GM Alonso Zapata’s Antiquated Openings

Current Atlanta resident Grandmaster Alonso Zapata

lost his first two games at the recently completed Charlotte Spring GM/IM Norm Invitational IM (B) by resting on his laurels.

GM Alonso Zapata (2341) vs FM Carlos Sandoval Mercado (2269)
Round 1 | 2023.03.16
B92 Sicilian, Najdorf, Opovcensky variation

  1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6 6. Be2 e5 7. Nf3 Be7 8. O-O O-O 9. Re1 h6 10. Bf1 Be6 11. h3 Qc7 12. a4 b6 13. Nh2 Nc6 14. Nd5 Bxd5 15. exd5 Nb4 16. c4 Nd7 17. Ra3 f5 18. Bxh6 gxh6 19. Qd2 Kh7 20. Qxb4 a5 21. Qd2 Nc5 22. Qc2 e4 23. f3 Bh4 24. Re2 Rae8 25. Kh1 Qg7 26. Ree3 Kh8 27. f4 Rg8 28. g4 Bf6 29. Rg3 Bxb2 30. Ra2 Bd4 31. Qd1 Bf6 32. Rgg2 Qh7 33. Rg1 Bh4 34. Rag2 Qf7 35. Be2 e3 36. g5 Ne4 37. Qd4+ Qg7 38. Qxg7+ Rxg7 39. Nf1 hxg5 40. Kh2 Bf2 41. Rh1 g4 0-1 (–im-b/round-1/mqOni1F0)

The Stockfish program used at will play 7 Nb3, as have over ten thousand other players according to, which is ten times more than those playing the weaker 7 Nf3. The following game, in which the player of the black pieces played the inferior 7…h3, was located. Obviously GM Zapata has had much practice with the line made famous by former World Champion Anatoly Karpov. Here is yet another example of an older player continuing to “go with what’cha know, Joe” in lieu of studying the opening and incorporating changes into one’s repertoire.

Alonso Zapata (2515) vs Gilberto Milos (2605)
Event: Yopal
Site: Yopal Date: ??/??/1997
Round: 7
ECO: B92 Sicilian, Najdorf, Opovcensky variation
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.Be2 e5 7.Nf3 h6 8.O-O Be7 9.Re1 O-O 10.Bf1 Qc7 11.a4 Be6 12.a5 Rc8 13.Be3 Nbd7 14.Ra4 Nc5 15.Bxc5 Qxc5 16.Nd2 Ng4 17.Qf3 Bg5 18.Nb3 Qc6 19.h3 Nf6 20.Rd1 Re8 21.Rb4 Rad8 22.Rb6 Qc7 23.g3 h5 24.Bg2 h4 25.g4 g6 26.Nc1 Nd7 27.Rb4 Nc5 28.Nb3 Bxb3 29.cxb3 Qxa5 30.Rc4 Nxb3 31.Ra4 Qc5 32.Nd5 Nd4 33.Qd3 Rc8 34.Bf1 Qc2 35.Nb6 Rc6 36.Qxc2 Rxc2 37.Rb4 Bd2 38.Ra4 Be3 39.Kh1 Rxf2 40.Nd5 Bg5 41.b4 Rc8 0-1

FM Terry Luo (2310) – GM Alonso Zapata (2341)
Round 2 2023.03.16
A89 Dutch, Leningrad, main variation with Nc6

  1. d4 f5 2. c4 Nf6 3. Nf3 d6 4. g3 g6 5. Bg2 Bg7 6. O-O O-O 7. Nc3 Nc6 8. d5 Na5 9. b3 c5 10. Bd2 a6 11. e4 b5 12. e5 Ng4 13. exd6 exd6 14. h3 Ne5 15. Ng5 bxc4 16. Ne6 Bxe6 17. dxe6 Re8 18. Nd5 Nac6 19. e7 Qb8 20. bxc4 Ra7 21. Rb1 Qc8 22. Bg5 Kh8 23. f4 Nf7 24. Nb6 Qc7 25. Qd5 Nxg5 26. Qxc6 Bd4+ 27. Kh1 Qxe7 28. fxg5 1-0–im-b/round-2/ScN8PQlO
  1. d4 f5 2. c4 Nf6 3. Nf3 d6 4. g3 g6 5. Bg2 Bg7 6. O-O O-O 7. Nc3 Nc6 (Stockfish gives this move the dubious treatment with a ?! Books have been written, as have blog posts [], concerning the best move in the position. At one time 7…Qe8 was all the rage, with Grandmasters publishing books devoted to the move, which is now considered inferior to 7…c6. This is yet another example of an older player not doing his homework and going with a move with which he is familiar. The result speaks for itself) 8 d5 Na5 (It has been known for some time the move played in the game is inferior to the better Ne5. In numerical terms Stockfish shows that after the ill-fated 8…Na5 was played white was close to having a theoretically won game at +1.3) 9 b3 (SF now shows white having an advantage of +1.5, which is considered to be winning) 9…c5 (This move is not given a “?” or even a “?!” but it does show that white is now up by +1.8, which means a Grandmaster has played the opening so weakly he has a lost position PRIOR TO MAKING HIS TENTH MOVE!)

Being A Woman in Chess Can Feel ‘lonely’ Says Streamer Anna Cramling

Anna Cramling is one of the most popular chess streamers online. Courtesy Madelene Belinki

With multiple women coming forward about their disturbing experiences in the chess world, including accusations of sexual misconduct by a grandmaster, the historic game is having its own #MeToo moment.

Popular online chess streamer Anna Cramling says she’s also had uncomfortable experiences during her career in the game.

The 20-year-old, who boasts almost 400,000 subscribers on YouTube, says being a woman in chess has sometimes led to unwanted comments by men that left her feeling uncomfortable and lonely during tournaments.
Alejandro Ramirez at the 2016 Pan-Ams.

US Chess Federation investigates grandmaster following accusations of sexual misconduct

“I’ve had weird experiences in the chess world ever since I was a kid,” Cramling told CNN Sport.

“From adult men complimenting me at chess tournaments, to receiving DMs from my chess opponents saying things such as ‘I couldn’t stop looking at you’ during our chess game.

“This made me feel very uncomfortable, as a chess game typically takes four or five hours, so it felt weird knowing that someone so much older than me had been thinking about me in that way for so many hours.”

As the daughter of two grandmasters – her mother, Pia, was the fifth-ever female grandmaster and her father, Juan Manuel Bellón López, a five-time Spanish champion – chess has always played an important role in Cramling’s life.

Born in Spain, Cramling said she spent a lot of time traveling with her parents to tournaments around the world and eventually decided to develop her own skills.

She says she started taking chess more seriously after moving to Sweden with her family, studying the game for up to two hours every day.

“Even if I didn’t study every day, I constantly heard about chess, I constantly saw my parents analyzing their chess games, talking about chess,” she said.

According to, Cramling reached a peak International Chess Federation (FIDE) rating of 2175 in 2018 which qualifies her as a Woman FIDE Master – the third-highest ranking for women, behind the woman grandmaster and the woman international master.

Since 2020, however, Cramling says her focus has been more on building her social media platforms.
‘Embarrassed and guilty’

Cramling recalls the moment when an arbiter questioned her outfit during a youth tournament that she was part of when she was 15.

It was summer, she said, so like many she was wearing shorts, and had gone over to speak to some friends she knew competing in the men’s tournament.

She said a tournament official approached her and told her she was “distracting all the male players.”

“I remember going back to the women’s section of the tournament and feeling so embarrassed and guilty that I couldn’t concentrate throughout my whole game – I just wanted to leave,” she said.

“One of the main issues has been that there are so many more guys than girls that play chess, and being a woman at a chess tournament can sometimes feel lonely.

“I have sometimes played in tournaments with over 300 participants, where only five have been women.

“I think that one of the reasons so few women compete is because the environment in chess tournaments can be very hostile to them, and I know that many, many women have stories like mine, or worse.”

Despite these incidents, Cramling still has an obvious passion for the game that is visible on her online platforms.

She regularly uploads videos, such as informal matches against grandmaster Magnus Carlsen, and streams her games online.

The world of chess streaming may be relatively new, but it certainly has an audience.

In addition to her growing YouTube channel, Cramling boasts 301,000 followers on Twitch and almost 150,000 on Instagram. She says that most of the feedback she receives online is friendly.

Cramling says her presence and subsequent following have grown monthly, and she was recently nominated for Best Chess Streamer at The Streamer Awards this year.

She’s come a long way since her first video, which she says she made using her then boyfriend’s laptop.

By chance, her decision to experiment with streaming coincided with the Covid-19 pandemic, which saw the world of online chess experience a boom in popularity – online platform said earlier this year it had more than 102 million users signed up, a 238% increase from January 2020.

Cramling says she is grateful that her knowledge and enthusiasm for chess have found an audience.

“I never thought I was going to make a living out of this,” she said. “It was so fun in the beginning, and I still think it’s really fun.

“I think that also translates into streams, people see that I’m having fun and I think that’s the most important thing.

“The moment when it starts not being fun, I think it’s really hard to make good content.”
What chess must do for women

Cramling says she wants her content to serve as more than just entertainment.

According to researcher David Smerdon, only 11% of FIDE-rated players and only 2% of grandmasters – the highest chess title awarded by the sport’s governing body – are women.

Just like her mother was her role model, Cramling now wants to inspire other women to play chess, but says tournaments must do their part.

She says she wants officials to be more engaged in monitoring behavior toward women and has called on them to take charge if an issue arises.

“Chess trainers, players and especially tournament officials should all set an example to make everyone feel welcome, no matter who they are. Chess is a game for everyone,” she said.

“I hope that, through my online presence, I can contribute in showing that women have a voice in chess and inspire more women to play.

“I know that chess tournaments will not forever look this way, we just need to get more women to play.

“The more we talk about how badly some women are treated at tournaments, and the more we listen to everyone’s stories, the more we are able to make a change.”

CNN reached out to FIDE for comment but hadn’t received a reply at the time of publication.

Chessays, Part Two: FIDE Is A Four Letter Word

The fourth chapter, in which the author rips FIDE a new one several times, is the best part of the book, and it is a chapter every person involved with the Royal Game should read. The chapter opens with this paragraph:

“Technically, of course, FIDE is not a word at all, but a French acronym-Federation Internationale des Echecs-and by titling this essay in the manner that I did, I have sportingly given its defenders the opportunity to launch a counter-attack by being able to point to a minor inaccuracy on my part. Because it does, of course, have defenders-everyone does. Hitler had his defenders. Pol Pot had his defenders. Vladimir Putin currently finds himself surrounded by hordes of sycophantic defenders-indeed, the current President of FIDE was one of his most loyal supporters for deacdes. But I am getting ahead of myself.”

Several paragraphs follow in which the author takes FIDE to task for holding a World Chess Championship, writing, “It could have, in short, done away with the entire antiquated “world champion” idea right from its very beginning-a notion which has done so much to emphatically hold chess back in its forward sporting progress and lies at the heart of so many of its current concerns. But it didn’t.”

I do not know about that, because things were different ‘back in the day’. Mr. Burton is writing about a time prior to when he was BORN, for crying out loud. Who knows where the Royal Game would be if there had been no World Champion. Things have changed drastically this century, so the writer may (does?) have a point about the current irrelevance of the title. But still, unless one was alive, and playing Chess at the time, one cannot imagine how the WORLD, and not just the “Chess World”, was captivated by the Fischer vs Spassky match. As many have written, “It put Chess on the map.”

The author continues, “Whatever the intentions might have been, shortly after its creation FIDE immediately plunged into the businesses of promoting Chess Olympiads and managing the chess world championships, with varying results.”

There follows a history of Chess which was interesting reading considering the writer is new to Chess and has no preconceived notions about the past. For example, the author first hits a forehand smash prior to a backhanded shot: “Max Euwe’s subsequent eight year term as president from 1970-78, meanwhile, represents the unequivocal apex of FIDE leadership-which is admittedly a bit like being the most tasteful hotel on the Las Vegas Strip-but still.”

That is followed by this: “And then things just got completely ridiculous.’ Campomanes, a former Philippine national champion, was FIDE president from 1982-1995, overseeing what was widely considered to be a period of unprecedented corruption.”

There is that word “C” word again, which seems to go hand in hand with anything written about the unctuous Campomanes.

Campo “was followed by Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, FIDE president from 1995-2018 and president of the Russian Republic of Kalmykia from 1993 to 2010. Ilyumzhinov has repeatedly claimed to have been abducted by aliens (“chess comes from space,” he adamantly maintains)…”

“Finally, Ilyumzhinov’s 23 year reign was followed in 2018 by the current FIDE president, Arkady Dvorkovich, an economist…”

“Despite having placed his demonstrably ambitious fingers in many pies throughout his life, Dvorkovich never seems to have manifested any particular interest in chess.”

Can you say, “Titular figurehead?” Campo was not the only FIDE president with greasy hands… How Chess has managed to succeed while being run by kooks and criminals is anybody’s guess. Then one reads this:

“Why on earth, you might be forgiven for interjecting at this point, is the international chess community so intent on portraying itself as such an irredeemable laughing stock? In a world replete with behind the scenes horse-trading and “gentleman’s agreements” that decide who should head global organizations, how can it be that the international chess federation, of all things, stands out as one of the most cavalierly corrupt of them all, nonchalantly lurching from one buffoon-like leadership situation to the next, decade after decade?

Well, because on the whole, nobody gives a damn.”

There’s more…

“And you can’t really blame them, of course. Concern that the world chess federation is so wantonly politicized and laughably incompetent is naturally going to fall exceptionally low on the global priority list, somewhere between cultural subsidies for korfball and doctoral scholarships in the philosophy of quantum theory. And the powers that be at FIDE-i.e. the Kremlin-are all too well aware of this.”

Then he unloads the other barrel:

“More significantly for our purposes, they are also well aware of the fact that the few people who do care about such issues-i.e. chess players-will not be able to do anything about it, given that, on the whole, chess players are, as a group, the most politically hopeless of all human beings.”

Why hold back when you are on a roll?

“Indeed, while I’ve long been convinced that becoming an excellent chess player is no more proof of superabundant intelligence than becoming an excellent pole vaulter, I’m beginning to suspect that chess players are somehow exceptionally disastrous to a statistically significant degree when it comes to appreciating matters of governance and social organization; and the better the chess player, on the whole, the more hopeless things are.”

“This is, I recognize, a curious sort of claim. Am I implying that those who become strong chess players are somehow a priori inclined towards such sociopolitical dysfunctionality? Or could it be that the very act of rigorously developing one’s chess skills produces a consequent inability in these domains-a sort of “inverse far transfer”?”

“I have no idea, and even less inclination to attempt to parse this particular correlation-causation conundrum. All I know is that the closer I examine the chess world, the more convinced I am that such a link exists.”

“Which brings me to Garry Kasparov.”

“By far the most dominant chess player of recent times, Kasparov’s remarkably long reign at the pinnacle of chess is second only to that of Emanuel Lasker. He is, without a shadow of a doubt, the greatest and most influential chess player in living memory, whose manifold contributions to chess, both over the board and through his extensive chess-related writings, are simply unparalleled.”

“And very much in keeping with the mooted correlation above, it turns out that his level of sociopolitical naivete and bombastic non-chess maladroitness is also unparalleled. Over the years Kasparov has vigorously portrayed himself as a knowledgeable spokesman for business leadership, historical scholarship, artificial intelligence, human rights, philanthropy, democracy and much more besides-the upshot of which goes a considerable distance towards convincing anyone with the slightest shred of genuine understanding of any of these issues that an essential requirement for elite chess dominance must be the ability to remove oneself, wholesale, from reality.”

Don’t hold back there, Howard Burton, tell us how you REALLY feel! This writer most definitely does not hold back ANYTHING! Mr. Burton has taken out his scalpel and ripped new ones for EVERYONE in the Chess community! Or at least it seems that way, does it not?! As far as I am concerned the only thing Kasparov will be remembered for is cheating Judit Polgar, and being the first human champion to lose to a computer Chess program. (

Mr. Burton continues:

“Now to the bad news.”

Say what? After stickin’ and rippin’ the Royal Game to the point where there is blood all over the board (the tables, chairs, and floors) HB gives us “the bad news.” Which is:

“Nobody who is not directly competing in the Chess Olympiads knows or cares the slightest bit about them; and the world chess championships are a ridiculous anachronism that has well and truly outlived any possible value that it might have possessed. It’s very much time to grow up and move on from all of that.”

Indeed…why stop when you are on a roll?

“Let’s take the Chess Olympiads first. I have talked to enough professional chess players to know that these are unquestionably very popular events within the chess world, with many people spontaneously waxing on about the uniquely uplifting spirit of camaraderie that they’ve experienced while participating. But here’s the thing: if you want to make a living by pushing pieces of wood around a board, the only thing that matters is whether or not there are sufficient numbers of other people around who are willing to watch you do so, not how warm and fuzzy the experience makes you feel, or to what extent various self-important members of your national federation can take pleasure in schmoozing with you and your teammates.”

“This might well be, I appreciate, quite confusing to most modern-day professional players, many of whom-particularly women-have spent their lives feeling deeply beholden to the interests of their national federation. But it is long past time to wake up and smell the coffee: these federations are holding you back. Indeed, they are precisely the reason that FIDE has the “power” that it has at all.”

“So here, finally, is the good news-and to any chess-lover, from the Magnus Carlsen groupie to the would-be professional chess player, it is very good news indeed.”

“There is lots of money in chess. It has an enormously large international following and is poised to grow much, much more. And no, this is not because of Netflix or coronavirus pandemics or any of the nonsense that chess people are so often repeating to themselves, but because chess is one of the very few activities that can so easily and so naturally lend itself to modern communications technologies.”

“It’s not just that you can play chess online too-you can play backgammon online too-it’s that the rapid creation of a comprehensive online chess infrastructure has incomparably transformed the chess experience.”

There is a footnote, number 42, in which it is written: “I’m sorry to be picking so much on backgammon, and doubtless this will raise the hackles of any Pahlavi-speaking ancient Zoroastrians out there who are indignant that I am not being sufficiently respectful of its cosmological allegorical potential (which is certainly the case), but I can’t help feeling that it is a worthy point of comparison.”

The author continues: “Chess, through the internet, has come of age. It has not just “adjusted” to the new normal, or found a way to successfully harness the fruits of modern technology in order to better do what it was already doing: chess has been nothing less than comprehensively transformed by modern technology. And, needless to say, this state of affairs has absolutely nothing to do with anything that FIDE, or any national chess federation, has ever done.”

“So let me set the record straight. It is certainly true that devotees of chess have an alarming tendency to consistently make sweeping, rigidly hierarchical judgments about virtually all aspects of their fellow human beings based solely on their Elo rating, which I find particularly unpalatable. It is true, too, that they are particularly prone to confuse wishful thinking with actual evidence when it comes to anty chess-related issue, irrepressibly holding forth on how chess can cure ADHD and prevent Alzheimer’s in a way which seems to comprehensively annihilate any claim that acquiring chess competency is linked to the development of critical thinking skills. And it cannot be denied that chess players, even more than most of us, do not generally take kindly to having their flaws pointed out to them, and will reflexively resort to any criticism coming their way be promptly launching a bevy of ad hominem counter-attacks inevitably linked to the Elo rating of their perceived attacker (see above).”

“Yes, yes, yes,. But it is also most conspicuously the case that the chess world is peopled by an extremely large number of capable, passionately dedicated individuals who exhibit a deeply impressive sense of community spirit. I have never witnessed anything remotely like it.”

“You see it in the astonishing number of thoughtful, well-constructed, instructional chess videos on YouTube. (Footnote 74: In a world replete with “content creators” of every description, including thousands who post abominably-edited tutorial videos on how to edit videos, the chess word stands out as nothing less than a paragon of content excellence.) You see it in the spontaneous sharing of any and all chess-related resources. You see it on the thousands of chess newsgroups scattered throughout the internet. And you see it whenever you speak, as I have, to the many, many extremely kind and gracious people within the remarkably large and varied “chess ecosystem,” from chess teachers to chess organizers to the countless altruists using chess as an innovative means of personal empowerment and social change.”

“How such a uniquely supportive global environment could have possibly emerged from a frequently ego-destroying contest based on ancient Indian war practices is one of the world’s great mysteries. But emerge it most assuredly has.”

“Which makes it all the more exasperating when the likes of FIDE so blatantly hijack the interests of this extraordinary community while cynically purporting to serve its interests. Back in 1924, when FIDE adopted the motto Gens Una Sumus, it was likely an honest and accurate reflection of what those founders felt they were doing and on whose behalf they believed they were doing it. These days, however, it has an unquestionably Arbeit Macht Frei ring to it.”

“The key point, then, is that chess today is different-very, very different-from chess of 20 years ago. The rise of powerful, universally-available chess engines naturally represents one part of the transformation which has garnered the lion’s share of attention, but it is, in fact, a relatively minor part. By far the most dominant factor is that an extremely large and dedicated international community has emphatically embraced an entirely new communications technology that just happened to perfectly fit its needs.”

“Intriguingly, too, this has coherently played out in both a capitalist and non-for-profit context, with the rapid simultaneous development of the likes of and Both of these organizations, along with several more, are flourishing in the new age of chess. Both provide continually expanding, top-quality services to their loyal membership. And yet, business-wise, they are completely different: is unabashedly corporate, operating through advertising and paid subscriptions; is unabashedly non-corporate, offering all of its content freely and with no advertising within an avowedly open-source framework while being supported through volunteer donations. In any other domain, the rivalry would be tense, cutthroat even. In the chess world, however, they exist together relatively harmoniously, with significant overlap in their international user base.”

“I have no idea to what extent the business ecosystem of online chess is a harbinger of things to come or a temporary aberration, but it is, most assuredly, quite different.”

“And the difference, I’m convinced, can be traced back to the uniqueness of the global chess community itself-and in particular its passion.”

“Passion is he vital common denominator throughout the international chess community, the secret sauce that has ripples through everyone, from the novice unexpectedly finding herself hooked on the game to the spontaneous panegyrics of the ageless Bruce Pandolfini, expounding upon the unparalleled beauty of Morphy’s “Opera Game.”

The review concludes with this: “In order to build a steady following, it’s important to create a full contextual environment for fans to follow along with the sport. If I’m a fan of major league baseball, for example, I know from the first days of spring training that the regular season consists of 162 games, and that my team has a good chance of making it to the postseason if it wins 90 of those games, while it will almost certainly make it if it wins 95. And if I’m a tennis fan, I know which tournaments count the most, both in terms of prestige and associated ranking points; and I can confidently tell you at any given moment who is the tenth best player in the world and who is #1.By following a particular sport, in other words, I’m doing much more than simply watching a ball being struck or people running around: I am entering a world.”

“Now consider chess. Suppose I want a clear sense of which players are ranked fifth and sixth in the world respectively and why. It’s far from clear.”

“What about which tournaments I should pay the most attention to? If I follow men’s chess, the situation seems to change almost hourly, presumably depending on whatever shady backroom deal happened to be agreed upon at some mediocre, overpriced Swiss tournament, (Footnote 54: It’s true: I don’t like Switzerland. I could tell you why, but this essay is long enough already. Instead, let’s just ask why Kirill Alekseenko officially the world’s #39 player, was involved in the 2020 Candidates Tournament? The answer, I’m afraid, is simply because he’s Russian.) while if I try to follow women’s chess, it’s somehow even worse. That’s no way to run a bingo parlor, let alone a sport with such tremendous international potential.”

“So why are things so terrible? Why, notwithstanding the outstanding global penetration of a tradition-rich, highly engaging activity that is passionately endorsed by millions of dedicated and capable people-and moreover, just so happens to fit perfectly within the modern technological sporting entertainment paradigm-is there simply nothing to hang on to for the incoming fan: no program, no schedule, no context whatsoever?”

“Well, because of FIDE, of course. Rather than letting someone both appropriate and competent run things, FIDE has customarily opted to “take control” of professional chess competitions in its inimitably corrupt, antediluvian fashion, thereby ensuring the continual repulsion of any would-be professional chess fan.”

“Not so!” protest the indignant FIDEstas. “There’s a wonderful international sporting culture associated with chess: there’s the World Championship and the Olympiads, both of which we run!”

“Well, that’s exactly my point.”

Whew…was that something, or what? What can I say? The Dude has a point.

Although there is much more, far much more, such as the last four chapters: 5. Watch Her Play; 6. Far Transfer; 7. Farther Transfer; and 8. Farthest Transfer, about which to write, the fact is that I have written enough for you to have a clue about the book, and therefore must truncate the review, and let you enjoy the latter chapters.

Driven By Curiosity

Howard Burton is a documentary filmmaker and author. He is also the founder of the award-winning multimedia initiative Ideas Roadshow and the editor of 120 books that are part of the Ideas Roadshow Conversations and Collections series. Howard holds a PhD in theoretical physics and an MA in philosophy and was the Founding Director of Canada’s Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics. He lives in France. (

Perpetual Chess Podcast

EP 319- Dr. Howard Burton- An Award Winning Documentary Filmmaker and Author on the Growth Opportunity for Chess, the Genius of Morphy, Fixing FIDE, and Whether Chess Skills Transfer to Other Domains Perpetual Chess Podcast (

Chessays: A Review, Part One

After reading an article at Chessbase, Chess – a waste of time?, by Frederic Friedel, published 2/13/2023, an order for the book, Chessays/Travels Through The World of Chess,

by Howard Burton,

along with a few others, was ordered from my Chess book go to guy, Greg Yanez, at Chess4Less ( When the book arrived it went to the top of the list as I stopped reading any of the other books being read to concentrate on Chessays.

Yesterday I discovered an article, The Societal Impact of Chess, Part 1: Introduction ( and suggest you read it after reading the review because the author, and film maker, talks about “Far Transfer,” which is the title of the sixth chapter. Chapter seven is entitled, “Farther Transfer,” with “Further Transfer” being the eighth, and final, chapter. The decision was made to truncate the review for two reasons. The first is that the review was already too long, and much time had to be spent cutting out some of the review, something I will admit to being loath to do. The other reason is that the final three chapters seemed to be rather esoteric. There is so much thought provoking material in the first five chapters the review will be presented in two parts. It has taken all of my wherewithal to not lead with the second part, which begins with chapter four.

One of the best features of the book is that here we have a ‘newbie’ to the world of Chess who is willing to write openly and honestly about how he perceives the world of Chess. Each and every person who has anything to do with governing the Royal Game should read this book, and maybe, depending on the individual, read it again. Anyone with an interest in Chess will appreciate this book. Although it is good enough to at least earn some nominations for Book of the Year award, many people in the Chess world will not like what the young man has to say. Nevertheless, anyone and everyone in the Chess community should at least be apprised of his thoughts concerning the world of Chess. From my over half a century of involvement with Chess it is apparent Chessays has about as much chance of being voted an award as a snowball has in hell.

The book begins with an introduction which contains this paragraph:

“I can’t remember a time when I didn’t know how to play chess, any more than I can remember a time when I didn’t know how to read, yet for most of my youth I didn’t pay a great deal of attention to either. As a child I was always much more interested in sports: street hockey or touch football or basketball.”

After reading the opening paragraph the book was put down as I sat, looking out the glass door to the outside world filled with greenery, and reflected… “That sounds like me,” I thought. Change the “street hockey” to “boxing” and it could be me. Include Baseball and it would be this writer, who was a twenty year old adult when first playing in a USCF tournament, where all six games were lost, I am sad, but honest enough to report…

In the introduction the writer informs the reader, “It was only in university that I had my first significant exposure to chess as a sport.”

That sentence made me cringe. Chess is most definitely not a “sport”. Chess is a GAME, just like any other board GAME. Baseball, basketball, and football (as in soccer; American “football” should be called “maim ball” for obvious reasons) are SPORTS. Bridge is a game, as are backgammon and poker. Dude comes into the Chess world (for various reasons which will be mentioned momentarily), plays a little, and assumes he has obtained enough knowledge to make proclamations about what is the definition of Chess…

He continues, “So I began to read about these mysterious openings, and much more besides, that my opponents all seemed so intimately familiar with.”

One of my high school English teachers, Mrs. Simpson, once returned something I had written that was covered in red ink, with many instances of my ending a sentence with a preposition. When queried about all the red circles after class ended she said, “It appears to me that you go out of your way to defy the rules of English grammar. You have as much chance of ever becoming a writer as a snowball has in HELL!” Well, as you can imagine, that stung.

The writer continues, “And the more I read, the more astounded I became: there was an enormous, simply overwhelmingly large, literature here – with dozens, sometimes hundreds, of books devoted to one opening variation, or a series of middlegame tactics, or endgame approaches, or what have you. It was astounding.”

Yes Mr. Burton, Chess can be astounding. One of the best things about the book is that Chess is being viewed objectively by someone new to the Royal Game. It is always good to learn how ‘newbies’ think about Chess because “fresh eyes” usually bring something interesting. We learn how he came to write about Chess when reading, “Decades later, I became fascinated by “the history of ideas,” tracing the subtle, shape-shifting development of key societal concepts over different times and places. I read books by intellectual historians methodically charting the notions of “freedom” and “genius” and “civil war” and found myself increasingly intrigued by how different human societies often managed to be both so similar and so different from our own.”

“One day I was idly thumbing through Baldassare Castiglione’s The Courtier, and came across the passage where chess is singled out as representing a dangerous drain on one’s time and energies, thereby making it “a most unusual thing” where “mediocrity is more to be praised than excellence.”

“It’s a very odd experience to suddenly feel yourself in complete lock step with a character from a 1528 book devoted to courtly Renaissance culture; and it made me think. Perhaps chess, I wondered, might make for a suitable topic of the sort of “intellectual history” I was personally suited to explore – not rigorous academic scholarship, of course, but simply getting a taste of our intriguing sociocultural evolution by looking through the lens of one particularly historically-rich activity: chess.”

The reader knows where the writer is coming from. (Sorry, Mrs Simpson)

Next we learn, “By then I had somehow become “a filmmaker,” so why not make a few films about that? Hence Through the Mirror of Chess-a four-part documentary series charting chess’s fascinating tale of cultural influence from its murky origins to the modern day.”

I have not watched any of the four-part film and have no intention of doing so because it costs digits, err, money, and there is so much free Chess material why should I spend my Senior digits to watch more films about Chess? I purchased the book, not with a view toward writing a review, but after reading about it at Chessbase in an excellent article concerning a book published months ago. (

Mr. Burton continues, “So there was that. But there was also something else. The more I read and researched the past and present worlds of chess, the more something else unexpected happened: I began to get opinions. And for me, at least, the best way to express opinions is through books.”

Or maybe a blog?!

The introduction concludes with these words: “And for those who do find themselves indignant and offended, the one way I respectfully suggest that you shouldn’t react is by launching some sort of reflexive, ad hominem salvo based on the fact that I have a pitifully low Elo rating or am not a FIDE executive, but rather by attacking the substance of my claims. I say this not because I am worried about anyone being angry with me (I am not), but because I’ve noticed that this is the sort of thing that chess players often do: viewing their entire world through the lens of a rigidly hierarchical framework so that the only voices they hear are from official members of the establishment. That is a dangerous practice for any domain, but particularly so when it come to chess, since so many of those voices conflate the interests of chess with their own self-image and are thus deeply deleterious to chess itself. Well, that’s my opinion, anyway.”

The first chapter is entitled: The Uses and Abuses of History. It begins, “Enthusiasts sometimes like to point out that one of the things that makes chess special is its exceptionally broad appeal to a wide range of different interests and inclinations.”

“Having played many other board games, such as Backgammon, Go, and Poker, I find it strange that only Chess aficionados consider Chess “special.” The idea has been promulgated to the point many, if not most, Chessplayers consider it a fait accompli. Consider this paragraph: “But however diverse these activities might be, there is one common characteristic of any self-proclaimed chess aficionado: a deep and abiding respect for “chess history” and an unquenchable pride in the game’s storied past.”

I like history, and enjoy reading about the history of the Royal Game, but I must disagree with what was written above. After having interacted and talked with countless Chess “aficionados” the fact is that many could care less about what happened previously because they are much more concerned with what is happening now. I recall talking with an exceptional budding young player at the House of Pain who said, “Why should I study those old farts who played so weakly? I’d rather spend my time replaying current games played by today’s players who are far stronger than those from way back then.” I remember thinking, “Wow, it seems like only yesterday Bobby Fischer was revered. Now the young’uns consider him a chumpy-lumpy.” That thought was prior to my saying, “If you don’t know where you’ve been, how can you know where you are going, kid?” That brought hardy laughter from resident curmudgeon Bob Bassett, who said, after he managed to stop laughing, “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” I was the one howling after the young spud asked, “What does that mean?” I mention this before writing the following sentence/paragraph: “Normally, I take this characteristic indifference as my starting point to launch into a full-throated tirade against the vapidity of the media or the woeful incuriousness of our time, but in this case the situation is even worse still, because it clearly demonstrates that the overwhelming majority of self-proclaimed “chess historians” simply can’t trouble themselves to take the most obvious preliminary steps to contact actual specialists to verify essential aspects of their “theories.”

To give equal time to the other side the author again gives another sentence/paragraph: “During my investigations, I have also encountered several anti-chess historians, self-proclaimed history of games types who were so overwhelmingly antagonized by what they saw as the grossly unjustified dominance of chess in the broader games history landscape that the very idea that I was willfully engaged in producing a detailed exploration of the history of chess was enough to send them into fits of blind rage.”

Do tell…

We will conclude with the first chapter with a two sentence paragraph followed by another long sentence/paragraph: “Chess, in other words, is acknowledged to be an activity that demands highly specialized skills honed by years of dedicated effort. But history, goes the thinking, is somehow something that anyone can do.”

“So when Russian grandmaster Yuri Averbakh opted to publish his own vapid and trivialized account of the game’s past, A History of Chess: From Chaturanga to the Present Day,

his efforts were widely applauded by “the chess community” because, well, Averbakh was a personable and celebrated chess player who wrote many highly-respected books on chess theory; and, after all, you can’t have too many books on the history of chess.”

Or too many Chess books filled with “Chessays” too, I suppose…

The second chapter poses the question, (Is Chess a) Waste of Time? A good question which caused me to wonder if reading the book was going be a waste of my time… The author writes, “If chess were a far easier game-if it was like checkers or reversi or mancala or something- (there is the number 10 referring to a footnote at the bottom of the page where it is written, “This is precisely the sort of statement that will drive one of those passionate anti-chess mancala fanatics I mentioned in the previous essay right over the edge.

But then they were there already.) – things would be different indeed. Nobody devotes her life to studying backgammon.”

Whoa now, dude. First, when any writer uses “her” in lieu of “he” it grates like someone scratching the blackboard with their fingernails. When a writer, any writer, swaps “her” for “him” it appears the writer is singling out only females, as in females being the ones not devoting their lives to ‘studying backgammon’, which is ridiculous, and untrue. When Gammons first opened in the Buckhead part of Atlanta one of the top players was a woman named Kathy, from Chicago, and she had devoted her time to learning, and playing Backgammon as a professional. If, on the other hand, the writer was only being “politically correct” he was not. If one is to assume the writer used the gender specific word intentionally rather than the gender neutral “him” then he is wrong, and it can be proven by anyone typing in the words “Bill Robertie” into any search engine. This can be found at Wikipedia: “William Gerard (Bill) Robertie (born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States on July 9, 1946) is a backgammon, chess, and poker player and author. He is one of several (6 as of 2022) backgammon players to have won the World Backgammon Championship twice (in 1983 and in 1987).” Bill Robertie ( is the refutation to the writer’s erroneous and ridiculous statement.

Turn the page and one finds, “This profound complexity is a fundamental aspect of what make chess chess.”

What makes chess chess? The game of Go, or Wei Chi, is exponentially and profoundly more complex that is Chess. Is that what makes Go Go?

“Which brings us to the intriguing case of Albert Einstein and Emanuel Lasker.

Many consider Lasker to be the most dominant chess player in history, given his 27-year reign as world champion from 1894 to 1921. He was also a mathematician, who in 1905 developed a theorem in algebraic geometry which significantly influenced no less a figure than Emmy Noether.”

1905 is an ironic date for Lasker’s most important mathematical work, because it was also Einstein’s annu mirabilis, where he published, among various other profoundly transformative ideas, his theory of special relativity-ironic, not so much because Einstein and Lasker later became friends during his time in Berlin, but because Lasker later famously contributed to the ridiculous anti-Einsteinian 1931 screed, One Hundred Authors Against Einstein.”

“Why, in Einstein’s view, hadn’t Lasker done more to achieve his wondrous human potential? Well, Einstein surmises, because of chess:

“Spinoza’s material existence and independence were based on the grinding of lenses; chess had an analogous role in Lasker’s life. But Spinoza

was granted a better fate, because his occupation left his mind free and untroubled, while on the other hand, the chess playing of a master ties him to the game, fetters his mind and shapes it to a certain extent so that his internal freedom and ease, no matter how strong he is, must inevitably be affected.”

The author continues: “What is most interesting to me about all of this is not so much that I’m convinced that Einstein was right and that the act of focusing one’s attention on the most profound conceptual issues imaginable is the most judicious use of one’s brief time on the planet (Footnote #30: “Although, of course, he was and it is.” I could hear my former English teacher, Ms. Simpson, asking, “He was ‘what’, and ‘what’ is ‘it’?”)

Chapter 3: Evolutionary Forces

The reader is informed by the writer, “Personally, I’m unconvinced that those 19th-century players were as indifferent to winning and losing as is now generally supposed, but there is no doubt that times have changed considerably: for better or worse chess is now a fully-fledged sport.”

There he goes again…

And again: “Of course, chess is far from the only activity to move from the domain of friendly, “gentlemanly” competition to cutthroat professional sport over the past 150 years or so, as juxtaposing Pierre de Coubertin’s

writings with modern-day attitudes will immediately reveal, but its distinct lack of any physical component makes it a particularly vivid measure of to what extent our sporting culture has evolved.”

And again: “Chess, in short, has emphatically made the transition from game to sport-which is the major reason, I believe that it is Fischer and not Morphy who best represents the modern archetype of the American chess player.”

“But intriguingly, many pastimes have not made this jump to the modern sporting realm. In particular, duplicate bridge, the primary target of Johan Huizinga’s over-professionalization ire, you will recall, ( still very much remains mired in the milieu of games, along with the likes of backgammon and Mahjong.”

“More revealing still, radically new forms of non-physical competition have recently sprouted up that are unhesitatingly viewed as sports-so much so, in fact that their very development has occasioned the creation of a new word to appropriately describe them: esports.”

“So what’s going on? What, in the modern age, distinguishes a sport from a game?”

Now the author finally comes to the crux of the matter:

“Well, I don’t pretend to know, of course, but you may recall from several pages ago that I have a theory. Here it is.”

You must read the book to read about his “theory.” Frankly, I do not know if the writer is full of excrement, but I have a theory…

After many pages devoted to explaining his ‘theory’ the reader finds this:

“When it comes to chess, the first thing to say is simply that, as previously noted, for better or worse, the Fischer worldview has unequivocally demolished the Morphy one: modern chess ticks all the contemporary sporting requirements and is no longer regarded by either its advocates or detractors as “a relaxation from the severer pursuits of life, whose battles are fought for no prize but honor.” It’s not at all certain whether or not the majority of Morphy’s contemporaries subscribed to such a characterization back in the 1850s, but it’s patently obvious that nobody believes it today.”

Do tell…

“The dust has settled, and chess is now a sport and not a game.”

At least in the author’s mind…

“A further point worth mentioning is that chess is hardly the only “old fashioned” game to make the modern sporting transition. The most obvious example is poker, which decidedly satisfies all of the above-mentioned criteria and is thus now near-universally recognized as a sport.”

Really? I asked several Chess players who also play, or have played, poker, if they thought poker could be considered a “sport.” One fellow caused me to laugh uproariously when he answered, “Sport? How the hell can anything done while sitting on one’s ass be considered a “sport?”

End Part One

Wei-Chi versus Chess

What follows are excerpts from a rather long, but interesting and informative, article from the Military Review, which was published prior to the pandemic.

Uncovering Hidden Patterns of Thought in War

Wei-Chi versus Chess

Maj. Jamie Richard Schwandt, U.S. Army

Major Jamie Schwandt

November-December 2018

We use metaphors and analogies to help us connect the dots and uncover hidden patterns of thought. They provide us with a way to go far beyond the meaning of words and are tools guiding the manner in which we think and act. Gen. David Perkins describes how the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command is preparing the Army for the future of warfare in “Big Picture, Not Details, Key When Eyeing Future.” Perkins uses metaphors as he compares warfare to checkers and chess:

Checkers and chess are played on the same style board but the games are far from similar. For a long time, the Army has designed forces based on a “checkers-based” world outlook. Today, we’re switching to a “chess-based” appreciation of the world. In this world, there are many paths to victory; few events allow for linear extrapolation. Victory no longer comes from wiping out an opponent’s pieces, but by removing all his options. By employing pieces with varying capabilities in a concerted manner, one creates multiple dilemmas that over time, erode a challenger’s will to continue.

Perkins is attempting to use an argument from analogy; however, this is a false analogy. He is attempting to compare the U.S. Army’s contemporary outlook on war to that of the board game checkers and compares the future outlook to chess. I argue that the U.S. military already designs forces using a chess-based outlook, not checkers. The U.S. military and Western way of war is a theoretical expression of Carl von Clausewitz

On War (Volumes Two and Three) : Carl von Clausewitz : Free Download …

and Antoine-Henri Jomini. Taking a Clausewitzian approach is similar to chess, whereby you focus the energy of your forces on a center of gravity (COG). The fixation on COG has led to a number of costly disasters for the U.S. military. Examples include conflicts in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Examining the “Strange model” for conflicts in Iraq (1991 and 2003), Robert Dixon writes,

The fixation on the Republican Guard (operational COG) and Baghdad (the strategic COG) led leaders to ignore the emergence of something that did not fit their template. This is the true danger of the term: while looking for Clausewitz’s focal point (something central, the source of all power, the hub, etc.) leaders forget that they are not observing a static system. Dynamic systems do not have centers, and if they did it would constantly move.

Perkins is actually moving strategy back to the chess-based outlook used by Gen. William Westmoreland

in Vietnam. Evidence of this can be found in the new Field Manual (FM) 3-0, Operations. FM 3-0 signals a shift in military strategy and a focus back to that of large-scale ground combat operations against near-peer threats, where belligerents possess technology and capabilities similar to the U.S. military. Gen. Mark Milley,

Adversaries including Russia, China, Iran and North Korea have spent nearly two decades studying the U.S. military’s strengths and vulnerabilities as it has fought terrorist groups. Those nations have invested in modernizing their forces and preparing them to exploit vulnerabilities developed while the United States focused on fighting insurgents.

The U.S. military, just as in chess, focuses on the centrality of physical force and maintaining an edge in capabilities; yet, it is weak in regards to strategy and stratagem. I argue that, to truly understand threats such as North Korea and China, we must shift from a chess-based approach to a wei-chi approach; this is where we will find a true understanding of complexity. Where chess is a game of power-based competition representing the American way of war, wei-chi is a skill-based game representing the Chinese way of war. Furthermore, an understanding of wei-chi will help us bridge the gap between how the U.S. Army perceives conflict and how our threats perceive conflict. It is only through a deep metaphorical understanding of this topic that we can uncover our hidden patterns of thought in war.

The U.S. military seeks a strategy for complex problems, and chess deals with complicated issues. Evidence of this is within the game itself. As we initiate a game of chess, we first start with all the pieces on the board; hence, we have the information, just not the correct answer. Compare this to the game of wei-chi, where we start a game with no pieces on the board; the information is out there somewhere, we just do not know what we are looking for.

Chess—Center of Gravity

In chess, the underlying philosophy is winning through decisive victory with a clear objective in capturing the enemy king and destroying enemy forces. Chess is a linear game with a simple center of gravity (COG)—the king. We initiate a game of chess with all the pieces on the board, seeking then to move forward linearly in a war of attrition. As described in table, chess is typically divided into three distinct phases: opening, middlegame, and endgame.

The strategic, operational, and tactical approaches identified in FM 3-0 resemble Westmoreland’s approach in Vietnam, where he used a strategy of attrition warfare. He sought victory by winning a head-to-head war through the collapse and defeat of the enemy by “grinding it down.” He saw the battlefield like a game of chess and wanted to destroy as many pieces as possible. Westmoreland was predictable and placed his pieces on the table. In contrast, the North Vietnamese did not.

Wei-Chi board showing a game in progress. (Photo courtesy of Goban1 via Wikipedia)

Westmoreland Strategy in Vietnam

“You know you never defeated us on the battlefield,” said the American colonel.

The North Vietnamese colonel pondered this remark a moment. “That may be so,” he replied, “but it is also irrelevant.”

—Conversation in Hanoi, April 1975

Wei-chi—Understanding North Korea and China

Figure 3. Chess Board and Maneuver Graphics (Chessboard graphic courtesy of ILA-boy via Wikimedia Commons; maneuver graphic from Field Manual 3-0, Operations; composite graphic by author)

Wei-chi (otherwise known as Go in Japan and Baduk in Korea) is an abstract strategy board game. Having its origin in China roughly four thousand years ago (making it the oldest board game in the world), it is an abstract way to examine the Chinese way of war and diplomacy. David Lai writes in Learning from the Stones: A Go Approach to Mastering China’s Strategic Concept, Shi,

The game board is conceived to be the earth. The board is square representing stability. The four corners represent the four seasons, indicating the cyclical change of time. The game pieces, the stones, are round, hence mobile. The spread of stones on the board reflect activities on earth. The shape of the stone engagements on the board is like the flow of water, an echo in Sun Tzu’s view that the positioning of troops be likened to water.

In The Protracted Game: A Wei-Chi Interpretation of Maoist Revolutionary Strategy, Scott Boorman remarks, “The structure of the game [wei-chi] and in particular, its abstractness makes possible a depth of analogy which has no parallel in the relatively superficial comparisons of Western forms of military strategy to chess or poker.” Boorman compares wei-chi to the writings of Mao Tse-tung, for which Mao wrote in a 1938 essay, “Problems of Strategy in Guerrilla War against Japan,”

Thus there are two forms of encirclement by the enemy forces and two forms of encirclement by our own—rather like a game of wei-chi. Campaigns and battles fought by the two sides resemble the capturing of each other’s pieces, and the establishment of strongholds by the enemy and of guerrilla base areas by us resembles moves to dominate spaces on the board. It is in the matter of dominating the spaces that the great strategic role of guerrilla base areas in the rear of the enemy is revealed.

Table 4. Characteristics and Descriptions of Wei-Chi (Descriptions from Scott Boorman, The Protracted Game; table by author)


Table 4 describes some of the characteristics of the game of wei-chi. A key definition Boorman provides us is the tactic of encirclement, which he describes as, “First, encirclement should be roughly outlined in such a manner that the enemy group cannot conduct an effective breakout to safety. Next, the encirclement should be tightened, and attempts made to prevent creation by the opponent of an invincible position.” Moreover, Boorman provides a description of successful strategies for wei-chi (see table 5).

Lastly, there is an old Chinese saying, “When you kill 10,000 enemy soldiers, you are likely to lose 3,000 lives as well.” If we enter into conflict with North Korea and/or China, we will discover (just as we did in the Korean War and the Vietnam War) that we will not be able to sustain a war of attrition with an enemy poised to throw an endless number of soldiers at us. We cannot plan for war by playing chess when our enemy is playing wei-chi. If we identify North Korea and China as our next threats, we must start doing our homework and start learning Chinese strategic thought. As Sun Tzu wrote, “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.”

Go Has A Cheating Problem

How AI turned the ancient sport of Go upside down

By Jake Kwon, CNN
Updated 9:42 PM EDT, Fri March 24, 2023

A young visitor plays Go with an AI robot during a special exhibition of the 5th Digital China Summit in Fuzhou, southeast China’s Fujian Province, in July 2022.

Hong Kong CNN —

In December, as AI chatbot ChatGPT awed the world with its human-like responses to questions, a major cheating scandal involving artificial intelligence was erupting in Asia.

The Chunlan Cup, an international tournament boasting $200,000 in prize money for winning the ancient Chinese board game of Go, was embroiled in controversy following a semifinal match.

In a David vs Goliath moment, a relative newcomer, Li Xuanhao of China, defeated the reigning world champion Shin Jin-seo of South Korea. On social media, Li’s own teammate accused him of cheating using AI, which is commonly used during training but banned during competition.

The controversy drew coverage from major newspapers, including Chinese state media. Players called for new measures to prevent AI-assisted cheating, saying it was an existential threat to the sport, which is known in China as weiqi and Korea as baduk.

A livestream of the semi-final match between Li Xuanhao (top) and Shin Jin-seo (bottom). Viewers can see the AI-calculated outcome probability in real time.

Though the Chinese Weiqi Association declared after weeks of investigation that it found no evidence of cheating, the scandal raised questions about the future of the 2,500-year old sport and offered a glimpse into the kind of disruption that technology like ChatGPT may bring into a world previously dominated by humans.

“AI destroyed all the existing orders of this [Go] community and rebuilt it,” Jiuheng He, an avid Go player who researches AI at Cornell University, told CNN. “Human experts used to dominate the whole realm. Now we have to accept a non-human actor who has expertise, maybe even has exceeded the human experts. So how are we going to deal with it?”

How AI changed the game

The scandal swirling over the Chunlan Cup wasn’t the first time AI disrupted the game of Go.

For thousands of years, it was considered the height of intellectual pursuit in East Asia. Even today, there are 40 million players in China studying in 200,000 schools, according to the Chinese Weiqi Association.

Unlike chess, which was dominated by computer programs starting in the 1990s, Go was considered too complex to be mechanized due to the near-infinite number of possible moves on its 19 by 19 grid.

Go is an ancient board game for two players that is noted for being rich in strategy despite its relatively simple rules.

Go masters, once household names in Asia, were held in reverence. Like gods, they appeared to “stand on mountains” and all knowledge of the game flowed from them, according to He. They were so famous they would publish books to advise players about life.

But Google’s superhuman AI arrived in 2016. The 18-time world champion Lee Se-dol of South Korea was soundly defeated by AlphaGo in a widely-publicized match. Lee announced his retirement three years later, citing the match as the reason.

“Humans had been playing Go for thousands of years, improving it, but AI within a year showed that they are better. That our level of Go was really beginner,” Ao Lixian, who teaches at Hong Kong Children’s Go College, told CNN.

At the school, which opened in 2003, Ao and another instructor, Ng Chee Man, teach children to play Go using AI, which has become an essential part of virtually every player’s journey.

Ao Lixian and her students discuss strategy at Hong Kong Children’s Go College (CNN blurred portions of the image to protect a child’s identity).

On an iPad, Ng demonstrated a practice game against AI to his students. Each time it was Ng’s turn, the AI program suggested the best moves in blue spots on the board.

On the corner of the screen, the program displayed which of his moves were considered “good” in green and “bad” in red, along with how close his moves were to that of the AI in percentages.

Cheating ‘made easy’?

While training with AI has become commonplace, competition is an entirely different matter.

Shin Jin-seo, the South Korean world champion, told CNN that cheating is a major problem during tournaments. There have been at least two known AI-assisted cheating scandals in his country alone since 2016.

A South Korean court sentenced two people to a year in prison in 2020 after they were caught using AI in an official competition, according to South Korean news agency Yonhap.

The player snuck a camera and an earphone into the match and received AI-calculated moves from an accomplice outside.

Later in the same year, the Korea Baduk Association investigated one of its professional players after allegations surfaced online. The association promised to prevent future AI-assisted cheating after the player admitted misconduct.

Though phones are banned in professional matches and there are cameras watching the players, games are still vulnerable, according to Shin.

“If I were to try to cheat, I can see teammates away from the camera, and when I go to the bathroom, there is no one there,” he said.

Shin says he doesn’t know whether cheating took place during his match against Li, but he fears the sport will lose its relevance if organizations can’t guarantee clean games.

On the online Go leagues that Jiuheng He frequents, top players are those who use AI, even if, strictly speaking, they’re not supposed to. The game which he has played since childhood has become less appealing for him.

The game used to be like having a conversation with your opponent, He said. Their thoughts and intents revealed themselves with each move. “(With AI), there’s no more dialogue because I really cannot understand [its] logic,” he said.
Living with AI

Shin spends more than 70% of his training hours using AI software called KataGo, developed in 2017 by American computer programmer David Wu. AI has succeeded in setting a new, higher bar for players, even as it disrupted the game, he said.

Professor Nam Chi-hyung, who had been teaching Go for more than 20 years, says AI became essential in her lessons. Rather than being replaced by technology, she found that her work simply changed.

“AI can pick the right moves but cannot explain why. People still need me to interpret AI,” she said.

For fans, AI has made the complex game more accessible. During matches, it’s not unusual for outcomes to be unclear to many viewers. But now with the help of AI, viewers can clearly see who is winning or losing during the match.

A man watches a television screen broadcasting live footage of the Google DeepMind Challenge Match at the Korea Baduk Association in Seoul in March 2016.

But AI isn’t perfect. The Financial Times reported last month that a human player had beaten KataGo by exploiting a vulnerability discovered using another program.

KataGo isn’t omnipotent, Wu told CNN. The programs make mistakes when they are given unfamiliar problems; the same problems a human may instinctively know how to solve.

Some players believe that AI is ruining the sport, for which the unpredictability and diversity of style was the charm. After all, we can’t go back, Nam said: “It’s done. Everyone is running their AI machines.”

Man beats machine at Go in human victory over AI

Financial Times 02/19/2023

Flickr user LNG0004

A human player has comprehensively defeated a top-ranked AI system at the board game Go, in a surprise reversal of the 2016 computer victory that was seen as a milestone in the rise of artificial intelligence.

Kellin Pelrine, an American player who is one level below the top amateur ranking, beat the machine by taking advantage of a previously unknown flaw that had been identified by another computer. But the head-to-head confrontation in which he won 14 of 15 games was undertaken without direct computer support.

The triumph, which has not previously been reported, highlighted a weakness in the best Go computer programs that is shared by most of today’s widely used AI systems, including the ChatGPT chatbot created by San Francisco-based OpenAI.

The tactics that put a human back on top on the Go board were suggested by a computer program that had probed the AI systems looking for weaknesses. The suggested plan was then ruthlessly delivered by Pelrine.

“It was surprisingly easy for us to exploit this system,” said Adam Gleave, chief executive of FAR AI, the Californian research firm that designed the program. The software played more than 1 million games against KataGo, one of the top Go-playing systems, to find a “blind spot” that a human player could take advantage of, he added.

The winning strategy revealed by the software “is not completely trivial, but it’s not super-difficult” for a human to learn and could be used by an intermediate-level player to beat the machines, said Pelrine. He also used the method to win against another top Go system, Leela Zero.

The decisive victory, albeit with the help of tactics suggested by a computer, comes seven years after AI appeared to have taken an unassailable lead over humans at what is often regarded as the most complex of all board games.

AlphaGo, a system devised by Google-owned research company DeepMind, defeated the world Go champion Lee Sedol by four games to one in 2016. Sedol attributed his retirement from Go three years later to the rise of AI, saying that it was “an entity that cannot be defeated.” AlphaGo is not publicly available, but the systems Pelrine prevailed against are considered on a par.

In a game of Go, two players alternately place black and white stones on a board marked out with a 19×19 grid, seeking to encircle their opponent’s stones and enclose the largest amount of space. The huge number of combinations means it is impossible for a computer to assess all potential future moves.

The tactics used by Pelrine involved slowly stringing together a large “loop” of stones to encircle one of his opponent’s own groups, while distracting the AI with moves in other corners of the board. The Go-playing bot did not notice its vulnerability, even when the encirclement was nearly complete, Pelrine said.

“As a human it would be quite easy to spot,” he added.

The discovery of a weakness in some of the most advanced Go-playing machines points to a fundamental flaw in the deep-learning systems that underpin today’s most advanced AI, said Stuart Russell, a computer science professor at the University of California, Berkeley.

The systems can “understand” only specific situations they have been exposed to in the past and are unable to generalize in a way that humans find easy, he added.

“It shows once again we’ve been far too hasty to ascribe superhuman levels of intelligence to machines,” Russell said.

The precise cause of the Go-playing systems’ failure is a matter of conjecture, according to the researchers. One likely reason is that the tactic exploited by Pelrine is rarely used, meaning the AI systems had not been trained on enough similar games to realize they were vulnerable, said Gleave.

It is common to find flaws in AI systems when they are exposed to the kind of “adversarial attack” used against the Go-playing computers, he added. Despite that, “we’re seeing very big [AI] systems being deployed at scale with little verification.”

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2023 © 2023 The Financial Times Ltd. All rights reserved.

2023 Atlanta Spring Go Tournament

Sponsored in part by Yellow Mountain Imports
Event Date: April 1st, 2023

Event Time: Approximately 11am to 6pm, subject to venue availability
Event Address: Bridge Club of Atlanta,  4920 Roswell Rd #33, Atlanta, GA 30342
For updates, join us on Discord:

Breaking Up Is Hard To Do

Breaking Up Is Hard To Do

by Tony Hoagland

On Friday afternoon David said he was divesting his holdings
in Stephanie dot org.
And Cindy announced she was getting rid of all her Dan-obelia,
and did anyone want a tennis racket or a cardigan?

Alice told Michael that she was transplanting herself
to another brand of potting soil
And Jason composed a 3-chord blues song called
“I Can’t Rake Your Leaves Anymore Mama,”
then insisted on playing it
over his speakerphone to Ellen.

The moon rose up in the western sky
with an expression of complete exhaustion,
like a 38-year old single mother
standing at the edge of the playground. Right at that moment

Betty was extracting coil after coil of Andrew’s
emotional intestines
through a verbal incision she had made in his heart,
and Jane was parachuting into an Ani Difranco concert
wearing a banner saying, Get Lost, Mark Resnick.

That’s how you find out:
out of the blue.
And it hurts, baby, it really hurts,
because breaking up is hard to do.

“Breaking Up Is Hard To Do” by Tony Hoagland from Hard Rain. © Hollyridge Press, 2005.

B91 Sicilian, Najdorf, Zagreb (fianchetto) variation 6 g3

‘Back in the day’ there was a NM, Stuart Rundlett, who favored what he called the “quiet variation.” He said, “Be careful with the Najdorf because at any moment the quiet variation can quickly get loud.”

As previously in this ongoing series I let the Stockfish program at do its thing as I sat there watching it do its thing:

1.e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. Nc3 a6 4. d4 cxd4 5. Nxd4 Nf6 6. g3 e5 7. Nde2 Be7 8. Bg2 b5 9. Nd5 Nbd7 10. Nec3 Nb6 11. Nxf6+ Bxf6 12. O-O Be6 13. b3 O-O 14. Bd2 Qd7 15. a4 bxa4 16. Nxa4 Nxa4 17. Rxa4 Rfc8 18. Re1 Bd8 19. Be3 Qc6 20. c4 Rcb8 21. Qd3 Bb6 22. Bxb6 Qxb6 23. Ra3 Qb4 24. Rea1 a5 25. Bf3 Bd7 26. Bd1 Bc6 27. Kg2 Qc5 28. R3a2 g6 29. f3 f5 30. exf5 e4 31. fxe4 gxf5 32. Bf3 fxe4 33. Bxe4 Rxb3 34. Qe2 Kh8 35. Bxc6 Qxc6+ 36. Kg1 Rab8 37. Rxa5 Rb1+ 38. Rxb1 Rxb1+ 39. Kf2 Qb6+ 40. c5 Qxa5 41. Qe8+ Kg7 42. Qe7+ Kg8 43. Qg5+ Kf7 44. Qf5+ Kg7 45. Qd7+ Kf6 46. Qxd6+ Kg7 47. Qd4+ Kg8 48. Qg4+ Kf7 49. Qf3+ Kg7 50. Qg4+ Kf6 51. Qf4+ Kg7 52. Qg5+ Kf7 53. Qf4+ Kg8 54. Qg4+ 1/2-1/2

It should come as no surprise that Maxime, MY MAN, Vachier Lagrave,

reigning king of the Najdorf, figures in both of the games in which a human player most closely followed the ‘Fish:

Anish Giri (2782) vs Maxime Vachier Lagrave (2789)
Event: GCT Blitz YourNextMove
Site: Leuven BEL Date: 06/15/2018
Round: 2.5
ECO: B91 Sicilian, Najdorf, Zagreb (fianchetto) variation
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.g3 e5 7.Nde2 Be7 8.Bg2 b5 9.Nd5 Nbd7 10.Nec3 Nb6 11.Nxf6+ Bxf6 12.O-O O-O 13.b3 b4 14.Nd5 Nxd5 15.Qxd5 Be6 16.Qd3 Qc7 17.Bd2 a5 18.a3 bxa3 19.Rxa3 Rfc8 20.c4 Bd8 21.Rfa1 Qc5 22.b4 Qc6 23.bxa5 Bxc4 24.Qe3 Qb5 25.Qe1 Ra6 26.Qb1 Qxb1+ 27.Rxb1 Rca8 28.Rc1 Bb5 29.Rb1 Bc4 30.Rc1 Bb5 31.Bh3 Kf8 32.Rc8 Ke8 33.Rxa8 Rxa8 34.Bb4 Bc7 35.Ra1 Ra7 36.Bg4 g6 37.h4 h5 38.Bh3 Bd3 39.f3 Bb6+ 40.Kg2 Bc5 41.Bxc5 dxc5 42.Kf2 Bb5 43.Bf1 c4 44.Ke3 Kd7 45.Kd2 Kc6 46.Kc3 Kc5 47.Be2 Ra6 48.Rd1 Rxa5 49.Rd5+ Kb6 50.Bxc4 Ra3+ 51.Kb2 Bxc4 52.Kxa3 Bxd5 53.exd5 Kc5 54.Kb3 Kxd5 55.Kc3 f5 56.Kd3 e4+ 57.Ke3 Ke5 0-1

Maxime Vachier Lagrave (2778) vs Radoslaw Wojtaszek (2749)
Event: 2nd Du Te Cup 2018
Site: Shenzhen CHN Date: 11/06/2018
Round: 3.1
ECO: B91 Sicilian, Najdorf, Zagreb (fianchetto) variation
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.g3 e5 7.Nde2 Be7 8.Bg2 O-O 9.O-O b5 10.Nd5 Nbd7 11.Nec3 Nb6 12.Nxf6+ Bxf6 13.b3 Be6 14.Ba3 Qc7 15.Qd3 Rfc8 16.Bb4 a5 17.Nxb5 Qxc2 18.Qxc2 Rxc2 19.Bxd6 Nc8 20.Rfc1 Rxc1+ 21.Rxc1 Nxd6 22.Nxd6 a4 23.Nc4 Rb8 24.Rc3 axb3 25.axb3 Be7 26.Bf1 g6 27.Rc1 Rxb3 28.Nxe5 Bf6 29.Nd3 Bd4 30.Be2 Rc3 31.Rb1 g5 32.Ne1 h6 33.Kg2 Rb3 34.Rd1 Bb6 35.Nd3 Ra3 36.Rb1 Ba7 37.Nb4 Rb3 38.Rxb3 Bxb3 39.Bg4 Kg7 40.h4 Bd4 41.Nc6 Bc5 42.Bf5 Kf6 43.f4 Be3 44.fxg5+ hxg5 45.h5 Kg7 46.g4 Bc4 47.Kf3 Bc1 48.Ne5 Bb5 49.Kf2 Bf4 50.Nf3 Bd3 51.Ke1 Be3 52.Kd1 Bf4 53.Ne1 Bb1 54.Ke2 Kh6 55.Nf3 Kg7 56.Nd4 Be5 57.Nc6 Bf4 58.Nb4 Kh6 59.Nd5 Bc2 60.Nc3 Kg7 61.Nb5 Bc1 62.Nd4 Bb1 63.Kf3 Bd3 64.Bd7 Ba6 65.Nf5+ Kf8 66.Bc6 Bf4 67.Bd5 Bc8 68.Nd4 Kg7 69.h6+ Kxh6 70.Bxf7 Kg7 71.Be6 Ba6 72.Bd5 Kf6 73.Ne6 Bd6 ½-½