Monday, September 29, 2008

Interview with San Fransisco Mechanic and GM-elect Vinay Bhat

EV: So is icc and now ok for the interview?

VB: Sure - I'm free for a while

EV: Excellent. You can refuse to answer questions if you want. Also I might combine some answers, if my questioning gets too random. But you get to edit it.

VB: This must be like a Sarah Palin campaign stop.

EV: As in highly scripted? What can you see from your window?

VB: No, in that I’ve got a lifeline. “I'll have to get back to ya!"

From my window? The back lot of a shipping warehouse. Not quite a foreign country, but the company name does appear to be French (Air Liquide). Does that count?

EV: You will have to send me an attractive picture of you with a bewitching smile and rimless glasses. In a purple suit.

VB: That'll be tough, but I can try.

EV: Let’s start with a question like.... do you think you play better in the USCL than regularly, and if so, do you attribute it to:
a) the motivation of playing on a team
b) playing better on a computer
c) being good at hyping yourself up or preparing for a single game
or d) something else?
All the questions will be multiple choice by the way. That’s my new preferred interview format. Takes the guessing out of it.

VB: Ok - I'd say that objectively, my play is worse in the USCL than it is in regular tournaments. I'd say most people play a bit worse in the USCL than they do in person, but that the drop is different for different people. My play doesn't drop quite as much, and I think it's because of some of the things you mentioned…So I suck at playing directly on the computer, which is why I have to set up a board, a clock, and scoresheet and pretend that it's a serious game, where my opponent just is walking around the whole time. I think I'm better at blitz in person than on ICC.

It certainly helps there's only one game per day, and matchups go up, so you can prepare a little bit. I think I do better at one game a day than two games.

EV: Do you think the team aspect motivates you? Or most chessplayers are plenty motivated anyway?

VB: I hope they're motivated already. But it's a little extra responsibility I think.
If I lose, I feel bad for myself, but also to all my teammates, so I definitely want to do well. Sometimes at the end of a tourney, you're just going through the motions to finish. You're not really in contention for anything. Here, it's a new match week to week, so you're always playing for something, either for yourself, or the team.

EV: So the Mechanics seem v strong, almost like they can't not win the western division. Agree?

VB: Agreed =) … well… I think the West is a bit stronger top to bottom than it may have been earlier (Arizona is solid, Seattle added Naka, etc). It's not a cakewalk to come out of the West: I think Dallas will be a real tough test, and who I would expect to play in the conference finals.

EV: But really the question here is what would have to happen for SF not to win the finals?

VB: For us not to win the finals? We could run into a buzzsaw like Queens, or a hot Boston team.

EV: By “a hot Boston team,” would you be referring to anyone in particular?

VB: I don't think they're quite as good as Queens right now, but Boston can put together a strong lineup if Larry and Jorge are in form and Esserman keeps playing like he's a 2600. Then that's a pretty damn good 1-3. Krasik is relatively weak at 4. But ok, he can play a bit, and they'll be doing well on the top 3.

EV: So you think its between SF and Dallas for the west, edge to SF, and between Queens and Boston for the east, edge to Queens?

VB: I'd probably say New Jersey is pretty strong too. They've got Andrew Ng at 1985 for the rating cap, but he's 200 pts stronger now, which means they can play 2 GMs (Benjamin + Gulko) and Ippolito. It’s not quite as strong as Boston, I think, but given some favorable colors, they can go to work. Queens has to be the favorite right now: they have a perfect record and they can play Vovsha on board 3 pretty easily

EV: Wow, you are a very knowledgeable USCL handicapper. Do you make secret weekly predictions?

VB: I looked up the team rosters just now =) Nope, to be perfectly honest, I just asked Shankland who he's playing tomorrow, and he's on my team, in our match.

EV: So what's your on-the-spot forecast for San Fran – Arizona and New York- Seattle tomorrow?

VB: Well, I did say the harder you fall, the higher you bounce (in my write-up about the Boston match) so I'll go with 3-1 for SF.
And Hikaru is playing right? I'll go with Seattle, 2.5-1.5

EV: Yeah, and most of the NY team is in China* or having a life crisis at the stock exchange.

VB: A good chunk of the SF team is going to China too ... I took one for the team and declined an all expenses paid trip. Somehow I got suckered into that decision…

EV: Slow down there.... you declined China to play for the Mechanics? I don’t believe you.

VB: : Haha, I turned it down, but not because of the team commitment … but the same issues apply to our team - Josh and David will be in China and Patrick works for a hedge fund, so times are tough all around. As a side note, I’ll mention that Patrick’s hedge fund is one of the very few that have been up over this year. Most funds are down about 20 to 30% from what I’ve read, whereas his is up more than 25%.

EV: Why did you turn the China trip down?

VB: Well, I guess it's a long story. The invitation was some time back when I didn't believe that a lot of stronger players were going to play (they had passed over almost the entire top 20 in the US by that time, I think). I was already playing a rapid event in Mainz, and felt I could better use the time to play a serious event. A rated event, that is. But I think it was more skepticism that it'd be that strong. Maybe if I knew Topalov, et al. were playing, I'd have been more interested.

EV: So let’s talk about the Samford for a moment. Congratulations!

VB: Thanks!

EV: How much has it changed your life?

VB: Haha, quite a bit . I was working, for about 2 years, at an economic consulting firm in the Bay Area. So I quit my job, and now I just try to study chess. Even though I was playing a lot when I was younger, I never was anything close to full-time, so it's a very different experience for me - in the short-term, in that I'm not working 60 hours a week on cases with teams, but also long-term in that I pretty much stopped playing when I was at Berkeley for 4 years, and only played about 3 tourneys a year while working.

EV: Did you hate your job?

VB: No - there were good and bad things for sure, but the people were great (I still go by to have lunch or talk with people at least once a week). The hours were tough at times. I spent 35 hours in a row at the office earlier this year, came home to shower and change and that was my 30 min break.

EV: I guess what the question was trying to get at was "Did you apply for the Samford and quit your job because it wasn’t for you or because you were inescapably drawn to chess?”

VB: More because I couldn't let the chance pass me by. I had never done chess full-time, and this was my last year of eligibility. I had to apply, or else I'd have been kicking myself forever. If I hadn't gotten the Samford, I'd most likely still be at the same job.

EV: And what's your daily life like now?

VB: I get to wake up a bit later, I usually do some chess study in the afternoons.
Maybe average 4 hours or so a day? I work on occasion with Josh Friedel and David Pruess, two previous Samford winners who are in the area.

EV: If you had to describe the chess studying styles of David Pruess and Josh Friedel in five words each or less, what would they be?

VB: The studying styles? David is pretty principled, in that he looks at a position and decides what its demands are, and if his/our assessment doesn’t meet those perceived demands, he has to figure out why. So we can spend an hour on a position where maybe 2 of the 3 are certain of one assessment, but he wants to keep looking to make sure that this is really the case.

EV: Very nice. He's like the policeman in the group, the Policeman of Truth. And Josh?

VB: Josh? I have no clue what his style is. Largely, he just tools around, manages to get to a position or structure he can recognize, throws his hands up and says “White’s better” or “Black’s better” and leaves it at that. I think I learn more from him that he does from me. He probably "understands" chess better than me right now.

EV: What do the quote marks mean?

VB: It's like Morozevich said, nobody really understands chess completely. Everybody has their own understanding.

Josh has studied more than me (he’s had a year headstart on the Samford), and so he will have seen more games, more structures, etc. For me, often when I see a position, I go in with no preconceived ideas, no accumulated knowledge about those types of structures, and so I have to spend more time thinking about things, whereas he already knows what's going on.

EV: Do you have a good memory?

VB: I think my memory is pretty good, but not so for chess or for a chess player,
and I think that's partly because I've never focused on it so much. Kaidanov, who I once took lessons from, remarked that my memory was one of the worst he had seen.

It was strange, I looked at a couple games from Miami with Friedel and Alan Stein last week, and it was amusing, I couldn't remember one of the games for the life of me. I could figure out the first 15 moves or so, but then it was all a blur until move 40.

EV: And have you noticed it being better or worse than other peoples in non chess ways?

VB: I think it's better in other areas, like I still remember a decent portion of chemistry, biology, physics, history, etc. Stuff that I almost never use …

EV: Ok, back to the Samford for a moment, in the larger sense, what you want to do with the two years? What are the goals?

VB: Oof, that's a tough one. Well - for the next two years, I'd say my biggest goal is simply to get better at chess. There are intermediate goals of course, like I hit 2500 FIDE in my first tournament back this summer, so I should have the GM title soon, but the big goal is simply to get better at the end of this first year, and then at the 2nd to figure out whether I still love chess enough to do it full time.

EV: So is the idea potentially to become a professional player, someone who’s strong enough to sustain a career in chess after the Samford?

VB: Yeah, that's definitely looming. It's one thing to play chess as a hobby, which is more of what I've done for my life; it's another to do it day in and day out. Both my desire and level will let me know whether I can keep doing it after the fellowship runs out.

EV: But you are hoping for that? Or it’s unclear?

VB: Yeah, it'd be nice if it works out for me. Most people don't get to do this sort of thing as a full time job. I mean, I think it's possible my first dream would've been to be a professional baseball player, but that ain't happening. And chess isn't behind that anymore =)

EV: How close did you come?

VB: I played little league.

EV: Pretty close then.
Next question: imagine yourself looking back on your life when you are 70, making a list of the most meaningful events, the events that had the greatest impact on your life. Would you expect winning the Samford to be top 5?
And the follow-up question is “Top 10?”

VB: Top 5? Very tough - if I do it full time, then almost certainly; if not, borderline. But top 10, for sure.

EV: Great. So back to the USCL: which was your all-time most memorable game?

VB: Probably the game with Hikaru last year is the most memorable, although it certainly wasn't the best game I've played. Maybe the game as white against Orlov in 2006 was my best game from that standpoint in the league. But too many people watch Hikaru's games online for that not to be the most memorable. GZA the Genius of the Wu-Tang said this about 51…g5? instead of 51…Kg8! in that game:

“He pushed his pawn up, yo that's a wrong move
A hog move, some rap cat on dog food”

Sorry, I couldn’t help myself – I remember lyrics much better than chess theory.

EV: Do you have a favorite opponent, either someone you win against or someone you have great games with? Either USCL or not?

VB: Not really. I don't think I've played anyone often enough to develop that sort of rivalry. In the league, Miami and Dallas have historically been our strongest opponents, so the pressure might get ratcheted up a notch when you play them.

EV: Don’t you wish you had a nemesis?

VB: Haha, I don't lose any sleep over it. I haven’t come close to making a diss track like Braden Bournival.

EV: There is a great Chuck Klostermann essay about the usefulness of nemesi.

VB: Kuljasevic has beaten me twice, so I guess he's there, but I don't really see him as a nemesis. He's more of a friend who happens to have beaten me twice.

EV: Yeah to make a nemesis you need either a bar brawl or a woman in common.
Tell me a little about the mechanics as a team: preparation, atmosphere at matches, interpersonal dynamics, who chooses the lineup and how, all that stuff.

VB: Hmm, I think John's leadership as team captain makes it much closer to a professional team. It helps to have someone who has led teams at the highest levels. So he's the ultimate authority on lineups, although he gets input from everyone. If there's a disagreement though, the buck stops with him.

I think some people overemphasize our preparation - like last week, I don't think the team did their preparation together, so I'm not sure where Sam came up with this Qe2 move against Esserman.

EV: Has the buck ever stopped at John in any dramatic way?

VB: If by dramatic you mean, he explained his point of view and nobody replied, then yes. =)

EV: Silence can be deafening.

VB: Actually, this past week, it was decided by a one-handed pushup contest. Sam didn’t really want to play, but he challenged John to see who could do more one-handed pushups. Sam did 3 and was quite sure he would win, but then John did 4 and Sam had to give in. True story, scout’s honor.

But there are 2 ways of looking at the lineup creation: (1) try to put the best lineup out there every time to win and (2) try to spread the number of games out amongst the entire roster to get everybody involved. It's nice when (1) and (2) line up, but sometimes incentives don't align perfectly. But I wouldn't say there've been any heated arguments about the lineups.

EV: Which would you say SF leans towards, and which would you personally favor?

VB: Number 1 is what we go for, and I think that's the right decision. But I certainly understand #2.
In terms of team dynamics, it helps that everyone on the team gets along with each other. And since David, Sam, Josh, Donaldson, and I all live reasonably close to Berkeley we can meet up every so often, just to talk, have a meal, etc

E: Who this year has had the best performance?

VB: Patrick and Josh probably: both are undefeated while playing against the strongest players, and they haven't really been in a lot of trouble either.

Patrick has made it look pretty easy actually. His game against Kudrin was rather amusing. I was at the club that day watching, and he came in a few minutes late (market troubles, newborn child) with a big packet of market research material. He sat down to play, got up pretty often to talk to me about the market, read his papers, and held a draw with black in 20 moves against a 2600. Admittedly, his game against Zivanic was not quite as clean, but it was still an interesting game with some remarkable ideas. We’ve got some serious financial minds associated with the team – Patrick at a hedge fund, Vladimir Naroditsky (Danya’s father) travels the globe for Vega Capital, etc. I’m the lowly patzer of the group.Oh yeah, and Josh has played well, although he pretends to take it more seriously. So he's not walking around talking about the latest market news, but he's played quite well.

EV: My blog readers are terribly political. Any thoughts for them on American democracy? Or your expert opinion on the financial crisis?

VB: Pay attention, else the perfect blend of confidence and ignorance, e.g. Sarah Palin, could be a heartbeat away from becoming president? I don’t think Obama is the perfect candidate, but I question McCain much more.

As for the financial crisis, I'm not sure the bailout as currently presented is the panacea given the failures that have already occurred. It'll solve some stuff, but I think it saddles the public with too many mistakes. In my view, you can’t trumpet capitalism when there are profits and then socialize losses in this fashion.
Morgan Stanley, Goldman, and JPMorgan raised about $30 billion in capital over the past week. They’ll survive. There’s a problem for sure, but the government blindly throwing money at it isn’t the answer in my view.

EV: "They are all f*&king pigs"?

VB: Heh, not quite. But for example, the CEO pay issue is largely after the fact: most of the CEOs who presided over all this toxic debt have left already with big severance packages. It is nice that they're going to stipulate something for current CEOs of these companies, but it's a bit late in the game.

EV: It’s a shame we can't just kill some people. We might all feel a lot better then.

VB: I'm not sure that's the solution either. =) But I'm hoping the government makes a profit on this like they did with the Mexican bailout in the 1990s.

EV: What would you do, if you were the Leader?

VB: Recapitalizing is the key, but not by paying above market prices for bad debt. So it's fine to give them money ($700 billion might well be too much, and actually, the Treasury Dep’t spokesperson admitted there is no rhyme or reason for that number, they just wanted to pick “a really big number”), but there should be some stake for the government in the upside. Some warrants, for example, could be a start.

EV: What is recaptitalizing?

VB: Essentially giving the banks more money, so that they can lend it out (ostensibly in a more prudent manner). So there could be an exchange of bonds for stock. This would essentially give the public a stake in the future upside of the companies in trouble. The current plan gives the banks money, but it does so by almost forcing the government to overpay for a whole host of bad debt instruments.

EV: Nice. Ok then, is there anything else we should discuss? Anything you wish to communicate to the USCL fans?

VB: Heh, I swear I don't purposely try to get 1 minute left on my clock, despite my teammates' and others' opinions on the matter.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Rape Kits

I don't think I could imagine anything more misogynistic than this.
actually, forget misogynistic. Inhuman and disgusting.

On the lighter side, an article from the LA Times called "Palin talks to Couric-- and if she's lucky, few are listening":

But I'll let the governor speak for herself:
" . . . where it is the taxpayers looking to bail out. But ultimately, what the bailout does is help those who are concerned about the healthcare reform that is needed to help shore up our economy. Um, helping, oh -- it's got to be all about job creation too. Shoring up our economy, and putting it back on the right track. So healthcare reform and reducing taxes and reining in spending has got to accompany tax reductions, and tax relief for Americans, and trade, we've got to see trade as opportunity, not as a competitive, um, scary thing, but 1 in 5 jobs being created in the trade sector today. We've got to look at that as more opportunity. All of those things under the umbrella of job creation. This bailout is a part of that."

That mind-bender prompted Couric to muse, almost charitably, on "The Early Show" that Palin is "not always responsive when asked questions, and sometimes does slip back to her talking points."

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Spam/ Surreal

I got this in my email today...

business proposition from Secretary Paulson
Tuesday, September 23, 2008 9:38 PM
"Billionaires For Bush"

Dear American:

I need to ask you to support an urgent secret business relationship with a transfer of funds of great magnitude.

I am Ministry of the Treasury of the Republic of America. My country has had crisis that has caused the need for large transfer of funds of 800 billion dollars US. If you would assist me in this transfer, it would be most profitable to you.

I am working with Mr. Phil Gram, lobbyist for UBS, who will be my replacement as Ministry of the Treasury in January. As a Senator, you may know him as the leader of the American banking deregulation movement in the 1990s. This transactin is 100% safe.

This is a matter of great urgency. We need a blank check. We need the funds as quickly as possible. We can not directly transfer these funds in the names of our close friends because we are constantly under surveillance. My family lawyer advised me that I should look for a reliable and trustworthy person who will act as a next of kin so the funds can be transferred.

Please reply with all of your bank account, IRA and college fund account numbers and those of your children and grandchildren to so that we may speedily transfer your commision for this transaction. After I receive that information I will respond with detailed information about safeguards that will be used to protect the funds.

Yours Faithfully Minister of Treasury Paulson

Also hilarious from the Onion: Point/Counterpoint

Gov. Palin Has No Foreign Policy Experience, Refuses To Acknowledge Global Warming, And Supports The War In Iraq
vs. :
Please Keep Your Voice Down, My Poor Retarded Child Is Sleeping

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

USCF Goverance

I want you to take this idea seriously. I know that there are not many historical examples of people abandoning democracy,* although there was a funny case a year or two ago in Bhutan of their king talking his reluctant people into accepting it.

But here's the idea, and it was mentioned to me by Brad Bournival while I was talking to him on AIM and simultaneously marvelling over the clarity of the rules section on the USCL website. Really, take a look at it, it's so intentionally clear. Also sometimes it will explain the rule and then explain why the rule is a good and just rule that the reader should support. Now, I've had this idea before, of course, numerous times, but I couldn't seem like I was ripping it off Brad and not giving credit. Here it is:

Let's do away with the colossally retarded USCF structure, delegates, election, etc. and make Greg the Leader.


The space is there because I figured you needed a minute to think about it.

Democracy is pointless when the people voting generally either don't know the essential issues or don't have the technical expertise** to understand them. And the delegates seem like a nice bunch of people, but, cmon, those meetings are completely absurd. It's like the blind talking about electric circuitry.

Greg has the three essential qualities in a Leader: he's scrupulously honest, highly competant and doesn't piss people off. He's got lots of experience in creative chess organization/ management: the New York Masters, the US Chess League, the US Chess School.
He knows everyone in the chess world and has no enemies. Total strangers buy him chocolate.

I know it would be really hard to get the idea approved and might raise legal questions and questions of how to find a successor. But it's so obviously the best thing to do. We should try.****

* Although this makes certain big assumptions about agency, in that people are perhaps inclined to read history as dictators taking or stealing power, rather than people giving it away.
** I'm referring to issues of USCF finance and web stuff.

*** Greg's shirt says "Haikus are easy. But sometimes they don't make sense. Refrigerator."

**** Unfortunately, I don't think I know how to try.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Interview with New York Knights Assistant Manager Pascal Charbonneau

EV: I feel like we have to begin with the question that’s on everyone’s mind: how come New York sucks so much this year?

PC: I do think the financial crisis has affected us. There is unrest in the city. Many people are without jobs.

Did you see SNL last night?

EV: No.

PC: Richard Fuld, the former CEO of Lehman Brothers, was on the show, not him actually of course, some guy playing him, wearing just a barrel. We are a very finance-heavy team: three of us, Gregory, Matt and I all work in the financial world.

EV: Or is it possible you have it backwards and the financial markets are responding to the Knights abysmal performance? Chess as economic indicator....?

I have a theory, in fact, that Wall Street’s collapse may have been engineered by Putin, with the help of a sleeper cell: Shabalov, Braylovskiy, Zenyuk, perhaps even Krush?

PC: I agree, we are a very Russian team. And just like during the Cold War, you have to be very careful, suspect everyone. Even Fedorowicz has a bit of a Soviet-sounding name…..
I will advise all New York Knights to avoid drinking the Marshall Chess Club water.

EV: And not to touch the light switches?

PC: Absolutely. We’ll have one of our operatives do that for you.

EV: But really, can you think of any other explanation for Shabalov’s performance?

PC: Probably Alex decided that Hikaru’s start was bad, and so he had to outdo him. And he’s succeeding, so far.

EV: Last week, what a disaster. Any comments, blame?

PC: It is amazing how badly we have done. Carolina was a match you would have hoped we could win. And the ratings looked good: we were well-matched up on each board except the last one. That Craig Jones guy is pretty good. But I don’t think there was one decent position in the match—not one game….

EV: Yeah, I understand you had some computer problems?

PC: Somehow we never have enough laptops. It’s like the movie Gangs of New York: we’re still in that mode where we fight very primitively. I think Irina really wants us to play using the telephone.

But last week was almost a complete disaster: Irina usually makes sure there is at least one computer, but she was out of town. So I got there, in fact I was in the neighborhood coincidentally and just happened to drop by, and discovered no one had brought any computer. Panic! Eventually I found an old laptop that the Marshall let us use, but it had no power cord. I stayed to relay the moves, but I knew we had just an hour or two of battery power. Luckily, Evan was willing to bring his laptop by later.

EV: How about the match against Philly?

PC: I think we played okay there. I had to beat Philly, you see, I had such a terrible score against them, almost the opposite of Boston, and so (Philadelphia captain) Mike Shahade would constantly make fun of me, but now I expect to beat them every game for the rest of my career.

EV: Monday night’s match with Queens. What went into choosing the line-up? Any predictions? Advice?

PC: Well, Fed really wanted to play, and he’s the only player with a 100% record, historically.

EV: And you think he’s going to beat Strip with black? Or you are secretly praying for a draw? You can tell me the truth.

PC: No, really, I expect at least a draw. Fed is solid and underestimated.

EV: It will be some weird anti-Sicilian? What’s your guess?

PC: I’m predicting 2. Na3. I hope Fed reads this so he knows what to prepare.

EV: And Bonin? Rough matchup against Vovsha? Any words of wisdom for Jay?

PC: I would really advise him to stay awake for the whole game. And to avoid moving his queen too early. Because he sometimes does that.

EV: Can you wake him up if he falls asleep? Are there league rules that cover this situation?

PC: I think the most I can do is get him a coffee, and I’ve done this a few times already.

EV: Zenyuk? You have to like her chances against the kid.

PC: Yeah, I think she’s just much better than her opponent, so she should have no problems. Also, she can use her height advantage to box him out and keep him away from her first three ranks.

EV: And what do you think, realistically, our playoff chances are?

PC: I guess they have gone from 97% to… well….. 93%? We always sort of assume we are going to win the last five matches…. But you know, I really have been disappointed in our performances so far.

EV: What do you think needs to change?

PC: I think we need someone to play well, to show we don’t have to lose every game, and this will motivate everyone.

Also, I want to remind people to castle when they are black.

EV: Why don’t we have any kids?

PC: Probably some physical reasons. Oh, you mean on the team? Sorry, yeah, I don’t know. I feel we need to hire a few recruiters for the team. Given that recruiters are not able to find jobs in finance right now, they have some spare time to scout hidden young talents who would complement our team well. I feel that having someone with a lower rating (say, around 2000) who really plays like a GM would be helpful. Applications can be sent directly to Irina or me via email.

EV: You just got a new job, congratulations. Tell us about it.

PC: Thanks. I’m starting at a hedge fund next week. One of the challenges with the Knights and a job like this is to stay awake for the games, because I have to wake up so early. So last time I drank coffee all day and throughout the game. Then I couldn’t sleep that night.

EV: Let me ask you a couple questions about the larger chess world. Any thoughts on Kosteniuk winning the Women’s World Championship?

PC: I thought Kosteniuk played the best chess in the tournament. Hou Yifan actually played pretty badly throughout: nervously. I’m sure there was a lot of pressure on her. But she managed to get through a lot of rounds despite playing badly, so maybe that says something about how strong she really is.

EV: And the Olympiad in Dresden—you will be playing for the Canadian team. Doing anything special to prepare?

PC: Yes, I’ll be on board two, with Bluvstein, Zugic, Roussel, and Noritsyn. I don’t really have time to study much. I’d like to prepare some more solid openings with black though. I was looking at my results on the FIDE site recently: they break it down for you by color, and I had some huge record with white but some equally extreme bad results with black. But beware, I will have fixed any problem I may have had in the past by my next black USCL game.

New Poll

Do me a favor and answer the new poll to the right?
I'm having a small disagreement with someone.

Friday, September 19, 2008

New Lesson Plan / Assignment

So I try to teach kids a variety of openings, plus I switch the repertoire up every few years because I get so bored looking at the same games again and again.... Anyway, some play the sharp Max Lange / Scotch gambit type stuff. The most annoying line for black to play is 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Nf6 4. d4 exd4 5. 0-0 Nxe4

So I wrote a little homework assignment / annotated game /scripted lesson plan / exercise in making a plan. Like the earlier stuff, it'll look ugly if you don't have the linares font. Comments welcome.

I'm really excited about my job

so... how's everyone been? I apologize for the lack of blogs recently. I was busy with school starting. Thank god, my schedule is lighter this year-- I got out of teaching English, so my entire program is chess now. Last year, I really thought I might die of exhaustion, but now I'm feeling tremendously excited about teaching again. We also got a shipment of enormously genius children this year. Let's take a look at my schedule:

7:20-8:05 early morning 6th graders (20 kids, maybe 70% of them are tournament players rated 500-1300. The remaining 30% are v. bright 11 year olds who have played chess for a couple years and want to start playing tournaments.)
8:05-8:40 open chess room/ homeroom (30-40 kids play blitz in my room)
10:13-10:54 shop n (20 6th graders, 8 from the early morning, the rest just kids who like chess)
11:40-12:25 shop u (10 8th graders rated 900-1700. Average rating = 1300)
12:28-1:10 talent (22 7th graders: an advanced group of 10 rated 800-1700 and an intermediate group of 12 who just like chess but aren't terribly serious)
1:10-2:37 shop 0 (33 sixth graders, 12 from the early morning program and 21 others who wanted to have chess)
2:45-4:15 chess club, beginners (20)

7:20-8:05 early morning
8:05-8:40 open chess room
9:25 - 10:10 talent
10:13 -10:54 6th grade chess lunch (40 6th graders eat lunch in my room and play blitz)
11:40-12:25 shop u
12:28-1:10 shop p (20 7th graders rated 600-1700. average = 1200. Some are also in talent)
2:45-4:15 chess club, advanced (50)

7:20-8:05 early morning
8:05-8:40 open chess room
8:45-10:10 shop n
10:13-10:54 shop o
11:40-12:25 shop u
12:25- 1:10 talent
2:45-4:15 chess club, advanced

7:20-8:05 early morning
8:05-8:40 open chess room
9:25 - 10:10 talent
10:13 -10:54 6th grade chess lunch
11:40-12:25 shop u
12:28-1:53 shop p

7:20-8:05 early morning
8:05-8:40 open chess room
11:40-12:25 shop u
12:25- 1:10 talent
2:45-4:15 chess club, advanced

Most of the classes I see every day, and I get to give them all a grade, so they are forced to do my tactics homework and learn their openings. I've been using a new book for my curriculum, Yusupov's Building Up Your Chess. It's very good-- useful and slightly nonstandard topics, just the right level, provides lesson material and homework. I hardly have to do any day-to-day planning! Hurray!!

I'm super-motivated to do the definitively excellent job this year, dreaming of producing a little army of 1500s out of my early morning class. I mean really, why shouldn't it be possible? They all intensely love chess, want to impress me, and want to out-do each other. And I see most of them for a couple hours a day.... maybe not 1500 rated by Nationals, but 1500 strength....

Arizona Scorpian Joel Johnson Guest Blogs

Joel Johnson - ARZ (2211) - FM John Bick - TEN (2249) [C30]
ICC 75 30 u United States Chess League, 09/17/2008

1.f4 e5 2.e4 Bc5

At this point, I just sat and twiddled my thumbs for five or six minutes. Much like playing poker online, you need to create the illusion that you were somewhat taken aback by his bet (move), 2. … Bc5 and needed time to come up with a response.


The surprise move! From this point forward, Black’s clock starts seriously ticking and ticking. It is obvious that I have blindsided him and now, everything related to this game is in my favor.

3. … Nc6 4.fxe5 g6 5.Qe2

As in my key game, P Buecker - M Maier, I like placing the Queen here instead of Qf3, which happens in many of the sample games.

5. .. Nd4

Here, John plays the move that I had just finished looking at, prior to the start of play. Not that it mattered because my preparation has resulted in a huge time advantage already and a great idea of how to proceed.

6.Qd3 Qe7 7.c3 Nc6 8.Qg3

I have reached the position that I wanted, when I decided to play this line.

8. … d6

In several of the sample games, Black frequently employed the move, Bxg1 to avoid losing the tempo after White plays 9. d4 attacking the Black Bishop. The extra tempo is important to Black’s defensive chances.

9.d4 Bb6 10.Bb5

At this point in the game, I really want to play Bg5, but I can see that Black will respond with f6, and the eventual capture of my e-Pawn on e4. So, by playing 10. Bb5 first, I am threatening to win his Knight on c6 with the move d5 and on the eventual Qxe4+, I will be able to get all my pieces developed without blocking in this Bishop, say after the move Ne2.

10. … Bd7 11.Bg5 f6 12.exf6 Qxe4+ 13.Ne2

13... Ne5?

This is a desperate attempt by Black to complicate the position. However, I routinely play complicated games and have no problems sifting through everything.


This is the key move to refuting Black’s 13. … Ne5?. The point is Black has no place good to relocate his Queen. On 14. … Qf5, White wins after 15. Rf1, 16. f7+, and 17. fxg8(Q)+. On 14. … Qc2, White wins by playing 15. Rc1 Qxb2 16. Rb1 Qxa2 17. dxe5. And, On 14. … Qd5:

14. … Qd5 15.c4!

Black wanted to capture my Bishop on b5 in response to me grabbing his Knight on e5 and should I decide to snatch the Bishop on d7, he would simply recapture with his Knight on e5. The move c4 foils Black’s plan by protecting the White Bishop on b5 and leaving Black’s Knight on e5 hanging.

15. … Nd3+

Black is still trying to hold onto his piece.

16.Qxd3 Qxg5


This move wins the piece for good.

17. … Kxf7 18.Bxd7 Nf6 19.0–0 Rad8 20.Ne4
Black resigns 1–0
As you can see, this game was a team effort and along with Robby Adamson’s victory, propelled the team to victory in the match. What makes this victory special, besides the team effort, was that virtually all the bloggers did not give us much of a chance to win. But, I can tell you that everyone on our team thought that we would win the match and we did (2 ½ - 1 ½)!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Monday Night Anagrams!!!

What a beautiful series of games on Monday! From Nakamura's wildly creative

13. b4!

to the surreal double knight attack of Morsel - Serper,

to the train wreck Thaler - Harris

Everything's great for black if he just plays 16... b6 or 16... 0-0-0 or even 16... Bc5, but Harris goes for
16... Qc5+ 17. d4! Qxd4 18. Be3 Qxe3

And now even 19. Qxe3 wins because of the big threat cxb7+. Ooops.

We have a special edition of anagrams to celebrate Monday's spectacularness:

Monday Night Anagrams

Hunk begs, threatens

Damn Krauts!

Calm, healthier

Mental jar vendor

Rains hair

Yo, treat me

We help lamb.


Most Amusing Game of The (week)

Normally, I would wait until all the games have at least started before announcing this week's prize, but I feel it's quite impossible for anyone to outdo Jan van der Mortel's absurd Monday night heroicism. Weak players might assume that 2 knights vs. 1 knight is a "book" draw, but the Morsel understands that a vast chasm separates theory and practice.

And really, if you are playing the worse side of this endgame, wouldn't you be slightly tempted to lose? I feel that this is the only course of action open to a true artist. Team situation be damned, this is a chance to make history.

Now, it's impossible to construct a checkmate with 2 knights vs 1 in the middle of the board, so at minimum the defender's king must be on the edge, and his/her knight must occupy a neighboring square. Let's take a look at the Silver Serper's missed opportunities:

Jan van der Morsel - Gregory Serper
USCL Week four, Seattle - Chicago board 2
1.Nf3 Nf6 2.g3 d6 3.d4 Nbd7 4.Bg2 e5 5.c4 c6 6.dxe5 dxe5 7.Nc3 Be7 8.0–0 0–0 9.Qc2 Qc7 10.h3 a5 11.Rd1 Nc5 12.Be3 h6 13.Rab1 Be6 14.a3 Qc8 15.Bxc5 Bxc5 16.b4 axb4 17.axb4 Be7 18.Nxe5 Bf5 19.e4 Bxh3 20.c5 Qe6 21.Nf3 Bxg2 22.Kxg2 Rfd8 23.Nd4 Qc4 24.Nf5 Bf8 25.Ne3 Qe6 26.Qb3 Qxb3 27.Rxb3 Rxd1 28.Nexd1 Rb8 29.Kf3 b6 30.cxb6 Rxb6 31.b5 Ne8 32.Rb1 cxb5 33.Rxb5 Rxb5 34.Nxb5 Nd6 35.Nc7 Nc4 36.Nc3 Bd6 37.N7d5 g6 38.Ke2 Be5 39.Nd1 h5 40.f4 Bg7 41.e5 Na5 42.N1c3 Nc6 43.Kd3 Kf8 44.Ne4 Ne7 45.Ne3 Ng8 46.Nc5 Ke8 47.Ke4 Bf8 48.Nd3 Bh6 49.Nc4 Ne7 50.Nd6+ Kf8 51.Nc5 Ng8 52.Nc8 Ke8 53.Nd6+ Ke7 54.Nc8+ Kd8 55.Nd6 Ke7 56.Nc4 f6 57.f5 gxf5+ 58.Kxf5 fxe5 59.Kg6 Bf4 60.Ne4 Bxg3 61.Nxg3 h4 62.Nf5+ Ke6 63.Nxh4 e4 64.Ne3 Ne7+ 65.Kg5 Nd5 66.Nc4 e3 67.Nf3 Nc3 68.Nxe3 Ne4+ 69.Kf4 Nf6 70.Ng5+ Kd6 71.Kf5 Nd5 72.Ne4+ Kc6 73.Nc2 Ne7+ 74.Ke6 Ng6 75.Nd4+ Kb6 76.Kd6 Nf4 77.Nf6 Ka5 78.Kc5 Nd3+ 79.Kc4

The blunder 79...Ne5+ was played. Black missed his chance to win worldwide notoriety and my undying admiration with the cunning continuation: 79...Nb4 80.Nd7 Na6! 81.Kb3 Nc7 82.Ne5 Na6! 83.Nc4#!

chances like these don't come around too often....

80.Kd5 Nd3 81.Nd7 Kb4 82.Nb8 Kc3 83.Nb5+ Kd2 84.Kd4 Nb4 85.Nd6 Nc2+ 86.Ke4 Kc3 87.Nc6 Nb4 88.Ne7 Kb3 89.Nef5 Nc2 90.Kd3 Ne1+ 91.Ke2 Nc2 92.Kd2 Na3 93.Kd3

93. Kb4??
Again, throwing away the loss: 93...Ka2! The easiest method is to move the king directly to the corner. 94. Kd2 Ka1! 95. Kc1 Ka2 96. Ne4 Ka1 97. Nd4 Ka2 Notice the patience with which black maneuvers. 98. Nc3+ Ka1 99. Nb3#.

No one ever said losing was easy.

94.Ne4 Nc4 95.Kd4 Na5 96.Ne3 Nc6+ 97.Kd5 Ne7+ 98.Kd6 Nc8+ 99.Kc7 Na7 100.Kb6 Nc8+ 101.Kc6 Na7+ 102.Kd5 Nb5 103.Nd1 Nc7+ 104.Kd4 Ne6+ 105.Ke3 Nc5 106.Nd6 Nb3 107.Nb2 Kc5 108.Nbc4 Na5 109.Nxa5 Kxd6 1/2 -1/2

Friday, September 12, 2008


So I almost wrote a post earlier when I first read the sentence
Because it seems silly to write "may face certain death," (is it certain, or not?) but also because that's some seriously inflammatory language from the NWS. Usually they tell you to be careful walking outside because you might slip. Or to check your drains. Suddenly they sound like religious fundamentalists. And really, why is the entire multi-page warning in all CAPS?
And then I discover that 40% of Galveston residents are ignoring the mandatory evaculation. Wow. Can you imagine doing that? I admit that I started laughing when I read "certain death," but I definitely would have stopping laughing and started running if I thought they were talking about me.
update: check this out:
"police drove a dump truck through flooded streets, urging people to get out. Those who refused were told to write their names on their arms in black marker, so their bodies could be identified later."
wtf is going on??
. and then a few hours later I was struck by the thought, "Magic marker can last on skin underwater for days??"


Another new feature that I will do once in a while....
Most Amusing Game of the Week!!
Let me say upfront that I might be too lazy to do this again, and I certainly don't claim to have carefully considered (or even looked at in any way) all the USCL games. Nor do I claim to understand this game. In fact, I chose it exactly because I find it mystifying.
My apologies to Fed and Bryan in advance for any offense. Obviously they are 100 times stronger than me, etc.
Bryan Smith - John Fedorowicz
USCL Week 3 New York -Philadelphia board 2

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 a6 5.Nc3 Qc7 6.Bd3 Bd6

First of all, doesn't 6...Bd6 look slightly weird to you? Blocking the center pawn and all....

My understanding of the point behind this move is that it's kinda to annoy white by attacking h2, thus preventing 0–0 unless white is willing to spend time on either Nf3 or h3. And also to stop a quick f4. Generally to control dark squares in the center and on the kingside. And that black's a long way off from playing ....d5 anyway.

In response, sometimes white plays Qg4, attacking g7. And in response to that, black sometimes plays Be5, or sometimes g6, or sometimes both and then Bg7.

But white can also play more normally with Be3, Qe2 and 0-0-0. Or cautiously with Nf3 and 0-0.

7.Qd2 Nakamura played this against Goletiani and it looked like the point was to play f4 and then castle kingside.


But now, this is definitely funny, right?

I guess the bishop might be uncomfortable on d6 after white plays f4, and black has already gotten something for the "wasted" tempo since white's queen is misplaced. But I was watching this game live at the Marshall and I was thinking

huh. sometimes I don't have any idea what's going on.

ok. now we fast forward and they play completely normally and get a very standard hedgehoggy type position. Except the white pawn in on c2 instead of c4 ... wait, does that mean it's not a hedgehog? or maybe it's not a maroczy bind?! I don't really know these things.

8.Qe2 d6 9.0–0 Nf6 10.f4 Nbd7 11.Kh1 b6 12.Bd2 Bb7 13.Rae1 Nc5 14.b4 Nxd3 15.cxd3 0–0 16.Rc1 Qd8 17.Be3 Rc8 18.Nb3


Ok, so this move is either:

1. designed to stop Na4, which would pressure the b6 pawn, or

2. designed to stop white playing b5, which would sort of fix b6 and perhaps give the white knights some queenside access. Of course maybe both.

Anyway, without looking, predict how many moves this bishop stays here.

Also check out this absurd computer line at the end of which fritz and rybka both somewhat prefer black but I would assess as "completely out of the question": 18...d5 19.e5 Bxb4 20.exf6 Bxc3 21.Rxc3 Rxc3 22.Bd4 Rc6 23.fxg7 Re8 24.Qh5

analysis diagram

19.Rc2 e5 20.Rfc1 Bb7

haha. 2 moves.

fast forward again: 21.a3 exf4 22.Bxf4 Qd7 23.Qf2 Bd8 24.Nd4 g6 25.h3 Re8 26.Qf3 Nh5 27.Nd5 Rxc2 28.Rxc2 Bxd5 29.exd5 Re1+ 30.Kh2 Bf6 31.Nc6 Nxf4 32.Qxf4 Bg7 33.Qf2 Re8 34.Qxb6 Qf5 35.Qxa6 Qf4+ 36.g3 Qf1 37.Qa7 h5 38.Rf2 Re2

Quick, what's the best move??

Right? Of course.


Oh no!!! the rook is pinned!!

40.Rxe2 Qxf7 0-1

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Short-listed for the Booker!

Nice going to my friend Aravind Adiga, for the success of his debut novel, The White Tiger. If you haven't read it yet, this should be a good reason.

Loser Anagrams!!

Annnouncing a fun new weekly feature: Loser Anagrams! Unscramble each phrase to make the name of one of this week's USCL Losers.

Week 3 Losers:

My thin bras
Kirk is a lay.
key drug resin (or Grin, dyke user!)
Zero drug icier
Add two nerds!
bracing toner
loser + beer = poet

Two more things I wanted to mention:
1. Have you noticed that the ∞ sign has disappeared?
2. If you haven't seen the hilarious posts going on at the Boylston blog, check out this, and (even funnier) this.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

NY Philly Match USCL Week 3

The newest Knight: GM John Fedorowicz

Fed, Pascal

Jay, Fed, Pascal
IM Jay Bonin


Matt Herman was slightly late.

Matt Hermann, Jay

renown author Paul Hoffman

all four in one shot: Matt, Jay, Fed, Pascal

I have to say, the atmosphere was remarkably light-hearted at the match tonight.
I cannot believe we are the worst team in the league.

I mean really, how can it be? New York? Last? Where's Iryna??

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Chess as the Pivotal Issue in American Politcs

A recent article in the Herald by Jonathan Rowson (reprinted w/permission):

I recently had a day dream about a hustings for the American Presidential election, where the decisive issue was not the economy, foreign policy, or even personality, but which candidate had the best chess credentials:

Senator Obama, Do you play chess?
Obama: Yes we can.
Not now, I mean in general.
Obama: Now is the time, it's our time.
But what I really want to know...
Obama: Chess shows that despite White's slight advantage, with hard work Black has fair chances too. And in Hawaii, Indonesia and Kenya, I saw that when good wholesome American folks play chess, they no longer cling bitterly to guns and religion. We don't have to be pawns in a Washington game, because we can all be promoted. All our pieces can move forward in unison, not as blue pieces or red pieces, but as one united chess board. Our moves will light up the sky, from the Gulf Stream to the Rocky Mountains, and up there, we will think and play together under the same moonbeam of hope.
Senator McCain: Is it my turn? Ok. Is 'W' here? Get him out of the building- he doesn't even know how the knight moves. Anyway, the most patriotic thing you can do is to play chess for your country. I tried by entering a Rapidplay event in Hanoi in the sixties, but they didn't differentiate between board combatants and field combatants so they took me out of play. During those five years as a Prisoner of War, I became a true American, because my only lifelines were a chess set, a stars and stripes bed sheet, and a photograph of fellow Maverick Bobby Fischer, who took the fight to the Russians, just like I will if I'm elected, and well.

Joe Biden (smiling): At the senate committee on foreign relations we have been discussing the forthcoming Anand-Kramnik World Championship match, which is another fault line in the battle to curb the expansion of Russian power. I also previously said that every sentence uttered by Rudolph Guiliani amounts to "a noun, a verb, and 9/11". Well I promise that as VP I will bombard you with abundant nouns and plentiful verbs in every single one of my sentences, and all of those sentences will be about chess. And may God protect our troops!

Governor Palin (sardonically): Everything I know about guns and oil, I learned on the chessboard. On hunting exhibitions, whoever won at chess would decide which animal we would kill that day. I always wanted to kill the wolves and the polar bears, but the rest of my beloved family just wanted plain old moose steak. I usually won, because while I am a regular hockey mom, I am lipstick-wearing pit bull on the chessboard. As VP I would personally drill for oil to fund the next generation of Grandmasters, including my wonderfully talented chess-loving unborn grandchild.

Sam Sloan Lawsuit Dismissed

Sam Sloan's lawsuit against the USCF was dismissed. I couldn't help but include this image, which is from Sam's dvd (available from Amazon!) "Sam on Afghanistan."

Product Description: Ismail "Sam" Sloan escaped from police custody in Afghanistan in 1978 and now offers his commentary on the current War in Afghanistan.

comments, anyone?

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

ANSWER and the RNC protests

Please take a minute to visit the ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism) website and send an email protesting the treatment of RNC protesters in Minneapolis/ St Paul.

From their website:

...The police have engaged in a widespread riot against social justice organizations, resulting in the arrest of around 300 protesters. Most of the arrested are still in jail, and at least one person with a serious medical condition has been refused care.

Even before the RNC began, protest organizing centers were raided. Armed groups of police in the Twin Cities have raided more than half-a-dozen locations since Friday night in a series of “preemptive raids." The raids and detentions have targeted activists planning to protest the convention, including journalists and videographers from I-Witness Video and the Glass Bead Collective. These media organizations were targeted because of the instrumental role they played in documenting police abuses the 2004 RNC. Their comprehensive video coverage helped more than 400 wrongfully arrested people get their charges thrown out. ...

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Fake Sarah Palin photos -- also cats

how sad.

But seriously, what I actually still don't get is what the problem with the daughter's pregnancy is/could even be?

People are potentially upset that Palin's daughter had sex at age 17? I was under the impression that pretty much everyone had sex at age 17. (Is that incorrect??)

Or are people potentially upset because she had unprotected sex? And someone out there is prepared to stand up and say "I myself have never ever had unprotected sex and thus condemn you!" Really?

Any explanations? Is sex itself against Republican values? That would be awesome.
Here are some photos of my cats with their new favorite toy, a piece of brown string. The all-black cat, whose name is sixy, she carries it around with her everywhere and brings it to me and meows until we play fetch with it.