American Chess Magazine #11: The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly

When the first issue of the American Chess Magazine debuted I mentioned something about it being expensive, writing the price of the magazine, twenty five dollars, was as much as a book. My intention was to read, and then review, the first issue. After contacting someone at the ACM about receiving a review copy I was informed it would only be possible to receive the first copy if I anted up twenty five dollars, for which I would receive the first two issues. I turned down the “offer.”

It was only a few months ago upon returning to the Atlanta area that I got a chance to peruse past issues, which were wonderful. The new issue, issue #11, the second issue of 2019,

was the second issue after increasing from four issues to six issues per year. The new US Women’s Chess Champion, Jennifer Yu, graces the cover, surrounded by a pink background. This is my review.

I will be completely honest and say that before taking the magazine out of the plastic wrap I was hooked, and not because of the picture of a very pretty young lady on the cover, although I can see what a wonderful hook is Jennifer Yu!

It is a shame the ACM is not sold at book stores or newspaper and magazine stands because the cover would attract much interest. This on the cover is what “hooked” me:

American Civil War
A Dying Southern Diarist
Theodore P. Savas

I read the article immediately before even scanning the magazine and it brought tears to my eyes. I was born in the back seat of a ’49 Ford convertible on the way to Emory University Hospital in Decatur, Georgia, which means I was born a Southerner, as is often heard in the South, “By the grace of God.” The diarist, “Leroy Wiley Gresham, was born in 1847 to an affluent family in Macon, Georgia.” His mother’s name, Mary, was the same as my Mother’s name. The title of the article is, An Elegant Game: The American Civil War, a Dying Southern Diarist, and a Fascination with Chess. Leroy Wiley Gresham wrote his diary during the War of Northern Aggression, while he was dying. It is an elegant piece. I could end the review now and give it five stars, but there is more, much more, contained in this elegant issue!

Although I have read extensively about the War Between the States during the course of my life, it has been some time since I have read a book on the subject. This will be remedied when the book upon which the article is based, The War Outside My Window: The Civil War Diary of Leroy Wiley Gresham, 1860-1864, edited by Janet Kroon, which I have ordered, arrives.

The focus of the magazine is the most recent US Chess Championships. The annotations of the final round game are by the loser, Jeffery Xiong,

Isle of Man Chess International, Round 5, 24 October 2018. Photo by John Saunders

and they are excellent! For example, look at this position:

Jeffery writes, “21. Qb1 Preventing any …a4xb3 and Ra8-a2 ideas. But 21 Rfe1, quickly preparing Nf1-d2 and e2-e4, might have been more to the point.” Some annotators provide Lubomir Ftacnik

style reams of analysis when all that is needed is something simple. At the conclusion of the game Jeffery writes, “It was as clean a win as you can get with the black pieces. The opening experiment proved to be golden as my inexperience in this type of position was revealed to its fullest extent. Nakamura

played truly inspiring chess, especially with the black pieces, and his will to win in this game made him the deserved champion. He has amply demonstrated his greatness, being one of the perennial top-10 players in the world. Any player can win games, but at top level only great players are capable of consistently winning must-win games!”

GM Jeffery Xiong has shown his class as a gentleman with what he has written about what must have been a tough game to lose.

The honesty continues when Xiong annotates his win with the black pieces against the now dethroned US Chess Champion, Sam Shankland,


https://www.milibrary.org/chess-newsletters/872

when Jeffery writes at the end of the game, “At first I was quite pleased with my play as I felt I had found some nice ideas. However after heading back to my hotel room and opening ChessBomb, I saw a sea of red moves! Nonetheless, I was now leading the tournament with 2 1/2/3, yet fully aware that the quality of my play was not entirely satisfactory.”

This is amazingly honest writing.

A few pages further into the magazine one turns the page to see a beautiful picture of the new US Women’s Champion, Jennifer Yu, sitting at a Chessboard behind the black pieces while flashing a gorgeous smile. The title above reads, Lady With A Torch, which is appropriate because Jennifer torched the field this year! One reads, “Exclusive annotations and an interview by WGM Jennifer Yu.” The following page contains the game between former many time Women’s Champion Irina Krush,

playing white, and Jennifer, which happens to be an opening I have played, the B13 Caro-Kann, which begins 1 c4 c6 2 e4 d5 3 exd5 cxd5 4 d4 Nf6 5 Nc3 Nc6 6 Bg5 Be6. While visiting the Nashville Chess Center (http://www.nashvillechess.org/content.aspx?page_id=0&club_id=164844) earlier this decade FM Todd Andrews,

the Music City Master, gave a lecture which happened to be this very variation. After 7 a3 Qd7 Jennifer writes, “Not 7…dxc4?, when after 8 Bxf6! exf6 9 d5 Black loses a piece.” I recall raising my hand during the early part of Todd’s lecture asking about the early move c5 for White. Todd was nice enough to illustrate what was behind the move c5 for the audience, while letting me know in a nice way it was a lecture, not a Q&A. The game continued, 8 Be2 Rd8 9 Bxf6 exf6 10 c5. Ms. Yu writes, “Although a general principle of chess is to maintain tension in the center during the opening, this is a good move that prevents any…dxc4 tricks. It locks up the center and challenges the wisdom of my piece placement, making the bishop on e6 and the rook on d8 look silly, since these pieces no longer have any prospects against c4 and d4. 10 Bf3 doesn’t work because after 10…dxc4 11 d5 Qe7! the threat to the white king, as well as the pin on the white d-pawn, provides the black knight and bishop with immunity against the fork.” The annotations are exceptional.

I could go on and on, but this is a blog post. Still, I must mention an article by GM Alex Fishbein,

Secrets Of Same-Color Bishop Endings, which is superlative! And then there is the wonderful article, Beauties of Underpromotion, by IM Boroljub Zlatanovic, which was enjoyed immensely!

Unfortunately, not everything included in the magazine is rosy. Fresh Leaves from the Bookshelf is the title of the book review column by FM Carsten Hansen.

In this issue the FM has “reviewed,” and I use the word rather loosely, ten books. As he did in the previous issue Mr. Hansen reviewed ten books for the ACM. Beginning with the previous issue the ACM went from being published quarterly to bi-monthly. It may have been possible to review ten books quarterly, but how is it possible for anyone to read ten Chess books every other month? The answer is contained in the review of Tal, Petrosian, Spassky and Korchnoi,

by Andy Soltis,

published by McFarland. (https://mcfarlandbooks.com/) Hansen writes, “When I first saw the description of this book, (There is no need for the comma) I wasn’t quite sure how I felt about it. (“Upon first seeing description I did not know how to feel about the book.” THE ACM needs a good editor.) However, having now received a copy and read a fair amount of the text…” Let us pause in the middle of the sentence to reflect. Many years ago someone mentioned something about coming to the House of Pain “soon.” This caused David Vest, the only man to have won both the Georgia Chess Championhip and Georgia Senior Championship, to pose the question, “How long, exactly, is soon?” He added, “I hate those nebulous words…” This began a discussion concerning nebulous words. A short time (Nebulous!) later Mr. Vest, heading out the door, said, “Tell Murphy I will be back in a little while.” He was half way out of the door when someone asked, “How long is ‘a little while’, Dave?” This brought the House down! What is a “fair amount” of the book? Your “fair amount” may not be the same as my “fair amount.” Can you imagine a New York Times book reviewer revealing they only read a “fair amount” of a book? I usually pay little attention to these short book reviews by writers who obviously simply scan the book reviewed. It would be better for Mr. Hansen to review only a few books he has actually read as opposed to scanning ten books before writing a review. It seems many reviewers spend more time writing the review than actually reading the book being reviewed.

Then there is the article, 50 is the new 40, by Jon Edwards, an ICCF Senior IM. Reading the article caused me to reflect upon the words written by GM Nigel Short

in New In Chess magazine 2019 #2

in his piece, Obsolescence, which concerns correspondence chess. “If ever an activity should have long ago expired and been buried with dignity, it is surely correspondence chess.” This caused Kirill Oseledets to write a letter to the editor of NIC in which he expressed his unfavorable opinion of NIC for publishing the Short column. Kirill wrote, “I was sincerely surprised and deeply disappointed to see that in New In Chess 2018/2 you published Nigel Short’s article with the provocative title ‘Obsolescence.’ Later he writes, “One thing that Nigel Short fails to recognize is that correspondence chess is first of all a research laboratory for chess.”

Mr. Edwards begins, “Chess players do not yet have access to AlphaZero and so we are left to peruse more conventional chess technologies. It is tempting to focus primarily upon new databases, new videos, and new online chess services, all of which keep me feeling young and invigorated, but the fact is that chess is experiencing another profound change that has gradually but inexorably changed chess forever.” Then the article begins and Jon writes, “Just a few years ago, patiently permitting a desktop computer to run for day or longer might net an evaluation depth of 35-40 ply, each ply representing a single half move.”

He continues, “With new hardware , it is not uncommon (Don’t ‘cha just hate it when a writer uses a double negative and the editor prints it?) today for such runs to reach a depth of 50 ply or even much higher, depending obviously upon the position, the number of viable moves for each player, and the chess engine being employed. Those depths are high enough to predict accurately the future endgames, which themselves become trivial to evaluate. These long runs in typical positions are producing a slew of draws in Correspondence chess. I present here the current crosstable of the Spanish Masters, a tournament in which I am competing. With just 8 games still unfinished, the crosstable creates quite an impression, a veritable sea of draws.”

The crosstable shows a tournament with fifteen players almost complete. There is only one decisive result, and the only ‘1’ and lonely ‘0’ stand out like Bo Derek!

Jon continues, “You might indeed conclude prematurely that correspondence chess is therefore fully dead or dying.”

Duh, ya think?!

“But that’s not the point or the end of the story. The reality is that it is becoming very hard to win, but it is still possible!”

The CC IM writes this because the only game won in the “veritable sea of draws,” was won by the author…

He continues, “Those long runs are turning up interesting finds.”

Indeed.

“I parlayed one such discovery into a win over the reigning Russian correspondence chess champion, the only win so far in this crosstable.”

The game is given, along with a game played later by former World Chess Champion Vishy Anand,

who was unable to produce the move found by a computer Chess program after a “long run.” At the Isle of Man Anand faced Artemiev

with white and these moves were played: 1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 d6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 Nf6 5 Nc3 a6 6 Be2 e6 7 f4 Be7 8 Be3 0-0 9 g4 d5 10 e5 Nfd7 11 g5 Nc6.

“Undoubtedly unaware of the game I had recently completed, Anand tried 12 Qd2.”

“I reached the diagram position through a different move order: 1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 d6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 Nf6 5 Nc3 a6 6 Be3 e6 7 Be2 Be7 8 f4 0-0 9 g4 d5 10 e5 Nfd7 11 g5 Nc6

Edwards continues, “I reached the diagramed position in December 2017 through a different move order: : 1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 d6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 Nf6 5 Nc3 a6 6 Be3 e6 7 Be2 Be7 8 f4 0-0 9 g4 d5 10 e5 Nfd7 11 g5 Nc6. Sensing an opportunity for White, I ran Robert Houdart’s Houdini 6.02 Pro x64 for 35 days(!) on an Intel Xeon CPU E5-2687W @3.00 GHz with 32 GB of installed RAM. At depth 45, 12 Bd3 emerged not simply as the best move, as I had anticipated (Where is that darn comma when you need it?) but also with a completely winning advantage!”

“Edwards – Lobanov instead continued: 12 Bd3!! (Please note the ICCF Senior International Master gives not one but TWO exclamation marks for a move found by a Chess engine after doing whatever it is it does for over a MONTH of computing!!) Qb6 13 Na4 Qa5+ 14 c3

“I suspect the engines at lower depth had rejected this line owing to 14…Nxd4 15 Bxd4 b5 trapping the knight, but at higher depth, the engines easily find: 16 Bxh7+!! (Once again one exclam is not enough!!) 16…Kxh7 17 Qh5+ Kg8 18 0-0+ with a transfer of the Rf1 to h3. On 18…g6 (the toughest defense) 19 Qh4 Re8 20 Rf3 Bf8 21 Rh3 Bg7 22 f5! gxf5 23 Nb6 Nxb6 24 B5 with mate to follow. Without that line at his disposal, Lobanov chose instead to sacrifice a knight for two pawns but achieved insufficient compensation. Here’s the rest of the game.”

I will spare you the remainder of the game. Mr. Edwards adds this at the end of the game: “Not long after the game ended, I shared it with a GM friend of mine, the second for a world top-player, who ran 12 Bd3 on a very powerful mainframe overnight. He concluded that Black was already lost and he added White’s new idea into their collective repertoire. The translation: Our world’s best players fully understand the need for world class computing. He was able to do in half a day what took me more than a month! I do not know what hardware they are running but it clearly surpasses my setup. I am also proud that analysis of this game appeared in New in Chess Yearbook 129 (itl), pp33-35.
While it is clearly getting much tougher to win correspondence games and to achieve Correspondence IM and GM norms, any correspondence wins that doe occur clearly deserve considerable attention. Just ask Anand. I therefore recommend that strong players involve the Games Archive at iccf.com as a key part of their opening preparation. You will gain access to the archive after you sign up (for free).”

What, no double exclam after “free?”

Reading, “…correspondence chess is first of all a research laboratory for chess,” caused me to stop reading and start thinking about what was being read. I thought the computer championships, such as the TCEC Chess tournaments, were Chess laboratories. Jon and his ilk input a position into a computer and let it do it’s thing for a month and call it Chess. Jon, and all other correspondence players would be much better off if they would go to a club or tournament and use their brain to actually play CHESS!

Jon was right when he wrote, “…chess is experiencing another profound change that has gradually but inexorably changed chess forever.”

With that sentence Jon Edwards just KILLED CHESS!

Consider the last theoretical novelty you saw from one of the top ten players in the world. Did it spring from the fertile imagination of a human like, for instance, the Magician of Riga, Mikhail Tal?

Or did it emanate from the bowels of some hellish mainframe? If it has gotten to the point where a computer can provide a world class Chess player a move early in the game with which any world class player will win, what is the point of Chess? Has it gotten to the point where, “Those depths are high enough to predict accurately the future endgames, which themselves become trivial to evaluate?”

If Jon is correct there is no point in watching Chess because one will never know how the ‘beautiful’ move was produced. A Chess fan will never know if the “tremendous move” emanated from a human brain or from the machinations of a computer program. What we currently have is some kind of symbiotic relationship between human and machine kind of like the ‘Borg’ depicted in the television show, Star Trek: The Next Generation.

The first World Chess Champion to lose a match to a computer program, Garry Kasparov,

became an advocate of some kind of Chess in which both players have access to a program, which, thankfully, did not become popular. It appears what happened is the symbiotic relationship was kept behind closed doors. The computers and programs were there all the time, like some kind of Wizard of Oz.

Because they were out of sight they were also out of mind.

What is the point of the folks at the Chess Informant awarding a prize for the “best” theoretical novelty if the TN was found by a computer program? It has reached the point where a Grandmaster without access to a mainframe computer has little chance against another GM with access to a powerful computer. Who is actually winning the Chess game, the human or the program?

Chess will continue to be played just as Checkers continues to be played by a small number of people. When was the last time you were aware of the world Checkers champion?

Then there is the last page, 5×5 Q&A “Where Grandmasters Advise Young Players.”

The advice being given is by Susan Polgar. What the woman did to the USCF was UGLY!

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Programmers Attack Go With Brute Force

Last June an article by Jonathan Schaeffer, Martin Müller & Akihiro Kishimoto, AIs Have Mastered Chess. Will Go Be Next? was published. “Randomness could trump expertise in this ancient game of strategy,” followed. “Jonathan Schaeffer, a computer science professor at the University of Alberta, in Canada, had been creating game-playing artificial intelligence programs for 15 years when Martin Müller and Akihiro Kishimoto came to the university in 1999 as a professor and graduate student, respectively. Kishimoto has since left for IBM Research–Ireland, but the work goes on—and Schaeffer now finds it plausible that a computer will beat Go’s grand masters soon. “Ten years ago, I thought that wouldn’t happen in my lifetime,” he says.” (http://spectrum.ieee.org/robotics/artificial-intelligence/ais-have-mastered-chess-will-go-be-next)

Jonathan Schaeffer is the man behind Chinook, the computer program that solved Checkers. You can find the paper, Checkers is Solved, to learn about the proof here: (http://webdocs.cs.ualberta.ca/~chinook/)
He has also revised his book first published in 1997, One Jump Ahead: Computer Perfection at Checkers, which I read years ago. Jonathan Schaeffer is like E. F. Hutton in that when he talks about a computer game program, you listen.

For years I have followed news of computer Go programs. Before sitting down to punch & poke I searched for the latest news, coming up empty. This as good news for humans because Go is the last board game bastion holding against machine power. It is also the world’s oldest, and most complicated, board game. It “originated in ancient China more than 2,500 years ago. It was considered one of the four essential arts of a cultured Chinese scholar in antiquity. Its earliest written reference dates back to the Confucian Analects.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Go_%28game%29)

Schaeffer and his group have developed a Go-playing computer program, Fuego, an open-source program that was developed at the University of Alberta. From the article, “For decades, researchers have taught computers to play games in order to test their cognitive abilities against those of humans. In 1997, when an IBM computer called Deep Blue beat Garry Kasparov, the reigning world champion, at chess, many people assumed that computer scientists would eventually develop artificial intelligences that could triumph at any game. Go, however, with its dizzying array of possible moves, continued to stymie the best efforts of AI researchers.”

In 2009 Fuego “…defeated a world-class human Go player in a no-handicap game for the first time in history. Although that game was played on a small board, not the board used in official tournaments, Fuego’s win was seen as a major milestone.”

They write, “Remarkably, the Fuego program didn’t triumph because it had a better grasp of Go strategy. And although it considered millions of possible moves during each turn, it didn’t come close to performing an exhaustive search of all the possible game paths. Instead, Fuego was a know-nothing machine that based its decisions on random choices and statistics.”

I like the part about it being a “know-nothing machine.” I have often wondered if humans, like Jonathan Schaeffer, who are devoting their lives to the development of “thinking” machines, will be reviled by future generations of humans as is the case in the Terminator movies. It could be that in the future humans will say, “Hitler was nothing compared to the evil SCHAEFFER!” If I were supreme world controller a command would be issued ending the attempts to crack Go, leaving my subjects one beautiful game not consigned to the dustbin of history, as has been the fate of checkers. I fear it is only a matter of time before chess meets the same fate. GM Parimarjan Negi was asked in the “Just Checking” Q&A of the best chess magazine in the history of the universe, New In Chess 2014/6, “What will be the nationality of the 2050 World Champion?” He answered the question by posing one of his own, “Will we still have a world championship?” Good question. I would have to live to one hundred to see that question answered. Only former President of the GCA, and Georgia Senior Champion, Scott Parker will live that long, possibly still be pushing wood in 2050, if wood is still being pushed…

The article continues, “The recipe for building a superhuman chess program is now well established. You start by listing all possible moves, the responses to the moves, and the responses to the responses, generating a branching tree that grows as big as computational resources allow. To evaluate the game positions at the end of the branches, the program needs some chess knowledge, such as the value of each piece and the utility of its location on the board. Then you refine the algorithm, say by “pruning” away branches that obviously involve bad play on either side, so that the program can search the remaining branches more deeply. Set the program to run as fast as possible on one or more computers and voilà, you have a grand master chess player. This recipe has proven successful not only for chess but also for such games as checkers and Othello. It is one of the great success stories of AI research.”

Voilà, indeed.

“Go is another matter entirely,” they write, “The game has changed little since it was invented in China thousands of years ago, and millions around the world still enjoy playing it.”

But for how long?

“Game play sounds simple in theory: Two players take turns placing stones on the board to occupy territories and surround the opponent’s stones, earning points for their successes. Yet the scope of Go makes it extremely difficult—perhaps impossible—for a program to master the game with the traditional search-and-evaluate approach.”

This is because, “For starters, the complexity of the search algorithm depends in large part on the branching factor—the number of possible moves at every turn. For chess, that factor is roughly 40, and a typical chess game lasts for about 50 moves. In Go, the branching factor can be more than 250, and a game goes on for about 350 moves. The proliferation of options in Go quickly becomes too much for a standard search algorithm.”

Hooray! That is the good news, and there is more…”There’s also a bigger problem: While it’s fairly easy to define the value of positions in chess, it’s enormously difficult to do so on a Go board. In chess-playing programs, a relatively simple evaluation function adds up the material value of pieces (a queen, for example, has a higher value than a pawn) and computes the value of their locations on the board based on their potential to attack or be attacked. Compared with that of chess pieces, the value of individual Go stones is much lower. Therefore the evaluation of a Go position is based on all the stones’ locations, and on judgments about which of them will eventually be captured and which will stay safe during the shifting course of a long game. To make this assessment, human players rely on both a deep tactical understanding of the game and a clear-eyed appraisal of the overall board situation. Go masters consider the strength of various groups of stones and look at the potential to create, expand, or conquer territories across the board.”

This sounds good so far, but then they continue, “Rather than try to teach a Go-playing program how to perform this complex assessment, we’ve found that the best solution is to skip the evaluation process entirely.”

Oh no, Mr. Bill!

“Over the past decade, several research groups have pioneered a new search paradigm for games, and the technique actually has a chance at cracking Go. Surprisingly, it’s based on sequences of random moves. In its simplest form, this approach, called Monte Carlo tree search (MCTS), eschews all knowledge of the desirability of game positions. A program that uses MCTS need only know the rules of the game.”

I do not know about you, but I am hoping, “What happens in Monte Carlo stays in Monte Carlo.” Do you get the feeling we are about to be Three Card Monte Carloed?

“From the current configuration of stones on the board, the program simulates a random sequence of legal moves (playing moves for both opponents) until the end of the game is reached, resulting in a win or loss. It automatically does this over and over. The magic comes from the use of statistics. The evaluation of a position can be defined as the frequency with which random move sequences originating in that position lead to a win. For instance, the program might determine that when move A is played, random sequences of moves result in a win 73 percent of the time, while move B leads to a win only 54 percent of the time. It’s a shockingly simple metric.”

“Shockingly simple,” my jackass. There is much more to the article, including this, “The best policies for expanding the tree also rely on a decision-making shortcut called rapid action value estimation (RAVE). The RAVE component tells the program to collect another set of statistics during each simulation.”

As in “Raving lunatic.” The article provides a list of what current computer programs have done to games, and how they rate in “…two-player games without chance or hidden information…”

TIC-TAC-TOE (Game positions, 10 to the 4th power) = Toast

OWARE (Game positions, 10 to the 11th power) = Fried

CHECKERS (Game positions, 10 to the 20th power)= Cooked

OTHELLO (Game positions, 10 to the 28th power)= Superhuman

CHESS (Game positions, 10 to the 45th power) = Superhuman

XIANGQI (CHINESE CHESS) (Game positions, 10 to the 48th power) = Best Professional

SHOGI (JAPANESE CHESS) (Game positions, 10 to the 70th power) = Strong Professional

GO = (Game positions, 10 to the 172th power) = Strong Amateur

They end the article by writing, “But there may come a day soon when an AI will be able to conquer any game we set it to, without a bit of knowledge to its name. If that day comes, we will raise a wry cheer for the triumph of ignorance.”

I would much prefer to raise a stein and drown my sorrows to that…

Games People Play

Former World Chess Champion Boris Spassky was interview recently by Colin McGourty. Some of the wonderful interview, “I still look at chess with the eyes of a child” (https://chess24.com/en/read/news/spassky-i-still-look-at-chess-with-the-eyes-of-a-child) has been translated by Chess24.

Colin: “All sports change over the years, becoming faster, higher, stronger. Is chess also subject to similar trends?”

Boris: “Chess is also changing, but in a somewhat incomprehensible manner. Computers have appeared in chess and turned everything upside down.”

The advent of computer chess programs have drastically altered the Royal game. The natural evolution of chess has been, shall we say, “enhanced” by the programs. The play of the game of chess has taken a quantum leap forward in the lifetime of Boris Spassky. When change this dramatic occurs it is only natural that older humans have trouble accepting the rapid change. For instance, my grandmother was born before the automobile was invented. When Neil Armstrong allegedly stepped onto the surface of the moon and said, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” it was much more than she could comprehend and she never believed it happened. To her it was just something “they” put on TV.

Colin: “The reigning World Champion Magnus Carlsen has the reputation of being a straight-A chess player who does everything correctly on the board and plays out games for a long, long time. Has chess lost something because of that?”

Boris: “Carlsen is a stubborn kid. In general, what a chess player needs has always been the same, with a love of chess the main requirement. Moreover, it has to be loved naturally, with passion, the way people love art, drawing and music. That passion possesses you and seeps into you. I still look at chess with the eyes of a child.”

Colin: “Can chess players of different eras be compared at all?”

Boris: “It’s pretty hard. Each to his own. Everyone should know his place. Chess players are a very difficult crowd who are largely egocentrics, egoists and individualists. Each of them has his own vision of the world and each is a lone wolf who goes his own way. Each World Champion came from more or less that background.”

Humans have always played games, and, most, will continue to play some kind of game. As Colin said, “All sports change over the years…” Chess is not an exception.

Whatever credibility Checkers had has been lost to the computer program Chinook, the “World Man-Machine Checkers Champion.” (http://webdocs.cs.ualberta.ca/~chinook/) Have humans stopped playing Checkers? They have not because they changed the game. Take a look at “International Checkers.” It is not the game your father played.

Consider Three Dimensional Chess, popularized by the Star Trek TV show. (http://www.chessvariants.org/3d.dir/startrek.html)
“Three-dimensional chess (or 3D chess) refers to any of various chess variants that use multiple boards at different levels, allowing the chess pieces to move in three physical dimensions. Three-dimensional variants have existed since the late 19th century, one of the oldest being Raumschach (German for Space chess), invented in 1907 by Dr. Ferdinand Maack and considered the classic 3D game. Maack founded a Raumschach club in Hamburg in 1919, which remained active until World War II. The inventor contended that for chess to be more like modern warfare, attack should be possible not only from a two-dimensional plane but also from above (aerial) and below (underwater). Maack’s original formulation was for an 8×8×8 board, but after experimenting with smaller boards eventually settled on 5×5×5 as best. Other obvious differences from standard chess include two additional pawns per player, and a special piece (two per player) named unicorn.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Three-dimensional_chess)

It could be that in the future when one speaks of chess, it will be in regard to only 3D Chess.

GM Walter Browne, an avid gamesman, has created a game he named, “FINESSE.” Walter calls it, “The 21st century version of Chess.” He writes, “In 1988 I started to wonder why over two thousand years no one ever thought of another board game besides Chess, that was a “purely” intellectual struggle. There are many chess variants, but none of them are very appealing, so I dared to take up the challenge. I invented Finesse in 1993 and I thought it’s nice, but I put it away for almost twenty years. Then in 2012 I made a few key changes which made all the difference! I had a “Voila”! moment in August 2012 when I realized the chemistry between the pieces would create an endless variety of dynamic positions.”(http://www.finessebybrowne.com/#!history/c1sf)

Check out this “Finesse” video:

Could the game Walter invented be the future of chess? My favorite science fiction novel is, “The Player of Games,” by Iain M. Banks. “Curgeh is the best, the champion. In the ancient, all-embracing Culture in which there is no disease or disaster, only the endless games, he has beaten them all. But an empire’s challenge will teach him what the Game is really all about.” (http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/18630.The_Player_of_Games)

My favorite novel is, “The Glass Bead Game,” by Hermann Hesse. It is known as “Das Glasperlenspiel” in German. It has also been published under the title “Magister Ludi,” Latin for “Master of the Game.” (http://www.glassbeadgame.com/)

“It was begun in 1931 and published in Switzerland in 1943 after being rejected for publication in Germany due to Hesse’s anti-Fascist views. A few years later, in 1946, Hesse went on to win the Nobel Prize in Literature. In honoring him in its Award Ceremony Speech, the Swedish Academy said that the novel “occupies a special position” in Hesse’s work.”

“The Glass Bead Game takes place at an unspecified date centuries into the future. Hesse suggested that he imagined the book’s narrator writing around the start of the 25th century. The setting is a fictional province of central Europe called Castalia, which was reserved by political decision for the life of the mind; technology and economic life are kept to a strict minimum. Castalia is home to an austere order of intellectuals with a twofold mission: to run boarding schools for boys, and to nurture and play the Glass Bead Game, whose exact nature remains elusive and whose devotees occupy a special school within Castalia known as Waldzell. The rules of the game are only alluded to—they are so sophisticated that they are not easy to imagine. Playing the game well requires years of hard study of music, mathematics, and cultural history. The game is essentially an abstract synthesis of all arts and sciences. It proceeds by players making deep connections between seemingly unrelated topics.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Glass_Bead_Game)

Games will always be played, as long as humans inhabit Earth, which may not be long the way we have polluted the planet. (http://www.ora.tv/offthegrid/big-media-blindspot-continuing-fukushima-cover–0_300vfa5puqb8) Even then I like to think humans may be able to travel to an unpolluted planet, where they will, no doubt, play some kind of game.

TCEC Rules

The Season 7 Superfinal of the TCEC ahampionship is underway with Komodo 1333 playing Stockfish 141214. I was amazed upon learning game 3 began as a French: Chigorin, 2…c5. In this 64 game match the same opening is being played by both “engines.” This game began during the evening of December 17, 2014 with the same opening played the following game, with colors reversed, and I spent the night watching the games, with both being drawn.
The TCEC people force the “engines” to play 8 moves. When White plays 2 Qe2, after 1 e4 e6, it signifies the Chigorin. Black should be allowed to play any move it computes best in lieu of being forced to play a move it may, or may not, consider best. When Black, on move two, after 1 e4 e5 2 Nf3, plays Nf6 that signifies the Petroff defense. I fail to understand why the TCECers force the programs to play another SIX moves when it is obvious White should choose the third move. Another example is the Najdorf defense. After 1e4 c5 2 Nf3 d6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 Nf6 5 Nc3 Black has a variety of choices. Playing 5…a6 signals the Najdorf. At this point White has a plethora of choices. The “engine” should make the choice. After 1 e4 e5 2 f4 White has chosen the King’s Gambit, and Black has many options. It is unfortunate but we will never know what an “engine” would play because humans have made the choice for the machines. Near the end of the line for the game of Checkers, with the advent of the Checker playing program Chinook (http://webdocs.cs.ualberta.ca/~chinook/) the openings would be chosen for the human players in a tournament because so many openings were known to be a forced draw.
One would think that the humans in control of the TCEC tournament would at least choose an opening played numerous times by top GMs, but such is not the case. Take the aforementioned Chigorin game as an example. After 1 e4 e6 2 Qe2 White has, according to the Chessbase Database (http://database.chessbase.com/js/apps/database/), just played the top scoring move against the French, with White scoring 57%. The move Black makes in reply, 2…c5, is the most played move in the variation and can be considered the main line. On its third move the “engine” is forced to play 3 g3 when the most often played move, considered to be the “main line,” is 3 Nf3. According to the CBDB, Stockfish 181114 would play the little played 3 b3. I would rather see SF play this move, since it is the move determined best. Houdini would play another lesser played move, 3 d3. That is the move it should be allowed to play.
Black answers with the most often played move, 3…Nc6, the move considered best by Komodo. Stockfish 5×64 at depth 31 also plays 3…Nc6, but at depth 35 changes to 3…g6. It would be interesting to see a game between these two titans continue from this point.
The next move, 4 Nf3 is the main line, but Houdini 3×64 would play the little played 4 d3. This is followed by 4…Be7, considered best by both SF and Komodo, yet 4…g6 and d6 have been played more often.
5 Bg2 is for choice, as is the reply 5…d5. 6 d3 is the main line, but Houdini 4×64 would play 6 0-0. The next move, 6…Nf6 is almost automatic. The program is forced to play 7 0-0, the main line, but Komodo would play 7 e5, so maybe it is best?! 7…0-0 would seem to be a no-brainer, and it has been throughout chess history, and it is the first choice of both Stockfish and Houdini, but the humans in charge forced the “engines” to play the much lesser played 7…b6. Now White plays 8 e5 and Black retreats his Knight to d7 and the forced moves have ended and the programs can begin to “compute.”
The TCECers could have allowed the “engines” to compute beginning on move two, after White plays 2 Qe2, or they could have chosen the same opening moves chosen previously by the best human players to have played the opening. Instead the knuckleheads at TCEC forced the machines to play an obscure, little played line.
The first move produced by a program, 9 c4, is not only “main line,” but also seen as best by the “engines.” Stockfish played 9…0-0. Komodo would play the most often played move, 9…d4.
Stockfish played 10 Re1 (Komodo would play a TN, 10 a3) and Komodo responded with 10…h6, which is a TN. Stockfish 151214 shows 10…Ndb8 at depth 24, but give it more time to crunch and it produces the move chosen by Komodo.
The move 10…h6 is a deviation from “known theory.” A game was played with the move 10…Bb7 in lieu of 10…h6. Who were the players in this earlier game? Were they well-known GMs who devoted their lives to the Royal game? Not hardly…They were guys of my calibre:

Samuel Minor (2092) vs Matthias Schoene (1846)
Frankfurt-ch 05/15/2006

1. e4 e6 2. d3 d5 3. Qe2 Nf6 4. Nf3 c5 5. g3 Be7 6. Bg2 O-O 7. O-O Nc6 8. e5 Nd7 9. c4 b6 10. Re1 Bb7 11. h4 Re8 12. Nbd2 Nf8 13. Nf1 Qc7 14. N1h2 Nd4 15. Nxd4 cxd4 16. cxd5 Bxd5 17. Bxd5 exd5 18. Qf3 Bb4 19. Re2 Rad8 20. Ng4 Ng6 21. h5 Nxe5 22. Nxe5 Rxe5 23. Bf4 f6 24. Bxe5 fxe5 25. a3 Be7 26. Rae1 Bf6 27. h6 Qd7 28. Rc2 e4 29. dxe4 dxe4 30. Qxe4 d3 31. Rd2 Bg5 32. f4 Bxh6 33. Qe6+ Qxe6 34. Rxe6 Kf7 35. Re3 g5 36. fxg5 Bxg5 37. Rexd3 Bxd2 38. Rxd8 Bc1 39. Rd7+ Kg6 40. Rxa7 Bxb2 41. a4 h5 42. Kg2 Kg5 43. Kh3 Bc3 44. Rd7 Bb4 45. Rd5+ Kg6 46. Rb5 Ba5 47. Kh4 1-0

For the record here are the two games played by the computer programs:

Stockfish 141214 (3218) vs Komodo 1333 (3210)
TCEC Season 7 – Superfinal game 3
C00 French: Chigorin, 2…c5

1. e4 e6 2. Qe2 c5 3. g3 Nc6 4. Nf3 Be7 5. Bg2 d5 6. d3 Nf6 7. O-O b6 8. e5 Nd7 9. c4 O-O 10. Re1 h6 11. Bf4 d4 12. h4 Bb7 13. Nh2 Rb8 14. Ng4 h5 15. Nh2 g6 16. Nd2 a6 17. Nhf3 b5 18. Rab1 Qc7 19. cxb5 axb5 20. a3 Rbc8 21. Rbd1 Ba8 22. Ne4 Rfe8 23. b3 Qa7 24. Rb1 Qc7 25. b4 cxb4 26. axb4 Bxb4 27. Rf1 Qb8 28. Nf6+ Nxf6 29. exf6 e5 30. Bh6 Bc3 31. Bh3 e4 32. dxe4 Rcd8 33. Qxb5 Qxb5 34. Rxb5 Na5 35. Rc1 Bxe4 36. Nxd4 Bxd4 37. Rxa5 Bb2 38. Rf1 Bxf6 39. Bg2 Bf5 40. Bf3 Bc3 41. Ra2 Rd3 42. Be2 Rd4 43. Rc1 Rde4 1/2-1/2

Komodo 1333 (3210) vs Stockfish 141214 (3218)
TCEC Season 7 – Superfinal game 4
C00 French: Chigorin, 2…c5

1. e4 e6 2. Qe2 c5 3. g3 Nc6 4. Nf3 Be7 5. Bg2 d5 6. d3 Nf6 7. O-O b6 8. e5 Nd7 9. c4 O-O 10. Re1 h6 11. Bf4 d4 12. h4 Bb7 13. Nh2 Re8 14. Qg4 Bf8 15. Bxc6 Bxc6 16. Bxh6 f5 17. Qg6 Qe7 18. Bf4 Qf7 19. Qxf7+ Kxf7 20. Nd2 b5 21. Nhf3 Be7 22. cxb5 Bxb5 23. Nc4 Bc6 24. Ng5+ Bxg5 25. Bxg5 Reb8 26. Na5 Bb5 27. Rad1 Rb6 28. b3 Rab8 29. Re2 Ra6 30. Nc4 Bxc4 31. bxc4 Rab6 32. f3 Rb2 33. Rde1 Rxe2 34. Rxe2 Rb1+ 35. Kf2 Nb8 36. Re1 Rb2+ 37. Re2 Rb1 38. g4 fxg4 39. fxg4 Nc6 40. h5 a5 41. Kf3 Rd1 42. Bd2 Ra1 43. Be1 a4 44. g5 a3 45. Kf4 Rb1 46. g6+ Ke8 47. Ke4 Rb2 48. Kf3 Nb4 49. Bxb4 cxb4 50. h6 gxh6 51. c5 b3 52. c6 Rxe2 53. Kxe2 bxa2 54. c7 Kd7 55. c8=Q+ Kxc8 56. g7 a1=Q 57. g8=Q+ Kb7 58. Qf7+ Ka6 59. Qxe6+ Ka5 60. Qd5+ Ka4 61. Qc6+ Kb4 62. Qc4+ Ka5 63. Qc5+ Ka4 64. Qc4+ 1/2-1/2

If any of this is logical to you, please leave a comment and elucidate the AW because none of this makes any sense to me whatsoever and I am certain Mr. Spock would question the logic behind the moves.

nTCEC: The Future of Chess?

The second season, stage one, of the nTCEC tournament has begun. I was amused when the Legendary Georgia Ironman told me he was following the first season of the computer tournament. The games are being displayed on the Chess Bomb website (http://chessbomb.com/), and Chessdom (http://www.chessdom.com/) has been covering the tournament with regular articles. The Bomb is one of the websites the Ironman is able to access on his gizmo. His browser will not allow some websites, but the Bomb is one of the websites that can be accessed on his gizmo. Tim said he liked the fact that there is always a game ongoing. Upon completion of one game, another immediately pops up. Dennis Monokroussos has also provided coverage on his blog, The Chess Mind (http://www.thechessmind.net/). I thought of the Ironman upon reading his post of August 29, 2013, TCEC SEASON 2 UNDERWAY (http://www.thechessmind.net/blog/2013/8/29/tcec-season-2-underway.html). Dennis writes: “There’s always a live game going there, and will be for about three months’ time for anyone truly desperate for a chess fix.”
It was Tim’s time for amusement when learning I am now hooked on the nTCEC tournament. Could I possibly be a neophiliac. The first thing I do in the morning after firing-up the ‘puter is surf over to the Bomb in order to ascertain the result of the game from the previous night, and check out the current game. Because I am such a neophyte fan of the tournament between programs I was unaware the openings are chosen for the programs. This is what happened with the game of checkers when some variations had been played out to the point every one lead to a draw with best play. This happened before Chinook, and other programs sucked the life out of the game of checkers. I do not like the fact that the openings are prearranged. I do not like the fact that the programs are allowed an opening book. Back when playing against the ‘engines’ I would turn off the opening book. It seemed only fair, unless I could do the same and utilize my opening book(s). I would like to see what openings the programs would play, left to their own devices.
Firefly is the lowest rated program, by far, of the 36 participating in the tournament, with a rating of only 2208. Nebula, rated 2421, is closest to Firefly. Houdini, rated 3156, is the top-seed, with Stockfish next at 3102. Firefly won last night when Bugchess2 “bugged-out.” Buggy was not able to respond to Firefly’s 10th move, and lost. There must have been a bug in the system…
I am not only “pulling” for Firefly because it is the lowest rated ‘engine’ but because some years ago my friend NM Neal Harris, upon learning I enjoyed watching Sci-Fi shows, but had no knowledge of the TV phenomenon Firefly (I was completely away from the tube that year), loaned me a box-set of all the episodes broadcast, plus several others that had not been broadcast. As with several of my all-time favorite shows, it only lasted one season. The IMDB website shows a rating of 9.1 out of 10, which is exceptional. Shows rated far lower last for years. Firefly was obviously too good for its own good.
My other ‘favorite’ is Toga II. Anyone who has ever watched the movie Animal House will understand! “TOGA, TOGA, TOGA, TOGA II!” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3AohA367VVk)