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Goodbye Bobby January 18, 2008

Posted by dorigo in Art, chess, news.
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Bobby Fischer died today. A deranged but brilliant, brilliant mind. Chess players around the world cannot but be sad for this loss. Many had continued to hope for a further comeback from Fischer, the chess giant, and a few continued to claim to have observed him playing blitz on the internet chess club under anonymous handles, nonchalantly defeating the strongest grandmasters with weird moves. We will never know.

Comments

1. Fred - January 18, 2008

Yes, a very sad loss but maybe better for him as he is now out of his misery. He was a strange lot, indeed. Why the U.S. government wanted to persecute him in his later days was completely trivial compared to the problems we currently had at hand in the world. Personally, I have many fond memories surrounding Bobby and Boris in 1972. I was attending a U.S. DOD/NATO high school in Naples at the time. Our chess playing group (4 teenaged bums) would follow each game intently that summer and we would reenact them by switching sides and playing the respective players openings and continue our own game from that position. Night and day, we would carry our sets and play all over the city (which was a virtual playground of anarchy for 17-18 year olds) complimenting our other activities. Sitting among the ruins at Ercoleum with a chess set was a very memorable moment. I drank many a Peroni and cheap table wine while smoking MS and Nazionale cigarettes (only 300 lire a pack) to the bone pouring over the board ironically usually taking a beating when I played Fischer but frequently winning as Spassky. Whatever their motives might have been, the people of Iceland showed great compassion by taking in Mr. Fischer as one of their own when the rest of the world seemingly turned their back on him. Thank you, Reykjavik!

2. Myke - January 19, 2008

Indeed, a very sad day for chess! My chess pal Frigyes, or Hungarian Fred, plays in a similar way to Bobby Fischer. We intend to replay a few of his most enigmatic games soon – mostly trying to find counter moves to defeat his pawn strategies…

Myke.

3. Tripitaka - January 19, 2008

I don’t know anything about chess but i read with interest the Wikipedia entry on Fischer. There was a link to an audio interview with him where he stated he wasn’t interested in playing traditional (“old”) chess since every game is “pre-arranged” down to each individual move, which sounded a bit weird, is there some kind soul who could take the trouble to post a short note on what he meant?

I notice too that he prophetically said he would never return to USA while Bush was in power

4. Fred - January 19, 2008

Tripitaka,

That game of chess Fischer is referring to is not the game most of us mortals play. There are only a hundred or so in the world that play at a supreme level and that is an entirely different sport compared to what you and I and 99.9% of the world would play. I look forward to T’s thoughts about the “pre-arranged” game statement and maybe some insight into how these great players formulate their game plans and as well as their all important support teams.

5. Arun - January 19, 2008

Another tribute:
http://gambit.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/01/18/bobby-fischer-is-dead-at-64/index.html?ref=obituaries

Maybe Tommaso might give us his own commentary on one of Fischer’s games?

6. Tony Smith - January 19, 2008

Tripitaka said that Bobby Fischer “… stated he wasn’t interested in playing traditional (”old”) chess since every game is “pre-arranged” down to each individual move, which sounded a bit weird …”.

Maybe that is related to Fischer Random Chess. On a http://www.chessvariants.org web page Eric van Reem said:
“… during the match against Spasski in 1992 … friends from throughout the world sent him masses of … opening theory … analysis, that he ignored … After that experience Fischer started thinking about an alternative and started promoting … Fischer Random Chess, in which having knowledge about openings is not relevant.
In F.R Chess, just before the start of every game, both players pieces on their respective back rows receive an identical random shuffle, with the provisos, that one Rook has to be to the left and the other Rook to the right of the King, and one Bishop has to be on a light-colored square and the otherone on a dark-colored square. White and Black have identical positions. In F.R. Chess there are 960 starting postitions, the Classical Chess starting position and 959 other starting positions …
Fischer stated, that without access to databases of the millions of opening variations in traditional chess, computers do not really play chess all that well. …”.

Phil Ross, on an IEEE Spectrum Tech Talk web page, said:
“… Robert J. Fischer has died, apparently of kidney failure, in Reykjavik, Iceland … Fischer was aged 64 – the number of squares on a chessboard …
Fischer … patented FischerRandom chess, in which a computer sets up the initial position randomly (albeit under certain constraints). That way, no player can derive unfair advantage from pre-game opening preparation …[that]… innovation …[was]… meant, in part, to counter the influence of computers on human players. Interestingly, the … FischerRandom Chess … initial position … depend[s] on computer …[randomization]…
Fischer did face a computer once. He played a King’s Gambit against the MIT program and defeated it with ease; afterwards, he said computer chess would never get anywhere until chess masters began to work on the programs, alongside engineers. That was in 1978. Nineteen years later, Gary Kasparov lost a match against IBM’s chess machine, Deep Blue, the first such machine to have been exhaustively tuned – or trained? – by grandmasters

It had all happened before, in the 1850s, when a 21-year-old Louisianian named Paul Morphy went to Europe and crushed its best players. Like Fischer, Morphy was without peer; he developed in isolation from the best players; he had an encyclopedic “book” knowledge of the game; he was feted by the press and by the grandees of the day; he quit at the height of his fame; he exhibited signs of eccentricity verging on madness. Morphy, though trained as a lawyer, never practiced, but lived out his bachelor existence on an inheritance, refusing ever to speak of chess.
No such towering player can ever come again, for chess is no longer what it was. …”.

According to an SI.com web article by William Nack:
“… Fischer revered … Morphy … They are the only two Americans ever acclaimed as world chess champions, and there remains that striking parallel in their careers. “Fischer’s like Morphy,” says international master Igor Ivanov, a Soviet defector. “What’s the story with you Americans? You win the title, go home and don’t play any more.” …”.

Tony Smith

7. Tripitaka - January 20, 2008

Bobby was a troubled soul indeed from what I’ve been able to read. And yes you’re certainly right Fred, it seems real chess bears no resemblence to the game I played on odd occasions at school

http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200212/chun

“The memorization of opening theory and the intensive study of an opponent’s oeuvre so dominate the modern game that when two grand masters square off, the first twenty moves unfold like a stale sitcom plot.”

“Spassky had a wealth of resources at his disposal to help him plot moves, including thirty-five grand masters back in the Soviet Union…. Fischer did almost all the analysis himself—when he bothered to do anything…. After the games were adjourned, all the Soviets would go back to Spassky’s hotel room to plan for the next position”

Fisher’s phrase “pre-arranged games” takes on a different hue in this quote:

“Fischer alleged that Soviet grand masters were forced to lose or draw games in order to advance the careers of favored players who were being groomed as potential world champs. Fischer argued that he was at a great disadvantage, because during a tournament he had to endure a grueling schedule of games while several anointed Soviet grand masters cruised from one victory to the next, conserving their strength for the real competition—which more often than not was Fischer himself in the finals.”

8. Fred - January 20, 2008

Oh ya Tommaso,

Happy 2 year anniversary on this Blog: (first post appears to be Jan. 19, 2006) A Quantum Diaries Survivor – private thoughts of a physicist and a chessplayer! Do you still find time to play competitive chess?

9. Myke - January 21, 2008

Hi all, just to add a little more to the answer to Tripitak’s question…

Having an eidetic chess memory is great, but it fails when moves are selected to maximise the viable permutations, which if done right costs your opponent time. Fischer would play to a small advantage,
usually one point, and gain a tempo. This is difficult to do for black, but if you are expert with end game combinations, then it generally wins. Although my eidetic memory works well for chess (the first twenty or so moves for standard openings leads to a win if my opponent is not as familiar) it obviously can’t cope with novelty…

Hence, getting a Fischer-sequence can cause real time trouble and a potential loss in an unfamiliar end game, especially at the board in a maze of viable permutaions that each run at least six moves deep and demand exhaustive analysis. The time factor in chess is almost everything in tournaments…

Myke.

10. Myke - January 21, 2008

Hi all, just to add a little more to the answer to Tripitak’s question…

Having an eidetic chess memory is great, but it fails when moves are selected to maximise the viable permutations, which if done right costs your opponent time. Fischer would play to a small advantage, usually one point, and gain a tempo. This is difficult to do for black, but if you are expert with end game combinations, then it generally wins…

Although my eidetic memory works well for chess (the first twenty or so moves for standard openings leads to a win if my opponent is not as familiar) it obviously can’t cope with novelty…

Hence, getting a Fischer-sequence can cause real time trouble and a potential loss in an unfamiliar end game, especially at the board in a maze of viable permutaions that each run at least six moves deep and demand exhaustive analysis. The time factor in chess is almost everything in tournaments…

Myke.

11. Tony Smith - January 21, 2008

Myke said “… The time factor in chess is almost everything in tournaments … when moves are selected to maximise the viable permutations, which if done right costs your opponent time …”.

Was that one reason that “… in 1989 Fischer took out the patent for a computerized device, called the Fischer Clock, that has since changed the way the game is played. With each move completed, the clock adds a designated number of seconds to a player’s allotted thinking time, ensuring that no one need lose a clearly drawn position for sheer lack of time to physically make the moves …” ?
(quote from Phil Ross on an IEEE Spectrum Tech Talk web page)

The Atlantic article mentioned by Tripitaka said:
“… He [Fischer] had designed and patented … a clock for timing games … Fischer desperately wanted the Tokyo-based watch company Seiko to manufacture his FRC products but couldn’t generate interest … Unauthorized “Fischer Method” clocks, which he claims infringe on his patent (expired in November of 2001, because of overdue maintenance fees), may or may not be legal …”.

Tony Smith

12. Myke - January 21, 2008

Hi Tony, indeed one may believe that it’s ‘unfair’ to penalise time in an obviously drawn position; however, one plays to win or draw, not lose. A strategy I’ve used many times is to make fast moves to save my time, but run the opponents clock down. My objective being to salvage a win from an otherwise drawn game. One must look ahead to the end game via the clock! If my opponent is too ‘silly’ to manage their time properly, then that is their loss…

What Bobby wanted was to remove that playing option as it didn’t suit his style…

Imagine you have little time left, a tad more than your opponent, and a choice between two moves: one a likely draw and one an uncertain win/loss since it needs more analysis than you have time. Do you risk the loss or opt for the draw, with a possible win on flag-fall, because its full analysis will run your opponent out of time?

Regards, Myke.

13. dorigo - January 21, 2008

Ahem. I fear this column is getting out of control if I do not moderate a bit.

Fred, thank you for your recollection of the match of the century from your perspective. Strange that you would win more as Spassky, that must have been upsetting for your colleagues!

Tripitaka, indeed Fischer invented “random chess”, or “chess 960” which is normal chess save that at the start the pieces of each side are shuffled along the rank at random, with the rule that the rooks have to be one left and one right of the king, and that bishops must be on opposite-coloured squares – 960 different possibilities. This largely eliminates the need for opening theory.

Fred, pre-arranged of course mostly (but see below) means that opening theory has gotten to a level where it has too much weight on the outcome of a game – players can prepare with their computers quite well in the opening, and surprise their opponents with variations worked out till the end of the game or so. This, however, is still the exception rather than the rule. And it is quite weird to hear Fischer lamenting that, since he was a monster of opening prep at his times… But probably he never learnt to use the computer for analysis.

Arun, I would love to, but right now I am too much into something else… This blog will pay the price of that.

Tony, thank you for your usually nice quotes. Indeed, you figured it correctly, it was about random chess.

Tripitaka, I agree. Pre-arranged also means that in Fischer jargon. He often denounced that russians at interzonal tournaments would draw against each other, while play with the knife between their teeth against westerners. Plus more of course. He was partly right and partly wrong in his accusations, but his behavior was not the right one in these occasions.

Fred, thank you for noticing, yes – two years have passed! I have played the last match game one year ago, and it is getting harder and harder for me…Too many other things!

Myke, explaining why Fischer was a chess genius is not possible in detail. Fischer was a genius, but he also worked harder than all others to reach so high.

Yes Tony, Fischer also invented a clock which is now used a lot throughout the world – basically it adds a bonus at each move, so that players know they will always have a few seconds to play the moves they need to finish a game. They can still run out of time and lose, but they can confidently spend most of their allotment to get to a winning position even if they are left with one second, and then use the increments to coast to a win.

Cheers all,
T.

Myke #2: “pawn strategies” is a concept which has no meaning in chess if you keep your statements so vague. One can speak of closed games, pawn chains, minority attacks, bayonet attacks. “Pawn Strategies” means nothing to a chessplayer.
#9: “would play to a small advantage, usually one point, and gain a tempo”: although I sort of understand what you are talking about (win a pawn, bring the game to an ending,etc), you use a jargon which shows, to a chess player, that you are not familiar with the way chessplayers describe these things. What is a “Fischer-sequence” ? Your vagueness does not show real insight, but some confusion.

14. Tripitaka - January 21, 2008

Thanks all, I have really enjoyed reading about Bobby Fischer.
…can I ask one more question which I hope isn’t too much off-topic.

Are there any real-world applications for whatever field of mathematics is used to model chess strategies. I’m thinking of the mathematician John Nash (to whom Fischer has been compared) who interestingly won a Nobel prize in economics.

If this looks like a stupid question just politely ignore it hehe

15. Myke - January 21, 2008

Well T me thinks you may be a tad mistaken…

Pawn strategies (plural) means a lot to a chess player. In my many, many years playing competitive chess its meaning is unambiguous!
You even offer several pawn strategy examples. So what’s the big problem?

Here’s a quote from GK on chess that includes the phrase that we chess players use to describe some of Fischer’s distinctive move sequences:

“…* or after 5…a6 6.Bc4 e6 7.Bb3 a distinctively Fischer sequence. Should this not perhaps be called the Fischer Var(sub-var? / Attack?). He forged it into a potent tournament weapon. And much easier than “the Najdorf 4-knights var.” or “Bishops Var.” or “that thing sorta Sozinlike, but against the Najdorf.” Whatever the latest is for it.”

Perhaps you should look at: http://sigchi.org/ and search for the phrase “Fischer-sequence” under ACM papers. Could be a big surprise waiting there…

Anyway, some of us know a lot about Bobby Fischer, we have made a study of his chess strategies and tactics. That so many people should talk about his work without knowing it is very bad for chess. Please play fair and don’t attack those who may know a little more about Bobby Fischer’s chess…

Myke.

16. dorigo - January 21, 2008

Dear Myke, I am sorry, but you sound like somebody who wants others to believe he knows more. Quoting kasparov on “distinctive move sequences” does not improve the situation. However, I agree that people should know chess before talking or writing about it. I believe you are not too experienced, though. Please come to http://www.chessclub.com and meet me there, my handle is tonno. Let’s play a blitz game or two, and then I’ll figure out if you know what you are talking about. Until then, I fear I am going to keep my opinion.

Cheers,
T.

17. dorigo - January 21, 2008

Hi Tripitaka,

I do not want to ignore you, but I do not have an answer to your question. Maybe Myke does ?

Cheers,
T.

18. Myke - January 22, 2008

My dearest Tommaso, me thinks you are wanting two months free membership at ICC by signing me up! Unless you’re rated better than 2000 on blitz, it would likely be rather pointless – for you…

Oh, and by the way, have you never played chess on line? GK means gameknot, not Gary Kasparov. It’s the premium (free) chess site that most chess devotees visit. Bobby once played there…

I prefer standard chess, but perhaps a healthy wager would be worthwhile. I’ll think about it…

Best regards, Myke.

19. dorigo - January 22, 2008

Hi Myke,

you can connect as a guest. No need to subscribe!
In any case, my blitz rating on icc is 2275.

Cheers,
T.

20. Myke - January 22, 2008

Dear Tommaso, that’s a most excellent rating! How do you rate in standard chess?

Regards, Myke.

21. dorigo - January 22, 2008

My ordinary rating is about 2120. See https://dorigo.wordpress.com/2007/09/25/still-going-strong/

Cheers,
T.

22. chimpanzee - January 22, 2008

At 11:00am PST (in 15 minutes) on Biography Channel/DirecTV, there is a Biography 1hr documentary on Bobby Fischer. I saw the 1st airing a few hrs ago, & it was pretty good.

There are some interviews with BF, & he came off as pretty normal & downright friendly/likeable. I think his fanatical obsession, pressure (headgames by Soviet delegation, etc) resulted in his exit from professional chess. The other stuff is fluff exaggerated by the press. I’ll have more to say about it later.

Bit Torrent version here:

http://www.torrentvalley.com/download_torrent_925770.html

23. Myke - January 23, 2008

Hi Tommaso, had another look at the Bratko-Kopec test; but, unlike years ago, it seems to use contrived positions, etc. If my memory is not playing tricks on me, then it seems the original used some actual tournament positions. The current test’s answers are just a tad too obvious – most of the given positions are not likely to arise at the player level they attempt to test. Thus, it’s not clear to me how much weight it has, notwithstanding its apparent widespread use…

What do you think?

Regards, Myke.


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