Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Chess Photography - Fifi The Chess Chimp - London Zoo 1955

This link shows a photo of a young girl from Brighton playing a game of chess with Fifi the chimpanzee at London Zoo (13th October 1955) (Photo by William Vanderson/Fox Photos/Getty Images)

Bob Dylan Talks Chess And East Orange New Jersey

Bob Dylan talking about a chess playing coffee house, and a surreal chess dream, in East Orange New Jersey. [From the Minnesota Tapes]

Related Posts:
Musical Chess - Bob Dylan Interviewed By Bono (U2) 1984
Musical Chess - Bob Dylan - Only A Pawn In Their Game

Saturday, 9 May 2009

The Game Of Learning - Elizabeth Barrett The 17 Month Old Reading Prodigy-Phenom


Elizabeth Barrett was 17 months old at the time of the 2 embedded videos here. Her parents Katy and Michael Barrett are both speech pathologists. Even with the knowledge about the parents professions, Elizabeth's ability is still quite remarkable.

The study of child prodigies is very interesting, with every example shedding further light on this phenomenon. With Elizabeth, according to parents, it is plausible that being taught sign language from an early age was a major learning catalyst.

The early signs with Elizabeth included:
  • A large verbal and sign vocabulary emerging by 6 months of age.
  • Pointing to and approximating words in familiar books by 8 months of age.
  • Early pretend-play skills before she could walk.
  • Alphabet recognition before her first birthday.
The clear indicator of Elizabeth's amazing ability was at the age of 13 months when without warning she proudly read out aloud, and also signed, the word "corn" from a cereal box. It is notable that there was no picture of corn on the cereal box. Later that night Elizabeth repeated her skill by reading almost every word presented to her from books and the TV program Signing Time known to her, including Corn, Baby, Horse, Grapes, Purple, Stream.

Despite the delight at their daughter's ability the Barrett's were still concerned about the possibility of a phenomenon called "hyperlexia" which essentially means accelerated reading ability. Hyperlexia may be a "splinter skill" (an isolated enhanced ability) associated with Asperger's syndrome or other autism-spectrum conditions. Thankfully, Elizabeth is "exceedingly social and well-rounded", and the medical opinions have been that she is otherwise a normal little girl who happens to be bright.

Elizabeth and her parents live in Lubbock Texas, which is coincidentally the current home of a previous child chess prodigy - Susan Polgar [Susan Polar Institute of Chess Excellence, Texas Tech University, Lubbock].

The parents have set up a website about Elizabeth -

Saturday, 2 May 2009

Talchemist and Talchessmist - Mikhail TAL "The Alchemist from Riga"

Mikhail Tal has a special place in the hearts of most chess players. Tal deeply loved the game of chess and believed that "Chess, first of all, is Art."

Tal was also known as "The Magician from Riga", because of his extremely powerful and imaginative attacking playing style. Personally, I believe he should also be known as "The Alchemist from Riga" as he was frequently able to transform apparently simple chess games into works of art, much as an alchemist would attempt to transmute simple metals into gold.

When lists are made of the best chess games of all time - Tal's games have unusual prominence. In fact some authors, rather than listing individual Tal games, just simply say, "The games of Tal". The Mammoth Book Of The World's Greatest Chess Games (by Burgess, Nunn, and Emms) cites more games by Tal than any other player.

Tal's play was often very intuitive, rather than deeply calculated. The autobiography of Mikhail Tal gives an amusing hypothetical conversation between a journalist and himself touching on this point.
Journalist: - "It might be inconvenient to interrupt our profound discussion and change the subject slightly, but I would like to know whether extraneous, abstract thoughts ever enter your head while playing a game?"
Tal: - "Yes. For example, I will never forget my game with GM Vasiukov on a USSR Championship. We reached a very complicated position where I was intending to sacrifice a knight. The sacrifice was not obvious; there was a large number of possible variations; but when I began to study hard and work through them, I found to my horror that nothing would come of it. Ideas piled up one after another. I would transport a subtle reply by my opponent, which worked in one case, to another situation where it would naturally prove to be quite useless. As a result my head became filled with a completely chaotic pile of all sorts of moves, and the infamous "tree of variations", from which the chess trainers recommend that you cut off the small branches, in this case spread with unbelievable rapidity.
And then suddenly, for some reason, I remembered the classic couplet by Korney Ivanovic Chukovsky: "Oh, what a difficult job it was. To drag out of the marsh the hippopotamus".
I do not know from what associations the hippopotamus got into the chess board, but although the spectators were convinced that I was continuing to study the position, I, despite my humanitarian education, was trying at this time to work out: just how WOULD you drag a hippopotamus out of the marsh ? I remember how jacks figured in my thoughts, as well as levers, helicopters, and even a rope ladder.
After a lengthy consideration I admitted defeat as an engineer, and thought spitefully to myself: "Well, just let it drown!" And suddenly the hippopotamus disappeared. Went right off the chessboard just as he had come on ... of his own accord! And straightaway the position did not appear to be so complicated. Now I somehow realized that it was not possible to calculate all the variations, and that the knight sacrifice was, by its very nature, purely intuitive. And since it promised an interesting game, I could not refrain from making it."
Journalist: - "And the following day, it was with pleasure that I read in the paper how Mikhail Tal, after carefully thinking over the position for 40 minutes, made an accurately-calculated piece sacrifice".


Burgess, Nunn, and Emms (2004)
The Mammoth Book Of The World's Greatest Chess Games
Robinson, London

Mikhail Tal (1997)
The Life and Games of Mikhail Tal

Everyman Publishers; 2nd Edition

Alan Sugar Chess - James McQuillan "Owns" Alan Sugar

Alan Sugar - Your "Owned"

If one does a Google search of "Alan Sugar" and "chess" then you find that the majority of the pages relate to James McQuillan (currently one of the 15 contestants on the BBC series The Apprentice 5). I have already posted about James McQuillan's assertion that he was a child chess champion (here). Whether James truly has any chess ability is under dispute, however, he has definitely 'Owned' Alan Sugar when it comes to the use of the chess metaphor with the brand name Alan Sugar. So rather than "a village missing an idiot somewhere" maybe there is "a boardroom which has found a patzer chairman somewhere".

Related Posts:
ALCHEssMIST - The Apprentice 5 - James McQuillan - Really A Child Chess Champion?

ALCHEssMIST - James McQuillan Loses The Apprentice Endgame - A Knight Is No Competition Against 4 Potentially Queenable Non-connected Passed Pawns

Friday, 1 May 2009

The Apprentice 5 - James McQuillan - Really A Child Chess Champion?

James McQuillan - BBC's The Apprentice 5

James McQuillan is one of the 15 contestants on the BBC's The Apprentice 5, a competitive job interview to find a new apprentice for the business mogul Sir Alan Sugar. McQuillan is described on the BBC program website in the following way:
Family man James McQuillan describes himself as a 'schmoozer' who people feel comfortable around. Football referee, sports fanatic and former child chess champion James is inspired by people with passion. He cites the likes of Al Pacino and JK Rowling as his inspirational figures. James, who claims to suffer from 'foot in mouth syndrome,' has worked as a labourer, trolley collector and a nightclub doorman before finding his niche in commercial management. He describes himself as likeable and selfless and would love to have been the brains behind The A-Team.
The claim about him being a former child chess champion is interesting. Several sites have discussed this issue with no clear conclusions. The following sites summarise the "facts" so far:
Related Posts:
ALCHEssMIST - Alan Sugar Chess - James McQuillan "Owns" Alan Sugar
ALCHEssMIST - James McQuillan Loses The Apprentice Endgame - A Knight Is No Competition Against 4 Potentially Queenable Non-connected Passed Pawns

Update 22 May 2009:
Liberal England (Jonathan Calder) repeats assertion that James McQuillan is not a Child Chess Champion - here.