Having No Fun

My last post was written in the early stage of what has turned out to be a viral sinus infection. This is known to me because it is not the first time I have been afflicted by this particularly nasty virus. As luck would have it, a book ordered from England, “JFK: An American Coup D’etat: The Truth Behind the Kennedy Assassination,” by Colonel John Hughes-Wilson, arrived, and being left unable to do much other than read has allowed me to focus on the book by the Colonel, “…one of Britain’s leading military historians,” according to the book jacket. There is no mention of why one of Britain’s leading military historians decided to write about an American tragedy. It could be he chose to write this book for the same reason I read it, which is that the JFK assassination is, as Sir Winston Churchill said about Russia in a radio broadcast in October 1939, “…a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.”
For the sake of historical accuracy I provide the full quote, which has become one of, if not the, most famous things ever said by Sir Winston, and the man was verbose. “I cannot forecast to you the action of Russia. It is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma; but perhaps there is a key. That key is Russian national interest.” The quote is as accurate today as it was then. These days Russia considers Great Britain “just a small island no one pays any attention to,” or so said Russian President Don Vladimir Putin. (See, “In an astonishing attack, Vladimir Putin mocked the UK’s size and influence…” http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2412831/Just-small-island-pays-attention-Russias-astonishing-attack-Britain.html)
When contacted beyond the grave Ronald Raygun had this to say about Pootin, “There you go passing gas again, Vladimir.”

As I sat in my weakened state reading about how and why Robert Kennedy had Norma Jean Mortensen, aka Marilyn Monroe, killed, the following appeared, “Something’s Got to Give, her aptly named final film for Twentieth Century Fox, was the last straw. She had been ill on the first day of shooting. The hard-nosed lawyers who owned Fox sent their own studio doctor, who reported that she had a viral sinus infection that might take weeks to cure.”

“Oh No, Mr. Bill! I do not want to feel like this for WEEKS!” I thought. Then the thought struck me that maybe a visit to the doctor was in order. Fortunately, practicality got the better of me because doctor’s are No Fun whatsoever. Sounds like a campaign slogan, does it not? I will take my chances with letting my own immune system battle the infection because these days the cure can be worse than the disease.

By now you are probably wondering what this has to do with chess. I do not intend on this being a book review, even if it is filled with salacious tidbits, such as the fact that the famous dancer Juliet Prowse shaved her mons veneris. As Johnny Carson used to say, “I did not KNOW that.” Now days they all shave their mons veneris…When it was announced that Juliet Prowse was next up on a variety show it was also, “OK children, it’s time for bed.”

What I would like to write about is this paragraph written by the Colonel:

“For American big business too, the Cold War arms race was an important source of profit and thus a major preoccupation. Preparing for Armageddon might be frightening, but the fear of the ‘Red Threat’ provided a lucrative-and guaranteed- source of steady sales and huge profits for US Corporations and their shareholders.”

As we “prepare for Armageddon,” I will use this as a segue to my next post because I must now take a nap.

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The GM With A Million Dollar Smile

In an article in the New York Times dated August 31, 2014 at 8:05 PM, “Millionaire Chess to Hit Las Vegas, in Gambit to Raise Game’s Profile With Big Prizes,” By DYLAN LOEB McCLAIN, it is written, “…Maurice Ashley, 48, the only African-American chess grandmaster, was the driving force behind the HB Global Challenge tournament in Minneapolis in 2005.”
This is written on Grandmaster Ashley’s Wikipedia page, “Maurice Ashely (born March 6, 1966 in St. Andrew, Jamaica)…” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maurice_Ashley)
I researched Jamaica on Wikipedia and found that, “Jamaica is an island country situated in the Caribbean Sea, comprising the third-largest island of the Greater Antilles.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jamaica)
GM Maurice Ashley is a man with class and style who has a million dollar smile, but he is not the first African-American chess Grandmaster. Why does the origin of GM Ashley matter? Does anyone know the name of the first German-American GM? Or the first Polish-American GM? Would it be politically correct to call Mr. Ashley the first Jamaican-American Grandmaster?
After watching the movie, “The Day the Earth Stood Still,” not the recent tepid remake, but the powerful original made in 1951, the year following my birth, I thought this earth would be a much better place if everyone considered themselves as earthlings, rather than “Americans” or “Russians” or “Black” or “White.” This was about a quarter of a century before titular POTUS Ronald Raygun said, in a December 4, 1985 speech at Fallston High School, MD, speaking about his 5-hour private discussions with General Secretary Gorbachev the previous month in November, 1985. He relayed to the class: “How much easier his task and mine might be in these meetings that we held if suddenly there was a threat to this world from another species from another planet outside in the universe. We’d forget all the little local differences that we have between our countries, and would find out once and for all that we really are all human beings here on this Earth together.” (http://www.serpo.org/release27.php)
The long article continues, “That tournament had $500,000 in prizes — the previous record for a chess tournament — and was financed by a retired businessman named Al Blowers, who was trying to promote his own charitable chess foundation. The tournament lost a couple hundred thousand dollars and, soon after, the foundation folded.
The partners expect to lose up to five times that — $1 million — in the Las Vegas tournament.
“If we only lose $200,000,” Mr. Ashley said, “we’ll be dancing in the streets.”
The idea behind Millionaire Chess is to raise the profile of the game. “It has a 1,500-year history,” Ms. Lee said, “and it has not been recognized at the level that I believe it should be.”
Good luck with that…
Bob Marley – redemption song acustic

Bob Marley – Redemption Song (from the legend album, with lyrics)

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.”

Hollywood’s Chess Master

There is a TV Guide special edition of “American Icons” for sale at a price of $9.99 focusing on “100 Years of Our Nation’s Greatest Actor.” The choice of TV Guide is Humphrey Bogart. This point is debatable. Many consider Ronald Raygun the best actor of all-time simply because of the fact that of all the actors to have played the President of the U.S. he was the best at acting like a President. For my money the greatest was John Wilkes Booth, for obvious reasons. The one thing everyone seems to agree on is that Humphrey Bogart was “Hollywood’s Chess Master.” He is considered to be the strongest players of the Royal game among those in the know in the movie making industry. The magazine quotes Pete Tamburro, “…of Chess Life, the official magazine of the U.S. Chess Federation,” who says, “In the 1940s, chess was extraordinarily popular in Hollywood, and Bogart was one of the best players.”
The author of the article, James Ellis, continues, “For Bogart, chess was a constant companion throughout the course of his life. And it wasn’t just the game-it was a way of putting food on the table when he was down and out in New York.”
“He used to hustle for money,” Tamburro says. Bogart’s playing style could easily belong to one of the crafty and cunning private eyes from his noir films. “No matter how good you think you’re playing, he’s going to swindle you somehow,” Tamburro says. “It’d be like playing Rick in his cafe.” One of the pictures in the magazine is of Humphrey as Richard Blaine in his cafe, Rick’s Café Américain, looking at a chess board with Peter Lorre, as Ugarte, looking at Rick while lighting a cigarette.
I have lost count of the number of times I have watched the movie. Humphrey would have to be on my short list of favorite actors, but how much is because of my awareness of his fondness for the Royal game I cannot say. I can still watch it, but can no longer watch the two other movies on my top three list, “Cool Hand Luke,” and “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” because they are too depressing.
There are pictures of some postcards Bogart used in correspondence games “…with friends around the world, including GIs serving overseas in World War II.” There is a picture of the July, 1945 Chess Review with Bogie and Lauren Bacall on the cover, as well as Bogart’s chess set, a small wooden, well worn, board and over sized wooden pieces.
“More than just an avid player, Bogart threw himself into organizing tournaments to promote the sport. He served as a tournament director for the United States Chess federation and, with the help of other celebrity chess fans such as Basil Rathbone, sponsored the Los Angeles Pan American Chess Conference in 1945.”
“They were creative people, and creative people are fascinated by the game and its competitive nature,” Tamburro says.
The era of Bogie and Bacall is a relic of the past. How long before the Royal game is thought of in the same way?
“Key Largo”
Wrapped around each other
Trying so hard to stay warm
That first cold winter together
Lying in each others arms
Watching those old movies
Falling in love so desperately
Honey, I was your hero
And you were my leading lady

We had it all
Just like Bogie and Bacall
Starring in our old late, late show
Sailing away to Key Largo

Here’s lookin’ at you kid
Missing all the things we did
We can find it once again, I know
Just like they did in Key Largo

Honey, can’t you remember
We played all the parts
That sweet scene of surrender
When you gave me your heart
Please say you will
Play it again
‘Cause I love you still
Baby, this can’t be the end

We had it all
(We had it all)
Just like Bogie and Bacall
Starring in our old late, late show
Sailing away to Key Largo

Here’s lookin’ at you kid
(Here’s lookin’ at you kid)
Missing all the things we did
We can find it once again, I know
Just like they did in Key Largo

We had it all
(We had it all)
Just like Bogie and Bacall
Starring in our old late, late show
Sailing away to Key Largo

BERTIE HIGGINS- “KEY LARGO” (W/ LYRICS) – YouTube

“Released as a single in September 1981, the song became Higgins’ only Top 40 hit in the United States in early 1982, when it peaked at #8 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. The song spent 17 weeks in the Top 40 and was certified Gold by the RIAA.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Key_Largo_%28song%29