Moving time
Posted by aogSunday, 27 November 2005 at 11:01 TrackBack Ping URL

Apparently there is some lamentation about the state of chess playing in the USA.

But Nakamura - who at 15 became the youngest American grandmaster, breaking Bobby Fischer’s record - says that he might give up pro chess because there is so little money in it. Losing Nakamura would be devastating for American chess.

OK, so American chess is devastated and then … what? I understand how afficinados might find this a sad day, but I suspect that society in the USA will continue to operate pretty much as it has.

The key point seems to be that chess is intellectually stimulating and this would be lost. Oddly, the other sport chosen for comparison is poker, which while it has some intellectual aspects, is usually more about psychology than probability. Yet the real problem isn’t that poker is over shadowing chess but that in our technological society, there are an enormously wider variety of choices for intellectual activity than hundreds of years ago. In those days, one could argue that chess was in fact an important source of intellectual effort with a paucity of other choices. But that no longer holds. I, personally, might have gotten in to chess if I hadn’t been exposed to computers. A hundred years ago, intellectual activities that required a lot of infrastructure (such as computer programming) were, of course, restricted to the wealthy. Chess sets could be constructed easily from crude materials and so provided a stimulating past time for the less fortunate. But now, resources beyond the dreams of kings of old are available to all of the middle class and much of the lower economic classes as well. This means that chess is but one choice from an enormous variety of activities, even if one considers only intellectually stimulating ones.

Moreover, one might argue that activities that are more cooperative than competitive might better suit the times. War and military conflict, which is what chess is a simulation of, are no longer profitable. Cooperative pursuits are where the real money is these days. Perhaps it’s time to regulate the exclusive winning paradigm to physical sports.

I have nothing against chess per se, and it would be fine with me if people kept playing. But to consider its descent to obscurity seems just a tad overwrought.

Comments — Formatting by Textile
cjm Monday, 28 November 2005 at 13:28

the ussr had tons of top quality chess players, and a fat lot of good it did them (as a society). chess is just a game, nothing more, and does not require all that much intelligence to play. the media likes to play up chess players as all around smart, but it just ain’t so. think “Raymond” in the movie “Rain Man” and you can see where i am going here.

Annoying Old Guy Monday, 28 November 2005 at 14:05

I wrote too soon :-). Boy One (age 8) has discovered an on-line chess game at Nickelodeon and has been practicing. He’s played She Who Is Perfect In All Ways a few times and done reasonably well. Of course, SWIPIAW did not know that and Boy One saw no reason to inform her until I figured it out. It was a wonderful way to impress her.

cjm Tuesday, 29 November 2005 at 02:03

clever little varmits, aren’t they :) the mysterious and secret world of children. i have a 9 year old with an excellent memory, and he is invaluable when i need to find something in the house. unfortunately i have a 4 year old daughter who is like a manic magpie, who offsets the efforts of #2 son. i live right on the edge of a middle school’s playing fields, and regularly find things that have come over the fence; last week got a rocket :) a friend gave my sons an estes hydrogen fueled rocket set that worked great for one day and then refused to work again. very frustrating as it tapped right into that ugly feeling of having to get something working (code wise) when the problem is beyond immediate reach.

bink Friday, 02 December 2005 at 11:09

I can see the argument that chess is unnecessary to success; however, I disagree with the statement “that activities that are more cooperative than competitive might better suit the times.”

I think just the opposite is true. The only competitiveness that remains in the U.S. is in sports, where the superior truly do rise to the top. The day Jordan sits on the bench while I get my 15 minutes on the court is a long way away, yet that is exactly what has happened in the education system, which also takes a back seat to sports beginning in Jr. High.

Your earlier posting on the Chinese interest in the Internet missed alternative motives, such as they are connected to increase their espionage successes. Connected, their general population increases the noise in the “signal to noise ratio” sufficiently that it remains cost-prohibitive to monitor all traffic, which is why we find successful attacks after they succeed—when we’ve had enough time to process and correlate the events into something meaningful.

In general, the U.S. needs to foster competition, and certainly at the intellectual level. It’s ludicrous to think that other nations are pushing educational programs that are designed to hinder the intellectual while raising the disinterested and intellectually inferior. Yet, that’s the effect of the “No child left behind” program, as Federal dollars are tied to closing the gap between the two groups. Also, given the credit card debt in America and the poor savings of the baby boomers, don’t you think being able to look out several moves is a good thing for the U.S.?

Annoying Old Guy Friday, 02 December 2005 at 11:42

But, if there isn’t any competition left, why teach for it?

More seriously, in the Real World the best, general option is to learn how to cooperate with others for mutual benefit. You’ll get a lot further being generous and helpful with a group of co-workers than you will by doing whatever it takes to “beat” them.

I don’t worry too much about successful Chinese espionage. Just look at the USSR, which also had an amazing string of such successes. That really won the day for them in the end, didn’t it?

And finally, you ask

donít you think being able to look out several moves is a good thing for the U.S?

No, actually, I don’t. When I look at the failures of other nations and cultures, a common theme is how definitively and dedicatedly they planned. Meanwhile, the USA, one of the least planned societies in existence, is now a hyper power the likes of which the planet has never seen. Given that, why do you think “looking out several moves” is a good thing?

bink Friday, 02 December 2005 at 12:31

How about this: Did the US become “a hyper power the likes of which the planet has never seen” because we cooperated or because we competed?

By your argument, we should focus on improving our cooperation with the U.N.

I also believe that governance or development by committee results in crappy products.

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