Thursday, 23 February 2017

Things I've never been asked to do

A few people have asked me about the dress code that was put in place for the 2017 Womens World Championship being held in Iran. Instead of debating whether it is appropriate, or whether the event hosts have the right to set such conditions, I simply point out that despite playing chess in a number of countries, I have never been told what I must wear at the board (although I have been asked to wear a suit on occasion while working as an arbiter). I'm not saying that those who played or chose not to were right/wrong, just that this rule seems to be only applied to 50% of the worlds population.
I've also never been asked not to play an opponent for political reasons. The issue of refusing to play against players from a certain country has come up again, with news that Iranian player Borna Derakhshani has been suspended by his federation for playing against Alex Huzman from Israel at the Gibraltar Masters. This has been an issue at other events, including the Chess Olympiad, although my suggestion that such boycotts are only legally acceptable if supported by a directive from the players country hasn't gained much traction within FIDE. Instead FIDE publicly pretend they have no policy on this matter, although privately they do (eg at Olympiads). However I do find this case slightly surprising, as there was at least one instance in the tournament where and Iranian v Israeli pairing was changed. So I'm not sure why this one went through.


Tuesday, 21 February 2017

I might have to start watching the Simpsons again

A long time ago I was an avid watcher of The Simpsons. But as I got older I kind of lost interest, mainly due to the fact that most 'new' episodes recycled ideas and characters from previous episodes. So eventually I moved on the Futurama, Family Guy, and more recently Rick & Morty, and Archer. (PS Bring back Duckman).
However there is still a little life left in the Simpsons, at least for chess fans. World Champion Magnus Carlsen appeared in the latest episode (shown in the US), and it wasn't just a drive by. The whole episode revolved around Homer's previous chess career(!), with Carlsen encouraging Homer to continue playing. At least one review I read not only said Carlsen's performance was good (and self deprecating), but the writers seem to get the chess stuff right (including some pretty accurate name drops).
I'm not sure what the lag is between US showings and Australia but hopefully I'll be alert enough to catch it when it turns up.

Monday, 20 February 2017

No not really

Following up from yesterdays post ....
In the end I decided I wasn't going to gamble on my opponent forgetting his own analysis from a few years back, and so decided to play it safe with 6.O-O, which was recommended by theory. It turned out to be at least 50% correct, as the game eventually ended in a draw.


Press,Shaun (1970) - Osuna Vega,Enrique (2181) [B07]
Gibraltar Masters, 27.01.2017


Sunday, 19 February 2017

Is this a coin flip?

During some downtime at Hastings, a question was asked about methods of choosing a move. The question was "If you cannot decide between two moves, are you allowed to toss a coin to make a choice?"
The question was asked of a number of very experienced international arbiters (and myself), and we all pretty much said it would not be allowed as you were relying on external assistance. But being experienced arbiters we also suggested alternative methods of making such choices, including using the second hand on your watch to simulate a coin toss.
A couple of weeks later I found myself mentally tossing such a coin at the Gibraltar Masters. I knew my opponent played a specific line against 1.e4 and was pretty sure I was going to reach the diagrammed position. The choice was either to castle, or sacrifice on f7. Having looked at it further it turns out that the sacrifice is not quite sound, but there was still a wrinkle. On two occasions previous opponents had sacrificed on f7 with a 1-1 result. The odd thing was that where he chose the correct line, he eventually lost, but when he chose the losing line, he actually won. So the sacrifice may have worked, if for the wrong reasons.
So when I reached this position at the board, I spent 5 minutes deciding what to do. To sac or not to sac. Eventually I ....

Friday, 17 February 2017

Another human activity taken down

While I was overseas I kept up with events outside the chess world, including the Human v AI Poker Match. The Libratus Poker bot, developed at Carnegie-Mellon played 4 poker pros in heads up no limit holdem, and beat all 4 of them. As with most AI v Human matches, this was a rematch after an earlier version of the program lost to human players a few years back.
Reading about the match, and the approach the bot used, there was one significant factor which I recognised from earlier Chess/Checkers/Go matches. While there was plenty of smarts built into each of these engines, it was the lack of emotional attachment to decisions that seems to be a big difference. Humans may decide that a certain move or choice is the 'smart play', but then decide not to play it due to other factors (tiredness, intuition, emotion). Bot's on the other hand will make a decision and then execute it. In chess this is often manifested by a change of plan depending on the previous move, which humans are slower to try. According to the authors of Libratus, in certain situations Libratus was 'fearless', which gave it an advantage.
While the win for the bot is significant I'll withhold judgement on whether it will change poker in the same way that engines changed chess. There may be a reassessment of how certain hands should be played, but overall I think the 'game space' is small enough that humans already have most of it covered.

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

2017 ACT Championship

The ACT Chess Championship is taking place over the weekend of the 10th,11th,12th and 13th of March (Canberra Day Long Weekend). It will be a 7 round FIDE rated swiss with a time limit of 90m+30s.  There will be one round on Friday evening (10th) and then 2 rounds for each of the other days.
The tournament is open to all residents of the ACT and surrounding regions. Entry fee is $65 ($45 for concessions). Players must be a member of the ACT Chess Association to play.
This event has been quite strong over the last few years with IM Junta Ikeda and IM Andrew Brown regularly taking part. There are a number of improving players closing the gap between the IM's and the rest of the field, so it might be quite competitive this year.
You can find the flyer for the event at http://vesus.org/tournaments/2017-act-championship/ Entries will be accepted on the day (no late fee), but you can also email Cam Cunningham (ACTCA President) if you wish to pre enter. Contact details are on the flyer.

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

When Steinitz went the hack

While Wilhelm Steinitz is well known as the "Father of Positional Chess", he started his career as a bit of a care free hacker. Adolf Anderssen christened him the "Austrian Morphy" and his style was described as "brilliant but not safe". This all changed towards the end of the 1860's when he began to formulate his theories on positional play, changing his style to "safe but not brilliant".
While this style began to bring him success at the top level, he still had an eye for a sharp combination. Against the top players he may have been solid, but weaker players still gave him chances to show his brilliance. One such game occurred during his tour of Great Britain in 1873. As it was a simul the quality of the opposition was probably not that great, but nonetheless the finishing position is one of the nicer ones I have seen.


Steinitz,William - NN [C30]
GBR tour sim Great Britain, 1873