Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Sixty Memorable Annotations

#6: Botvinnik - Szilagyi, Amsterdam 1966

27 Kg2
White’s control of the position is so great that he could inscribe his initials on the board with his king if he wanted.

Michael Stean, Simple Chess (Faber and Faber 1978)

What were you doing a year ago today? That’s not a question anybody can usually answer with any accuracy, but, I can tell you exactly what I was up to on 30th May, 2011.

As it happens, I was winning a chess tournament. That’s the sort of thing that we remember, isn't it? Especially if our previous congress victory – the only other one, if truth be told – had come ten years, six months and twenty-seven days earlier.

Anyhoo, for reasons that I'll leave for another day, the 2011 Sunningdale Major and the issue of luck in chess have always been bound together for me. Most recently, it was the seven games I played at that event that first came to mind when I read Ed Smith's book on luck in sport.

For Smith, you may remember, there is no such thing as fortune (good or otherwise) in chess. To be fair he was making a comparison with backgammon, and chance is always going play a bigger part in games that involve dice than those that don't, but still, I find it impossible to agree with him that luck has a "negligible" role to play in our favourite game.

If Smith doesn't quite get it, at least he has the excuse of not being especially familiar with chess. What of the rest of us? The more I think about it the more it seems to me that what chessers typically refer to as 'luck' is nothing of the sort whilst the times that chance has a truly significant impact on our chess usually sneak past without any comment at all.

Another tournament victory this side of December 2021?

Consider the game below, played a year ago yesterday morning. By move 25 White had achieved no less dominating a position than Comrade Botters got against Szilagyi, but Black not only escaped, he actually went on to win. Is that luck?

What about if I tell you that the eventual winner of the game was your humble scribe and White was the guy who would eventually finish the tournament in second place just half a point behind me? Does that change your mind?

I'll leave you those questions to ponder, but personally I don't consider luck to have anything to do with the result here. I was fortunate at Sunningdale, in all manner of ways, but it seems to me that my fourth-round game is just what we call 'playing chess'.

Chess, luck and Sunningdale. I will tell you about it one day. For now though I intend to rest on my laurel and enjoy the memory. It's going to be quite a while, after all, before it happens again.

Sixty Memorable Annotations Index

Monday, May 28, 2012

Does It Float?: Dutch Assault

After one of my own ideas in the first instalment of this series, let's look at one which has been seen at grandmaster level. I know, right? Up there breathing the same air as the Tartars, the devils.

1. d4 e6 2. c4 f5 3. g4!?

 "Go on, old horse. It's a pawn!"

In October, on the only occasion I've been allowed to trot this out, Rick McMichael chose not to nab it and got into serious difficulties after 3...Nf6. As in Efimov - Naumkin, I consider taking the pawn followed by 4. e4 to be the critical line. After that, black has a fairly straight choice between 4...Qh4 and 4...d5.

I've no idea if it's any good under serious examination, but Tigran L. Petrosian has given it a go. And if 2650s like the look of it, I'm happy to follow suit. I was always told that e4 is the critical square in the Dutch and, if you remove that from black's control on move 3, that must be worth something, right?

Chess should be fun. Give the Dutch Assault a go and feel the glee.

Does It Float? Index

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Chess ain't nothing but murder and bullshit

Cherchez le chesseur

First it was Alexander Pichuskin (aka the Bitsevsky Maniac) in Moscow, then it was Michel Fourniret somewhere or other in France (Fact: All Serial Killers Play Chess). Yesterday came the news that Zhang Yongming has been getting busy in Southern China. Chessing mass murderers: there certainly seem to be a lot of them about.

“Chinese teenagers fall prey to chess-playing serial killer”. That was the headline in the paper version of yesterday’s Daily Telegraph. It’s enough to get you switching on the Bat Signal and calling for Ray (Somebody Dial 999?; Times Chess Man cracks ‘missing woman’ riddle; Ray Could Soothsay; Nightmare over for The Ridler). Well it would be, were it not for the lingering feeling that – just like all the others - it would only take the merest hint of an investigation for the alleged chess connection to evaporate leaving the whole thing exposed as a giant pile of cobblers.

Tenuous connection to chess? Bullshit dressed up as fact? Sounds like something right up Tim Woolgar’s street, don’t you think?

Actually Tim, if you’re reading, I’ve got a proposition for you (from your output as ECF Director of Marketing I’m assuming you’ve still got a bit of time on your hands). Let’s invent a whole new business: The ChessMurdering Organisation.

The intellectual challenge of chess combined with the solid aerobic workout of trying to bludgeon somebody to death with a mallet. What’s not to like? We already know that the media have an insatiable appetite for it.

If Messrs Pichuskin, Fourniret and Zang are now otherwise detained and not available for the inaugural World Championship tournament that is a matter of regret, but surely Chess Murdering is the future. I expect official recognition from Sport England to come soon. Within six months, in fact.

Friday, May 25, 2012

The Great Chessboxing Swindle: within the next six months

Remember this?

Following Tim Woolgar's claim that his chessboxing circus was "on course for official recognition by Sport England within the next six months" I emailed Sport England and discovered that in fact Sport England had received no application for recognition from chessboxing at all. This was not wholly consistent with what Mr Woolgar had said. Though, come to think of it, what is?

In the minutes of the ECF AGM held the day after that blog post, we read:
TW stated that Sport England had been approached but that it was a time-consuming process.
I'm sure it was. I'm sure it is. Though the same gentleman making this observation had, when applying for the Marketing Director post, said that the amount of time likely to be consumed was to be measured at six months.

Shortly after that meeting, with their memories still fresh, a couple of attendees offered their own recollections of Mr Woolgar's explanations. One stated:
The Marketing Director [presumably actually the candidate for that post at the time of speaking - pedantic ejh] responded that he had preliminary discussions with Sport England and was informed that it was necessary to have two years' certified accounts. Chess Boxing did not have this, but he felt the effort was justified, and will complete the requirement this year.
Another added:
To be precise, he said that he first spoke to Sport England 2 years ago, and they explained the process which he has been following and recognition will follow in 6 months.
I am not sure quite what that means, but I am sure what "within the next six months" means, to use the phrase Mr Woolgar chose to use. It means "within the next six months".

Those six months now having expired - actually, having expired some time back - I looked up Sport England's list of recognised sports confidently expecting to see Chessboxing taking its place between Caving and Chinese Martial Arts, with Mr Woolgar's organisation identifed as the governing body. Yet, remarkably, it was not so.

Quelle surprise. Well, I thought I ought to check, so once again I emailed Richard Clarkson at Sport England.

From: Justin Horton
Sent: 21 May 2012 11:45
Subject: Chessboxing applications

Dear Richard

Sorry to bother you. About eight months ago I wrote to you and asked whether Sport England had received any recognition applications in respect of chessboxing. You were kind enough to reply and inform me that you had not. I am now writing to you again to find out whether that remains the case, or whether any such applications have since been received.


Justin Horton

Huesca province, Spain

Mr Clarkson was kind enough to reply promptly. His reply said exactly what you think his reply said, but for the record, here it is:

From: From: Richard Clarkson (
To: Justin Horton
Sent: 21 May 2012 12:03
Subject: RE: Chessboxing applications

Dear Justin

Thank you for your email. I can confirm that we've not received any applications to date.


Of course. It was never going to be anything other than that. The whole thing is an absolute nonsense. It was a nonsense from the start.

Now I have to say that personally I don't give a monkey's, in principle, whether or not Mr Woolgar and his freak show make a futile* application for recognition from Sport England. They can make one to the United Nations for all I care. It's an entirely trivial matter. Except that Mr Woolgar has a liking for making claims that don't stand up, even in the most trivial matters. It is almost as though it were a habit.

Besides, it was Mr Woolgar who chose to make the claim and to make something of it. He has only himself to blame when it turns out to be, like so many of his claims, a load of old rubbish.

But I don't give a monkey's about the application per se. I do give a monkey's when people persistently say things that we cannot believe, especially when such persons are nevertheless given house room and more by the chess community. I've written here and elsewhere on this subject and will no doubt do so again (and again) but to cut a long blog post short, English chess seems generally incapable of recognising a wrong 'un. Especially when there's any thought that the wrong 'un might promote, or put money into, chess. (Also see de Mooi, CJ and any number of others.)

Because Tim Woolgar is obviously a wrong 'un. He is not a person in whose statements one can put any trust. We would do well to do better. We would find it hard not to do better. In Mr Woolgar's case, rather than appoint him, rather than promote him and his freak show, we would do better by doing nothing at all.

He's ringmaster and clown in his own circus, and welcome to it. But his association with chess is neither to our benefit nor our credit. The chess columnists who promote him, not to mention the people who approached and nominated him for an ECF post, do not, in the end, promote chess by doing so. All they do is to add to, and reinforce, the all-pervasive spivviness of English chess.

[* Sport England rejected the recognition of chess in September 2008, making it hard to see why they would recognise chessboxing instead]

[Thanks to Angus French]
[Chessboxing index]

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Just Barely Got Something to do with chess IV

[World Championship tie-in: your opponent chucks his/her queen in.  You win the game.  Is that lucky?]

It was not terribly cool, but another thing that I did when I was injured was to take up backgammon. There are lots of things I like about backgammon: the aesthetic appeal of the board, the sound of the dice and the retro feel of the game.

But there were, I think, deeper reasons for being drawn to the game. With many backgammon moves, the dice do the thinking for me. Sometimes, of course the various options present a challenging decision. But often choice is limited because there is obviously a right decision that has been determined by the way the dice landed. There is certainly an element of skill, but you devolve the greater part of the game to luck. In that sense, backgammon is the opposite of chess, where the range of options is vastly more sophisticated and the role of chance negligible.

Fifteen years ago I would have laughed at the idea that I would ever derive much pleasure from a game where the result was heavily influenced by the random throw of the dice. But now, handing over such a degree of control to pure chance suits me perfectly. Why? Because I usually play backgammon after dinner, winding down after work. I have made enough difficult decisions for one day and I'm mostly happy for chance to make the remaining ones on my behalf. Backgammon fits the bill: you can enjoy a measure of competition and fun without having to think too much.

... to do with chess Index

Monday, May 21, 2012

Sleep, Eat Food, Have Visions

I've had clinical depression since age 14. It's not really a secret.

When you're trapped in the misery of your own head, unable to see a way out, there are many ways to proceed. Some find a perverse pleasure in delving further, eking out the vestiges of the psyche, challenging themselves to face the worst realities. Others find a quiet corner and hide away, hoping that the world will pass them by. Some mould their troubles into forms of expression; poetry, literature, music. Others lash out. And many give up.

I've done the majority of these things at some point or other. At times, chess has been enormously beneficial and, at other times, it's worn me out even further and been a massive hindrance. However, I wouldn't play if I didn't still enjoy it; I've become quite skilled in the art of self-preservation. Simply the fact that I love every second means that, on occasion, I'm going to be in a particularly low place when I play. The act of playing doesn't improve my mood; it just means I'm doing something reasonably productive. I'm sure I've come across as cold after a game when I've turned down a post-mortem; sometimes I just don't want to interact with anyone longer than I have to.

Introspection. And not about to jump, I promise.

Depression has certainly shaped my style of play. When your head isn't a very pleasant place to be, you want to spend as little time as possible thinking concretely. I play quickly, aggressively and instinctively, and I spend a lot of time away from the board. My recent retirement from the 4NCL was partly influenced by a desire to streamline my chessplaying into short sessions only; it's no coincidence that I've only ever won one game that lasted over 5 hours. Evening league chess suits me.

Another reason for the way I play is that I rarely get stuck. I might be completely lost but, if it's been an open game, it's likely there's a fun resource somewhere. If I felt like I was going nowhere a lot of the time, that would be far too reminiscent of real life. Much like Makepeace - Daly, Dublin, 2011.

 10... g5!

White is probably already lost. Physical symptoms have cropped up over the years, and the sensation of not being able to move is thoroughly unpleasant. It exacerbates whatever's going on in your head.

Last week, I promised an explanation. I'll give the position again.

I have a small edge, by virtue of my superior minor pieces. The best move is 17... cxb4 followed by 18...b6 when the rook recaptures. 

I'd been way off form for around 2 years and I wasn't sure if I was ever going to break the pattern. Then I saw 17... Bf3. I checked it, re-checked it and barely concealed a grin as I played it. After a long time playing unimaginatively and on an uninspired autopilot, my confidence was back.

Getting to a place where you recognise yourself again is an important part of the coping and recovery process. Andrew Green came up to the board after the game finished and said "Only Phil Makepeace would play Bf3." It was even more pleasing that other people could still recognise me.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Chess in Art Postscript: Now and Here

Chess in Art. It's happening for real. In Moscow. The World Championship match in an Art Gallery! Top marks to FIDE (and no quips about watching paint dry, please; game 3 was really quite interesting). But nul points for the infuriating commercial breaks in the live chess commentary. And anywhere else the art analysis would be treat. But not NOW! Not HERE!

Talking of galleries: I think I'm right in saying that none of the works in ejh's original Chess in Art sequence (which spawned these Postscripts) was on display, at the time, in a gallery near you. Not near me, anyway; which is the flimsy pretext for checking out a couple of bits of chess-art which are, by contrast, on display right now, and here, in London.

First let's go to one of our favourite public galleries, Tate Britain, which excels with three concurrent and absorbing exhibitions, two of which feature visitors to these shores. Picasso & Modern British Art demonstrates how, on his many trips to England, the great style-vaulting iconoclast influenced so many local artists; right up to and including David Hockney, who, following his recent Royal Academy blockbuster show has been elevated to the status of National Treasure. But, alas, there’s no chess here, even though Picasso did a chess painting in 1911 in his cubist phase. Dommage, but we’ll look at Les Échecs another time.

There’s no chess either in the psychogeographic collation, Patrick Keiller's The Robinson Institute installed with droll humour in the Duveen Gallery upstairs. There you may undertake your very own Debordian dérive, if you will. Self must be disengaged so that you may ruminate, dream-like, on the exhibits selected, cross-referenced and annotated by Keiller’s alter-ego, Robinson. Cruise so, in your reverie, and you'll eventually discover yourself again at Migrations, an exhibition that features work by artists who have found their way to our shores over the past four or five hundred years.

From the four corners they came to this green and pleasant land, and for all manner of reasons: patronage, fortune, asylum, study, survival, and occasionally to paint the scenery; and Migrations documents the consequential enrichment of this country’s culture - a by-product of our Imperialist past and post-colonial present.

The artist who produced Chessmen One (1961) is a case in point.
Chessmen One (1961)
Anwar Jalal Shemza (1929-1985)
Tate Gallery
Anwar Jalal Shemza was born in 1929 in the part of India that was to become Pakistan where, in progressive circles, he developed a presence as an artist and novelist. He came to London, and married an English woman; they tried Pakistan but, frustrated, came back to Blighty. They lived and worked in the Midlands and he died in Salford. That’s Migration indeed.

His cultural heritage, infused with the Islamic tradition of decorative (which is not, in this context trivial, or superfluous) calligraphy, is brought to bear on an array of ornate chessmen: “pieces” mostly, with maybe one pawn. They have a rhythmic and cumulative quality, as if the artist is exploring, register by register, musical chords, pushing to see how far he can press before complexity drowns out clarity.

Unfortunately, no other works from Shemza’s Chessmen series seem to be available on-line, but this work from 1959 looks like a precursor, starting with the white pieces on the black notes.

An essay (linked here) by Iftikhar Dadi (to which my comments on Shemza's biography are indebted), explores the term “calligraphic abstraction” applied to Shemza's style, and explains that in the late 50s he studied, and was influenced by, the work of Paul Klee; which connection provides a more substantial justification for this Postscript than we were able to offer at the top of this blog, namely that two Chess in Art works by Klee were featured in number XIV in ejh's series. They are worth looking at again and comparing with Anwar Jalal Shemza’s work. We have in fact reprised them before, and here is one of them again, waltzing before our eyes:

Paul Klee (1937)

Paul Klee was a "Master" at the German Bauhaus which is now on show at the Barbican, and that’s where we can see some more chess-art. Actually, chess-design to be precise. From 1919 to 1933 the Bauhaus was a hothouse for cutting-edge art, craft and design. Form should follow function was their mission statement – and it has come down to us as part of our architectural-cum-design heritage, still influential today, not least because when the Nazis shut down the Bauhaus in 1933 as degenerate and left-wing many Bauhaus luminaries fled abroad, including to England. One or two of them pop up in Migrations back at Tate Britain.

Staying with Paul Klee for a moment: his work is nicely represented in the exhibition. As mentioned, we are familiar with Klee's cerebral form of pictorial whimsey, where he famously "takes a line for a walk" as if he, too, was partial to a psychogeographical ramble. But the phalanx of scary puppets he made for his kids was a new one on me.

Paul Klee hand puppet (1916)
Klee Centre, Bern
Contrived from scraps of cloth and other detritus, and looking like the cast of a demented überGoth Punch and Judy show, they would surely have spooked his Kinder - enough to alert Social Services I'd have thought. They suggest a fault line in his character: the GrößMeister, apparently so benign, did indeed have a dark side, and feet of Klee.

What makes this exhibition particularly engaging is that it shows us what they got up to at the Bauhaus by way of extra-curricula activities, and it reveals that before the Nazis put the boot in the Bauhausistas had a whale of time. It wasn’t all earnest dialectics, axonometric projections, and D.I.Y. fabrication; it was also party, party, party! (And given the influence of the KPD, that might also be: Party!) And the more fancy the dress, the better! And the music! And the games! And, as if to fill a gap in their repertoire of divertissements, they designed, and made, their own chess sets. Design, Make, Play!

More than one chess set, in fact. This is Josef Hartwig’s 1922 creation – on show at the Barbican - though we are almost over-familiar with it by now.

It's easy to see that the design of each piece embodies its move. This early version does so with squat economy, all the more to facilitate convenient storage. A later edition, below, asserts its functional form with sturdy hauteur – it stands proud, on a sympathetically crafted inlaid wooden board.

Bauhaus-Schachspiel (Modell XVI), 1924
As photography is verboten at the Barbican I found the picture above on the web. It looks the same as the set in the exhibition, although it appears to be labelled slightly differently. In truth the Bauhaus chess set has gone through many variations, both at the time, and subsequently in what should more accurately be called "Bauhaus-style" - enough to alert Trading Standards I'd have thought. In a way it's a tribute to the design's success: its Euclidean rigour makes it eternal, if rather straightforward to imitate. The version above, an original, looks simply beautiful and, compared with those fiddly Stauntons must be so much easier to clean.
Talking of chess art in the Capital, don't forget Eye To The Ground: now to 16 June (Wed-Sat 12 noon - 6 pm); here: R O O M Gallery, London . We blogged about it last Saturday.
Green Cardamom Gallery seems to be A. J. Shemza's principal representative.
Pic of Hartwig 1922 chess set comes from
Pic of Bauhaus Modell XVI 1924 comes from
Chess in Art Index

Friday, May 18, 2012

Just Barely Got Something to do with chess III

'The Watergate affair makes it quite plain,' Marshall Mcluhan wrote in 1974, 'that the entire planet has become a whispering gallery, with a large portion of mankind engaged in making its living by keeping the rest of mankind under surveillance.

The paranoid style exemplified by Nixon and Wilson - and Madame Mao and Harry Caul, Idi Amin and Bobby Fischer, the Rev. Jim Jones and the Baader-Meinhof gang, Taxi Driver and Gravitiy's Rainbow - saturated the 1970s. Conservatives feared that the very fabric of the state was under imminent threat - whether from Communists, gays, dope-smokers or even rock stars. (Elvis Presley warned Nixon that the Beatles had been 'a real force for anti-American spirit'; John Lennon was duly added to the President's 'enemies' list' and put under surveillance by the FBI.) In Britain, retired generals formed private armies to save the country from anarchy, industrial moguls plotted coups against the government and malcontents in the security services bugged and burgled their way across London in a quest for proof that the Prime Minister was employed by the KGB.

... to do with chess Index

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

PJM's Favourite Moves I

Ego is a necessary element of a sporting contest. Even if there is the strongest respect between competitors, it is not possible for both sides to emerge totally satisfied. Therefore, I hope you will forgive me for starting my own favourite moves series with one of my own, which drew admiration from my opponent's teammates and gave me great satisfaction.

Macgregor - Makepeace, Glorney Cup, Dublin, 2007

17... Bf3!?

As is evident in the game, the bishop cannot be taken. Black should only have a small edge after the accurate 18. Qd2. 

I'll explain on Monday just why this move, which wasn't even the best available, pleased me so much. The context will become clear in light of what I have to say.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Chess in Art Postscript: It's The Thought That Counts

Some time back in these Chess in Art posts we encountered artists who made chess-artworks from the moves of master games. There was the incised circuitry of German Ugo Dossi – chess-art by spirograph? – and the vegetative tracery of Frenchman Dominique Digeon – chess-art by secateurs, perhaps. Now we have a third example: home-grown Tom Hackney, who came to our blog’s attention via this article by Jennifer Shahade. Here is an example of his work:

Chess Painting No. 2
(Duchamp vs. Crépeaux, Nice, 1925)
Intrigued, a few weeks ago I made contact with Tom and he very kindly agreed to submit to my layman’s email-questioning about his chess-art. So, here we go, head to head with a serious Chess-in-Artist.

To begin with Tom describes his method:
“The path of each move is painted as if the base of the piece were dragged across the board, so with a knight, the full ‘L’ would be painted. With diagonal moves, the path of the move is painted – something that semi-crosses into adjacent squares.”
As one painted path overlays another the traces of earlier moves are either blocked out by the opaque black or, through semi-transparent white, appear as fading reminders of the history of the game, just as in reality earlier moves lose themselves in later ones. If, as happens, a square remains untouched by a piece, it shows up as bare canvas. Although you can’t see it in the on-line images, Tom says the paintings have a structural relief created by the varying number of layers of paint on the squares.

And here, to give an insight into the work, is the game itself.

So, is Tom Hackney an active chess player? Not so much now, he explained: he was taught by his mother; played at primary school; continued with lots of junior chess for Somerset and in the South West C.C.U; then drifted away; and subsequently…
“I enjoyed watching Kasparov vs. Short on TV (particularly for the punditry and analysis) and I have always admired the genius of Fischer – probably more so given the context of his troubled life & career. Latterly though, it’s the games of Marcel Duchamp that have been of greatest interest.”
As for his artistic trajectory: you can see from his website that his earlier work (circa 2000) appears to be severely, and surprisingly, representational – landscapes, portraits and the like. But even these conceal a “conceptual art” dimension as they are in fact hyper-realist painted copies of photographs. Here is Tom again:
“…both the photorealistic work and my recent chess paintings both involve a form of painted transposition, using specific reference material, whether that be a photograph of a specific film location, or a game played by Duchamp in Paris in the 1920s. I see both working practices as coming from a similar place, in terms of authorship.”
The idea of using the moves of chess games as the “data” (as Tom puts it) for artworks arrived when he was doing a Masters at Goldsmiths in 2008 (Goldsmiths College of Art – the HQ of the YBAs). Incidentally, along the way, in 2003, he was winner of the BOC Emerging Artist Award.

Time for another painting and its respective game-player. It's Deep Blue, "playing" white, chewing up humankind's finest - if you can bear to look - in 1996.

Chess Painting No. 3.
(Kasparov vs Deep Blue, Game 1, Philadelphia, 1996)

N.B. Kasparov is black and is playing up the board
- read why further along in the interview below
I asked Tom how he chose which games to paint, expecting it would be according to their place in the canon, but not quite:
“It started with the 1st Fischer vs. Spassky game from the ’72 series – no particular reason other than I had always been fascinated by the match (at and away from the board) and by that time in general.”
And as for Marcel Duchamp I wondered why, in the ten or so of his games that Tom had painted, he had included defeats and draws:
“The first Duchamp game I chose was Duchamp vs. Crépeaux, Nice, 1925 [as above - MS]. Had Duchamp won that game, he would likely have become the French Champion, but of course he didn’t. I think all of his games are significant, and I hope to paint them all in time. My selections so far have been based on particular times or places – I like the idea that these games I’m re-enacting took place in, say, Paris in the 1920s. To that extent the outcomes of the games aren’t that important to me”
Paint them all”? I didn't dare remind Tom that he has yet another 60-odd published games of Duchamp to go (including one more that recently came on our radar). Might he need a small army of assistants, such as fellow Goldsmiths alumnus Damien Hirst employs, to pull it off? (Another question I didn't ask.)

An insightful (if, for your blogger, challenging) catalogue essay for Tom’s last exhibition, by Dr Ed Krčma of Greenwich University, makes the same point: that some of the games/matches Tom has selected have wider significance, Spassky-Fischer (1972) and the Cold War, for example, or Kasparov-Deep Blue (1996) and the triumph of the computer. Some pictures, however, go further and, by omitting any reference at all to the players’ names, make the political context paramount, as in two chess-game works titled simply “Paris 1968”.

So what are we to make of Tom Hackney’s chess-artworks?

Looking as a chess player I was interested in the “legibility” of the game portrayed. In the rendering of Duchamp vs. Crépeaux you can see the territorial pattern of the struggle, with white's attack on the Queenside, and on the Kingside the site of Crépeaux's swindle (the flip-side of Marcel's blunder). And there's the thrust of Kasparov’s doomed attack down (i.e."up") the e file, as Deep Blue gets at K's king along the 7th.

More specifically you can sometimes see the mark of a significant game-changer such as 29…Bxh2? in Spassky vs Fischer (1972), game 1, or maybe Duchamp's h6 tactic v Menchik in 1929 (both games below). Of these two, you can see that the first is, well, more "bishopy" and the second is more "rooky"- Deep Blue v K has a touch of both.

Compared with the other chess-game artists who give us the whole game in a visual tangle of moves, in Tom's work we have a perspective on the game as it resolves in its final phase, as if you had stumbled on it, kibitzer-fashion, half-a-dozen or so moves before the end.

I commented so to Tom, who said:
“I met with Jennifer Shahade at a recent exhibition, and her reaction, similar to your own, was one of extrapolation and analysis. I think chess players can decode the works to some extent, whether through a historical knowledge of the particular players/games, or by interpreting the visual composition”
…and non-chessers...
“…tend see them as paintings of chess games, and then perhaps make connections – they tend to develop the art-historical side of things.”
The “art-historical side” is talked about by Dr Krčma with reference to Mondrian and De Stijl – although if you are looking for others, for me the rebarbatively named Post-Painterly Abstraction springs to mind (though maybe not to the lips), or the formalism of Ben Nicholson.

Tom has also done a few chess paintings where he has done away with the “polarity“ of black and white to produce a monochrome of the game: not to evoke peace and love à la Yoko Ono’s all-white chess set, but to refer us, as Dr Krčma suggests, to the players' thought process, pure and simple, in the raised relief of the paint layers. He also points out that this monochrome approach (Tom has some other works in the same vein, though not chess-based) provides another reference: to Malevich, who in the 1910s pioneered geometric abstract art, and, in one notorious composition, painted just a single large black square.

You can see Tom's monochromes on his website, so here are couple more of his black and white (and, here and there, canvas-coloured) chess paintings (with links to their game-players):

You can, if you wish, apply aesthetic judgements alone to these (throwing the chess out of the window, as it were, for the purpose) and decide which please you, or are more successful in terms of gestalt, geometry, movement, significant form, or whatever, just as Mondrian and Nicholson would have done when refining their works. They’d have been looking for some kind rational, intellectual, abstract perfection.

Following this thought through, I asked Tom if he regarded any of these paintings as failures (which he might now be hiding in some East-End lock-up), and here is his fascinating answer:
“My authorship seems to take place conceptually, before the painting materialises, and the resulting work has a degree of formal autonomy. In this respect, failure is neutral – that’s not really where my concern rests in this work.”
Except, except…if the look doesn't matter, why in some of his chess-game pictures has he switched things so black is "playing" up the “board” (against convention, as in Deep Blue v K above)? Tom said:
“…although I try to orientate the games with white playing up, these examples were just placed in way I liked the look of…”
…and “aha” I thought, how it looks does matter.

But, not quite. Tom continued:
“I like how with square works rotation comes into play – and that in chess, a 3-dimensional appreciation of the board I find important, in terms of ‘seeing’ the game.”
He won't be painted into a corner: the rotation is for chessic, and not, to use Duchamp's term, "retinal" reasons. It's not rotated for the look of the picture as a picture, but to get a better grip on the game.

And when I taxed him that he was basically leaving it all to chance anyway, as it's an accident whether or not a set of moves results in a worthwhile visual image, something Mondrian and Nicholson, arch-rationalists, would never have countenanced, he said:
“In terms of rationality vs. chance, the paintings negotiate both aspects – they encompass chance elements - automatically playing out found data, whilst at the same time, this data is actively sourced, and the paintings follow the data through an absolute geometry. My authorship seems to take place conceptually, before the painting materialises, and the resulting work has a degree of formal autonomy.”
And we've definitively changed gear again. His art-works are not simply about those particular chess-games; or just about how they look. They are about the idea underpinning them.

So, in contrast to how, when I'm down at my portrait-painting class on a Tuesday morning, I "author" (might as well get into this art-speak; though not sure if I've got it right) my stuff by trying to see my subject, Tom has thinking do the heavy lifting. To risk a paraphrase: his painting is a technical application, following a set of rules, of data identified by a pre-conceived idea, and it refers us back to that principal idea, and on to any other associations it throws up.

It's about the thought behind the picture or, more precisely, before it.

Tom goes on to say:
“I’m also interested in how the paintings are comprised according to the data within them, rather like how the grooves on a vinyl record hold sound, but that the music can’t be determined just by looking at them. I guess the paintings are like LPs, in that they have become detached, fetishized objects.”
As a comment I'd underline the point you can’t see those associations, you have to do some head-work to get them; and we may need clues to help, something some of those other fully paid-up, card-carrying, "conceptual artists" sometimes maddeningly, willfully even, refuse to do, save occasionally in a work's title.

It seems to me, though, that you do have to have an object to view as the indicator or pointer to the motivating concept that drives the work. So this sort of art can never be totally "non-retinal", just as, in a book you need the text from which to read the ideas. We are not blindfold.

In a subsequent email, Tom patiently had one more go at explaining the "retinal v conceptual" issue:
"It's worth wrestling with the non-retinal paradox. I understand this as, whilst the encounter with the work happens visually/physically, the object opens up a space for the art to 'happen' in the mind. I consider looking and thinking parallel activities - as I heard an art historian once say, "the art in your head is as important as the art you are looking at." Very hard to separate the two, into something either purely visual or conceptual, I see it as more of a dialectical arrangement. The art work can be a rendezvous (as Duchamp might argue)..."
Which is a pretty helpful comment (thanks Tom) about art, pertinent to the chess mind also. It's a good moment to recall the well-known "chess beauty lies not in the move, but the thought behind it..." as said (more or less) by Nimzovitch (or was it Tarrasch...). Chess players might recognise familiar territory in this look/think world, even though the landmarks may be disorienting.

Whichever way you look at his art-works, or think about them, it's been revealing (for me, and I hope for you, too) to connect with a modern chess artist fluent in both "art-speak" and "chess-speak"; so thanks again to Tom Hackney for sharing his thoughts, and art, with us. Of course, any misinterpretation or misrepresentation of his views in this post, or confusion otherwise, is my responsibility.

Good luck to Tom for his next exhibition, Eye To The Ground, at the
R O O M Gallery, London
from 17 May to 16 June, 2012; Wednesday - Saturday 12pm - 6pm.

There will be some of his chess pictures on show - so it's a Must See.

All pictures in this post have Tom Hackney's copyright and are reproduced with his kind permission.
Dr Ed Krčma (2011) Moves, Throws, Plays. University of Greenwich.

Chess in Art Index

Friday, May 11, 2012

What it isn't all about

As both United and City have shown a tendency to choke this season, we're no longer obliged to feign awe at the complex mind games crackling away in their respective dug-outs. At last, it has dawned on some breathless sections of the media that Ferguson versus Mancini isn't Frost-Nixon or Fischer-Karpov.
James Milton, Racing Post, Sunday May 6.

Boris Spassky

[Thanks to Richard]
[Image via]

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

My favourite moves XIV


Linares, 1993


Seeing as the World Championship is almost upon us, it's a good moment to recall this lovely move, knight sacrificing knight, from nearly twenty years ago. I'm sure I saw it first in CHESS, since we were still then in a world, one which may be incomprehensible to younger readers, where games from the leading tournaments were not live online. Or indeed online at all.

It's been a while since the Queen's Gambit Accepted was in fashion, but it was back then. In the previous year's Candidates' match Short had tried it twice against Karpov, drawing both game three and game five and having the better of both of them (in contrast to the Black game before, which he lost with the Budapest Gambit, and the Black game after, which he lost with the Queen's Gambit Declined). I was impressed: by the end of the year I was playing it myself.

The Karpov-Short match took place in Linares, where, at the then-annual tournament, today's favourite move was also played. The position looks at first glance like one of those perverse ...b5 lines that Benko players play if you don't play 2.c4, e.g. something like the Benko Deflected 1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 c5 3.d5 b5 4. Bg5 Ne4 that you can see here. Black's apparently played a line with ...Qa5+ and is hoping to make something of the jam along that diagonal - and maybe get at the d5 pawn - before it all goes pear-shaped.

But it's not any kind of Benko. Whoever could have known the QGA could be so interesting? (Doubly interesting to me since I was playing it now.) But enough about the opening - what a move! And what a massacre!

It's arguable that the best move isn't actually my 9...Nb4, but the follow-up 11...g6

which definitively sacrifices a whole knight in return for turning White's position into marmalade. Maybe. In some ways I'm reminded of one of the greatest of all chess games, from Fischer's 1963/4 US Championship whitewash, and particularly this position

of which Wade and O'Connell in The Games Of Robert J Fischer (Batsford, 1972) comment:
The intriguing question is to know when Fischer switched his thinking from an assessment of the position based on 18...Nxd1 19.Rxd1 [I have translated descriptive into algebraic - ejh] when White has two knights for rook and one (two?!) pawns(s) - possibly a tenable position for Black, to that of trying to mate the exposed White king.

And of course Byrne is quoted in My Sixty Memorable Games as saying
I sat wondering why Fischer would choose such a line, because it was so obviously lost for Black.
Fischer by contrast says no more than "White is all right again", which gives us three different opinions of the same position, but the reason the position comes to mind, apart from some very slight similarities with the position in Gelfand-Anand, is the idea that Black might have considered an obvious manoeuvre to win back the exchange for a piece already sacrificed, but then changed his mind to make it a real piece sacrifice after all.

Or, even more so, that White might have been expecting Black to do this, and then been rocked back when he did not.

Be that as it may, it's hard to believe that Gelfand was really expecting 9...Nb4 any more than he had seen 11...g6: in fact, one wonders whether he had already lost his way by the time he played 9.f3. Was he expecting 9...g5, even though to my mind (or more accurately, my computer's) it also looks promising for Black?

I don't know. It's funny, in retrospect it looks like White rather than Black who was playing recklessly. Maybe he was. I don't know what Gelfand was thinking and I don't know what happened to the theory of that line, though presumably something did since I don't recall seeing it since.

But I do recall seeing the game in CHESS. And I do recall seeing 9...Nb4. And I do recall thinking that it was absolutely fantastic.

[My favourite moves index]

Monday, May 07, 2012

Just Barely Got Something to do with chess II

Just what is intelligence? Dictionary definitions talk about the ability to learn, to understand new situations, or to apply knowledge to manipulate one's environment. Tying these definitions down to objective criteria so that a robot could be evaluated as to whether it possessed intelligence is a daunting and most likely fruitless task. We can make some comparisons, however. A person mostly seems more intelligent than a dog, and a dog more intelligent than a salamander, and a salamander more intelligent than an ant. And perhaps we would be willing to concede that an ant is more intelligent than a wind-up toy. Just what makes one of these creatures more intelligent than another, however, is very hard to quantify.

Judging by the projects chosen in the early days of AI, intelligence was thought to be best characterized as the things that highly educated male scientists found challenging. Projects included having a computer play chess, carry out integration problems that would be found in a college calculus course, prove mathematical theorems, and solve very complicated word algebra problems. The things that children of four or five years could do effortlessly, such as visualising distinguishing between a coffee cup and a chair, or walking around on two legs, or finding their way from bedroom to the living room were not thought of as activities requiring intelligence. Nor were any aesthetic judgements included in the repertoire of intelligence-based skills.

By the eighties most people in AI had realized that these latter problems were very difficult, and over the twenty years since then, many have come to realize that in fact they are much harder than the former set of problems. Seeing, walking navigating, and aesthetically judging do not usually take explicit thought, or chains of thought-out reasoning. They just happen.

... to do with chess Index

Sunday, May 06, 2012

Old Times index

The Times obituary for Elaine Pritchard and the places from which it was copied:

Part one
Part two
Part three
Part four

Saturday, May 05, 2012

Old Times: conclusion

So, the Times obituary for Elaine Pritchard, a piece that seemed so impressive only last Monday. After a week uncovering its unacknowledged sources, what does that leaves us?

Not much, would be a short reply - and a true one. The obituary, far from what it initially appeared to be, is in fact a farrago of unacknowledged borrowing disguised as a piece of scholarship.

In this week's articles I have concentrated almost entirely on the issue of quotations. Simply from these alone, it is evident that at least four different sources appear to have been copied from without the slightest acknowledgement. These are:

  • Edward Winter's online article Chess Prodigies
  • The 1983 Pergamon book British Chess
  • Golombek's 1977 Encyclopedia of Chess
  • Sarah Hurst's article on Elaine in CHESS of October 1997.

From these sources, quotations have been copied wholesale, sometimes at length. They have also been altered without indication and stitched together with the stitching hidden from view.

Some - if only some - of the faults in the piece could be written off as minor transgressions, if they were considered in isolation. To my mind transgressions nevertheless, but not fatal ones. The trouble is first, that this is not true of other faults: second, that the obituary is a whole parade of transgressions.

As I say, the copying of quotations from those sources is wholesale and unacknowleged. Whether any of the other material is drawn unacknowledged from these sources, I leave the reader to judge. But one effect of omitting to mention original sources for quotations is that the reader who is unaware of these sources will not find themselves comparing them with the obituary. Readers of this week's pieces will, however, be able to see the sources, compare for themselves, and come to their own conclusions.

Of course the standard of citation required in a newspaper piece is not the same as that required in an academic paper. But that doesn't mean that there are no standards at all. Nobody would expect every single short phrase or every secondary source to be cited: but here the borrowing has been wholescale - huge chunks of text - and systematic. The same can be said of the failure to acknowledge sources.

There is no question that copying has taken place here: the only question is whether (or how far) it is acceptable. Personally I am not persuaded that the rampant borrowing of long quotations from other people's work (or their disguised alteration, which is also rife in the piece) is acceptable ethical and journalistic practice.

Then again, it doesn't matter what I think. But it matters what they think at the Times.

[Comments are welcomed, but please be cautious in what you write and remember that the piece under discussion is unsigned.]

Friday, May 04, 2012

Old Times: part four

Towards the end of the obituary that has been the subject of this week's blogging, there is a quotation from a previous chess correspondent of the Times.

Harry Golombek (surely, strictly speaking, an honorary grandmaster, but we'll get back to that) is quoted thus:

But where and when did Golombek say this? Where did he thus "summarise" Elaine? In a chess magazine? On the phone? To his mates down the pub? Unfortunately the obituary does not tell you.

Fortunately, we can: he said it in Golombeks's Encyclopedia of Chess, Golombek (ed.), Crown Publishers*, 1977, in which there is an entry on PRITCHARD [née Saunders], Elaine on pages 247 and 248.

The original piece does not seem to appear on the internet - or didn't, before today - and hence we can presume that on this occasion, the author has certainly read the original, of which the relevant section appears below.

There is our quotation, in the very first line.

Does it matter at all if the Encyclopedia goes unmentioned? It is a very short quotation and it is, after all, correctly attributed to its author.

I don't think it would matter, or not very much (on the other hand, why not just say where the line comes from?) were it not that this minor sin of omission is not the only one. Because Golombek didn't say Elaine had
the most natural talent for the game of any British born woman
but rather
perhaps the most natural talent for the game of any British born woman.
which is not quite the same thing. Even if the obituarist thinks it it is, it would be proper to include the "perhaps" so that the reader is not given a inaccurate impression as to what Golombek actually said.

Nor is it the only time in the obituary - to put it mildly - that what appears as a quotation is, for one reason or another, not really an accurate quotation. Here the "perhaps" is omitted in order to sex up the quotation a little, to exaggerate a touch, to make just a little more of the line (as of Golombek's honorary title) than is strictly speaking justified.

Small things, yes, but small things add up, and add up here to a strangely disrespectful way to treat the work of a old Times correspondent, in his own paper.

[* This is the US edition, which a reader happened to posssess. In the UK: Batsford, 1977.]

[Comments are welcomed, but please be cautious in what you write and remember that the piece under discussion is unsigned.]

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Old Times: part three

Today we return to the then Elaine Saunders and her meetings with Alexander Alekhine, as discussed in her obituary, published in January in the Times.

Yesterday we saw how Elaine herself wrote about the game she might have drawn against the then World Champion, in a passage quoted by the Times obituarist, but nevertheless not identified by them. We begin today by seeing how it was, reported in CHESS: at least, according to the obituary.

It's a quote of two sentences and the first sentence is straightforward enough.
Twelve-year-old Elaine Saunders, British girl champion, covered herself with glory by holding out to the very end, succumbing in a rook-and-pawn ending in the very last game to finish.
That's indeed what it said in CHESS, and here is the original, from 14 February 1938, to prove it.

Strangely, though, the passage, in the original, doesn't proceed (as it does in the obituary) "Elaine became famous overnight", but continues instead with Alekhine's "she's a genius" compliment, which in the obituary, only appears rather later, almost at the bottom of the subsequent column.

In passing, it's not clear whether that "BBC interviewer" is a piece of licence on the obituarist's part, since although CHESS says that Alekhine "was televised by the British Broadcasting Corporation in January", it neither says definitively that the "genius" comment comes from that appearance, nor mentions any interviewer. But never mind that: where is the second sentence of the quote in the obituary? Where is this line?
Elaine became famous overnight as the outcome of her sensational defiance of the World Champion, with pictures of her being published in numerous daily papers.
It's in quotation marks in the Times and hence we assume that it's a quote. But it's not there in the original.

As we can see, it isn't a quote at all. It's a paraphrase. It begins with "Elaine", all right, and then takes "became famous overnight" directly from CHESS. After that, practically everything has been changed.

So, for instance:
as a result of her fine show against Alekhine
in the original becomes
as the outcome of her sensational defiance of the World Champion
in the obituary.

But there is no indication that it's a paraphrase. The new sentence is presented as a quote, and there are neither any ellipses for omitted words (e.g. "as far as the general public was concerned") nor any square brackets for paraphrase or précis (e.g. when "pictures of her being published in many of the daily papers" replaces the much longer phrase in the original).

How odd. It's possible, of course, that there has been an error at the Times and that the quotation was supposed to end at "finish": that the sentence beginning "Elaine" was the obituarist's own commentary, properly located outside the quotation marks. Or the author may have misplaced them.

Office error? The Times would have the original text that was sent to them and would be able to say. Author error? The author is free to say so.

But if either of these explanations is correct, the author would still need to explain why they borrowed from the original for their paraphrase. Either something has been copied, or something has been deliberately presented as a quote when it was not. Whichever way you slice it, something is not quite right.

Still, good work to refer dirctly to the 1938 article. Provided that the author actually did so, and didn't borrow it from an online site where it is quoted, such as, once again, Edward Winter's Chess Prodigies

[please click to enlarge]

or otherwise the same author's Chess Note 3817. One wonders, again, whether it is possible that a researcher saw articles from the 1930s press, but not a prominent and topical online source.

We may also wonder whether the obituarist saw Sarah Hurst's article "Elaine: a 10-year-old World Chamnpion" which was published in CHESS for October 1997 and in which the "she is a genius" line of Alekhine's (which, of course, appeared in a rather earlier number of the same magazine) can also be found.

Why may we so wonder? Because the obituary's account of Elaine's view of Alekhine

is taken directly from that piece.

Or perhaps not quite so directly, since in the obituary, it's presented as a single quote: whereas in Hurst's original article, it is actually two separate passages, the first opening one paragraph

and the second closing the paragraph following.

On the other hand, the two separate passage are conflated here, as they are in the place from which it directly borrows. The entire quote (or quotes, if one prefers) can be found on the internet.

Though not without ellipses, or attribution, neither of which are present in the obituary.

So whether Hurst's piece was consulted directly, or secondhand, we can't necessarily say. But what we can say is that the passage in the Times appears to have been copied from Hurst in CHESS. But that latter piece has not been cited. Which, I think, it ought to have been.

[Comments are welcomed, but please be cautious in what you write and remember that the piece under discussion is unsigned.]