Saturday, 1 November 2014

The very first tournament?

For various historical reasons, the London Tournament of 1851 is generally considered the first international chess tournament in history. Before that, chess was either played casually, or as matches between players.
But it shouldn't be a surprise that there were tournament events organised prior to 1851. While not attracting the stellar field of the London event, they would certainly match the definition of a tournament, at least in a rough sense.
The earliest such tournament I could find was held in London in 1788. While mainly consisting of English players, the star attraction, and event winner, was Philidor. The tournament records (from Chessbase) show that he played in the vast majority of games, so I wonder if it was a series of short matches involving Philidor, with a few side games between the other participants.
From this event I have chosen one such side game, between Bowdler and Conway. It is a game of that time, as Bowdler  disregards material to focus on a mating attack, while Conway obliges by taking everything, and getting mated.

Bowdler,D - Conway,M [C23]
London London, 1788

Thursday, 30 October 2014

ICCS 2014

The 2014 International Conference Chess in Schools (ICCS) was held in Armenia a couple of weeks ago. As in any good academic conference there was a mixture of speeches, social activities, but most importantly, paper presentations. The main topic was chess in the educational system, covering both the practical aspects, as well as assessing the benefits of chess in the classroom.
The conference papers and presentations are available from the conference website. Most of the papers are short enough to be easily digestible, so if you are involved in mainstream classroom teaching, it may provide a new source of information to assist you in your work.And if you aren't teaching chess in class (but want to), it may provide supporting evidence for you request to the school principal for chess classes during school hours.

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

A board of chess players?

While idly chatting away at a chess coaching class, the topic of collective nouns came up (as it does from time to time). It occurred to me that I was not aware of a collective noun for chess players, or if I was, I had forgotten it. My initial suggestion was a 'set' of chess players, an obvious reference to a chess set.
Looking online I found at least one reference to a 'board' of chess players. This can be taken to refer to either the chess board, or a group similar to a board of management. Unkind souls may even use an alternative spelling and describe the group as 'a bored of chess players'. The same source also mentions a 'brood' of chess players, but I find this less appealing.
Nonetheless, I find both choices unimaginative, but at the same time cannot think of anything better than my initial suggestion. Possibly an 'asylum' of chess players might work, but this may be more suited to a private joke than public presentation.

Failing upwards

Despite some very sketchy chess, I managed to finish equal first in the latest tournament at Belconnen Chess Club. I won a few lucky games, lost one pretty horrible effort, and had some last round results go my way. Finding a game worth showing was difficult, as they all seem to have their flaws, but in the end I picked my win from last week. I missed a clear win on move 21, and at one point after that my opponent was even better. But a combination of luck and the randomness of the position meant I was able to regain the advantage and eventually win the game.

Kethro,Michael - Press,Shaun [A80]
Belconnen FDK, 21.10.2014

Monday, 27 October 2014

Chess has been solved, apparently.

"Person invents improved version of chess" is a familiar and yet somehow boring headline that I see quite often these days. The latest version that this headline has been applied to is XYQ4, which seems to deal with the issue of reliance on learning and memory by making everything random.
But what is truly special about this version it that it seems to have been built on an entire erroneous basis. In this article the games creator, Damien Sommer, thinks chess is broken because "Chess is either a draw or White wins. There is no situation where Black wins". Now this claim fails on both a practical level, where Black wins quite a number of chess games that I have witnessed, and on a theoretical one. No such proof exists of the outcome of a perfectly game of chess, and for Sommer (or the reporter) to make a claim like this is difficult to understand. This is even pointed out in the comments to the liked article!
I suspect this variant will go the way of the other versions of "New Chess", attracting a brief level of interest before fading away. But having said that, I have a version you might be interested in ....

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Does Tournament Theory apply to chess?

I was recently pointed in the direction of an area of Economics called "Tournament Theory" (thx Leron Kwong). It is a theory in personnel economics (human resource management) that tries to explain that rewards (pay and compensation) is not based on additional productivity, but on the relative difference between individuals.
The situations it tries to explain do appear in chess, but I wonder if this is coincidental. For example, normally  tournaments are structured so that 1st prize is significantly larger than 2nd prize (normally twice as much). But the winner of a tournament is not normally twice as good as the player that came second. So the reason for the difference is not based on performance, but on tournament ranking. This also occurs on the field of business, where the President of a company earns a great deal more than Vice-Presidents.
As this theory was only first proposed in the early 1980's, chess practice clearly pre-dates it. I assume that the method of dividing up prizes in a chess tournaments probably arose through trial and error, before a model that the majority of players seemed happy with was developed.
Nonetheless, there may be some ideas that chess could use. I have seen events where 1st prize greatly exceeds the other prizes (1st $1000, 2nd $100), and this seems to have skewed the performance of the top players. Given that one of the goals of tournament theory is to maximise the effort of the tournament participants, it may turn out that there is a theoretical "better way" to divide up prize money in events.

(NB I know a number of economists read this blog, so if I have got anything wrong on this topic, feel free to correct or expand)

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Many versus Few

White to play and win
As I get older I am suffering the affliction of increased confusion, especially at chess. It is particularly noticeable when I am faced with a position with lots of scattered pieces on the board. I had an example today where I was material up , but my opponent had  knights, bishops and rooks scattered around the board. Trying to keep track of all the threats turned out to be quite difficult, and I felt fortunate to eventually swap enough pieces off and win the ending.
The position on the right is much more to my liking. While there are plenty of bits on the board, they are all focused on a very narrow set of targets. White is trying to queen a pawn, Black is trying to stop this, and so the play is pretty direct. Of course calculation is required (and quite deep calculation), but it is of a specific type.