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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

Maybe I saw luxury sports automaker Pagani’s most complicated car a month before its introduction at the Geneva Motor Show 02/22/2017

huayra-roadster-ginevra-2017-00000-300x212Years ago, I spotted a student’s father reading Hot Rod magazine during the kid’s chess game. Maybe I looked at the cover weirdly.

“You look confused,” he said.

“I… I’m not a car guy,” I said.

“What? Sure you are. Just not the cars in this magazine.”

He was right. My cars were ’60s Volkswagens with aircooled engines suitable for lawnmowers. I subscribed to VW Trends magazine, and attended Volkswagen conventions, in search of parts and girls.

I’ll always think the Volkswagen Karmann Ghia was the most beautiful car ever designed. It was essentially a Volkswagen Beetle “in a sporty, Italian-designed body,” the ad said.

The ad deserves its own story. The best print ad campaign of the 20th century, according to Ad Age magazine, was the “Think Small” campaign for Volkswagen by Doyle Dane Bernbach. “Think Small” described the Beetle’s economical ways in a charming and straightforward manner, with a clean and minimal page layout — even the advertising said “small and self-deprecating, but inexpensive and awesome”. My father always said that his dark blue ’69 Beetle was the best car he ever owned.

When I learned to drive, it was in a Beetle, with one of my chess club cronies, a Volkswagen restoration mechanic. He re-introduced me to the Karmann Ghia, and it was love at first sight, again. (In my first year of journalism classes, the school newspaper editor drove a Karmann Ghia and dated the prettiest girl on staff.) My first car, naturally, was a half-green-half-primer-gray Karmann Ghia with one orange door.

25 years later, the sight of a clean Karmann Ghia on the road can still make me gasp — the Germans sure knew how to engineer a car, and the Italians sure knew how to design them. They don’t make ’em like that anymore — whether by federal regulation or consumer fashion. For neat Italian automotive styling, the modern winner is the Fiat 500 Abarth.

Today’s Italian sports cars — the Ferrari and Lamborghini, for instance — are designed to shock and awe; I prefer the simple lines and curves of the Karmann Ghia. However, I’ve seen the most shocking and awe-inspiring, elite superpowered Italian sports car: the Pagani Huayra, a car with the aura of a magic carpet.

Pagani’s manufacture of the Huayra in 2012 was such an occasion in the sporting automotive world that the BBC series “Top Gear” devoted to the Huayra the first segment of its Season 19 premiere. “Top Gear” is car porn. If you’ve ever been fascinated by a fast, expensive car, “Top Gear” is the chewiest eye candy. And “Top Gear’s” verdict was to urge anyone in their audience with enough cash ($1.1 million — when you ask what could possibly bring the cost of an automobile up to $1.1 million, consider that Pagani carves its name badges and wheel rims from solid pieces of aluminum.) to do so — the Huayra broke “Top Gear’s” speed record, while its engineering touches blew the hosts away.

“Top Gear” was pleased to say Pagani fills the void that Lamborghini and Ferrari left behind when Lamborghini was sold to Volkswagen-Audi and when Ferrari became a label for lifestyle items — “Top Gear’s” host used the term “innocence” to describe Pagani’s brand name purity, and railed against Ferrari putting its logos on teddy bears while neglecting automotive engineering.

The “Top Gear” segment about the Huayra was made in 2012. Five years in the luxury automobile industry is probably like five years in the software industry — everything has changed, so what was the deal with the shiny new Huayra I saw two weeks ago? According to Wikipedia, Pagani plans to unveil the new Huayra Roadster at the Geneva Motor Show in March. The Huayra Roadster is the “most complicated project we have ever undertaken,” said automaker Horacio Pagani.

1955-74_volkswagen_karmann_ghia_02 think_small

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Categories: media

Bronstein Gambits accepted and declined leading to the same tactical motif at the CalChess senior championship 02/13/2017

The boom in kiddie chess gave us old-timers a greater appreciation for the CalChess Senior State Championship: the age requirement meant we had old stories to share with our opponents, when most weekend tournaments these days pit an adult against three or five children.

In the late ‘70s, Sonoma County organizer Thomas Boyd commemorated a joyous event — the birth of a daughter — with an occasion of chess volunteer work: Boyd named his chess tournament the Cynthia Ann Quads. For many years following, people told Boyd they remembered playing in the Cynthia Ann Quads — these days, can anyone tell one MegaFrankenSwi$$ Open from another?

5…Nc6 compelled 6. d5 before Black could play …e7-e5 to prepare the comfortable retreat …Nc6-e7. 6. d5 Ne5 7. f4 Ng6 crammed Black’s pieces into a tight spot, then Black invested a huge chunk of time — 8…Bg4 plus 9…Bxf3, 10…e5, 11…fxe6, 12…Nd7, 13…e5, 14…Nf4 plus 15…exf4 — to make an outpost on e5 for his knight. By that time, White was fully developed with 16. O-O-O, and Black shied away from 16…Ne5 for the looks of 17. Bh5+ g6 18. fxg6 hxg6 19. Bxg6+ Nxg6 20. Rxg6 Qd7 21. Nd5 O-O-O 22. Qd4. But 16…Nf6 17. Qxf4 Qe7 enabled White to open the position by 18. e5 dxe5 19. Qa4+, and then the self-pin 19…Nd7 ran into the crossfire 20. f6! gxf6 21. Bh5+ Kd8 22. Bg4.

Curiously, I got to play 1. d4 Nf6 g4 with both of my white games at the 2017 CalChess Senior State Championship, and the winning scheme in each case was a bishop check to push the black king to d8, pinning a knight on d7 to death. The curious aspect was that Black took the gambit in round one, and refused in round three — tactical patterns in the middlegame are usually very different depending on whether an opening pawn sacrifice goes accepted or declined.

Black was one of those opponents whose computers won the post-mortem by exposing the warts in White’s unsound opening play. They seem to think that gambit players would be surprised to learn that their opening moves are an unsound proposition, and change their speculative ways, consequently.

An original position arose from 3…Ng8, a Benoni formation where White is gifted with the space gained from g2-g4-g5, while Black’s kingside pieces are restrained. The g-pawn advance also came in handy to enable the bishop development 9. Bg2 — White blocked the f1-a6 diagonal with 7. Nge2 to fight the c8-bishop — if Black chose to develop …Bc8-f5, then White had Ne2-g3 in store; while …Bc8-g4 could fetch f2-f3 if appropriate. 13…Bxe4? was a mistake, bringing 14. Bxe4 forward with a threat (Black was better suited by 13…hxg5 14. Bxg5 Be5 with …Ng8-f6-g4 to follow). Instead, 16…Be5 met the intuitive line-opening sacrifice 17. Rxe5!, after which 20. Bf5 crippled both black knights, and 21. Qd5 made for a winning coordination on the white squares.

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Categories: chess

Time controls 02/08/2017


200 years ago, chess games weren’t played under “time control”, so players could sit in cogitation interminably. (One legend goes that the German master Paulsen studied his board for five hours until he looked up and asked if was his turn to move.) This was unacceptable — mostly because chessplayers have to understand that whether one ponders a position for one hour or 10, one doesn’t see 10 times deeper, just the same thing 10 times longer.
So chess clocks were invented, and a standard tournament time control was, say, 40 moves in 2 hours, followed by 25 moves in one hour until conclusion. In the old days, a game might go on until the the start of the next round, or midnight. Then there was the odd practice of adjournment, where one player chose his next move and put it in a sealed envelope, after which the players could analyze at home until resumption of play. This used to favor the player with a team of analysts, until computers make adjournments wholly impractical.

To eliminate adjourned games, the “sudden death” time control came along, in which the player had X number of minutes to play the game, and if time ran out, the game was lost, no matter the situation on the board. This opened a new can of worms, because there were many positions where losing wouldn’t be a reasonable expectation except for the “sudden death”. One rules adjustment was that a player running out of time could claim unrealistic or insufficient “losing chances” — some of these claims were crystal clear, like the common occurrence where the player who was about to promote the last pawn had too few seconds to deliver the checkmate. Other “insufficient losing chances” claims were murky at best — sometimes you had tournament directors running to find the strongest player on the tournament staff, who could form a more knowledgeable opinion about whether those claims were valid. There was a rule of thumb: If a player rated 1400 could plainly hold the position against a master, then an insufficiency claim could be upheld. (In my opinion, this was a bad rule of thumb, because most chessplayers and organizers don’t know what chess masters can do to upset the mind of a 1400-rated player.)

In order to fix the problems with Rule 14H (the insufficient losing chances rule became such a common bug that players memorized its place in the rulebook), chess clocks were improved in a couple of ways. A player could be given some additional seconds with each move — the idea was that if a position fell under the 14H umbrella, the incremental time would suffice to keep that player afloat while demonstrating the easy win or easy draw. Or the clock would be put on delay, giving the player three or five seconds to move before the time started ticking off his clock. (Every basketball fan knows how this goes — if you’re on your home floor, the referee can signal “start the clock”, and the local staff on the clock can brainfreeze for a *long* time.)

At tournaments these days, I’m accustomed to time controls of sudden death in 2 hours, plus a 5-second delay. This weekend, I’m playing 90 minutes plus 30 second increments. Do the math, and they’re almost the same. At two hours plus D/5, if you play 60 moves and use the whole delay each move (which never happens), it’s 125 minutes. At 90 minutes plus 30, a 60-move game is 120 minutes. I’m wondering if there will be any noticeable difference in the feel of the game.

For example, 40 moves in 2 hours or 30 moves in 90 minutes are both three minutes per move, but 40/2 feels comfortable to me, while 30/90 feels hurried — because chessplayers don’t think “three minutes per move”; there are two or three times per game where the player takes a long think, though the other moves require much less time. At 40/2, there are 30 minutes to give to the long-thinking moves that aren’t available at 30/90.

This effect is most evident at “rapid transit” chess — you never see “rapid transit” these days, because players hate it — in “rapid transit”, there’s a 10-second pause followed by a 5-second interval in which the player *must* move. It’s like 15 seconds per move, but chess thinking just does not happen like that. At any time control — whether game-in-one-minute or 50-moves-in-3-hours — moves like recaptures, and especially automatic “only” moves, require less than instant of thinking; the 15-second “rapid transit” mode tortures players during those moves.


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Categories: chess

Off to fight evildoerth, in the name of truth and juthtithe 01/17/2017

“Whatcha doin’,” said Rimbaud the beaver, more observationally than inquiringly.

“I’m off to fight evildoerth, in the name of truth and juthtithe.”

“Yeth, you are thuited for the part.” Marx, whose fur was turned silver by magic, was wrapped carelessly in red and blue sheets of … something. Rimbaud thought Marx looked like the biggest piece in the deluxe box of roadside fireworks.

Rimbaud continued. “There’s birch bark and pine nuts pizztha… when you’re home from fighting evil. … Evil corporathionth, or buth fare evaderth?”

“No evil thall ethcape my thight!” said Marx, who might or might not have missed the point while performing Green Lantern dialogue. With that, Marx pivoted at his waist — a slick move for a bipedal beaver — and gestured skyward with his cape.

Rimbaud watched for the grand exit, wryly.


“Yeth, Marxth?”

“Would you record Arkanthah Thtate?”

“And remember to account for eight overtime periodth? Thure.”

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Pacific shares first place, but doesn’t yet instill great confidence 01/15/2017

Tommy Full Color on whiteMy fear about the three teams I’m watching this season — Cal, Pacific, Utah — is that they’re good enough to be disappointing.

As the Golden Bears visit the Utes in Salt Lake City Sunday, the Bears are 2-3 in Pac-12 play, one game ahead of the Utes and the bottom of the Pac.

Unfortunately, either Gottlieb’s or Roberts’ bunch has to lose tomorrow, but as displeasing that is, I plan to bicycle downtown in the morning, and ask the place with many TVs to put on Pac-12 women’s basketball.

Cal and Utah have one thing in common: a lone senior — Cal’s Range and Utah’s Crozon — who can sometimes shoot the hell out of it. Both teams both suffer for a lack of seniors.

Pacific was wretched last week in a 55-68 home loss to BYU, though the week before that, the Tigers beat Gonzaga in Spokane. It’s hard to tell with this team — when they’re bad, they’re over-reliant on one player; when everyone’s involved, they’re good. (It’s junior guard GeAnna Luaulu-Summers on whom Pacific depends — against USF, she broke the school record for free throws in a game — but it was Desire Finnie’s steal of an inbounds pass plus layup that stretched the Pacific run to 11-0 and the lead.) When they’re bad, it’s sometimes because they’re too short for some critical rebounds; but especially when the Tiger forwards scrap for offensive rebounds, they’re good. When one Tiger is seen trying to do too much, the whole team can follow suit and fall apart.

Pacific came back late against San Francisco Saturday, winning 63-60 despite trailing 59-50 with 3:30 remaining. It rivaled a 2011 win at Nevada, when the Tigers made up 12 points in the last three minutes, and won in overtime. The thing about the 2011 game was that the Tigers were clearly driven as a team to win the overtime, to make up missing the last shot in regulation. The win today against San Francisco carried no such suggestion — though the Tigers ran off 13 straight points to lead 63-59 with 1:12 to go, their last possession at Pepperdine Thursday mean four points was quite unsafe.

A steal by sophomore guard Ameela Li gave Pacific a chance Thursday in Malibu, down 58-59 with 0:37 left, but their last possession never took form. That loss, coupled with the BYU disaster, made me think Pacific would get to March in 6th place.

Then again, if you consider the win at Gonzaga plus today’s reassuring comeback against San Francisco — and the fact that no one’s running off with the West Coast Conference this season; Pacific, and three others are tied at 4-2 — maybe they’ll be OK come tournament time. Especially if Pepperdine is actually a good team — I mean, if the Waves’ final defensive stop at 0:37 was by design, it makes the whole win appear stronger (and Pacific less clunky at the same time).

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Categories: basketball

A sacrificial motif shared across the Wilkes-Barre Two Knights and the Nimzovich Sicilian 01/13/2017

The appeal of the Wilkes-Barre or Traxler variation in the Two Knights — 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Nf6 4. Ng5 Bc5 — is that Black just ignores the threat on f7. No matter which way White captures, Black suffers a little discomfort, but emerges with gain of time after pushing White’s pieces back.

There’s a similar idea in the Nimzovich Sicilian:

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Categories: chess

New felt for the bottoms of my Lardy analysis set 01/05/2017

Let me tell you again about my favorite chess set.

Back in the ‘70s, cool kids had sets from the French company Lardy. They used to talk about these chess sets the same way guitarists talk about guitars, whether they got the natural or painted Lardy, and what kind of oil they rub in to preserve the wood, and the Lardy knights do not look like dogs, no way.

My best friend had a Lardy, and I’d swear he did some things with that chess set that people don’t usually do with chess sets.

In ’95, the card game NetRunner was still alive, and I was at a gaming con. They conducted a flea market, which I visited early in order to beat the other NetRunner players. A gamer displayed a plastic bag: “CHESS SET MISSING TWO PIECES $2”.

I peeked around the tape that held the bag together, and holy shit, it was the smaller, analysis-sized version of the antique Lardy. The guy repeated the price on the bag: “Two bucks!”.

I said: “Are you kidding, it’s missing two pieces! I’ll give you *one* buck”.

(This was out of character. When I bought a car from a dealer, it didn’t occur to me that he might sell it for less than the sticker price, and I said: “Just give me something to sign”.)

He accepted my offer of $1, so I had a Lardy. It was still a gamble of a dollar, because I didn’t know which pieces were missing; for all I knew, I’d just bought a bag of replacement pieces for someone else. Turned out that the set was missing one pawn of each color, and RRS had spare pieces with pawns that were slightly smaller than the Lardy, though you can’t tell unless you look closely.

If I’m on the road with a chess set, it’s probably that $1 antique Lardy with two misfit pawns. When my ’69 Beetle burst into flames, my thinking was: “My car might explode, do I have two seconds to spare to reach to the passenger seat for my chess set and Capablanca’s Best Games by Golombek, revisions and new material by Nunn?”. I risked it — the Capablanca book is still stained by soot, or whatever was coming off my flaming engine.

I was reviewing games at a kid tournament two months ago, and a kid said: “How much are the books?”.

Twelve dollars, I said, two for 20.

“How much for the chess set?”

“Set’s not for sale.”

“Everything’s for sale. How much?”, he said, as I wondered about his parents.

I almost reiterated its unavailability, but remembered that I work as a teacher and a writer, and it’s just a chess set. “Two hundred dollars,” I said.

“I’ll get my…” he said, and he began turning his head as if to search for the parents who seemingly had never said no to this little asshole. Then he walked off, and I didn’t see him again.

That set’s been through a lot. It’s 40 years old, been saved from an automobile fire, and seen more basketball gyms than probably any other chess set in the world. Over time, the felt on the bottom of the chessmen falls off — the green felt was hanging from one of my black knights, and I thought pulling off the felt would hurt me more than the wooden piece.

Tonight I stopped in an art store for a sheet of self-adhesive felt. Then I spent some minutes cutting imperfect circles of black felt for the pieces that needed it.

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Categories: chess

I’m guessing it was James Taylor’s “Somebody’s Baby” that inspired Pat Metheny’s “James”

pat-metheny-offrampIn 1982, the Pat Metheny Group made “Offramp”, which included “James”, a song inspired by Metheny hearing James Taylor on the radio. “It’s got that James Taylor-like groove,” he’s said.

I was listening to “James” in my head, when I heard around its edges Taylor’s “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” hit “Somebody’s Baby”. I kind of got “James”’s groove in that keyboard bit after Taylor sings “she’s got to be somebody’s baby”, and in his voice when he sings “gonna be somebody’s only light / gonna shine tonight”.

It would also make sense for “Somebody’s Baby” to be on Pat’s radio around the time of “Offramp”, because “Fast Times” was also a 1982 production.

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Fast time controls at chess960 miss the point, and risk alienating players 01/04/2017

Fast time controls for chess960 exasperate me. I’d like to see chess960 catch on, but players who try 960 at blitz or bullet time controls can be dissuaded by having to guess so early. In position #518 — the “standard” setup — players can rattle off 10 or 20 or 40 moves without thinking; their experience tells them which kinds of positions are forming, while instinct and pattern recognition remind them which sorts of moves are appropriate. A quick-fingered chessplayer can succeed at a one-minute game with 10 moves of book plus a series of educated guesses, but at 960, there’s no book to precede the guesses, which themselves are more likely to be blind.

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Categories: chess

Four miniatures for the price of three 01/03/2017

Chess students know this game, and some are aware that Judge Meek is otherwise recognized for losing many games to Morphy.

His Honor’s 6th move was an unsophisticated trap, which made for a cute game, but lacked a logical thread. Steinfeld-Fruteau is an improvement with that theme:

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Categories: chess