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Archive for September, 2010

This Just In…

Monday, September 27th, 2010

Susan Polgar’s chess blog reports that she has sources indicating that Anatoly Karpov’s suit at the Court of Arbitration for Sport has been dismissed.

No other confirming reports as of yet. The election is due to be held in less than 48 hours if I am correct. Many have been waiting on word back whether Kirsan Ilyushminov (sp? Sorry!) will be allowed to run or not.

That is all.

Mad dash for “Last Sunday in the Cornfields”

Sunday, September 26th, 2010

Thanks for putting up with my Ribbon hatred last post…

Anyway, took a run up to the Borders in DeKalb today (123 miles and a little over two hour drive away) for a three round G/40 Swiss. (The tourney was titled “Last Sunday in the Cornfields” –  hence the thread title. ; ) )  Played three rounds, won one out of three games, and saw my rating jump quite significantly. None of my opponents were close to my rating range, so that one win was quite dramatic to my rating (to the tune of 71 points Regular, 88 points Quick!) Still in the Patzer section, though.

Of the 15 players there, I had met a couple of them at the Oglesby tournament back in February. One of them was the TD of the event, who reminded me that we played each other at that event (he won,) and another player from the Quad Cities I remembered drawing with there. Didn’t get to play either of them this go around.

That second round game… I haven’t analyzed it yet (just got home an hour ago!) But I’m pretty sure my opponent had me cold when he got a little anxious for the kill – he was going for a mate-in-1 killer, but in trying it he let me take a pawn with check and then mate him first. More on that game for another post.

Anyway, kudos to the DeKalb Chess Club and William Feldman (I think he goes by Bill?) for running a very nice tournament that fit well into an afternoon. I’d happily pop up there again another time! And bring friends from our club!

Here Comes CB 11 (or “Why, oh why, is the ribbon so (*@&%@ popular????” ;) )

Friday, September 24th, 2010

Noodling around Tuesday night….  not quite enough energy to pull off a move in my two correspondence games where I’m on move.  So I decided to add the Rybka 2.2 (which is free to download!)  to my system.  Doing so led me to the Rybka 3 forums.  And deep in there (Rybka forums covers all kinds of Caissic subjects) was a link to this YouTube video:

Which is a preview of ChessBase 11, due out in mid-October according to the video.   OK, I think, let’s see what it offers!  One thing, unsurprisingly, is that CB 11 apparently has the same Ribbon interface that users of Fritz 12 and Office 2007 / 2009 have been forced to get to know.

Can you tell I have no love for ribbons?  Yes, get to learn and know the ribbon system and you are theoretically fewer mouse-clicks away from whatever it is you want to do. The ribbon features are supposed to be logically organized into easily discernable categories which make it quicker to figure out how to get to a particular feature in that software.

Yet all is not wonderful in Ribbonland.  For example, Excel 2007 only offers a couple of very specific new features.  It is virtually the same as Excel ’03.  Yet, so I was told in an Advanced Excel class I took, fully 33% of users who adopted Excel ’07 in 2008-9 reverted back to ’03 within six months of installation.  Why?  Lost productivity trying to figure out just where the heck your most commonly used features went to, and vastly increased help desk requests trying to figure out just how you get to your seldom-used features now.

Here’s the long story of my biggest issue with EVERY ribbon-based program I’ve had the misfortune of having to deal with (including Fritz 12):  Those of us old enough in computer usage remember when there wasn’t even such a thing as dedicated on-screen menus.  You did things either by switching to a dedicated menu screen, or by the use of keyboard commands.  (WordPerfect 4, 5.1, 5.2, anybody?)  For some programs, keyboard commands were all you got (early Scripsit or WordStar, anybody?)

Then along came dedicated on-screen menus.  It was a real leap forward in technology – you could actually see the root level of commands and find what applied in the hierarchy of commands.  But for the most part, you could still use those same keyboard commands.  Now this has held sway for so long most of us have forgotten those days.

(ChessBase used to be utterly oriented towards keyboard shortcuts, even professing their superiority in the help system.  IIRC there were a couple of functions you could *only* get via keyboard commands.)

Then along game onscreen toolbars with icons.  If you could remember what a particular picture represented you could do it quicker than pulling a menu hierarchy.  Most of us know open-save-close-print without even thinking about it now.  Yet those of us who want to do it quicker still hit Ctrl-O,-S,-C,-P.  After all, there always has been some confusion in application-specific icons and what all those things do.  For example, here’s my control icons as I compose this in WordPress:


I hope you can see them shrunk down quite a bit.  Now the Bold, Italic, Strike, Paragraph, Underline, Jusity, spelling, undo, and help are easy for me to recognize.  What those ones in the bottom row to the right of the font color are… couldn’t tell you.  And I am always looking for my “what do I click to insert an image?” button, even though it’s right at the top next to “Upload/Insert.”

But, if I’m using Word or OpenOffice Writer, I can still use my keyboard shortcut or, failing that, go to my menus in that program.

OK, thanks for reading all that history.  The fact that it is history, and I’ve been actively using computers for 29 years, is relevant, I promise.  Here’s my big-ticket issue:

Why don’t the managers in charge of developing apps with ribbons recognize some of us still want our familiar pull-down menus, and provide a compatibility mode?????  Here’s the one thing that Corel still has all over Word and any other Word Processor… You can still run it in a mode that looks exactly like the old white-on-blue WP 5.1.

You may ask, “Why would you want to do that???”  Well, all I can say is that if  you ever spent a half hour trying to parse just why Word’s WYSIWYG is WYSIWYDW (What you Saw is What You Didn’t Want), and remember how to Alt-F3 reveal codes (12 years after you last used that combo) and the two-key combination to do exactly what you wanted (one of them being Delete the bad code)…  Then reallize that probably 95%+ of what you create and type never requires 90% plus of the buttons and shortcuts on your screen… Then remember that every single comannd you needed to write a complete Chicago Manual of Style 50 Page research paper used to exist in a simple three-row banner above your 8 function keys (and you rarely referred to it…)

Well, having to learn a whole new interface to do that same damn thing just kind of seems redundant.

Now, that preview video does seem to have a bunch of cool stuff in it…  One feature that might be brand new is the ability to query the ChessBase online database to find novelties.

But please, if you’re a programmer:  Try to incorporate a backwards-compatibility mode for your interface so that we can keep using the new features and a wonderful upgrade in the same ways we, your customers, are used to!

End rant, and thanks for reading!  I hope that by reading this developers will help me and you… so that you can

Enjoy your chess!

Round 1 Olympiad Coverage

Tuesday, September 21st, 2010

Dennis Monokroussos predicted the usual problems with live game transmissions… and may have been right.  When I first checked  into the TWIC site at about 6:30 AM local (2 1/2 hrs. into round 1) their live coverage simply had a note that the live relays were either offline or ultra slow.

But then I found that the Official Site has a live game relay of what they consider the top sixteen live games.  The link is and I was fairly impressed with it.  It seemed to be reaosnably up-to-date.  It also interspersed Rybka 4 analysis… not sure if I liked that, as anyone can download Arena and Stockfish and get analysis just as good (at least for those of us below the GM level.)  But the interface itself was very clean, as was switching between the different games in progress.

I don’t know if it was just me, but it seemed like a lot of the top 16 games had already been decided by the time I checked it out.

Results-wise, it looks like most teams finished with 3.5 or 4.0 scores.  (Or conversely zero or one-half point.)  The USA did very well in round 1 in both divisions, open and women’s.  There were quite a few QP and Sicilians flying around on the 16 boards, a few other openings, but I saw no Ruys or Italians.  (Not surprising, but nothing that leaps to mind as a “Wow!” game.  Kamsky’s draw was interesting…)

Possibly more later, depending on how much time my correspondence games take up in time.

John Hillery, 1952-2010

Tuesday, September 21st, 2010

USCF has announced that John Hillery has died:

John was a frequent contributor at the USCF forums, and the editor of the Chess Journalists of America’s publication The Chess Journalist.  His blog, Western Chess, is in my blogroll at the right.

I knew him primarily from the forums, where he was a very vigorous poster and debater.

The following were my comments on the USCF site:

So surprising… Words almost fail me, but for the knowledge that he was a wordsmith.

True enough that anyone who disagreed with him certainly knew it. He’d stand his ground with tenacity and self honesty. But I could always learn from him. Either I’d end up changing my mind, or be forced to understand why I was on the opposite side of his position.

Much like chess, now that I think about it. And very much like a journalist.

Olympiad Time! And Collegiate Clubs

Monday, September 20th, 2010

No, not the Olympics…. The 39th Chess Olympiad. Games begin in Khanty-Mansiysk in Western Siberia tomorrow morning. (Actually, it’s already morning there!) The games begin at 15:00 local time there, which is 4:00 AM Central (Chicago/Illinois) time. Unlike the World Championship, I don’t think I’ll be getting up quite that early. ;)

But when I do get up, I think I’ll slide on over to The Week In Chess‘ live games coverage ( ) and see what’s going on so far….

(Previously I’ve used the Free Internet Chess Server to observe games… may try to do that also. TWIC uses Microsoft Silverlight to display their games, and I have a strong objection to proprietary broadcasting formats / non-GPL/free software for such things… but that’s for another blogpost someday.   OTOH, I haven’t checked out FICS to see what-if-any coverage they are offering.)

Also, I may see if Chess.Fm is streaming anything live for free in those hours.

Despite the turmoil in the FIDE Presidency race and organizational problems (flights, questions about accomodations, etc.) that other blogs have been covering, it will be nice to see some world class chess action. (Literally!)

* * *

From the International to the Local scene…

In other news, we now have a National Master / FIDE Candidate Master attending classes at ISU. He has Monday evening classes, but is good enough to come on by the club afterwards. (!)

He is interested in forming a Chess Club at ISU (or possibly an intra-collegiate organization.) If you’re a post-secondary student in the Bloomington-Normal Illinois area, you can get his contact information at his blog, . He would like to hear from you!  And mention that LaughingVulcan passed along the word (OK, better make that Darren from Twin City Chess passed along the word!)

Chess Success… Work or Talent?

Wednesday, September 8th, 2010

Over at the USCF Forums, Bill Brock makes reference to an opinion piece at the New York Times: Sweating Your Way to Success. The premise of the piece is that it is hard work that makes excellence, and not innate talent. The last half uses chess as a context for discussion.

Much has been made of the “work vs. talent” issue in chess. Most articles I’ve read on the subject suggest, as Peter Orszag does, that talent is a myth and enough practice and dedication controls one’s mastery of a subject. If one dedicates oneself to the honing of their chess, the theory goes, one can eventually achieve mastery of it.

On the other hand, I have read accounts of players attempting to raise their ratings who fail to do so despite much work and dedication to their chess. And I know of parents who feel that if their kids only study as faithfully as the Polgar girls were schooled, that their kid will become a Grandmaster-or-better. I believe very few in the scholastic community would seem to openly disagree with that. My suspicion is that this is both because we don’t really know where the next GM will come from, combined with a fear that deflating such lofty ambitions will reduce said child’s participation.

Orszag does comment that persons who are excellent at a subject tend to be able to be able to chunk groups of data better. He cites that Masters can recall actual game positions better in memory tests than us patzers, but that when then pieces are randomized into non-game positions all of a sudden the memory recall becomes even. The working hypothesis is that masters have better recall at game positions because they “chunk” the position into subsets which can be remembered as gestalt blocks.

Gestalt theory is important to me when it comes to discussions of excellence, for a couple of reasons. First, I tend to think (as some of the opinion commenters do,) that there is a mix of factors involved in the occurrence of excellence (or genius, as I’d prefer to think of it.) One can work at one’s golf swing every day for years and probably reach the PGA. It doesn’t make one Tiger Woods – though that may not be as much a superlative as it was a couple of years ago. Personally, I believe as a matter of faith that there is an upper limit to what any particular human is capable of in a particular endeavor. Without hard work one cannot rise to excellence, but there is more to genius than working hard.

(Interlude… I also frequently think that those who study genius frequently put too many eggs in one basket. Bill Gates does not necessarily have what it takes to be John Paul II, and what Madonna can bring to a chessboard has yet to be seen… though we’ve seen the result of Garry Kasparov vs. Sting. ;) )

Secondly, one thing frequently omitted by those who consider excellence is the value of the team that brings a person to that level. “Self-made” is something of an illusion to me; greatness results from the group of people surrounding a person’s efforts. Also, in chess excellence is only demonstrated by applying one’s efforts against someone else who is in the same plane of excellence. There is no appreciation of Fischer, Kasparov, and Anand without having a Spassky, Karpov, or Topalov playing against them.

From there, consider that each of those individuals has had excellent coaching, managers, opportunities for play, and in this day and age software support. (Fischer might be considered by some as the exception to this rule. However, those who do so should first research Carmine Nigro, John W. Collins, William Lombardy, Arnold Denker, Fred Cramer, Don Schultz, and other people I won’t mention now…)

Bringing it down closer to Earth… I have subjectively experienced most excellent games of chess by playing those close to my level. Are they objectively excellent games of chess? Perhaps not. But I have felt better about some of my losses than some of my wins, Most recently was at the Bradley tournament – I can say I liked the game of my fourth round loss far more than my third round win.

The one other thing I’ll mention before closing this post out… There can be some value in studying excellence and genius, examining what others have done to reach that level and then emulating those steps. And it’s a fun subject to head-trip on and survey. As you’ve probably recognized, the broad subject of genius is one of my pet subjects of enjoyment. But, as a chessplayer, one must consider first and foremost the point of chess to oneself. Aim high, play the best you can and learn all that you’re capable of soaking up, but I think the supreme genius of Caissa is that before all else personal excellence best shines through when you

Enjoy your Chess!

Time Flies Like An Arrow, Fruit Flies Like a Banana

Monday, September 6th, 2010

So, after my last post where I debated the merits of taking a little break from correspondence chess, I got to thinking.

I thought, “hey, last time around it took a week or so to pair me up for a two-game match. Class tournaments on IECC might take a little longer to find five players in my class range… why don’t I put my name in now and then I’ll still have a short break…” (At IECC, a Class tourney is five players in one’s rating range playing a single Round Robin – four games at once.) In the last update there was only one player signed up in my class level. So I went ahead and put my name in. I’ll have a week, or a month, before I’m playing again, right?

The next day, I got my registration and pairing notices. So much for a break! Although the games officially start today according to the pairing notice, I’ve already sent out my two moves and white and geared everything up for playing all four games.

(Though on the scale of problems, this is a fairly nice one to have at this point.)

Have a happy and safe labor day, and enjoy your chess!

And just that quick, it’s done!

Friday, September 3rd, 2010

Within the course of the week, in the other three correspondence games I was playing my opponents resigned their games. In all three cases I had built up significant advantages, in two of them I knew exactly what I had to do next to win them.

In the third I really wasn’t sure that I had a positive win. It was Knight and Rook against two Bishops, though I also had a heavy pawn advantage and my opponent also had two sets of doubled pawns. My opponent’s two Bishops were heavily pinned down, but it seemed to me to convert it I had to let those Bishops roam free – a prospect I didn’t relish. So, upon my opponent making a move error (posted my move incorrectly) and having to retract back, I offered a draw. My opponent, though, resigned the game. It turned out in post-game analysis that my fears were a little overblown. While his Bishops would have been let loose, it seems likely he would have had to sacrifice at least one of them to stop my pawns advance, and it seems likely that it would have worked down to a Bishop against Rook and Pawns ending.

So now my record stands at 4-0-0 at the group where I’m playing. I’ve been trying to decide if I should take a breather for a week or month…. But the itch is getting stronger. :) While it can be a little inconvenient to have to keep up with the games, I feel the attraction of correspondence play. And I do enjoy the email format; maybe during my next games I’ll try a server also, just to compare.

I’m also strongly considering doing a video on one or two of the games. It’s been awhile…