In the Mailbag
(1) First, from a New York friend, after seeing the games in my Depth in Blitz entry: "When I grow up, I wanna play chess just like you." My response to the friend (who is around 30): "The key is NOT to grow up."
Of course, I didn't mean this in a biological or emotional sense: the first is impossible and the second foolish. Instead, there's a certain joy, freshness and optimism that one ought to cultivate and maintain in their chess. There's more to chess than the initiative, but as one learns, one shouldn't give up or lessen their enthusiasm for active, forceful chess. Keep attacking!
(2) I wrote an opinion piece bemoaning the lack of master prizes in big tournaments, focusing on the upcoming HB Challenge in Minnesota as an especially egregious example.
An IM friend whose USCF rating is in the high 2300s sent me a note: "[I'm] glad you wrote about MN. I agree 100% and will not likely play. Basically it is under 1400, 1600, 1800, 2000, 2200, 2800! or [greater than] 2400 with only three prizes and you have to play [like a] 2700. Insane. We should have peaked [our ratings, not our strength] at 2190. We'd be rich." In addition to providing appreciated moral support, he brings up another, very important point: big tournaments, in which lower-rated players receive as much and sometimes even more prize money than masters, are designed to strongly encourage cheaters of all sorts. I was proud to achieve the master title, but in practical terms, all that it meant was that I ripped myself off from winning expert money in big tournaments. In a direct comment to that same post, mbagalman offered a response I expected: there aren't many masters, especially compared to lower-rated players, so of course there are going to be fewer master prizes. Further, if the goal is to spread interest in the game to the wider public, then too there's no reason to offer much by way of prize money to masters; after all, they're already very interested in chess.
Let's address these issues in order. The economic reality of the situation is real (in fact, I acknowledged it in my initial post), yet the problem here goes beyond that. There are about 2.5 times as many experts as masters, yet experts have 50 prizes to fight for and masters 6 (not counting their chances for the overall prizes, which require a semi-miracle). Second, there are many more mere masters than there are masters > 2450, but it's the latter who will be the recipients of the 50 prizes, not the former. Third, if the concern is with the best-represented numbers, then it's the numerous under-1200 crowd that should be most rewarded. In sum, whether one thinks that prestige ought to determine the money available or that it's the number of entrants that should decide, either way, "normal" masters are getting the short end of the stick.
I'm a little unclear on the argument from attracting public interest. The proverbial Joe Sixpack isn't going to go to the bookstore, pick up Chess Life, scan through the Tournament Life section, see the tournament in Minnesota and decide, "Hey, I've barely know how the horse and castle move, but I think I'll spend a week's vacation and over $1000 on entry fee, transportation, hotel and expenses to try my luck!" Anyone who plays in a tournament like this is already plenty interested in chess, whether master or not.
I'm not sure what the best solution is, but I expect that economists and game theorists among my readers can offer solutions that are equitable, reward excellence and make good sense for the organizers as well.
(3) In this post, I wondered (but did not pontificate) about Pope John Paul II's chess career, if any. DG of Boylston Chess Club Weblog fame offered a link to a link to two games of the Pope. The games are surprisingly sophisticated, suggesting that Karol Wojtyla was either a reasonably strong player (but with the occasional tactical blind spot) or that the games were some sort of forgery.
On the same topic, but addressing a different bit of (alleged) evidence, I mentioned in my post that Miguel Najdorf had spoken on behalf of JP II's chess prowess. Brian Karen, however, wisely reminded me of Miguel Najdorf's reputed penchant for the tall tale, so the latter's claims might need to be taken with a grain of salt. Maybe someone should consult Edward Winter on this subject?
(4) Finally, Chuck Carroll caught an error in my attempt to determine the maximum length of a game. He's right!