Sunday, November 22, 2009

ACIS of Caissa: Maybe It's Not What to Study, It's Whether We Need to Study at All?

The ACIS (Adult Chess Improvement Seekers) seems to have really taken off, from its modest beginning in some comments at Chess Confessions, through its modest viral development by Blunder Prone (part II, part III), and a cascade of Seekers.

(Mr. Duval aka Blunder Prone has a list on the top of his sidebar. More are to follow, I'm sure)

A.C.I.S of Caissa (so far)

Now that we have a title, a mission, a movement, so to speak, I would like to present the theoretical underpinnings of ACIS as I understand them, to make it more than just another acronym. I don't speak for anyone else, but look forward to hearing from you, Dear Reader, regarding whether I've captured some thing of value here.

Much of the chess blogging by non-professionals is about improvement. Certainly, there are history blogs, Grandmaster blogs, club blogs, etc., but even these sometimes touch on improvement. Scrolling down the list of blogs I've chosen to link to on the sidebar, the majority of posts on a majority of the sites are about general or personal chess improvement. The original Knights de la Maza were, of course chiefly about improvement using a certain, defined method as defined in de la Maza's articles (Part I, Part II) and book.

Very few of these thousands of chess improvement posts seem to ask the questions:

Why do you need to improve? Why do you want to improve? And how, exactly, is this improvement to be defined?

Let's go back even farther. Let's go back to First Principles. Why the hell do we play chess at all? That's worth an essay in itself, and people have already written it: Concentration, competition, achievement, healthy struggle; given that we do play, why try so hard to improve? I've referred back to my posts about Dr. Kenneth Mark Colby many times and I'll do so again:

Why should a patzer seek to become a grandpatzer? Because of the aristos (Greek: Aristos = best). Life is more than ham sandwiches and beer. Humans strive, not just to survive, but to enhance the quality, the excellence, of survival. Striving for excellence in any endeavor, developing yourself to become your best at what you do, is rewarding and fulfilling to aspirations higher than happiness. Merely happy people, without artistic goals, vegetate in incomplete, hobbled and impoverished lives...A grandpatzer is a strong chessplayer, a threat to anyone (including himself) in a given game.

Very philosophical, no? There is however, another take, another approach that one could find just as legitimate, indeed, more practical:

"Anything worth doing, is worth doing badly."

---G. K. Chesterton

"Right now, I’m 1600-ish, the same as 10 years ago without putting effort into improvement. What would happen if I tried? Does the thought of “maybe there’s an Expert somewhere in here” motivate me enough to work?

More likely, the “I’m sufficiently skilled so most people can’t dismiss me; that’s good enough” win out (again)."

---Donnie, Liquid Egg Product

Let me state it this way: One could just play chess. In the days of yore, the olden days when there was smoking in chess clubs and all kind of dangerous stuff like that, quite a few people became experts or masters just by playing a lot of chess at a club with strong players. Reuben Fine, for example, had the best Americans of the 1920s and '30s New York chess clubs to school him, and played a great deal of blitz as a youngster. I believe he once wrote that he did very little formal study before reaching master level. So just as a base, using your chess time to play chess will bring you to certain level, your natural level of chess skill, so to speak.

After that, it gets murky.

"Improvement" is almost universally defined by us in the ACIS/chess blogging community as an improved rating, whether USCF, FIDE, ICC or other. Whether a higher rating is all we really should be striving for in our chess career is something well worth exploring, but I want to save that for another post. Let's accept that as given, for now. The big question (drum roll, please...)

Is studying chess really the best way to raise your rating???

I'm going to give you a few questions to ponder. Have you ever been kibbitzing a game and seen good moves that the players (sometimes much higher-rated than you) missed? Have you ever played a move in a (non-blitz) game and instantly seen, as soon as you took your hand off the piece, that it was a blunder? Have you ever seen a Grandmaster blunder? (if not, see my "Homer Nods" series). I'll wager a bundle you answered "Yes, yes and yes."

Have you ever asked yourself how these things are possible?

If you are a person who has played a reasonable amount of serious chess, "lost at least 500 games" as Capablanca is said to have formulated it, you already know enough about tactics to avoid major blunders, and to take tactical advantage of your opponents' mistakes. You already know that "Loose pieces drop off" and the pattern of a knight fork and a back-rank mate.

So, why do you, (and me too!) still make these kinds of mistakes, mistakes that are usually the main reason that our rating is static? Why can't we call up this knowledge on (almost) every move and avoid blunders and climb the ladder to the rating we so richly deserve? Why do tactical exercises, even thousands of them, sometimes help, but often in a very limited way--that is, why have some people done 10,000 or more of them and not become masters?

Questions, questions...these are questions for human performance psychology, rather than arguments about whether MDLM is the best study method. And like a good old-fashioned movie serial, for now I'll leave you hanging. In the next installment, we'll survey the field and see what we can glean that will help us ACISers out.

Until then, let us ROCK

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Diving Into ACIS: "I Would Like, If I May, To Take You On a Strange Journey"

Okay boys and girls, this is going to take a lot of not proceed any farther in this post unless you have an hour or two. Or take it in small bites, whatever, but I'm not going to put up the run-of-the mill fluff, this time.

First, in order to understand the title of this post, go watch the fabulous Blunderprone production Rocky Errant Picture Show.

Three years ago I published a little piece called The Crowley-Parsons-Heinlein-Hubbard-Cruise Connection. Please read Part I, Part II. At the time I wrote it, I had not yet seen this article--Whence Came the Stranger: Tracking the Megapattern of Stranger in a Strange Land. And this, about the author of that--"Adam Rostoker: Walking Between Worlds, Not of this World (any longer)."

Ain't the Internet a blast?

And by now, you may ask yourself, what's the point of these seemingly unconnected peregrinations? Quo vadis?

Well...Crowley was a chess player, apparently of master strength, but see at the link how a "mystical experience" put him off pursuit of serious chess. Heinlein certainly appreciated chess, as it appears in a number of his works, including the first move of a "blindfold" game between Captain King and Lazarus Long in Methuselah's Children (Lazarus plays 1. Nf3) and in Time Enough for Love where Lazarus plays his Grandfather and allows Grandpa to recapitulate an entire Steinitz brilliancy (Lazarus foregoes using a computer-generated improvement).

UPDATE 11/14/09: Francis W. Porretto, Proprietor of the great Eternity Road, points out:

"...including the first move of a "blindfold" game between Captain King and Lazarus Long in Methuselah's Children (Lazarus plays 1. Nf3)..."

Uh, no. The game was between Captain Rufus "Ruthless" King and Andrew Jackson Libby, Heinlein's mathematical genius. King, who had White, opened 1. e4; Libby answered 1...Nf6.

Unfortunately, we never learn how the game ended. However, an earlier paragraph notes that Libby had "long ago given up the game for lack of adequate competition," so we can guess.

(Thanks for the correction, Fran. My ed. had the day off...)

I am intensely interested in chess, also in "human potential," self-actualization, self-improvement and all of that jazz. As the ACIS begins to rise, Bold as Love and Wangalicious, I think my love is to concentrate on the mental aspects of chess and improvement, the qualities of mind and spirit that might make for chess success and life success, the joy that can be from more than just winning games.

More, soon. And now, let us ROCK:

Friday, November 06, 2009

Memorable Game 7: King Hunt! (Unfortunately Mine), RLP - R. Campbell 10.14.2000 0-1

My previous "Memorable Games" posted here were memorable for me in that they were some of my best games. This game is memorable because I forget a little thing called "development" and my whole king side stays at home for an entire game, just like in some of those 1850's clashes "Anderssen-NN" or "Morphy-Allies." Also, one of the few times in my career that my king made it out to the fifth rank with a bunch of pieces still on the board; hardly ever a good sign. Yes, I willl officially call it a King Hunt.

Ron Campbell, my opponent in this game, was a regular around the Anchorage chess scene in the early 2000s, and improved his rating into the high 1600s within a couple years of this game. At the 2002 Alaska State Championship I won a good game from him in the last round to tie for third, win the state Class B Championship and even, I recall, some fraction of a Grand Prix point. Unfortunately, I haven't located that game. This time, the fun is all Ron's as he reminds us (me) to DEVELOP the pieces, fool.

(show chess board)(hide chess board)

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

I Invent a Totally NEW Word - Please Make It Go Viral!!!

Over at Liquid Egg Product the Mascot has produced, directed and starred in a Halloween Holiday Classic. In the comments, I write:

Seriously dude, I know you’re loyal to Donnie and all but someone with your combination of churtful yet charming snark, slender physique, immunity to criticism, babe magnetism and tolerance for tasteless violence and gore would fit RIGHT IN with most of the Hollywood crowd.

Churtful? CHURTFUL??? I think I meant to say cheerful, then thought to change it to hurtful, and LOOK WHAT HAPPENED! Ma, I done a good thing!

Cheerful and hurtful. And snarky. Yes, that's Hollywood these days. And Washington. And Brussels, for our European readers. You pay for the privilege of going to the movies and finding out THEY are using YOUR money to insult your values and your beliefs, you pay 20-30-40-50+ percent of your income (how high does it go in Europe? About 25 in America right now, but just wait, my American friends, do you think with a $1 trillion ++ deficits year after year that will hold?) to politicians to tell you you're too stupid, you poor sap, to know what's good for you.

You pay, they play and churtfully enjoy the privileges (root-private laws) of being the elite.

Speaking of the elite, Liz Vicary has been on a tear lately, see people who hold views that contradict mine are stupid (part 2) which purports to show through some truly pseudo-scientific gobbledygook that atheists are (of course) more intelligent than all those God-believing idiots:

It just seems so bizarre to me that otherwise intelligent people can believe there is a man in the sky who controls things. And this leads them to kill each other, wake up early on Sunday mornings, wear funny necklaces, talk to themselves, and not do fun things like have sex and eat certain delicious foods.

There's a sophisticated argument. Since atheists like Hitler, Stalin and Mao never kill anyone, and since it's obvious, for example, that those religious types don't have sex, all that sort of thing would presumably end if people would just go atheist and bring about the peaceful, sleep-late-on-Sunday sex-filled paradise they so richly deserve.


But seeing as that was "part 2," let's go back a bit to part 1--have you ever thought that conservatives are all stupid? wherein Ms. Vicary consults some completely different pseudo-scientific gobbedygook purporting that "Conservatism and cognitive ability are negatively correlated." I'd like to quote more but do go read her post, which consists almost completely of the article's introduction. The commenters do a good job of questioning the premises, so I don't have to. Remember, if it doesn't pass the "smell test," check your premises.

The funny thing is that with E. Vicary you never know whether she really believes this stuff or she's just playing with the audience. Look at the blog URL...that's the secret of her success. She writes for Chess Life and gets in movies and stuff, and I toil away here, unpaid except for the warmth of my Dear Readers' comments. So, I must say, kudos to her. She's actually a Raven in disguise.

I do hope she was kidding about this one.

One of the commenters there is, coincidentally (really? - ed.), ChargingKing, who recently asked for some link love in regard to my previous post. Here it is, because Chris Harrington is an intersting person and writer, and we played some good games in the old days in Reno.

It's intrguing to me that he seems to be passionately appealing for moderation and middle ground in his comment: Doesn't it ever wear thin fighting and creating conflict? As a philosophical kind of guy I would think Chris would appreciate the Thesis, Antithesis, Synthesis process as described (if not in exactly those terms) by Hegel. It is great conflicts that create great discoveries--just like in chess. Fighting and creating conflict are the chessplayer's bread and meat. Just, after it's over, let's all go have a beer, like those conflicting liberals and conservatives do (when we're not looking).

To bring this whole thing back around to the important point, I'm being CHURTFUL here, okay. Cheerfully hurtful. If you would be so kind as to go forth now and use it over and over and over, with full attribution and links to Robert Pearson's Chess Blog, I would be much obliged. I am hoping to see it show up in text messages all over the world by next week.

UPDATE: Churtful is in the Urban Dictionary as a variation of the verb churting "The act of being dull, boring, kind of grey, and specifically draining to the person that is having to listen to you." As you can see, this has nothing to do with my own brilliantly original coinage and we will speak of it no more.