that he's referring to.

This is more to the point: Donald says
...diplomacy is diplomacy, but...Henry Kissinger once described it as a chess game. It's not a chess game. Chess is war. Diplomacy is supposed to be dealing.
which I think is the sort of thing that somebody interested in chess might say.

But beyond that, I'm really struggling.

Kiefer, on the other hand, no problem.

Monday, 10 December 2018

600 million reasons not to read Ray's new book

I'm sure you weren't going to touch it anyway, but I'm also sure you'll be as pleased as I was to learn from Olimpiu's review that everybody's favourite chess fraud has been happy - again - to repeat everybody's favourite fraudulent chess statistic.
chess can now boast 11 million games played online, worldwide every day; 600 million active chess players and no fewer than one billion smart phones in use with chess apps!
Well, he's happy to repeat, full stop.

As Olimpiu observes, Ray's said this already, in Synapsia, the magazine of his fraudulent Brain Trust charity:


and he said it again in the Spectator in September, sans the billion smart phones.


I've not seen the book, but according to Olimpiu this whole section (World Chess Comes to London) is copied out word-for-word from the Synapsia article.

Of course it is, it's what he does: but I hope on this occasion he found time for publication to check his dates.

Monday, 3 December 2018

Seventh impressions

Alex Spencer, a schoolteacher and member of Streatham and Brixton Chess Club, went to the Carlsen v Caruana match, the first such event he's attended. Thanks very much to him for permission to reproduce them here. - ejh
World Chess Championship 2018
Game 7
Sunday 18th November

Magnus Carlsen (white) v Fabiano Caruana (black)

These are just a collection of my thoughts as I sat staring at both players through the double layer of protective glass for 3 and a half hours.

Apologies in advance to the chess experts. I’m writing this to be less about the chess and more about my observations on the players and the whole experience of staring at two people non-stop for so long.

Notes on Magnus Carlsen (opening thoughts)
  • 27. Norwegian.
  • World number 1.
  • Thought by some to be the best chess player ever.
  • One shirt button undone.
  • Bit of a bum chin (only a little bit).
  • Bit of hair gel.
  • Muscular, sporty physique.
  • Looks like a Norwegian footballer. Maybe a right midfielder for Southampton who has had 6 months out with a bad knee injury and is struggling to get back his peak fitness.
  • Light pink shirt.
  • Black suit.
  • Brown belt.
  • Black shoes.
  • ‘PLAY MAGNUS’ sponsor on his upper right arm jacket.
  • ‘Simonsen Vogtwiig’ (SP?) on his right breast pocket. Another sponsor?
  • Magnus takes his jacket off after move 12. Oh no! What about the sponsor… It’s OK. He hangs the jacket on the back of his chair so the sponsor is showing. And his shirt has the same sponsors in the same locations so now it’s double sponsor time.
  • [Has he done that because he’s stressed? Hot? Surely not thinking about the double sponsorship.]
  • Studying his face, he looks like a boy on the first day of a big secondary school. A boy who was the smartest kid in primary school. By far. A boy who was worried he wouldn’t be the smartest kid anymore. But he’s halfway through his first day and he now knows he’s still the smartest kid.
  • Magnus sits normally. Then with his left leg tucked under his right leg. (Like my girlfriend sits). Then 3 moves later with his right leg over his left leg. (Like I sit if I’m pretending to be mature).
  • Magnus goes to make a move but pulls his hand away. It’s good to see that the best still have so much doubt and indecision.
  • He plays with a taken pawn in his hand through a lot of his thinking.
  • I imagine if he was a poker player he’d be constantly manipulating the chips between fingers in quick, regular patterns.
  • Looks unimpressed by … 12 Qe7.

Notes on Fabiano Caruana (opening thoughts)
  • Glasses.
  • No hair gel.
  • Short, curly, fluffy dark hair.
  • Light blue shirt. It looks like a block of light blue. But then it’s actually a tiny check of light green and white. A nice shirt but not a sleek shirt.
  • Navy suit. No sponsor
  • [I noticed much later during the press conference that he has a SLC logo on his blazer breast pocket. St. Louis Chess Club]. But no sponsor as such.
  • Looks like the kid at school who is not massively popular but happy with his lot.
  • He’d be the best at science. Because science is about how hard you work.
  • But is he actually immensely talented? It’s hard to tell because he works so hard.
  • Sits ‘normally’ throughout. Both feet flat on the ground. Often on the edge of his seat with his elbows on the table. Alert. Very alert.
  • Is this the most efficient way to sit? More oxygen to your brain? Why is Magnus clogging all his oxygen supplies with his demi-yoga pose?
  • Clean shaven like Magnus. But Magnus looks like he’s shaven. Fabi looks like he doesn’t have to shave.
  • Caruana looks like a cross between Screech from Saved by the Bell and Mark Zuckerberg. But shorter than both of them. And more steely than both of them. And smarter. Fabi is growing on me the more I look at him. I wanted him to be the guy who put up a good fight and got beat. But there’s a nice confidence to his manner. He knows everyone’s here to see Magnus. But that’s ok. That’s how it’s always been.
  • 26 years young.
  • They’ve both been playing chess round the world since they were tiny but whereas Carlsen seems to carry that around with him, Fabi looks like he’s just hitting his stride.
  • Both players seem to relax their posture when the other one steps outside (presumably to go to the toilet) Or maybe to eat. I didn’t see either player eat. Maybe they’re not allowed to eat. Is it like exams? You can drink water but no eating? One of their games lasted 7 hours. You’d want at least a banana.

Sunday, 2 December 2018

605 million reasons not to believe what you read in Wired

Jonathan draws our attention to this piece from Wired a few days ago, in which the author, as well as being perhaps the only person on the planet who thinks that Spassky beat Fischer


(an error which to their credit they have now corrected)


also appears to believe that the planet contains many hundreds of millions more chess players than is intrinsically likely.


Maybe she was unwise enough to read Dylan Loeb McClain - or, more likely, and even more unwise, to believe what Ilya Merenzon told her.

Friday, 30 November 2018

Les Chesseurs Britanniques de Paris: Part 9 Initial Confusion Resolved

One year on since the last episode, this is a belated addition to the sequence of posts recovering the forgotten story of the British Chess Club of Paris. The Club flourished in the City of Light from 1926 up to the War of 1939-45 providing chessic divertissements for ex-pat and visiting British players. It joined the local leagues, took part in Parisian/French chess administration, and ran its own internal tournaments. Through lean years and years of plenty, the BCCP kept the flag flying for les jouers d'√©checs britanniques - although chess wasn't their only amusement: they enjoyed a bon repas as well...  

                                            

The Club's most high profile event was a team consultation game-by-cable against the Manhattan Chess Club in 1931 (the BCCP lost). There was a fulsome account of the event in the British Chess Magazine, probably submitted by the Club's enthusiastic publicity manager George Langelaan (the originator of the spoof coat-of-arms above). Post-war he became a sci-fi author best known for The Fly; he also wrote (in French) a chess-themed robo-shocker. Among other members of the Club there were - for greater or lesser periods of time - one-time Scottish Champion H.K. Handasyde, then domiciled in Paris; Laurent Henry Mortimore who went on to serve with distinction in the war (to be decorated by both the British and the French, as was Langelaan also); and briefly - before he was expelled from France as a spy - the notorious and self-promoting occultist Alesteir Crowley. He was a decent player, as he was the first to admit; though it is doubtful that he was good enough to beat Tartakover in a Paris league match as he claimed - even with the spirited assistance of "the Baron" (who Crowley consulted in the gents).

We also came across a Mr Wechsler, who briefly played for the BCCP in 1929. Notwithstanding the generous help of Dominique Thimongier of the authoratitive Heritage des Echecs Francais, we couldn't quite pin down his actual name among the chess-playing Wechsler family, three of whom were active on the British chess scene in the 1920s and 1930s. They played with various and confusing initials, sometimes in the same events.

So which of them was it who séjourned in Paris? And why? Now the truth about the Wechsler of the BCCP can be told.


Wednesday, 28 November 2018

Lucky Thirteen

I think on reflection I agree with myself.


On principle I'm not against tie-breaks, as a system it seems - in and of itself - better than the alternatives, but as with penalty kicks in football, the problem arises when the tie-break system begins to affect the match itself, to such an extent that the match almost becomes subordinate to the tie-breaker.

Whether we've reached that point or not is a matter of debate. For all I know the next match is going to finish 5-3 with four draws and we'll wonder what all the fuss was about. What isn't a matter of debate, I don't think is that if there wasn't a tie-break coming up, this


doesn't happen.

It's the moment we've all been waiting for - the last game, the match level, one player pressing, one player fighting for his life, and really there shouldn't be anywhere to go from here but play.

So maybe there shouldn't be anywhere to go from here, no escape route, no play-offs.

Tuesday, 27 November 2018

A billion reasons never to believe what Ilya Merenzon says

Anybody remember when, in 2015, Kirsan wanted there to be a billion chess players within "five or six years"?


We made it! In only half the time! Well, that's our "audience", anyway.


But why only one? Why not two? Seven? A hundred billion billion chess fans on all the planets of the Milky Way?

Monday, 26 November 2018

Forty Years On

Hey, when I posted yesterday I assumed Ray's new book was going to be some kind of Hardinge Simpole nonsense.

But no! It turns out that he's writing for an almost reputable publisher.


When I say "almost reputable", I mean "disreputable" of course, which is to say that since most of Ray's prodigious thieving has taken place from Everyman authors, it's pretty tawdry of them to publish the thief in question, not that we would expect any better.

I see from the cover that Byron's on board, presumably to do any actual writing that's required, not that that's likely to be very much. I think we all assume this is going to be a cut-and-paste job, with "History of the World Chess Championship" looking like the giveaway here.


Anyway, one wonders what this is about - presumably, on one level at least, it's an attempt to relive his controversial glories from forty years ago


when his instant book set him on a path of writing tat that has kept him going, between schemes and scams, ever since.

But I guess behind that, there's some desire to become respectable again, to be somebody who doesn't have to rely on the company of his dubious friends to assure him that he's not an embarrassment. And maybe we have to watch out for that, because if you ask me, there's plenty of people in English chess who would welcome him back tomorrow, on the grounds that it doesn't matter who he's stolen from, as long as he hasn't stolen from them.

But what Everyman's excuse is, God only knows.

Sunday, 25 November 2018

Thursday, 22 November 2018

Three of a kind

Good to see the sort of people Nigel's hanging about with now he's a man of influence.

Monday, 19 November 2018

600 million reasons Professor Tyler Cowen should know better

Oh God, not again.


Who is it this time?

It's Tyler Cowen, who is an actual professor of economics and an actual chess player


and should therefore know better. But he doesn't.


No, he hasn't made the claim himself: but he's reported it, uncritically, without so much as a link to support it and without so much as a word to cast doubt on it.

Which is something, I reckon, he shouldn't do, either as a chess player or a professor of economics.

So why did he?

Let's ask him.

Friday, 16 November 2018

The Other Chess Action

While Magnus and Fabiano were squaring up for Game 2 last Saturday, there was some other chess action not a mile away - at the Wallace Collection, where Rupert Dickens took us on a masterly tour de force of Chess in Art: not an easy thing to pitch to an audience of art lovers (with, perhaps, no particular skill in the game) and chess players (with, perhaps, only a sketchy appreciation of the genre). However, our guide excelled in both departments and never looked like falling off the tight rope, though we were all relieved at the early reassurance that it was not to be a seven-hour torture.

Wednesday, 14 November 2018

"Some blonde"


Right, but was anybody actually surprised that Rex Sinquefield should speak boorishly about women?

He's a sinister political figure and if you wanted to know what he thinks about women, you could do worse than check out how he responded to Todd Akin's "legitimate rape" remarks:


He doesn't get much scrutiny, for reasons we all understand. But when we don't talk about the people who give us money, because they give us money, what does that make us?

Tuesday, 13 November 2018

Pop go the weasels

Whose crony is who?


Since reform of FIDE is underway, I wonder if the old slogan, gens una sumus, could be replaced with....well I'm afraid my Latin (O-Level, Grade B, 1981) isn't what it once was, so how do you translate it doesn't matter if you're a thief as long as you steal from someone else?

Monday, 12 November 2018

Thirty-Minute Theatre


This is quite an eye-opener.


This is pretty special too.


I'd be surprised if this was entirely within the law, although I don't suppose we'll ever find out - even if anybody were to try their luck in court I don't suppose there'll be much trace of AGON as a functioning organisation once this match is over.

I was going to say something like "and that was always the plan", but I don't imagine there's ever been a "plan", as such, just a way of doing things, and this is it.

This is, obviously, right:


It's not incompetence because it's not an accident. And the disinterest in paying spectators has always been an overt feature of the business model, ever since AGON first emerged at Simpson's, six years ago - at an event closed to the public.

Maybe it'd have been better if they did it that way, than charge seventy nicker for half an hour of chess. Either way is a monumental screw you to the chessplaying public. Go on, get these people hence.