Wednesday, October 29, 2014

DG XIII: The Stanford Center

In summary: We object to the claim that brain games offer consumers a scientifically grounded avenue to reduce or reverse cognitive decline when there is no compelling scientific evidence to date that they do. The promise of a magic bullet detracts from the best evidence to date, which is that cognitive health in old age reflects the long-term effects of healthy, engaged lifestyles. In the judgment of the signatories, exaggerated and misleading claims exploit the anxiety of older adults about impending cognitive decline. We encourage continued careful research and validation in this field. 
The Stanford Center of Longevity

Last week we were talking about 'good things' with regard to chess and dementia (DG XIII: Doctor Jana Berlin) and today we have another reason to be cheerful: the publication of a statement by the Stanford Center of Longevity.

Can we take the Stanford Center’s A Consensus on the Brain Training Industry and automatically apply it to chess and the questions we’ve been considering in the Doctor Gary series? Clearly not. We can no more assume that the terms 'chess' and 'brain training computer software' are interchangeable than we can decide that 'board games' and 'chess' mean exactly the same thing.

No, the value of the report for chessers is not its conclusions, but rather the nature of its critique. We only need consider a handful of excerpts.

It is customary for advertising to highlight the benefits and overstate potential advantages of their products.
Often, however, the cited research is only tangentially related to the scientific claims of the company, and to the games they sell
The consensus of the group is that claims promoting brain games are frequently exaggerated and at times misleading 
To date, there is little evidence that playing brain games improves underlying broad cognitive abilities, or that it enables one to better navigate a complex realm of everyday life. 
Many scientists cringe at exuberant advertisements claiming improvements in the speed and efficiency of cognitive processing and dramatic gains in “intelligence”, in particular when these appear in otherwise trusted news sources. 
Perhaps the most pernicious claim, devoid of any scientifically credible evidence, is that brain games prevent or reverse Alzheimer’s disease.

The questions that the chess world might ask itself with regard to whether and how the game might be an effective intervention with respect to dementia - and how we come to the conclusions that we draw - are not so difficult to tease out are they?

Some intriguing isolated reports do inspire additional research ....

Some of the initial results are promising and make further research highly desirable.

... at present, these findings do not provide a sound basis for the claims made by commercial companies selling brain games.

Sound familiar?

While all of that is more than enough reason to welcome the publication of the Stanford Center statement, the signatories supply a bonus item too: an answer to anybody who would like to pretend that the misreporting (misrepresentation is probably more accurate) of the evidence around chess and dementia is a victimless crime.

Another drawback of publicizing computer games as a fix to deteriorating cognitive performance is that it diverts attention and resources from prevention efforts. 
... we also need to keep in mind opportunity costs ... Time spent playing the games is time not spent reading, socializing, gardening, exercising, or engaging in many other activities that may benefit cognitive and physical health of older adults 

And above all,
... exaggerated and misleading claims exploit the anxiety of adults facing old age ....

A simple question for anybody prepared to look the other way when such claims are made for our game. Is that really what you want for chess?

Chess and Dementia Index

Monday, October 27, 2014

A Pair of ISEs or An Exchange of Exchanges?

White to play
Karpov - Kasparov, World Championship Match 1990 (Lyon) Game 13

The same World Championship match as last week’s post (Day of days), albeit in a different city on a different continent.

White to play another ISE? Maybe.

Karpov did indeed go 20 Rxc3 and after ... Bxc3, 21 Ne4

Black to play

Gazza returned the material with 21 ... Rxe4.

Whizzing through the game I’d assumed that this sequence was - like Kramink - Illescas 1994 - an exchange of pieces foreseen by both players. As it happens on this video recorded after the match, Karpov reckons Kasparov simply missed White’s 20th and the counter sacrifice is the best way to limit Black’s disadvantage thereafter.

Still, I’m going to bump my ISE count by two anyway.

2014 ISE Count: 61
TISE Index

Saturday, October 25, 2014

County Counting: 2. More Isidor

We had a first look at the two volumes of the Surrey County Chess Association Match Books, 1884-1967, in Prefacethe opening episode in this, the third strand of posts on the chess history of our locality (see Streatham Strolls and Brixton Byways for the other two). Running these three in parallel inevitably means overlap and cross reference - but hopefully to mutual advantage rather than tedious repetition. This post is a case in point. It concerns one of Streatham's several en passant chess professionals and one of Tim Harding's Eminent Victorian Chess Players: Isidor Gunsberg (1854-1930).

Here he is again, looking rather dapper, and rather more Edwardian than Victorian. It is as he appeared (according to the excellent Chess Archeology, from whence this picture comes) in 1905 in the American Chess Bulletin - which is just after Queen Victoria hung up her crown in 1903 - when he was about 50 years old.  Some time later Gunsberg, chess professional and one time contender for the World Championship (see here), appeared in the Match Books, playing for the Surrey County - which is perhaps surprising as these are a record of amateur matches. So what was he doing there?

Friday, October 24, 2014

DG XII: Doctor Jana Bellin

[Dr Jana Bellin] is willing to prepare a considered comment on the interesting matter of chess and seniors, people with Alzheimer's and so on. 
Stewart Reuben, EC Forum

I’m not a glass half-full person by nature. Not exactly half-empty either. By default setting I’m much more a 'there’s not enough water in the cup because somebody knocked it over and now I’ve got a big stain on my trousers and I’m going to have to walk around all afternoon looking like I’ve weed myself' kind of a guy.

Which is why I’m always pleased - if not outright surprised - when I am in a position to report some good news. And today is one of those days.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Patriarchal theory

I happened to be discussing the famous Botvinnik-Fischer game with some friends when Angus French pointed out an interesting anomaly at a crucial point.

The anomaly isn't in the game, so much as in Botvinnik's comments on it: at Black's seventeenth move he gave a couple of short variations which he had apparently analysed in his preparation, but which Fischer sidestepped by choosing a third move instead.

Here's the variations given on page 243 of Fischer's My 60 Memorable Games (Faber and Faber, 1972)

and here they are on page 242 of Kasparov's My Great Predecessors, part 2 (Everyman, 2004).

Monday, October 20, 2014

Day of days

White to play
Kasparov - Karpov World Championship Game 4, New York 1990

Last Friday’s post from EJH marked the 43rd anniversary of the sixth game of the Fischer - Petrosian Candidates’ Final. We’re revisiting another 17th October today too, although we don’t have to go quite as far back for this one.

It’s not exactly a coincidence. You play World Championship Chess for a century or more, you’re going to have plenty of examples of two or more important and/or memorable games being played on the same day.

I wonder, though, what the most significant date for chess history is. Has anybody ever worked it out? If not feel free to make a suggestion in the comments box. Or just enjoy Gazza leaving an exchange en prise for ten moves before Anatoly finally bit, if you prefer.

2014 ISE Count: 59
TISE Index

Saturday, October 18, 2014

What Marcel Might Teach You

An exhibition "What Marcel Duchamp Taught Me" has just opened, in which today's "conceptual" artists, reflect, in words and pictures and things, on their debt to Marcel Duchamp. It is at the Fine Arts Society, 148 New Bond Street, W1, and it is on until 5th November - free downloadable catalogue on their website.

A lot of it is good fun, at least I thought so. As for a homage to his chess (not, if the truth be told, a major focus of the artists involved) there's a holographic chess piece, a recycled chess set, a chessic totem pole, and a painting called "Pawn" - which references Marcel's "Nude Descending a Staircase" (according to the press release).

If you do visit, have a go at the interactive headphone installation: it is accessed on the top floor. Stick with it and you, too, will descend a staircase, and you might be surprised where it leads you (clothes optional).

Die-hard Duchampophiles might also fancy hopping over to Paris for a show of his paintings, on until 5 January, at the Pompidou Centre.  

Beware: nudes descending. 
A longer appreciation of these exhibitions may follow in a few weeks time.