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Chess, intuition and the "rational agent" myth

by Ted Welch Tue Oct 29th, 2013 at 03:59:59 PM EST

carlsen

I became interested in chess again when, over a year ago, I came across current chess prodigy, Magnus Carlsen. As with my diary about  climbing it was chance on the internet which led me back to chess. I thought it sad that, despite watching lots of news, and given his incredible talent, I hadn't heard of him before. Here was a young guy, described by some as "the Mozart of chess", who'd been displaying amazing talent for years, and I'd seen nothing about him. Now, at only 22, he's about to try for the World Championship:




... the young Norwegian is likely to become chess world champion himself, when he has his first shot at the title in November. In one of the most anticipated clashes since Fischer-Spassky in the 1970s

and Karpov-Kasparov in the 80s and 90s, Carlsen will be taking on the 43-year-old five-time world champion Viswanathan Anand in India. Vishy, as he is known, has been in intense training for the match for three months. Carlsen has a much more relaxed approach. It is part of his genius.

http://www.theguardian.com/sport/2013/oct/19/magnus-carlsen-chess-grandmaster


Anand


"The Mozart of Chess"

There's some really interesting stuff in this brief documentary (13 minutes), even if you're not very interested in chess:

He's shown playing ten players simultaneously - without looking at the boards ! (apparently the record is currently 45). But he also plays football whenever he can in a busy chess schedule (he travels to matches and tournaments 200 days a year); fitness is important even in chess (10 mins into the programme, see also the Fischer interview below). He's also shown playing, when only 13 years old, Kasparov - and getting up from the game when he got a bit bored ! He got a draw - but thinks he had a potentially winning position - but was intimidated by Kasparov's reputation (8 mins).

Carlsen-vs-Kasparov

He says he enjoys seeing his opponent "suffering" (4.20).

Carlsen said that for him, great chess playing is less the "scientific search for the best approaches" than "psychological warfare with some little tricks." In the 2011 Wijk aan Zee tournament in Holland, ... he lost his confidence. He told the writer, "Suddenly, I started to get these doubts. All of a sudden, my fighting spirit was almost gone."

http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2011/03/21/110321fa_fact_max

Cf.

"Breaking his ego"

Here's an interview with Booby Fischer from 1971, after he'd gained a reputation for being difficult, but when he seemed to have gained more self-control and an ability to cope with journalists. He's asked about the greatest pleasure and he says it is breaking the opponent's ego (3.20 minutes). Cavett has some fun with the idea that one needs to be fit to play chess and Fischer tries to convey just how physically tiring that level of concentration for around five hours can be - motivated by that pleasure of winning:

But generally Fischer comes over as relaxed and smart, and points out that despite his reputation for being difficult, he only walked out of two matches - out of 60.

Carlsen says he is a bit worried about the possibility of becoming like the older Fischer, who became rather eccentric and paranoid (11 mins into the "Mozart" prog).  

My brief chess career

I was a bit involved in chess in my 20s. Once I played in a chess cafe, afterwards a guy gave me a lift and on the way asked me to go over my game. I said that I didn't think I could remember it. He said "Just  try" and, to my surprise, I was able to go through the game on a pocket set. We have more abilities than we know - it was an unknown known (Rumsfeld)  :-)

Later I joined the local chess club and they invited me to enter for a tournament. I said I wasn't that good a player, but they said everybody entered, it wasn't a big deal, so I signed up. When it came to my first game, my opponent put a clock by the board (the first time I'd played using a clock) and informed me that this was in fact the tournament trophy and he was the current Hertfordshire county champion ! However, despite this intimidating introduction, after a while he offered me a draw and, surprised but grateful, I accepted it.

Psychology - confidence

I think this illustrates the role that psychology plays in the game. He didn't know my level and, as champion, didn't want, I suppose, to risk losing in the first round, while I had nothing to lose. We played again and this time, with nothing to lose, he beat me fairly easily.

However the club members were apparently impressed by my first game and invited me to join the club team. I said it was a fluke and I really didn't think I was club team level. After that I became more interested in film and began evening classes in film study and then later, philosophy, which can be very competitive and where there are also established attacks and defenses of various main arguments.

Again psychology can be important; in a philosophy seminar one of my lecturers read the latest chapter of his book. I thought there was a mistake in his argument, but hesitated to challenge him, wondering if it was really a mistake if he hadn't realised it himself. But then another philosophy lecturer made exactly my point and I could have kicked myself for being intimidated (even though I quite often argued with lecturers).

It helps if one has self-confidence, as displayed in the domain of chess by Fischer and Carlsen - and Bogolyubov:


"When I am White I win because I am White. When I am Black I win because I am Bogolyubov."

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Efim_Bogoljubov

Perhaps it helped that "Bogolyubov" means "beloved of God" in Russian.

Cf. Carlsen:


...in tournaments my assumption is that I am the best player there. That is why I seek positions where computer analysis can't play that much of a role, or where I can analyse it better than a computer." Not short of self-belief then.

http://www.theguardian.com/sport/2013/oct/19/magnus-carlsen-chess-grandmaster

However, while self-confidence can help, it's no guarantee of success:

To booze or not to booze

But even when he [Bogolyubov] was at his best, he was never as good as Alekhine. His tragedy is that he never accepted that fact. In the 1934 match he thought he had solved the puzzle: Alekhine was hypnotizing him! So he armed himself with dark eyeglasses. The glasses helped only for a game or two, but then they became annoying - to Bogolyubov.

Next he decided that Alekhine's drinking was what accounted for the difference. So during the next three games, which were played in Mannheim, Bogolyubov stopped giving Alekhine odds of hard liquor. Alekhine's practice at that time was to have a few quick drinks at the bar during each game, and in Mannheim Bogolyubov matched him drink for drink. Amazingly, it worked, but again only for a game or two. Bogolyubov lost this match, as he had lost the first one in 1929, without ever figuring out why.

http://www.chesscafe.com/text/kmoch01.pdf

Carlsen has a very different attitude about alcohol (but then he's from Norway):


But I find it more difficult to play opponents who I feel, for whatever reason, aren't approaching the games with a sufficient level of seriousness. For instance, once at a big tournament I saw a player I was due to play the next day have a couple of drinks. Knowing that just ruined my concentration, because I thought how can I play seriously against someone who has drinks the day before?"

http://www.theguardian.com/sport/2013/oct/19/magnus-carlsen-chess-grandmaster

Carlsen's intuition:

At only 13 Carlsen beat Karpov (former world champion), who said afterwards that Carlsen was surprisingly "productive" of ideas for such a young player. That may be partly to do with the way Carlsen started in chess:

Magnus Carlsen, aged 14.

Carlsen, aged 14

I started by just sitting by the chessboard exploring things. I didn't even have books at first, and I just played by myself. I learnt a lot from that, and I feel that it is a big reason why I now have a good intuitive understanding of chess.

http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/m/magnus_carlsen.html

Cf.:


... if I study a position for an hour then I am usually going in loops and I'm probably not going to come up with something useful. I usually know what I am going to do after 10 seconds; the rest is double checking." He calls this process verifying his intuition. "Often I cannot explain a certain move, only know that it feels right, and it seems that my intuition is right more often than not."

http://www.theguardian.com/sport/2013/oct/19/magnus-carlsen-chess-grandmaster

Complexity and the myth of the  "rational agent"

This brings me to the  link between chess and economics suggested by the title. Through another bit of serendipity, just after I thought of writing a diary about chess, I came across this, in "23 Things They Don't Tell You About Capitalism", by Ha-Joon Chang (which I recommend):


When the Nobel prize-winners in financial economics, top bankers, high-flying fund managers, prestigious colleges and the smartest celebrities have shown that they do not understand what they are doing, how can we accept economic theories that work only because they assume that people are fully rational ? The upshot is that we are not smart enough to leave the market alone.
...
[Herbert] Simon's favourite example of how we need some rules in order to cope with our bounded rationality was chess. With only thirty-two pieces and sixty-four squares, chess may seem to be a  relatively simple affair, but in fact it involves a huge amount of calculation. If you were one of those `hyper-rational' beings (as Simon calls them) that populate standard economics textbooks, you would of course, figure out all the possible moves and calculate their likelihoods before you make a move. But, Simon points out, there being 10 to 120 (yes, that is 120 zeroes) possibilities in an average game of chess, this `rational' approach requires mental capacity that no human being possesses. Indeed, studying chess masters, Simon realised that they used rules of thumb (heuristics) to focus on a small number of possible moves, in order to reduce the number of scenarios that need to be analysed, even though the excluded moves may have brought better results.

If chess is this complicated, you can imagine how complicated things are in our economy, which involves billions of people and millions of products.

...

It is not because the government knows better that we need regulations. It is in the humble recognition of our limited mental capability that we do.

I experienced intuitive flow once when I played a blitz game. Having to make all the moves in a few minutes, there was no time for analysis and I just went with my intuition and I think I sacrificed a couple of pieces, but it brought his king out and, to my surprise, I was able to get checkmate - it felt good ! I'm not sure I could have played that game if I'd had time to think about it.

I remember reading this by the great Russian player (who spent most of his life in Germany): Bogoljubov:  "I know that I'm on form when my analysis matches my intuition."

Amazingly,  there's old film  from 1928 online of Bogoljubov playing Euwe - it's a blitz game so they're playing pretty intuitively:

http://www.geschiedenis24.nl/speler.program.7136946.html

However, Bogolyubov, like Carlsen still does the analysis; intuition can be mistaken and we need to be as rational as is reasonable, in chess by applying "heuristics" (see Chang above).

Victory for empirical analysis - and its relation to intuition

The 2012 presidential election brought the powers of the empirical into sharp focus. Statistician Nate Silver of The New York Times' FiveThirtyEight blog toppled pundits and their predictions based on theory, history and intuition by correctly predicting the outcome of the electoral vote, including in nine swing states. It was a turning point in making the case that statistical analysis holds a better chance at determining the outcome of an election than, say, Chris Matthews. Obama emerged victorious, and so did empiricists.

Kevin Lyons, svp of analytics at eXelate, notes that Silver's political calculus is essentially the same math used to figure out which consumers to target with an online ad. In marketing, however, the statistical and the intuitive are not at odds; rather, they have become complementary.

Eric Bosco of ChoiceStream notes that the traditional creative side of advertising sets the stage for fancy math to do its work. It narrows the field of possibilities, so algorithms can be more effective.

http://exelate.com/news/the-geeks-shall-inherit-the-earth/

Pre-championship mind-games

According to Leonard Barden the stage for the world championship is being set with some mind games.

Carlsen visited India prior to the match with Anand:

Carlsen got a warm welcome including one from 2000 screaming girl fans, but the Indians had also prepared a trap, one used by the Soviet Union in the 1930s and by England in the 1970s for top foreign grandmasters. The world No1 was asked to play a simultaneous match against 20 children, who all turned out to be national champions and world youth prizewinners. India is a top nation in junior chess, as were the USSR and England in the old days, and Carlsen won only 10 games, conceding six draws and four defeats.

...
Before the current Sinquefield Cup in St Louis Carlsen visited the local Webster University, which boasts the world's best college chess team. However, he spent his time there playing soccer and basketball, demonstrating his physical fitness and having it all recorded in photos which Anand would be sure to see on the internet. The subliminal message was that Carlsen, 21 years the younger, will be happy to grind on for 80, 100, even 150 moves when they meet at Chennai.

http://www.theguardian.com/sport/2013/sep/13/magnus-carlsen-vishy-anand-world-title

carlsen-football

Carlsen with the ball

Anyway, the big match - far more interesting to some of us than lots of over-paid guys kicking a ball around - is coming up in November - will the young challenger beat the established champ ? But it is Anand who is the underdog, given Carlsen's recent performance and current rating. I hope that Carlsen's intuition will be working productively without the need for grinds of 150 moves and that he might broaden the audience for the great game.

carlsen-kid

Display:
I've pointed out before that the way even mathematics very often proceeds is to have an intuition about something and then find a way of stating then proving it - sometimes by very indirect means. All the machinery is there to do the stating/proving bit.

More widely, that's what the tools of rationality are for: backing up our intuitions. Double-checking, as your example says. They don't help if you don't use them ...

by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Wed Oct 30th, 2013 at 04:45:21 AM EST
There are many stories of intuition being right. It would be interesting to do a controlled study to find out how often intuition is right, and whether or not there's any way of predicting that it's right.

E.g. my outsider take on recent physics is that it's basically a process of throwing random stuff at the wall. The set of mathematically plausible ideas is much bigger than the set of testable ideas, which is much bigger than the set of ideas that actually survive empirical testing.

So every so often someone gets lucky and their idea gets through the testing process. Then they get a Nobel.

But it might not be intuition that got them there, so much as winning the idea lottery by randomly picking the right possibility out of many.

Creative scientists, who get to the same place by reliable original insights, seem exceptionally rare.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Wed Oct 30th, 2013 at 07:37:41 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Actually, the mathematical process is,

  1. Have intuition.
  2. State it.
  3. Try to prove it.
  4. If proved false, go back to 2, or maybe 1 (refine/redo your intuition).
  5. Success!
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Wed Oct 30th, 2013 at 08:30:11 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Actually:

4a. If failed to prove, go back to 2 or 1.
4b. If proved false, state negation and go back to 3.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Oct 30th, 2013 at 10:27:57 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yeah, and I left out "repeat ad nauseum or worse".
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Wed Oct 30th, 2013 at 10:30:10 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Occasionally, 5 is achieved.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Oct 30th, 2013 at 10:32:55 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Koestler described the more general process (would apply to maths too) in The Act of Creation like this:

Awareness of a problem

Research

Incubation period

Insight/intuition

Checking

Bertrand Russell said that when younger he'd tried to solve problems in maths by continual work on them - to the point of exhaustion and frustration. Later he realised that if, after some work, he just left it for a while, a possible solution would pop into his mind to be checked out.


Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.

by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Wed Oct 30th, 2013 at 10:44:33 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Which sounds all lovely and noble. Sort of like a product label for artisan cheese, with maidens dancing through the countryside after their cows. Leaves out a lot of of sweat and stink and drool and sour milk.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Wed Oct 30th, 2013 at 10:48:45 AM EST
[ Parent ]

And sour grapes ? :-) Clearly even the first could be a long, painful process, revealing a problem in one's work which had already taken a lot of sweat and which one thought was correct. The research could be difficult and lead up blind alleys. There is, of course, no guarantee that a correct insight would arrive - a common occurrence and rather sickening.

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.
by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Wed Oct 30th, 2013 at 11:11:23 AM EST
[ Parent ]
There's a joke about maths lecturers using "clearly" to mean "after an awful lot of boring grind".
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Wed Oct 30th, 2013 at 11:42:48 AM EST
[ Parent ]

I saw a TV version: a lecturer writes some symbols on a board and says: "So it's obvious that ..."  Very long pause - "Er, so it's obvious that ...."

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.
by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Wed Oct 30th, 2013 at 03:37:39 PM EST
[ Parent ]
How much math have you actually done, Ted?

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Oct 30th, 2013 at 11:43:41 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Oh here we go again (as in the discussion of String theory): "You're not an expert, you're not allowed to talk about this". I referred to maths in the most general way, Koestler's account of the creative process was supposed to apply, in general, to all areas. If you think it mistaken in relation to maths, give us the benefit of your expert opinion. I quoted Russell on his experience of working on maths which illustrated the importance of the incubation stage. If you have anything significant to contribute please do so.  

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.
by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Wed Oct 30th, 2013 at 03:24:51 PM EST
[ Parent ]

By the way, is TBG allowed to have a 'take" on "recent physics" - as a mere "outsider" ?

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.

by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Wed Oct 30th, 2013 at 03:39:55 PM EST
[ Parent ]
That from Koestler and Russell sounded just like Feynman's "method" for solving problems:

  1. write que question on the board
  2. think real hard
  3. write the answer

or Dirac's quip that "to understand an equation means to be able to write down the solution without calculating".

Which is fun and all, but was just (especially in Feynman's case) intended as a joke and definitely not reflective of the amount of hard work both men devoted to their problem-solving.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Oct 31st, 2013 at 05:41:41 AM EST
[ Parent ]

Feynman's joke leaves out how one gets to the stage of knowing what the problem is. This, and working on the problem, can involve lots of hard work.  Koestler notes the fact of work/study which leads to awareness of a problem in the sciences, maths, etc., or a felt need to express something in the arts. Wallas, in a model similar to Koestler's calls this the "preparation" stage. But it is a model, a sort of ideal form; he notes how, in reality, these stages can be mixed up:


In 1926, English social psychologist and London School of Economics co-founder Graham Wallas penned The Art of Thought, laying out his theory for how creativity works. Its gist, preserved in the altogether indispensable The Creativity Question (public library), identifies the four stages of the creative process -- preparation, incubation, illumination, and verification -- and their essential interplay:

In the daily stream of thought these four different stages constantly overlap each other as we explore different problems. An economist reading a Blue Book, a physiologist watching an experiment, or a business man going through his morning's letters, may at the same time be "incubating" on a problem which he proposed to himself a few days ago, be accumulating knowledge in "preparation" for a second problem, and be "verifying" his conclusions on a third problem. Even in exploring the same problem, the mind may be unconsciously incubating on one aspect of it, while it is consciously employed in preparing for or verifying another aspect. And it must always be remembered that much very important thinking, done for instance by a poet exploring his own memories, or by a man trying to see clearly his emotional relation to his country or his party, resembles musical composition in that the stages leading to success are not very easily fitted into a "problem and solution" scheme. Yet, even when success in thought means the creation of something felt to be beautiful and true rather than the solution of a prescribed problem, the four stages of Preparation, Incubation, Illumination, and the Verification of the final result can generally be distinguished from each other.

http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/tag/arthur-koestler/

Koestler's account of creativity involves the key idea of the bisociation of matrices - the way creativity involves the integration of previously unrelated sets of ideas.

Here's a bit more on how Koestler's model applies to the development of science in general.


The Evolution of Ideas

Koestler argues that just as ontogeny reproduces phylogeny the historical progress of science mirrors on a large scale the characteristic stages of individual discovery. In the history of any research programme, we see periods of preparation, in which new data are collected and interpreted; incubation, in which alternative matrices ripen; discovery, which involves the cross-fertilisation of previously separate branches of science, mental disciplines or experimental techniques and verification and elaboration, in the synthesis is hardened into a new collective orthodoxy.

http://webprojects.eecs.qmul.ac.uk/marcusp/notes/koestler.pdf



Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.
by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Tue Nov 5th, 2013 at 04:00:06 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I shall ask our artisan cheese maiden about this, this evening at our food distribution.

Though my intuition tells me she's surely no maiden.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Wed Oct 30th, 2013 at 11:58:59 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Have you moved on from that intuition to the incubation phase?

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Wed Oct 30th, 2013 at 06:05:52 PM EST
[ Parent ]
That's an interesting insight into economics, thank you

keep to the Fen Causeway
by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Wed Oct 30th, 2013 at 04:48:14 AM EST

Thanks.

Chang is one of the guys who inspired the recent student rebellion against orthodox economics:

The organisers criticise university courses for doing little to explain why economists failed to warn about the global financial crisis and for having too heavy a focus on training students for City jobs.

A growing number of top economists, such as Ha-Joon Chang, who teaches economics at Cambridge University, are backing the students.

http://www.theguardian.com/business/2013/oct/24/students-post-crash-economics



Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.
by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Wed Oct 30th, 2013 at 04:15:36 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The Dutch Chess Grandmaster and teacher of the game: Max Euwe.

Aljechin - Euwe, World Championship 1935

I learned of Max Euwe as a great mathematician and professor at University of Amsterdam's Mathemathical Centrum. The first Dutch computer was build here and laid the foundation of NV Electrologica, mainly for scientific studies marketed to European Universities.
[btw my first Dutch employer - Oui]

Global Warming - distance between America and Europe is steadily increasing.

by Oui on Wed Oct 30th, 2013 at 07:43:28 AM EST


Euwe will go down to chess history as the apostle of method. He is a Doctor of Mathematics, a qualified actuary, licensed to teach book-keeping, an accomplished boxer, swimmer, aviator. He has written more books than any three other living masters put together.  - Hans Kmoch



Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.
by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Wed Oct 30th, 2013 at 03:48:46 PM EST
[ Parent ]
An engrossing read, and your diary actually managed to jolt my memory back to the days I was still playing chess as a pastime - though playing chess in competition with time control I found simply too enervating at that age. Probably that still applies today.

Still, this anecdote stood out particularly:

Again psychology can be important; in a philosophy seminar one of my lecturers read the latest chapter of his book. I thought there was a mistake in his argument, but hesitated to challenge him, wondering if it was really a mistake if he hadn't realised it himself. But then another philosophy lecturer made exactly my point and I could have kicked myself for being intimidated (even though I quite often argued with lecturers).

This applies to plenty other tenets in life. I've my own little anecdote how worthwhile it can be to listen to one's intuition: a little over a year ago, I was involved with a number of stories about illegal Iraqi's in the Netherlands who refused to return to Iraq - but couldn't be forced to leave, leaving them in a wrenching bureaucratic abyss.

In protest, the Iraqi's  had build an impromptu camp in front of a local asylum centre. After a couple of weeks, the city council ordered a removal by force on legal grounds, the judge agreed and so the camp was broken up. The protesters were provided with governmental facilities spread across the country, thereby strategically defusing the movement.

Interest piqued, I searched and read the court order that underpinned the camp's removal. A number of inconsistencies and inaccuracies of the judge struck me, leaving me with the impression that the decision of the camp's removal was flawed and had no legal ground. Still, if it  was the court's decision, who was I to question that kind of authority? No one else of our editors could make sense of it, so I let the story drop, moving on as one does. To our editorial team's amazement (and of course my personal chagrin), some two weeks later the law journalist in a competing newspaper raised hell and fury about the same inconsistencies of the court order and concluded the removal of the camp had been illegal and in breach of the law.

So one learns.

by Bjinse on Wed Oct 30th, 2013 at 08:19:17 AM EST

Yes, it's tough to overcome this sometimes excessive respect for authority. In "The Big Short" Lewis writes about some guys who challenged the prevailing orthodoxy and predicted the crisis. But they all tended to have problems in general social interaction - there are insidious social pressures to conform.

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.

by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Wed Oct 30th, 2013 at 03:54:28 PM EST
[ Parent ]
very nice diary, Ted, thanks!

i wonder if there have been brainscans of chess masters, to study their mental architecture, to see if there are some conformities particular to this very refined skill. which lobes or hemisphere predominate, for example?

are chess masters possessed of greater memory power than other disciplines?

is there any other game or sport that requires similar attributes, such prolonged, disciplined, patiently focussed aggression?

plenty food for thought and still the vids to watch! too busy....

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Wed Oct 30th, 2013 at 10:47:37 AM EST
To my knowledge there hasn't been a study of the top players.  Back in the 90s a US study used fMRI to look at the neural activity of chess players.  I don't know anymore that than.  A 2003 (?) US study used fMRI to look at novice chess players, I don't remember anything other than the obvious being reported.

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre
by ATinNM on Wed Oct 30th, 2013 at 01:01:40 PM EST
[ Parent ]


very nice diary, Ted, thanks!

Thanks melo.


is there any other game or sport that requires similar attributes, such prolonged, disciplined, patiently focussed aggression?

Well, not a game or sport, but legal cross-examination comes to mind. M. Gladwell,(OK, I know he's a bad guy :-)) interviewed about his latest book, referred to a lawyer who is dyslexic and had developed a remarkable memory, so that in day six of a cross-examination he would say: "But what you said on day one contradicts what you just said."

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.

by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Wed Oct 30th, 2013 at 04:09:40 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Bobby Fischer - "I won't play on Friday, but that's just God's law"

As the US was sending arms to Bosnia while the UN sanctions were in place, the US Treasury filed charges against Bobby Fischer for playing the chess game in Croatia in 1992. He died in exile in Reykjavik.

Sounds familiar?
Tiny Iceland Stands Up to USA and for a Flawed Genius  by Welshman

Global Warming - distance between America and Europe is steadily increasing.

by Oui on Wed Oct 30th, 2013 at 10:56:03 AM EST
I wonder how much time a cricket bowler or a baseball pitcher or a soccer forward puts in calculating the trajectory of the ball he is about to engage?
by asdf on Wed Oct 30th, 2013 at 11:04:05 AM EST

During the entire middle portion of the pitch, the batter must time the ball and decide where to swing. If the batter decides to swing, he must start when the ball is approximately 25 to 30 feet in front of the plate. The ball will arrive at the plate about 250 thousandths of a second later -- about the limit of human reaction time. The bat must make contact with the ball within an even smaller time range: A few thousandths of a second error in timing will result in a foul ball. Position is important, too. Hitting the ball only a few millimeters too high or too low results in a fly ball or a grounder.

Exactly how humans are able to estimate the expected position of a quickly moving ball is unknown. Obviously, this remarkable skill is learned through long practice. Eye-brain-body coordination is acquired only by going through the motions over and over; even so, the batter misses most of the time. Getting a hit three times out of ten at bat is considered an excellent average. It's interesting that George Schaller and other ethologists have observed that lions and cheetahs are also successful only about a third of the time in capturing their prey.

Blitz chess can go pretty fast:



Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.

by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Wed Oct 30th, 2013 at 11:36:17 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The speed in blitz chess is a lot about having the textbook knowledge to know directly which opening the opponent is playing and not wasting time analysing, but committing to a known and good response. End game in blitz can be a lot about just making not to terrible moves in the hope of your opponent running out of time or making a mistake. And at least decent hand-eye coordination so that you don't waste time when moving/punching the clock.

A somewhat interesting strategy for blitz is to play underused openings - not used because they are not that good if met with proper defense - in the hope that the opponent does not know it, and thus has to waste time coming up with a defense.

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Wed Oct 30th, 2013 at 03:41:07 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I think they spend a lot of practice time on spin, speed, trajectory. So the grip and the moves become automatic.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Wed Oct 30th, 2013 at 12:03:21 PM EST
[ Parent ]
That calculation is flawed because the batter has basically already decided--before the windup even starts--whether or not to swing on a given pitch based on the count, the runner positions, etc. The adjustments during the swing are about making contact, and you can estimate the batter's ability to make those adjustments by looking at the number of strikes. I think there is a bit of "OMG look how insanely awesome these batters are, who can break the laws of physics and/or physiology" about the discussion.

Obviously it is almost impossible to hit a batted ball, but then here is David Ortiz batting 0.733 in the World Series. That's not just ball contact 3/4 of the time he's up, it's getting on base.

http://www.bostonglobe.com/sports/2013/10/29/david-ortiz-leaving-his-teammates-awe/yYm68UXAeCC21RPae IgQ8I/story.html

by asdf on Wed Oct 30th, 2013 at 12:42:22 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Completely false that the batter decides to swing or not before the pitch, much less in the windup. (He may decide he wants to swing, if he gets a pitch he can do something with. Or he may be taking a pitch because of the count. The vast majority of times he is reacting to the ball thrown, after analyzing speed, location and spin.)

Missing from this analysis is that the batter is also trying to position the "sweet spot" of the bat with the moment of contact, or about 10cm of the entire 100+cm wood. He's also trying not to roll over his top hand until just after the moment of contact.

The sample size on Ortiz' World Series is damn small, 15 at bats. AND, some of his outs have been very well hit. Most players are "streaky," that is they get hot for a while. Which may be evidence that something happens to body/brain chemistry over short periods making a trained hitter, with a hundred or more swings a day, including practice, more productive.

PS. The "World" Series currently includes amurka and one city in Canada. Heh. (Though many players are from the Caribbean, and some from Japan and Korea, and there are a few from Down Under.)

PPS. Hitters are now stripped to their skivvies and fitted with motion sensor points all over their bodies, to analyze swing force and efficiency.

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Ana´s Nin

by Crazy Horse on Wed Oct 30th, 2013 at 03:06:44 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Additionally, the batter's momentary decisions on speed, location, spin, and game situation are further complicated by his having already built up a precise image of the strike zone, or whether the pitch will be called strike or ball if he doesn't swing. It's a matter of centimeters in the brain's visualization.

Spin is analyzed by noting the movement of the narrow red seams (stitching) on the ball. Good batters can tell if it's a 2-seam or 4-seam fastball, cut fastball, split finger fastball, hard or soft slider (including the back door variety), hard or soft curve, or even a knuckleball, which may or may not be spinning at all, or going backwards. Clear?

Further, the batter must not be impeded in his movements by the hard plastic cup protecting the family jewels, which is why the batter often "adjusts" same. and while it is essential to have a moist mouth, too much moisture can affect the concentration, thus the infamous spitting.

In the old days, getting rid of excess chewing tobacco juice before stepping into the box was essential. It is now absurd to watch grown men, especially with Boston Beards stolen from the Amish, blowing pink bubbles. But that's another story.

Spitting on the catcher's spikes (shoes) was not illegal, although the next pitch was likely to be sent at your head (Chin Music). Thus the catcher's spikes remained free of tobacco juice.

Ummm, almost forgot. The batter also carries images of the particular pitcher's different pitches in his brain... as well as strategic tendencies.

and some players hit better under artificial lighting in night games as opposed to traditional day games, and verse vica.

Also, the batter is blocking out the fans behind the plate yelling, "Swing, rabbit ears!"

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Ana´s Nin

by Crazy Horse on Wed Oct 30th, 2013 at 03:26:48 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Of course, that's not all. some pitchers throw with the right hand, and some with the left. Changes everything.

Also, some pitchers can throw different pitches from the same arm angle and release point. Or they can vary the arm angle.

I forgot to mention the change-up, which is a ball thrown from the fastball position but isn't fast. In fact, it's 20-40 kmh slower. has been known to upset timing.

Also, fastballs can appear to rise, or hop. they can also tail away. they can also hit you. hard.

Heavy fastballs can sink. There is no evidence that fastballs can violate the laws of physics by increasing speed, but those that do in the batter's eyes, are called "exploding" fastballs.

And for those readers not yet glazed over, don't forget that every swing is not at all the same, as the batter's hands are changing the swing to meet the changing point of impact at some appropriate moment. Pitchers like to get "under" a batter's hands.

Plus the pitcher is sending brain voodoo to the batter up to the release point and beyond, which is hard to study empirically. While the batter is telling the pitcher he's got him, "Bring it, Meat."

Plus the swing and appropriate batted ball trajectory has to impress The Baseball Annie sitting in the 7th row of section 132.

It's all so damn complicated.

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Ana´s Nin

by Crazy Horse on Wed Oct 30th, 2013 at 04:02:19 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Now officially 4 hours until first pitch of Game Six of the World Series including the US and Toronto. Perhaps i should undertake to investigate the number of baseball players who were good at chess.

PS. I have always said that baseball is the supreme mixture of chess and athleticism, with a dollop of ballet thrown in for the graces. Plus, it's played on the perfect diamond sutra.

we'll see if they still pitch to Ortiz tonight.

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Ana´s Nin

by Crazy Horse on Wed Oct 30th, 2013 at 04:12:01 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The good thing about baseball is there's 100 years of statistics to go back and argue about...
by asdf on Wed Oct 30th, 2013 at 04:18:20 PM EST
[ Parent ]
And the game is better because of Sabrmetric analysis, fersure. (Like your swing rate analysis, which is partly due to laser positioning and analysis of every single damn pitch.)

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Ana´s Nin
by Crazy Horse on Wed Oct 30th, 2013 at 04:42:32 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Sailboat racers say the same thing. "Ooh, the rules are so complicated, and you have to have a good strategy." "And the actions of the other boats mean you have to make instantaneous tactical decisions based on many factors." "And you have to be an athlete."

Baseball is mostly about standing around in the summer sun...

by asdf on Wed Oct 30th, 2013 at 04:22:00 PM EST
[ Parent ]
"Baseball is mostly about standing around in the summer sun..."

so there's time to analyze what you're going to do on the various possibilities with each pitch, at the plate or in the field, fixing the possibilities in your head, and then being ready to explode.

the fielders' short twitch muscles are already moving just before the crack of the bat, after analyzing pitch and swing (and runner's potential speed) from the field.

Plus, that gives one time to mark his/her scorecard, and have another swig.

enjoy the game 6 tonight, asdf. 1:07AM first pitch. wheee.

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Ana´s Nin

by Crazy Horse on Wed Oct 30th, 2013 at 04:49:55 PM EST
[ Parent ]

Maybe it's time for a baseball diary ? :-)

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.

by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Wed Oct 30th, 2013 at 04:54:26 PM EST
[ Parent ]
"The fielders' short twitch muscles are already moving just before the crack of the bat, after analyzing pitch and swing (and runner's potential speed) from the field."

Well, or they are standing out there lounging around for 15 minutes while the pitcher and batter try to outwit each other...

by asdf on Wed Oct 30th, 2013 at 05:24:36 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Haha Red Sox FTW!
by asdf on Wed Oct 30th, 2013 at 11:31:33 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Actually, the swing rate depends strongly on the count, which suggests that there is a large strategic component that is calculated in advance. ("Never swing on the first pitch.") The differences between the entries in the first two tables here suggests how much evaluation the batter makes of each specific pitch.

http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=17941

by asdf on Wed Oct 30th, 2013 at 04:17:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
But (key point), swing rate does not imply predetermination. Readiness to swing on different counts is another story, which as the article shows, also depends upon what type of hitter you are.

simply put, there are counts and situations where the batter can be more aggressive, or conversely, more defensive. But the actual swing depends upon the pitch.

complicating matters, professional hitters, particularly the better ones, can spoil pitches, fouling them off if they don't think they're going to get it. In effect, negating a swing, especially with two strikes.

Count (and game situation) is a key factor, but the equation looks like, "I'll swing if i can do something with it."

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Ana´s Nin

by Crazy Horse on Wed Oct 30th, 2013 at 04:37:01 PM EST
[ Parent ]

Maybe it's time for a baseball diary ? :-)

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.
by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Wed Oct 30th, 2013 at 04:55:36 PM EST
[ Parent ]
My move?

(Sorry, carried away.)

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Ana´s Nin

by Crazy Horse on Wed Oct 30th, 2013 at 05:59:53 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Books like Psycho-cybernetics argue that the subconscious mind is a powerful goal-seeking "engine". Computationally "impossible" tasks are then better left to (mostly) the subconscious mind rather than rational analysis. They even say that rational thinking impedes "creative" brain circuits, or staying in the flow. On the other hand, the goals have to well organized and prepared, skills trained - that is when you use rational thinking and discipline. "Psycho-cybernetics" cites Russel as largely following the routine of intensive analysis and calm "sleeping on it".

And then there are embodied cognition ideas how baseball players (and who not) use simple behavioral heuristics to catch a ball, etc.

Plus, game theory comes in, when say a batter (or a goalkeeper) basically guesses where the ball will come.

by das monde on Thu Oct 31st, 2013 at 12:18:05 PM EST
[ Parent ]
How about a star snooker player?

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Oct 30th, 2013 at 12:16:52 PM EST
[ Parent ]


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