BOTW: Fast, Faster, Fastest...?

Fast, Faster, Fastest!

This week's Best of the Web features three of the fastest versions of 21st century chess: a Rapid and Blitz round-robin featuring several of the world's best, and the online competition to be the world's fastest Puzzle Rusher... 


 Côte d’Ivoire Rapid & Blitz

May 8-12, 2019
Abidjan, Ivory Coast

The 2019 Grand Chess Tour starts with a pair of rapid and blitz round robins featuring many of the world's top players:

  1. Magnus Carlsen (NOR)
  2. Hikaru Nakamura (USA)
  3. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (FRA)
  4. Sergey Karjakin (RUS)
  5. Wesley So (USA)
  6. Ian Nepomniachtchi (RUS)
  7. Ding Liren (CHN)
  8. Veselin Topalov (BUL)
  9. Wei Yi (CHN)
  10. Bassem Amin (EGY)

Perhaps the only name on that list that may be unfamiliar to chess fans is that of Egyptian GM Amin Bassem. He's the event's wild-card, chosen both for his success at an event in the Ivory Coast last year, as well as being one of Africa's few 2650+ GMs.

They play three rapid games per day (25m + 10s delay) for three days, then nine rounds of blitz (5 + 3 delay) for two days. Previous Grand Chess Tour events have used of the Bronstein delay time controls (rather than Fischer increment); the players found it unusual and politely complained, but the GCT is clearly trying to distance itself from FIDE in all things, including using their own rating system rather than FIDE's.

Games start at 1pm EST. 

English commentary includes GMs Yannick Pelletier, Alejandro Ramirez and Maurice Ashley, and IM Tania Sachdev. 

French commentary has GM Laurent Fressinet & Romain Edouard.


 Puzzle Rush

Last year, introduced a tactics game where the goal is to solve as many puzzles as possible in 5 minutes, with the puzzles escalating in difficulty and three mistakes ends the game. Puzzle Rush was immediately tremendously popular -- inducing significant delays on the server during the first few months it was online -- and has remained so. One of the addictive attractions of Puzzle Rush are the leaders lists: both the best-of-this-hour list, as well as the all-time best list. Another is watching some of the top players streaming: it is mind-boggling how fast they "see" the positions, let alone how quickly they solve them.  For a long time, the top score was held by GM Hikaru Nakamura: 55 in 5 minutes. Naka would regularly play Puzzle Rush as part of his twitch streams, and had said that he thought 60 was the best anyone could ever score. Every now and then, a virtual unknown would score 58 or more.... only to have their score removed by for suspicion of cheating.

But recently, Naka's top score has been totally eclipsed by several players, at least two of whom have beaten his score while streaming --- which makes it possible to observe both their mouse movements and their eyes (more below). First, user "spicycaterpillar" scored 58. This was accepted by as a legit result and spicycaterpillar --- since revealed to be US GM Ray Robson -- has streamed a Puzzle Rush 57 score. 

But on May 8, 2019, IM Casper Schoppen put up an insane score: 93.

The obvious reaction is that anyone beating Nakamura by this much must have been cheating. The only cheating aid that would be fast enough to solve 93 puzzles in under 5 minutes (actually, in 4:36 -- he had 24 seconds remaining when he made his third mistake) would be a chess analysis browser plug-in to show the solutions onscreen almost instantaneously. One way looks for such methods is by requiring suspected players to stream with their webcams on, which allows their eyes to be seen -- any regular eye motions away from the puzzle area (presumably to the plug-in interface) would then show up. There are still other ways to cheat -- e.g. a plug-in with a display overlay on top of the board would avoid giving tells from eye movement – and catching cheaters is a significant part of the research budget. 

But then Caspar streamed himself scoring 70, and IMHO, everything looks OK. 

Of course, 70 is a long way from 93, but two months ago no one would have believed 70.

One thing that's remarkable about Caspar's play compared to Nakamura, is that he seems to be much slower -- both at finding the solutions to simpler puzzles and at simply moving the mouse. Nakamura is freakishly fast, while Caspar (and Ray) move like fast but recognizably normal human beings. But both Caspar and Ray are clearly much faster than Naka at the hardest puzzles. While this could be because either or both are cheating, it seems to be because they both review all their wrong results and remember them for next time. Naka rarely does this (on stream) and so doesn't solve nearly as many of the hardest puzzles directly from memory. Naka also typically does a play-by-play, telling the viewers what he sees, and this must cost some concentration and slow him down. He also often multi-tasks, reading comments and thanking subscribers while streaming. There’s no telling how fast Nakamura might be if he stopped handicapping himself with these distractions.