Monday, June 14, 2010

Chiv Chat

  • I recently read the novella Chess by Stefan Zweig. It's excellent. The story takes place aboard a ship, where the World Champion faces a surprisingly strong amateur opponent. The World Champion is a recognizable chess type: monomaniacal, introverted, greedy, unpleasant. His worldly, personable opponent, by contrast, only learnt the game due to his isolation by the Nazis in war-torn Austria; the book thus asks questions about what chess does to our minds - and indeed what kinds of minds are attracted to chess, and in what circumstances. It also has some nice quotes. I'll give my favourite a bullet point of its own:

  • "And are we not guilty of offensive disparagement in calling chess a game? Is it not also a science and an art, hovering between those categories as Muhammad's coffin hovered between heaven and earth, a unique link between pairs of opposites: ancient yet eternally new; mechanical in structure, yet made effective only by the imagination; limited to a geometrically fixed space, yet with unlimited combinations; constantly developing, yet sterile; thought that leads nowhere; mathematics calculating nothing; art without works of art; architecture without substance - but nonethless shown to be more durable in its entity and existence than all books and works of art; the only game that belongs to all nations and all eras, although no one knows what god brought it down to earth to vanquish boredom, sharpen the senses and stretch the mind."

  • Still, the psychology of even the most strange chess players is nothing compared to the psychology of ultra-endurance athlete Jure Robic, whose working method involves insanity. Literally: "Around Day 2 of a typical weeklong race, [Robic's] speech goes staccato. By Day 3, he is belligerent and sometimes paranoid. His short-term memory vanishes, and he weeps uncontrollably. The last days are marked by hallucinations: bears, wolves and aliens prowl the roadside; asphalt cracks rearrange themselves into coded messages. Occasionally, Robic leaps from his bike to square off with shadowy figures that turn out to be mailboxes. In a 2004 race, he turned to see himself pursued by a howling band of black-bearded men on horseback."Read the rest here. (Via.)

  • I wish there was a reason to think that such method in madness was applicable to chess, but it seems unlikely. Was it madness that caused me to play 1.Rd8+ in the position to the right, against Alan Hayward in the second round of this year's S&BCC Championship? Maybe. Whatever it was, I was entirely blind to the simple reply 1...Kxf7. I had overlooked a capture. Of a whole rook. By the king stood next to it. Yet another reason why I am not world champ.

  • Did you need another reason? Don't answer that. Let's change the subject. Ever start a blitz game and try to play ten pawn moves in a row? Or spell out a word? Or, try to make sure you invert the king's and queen's starting position? Yes? That last one? Now, ever play a serious game in the US Championship and, there, try to make sure you invert your kind and queen in the opening, too? Against Grandmaster Alexander Onischuk? In that case your name is Hikaru Nakamura, and your 2010 4th round game started like this: 1.e4 e5 2.Nc3 Nf6 3.f4 d5 4.exd5 Nxd5 5.fxe5 Nxc3 6.bxc3 Qh4+ 7.Ke2 Bg4+ 8.Nf3 Nc6 9.Qe1 Qh5 10.Kd1:

  • Bravo. And let's ask again. Are we not guilty of offensive disparagement in calling chess a game?

1 comment:

Naisortep said...

Thanks for remimding me of Zweig's s story.

I began to wonder about my sanity as well when I sacced a knight on f7 after carefully calculating that Rxf7 loses. Only after the knight left my hand did I realize that Kxf7 was possible and won for my opponent. I'd blame it on form but the round before I had my best result ever by drawing a GM.