21 November 2017

Spectating the 88th FIDE Congress

FIDE has just published its annual set of internal documents emanating from its most recent Congress, 88th FIDE Congress: Executive Board Minutes and Annexes (fide.com); 'FIDE publishes the minutes and annexes of the Executive Board meeting that was held in Goynuk, Antalya, Turkey, 13-14 October 2017.' As in nearly every year, they provide the best view that an outsider has of the internal workings of the organization.

Just as I've always done after previous Congresses, I looked first at the 2017 Executive Board Minutes. I was not surprised to see that the U.S. sanctions against Kirsan Ilyumzhinov are still FIDE's most pressing issue. I discussed the background for those sanctions in last year's post, Spectating the 87th FIDE Congress (December 2016), and they are not to be taken lightly. According to the U.S. Treasury Department, Ilyumzhinov served as a middleman between two groups who were unable to conduct business openly. Following are initial, relevant excerpts concerning the impact of the sanctions as taken from the minutes of the 88th FIDE Congress, Executive Board meeting.

1. Brief of President K. Ilyumzhinov.

[Ilyumzhinov] said that as for his sanctions, are they in the way when he travels, develops and promotes chess? You know that since December 2015 he is in the process of clarifying his situation with the U.S. Department of Treasury. He has officially signed two contracts with the U.S. lawyers who defend his interest in this case. Lately there had been four hearings on his case in the U.S. Dept. of Treasury. He was sure that he will be invited to the USA very soon. As for trips, besides the USA, he is able to visit all countries in all continents. He paid his trips in air company Lufthansa and others, he stayed in hotels and organised events and this did not interfere with his activities abroad.

He also established the Chess for Peace Foundation in Washington, London, and Brussels. During this year he has organised many events, by paying and assisting through this foundation, to many chess clubs in quite a few countries. He attracted many companies and many businessmen from all over the world. He has received invitations from more than a hundred countries and many Russian regions, to come and give a lecture, to bring books and chess equipment, to attend opening of various chess clubs, and to help chess federations. Yesterday many Presidents whom he met, invited him to visit their countries.

1.1. Report of the Deputy President. [G. Makropoulos]

I would like to say that after Baku [87th FIDE Congress] we had successfully organized, probably the best World Championship in chess that we have organized, ever in New York. And it was on a very high level organized with great success in media and internet. I think Mr. Merenzon, will refer later to specific numbers. And I remind you that this was an idea of Kirsan to organize this championship in New York. And it was very pity that at the end he was not able to go there. He said that few days before the event, he tried, and they stopped him.

I was there but I tried to avoid going to the opening ceremony or to the closing ceremony. Other officials from FIDE, they have represented FIDE in these ceremonies. When I was there, I tried to keep a very low profile for one reason. I didn’t want to downgrade the importance of Kirsan on that period because we were giving a fight, first of all, to protect our Organization of the fact that Kirsan has been under sanctions, but at the same time, we didn’t want, of course, Kirsan to leave FIDE, and we didn’t want Kirsan to be insulted from all these… that were going in our family. I will refer to this later in my report. [...]

One of the most important efforts that we have to do in the last period… it was, despite of the problems that we were facing, to try to keep the stability in our organization. The truth is that it’s not easy. We face really serious problems that I have to refer to them, but what I want to say is that for me, all these problems, they were not political and they were not personal because many times it has been an effort for these problems to be presented as political problems between the people or personal problems.

I would like to remind you that in Baku, in General Assembly, there was an effort to go to a voting against Kirsan Ilyumzhinov being president in FIDE under sanctions. It was not clear what exactly the people that had the initiative to present their proposals were looking for, vote of non-confidence, whether they were going to go farther to force Kirsan to resign. We stand by Kirsan, and we make it clear: we understand that the sanctions are a big problem that we have in FIDE, but we don't believe that this Organization should insult Mr. Ilyumzhinov by trying to force him to resign. We don't want this. We're not looking for this, and at least few people there, they made it very clear.

I can remember myself, Jorge Vega, Israel Gelfer, that we made very clear that what we believe is that Kirsan should not run to the next elections. And maybe on that moment there were people in the meeting that were thinking that we don't believe really on this, and we say we are expressing this view because we just wanted to protect Kirsan on that moment. The truth is that we really believe this. And we have to make a big effort the next months to convince Kirsan that he should not run.

I think Adrian [Siegel, FIDE Treasurer] can refer to the problems that already we have faced with our banks and our insurance company in Switzerland, and the situation, of course, it can be worse in case that Kirsan is the president because now we have stopped everything, all the efforts in Switzerland to take out our accounts from the banks there, because we have explained that Kirsan is not a part of the decision making procedure, that he is not involved in the business of FIDE, he’s our president only. And somehow we convinced them that they should not insist.

But the truth is that if Kirsan could win these elections and comes back, they will believe, all of them, that we were cheating them, that we were lying to them, that we are not a serious organization. Immediately they will kick us out. So all these months we were trying to convince Kirsan not to run, to find an alternative. Somebody else could. We had even discussions about the possibility that Mr. Filatov could run. We had discussions even one year and a half about such a possibility or somebody else from FIDE, even from another country. Unfortunately, we could not reach an understanding that this is what we should do in FIDE. Kirsan really wished very much that he should run at least for one more term.

Later in the meeting, Ilyumzhinov gave a more detailed defense of his personal actions, but I'll save that for another post. Along with that item, I'll look at the same subjects I covered in connection with last year's 'Spectating the 87th Congress':-

On my other chess blog, I'll do a follow-up to last year's report:-

That should keep me busy for the next month or so.

20 November 2017

Improve Engine Hardware - High Performance

The heart of last week's post, Improve Engine Hardware - Parts List, was a three-column table:-

The following table gives a side-by-side comparison of those two sources for the 'most important' components.

A list of components for a high-end chess engine was posted last month by Chessdom.com, 44 cores server to power TCEC Season 10 (October 2017):-

The premier computer chess event TCEC Season 10 is starting next week with the participation of the strongest chess software. The event will not only be record breaking regarding the ELO and strength of the engines, but also the hardware for S10 will be a 44 core server.

Another reliable source appeared last week on Chessbase.com, Building the ultimate chess machine (November 2017):-

Pros travel around the world almost constantly, and the elite players more than any. You might imagine this would mean they are dependent on top-of-the-line laptops, which they certainly have as well, but they all know that a top desktop computer will always outgun even the most formidable laptop. The solution is simply to access their desktop computer remotely, via the internet.

Here are the specific hardware recommendations from both sources.

  TCEC Chessbase
CPU Intel Dual Xeon 2699 v4 - Total 44 cores AMD RYZEN Threadripper 1950X 16-Core
Mobo Supermicro X10DRL-i ASRock X399 Professional Gaming sTR4
RAM 64 GB RAM meaning max of 16 GB hash per engine G.SKILL TridentZ Series 32GB (2 x 16GB) 288-Pin DDR4 3200
Cooling ? Arctic Liquid Freezer 240

The Chessbase article raised another relevant question:-

What if you could put together three full computers, each with 50% of the performance, for the price of one Threadripper [i.e. AMD Ryzen Threadripper 1950X]? In other words, getting 50% more analysis power at your fingertips. The recommendation would still be one Threadripper.

For a discussion of the Dual Xeon 2699, which might be the highest performance hardware currently running chess engines, see Two 22 Core Xeon CPUs!? (youtube.com). I like the use of the chess symbol ('!?') in the title.

19 November 2017

A Six-Figure Chess Item at Auction

Here on Top eBay Chess Items by Price, four-figure auction items -- selling for $1000 or more -- are not unusual. Five-figure items are less usual. The only such items I can recall appeared during the last few years:-

  • Man Ray Chess Set; (September 2015); 'With a starting price of US $10.000, the set sold for US $18.000 after receiving six bids.'
  • Chess Sculpture at Auction (November 2016); '$10.000 after five bids at live auction'
  • Chess Sets at Live Auction (December 2016); 'A Swiss Pearwood Animal and Bird Chess Set, 19th Century; sold for US $11,000 after 9 bids.'

The item pictured below was titled 'Marcel Duchamp : Pocket Chess Set'. After a starting price of US $160.000, the auction lasted two minutes, with the bid rising by increments of $10.000 every ten seconds or so. The winning bid was $340.000 after 13 bids.

The previous edition of 'Top eBay Chess Items', Marcel Duchamp on eBay, featured an etching where 'the auction was conducted by the well-known Sotheby’s', and the auction behind this current post was also by Sotheby’s. The description started,

PROVENANCE: Harold M. Phillips, New York (a gift from the artist). Thence by descent.

It continued with 'EXHIBITED:', which was empty, and 'LITERATURE', which listed four references that I omit here. The rest of the description was a long note on the overlap of Duchamp's art and his chess. It started,

CATALOGUE NOTE: Marcel Duchamp had a lifelong fascination with chess. Ostensibly "retiring from art" in 1923, he devoted the next ten years of his life to professional tournaments and by 1925, he had attained the rating of Master from the French Chess Federation.

The rest of the description can be found on duchamp, marcel pocket chess set (sothebys.com), where a few other important details about the auction can be found:-

Estimate: 200.000 - 300.000 USD
Lot Sold: 423.000 USD (hammer price with buyer's premium)
Signed Marcel Duchamp and dated NY 1944
Pocket chessboard in leather, celluloid and pins
6 1/2 by 4 in.; 16.5 by 10.1 cm
Executed circa 1944

The description also mentioned,

In 1944, Julien Levy organized an exhibition called The Imagery of Chess and asked thirty-two Surrealist artists to submit their own chess set designs. Duchamp submitted an example of his Pocket Chess Set, to which he added a single rubber glove (this work has since disappeared but was later replicated).

For more about that exhibition on this blog, see a post from earlier this year, The Imagery of Chess, St. Louis (August 2017).

17 November 2017

Knight Solo

Whenever a chess piece appears solo in a photo or drawing, nine times out of ten it's a chess Knight. Take, for example, another edition of Flickr Friday earlier this year, A Lonely Knight. So far, the photo below has had 2504 views and 41 faves ('favorites', including mine), indicating that its appeal is more than artist inspiration alone.


Chess Knight © Flickr user Michal Kosmulski under Creative Commons.

The description says only,

A recent origami design of mine -- chess knight with a corrugation-based mane.

Eliminating the tags for chess leaves 'origami', 'corrugation', and 'Khepera paper', which leaves little doubt as to its construction. Among the 13 Flickr groups to which it belongs, two groups are for chess:-

The 'Top Contributors' to these groups are also worth exploring.

16 November 2017

The Einstellung Effect

Spotted in the March 2014 issue of Scientific American, under the heading 'Psychology'. The introduction on the magazine's contents page said,

The human brain has a dogged tendency to stick with a familiar solution to a problem -- the one that first comes to mind -- and to ignore alternatives, even when they are superior.

The first two pages of the related article are shown in the following image.

'Why Good Thoughts Block Better Ones'

Article by Merim Bilalic and Peter McLeod
Illustration by Danny Schwartz

The caption on the right says,

While we are working through a problem, the brain's tendency to stick with familiar ideas can literally blind us to superior solutions.

The article starts,

In a classic 1942 experiment, American psychologist Abraham Luchins asked volunteers to do some basic math by picturing water jugs in their mind. [The participants had to figure out how to transfer liquid between the containers to measure out precisely 100 units.] Luchins presented his volunteers with several more problems that could be solved with essentially the same three steps; they made quick work of them. Yet when he gave them a problem with a simpler and faster solution than the previous tasks, they failed to see it. [...]

The water jug experiment is one of the most famous examples of the Einstellung effect: the human brain's dogged tendency to stick with a familiar solution to a problem -- the one that first comes to mind -- and to ignore alternatives.

What does that have to do with chess?

In recent eye-tracking experiments, familiar ideas blinded chess players to areas of a chessboard that would have provided clues to better solutions.

The article (with a different title?!) is available to subscribers on the magazine's site: Why Your First Idea Can Blind You to a Better One (scientificamerican.com). Another, shorter article on the same site, How Psychologists Study the Einstellung Effect in Chess (also March 2014), deals with the chess experiment: 'Cognitive bias can prevent even the most talented chess players from seeing the swiftest path to victory'.

The full article (with 'PDF Download Available') can be found on Why Good Thoughts Block Better Ones (researchgate.net). As for the illustration of the two geezers playing chess in front of the fireplace -- which caught my attention before the rest of the article -- it can also be seen on the artist's site, Danny Schwartz Illustration.

Articles in Scientific American occasionally focus on chess to make a point. Recent examples that I featured on this blog were Are Boys Good at Chess? (March 2015) and Chess and EEG (December 2014), and there were more posts before those.

While I was looking at the version of the Bilalic & McLeod article on Researchgate.net, the site proposed two more articles by the same authors:-

It turns out the site has an entire category about the game, 'Recommendations: Discover more publications, questions and projects in Chess'. How have I managed to overlook this for so long?

14 November 2017

Kids Crafting Tips?

Whatever happened to chess.about.com? As my page linked on the sidebar, 'Chess for All Ages (site)', explains,

From September 2002 to August 2008, I was privileged to serve as the Chess Guide for About.com. During that time, I produced one feature article per week. Although About.com has an exclusive, perpetual license to use my material, it's unlikely that they will ever use it again. After I left, the company gave me permission to reuse the material: 'It would be fine to use your content as you please.' Here are copies of those articles.

First let's have a recap of the site's history, as tracked on this blog. In my last months at the company, when it was still a subsidiary of the New York Times (NYT), I noted a couple of changes at the top:-

In the month that I left, I wrote two posts giving my own perspective from within the company:-

Four years later, the NYT sold the operation to IAC (aka Answers.com, aka Ask.com):-

After that I stopped paying attention to the company, except to check on its content from time to time. I do the same for many chess sites. Wikipedia's page on About.com now goes to Dotdash, with the mention 'Redirected from About.com'. The last paragraph currently informs,

2017–present: Closure of About.com, rebranding to multiple publications under Dotdash • On May 2, 2017, IAC announced that they had renamed About.com to Dotdash, after about a year of transition. CEO Neil Vogel said that the company had lost mind share, and needed to change their marketing strategy. The company elected to refocus on vertical markets through its niche websites: The Balance (personal finance), Lifewire (consumer electronics), The Spruce (home and food), VeryWell (health), TripSavvy (travel), and ThoughtCo (education).

It turns out that chess is now included under 'The Spruce (home and food)', and its current address is thespruce.com/chess-4127460.

The breadcrumb trail for the chess articles shows:-

Thespruce.com > Crafts & Hobbies > Kids Crafting Tips > Chess
Kids crafting tips? Talk about clueless! For more about the most recent transition, see About.com launches The Spruce, a standalone site for Home Decor and Food (techcrunch.com; February 2017).

13 November 2017

Improve Engine Hardware - Parts List

Continuing with the previous post in this series, Improve Engine Hardware - Specs, the 'Advanced Chess' (serverchess.com) article from which I gathered the hardware specs, gave me another good lead:-

FirebrandX, a player and blogger on the Chess.com site, advises he's in the process of building a new computer for advanced chess. He revealed his list of components with the estimated street price of only $2325.

The list was part of a discussion about Best CPU for chess engine game analysis (chess.com; March 2013):-

I happen to be in the process of starting a new build. [...] I decided the Intel Hex core [Hexa] was the best way to go instead of the infinitely more expensive Xeon machines.

Another source of detailed information, with links to Amazon.com product pages (and some budget recommendations), is Best Computer Specs for a Chess Engine (castledrook.com; May 2017):-

Make sure that the CPU, motherboard, and RAM you choose are compatible with each other. You can do this by checking the socket information on the store page. [...] The CPU, motherboard, RAM, and cooling are all the most important, so budget most of your money towards those.

The following table gives a side-by-side comparison of those two sources for the 'most important' components.

  2013 2017
CPU Intel i7-3930K Hex Intel Boxed Core i7-6950X
Mobo Asus P9X79 Asus Rampage V Extreme
RAM Ram 64GB G.Skill 64GB (4 x 16GB)
Cooling Heat-sink/fan Corsair H115i Liquid CPU Cooler

The Intel i7-3930 is a 6-core chip, the i7-6950 is a 10-core chip, and the budget recommendation i7-7700 is a 4-core chip. Wikipedia's Intel Core explains,

Intel Core is a line of mid-to-high end consumer, workstation, and enthusiast central processing units (CPU) marketed by Intel Corporation. These processors displaced the existing mid-to-high end Pentium processors of the time, moving the Pentium to the entry level, and bumping the Celeron series of processors to low end.

Identical or more capable versions of Core processors are also sold as Xeon processors for the server and workstation markets. As of June 2017, the lineup of Core processors included the Intel Core i9, Intel Core i7, Intel Core i5, and Intel Core i3, along with the Y - Series Intel Core CPUs.

As for the other recommendations, the table gives enough info for further investigation. At first I was puzzled why chess engine users would want to build their own systems from scratch. Then I realized that it's standard operating procedure in the larger community of gamers.