Category Archives: Chess

Multitasking Rots Your Brains

Playing online chess is like trying to get Wii Tennis to suffice for real tennis. You simply can’t digitally recreate the palpable exchange of energy with a live opponent in chess or tennis, as much as a shared physical space only seems a requisite for the sport and not the Eternal Game. (Give it time though… complete virtual reality sports with remote opponents will be quotidian soon enough.)

Beautiful female robot with computer mouseThe simulacra of social interactions that we enjoy online are stunting real relational and conversational skills.

I touched on this in Episode 25 of The Digital Dive Podcast (see 12-minute mark). We thrive off social interaction. Each transaction — from exchanging a greeting in an elevator to chatting at a coffee shop to flipping the bird in a fit of road rage, is a little rally, a serve, a distracted miss. The physiological feedback we get from connecting through technology (social media in particular) creates an addictive dopamine reward system in the brain.

We are bathing in these transactions, but they’re not happening in proximity to our bodies. So exactly what true energy are we processing? Tech addiction (i.e., checking habits) can cause a host of problems, including a loss of normal socialization skills. Something is lost when relational transactions occur primarily digitally. We’re breathing ether. I’ve tried to tweet a smell, it’s getting so bad.

Multitasking is Just Stuff

We should not assume that the quantity of available matches, so to speak, makes up for lost quality. You can’t multitask while playing chess or tennis. Finishing a live game satisfies a deep need for connection, competition, and stimulation. In play, we’re exchanging raw energy, we’re focused and mindful. You cannot be in positive psychology’s beloved zone (feeling flow) while watching TV, eating, texting, and Candy Crushing.

business man and woman multitasking acrobaticsSure, you can multitask continually throughout the day and imagine you are adequately returning simultaneous serves, nailing forehands, and setting up tidy gambits with your network, coworkers, clients, family, and friends as you tap and click, fire off emails, Facebook updates, texts, reblogs and Likes. But it’s fragmented. You aren’t focused. As Lester Burnham said, “This isn’t life, it’s just stuff!”  (- American Beauty)

Since I doubt many of us are willing to give up our technology, whenever possible, let’s return to the simple purity of focusing on just one task at a time. Read more books and fewer articles. The end game will be a disappointment otherwise.

Chess quiz – White to move and mate in 2 moves:

chess problem

Alain White, American Chess Bulletin, November-December 1941. Solution

Original chess move challenge posted 8/23/10, post updated 1/28/17

Making Decisions

Garry Kasparov said,

The stock market and the gridiron and the battlefield aren’t as tidy as the chessboard, but in all of them, a single, simple rule holds true: make good decisions and you’ll succeed; make bad ones and you’ll fail.

It is that simple. Stop your immediate human reaction of searching for qualifiers to reject this statement. That is your ego.

Garry Kasparov sits at chessboardSometimes a decision seems good at the time and turns out to be bad. So define decisions as good or bad based on ultimate outcome, not on present circumstances. This leaves less room for excuses. But Kasparov’s logic is not about ego, it’s formulaic. We only read into it from an ego perspective when we have failed.

You have to operationally define good and bad for yourself. If you don’t consider it failure to make decisions that seem good at the time but are bad in the end, you will be forgiving of yourself and others forever. It is the sting of a really bad decision that incites true investment in making the next right decision at the moment with what information is available. It makes you look harder for the answer. Otherwise, you never fail; you are a victim of circumstance. Nothing is risked. Material may be gained, but the outcome of the game cannot be interpreted as anything but a loss, strictly speaking.

The Game of the Century

I have found no way to casually play chess. It either informs and colors a great deal of even my most quotidian thought processes, or I have to remove myself from it for awhile to wear other glasses until my perspective becomes controllably rubbery again. Maybe this began with my epiphany upon reading Borovsky’s rules (for chess, and in my opinion, for life.)

I recently heard a super episode of Six Pixels of Separation featuring Jonathan Salem Baskin, a man who studies the connections between history and marketing. Baskin explained that the rules of social have never changed. There are no new rules, as has become a popular title of advice blogs on getting more followers by tweaking your Twettiquette for the new age. Nay. The rules have been the same for thousands of years, but the applications are different.

Throughout history, myriad diverse great leaders have pointed to chess as a learning tool that informed their strategy for war. The language is universal. The possibilities are near-infinite. Chess’s application is tenacious, though the game is very old. That’s because rules for social are implicated in rules for war, and thus in rules for chess (and business, which I’ll get to soon).

Bobby Fischer Game of the Century 1956

This week, I’ve been studying one game in particular:

The Game of the Century

Donald Byrne vs. Bobby Fischer
Rosenwald Memorial Tournament, New York City. October 17, 1956

A promising young player, thirteen-year old Bobby Fischer played one of the nation’s leading chessmasters, Donald Byrne. Continue reading The Game of the Century

Oakland Cemetery

I took these photos at Atlanta’s historic Oakland Cemetery. This place is a trip into Confederate and Southern history while also demonstrating the oddity of gentrification, urban decay, and evolving zoning and land use trends. Depending on where you are standing, you can see the some/all/none of: the downtown skyline, a rusty industrial railroad, a field of identical soldier tombstones, a crowded Jewish section, phallic headstones, gargoyles, mausoleums, heralded magnolia trees, and nature’s insistence that tombstones move over so roots can spring up.

[postcasa][/postcasa]Oakland Cemetery Atlanta GA

The Rules for Everything

check to your majesty

Chess by anemic cinema
Photo credit: anemic cinema on
  1. Avoid mistakes.
  2. Do not make the opening moves automatically and without reflection.
  3. Do not seek to memorise variations, try to understand them.
  4. Do not believe all that you are told. Examine, verify, use your reason.
  5. In war, topography dictates operations.
  6. Do not abandon the centre to your adversary.
  7. Do not give up open lines, seize them and hold them.
  8. Do not create weak points in your game for your enemy to seize.
  9. Do not lose time.
  10. Unless you analyse the position, you will achieve nothing.
  11. Do not leave any piece where it has no range of action or is out of touch with your other pieces.
  12. Do not play too quickly.
  13. It is not a move, even the best move, that you must seek, but a realisable plan.
  14. Do not despise the small details; it is often in them that the idea of the position will be found.
  15. Do not think too soon about what you opponent can do; first get clear what you want to do.
  16. Do not lose confidence in your judgment.
  17. Never lose sight of your general idea, however thick the fight.
  18. Do not modify your plan.
  19. Do not be content with attacking an existing weakness; always seek to create others.
  20. Do not get careless when, after general exchanges, the end game is reached.
  21. Haste, the great enemy.
  22. Do not relax in the hour of victory.
  23. Do not entangle yourself in a maze of calculations.
  24. Never omit to blockade an enemy passed Pawn.
  25. Do not leave your pieces in bad positions.

-How Not to Play Chess by Eugene A. Znosko-Borovsky, 1949