SPRAGGETT ON CHESS
One more Bobby Fischer book…yawn
I have read some of Frank Brady’s books and generally I liked them. I am not going to read his latest book on Bobby Fischer though…but don’t let that stop you! I am certain you will get a lot of bang for the buck.
I stopped reading newly published books about Fischer way back in 1998 when I realized that the so-called ‘experts’ on Bobby Fischer were generally just talented writers doing semi-reasonable research based on already published or un-classified documentation that missed the whole point: Bobby Fischer had become a paranoid-schizophrenic sometime in the late 1970’s. His crazy statements (anti-semitic, anti-American) were just the rantings of a sick man who had fallen in the cracks somewhere along the way of greatness…
Why 1998? One night I had dinner during the Linares Open with a friend of mine–the late Dr. Eugene Martinovsky–and we discussed the Bobby Fischer that he knew. Eugene was a clinical psychiatrist in New York. It became evident during dinner that Eugene had thought a lot of Fischer’s decline of mental health over the years, and as someone who had known Fischer since he was a youngster, there was some sadness in his voice.
Eugene died in 2000. You can read about his life at the link immediately below:
Dr. Martinovsky told me that he felt there were many paranoid-schizophrenics in the chess world. He said that often you can tell by the eyes. (Anyone who ever met the late Lembit Oll–who threw himself out of his second story window one wintery evening–would know what I mean.)
But being a health professional, Eugene was understandably reluctant to come out and say that Fischer was a paranoid-schizophrenic. He instead limited himself to say that without a proper diagnosis we would never really know. And Bobby Fischer never let himself be diagnosed.
But I trust Eugene’s intuition. Bobby Fischer’s behaviour was not that of a monster or hate-monger. As I have not read Brady’s latest book on him, I have no idea of whether this subject was discussed. I am not interested: the Fischer myth is still worth quite a few more best-sellers, documentaries and films. Fischer deserves the fame for his chess achievements alone–but I am tired of how the media has focused on the man’s failings rather than trying to understand his illness.
In anycase, here is an excerpt of a book review on Brady’s latest. The reader obviously enjoyed it!
”Endgame was written by Frank Brady, who first met Bobby Fischer when the prodigy was just ten years old. The author also served as an official during some of Fischer’s most important matches. With this intimate knowledge, Brady was able to paint a portrait that is both breathtaking, motivating and, in the end, tragic and heartbreaking. While Brady was able to draw on his experiences with Fischer to bring more accuracy to this biography, Brady pulled no punches. Fischer’s behavior grew more paranoid, antisocial and reclusive as he grew older. Brady presents Fischer’s feelings, theories and words as they happened, warts and all.
Endgame also draws on letters and photographs from the Fischer family archives, e-mails that Bobby sent and recently released FBI files. The result is the most comprehensive biography of the elusive grandmaster, to date. What’s more, Brady’s writing style is easy to read and the book goes quickly. If you’re a fan of chess, this is definitely a book worth checking out. It will have you playing our Fischer’s most famous games on your board, analyzing moves and being amazed by his brilliance. If you don’t play chess, the story is still compelling, fast-moving and enjoyable.”
NUCLEAR FIGHTING ON THE CHESS BOARD
I don’t know if you have been following the tit-for-tat confrontation between Israel and Iran that has (fortunately) been taking place over the chess board. But I for one have certainly gotten a big kick out of it! First Israel set the ‘world record’. Now Iran claims the record. What is next?
Did Iran ‘Checkmate’ Israel?
Adar 7, 5771, 11 February 11
by Elad Benari
(Israelnationalnews.com) An Iranian grandmaster is claiming that he has taken back a world record in chess that was set by an Israeli last October.
AFP reported this week that 28-year-old Ehsan Ghaem Maghami claimed that he regained the Guinness record for simultaneous chess games after facing more than 600 players in over 25 hours. He said that he won 96 percent of his games which began on Tuesday in the Shahid Beheshti University in Tehran, and had to win 80 percent of the games in order to break the record.
A representative of the World Chess Federation was present during the event but did not confirm Maghami’s victory.
The previous record was set by Israeli grandmaster Alik Gershon last October in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square. Gershon played against 525 other players simultaneously, and beat 454 for a victory rate of 86 percent. Another 58 games ended in a tie, Gershon lost 11 games, and 2 players withdrew from the competition.
Maghami assured Iran’s ISNA News Agency on Wednesday that the World Chess Federation would report his win to Guiness, and added that he would have played with the same zeal even if the previous title holder was a non-Israeli.
“Iran is great and deserves the best,” said Maghami. “Let’s not talk politics… even if this record was held by another person, I would have gone all out to break it.”
He added that “now I have to break my sleep record,” and said that he would not be surprised if his record will also be broken soon.
OF SOME HISTORICAL INTEREST IN THE US
DID JAMES MADISON AND THOMAS JEFFERSON ACTUALLY PLAY CHESS?
Apparently they both played chess against each other, and often! Recently parts of a chess set believed to be the actual set that was used in these encounters has been uncovered in an excavation at Madison’s Montpelier estate.
Parts of a pawn uncovered
Archaeologists excavating James Madison’s Montpelier estate have unearthed portions of two chess pawns belonging to the founding father.
“The discovery of the pawns is a wonderful example of how Montpelier’s archaeologists and curators are together rediscovering James and Dolley Madison and their plantation,” said Montpelier President Michael C. Quinn in a press release. “Each new discovery and acquisition brings us closer to knowing the Father of the Constitution and the woman who inspired the term ‘First Lady.'”
Montpelier, located in Orange, Va, is the lifelong home of America’s fifth president. It is here that Madison would engage Thomas Jefferson in chess matches, likely using the chess pieces that were uncovered.
The portions of the pawns allowed researchers to understand what James Madison’s chess set looked like, leading them to purchase an identical set from the 18th Century. Following Montpelier’s $25 million dollar restoration, this acquirement is another step in efforts to refurnish the home with items once belonging to Madison, or similar to them
THE BATTLE CONTINUES…
I share some of the late Bent Larsen’s views on the self-defeating manner in which the chess fraternity handled the intrusion of publicity-seeking computer programmers and computer makers in the late 1980’s and 1990’s. In particular, how Kasparov –the world champion at the time–got outfoxed by savy business executives.
But in truth ,the entire chess community sold out cheap and our noble game has never recovered the prestige that one would normally associate with a rich cultural icon that spans all mankind. Not even chessbase–the best known producer of computer-chess products–has ever organized or sponsored a tournament despite making big profits from this very same community! Chess (0)–Tech Geeks (1)
I ran across an interesting review or critique of an article that appeared in The Atlantic entitled ”Why Machines will never beat the Human Mind” , which tries to argue that the human race is still in good shape and does not yet have to resort to pulling the plug. I present the following interesting excerpt:
OK fine. So far no computer program has ever won, and last year the computers lost yet again. But why does this mean machines will never beat the human mind? Brian Christian is the author, and after 8,000 words of saying nothing at all on this subject, he finally says this:
‘’ When the world-champion chess player Garry Kasparov defeated Deep Blue, rather convincingly, in their first encounter in 1996, he and IBM readily agreed to return the next year for a rematch. When Deep Blue beat Kasparov (rather less convincingly) in ’97, Kasparov proposed another rematch for ’98, but IBM would have none of it. The company dismantled Deep Blue, which never played chess again.
The apparent implication is that—because technological evolution seems to occur so much faster than biological evolution (measured in years rather than millennia)—once the Homo sapiens species is overtaken, it won’t be able to catch up. Simply put: the Turing Test, once passed, is passed forever. I don’t buy it.
Rather, IBM’s odd anxiousness to get out of Dodge after the ’97 match suggests a kind of insecurity on its part that I think proves my point. The fact is, the human race got to where it is by being the most adaptive, flexible, innovative, and quick-learning species on the planet. We’re not going to take defeat lying down.
No, I think that, while the first year that computers pass the Turing Test will certainly be a historic one, it will not mark the end of the story. Indeed, the next year’s Turing Test will truly be the one to watch—the one where we humans, knocked to the canvas, must pull ourselves up; the one where we learn how to be better friends, artists, teachers, parents, lovers; the one where we come back. More human than ever.’’
Seriously? That’s it? That’s what the cover headline is based on? Surely a better answer is that IBM built Deep Blue solely for its PR value, and once IBM won they had gotten all the PR out of it that they ever would. Win or lose, there was no point in continuing.
Plus there’s the fact that computers have gotten better since 1997. Hell, there are mobile phones that play grandmaster-level chess these days.
Greg Hjorth (R.I.P)
The set theorist with the fjunny name.
”Professor Greg Hjorth passed away suddenly and unexpectedly on January 13, 2011. Greg was only 47 and was internationally recognised as one of the top researchers in logic and set theory in the world. He recently gave the Tarski Lectures in logic at UC Berkeley and was a Professor at UCLA before returning to Melbourne University as an ARC Professorial fellow. He was also an International Master in Chess at age 20 and was considered one of Australia’s finest chess players.”
I read with some sadness the above news just a couple of weeks ago. Though I did not really know Greg very well, our paths crossed several times at chess events. I played him in my first appearance at the Commonwealth Championship in Hong Kong in March of 1984. At the time he was mere 20 years old , gifted in both chess and math. He was uncertain of what he really wanted to do with his life, and at 20 that is how it should be.
In the end he chose math, though it was not an easy decision to make. It was simply the most practical decision. On the ‘net you can find several interviews with Greg where he discusses this issue and others related. Curiously, there is a parallel between choosing math as a career and chess. On Greg’s homepage at UCLA (http://www.math.ucla.edu/~greg/) he gives some advice to those who might want to consider a career in math, and I can’t but relate this to his inner struggle before arriving at his own personal decision:
If you are thinking of doing a PhD
If you are thinking of doing a PhD in pure math, especially with me, here are some points you may want to consider before entering.
(i) One of the huge differences between graduate and undergraduate education is the intensity in which one needs to learn the material. As an undergradute, it is mostly fine to learn material well enough to keep it together until the next exam. It is often not necessary to truly understand the material to its core. A PhD, on the other hand, involves learning to the point of being competitive with the leaders in the field — or at least, proving something which they would consider interesting and worthwhile. From time to time there is a student who is such a genius they step off the plane and make a sudden advance. For the rest of us, for the 99.9 percent of the human race outside this exceptional category, the process through to becoming an expert is similar to the process of becoming a concert musician, or fluent in a foreign language, or an outstanding athlete. Constant training and even a certain amount of repetition — going over things you thought you understood, trying to understand standard proofs in a new way, and so on.
(ii) On a related point, people sometimes underestimate the extent to which apparently novel and even revolutionary research is based on simply developing a deeper understanding of the work from before. Everyone remembers Newton’s quip about standing on the shoulders of giants — what people often don’t realize is the profound efforts Newton made to understand Kepler’s work in a way it had not been understood before, and that even “Kepler’s three laws” were in fact Newton’s carefully constructed isolation of the most valuable ideas among a sea of calculations and speculations. For a young mathematician who wants to become a leading researcher, I would recommend that before anything they try to understand the work of the predecessors in their own research specialization as well as possible — in fact, try to develop their own understanding.
(iii) I personally consider doing a PhD in an area of research that you love to be one of the most positive and uplifting activities in life. Not everyone does it, but it is one of the truly worthwhile things you can do for the brief spell on this planet. However, I cannot sugar coat the economics. The simple fact is that most people who complete a PhD in a pure research area (such as pure math, philosophy, theoretical physics, history, literature, and so on) will never gain full employment in their area of study. I would say do not do a PhD in the expectation of it being a valid career path, parallel to engineering, medicine, or an apprenticeship. Only do it if you have a deep desire to pursue the research and see it as having a transcendant value.
(iv) On a related note, doing a PhD for 4-7 years and then being unable to find a job in academia is not the worst possible outcome. The difficulties start in the case you do find a temporary job or postdoc. I have seen cases where people shuttle between one short term job and then another, only to eventually see the jobs dry up at some point in their 40’s, at which point they are largely unemployable. If you finish the PhD, and you get a temporary job offer, now is a very good time to think long and hard, in the most cold blooded way possible, about your economic future.
(v) For students who want to work specifically with me, I ask that they make some effort to find out about my research area before hand. For instance, most of my papers can be found on line, and a certain amount of googling should give an idea of how my area fits in with other parts of mathematics.
(vi) I work in descriptive set theory, and all my past PhD students have been in this area, or at least on the edge of it. Although I am not necessarily completely opposed to taking on a student outside descriptive set theory, I am wary of it. Given the commitment invovled in pursuing graduate work, you probably want a recognized world expert as your advisor — without that there is certainly a lot less help in the technical support, but also there is the risk of spending a lot of time proving a result which the experts consider trivial or uninteresting. If I ever were to have a student who absolutely wanted to work with me (e.g. for geographical reasons) but not in descriptive set theory, then I would probably try to arrange a co-supervisor in the specialization.
(vii) In actually organizing a PhD student, I place a considerable emphasis on learning “basic” techniques. This usually takes 6-12 months, or longer. Kechris’ “Classical Descriptive Set Theory” contains most of the basic techniques in bold faced descriptive set theory — and I usually try to get students to read the first 18 chapters. Then depending a bit on the orientation of the student, spend some time learning effective techniques (e.g. I learnt effective descriptive set theory from the relevant chapters in Jech, and still consider this a fairly concise source). There is a circle of ideas involving low level lightfaced sets, admissible structures, and infinitary logic — there are no source books here which do the job exactly, but it is something I usually try to get my students to learn since it provides such a valuable calculative too. It is often helpful to learn some of the basics of recursion theory. Higher set theory, such as forcing, is another valuable part of the arsenal — though it usually takes a bit longer than the other material. At some point it makes sense to start exploring possible research topics, and I prefer to do this as a process of collaboration between student and advisor. Maybe start reading through some topical papers, come to a sense of what is most interesting personally.
CFC ARTICLE 1309
”…. If no Canadian Championship is held … it is up to the Zonal President to nominate Canada’s entry in the Inter-Zonal.”
Just when we think it can not get any worse, we are proven wrong. In the past 3 years the CFC has been virtually gutted like a pig on a farm. What was once a fledging $250,000 a year book and equipment business went belly up and was sold for something less than $1,000. The CFC office in Ottawa was sold for less than what it was worth 6 months before. The CFC members’ magazine was discontinued and its immediate replacement (an e-zine) never saw light of day. Membership numbers have dropped and the long announced membership-drive has not even been initiated. The CFC website’s homepage has not been updated in months, and what was once an excellent example for other federations to follow has been allowed to disintegrate thru neglect and worse.
More bad news this week for chess fans in Canada. CFC president Bob Gillanders wrote in the CFC news-letter ”“We received a registered letter [from CRA] just before Christmas telling us that our tax status as a charity has now been annulled.”
Perhaps this was expected. Years of blatant and unchecked abuse of the tax number as a form of kick-back for ”donations” from parents paying for airtickets for their children and themselves to the WYCC had its toll. We were warned. In September 2006 the CRA started to turn the screws on the CFC, no doubt wondering about Brian Hartman’s request for tax receipts for tens of thousands of dollars (re: his sponsorship of the National Team). The then president of the CFC , Chris Mallon, claimed to not have time to be president, resigned on the spot and then disappeared/fled from sight for months …until he was sure that the CRA was not going to dig into more of the dirt behind the misuse of the tax number.
We all know the rumours, but very few of the facts. Les Bunning did not give any detailed written account of his work on behalf of the CFC in trying to salvage the tax number. Once he wrote something on one of the message boards and was immediately labelled a ‘liar’ by Chris Mallon, claiming that he was misleading the membership.
Who knows what the truth is (or was)…today it does not matter any more. The CRA has done what it thought was the right thing.
Gutting the pig
The latest bit of bad news this week is concerning the Canadian Zonal Championship (also known by other names). It appears that the CFC executive has already resigned itself to the option of using article 1309, giving the FIDE representative the personal right to choose whoever he wishes to represent Canada at the FIDE knock-out championship to be held later this summer.
When asked on the message boards about the CFC’s committment to the Zonal Championship, Fred McKim indicated that the CFC had not budgeted even one penny to the event. Should no championship be held, then this will be the first time–in atleast my lifetime–that the CFC will have not been able to hold its premier event.
Lip service is being paid to finding a sponsor, but what is clear to this writer –from the sentiment of the CFC officers’ posts–is that there are no realistic expectations of holding a championship before the deadline arrives (June 15). What is worse, from comments of CFC members ,there is little or no personal pride or sense of national pride in either organizing the national championship or in participating in one. The lowest common denominator rules the day.
The tragedy is not just that a national championship will not be held– but even it were to be organized at the last moment–very few of Canada’s best players would want to play in an event that has lost so much prestige in recent years. In 2004 and again 2006 , when Sid and Alicia Belzberg gave 10k to the event, not one penny was added to the prize fund! It was 100% entry fees. In 2007, Hal Bond found a sponsor for 25k, and similarly not one extra penny found its way into the prizes. When asked about this situation, all Bond had to say was ”I have to eat!”.
The Canadian Zonal has become a golden cow , not for the participants…. but for the TD/Arbiter/Organizer who has by now developed the habit of wanting to see the money first before they step up at bat to organize . The top players have been criticized for asking for more than what their entry fees pay for — all the while the fat and cream of sponsorship has gone into the pockets of others. And it is prefectly legal!
There is some talk that the CFC will put up $2,500 in hope of attracting a bidder or a potential sponsor. Too little, too late! The damage has been done…
SPRAGGETT ON CHESS