Friday, June 26, 2009

A Friend indeed

There's always been something of the pissing contest about chess, especially since they brought in ratings and we had an actual set of figures which we could use to measure ourselves against one another. Ray Keene (who famously lost a pissing contest with David Levy to see who would be the first to make a million) once suggested that when players go through a doorway, they go through in the order of their gradings, and while it would be a generous doorway indeed that allowed a player of any grading to pass through it at the same time as Ray, there is more than a little truth in the claim. We're all everybody's friend, provided everybody else recognises where they stand relative to us. And where they stand is just a little lower.

Much the same, I reckon, applies to Facebook friends, given that nobody wants to be thought of as a nobody, and nobody wants to be Billy-Hardly-Any-Mates with just a handful of people prepared to extend them the I Accept of friendship. I personally have a modest 77 Friends, most of whom I more-or-less like and some of whom I have actually met, and if I wish I can trawl through their Friends lists to see if there is anybody I've forgotten.

This is something like a game of Six Degrees of Separation albeit slightly harder given that there are still a few million people not on Facebook: in the real world I can get to Barack Obama in four jumps and I bet there are readers who can do better. However, the chess world is smaller and it ought to be possible to get to nearly anybody in two or three jumps. But not to Ray, alas, who appears not to be a member. A search revealed several Raymond Keenes - but not a single Ray Keene OBE.

I wasn't, however, necessarily expecting it to be quite so easy to get to Gary Kasparov, with whom, I was slightly surprisied to discover, I share several mutual friends. It would be bad manners for me to reveal who these are or indeed who any of Gary's Friends are (if you're registered, you can look for yourself) but I am sure I do not break any rules, written or unwritten, in saying that at the time of writing he has 2362 of them. 2362.

Impressive. And getting more impressive: at the beginning of the week it was only 2229. Gary's always been your man in a pissing contest and he's certainly up for this one. He's the only person I know with a Facebook total higher than my Elo rating and at the current rate he should overtake Veselin Topalov - and indeed himself - before summer is done.

But how does he manage it? It's a like a simultaneous display - with hundreds of boards. How do you cope with more than two thousand friends? How do you deal with all the messages? What do you do when the chat box says you have six hundred friends online? How do you even find the time to accept all the new ones, particularly as - given that you have so many friends - most of your life must surely be spent socialising?

Surely he contracts it out. He'd have to. Maybe he has a special team of assistants. Maybe if you send him a message, it's really Yuri Dokhoian who answers. Or his mother. Or maybe Mig* does it all for him. Or maybe I'm just jealous. When I am famous I will live in a house shaped like a rook. But I will also have absolutely millions of Facebook friends. And I shall pay Gary Kasparov to manage my account.

[* thanks to Morgan for this]


Anonymous said...

Talking of facebook, you should all join my facebook group dedicated to getting more chess on UK TV -

Started about 2 weeks ago we're already on 119 members.

Justin Hadi

ejh said...

Of which I am one

Anonymous said...

While I'm not on Facebook I've been told there are about twenty Garry Kasparovs on there, some of whom may be other people with the same name, but most are or purport to be the chess player. Maybe none of them are the real GK.

Correct me if I'm wrong but is this not a potential information gathering exercise, ie by pretending to be someone, they become your friend, and you get to see their homepage and can add their info to your database.

There could be someone on there pretending to be me for all I know, and I would be entirely unaware of it.

Personally I think the world has gone mad. Am I on my own here?


Jonathan B said...

"Personally I think the world has gone mad. Am I on my own here?"

No - you're quite right.

Exhibit A for the WHGM hypothesis? That would be the current rigorous airbrushing of history re: Michael Jackson ... although if you were on facebook (and my fb friend) you'd know I already I think that.

ejh said...

PG - quite possibly but I wonder whether in the circumstances, somebody as well-known as Mr Kasparov wouldn't find out about this and put a stop to it really quickly if it were true. I suppose some of his genuine real-life friends would say "oh I was looking at your Facebook entry the other day" and he'd say "you what?".