Wednesday, August 31, 2011


Tomorrow will see the publication of FIDE’s latest bi-monthly rating list. This event has your humble scribe more than usually aquiver with excitement since, for the first time ever, his name will appear as one of the squillions of chessers who are officially not as good as Magnus Carlsen.

If you click on my FIDE Card today you will see that Sunningdale, Gatwick and Benasque gave me a total of 17 games for rating purposes and an expected elo of 2049. That might become a tad lower if the results from Twyford make it through in time, but either way my rating will be pretty close to the result that you get if you apply the official conversion formula of 'x8 +650' to my new ECF grade of 172.  I have no particular axe to grind for or against either system, then, but I do neverthless follow the debates about which one is best with some interest.

The ECF Grading regime's strong point is its simplicity. You take your opponent's rating and add fifty if you win or subtract fifty if you lose, the average of all such results over the season being your grade for the following year. Tournament Performance Ratings can be calculated in one's head or, at the most, be worked out swiftly using nothing more than a pad of paper and a pencil.

Mucho KISS points it might have, but the ECF three-digit rating method definitely has its anomalies. Consider what would happen if a pair of chessers, an ECF 200 and an ECF 150, played ten games against each other and scored three wins each with the remaining four drawn. You'd think that they'd be rewarded equally, but instead of the pair of them ending up as ECF 175s the 200 would become a 150 and the 150 would become a 200. This, probably the most widely cited of the curiosities that the current system can throw up, does not sound good at all, does it?

For elo systems, though, the reverse seems to be true. They avoid the 'grade swap' problem - at least I think they do - but they're fiendishly complicated. In fact I'm not even going to bother trying to explain how they work so if you're interested you might want to have a peek at the wiki article on the subject although I will mention as an aside that if you manage to finish it, you're a better man than I.

Some people say that the elo method also often fails to accurately reflect the strength of rapidly improving players. That may well be true, although I've always wondered whether that issue might be a function of the number of rated games a person plays. If so, the fact that there are more and more opportunities to play elo rated games these days - Twyford, for example, not to mention the excellent e2e4 tournaments run by Sean Hewitt and the 4NCL of course - will improve the system no end.  Presumably publishing a rating list six times a year helps ameliorate the problem too.

We can't just sub-contract the whole business to FIDE because British club games don't qualify as rateable  (the playing sessions aren't long enough).  That doesn't mean the ECF can't scrap the existing system and come up with one based on Elo principles instead, though.

British chessers, your choice is clear.

keep things as they are


switch to elo

BORP? Index

Monday, August 29, 2011

This is the end IX

White to play and win
Richard Reti, 1928

A little after this post appears I will be settling down to rounds five and six of the Berks and Bucks Chess Congress. If my recent tournaments are anything to go by, I'll probably have played a fair amount of chess already, and still two games to go. Yum!

One of the things that appeals to me about tournament play is that the games - my games, at least - simply tend to go on longer. I had two draws that lasted 60+ moves at both of my last two tournaments (4 in 14 games), for example, and just two of similar length in all my club games going back to the start of the 2007-2008 season (2 in about 120 games). Something to do with my adjournment sessions tending not to happen in practice, I guess.

Anyhoo, the higher the number of moves, the higher the chances of getting an endgame (unless ...) and the greater the probability that you'll end up with something like the position at the head of today's blog.

White to play and win - something to keep you chessically occupied this bank holiday if you're not already playing a tournament. It's quite a famous study, though. If you've already seen it you might want to take a look at Why study the endgame?, another White to play and win rook v pawn position, instead.

Finally, should your thirst for this sort of thing not already be slaked, here are three more rook v pawn endings. In these, though, I'm not going to tell you whether the rook wins or whether the pawn manages to draw.


(PS: For a recent practical example of rook v pawn, see Adams-Zhou here)


White to play


Black to play


Black to play

Positions take from:
Excelling at Chess (Aagaard, Everyman Chess 2001); The Survival Guide to Rook Endings (Emms, Everyman Chess 1999); 100 Endings You Must Know (de la Villa, 2008)

This is the end Index

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Every Picture Tells A Story: Buried Treasure, Part 1

Blog 17 in the series. This one mainly by Martin Smith.

One by-product of our Leeming adventures has been the discovery of sundry chess-in-art nuggets that were perhaps unknown, or should-be-better-known, by the chess-in-art community.

By and large we found these by accident, but in the one case it was put on a plate in front of us, and right at the beginning of our excavations to boot. It was Mr Wynn Jones at the National Gallery of Ireland who drew it to our attention. That’s not all we have to thank him for - it was he who pointed us in the rather obvious direction of Hereford, back in January 2010, to find the Gents, even if, as we recounted in episodes 2 and 3, they weren’t quite the Gents we were expecting.

Mr Wynn Jones’s chess picture revelation was this, painted by Stephen Lewin. It emerged into public view at auction in 1996, and has since disappeared again.

You would be forgiven for thinking it was created in the 18th century, when in fact Lewin had his hey-day at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. He is described as a “figure painter” in the meagre literature on him, with half a dozen pictures in the RA Summer Exhibitions. His Chess Players was painted in 1907, selling at Phillips in 1996 for £2,100.

It has a convincing period feel, and recreates French style furniture and décor. However, it does give us the opportunity to comment, tartly, that having looked at rather a lot of chess paintings recently, we have seen quite enough over-dressed clerics, thank you very much.

We have our old friend Mario Praz to thank for our other discoveries. You’ll remember that it was his Interior Decoration book that kicked off our odyssey. It also shows, in full colour, a major work: Johann Erdmann Hummel’s Game of Chess, painted in c.1819, just a year after Thomas Leeming exhibited his masterwork at the Royal Academy. Hummel’s is a better-known piece in the chess-in-art world, and there is a lot to be said about it, which we will do in our next episode.

Praz was in fact a prolific, if not always appreciated, author. Critic Cyril Connolly for example, referred to one of Praz’s books as the one of the most boring he’d ever read, although he wasn’t referring to Praz’s other magnum opus Conversation Pieces when he did so. It is not only a comprehensive exposition of that genre but it also, unwittingly, turned up no less than three obscurish chess-in-art works.

The first one is General Dundas and his wife playing chess, by Sir Henry Raeburn (1756-1823). Raeburn is well-known for his wry painting of another chap enjoying his favourite pastime, the Skating Minister of circa 1795.

Although Raeburn is mentioned by name on Bill Wall’s Chess in Art site, there are no details of his chess painting. We have since discovered it is on the omniscient Wikipedia.

General Francis Dundas and Eliza Cumming, Mrs Francis Dundas ( 1755 - 1824 )
Sir Henry Raeburn.
(Collection at Aniston House, Midlothian)

Quite why Praz has this work in his book on conversation pieces is a touch perplexing as one criterion in his own definition of the genre is that there should be “a gesture signifying conversation or communication of some kind”. Supposedly “communication” is elastic enough to include playing chess, even if the General’s rather bored wife doesn’t show much interest in the game. Perhaps though, she is “communicating”, in the way of a comfortably married couple by some near subliminal signal privy only to themselves: that her dear husband should, please, get on with it.

Praz refers to, but doesn’t show, another chess-based double-portrait, this one by Dutch artist Pieter Christoffel Wonder (1780-1852). In the 1820s (contemporary, just, with Leeming who died in 1822) he was invited to live in London by General Sir John Murray, who had a less than glorious military career under Wellington, narrowly surviving a court-martial for deserting his guns, in spite of which he ended up as the Member of Parliament for Weymouth.

Wonder painted some London Society portraits, with a couple in the RA Summer Exhibitions. His masterpiece was a portrayal of Sir John showing off his art collection, a generous, flattering and, of course judicious, appreciation of the General’s sponsorship. It is his chess painting that interests us, and it shows Sir John playing with his god-daughter Ellen Adderley. It is mentioned in Bill Wall’s listing, and we have tracked down a black and white reproduction.

General Sir John Murray playing chess with Ellen Adderley.
Pieter Christophel Wonder (1780-1852)
(? Collection of Sir Victor Crutchley (deceased). Bridport)

It is maybe unusual in showing the lady making the move – but as it is his god-daughter, and not his wife, it doesn’t represent the symbolic overthrow of the domestic order, just the optimism of youth versus the stolidity of experience.

Finally we come to a real obscurity, referred to by Praz only and no other Chess in Art sites (as far as we are aware), by yet another Hümmel – Karl this time. Praz gives a black and white illustration of what appears to be a highly ambitious painting (in water-colour, says Praz): “Queen Caroline’s Drawing-Room at Frohsdorf”. Unfortunately this effort to share with you what was already a degraded image in Praz is not wholly successful.

Queen Caroline’s Drawing-Room at Frohsdorf.
Karl Hümmell (1769-1840)
(Spalletti-Trivelli Collection, Rome)

Amidst all that hubbub of conversation the chess players try quietly to pursue their game in the bottom left hand corner.

Caroline was the youngest sister of Napoleon Bonaparte, and if she was already (as according to Praz) widowed at the time of the painting that dates it between 1815 and 1830.

So that’s four chess paintings we’ve encountered en route with Leeming, and we hope you enjoy them. There’s another one, or maybe two, next time.


An Illustrated History of Interior Decoration: From Pompeii to Art Nouveau by Mario Praz (Thames & Hudson, 1964 reprinted 1982).
Conversation Pieces: A Survey of the Informal Group Portrait in Europe and America by Mario Praz (University Park and London: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1999).
J. W. Niemeijer. P. C. Wonder in Engeland, aanvullende gegevens in verhand met de compositieschets van Sir John Murray's Kunstgalerij in het Rijksprentenkabinet in Bulletin van het Rijksmuseum, 13de Jaarg., Nr. 3 (1965), pp. 115-123. Pub by the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.

Every Picture Tells a Story index

Friday, August 26, 2011


I'm playing in the 47th Berks and Bucks chess congress this weekend. Three days, two rounds a day and a rather generous time control of 40 moves in two hours plus half an hour to complete the game. That's a lot of chessing.

It's funny. I only played at Sunningdale and Gatwick to get some experience of the 'game in 90 plus 30 seconds per move' time control before going to Benasque and now, 21 games later, I find myself wondering what it's going to be like playing a tournament where you get so much time and, come what may, that's your lot.

Swings and roundabouts? Much of a muchness? A bit of both maybe?

This is your choice today:

incremental time controls


x moves in y minutes plus z to finish

You're deciding for every game that will ever be played by anybody in any situation - league or tournament, rapid-play or long-play - from now until the end of time. Choose wisely.

Blue or Red Pill? Index

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Chiv Chat

A cartoon! An unknown celebrity! A sub-literary mention of chess! A photo of the you-know-who, yes you know, those guys! And absolutely nothing else awaits you in today's Chiv Chat!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Tears in rain

Where do old chess moves go when nobody wants them any more?

Is there a retirement home for outdated novelties? A place on the coast where they can live out their days in genteel comfort, perhaps? Or do they end up wandering the streets instead, their days spent chugging cans of Tennents Super, yelling at passers-by and mumbling to themselves that they could have been contenders?

Do the more spectacular TNs ever seek out their creators and beg for a chance of a longer life? "I've ... seen things you people wouldn't believe". Is that what they tell the prosaic refutations that chase them from the board for the last time?

Los Angeles, November 2019. San Lorenzo, January 1993. England's Nigel Short takes on Holland's Jan Timman for the right to be the first Westerner in twenty years, and only the second in living memory, to challenge for the World Chess Championship. If you weren't around at the time you might not find it easy to grasp just how big a deal that was, but the end of Soviet hegemony was no less significant for chessers than the crumbling of the Berlin Wall and the end of East European communism itself was for normal people.

In five of his seven White games in the match Timman opted for 1 d4 against which Nosher chose his old favourite, the Queen's Gambit Declined. They'd spent months tooling up for each other, the world was watching and hundreds of thousands of pounds were at stake. The variations chosen to be the battleground for this match were important.

What Short and Timman were playing was state of the art Queen's Gambit Declined theory. It was in 1993, anyway. Time moves on, though, and while those five QGDs might have been at the centre of the chess world's attention in the early 1990s it's a completely different story today. Looking through Declining the Queen's Gambit, the book Everyman released a few weeks ago, I see that while game 7 appears in an extensive note to a main game, none of the others are mentioned at all. How the mighty have fallen.

Games 1 and 3 had been a mini-duel featuring the main line Tartakower.

1 d4 d5, 2 c4 e6 3 Nc3 Nf6, 4 Bg5 Be7, 5 e3 O-O, 6 Nf3 h6, 7 Bh4 b6, 8 Be2 Bb7, 9 Bxf6 Bxf6, 10 cxd5 cxd5, 11 b4 c6, 12 O-O Re8, 13 Qb3 a5

Timman later wrote that he knew that Short had reached this position fairly frequently in the run up to the match. Now he had his chance: time to reveal his preparation and spring the move that could make him famous.

14 b5 "A new but principled approach", Timman said. "White leaves his opponent the hanging pawns and tries to get a strong covered passed pawn on b5."

That was the plan, but Short wasn't fazed.

14 ... c5, 15 dxc5 bxc5, 16 Rac1 Bxc3, 17 Qxc3 Nd7

and here game 1 saw 18 Rc2 (1/2, 46) while game 3 went 18 Rfd1 (0-1, 44) with Nosher playing queen to b6 in both cases.

"Hanging pawns positions are very favourable for the player who is attacking them." Short explained. "However, the crucial difference here compared to other Queen's Gambit variations is that the white pawn is on b5. I do not believe that adds to White's position. In fact, I think it's a disadvantage to have this pawn on b5 as opposed to b2."

The 'principled approach' and a major part of the 1993 Candidates Final these games might have been, but a small tweak to the move order, 12 ... a5 straight away instead of 12 ... Re8,

and they completely vanish from Cox's book. Here play can continue 13 b5 c5 (Cox covers this as well as 13 bxa5 and 13 a3), but because the queen isn't on b3 yet 14 dxc5 will drop a piece. The flip-side is that 14 Ne5 is now playable - no rook on e8 in this line - and according to Cox this is the main line these days.

The Timman - Short Tartakowers getting shunted into the background because of a move order nuance is sad enough, but game five is even more tragic. That one featured Nosher's pet line against the QGD exchange

1 d4 d5, 2 c4 e6, 3 Nc3 Nf6, 4 cxd5 exd5, 5 Bg5 c6 - the reason why game 13 doesn't appear in Declining the Queen's Gambit is because Cox prefers to avoid it with this sub-variation with an early ... c6 - 6 e3 Bf5, 7 Qf3 Bg6, 8 Bxf6 Qxf6, 9 Qxf6 gxf6

Short had first used the idea against Ivanchuk in Linares a year before San Lorenzo. Chucky responded with 10 Kd2 and 11 Bd3 and the game ended in a draw in 35 moves. Timman thought he could do better and tried a brand new move.

10 Rd1

JT: "I wanted to keep the the castling kingside option open."

Cox pays a fair amount of attention to this line, analysing the 10 Kd2 of Ivanchuck - Short as well as 10 h4 and 10 Nf3. 10 Rd1, though, that doesn't warrant so much as a footnote. Well you can't cover everything and Timman's move didn't work out very well at all. Black equalised fairly swiftly and the Dutchman, who proceeded to make a total horlicks of the endgame/queenless middlegame, was lucky to be offered a draw shortly after the first time control.

A cruel fate. 10 Rd1 hasn't just been bypassed like those Tartakower games, it's been run over by something much better. Invented to help Timman win a Candidates' final it might have been, but now it's just irrelevant. Unwanted. Filed in the dustbin of history alongside the Sinclair C5 and the horse-drawn Zeppelin.

That's the permanent revolution that is chess theory for you, I suppose. It doesn't matter how important you seem - how important you are - sooner or later you will be replaced. You will be forgotten. Even theory-dense tomes like Declining the Queen's Gambit will leave you out.

I imagine the Queen's Gambits from the Kazan 2011 Candidates (Kramnik-Radjabov; Grischuk-Kramnik; Grischuk - Aronian; Grischuk - Gelfand) are feeling rather pleased with themselves at the moment. And yet, major players in the biggest events and talked about in the most up-to-date books though they might be, they're also already on their way to a park bench or a nursing home by the sea.

Right now Cox makes numerous references to them, but in twenty years the Kazan Queen's Gambits will have joined their Timman-Short predecessors and all the others that went before them in quiet unremembered obsolescence. It's inevitable.

All those chess moves will be lost in time, like tears in rain.

Review copy of Declining the Queen's Gambit supplied by Everyman Chess.
Download pdf sample here.

Jan Timman and Nigel Short quotes taken from New in Chess, 1993/2
c5 photo from wikipedia.
park bench from here

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Do Not Adjust Your Sets

OK< something's up. Not sure what, but clearly our blog is not what it should be just now. If you see our sidebars anywhere do let us know. In the meantime, we'll get everything sorted out asap - but since currently we haven't got a clue what's wrong, it may take a while. Hopefully normal service will be resumed shortly.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

How To Beat Your Dadd At Chess

Here is another episode in this Dadd mini-series, and the artist himself is no longer the main focus. There is even a bit of chess. The headline above was irresistible. Apologies.

Try this one for size instead:


The story starts with a lurid claim in a letter dated 27 November 1894 addressed to Kensington Police Station, and posted from Dublin.
Dear Sir,
The murder that was committed I did it. I did it just to the right of the door of a gentleman. I got her by the throat and tried to choke her, but without success. I got her on the ground and cut her knife with a Sloyd knife. It was a very good cut. When I had cut her a fellow was coming along, so I flew for my life, but left the stick, and the knife was thrown away in the back lane in a back street. I did the murder at 12 30. So good bye. On the job.
From Jack the Ripper.

The discovery of an earlier Ripper victim.
From 'The Pictorial News' 6 October 1888

The letter was identified as being in the handwriting of Reginald Treherne Bassett Saunderson, nephew of Colonel Edward J. Saunderson, Conservative Member of Parliament for North Armagh, Orangeman, and supporter of Home Rule, and son of Llewellyn Saunderson, Justice of the Peace.

On the evening of the murder on the 25th, Reginald, the would-be Jack the Ripper, had slipped out of a privately run institution for “gentlemen mentally affected" (otherwise less tastefully advertising itself as a “Training Institution for Imbeciles”, and indeed an “Asylum for Idiots”) at Eastcote, Hampton Wick, Kingston upon Thames in Surrey. His family had placed him there six years previously.

He took with him the knife (of said distinctive Swedish manufacture) from the carpenter’s shop, and the cherry-wood stick, with a crooked handle, from another patient (both items later recovered from the crime scene). Then in Holland Park Road, Kensington he murdered the unfortunate Augusta Dawes (aka Augusta Dudley) aged 29, a barmaid from Bristol, said by a witness to have been in the Holland Arms Public House that evening, and by The West Australian newspaper of 25 January 1895 to be of “ill-fame” – a familiar innuendo.

He was tall, handsome, good at football and rowing, and 22. So, Saunderson would only have been 15 at the time of the Whitechapel murders in 1888 and Ripper scholars accordingly rule him out.

A witness who saw a man and woman together in Holland Park Road was Herbert Schmalz, artist and exhibitor at the Royal Academy, with a studio in the same street...

Schmalz's other studio, round the corner in Addison Road.
It's still there today.

… and who - if you will permit another irresistible aside - told the Inquest (which was assisted by Superintendent Ferrett of West Kensington Police Station – you couldn’t make it up) that he was unable to do a sketch of the suspect as the man's face was in shadow. No doubt Schmalz would anyway have preferred to sketch the lady as “his paintings frequently involved the tying-up of women, a lot of execution and death by various means, and one might expect that at the time his works might have raised questions of taste."

This is an example of Schmalz's handiwork:

Faithful Unto Death (1888)
Herbert Schmalz (1856-1935)

My God. If the Peelers had seen that they'd have wondered if they'd arrested the right man.

The Inquest jury found that it was a case of murder, putting Saunderson in the dock. They added a rider to their verdict calling attention to the insufficient lighting of Holland Park Road, and suggesting "that it could be improved so that it might not be a harbour for questionable characters" (dodgy artists included, by any chance?).

Saunderson had been apprehended in Ireland a few days after the killing and when, the following January, he was tried at the Old Bailey this was the result:

....and off to Broadmoor (there's the Dadd connection, kind of) he went, admitted on 5 February 1895, dying there nearly fifty years later in 1943.

The Terrace at Broadmoor (Berkshire) c. 1908

The staff occasionally noted that he played chess, and a record in 1902 refers to him as an “indefatigable chess player”.

Remarkably, he played in the 1903-4 Ireland-England Correspondence Chess Match - he was of Ulster stock. And, also remarkably, he crops up in the British Chess Magazine for 1903. He played on board 122 for the Southern Counties Union against Northern Counties Union in the match of 1902-3.

Note the BCM's comment that the substantial victory of the SCU was because two games on each board favoured the Southerners who supposedly had more time on their hands to apply to their chess. Well Reginald certainly had plenty of it on his, although that didn't stop him losing both games to Mr Liversedge of Yorkshire.

And here, I think, he is again in the Irish Weekly News of 23 January 1904, in a game played in the Kingstown Society Correspondence Tournament. Sorry to say he lost this one, too; though he must have missed a win. He clearly was a decent player, well-versed in the Kieseritsky Gambit, Long Whip Variation (Schmalz would have liked that) . The notes are anonymous.

It all makes a good story, but spare a thought for Augusta Dawes who came to London for work, and the three year old deprived of its mother.

There'll be another shocker from Broadmoor along shortly.


Thanks again to Dr. Tim Harding, this time for putting me on to the Saunderson case and mentioning the Ireland-England match; and Mark Stevens at the Berkshire Record Office for his assistance (BRO is the source of the photo).
The Ripper victim pic comes from here. The poor unfortunate on that occasion was Catherine Eddowes.
Some of the press coverage of the Saunderson case is given here and here.
The quote on Schmalz comes from Caroline Dakers' essay
Richmond & Twickenham CC and Kingston CC members with a taste for this sort of thing can find out about Eastcote here.
BCM for 1903 happens to be on Google books. NCU v SCU is covered in the August issue, pp 342-345.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Bad book covers XX

Tactimania: find the winning combination, Flear, Quality Chess, 2011

[Bad book covers index]

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Lucid Dreaming?

I woke up about 3 o’clock yesterday morning. I got up, went to the kitchen for a glass of water then went back to bed.

That’s not a hugely promising start to a blog, I know. I only mention it because while I was having that drink I happened to glance through an old chess book that I’d left on the kitchen table and that's how I stumbled across the position at the head of today’s post.

When I woke up again – this time at a more amenable hour – I assumed I must have dreamt it. I checked the book, though, and there it was. Astonishingly, it really is, or at least was, a theoretical position.

So who can tell me how you reach this rather wonderful set up? I’ll give you a clue. It’s White to play and Black’s last move was given an “!”.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011


Today we bring our coverage of Sheffield 2011 to a close. So far we've looked at Pert's endgame skills, the epic last round, Houska-Rendle which almost but didn't quite feature an exchange sac, Short and Jones playing kiddie openings against Adams and Howell respectively, the Pert twins' (brief) clash and the rest day question. All of that since our first report four rounds in.

Our subject for this post is the question of the long-standing 11-round swiss format and how suitable it is for the British championship itself. "Not very" was my feeling before Sheffield and nothing happened during the event to make me change my mind. Quite the opposite, actually.

Nosh trying to remember how many GMs he's met recently

Let's start with the positive. Above all else, to be a success Sheffield was going to have to bring the big four together to play each other. Happily that happened and we got Short-Howell and Adams-Jones in round 5; Howell-Adams in round 6;Short-Jones in round 7; and Short-Adams and Jones-Howell in round 8. Unfortunately, though, that's pretty much where the good news ends.

You may recall that in that original post we quoted Chris Kreuzer's pre-tournament opinion that,

With 12 GMs in the field, you would hope the leading GMs after 11 rounds would have played at least 7-8 other GMs

Chris subsequently took a look at how things had actually turned out and published his findings on the EC Forum. He has been kind enough to allow me to use his figures here. As you can see, there was just one instance of somebody reaching his mark.

Grandmasters at Sheffield: number of titled opponents

That doesn't look good, but raw figures like this can sometimes be misleading. These are a couple of things we need to take note of here.

First, it's true that there were seven IMs in Sheffield (Richard Pert, Hawkins, Palliser, Zhou, Hunt, Andrew Ledger and Houska) who were actually higher-rated than the lowest-rated GM (Summerscale). However, even if we treat these seven as honorary GMs that still only adds another four people (Adams with '9', and Howell, Jones and Gordon with '7') to the list of folk who received the kind of opposition that we might have hoped for. Even after expanding the field, then, more than half the Grandmasters at Sheffield didn't meet the benchmark that we'd set.

Second, we should also examine the caveat that Chris put forward, i.e. that the hoped for figure of 7-8 GM opponents for each Grandmaster,

... depends on the GMs playing like, well, grandmasters

So did they, or did our top players not get as many games against their peers as we'd hoped for because they simply didn't play very well? When we look at the final crosstable the answer becomes clear.

Half-a-dozen of the GMs finished in the top seven (Hawkins was the exception) and another four tied 8th to 16th on 7/11. Williams and Summerscale did the 'worst', but even they were only half a point back, finishing in 17th-23rd place.

Aside from finishing places, we can also isolate the GMs games against non-GM opposition to see if they were underperforming there. That would be a reasonable explanation as to why there weren't so many all GM clashes as there might have been, but once again we see it wasn't the case.

Grandmasters at Sheffield: score against non-GMs

Hebden and Williams seem to be a little off-form, although only to the tune of half-a-point or perhaps one point below par. Everybody else seems to have scored pretty well, especially when you consider that these figures include games against IMs and even the 2400+ IMs we counted as GM equivalents earlier.

"I'm better than all of you. Get over it."

I'm afraid the reason the field of a dozen Grandmasters didn't generate as many all-GM clashes as we'd hoped - 21 in total, or less than two per round - is not because the top players were underperforming and not because the tournament was hit by a series of freak pairings. It happened like it did because that's exactly what happens when you have an eleven round swiss tournament and half the field are at least 400 to 500 points off the pace.

What a waste. The best players end up in the final positions, but they get there by playing relatively moderate opposition far too much of the time. Nick Pert, who finished equal third after playing as many people rated in the 2100s as he played Grandmasters, is the most striking, but certainly not the only example of how this happens.

So it's not at all a great system, but it is nevertheless the format we use and, as has been pointed out to me in the past, the one thing that all systems have in common is that you have to play well to win. Congratulations, then, to Mickey Adams for coming out on top.

Talking of Mickey, in case you were wondering what he thinks of all this, you may be interested to know that his column that appeared in the Daily Telegraph on the middle Saturday began with the following words:-

The world team championship is the fairest test of the strongest nations ...

Why so? Because,

... the all-play-all format is more even-handed than the vagaries of the Swiss pairing system that is currently used in the Olympiad.

that's why.

Photo of British Championship trophy from
Other photos from

Monday, August 15, 2011

This is the end VIII

British Championship Special Edition

A long way to go
Nick Pert v Adam Hunt, Sheffield 2011

Nick Pert seemed to get himself quite a few endgames in Sheffield. Aside from that 144-mover against Gawain Jones in the last round (Draw Bores), he ended up with a bishop ending against George Salimbeni in round 3, bishop and knight ending against Kolbus in round 5, a rook ending against Adam Hunt in round 7 and a double rook and minor piece ending against Houska in round 8.

It was probably just as well that out of all of them only The Corporal was able to hold Pert to a draw. Aside from avoiding giving an uppity blogger the chance to take the piss - Epishin failing to mate with B&N against king? How we laughed - that 90% score won't hurt sales of his Killer Endgames DVD set.

Jan Gustafsson

Not that everybody would have you believe that studying the endgame is a good idea. In the video below Peter Svidler and a young Martin Clunes suggest that studying other areas of the game should be the priority.

I suppose whether or not you agree with this will depend on how you define Svidler's "starting from a certain level" at 7:51 in the clip. I play people up to the high 180s ECF/2150 elo and at that standard it simply isn't true that you get 'killed' in the opening if you don't know exactly what you're doing. Whether it's different at 2250 or 2350 I wouldn't know, but for me at least the argument doesn't really apply.

Still, it's an interesting discussion and well worth a listen. The endgame content of the chat starts around 2:40.

Pert v Hunt photo from the British Championship website
Gustafsson and Svidler video spotted on a Chess Pub thread.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Dadd Is In The Detail

There’s a lot more to be said about Dadd’s 1857 chess painting The Child’s Problem, the starting point for this mini-series.

Be Warned. There are no chess moves in this post. It is, frankly, a Chess Free Zone. It is a detour before the next episode (with a blood-curdling near-chess experience at Broadmoor). But if Dadd's picture, and its mysteries, intrigue you, hang on in. It has attracted a fair amount of interest from art commentators, and we are going to check out what they say.

So, to get down to business. Look at Dadd's painting below, and ask: what is all that stuff in the background; what are we to make of the figure in the chair; and who is the boy?

The Child's Problem in black and white.
(Click on any image in this post to enlarge)

We'll start, for better or worse, with author Jennifer Higgie’s interpretation in the Spring 2011 issue of Tate Etc. She says:
“There are three women in the picture: an old one, asleep, while a younger one, trapped in stone, floats above her like a spectre. On the wall is a picture of a naked woman, her arms raised in supplication, which was used as a poster for the anti-slavery movement.”
"Three women"? I reckon that’s only about one third right, and possibly less.

To begin with the easiest: is that really a “naked woman” in the anti-slavery poster?

Patricia Allderidge shows that Dadd’s family was indeed sympathetic to the cause, and Dadd would surely have seen the poster before his incarceration. So far, so good. But in his picture Dadd paints in the text (my italics) : “Am I not a man and a brother”, which suggests he was recalling a “male” version; and although there was a “female” version of the poster it declares “Am I not a woman...”.

Here is a crop of Dadd’s painting, left, compared with the well-known "male" original on the right:

Dadd's eye for design has dominated his recollection and simplified the image. He makes the figure’s heavenward entreaty yet more emphatic. But Dadd’s caption clearly says it's a man, even if you might be sympathetic to Ms Higgie’s alternative, but surely mistaken, reading of the figure.

Next there’s the “woman trapped in stone”. Here Ms Allderidge points to two sources for Dadd’s image. The first is his own oval painting of a kneeling nude in “Evening”, a typical Dadd fairy-style fantasy made around 1841, before his incarceration. The second is a statue of “Narcissus” initially supposed to be by Michaelangelo (though that is now discounted). With due deference to Ms Allderidge, there is another possibility. For my money the attention that the lady pays to her coiffure makes a Hellenistic statue of Venus, also now in the V&A, a more likely candidate.

Here they are, left to right: The Woman in Stone; Evening; Venus.

The similarity of the poses is telling. However, there is a feature that sets “Evening” and “Venus” apart: their unmistakable femininity. By contrast Dadd’s bad-hair-day-lady looks like a chap-with-breasts-attached.

Rather dodgy gendering I reckon, and we'll find out why in a moment; but let's get on to the person in the chair, skipping the barely legible painting of a ship on the right save to say that Dadd was brought up in Chatham with its Naval Dockyards, and was forever painting boats. This one is a slave-runner, as the inscription on its bow indicates (see note below).

So, the "woman", the "old one, asleep" in the chair. Is that a "woman" (as Ms Higgie says) and the child's Governess, or a man and its Master?

We can do a poll of the commentators here: Ms Higgie, as we know, says it’s a woman, as does Madame Isaure de Saint Pierre in her novel based, imaginatively, on Dadd's life; Alison Smith in the TATE Watercolour exhibition catalogue stays shtoom; David Greysmith in his book sticks his neck out and says it’s a “he (or she)”; Ms Allderidge says it’s a man.

If only it were that straightforward.

To put things in context: Ms Allderidge comments that in the Asylum Dadd would have had to use male models, even when painting women. Criminally insane inmates were kept on separate gender-segregated wings, with meals probably brought to the wards, and were denied attendance at Chapel or the Asylum Ball (thanks to Colin Gale at the Bethlem Archive for this info). Perhaps then Dadd's memory of the specifics of female physiognomy had waned, along with his sureness of touch at rendering them in paint.

So, first the face - is that male or female? Well, here is another revealing comparison.

It's a reasonable guess that Dadd's 1854 painting of Lucretia - "female" - on the right, is based on the same male model as the figure in the chair (dated 1857), hook-nose and all. And like Lucretia, Dadd may have intended the seated figure to look like a woman, but it has regressed to the appearance of a man.

Now look at the figure's garb, and compare it to Dadd's 1842/3 portrait of Sir Thomas Phillips in Arabian costume (cropped below). Phillips was a major figure for Dadd's reputation as an artist. He was the patron who took Dadd on his tour of Europe, the Middle East and North Africa before the fateful patricide.

The figure on the left apparently wears a Victorian lady's shawl wrapped round its shoulders and peaked above the forehead, but surely it is based on the Arabian male's Keffiyeh that Sir Tom models for us on the right. The cuffs correspond as well. Dadd, it appears, has used artistic license to borrow the ethnic get-up of his one-time patron.

So, man or woman sitting in the chair? FWIW I reckon Dadd was led astray by his misremembered past and his gender-bent present: they made a shaky foundation on which to build a stable and convincing image of the female form. His vision wobbled. Man or woman? If it doesn't sound too arch: both.

Finally, let’s look at the last piece of the jigsaw – is the boy (it can't be a girl, can it?) in the painting Richard Dadd himself, as Madame de Saint Pierre has it in her souped-up novel?

Other commentators are silent on the matter, which perhaps says a lot. Here is an identity parade of the child (in the middle, and reversed for ease of comparison) with a Dadd self-portrait at age 23 on the left, and, another etching of himself, perhaps a year later, on the right.

Dadd in the middle? May be, or maybe not, as Mr Greysmith might have put it.

So, that's my deconstruction of The Child's Problem: autobiographical and self-referring; infused with faded memories and distorted perceptions; Dadd in the detail.

Enough. Now it is time to put the Child and his Problem to bed, because next time we have an exciting adventure at Broadmoor.

The inscription on the bow of the boat is given by Ms Allderidge as "THE BLACK FEREE. Remarkable Fast Slaver. Commanded by Captn S. Nigger. [?.]"

Jennifer Higgie, on Richard Dadd's The Child's Problem (1857). In TATE Etc. Spring 2011.
Alison Smith's note in the Catalogue to Watercolour , Tate Britain 2011.
Patricia Allderidge, The late Richard Dadd 1817-1886. The Tate Gallery, London 1974, also Richard Dadd. Academy Editions, London 1974.
David Greysmith,
Richard Dadd; the rock and castle of seclusion. Studio Vista, London 1973.
Isaure de Saint Pierre (ed. Anthea Bell), Richard Dadd - his journals. Aiden Ellis, Henley 1984 (originally published in Paris 1980).

Thanks again to Colin Gale at Bethlem Museum and Archive; and to Seani for his technical wizardry with the illustrations.

What Dadd Did
What Dadd Did Next
What Dadd Did Later
What Dadd Didn't Do

Friday, August 12, 2011

S&BCB Banner: A promise kept

Don't know if you've noticed before, but our banner says,

Updated every Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday ... and maybe other days too.

Obviously, then, a post is due. The trouble is, what was going to be today's offering went out just after six last night. It's worth a look, if you haven't already seen it. Well, it is if you're interested in the ECF's response to the jiggabubble that was created by Ray Keene's surprise appearance at the British Championship opening ceremony anyway.

If you're oblivious to the whole CJ/RDK/Sheffield business you will either want to keep it that way (probably wise) or read When will they ever learn?; CJ, the ECF and Constable Savage and The man who would be mentioned before you get to The Mysterious Appearance of Ray. The choice is yours. A blue or red pill moment, I guess.

Still, we promise you a post on Fridays so you will get a post on Fridays. Here's something my friends Larissa and Rob saw in a shop window in Venice earlier this week.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Mysterious Appearance of Ray: The ECF Responds

As you may have noticed, the guest of honour at Sheffield's opening ceremony rather caught our attention: When will they ever learn?; The man who would be mentioned. Interested readers might also wish to peruse the comments box to CJ, the ECF and Constable Savage which contains contributions from ECF Chief Executive Andrew Farthing and many other chess worthies as well as from chess unworthies such as myself and a couple of my fellow bloggers.

Andrew has been kind enough to answer some further questions on the matter. I was originally intending to write a full post on this topic for tomorrow. However, given that similar queries are now appearing on the EC Forum, I have decided to publish the ECF's response straight away, but without without any additional commentary (which I haven't had time to write).

I am hearing that Ray Keene was invited to open the British Championships by CJ who had not previously discussed the matter with anybody in the ECF. Is that true?

Yes, I believe that it is true that CJ did not discuss RDK's invitation to open the Championships with any other Board member. Speaking for myself, I did not learn of it until after the event, when I saw mentions of it online.

Do the ECF find this an acceptable way for the President to behave?

The President has traditionally been the Board member in charge of the opening and closing ceremonies at the British. As far as I know, it has not been usual for the President to consult the Board regarding the individuals invited, so what happened this year was not outside the norm.

Are we now deciding that the Ray Keene/Tony Miles issue is best forgotten as it was so long ago, or has the matter been resolved in some way?

I have no comment on this.

Why has no mention of Keene’s presence at the opening ceremony appeared on either the tournament or ECF websites?

I wasn't present that Monday - I intended to be there, but car trouble intervened - but the reports from Board members who were indicate that the opening ceremony was a relatively low-key affair. I understand that CJ gave the main opening address, after which RDK formally declared the Championships open. (Most of the feedback related to inaudibility, i.e. the lack of microphones.)

In general, the website coverage throughout the event didn't include much "colour" commentary, concentrating in the main on the results and the games. I don't believe, therefore, that there is anything particularly significant in the omission. If the opening ceremony had been "grander", perhaps there would have been some coverage.

Draw Bores

Tuesday 9th August: Danny Baker tweets it like it is

What were you doing last Friday around 5pm? As this was back when it was possible to venture out of doors in the late afternoon/early evening without having to calculate the chances of being looted, set ablaze or generally pillaged I suppose there are any number of things you might have been up to. What I was doing, let me tell you, was packing my cozzie and a towel into a bag and thinking, "I'll just watch the end of the last round then I'll head down to the pool." As it turned out, though, I never made it for my swim. Five hours on I was still glued to my computer, totally captivated by a game of chess that seemed like it might never end.

It was a remarkable evening. Of the top four boards Wells-Hawkins was the first to finish ...

... followed by Gordon - Short ...

... and Adams - Zhou ...

... these last two finishing within five minutes of each other around about a quarter past seven. Jones - Pert, though, that went on and on and on before, after 144 moves and very nearly eight hours at the board, they finally called it quits.

It was a truly epic evening of chess. There might not have been a single decisive result on the top four boards, but nevertheless the last round was entirely in keeping with the fighting chess that we saw, with rare exceptions, throughout the tournament.

Needless to say, Sheffield's last round would have been enthralling in any circumstances, but it was made all the sweeter by the fact that the latest issue of CHESS features the Rustam Kasmidzhanov 'open letter' and three pages of utter cobblers from John Foley on the subject draws. They are dull, they are bad for chess and they should be eliminated from the game to the greatest extent possible, apparently. Not just short 'grandmaster' or 'struggle free' draws, mind. All draws.

We've seen a lot since last Friday. OK, it hasn't quite been attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion, but neither has the torching of furniture stores in Croydon and party shops in Clapham been much of a joke.

LIF.EG.O.ES.ON, though, and we mustn't let what was important to us before the unrest began be completely replaced in our minds by images of destruction and violence. It is for precisely that reason that while I am busy joining the line of people for Danny Baker, I will also make time to contact to ask if John Foley and Rustam Kasmidzhanov could join the queue for me.

Danny Baker photograph from