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
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 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.
Tourist waiting for a bus to take her to the historic village of Ströbeck.
To Alex Hough for alerting me to the story
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.
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.
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.
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.
When a qualifier meets a top seeded tennis player, sometimes caveman tactics result. We review Andy Murray’s march with Yuri Bhambri, and consider the implications of all-out aggression in other sports and in business
The start of the Australian Open, the first major of the season. Somewhat against my better judgment, I get up in the small hours in the UK to see how Andy Murray is doing. His opponent, Yuki Bhambri, is a qualifier and ranked 317 in the world.
Half an hour into the match. Bhambri’s aggression is impressive. Murray breaks Bhambri’s serve but failed to capitalise, being broken himself, ringing the first set to a tense four games all. Murray then breaks and holds to take the set 6-4.
Both players are making excellent winners, but both are rather prone to unforced errors..
Bhambri serves first and holds. A discordant but enthusiastic chant rises up from tee-shirted Murray supporters. In the next game, good defense from the Indian draws errors from Murray, but the Scot’s resolve helps him survive; 1-1.
Bhambri continues with his aggressive style of play and wins service after more winners and errors. Murray replies with a love game bringing it to 2-2. Bhambri is still the aggressor and seems to be benefiting from winning though three rounds of qualifiers Murray breaks, then holds, making it 5-3.
Take out the errors…
Minus a few errors from each game, the quality of the match is more suited to be a second week tie. An edited film would be misleading. The commentators suggest Bhambri is playing like a top fifty player.
Defend Rally Attack
Murray continues to plays rather defensively with flashes of brilliance. I remember the coaching maxim: Defend Rally Attack. Murray too inclined to defend and Rally; Bhambri too inclined to go from defend to attack. This is evident again as Murray moves to 40-15. In returning, the all out attack opens up court, higher risk [one attacking return forces Murray to attack not rally, and he hits winner down the line. Murray wins serve reasonably easily and takes the set.
0nce the pattern is seen, it becomes clearer. Bhambri does not rally enough. I think of chess. All-out attack is the weaker player’s weapon which too often accelerates defeat, although the infrequent wins reinforces the pattern of ‘cave man’ play. [which suggests another idea: the infrequent upsets against seeds more obvious in first rounds, more chances for the cave man play to succeed.
A good example in first game of third set, when Bhambri grabs an ad point then a net point for him wins game and a break. Murray continues to rally and wait for errors. The pattern for me seems to persist but Bhambri wins and extends lead to 4-1. Murray wins own serve. 4-2. Pattern persists, and Murray breaks back. 4-4 and eventually into tie break.
Prediction for tie break
My prediction is that failure to Defend Rally Attack more dangerous in the tie break Murray goes to 5-2 then 6-2 and 6-3 but two then Murray closes it out as Bahmrhi ballons out a return.
Opponent is a junior world champion, but injury explains his low ranking.
Caveman chess was a popular term among British chess players to refer to violent attacks often unsound but always unsettling.
Rather than show an image of one ‘caveman’ chess player I had in mind, I choose the image from Wikipedia Commons.
Also thanks to Conor for helping in the editing process.
Pawn Sacrifice is a dramatized version produced by Edward Zwick of Bobby Fischer’s iconic chess match with Boris Spassky in 1972
Pawn Sacrifice was previewed at the recent Toronto film festival
It is a more fictionalized version than the earlier film Bobby Fischer takes on the world, and confirms the relative normality of protagonists Carlsen and Anand who are currently slugging it out for the World Chess Championship in Sochi.
Mostly positive reviews
Reviews on Pawn Sacrifice have been mostly positive. The most negative one I found was from The Guardian, and even that whetted my appetite for watching the film.
Probably a must see for chess players of a certain age, although a possible unsound sacrifice of two hours viewing time for the wider public.
In the build-up to the chess world championships Magnus Carlsen refuses to reveal who his support staff are. In Cricket, Australian captain Clarke says England’s captain kindly revealed his Cricket team to him. What’s all that about?
Two little stories about leadership, one from Chess, one from Cricket.
In India there are two sports stories this week about all-time greats. Sachin Tendulkar is playing his last international cricket match; and Viswanathan [‘Vishy’] Anand is defending his chess crown against the new chess prodigy and Norwegian ‘pawn star’ Magnus Carlsen.
Chess trends on Twitter
Yesterday, the official website of FIDE, the international chess organization, announced that chess had become the number one news item of all stories trending on Twitter. The rise of Indian chess owes much to Anand, who has help five world championships (if you include rapid play ones). Carlsen is being hailed as a mega-star who is bringing attention to chess globally .
Magnus keeps mum
At a pre-match press conference, the players were asked out their support teams. Vishy spoke glowingly of his back-up team who help in preparing openings and in studying the play of his opponent. The twenty two year old Magnus thanked him for the information but politely declined the invitation to respond.
Cook tells all
Half way around the world, Australia is hosting their fiercest cricket rivals England. In a remarkable press conference Australia captain Michael Clarke says England’s captain Alistair Cook has revealed the England team to him a week in advance of the test.
What’s all that about?
Vishy says that the players ‘exchanged information’ only after playing the first game. The rest could be no more than mis-information. The same might be true of whatever Cook did or did not say to Clarke.
Was Cook [or Clarke] being a silly billy?
We seem to be entering the region of mind games. Chess is the more obvious mind game, but more many athletes and sporting coaches have gone in for psychological warfare. I have trouble believing the headline that Cook told Clarke the names of the team for the forthcoming test.
Maybe Clarke is trying to make Cook look like a silly billy.