Tuesday 29 October 2019

Ever get the feeling you've been cheated - there's nothing there

Banned from the Roxy, OK
I never much liked playing there anyway
- Crass

I've been playing competitive chess for more than forty years, over the board, by correspondence and on the internet. This is, by a margin, the most disgusting thing - and the most upsetting thing - that has ever happened to me in all that time.

As you might surmise, I don't really give a damn whether I ever play another game on Chess.com. There are other places.

What I do give a damn about is my good name, and the willingness of Chess.com to dirty my name, just as they have dirtied other people's names, without having to justify themselves in any way, without having to put forward even the smallest scrap of evidence.

It's not just the principle of the thing, that the process is plainly contrary to natural justice. It's the effect of being accused, without being able to see, let alone challenge, what is alleged against you. That's psychologically distressing in a way that I don't think I can describe. So I won't attempt to, except to observe that it's cost me an awful lot by way of stress and disturbed sleep.

Of course Chess.com are a private company. They have the right, within the law, to have who they want on their site and to ban who they want from their site.

What they don't have the right to do is to call somebody a cheat without backing it up.

But that is what they have done.

And that's disgusting, when you're on the receiving end. That's mud, and mud sticks.

Ever get the feeling you've been cheated - wrong in fact, wrong in theory?

So how does Chess.com's system work anyway?

I don't really know, and I don't particularly want to speculate, not more than I'm obliged to. It ought to be up to them to explain themselves, not up to me.

But I also don't know
  • whether that system has been assessed independently, and even if so, how thoroughly and how expertly
  • how much it risks (and is understood to risk) catching the wrong people as well as the right ones
  • how much its reliability may vary (and is understood to vary) according to the sample size of games
  • how much it may depend (and is understood to depend) on fallible human inputs, human judgments and so on.
I don't know. But I do know that Chess.com aren't in possession of a foolproof system. Of course they aren't, because there's no such thing as a foolproof system. And I do know that they are wrong in this particular instance. Spectacularly wrong.

What I think, however, is that their method to some degree involves looking at the moves you have played, and seeing how many match with the preferred choice of a computer program. Whether they do anything else, or what precisely their criteria are, who knows. (But how reliable those criteria are - on that, I do have a well-informed opinion.)

One question this raises is - since there is such a thing as theory in chess, when in the game do they start scrutinising? Presumably not on move one. But if not, at what point does the matching begin? If they start too early, when in fact you're still in book (because book use is permitted in these games) isn't that a point where errors can be committed? Because moves which you're finding from a printed source are being marked down as moves you're finding with a program?

Let me give you an example. Let me give you several examples.

When you finish a game on Chess.com, you get a little game report, which includes some basic computer analysis, and a chart that looks like this.

What it means precisely, I couldn't say, but I can guess what Best Move means, and what Book means. And I can guess that 99.3 is a high figure, whatever it means precisely and however they're calculating it. The game it refers to is this one.

[Site "Chess.com"]
[Date "2019.07.01"]
[White "passy234"]
[Black "Justinpatzer"]
[Result "0-1"]
[WhiteElo "2055"]
[BlackElo "2149"]
[EndDate "2019.07.05"]
[Termination "Justinpatzer won by resignation"]
1. Nf3 d5 2. g3 Bg4 3. Bg2 c6 4. c4 e6 5. O-O Nf6 6. Qb3 Qb6 7. Qc2 Nbd7 8. cxd5 exd5 9. d3 Qc5 10. Qb3 Qb6 11. Qc2 Qc5 12. Qd1 Bd6 13. Nc3 O-O 14. Be3 Qa5 15. a3 Rfe8 16. b4 Qd8 17. Rc1 a5 18. Qb3 Qe7 19. Rb1 axb4 20. axb4 Ne5 21. Nxe5 Bxe5 22. Rfe1 d4 0-1

So we've got a twenty-two move minature, in which Black plays five moves of theory, and then turns over White in short order with an extremely high Accuracy rate. Which is pretty suspicious, isn't it?

Except it isn't. Because this, which suggests that theory ends after five moves on each side

and which would mean that the players were playing their own moves from this position

is wrong. Very wrong.

In fact Black was playing published theory until move sixteen.

Specifically, he was following Petrosian v Vovhannisyan, Lake Sevan 2015, which you can see below (to move 14, but as there was a repetition, we had played two more moves apiece) as it appears on page 202

of Delchev and Semkov, Attacking the English/Reti, Chess Stars, 2016

which I have on my bookshelves.

Which is how I came to be in the position below, after Black's 16...Qd8, before I had to play any moves of my own.

White then varied with 17 Rc1. So my original contribution consisted of five moves - five very ordinary moves - and then, after a simple blunder by White

a very obvious pawn fork to win the game.

Suddenly the game looks very different, doesn't it? Suddenly it's perfectly normal, unexceptional. Suddenly there's nothing odd about it at all.

Ever get the feeling you've been cheated - what would be the point?

I'd like to look at a few positions from some of the games I played on Chess.com.

I've not been through all the games I played on that site. Nor do I intend to: I shouldn't have to and I haven't got the energy.

So why these games and why these positions? Because when Chess.com said I was banned, several games immediately came to mind, in which I remembered (having analysed tham after they were over) having made blunders of one kind or another. Missed wins, missed draws, other weak moves.

Which makes Chess.com's claim all the more incomprehensible. There may be no such thing as computer moves - but there may be such a thing as moves you don't play, if you're seeking to win games with the help of a program. And below, you can see some of them.

Analysis is pretty perfunctory where it's provided at all, because I assume readers have access to computers, and probably better ones than mine. I looked at these with DroidFish running on an Android phone and rarely getting much above 20-ply. So I'm not vouching for everything it claims, and once again, if your view differs from the one given here, that's what the comments box is for.

All of what follows has been put to Chess.com. (In fact, rather more than this: when emailing them I drew attention to quite a few manifestly inferior moves, ones where the computer sees many superior alternatives. I've omitted them here for the sake of relative brevity, but they are there to be found, if it should please you to look for them.)

I've not received an answer to any of them.
- - -

Here, as an aperitif, is a quick game, but not one so brief that it doesn't contain a remarkable miss by the winning side.

[Site "Chess.com"]
[Date "2019.02.27"]
[White "Justinpatzer"]
[Black "FathiAli77"]
[Result "1-0"]
[WhiteElo "2124"]
[BlackElo "1976"]
[EndDate "2019.03.04"]
[Termination "Justinpatzer won by resignation"]
1. Nf3 Nc6 2. d4 d5 3. g3 Nf6 4. Bg2 Bg4 5. Ne5 Nxe5 6. dxe5 Nd7 7. Qxd5 c6 8. Qe4 Qa5+ 9. Nc3 Nxe5 10. Bf4 Ng6 11. O-O-O e6 12. Qc4 Rc8 13. Bd6 Ne5 14. Bxe5 1-0

White played 12 Qc4 here, a perfectly good move, and for that matter one after which White may well be winning.

However, there is something stronger. See if you can spot it.

Or if you can't, ask your program, which will point it out immediately.

Position after 11....e7-e6

Did you see the spectacular win? I didn't. It's 12 Qxc6+.

DroidFish did.

But I didn't ask DroidFish, did I? Not until after the game had finished.

Ever get the feeling you've been cheated - my 22 unmemorable games

Attached, at the foot of this piece, are the scores of all the games I played on Chess.com since I began to play regularly. There's only twenty-two of them, which isn't many.

Prior to that I think I only played casual games with friends, although, not having access to my account to check, I can't be sure. On completion of a game, players receive an email with, among other things, the score of the game. I have listed every game of which I had an email in the appropriate file. If anybody has access to earlier games, please let me know and I'll add them.

All games were played at the rate of one day per move. I preferred opponents with ratings relatively close to mine (150 or 200 points) and ones who had already played a lot of games on Chess.com. I tried not to be playing more than two games at any time (occasionally three if one were already all but over). They were played in two periods within the last twelve months: from 19 November 2018 to 4 March 2019 and from 1 July 2019 to 10 August 2019.

My overall results in these games were 15 wins, 4 draws and 3 losses (though one loss and one win were on time, and one loss was against a player subsequently disqualified, for what it's worth). These won't be unusual statistics at all for a player who is basically working their way up, given that most of my opponents - early on, especially - must have been rather weaker in playing strength than I am.

In fact nothing about the games, their course or their outcome seems to me at all out of the ordinary. But if you think differently, or have any other comment to make, go ahead. That's what the comments box is for. (Comments with consistent names, handles or initials only, please.)

For your convenience a file of these games is available by request in the comments box - please leave your email address or other contact details - or via my Twitter account (either tweet or send a Direct Message) or via the English Chess Forum where I am JustinHorton or via my Facebook account. It may be shared as you see fit.

[Site "Chess.com"]
[Date "2019.07.22"]
[White "3foldcountergambit"]
[Black "Justinpatzer"]
[Result "0-1"]
[WhiteElo "2125"]
[BlackElo "2210"]
[EndDate "2019.08.10"]
[Termination "Justinpatzer won by resignation"]
1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 Nf6 4. d3 d6 5. c3 Bd7 6. Nbd2 g6 7. Nf1 Bg7 8. Bg5 h6 9. Bh4 O-O 10. Ne3 Qe8 11. a4 a6 12. Bc4 Be6 13. Bxf6 Bxf6 14. Nd5 Bxd5 15. Bxd5 Nd8 16. O-O c6 17. Bc4 Ne6 18. a5 Rd8 19. Qb3 Nc5 20. Qb6 Rd7 21. b4 Bd8 22. Qa7 Ne6 23. Bxe6 Qxe6 24. Qe3 f5 25. Qxh6 f4 26. Ng5 Bxg5 27. Qxg5 f3 28. Rae1 Rf4 29. gxf3 Rh7 30. Re3 Rh5 31. Qg3 g5 32. c4 Kh8 33. Rb1 g4 34. Kf1 Rh3 35. Qg1 gxf3 36. Ke1 Rg4 37. Qf1 Qh6 38. Kd2 Rg2 39. Kc3 Rgxh2 40. Qd1 Rxf2 41. Re1 Rhh2 42. b5 cxb5 43. cxb5 Qe6 44. Rh1 Qc8+ 45. Kb3 Qc5 46. Rxh2+ Rxh2 47. bxa6 Qb5+ 48. Kc3 Qxa5+ 49. Kb3 Qxa6 50. Kc3 Qc6+ 51. Kb3 Qb5+ 52. Kc3 Qa5+ 53. Kb3 Qa2+ 54. Kc3 Rh7 55. Rb4 Qa3+ 56. Rb3 Qc5+ 57. Kb2 Rh2+ 58. Kb1 Qf2 59. Rxb7 Qa2+ 0-1

Ever get the feeling you've been cheated?

I hadn't expected to be posting here again, not really. But something came up, something important - important to me, because I'm involved, but also potentially important for other people.

I had a good summer, on the chessboard: placed second in Paignton, qualifying for the British Championship. And then, a few days after I got home, I received an email which began like this....
Hello Justinpatzer

Unfortunately your Chess.com account has been closed because we have determined it to be in violation of our Fair Play Policy.

We are always sad when we close any account. We want everyone to be able to enjoy chess. However, we must protect the integrity of the game and cannot allow players to use outside assistance in their games (advice from other players, chess engines/computers, etc).
This came as a shock. A huge shock. Because I have not used outside assistance in my games. Nor thought of doing so.

Thursday 4 July 2019


This blog is in hibernation until such time as its author rediscovers some enthusiasm for it.

Wednesday 22 May 2019

The Monkey's Paw

I never - until yesterday - knew that The Monkey's Paw

begins with a chess game.

No wonder they came to no good.

[Also see]

Monday 20 May 2019

Jimmy Riddle

I don't read the British Chess Magazine, since it's full of trash, but I do know people who do, and so I happen to know that for some reason, it has devoted eleven pages of its latest issue to a review of a review.

The review in the first instance (which you've probably seen already) is Olimpiu Urcan's piece discussing Ray and Byron's book on the Caruana-Carlsen match (which you probably haven't). But you might recall that this review was the ostensible reason for Chess and Bridge Magazine ceasing to stock the book.

The review in the second instance is a review of Olimpiu's review.

The BCM is considerably closer to Ray, right now, than is its rival, and the review's appearance, and the book's disappearance from Chess and Bridge, are very much connected.

The review is by Jimmy Adams, and it is a load of old balls from start to finish, including, in just one sentence above, the claim that Olimpiu's website is patreon.com - see the difference, Jimmy? - and a grim inability to actually spell the name of the chap he's criticising, which is Olimpiu, not Olympiu, a misspelling that appears at least twenty times. To be fair Jimmy says more than once that he doesn't go looking for "typos and mistakes" and Lord, that surely is the truth.

I'm not going to give the piece much more attention than it deserves - although if you've read this far, I probably have already - not least because I doubt Jimmy believes very much else of what he wrote. The point of rebutting charges in which the prosecution don't believe in the first place has always eluded me, and this particular indictment is written in a style reminiscent of Bart Simpson

except we might describe Jimmy Adams' version as "there's nothing wrong with this - well only a little - well maybe more, but who cares anyway". Jimmy doesn't, that's for sure.

There's an old saying about not going mud-wrestling with a pig, as there is a newer one about not feeding the trolls. When Jimmy Adams, who has been writing about chess for many years, pretends not to know what's wrong with a writer publishing the same material in several places without saying where it's appeared before - of course he knows. So why bother arguing? It'd constitute getting oneself dirty while the pig enjoys it. That said, this little passage is worth a moment of our time.

I know you don't believe what you're writing, Jimmy, but what are you actually writing here? Chess Notes contains 'essentially "cut and paste"'? In what sense? In some sense comparable to Ray's prodigious recycling of his old material? In some other sense? What, Jimmy, are you talking about?

We don't know, and neither does he. At very least, he doesn't care whether what he's saying makes any sense or not, and that's not an argument, nor an advocate, that you can engage with. What else can you make of this?

There's no evidence for it, but it "may very well be true". Alas, Jimmy doesn't go on to explain why, because, pffft, anything may be as true as anything else, if I only choose to say so.

Friday 19 April 2019

Think again

On this blog's predecessor, we used to maintain a regular feature called Bad Book Covers, trying to identify the best of the worst in our particular field.

I've not really been keeping up since, but looking back, the last item in the series was from Thinkers Publishing, and its Thinkers Publishing whose eyewatering efforts have been drawn to my attention again recently.

Take for instance Improve Your Practical Play in the Middlegame, by Alexey Dreev, published last year. What is that disembodied hand? Why is it trying to put the pawn's eye out? Is that king some kind of ghost? Who drew this? Who thought it was a good idea?

Talking of disembodied, this is Edouard's My Magic Years With Topalov, due later this month, but what are those heads doing on the cover? Who did this to them? Will they ever be at rest?

Wednesday 3 April 2019

About Schmidt

Over the last few days, I've found quite a lot of adverts popping up for this book on my smartphone.

Matter of fact, it popped up three times during the course of one single article.

Naturally I was curious to look up the book, since £6.99 is pretty cheap for a chess book these days. Or any day in the last, what, couple of decades? (By contrast, this one, due out later this year, will set you back £19.99, and that's not bad at all by today's prices.)

So what are we getting for our money?

You may well ask, since the blurb is unsure even what opening we are discussing

which may undermine our confidence that the games have been "carefully selected".

Friday 29 March 2019


It was my wife's birthday on Sunday, and as we were due to be working in Madrid in the coming week, we went up a day early, had lunch in a couple of bars near the Rastro and then had a walk round the Manzanares, beginning at the abandoned Vicente Calderón

dead football stadium

and spotting, to our surprise, some turtles on the way.

live turtles

As we were going to the pictures in the evening, we left the riverbank to go over up the hill that takes you to the area, just off the Plaza de España, where there are several cinemas, and just before we reached the railway bridge

we had a second surprise. By the side of the road, a small group of people had set up a homemade chessboard, with a set of plastic pieces.

So I did what you would have done, which was to wander up to the players in the hope - rewarded, as it happens - of being invited to play a game.

Wednesday 20 March 2019

Is this really a good way to promote women's chess? II

Well said.

It would be good to see less of this kind of tat in the future.

And, for that matter, this.

Monday 18 March 2019


There's a Twitter account I follow and a Tweet last week happened to catch my eye.

If you have the sound on you might have recognised Baba O'Riley and you might even recognise the meme, though I confess I find this example a particuarly obscure rendering. But never mind that -

- what's this?

It's this.

I've never come across that cover before.

I've never come across the position before either, though I've been close once or twice.

Saturday 16 March 2019

Three out of four

I logged on relatively early on Thursday for the last round of the World Team Championship, I guess an hour or so in, which is relatively early when it's kicked off at seven in the morning, Anyway I checked Chessbomb for early results and I could see that there were three of them, all in the Azerbaijan v Egypt match.

Naiditsch-Amin on board one had already finished early in a popular repetition

as indeed had Adly-Mamedov on board two, in another popular repetition

one so popular, in fact, that you could also see it on board four, in Hesham-Safarli.

Guseinov and Fawzy still seemed to be playing on board three, so I took a look, expecting to see another draw unfold before my very eyes.

Not a bit of it.

In fact I'm not totally sure whether it was before or after Black's twelfth when I looked in, but it's not of any importance, since the game was pretty much up already

and had been for a couple of moves.

So what's going on there then?

Friday 15 March 2019

Chess in Art Revisits 3. Dorothea Tanning

This Revisit is to Tate Modern for the splendid retrospective of Dorothea Tanning (1910 - 2012) who passed away just a few years ago, but not before we had the chance - back in 2010 - to wish her 'Happy Birthday' on the occasion of her 100th. The exhibition runs until June 9th, so plenty of time to catch it. She has been insufficiently appreciated, perhaps, on this side of the pond, yet offers many treats - if you like her sort of thing.

Wednesday 13 March 2019


Oh really?

One wonders which instances of players "sometimes" yelling Zugzwang Robert Macfarlane has in mind.

[Vaguely relevant]

Friday 8 March 2019

Chess in Art Revisits 2. Tom Hackney

For the second of these Chess in Art Revisits, we catch up with Tom Hackney, about whom we have blogged frequently during his Chess in Art career (since 2012 in fact; see full list appended below). Back in January Tom was exhibiting at the London Art Fair, where we had a chance for a chat.

Tuesday 5 March 2019

Follow by

I was saying just yesterday that carelessness is a Ray characteristic. There's a million examples to choose from, but here's a nice one from his Spectator column from the last issue but one, in which Ray annotates the game Artemiev v Nakamura from Gibraltar.

Better put, in which the game Artemiev v Nakamura from Gibraltar is annotated.

Not that Ray is pretending it's all his own work.

Based on? They surely are.

Gibraltar bulletin

After a couple of early notes of Ray's own making, most of what follows from move 21 onwards is straightforward copying out.

Ray in the Spectator

Well, that's what Ray does, it's what he's been doing for forty years. I particularly like this example, though, because, the Gibraltar bulletin being prepared for publication quite quickly, it contains, understandably enough, a couple of obvious errors. (Happens here all the time.)

But - and I do love this - although Ray is happy to change a word here and there just to make it look like he's doing some original work, he's left the errors entirely intact.

Monday 4 March 2019

Examining the examiner

Coming back to Ray's fake charity, the Brain Trust, and its accounts, I mentioned before that up to year ending 31 March 2016 the accounts were examined by the accountancy firm Blick Rothenburg, but not subsequently.

This might help explain a couple of things, one of which1 might be the deterioration in quality of the 2017 accounts in particular, perhaps best illustrated by the fantastic upside-down, back-to-front page that appears there, giving the impression that whoever submitted them didn't really know what they were doing.

Other examples, of various kinds, include the section numbers skipping from 14 to 16, missing out 15

the retention of an x where there ought to be a specific figure

and a failure of arithmetic (it's £90,333).

Or from the latest accounts, year ending 31 March 2018, there's an inability to get the name right of one of the grant-receiving entities

and getting the wrong date for Eric Schiller's death (it was 3 November). Really you'd think they'd get that right.

But this kind of carelessness is of course a Ray characteristic. It might also be the sort of thing a professional would put right before approving and submitting the accounts. So why deprive yourself of their useful services? One possible reason might be the difference in remuneration due to the Independent Examiner, which hopped up to four grand in Blick Rothenburg's last year

and then hopped down.

Another possible reason might be that the new Independent Examiner, David Massey, doesn't just come cheap, but doesn't appear either to be independent, or to do any examination. Why would you care that all the major grants go to Ray's old friends and business partners, when you're one of them?