ChessBase April 1st entertainment

by Frederic Friedel
4/1/2020 – The April Fool prank has become progressively more difficult over the years. Of course it is easy to fool people with some unverifiable made up report ("Chess banned in North Korea"), but it misses an essential ingredient: the joke should be funny. And if you construct a genuinely funny story, our friends at Google usually make it possible to detect as a hoax within minutes. So we are, once again, restricting ourselves to past pranks – and to some humour to help strengthen our immune systems.

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Corochess

It may interest you to know that I did contemplate reporting that Garry Kasparov had launched a project called "Corochess", which introduced a new chess table (picture above) to enforce full social distancing in future championship matches. The board is Alexa or Google Assistant driven: you speak the moves, and they are automatically executed on the board in the middle of the table. But this April 1st jest seemed a little inappropriate – unless you agree with experts who say it is important (including for our immune system) to keep our spirits up. In this global crisis there is certainly reason to be scared, and depressing news keeps coming hard and fast. This exacerbates your ability to cope. I described the background in this big Covid-19 report.

New logos

So keeping calm and cheerful is what I advocate, and in my own efforts I receive daily assistance from my good friend Vladimir Kramnik, who shares my opinion. Vlady is in lockdown with his family in his flat in Geneva. He never fails to send me (and probably other friends), once a day, some snippet of information or a cartoon that makes me smile. It lifts my spirits. I want to share another small sample (click to enlarge) with you.

Humour is always helpful in a time of crisis. But instead of inventing new pranks, which will be uncovered in minutes, let me share an old April Fool joke I perpetrated eighteen years ago, and which had some unexpected consequences. On April 1st 2002 I wrote about a new chess rule that the reclusive ex-world champion Bobby Fischer had proposed to FIDE:

New Fischer moves

Bobby Fischer has already introduced two important innovations that have received a larger or smaller degree of acceptance by the chess community. First came the "Fischer clock", which adds a small time increment after every move, thereby alleviating the brutal time trouble some players tend to get into. Then came "Fischer Random Chess", which scrambles the position of the pieces at the beginning of the game. This is designed to eliminate the very extensive openings preparation that is encountered in top-level chess today.

Now Fischer has turned his sights on what he believes is an unbearable preponderance of tactics in chess. His declared intention is to return the game to its origins and not allow the strategic spirit to be destroyed by "cheapo shots constantly fired by younger players." To this end he has submitted a rule modification, which FIDE is currently considering and which will be presented to the delegates at its next general council meeting in Dubai.

Fischer's proposal adds one rule to section 4.1-4.7 ("The act of moving the pieces") in FIDE's "Laws of chess". The new article 4.8 states:

"After a player has registered a move by his opponent he may, as part of his next move, either execute a move in the form stipulated by the rules 4.1-4.7 above; or instead he may execute the opponent's and his own previous moves in reverse order, replacing any captured pieces onto their original squares, and then execute an alternative move, in accordance with the rules 4.1-4.7 given above."

The new "Fischer move" (which is also referred to as a "Retractor") does not change the original flavour of the game – in fact many believe it actually reflects it more completely than the rules practised in tournaments today. The new rule has been extensively tested in informal play, where the advantages of the system are immediately obvious. Games are no longer decided by simple tactical strokes, the outcome depends much more on a painstaking exploratory strategy of "trial and error". The only disadvantage is that games may sometimes last a little longer, especially when a large number of rectractors are executed.

The new Fischer move rule also provides an interesting solution to the problem of chess playing computers, which are the sharpest tactical entities on the planet. Our own experiments have shown that players who were scoring zero points against the 2750-rated Fritz program were actually winning some of their games when allowed to make extensive use of retractor moves.

At the Executive Council meeting in Dubai FIDE stressed that a decision to adopt the Fischer move rule would not mean that it would be immediately implemented in all tournaments organised or sanctioned by the world chess organisation. "We anticipate that it will take a number of years before the new rule is universally accepted," said a ranking FIDE official. "Until then both forms of chess can coexist."

Many players are quite enthusiastic about Fischer move games. "Retractor games remove the unnecessary tension of ruining your game with stupid blunders," said one leading (elderly) grandmaster. "I can be much more daring in my choice of moves." If you have the urge to express an opinion on the new Fischer move rule please write to us.

Consequences: Naturally the above report was a cruel hoax, perpetrated by an evil prankster in the ChessBase team. It generated a very large number of feedback letters – about half the readers saw through the joke, the other half were quite upset by the idea of sanctioning takebacks in chess. It is interesting to read these letters today. One consequence of the prank I need to mention is that an Asia-based chess federation actually founded a special commission to fight Fischer's proposal in the Dubai Executive Council meeting. We apologised abjectly for having caused the confusion...


One more?

In 2011 we said that we could no longer provide our comprehensive news service free of charge, and would need to fund it by including full advertisement.

It wasn't easy. I captured a lot of flash films from news pages on the Internet and embedding them in our pages. We kept finding blinkier ones, and in fact enlisted semi-professional help to make the page as obnoxious as possible.

For one day, April 1st, this is what you saw when you went to chessbase.com. And it worked. We published a couple of fake April Fool jokes that were perfectly true, and then switched on the flashy page. The result: a large number of amused, surprised and shocked feedback letters.

If you ever feel the need to visit the blinky flashy April 1st version of our web site you can do so here. But you have to switch your Flash player on to get the full effect.


Some previous April Fools pranks

The April Fools' prank that was and wasn't
4/4/2013 – In the age of Google and social communities on the Internet it has become increasingly difficult to perpetrate April Fools' jokes that can deceive people for more than a few minutes. In 2013 we gave it our best shot, with one fake April Fools' report (an appeal filed for Sainthood for Bobby Fischer – perfectly true) appearing during the day, and then the real one: FIDE April 2013 ratings – and reform plans.

Breaking news: World Championship 2014 in Norway
4/1/2014 – They waited to see who would be the challenger. When it became clear that it was Anand the Norwegian government made an express bid to FIDE to stage the event in World Champion Magnus Carlsen's home country. The dates are not fixed, but the venue is – and it is spectacular: the match will be played on oil rig in the North Sea! We have an interview with the Norwegian Oil and Energy minister.

On an oil rig? You gotta be kidding!
4/4/2014 – Indeed we were, in the traditional spirit of April Fool (or "April Fish", as the French call it). The announcement that the Carlsen-Anand 2014 World Championship match would be held in the middle of the North Sea was a carefully faked hoax by a ChessBase editor.

Google Tooth – the latest in wearables
4/1/2015 – Everyone is doing it: after the iPhone and Android we are now confronted with Google Glass, Apple Watch, the Pebble. Computers are getting smaller and can be built to accompany you wherever you go. Now Google X, the semi-secret facility run by the search giant, is working on a dental computer. Why do we tell you this? Because Google Tooth comes bundled with a chess app.

April Fool: it was the Trump problem
4/3/2016 – Our two fake April Fool's stories – Benko's bafflers and Karjakin's BMW – were perfectly legit and true in every respect. And most of the Hillary report: she did appear on a show seeking to identify the real Irina Krush; Bernie Saunders did play in a simul; and Ted Cruz did send the picture of a badly set up chessboard to Senator Mike Lee. Only Trumps four-move composition – that was made up.

Malcolm Pein not running for FIDE President
4/3/2017 – It was an April Fools' prank, as most of our readers quickly recognized. Pein, a harsh critic of the current FIDE leadership, had no role in the power struggle that is taking place in Athens. And no intention of running for FIDE President, as was claimed in the wholly invented interview we published on April 1st. Although: the idea is not completely out of hand. With his connections and organisational skill... But that is just a dream.

The April Fool's tradition
4/2/2018 – We have decided to abandon the twenty-year tradition (this time really!) and stick to straight and truthful news. But we will look back at some of the pranks we have perpetrated in the past — just to prove we have not lost our sense of humour: The bionic chess interface; Kimo – an 'intelligent' approach to chess; Bareev beats Anand in first round Kriegspiel.

April 1st entertainment
4/1/2019 – Last year we decided to abandon our decades-long tradition of tricking our readers with fake stories on April 1st. Instead, we said, we are going to stick to straight and truthful news. For those who are disappointed by this decision we bring you a really fun (and fully genuine) task proposed by Pal Benko for this auspicious day, and also take a look back at an historic prank we perpetrated in the past: No more April Fool's jokes (4/1/2006) In the past years our web site has published a series of elaborate April Fool's stories. Not this year, and not any more. An international watchdog group which calls itself League for Truth and Veracity, is threatening news services as well as private pranksters all over the world with lawsuits for publishing false information. This unfortunate activity spells the end of an old tradition.



Editor-in-Chief emeritus of the ChessBase News page. Studied Philosophy and Linguistics at the University of Hamburg and Oxford, graduating with a thesis on speech act theory and moral language. He started a university career but switched to science journalism, producing documentaries for German TV. In 1986 he co-founded ChessBase.