Monday, August 04, 2008

Chess Events on the Agenda

Over the next few months there an unusual number of first class chess events on the agenda. First, here are a handful that are going on at this moment.

  • Chess Classic Mainz, 07-27 through 08-03-2008
  • British Championship, 07-27 through 08-09-2008
  • FIDE Grand Prix, Sochi, Russia, 07-30 through 08-15-2008
  • World Junior Chess Championship, Gaziantep, Turkey, 08-02 through 08-16-2008

Coming up we can look forward to a World Championship Match, a Women's Chess Championship, an Olympiad, and much more.

  • World Women's Chess Championship, Nalchik, Kabardino-Balkaria, 08-28 through 09-18-2008
  • Grand Slam Chess Final Masters, Bilbao, Spain, 09-02 through 09-13-2008
  • World Championship Match, Anand - Kramnik, Bonn, 10-14 through 11-02-2008
  • European Club Cup, Kallithea, Greece, 10-16 through 10-24-2008
  • World Youth Championship, Vung Tau, Vietnam, 10-19 through 10-31-2008
  • 38th Chess Olympiad, Dresden, Germany, 11-12 through 11-25-2008
  • World Championship Challengers Match Topalov - Kamsky, Lvov, Ukraine, 11-26 through 12-15-2008

If that doesn't satisfy your craving for top level chess, nothing will!


Friday, March 14, 2008

Experts Link Leonardo da Vinci to Chess Puzzles

LeonardoTreatise Experts say the Renaissance genius, whose interests included painting, mathematics, music, engineering, anatomy and botany, may have illustrated the puzzles in a long-lost chess treatise recently recovered in the library of an aristocratic family in northern Italy.

Read the full USA Today article here.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Chess and Social Networking

CNNChess It's your move

Even if you just checkmated your new friend in India or took your Russian opponent's rook, new chess Web sites like are encouraging niche social networking. CNET's Kara Tsuboi sat down with the site's founder to find out what has attracted more than 100,000 members in less than a year. Watch this video


Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Dover Publications Sale - Classic Chess Titles

Dover Publications specializes in reprinting older publications at fantastic prices - even when they are not having a sale. I've done business with them going back to the 1970's and I highly recommend that you check out their available chess titles for some real gems.


Now on Sale: Save up to 50% on Chess Books!
The most legendary players in history abound in the new Winter Sale titles: Fischer, Morphy, Steinitz, Lasker, Capablanca, Alekhine, Botvinnik, and more. Plus, they'll help you improve your game with expert advice on techniques and strategies—and they're all available at up to 50% off our already famous low prices. Here are just a few of the great chess titles that are now on sale:

  • Bobby Fischer: Profile of a Prodigy (Revised Edition)—Save 35%!
  • Epic Battles of the Chessboard—Save 50%!
  • How Good Is Your Chess?—Save 40%!
  • Technique in Chess—Save 45%!

Use this link to browse Winter Sale chess books—

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Chess as Played in the Real World - No. 10 - My First Rated Tournament

On Sunday I had the opportunity of playing in our first rated chess tournament.
Speaking for me, "playing" might not be the best word. Let's say that I've "participated" in my first rated to chess tournament :-) My performance in my games would hardly qualify as "playing" chess.
Although it was a lot of fun, I don't think I came to the tournament with as much determination as I probably should've. I played my games way too much relaxed - almost as if they were casual skittle games. Consequently, I didn't play very good chess. I did manage to get one win out of three possible games and that was my last pairing with a talented six-year-old with a 800-something rating.
My final provisional rating after three games now stands at 956 points. Ironically, my best game, and a game I was actually happy with and enjoyed playing and found challenging and interesting, was a skittles game I played with my second opponent after the section that we were entered in had ended. This is the game, therefore, that I feature below in today's post. Also, for the sake of completeness - and to publicly shame myself into playing better chess - I include (without annotation) my three games from the official event.
The second opponent I mentioned above - Jeff - is a friend of a friend whom I had yet to meet. He'd come to the tournament with his daughter Clarice, and like me, was wanting to finally establish an official USCF rating. My friend has played chess with Jeff at work a number of times - casually in some skittles games - so I was looking forward to meeting him and in playing some chess with him also.
It turned I did have that opportunity - as luck would have it I was paired with Jeff in the second round - and played a miserable game against him I must admit. Even more interesting, my friend who had entered the "reserved" section (for those under 1000 or un-rated) was paired with Jeff's daughter Clarice - a 1st grader - in the final 4th round.
So with all said and done, my friend actually came away with a better score of 2.0 than I did. I could only muster a 1.0 out of a possible 3.
But it was a good experience. It was enjoyable. I wish I had approached my actual tournament games with a little bit more seriousness, because I realize now that your initial rating is quite influenced by those first couple games. Afterwards, I played around with the United States Chess Federation's on-line ratings calculator and found that, gee, if I had won all three games (and I was capable of doing that I think) I might have had a provisional rating of 1700 or something although I play no where near that - so maybe that isn't a good thing :-) but even if I had won two games I would have been very happy with my provisional rating which would have been much higher than what I ended up. So, currently, I stand 956 provisional after 3 games. For comparison, after 242 games on the ICC my current rating is 1223, with a momentary peak rating of 1320 back in August.
Sigh of relief! Smiles of joy. I just finished the October 2007 Monthly ICC Tourney with my best score ever: a 3.0 (thanks to a 1 point bye unfortunately). But I did manage to defeat two higher rated players to finish up with two wins! And I now have a new rating (for the fleeting moment) of 1247:
October 2007 ICC Standard Time Tourney


Saturday, October 27, 2007

Romp With Rook: Chess History - A Rare Morphy Photograph


A rare photograph of Morphy making a move against Louis Paulsen during the First American Chess Congress (New York, 1857). This certainly must have been a "posed" picture judging by the abominable playing conditions (LOL) and the state of photography in 1857.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Rant - Time to Replace the Swiss System Tournament Pairings?

SwissPairings Recently on the USCF web site there was an editorial Greg on Chess: The Swiss is Terrible. I have to agree with Greg Shahade. Although I have never played an OTB rated tournament using this system I have experienced some of the same problems in ICC tournaments - which also use the Swiss system. Why can't we change this system?

In almost every open chess tournament, one is confronted with the Swiss pairing in which players are paired based on their rating. The field of every score group is split in half and if colors match and players haven't been paired before, the top player in the first half of the field will play the top player in the second half. (So, in a ten player tournament, #1 would play #6, #2 plays #7, and so on.) The pairing method is called "Swiss" because it was first used in 1895 at a chess tournament in Zurich. Since then, it's been commonplace. Because we have been born in a world where the Swiss is the only way, people have simply accepted it and don't seem to realize all the tremendous flaws behind the system. One of my greatest regrets in my chess organizing career is that I used the Swiss System in the New York Masters tournament series that I used to run. It was a perfect chance to be a catalyst for change that went to waste. I would never run a tournament again using this system.

Read the entire editorial here.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Chess as Played in the Real World - No. 8: Playing to Win

Playing to win or playing it safe? Personally, I'd rather take a risk playing for a win than playing not to lose. Coincidentally, yesterday's issue of The Chessville Weekly put it this way, quoting Jean Claude Killy: "To win, you have to risk loss."

My ICC tournament game from today could not be a better example of this philosophy - although I lost the game by taking some risks I almost won. In fact, I missed a forced mate in four after 24. Qxf3 (see diagram). I'll take consolation in the fact I can partially blame time troubles for that as I had 40 seconds left on my clock and just didn't have enough time to confirm and work out the combination. Ah, the joys and sorrows of chess.

Although it is depressing to lose a game, I'm rather proud of the attempt I made to win -sacrificing both a Bishop and a Knight to try and make it happen... and it almost did happen as the following game will show.

After 24. Qxf3 - Black to mate in four:

Replay the entire game below:

Monday, October 15, 2007

Rook's Rudimentary Resources - Yasser Seirawan "Winning Chess Series"

This is not necessarily a recommendation (or even a review), I'm listing it simply as a resource to be explored.

This series was first brought to my attention by Greg over at Greg's Chess Progress. Greg has used several books in the series to improve his game, and having moved on to more advanced things and through a very magnanimous gesture - Thanks, Greg! - sent me several books in the series he no longer had a use for.

From what I can gather about the series, they were first published by Microsoft Press as four volume set and then later expanded to six volumes. Eventually the series was picked up by Everyman Chess and they currently publish the entire series. Everyman says the Winning Chess Series is "probably the best-selling series of chess books ever published." It certainly seems to be a comprehensive series, starting from the very basics with volume one Play Winning Chess and from there covering tactics, strategies, openings, endgames, and combinations.

So far, I have only been able to read a single chapter, chapter one entitled "Early Days" in the Winning Chess Openings book. It was great fun to read! I actually laughed out loud while reading it because, in the example games he gives, I saw myself doing the same things he did (and millions of other beginners have done) when they first learn how to play the opening. Not only were the games amusing they were very educational - thanks to the insightful comments by Mr. Seirawan. If the rest of the material is up to this quality I expect this series to be very good. As I work through the books I hope to give full reviews of each. That's going to takes some time though ;-) For what it's worth, I noticed the customer review’s at Amazon were uniformly high – 4 to 5 stars – for all seven volumes!

Here is a detailed list of the series (including the back cover summaries):

Winning Chess Series by Yasser Seirawan

  1. Play Winning Chess - An introduction to chess and some basic strategies. "In this first of a four part series, Seirawan talks to the chess novice. He explains the game's development and basics of play, sharing stories of some of the wild and wonderful characters from chess history and Seirawan's own experiences. The language is simple and nontechnical enough for the greenest newcomer, who will hardly seem green at all after absorbing the lessons of this terrific introduction to chess."
    Microsoft Press 1990, 1998
  2. Winning Chess Tactics - An introduction to tactics with puzzles. "This is the second in Seirawan's four volumes, taking the reader from the very basics of chess through appreciation of advanced play. He does a remarkable job of discussing tactics that usually appear only in books for advanced players and communicating them to anyone with a grasp of playing fundamentals. The first part of the book deals with basic tactics and how they can be used individually and in combination. In the second part, Seirawan introduces some of the great chess tacticians and their games, further illustrating tactics as they work out in real-life play. "
    Microsoft Press 1992, 1998
  3. Winning Chess Strategies - A book on how to use small advantages and use strategies to make them. "This is the third of Seirawan's four-volume series, which takes the reader from chess greenhorn to a player advanced enough to understand grandmaster play. Here, Seirawan shows how to set long-range goals for a game and systematically gain a superior position. His deft explanations give anyone with basic chess knowledge (covered in his previous books) the insights to leap levels in play. As usual, he tackles the subject with an infectious enthusiasm, communicating the sporting thrill as each piece of a meticulous plan comes together. Throughout the book, engrossing chess puzzles help teach strategic points."
    Microsoft Press 1994, 1998
  4. Winning Chess Brilliancies - Notable games in chess that are analyzed by the author. "Seirawan does more than present 12 of the most brilliant grandmaster games of the past 25 years. His lively move-by-move analysis delves into the minds of many of chess's greatest players, explaining the reasoning (or errors) behind each. Readers with a grasp of chess basics, tactics, and strategies (covered in the first three books of Seirawan's four-book series) will come away with an appreciation of the subtleties of grandmaster play and the inspiration to stretch their skills and understanding to higher levels. Have another chess player nearby when you read it--you'll want to play afterwards."
    Microsoft Press 1995, 1998
  5. Winning Chess Openings - Gives a brief description on hundreds of the most popular openings, as well as opening strategies. "The two greatest challenges for beginning chess players are not only to survive the openings phase, but also to choose appropriate attack and defense formations in the process. Winning Chess Openings shows you how to do both. In Yasser Seirawan's entertaining, easy-to-follow style, you're shown formations that can be used with other White or Black pieces. Winning Chess Openings explains how to: build a safe house for a king; estimate losses of ten moves or fewer; utilize the elements: time, force, space and pawn structure; plan strategy based on time-tested opening principles; employ a defense for Black against any White opening; apply an opening for White used by World Champions."
    Microsoft Press 1998
  6. Winning Chess Endings - Introduction to the endgame. "Good books about endgames for beginners are few and far between. Winning Chess Endings is a great one - a gripping introduction to what you need to know to win chess endings, taught by American Grandmaster Yasser Seirawan. His entertaining, easy-to-understand style, incisive stories and insiders advice will help you develop a solid grasp of proven principles that you can apply with confidence whenever a game goes the distance. You'll learn to prevail time and again in endgames with common and uncommon combinations and pieces. Winning Chess Endings explains how to: relentlessly find checkmates, from easy to hard, in all basic endgame patterns; master the intricacies of King and Pawn Endings; win consistently in the most common endgame - the Rook ending; master the pros and cons of Bishop vs. Knight Endgames; seize the advantage in Rook Pawn and Queen Pawn endings; play like a grandmaster in solitaire endings."
    Microsoft Press 1999
  7. Winning Chess Combinations - Teaches players how to recognize the main combination patterns; somewhat of a follow up to Winning Chess Tactics. "Winning Chess Combinations is a unique work that doesn't merely repeat the wonderfully rich and vast numbers of combinations, asking readers to solve a particular diagrammed position; it is a work that is far more realistic. A combination involves a sacrifice upsetting the balance of forces, but will it work or tragically boomerang? The reader is invited to solve this critical question by identifying the advantages that a specific position holds which might make the combination successful."
    Everyman 2006

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Romp with Rook - An English "Barley Corn" Chess Set from 1820


I really like this set - including the "removable" flags on the rooks. Nice!

Fridays by the Fireside No. 8 - More Odd, But True Chess Trivia

In our eighth installment of Fridays by the Fireside we feature some more odd, but true chess trivia from the Irving Chernev and Fred Reinfeld book The Fireside Book of Chess.

Chapter - The Magic of Chess
Section - Odd, But True
Item - 8 - 12
Page - 72

  • Many a good player would like to try his skill against the masters in a tournament, but dreads the possible outcome—a long string of zeros. Not so Colonel Moreau, who played in the Monte Carlo Tournament of 1903. He played two games with each of 13 opponents, and lost 26 times in succession. Not even so much as one measly draw could he get!
  • What is the best move to begin a game? At one time the masters began automatically with 1 P—K4; then they switched to 1 P—Q4. Paul Morphy, considered by many critics the greatest chess genius that ever lived, never played 1 P—Q4. In contrast, Ernest Gruenfeld, one of the greatest living authorities on opening play, ventured on 1 P—K4 only once in his entire tournament career (against Capablanca at Karlsbad 1929). When asked why he avoided 1 P—K4, he answered, "I never make a mistake in the opening!"
  • Chess is thought of so highly in the Soviet Union that it is taught in the public schools. Yet, blindfold play is forbidden by law! (Do they realize, we wonder, that a master player analyzing a combination ten moves deep is really playing blindfold chess?)
  • Franz Gutmayer wrote a book on how to become a chess master, but could never become one himself! Gutmayer never won a Hauptturnier first prize, a requisite in Germany for the title of master.
  • Dr. Lasker was certainly a hard man to beat. Marshall won from him in May 1900, and then once again on another May day. But that second victory came after forty years of tournament and match play, in the course of which they had met many times.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Romp with Rook: Halloween Costumes for the Chess Nut

...and you'd have to be nuts to wear these costumes from

ChessCostume ChessQueenCostumeLarge

For those who look to the past here's an idea from the National Archives of Canada:


Chess Hats from


Chess Tunics from


Friday, October 05, 2007

Rave - "The Immotal Game" Now in Paperback

I've blogged about David Shenk's excellent book "The Immortal Game" several times (here and here) and I'm happy to say it is now available in a paperback edition ($10.17 from Amazon). If you are looking for a very entertaining chess book you can read away from a chess board this is it. Mostly it is a history of chess, but it also examines why the game has fascinated so many millions over the past millennium or so. You don't even need an understanding of how to play chess to appreciate this book - just an interest. The most technical thing in the entire volume is an on-going examination (between chapters) of the famous "Immortal Game" a chess game played in 1851 by Adolf Anderssen (playing white) and Lionel Kieseritzky. There are plenty of diagrams and easy-to-understand explanations of what is happening in the game. This would be a great book to give someone that may have expressed an interest in chess but, for whatever reason, has been hesitant in taking up the game. Highly recommended!

Fridays by the Fireside No. 7 - More Odd, But True Chess Trivia

In our seventh installment of Fridays by the Fireside we feature some more odd, but true chess trivia from the Irving Chernev and Fred Reinfeld book The Fireside Book of Chess.

Chapter - The Magic of Chess
Section - Odd, But True
Item - 108 - 113
Page - 103

  • In 1891 a match was played at the Manhattan Chess Club between the bald-headed members and the hirsute ones (hirsute: one who removes his hat when he gets his hair cut). The baldheads won the match by 14 points to 11.
  • Playing simultaneously in Europe from June 1927 to March 1928, Geza Maroczy compiled the almost incredible score, from a total of 943 games, of 825 wins, 113 draws and only 5 losses!
  • One of Harry N. Pillsbury's favorite stunts in the realm of memory and imagination was to give a simultaneous display where he engaged ten chess players and ten checker players blindfolded, meanwhile taking a hand in a rubber of whist!
  • In ten years of tournament and match chess, from 1914 to 1924, Capablanca lost only one game!
  • Dr. Emanuel Lasker complimented Fred Reinfeld and Reuben Fine on their Dr. Lasker's Chess Career, but regretted the fact that none of his lost games were included in the book! (A modest chess master is a rare bird!)
  • Leonardo da Vinci may have been "perhaps the most resplendent figure in the human race," but Benjamin Franklin was a worthy runner-up. So many and varied were his interests that it should occasion little surprise that the man who was a printer, publisher, philosopher and Postmaster-General, the inventor of the lightning-rod, the rocking chair and bi-focal spectacles, should also have been the first player and writer on chess in America. For more on Benjamin Franklin and chess see Rook Van Winkle's Chess Blog: Regal Games from the Realms of Yore - Benjamin Franklin and André Danican Philidor

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Rave - Age Over Youth: Viswanathan Anand Oldest World Champion Since Mikhail Tal

According to an article at the USCF, Viswanathan Anand is the oldest player to win the World Championship since Mikhail Botvinnik regained the title in 1961 from Mikhail Tal. I take great comfort in that :-)

Some other interesting "oldest in chess" (courtesy of Bill Wall's Oldest in Chess)

  • The oldest world chess champion was Wilhelm (William) Steinitz, who won a world championship match from Chigorin at the age of 56. He was world champion until he lost it in a match with Lasker in 1894 at the age of 58 years, 10 days.
  • The oldest qualifier for the World Chess Championship was Vassily Smyslov (1921- ), who became a Candidate by taking 2nd place in the 1982 Las Palmas Interzonal at the age of 61.
  • The oldest player to become a master was Oscar Shapiro. He became a USCF master at the age of 74.
  • The oldest person to win a national chess championship was Edith Price (1872-1956), who won the British Ladies Championship in 1948 at the age of 76.
  • The oldest person to win a state chess championship was Harlow Daly (1883-1979), who won the chess championship of Maine in 1969 at the age of 85.
  • Encrico Paoli is the oldest active chess player in the world as of 2004. He is 96.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Romp wth Rook - The Chess Art of Veronika Kasatkina

Here is a sample of chess art designed by the famous Russian graphic artist Veronika Kasatkina. Her work graces the covers of software made by Convekta and the Russian Chess Magazine 64. She works mostly with digital media, and deals with a chess theme. You can purchase a set of 28 Chess Art Postcards or a set of eight 8" x 12" posters from ChessCentral. Individual posters are also available from Convekta Chess Store. Here are a couple of my favorites:


"River of Time"

A collage of her work:

Friday, September 28, 2007

Fridays by the Fireside No. 6 - More Odd, But True Chess Trivia

In our sixth installment of Fridays by the Fireside we feature some more odd, but true chess trivia from the Irving Chernev and Fred Reinfeld book The Fireside Book of Chess.

Chapter - The Magic of Chess
Section - Odd, But True
Item - 52 - 57
Page - 89

  • Emanuel Lasker made a clean sweep at the New York tournament of 1893. He won 13 games straight, without allowing a single draw! But history repeats itself. In the New York tournament of 1913, Capablanca too faced 13 opponents and mowed them all down in quick succession, without allowing a single draw!
  • Do you sometimes wish your opponent would let you move the pieces around to help analyze a position? In 1911, Spielmann and Alapin played a match at Munich, in which analysis by means of moving the pieces was permitted. Alapin used this privilege; Spielmann decided not to do so. P.S. Spielmann won the match!
  • Steinitz and Capablanca had race horses named after them!
  • Steinitz was once misjudged to be a spy! Police authorities assumed that the moves made by him in playing his correspondence games with Tchigorin were part of a code by means of which important war secrets could be transmitted.
  • Rubinstein won only six games at Teplitz-SchOnau in 1922. But of these six games, four were winners of brilliancy prizes!
  • G. A. MacDonnell was the winner of a tournament played at London in 1868. All the competitors began their games with the positions of their Knights and Bishops reversed. The reason? They wanted to avoid book play! (And this was way back in 1868!)

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Rook's Recommendations - Chess Articles at

There is a great wealth of chess material at Wikipedia that is worth exploring. Thanks to the "categories" feature you can explore areas of interest. Here are some of the categories I think you'll find useful and interesting:

If you need a master index look here:

  • List of chess topics Something in this list from the incredible amount of chess material at Wikipedia will catch your eye.

Wikipedia is a great chess resource - use it to learn and improve.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Rant - No Hope for Adults to Improve Their Chess Rating?

Abandon hope! That's seems to be the general message from the August 2007 Chess Life's Chess Coach Symposium article when the following question was put to the experts: "If an adult has been the same rating for many years, does she/he have any hope of improving?"

Here are the answers supplied by the chess coaches:

  • IM Greg Shahade says "'s a large, large mountain to climb. You have to be happy after you gain 20 points; it’s a miracle if you get 50. You have to refocus your attitude towards being completely, completely obsessed by the game. Of course, you can also get a little worse, if you get too old. Like Korchnoi."

  • FM Craig Jones says "As we age, we lose the ability to change. And, if you think about it, the only way to improve is to change."

  • FM Aviv Friedman "It’s very hard. I can’t think of anyone who has. "

  • GM Miron Sher says "From age 25-40, there are many possibilities for improvement. After age fifty, it’s good if you can stay the same rating."
Thoughts, anyone?

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Chess as Played in the Real World - No. 7

I've finished the ICC September tournament with a score of 0-4. I lost my last game. I think mostly because I came out of the opening pretty poorly. Well, at least I didn't throw the game away with a complete blunder. Still, it's a bit disappointing not to win (or draw) a single game! I was next to the lowest ranked player (and that player even scored above me thanks to a bye in an earlier round). Here's the game:

Monday, September 24, 2007

Rook's Rudimentary Resources - Correct Pronunciation of Chess Words

If you are new to chess you will start building a new vocabulary pretty quickly consisting not only of new terms but also names of famous chess players. Don't get in the bad habit of mispronouncing these words - learn how to pronounce them correctly from the start.

Fortunately there are some good resources to help you with correct pronunciation. For the more common chess terms you can visit the Merriam-Webster on-line dictionary site. At their site you can listen to correct pronunciation (and definitions of course) for the following chess terms:

  • en passant
  • en prise
  • j'adoube

Correctly pronouncing the names of famous players presents a slightly more difficult problem - this is especially true when you hear players talk about chess openings. Here's a sampling:

  • Alekhine - pronounced ahl-Yeck-een
  • Giuoco Piano - pronounced Joke-o Pee-Ah-no
  • Najdorf - pronounced NIGH-dorf
  • Pirc - pronounced Peerts

For an exhaustive list see Pronounce that Chess Word by Bill Wall

And these last two are just plain fun to say:

  • Zugzwang (TSOOKS-vahng) position in which the move makes a worse result
  • Zwischenzug (TSVEYE-shun-tsook) in-between move

Finally, we have this excerpt of a poem from the Edinburgh University Chess Club:

A rather funny poem appeared in Chess Review in 1949 entitled "Pronunciation." Some excerpts:

Oh! she is the Tarrasch
Of this parish.
Is her
and Ragozin
is her cousin.

Will she, will she
Always Flohr me?
Will she never Phil-adore
Will she never
Care a damn bit
For my Center

I will have to pull my neck in
For she dotes upon Alekhin.
I will have
to pull my oar in
For she dotes upon Tchigorin!

Yes --
An' what of

The full text may be found in "The Treasury of Chess Lore" by Fred Reinfeld.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Regal Games from the Realms of Yore - Benjamin Franklin and André Danican Philidor

Today, in our Sunday series Regal Games from the Realms of Yore, we feature Benjamin Franklin - one of the most talented and remarkable men from the annals of history. It should come as no surprise that Franklin was a chess player. Bill Wall has done an admirable documenting information concerning Benjamin Franklin's life long involvement with chess at his web page Benjamin Franklin and Chess by Bill Wall and John McCrary, past president of the USCF and the US Chess Trust has authored an interesting PDF document Chess and Benjamin Franklin: His Pioneering Contributions

That got me thinking whether or not there are any games on record as having been played by Benjamin Franklin. The answer appears to be "no." So, as a substitute I shall have to offer a game by Captain Smith vs François André Philidor, London, England 1790, Bishop's Opening: Berlin Defense (C24), 0-1 which features "a good sample of Philidor's ideas about pawns; plus a nice mating combination at the end." Franklin had the opportunity of meeting and playing chess with Philidor, probably the greatest chess player of the 18th century, at the famous Café de la Régence in Paris.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Romp With Rook - Little Known Chess Facts

  • The longest chess game theoretically possible is 5,949 moves.
  • The record number of moves without the capture of a piece is 100.
  • The longest recorded time for a chess player to make a move is 2 hours and 20 minutes.
  • The word "checkmate" comes from the Persian phrase "Shah Mat," which means "the King is dead."
  • Rookies are named after the rook in chess. Rooks generally are the last pieces to move into actions, and the same goes for rookies.
  • Iran is the only country in the world that bans chess. Ayatollah Khomeini said the game "hurts memory and may cause brain damage."
  • The most popular PBS television show aired was the 1972 Bobby Fischer-Boris Spassky chess match.

Source: Daytona Beach News Journal

Friday, September 21, 2007

Fridays by the Fireside No. 5 - Chess As It Is Played - The Two Rook Sacrifice

In our fifth installment of Fridays by the Fireside we feature a dramatic two rook sacrifice from the Irving Chernev and Fred Reinfeld book The Fireside Book of Chess.

Chapter - Chess As It Is Played
Section - The Two Rook Sacrifice
Page - 315

When a master has a reputation for brilliancy, his opponents play against him with extra caution and thus reduce his opportunities for combinative fireworks. But despite his reputation as a 'Peck's bad boy,' Mieses was still able to produce such light-hearted classics as this one:

English Opening - London 1939
Craddock vs. Mieses

News Item - Is Your Chess Set from China? Is It Safe?

I guess I really didn't give this much thought, but an article on mentions chess sets as being tested for safety reasons. I imagine most all chess sets are made in China these days. How many kids are playing chess with potentially dangerous chess sets?

...product testers [at an international product testing company] who normally would check tools or candles are working on chess sets and plastic cars.

To check for lead, lab workers use a razor blade to scrape off paint from the toy's painted surface. They need .1 grams of paint to test, which can be a challenge when dealing with something like dice which has only painted dots, or a chess set with lots of nooks and crannies.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Rook's Recommendations - Checkmate with Bishop and Knight vs. Lone King

One of the fundamental things the chess novice must learn is how to force checkmate against a lone King (or if it is even possible to force checkmate at all). To briefly summarize what we all should know:

Checkmate CAN be forced in the following situations:
  • Queen vs. King
  • Two Rooks vs. King
  • Rook vs. King
  • Two Bishops vs. King
  • Knight and Bishop vs. King

Checkmate CANNOT be forced in the following situations:

  • Two Knights vs. King (Checkmate is possible but cannot be forced)
  • Knight vs. King
  • Bishop vs. King

The conventional wisdom is that learning to checkmate with two Bishops vs. lone King or Bishop and Knight against vs. lone King is so rare they are not worth learning. In fact, Jerry Silman in his excellent book (see Great New Book - Silman's Complete Endgame Course: From Beginner to Master ) goes so far as to say:

Bishop and Knight [vs. lone King] might never occur in your whole chess lifetime and is far too difficult to waste your precious study time on.

Is that true? I've heard a contrary opinion that says, even though you'll probably never experience a game with a Knight and Bishop vs. a lone King, learning how to checkmate in this situation is very helpful because 1) it helps you to better understand how Knights and Bishops can work together in other situations and 2) it is helpful to learn how the King can be used as an active piece (together with the Bishop and Knight) in the endgame.

Well, as Rook has a little time on his hands and is always up to a challenge, I going to try and find out for myself. Can a novice actually learn this forced checkmate? Will practicing this help my game at all? Of course, my rational side agrees with Silman that doing ANYTHING other than this would be a better use of my chess improvement time. I'm sure that is probably true. But I have another motivation. I would really like to pay back Chessmaster 10 by proving to it I can force checkmate against it no matter how much it tries to resist. Sounds like fun - or perhaps complete folly - anyway I'll play with it awhile and let you know what happens.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Rant - Doing Algebraic Notation Right

AlgebraicNotation Although I am a product of a "descriptive notation" generation (1. P-K4 P-QB4) I adapted relatively painlessly to algebraic notation. In fact, I wouldn't want to go back. But there are some things that irk me concerning the implementation of algebraic notation in books and on chess boards:

  • Using Long Algebraic in Beginner Books. I've seen a number of books for beginners that seem to think long algebraic notation (1. e2-e4 Ng8-f6) is somehow beneficial or easier to learn than short algebraic (1. e4 Nf6). I think it is a horrible mistake to give the chess novice a wobbly crutch that will soon be taken from them as soon as the pick up their next chess book! Is short algebraic really THAT much harder to learn than long algebraic?  I don't think so. Personally, I find long algebraic so distracting when reading it I can't visualize the moves in my head - whereas with short algebraic I have no problem at all. Take for example The Simon and Schuster Pocket Book Of Chess  by Raymond Keene. I picked this up on a whim some years ago in a Barnes & Noble store. Not a bad book for $8.00 or so - but I can't read it (or recommend it) because every chess move in the book is in that dreaded long-notation. Is it just me, or does anyone else find it impossible to "think" in long notation?
  • Labeling of Algebraic Chess Boards. Why do the majority of chess boards insist on using UPPER-CASE letters to label the file names - when it is universally accepted to write the file names using lower-case letters? You don't often see 1. E4 NF6 do you? That looks so odd I can hardly visualize it, whereas 1. e4 Nf6 is so much easier - probably because it is easier to pick out the piece names because they stand out. Are kids or beginners (learning from these chess boards) more likely to write down what they see - upper-case rather than lower-case letters for those file names? If so, please label those files with lower-case letters - thank you very much.
  • Why Can't One Purchase a Chess Board with Individually Labeled Algebraic Squares? I've looked long and hard for a chess board that labels EACH square with the correct algebraic coordinates (from both white and black's perspective). Of course, this would have to be done unobtrusively - perhaps with small print in each corner? This would greatly help the learning process - or even ensure better accuracy with more experienced players - especially when playing from the black side of the board. Does anyone know of such a board being available? I haven't found one!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Chess as Played in the Real World - No. 6

It's a little discouraging to be 0-3 in the ICC tournament I'm playing in - but that's what happens when you completely ignore your opponent's threat. I'm still at the stage where I'm playing "hope chess" as Dan Heisman puts it - and until I get by that stage I will continue to have embarrassing losses like this.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Rook's Rudimentary Resources - Bobby Fischer Teaches Chess

Bobby Fischer Teaches Chess has gotten a lot of criticism, from complaints that it was "ghost written" (i.e. Margulies and Mosenfelder wrote it while Bobby just lent his name) to condemnation that this book doesn't really teach you chess. I don't disagree - both these criticisms are well taken - and yet I still think it is ONE of the best books to read for the absolute chess novice.

Without an understanding of checkmate, most beginner's lose track of the ultimate object of the game and aimlessly move their pieces around or gleefully try to capture ever piece within range. Reading this book, after having learned how the pieces move, will help focus a new player on the real goal of the game - the ultimate checkmate of the opponent's king.

So let's be clear about this. If you are looking for a single book that "teaches chess" this is NOT it. This book does not even TOUCH on the subjects of algebraic notation or opening principles or simple endgame positions. If you already know a bit about chess and what checkmate is and how to do it, again, this book is NOT for you. However, if you have JUST learned how the pieces move, and you need to understand ultimate the object of the game - checkmate and how it is achieved - THIS IS the book for you.

The book really should be titled Bobby Fischer Teaches Checkmate. This would be an accurate title that would squelch the main (and truthful) criticism of the book - that it fails to teach you all you need to know to play chess. But it does do a great job of making sure you understand what checkmate is and how it is accomplished. You also learn some of the basic tactics - pins and forks and the like - that are put to use in the process of giving checkmate.

So learn how the pieces move first and then, with the aid of this excellent book, learn the goal of the game. Once you have done that, you can then proceed to learn more of the basics with a general purpose instructional book on chess. More on those books later...

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Regal Games from the Realms of Yore - George Koltanowksi vs. Humphrey Bogart

Today, in our Sunday series Regal Games from the Realms of Yore, we feature a game by Humphrey Bogart. Bogart was actually an accomplished chess player (you can read more about that in my previous blog entry Humphrey Bogart - Chess Expert). In this game, Bogey puts up a good effort against International Master George Koltanowski. The game is variously reported as being either a simultaneous exhibition or blindfold game.

Koltanowski is also an interesting chess player. He set the world's blindfold record on September 20, 1937, in Edinburgh, by playing 34 chess games simultaneously while blindfolded. His record still stands in the Guinness Book of Records.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Romp with Rook - Queen and Pawn Endgame Puzzle

Here’s a chess puzzle that Women’s Grand Master Susan Polgar rates as a one-and-a-half stars out of four for difficulty. Even Rook should be able to solve that! I've created my own version of the puzzle using ChessVideoTV's free puzzle generator.

This puzzle is from an actual Grand Master game played just this past Thursday (09-13-07) between David Navara vs Jan Timman at the Czech Coal Carlsbad Tournament 2007.

White to move and win in 1 turn. I doubt I would have seen this move if it had been in my own game - but I did figure it out after about a minute of thinking it through. If you are an absolute beginner the hints I have added may be helpful.

To use the puzzle – once you have figured out the solution – make the winning move on the chess board (it appears you must use the 'Full Size' view to do this with this particular puzzle). If you are correct a message will appear showing how White wins. If you find it too difficult – you can get up to two hints by clicking the “Need a hint?” link near the top (hints are available only from the 'Full Size' view of the puzzle).

You can replay the complete game here thanks to the nice people at

Romp With Rook - Chess and the Great Flood

How the game of Chess survived the great flood:

Chess Ark by Kosobukin Juri (USSR)

Friday, September 14, 2007

Fridays by the Fireside No. 4 - Odd, But True - A Challenging Mate-in-Six Problem

In our fourth installment of Fridays by the Fireside we feature a very challenging "Mate-in-6" problem from the Irving Chernev and Fred Reinfeld book The Fireside Book of Chess.

Now, even if you find mate-in-one puzzles difficult - don't panic in despair - I feel very confident you can solve this "Mate-in-6" problem if you give it your best effort.

Chapter - The Magic of Chess
Section - Odd, But True
Item - 70
Page - 94

To use the puzzle, make each correct winning move for White on the chess board. If you pick the correct move for White Black will automatically respond. If you make all six of the correct moves in order Black will be checkmated. If you find the puzzle too difficult – you can get up to two hints by clicking the “Need a hint?” link near the top (from the 'Full Size' view of the puzzle).

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Rook's Recommendations - Chess Tactics Server

No one will argue that a mastery of chess tactics is essential to improving your game. So one of my goals is to set aside time each day to practice tactics (see Chess Improvement Plan - Part One: Goals).

There are many chess puzzle books and chess tactic computer programs you can buy, but before spending too much money on those, Rook recommends (as always) looking for the most bang for your buck - and better yet - not parting with those bucks at all. Which brings us to today's recommendation: The fabulous (and free!) Chess Tactics Server website.

By working through the problems you establish a rating to track your progress and with 23,803 (!) tactical chess problems to solve ranging from novice to Master level you're not going to run out of challenges any time soon. The site registration is free so don't hesitate to try it out. With great Internet chess resources like this, improving your game has never been so easy - or so cheap ;-)

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Rave -

I just came across a chess web site today and thought it was so good it required immediate mention: - "Best collection of chess links and free chess online resources."

That tag line is no lie! This is a very clean and uncluttered site collecting together links to some of the best chess sites on the web. Links are superbly organized into the following categories:
  • Online Chess Where playing online chess is possible and what are the best graphic interfaces to connect free of charge or to payment to the best worldwide chess servers.

  • Chess Programs The best freeware programs and commercial ones to play chess, databases, graphic interfaces and chess engines, game viewers, utilities and much other.

  • Theory Selection of the best traceable sites in net which propose free of charge changing analyses of the openings and the single ones, of the middle and endgame.

  • Chess Games Database Our runable archive of matches drawn by the greater chess events worldwide, recent and past, consultable online or free of charge in pgn format.

  • Online Databases Online chess databases, national databases, game collections of many of the best players and tournaments.

  • Chess Archeology Historical analysis of the writers, players and chess schools of the last centuries.

  • Chess Links Collection, regularly up-to-date, of the best links for connecting to the leading and the most interesting chess sites of the web.

  • Chess Books A comprehensive review of chess books and magazines of the leading publishing houses that are specialized in this sector.

The Chess Books section is how I arrived at the site. It is incredible - it is organized by publisher, and then within each publisher books are listed according to subject matter and even by ECO opening classifications! If you are looking for a chess book on a particular topic I can think of no better place to begin.

And the chess goodness at this site doesn't end there - each section is meticulously organized by subject and thoroughly documented with summary comments. This site is SO GOOD I'd pay money for it! Wait - you can. Using PayPal you can make a contribution to the site (PayPal recipient: I think I'll do just that - you should too!

Rook gives this 5 out of 5 stars - you must check this site out! Why have I not heard about it before this?

Rant: Why Isn't There a Serious Contender to the Staunton Chess Set Design?

Uniformity is a good thing I suppose, but it flies in the face of the old adage "Variety is the spice of life."

It seems to me a bit of a shame that we only have a single choice when it comes to a chess set design for serious play - the Staunton design. Why can't we have one or two other acceptable alternatives to the Staunton design? Of course, by "serious" I mean a design that would be agreeable for play to the majority of chess players - not some ridiculous "Simpson" or "Lord of the Rings" theme set.

So let me present some possible candidates (drawn from actual historical examples) for alternatives to the "officially" sanctioned and endorsed Staunton design.

The St. George Style:

The Northern Upright Style:

The English Barleycorn Style:

The French Regency Style:

And Two Different Calvert Styles (We call them "A" and "B")

And finally, maybe all we need is a "streamlined" Modern Staunton:

What do you think? Could you see yourself playing a serious (tournament?) game with any of these alternatives to the tried-and-true Staunton design? I could.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Chess as Played in the Real World - No. 5

I'm feeling a bit depressed over this loss. Oh, well. I took my time and I tried hard. Hopefully I'm a little wiser. The game is from the second round in the ICC Monthly Tournament for September. I'm playing White.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Chess News - FIDE World Chess Championship 2007 Starts This Week

Just a reminder - the FIDE World Chess Championship 2007 will be held in Mexico City, starting this Wednesday, September 12, 2007, as an eight-player, double round robin tournament. Visit the official site for more information. Live game replay from the official site is here.

Rook's Rudimentary Resources - Online Chess Databases

"Chess is an aesthetic experience – the more you understand, the more you enjoy the beauty of this game."

One of the best ways to appreciate the "aesthetic experience" AND improve at chess is by studying the games of great players. Here are several FREE Internet chess database collections which will give you a wealth of great chess games to explore:

  • is a web-based chess database and community. It contains over 400,000 searchable chess games and offers daily features, such as a "Game of the Day" and a "Puzzle of the Day", taken from games in the database. There is also a "Premium Membership" ($25 annually) which adds access to numerous features including a "Guess-the-Move" chess training tool and the Opening Explorer, Endgame Explorer, and Sacrifice Explorer.
  • A collection of "two million interactive chess games online (1485 - 2006)" which you can search and analyze online. Also included is a puzzle section which includes things like "find mate in 2" and "find the best move."
  • ChessBase Online. This is a high quality database of 2.4 million unannotated chess games that is kept updated with new and historic games on a weekly basis.
  • NICBase Online. Sponsored by New in Chess, this online database features "over 1.25 million chess games." Online consists of 4 major functions: Searching for a game, Classifying a game, Browsing through NIC-Key Tree, and Viewing a game.
  • MonRoi World Databank of Chess Free database of recent tournament games.

If you have a PGN file viewer or a chess database program for managing games (e.g. ChessBase or Chess Assitant) you can also download complete collections of chess games in a PGN file format to your PC. For more recent games, Convetka has a good collection here.