Games People Play

Former World Chess Champion Boris Spassky was interview recently by Colin McGourty. Some of the wonderful interview, “I still look at chess with the eyes of a child” (https://chess24.com/en/read/news/spassky-i-still-look-at-chess-with-the-eyes-of-a-child) has been translated by Chess24.

Colin: “All sports change over the years, becoming faster, higher, stronger. Is chess also subject to similar trends?”

Boris: “Chess is also changing, but in a somewhat incomprehensible manner. Computers have appeared in chess and turned everything upside down.”

The advent of computer chess programs have drastically altered the Royal game. The natural evolution of chess has been, shall we say, “enhanced” by the programs. The play of the game of chess has taken a quantum leap forward in the lifetime of Boris Spassky. When change this dramatic occurs it is only natural that older humans have trouble accepting the rapid change. For instance, my grandmother was born before the automobile was invented. When Neil Armstrong allegedly stepped onto the surface of the moon and said, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” it was much more than she could comprehend and she never believed it happened. To her it was just something “they” put on TV.

Colin: “The reigning World Champion Magnus Carlsen has the reputation of being a straight-A chess player who does everything correctly on the board and plays out games for a long, long time. Has chess lost something because of that?”

Boris: “Carlsen is a stubborn kid. In general, what a chess player needs has always been the same, with a love of chess the main requirement. Moreover, it has to be loved naturally, with passion, the way people love art, drawing and music. That passion possesses you and seeps into you. I still look at chess with the eyes of a child.”

Colin: “Can chess players of different eras be compared at all?”

Boris: “It’s pretty hard. Each to his own. Everyone should know his place. Chess players are a very difficult crowd who are largely egocentrics, egoists and individualists. Each of them has his own vision of the world and each is a lone wolf who goes his own way. Each World Champion came from more or less that background.”

Humans have always played games, and, most, will continue to play some kind of game. As Colin said, “All sports change over the years…” Chess is not an exception.

Whatever credibility Checkers had has been lost to the computer program Chinook, the “World Man-Machine Checkers Champion.” (http://webdocs.cs.ualberta.ca/~chinook/) Have humans stopped playing Checkers? They have not because they changed the game. Take a look at “International Checkers.” It is not the game your father played.

Consider Three Dimensional Chess, popularized by the Star Trek TV show. (http://www.chessvariants.org/3d.dir/startrek.html)
“Three-dimensional chess (or 3D chess) refers to any of various chess variants that use multiple boards at different levels, allowing the chess pieces to move in three physical dimensions. Three-dimensional variants have existed since the late 19th century, one of the oldest being Raumschach (German for Space chess), invented in 1907 by Dr. Ferdinand Maack and considered the classic 3D game. Maack founded a Raumschach club in Hamburg in 1919, which remained active until World War II. The inventor contended that for chess to be more like modern warfare, attack should be possible not only from a two-dimensional plane but also from above (aerial) and below (underwater). Maack’s original formulation was for an 8×8×8 board, but after experimenting with smaller boards eventually settled on 5×5×5 as best. Other obvious differences from standard chess include two additional pawns per player, and a special piece (two per player) named unicorn.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Three-dimensional_chess)

It could be that in the future when one speaks of chess, it will be in regard to only 3D Chess.

GM Walter Browne, an avid gamesman, has created a game he named, “FINESSE.” Walter calls it, “The 21st century version of Chess.” He writes, “In 1988 I started to wonder why over two thousand years no one ever thought of another board game besides Chess, that was a “purely” intellectual struggle. There are many chess variants, but none of them are very appealing, so I dared to take up the challenge. I invented Finesse in 1993 and I thought it’s nice, but I put it away for almost twenty years. Then in 2012 I made a few key changes which made all the difference! I had a “Voila”! moment in August 2012 when I realized the chemistry between the pieces would create an endless variety of dynamic positions.”(http://www.finessebybrowne.com/#!history/c1sf)

Check out this “Finesse” video:

Could the game Walter invented be the future of chess? My favorite science fiction novel is, “The Player of Games,” by Iain M. Banks. “Curgeh is the best, the champion. In the ancient, all-embracing Culture in which there is no disease or disaster, only the endless games, he has beaten them all. But an empire’s challenge will teach him what the Game is really all about.” (http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/18630.The_Player_of_Games)

My favorite novel is, “The Glass Bead Game,” by Hermann Hesse. It is known as “Das Glasperlenspiel” in German. It has also been published under the title “Magister Ludi,” Latin for “Master of the Game.” (http://www.glassbeadgame.com/)

“It was begun in 1931 and published in Switzerland in 1943 after being rejected for publication in Germany due to Hesse’s anti-Fascist views. A few years later, in 1946, Hesse went on to win the Nobel Prize in Literature. In honoring him in its Award Ceremony Speech, the Swedish Academy said that the novel “occupies a special position” in Hesse’s work.”

“The Glass Bead Game takes place at an unspecified date centuries into the future. Hesse suggested that he imagined the book’s narrator writing around the start of the 25th century. The setting is a fictional province of central Europe called Castalia, which was reserved by political decision for the life of the mind; technology and economic life are kept to a strict minimum. Castalia is home to an austere order of intellectuals with a twofold mission: to run boarding schools for boys, and to nurture and play the Glass Bead Game, whose exact nature remains elusive and whose devotees occupy a special school within Castalia known as Waldzell. The rules of the game are only alluded to—they are so sophisticated that they are not easy to imagine. Playing the game well requires years of hard study of music, mathematics, and cultural history. The game is essentially an abstract synthesis of all arts and sciences. It proceeds by players making deep connections between seemingly unrelated topics.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Glass_Bead_Game)

Games will always be played, as long as humans inhabit Earth, which may not be long the way we have polluted the planet. (http://www.ora.tv/offthegrid/big-media-blindspot-continuing-fukushima-cover–0_300vfa5puqb8) Even then I like to think humans may be able to travel to an unpolluted planet, where they will, no doubt, play some kind of game.

Chess and the JFK Assassination

Reading about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy has been a passion of mine since the late 1960’s. There was a time I could tell you the exact number of books I had read on the subject. Former Georgia State Chess Champion Michael Decker once exclaimed, “You have read EVERYTHING on the subject!” Not hardly…I did a search on the Gorilla the other day and saw there were over 2000 books on the subject. Because this year is the 50th anniversary of the assassination there is a plethora of books on the market, some of which I hope to read. I say “hope” because I have a bad ticker. The truth is I could go at any time. I realize there is limited time to pursue my interests and some must be dropped. This blog is one of them.
In all the books and articles I have read pertaining to the JFK assassination I do not recall ever coming across the subject of chess. It was therefore a surprise to see the word “chess” while reading, “Who Really Killed Kennedy?” by Jerome R. Corsi, Ph.D. While making the point of how difficult a shot it would have been for an amateur like Oswald to have made the writer points out what a tiny percentage of athletes make it to the top of their game. “Typically the transition to world class involves a transformation where the pro learns to see the game differently than the amateur. Consider the game of chess. Studies have shown chess masters truly see no more moves ahead in a chess game than beginners. The difference is that where beginners see moves, chess masters see patterns.” This is on page 52 and there is a footnote, #106, which says, “Bill Wall, ‘The Cognitive Psychology of Chess,” Chess.com, June 21, 2010, http://www.chess.com/article/view/the-cognitive-psychology-of-chess.”
Imagine that, the word “chess’ used in relation to the most infamous unsolved crime in the history of the United States of America. Everything is cataloged on the internet so Bill Wall may be the only chess player to have had his name used in relation to the assassination.
I watched a program on the MLB channel yesterday, “Behind the Seams: The Stat Story.” Something John Thorn, the official historian of Major League Baseball, said struck me, so I wrote it down. “Henry Chadwick’s crusade was, first to make the American game of baseball a game that not only children played, but adults thought worthy of their attention.” Henry Chadwick was the original “stat-head.” Mr. Thorn went on to say, “One of the ways to make baseball seem more important was to attach to it the numbers that businessmen like to peruse and analyse, so as baseball acquired numeracy, it acquired importance.”
From the dwindling numbers of adults involved with chess-and I do not count the parents of the large numbers of children-it is obvious that the vast majority of adults do not find the Royal game worthy of their attention. I do not know what can be done to kindle interest for the great game of chess in adults, but I do know that if something is not done to do so, chess will not survive. I do not know if attaching numbers to chess in the way they were attached to baseball will do for chess what the numbers have done for baseball, but it may be a start. For example, each batter is really two batters, and each pitcher is really two pitchers. A right handed batter hits differently vs. a right handed pitcher as opposed to a left handed pitcher. Same for a right handed pitcher. Each chess player is really two players. One is the player with the White pieces, with the other being the player with the Black pieces. Each player has a different performance rating when playing each color. I have previously advocated showing each rating for every player. It has fallen on deaf ears and there does not seem to be any interest whatsoever in the idea, which I find a shame. The sad fact is that in most crosstables one cannot tell whether a player had white or black. I can think of many possibilities, such as a players performance rating for only the year 2012, or 2013, and so can you.
All the best in chess to you.
Michael Bacon

The Houdini Smartwatch

Co-founder of ConceptLabs, Peter Cochrane, (http://www.cochrane.org.uk/) gave an update on artificial intelligence and technology on the Coast to Coast AM radio program last night, 8/20/13. He said wearable technologies such as the smartwatch, and wearable cameras recording everyday activities are on the horizon. Speaking of his individual cell phone, he remarked, “there is more computing power, more memory, on this mobile phone than was on the planet in 1956,” and that is the scale of the great change that has taken place. He also noted how every new technology that comes along displaces people and causes mayhem, but then transforms society and creates new types of employment and opportunities. Concerning the state of modern technology, “It is far beyond Garry Kasparov getting knocked out of chess by the computer program.” http://www.coasttocoastam.com/show/2013/08/19
It matters not how great players and fans of the Royal game consider Garry Kasparov to have been. The fact is that in the general perception of the public, Kasparov will always be thought of as the human who lost to a machine.
During the course of my live it has been that no matter what new technology has appeared on the scene, there is newer, and far superior, technology already developed. How long before a chess player on the cutting edge of technology will be caught with a powerful chess program contained within the timepiece on his wrist? Is it possible a player may have access to such a device now?