Monday 30 May 2016

Monday mystery

This video turned up on YouTube this past weekend, specially recommended for me by a hand-picked team of algorithms. It obviously isn't new, not just in the sense that it's originally from 1994 but that it's been on YouTube for long enough to have more than a million views. Well, I never said I was in touch.

As you can see, its from a blitz tournament in New York and it's the semi-final, between Ilya Smirin and Viswanathan Anand, which has come down to the Armageddon game. No increments (besides, it was from the days before increments) and so while Smirin had the White pieces and six minutes on the clock, Anand, with the Black pieces, had only five. On the other hand Anand had odds of a draw.

In the end, Anand won the game, easily and smoothly. But it's not the action in the game that's of particular interest, but the inaction. Because for some reason, Anand - with only three hundred seconds to play the whole game - used more than a hundred of them in between playing his third move

and deciding on his fourth.

So what was all that about?

Tuesday 24 May 2016

Howard and Rachel

In the course of yesterday's posting we took a glance at the ECF event calendar which continues to advertise events organised by Coulsdon Chess Fellowship, the chess wing, if you will, of the religious cult whose former leader, Howard Curtis, was recently sent to prison for six years.

As you can see, you're invited to write to a given email address in order to make contact with Scott Freeman.

Indeed it was Scott Freeman, long-time second-in-command to Howard Curtis (and his vocal supporter) who I was hoping to communicate with when I wrote to that same address back in March.

I actually got Rachel Warner instead.

No matter, I guess it's up to CCF who answers their emails, but who's Rachel Warner anyway? I knew she was married to Dominic Warner, who took over as Minister of CCF from Howard Curtis. But I knew little more than that, so I was vaguely under the impression that she might have come to Coulsdon quite recently. Not so: she's one of four Trustees (see People) of the Coulsdon Christian Fellowship Trust, the registered charity which is one of several connected bodies operating here.

Monday 23 May 2016

The ECF and the CCF

In the course of posting here about Howard Curtis, the imprisoned former head of Coulsdon Chess Fellowship whose organisation still continues to be active in adult and junior chess, the question has come up in comments as to whether the ECF should be asked to play a role. Should the ECF be asking CCF to explain who knew what about Howard Curtis? And who should have known what? And whether they should still be considered a fit organisation to take part in adult and junior chess?

Does the ECF have a role here?

It's certainly true that the ECF is connected to CCF in several ways. One, for instance, is that the ECF event calendar continues to advertise CCF events.

I accept that advertising an event doesn't make you responsible for every last item connected with the event or its organisers: at the same time, when the organisation whose events you're advertising has been connected with sexual assault and child cruelty, you might like at least to review their suitability as an advertiser.

Friday 20 May 2016

2. Mrs. Fagan's Game

[This post by Martin Smith]

This series is telling the story of Louisa Matilda Fagan (née Ballard) (1850-1931), born in Italy of an American father and an Italian mother who, nonetheless, was given in the censuses as a "British Subject", probably on account of her marriage in 1872 to a Captain in the Bombay Lancers: Joseph George Fagan (c.1843-1908). As for his place in this series - his time will come.

In the previous, introductory, episode we cropped her (seated to the right) from this group photograph taken at the Craigside (Llandudno) Chess Congess in 1898 where she came first in the Second Class Tournament.

Clearly, she was not the only female player at the Congress nor, of course, on the wider chess scene. There was, for example, a thriving Ladies Chess Club (henceforth: LCC) in London formed in 1895, of which Mrs Fagan was a prominent member. It is the chess career of Louisa Matilda Fagan that we will follow in this and the next episode, to which we will add - as we go along - some salient parts of her personal biography (which will be fleshed out when we examine it more closely further down the line). So, we will be going into the chess-detail here: the really interesting stuff (some might say) comes later.

The BCM of 1897 commented that she had "early learnt the moves of the game" (maybe along with her brother?) when the family was in Italy. She appears in the UK 1861 census (now age 11) in a boarding school in Malvern  - her brother, William Roberts Ballard Junior, is shown at the family address in Marylebone, along with a full complement of servants. Perhaps it's more likely that she would have learnt the game sometime in the next ten years up to her marriage in 1872. By then her brother, older by almost three years and now in his mid-twenties - a "strong and brilliant player" (BCM 1897) - was already mixing with the chess elite, as we know from the last episode; she, however, was nowhere to be seen.

She married her Cavalryman on 8 July 1872 - she was now 22 and he seven years older. She would have gone pretty much straightaway with her new husband, a serving soldier, to his posting in India - indeed there is a record of a sailing to Bombay from Naples of a Captain and Mrs Fagan on 16 September 1872. The newlyweds must have gone via Italy to visit relations and receive their blessing. Now at last she appears in the chess record - though you may not have guessed it at the time.

Monday 16 May 2016

Should the SCCA play home county matches at Coulsdon?

A guest post by Jonathan Bryant

Should the SCCA play its home matches at Cousldon?

The short answer to this is, “it depends”. Not very helpful, I admit, but unfortunately short answers are no good at all in situations like these.

My longer answer follows.

Systematic Long-term Abuse in Context

If I’ve learned anything after almost 25 years working in social services and related environments it’s that abuse of vulnerable people by those who with a duty of care towards them is commonplace. Be it physical, sexual, emotional, financial, that such abuse occurs is far from an aberration and very much the norm. I can’t think of a single place at which I’ve worked where abuse by a nominal 'carer' didn’t crop up in some form. Sometimes by a professional colleague, more often by somebody working in a voluntary sector, religious or social organisation. And that’s without considering abuse by family members.

I wouldn’t conclude, therefore, that there must be seriously wrong at Coulsdon just because Howard Curtis’s abuse occurred there.

That said, my experience as a Social Worker (I’m no longer registered as such) has also taught me that abuse never happens in a vacuum. Ever.

Consciously or otherwise, long-term abusers create support mechanisms to facilitate their abuse. In extreme cases that could be alliances with others who are actively engaged in the same abuse. It could be others who know what’s going on but who are motivated to say nothing for various reasons. Most frequently it’s others who choose to minimise the seriousness of what is occurring and others who choose to look away, thereby ensuring that they don’t ever find out what’s going on.

Statement of fact: Long-term systematic abuse within an organisation can only happen if the organisational structure tolerates and facilitates that abuse.

Thursday 12 May 2016

Thursday Tosh

Two sets of tosh for you. The first from Erica Buist's less-than-stellar Magnus Carlsen interview in yesterday's Guardian, a piece which for some reason took an early detour via our favourite freak show, informing us:

Good Lord, "resurgence". Good God, "Worldwide coverage". Actually the piece goes on to claim that the freak show
accumulated a live audience of over 35,000
the meaning of which is obscure to me and may for all I know be obscure to the writer too. If however it means that 35,000 people have been to watch the show since 2008, that's actually quite a poor return for eight years' worth of shows and "worldwide coverage", you'd have thought.

If it doesn't mean that, what does it mean? And where is the figure sourced from - or should I say, from whom?

Back in 2008 Chessbase was trying to tell us that
chessboxing is fast becoming a world-wide phenomenon, overtaking chess in the number of spectators it can attract.
Looks like it's still got some work to do, since the second of our tosh selections (via Christopher Kreuzer) features yet another contribution to the ever-lengthening list of ludicrous exaggerations of the number of chess players in the world.

This one is relatively modest by the standard of the genre

but I guess there's time to add another 100-105 million to the tally before the tournament starts next month.

Monday 9 May 2016

A cult and an ultimatum

It's not really "spanking", of course: that gives the impression of something much less serious, some kind of sex game. What we are actually talking about is violent sexual assault
Curtis spanked the other [woman] on her naked genitals, while she was completely undressed, to "cure her frigid spirit"
which is why Howard Curtis, former leader of Coulsdon Chess Fellowship and former Director of Management Services at the British Chess Federation, has been jailed for six years.

So what next?

Saturday 7 May 2016

Six years

Yesterday at Croydon Crown Court Howard Curtis was jailed for six years.

He was found guilty of two counts of child cruelty and six counts of sexual assault. He will sign the sex offender register for life.

Friday 6 May 2016

1. Waltzing Matilda

[This post by Martin Smith]

A few years ago we deconstructed (in ten episodes) the remarkable chess painting created by Anton Rosenbaum in the years 1874 to 1880.                        

© National Portrait Gallery

There was much to talk about: the supposed chess event depicted; the initial disposal of the painting in a souped-up raffle; its 130 year journey from Mayfair to an outpost in North Wales (where it is currently on display); the artist himself (the rather dubious Mr Rosenbaum, of whom there was indeed a lot to be said); and of course the real characters portrayed playing or watching (even from up high on the back wall) the three games in progress. Art-geeks might also wonder just how Rosenbaum did it.

The dramatis personae runs from top-flight players of whom we have all heard, and perhaps have seen elsewhere (for example: Bird, Steinitz, Zukertort), through to lesser lights who names are now forgotten, and whose likeness might have been lost altogether but for Rosenbaum's magnum opus (it measured 6 feet by 4). Somewhere on this spectrum from perennial fame to peremptory oblivion sits the exotic Wordsworth Donisthorpe, installed - as his brand of libertarian politics would dictate - over in the right corner. He was a prolific pamphleteer, and the inventor of a primitive movie camera, and clearly has other things on his mind today. He was not in the chess-class of Bird et al, though he had a more than minor role in the chess politics of the time. We told his story before, so The Adonis (as he was wont to be called) will not detain us further. 

As for others in Rosenbaum's mass-portrait...    

Monday 2 May 2016

Twice is not coincidence

What you see in the following clip is cheating.

I wish it wasn't. I wish it hadn't happened. But it did - and there's no point in calling it anything other than what it is.

It's cheating. The most famous living chessplayer in the world took his hand off the piece, went to press the clock, realised his move was an error, put his hand back on the piece and moved it to another square. Unfortunately, that's cheating.

Sunday 1 May 2016

Think of a number

The number in this Yahoo report about chess has been blacked out.

Before looking it up, can you possibly guess what it might be?