Thursday, August 28, 2014

Another Split in World Chess?

This is what I like to see, a World Champion who’s prepared to throw his weight around.

Magnus Carlsen is, for now, dragging his feet over the re-match against Anand that is slated for November. The Norwegian and his team have to date not signed the contract papers, queried the suitability of the venue, asked for more prize money and also raised questions about media coverage.

This is good. For if there’s anyone who really ought to do more to, at least, ruffle FIDE’s feathers – it’s the numero uno, the World Champ.

How is the world body supposed to react?

Already there is speculation that if he doesn't front up, Carlsen could be replaced by Karjakin. Of course, that would also mean stripping the Norwegian of his title!

Unlikely scenarios, I think, for what a disaster the situation would be for FIDE itself! First, there will once again be the problem of the FIDE champ's (il)legitimacy; and, second, lost revenues. Who would want to bankroll a match involving an alternate?

I am truly hoping that Carlsen will hold his ground on this one. A media star as big as him need not be FIDE's poodle.

How do you say "up yours" in Norwegian?

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Levon Aronian's Preparation

GM Levon Aronian just tweeted this.
The world number two spent the weekend in South Carolina. He and Arianne are on their way to St Louis where Levon will play in the Sinquefield Cup.

I imagine that the other participants are busy in front of their computers looking for that next big novelty. Between that and Aronian's prep method, I know exactly which one I prefer. After all, if you're world number 2 you can probably afford a bit of a frolick in the surf prior to the strongest tournament history!

Friday, August 22, 2014

How Norway Does Chess on TV

We know that chess has been really big on Norwegian TV and that is thanks, of course, to their favourite son, Magnus Carlsen. The just completed Olympiad, for example, as well as the World Championships match in Chennai months before that were both heavily covered. Really impressive stuff.

But what does it take for a mainstream outfit to cover something like a chess event?

You would think that just a few cheap Handycams and maybe some GoPro's will do. Oh, no. The Norwegians went about their business like they were covering the summer Olympics! Sort of.

Here's Jon Stale Carlsen describing the lengths that NRK took to do their coverage of the Olympiad.

And just in case you're wondering how the official webcast did it, here's a wee look.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Rwandans Upset By Captain

I wonder what some experts on the regulations think of this.

It seems that the unfortunate incident on the last day of the Olympiad has had the unintended side-effect of causing ructions within the Rwandan men's team.

From Rwanda's The New Times paper:

The controversy started on the final day of the tournament on Thursday last week, when in round 11, a Seychelles player against Rwanda’s Alain Patience Niyibizi on board 2, suddenly collapsed and was later pronounced dead.

Although Rwanda was leading on the score against Seychelles before the incident, team captain Maxence Murara chose to sacrifice two games as loses in a gesture of goodwill to Seychelles, a decision which did not go down well with his teammates.

Never mind that the captain apparently did not consult his players, for that was just poor decision-making and obviously bad leadership. I am just curious about this: if the position is not evident on the board during actual play, how can a game be declared lost? Obviously, there may be situations wherein a game can be lost regardless of the position, like player behaving badly if I remember the Laws right, but we are not talking about this. The only procedure I can think of is that the captain sort of "resigned" on behalf of his players, although I am not sure if he can do that either.

Honestly, it is easy to understand the motivations of the Rwandan captain. But I think offering a draw would have been quite adequate as a gesture of goodwill.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Zhukova Berates Lagno

Fourth board for Ukraine's women, Natalia Zhukova, had some pretty nasty things to say about ex-compatriot Kateryna Lagno.

Zhukova: "Getting rid of the parasites is always painless. Well, love cannot be forced. If she doesn't want to play for Ukraine, why do we need such people? We didn't communicate at the Olympiad, she avoided it. Cleansing is always for the better."

Terrible thing to say even for my tastes.

Obviously we're relying on the translation to be accurate, but since it is a Russian site, I guess it is 100% reliable.

Anyway, GM Jonathan Tisdall thought he might have read something else, too, in Zhukova's remarks.

He was talking about the Ukrainian's comment that the Chinese "have some kind of medications which helps them to feel refreshed as on the first day."

Well, what do we think?

Sunday, August 17, 2014

UK Parliament To Promote Chess

The UK has just announced an All Party Parliamentary Group on Chess with the aim of promoting the game. It is an exciting development and one that many other countries could look to emulate. But I doubt if anything like this could be done in Australia any time soon.

The BBC has an audio of the news that features Malcolm Pein.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Havoc in The Olympiad

A bomb, a gun! Apparently, players and spectators alike either momentarily imagined things or they just made stuff up. What exactly happened in that last round of the Olympiad? Courtesy of Australian arbiter Kerry Stead, who officiated in the event, we have now this sensational account.

According to Ian Rogers, Meier's face went red & the arbiter noticed this & went to get some medical attention. Another player also noticed this & ran across the room towards the medical area screaming 'MEDIC! MEDIC!'. The medical staff were quickly on the scene, but the commotion created concern amongst the otherwise very quiet playing hall. Some players & spectators moved towards the commotion to see what was happening & according to Kevin Bonham, at some point someone yelled out 'BOMB!' & this created havoc in the playing hall, with players, spectators & officials running for an exit. Seeing the likes of GM Michael Adams & other top chess players running past me as fast as they could was quite a sight!

Friday, August 15, 2014

The Sex Lives of Chess Pieces

Who knew that chess pieces had secret sex lives?

Adult Swim. Chess Mating from Rubber House on Vimeo.

Tromsø, An Olympiad of Surprises

It was dramatic in the lead up and it was dramatic until the very end. So many surprises, upsets and twists. That was the Tromsø Olympiad. I almost regret not pulling the trigger on a summer vacation in Tromsø.

The event was an historic one, too. For the first time, the Chinese men won gold! If you didn't think that this was a big deal for them, just have a gander at this photograph in Susan Polgar's tweet. Beautiful!

Of course, well done to the Aussies. Over on Chess Chat, Kevo reports that both teams finished way above their seedings.

As for this Smirnov kid, well, he wasn't even my pick for a spot in the team as I was thinking he'd be a bit too inexperienced. But sheesh, was I wrong?! You know, I actually remember him turning up to Hyde Park, in Sydney, many years ago, sitting around while his father (now an IM) played blitz. There was absolutely no sign, then, that the kid would himself actually end up being this good! If he keeps up, the selectors will have to put him on board one for Baku.

To close, let me briefly extend condolences to the Seychelles team. Last night, one of their members suffered a medical emergency during play and later passed away. A terribly sad ending. And this morning, Norwegian journo Tarjei Svensen just tweeted that yet another player passed away, too. No further details yet of this second incident.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

A Silly Chess News Day

With no over-the-board action coming from Tromsø yesterday, and with the key political dogfight for FIDE now over, attention turned to other news.

It all began with an article from The Times (UK) announcing that Judit Polar will retire from competitive chess. This is big. Except that nobody was really sure! The problem is The Times' article is behind a paywall.

On Twitter @ChessVibes tweeted, "It all just doesn't feel right, somehow." And the man behind TWIC, Mark Crowther, was having doubts, too.

Norwegian journo Tarjei J. Svensen did read the article but, according to him, there's absolutely no mention of retirement. And he's right. Here's the text of the article courtesy of today's The Australian. Still, just because there's no direct quote like "I'm retiring from competitive chess" doesn't mean that the whole story isn't true.

But Tarjei got all excited about some other thing.

Paired against the Malaysians in the last round, the Norwegian 1 team have decided to give Magnus Carlsen the day off. This doesn't seem particularly unusual to me. The local press, however, viewed Carlsen's non-appearance as a withdrawal. After their man's disastrous outing in round 10, you can imagine how the Norwegian press could leap to that conclusion. But GM Agdestein would have none of it; Carlsen's alleged withdrawal, he says, is "bullshit".

Although it wasn't quite as big a news, GM Nigel Short's agreement to work with FIDE did come as a surprise. A deal with the Devil perhaps?

Appropriately, yesterday ended with the announcement of the new Olympiad host. In 2018, the Olympiad caravan will head to Batumi. Chessdom has their bid video. The presentation has a lot of irrelevant imagery, but here are the key promises. Remember these!
  • 20 million USD budget 
  • 5-star accommodation for all participants
  • Two extra rooms for each delegation
  • 1.6 million USD travel subsidy
  • 800,000 USD assistance for developing federations
I might have preferred to see the planned playing hall, toilet facilities, the press room, etc. Hec, how much does a bottle of beer cost in Batumi? These are really the key questions.

To close, congrats to Indian chess star Humpy Koneru. She got hitched!

Smirnov and Smerdon in Chessbase Interview

Here's a nice interview by GM Daniel King with FM Anton Smirnov and GM David Smerdon.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Smerdon: Anton Will Be Next Carlsen

Aussie chess fans who didn't stay up late last night to watch Chess24's coverage of the Olympiad will have missed the guest appearance on their show of grandmaster David Smerdon. It was really all just the usual banter about ongoing games and why he was sitting out yesterday's round (2 straight losses and a bad history with the Tajiks), but then he added a pretty bold prediction.

According to Australia's current board one, the young gun FM Anton Smirnov, who is debuting in the Olympiad for Australia as reserve, will be the next Magnus Carlsen!

That's incredible even by my standards. But I suppose if there is anybody best qualified to predict such futures, it would be GM Smerdon.

And by the way, in eight appearances so far for Australia, Smirnov is yet to drop the full point. His current total is 7 points. The kid is on fire.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Kirsan Bags Presidency

In the game of chess, there is such a thing as a "first move advantage". It is the advantage inherent to the player with the white pieces by virtue of them moving first. But in politics, it is often best to move second. Like in giving speeches, for example, because that way there is always a chance to out-bullshit your opponent.

 That appears to be exactly what Kirsan did last night in the hotly contested FIDE elections. Kasparov says US$10 million, so Kirsan says US$20 million. The only problem is we're not quite sure if Kirsan's largesse is "new money" or "old money". Even he is not sure!


Monday, August 11, 2014

Canada's Prettiest Chess Player

Olympiads really get me fired up. I've barely had any sleep over the last week. By midnight Tokyo time only a handful of games will have already finished. So I tend to keep going until about one or 2 in the morning.

Last night, for example, I was basically glued to Chess24's coverage - mainly paying attention to the Aussie men's games. That they ended up losing 3 - 1 against the Uzbeks was pretty frustrating. At one point, I was actually figuring a 2.5 - 1.5 win for the Aussies. Only the gods know how Illingworth couldn't win his game, and only Ikeda knows why he had to take the bloody knight on move 19. On the latter encounter, even a mug like me could see that the knight was surely taboo. Opening up the enemy rook file like that. Sheesh!

Anyway, while some of us are paying attention mostly to the chess, apparently plenty of social media are paying attention to something else. Or rather someone. Meet WFM Alexandra Botez (2089), Canada's prettiest chess player.

Zero Tolerance For Arbiters

Scottish grandmaster Jacob Aagard has some harsh words for arbiters and, in particular, the zero tolerance rule. He says, "One of the worst rules in chess is the so-called Zero Tolerance Rule...", before going on to propose what seems to me a reasonable alternative (and some nice words for arbiters, too, actually).

All very understandable from the players' point of view, but he should perhaps spare a thought for arbiters.

Just have a look at some of the proposed regulations for how arbiters are supposed to carry on. Like this, a sample case of arbiter misconduct and its proposed punishment: "3.m. Every action of his sporting or social life which causes a reduction of his prestige as an arbiter or constitutes defamation of the game of chess (disqualification from 2 years to deletion from the lists of Arbiters)."

Immediately you would ask, what exactly are such actions and who decides them? This is a rule that, if enacted, should really send shivers up the spines of arbiters and would-be arbiters everywhere. It is a rule that, like the zero tolerance one for players, could turn out to be unjust.

Hat tip: Chess Chat.

Saturday, August 09, 2014

Beautiful Women of the Olympiad

Obviously, you just cannot teach an old dog any new tricks, can you? Here's Frederic Friedel, publisher of Chessbase, on his Jamaican guests: "There are also interviews with lesser-known but more exotic players, like these two from Jamaica."

While he named everybody else, he couldn't be bothered with the Jamaicans.  As long as they're pretty and exotic, I suppose.

Admittedly, I have some sympathies with Herr Friedel's sentiments about chess: that it ought to be treated "like any other sport, like entertainment, films and music". And by that he means, among many other things I imagine, also celebrating (although some might prefer, ogling at) beautiful women! What is so wrong with that?

Ogle away I say. Herr Friedel's latest post has plenty of beautiful women.

By the way, whatever we may think of Friedel's approach to women, he is at least very mild compared to a certain Canadian grandmaster. You can google away for that.

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Terror Watch-list Denies Chess Champ

Almost every Olympiad involves visa problems. Back in the 2008 Olympiad, for instance, I had a chance to interview the Ethiopian team who relayed their trials and tribulations in simply trying to obtain visas. But theirs was basically a combination of bureaucracy and money issues.

Imagine if you happen to find your name on a terrorist watch-list!

Well, that is exactly what happened to Taffin Khan of Guyana. It would seem that another individual, obviously the alleged terrorist, just happens to share Mr Khan's name and, to make matters worse, also his date of birth. The Guyanese team protested, but clearly to no avail as they turned up in Tromsø without Mr Khan.

More of this story here, by Stabroek News.

Sunfish Chess Engine

I have no idea what all this means, but apparently this is a simple and strong chess engine.


There is also a discussion about the programme on HackerNews.

Monday, August 04, 2014

Where Is Naka?

The Olympiad is already onto the third round but one big name is still missing. US board number one GM Hikaru Nakamura is nowhere in sight! As far as I can gather he is still in the US.

He explains the situation on his Facebook page, but this bit had me gagging on my sushi.

I simply do not understand why the organizers with a massive budget did not attempt to add a few extra flights so that A) the prices would be a bit cheaper even on original tickets and B) so that the availability would not be such an issue in the case of delays.

Perhaps it is not adequate to ask where he is. We might also wonder what planet he's bloody on!

There are many hundreds of players in Tromsø right now, some having travelled from pretty logistically-challenged corners of the planet. They made it. But not this guy, who really should have planned better.


ACF Olympiad Appeal Opens

I did wonder if the ACF was still holding their Olympiad Appeal. They are. And after a slowish start, it looks like some funds are finally coming in. As of today, the ACF has collected about 40% of their target. Not bad at all!

If you have not yet contributed and want to, you can still do so.

Now I am not sure if the players still send out a special and exclusive Olympiad newsletter, but they certainly used to do that in Olympiads past. I hope so.

Sunday, August 03, 2014

Aussie in Tromsø Olympiad Fight

I don't remember the Olympiad having had a bust-up since 2006 when an English GM fronted up to an Armenian. But at the start of yesterday's proceedings, it looks like there was another one. The official bulletin, courtesy of GM Jonathan Tisdall, is a bit short on details. He says only the following:

Fighting spirit in unexpected form erupted briefly in the playing hall - veteran journalist and Australian grandmaster Ian Rogers reported that a scuffle broke out that was apparently linked to a serious disagreement related to FIDE politics, but order was quickly restored.

But thanks to GM Rogers, we at least get to know the names of the protagonists.

Kenmure is of course none other than Aussie chess personality Jamie Kenmure who is in Tromsø acting as captain of the men's team from Palau.

The only question is: what exactly about FIDE politics were they arguing about?

Tromsø Olympiad Horror Stories

Only a couple of days in and the horror stories have emerged from the Tromsø Olympiad. But then again, that is probably for the better as the Norwegian organisers will still have plenty of time left to sort out their problems. Maybe. Hopefully.

In this post, Shaun Press labels his first day on the ground as "disorganised and chaotic". You can just about feel his anger and frustration as you read through that.

Reading a couple of other reports I am quite shocked at what these Norwegians have managed. Portable toilets? People spent a tonne of money, travel for thousands of kilometres to represent their country and they get that! Honestly, isn't Norway a first-world country?

Then there was this tweet last night by Ukriainian chess journo Mikhail Golubev:

He was referring to this. That is apparently the back entrance to the press room. In reply, a couple of other journos on the ground assure Golubev that the inside is pretty good. I guess we'll just have to believe them.

After all the drama in the lead-up to this event, the Norwegians are under tremendous pressure to put on an unforgettable Olympiad. Here's hoping that it will not be for all the wrong reasons.

Saturday, August 02, 2014

50 Moves Magazine: A Brief Review

A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned the launched of a new Australia-based online chess magazine called "50 Moves". To perfectly time with the start of the Tromso Olympiad, issue number 1 was released on the first day of August. Frankly, if you have not yet subscribed, especially if you're an Aussie chess fan, you are missing out. The first issue is jam-packed with excellent content.

Here's what is in the inaugural edition:

  • An interview with Justin Tan
  • GM Ian Rogers' report on Dubai
  • Opening survey on the Ragozin by IM Max Illingworth
  • Olympiad preview that includes interviews with GM Smerdon, Manuel Weeks and Giang Nguyen (women's board number 2)
  • A studies section by IM Ikeda
  • Various tournament reports from around Australia many more!

The magazine is over eighty pages of professionally laid out and well-written articles. But the real highlight as well as the biggest value-add are the plentiful game annotations. IM Illingworth's four-and-half pages on the Ragozin alone is quite instructive and well worth the price of subscription.

In fact, I could not believe at how cheap the yearly subscription is. Just $40! Of course you only get 6 issues in a year, but if the quality keeps up, that is money well spent.

If I have any criticism at all, just a wee bit, it is actually on IM Illingworth's opening survey. I just don't like the flipped diagrams (black on bottom and white on top) regardless that the article may be from black's point of view.  Leave it back to normal, I say!

All in all, this is a project that is well worth supporting. What with mostly young guys running the show, we can already see some fresh ideas. Indeed, one of the editors has already hinted at an app for the iOS and Android. I am looking forward to that.