Evil-Doer: Half a Century with Viktor Korchnoi: A Review

“The “Evil-Doer”, as the Soviet chess players now called Korchnoi, had turned chess into a matter of state urgency. The Soviet leadership received real time accounts of the world title matches as though they were dispatches from the front in time of war.”

It is difficult for anyone not living when Viktor Korchnoi

defected to understand what his leaving the “Mother country” meant to the Chess world at that time.

“…in taking a one-man stance against the hulking Soviet monster, he gained the entire world’s attention and imprinted his name in the history of the game forever. Just as a poet in Russia was much more than a writer, a grandmaster in the Soviet Union was much more than a chess player.”

“Chess’s next wave of popularity was exclusively down to Viktor Korchnoi. He represented quite a melting pot: the conflict between two opposing systems, the international tension caused by that very Cold War, and his personal drama, with the Soviet authorities refusing to allow his family to leave for the West. News of this standoff made chess front-page news again, and it was even the subject of the madly popular musical Chess, which ran for years in London and New York.”

Thus the stage is set by the author, GM Genna Sosonko in his magnificent new book, Evil-Doer: Half a Century with Viktor Korchnoi.

“Almost half a century later, it is not easy to appreciate what such a decision by Korchnoi meant for a Soviet citizen, and how incredibly hard it was to make that final leap to freedom.”

Sosonko emigrated from the Soviet Union before Korchnoi, but he left after receiving permission from the monolithic State; Korchnoi defected, thus earning the opprobrium and enmity of not only the Soviet authorities, but also of the citizens of Russia. Korchnoi was considered a renegade; a traitor.

The following paragraphs explain the author’s aim in writing the book:

“There was a time when Sigmund Freud

dissuaded the writer Stephan Zweig

Stefan Zweig in seinem Salzburger Domizil am Kapuzinerberg. 1931. Photographie von Trude Fleischmann. [ Rechtehinweis: picture alliance/IMAGNO ]

from attempting to compile the former’s biography: “Whoever becomes a biographer forces himself to tell lies, conceal facts, commit fraud, embellish the truth and even mask their lack of understanding – it’s impossible to achieve the truth in a biography, and even if it were possible, that truth would be useless and you could do nothing with it.”

“I have to agree with the father of psychoanalysis and I have not attempted to write Korchnoi’s biography as such. Rather, this is a collection of memories, or to be more precise still: a collection of explanatory notes and interpretations of incomprehensible or misunderstood events from the complex life of a man whom I knew for nearly half a century, and alongside whom I spent in total many months – indeed years. I want to believe that these recollections will not only uncover the motives behind his controversial actions, but will also shed light on his approach to the game, his personality and behavior in everyday life. In any event, a portrayal of Korchnoi must obviously highlight the most important feature of his life – his dedication to chess – which grew into an obsession.”

“When he turned seventy, he asked me to write the foreword to his collected games. Naturally, I hardly imbued my text written for his big occasion with “plain speaking.”

“Yet, in the book you are now holding, I have attempted to do just that: in my reflections on this great player, I wanted to display him, as the English say, warts and all.”

The author has achieved his goal. It must have been painful at times to write so openly and honestly about someone with whom one spent so much time, and about someone for whom he obviously had so much affection, but Sosonko has done a masterful job in this outstanding work of art. I lived during the era of which the author writes, but did not play Chess seriously until 1970. Therefore I learned much from the early, pre-1970, period of Viktor the Terrible. Even though I have read extensively about the Chess world much of what I read in this book shed light on some of the dark spots.

“This is how Canadian grandmaster Kevin Spraggett

described a conversation with (Boris) Spassky:

He began to list Korchnoi’s many qualities:

…Killer Instinct (nobody can even compare with Viktor’s ‘gift’)

…Phenomenal capacity to work (both on the board and off the board)

…Iron nerves (even with seconds left on the clock)

…Ability to calculate (maybe only Fischer was better in this department)

…Tenacity and perseverance in defense (unmatched by anyone)

…The ability to counterattack (unrivaled in chess history)”…Impeccable technique (flawless, even better than Capa’s)

…Capacity to concentrate (unreal)

…Impervious to distractions during the game

…Brilliant understanding of strategy

…Superb tactician (only a few in history can compare with Viktor)

…Possessing the most profound opening preparation of any GM of his generation

…Subtle psychologist

…Super-human will to win (matched only by Fischer)

…Deep knowledge of all of his adversaries

…Enormous energy and self-discipline

Then Boris stopped, and just looked at me, begging me to ask the question that needed to be asked…I asked: “But, Boris, what does Viktor lack to become world champion?” Boris’s answer floored me: “He has no chess talent!”

And then Spassky roared with laughter…(https://kevinspraggettonchess.wordpress.com/author/kevinspraggettonchess/page/366/)

Viktor Korchoi was what is popularly known as a “late bloomer.” He may have had little, or no, talent for Chess, but no Grandmaster ever out worked the Evil Doer. He rose to the rarefied heights attained by strong determination, and an indomitable will to win.

“Korchnoi was born in Leningrad into a Jewish family on 23 March 1931. Lev Korchnoi (Viktor’s father) was killed at the very beginning of Russia’s involvement in World War II, and Rosa Abramova (his mother) took Vitya’s upbringing upon herself. The little boy lived through the Blockade of Leningrad, the death of many nearest and dearest, cold and hunger, and at one point was hospitalized with dystrophy.”

“Graham Greene

claimed that a difficult childhood was a priceless gift for a writer, while Soviet grandmaster Alexander Tolush

asserted that you needed to be poor, hungry and angry to be good at chess. There is no doubt that being brought up without his father and his tough childhood contributed to Korchnoi’s difficult personality, and were the reasons for complexes that it took him many years to shed.”

Viktor overcame the obstacles in his path to challenge for the World Chess Championship, becoming the second best Chess player in the world.

“If he noticed somebody voluntarily choosing a passive or quite unpromising opening line, he would shake his head: “What can we say here? X had a difficult childhood, a difficult childhood.” He would repeat this at a training session of the Dutch team prior to the Haifa Olympiad (1976) when we were analyzing some opening of Polugaevsky’s. This expression caught on, and became part of Dutch chess folklore for many years: what, did you have a difficult childhood or something?”

“Vladimir Tukmakov,

who worked with Korchnoi in the early 1990’s, was also amazed at the famous veteran’s energy and emotional state:

The several days that we spent analyzing together during his candidates quarter-final again(st) Gyula Sax

(Wijk-aan-Zee 1991) enabled me to understand him much better than the ten or so games that we had played against each other until then. Korchnoi was spewing out ideas like a fountain. Sometimes we would spend almost an entire day on chess, yet like a child he would then continue to play around with the chess pieces, trying out various positions.

Vasily Ivanchuk

also noticed this quality:

Sometimes you ask somebody to look at a position and they refuse – “I’m not interested, I don’t play that line.” Well, you would never hear such words from Viktor Lvovich. He would analyze any position, attempting to grasp it and suggesting ideas. For example, we would look at a position where we needed to find a way for black to equalize or for white to gain an advantage. When it looked like we had found it, everything seemed to work, and we had checked the variations, I would have stopped there. Yet Korchnoi always tried to penetrate the position more deeply, and to see if there was another way.

Jan Timman,

who had composed studies since he was young (http://www.arves.org/arves/index.php/en/halloffame/264-timman-jan), recalled: Viktor, unlike many colleagues, always took an interest in my compositions, and we would often spend hours analyzing together.”

Now the players no longer analyze, they head for the nearest computer for the answer.

“Korchnoi was sixteen when he managed to draw a game against Estonian master Ivo Nei

after escaping from the jaws of defeat. “This was the first time that I felt pleasure from a difficult, tiresome defense! But if, in my youth, the desire to defend was driven by mischief, a love for risk, then in the subsequent years defense became my serious, practical and psychological weapon. I enjoy drawing my opponent forward, allowing him the taste of attack during which he might get carried away, drop his guard, sacrifice some material. I often exploit those episodes to launch a counterattack, and that’s when the real battle begins,” Korchnoi said at the start of the 1960’s. He concluded: “Masters of defense have contributed no less to chess history than masters with an attacking style!”

“Only Korchnoi can capture that pawn!” became a widely-used cliche to describe position where any sane chess player would not even consider accepting a sacrifice.

“Shall we ‘Korchnoi’ a bit?” I had heard masters and even grandmasters suggest this during analysis back tn the Soviet Union, when they considered capturing material that appeared particularly dangerous to accept.

Journalists of course lapped up the Leningrad grandmaster’s attitude to the game: “A man of courage who chose defense as his weapon!”…”Korchnoi captured the poisoned pawn and chalked up another win!”…”After the Leningrader accepted everything thrown at him in sacrifice, his opponent found himself without a mating attack and raised the white flag.” Phrases like these were often found in tournament reports.

“At the end of his life, Francois Mauriac wrote” “I’m not brave enough to revise my technique, as Verdi did after Wagner appeared.”

“Well, Korchnoi did have enough bravery. Middle aged, he decided to review his approach to the game, to become broader minded, to throw off his focus on material, to learn to play positions with the initiative, with sacrifices and with material imbalances. He managed to do this in the prime of a successful career. Only professionals are capable of appreciating the gigantic effort that Korchnoi made.”

“He said one day: “You know, I have a son in Ukraine, he’s 32 years old. Recently, he wrote to me that he had just realized that he had lived half his life. Well, at that age I suddenly realized that I didn’t know how to play chess!
Even though that’s when I won the national championship for the second time! I suppose you need a great deal of talent to win the championship of the Soviet Union without knowing many of the laws of chess! After all, all sorts of things have been written about me! I’m a great defender, that my play resembles Dostoevsky and all sorts of nonsense. Yet I couldn’t have played any differently, I didn’t know how to! So I started to work. I analyzed thousands of games. I mastered the most important skill of all – to wield the initiative!”

“Yet, after changing his style, he retained his won, original way of looking at the game. Korchnoi’s deliberations about chess were always to the point, yet unexpected.”

I end the review here. I could continue, going on and on, ad infinitum. I have attempted to convey the tenor of the book to the reader to the best of my ability. You, the reader, will decide if I managed to impart a glimmer of what this marvelous book contains.

A personal note: While reading a book to review I never write in the book; any book. To do so would be to deface the book. A book is sacrosanct. I place paper in the book, and then reread the pages containing the inserted slips of paper. It is almost like reading it twice. I agonized on what to include, which caused much anguish after deciding to exclude parts for the review. While rereading parts of the book I cogitated on how to begin the review. This, too, caused much anguish. There is so much contained in the book that I could write other, totally different, reviews, using none of the above.

I have read every book written by the author, one of the very best writer’s on the Royal game, not to mention his many articles. My admiration for Genna Sosonko is unbounded. This work is his pièce de résistance.


2018 Women’s World Championship Game Five

GM Kevin Spraggett had this to say concerning the lack of interest in the Women’s World Championship match recently concluded:

“Witness the Women’s World Championship being played this week. Does MSM report on it? No way!” (http://www.spraggettonchess.com/friday-coffee-chess-and-potpourri/. See also, https://xpertchesslessons.wordpress.com/2018/05/16/kevin-spraggetts-whipping-post/)

The fact is that the two women who played the match for the women’s crown are at least one category lower than Hou Yifan, undoubtedly the strongest woman Chess player on the planet. I was completely unfamiliar with Zhongyi Tan. It is extremely difficult to have interest in such a meaningless so-called “title match.” Still, having been an exponent of the venerable Bishop’s opening, there was interest in the one game played using the opening.

Zhongyi Tan (CHN) 2522

vs Wenjun Ju (CHN) 2571

FIDE Women’s World Championship 2018 round 05

1. e4 e5 2. Bc4 Nf6 3. d3 c6 4. Nf3 d5 5. Bb3 a5 6. a4 Bb4+ 7. c3 Bd6 8. O-O O-O 9. exd5 cxd5 10. Na3 Nbd7 11. Re1 h6 12. Nb5 Bb8 13. d4 e4 14. Nd2 Nb6 15. f3 Re8 16. Bc2 Bd7 17. Rb1 exf3 18. Nxf3 Ne4 19. Ne5 Bxe5 20. dxe5 Bxb5 21. axb5 Rxe5 22. Be3 Re6 23. Bd4 Nc4 24. Bd3 Qg5 25. b3 Ncd6 26. Rb2 Rae8 27. Rbe2 Nf5 28. Bc2 Nh4 29. Qd3 Ng6 30. Be3 Qh5 31. c4 Ne5 32. Qd4 Rg6 33. Bxe4 dxe4 34. Kf1 Nf3 35. Qd7 Nxh2+ 0-1

C24 Bishop’s opening, Berlin defence

1. e4 e5 2. Bc4 (The CBDB shows this move, “The truth as it was known in those long ago days,” scoring 56%, higher than any other second move!) Nf6 3. d3 c6 4. Nf3 d5 5. Bb3 a5 (This move has gained in popularity because Komodo has it best. Next is 5…Bb4+. The move Houey considers best, 5…Bd6, has been the most often played move, and is the only move I encountered) 6. a4 Bb4+ (This gives the white general a pleasant choice of the game move, or 7 Bd2)

7. c3 Bd6 8. O-O (All three Stockfish programs at the CBDB show 8 exd5 best, and the SF program used by ChessBomb prefers taking the pawn. The idea is to play, after 8 exd5 cxd5, 9 Bg5, a move preferred by GM Bent Larsen in the B.O.)

8…O-O ( Both the Fish and Dragon play 8…dxe4 which has not been tested in top level play)

9. exd5 (The choice of SF & Houdini, this move is a TN) cxd5

10. Na3 (The beginning of Tan’s troubles. 10. Bg5 Be6 then 11. Na3 h6 12. Bh4 Nc6 13. Nb5 Bb8 14. Re1 b6 15. Bg3 Nd7 16. h3 Kh7 17. h4 f6, a plausible line given by SF)

Nbd7 (10… h6 to prevent Bg5. Stockfish at ChessBomb gives this line, culminating in a possible perpetual 11. Nb5 Nc6 12. Be3 Bb8 13. h3 Re8 14. Bc5 Bf5 15. Be3 Be6 16. Bc5 Bf5)

11. Re1 (11. Bg5 h6 12. Bh4 Bb8 13. Re1 Re8 14. Nb5 g5 15. Bg3 b6 16. Bc2 Bb7 17. Nd2 Nf8 18. h3 Ng6 would leave white with a small advantage) 11…h6 (The game is even) 12. Nb5 Bb8

13. d4? (This move hands the advantage to black. I have previously mentioned on this blog the difficulties encountered in my early days learning the game with the transition from the opening to the middle-game centered around move 13. Notice in the line given by SF below the move d4 is played a couple of moves later. I set up a board when going over the game before checking with the program analysis, spending a considerable amount of time looking at the position before 13 d4? was played. Three moves stood out; 13 Be3; 13 h3; and 13 Qe2. If you are a regular reader of this blog you will not be surprised by the latter move. Thing is, I was uncertain in what order the moves should be played. The Fish shows them in this order: 13 Be3; 13 h3; and 13 Qe2. SF shows this line after 13 Qe2 b6 14. Be3 Re8 15. h3, with the three moves all being played. The best line, according to SF, is 13. Be3 Re8 14. h3 b6 15. d4 e4 16. Nd2 Bb7 17. c4 Qe7 18. Nc3 dxc4 19. Nxc4 Nd5 20. Nxd5 Bxd5 21. Bd2)

e4 14. Nd2 Nb6

15. f3? (Yet another weak move in the opening. Look at the position…white has only a rook on the king side defending the king. Although black has only a knight more on the king side, the queen and both bishops are poised to move to the open king side in the beat of a heart. Something will have to be done about the pawn dagger on e4, but white is undeveloped, with the knight on d2 clogging up the white position. 15. Nf1 is much better)

Re8 16. Bc2 Bd7 (16… Bf5)

17. Rb1? (17. Re2) exf3? (17… Nc8 is much better) 18. Nxf3 Ne4 (18… Bg4 is possible) 19. Ne5 (Although SF shows 19. Bd3 as best, after 19…f5 black is for choice) 19…Bxe5 (19… Bxb5 first, then after 20. axb5, play Bxe5)
20. dxe5 Bxb5 21. axb5 Rxe5 22. Be3 Re6 23. Bd4 (23. Qd4) Nc4 24. Bd3 Qg5 (24… Qh4 25. Re2) 25. b3 Ncd6 26. Rb2 (Why not an attacking move like 26. Be3) Rae8 27. Rbe2 Nf5 (Look at the position. Every black piece is on the king side menacing the white king, while the white queen and both bishops are on the queenside. White will not last long…)

28. Bc2 Nh4 29. Qd3 Ng6 (29… f5!) 30. Be3 (30. Qf3 is the only chance) Qh5 31. c4? (Turn out the lights, the party’s over…31. Qd4 or 31 Bd1 should have been played) Ne5 32. Qd4 Rg6 33. Bxe4 dxe4 34. Kf1 Nf3 35. Qd7 Nxh2+ 0-1

Quite frankly, this was pitifully weak opening play by Tan. Her understanding of the venerable Bishop’s opening was sorely lacking.

Vadim Zvjaginsev (2661) vs Manuel Petrosyan (2546)

18th ch-EUR Indiv 2017
Minsk 05/31/2017
ECO: C24 Bishop’s opening, Berlin defence

1. e4 e5 2. Bc4 Nf6 3. d3 c6 4. Nf3 d5 5. Bb3 a5 6. a4 Bb4+ 7. c3 Bd6 8. O-O O-O 9. Re1 dxe4 10. dxe4 Na6 11. Bc2 Nc5 12. Na3 Qe7 13. Nc4 Bc7 14. b3 Rd8 15. Qe2 b6 16. Ba3 Ba6 17. Rad1 Nfd7 18. b4 Qe6 19. bxc5 Bxc4 20. Qe3 h6 21. Nd2 1/2-1/2

Na3 did not turn out well in the next game…

Vladimir Onischuk (2608) vs Alexander Motylev (2665)

18th ch-EUR Indiv 2017
Minsk 06/07/2017
ECO: C24 Bishop’s opening, Berlin defence

1. e4 e5 2. Bc4 Nf6 3. d3 c6 4. Nf3 d5 5. Bb3 a5 6. a4 Bb4+ 7. c3 Bd6 8. exd5 cxd5 9. Na3 Nc6 10. Nb5 Bb8 11. Bg5 Be6 12. O-O h6 13. Bh4 O-O 14. Re1 g5 15. Bg3 Bg4 16. Qd2 Bxf3 17. gxf3 Qd7 18. Kg2 Qf5 19. h4 Ne7 20. hxg5 hxg5 21. Rh1 Ng6 22. Rae1 Rd8 23. c4 d4 24. c5 Ra6 25. Bc4 Nd5 26. Bxd5 Rxd5 27. Rh5 Rf6 28. Qe2 Rxc5 29. Reh1 Rc8 30. Na3 Rc5 31. Nc4 Bc7 32. b3 Kg7 33. R1h3 Bd6 34. Rh2 Bc7 35. Rh1 Bd6 36. Rh7+ Kf8 37. R7h5 Kg7 38. Qd1 Bc7 39. Rh7+ Kf8 40. R7h3 Rcc6 41. Rh5 Ke7 42. Qe2 Ke6 43. Re1 Rc5 44. Qd1 Kd7 45. Re4 Ne7 46. Rg4 Rg6 47. Qe2 Nc6 48. Rh8 Qe6 49. Rh7 Kc8 50. Rh8+ Kd7 51. Rh7 Rg8 52. Nd2 Rc2 53. Rh5 Bd8 54. Qd1 Rxd2 55. Qxd2 Qg6 56. b4 Qxh5 57. b5 f5 58. bxc6+ bxc6 59. Rxd4+ exd4 60. Qb2 f4 61. Qxd4+ Kc8 0-1

A. Patel (2410) v Jennifer Yu (2279)

2017 North American Ch U20

1. e4 e5 2. Bc4 Nf6 3. d3 c6 4. Nf3 d5 5. Bb3 a5 6. a4 Bb4+ 7. c3 Bd6 8. exd5 cxd5 9. O-O O-O 10. Bg5 Be6 11. Na3 Nbd7 12. Nb5 Bb8 13. Re1 Ra6 14. d4 e4 15. Nd2 h6 16. Bh4 g5 17. Bg3 Ng4 18. c4 dxc4 19. Nxc4 f5 20. Ncd6 Qf6 21. Bxe6+ Qxe6 22. d5 Qf6 23. Nxe4 Qxb2 24. d6 Qg7 25. h3 fxe4 26. hxg4 Re8 27. Rb1 Qf7 28. Qd4 Nf6 29. Rbd1 Rd8 30. f3 exf3 31. Rf1 Ne8 32. Rxf3 Qa2 33. Ra1 Qe6 34. Re1 Qa2 35. d7 Nd6 36. Bxd6 1-0

Kevin Spraggett’s Whipping Post

Georgios Makropoulos,

acting-FIDE president, sent a letter to GM Kevin Spraggett

which appeared on Kevin’s website today (http://www.spraggettonchess.com/2018-fide-election-campaign/).

“Dear Kevin,

The reason for my present letter is your recent posts on your website about the upcoming FIDE elections and I would like to have my reply published as well.

I believe that your website was one of the most objective during the previous election campaign of 2014. But, unfortunately, I am afraid that this year you have turned your website, most probably unintentionally, to a propaganda outlet of Kirsan.”

I have been flummoxed as to why Kevin would support Kirsan Ilyumzhinov,

known to most of the world as the man who took a trip around the universe as a guest of Aliens, or ET’s, if you prefer.

Like a politician, Makropoulous included a caveat when he wrote, “…most probably unintentionally.” I have read the same thing Makro has read and what Kevin wrote was intentional. I cannot understand how anyone could read Kevin’s blog and feel it was anything but intentional.

In his post of May 7, Stranger things have happened! Remember Trump?, Spraggett writes, “Monty Python is alive and well…” He then wrote: “Here comes Nigel Short onto the world stage! I love the British sense of humour…” Underneath he posted this picture:


That is not funny, it is an INSULT!

Spraggett’s post of May 11 continued with, 2018 FIDE Carnival Begins! Again Kevin insults Nigel Short

again by using the previous picture:

Kevin writes, “I have read what a lot of commentators on the social media have written on the subject of a 3-horse race. I think that not one has stated the obvious: Nigel Short is Kasparov’s proxy.”

Kevin gives absolutely nothing to back up his claim that Nigel is “Kasparov’s proxy.” This is not only insulting, but libelous. There is more: “Kasparov can be a jerk (at times), but we all forgive him. The same will not likely be said concerning Nigel.”

Kasparov beat Nigel in a match for the World Chess Championship so he is forgiven for being a “jerk” but the man who lost will not be forgiven for being a “jerk?”

Until reading Kevin’s blog I was unaware there was a Main Stream Chess Media, which he puts into the “right-wing” category. In this post Kevin continues tying the Chess “MSM” to the whipping post:

“Good morning, Monday! It is the middle of the month already…where does the time go? You can tell it is approaching the middle of the year when the number of tournaments (teams and individual) are such that it is (almost) impossible to follow them all. Not that some well known sites care less…

Have you also noticed how FEW tournaments are followed by the more popular chess-news blogs? The ‘msm-chess’ sites , in the english language , that I am referring to include Chess.Com, ChessBase, ChessDom, Susan Polgar’s DailyChessNews, and one or two others. If you visit these sites during the week, you will have noticed that they cover virtually the same few tournaments.

Worse still, the political views expressed on these sites all have the same right-ish bias. (Don’t take me literally, please.) I don’t have a problem with this, but it does get boring to see the world as either black/white or as a hammer/nail type of model.”

Kevin also criticizes the regular, so-called, Main Stream Media:

“One of my favourite topics on this blog is how MSM (main stream media) more often than not goes out of its way to give chess a bad name. Any ugly story that might otherwise go unnoticed soon becomes headlines if the main character involved ever played a game of chess. The narrative immediately changes from ‘a random crime was committed’ to ‘one more chess player goes crazy’.

Witness the Women’s World Championship being played this week. Does MSM report on it? No way! But this past week has seen a higher than average number of articles in MSM linking chess to sex crimes and even murder. Here are just three examples. Of course there are more!” (http://www.spraggettonchess.com/friday-coffee-chess-and-potpourri/)

Kevin shows pictures of three recent incidents in which the word “chess” is given.

Man who taught children chess sentenced to 12 years in prison for downloading child pornography

If the word “chess” had been “golf,” or “piano,” do you think he would have put it on his blog? How many “teachers” are there in the whole country? Something like this occurs almost every day yet Kevin thinks the “MSM” “goes out of its way to give chess a bad name.” The MSM reports the news.

The second one:

‘Chess ace’ accused of murdering professor is perp-walked


Change ‘Chess’ above to “billiards.” Do you think that would have been included on Kevin’s blog?

The last one:

Minor girl accuses chess coach of molestation


By now I’m sure you get my drift…

Kevin poses a question:

“Witness the Women’s World Championship being played this week. Does MSM report on it? No way!”

There is a reason the “MSM” does not report on the Women’s World Championship but Kevin segues into “…MSM linking chess to sex crimes…” without doing anything other than to slam the “MSM” for NOT covering the WoCC. Give me a reason why it should be reported on the “MSM” Kevin! Think of it from the perspective of the person who decides how much space is to be devoted to anything. He would ask himself, “How many people know about the WoCC? How many people care if there is a WoCC?” After pausing he could think, “We do not cover the men’s WCC. Why would we cover the WoCC?”

The lack of coverage of Chess by the “MSM” is an indication of how society values the Royal game. In the minds of the general public things changed dramatically after Kasparov lost to Deep Blue. I cannot count the times someone who learns about my involvement with the game has said something along the lines of, “I thought people stopped playing after thr Russian lost to that machine.”

Wake up and smell the coffee, Kevin! The “MSM” needs a reason to utilize valuable space with a Chess story. If, for example, a female player managed to win a candidates tournament and challenge the World Champ how much space would be devoted to the match?

Then there is the problem of continued cheating, and cheating allegations, in Chess.:

GM Solozhenkin Suspended For Making Cheating Accusations; Fellow GMs Protest

Apr 13, 2018, 2:01 AM

“The FIDE ethics commission has suspended GM Evgeniy Solozhenkin for making unsubstantiated allegations of cheating, published in different articles on the internet. A group of grandmasters has written an open letter in support of Solozhenkin.

It’s an incident that shocked the Russian chess scene, and even months later, things haven’t calmed down. A 13-year-old girl, whose rating had reached that of IM level, was accused of cheating by a well-known Russian coach during the World Youth U14 last September in Uruguay.”


The Chess world must face, and come to terms with, the fact that there are more stories concerning Chess cheating than about playing Chess.

A blind man can see that the Chess world is in crisis. If you do not think the fortunes of something can change in a short period of time, look at NASCAR. All one needs do is read the headlines:

NASCAR Is In Trouble And Nobody Wants To Talk About It


That was two years ago. This was before the 2018 season:

NASCAR Wobbles Into 2018 Low On Gas, And Badly Needing A Spark


This is today:

Can NASCAR’s biggest problems be repaired? Petty, Gordon and other legends weigh in


One of the major problems is the folks who run NASCAR changed the traditional format of a race which alienated the most ardent racing enthusiasts. Knowing this caused me to cogitate on the changes that have been made to how Chess is played. The time for thinking has continued to diminish. For some reason those making decisions have decided to transform Chess into a much faster game. Chess is not Backgammon.

Chess is a wonderful tool with which to teach a child how to think. Why should Chess be taken seriously when the point of the game is to THINK, and time to do so is increasingly limited? What purpose does it serve to teach a child how to play Chess when there is not enough time to think?

Ask yourself, “Why should the “MSM” take the Royal game seriously when the collective Chess World does not take it seriously? How can anyone in their right mind believe yet another Kirsan term will change the downward trajectory on which the Royal game founders? How can anyone in their right mind think the “MSM” will take the news that Kirsan the ET will continue running the Royal game into the ground? Does the Chess world want Kirsan the ET, who has been ridiculed, pilloried, and sanctioned, continuing as the face of Chess?

The Right-Wing Chess Media

In a post published May 3, 2018,

Kirsan enroute to BIG win in October!

GM Kevin Spraggett,


“You have to hand it to the man! He has managed to out-finesse each and every of his political rivals since first taking control of FIDE back in November 1995 in Paris.

Today it very much seems that he is going to be the big favourite , once more, at the FIDE elections to be held at during the Chess Olympiad in Batumi, Georgia. According to my own research figures, Kirsan is heading towards a 70% support level, sweeping almost all of Asia and Africa, with a new strategy that accepts that his support in the America’s might decline to 50%. Europe’s vote will be , once more, irrelevant, once all the votes are counted.”

The post culminates with:

“It is curious that while all of the recent FIDE presidential board drama has unfolded, not a single top player has voiced any criticism of Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, or expressed any public opinion to support Makro and gang. Only the right-wing chess media (Chess.com, ChessBase, ChessDom, etc) have expressed any support for Makro.

From what I have been able to find out, most top players believe that Kirsan will be re-elected, and by a large margin, regardless of who runs against him. Once more, it seems, there is a large divide in the chess community and its self-elected ‘journalists’!”

To be continued…(probably tomorrow when there should be some news coming out of Moscow)

Until reading Kevin’s post I was unaware there were different “wings” of the Chess media. I cannot help but wonder what “chess media” constitutes the “left-wing?”

I began my quest to learn more about the Chess MSM (Main Street Media) and the difference between the ‘left’ or ‘right factions of World Chess, and what defines ‘left’ or ‘right’, and who belongs to each group, if there is a “group.”

First stop on the internet highway was http://www.startpage.com. I was, unfortunately, unable to find elucidation…but something unexpected was discovered at the FIDE website, which obviously flew under my radar.

FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov urged to resign

By Siranush Ghazanchyan 09 Apr 2018

The FIDE Presidential Board voted 14 to 1 with no abstentions to urge President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov to resign.

The issue was discussed during a meeting in Minsk, Belarus over the weekend.

FIDE said earlier that its Swiss bank accounts would be closed after its president Kirsan Ilyumzhinov was accused of facilitating transactions on behalf of the Syrian government.

Ilyumzhinov was added to a US Treasury Department sanctions list in 2015 for his alleged dealings with the Assad government.

The senior management of the bank extended the deadline from the original 28th February, 2018 to 30th April, 2018, but was unwilling to extend until the FIDE elections on 3rd October, 2018.

The Presidential Board recognized the dire situation and passed the following resolution.

“Dear Kirsan

The Presidential Board has resolved that:

In the light of:

a) The imminent withdrawal of FIDE’s banking facilities by UBS,
b) The inability of FIDE to obtain replacement banking facilities while you remain nominal President and
c) subject to US Treasury Department sanctions,
d) The consequent severe difficulties facing FIDE in funding its obligations and its commitments to the chess family,
e) The adverse publicity that reflects badly on FIDE’s reputation and undermines the confidence of all those who are or would be involved in chess,

That in the interests of the organization:

You should resign with immediate effect.

The resolution has been signed by FIDE General Secretary Abraham Tolentino, Adrian Siegel, Treasurer Vice-presidents Georgios Makropoulos, Martha Fierro, Herbert Bastian, Mohammed Kambuzia, Beatriz Marinello, D.V. Sundar, Khalifa Al-Hitmi, Israel Gelfer, Boris Kutin, Gulkiz Tulay, Honorary Vice-Presidents Javier Ochoa and Mario Ramirez, President of Americas Jorge Vega, President of ECU Zurab Azmaiparashvili,


BTW, You will not be surprised to learn that Kirsan’s Wiki entry heads the list at http://www.startpage.com. This is second:

Fabulous Fabiano!

Fabiano Caruana

asserted his dominance early in the Candidates tournament, proving his mettle by winning his last two games following a loss to the last challenger for the crown, Sergei Karjakin.

IM Boris Kogan said, “The measure of a Chess player is how he plays after a defeat.” Caruana learned from his first candidates appearance, where he arguably played the best Chess. Unfortunately he had problems converting winning positions. This time he took advantage of better positions, converting them into wins.

The tournament was marred by the inclusion of former World Champion Vladimir Kramnik,

who did not qualify for a spot in the field, but was given some kind of “free-pass.” This is fine for other tournaments where fans wish to see one of their local heroes battle the best. For a chance to face the World Champion it is unthinkable. Kramnik took the place of a more deserving player. Chess has become a young man’s game and Vladimir is over forty. When a player turns thirty in China they no longer compete, but must move on to coaching.

The tournament was also marred by several egregious blunders which altered the natural progression of events. In round seven Karjakin was languishing in last place when he faced Wesley So.

This position was reached:

Wesley blundered horribly when playing 35…Ke8? 35…Rc7 would have left the position even.

In round ten, against Vladimir Kramnik, Levon Aronian

had this position in front of him:

Because of the discovered check Levon must play 36…Rg7. He played 36…Qc7, resigning after 37 Ne8+.

In round thirteen Alexander Grischuk

sat behind the black pieces against Shakhriyar Mamedyarov:

The knight is under attack but 34… Nf5 keeps the game level. Grischuk played the unbelievable 34…Nxb5, which lost on the spot, although several more moves were played.

The multi-verse theory is everything that can happen does happen. Imagine we are in a universe where those three losing moves were not played, and each game ended in a draw. The final standings would have been much more in line with how the players performed:

Caruana 9

Karjackin 7 1/2
Mamedyarov 7 1/2
Ding 7 1/2
Grischuk 7
So 6 1/2

Kramnik 5 1/2
Aronian 5

Exchange Ding and Aronian and the final standings would look like about what one would figure going into the event.

“Is it just me or is Ding one of the success stories of the candidates. Thus far unbeaten, likely to learn hugely from the whole experience, if he isn’t amongst the favourites for the next edition I’ll be amazed.”
— Daniel Gormally (@elgransenor1) March 27, 2018 (https://en.chessbase.com/post/candidates-2018-berlin-round-14)

As for Levon Aronian there were those who worried his dismal play at Gibraltar foreshadowed rough seas ahead. For example, consider what GM Kevin Spraggett

wrote on his blog before the event began:

Round 1 of Candidates Tournament

by kevinspraggettonchess · Published March 10, 2018

The Candidates Tournament is the unique event that will decide who will be the challenger for the World Championship match (against Carlsen), later this year. As such, all the players will be especially careful not to risk anything unnecessary at the beginning.

Being a double round event, I suspect that most of the players who have a real chance to win will wait until the second half before they make their play for winning. But, of course, everything depends on circumstances, and should a player start to run away with the tournament in the first half, then the others will have to react.

Up until now I have not written much about the chances of the players. I don’t see anyone particularly better than the others, though of course the Armenian star Levon Aronian has had the best results in the past year.

But form is more important than results! It is very difficult to maintain top form for more than 3 months at a time, let alone an entire year. Though Aronian emerged on top in Gibraltar last month, his play showed signs of fatigue.

Otherwise I would have chosen Aronian as the favourite in Berlin.


I contemplated writing about the first round of Gibraltar, but the excellent coverage at the tournament website caused me to eschew a post. From the website:

“There was a remarkable success for two Hungarian sisters in round one. Not in itself an unprecedented event in top-level chess but what was unusual was that they were not named Polgar. Anita

Tradewise Gibraltar Chess, Masters, Rd 1, 23 January 2018

and Ticia Gara

Tradewise Gibraltar Chess, Masters, Rd 1, 23 January 2018

faced formidable opposition in the shape of Levon Aronian,

Tradewise Gibraltar Chess, Masters, Rd 1, 23 January 2018

top seed and arguably the most in-form chess player of last year, and celebrated super-GM Nigel Short.

Levon and Nigel have achieved a lot of successes in the Gibraltar tournament in their time and they haven’t got where they are today by conceding draws to players in the mid-2300 rating range but they could make little impression on the Hungarian sisters. Indeed, Levon might have done worse had Anita made more of her chances when we went astray in the middlegame. Nigel had the upper hand against Ticia but it came down to an opposite-coloured bishop endgame and he could make no headway.” (https://www.gibchess.com/round-1-2018).

Playing over the games of Aronian had caused thoughts similar to those of GM Spraggett. The complete collapse of Aronian brings to mind something known to Baseball as the “yips.” There have been pitchers, and position players, who have lost the ability to throw the baseball. It has come to be known as “Steve Blass disease.” Steve was a very good pitcher, good enough to win game seven of the 1971 World Series with a complete game 2-1 victory over the Baltimore Orioles. He pitched well again the following year, but “lost it” in 1973. New York Yankees second baseman Chuck Knoblauch or Los Angeles Dodgers second baseman Steve Sax both developed problems throwing the ball to the first baseman. New York Mets catcher Mackey Sasser, after a collision at home plate with Jim Pressley of the Atlanta Braves, developed problems in returning the ball to the pitcher. Jon Lester, a well known pitcher who helped the Cubs win it all in 2016, has had a problem throwing to first base, so he simply stopped throwing. Arguably, the most famous example occurred with St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Rick Ankiel, who, unfortunately, contracted the “yips” during the 2000 National League Division Series. In the first game Rick issued six bases on balls and threw five wild pitches. He was never the same, but was good enough to go to the minor leagues and return to MLB as an outfielder, one with a strong arm. I would urge anyone interested to read the book, The Phenomenon: Pressure, the Yips, and the Pitch that Changed My Life, by Rick Ankiel.

A friend, Ron Sargent, a Vietnam veteran, was an extremely talented pool player. Word on the street was Ron could have been a world class player. That ended when he took a bullet to the head in ‘Nam. After numerous operations Ron managed to live a full life, which included marrying his high school sweet heart later in life, even though he had no feeling in one side of his face. Ron said, “Anyone can run a table, but it’s a totally different story when the cash is on the table and that little lump of shit gets caught in your throat.”

Some players, like baseball player Billy Martin,

thrive under pressure. In several World Series, he rose to the occasion when the pressure was at its zenith; others do not. This is not the first time Levon Aronian has under performed under pressure. It is quite possible Levon has a case of the “yips.” At his age and with his consistently poor results on the big stage, this could be the end of Aronian as a world class Chess player. No MLB player has ever over come the “yips.” Although it could be possible for Levon to “dig deep,” and find a solution to his “yips” problem, the odds are against it happening, because he will forever be plagued by “self-doubt.” In an interview with Ralph Ginzburg published in Harper’s magazine when Bobby Fischer

was eighteen, when asked to name the crucial ingredients needed to become one of the best Chess players, Bobby said, “A strong memory, concentration, imagination, and a strong will.” Obviously, one of these key ingredients is missing in the armory of Levon Aronian.

I will print part of an email sent to Kevin after reading his post:


I would not wager on the four players who participated in the Tal Memorial rapid/blitz, Grischuk; Karjakin; Kramnik; and Mamedyarov.

Ding a Ling and So so will battle for last.

That leaves Aronian and Caruana. The former has had a fantastic year, but his last tournament looks as though he has run outta steam. Then there is past under performing in these events…

Which leaves Fabulous Fabiano.

I do not say this because he is an American, but from a objective process of elimination.


My thoughts elicited this response from Michael Mulford, aka “Mulfish”:

“What’s the rationale for ruling out the four Tal Memorial players?”

Part of my response:

“My feeling is that the speed tournament took something outta those players…Bobby would NEVER have done that! A player needs to be FRESH AS A DAISY going into a grueling 14 round tournament!

It is a travesty that Kramnik is in the tournament! MVL should be there! He is old and will fade in the second half…

Mamed is the most unpredictable. He coulda lost today, but hung tuff! He has played well recently, elevating his game considerably, but Fabby is the most talented player…”

Because of playing much faster games in the event it is difficult to prognosticate the coming match for the human World Chess Championship. Caruana is no match for Carlsen in speed games, so he must win the match in the longer games, which is what I expect will happen.

Blunderful Berlin

Mark Weeks recommended on his blog, Chess For All Ages (http://chessforallages.blogspot.com/2018/03/game-and-mistake-of-day.html) videos hosted by GM Evgeny Miroshnichenko. I spent the off day watching the interviews before watching GM Peter Svidler

analyze the games between Aronian,

and Kramnik

from round three,

and Kramnik-Caruana,

from the following round. I have always liked Svid since reading an interview, or Q&A, in which he mentioned Bob Dylan as one of his favorite musical artists. I have previously watched some of his round of the day videos, which were excellent. They are usually filmed after a long day of analyzing Chess when he is obviously exhausted. They are, nevertheless, wonderfully elucidating, and the aforementioned videos are no exception. After the opening moves had been played today, I watched the post-game press conference with Levon Aronian and Fabiano Caruana

on Chess24 (https://chess24.com/en) before watching Svid give his take on the game, which I enjoyed immensely.

While working at the House of Pain (aka, the Atlanta Chess and Game Center), I noticed Chess videos had become quite popular. Being a fossil from the days when players obtained information from books, I wondered why anyone would pay that kind of money for a video when one could use it to purchase a book. Videos proliferate to the point now when one can obtain them freely via the internet.

I thought about this when receiving an email from Gene Nix, a player and organizer in Greenville, SC. (http://www.greenvillechessclub.org/index.html)

“I agree that kids are good to have around, in chess and elsewhere. A neighborhood with young children running round is more alive, and kids playing chess means tournaments will continue into the future, if more noisily. But they’re different now. I asked one of the Charlotte teenager Masters what he’d read to help him become so strong – My System, Zurich 1953, My 60 Memorable Games, opening monographs, or what? “I don’t read chess books.”

Good weekend to you,
On Friday, February 2, 2018

Ouch! That hurt. I love the feel of a good book in the morning. I begin most days with a book and cuppa coffee. A good day finds me with another cuppa afternoon joe, and a book!

I have read that beauty is in the flaws, or imperfections. This is applicable to Chess, for without imperfections some of the greatest games, most beautiful and exciting games would never have been played. Such is the case with the current Candidates tournament in Berlin. Peter Svidler can be heard saying, “…more mistakes are forthcoming.” He also says the games are, “…incredibly interesting and exciting,” because of the mistakes. Caruana has been involved in two of the games mentioned in this post, as has Levon Aronian. Fabiano was fortunate to win both games, while Levon was not so fortunate, yet he is to be applauded as much as Fabiano for playing fighting Chess, which has been infinitely more enjoyable than some of the draws made by other players. I hope a fighting player wins the event because one should not be able to draw their way to a seat across from the human World Chess Champion. “I’ve played pretty good fighting Chess,” said Caruana. Levon, probably the favorite going into the tournament, said in answer to a question, “Not my best; probably one of my worst.” For Levon it has been a

Myriad problems marred the beginning of the tournament. GM Kevin Spraggett detailed how bad were the conditions when he wrote, “The players in the tournament are really suffering. There is only one toilet for 8 players, the first day there was no running water! Now there is water, but it is soapy.” (http://www.spraggettonchess.com/the-laughs-at-the-candidates-tournament/)

Levon mentioned in the interview in answering a question concerning flashes from cellphones, said it was, “Not as noisy as the first couple of days.” For such an important tournament, second only to the Worlds Championship, this is unacceptable. Levon went on to say, “When you play badly your play is affected by everything, but when you play well it’s not so…” The sound of clapping could be heard from the audience.

Let us hope the Germans somehow manage to alleviate the suffering of the poor players for the last rounds of the tournament. The best human Chess players in the world deserve better conditions than they have received.

Paul Magriel R.I.P.

I learned of the death of Paul Magriel from the excellent blog of Grandmaster Kevin Spraggett (http://www.spraggettonchess.com/), in his ‘Trending Now’ section, ‘Chess in the News’. This led me to his obituary in the New York Times. These are excerpts:

Paul Magriel, Who Was Called the Best in Backgammon, Dies at 71

By Sam Roberts March 8, 2018

Paul Magriel,

a former youth chess champion who traded game boards to become known as the world’s best backgammon player, then turned to poker as his passion for gambling grew, died on Monday at his home in Las Vegas. He was 71.

After winning the New York State Junior Chess Championship at 19, Mr. Magriel (pronounced ma-GRILL) became fixated by backgammon, the 5,000-year-old dice-and-disk board game that combines luck, skill and speed.

Before the 1970s ended, Mr. Magriel had won the world backgammon championship and published what was acclaimed as the bible of backgammon. He was also writing a weekly column about the game for The New York Times.

In 1977, The Boston Globe described Mr. Magriel,

who by then had given up teaching math at a New Jersey college to play professionally, as “probably the best backgammon player in the world.”

His quirkiness and cunning gave backgammon currency.

“He was a big part of the reason for the backgammon boom that happened in the late ’70s and ’80s,” Erik Seidel, a stock trader who became a professional backgammon and poker player, said in an email.

Mr. Magriel could be philosophical on the subject of games. “Games are controlled violence,” he told Gambling Times magazine in 1978. “You can take out your frustrations and hostilities over a backgammon set, where the rules are clearly defined — in contrast to life, where the rules are not so well defined. In games, you know what’s right and wrong, legal versus illegal; whereas in life, you don’t.”

As a child, Paul was remembered as a savant who rarely answered questions and spoke only when he had something to say. After graduating from Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire and getting a perfect score on his college boards, he earned a bachelor’s degree in math from New York University. At. N.Y.U., he was a fellow of the Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences.

He was later a National Science Foundation fellow at Princeton University, where he specialized in probability. He taught at the Newark College of Engineering (now part of the Newark Institute of Technology) from 1969 to 1973.

Mr. Magriel made his transition from chess to backgammon in Greenwich Village, at hangouts like the Olive Tree Cafe, while he was a doctoral student at Princeton and on track to become a math professor there.

“Psychologically, backgammon is very different from chess,” Mr. Magriel said. “It’s an exercise in frustration — you can make the right moves and lose, or you can make the wrong moves and win. And chess didn’t have the gambling that I like.”

For all his expertise in any game that required mental acuity, Mr. Magriel found backgammon to be “the most frustrating, the cruelest.”

“The fascinating thing about backgammon is that it represents an interesting paradox,” he told The Boston Globe in 1977, adding: “People who want a sure thing don’t make it in backgammon. There are risks, yes, but on the other hand there is an enormous amount of control needed, something most gamblers lack.”

With Ms. Roberts, he wrote the seminal “Backgammon” (1976)

and “Introduction to Backgammon: A Step-By-Step Guide” (1978). His Times column appeared from 1977 to 1980.

Wrote the Book on Backgammon

“When it came to games, Magriel loved them all. At just 19, he became the New York State Junior Chess Champion while studying at New York University, where he would graduate a year later with a BA in mathematics.

However, his real expertise was in backgammon, which is where he earned his “X-22” nickname. He was the 1978 World Backgammon Champion and co-wrote both “Backgammon,” still considered the game’s bible, and “An Introduction to Backgammon: A Step-By-Step Guide,” both published in 1976.

He was profiled in the New Yorker, which is where he explained how he came to be known as X-22.

“I used to play backgammon against myself and once I had a private tournament with 64 imaginary entrants, whom I designated X-l, X-2, and so forth, through X-64,” he said. “In the final, X-22 was pitted against X-34, and X-22 won.” (https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/1985/05/27/game-9)

Magriel, who wrote weekly backgammon columns for The New York Times from 1977-1980, was considered one of backgammon’s best teachers and thinkers. He is thought to have won the most major backgammon tournaments in the world.”

Remembering Paul Magriel

“He was a math wizard, who loved numbers and relished the opportunity to solve complex puzzles. At night, he played games. During the day, he was a math instructor at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, where he worked for seven years before deciding to finally put away the chalk and take up backgammon (and later poker playing) for a living, because the money was just too good a thing to pass up and there were plenty of suckers who wanted a game.

Back then, backgammon was a high-stakes web of rich people and cultural elites who gathered nightly at posh social clubs. Paul’s immersion onto that privileged scene, first in New York City then later around the world at the most exclusive resorts, was every bit as momentous as the indelible impact on games and gambling left by Ken Uston

and Stu Ungar,

The 1980 WSOP, where Stu won his first Main Event title, was also the first time he played Texas Hold’em. The Legendary Doyle Brunson is on the left.

every bit his contemporaries.”

RIP Paul Magriel: Backgammon Legend and Poker Player Known as X-22, “Quack, Quack,” Dies at 71
March 7th, 2018 by Chad Holloway

“To poker fans, Paul Magriel was the wild player who would often say, “Quack, quack.” What most don’t know is that Magriel, who died in his sleep on Monday at age 71, was to backgammon what Doyle Brunson

is to poker.”

Although I never met Paul he had a HUGE on my life through his book. BACKGAMMON influenced me in the same way Chess Openings: Theory And Practice by I. A. Horowitz

influenced me in Chess.

About the time a new bar/restaurant named GAMMONS opened in the Peachtree-Piedmont shopping plaza in the Buckhead section of Atlanta his book was published. I spent the first week eating dinner after work and nursing a beer while watching the “action.” Those were the only alcoholic drinks ever consumed at GAMMONS. One night Steven Moffitt, a former junior Chess champion of Texas, entered. Steve was a professor of statistics and probabilities at Emory University at the time. We met in San Antonio in 1972 during the Church’s Fried Chicken Chess tournament. He greeted me warmly, asking if I would play a couple of speed Chess games. My reply was, “Only if they are fifteen minute games.” He smiled, and agreed. Steve was higher rated, but both games ended in hard fought draws. He had also come early from work and the sight of us playing Chess caused raised eyebrows as the regulars entered. Those two games were the only Chess games ever played at Gammons.

Steve mentioned a Backgammon book I needed to read. It was Paul Magriel’s book. As it turned out his advice was some of the best advice ever received in my life. I was not seen again at Gammons until the book was devoured. The first match I played at Gammons was with a regular, Rick Calhoun. I took a lead never relinquished. When time to pay Rick offered a check, which bounced. The next time I entered GAMMONS, I spotted Rick playing in a chouette, and walked straight to the table, whereupon I laid the rubber check, saying, “Make it right or step outside!” He did not have the money, but some of the other regulars produced the money, hoping to avoid any negative publicity. It was the only check I ever took from any Backgammon player.

Later Steve said they had wondered who was the fellow who came every night to watch. Knowing Steve told them I was a player. Calling Rick out said to them I was a player to be reckoned with…

During research for this post I found the following:

“I do not recommend this book to beginners. Yes, it was a masterpiece at the time it was written, and it is incredibly clear, but I rolled out the Advanced section — excluding the openings chapter — about 322 positions, and found 27 percent of them incorrect. I do not want to put wrong ideas into beginners’ heads by recommending Paul Magriel’s book when there are better books available. I recommend Backgammon Boot Camp instead because it contains some match theory and has a lot more about doubling theory. You can learn a lot if you roll out the positions and think about what Magriel got right and wrong.”

He is correct in that Paul’s book was an introduction to how Backgammon should be played. What it did was make me THINK critically about the game. QUESTION EVERYTHING! Think for yourself. In the immortal words of Bob Dylan, “You shouldn’t let other people get your kicks for you.” (http://bobdylan.com/songs/rolling-stone/)

Backgammon Boot Camp was published in 2004, decades after I stopped playing Backgammon and went back to Chess, so I have not read it. Notice it is unsigned. Here are a couple of other, signed, comments about Paul’s book, a book known as the “Bible of Backgammon”:

“The best introduction to the game. Covers basic checker play very well. If you read and thoroughly understand this book, you’ll play a decent game. Weaknesses—skimpy treatment of the doubling cube.”—Marty Storer, May 1992

“By far the most complete book on the game. A must for the serious minded backgammon enthusiast. It carefully explains the game’s basic concepts, ideas and strategic principles.”—Butch Meese, January 1984 (http://www.bkgm.com/books/Magriel-Backgammon.html)

Paul’s book helped me to become a decent player. Two books by Danny Kleinman, Vision Laughs at Counting: With Advice to the Dicelorn,

part one & two, helped elevate me to another, much higher, level. (http://www.bkgm.com/books/Kleinman-VisionLaughsAtCountingVol1.html)

Some years later, after “retiring” from BG, I encountered a young man who had earlier asked my advice on how to become stronger at Backgammon and I mentioned the Kleinman books. “I read the books you mentioned and am now the strongest player in Atlanta,” he proudly boasted. “I do not know how to thank you,” he said. “You just did,” I replied.

There were many good Backgammon players at GAMMONS. There was a tournament every Monday night.. Tom Daniel, a Viet Nam vet, won more than his share of those tournaments. There were two women, Kathy, from Chicago, and Debbie, who excelled at the nightly tournament. The real players, the money players, played in the tournament, but could not wait to get into action where the money was…Neither Kathy, or Debbie won any of the weekend tournaments, where the matches were longer and the pressure higher. The competition was fierce, with players coming from several different states to play. Then there were the traveling Backgammon players who took their ego’s on the road. Only two players finished in top places two tournaments in a row. One was Steve Moffitt, who took top prize back to back in tournaments with names long forgotten. The other was this writer, who finished second twice in a row. Former Chess player, and budding Doctor, Frank Blaydes, whom I had known from Chess, and his friend Mark watched while writing down the moves, as I lost to a dentist in the first round. “He was lucky,” they said. “Remember what I told you guys,” I answered. “I know, I know,” said Frank, “I’d rather be lucky than good, ’cause when I’m good and lucky I can’t be beat!” Fortunately for me it was a double elimination event, and I was able to get to the final from the elimination group, a first. My opponent, the dentist, said, “I was hoping it would not be you.” Once again Frank and Mark took notation. Once again the dentist was lucky, besting me again in a long match, in which I was the heavy favorite in the side betting. I could not contain myself. “You were lucky,” said I. “You are not as good as you think,” he retorted. I challenged him to continue the match the following night, which was Monday. He entered the tournament; I did not. He lost his match and it was game on. I won all the prize money he had won from the weekend tournament, plus some…Frankly, I cleaned his clock. He was never seen again…

That’s the way it is in Backgammon. Former Georgia State Chess Champion Bob Joiner played BG at Gammons. He had the misfortune to win a weekend tournament. I say misfortune because he was not a top player. Winning the tournament made him think he was now a top player. He began to play the best, and began to lose money, then had the wherewithal to stop playing. After retiring Bob came to the Atlanta Chess Center where I was working. I asked him why he had stopped playing Backgammon. He was honest enough to say, “Because I was losing too much.” We had never played Backgammon, but I would visit him at his office when he was a well respected Public Defender where we would have lunch while playing Backgammon.

One of the weekend tournaments I won was named the Georgia Championship. Another was the Atlanta Championship, which made me the only person ever to become the Atlanta Champion in both Backgammon and Chess.


X-22 knocks out the Brat