Why chess and snooker require similar skills

May 8, 2018
A heroic snooker battle shows why chess and snooker require similar sets of skills
In May 2018, Two former world champions John Higgins and  Mark Williams meet in the final of the most prestigious snooker tournament of all.  They did not disappoint the crowd packed into the tight little Crucible arena in Sheffield. There is added interest, because each player is a veteran, now rated as well past his best. Both had given serious thought to retiring, and at the start of the tournament admitted they had no serious confidence in winning the world championship again. The unfolding story grabbed my attention.
Evidence of great motor skills and calculation
“He’s thinking six moves ahead for that shot”. The comment from a professional commentator could have been made by a chess analyst. The difference: in some (but not all positions) chess masters would have been expected to deal with the uncertainties. Computers now show how remarkably quickly and deep the mental work usually is. “Thinking about” happens in all positions. In contrast, calculation of lengthy numbers of moves takes place more rarely, usually in so-called ‘forced’ sequences of moves  such as re-captures, or direct king threats.
Chess as a metaphor for other sports
Chess is often used as a metaphor for other sports requiring more motor skills. I noted it  first in an analysis of tennis matches.  Later, in a work of fiction, I suggested chess could also be compared with boxing and snooker.
Pressures to succeed
In Tennis Tensions, I looked at the buildup of pressure at vital moments in tennis, when routines broke down. Higgins and Williams in this match resisted such pressures the vast majority of people are prone to.
Errors
There were errors. Infrequent and unexpected. In chess they are called blunders. moves far weaker players would not have made (unless of course subjected to the same sorts of pressure!). These seemed to be to be from a lack of concentration, a slight increase in speed of play. Is it too much of a stretch to see similarities with the hassled state of mind in chess players under time pressure?
Age shall not weary them?
Ageing commentators agreed that the standard throughout was as high as the great clashes of the past. Much was made of the 43 year Williams and the 42 year old Higgins. There were those infrequent lapses of concentration. At a low level, my own chess experience is that the frequency of my blunders increases with age.
The Drama
The drama unfolded over three days, (first to 18 frames). It’s a mix of slow and fast play. Williams (seeking his third championship) surged ahead. A few uncertainties resolved in his favour. Then Higgins fought back when all seemed lost. Then Williams fought back again, sneaking it at 18/16
Worth reading about it. 
To go more deeply
I turned some of of my ideas about sporting excellence into fiction in Seconds Out, which has snooker, chess, and boxing themes, together with the obligatory super-villain, and a village bat-woman with sci-fi features. Other sporting publications can be found on my website

A new form of chess with an ancient tradition

January 9, 2017

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The villagers of Ströbeck in central Germany have become the custodians of an ancient tradition of playing chess according to their own rules. An annual chess festival is held, with parades and human chess performances by children from the village school

Origins

Local legend has it that chess arrived in Ströbeck a thousand years ago, when an imprisoned nobleman taught his guards the moves. Chess at the time was spreading to the west from its eastern origins. The game took hold in the region, and became a local obsession. Over time, various imaginative changes took place. These gave the good people of Ströbeck a further advantage over neighbouring villages.

The village has recently received a heritage listing, and hopes to obtain a further honour through a UNESCO international heritage listing.

The chess players of Ströbeck have a habit of frustrating their opponents. Throughout the ages, strangers visiting the village in the foot of the Harz mountains in central Germany have been confronted with a community that has not only been steeped in the “royal game” from an unusually early age, but has also developed its own idiosyncratic rules, including special moves, additional pieces and cryptic commands.

[The Guardian, January 7th 2017]

The addition of a game played on a board with more squares was one innovation. The introduction of pieces with new moves was another.

A tradition arose that anyone seeking to marry someone born in the village has first to play a game of chess (rules to be agreed in advance) against the mayor, who had the power to prevent the marriage, depending on how the game went. Recently, this tradition has moderated to a symbolic fine to be donated to a good cause.

I particularly like another tradition. If, despite the other home advantages enjoyed, a local is losing to an outsider, onlookers can shout in local dialect, ‘Vadder, mit Rat ‘ [Look out, he’s planning a sneak attack].

Such cultural innovations should be encouraged.

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Tourist waiting for a bus to take her to the historic village of Ströbeck.

Acknowledgement

To Alex Hough for alerting me to the story


Brilliant end to the world chess championship

December 7, 2016

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Magnus Carlsen retained his title as world champion in the most spectacular fashion

The end came as commentators were predicting that Magnus was losing the psychological battle. His play had become error-prone as time and again his opponent Serge Karyakin wriggled out from a nearly losing position.

The players had already completed the twelve full-time games, ending at six all.  Time and again the challenger had struggled then secured a draw, as Magnus failed to convert his pressure into a win.  Chess computers were reported as showing a slight advantage for the champion disappearing as several of games reached sixty plus moves.

Then, towards the end of the scheduled twelve games, Magnus played uncharacteristically In a headstrong fashion, drifting towards a loss, recovering, then turning down an obvious forced draw for a risky attempt to win. It all went wrong under cool defense. Karyakin won, and with three games to go was ahead. Magnus needed a win to retain his crown.

Now it seemed unlikely.  People were talking about Ali’s rumble in the jungle.  Magnus had been brilliantly rope a doped. Then another twist. Magnus persisted, almost won, let the win slip, before facing defeat finding a escape and grabbing a win.  All square. Talk turned from Ali to Houdini. At the highest level, Karyakin had been swindled.

The final and twelfth game was a climactic climb-down. Neither player risked all. Spectators witnessed a brief non-combative draw. Commentators were scathing. Watchers who paid high bucks may have felt as swindled as Karyakin in the previous game.

For the first time, the championship would be settled in a contrived tie-breaker. At this stage, there were to be four Rapidplay games. If the result was two games all, there was to be even faster play until a winner emerged.

I missed much of the last evening’s play at a quite different chess event. A popular club member was being sent on his way to his new home across the Pennines with a farewell drink. On returning home, I could have watched a televised football match but the chess was more gripping.

A quickfire draw. I made the blunder of assuming that chess had ended for the night. Then to my horror I turned to BBC’s Newsnight to learn Magnus and Serge were still slugging it out.   hastened back to my PC in time to follow the sensational concluding quick-play game which was to end the contest.

At that stage the commentators of the view that Magnus was psychologically finished. He had drifted from yet another near win to a draw with offered sneak swindle chances for his amazingly resilient opponent.

Then, the astonishing end to the entire match. Magnus, apparently showing signs of repeating the pattern of losing a winning game, spent much of his customary time advantage presumably searching for that elusive knockout blow. Karyakin had penetrated white’s position threatening mate. In what seemed a reckless counter attack.  Except he had seen an astonishing mate in three.

A rook check on the back rank drove black’s king into the Corner where it was cramped but not as secure as it looked. tdeceptively secure. In fact the game was already lost.

His next utterly unexpected move was a queen sacrifice offering black only two moves, two ways of taking the queen. Each led to mate in one move. If the king took, the rook mated behind the king (the corner h8 square). If the pawn took, the other rook mated by taking a pawn on the f7 square, to the side of the powerless king. It is reasonably obvious with a chess board, and if you have been told here is a brilliant move coming up.

“Oh my God” a commentator cried. “It’s all over. Magnus has won. Incredible.” It was. In olde days wealthy spectators would have showered gold on to the board at such a ‘bolt form the blue’.

Unable to sleep, I began capturing the moment, writing down what had jI had just witnessed. It was nearly midnight, six hours after the quick-play games had begun.

See also:

Dramatic end to world chess championship

The move that won the world chess championship


Magnus Carlsen plays a Trump Card

December 6, 2016
 Donad Trump
Magnus Carlsen started his defense of his world chess championship title by playing a move which sent the chess world into a viral debate about a hidden message to Donald Trump
November 2016. The World Championship of chess reaches its conclusion as the world champion sits down to play a twelve game match against his challenger.
Magnus Carlsen, one time wonder kid is now twenty-five years old and arguably approaching his prime.  His scientifically calculated strength puts him at an all-time high.  Stronger than Bobby Fischer.  Stronger than Gary Kasparov. Stronger that his Russian opponent ranked number nine in the world.
The match has been promoted by Acis who have put up a million dollars in  prize money, and moved the marketing and branding of the championship into the twenty-first century.
Amid the razzmatazz of its New York setting, there are virtual reality displays. FIDE (the FIFA of chess) has accepted a twenty-first century speed-up with parallels with changes in other sports such as tennis. In earlier world championships, the match if drawn in games, was awarded to the reigning champion. This time a drawn match leads to more games played at a faster tempo (quick play).  If these do not produce a winner, there is to be one pulsating blitz game known as bullet chess.  There must be a winner by mate, resignation or time loss. Provision is made for the unlikely draw by stalemate.
The first game produced headlines around the chess world, and a few more beyond the chess columns. To understand the story, you need to understand a rather weak pun based on the name an unusual and rather rarely-played opening chosen by the world champion for the first game of the match. Its name is the Trompowski attack, or the Tromp for short.  Yes, you can see what’s coming.
According to NBC

Is the world chess champion a Donald Trump fan? It sure looked that way Friday afternoon in New York City when defending world champion Magnus Carlsen opened his title match against Sergey Karjakin with a series of moves that may have been a nod to President-elect Trump.

That opening series isn’t that commonly used, so it took several minutes for onlookers to identify what the Norwegian grandmaster was up to. The Trompowsky is a way to avoid a series of other openings that are heavily analyzed, echoing Trump’s own refusal to play by the conventional political rule book.

One match commentator noted that Trump had won earlier in the week and now the Norwegian champion was using a similar-sounding method. “It will be known from now on as the Trump-owsky Attack,” one waggish spectator quipped.

Trump raised the hackles of a number of American chess players last month when he incorrectly claimed that the United States does not have any grandmasters, the highest level of players in the royal game.Trump even managed to get the term wrong when he said, while criticizing the difficulty of the nation withdrawing from multi-lateral trade agreements, “you can’t terminate — there’s too many people, you go crazy. It’s like you have to be a grand chess master. And we don’t have any of them.”In fact, the U.S., with 90 grandmasters, has the third largest number of players with that title in the world out of all nations.

Trumpmania
There had been an appetite for Trump stories, building up to his electoral triumph. This one has as little relation to truth as many of the others. Did Magnus chose his chess opening in any way influenced by a ropy pun?
The choice of opening was unexpected (one reason to chose it). But even Magnus, not known for being better prepared in the openings than his closest rivals, would have risked a capricious choice.
Or would he?
To be continued
To the suprise of most commentators, Magnus could make little impact on his opponent who continued to build his repuation as a most tenacious player of current grandmasters. At the half-way stage of the match, all games had been drawn.
Watch out for our next post describing the thrilling last day of the context which will go down in chess history.


Locard’s exchange forensic principle: Every contact leaves a trace

May 3, 2016

Edmond Locard

The great forensic scientist Edmond Locard is known as the French Sherlock Holmes. Locard’s exchange principle is that every contact leaves a trace

A gun fired leaves residues that are revealed in the hair, on skin, and most markedly on the thumb and forefinger of the shooter. Unfortunately for the criminal investigator, and fortunately for the perp, the residues can be transferred.  Not just to another person using the gun, but by the act of shaking hands, or other physical contact.

Read the rest of this entry »


How to avoid bad chess positions and what to do next when you find yourself in one

September 21, 2015

Tudor Rickards This post was prepared for a chess talk to members of East Cheshire Chess Club. It may be of interest to club-level players or parents who are increasingly being beaten up by their children at the game of chess. With a little ‘translation’, it may also have value as a guide to strategy and leadership as has been indicated in earlier posts

Anyone who wanders around our chess club during a match will know I get into bad positions, and sometimes get out of trouble. It’s not because I don’t know how to avoid bad positions, it is more that I break rules I was taught as a schoolboy.

Here are the rules I break, and why that is usually a bad thing. I also suggest what to try if you still break them, and find yourself in a bad position.

Rule 1.  Do not fall behind in development

This means do not move the same piece frequently, when other pieces remain in their original positions.

Rule 2. Don’t move pawns without thinking about where the opponent will attack the pawns

Pawns can’t move backwards.  When you move a pawn try to visualize your ‘chain’ of pawns, how the structure may persist, and how it may be broken.  The great Nimzowich teaches us how to attack pawn chains at the weakest point.

Rule 3. Beware of simplifying moves

Unless you are winning, you should avoid simplifying exchanges. More  often than not, exchanges favour the second player.  (Check this out on your games with a Search Engine. See how the advantage swings.)

Rule 4. Calculate most carefully when you think the position has become complicated

Some positions do not need a lot of calculations. For example, if your opponent has been playing the moves you expected. These are balanced positions, with pawns defended,  pieces coordinated.  Decide on how to strengthen the position.  Coordinate pieces to avoid under-protection, and over-burdened pieces. These are where tactics come in.

Rule 5. Practice Plan B

A plan B might be a change of strategy. If you have made a mistake you may need to find a plan that you hadn’t thought of. For example, sometimes if you lose  a pawn it leaves your opponent’s position slightly weakened. Look how to exploit it as if you made a pawn sacrifice.

Remember most games have chances for the player with an inferior position.  A losing game is different from a lost game. Your opponents may relax waiting for the game to be over in their favour

Rule 6.  Avoid time trouble

Try To make safe and simple ‘holding’ moves when you are in a familiar position, to keep up with your opponent’s time.  If you do get into time trouble, try to anticipate your opponent’s move and use your opponent’s time.  If you have guessed his or her move, reply quickly.

Rule 7.  Move quickly, but not too quickly

However careful you are, you will sometimes move too quickly. There are various bits of advice that can help. I found this on avoiding blunders useful not just for beginners.

Other things worth thinking about

In a series of exchanges, watch out for zwischenzug moves (intermediate moves that can ruin a combination).

If you have no obvious move, then you need to see what  candidate moves you can think of.  If you are thinking of breaking principles, be more careful.

There are many useful suggestions about avoiding blunders.  This article is worth studying.

Comments welcomed for other tips about blunders and how to avoid them.