Sunday, 28 December 2008

Terra Firma Chess - Seniors Playing Chess, Brighton Beach, Coney Island

Nice Image of Two Seniors Playing Chess:
[Riegelmann boardwalk, Brighton Beach, Coney Island, NYC]
Image by JGNY via Flickr

Brighton Beach is a multi-ethnic community on Coney Island in the New York City Borough of Brooklyn. Many residents are Ukrainians from Odessa, and for this reason the area has been nicknamed "Little Odessa" by the local community. The film Little Odessa (1994) is set in Brighton Beach. There are also many Russian, Georgian, Polish, Turkish and Pakistani residents in the area. It is therefore not surprising that an open air chess game should be seen here.

Coney Island from the air (from Wikipedia)
Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 License

Friday, 26 December 2008

Science and Chess - Was Charles Darwin a Chess Player

Charles Darwin (1809-1882):

Charles Darwin
was one of the greatest Scientists of all time. It is also quite well known that he was subject to melancholia and depression. Charles Darwin was recommended as a suitable naturalist for the unpaid position of gentleman’s companion to Robert FitzRoy, the captain of HMS Beagle in 1831. Captain Robert FitzRoy was also very prone to depression and black moods (modern medicine would probably have diagnosed him as having bipolar disorder). Robert Fitzroy would later (1865) commit suicide by slashing his wrists, as had his uncle.

This recent article discusses the selection of Charles Darwin for the HMS Beagle voyage in 1831 and also analyses further the life of Robert FitzRoy (full article here):
HTML clipboard
The problem was that on these long ocean voyages, the Captain was disposed to great isolation and loneliness. In those times, it was unbecoming for the Captain to have any relations with the crew except as a commanding officer. The crew lived in their little world and the Captain in his. If the Captain wanted company, someone to talk to or play chess with, he had to make arrangements for such. Enter Charles Darwin, recommended by two of Captain FitzRoy's friends as a personable and agreeable young fellow. Darwin was named as a naturalist and expected to pay his own way. The Captain hoped, that with this interesting companion, he could avoid the "Black Dog" of depression. And it did seem to work out that way. Except for a few noted disagreements, Darwin and "Hot Coffee" got along well enough.
The above passage suggests that Charles Darwin may have been a chess player, spending many hours playing chess in the evenings with Captain FitzRoy. The evidence from Darwin's extensively documented correspondence, however, suggests that he was not a chess player. The definitive answer comes from correspondence between Charles Darwin and his cousin Francis Galton in November 1879 where Darwin answers a series of questions for Galton's future book, 'Inquiries into Human Faculty' (1883). Darwin claims to have never played chess (see question 16).
"MY DEAR GALTON, I have answered the questions as well as I could, but they are miserably answered, for I have never tried looking into my own mind. Unless others answer very much better than I can do, you will get no good from your queries. Do you not think you ought to have the age of the answerer? I think so, because I can call up faces of many schoolboys, not seen for sixty years, with much distinctness, but nowadays I may talk with a man for an hour, and see him several times consecutively, and, after a month, I am utterly unable to recollect what he is at all like. The picture is quite washed out."

The Life, Letters and Labours of Francis Galton, 4 vols
By Karl Pearson [Doctoral student of Galton]
Published by Cambridge University Press, London (1914)

Fitzroy: The Remarkable Story of Darwin's Captain and the Invention of the Weather Forecast (Hardcover)
By John Gribbin, Mary Gribbin
Headline Review (7 Jul 2003)
[Amazon review]

Chess - Philosophy and Psychology Rationality [PP-Rationality]

Rationality - Mr Spock An Impossible Reality:

Professor Alex Kacelnik, Department of Zoology, University of Oxford has recently written about rationality in animals. For the purposes of clarity he divides rationality into three categories, derived from his perception of the main uses in Philosophy and Psychology (PP-rationality), in Economics (E-rationality) and in Evolutionary Biology (B-rationality). In his discussions, he gives the example of how rationality may be compromised in human chess players.
The Oxford Companion to Philosophy’s entry for “Rationality”:
This is a feature of cognitive agents that they exhibit when they adopt beliefs on the basis of appropriate reasons […] Aristotle maintained that rationality is the key that distinguishes human beings from other animals. […] A stone or a tree is non-rational because it is not capable of carrying out rational assessment. A being who is capable of being rational but who regularly violates the principles of rational assessment is irrational. […] Rational beliefs have also been contrasted with beliefs arrived at through emotion, faith, authority or by an arbitrary choice. (Brown 1995, p. 744)
The difficulties with PP-rationality are not limited to research with non-human animals. Many processes that give rise to the beliefs held by human subjects are in fact inaccessible to the holders of these beliefs, making it very hard to determine whether a belief has been arrived at on the basis of appropriate reasons. The hundred or so possibilities that chess masters are aware of examining before each actual move are a small subset of the available legal moves (de Groot 1965; Simon and Schaeffer 1992). It is likely that this subset is determined by unconscious processes that delve into the 50000 or so positions chess masters remember, and that choices are often made under the irrational influence of emotional or aesthetic factors without the player being aware of their influence or of their access to her full knowledge base of chess positions. Thus, even if the whole process ends in the belief that a given move is best, and if the player feels that she has arrived at this conclusion by reasoning, the elements that entered into her reasoning process may have been influenced by the kinds of mechanism that the present definition would explicitly exclude from rationality. If, say, the player has acquired a Pavlovian aversion to a given position because she saw it while she had a toothache, then she will play so as to avoid it, and in doing so, she will be influenced irrationally by her knowledge base, though this influence and the active parts of her knowledge base may be unconscious.

Rational Animals? Matthew Nudds and Susan Hurley, editors; Oxford University Press (2006).
Chapter 2. Meanings of rationality
Alex Kacelnik, Department of Zoology, University of Oxford
[Amazon link]

The Queen 5x5 Puzzle - Albert Frank

On a chessboard 5x5, how to put five white queens and three black queens such as no queen can be taken in one move by an opposite colour queen?


According to Albert Frank there appears to be a poor correlation between chess playing strength and the ability to solve this problem. Among non chessplayers, at Glia Society level, Albert predicts about 50% would solve this puzzle.

This problem is also known as the non-dominating queens puzzle.

Personally I did not find this puzzle too difficult, but I don't think it is particularly testing practical chess playing ability. The puzzle seems to be more a test of spatial ability and logic. I have previously discussed the research study by
Waters, Gobet & Leyden (2002) "Visuospatial Abilities Of Chess Players" (here). In this study it was concluded that for adults " ... visual memory ability, and perhaps visuospatial intelligence, may be relatively unimportant factors in the long-term acquisition of chess skill." The lack of correlation between chess playing skill and the apparent ability to solve the above puzzle (as reported by Albert Frank) supports the results of the study by Waters et al (2002). I suspect the conclusions may be different, however, if young gifted chess players are studied (i.e. Frydman & Lynn, 1992).

Albert Frank is a retired Belgian Professor and a member of numerous high IQ societies, he is also a very keen chess player. In 1973 he was involved in a very instructive study looking at chess and academic aptitudes in Zaire school children. The control group students were taught mathematics for 7 hours per week. The experimental group students were taught
the same mathematics program in 5 hours per week with an additional 2 hours per week of chess tuition (by Albert Frank). The experimental group students showed significant improvements in arithmetic aptitude (p=0.05) and verbal logic (p=0.01). A summary of the study is published on Albert Frank's website here. The completed study was published in the book:
Albert Frank,
American Chess Foundation,
December 1978.

Frank, A., & D’Hondt, W. (1979).
Aptitudes et apprentissage du jeu d’échecs au Zaire [Aptitudes and learning of the game of chess in Zaire].
Psychopathologie Africaine, 15, 81-98.

Frydman, M. & Lynn, R. (1992).
The general intelligence and spatial abilities of gifted young Belgian chess players.
British Journal of Psychology, 83, 233-235.

Waters A.J, Gobet F, Leyden G. (2002)
Visuospatial abilities of chess players.
British Journal of Psychology, 93:(4), 557-565

If anyone would like the solution to the above puzzle I am happy to email this to you.

Sunday, 21 December 2008

Derren Brown Being Interviewed By Richard Dawkins For 'The Enemies Of Reason' TV Program

I have previously posted chess related stories about Richard Dawkins (here) and Derren Brown (here). This is a recent interview between Richard Dawkins and Derren Brown, from the UK Channel 4 TV program "The Enemies of Reason." The discussion is focussed around the falsity of psychics, the techniques of charlatans and Brown's journey to becoming a non-believer. 'The Enemies of Reason: The Uncut Interviews' on DVD can be purchased here:

Richard Dawkins interviews Derren Brown (1/6)

Richard Dawkins interviews Derren Brown (2/6)

Richard Dawkins interviews Derren Brown (3/6)

Richard Dawkins interviews Derren Brown (4/6)

Richard Dawkins interviews Derren Brown (5/6)

Richard Dawkins interviews Derren Brown (6/6)

Video Concept List:
5 minutes later, Abducted by aliens, Academic pseuds corner, Acceptance of alternative medicine, Accident, Accident involving water, Accuracy, Actors, Addicted to a charlatan, Albert, Alien, All truth is equal, Anecdotal, Apply to anybody, Astrologer, Astrologists, Audience, Bad day, Barnum effect, Barnum statements, Being able to make better decisions, Being too inquisitive, Being too skeptical, Believers, Bemused, Bewildered, Bete noire, Better decisions, Bible, Bible isn't a historical account, Bible reading, Blocking the energy, Bogus psychic, Both sides of the coin, Box of old photographs in a cupboard, Bulldozing over any response, Brilliant mathematicians, Brilliant physicists, Bus is going the wrong way, Button loose, Car, Caring person, Carl Sagan, Cats, Channel spirits, Charlatans, Character, Charismatic, Chef, Childhood indoctrination, Christian, Christian peergroup, Christians, Church service, Close friends, Client, Coat, Coincidence, Cold reader, Cold reading, Colour around the pub, Comfort and consolation from being deceived, Comforts people, Commonest letter in the alphabet, Conjurers, Conjuring tricks, Constantly supply proof, Creative pursuit, Crystals, Cultural relativism, culture where everything is as valid as everything else, Curiosity, Dead person, Dead relatives, Deception, Defend my non-belief, Deluded, Demonic, Demons, Denial, Derren Brown, Do you eat?, Do you have parties?, Do you sleep?, Dog, Don't block the energy, Doris Stokes, Dreams, Drowned, Drowning, Ear piece, Easy answers, Ego, Ego need, Ego thing, Elderly relative, Enlightenment, Evidence is important, Exact fit, Expert in question, Extraordinary claims demand extraordinary proofs, Extravert side, Facade, Facts, Fakes, Fakes & Charlatans, False memories, Father, Fear issue with anything misunderstood, Feedback, Fermat's last theorem, Folie a deux, Forensic body reading, Fork off, Fortune & fate, Fringe belief, Gauging the zeitgeist, General knowledge, Ghost, Ghost story, Goldbach's conjecture, Good for ratings, Grandfather, Graphologist, Gullability, Hallway, Haunted places, Henrietta, Henrietta's cold, Hit, Hits, Hold court, Horoscope, Hot reading, Hypnosis, Hypocrisy of the worst kind, Hypocrite, Ignorant, Illogicality, Illusion, Illusionist, Importance of evidence, Incredibly banal, Industry, Information, Infrared photography, Instructor, Intended from the start, Interaction going on, Introvert side, Intuiting, Intuition, Intuition is the be-all and end-all of truth, Intuitive, James Randi, Jewellery, John, Justification, Keep talking, Knot you up, Less scrutiny, Licence to fail, Lies, Life and soul of the party, Linguistic tricks, Link between personality and the future, Live on your own or with other people, Lost a child, Lost somebody dear to you, Lying, Magic, Magic illusion, Magician, Make no promises, Meaning to words, Media savy, Medium, Medium show, Mediums, Michael Shermer, Mind numbingly banal, Misses, Mist, MMR vaccine, Modern day spiritualist, More money, Murder, My culture, My truth is the same as your truth, My values, Naive, Narrow-minded, Never any real advice involved, New age industry, New age model, Nineteenth Century, No, No promises, Not, Not an exact science, Not playing the game, Open-minded, P.T. Barnum, Pair of cuff links, Palm reader, Palm reading, Palmist, Pandering to ratings, Papers, Paradox, Paranormal industries, Party, Pause too much, Personality reading, Picture, Placebo effect, Play the game, Poison, Poison soup, Policeman, Policeman's event, Popular knowledge, Pretend to guess, Pretending to be psychic, Psychic, Psychic industry, Psychic performers, Psychic phenomenon, Psychic readings, Psychic training college, Psychics, Psychological mentalism, Psychology at work, Pub owner, Pursuit of easy answers, Pushing statements, Quite a temper, Radio, Rational discussion, Rationalising, Reading, Red jewel, Red jumper, Reiterate, Relationship, Richard Dawkins, Running back through conversations in your head, Saving grace, Say what you feel, Scar on your left knee, Scare mongering, Scientific model, Scientific questions, Seances with mediums, Second rate stage hypnotists, Self delusion, Sense of this, Sensing your on a bus, Sensitivity, Set of linguistic tricks, Sewing, Shattered illusions, Showbiz, Showbiz stock, Show business, Showmanship, Sitter, Skepticism, Snowing, Something for everyone, Specific details, Spirit vibrations, Spirit world, Spirits, Spirits aren't coming through, Spirits have left you, Spiritualist, Spiritualist church, Spooky atmosphere, Stack everything on your side, Stage magician, Stage medium, Statements which apply to everyone, Stunning series of misses, Supply the information, Supplying proof, Suspicion of science, Tables rise in the air, Tamborines bash around in the dark, Tapping into something enormous in people, Tarot cards, Tarot reading, Teacher, Teachers, Tell him I miss him, Telling point, Test, Testing things, The dog misses him, The moment you say its real, Theology texts, Think my way out of it, Throw out some words, Total miss, Training course, Trample over your memories, Trickle down effect, Tricks, Trickster, Tuesday, TV, TV documentary, TV mediums, TV psychics, Unimaginative, Unmasked, Unmasked a psychic, Ushered in demons, Very accurate, Violated, Visualise, Vivid colourful pictures, Vivid images, Watch, We have something for everyone, We must be good to each other, Western, What's God like?, What's it like being dead?, Win win situation, Words, Working with the information you've got, You give me the meaning, Young christian, Your fate changes from minute to minute, Zeitgeist

Saturday, 20 December 2008

Chess Quote - Richard Dawkins on Computer Chess and Humanity

Richard Dawkins, FRS, FRSL (1941-):

Professor Richard Dawkins is a British evolutionary biologist and science writer. He came to public attention in 1976 with the publication of his book 'The Selfish Gene'. In his latest book 'The God Delusion' (2006) he maintains that God (or supernatural creator) almost certainly does not exist. He further contends that as faith is a fixed false belief, then religious faith qualifies as a delusion. Dawkins retired from his Oxford University post as Simonyi Professor of the Public Understanding of Science (from 1995) in September 2008.
"Personally, I rather look forward to a computer program winning the world chess championship. Humanity needs a lesson in humility."
(Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene: 30th Anniversary Edition, 2006)

The Selfish Gene: 30th Anniversary Edition--with a New Introduction by the Author
Published by Oxford University Press, 2006
ISBN 0199291152, 9780199291151
360 pages

The context relevant section of the book (pages 276-277) containing the quote is below:
"Here, for instance is the Spectator's chess correspondent Raymond Keene, in the issue of 7 October 1988:
It is still something of a sensation when a titled player is beaten by a computer, but not, perhaps, for much longer. The most dangerous metal monster so far to challenge the human brain is the quaintly named 'Deep Thought', no doubt in homage to Douglas Adams. Deep Thought's latest exploit has been to terrorise human opponents in the US Open Championship, held in August in Boston. I still do not have DT's overall rating performance to hand, which will be the acid test of its achievement in an open Swiss system competition, but I have seen a remarkably impressive win against the strong Canadian Igor Ivanov, a man who once defeated Karpov! Watch closely; this may be the future of chess.
There follows a move-by-move account of the game. This is Keene's reaction to Deep Thought's Move 22:
A wonderful move ... The idea is to centralise the queen ... and this concept leads tp remarkable speedy success ... The startling outcome ... Black's queen's wing is now utterly demolished by the queen penetration.
Ivanov's reply to this is described as:
A desperate fling, which the computer contemptuously brushes aside ... The ultimate humiliation. DT ignores the queen recapture, steering instead for a snap checkmate ... Black resigns.
Not only is Deep Thought one of the world's top chess players. What I find almost more striking is the language of human consciousness that the commentator feels obliged to use. Deep Thought 'contemptuously brushes aside' Ivanov's 'desperate fling'. Deep Thought is described as 'aggressive'. Keene speaks of Ivanov as 'hoping' for some outcome, but his language shows that he would be equally happy using a word like 'hope' for Deep Thought. Personally I rather look forward to a computer program winning the world championship. Humanity needs a lesson in humility."

Friday, 19 December 2008

Celebrity Chess - Stanley Kubrick on 'The Shining' (Film) and Chess

Stanley Kubrick (1928 - 1999):

Stanley Kubrick was a brilliant, yet reclusive, American film director, screenwriter and producer. He was taught chess by his father at around the age of 12 years, and maintained an interest in the game throughout his life. This chess excerpt comes from an interview with Stanley Kubrick on the film 'The Shining' - from the book "Kubrick" by the film critic Michel Ciment.

You are a chess-player and I wonder if chess-playing and its logic have parallels with what you are saying?

First of all, even the greatest International Grandmasters, however deeply they analyse a position, can seldom see to the end of the game. So their decision about each move is partly based on intuition. I was a pretty good chess-player but, of course, not in that class. Before I had anything better to do (making movies) I played in chess tournaments at the Marshall and Manhattan Chess Clubs in New York, and for money in parks and elsewhere. Among a great many other things that chess teaches you is to control the initial excitement you feel when you see something that looks good. It trains you to think before grabbing, and to think just as objectively when you're in trouble. When you're making a film you have to make most of your decisions on the run, and there is a tendency to always shoot from the hip. It takes more discipline than you might imagine to think, even for thirty seconds, in the noisy, confusing, high-pressure atmosphere of a film set. But a few seconds' thought can often prevent a serious mistake being made about something that looks good at first glance. With respect to films, chess is more useful preventing you from making mistakes than giving you ideas. Ideas come spontaneously and the discipline required to evaluate and put them to use tends to be the real work.

Did you play chess on the set of The Shining as you did on Dr. Strangelove (with George C. Scott) and on 2001?

I played a few games with Tony Burton, one of the actors in the film. He's a very good chess-player. It was very near the end of the picture and things had gotten to a fairly simple stage. I played quite a lot with George C. Scott during the making of Dr. Strangelove. George is a good player, too, but if I recall correctly he didn't win many games from me. This gave me a certain edge with him on everything else. If you fancy yourself as a good chess-player, you have an inordinate respect for people who can beat you.

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Chess Quote - Gilbert Keith Chesterton on Sanity, Imagination, Logic, Poetry and Chess

Gilbert Keith Chesterton (1874 - 1936)

"Exactly what does breed insanity is reason. Poets do not go mad; but chess-players do. Mathematicians go mad, and cashiers; but creative artists very seldom. I am not, as will be seen, in any sense attacking logic: I only say that this danger does lie in logic, not in imagination." (G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy, 1908)

Gilbert Keith Chesterton was a very influential and prolific writer. His literary works ranged from politics, philosophy, poetry, fantasy, detective fiction, journalism, biography, to Christian apologetics (see Wikipedia entry). The above entry comes from the book Orthodoxy (1908) - the specific paragraph containing the quote is copied below.
"Let us begin, then, with the mad-house; from this evil and fantastic inn let us set forth on our intellectual journey. Now, if we are to glance at the philosophy of sanity, the first thing to do in the matter is to blot out one big and common mistake. There is a notion adrift everywhere that imagination, especially mystical imagination, is dangerous to man's mental balance. Poets are commonly spoken of as psychologically unreliable; and generally there is a vague association between wreathing laurels in your hair and sticking straws in it. Facts and history utterly contradict this view. Most of the very great poets have been not only sane, but extremely business-like; and if Shakespeare ever really held horses, it was because he was much the safest man to hold them. Imagination does not breed insanity. Exactly what does breed insanity is reason. Poets do not go mad; but chess-players do. Mathematicians go mad, and cashiers; but creative artists very seldom. I am not, as will be seen, in any sense attacking logic: I only say that this danger does lie in logic, not in imagination. Artistic paternity is as wholesome as physical paternity. Moreover, it is worthy of remark that when a poet really was morbid it was commonly because he had some weak spot of rationality on his brain. Poe, for instance, really was morbid; not because he was poetical, but because he was specially analytical. Even chess was too poetical for him; he disliked chess because it was full of knights and castles, like a poem. He avowedly preferred the black discs of draughts, because they were more like the mere black dots on a diagram. Perhaps the strongest case of all is this: that only one great English poet went mad, Cowper. And he was definitely driven mad by logic, by the ugly and alien logic of predestination. Poetry was not the disease, but the medicine; poetry partly kept him in health. He could sometimes forget the red and thirsty hell to which his hideous necessitarianism dragged him among the wide waters and the white flat lilies of the Ouse. He was damned by John Calvin; he was almost saved by John Gilpin. Everywhere we see that men do not go mad by dreaming. Critics are much madder than poets. Homer is complete and calm enough; it is his critics who tear him into extravagant tatters. Shakespeare is quite himself; it is only some of his critics who have discovered that he was somebody else. And though St. John the Evangelist saw many strange monsters in his vision, he saw no creature so wild as one of his own commentators. The general fact is simple. Poetry is sane because it floats easily in an infinite sea; reason seeks to cross the infinite sea, and so make it finite. The result is mental exhaustion, like the physical exhaustion of Mr. Holbein. To accept everything is an exercise, to understand everything a strain. The poet only desires exaltation and expansion, a world to stretch himself in. The poet only asks to get his head into the heavens. It is the logician who seeks to get the heavens into his head. And it is his head that splits."

Saturday, 13 December 2008

Mnemonic Chess - CHESS - Narcolepsy Clinical Features

I'm so tired of falling asleep all the time (Good Article)
© Daily Mail

"Narcolepsy is a chronic sleep disorder that disrupts your normal sleeping pattern. It can cause you to fall asleep suddenly, and without warning (known as 'sleep attacks') and also tends to make you feel excessively drowsy during the day time."

Copyright © the College of Family Physicians of Canada

This CHESS mnemonic is helpful for remembering the features of narcolepsy:
  • C - Cataplexy
  • H - Hypnagogic hallucinations
  • E - Excessive daytime sleepiness
  • S - Sleep attacks
  • S - Sleep paralysis
From Dr Neil M. Skjodt, MD FRCPC DABSM FAASM (link)
Approach to outpatient management of adult sleep apnea [title]
Can Fam Physician. 2008 October; 54(10): 1408–1412.

Question: Does the condition narcolepsy have any relevance to the playing of chess?

Answer: Quite possibly, as one of the most effective treatments for narcolepsy is a drug called modafinil (Provigil). Modafinil, a wakefulness promoting agent, may potentially be a performance enhancing drug for chess players. The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), recognising the potential performance-enhancing benefits of the drug, added modafinil to the list of prohibited substances just prior to the 2004 Athens Olympics.

Narcolepsy can also be found in animals. For people not familiar with this condition the following YouTube videos are interesting.

Skeeter the Narcoleptic Poodle:

Rusty the Narcoleptic Dog:

Narcoleptic-Cataplectic Fainting Goats:

Political Chess - Michael Adams at Gordon Brown Organised Event (London)

The Prime Minister's Office recently invited sports stars, music stars and community leaders to an event to highlight the UK government's progress on fighting knife crime. A short clip of the meeting was shown on the BBC News At Ten. Grandmaster Michael Adams appears to have been one of the invited guests. It is good to see the UK's highest rated player (Elo 2734) recognised outside of the chess world.

I wonder in what capacity Michael Adams was invited to the event?

If he was invited as a sports star then that is very interesting. There has been alot of debate about whether chess is a sport or purely a game. Individual countries answer this question differently, and some have even voted chess players as sportsperson of the year - ie Vishy Anand in India and Anatoly Karpov in the Soviet Union. The recent issues around drug testing at the Dresden Chess Olympiad have also reignited the debate about whether chess is a sport. The Wikipedia description of sport is also quite illuminating:
"Sport is activity that is governed by a set of rules or customs and often engaged in competitively. Sports commonly refer to activities where the physical capabilities of the competitor are the sole or primary determiner of the outcome (winning or losing), but the term is also used to include activities such as mind sports (a common name for some card games and board games with little to no element of chance) and motor sports where mental acuity or equipment quality are major factors. Sport is commonly defined as an organized, competitive and skillful physical activity requiring commitment and fair play. Sports differ from games based on levels of organization and profit (not always monetary). Accurate records are kept and updated, while failures and accomplishments are widely announced in sport news."
Below are some of the shots from the event showing Michael Adams and Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

Friday, 12 December 2008

Chess Research - Visuospatial and articulatory interference in chess players' information intake

In a previous posting (Waters, Gobet & Leyden, 2002) it was reported that visual memory ability, and perhaps visuospatial intelligence, may be relatively unimportant factors in the long-term acquisition of chess skill. Personal experience, however, by many chess players recognises the importance of visuospatial skills in playing chess. This 2006 study by Pertti Saarilouma (Applied Cognitive Psychology (2006) 6:(1); 77-89) looked at the effects of a second task on interference with chess playing ability. The results showed that a second visuospatial task had a strong interferring effect on chess skill. An articulation interference task had little effect on chess playing skill. These results match closely my own, and likely most other players, personal experience.
Visuospatial and articulatory interference in chess players' information intake
Applied Cognitive Psychology (2006) 6:(1); 77-89
Pertti Saariluoma
University of Helsinki, Department of Psychology, Fabianinkatu 28, 00100 Helsinki 10, Finland

Modularity of the human information processing system has been widely accepted. Research based on this theoretical construction has been successful in many areas of cognitive psychology. Surprisingly little work has, however, been done towards understanding the consequences of modularity in thinking skills. In this paper the functions of visuospatial and articulatory processing will be compared in the context of chess skill to obtain information concerning the cognitive resources needed in this skill. Two experiments on chess players' information intake will be made, in which the effects of visuospatial and an articulatory secondary tasks will be compared. In both experiments a visuospatial secondary task causes strong interference, while an articulatory task has no effect on processing. So chess is a highly visual task but articulation, contrary to some pre-theoretical beliefs, has no real significance.

Mnemonic Chess - Paul Motwani Chess Training Mnemonics

Paul Motwani is a mathematics teacher by profession. He is a former World Under-17 Chess Champion and was also Scotland's first chess grandmaster. Ever since being taught the trigonometry mnemonic C.A.S.T. (representing Cosine, All, Sine, Tangent) as a schoolboy, he has found mnemonics helpful in assisting learning. In the Batsford Chess Books - H.O.T. Chess (1996) & C.O.O.L. Chess (1997) - Paul Motwani introduces a number of mnemonics to illustrate chess training points (listed below). For further clarification I recommend reading both titles.

H.O.T Chess:
  • Highly
  • Original
  • Thinking
  • Fear
  • Allegro
  • Consistency
  • Enjoyment
  • Tenacious
  • Objective
  • Dangerous
  • Original
The 4 S's:
  • Safety
  • Scope
  • Space
  • Structure
  • Calculation
  • Harmony
  • Alertness
  • Memory
  • Preparation
C.O.O.L Chess:
  • Creative
  • Original
  • Opening
  • Lines

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Chess Quote - Gerald Abrahams on Tacticians and Strategians

There are 2 slightly different versions of this quote by Gerald Abrahams:
  • "Whereas the tactician knows what to do when there is something to do, it requires the strategian to know what to do when there is nothing to do"
  • "The tactician knows what to do when there is something to do; whereas the strategian knows what to do when there is nothing to do."
Gerald Abrahams (1907-1980):
Very strong amateur chess player and author of several books including The Chess Mind (1951) and Technique in Chess (1961).

"... Gerald Abrahams, the British philosopher, political theorist and barrister, who was one of the most brilliant men ever to play and write about chess. In the second (1960) edition of his remarkable treatise The Chess Mind, Abrahams rejected Freudian as well as Marxist 'determinism' in chess."
- Daniel Johnson (WHITE KING AND RED QUEEN, 2007)

Abrahams was also a strong blindfold player with this link showing a fine example of his attacking style.

Chess Research - Language Impairment and Visual Immediate Memory in Children

Thinking ... (flickr image by carf)

It is now well recognised that chess training in schools has beneficial effects on child cognitive performance. It is still quite puzzling why chess should have such a positive effect on verbal and reading skills (ie Stuart Margulies 1991, here), when the game is so visual in nature.

A recent study by Natacha Akshoomoff, Joan Stiles and Beverly Wulfeck from San Diego State University may give a clue as to how chess could improve language skills. The study in question - Perceptual Organization and Visual Immediate Memory in Children with Specific Language Impairment - was published in J Int Neuropsychol Soc, 2006 (full article here). It was previously known that children with specific language impairment have deficits on some nonverbal tasks. It was not clear, however, whether these were specific visuospatial defects or general deficits in processing. The results of this study suggest that children with language impairment have deficits on visuospatial tasks which may be more related to limitations in processing load and planning than of specific visuospatial processing deficits.
Children with specific language impairment (LI) have deficits on some nonverbal tasks but it is not clear if these are related to specific visuospatial deficits or to more general deficits in processing strategies. Children with LI were given two visuospatial tasks that we have shown to be sensitive to strategyed use as well as specific processing deficits. In Study 1, children with LI (N=29, ages 6 to 12 years) perform significantly worse than typically developing children (N=26) on the Hierarchical Forms Memory task. In Study 2, children with LI (N=15; ages 9 to 12 years) performed significantly worse than typically developing children (N=40) on the Rey-Osterrieth Complex Figure task. Children with LI were less accurate and tended to use a fairly piecemeal (immature) strategy when copying the figure and were less likely to draw the core rectangle in a more integrated fashion during the immediate memory condition. These results suggest children with LI have subtle deficits on visuospatial tasks that may be more indicative of limitations associated with processing load and planning than of specific visuospatial processing deficits.
A plausible hypothesis is that chess training in children may indirectly improve verbal skills by strengthening executive function / general processing through optimising visuospatial processing. This is just a hypothesis, but well worth testing.

Baddeley's model of working memory:
(from Wikipedia)

Chess Quote - Alexander Alekhine and Objectivity

Chess first of all teaches you to be objective.

Alexander Alekhine


Geography Genius Lilly Gaskin - A Potential Chess / Go Prodigy?

Lilly, for her age, demonstrates a phenomenal ability to identify countries on a world map. I suspect her precocious skill is related, at least in part, to encouragement from the parents as well as a desire to be praised. The video of the interview on Oprah gives some background to the development of Lilly Gaskin's amazing ability.

Now if only she could be encouraged to play CHESS or GO!

Lilly age 18 months:

Lilly age 23 months:

Lilly on Oprah (age 2 & 1/2 years):

ALCHEssMIST Word Cloud - Last 50 Posts

The last 50 ALCHEssMIST posts as viewed by Wordle.

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Chess Research - Visuospatial Abilities Of Chess Players (2002)

The results of this study are very interesting. It possibly helps explain how Mikhail Tal, one of the most brilliant players of all-time, could have chosen to study literature (writing a thesis on the satirical works of Ilf and Petrov) at the University of Riga (Wikipedia). On a more historical note, Howard Staunton in addition to playing chess, was also a well known Shakespearean scholar.
Visuospatial abilities of chess players (Abstract Link) (full pdf)
Waters A.J.(1); Gobet F.(2); Leyden G.(2)
British Journal of Psychology 93:(4), Nov 2002 , pp. 557-565(9)
* 1: Georgetown University, USA
* 2: School of Psychology, University of Nottingham, UK

The extent to which the acquisition of expertise in knowledge-rich domains, such as chess, can be influenced by general individual characteristics, such as intelligence, has remained unclear. Some previous studies with children have documented significant correlations between chess skill and performance on some psychometric tests, such as performance IQ. However, we found no evidence for a correlation between chess skill and visual memory ability in a group of adult chess players (N = 36, age = 28.4 years). This finding, together with other data in the literature, suggests that there is surprisingly little evidence that chess skill and visuospatial ability are associated in adults. Thus, visual memory ability, and perhaps visuospatial intelligence, may be relatively unimportant factors in the long-term acquisition of chess skill.

Monday, 8 December 2008

Dr Neil Charness - Early Practice Builds Chess Expertise Across the Life-Span

Dr Neil Charness:

Dr. Neil Charness is a professor of psychology at Florida State University. He has contributed much to our understanding of expert performance over our life-span, particularly amongst master chess players. He discusses his accumulated understanding of chess and "Life-span Development of Expertise" in this NIH sponsored Behavioral and Social Sciences Research Lecture delivered on the 24th October 2008.
NIH Record 28 Nov 2008
Early Practice Builds Chess Expertise Across the Life-Span

If you are well into middle age, you might want to cross off “work at becoming a chess champion” from your list of goals for retirement. That is, unless you have been studying and competing in tournaments since you were a child. And even then, your winning ways will start to decline at around age 43. Even world chess champion Garry Kasparov knew to call it quits at age 42.

Remainder of news report ... here
The 90 minute lecture by Dr Neil Charness, is available below:

Recent chess related publications by Dr Neil Charness include:

2007: Roring Roy W; Charness Neil
A multilevel model analysis of expertise in chess across the life span.
Psychology and aging 2007;22(2):291-9.

2006: Jastrzembski Tiffany S; Charness Neil; Vasyukova Catherine
Expertise and age effects on knowledge activation in chess.
Psychology and aging 2006;21(2):401-5.

2001: Charness N; Reingold E M; Pomplun M; Stampe D M
The perceptual aspect of skilled performance in chess: evidence from eye movements.
Memory & cognition 2001;29(8):1146-52.

2001: Reingold E M; Charness N; Schultetus R S; Stampe D M
Perceptual automaticity in expert chess players: parallel encoding of chess relations.
Psychonomic bulletin & review 2001;8(3):504-10.

2001: Reingold E M; Charness N; Pomplun M; Stampe D M
Visual span in expert chess players: evidence from eye movements.
Psychological science : a journal of the American Psychological Society / APS 2001;12(1):48-55.

1999: Schultetus R S; Charness N
Recall or evaluation of chess positions revisited: the relationship between memory and evaluation in chess skill.
The American journal of psychology 1999;112(4):555-69.

Tags: Chess Expertise - Neil Charness - Practice
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Animal Cognition - Ape Genius (PBS NOVA)

This YouTube video is an excerpt of the PBS NOVA program Ape Genius. The full program is available online for USA viewers at this site. I have previously posted an article about Theory of Mind & "Chimp Chess" (here). This video further discusses the concept of "theory of mind", referred here as mind reading, in relation to chimpanzees and human children.

Update - view comments section paper - Silberberg, A. and D. Kearns (2009). "Memory for the Order of Briefly Presented Numerals in Humans as a Function of Practice." Animal Cognition 12(2): 405-407.

Video Concept List:
1970s, 2001, Age 3 years, Age 4 years, Ape culture, Ape minds, Apes, Ask for clarification, Ball, Bell, Bonobo, Brain rocket, Brian Hare, Chimp, Chimpanzee, Communicate, Competitor, Control of emotions, Conversation, Conversational turn, Cooperate, Crack a nut, Culture, Duke University, Emotionally reactive, Generating a plan, Genius, Great apes, Greedy urges, Green bag, Gummy bear, Hide, Human infant, Impulse control, Impulsive, Josep Call, Kanzi (Bonobo), Learn, M&Ms, Master emotions, Max Planck Institute, Mental rocket on launchpad, Michael Tomasello, Mind reading, MIT, Non-human animal, Numerals, Ohio State University, Princess Sally, Purple bag, Real conversation, Rebecca Saxe, Resist impulse, Sally Boysen, Sarah (chimp), SAT scores, Sheba (chimp), Skills, Small talk, Solve problems, Sophisticated, social emotions, Species evolution, Sue (adult human), Symbols, Take shoe off, Temptation, Theory of mind, Thinking, Tool, Untie, Use a tool, Visual symbols, Weather, Young children, Zoe (child)

Tags: Animal Cognition - Ape - Bonobo - Genius - Sally Boysen - Symbols - Theory of Mind - Thinking - Visual Symbols
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Derren Brown - Chess Simul (Trick Of The Mind Series)

Derren Brown Chess Simul - Trick of the Mind (Series 1):

This is a video segment (YouTube link) from "Trick of The Mind" Series (Series 1, Episode 1) by Derren Brown. It shows a chess simul played by Brown against the players listed below.

Chess player participants:
  • Chris Ward (GM)
  • Desmond Tan (former England junior)
  • Graham Lee (FM)
  • John Emms (GM)
  • Jonathan Levitt (GM)
  • Julian Hodgson (GM)
  • Nathan Alfred (FM)
  • Paul Littlewood (IM)
  • Robert Chan (President Chess Society Kings College London)

Related Posts:
Sir David Frost Interviews Derren Brown on Al Jazerra English (June 2009)
Derren Brown Being Interviewed By Richard Dawkins For 'The Enemies Of Reason' TV Program

Tags: Chess Simul - Chris Ward (GM) - Derren Brown - Desmond Tan - Graham Lee (FM) - John Emms (GM) - Jonathan Levitt (GM) - Julian Hodgson (GM) - Nathan Alfred (FM) - Paul Littlewood (IM) - Robert Chan - Simul - Trick Of The Mind
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Sunday, 7 December 2008

Chess Quote - Fischer vrs Tal, (Bled 1961)

'It is difficult to play against Einstein's theory!'
- Mikhail Tal after his first loss to Bobby Fischer (Bled, 1961)

The Bled Tournament of 1961 was won by Mikhail Tal (14.5/19), with Bobby Fischer (13.5/19) coming in second. Although Fischer won their individual encounter (see game below), he was less effective at converting full points against the weaker opposition than Tal. Tigran Petrosian, Paul Keres and Svetozar Gligoric shared 3rd-5th place with 12.5/19.

Stamps celebrating the famous Fischer - Tal game.

Tags: 1961 - Bled - Bobby Fischer - Chess Quote - Einstein - Mikhail Tal
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Saturday, 6 December 2008

Chess Quote - Roman Dzindzichashvili

"Now I have the pawn and the compensation."

– Roman Dzindzichashvili
(many sources, ? original source)

Roman Yakovlevich Dzindzichashvili (1944-) was born in Tbilisi, Georgian SSR, he earned the GM title in 1977, and in 1979 settled in the USA (Wikipedia). He is known as one of the world's leading opening theoreticians.

Tags: Compensation - Dzindzichashvili - Pawn - Roman Dzindzichashvili - Tbilisi
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Chess Quote - Ian Rogers & the "Royal Flush"

GM Ian Rogers (2006) from Flickr and Closet Grandmaster

"A piece of useful information: two passed pawns on the sixth beat almost everything, up to a royal flush."
-- GM Ian Rogers (source)

GM Ian Rogers was born in Hobart, Tasmania and is (by birth) Australia's second awarded chess Grandmaster (1985) after Walter Browne (GM title 1970; now considered an American). Alburt, Dzindzichashvili and Perelshteyn (Chess Openings for White, Explained: Winning With 1.E4) remind us that it was "Tasmanian GM Ian Rogers", during the 1980s, who helped to popularise the Center Counter as a viable defense for black against 1. e4. Rogers unfortunately announced his retirement from competitive chess in July 2007, due to health reasons.

Tags: Center Counter - Hobart - Ian Rogers - Passed Pawns - Royal Flush - Tasmania - Walter Browne
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Friday, 5 December 2008

Chess Quote - "... life's too short for chess."

"... life's too short for chess."

Henry James Byron
Our Boys, 1875

This quote comes from a 3 act comedic play entitled Our Boys by English dramatist Henry James Byron (first performed in London, January 1875). The quote is often misattributed to Lord Byron. The excellent Chess Notes website by Edward Winter, as usual, clarifies the historical facts with an image of the important page from the play (article 5304). The context relevant passage of the play is documented below:
CLARISSA has entered, spoken briefly aside to SIR GEOFFREY and is now down beside TALBOT.

CLAR. Talbot, it is so delightful to have you back again. I shall now have such charming evenings with you at chess.

TAL. At what?

CLAR. Chess ----the king of games.

TAL. Do you call it a game? Ha ! Ha ! No, thankee; life's too short for chess.

CLAR. Well, well, we'll say backgammon.

TAL. I don't mind saying backgammon, but you don't catch me playing backgammon.
Winter also, in the same article (5304), reports the interesting fact that Henry James Byron "... invented the pantomime characters of Buttons and Widow Twankay ..."

Tags: Backgammon - Buttons - Chess Quote - Edward Winter - Henry James Byron - Play - Widow Twankay
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