Monday, May 25, 2015

Grigoriev versus The Oscars

White to play and win
Grigoriev 1933

Above, a study that I enjoyed failing to solve this weekend

Below, the version that Grigoriev should have created if he wanted to be be in the running for an English Chess Federation King and pawn study of the year award.

Friday, May 22, 2015

War Game 6

This is the third post (earlier episodes are here and here) on chess on the Home Front in World War 2, occasioned by the 70th anniversary of VE day.

The episode starts by continuing with the contribution made by Dr. Tartakover to British chess in the period, It will then examine the controversy concerning the role of the British Chess Federation. Here, again, we are treading on egg-shells. It is a subject that may still inflame passions.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

DG XXI: Doctor Akbaraly

And we’re back. Have you done yesterday’s homework? I shall be requiring a note from your mother if you haven’t.

No talking at the back. Let us proceed.

We’re looking at this study:-

Akbaraly et al (2009), Leisure Activities and the Risk of Dementia in the Elderly: Results from the Three-City Study,  Neurology vol 73 no 11, 854-861

Specifically we’re looking at Mig referencing it in the midst of a series of tweets earlier this month.

Verghese’s study wasn’t solely about cognitively stimulating hobbies, but a wide range of different leisure activities*. This we know from last year (DG III: Dogs That Don’t BarkDG VI: Doctor Susan)  and also because you followed the link yesterday to refresh your memories.

In contrast - according to Mig - Akbaraly and his colleagues focused on "mental stim". Which would be fine thing to explore if it were true. Unfortunately it isn’t.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

DG XX: Homework

With apologies to theblueweasel [see comments to DG XIX from last Thursday], here we go again.

Is the claim that there is "strong evidence cognitively stimulating leisure activities" helps with dementia justified? We’d have to know which particular studies Mig had in mind to come to a conclusion as to whether they supported what he was saying. We could tweet him to inquire, I suppose, but we know that he doesn’t much care for the #askforevidence game so I’m not convinced there’s much to be gained by travelling any further down that road.

Chalk up one more empty assertion from the Kasparov camp and move on, then? No, not this time.

Clearly, one solitary study is never going to be "strong" evidence of anything.  Equally, 'one' is by no means the "many" that Kasparov originally claimed for chess and dementia*. Still, credit to Mig for putting it out there. One article is infinitely better than the zero we’ve had to date so let’s go with it.

Here’s the full reference to the study that you get to if you click on the link in that tweet:-

Akbaraly et al (2009), Leisure Activities and the Risk of Dementia in the Elderly: Results from the Three-City Study,  Neurology vol 73 no 11, 854-861

Unfortunately you’ll only have access to the Abstract. The article itself doesn’t appear to be available online**, which means that you lot have got some homework to do before we can go any further.

If you take yourself off to the British Library you’ll find a copy of the relevant journal in the Medicine and Life Sciences reading room (right-hand side of the building on the second floor). Should getting to St Pancras not be hugely practical, the next best thing is to familiarise yourself with some material which covers similar ground to that explored by Akbaraly and his friends, but which has the added advantage of being accessible at the click of a mouse***.

Verghese et al (2003)****, Leisure Activities and the Risk of Dementia in the Elderly, New England Journal of Medicine, New England Journal of Medicine, volume 348, 2508 - 2516
Hall et al (2009), Cognitive Activities Delay Onset of memory Decline in Persons Who Develop Dementia, Neurology, vol 73 no 5, 356-361 
Hughes et al (2010), Engagement in Reading and Hobbies and Risk of Incident Dementia: The MoVIES Project, American Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease and Other Dementias, vol 25 no 5, 432-438 
Wang et al (2012), Leisure Activities Cognition and Dementia, Biochimica et Biophysica Acta, vol 1822 no 3, 482-491 
Dartigues et al (2013), Playing Board Games, Cognitive Decline and Dementia: a French Population-Based Cohort Study, British Medical Journal Open, vol 3 no 8
Sorman et al (2013), Leisure Activity in Old Age and Risk of Dementia: A 15-Year Prospective Study, Journals of Gerontology, Series B, Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences, vol 69 no 4, 493-501

You may or may not remember the Verghese (DG III: Dogs That Don’t Bark; DG VI: Doctor Susan) and Hall studies (DG IV: After Six Years’ Thought) from last year.  Either way, get reading and we’ll be back tomorrow.

Chess and Dementia Index

Thanks to Matt F and Pablo.

* "cognitively-stimulating leisure activities" and "chess" are obviously not interchangeable terms, but we’ll fight that battle another day.

** which is a drag but hardly Mig’s fault. A lot of academic research is not immediately available to the public, more’s the pity.

*** this is not intended to be an exhaustive list of the available research, but it’s more than enough to get us going.

**** "et al" for those who are not used to looking at academic references, simply means "and other writers". See DG X: Making a Difference for more details about referencing methods.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Grigoriev: Falling at the last hurdle

White to play and win

I nearly made it. The position didn’t look all that difficult so I thought I’d try to solve it in my head. I almost did too. I only tripped up at the last moment.

In truth this is not the hardest king and pawn position we’ve ever had. The first move is not exactly difficult to guess and the core of the problem is a familiar little 'opposition dance’ between the kings.

Which is why I found my way through to the end without too much trouble, I suppose. White must be winning here, I thought. If Black continues this way I’ll go here and it’s over. Black’s only other choice is to go that way and that’s the end too. Except I was wrong.

As it turned out Grigoriev had left one last trap and I had fallen right into it. The position I reached was winning, but the way I wanted to finish off was an outright blunder which allowed Black to escape with a draw.

Oh well, I nearly made it. Nearly is not bad when you’re talking about a Grigoriev study.

Friday, May 15, 2015

War Game 5

Marking the 70th anniversary of VE on 8 May 1945, this short series is looking at British chess between 1939 and 1945 in World War 2, concerning itself with chess on the Home Front. The previous episode started with the early war years at local level, and in this one we move on to look at how organised chess and the armed forces intertwined as the war drew on. Your blogger treads rather nervously as the events, and personalities, are within the living memory of some, and close to the hearts of many.    

By way of a taste of things to come, this is the paragraph in John Poole and Stewart Reuben's hundred year history of the English Chess Federation (up to 2003) on the ECF's website...
"The 1939/45 war years saw very little organised chess; most of the activity was run by the Unions and County organisations. The British Chess Federation was able to support chess in the armed services: it helped the Army Sports Fund and organised matches between the British Forces and Allied Forces in 1941/42, results being 6½-5½ and 6-7 respectively. In 1943 a British Army Championship was held (winner Capt R.H.Newman) and in 1944 an R.A.F Championship (won by F/O E.Brown). The County and District Correspondence Championship and BCF Problem/Composing Tourneys were maintained during these years."

This post will put some meat on several of those bones in relation to chess in the armed forces.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Doctor Garry XIX: Nullius in Verba

Much like Bruce Forsyth, the Royal Society has a catchphrase: Nullius in verba or 'On the word of nobody’. Science isn’t about assertions on what is right, handed down from authority figures. It’s about clear descriptions of studies, and the results that came from them, followed by an explanation of why they support or refute a given idea.

Ben Goldacre:

How time flies. It’s a year to the day since Doctor Garry was first in. A year and a day since I Am Garry decided that

was a message that he wanted to send out into the world.

Alas for IAG - fortunately for the rest of us - science isn’t about assertions handed down from authority figures. I think you’ll find it’s a bit more complicated than that. If somebody - even an ex-World Chess Champion - says there are "studies" to support their argument it means precisely nothing unless we know what those studies are. Unless we can check for ourselves should we choose so to do.

This is fundamental. It’s a point that Goldacre repeats over and over again in the book of his collected writings.

Science has authority, not because of white coats or titles, but because of precision and transparency: you explain your theory, set out your evidence, and reference the studies that support your case. Other scientists can then read it, see if you’ve fairly represented the evidence, and decide whether the methods of the papers you’ve cited really do produce results that meaningfully support your hypothesis.

... science isn’t about authoritative utterances from men in white coats, it’s about showing your working.


Academic papers are filled with ideas and evidence to be read, weighed up, and critically appraised by people with the motivation and skills to do so, whoever they may be. Science is not, and should not be, about arguing from authority. The idea that conclusions of a published paper are automatically true was never helpful. 

As so often, this is about transparency, which is ultimately the only source of authority in science: we want the methods and result of scientific research to be formally presented, and accessible by all, so that we can see what was done, and what they found. If a government report on anything relies substantially on unpublished and inaccessible research, then we are correctly concerned. 

science is about clarity and transparency

It is possible in healthcare to do great harm, while intending to do good, and so medicine thrives on criticism: this is how ideas improve ....

If science has any credibility, it derives from transparency: when you make a claim about how something works, you provide references to experiments, which describe openly and in full what was done, in enough detail for the experiment to be replicated. You explain what was measured, and how. Then people can freely discuss what they think this all means in the real world. 

The entirety of science is built on transparency, on giving your evidence and engaging with legitimate criticism. If you hear of a company refusing to hand over the evidence it says it supports its claims - whether it is a drug company, or some dismal cosmetics firm - all you know is that you are being deprived of information, and that vital parts of the picture are missing.

This is not difficult to understand and conclusions are not difficult to draw. Anybody who doesn’t get it is simply not to be trusted.

And here we are again.  "It's been shown in studies ...." I Am Garry told us just a few weeks ago.

For what it’s worth, the 'potential for distraction is as disruptive as actual distraction' thesis strikes me as more than a little plausible. That I find it so is entirely besides the point. What if I wanted to check? What if I wanted to prove my gut feeling/suspicion/opinion based on personal experience of  two years trying to get some bloody work done at the god-awful LSE Library/etc was actually correct?

What could be less clear, less transparent, more inaccessible than "studies" that are not named? Since it’s impossible to know what research is being referred to here, there is no possible way to discover whether it exists and if it does whether it says what it’s claimed to say. We cannot look it up. We cannot check.

In truth there is nothing here of any substance at all. Nothing but, "believe on my word for I Am Garry."

That, a year on, is where we still are with Garry Kasparov. He implies 'scientific method' but scratch the surface and it turns out that what he’s up to is indistinguishable from the behaviour of a Chessbase bullshitter.

Chess and Dementia Index