Friday, October 30, 2009

Fruits and Nuts - Crazy Chess Players

When one thinks of chess players, visions of Hollywood glitz and glam instantly come to mind.  Handsome strapping lads with scores of beautiful women on their arms, being incessantly hounded by the paparazzi is pretty standard fare for top level chess players. Despite all of the glory, admiration and money being a top level chess player brings, it may surprise you to know that not all chess players are on Hollywood's A-list of celebrities.  It's true.  In fact, occasionally the game of chess actually draws some eccentric people.  I realize it's a little difficult to comprehend how this game might appeal to reclusive weirdos but believe me, there are some out there albeit hard to find.

Throughout chess history there have been a few fruits and nuts who combine to make the perfect "crazy salad". This is their moment.

Aron Nimzowitsch -
Nimzowitsch was a bit of an odd bird.  His most outrageous moment was perhaps when he lost first prize in a rapid tournament to Fritz Saemisch he jumped up on a table in the tournament room and screamed "Why must I lose to this idiot?"  However there were other oddities that landed him on this list.  Because honestly, have we not all insulted someone in a fit of rage or slashed all the 4 tires on their Ford Focus? We've all been there. So I cannot fault Nimzowitsch for that outburst.

Nimzowitsch's doctor told him he needed to exercise more.  The eccentric master heeded this advice by frequently performing aerobics in the chess hall during tournaments.  He also believed blood flow to his head would help him think better so he, on more than one occasion, would go to a corner of the chess hall and stand on his head for a few minutes.  Nimzowitsch also believed each time he attended a restaurant, regardless of where, the chef would intentionally give him less food than everyone else at the table.  Siegbert Tarrasch once remarked of Nimzowitsch, "he pretends to be crazy in order to drive us all crazy."

Carlos Torre -
Mexican Grandmaster Carlos Torre was addicted to pineapple sundaes. I don't mean he just liked them, I mean he was obsessed with pineapple sundaes like Hillary Clinton is addicted to pantsuits.  He would eat several a day, sometimes more than 10.  He also had somewhat of an affinity for being naked.  He was arrested once for running down 5th avenue completely nude.  Torre was also once riding a bus, filled with passengers, and decided it would be a good idea to take off all of his clothes while in transit.

Bobby Fischer -
American born legend, Fischer is on everyone's "Top 5 players of all time" list.  After Fischer's world championship in 1972, his train sort of derailed somewhere.   Fischer was bitterly anti-semitic and at some point became wholly anti-American after some ugly clashes with the US government over some tax issues and playing abroad.  After 9/11, Fischer was quoted on a foreign radio program celebrating the terrorist attacks saying things such as, "what goes around comes around for the United States." And he publicly called for the death of President Bush as well as a military takeover of the United States so that hundreds of thousands of Jewish ring-leaders could be executed.  Fischer also denied the holocaust and at one point after retiring from chess claimed that "exposing the Jews for the criminals they are, for the murderers they are" is now his life's work. 

Akiba Rubinstein -
Rubinstein was a bit of a recluse and was a little on the anti-social side.  Later in his career he very much disliked having visitors in his home and his wife would warn, even his close friends, "do not visit too long, or Mr. Rubinstein will kindly excuse himself by crawling out of a window."

Alexander Alekhine -
Although he did not suffer from clinical "crazy", Alekhine did suffer from severe addiction to the sauce.  It has been noted that his brilliance, although remarkable, could have been even more impressive had it not been for the fact that he lost (and won) many tournaments completely drunk.  Apparently Alekhine even relieved himself during the middle of tournaments, on the floor, more than once.

Paul Morphy -
The brilliant chess prodigy and American genius had somewhat of a mental collapse in his late 20's after dominating world champions in chess.  He became a celebrity worldwide and an instant hometown hero upon returning home from a European chess exhibition in which he brutalized every master he played. Despite his successes with chess, Morphy was indignant on launching a successful law career which never really came to fruition, due to his anti-secession stance on the American Civil War and other factors.  Occasionally prospective clients would come by his law practice but only to talk chess instead of law which annoyed Morphy, even to the point of outrage that people wanted to talk chess with him.  He also suffered from severe paranoia that his brother-in-law was trying to poison him.  The later years of his life he would only eat meals prepared by his mother for fear of being poisoned.  He all at once quit playing chess never to return to the game.

Wilhelm Steinitz -
Rounding out our list is the spirited firecracker Steinitz.  The Austrian born master was a very animated character who had a fierce temper and was noted by his contemporaries as a very poor loser and an equally poor winner.  He once spit on his opponent Blackburne in a chess match in a fit of anger. Later in his life, Steinitz claimed he could telephone anyone in the world without the use of a wire.  I admit that does not sound all that outlandish now, but this was 1899 we are talking about.  Steinitz would spend much of his time walking around his backyard, barefoot having imaginary conversations with people on his "wireless" phone. Apparently this behavior occurred in all types of weather. He also claimed he could move chess pieces with his mind.  Steinitz also tried to call God once with his wireless telephone and challenged God to a chess match.  Steinitz died in an insane asylum in 1900.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Kings of Chess Wallpaper: Bobby Fischer

I had the idea to do this Kings of Chess series featuring the greatest players of all time.  Fischer seemed like a natural first choice for several reasons. He is probably the most recognizable name in the chess community, he was the only American world champion and he recently passed away.  However the real reason I chose Fischer is because I really can identify with his tenacity.  His will to win was insatiable and he psychologically dominated a game of chess before the first move was even played.  He was never at a loss for words so when I went out looking for a quote from Fischer to attach to this wallpaper the one I ended up with summed up Bobby Fischer's playing style and spirit in once simple sentence.  If you would like to request a Kings of Chess wallpaper feel free to leave a suggestion in the comment box below.




Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Best iPhone Apps for Chess Players

The fusion of technology with a classic game like chess is impossible to avoid.  So for those of you out there who have decided to bring to the 21st century to your chess game I hope you will enjoy my research. In no particular order I present to you the best 10 chess apps for the iPhone as determined by me, because I am the pinnacle of authority on all things awesome.

Chess Genius - $9.99
No this is not my biography.  It's a pretty cool chess engine. Despite the fact that the icon looks like Super Mario Brothers Chess, this is actually quite an impressive program.  First and foremost it is a strong chess engine but the features that come along with it are nice. You can import PGN files from the Internet or email games you've played in PGN format.  There is no Internet or Bluetooth 2-player mode.

Shredder - $9.99
In doing my research about a dozen programs claimed to be the strongest chess engine on the iPhone.  I have good reason to believe Shredder has a reasonable claim to this fact over Joe's Plumbing Repair Guide and Chess Program.  Shredder has consistently performed among the elite in the world ranks of computer chess.  I have no reason to doubt it would not do the same on the iPhone.  Shredder also comes with 1,000 tactical puzzles built-in and two methods of moving your pieces, drag and drop or touch square. Also, if you purchase a copy of Shredder 11 for the Mac or PC, you receive a coupon to download Shredder for the iPhone free!

Glaurung Chess - FREE
It's a good chess engine and it's free. So what if the interface and chessboard is totally dookie brown?  It's free!  And please, don't come at me with "ohh but it's not as strong as Shredder."  Set Glaurung to it's hardest setting, beat it, then I will listen to your complaint about the strength of its engine.  I'll crane kick you in the face for whining to me but I will listen to your complaint before delivering said kick.  Did I mention it was free?

Chess Quest - $2.99
Despite this stupid looking zebra-thing for its mascot I dare you to find a collection of 1,200 tactical puzzles with interactive solutions and variations for $2.99.  Now you can study tactics anywhere; weddings, funerals, job interviews, it's all in the power of your hands to become a better tactician.

Chess Clock - $2.99
This thing does just about everything a $30.00 clock does.  I don't even take a clock to tournaments anymore.  This past weekend neither me nor my opponent had a clock.  After I berated him for 10 minutes for being totally irresponsible for not having a clock with him I whipped this sucker out and suggested we play with this one.  So I actually have a rated tournament game under my belt using this app.  It has both Bronstein and Fischer time increments as well as a pause slider and screen saver override.
Chess Database $4.99
A collection of 500,000 classical games!  Has a search function for player but does not allow you to search by opening or positional theme.  Nonetheless 500,000 classic games for $4.99 tough to beat.

RandomChess - $0.99
All this program does is shows you an array of how to set up a chess960 game with one click.  Some people hate it because they think they are downloading a chess engine that plays 960.  Not so.  Nonetheless I like it cause setting up a game of 960 with a 6-sided dice is annoying, and it runs a good chance of getting your butt kicked.

Chess DB - $3.99
The app allows you to import custom databases from the Internet and view the games.  It also comes with several ready-made databases like 'The best games of Alekhine', etc.  Only thing that sucks about this app is the chess board is really busy and really detracts from the overall enjoyment of the app.  Still this could be useful for keeping a collection of your own games too.

Chess with Friends - Free
What's really cool about this sucker is it has built-in WiFi and Bluetooth play.  So you have another friend with the same app you can sit right beside each other and play with this app.  OR.  You could sit beside one another and get out a REAL board and set of pieces and play, but I digress.  This also allows you to play correspondence chess with strange men online.  Don't even act like there's a chance you could play some chick online it flat won't happen.  The Internet is where men are men, women are men and children are FBI agents... bank on it. 

Handy Chess - $1.99
I really like this one.  Yeah its 2 bones for a chess app that let's you play humans online.  I know 'Chess with Friends' is free but the sparkling difference is this one actually plugs you into the FICS server where you can have an actual screenname and rating.  I am displeased they have not yet enabled the "talk trash to your opponent when he's losing feature", but if I keep emailing them everyday I'm sure they'll come around.

That's pretty much it.  If you disagree with one of these or think you have found a better app that I forgot to include you are simply flat wrong.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Chess Wallpaper: It's Good to be King

It's good to be king... except when your castled position gets obliterated.  We've all been there right?  Well for those times when it actually does feel good to be king I created this wallpaper for your enjoyment. If you enjoy this wallpaper please pass it on to your chess friends.




Monday, October 5, 2009

Wallpaper: Face Off

So I decided to take a stab at chess wallpaper.  There are a ton of cool 3D wallpapers out there and such that it looks like people did as art projects. However, I had a really difficult time finding chess wallpapers that really captured the spirit of what makes chess great.  In this first wallpaper I tried to do this just.   I hope you will enjoy it.



Sunday, October 4, 2009

End Game Lesson 2: There are always exceptions

In endgames there are always exceptions, even to the exceptions! Let me show you what I mean.  The position to the left is with black to move.  If you showed this problem to a non-club player or even a club player without end game skills, the patzer would quickly say "Black should win this easily, he's up a whole queen!"

Poor foolish know-nothing patzer.  Every chess player with an ounce of end game knowledge knows for certain this is a draw.  What the patzer does not realize is even though he is in fact up an entire Queen, a rook-pawn on the 7th and a bishop-pawn on the 7th rank can actually draw versus that queen.  Hence this is an exception to a Queen being better than a pawn.

1... Qg2+ (any Queen move that remains on the B file is an instant draw by stalemate) 2. Kb8 Qg8+ 3. Kb7 Qf7+ 4. Kb8 (4... Ka6?? 5. Qa8! -+) Qe8+ 5.Kb7  Qd7+ 6. Kb8 (6. Ka8?? 7.Qc7#) Qd8+ 7.Kb7 =.  Black not make any progress because if he tried to move his King up to aid in the fight white answers with an immediate a8=Q and white draws. 

Now here is the funny part, in endgames there are always exceptions... even to the exceptions.  In this instance it turns out the silly patzer is right!  This is a forced win for black!  I just showed you how black throws away the win by playing 1. Qg2+ or 1. Qh7 with similar ideas.  The trick here is to bring the black King closer with tempo. Thus the subtle 1... Kb3! wins.

1... Kb3!  2.Kb7 Kc4+! 3. Ka8 Qh2 4. Kb8 Kb5! (go ahead, make a Queen, see if I care) 5. a8=Q  Kb6! (that's what's up white, now what you gonna do??)  Here white has nothing. 6.  Qb7+ loses to 6. Qxb7#

The inherent lesson here is not necessarily mechanical, moreover it's a lesson in dogma.  There is absolutely no room for rigid thinking in chess.  How foolish would you feel if you agreed to a draw in this position only to plug the game into Fritz later to have him tell you, "HAHAHAHA you fool! You agreed to a draw in a won position!"  I am not necessarily saying that it would have been easy or even possible to find this continuation over the board, it's certainly a tricky one.  If you had shut down your brain when presented with the problem you have no chance at a win at all.  When presented with this kind of problem over the board instead of saying, "Oh rook-pawn on the 7th, draw."  Force yourself to work out the continuation in your mind as to why it is indeed a draw.  Look for some crazy variations that give your opponent a real chance to stumble into a mistake, then if all roads lead to a draw only then should graciously offer.