Saturday, March 31, 2012

Script Frenzy

Where all the chess films? Sure, there are plenty with chess in them - we had Sherlock Holmes II a little while ago and Harry Brown not long before that - but movies where our favourite game is the central theme? Off the top of my head I can think of Luhzin Defence and Knight Moves and that's about it in recent times.

No, chessers don't do very well on the big screen. Sometimes even the briefest of allusions to the 64 squares will find itself cut from the final edit. So, if nobody else is going to do it, perhaps it's time we got proactive and wrote something ourselves.

For those that know about it, Script Frenzy has become an annual institution. Every April thousands of people around the world sit down with one and the same goal: write a full-length 100-page film script before the month is out.

I know what you're thinking. Writing a film from scratch in thirty days? It's a big ask. Impossible in fact. The only conceivable result from writing in such a rush is a big steaming pile of poo, isn't it?

You know what? You're right. Sort of.

The idea is to end up with a first draft. Something you can revise. You - or we, since I will be doing it too - will be working on the principle that the art of writing is rewriting and if nothing else you/we will at least have made a start. That's further than most people with an idea ever get, immobilised as they are by the feeling that they have to get everything perfect right from the off.

Don't worry if you've never written a film script, or anything at all, before. There's a shedful of resources available to download on the website. If you give it a go I'm sure you'll find it a lot of fun. I know that from taking part in Frenzy's sister activity, NaNoWriMo, where you Write a Novel in a Month (Beograd Endgame: 50,339 words in 28 days, thanks for asking).

Writing starts at one second past midnight on Saturday night/Sunday morning, but if you're reading this on Saturday you can always do a bit of pre-planning to help yourself get started. If you've got an idea, perhaps just a vague one, you might want to spend some of today creating a 'logline', what Script Frenzy describe as "a one sentence, '25 words or less' description of a screenplay".

As it happens they have some advice on loglines:-

It should have a clear beginning, middle and end, and will usually start by introducing the main character like so:
The President of the chess club ...

Then describing the character's journey:
joins the football team hoping to impress a girl ...

And finishing by summarizing the story's outcome without giving away the ending.
... only to find that what works on the chessboard doesn't necessarily work on the football field ... or in the game of love.

A lame joke, of course, but there's the guts of something in there. A chess boxing club rather than a football team is much more the ticket. Make that change and work in a FIDE female dress-code subplot and we've got ourselves a chess film.

Time to get writing ... and feel free to starting making room on your mantelpiece for an Oscar if you wish.

Friday, March 30, 2012


Dirk Jan ten Geuzendam, New In Chess 2012/2, page 16:
In the second weekend Wijk Aan Zee was literally flooded by press representatives and hordes of curious men, women and children.

Poster available from Oatmeal


Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Short Stories

The conspicuous absence of the Pakistan Chess Federation throughout my visit in itself tells a story. They were invited, but chose not to attend. This hopelessly dysfunctional body is by far the biggest impediment to the development of the game in the country. It doesn’t answer emails and attempts to thwart any initiative it does not control. Its President, Altaf Chaudhry, was thrown into prison in 2010 … Long suffering chess lovers have finally had enough.

Nigel Short, New in Chess 2012#2

The latest copy of New in Chess arrived the other day. Always a happy event, this edition includes an excellent piece by Nigel Short on chess in Pakistan. Previously I hadn’t given any thought whatsoever to how our favourite game might be getting on in that particular country, but that’s good writers for you. They take you places that you never realised you wanted to go.

Nige takes a dim view of the prospects for chess in those parts of the sub-continent that aren’t India.  That, as it happens, is in marked contrast to his opinion on the future for the game back in Blightly. Indeed, just a few months ago he used his column to explain that the current President of the ECF has “energised” his federation. Do you know, I’m not entirely sure that I agree – although that de Mooi has energised the flow of fivers into the pocket of one Nigel David Short is certainly beyond dispute – but it was another very good article nonetheless.

Unfortunately, Short’s performance in his role at the English Chess Federation has not always reached the standards of his work at the keyboard. The behaviour of our President has raised many eyebrows and not just our own. Considerably less remarked upon, however, is the off-the-board stinker that our long-time number one chesser has been playing in recent times.

Last October’s AGM in particular was far from his finest hour and, as we shall see, if anything his comments there (or lack thereof) regarding the FIDE lawsuit and financial matters relating to the British Championship look even worse now than they did six months ago. So bad, in fact, that I feel it's time that we joined the chess lovers of Pakistan and said that enough is enough.

There are quite a few things that we know now that we weren’t aware of at the time of the AGM. One of them is the little matter of the ECF getting itself involved in suing FIDE.

I’m indebted to Roger de Coverly for bringing the matter to my attention, as indeed I am with regard to the recent report of the Finance Committee which we’ll come on to later. It seems that Short has since written of the ECF's involvement with the legals, but even though it had all kicked-off months before the AGM, and even though at the meeting he was,

… quizzed about the ECF’s working relationship with FIDE … a discussion which lasted, if I recall, quite a few minutes ….*
see here

the AGM heard no mention of the lawsuit whatsoever.

After the legal case had become public knowledge Andrew Farthing apologised for the board’s failure to publicise it - “no intention to hide this matter from Council – it was genuinely overlooked” – but what of Nige? He wasn’t the only one to let himself – and us – down in this regard, but since he was acting as both FIDE Delegate and Alternate to the President it’s hard to see things any other way than the responsibility to inform the meeting was primarily his. Is it too much to ask that he acknowledge this? Apparently it is.

How big a mess is it?
photo from Chess Vibes

Short’s role in the non-announcement of the lawsuit is worth pursuing in itself, but it’s not the end the story. There’s also the shambles – my favourite word and all too applicable at the moment – that was (and still is) the finances for Sheffield 2011.

As we have seen, it was Nigel Short himself who gave the AGM the advice about gift horses. That’s rarely a sensible line to take, not even - as David Cameron will tell you - when it’s you that will get to do most of the riding, and you’d have thought that as a big cricket fan he would have had the ECB/Stanford fiasco fresh in his mind.  That didn't stop Nigel, though.

I find the attitude completely bizarre, but matters of an equine nature are not my primary concern just now. For today, I’m more interested in our man’s response when concerns were raised about the ECF President’s failure to fulfil the many promises he made to provide full accounts for the simul tour that Short had undertaken earlier in the year.

Regular readers may recall that in the comments box to my post of "Some questions for the ECF AGM", Mike Gunn** wrote,

In the discussion which took place several people (including Nigel Short) made the point that in practice you couldn't forecast the financial outcome of events like simul displays in advance.
(my emphasis)

In that article on Pakistani chess, Short wrote about it being “intellectually dishonest” not to question an “obvious doubt” concerning the long-standing claim that chess originated in what is now Pakistan. Well, dear reader, what of the ‘obvious doubt’ concerning the point of view that Mike reports above, i.e. the fact that even a cursory glance at de Mooi’s posts on the EC Forum reveals that he was not reporting ‘estimates’ but stating as a fact that certain sums had been raised.

What are we talking about here? A deliberate attempt to mislead the AGM or the rank incompetence of people spouting off about something that they had not actually seen? It simply isn't credible that anybody could have read de Mooi's posts and genuinely believed that he was reporting "estimates", so I can't see any other alternatives. It's one of those two.

Actually, it makes little difference either way. It doesn’t even really matter if Short was one of those who articulated this view at the AGM or not. It was his simul tour and he was paid good money to undertake it***. He was also taking part in an activity which was being advertised as a fundraiser for Sheffield. If the tour did in fact make some money for the 2011 British Championships – as we know, de Mooi’s reports differ – Short would have benefited from that too****.

The fact is, since Short was intimately acquainted with the mess that was the accounting for the his simul tour it is reasonable to expect that at some stage he would at been proactive and said something like, "You know, this guy doesn't really fancy numbers all that much. I’m not sure that leaving him in sole charge of the money for Sheffield is an incredibly good idea". He didn’t say any such thing, though, and in due course we ended up with the accounting for the 2011 British Championships.

When it comes down to it, it was Nigel Short who failed to warn the ECF board of the chaos that the President was about to bring to the Championship and then, it seems, Nigel Short was one of those who responded in particularly obtuse fashion when asked about what had gone on with his own tour. Well, as he himself wrote immediately after praising de Mooi in that New in Chess article,

An awful lot remains to be done – particularly on putting the federation on a sounder financial footing ….

And with that, dear reader, we finally find something upon which he and I can agree.

Photo from

So there you have it. A lawsuit and a financial mess. Both are ECF failures, both were raised as matters of concern in the Report of the Chairman of the Finance Committee published a week or so ago and both have Nigel Short smack bang in the middle of them.

Am I being too harsh? I think not. Short failed to inform English chessers about the lawsuit, failed to warn the ECF about the horlicks that was about to descend on their championship and failed to respond with any interest when reasonable concerns were raised about what had happened .

No, it's not all Nigel's fault. The sorry situation in which English chess finds itself is not down to one man. Not even two. He played his part, though. A very significant part even.

It’s a real shame. If his performance in his role at the ECF did match his abilities as a writer and a chesser we’d be fine, but it doesn’t and we aren’t. Let's hope that in the coming weeks and months Nigel Short manages to raise his ECF game.

* This account comes from Angus French who was present at the meeting. Angus is a clubmate and friend of mine, as it happens, but he has nothing to do with the present post. The opinions contained herein are mine and not his.

** Once again, I should emphasise that the opinions/interpretations expressed here are mine alone. Mike (a) agreed to raise my concerns at the AGM and (b) took the time to report back afterwards. I’m grateful that he took the trouble when I had no right to expect him to do either of those things.

*** A fact which bothers me not in the slightest.  I do not begrudge anybody earning a living.  It's how they go about it that's the issue.

**** See ***

Monday, March 26, 2012


It's been a tough week. Last Saturday I found myself watching the horrible events unfold at White Hart Lane, pretty much in tears. While what was going on was obviously awful enough in of itself, it was a painful reminder of when my friend Tom died in 2009.

Coincidentally, there was a CRY event in Tom's memory at UCL on Tuesday as part of a nationwide screening drive. I, of course, attended. 

One of the medical forms asked whether I ever got heart palpitations. All I could think of was time scrambles during evening league chess matches; anyone who's ever seen me in the middle of one will agree that I tend to be an unholy mess. It felt like a silly thing to mention, but it made me think about just how involved I get in such a situation. Perhaps it's simply the crescendo effect of a frantic finish to an otherwise sedate contest, sort of like cycling sprints. It's something that just doesn't happen in squash or cricket, my two other weapons of choice.

Thanks to CRY, I now know I'm healthy. If you're 14-35, and in the smallest way active, I implore you to get checked out. Screenings are non-invasive and take no time at all. There are still spaces at events in Liverpool, London and Belfast over the coming months. And you can donate to CRY here.

Thank you.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Bad book covers XXV

Horse Laffs: the humor of chess, Tykodi and Gufeld, Thinkers' Press, 2005

[Bad book covers index]

Friday, March 23, 2012

Rather late in the day


My overall conclusion is that controls over sponsorship-related income and expenditure for the 2011 British Championships were wholly inadequate …

The ECF President submitted an invoice for £12,600 in respect of sponsorship expenses paid directly by him. No documentation was provided with this invoice to support this invoice, nor was the invoice reviewed and countersigned by another ECF director. Nonetheless the invoice was paid without question. As well as the wholly inadequate financial governance over this transaction, the invoice was submitted without any VAT. Consequently the ECF has not had the opportunity to reclaim from HMRC any of the VAT that might have attached to any supporting documentation (for example hotel bills). Although it is now rather late in the day, I recommend that the requisite supporting documentation be provided if available both to provide an adequate audit trail and to enable VAT to be reclaimed if appropriate.

It’s nigh on six months since concerns around the funding of Sheffield 2011 and the ECF President’s lackadaisical approach to accounting led to questions being raised at the AGM. Although it is now rather late in the day, I wonder whether those who believed that English chess shouldn’t look a gift-horse in the mouth might now be asked if they've changed their minds.

… failure to draw a clear line between sponsorship arrangements that are managed and accounted for by the ECF and sponsorship arranged on a private basis with which the ECF has no involvement.
Report of the Chairman of the ECF Finance Committee, March 2012

The ECF President fails to distinguish between private activity and his public position; the ECF fails to notice.
S&B Chess Blog, July 2010

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Chess opening leads to blocked position

What, another chess-on-Twitter post? Not at all. Or not entirely. For this post is about the Chinese version - or if I understand it accurately, versions - of Twitter. These services are known as Weibo.

Apparently these services suffer a certain amount of censorship, since China remains a heavily repressive and unfree society. (Probably considerably more than even Russia, though one might not think so to read the chess press, for reasons which are a digression for another day.) There are many words which, at one time or another, are censored: posts which employ them will be automatically moderated and are likely to be deleted.

Now of course internet moderation exists everywhere, as does censorship of one sort or another, but not only is Chinese censorship rather more drastic than most of us are accustomed to, but it has the curious aspect that the Weibo user does not appear to know which words are actually subject to censorship, and this therefore has to be inferred. Nor, obviously, is any explanation given, so that has to be inferred as well .Which is not always simple to do. An English-language website, Blocked On Weibo, exists to try and establish which terms are at any given time blocked on Weibo, and why.

Recently (on 24 February, to be precise) this site analysed a number of terms that were blocked on Weibo as of December 2011, these terms all consisting of three or fewer Chinese characters, and in the course of doing so produced a list of 219 censored terms.

Of course reading such lists is always a joy. You may choose to snicker your way through the list yourself, but I provide a small selection below:

Fifty cents (sic)
Communist bandit
Foot Fetish
Fuck me
Shanghai Gang
Three-colour cat
Moaning language
The Exorcist
Tiananmen Square
Flash mob
Political prisoner
Three different versions of "bestiality"



which, you may be interested to learn, means chess opening.

Why this largely harmless term, largely used by largely harmless people, should be blocked* is a mystery, not only to me but to the Blocked On Weibo site, which is unable to provide any explanation, speculative or otherwise. Nor can I, although naturally I am concerned about it, since I know a number of people who if they were not allowed to discuss chess openings online, would have next to no social life at all.

I do however note that the term 64 also appears on the list. Perhaps this provides a clue, though no more than that. My knowledge of chess openings is, unfortunately, quite extensive: my knowledge of Chinese, unfortunately, rather less so. I can scarcely even speculate. Is there anybody out there who can do better?

(* or have been blocked: it's not clear to me whether it remains so)

[via Blood And Treasure]

Monday, March 19, 2012

Saturday, March 17, 2012

The Other Talent of Léonardus Nardus

This is another in a series of occasional posts on artists-cum-chess players (or vice versa). “Two-Talents” in other words, except that in the present case our subject had many more; possibly too many for his own good.

The story of Léonardus Nardus (1868 -1955) - and it is some story - has been told here and there in the chess press, yet it deserves to be still more widely known (by coincidence, he gets a passing mention on page 51 of the latest issue of Chess Magazine, March 2012). His escapades in the art world, where too he is a well-nigh forgotten figure, are also documented in a few places. This post relies, almost entirely, on these accounts. My thanks to those, and also a couple of correspondents. They are all acknowledged at the end.

In all things Nardus you have to be wary of appearances; and the pretentious “Léonardus Nardus” was not his original name. He legally adopted it in 1911, having used it as a flag of convenience in earlier adventures. He was initially Salomonson Leonard Solomon, born in Utrecht. He studied at the Academy of Beaux-Arts in Amsterdam, and when a young man was to be found in Paris, and then in Argentina in 1889 seeking his fortune in gold exploration. In this he failed, but in 1894 he mined a richer seam: wealthy Americans eager to spend freely, even incautiously, to indulge their taste for fine art as a display of their nouveau richesse.

Caveat emptor” might have been Nardus’s mission statement and he was happy to allow his clients to think his wares were the real-deal, when many (though to be fair, not all) were just second-rate, if not downright fakes. Let’s not beat about the bush: “fabulously dishonest” is how he was described by art scholar Jonathan Lopez in 2008.

Among his victims was Philadelphian Peter Widener, who made his money from tramcars. Not short of a buck or two he built this modest pile, Lynnewood Hall, to house his art collection.

Widener was himself taken for a merry ride, though Nardus never admitted fraud (a position loyally endorsed by his grandson, to this day). On the warpath in 1907/8 Widener was persuaded by wiser counsel not to expose his gullibility to public ridicule, and experts were discreetly called in to confront Nardus and settle matters behind closed doors (even so, the scandal found its way into the press). Nardus agreed to take back, and replace, some of his dodgy merchandise, which he later auctioned off.

By now “l’homme aux cinquante millions” had made his fortune from his scheming – straight and crooked - and back in Europe cut a swathe through polite society, including marriage in London in 1904 (producing two daughters), living in the manner to which he had become accustomed in Suresnes, just across the Seine from the Bois de Boulogne. As if not to be outdone by the conspicuous display of wealth in the upstart New World, this was his Old World abode:

Le Château d'Arnouville-les-Gonesses,
with an Orangerie behind the tree.

He spoke four languages, and travelled prodigiously, notching up London, Amsterdam, Barcelona, Egypt, Algeria, and Tunisia where he settled in 1921 joined by his daughters and their governess, having decoupled from his first wife in the mean time.

He was an able artist in his own right, with an apparently effortless facility in a John Singer Sargent sort of way, with the same aptitude for portraiture. Here he paints himself, and succumbs to the besetting temptation of all portraitists: that of showing their subject from their best angle.

Nardus par lui-même

He was clearly a sure-footed talent. One can imagine him casually dashing-off this, and others like it, while skipping one step ahead of his pursuers.

Nardus also played a decent game of chess. Even while otherwise up to no-good in the States he frequented the Manhattan Chess Club, as this press cutting from 1906 mentions. It shows him disposing of a strong French player, with complimentary notes by Frank Marshall no less.

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 30 Sept 1906.
See historical footnote for game-player, and correction.

No doubt a chess/art synergy was at work in his relationship with fellow art collector, pioneer reconstructive surgeon and strong amateur Johannes Esser, also a Dutchman, who secured a match with sometime world champion hopeful David Janowski in 1910 through the mediation of Nardus – it was even played at Suresnes. Nardus had manoeuvred himself into the role of de facto agent and gate-keeper for Janowski, and Frank Marshall while the latter was in Europe.

He and Marshall had a relationship spread over several decades. There’s the press cutting above where Nardus is described as Marshall’s second in a match against Janowski in 1905, and then there's a game from 1910 where Nardus actually mates him (though Marshall gives the appearance of having been asleep on the job). Marshall included Nardus’ photograph in the frontispiece of Marshall’s Chess Swindles of 1914…

…and dedicates the book to his “dear and steadfast friend”. Perhaps Marshall was, say, returning the favour of financial sponsorship from Nardus. Who knows. But: Nardus featured in a book on “swindles”? That sounds too much like a knowing tease. Anyway, their relationship extended at least until 1930 or so, when Marshall spent six weeks in Tunisia chez Nardus, and wrote a personal commendation of Nardus’s encouragement of local chess.

Our, ahem, hero provided financial support to David Janowski (for which, as a compulsive gambler, he was no doubt grateful) putting up the money to enable him to play Lasker in 1910. There is even a recorded position of a Nardus victory over his client/protégé played in Biarritz in 1912.

Nardus (black) to play and win v Janowski, Biarritz 1912.
The position has been given with a white pawn on h4.

Nardus called a halt to his generosity (or self-interest) toward Janowski when in 1915 he publicly, and ill-advisedly, declared Nardus to be “an idiot” for an uninvited suggestion in a post-mortem.

Amid all this wheeling and dealing Nardus had found time to compete in the 1912 Stockholm Olympics winning a bronze medal with the Dutch épée team (some achievement, though tempered by the refusal of top-dogs France and Italy to compete). Chess and art combine again in Nardus’s 1912 portraits of chess players, including Frank Marshall (later sold in 1917, as this sale catalogue shows)…

...and lightning sketches of Hoffer and some of the players at the Scheveningen tournament of 1913, where Janowski finished second behind Alekhine. The Field was impressed enough to print his lively studies on two occasions, but embedded this set, unaccountably, within an in-depth analysis of the scoring system of tennis.

From The Field 2 August 1913.
Top: L. Hoffer and R.J. Loman "In difficult positions he does not smoke!" Middle: J.Mieses. Bottom: C.
(sic) J. Breyer and Dr. Olland.

Another side of Nardus is revealed in his generous gift of paintings (including the portrait of Marshall shown above), sold in Amsterdam in 1917, to raise money for the Belgian Red Cross in the depths of the First War – though, as nothing is straightforward with Nardus, maybe it also served his purpose to wrap himself in the mantle of saintly benevolence.

But the Second War played havoc, even though he was in Tunisia. As slippery as ever, and to avoid legal problems with his ex-wife over title to his substantial art collection, he had, in 1928, set up a joint ownership arrangement with his friend Arnold van Burren in Haarlem, to whom the collection was entrusted. However, it was confiscated by the Nazis in 1941 and sold off. Van Burren sadly perished in an extermination camp. Nardus’s heirs succeeded in 2007 in gaining restitution of some of the looted artworks: two 15th Century Florentine paintings.

At the end of his larger-than-life Nardus died in straightened circumstances in 1955, but was honoured by an exhibition of his own works in Tunisia in 2007. This ravishing picture shows the sort of thing he was capable of at the top of his game:

La Bedouine

We’ll take it on trust that the pieces in the retrospective were painted by Nardus himself. By contrast, suggestions that he had himself occasionally passed off his own handiwork as that of more illustrious artists - that he was therefore himself a forger - continue to surface, suspicions encouraged by his having painted, in 1916, the portrait of (and therefore having associated with) master forger Theo van Wijngaarden. The latest accusation is that back in 1917 he knocked out a “Van Gogh” or two, and successfully sold them as such.

So, that was the story of Léo Nardus who, like another - Da Vinci - was of many talents, in no particular order: artist, swordsman, swindler, linguist, philanthropist, benefactor, fixer, forger, and last but not least, chess-player.

Historical Footnote

It is possible that this post provides the first published outing of the Nardus-Gromer (sic) game since it appeared, in relative obscurity, in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle back in 1906. It also seems likely that his opponent was in fact Jacques Grommer (it is not often that our humble blog gets the chance to offer a correction one hundred and five years later) who was successful in tournaments at the café de la Régence in Paris, earning him the unofficial sobriquet of French champion as given in the clipping. Grommer emigrated to the States, but not until 1912, so for that reason it seems probable that the game was played in Paris.

Acknowledgements (but any errors in this post are down to its author)

Thanks to Olimpiu Urcan, and also to Dominique Thimognier of Héritage Echecs Français, for their generous assistance.
Edward Winter's Chess Notes compilation on Nardus provides the most substantial and comprehensive documentation.
Wikipedia has an article on Nardus, in Dutch.
You can find Marshall's Chess Swindles here.
Two Tunisian sites show a nice selection of Nardus artwork: Tunis Art Gallery and Harissa.
Antonio De Robertis' article, in Italian, discusses the likely Van Gogh forgeries.
Jonathan Lopez writing on Nardus in the art world in Apollo 2007 can be accessed via his website
The finding of the Restitution Committee, in the Hague, on Nardus is here.

A problem with Nardus's paintings on the internet is that most are undated. The Marshall portrait however (along with companion portraits of Taubenhaus, Lasker, and Janowsky) is actually signed and dated 1912. A copy of the catalogue for the 1917 sale showing all these, in black and white, is in the V&A's National Art Library.

The Other Talent of Philip Poyser
The Other Talent of Bill Hook
The Other Talent of Bill Hook's Friend
Chess in Art Index

Friday, March 16, 2012

On the cutting room floor

In a sports centre Juliet sits outside a glass-walled squash court. She is ready to play, but at present is watching Alex and David, who are inside the court.

Inside the squash court, Alex is about to serve. 

Squash is often used as a metaphor to represent a struggle for personal domination.


I was trying to educate you.

Just serve.

In the same fashion as chess.


Chess. Chess is often used as well.

Will you shut up and play?

You're a bad loser. 
I haven't lost yet.

Alex serves.

The squash-court door opens and David walks out past Juliet as Alex stands behind, jabbing his finger at him.

Defeat, defeat, defeat-- sporting,personal, financial, professional, sexual, everything. Next.

Juliet walks in and closes the door.

Inside the squash court Alex is about to serve.

Did you know -- 

Just serve.

Alex serves. 

Alex sits in the back, drinking. Juliet is driving. David sits beside her.


I wasn't trying to win.

It's a pity, but that bit between the first "Just serve" and "Will you shut up and play?" didn't make it into Shallow Grave in the end.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Great Chessboxing Swindle: The Famous Five

Talking, as we were, of jokers, the latest Chessboxing night will have been and gone by the time you read this. And what a night I'm sure it was. Among the most exciting nights out in Europe. Apparently.

Well, if we are to wade through every mound of bullshit that Tim Woolgar and his cronies have left for us, we will certainly need Wellington boots, so let us content ourselves with a look at last Saturday's line-up.

Costello and Sazhin, who were due to meet last Saturday, have both been in the chessboxing racket for quite a while now, and Costello was in Wired magazine last year telling yet another gullible hack the usual cobblers:
Lennox Lewis is a great chess player; the Klitschko brothers are even better.
How good you have to be, to be "even better" than "great", perhaps only Mr Costello can tell us: perhaps he could tell us how good "highly-rated" is, too, since we are told that both he and Mr Sazhin are "highly-rated chess players in their own right".

Maybe, maybe not: indeed "how highly-rated?" is not a more pertinent question than "rated
by whom?" since Mr Costello does not appear to presently have either an English or an international rating.

Nor can I find an international rating for Mr Sazhin although remarkably enough he does possess a Wikipedia page which gives his Elo rating as 1911. Source unknown.

Perhaps Mr Sazhin's page requires updating, since 1911 is a good deal less than 2000, which is a shame since the press release claims that
with five fighters rated above 2000 Elo this is the highest quality chesboxing (sic) line-up ever assembled
making it hard for us to include Mr S among that famous five.

So who can they be? I seem to have played this particular course at least once before but if you will indulge me on this additional occasion, I have to inform you that having run the players' names through the appropriate resource, I have found, not five, but only one meeting the aforementioned description.

We got the numbers

Where the other four are to come from, Lord only knows: even the ECF database (a resource with which Tim Woolgar is presumably familiar, being, ludicrously, Marketing Director of that organisation) offers us only Mike Botteley as a plausible candidate, his ECF of 170 just making it above 2000 if we convert to Elo. Not that that actually makes it an Elo grade, of course, but as it doubles our score, who's quibbling?

Mike Botteley is a master of calculation

Who knows? Maybe they play chess under other names. Or maybe their rankings come from some other source that I'm unaware of. Or maybe, like so much else about the chessboxing circus, some clown just made them up.

One assumes that this circus will carry on a while yet, as there is never likely to be any shortage of hacks of dubious reputation to give it publicity. And naturally this writer is not under the impression that the general public gives a monkey's about Elo ratings - either what they are, or whether or not some impresario wants to make them up.

But it is curious, is it not, that this fast-growing sport, this potential candidate for Olympic status, does not in fact grow more quickly? Not that the hacks notice this, but it's basically the same people, in the same places, with the same old cobblers accompanying it. Only the names of the hacks sometimes change.

Chessboxing: it's a bit of a dog

Not that having the same old characters and the same old story is an impediment to success. Sometimes it can be quite the opposite. Until we grow up.

[Mike Botteley photo: Ray Morris-Hill]
[Famous Five photo: Daily Vile]
[Chessboxing index]

Monday, March 12, 2012

Does It Float?: Johnnie Walker Scotch

It is the most shattering experience of a young man's life when one morning he awakes and quite reasonably says to himself, 'I will never play the Dane.'

Montague H. Withnail

I will never be 2600.

I've given up. It's time to stop hiding my ideas and expose myself to the world. Now that I've retired from the 4NCL, I have no regular chess where preparation could be a factor.

So this series is designed to share some opening innovations that I've tried out a few times. I'm not going to expand massively on each suggestion - instead, I encourage you to have a look and draw your own conclusions. Try them yourself and buy me a pint next time our paths cross.

We start with one I've coined the Johnnie Walker. For reasons that will become obvious.

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. d4 exd4 4. Nxd4 Bc5 5. Be3 Qf6 6. c3 Nge7 7. g4!?

After my epic game against Tony Kosten at the 2007 British Championship, my esteemed opponent commented that most of my repertoire seemed "to involve playing g4". I imagine that was aimed in particular at this, which attempts to take black totally out of their comfort zone.

At my level, such attempts to worry an opponent with an aggressive early shove are perhaps more effective than they would otherwise be. And it follows that my only loss with this innovation came in the only game I've tried it against titled opposition, where my play was pretty poor. 7... d5 is probably best, though I was unable to find a good reply to 7... Ng6 over the board. Though I managed to draw, 10. f3 is appalling. 10. Qa4 might have been decent.

Chess should be fun. Give the Johnnie Walker a go and feel the glee. 

Does It Float? Index

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Cover version: Gruppo di Improvvisazione di Nuova Consonanza

Gruppo di Improvvisazione di Nuova Consonanza, Nuova Consonanza (Cramps Records, 1976)

[Thanks to Richard]

Friday, March 09, 2012

While he had the money to pay

A Story in Ten Pictures:-

and finally, just a few days ago,

We've had Allen Stanford once or twice before. Forgive me.  Yes, I know there is an awful lot else going on in the world, but I'm a chess player and therefore I have no sense of proportion: Fuck with cricket and I. Will. Be. Cross.

A Story in Ten Pictures. It's a good story - well it's got a good ending - even if the title could do with some work.  I'm not sure The Guardian have done any better with Allen Stanford: From Billionaire Businessman to Convicted Fraudster.  From Fraudster to Convicted Fraudster seems infinitely more accurate to me.

Again with the cricket on a chess blog?  Do I really have to explain the relevance of this tale to the chess world, though?  Kirsan; FIDE's flogging of commercial rights ("sold more often than London Bridge" according to Malc Pein) to Agon; other examples rather closer to home?  Is there really anyone amongst our esteemed and valued readership who can read about the Stanford story and not hear bells ringing?

Let's be clear, Allen Stanford, Kirsan and the current President of the ECF are not cast from the same mould. You might agree with your humble scribe that de Mooi is what would have been called in days of yore, a bit of a wally, but that doesn't make him a criminal.  Sure there are similarities - the tawdry embarrassments, the big noise about money brought to the table followed by questions around to whom the cash actually belonged - but equivalence?  Not by the longest of chalks.

Bottom line, this story is not about Stanford or Kirsan or de Mooi. It's about organisations that are overly keen to take the cash that some folk, crims or otherwise, like to be seen throwing around. It's about the fact that concerns being raised about Stanford a good two years before he got anywhere near Lords didn't prevent the ECB from holding its hand out. Above all else, it's about the final paragraph of The Guardian's story.

While he had the money to pay, it seems few people asked him any tough questions. Now they can ask all they like but Stanford won't be answering.

The material for A Story in Ten Pictures mostly borrowed from The Guardian
White  & Black  pawn image from

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Night Train to Lisbon

There was a pause.
'Gregorius?' Doxiades asked at last.
'How do you say chess in Portuguese?'
Gregorius could have hugged him for the question. 'Xadrez,' he said and the dryness in his mouth had disappeared.


I'll let you read the novel for yourself, but rest assured that that isn't the only chess reference. I enjoyed it irrespective of the chess content, even if the translation from the original German was patchy in places, and I'm looking forward to the screen adaptation.

Gregorius is an introspective soul and he derives a lot of pleasure from the narrative of a game of chess. I think a lot of players would relate to his desire for life to mirror art; for risk-taking to be rewarded and for winning the battles with yourself. I found him very reminiscent of Colin Dexter's Inspector Morse.

Gregorius waited. One wrong word, one wrong gesture, and Eça wouldn't say another word. He went to the chessboard and looked at the game in progress. He had to risk it. 'Hastings 1922. Alekhine beats Bogolyubov,' he said.

Eça opened his eyes and looked at him in amazement. 'Tartakower was once asked whom he considered the greatest chess player. He said: "If chess is a battle - Lasker; if it's a science, Capablanca; if it's an art: Alekhine."'

'Yes,' said Gregorius. 'The sacrifice of both rooks reveals the imagination of an artist.'

p. 132

 Position after 29. Rxa5

 Position after 32. Rxf8+

It's hard to look past the beauty of this position. Black plays 32... Kh7 and basks in the inadequacy of white's material advantage. Art doesn't have to be striking; it can sneak up on you. In 4 moves, Alekhine turns something everyday into something immortal. That's the mark of a true artist.

A Literary Reference Index

Monday, March 05, 2012

Considering the possibility

Anybody who's read The Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn, as I did recently, will recall the Duke and the King, the pair of chancers who hitch up with Huck and Jim on their trip down the Mississippi, stopping off at every small town on the way to try out some scheme or other with the intention of relieving the inhabitants of their money.

These schemes tended, of course, to the illegal, and one can never imagine either Ray Keene or CJ de Mooi doing anything so improper. Nevertheless, with the book so fresh in my mind, I was curiously reminded of Twain's two characters when I came across the latest nonsense from my favourite Twitter account.

Uh huh. Ray is a working journalist and he likes to be the first to break big news. And news it certainly will have been, to the ECF at any rate. Or at least any member of the ECF other than the organisation's President.

So what's Ray's response? He's thinking it over, so he tells us. He's considering the possibility.

Considering the possibility. What "possibility" means, precisely, is not entirely clear, since the post is not actually in Mr de Mooi's gift. So Ray may as well consider the possibility of being offered the presidency of the World Bank. Or the possibility of playing in the Olympiad team. Or the possibility of faster-than-light travel.

Which does raise the question of what CJ and Ray were up to. Testing the water? Just a joke? Well, just a couple of jokers at any rate, since one of them has not been a member of the ECF for more than twenty years, after being accused of misappropriating that organisation's funds, while the other has rather more recently been accused of mispresenting his personal contribution to the 2011 British Championships and of organising financial support for players in such a way that a proper accounting of the tournament's funds cannot be made.

We seem to have hitched up, one way or another, with CJ de Mooi and Ray Keene. Or at least we hitched up with CJ and he hitched up with Ray. And as Huckleberry Finn found out, once you're hitched up with them, it's not so easy to shake them off.

Huck, in the novel, is finally liberated from the Duke and the King when one set of townsfolk, tipped off about them in advance, tar and feather them both and run them out of town on a rail. We do things, usually, in a more civilised way now. But what to do about our two jokers? Seeing as Ray is already, as it were, out of town, might it be best if he stayed there? And as for CJ - is it not time he were thanked for his services and asked if he would prefer to pursue his interests somewhere else?

[LATE SQUIRMING NEWS: Ray blames readers' "inability to read" what he did not write.]

[Huckleberry Finn illustrations: The Children's Nursery, Wikipedia]

[Ray Keene index]
[CJ index]

Saturday, March 03, 2012

Chess in Art Postscript: There's Nothing Like Gérôme Cooking

Over the last two Saturdays we have been tucking into Thomas Eakins' masterpiece The Chess Players of 1876, now in New York's Museum of Modern Art.

A number of observers have commented that its compositional arrangement owes a lot to Jean-Léon Gérôme's 1859 work showing Arnauts at recreation, also with a board game, which is in the Wallace Collection in London.
Maybe the similarity is not too surprising as Eakins was Gérôme's pupil in Paris for two years in the late 1860s. Gérôme's influence on Eakins composition is clear to see.

Last week we left this question bubbling away: what exactly are those Arnauts up to? What's their game?
The Wallace Collection - where the Arnauts can be seen in the flesh - label it "Arnauts Playing Draughts". Now, far be it from me, your humble S&BCBlogger, to question the conclusions of such an illustrious institution, but that didn't seem quite right.

So, two years ago (sorry, it has taken so long to get round to reporting this; I got blogged down in other things, but that's another story) I asked the Wallace Collection what made them think it was draughts, and they referred me to the authoritative catalogue of their collection by John Ingamells which says:
"The game [in the painting] is played with cylindrical pieces of various heights and shapes; the related drawing...appears to show counters. Gérôme also painted oriental figures playing chess with European pieces."
Which naturally leads us to ask to see the "related drawing", please. Well here it is; from the Sterling and Francine Clark Institute of Williamstown, Massachusetts.

Obviously that is two of the three Arnauts in the Wallace Collection painting, the two necessary for a successful game of...well, something or other...and as Ingamells says, they appear to be using counters.

Yes, apparently so, but does that mean the "counters" were "draught counters"? They could be "chess counters" couldn't they? For example, just look at this chess set from the 11th Century Middle East, in the British Museum, with its "cylindrical pieces of various heights and shapes":

So I asked again, and the Wallace acknowledged that "there certainly seems to have been some debate over the years over whether they are playing chess or draughts", and kindly sent me a JPEG of the Gérôme...(for which, thanks) if that settled the matter.

What's odd about this is that all the other authorities refer to the Wallace Collection painting as "Arnauts jouant aux échecs" in spite of what the Wallace says, for example Gerard Ackerman in his authoritative Gerome's Life and Work (2000). And what is even odder is that Ackerman also refers to the Clark drawing, where he says "ils jouent aux dames (i.e. draughts) et non aux échecs". So the Gérôme expert agrees with the Wallace on one hand (about the drawing)...but disagrees on the other (about the picture). There's not much hope for the rest of us.

Anyway, Ackerman is extremely helpful in listing the other three chess paintings that Gérôme executed, some of which he describes as pastiches - not pejoratively, but only to indicate that while they are not exact copies, they are derivative.

So here it is: the full-on Gérôme Échecs Éxperience. Jean-Léon is cooking with gas. Enjoy!

We start with the most sumptuous, and perhaps the most startling: both players are women. It was painted when Gérôme was in London around 1870, and is pretty much modelled compositionally on the Wallace Arnauts. The chess set is suspiciously counter-like.

Almées jouant aux échecs (1870)
Private Collection
Almehs it seems, were a superior class of female singer, dancer and entertainer (I suppose that means in the widest sense) in Egypt, but disinclined, I'll wager, to let some tooled-up Albanian chancer make an easy score.

The next one is almost a bit too small in this image to see clearly, but the chess is over there in the right-hand corner, with usual trio of players, though this time Gérôme seems more interested in the townscape.

Une Partie d'échecs (1870-3)
Davison Art Center, Wesleyan University, Connecticut.
Finally, another re-working of the principal composition, with the squatting white-skirted figure making his customary appearance:

Une Partie d'échecs (1870)
Isaac Delgado Museum. New Orleans
Of all the four Gérôme chess paintings this is perhaps the most claustrophobic in atmosphere; the most hermetic and secretive; the most sinister. Another Arnaud has joined the gang - maybe they aren't playing a game at all, but are using the board to plan a bit of random mayhem.

And that, (in case you missed it, there was a clear sighting in the last one of a familiar chess set, the "European pieces" mentioned by the Wallace) would seem to be that.

But not quite. I recently stumbled on this:

...with not one, but two standard-issue chess sets in play (is he giving a simul?). It is by another French "Orientalist", Alexandre Bida (1813-1895), a member of the prestigious Salon and fêted in his time. It was reproduced in the Illustrated London News in 1859, which commented that Bida produced "the effect of colour with colourless materials" - it's in black crayon. Exquisite.

Like Gérôme, Bida travelled widely in the Middle East and North Africa recording the locals with scrupulous ethnographic zeal. If he shows them playing with European pieces, you can be sure that is what they were using.

And finally, a bonbon to round off this three part Eakins/Gérôme sequence: it shows that crusty old Gérôme, pillar of the French art establishment, opponent of Impressionism, had a soft centre. Here is his entry in a competition for advertising signs.

Optician's Sign (1902)
Private collection

Acknowledgements etc
Gerard Ackerman. Vie et l'oeuvre de Jean-Léon Gérôme. Courbevoie (2000)
Wallace Collection/John Ingamells. European Painting Catalogue (1985)
BM chess set picture © British Museum.
Belated thanks to the curatorial staff at the Wallace Collection; and once again to Peter Mason for the J-L G tips.