Archive for the ‘Chess’ Category

Misspent youth

September 16, 2009

I survived (a semester of) college Russian only thanks to much help from an extremely caring and talented girlfriend, as well as a very understanding instructor.  At the time, I had delusions of chessic grandeur, which was inevitably to follow from my study in the original of Never Before Revealed Secrets of Russian Grandmasters, following in the footsteps of Bobby Fischer before me.

Those were also the days Spam was something I enjoyed as an occasional guilty treat.

Fast forward twenty years, and … I remember a Russian swear word so very evil I will never ever be able to use it.  And I can read my email well enough to understand

ЗДеcЬ mоЖеТ БЫТЬ ВAШа рекЛамa

Well, whoopty doo.

(Actually, I cannot tell a lie:  I had to look up рекЛамa.)



September 12, 2009

Now that chess is once again retired, I have more time for productive pursuits:  generating revenue, running (PR today – new VDOT is Boston-ready 47.7), reading, writing, cooking, dancing, and playing with my guitar.

Other than the time required, you might think these activities were fairly independent, even synergistic., e.g. cooking and running.  But it’s not always so:  kitchen knives and fingers can combine in ways that don’t do my guitar scales any good.  Yeah, yeah, I know about Django.

In cooking class, or on cooking podcasts, for the impecunious among us, you’re told to curl in the fingertips of your non-cutting hand, and then bring the knuckles right up against the knife. (Aside:  I’m slightly surprised that “knuckles against the knife” returns only two hits on Google.  Well, this will make three.)

Back to meatspace – you know where that idea comes from, right, about the knuckles and the knife?  It’s vintage Sun-Tzu:  “keep your friends close, but your enemies closer“!

Moving on

September 6, 2009

My chess game may be nearing its denouement.  Soon I’ll have more time to take the good advice I was given today – on a five mile barefoot and at times rocky hike – to “pick up [my] guitar every day, and see what happens.”  I’m looking forward to it.

I’m still hoping to bring you chess insights as they come to me – perhaps more often, as distance gives me some perspective on the game.  This last “correspondence” game has been a great teacher – just below the surface of a fairly placid sequence of moves, an avalanche of tactics has consumed my evenings.  All the best stuff is in the notes.

Making it look smooth takes a lot of work that never sees the light of day.

Looking back to look forward

September 5, 2009

At the M-A track the other day, I did my tempo run around a middle school football practice.  That’s “American football,” the kind where your senses are numbed by two inches of rubber and plastic padding to allow you to run into other similarly numbed humans without feeling the impact.  It’s pretty much the philosophical opposite of barefoot running – all that was missing to complete the picture of sensory deprivation was iPods.

The coaches yelling at the kids were all quite large men.  They looked to me like prospective candidates for several medical procedures.

Which got me to thinking – partly as procrastination from focusing about my running form, as I should have been – that I’d like to see a study on the health of the high school class of 1956-61, or thereabouts – roughly 65-70 year olds.  I’d like to see how three groups fared healthwise:  American football players, runners and/or swimmers (non-contact endurance athletes), and non-athletes, or let’s call them “mental athletes” – the chess and math club.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the nerds look best in the long run.


August 28, 2009

Adding an iPod-ready stereo is the best modification I’ve made to my car.  I don’t get a lot of TV or radio-time, so much of my media exposure comes from listening to (mostly) NPR podcasts while driving:  This American Life, Radiolab, To the Best of Our Knowledge, Story of the Day, TED Talks. None of this requires mental heavy lifting – no chess problems to solve, no square roots to calculate.

All the same, driving is job one, and occasionally I’m distracted by traffic and miss what was said.  Which is easily enough remedied with a quick peck on the rewind button.  It’s very convenient.  So convenient, in fact, that I find myself bringing this modality to my real world, face to face interactions.  When someone says something I didn’t quite get, or that I’d just like to hear again, I find myself reaching forward for their rewind button.  I have to stop myself, like Dr. Strangelove at the end of the movie.

I think it was Ben Affleck who said that if he were rich, all he’d change is throwing away the unopened pistachios.  (I realize that doesn’t make any sense –  I’m sure Ben Affleck can afford all the pistachios he wants – but that’s how I remember it.)  If I were rich, really really Bill Gates raised to the Rupert Murdoch rich, I think I’d require rewind buttons on everyone I met.


August 25, 2009

I’m playing my last game of chess.  Well, probably not the last time I make a chess move, but my last serious game using opening books, studying the ending, etc.  This time … I really think I can do it!

Having concrete substitutes helps.  Music is more beautiful.  Dancers are much happier.  And words … exercise my brain in a gentler yet equally satisfying way.

They should have AA for chess players.

Chess [is like] Life

June 24, 2009

I enjoy connections, parallels, metaphors, between distinct realms of my experience.  In fact, my original impetus for this blog was a realization of the many lessons from chess that apply to life. The business world, for instance, might do well to learn the difference between “strategy” and “tactics.”   But I’ll save that particular rant for another time …

Let’s take a quick look at a game in progress against my friend Scott.

scottgameIn this queenless, therefore allegedly boring, middlegame, I have to look out for tactical possibilities in each quadrant of the board!

The lower right has been central to the action for a while, while on the upper right, his pawns are in my Bishop’s line of sight.

The upper left is in a state of tension, my Knight looking “grim on the rim,” yet tying down his Rook.

Finally, the lower left, while it seems quiescent, features the most complex positional play – should I try to trade my Bishop on h6?   Instead of b3 on his last move, should he have played f4 (with the idea of f5) to shut down the scope of my pieces, or even trap them?  Should I prevent his pawn push with my own, to g5?  But what about the hole that would open up for his Knight, allowing it to dominate the center from f5?

So each sector of the board offers threats as well as possibilities; each not only demands time and attention in its own right, but directly affects the others.  Learning to optimize and trade off competing and interrelated constraints – is that like life or what?