In the first round of the ongoing Nicosia FIDE Women’s Grand Prix 2023, Alexandra Kosteniuk
led the white army versus Zhongyi Tan,
who chose the Berlin Defense, which has a reputation for being a defense played with a view to making a draw. Former World Chess Champion Garry Kasparov once said something about we “lesser players” not understanding the “subtleties” of the Berlin Defense. Garry obviously did not understand the subtlety of the opening in the game below:
When things got outta hand in Checkers because of the plethora of drawn games the openings known to be drawn were discarded, and later particular openings were assigned. How long before Chess players will follow in the Checkers footsteps?
In the second round game between Gunay Mammadzada (2449)
and Kateryna Lagno (2558)
the following position was reached in a game that featured the Berlin defense:
It should be more than a little obvious the way to win with the Berlin defense is to subtly bore your opponent for many hours until they finally blunder. Unless, that is, I am missing the more subtle aspects of the defense.
Yesterday Chessbase published, An interview with Andrzej Filipowicz,
a Polish chess polymath, by Uvencio Blanco (https://en.chessbase.com/post/andrzej-filipowicz-interview-uvencio-blanco). This is being mentioned because I faced IM Filipowicz in a USCF rated Chess tournament in 1980. The FIDE Congress was held in Atlanta, Georgia, USA, and there were many notable Chess players and notable personages here for that reason. Thad Rogers held a Chess tournament that weekend. In addition, there was a speed tournament organized. At that time “speed” meant five minute Chess, as in each player begins the game with only five minutes on the clock. My opponent in the first round of the knock-out tourney was the notorious Soviet Vice Chairman of the USSR Chess Federation, Victor Davydovich Baturinsky.
I have never been good at playing speed Chess. Give me just a little more time, like fifteen minutes, and the strength of my game increased exponentially, which is why I preferred the extra time. Baturinsky beat me like a drum. As if the ignominy of losing quickly was not enough, Baturinsky rubbed salt into the fresh wound by laughing prior to saying, “Americans cannot play Chess!”
“Oh yeah, fat man, have you ever heard of BOBBY FISCHER?!” I said. Baturinsky became LIVID! FIDE pooh-bahs came running, afraid of an international incident. After turning my back to Baturinsky and walking away, he began shouting something about the loser having to replace the pieces. I stopped, turned around, and said, “You replace them, fat man!” One of those who came running was IM Filipowicz.
In the aforementioned classical (which was forty moves in two hours ‘back in the day’) Chess tournament my first round opponent was IM Filipowicz, who had the white pieces. The game was a long, hard fought battle, agreed drawn on his offer many hours later. Much more time was spent analyzing the game with the gentleman.
The interview is excellent. What follows are excerpts from the interview. The first tells you much about the International Master.
Most experts consider that there are four megatrends: ICTs, biotechnology, nanotechnology and cognitive sciences. In your opinion, and being a person close to academia and technological practice, what links could we establish with some of them?
“I do not think I am an expert in the mentioned matters, so I would better not to comment it.”
Can you imagine Garry Kasparov giving that answer? The dude would pontificate at length for many hours, given the chance, because Garry considers himself an expert in EVERYTHING!
What is your opinion on the impact that Artificial Intelligence has had on chess in recent decades, and what do you see for the future?
“The development of computers has changed the chess world, but I doubt that is good for chess. The tradition of fifteen centuries is being destroyed. People are trying to find solutions using computers and Artificial Intelligence instead of developing their own minds.”
Who is the most intelligent chess character you have dealt with in your prolific life? Any particular anecdotes?
“I have met many interesting people in all these chess years, and it is very difficult to say, but I remember very well many discussions I had with Boris Spassky regarding the history of our two countries and, of course, also many chess problems.
As for the anecdotes, I really like the philosophy of the following anecdote: In a Polish city before the War, a master plays for stakes with a very weak player without the queen, but rarely wins. So seeing the tiredness of the rival, who only looks at his pieces, the master decides to keep the queen on the board. After a few moves, the opponent suddenly says, ‘Master, you didn’t remove the queen’. The master replied, ’I removed it’. ‘That’s where you got it from?’. ‘I promoted the pawn’. ‘But you have eight pawns. So please remove one!’.
Another one has to do with an arbiter’s experience. The arbiter was invited to referee a women’s tournament in the late 1940s. Around that time, they used rules from amateur chess. The level of the games was also not the highest. The arbiter suddenly saw that on one of the boards the king was under check by two knights…. As an experienced arbiter, he immediately left the room and went to the buffet. He calmly drank his coffee and returned to the hall. He saw that the mentioned game had finished and the lady attacking the opposite king with two knights had won the duel. He went to this board, explained that ‘someone’ told him that on this board Black’s king was checked by two knights. He began to ask both players why such a situation arose. The lady playing white explained: ‘Dear Mr. Arbiter, when I checked with one knight, my opponent sarcastically smiled and played the bishop, placing it quite decisively. The retort to such a dictum was to check the king with the second knight, but again there was no reaction, so I decided to capture the pawns on the queenside and … I won’.”
We are in a world where uncertainty, limits to freedom and climate change have taken over. In these conditions, what message would you give to the new generations of chess players?
“Unfortunately, I do not see the proper solution to the mentioned problems. I am convinced that chess players cannot change the basic rules and have to keep the tradition of our favorite game and play over-the-board games to see their opponents instead of the screen of the computer. Tradition is the future of chess!” https://en.chessbase.com/post/andrzej-filipowicz-interview-uvencio-blanco
I urge you to read the entire interview. Kudos to Chessbase for publishing an exceptionally good interview with one of the real gentlemen involved with the Royal Game!
The last part hit me hard because we shared the same birth year. Adorján was part of my generation.
Many of Adorjan’s games were studied because he played the Grunfeld defense. I played the Grunfeld because Bobby Fischer played the Grunfeld, just as I played the Najdorf Sicilian because it was what Bobby played. The reasoning must have been if it was good enough for Bobby it was good enough for me.
The Match of All Time: The Inside Story of the Legendary 1972 Fischer-Spassky World Chess Championship in Reykjavik, by Gudmundur G. Thorarinsson
is an excellent book, which is, however, marred by 64 pages devoted to three needless chapters. The first is a Prologue. The fourth chapter is entitled, Prologue to the match of 1972. The book would have been better if it had started with the fourth chapter. The second chapter is titled The Origins of Chess. Not one word concerning Greco, the father of modern Chess, can be found concerning the origins of Chess. When apprised of this fact, the Legendary Georgia Ironman replied, “Shame, shame, shame.”
The title of the third chapter is: World Chess Champions from unofficial to official. The reason for all these needless pages could be all the ‘newbies’ entering the world of Chess recently. Nevertheless, the book concerns the 1972 World Chess Championship, which would have been better served without a very short overview of the history of the World Chess Championship. There are sixty four pages to get through prior to actually getting to what Brian McCarthy would have called “the meat” of the book. (https://xpertchesslessons.wordpress.com/2021/04/24/brian-mccarthy-r-i-p/) Books attempting to serve two masters often serve neither. This book is an exception. The main part of the book is so good I forgot all about the chaff. Frankly, the book simply could not be put down.
On the second page of chapter 4, Prelude to the match of 1972, there was a copy of “Bobby Fischer writing about Tigran Petrosian at the start of the first game of the 1970 match Soviet Union vs. The Rest of the World.” In Bobby’s handwriting there is written, “He looked scared!”
Like a freight train the book began picking up steam!
A few pages later there is a picture of GM Bent Larsen,
whom I first met when working the wall boards at the Church’s Fried Chicken Chess tournament in San Antonio in 1972.
It is written, ‘He (Larsen) was asked: “How come you decide now at this stage in your studies to become a professional chess player?’ He answered,: ‘Denmark has many great engineers but only one good chess player.”
A few pages later one reads, “Demonstration boards had been put up for every game of the tournament and the young lads working the demo boards were busy transferring every move made to the boards.” Reading that caused me to smile, while remembering those wonderful days in San Antonio ‘working the boards’ half a century ago…
It continues, “As we were watching the positions a sign was put on a board showing the game between Raymond Keene
and Leonid Stein. A draw-the sign stated. Fischer’s face was transformed into utter disbelief, almost disgust. “This position is completely lost for Stein, that is the way they do it, offering draws in lost positions’, he said and walked out. The day after I drove him to the airport and on the way I asked him: ‘Are you sure that Stein’s position was lost.’ He then picked up the pocket chess he carried with him everywhere he went, put up the position and showed me a few moves. The he said: ‘Stein is without defence.’ Initially Fischer had looked at the position for only a few seconds.”
Raymond Keene vs Leonid Stein Reykjavik (1972), Reykjavik ISL, Feb-?? Gruenfeld Defense: General (D80) · 1/2-1/2
A comparison of the two players, Boris Spassky and Bobby Fischer, was made by the author that was striking: “They both opposed the inner workings of the society they were brought up. This was evident by their public statements. They were outspoken in political matters never hesitating to criticize ruling governments. At times they would disregard the advices of experienced trainers. In short, they both had at least a slight attitude problem. They both became fugitives from their homeland, the most bizarre aftermath of the match in Reykjavik.”
Bobby was a well-known night owl. It is written, “After midnight he would turn on the radio and, according to Eidinow and Edmonds in Bobby Fischer Goes To War, (A tremendously good book! AW). The Temptations
and The Four Tops
were among his favorite bands, but he also liked jazz and heavy-metal rock.” Bobby, my Man!
Was Bobby a genius?
“I once stated in a newspaper article that Fischer was a genius capable of being a recipient of the Nobel prize in any chosen field. Much later a reporter asked Fischer: ‘Are you a chess genius?’ Fischer answered: ‘I am a genius, but by the winds of fate I started to play chess.’
The Lady At The Bar
The author writes, “After a very long and difficult session on energy-prices I was in my hotel room near midnight, tried to go to sleep but without success…” “So I left my hotel room and headed straight to the bar and ordered a double cognac. At the bar there was a small gathering of people. A middle-aged woman approached me, sat by my side and asked: ‘Aren’t you this guy Mr. Thorarinsson.’ This surprised me-but not altogether. I had been asked the same question a few times in Kastrup and at some other airports…” I answered: ‘Yes.’ Then the new-found acquaintance said to me: ‘I want to give you an advice. I have worked as an interpreter in the negotiations between the United States and the Soviet Union in the attempts to restrain the arms race in strategic ballistic missiles with nuclear weapons. When the Soviets suggest or demand something you may never say no. If you do that you have terminated the meeting. You just always have to say: ‘Yes, but… I would really like to accept your proposal and I do agree on most of your points of view, but my circumstances are such that it is not entirely up to me.’
The author continues, “To me this advice sounded funny and I guess that I appeared thankful without giving her words too much thought.” This comes into play later. Diplomacy is so damn disingenuous. Can part of the problem be that diplomats do not say what they want, or needs to be said? The only Democratic POTUS spoken of fondly by my parents generation was Harry Truman, because he had a reputation of speaking frankly.
The Poisoned Pawn
“Some of the journalists who had been sent in haste to Iceland to cover the match did not know much about the game. An amusing incident happened in the Icelandic Chess Federation office when the match had finally got under way. A foreign journalist came in and told us that he had been sent to Iceland to cover the match: ‘My problem is that I do not even know how to play chess’, he said. ‘Can anyone teach me how to play the game?’ he asked. We arranged for a staff member to instruct him. When they sat down and our employee started to explain a few things, the journalist exclaimed: ‘Stop, Stop. Before we begin you must tell me which piece on the board is the poisoned pawn.’ Clearly, some people believed that a certain pawn was called the poisoned pawn. The news had been broken all over the world that in the endgame of the first game Fischer had captured a pawn on h2, but this bishop got locked in and was lost. This was reported as Fischer ‘capturing the poisoned pawn’. The incident was so well known that the journalist concluded that it was the first priority in his education to learn which pawn on the board was the poisoned pawn.”
Slater to the rescue
“Fischer received an unexpected offer on 3 July. A British multimillionaire by the name of James D. Slater
ordered to double the prize fund the Icelandic Chess Federation had guaranteed, i.e. add 50,000 pounds. He said: ‘Fischer jas said money is the problem. Well, here it is.’ Slater was aware of the dispute about the player’ share of the gate money, and decided to step in to solve matters. And Slater was quoted as saying: ‘Now come out and play, chicken.’ Slater was a renowned financial wizard who specialized in acquisitions of struggling companies to optimize the operation and then divest. England did not have a single grandmaster at this time, and by the end of the year Slater promised the first Briton who became an International Grandmaster, an incentive of 5000 pounds. In 1976 Anthony Miles won the Slater Prize.”
I could write all day and deep into the night about this magnificent book, but this must suffice, because it is, after all, only a review. The last part above ends on page 123. The book contains another one hundred magnificent pages.
A day after writing the above I perused the January 2023 issue of Chess (www.chess.co.uk) magazine. The section, Off the Shelf, by Sean Marsh, contains a short review of the book, in which it is written, “In fact, the first 110 pages look at the origins of chess, the world champions and the prelude to the match, all of which provide valuable context.” To each his own. Mr. Marsh needlessly includes the fourth chapter, Prelude to the match of 1972 with the first three chapters. The book should have started with the fourth chapter. Nevertheless, the book was enjoyed immensely. In addition, the reader may want to check out: The Match of All Time: The Inside Story of the legendary 1972 Fischer-Spassky World Chess Championship in Reykjavik, which was found at: ZOBOKO.COM (https://zoboko.com/text/e9m50316/the-match-of-all-time-the-inside-story-of-the-legendary-1972-fischer-spassky-world-chess-championship-in-reykjavik/1)
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 (https://chess4less.com/). 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 (https://www.chess.com/blog/hsburton1/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. (https://en.chessbase.com/post/chess-a-waste-of-time).
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.”
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 (https://thegammonpress.com/bill-robertie-blog/) 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, (https://davidlabaree.com/2021/11/22/johan-huizinga-on-the-centrality-of-play/) 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.”
“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?”
In the seventh round of the recently completed European Championships GM Anton Korobov,
of Ukraine, faced underdog IM Stamatis Kourkoulos-Arditis.
Both players had won five games and drawn one, and were tied for first place. Although Korobov built an advantage during the opening phase of the game he let it slip and after playing his 19th move the game was equal. Then Koukou pushed the g-pawn in lieu of taking the pawn with 19…gxf4, opening lines to Korobov’s king, and the battle raged until Koukou blundered with his 37th move and was ground down by Korobov.
Korobov, Anton (2658) – Kourkoulos-Arditis, Stamatis (2520) 09.03.2023
The win obviously left Korobov in the catbird seat, a half point in front of the large field. The situation was even better for Korobov because he again had white in the next, eight round. How did Korobov respond?
Korobov, Anton (2658) – Gledura, Benjamin (2637) 10.03.2023
1.e4 e5 2. Nc3 (This move makes it a C25 Vienna game) 2…Nf6 (Now it becomes a C26 Vienna, Falkbeer variation, I was surprised to see the SF program at lichess.com will play 2…Bc5, the third choice of human players at 365Chess.com, with 1546 games in the database. Contrast that with the move played in the game, which shows 11723 games. In between there is 2…Nc6 with 4621 games. ‘Back in the day’ 2…Nf6 was about the only move faced in any kind of play, and the Vienna was in my opening “database” back then, only no one called it a “database.” It was called a “brain.”) 3. g3 (This was the only move I ever played in this position. The first choice of we humans has been 3 f4 (4169), with 3 Bc4 (3561), followed by the game move (2849). The choice of SF, 3 Nf3, comes next, with 2673 games showing) 3…Bc5 4. Bg2 O-O 5. Nge2 Nc6 (SF prefers 5…c6) 6 0-0 (SF shows 6 Na4, followed by 6…Be7, followed by 7 Nac3 Bc5 before showing 8 0-0. Although the extra moves may help later it also allows a triple repetition and an early end of the game. If you have no awareness of the Ko rule in the great game of Go, or Wei Chi, depending, then please educate yourself and you will question why Chess has such a ridiculous rule) 6…a5 7 h3 (A Stock of Fish were not needed to know this move is premature; he should have first played 7 d3) 7…Nd4 (SF would play 7…Re8) 8 d3 (I was shocked by this move. 8 Nxd4 was expected) 8…8. d3 c6 9. Kh2 (Nxd4) 9…d5 (Re8) 10. exd5 cxd5 11. f4 (? ) I can, unfortunately, tell you from personal experience things will go downhill from here for Korobov. When you do not play to WIN, you LOSE.
Prior to beginning this series I wonder what type player would feature prominently in coming closest to playing as many moves played by the Stockfish program used at lichess.com. Please note one of the following players was unrated at the time the game was played. What makes this game so remarkable is that it was drawn!
This is the second part of an ongoing look at what Stockfish “thinks” of the legendary Najdorf variation. Part one was published a few daze ago (https://xpertchesslessons.wordpress.com/2023/02/23/a-seventh-move-novelty-in-the-najdorf/), with a focus on the move Stockfish considers best for white against the Najdorf system, 6 f3. 365Chess.com shows a total of twenty seven different moves having been played by those with the white pieces against the Najdorf. The most often played move by humans has been 6 Bg5, and it has been played in 20,902 games. I utilized the 365Chess database because it includes games by everyone regardless of rating. The first game score you see emanate from the fertile algorithms of Stockfish vs Stockfish. The game most closely matching the moves of Stockfish follows.
This game was ‘contested’ by the Stockfish program on 2/20/23:
‘Back in the day’ I was known for playing The Najdorf. It was my main defense to the king pawn move because the opening was played by Bobby Fischer. With this in mind it will come as no surprise to learn I have been a fan of the Frenchman, MVL, aka Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, because he has been todaze leading exponent of The Najdorf. It was surprising to learn the “M” did not stand for “Miguel.”
For some time consideration has been given to imputing each opening move versus The Najdorf into the Stockfish program at lichess.com in order to learn how the program replies to each of the over two dozen different opening moves that have been attempted. ‘Back in the day’ it was de rigueur to reach the Najdorf by playing 1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 d6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 Nf6 5 Nc3 a6. Stockfish differs when playing 3 Nc3, as can be seen below. The Stockfish program at lichess.com preferred 6 f3, so it was the first move put into the machine…
1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. Nc3 a6 4. d4 cxd4 5. Nxd4 Nf6 6. f3 e6 (The most often played move has been 6…e5, but the Fish prefers moving the pawn only one square) 7. a3
According to 365Chess.com a dozen different seventh moves have been played here, none of which is the move produced by Stockfish! This makes the seventh move a theoretical novelty, which can only be described as amazing…
The Chess World’s New Villain: A Cat Named Mittens A ruthless bot with an innocuous avatar is driving chess players crazy
By Andrew Beaton and Joshua Robinson Jan. 18, 2023
The heels of the chess world have included Soviet grandmasters, alleged cheaters, and faceless supercomputers. But the game’s latest villain is a fearsome genius who quotes French cinema and has played millions of games in just a couple of weeks.
She also happens to be a mean cat.
Mittens—or technically the chess bot known as Mittens—might look cute. Her listed chess rating of a single point seems innocuous. But her play over the past few weeks, which has bedeviled regular pawn-pushers, grandmasters, and champions who could play for the world title, is downright terrifying. And as it turns out, people are gluttons for punishment.
Since Chess.com introduced this bot with the avatar of a cuddly, big-eyed kitten on Jan. 1, the obsession with playing her has been astonishing. Mittens has crashed the website through its sheer popularity and helped drive more people to play chess than even “The Queen’s Gambit.” Chess.com has averaged 27.5 million games played per day in January and is on track for more than 850 million games this month—40% more than any month in the company’s history. A video that American grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura posted to YouTube titled “Mittens The Chess Bot Will Make You Quit Chess” has already racked up more than three million views.
“This bot is a psycho,” the streamer and International Master Levy Rozman tweeted after a vicious checkmate this month. A day later, he added, “The chess world has to unite against Mittens.” He was joking, mostly.
Mittens is a meme, a piece of artificial intelligence and a super grandmaster who also happens to reflect the broader evolution in modern chess. The game is no longer old, stuffy and dominated by theoretical conversations about different lines of a d5 opening. It’s young, buzzy and proof that cats still rule the internet.
The past few months have seen yet another surge in the worldwide appeal of chess. The viral image from the World Cup was a Louis Vuitton advertisement showing Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi poring over a board.
The picture that summed up the college football national championship was of a TCU fan playing chess on her phone in the stadium while the Horned Frogs got demolished by Georgia. When Slovenian NBA superstar Luka Doncic was asked for his thoughts about Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter, he shrugged it off and said he uses his phone to play chess.
None of those moments have driven people to virtual chess boards quite like a cat named Mittens who likes to taunt her opponents while she destroys them.
“I am inevitable. I am forever. Meow. Hehehehe,” Mittens tells her opponents in the chat function of games.
Chess.com, the popular platform where both grandmasters and millions of everyday chess lovers play, has a number of bots ranging in skill level and styles for users to challenge. Some are designed to play poorly and be beatable even by a crummy player. Others, in an age when the computers dominate humans, can topple the chess elite.
This particular bot was the brainchild of a Hamilton College student named Will Whalen who moonlights as a creative strategy lead. He had a crazy idea. What if they put an incredibly strong bot behind some devastatingly cute eyes?
“Then Mittens was born,” Whalen says.
But Mittens didn’t become a brutal troll until a Chess.com writer named Sean Becker led a team that developed Mittens’s personality to become the evil genius tormenting chess players everywhere. Part of why Mittens has become such a notorious villain is because she acts like one.
Mittens doesn’t purr. She references ominous lines from Robert Oppenheimer, Van Gogh, and even a 1960s Franco-Italian film called “Le Samourai.”
“Meow. Gaze into the long abyss. Hehehehe,” Mittens says, quoting German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche.
Even her approach to the game is menacing. Mittens is designed to be skillful enough to beat the best chess players on the planet but uses particularly grueling tactics. Becker thought it would be “way more demoralizing and funny” if, instead of simply smashing opponents, Mittens grinded down opponents through painstaking positional battles, similar to the tactics Russian grandmaster Anatoly Karpov used to become world champion.
It hasn’t been difficult for Becker to see the reactions to his masterpiece. Nakamura, who could manage only a draw against Mittens, bluntly said in a video, “This cat is extremely patient, which is kind of annoying. I’m not going to lie.”
Becker has also seen it when he rides the subway and notices someone on their phone getting crushed by Mittens.
“You can see their eyes be kind of afraid,” Becker says.
Getting absolutely creamed by Mittens might get old. But her surprising popularity speaks to an underlying current in the chess world as freshly minted fans flow in: People are endlessly curious about new ways to engage with the ancient game. Facing novelty bots is just one of them. There has also been a new wave of interest in previously obscure chess variants.
Chess960, for instance, is a version of the game where all the non-pawn pieces are lined up in random order on the back rank. Also known as Fischer Random, for its inventor Bobby Fischer, it has gained traction among elite players as a high-purity test of chess skill and vision, because the random setup makes openings nearly impossible to prepare ahead of time.
In an unprecedented move, chess world governing body FIDE recognized Chess960 and gave it a world championship in 2019. The tournament was closely watched in 2022 when the final featured two of the best players on the planet: Nakamura and Ian Nepomniachtchi, the runner-up at the 2021 world championship of normal chess. (World champion Magnus Carlsen finished third.)
Other variants include: “Fog of War,” where players have a limited view of their opponents’ pieces; “Bughouse Chess,” which is played across two boards with captured pieces potentially moving from one to the other; and “Three Check,” where the objective is simply to put the opposing king in check three times.
The wackiest of all is the chess variant known as Duck Chess. It looks mostly like regular chess—64 squares and 32 pieces. But it also has one rubber ducky on the board.
After every move in Duck Chess, the player moves the titular object to a new square of the board where it blocks pieces in its path. Good luck moving your bishop when there’s a duck squatting on its diagonal.
There are also other cat bots. One is Mr. Grumpers. Another is Catspurrov, which bears a curious resemblance to former world champion Garry Kasparov. None have become a sensation quite like the chess terrorist called Mittens.
“While I still think chess is a symbol of the highest level of strategic thinking,” said Chess.com chief chess officer Danny Rensch, “it’s also a game that is just incredibly fun and enjoyable.”
Just not when you play Mittens.
Write to Andrew Beaton at firstname.lastname@example.org and Joshua Robinson at Joshua.Robinson@wsj.com
Appeared in the January 19, 2023, print edition as ‘Chess World’s New Villain: A Cat Named Mittens’.