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Ray Could Write

Now he is scattered among a hundred cities
And wholly given over to unfamiliar affections,
To find his happiness in another kind of wood
And be punished under a foreign code of conscience. . . .

You were silly like us; your gift survived it all:
For chess makes nothing happen: it survives
In the valley of its making where executives
Would never want to tamper, flows on south
From ranches of isolation and the busy griefs,
Raw towns that we believe and die in; it survives,
A way of happening, a mouth. . . .

Time that is intolerant
Of the brave and the innocent,
And indifferent in a week
To a beautiful physique,

Worships language and forgives
Everyone by whom it lives;
Pardons cowardice, conceit,
Lays its honours at their feet.

Time that with this strange excuse
Pardoned Fischer and his views,
And will pardon Ray, I tell,
Pardons him for writing well. . . .

I’ve been reading the Streatham & Brixton Chess Blog (it’s on the blogroll). It’s a bit too advanced for me, ummm, let’s put it this way: Phil can beat me something like 4 games out of 5, and I think these guys would just destroy Phil. They’re probably not as good as E.J., though. I enjoy looking at the diagrams and thinking about the chess, even though I often don’t get the point, and even though I’m pretty sure that spending the equivalent amount of time actually playing chess would do much more for my game.

One thing that somewhat surprised me—and we’ll get back to this point in a bit—is how little there is out there in the way of chess blogs. There are tons of econ blogs and even a few poli sci blogs, mommy blogs and daddy blogs and some stat blogs too. And baseball blogs and basketball blogs. There’s even an (excellent) blog that’s entirely composed of stories of funny things that happen to a couple of librarians.

But it was hard for me to find any chess blogs. After I started to read this one chess blog, I did a bit of searching and couldn’t really find anything else that was consistently readable. Perhaps the potential audience (people like me who enjoy chess but at a low level) is just too small. You might think the potential audience of a statistics blog would be even smaller, but statistics is different in that people need it for their work, so it’s worth a bit of pain to improve oneself.

OK, so the Streatham etc. chess blog, in addition to including posts about exchange sacrifices, rook endings, and the Worst Move on the Board (that series is my personal favorite, as I can actually follow these), also spends lots of entertaining column inches mocking various chess-world buffoons such as Ray Keene, who maintains a column at the London Times despite a career of the most blatant plagiarism imaginable. And when Keene isn’t plagiarizing, he and his associates are sock-puppeting, not quite at the Mary Rosh level but still it’s a bit embarrassing to see.

The question then arises, how does Keene continue to get employment as a writer?


  1. Chris G says:

    > And, believe it or not, back when I was in grad school, I would buy the Boston Globe just to read Barnicle’s column. It was great—even if (or because) much of it was made up.

    Same here. His columns were almost always a worthwhile read. Funny thing, I never considered them reporting. I thought of them as alegories. When he got in trouble for making things up my initial reaction was surprise that people would regard his pieces as pure reporting rather than stories which had some elements of truth. He was a good storyteller.

  2. Mark Palko says:

    How about

    “Pardoned Fischer and his views”?

    Paul Claudel still has me stumped though.

  3. Dan Schmidt says:

    The Streatham & Brixton blog is indeed good. I presume you’ve also been following their vain attempt to get anyone to properly document the supposed link between chess and reduction of dementia.

    Two other good chess blogs for casual players:

    dana blogs chess ( mostly interesting games and positions, usually of himself or people he knows.

    The Chess Mind ( mostly news and analysis of top-level games.

  4. jrc says:

    You could consider switching games:

    It seems like the quality level of Go players who (occasionally) blog in English is much lower than that of chess players. Then again, maybe you’d find intermediate Chess-blogging in Korean?

    Also, Go is so much more beautiful than Chess, and uses so many different parts of the brain, and cures ADD in kids (N=34 (!!1!) – link provided for Question:

    • Andrew says:


      I agree that go is much more beautiful than chess, and I do enjoy the occasional game of go, but I’m a fluent (if awkward) chess speaker, whereas my go is so halting that I think I’ll have to stick with chess, for all its flaws.

      What’s more interesting, perhaps, is that for many years I was more interested in poker than in chess, but in recent years my interest in poker has declined.

      If I ever go the way of Steven Levitt and become a golf player, just kill me.

    • Joe, I’ve been off the one true path too. My kids and I are playing a lot of chess. Save me! :-)

      The truth is computer chess is just a lot better than computer Go, and chess games are shorter than 19×19 Go games, so if you want a partner on your phone for 15 minutes while waiting for a Tai Chi class to start… Chess it is ;-)

      • jrc says:

        a) I’ve got a book for you, I’m pretty sure (I pulled it out at some point…now finding it again…)

        b) – its not quite a real game, but fun.

        c) even though computers are not yet “good” at go, they are better than you.

        d) 9X9 is a great way to learn the basics, and can be played in about 15 minutes, and a computer is much better at 9X9 so can push you in a more realistic way (that “crazy stone” software I’ve heard is good, but can make ludicrous moves from time to time). –

        e) Go is best learned and played while chain smoking with old Korean men who speak no English. So I say just drop the kid on the corner of Wilshire and 11th and they should be 5 Dan in no time, though they may develop an expensive nicotine habit.

        • I feel like 9×9 Go is less interesting than chess. It’s the same all-tactical feel, whereas 13×13 Go is more interesting than chess, but takes longer, and 19×19 is best but is a multi-hour thing.

          When I was playing Go in the mid 90’s I was better than most of the computers available to me at that time on 9×9 and 13×13, but these days… yeah they probably kick my butt.

          I’ll take a rain check on ordering the “Joe’s Guide To Parenting”.

          I did buy myself a replacement copy of Iwamoto’s “Go For Beginners” which was how I learned back in the late 80’s. I remember it was quite good, but required some serious study.

          • jrc says:

            I did once put together a primer on conceiving the perfect baby as a wedding gift for a friend. It involved practical wisdom like: have your baby born in Fall, conceive in a high tobacco-tax state with low income inequality, do not be domestically abused while pregnant, don’t let the air get very cold or very polluted while you are pregnant, have been born heavy yourself, and be rich.

  5. Phil says:

    Just a month or so ago, when Judit Polgar announced her retirement, I came across a video featuring one of her games that I think is excellent. I’ve since become somewhat addicted the Mato Jelic’s videos. To really get the most out of playing through a game there’s no substitute for playing it through carefully and exploring other options: “what would have happened if this player had played X instead of Y”. Mato stops every now and then and does that, showing a variation or two, but he only does it in a few key positions each game. The games are better as entertainment than as instruction, but hey, “entertaining” counts for a lot, and they are at least somewhat instructive too. Check it out.

  6. Sam says:

    Pedantic note: You seem to think that Ray Keene/Paul Claudel is being pardoned for “writing well” – actually, their sins are not revealed to us. Yeats is the one is who is pardoned for writing well. Not that the poem makes much sense to begin with.

  7. ejh says:

    maybe one reason these newspapers keep him around is that it’s so hard to find anyone who can write entertainingly about chess at all

    Mmm. I’m not sure that it would be that hard to find a replacement, and it’s not as if Ray actually writes well (in so far as he writes at all). So why do they keep him on? Nobody really knows, and perhaps we’ll never know until they stop, but it may partly be that having kept him on so long, they can hardly get rid of him without raising the question as to why they didn’t do so earlier. And maybe because he’s well-connected and a formidable networker and flatterer.

    I don’t think his transgressions are “minor”, though, except on the argument that nobody died as a result (which is fair enough, but not I think the standard to which we should be working). As a plagiarist I doubt that there’s been a more extensive offender in UK journalism, not even Neil Harman or Johann Hari. The stench from his journalism is not the stench of death, but it’s a pretty strong stench nonetheless.

    • Andrew says:


      I agree he’s not a great writer. But I imagine it’s hard to find someone who can write readably at all, while also being able to give reasonable chess commentary.

      My guess that the strongest reason for the Times to keep him on is that both chess and newspapers are declining industries, and there’s more to be lost from getting rid of an existing columnist, than would be gained by replacing him with someone new.

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