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Not the Western Morning News! 1st Nov. 2014 (812)

As you might have realised by now, Western Morning News has, as from 1st November 2014, been forced to cut in half the Westcountry Life supplement in its Saturday edition, and with it has gone the chess column. They are due to monitor the situation in January, when further decisions will be made on future developments. In the meantime, the editorial staff will welcome views on the future of the column. Letters should be addressed to:- The Editor, Western Morning News, 3rd Floor, Studio 5-11. Millbay Road, Plymouth PL1 3LF.  During that interim period, I’ll be posting a weekly column in the WMN slot on this website, even though it will not appear in the paper itself.  The code number (812) refers to the number of columns I’ve written since starting about 17 years ago. If the WMN column is not restored in January, I may have to reconsider.

So, here goes……

The new President of the English Chess Federation is Dominic Lawson, former Editor of the Sunday Telegraph, son of former Chancellor of the Exchequer, Nigel Lawson and brother to Nigella. He is a strong and active player who is likely to use his professional contacts to raise the profile of the game in the national consciousness. To this end he has, all this week, been involved in a second series on Radio 4 in which, while playing a game with them, he talks to a number of diverse public figures for whom chess has played a part in their lives. On Monday it was the World Champion Magnus Carlsen and on Thursday it was Sol Campbell, former Arsenal and England footballer. He did a 1st series earlier this year which included boxing champion Lennox Lewis. All ten broadcasts will remain available on the BBC website for at least a year.

By way of introduction, writing in the Radio Times, Lawson links this with the film The Imitation Game, shortly due for UK release, with Benedict Cumberbatch in the part of the mathematician Alan Turing. It concentrates on Turing’s work at Bletchley Park cracking the “unbreakable” Nazi codes, where his line managers included British Chess Champion Hugh Alexander and Sir Stuart Milner-Barry.

Turing was not in their league as a player but left an even greater legacy to the chess world when, in 1952, he developed the first chess program, which he called “Turochamp”. It took half an hour to execute the instructions for each move but it worked, and 45 years later its direct descendant “Deeper Blue” defeated Kasparov himself.

This begs the question as to whether the silicon algorithms have taken over and are killing human creativity. While there is no substitute for human vs human competition, the best players will always be those that harness the computer to help develop their innate skills; to be its master rather than its slave.

Here is the 1997 game in which a computer defeats a world champion in a match for the first time.

White: Deeper Blue. Black G. Kasparov Caro-Kann Defence – Steinitz Var. [B17]

1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 dxe4 4.Nxe4 Nd7 5.Ng5 Ngf6 6.Bd3 e6 7.N1f3 h6?? The blunder that sealed the human’s fate as it allows a known winning sacrifice 8.Nxe6! Qe7 9.0–0 fxe6 10.Bg6+ Kd8 11.Bf4 b5 12.a4 Bb7 13.Re1 Nd5 14.Bg3 Kc8 15.axb5 cxb5 16.Qd3 Bc6 17.Bf5 exf5 18.Rxe7 Bxe7 19.c4 1–0

Last week’s short game ended with 1.Bxf7+ Should Black take the bishop and try to hang on – or not? Black chooses the former 1…Kxf7?? 2.Ng5+ Ke8 and 3.Ne6 traps the queen, a move that Black clearly overlooked. But even if 1…Kf8 2.Ng5 Ndf6 3.Bb3 Nh6 etc. his position is a mess.

In this position from 1882, how does White win in two moves?

White to play and mate in 2

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