Monday, October 29, 2018

An Exciting Endgame Adventure

About a month ago I came across a wonderful column in the Spring, 2007 issue of Chess Horizons.  The column was entitled "Half-point Theft", written by Derek Meredith.  The author gives the reader an endgame position and then analyzes it from the points of view of seven classes of players, from Class E clear up to Master.

The key position of interest is this: white has K on f5, R on h2, P's on a4, b3 and c4; black has K on a2, B on b2, and P's on a5 and c5.  The author opined that in this position black could block off the white rook with his bishop, and start capturing the white pawns. Consequently, he had varied earlier in order to avoid getting to this position.

However, I realized immediately that after 61 Rh3 Ka3 62 Ke4 Kb4 63 Kd5, black's attempt to "build a bridge" with 63...Bc3, loses easily to 64 RxB! KxR 65 KxP KxP 66 Kb5. 

The author correctly points out that in the key position 61 b4!! wins. However, this is a move which only a computer would find; it is doubtful that any human would ever find it.  More realistic is to try to find a white win even if black avoids the blunder 63...Bc3??

My first try in this regard, playing as white against the Stockfish computer, went as follows:  61 Rh3 Ka3 62 Ke4 Kb4 63 Kd5 Bc1 64 Rh8 Kxb3 65 Kxc5 Kxa4 66 Rb8 Bf4 67 Rb1 Be5 68 Kd5 Bh2 69 c5 Ka3 70 c6 a4 71 Ke6 Bc7 72 Kd7 Bh2 73 c7 BxP 74 KxB Drawn

The problem here is that 74...Ka2 75 Rb7 a3 76 Kc6 Ra1 77 Kc5 a2 78 Kc4 is stalemate.  The salient point is that the white rook by itself cannot win against the black king plus a-pawn; rather, the white king needs to be close enough to help out.

What is amazing is that it only needs to be one move closer!  Say the white king was on c4 instead of c5, after 77...a2. Play could then continue 78 Kb3 (giving the black king a move) Kb1 79 Rh7! And now, black cannot promote to a queen because of the mate on h1. Consequently, he must promote to a knight. Play continues 79...a1(N)ch 80 Kc3 Ka2.

Now we have a position that I spent a fair amount of time looking at to find a win. Knight vs. Rook is normally a draw, but I felt sure that in this position, with the knight trapped in the corner, there had to be a win. I'm embarrassed to say that I had to finally give the position to a computer, and the winning move turns out to be the waiting move 81 Rb7!  This simple move puts black into zugzwang, as any move allows white to either mate or capture the  knight.  White's 81 Rb7 represents a martial arts type of concept, using your opponent's aggression against him. The "aggression" in this case is the fact that the rules require black to move. If he could pass, white would have no win, as black would simply shuffle his king back and forth between a2 and b1.

Armed with this knowledge, I sought a line in which white's king didn't stray so far from the a1 corner. The solution was simple:  use the rook to shepherd the c-pawn down the board, rather than the king. Using this approach, I was able to beat Stockfish rather easily.

But then I wondered about a different black move 63. Instead of 63...Bc1, what if black played 63...Bd4, guarding the c-pawn? Play could then continue 64 Kc6 Bg1 65 Rh7 Kxb3 66 Kb5!, and white should win from here.

All in all, I had the key position set up on the desk in my den for three solid weeks, and kept coming back to the position, searching for the truth in the position. And a very satisfying three weeks it was!

Monday, October 22, 2018

Jian Ghomeshi

Just when I thought things could not get worse, now we have the pathetic case of  Jian Ghomeshi, who the New York Review of Books allowed to submit a long article, a la the John Hockenberry essay in Harper's, wallowing in self-pity over being outed for his sexual predations.

The response was overwhelming, as numerous readers, mostly Canadians, responded with letters condemning the magazine for running such an article, which showed no regard for the many women whom Ghomeshi has abused.

The essay was not quite as pathetic as the Hockenberry article, but it was close. Ghomeshi's self-pity involved his status as being of Iranian descent, while Hockenberry claimed pity as a disabled person. Neither statuses justify the serial abuse of women. When are men going to realize this, and when are publications going to stop publishing such garbage?

Monday, October 15, 2018

Hockenberry's Diatribe

When I was in college in the 60s, the two liberal magazines of note were Harpers and The Atlantic Monthly. The latter, now called The Atlantic, is still going strong, but Harpers seems to have gone off the deep end.

I realized this recently when I picked up the latest issue in the library, and read a 7,000-word essay by disgraced NPR host John Hockenberry. I kept waiting for some salient point to this diatribe, but none ever emerged.

Rather, it was simply an embarrassing wallow in self-pity by Hockenberry, who seems unable to come to grips with the fact that he cannot find another job in journalism. He repeatedly refers to the fact that he is in a wheelchair, as a consequence of an accident at age 19, an accident which rendered him paralyzed below the waist, and impotent. He seems to think he could not possibly be guilty of workplace sexual harassment since he is in a wheelchair and impotent, and he resents being lumped in with the "real" sexual harassers such as Harvey Weinstein.

Harpers exercised incredibly poor editorial judgment in running this worthless drivel. There is nothing unusual about a 60-something person being out of work and unable to find another job. I know a guy who was disciplined for telling a woman "you've got a run in your stocking". He was made to go to sensitivity training, and he estimates he lost $250,000 in lost raises, promotions, and bonuses. He ended up unemployed and in his 60s. No magazine ran an article on his plight.

Then there is the example of William Shirer, who was unjustly fired from his job with CBS radio in 1947, even though he had the highest-rated news commentary show on radio (a huge black mark against Edward R. Murrow, the jerk who fired him). Shirer could not find another job to support his family, but instead of spending the rest of his life wallowing in self-pity, as Hockenberry is doing, he undertook to write a book about Hitler and the Third Reich, based on his first-hand knowledge of Germany in the 30s. The result was The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich.

 If Hockenberry feels so mistreated from being viewed as a sexual harasser, he should look on his firing as simply being an issue of an inability to get along with his co-workers. HR people tell us that more firings are based on an inability to get along with others, than on an inability to do the job. Hockenberry should spend his energies in psychotherapy to work through his many issues.

Hockenberry repeatedly veers off into irrelevant tangents, like the role of romance in 2018. He wants us to believe that his problems stem from society's lack of appreciation for the role romance should play in our lives. But if you read the accounts of the women who were harassed, it is obvious that Hockenberry's actions had nothing at all to do with romance. We are talking about suggestive emails sent over a period of many months to a woman who had been a guest on his show, without the woman ever once responding. We are talking about co-workers who complained about his rude and bullying tactics, only to lose their jobs while Hockenberry kept his. Hockenberry does not understand that romance is a dance performed between two willing participants, not something one party inflicts on another against her will.

In the end, we are looking at a guy who was simply a bully to his co-workers, to the extent that everybody at the radio station tried hard to avoid contact with him. The mystery isn't that he is out of work, but that it took the radio station ten years to rid itself of his toxic presence.

10/17/18 update.  Since writing the above I have come across a piece analyzing Hockenberry's essay. The piece, written by Mike Pesca, is scathing in its denunciation of Hockenberry.

He says that Hockenbery's essay "makes you realize why savvy defense attorneys seldom allow their client to testify in their own defense". He calls it "logorrhea as apologia".  He says that "the Hockenberry essay fails completely and erases any doubt that even a charitable reader like me might have had about the ego, intention, or basic good sense of the man".

Pesca gives us certain new details about Hockenberry's tenure at the station, such as that even before the harassment charges surfaced, Hockenberry :"missed interviews, arrived unprepared, and even fell asleep on the job"; and such as that he was "such an asshole" that he was frequently excluded from staff meetings because he was "so abusive and deleterious to the production of the show"; and such as the fact that his yearly compensation is known to have been over $400,000.

Pesca concludes with his advice to Hockenberry:  "If you really want to rehab your name, image, and marketability, maybe you should drop the pitiable first-person essay....The only practical route to absolution is to put your head down and work. You probably won't get paid for your initial efforts, but you could post all your stories publicly, and perhaps eventually demonstrate to the world that you still have value as a professional. Otherwise this caterwauling, solipsistic, tendentious argument for leniency won't simply document your exile--it will cement it".

To all of which I give a hearty "Amen"!