Chess-Playing Presidents, Kasparov's Robots, And A Treatment For Alcoholism

Chess-Playing Presidents, Kasparov's Robots, And A Treatment For Alcoholism

| 9 | Chess Event Coverage

For the second installment of "In Other News," we take a small liberty. Usually these stories only go back a few weeks, but in the case of one presidential candidate and his chess-playing exploits, below you'll find a story from 2014. 

You'll also see stories that include Kasparov, the economy, Saudi clerics, home mortgages, and more, in surely one of the most varied compilations we've posted. Don't forget to read part one, where Paul Rudd and Stephen Hawking contemplate the cosmos.

The Politics Of Chess

Is it important for a potential world leader to be able to tell a fork from a pin? We will let you decide that, but recently this article resurfaced of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders playing in a simul with his state's only master, NM David Carter. Sanders is currently running for president of the United States; the event was from 2014.

Vermont Senator, presidential candidate, and amateur chess player Bernie Sanders (photo courtesy

Judging by the picture in the article, he seemed to know how to castle and there may have even been a battery on the d-file. Still, Sanders capitulated after 77 minutes.

If he does go on to win the Democratic nomination and the general election, where would his chess skills put him in the pantheon of predecessors? In 2012, the World Chess Hall of Fame featured the exhibit: "Power in Check: Chess and the American Presidency." Every president's chess skills and anecdotes were thoroughly researched (we find out that James Monroe bought "several chess books" from Thomas Jefferson, including Philidor's "Analysis of the Game of Chess").

A chess set on display at the William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum in Little Rock, Arkansas. Famous U.K. people are used as pieces.

Analysis of the exhibit's findings will surely elicit comments, although this fact is presented here solely as an observation: The last three Democratic U.S. presidents played chess (Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter) while the last six Republican U.S. presidents did not play chess (George W. Bush, George H.W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, Gerald Ford, Richard Nixon, Dwight Eisenhower).

Early Christmas Gift For Endgame Lovers

While our first offering was a bit silly, this story is quite dense. How so? We're not talking about one person's chess game, we're talking about a compilation of more than 85,000 endgame studies for sale in one database.

Harold van der Heijden's collection, revised with more accurate solutions and extra compositions, is likely the largest in the world. He's also an "FM" of composition

At one puzzle every five minutes without rest, you can finish the entire 85,000-entry database in just shy of one year.

If you love studies, don't forget to check out Yochanan Afek's weekly contribution for Here's the latest installment from the world's rarest of grandmasters -- as of 2015 Afek is one of only six GMs of composition!

Here's Afek's first puzzle he posted in his series. White to move and win (A. Maksimovskikh, 1987):

Saudi Arabian Grand Mufti Forbids Chess

In a story discussed much both inside and outside the chess world, a video of Sheikh Abdulaziz al-Sheikh surfaced where he denounced chess due to its enticement to gamble and instill hatred with one's opponent. He called the game "the work of Satan."

Venerable newspapers like The Guardian and The New York Times both picked up the story, as did many chess-playing Facebook and Twitter users.

Saudi Arabian chess officials were quick to dispel this viewpoint, and pointed out that events are taking place as scheduled.


The country participated in its first Olympiad in 2014, ranked 157th and winning three matches .

Kasparov's Robots Friendlier Than Hawking's or Musk's

Former world champion Garry Kasparov isn't as worried as others about technology usurping power from humans. His viewpoint is contrary to physicist Stephen Hawking, who keeps making our news section, and entrepreneur Elon Musk, founder of Paypal and Tesla Motors.

"What they’ve said is more like a PR stunt rather than a scientific forecast," Kasparov is quoted as saying in response to Musk's warning that artificial intelligence is like "summoning the demon."

GM Alexander Grischuk has played several games versus a robot, but perhaps Kasparov should be more worried about "Atlas," which was just unveiled this week.

Kasparov's optimism continued: "Our future will not be about technology taking over, but humans using technology to do great things."

He also added an interesting statement about the melding of human and computer powers. "Give a good chess player even the most basic computer to work with and they will be (sic) any supercomputer every time."

Presumably he either said or the reporter meant "beat" but the malapropism is amusing as written!

[Editor's note: tried this experiment in 2014, pairing Hikaru Nakamura with an old version Rybka against the latest available version of Stockfish. Stockfish beat the man-machine combo 1.5-0.5. Click here to read FM Mike Klein's article on the event.]

Bishops, Not Beers

Here's an innovative use for chess -- as a treatment for alcoholism. Although the linkage in the article is tenuous, a superficial analysis of a small village in India claims that its reliance on alcohol was overcome when chess was popularized.

What's not in question is how much the locals have taken to the game. Once achieving a 100 percent "chess literacy" rate that is still above 90 percent today, Marottichal in Southern India's Kerala state is known as "chess village." A recent movie, "August Club," featured the village's love for chess.

Trailer for "August Club"

If you're thinking that chess as a cure for addiction needs some scientific backing, that's already underway. At the London Chess Conference in 2015, Professor Sabine Vollstädt-Klein (no relation) of the University of Heidelberg and this reporter paneled a discussion on the topic. Her research is available as a powerpoint download here.

Chess Saves Economy?

Also presenting in London was Government Relations Director and Assistant Treasurer of the Australian Chess Federation John Adams, who posited that a diversified workforce in his home country relies on the skills that chess teaches. The economist's theory is that 21st century "STEM" jobs require more brain and less braun, and the game is uniquely poised to teach those skills.

Here's the reprinting of his article from The Daily Telegraph.

Natalia Zhukova Wins State Award

Current European Women's Champion GM Natalia Zhukova was recently recognized by Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. He awarded her the "Нагородити орденом княгині Ольги ІІ ступеня," which translates as the Order of Princess Olga II Award.

Recipients are bestowed the honor according to "personal merits in state, production, scientific, educational, cultural, charity and other spheres of social activities, for upbringing children in families."

GM Natalia Zhukova (left) enjoys the "Kings Versus Queens" game with IM Tania Sachdev at the 2016 Gibraltar Chess Festival.

Previously, GM Mariya Muzychuk received the same award last year for becoming women's world champion.

First Shogi, Next Mortgages Rates

Often chess computers are built with a higher purpose in mind, but that alternate use isn't usually to deduce human behavior and manage risk. That's changing with "Heroz," a company who made a Japanese chess (shogi) playing computer.

The automaton recently defeated its first professional shogi player, and now its programmers are thinking of a broader use -- channeling its intense processing power to crunch the data of multifarious forms of human judgment.

The layout of a shogi board (image: Wikipedia).

The article repeats the oft-quoted "Shannon number" that the number of possible chess positions is 10 to the 120th power. It goes on to say that in shogi, that number is 10 to the 220th power.

Ilyumzhinov Calls Sanctions "Reward" reported late last year that FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov had been sanctioned by the U.S. Department of the Treasury for "providing support to the government of Syria, including for facilitating Syrian government oil purchases from ISIL." Shortly thereafter, he stepped down temporarily as FIDE president.

Ilyumzhinov responded recently by telling Agence France-Presse (AFP), "These sanctions are a reward...Not every person gets to be on a sanctions list."

He added that he met Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in 2012 and that he plans to return to Damascus "to see what the situation is like."

Ilyumzhinov meets with Assad in April, 2012. | Photo courtesy of FIDE.

Other interesting notes: Ilyumzhinov considers himself a "colleague" and not a "friend" of Russian President Vladimir Putin. He also said that he plans to make 2016 the "Year of Chess" in the United States. "I'm in favor of America. They gave me sanctions, I gave them 30 chess tournaments." The article does not list those tournaments.

How To Win At Chess And Other Games With Math

We close with the most numbers-laden article of the lot -- how to use historical statistics to beat your opponent in chess, Monopoly, Connect-Four, and other games. We won't go into to those inferior games, as there's much to point and click within the three chess models.

First is a heat graph of various world champions in history and their utilization of certain squares. Comparing players over time yields fascinating results. For example, while all the grandmasters used d4 more than e4 when playing White, Judit Polgar visited that central square more than any other player analyzed (2.35 times per game). She was the only non-world champion scrutinized (Magnus Carlsen used d4 the second most per game -- 2.25 times). 

As if you needed reminding, Seth Kadish's research shows that strong players' pieces hit the center more than the sides. Weirdly, Steinitz was the only one moving to c6 more than f6 as Black.

Was there an aversion to d4 in the 19th century? Apparently. Wilhelm Steinitz "only" went there 1.78 times per game, lowest of any champion listed.

The rarest squares were the corners of course. As White, Jose Capablanca only touched h8 with a piece 0.03 times per game. Emanuel Lasker and Boris Spassky also only landed on h1 three times out of every hundred games while playing Black.

There's more! Two other graphs show the most popular moves through history, where we learn that before 1920 the Sicilian was in complete hibernation, and the likelihood of a chess piece surviving. Rook pawns are more than twice as likely to survive as center pawns, while strangely Black's center pawns are each more than five percent likely to avoid capture than their White sentries.

Randy Olson's research shows that the Pirc Defense has been "hiding" since the 1850s -- that's well before Vasja Pirc was even alive!

FM Mike Klein

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Mike Klein began playing chess at the age of four in Charlotte, NC. In 1986, he lost to Josh Waitzkin at the National Championship featured in the movie "Searching for Bobby Fischer." A year later, Mike became the youngest member of the very first All-America Chess Team, and was on the team a total of eight times. In 1988, he won the K-3 National Championship, and eventually became North Carolina's youngest-ever master. In 1996, he won clear first for under-2250 players in the top section of the World Open. Mike has taught chess full-time for a dozen years in New York City and Charlotte, with his students and teams winning many national championships. He now works at as a Senior Journalist and at as the Chief Chess Officer. In 2012, 2015, and 2018, he was awarded Chess Journalist of the Year by the Chess Journalists of America. He has also previously won other awards from the CJA such as Best Tournament Report, and also several writing awards for mainstream newspapers. His chess writing and personal travels have now brought him to more than 85 countries.

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