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Frisco Del Rosario writes about chess960, women's basketball, minor league baseball, unsupported collectible card games, lettering in comic books, and Golden Age movies

What if you *were* allowed to play chess like an open book test? 10/13/2017

I’ve said hundreds of times during classes and lectures that openings study is useless because 1) chess isn’t an open book test, you can’t wheel a bookcase of openings literature to the board; and 2) even if you did, inevitably you have to make a move on your own, and there are you are lost in the woods, wandering without your ECO.

An old chess master friend thought: What if you let players play with open books? He figured that the game wouldn’t “start” with the normal initial position, but at some roughly-equal position at the end of some published analysis.

He’s right. What if you had to play two most important games against a slightly stronger opponent, and you were allowed to refer freely to two books? Which would they be?

First of all, you’d have to wrap your precious in brown paper, because any opponent with a brain would render your openings books worthless by stepping out of them as soon as he could.

Let’s say you had of those  all-purpose system-for-all-weather books — those are usually based on a kingside fianchetto, yeah? After 10 or so moves of that, don’t you think you could assess your position and think: “I didn’t need a book to get here”?

Middlegame books — honestly, “middlegame books” are hogwash because the no one can say when a middlegame will begin, or when a middlegame will end. The best you can hope for from an openings book or a middlegame book is that it discusses common pawn structures and the plans that pertain.

I always say people don’t lose short games because they’re bad at openings, they lose short games because they’re bad at tactics.

But taking tactics books to your open book chess test won’t help, either, because you couldn’t find the applicable moves unless you  recognize the pattern on the board — which you should’ve learned already in your studies, if you were studying useful tactics instead of stupid openings.

If you bring two endgame manuals to the board, your opponent will start getting worried in the middlegame because you’ll be prepared for the simplication that is bound to follow.

Go on, ask a trusted master or teacher which two books they’d take to an open book chess game. If you follow the logic, you’d have serious doubts about anyone who’d take openings literature.

Me? I’d take de la Villa’s 100 Endgames You Must Know, because they must occur. At one time or another. these endgames will happen.  And Chernev’s Capablanca’s Best Chess Endings because even if the exact formations don’t arise, somewhere in the middlegame, I can use the index to find the material balances that seem likely to arise, and see — generally — what Capablanca did with them.

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2002 Frisky Awards for Best Animated Feature Among Those Nominated by the MPAA 10/08/2017

The 2002 Friskies

The nominees are “Ice Age” (Blue Sky Studios), “Lilo and Stitch” (Disney), “Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron” (Dreamworks), “Spirited Away” (Studio Ghibli), and “Treasure Planet” (Disney).

Ice Age

“Let’s do a ‘mismatched trio forms a reluctant alliance during a dangerous adventure, and build respect and friendship along the way’, and they’re prehistoric talking animals!”. With luck, none of its sequels was nominated by the MPAA.

Lilo and Stitch

No one ever told me that the Hawaiian kid’s weird-looking pet was a extra-terrestrial death machine on the lam. Disneyfied science fiction for the kids, plus a touching story about building a familyfor the adults. Shockingly good.

Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron

Dreamworks, which successfully kicked Disney’s ass with “Shrek” the year before, tried again by making an animal movie with animals that don’t talk. The horses were supposed to communicate with each other and the audience through horse noises, body language, and soundtrack music, but Dreamworks lost its nerve.

Instead of believing in the idea to the end, the horse body language became ridiculously anthropomorphic, the soundtrack added songs by someone who sounded too much like Bryan Adams (becaue it was Bryan Adams), and a “Wonder Years”-style narration by Matt Damon.

They almost made an interesting slavery allegory in which the US military are the bad guys.

Spirited Away

“Citizen Kane” is said to a landmark, one of the greatest films in history. I can never vouch for that, because I can’t be sure I’ve ever seen the whole thing — it puts me to sleep every time.

And so did “Spirited Away”, the Studio Ghibli production that every film critic in the world freaking raved about. Critics liken “Spirited Away” to “Yellow Submarine” and “The Wizard of Oz” for psychedelic imagery and a far out story, but “Yellow Submarine” had Beatles music.

“Spirited Away” is non-stop creepy moving pictures, but that’s all it is — when something has to happen to progress toward the end, it’s just handwaving. When the three dream characters in “The Wizard of Oz” had to infiltrate the witch’s castle to rescue Dorothy, they cowboyed up (that is, the characters determined to do something and did, whereas in “Spirited Away”, the somethings just happened).

Treasure Planet

Rather than make an animated version of the Robert Louis Stevenson book with 21st-century technology, they made a space opera (so the parrot becomes a shapeshifter — maybe the most amusing character in the movie). Points for Emma Thompson as an animated Honor-Harrington-like feline, Patrick McGoohan’s last credit, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Jim Hawkins, though Gordon-Levitt’s voice always grates me when he’s upset.

The winner of the 2002 Frisky Award is “Lilo and Stitch”.

Frisky Awards for Best Animated Feature Among Those Nominated in That MPAA Category

2002 — Lilo and Stitch*
2001 — Shrek

*The Frisky doesn’t correspond with the Academy Award.

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2001 Frisky Awards for Best Animated Feature Among Those Nominated by the MPAA 10/01/2017

Welcome to the Frisky Awards for Best Animated Feature Among Those Nominated by the MPAA.

We are awarding Friskies because:

1)  It gives me a reason to watch  the Oscar nominees that I haven’t seen.

It’s easy to see all the nominated shorts — they show those together at small houses — but I miss many of the features. Thank heavens for home video and public libraries — even if some MPAA nominees will be handicapped by my having to watch a 13.3-inch MacBook screen.

2) The MPAA sucks.

The Oscars aren’t always given to the deserving artists or films — often they’re premature lifetime achievement awards, or makeup calls.

And when it comes to animated movies, there should be an additional category: Best Animated Feature from a Studio Other Than Pixar and Disney. For instance, “Finding Nemo” (2003), “Inside Out” (2015), and “Zootopia” (2016) aren’t locks to win the Friskies over “The Triplets of Belleville”, “Anomalisa”, and “My Life as a Zucchini”, respectively.

The 2001 Friskies

The nominees are: “Jimmy Neutron, Boy Genius” (Nickoledeon), “Monsters, Inc.” (Pixar), and “Shrek” (Dreamworks).

Jimmy Neutron, Boy Genius

Impossibly tech-savvy 3rd-grader sends a toaster into space to make alien contact, puts his robot dog in bed while he sneaks out to an amusement park, and the kids wish their parents didn’t exist. What could go wrong?

Wildly imaginative graphics — to save their parents from their alien abductors, the kids pilot a space fleet constructed from amusement park parts — and bonus points for an unknown voice cast. Despite the adult songs on the soundtrack (songs by Kim Wilde and The Go-Go’s), a kids’ movie all the way.

Monsters, Inc.

An early entry from the 10 years in which Pixar had an OPS of 5.000 (in other words, they hit a home run every time). There *are* monsters in the closet, but they’re more scared of children than the children are of them, so hell for monsters breaks loose when a little girl lands on the other side.

State-of-the-art motion (John Goodman’s blue and purple fur bristles) and goofy monsters who are genuinely scary when the story calls for it.

In a priceless bonus for adults, “Monsters, Inc.” reframes the Chuck Jones classic “Feed the Kitty”, right down to the monster fainting with the same facial expression as the bulldog.


There are some movies that leave me thinking “That was outstanding. I have to see this again.”, but sometimes I don’t get around to it, which is one reason for The Frisky Awards (I can hardly wait for “The Triplets of Belleville” year).

In adult fashion, “Shrek” skewers Disneyfied fairy tales, while Dreamworks raspberries the Disney facade itself. A Michael-Eisner-sized wannabe king schemes to send an ogre — bargaining to regain his privacy — on a hero’s journey to rescue a princess from a dragon-patrolled tower.

“Shrek” follows the heroic journey tropes so the children can follow along, while brilliantly subverting the details. The princess’ Disney Song and Storybook is far from the reality of “Shrek”. Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, and Cameron Diaz haven’t made a better movie since.

The winner of the 2001 Frisky Award is “Shrek”.

Frisky Awards for Best Animated Feature Among Those Nominated in That MPAA Category

2001 — Shrek

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Farmer and Pigs for the real world chess instructor 09/24/2017

screen-shot-2017-09-24-at-5-06-15-pmI’ve doubled down on my notion that the variant game “Farmer and Pigs” is an excellent introduction to chess for reducing the number of units involved, and simplifying the winning conditions.

If a pawn reaches the 8th rank, or if a pawn captures the queen, the pigs celebrate. If the queen captures all the pawns, or blocks the last pawn from advancing, it’s barbecue time.

I learned something obvious last week: It’s easy to handicap myself by reducing my number of pigs (or if not reducing the number, by increasing the number of “pig islands”). Now that I think about it, I can handicap myself on the farmer side by making the 7th rank, or 6th rank, the goal.

The farmer should learn three vital chess skills through Farmer and Pigs: forking, skewering, and cutting off (say, threatening the pig from the behind is cutting off — and perhaps use this as a way to teach ‘rooks belong behind passed pawns’).

The pigs should learn the strength of pawn chains, and particularly recognizing and abandoning a lost pig (too many times I see a student waste a tempo by advancing a pig that’s in the farmer’s sights).

Both sides should learn to calculate a few moves ahead, and by golly, both sides had better learn to recognize PxQ when it’s there.

I’ve learned that a shocking number of students need to practice this: From which squares can the queen safely fork the pawns?


This is the simplest form of tactical puzzle, and we chess teachers unanimously recommend the solving of tactics puzzles. Maybe your students are way past finding all the forking squares here, but mine don’t possess that much board vision.

Farmer and Pig tactics can get tiresome. Then there’s this: Move the queen to a square from which she can safely capture the pawn with the next move. (And then checkmate the enemy king, if practice is needed there.) These are from the amazing Chess Camp (vol. 4, pg. 77).


This is useful stuff, with no more than king, queen, pawns. Some chess teachers think they can cram all 32 pieces into a kid’s brain in an hour — mostly what they’re doing is preparing a kid to avoid Scholar’s Mate, then slog around from this position — which my chess teacher calls The Scholastic Opening:
There is no life in this position, which is why the resultant games go on for 75 moves — and Grandma says: “Yay! You survived for 75 moves! You won a trophy!”.

Learning chess from move 1 isn’t conducive to playing after the K-3 Beginner events. Learn tactics and endgames with few pieces on the board. As you improve, add a piece to the board. After 30 years of learning, you’ll be prepared for games with all32 pieces on the board — those are hard.



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About the chess scene in Casablanca 09/07/2017


Screen legend Humphrey Bogart was  a chess enthusiast, once appearing  on the cover of Chess Review magazine with his wife Lauren Bacall.

In 1942, the Warner Brothers film “Casablanca” won the Academy Award as Best Picture, its star Bogart won Best Actor.

Early in “Casablanca”,  Bogart analyzes a chess position while Peter Lorre implores him to hide invaluable travel tickets.

According to Round Up the Usual Suspects: The Making of Casablanca by Aljean Harmetz, it was screenwriter Howard Koch’s idea to include the chessboard, representing the character Rick Blaine as a thinking man.

According to a forum post  without citation, Bogart’s examining one of his postal games. The Harmetz book says screenwriter told producer Hal B. Wallis that Blaine is supposed to be castling, as a metaphor for keeping himself out of trouble.

During the shooting of “Casablanca”, Bogart maintained a postal game with Irving Kovner from Brooklyn, the brother of a Warner Brothers studio employee. Bogart’s wont was to accompany his moves with a few personal words (“Now I’m in a jam”).

It would have been an extraordinary coincidence for Bogart’s analysis of the Kovner game to include castling precisely in accordance with the script. It’s my reasonable guess that the Kovner position was on the board, and Bogart castled perforce — out of sequence or illegally — then restored the Kovner setup after the take.

Paul Henreid, a “Casablanca” co-star, played chess with Bogart on the set. Round Up the Usual Suspects quotes Henreid as saying Bogart was a “fine chessplayer, very fine”. Like any chessplayer, Henreid said he won all the games for being a little better than his very fine opponent.

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The Last DJs 09/06/2017

I watched a movie in which women aged 80 and 30 — who don’t get along at first because the senior lady is an imperious battleaxe — discover a shared fondness for vinyl, and especially for freeform radio.

The young woman shares the call sign for freeform station in town, and in a beat, the old woman is hauling her record library to the station. There she talks her way into the drivetime DJ job, because she’s got technical experience with radio plus a wide-ranging knowledge of music, and the awareness that DJs used to build blocks of songs that fit together, like a thoughtful mixtape. Naturally in a movie like this, the soundtrack is appropriately diverse. (The only artist I recognized was The Kinks, and it was a song I didn’t know.)

If that were all this movie was about, it might’ve been pretty good, though how do you wring two hours from that — more likely, it’s a “WKRP in Cincinnati” episode in which Bailey meets a disagreeable old woman in a coffee shop, and so forth.

Unfortunately for “The Last Word” — starring Shirley MacLaine as the old and Amanda Seyfried as the young — that excellent 25 minutes was a small portion of two hours that I wager critics hated.

It was built by formula: Disagreeable old lady meets callow young lady meets precocious orphan, no one gets along initially but inevitably form a familial bond.

It was most predictable, because you know the steps in that formula, and the title and the premise give away the ending — the old lady has to die at the end after repairing burned bridges, settling old accounts, and assisting the young woman and the orphaned girl in growing up.

The framework is that Shirley MacLaine gets the idea that she wants Amanda Seyfried, who writes obituaries for the local paper, to write her obit in advance. MacLaine explains that every well-crafted obituary contains some wild card remembrance which made the deceased special (which turns out to be ‘retired advertising executive becomes disc jockey at 81′). Seyfried has trouble writing the boilerplate about MacLaine’s colleagues and loved ones because hated her. You know how it works: the movie gradually makes her less and less hated until Seyfried ultimately delivers a heartfelt, teary-eyed eulogy at the end.\\\

The reason I’m writing about this crappy — just checked; 35% by critics at Rotten Tomatoes — movie that we’ve all seen before in one form or another (probably several times until we’re fed up with the predictability) was the 25 minutes about genuine radio programming by human DJs, not demographic-driven algorithm. The movie has a sincere love for eclectic music broadcast on 500-watt stations.

Before “The Last Word”, the piece of modern popular culture that best addressed the death of good radio was Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ “The Last DJ”, a concept album tied together by Tom’s disillusion with the business. Of course, you don’t hear “The Last DJ” on the radio, which is the whole bloody point.

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San Francisco Giants catchers memberberries 07/03/2017

screen-shot-2017-07-03-at-3-07-03-amSometimes when Buster Posey does something outstanding, I think it sucks that an old Giants fan can’t sit in a bar, and jaw with a young Giants fan like: “Junior, Buster Posey is good, but lemme tell ya about Marc Hill, the Giants’ opening day catcher in 1975”.

Giants catchers could maybe hit a little — Milt May hit .310 in 1981, and Dick Dietz had 100 RBI in 1970, one-third of his career total (thanks for bunching them up, Dietzy!) — or field a little (Gold Glove Kirt Manwaring was in the catcher platoon that went to the ’89 World Series), but Buster Posey is the only San Francisco catcher who could do both (Hall of Famer Buck Ewing probably did more than one thing, too).

There was fan favorite Bob Brenly, an All-Star in 1984. Brenly was one of the really likable Giants during the dark Disaster LeMaster seasons. When they put him at third base — where he committed three errors in one inning — Giants fans loved him for that, even.

I saw a painting of Bob Brenly at the county fair 10 or 15 years ago. This local artist said: “I want to paint a picture of my favorite Giant, and that’s Bob Brenly!”.

What has stayed with me all these years about that painting was that it captured a moment, the kind of moment that baseball fans have to explain to not-baseball-fans. Baseball fans say that the long periods of nothingness are punctuated by moments when *something is about to happen!*, and we say that like it’s a good thing.

The painting represented Bob Brenly about to catch the pitch while he’s coming up from his crouch. The artist seemed to want to convey that anticipation of the moment (yay, finally, some action!) plus the unique back-and-forth force of a 90 fastball caught, and then rocketing back to second base.

At least in my eyes, that painter captured the kind of moment that baseball fans find special. I’ve been looking for a picture of Buster Posey at that same instant, but I can’t find one — either Posey is set to receive without a steal attempt, or Posey is cocking his throwing arm.

Baseball metrics can’t account for two things Buster Posey does better than any other catcher: making up for time lost through Giant pitchers’ slow deliveries (they say baserunners don’t steal against the catcher they steal against the pitcher; Buster Posey regains the time that Cody Gearrin wastes), and putting the throw on the bag (no time lost making the tag). Posey catches, gets out of the crouch, and throws in one motion. Basketball fans are wowed by the shooters who catchandshoot. It’s all one word: catchandshoot. Posey’s the only catcher I’ve ever seen who nails basestealers with the same seamless athleticism.

If there’s not a painting of Buster Posey at a county fair some day, we’ll settle for a plaque at Cooperstown.

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Games no. 82 for the 1985 and 2017 San Francisco Giants 06/30/2017

2296San Francisco Giants game no. 82 in 2017: The 2017 Giants (31-51) caught the 1985 Giants by beating Pittsburgh 13-5. SF had 18 hits; Span-Panik-Pence were on base 14 times in the 1-2-3 spots. Rookie Ryder Jones got his first hit to make it 1-for-18 in his career; rookie P Dan Slania pitched a perfect 9th in his MLB debut. Winning pitcher Johnny Cueto was in trouble all night, but wriggled out of jams in four of five innings, and that’s what makes him a $20 million guy.

The Giants have won four straight, and some nitwits are talking about getting back into the race. The Giants could go 40-10, and that would leave them five or so games behind the Rockies for wild card #2.

Games behind the ’85 team that lost 100 games: 0 Hooray!

July 8, 1985: St. Louis beat San Francisco (31-51) 6-1. All-star Joaquin Andujar improved to 15-3 for giving up 12 hits but just one run. The Cardinals smacked loser Dave LaPoint for 11 hits in 5-plus; the only Card not to get a hit was Jack Clark, for whom LaPoint was traded.

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The meaning of Morphy-Bottin, Paris 1858

If you sort a database of Morphy games by length, his shortest game as White was a 10-mover against Bottin, in which Morphy played the dubious Lopez Opening (or MacLeod Attack) 1. e4 e5 2. c3.

I’ve wondered for years what caused him to do that (variety, a form of odds, touching the wrong pawn?). It hit me today that he knew that in 200 years or so, some chess teacher would want to use his MacLeod Attack game to show why developing the pieces 2. Nf3 3. Bc4 before Captain Evans’ 4. b4! is the right way to play.

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At the halfway point for the 50-game-losers 1985 and 2017 San Francisco Giants 06/29/2017

2296San Francisco Giants game no. 80 in 2017: The Giants (30-51) completed a series sweep of the slumping Rockies 5-3, gaining a game on the 1985 Giants. Rookie 3B Jae-Gyun Hwang, an import from the Korean league, homered in his first MLB game. Hunter Strickland got his first save, because emergency reclamation project closer Sam Dyson pitched more than an inning the night before, and $14 million closer Mark Melancon went on the DL.

Games behind the ’85 team that lost 100 games: 1

July 7, 1985: The Cubs came from behind to win 6-5 with three runs in the bottom of the 6th. Mark Davis, who won the 1989 Cy Young as a Padres reliever , blew the save and took the loss for the Giants (31-50). Leon Durham homered twice for Chicago.

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