One of Dylan's great 'finger-pointing' songs. Live version.
Today Medgar Evers was buried from the bullet he caught They lowered him down as a king But when the shadowy sun sets on the one that fired the gun He'll see by his grave on the stone that remains Carved next to his name his epitaph plain "Only a pawn in their game."
The dignity of the king allows no such thing. He never leaves the board during the game. When the game is over, however, he goes into the same box with the lowly pawns. Which is to say: all earthly dignity is as naught before the tribunal of the Great Equalizer.
We patzers can sport with Caissa and her charms without too much harm. It is the very strong players, who yet fall short of the highest level, who run the greatest risk. Chess sucks them in then leaves them high and dry. The goddess Caissa becomes the she-devil Impecunia.
When I lived in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, I was within walking distance of the old Arabica coffee house on Coventry Road. The Coventry district was quite a scene in those days and there I met numerous interesting characters of the sort one expects to find in coffee houses: would-be poets and novelists, pseudo-intellectual bullshitters of every stripe, and a wide range of chess players from patzers to masters. It was there that I became acquainted with International Master Calvin Blocker. Observing a game of mine one day, he kibitzed, "You'd be lucky to be mated."
Reuben Fine, The Psychology of the Chess Player (Dover 1967), p. 53:
In 1935, an international team tournament was held in Warsaw. Alekhine played top board for France, of which he was a naturalized citizen. However, on this trip he arrived at the Polish border without a passport. When the officials asked him for his papers he replied: "I am Alekhine, chess champion of the world. I have a cat called Chess. I do not need papers." The matter had to be straightened out by the highest authorities.
Here are further examples of liberal stupidity that we shouldn't forget. A repost from the old Powerblogs site. Written 1 September 2005.
You might expect chess to be banned in a Left coast place like Berserkley. Unfortunately, chess actually has been banned in a couple of places in fly-over country, places where one would not expect to find a high concentration of either PeeCee-heads or Taliban. (As I recall, the Taliban's beef was that the Royal Game is one of chance; they also took a dim view of kite-flying for reasons that escape me.)
Grandmaster Larry Evans, in his column "Evans on Chess" (Chess Life, September 2005, pp. 46-47), reproduces a letter from an anonymous high school science teacher from Northwest Louisiana. It seems that this fellow introduced his students to chess and that they responded enthusiastically. The administration, however, issued a policy forbidding all board games. In justification of this idiocy, one of the PC-heads argued that in chess there are definite winners and losers whereas educators need to see that everyone succeeds.
GM Evans points out that this lunacy has surfaced elsewhere. "In 1998, for example, Oak Mountain Intermediate School in Shelby County, Alabama (a suburb of Birmingham) banned chess (because it is too competitive!) but had two baseball stadiums with night-lights for evening play." (CL p. 47)
One of the things that liberals have a hard time understanding is that competition is good. It breeds excellence. Another thing that is not understood is that competition is consistent with cooperation. They are not mutually exclusive. We cannot compete without cooperating within a broad context of shared assumptions and values. Competition need not be inimical to cooperation. 'Competition is good' is a normative claim. But competition is also a fact of life, one not likely to disappear. A school that bans competitive activities cannot be said to be preparing students for extramural reality.
Competition not only breeds excellence, it breeds humility. When you compete you become better, but you also come to know your limits. You come to learn that life is hierarchical. It puts you in your place.
Part of the problem is that libs and lefties make a fetish of equality. Now I'm all for equality of opportunity, equality before the law, treating like cases in a like manner, and all the rest of what may be subsumed under the broad rubric of formal or procedural equality. I am opposed to discrimination on the basis of race, sex, and creed. I want people judged, not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. (And precisely for that reason I judge your typical rapper and your typical race hustler to be a contemptible lout.)
But as a matter of fact, people are not equal materially viewed, and making them equal is not a value. In fact, it involves injustice. It is unjust to give the same grade to a student who masters algebra and to a student who barely understands it. People differ in ability, and they differ in application. Some make use of their abilities, some let them lie fallow. That is their free choice. If a person makes use of his abilities and prospers, then he is entitled to the outcome, and it is unjust to deny it to him. I don't deserve my intelligence, but I am entitled to what I gain from its legitimate use. Or is that a difficult distinction to understand?
There will never be equality of outcome, and it is fallacious to argue as many liberals do that inequality of outcome proves inequality of opportunity. Thus one cannot validly infer
1. There is no equality of opportunity from 2. There is no equality of outcome except in the presence of some such false assumption as 3. People are equal in their abilities and in their desire to use them.
People are not equal in their abilities and they are not equal in their desire to use them. That is a fact. Liberals will not accept this fact because it conflicts with their ideology. When they look at the world, they do not see it as it is, but as they want it to be.
Last week I saw my brother for the last time in a fairly grim hospital room in Houston, Texas. He was in great pain, and suffering in several other ways I will not describe. But he was wholly conscious and in command of his wits, and able to speak clearly. We both knew it was the last time we would see each other, though being Englishmen of a certain generation, neither of us would have dreamed of actually saying so. We parted on good terms, though our conversation had been (as had our e-mail correspondence for some months) cautious and confined to subjects that would not easily lead to conflict. In this I think we were a little like chess-players, working out many possible moves in advance, neither of us wanting any more quarrels of any kind.
". . . and suffering in other ways I will not describe." I understand and respect the reticence of the Englishman, a reticence we Americans could use a little more of; but that is one teaser of an independent clause! One wants to know about that mental or spiritual suffering, and not just out of idle curiosity. The moment of death is the moment of truth. The masks fall away. No more easy posturing as in the halcyon days of health and seemingly endless invincibility. In wine there is truth, but in dying even more. Ego-display and cleverness are at an end. What was always hollow is now seen to be hollow. Name and fame for example. At the hour of death one hopes for words from the dying that are hints and harbingers and helps to the living for their own preparation for the hour of death.
Peter's chess image is a curious one. We work out many possible moves in advance the better to inflict material loss, or time-trouble, or checkmate upon our opponents. We are cautious, not so as to avoid conflict, but to render it favorable to ourselves. On second thought, however, the chess comparison is apt: in the end the brothers circled around each other 'keeping the draw in hand.' Each could then withdraw from the fray feeling neither that he had lost to the other nor that he had bested him.
I am struck once again by the insignificance of blood-relations. These two brothers in the flesh came to inhabit different planets. As one of my aphorisms has it, consanguinity is no guarantee of spiritual affinity.
The summer of '95 found me in Charlottesville, Virginia. A lovely place hard by the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Appalachian Trail. The largesse of the American taxpayer had made it possible for me to attend a National Endowment for the Humanities summer seminar at the University of Virginia. One dark and rainy night, wearied by philosophy of science arcana, I stumbled into the C-ville chess club, sat down opposite an old man, and uncorked this miniature:
I learned recently that the philosopher John Leslie is the inventor of a chess variant, Hostage Chess. Left-click on the hyperlink and scroll down.
I have never played any of the chess variants, and they don't interest me. Penetrating the arcana of standard chess has me sufficiently occupied. Such a patzer am I that I could not explain the Lucena and Philidor positions without consulting the manuals. But could you? And my endgame savvy is weak. My excuse is that I didn't get seriously into chess until I was deep into middle age.
I can say of Caissa what Augustine said of the Eternal Unchanging Light: "Too late have I loved thee." Not that the former takes the place of the latter, you understand.
(Written November 2002 for the sake of some local patzers who proved to be largely unteachable.)
"How shall I draw thee? Let me count the ways." (Anon.)
There are exactly seven ways to draw a chess game.
1. STALEMATE. "The game is drawn when the king of the player who has the move is not in check and the player cannot make any legal move." (USCF Official Rules of Chess, 1987, p. 12.)
2. AGREEMENT. If the players agree to a draw during the game, then it is a draw. (p. 12)
3. SUDDEN DEATH FLAG FALL. In a game played according to a ‘sudden death’ time control, if both flags are down before a win is claimed, then the game is a draw. (p. 103)
4. THREE-FOLD REPETITION OF POSITION (TFRP). "The game is drawn upon a claim by the player having the move, when the same position (a) is about to appear, or (b) has just appeared for the third time, the same player having the move each time. The position is considered the same if pieces of the same kind and color occupy the same squares and if the possible moves of all the pieces are the same, including the right to castle or to take a pawn en passant." (p. 13)
This is the rule that a great many players do not understand. By my count, there are five typical mistakes that players make with respect to this rule.
One should always insist on the touch-move rule with every opponent in every (non-blitz) chess game whether serious or casual, rated or unrated. You will save yourself a lot of unnecessary vexation if you do. Now you might think you knew all there was to know about the touch-move rule; but if you are like me, you would have been wrong.
The rule no doubt applies to pieces on the board, but what about those off the board?
Suppose you have just promoted a pawn to the eighth rank. Some people wrongly refer to this as 'queening' a pawn thereby confusing the species with the genus. Promotion to queen is only one way to promote: there is also underpromotion to either a rook, bishop, or knight. There is no promotion to king since the 'dignity' of his majesty assures his uniqueness, and the 'ambition' of the pawn prevents his remaining in the lower orders.
Suppose you are in a position in which promotion to a knight will enforce immediate mate. But the time pressure is befuddling you and you reflexively grab a queen by the side of the board and replace the pawn with it. You do not, however, punch your clock. So technically, the move has not been completed.
Here is the question: Having touched the queen, and moved it onto the board, while leaving your clock running, may you change your mind and substitute a knight? Grandmaster Larry Evans, asked a similar question by Jude Acers, he of the red beret and the N.O. French Quarter, answers, "White must play 1 e8 = Q, since he touched the queen first, even if it was off the board." (Chess Life, November 2005, p. 45)
So here is a case in which touch-move applies to a piece that is OFF the board. Or at least that is the judgment of GM Evans.
The position described by Acers was one in which promotion to queen would have led to a draw, while promotion to a rook would have won.
An excellent analogy. (HT: Ron Brinegar) But every analogy limps. There is no such thing as a perfect analogy. A perfect analogy would be an identity, and one cannot (usefully) compare a thing to itself. So, after enjoying Feynman's fine analogy, you should ask yourself what the points of disanalogy are.
In chess, the object of the game is clear, the rules are fixed and indisputable, and there is always a definite outcome (win, lose, or draw) about which no controversy can arise. In philosophy, the object and the rules are themselves part of what is in play, and there is never an incontrovertible result.
So I need both of these gifts of the gods. Chess to recuperate from the uncertainty of philosophy, and philosophy to recuperate from the sterility of chess.
It is hard to believe that Bobby Fischer has been dead for over three years now. The king of the 64 squares died at age 64 on 17 January 2008. Fischer's sad story well illustrates the perils of monomania. Ayn Rand did not realize how right she was in her 1974 "An Open Letter to Boris Spassky" (Philosophy: Who Needs It, p. 56):
Bobby Fischer's behavior . . . is a clear example of the clash between a chess expert's mind, and reality. The confident, disciplined, obviously brilliant player falls to pieces when he has to deal with the real world. He throws tantrums like a child, breaks agreements, makes arbitrary demands, and indulges in the kind of whim worship one touch of which in the playing of chess would disqualify him from a high school tournament. Thus he brings to the real world the very evil that made him escape it: irrationality.
It is hard to believe that Bobby Fischer has been dead three years already. He died on 17 January 2008. Last night I saw Frank Brady on C-Span's Book Notes. Brady was pitching his new book End Game which tells the rest of the Fischer story. I will definitely be on the lookout for it in the used book bins. Here is an NYT review. And here is another.
One indicator of her angelicity is her support of my chess activities -- in stark contrast to the wives of two acquaintances both of whose 'better' halves destroyed their chess libraries in fits of rage at time spent sporting with Caissa. "Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned," wrote old Will.
I'm no bard, but here's my ditty in remembrance of my two long lost Ohio chess friends:
Forget that bitch And dally with me. Else I'll decimate Your library.
An old Hindu proverb has it that chess is an ocean in which a gnat may drink and an elephant bathe. Similarly pelagic is the literature of the game. Some of it is of high literary merit. An example follows for your delectation.
Stefan Zweig, "The Royal Game" in The Royal Game and Other Stories, tr. Jill Sutcliffe (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1983), p. 8:
I knew well enough from my own experience the mysterious attraction of 'the royal game,' that game among games devised by man, which rises majestically above every tyranny of chance, which grants its victor's laurels only to a great intellect, or rather, to a particular form of mental ability. But are we not already guilty of an insulting limitation in calling chess a game? Isn't it also a science, an art, hovering between these two categories as Muhammad's coffin hovered between heaven and earth? Isn't it a unique bond between every pair of opponents, ancient and yet eternally new; mechanical in its framework and yet only functioning through use of the imagination, confined in geometrically fixed space and at the same released from confinement by its permutations; continuously evolving yet sterile; thought that leads nowhere, mathematics that add up to nothing, art without an end product, architecture without substance, and nevertheless demonstrably more durable in its true nature and existence than any books or creative works? Isn't it the only game that belongs to all people and all times? And who knows whether God put it on earth to kill boredom, to sharpen the wits or to lift the spirits? Where is its beginning and where its end? Every child can learn its basic rules, every bungler can try it; and yet it requires, within those unchanging small squares, the production of a special series of master, not comparable to any other kind, men who have a singular gift for chess, geniuses of a particular kind, in whom vision, patience and technique function in just as precise divisions as they do in mathematicians, poets and musicians, only on different levels and in different conjunctions.
There are cartoons we never forget. One in Chess Life some years back depicted two intense guys bent over a chess board. The caption read, "Eat, drink, and beat Harry."
Emmanuel Lasker would have liked that. He was always going on about the role of Kampf, stuggle, in chess. Lasker would also have liked this quotation lifted from Michael Gilleland's erudite weblog:
After all, what would life be without fighting, I should like to know? From the cradle to the grave, fighting, rightly understood, is the business, the real highest, honestest business of every son of man. Every one who is worth his salt has his enemies, who must be beaten, be they evil thoughts and habits in himself, or spiritual wickednesses in high places, or Russians, or Border-ruffians, or Bill, Tom, or Harry, who will not let him live his life in quiet till he has thrashed them. (Thomas Hughes, Tom Brown's Schooldays, Part II, Chapter V.)
Next time I'm paired with Crazy Harry, I'm going to thrash that meshuggeneh patzer and I'm going to thrash him good.
Eine Drohung ist stärker als eine Ausführung is a saying often attributed to grandmaster Aron Nimzovich. (On the correctness of the attribution, chess aficionados will find interesting this piece by Edward Winter.) It occurred to me this morning that the maxim also applies to SB 1070, about which I have said quite a bit of late. (Scroll down.) The law doesn't go into effect until July 29th, and already illegals are leaving the state in significant numbers. See here, and here.
In the 1070 case, not only is the threat stronger than the execution, the perceived threat is stronger and far more effective than the real threat. But liberals, in their preternatural obtuseness, have only themselves to blame for this. By egregiously and willfully misrepresenting the law, by their hyperbole and hysteria, they are bringing about the very effect -- the attrition of lawbreakers -- that the framers of the law intended! Way to go!
Another thing I get a kick out of is the call to boycott, not merely the Grand Canyon State, but the Grand Effing Canyon herself. Don't these nimrods understand that it is a national park and that revenues lost will be lost, not to Arizona, but to the federal government that liberals want ever to expand? The fewer visitors to the Grand Canyon the better. More solitude for me and mine.
I'll bet the shade of old 'Cactus Ed' Abbey is having a good laugh over this.
I have a question about chess. Would you be kind enough to tell me in your opinion what is the one chess book a person should have? What is your favorite? I am presently reading [Irving Chervev's] Logical Chess Move by Move.
I am a patzer.
I think your blog is great.
Thanks for writing, Joe, and for the kind words. I too am a patzer, though on a really good day I am a GP, a Grandpatzer. Although there is no one book that one simply must have, for patzers I recommend Georges Renaud and Victor Kahn, The Art of the Checkmate. This is a delightful old book written by a couple of French masters. It first appeared in English translation in 1953 and was reprinted by Dover Press in 1962. I believe it was International Master Calvin Blocker who recommended it to me. I am very fond of Dover paperbacks, which are inexpensive and made to last a lifetime. This particular volume is in descriptive notation which fact should gladden the heart of Ed Yetman. It is also full of Romantic old games, wild and swashbuckling, of the sort from which assiduous patzers can learn tactics.
Tactic, tactic, tactics. As important in chess as location, location, location in real estate.
The book is a study of the basic mating patterns. Since checkmate is the object of the game, a thorough study of the basic mates is a logical place to begin the systematic study of chess. That should be followed by work on tactics. The much-maligned Fred Reinfeld is useful here. After that, openings and endings. But the typical patzer -- and I'm no exception to this rule -- spends an inordinate amount of time swotting up openings. But what is the good of achieving a favorable middlegame position if one doesn't know what to do with it? To turn a favorable position into a win you need to know the basic mates, tactics, and at least the rudiments of endgame technique.
There is a lot to learn, and one can and should ask whether it is worth the effort. But patzers like us are unlikely to have our lives derailed by chess. We can sport with Caissa and her charms without too much harm. It is the very strong players, who yet fall short of the highest level, who run the greatest risk. Chess sucks them in then leaves them high and dry. The goddess Caissa becomes the bitch Impecunia. IM Blocker is one example among many.
Paul Weiss, Sport: A Philosophic Inquiry (Southern Illinois University Press, 1969), pp. 142-143:
Hockey demands bodily exertion. Like every other sport, it tests what a rule-abiding man can bodily be and do. Though chess also has rules, and these have a history, and though a masterly game makes considerable demands on the stamina of the players, chess is not a sport because it does not test what a man is as a body. Mind and body more or less reverse their roles in these two cases. In hockey judgment and determination are subservient to bodily achievement, but in chess the body is used only to make possible a more effective judgment and determination.
A wise saying about chess, often attributed to Goethe, but apocryphal for all I know, goes like this. "For a game it is too serious, and for seriousness too much of a game."
Something similar is true of the world. The world is is too real, too much with us, for us to detach ourselves from it easily; but it is too deficient in being to satisfy us. One cannot take it with utmost seriousness, and one cannot dismiss it as a mere game either. "For a game it is too serious, and for seriousness too much of a game."
Marcel Duchamp abandoned art for chess because of the latter's superior uselessness. Art objects, after all, have exchange value as commodities, and may make the artist some money. But with few exceptions chess lies entirely beyond the sphere of the utile. In this sense, the art of the 64 squares is the highest art. There is little danger that Caissa's acolytes will fill their bellies from her service. There is just no market for the artistry of chess games, not even those of the very highest quality. Here you can review some of Duchamp's games.
A group of chess enthusiasts checked into a hotel and were standing in the lobby discussing their recent tournament victories. After about an hour, the manager came out of the office and asked them to disperse. "But why," they asked. "Because", he said, "I can't stand chess-nuts boasting in an open foyer."
A correspondent reminds me of the following passage from Seneca's De Tranquillitate XIV, 6-7, tr. Basore:
Will you believe that Canus spent the ten intervening days before his execution in no anxiety of any sort? What the man said, what he did, how tranquil he was, passes all credence. He was playing chess when the centurion who was dragging off a whole company of victims to death ordered that he also be summoned. Having been called, he counted the pawns and said to his partner: "See that after my death you do not claim falsely that you won." Then nodding to the centurion, he said, "You will bear witness that I am one pawn ahead."
A little farther down, at XIV, 10, Seneca pays Canus the ultimate tribute:
Ecce in media tempestate tranquillitas, ecce animus aeternitate dignus, qui fatuum suum in argumentum veri vocat, qui in ultimo illo gradu positus exeuntem animam percontatur nec usque ad mortem tantum sed aliquid etiam ex ipsa morte discit. Nemo diutius philosophatus est.
Here is tranquillity in the very midst of the storm, here is a mind worthy of immortality — a spirit that summons its own fate to the proof of the truth, that, in the very act of taking that one last step, questions the departing soul, and learns, not merely up to the point of death, but seeks to learn something even from death itself. No one has ever played the philosopher longer.
Why, with so many painful losses to my 'credit,' do I continue to submit my aging self to the rigors of tournament chess? Because the strenuous life has a property Bobby Fischer once ascribed to 1. P-K4: it is "best by test."
H. J. R. Murray, A History of Chess (Oxford UP, 1913), p. 164:
Hippocrates and Galen apparently found in chess a potent antidote to diarrhoea and erysipelas, and prescribed it with success, while Aristotle figures among the many hypothetical inventors of chess. Another story tells how Galen once met a friend whom he had not seen for some time, and learnt that he had been into the country to see a farm which he had purchased with the result of his gains at chess, whereupon the physician exclaimed with what sounds like a strong flavour of irony, 'What a fine thing chess is, and how profitable!' Pure fiction, the whole of it, of course.
I didn't make that up. It was at some cheesy Knight's Inn or similar venue in Phoenix in the early-to-mid 'nineties, when Myron Lieberman presided in his inimitable manner over well-attended tournaments and Ed Yetman, bandanna around his neck and sidearm strapped to his hip, manned the book concession. Say what you want about the chess scene, it is chock full of colorful characters.
'I don't mind losing' illustrates the non-identity of sentence meaning and speaker's meaning. Anyone who understands English knows what the sentence in question means. Its meaning is fixed by the rules of the language system, English. But what the sentence means is what very few people mean when they produce a token of the sentence.
A gentleman came to our chess club but once. And this despite our showing him every hospitality. For he lost every game. He had played seriously as a youth but hadn't recently. I explained to him that we are a bunch of patzers and that soon enough he would be winning games. He replied, "I don't mind losing." But he never came back despite a follow-up call or two.
In the mouths of most if not all 'I don't mind losing' means: I mind losing and I mind admitting that I mind losing, which is why I pretend not to mind losing.
ADDENDUM: If you read the above carefully, you will have noticed that I enclosed the sentence under comment with single quotation marks on two occasions but double quotation marks in the middle paragraph. Why? In the middle paragraph I was quoting an actual person, whereas on the two other occasions I was not quoting, strictly speaking, but mentioning a sentence. You may want to take a gander at my post Use and Mention. It's fun for the whole family. And from there you can get to my post On Hairsplitting.
Blitz chess is supposed to hurt one's slow game, but it is not altogether clear: blitz teaches one to size up a situation very quickly indeed, a skill needed when one drifts into Zeitnot in a slow game. Blogging may hurt one's slow writing, but again it is not entirely clear: blogging teaches one to get to the point, with pith and precision.