Tuesday, February 9, 2010


As part of my ongoing effort to stay on intellectual par with my eight-year-old son, I’ve been reading about chess. AJ is a chess player. For a while now, I’ve been trying to fool him into thinking that I understand the game by nodding sagely and saying things like, “Ah, yes, the Schlieffen Opening.” But I’m pretty sure he’s on to me.

Anyway, I read Garry Kasparov’s recent piece on chess and computers in the New York Review of Books and liked how he complained about one of the questions journalists are always asking chess champions: How many moves ahead do you see? Kasparov calls this kind of question “an attempt by an outsider to ask something insightful and failing to do so. It’s the equivalent of asking Lance Armstrong how many times he shifts gears during the Tour de France.” He even makes a mini-case against “seeing ahead,” recounting how in one tournament game, he was able to visualize the winning position “a full fifteen moves ahead—an unusual feat.” Only after he’d gambled, mounted an attack and won with the moves he’d envisioned early in the game did he realize that he’d overlooked an easier, shorter route to victory.

I tried dropping some of my newfound chess knowledge into conversation today, thinking I might impress my kid. But he wasn't buying it. He wanted to play football in the family room. Nice of the boy to come down to my level.

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