Posts Tagged ‘chess’
March 28, 2012 | by Lincoln Michel
In September 2006, the World Chess Championship devolved into a debate about bathrooms. One champion, Veselin Topalov, accused the other, Vladimir Kramnik, of excessive urination, hinting that Kramnik was retreating to the unmonitored bathroom to receive smuggled computer assistance. (Kramnik responded that he merely drank a lot of water.) Kramnik was eventually declared the victor, but to many, the episode displayed the sad state that the grand game had fallen into since Garry Kasparov lost to IBM’s Deep Blue in 1997. Back then, Kasparov was bitter about the loss and accused IBM of cheating—with human intervention, saying that he saw uncanny human intelligence in the computer’s moves.
Even that incident, though, was not the first time the line between man and machine had been blurred in the game. The first machine to awe humanity with its chess mastery was the eighteenth-century life-size automaton known as the Turk. Constructed in 1770 by Wolfgang von Kempelen to impress Empress Maria Theresa, the Turk appeared as a wooden Oriental sorcerer seated at a large cabinet. Before playing commenced, Kempelen would open the cabinet doors to reveal the clockwork machinery that controlled the Turk. The audience could see that there was nothing else inside. After the doors were closed and a challenger seated, the Turk would come eerily to life. He would move the pieces robotically, but shake his head or tap his hand in human displays of annoyance or pride. He also nearly always won.
The Turk became a spectacular attraction, thrilling, baffling, and terrifying viewers across Europe and America for decades. Read More »
June 13, 2011 | by Yascha Mounk
Early on in Stefan Zweig’s Schachnovelle (A Chess Novella) the narrator, a casual chess player, expresses his worry that a serious devotion to chess might bring on madness:
How impossible to imagine [...] a man of intelligence who, without going mad, again and again, over ten, twenty, thirty, forty years, applies the whole elastic power of his thinking to the ridiculous goal of backing a wooden king into the corner of a wooden board!
On Monday, I settled down to watch Bobby Fischer Against the World, an entertaining new HBO documentary, directed by Liz Garbus. Besides chronicling the career of one of the greatest chess players of all time, it is also a rumination on the cold war, on political extremism, on youth prodigies and the dangers of sudden fame, and on loneliness. Finally, perhaps most hauntingly, it is about the relationship between chess, genius, and madness.
Bobby Fischer grew up on Lincoln Place, in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn, the son of a single mother who spent much of her time agitating for communism. A lonely, awkward, uncommunicative boy, he immediately became obsessed with chess when, at age six, he learned how to play from the instructions of a cheap set bought at a candy store below his apartment. Soon, Bobby was staring at his chessboard for hours on end, playing both white and black, engrossed in the absurd attempt of beating himself, and of not letting himself be beaten by himself.
When he was no older than thirteen, this obsession, which at first had worried his mother, seemed to pay off. At the 1956 Rosenwald Memorial Tournament in New York, Bobby’s first appearance at a major chess event, he played a game of such daring and brilliance that he instantly became a sensation in chess circles. Within a year, he had won the prestigious U.S. Open; within another year, he won the U.S. Championship; and within a year after that, he was well on his way toward a lucrative career as an internationally renowned master.
July 1, 2010 | by Richard Brody
This is the second installment of Brody's culture diary. Click here to read part 1.
10:19 A.M. WQXR: Schumann, Three Romances for Oboe and Piano, op. 94, played by Heinz Holliger and Alfred Brendel. One of the great chamber-music recordings1.
11:05 A.M. The Genius and the Goddess: “Mailer2 satirized the homespun Miller as ‘the complacent country squire, boring people with his accounts of clearing fields, gardening, the joys of plumbing (“Nothing like taking a bath in water that comes through pipes you threaded yourself”).’”
2:10 P.M. Village Voice—interviews with the directors Lena Dunham, Aaron Katz, and Matthew Porterfield (the director of two great movies, Hamilton and the forthcoming Putty Hill), about BAMcinemaFEST4.
5:30 P.M. I Am Love, which opens June 25. Operatic, for those who don’t like opera; Viscontian, for those who don’t watch Visconti; erotic, for those who like to watch.
8:10 P.M. The Genius and the Goddess: “In February 1959, when the seventy-four-year-old Danish author Isak Dinesen5—wasted, skeletal and ravaged by syphilis—expressed a desire to meet them, Carson McCullers invited the actress and playwright to lunch at her house in Nyack, New York.”
8:30 P.M. Mozart K. 497, Malcolm/Schiff on Mozart’s own piano from around 1780. Reminds me that my favorite recording of this masterwork of symphonic scope, a Nonesuch LP of it, performed by Robert Levin and Malcolm Bilson, is unavailable on CD. Haven’t heard it since I sold6 my LPs in 1995. Wonder how it would sound now.
9:30 P.M. Watched Jonathon Niese complete his one-hit shutout; saw bits and pieces of the last few innings. Pessimistically expected that, pitching into the ninth inning, he’d lose both his one-hitter and his shutout—I was wrong7.
10:00 P.M. Clifford Jordan and John Gilmore, Blowing In from Chicago, a Blue Note recording from 1957. The cut “Blue Lights,” composed8 by the alto saxophonist Gigi Gryce.
10:25 P.M. Erica Morini, Mozart, Violin Concertos 4 and 5. Morini: a Viennese immigrant (born 1904) with a mellifluous tone, who speaks Mozart as her mother tongue. These are privately-made live recordings, from concerts with a local orchestra, from 1965 and 1971, and a document of the vast cultural enrichment of New York that resulted from the desperate emigrations9 of the nineteen-thirties and forties.
10:57 P.M. I notice a strange Heisenbergian aspect to this diary—the nocturnal chunks of time usually devoted to reading are, this week, instead go into filling out the up-to-the-minute account of the day’s cultural doings. Am reminded of what one great rabbinic scholar said to me about another: I read ten books and write one; he reads one and writes ten. Nonetheless, I am learning something else about my own cultural life: that it’s weirdly regimented, by day and time.
Read More »
- I’ve got the sheet music and play them on alto recorder, changing registers as I go (the oboe’s range is much wider).
- How I miss the caustic, profound voice of Norman Mailer, whom I didn’t know personally (just interviewed once, by telephone).
- The short-sightedness of critics; a great fear, overlooking or dismissing a great film.
- Only in its second year, it’s the city’s best place to see new independent films; which says something about New Directors New Films, the Tribeca Film Festival, and the New York Film Festival.
- Happy to find a reference to one of my favorite colleagues and her biography of Dinesen: “Judith Thurman added an amusing detail to Marilyn’s story: ‘it got a little late, the company was arriving, and the pasta wasn’t ready, so she tried to finish it off with a hair dryer.’”
- Selling LPs—took up too much space; had the sense that I had utterly digested their content and their nutrition had gone into my system.
- What makes a pitcher almost unhittable? The motion on his pitches? Their speed? The mix of pitches that leaves the batter unable to guess what’s coming? The application to the ball of a substance that repels wood?
- Learning that this ultra-familiar, ultra-catchy blues riff has a composer is like learning that “Happy Birthday to You” has a composer.
- The Upper West Side that Saul Bellow preserved in Seize the Day and pickled in Mr. Sammler’s Planet.