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The plagiarist (not; see correction below) next door

In a comment on this chess-related post, Matt Gaffney pointed me to this wonderful page full of chess curiosities by Tim Krabbé. My nederlands is not what it used to be, but Krabbé has posted lots of material in English so that’s no problem. I started reading his “Open chess diary” (i.e., blog), it’s updated about once a month, and I came across this bit, in the context of a discussion of games where castling was used as an offensive maneuver:

Searching again, I [Krabbé] found a later game in which a double attack with 0-0 did appear on the board. Of all these castlings, it is the most interesting, but even if the castler was Magnus Carlsen, the game seems to have gone unnoticed. (Doubtlessly, it will now soon turn up, presented as his own research, in the writings of Professor Christian Hesse.)

Hey, I thought—that’s funny. I knew a Christian Hesse in grad school. It couldn’t be the same guy, right?

A quick google resolved the issue:

Christian Hesse holds a Ph.D. from Harvard University and was on the faculty of the University of California at Berkeley until 1991. Since then he is Professor of Mathematics at the University of Stuttgart (Germany). Subsequently he has been a visiting researcher and invited lecturer at universities around the world, ranging from the Australian National University, Canberra, to the University of Concepcion, Chile. Recently he authored “Expeditionen in die Schachwelt” (Expeditions into the world of chess, ISBN 3-935748-14-0), a collection of about 100 essays that the Viennese newspaper Der Standard called “one of the most intellectually scintillating and recommendable books on chess ever written.”

I understand where Chrissy is coming from. As the author of several books, I know it’s hard to come up with good material, and it’s natural to grab it where we can.

But please, please, please: next time you copy someone else’s stuff, credit them, ok?

In that light, the following bit is amusing:

Harvard Prof. Christian Hesse, PhD’s Review of Yamie Chess: The Adventures of Tigermore & the Mind Angels

By Prof. Christian Hermann Hesse, M.A., M.S., PhD, Mathematics, Harvard University and Indiana University Bloomington.

Date: November 30, 2013

Copyright © 2013 Professor Christian Hesse, PhD All Rights Reserved.

Permission to reprint this educational praise on Yamie Chess Ltd’s website was directly obtained from Professor Christian Hesse, PhD, in writing.

I guess he wrote this one completely by himself.

(More on the topic here from Edward Winter.)

In all seriousness, I’m guessing that Chrissy thought of the material he copied as public property. But by not giving the sources, he makes it that much harder for readers to track down his errors. Now at this point you might say, “Who cares, it’s just chess,” and maybe you’d be right—but would it be that difficult to give your sources? If Chrissy as an author doesn’t feel like putting in the effort to track down each of the stories he writes about, that’s fine, I’m sure he has better things to do. But then why not show your readers some respect and tell them where you did get this material from, so they can follow up directly if they’d like?

My guess: if he admits the material was copied and not checked, it makes his book look less serious. So it’s the usual story: copying-without-attribution to get credit for work that was not actually done, with the result that the reader gets misled.

On the plus side:

1. It’s just chess.

2. No wikipedia articles were copied, as far as we can tell.

P.S. In comments, Chrissy writes: “The author falsely accuses me of copying material for my chess book.” By “the author,” Chrissy is talking about me, and I don’t want to make any false accusations.

Most readers probably won’t follow through the above links to the evidence so I’ll copy some of the information (with attribution) here. It’s from Edward Winter’s Chess History site:

From page 399 of The Joys of Chess by Christian Hesse (Alkmaar, 2011):

‘All in all Akiba Rubinstein played 1985 tournament games in his life, of which 1763 had rook endgames.’

The book’s author/compiler does not believe in using primary sources or in specifying his secondary sources for particular items (many positions and other material are taken from Chess Notes, in exchange for a one-line mention of our website in a list on page 427). Since The Joys of Chess gives no source for the Rubinstein statistics, we shall do so. The sentence was written by Irving Chernev on the inside front cover of the July 1952 Chess Review, was reproduced on page 270 of his book The Chess Companion (New York, 1968) and was an obvious joke.

And this:

In 1899 George Alcock MacDonnell died, a fact which did not prevent Christian Hesse from stating in a ChessBase article that MacDonnell lost a game to Amos Burn in 1910.

Actually, that’s not so bad. If you’ve been dead eleven years, you’d lose at chess too!

Also this:

In 1900 Wilhelm/William Steinitz died, a fact which did not prevent Christian Hesse from quoting a remark by Steinitz about a mate-in-two problem by Pulitzer which, according to Hesse, was dated 1907. (See page 166 of The Joys of Chess.) Hesse miscopied from our presentation of the Pulitzer problem on page 11 of A Chess Omnibus (also included in Steinitz Stuck and Capa Caught). We gave Steinitz’s comments on the composition as quoted on page 60 of the Chess Player’s Scrap Book, April 1907, and that sufficed for Hesse to assume that the problem was composed in 1907.

Damn! That’s soooo frustrating, when you copy without clear attribution but you bungle it. I think that the act of hiding the sourcing makes it that much tougher to find the problem. Fewer eyes, less transparency.

Again, it’s not a big deal. Who really cares if someone swipes some material for a chess book? Especially given that it’s not even Chrissy’s day job. He’s a respected mathematician who writes the chess books just for fun—and, to judge from the reviews, his books have a lot of good stuff in them. But, from my perspective, if you’re gonna copy material, you should give the source. Otherwise you’re misleading your readers and allowing yourself to propagate misinformation. And why do that?

P.S. I should not have used the term “plagiarism.” See P.P.S. here.

9 Comments

  1. Dan Schmidt says:

    The English version of Hesse’s book is called The Joys of Chess. It does have an appendix “Index of literature consulted and further reading” with hundreds of entries, including Krabbé’s website (pp. 420–427, viewable on the book’s page on Amazon). However there are no individual citations to games, positions, historical facts, etc.

  2. Rahul says:

    I’m confused. Is Krabbé complaining that Hesse did not cite Krabbé? Or that Hesse did not cite Magnus Carlsen?

    • Andrew says:

      Rahul:

      You’ll have to follow the link above (go here and search on Hesse) to see everything that Krabbé said. But the short version is that he found various errors in Hesse’s books where Hesse seemed to have either reported a joke as if it were a true statement, or garbled something that he took from another source without attribution.

      It’s the usual story: quality control problems exacerbated by the efforts being made to obscure the sources of the information.

  3. konrad says:

    “Just” chess? What’s that supposed to mean?

  4. Phil says:

    Krabbé wrote a book that had a big influence on me about six years ago: “The Rider.” The book is a fictionalized account of Krabbé’s participation in a 120 km bike race in the 1970s in France’s Massif Central: the Tour de Mont Aigoual. The book has a very few mentions of Krabbé’s chess, including the fact that he when he was young he used to time himself using a chess clock. (I don’t know if that part is true, or part of the fictionalizing).

    On a trip in which I visited Andrew in France in 2010, where he was on sabbatical, I took the train to Avignon, rented a car and a bike, drove off to the town of Meyruis, and spent a day riding the route. I had such a good time that I decided to take up road biking as a hobby.

    Why anyone should care about this, I don’t know. But anyway The Rider is a great book.

  5. Professor Christian Hesse says:

    Coming back from an international chess tournament, where I spent time with the Chess World Champion and his father, who have become dear friend, my agent pointed out this blog entry to me.
    Not only does its author use an insulting headline and disrespectfully calls me by a nickname I never had, but also falsely accuses me of copying material for my chess book. Pretty heavy stuff.
    Obviously, the blog`s author is not knowledgeable about the world of chess and especially not about people like T.Krabbé and E.Winter who – over the course of decades have been compiling thousands of chess items – have a record of easily and frequently accusing anybody who later writes about the same chess games and matches, chess positions, studies, events – even in a completely different manner – of copying their material. This is widely known among chess people.
    What follows from all that?
    Well, this blog`s integrity is dead. I cannot recommend reading it anymore.

    • Andrew says:

      Christian:

      I understand that chess games are in the public domain, but it’s good practice to give the sources for the information you are using. But by not giving the sources, you make it that much harder for readers to track down your errors. So I think Krabbé and Winter are doing your readers a useful service by tracking down the sources for them. If you were to do so directly in your books, that would be even better.

  6. LogRoller says:

    The esteemed “Professor Christian Hesse’s” endorsement of Yamie Chess (now removed from his bio at ChessBase) is connected with some other questionable activity related to a shakedown of Julian Assange of wikileaks fame.

    Is Christian Hesse an imaginary expert? Apparently not. A sad disclosure none-the-less.

    See https://medium.com/@727_74005/strange-things-ebooks-a-hustler-and-julian-assange-10ac211c295

    There is also a statistical modelling connection for those who are interested. Small world.

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