Voice of Freedom

Vladimir Putin's Russia might seem like an unlikely soil for one the foremost modern voices of freedom to take root, but world chess champion Garry Kasparov has transformed himself from world renowned chess player to world renowned advocate for democracy. Today in Red Square, Kasparov and some 2,000 companions faced down, and were arrested by, some 9,000 heavily armed riot police, stifling the demonstration but illustrating Kasparov's point that Russia is once again a state run by gangsters. (One of the many troubling aspects of George W. Bush's foreign policy outlook is his admiration for Russian strongman Vladimir Putin, despite (or because of?) Putin's suppression of domestic dissent.)

Kasparov discusses his program at his Committee 2008 website and as a contributor to the Wall Street Journal (subscription required).

End of an Era?

Garry Kasparov, World's No. 1 Chess Player, Announces Retirement (washingtonpost.com)

MOSCOW (AP) — Garry Kasparov, the chess world's youngest-ever champion and its public face and undisputed king the last two decades, made a stunning move shortly after winning a prestigious tournament in Spain: he announced his retirement from professional play.

I hardly expect Kasparov to fade quietly from the chess scene just yet, but I cannot remember a time when he was not the dominant figure in chess. This is perhaps the beginning of the end of an era.

Chess and Chips

The New York Times > Technology> Review> Chess Players Give 'Check' a New Meaning

The New York Times highlights the ways in which computer technology has made chess more competitive, while at the same time limiting the play of some of the top players. The fact that players can obtain more information about their opponents in advance is apparently a great equalizer in opening play, and computers make it easier to play and develop one's skills. At this point, most of my games take place on the computer because I do not have time to play live. The following paragraph pretty well sums up the article:

Jaan Ehlvest, 42, an Estonian grandmaster, said that better players are more able to take advantage of the abundant information provided by computers and databases because they have the expertise to identify the ideas that are worth pursuing. For lesser players, he said, computers can actually slow development because they cannot separate the good ideas from the bad.

Mr. Ehlvest added that in any case he did not believe that computers made people better than they otherwise would be. Instead, they can help them reach their potential sooner.

Better Living Through Chess

I am working on improving my chess game. I have tentatively begun a program outlined by Dan Heisman at ChessCafe.com. I am almost through Heisman's book, . I am trying out the USCF"s Chess Tactics for Beginners CD-ROM. Next up on my reading list are and . Most of my playing these days is limited to ChessWorld.net. Because ChessWorld.net essentially hosts correspondence games on the Internet, I can enter one move at a time and log off. In the meantime, my opponent can respond at his or her convenience. It is a lot easier to play this way than to find a 90-minute block of time for a traditional over-the-board game.


Charleston.Net: News from the Associated Press

The law has caught up with Bobby Fischer for having an expired passport. His detention by the Japanese authorities may be a way to show that they are cooperating with the United States in apprehending international lawbreakers before they have to make the difficult choice of whether to hand over deserter Charles Robert Jenkins. Jenkins is married to a Japanese woman, so turning him over to U.S. authorities for prosecution may not be a popular decision.

Chess Quotes

A good chess player who has lost a game is genuinely convinced that his failure resulted from a false move on his part, and tries to see the mistake he made at the beginning of the game, forgetting that at each stage of play there were similar blunders, so that no single move was perfect. The mistake on which he concentrates his attention attracts his notice simply because his opponent took advantage of it. How much more complex is the game of war, which must be played within certain limits of time and where it is a question not of one will manipulating inanimate objects but of something resulting from the inevitable collisions of diverse wills. Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace, tr. Rosemary Edmonds (Penguin 1982), p. 843

The game might not prove much about the intelligence of the players, but it provided certain evidence that Jagiello's virtue or at least his kindness was greater than Stephen's: Stephen, playing to win, had launched a powerful attack on the queen's side; he had launched it one move too early — a vile pawn still masked his heavy artillery — and now Jagiello was wondering how he could play to lose, how he could make a mistake that should not be woundingly obvious to his opponent. Jagiello's chess was far beyond Stephen's; his power of dissembling his emotions was not, and Stephen was watching his expression of ill-assumed stupidity with some amusement when the boat was heard to return. Patrick O'Brian, The Surgeon's Mate, p. 200.

And we shall play a game of chess,

Pressing lidless eyes and waiting for a knock upon the door.

T.S. Eliot, The Waste Land

The long needle began to swing at once, and stopped, moved on, stopped again in a precise series of sweeps and pauses. It was a sensation of such grace and power that Lyra, sharing it, felt like a young bird learning to fly. Farder Coram, watching from across the table, noted the places where the needle stopped, and watched the little girl holding her hair back from her face and biting her lower lip just a little, her eyes following the needle at first but then, when its path was settled, looking elsewhere on the dial. Not randomly, though. Farder Coram was a chess player, and he knew how chess players looked at a game in play. An expert player seemed to see lines of force and influence on the board, and looked along the important lines and ignored the weak ones; and Lyra's eyes moved the same way, according to some similar magnetic field that she could see and he couldn't. Philip Pullman, The Golden Compass, p. 151.

Lawyer Makes Good

Classrooms Use Chess to Instill Skills for Life (washingtonpost.com)

"Mehler, a lawyer and former teacher, is the founder and director of the U.S. Chess Center, which for the past dozen years has introduced chess to children to help them improve their academic and social skills."

As a member of the U.S. Chess Center for the past couple of years, I was delighted to see the Center on the front page of the Post. I do not know if learning how to play better Chess has done anything for my cognitive skills, but it has been a lot of fun.

Chess Pieces in 60 Languages

The Blogalization Conspiracy: Marginalia and Glossae

"Lexicool > Chess Pieces in 60 Languages.

"Lexicool is a directory of more than 2,000 multilingual and bilingual dictionaries online, with a handy interface. "

I thought it was a fascinating discovery to learn that in Arabic the Queen is the Vizier. Given the power of Queens and Viziers in society relative to the power of the piece on the board, it probably makes more sense to call the piece the Vizier. Queens have traditionally had to play second fiddle to Kings, but Viziers have often been more powerful than monarchs.