Archive for the ‘technology’ Category

Mate in 208 Moves!

December 12, 2007


[Alexey Shirov would need to have seen ahead a mind-numbing 206 moves in order to be sure of forcing a win in a game at the World Cup.]

According to the rules of chess, a player can claim a draw if 50 moves pass (50 for each side) in which no piece has been captured and no pawn moved. The original idea of the rule was that if one side seems to have an advantage in the endgame (the stage of the game where only a few pieces or pawns remain), 50 moves should be more than sufficient to turn that advantage into checkmate. If there was no 50-move rule, one side could keep playing on in a theoretically drawn position hoping to win only because his opponent becomes fatigued. But leave it to computers to discover that there are certain winning endgames that, even with best play, require more than 50 moves to win. These endgames are incredibly rare, and seem more like composed problems than positions that might arise in actual play, and so the 50-move rule has been left enforce.

Now, incredibly, one of these endgames—two lone knights versus a lone rook and bishop—actually occurred in a very important game, in the semifinals of the World Cup. Alexey Shirov and Sergey Karjakin had tied their regular games in the semifinals. To break the tie, the two grandmasters played two rapid games, and it was the first of these that saw the unusual endgame. With best play (from the position below), computers tell us, Shirov as Black could have checkmated Karjakin in 208 moves!! Shirov didn’t see that, of course, and the game ended in a draw.

The excellent online daily newsletter Chess Today discusses the endgame in the December 12th issue. Chess Today is a great, subscription-based publication and well worth the modest fee.

Kasparov KO’s 21

June 19, 2007

When Kasparov arrived in Canada yesterday, he told the customs official that he was going to play chess in Toronto. The official said, “Chess? What is that?” The man had not heard of him, either.

But the thirteenth world champion put the Canadians in their place at the unfamiliar activity called chess by winning twenty-one simultaneous games in the course of ninety minutes. If only checkmating Putin were this easy!

The simultaneous exhibition was arranged by Belzberg Technologies.

Kasparov Takes Toronto

June 15, 2007

On Monday, June 18, Garry Kasparov, the thirteenth world chess champion and arguably the greatest player of all time, will take a break from his new career as chief thorn in the side of Vladimir Putin to play twenty games of chess simultaneously in Toronto.  The event is being orchestrated by Belzberg Technologies

A couple of years ago, I watched Kasparov give a simulalso sponsored by Belzbergagainst twenty-four traders on the New York Stock Exchange.  I describe the simul in my book King’s Gambit: A Son, a Father, and the World’s Most Dangerous Game:

Kasparov had limited the event to people who were rated below 2000.  The emphasis on rating seemed strange to me, because Kasparov had achieved godlike status in 1998 by demolishing the entire Israeli national chess team of grandmasters and international masters—players rated in the 2500s and 2600s—in simultaneous play.  At the stock exchange, the opponents were complete amateurs and he disposed of them all, 24-0, in only an hour and forty-five minutes.

Although the competition was weak, I was impressed by how earnestly he had taken the event.  To make it interesting for himself, he had been determined not to concede a single draw, let alone a loss.  One of the games stayed with him.  “If he had played better,” Kasparov told me afterward, “I’m not sure I could have won.  I’d have to play like Karpov”—his archrival, against whom Kasparov played 144 games in five world-title matches.  He chuckled at the thought.  “Yeah, like Karpov, grinding him slowly, slowly down in an agonizingly long game.” 

We were wolfing down a buffet dinner at the stock exchange because he was about to fly to Germany, but the conversation kept returning to this particular game.  “Maybe if I played f5, I could have broken through,” he said, interrupting some non-chess story that I was relating.  Kasparov could not stop thinking about the game until he had determined the truth of the position.  It was remarkable how the greatest mind in chess managed to turn an informal encounter with an amateur into a rich intellectual challenge.


You Can Buy King’s Gambit at: | | |

Chess Clocks in Presidential Debates?

June 10, 2007

U.S. presidential candidates who know how to play chess will have an advantage if Seth Godin has his way.  The marketing guru has proposed that the presidential debates be modified so that each candidate has more control over the time he spends answering questions.  “Why not use a chess clock style timing device,” Godin writes in his blog, “so that each candidate can be free to answer a question for as long as she likes, but each candidate enters the debate with exactly the same amount of time to allocate?”

Windows Expert Needed in Bulgaria

May 19, 2007

Mig Greengard’s Daily Dirt blog at, which has the superb tag-line “Because losing sucks,” is a must read for chess professionals and their fans.  On Wednesday, May 16, a curious posting stream appeared called “Help Wanted! Elista or Bust”—a general plea for assistance in replacing grandmaster Gata Kamsky’s malfunctioning laptop in Bulgaria—and then curiously disappeared.  Kamsky, a Siberian turned New Yorker who graduated from law school, is America’s best hope since Bobby Fischer for winning the world chess championship.  To play for the world title in September in Mexico City, he must first do well in a qualifying tournament that starts in a week in Elista “help-me-Map-Quest” Kalmykia.  

Kamksy is now warming up in the M-Tel Masters tournament in Sofia, Bulgaria, and can’t use his computer, which houses his all-important chess-opening preparation and a database of his past games as well as his opponents’.  Hence the Daily Dirt plea, which suggested that Kamsky faced the same dilemma as a working mom: he could not shop for a computer in Bulgaria because he had to play chess during the hours when the stores were normally open. 

The fact that the No. 1 ranked U.S. player and his supporters have to scramble for a computer on the eve of his representing our country in a world-championship-qualifying match says something very pathetic about the state of American chess.  Can you imagine Tiger Woods or his manager having to post an ad on Craigslist because the champ misplaced his clubs?  Or Lance Armstrong, because he couldn’t find his bicycle? 

Doesn’t Kamsky have a back-up of his preparation on hand? 

In 2004, I accompanied Pascal Charbonneau to the world championship in Tripoli, and the Canadian Champion installed a copy of his opening preparation on my PC—and he almost needed it after he plugged his laptop into an outlet in the hotel room and the outlet kind of exploded and the electricity in the entire wall blew out!  (I could have provided Pascal with more support in Libya if I hadn’t been taken into custody and harassed on suspicion of being CIA, but that’s a long harrowing story, which will have to wait until the publication of King’s Gambit.)

Why can’t Kamsky just ask the  M-Tel organizers to help him get a new laptop? A world-class competitor like Kamsky customarily employs a “second”—a strong player to help him come up with opening-move novelties and lend moral support.  Can’t Kamsky’s sous-chef take an hour out from cooking up novelties in the Queen’s Indian Defense and go shopping in Sofia for a computer?  Or does Kamsky not have a second? 

And why doesn’t the United States Chess Federation, which has 80,000 dues-paying woodpushers like myself, just step in and buy him a new laptop or fix him up with someone who can reinstall Windows?  I can’t think of a better use for our dues than to support our very best player. 

After a few posters on ChessNinja ridiculed Kamsky because of the Help Wanted request (someone named Eoa slighted Bulgarian, perhaps?wrote, “Lets see a lawyer that can easily earn over a hundred thousand a year easily in the USA needs help from chess peasants laughable. If He is going to play pro let him act pro.”), Kamsky himself wrote to explain that the matter would be dealt with privately and that “Everything is fine:)”.  The Help Wanted thread subsequently came down. 

The latest Daily Dirt blog entry indicates that Kamsky now has a new laptop and new software because good Samaritans intervened and shipped them to him.

Mig’s site does a dynamite job of tracking Kamsky’s progress in Bulgaria (he’s now tied for second place).  News about the M-Tel tournament and his progress can also be found at ChessBase News and Chess Life Online.

Annals of Luddism, I

May 16, 2007

I like to imagine that Woodstock has more manual typewriters per capita than any other place in the country.  After all, these earth-friendly machines don’t consume electricity. 

I can’t get television in my Woodstock home.  Time Warner won’t string a cable down my long dirt road, and the neighbors’ pines and oaks rule out DirectTV.  Cell-phone reception is awful or nonexistent in the town because the manual-typewriter crowd has blocked the construction of cell towers. 

I need a cell phone that works in the Catskills, and so for years I was reduced to a no-frills, drab Nokia where the whole phone is effectively the antenna, maximizing the chances of reception.  Every few months or so I’d try a friend’s flip phone in Woodstock but it wouldn’t get a signal.  Because I am fidgety, the Nokia in my pocket, with its buttons exposed, would occasionally decide to call people on its own.  (Yes, I could use the number lock, but I’m afraid of forgetting the code.) 

A short time ago my pocket embarrassed me by making an early-morning call to a client who had been delinquent in paying me.  Usually I’d call the client’s office number during work hours to prod him for the money, but my pocket apparently had had enough and decided to call his cell—at 7:00 A.M.  I didn’t know what my pocket had done until I received a call at 7:01 A.M. from the miffed client, whom I had evidently disturbed while he was taking his sick pet to the vet.  I told him I hadn’t phoned him; later I reviewed the outgoing call log and saw that my phone had indeed called him. 

Nokia finally introduced a flip phone that works in Woodstock.  My pocket’s calling days are thankfully over, but, now for reasons unknown to me, other people’s pockets are calling me more than ever before. 


The pocket of a guy I know in the musical toy business has called me four times recently; I answered and heard muted voices or, in the evening, happy bar talk.  Actually I’m not sure I’ve ever had a two-way phone conversation with Mr. Toyman.  I’ve just listened to myself jabbering into the phone—like the tree that falls in the forest with no one around to hear it.