Nico Appel

personal blog

Last seen in: Berlin, Germany
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Chess lessons

It’s all Max’s fault. He was the one that pointed me to the highly entertaining and educating chess videos of Jerry. This is where I re-discovered a game I had long abandoned after some dabbling while still in school. What followed were a few months of playing and studying the game.
I also mostly followed the recent chess world championships. The match ended with Magnus Carlsen now being the new champion.

Chess, seriously?

What a boring topic, you may think. I can understand that. I even partly agree.
It won’t be fascinating at all to watch or follow a chess game if you don’t get what’s going on. It’s like listening to a conversation in a language you don’t speak. On the other hand, I have no idea how much more fascinating the same game is to someone who is at a much higher level of the game. It’s a matter of depth that you can grasp. In my case, and with Jerry’s live analysis commentary on his twitch.tv stream, it was entertaining.

I like following the games for their quiet as well as their more exciting moments.

Observations from my little journey into chess

Let’s see what surprises and insights I experienced.

Chess can be super fast

When Max and me started looking into online chess and some of the websites where you can play, it was quite frustrating at first. Two reasons: online chess is fast and people know how to play.

Most games are Blitz chess where you don’t have much time to think. Especially online, this certainly makes a lot of sense. Once you can play Blitz chess, you can have a few games during a small window virtually anytime and anywhere.
In order to play these kinds of games you have to have some basics down. We hadn’t – and got destroyed. This naturally lead us to look into some theory, openings, traps and actually practice a little bit.

The acceleration of learning

It also became obvious pretty soon that young players these days have a major advantage to the ones studying the game before the internet. It’s like online poker. You can not only play a lot of games in a short period of time. You can play anywhere, anytime. No going somewhere, meeting people, setting up a board, etc.. You just play, immediately, from any device.

Additionally, you can determine who you’re playing with, or let me say it this way: You have a rating that reflects your strength and you can choose to play with other players in your range and even fine-tune this, so you can play against stronger players only, if you’d like.

Now, you may know that chess players, the serious ones, note each move that is played on the board. With online chess, every game you play, every move is documented and accessible. You can export the data, analyze it, share it or get statistics on which openings you’re good at and which ones you suck at.
Not only are all your games available, you can get your hands on the whole freaking history of chess. I’m talking about annotated games with comments to study and free online tools to go through and study them. It’s amazing! And we haven’t even talked about Youtube and other sites alike yet where you can find a lot of great material for free.
You see where this is going. Learning something like chess today is so much easier then before the web. You can fully immerse yourself in it. If you think about it, it’s just mind-boggling.

Update:

Here’s a paragraph from the WSJ’s article “Chess-Championship Results Show Powerful Role of Computers” Jurgen just recommended after seeing this post. It talks about how supposedly chess was “over” after the IBM computer Deep Blue had beaten Garry Kasparov in 1997. Instead, the computers helped humans play better. According to the article, chess is more popular then ever.

The net effect of the gain in computer skill is thus, ironically, a gain in human skill. Humans—at least the best ones—are getting better at playing chess. And there are far more top players than ever before. Today there are about 1,500 grandmasters, more than twice as many as in 1997, and they come from over 80 countries. Twenty-two of them earned the title before reaching the age of 15.

Small steps

In playing chess it becomes really apparent how tiny improvements can lead to a huge advantage. This became especially clear to me during the world chess championship match. While a single game can go on for hours, there are periods where almost nothing is happening in relation to “who stands better”. The players make their moves and the computer evaluation of the position stays very close to an equal 0.00 (where +1 would be the value of one pawn up for White). It’s like a scale that stays very close to equilibrium.
There are actual hours during one game where almost nothing seems to be changing. If you’re looking for instant gratification, chess is really hard. You have to be content with very small to none improvements.

Fairness

Chess is fair – and unforgiving. I love how the wikipedia has this little summary on the page about chess that includes this line:

Random chance: None

But not only the game is fair, the players seem to be as well. During the world championship the two contenders seemed to be highly respectful for each other. They kept discussing the positions right after the game, explaining the lines they had thought about and the problems they encountered. It seemed like a very gentle competition that was strictly kept to the board (this might well be my subjective perspective and limited area of knowledge about the history of these events though) .


I just decided to follow up on this post with “domain independence” in which I will take a look into the impact that studying and playing chess had for me thus far.

Fancy some playing yourself?

If you want to play chess, these are my favourite resources at the moment: