Chess

Chess is a board game, with 8×8 tiles and some figures on them. It’s a turn-based game, usually played by two players (or one, for practicing), and the players move these figures according to certain rules. The winner is whoever gets first to the other person’s King (a special figure). If you want to further learn the basics of it, this is a good introductory read.

Simple, right? In this post I’ll explain why I like chess and how I got obsessed with it lately ๐Ÿ™‚

Birthday present from my wife

What is it all about?

If you’ve been reading my blog for some time, you surely noticed that I work as a programmer. The first interesting thing that I noticed is the similarities that chess has with my profession. To be more specific:

  • Chess is about optimization: You are looking for a fast check-mate (to capture the opponent’s King)
  • Backtracking: “If I do this move, then my opponent does this move, then I can do this move, …”, I blogged about something similar here. It’s about considering all options (branches in the tree), vs greedy approach (choosing the most “intuitive” branch). There are intuitive moves in chess as well (this matters especially if the games are timed), but it’s mostly the experts who do this since they are trained and know how to see good moves fast.
  • Patience: For most of my life I’ve been playing “fast” games such as World of Warcraft, Zelda, Diablo, DotA where you don’t need to be that much patient. I mean you can just make a move for fun and in most cases, it won’t cause harm. In chess, patience means victory. I needed to learn to slow down and think more.
  • Critical thinking: Use time wisely, play your opponent’s best move (in your mind), and prepare yourself for it, should the opponent play it.
  • And finally, visualization: all of the points above relate to it. You need to play in your mind before doing an actual move. Doing so gives you the option to “revert” a bad move, whereas playing a bad move doesn’t.

Patterns (tactics)

As with every game, in chess there are also patterns. It’s like a formal system that trains your brain (while you’re searching for “theorems” – sequence of good moves), but compared to e.g. Number Theory, in chess you have an opponent – thus the competetiveness, the search for a better “theorem” than your opponent’s. Here are some patterns that I learned:

  • Check, captures, attacks. First, see if you have any checks, if yes, what do they achieve? Then see if you have any captures, if yes, what do they achieve? Finally, consider attacks; “If I attack here then my opponent does this, then I can do this move…”.
  • Most important, and related to the previous point is continuity. If you do this move, what can you do next? And also, what can your opponent do as an answer to it?
  • Checking your opponent’s combinations, and not just looking in advance for your position. For example, what does their move mean? What does it undefend? What does it defend?
  • Power trades. Every figure has a number (weight) associated with it. If you start trading with your opponent, who ends up with a bigger number?
  • Forks are tricky! Knight forks, but also Bishop forks (where e.g. a check is given and a Rook is under attack at the same time)
  • Discovered attacks – when moving one figure makes an attack with another figure.

In general, I improved my skills on how to calculate a good move given a chessboard in some state. I think this book taught me how to do that better, but also videos like this and this.

You must take your opponent into a deep, dark forest where 2+2=5 and the path leading out is only wide enough for one.

Mikhail Tal

Calculating a chess move (searching for a “theorem”) in essence is a tree traversal algorithm with backtracking. Thus, there is a lot of similarity to mathematics, and especially mathematical proofs – I blogged about this previously.

Memorization (ratings)

In chess there’s also a component of memorization, and more specifically, in timed chess memorization is key. For example, my rating went up to 900 (10 min rapid) in about 2 months since I started playing regularly. Your calculation skills do not matter if you cannot make it on time.

However, on some online Elo tests I rate up to 1700, and I can beat computers up to and including 1600. On puzzles, I am at 1500.

My point being, doing tactical puzzles means less anxiety since there is no time pressure, and when I can take my time I usually perform much better.

Bobby Fischer wasn’t very fond of memorization, so he invented Fischer random chess in which the starting positions of the players’ home ranks are randomized so that one cannot apply known openings easily. Personally, I prefer training calculation skills rather than memorizing moves, thus why I mostly avoid timed chess, or if I play timed chess then it’s 10 min rapid or something similar.

Here’s a funny related video that rants about the irrelevance of memorizing openings.

Conclusion

I recently watched/read The Queen’s Gambit, and it just reinforced my interest in chess. I also regularly watch the following content, as it provides some really good stuff on the topic, with a good atmosphere:

There are also some other interesting videos out there, such as this one (funny explanation + accent ๐Ÿ™‚), or this one (a GM playing 3 games in parallel, and blindfolded).

I pity people who do not know how to play chess as I pity those who are not able to love. Chess can make people as happy as love.

Siegbert Tarrasch

To conclude, my goal is not to become a chess expert, for now it’s just enjoying and learning the game ๐Ÿ™‚ If you’re thinking about becoming a chess expert, I’d suggest watching this.

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