February 28, 2004

To the last pawn - Part V

High above, in the nosebleeds, Lisa wasn’t happy at all with the free seat she received. Not only she was too far to properly see the board, but all four 20’ plasma televisions screening the match were somehow just out of her line of sight. Oh well, at least she could hear the voice-over commentary from the broadcasters’ booth directly above her.

black Rook on a8 black Knight on b8 black Bishop on c8 black Queen on d8 black King on e8 black Bishop on f8 g8 black Rook on h88
a7 black Pawn on b7 c7 d7 black Pawn on e7 black Pawn on f7 black Pawn on g7 black Pawn on h77
black Pawn on a6 b6 c6 black Pawn on d6 e6 black Knight on f6 g6 h66
a5 b5 c5 d5 e5 f5 g5 h55
a4 b4 c4 white Knight on d4 white Pawn on e4 f4 g4 h44
a3 b3 white Knight on c3 d3 e3 f3 g3 h33
white Pawn on a2 white Pawn on b2 white Pawn on c2 d2 e2 white Pawn on f2 white Pawn on g2 white Pawn on h22
white Rook on a1 b1 white Bishop on c1 white Queen on d1 white King on e1 white Bishop on f1 g1 white Rook on h11
a b c d e f g h  

Dominguez-Favreau, after 5...a6

“So, we had a fairly quick start to our undercard match, and now things are starting to slow down. What do you think about the situation, Jimmy?”
“Well Bob, the Najdorf variation has been chosen, a rare guest at this level. Mostly, players today like the Sveshnikov or the Karjakin. This should be interesting.”
“Oh, look, Dominguez made a move. 6.g3, what’s up with that, Jimmy?”
“This is definitely an ‘out of book’ move, Bob. Not entirely a bad one, mind you, white wants to develop his bishop to g2 and castle, but very unorthodox. I guess Endgame wants to capitalize on Vindicator’s lack of practice. Maybe he has something prepared for him.”
“Oh, and a quick, almost immediate response from Favreau, 6…e5. He sure wasted no time pushing that pawn, Jimmy.”
“Yes, Bob, Favreau is playing by the seat of his pants now, not much theory on that line. I personally don’t like e5 here. It’s ok after Be2 or Be3, but with white ready for Bg2, he’ll take control of d5 too easily.”
“Well, we should wait and see, Jimmy. Dominguez retreated with 7.Nde2 as expected.”
“Actually, Bob, I kinda expected 7.Nb3. 7.Nde2 looks very irregular.”
“Irregularities is what this game is all about, Jimmy. Favreau develops with 7…Be6.”
“Natural move, Bob. Key square now is d5.”
“Some more moves played quickly. 8.Bg2 Nbd7 9.0-0, and now Favreau’s turn to think.”
“He has a lot of choices here, Bob. But as I say, simple is always the best. If I were in his shoes, I’d just go Be7, castle, Rc8, and try to reach the first boxing round with a reasonable position.”
“So why’s he taking so long?”
“Maybe he sees something better. As Lasker said, ‘If you see a good move, look for a better one’”
“But doesn’t that mean you’d have to look for moves forever and never actually make a move, Jimmy?”
“Guess you’re right, Bob, guess you’re right.”
“Oh, look, Favreau pushed another pawn. 9…b5, and a quick 10.a3 from Dominguez. What could that mean, Jimmy?”
“I really don’t understand 10.a3, Bob. Black was not about to push b5-b4 now, and if he did, that’d just leave his queenside weak. Remember, unlike most Najdorf positions, the e4 pawn is not in peril because of the bishop on g2. I think Dominguez wasted a move defending from a non-existent threat.”
“You sure have a good eye for details, Jimmy. 10…Nb6 by Favreau.”
“A good move. With the bishop out of its traditional f1-a6 diagonal, the square c4 is a natural place for the knight. Also, Nb6 controls d5 – did I say it was a key square?”
“You sure did, Jimmy. Dominguez deep in thought again. They’re both sweating already, haven’t even thrown one punch. And look, 11.f4”
“This is a super-aggressive move, Bob. These two players are really giving it all they’ve got. I predict a great match here.”
“11…Qc8 was played.”
“I really don’t understand this move. Maybe … no, I won’t even attempt to second-guess Favreau’s decisions.”
“Well, folks at home, that was one for the history books. Our commentator Jimmy Manetta just admitted he has no clue.”
“Not in those exact words, but yes, Bob.”
“12.Kh1 from Dominguez. A passive move, Jimmy?”
“Not really. He prepares a kingside pawn storm, and gets ready for it by tucking his king into a safe corner.”
“What about exchanges on f4 or e5, Jimmy? Should either side initiate an exchange?”
“I believe not, Bob. exf4 by black is answered by Bxf4, exposing the weakness of d6, while after fxe5 dxe5 the same weakness disappears. So we have a Mexican standoff of sorts here in the center.”
“I don’t believe we can say ‘Mexican’ on TV, Jimmy, in accordance with The Political Correctness Act of 2010.”
“Screw the Political Correctness Act, Bob.”
“Well spoken, Jimmy. 12…Be7 from Favreau. Completing his development?”
“You sure learn fast, Bob. Development is what this move is all about.”
“And we have the gong for the first boxing round! So in favor of our viewers, let’s recap the moves so far quickly, as the participants are donning their boxing gear. 1.e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.g3 e5 7.Nde2 Be6 8.Bg2 Nbd7 9.O-O b5 10.a3 Nb6 11.f4 Qc8 12.Kh1 Be7. How do you evaluate the position, Jimmy?”
“A fighting opening, Bob. Too early to make any kind of predictions. The middlegame will tell.”
“And now, the gloves are on, it’s time to fight!”

black Rook on a8 b8 black Queen on c8 d8 black King on e8 f8 g8 black Rook on h88
a7 b7 c7 d7 black Bishop on e7 black Pawn on f7 black Pawn on g7 black Pawn on h77
black Pawn on a6 black Knight on b6 c6 black Pawn on d6 black Bishop on e6 black Knight on f6 g6 h66
a5 black Pawn on b5 c5 d5 black Pawn on e5 f5 g5 h55
a4 b4 c4 d4 white Pawn on e4 white Pawn on f4 g4 h44
white Pawn on a3 b3 white Knight on c3 d3 e3 f3 white Pawn on g3 h33
a2 white Pawn on b2 white Pawn on c2 d2 white Knight on e2 f2 white Bishop on g2 white Pawn on h22
white Rook on a1 b1 white Bishop on c1 white Queen on d1 e1 white Rook on f1 g1 white King on h11
a b c d e f g h  

Dominguez-Favreau, after 12...Be7

The first boxing round started the same way the game of chess did – rapidly, brutally, with no punches held. Favreau and Dominguez literally leapt at each other, meeting in the middle of the ring in a jumble of arms, elbows and gloves. Dominguez, more agile, was the first to get a few punches through, but Favreau retaliated with a mighty uppercut that threw the Mexican backward to the ropes. As they met again in the middle of the ring, Favreau hissed through his clenched teeth, “You’re going down.”
Instead of responding, Dominguez lowered his head, passed under a powerful punch that could have leveled him of the spot, and performed a small Rumba dance of his fists on the Canadian’s ribs. “Take that!” he exclaimed after Favreau had to seek refuge in a hold, and the referee yelled, “Break”. They kept going at each other, for the whole three minutes, until another gong ended the boxing round.

“Too bad,” Dominguez smiled as the chess table was being lowered again, “I was beginning to enjoy this.”
O’Mally pushed him aside. “No trash talk. White to move,” he said, starting white’s clock again.

Dominguez knew what to do already. During the peak of his career, he was known for having one advantage over his adversaries – he could think about chess during the boxing rounds. While his opponents dedicated those three minutes to senseless pummeling, Enrique always had the board position etched in his mind, and considered his options in the split-second between a duck and a jab. This usually contributed toward large advantages on the clock. This time, he did it again. Even before Favreau was fully seated, Dominguez reached forward and pushed another pawn.

Posted by Alex Shternshain at 11:08 PM | Comments (0)

February 27, 2004

To the last pawn - Part IV

“’Saved by the bell’ rule will be in effect in all rounds. A player saved by the bell will be penalized by deducting one minute off his clock.”
- World Chess Boxing Association (WCBA) rules, article 12.3.f

An hour later, Favreau steered the red convertible to the parking lot of the Caesar’s Palace Hotel and Casino.
“Can I help you please?” The parking valet approached the dusty car, wearing an expression of snobbishness and disgust to match his white suit and blue tie.
“You can help yourself to keep your job by parking this baby without scratching it,” Dominguez said.
The valet didn’t budge. “Do you have a reservation sir?”
“Come on, man, don’t you recognize them?” Lisa was unable to take this travesty anymore, “Those are Vince ‘Vindicator’ Favreau and Enrique ‘Endgame’ Dominguez!”
“Ah, I see. Well, Mr. Santoro reserved your parking. And now, if you will let me have the keys please … thank you … Have a great time at the Caesar’s Palace Hotel and Casino!”
“Let’s go,” Favreau nudged Dominguez as the convertible disappeared between the rows of parked cars, “it’s six o’clock already.”

“Where do we go from here?” Dominguez wondered as they entered the luxurious lobby. His doubts were immediately dispersed by a young man wearing a black suit that fit him so well that it seemed surgically grafted onto his skin. The suit approached them confidently and said, “Mr. Dominguez, Mr. Favreau? I am Martin Bentley, Mr. Santoro’s aide. You’re late. Let’s go, your cornermen are already waiting.”
“What about me?” whined Lisa.
“Who is this young lady?” asked the suit.
“She’s …” Dominguez started.
“She’s my niece. My wife’s niece. My wife’s ex-niece. I mean, my ex-wife’s niece.”
“Ah, how nice. You see, that’s exactly what we are trying to promote, the image of chess-boxing as a family sport. There you go, young miss.” The suit reached into its pocked and produced a small rectangular piece of paper. “A ticket for the match. And now, say goodbye to your uncle, and enjoy yourself at the Caesar’s Palace Hotel and Casino!”
The three ran off, leaving the dumb-founded Lisa gazing at the yellow ticket as if it fell into her arms from the moon.

The suit raced them through a maze of corridors so complex as to prohibit all possibility of an escape in case either of them changed his mind. Finally, after rounding a corner, they ran into a group of four men waiting for them in front of two locked doors.
“Gentlemen, allow me to introduce everyone,” the suit said, “Mr. Favreau and Mr. Dominguez are our fighters. And these are Mr. Kalugin and Mr. Markov, the trainers, and Mr. Leone and Mr. Vega, the cutmen.”
“I believe we know each other,” said Markov with contempt. He and Dominguez avoided each other’s gaze.
“Fine, that settles it then,” the suit beamed, “Mr. Markov, Mr. Vega, you are in Mr. Dominguez’s corner, please go through here to the White Dressing Room,” he swiped a magnetic card and unlocked one of the doors, “Mr. Kalugin, Mr. Leone, Black Dressing Room please, with Mr. Favreau.”

Markov refused to follow, and instead whispered something in Kalugin’s ear. The two trainers started a loud debate in Russian, in which the others could only understand “Garden”, “d6” and “Checkmate”. Finally they managed to resolve their disagreement. Markov went with Favreau, while Kalugin passed over to Dominguez’s side.
“Ah, so you want to change trainers.” The suit was still smiling, ”Fine. I’ll let Mr. Santoro know. Go to your dressing rooms now, and good luck.”

The dressing room was very spacious, but barren on the inside. Only a massage table, a locker, a chess table, and a shower stall violated the monotony of the brick walls. Dominguez lay down and allowed himself to close his eyes while Vega was massaging his shoulders.
“What opening you play?” Kalugin’s voice awakened him from his catnap.
“Not now. We just drove three hundred miles.”
“Yes now. Chess boxing all about discipline and work. No discipline, no results. What opening you play?”
“Always been an e4 guy.”
“Good. Solid move, e4. Let me look up this … what his name, Vincent Favreau, in my database… Strange, no games in last year,” he said, frantically pushing the buttons of his palmtop.
“Don’t bother. He’ll play the Sicilian Najdorf.”
“How you know?”
“I prepared him.”
“You what!?”
“Prepared him. Look coach, I’m going to be fine with the chess part. My body just needs some rest now, ok? Let me rest.”
“Fine. Have it your way.” Kalugin, insulted, sat at the chess table and started playing blitz against his palmtop to pass the time.

Meanwhile, in the other room, Markov desperately tried to convince Favreau to play the French Defense.
“See, it is best defense to equalize! Botvinnik, Korchnoi, everyone play it when need to equalize! After 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nd2, black plays 3…c5 and is equal already! And after 3.Nc3 Bb4, it’s all strategic game, no tactics. Why bother with unclear Sicilian positions if you can …”
“Sorry, Mr. Markov, but I’ll stick to Sicilian...”
“Fine. So we can try the Sveshnikov. Kramnik played it a lot when…”
“…Najdorf, if you don’t mind.”
“Najdorf? Are you crazy? The hardest tactical opening of all, and you want to play it after being out of business for a year? Of course I do mind, it’s like digging own grave!”
“I’ll play the Najdorf. That’s it, coach.”
“Fine. Have it your way.”

“So, how’s my man Vince doing?” Santoro stood in the doorway, radiating smiles in all directions.
Vince jumped up from the massage table, wearing only a towel. Santoro’s female ‘administrative assistant’ giggled slightly behind her boss’s back.
“Fine, Sir, thank you, Sir.”
“Getting ready to give a good fight, Vince?”
“Yes sir. At this opportunity, I’d like to thank you for believing in me and …”
“No problem son, Todd Santoro always has room for one more good player. Just go out there and give those people a thrill, ok?”
“Yes Sir.”
“Good, good.” Santoro patted Favreau on the shoulder and turned to leave, “And one more thing, Vince. I have one automatic qualification slot for the next year’s Interzonal. Do you see what I’m getting at?”
“Well, sir…”
“What’s your rating?”
“2705, Sir, but haven’t played a year.”
“Now listen to me, Vince.” The fat promoter stepped so close that Favreau could see every crevice and pore on his face. “Win this match. Bury that Mexican punk. Put him in the hospital. Can you do this for me?”
“Yes sir.”
“Good. Bury him, and you’ll play the Interzonal. Understood? Now sign here for the contact, and we’re ready to rumble.”

A minute later, Todd Santoro paid a visit to Dominguez’s dressing room.
“Mr. Santoro, thank you for giving me this chance to …”
“Shut your trap, Dominguez.”
“Yes Sir.”
“Now listen, you worthless piece of nothing. The odds at you going down before the gong were 1,000-to-1, do you realize that?”
“Yes sir.”
“Shut up. Don’t ‘yes sir’ me. You cost me two million dollars of hard earned cash that day. Not to mention the blow that my reputation took. You think it’s easy to be known as a crooked fighter’s agent?”
“No Sir…”
“Shut up. What’s your rating?”
“2565, Sir, but it was 2710 before…”
“Shut up. Fate smiled at you, you scum. You don’t deserve this chance, but you got it. Now that Alfredsson is in hospital and Thompson in rehab, this is your one and only chance to redeem yourself for the Garden. I want you to bury that Canadian, do you hear me? I want you to destroy him. Grind him to dust, and you’ll be able to work with me again. Can you do this?”
“Yes sir.”
“Good. Sign here. Great. And, Rico, one more thing. No more checkmates on move eleven. I buried your career when you did it once, and I swear I’ll bury you if you do it twice. I want this match to go to the last pawn.”


“Kicking the opponent is strictly forbidden, both during the chess and the boxing rounds.”
- World Chess Boxing Association (WCBA) rules, article 12.3.g

The capacity crowd of the Palace roared like a hurricane when Favreau and Dominguez entered the hall from opposite direction. Each was accompanied by their trainer and cutman. Reporters snapped their pictures and fans high-fived them as they made their way to the ring.

They stood there, face to face, like gladiators of ancient times, muscular and beautiful, their skin gleaming in the floodlights.
“Introducing now the preliminary fight,” the announcer was also in the ring, microphone in hand, “In the black corner, hailing from Montreal, Quebec, Canada, weighing 83 kilograms, V-I-N-C-E-N-T ‘V-I-N-D-I-C-A-T-O-R’ F-A-A-A-A-V-R-E-A-A-A-U-U-U!!”

He took a breath and then continued, “And in the white corner, from Mexico City, Mexico, weighing 81 kilograms, E-N-R-I-Q-U-E ‘E-N-D-G-A-M-E’ D-O-O-O-O-O-M-I-N-G-U-E-E-E-E-Z!! And now, your ring judge, Martin O’Mally.”
“Ok, listen to me, guys. I want a clean match. No j’adoubes, no illegal moves, no low punches, no biting. Obey my instructions at all times. And now, shake hands and let’s start!”

As they shook hands, a chess table and a pair of chairs were lowered into the ring on cables. The players sat down and O’Mally started white’s clock. “Good luck, gentlemen.”

Without thinking even a second, Enrique started with 1.e4 and punched the clock. The following moves were played quickly: 1…c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6, and at that point Dominguez plunged into contemplation.

To be continued …

And at this point I, the author, would like to ask you, the readers, a question: who are you rooting for to win? No, the results of this small poll will not change the outcome of the story (the story is already written), but I'm just interested to know with which player you sympathize more. Let me know.

Posted by Alex Shternshain at 05:03 AM | Comments (2)

February 25, 2004

To the last pawn - Part III

If you missed the previous installments of "To the last pawn", check under
Community-->General Chess-->Stories.

“After each boxing round, gloves must be removed. A player failing to remove his gloves shall forfeit his right to j’adoube.”
- World Chess Boxing Association (WCBA) rules, article 12.3.d

For almost ten miles, they drove through the desert landscape in silence. Favreau was the first to break the ice.
“I guess I should still thank you for remembering me when you got that call.”
“Uhm, you’re welcome, I guess.”
“But don’t expect me to hold back any punches, because –“
“Sorry I didn’t ask before, but –“ Favreau was interrupted in mid-sentence by a female voice from the back seat.
“What the hell?” exclaimed Dominguez, as he turned his head in the direction of the voice. Unfortunately, his torso and hands followed suit, thus causing the car to veer wildly off its lane to the left, onto the median.
“Look where you’re going!” Favreau yelled as he lunged to grab the wheel and steered the convertible away from the path of an oncoming truck. The car lost traction, spun wildly out of control and jumped off the highway into the desert sands, where it stopped twenty yards later, its nose half-buried in a sand dune.
“– is it alright if I hitch a ride to Vegas with you?” The redheaded teenage girl blinked her eyes behind her coke-bottle glasses as she finally got to finish her question.

Dominguez got out of the car and surveyed the damage. His face, pale after the near-death experience, began to change colors rapidly, as if intent on covering the entire visible spectrum in record time. Finally it settled on ‘blood red’. Walking around the car, he yanked the left rear door open and faced the girl.
“Who are you?” he barked, “What are you doing in my car? And do you have any idea how much is it going to cost to fix this?”
“I’m sorry,” the girl lowered her head, “I’m Lisa. I was hitchhiking my way from Burbank to Vegas and got stuck in this diner. I saw you coming on the interstate and figured you’ll continue after you’re done with your lunch. So I sat in the car to wait for you. I was going to ask you if it’s ok to ride with you once you were out, I really was, but…”
“But what?”
“But I fell asleep.”
“You what!?”
“It’s this heat … I’m so sorry,” she sobbed.
“I don’t believe this,” said Dominguez, “Hours away from the defining moment of my career, I’m denied by Frankenstein’s Prom Date.”
“You mean, hours away from the defining moment of my career.” Vince corrected him.
“Whatever. We have to get the car back on the road. Help me push.”
“Can I help?” asked Lisa.

An hour later, two very sweaty, dirty and tired men were standing at the edge of the I-15 next to a dusty and once-red car with a slightly dented hood and one broken headlight.
“Let’s go. We still have some time to spare.” Dominguez said.
“What about her?” Favreau asked.
“Yes, what about me?” Lisa perked up as soon as she noticed someone thinking about her.
“Hmm. Let me think,” Dominguez twiddled his thumbs. “Ok, girl. Consider this your lucky day. I won’t press charges. Bye.”
“But… You can’t just leave me here all alone! I’ll die!”
The two men looked at Lisa, then at the endless stream of cars hammering down the interstate. “You know what,” Favreau finally said, “She’s probably right. Given her abysmal hitchhiking skills, leaving her here is as good as killing her.”
“I don’t believe it. So now we have to haul her with us?”
“Thank you!” Lisa ran up to Enrique and kissed him on both cheeks, then inflicted the same punishment on Favreau. “You guys are the best!” She said, as she jumped into the back seat again.
“One more word, chiquita, and I’ll throw you out of the car at 70 MPH.”
“Sorry. Silent as a grave from now, I swear. Girl scout honor.”


“If a player promotes a pawn to a queen and already has a queen on the board, he may use his mouthpiece instead of a second queen. For that purpose, players will be issued mouthpieces to match the color of their pieces.”
- World Chess Boxing Association (WCBA) rules, article 12.3.e

“So, what are you guys going to do in Vegas?” Lisa took about ten minutes to break her oath. Vince and Enrique didn’t respond, so she tried another approach. “You know anyone in Vegas?”
“No one.” Enrique said.
“Except for Todd Santoro.” Vince elaborated.
“You guys know Todd Santoro, the Chess-Boxing promoter? Wow, this is like, so cool! I love chess! I mean, chess-boxing.”
“Yes. We have a team at school, and, well, I can’t participate, being a girl and all, but I go to all the practices, and sometimes they let me make a few moves, but I can’t play an entire game, because, like, my endgame is so bad. And once, when nobody was there, Tommy DeMarco let me wear his gloves and took a picture of me. It was, like, so cool! And I read all the books and watch all the tournaments on the Internet. It’s too intense for words!”
“Santa Maria, help me…” Enrique moaned.
“Are you two into Chess Boxing? I’d like to go see the big match, but I have no tickets. You heard about the big match? It’s that Russian heavyweight, he’s like undefeated, you think McKenna can take him?”
“Well, given McKenna’s reach, weight, and his extensive theoretical knowledge of the King’s Indian,“ Favreau said thoughtfully, “I’d say Klichkovsky by knockout, round three at the most.”
“Wow, you sound like you really know this stuff! Did you ever played in a tournament? I think you should, because you have…” And at that moment the flow of words pouring out of Lisa’s mouth was cut off, when Favreau removed his sunglasses and turned to face her.

“Whoa! I know you, you are Vincent ‘Vindicator’ Fay-vro.”
“It’s F-a-v-r-e-a-u, girl. Rhymes with Thoreau.”
“Right, right. I have like all your games on DVD. That Best Game of the Year from 2014 is my favorite.”
“Yeah, I sure nailed that Russian with Rook to d7.”
“Wow, I’m in the same car with the Vindicator! Eat your heart out, Tommy DeMarco! So, are you going to see the big match too?”
“Well,” Dominguez joined the conversation, “He’s most likely to be unconscious by the time the big match will start, but yes, we’re going to the match. We’re the undercard.”
“Hey, I know you too, you’re Enrique ‘Endgame’ Dominguez! This is like a dream!”
“Or a nightmare….”
“Hey, if that’s not too much to ask, can you guys, like, help me with my endgame? Whoa, silly me, why am I even asking. Here’s ‘Endgame’ Dominguez, and I’m asking him if he can help little silly me. I didn’t mean to offend you, Mr. Dominguez.”
“None taken. But I don’t think –”
“Great! So tell me, a rook and pawn against a rook – is it a win or a draw?”
“Well,” Dominguez was now in his element, “it all depends on the position. The weak side should seek the Philidor position, which is the clearest drawing technique. King on the last row in front of the pawn, rook on the sixth, cutting off the enemy king. If the pawn ever goes to the sixth row, bounce the rook to the first row at once, and give checks from behind.”
“Wow. That is so cool. Can I take a moment to write it down?”
“Sure. Take as long as you like.”

Lisa fished a notepad and a pencil out of her jacket’s pocket and meticulously wrote down every word, then asked, “So how does the side with the pawn win?”
“Well, the clearest win is the Lucena position. If the other king was pushed away from the pawn’s queening square, occupy it with your king and drive the pawn to the seventh row. The defender meanwhile will try to trap your king there using his own king and rook. Kick his king away with a rook check, and then, and this is the important part, bring the rook up to the fifth row. This creates a shelter from checks. Take your king out, hide it behind the rook. Simple, really.”
“As long as you don’t have to do it with two broken ribs, a black eye and a concussion,” Favreau said, “Like I did in Moscow a few years ago.”

A few more minutes passed in silence, except for the howling of the wind, the roar of the engine and the scribbling of Lisa’s pencil. Then she put the notepad aside and said, “You know, Mr. Dominguez, I really liked your style. Too bad about what happened in Madison Square Garden.”
“He doesn’t like to talk about it, girl.”
“Will you two stop it about the Garden? That’s all I hear about since we started this trip. Garden, Garden, Garden. You’re like a pair of old ladies. You’re getting on my nerves.”
“Well, we would gladly stop asking if you’d just tell us.”
Suddenly Dominguez slammed on the breaks and parked the car at the side of the road. “Ok, I’ll tell. But you drive now.”
“Because it’s an emotional issue for me. I can’t drive and … you know.”

“So,” he continued after he and Vince changed places and the convertible merged into the highway traffic again, “I’m up against this guy from Congo, Charles Kabeela. It’s a big match; winner advances to the Candidates tournament, right? And my trainer, Markov, you remember Markov, right, Vince? He says to me with this horrible Russian accent – ‘You take care from this guy. Some say he plays like a girl, but you watch your step, because one move and it can be over’. So we sit down, I have black, no big deal, and we start with the Sveshnikov Sicilian – 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 cxd5 4.Nxd4 Nf3 5.Nc3 e5 6.Nb5 d6 – so far so good, right? And then he goes 7.Nd5 on me. And I think to myself oh my god; this guy really plays like a girl. I mean, I exchange on d5, and black’s main weakness in the Sveshnikov, the backward pawn on the open d-file, is gone.”
“So you exchange knights, and then?”
“I exchange, 7…Nxd5 8.exd5 Ne7 9.c4 and now I’m thinking a6 is the thematic move here, chasing away the knight and then continuing development. So I go 9…a6. And he doesn’t even look at the knight, and goes 10.Qa4.”
“And then?”
“And I’m thinking, this is too much. Ok, so he pins my a-pawn to my rook so I can’t take his knight at once, but two can play the pinning game. So I pin his knight to his queen with 10…Bd7, and I’m thinking wow, I’m about to enter the first boxing round a piece ahead, and that’s it – the guy goes 11.Nxd6# on me! That’s it, mate on move 11, before the first gong. I mean, if I could at least hang in there for one round of boxing, I’d have a chance to knock him out or something, but checkmate – this is it.”
“So this was it?” Lisa asked, wide eyed.
“This was it. And apparently, Todd Santoro and his partners had a lot of money riding on this match, so he was understandably pissed off. They spread the word that I sold the match. Plus, Markov stopped coaching me. He said I never listen to him anyway.”
“Hey, look,” Vince said, “We passed the Nevada state line and didn’t even notice it. One more hour, Vegas baby!”
“Yeah, time sure flies when you’re having fun!” Lisa exclaimed.

To be continued …

Posted by Alex Shternshain at 03:04 PM | Comments (1)

February 24, 2004

To the last pawn - Part II

If you missed the first installment of "To the last pawn", check under
Community-->General Chess-->Stories.

To the last pawn - Part II

“Thumbing and head-butting are strictly forbidden, and will be punished by deducting five minutes off the offending player’s clock.”
- World Chess Boxing Association (WCBA) rules, article 12.3.c

By the time they passed San Bernardino, Enrique tried the Caro-Cann, the French, and the Petroff. Favreau’s knowledge fell short in all of them. He was perplexed by the Panov, bewildered by the Winaver and vexed by the Exchange variation. He was falling into every cheap trap in the book, losing the thread of theory after 5-6 moves already. Enrique began to worry – maybe it was a mistake to bring this drunkard along for the ride? But no, it was too late to change anything, he had to try and hope for the best. This was his last chance.

Finally, as the red car turned onto the interstate, Enrique tried the Sicilian, and this time he struck gold. Vince was a natural Sicilian player, and there are some things one just doesn’t forget. They went through the Classical, the Najdorf, the Sveshnikov, the Dragon, and even the mind-bogglingly complicated Ponomariov and Karjakin variations. Favreau aced all of them, reciting theoretical lines till move 15 in all main lines as well as major theoretical deviations.

“Well,” Dominguez said with relief, “I think we have at least the opening problem solved.”
“I’m not sure,” Favreau stretched and yawned, “We’ve only covered the e4 openings for black. What if Santoro says I’m white? And even if I am black, how do we know the other guy will open 1.e4?”
“Santoro’s office said you got black in the game. As for 1.e4, I’m pretty sure he’ll play that.”
“They told you I got black?” Favreau eyed him suspiciously.
“I thought they only told you to find me for the match. They also told you I’ve got black?”
“Not in those exact words, but it was implied, yes.”
“How can it be implied? They either said I’ve got black or not. Did they?”
“Ok. But wait a minute…” Favreau’s eyes opened wide, “You still haven’t told me who am I up against.”
“Is it important? Vince, you were always a ‘play the board, not the opponent’ type of player. Remember London 2013?”
“Yeah, I sure got him good that time….”

The convertible sped along the I-15 interstate, leaving the pleasant warmth of the Valley behind, heading into the scorching heat of the desert. Even the names on the road signs were becoming less friendly. Cheerful, feel-good, names like Palmdale and Riverside were replaced with more down-to-earth, working-class names such as Alray and Barstow.

“Where are we?” Vince said, awakening of a short slumber.
“Hundred miles to Nevada state line. We’re doing good time.”
“How about grabbing something to eat? I haven’t eaten since morning … wait, was it this morning or yesterday’s morning? Anyway, haven’t eaten for a while.”
“Ok, let’s eat.” Enrique turned the steering wheel, guiding the convertible into the parking lot of a roadside truck diner.


“So,” said Enrique as they were waiting for their order of waffles, “We have the opening covered. Let’s talk middle game.”
“Oh man, look at that waitress,” said Favreau, “I would sure love to check and mate her, if you know what I mean. Hey, baby,” he exclaimed as the apron-wearing blonde passed by their table, “Want to come to my place and see my Bad Bishop?” The waitress didn’t break her stride.
Dominguez shook his head. “And it’s such a mystery why Debbie left you.”

“So,” he continued after the same waitress tossed the plates of waffles on their table, while doing her best to avoid eye contact, “What are the major middle game guidelines? Let’s say we… you and your opponent castled on opposite sides. What’s your game plan?”
“To throw everything including the kitchen sink at the opposing king’s position,” Vince smiled, “pawns lead the way, pieces behind, like Philli said.”
“You mean, Philidor? You studied Philidor’s teachings? Wow, I thought you don’t have any respect for a chess player who didn’t knock anyone out.”
“Who said anything about Philidor? I meant Philli Jones. You know, Steve Jones, the GM from Philadelphia.”
“Aha. Ok, what other guidelines are there?”
“Opening lines to the enemy king is good. Blockading lines to your own king is even better. Pawn weaknesses are meaningless, unless those are the pawns that shield the king. When behind on the attack, exchange queens. How am I doing?”
“Great. Now, middle games with closed center.”
“Attack where the pawn chains are pointing.”
“And what does that mean?”
“If there are white pawns on d4 and e5 and black pawns on d5 and e6, the white pawn chain is pointing to the kingside, and that’s where white should go to work, and black’s chain is pointing to the queenside.”
“Excellent. See, you still have it in you! Middle games with open center and same-side castling?”
“Think ahead to the endgame, beware of weak pawns. Tactics rule.”
“Ok. And speaking of tactics, let’s see what you can do with this position,” Enrique produced a palmtop chess computer out of his pocket and quickly made the following moves on the touch-screen:
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0-0 b5 6.Bb3 Bb7 7.Re1 Bc5 8.c3 d6 9.d4 Bb6 10.a4 0-0 11.axb5 axb5 12.Rxa8 Qxa8 13.Bg5.
“Ok, what would you do as black?”

black Queen on a8 b8 c8 d8 e8 black Rook on f8 black King on g8 h88
a7 black Bishop on b7 black Pawn on c7 d7 e7 black Pawn on f7 black Pawn on g7 black Pawn on h77
a6 black Bishop on b6 black Knight on c6 black Pawn on d6 e6 black Knight on f6 g6 h66
a5 black Pawn on b5 c5 d5 black Pawn on e5 f5 white Bishop on g5 h55
a4 b4 c4 white Pawn on d4 white Pawn on e4 f4 g4 h44
a3 white Bishop on b3 white Pawn on c3 d3 e3 white Knight on f3 g3 h33
a2 white Pawn on b2 c2 d2 e2 white Pawn on f2 white Pawn on g2 white Pawn on h22
a1 white Knight on b1 c1 white Queen on d1 white Rook on e1 f1 white King on g1 h11
a b c d e f g h  

“Hmm,” Favreau leaned over the screen and chewed on his waffle, “Let’s see. Black has his bishops and queen pointing at the center … a lot of tactical motives. Of course I can just retreat with Nd7, but the position calls for more … I know! I’d play 13…Nxe4, and if 14.Rxe4 then 14…Nxd4. Now, retreating the rook clearly loses, and after 15.Rxd4 or 15.cxd4 the endgame is in black’s favor.”
“Nice. For someone who’s been out of the loop for a year, you calculate well. But we must take into account all possible variations. What if white doesn’t retreat, but attacks with the rook?” Dominguez touched the screen and made the move 15.Rg4.
“Well, I just take on f3 and win.”
“Go ahead. Win.”
The moves 15…Nxf3+ 16.gxf3 Bxf3 flashed, and then Dominguez quickly responded with 17.Bf6. “Not so simple now?” he smirked.
“Let me see,” Vince scratched his head, “No, black still wins with 17…g6 18.Qd2 Bxg4 19.Qh6 Bxf2+ and it’s over.”
“17…g6 18.Qd2 Bxg4 is fine, but now white plays not 19.Qh6 but 19.Bd5.”
“Aha. Chasing the queen away from the long diagonal. That could be a problem. No, wait, black’s still winning after 19…Qa4.”

Dominguez leaned back in his chair and breathed a sigh of relief. His friend is going to be ok after all. He looked outside the diner toward his car. Nobody got around to stealing it yet.
“Hey, nice license plate, man,” Favreau followed his gaze, “Didn’t notice it before. E2E4-WINS. Cool. Did you get it custom made?”
“Yes, Vince, I did.”
“I like it. Wish I had a custom license plate. Wish I had a car.”
“You can buy a car with the match’s earnings. Hundred thousand dollars, sixty percent to the winner, forty to the loser.”
“That’s nice, but I still don’t know who am I up against. Is it that Italian, Paretti?”

“Shut up, they’re talking about the fight!” The big truck driver at the next table pointed in the direction of the TV set. Enrique and Vince stopped talking and watched Andrey Klichkovsky giving a press conference at the Caesar’s Palace hotel, surrounded by media persons, bodyguards and fans.

“Americans! I will smack that contender of yours so hard he will not know what hit him! I will break his head, take out his brains and eat them for lunch! And that’s only the chess part I am talking about! Once we put the boxing gloves on, he is going to really feel the pain! Yes! I am Andrey Klichkovsky, undisputed World Heavyweight Champion! Remember this name, because it will be the last sound you will hear! Yes!”

“Well, the guy sure doesn’t lack confidence,” said Enrique.
“Hey, look,” said Vince, “There’s Todd Santoro.”

“Mr. Santoro,” asked a TV reporter, “Is it true that you had difficulties assembling a lineup for the preliminary match, the undercard?”
“Let me tell you this, son,” the fat dark haired promoter turned directly to the camera, “We have a special treat for you viewers in the undercard match. We all know Magnus Alfredsson broke his arm skiing in Norway and LaShawn Thompson failed a drug test. These things happen. But still, the two fighters we have in store for you are exceptional ones. Their names are legend, and I will say no more.”

“Whoa, wait a minute, Rico. So they are having not one, but two replacement players for the preliminary match?”
“And you said you were pretty sure the other guy will open 1.e4?”
Vince glanced at his friend’s face, then at the red convertible, then at his friend again.
“Why you lying cheating vermin of a rat. You are my opponent. You!”
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
“Because you wouldn’t have come with me if I did! Look man, I need this! After what happened back then at the Garden, Santoro blacklisted me and nobody would work with me any more. No trainer, no endorsements, no tournament invitations. I was scrounging for cash in B-tournaments and my rating dropped 150 points. And then I suddenly get this call, and I can be center-stage again, but they are still one opponent short, so I remembered you live in L.A. and suggested you, and they said ‘bring him along’. I need this match to jump back on the gravy train, Vince. I’m thirty-four, man, this is my last chance.”
“So why are you coaching me?”
“Because, man, I need you to be good. If you show up at the Palace in bad shape, nobody’s going to believe it was for real. They’ll just say ‘Dominguez is a cheat. First he sold the Garden, now he bought the Palace.’”
“So it’s my job to play well so you can beat me convincingly and fix your life?”
“It sounds very negative when you put it this way, but basically, yes.”
“And the reason you know I’m black is because you asked to be white?”
“Something like that.”
“Damn you, Rico, I’m not letting you get away with this. Have it occurred to you that I might have a life to fix too? Did you consider that this might be my last chance too?”

“Would you like a refill?” The waitress stood above them with a pot of coffee in her hand. “No!” They both waved her away.
“Vince, be realistic. I was playing B-tournaments, but at least I was playing. You haven’t touched a chessboard and haven’t worn gloves for a year,” Dominguez leaned forward and drilled Favreau with his black eyes, “You cannot win this match.”
“Damn right I can and I will,” Favreau screamed as he jumped on his feet, “I’ll show you ‘E2E4-WINS’, Mister. I’ll drive that e2-e4 down your throat, you maggot.” He swept his unfinished waffles off the table and stormed out of the diner.
“Sorry about that….” Enrique said to no one in particular as he tossed some bills on the table, picked up the palmtop and followed Vince to the car.

To be continued ...

Posted by Alex Shternshain at 02:25 AM | Comments (0)

February 23, 2004

What makes a good chess community?

A chess community offers one or more products/services to a market (the accessible pool of chess players), via a formal or informal organization (with a governance). We can divide this topic into two: (a) Product development and marketing (products include services for our discussion); (b) Establishing and sustaining the organization

Before we cover the two main topics, let?s convince ourselves of the applicability of this model (product and organization). For large organizations such as US Chess, there is indeed a corporate structure and well defined products. How well they operate is a separate discussion (see rec.games.politics). But what about very small organizations, such as an informal club run by one person? I will argue that this situation is exactly the same. This person made a decision to start a club because they wanted to reach out to the accessible pool of players, and offer one or more of: (a) a club closer to where they live (accessibility); (b) a club that offers better or a different kind of tournaments (product); (c) a club with different leadership (better governance, organization).

The key point is that the person(s) made a conscious decision to create an entity (organization) that has the responsibility to provide a product. They rely on customers to survive, and the dynamics are similar to the commercial marketplace. The product offered is a venue to play in, at an agreed (hopefully repeatable) time/place, and some structure about the format of play (casual, rated), etc.

Product development and marketing

Chess products ultimately revolve around playing the game. There is certainly a niche market for the aesthetics, such as art, and collectable historical artifacts (see www.ebay.com) but for our discussion, we can focus on playing the game. I will claim this includes products such as:
(a) Organizing a casual game of chess
(b) Creating/maintaining a rating/ranking service
(c) Organizing a rated game of chess
(d) Organizing a tournament
(e) Organizing a Championship
(f) Creating playing materials, such as sets, chess engines, databases
(g) Creating instructional media, such as books, CDs, DVDs
(h) Creating and distributing news content, analysis, commentary
(i) Delivering instructional services
(j) Delivering coaching
(k) Creating and delivering meta-information (portals, directories)

Any particular chess community can only create, offer and deliver a small subset of possible chess products. Communities that try to offer too much will fail. A spectacular example of this is www.kasparovchess.com now defunct. It tried to offer ?world class? playing, instruction, news and more, and then couldn?t deliver on any of it well. First they lost their customer base, then investor base, and then failed. An excellent example of success is www.chesscafe.com which focuses on commentary from leading chess personalities, with an attached store.

So we see that selecting the right product(s) to offer is an important decision. Two key questions are: (a) what is the need for this product in the marketplace? (b) do we have a management team (organization, individual) with a passion for the product, and the ability to deliver? We will consider the second questions below (?Establishing and sustaining the organization?). For now, let?s discuss product need, positioning and marketing in the chess marketplace. The ideas and concepts are adapted from widely used practices in the commercial product world.

Product need ? this is hard. It is a simultaneous exercise of considering the existing chess market, who the big incumbents are that are delivering current functionality; contrasted against the functionality you are considering creating, including quality of service. The picture you will create in this exercise is that of a current need, where customers (chess players) are willing to purchase the product. Remember that you generally can?t displace an incumbent with an identical product, there has to something different about your product. For example, are you an organizer considering creating a new set of regional tournaments? What need is that filling that isn?t already filled? Are you thinking of starting a chess club or an online community? Think very carefully about the specific product(s) you will be offering. Ask yourself why would a chess customer buy my product? Are you the only club in the area or the only club that night? What about the kind of games you will offer? A recipe for disaster is to just say ?I?ll wing it, and see what happens, I?ll build it, and they?ll come?. It is certainly advantageous to be flexible, but you must be aiming for specific products, just like you aim for specific squares in a game of chess.

Product positioning ? this is crucial, and is often ignored. For the product conceived above, who are you selling the product to (what segment of the chess customers), and what makes your product different, and perhaps unique? Product positioning is where you can fine tune the characteristics of your product (including price) to closely match the needs/pain of your paying customers. For example, if you are a club offering tournaments as the product, what is your differentiator? Do you offer fast games, or slow games? Do you have a consistent or variable schedule? Do you allow business travelers to jump in the middle of a tournament? How professional is your level of service? What is your reputation for getting games rated, and paying out prizes? In the crazy world of chess, high integrity and excellent reputation become important differentiators.

Marketing and measuring ?crucial, frequently misunderstood and executed badly. Marketing has three aims: (a) promote the organization; (b) promote the product(s). In addition, you need to (c) record and measure the results.

The first step in promoting anything is to know your audience, and have a channel to reach them. Perhaps through a mailing list of a national chess organization, you can use a piece of. Maybe it is a newspaper advertisement. Maybe it is circulating a flyer at popular tournaments. This must be the same audience that you were assuming when you made important product decisions above. Once you can reach your audience, then you will advertise to them. Usually you will want to promote both your organization, as well as your product(s) in the same advertisement. The tricky thing is that people tend to get the two confused easily. The advantage of keeping these distinct is that you can abandon or change a product, and still keep the organization and its brand.

When you promote your organization, you are really selling your target audience on the fact that they can trust you (the organization) to create a certain range of products that they will like (even though the products can change over time). For example, in the US, if you see an advertisement for a ?CCA? tournament, you immediatly know if this is something you want without looking at the details, because ?CCA? has a strong brand and relatively well defined pool of customers, as well as a streamlined product set.

When you promote a product, you are selling a particular thing, to fill a particular need to a particular customer set, for a particular price. For example ?CCA? has the Foxwoods Open. This replaced the New York Open a few years ago. The CCA brand allowed a product to be replaced with little disruption, because people already had a trust level and an expectation level already set. Then it is simply a matter of judging product accessibility, time, price, etc. for the individual chess customer.

Even if your organization only ?does one thing?, it is still useful to keep the two aspects separate. When you promote the organization, you are promoting a trust level to your customer base. When you promote a product, you are driving sales. You can abandon a product, but it is fatal to abandon the organization.

Finally, you will want to measure your activities, so you can tell how effective your marketing is. At a minimum, you want to record contact info from sales that actually happened. It is usually easier to maintain and grow an existing customer base, than always having to start over. Promotions directly to existing customers are generally very effective.

Establishing and sustaining the organization

Chess communities are commonly wholly or substantially dependent on volunteers (or low wage ?I do it for love? people) for their success. The scourge of chess communities (especially clubs) is burnout due to the person who created the community being overloaded, and/or the volunteers failing. The trick to sustaining the organization is to recruit, build and retain a sufficient pool of volunteers. The key is balancing volunteer value, workload, and commitment.

The person(s) who created the chess community will undoubtedly be the most committed. People, who are just given small tasks to make the operation work, will have a low level of commitment, because the volunteer value to them is low. They will most likely think ?I?ll do this just because I want to play chess here?. These people will be the most likely to be intermittent, or quit altogether.

On the other hand, creating high volunteer value is an approach that lets a volunteer own a piece of the organization. Give the volunteer responsibility to drive that part of the organization, and let them shape it. Put their mark on it, own it. Do not micro-manage them. Then their commitment is high, turnover is lower. This in turn makes recruiting easier, because now you are deliberately looking for people that want to take over, not just do little tasks here or there. They naturally want to make things happen. You just have to let go, which for some is not easy, and can be a fatal flaw.

By recruiting and retaining people that want their big piece of the pie, the creator of the organization can now focus on maintaining a neutral structure for the volunteers to operate. This can be a charter, by-laws, Board of Directors, etc. This is structure that the active volunteer will naturally not be too interested in, but usually will be happy to operate in, mainly because it constrains everyone the same, and in a transparent manner..

Once you have a structure and a volunteer pool that wants their big slice of the pie, you need to keep recruiting. The reason is growth. If you have created a community and organization with a brand that people trust, and products that people buy, then you will be in growth mode. You will need to keep recruiting volunteers. Start looking for volunteers with management skills. Look at the structure of the IECC (http://www.iecc-chess.org/) for a good example of an organization that has grown because they put a good structure in place, and let people own pieces of it. [NOTE: Even though IECC offers a ?free? product, I still consider it a ?sale? if a player decides to commit 3 months to playing an email chess game with IECC. Nothing is ?free?]

The last topic is vague, but nevertheless important. It is attitude. Attitude comes from the top, so start when the organization is small. A sustainable attitude is one where everyone can feel powerful, and they are constrained only by neutral structure like policies and procedures and not by arbitrary personalities. Everyone feels powerful, and everyone is in growth mode, so no one feels threatened. If someone wants to make a positive impact, then they can. Once a core group of people are in place, it is easy to recruit more of the same. Communities with positive energy tend to attract more of the same.

Future topics for the entire chess market

There are many topics that I could ?blog? on in the future including:

1. Federations of chess communities
2. Promoting chess
3. Promoting chess players
4. Developing best practices and chess standards

I?d like to get some feedback to help me decide where to go with this.


Posted by Harvey G. Reed at 04:23 AM | Comments (1)

To the last pawn - Part I

To the last pawn

“Before the start of a chess round, the referee will make sure there are no loose chess pieces on the canvas”
- World Chess Boxing Association (WCBA) rules, article 12.3.a

In the early morning hours of the 26th of August 2017, a red convertible car stopped in front of a small run-down house in Inglewood, California.
A man in an adjacent coffee shop tapped his friend on the shoulder and said, “Check the nice set of wheels.”
“Neat,” answered the friend. “Got a custom license plate too. Can you read it from here?”
“Yeah,” said the first man, “E2E4-WINS. Dunno what that means.”

As they were talking, a man in his thirties, well dressed, well built and well tanned, exited the car and walked up to the front porch, where he checked the name on the doorbell. ‘Vincent & Deborah Favreau’. Yes, this was the house. He rang the bell, but there was no sound. He tried to knock. No response.

The hours were actually not so early for most of the inhabitants of this Los-Angeles suburb, who were busy selling crack and violating parole from dawn to dusk and beyond. But Vince Favreau should still be in bed at that time. The man knocked again, harder this time. And again. After the fourth time, there was finally some movement behind the door.

“What is it? I’m only one month behind on my rent, you fat …” A hoarse voice called, and the door flung open. “Rico Dominguez, is that you?”
“In person. Man, you look awful. What have you been drinking?” asked Enrique, trying to look behind Vince’s muscular shoulder. The living room was a jumble of dirty clothing, old food and empty bottles.
“Nothing since last night,” said Vince. “That’s the problem. Can’t even afford a morning drink these days. But what are we doing here at the door? Come in, come in, before you get mugged.”

Inside, Favreau pointed in the direction of a flea-infested couch, as he himself collapsed into a rust-colored armchair. Enrique declined to seat, and instead began walking around the room.
“So, Rico, what brings you here? And it better be good, for getting me out of bed so early and ruining a perfectly good hangover.”
“I got a call from Todd Santoro,” said Enrique quietly, enjoying the sudden sobering effect this name had on his friend. He stopped by a trophy shelf and passed his finger in the thick layer of dust that covered it.
“No way. Todd Santoro called you? He wouldn’t touch you with a stick after what happened at Madison Square Garden.”
“Well, it wasn’t him in person, but his office.”
“What did they want?” Favreau moved in his armchair slightly.
“Actually,” Enrique was ready to drop the bomb now, “They wanted me to find you. You haven’t been checking your messages lately, haven’t you?”
“My phone’s disconnected. What does Santoro want of me anyway?”
“Let me guess, your cable TV is disconnected too?” Enrique smirked.
“So let me bring you up to speed real quick. Klichkovsky came to USA two days ago. Some big-time promoters offered him a busload of money, and he will play McKenna for the title a year earlier than expected. The game is in Las-Vegas, tonight.”
“And Todd wants to send me board-side tickets? Wow, that’s really a kind gesture of him. Some people still got respect for old-timers like me!”
“Well, before we get all huggy-kissy and drown in nostalgia,” said Dominguez, “Let me tell you that’s not what Santoro had in mind for you. He wants you to play the undercard.”
“Me? Play the undercard for Klichkovsky-McKenna?” Favreau jumped on his feet and began pacing nervously, and now it was Dominguez’s turn to sit down, “But I haven’t played in a year. I barely remember the main line of the Ruy-Lopez.”
“Don’t worry. It’s like riding a bicycle. It’ll all come back to you, man.”
“Well, maybe I don’t want it to come back to me, did you think about that? When is this game anyway?”
“Tonight, eight.”
“But I don’t have no money for a plane ticket. I haven’t prepared. I reek of booze.” Vince shook his head, “No way, this can’t work.”
“Well, allow me to address your concerns one by one. First, I will drive you. Second, we’ll prepare along the way. Third, we’ll drive with the top down and the wind will blow that smell out of you long before we reach Nevada. It’s eleven now, if we hurry we can be in Vegas in five hours. This still leaves us four for sightseeing.”

Enrique started walking to the door, but to his surprise Vince refused to follow.
“What’s the matter?”
“I can’t do it. My reflexes are all messed up.”
With slow measured steps, Dominguez walked back to the trophy shelf. He stood with his back to Favreau, and picked up one of the trophies. “What’s this?”
“Madrid Interzonal.”
“Catch.” Without looking, Enrique tossed the silver cup in Favreau’s general direction.
“What are you doing?” Vince shrieked with horror as he dove to catch it.
“And what’s this?” continued Enrique, “North American welterweight champion 2011. Nice. Catch! Ooh, Canadian Open Champion 2010. Catch. ‘With recognition, to the first Canadian WBCA Grandmaster. Neat. They didn’t give me any of those for being the first Mexican GM. Catch. Best Game of the Year, 2014? I remember, you sure nailed that Russian with Rook to d7. Catch.”
“Please, stop!” Favreau pleaded, but Dominguez was unrelenting. Pieces of silverware kept flying around the room as Vincent desperately scrambled not to let them hit the floor.
“Hmm, what’s this?” Enrique got to the last plaque, “‘Third place, Jack’s minigolf weekend bonanza’?”
“It’s Debbie’s,” Vince said embarrassingly. “She forgot it when she moved out.”
“Anyway,” Dominguez spun around to see Favreau standing before him, clutching ten trophies in his grasp, “Your reflexes seem fine. Pack your things, let’s go.”


“If bleeding occurs during a chess round, the referee will stop the contest and wipe the blood from the board and pieces. The offending player’s clock will keep running during that time.”
- World Chess Boxing Association (WCBA) rules, article 12.3.a

It all began over a dozen years ago in Ukraine, as a joke between two college students, both avid amateur chess players and boxers. Their friends, who came to watch the bout, returned home stunned, telling tales of the best entertainment they ever had. Rumors of the new exciting sport spread across the world like wildfire. Soon its governing body, WCBA, became the most powerful sports organization in the world, uniting under its wing all the squabbling boxing federations, as well as FIDE.

A bout of Chess-Boxing would start as a normal-looking game of chess, except the board was set in the middle of a roped boxing ring, and the players wore boxing trunks. Between eight and fifteen times during the game, at steady intervals, a gong would ring and the chess table was carried away, as the players put on their gloves and engaged in a round of boxing.

It was, still, all about chess. The game of chess was the bottom line. Whoever won the chess game, won the bout. The boxing rounds had only one effect on the game – to weaken a player. A player that was knocked out would forfeit on time; if his brains were beaten into a mush, he would make a bad move and lose. If his eyes were bloody and swelled, he wasn’t able to see the board and would lose. There was only one ring referee – scoring referees were not needed.

Advertisement blurbs called Chess-Boxing ‘The Ultimate Sport’, and they weren’t far off. To be successful in this most popular sport in the world, one needed the cranial capacity of a professor, and the strength and stamina of a lumberjack. Chess-Boxers were revered like Gods, wooed by young girls, and sought as companions by rich ladies. After all, how often do you get a consort who can recite the Theory of Relativity and bench-press 300 pounds?


Down on the street, a twelve-year-old punk was trying to steal the convertible, but couldn’t get past the electric force field. Seeing Vince and Enrique closing on him, he turned away and ran, leaving a string of curses at his wake. Enrique took the remote out of his pocket and clicked the force field off.
“Hop right in.”
“Nice set of wheels, man.”
The convertible sped away with Dominguez at the wheel and Favreau slouched in the front passenger seat.

“So tell me,” asked Favreau as they were cruising alongside the L.A. River, “What really happened at the Garden?”
“Oooh, it was something.”
“It was nothing. Look, I was checkmated, it happens, ok?”
“Checkmated before the first gong? Never happened before, Rico.”
“Shut up. We have a game to prepare to. Now tell me the main line of the Ruy Lopez.”
“1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0-0 Be7 6.Re1…” Favreau recited mechanically.
“Wait. What do you play if he takes on e4 on move 5?”
“If 5…Nxe4 then 6.d4, the open Ruy.”
“Good. Go on with the main line.”
“6.Re1 b5 7.Bb3 d6 8.c3 0-0”
“And what if 7…0-0 instead of 7…d6?”
“What difference does it make? Black can play d6 first and castle later, or the other way round. And then –“
“No, stop! It makes all the difference in the world, because after 7…0-0 8.c3 he can go 8…d5, the Marshall attack.”
“Oh, right I remember the Marshall. This Polish guy tried it against me in the New York Open. I knocked him out in the second round,” said Favreau.
“Yes, yes, very nice. But we can’t quite rely on a second round knockout here, given your physical form, can we? White can go for the anti-Marshall with 8.a4, Kasparov used to play it, you know.”
“Kasparov is ancient history, man. I don’t recall him knocking anyone out.”
Dominguez grabbed the steering wheel so tightly that his knuckles became white and took a deep breath. “Ok. Maybe the Ruy-Lopez shouldn’t be your defense of choice.”

To be continued ....

Posted by Alex Shternshain at 03:34 AM | Comments (2)

February 05, 2004

ICCF and PlayChess: Looking in the Future

Greetings! I'm new here, but I saw Thomas's call for bloggers and figured I'd try my hand, so... be gentle with me, eh? ;-)

PlayChess.de has made me curious about the broader correspondence chess world, especially the "official" structure under the aegis of the International Correspondence Chess Federation (ICCF). Up to this point the ICCF has specialized in what I'd call "old fashioned e-mail chess" and "really old-fashioned snail-mail chess." Even the e-mail version requires users to e-mail moves according to a text file format, track number of days of think time according to the honor system, etc. Compared to the convenient interface of a site like PlayChess, i'm not terribly interested in this e-mail format. But apparently for a few years now the ICCF has recognized that the future of the correspondence game lies in servers like this one.

(GRATUITOUS OPINION #1: It's a pity they couldn't have just worked a deal with Thomas or other chess site maintainers a few years ago; they could be up and running by now! Sounds like a lot of "reinventing of the wheel" if you ask me.)

In a 2002 article (here) at ChessMail.com, Tim Harding looked into the crystal ball to a CC world oriented around servers instead of loose e-mails. The ICCF official site actually has a November, 2003, announcement (here) about the progress of this project. It also figured quite prominently in the President's Christmas message (here). It seems they've been working with Chess Base GmbH on this project, and, "ChessBase has pledged to support the innovative standards, which we will use," whatever on earth that means.

(GRATUITOUS OPINION #2: My fond hope is that these "innovative standards" involve open-sourcing the code for this server. In my mind all competitors should have the right to inspect the software with which their moves are being recorded. But I'm not terribly hopeful on that front.)

Here's how they assess their progress:

Design and development work is progressing well and the first events should be running on the new system around mid-2004. The ICCF schedule of events will be phased for Webserver tournaments over future months and new types of event will be developed, to exploit technology which will be available.

(GRATUITOUS OPINION #3: I sure hope they're willing to work with sites like this one rather than seeing them as the competition. They could bring huge numbers of CC players "into the fold" of a worldwide tournament structure, if they play their cards right. Or they could further divide the CC world into factions if they play their cards wrong.)

(GRATUITOUS OPINION #4: Ideally they could at least coordinate with this site and the other major CC servers to build a worldwide championship structure.)

Now, i'm a total neophyte to correspondence chess, so I don't claim to have my finger on the pulse of the CC community. So I'm posting this to ask others: What do you think about this direction? Would you have any interest in joining ICCF events if their server worked like PlayChess? Or is it not that important to most people?

Posted by Philip Reed at 11:03 PM | Comments (7)

2003 in numbers (part II)

Today I have prepared a statistical review of 2003 regarding games played in Advanced Chess League. Having added some experience from the previous article 2003 in numbers (part I) which presented HCL games, I believe that I have a lot of noticeable things to say.

I use two formats to express final results:
+x=y-z means x wins for White, y draws, z wins for Black
The score in percentage for White can be calculated with the formula:
Score% = [x + (y/2)] / (x+y+z) where x,y,z are defined as above.

Advanced Chess League

Games, moves, results

In 2003 the PlayChess site hosted 2272 completed games by 471 players. Compared to HCL, since players have access to both categories, less than 16% have tried to team up with a chess engine (I have not taken into account those playing only ACL games). The number of games is less than 7% of the games played in HCL. PlayChess members need some encouragement to participate in ACL tournaments. In the near future I am going to dedicate a lot of articles upon this topic.

White scored 52%. In detail the results were +910=542-820. When we examine each tournament class separately we find that the results do not vary more than 2 cents from the average.

The following pie shows distribution of games over tournament class. You can see that Thematic tournaments are very popular. In ACL the number of games in 2003 for this class was 604 compared to 1312 in HCL. Many players use their computer in order to research a certain opening and its possibilities, or they experiment with their computer upon a known (though not so common most of the times) opening theme.

Games per tournament Class

Caissa has 209 games, Blitzmich has 168, and Goofy is third with 156 games.

There is a game that ended in move 3, only because one of the opponents abandoned the effort (a game from the Swiss tournament). There are also 6 games that ended in move 5, only one of them with checkmate and another one with a "mate in 4" position. The longest game was ACL-M009-30 between Lindam and unconnected, lasted 102 moves, the final move giving the point with checkmate to Lindam.

71 games ended with early draws (less than 20 moves).

First move choice

1285 games started with 1.e4, 670 with 1.d4, 87 with 1.c4, 93 with 1.Nf3 and 137 with one of the remaining moves. This final category includes lots of the thematic games with unusual first move. The pie representing these results is almost identical to the one you can find in the HCL article 2003 in numbers (part I).

A little more about first move choice: 1.e4 or 1.d4?

In the HCL article I used as reference games from OTB databases since 1990 with both players over 2400 ELO. This time I limited the range to games from the same period with both players over 2500 ELO. To my surprise 1.d4 is more popular than 1.e4. Bar labeled “TEST” in the following graph shows exactly this:

first move: e4 or d4

Each bar compares 1.e4 (orange) to 1.d4 (blue) only, (100% represents total of 1.e4 plus 1.d4) for each tournament class. The “T” bar shows that Thematic tournaments announced by PlayChess prefer King Pawn openings rather that Queen Pawn openings. Don’t blame Thomas for this. He has also created tournaments for Grob’s Attack (1.g4), Sokolsky opening (1.b4) and From’s Gambit (1.f4 e5 2.fxe5 d6 3.exd6) especially for the ACL addicts.

You can see that more experienced players (bars "E" and "M") trust 1.d4 more than players from A and B class. The "S" Swiss tournament bar shows that 73% opened with 1.e4 (compared to the total of 1.e4 and 1.d4). This result is higher than the average from A, B, E and M classes (63%). In order to provide a more accurate result, I should have taken into account the tournament class for all players with White in every single finished game. Sorry, I cannot do this. I simply conclude that the Swiss tournament affects our style from the very first move.


It has been very difficult to get any results about opening preferences. The database is small (2272 games) and for every ECO code with a number of games exceeding 40, most of them come from Thematic tournaments. I can only mention two openings:
a) The Advance variation of Caro - Kann (B12) 1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 is one of the favorite openings with 36 games.
b) The Sveshnikov variation of the Sicilian defense (B33) 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 e5 has the same number of games, most of which appear in E and M classes. In OTB tournaments White scores 52% with this opening. In ACL the results are surprisingly high for Black. In E class tournaments we have +4=6-8 and in M class +3=2-7.

The following graph presents most popular openings (Thematic games are included). If there are any players who wish to know more about the Queen Gambit games I can only recommend to play games with these openings in the ACL to enrich our statistical knowledge.

openings in ACL

I compared the results for the above openings to the results of OTB games with the same openings. In all cases in OTB tournaments White scores approximately 55%. In ACL we have the same results for the French defense and Ruy Lopez. The Caro – Kann games favor White in the Swiss, E and M tournaments with a score up to 60%, while only 47% in the A and B tournaments. The Sicilian games favor Black in all cases. White scores no more than 43% in all classes.

Posted by Michalis Kaloumenos at 03:54 PM | Comments (0)

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