Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Chess - The Spectator Sport?

  There were three very different top level chess tournaments held this month that highlighted to me what kind of chess tournament will make chess a television sport. In early June, the 2014 No Logo Norway Chess super tournament was held in Stavanger, Norway. The tournament was sponsored by the gambling company UniBet but the promotion of gambling is prohibited in Norway, hence the moniker 'No Logo'. This is the second year of the Norway Chess tournament which not only coincides with native son Magnus Carlsen's ascension to the top of the chess world but also Norway’s prosperity stemming from its well managed government which has wisely saved the profits from its state run oil industry and amassed a surplus of almost a trillion dollars. Just a few days after Norway Chess concluded, one of the world’s most unique chess tournaments took place last week in the desert city of Dubai in the United Arab Emirates where over 100 players competed in the FIDE World Blitz and Rapid championships. The Rapid tournament was held from Monday to Wednesday with 5 games at fifteen minutes per side with a 10 second increment per day and the Blitz tournament was on Thursday and Friday with 21 rounds of action with each side getting 3 minutes per side with a 2 second increment. There was a total $400,000 ($200,000 for the rapid and blitz tournaments) prize fund with the winners of each tournament collecting $40,000. 8 of the top 10 players in the world were competing including World Champion Magnus Carlsen, former world champion Viswanathan Anand, top ranked American Hikaru Nakamura, and Sergey Karjakin (the winner of the No Logo Norway Chess tournament). This year’s event was especially compelling since World Champion Carlsen participation with the stated goal of becoming the top ranked player in Classical, Rapid, and Blitz provided a ready-made storyline.

At the No-Logo Norway Chess Open, commentators Laurence Trent and Jan Gustaffson had plenty of time to follow their Twitter feeds, catch up on the World Cup, discuss rap music and current events, and take numerous breaks in between discussing the chess games during the six hour broadcasts...

   Norway Chess was 9 rounds held over 11 days with 10 players competing in a round robin. All the players were rated over 2750 except for local qualifier Simen Agdenstein (7 time champion of Norway and a former trainer of Carlsen). The players played one game a day and after 6 rounds there was a 3 way tie between Carlsen, Kramnik, and Fabiano Caruana but Karjakin won his final 3 three games (including victories over Kramnik and Caruana) to take the tournament by a half point over Carlsen who only won one of his final three games and finished second despite being the only player not to lose a game. The tournament was broadcast on Livestream courtesy of with Laurence Trent and Jan Gustaffson commentating. I got to watch much of the broadcast and each day Trent and Gustaffson would spend quite a bit of the 5+ hour broadcast responding to viewer tweets, discussing the World Cup, making jokes, and talking about everything but the tournament. They can hardly be blamed since with only five games to discuss per day and sometimes more than a quarter hour between moves on any of the boards there were plenty of occasions where there just wasn’t a lot of chess to discuss. The pair was entertaining and personable and the tournament was fascinating with top level match ups each round but I found it easier to follow the action via Chessbase reports and Daniel King’s Power Play videos on YouTube rather than keep an eye on the action while it was happening – very much like watching ESPN or reading the morning paper to catch last night’s baseball scores rather than watching the games themselves.

  The FIDE Rapid world championship tournament was also broadcast on Livestream and was naturally faster paced. Each round took around an hour and with five rounds a day it led to around the same six hour broadcast as Norway Chess. The commentator was GM Dmitiry Komarov who made up for his thick Russian accent with boundless enthusiasm, shouting the names of the players that were winning and showering praise over the leaders of the tournament and the winners of each round. Komarov would also give his opinions on who was better and why and did a reasonable job outlining what he thought the plans should be for each player. The glaring problem with the broadcast was that even though there were over 50 games in each round the games were followed with live cameras (instead of the moves being electronically relayed) and there were only enough cameras to focus on four boards at a time. This led to the same problems as the Norway Chess tournament broadcast – if there weren’t exciting games on the top boards there just wasn’t much for Komarov to discuss. This was highlighted in the next to last round when the first 10 minutes of the broadcast was spent watching Caruana and Levon Aronian stare at each other and Aronian continually getting up to walk around and look at the other games before the broadcast also got up to focus on Magnus Carlsen and Alexander Grischuk playing their game at the next table which was won by Carlsen around a half hour later in a less than action-packed grind it out game. Even at the relatively fast time control of a 15 minute game, there were too many dead spots in the broadcast to hold my interest for an entire round mostly because Komarov was captive to the lack of cameras and unable to focus on the most exciting game and look in on the other top boards intermittently.

In this video, two of the world's five best players (Fabiano Caruana and Levon Aronian) match up in the FIDE World Rapid championships. Even at a time control of 15 minutes per side (with a 10 second increment), there seemed to be so little action that the broadcast followed Aronian in watching other games.

  On Thursday and Friday, the FIDE World Blitz tournament was held at the same site as the Rapid tournament. There were 11 rounds on Thursday and 10 on Friday. The time control of 3 minutes per game with a 2 second increment meant that each round took from 10 to 12 minutes. GM Komarov was again the lone commentator and there was still a limited amount of games he could cover but the quick time controls left very little downtime between each game and never more than a few seconds between each move in every game. It seemed the fast pace emboldened the players to play in a riskier fashion and I thought most of the games were interesting and if a game turned out to be dull at least it was over quickly.

In the top video, World Champ Magnus Carlsen takes on reigning Blitz champion Le Quang Liem of Vietnam in the FIDE World Blitz. Underneath, Carlsen takes on the top American player Hikaru Namamura (at the one minute mark). If you have just ten or so minutes you can watch either game and both could be shown in a half hour TV segment with room for plenty of commercials.

  I’m sure the FIDE Blitz championship games weren’t of the same quality as the ones in Norway Chess or even the FIDE Rapid championships but I felt they were by far the most entertaining. The players had to go by their gut instincts and the live camera capturing the indecision of a player’s hand hovering over a piece with only a split-second to make the final choice added to the interest of the games. It was fascinating to see Carlsen down to seconds on his clock trying to save a draw against Nakamura and grind Quang Liem in a drawn position until he forced a mistake and time forfeit. I didn’t think the fast time controls affected the relative strengths of the players since except for Nakamura having a poor result in the Rapids and Caruana and Karjakin being pedestrian in the Blitz the top rated players at classical time controls finished at the top of the Rapid and Blitz crosstables. The best players in the world or a country or a state or a club tend to be the best players at any time controls because they are just better players. I told a fellow player how entertained I was by the blitz chess and he snickered because he thought the quality of the games were poor but by that logic only games between computers or email games that take months to complete could be worthy of attention since the best humans can’t compete with computers except in correspondence chess.

  The FIDE Blitz World Championship was chess as a spectator sport and would be the perfect tournament format for television. Ten to fifteen minutes per round and five minutes for commercials would get nine rounds in a three hour time frame with minimal dead spots. A $200,000 prize fund (the Rapid championship provided another $200,000 prize fund) and $40,000 first prize attracted most of the world’s top players. If this type of tournament could be held once a month or once a week, I can’t imagine one of the many sports networks that have recently sprung up not paying a similar amount for the broadcast rights for the weekend or two three nights of programming it would provide. I'm not saying it would get the viewership of NASCAR, golf, tennis but the fast pace and increased prominence of the sport thanks to a youthful Western European champion would guarantee a sizable audience. There will always be a place for longer time controls but I expect in the near future the suitability of the blitz format for television will be discovered and that it will eventually become the new chess standard.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Movie Review - X-Men: Days of Future Past

  I knew I’d been lax in my super hero movie watching but I didn’t realize how lax until I realized that I had missed the last five Marvel Super Hero movies. I caught a bit up the past two weeks by renting DVD’s of “Thor:The Dark World” and “The Wolverine”. While the Thor movie had cool special effects I thought it had very little plot, was very slow developing, and didn’t have nearly enough Loki. The Wolverine had less action than the Thor movie but had a great spy movie type of plot that made the movie seem to run quickly.“ Captain America: The Winter Soldier” and “The Amazing Spiderman 2” were long gone from the Marshalltown movie theaters last weekend but on a recent Sunday afternoon Kathy and went to see the latest X-Men movie “X-Men: Days of Future Past”. The movie has done very well nationally with over $200 million in sales and exceptionally well internationally with over $600 million in sales, although on the Sunday afternoon matinee I attended during the 3rd week of the movie's run we were joined by only 12 other moviegoers.

  The movie is loosely based on the 1981 2 part X-Men comic book which has Kitty Pride (aka Shadowcat) being sent from a future where mutants are being exterminated by the government army of robotic Sentinels to the present to prevent the mutant assassination of Senator Robert Kelly that sparked the mutant genocide and the creation of the Sentinel program in the first place. The plot is twisted greatly for the movie and naturally, the popular Wolverine is sent back to inhabit his past self to prevent a similar assassination, this time an assassination perpetrated by the shape shifting mutant Mystique against the founder of the Sentinel program, Bolivar Trask.

  The first 3 X-Men movies were set in the present day with Patrick Stewart as super-psychic Professor X, Ian McKellen as Magneto the master of all things metal, and elevated the career of Hugh Jackman as the iconic Wolverine to the level of mega superstar. The fourth X-Men movie called “X-Men: First Class” wasn’t a reboot but an older adventure set in the 1960’s showing one of the first adventures of the X-Men and outlining the origins of the complicated Professor X – Magneto friendship/rivalry/bromance.

  The new X-Men is set in the distant future with the old Professor X (the same one that was obliterated by Jean Grey in the third movie of the series) and the old Magneto (who lost the grand majority of his powers in the same movie) as part of a hunted band of mutants whose only way to escape the shape shifting Sentinels is by sending a mutant a few minutes into the past before the attack to warn the rest of the band about the attack before it happens. This leads them to try to send Wolverine 50 years backwards into his 1970’s body to stop the assassination from ever taking place.

  The Wolverine of the 1970’s isn’t nearly as powerful as the current day Wolverine. He has no adamantium claws and skeleton – just his bone claws and healing powers. He manages to traverse the world of long hair, turtleneck sweaters, bell bottom pants, paisley shirts, and wide lapel suits to find Professor X in his shuttered school for gifted mutants. Professor X is in a drunken state, having become addicted to a serum that allows him to walk at the expense of his psychic powers and all that is left of the X-Men is the Professor and the Beast (who provides the Professor with his serum). The Professor, Wolverine, and the Beast then head to Washington to break Magneto out of his concrete prison 13 stories below the Pentagon and then all four head to Paris and Washington in an attempt to stop the assassination and the mutant genocide of the future.

No matter what the era, Magneto's mutant control of metal seems to inspire filmakers like few others...

  The action scenes set in the 1970’s are really good. There is something about Magneto’s power that seems to inspire X-Men movie makers and it doesn’t matter who is playing Magneto. In “X-Men: The Last Stand” the McKellen Magneto uproots a section of the Golden Gate Bridge to get his mutant army to Alcatraz island in an awesome display of mutant power but the Michael Fassbender Magneto tops that in Days of Future Past when he uproots RFK stadium and slams it down over the White House to cut it off from the rest of Washington. Fassbender is a worthy Magneto, exuding confidence, power, and a healthy attitude of arrogance to all the non-mutants he sees as no different than Neanderthals. The best action scenes in the movie belong to Evan Peter who steals the movie in his role of QuickSilver, the superfast punk teen mutant that breaks the team into the Pentagon and breaks Magneto out of his concrete prison. In a scene set in the Pentagon kitchen, with bullets and food and pots and pans flying everywhere, everything stands still except Quicksilver who seems to be in slow motion diverting bullets, tasting food, and positioning the soldiers to be in the way of fists and food. Normally super speed in the movies is portrayed as a person disappearing and instantaneously appearing somewhere else but this was a great take on super speed and I hope the makers of the new Flash TV show are watching.

  Mystique is always interesting to watch since you never know when she’s going to show up and Jennifer Lawrence does a nice enough job in the role. Nicholas Hoult's Beast is completely forgettable - I can't remember one memorable scene with him. I was left cold by James McAvoy’s version of Professor X. I suppose he was written to be weak and ineffectual so he could find himself during the movie but he seems to portray the Professor as an ineffectual weakling even at the end of the movie when he leaves Wolverine in the clutches of Major Stryker when he and the rest of his team escape.

  The action scenes set in the future seem to be spliced into the movie to show the desperation of Wolverine’s mission in the past to highlight how time is running out. The Sentinels are appropriately fearsome but all the CGI makes the future action scenes look poorly lit and blurry. It was nice seeing the return of Storm, Iceman, and Colossus from the original movie but overall I thought the futuristic action scenes detracted from the main story instead of adding to it since the only future scene needed in the movie was the initial scene to introduce the reason for Wolverine’s return to the past.

  Once the assassination was prevented and the future saved, Wolverine ends up in an entirely different future with the original X-Men cast members and the future is presumably bright and unwritten except now we know at the least which characters made it to the future without getting killed. Days of Future Present had some great action scenes but the switching between eras was more confusing than helpful and there was entirely too much soul-searching and angst on the part of Professor Xavier for my tastes. It is a movie for the time-travel and X-Men aficionados but as a super hero movie I though it lacked a focused story line. I rank this movie ahead of “X-Men” and “X-Men: First Class” but well behind “X-Men: United” and “X-Men: The Last Stand”.

  Is the future of the X-Men movie franchise in the past, present, or future? Based on the teaser introducing the time traveling mutant super-villain Apocalypse, it could be any or all. I wish the X-Men franchise had used the Days of Future Past storyline to get the younger cast into the present time (much like the Star Trek reboot). It seems like a lost opportunity but since Days of Future Past had better than a 50% increase in the US box office (and double worldwide) over the First Class movie there is a solid financial reason to give Wolverine a large role in future movies as well as provide for cameos for the other members of the original cast of mutants. Having a single movie set in the past has novelty value but it limits what technology can be used and the whole nostalgia angle can get pretty old pretty fast. Failing that, having time travel storylines is the next best thing to keeping the franchise as fresh as possible and I hope the X-Men can pull it off without confusing the moviegoers.

There may be mutant activity near the Randhawa's travel center in Melbourne, Iowa if you count the ability to put up countless signs on convenience store windows as a mutant power and there may have been a mutant with the power to mangle language...note the 'Please Hold Unto Door' sign.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Dear Hank (An Unsolicited Advice Column)

  In my recent post ‘An Evening with C.A.’ I helped a young man determine what he wanted to do with his life in just a few hours after years of poor advice and befuddlement. The post was such a staggering success (one person liked it on Facebook and another person clicked the ‘interesting’ reaction at the bottom of the post) that I’ve been inundated with people asking for the kind of salient, no-nonsense problem solving advice that I gave that young man (a person at the Quik Trip asked me if I knew where the restroom was and another asked me if I knew how they could get to Highway 14) so I thought I’d answer some of these questions and perhaps launch a new career as an advice columnist.

Dear Hank,
  I am a retired businessman who made millions of dollars running a Fortune 500 company and I decided to run for the open Senate seat from the State of Iowa as a Republican. I spent over a million and a half dollars of my own money on my campaign and blanketed the state in advertising how I would bring my business know-how to Washington and offered great ideas like selling the vast energy resources on government lands to balance the budget. But despite my best efforts I finished third in the primary election behind a state senator who made ads about knowing how to castrate pigs and a radio talk show host. I may have another chance to run a Senate campaign in two years and I want to know what I need to do differently to win the next time around. - Mark in Iowa

Dear Mark in Iowa,
  First things first – stop talking about how you will run Washington like a business if you get elected. Even if you get elected you’ll just be one of more than 500 elected officials and it’s not like you’ll be the CEO or anything. Let’s face it – if people really wanted the government run like a business do you think the government would be over $17 TRILLION DOLLARS in debt? Of course not! Voters vote for people who will give them more and more from the government and they don’t care where the money comes from as long as it comes from somewhere. Look in today's paper at the new student loan forgiveness guidelines. Who do you think the drunk and high on cocaine college kids of the world like C.A. and his ilk are going to vote for once they get out of school and discover that being drunk and high on cocaine for four years left them with a mountain of student loan debt and the kind of low paying job you get after spending four years drunk and high on cocaine? The candidate who will vote to balance the budget or the candidate who will forgive their loans (irrespective of their hog castration experience).

  If you insist on talking about your business experience discuss how you get the better of all your business deals and how you’ll use that experience to bring more money into Iowa than the people of the state pays to the government. Since you have experience running a non-profit corporation talk about how you want to run Washington like a charity and tell everyone about all the things they will be able to get with all the government money you will bring in the state. Then you can make your own goofy commercials about people driving their Cadillac Escalades with large screen TV’s into their trailer parks. Once you get people thinking about driving their big cars with giant TV’s into their trailer park homes, they’ll forget all about the hog castrating videos and you’ll be well on your way to victory.

Dear Hank,
  A company has called about setting up a FiltroPur demonstration in my home and has told me I would receive a $100 gas card just for having the demo. I saw the blog post about your FiltroPur demonstration and I know that I’ll probably only get an offer for ten $10 gas vouchers. I still want the money so I want to know if you ever got any money from your demo? – Loving Me a Benjamin

My second gas voucher rebate check from International Rebates took as much work as getting the first one!

Dear Loving Me a Benjamin,
  Glad you asked. So far I’ve sent in 5 rebate vouchers. The pattern by this point is obvious. I received a $10 voucher form by email in December, January, but not in February. At the end of February, I called International Rebates (the company that handled the rebates) and stayed on hold for a half hour before getting a person who sent me a new voucher within the hour and told me that my first rebate check would be delivered in the next week. I then waited two weeks and after I received no check I called the rebate company again. I stayed on hold for a half hour and when the rebate person answered I was told my first rebate check would be delivered in the next week. I then stayed on the phone for an hour asking the following three questions in repetition: 1. Why didn’t I get my rebate check? 2. When will I get my rebate check? 3. Did the company get any of my rebate vouchers? I received a rebate check for $20 (not 2 $10 rebate checks) in three days.

  I received my voucher forms for March and April but not for May. I sent International Rebates an email 2 weeks ago to let them know that I did not receive a May voucher and that I should have received my February rebate. The company called back to let me know that my rebate check was on the way and that I would be receiving a new voucher shortly. I received neither so last Monday I called International Rebates and stayed on hold for a half hour before getting a person who sent me a new voucher within the hour and told me that my first rebate check would be delivered in the next week. I didn’t wait two weeks this time but I stayed on the phone for a half hour asking the following three questions in repetition: 1. Why didn’t I get my rebate check? 2. When will I get my rebate check? 3. Did the company get any of my rebate vouchers? The rebate person eventually hung up so I called again and got another rebate person and I asked the same three questions for another half hour before they hung up also. I received another $20 rebate check last Friday dated the day after I called.

The quickest LEGAL way to a Benjamin remains working for it...

  So I’ve received $40 from International Rebates but counting the FiltroPur demonstration I’ve spent at least six hours getting the $40. When I subtract the $3 in postage I’ve made approximately $6.17 an hour getting my rebate money so I suggest that unless you have a disability that prevents you from working ditch the FiltroPur demo, go to a place like QPS Employment in Marshalltown, get a real job for a couple of days, and you’ll be loving a Benjamin much faster.

Dear Hank,
  I run a very successful NBA franchise. Our team nearly made the NBA Finals last year and started this season with the best record in the NBA after two months. We faltered after the All-Star break but still managed to finish with the best record in the Eastern Conference. We made it to the conference finals but lost to the Miami Heat in six games. Lance Stephenson is one of our best players but is also a free agent. If we keep him we will have to go over the salary cap and pay a luxury tax. He is an amazing talent but was increasingly erratic as the playoffs went on. He smacked a player in the face, went into the opposing teams huddle during time outs, and made himself a media laughingstock by blowing in LeBron James’ ear and then pushing him in the face during the conference finals. If I let Stephenson leave in free agency I worry it will tear the team apart because it will look like we’re too cheap to have a winner but if I keep him I worry that his immature antics will tear the team apart despite his all-star play and unlimited potential. What do you think I should do? – Larry in Indiana

Dear Larry in Indiana,
  Lance Stephenson is super talented but he is also an accident waiting to happen. His antics remind me a lot of Ron Artest, a former player of yours who also had immense talent but also had a deep seated need to be the center of attention and a penchant for immature antics that polarized every team he played for. He ruined your team for half a decade in 2004 after he got suspended for a year when he jumped into the stands at Detroit and got into a fistfight with the fans. Your organization has proven adept at finding low-cost quality players in the draft and free agency and while your team may suffer in the short term by letting Stephenson go I believe you will come up with other talented replacements. There is no reason to have a walking time bomb like Lance Stephenson on your team. After all, your team didn't win the East with Lance Stephenson and your can certainly not win the East without him. My advice is to let Stephenson go, build your team around Paul George and Roy Hibbert, and find yourself another point guard. As nice a player as George Hill is he is not a starting point guard on an NBA championship team (although he would be a tremendous backup on one).

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Chess DVD's - Something Old and Something New

Some of the Chess DVD's I recently
bought from
  I recently purchased a large amount of DVDs from, whose ads you may have noticed on this blog over the past few months. I signed up to be an affiliate, put a link to their site on mine and according to the affiliate agreement I was sent (and I quote) “You’ll then get affiliate commissions for any sale made from that link and future sales from that computer for up to 90 days.” I tested the affiliate commission calculations last November by logging in under an account separate from my affiliate account and making a purchase. Sure enough, the affiliate account was credited with a commission but I never received a check. I never really gave it much thought and chalked it up to experience. You can see samples of the company’s offerings on their YouTube channel at and if you get on their mailing list they will offer free DVD’s and other special offers from time to time.

  In April, the site offered a 50% discount on any order of $150 or more. I had recently come into some unexpected cash helping some old retail store customers and decided to place an order. I ordered three DVD’s by Simon Williams (the English GM whose games I followed years ago when I started playing the Dutch Defence) and a full set of DVDs of former World Champion Anatoly Karpov discussing his best games, games by Bobby Fischer, and his matches against Kasparov and Gata Kamsky. Those two purchases got me very close to the $150 threshold so as an afterthought I ordered 2 DVD’s by GM Damian Lemos going over games by top grandmasters and a DVD called ‘Fighting in the Endgame’ by FIDE Master Alisa Melekhina. All the selections come with the option of downloading the content or downloading the content and having the physical DVD’s mailed to you. The difference in price between the DVD’s and the download was only a few dollars for all but the Karpov collection so I ordered all the DVD’s except the Karpov Collection in addition to the downloads and I received every DVD I ordered before a week had passed.

  Now don’t get me wrong – I have no delusions or illusions that watching a bunch of chess DVD’s is going to make me any better of a chess player. This was an impulse buy for entertainment purposes to help me get over the reduction in reruns of Law & Order, Law & Order : Criminal Intent, and Law & Order : Special Victims Unit on my favorite television stations but if I suddenly become a super strong chess player you’ll know what the secret was.

  The first DVD I watched was Alisa Melekhina’s ‘Fighting in the Endgame’ (you can see the first part of the video at I started with this one because at one hour it had the shortest running time. The endgame is my favorite part of chess – I’ve been looking at some of the favorite games I’ve played for a future post and almost every one of them has the fight going deep into the endgame. The endgame is an infrequent subject in chess DVD’s and videos with most focusing on opening preparation, attacking play, or games collections of great players. Melekhina is a frequent participant in the US Women’s championship and a master level player. The DVD has the production values of most recent chess videos - flashy graphics in the opening sequence, a computer chess board taking up half the screen with different colored arrows and squares to highlight key concepts and the presenter taking up half of the other half of the screen. The remaining quarter of the screen varies from company to company. Chessbase videos use it to show the move list, other companies show a computer evaluation or the time remaining, and the videos use the space for their logo.

  ‘Fighting in the Endgame’ has two parts with each part showing a game of Melekhina’s – in part one she fights for a draw from a poor position against an equal player and in part two she demonstrates a game in which she presses for a win against a lower rated player who seems happy to get a draw. In each game Melekhina attempts to impress four themes: adapt to a change in the position, prevent your opponent from executing their plan, take advantage of complacency, and force your opponent to make decisions. Melekhina’s sample games illustrate her themes but if I hadn’t known they were her games I wouldn’t have guessed from the presentation since she seemed to be reading the entire time. Even though Melekhina is always on screen she hardly looks in the camera although that may be because the camera was out of focus with a fuzzy looking picture. Looking at many video samples on YouTube, I’ve noticed the common theme of the presenter rarely looking in the camera, seeming to be reading off a script, and the video pane of the presenter looking out of focus. Compare the free part one of ‘Fighting in The Endgame’ with this Game of the Day video by Daniel King of Chessbase at – King is in focus, is looking at the camera, and is engaged with the audience even though he had less than 24 hours to prepare this 15 minute video.

  While the two games in ‘Fighting in the Endgame’ were interesting, in my opinion the detachment and seeming lack of enthusiasm of the presenter detracted a lot from the presentation. There are just two games on the DVD and the lack of content is offset by the low price (the download is $10 and I got the DVD and download for half off the $15 retail price). Given that half of the DVD is available for free on YouTube I was only getting a half hour of unavailable material which I hardly consider good value for my money even at half price. In fact, if I had been a savvy shopper and found the sample on YouTube I wouldn't have made this purchase in the first place.

  After finishing ‘Fighting in the Endgame’ I turned my attention to the Karpov Collection. There are plenty of samples on YouTube at These videos are remastered versions of what looks like TV shows from the late 1990’s hosted by GM Ron Henley, who was one of Karpov’s seconds in the 1990’s. Anatoly Karpov was seen by many chess fans as the chess embodiment of the ‘evil empire’ communist cold war USSR. He became the World Championship Challenger in 1974 by defeating Victor Korchnoi in a match where Korchnoi’s seconds were ‘assigned’ to other duties away from the host city of Moscow before the match and Karpov then became champion when Fischer refused to defend his title unless his conditions for the match were met (an unlimited match with the first to 10 wins taking the match but the champion couldn’t lose his title in the case of a 10-9 match loss). When Korchnoi defected from the USSR and became the championship challenger in 1978 and 1981, Karpov was accused of receiving signals from his trainers via his yogurt snack and the USSR was accused of using parapsychologists and putting Korchnoi’s wife and son in prison in order to pressure Korchnoi. In 1984, Karpov’s match with Garry Kasparov was aborted after 48 games when Karpov looked to be in danger of a historic collapse when he lost 2 games in a row to cut his lead to 5-3 in the race to six wins match and Karpov was widely accused of using his influence to have the match aborted.In Dominic Lawson’s book ‘The Inner Game’, he describes the 1992 quarter final candidates match between Nigel Short and Karpov in detail and paints Karpov as a sneering victor and the sorest of sore losers whose team has a parapsychologist that constantly stares at Short and bugs his room to listen in on his analysis with his seconds.

  Whether Karpov is seen as a worthy world champion or the beneficiary of the USSR’s communist system demanding he be kept at the top of the chess world by any means necessary he was undoubtedly one of the top players in the world for a quarter century, holding one of the top two places on the FIDE rating lists from 1973 to 1991 and in the top three for six years after that (,%20Anatoly.html) and to watch a player of that caliber go over his games is a rare treat.

  The production values of the Karpov DVDs are as low-tech as the ‘Fighting in the Endgame’ are high-tech. Instead of an electronic board, Henley and Karpov move the pieces on a plastic demonstration board with a pocket for each square. This means that after going over a variation the presenters must manually set up the position instead of instantaneously reverting to the game with a mouse click. There are many times in the videos where Henley resets the board and Karpov corrects him. Sometimes the White pieces are beige and sometimes red and sometimes red with a large white dot on each piece. There is no split screen of the board and the presenter - when Karpov and Henley are shown the board is not visible and vice versa. Most of the time the camera is on the presenters when they are talking in generalities but I found the few times Karpov would rattle off a variation while on camera quite hard to follow.

  Having two presenters interact with each other made the games more interesting and a lot less like a lecture from a disembodied out of focus talking head. Henley is deferential to Karpov but hardly subservient. He offers suggestions, most of which Karpov shoots down with a tactical variation but sometimes giving the world champion pause as he mutters “What to do…?” before offering his opinion on Henley’s suggestion. As I mentioned before, in his heyday Karpov was described as kind of a jerk and in these videos he had no problem making some comments about other players and chess personalities that could be taken as snide. He talks about how Spassky did no preparation for his match with Fischer in 1972 and that Kasparov was too inexperienced to defeat him in their first match but learned how to be a champion from Karpov. At one point when Henley mentions a spot during the 1996 Karpov-Gata Kamsky match where Kamsky’s father (you can read about the infamous chess parent Rustam Kamsky here) seemed ready to explode, Karpov says with a chuckle that even a not-so-good player like Rustam Kamsky knew Gata was busted.

  Karpov goes over Fisher’s games for almost 4 hours on the DVD collection and while he discusses the games competently enough I've seen them explained so many times by so many people that the world champion didn't have much to add. In contrast, the nine hours Karpov spends going over his own games are amazing. Since these are his games he is intimately and infinitely knowledgeable about them and easily rattles off variations to explain why he made a particular move or why the king belongs on f2 instead of g2. Karpov has a reputation as a defensive player but he shows amazing tactical acumen, oftentimes refuting Henley’s suggestions with an offhand variation. One thing I noted was Karpov’s obsession with tempo when discussing his games. He often goes to great lengths to show how a certain sequence of moves get him to his desired setup one move ahead of other sequences and later in the game shows how being that extra move ahead decided the game in his favor.

  There is another DVD set in the Karpov Collection called ‘Karpov’s Russian School of Chess’. I only watched the first 10 minutes of Karpov on Openings in which he discusses the most basic beginner principles for openings at which point I zoned out. While the Karpov Collection set of DVD’s is dated in terms of production values, 13+ hours of chess discussed by a World Champion including 9+ hours of his own games is an outstanding value for the $65 price tag for the download ($119 for the DVD and download is a bit much) and at the 50% off price I paid was one of the best bargains ever even if the next penny I receive from in the form of an affiliate commission will be the first. I hope to review my other purchases in a future post but watching them will have to wait until I watch the Karpov Collection again.

  As a postscript, a month after I placed the order I received an email from letting me know I had a commission coming and asking what websites I was using to link to their site. I let them know and then asked when I could expect my commission. I received no answer so I pressed the matter a week later whereupon I received an email from the president of the company letting me know I wouldn't be receiving any commissions because (and I quote) "people don't get commissions on their own sales". As my departed mother would say "How convenient..."

When is any sale not any sale? When it is your sale, of course!
Maybe I can get commissions from someone else's sales...