Thursday, January 28, 2010


Here in Maine, I'm attempting for something like to the tenth time in my life to become a "gamer" in the only sense that has enough snob appeal to seem worth pursuing: by learning to play chess. Going at it in my usual slow-grind fashion by reading a book on the subject. Soaking up just enough jargon to be able to b.s. about the game, if not actually play it. Which has been my approach, pretty much, to every field of knowledge I've ever explored. Luckily, writing is one of the few professions the practice of which is actually enhanced by the magpie accumulation of superficial knowledge. A chicken and egg problem that probably shouldn't be squinted at too closely.

UPDATE: It's snowing!


"Alan Turing loved chess and played all the time, though he wasn't nearly as adept on the chessboard as he was on the chalkboard. At Bletchley Park he was fortunate to be surrounded by accomplished players, and the chess pieces were always handy. The onetime British champion Conal Hugh O'Donel Alexander was Turing's deputy. Future British champion Harry Golombek was also on the staff. Golombek's chess superiority over Turing was such that he could overwhelm Turing in a chess game, force Turing's resignation, and then turn the board around to play Turning's pieces against his own original position--and win."


Christian Lindke said...

Why would you want to learn a complex version of what is essentially a game of Nim? Chess as a game is only interesting in so far as the players lack complete knowledge of the game. As opening theory becomes more refined, Chess becomes more a game of doing prescribed actions and less a genuine competition.

While the underlying algorithm of Chess is more complex than Checkers -- a game which had its algorithm completed in the past decade and has 500 billion billion possible moves ( -- it still has an algorithm that can create a solution to the game. The solution of Checkers affirms the Sprague-Grundy theorem that all non-partial games are essentially games of Nim extends to non-partial partisan games as well.

Chess is only interesting insofar as we have imperfect information.

Generic said...

Sometimes knowing too much kinda takes all the fun out of it.

Here's a sense of wonder injection from Garry Kasparov, in the current NYRB []:

"The number of legal chess positions is 10[to the]40, the number of different possible games, 10[to the]120. Authors have attempted various ways to convey this immensity, usually based on one of the few fields to regularly employ such exponents, astronomy. In his book Chess Metaphors, Diego Rasskin-Gutman points out that a player looking eight moves ahead is already presented with as many possible games as there are stars in the galaxy. Another staple, a variation of which is also used by Rasskin-Gutman, is to say there are more possible chess games than the number of atoms in the universe. All of these comparisons impress upon the casual observer why brute-force computer calculation can't solve this ancient board game. They are also handy, and I am not above doing this myself, for impressing people with how complicated chess is, if only in a largely irrelevant mathematical way."

Tulkinghorn said...

An answer to the age-old question: Huh?

For my part, I am bad at games -- all games -- always have been and have always hated them as a result.

Games like Go and (apparently) Nim with only one or two rules are about as much fun to me as walking across a swamp blindfolded.

I had good friends in college who were really good at chess -- one became a composer/musicologist/lawyer and the other became a Cambridge economist/hedge fund manager. I rest my case. I can't even figure out tic-tac-toe.

Generic said...

I was thinking today how odd it was that with your values you don't play whist or billiards or bridge or even skittles.

The author of "The Immortal Game" says talent is overrated: You just didn't practice enough. I didn't, either, apparently, the last nine times I tried. But this time, by God...

Generic said...

There is a software app available for TTT, if you can believe it. Silly, since almost simultaneously with understanding the rules you realize that if you pay attention even slightly every game you don't win will end in a draw.

Christian Lindke said...

Tulkinghorn should certainly play Whist. Though if he's any good at the various trick taking games developed in the late 19th and throughout the 20th century, he is playing a descendant of that lovely parlor game.

Chess is complex enough that the "nimification" of the game is unlikely in a human player, the same is true of Checkers BTW, but Chess will likely be solved by a computer in the next decade. This will be a boon and a bane to Chess play. A boon in that Chess players will be able to improve their skills against an objective mark, a bane in that it will accelerate what has already occurred in Chess which is the reduction of talent and the increase of memorization and rote repetition.

Bobby Fischer, crazy as a loon in all things not Chess, posited a new system of board set up in order to maximize analytical skills and minimize memorization. It's an intriguing method which will likely be used for some aspects of competitive Chess.

Games like Nim, and Chess, minimize the impact of "human relations" on game outcomes and thus limit their educational benefits to the analytical or recall aspects of intellect.

These are important aspects to develop, to be sure, though playing the Piano may be a more enjoyable way to engage the same logic centers.

I prefer games with random elements, or human interactive elements, in addition to analytical components. Nothing is quite as satisfying -- or friendship destroying -- as a well played game of Diplomacy.