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

(http://www-groups.dcs.st-and.ac.uk/history/Biographies/Ramanujan.html)-the 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. (https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/0956797614535810) (I posted about this years ago @ https://xpertchesslessons.wordpress.com/2015/02/28/can-you-handle-the-truth/) 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.”

Chess Grit

The website of one of the two organizations teaching the Royal game to youngsters in after school programs in Atlanta is Championship Chess, which proclaims on the website (https://www.championshipchess.net/), “Championship Chess Makes Kids Smarter.”

Chess has not and never will make anyone, child or adult, “smarter” at anything other than Chess, as the latest studies have all proven, and you can read about the latest research studies right here on this blog. A few of the many posts written on the subject can be found below:

https://xpertchesslessons.wordpress.com/2015/02/27/does-playing-chess-make-you-smarter/

https://xpertchesslessons.wordpress.com/2015/03/05/chess-offers-low-level-gains-for-society/

https://xpertchesslessons.wordpress.com/2015/02/28/can-you-handle-the-truth/

A new Baseball book (After Gene Nix posted a link to this blog on his Greenville Chess newsletter an older gentleman informed me he had clicked onto the link and, seeing the picture of a Baseball book, exited immediately, saying, “I don’t like Baseball.” See: https://xpertchesslessons.wordpress.com/2018/12/13/powerball-and-chess/) recently read has caused me to reflect upon why some with much talent and ability fail while others without such gifts succeed. It has also caused me to reflect about how children are taught in school, which is simply not working in public schools, and frankly, I have my doubts about places of “higher” learning. I decided to write this post while thinking about how Chess is being taught. How should Chess (or any subject for that matter) be taught? The famous Baseball maven, Branch Rickey

forbid his his managers from criticizing a player’s mistakes without telling him how to correct them. How many times have you seen a Chess “coach” criticize the mistake of a student without telling him how to correct the mistake? How many Chess coaches are capable of explaining to the student how he can correct his mistake? Weak teachers and methodology are the main reasons Championship Chess has been ridiculed unmercifully by the Chess community. How many Championship Chess type organizations are raking in the dough from the so-called “Chess boom” without actually teaching children how to play Chess?

When young I played Baseball. I was never the best athlete on any team and, although a fast runner, I was never the fastest runner on any team, nor was I the most powerful hitter on any team, but could make contact at bat and had a “good eye,” which meant I drew an inordinate number of bases on balls, which was good because I was the lead off hitter. I was above average as a fielder, but my arm was more suited to second base than shortstop even though I played the latter position most often until becoming a teenager. I even pitched and mostly pitched well even though “fastball” was a misnomer when one left my hand. Yet I had good control and was able to make the ball “move.” Young hitters who had only seen straight balls coming at them had much trouble with my “junk” pitches. Like the Georgia Peach, Ty Cobb,

of whom I have read much, I was the studious sort, always watching, and thinking, about how best to beat “those guys” on the other team. The adult coaches would ask me questions about this player of that player and I would give them what they asked for, such as, “You can lay a bunt down on Stubby (the third baseman).” Although talented, Ty Cobb was never the most talented player on the field, but he had the most “grit.” I, too, had an abundance of “grit.” After a game my Mother had attended with her cousin Carl she proudly told him someone said, “Your boy has an abundance of grit.” Cousin Carl replied, “Yeah Mud (short for ‘muddy,’ my Mother’s nickname), “Michael is full of grits!” She ran Cousin Carl out of the house…

After leaving Baseball I discovered Chess. Four years after beating my philosophy professor I tied for first in the 1974 Atlanta Chess Championship with Wayne Watson, who was from New York, which made me the Atlanta Chess Champion. “Can you believe we have a class “B” player as the Atlanta Chess champ?” was heard at the time. I will admit to not being the most talented player in the event. There was no Atlanta Chess championship tournament in 1975, but there was an event in 1976, and again I was not the highest rated, or most talented player in the field, but yet I scored 5-0 to again win the Atlanta Chess Championship.

When one becomes immersed in the culture of Chess most everything one reads is thought about through “Chess eyes.” The question, “How does that relate to Chess,” is foremost in the mind of a Chess player.

I still watch Baseball and am a big fan of the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets and Georgia BullDawgs Baseball teams. I can still be found occasionally watching, or listening, to the Atlanta Braves even though the Major League games have become some kind of version of “Home Run Derby,” as the game drags on and on and on with endless pitching changes and long breaks to “review” the umpires call. The people in charge are to dumb to realize the quest for perfection breaks the flow of the game, which is what made Baseball great. Forget about America, someone please Make Baseball Great Again!

I continue to read about Baseball, as I have done since 1960. The most recent Baseball book read was, The MVP Machine: How Baseball’s New Nonconformists Are Using Data to Build Better Players by Ben Lindbergh & Travis Sawchik.

I had immensely enjoyed Mr. Lindbergh’s

previous book, “The Only Rule Is It Has to Work: Our Wild Experiment Building a New Kind of Baseball Team,”

and was looking forward to reading his latest effort, which did not disappoint. In the second chapter of the book, A Natural Maniac, An Unnatural Athlete, which concerns MLB pitcher Trevor Bauer, now with the Cleveland Indians, one finds:

Angela Lee Duckworth had left a management-consulting job to teach seventh graders math in New York City schools. Se soon observed that IQ alone was not a reliable indicator of the difference between her best and worse students. She became convinced every one of her students could master the material if they worked “hard and long enough.” Her experience led her to believe that educators must better understand learning from motivational and psychological perspectives.

Duckworth then left teaching to study psychology. She examined the performance of children and adults in challenging settings, always exploring the same questions: Who is successful, and why? She tried to predict which West Point cadets would stick in the military. She forecasted which contestants would advance furthest in the National Spelling Bee. She administered a questionnaire to Chicago high-school students and analyzed the responses of the ones who graduated. One characteristic emerged as a significant predictor of success. It wasn’t IQ. “It was grit,” she told the TED Talk audience. “Grit is passion and perseverance for very long-term goals. Grit is having stamina. Grit is sticking with your future, day in and day out. Not just for the week of month, but for years. And working really hard to make that future a reality.”

To Duckworth, who had spent much of her professional career studying it, the most surprising thing about grit “is how little we know, how little science knows, about building it.” What she did know is that natural talent did not make some “gritty.” If anything, her data showed that grit was inversely tied to measures of talent. “The best idea I’ve heard about teaching grit in kids is something called growth mindset,” Duckworth said.

Growth mindset is a characteristic defined by Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck, whose research suggests that the way we think about our abilities is a key to shaping talent. Dweck defined a fixed mindset as one that assumes that a skill, ability, or attribute cannot be improved or changed in a significant way. Cultural critic Maria Popova writes that with a fixed mindset, “avoiding failure at all costs becomes a way of maintaining the sense of being smart or skilled,” whereas a growth mindset regards failure not as evidence of stupidity or lack of ability but as a “heartening springboard for growth and for stretching our existing abilities.”

From: “Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverence,” TED Talk, published May 9, 2013:

Powerball and Chess

I recently finished reading, Power Ball: Anatomy of a Modern Baseball Game,

by Rob Neyer,

and decided to write about the book because of a couple of references to Chess.

“Baseball IS statistics!” – Former Georgia Chess Champion and head writer for the College Bowl Michael Decker, aka, “Lousiville Lefty” (Not from the book)

“I never keep a scorecard or the batting averages. I hate statistics. What I got to know, I keep in my head.” – Former Major League baseball player and announcer Dizzy Dean (1910-1974) (From the book)

Many years ago a fellow Chess player and I were at the Atlanta Public Library, located in downtown Atlanta, on one of the upper floors containing books about Baseball. We were discussing some of them when he asked, “How many Baseball books have you read?” I began pulling out the ones previously read while he watched. When finished I stood back to survey the racks and noticed a stunned look on his mug. “Bacon, if you had read that many Chess books you would have become a Master!” he said. “Probably not,” I replied. “To become a Master one must want to become a Master player, and I could have cared less. What I wanted was to become a Major League Baseball player.” He smiled knowingly.

Although continuing to read Baseball books they were becoming infrequent as my interest in Baseball waned this century. While in a bookstore I noticed the title, and the name of the author, a writer with whom I was familiar. Taking the book from the shelf I began reading the preface. For some time I had wanted to read a book concerning the recent changes made to MLB that has caused the game to become a boring version of home run derby.

“Inspired by Hano’s A Day in the Bleachers

and Okrent’s Nine Innings,

we’re going to explore today’s Baseball through the lens of a single game: Athletics vs. Astros in Oakland, September 8, 2017.” The next paragraph begins, “In many ways, this was a meaningless game.”

I knew at that moment the book would be read. This was because of having previously, somewhere, sometime, read about a dying man who had been asked what he would miss after departing. One of the things he mentioned was “Being able to watch a meaningless regular season Baseball game.”

“Once you train yourself to see it,” Ben Lindbergh

wrote a few years ago in Grantland, “it’s almost impossible to stop seeing it. Baseball is often described as a chess match between batter and pitcher. But it’s more like a chess match between batter and pitcher in which, once in a while, the catcher grabs the board and moves someone’s piece.” – pg 210

“With Marisnick aboard in a tie game, we’re treated to a small chess game that you can follow even from the cheap seats. ‘I’ve come up against him a lot,’ Hendriks will later say of Marisnick. ‘I know that he runs well, and he runs a lot off me.”
“Before throwing a pitch to Maybin, Hendricks pivots for a pickoff throw to first base. Once, twice, three times. Marisnick dives back safely once, twice, three times. But is that enough?” -pg 223

All the world is a stage…upon which a Chess game is played.

This book concerns Baseball but is about so much more than Baseball. It is about change, and not just about how Baseball has changed. For example, Mr. Neyer writes: “In Oliver Sack’s last book,

he wrote, “Nothing is more crucial to the survival and independence of organisms – be they elephants or protozoa – than the maintenance of a constant internal environment.” This constancy is called homeostasis.

“Further, Sacks writes, “It is especially when things are going wrong internally – when homeostasis is not being maintained, when the autonomic balance starts listing heavily to one side or the other – that this core consciousness, the feeling of how one is, takes on an intrusive, unpleasant quality, and now one will say, ‘I feel ill – something is amiss.’ At such time, one no longer looks well either.”

“Justin Verlander

might not feel ill, but something is amiss; Baseball no longer looks well. When a team can go through an entire season and hit only five triples – as the Blue Jays did in 2017, setting a record low – it doesn’t look well. John Thorn,

MLB’s official historian, who loves baseball as much as anyone I’ve ever known, says of Two True Outcomes baseball, “We love surprises, since we were children. But this is a game I don’t like.” Because surprises – they’re disappearing.”

A month or so after the World Series, Steven Goldleaf wrote a long essay for Bill Jame’s website, titled “How Sabermetrics Has Ruined Baseball.”
That headline’s just a grabber, but Goldleaf’s central point is a good one: “Sabermetrics could ruin baseball, in that its goal is to create a type of game that optimizes winning, while fans want to see a type of game that is entertaining to watch.” (https://www.billjamesonline.com/how_sabermetrics_has_ruined_baseball/)

Having devoted so much time to playing, and writing about, Chess, it was simply impossible for me to not think about the current state of the Royal game while reading this wonderful book. For example, substitute the word “chess, and Chess” for “baseball, and Baseball” in the following sentence: “There would still be baseball without these millions of fans, but there would not be Baseball. And it’s worth mentioning that in the first half of the 2018 season, attendance is down significantly: something like 6 or 7 percent.” This was written in the very last part of the book, Extras: Future Ball, and was written in July of 2018. I will add that the ratings for the 2018 World Series tanked. See: Why World Series Ratings Took a Nose Dive in 2018 (https://www.si.com/mlb/video/2018/10/31/world-series-ratings-took-nose-dive-2018)

It was not just the World Series: Baseball Playoff Ratings Are Down (https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/live-feed/baseball-playoff-ratings-are-down-blame-yankees-cubs-1153938)

Rob writes, “Media types tend to forget something, though: the baseball business is not a two-sided coin, with the players on one side and the owners on the other. They forget about the millions of baseball fans who pay for all these nice things. The business does not exist without the fans, just as Kellogg’s doesn’t exist without hungry kids and Southwest Airlines doesn’t exist without thrifty travelers. There would still be baseball without these millions of fans, but there would not be Baseball.”

The World Human Chess Championship is the Showcase Event of the Chess World. The recently finished 2018 WHCC, culminating with all the real games drawn, turned off many fans and left a sickening taste in the minds of many others, especially the “Media types.” This is not good because potential fans read what the “Media types” write. I have no idea how long, or even if, Chess will have any interest whatsoever in the minds of people. It is possible in the future chess will be played, but not Chess, as has been the fate of checkers.

Chess Spotting

Chris Garlock writes the American Go E-Journal for the American Go Association, which is frequently sent to my inbox, as it will be to anyone who requests it because it is free. (http://www.usgo.org/news/)
One of the features is called, “Go Spotting.” Readers who spot Go on the internet, in books, or movies, etc., notify Chris and he posts it.

US Chess does not have an E-Journal, thus there is no “Chess spotting.” I frequently find Chess mentioned in various places and would like to begin a “Chess Spotting” feature. If you spot Chess featured anywhere and would like to share, please send it along to xpertchesslessons@yahoo.com and it will be posted here.

An article at The Hardball Times, published today, begins:

“Baseball does not change.

Yes, the rules change; the bats change; the fields, the uniforms and the broadcasts change. The pitchers throw differently, and the hitters don’t swing the same. The gloves have changed shape, and the umpires call the games in a new way.

But, since 1871–since before 1871–the ancient Spirit of Pitchers has sat in the same spot, unmoving, across from the timeless Spirit of Batters, and they have played their unending game of chess in the exact same way, no change.”

https://www.fangraphs.com/tht/there-is-no-juiced-ball-no-steroid-era/

Youth Served At US Masters

Damir Studen and Daniel Gurevich, two young players from Atlanta, Georgia, USA, both scored 5.5 points out of 9 rounds at the recent US Masters in Greensboro, North Carolina. That put both of them in the fourth score group, in a tie for 12-21 out of 79 players. They were the lowest rated, by far, players in the score group. For both of these young men (Damir was born in 1989 and Daniel in 1997) this can be considered a breakout event. Damir has previously won the state championship of Georgia, while Daniel won the top section of the 2009 Super Nationals in Nashville, so both have known success. Both would agree the US Masters is on another level entirely.
Damir won 3, drew 5, and lost one. Daniel won 5, drew one, and lost 3. Damir had a performance rating of 2560, while Daniel’s PR was 2544. Damir faced four GM’s, with two wins and two draws. Daniel played five GM’s, winning two, while losing three. Damir played his usual solid, steady game and was consistent throughout the event, with draws interspersed with wins until winning back to back in rounds seven and eight. Daniel lost two of his first three, won four of the next five, with the other game being drawn. He won three in a row in rounds 6-8. Damir earned 48 rating points to move to 2384. Daniel garnered 51 rating points, with his rating increasing to 2344. The two had three common opponents. They both drew with IM John Cox of England. Damir drew with GM Alex Fishbein while Daniel won. Damir also drew with GM Georg Meier, while Daniel lost his game with Meier in the last round.
What I want to do is contrast the performance of these two young turks with that of some of the older players, the wily ol’ veterans. I have read analytical books on baseball by writers such as Bill James and his Baseball Abstracts over the last thirty plus years. The study of baseball statistics is called “sabermetrics.” One of the things I have learned is the smaller the sample size, the less trustworthy the results. With that caveat I can tell you this sample size would be considered small in any study, but it is all I have with which to work. To make it even smaller, I will throw out one of the games. I do that because organizers continue the nonsensical practice of having an odd number of rounds, which puts one half of the field at a disadvantage by having to play the Black pieces an extra time. Both Damir and Daniel each played White four times while having the Black pieces five times, which makes their individual results even more spectacular!
I wanted to know if their success can be attributed to youthful exuberance, and if so, to what extent. For this study I decided to contrast the performance rating of the first four rounds with that of the last four rounds. To do so I would have to eliminate the 5th round entirely, which would leave each player with an equal number of times playing the White and Black pieces. I also needed to use only those who played all nine games, for obvious reasons. GM Larry Kaufman had a good result considering he is older than me by a few years. It boggles my mind how he can play at such a level. But Larry did take two half-point byes, which would skew the results to a point of being meaningless.
I decided to find matching pairs, like Damir and Daniel in order to increase the sample size. The two players I found to contrast with D & D were GM Alonso Zapata, now living in Atlanta, and GM Michael Rohde, who used to visit and play when his parents lived in Atlanta. Alonso was born in 1958 and Michael 1959, making both of them eligible to play in the US Senior. Because they are several decades older I believe it makes for a fine contrast of youth versus age.
This is the PR for all nine rounds for each of them, with all numbers rounded off:
Zapata 2619
Studen 2560
Gurevich 2544
Rohde 2467
Added together and averaged we have a PR for Zapata & Rohde of 2543, and for D&D it is 2552, which is close.
Now let us look at the PR for each for only the first four rounds:
Zapata 2789
Studen 2683
Gurevich 2395
Rhode 2320
And for the last four rounds:
Gurevich 2712
Studen 2576
Rohde 2543
Zapata 2444
Combine each of the two sets and average them for the first four rounds and we get:
D & D 2539
Z & R 2555
This means they played about the same chess during the first four rounds. Now we look at the last four rounds:
D&D 2644
Z & R 2494
The two young men obviously played much stronger chess in the later stages of the long tournament.
I considered using GM John Federowicz as he was also born in 1958, like GM Zapata, but rejected him because he had taken a half point bye in the fifth round. Since he did play the first, and last, four rounds, I would like to mention his tournament. John, one of the most gracious players I have encountered through the years, won his first two games, but those were the only games he won. He drew his next two, took a half point bye, lost in round 6 to GM Meier, drew in round seven, lost again in the penultimate round, and finally drew in the last round. This adds up to an even tournament. The Fed’s PR for the tournament was 2451. For the first four rounds was 2663; for the last four, 2239. If John were combined with either Alonso or Michael it would have been an even more dramatic decline. Combined, The Fed and The Zap would have had a PR of 2726 for the first four rounds. It would have dropped precipitously to only 2342 for the last four rounds. Rohde and the Fed would be 2491 for the first four rounds, and 2391 for the last four.
I stand in awe while applauding these two young men from my home city, Damir Studen, who earned an IM norm, and Daniel Gurevich, on such an excellent tournament.