Wednesday, 4 April 2018

Winning with the Reverse IAGOCOT

Like the snappy title? It's a parody of all those chess opening book titles from the 1980s onwards and a cynical attempt to boost clicks on this post by luring in opening obsessives to see what they're missing. (OK, three days too late for April Fool's Day but I've never been good with deadlines.)

1. IAGOCOT - "It's A Game Of Chess Out There"

For the uninitiated, IAGOCOT is not a chess opening. (There will now be a slight pause as we wait for the disappointed people hoping to learn something new about chess openings as they leave the blog. The rest of you are still interested, right?) It is an acronym standing for "it's a game of chess out there" and coined by famed chess writers Mike Fox and Richard James in their legendary column in CHESS Magazine, and later their book The Even More Complete Chess Addict (a wonderful read and still available second-hand all over the internet) as a tribute to all those sports commentators who insist on comparing chess with whatever it is they are reporting on (usually football).

Listen out next time you watch sport on TV, and when you hear the commentator make a comparison with chess (usually during a particularly boring passage of play when nothing much is happening and they are getting desperate for something to talk about) leap to your feet and triumphantly exclaim "ha! IAGOCOT!" Of course, if you're watching with any non-chess friends, they will think you've gone completely bonkers but, hey, if they already know you're a competition chess player, they'll think you're mad anyway.

Richard James, writing here, gives full credit for the creation of this splendid meme to his late colleague Mike Fox: "IAGOCOT was coined by the late Mike Fox and used extensively in Addicts' Corner in CHESS over many years. Eventually we wound it down... because there was just too much." That's the thing - barely a sports broadcast goes by without a reference to chess.

So IAGOCOTs aren't really news any more. For a while we chess observers cast around desperately for what might be loosely termed a semi-IAGOCOT - any ludicrous or inappropriate chess/sport comparison made by a sports person, not necessarily a commentator or writer. The ultimate accolade in this category has to go to German footballer Lukas Podolski and his legendary "Football is like chess, only without the dice." As Sam Goldwyn might have said (but didn't), it's not possible to improve on perfect imperfection. Thus the semi-IAGOCOT became obsolete, much as political satire did when Henry Kissinger received the Nobel Peace Prize (Tom Lehrer really did say that one).

2. Reverse IAGOCOT (or should that be TOCOGAI?) 

But what about the Reverse IAGOCOT? By that I mean comparisons made by chess writers to other games and sports in their game annotations and commentaries. The thought came to me when I was browsing chess columns in old newspapers and came across a real doosra of a reverse IAGOCOT. You see what I did there? I just can't help myself. Let's not pretend that we chess scribblers are any different when it comes to dreaming up absurd sporting comparisons. I'm sure I've done it dozens, if not hundreds, of times and will continue to do so unashamedly until someone comes to wrest this computer keyboard from my cold, dead hands (I think I might be quoting Charlton Heston this time but I'm not sure).

BH Wood (right) tries a Reverse IAGOCOT on David Anderton in 1981

Here's the founding editor of CHESS Magazine, Baruch H Wood, writing in the Illustrated London News of 25 August 1956.

In May 1952 I observed, of a game I had given here: "This has a good claim to be regarded as the most remarkable game of chess ever played.” It was the game between Edward Lasker and Sir George Thomas in which Lasker drew his opponent’s king right across the board, finally mating it on his own back rank. The game will certainly bear repetition... 
[JS note: here BHW gives the score of the 1912 game Ed.Lasker-Thomas but I'm not going to reproduce it here as most chess players will have seen it dozens of times already - here's a link to a play-through if you want to refresh your memory of what happened the important thing to reiterate is that White drives Black's king right across the board to his own back rank before delivering mate]
It has been done again. Though certain features are missing which must be considered as unlikely ever to be seen again as Jim Laker’s nineteen wickets in a Test — for instance the queen sacrifice and the delicious concluding move "Castles, mate" — the new game has entire originality and some piquant features.
There you have a reverse IAGOCOT: BH Wood compares the legendary Ed.Lasker-Thomas game to English cricketer Jim Laker taking 19 Australian wickets in Manchester at the end of July 1956, i.e. only a matter of weeks before BHW's article was published and thus highly topical. Apologies to non-cricket-savvy readers trying to make sense of this but this record is perhaps the most remarkable in cricket history - and still stands to this day.

That wasn't the end of BH Wood's article as he proceeds to present the 'new' game he refers to which, as far as I can tell, has not found its way into any databases and perhaps deserves a wider audience. The 1952 game is not nearly as good as the 1912 classic in any respect, with chess engines being decidedly sniffy about the quality of play by both sides, but you can see the common theme. The final position is quite amusing, too.

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

Blitz Bonus to combat Drawfest Tournaments?

Not very excited by the above results table? Me neither. Here's a quick blog post for an idea I had that I can't accommodate into a Tweet.

I'm not in favour of changing chess simply because a few super-tournaments have too many draws. I think it is better to address tournament formats, time controls and the mix of players.

Here's my idea. In elite tournaments, where the players are just too damned good at defending bad positions, we allow them to play their classical games exactly as now, with the same time control and draw rules and rating changes, etc, and they score 1-½-0 as now. The difference is that every draw has to be followed by a #BonusBlitz tie-break match of two blitz games (further sets of two games or maybe an Armageddon if they end 1-1) for an extra ½ point on the scoreboard for the winner. The players get ushered into a special TV studio with plenty of cameras and commentators on hand so that the audience can enjoy them to the max. So the scoring system becomes 1 point (if you win the classical or the blitz decider), ½ (if you draw the classical game but lose the #BonusBlitz) and 0 (if you lose the classical game).

I'm not a statistician / mathematician / logician so I imagine there'll be holes to pick in my idea but perhaps it's worth debating. It would save us from dreary results tables like the one above. And the bonus from the spectator point of view is that you are guaranteed to see some blood spilt, come what may.

EDIT: in response to the well-made first comment below I'm wondering whether a point system of 3-2-1-0 might be better (3 for a classical win, 2 for a blitz win, 1 for a blitz loss, 0 for classical loss).

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

The Great Spalding Chess Controversy of 1864

Here's something I came across whilst browsing old newspapers for something entirely different...

From the Lincolnshire Chronicle - Friday 15 January 1864

(Though, frustratingly, the town where the Mechanics’ Institute referred to in the following account is never explicitly mentioned, the article is part of a larger section of news related to the town of Spalding, Lincolnshire. So I am assuming that this is where it took place. JS)

This is an amusing tale, but perhaps also a salutary one, of what can happen when chess players more or less take over a community facility intended for more general or educational use. Elsewhere in the UK and the world at large, Mechanics Institutes have proved a congenial venue for chess playing, notably in San Francisco, California, which boasts one of the oldest chess clubs in the world, pre-dating the Spalding news story by some ten years. I believe that the Mechanics' Institute in Birmingham, UK, also used to have a thriving chess club and may still have.

Chess players depicted as 'spongers': over the years I have heard many a chess organiser complaining about how chess players want their fun on the cheap, and it would seem that this viewpoint has some age to it. Me? I'm saying nothing. But enjoy this free read...

Hereafter the full text of the news clipping for those who find the small print a bit hard to make out...

The Great Chess Controversy.—The large room of the [Spalding] Mechanics’ Institute was crowded on Thursday evening [either 7 or 14 January 1864] with members, it being the general annual meeting, and the exciting subject of the introduction of chess was to be settled by vote. Mr. Cartwright was in the chair, and several leading inhabitants of the town were present. After the usual routine business had been gone through, Mr. Thos. Sharman said he was an old member of that institution, and worked for it in the early years, and loved it as an assignation calculated and intended for the use of the humbler members of society, and he strongly objected to their subscriptions being applied to an amusement which was not adapted for their institute. He proposed that the game of chess and draughts be discontinued, unless paid for by those indulging in the same. Mr. Barrell seconded, and said nine tenths of those who had indulged in this game of chess were well able to pay for their amusement, and he should as soon have thought of their applying for a dorcas ticket [an unfamiliar term to me but I think it must have meant something like a charitable ticket or free pass - JS] as using the funds of this society for their own gratification. –Mr. Watson; Chess is for those who like it, but not for those who do not.—The Rev. Mr. Jones, baptist minister, said he thought chess had its place, but not there. Some might think a separate room for religious periodicals desirable. This was not the place for them; they must have a wide platform, and afford the greatest means of improvement to the largest number. This was a class movement; if carried, it would go on throughout the county that the party in its favour were “sponging” upon the poorer members' rights, and would gentlemen (using the term ironically) condescend to meet the plebeians. (Confusion.)—Mr. Elstop spoke in favour of the game of chess as an intellectual training for the mind, and condemned the tone of the last speaker's remarks. –The Rev. Mr. Jones explained that he was only speaking sarcastically, and with jocular humour. Mr. Elstop had construed him too literally. –Mr. Calthrop spoke in a conciliatory manner, and implored the members not to divide, but endeavour to meet each others’ views.— Mr. Kingston somewhat soothed the troubled waters, and reminded the meeting how much they had magnified this question, and how much it was to be regretted that they could not decide it in better feeling; he feared the outside world would laugh at their proceedings. – Mr. Crust and Mr. Donington spoke in favour of the proposition. –Mr. Fountain proposed an amendment that chess be continued. —Dr. Ball seconded the amendment.—The votes were taken, when there appeared—59 for the amendment, for chess, and 72 for Mr. Sharman’s proposition, against it. The anti-chessmen received this decision with tremendous cheering.

Mechanics’ Institute.—Adjourned Meeting —Since the meeting on Thursday evening, a strong canvas has been made by the chess and anti-chess members (as they now style themselves, which names had better for the good of the institution be discontinued) on behalf of candidates for the post of committeeman. Voting papers were issued on both sides. On Tuesday evening last, the members met (by adjournment) for the election of officers. The following officers were unanimously and with acclamation elected:—Mr. F. A. Cartwright (president), Mr. Stubbs (hon. sec.), Mr. Cunningham (librarian), Mr. Tidswell (auditor), Mr. Wm. Cammack (treasurer), Mr. Spencer and Mr. Atton (assistant librarians). For the vice-presidentship four names were proposed, viz.,—Mr. W. Willmott, Mr. Geo. Barrell, Mr. Saml. Kingston, and Mr. Watkinson. The result of the voting showed that Mr. Kingston and Mr. Willmott were elected. There were then 18 parties proposed, out of which eight committee-men were to be elected. The following seven were elected by the first voting paper:– Messrs. Fountain, Ball, Crust, Sharman, Long, Cave, and Squires. The votes being equal, viz., 51 each, for Messrs. Watson, Woodrow, and Dawson, a second voting took place, which resulted in the election of Mr. Watson.—A vote of thanks was given to the president and officers of the past year, and the meeting terminated.

Thursday, 27 October 2016

Educating The Rookie

Guardian journalist Stephen Moss has written a book about his personal chess quest, called 'The Rookie' (Bloomsbury, 2016). Stephen learnt chess when he was at school but put it aside after university. Like so many other ex-players, he still had a hankering for the game and wondered whether he 'could have been a contender'. The book tells the tale of his re-entry to the world of chess, including his own chessboard triumphs and disasters, and his meetings with the game's great names.

Stephen Moss goes head-to-head with world chess champion Magnus Carlsen in 2009

Link to a Guardian review of the book:

Link to a place where you can buy the book:

I played a part in Stephen's quest as his chess coach. He and I only lived a few streets away from each other, so over the years I became his 'local GP' who attended to his chess ailments, while he also consulted a few 'Harley Street specialists' in the form of grandmasters such as Nigel Short, Stuart Conquest, Vladislav Tkachiev, etc. Hence I was referred to in the book as 'Doc Saunders'.

I've written about my part in Stephen's quest in the September 2016 copy of CHESS Magazine. The article may be found here online:

Thursday, 30 June 2016

Brexit Chess Tweet

I like to post what I am pleased to think of as chess-related witticisms on Twitter now and again, and when I saw something amusing on Peter Doggers' (of Facebook page relating #Brexit to the English opening, it gave me an idea and I quickly knocked up the following graphic...

It's a simple idea. The English opening, 1.c4, happens to open up a diagonal for the white queen (which I am using to represent HM Queen Elizabeth of England), so I show her exiting the board (representing the EU) on the following turn to an imaginary square beyond the d1-a4 diagonal. Took me ten minutes to knock it together and put it on Twitter.

I'm usually pleased if my little jokes get half a dozen retweets and a similar number of 'likes'. I think I might have had as many as 20 or 30 retweets on a good day. But, by those modest standards, this one proved positively viral - 675 retweets to date, and 733 likes, without me doing anything to promote it (well, until this blog post). It has been translated into other languages, and had people arguing over what the symbols represent (it has entered a wider, non-chess-literate sphere). Hat tip to Peter Doggers for prompting the idea. Still slightly gobsmacked that it struck such a chord with people.

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Chess Snippet No.3: Mir Sultan Khan (1905-66)

From the Manchester Guardian, 13 August 1929, page 4

An interesting snippet about Mir Sultan Khan (1905-66), who had just won the 1929 British Chess Championship:

Transcription follows:
The New Chess Champion.
Hafiz Mian Sultan Khan, the new British chess champion and first Indian to win the distinction, is "the son of Mir Nizamuddin, the religious leader of Mitha Tiwana, in the Shahpur district of the Punjab. He is 24 years of age, and has spent the greater part of his youth in learning the Koran by heart, so effectively that he has earned the title of "Hafiz," accorded to one able to repeat from memory the whole of the Koran. He has nine brothers, all of whom are advanced players of chess.
Colonel Malik Nawab Sir Umar Hayat Khan Tiwana, who belongs to the same district as Sultan Khan, took a great interest in him because of the remarkable aptitude he showed whenever he played a game with the Nawab. The Nawab therefore organised a special all-India tournament, which Sultan Khan won. The new champion does not speak English, and consequently he cannot read any book written on the subject of chess. There are no chess books in the vernacular of his country. Sir Umar therefore engaged an English tutor to teach him the English moves of the game, as the Indian moves differ from the English. During the tournament at Ramsgate Sultan Khan, who contracted malaria in India, developed such a high temperature that it was considered necessary to scratch him, but he refused to submit to the ruling and persisted in continuing to play.

Sunday, 21 February 2016

Miss Fatima, 1933 British Women's Chess Champion

Above is a cutting from an article which appeared in the Western Morning News on Saturday 12 August 1933, page 7. Here is the text

Hastings, Friday [11 August 1933]
Miss Fatima, a young Indian woman, with faultless features and dressed in Eastern style, won to-day at Hastings, the British women's chess championship.
Her eleven opponents were mostly of many years’ experience, and included no fewer than four ex-champions, yet out of ten games played she had won nine and drawn one by really remarkable play. 
No such score has ever been made in a series of similar contests extending over nearly 30 years. 
Miss Fatima has been for five years n England in the household of Sir Umar Hayat Khan, in or near London, living a rather secluded life. She speaks only a little simple English.
Miss Fatima has been described as still in her teens, but in an interview to-day after her victory, she admitted to 21 years and one month. She learnt all her chess in England, having started playing, she said, only two years ago.
Unfortunately this is likely to be her last tournament in England, as according to present arrangements, she is returning to India shortly.

From the foregoing, it would suggest that Miss Fatima was born around June/July 1912, rather than the year 1914, as is generally given. Of course, this is not proof, merely evidence.

Wikipedia entry for Miss Fatima: