Sunday, March 31, 2013

EFing Rook Endings

[JMGB writes:
Don't let the fact that the Candidates' has served up another lovely dollop of rook endgames let you miss Martin's latest on
Mr Rosenbaum's Chess Painting]

It's hard not to agree with that. Aronian blows an apparently easy draw, Carlsen fails to hold a difficult ending against Ivanchuk and maybe the whole world changes for a few years. What a day it was.

As for chessers versus the world, though, so it is with me and those members of our fraternity that don’t care for rook endings. I can tell them how exciting yesterday was for me, but if they’re not already interested I don’t think I'll truly be able to explain it.

Anyhoo, I'm going to have a crack at it and I'll start with the Radjabov - Grischuk ending which I thought had many interesting features.

  • One pawn holding two on the kingside;
  • The little nuances of White's play - improving his king one square with 47 Kd3 instead of the immediate capture and then later taking the opportunity to force the defending back a rank with 55 Rh6+ before munching the rook’s pawn;
  • Radjabov’s suggested improvement 56 Ke2;
  • The sacrifice of the b-pawn for rook activity;
  • and best of all, rook plus f and h pawns against rook [SMA16; RRE V; Have you ever had one of these?]. A two pawn advantage and yet no chances to win if the king and rook play very well. How is this not fascinating?

It was Carlsen-Ivanchuk that got most attention, of course. By his own admission Magnus blundered on move 71 and ended up with something very similar to Radjabov’s game. How similar we can see if we reverse the colours for Radjabov-Grischuk and put the positions up side by side.

Shift Ivanchuk’s pawn one file to the right and Carlsen gets his draw. Push Radja’s one file to the left and he wins. These opinions, brought to you by Nalimov, you can take to the bank.

Just one file. That’s the difference between a trivial win and a theoretical draw.

One tiny difference and everything changes: that’s why I find rook endings so absorbing. Well, that and the fact that one small slip when you're playing one can mean chucking away your shot at the title.

Rook and pawn Index


Saturday, March 30, 2013

Mr. Rosenbaum's Chess Painting. Part 10: And Now Mr.S.

Last week, in episode 9, we discovered that Anthony Rosenbaum, the painter of the 1874-1880 picture of Chess Players, hailing originally from Hamburg, living in Hull in 1851, had been involved in the damaging enlistment affair that unfolded in the US in parallel with the Crimean War of 1854-56.

Anthony Rosenbaum in 1883 (left), and 1880 or earlier (right)

Rosenbaum had been a recruiting agent for the British in 1855, but had given State’s evidence for the US authorities who suspected the Brits of violating their neutrality. After giving an account of his activities in the British operation, which we described in the last episode, he faced hostile cross-examination by Counsel out to protect the interests of Her Majesty's Government.  As the court transcript below shows, there was some mud-slinging, with Rosenbaum trying his best to dodge it.

Unfortunately the transcript is sometimes less than precise, but note, by the way, that the charges against Carstensen, a Dane who was a paid recruitment superintendent in the British Foreign Legion, and the other defendants, were all dismissed.

 Charge of enlisting for the Crimea – complaint dismissed. 

 THE UNITED STATES vs Carstensen, and others. August 2. The state’s evidence, Anthony Rosenbaum, was cross-examined at considerable length, and availed himself of the privilege of declining to answer certain questions. He said that he had twice been arrested before he communicated the facts to the district attorney ; he was under arrest at the time he made the communication ; he had been in prison about fourteen days ; he had no written contract with the men he took to Boston ; he gave them no money. I am a native of Hamburg ; I am in this country about sixteen months ; went from Hamburg to England, and then came to New York ; I was in a great many places in England ; I was an artist, and painted likenesses ; I was in the commission business in German goods.
So (pausing for reflection) the arrests to which he refers must have been those in June that year after which, as we noted in the last episode, he was remanded in New York's Eldridge Street Gaol. As for the recruitment business: Rosenbaum is not the one on trial of course, but he pleads here that he had no contracts directly with the recruits themselves, hence his hands were clean. It sounds like he was well briefed.

What is especially tantalising about his testimony from the art-history point of view is that he says he was "in a great many places in England", where he had been an artist painting “likenesses” - which renews our hope that there may accordingly be a great many of his "likenesses" awaiting rediscovery in a great many places (and that, by the way, might also include the US).

As for when he had set foot in the States: if his recollection was accurate it would have been say March 1854 – and here is a passenger arrival record from the 8th March that year for an A. Rosenbaum, aged 25, arriving in NewYork from Liverpool on the good ship "Saratoga" - it is the last entry below.

This Mr Rosenbaum also came from Hamburg, and the generalised profession of "merchant" fits with our Mr. R.'s line of business; though when the latter is asked below about his earlier time in England he becomes less than fulsome. It seems that his cross-examiner knows something about a brush with the law, but Rosenbaum is evasive, although unfortunately the intended meaning of the transcript (or Rosenbaum himself) is unclear here or there...    
Q. Were you not engaged in smuggling in England?
A. I decline to answer. I was not in prison in England for that offence.
Q. Did you not run away from England to avoid arrest?
A. I object to that. I was never engaged herein the business of smuggling : I was the manager of business for Baldwin & Co., Philadelphia, jewellers.
Q. Did you not, as their manager in importing, defraud the government?
A. I refuse to answer.
Q. Who was Mr. Baldwin?
A. A gentlemen of my acquaintance.
Q. Were not you Mr. Baldwin?
A. I cannot be acquainted with myself ; I was never in the employment of any emigrant forwarding-house here.
("I cannot be acquainted with myself" ?! Who is this wise guy...another smart Alec? )
Q. What business have you been in since you came from Philadelphia besides engaging men for the Crimea?
A. I refuse to answer ; I know the premises 75 Bowery ; I never occupied any part of them ; I have taken meals there, and paid for them.
Q. Did you ever receive any money that was paid there for the business of the house?
A. No ; I never was engaged in the business of keeping girls, or a house of prostitution there, nor at any other place in the city of New York.
Q. Have you ever been engaged in a gambling house here?
A. I refuse to answer : I know the gentlemen present, (Mr. Brendt;) I never was in partnership with him in the house 75 Bowery.  

So, Rosenbaum explicitly denies involvement with prostitution and the emigration/immigration trade, but refuses to be frank otherwise with his inquisitor – and strictly speaking we shouldn’t make any inferences from his refusal to confirm or deny involvement in smuggling or gambling, or that he had been arrested, and maybe imprisoned, for something other than recruiting. No, we most certainly shouldn't. Absolutely not. The attorneys acting for the British obviously hoped to discredit Rosenbaum as a witness, and not for the last time in his life had he to try and rebut, or otherwise evade, damaging insinuations.

Arrested twice in June for "recruiting" and detained in Eldridge Street Gaol, Rosenbaum may have been, in view of his own immigration status, susceptible to pressure or other inducements, but his avowed justification for turning against the British was reported back in England in the Freeman's Journal of 31 July 1855. It quotes from a letter of his that had been rather conveniently published, in the US, saying he had been told that the recruits ("his fellow countrymen") had been underpaid, that their "conditions [in the Legion] were worse than slavery" and, to top it all and maybe more to the point, "the English did not put themselves to the slightest trouble about the confinement of myself."

New York County Jail in Ludlow Street.
It replaced Eldridge Street Gaol in 1862
All in all the record of Rosenbaum's involvement in the recruitment adventure adds to the impression gained from our examination in episode 8 of the record of his dealings two decades later. He then appeared ambiguous, if not a touch slippery. Now we know about the goings-on in the US we can pose it more starkly: was he an idealistic adventurer, forsaking his German homeland for artistic and commercial opportunities in foreign parts (Britain first, then the US, returning eventually to this sceptered isle), putting his trust in the nobler motives of his fellow men and the beneficence of Lady Luck; or was he a chancer and a fixer, a wheeler and a dealer, an opportunist running with the fox and hunting with the hounds looking for grass ever greener?
A biography of  Anthony Rosenbaum?
If Rosenbaum is difficult to pin down, what about the central issue of whether or not the British enlistment operation was actually in breach of US law? The US politicos and senior law officers took that as read (though the judges showed proper and commendable independence). The Brits saw the niceties of the legal argument differently. Crampton, the British Minister to Washington, ruefully noted subsequent to the affair in a private letter to Clarendon, and in undiplomatic language most unbecoming:
"as evidence of [illegal recruitment] can at any time be obtained by giving a dollar to some half-stewed German there is no lack of arresting and bailing – but they have not got a single conviction."    
It was in the ring of international politics that punches were landed. The critical diplomatic exchanges between Marcy and Clarendon in May 1856 are prolix and nuanced, and both sides appear anxious on the one hand to avoid a complete breakdown, but on the other not to be the first to blink. The Americans were careful not to accuse Clarendon himself, the Foreign Secretary, of complicity and he never conceded that HMG intended to violate US neutrality. OK, said the Americans, any miscreants (if there had so been) must have exceeded their instructions, about which you Brits had been less than frank, and someone has to carry the can. Crampton, the British Minister in Washington (aka "The Envoy Extraordinary"), was declared persona non grata, and US dealings with him were terminated, the Brits having refused to recall him as demanded.

Other scalps for Cushing and Marcy were the three British Consuls in Philadelphia, Cincinnati and New York, who also had their credentials cancelled. In response the British rendered any further diplomatic relations decidedly interruptus, and it was only when Pierce himself withdrew in the following year from Presidential office that normal service was resumed.

One member of the British diplomatic corps was, however, pulled before he was pushed. He had been an attaché in the New York Consulate intimately involved in the machinations of the initial recruitment and payments, the panic of the about-turn and cover-up, and the subsequent recriminations over derelictions, defaults and legal costs. Perhaps he had been injudiciously enthusiastic, loose-tongued even, as there was damaging testimony that "he was a hard-drinking man, easily excited by liquor, and when so excited, is very communicative." Suits were filed, and warrants issued for his arrest. His name was in the press for all the wrong reasons, and he was "suddenly called home by his Government", as reported the New York Tribune of 22 March 1856 adding, deadpan, that he was "to receive promotion for his eminent services in the enlistment business".

He was Charles H. Stanley, remarkably sometime "the strongest player" in the United States.

Charles Henry Stanley (1819-1901)
American Chess Magazine 
via Moravian chess publishing and Chess Archaeology 
Chess sources on the internet (for example herehere and here) provide a decent amount about him, and this section of the story is indebted to them: just a few points (not enough to do his story justice) before we conclude.

He was born in Brighton, on the south coast in 1819, and went first to the States in 1843. There he beat the U.S. Champion in a match in 1845, the same year as he started America's first newspaper chess column. By 1847 he was editing the American Chess Magazine.

A decade later, in the same year as he was embroiled in the enlistment farrago, he was also organising a problem tournament in the States. This is an a propos observation by Max Lange (given by Batgirl): "It is well known he suffers a defeat with as much equanimity as he announces a victory"...which would be the mark of a gentlemen at the chess board no doubt, and quality he would sorely need in his trying days at the New York Consulate. Undeterred by that experience he was in the States again in 1857 appearing at the 1st American Chess Congress in New York later that year.

Stanley is 4th from left in the back row.
 From the American Library of Congress 
The New York Times 10 October 1857 reported that his "reputation as a chess-player has been universal for the last twenty years...[but]...He was scarcely in a fit state for mental fatigue, having been unwell for the past three days, yet he gave six hours' hard fighting to his antagonist Theodore Lichtenhein, esq., and only resigned after his opponent had got to queen."  Stanley was eliminated 2-3 in the first round of the knock-out won eventually by Paul Morphy in the ascendant. Lichtenhein was a German immigrant (but hey; no hard feelings). Here, is one of Stanley's two victories.
Stanley and his wife named their daughter Pauline after Morphy, whose own appetite for the game had been whetted, as a boy, watching the Stanley-Rousseau match earlier in 1845. In the 1860s Stanley was in England again, editing a chess column in the Manchester Guardian and playing competitively. Then, Atlantic-hopping back to the States, he played into the mid 1870s, finally languishing for some years in institutions on Ward's Island, dying there in 1901. It was the booze ("he was a hard-drinking man") that had been Stanley's demon, though whether or not he remained an unredeemed alcoholic to the end is contested here.    

And just one final speculative leap back to where we started: Anthony Rosenbaum. What became of him after his day in court in 1855? He returned to England eventually, as we know, maybe remaining in the jewellery trade, which he had said was his business in Philadelphia. If that was so, was this him below, in 1859 in court again, this time in London - and for bankruptcy? Nothing, now, would come as a surprise.

From Perry's Bankrupt Gazette, Saturday 5 March 1859, page 6.

Sources and Acknowledgements

The US documentation on the Cessation of Intercourse:
Senate Executive Document Number 1.  Message from the President of the United States to the Two Houses of Congress. December 1855. Digitised here.
Executive Documents printed by order of the Senate of the United States. First and Second Sessions, 34th Congress 1855-56. Digitised here. Rosenbaum's testimony appears around p345 by the Google page counter.

Parliamentary Debates:
Hansard record of the Our Relations With the United States debate 30 June/1st July 1856 is here.

There are also commentaries and analyses in:
 Barnes, J. J. and P. P. (1993) Private and Confidential: Letters from British Ministers in Washington to the Foreign Secretaries in London, 1844-67. Associated University Presses, Inc. Digitised here. 
Van Alstyne, R.W. (1936) John F. Crampton, Conspirator or Dupe? American Historical Review. Vol 41, No. 3, pp 492-502. Via JSTOR .  
Dawson, David (2010) Paul Morphy: The Pride and Sorrow of Chess, here (for the Morphy watched Stanley anecdote).
Batgirl's extensive research and blogging about Morphy can be accessed here.  

History Index
Chess in Art Index

Friday, March 29, 2013

The Great Chessboxing Swindle: taking a dive

There's been chessboxing and we missed it? Damn. Must have been something else going on to distract us.

Fortunately not everybody overlooked the chessboxing

although poor old Ray seems to have been overlooked himself, since watching the live commentary on Saturday I was disappointed to see that the seat Ray should have occupied was taken instead by Robert Fontaine. No offence to M. Fontaine, but I was so looking forward to seeing how many mentions of his friends, his time as Viktor Korchnoi's second and indeed chessboxing Ray would be able to crowbar into his slot while commenting on Carlsen-Radjabov.

Ray has not been forthcoming about his failure to appear, so that will have to remain a mystery for now. But talking of changes in line-ups, there's quite a gap between the one that was promised on the Scala website

and the one that actually appeared on the night.

Of course the same thing can happen at the opera, but still - having only one of your four advertised names appear (or two if you count the Costello v Woolgar "exhibition match") might be counted pretty poor if anybody cared enough to count.

It's a statement of the bleedin' obvious that any show which involves the promoter taking on his mate is not a very serious one. However, rather less interesting than the question of which brawlers turned up on the night is the question of which journalistic innocents (or cynic) would turn up beforehand and recycle whatever tosh Tim Woolgar happened to tell them.

This time round it was Wired, who we last met in this blog only a fortnight ago recycling the half-a-billion-chess-players nonsense while chatting to Ray, Fred Friedel and the bloke from the Gospel According To St Matthew. The gospel according to is that
Chess Boxing Demands a Rare Breed of Human: The ‘Nerdlete’
which neologism, one suspects, is not long for this world. Nevertheless it certainly is a rare breed of human that actually takes part, which is why it seems to be almost the same names every time Tim "The Spiv" Woolgar puts on a show. (Even if not the actual advertised names.) So rare they're positively endangered.

Perhaps I should say Tim "The Founder" Woolgar, as the piece, written by one Jakob Schiller, introduces him:
Tim Woolgar, the founder of London Chessboxing and the president of the World Chessboxing Association
though as we know, but Mr Schiller does not say, Tim Woolgar was appointed to that post by none other than Tim Woolgar.

Still, despite these nerdletes being a rare breed of human, the few - the very few - of them come from many walks of life.
[Woolgar] says there's also a carpenter, a nuclear submarine commander and plenty of people who are trained as boxers and mixed martial arts fighters.
Hang on, scroll back a moment. What did you say?
A nuclear submarine commander.
A nuclear submarine commander. I'll put that one down as "surely even they wouldn't make that up", though if it turns out to be somebody who, like me, once saw a submarine while on holiday in Scotland, who would really be surprised?

You know, you'd think a journalist, confronted with an intriguing claim like that, might respond "that's interesting, who are they, can I meet them?". I've enquired with Mr Steinberg to see if he asked. I am not hopeful of receiving a response.

So until we have a name and a few convincing details, then as always with chessboxing, it pays to be sceptical. You shouldn't always believe what everybody tells you.

[Chessboxing index]
[Ray Keene index]

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Zwischenzugs & Rock & Roll

And now, it's time for the first in a new series.

No, not that. Lyrics. Lyrics, lyrics, lyrics. Won't this be fun?

Let's start with what is almost certainly not a tribute to this blog, considering it was written in 1984. Though that year does have prophetic connotations.

A son of a swastika of '45 parading a peroxide standard.

Graffiti disciples conjure testaments of hatred.
Aerosol wands whisper where the searchlights trim the barbed wire hedges.
This is Brixton chess!

I couldn't agree more.

Lyrics © EMI Music Publishing

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Double Bubble

I was out last night: a getting-on-for three hour round trip to Golden Lane to play out a 90-minute draw in the London League. Such are the thrills and spills of life when you defend against king's pawn openings with the Berlin Defence.

And what do you know? No sooner is my back turned than we find half the field in the Candidates' tournament signing up for the CPRE. Well, if nothing else at least we know now which of them are S&BCB readers.

What to ask for next, though? Is an IFE out of the question?

Rook and pawn Index

Monday, March 25, 2013

The Campaign for the Preservation of Rook Endings

Grischuk - Radjabov, London Candidates' Tournament (5) 2013
50 ... Rxc5, 51 Rxb4 d4 and that's your lot

One move. One poxy move. That's all we've had so far and it's a total bloody disgrace.

Or is it?

In this brave new chess world of ours, I wonder if I'm supposed to see a single move's worth of rook and pawn as the best of all possible worlds for those of us who want to tell the world about their loveliness. After all, in last Friday's Chess Vibes AP interview, I'm their friend not their enemy We need to engage the audience more the following rather surprising exchange appeared:-

Peter Doggers:
But why was there no marketing? This event is much more important than the one in September?
Andrew Paulsen:
I didn't want to have a situation where it was too crowded, where we couldn’t control the public.

So there you are. The fact that the venue has been about a third full each day is by no means a failure for the man who's stated goal is to popularise chess. It is in fact a deliberate policy. Engaging with the audience more by not encouraging them to come, presumably.

Anyhoo, call me curmudgeonly if you will, but I'm not at all sure that I concur. Since open letters are all the rage, here's mine to Messers Magnus, Lev, Vlad et al:

Dear Candidates,

You've got six rounds left. Pull your chuffing fingers out.


Rook and pawn Index

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Mr Rosenbaum's Chess Painting. Part 9: Mr. R. again...

This is the first of two more episodes continuing our investigation into Anthony Rosenbaum’s 1874-1880 painting depicting an assembly of Victorian chessers. You will find links to the previous eight here.

Chess Players (1880) by Anthony Rosenbaum
© National Portrait Gallery
Earlier instalments identified the sitters, and followed the journey of the painting from its unveiling in the Mayfair residence of Dr Ballard, Junior (back row, fourth from right), to its present hanging place in Bodelwyddan Castle in North Wales. We also had a look at several of the characters associated with it. This included, of course, the artist himself, Anthony Rosenbaum (in profile, back row right) who left his trace in the chess record from the 1870s through to his death in 1888 (as he approached his sixtieth year) of somewhat ambiguous import.

Now, and thanks to a tip-off from fellow blogger Richard T., there is more to tell about Rosenbaum who, you may remember from last time, came from Hamburg and was to be found in Hull, in the north-east of England in 1851. It is to those middle years of the century that we turn, though not on the chilly North Sea coast, but further afield. To the Crimean first, and the war for which it is remembered: the Charge of the Light Brigade, Cardigan, Miss Nightingale, Mary Seacole, 1854 and all that. It was fought between an alliance of the British and French against the Russians over the decaying Ottoman Empire; heady stuff, in which the main action, ending in 1856, was in the East.

A Punch Cartoon by John Leech.
From here
The Crimean campaign, marked as it was by British misjudgment and cock-up, unfolded on the edge of Asia. Having got there we must now go on to our real destination, and to a largely forgotten and murky side-show to the main event, marked also by British misjudgment and cock-up, over on the other side of the globe: in North America.

This provides the stage for our next encounter with Rosenbaum and also, while we are about it, a revealing insight into the fractious first steps in the "Special Relationship". It is a long and involved story and some background may be helpful before we eventually rendezvous with Mr. R.

To bolster troop numbers for the Crimean war effort, the British Government passed a Foreign Enlistment Act in December 1854 with the aim of signing-up a “Foreign Legion” (i.e. an army of foreigners), and where better to start the recruitment drive than across the pond in the United States where large numbers of immigrants, especially Germans, were looking for work. The Brits reckoned that a regular Army pay cheque would be an irresistible lure (another would be the promise of land in Canada). Here is how they broadcast their offer in March 1855 :

Recruiting in the US was, however, fraught with difficulties both practical (poor communication, distance to the theatre of war, questionable loyalties to the Crown) and, even more tricky still, legal and diplomatic: the US was strictly neutral in the War, and recruiting within its borders was an offence against its domestic law.

The enterprise needed careful management, and a discreet approach was initially advised by John Crampton, the British Minister to the US in Washington, who used his Secret Service account for seed money. He was in weekly contact with the Foreign Secretary, Lord Clarendon, back in London, communicating via sealed despatch by surface ship lumbering across the Atlantic.

An elaborate scheme was quickly established, overtaking the cautious Crampton, based on a legal interpretation, punted by the Brits, that as long as any sign-up and payment was not done on US soil, but say in nearby Nova Scotia (as the advert above implied, and which was governed by the British), then it wouldn’t violate US law. Hence the device of simply inviting men in the States to travel to up to Halifax (albeit with an escort, on specially chartered packets from Boston), there to be formally contracted into the Army by magistrates waiting on stand-by to swear them in. All in all a cunning plan, and for a recruitment strategy a tidy piece of joined-up thinking.

From an 1855  map of North America.
Halifax in Nova Scotia is top right, Boston is middle,
and New York is at the bottom 

(and they are still in the same place today). 
The scheme was enthusiastically embraced by the British Provincial Governor in Nova Scotia, while our man in Washington, John Crampton, the "Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary", also went along with it, now recognising the potential for thousands of recruits, as did the British Consuls in New York, Philadelphia and Cincinnati who dutifully got stuck in. A regimental structure was established, and a Colonel for the Legion was sworn, along with other officers, and depots and receiving stations established. Recruiters-cum-escorts identified and organised the men into squads, and delivered them on a payment per head basis to a number of “superintendants,” one of whom was Frederick Carstensen, a Dane, who will crop up again in the story. There was an infrastructure of rented meeting-rooms, lodgings, and chartered ships; not forgetting the recruits themselves, speaking in tongues, occasionally unruly, and with allegiances divided and various. And one way or another, everyone had to be paid.

An undercover operation this was obviously not, and it was in full swing by March 1855, when, to reassure the US authorities, Crampton met the US Secretary of State, George Marcy. Rest assured that Her Majesty's Government desires to honour American neutrality was the message. Lord Clarendon in London said so.

Britain needed the men, sure enough; but the US wanted nothing to do with the "sanguinary and melancholy conflict" in the Crimea. As one of their senior law officers declared, with Messianic zeal:
"In this free and republican country, the home ordained by Providence for the oppressed of all nations, we have very little to do with the struggles for supremacy and power by the different crowned heads of the Old World."       
This quote, and other material for this post, comes from papers published at the time by the American Senate and Congress which document, in sometimes bewildering detail, the whole business. All sources will be given at the end of the second part.

The Brits were treading a fine line, and from the off the US authorities were vigilant for the least infraction, alerted not so much by those attention-seeking adverts placed by loose-cannons in the British camp (also published in German), but by the swarm of police officers, agents and informers that buzzed around this nest of intrigue: men from the US Marshal dogging the steps of the recruiters and diplomats, Russian spies and agents provocateurs out to entrap their Crimean foe, Irish Fenians (or so it was alleged) plotting mischief to relieve their own colonial oppression, and sundry others hoping for an easy buck at the Brits’ expense.

A Force Ten Diplomatic Storm was about to engulf Clarendon and his officials.

Foreign enlistment: running into choppy water. 
From here
The question was: were the Brits overstepping the mark and suborning people illegally on American soil and, if so, on whose say so - might it go, duplicitously, all the way up to Clarendon? Arrests and preliminary judicial hearings were not long in coming, the heat became too much, and the Brits got out of the kitchen in August 1885; although the ramifications rattled on well into 1856. To cover their tracks the Consular staff tried to retrieve potentially embarrassing letters, risking even further exposure. Out of obligation, and damage-limitation, the British provided legal and financial assistance to any of their people in water now hot.

The most sensational trial began in September 1855: that of Henry Hertz and Emanuel Perkins. Hertz was apparently convicted, but the belligerent US Attorney General, Caleb Cushing, intervened to entreat the court to hear a further confession (or "confession" in inverted commas, as one commentator put it) from Hertz giving elaborate evidence of meetings, letters of authority, and of payments made so as to incriminate Crampton – who, after all, was nothing less than a minister of HMG. In the legal fire-fight the Brits responded with third party affadavits claiming that Hertz was, in short, a spy in the pay of the Russians. He, and another infiltrator were named, and denounced as of "infamous character", on the other side of the Atlantic in a parliamentary debate on the 30 June and 1 July 1856 - two days, a measure of the seriousness of the breach with the US. There was even talk of war.

Cushing's agenda, it is said, was to deflect attention from Pierce's lack-lustre Presidency. If he could implicate officers of HMG so much the better to demonstrate that the US was now no push-over on the world stage. His strategy would be greatly assisted if the smaller fry were to give "State's evidence" against those higher up the British chain of command.
Lord Clarendon caught between President Franklin Pierce (left) and Attorney General Caleb Cushing (right)
(From here, here, and here)
When preparing to brief the President in December 1855 Cushing asked for a summary of cases opened in New York earlier in the year. And who's that, in the small print, accused in early June?

In spite of the omission of his forename it's our man, Anthony Rosenbaum, then in his mid-twenties. In fact, in spite of the fuzziness (click-on to enlarge), you can see him several times: at June 7 Rosenbaum appears twice as an "accused"; and by June 25 he appears as "a complainant".

It's him all right, because when he was appeared, named in full, as a witness for the State at the trial of Carstensen and others in July/August 1855 he described himself as “a painter of likenesses”.  His role in the recruiting machine, as stated in another report, was "said to be chief enlisting agent in New York", though clearly subordinate to Carstensen.

At the trail, Rosenbaum’s testimony, spread over several days, tells us more. His evidence-in-chief gives a detailed description of one operation when he “delivered” a number of Germans to Boston - he would be paid $4 a head for twelve of them - there to board their ship (“one of them was intoxicated and made a great noise and would be very likely to draw the attention of the police towards us”); that he went back, for a celebration, to “Kipp’s boarding house, in Washington Street, and had champagne etc, which was paid for by Mr Carstensen….”, who offered Rosenbaum “a commission in the legion if [he] would only work for him…” (i.e. an upgrade from casual to permanent engagement).

Rosenbaum was ready to give evidence further to implicate the British Consular staff in New York, but after a Perry Mason-style objection this evidence was not actually heard: the trial, said the Judge noting the peculiar detail, was concerned only about events in Boston. Moreover, according to a press report over here (Morning Post, 20 August 1885), Commissioner Bridgham hearing the case declared Rosenbaum untrustworthy when dismissing him from his obligations as a witness.

From here
So, where have we got to? Anthony Rosenbaum was in the States earning "head-money" as an enlisting agent. His activities took him into the orbit of the British consulate staff. He attracted the interest of the US law enforcement agencies, he was arrested, and then appeared as a witness to give State's evidence. This is reminiscent of - how can we put it - that apparent elasticity of scruple in the character of Rosenbaum familiar to us from episode 8: i.e. the later business of the possibly plagiarised chess problem, the supposedly questionable financial arrangements at the West End Chess Club, and the queried (by some) financial deal with the 1883 International Tournament in London. Was he ducking and diving in the 50s, as much as he appeared to be doing in the 70s and 80s?

Above we have touched on but part of Rosenbaum's testimony at Carstensen's trial. His later cross-examination tells us more about his biography, and this we will look at next week when we will also pick over the fall-out from the enlistment affair and the ensuing "Cessation of Intercourse" (as the diplomatic schism was called, odd as it sounds today).   

What is curious from the chess point of view is that the enlistment debacle involved two other chessers, although one was a mere bystander on this side of the Atlantic: Marmaduke Wyvill M.P., second in the 1851 London Tournament, who was in the House and voted to support the Government's handling of the affair at in the crisis debate at the end of June 1856. This he managed to do without having stirred from his customary somnolence on the back benches - he is not recorded as having spoken in the debate, nor much at all come to that in his twenty year stint as an M.P. (as an interrogation of Hansard reveals; or rather, doesn't).

In the game below Wyvill goes down in flames; a fate also looming for the British diplomats in the US. Both he and his opponent  are in Rosenbaum's painting (Wyvill - foreground, to the left of the commissionaire; Löwenthal - by the top left-hand board, grey bearded and balding).

The other chesser, who was more centrally involved in the affair, was also a better player than Anthony Rosenbaum was ever to be. He is not in the painting, but will appear in next Saturday's post.

While we are on the subject: to get the measure of Rosenbuam's later chess strength here is a table from the City of London CC Handicap Tournament in 1874/5 (for which his painting was initially intended as the prize). It shows him 4th class for handicap purposes, which is to say that players in the 1st class (here Bird, Zukertort - both in the painting - etc) would have given him Knight odds.
History Index 
Chess in Art Index  

Friday, March 22, 2013

Half a billion chess players can be wrong

There was a YouGov poll which showed that about 12% of British adults play chess reasonably regularly, more than a few times a year
So saith Dominic Lawson, on Radio Four last Friday. (At 2:36: his exact words are not 100% clear from the recording, but I do not think I mistake his meaning.)

One of these two people is dressed like a chess player

There was, indeed, a YouGov poll: we looked at it last month. It did say that 12% of British adults (or at least, 12% of their sample) play regularly, but more than half that 12% are in the category "at least once a year" rather than "at least once a month" or "at least once a week". Dominic's claim is wrong.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Chess Is Like... The Carlton Club?

I'm writing this column with a heavy heart. I know that chess coverage in the British mainstream media is rare and should be welcomed. However, there is always scope for saying no. And this is that time. For The Carlton Club, I could have easily substituted MasterChefVacuous Society or James Bond, such is Tom Peck's ability to allude to completely irrelevant things.

Magnus Carlsen attacks a photographer. Perhaps.

I just don't know what impression of chess Mr. Peck is trying to create. And that's create, not portray, because anybody who knows anything about the game will appreciate how misjudged his piece is. 

I'm a fair man, so I'll let you lot read it and judge it for yourselves. However, I'm quite happy to go to war on one particular point.

"Don’t come if your wife if (sic) heavily pregnant. It will last many, many hours – and you’re not allowed your phone."


Now, I'm all too aware that chess is riddled with misogyny. Just look at an average Chessbase feature; half the pictures will be of female participants even if they constitute 5% of the field. 

But this comment is dangerously sexist on a much more general level. Let me break it down for Mr. Peck in list form, a format he appears to like.

1. Apparently, women don't read newspapers.
2. Apparently, women aren't interested in chess.
3. Apparently, if a woman isn't interested in something, she'll pass the time on her phone.

I could go on. Down with this rubbish.

Chess Is Like... Index

Monday, March 18, 2013

Random Rook Endings VI

Black to play
(draw agreed)
Kasimdzhanov-Topalov, San Luis 2005

So here we are at the first rest day. Already just that little bit closer to an answer to the question that's on everybody's lips: how many rook endings are we going to get in this Candidates' tournament?

Answer so far: none. None whatsobloodyever.

Before we march on the IET building to protest at this outrage, however, we might first ask ourselves how many games might we expect to end up with just rooks and pawns on the board. It's not as easy to answer that as you might think.

Good stuff on the inside, utter cobblers on the outside

The back cover of John Emms' book The Survival Guide to Rook Endings makes the rather unlikely claim that a rook ending will occur once every five games. That would give us the rather splendid prospect of eleven cropping up at the Candidates', although I fear that's simply way too optimistic.

De la Villa's figures are rather more believeable. 8% for single rook endings, he says, rising to 10% if we count games where both sides have two rooks on the board. "I have recently read that 20%! of the games involve a rook ending... ", he writes before observing rather tartly, "... of course, that was an ad from an endgame book, and we know how these things work",

Anyhoo, one in ten would mean we might have hoped to see the rooks and pawns getting busy by now. If, that is, de la Villa's sample applies to our Candidates.

The 8%-10% number comes from considering games played by anybody in any circumstance. We're talking about eight of the very best chessers in the world. Does that make rook endings more likely or less? Does the fact that they're playing in a qualifier for a World Championship match affect the probabilities?

What, when it comes down to it, do we actually mean by "rook ending"?

Black to play
Draw agreed

The world championship match tournaments of 2005 and 2007 are probably the closest equivalents that we have to the current Candidates' tournament. The position here reached in Adams-Polgar in the second round at San Luis 2005. Is it a rook ending? Clearly not - there's a bishop on the board! If they'd continued Black would have had to play ... Rxc5 and we'd have our rook(s) and pawns position, but they didn't so she didn't so it isn't.

OK, but what about the position at the head of today's blog. Also from San Luis, also agreed drawn with before Black could play a forced recapture. A rook ending, obviously? It looks like one, I grant you, but before the last move the position looked like this:

White played R(1)xd5 and then they called it a day. No moves played in the rook ending so does it count or doesn't it? Trees falling in forests and all that.

So depending on how generous you are with your definition and how you do your rounding up, you end up with 7 or 8 of 56 games in San Luis reaching rook endings which is somewhere between 12% and 14% of the total. However you count them, though, that's an awful lot more than the zero% we've had in London so far.

Magnus, Vlad, Levon et al better get their act together and soon. Otherwise I might well have to stage a protest in the tournament hall.

Rook and pawn Index