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    Monday
    Sep292014

    The Final Interview of Mikhail Tal

    I suspect that this interview would be interesting even if it turned out to be his penultimate or even antepenultimate one, as Mikhail Tal was invariably fascinating, witty and intelligent when communicating with the public.

    Topics include Mikhail Botvinnik (on their matches and computer chess), Bobby Fischer (including a self-undermining remark about what Tal would not mention about Fischer lest he expose him to unfair criticism), Garry Kasparov, the phenomenon of future world champions almost all growing up without their fathers, and Viktor Korchnoi and matters parapsychological.

    One amusing quote illustrating his wicked sense of humor:

    A couple of years ago I've [sic] been to Argentina, and one local grandmaster told me that he recently played blitz with Fischer, and "can you imagine, Misha, he won all the games!" Then I learned that you don't have to be Fischer to do that!

    Ouch. I should add that while it's funny, Tal rarely took shots at opponents in print, generally speaking graciously of his opponents. So this is a rare exception, and it should be noted that he left the grandmaster's identity a secret.

    [HT: Brian Karen]

    Monday
    Sep292014

    Urban Chess in the Big Apple

    Here's a so-called human-interest story (as opposed to most stories, which are presumably written for the birds - or perhaps for the birds' owners), brought to you by reader Marc Beishon.

    Monday
    Sep292014

    Shirov vs. Sveshnikov

    Both are Latvians grandmasters who love sharp play, but as Alexei Shirov is 200 points higher rated and 22 years younger than Evgeny Sveshnikov, their six game (g/50) match this weekend looked unlikely to be much of a contest...and it wasn't. Shirov blew him away, 5.5-0.5.

    Shirov administered a whipping in the other direction late last year when he smashed Russian teenager Daniil Dubov 5-1, but he'll come up on a real test in a few weeks...or will he? On this page's "Future Events Calendar" it mentions a match between Shirov and Anish Giri due to run from October 12-18. That's wonderful, but Giri is also scheduled to play in the Grand Prix tournament in Baku from October 1-15. As I doubt he'll leave early for the sake of the Shirov match and don't expect him to try a simul, there seems to be a difficulty here. Hopefully some accommodation will be found, and the Giri-Shirov match will come off without a hitch.

    Monday
    Sep292014

    Which Engine Should You Choose?

    As I recall, I linked to an article on this topic some months or maybe around a year ago, and now with a new edition of Komodo on the market a new article has been written. The author addresses the big three engines: Stockfish 5, Komodo 8, and the aging but still worthwhile Houdini 4. His conclusion, in a nutshell, is that if one is engaging in serious, deep analysis and not just basic tactical checking then one should of course download Stockfish, as it's free, and if one must choose between Komodo 8 and Houdini 4 the former is the better choice due its positional strength.

    Sunday
    Sep282014

    Notre Dame 31, Syracuse 15

    It was a pretty ugly game, in which Notre Dame's offense either played brilliantly (e.g. Everett Golson came within one completion of equaling the all-time NCAA record of 26 consecutive pass completion) or ineptly (five turnovers!). They were more than strong enough for Syracuse, but can't afford to be this sloppy against the cream of their schedule - that includes their next opponent.

    Record so far: 4-0.

    Next victim: Stanford.

    Tune time!

    Saturday
    Sep272014

    Notre Dame To Make Orange Juice Tonight

    Starting in about an hour and televised on ABC, the 8th-ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish will make pulp out of the Syracuse Orangemen in what's a road game for both teams. (It's played in New Jersey.) It looks like at least one team amonst the top 7 may lose, so after Notre Dame's glorious victory this evening they should be moving up in next week's poll. Number 1 is inevitable!

    Thursday
    Sep252014

    It's The Software

    Here is an interesting article by Albert Silver, who decided to put to the test the (innocently-meant) slander that current engines are only or at least mostly better than their predecessors on account of upgrades in hardware. To test this, Silver set up a six-game match between the new program Komodo 8 on his smart phone against the 2006 chess program Deep Shredder 10 on his top of the line computer and its quad-core i7 processor. The desktop computer is 50 times faster than the smart phone, but wasn't anywhere near enough to rescue the older program. Komodo 8 won four games, drew two and lost none, and in both of the draws it was the one doing the pressing.

    Maybe the next test can be Komodo 8 (or the latest version of Stockfish) on the phone against the first version of Rybka on the desktop?

    Thursday
    Sep252014

    Women's World Championship Postponed "For a Few Months"

    FIDE was supposed to have the women's world championship, knockout edition, start in a couple of weeks, but it has fallen through and will be postponed for a few months, according to this press release. Not being a fan of knockout world championships, I wouldn't mind if it's "postponed" forever and the women's championship parallels the "men's"/open title's cycle. That said, it's ridiculous and worse that FIDE put this on the calendar a long time ago and surely cost the 64 invitees a fair amount of money for hiring seconds, clearing their schedule of other events and invitations, and so on. (I hope the 110 delegates who kept Kirsan Ilyumzhinov in power are happy.)

    Sunday
    Sep212014

    Bilbao 2014: Wrapping Up

    In the last post I mentioned the so-called 10,000 hour rule, and a couple of weeks ago it was the Dunning-Kruger effect that made an appearance. Today's topic from the broader world of ideas is the peak-end rule, according to which an event is not emotionally evaluated in retrospect as the sum or average of its emotional moments, but rather by the feelings at the event's peak (whether positive or negative) and at its end. Applied to chess, a mediocre tournament might be remembered well if we win a beautiful game along the way and finish with a win. Conversely, a tournament that went well but finished with a painful and unnecessary loss might always be remembered afterwards with bitterness - even though the same results played in a different order might have led us to remember it fondly.

    Why do I bring this up? If you followed the finale of the Grand Slam Masters, you can probably guess. Viswanathan Anand led from start to finish, was +3 after four rounds and looked to be in great shape heading into his match with Magnus Carlsen - especially as the latter's form has been relatively spotty of late. Anand drew in round five and clinched overall tournament victory, but in the last round lost to Levon Aronian. Anand still won the tournament and gained points, and his form this year gives him grounds for confidence against Carlsen. But this last round loss can't feel good, especially as his final official game before the world championship match. He lost to someone he used to struggle mightily against but against whom he had recently turned the tables, and lost some ground on the rating list too. Hopefully this doesn't harm his confidence too much going into the match, but we shall see!

    In the other game, Francisco Vallejo Pons obtained his first win over the event, defeating Ruslan Ponomariov to catch up to him. Final scores: Anand 11, Aronian 10, Ponomariov & Vallejo 5. (This is on Bilbao's 3-1-0 scoring; in "real" scoring it's Anand & Aronian with 4/6, Ponomariov & Vallejo with 2.)

    In the concurrent and co-located European Club Cup, the SOCAR team "from" Azerbaijan won the event with a perfect 7-0 team score. In the last round, their win occurred only thanks to that famous Azeri Veselin Topalov, who gradually defeated Peter Svidler in an opposite-colored bishop ending. Topalov himself (who is of course Bulgarian, not Azeri) had a great tournament and finished with an individual rating of 2799.5, which will be rounded up to 2800 at the end of the month. It's not his first time there, but it's impressive to see him reclaim that rating after a couple of years of indifferent results. Aside from the Candidates' tournament, Topalov has been playing very well lately. Maybe catching Carlsen and Fabiano Caruana is asking too much of him, but he is at #3 in the world now and showing glimpses of his former glory.

    Speaking of Caruana, he finished strongly and concluded the event with another 7.5 points (which will be rounded up to +8) and will have an amazing, official rating of 2844 in a couple of weeks. Other big ratings winners are Anish Giri, who gained more than 10 points and hopped up to #7 in the world, and Hou Yifan, whose performance in the women's section has brought her up to 2673, just two points behind the newly retired Judit Polgar. Not too shabby! A good result in next month's women's world championship knockout tournament could very easily install her at #1 on the women's list, and a great result could have her tickling the 2700 barrier. As with Anand, we will see....

    Thursday
    Sep182014

    10,000 Hours Is Not Enough (For Most Of Us)

    While it was Malcolm Gladwell who laughed all the way to the bank writing about it in Outliers, it was Anders Ericsson and his collaborators who did the actual work a couple of decades ago. The topic was mastery, and Ericsson et al's conclusion was that 10,000 hours of deliberate practice was what was needed to do the job. Deliberate practice is not just spending time at the activity, but engaging in challenging work designed to foster one or more of the activity's key skills.

    Most fans and advocates of the "10,000 hour rule" didn't go so far as to say that the only thing that mattered was deliberate practice, but one would be forgiven for thinking otherwise based on the popularizers' works. Either way, it was considered to be a huge part of the puzzle--the key element, really. "Talent is overrated", announced one book's title, and one might even wonder if such a thing exists at all.

    In a way it's a flattering notion, because it suggests that you and I could have been as good at chess as Bobby Fischer, Garry Kasparov and Magnus Carlsen. It was just bad luck that we didn't start training when they did, and didn't have coaches helping us get in that deliberate practice before life forced us to choose other paths. On the other hand, it can be intimidating too, because even if we didn't have their headstart we still have no one left to blame for ourselves. If we just put in the time, then by golly we can become leading grandmasters as well. (And even if not quite at the top, we can be at least "entry level" GMs, right?)

    The 10,000 hour rule is encouraging, because it gives us hope. We don't have to fear that we've either got the talent or we don't. But then it can be discouraging too. If we put in our hours as diligently as we can, using the best training material and coaches and all the rest, and still don't succeed, then what? We're confused and frustrated, and are left wondering if we're negative outliers, among those relative few whose cognitive abilities are just too limited for deliberate practice to make much of a difference.

    Well, good news: common sense has returned to the discussion. A metastudy by Brooke Macnamara of Case Western University (done when she was a grad student at Princeton) suggests that deliberate practice only accounts for a small fraction of individual differences in ability - between 1% in some fields and at most 26% in others. This is not to say that deliberate practice is without value - in most case, it's indispensable. But its role is quite limited, and it's not the great equalizer available to all, alas.

    So by all means, engage in deliberate practice. That's a big part of making the most of your talent and opportunities, and you will never achieve your best without it. But if doing so doesn't turn you into the next Fabiano Caruana, that's okay. Do your best, give yourself a break, and appreciate all the more the wonderful chess he is able to produce.

    (For a popular treatment of Macnamara's study and its implications, have a look here. For the study itself, here's the link.)

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