Hou Yifan wins Biel GM tournament

This is the first time she has won a strong round-robin – and, no great surprise to discover yet again that when females stop playing in the women’s, they get better.

Females: get the big tip. STOP PLAYING FEMALE EVENTS. You will never be as good as you could be while you still play women’s chess, women’s bridge and, I expect, all other segregated activities.

Stop playing women’s events because the whole idea is sexist and an admission of inferiority. Stop playing them because they are bad for you. Get out of the vicious circle.

August 2, 2017 at 10:45 pm Leave a comment

Chess: Millenials Match – World vs US Under 17

Going into the last day, the star of the event is undoubtedly Australian Anton Smirnov. Sixteen years old and board 4, his performance rating is 2725, ie he is playing, as at the last Olympiad, at super Grand Master strength, defined as plus 2700.

Anton gets very few chances to advance his official rankings in chess. He is still at school – even going to the Olympiad last year meant missing a term – and if you live in Australia you are simply too far away to play seriously. It’s all the more amazing that when he does get these rare chances overseas, he shines. Imagine what he’d be like if he had the natural advantages of somebody like Carlsen, living in the thick of strong chess action all the time. I know, I’ve written about this before.

The last day’s play starts in half an hour as I write, Anton’s playing board 2, black against Sevian.

July 29, 2017 at 11:05 pm Leave a comment

Chess in schools: two TV news stories

Two stories a couple of days ago in the English press about chess in schools. The BBC had a short report headed by a kid saying ‘Chess makes me feel less angry’. Of the many reasons touted for playing chess that’s a new one for me. You can see the report here.

The other, longer report, was on ITV. It reported on Park End Primary in Middlesbrough UK. The first half of the story is entirely expected, kids playing chess and loving it. But then it moves into the school staff room where free teachers were playing chess. All the teachers in the school play, it’s required. Lessons are also provided for parents. It was really nice to see one teacher, I’m guessing the sports teacher, talking about how unlikely he found it that he would like chess and yet there was was, engrossed. One of the female teachers talked about discovering her competitive side which she hadn’t ever realised existed. Fascinating! You can see that one here.

July 29, 2017 at 2:58 am Leave a comment

For all the bridge players in China

I got taken to task by Paul Marston recently for quoting in the last APBF Bulletin in Seoul the number 32M bridge players in China, which he thought to be pure fantasy.

Certainly if you look around there are some wild figures out there. Judy Kay-Wolff in a blog post earlier this year states that ‘TODAY there are over 200,000,000 children learning and playing bridge in China. That is NOT A MISPRINT … OVER 200,000,000 IN CHINA …’

Unfortunately Judy gives no indication as to the source of this figure and as I write, I hope for a response to a query I left.

Both China and Indonesia mobilise youth in bridge in a way that maybe without parallel. But one would need these countries to have no more than hundreds of young players for this to be true.

I noticed a comment by Dunga Lui who is a young Chinese bridge player on Bridge Winners a while back to the effect that in China ‘no school has bridge as a REGULAR curriculum, they have it as an elective activity after regular school time (about 3-5pm Monday to Friday.) Also, not 70 schools having bridge that many in Beijing, it’s about 20 or so I think.’

I might add that some exclusive schools may have hundreds of students playing, but that isn’t going to get us very far on the way to 200M.

I wondered if I could extract more information from him about the situation there. He kindly suggested the following could be relied upon in broad terms.

1. CCBA(China Contract Bridge Association) has 90,000 registration members.

2. China has less than 1,000 PRO players, and most of them have another part time job.

3. Our National Championships (like CHN NABC) normally have 1,200 tables TOTAL (Compare to NABC about 10,000 tables).

4. We have quite a few regionals (about 30), each would have about 70 teams to attend. But we don’t have many clubs, so PROs only find job in regionals and nationals.

5. Roughly estimated, China has about 1.5 million people who know how to play bridge and 30,000 active competition players.

6. The youth bridge in China is growing well in recent years; in some provinces we have and education department or physical department of bureau supporting bridge elective classes in middle schools and primary schools as I mentioned in other threads. Also CCBA holds lectures more than twice a months in different universities.

7. Children’s bridge centralizes in metropolis such as Beijing and Shanghai, you can understand that because people there are well educated they like their child to learn new things. Beijing has 2,000 children playing bridge (under 15) while Shanghai is better which has 6,000. Other cities they have less.

8. Now there is a good bridge soft company in China named Synrey (it has a international version you can find in app store) which has more than 200,000 register users and 20,000 active daily users.

That last comment follows on from the problems that were faced in 2014 with the online viewing of the world championships hosted in China, as discussed on Bridge Winners (and no doubt elsewhere) at the time. By the sound of it the WBF made an unholy alliance. It’s a digression from the topic at hand, but worth recording. At the time Westerners were wondering why they weren’t able to view properly online the world championships despite the WBF’s arrangement.

Ourgame is a comprehensive online card games company, it does not make money/keep market by bridge which is just such a small piece of cake, but bridge has its unique world impact such as international events. So they spend money on bridge, buy the decency, and then with the satisfaction of government, they could make more money by their relations.

Base on that logic, they have finished their job. In regard to bridge and audience? They do not even care about bridge.

Once one looks past registered numbers of players in bridge, it is all but impossible to determine what’s happening behind that public scene. I will mention, not for the millionth time, that ‘bridge’ is so generic it’s a disastrous name. A simple way of getting some idea of the number of chess players in the world is to extrapolate from the number of chess sets (online sales, for example) whereas in bridge there is no possibility of such a thing. However many households own a deck of cards, no conclusion can be drawn about numbers of bridge players.

Although I understood Paul’s indignation, nonetheless it bothers me to draw the conclusions he has from at best tenuous information. After all, it is true that important men at the top of China going back many years were bridge fans and if they decided on a mobilisation at a grass roots level, it would surely happen. From this point of view, it strikes me that it is entirely possible that a large number of people in China suddenly became bridge players.

I followed up with Patrick Choy who recalls that in a meeting with LI Tie Ying, then Vice Premier and a keen player, he advised that in China there were 400M card players in China, with an estimate of 10% being bridge players.

Later on, I did enquire into the basis of the 10% of the 400 card players. On the mountainous West side of the country, card games is the main activities which helped the farmers to enjoy their past time, particularly in the community centres. Since the late eighties, bridge was introduced nation wide to junior, high schools and universities. Furthermore along the developing coastal area, all major corporations normally formed their own bridge clubs employing professionals to play for the corporations in Sectional/ Regional/ National Championship.

The Chinese Bridge Association did not have a register of the community and school/ university bridge player. They only have a register of players who played in the Regional/ National championship. There were however estimated numbers of community and schools/ universities played as reported from the provincial and municipal bridge organization. During the past two decades, I and the WBF Presidents have the pleasure of visiting the schools and community centers and I have always been impressed by the intensity of bridge activities. At the end I inclined to believe the 10% of card players guesstimate, but as a safely margin I put a 20% discount.

To this we have to add the observation that computer/video games are now in a state of dominance. This is a sudden transformation across the world over the last decade or so. The change is probably most dramatic in countries like China, Japan and Korea with extremely strong intellectual games cultures which are being decimated.

For example, Korea has lost millions of Go (Baduk) players to these games and now whole generations of children grow up in a milieu which could not be more different from that provided by the culture of Go.  There are still a couple of hundred professional Go players in Seoul (meaning living on prize money, I believe, not scratching out a living as ‘professionals’ do in bridge) and there is a 24 hour TV channel for the game. The TV channel’s studios are in a four storey building which is just for Baduk. There are clubs everywhere, but a Westerner wouldn’t be a chance to find one which is partly why I questioned Marston’s conclusion that there weren’t any bridge clubs in Shanghai (to speak of) simply because he hadn’t seen any.

No doubt the same has happened to bridge. Patrick Choy says that over the last decade ‘The population of card players have been sharply decreasing. Surprisingly, in my visit with Gianarrigo to China right before the Seoul Championship the Chinese Bridge Association’s guesstimate is it maybe less than 10 million bridge players. I have planned to visit China in July to review this situation.’

I’m guessing that this is only noticeable in China (maybe Indonesia?) because so many people there play bridge. As only a tiny handful of people play in the rest of the world, and as they are mostly old, this is not an impact bridge will notice. Elsewhere kids aren’t playing video games instead of bridge because they never played bridge in the first place. Indeed, if bridge continues to market itself as a game for old people, I wonder if there is a future where people who have spent their younger years glued to screens doing instant reflex gaming, will find a non-reflex game attractive as their reflex skills deteriorate.

Acknowledgements: Many thanks to Patrick Choy and Dunga Lui for sharing their observations about bridge in China.




June 21, 2017 at 7:29 pm Leave a comment

The bravery of a coward, the importance of fear.

The famous mountaineer Ueli Speck died today, and I noticed an interview he did within the last couple of years (I don’t see a publication date) which gives really good advice for games players.

You can see it here in German.  I reprint it below in English from google translate. It is very readable – German translates well with machine translation.


THE RED BULLETIN: Mr. Steck, I do not want to talk to you today about the mountaineers . But over fear. For example, whether you need the anxiety in your job, as tickling, whether you are looking for it or if you are afraid of the fear. How to overcome fear or whether to overcome fear at all. Whether fear takes energy or gives energy. Whether anxiety is important for survival or the joy of life stands in the way. But before we begin, would someone who is a profession in whom every minute mistake can lead to death, would like to talk about fear at all?

UELI STECK: Sure. Because no one believes me, but I am an extreme fear bunny.

Because you are now flirting. If you were really a fear bunny, you would die of fear if you climbed unsecured through a hundreds of meters high wall.

On the contrary. Fear is the reason why I am still alive. Fear is something fundamental. Who does not fear, underestimates his task and exaggerates. If you are not afraid, do not prepare yourself well enough for a task. I am very grateful for my fear.

They now say: Fear is an extremely cunning nature warning device. I say that fear is at least as much emotional ballast. He who is afraid can not be happy at the same time.

Let’s go analytically, then it becomes quite simple. What are we afraid of? Before a situation that we do not feel like. Something strange that we can not classify. On which we have no influence. If we’re not prepared for a task well enough. And that’s where my system starts: I’m looking for the unknown. I am looking for this challenge, which scares me, that has something extremely fascinating, that challenges me. And then I begin to deal with the triggers of anxiety. But completely rational. My fear shows me the problems I need to find solutions for. It becomes a question of logic, and thereby the intangible becomes tangible. In the end, when I have done everything right, the fear is gone. Then I am well prepared. Then I’m ready. Then I know:

And if not?

Then I do not. Then I know: It is too much, it overcomes me, and in such a situation I would not want to go.

We live in a world where heroism is associated with daredevils and courage, Mr Steck. Especially in your profession, right?

I am neither daring nor courageous. Of course you could overcome the fear of a tour , especially courageous. But that would be stupid. For what happens then? Then fear comes on the road. And that is quite bad. The main task is to show you gaps. You can close before the tour starts. But on the road? Very bad. This is no longer possible. Fatal. Fear during a project is quite, very bad. This shows that you made a mistake in the preparation. Then you have given yourself up to something that overpowers you.

The best remedy for anxiety is control, correct?

Completely correct.

But you can not tell me that projects like yours always keep to plans. Since everything can not be controlled. 

A good plan is not limited to Plan A. He also has Plan B, Plan C and so on. If this or that happens, I have to be prepared for it.

Plan C, Plan D, Plan E, you can continue it for so long, there will always be a residual risk. You are not a Nordic Walker, you are one of the most extreme mountaineers in the world! 

Residual risk we have everywhere in life. And believe me, I only accept the absolute minimum. I am a scary hare, do not forget! It is clear to me that you can die while climbing. The risk of an accident is there, just as it is when driving or skiing . I have to accept that there is a rest to which I have no access. I can minimize that very much, but I can never get it anywhere. But why not drive a car , do not ski, do not climb? That would be wrong. So: accept or finger away.

Have you been scared on the mountain yet?


I would now like three examples, please.

The first and largest: 2013, on Mount Everest, an escalated conflict with Sherpas . The attacked us, for a completely void reason, it was incomprehensible, violence, a completely arbitrary situation, irrational, completely unaffected for me. They attacked us with stones, screaming that they would kill us. That someone can get so frightened, that shook me.

So much so that you have really thought about hanging out your mountaineering career. With all respect: Was not that a little overreacted?

No. My whole picture of the world was shattered, I had not thought such a thing possible! It took me months to get back half-way with the world and myself. I had to sort everything again. This experience has changed my system. Today, I approach people differently, more suspicious, more critical.

Do you have a second anxiety situation?

In 2014 with my wife in Peru, on the descent I overlooked that the wind had blown snow. A snowboard broke loose, I was spilled, my mouth full of snow, but fortunately my wife saw my backpack, could pull me out. That was really tight, because it was about seconds. I thought now it’s done with me. My wife saved my life. I was particularly annoyed in this situation, because I have brought us both into such a situation through a few minutes of carelessness. I could only thank my wife and apologize. So it was mainly anger.

I would have a few suggestions on situations that would be appropriate for fear. In 2007, for example, the Annapurna south wall, you crashed 200 meters.

This went too fast for fear. At first I was unconscious. And when I came to the glacier, it was clear what was to be done: first, check whether something was broken. And then implement a plan, as I rauskomme there. Completely rational.

2008, again Annapurna south wall: The Spaniard Iñaki Ochoa collapsed, They tried to save him, he died before your eyes.

No second fear. Mourning, yes. And trouble that he did not have a dexamethasone, a medicine for altitude sickness. He had not taken it for ethical reasons. If he had, he would still be alive.

If on 7000 meters in the icy wind someone dies in my arms, I would indeed take it with me.

I can turn emotions off very well in extreme situations. How is the situation? What is the next step? Whining does not help. Think about it, that helps. If I climb without rope, for example, I could think: Uh, under me 500 meters nothing, now just do not make a shit. That would be wrong. Or there is the possibility to think of the next handle. That’s right.


One of your most spectacular projects was the solo climb of the Annapurna South Wall in 28 hours. They were celebrated world-wide, great Heldenstory. Afterwards, you said that the decision to go completely up was spontaneous, the dynamics of the situation had taken possession of you, you spoke of a risk, so great that it would not be possible for a second time. That does not suit you! Was not that terribly unreasonable?

In fact, you’re right. I had really gone too far. In an area I do not want to push forward. That was a mistake! The fact that such a mistake happened to me, rightly thrown me out of the way.

But you were a hero.

It does not matter if it is good whether I am celebrated for it. An error remains an error. I really had to think for myself: How do I manage this? How can I make sure that I never act the same way, really: never let myself be seduced again into something I had not planned? Because that is what really scares me. It was a brutal process to get out again. It goes deep into themes such as ego, such as ambition.

They are not a fan of our heroic concept, it seems. 

The more daring, the better, that’s how it works, but that’s swindling! For me, a perfect mountain tour is the opposite of it! It is perfect when you end up saying: It was easy. Perfect is to have everything under control, because the preparation was perfect. Everything else is not worthwhile for me; all these oh so heroic ascents, as Reinhold Messner has done so many times, has so often been lucky! I do not want that! Perfection needs no luck!

I understand what you mean, but when I go to my chief editor with a headline like ” Bergtour problem-free “, he will offer me his help in professional reorientation.

I also want to move borders, test my own limits, make new ones possible. But not by diligence in the implementation, but by special quality of the preparation. I am convinced that alone with perfect preparation, you can move borders without leaving your comfort zone. A record is always the result of a perfect process, and it is the process that interests me, not the result. You are also much happier in life, if you are processor-oriented, not result-oriented. Success is not measured by the result but by the quality of the process.

You now think less theoretically than it sounds.

I’ll tell you. 2011, Mount Everest, my first attempt without oxygen. I was at 8700 meters, there was still a ridiculous hour on the summit. But I had no feeling in my toes, and I knew: Everest without oxygen, the biggest problem is the cold. So I had a look, shoes pulled out, my feet were white as the snow, felt like wood. Then I knew it was too cold, now I have to go down. An hour before peak! They all trudged past me, even the weekend mountaineers, who could be carried over there. Only the professional mountaineer Ueli Steck, who turns to 8700 meters. And that was a success! That I have implemented my own plan. I have not been pressured.

Mr. Steck, you are a professional. And no sponsor will be happy if you wear his products and say: With this or that mountain shoe I managed to turn around in time before the summit.

Exactly what you appeal to is the art. Do not let anybody else influence my comfort zone. I am going to Nepal soon, and months before I withdraw from all communication. That’s why. Do not answer any e-mails, no matter who wants me. This is part of my preparation and responsibility.

My last question is now about mountaineering. From 2007 to 2015 the marathon world record was improved from 2:04:26 to 2:02:57, one and a half minutes. In 2007 they set the record for the ascent of the Eiger North Face, 3:54 hours. In 2015, you screwed it to 2:22, an hour and a half less! How are these jumps in a serious sport still possible? 

Because mountaineering as a sport is still in the children’s shoes. As a performance sport it comes only in the aisles, very slowly. I know I’m not making friends now, but when you look at the Himalayan mountaineering, even with the boys, that still has the level of the 1980s. Do not get me wrong, I love the mountains, they are far more than just a sports device, but the sporty, the performance-oriented approach, with a targeted, professional training , we can still learn a lot from the marathoners. Everyone can keep it as he wants, but if you ask me, we are still too much in this adventurer mentality.

May 1, 2017 at 4:13 am Leave a comment

Iran, head-covering, chess.

In October I wrote about the World Women’s Championship being played in Iran, with female competitors being forced to wear head coverings. Some women boycotted the tournament. There is always an argument made at such times that women should agree to play, it doesn’t really mean anything, so why not? Obviously, however, it does mean a lot and to make that point, the Iranian player  Dorsa Derakhshani has been banned from the National Team for not wearing a hijab during the Gibraltar Open earlier this year. Details here.

Ironically, she was quoted in December saying

I’m definitely not conservative in this issue but I think we shouldn’t make such a big deal out of it. Those who really oppose these measures for political reasons are free to stay away. This really doesn’t help anybody and would truly be a pity for the event itself! Full interview here.

Many would disagree with her on this. And it’s all very well to say that women can stay away and some did, but at large professional/financial cost. It’s the world championship they were forced to boycott, not a tournament of no significance.

Overall, the point must be made: how has it helped anybody in Iran, chess players or others, for women from other countries to have aided in legitimising this method of subjugating women?




March 27, 2017 at 5:31 am 4 comments

Applications of Chess Theory Geller

Written in 2010.

This happens to be by my bed at the moment.

Geller’s career spans decades and he is one of those players more than capable of beating world champions – he has a plus score against most he has played – but I’m guessing could never become a world champion because he did not excel at match play. He had more than one terrible trouncing at this form of the game.

But I think we can say of chess more than of any sport, that there is no room at the top. To become world champion at chess is so hard! At the moment we are watching this fabulous tussle between Anand and Topalov. Geller’s description of his ongoing duel with Gligoric brings to mind the role of the Catalan in this match:

Quite often the chess world witnesses some curious creative duels which sometimes last for several years. They proceed according to the following typical scheme. Two players have played a game. On meeting each other again, they choose the same variation, without any prior agreement, of course, thus adding a psychological struggle to the purely chess struggle. Over each of them, like a sword of Damocles, hangs the anxious thought: why is the opponent repeating the previous game? On what move has he prepared a surprise, and has he in fact prepared one? Should I wait for the unpleasant surprise, or should I be the first to deviate from the familiar path? And if I deviate, then when and how?

One can add that the mere kibitzer shares in this anxious excitement. Is Anand going to play the Catalan yet again? Has Topalov a new response? Tomorrow there is another game. Anand has just lost with black so will he retreat to the Catalan? The comfort of something he has a plus score with so far – 2.5/3 – would have to be tempting him. He bounced back from such a situation in game two employing it. I’m guessing he’s going to try it again….

March 24, 2017 at 12:55 am Leave a comment

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