"An Italian man was arrested in Dublin on Sunday and charged with killing his Irish landlord and attempting to eat his heart after an argument about a game of chess." (here)
When the irascibility of the Italian collides with the pugnacity of the Irishman, look out! The above incident adds resonance to a well-known chess title, Chess for Fun and Chess for Blood, by Edward Lasker, not to be confused with Emmanuel Lasker.
Am I retailing stereotypes? Damn straight I am. If you deny that stereotypes have a fundamentum in re, then you are either stupid or a liberal, predicates which may in the end be coextensive.
Despite the lukewarm reviews, I thoroughly enjoyed the movie. But then I am a chess player who lived through the Fischer era and who remembers that far-off summer of '72 when Caissa and Mars colluded to give a chess match geopolitical significance.
Boris Spassky had the support of the Soviet state; Fischer stood alone, his sole state support consisting in a phone call from Nixon's Secretary of State Henry Kissinger urging him to play. In some Cold War calculus there is perhaps a computation of the contribution of Fischer's victory to the ultimate demise of the Evil Empire.
She was created in a poem called Caïssa written in 1763 by English poet and philologist Sir William Jones.
In the poem, the god Mars falls in love with the goddess Caissa, portrayed as a Thracian dryad. Caissa rebuffs his advances and suggests he take solace in the company of the god Euphron—the god of sport. After hearing Mars' laments, Euphron
...fram'd a tablet of celestial mold, Inlay'd with squares of silver and of gold; Then of two metals form'd the warlike band, That here compact in show of battle stand; He taught the rules that guide the pensive game, And call'd it Caissa from the dryad's name: (Whence Albion's sons, who most its praise confess, Approv'd the play, and nam'd it thoughtful Chess.)
Mars then presents the game of chess to Caissa in an attempt to win her affection.
Jones' work was inspired by the poem Scacchia ludus ("The game of Chess"), written by Italian poet Marco Girolamo Vida in 1510.
As always, Bill, I find reading your blog enlightening and enjoyable. I note you are using the term "traditional marriage" to refer to marriage. Now that the Supreme Court has redefined marriage as nothing more than a civil union, the meaning of the word "marriage" is in turmoil. So we do need a term to mean what "marriage" has always meant until the day before yesterday. Instead of "traditional marriage", I suggest "natural marriage". "Natural" more accurately conveys what is essential to marriage than "traditional" does. After all, everything that can be said to be traditional about marriage follows what is natural about it, sexual complementarity. More than that, natural law informs us that the good of sexual complementarity is actualized in marriage. Nor does it hurt that the rhetorical force of "natural" pushes buttons that confuse the Leftists and denies them their knee-jerk response to all that is labeled traditional.
Now that the Left has destroyed the word 'marriage,' we need a word to distinguish the genuine article from the leftist innovation. I agree with Tingley about this. I suggest 'traditional marriage.' He suggests 'natural marriage.' His reason for the superiority of the latter over the former is that:
. . . everything that can be said to be traditional about marriage follows what is natural about it, sexual complementarity.
I think this overlooks something important, namely, that marriage, while grounded in the biological complementarity of male and female human animals, and essentially so grounded, is a social institution. So there is more to marriage than the merely natural. For this reason, I prefer 'traditional marriage' to 'natural marriage.'
To clarify this, a brief look at the relation between the natural-biological and the social-cultural is in order.
Consider three situations, each a kind of 'intercourse.' (1) A man and a woman playing chess with each other. (2) A man and a woman just copulating with each other. (3) A man and a woman getting married to each other and consummating their marriage.
Ad (1). Chess has no objective reality outside of the system of rules or laws that constitute it, and these are of a conventional nature. In this regard, the laws of chess are nothing like the laws of nature.* They are not descriptive of culture-independent occurrences. Nor are the rules of chess prescriptively regulative of processes and transactions external to them, in the way traffic laws regulate vehicular processes, and laws against fraud regulate business transactions by setting up norms that one ought to follow when one drives or does business. The rules of chess are constitutive of the game, not regulative of some antecedent process, and what they constitute is something of a wholly conventional nature. Chess is a social artifact in toto; there is nothing natural about it. A man and a woman playing chess are engaged in a social interaction with no natural or physical process underpinning it. Of course, the touching and moving of pieces are physical processes, but there is nothing in the physical world corresponding to an instance of chessic intercourse in the way there is something in nature corresponding to a description of photosynthesis.
Ad (2). Brute copulation is at the opposite extreme. Copulation is a physical process whether it is done in marriage or outside marriage, whether it is done lovingly or rapaciously. Brute copulation has nothing social or cultural about it. It makes sense to say that chess is a social construct or a social artifact; it makes no sense to say that brute copulation is a social construct or social artifact.
I am assuming a healthy-minded realism. I am assuming that there is an important distinction between what John Searle calls brute facts and what he calls institutional facts. It is a brute fact that the sun is 93 million miles from the earth or that two animals are copulating. It is an institutional fact that Barack Obama is POTUS and Michelle Obama FLOTUS. A woman's being pregnant is a brute fact; a child's being illegitimate is an institutional fact. The existence of gold, the metal Au, is a brute fact; the existence of money is an institutional fact even if the money is realized in gold coins. "Brute facts exist independently of any human institutions; institutional facts can exist only within human institutions." (The Construction of Social Reality, p. 27) It follows from these definitions that the consummation of a marriage, even though it necessarily involves sexual intercourse, is an institutional fact.
(Searle's use of 'brute fact' is a bit idiosyncratic. I would say, and I think most philosophers would agree, that a brute fact is a contingently obtaining state of affairs the obtaining of which has no causal or other explanation. If an atheist says that the universe just happens to exist without cause or reason, then he is saying that its existence is a brute fact in my sense. Of course, it is also a brute fact in Searle's sense. Only a leftist loon would maintain that the physical universe is a social construct. That the moon has craters, however, is not a brute fact in my sense though it is in Searle's inasmuch as it is not an institutional fact. That astronomical distances are measured in light-years is an institutional fact, but not the distances themselves!)
Ad (3). Marriage is between chess and brute copulation.** Chess is whatever FIDE or the United States Chess Federation says it is. Marriage cannot be what any legislative body, or bunch of judges playing legislators, says it is. For it is grounded essentially in the natural fact of human sexual complementarity. Chess is entirely a social construct; marriage is not.
On the other hand, marriage, unlike brute copulation, has a social side: it is after all a contract. For this reason, I prefer 'traditional marriage' over 'natural marriage.' Strictly speaking, there is no natural marriage: non-humans mate and reproduce and cohabit, but they don't marry.
*An interesting question is whether 'laws of chess' can only be construed as a subjective genitive: the laws of chess are chess's laws, not laws about something external to these laws. But 'laws of nature' can also be construed as an objective genitive: the laws of nature are laws about something external to them, namely the natural world.
**And if I may be permitted a joke, too much chess and any extramural copulation, brute or not, can destroy a marriage.
I've said it before: beware of unsourced 'quotations.' An über-conservative correspondent forwarded me the following:
"Negotiating with Obama is like playing chess with a pigeon." "The pigeon knocks over all the pieces, shits on the board and then struts around like it won the game." ~Vladimir Putin
Now Obama is indeed a feckless fool, and a disaster for the country and the world. It is a blot upon the American electorate that this mendacious incompetent was elected and then, horribile dictu, re-elected. I hope we can all agree on that. Mockery and derision are appropriate weapons to deploy against him and his supporters. But we who stand up for truth ought to be especially scrupulous about getting things right. So I ran the 'quotation' past Snopes.com whereat it is plausibly maintained that Putin said no such thing. There I snagged this nifty graphic:
Emmanuel Lasker, Die Philosophie des Unvollendbar, 1919, p. x:
Aber eine harte Kindheit macht einen starken Mann.
But a hard childhood makes a strong man.
In the '80s I read a chunk of Lasker's Philosophy of the Incompletable and concluded that the grandmaster of chess was not one of philosophy. But I didn't read much of it and it was a long time ago. Now available in a paperback reprint via Amazon.com. I am tempted to take another look.
Too many in philosophy and other fields confine themselves to the horizon of the contemporary. Explore, get lost, discover.
A marvellous sublunary trinity: chess, philosophy, and a cigar.
I am teaching chess to some women who have joined our club, "The Lost Knights of the Superstitions." Nice title, eh? At once both romantic and self-deprecatory with an allusion to the Lost Dutchman Gold Mine and Jacob Waltz, the 'Dutchman' himself who was not Dutch but Deutsch.
The following excerpt from an article by Lubomir Kavalek may help inspire the newly recruited distaff acolytes of the Royal Game.
Vera Menchik (1906-1944) was the first women's world champion who could play successfully against the best male players. She almost stirred an international conflict. Three countries claimed her: she was born in Moscow, played chess mostly for Czechoslovakia, married an Englishman and died in London.
Menchik won the first official women's world championship in London in 1927 and defended the title six times in tournaments with an incredible overall score of 78 wins, four draws and one loss. She also defeated the German Sonja Graf in two world title matches in 1934 and 1937. Menchik played positionally most of the time, but she could deliver a nice tactical blow.
21.Rd7! (A beautiful decoy. The rook deflects the queen, allowing a spirited queen sacrifice: 21... Qxd7 22.Qxh5! gxh5 23.Bh7 mate. White would have a decisive advantage after: 21...Qxh2+ 22.Qxh2 Nxh2 23.Rxe7 Nxf1 24.Bxg6! e5 25.Nxf7 Kg7 26.Nxe5+ Kf6 27.Rxb7.) Graf resigned.
The Czechs honored Menchik with a postage stamp designed by Zdenek Netopil. He could not make up his mind, but eventually let her smile. It was issued February 14, 1996. Menchik held her world title for 17 years, the longest of any woman. Last year, she was inducted into the Chess World Hall of Fame - the first woman among chess giants.
During the 1929 Karlsbad tournament, the Austrian master Albert Becker founded the Vera Menchik Club. He suggested that anyone who loses to the lady should become a member. He was the first victim, but there were others. Among her most famous casualties were dr. Max Euwe and Sammy Reshevsky. Out of 437 tournament games against male opponents, she won 147.
She didn't fare well against the very top players. She was hammered by Jose Raul Capablanca (9-0), Alexander Alekhine (7-0), Mikhail Botvinnik (2-0), Paul Keres (2-0), Reuben Fine (2-0) and Emanuel Lasker (1-0).
In 1921 Menchik's family moved from Moscow to England. Vera was 15. When she saw bottles of milk left outside of English homes, Menchik said: "In Russia, they would immediately be stolen." The quote didn't make it to Elizaveta Bykova's biography of Menchik. Bykova had a different idea of what should be taken.
The ICC is the premier Internet venue for playing chess. I've been a member since 2002 at least. It's not cheap, but it is worth it. But while the site is fabulous, unfortunately some of the people who show up there leave a lot to be desired. Hence the acerbic tone of some of these notes.
1: In life there are no takebacks. "Chess is life." (R. Fischer) Ergo, etc.
2: You say your mouse slipped? That's no different than a Fingerfehler in OTB chess. And if a man cannot control his mousie, is he a man or a mouse?
3: In an unrated game, I may allow a takeback, but I will never ask for one, and you have no right to one.
4: Actions have consequences. Take responsibility for the former; learn from the latter.
5: Be kind to your opponent; you need him to have a game. Don't whine if you lose. If you are paired with me then you are a patzer and can expect to lose many a game.
6: Play hard, but with detachment from the outcome. Apply this principle to your life as a whole. Don't blame others for your stupidity. If you are a snivelling crybaby who can't stand to lose, find another pastime, or else play your computer at its lowest setting.
7: Thus spoke the Sage of the Superstitions.
8: Favorite command: set busy 2. Second favorite: +censor [name of offending party]
9: All churlish rascals will be forthwith zapped into the outer precincts of cyber-obscurity there to languish with rest of their scrofulous ilk for all eternity.
10: If you wish to be removed from my censor list, I charge a nominal fee of 100 USD. Take advantage of this offer now before prices go up.
I just now happened to click on one of Keith Burgess-Jackson's many Ten Years Ago in This Blog links, having no idea what was on the other end of it, when I pulled up the following:
In your post of 3/31/04 1:22:05 PM, you classify chess as an intellectual contest rather than as a sport, which is a physical contest. You seem to be saying that chess (and checkers) are intellectual contests with no physical, hence no sport, dimension. If this is what you are saying, then I disagree.
Tournament chess, which, like all serious chess, is played with clocks, is extremely demanding physically as well as mentally. Suppose the primary time control is 40 moves in 2 hours, the secondary control is 20 moves in 1 hour, and the tertiary control is 1 hour sudden death. Such a contest could last 8 hours with no adjournment! But even if a game lasts 3-4 hours, the physical demands become considerable. To play well, one must be physically fit and keep oneself supplied with nutrients during the game. Physical training is an essential part of the training regimen for the top players.
So I would say that chess counts as a sport. The Dutch employ the term, Denksport. Besides the sport aspect, it is easily arguable that chess has aspects of an art and a science.
There can be no doubt about it: Chess is the game of kings, and the king of games!
Bobby Fischer, supreme master of the 64 squares, died on this date in 2008, at age 64.
The day after he died I received this lovely note from my old friend Tom Coleman:This is a death in the family. I thought of you the moment I heard
the news this morning. Though not a talented player myself, at only
eight years old, six years younger than he, I marvelled at his
prowess as others did over Micky Mantle's. I never knew bitterness
toward my betters at either sports or chess. Many of us who were
neither as brilliant or disturbed as he still felt his agony, even
as a half-talented music student can feel Beethoven's agony even
after centuries. He had no heirs in the flesh; genius is no
evolutionary advantage. All brilliance points to transcendence and
whispers of immortality.
For Americans of a certain age and a certain bent, it is indeed as if a relative has died. Old Tom must have been consorting with Calliope when he penned his concluding line.
Ah, the (almost) inexhaustible riches of chess! A reader sends us to Volokh where we read:
An interesting thing happened yesterday in a game between my son and my father: a double check, in which the moved piece was not one of the checking pieces. (In a usual double check, a piece moves, placing the king in check but also discovering a check by another piece. To quote a formulation on the U.S. Chess Federation Site, “Double check is a more dangerous form of a discovered check where not only the hidden piece attacks the king, but also the piece that moves.”) How did this happen? Everyone was following the normal rules of chess.
A few miles from Buckingham Palace, Muslims in London’s East End are now sufficiently confident to go around warning local shopkeepers to cease selling alcohol. In theory, you might still enjoy the right to sell beer in Tower Hamlets or be a practicing Christian in Iraq, but in reality not so much. The asphyxiating embrace of ideological conformity was famously captured by Nikolai Krylenko, the People’s Commissar for Justice, in a speech to the Soviet Congress of Chess Players in 1932, at which he attacked the very concept of “the neutrality of chess.” It was necessary for chess to be Sovietized like everything else. “We must organize shock brigades of chess players, and begin immediate realization of a Five-Year Plan for chess,” he declared.
Six years later, the political winds having shifted, Krylenko was executed as an enemy of the people. But his spirit lives on among the Commissars of Gay Compliance at GLAAD. It is not enough to have gay marriage for gays. Everything must be gayed. There must be Five-Year Gay Plans for American bakeries, and the Christian church, and reality TV. There must be shock brigades of gay duck-hunters honking out the party line deep in the backwoods of the proletariat. Obamacare pajama models, if not yet mandatorily gay, can only be dressed in tartan onesies and accessorized with hot chocolate so as to communicate to the Republic’s maidenhood what a thankless endeavor heterosexuality is in contemporary America.
The gaying of America if you will. One good thing about leftists, though, is that they tend to turn on, and purge, their own ilk.
Krauthammer became hooked on the game when he was 20 — he is now 60 — and visited a friend in Cambridge, Mass. He found his friend’s roommate sitting with a chess set and an unfamiliar device.
“I said, ‘What is that?’ ” Krauthammer recalled, “And he said, ‘That is a chess clock.’ I had just come in from the plane. It was 10 o’clock at night, and I sat down to play and didn’t get up until 5 in the morning. I had found something that I loved, and I was in deep trouble.”
Krauthammer has chess boards in his office and a “chess room” at home. For a while, he held a small, informal chess club every Monday; members included the liberal scourges Charles Murray (co-author of “The Bell Curve”) and the writer Dinesh D’Souza. Krauthammer said they called it the Pariah Chess Club.
Wherein resides the dignity of the king? At every time in every possible game, the king is on the board. He cannot be captured: he never leaves the board while the game is on. He alone is 'necessary,' all other pieces are 'contingent.'
But at game's end, he too goes into the box with the lowliest of the pawns, as if to demonstrate that the high and mighty in life are equalized in death.
The Essays of Montaigne, vol. I, tr. Trechmann, Oxford UP, no date, ch. 50, p. 295:
Why shall I not judge Alexander at table, talking and drinking to excess, or when he is fingering the chess-men? What chord of his mind is not touched and kept employed by this silly and puerile game? I hate it and avoid it because it is not play enough, and because it is too serious as an amusement, being ashamed to give it the attention which would suffice for some good thing. He was never more busy in directing his glorious expedition to the Indies; nor is this other man in unravelling a passage on which depends the salvation of the human race. See how our mind swells and magnifies this ridiculous amusement; how it strains all its nerves over it! How fully does this game enable every one to know and form a right opinion of himself! In no other situation do I see and test myself more thoroughly than in this. What passion is not stirred up by this game: anger [the clock-banger!] spite [the spite check!], impatience [the hasty move!], and a vehement ambition to win in a thing in which an ambition to be beaten would be more excusable! For a rare pre-eminence, above the common, in a frivolous matter, is unbefitting a man of honour. What I say in this example may be said in all others. Every particle, every occupation of a man betrays him and shows him up as well as any other.
Applying what Montaigne himself says in his final sentence to his writing of this essay, we may hazard the guess that he was much enamoured of the royal game, but not very good at it, and so here takes his revenge upon it, its goddess Caissa, and her acolytes. You will notice how onesided his portrayal is. He displayed the same defect in his remarks on clothing. But he is a Frenchman and so more concerned with witty phrasings than with the sober truth. The essay is delightfully brilliant nonetheless.
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."