The April Fools' prank that was and wasn't

by ChessBase
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. This year, again, we gave it our best shot, with one – some thought two – fake April Fools' reports appearing during the day, and then the real one, hidden as well as we could manage. Did you spot it?

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The fake April Fools' prank was the one about sainthood for Bobby Fischer. We said that an application had been made by Stan Vaughan of the World Chess Federation, who had submitted to Catholic priest Jacob Rolland six miracles that he said were prayed for and verified as having occurred. Many readers found this "joke" to be in very bad taste – but of course it was a factually perfectly accurate report: the colorful – substitute more accurate adjective here – Stan Vaughan does exist, and he has actually founded the "World Chess Federation", which FIDE has been unable to take down, since they had only trademarked "International Chess Federation". Visiting the site will leave you dizzy. Take for instance the top ten of his official rating list (really!):

1 Stan Vaughan  USA 3902
2 Bobby Fischer Iceland 2897
3 Vassily Ivanchuk Ukraine 2845
4 Boris Spassky France 2805
5 Gata Kamsky USA 2786
6 Emil Sutkovsky Israel 2741
7 Le Quang Liem Vietnam 2735
8 Anna Muzychuk Slovenia 2678
9 Krishnan Sasikiran India 2614
10 Ron Gross USA 2581

The amazing Mr Vaughan has in the past announced "world chess championship" matches, like this one in 2009, which pitted him against WCF official Challenger Varuzhan Akobian and was to be staged in the Riveria Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. The prize fund: six million dollars. When Akobian did not agree to participate (because his World Cup contract with FIDE prohibited competition in any rival "world championship" for the next four years) Vaughan announced that the WCC had set up a full candidates cycle, starting with Satellite qualifier matches in November 2009, the Qualifier matches in December, then Candidates knockout finals in January 2010. If it actually took place we missed it. And on April 2nd, a day after the Candidates Tournament had finished, Vaughan sent out the following announcement to a large number of journalists:

In response to the news that Magnus Carlsen has become the next official challenger challenger to play Anand for the FIDE International Chess Federation Championship as a result of tie with Vladimir Kramnik but being awarded the official FIDE challenger status by tiebreak only, Vladimir Kramnik was contacted today through his official agent and offered the opportunity to challenge WCF champion Stan Vaughan within one year for the World Chess Federation "The World Chess Championship" under traditional first to 11 wins draws not counting and ten moves per hour time controls. Kramnik is given one year to obtain sponsorship for an INTERIM WCF title match allowed by WCF rules outside the traditional candidates cycle. Vaughan says he would accept any challenge from Kramnik to play for the title "The World Chess Champion" under World Chess Federation sanction for the title formerly held by Bobby Fischer.

Anyway: our report that said that Stan Vaughan and his "World Chess Federation" had formally applied for sainthood for Bobby Fischer was factually true: he did and you can read about it here. So no April Fools' prank by us.

Both leaders lose in the last round?

For a brief spell in the evening of April 1st we started getting letters doubting the veracity of our final round reports on the Candidates Tournament in London, which appeared minutes after the last game had ended and included full GM annotations of the games lost by Carlsen and Kramnik. Must be a hoax, some readers surmised. But of course the official web site and many other chess blogs soon proved that this was not the case, and that our report was indeed accurate.

The K-Factor prank

This was the actual April Fools' prank: we had asked a chess statistican to calculate the ratings for the last month and for the last three months using different K-Factors and added one of the more preposterous results to our April 1st FIDE ratings. This was the prank: naturally FIDE, which has been considering tweaking the K-Factor in the past (as our links at the end of the report show), never considered anything so radical. Smeets, Vitiugov, Rapport, Rodshtein, and Wei Yi in the top ten?? Of course it was a joke – although the calculations are perfectly correct for a value of K=60. If you want to check out the results of a few other values you can do so on this spreadsheet, which displays

  1. The baseline
  2. Start from Jan-2013, calculate forward to present assuming K=24
  3. Start from Jan-2013, calculate forward to present assuming K=32
  4. Start from Jan-2013, calculate forward to present assuming K=36
  5. Start from Jan-2013, calculate forward to present assuming K=40
  6. Start from Jan-2013, calculate forward to present assuming K=60
  7. Start from Mar-2013, calculate forward to present assuming K=32
  8. Start from Mar-2013, calculate forward to present assuming K=60

We chose #6 for our prank. We need to mention that in spite of the absurdity of the list we claimed was under consideration we did get calls from GMs and journalists, some worried, to make absolutely sure we were not serious.

Google's 2013 April Fools' Jokes

April Fools' Day pranks date back to Chaucer and are mentioned in his Canterbury Tales (1392), where the vain cock Chauntecleer is tricked by a fox. Since the Middle Ages the practice has been popular is some form or other in the West, with some variance (it's called "April's Fish" in France and French-speaking Canada, or the "Day of the Holy Innocents" in Spain, where the date is December 28. Incidentally our title picture, the "Schalcksnarr" is an April Fool jester by Heinrich Vogtherr the Younger (1513 - 1568) and can be found as a woodcut in the Castle Gotha Museum in Thuringia, Germany.

In the age of the Internet the April Fools' tradition has blossomed. Harry McCracken writes in Time Tech: "I confessed that the Internet’s aggressive celebration of April Fools’ Day — which gets a little more aggressive each year — hasn’t improved April Fools’ Day for me. For one thing, you know in advance that the day is going to involve one damn prank after another, eliminating the surprise element that makes good April Fools’ Day pranks entertaining. For another, no other day of the year features so many painfully mirthless attempts at humor by folks who shouldn’t be attempting to be funny in public."

As McCracken tells us it was the search giant Google that kicked off the age of Internet April foolery back in 2000, and the company continues to ratchet up the quantity and ambition of its hoaxes each year. "I cheerfully concede that it does a much better job than most of the others that have followed its lead." Here's what Google did this year. Yes, we are fans.

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