Friday, March 30, 2007
It was in R.N. Coles's book Dynamic Chess where I first came upon the idea that chess is a game of four dimensions: material (based on the relative value of the pieces), time (development and initiative), space (control of the board), and position (meaning structural or dynamic weaknesses and strengths in your pieces, pawns, coordination, or king safety). Players typically understand them in that order, with what Coles called "position" (and which others have termed "quality") the hardest to master, just as it was historically the last to gain widespread recognition among theorists. That's why I only lecture to my young chess students on "time, space, and the material world," since those three abstractions are enough of a stretch. When they are ready for the fourth dimension, they will be ready for chess mastery.
At a certain point, mastery of the game involves combining the four dimensions so that all become inter-related, exchangeable, and fungible. That's why the four are often reduced in recent formulations. In Kasparov's view, there are really only three dimensions to the game: material, quality, and time. Robert Huebner has deconstructed Kasparov's three to show that they all really reduce to "quality" in the end. And Jonathan Rowson (who reviews their work in Chess for Zebras) argues that practical players need to acknowledge the critical role of the chess clock (always ticking), so that he adapts the Kasparov model to make "material," "opportunity" (his rendition of Kasparov's "time"), "time" (meant literally), and "quality." I think Rowson makes a good case, especially since at no other time has the clock played such a significant role in the game. But whether they see chess in one, three, or four dimensions, everyone seems to agree that the concept of "position" or "quality" is the most crucial.
In his discussion of "quality," Rowson breaks it down into safety, structure, and scope. Most beginners understand the notion of king safety soon enough, and they learn to understand and use pawn structure. But the concept of piece quality or scope takes a while longer to recognize because it is so dynamic and less visible than a broken castle position under assault or doubled pawns under restraint. In a sense, scope is less inscribed in the pieces themselves than it is in the force-fields that they radiate. So piece quality is not something you see until you are used to seeing your pieces less as objects than as actors.
Tuesday, March 27, 2007
Bill Wall offers up a long list of "Fiction Literature and Chess" at his website for those seeking an even larger selection. However, having wasted an inordinate amount of time long ago tracking down and slogging through many fictional works about chess, I can assure you that Weeks has chosen only the best.
Hat tip to Scholastic Chess Gateway.
Sunday, March 25, 2007
The New York Times reports today (in an article titled "Artificial Intelligence, with Help from the Humans") that Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos has created a service dubbed the "Mechanical Turk," in which humans are given lowest-bidder pay for solving problems that computers find too difficult. The Turk, as well documented by Tom Standage, was the famous 18th and 19th Century mechanical chess player that actually hid a human operator inside (laboring under very difficult conditions, in a cramped space with no bathroom). Edgar Allan Poe may have been the first to deduce the secret in his essay Maelzel's Chess Player. Bezos has also invested in a company called ChaCha which will farm out search tasks to human bidders in a process they like to call "artificial artificial intelligence." I am both disturbed by the idea of Amazon exploiting people's labor at cut-rate prices, and also saddened to imagine many of them working under exploitative conditions. "The Turk" makes a good image for that, with a man in a box turned into a machine.
Friday, March 23, 2007
I have posted two upset victories from the 2007 US Amateur Teams East for your enjoyment.
Games from the tournament have finally begun to trickle in: I recently discovered that TWIC #644 (posted 3/12/2007 and also available in other formats) contains a number of games from the 2007 USATE, including several by players from our club. And The Chess Coroner has annotated two USATE miniatures by our players.
The file at TWIC contains the interesting upset win by Arthur Shen (1605) over NM David Gertler (2286), which was also annotated this Sunday by Pete Tamburro and Steve Doyle in their excellent Star Ledger column. Arthur has been a student of NM Scott Massey, who also taught his older brother Victor (who is New Jersey's youngest master). It is an interesting game with several fascinating features (not least the problematic ending position where Gertler resigned), so I have posted it online with some notes expanding on those offered in the Ledger.
I was disappointed, however, not to find the full score of another interesting upset win, where FM Tommy Bartell (the former NJ Champion and a frequent visitor to the Kenilworth Chess Club) won against GM Leonid Yudasin. Tommy was visiting the club last night and tried, on my request, to reconstruct the game for us from memory but with little success. He was, however, able to show us the critical position (see diagram above), which is what I had most wanted to see anyway. Yudasin had just played ....Qe5? setting up what looked like a deadly cross-pin on the Bishop at e3 along the e-file and the diagonal leading to g1. But Tommy demonstrated that it is actually White who has a win in this position, which came completely out of left field, as they say....
Wednesday, March 21, 2007
In 1994, George Loewenstein, a behavioral economist at Carnegie Mellon University, provided the most comprensive account of situational interest. It is surprisingly simple. Curiosity, he says, happens when we feel a gap in our knowledge.We might add to their list that "chess makes us ask, What the heck is going on in this position? Why did I lose that game? How are you supposed to play the Dragon Variation of the Sicilian when facing the Yugoslav Attack? What openings might be better suited to my style? What technique is necessary to win this ending?" I'm sure you could supply many additional questions. Chess opens countless painful "knowledge gaps" for players, which chess books only begin to fill. That may be why the game is so compelling. Interestingly, all of the examples the authors offer (movies, mystery novels, sports, crossword puzzles, and pokemon) are also popular among chessplayers old and young. People who play chess are the types who also engage in other pursuits for knowledge, forever seeking to close knowledge gaps in their lives. But why does chess compel such obsessive devotion in players? As the Heaths write:
Loewenstein argues that gaps cause pain. When we want to know something but don't, it's like having an itch that we need to scratch. To take away the pain, we need to fill the knowledge gap. We sit patiently though bad movies, even though they may be painful to watch, because it's too painful not to know how they end.
This "gap theory" of interest seems to explain why some domains create fanatical interest: They naturally create knowledge gaps. ... Movies cause us to ask, What will happen? Mystery novels cause us to ask, Who did it? Sports contests cause us to ask, Who will win? Crossword puzzles cause us to ask, What is a six letter word for 'psychiatrist'? Pokemon cards cause kids to wonder, Which characters am I missing?
If curiosity arises from knowledge gaps, we might assume that when we know more, we'll become less curious because there are fewer gaps in our knowledge. But Loewenstein argues that the opposite is true. He says that as we gain information we are more and more likely to focus on what we don't know. Someone who knows the state capitals of 17 of 50 states may be proud of her knowledge. But someone who knows 47 may be more likely to think of herself as not knowing 3 capitals.
The more we learn, the more we need to know. As we become better players, we also learn about areas of knowledge (from opening lines, to middlegame themes, to endgame techniques) where we have a gap that needs filling. And chess is a game that constantly reinforces the pain of such gaps with the pain of losing....
Tuesday, March 20, 2007
That's not to say that the book is worthless if you are looking to play these lines. It just means that you had better compare other books, do your own analysis, and look at the most recent master games before you trust what they have written. Watson's review offers much food for thought, and it is a must read for any who have already purchased a copy of their own.
Sunday, March 18, 2007
I have recently been coaching a young player, which I am learning is a little different from teaching chess to kids. For one thing, you can go much deeper into opening lines, middlegame themes, and endgame problems with an interested individual than you can with a mixed group of antsy boys. You also get to tailor your lessons to the specific needs of your student, which you can identify by analyzing his games.
Coaching a young chessplayer reminds me of tutoring writing (at which I have much more experience), and some similar issues arise, especially as regards "patterns of error."
When tutoring writing, we speak of "patterns of error," or the specific mistakes in grammar, syntax, spelling, etc. that a student makes in his or her essays. Identifying and working on just a few patterns of error at a time keeps students from getting overwhelmed and helps them learn to edit their own work. Too often, writing professors (especially those with a background in editing) will mark every error they see on an assignment, leaving students feeling overwhelmed by the task of making corrections. The tutor can perform a valuable act of triage by classifying errors, prioritizing them (from "fatal errors," such as subject-verb agreement, to trivial ones, such as occasional dropped articles in the prose of a non-native speaker), and then showing the student how to correct the most important ones. You can also sometimes help in getting to the root of the problem.
For example, I've seen students who present with problems in subject-verb agreement ("Gould say [sic] that evolution is a misuse [sic] term"), errors in number ("Wooly mammoth [sic] are extinct"), and errors in tense ("They use [sic] to think fossils were evidence that dragons once existed"). The student could work on those errors with the help of a grammar text, where he'd find them listed under subject-verb agreement, constructing plurals, and using the past tense. But a good tutor might notice that the larger pattern of error really boils down to issues with sub-vocalizing -s and -ed endings. Therefore, the best way to address these errors is for the student to pay attention to the words where he is not hearing the endings. He should collect a list of these words and memorize them. If the student still cannot hear the proper endings, at least he will see the problem words and learn to make the correction.
It seems to me that patterns of error in chess are quite parallel to those we see in writing. My chess student, for example, has been making some critical errors that involve not recognizing his opponent's threats. Of course, this is a fairly common error type in developing players (some might say in all players). But then I noticed a deeper pattern emerge: almost all of his errors involved threats on dark-square diagonals. It's almost as though he's especially blind to attacks by a dark-squared Bishop, as the following two diagrams (both from his recent games) illustrate.
Fortunately his opponents must suffer from the same color-blindness, because they both overlooked the threats as well! He can't rely on such lucky breaks in the future, especially as he begins to play stronger opposition. In the first example, 14...Neg4! would have been absolutely crushing, due to the deadly threat of ...Bc5+. And in the second example, White should simply win the Exchange with 17.Ba5!
After I noticed this dark square problem, I remembered other examples from his play. The first game we ever played together, for instance, went 1.e4 e5 2.Nc3 Nc6 3.f4 Bb4!? 4.fxe4?? Bxc3 5.dxc3 Qh4+ etc. And the other day we were discussing the Queen's Gambit and he asked me why after 1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Bg5 Nbd7 5.cxd5 exd5 White did not simply play 6.Nxd5?? I was surprised he would make these errors since I'd rate him around 1600, yet any 1600 player would see that these are absolute blunders. Clearly it is a pattern of error and I think it is one he can train himself to control.
Classifying his error is an important first step. Next we will have to work through some problems with dark-square attacks or dark-square threats so that he begins to train his recognition of those patterns. We could begin with threats on the dark square diagonals around the King (perhaps looking at 1.d4 Nf6 2.Nd2?! e5!? 3.dxe5 Ng4 4.h3?? Ne3! as in the supposed shortest master game or 1. d4 Nf6 2. Bg5 c5 3. c4 cxd4 4. Nf3 e5 5. Nbd2 Nc6 6. Ne4?? Nxe4! as in a nice miniature by Scott Massey). Then we will work on other situations with dark-square attacks.
Once you notice a single pattern of error, others begin to emerge. One interesting pattern of error can be seen in the first two diagrams at the beginning of this article. In both these games, from the same tournament, my student accepted a draw against opponents rated over 1600. In fact, in the second diagram his opponent offered him a draw in the diagram position itself and, without thinking (despite plenty of time on his clock), my student took it. Yet in both positions, as you have already likely observed, he could have won by exploiting a pin. In the first position he should double Rooks on the b-file with 1.Rb2! followed by Reb1, winning the Knight at b5 which is pinned to the Rook at b8. In the second diagram he could win a piece by 1....Re1! followed by 2...Ne3, and if 2.Nc4 Ne3! still wins the Bishop after 3.Nxe3? dxe3 with the deadly threat of 4....e2 etc. In both cases, he simply did not recognize the possibilities of the Rook pin, so he ended up with just two draws out of two games instead of the two wins that he deserved. The parallels between these two cases are uncanny, yet rather typical of patterns of error.
We cannot recognize what we have never seen before, and we will never recognize it until we've consciously trained ourselves to see it in the first place.
You can track patterns of error on your own by putting together a database of your games and using Fritz or another strong program to blunder check. Then use the computer to create diagrams of situations where you've made mistakes (you can simply use Edit>"Copy Position" and paste into Microsoft Word--if you have the right chess fonts installed). Once you've collected enough diagrams, look for patterns of error. Inevitably something will begin to emerge. Of course, a chess coach can be especially helpful in designing a training plan to address that error in your play. But just becoming aware of the pattern or patterns is a good first step.
There have not been many books that can help students train themselves to recognize their patterns of error and correct them. Among the best of those few is Dan Heisman's Looking for Trouble: Recognizing and Meeting Threats in Chess. You can read an excerpt of the book at his "Novice Nook" column at ChessCafe. I am a big fan of Heisman's work and especially liked his piece on "Quiescence Errors," which discusses cases where players end their analysis too soon, usually stopping on some stereotyped move ("Oh, if he does that he loses his Queen, so that can't be good...") rather than looking a little further to recognize that they've really blundered ("...but wait! I win his Queen but I also get mated! Yikes!") That may be one of my own patterns of error, though I tend to make it in a more positive way, where I might not explore a line sufficiently because it involves an initial sacrifice yet, if examined far enough, could lead to a winning attack.
Heisman has written a lot on the issue of error for beginning chess players. The better pieces among his "Novice Nook" columns on the topic include "The Seeds of Tactical Destruction," "A Counting Primer," "Revisiting the Seeds of Tactical Destruction," "The Most Common OTB Mistakes," "Is there a Win?" and "Is It Safe?"
Another interesting book on the theme of error is Amatzia Avni's Danger in Chess: How to Avoid Making Blunders. I'm not sure it will be as helpful to the average player as Heisman's work, but I enjoyed looking at its examples. Avni's book may also come the closest I've seen to offering what I'd call a "Grammar of Chess Mistakes," which can be a helpful thing to have for categorizing your errors. Avni's categories include "leaving the king with insufficient support," "weakness of the eighth rank," "entering a lasting pin," "capturing poisoned pawns," and "placing pieces without escape routes." Most of his examples (all drawn from GM games) are more psychological than tactical, however, and amount to three problem areas: (1) underestimating your opponent, (2) underestimating the situation, and (3) ignoring your opponent's body language (as when he appears a bit too happy to enter a line you thought was bad for him). He then goes on to talk about ways players can manipulate these psychological effects to their advantage to misguide their opponents. I am not sure how useful this is to developing players, but his examples concerning "The Art of Deception" are the most interesting in the book. It might be an interesting project to collect games where the psychological element can be seen in the moves themselves. My favorite example of that is Kupchik - Capablanca, Lake Hopatcong 1926, where Capa appears to weaken his kingside in order to lure Kupchik into an attack on that flank, which only serves to make his own attack on the queenside all the more effective. A similar case might be Geller-Euwe, Zurich 1953.
Though most of his examples seem rather esoteric, Avni does offer some useful ideas for students and coaches. Basically, if you want to avoid error, you need to train yourself to do the following:
- Begin your thought process by looking for your opponent's threats rather than focusing on your own attacking ideas.
- Maintain a self-critical attitude and always double-check your calculations.
- Check actively for possible dangers and try to "think for the other guy" so that you begin to anticipate his ideas.
I especially like his suggestion that students study double-edged games so that they are always studying tactics with their opponent's threats in mind.
One of Avni's better examples comes from the game Kagan-Kaldor, Israel 1971, which illustrates his three principles quite well:
Black to play (the board is presented from his perspective) continued 40...Re2+? 41.Kxe2 a7 and the pawn cannot be stopped. No doubt Kaldor thought he was winning. But Kagan was able to force a draw by 42.Rh6+ Ke5 43.Rh5+ and Black dare not play 43...Kd4?? because of 44.Kd2 followed by Rd5#. One might also note that Black cannot escape in the other direction: after 42.Rh6+ both 42...Kf7 and 42...Kd7 allow 43.Rh7+ followed by 44.Ra7 which stops the passed pawn and wins.
Kaldor did not double-check his calculations, and he did not see what his opponent might be able to do. All he saw was the most forcing way to get the pawn to the queening square.
Controlling most patterns of error comes down to double-checking your calculations from your opponent's point of view. This lesson was brought home to me recently as I was looking at the game Tarrasch-Mieses, Goteborg 1920 in Irving Chernev's Logical Chess, Move by Move.
The diagram above appears on page 202 of the book, and I remember thinking immediately on seeing it that 25.b5 wins. Then I looked at Chernev's note: if 25.b5? Na5+ 26.Kb4? Nd5+ 27.Kxa5?? Ra8#! I could easily have walked into that trap, since the moves leading up to mate seem so natural from White's perspective. Once you start to think from the other side of the board, though, the mating trap becomes obvious. Fortunately, Tarrasch was aware of the danger and checked his calculations, going on to produce one of the most error-free games of his career.
It takes training to weed out our errors. But if you develop the right habits of thought, you will keep errors under control and increase your winning percentage significantly. I look forward to seeing my student do just that.
Wednesday, March 14, 2007
As I sat down to title this bibliography, I was frankly puzzled. A number of names for 1.e4 e5 2.f4 Nc6 3.Nf3 f5!? crop up in the literature. And since the line remains relatively obscure and has multiple parents, the issue of naming is not fully settled. It might be worthwhile to review the possible names, if only to make my bibliography easier to find via a Google search for those who don't know it as the "Adelaide."
Tony Miles gets credit for the name that seems most likely to stick. He was the first to draw attention to the line in his article "King's Gambit Refuted at Last?" (NIC Yearbook 36:1995), where he told the story of how he invented it and worked out its complexities with the help of then Australian Champion Alex Wohl: "the line was subjected to rigorous testing in local smoke-filled laboratories and found to be remarkably viable." Because of the South Australian city where they did their work, Miles suggested it be called "the Adelaide Counter Gambit," a name that King's Gambit enthusiast Thomas Johansson adopts as well.
In his article "King's Gambit Finally Refuted!" (NIC Yearbook 38:1995), Matthias Wahls makes a prior claim to the line (with analysis dating to 1987), though he offers no particular alternative title himself. Ignoring Wahls's claim to priority, Eric Schiller prefers to call it the "Miles Defense," which is the name picked up by Chessgames.com.
Miles suggested that the line had first been tried in Pigott-Gottschalk, Islington 1975, leading the NIC Yearbook editors to subtitle Miles's article "Gottschalk Counter Gambit Resuscitated." But Gottschalk had only played the rather insipid idea of 1.e4 e5 2.f4 Nc6 3.Nf3 f5 4.exf5 exf4?! -- showing that he really did not understand what he had found. Meanwhile, the most important game with the line may have been Gallagher-Wohl, Kuala Lumpur 1992, with Miles's analysis partner paired with "the famous King's Gambiteer Joe Gallagher." Perhaps Wohl's name should be included as well? Jan Van Reek, meanwhile, suggests "the King's Counter-Gambit" while also noting a much earlier game with the line: De Saint Bon - Dubois, London 1862. So should we call it the Dubois Defense?
We could always combine the most important contemporary names and call it the "Miles-Wohl-Wahls Counter-Gambit." I like the sound of that. Meanwhile, I will settle for Adelaide Counter-Gambit, since Johansson and Miles have made the most important contributions and therefore the name will be most recognizable to those interested in it.
I hope the following bibliography interests readers. I may follow up with some analysis and games of my own, since I have been playing the line regularly for the past year.
Bücker, Stefan. "Konigsgambit am Ende?" Kaissiber #1 (22 May 1996): 24-27.
This article defends the White side against specific lines discussed by Matthias Wahls but ignores potential Black improvements.
Burgess, Graham. "Surprise 4: King's Gambit 2...Nc6, 3...f5." 101 Chess Opening Surprises. Gambit 1998/2001. 13-14.
Though his analysis covers a brief two pages, Burgess provides the most correct assessments and recommendations on the line available.
Craig, Tom. Acunzo-Craig, Luis Paucar Perez Memorial 1999. Scottish Correspondence Chess Association website.
Goeller, Michael. The Bishop's Opening - 1.e4 e5 2.Bc4 Nc6 3.f4.
Points out an important improvement for Black on Strijbos--Deyirmendjian, Avoine 1995.
Harding, Tim. "Introduction to the Pierce Gambit." The Kibitzer 96 ChessCafe
If you choose to play the Adelaide Counter-Gambit as Black, you are also going to have to contend with 1.e4 e5 2.f4 Nc6 3.Nc3! transposing to the Vienna Gambit. Black then typically takes the pawn by 3...exf4, which can lead to a number of lines, most notably the Pierce: 4.Nf3 g5 5.d4 (also possible is 5.h4 g4 6.Ng5 leading to the Hampe-Allgaier) 5...g4!? (Black can also decline the gambit) 6.Bc4 gxf3 7.O-O. I have been looking at some alternative tries for Black, most notably 3...Bb4!?
_______. "Last Rites for the Allgaier Gambit?" The Kibitzer 79 ChessCafe
_______. "Some Theory of the Pierce Gambit." The Kibitzer 97 ChessCafe
Herb, Pascal. "Une défense contre le Gambit du Roi." Les Echecs en noir et blanc.
Johansson, Thomas. "King's Gambit Declined - Counter-Gambits." The King's Gambit for the Creative Aggressor. Bilingual edition. Kania 2005. 16-20.
Lane, Gary. "Grand Prix Crash." Opening Lanes #6 Chess Cafe
Begins with coverage of the Grand Prix Sicilian, eventually responds to a reader's question regarding the innocuous 1.e4 e5 2.f4 Nc6 3.Nf3 f5 4.d3, and then analyzes the superior 4.exf5 e4 5.Ne5 when he suggests--incorrectly--that 5...Nf6 gives Black a lost ending after 6.d3 d5? (better 6...Qe7! of course) 7.dxe4 dxe4 8.Qxd8+ Nxd8 9.g4 as in Walter-Goessling, Bundesliga 1994.
Le gambit du Roi refusé par, 2...Cc6!? at the Mjae website
Good coverage of the important lines.
McGrew, Tim. "Shall We Dance?" The Gambit Cartel 19 ChessCafe
Related to lines arising after 1.e4 e5 2.f4 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6!
Miles, Tony. "King's Gambit Refuted at Last?" New in Chess Yearbook 36 (1995): 95-98.
Discusses some of the author's odder experiments against the King's Gambit, including 1.e4 e5 2.f4 Nh6, 1.e4 e5 2.f4 d5 3.exd5 Bc5, and the subject of this article 1.e4 e5 2.f4 Nc6 3.Nf3 f5 which he analyzed with Alex Wohl in the early 1990s.
Reinderman, Dimitri. "King's Gambit Vienna 1903." Secrets of Opening Surprises 4 (2006): 75-78.
Schiller, Eric. "New, Interesting Gambits: The Miles Defense to the King's Gambit." California Chess Journal 16.6 (November-December 2002): 23-26.
Drawn from the author's book, Gambit Chess Openings, the analysis focuses on the critical line 1.e4 e5 2.f4 Nc6 3.Nf3 f5 4.exf5 e4 5.Ne5 Nxe5(?!) with supplemental coverage of White's fourth move alternatives and some analysis by Alan Kobernat on the superior 5.Ne5 Nf6! Typical Schiller schlock, but with lots of useful game references.
Van Reek, Jan. Timmerman-Umansky, Match 2005.
Black has better than 5...Nxe5?! (see above) as played in the second game between these two.
Wahls, Matthias. "King's Gambit Finally Refuted!" New in Chess Yearbook 38 (1995): 206-218. The author shares his analysis from 1987 of 1.e4 e5 2.f4 Nc6 and discusses all important side-lines. Probably the most complete analysis on the line, though much has come after.
Monday, March 12, 2007
John Moldovan (The Chess Coroner) reports that FM Steve Stoyko has clinched the 2007 Kenilworth Chess Club Championship with one round remaining. Stoyko escaped with a fortunate draw against NM Mark Kernighan in a messy time scramble, where Kernighan had to take a draw with mere seconds remaining on his clock in sudden death.
The most interesting game of the night may have been Tomkovich-Sokolosky (see diagram above), where Sokolosky pulled off what should have been a stunning combination to assure at least equal chances despite his poor opening. However, he did not fully comprehend his own brilliance and allowed Tomkovich to win a piece for two pawns, leaving only a technical task to secure the point.
Special thanks to The Chess Coroner for posting all the games from the championship, including Games from Round 9, which can be viewed online or downloaded as a zipped .pgn file.
Sunday, March 11, 2007
Saturday, March 10, 2007
A student of Botvinnik's, Kasparov has approached chess as he approaches life, with as much objectivity as he can muster. As he says: "I am absolutely objective ... I think we can lose badly, because the regime is still very powerful, but the only beauty of our situation is that we don't have much choice." I continue to be impressed. So long as the regime does not sweep the pieces from the board in anger to end the game, I think Kasparov has the best chance of anyone to win it.
Friday, March 09, 2007
Wednesday, March 07, 2007
This suggests a straightforward study (Mark Glickman, are you listening?) regarding the geography of chess performance by rating in the U.S. or around the world. Maybe it has already been done (if so, someone send me the citation!)--and it would probably be a relatively simple matter of extending the work already done on gender. I imagine it would reveal where there are some schools and programs making a significant difference in nurturing chess talent in specific places (including in and around New York!)
What is talent? It's a big question, and one way to approach it is to look at the places where talent seems to be located — in other words, to sketch a map. In this case, the map would show the birthplaces of the 50 top men and women in a handful of professional sports, each sport marked by its own color. (Tennis and golf handily rank performance; for team sports, salaries will do.) The resulting image — what could be called a talent map — emerges looking like abstract art: vast empty regions interspersed with well-defined bursts of intense color, sort of like a Matisse painting.
Canada, for instance, is predictably cluttered with hockey players, but significant concentrations also pop up in Sweden, Russia and the Czech Republic. The United States accounts for many of the top players in women's golf, but South Korea has just as many. Baseball stars are generously sprinkled across the southern United States but the postage-stamp-size Dominican Republic isn't far behind. In women's tennis, we see a dispersal around Europe and the United States, then a dazzling, concentrated burst in Moscow.
The pattern keeps repeating: general scatterings accompanied by a number of dense, unexpected crowdings. The pattern is obviously not random, nor can it be fully explained by gene pools or climate or geopolitics or Nike's global marketing budget. Rather, the pattern looks like algae starting to grow on an aquarium wall, telltale clumps that show something is quietly alive, communicating, blooming. It's as though microscopic spores have floated around the atmosphere in the jet stream and taken root in a handful of fertile places.
A quick analysis of this talent map reveals some splashy numbers: for instance, the average woman in South Korea is more than six times as likely to be a professional golfer as an American woman. But the interesting question is, what underlying dynamic makes these people so spectacularly unaverage in the first place? What force is causing those from certain far-off places to become, competitively speaking, superior?
The article had some other implications for chess, however, which I am only beginning to absorb. The biggest is that it suggests that chess training has to include specific work on problem solving technique or "thinking" technique if it is to be fully effective. As a great tennis coach is quoted as saying: "Technique is everything ... If you begin playing without technique, it is big mistake. Big, big mistake!" Gets you thinking....
Tuesday, March 06, 2007
Monday, March 05, 2007
Why are chessbloggers so apolitical? It might be better to ask the question of chessplayers in general. How could chessplayers be so disengaged as to allow people like Sam Sloan to influence the USCF, or dictators like Kirsan to run FIDE?
As I wrote in response to "Planet Kirsan," we chessplayers are an apolitical bunch, which may be precisely why the Soviets found chess so useful as a method of improving rational analysis without motivating critical consciousness or civil unrest. Ironically, as chess politics get more ridiculous, the mass of chessplayers become only more disengaged, which allows things to get even more ridiculous. I'm glad Mark Weeks has at least pointed out the problem, though I'm not sure that us chessbloggers are ever going to be particularly motivated to improve the situation.
Saturday, March 03, 2007
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Friday, March 02, 2007
One personal note: I am mistakenly credited with a fourth round win, which was actually scored by alternate Bob Rose (who played the even numbered rounds). At least they did not stick me with his last round draw! I don't think I'll register a complaint....