Chess in the time, etc.
March 21, 2020 2:56 PM   Subscribe

Undeterred by coronavirus concerns, the World Chess Championship Candidates tournament is in progress with a variety of commentary in Yekaterinburg, Russia, with eight players playing one game per day in a double round robin to determine who will challenge Magnus Carlsen, reigning champion and undisputed king of chess for the last decade, later this year in a match. Each of the 14 rounds start daily at 11:00 UTC. Live results and games can be found at Chess24.

The players:

Fabiano Caruana, presumptive favorite, American star, world #2 by rating, and challenger in 2018, where in the World Championship match he drew with Carlsen in the classical games and was then summarily demolished in the rapid tiebreaker.

Ding Liren, China's strongest player, world #3 by rating, famous for his 100-game unbeaten streak in high-level tournaments from 2017 through 2018 (matched only in chess history by Carlsen himself.) He was required by organizers to self-quarantine for two weeks prior to arrival from China.

Ian Nepomniachtchi, known for his sharp, decisive play as both colors, at the peak of his career, and the only participant to have a positive score against Carlsen in classical chess. Also the strongest known Dota 2 player present.

Alexander Grischuk, a fixture of Russian chess, and a specialist at playing under time pressure, who has won the World Blitz Championship multiple times. Grischuk and Nepomniachtchi dominated the FIDE Grand Prix tournament circuit in 2019, with Grischuk winning one of three, second in another, and losing in the semifinals in the third.

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, fan favorite, sharp calculator, and strong positional grinder, who initially missed qualification but found himself included at the last moment when former World Championship challenger Teimour Radjabov backed out due to coronavirus concerns.

Anish Giri, former prodigy, who edged out Vachier-Lagrave in rating during 2019 to qualify. He infamously drew all 14 games when he participated in the 2016 Candidates, spawning an endless series of jokes.

Wang Hao, the second strongest player in China after Ding Liren. Off the radar of most spectators, he qualified after surprising the world by winning the 2019 Isle of Man Grand Swiss open tournament, ahead of Caruana and dozens of other top grandmasters.

Kirill Alekseenko, the weakest by rating but also the youngest with the most to prove. As a young up-and-coming Russian player, he was (not without controversy) chosen to participate as a wildcard, as is the prerogative of the Russian Chess Federation, which is hosting the event.

Although the current coronavirus epidemic in Russia is thought not yet to be as dire as in Western Europe, the decision to hold the tournament has been criticized by many, leading to Radjabov's withdrawal as a participant and former World Champion Vladimir Kramnik withdrawing as a commentator. Concessions to reality have been made in the form of eliminating live spectators from the event, regular testing and temperature checks of the participants, sanitization of the physical equipment between games, elbow bumps, and refused handshakes.
posted by value of information (24 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
 
Is there any actual case to be made for why this is happening in person? I’m not all that familiar with competitive chess, but it seems like this could be done remotely with no downsides.
posted by a box and a stick and a string and a bear at 3:30 PM on March 21 [9 favorites]


It’s a good time to get into chess YouTube, where commentators will go through and explain games after the fact.

These are people showing games from the current candidates tournament:
Agadmator’s Chess Channel
ChessNetwork
Kingscrusher
MatoJelic
posted by graymouser at 3:33 PM on March 21 [3 favorites]


There is live coverage on twitch.tv/chess (the chess.com stream), and right now Vishy Anand (World-class GM) is commentating. I have found the commentating teams to be generally excellent on this stream.
posted by dbx at 3:35 PM on March 21


Is there any actual case to be made for why this is happening in person? I’m not all that familiar with competitive chess, but it seems like this could be done remotely with no downsides.

Most serious chess is still played in person, mostly due to cheating concerns. It's much easier to be reasonably confident that nobody is getting outside assistance (including computer assistance) in an in-person event, where you can physically check that people don't have electronics on them and you're in control of the venue. You could send an arbiter to each player's location individually, but it would probably be less effective, or at least inspire less confidence. (And it's not clear that having the arbiters travel around would be less risky in total, anyway.)
posted by value of information at 3:39 PM on March 21 [2 favorites]


As to why the organizers insisted on keeping the games in person; there are physical aspects of playing matches like this that are generally way underappreciated. Much of the Fischer - Spassky drama came from issues surrounding the physical characteristics of the match: Where they played, whether (and how far back) to have an audience, where to put the lights, which chairs were allowed...

There's a physicality to how pieces are moved and how the clock is pressed (the players still keep track of their own time, rather than an automatic timer) that goes away when you're playing online. It's similar to (but smaller than) the difference between online and in-person poker.
posted by dbx at 3:47 PM on March 21 [1 favorite]


(1) Gross. There is perhaps no game better suited to remote play, so this feels like the worst kind of theater.

(2) Proposed rules for Plague Chess:
. . (A) A third-party observer selects one non-king piece on each side, at random, as "infected." The players do not know which piece is infected. The king is excluded from this selection strictly in the interest of fairness, not realism. The king is, however, vulnerable to later infection by the means described below.
. . (B) Prior to each turn (i.e. between player actions), there is a 5% that any piece (of either color) next to one or more infected pieces is also infected. Which pieces are infected, and the turn on which they are infected, are noted in secret by the third party. In order to maintain ambiguity, the third party should make an assessment for every piece on the board, including sham assessments for pieces not yet at risk.
. . (C) If a piece takes an infected piece, there is an independent 5% chance of the victor becoming infected. By independent, I mean that this is evaluated as a separate random event at the time of capture. Again, to maintain ambiguity, the third party should make an assessment following every capture to prevent the players from discerning whether the capture was risky.
. . (D) On the fifth turn after a piece is infected, it become symptomatic. This is indicated by placing a token (perhaps a red checker piece) underneath the piece. Symptomatic pieces are just as contagious as asymptomatic pieces, but their status is now public information. Promoted pieces retain their history of infection.
. . (E) On the tenth turn after a piece becomes symptomatic, it becomes critical. At the start of that turn and every turn thereafter that it remains critical, the third party makes a random assessment. 70% of the time, the piece remains critical. 25% of the time, it "recovers" and is both no longer infected and no longer able to become infected. This is marked by a different token under the piece (perhaps a black checker piece). Finally, 5% of the time, the piece succumbs to the disease and is removed from play.
. . (F) Play does not end at checkmate or at stalemate. In the event of checkmate or stalemate, the mated player may still move a piece, including moving a king into check (although such a move is *only* legal in these cases). The mating player then had the option to *not* capture the king if they so desire. All other rules regarding check and checkmate remain in place, including movement restrictions (e.g. kings may not otherwise move into check).
. . (G) After a king is captured, play continues for both players as long as they retain pieces. Pieces may continue to become infected, and the second king may be captured or infected during this phase of play. In the event that a player has no remaining pieces, their turns are ignored (effectively allowing the remaining player move twice as often relative to the spread of infection).
. . (H) The player with the remaining king is only declared the winner if (a) the king passes five consecutive turns with no adjacent pieces and without becoming symptomatic; or (b) the king, having become symptomatic, recovers from the infection. As such, if a king during this phase becomes symptomatic, play *must* continue until and through the critical phases of the king's infection.
. . (I) If both kings are captured or die of infection before a winner is declared, *both* players are marked as having lost the game with respect to their record of wins and losses and with respect to their rating.
posted by belarius at 4:00 PM on March 21 [7 favorites]


Anish Giri. I swear I read Amish Girl and wondered why they let players use avatars for names.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 4:13 PM on March 21 [2 favorites]


It's really stupid to let this go ahead during a pandemic, but I don't think remote play is an alternative. Getting together at a specific place and time to compete is kind of how a tournament works. It's a spectacle. That's even the case for e-sports, which obviously don't have the physical legacy of chess. It's also more fair because it levels the playing field (same weather, same time zone, similar amenities/facilities). But I think mainly it's about the spectacle.
posted by dmh at 8:42 PM on March 21 [2 favorites]


He was required by organizers to self-quarantine for two weeks prior to arrival from China.

Were all the other passengers on his flight also required to self-quarantine for 2 weeks before getting on the plane? Either I'm not clear on the concept, or the organizers aren't.

This is a bad idea.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 5:25 AM on March 22 [3 favorites]


It's really stupid to let this go ahead during a pandemic...

If you really want to feel some rage, turn on your tv and witness the 2020 US National Figure Skating Championships being held in North Carolina. Complete with an arena full of fans, as if there wasn't a problem with that at all.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:51 AM on March 22 [1 favorite]


If you really want to feel some rage, turn on your tv and witness the 2020 US National Figure Skating Championships being held in North Carolina.

Might be wrong, but I believe those are a rerun from January.
posted by eponym at 6:15 AM on March 22 [1 favorite]


Are they? They keep showing "Live" on the screen (at least whenever I watched it) with no "pre-recorded" disclaimer as is normal with sports reruns. If they're reruns, cool.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:24 AM on March 22


> They keep showing "Live" on the screen (at least whenever I watched it) with no "pre-recorded" disclaimer as is normal with sports reruns.

The broadcaster is an ass, then. The event was held January 20-26. (Wikipedia page; includes results, so don't click if you're still watching.)
posted by ardgedee at 6:44 AM on March 22 [3 favorites]


Before the pandemic struck, we were already entering a golden age for online chess.

For sure, cheating is very easy with online chess, especially for longer / classical time controls. But blitz / bullet style chess moves too fast for chess engines to meaningfully help players.

Chess.com and lichess both have ways of reporting players for cheating; there are also statistical ways of demonstrating that a player is making a suspicious amount of accurate moves. Also, if a player is using the same amount of time for every move, regardless of whether it's a brilliancy or a very logical recapture, that's a good sign that they're using an engine.

It does seem like online chess is picking up a lot of lessons from video game streaming. Now that chess engines are easily more powerful than the best human player in the world, it's fun to see online chess move away from accuracy per se to embrace the more human, performative elements.

Some entertaining moments in chess youtube:
- Chess Network Jerry tricks a screen sniper
- Trash talking chess feud between Ben Finegold and GingerGM
- Cringe-y interview of Magnus Carlsen by Maurice Ashley
- Hikaru Nakamura's hilarious reaction to Levon Aronian's game
- Maurice Ashley plays NYC trash talker
- Magnus Carlsen's "improved bongcloud opening"
- North America v. Europe online championship -- some truly terrible play, all in good fun

In addition to the people recommended above, Chessbrah is a very entertaining pair of chess grandmasters (if you don't mind relentless, pounding techno), and they often feature Yasser Seirawan, who is a brilliant educator. Eric Rosen has a nice Bob Ross energy and I've found him very calming over the past couple of weeks. And Ben Finegold could be called the Don Rickles of Chess.

Hikaru Nakamura does a lot of streaming, though he is too smart for me to follow. And Magnus himself makes chess look easy.
posted by fishhouses at 7:03 AM on March 22 [3 favorites]


Is it symbolic that this is happening just after the death of Max Von Sydow?
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 8:16 AM on March 22 [1 favorite]


Not really, it's more like coincidental......they do these WC candidates cycles every few years, and there are major elite GM tournaments several times a year, and that has been the case for all of his long life. So it's not really even that striking of a coincidence that he died near a major international chess event.
posted by thelonius at 9:13 AM on March 22


Oh I'm sorry, you probably meant the confluence of his death with a chess thing AND with the pandemic
posted by thelonius at 9:29 AM on March 22


Were all the other passengers on his flight also required to self-quarantine for 2 weeks before getting on the plane? Either I'm not clear on the concept, or the organizers aren't.

I phrased it poorly -- he was self-quarantined in Moscow for two weeks after flying but before coming to the tournament site.
posted by value of information at 2:11 PM on March 22


Anyone on Lichess that sucks like me? I'm trying to get more correspondence games going
posted by Think_Long at 2:33 PM on March 22


Before the pandemic struck, we were already entering a golden age for online chess.
... it's fun to see online chess move away from accuracy per se to embrace the more human, performative elements.


Thanks for the links, fishhouses. Online play absolutely revitalized chess over the past couple of years. It's amazing how social gaming technology (lag compensation, streaming, matchmaking, cheatbusting, ...) contributed to the experience of this ancient game. And it's a bit of an acquired taste, but I've grown to love Ben Finegold.
posted by dmh at 10:12 PM on March 22 [1 favorite]




The tournament is halted.
posted by persona at 10:59 PM on March 26


If only someone had been thinking a few moves ahead 🤔
posted by a box and a stick and a string and a bear at 8:40 AM on March 27 [1 favorite]


I'm trying to get more correspondence games going

I've a tab open with your name on it :-)
posted by flabdablet at 1:16 PM on April 1


« Older The Wørd: Truthiness In Action   |   A Musical Interlude... Newer »


You are not currently logged in. Log in or create a new account to post comments.