Sunday, 1 February 2015

Competitive coding

One of the reasons I enjoy chess is that I like solving problems. Annoyingly the kind of problems you have to solve while playing chess are quite difficult, and the marking scheme is quite harsh (1,0.5 or 0 and nothing for spelling your name right on the scoresheet).
Problem solving competitions are a little more nuanced, and having participated in one recently, have an interest in trying it again.
But the interest in solving problems is also what drew me into computer programming quite a long time ago (I'm pretty sure the first computer I programmed was back in 1978 as an 11 year old). Since then I have programmed because I have to, but also because I want to. As part of the 'want to' side of programming I have come across a few websites that offer programming challengers. The Project Euler site is one I have used in the past (100 or so problems there), while I recently discovered www.checkio.org 
As with a lot of these sites you earn points and achievements for solving problems. The topics covered are quite broad, but there are some chess related puzzles there. Part of the idea is that small solutions can be combined to make bigger solutions, but I am not sure a full chess engine task is hidden away at the end.
The other cool thing is that the solutions are in Python (the language of champions), so if you want to either learn or brush up, this is a place to visit.

Friday, 30 January 2015

The best chess city in the World?

Moscow, surely? At least that would be the first choice of many players and chess fans from around the world. Of course this is based upon the dominance of world chess by the USSR/Russia in the 20th century, but clearly the chess environment in Moscow must have something to do with it.
Other choices? New York with its famous clubs (Marshall and Manhattan), Budapest due to the First Saturday events, or even Reykjavik, based on the number of GM's, the 1972 Fischer - Spassky match, and the fantastic Reykjavik Open.
Well what about Chennai? The home city of former World Champion Viswanathan Anand claims it has the most number of FIDE rated players in the world. And to back this up, they are holding a tournament with 1205 players. Not that special, until you realise that it is an Under 1600 event, and there are still 724 rated players taking part. Obviously it is an issue of quality over quantity, but if they can get those sort of numbers for a Under 1600 tournament, what would happen if they decided to hold an open?

2015 ACT Blitz Championship

The 2015 ACT Blitz Championship is on Wednesday 4th February at the ANU Chess Club, Asian Studies Building, Ellery Crescent, ANU. The tournament begins at 7:45 pm, with registrations from 7:30pm. The event is open to all ACTCA Members.
Entry fee is $10 ($5 for juniors). It will be a 9 round swiss, with a time limit of G/5m

This is the traditional start of the chess year tournament for chess in Canberra, although a couple of clubs have 'jumped the gun' in recent years. It is a serious tournament for a few players, but an opportunity to play chess with friends for most.
The following week the ANU Chess Club will be holding the ANU Masters and for the first time, an ANU Challengers. Both tournaments will be FIDE Rated, which I believe is a first for a chess club in the ACT (the FIDE rating of club events that is). If this proves popular the club will look at FIDE rating other events throughout the year.

Thursday, 29 January 2015

Open board vision

One of the attractive features of chess is the size of the board. 8x8 is the perfect size as far as I'm concerned, for two main reasons. Firstly, a bigger board would tip the knight versus bishop battle in favour of the bishop, rather than the balanced battle we have now. The second is that the size seems to allow us to visualise future moves, which might be more difficult if the board grew larger.
Of course not all of us can do this with a high degree of accuracy. Calculating on an open board (ie lots of open lines) is something I find fraught with difficulty, especially when trying to checkmate an opponents king. Having an enemy king surrounded by pieces often makes it easier to find the mate, while too many escape squares can be a nightmare.
One player who seemed to have little difficulty in doing so was Bobby Fischer. I've seen a couple of games of his where he has sacrificed material while pursuing the king, with a mate in X (where X is often quite large) to follow. In the following, well known game, he takes advantage of his opponents failure to castle. 16.Rxf8+ is the star move, although Fischer may have seen this coming when he played 13.f5


Fischer,Robert James - Dely,Peter [B88]
Skopje Skopje (4), 1967



Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Gibraltar 2015

The 2015 Gibraltar Masters begins this evening, and once again it has attracted a massive field from around the world. The top 56 seeds of the Masters are all GM's, headed by Topalov, Nakamura and Svidler. The tournament has even seemed to bring out some names from the past, including GM James Tarjan (US Champ in 1973) and IM Nigel Povah (who to be fair still plays league chess in the UK). One notable omission is Australian players, as I have not been able to find anyone in the entry lists with AUS after their name.
The top section has 253 players, while the subsidiary events have all attracted sizeable fields. The event really is a chess festival, with simuls, master classes, and team blitz events all part of the occasion.
There is of course live coverage from the event, but it is not restricted to the master section. The Challengers event (held in the morning), is also featured on the live boards, so you can get two games for the price of one.
If you are too far away from Gibraltar to drop in for the day (as I am), you can follow all the action at http://www.gibraltarchesscongress.com Each round starts at 1am (Canberra time), except the last, which starts 4 hours earlier.

An infinite number of monkeys

"It was the best of times, it was the blurst of times" is the kind of output you get if you sit an infinite number of monkeys in front of an infinite number of typewriters. This of course a well known thought experiment about whether such a scheme could produce the works of Shakespeare.
An analogous question is whether such a system could produce the worlds best ever game of chess. These days such an experiment does not even require monkey's, as a computer can just as easily come up with random moves. I've stumbled across a few such programs, including one that is used a demo for chessboard.js If you go to http://chessboardjs.com/examples/5002 you can watch a game where the moves are chosen at random from the set of legal moves in any position.
Having watched a couple of games I can make the following observations
(1) It is frustrating to watch
(2) The games go on forever
(3) I suspect any hidden masterpieces are a long way off being revealed

As the code for this is open source I may try and experiment with the settings. For example, always play mates in 1 might be worth trying, as is capture the biggest piece. While it moves the games away from being totally random, it may move them towards a simplistic 'human like' style

Monday, 26 January 2015

2015 Australian Junior Champion - Yi Liu

Yi Liu is the new Australian Junior Champion, after finishing the Under 18 section with 8/9. He went through the tournament undefeated, conceding draws to 2nd seed Pengy Chen and 3rd seed Max Chew Lee, while beating everyone else. Despite going into the final round with the title already confirmed, he still played a very sharp game against Chew Lee, the game ending with a repetition.
Pengyu Chen finished second on an undefeated 7/9, but conceded too may early draws to challenge for first. The best local player was Michael Kethro who finished in outright 3rd with 6/9.
Patrick Gong was the winner of a competitive Under 16 event, needing 8.5/9 just to stay half a point ahead of Tom Maguire who chased him all the way to the finish. Kristine Quek hung on to win the Under 18 Girls title, after stumbling in the 2nd last round. Her last round win kept her half a point ahead of Denise Lim who also finished the tournament with a win. The Under 14 Girls event was won by Cassandra Lim, who only dropped half a point on her way to 8.5/9.
The Under 14 Open saw another 8.5/9 winner, in this case Haran Salasan, whose round 3 win over Ray Yang turned out to be the deciding game of the tournament.
The Under 12 event was the only tournament requiring a playoff, with Matthew Clarke and Jason Wang tied on 7.5/9. They drew the 15m playoof games 1-1, and the 5m playoff games with the same score. In the final 'Armageddon' game, Ray Yanf (White) knocked back a cheeky draw offer from Clarke to win the game, and the title.
Full results from the tournament can be found at www.ajcc.org.au, along with photos and games from the event. Although the organisers (including myself) are totally exhausted from running the 9 day championship, we hope to have more pictures, and game scores posted to the website in the next few days.