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also a great promoter of chess around the world. This game got off to a rocky start over a disagreement between the World Team and Pogonina’s husband/manager Peter Zhdanov, who saw no harm in being a member of the World Team while the game was in progress. This led to some harsh words being exchanged, including Zhdanov’s calling the World Team “space- bar masters”, a pejorative term that the World later adopted as a badge of honor. Happily, differences were reconciled and the game got underway on schedule. After that initial controversy, this game

presented even more challenges to the World Team. First, the system of analy- sis forums had been stretched beyond its limits during the Umansky game under the pressure of increasingly greater reliance on stronger and faster engines. One member commented that the serious contributors might be jeopardizing their marriages. Second, Pogonina’s prefer- ence of a time control of one half-move per day undermined the World’s main strength: its ability to organize itself. Finally, the World Team struggled to inte- grate an influx of new members into its ongoing structure. Fortunately, team member Jeremy Pflasterer developed cus- tomized online software to help, going far beyond the core features offered by the website itself. Although many versions of this idea had been proposed, Jeremy stepped up and made the idea work, with a product called the Online Analysis Tree. It is a Wikipedia-inspired website that anyone can edit by adding nodes and comments to an analysis tree. It has the potential to become a significant organi- zational tool for team play.

The game against Pogonina proved to

be odd in many respects. On the 10th move, the votes for 10. Bf4 and 10. a4 were exactly tied, 164 to 164. Here was the position:

The World vs Natalia Pogonina “Flat Earth Society”


pz -+nvlpzpp -zpp+psn-+ +-+p+-+- -+PzP-+-+ +-+-+NzP- PzPQvLPzPLzP Rt N+R+-mK-

After 9. ... Nbd7 Thankfully the rules had foreseen this

possibility: In the event of a tie vote, the software breaks the tie by selecting one of the moves at random. So the software

flipped a cyber-coin and played the stan- dard book move 10. Bf4, not the computer-preferred move 10. a4. Many of the top analysts on the World Team regarded 10. a4 as the stronger move in that position, and suggested that this was exactly what lost White’s opening advantage. Despite the level nature of the game, the World still managed to gen- erate some excitement by playing 44. Nd6 to reach this position:

The World vs Natalia Pogonina “Flat Earth Society”

-+Q+-+-+ +-+-+pmk- -+psN-vlp+ +-sn-+-+- r+-+-+-zP +q+-+NzP- -+-+-zPK+ +-+R+-+-

After 44. Nd6 Although the rook on d1 is unprotected,

44. ... Qxd1 was not the end of the World. Play continued 45. Ne8+ Kf8 46. Nxf6+ and Pogonina soon was compelled to return the material with 61. ... Rxf2+, forcing a draw. The World Team recognized the perpetual check and offered a draw on the next move. The World Team is not composed

entirely of diehards who devote hours each day to the game. To the contrary, there are many enthusiasts who follow the game less closely, and even those who don’t believe that they have invested enough time to cast an informed vote. Nonetheless, even the non-voters identify with the World and root fervidly for its success. Member David Zechiel explained, “I’m sure there are many more like me who enjoy the battle, check in often, and take a small measure of pride when the World wins or draws. … I always enjoy it when a member of the team throws out a new idea for consideration: if the move has potential, you can almost hear the gears grinding as computers all over the globe search out the position looking for hidden nuance in the new move.” These non-voting members play much needed roles, such as educating the World Team about the etiquette of offering a draw, or summarizing the main ideas recently posted with flair and levity. When emo- tions run high, some members ratchet down the intensity by injecting some humor into the discussion. One mem- ber, OhioChessFan, created a huge number of song parodies during the Pogo-

nina game, like this spoof of The Who’s “Pinball Wizard”:

Ever since I was a young boy Hustling chess on the playground From Soho down to Brighton I was the best around I ain't seen nothing like him He’s the best by far That chess-playing-dumb kid Sure clicks a mean spacebar.

What is the future of computer-assisted

chess? Many suspect that draws will abound as the computers get faster, the engines get stronger, and the human input becomes less important. There is another view, however, that is best expressed by ICCF GM Tansel Turgut. His approach is to sacrifice a pawn, or the Exchange, or both, for long-term posi- tional advantages. He then presses those advantages to wins against those who follow computer engines that struggle to understand these positions. It will be dif- ficult for a large team to vote against high-ply computer lines, but if Turgut is correct, this will be the only way to suc- ceed against a strong GM who has a high level of positional understanding backed up by his or her own computer resources. What lies next for the World Team?

The latest GM to accept the challenge is Armenian-born grandmaster Varuzhan Akobian, now one of the strongest play- ers in the USA with a USCF rating of 2705. The game is scheduled to begin on August 10, 2011, when Akobian makes his first move. Anybody can reg- ister for the game right now, for free, at With teammates like OhioChessFan, RandomVisitor, and you, the World is ready to face whatever chal- lenges lie ahead.

. Footnote / Acknowledgement:

This article could not have been written without the generous help of teammates like Marcelo Adaes, Larry Crawford, Mark Elzey, John Jerz, Benjamin Legaspi, Gerry McCarthy, Brian McLean, Jeremy Pflasterer, James Satrapa, Jim Schwar, Greg Sheehan, and Dave Zechiel. Special thanks go to Peter Spizzirri and Daniel Freeman for their support. This article is dedicated to the memory of the best teammate anyone could have: Rinus.

1. Game versus GM Nickel:

2. Game versus GM Shulman

3. Game versus GM Timmerman:

4. Rematch versus GM Nickel

5. Game versus GM Umansky

6. Game versus WGM Natalia Pogonina

Chess Life — August 2011


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