Stewart Reuben

Stewart Reuben

28 July 2017

NEW TECHNOLOGIES IN CHESS

When I was a child I remember our teachers printing on a page by having a tray of jelly and carving words into the jelly. They then put ink onto the tray, put a sheet of paper onto the jelly, removed it and had the information on the sheet. They repeated this exercise until there was one sheet for each child.

Later there were great improvements. One typed onto a plastic skin using a mechanical typewriter. The type cut into the skin. The skin was put onto a Xerox machine and the ink came through the letters. Now it was possible to run off large quantities. Errors were corrected by pasting over the incorrect words with liquid paper. This was how I produced my first chess bulletins and there remain collections of many events with the games recorded in this way.

Photocopying was a big leap forward. Now you typed the moves onto an ordinary sheet of paper.Errors were again corrected by pasting over the mistakes. Mind you, the first Lloyds Bank Masters bulletin of 1977 went backwards. Chess journalist Leonard Barden hand wrote the moves and then it was photocopied. The next advance was with word processors. Effectively these were computers limited simply to reproducing words and numbers. But you could put the moves into memory before committing to paper. Errors could then be corrected before appearing irrevocably on the page.

The appearance of personal computers was quite recent as these things go. Chess rapidly followed the development of these new-fangled things. ChessBase enabled games to be input from scoresheets without any illegal moves appearing. This did not mean the games shown were actually what had taken place. Players sometimes record incorrect moves on their scoresheet. Frequently the hand-written moves are illegible. Many games on ChessBase conclude 1-0 where the last moves played are not keyed in. The inputter is unable to determine the last moves and either, cannot be bothered to return to the prime source – the players, or it is not possible to do so.

Electro-sensitive boards began to appear successfully in 1986. The Intelligent Software equipment enabled us to broadcast the moves of the World Championship live on teletext systems. The game scores could now be transferred without human intervention. Currently DGT market such boards, using a different system. This equipment still has some problems: so far it has not been completely successful wirelessly, so that there are inconvenient cables linking the boards to an electrical supply and to the prime computer. Naturally the boards are bulky, so that it is difficult to move large numbers from one place to another.

Of course you can use your mobile phone to key in a game of chess. But this suffers from the problem that the phone can also relay information to the player who could then cheat. The MonRoi equipment solves that problem. Players key in their moves on a handheld machine developed specifically for this purpose. The moves are then transmitted wirelessly to the computer. The system is secure and an arbiter can view all the games and would be able to see whether a player had, for example, keyed in one move and then later changed it.

In Gibraltar in January 2008 we used all three systems for the 130 FIDE rated games being played every day for 10 days. Look at www.gibraltarchesscongress.com to view the results. We had 10 DGT boards, 50 MonRoi units and the rest were put in by hand. The information was then put on the web and could be viewed virtually instantaneously anywhere in the world.

People no longer want printed bulletins of events. They prefer to view games on a computer. There is no need to look up moves on a page and then put them on a chessboard. Thus printed bulletins have been assigned to the dustbin of history. In some ways this is a pity. You can see the games; some of mine, a very minor player, are available to you from 50 years ago. But the reports on the events and many cross-tables are held only on the website of the event. For the Gibtelecom Chess Festival, you could consult the website in advance and see photos of most players – not just the leading ones. In addition a number of videos of the event were prepared which give you an impression of what the event was like, even though you did not visit in person. Such information is ephemeral and will no doubt be lost in due course.

You might have thought that books on chess would also no longer be popular and thus be dying out. Currently this does not seem to be true. It is true that those which are just a collection of games no longer find a market, but those with reasoned thinking, clearly expressed, still have a market.

Nothing will ever replace face to face coaching by strong players. In Gibraltar we offered such coaching free by experienced coaches Ian Rogers and Sunil Weeramantry. As far as I know, this was a first for adult players. Few other events offer such a luxury, even for juniors. If you want a coach, bring your own.

It is interesting to speculate what the next development will be in chess. There has been talk of surveillance equipment to try to prevent cheating, particularly at the highest levels. In my ‘Chess Organiser’s Handbook’, published in 2005, there is a chapter on Information Systems. In it I look forward to the time when players will no longer have to physically press the button on a clock, nor record the moves. They will simply make the move on a board and that will then display the amount of time left and also the moves played. The results will be transmitted to the central computer.

Stewart Reuben

28 July 2017

PIONEERS IN WOMEN’S CHESS

Female chess used to be regarded as something of a curiosity. A good Trivial Pursuits quiz is, ‘We know the first World Junior Chess Championship was held in Birmingham in 1951. When was the first World Girls Championship held?’ The answer is in 1927 and, of course, in England . Vera Menchik won it the same year as she went on to win the First Women’s World Championship. Presumably there was considerable interest in female chess in this era because Vera came to live in England . In truth, nearly all the entrants were British. The event died with the advent of the Second World War and was only revived in the 1970s. We had to wait for Harriet Hunt to win the World Girls Under 20 Championship 50 year after Rowena Drew (later Bruce). Elaine Saunders (now Pritchard) is one of the girls who gained the title before the Second World War and she is still very much alive, though not now playing chess competitively.

In 1973, Susan Caldwell and Sheila Jackson asked for permission to play in the British Boys Championship in the same age group. They felt there was not enough competition among their peers. It was refused, after all, how can a girl play in a boy’s championship? By the following year the regulations had been changed and it became the British Under 18 Championship. Yet, when I played in the British Boys (Under-18) in 1956 and 1957, I found nothing strange in there being a separate girl’s event. Since 1974 there has been only one tournament, with the girl champion being the highest placed player in the open age group event. In 1994 Tania Sachdev of India (who played in Gibraltar in 2007, who is playing in 2008 and is current Asian and Indian Women’s Champion) collected five trophies. British Under 9, British Under 9 Girls, British Under 10, British Under 10 Girls and British Under 11 Girls. As a seven year old, her hands could not grasp all five trophies simultaneously. A girl winning the overall event has become sufficiently commonplace that, where necessary, an overall winner trophy is presented, and also the highest placed boy and highest placed girl.

Perhaps the greatest achievement of Judit Polgar was to win the World Boys Under 14 Championship! Since she has had two children, perhaps FIDE need to be taught elementary gender education. I have fought against their calling the Chess Olympiad, the Men’s Olympiad. Women have played since its inception. I have won that battle theoretically, but the term is still frequently used. What the views are of Zhu Chen, Pia Cramling and Antoaneta Stefanova (all playing in Gibraltar in 2008) on this misuse of the English language, I don’t know. Resigned indifference is my guess. This is not just a grumpy old man’s complaint. Maia Chiburdinadze became Women’s World Chess Champion when she was 17; at that time she was one of the leading players of her age of either sex. She only again started to improve when Pia Cramling came along to offer adequate competition. Who knows how strong Maia might have become, if she had not been content with the women’s title?

When Professor Elo first started his International Rating System in the 1970s, there was a great problem with the separate women’s list. There were so few females who played competitive chess against men, that it was difficult to relate the two lists. Leonard Barden and I started the Lloyds Bank Masters in 1977. He suggested we spend part of the money available for conditions on inviting strong female players. Now this is commonplace world-wide or at least in Europe . I used to offer female players reduced entry fees to events which I organised. This became impossible with the advent of the Sex Discrimination Laws in Britain – it would have been discriminating against males.

This year we had the magnificent MonRoi Women’s Grand Prix. This climaxed in Montreal and Pia Cramling was an extremely worthy winner.

I organise the Gibtelecom Chess Festival at the Caleta Hotel in Gibraltar each year. The 2008 edition will take place 22 to 31 January. Brian Callaghan, proprietor of the Caleta Hotel where the event takes place, and Franco Ostuni, the General Manager are of the same mind as me. There is absolutely no doubt this is the strongest female event in the world where players of both sexes compete together in the same tournament. Some might complain that spending such a high proportion of the budget on female prizes and hospitality is sexist. We believe it makes good business sense. More men are likely to play if there are a substantial number of women competitors. The total prize fund is £80,000 and a player rated under 2250 could pick up £6000, while a woman could win £17,000. Further details: www.gibraltarchesscongress.com

Stewart Reuben- Chairman, FIDE Chess Tournament Organizer Committee

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