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Thursday, February 18, 2016

The good moves nobody saw

Image result for chess coffee shop


So I’m at the chess club last night, delivering a proper thrashing to an older opponent I’d never faced before. He’d lost a piece early in the game but played on, forcing me to prove my worth.

Okay, I says to myself. He wants to get trounced, that’s what we’ll do.

But I didn’t rush; I took my time, tried to understand the position. After all, there’s little more embarrassing than losing a won game OTB, right?

I began to see sacrifices everywhere that netted me gain. Working through all the variations in my head took some time, but I felt I had some solid plays. Flashy, even. So flashy, in fact, that I admittedly kept looking up from the game to see if anyone was watching.

They weren't.

How could nobody be seeing this? How were they so wrapped up in their own games or conversations that my brilliant plays should go unnoticed? Like a child, I hesitated much longer between moves than necessary, hoping that someone would glance over at my game. I’d see their eyebrows go up, followed by the quick glance at me that would have resulted in raised eyebrows and a smile in return.

Still, nothing.

The energy (at least to me) was palpable. The endless continuations and sharp plays available to me were nothing short of fascinating. And yet, the men of the chess club continued to toil over their own positions, their own plays.

I couldn't blame them, but why does it seem that I’ve three to four players gathered round me when I’m doing the losing? Why does it seem like everyone wanders around, hands behind their backs, nodding and tilting heads only when the games are stale and boring or I’m receiving a whooping?

While my opponent thought, I began looking at their boards, at their positions, in hopes of a return glance. But it was no use: They were entranced in the happenings directly to their fronts, heads cradled in hands, the occasional sigh escaping lips as they contemplated.

I won the game with a double piece sacrifice for a forced mate —— a wonderful ending that only I enjoyed, that only I and my opponent witnessed. And he sure won't be sharing it about.

Alas, such is the torture of live chess.


P.S. Before anyone asks, I’d forgotten my chess notation books. The game is lost, although I could probably reconstruct the final position if I tried really hard. 

Photo credit: Greeley Tribune

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Chess Sideshows Are Rubbish

On Jan. 6, 7, chess prodigy Hikaru Nakamura took on Komodo, one of the world’s strongest chess engines and ... oh, blah, blah, blah. I am thoroughly unimpressed. Even though it was a pawn-odds match, meaning the monster engine started each game with one of its pawns missing, it still won. Was anybody surprised, truly?


Image credit: Chess.com

Now, before you go shaking your head at the monitor, silently accusing me of ‘hating computer chess’ or ‘not getting on with the times, man’, I’ll have you know that I virtually lived on various chess sites for many years and have much, much more engine experience than even I’m comfortable admitting.

I love chess engines. They are fun, they are fast, they are strong, they make great study partners, and I’ve written about them substantially in blogs and articles, both good and bad. To this day, I run every long game I play through Shredder running on a Fritz platform. That being said, I’m also very well acquainted with Winboard, ChessPartner, Arena, Dasher, Blitzin, Chesspad and quite a few other engine platforms.

Still, I think matches like these are bad form, bad taste, and bad for chess. In my mind, it makes a spectacle of the world’s elite. Nakamura, for instance, could beat anyone reading this blog post 100 out of 100 games at any time control, assuming the top ten players in the world do not read my chess entries. And yet, he subjects himself to a sideshow of sorts, conceding to technology for the world to see.

Sad.

I feel that we Chess Plebians should only view masters —— especially the FMs, IMs, and GMs ——  as nobles of our game, upper-class wood pushers to be looked up to, emulated. But as one GM after another (it seems to be all the rage today for GMs to make asses of themselves playing against engines for a little coin) gets trampled by chess tech, their ‘clout’, if you will, their street cred, drops substantially.

Today, as public spectacles such as Man Vs. Machine and our world champion being careened through the air in car commercials are on display for all the world to see, I’m betting most of us just want to watch the top players do battle. We just want to see them meet somewhere, off the books, and duke it out at whatever their chosen time control. We want to know what makes them tick, how they study/practice, if they still play for fun sometimes at a club or coffee shop, and whether or not they think they can beat certain engines.

It’s like Fischer vs. Alekhine or Kasparov vs. Morphy: We all say we’d love to see those matches but in reality, the wondering is better.

I’d personally rather wonder if Naka could put the hurt on today’s engines than watch him get slaughtered by them.

But that’s just me.