CHESS HAS ITS PRODIGIES, WHY NOT POKER?

Kids Chess 29june12The Jamaican press reported the story of Leighton Barrett this week, who has left his home on the Island to travel to Philadelphia to compete in the annual World Chess Open Championship. It’s the biggest event of his career after dominating tournaments at home.

The crucial thing to know about Leighton is that he’s only nine-years-old.

His story is just the next in a long line of similar tales from around the world, of child chess prodigies succeeding on the world stage. Current world number one Magnus Carlsen for example became a Grandmaster aged just 13 and watching such young talents develop over time is part of the game’s fabric.

Leighton was five years old when he began playing chess. Having formerly watched his older brother at Wolmer’s Prepatory School Chess Club, Leighton now demolishes him in about three minutes.

So after so much success at home his coach Adrian Palmer is confident that his charge can handle the opposition in the United States, in what will be the 1,200 international rating category.

“This will be his first time playing at this level,” said Palmer. “Therefore, I hope he won’t be nervous, which may affect his thinking ability. Once he does what he is supposed to, he should be in the top ten.”

Leighton practices up to nine hours a week with two hours a day spent playing chess on his computer. It begs the question of how many nine-year-old poker prodigies there could be out there were the image of poker not unnecessarily linked to casinos and gambling.

At its most basic poker is just a card game, played by millions of players around the world without the need for money. As highlighted in a special conference at Harvard University earlier this month, poker is already being used in one New York school, and plans to use the game in curriculums is also being explored.

Chess clubs remain common on most schools but why not poker clubs as well? The word “Grandmaster” has an aura about it, one of excellence and achievement. Poker needs its word too to denote ranking, something IFP plans to introduce in the coming months.

For now chess fans will follow the progress of Leighton when the championship starts on 4 July. “If he continues along this line, there is a great possibility that by the time he is 14 or 15 he should be a National Master,” said Palmer.

The best poker players reach the headlines in their early twenties, occasionally earlier. How much better would they and the game be, if they could play uninhibited in school or even earlier?

KASPAROV AND TURING PLAY UNIQUE CHESS MATCH

Chess Computer 26june12When chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov took to the stage at the University of Manchester he faced an opponent of legendary intellect, and yet it the game was all over in a matter of seconds.

The match was Turing vs. Kasparov, but this was no ordinary competition.

“Turing” was in fact the chess programme written in the late 1940s by Alan Turing, the father of computing. Kasparov, who had a peak World Chess Federation (FIDE) rating of 2,851, introduced the programme to an audience marking the centenary of Turing’s birth, at the University where Turing himself used to work.

Turing was instrumental in early computing as well as for his pioneering role as a code breaker during World War Two. As well as playing a major part in the Allied war effort, Turing went on to work on the world’s first stored-programme computers, as well as areas of mathematical biology, before he died in 1954 aged just 41.

With the board on a large screen behind him, Kasparov opted to play as black, but anyone looking forward to a long battle of attrition was to be disappointed.

As white made its third move Kasparov couldn’t help himself: “Not a great choice…” he said, to a ripple of laughter. Then, within a minute, Kasparov had checkmate on “Turochamp”; all over in just 16 moves.

“I’m sorry,” said Kasparov, smiling, as the audience groaned good-naturedly.

Kasparov went on to praise Turing’s chess programme, as well as his contribution to computer science.

“I suppose you might call it primitive, but I would compare it to an early car,” Kasparov said. “You might laugh at them but it is still an incredible achievement.

“It’s something that definitely changed our lives.”

Watch the footage of the match on the BBC website.

NATIONS BATTLE TO BECOME CHAMPION

For the past few weeks, soccer fans around Europe have been glued to their television sets, watching the fortunes of their side go up, down and sometimes up again in pursuit of one of the games’ most sought after trophies.

The 16 teams that started Euro 2012 earned their place in the championship after a two year qualifying period. This rigorous process ensures that the Championship, staged jointly in Poland and Ukraine, showcases the very best of European football talent in new state-of-the-art stadia.In this regard it has been a total success. The likes of Spain and Italy have at dazzled in their passage to the semi-finals, as have the dependable Germany and flair-filled Portugal. For the worldwide audience this has been soccer at its most compelling.National teams benefit from a natural fan base, uniting the hard core supporters with the occasional viewers who long gave up on understanding the offside rule. They replace passion with national pride and the spirit of competition, rejoicing when their nation does well, shrugging off any despondency when they fail.

IFP believes that poker could become a similar spectacle, drawing in support from pro poker players, amateurs and casual fans alike, even if they do not completely understand position or c-betting. All can be brought together by a shared appreciation for the talents of world class competitors.

The IFP Nations Cup strives to fill a gap in the poker world; a national team championship bringing together the best players from various qualifying countries to compete alongside each other.

Using an innovative format known as Match Poker (formerly Duplicate Poker), in which players at different tables are dealt identical hands in corresponding seats, the Nations Cup reduces the element of chance while increasing the demands on skill necessary to succeed. In Match Poker you must win and lose in the most profitable manner.

As the inaugural Nations Cup demonstrated in November, it makes for an absorbing and dynamic poker event, with the capacity to watch how several players play the same hand proving to be an educational tool without parallel.

This year IFP will be staging the second IFP Nations Cup, in London, made up of teams of players who have themselves survived an arduous qualification process. This event will once more demonstrate how the best players utilise talent and skill at the highest level to succeed and become Nations Cup champions.

Last year that was Team Germany, a team as gifted and organised as their counterparts on the football field. Will they be able to defend their title this November in London? Details of the line-up of this years’ event will be coming soon on the IFP website.

WHO IS THE BEST?

Chess Pieces 22june12Among the most exciting chess players in the game today is Magnus Carlsen. The 21-year-old chess prodigy was in action again last week, winning the 7th Tal Memorial in Moscow, one of the strongest events of the year.

Carlsen’s performances have been the talk of the chess world for several years now and the Norwegian lived up to expectations again, taking the title as the only undefeated player in the field of ten; each of whom could count themselves among the best in the world.

From a slow start Carlsen went on to dominate, taking victory in a tense finale. Five players shared the lead with two games (of ten) to play, including the 19-year-old Italian grandmaster Fabiano Caruana, who led going into the last round only to lose his final match and the title.

That Carlsen has remained at the top of the rankings, despite his relative youth, owes to his capacity to develop quickly and adapt his game, turning his previous youthful aggressive style into a more neutral one better suited to matches against leading players.

It’s a quality that separates the good from the great in many pursuits, with the best poker players measured in a similar fashion. Success in poker is often attributed to longevity, which in turn relies on a player’s ability to consistently change and improve to adapt to new, younger opponents, honing their raw talents on the internet.

It’s often said that the World Series of Poker Main Event is contested by the best players from every home game in the world. It’s a simplistic analogy but a useful one. Just because you can beat friends or even the best in your home town, it doesn’t mean you can compete against the very best in the world.

Right now Carlsen is ranked Number one on the Fédération Internationale des Échecs (FIDE) list, his peak rating being 2,826, just 25 short of Garry Kasparov, the former World Champion and former trainer to Carlsen.

Without a similar rating system it is difficult to tell exactly who poker’s number one player is. Obvious candidates would include Viktor Blom and Tom Dwan, two extraordinarily gifted individuals who have developed almost supernatural reputations for prowess. Both, like Carlsen, live and breathe the game they love, but there are many others, egos charged, who could lay claim.

The International Federation of Poker will shortly be launching a ranking system that could prove the first step in analysing player performances to definitively say who is best. Until then, while Chess has absolutes, poker fans will content themselves with speculation.

SPORTACCORD MEMBERSHIP IS PRIORITY

In an interview with insidethegames, President of the International Federation of Poker Anthony Holden outlined IFP’s plans to formally seek membership of SportAccord. Holden was speaking at the SportAccord Convention in Québec City earlier this month, where the chiefs of world sport were gathered.

Describing membership of SportAccord as “our first goal”, Holden went on to say that a formal application will be made in the coming months.”We are hoping and planning to apply for St Petersburg next year,” he said. “We came this year to make our case to people.”

As the article details there was some cause for optimism. Holden found those he was speaking to in Quebec were themselves poker players, part of the 300 million players worldwide that make poker the world’s second most popular sport behind football.

Thanks to the efforts of the IFP, poker is already a provisional member of the International Mind Sport Association (IMSA), a ground breaking step for poker which has for years struggled with the outdated image of smoke-filled back rooms and gambling.

“We adhere to our view that it is a mind sport of strategic skill,” said Holden. “No IFP event will have anything to do with money; it is just for the love of the game. Tens of millions of people out there love playing poker just for poker. There are plenty of people who love playing it for money as well but our demographic is people in it for the love of the game.”

While discussion with SportAccord will come in 2013, the next highlight on the IFP calendar will be the second IFP World Championships in London, with details of the event to take place to be released soon.

Read the full article on the insidethegames website.