The Moves That Matter Part 2: An Analogue Creature Floundering in a Digital World

An Analogue Creature Floundering in a Digital World

In chapter five, Cyborgs and Civilians: Algorithms are puppeteers, Dr. Rowson writes, “I was not yet aware that I would be a father the following year, but it was in that life context of beginning to detach from the chess world that I had the privilege of helping world champion Viswanathan Anand prepare for his match with Vladimir Kramnik.

When it became clear that the chess world was going to get the contest it wanted, I offered my services to Anand. I was a strong middleweight Grandmaster rather than a heavyweight, but analytical help is about more than chess strength. Unlike many hired guns, I had some lateral perspectives on chess, an easy rapport with Vishy, and I genuinely wanted him to win. The plan was to offer a few opening ideas for him to develop and some speculative psychological insight for him to ignore.”

“I was also eager to participate in preparation at the very highest level. I had no experience of World Championship preparation, but I had red descriptions of other matches from the seventies, eighties and nineties. Most of those matches were in pre-computer or early computer days, and what I assumed might be a slight shift in emphasis was much more fundamental. I imagined that the training would be part of over-the-board analysis session, part inquiry into the psychodynamics of competition, and part Rocky IV training montage, where Sylvester Stallone lifts huge blocks of wood and runs through the snow.

I expected the training to be roughly 20 per cent physical, 20 per cent psychological, 30 per cent on the computer. In fact, the work was about 95 per cent on the computer, and virtually all of that time was spent trying to help Vishy form new ways of achieving good positions in the opening phase of the game. Just as finding needle in a haystack is easy, if you have a metal detector, finding an important new chess move is easy, if you have the right software.”

“To give an illustration of how far the experience deviated from my expectations, I was in two minds about whether even to bring my computer to the training (a basic Sony Vaio laptop I had used for years). Very soon after arrival, before a pawn had been pushed, Vishy asked me: ‘How many cores do you have, Jon?”
‘Oh, I’m not sure,’ I said, which was clearly not a reassuring answer. Vishy talked me through finding the relevant details on my computer. When he saw it on my screen he paused ruefully and said: ‘Oh, Jon has only one core.’ Kasim (Rustam Kasimdzhanov)

and Peter (Heine Nielsen)

looked at each other, a little troubled. I had no idea what was going on, but it was as if I had arrived at the border to a new country, only to learn that my passport was not valid. Vishy looked mildly ruffled but said it did not matter, because it was possible to connect to online analysis engines – a mysterious notion at the time because I had never done that before, but is was a source of hope too. Alas, I then had painfully mundane problems relating to getting the wi-fi to work, and realized I was slowing the team down. I maintained a professional face, but inwardly I was approaching one of those childlike moments of absolute humiliation.”

There follows a description of what is a core, and what it does, culminating with, “It was only because I was literally up to speed with the others that I could enjoy several productive days at the camp. But I will never forget that feeling of being an analogue creature, floundering in a digital world.”

The author felt that way because, “The work however, happened as the four of us sat around the same table in our on worlds for several hours in a dimly lit room late into the night. The scene was like a Silicon Valley incubator house: humanoids with transfixed faces lit by the glow of computer screens.”

“Mostly we followed the best ideas according to the analysis engines with what Vishy joked was ‘space-bar preparation’ – when the analysis engines are synchronized with the position you are navigating, rather than move the pieces on the screen with your mouse, you press the space bar to keep the engine going down the line it deems to be most accurate for both sides, while watching it unfold on the position on the screen. It is a kind of thinking, I suppose.”

I found this rather sad because it sounds more like something out of a dystopian science fiction novel than real life. Some of my most interesting and enjoyable moments with Chess were those spent analyzing positions with one, or more, players. The arguments were exuberantly endless, and elevating. Maybe the variations were far from best but the interaction with fellow humans was wonderful. Something may have been gained with the coming of the digital age, but something much more important has been lost, never to return to the Royal game. As IM of GM strength Bois Kogan was fond of saying when looking at one of my games, “This is NOT CHESS!”

A Must Win Situation

It is a half hour before the start of the quick play part of the 2018 World Human Chess Championship and I have just finished reading the article, Kramnik: “Magnus needs to get rid of this fear of losing the title” at Chessbase.(https://en.chessbase.com/post/kramnik-on-the-2018-world-championship-match)

I have yet to watch any quick play games in any previous World Human Chess Championship but have decided to watch today. If one is fortunate enough to become old the realization hits that this could be the last World Human Chess Championship. In addition, there is the fact that I have devoted much time the past couple of weeks to watching the mostly moribund games and have a desire to see the conclusion.

What I would like you to consider is, what if there were no quick play tie breaks? What if the challenger had to beat the champion in order to take the champs title? Obviously Fabiano Caruana would have been forced to decline Magnus Carlsen’s offer of a draw in the final game as a draw would have been the same as a loss as far as the match was concerned.

In addition, what if there had been a rule that in the event of all games in the regulation period of the match ending in a draw the games would continue until one player won a game?

Just asking…

ECF Book of the Year 2018 shortlist

One of the books reviewed on this blog, Alekhine’s Odessa Secrets: Chess, War and Revolution
by Sergei Tkachenko, Elk and Ruby Publishing House, has made it to the English Chess Federation shortlist. (https://xpertchesslessons.wordpress.com/2018/02/24/alekhines-odessa-secrets-chess-war-and-revolution-a-review/)

I have a vague memory of someone, possibly David Spinks, saying something about what counted was not how many times an actor won the award, but how many times he or she were nominated. I feel the same about books.

This brought to mind an email received concerning the book from former California Chess Champion Dennis Fritzinger:

Dennis Fritzinger
To:Michael Bacon
Feb 24 at 3:28 PM

Hi Michael,

You definitely read widely! I would never have heard of this book I’m sure but for your review. Somehow I thought my eyes were going to glaze over reading about such past happenings but they didn’t. I was swept along to the very end. The book reminded me of a certain author, Ian Fleming. It certainly gives him a run for his money!

Dennis

Book of the Year 2018 shortlist

Posted By: WebAdmin 28th August 2018

The large number of varied and interesting books this year made the selection particularly difficult, but the choice came down to books by two new chess publishers and two excellent instruction manuals (beautifully printed by Quality Chess) which the judges had great difficulty in separating, so included both!

Alekhine’s Odessa Secrets: Chess, War and Revolution
Sergei Tkachenko, Elk and Ruby Publishing House, paperback, pp213, £19.99
The cover alone indicates this is not a conventional chess book. It vividly covers the chess community in Odessa, how it and they coped with the rapidly changing governments 1916 to1919. Alekhine was a frequent visitor to Odessa. When the Bolsheviks captured the town in 1919, they shot an estimated 1,200 “traitors”. Alekhine was arrested, imprisoned and was on the list to be executed. Why he was released remains a mystery. Amongst the narrative drama are the chess games he played in Odessa which show his outstanding chess imagination.

Carlsen vs Kajarkin World Chess Championship 2016
Lev Alburt and Jon Crumiller, Chess Information and Research Centre, paperback, pp336, £22.50
World championship matches are the summit of the chess world. Whilst there is extensive short-term media coverage during the match, there are surprisingly few books published after the event giving a considered view. This book is one, with the usual photos, atmospheric background and computer analysis all well done. What lifts the book to an exceptional level is ‘Vlad’s Viewpoint’ which occurs throughout the book. The former world champion Vladimir Kramnik is able, from his unique experience, to give a wider and deeper insight into the play and players. Essential reading for Caruana!

Small Steps to Giant Improvement

Sam Shankland, Quality Chess, hardback, pp 331, £23.99
Shankland had a setback in his chess playing activities so had some free time. He decided to study and write about pawn play which he identified as one of his weaknesses. Written in a refreshing and open style he gives pointed examples of various issues eg advanced pawns can be strong, but they can also be weak. There is much to learn in this book as Shankland himself showed: he won his next three tournaments including the USA championship and raised his grading over 2700!

Under the Surface
Jan Markos, Quality Chess, hardback, pp276, £23.99
Markos has not written a standard text book, rather an exploration of the other factors that affect chess play. A sample of the chapter headings give an impression of his unusual approach – ‘Anatoly’s billiard balls’, ‘What Rybka couldn’t tell’, ‘Understanding the Beast’ and so on. Markos writes in an original way bringing in applicable concepts from the none chess world. There are four fascinating chapters on computer chess. All in all players of every level will find something original or instructive in this book.

— Ray Edwards, Julian Farrand, Sean Marsh – 20th August 2018

https://www.englishchess.org.uk/book-of-the-year-2018-shortlist/

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.

http://www.spraggettonchess.com/round-1-of-candidates-tournament/

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:

Kevin,

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.

Michael

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,
Gene
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.

For Chess Parents, There Is No Endgame.

Prodigal Sons
The search for the next great chess prodigy—the next Bobby Fischer—is constantly underway. And the candidates are getting younger and younger.
By David Hill Dec 20, 2017, 10:00am EST

A most disquieting Chess article was published recently at The Ringer, “An SB Nation affiliate site.” David Hill is a “Chess dad.” His seven year old son, Gus, plays Chess in New York city.

https://www.theringer.com/sports/2017/12/20/16796672/chess-prodigy-misha-osipov-bobby-fischer

The article begins:

Anatoly Karpov, the 66-year-old former World Chess Champion, was comfortable playing chess underneath the bright lights and in front of the cameras on a television studio set. His opponent, Mikhail “Misha” Osipov, had never played on quite so big a stage before. In this case, before a studio audience on the Russian television program The Best, broadcast on the state-run Channel One. Nevertheless, Osipov looked comfortable. He greeted Karpov warmly, and complimented his showdown with Viktor Korchnoi, which Osipov had studied to prepare. (“It was a beautiful game!”) Osipov played the Nimzo-Indian defense, and played it well.

But Osipov took a long time to consider each move, while Karpov played quickly. Their game was timed, with Karpov playing with two minutes on his clock to Osipov’s 10, in consideration of Karpov’s superior skill and experience. That time advantage dwindled as Osipov spent precious minutes thinking.

Fourteen moves into the game and they were equal in time, with Karpov up a single pawn. Graciously, Karpov offered Osipov a draw.

“Nyet,” Osipov responded, and continued to move.

A few moves later, Osipov’s clock ran out.

“You’ve lost on time,” Karpov told Osipov. “You had to accept the draw. Be more realistic about time.”

Osipov shook Karpov’s hand, but his face tensed up and fixed itself into a frown. He got up from his seat and wandered toward the studio audience, no longer able to hold back tears. Osipov sobbed wildly and looked into the bright lights and the audience before him, bewildered.

“Mama!” he shouted as the cameras continued to roll. “Mama!” His mother bounded from the audience onto the stage and picked up the 3-year-old boy into her arms and held him tightly, wiping the tears from his round, cherubic face.

Despite the disappointing result, Misha Osipov remains a media sensation in Russia. His favorite player is Magnus Carlsen, the current World Champion and himself a child prodigy. According to Yuri, Misha found the games of former Russian World Champion Vladimir Kramnik to be a little boring. By contrast, young Misha found the games of Bobby Fischer to be exciting.

The now-4-year-old from Moscow has already beaten a grandmaster (albeit one with poor eyesight and not exactly in his prime at 95 years old) and has won a number of youth tournament titles. Osipov already has two coaches and a corporate sponsor. He’s helping revitalize Russian interest in a game that was once a source of national pride, a revitalization that began last year when Russian Sergey Karjakin played Norwegian Magnus Carlsen for the World Championship. Both Karjakin and Carlsen were chess prodigies themselves, and Karjakin holds the record for being the youngest player to become a grandmaster. Neither of them could play chess at the age of 3.

I asked Yuri Osipov how he felt watching his little boy cry that day, after he’d lost to Anatoly Karpov. Yuri said it surprised him. It was very unlike Misha to cry. After all, it wasn’t his first time losing a game. But after speaking with Misha after the show, he realized that his son had never played with an analog clock before, only digital. Misha didn’t know how to read the time on the clock and had no idea he was so short on time. When Misha’s clock ran out of time, it surprised him. “He was upset and cried because he didn’t understand why he lost,” Yuri said. “He cried because he didn’t understand that the time was over.”

After Misha lost to Karpov and bawled his adorable eyes out on television, the video went viral. I found it on YouTube with my son while we scrolled through videos about the Philidor position in the endgame. It affected us both. Me because my heart broke for the little boy, calling out for his mama, confused and afraid. Gus because he felt jealous that such a little kid could get to play chess against a former World Champion. If Gus had been there, he assured me, he would not have cried.

He adds a coda to the Nicholas Nip story:

In the months following Nip’s achievement, he went on Live! With Regis and Kelly to play a simultaneous exhibition—he’d play 10 opponents at the same time. The young boy in a too-large green polo shirt won nine and drew one. Afterward Regis Philbin pestered him with questions about whether he wanted a girlfriend. Kelly Ripa asked him if it was too late for someone her age to learn to play chess. Nip replied, “No, it’s not too late.” “What if we are not smart?” Ripa responded. “No, you can still play,” he said, nervously, looking side to side as if trying to find a way out.

A few months after his television appearance, Nicholas Nip told his parents he no longer wanted to play chess. He retired from the game in the fourth grade. He hasn’t been seen at a chess tournament since.

And the story, with which I was unfamiliar, of, “a 5-year-old boy named Ernest Kim.”

Fischer’s rise as a young player gave the Soviet Union chess machine fits. During the years that Fischer came up in the United States, gaining international attention for winning the U.S. Championship at the age of 14, the Soviets recruited thousands of new children to attend their chess schools. One of them was a 5-year-old boy named Ernest Kim. The USSR claimed Kim was defeating adults in his home of Tashkent and had climbed to a “third category rating,” the first rung on the ladder to becoming a Soviet grandmaster, within six months of learning the game. Photos of Kim appeared on magazine covers, newsreels circulated with footage of him playing against adults, sitting up on his knees with his tiny head in his hands. In 1958, when Fischer visited Moscow on invitation from the USSR chess authority, he declared that he was eager to play Kim. The government kept the child under wraps.

One Soviet chess player, Vasily Panov, railed against the chess centers in general, and the treatment of Kim in particular. He felt that too many young people were being put through the Soviet chess farm team, possibly sacrificing some future doctors or engineers in the process. In an interview with The New York Times, in speaking about Ernest Kim, who Panov said was being “dragged off to training sessions, away from playmates and school,” Panov quoted Lenin: “Do not forget that chess after all is only a recreation and not an occupation.”

In addition the author writes about Josh Waitzkin. I urge you to read the whole piece.

“My son isn’t as good at chess as Misha Osipov or Josh Waitzkin, but I still see Fred and Yuri as my brothers. Being a chess parent is full of moments like this one. As I sit and wait for Gus to return from a tournament game, where parents are wisely not allowed to sit and spectate, I grind my teeth and pace the floor. I wonder—If I can’t handle the pressure, if I’m this nervous, then how must he feel? And why do I put him through this? Could he possibly be enjoying this, or is he just doing it because he thinks it will please me?

Jerry Nash has been a tournament director at scholastic tournaments throughout the country. He sees kids crying all the time. So what? “My wife teaches elementary school. She’ll tell you, they cry in class, too.” More often than not, the children deal with losses against tougher opponents by getting excited, rather than discouraged, he tells me. This is how you can tell apart those who are right for the game and those who aren’t. “Sometimes the parent is the only one that’s nervous.”

In my case, it’s pretty much all the time. I stare at the door waiting for him to return, hoping to be able to read his facial expressions for a sense of whether he won or lost before he makes it down the hall so I can mentally prepare for my own reaction when he reaches me and gives me the news.

For chess parents, there is no endgame. There are few opportunities in America for college scholarships for chess players, and almost all of them are snatched up by grandmasters from other countries. There is no way for most grandmasters to make a decent living as professionals, save for the very few at the top. The top five chess players in the world earn millions from tournaments, but the earnings fall sharply once you get outside of the top 10. For the vast majority of adult chess players who stay committed to their study and pursuit of the game, the only way to earn money at chess comes from doling out lessons and taking home a few hundred bucks from the occasional tournament. There is nothing glamorous about it.”

Arguably, the most profound Chess article of the year.

Garry Kasparov’s Shallow Thinking

“As I said, true champions are mentally exceptional. They can stick to their goals even in the most trying of conditions. It is easy to find ways to lose. The hard thing is to keep your mind fixed on winning, even when the pressure is at its most intense.”

The above is the culminating paragraph of the first chapter from, Knowing the Score: What Sports Can Teach Us About Philosophy (And What Philosophy Can Teach Us About Sports), by David Papineau.

World human Chess Champion Garry Kasparov

infamously lost the match played against the computer program known as Deep Blue and two decades later has written a book, his mea culpa, hopefully the last, explaining how, and why, he lost the match. From what he and his co-author Mig Greengard wrote it is evident how difficult it was for Kasparov to keep his mind fixed on winning because he found a way to lose.

Garry let us in on his thinking

when he hedged his bet from the first match, where the $500,000 purse was to be split 4-1. The purse for the second match “…would more than double, to $1,100,000, with $700,000 going to the winner.” Would Bobby Fischer have hedged his bet, or would he have gone ALL IN!?

“I underestimated that with so much on the line, IBM wasn’t only building a chess machine to beat me at the board, but a machine to beat me, period”

“Our contacts with IBM in the run-up to the match revealed one last flaw in my estimation of my chances. Gone was the friendly and open attitude that had been on display around the Philadelphia match run by ACM. With IBM in charge from top to bottom, this chumminess had been replaced by a policy of obstruction and even hostility.”

“In August, Deep Blue project manager C.J. Tan had told the New York Times quite bluntly that “we’re not conducting a scientific experiment anymore. This time we’re just going to play chess.”

This translates to, “We are here to win.”

This disabused Kasparov of the notion that he was some sort of collaborator in a joint intellectual and scientific effort. Now Garry was a gladiator in an arena where it was every man, and machine, for itself. It is written, “This gets back to the biggest reason I agreed to a prize fund that was less than everyone thought I could demand (especially my agent): I believed IBM’s promises of future collaboration. During my visit to their offices in 1996. I met with a senior vice president who assured me that IBM would step in as a sponsor to revive the Grand Prix circuit of the Professional Chess Asscociation.”

This brings to mind a quote: “My father always told me that all businessmen were sons of bitches, but I never believed it till now.” — (Comment made 10 April 1962 in reaction to news that U.S. Steel was raising prices by $6 per ton, right after the unions negotiated a modest new contract under pressure from JFK to keep inflation down.)
John F. Kennedy, 35th president of US 1961-1963 (1917 – 1963), “A Thousand Days,” by Arthur Schlesinger Jr. [1965]

Kasparov had nothing in writing, only a wink and a promise. Garry was in for a rude awakening.

The first game was an epic struggle won by Kasparov. At one point GM Maurice Ashley famously said, “The board is in flames!” In place of the game notation the games are described with words so people with little or no knowledge of Chess are able to understand without having a board and pieces in front of them. It is written, “As Prussian field marshal Helmuth von Moltke said, no battle plan survives the first contact with the enemy. My plan for a quiet fact-finding mission in game one had been blown to hell by the aggressive machine. I was pinning my hopes on my superior evaluation ability.”

Kasparov resigned to the humans operating the machine to end the second game. A lengthy paragraph details the scene when Kasparov was informed THE NEXT DAY that he had resigned in a drawn position. Garry writes: “To psychoanalyze just this once, with twenty years to cycle through the stages (of grief), this was also me saying to myself, “My god, how could “I” miss something so simple?” When you are the World Champion, the world number one, any defeat can be viewed as self-inflicted. This is not exactly fair to my opponents, many of whom could count their victories over me as the pinnacle of their careers, but after such an incredible revelation I wasn’t in the mood to be fair to anyone.”

If Kasparov is being truthful then it is obvious he “let go of the rope.” He simply gave up. He lost his belief in his “superior evaluation ability.” He came to believe the program was omnipotent. He saw only opening books and endgame table bases. Which begs the question: Why were opening books and endgame table bases allowed? Garry could not use them. Why should the machine be allowed to use them? Garry was the HUMAN World Champ; he could have played against a program that would have had to “think” on its own, just as the human. It was his title wanted by IBM. He could have dictated terms. He laments not having enough time between games to rest, something the machine did not need. Garry agreed to the format.

The Go program, AlphaGo, uses no table bases whatsoever, and because of that it has caused a revolution in the opening stage of Go. Someone could have written in the program all the known openings of the greatest Go players from the past 2500 years, but did not. The authors write, “…AlphaGo defeated the world’s top Go player, Lee Sedol.” He was not the world’s top Go player at the time he played the match, but he had previously been the top player. AlphaGo later beat the top human Go player, Ke Jie, then “retired.”

Just as he wrote about the inevitability of losing his World Championship title after his lost match to Vladimir Kramnik, Garry’s hand-picked opponent, he viewed it as inevitable machines would eventually supersede humans at the game of Chess.

About the final game they write: “When asked about remarks by Illescas that I was afraid of Deep Blue, I was again candid. “I’m not afraid to admit I am afraid! And I’m not afraid to say why I’m afraid. It definitely goes beyond any known program in the world.” At the end, Ashley asked me if I was going to try and win the final game with the black pieces and I replied, “I’ll try to make the best moves.” Bobby Fischer famously said, “I don’t believe in psychology, I believe in good moves.”

“The match was tied , 2.5-2.5. Should I play it safe and aim for a draw or should I risk everything and play for a win with black? With no rest day, I knew I would have no energy for another long fight of the sort that resulted from my anti-computer lines. My play was already shaky. I knew my nervous system very well from two decades of competition, and it would not withstand the strain of another four or five hours of tension against the machine. But I had to try something, didn’t I?”

Kasparov then went to the board and played an awful move allowing a Knight sacrifice because he thought the program would not play the Knight move. He did this even after saying, “It definitely goes beyond any known program in the world.” The Knight move is such a ripper that most class D players would make it. If you do not believe me then play 1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 dxe4 4.Nxe4 Nd7 5.Ng5 Ngf6 6.Bd3 e6 7.N1f3 h6

and watch their eyes blaze before playing 8.Nxe6 Qe7 9.0-0 fxe6 10.Bg6+ Kd8 11.Bf4 b5 12.a4 Bb7 13.Re1 Nd5 14.Bg3 Kc8 15.axb5 cxb5 16.Qd3 Bc6 17.Bf5 exf5 18.Rxe7 Bxe7 19.c4 1–0

Garry Kasparov has been called the best Chess player of all time by many. He lost to a computer program in under twenty moves. The game was over long before he resigned. It is called a “miniature,” among Chess players, and that is not good. Garry lost like a beginner. How can he be considered the “greatest of all time?” There was only one Greatest of All Time, and that was Muhammad Ali.

Did IBM cheat? “I have been asked, “Did Deep Blue cheat?” more times than I could possibly count, and my honest answer has always been, “I don’t know.” After twenty years of soul-searching, revelations, and analysis, my answer is now “no.” As for IBM, the lengths they went to to win were a betrayal of fair competition, but the real victim of this betrayal was science.”

I am having much trouble understanding what is written because Kasparov goes to great pains to prove IBM cheated when he quotes a 2009 New In Chess interview with GM Miguel Illescas, who was on the IBM “team,” along with many other Grandmasters too numerous to mention. “Every morning we had meetings with all the team, the engineers, communication people, everybody. A professional approach such as I never saw in my life. All details were taken into account. I will tell you something which was very secret. Well, it’s more of an anecdote, because it’s not that important. One day I said, Kasparov speaks to Dokhoian after the games. I would like to know what they say. Can we change the security guard, and replace him by someone that speaks Russian? The next day they changed the guy, so I knew what they spoke about after the game.”

If that is not cheating, what is cheating? It is written, “I make the point because after Enron, people stopped telling me that “a big American corporation like IBM would never do anything unethical.” Especially after they found out how much IBM’s stock price went up after the match.”

There it is, just Show Me the Money! In a capitalist monetary system everything devolves to Where is the Money? Or, Who has the Money? Or, How Can I Get the Money?” Kasparov mentions the IBM program known as “Watson,” which “won” a tournament of champions on the TV show “Jeopardy.” The person, or thing, that gets to answer the most questions wins, and “Watson” was, shall we say, REALLY quick on the trigger. Former Chess player Big Al Hamilton’s philosophy of life was, “Everything is rigged.”

After allowing the devastating Knight sacrifice in the final game one legendary Chess player erupted with, “Garry took a DIVE! Playing this way is his signal to us that the fix was in!” I replied, “Wonder if IBM was holding Garry’s wife and children hostage?” After several moments of cogitation, the legendary one, at least in his own mind, replied, “Where were Kasparov’s wife and children during the match?” If anyone questions this I suggest they read, The Fix Is In: The Showbiz Manipulations of the NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL and NASCAR, by Brian Tuohy.

Now that computer programs play a level or two better than the best human players what Kasparov accomplished in his Chess career is meaningless. To history he will only be known as the human who lost a match to a machine. Kasparov knows this and it eats at him. For example, it is written, “Looking back, I was the last world champion to win a match against a computer. Why don’t those This Day in History calendars have a page for that?”