And Another Thing

In a response to a lovely email from a young person in Europe I have decided to post one more time. The author of the email “adores” the music of my generation and sent an article for me to read (https://metro.co.uk/2019/02/07/millennials-prefer-music-20th-century-golden-age-pop-today-research-reveals-8462993/).

“Since you obviously love Rock & Roll music,” the email began. The author wished I would continue writing about music. “Is there anything you did not write about you wish had been included?”

After reviewing my last two posts there were some things I wish had been included, so I have decided to write this post in order to rectify things and make someone happy.

I will begin with the best concerts attended, one of which may surprise you.

The Fox theater in Atlanta, Georgia, is a magnificent place for music. For those inclined you can learn all about it here: https://www.foxtheatre.org/

Both of the concerts attended were at the Fox. The first one will not surprise readers of this blog. I was fortunate enough to see The Band perform at the Fox. In a time when many Rock & Roll shows had become extravaganzas the curtains opened and there was The Band as they began playing their music. After an intermission the curtains opened and again they performed their music. Nothing else was needed. It was a tremendous concert which I enjoyed immensely.

The next concert contains a story. Someone had given me two tickets to see a concert at the Fox. I was having much trouble finding anyone to go with me. Keep in mind the Fox is so wonderful just going, no matter what the event , made a trip worthwhile. For example, the woman with whom I lived asked me to go see Philobolus at the Fox. “What’s a ‘Philobolus?” I asked. “I’ve never heard of them.” She said they were a dance company. If you are fortunate enough to have a significant other one must attempt to please your partner, so I agreed, thinking, “Well, at least its at the Fox.” Fortunately, I was open to new experiences and they put on quite a show.

I called a platonic girlfriend I had known since we were young, Susan Bailey, who worked for the Atlanta Braves. “Susan,” I began, “would you like to go to a concert at the Fox?” She asked, “Who’s playing, Eggs?” Yes, there was a time my friends called me “Eggs,” for an obvious reason. “America,” I answered. There was silence for a few moments before Susan replied, “You mean that “Horse with No Name group?”

“That’s the one.”
“I dunno, Eggs.”
“Aw, come on Susan, I’m having trouble finding anyone who will go with me.”
“I can’t imagine why, Eggs,” she said. Finally, she decided to “take one for the team,” and agreed to go. “But don’t ever tell anyone I went with you, Eggs!” she said. I promised.

The Fox was only half full. “Imagine that, Eggs,” Susan said. Like The Band, the curtain opened and America came out and played acoustic music. When intermission came Susan said, “Let’s go, Eggs.” I urged her to stay, but she was having none of it. One of the members of the group said. “We’ve heard Atlanta was more of a heavy metal kind of town, but it is extremely disappointing to only half fill the venerable Fox. We are going to take a break and come out and Rock this city!”
“OK, eggs, I’ll stay a little while,” she said placating me.

The curtain opened for the second part of the show and Rock they did! They plugged in and blew the proverbial roof off of the building! At one point everyone was standing on their seat, Susan included, which made me smile. When they concluded their performance Susan, all smiles, looked at me and said, “Damn Eggs, who woulda ever known they could play like that!” Who indeed, I was thinking. The best part was when Susan began telling anyone who would listen how great was the performance, which perplexed the hard core Rockers. “What got into Bells,” was the usual reply.

Those two concerts stand out even though I attended a Bob Dylan and The Band concert at the Omni, of which I have fond memories.

Another thing I wished had been written about was an email received from the Discman, with whom regular readers will be familiar. He considers the period between the middle 60s and middle 70s to be the best period of Rock & Roll. Chris sent me an email with his top ten one hit wonder albums. In reply I mentioned only one album, the one I have always considered the best album of the one hit wonders. I am not talking about a one hit wonder single such as Drift Away by Dobie Gray,

who made a career out of singing that one song, but a complete album with many songs. That album is the first album by Christopher Cross, titled Christopher Cross.

The next morning there was a reply from the Discman in which he wrote something about having listened to it the previous night, and he agreed it should have been on his list. “Every song is good, and it really came together,” he wrote.

The last thing I wish had been included was Steely Dan. I somehow neglected to write about how much the Dan influenced me into listening to more Jazz, because of the exceptional way Jazz rifts were incorporated in their wonderful music. Steely Dan was one of, if not the most inventive of Rock musicians. The Dan expanded the boundaries of what could be classified Rock & Roll. Steely Dan may be considered the most extraordinary of Rock groups with what some called “sophisticated” Rock music. I went from listening to The Band, who many have said wonderful things about, such as Eric Clapton and George Harrison, among others, to listening to Steely Dan, causing some of my friends, who were into, let us say, hard core R&R, to say, “Musically, Eggs has gone in a different direction .” Every album is good and solid; some great and other exceptional. The love of my life, Patricia, was watching a show, Gotham, in which the star was someone with whom I was familiar, Ben McKenzie, but I could not place him, so I went to the Internet Movie Data Base and found he had earlier been in an acclaimed TV show, Southland, which is rated highly at the IMDB. Then it hit me…I was channel surfing years ago and saw only a few moments of one episode in which Ben was with his partner and they were getting into the squad car when Ben mentioned something about his partner’s fondness for Steely Dan, which made me smile before flipping the channel. Steely Dan was probably the most sui generis of all the R&R groups. I thought of this when watching a movie at Amazon Prime about the group recently, which brought back fond memories.

While living with the aforementioned woman with whom I attended the Philobolus event, Gail Childs, I would listen to the Georgia Tech student station, WREK. (https://www.wrek.org/) My favorite spot was when one bird would start singing, and then be joined by another, and another, until many birds were singing. Then came, “Here at WREK we give all the birds a chance to sing.”

Listen to all forms of music and let the birds sing.

Vest Was Best

An email concerning the previous post was received from my friend the Discman this morning. Before turning to poker (he cashed in at the World Series of Poker) Chris Chambers earned his National Master Certificate in Chess.

“Excellent description of Mr. Vest.

Looking back at my records, I never played him in a regular tournament.

I did play him 33 times in the Wednesday night Quick Chess tournaments (G/15) with a record of 8-20-5.

There were 16 players I played more than him, with (Murphy) Clay at the top of the list at 131 times played.

I played in 390 Quick Chess tournaments at the HOP from 1993-2005.”

The Discman obviously keeps meticulous records not only of Rock & Roll music. My reply was: If you give permission I will post this, providing YOU choose a song!

“Hmmm. That’s a good one.

I’d say “Investigation Blues” by Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson

(get it?? InVESTigation of Vest history?).”

Unfortunately the song could not be located in the cloud. I did, though, locate an article (http://rubbercityreview.com/2016/02/eddie-cleanhead-vinson/) containing the song, Cleanhead’s Blues:

They Bad

In an interview with Albert Silver appearing on Chessbase, former World Chess Champion Anatoly Karpov said, “…the quality of the players has worsened. In the autumn, Carlsen and Anand were playing, and I came to the final. The FIDE Vice President Georgios Makropoulos came to me and said: “Judging by today’s games, even an out-of-shape Karpov would beat either of them…”

It is natural for older people to consider things having been better “back in the day.” This is common in all walks of life. For example, many years ago I worked for a company owned by a former Delta Airlines employee. The company transported vehicles to nine different Southern states, and many of the drivers were former Delta employees who had retired. To a man they all agreed Delta was a better company “back in the day.” Upon hearing this for the umptheenth time, I said, “Maybe it was just a different company back then.” This was met with glares and stares, and I was shunned. A short time later I mentioned one of my girlfriends had been a stewardess for Delta in the early ’70’s, and another had worked for only Delta, and had done so for decades, adding, “Seems like it was a better company back then.” Everyone smiled, clapped me on the back, and things were right with the world of James Auto Transport!

That said, I must agree with Mr. Karpov. The matches for the World Chess Championship this decade have left much to be desired. Back in the day we looked forward to the upcoming WC match with much anticipation. This is no longer the case. I am having trouble recalling the last interesting match for the World Chess Championship.

I must also agree with the former WCC about the quality of the play of the current top players. I am not exactly certain, but it could be the influence of the computer chess programs in that they have humbled the Grandmasters, or, shall we say, taken them down a peg, or two. My friend the Discman said something, published on this blog, some time ago, “GM’s used to be thought of as Gods.” Now the Gods of chess come with names like Komodo, and Stockfish.

As an example of what I mean let me refer you to the coverage on Chessbase of the most recent “elite” tournament, the Grenke Chess Classic in Baden-Baden. The players were having much trouble converting winning endgames. I watched as GM Etienne Bacrot, who had been winning for quite sometime, came completely unglued trying to push home his advantage versus GM Michael Adams. (http://en.chessbase.com/post/grenke-rd5-carlsen-back-in-the-lead) This was one of many butchered endgames in this particular tournament. Unfortunately, it is not the only recent tournament about which the same can be said.

What makes it worse is that the players make statements like, “We are so much better than the players of the last century that even when they were on top of their game the best players of today would wipe the floor with them, and we have got the numbers to prove it.” OK, I am paraphrasing here, but you get the idea. Their ratings are higher and the best players of today do seem to strut around like Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor in the movie Silver Streak, saying, “That’s right, we bad, WE BAD!” Then they go out and draw another winnable endgame. For example, “…while Adams could not convert his advantage against Aronian.” (http://en.chessbase.com/post/grenke-rd6-anand-only-win)

Sometimes it is even worse than the above. Consider what was written after the headline, “GRENKE Rd4: Two Blunders, Two Black wins.”
“What a round! Two major blunders defined the two victories, games that were on the verge of being wildly interesting and dissipated into a win for Black as in both cases the White side simply missed Black’s resources or overestimated his own attacking chances. Carlsen bounced back with a win over Anand in a stonewall, while Baramidze basically gave Naiditsch the tournament lead.” (http://en.chessbase.com/post/grenke-rd4-two-blunders-two-black-wins-2)

What a round, indeed. Baramidze failed to answer a question every chess player should ask himself before making a move, “Am I leaving anything en prise?” He actually put a Knight en prise, giving Naiditsch a piece for nothing. Amazing….Granted, GM Baramidze is clearly not a Super GM, but still…

Not to be outdone, former World Human Chess Champion Vishy Anand gave his opponent that day, World Human Chess Champion Magnus Carlsen, a full ROOK! I kid you not. The game is annotated by GM Alejandro Ramirez at the Chessbase website. (http://en.chessbase.com/post/grenke-rd4-two-blunders-two-black-wins-2) Anand should give some serious consideration to retiring. If he continues to play he will only continue to embarrass himself, and tarnish his reputation.

That’s right, they bad, THEY BAD!

Speaking of GM Alejandro Ramirez…Annotating the game between Radoslaw Wojtaszek and Magnus Carlsen from round three of the Tata Steel tournament, after 1.d4 d6 2.Nf3 g6 3.c4 f5 4.b4 Bg7 5.Bb2 a5 6.b5 a4!?, Alejandro writes, “This brave pawn will be weak, but it does restrict White a little. Carlsen has to be very careful not to lose it though.”

Come on! I know Magnus is the World Human Chess Champion, but I do not need a 3300 rated program to tell me this move is bad, REAL BAD! And this is not an isolated example. Everyone in the chess world, except maybe the VP of the GCA, is aware of the “howler,” Kd2, Magnus played against Viswanathan Anand in their most recent WCC match. Magnus was saved because Vishy sat there for one minute without asking himself the first question every chess player, other than the VP of the GCA, asks himself after his opponent makes a move, which is, “Why did my opponent make that move?” But what about the move Carlsen played as White against Fabiano Caruana in a Bishop’s Opening last year at the Sinquefield Cup?

Carlsen vs Caruana

1. e4 e5 2. Bc4 Nf6 3. d3 c6 4. Nf3 d5 5. Bb3 Bb4+ 6. c3 Bd6 7. Bg5 dxe4 8. dxe4 h6 9. Bh4 Qe7 10. Nbd2 Nbd7 11. Bg3 Bc7 12. O-O Nh5 13. h3?

Once again, I do not need a computer program to tell me how bad is this move. This move stinks. It is the kind of move that may be played by the VP of the GCA, a triple digit player. I give the rest of the game for the record, and as proof as to what kind of chess is being passed off a being better than that played “back in the day.” 13…Nxg3 14. fxg3 Nc5 15. Bxf7+ Kxf7 16. Nxe5+ Kg8 17. Ng6 Qg5 18. Rf8+ Kh7 19. Nxh8 Bg4 20. Qf1 Nd3 21. Qxd3 Rxf8 22. hxg4 Qxg4 23. Nf3 Qxg3 24. e5+ Kxh8 25. e6 Bb6+ 26. Kh1 Qg4 27. Qd6 Rd8 28. Qe5 Rd5 29. Qb8+ Kh7 30. e7 Qh5+ 31. Nh2 Rd1+ 32. Rxd1 Qxd1+ 33. Nf1 Qxf1+ 34. Kh2 Qg1+ 0-1

Keep in mind the current human WCC backed into the match in which he became Chess Champ of the World. In the biggest game of his career, a game he had to win, Magnus Carlsen LOST. He was saved when GM Vladmir Kramnik also lost, giving the right to Carlsen to play a match with an old, tired, and obviously worn out toothless Tiger. I can still picture the young Magnus sitting on his knees in his chair like a little boy at a weekend swiss as his time dwindled. This man could never stand toe to toe with the Giants of the past. They would wipe the floor with him, and then eat him alive.

Chess and Luck

Is there luck in chess? After receiving a “gift” from former World Champion Viswanathan Anand in sixth game of the current match for the championship of the world, World Champion Magnus Carlsen admitted he was “lucky.” When playing backgammon professionally decades ago some of my vanquished opponents would say, “You were lucky.” My response was invariably the same, “I had rather be lucky than good, because when I am good and lucky, I cannot be beat!”

I found this on the “Sabermetric Research” blog by Phil Birnbaum: Monday, January 14, 2013

Chess and luck

“In previous posts, I argued about how there’s luck in golf, and how there’s luck in foul shooting in basketball. But what about games of pure mental performance, like chess? Is there luck involved in chess? Can you win a chess game because you were lucky?

Yes.” (http://blog.philbirnbaum.com/2013/01/chess-and-luck.html) Read the post to understand why Phil thinks there is luck involved in chess.

Later in the post Phil writes, “On an old thread (http://www.insidethebook.com/ee/index.php/site/comments/poker_is_a_game_of_skill_not_luck/#27) over at Tango’s blog, someone pointed this out: if you get two chess players of exactly equal skill, it’s 100 percent a matter of luck which one wins. That’s got to be true, right?”

In #27 James writes, “I think it comes down to what is the relative difference in skill between players and the role of skill vs luck in a game.

If a game is 100% skill (say chess) and say for the sake of argument that the two players are perfectly equally skilled then who wins a single game is purely luck. Regardless of whether they are two unskilled beginners or the two best players in the world.

How do you differentiate between that and the two of them tossing a coin.”

Anatoly Karpov and Garry Kasparov were “the two players perfectly equally skilled.” Garry was obviously not the equal of Anatoly when they first met in the ill-fated match that went on for many months, with one short draw after another after Kasparov was down 0-5, until the slight Karpov neared collapse, when Kasparov won 3 games before FIDE President Florencio Campomanes ended the match, fearing one of the players may “drop dead at the board.” From the second match on, Kasparov was ever so slightly better than the much older Karpov. We know this because they played hundreds of games in many matches for the title. Games are played to determine who is the better player, and by what margin.

Because my friend the Discman played, and has followed, baseball, and because Sabermetrics emanates from the field of dreams, I asked him to read the post and let me know what he thought of luck in chess. This is his response:

“I have a much less esoteric and simplistic example of luck in chess. This happens frequently in over-the-board tournament games where neither player is being assisted by a computer. The frequency is directly correlated to the strength of the players, occurring less frequently the stronger the players are. At my level of play when facing competition of similar strength it occurred maybe once every 20-25 games. Here goes:

I’m sure you have heard it said that chess is 98% tactics and I generally agree with that. How many times have you gone back over your games and realized that you had made a significant oversight that your opponent could have taken advantage of, but also missed?

In many cases, seeing the correct combination to punish you was well within the skill level of your opponent, but for any number of reasons (he was having a bad day, he was distracted at that moment, his biorhythm’s were off, etc.) he just missed it.

If he had been put in that same situation next Tuesday instead of today he may very well have seen it. You were lucky that he missed it – he didn’t miss it because you were a stronger player than he was.

Sometimes the oversight is so simple a 1200 player could see it, like the time Leonard Dickerson missed a mate in 1 and got checkmated by a 1500 player. There was a simple defense to the checkmate – in fact the move Leonard made allowed the mate so it was truly a Helpmate. You could put Leonard in similar situations 10,000 times and he would make a similar mistake 1 time.

Did his opponent get lucky? Hell yes he did. You might argue that the 1500 player was better than the master at that one point in time but I don’t think so – he got extremely lucky that Leonard had a brain-fart that allowed a mate in 1.”

Luck in Chess?

‘Chess,’ said the Dutch grandmaster, Jan Hein Donner, ‘is as much a game of chance as blackjack; or tossing cards into a top hat.’ There was a pained silence, then a polite babel of disagreement: it was a game of the utmost skill; a conflict between disciplined minds in which victory would inexorably go to the more perceptive, the more analytical player; a duel of the intellect in which luck played no part. Donner shrugged, lit another cigarette and said: ‘Believe that if you like.’ Bent Larsen smiled the smile of a man who had heard his friend air such iconoclastic arguments in the past but was quite happy to contest them again, when the score of the fifth game of the World Championship match between Karpov and Korchnoi was brought in. Both men pulled out of their inside pockets the wallet sets all grandmasters seem to carry at all times and began to skim through the moves.

It happened that the teleprinter tape had been torn off after Karpov’s 54th move as Black […]. They studied the position for a few moments, mated Karpov in four moves and were surprised when another whole sheet of moves was brought from the teleprinter.

When they saw Korchnoi’s 55th move – Be4+ – Larsen’s eyebrows went up.

‘There you are,’ Donner said, quietly and without triumph as though some self-evident truth had been revealed, ‘pure luck’.

KORTSCHNOJ,V (2665) – KARPOV,AN (2725) (05) [E42]
WCH29-BAGUIO CITY, 1978

1. c4 Nf6 2. d4 e6 3. Nc3 Bb4 4. e3 c5 5. Nge2 d5 6. a3 Bxc3+ 7. Nxc3
cxd4 8. exd4 dxc4 9. Bxc4 Nc6 10. Be3 O-O 11. O-O b6 12. Qd3 Bb7 13.
Rad1 h6 14. f3 Ne7 15. Bf2 Nfd5 16. Ba2 Nf4 17. Qd2 Nfg6 18. Bb1 Qd7
19. h4 Rfd8 20. h5 Nf8 21. Bh4 f6 22. Ne4 Nd5 23. g4 Rac8 24. Bg3 Ba6
25. Rfe1 Rc6 26. Rc1 Ne7 27. Rxc6 Qxc6 28. Ba2 Qd7 29. Nd6 Bb7 30.
Nxb7 Qxb7 31. Qe3 Kh8 32. Rc1 Nd5 33. Qe4 Qd7 34. Bb1 Qb5 35. b4 Qd7
36. Qd3 Qe7 37. Kf2 f5 38. gxf5 exf5 39. Re1 Qf6 40. Be5 Qh4+ 41. Bg3
Qf6 42. Rh1 Nh7 43. Be5 Qg5 44. Qxf5 Qd2+ 45. Kg3 Nhf6 46. Rg1 Re8
47. Be4 Ne7 48. Qh3 Rc8 49. Kh4 Rc1 50. Qg3 Rxg1 51. Qxg1 Kg8 52. Qg3
Kf7 53. Bg6+ Ke6 54. Qh3+ Kd5
55. Be4+
[55. Bf7+ Kc6 56. Qe6+ Kb7 [56… Kb5 57. Qc4+ Ka4 58. Qa6#] 57. Qxe7+
Ka8 58. Qd8+ Kb7 59. Qc7+ Ka6 [59… Ka8 60. Qb8#] 60. Bc4+ b5 61.
Qc6#]

55… Nxe4 56. fxe4+ Kxe4 57. Qg4+ Kd3 58. Qf3+ Qe3 59. Kg4 Qxf3+ 60.
Kxf3 g6 61. Bd6 Nf5 62. Kf4 Nh4 63. Kg4 gxh5+ 64. Kxh4 Kxd4 65. Bb8
a5 66. Bd6 Kc4 67. Kxh5 a4 68. Kxh6 Kb3 69. b5 Kc4 70. Kg5 Kxb5 71.
Kf5 Ka6 72. Ke6 Ka7 73. Kd7 Kb7 74. Be7 Ka7 75. Kc7 Ka8 76. Bd6 Ka7
77. Kc8 Ka6 78. Kb8 b5 79. Bb4 Kb6 80. Kc8 Kc6 81. Kd8 Kd5 82. Ke7
Ke5 83. Kf7 Kd5 84. Kf6 Kd4 85. Ke6 Ke4 86. Bf8 Kd4 87. Kd6 Ke4 88.
Bg7 Kf4 89. Ke6 Kf3 90. Ke5 Kg4 91. Bf6 Kh5 92. Kf5 Kh6 93. Bd4 Kh7
94. Kf6 Kh6 95. Be3+ Kh5 96. Kf5 Kh4 97. Bd2 Kg3 98. Bg5 Kf3 99. Bf4
Kg2 100. Bd6 Kf3 101. Bh2 Kg2 102. Bc7 Kf3 103. Bd6 Ke3 104. Ke5 Kf3
105. Kd5 Kg4 106. Kc5 Kf5 107. Kxb5 Ke6 108. Kc6 Kf6 109. Kd7 Kg7
110. Be7 Kg8 111. Ke6 Kg7 112. Bc5 Kg8 113. Kf6 Kh7 114. Kf7 Kh8 115.
Bd4+ Kh7 116. Bb2 Kh6 117. Kg8 Kg6 118. Bg7 Kf5 119. Kf7 Kg5 120. Bb2
Kh6 121. Bc1+ Kh7 122. Bd2 Kh8 123. Bc3+ Kh7 124. Bg7 1/2-1/2

From The Master Game, Book 2, Jeremy James and William Hartston (1981). London: BBC.
(http://chess.eusa.ed.ac.uk/Chess/Trivia/Chessluck.html)

Feedback

I posted a link to the previous post on the USCF forum. It lasted about a nanosecond. I have received feedback via email, some of which I would like to share. The first one comes from a NM who shall remain anonymous:
Michael,
“One of the major problems connected to leadership,both politically and in the chess world(USCF)..is what exactly qualifies them for the office?..why should Haring be in charge of the USCF?….is she qualified because she plays chess?…Haring’s tenure as well as the USCF leadership over the last 30 years(maybe longer if you compare the prize funds of tourneys now to then!) have been a complete failure!…and yet just like in US Politics we keep electing the same less than “qualified” chess players to our leadership roles…we complain as we watch our noble game disappear as we have known it..do a search on whist..a VERY popular card game form the 1800’s…it does not exist anymore!…chess will survive,as a stunted hybrid of kiddie chess and chess poker-like hustlers…”

The second is from another regular reader with whom most readers know as the “Discman.”

“70,000 dues-paying female USCF members??

That’s not delusional, that’s grossly incompetent.

That’s like the GM of the Cubs saying he expects his team to win 211 games in 2014, evidently not knowing there are “only” 162 games in the season.

Anybody who says such a thing should immediately be dismissed from a leadership position.

Delusional would be doubling the number of female members; saying you’re going to get 70,000 is beyond ridiculous.”

Could not have said it better myself!

Classical Chess

“Bill James is the best known baseball analyst in the world” (http://sabr.org/about/bill-james). Bill began his writing career by questioning the assumptions in baseball, something commonly called, “The Book.” For questioning some of the commonly held beliefs in baseball Bill was excoriated by the MLB establishment. His books, and the thinking contained therein, caught on with many and his books became very successful. Many other baseball fans began to question things like the sacrifice bunt, held dear by the MLB establishment. Decades later Bill was hired by the Boston Red Sox as an analyst and the Red Sox became the World Champions. Now every MLB team has an analyst, or team of analysts.

Bill’s latest book is, “Fools Rush Inn: More Detours on the Way to Conventional Wisdom.” One of the essays is, “Classical Sport.” As is often the case, while reading the essay my thoughts would drift to chess and I would substitute the word “chess” for “classical music.” Read on and you will understand why.

Bill writes, “Classical music has very, very serious problems as an industry. The number of people who enjoy classical music is small compared to the market for other kinds of music and the market is composed primarily of old people.

“Classical music survives, or has survived so far, because it has advantages over the marketplace, rather than advantage in the marketplace. Classical music is perceived by a very large cadre of musical professionals as the highest form of music, and these people have integrated themselves and their music into the society in ways that insulate it from extinction by economic forces. High schools do not teach young musicians to play rock and roll, as a rule; they teach them to play “instruments,” which are in truth the instruments of classical music. Millions of small children take violin lessons, which their parents get for them because this is how music is taught. The perception that this form of music is “classy” -widely accepted in our culture- keeps the form alive by giving it these advantages, and many similar and related advantages. At the symphony I am below the median age and, I suspect, well below the median income. Those old people who go to the symphony have more-than proportional power because they have more-than proportional wealth. There is something much more than that going on here. It has to do with the perception of rectitude, of value and of virtue.”

“Music, like sport, is instinctive to us, exists in all cultures, and will never disappear. There are primal and sophisticated forms of music and of sport, which could also be called vibrant and calcified, or youthful and moribund. There is a spectrum in these activities that runs from vibrant, primal and youthful to sophisticated, calcified and moribund. All sports and all forms of music move across that spectrum, crawling toward obsolescence.”

I have always thought of chess as a form of the “Glass Bead Game,” made popular by the greatest novel ever written, “The Glass Bead Game,” also published as “Magister Ludi,” Latin for “Master of the Game,” by Hermann Hesse, who won a Nobel Prize in Literature for the book. The Glass Bead Game takes place centuries into the future. It concerns the place the game occupies in the culture. “As the novel progresses, Knecht begins to question his loyalty to the order; he gradually comes to doubt that the intellectually gifted have a right to withdraw from life’s big problems. Knecht comes to see Castalia as a kind of ivory tower, an ethereal and protected community, devoted to pure intellectual pursuits but oblivious to the problems posed by life outside its borders.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Glass_Bead_Game)

The game of chess can be thought of in the way Bill James writes of classical music. Chess has always been thought of as important because it requires thought, something some very wealthy people have valued highly enough to become patrons of the game. I am thinking of Gregor Piatigorsky and his wife, Jacqueline, and the famous tournaments they funded in Los Angeles in 1963 and 1966, called the Piatigorsky Cup. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Piatigorsky_Cup) Every chess player knows of these tournaments, and if you encounter anyone involved with chess who has never heard of the Piatigorsky tournaments the question becomes, “What is this person doing in chess?” In 1961 the Piatigorsky’s sponsored a match between Bobby Fischer and Sammy Reshevsky. It ended prematurely when the wealthy couple wanted to change the scheduled time of one of the games because of a conflict Gregor had with a musical performance. Bobby refused because he had signed a contract that specified the round time of each game. The wealthy couple must have felt like Ronald Raygun, when running for POTUS, and he was heckled from the audience. Ronnie famously yelled, “I am paying for this microphone!” In actuality he was not paying. The people contributing money toward his campaign were paying, but why quibble? It was a great sound bite for the Gypper. The Piatigorsky’s were paying and thought Bobby should jump through any hoop provided. Bobby provided them with what is called a “rude awakening” when he “just said no.” Extraordinarily wealthy people are not used to being refused. They are also not used to being told “no” because they surround themselves with “yes men.”
I mention this because without the patronage of very wealthy people there may not be future chess as we have known it until now. Consider for a moment the state of chess without the largess provided by the latest patron, billionaire Rex Sinquefield. Rather than being held in the state of the art St. Louis Chess Club & Scholastic Center the US Championships may have been held in some room in a college, as has been the case previously. The STLCC&SC is an artificial construct. I mean that because St. Louis was never known as a hot-bed of chess in the way New York city was known to be a hot-bed of chess. The game of chess developed naturally in New York, San Francisco, and other cities without some fantastically wealthy individual building it so they would come. Please do not take me wrong; I am not saying this is a bad thing, just that it is a “thing.”

Chess is in a fight for its life in the marketplace. The common perception among adults is that chess is dead, and that it died when the computer program “defeated” human World Chess Champ Garry Kasparov. In order to survive chess has been “sold” as a wonderful game to help children “think.” Chess is a wonderful tool to help children learn how to think, but so are literature and math The game of Wei-Chi, popularly known as “Go” in the west, is also a wonderful game and in many ways it is better than chess because a computer program is not yet as strong as the best human players (I will discuss this in a planned future post). Go is exponentially more complicated than chess and it is much simpler to learn, with no “weird” moves such as castling or en passant. A draw in go is about as common as leap year. One of the major problems afflicting chess is non-serious games. It will be terribly difficult to explain the worth of a game in which he is asked to contribute after being shown a game such as the one played today in the British Championship:

Pert, Richard G – Pert, Nicholas
101st ch-GBR 2014 Aberystwyth WLS (8.2), 2014.07.27
1.e4 e5 ½-½

To those who may say they are related I say, “Go talk to Venus and Serena Williams.” To those who may say it is near the end of the Championship and they were tired I say, “It is only one game per day and the previous day was an OFF DAY!”

In reply to the post “Has Cheating Affected Chess?” my friend the Discman sent me an email in which he wrote, “Interesting discussion and on point. However, cheating isn’t the biggest problem facing chess. Computers have taken the mystery out of the game. GM’s used to be gods with almost super-natural powers. Now any schmo with a smartphone can figure out the best move. Technology and the public’s need for instant gratification have left chess behind. It is no longer relevant in the public consciousness. Yes, cheating and the potential of cheating are contributing factors, but not the root cause.”

Chris has hit the nail on the head. The Royal game no longer has mystique. Most adults without children consider chess an anachronism, much in the same way they think of the game of checkers, a hugely popular game once upon a time. Consider these comments, first from Ron Suarez on the USCF forum: “We have seen a big drop in adult participation and membership.” (http://www.uschess.org/forums/viewtopic.php?f=23&t=20209&sid=98f50abff42e50fe2fc1e9553255a7cd)
Gary Maltzman wrote this on the NCAA forum: “Seems like some of the big NC Tournaments are on an attendance downswing.” (http://www.ncchess.org/Discussion/viewtopic.php?f=13&t=856&sid=4d93659f883d9f10934dba14bd4e056b)

These kinds of comments proliferate on the web these days.

I have no solution to offer other than those previously written. The chess world has to look toward those in positions of power, for better or worse. A quote attributed to Albert Einstein to mind: “The thinking it took to get us into this mess is not the same thinking that is going to get us out of it.”

Has Cheating Affected Chess?

I posted a link to my last post on cheating on the USCF forum. In response Ron Suarez left a long comment culminating with, “So cheating can be a potential issue. However I think it quite extreme to say it is currently the most important issue facing the chess world.”
He was answered in the following post by William H. Stokes who wrote, “Is it really so extreme to claim that cheating is currently the most important issue facing the chess world. If class players exit the game in droves because they are convinced a program will win the event rather than the ubiquitous ringer (who at least used his own brain) , I just can’t see the sunny personalities of the great players making up for this shortfall in revenue.”
I do not know why my friend the Discman stopped playing chess because I never asked him, but there are clues. Like so many adults he was at the House of Pain playing in the Wednesday night event like every Wednesday night and then he missed a week, and we missed him. After missing for a few weeks we stopped missing him. Chris, like so many other adults, took his game to poker, and did well enough to cash in the World Series of Poker. This century the game of poker found great popularity. Something similar happened with the game of backgammon in the late 1970’s, early 80’s. The craze fizzled, and the same thing has happened with poker. There was no generally agreed reason for the sudden loss of interest in backgammon, but poker is a different story. Cheating, especially in online poker, has killed the game. The Discman told me that at the height of the poker craze there were many poker games in his neck of the woods each and every night. Now there are only a few games the way it was before the craze. Only a few years ago books on poker crowded out chess books in the games section, but now there are as few poker books as chess, because neither are selling. Most bars hosted a poker night, especially Texas Hold’em, but that is no longer the situation. Do a search on “Feds Poker Crackdown” and you will see page after page of articles on the demise of poker. To say the popularity of poker has waned would be a tremendous understatement.
If you are even a sporadic reader, you know the Discman, NM Chris Chambers, and I communicate regularly, and have for many years. Here are some comments the Discman has sent recently.
This was during a discussion of how few adult members are left in the USCF.
May 12, 2014
“There are between 90,000 and 100,000 ALTA adult dues-paying members – the Atlanta Tennis organization. Most of these people are also dues-paying members of USTA, the United States Tennis Association. They run many major events across the country, including the U.S. Open in Flushing, NY. I don’t know how many USTA members there are but I’m guessing over 1M.”
Chris was the first to inform me many years ago about the coming of a chess program strong enough to beat the World Champion coming to the hand-held gizmo.
May 12, 2014
“We saw this coming back in the ’90’s. The tremendous dedication and devotion required to become a top GM is not worth it, as there is not a tournament circuit to make a living playing in.
Without a viable reason to become a world-class GM there is no reason to pursue the game. It’s like cutting off the head of the snake; only the wiggling extremeties (scholastic chess) remain, serving no real purpose.
I have heard it argued that the scholastic chess machine could produce a champion by virtue of numbers. This argument is flawed, as chess champions are prodigies and should/would be playing against adults by the age of 10.
Saying ‘I see no reason chess cannot be as popular as tennis or golf’ is delusional. The reason is obvious – virtually nobody plays OTB chess competitively. In my neighborhood there are 575 dues-paying ALTA (Atlanta Lawn & Tennis Association) members, and 37 teams last year. Granted, there are 2,700 homes in my neighborhood, but still there are probably more ALTA members than there are dues-paying adult GCA members in the entire state of GA.
Sadly, I have to say “I told ya so…”
chambiz
May 13, 2014
“It’s hopelessly easy to cheat at a chess tournament, and with GM-strength chess engines available for less than $100 and $1,000+ class prizes it’s a safe bet that more than half of the top class prizes go to cheaters at a major open tourney.”
And here is one from last year:
Sep 30, 2013
“It’s still too easy to cheat – even in FIDE rated events. All you would need is a device that could send a pulse, for example a device in your shoe. An outside agent could then send moves to you through sequenced pulses via this device. A spectator could very easily signal in moves to a player simply by standing there – both arms hanging loosely at your side means “knight.” Left hand clenched means “bishop” etc.
Until you send every player through a screening device and allow nobody else access to the room I’m not going to be convinced that cheating isn’t possible. Nobody wants to play in an environment like that.”