Archive for April, 2019

More about playing chess again…

April 23, 2019
citadines

Main London Chess League venue 

We give some more reflections on playing league chess in London now as against in the North-East (mainly) 30 or even 40 years ago.

People

Active chess-players now seem to be either people (men) of retirement age or people (not all men in fact) from Eastern Europe–certainly a diverse group in terms of origins.  With a few exceptions, there is not much evidence of juniors–possibly because there is less time or willingness to organise chess clubs in schools.

I had thought that with the far greater number of players in London you would be more likely to end up playing opponents of the same strength.  In fact the reverse seems to be the case–with large teams (8 or 10 boards) you end up with a an even match somewhere (say on the middle boards) and a mismatch somewhere else (say on the lower boards).

Places

The fact that there is a shortage of public space in London (like church halls and community centres) is hardly a surprise.  You tend to end up doing what you can in a pub, but that won’t really do for chess.  It’s rare to encounter a venue that has sufficient space for both a match and casual games on the same evening.

Procedures

My recollection is that it used to be common practice for somebody to be on hand to welcome the visiting players and show them the toilets and other necessities (this could even be the visiting captain if he was familiar with the venue).  Now it seems that if you arrive early at an away match (and manage to find your way in) you wait like nervous sheep outside a slaughterhouse for some guidance.

The common practice of playing to a finish on the evening is surely to be preferred to adjournment or adjudication, but the quick-play regime means that you get far more possible infringements and penalties, which means that the captains get distracted from their games…

Another point possibly connected with premises is that in my past clubs used to have some ongoing activity in the form of an internal tournament and would also play matches with other clubs while in London it seems to be the other way around–there may (or may not) be some internal activity in between matches.

 

 

How to make best use of Conversation Exchange?

April 3, 2019

language-exchange

We have been asked give some advice on the use of Conversation Exchange, based on something like 4 years’ experience of Russian-English exchange with 10 or so partners, both in  person and over the Internet.

Clarify objectives

To start off, you should be clear from the beginning what you were looking to get out of the exchange and what exactly you could offer in return.

Control discomfort

It is useful to have defined topics of conversation to avoid either having the same conversation time after time or getting into details of one’s life, thoughts and feelings that one would not necessarily want to share with a stranger or chance acquaintance.  The aim is really to keep a level of linguistic discomfort that helps you to learn things that might not be entirely straightforward.  One way of doing this is to set a target of I am going to learn (say) five new things during this conversation–if you meet your target, it really doesn’t matter how many mistakes you make or how stupid you feel.

Exchange between equals

I think you need either a reasonable level of the target language (I think that the site used to say that you needed Upper Intermediate for conversation to be any good–compare the definitions) or a degree of linguistic sophistication so as to make use of material you didn’t necessarily understand immediately.

It is probably also a good idea to explicitly agree on how long the session is going to last and to split the time so that half of it is spent in language A and half in language B.  There is always a tendency to drift into chatting in the language with the stronger learner (let’s say it’s language A), which of course minimises overall effort but then not speaking to foreigners at all reduces it still further.  So you should have discussion of points in language B and correction of mistakes in language B in language B, to avoid getting into language A as a lingua franca.

There is a tendency for some people to want their conversation partners to teach them language X, which is generally not realistic unless the partner is a language teacher by trade–and if they are, then they ought to be paid for their work.

Politeness and safety

Following the general rules for meeting people on sites of various kinds, you should avoid criticising other people you have met there (because the person you are talking to will fear you criticising them to others) and certainly give it up immediately if what is going on makes you feel uncomfortable at a personal level.  More on this here.

Time matters

There are also a number of practical points, which may apply especially to sessions of Internet contact.  It’s best to have a set time each week, because then you’re subconsciously preparing yourself for it.  It’s very difficult to arrange things on the fly with someone who is essentially a stranger–you don’t know what constraints they are operating under or what their conventions are regarding punctuality.  If you’re dealing with somebody from  another cultural background, while it may be clear to you that at five o’clock means some convenient time before 5:30–how are they meant to know that?

Old, slow, weak and stupid: playing chess again, 30 years on

April 1, 2019
chessphoto

Back view of the author after losing (picture from Lewisham Chess Club)

The experience of playing competitive (club) chess again after a break of 30 years gives rise to some interesting reflections.

Principles

It’s easy to decide that the whole thing is pointless.  Over the past three decades, computers have if not totally solved chess then reached the stage of being able to play better than any human player ever could.  In addition, while 30 years ago one merely weak, now one is weak old, slow and stupid.

In addition, it is certainly true that chess is a negative-sum game, in that the pain of defeat is greater than the joy of victory.  There are some rare cases where both sides get pleasure from a well-played draw and some very rare cases where even the loser feels he has played well and so is pleased with his efforts, but these hardly detract from the general point.

This is different from sports such as rugby (where you might not even know the score as the game progresses) and tennis, where you can have a healthy run around the court even in defeat.

So what is the point?  

A long time ago Aristotle asked of tragedy why people took pleasure in witnessing events that would be extremely distressing in real life.  His answer, which seems still to be the correct one, is that working out of these experiences in watching a play enabled one gto better deal with them or the threat of them in real life.

And the same thing happens when you play a game as when you watch a play.  The famous English virtue of character is reflected in how you react to defeat, and if (as you ought to be) you are playing people of the same approximate strength you will have an unfavourable outcome half of the time.  More specifically, chess does give you some insight into:

–whether you are inclined to take a decision (play a move) that makes you feel comfortable rather than one that is the best you can do,in the circumstances;

–how you react to unavoidably unfavourable situations (like playing a much stronger opponent)–of course, the only sensible thing to do is get your head down and do your best, but fantasising and cursing fate are both very popular;

–how you react to unfavourable situations that are due to your mistakes–not by flailing about is a good answer;

–how you make difficult decisions when there is no time to do a proper job.

Old, slow, weak and stupid

It is not clear how far what you learn here is easily transferable to real life, but the insights gained can hardly help.  Responding to the old, slow, weak and stupid point, the interesting thing here is that these learning experiences originate from the levels of conscious incompetence or conscious competence.  When you have reached the level of unconscious competence, so that you do as well as you’re going to without thinking about it, you don’t really get this kind of learning.  The same is true of foreign languages for instance–much of the educational value comes at the beginning when you realise that there really are different ways of doing things from those you take for granted.

Along the same lines, it is true that chess tends to be played by young males in the same way that they do maths homework–some do it better and more quickly because they are cleverer, but very few want to grapple with situations where there are many ways of tackling a complex problem.  Which approach leads to difficulties when they start doing maths tutorial problems at university.

Now the kind of insights to be gained from playing chess are much more useful to the the old, slow, weak and stupid fraternity and have actual lives and real decisions to take than to the young, fast, strong and clever who do not.