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    Entries in Hans Ree (2)

    Thursday
    Oct032013

    Did Keres Take A Dive?

    A few days ago I reviewed Max Euwe's book on the 1948 Match-Tournament for the world championship title that had been vacated by the death of the previous champion, Alexander Alekhine, in 1946. In the new English-language edition of this book Dutch grandmaster Hans Ree writes a foreword, and therein he touches on the question of whether Paul Keres was forced or at least pressured to throw games to Mikhail Botvinnik, who won the tournament and thus the championship title. After noting that the book is silent on the topic, Ree has this to say:

    In my opinion, there were signs that something was amiss, especially as may be seen in game 30 [DM: Their game from the end of the third of the five cycles]. There, Keres, normally a fine endgame player, after adjournment, reaches a rook endgame that could be drawn by basically doing nothing, but instead with 50.a4, and the subsequent 53.Rd3 and 54.Ra3, he maneuvers his rook to the most passive position on the board.

    In fairness, I must point out that highly qualified observers have considered this atrocity to be just one of those things that can happen to even the greatest players, but I don't agree. Overlooking a mate in one, yes, but not this.

    Here is the question before 50.a4

    and here is the position after 54.Ra3.

    If I recall correctly, the late Larry Parr used to bang on this particular conspiracy theory drum pretty regularly, also appealing to Keres' horrible play in that endgame as evidence as well. Even though I was always far more a Keres fan than a Botvinnik fan I always rejected it out of hand, perhaps due to a general allergy to conspiracy theories.

    Now, one reason I've generally rejected conspiracy theories is that they confuse what Richard Swinburne has labeled C-inductive arguments with P-inductive arguments. To elaborate: a C-inductive argument is one where the new evidence confirms a hypothesis, which is to say that it makes it more probable than it was before. A P-inductive argument also does that, and also makes it more probable than its denial. By way of example, suppose Siobhan is a fan of all things Irish, and believes that a leprechaun lives in her attic. One day she hears some noise coming from her attic, and takes this as proof. Is it proof? No. The leprechaun hypothesis isn't rendered more probable than its denial just because there is some noise up in the attic. The hypothesis has received some confirmation, however. If one supposes that there is a leprechaun up there, then one would expect noise sooner or later - perhaps if the little guy got so excited thinking about gold that he didn't pay attention to where he was walking. Unfortunately for Siobhan, mere confirmation isn't proof or even probability, and given the low prior probability of there being a leprechaun in her attic (or anywhere), this only barely budges the probability from its starting point arbitrarily close to zero.

    This more or less explains why I've rejected the "fix" hypothesis. Keres's losing the first four games to Botvinnik - especially the horrid ending mentioned above - is consistent with the theory that the games were fixed or at the very least that Keres felt pressured. But is the overall evidence good enough to prove a fix? Not really. For instance: no firsthand or even secondhand evidence has come out to confirm it. Keres had a lousy score against Botvinnik even aside from this tournament, even losing blowout games to him on other occasions (and with both colors). Botvinnik himself fought vehemently against Communist Party officials who tried to have other players throw games to him - and did so at some personal risk. Likewise, Keres has never been accused of throwing games at any other point in his career.

    Of course it isn't impossible that Keres took a dive, but aside from the really badly played rook ending and the fact that almost everyone (myself included) likes Keres better than Botvinnik, there really isn't much going for the fix theory. And what about that ending? I think it would make an interesting research project to see how many strong GMs of the time and in the period between the World Wars made horrible errors in rook endings that contemporary players of the same general class would avoid. But let's stick to this ending for now.

    I cover this endgame in detail here, first looking at analysis by Euwe, Botvinnik and Keres and then critiquing that analysis with the help of chess engines and tablebases. The executive summary is this:

    • 50.a4 is not a bad move
    • 54.Ra3 is forced
      • 53.Rd3 is losing, but
      • only one move (53.Rd5) drew, and that it drew wasn't just obvious,
      • that 53.Rd3 (which is an understandable move in its own right) doesn't draw isn't self-evidently obvious,
      • and Keres was most likely in time trouble by this stage
    • All three analysts - Euwe, Botvinnik and Keres - made significant errors in their print analysis of the games

    Given all of the above, we should conclude that it was a complicated ending in which Keres's losing move is entirely explicable, not part of some overall bad plan starting with 50.a4 or worse, some nefarious plot to make sure that Botvinnik won the title. The conspiracy theorists should offer evidence, and absent that evidence should avoid defamatory assertions.

    Saturday
    Sep282013

    Hans Ree's My Chess: A Quick Review

    Hans Ree, My Chess (Foreword by Jan Timman). Russell Enterprises, 2013. 240 pp. $24.95. Reviewed by Dennis Monokroussos

    Hans Ree is a grandmaster, but this is not a chess book in the usual sense. The title, My Chess, is in its way doubly misleading: it isn't about his chess, in the sense of presenting any of his games - or anyone else's games, for that matter. That's the "Chess" part, and the "My" part doesn't fare much better if one takes this to be a summary of is chess career or even a traditional autobiography. This very enjoyable book comprises a series of essays, presented in alphabetical order from "A6648" (about an anonymous player on the Internet Chess Player who has played more than 580,000 games there - a staggering figure!) to "Berry Withuis" (a Dutch chess journalist and informal organizer), with a sort of afterword essay called "A Sunny Existence".

    The essays are most diverse. Many are about great players in chess, both Dutch (e.g.  Max Euwe, Jan Hein Donner and Jan Timman) and from the rest of the world (Viswanathan Anand, Magnus Carlsen and Bobby Fischer, for example, and there are joint entries for the earlier pairing of Mikhail Botvinnik and Vassily Smyslov and the later one of Garry Kasparov and Anatoly Karpov). There are entries for tournaments (the Lost Boys events), places (Venice), figures from literature (Vladimir Nabokov), art (Marcel Duchamp - who was also a chess master) and music (John Cage). Not unexpectedly, especially for someone from Ree's era, there's an entry for alcohol, and in tribute to Nikolai Gogol and the Russian organ for intuition, Ree has an essay on The Nose.

    You will learn nothing here about how to become a better chess player, but it's a wonderful book that opens up the human side of the game from all sorts of angles. For Dutch readers the book may be almost indispensable, but I would recommend to all chess players wherever they may be from.

    One of the last essays in the book is called "Taxi", about a cab ride he took in Rotterdam on his way to a chess tournament. The driver was not a chess player, but had a romantic perception of the grandeur of chess tournaments and the lives of professional players. Ree corrected his misconceptions along the trip, and then realized to his dismay what he had done:

    After this the cab driver lapsed into silence, and I realized what I had done with my cursed pedantry. Here was someone who knew nothing about chess, but had accidentally picked up some interest in it. He had thought that the cream of the Dutch chess world needed bodyguards to protect them against hordes of fanatical fans, and that rich chess fans would fight to get their hands on one of the exorbitantly priced entry tickets. And I had shattered is illusion and robbed chess of its magic by telling him the banal truth.

    I don't think that if his cab driver picked up the book, he would reach the same level of enchantment he had before his encounter with Ree the passenger. If he reads My Chess and encounters Ree the writer, however, he will see that the world of chess is a treasure in its own right, worthy of entry not for its external rewards but for its internal riches.