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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

The meaning of Morphy-Bottin, Paris 1858 06/30/2017

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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Games no. 80 for the 1985 and 2017 San Francisco Giants 06/28/2017

2296San Francisco Giants game no. 80 in 2017: The Giants (29-51) beat the Rockies 4-3 in 14 innings. Matt Cain provided a “quality start” — why three ER in six innings is the baseline for that metric will always puzzle me — and the shitty SF bullpen threw eight shutout innings.

Still two games behind the ’85 team that lost 100 games.

July 6, 1985: The Giants (31-49) won their fourth straight, beating the Cubs 6-4 in Chicago. Rookie 3B Chris Brown homered twice behind Scott Garrelts in relief. Starter Mike Krukow blew his 3-2 lead in the 6th, but 2B Manny Trillo homered in the 8th and Brown in the 9th to save Krukow’s butt.

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Games no. 79 for the 1985 and 2017 San Francisco Giants 06/26/2017

2296San Francisco Giants game no. 79 in 2017: The Giants (28-51) beat the Rockies 9-2 to open a three-game series at home. Colorado lost their sixth straight (after sweeping the Giants in Denver the week before), and have dropped from 1st to 3rd in the NL West.

San Francisco’s 1-2-3-4 hitters were 10-for-17 with six runs scored and 10 RBI. (It was odd to think the Rockies were thinking “oh boy, now we can catch a break in a pitchers’ park like AT&T”.)

Games behind the 62-100 1985 Giants: 2

July 5, 1985: July was the Giants’ best month in 1985, in which they were 13-14, while the Cubs were one of three teams against whom the Giants played .500 ball, so that Independence Weekend series leaned toward the visitors from San Francisco.

On July 5, the Giants (30-49) beat the Cubs 12-6. 2B Manny Trillo was 3-for-5, including two hits in the Giants’ seven-run 7th inning. 3B Chris Brown was 4-for-5, on his way to Rookie of the Year consideration as one of the things worth watching that season. Chris Brown was the 1985 version of Austin Slater.

Cubs RP Dick Ruthven gave up three hits and two runs in the 8th. Remember Dick Ruthven? He was from Fremont, attended Irvington HS, then Fresno State.

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Making “the king game” fun for both players in the chess classroom 05/31/2017

Every chess teacher knows this position, and has played the black side of it a million times.
If White is given the task of reaching the 8th rank, there’s only one first move that will succeed:

1. Ke2!

Now if Black moves to the d-file, White wins with 2. Kf3!. If Black moves to the f-file, White wins with 2. Kd3! (the student should work this out). The best defense is:


After which White’s sole correct play is:

2. Ke3!

The trouble with this arrangement is that if White goes awry, it takes some moves for White to see that, and lesson time goes wasted.

An improved starting position is:


If White makes a move toward the 8th rank, then only 1. Ke6! wins, whereas White is prevented from any further progress by 1. Kd6? Kd8 or 1. Kf6? Kf8. This is easier for students to get a grip on, and then the task becomes a bit more difficult by starting the white king on e3:


1. Ke4! (1. Ke2! also wins).

After students grasp the starting positions with the white king on e3 or e5, then we can go back to kings on e1 and e8. When the students have that well in hand, this one is tricky:


Because when White makes the only correct move — 1. Ka2! — then Black might try 1…Kb8 or 1…Kb7, and White must be careful. Some experienced tournament players can’t do this one. They say they know “the theory of opposition”, but can’t demonstrate it.

When you handle these positions with Black as a chess teacher, and steal the opposition with the black king, you might allow White to make 20 or 100 moves before White finally gets (or is given) the clue that the white king is stuck. In the chess classroom, on the other hand, playing the black side is no fun: you’re supposed to lose, and when you don’t lose, the only reward is that perhaps White has learned from another mistake.

We might make this more interesting for both sides with this game:


The pawns are stationary, and hichever king reaches his own pawn first wins. Of course, White should always win. Like before:

1. Ke3 Ke6 2. Ke4 Kd6 3. Kf5 Ke7 4. Kg6 and a white pawn will be rescued.

Say White opens 1. Kd2?. Then Black wins by 1…Kd6! 2. Kd3 Kd5.

Here’s the interesting variation. If White makes an incorrect 2nd move:

1. Ke3 Ke6 2. Kf4?

Then Black can stop White’s progress with 2…Kf6!, but Black has to settle for a draw. For instance: 3. Kg5 Ke5? 4. Kg6.

The best form of this game is:


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Three paragraphs of analysis about 1. h4 e5 2. h5 d5 3. h6 05/24/2017

Fifty weeks ago, a tournament began in which every game had to open 1. h4 e5 2. h5 d5. I’ve relished every moment of this: As White, you’re sacrificing time and central space and safety (I usually play 3…Bd6 heading straight for g3, right?) in exchange for a bit of kingside space. As Black, you’ve been given time and space and safety, so go like Steve Nash.
screen-shot-2017-05-24-at-4-01-55-pmAfter two qualifier rounds, the final round started last week. I’m in 2nd place (39-2-3). The leader (41-1-1) and I shook virtual hands, and the guy played 3. h6. Wow.
I thought: Why haven’t I thought of that? I’m serious. I said that White sacrificed time and central space and safety for nothing but some kingside space (the games you win as White, you probably made use of the h-file). 3. h6 takes the next logical step: there’s no trouble opening the h-file later, and Black isn’t gaining time with the capture, just material (if you’re my chess student, *get this*: let your opponents capture to gain material, you capture to gain time).
Following that cardinal logic, Black should not capture on h6, but should hope for h6xg7, so …Bf8xg7 is a genuine gain of time. Honest, chess is much more fun for players who get that. Scientifically, 3…Nxh6 gains a pawn > 3…Nf6 (say) 4. hxg7 Bxg7 gains a move, but artistically, it turns the difference operator the other way.
On the other hand, 3…Nxh6 means the knight has two different routes to g3: …Nh6-g4 and ….Nh6-f5. Also on the other hand, 3…Nf6 4. hxg7 Bxg7 points the bishop toward the queenside. And if you’re following the time > material notion, White doesn’t have to play 4…hxg7 — if fact, as long as the h6-pawn stands, the f8-bishop is tied to the defense of g7.
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Categories: chess

As the baseball world turns 04/25/2017

2296I heard twice during the Giants radio broadcast Monday that on a normal news day, Sergio Romo’s return to AT&T Park would’ve been the top story.

Romo was a right-handed stalwart in San Francisco’s three-times-champion bullpen, but when that relief staff melted down in 2016, Romo left, and landed in… Los Angeles. That resulted in Monday’s video tribute and a long ovation of gratitude for a Dodger. (Romo’s biggest fans are in the weird position of rooting him for pitch well in Dodger losses — which is pretty much what happened in San Francisco’s 2-1 win.)

The bigger stories in San Francisco baseball were the promotion of 3B Christian Arroyo from AAA to the big league — Giants brass wanted to prevent the 21-year-old from feeling the pressure of having to rescue the team from its wretched 6-13 start, but here he is. The rookie was 0-for-4 in his debut after hitting .440 in Sacramento, but his first at-bat was a groundout that moved a runner from second to third (and then scored), and the Giants weren’t even making productive outs.

Also, ace pitcher Madison Bumgarner held a press conference to explain the dirt biking mishap that injured his shoulder, disabling Bumgarner for an estimated 6-to-8 weeks. The hardest part of this for the organization and the fans is that the possibility that his shoulder will never be the same, and his career ends. That’s on everyone’s mind, but it’s too early to say anything until the rehabilitation shows results. Then the radio talk show chatter will be non-stop — it’s the natural progression of the news cycle. (Imagine Matt Cain — Monday’s winning pitcher has had three good starts in a row, which he hasn’t had in five years — pitching well around that time. The speculation will mount about the team incredibly taking the option to give him one more season at $21 million.)

Speaking of the natural progression of the baseball news cycle, in order to make room on the roster for Arroyo, the Giants cut outfielder Chris Marrero because he was hitting 4-for-38. The shocking thing for me was how briskly he was swept out the back door. Manager Bruce Bochy reported the roster move during his pregame interview, and when radio man Jon Miller paused for a moment to enable Bochy to speak a cliché like “we’re giving him a chance to find a home with another team, Bochy didn’t budge. That split-second of dead air said much about baseball as a brutal business.

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An Anastasia’s Mate miniature in 960 04/21/2017

My MacBook Pro was stolen three weeks ago. My WordPress password was saved in a keyring, and I didn’t remember it. It’s taken a little while to learn how to reset the WP password with the admin utility.

I might have created an Anastasia’s Mate miniature in a chess960 game, but Black didn’t move his queen at move 9, so 10. Ne7+ forked his queen, prompting his resignation, instead of 10…Kh8 11. Rxh7+! Kxh7 12. Qh5#.

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Chess tournament named after my favorite guitar composer 03/31/2017

The Kolty Chess Club in Campbell, Calif., names its tournaments thematically. One year the events were named after mountain ranges, another year Beethoven compositions.

This year the Kolty tournaments are named for classical guitar composers. They’re in the midst of the Ferdinando Carulli tournament — Carulli’s my favorite composer for guitar, so I had to drag myself down there to play in this one (not the first time I entered a chess tournament just for its name —mi0002862260 in Feb. 1985, the Berkeley Chess Club named its tournament the Farewell Jack Clark Open because the San Francisco Giants had just traded their All-Star right fielder to the Cardinals for a bag of magic beans).

Black’s play at moves 5 through 8 is such that the only other occurrence in the 365chess database is by a 1300-rated German boy. After 15. Nxa7, the Fruit engine figures White’s advantage is more than four pawns.

Not much to talk about, except for what didn’t happen: In case of 3…exf4 4 Nf3 g5 5 h4 g4 6 Ng5 h6 7 Nxf7 Kxf7 8 d4 d5, following Corzo-Capablanca 8th match game 1901, what was I going to do? I’ve annotated that game several times for print, but always from young Capablanca’s point of view; I was going to have to find an improvement for Corzo over the board.

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Here’s what I’d do with a programmable chessboard 03/01/2017

Here’s what I’d do with a programmable chessboard, like the DGT or the SquareOff: It reads in a gamescore, compares your moves to the movdarth-vader-vs-chess-pieceses in the scoresheet, and if not a match, it replaces your move with the correct one.

In other words, that an automated version of the Purdy method for practicing chess the right way. (Play through a game, covering the winner’s moves and guessing as you go — I talk about this very often.)

For as long as I’ve practiced in this fashion, the practice was its own reward. But for this idea to work, people would want their Solitaire Chess scoring (Horowitz did that first in Chess Life, now Pandolfini does it), or grading by the Toga engine (from the Guess the Move feature at

Chess teachers would get good use from this. They could assemble groups of games to demonstrate a pattern (or a useless opening) or model player.

In the mid-’70s, the mechanical device for this kind of practice was test marketed (they called it CyberChess, though there was nothing cyber about it). At each turn, six candidate moves were presented, and the user moved sliding panels to get a score from +3 to -3 (coincidentally, that’s the range the Toga implements). It was a great idea — because it helped chessplayers study the right way — but RRS said the games selected for version 1.0 were all wrong. RRS would’ve installed his Blue Knights collection, right?

Whether you perform the guess-a-master’s-moves exercise online or in a box, or do it the old-fashioned way with a book plus a 2×3 card, it can’t be beat. With practice, you string together enough correct guesses to put you in the master’s league.

I used to think the most fun about this practice was when I guessed a better move than the master actually played (the annotations say when this happens), but nowadays I love this: When you’re playing a hard game, sometimes you make your move with a mental shrug while thinking: “OK, fine, I cannot be sure how this move will work out, but it was the best I muster at the moment”. When you’re guessing a game, and you guess a move with that uncertain feeling, sometimes it’s the right guess, and you feel like you’re sharing the feelings of a master, as well as the thinking.

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