Speed Chess is Like Spinach for the Brain

This month provided a treasure trove of articles concerning chess in a roundabout way. The first such article to catch my attention was, ‘Chess is like spinach to the brain.’ It was written by Alesha L. Crews of the IowaPress-Citizen. The jury found her guilty of hyperbole in the first degree. http://www.press-citizen.com/article/20130602/NEWS01/306020028/-Chess-like-spinach-brain-?gcheck=1
Mark Samuelian in an article appearing in The Atlantic makes the claim that, “Speed Chess Changed My Brain.” Reading the headline caused me to recall standing in the balcony overlooking the empty playing hall before the World Open was to begin with the Legendary Georgia Ironman. He looked at me and said, “You know, everyone who will enter this room has had his life altered by chess.” Mr. Samuelian claims playing speed chess on the internet caused his synapses to fire as if supercharged, like pistons in a NASCAR engine coated with an illegal substance causing a boost before burning away so as to pass inspection. He placed much higher in a poker tournament even though, “I had barely even played poker over the last year, let alone worked at elevating my game.” What, then, caused his improvement? “What I had played was chess. Specially, I knocked out some 2,000 games of speed (or “blitz”) chess in the two months leading up to the tournament.” He did not win the tournament, finishing 5th out of 135 on Saturday and 3rd out of 35 on Sunday. I will not mention how much luck is involved in poker, especially tournament poker. Steve Solotow, quoted in the excellent book, “Cowboys Full: The Story of Poker,” by James McManus, says, “Unlike backgammon and chess, poker is a wonderful game because it has enough of a luck component that bad players sometimes beat good players, which keeps the bad players interested.” Maybe Mark would have finished first if he had spent the time reading, studying, and playing poker. There is much more to the article: http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2013/06/speed-chess-changed-my-brain/277151/

An article in Computing begins, “In the keynote speech that opened this year’s Computing Enterprise Mobility Summit in London, Graeme Burton, chief reporter at Computing, likened the task of formulating mobility strategy to “playing chess on acid”.”
Makes me wonder how Mr. Burton knows…The title is, Making Enterprise Mobility Strategy ‘like playing chess on acid.’ Read more: http://www.computing.co.uk/ctg/news/2274017/making-enterprise-mobility-strategy-like-playing-chess-on-acid#ixzz2XY58gaAh
Like most of those who play chess, I think of things as how they relate to chess. For instance, an article in the Pacific Standard, Want to Learn How to Think? Read Fiction, made me think of the love of my life who told me I did not read enough fiction. The sub-title is, “New Canadian research finds reading a literary short story increases one’s comfort with ambiguity.”
The article begins, “Are you uncomfortable with ambiguity? It’s a common condition, but a highly problematic one. The compulsion to quell that unease can inspire snap judgments, rigid thinking, and bad decision-making.” Exactly! Now I know why I made all those ill-considered blunders. Is it better to know, or would I be better off continuing to wonder. Does it matter? Is there an antidote to black-or-white thinking? You will have to read the article to find the answer: http://www.psmag.com/blogs/news-blog/reading-literature-opens-minds-60021/
I have spent an inordinate amount of time in coffee shops in my years as a Senior, due mostly to the fact that a coffee shop, especially one in a book store, is my favorite place to give a chess lesson. There have been days when I would give a morning lesson at a Barnes & Noble, have lunch, and then give an afternoon lesson at Borders, may it rest in peace. I would usually arrive early enough to prepare for the lesson, or at least to try and become focused for the lesson to come. That is the reason an article in the NY Times by Anahad O’Connor, How the Hum of a Coffee Shop Can Boost Creativity, caught my eye. http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/06/21/how-the-hum-of-a-coffee-shop-can-boost-creativity/?src=me&ref=general&_r=2
From the article:
“In a series of experiments that looked at the effects of noise on creative thinking, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign had participants brainstorm ideas for new products while they were exposed to varying levels of background noise. Their results, published in The Journal of Consumer Research, found that a level of ambient noise typical of a bustling coffee shop or a television playing in a living room, about 70 decibels, enhanced performance compared with the relative quiet of 50 decibels. A higher level of noise, however, about 85 decibels, roughly the noise level generated by a blender or a garbage disposal, was too distracting, the researchers found.”
I wonder how many decibels the coffee grinder rates? Turning one of those things on usually brought all conversation to a halt. Some people would get up and walk around, or go outside to have a smoke. Now that was creative thinking! Back to the article:
“Ravi Mehta, an assistant professor of business administration at the university who led the research, said that extreme quiet tends to sharpen your focus, which can prevent you from thinking in the abstract.
“This is why if you’re too focused on a problem and you’re not able to solve it,” Dr. Mehta said, “you leave it for some time and then come back to it and you get the solution.”
But moderate levels can distract people just enough so that they think more broadly. “It helps you think outside the box,” he said.
The benefits of moderate noise, however, apply only to creative tasks. Projects that require paying close attention to detail, like proofreading a paper or doing your taxes, Dr. Mehta said, are performed better in quiet environments.”
The article begins, “Pulling up a seat at your favorite coffee shop may be the most efficient way to write a paper or finish a work project. But now a new Web site lets you bring the coffee shop to your cubicle. The site, called Coffitivity, was inspired by recent research showing that the whoosh of espresso machines and caffeinated chatter typical of most coffee shops creates just the right level of background noise to stimulate creativity. The Web site, which is free, plays an ambient coffee shop soundtrack that, according to researchers, helps people concentrate.”
So should game tournaments be held in an environment with ambient noise at a coffee shop level? The answer is contained in the article.
I clicked on the website (http://coffitivity.com/) and found it distracting. I kept looking around to try and put a face to the voice. The article says absolutely nothing about the social aspect of a coffee shop and what being around fellow humans does to one’s creativity. Guess that would be an altogether different study.

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