Archive for the ‘World Chess’ Category

Bobby Fischer Chess Movie

Saturday, May 30th, 2009

A biographical movie about

Perhaps not as surprising today as it would have been 25 years ago, before Fischer’s long-running battle with the US government, and in the end, with the American people. It was a battle that consumed Fischer’s emotional life in his last years, just like chess consumed his life in his first years. ()

The movie is  and is written, produced, and directed by Damian Robert Chapa. He also plays Fischer.

Is Chapa a tournament chess player? Evidently not, because a quick search of the rating list does not turn up an entry for him.

Can a non-serious chess player understand someone who devotes his life to chess? Even if he does excellent research and consults with experts?

That’s a question that probably doesn’t have to be answered by a movie to be successful. But what does have to be answered is how accurate the story feels and how authentic Bobby’s characterization appears.

As you can tell from the trailer, much emphasis is put on Bobby’s relationship with his mother, which was rocky.

What I expect to be the weak point of the movie is a failure to portray the intellectual challenge, voyage of discovery, and mental pleasure that is the essence of chess. to become a chess grandmaster requires an average of 25,000 hours of effort. If you think that effort is driven by a person’s relationship to his mother, then go ahead.

Our world has a layer of people who devote themselves to becoming, for want of a better term, “learned.” Whether it is mathematics, science, history, literature, art, music, chess — these people devote an incredible amount of time to learning. Why? If you understand that, you understand the primary motivation for becoming a chess grandmaster.

Not necessarily the motivation for getting interested in chess, but the motivation for becoming a grandmaster.


Bobby Fischer Live is not the only movie about Fischer. An Icelandic company has produced a documentary directed by Fridrik Gudmundsson. The film is about Fischer’s match with in 1972, as told through the eyes of his bodyguard during the match, Saemi Pálsson.

An irony of the clip is that Fischer was unwilling to put his money in a bank in Iceland because he was afraid it could be bombed into oblivion. A few years later the entire banking system collapsed, but not from any violent attack — from massive financial mismanagement.

Before he died, Fischer returned to Iceland, after living in Japan for quite a few years where he was eventually arrested and jailed for deportation to the United States — also covered in the film.


Fischer was 20 at the time. This was in his period of the amazing years 1960-1962, when he had incredible successes in international events, culminating in his winning the 1962 Stockholm Interzonal by 2.5 points, but then failing hugely (in his eyes) in the Candidates Tournament in Curaçao — after which he accused the Russians of cheating.

Fischer visits Tal in hospital at Curaçao, 1962

Isn’t it a nice touch that the interviewer asks a snarky little question using a word he is certain that Fischer does not know? It’s a time-capsule capture of the roots of what is today unquestioned canon, that some opinions make you morally inferior, and other opinions make you morally superior.

The Usual Blunders

Friday, May 29th, 2009

As noted in this post, has produced a movie about Bobby Fischer. Given the importance of chess to a movie about the greatest chess player who ever lived, you’d think that the producer would make absolutely certain he did NOT make the usual stupid mistake that almost every chess film makes.


Find the blunders?

Here’s the first:

The board is set up incorrectly, the most basic rule of chess. The board must be set up so that the queen is on the square of her color. As you can see in the image, the white queen is on a black square and black queen on a white square. That is wrong.

The next blunder is less obvious, but just as bad. The trailer has Fischer playing a stupid opening, one he never played.

From the image you can see the game has gone (assuming that the pawn in front of the queen is the queen’s pawn):

1. d3 nc6
2. f3

Having the queen on the wrong square makes it hard to visualize, but white (Fischer) opens by moving the queen pawn one square, black responds by moving out the queen knight, and then white plays the king’s bishop pawn out one square.

This is about as stupid an opening as you can play. I thank we can say having Fischer play such an open is a bad blunder.

It’s possible that the producer/director did not create the trailer. Even if so, he should have made certain that it did not include stupid chess blunders.

Want To Be A Chess Master?

Saturday, January 17th, 2009

Guillermo Campitelli and Fernand Gobet, two psychologists, have published the results of their studies at on how much practice it takes to become an excellent chess player.

Their results are probably surprising to non-chess players, and maybe even to many players.

The measure they use to estimate "practice" is the amount of time spent playing or studying chess. Here is a summary of their results:

It’s obvious that playing well requires LOTS of time, and that the better the player, the more time required to achieve that level of play. Campitelli and Gobet state the following:

“It should be pointed out that there was a high level of variability in the amount of practice. For example, let us consider the number of hours of dedication that players needed to reach 2200 Elo points. The average was around 11,000 hours, but one player needed only around 3,000 hours while another player spent more than 23,000 hours to achieve the same level. Moreover, a few players spent more than 25,000 hours studying and practicing chess and did not achieve the level of 2200 Elo points.”

If the average master has spent 11,000 hours to achieve that ranking, how much time is that?

Let’s consider it in terms of 40-hour weeks. 11,000/40 = 275 weeks. There are 52 weeks in a year, so that is 5.28 years, or 5 years and 15 weeks.

So, on the average, it will take you over five years of working full-time on chess to become a master. That is a huge demand in effort, way beyond the effort required to get a Ph.D, for example.

The Ph.D level in chess is grandmaster, and that requires on average at least 25,000/40 = 625/52 = 12.01 or 12+ years.

Very few masters make a living at chess, yet it requires more time to become a chess master than it does to develop a high-level professional career.

The main factor that makes this huge effort possible is that most players who become masters start playing at a young age. Besides the advantages of youth, such as fast learning and good memory, being young means that you can dedicate lots of time to chess without sacrificing your livelihood, although schooling may suffer. Here are Campitelli and Gobet’s results on age of starting:

Chess - Age of Starting

If you are determined to become better at chess, what are the best training activities? This study suggests the following:

Chess - Training Activities

Note that the number one training activity is playing blitz. Many players avoid blitz, arguing that it does not help their chess.

I disagree. I think playing blitz smartly is the best method to improve quickly. By playing smartly, I mean combining it with study. Play the openings that you are trying learn, remember your games, and then consider them during study time. In fact, you can make notes about your blitz games while you’re playing so you can remember to study them later. If you are playing on the internet, save your games and make them a database.

You can play 5 to 10 or even more blitz games in an hour. That is a lot of patterns and a lot of problem solving compressed into a small amount of time. Use that experience intelligently by integrating it into your chess study.

This study suggests that you need to spend 11,000 hours on chess to become a master. I suggest you can do it with 11,000 blitz games, if you are playing smartly.

Olympic Drug Testing Squabble

Saturday, December 6th, 2008

Going into the last round of the Olympics, it looked like the Ukraine was sitting pretty. They were playing the much lower rated United States team and a victory would give them the Olympic championship title (Gold). A draw would give them second (Silver) and a 1:3 loss would give them third (Bronze).

But the US team crushed them, winning 3-1/2:1/2.

After Ivanchuk, playing board one, lost to Kamsky (game given in prior post), he left the hall extremely upset. Here’s one account of his behavior:

"I was standing outside the playing hall, alongside New Zealand delegate Bob Gibbons, and witnessed Ivanchuk kick a large concrete pillar, then bang his fists on the food service counter a couple of times, before storming past where we were standing, into the cloak room area of the venue, all the time being followed by a couple of officials." (Source here.)

Ivanchuk had been randomly selected to take a drug test after the game, but he refused, either because he was so upset at losing the game or because of some other currently unknown reason.

The rules of the Olympics are that if someone refuses to take a drug test, the results of the entire team are canceled. This was not done at the time, but it appears that it could be done retroactively.

For more details on the controversy, see The “Doping Affair” in Dresden.

For another point of view and details on an earlier drug test ruling, see Drug Testing – redux.

Chess Olympics

Monday, December 1st, 2008

The World Chess Olympics finished November 25th, with the Armenians winning the Men’s Title, their second Olympic championship win in as many years. Israel was second and the United States was third.

The Women’s Olympic title was won by Georgia on tiebreaks over the Ukraine.

The official Chess Olympic site with further details is here.