Monday, December 31, 2012

Carl Dolson elected new President of the Illinois Chess Association

Carl's term begins tomorrow: even though he's from Peoria (nobody's perfect), we're very fortunate to have him!  You can find Tom Sprandel's election report here.

Don't forget to renew your ICA membership for 2013!

Chicago or Not Chicago?

"Chicago" was represented by Grandmasters Akobian, Ehlvest, Hungaski (pictured above: his GM title is pending), and Finegold at the World Cities Championships in the United Arab Emirates. "Hmm, these players are not from Chicago," I said to myself as I watched Jay Cutler, Charles Tillman, and company play football yesterday. And then it occurred to me....

Pretty darn cool work by Sevan Muradian in either case!

A trap in the Alapin Sicilian

Here's a nice endgame grind by GM Lubomir Ftacnik. He finally captures White's isolated d-pawn on move 32, and White resigns 22 moves later. However, White had a huge improvement on move 8. Do you see it? If not, please consult Vasiukov-Razuvaev, Polanica Zdroj 1972.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

University of Illinois ties for first in Pan-Am Intercollegiate

Results are in from this weekend's Pan-Am, hosted by Princeton University.  The University of Illinois finished in a five-way tie for first place with four teams that offer full chess scholarships.  Illinois drew Cornell and the University of Chicago, and won its other four matches. Crosstable is here.Congratulations to the Illini!

 The team includes three names long familiar to Chicago chess players, Eric Rosen, Aakaash Meduri, and Michael Auger. The Illini's fourth board, Xin Luo, scored a spectacular 6-0.

Look for story on Chess Life Online shortly. In the meantime, here's a game from U of I's last-round win over Columbia University, which proves once again that queen endings are too hard for mere human beings:

Chicago Chess Center: Our first milepost

The end of 2012, our first milepost, is nearly upon us. Thanks to supporters like you, we've raised nearly $4,000 so far, but we've still got a long way to go if we're going to be able to secure a site, open our doors, and begin holding classes and tournaments by our target date of May 1, 2013. The more donors like you have given by the end of the year, the better other supporters of Chicago chess will feel about giving.

Please make your tax-deductible donation now for 2012 -- or send us an e-mail and pledge the amount you'll give after the new year in 2013.

When you imagine yourself playing chess in an attractive and comfortable gathering place, surrounded by players of all ages and backgrounds, knowing that you're part of a community and a larger scene, does it ever occur to you how many people it takes to create a scene like that and keep it going? Experience shows that just 1 out of 10 users of a community-built place take an active role in it, and just 1 out of 10 active members are "stars" who make positive contributions to its development. As someone who's shown interest in the success of our mission, we'd like to ask you to be one of our "stars" now. You can do it because you know you're supporting the creation of a new civic and educational institution in Chicago.

This summer, when you're taking a class or playing in a tournament at the Chicago Chess Center, you'll look back on your donation and feel proud that you helped turn a vision into a reality. Donate now to help us reach our $30,000 goal.

A novelty!

Shockingly, I encountered an Internet opponent tonight who doesn't read Chicago Chess Blog! As such, he had failed to read my post from last night demonstrating that 3...f6 and 4...g5 is not an effective response to the King's Gambit. But I wasn't content with 7.Qf7+ and mate in two more moves (7...Kd6 8.Qd5+ Ke7 9.Qe5#) as in last night's partie, and uncorked the novelty (at least for me) 7.Qxg5+! I learned this trick from Wall-Greenwalt, Dayton 1983. If Black responds with 7...Kd6, he gets mated the same way - just without his g-pawn - by 8.Qd5+ Ke7 9.Qe5#. Or he can play 7...Ke8, and get mated by 8.Qh5+ Ke7 9.Qe5#, as Greenwalt did. But NN played a novelty himself with 7...Nf6, allowing me to mate a move faster with 8.Qe5#!

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Silly Internet Game No. 1048

This King's Gambit concludes with a sacrificial flurry. Had Black played 24...fxg6, 25.d6+ would have mated quickly; ditto with 24...Bg7 25.Rxg7+ Kxg7 26.Nxf7+. Incidentally, in the opening 5.e5 Nd5 6.Bc4 was better than my 5.d5, when Black would have been OK after 5...Ne7. On move 16, Houdini 3 points out the powerful shot 16.Nxf7! with a winning advantage.

A trap in the King's Gambit

In the King's Knight's Gambit (1.e4 e5 2.f4 exf4 3.Nf3), 3...h6 intending 4...g5 is a respectable line. 3...f6 with the same idea doesn't work so well. This game duplicates Trap No. 133 in Irving Chernev's book Winning Chess Traps, except that in that game Black played 3...g5 and 4...f6?

Thursday, December 27, 2012

A solar system without a sun

Source: The Chess Drum
Have you seen the documentary movie Brooklyn Castle? It's an enthralling portrait of a group of New York City middle schoolers who triumph in the field of competitive chess and grow personally thanks to supportive adults, a strong after-school program, and tremendous motivation and hard work. But their success also depends on a factor that is just touched on in the movie: the existence of a robust chess scene, centered on New York's 97-year-old Marshall Chess Club (pictured).

I'd like to ask you to imagine a young chess player who attends a Chicago public school. Maybe the school has a coach provide after-school lessons one day a week; maybe not. Regardless, this young player shows promise and drive and would like to be able to get the same kind of practice and participate in the same kinds of competitive opportunities as the champs in Brooklyn Castle. Unfortunately, 90 percent of all competitive chess activity in the Chicago area takes place in the suburbs -- places like Northbrook, Wheeling and Oak Lawn -- and the player's school and family are unable to provide the necessary transportation to these events. If there were a club in the city, comparable to the Marshall, that offered opportunities to practice and receive structured guidance from experienced players, this player would at least have that chance. But the last such club in Chicago shut its doors 22 years ago.

Are you aware that out of the top 10 urban areas in the United States, Chicago is today the only one without a primary metropolitan chess club? The Chicagoland chess scene is like a collection of planets orbiting a large void where a star used to be -- and city residents of all ages and backgrounds are missing out on the benefits and pleasures of chess as a result.

We want to restore Chicago's place among America's great chess cities and revive the tradition that was lost with the dissolution of the Chicago Chess and Checker Club and our namesake, the original Chicago Chess Center. But we're not creating just another club: the new Chicago Chess Center will be a school of chess, a destination and gathering place, and the focus of a vibrant and expanded chess scene.

Donate now so that we can open our doors on our target date of May 1, 2013.

You may already know about how young people benefit from chess: not only in the logical reasoning skills that chess imparts but also in the "soft skills" of patience, attentiveness, self-discipline, conflict management, sportsmanship, and connecting effort and practice with success. But experience shows that chess is also part of a well-rounded, healthy lifestyle for adults -- like a gym workout for the mind. Your donation will allow us to begin offering classes, tournaments and open play to residents young and old across the city of Chicago.

Click here to make your tax-deductible donation before Dec. 31, 2012 -- or, if you're waiting until 2013 to make donations to charities, send us an e-mail pledging the amount you'll give before Jan. 18.


Keith Ammann
President, Chicago Chess Center NFP Inc.

P.S. We're off to a great start . . . and we have a long way still to go. You can help us raise the $30,000 we need to secure and furnish a site by clicking here now. Thank you for your support.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Never say die!

The shortest decisive master game that wasn't a forfeit or protest is Z. Đorđević–M. Kovačević, Bela Crkva Open 1984, which went 1.d4 Nf6 2.Bg5 c6!? 3.e3?? Qa5+! (winning a bishop) and White resigned. In the 28 years since then, a number of other players have fallen into this trap. ChessBase's Mega Database 2013 shows 12 complete games with this line. Surprisingly, Black scored only 83.3%! He actually managed to lose the following game, letting his queen be trapped with 15...f6?? instead of saving it with 15...Qf6!

The moral of the story: "won games" don't win themselves! When you get a winning position, play accurately and finish your opponent off. By the same token, if you have a losing position, don't give up. Keep the position complicated and set your opponent as many problems as possible. My Wikipedia article on swindles has some inspiring examples of saves from seemingly hopeless positions.

Darrian Robinson at U of C

Story at The Chess Drum

Friday, December 21, 2012

Groucho and Kashdan

Evanston Chess update

Bill Smythe vs. FM Albert Chow
How many times have these two played each other?
Maret Thorpe writes:
Evanston Chess Club usually holds open chess for high school age and over on Tuesday evenings. Problem is, this year Christmas Day and New Year's Day both fall on Tuesday. But we have a solution! For two weeks only, Tuesday night chess will migrate to...Wednesday night. That's right, you can come to the Levy Activity Center on Wednesday, December 26 and Wednesday, January 2 and play chess from 6:30-9:00 p.m. As always, sets are supplied and there is no entry fee. On January 8, we'll be back to our usual Tuesday night schedule. Look forward to seeing you all there.
Follow the link for a report on last month's Tri-Level.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

A trap in Philidor's Defense

Philidor's Defense (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 d6) has experienced a resurgence of popularity in recent years. However, Black often tries sophisticated move orders, such as 1.e4 d6 2.d4 Nf6 3.Nc3 e5 4.Nf3 Nbd7 5.Bc4 Be7, to reach the main line. The traditional 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 Nd7, the Hanham Variation, seen in the game below, has tactical problems. After 4.Bc4!, Black must already be careful. Then 4...Be7? loses a pawn to 5.dxe5 Nxe5 (5...dxe5?? 6.Qd5!) 6.Nxe5 dxe5 7.Qh5!. So does 4...Nf6?, after 5.dxe5! Nxe5 (5...Nxe4?? 6.Qd5!; 5...dxe5? 6.Ng5!) 6.Nxe5 dxe5 7.Bxf7+ Kxf7 8.Qxd8 Bb4+ 9.Qd2 Bxd2+ 10.Nxd2. Also bad, though complicated, is 4...h6?, when White has 5.dxe5 dxe5 (5...Nxe5 6.Nxe5 dxe5 7.Bxf7+) 6.Bxf7+! Kxf7 7.Nxe5+! Kf6 (best) and now White's best is 8.Nc3!, offering another piece. Instead, Black usually plays 4...c6!, when the main line is 5.Nc3 Be7 6.dxe5 dxe5 7.Ng5! Bxg5 8.Qh5!, winning the bishop pair, which scores very well for White.

An unusual but promising alternative is 5.Ng5!? Nh6 6.a4. Then 6...exd4 may be best, although White won crushingly in Blehm-Popek, 2000. Also possible is 6...a5, although Black fared badly in Pavasovic-Barle, 1997. Nimzowitsch played the eccentric 6...Qf6?!, got a horrid position, but somehow managed to draw in Leonhardt-Nimzowitsch, match 1911.

The most plausible move is 6...Be7?. Amazingly, however, it loses Black's queen by force! After 7.Bxf7+! (again this shot!) Nxf7 8.Ne6! Black has only two squares for the queen. Best is 8...Qa5+ 9.Bd2 Qb6 10.a5! Qxb2 11.Bc3!, trapping the queen, as in Philidor (!) -NN, 1795. Even worse is 8...Qb6 9.a5!, also losing the queen, but for less material. In our subject game, Black resigned after 9...Qb4+ 10.c3! Qc4 11.Nc7+ Kd8 12.b3!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

"Mate in 196"

Daniel Parmet reports from behind the scenes at the London Chess Classic for Chess Life Online.

Thirty Days

Imagine yourself playing chess in an attractive and comfortable gathering place, surrounded by players of all ages and backgrounds, knowing that you're part of a community and a larger scene. One of the things you love about it is that there's a rated tournament going on whenever you're in the mood, on weekday evenings as well as on weekends, including events for beginners and players new to tournament chess. Another is that, whatever your strength, there's a class you can take that will help you reach the next level. And it's not in New York, San Francisco or St. Louis, but right here at home in Chicago.

You can donate now to the Chicago Chess Center, because you'll be giving to support the creation of a new civic and educational institution.


Your donation will help the Chicago Chess Center secure a site, open its doors, and begin holding classes and tournaments starting this coming May. To make this happen, we're starting a 30-day fundraising campaign to raise $30,000 by Jan. 18, 2013. We're ready to fulfill our promise to you, and we need your support right now:

  • Make your tax-deductible donation now for 2012, or send us an e-mail and pledge the amount you'll give after the new year in 2013.

  • If you've already donated -- and even if you haven't yet -- share our message with family and friends, along with other chess enthusiasts, curious beginners, and anyone who supports education or civic improvement causes.

  • We've announced our membership rates and benefits! Have you thought of giving a Chicago Chess Center membership as a gift? Whether you join as a member yourself or buy a membership for a friend or family member, all memberships purchased before we open our doors will include free entry to up to three tournaments.

    In addition, whether you buy a regular membership or donate $250 or more and join our Founders' Court, you'll receive discounts on classes, lectures and tournament entry fees; eligibility to compete in the annual Chicago Chess Center championship tournament; free admission during open play hours; and wireless Internet access on-site.

Thank you for your interest and your support. As always, please feel free to e-mail us with any questions you may have.

P.S. Thirty thousand dollars in 30 days . . . that's $1,000 a day! We can do this with your help. Please give now and show that after 22 years without one, Chicago is ready to support a centrally located metropolitan chess club again. And please spread the word to everyone you know.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Sunday, December 16, 2012

2013 Winter Open Scholastic

If your child is new to tournament chess and you feel that playing in Tim Just's Winter Open might be a bit too challenging for her or him, there's a nice one- day event running alongside the TJWO on Saturday, January 5th.

Play begins at noon and you can be home in time for dinner: info here.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

The clock is ticking....

We're trying to get the Chicago Chess Center open by May 1, 2013, and in the next 35 days, we need to raise another $27,955give or take a buck or two —to turn this vision into reality.

What's in it for you and me?  The CCC will be a home for serious tournament play virtually ever weekend, and for for individual and group instruction from absolute beginners to advanced levels.  And we want to make it accessible to everyone in Chicago—at the risk of setting an impossibly lofty goal, the CCC aspires to be to chess players what the Old Town School of Folk Music is to guitar players.

If you haven't already visited the CCC's home page, please stop by to learn more!  And if you have already donated, we'd appreciate it if you could consider upgrading your donation level to join our Founders' Court.  It's OK not to donate before December 31st—this stage of our fundraising campaign is open until January 18th, and we appreciate that many charitably inclined folks like to take the tax consequences into consideration.

Finally, if you'd like to make an in-kind donation (whether it be books for the Center's library or that 2005 Mercedes taking up space in your garage), please drop us a line.  We can turn cars etc. into cash via eBay's Giving Works auction program and provide you with the paperwork to making the charitable contribution kosher in IRS's eyes.  (Or if you'd like to go for the Caissic equivalent of sainthood, you can run eBay Giving Works auctions yourself, and the proceeds can be automatically donated to the Center via Missionfish: please don't hesitate to ask for help on this!)

It's been humbling to get so much support from the community: thank you all for you interest and your support!

Jan 5-6 in Oak Brook: Tim Just's Winter Open

Officially, they're calling it the XXVIIIth edition of the TJWO, but it became clear a couple years ago that Tim had lost count, so let's just say it's the "umpteenth" edition of this great event.

Details on the ICA website.

Enter here!  It's a fun weekend that draws a lot of underrated young players.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

ChessFlash KnightVision

This looks like a nice app for beginners: training in manuevering the horsie!  Available in Android now; Apple version under development.

The author, Glenn Wilson, wrote the ChessFlash reader used on this blog.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Soundness never tasted so good

Another silly but amusing Internet blitz game. The reader will doubtless be able to find several thousand refutations of my play. 14.Kc2 e3+ 15.Bd3 looks like a good start.

As for the opening, after my 3...dxe4 we transposed to a Blackmar-Diemer Gambit. White's offbeat 4.Bg5!? seems to score very well in the databases, though I suspect that not too many of the players were GMs. Note that 3...Nxe4 4.Nxe4 dxe4, the Hubsch Gambit, was also possible. Gallagher in his book Beating the Anti-King's Indians (1996) says that "the Hubsch Gambit is not so bad and . . . Black can probably only obtain an equal game." OTOH, John Cox in Dealing with d4 Deviations (2005) says that White "finds it awkward to demonstrate any compensation at all" after 5.Bc4 Nc6 6.c3 e5 7.d5 Ne7 8.f3 exf3 9.Nxf3 c6! 10.Nxe5 Nxd5 (10.d6 Nf5 11.Nxe5 Qh4+) 11.Qe2 Be7 12.Be3 Be6 13.O-O O-O 14.Rad1 Qc7; 5.Be3 Bf5 6.g4 Bg6 7.Ne2 e6 8.h4 h6 9.Nf4 Bh7; or 5.f3 e5! 6.Be3 (6.fxe4 Qxd1+ 7.Kxd1 Bf5 8.fxe4 Bxe4 9.Nf3 Nc6 10.Bd3 Rd8 "may still offer White some chances to hold on") cxd4 7.Bxd4 Nc6 8. Be3 Qxd1+ 9.Rxd1 Nb4.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

London Chess Classic winding up

Daniel Parmet, who is working the London Chess Classic for the second consecutive year, passes along this link to a charitable auction of LCC memorabilia.  As of now, the prices are reasonable!  (Warning: you'll be bidding against me in one of them.)  Daniel posted photos of the event via the Chicago Area Chess Facebook page.

As you can find out from the usual chess websites (ChessBase for example), Hikaru Nakamura is doing well in London, and Magnus Carlsen is playing phenomenally.

In the romantic style

I had the pleasure of analyzing with Stefan Musikic this afternoon, who showed me one of his recent games.  He's an attacking player who thinks in paragraphs, and he's not quite eight years old.  Stefan was the top finisher in the Advanced Section of today's YCFC event at Rickover Naval Academy.

This game was played earlier this year in the All Grade; the loser, Jai Mahajan, tied for second in the event, and had a promising position in this game until Jai fell into Stefan's trap.

White has three mates in two in the diagrammed position: which one is the prettiest?

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

YCFC event this weekend at Rickover Naval Academy

Mike Cardinale reminds us that the Youth Chess Foundation of Chicago will have an event this Saturday at Rickover Naval Academy (Rickover is part of the Senn High School campus in Chicago's Edgewater neighborhood, on the Far North Side).  Email cut-and-paste follows:

A final reminder that the second YCFC tournament of
the year takes place this Saturday, December 8th, at
Rickover Naval Academy, with details reprinted below.

 New rosters and roster additions are due Thursday.
Also, please reply with a an estimated number of players
if you haven't already done so.  This is also important
for coaches who wish to reserve a team room! 

Once again, we'll put Will Tseng to the test with a
warm-up clock simul, beginning at approximately 9:30.
All are welcome to participate.

December 8th Tournament at Rickover

Rickover Naval Academy
5900 N. Glenwood (1400 West), just south of Thorndale

Entrance/Parking:  we will be using Door 10 on the west
   side of the building, facing Ridge Ave.  We'll have use of
   the parking lot adjacent to the entrance at Door 10.  The
   entrance to the lot is on Thorndale, which is the street
   bordering the north side of the school.  Thorndale is a
   one-way street heading west, so you will need to approach
   the school from the east on Thorndale to enter the lot.
   There should also be some street parking available.

Schedule:  Registration   9:00 - 9:30
                  Tournament  10:00 - 3:00
                  Trophy Presentation  3:15 (est.)
   All players must check-in at the tournament site by 9:30!
   Late arrivals will not be paired in the first round.

3 Sections:  Novice K-4, Novice 5-8, Advanced
   Unrated, K-8, no entry fee 
   Swiss-style, 5 rounds (est.), USCF standard tiebreaks
   G/20 + 3 sec. increment in Advanced section when clocks are available
   Notation required in the Advanced section

Awards:  Individual trophies to the top 10 in both novice
               sections.  Individual trophies to the top 6 in the
               advanced section.  Team trophies to the top
               three teams in both novice sections.  Team trophy
               to top team in the advanced section.  Team score
               calculated by top four scores in novice sections,
               top three scores in advanced.

Entries:  YCFC uses a roster system for tournament entries.
              All players on submitted rosters are eligible to play in
              any YCFC tournament during the scholastic year.
              Submit rosters, including name, grade, school and
              section to, or by
              fax to 773-248-1007, attn: Mike Cardinale, no later than
              Thursday, December 6th.
              All players must check-in on site by 9:30.

Coaches:  Please let me know if you plan on attending with
                a rough estimate of the number of players by
                Thursday, December 6th.

Thanks to Principal Michael Biela for welcoming us back to Rickover this year!

Wrapup - 2012 Illinois Class Championships

Jim Froehlich (left) plays  Mario Bartocci
Keith Ammann reports on the ICA website!

There are more photos at

Speaking of which, didn't 
Ruy López de Segura advise his readers to place the chess board in such a way that their opponents would be blinded by the light of sun?  Two veteran Illinois tournament players  discovered that artificial light works equally well:

Giving a new meaning to "reflection":
neither player has been identified at the time of this post

Hardware from Orlando

Sam Schmakel (left) already has more than his share of national trophies; Matthew Stevens has plenty of time to catch up.

Photo: Jennifer Stevens

National K-12: finals

Final results are in from Orlando. Trash talk: were I allowed to play hors concours at age 54, I am confident I could win the 1st-, 2nd-, 3rd-, and 4th-grade sections, and I think I could be competitive all the way through eighth grade. (But against the high schoolers, I'd be hopelessly outclassed.)

Congratulations to Sam Schmakel, who tied for the 11th-grade title: unofficially, Sam is second on tiebreaks.

 Nathaniel Kranjc and Gavin McClanahan tied for fifth in the 10th-grade section.

Matthew Stevens tied for second in the 6th-grade section.

Shreya Mangalam was playing for the 4th-grade title in the final round.

Stolen from NM William Aramil's Facebook page:
Nationals in Orlando has officially ended. Overall, it went pretty well. I didn't find anytime to go to Disney World though.
Whitney Young won a National Blitz Championship!! Two players placed 4th and 5th. Two pairs of teammates came in 3rd and 4th in bughouse. The Seniors came in 4th place as a team in the main tournament.
Sam Schmakel did it AGAIN and is a National Co-Champion for all 11th graders!! He was a champion his freshman and sophomore year of high school. Can he win next year and make it a clean sweep for all four years of high school? I don't think it has ever been done!?
Overall, most players played well and gained rating points. Good job to the Whitney Young team!

Monday, December 3, 2012

Support Makes All the Difference

Although I learned the rules of chess when I was 8 years old, for much of my life the game was an exercise in frustration: getting clobbered by computer programs for reasons I couldn't understand, gleaning morsels of knowledge without being able to apply them, believing there must be something about it (or about me) that kept it just beyond the reach of my intelligence. It wasn't until five years ago that I finally began to acquire a real understanding of the game. Now I know that chess is within anyone’s reach -- if you can find the right books or the right teacher. But how much sooner could I have discovered this, how much more success could I have enjoyed, if only I’d had access to a welcoming, encouraging community of chess players who showed me how much more there is to learning chess beyond simply knowing the rules? What if there had been an open and inclusive chess scene that celebrated and rewarded the interest of the novice as well as the triumphs of the expert? What if I could have taken a class someplace to get brought up to speed?

These questions, among others, motivated me to form Chicago Chess Center NFP Inc. in the hope of establishing a new metropolitan chess center in Chicago -- not just a club, but the heart of a vibrant and expanded chess scene that reflects the diversity of our city. A comfortable destination and gathering place. An educational and civic institution. A home as much for the casual player and the curious beginner as for the rising prodigy and the accomplished master.

Please donate today to help us open our doors in 2013.

Your generosity will help us secure a lease on a site, obtain furniture and equipment, and begin offering classes for players of all ages and skill levels, along with a full calendar of U.S. Chess Federation–rated events.

Contribute $250 or more to become a member of our Founders' Court and receive all the benefits of membership plus free instruction, access to exclusive events and more—or give whatever amount you can afford.

For more information, visit our website or e-mail us at


Keith Ammann
Chicago Chess Center NFP Inc.

P.S. We need at least $30,000 just to open our doors, and we can't get there without your help! We're serious about creating a stable and viable institution that will survive through our first year of operation and beyond. The sooner we reach our goal, the sooner we can offer our programs to you. Please donate today—and please share our message with your family and friends.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

"Every Russian Schoolboy Knows" Akhmilovskaya

Grandmaster Alexander Yermolinsky's lecture series is itself justification for Internet Chess Club membership.

Yermo's most recent lecture is an appreciation of the chess career of Elena Akhmilovskaya Donaldson, who died of brain cancer last month.
Our condolences to her family, friends, and students in Seattle and around the world.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Giving Tuesday: Chicago Chess Center

There's a welcome new tradition this year: following the conspicuous consumption of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, charities are calling for us to help others on Giving Tuesday.

It's exciting to be in on the ground floor of something good. Since I entered the Chicago chess scene in 1977, I recall many fun days at Jules Stein's Chicago Chess Center, Richard Verber's various incarnations of the Chicago Chess Club, Les Bale's Lincolnwood Chess and Games (later transplanted to Lincoln Avenue in the city), Papa Dee's Chicago Chess Club, and (half a block from our apartment!) the Wild Onion.

Founders pass away and business models change: all these places are gone.

Keith Ammann came to me with a dream last year: why not found a permanent chess center in Chicago for Chicagoans? I told Keith that I was interested if we could do it in a way that would insure that the center remained after its founders were gone.

Our board (Keith Ammann, FM Albert Chow, Chris Christmas, Alyse Hammonds, Hector Hernandez, and myself; with the invaluable assistance of Les Bale) has made excellent progress. We've obtained nonprofit status for Chicago Chess Center NFP, Inc., we've received some generous donations, we're scouting for sites, planning fundraising events....and there's still so much to do before we open our doors.

Chess is not just a pleasant pastime, it transforms lives for the better. I know: I grew up in an Appalachian anthracite mining town. We lived in public housing, and my mother worked as a third-shift nurse's aide in a nursing home. Had it not been for chess, I never would have been admitted to MIT. For chess teaches critical thinking skills that helped me in math and science (and later in business), skills that are essential for success in our information economy.

We'd like to use the center to give Chicago's young people the same opportunities. And hey, adults are never too old to learn, never too old to share their wisdom with the young, and have a little fun in the process.

It's important to our mission that the site be accessible to those who need it the most. While our tendencies may be utopian socialist, we're also pragmatic enough to be committed to finding a site with off-street parking.

We also learn through competition.  The Center will have regular events open to all at affordable prices.

How can you help us open our doors in 2013?

  • Please become a Founding Member of the Chicago Chess Center today.   
    • If you'd prefer to use snail mail, please send your contribution to Chicago Chess Center NFP, Inc.,  230 W. Monroe, Suite 330, Chicago IL 60606.

  • Or give what you can afford: no donation is too small, and we truly appreciate your help.
  • If you'd like to make a capital donation to insure the future of the Chicago Chess Center, kindly drop me a line
  • Most of all, we need your input.  We need new board members, new committee members, legal counsel, and friends who offer good will. 
Chicago is your home and ours: your help today will help the Chicago chess culture for many years in the future.

Thank you for your support!

Bill Brock

CICL: a lucky escape

My Rogue Squadron teammate David Franklin doesn't get positionally rolled very often, but Mike Failor of Enova Financial inflicts some serious positional hurt. Then things get complicated, and both players miss some shots....

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Chicago Class vanity

I got outplayed by both of my opponents last Sunday. Psychologically, draws are not the most satisfying result, but drawing two games beats losing two games.  And in both games, both players were trying to win...

Try to predict White's move in the position below!

At the ICA Banquet the previous day, I had the honor of presenting the 2012 Broughton Award to Jim Brotsos. While Jim and I were bantering about his lifetime of service to Illinois chess, I had my iPhone in my hand, as I was about to read some email testimonials that Jim's friends had sent. Somehow, I managed to start playing a Peter Drucker audiobook in the middle of Jim's remarks.

Not having sufficiently learned my lesson, I forgot to turn my iPhone off before round 4. In the middlegame, I somehow triggered the iPhone in my pocket, and "Five Years" (the opening track of The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars) began playing for the "benefit" of the players. For "Five Years," I was penalized ten minutes (which seems more than fair: I could have been forfeited).  My apologies to all!

Don't be an inconsiderate dope like me: turn off your cell phone before play begins. (I realize that family and work concerns make it mandatory for some players to be in touch at all times: put your phone on vibrate, and let the TD know what you're doing.)

Adair-Uedemann, 1879

Here's another delightful post on local chess history from A Chess Reader.  Louis Uedemann and J.D. Adair were very well-matched when they played for Chicago bragging rights, and their play looks energetic and reasonably sound 133 years later.

The Chinese room as seen from the dentist's chair

On Black Friday, I had two impacted wisdom teeth pulled. Our dentist is an artisthe puts his patients at ease, he's conscientious, he's fast, and like every good professional, he knows his limitations. The extractions were as close to painless as one could hope for.

Still, it was not completely painless. Squeamish person that I am, I didn't want to think about what was going on inside my mouth. 

Instead, I began thinking about (what else) chess.  One difference between human chess players and computer chess players: pull a card out of the computer's motherboard, and the computer generally doesn't say "Ouch!".  One computer chess player was famously afraid, but that was in the movies, so I don't think that counts (yet).

Half an hour earlier, on the walk to the dentist's office, I'd been listening to one of John Searle's 2011 lectures on consciousness. (The whole series can be downloaded at  In the seventh lecture, Searle argued that Deep Blue's victory over Kasparov proved nothing about Deep Blue's understanding of chess. Theoretically, a human with no knowledge of the rules of the chess could be thrown in a locked room, given Deep Blue's algorithm for finding the best move, some scratch paper and sharp pencils, and (after the arbiter slips Kasparov's move through the mail slot) replicate Deep Blue's decisions.  (Granted, the human might need a couple millennia to make certain moves, but hey, it's a thought experiment.) Would we award this hypothetical human the title of the world's strongest chess player?

Searle argues that this hypothetical human has no understanding of chess whatsoever.  As Deep Blue  and Houdini 3 are doing nothing more than executing an algorithm, they too don't know what they're doing.  This is a version of Searle's famous "Chinese room" argument: as summarized by Wikipedia, "a program cannot give a computer a 'mind', 'understanding' or 'consciousness', regardless of how intelligently it may make it behave."  Passing the Turing Test alone doesn't make a computer self-aware, wise, able to enjoy victory subjectively and suffer defeat stoically, or have the intuition of a Capablanca.

Human experts are not like computer experts.  A master dentist can approach problems from both intuitive and analytically rigorous perspectives.  Suppose the patient after me also had impacted wisdom teeth: my dentist may have been able to tell from a glance at the X-rays that this patient's molars were going to be much more difficult to extract, so he referred that patient to an oral surgeon.  Being a professional is not just executing an algorithm, it's also an art.  (On the other hand, the most conscientious artist can make an error: Daniel Kahneman discusses the limitations of snap judgments in Thinking: Fast and Slow.)

Chess masters make snap judgments all the time: how else could grandmasters play forty players at once successfully?  In some positions, a master "knows" at a glance what the right move must be.  Of course, not every snap judgment is correct—grandmasters do lose games in simultaneous exhibitions—but the quality of the grandmaster's snap judgment is much higher than the quality of our considered judgments.

(I remember consoling one well-known local master after a critical loss to Aleksander Stamnov: "The problem with playing Stamnov is that he makes good moves very quickly."  He replied, "Yes, and he also makes bad moves very quickly.")

Some recent chess books tell us to look at positions with "computer eyes," calculating all the forcing moves; others advise us to move first and think later.  What's a patzer to do?  Some positions demand brute-force calculation (we can never compete on an even level with chess engines in this sphere), others ask us to use our "feel" for the game. And most positions ask us to use some of each way of thinking.

These two ways of thinkingKahneman calls the intuitive way "System 1" and the analytical way "System 2"—actually occur in different parts of the brain.  Thinking in System 2 is hard work!  As we're surfing through the complications of each chess game, we have to toggle back and forth between the two modes of thinking.

I'll close this rambling (hey, it's a blog) with two observations:

Narrowly: you may never be able to beat Houdini, but you already understand much more about chess than Houdini ever will.  I remember a Scientific American article circa 1979 about programmers who hoped to make chess programs think in a more human fashion.  That turned out to be an absolute dead end, and "brute force" alpha-beta searches won.  It's true that useless branches of the analytical tree are pruned by the top engines, and it's true that evaluation functions have been improved, but still...chess engines are "merely" executing an algorithm, and executing an algorithm requires no understanding whatsoever.

Broadly: similar musings about the failure to date of the "strong AI" project and about how humans become expert at what they do are very much in the air right now.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Chicago Latino Chess Championship XX: How Many Can We Fit in Here?

The 20th annual Chicago Latino Chess Championship is complete, with a record-smashing 93 participants. This year's upper section alone was larger than last year's entire tournament!

Jimi Akintonde of Whitney Young High School swept Section I (age 15 and up), followed by Justin Rajsky with 4.5/5 and Felipe Quiroz, Edward Zhang, Ricardo Román, Phillip Parker-Turner and Mark Jungo with 4.0/5. Parker-Turner and Jungo were so thoroughly tied, by every standard tiebreak measure, that their trophy order had to be decided by a blitz game (which all parties preferred to a coin flip). Parker-Turner prevailed.

In Section II (age 14 and under), Ricky Román of Nightingale School finished first with a perfect 4.0/4, followed by Teja Munagala of Center Grove School in Greenwood, Ind., and Abdel Raoul of the University of Chicago Lab School with 3.5/4. Seven young players followed with final scores of 3.0/4 to win the remaining trophies: Iggy Bielobradek (Komarek, North Riverside), Kaleb Tucker (Beasley), Joseph Buklis (Decatur Classical), Daniel Román (Nightingale), Susan Huang (U. of C. Lab), Daniel Zhang (South Loop) and Elias O'Malley (Decatur Classical).

Ten place trophies were awarded in each section. The tournament is held at the Rudy Lozano Branch Library in Pilsen, home of the Knight Moves Chess Club.

Friday, November 23, 2012

The perfect Christmas present for the chess player on your list

... is Houdini 3, the latest version of the world's strongest chess engine.

USCF Sales is running a Black Friday sale through Sunday: you can buy the Standard Edition of Houdini 3 for something like $85 dollars all in (Media Mail shipping) if you use the coupon code BLACKFRIDAY.   (I am not a big fan of USCF Sales, but this is ten clams cheaper than what I paid last week.)

Or if you have Amazon Prime, you can buy Houdini 3 for $84.95 (price updated 11/25/12) and have it two days later.

My guess is that 95% of users won't have any need for Houdini 3 Pro. This souped-up version supports 32 cores and 256 GB of hash memory, as opposed to the standard version's "measly" 6 cores and 4 GB of hash.  I suspect that the difference in analysis strength is not noticeable in most cases, and that most grandmasters would find the standard version more than adequate for their needs.  (And Houdini can suck up all system resources if you let it: on a quad-core machine, I only use three cores for analysis.)  But if you can afford the extra $20, the lucky giftee might find the pro version marginally more useful: hobbyists interested in computer vs. computer play and correspondence players might be most likely to benefit.

I really like the DeepFritz 13 user interface, and even find the contextual Microsoft Office 2010 interface somewhat less annoying that I did when using Rybka 3 Aquarium.  While there's a handy "Goto Chessbase" feature for ChessBase users, I havn't been able to install the Houdini 3 engine directly in ChessBase. But that's my only complaint so far: this is truly great software!  I hope to have a fuller review before Santa loads the sleigh.

For those of you on a budget: earlier versions of Houdini are available to download free of charge.  See this earlier blog post for details.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

In Pilsen: Chicago Latino Chess Championship XX!

Twentieth edition: wow!

The site is the Chicago Public Library Lozano Branch on 1805 S. Loomis (Loomis is 1400 West: folks coming from the Loop may find the CTA's #60 bus - Blue Island/26th - handy).  No entry fee: lots of trophies!  Registration is from 9 to 9:30 a.m., Saturday, Nov. 24; play begins at 10 a.m.  You'll be home in time for dinner.

See the ICA Tournament Calendar for details!

Turkey Day 2K this weekend in Skokie

Brought to you by the miracle of cut and paste.  Original here.

Friday thru Sunday Nov 23 - 25, 2012. Turkey Day 2k - $2,000 prize fund guaranteed. 6R-SS Game-90 + 30/sec increment.

Location: North Shore Chess Center - 5500 W Touhy Ave Suite A, Skokie, IL 60077

Round Times: 12pm and 5pm daily

Entry Fee: $50 for everyone

Prize Fund Distribution:
  • Overall: $500-350-200 (+$50 perfect score prize)
  • U2200: $150-100-50
  • U1900: $150-100-50
  • U1700: $150-100-50
Special Rules - you must be rated Under 2200 USCF and no less than 1500 USCF according to the November rating supplement. Any player that has the national master title and is under 2200 is NOT ELIGIBLE to play. Any entry received that is not within the proper rating range, will be returned and you will not be registered.

This event will be USCF and FIDE rated.
Maximum capacity registration will be 64 players. The organizer reserves the right to limit lower the limit.