All The Wrong Moves Part Seven: The Secret Of Chess

This paragraph is the first of chapter 7: The Secret Of Chess.

I first stumbled upon the lectures of my future teacher and spiritual guardian,

Ben Finegold,

during a despairing google for chess tips in Bangkok. He was different from all the other chess lecturers I’d seen before. Most lecturing grandmasters, even the most charming ones, approach the game with a hushed reverence, as if delivering news on a pediatric oncology ward, or trying to placate an errant tiger. Finegold is the complete opposite. He’s charismatic, frank, and viciously funny, matching a respect for the game’s elegance with flagrant mockery of everything else. When Finegold’s students raise their hands, he often points a meaty had at them and says, “You, with the wrong answer,” or “You, with some crazy comment.” Upon hearing one of their replies, he’ll often respond, “Ugh, that was painful,” or “Hey, you’re the best player in your chair.” He’s given to claiming that the Panov-Botvinnik Atack was named after “Mr. Attack.” His lectures are littered with Tarantino references, imitations of other lecturers from hiss chess club, and fatuous advice like “never move pawns.”

Finegold

has a unique place in the chess world. He has ardent fans, because of his aforementioned characteristics, and many detractors, also because of his aforementioned characteristics. Moreover, he lives on an odd plateau of chess skill – that of the low-level grandmaster.

Ouch.

It seems like just yesterday Ben was being proclaimed “The World’s Strongest IM,” while gracing the cover of Chess Life (now Lifeless) magazine. Garner that coveted GM title and nobody knows your name…

The fact that this is a coherent concept is another illustration of the vast distance between the amateur and the professional player. To any player like me, any grandmaster lives in an unreachable and starry grove of intellectual superiority. Someone like Finegold can calculate in drunken sleep better than I can while achieving satori on Adderall. But, to most grandmasters, Finegold isn’t that notable, except for his personality.

Euwe, that hurts!

There are essentially two ways you could regard Finegold, given his position in the chess ecosystem. You could see him as a pitiable example of the game’s mercilessness, by focusing on the fact that Finegold never made it to the upper ranks. On the other hand, you could see him as someone who hurled himself directly into the howling void of chess and came out intact, with a fan following, two kids, a little house in Georgia,

and the ability to eke out a modest living by teaching his favorite game to captivated pupils –

occasionally including desperate adults who come all the way from Canada to absorb his teachings.

I arrived in St. Louis a few days before my first meeting with Finegold, to have a chance to explore the city. And during this pre-Finegold interval, I had a random meeting with a stranger that would prove to be an omen of the month ahead. She was a woman walking alone downtown, screaming.

“Are you okay?” I asked.
“Holy shit,” she screamed.
“Um,” I said.
“Fuck all these pussy-ass people,” she screamed.
“I am so tired of this life,” she screamed.
“Damn it,” she screamed.
She walked away. And, unfortunately, I came to agree with her about the city of St. Louis.

This is probably my fault. I am a great believer in the idea that a failure to love is often the fault of the lover. If I were more patient and more curious and more forgiving, I probably could’ve found more to appreciate. I’m told that St. Louis contains many beautiful sun-strewn lanes and cheerful people, and fun bars where tender words are exchanged over locally made beers of the highest quality. But that is not what I found. What I found was a humid, boring, and flat place, dappled with some of the most dangerous neighborhoods in North America. According to the website of the St. Louis Police, you shouldn’t “wear clothing or shoes that restrict your movement” in their fair metropolis, so you can run away from assailants if you need to.
The local food, also, is hilarious. There’s a special kind of pizza they make there, which is a prank played by Satan. It’s a cracker, topped with ketchup, finished with a goopy kind of processed cheese that you’ve never had before, because they invented a new kind of cheese for this pizza. It’s edible caulking that clings to the back of your throat, reminding you that you live in an unjust world.

Based on my experiences, I cannot recommend St. Louis. Unless, that is, you’re interested in studying chess. Weirdly, St. Louis is the home of the world’s best chess school. This is the greatest love of billionaire Rex Sinquefield,


https://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-36257742

a longtime St. Louis resident. Although he was never a skilled player, he was a skilled investor, to say the least, and he arrived at retirement age with enough money that he could quite casually open an air-conditioned temple devoted to his favorite game, and bankroll grandmaster lectures as well as exclusive tournaments with big prizes for the strongest players in the world. The club is housed in a pristine two-story commercial property, and might be mistaken for a posh hernia clinic or a yoga studio if not for the chess pieces depicted on the frontispiece’s stained glass windows.

We have now arrived at what I consider to be the best part of the book, that being the meeting of the teacher and the pupil.

“Hey, Finegold,” I said.
“Sup,” he said.
“I’m Sasha,

that Canadian guy.”
“Who?”
“That guy who emailed you.”
“I know who you are.”
“Yeah, so here I am.”

You ever notice that no matter where you go, there you are?

“How many lessons are you looking for?”
“I was thinking like ten hours.”
“You could do more – the more you pay, the more you learn.”

Wasn’t that the motto of Trump University?

As I considered this, a class of kids, whom he had just taught, flooded out of the classroom and started playing blitz in the lobby, which is to say that they started knocking pieces off tables, knocking clocks off tables, making illegal moves, and screaming at each other. Finegold presided for a few minutes until the parents showed up, delighting the kids with a barrage of verbal abuse, and then returned to me with a searching look on his face.
“Jesus, I want to kill myself,” he said, very quietly.
“Wait till you see my games,” I said.
“You’re not here to impress me, you’re here to learn.”
“But I’d like to impress you.”
“Well, you won’t.”

And he was right. He was right about everything. Sooner or later, everything he told me came true.

Just Because Someone Goes Crazy, It Doesn’t Mean You Also Have to Go Crazy

“If your wife

cheats on you, that’s bad,” Finegold said. “She shouldn’t have done that.

But if you then kill her, kill yourself, and the mailman, that’s not really constructive. You shouldn’t escalate a situation just because someone else did.”

“How does this apply to chess?” I said.

“Well, you consider yourself a creative guy, which is kind of a problem. So, from move two, you’re going out of you mind, trying to invent a work of genius. Which means that when your opponents play crazy, you start playing even crazier. Don’t do that. Just don’t be crazy at all. When they play weird, just play normal good moves. Other grandmasters will tell you that you have to punish your opponents for all of their mistakes. That’s one point of view. My point of view is that you have to win chess games.”

The wisdom of this became clear after the lesson, when we played some blitz at one of the tables

set up on the sidewalk outside the club.

The muggy air was licking my face. Cute couples walked by on their way to Whole Foods, unaware that they were passing a spectacle of truly historic importance: my first game against a grandmaster. It was also the first time I’d ever played against someone drinking two brands of seltzer at once. Finegold played the Slav Defense, an extremely solid opening.

“I hate playing against the Slav,” I said.
“The truth hurts,” he said.
“Is this a good move?”
“It’s a move.”
“But is it good?”
“Probably not. Whose turn is it?”

He moved his queen deep into my territory. For the first ten moves, I thought I might have a microscopic chance of victory, because I didn’t lose all of my pieces. But, every other turn, I made a slight mistake that I didn’t know I was making, and in the face of my craziness, he responded not with theatrics but with a quiet malice. As sweat dripped down my chest, I realized that a crowd was gathering – all the kids in the neighborhood wanted to see Finegold crush me. I tried to put up a good fight so I could entertain these little boys and girls, who were soon to be embittered adults, maybe losing at chess themselves. But Finegold didn’t give me a good fight – he gave me a slow, vicious grind, allowing me only to twist lamely while he attained total control. I was a jittery rabbit, running from a surefooted cheetah, in a maze whose pathways slowly curled in on each other and contracted, until we were confined together, predator and prey, in a tiny cell. Under the pressure, I cracked, and made a horrible blunder.
“You’ll have to forgive him for that,” Finegold said to the audience. “He’s tired, because he just moved here. From Crazytown.”

Finegold, who was always coming and going, and who noticed everything, observed that I was having a lot of fun, and that it was translating into my play as a whole. He disapproved.

“Take a look at those guys over there,” he said, during a lesson, pointing to an array of portraits of great players that hung on the far wall.

“What am I supposed to be seeing?” I said.

“Tell me who looks like he’s never had fun in his life.”

“Um, Kasparov.”

Garry Kasparov was the top-ranked player in the world for nineteen years, except for a three-month-long slump. And he was famous for his boundless, masochistic work ethic. “Chess is mental torture,” he said.

“Yeah, Kasparov never had any fun. Now, tell me who looks like he’s furious all the time.”

“Bobby Fischer.”

Remembering Bobby Fisher – I

“Yeah, Fischer. That guy didn’t have a lot of fun.”

What he was saying was true. Slow tournament chess, played well, is like violent meditation. The mind is wrenched by an evolving series of parenthetical thoughts, during which the limits of human cognition are directly assaulted.

“Being a winner starts when you realize what a loser you are.”

At my next lesson, I explained my emotional turmoil to Finegold. He was having none of it. “Your emotions are irrelevant,” he said. “You can’t stop protecting your pawns because you’re sad. Chess isn’t one of those crazy stories that you sell to a magazine. You’re not a hero; your opponent isn’t the villain.”

“It’s hard for me not to think like that. It’s kind of who I am,” I said.

“Well, then, don’t be yourself.”

“I can tell you everything I know,” he said, “but absorbing it can take years. Chess is hard. Like, let’s take a simple part of being a grandmaster. To be a grandmaster, you have to spend a lot of time thinking about what your opponents want to do, rather than just focusing on your own plans. Saying that to you is easy, but it’s hard to do, because just thinking about yourself is kind of the human instinct. Being good at chess is pretty counterintuitive. A lot of the time, you’re fighting your basic tendencies.”

“That sounds hard.”

“It’s actually easy. It’s just impossible.”

I was twenty-nine years old. I walked back towards the metro station, through the deserted streets beyond, between beautiful art deco skyscrapers, and I thought about what Finegold had said at the end of our first lesson. After we’d gone through a few of my games, he had nonchalantly asked me whether I’d like to know the secret of chess.

“Um, sure,” I said.

“Okay, I’ll tell you. But you’re not going to believe me,” he said. “And maybe you never will.”

This was correct. I had no idea what to make of the secret of chess. And I definitely didn’t believe it. Only later, much later, when I was walking on a beach in California, did his words really strike me with their full force.

The review must end somewhere, and this is where it ends. It seems I have written, arguably, too much, but actually, it is only the tip of the iceberg. To learn the secret of chess, according to Ben Finegold you must find a copy and read it for yourself. You can thank me later…

GM Igor Rausis says “Chess is a disease”

The post dated July 13, 2019, GM Igors Rausis Caught With The Toilet Seat Down, (https://xpertchesslessons.wordpress.com/2019/07/12/grandmaster-igors-rausis-caught-cheating/) went viral. The number of viewers was the most, by far, of any previous post on the AW blog. Tens of thousands of people all over the world viewed the post in numbers that dwarfed any other post. The number of viewers is given each day and there is a map of the world in which the number of viewers is color coded. The world map lit up like a Christmas tree, with viewers from almost every country on the planet. This continued for a few days until dropping back to what was previously considered “normal.” Because of the huge daily numbers for those days what was formerly considered a “normal” day is now seen as a tiny blip on the graph of viewers. From this it is more than a little obvious people interested in the Royal game are very interested in the ever increasing problem of cheating in Chess.

I had not intended on writing anything else on cheating but a recent interview with GM Igor Rausis has caused me to have second thoughts about posting anything concerning the confessed cheater. Chessbase published, Igors Rausis: How to quit chess in one move By Andris Tihomirovs, yesterday, August 23, 2019, which was read this morning. (https://en.chessbase.com/post/how-to-quit-chess-in-one-move) The article was, “Originally published in SestDiena magazine, July 26, 2019.” I clicked onto the link (https://www.diena.lv/raksts/sestdiena/tuvplana/ka-ar-ravienu-tikt-prom-no-saha.-saruna-ar-igoru-rausi-14223781) finding it in need of translation, so I headed to Google translate only to learn only the heading could be translated but one cannot cut & paste the article. This is what could be translated:

How to Get Away from Chess A conversation with Igor Rausis

A photo of a chess player in a restroom using his mobile phone during a game

broke a long-standing storm not only among fans of the sport, but also for those who have a simple black and white picture of chess. Chess grandmaster Igor Rausis, who has been trapped in a fraud, says it was his chance to get away from the chess world with a twist.

What follows is part of the translation from the aforementioned Chessbase article:

Has anyone else been accused or suspected of cheating in chess?

Lots. Unfortunately, lots. I don’t want to talk about the others. I don’t want to name any specific surnames. I don’t know why people came up with this idea of making phone apps for chess. It all started with that.

They’ve been around for a long time.

But why? What’s the point?

To play. To analyse. I play on the tram.

But they didn’t think about the consequences. Well, there are a lot of sick people in the world. Previously, this sickness didn’t exist. Gaming mania. Unfortunately, it’s a contemporary illness.

Like casino?

That’s different, because a person goes to the casino and leaves money behind. It’s like drugs.

What exactly? Chess?

Gaming. And the world supports this, because somebody’s earning money from his. (It is possible the word “his” should be “this.” It is printed exactly as found at Chessbase.)

Beyond phones, is chess a sickness?

Chess players never talk about it, because chess fans like other words — like chess is art. Maybe it partially applies to those who compile compositions [chess problems].

So is chess a disease?

In a manner of speaking. A great pyramid has been built. I can now say something controversial aimed at the functionaries.

THE THREAT IS STRONGER THAN ITS EXECUTION!

If Chess is to survive it MUST change in order to adapt to the current circumstances. Over a decade ago I wrote about the need for Chess to adapt but money was flowing into Chess thanks to billionaire bullies with more money than sense, so who wanted to be the first to rock the boat? (I use the term “billionaire bullies” because of people like the Koch bros, etc., and other extremely wealthy people who donate money to political candidates who would obviously be more comfortable in a Nazi-type party than any political party consisting of We The People) At a recent Chess tournament in Atlanta someone mentioned Daniel Lucas,

formerly editor of Georgia Chess before becoming editor of Chess Life magazine. There was laughter upon my mentioning I thought Daniel was still editor of Chess Life. “Because USCF is now awash in Sinquebucks there have been many changes at USCF, Bacon,” said someone who will remain nameless. “Now Daniel’s WIFE is the editor and he has been given a new title of, Senior Director of Strategic Communication for the United States Chess Federation.”

“What does that mean, exactly?” I asked. “I mean, wouldn’t simply Director of Communication have sufficed? Is there a “Junior Director of Strategic Communication?” After more laughter I asked, “What, exactly, is ‘Strategic Communication’ and how does it differ from just plain Communication?” After the uproarious laughter abated someone said, “They just pull those kind of names out of their ass.” This brought the house down, so to speak.

In a capitalist economy it is said, “He who has the money makes the rules.” It is no secret Rex Sinquefield wants much shorter time controls for the Royal game. It has become apparent how little it matters what he, on any other wealthy patron of Chess wants, because now, for the game of Chess to survive, it MUST limit a game to one sitting, with no player allowed to leave the room.

On the very popular, and famous, television show, House, the character of Doctor House

was famous for saying, “Everyone lies.” The way Chess is currently played I can say, “Everyone cheats,” and who will argue? It is too easy to cheat so it is happening in every section by players of all ages. Some years ago at a tournament in Atlanta a player was caught cheating and his response was, “Everyone else is doing it, so I must do it too.” At another tournament, at Emory University some years ago, everyone but the TDs was talking about a group of young boys who would simply leave the playing hall heading for the seats of the cafeteria where they would check out a cell phone in plain sight. Why go to the lavatory when one can sit in the comfort of the cafeteria?

There are signs everywhere pointing to the death of Chess. The recently concluded US Open Chess tournament managed to draw only three hundred plus players. Before a recent round of the Sinquefield Cup Chess tournament in St. Louis, Maurice Asheley talked about the myriad draws in the tournament thus far, contrasting the mostly draw “classical” Chess tourney with a recent “rapid” tournament round in which six of the ten games were decisive. Is the Royal game as it is played by the best Chess players “played out?” How many people will be interested in Chess if it must devolve to “Blunder Fest Chess” to survive?

Rick Bragg, The Decatur Book Festival, and the Road That Goes On Forever

The AJC Decatur Book Festival has grown to become the largest independent book festival in the country. It began in 2006 and you can read about it here (https://www.decaturbookfestival.com/).

Today is the third day of the four day event. I attended many of the festivals but cannot recall the exact number. There is one in particular I do recall, though…

In 2002 a conversion van was purchased in order to make a trip around the country to play in Chess tournaments, and to visit with many people scattered over the country, some involved with research into the JFK assassination. One of the stops was in Rolla, Missouri, where the Missouri State Chess Championship was held. The Rolla public library contained one of a very limited number of the many volume “official” US Government Warren Commission Report. Every report ever released can still be obtained from the government of the US except the Warren Report. Think about that for a moment…

Sometime during the week before the tournament I learned the author Rick Bragg

would be signing books at the Left Bank bookstore in St. Louis (https://www.left-bank.com/).

I had read his first book, All Over But the Shoutin′

and liked it so much I read each of his following books, including Ava’s Man,

which brought tears to my eyes. Rick, like me, was born Southern “by the grace of God,” as the saying goes…Rick is from the Great neighboring State of Alabama. His words struck a chord and hit home because we came from a similar background. He could have been writing about my family, which is, I suppose, why he became such a popular author.

I had plans to play in the Indiana state championship the following weekend so had time to attend the event. By the time I arrived almost all the seats had been taken. Taking the last available seat put me in the back row. The younger woman in the seat to my right was very pretty. She had her long brown hair put up, which I’ve always found attractive, brown eyes, and a smile which caused my heart to flutter while wishing I was at least ten years younger…

Rick was introduced and began to speak. He asked a question of the audience and no one spoke, so I spoke. Everyone turned around to look. It was an extremely quiet audience so I continued to speak during the event. Although I cannot recall much of what was said between us that night I do recall Rick talking about eating at the Krystal.

It seems he had a fondness for the “pups,”

blaming much of his extended belly on his fondness for them, and other Krystal “delicacies.”

As soon as he ended I went to the men’s room. As I walked back into the room where Rick was signing books a nice lady stopped me and said, “I sure did enjoy your conversation with Mr. Bragg tonight.” I smiled and thanked her for saying something so nice. The brown-eyed woman who had caused my heart to throb said, “Me too,” and then immediately dropped her eyes as if she could not believe she had spoken. I thought maybe she was the shy type…She had the look of a librarian.

The publicist who was with Rick noticed me heading toward the door and stopped me, asking if I were leaving. “No ma’am, I am headed to the van to grab a cassette tape I want to give Rick.”

“Is it a book?” she inquired. “No ma’am, it’s music. I just thought Rick would appreciate it.”

“Oh that’s great,” she said, “Rick wants to meet you.”

After nabbing the tape I stepped in at the end of the line behind, you guessed it, the lady with the brown hair and eyes. She had two of his books to be signed. I learned she had not read them, but intended on doing so. We were in the central west end, later to be home of the St. Louis Chess Club and Scholastic Center.

I asked her if she would like to get something to eat and she said, “That would be lovely.” This caused a heart palpitation!

She made it to the table, Rick signed her book after doing a double take which caused me to understand I was not the only man who found her attractive. She moved to the side as I walked up and he looked at her and said, “You with him?” She nodded, said “Yes,” and I’m certain my chest puffed out several inches. Rick looked at me and said, “You lucky dog.” Then he shook my hand and we talked for a little while, with him relating something about there always being one guy from similar circumstances in the crowd saying, “And tonight you were it.”

I handed the tape to Rick, telling him I had made about a dozen copies and given away most of them to friendly truckers while on the road like the one who asked, “You need a shower?” as he slipped me his pass. Rick got a kick outta that! I asked him if they would like to grab a bite to eat with us, but his publicist said they did not have the time.

Fast forward to 2008. I was working at the Atlanta Chess Center and had taken the day off so as to attend the Decatur Book Festival where Rick Bragg would be presenting and autographing his new book, The Prince of Frogtown.

His lecture was to take place in a church. It was standing room only and during the presentation Rick used the word “fuck,” which is the only time I have ever heard the word uttered in a church. He was reading from the book, but still…I remember thinking no one made a sound when he spoke the word. Back in the day little old Southern ladies would have swooned, and possibly fainted, after hearing such a word spoken in a “house of the Lord.”

I was in the balcony. By the time I made it outside there was a very long line of people waiting to have their book signed, but no Rick, so I hit the head. I walked back outside, went around to the rear of the tent, stepped across a line that could not be crossed, came up behind Rick, just as some festival gentleman with a badge grabbed me by the arm, and said to Rick “The road goes on forever…”

The official began pulling my arm just as Rick turned to look. Seeing it was me he completed the line, saying, “And the party never ends!” Then he asked “What are you doing here?” The festival official was attempting to drag me away as I said, “I live here Rick. Decatur is the city of my birth.” Rick looked at the official and yelled, “Unhand that man!” Then he looked at me and said, “I can’t believe it…after all these years…I LOVED that tape! I wore it out and had to get a new one. Now I’ve got everything Joe Ely has done!” Naturally, this made me smile.

“So you liked Love and Danger, huh?”

“Liked it? Hell no, I LOVED it!”

The people in line were getting restless, so Rick said, “You gonna be around a while.”

“I can be,” I said.

“Wanna grab a beer and maybe something to eat?” he asked.

“I don’t think they serve beer at Krystal, Rick,” was my response. He laughed out loud as he stuck out his hand and said, “I don’t even remember your name.”

“Michael Bacon,” I said.

“Yeah, that Bacon part rings a bell…”

“Must be something to do with food, huh?”

“You got that right!” Rick said.

I stepped back to wait. The official came over and apologized, saying something like, “Sorry. I did not know you were friends.”

“That’s OK, sir. I know you were only doing you job.” He smiled.

After the last book had been signed we walked to the Brick Store pub.

After we ordered Rick looked at me and asked, “I seem to recall you were with a beautiful woman that night.”

“Yeah, I met her at the signing.”

“No shit?” he said, “What happened with her?”

“Gentlemen never tell, Rick,” I said as he broke into a big, wide grin.

Rick’s latest book is:

I have yet to read it, but there is no doubt it will be read soon.

IM Colin Crouch on The So – Rich – Akobian dispute

The news was announced on the English Chess Forum by Nevil Chan, Sat Apr 18, 2015 8:34 am:

“Harrow Chess Club deeply regret to announce that Colin Crouch has passed away. Colin was 58 years old and a member of the club since 1970.” (http://www.ecforum.org.uk/viewtopic.php?t=7336)

Dr. Crouch was Professor Emeritus, University of Warwick; External Scientific Member, Max-Planck-Institut für Gesellschaftsforschung, Cologne. (http://www.britac.ac.uk/fellowship/elections/index.cfm?member=4526)

His Principal publications were:
Making Capitalism Fit for Society, 2013
The Strange Non-Death of Neoliberalism, 2011
Capitalist Diversity and Change, 2005
Post-Democracy, 2004
Social Change in Western Europe, 1999
Industrial Relations and European State Traditions, 1993

IM Crouch published a chess book, one of many, How to Defend in Chess, in 2007. It became one of my favorite chess books. “Many books discuss how to attack in chess, but resourceful defensive play is also a vital ingredient in competitive success. This is an area largely neglected in the literature of the game. This book fills the gap admirably. Following a survey of general defensive methods in chess, Dr Colin Crouch investigates the techniques of World Champions Emanuel Lasker and Tigran Petrosian, both highly effective defenders. Lasker would place myriad practical obstacles in the opponent’s way, and was a master of the counterattack. Petrosian developed Nimzowitsch’s theories of prophylaxis to a new level. His opponents would find that somehow their attacking chances had been nullified long before they could become reality.” (http://www.amazon.com/How-Defend-Chess-Colin-Crouch/dp/1904600832/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1429714416&sr=1-1&keywords=colin+crouch+chess)

I enjoyed the blog written by IM Colin Crouch. This is an excerpt from his last post:

The So – Rich – Akobian dispute

“Sadly, the news at St Louis dominates all discussion in the US Championships. The forfeit of Wesley So’s game against Varuzhan Akobian is deeply controversial, and no doubt will have long term implications.

The situation was, at its most basic, that Akobian had made a complaint against So, after move 6. There was no indication that there was any cheating by So, of, for example, using the computer of finding the very best moves in a particular position (the main reason for barring electronic devices).

What then was Akobian complaining about? The answer was that he had been scribbling a few notes, while the game was being started, mainly as motivation techniques. It was along the lines of thinking before you make a move, slow down, don’t hurry. It is more a case of getting more relaxed, for what is likely to be a tense game.

I have heard recently of this type of technique, used in political speaking. At a recent Seven-ways Leader debate (hes, these days there were seven parties, plus minor groupings), just before the British General Election, there were notes placed before the podium, for many of the leaders. With seven players battling it out, there were never going to be long set-piece speeches. It was much more the case of the speakers having written down in advance something like, calm down, don’t get wound up, that sort of thing. It does not even involve the speakers having written notes, and loads of statistical facts and figures o be wheeled out. That would have caused unconvincing lack of spontaneity.

It is in many ways what Wesley So has been doing in the last few months, and maybe before. Maybe it can be claimed that what he was doing was technically in breach of the chess laws, although it is, it can be regarded, as only a slight technically breach. Presumably something will need to be clarified at some later FIDE congress. Again though, such a writing down in such notes is, it seems, acceptable in politics, and in other fields. Is there is no totally clear rule that this should be forbidden during a game of chess? And what happens if, for example a couple of players agree to meet up for a meal after the game, and write down where they should meet up at a restaurant?

The simple point is that unless there is absolute clarity in the regulations, there should be no reason for a player being given the drastic punishment of a loss – after six moves of play!

Akobian claimed that he was distracted by So’s play. Really? It is surely much more of a question of how much Wesley So was distracted by Akobin’s play, and in particular in trying to make a formal complaint. It is of course just about possible that Akobian had only made a casual note to the chief arbiter, and that the Chief Arbiter, Tony Rich jumped the gun. I do not know, and without much clearer information, I cannot be certain.

My suspicions are however that Akobian was at least as guilty as distracting So, than So is of distracting Akobian. It is an unfortunate aspects of chess that one way of “cheating” is by accusing the opponent of cheating. Akobian was clearly able to take full advantage of Tony Rich’s actions. Even so, without 100% knowledge of what was going on, I am reluctant to say whether this was what in fact happened.

The next question is how Tony Rich handled things. We must too remember that unfortunately he would have had his clashes with chess authority. We was, for example, not given the expected payment for his contributions for Chess for the Philippines, in a bib Asian sports event, as the excuse was made that chess does not count. He moved to the USA, but it took time to play for the team in the Olympiad in Tromso, while various players originally from Ukraine were given the chance to change qualifications to Russia almost instantly. Where is the justice in that? I do not want to attempt to write about what was happening during his time at St Louis. There were some complications. He did not however complete his university degree there, which is totally understandable, as, unlike the vast majority of even top grandmasters, he is capable of playing at fully equal terms against Carlsen, given time. He also had problems with his mother, on his future in chess and study. There was an unexpected encounter with her at the beginning of the US Championship.

My instincts here is that quite probably he felt that he was being hassled by Tony Rich, and his continuous complaints that Wesley was doing such-and-such a thing, and that quite simply he merely wanted to play chess, concentrate on chess, and try to become the top player from the USA. He could easily be thinking that why does this arbiter keep whinging? It is not as if he is a strong player anyway.

There is an indication that probably Tony Rich is not quite as clued up as one would like. To make things easier, it is simplest that when strong players, including super-strong players, are under the control of the arbiters, the convention is that the arbiters have full knowledge and understanding of what is going on, during the game, and elsewhere in the tournament and surrounds. It is only when suspicions arise, that players have doubts about the arbiters.

A final point. I would hope that the game between Akobian and So is to be expunged from the points gained and lost in their game. Akobian did not win any points through his superior chess knowledge.” (http://crouchnotes.blogspot.co.uk/2015/04/the-so-rich-akobian-hispute.html)

The Connecticut Rebels

The Atlanta Kings drew the match with their Southern division rival, the Connecticut Dreadnoughts. If you are wondering what a team from the northern most region of yankee land is doing in the Southern division, you are not alone. The closest tie to the South would be that of the Dreadnoughts first board in the match with the Kings, Michael “Bubba” Rohde, and the fact that his parents resided in Atlanta back in the 1980’s. GM Rohde would visit, and played in at least one chess tournament that I recall, while here. During this time I played backgammon with Michael.

This reminds me of the Atlanta Braves being placed in the Western division of the National League when Major League Baseball expanded from twenty to twenty four teams in 1969. Because the owner of the Chicago Cubs, Philip K. Wrigley, balked at being placed in the Western division, ostensibly because the Cub fans would have to stay up late to watch the games from the west coast. Since Chicago is in the Central time zone there is a two hour difference. To placate Wrigley and continue the rivalry between the Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals, the MLB Commissioner, Bowie Kuhn, who lacked the cojones to stand up to Wrigley, allowed the Cubs and Cards to play in the eastern division while placing the Atlanta Braves and Cincinnati Reds in the Western division. This made absolutely no sense because both teams, the Braves and Reds, are in the Eastern time zone, meaning a three hour time difference, one more than the two hour difference between Chicago and St. Louis and the left coast.

Baltimore is also a member of the Southern division. Although Maryland is considered a yankee state, a case can be made that Baltimore belongs in the Southern division, or at least more of a case than can be made with regard to Connecticut. At least Maryland was considered a “border” state. The greatest Southern hero of the War Between For Southern Independence, John Wilkes Booth, was born in Maryland.

“The Baltimore riot of 1861 (also called the Pratt Street Riot and the Pratt Street Massacre) was a conflict that took place on April 19, 1861, in Baltimore, Maryland between Confederate sympathizers and members of the Massachusetts militia en route to Washington for Federal service. It is regarded by historians as the first bloodshed of the American Civil War.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baltimore_riot_of_1861)

“Spring, 1861. The American Civil War erupts and Baltimore finds itself at the crossroads of the North and the South. A passageway to the North and a border state to the South, Maryland was home to both Unionists and Southern sympathizers. Maryland was a slave state at the beginning of the war; however, free African Americans made up a quarter of Baltimore’s population.” (http://baltimore.org/guides-interests/civil-war)

“On April 19, 1861, the first blood of the American Civil War is shed when a secessionist mob in Baltimore attacks Massachusetts troops bound for Washington, D.C. Four soldiers and 12 rioters were killed.” (http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/first-blood-in-the-civil-war)

Elvis Presley – An American Trilogy – I wish I was in Dixieland (High Quality)

The Ol’ Swindler Strikes Again!

Many years ago NM Neal Harris beat the Legendary Georgia Ironman for the second time in the exact same variation. The Ironman, who was none too pleased, said, “That Neal…he ain’t nothing but an ol’ swindler!” We have all laughed about it since then, and I have been known to address my friend Neal as “Ol’ Swindler”, which invariably brings out a smile from the Ol’ Swindler. Today the ol’ dog proved he still has some bite!
This afternoon as fire raged on every board at the Sinquefield Cup, with GM Maurice displaying histrionics that would make Tom Cruise proud, and Jen and Ben talking excitedly when given the chance, with even the usually calm and understated Yaz getting in on the act, especially when Hikaru Nakamura eschewed the opportunity to put Darth Topalov out of his misery with 21…Bxf2+, I was following the game between Neal and Kazim Gulamali at the US Masters along with the coverage from St. Louis.
Neal is a fellow Senior who happens to be against Senior tournaments. We have agreed to disagree on the matter. Knowing Kazim from the time he was a child put me in a tough position. It is one of those situations where one might hope for a great game that turns out to be a draw. Then there is David Spinks, who said, “You gotta pull for SOMEBODY!” I admit that when the Ol’ Swindler obtained an advantage my heart was with him. “Come on Neal, push that pawn to e2!” I exclaimed as he missed chance after chance to do just that. Nevertheless, Neal found a way to win. Congratulations my friend! NC obtained a modicum of revenge for the loss to the Atlanta Kings earlier this week.

NEAL D HARRIS (2218) vs KAZIM GULAMALI (2398)

US Masters rd 2 Greensboro, North Carolina

B29 Sicilian, Nimzovich-Rubinstein variation

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 Nf6 3. e5 Nd5 4. Nc3 Nxc3 5. dxc3 Nc6 6. Bf4 e6 7. Qd2 h6 8. h4 Qc7 9. Rd1 b6 10. Qe3 Bb7 11. Nd2 Ne7 12. (12. Ne4 Nf5 13. Qe2 Qc6 14. Nd6+ Bxd6 15. exd6 h5 16. f3 O-O-O 17. Qd2 e5 18. Bh2 e4 19. Qf4 exf3 20. Bd3 Ne3 21. Qxe3 fxg2 22. Rg1 Rde8 23. Be5 f6 24. Kd2 Rxe5 25. Qg3 Qf3 26. Qxf3 Bxf3 27. Rde1 Rhe8 28. Rxe5 Rxe5 0-1, Ingvar Asmundsson (2338) – Jacob Murey (2496) EU-ch Seniors, 10/03/2002) Nc4 Nd5 13. Qg3 O-O-O 14. Nd6 Bxd6 15. exd6 Qc6 16. Bc1 Qa4 17. c4 Nb4 18. c3 Nc2 19. Kd2 Na1 20. a3 Nb3 21. Ke1 Nxc1 22. Rxc1 Qc6 23. f3 e5 24. Rd1 e4 25. b3 Rde8 26. f4 Rhg8 27. Rd5 Kb8 28. h5 Qc8 29. Rf5 f6 30. Rh4 Re6 31. Rg4 Qf8 32. b4 e3 33. bxc5 bxc5 34. Rd5 Bxd5 35. cxd5 Qxd6 36. c4 Re7 37. Bd3 Qc7 38. Kf1 Rge8 39. Qe1 Qb6 40. Bg6 Rf8 41. Bd3 Qb3 42. Ke2 Qxa3 43. Qb1 Qb4 44. Qxb4 cxb4 45. d6 Re6 46. c5 a5 47. Bf5 Rc8 48. Bxe6 dxe6 49. f5 exf5 50. Rc4 b3 51. Rc3 a4 52. Rc4 Kb7 53. Rxa4 Rxc5 54. d7 Kc7 55. Rb4 Kxd7 56. Rxb3 f4 57. Rb7 Ke6 58. Rxg7 Rxh5 59. Kf3 Re5 0-1

Traveling Wilburys – Congratulations

Reprise of the Atlanta Kings

There was a chess league last century in the late 1970’s, the National Chess League. The games were play in different cities, with the moves being delivered via something named a WATS line, which stood for Wide Area Telephone Service, which “was a flat-rate long distance service offering for customer dial-type telecommunications between a given customer phone (also known as a “station”) and stations within specified geographic rate areas employing a single telephone line between the customer location and the serving central office. Each access line could be arranged for outward (OUT-WATS) or inward (IN-WATS) service, or both.
WATS was introduced by the Bell System in 1961 as a primitive long-distance flat-rate plan by which a business could obtain a special line with an included number of hours (‘measured time’ or ‘full-time’) of long-distance calling to a specified area. These lines were most often connected to private branch exchanges in large businesses. WATS lines were the basis for the first direct-dial toll free +1-800 numbers (intrastate in 1966, interstate in 1967); by 1976, WATS brought AT&T a billion dollars in annual revenue.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wide_Area_Telephone_Service)
Not only is that history for you but for me as well, for until today, I never knew so much about the service we utilized. Atlanta had an entry and the name of our team was the Atlanta Kings. The games were played at a company named Scientific America. Lew Martin worked there and the price for use of their WATS line was the inclusion of Lew on the team. Since he was rated far lower, by hundreds of points, of all of the other players this caused much dissension. I was opposed to Lew being on the team, as were many others, but it was decided better to have Lew on the team than to have no team. Former Georgia Champion Mike Decker verified this several years ago when reading an erroneous article about Lew in Georgia Chess, with this being brought to the attention of the editor, Mark Taylor. Mike also said Steve Schneider was a driving force behind the team. I felt strongly that the four highest rated players should be allowed to play. I did not play in the first ever match of what came to be called the “telephone league.” Instead, I worked the phone, sending and receiving the moves, with others passing the moves to the players. Members of the press were there for that match and an article appeared in the Atlanta Journal & Constitution Sunday Magazine, which included a picture of this writer with a phone in one hand and a pen in the other. Alas, that was so long ago it is possible one cannot find a copy on microfilm. Mike “Maddog” Gordon, who has retired from the newspaper, and chess, tried to find a copy decades ago without success.

Last night I learned from Thad Rogers that he has been awarded the newest team to join the United States Chess League. Thad is to be the General Manager. I asked him if I could put it in print and he said yes. “Good,” I said, “a scoop!” It was then Thad informed me he had made the announcement at the Georgia State Championship, which was a month ago. No one has mentioned it to me. When I asked the Legendary Ga Ironman why he had not mentioned it he said, “I do not remember it.” Thad blurted, “But you were standing right beside me when I made the announcement!” Tim responded, “I had other things on my mind.” At this point Thad added, “No one paid any attention.” When asked why nothing has appeared on either of the two GCA website’s Thad said it was because the GCA was not involved. I thought that strange, because it is about chess in Georgia. The original Atlanta Kings were really big news in our small community, but then the chess community was composed of adults, unlike today when there are so few adults participating in the game other than parents. The change that has taken place was apparent at the Atlanta Chess Center. When it opened there was little need for space for parents, but near the end there was not enough room for family members of the many children playing.
The conversation with Thad lasted some time as it transpired during the last round and it was late and we were too tired to do anything other than sit and talk. I learned a great deal from Thad, including the fact that Kazim Gulamali asked for $200 per game to play. I was taken aback by that, not knowing that each and every player received at least $100 from the league. How can that be? We played for the love of the game. I realize a C-note is not much these days, but still, it is the principle of the thing. Receiving money makes these players professionals, even the lower rated ones who play last board so as to meet some ridiculous average rating requirement. There was no such requirement with the telephone league. Each team could have the four best players possible filling out the squad. Thad mentioned the possibility of New York being able to “Have four 2600 players.” I answered with, “So what? Chicago, LA & San Francisco could match them.” Back in the day New York may have had more strong players from whom to choose, but a team from DC, appropriately named the “Plumbers,” took first the initial season. (The Fabulous 70s: The National Chess League
http://nezhmet.wordpress.com/2007/09/16/the-fabulous-70s-the-national-chess-league/ & The Fabulous 70s: Washington Plumbers win the 1976 National Chess League!
http://nezhmet.wordpress.com/2007/11/28/the-fabulous-70s-washington-plumbers-win-the-1976-national-chess-league/)
I neglected to mention the nouveau riche in chess city of St. Louis, thanks to Daddy Sinquebucks, which may now be the city with the most titled players. Build it and they did come. Thad mentioned something about building a team that could “…count on wins from the bottom two boards and one draw on the top two boards.” There is something wrong with the format if the best the few adult fans of chess left in Atlanta can hope for the Kings is to find two players whose chess strength has yet to be matched by rating. I will admit to being nonplussed about the USCL, and have much the same feeling about the new Atlanta Kings.