Tuesday, January 30, 2007

"Sex Differences in Intellectual Performance"

The December 2006 issue of Psychological Science has an article by NM Christopher F. Chabris and NM Mark E. Glickman titled "Sex Differences in Intellectual Performance: Analysis of a Large Cohort of Competitive Chess Players" (follow the links on the right for the full text), which concludes that "the greater number of men at the highest levels in chess can be explained by the greater number of boys who enter chess at the lowest levels." One interesting finding: they examined ratings data for over 13 years in the USCF computers, charting both rating performance and location by zip code. In zip codes where boys dominate, they tend to improve much more quickly than girls. Where girls have nearly equal participation rates (and there are actually a few places in the U.S. where that is so), they improve at roughly the same rate initially.

For an interesting discussion of the findings, see Jake Young's post at the Pure Pedantry blog titled "Participation explains gender differences in the proportion Chess grandmasters," where he notes the following:

"I am going to make an analogy to make this data make more sense. Why does it seem like the US has substantially fewer good soccer players than the rest of the world? We clearly have good athletes. We play other sports well. We train athletes just as well. Why do other countries do so much better?

The answer is that when you are a good athlete in the US, you do not play soccer. You end up playing something else like football or basketball. The difference in performance is related to a difference in participation.

This data strongly argues that the difference in performance of women in chess is also a problem of participation. The problem is not that women can't play chess well. The problem is that enough women who play chess well are not choosing to play chess."

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Chess and Diplomacy

As I noted back in August, in a piece titled "Texas Hold'em," the U.S. approach to foreign policy has long been more analogous to poker than to chess. As the diplomatic conflict with Iran heats up again, it should come as no surprise that poker and chess analogies should again come to the fore.

On Tuesday, a piece appeared in Al-Jazeerah titled "Texan Poker Bluff and Persian Chess Moves" by K. Gajendra Singh. It suggested that the Iranians are engaged in some smart, chess-like maneuvers: "Like (the Chess King) Ali Khamenei might remove from the centre (Knight) Ahmadinejad with his awkward moves. Iranians have shown Chess like long term planning and finesse to counter US moves in the region, even offering full cooperation in 2003 (an honourable draw), if US normalized bilateral relations disrupted since 1979 . Always many moves ahead they nurtured SCIRI, Dawa and other Iraqi groups and Kurds. Since the invasion of Iraq , they now occupy and control the centre (as in Chess board) , with open and hidden threats to any US moves."

More recently, and practically as a response, the former CIA Director James Woolsey wrote an incindiery opinion piece in an Israeli publication titled "Chess with Tehran: If we are forced to strike Iran, we should do so decisively" where he writes: "If we were to look at the world as a chessboard, and the Persians after all invented chess and are very good at it, and if we were to think of Iran as a chess master and look at its various pieces, I think we might characterize its nuclear weapons program as its queen, its most lethal and most valued piece." I would suggest we read that as a direct threat of violence.

As David Shenk suggests, chess has always been an excellent metaphor for political maneuvering and may even have helped to invent it. During the feudal period, chess offered kings used to bloody conflict over land a powerful model for the "bloodless war" of diplomacy. Of course, American diplomacy today is not especially diplomatic, let alone bloodless. And that is precisely why it cannot be sustained long term and cannot win the day against the Iranians, at least on its present course. Like an overly aggressive attack in chess, our language of escalation will have to burn out, allowing our opponents to gain the inevitably strong counter attack.

A better model of chess-like political maneuvering is offered by none other than former chess world champion Garry Kasparov, whose opposition party has been gaining some legitimacy thanks to its astute and deeply conceived tactics. In an interview today by Melanie Kirkpatrick in the Wall Street Journal titled "The Other Russia The man who would checkmate Vladimir Putin," Kasparov points to several interesting quiet moves his party has made of late to gain strength for the coming battle in the post-Putin era. Though he is "a famously aggressive player" and author of the forthcoming Attacker's Advantage, the eminent GM knows well not to blunder into an attack without first building his resources and accumulating positional advantages, which are like allies in the attack. His smartest move has been to form a coalition called "The Other Russia" which brings together all of the opposition parties as a way of marshalling their forces. As he notes, "The big advantage of the Other Russia, and I think it's our biggest accomplishment, is that we've established the principle of compromise, which was not yet seen in Russian politics. It was always confrontation. It was a mentality of a civil war. We eliminated it."

What's more, he knows that building and planning for the attack can take a long time. Only when the moment is right do you seek decisive advantage: "As the new year unfolds, Mr. Kasparov predicts 'a political crisis' in Mr. Putin's government, along with 'less stability, more uncertainty.' That's the opening for the Other Russia. 'We should keep our group together, close to the wall, to get into the hall when it's broken. But not too close to be buried under the debris.'"

I think Kasparov's political aspirations and chances of success have too long been underestimated in the U.S. Especially seen in contrast to U.S. diplomatic blundering, he seems to be playing a brilliant and strategic political game.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

The Caveman Caro-Kann: Advance Variation with 4.h4

Black to play after 8.e6!!

I have posted an article on what I call "The Caveman Caro-Kann: Advance Variation with h4." It's for players who believe White deserves to get a powerful initiative out of the opening, especially after 1.e4 c6. I examine a number of lines that follow 1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 Bf5 (also 3...c5!?) 4.h4, when White grabs space on the kingside and would love to trap Black's Bishop if he foolishly continues 4...e6?? 5.g4 Bg6 6.h5 Be4 7.f3 etc. Another fiendish idea follows 4...h6 5.g4 Bh7? 6.e6! and Black is pretty well busted as the sample games demonstrate. The line with 4.h4 fell into disfavor following Tal's mishandling of it against Botvinnik in their second World Championship match in 1961. But recent games (especially of Kramnik and Short, which I discuss) suggest that White gets lots of interesting pressure even against good defense.

I take as my main line an interesting recent game where White allows Black's Queen to snatch his Rook at a1 then demonstrates that she is trapped like a mastodon tumbled into the pit to extinction. It is a stunning concept and has to be seen to be believed (not unlike that equally deep Nuclear Option in the Sicilian Grand Prix discussed here in October). Computers have surely deepened the traps that are lurking out there for the unwary....

I have been looking at a number of lines in the Advance Variation and will likely post a webliography of interesting material later this week. Meanwhile, I'll just mention Andrew Martin's Bits and Pieces column (and follow-up discussion) on 1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 Bf5 4.Ne2!? from the archives, and material on the Short system with 4.Nf3 e6 5.Be2 from the Informant at ChessCafe (plus some wild training positions from various Advance lines published some weeks later).

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

West on the Trompowsky

Jim West on Chess reprints one of his better Atlantic Chess News columns discussing a game he lost to Asa Hoffmann which began 1.d4 Nf6 2.Bg5 c5. Those interested in either side of this line will want to check it out.

2007 KCCC Round Two Games Online

Thanks to TD Geoff McAuliffe and John (The Chess Coroner) Moldovan, all of the games from Round 2 of the 2007 Kenilworth Chess Club Championship are available online for Java Replay or Zipped PGN Download.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Teaching Chess to Kids, Part V

I will be teaching a chess class to ten 10-year-old boys on Thursdays from 4:00- 5:30 p.m. for a few months and thought I’d reflect in these pages on my lessons. We have met twice so far and I think it is going quite well.

This is mostly the same group of kids I taught last year (see my earlier parts one, two, three, and four), so they all know how to play and have picked up the basics, plus some sense of how to win with material superiority, how to mate, and how to open the game.

Some rules need review, however, especially since kids often get confused about things and then confuse others in the course of play. During our concluding tournament last year, for instance, several of them caught a disease (from one especially aggressive player) where they thought you always had to move your King when in check and if your King could not escape check on its own then it was checkmate. This led to some incredibly silly positions where both sides thought it was checkmate after, say, 1.e4 e5 2.Qh5?! Nf6!? 3.Qxe5 “checkmate!!!” [sic]. I thought they had understood the three methods of escaping check, but it is definitely something I’ll need to review--along with refreshers on castling and en passant capture.

To make sure they are all clued in to the basics, I ordered the excellent booklet Chess Rules for Students by John Bain (very inexpensive at $3 each). This was assigned for homework the first day with the recommendation that they get through as much as they could. The more serious half of them finished it completely in one night (or so they claimed at our second meeting).

For the first lessons last year, I had started with the endgame, getting them to play "pawn battle," "sumo kings," "king and pawn battle," and various "chess mazes" as we learned the basics. With this more prepared group, I realized they’d want to get to playing with all the pieces right away. So we started by talking about the pieces, in a lecture I like to call (in a voice like Darth Vader's) "Time, Space, and the Material World" -- with most of the emphasis on material.
To get their attention, I came up with a fun gimmick. In teaching the value of the pieces, I took one of each piece and lined them up in order of their value. I then took out some cash (singles and a couple five-spots). Even small bills get kids excited, of course, and their visible presence helped to focus their attention on my lesson. I told them that a pawn was worth one dollar. Then I got them to try to figure out what the other pieces might be worth.

Though several still valued Bishops and Knights over Rooks, they were remarkably good at getting to the traditional values, suggesting that some remembered when I discussed this last year or they had heard this somewhere before. I made things a little more complicated by suggesting that a Bishop is probably worth about three dollars and ten cents to three and a quarter, which means it is slightly better than the Knight. When I started getting them into comparative values, this helped to explain why three pieces were better than a Queen. I had them compare Queen versus two Rooks (a real shocker for most) and Queen versus Rook and Bishop (I think some are still puzzling over how to explain that one, as am I, since those two pieces do combine the moves of a Queen).

We came to the King and they suggested it might be worth $20. Others said it had no value. I finally got one to call out that it was worth "infinity!" and I pursued that to its conclusion, getting them to realize that the King is the game, and to checkmate it is "priceless!" (like in the MasterCard commercials).

In reading through Todd Bardwick's Teaching Chess in the 21st Century and Chess Workbook for Children (only the latter of which is useful for experienced players and teachers -- see review at Chessville) I was reminded that, at this level, most of them are still hanging pieces left and right, so the most useful lesson is to show them how to get all this "free stuff" (as Bardwick calls it). Continuing with my money metaphor, I decided to call it "found money," which turned out to be a familiar term for this group. Getting a definition from them was a little tricky, though, and led to someone saying "money that you find?" of course, but they got the concept. "Lots of people overlook found money," I told them. "How many of you walk past pennies on the street?"

"Always be on the lookout for found money! You have to look if you are going to see it. Because if you don't see it, you are going to walk right by...."

I then gave them a "found money problem." The chief purpose was for them to see everything that was out there for the taking. The secondary purpose was for them to begin comparing possibilities -- making evaluations before jumping to decisions.

"Found Money" Problem
White to play: "show me the money!"

They saw right away that the Knight and Queen were hanging, of course. But then they had to figure out which was better to take, since you can't have both in one move. The Queen is more valuable, of course, at nine dollars. What's more, I pointed out, "if you take the Knight you are going to end up losing your Queen to ...Nxc4! That's like stopping to pick up three dollars and dropping your wallet in the process!"

It took them longer, and some coaxing, to evaluate 1.Nxe5 or finally to see 1.Qxf7+ Kh8 2.Bxf6+ and mate next move.

"So what was the most valuable piece of 'found money' on the board?"

"The King! Checkmate!" they called out.


When I teach a concept, I always try to have an activity to get them to put it into play right away. In this case, I just set them to playing a game with each other and then went around calling out whenever I saw "found money" laying on the table. They really got into that and would often look over when I called it out to say "oh yeah -- I see it, too!" I also began to see which players were a little more attuned to the game than others, and I was pleased to see one board where there never seemed to be any money to be found....

I then talked about how "material is just one chess currency. There are others, and these include Time and Space. Besides being able to exchange pieces for each other, you can also exchange them for these less tangible things. Sort of like when you go to the grocery store, you can trade your money for food--or you can go to the toy store and trade your money for toys. It's usually best to hang onto your money, but if a really cool toy comes along it might be worth it."

To illustrate, I looked at a standard opening gambit with 1.e4 c5 2.d4 cxd4 3.c3 dxc3 4.Nxc3 and led them in a discussion of how White gains Time and Space in exchange for the relatively small Material investment of a Pawn, or one dollar. I think it is good for kids at this level to think about sacrificing pawns, so long as they are getting some initiative for it.

I then returned to the idea that even a pawn can be a significant investment, since if Black can hang onto it into the endgame he can make a Queen. I showed them a simple position where White forces a Queen by using his majority (White Kg1, Pa5, Pb5 vs Black Kg8, Pa7). We played this out to mate with Queen and King versus King. I then had them alternate mating with Q+K vs. K to make sure they remembered it and got the concept. Material is what you usually need to win....

After working through this most basic mate, I gave them a tough problem. It was probably too tough for them, but I got them to work it out practically by brute force.

Mate in five.

In the end, White sacrifices all but one of his pawns in order to effect a breakthrough to the queening square, which leads to immediate mate. He surrenders material but still converts the win.



More Amusing Search Terms

In October I made a list of amusing search terms people have used to find my blog. Here are some more I have seen over the past week or so and my speculations about what they were really after:

  • my girlfriend beats me at chess (someone looking for help or maybe for fetish fare?)
  • mad dog wine label (someone checking to see if that name is taken before he puts it on his own bottles?)
  • hart selling (a misspeller out to make a quick buck?)
  • chess cupcakes (he should have tried 'tarts' if looking for sexy pictures)
  • youtube sugar pine tree (this one has me stumped)
  • apples in kenilworth (must be a 'Kenilworth' somewhere in the world where you can pick your own)
  • photos of fidel castro playing baseball (but it's easier to find him playing chess)
  • liesure activities are of great importance in our life (who could disagree?)

Saturday, January 20, 2007

The Informant on Karpov at ChessCafe

"The Best of Chess Informant – Anatoly Karpov" (permanent link to PDF here) by Zdenko Krnic is online today at ChessCafe, with fourteen games by the former champ annotated Informant-style. Worth printing out and playing through.

Friday, January 19, 2007

2007 KCC Championship, Round Two

Moldovan - Stoyko.
Black to play after 43.Rgg1.

The Kenilworth Chess Club's Championship has attracted one of its largest turnouts in club history, with 20 players in two sections. The Open section now has six players (including newcomer Tom Polese) who will complete a double round robin. The Chess Coroner has posted several games at his blog (with likely more to follow), including his own fascinating game with defending club champion FM Steve Stoyko.

Steve confessed that his game with John was one of the most challenging he has played in a club championship, forcing him to bring all of his strategic and calculating powers to the table. Scott Massey (who took a bye due to his difficult work schedule this week) compared the game to Johner - Nimzovich, Dresden 1926, which has been widely annotated (including online by Gary Lane). Steve said he had actually been thinking of that game and had almost played, like Nimzovich, 43...Ba6 when White would practically be in zugzwang. Instead he played a much more dramatic move, made even more so by the fact that his opponent had just offered a draw with both players down to about two minutes on the clock.

Meanwhile, NM Mark ("Mr. Houdini") Kernighan pulled another magic trick, winning a complicated endgame against Polese despite being down to less than 10 seconds plus 5-second delay for the concluding quarter of their game. I look forward to seeing that one analyzed at John's blog if we can get the complete score.

There were ten championship games in the main room.

Games were analyzed and "Fritzed" in the skittles room.

The last games to finish drew spectators:
Moldovan - Stoyko (left) and Kernighan - Polese (right).

Monday, January 15, 2007

Doggers on Morozevich on the Chigorin

Peter Doggers of the "Chess Vibes" blog has posted a brilliant review of Alexander Morozevich's new book on the Chigorin Defense (mentioned at Chess for Blood recently and now available from New in Chess). It is a rather critical review, but for those of us who must have everything on our favorite openings it will likely not deter....

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Chess for Kids in North Jersey

The International Chess Academy received some good press today in an article titled "Chess Starts Early in North Jersey." Several young players are mentioned by name, including Christopher Wu, 7, who is best in the U.S. for his age group. The article notes that "Though few school districts offer chess as part of their regular lessons, four New Jerseyans are ranked among the top 100 players under 21 in the nation." Dean Ippolito's Dean of Chess school also receives favorable mention. Read the rest online.

2007 KCC Championship, Round One

White to play.

John (The Chess Coroner) Moldovan offers excellent coverage of first-round action in the 2007 Kenilworth Chess Club Championship, which began Thursday night. He has annotated his own well-played draw against NM Scott Massey, who continues to struggle against the French, and includes both zipped PGN and java replay of two other games. The most spectacular of the three was clearly Steve Stoyko's win over Mark Kernighan, where Steve made an impressively intuitive Exchange sacrifice rather early in the game and built his strategic advantages into a brilliant victory in the endgame (see diagram above). This one is a gem and I look forward to seeing John's notes.

I have opted out of this year's competition due to work and family commitments. But I hope to visit frequently as a spectator and look forward to brining you some of the action in these pages. I am glad that John has decided to join the open section, since that means we can look forward to seeing the games at his blog.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Andy Soltis Chess Annotations for the Encyclopaedia Britannica

Among the many great things to be found in the Encyclopaedia Britannica online is a set of 25 historic games annotated for general readers by GM Andy Soltis. It's a nice presentation and worth a look.

Chess in 1907

Tim Harding has his annual review of centennial chess at ChessCafe today with "Chess in the Year 1907." I always find these historical reviews interesting. This one makes for a great excuse to replay "Rubinstein's Immortal": Rotlewi-Rubinstein, Lodz 1907 with which he concludes his piece. The famous game has been widely annotated, including by Kasparov. Here are some links for those of you who, like myself, enjoy seeing a wide selection of notes:

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Not "Just for Nerds"

There is a lengthy newspaper article titled "Chess no longer just for nerds: Game gains in popularity thanks to the internet" by Dave Mcginn in the National Post of Canada. Though there is not much new for my normal readers, it's always good to see chess receiving positive press. Here is a sample:

Thanks to the Internet, children and other players no longer need to find a friend at school or even someone in their hometown with whom to enjoy a game; they can easily go online and play fellow enthusiasts anywhere in the world.

Indeed, more than 100 million games are played online each year, Mr. Shenk says in his book.

Even more influential than the Internet, however, is the fact that "nerd" is no longer a term of derision. In a new era in which the richest man in the world is a lanky computer geek, technical proficiency is a point of pride, and T-shirts are sold reading, "Everyone Loves a Nerdy Girl," being a nerd no longer means being a social outcast. Nerdy things have become cool.

"The whole nerd thing has been turned on its ear," says Mr. Shenk, who believes chess is going through "an incredible resurgence on every level."

Friday, January 05, 2007

2007 KCC Championship Starts January 11

The 2007 Kenilworth Chess Club Championship is set to start next Thursday, January 11, 2007. As The Chess Coroner notes, advanced registration has been low, with six registered for the under-1800 section and only one player committed so far to the open section. We expect quite a few more to sign up next week. FM Steve Stoyko is expected to defend his title. NMs Scott Massey and Mark Kernighan attended the last meeting and, while non-commital, said they would attend the first day.

As with 2006, this year it will be broken into two sections: an Open section with players vying for the championship and an Under-1800 section with players vying for the Under-1800 title. The format will also be the same as last year's event: a time control of Game-90, with 5-second-delay upon request. Trophies for Club Champion, second place, and third place, Under-1800, and Under-1500. The event will be Unrated. Entry Fee: $25, plus a $10 deposit toward excessive byes. Club membership ($15) required. Bye Policy: Two free byes. After the two free byes, players forfeit their $10 deposit for an additional bye. Four byes results in forfeit. Tournament Director: Geoff McAuliffe (TD) Sections: Open Section (for Club Championship) and Under-1800 (for under-1800 title).

I have updated the Calendar for 2007, though most of it (besides the championship) remains "To Be Announced." To learn more about the tradition of the Club Championship, check out the following:

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Chess as a Safe House for Learning

Language Professor Mary Louise Pratt delivered a keynote address at a literacy conference in 1990 titled “Arts of the Contact Zone” (later published multiple times in essay form) which had a significant impact in the humanities during the decade that followed. Part of its appeal was the wonderful story she opened with about what her son and his best friend learned from collecting baseball cards:

Sam and Willie learned a lot about phonics that year by trying to decipher surnames on baseball cards, and a lot about cities, states, heights, weights, places of birth, stages of life. In the years that followed, I watched Sam apply his arithmetic skills to working out batting averages and subtracting retirement years from rookie years; I watched him develop senses of patterning and order by arranging and rearranging his cards for hours on end, and aesthetic judgment by comparing different photos, different series, layouts, and color schemes. American geography and history took shape in his mind through baseball cards. Much of his social life revolved around trading them, and he learned about exchange, fairness, trust, the importance of processes as opposed to results, what it means to get cheated, taken advantage of, even robbed. Baseball cards were the medium of his economic life too. Nowhere better to learn the power and arbitrariness of money, the absolute divorce between use value and exchange value, notions of long- and short-term investment, the possibility of personal values that are independent of market values.

Baseball cards meant baseball card shows, where there was much to be learned about adult worlds as well. And baseball cards opened the door to baseball books, shelves and shelves of encyclopedias, magazines, histories, biographies, novels, books of jokes, anecdotes, cartoons, even poems. Sam learned the history of American racism and the struggle against it through baseball; he saw the Depression and two world wars from behind home plate. He learned the meaning of commodified labor, what it means for one’s body and talents to be owned and dispensed by another. He knows something about Japan, Taiwan, Cuba, and Central America and how men and boys do things there. Through the history and experience of baseball stadiums he thought about architecture, light, wind, topography, meteorology, the dynamics of public space. He learned the meaning of expertise, of knowing about something well enough that you can start a conversation with a stranger and feel sure of holding your own. Even with an adult--especially with an adult. Throughout his preadolescent years, baseball history was Sam’s luminous point of contact with grown-ups, his lifeline to caring. And, of course, all this time he was also playing baseball, struggling his way through the stages of the local Little League system, lucky enough to be a pretty good player, loving the game and coming to know deeply his strengths and weaknesses.

Literacy began for Sam with the newly pronounceable names on the picture cards and brought him what has been easily the broadest, most varied, most enduring, and most integrated experience of his thirteen-year life. Like many parents, I was delighted to see schooling give Sam the tools with which to find and open all these doors. At the same time I found it unforgivable that schooling itself gave him nothing remotely as meaningful to do, let alone anything that would actually take him beyond the reverential, masculinist ethos of baseball and its lore.
Quoted from “Arts of the Contact Zone,” Profession (1991): 33-40.

I think that anyone who wants to make a case for the value of chess, especially the value of chess in the schools, would do well to consider the many ways that chess can become a similar “safe house” for learning (which Pratt defines as "social and intellectual spaces where groups can constitute themselves as horizontal, homogeneous, sovereign communities with high degrees of trust, shared understandings, temporary protection"). Once we begin to master a subject, it can be a vehicle for accessing and retaining new information and making contact with others. Former club president Mike Wojcio makes a similar point in the conclusion to his excellent History of the Kenilworth Chess Club, where he writes:

Friendships and knowledge are more important than winning. Chess helps kids learn a plethora of educational skills, since it relates to history, geography, memory, spatial relations, theory versus practice, and good sportsmanship. It also gives them an opportunity to meet and talk to people of all generations and all nationalities. Where else do you find young kids so ready to talk with old timers? Chess can bridge the gap between all people. The former World Champion from Holland Max Euwe (1901-1981) once said, "Whoever sees no aim in the game than that of giving checkmate to one's opponent will never become a good chess player."

How has chess taught us? Help me to count the ways.

Let's begin by pointing out the obvious: you think baseball has some names that are tough to pronounce? Check out Bill Wall's "Pronounce that Chess Word" guide! I have to admit, though, that many chessplayers never bother to learn these things and seem to persist in their mispronunciations. I can't tell you, for example, how many times I've actually been corrected by people (including a local FM, who will remain nameless) for saying "Peerts" instead of "Perk" to refer to the line that begins 1.e4 d6 2.d4 Nf6.

How many of us have picked up a little Russian, German, Spanish, etc. from trying to decipher annotations in books and on the web? Bobby Fischer famously taught himself quite a bit of Russian from reading 64, for example. At the very least, all chessplayers eventually learn some French and German, including en passant, zwischenzug, and zugzwang.

And history: How many of us use chess as our chief reference point in remembering historical dates? How many of us learned most of what we know about the Cold War from reading about the Fischer-Spassky match? How many of us have learned quite a bit about the old resorts and spas of Europe and America from chess? How many of us would have to admit that the last book on history we read had the word "chess" in the title? And didn't it teach you more than just the history of chess?

What larger lessons have we learned from chess about the importance of weighing options before deciding, about the importance of critical thinking over rote memorization, or about the often immediate value and power of knowledge? I imagine these last points would naturally be among those raised by Josh Waitzkin (of Searching for Bobby Fischer fame) in his forthcoming book The Art of Learning: A Vibrant New Perspective on the Pursuit of Excellence (due out in May 2007). Similar "life lessons" from chess might be derived from a number of other books, including Garry Kasparov's The Attacker's Advantage, Bruce Pandolfini's Every Move Must Have a Purpose, Maurice Ashley's Chess for Success, and even David Shenk's The Immortal Game (reviewed here recently) to name just a few.

Of course, we should pause to admit that chess as a "safe house" is not all open vistas and shining light. It does have its limitations. One of the main points, in fact, that Pratt develops later on in her piece is that, while we inevitably use what we already know as a scaffold for building and supporting new knowledge, these comfortable frames of reference can be limiting in getting to know other people or learning things that are not connected to our worldviews. You can get some sense of that from the passage I quote above. As her tone suggests in the last sentence, she was not especially thrilled by the “reverential, masculinist ethos” that baseball had inculcated in her son, making him potentially unfit to understand a future girlfriend or spouse. Anything that serves as our main gateway to knowledge will inevitably become too narrow a channel for true learning. Sort of like when Christians refer to Chanukah as the way Jewish people celebrate Christmas.... Well, not exactly! Relying only on your own terms and worldviews won't always get you to understanding.

As a truly intellectual, international, ancient, and multi-lingual pastime, however, chess offers a much broader knowledge horizon than many other activities. And I think we can use the concept of the "safe house" to help make that point.

Note: This piece was revised from an earlier version to reflect Pratt's terms more accurately.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

French Defense, Exchange Variation

Jim West has an interesting post on playing the Exchange Variation against the French Defense. He does not dwell much on Steve Stoyko's favorite anti-Exchange system with delayed castling, which was demonstrated effective in West-Stoyko, Mount Arlington 2005 and Milekhina-Stoyko, US Amateur Teams East 2006 (both annotated at our site).

Amateur Chess Video

I just saw a better-than-professional-quality amateur instructional chess video by Patrick of the excellent Chess for Blood blog, discussing a game he played that began 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.Be2 Nf6 4.c3. Definitely worth a look, and an inspiration for others (including myself). I wrote a Review of ChessLecture.com a while back in which I touted the value of chess on video. Patrick's efforts may signal a trend toward more free video chess content, which would be great for amateur players without a lot of money to subscribe to online chess services.

Of course, it may not be so great for chess professionals. The You-Tube revolution is just one more thing that will make it more difficult to make a living from chess. After all, with so much free content out there, why pay for it? In the end, we amateurs might be driving down the monetary value of chess content. Just a thought.

Monday, January 01, 2007

What's Up with NACA?

The North American Chess Association website appears quite defunct. Their blog has not been updated since October. The scroll on the main page promises some things in the future, but the site has been up (off and on) for six months and has only deteriorated in quality, not improved. There are also large portions of the members area in an "under construction" state (complete with the pseudo-Latin filler text used by web designers). I wrote a review July 25 where I talked about some very promising articles on the site. Not only have there been no additions, but the articles I mention in my review are no longer on the site, even for members. As paid membership is required to access the site beginning today, I suggest that visitors take a watch and wait approach.... More evidence that organizations should not go online with a new site until everything is ready.