All The Right Moves

During the interval between finishing the book

and writing the review a younger fellow came to the Ironman Chess club one evening with his lady friend on his arm. As an unknown he attracted much attention especially when playing his first game with one of the regulars, a class ‘B’ player with obvious mental problems (he is the kind of human who, when he comes in contact with a dog, the dog begins to growl before baring its teeth and barking. At the House of Pain it was commonly acknowledged the fellow, “Ain’t right.”). The newcomer had the ‘B’ player on the ropes, and was actually winning. The worse his position became the more afraid were we he might EXPLODE. Fortunately, the newbie blundered and lost the game and the frown and stare of his opponent turned into a smile while he “talked shit,” happy as a clam, while his opponent continued playing out the lost cause his game had become.

I was next in line to play a game with the newcomer. Before beginning the game I asked the young man a few questions, learning he had only played online Chess up to this point in his life. This made me think of the recently finished book, which was to be reviewed. While listening to the man I could see he had “The Look.” If you play any type of game you know about what I am talking. I have seen “The Look” many times throughout the course of my life. It has been noticed in not only Chess, but Backgammon and Poker. I even saw in in an opponent when playing Risk. Sure enough, we were the final two players in that particular game, and yes, I won. Writing about Risk reminds me of another game of Risk played in the Great State of Alabama many decades ago when returning from a Chess tournament. Big Al Hamilton, NM Michael Lucas, and I stopped at Doug King’s house and a Risk game was started. The three fellow Chess players were all from Alabama. When the game began Big Al looked at the other Bama brothers and said, “Let’s all attack Bacon and put him outta the game.” Since all three of them would play before my turn the of my chances surviving were minuscule. After being wiped from the board I upset the board and that ended the game. I regretted it immediately because I needed a ride back to Atlanta. Fortunately, the Bama bro’s were the understanding kind of fellows and I made it back without having to ride the ‘Hound…

It was obvious the younger man could play some Chess, and had played some Chess, but, like most newbies, he “attacked” with only his Queen and Knight, eventually “winning” my Queen’s Rook. Unfortunately for him he lagged in development and his “plan” allowed me to place pawns on both d5 and e5 while infiltrating the seventh rank with a Rook, which was en prise for several moves on d7 while his Knight on f6 could not move because of a deadly pin.

After resigning they decided to leave, but we did have a chance to talk, with my learning he was twenty-nine and a programmer. I highly recommended he read the book, All The Wrong Moves, but not for the reason he thought. The email exchange will explain:

Oct 15 at 10:12 PM
Hi Michael,

Enjoyed meeting & playing you tonight!

I went to buy “all the wrong moves”, but the book description says it’s a memoir – is that correct? I was under the impression that the book you recommended was a chess tutor book.

Michael Bacon
Oct 16 at 8:14 AM
Why would you have thought that? It’s about a 29 year old man who decides to enter the world of human Chess tournaments after first playing online. You NEED to read the book before taking another step into the Chess world.


To:Michael Bacon
Oct 28 at 10:24 AM
Just finished the book and really enjoyed it, thanks for the recommendation. I read it as a cautionary tale to not get into chess! It does seem like for certain people (like me!) chess can have an addictive quality, so I’d like to enjoy it more casually.

I don’t think I’ll be able to make a club meet up until late november!

Make of it what you will but I prefer to think it was synchronicity that brought the man to the club of Iron. I also like to think he attained that for which he was looking at the Ironman CC. I realize there are many “true believers” reading this who will disagree with me. You know the type. To them “Chess is the BEST AND GREATEST GAME OF ALL TIME!” They will ask, “Why did you do that? Chess needs more adults because currently the vast majority of humans who play Chess are children.” You know, the “Kill the messenger” kinda people. The fact is that I only gave the young man additional information to help him decide what to do with his time in the future. Besides, does the Chess world really need another stumble bum who gave up a promising career, and life, to do whatever it takes to get to the next round on time even though he may have to sleep on the floor underneath the table upon which a Chess game will be played in only a few short hours?

All The Wrong Moves Part 5: Marcel Duchamp’s Puzzle Without A Solution

Decades ago I read a book about Marcel Duchamp:

Although interesting I must admit to being somewhat disappointed because there is little Chess contained in the book. I was fascinated because Marcel renounced art for Chess. When it comes to Duchamp most Chess players will immediately think about the iconic photograph of Marcel playing Chess with a nude woman, Eve Babitz. Although similar, this is mot the picture to which I refer:

Eve has published a new book:

I prefer the cover of her earlier book:

Marcel Duchamp’s Problem

White to move (

“There are those moments when you’re aware that your human programming is a little defective. You become acquainted with the possibility that you’ve been designed to pursue insane commitments directly opposed to your survival. In these moments, when you feel like you need to call God on His private line and demand a refund for what He personally placed in you cranial cavity, it’s sometimes reassuring to remember that you’re probably not alone.”

“Given the number of people who have lived and died, there’s usually someone, alive or otherwise, whose faults resemble your own. For this reason, I often seek consolation in the story of Marcel Duchamp,

a man whose chess problem was a lot like mine, but dialed up to an implausible intensity.”

“You probably know Duchamp’s work, or have at least heard of him. Duchamp is considered one of the most important artists of the twentieth century, a reputation he established by infuriating people.”

“Duchamp is both loved and loathed – celebrated as the man who freed artists from their old constraints, and vilified by the people who thought those constraints were a good idea.”

Duchamp, my man!

In a 1952 interview with Time magazine, he said, “It (Chess) has all the beauty of art – and much more. It cannot be commercialized. Chess is much purer than art in its social position.”

That was, two years after I was born, and this is now. In a futile attempt to commercialize the Royal game it has been besmirched and whatever purity Chess had has been replaced by greed so it’s position in society has been sullied. After informing someone you played Chess back in the day the response more often than not was, “You must be smart.” Now the reply is often a one word question, “Why?”

“But in chess, of course, there is no pageantry – none of the pompousness that Duchamp’s work tried to skewer. One can’t speculate about whether a chess move is honest or dishonest. Chess can’t be pretentious, or self serious. It’s just not that kind of thing. It’s simpler than all of that. It is what it is.”

What is it? Chess is a game. Nothing more; nothing less.

“In the final analysis, Duchamp gave up being one of the great shit-stirrers of the artistic tradition, and ended up being a mild curiosity in the history of chess.”

“I am still a victim of chess,” he (Duchamp) said, in the aforementioned Time magazine interview.

“If you’re a player starting late in life, the most you can be, generally, is third class. Duchamp actually did remarkably well, given the low ceiling of chess achievement available to a late bloomer.”

I can testify to that!

“Moreover, age isn’t the only factor that constrained Duchamp’s success. If that were the sole determinant of chess mastery, then every intelligent player who started young and had a solid work ethic would have a shot at the World Championship. But that’s not the case. That’s really, really not the case. Being great at chess is also a matter of raw talent. Chess is one of those things, like music or math, that certain minds really fuse with. You just have it, or you don’t.”

Our hero returns to Toronto after five months travelling while attempting to find an identity.

“My time away left me with no real insights. My world view was not transformed. Everything was essentially unmodified, including me. While I wasn’t sure what I expected, I was sure that it hadn’t happened.”

Been there and done that…

“The only thing that was different about me was, well, chess. Or, rather, at that point the lack of chess, because I’d sworn to give it up – both to myself and to the few friends who knew about the more tedious details of my existence. After all, life was out there for the taking, and I shouldn’t spend all my time getting checkmated. But there was a cavity in my head where all the churning about the Poisoned Pawn Variation of the Winawer French Defense used to be. Without the activation of that specific part of my brain, I felt weak and watery.”

I’ve had the exact feeling, often when in time pressure. Now there is no time pressure because time is added. Chess was better before time began to be added.

“Everything non-chess-related seemed silly.”

Are you thinking that if the man just gives it a little time he will drop the “non?”

“Once I had inhabited the realm of chess, full of violence and aesthetic beauty, but also replete with the restfulness of unambiguous actuality, my previous life was unappealing. When you quit chess, or try to, you don’t just leave a game behind. You leave a world behind. It’s painful. All I did was get drunk and circulate, inhabiting vague mental states in barrooms and living rooms. And on one of these nights

I came home a little more drunk than usual and fired up a little blitz game. The next morning, having realized that I’d played chess the night before, I told myself that a slip isn’t the same as a relapse, and I solemnly renewed my vow to never again move a single pawn. Six hours later I was in full relapse – a week disappeared into a long session of unsatisfying blitz. Following this, I tried again, this time installing software that prevented me from accessing chess websites. A few days later, I came home drunk again and uninstalled the software. Another clump of days evaporated. Finally, it got so bad that I told myself I’d trade one addition for another – I’d take up smoking again, which I had quit during my last month in Bangkok, in exchange for not playing chess. This is how I became a chain-smoking chess player.”

Duchamp’s Endgame, in Chess and Art

All The Wrong Moves: A Memoir About Chess, Love, and Ruining Everything: A Review

All The Wrong Moves: A Memoir About Chess, Love, and Ruining Everything

by Sasha Chapin

I liked and enjoyed reading this book immensely. Chess people who have sold Chess as some kind of panacea for helping children learn will loath this book because it contains the enemy of the fraudsters; the truth. I give it a wholehearted thumbs up. The author is a professional writer and the book flowed. The book was read in only a couple of days because it was riveting. As usual I have yet to read any review of the book but will upon completion of the review, which will be a non-traditional review in that more than one post will be written about the book. This post is part one of who knows how many posts will be written.

Malcolm Gladwell

authored the very successful book Outliers

in which he popularized the now infamous “10,000 hour rule.” As Sasha puts it, “…if you’re really good at something, it’s because you’ve spent about ten thousand hours on it.”

The first time Gladwell’s theory was encountered made me laugh out loud. “What a crock,” was my initial thought. It brought to mind a former school mate, the tall and lanky Leon Henry. Leon was the slowest runner I have ever seen. He was far too slow to play for the school basketball team. When we were high school seniors it was decided to have a basketball game between the faculty and students, but only the students who had not played on the school team were eligible. Leon wanted to play on the team but the other members were against it. The only reason there was to be a game was because a new, young teacher and sportsman had become the Baseball coach. Prior to coach Jim Jackson arriving the football coach was also the Baseball coach, and he did little coaching of the Baseball team. Coach Jackson had been offered about ten grand by the New York Mets to play Baseball but had a wife and child and the woman talked him into becoming a teacher and coach. Basically, the teacher team consisted of four old, tired, and slow men and coach Jackson. The coach made those of us on the Baseball team who would be playing later that night run extra laps to, hopefully, wear us out.

Leon begged for a chance to play, so coach Jackson decided that Leon could play that night if, and only if, Leon could beat me in a foot race. Since Leon had no chance coach Jackson altered the usual rules for a race. All Leon had to do was run from one end of the basketball court to the other end before I could run down the court and return. When the whistle blew I had to run towards Leon, who would be running hard, then turn around and run back toward the finish line. I had to run twice as far as Leon. This was a piece of cake. Leon, and everyone else, knew he had no chance. There was much laughter when we began running.

Leon won the race.

“You pulled up, Bacon,” said coach Jackson.

“I think I pulled a hammy, coach,” I said in my defense. Coach Jackson guffawed. “Hell Mike, you could out run Leon with a TORN hamstring!”

With Leon on the court there was no fast break possible. Leon had to stay on only one side of the court, so we had him stay back on defense and “stick with coach Jackson like glue.” In addition, I would also stick with coach Jackson, so he was double-teamed, which was my plan all along, and the reason I “pulled up.”

Coach Jackson made a buzzer-beater shot to win the game, but I had a new best friend…

If Leon Henry ran every day until completing ten thousand hours he would never have been able to increase his speed because of genetics. I do not care if Leon ran ten million hours, he would never have been able to run fast. There are people with brains about as slow as Leon’s legs. One of them played regularly at the House of Pain (the Atlanta Chess & Game Center, not to be confused with GM Ben Finegold’s Atlanta Chess & Scholastic Center, which is located in Roswell, Georgia, the seventh largest city in the Great State of Georgia, making the name “Atlanta” a misnomer). The man had made it to class C even though he could not locate the square to which he was moving to or from on the board without first looking at the letter and then the number located on the side of the board. He did this every move, and he had been doing it for many years because his brain could not, for whatever reason, look at the board and see the square two rows in front of the king pawn as e4. If you do not have it all the time in the world will not give it to you no matter how much or hard you try.

Sasha Chapin blows Malcolm Gladwell out of the water when he writes, “Now obviously, nobody is silly enough to think that talent doesn’t exist, period. That’s not the debate here. The existence of talent is proven by the fact of people like Strinivasa Ramanujan

( man who, without any formal training, became one of the greatest mathematicians who ever lived, effortlessly emitting utterly complicated theorems that astounded his colleagues. The debate here is about proportion. It’s about whether people like Ramanujan, the true freaks, are the only cases in which talent is a primary factor – whether talent is relevant only in the most extreme cases. Can we ordinary people blame talent for our lack of success? When we say that we don’t have talent, are we just coming up with a convenient excuse for our lack of diligence? To what extent can we transcend certain inborn aptitudes?
These are big questions. They don’t have simple answers or at least none that I’m qualified to provide. But if we limit the discussion to chess, the answer is clear. The data shows that talent matters. A lot.
Probably the most persuasive piece of evidence that talent is important in games in general is a meta-analysis conducted by Macnamara et al., published in Psychological Science in 2014. ( (I posted about this years ago @ After analyzing a combination of eighty eight studies of skill acquisition, the researchers concluded that, when it comes to games, only 25 percent of individual variance in skill level can be attributed to practice. Practice is valuable, but its importance is dominated by a combination of other factors, like working memory, general intelligence, and starting age. So the paper suggest that if you want to be a world-class player, you should start really, really young and be really, really lucky with your genetics. This was further corroborated by another meta-analysis conducted by the same researchers, pertaining specifically to chess players, which demonstrated the same conclusion.
Now, there’s an obvious objection here – can’t playing chess make you more intelligent, thus improving your raw talent in a roundabout way? Well, current evidence say no. According to another study published in Current Directions in Psychological Science, playing chess doesn’t improve your non-chess faculties significantly. (One interesting implication here is that a lot of the chess economy is built on a fraud: lots of parents send their children to expensive chess camps in an effort to make them smarter, in the same way that some other parents enhance their babies with Mozart,

but this effort seems futile, based on the data.)
This is not nearly all of the evidence for my side of the debate. There are a lot more factors that make the deliberate practice hypothesis look even more doomed. Like the fact that the ability to practice for hours is itself genetically influenced – it relies on traits like conscientiousness, which are highly heritable. The basic case is made: talent matters. Unless all of this research somehow fails to replicate, or is fundamentally flawed in non-obvious ways – which, of course, is possible – then Gladwell’s rule does not belong on the chessboard.”
So, then, exactly how big is the gulf between the talented player and the untalented player? Quite simply: it’s huge.”