ICS Interview – FatalImage

THE ICS INTERVIEWS SERIES – No. 001 – FATALIMAGE
Interview conducted January 2011
First published March 2011

INTERVIEWER
Thanks for agreeing to be interviewed as part of the Wild 5 series.
FATALIMAGE
No problem, good to be a part of it.
INTERVIEWER
I personally remember how much I was able to learn about Wild 5 history and game theory, just from our previous conversations and games over the years. Do you still play?
FATALIMAGE
I’m basically inactive in wild 5 right now, but that’s more due to me drifting off the _ICS sites at this time. If there was an active community of wild 5 players somewhere I’d still be interested in playing. I thought ICC had something in wild 29 that could’ve helped wild 5, but they implemented wild 29 poorly.

INTERVIEWER
How did you get started with playing on the ICS? What server did you begin out on?

FATALIMAGE
I started on FICS (fics.onenet.net!) using a telnet terminal with the old ASCII board. I discovered it from one of those huge lists of various telnet sites that were being circulated. I’m still kind of amazed it held my interest at the time, playing on an ASCII board, losing every game because I had no idea how to play, having no timestamp, my board scrolling off the screen when too many chat messages came through.. yes, good times! For some reason I stuck with it.

INTERVIEWER
Did someone introduce you to wild 5, or did you just happen to start playing it one day? Did you have a teacher?

FATALIMAGE
I just found it in the process of exploring all the wild variants, and wild 5 was so different that it fascinated me from the beginning. Of course the first time I played, I lost in 3 moves, which was stunning, so the next game I played, I tried to win in 3 moves, and from there the games eventually got longer (I hope), and I stayed interested. The always exciting, tactical play kept me interested. (Has there ever been a boring wild 5 game?)

I was a self-made player up to a point. One person you could say took me under his wing was ChSte. I was fairly good when I met him, but he was a lot better. Eventually we got to where we were pretty evenly matched and were able to learn a lot from each other, playing and analyzing games. I should also mention MrPink; he was a cool guy and he showed me some things along the way too.

INTERVIEWER
So, why the moniker, “FatalImage”?

FATALIMAGE
Nothing too deep behind it. It was just a cool sounding name. It was the name I had been using to call BBSes at that time, and in that scene you generally needed a dark and ominous name πŸ™‚

INTERVIEWER
Some of our readers may already know about you due to the extremely popular article you penned a decade ago, FatalImage’s Rants. Any changes or footnotes you’d like to attach to that classic ICS literary masterpiece?

FATALIMAGE
I stand behind it. Maybe I would have to amend the weakest computers list, but the people I called out were unable to redeem themselves πŸ™‚ I would still give schoenborn grief if I saw him today. Even the shadiest of wild 5 players that I encountered would never winquit after a single win as white but he did.

Players that only play rated games with the white pieces is still a problem that plagues chess servers. These players are only able to operate because the software usually doesn’t make it clear enough to the targeted players that they are getting black in the game offers they are accepting, and besides that, it’s arguable whether one should be able to set their color in a rated game anyway. I still have an interest in exposing all of these white-only players.

One thing I will say about the rants is that it’s too bad there isn’t more longform ICS-related articles/commentary from that era in general. None of the chess sites really had any official forums. There were the chess newsgroups, the bug board (later on), and for web sites, there weren’t many that posted actual commentary other than your various sites as far as I’m aware. Generally it was all stuff that was off the general ICS player’s radar, so there’s not too many people’s accounts of what was going on at the time.

INTERVIEWER
How old were you when you were playing the most on the ICSes, and in particular, playing wild 5?

FATALIMAGE
In the ICS/wild 5 prime years I was around 15-18, that range.

INTERVIEWER
What were you doing back then? It’s been fifteen years since 1996. What are you currently doing now?

FATALIMAGE
Not as active in online chess as I was then, but still playing now and then, still hanging around. As for real life stuff, I was a student in the wild 5 years. After that, I bounced around some jobs, eventually settling as an independent web developer for a number of years. Currently I’m an IT director at a private medical practice. I’m still bumping around on the Internet whenever I have free time; some things stay the same.

INTERVIEWER
You mentioned playing with an ASCII board. What interface did you eventually end up adopting first? What’s your opinion on the modern interfaces of today’s _ICS, such as BabasChess? What interface do you currently use now?

FATALIMAGE
I tried Winboard first, but moved on to SLICS which I liked much better. when Thief was released, I got it for the bughouse support but found it to be a great interface in all facets, and I still use it today. To me, Thief is ideal in that it has the things I need, and little else. I like the bughouse implementation obviously, the totally customizable look and feel, multiple layouts that are easily saved and loaded, and aside from that stuff I like it to be as minimalist as possible as I prefer to do basically everything on ICSes from the command line.

I’ve tried BabasChess briefly. I thought it was kind of ugly out of the box, but was good overall and did have some nice features. ICC has never really gotten it right with their proprietary interfaces, in my opinion. I don’t care much for Blitzin or Dasher.

INTERVIEWER
And now, something specific to wild 5 and interfaces – did you play with a flipped board or did you leave the board formatted as it was for wild 5?

FATALIMAGE
Never flipped or really gave any thought to it. I always had my pieces on the top of the board in wild 5.

INTERVIEWER
Playing with an ASCII board and no timeseal often meant that people would be playing 5 12 time controls a lot more in the past than they would be today, but that’s probably a product of the times. It sure felt like you were playing the modern 3 0 time controls back then, especially without timeseal and premove. What time controls did you play at and to which time controls did you eventually transition to?

FATALIMAGE
In the ASCII days, I was indeed playing stuff like 2 12 mostly. Not that I never tried the faster TCs, but if you saw me regularly playing 3 0 I had probably graduated to the interface + timeseal at that point. Once I had timeseal I generally avoided anything with an increment, if I could help it. My tastes in time control haven’t changed much. I do fine at a 1 0 but I much prefer the richer games coming from a 3 0 or 5 0.

INTERVIEWER
What’s your opinion on premove? We’ve already heard from you about lag, but I believe your article disregarded or predated the premove innovation from gilly and gatorade.

FATALIMAGE
I was never a fan of premove, but have basically accepted it as a necessary evil as it’s come to be built into almost all interfaces. My opposition to it is simply that the computer is ultimately making the move for you, and it’s not analogous to anything that happens in an actual chess game. Actually making your move when it’s your turn is part of the game! That said, as long as the server puts a minimum time elapsed on a move, such as 0.1 seconds, then the premover won’t have a huge advantage over a non-premover and you don’t have ridiculous cases of people making dozens of moves without any time ticking off their clock. I can live with that. That said, I still don’t use premove in any situation and accept it as a handicap.

INTERVIEWER
Do you have a favorite all-time series or game? Perhaps the match against grasgraaier in 1999?

FATALIMAGE
Certainly the match with grasgraaier in the MEWIS Invitational was the highlight of my wild 5 career. I drew him in the match 2-2 which was as close as anyone got to beating him in an official match in those days πŸ™‚ I had black in the first game and unveiled a novelty which I had saved for this match (9.. Qef2 and 10.. Ke1! in the Qc4 main line) and won the game. Gras was apparently impressed enough with the novelty that he immediately used it against me in the next game! And so it went, and black won all four games in the match, the only time I ever saw that happen. I was happy with the 2-2 result, but still then had to wonder what would’ve happened if I had white in the first game. Not that a win with white vs. gras was ever a lock, but that novelty would’ve had even more power if I could’ve used it twice, with him just using it once.

I really wish I could cite some best games, but I lost my game archives from the 90s many years ago.

INTERVIEWER
Who was the strongest wild 5 player during your time? (1996 to early 1999) – This could be multiple players over that period of time.

FATALIMAGE
I can’t really give any name other than grasgraaier. He was always the man– at least once I got high enough on the ladder to be able to give an informed opinion. He proved it by consistently performing the best in the major tournaments.

INTERVIEWER
Who was your favorite opponent?

FATALIMAGE
ChSte was my favorite. We had a lot of great games, and a lot of great analysis sessions. Beyond him, I’ll also name loney, and zeph, as a couple of guys who stand out in my mind for some reason. I always enjoyed playing them; the games were always very interesting.

INTERVIEWER
Do you recall playing any computers back then, or players that were using a computer? Minkler for instance?

FATALIMAGE
Minkler was the only (C)heater that I remember. He was not subtle about it, having only a handful of rated wild games, and being of rather ordinary blitz chess strength, yet he was crushing some of the top players in wild 5. He had a pretty big mouth talking about how great he was at wild 5 too. He was quickly recognized as a cheater by the community. I think he was even playing the telltale b1=Q computer opening as black. It was pretty amusing, really.

INTERVIEWER
Connection speeds (and lag) were worse back then. But there were a lot of providers as well, especially dial-up. Technology has obviously changed since then – what were you using back then to access the Internet? It certainly had to be better than a tin-can-on-a-string!

FATALIMAGE
Slightly better πŸ™‚ When I first got a computer, it had a god-awful 2400 baud modem, but that got upgraded rather quickly to a 14.4k modem, and then a U.S. Robotics 28.8k modem which I used for a number of years. In the mid 90s I bounced around a few dialup ISPs, mostly local. Sometime in 1996 or around there, I moved to a bigger ISP called Concentric (they’re still in business I think) which had SLIP/PPP access, which afforded me the use of a graphical interface for online chess! (not to mention a graphical web browser, heh). From there I eventually moved to JavaNet for my ISP which was a combination ISP/chain of Internet cafes. That would take me up to 1999-2000 which is when I able to get cable modem service from MediaOne (bought out by AT&T, then bought out by Comcast), and I’m still using Comcast today.

INTERVIEWER
Over time, the game changed – and perhaps more importantly, the ICS culture changed. What was your favorite part of the early ICS culture that you feel is missing today or perhaps something that you’d like to emphasize?

FATALIMAGE
To me, the major difference is that things are so much more stagnant now. In the 90s, There were more new players all the time, the software was still being developed, new ICSes were spawning. Now, everything’s pretty much set in stone and it’s mainly the same old people. I suppose it can’t be helped, but that’s what is missing currently- just a general feeling of growth and evolving.

INTERVIEWER
You mentioned losing your wild 5 file of games. Did you ever log anything else apart from the MEWIS wild-5 site that you set up for the 1998 Invitational? I happen to have a copy of that site and it’ll be made available again at some point. But did you ever bother to log conversations, fingers, histories, or games of other players? As a SLICS user back in the day, I really enjoyed its logging features – did you ever make use of that?

FATALIMAGE
I was not a diligent logger at all. And I literally don’t have anything left before the year 2002 due to a hard drive crash. I didn’t have much in the way of chat logs anyway. Basically what I lost was my games and all the web site materials. There is a ton of stuff from back in those days, not just chess-related, that I desperately wish I had kept and made backups of, but at the time didn’t think I’d ever want. In summary, I suck!

INTERVIEWER
Having already asked about the best player and if there were any computer cheaters, it only stands to reason to ask who the most notorious player was back then. There certainly had to be no shortage of options, from Minkler to TheRaven to AceJi or anybody else you’d care to bring up. And that’s not even counting the ICC players!

FATALIMAGE
TheRaven was certainly the most notorious. He was public enemy #1 for every wild 5 player. GLM had faded away by the time I became aware of him, but he was still talked about quite a bit for being similarly shady and cowardly. He played all his games private and obviously never played against anybody competent. Minkler would be on the list, but nowhere near those two. Maybe due to lack of longevity πŸ™‚ On ICC, chesswhiz2 was the worst. He was an OK wild 5 player (at 1 0) but was just a cheap guy who would try any manner of things to squeeze a few undeserved points out of people. He received a points dump at least once and got a (C) later on too. chesskid/erict/CDavis/Junk lost respect from some, for running up huge wild ratings playing wild 7 (a solved game) and then never playing rated wild ever again.

INTERVIEWER
I have a rough copy of the 1997 chess.net tournament page you set up – but there isn’t much there. What do you remember about that tournament (apart from grasgraaier winning, naturally). How was the culture for wild 5 on that server at the time?

FATALIMAGE
I couldn’t tell you a thing about the particulars of that tournament. Honestly, even the MEWIS tournament, on which I did extensive work running it with ChSte, and chronicling everything on the web site, I don’t really remember much of the specific results of the tournament itself besides the match with grasgraaier. Sad! I do remember being impressed in general with the wild 5 community at chess.net though — and the tournament was probably the only time I spent significant time over there so I think it answers your question– I do recall them having a solid amount of people active and enthusiastic about wild 5.

INTERVIEWER
Extending the previous question a bit further, which server had the best culture for wild 5? Also, was it easy to find games on FICS or did you usually end up having to sit around for a couple of hours if you didn’t want to play a known wild 5 player that you had already played?

FATALIMAGE
I’d rank FICS first, chess.net second (admittedly I had very limited experience there) , ICC third. I was never on USCL, so no opinion there. On FICS, there was some waiting, sure, but you could generally always get a game. ICC was more of the two-hour-wait situation. And on ICC, 90% of your wild 5 games would get aborted on the first move, with your opponent claiming their interface was broken because the board was flipped or they couldn’t move their pawns. (sigh)

INTERVIEWER
Touching on the subject of white versus black, especially with your mentioning the impact it had on your match with grasgraaier, which color did you prefer for the most part? And somewhat related on that note, did you ever have to offer “odds” to any player in order to have them play you a few games of wild 5? I personally had to offer people a series of games where I would give them 3 to 1 time odds AND play black in every game just to get them to play a few games. Did that ever occur with you?

FATALIMAGE
Of course I won a lot more with white, but wins with black were much more satisfying and challenging, so maybe in a way I preferred black. I never really thought about it that much. I did agree to play black in a series of games occasionally. I’m sure I did time odds too. I didn’t ever combine the two πŸ™‚

INTERVIEWER
Do you happen to have a favorite wild 5 related anecdote?

FATALIMAGE
Once later on in my stay on ICC.. I would say there was around 5-6 elite wild 5 players on the server, and games between the best players were rare. But one day, the stars aligned, some TD started up a wild 5 DRR on WildOne (which was quite rare in itself) but on top of that almost all the elites were online (I think all but one) and jumped in the tournament. So there was a pretty epic event formed out of nowhere. But what was interesting about it to me, was that there was a large amount of spectator and chat interest– far more than any usual Tomato-type tournament. Wild 5 on ICC at the time was definitely NOT a thriving game, so I would’ve thought nobody could care less, but I was surprised how many people were aware of who the top wild 5 players were, and excited to see them going at it. Shame it didn’t happen more, but it was fun, and I won the tournament which made it better πŸ™‚ That was maybe my last hurrah in wild 5.

INTERVIEWER
Have you ever played wild 5 over the board (OTB)? If you have, who have you played it with?

FATALIMAGE
A few times, just showing the game to chess-playing friends. Never with anybody that could give me a competitive wild 5 game. I would love to play OTB against a strong player.

INTERVIEWER
Did you ever get a chance to play any “famous” chess players in wild 5?

FATALIMAGE
The most famous I’ve played, that I am aware of, would be GM Alex Lenderman (manest on ICC), who was an IM when I played him in wild 5. He’s now one of the strongest players in the U.S. Also, there was Arun Sharma who is currently vice-president of the U.S. Chess League (kenobi on FICS). He was strong in wild 5.

INTERVIEWER
Do you happen to have a favorite event in ICS history? Maybe a landmark event such as the introduction of timeseal if you were around for that, or a scandal, or even some sort of ruse that went on?

FATALIMAGE
Probably the coolest thing that I was there for was the launching of bughouse on FICS. Those were good times. Playing atomic for the first time on MEWIS, and just MEWIS in general, was really cool too. The most spectacular scandal I witnessed was, in 2004 when a bunch of GMs were disqualified from the Dos Hermanas tournament on ICC, including both of the finalists(Riazantsev and Becerra). ICC tried to keep a lid on it as best they could, but several well-known GMs were disgraced.

INTERVIEWER
What’s your viewpoint on duplicate accounts (dupes)?

FATALIMAGE
As long as the dupes are not playing each other in rated games, or doing anything else illicit, I don’t see any harm in people having dupe accounts. Servers that aggressively hunt down any and all dupes are just wasting time and resources.

INTERVIEWER
It almost seems like wild 5 culture almost requires that you dupe at least once, somehow? Do you feel like that’s the case? My thought is that since it was such a small pool of players to begin with, and some players were rather notorious for avoiding certain players that a dupe would be created by the duckee just to get to play the duckers.

FATALIMAGE
I could understand that argument for duping. I duped once to try to get a shot at TheRaven. When I was actively playing, there really wasn’t much ducking going on though. It was more that you were happy enough to get a game that you’d play whoever. But I figure, when ducking becomes as prevalent as you describe, then I would probably just lose interest in the server/community, rather than go to great lengths to create dupes.

INTERVIEWER
Several wild 5 players have had their ratings wiped by the administrators at various _ICS servers over the years. Did this ever happen to you at any point? What’s your thought on those actions?

FATALIMAGE
I managed to avoid the wipe treatment. Of course I would support a wipe where there is evidence of computer cheating, or points transferring… anything which clearly makes the rating completely illegitimate. From my experience though, too often admins will wipe first and ask questions later.

INTERVIEWER
In general, what’s your opinion on the _ICS administration?

FATALIMAGE
Generally I thought FICS administration was terrible, and ICC administration was.. good overall, though they had some problems too. FICS admins seem to have total autonomy in what they do, which is probably not such a good thing. When one of them goes off on a personal crusade, watch out. I generally avoided chess.net but they had some well-documented problems with corrupt admins πŸ™‚ And Paul Truong is now tampering with USCF elections and suing/being sued by them. He’s moved up in the world.

INTERVIEWER
And more particularly, do you have an opinion about ratings manipulation?

FATALIMAGE
It was never really my thing. Ultimately the ratings don’t mean much. Some methods of manipulation were admittedly clever. In wild 5, the player pool was small, and indeed wild ratings were pretty easy to manipulate if one were so inclined. Having a high enough rating to play the top players was important , but past that, I generally didn’t take the wild ratings too seriously. I’m a fan of the 1-minute, 5-minute, etc. pools that ICC established which, while not totally immune to manipulation, do produce more accurate ratings.

INTERVIEWER
Are there any old players you wish you could contact again, if just to catch up on some memories?

FATALIMAGE
Given my own spotty memory, I wonder who else would even remember me πŸ™‚ ChSte and MrPink I wouldn’t mind catching up with.

INTERVIEWER
Once again, thank you so much for agreeing to participate in this interview. It’s been fun to relive some memories with you about parts of ICS history. I’d like to take this time to reply about one of the previous answers you gave. Most of the websites from the past that focused on non-game portions of the ICS servers were rather hard to find. My own site was a bit late to the game, but it’s still up. I do have copies of Flesh’s website – one of the original Bughouse / ICS commentary sites and Doctor Unclear’s (C)heating website. I plan to bring both of those websites back up in archived form. Some other websites that I’m aware of were JamesBaud’s various “bot” pages, Thufir’s TAsunder page (with the original bughouse DB on it), and the previously mentioned Bug Board. There was also d2d4.de, a couple of technical-only pages (such as mann’s website), ErrantFischer’s masterly Bughouse page, but I don’t recall anything else. I tracked down an old copy of MrPink’s website, but there wasn’t much there. Do you happen to remember any other websites?

FATALIMAGE
Ah, yes, ErrantFischer, he had the ‘Top 10 ways you know you have a bad bughouse partner’ which was a legendary article. I think you covered most of them. I’ll contribute a few from the ICC side: Qualo had a site where members could post photos of themselves which was pretty popular. Chess-WhoCares and adam16mr had ICC quotes pages. Some of the chat channels had their own sites. WolfieBoy had the most interesting site, the Helper Files, which was a good exposΓ© of the bad and sometimes downright harmful information being dispensed by the ICC helpers, and it included some stuff from the private ICC helper channel (100). Also, not exactly a web site, but, in addition to the standard rec.games.chess.* newsgroups, there was a lesser-known one for ICS discussion called alt.chess.ics. It’s surely dead now but may have some interesting stuff in the archives.

INTERVIEWER
And now, the final question. Any commentary you’d like to give regarding ICS history or wild 5 history?

FATALIMAGE
I’ll just say here that it’s impossible for me to understand that a game like “losers chess”,(the ICC implementation) one of the most rigid, lifeless variants ever conceived, was so hugely popular, while wild 5 has never enjoyed that level of popularity. It’s had some good runs, but I just don’t get how a great action game like wild 5 wasn’t much bigger than it was. I see these people happily grinding out these losers chess games and I wonder if I was born without the w17 gene or something. How else to explain it?


FatalImage was one of the best players of wild 5 in the Silver Era, maintaining a 2300-2400 rating across chess.net, FICS, ICC, and MEWIS-1 & 2. He participated in the 1997 chess.net wild 5 tournament and was responsible for maintaining the website for that tournament. In 1998, he organized the MEWIS-2 wild 5 tournament won by grasgraaier. During that tournament, FatalImage introduced an innovation now considered to be a standard line in today’s opening theory, the King move in the Marmir opening tree. He gradually drifted off of the wild 5 scene in 1999, but continues to pop up every now and then to check in.

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