Wednesday, March 22, 2017

If You Could Improve Your Chess Winning Performance by Up to 15%, Would You Take a Drug to Do So?

This just scares me no end:

On Cognitive Doping in Chess (and Life)
The Atlantic Magazine (online)
James Hamblin
March 21, 2017

Have you ever wanted to play better chess? To think and work more effectively, seeing moves 10 steps ahead? Vanquishing opponents with mental energy to spare? Well now you can, with cognitive-enhancement drugs.

That’s how the first half of the pharmaceutical commercial might go. The small-print, fast-talking second half would say that limitations apply. Some of the drugs are addictive and likely to alter one’s sleep habits and heart rate and general sense of self. The drugs don’t work if you don’t know how to play chess.

For professional chess players, though, medicinal “neuro-enhancement” (as it’s sometimes dubiously known) could bring in somewhere between 6 and 15 percent more wins. That’s according to the first large study of “highly skilled tournament chess players” comparing their performance in states of medication and sobriety—a study that the World Chess Championship’s publication World Chess has called “landmark” and “groundbreaking.”

A collaborative experiment from researchers throughout Germany and Sweden led by psychiatrist Klaus Lieb at the University of Mainz found that two prescription medications improved chess-winning rates: modafinil (sold most commonly as Provigil) and methylphenidate (sold as Ritalin).

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

2017 U.S. Women's Chess Championship

It's that time of year and once again the Scholastic Center and Chess Club of St. Louis is hosting the 2017 U.S. Women's Chess Championship.

This year, a field of twelve of the U.S. top female chessplayers will compete over 11 rounds.  Rounds: March 28 - April 9, 2017.  The women will be competing for total prizes of $100,000.  Nice, but not the $194,000 the male players will be competing for in their separate championship (SEXIST, as always).

This year I'll be monitoring the progress of Carissa Yip.

By the way, Gata Kamsky really needs a haircut.  Geez, dude - too scraggly by half.


Total Prize Fund$100,000
In addition, the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis will sponsor the “$64,000 Fischer Bonus Prize”. Any player that finishes the U.S. Championships field with a perfect 11-0 score shall be awarded an additional $64,000.

The players list.

You'll be able to follow the action live on U.S. Chess Champs.  The link isn't working yet so I didn't include it.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Last Night Lady Liberty Went - Dark...

Twitterland went nuts, of course.  Had she been deliberately switched off as a "message of solidarity" in support of today's nation-wide "A Day Without a Woman?"  Was it just an electrical glitch, as the National Park Service later said it was?  Was it symbolic of the Fascist darkness that has taken control of our White House and our Congress -- Lady Liberty protesting this horror now being inflicted upon her free people of the United States?  I know what I think.

From The Washington Post, March 8, 2017.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Board Games Studies: UPDATES

Hola darlings!

March is roaring in like a lion here in Milwaukee - literally!  Since yesterday the winds have been non-stop with gusts up to 45 mph.  My poor humble abode has been battered by endless branches and all those leaves from last autumn I thought my neighbors had disposed of properly have magically reappeared in my backyard, sideyard on the north and driveway on the south.  Yikes!

Tiny Maison Newton is creaking and groaning like the old lady I've become, alas!  Well, I still color my hair and I still have the complexion of a 15 year old (without the acne) and will be eternally beautiful in my own mind (don't look at me unless you don't have your glasses on or can't see straight, that helps, too), but the rest of me - OY - what a mess!

Be that as it may, I am still on numerous mailing lists and although my paper writing days and deep research into board games and what not are now gone, mostly expired with the death of beloved Mr. Don, a few days ago I received a notification from the Board Games Studies folks -- a new Colloquium!!!

FIRST OF ALL, I have some listed links to Board Games Studies websites, but have been lazy and have not checked to see if they are current and working.  Probably won't either, I'll be honest.  I'm frying other fish these days.

So, I'm taking the lazy woman's way out and simply present you with what may be a new (I think) Board Games Studies website.  Is is THE Board Games Studies? - don't know, but it does appear to have the right stuff on/in it.  So, make a note, if you like.

I also don't remember - and again, am too lazy to check, if I ever put up a link to these -- some back issues of the Board Games Studies Journal.

SECOND OF ALL, let's get to that announcement of Board Games Studies Colloquium XX, shall we, whoop whoop!

It is a veritable "Who's Who" of board games researchers and historians. Lots and lots of female presenters -- GLAD TO SEE THAT!  A great mix of scholars from all around the world.

A long-time friend of Goddesschess, whom we affectionately call Stooping Wolf (okay, Isis named him, not me, I would have called him something like Sexy-Eyed Fox), Dr. Ulrich Schadler, is giving a presentation on May 18th on Goddesschess' old enemy, H.J.R. Murray!  Ugh, Stooping Wolf, how could you:  Murray's Classification of Board Games.

Equally impressive, but not so handsome as Sexy-Eyed Fox, er, Dr. Schadler, is the opening presentation on May 17th by Dr. Irving Finkel, an Assistant Curator at the British Museum: Princes on the Floor of the Playroom.  Did something get lost in translation -- I have NO idea what that could possibly be about, maybe something to do with children playing war games on a nursery floor with toy soldiers???  Who knows - only those in attendance and those who will be able to (hopefully) eventually buy (if ever produced) the bound volume of programs presented (if they can afford it).

Isis suggested we both bankrupt ourselves and go to the Colloquium first, and then take a leisurely on-and-off train trip through Europe before heading to our Cathars Country tour in France in mid-June.  But one must be practical.  By the time this windstorm here is over (sometime on Thursday, so the current forecast says), I may very well need to replace my roof.  Sigh.

And knowing Isis, she might very well end up spending the entire Colloquium at the hotel suite, ensconced in splendor on the feather bed, watching romantic movies and eating chocolates all day, and out dancing and partying with the PhDs all night, while I trudged dutifully from presentation to presentation only to collapse in brain exhaustion at the end of the day on the sofa in the suite, shooting Zzzzz's at the ceiling.  And, maybe, would recover from my jet-lag on day five!  Nah...ain't gonna happen, Isis.

One interesting side note:

The first meeting place - a sort of "meet and greet and let's get friendly, heh heh heh" time for presenters and attendees will be held at the - get ready for it ---

I'm not joking, darlings:

Tue 16 May

17.00: Pre-Colloquium Boardgame Café Meet-Up

Bastard Café
Huset, Rådhusstræde 13, Ground Floor, 1466 Copenhagen K


OMGODDESS, laughing my butt off -- great exercise, by the way.  Helps keep one young :)  Ha ha ha ha ha HA!  Ouch!

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Explorers Emerge from the Honduran Jungle Triumphant in Finding "The White City" - and Infected with a "Flesh-Eating" Disease

There are adventures a-plenty still to be had, folks, if you want to take some hikes through Mother Nature.  Note to self:  HELL NO!

From The Washington Post
Lia Kvatum
March 5, 2017

This adventurer found the trip worth it - despite the flesh-eating disease

As great adventure stories go, this one ticks all the boxes: a legendary “lost” city, in an impenetrable jungle, and even a curse.

Douglas Preston’s latest book, “The Lost City of the Monkey God,” chronicles the feats of a team of explorers as they harness cutting-edge technology and old-fashioned daring to find a city rumored to have been built more than 1,000 years ago in a remote region of Honduras by an unknown culture.

The book also describes the parting gift the jungle bestowed on Preston and several of his colleagues: mucosal leishmaniasis, a parasitic “flesh-eating” disease common to the tropics.

Preston, a prolific author and journalist, was part of the 2015 expedition that located the ruins of an ancient city. Rumors of La Ciudad Blanca (the White City), also known as the City of the Monkey God, had swirled for decades; many people went in search of it, but all, save one party, returned disappointed.

In 1940, a debonair gent by the name of Theodore Morde was sent out in search of the fabled city by George Gustav Heye, an obsessive artifact collector. Traveling with Morde was geologist Laurence Brown, a university classmate of his. Four months later, they emerged from the jungle seemingly triumphant and replete with artifacts.

As it turns out, they were lying. They never discovered a city; the artifacts had been found elsewhere or purchased. Nevertheless, the story spurred on other explorers. One was Steve Elkins, a documentary filmmaker. Preston learned of his obsession with finding the city in 1996. Elkins had explored the area previously and had come up empty-handed. Preston was intrigued, and asked to write about Elkins’s quest.

In 2010, Elkins began putting together an expedition to sweep the area from the air using LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging), a remote sensing method that uses lasers. This technology allowed Elkins to view the ground beneath its dense canopy of rain forest. The project came together in 2012, and much to everyone’s surprise, the images revealed evidence of a widespread but largely unknown culture.

"We knew, based on the LiDAR images, that we’d found a lost city,” Preston said during a recent telephone interview. “What I didn’t realize was just how difficult it would be on the ground."

With the support of the Honduran government, an on-the-ground expedition was launched in February of 2015. The exact destination remains a secret, but it’s located within La Mosquitia, a vast region of rain forests in the midst of jagged mountains. There are no roads. The team was flown in by helicopter and had to hack a path through the jungle using machetes.

Preston said it was unlike anything he had experienced. “It was like being underwater, the foliage was so dense."

The jungle was home to large, venomous snakes and a bevy of insect species small in size but mighty in power. “It’s a real hot zone of diseases,” Preston said.

seasoned traveler, Preston thought he had prepared himself. “I got a bunch of shots,” he said, “and a whole laundry list of precautions to take and things to avoid.” Team members wore head-to-toe protective clothing and doused themselves in DEET. “Even with all of the precautions, it can be hard to protect yourself,” said Michael Manyak, a urologist who specializes in expedition medicine. “With insects especially, you have to be very strict about repellent and clothing and netting."

Honduran Special Forces soldiers accompanying the expedition roast a deer over their campfire. (Douglas Preston).  Note:  Commonly called "macho men," this sub-species of human male
is also known as Homo Mentula Stultus.  Or, as we say in Milwaukee, dumb-ass dildoheads.

But “given the prevalence of disease-carrying insects, you’re still likely to get bit,” said Manyak, who prepares travelers for treks around the world. “We were massacred by insects,” Preston said. “I’d get into my tent at night, and I was just crawling with them. By the time we left, I was covered in bites."

Preston spent eight days in the jungle. An incredible adventure, to be sure, especially because the team found what they were looking for: a long-abandoned city as well as dozens of artifacts. But — enter the curse! — something found them: mucosal leishmaniasis. Left unchecked, this parasitic disease can spread, migrating to the soft tissues of the face.

Leishmaniasis is caused by about 20 species of protozoan parasites known collectively as leishmania. There are three main types: cutaneous, visceral and mucosal. What kind of leishmaniasis one gets depends on the species of parasite that infects you as well as the response of the body. The infection is spread mainly through the bite of a sand fly.

According to the World Health Organization, more than 90 species of sand fly transmit leishmaniasis. If a female sucks blood from an animal infected with the disease and then bites another, the disease can spread. There is no vaccine nor preventive medicine. And with the sand fly’s small size, large numbers and penchant for biting at night, camping out in the rain forest greatly increases one’s chances of an encounter.

About six weeks after leaving Honduras, Preston noticed a lesion that would not heal. Several of his fellow explorers reported the same. The National Institutes of Health confirmed what the travelers suspected: leish.

Worldwide, leishmaniasis affects millions of people. Most infections result only in skin lesions or ulcers, which go away on their own and are relatively harmless. These sores can last months or even years, and can cause scarring, but it won’t kill you. Another common form, visceral leishmaniasis, is almost always fatal if left untreated. It attacks and destroys the internal organs.

There are treatments, but the process is complicated. Depending on the strain of leishmania you contract, the most effective treatment will differ. Determining which strain is a puzzle, too. Doctors can narrow down which variety is most likely based on where you have recently traveled. They may be able to take a culture from the lesion or use a procedure known as polymerase chain reaction, which allows detection and identification of leishmania DNA.

With mucosal leishmaniasis, the type that Preston had, the parasites can migrate to the mucosal tissues of the mouth and nose. Although they are often referred to as flesh-eating, the parasites don’t consume tissue. Rather, the body has a profound immune response, eventually deforming and destroying the nose and mouth.

Preston’s doctors determined that the best option for him was amphotericin B, used originally to treat systemic fungal infections. It’s also effective against mucosal leishmaniasis, but the treatment is not pleasant. [Note:  Oh for pete's sake, is there ANY treatment for an illness that can actually be called "pleasant?"]

"Oh, it’s bad,” Preston said. “You know that old saying ‘the cure is worse than the disease’? Well, this isn’t even a cure, it’s just a beat-back.” This means that Preston and his fellow sufferers won’t be cured of the disease, but the medicine will kill enough of the infection that the ulcer heals and the body’s defenses can keep the disease at bay. Preston said he received the medicine intravenously in daily treatments that lasted from four to five hours.

"Doctors sometimes call it ‘amphoterrible,’ ” Preston said, “because of what it does to the body. It can really screw up your kidneys, so they’ll only give it to you as long as your kidney function stays above 40 percent."

Preston said he endured it for six days.

"Well, the first thing,” he said drily when asked about the treatment, “is that you feel like your body is on fire.” He continued, “then you feel like you’re suffocating, and for some people, you get this psychological reaction where you’re sure you’re going to die.” He paused. “I didn’t get any of those, though. I was lucky."

Nevertheless, he will always have the infection.

"The very general answer,” says David Sacks, an expert on leishmaniasis, “is that these are chronic infections. We are good at finding vaccines that work better than the body does on acute infections, like measles or polio. But with these long-lived infections, like leishmaniasis, we have yet to find a vaccination that works any better than the body’s own natural responses."

It also costs a lot to develop and manufacture treatments. Because most people who need them are poor, there is very little financial incentive for drug companies to devise them.

Preston considers himself extremely lucky — both for the trip he took and for the treatment he received for leishmaniasis. “I’ve been to many jungle areas in my life,” he said, “but I’ve never seen anything so stunningly untouched.” Besides, he says, “I feel great. And I would have much rather have gotten leish than be bitten by one of those big snakes."

In addition, the trip resulted in a successful book: “The Lost City of the Monkey God” made it to the top five on the New York Times nonfiction bestseller list after it was published in January.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Sad News - IM Cristina Adela Foisor of Romania Passed Away at Age 49

IM Foișor won the Romanian Chess Championship five times, three of which were consecutive: 2011, 2012, and 2013. She represented Romania numerous times at the Women’s Chess Olympiad. She competed in the Women's World Chess Championship in 2001, 2006, 2010 and 2012. 

May she rest in eternal peace in the hands of the Great Mother.

From The Romania Journal online

International chess master Cristina Adela Foisor dies at 49

International chess master Cristina Adela Foisor died on Sunday aged 49, after a hard fight with a terminal disease.
Cristina Foisor was born on June 7, 1967 in Petrosani and she will be buried in her home town on Thursday. She died on January 22 at the Timisoara County Hospital after several days of coma.
During her career, she won 5 national senior titles and more medals in team competitions. The great master chess player has  taken part in 14 Olympiads since 1988. Foisor represented the AEM Timisoara chess club, with which she won a gold medal and two silver medals at the European Champion Cup.
“She passed away after an unfair fight with a merciless disease, with her own shield and refuge being the CHESS until the last moment (…) Thank you, Cristina for everything you’ve given to chess and to life and we promise to keep you memory alive!,” reads the press release by the Romanian Chess Federation.
Cristina Adela Foisor, a graduate of the Mathematics Faculty of the Timisoara University and a teacher later on, fully dedicated to chess together with her husband, coach and international master Ovidiu Foisor, and with her two daughters, great chess master Sabina-Francesca Foisor (born in 1989, settled down in the USA) and FIDE master Mihaela-Veronica Foisor (born in 1994).

2017 FIDE Women's World Chess Championship - Final

Alas, GM Kosteniuk lost her match against GM Muzychuk 0 - 2, having seemed to have been working toward a win in Game 1.  She was therefore knocked out of the match and Muzychuk advanced to the final round.

Meanwhile, India's GM Harika Dronavalli battled and battled WGM Tan Zhongyi, only to lose 4 to 5, with Zhongyi advancing.

So we have a new women's world chess champion with whom I am not familiar, but then, I'm concentrating on local chess efforts these days, not so much on the FIDE stuff going on.  I wish her lots of luck, I hope the other women do wise things with their prize money (what they get to keep of it, that is, after FIDE takes its cut and miscellaneous "taxes" are paid, and - whatever)  and get the hell out of Iran ASAP.


The final round:

Round 6 - 

Round 6 - Game 1
2Muzychuk Anna1/2-1/21Tan Zhongyi
Round 6 - Game 2
1Tan Zhongyi1-02Muzychuk Anna
Round 6 - Game 3
2Muzychuk Anna1-01Tan Zhongyi
Round 6 - Game 4
1Tan Zhongyi1/2-1/22Muzychuk Anna
Round 6 Tie-break
Game 1 25'10
2Muzychuk Anna1/2-1/21Tan Zhongyi
Game 2 25'10
1Tan Zhongyi1-02Muzychuk Anna

New Species of Human Discovered in China? Possibly...

From The Washington Post
Ben Guarino

March 3, 2017

Skulls found in China were part modern human, part Neanderthal; possibly new species

Modern humans outlasted the Neanderthals by about 40,000 years and counting. But don’t pat yourself on the back too firmly for outliving those troglodytes. Neanderthals crafted tools and tamed fire. They cared for their dead. Animal horns and blackened fire pits encircling the remains of a Neanderthal toddler suggest a 42,000-year-old funeral rite. If a Neanderthal indeed wore a talon necklace, as a collection of polished eagle claws indicate, they beat us to jewelry, too. Perhaps one of your ancient ancestors found the claw necklaces sexy: Some scientists theorize humans gave Neanderthals genital herpes and tapeworm parasites. Their proportions, however, remained distinctly Neanderthal. Neanderthal bodies were shorter and stockier, more Gimli son of Gloin than Gigi Hadid. Their skulls were built differently, too, with a few features — like heavy brow ridges — particularly unlike ours. Which makes a pair of newly described skulls something of a wonder. The partial skulls have features up to this time unseen in the hominid fossil record, sharing both human and Neanderthal characteristics. “It is a very exciting discovery,” as Katerina Harvati, an expert in Neanderthal evolution at the University of Tübingen in Germany, who was not involved with the research, told The Washington Post. “Especially because the human fossil record from East Asia has been not only fragmentary but also difficult to date.” Excavators dug up the skull cap fragments in 2007 and 2014, in Lingjing, located in China’s Henan province. The diggers discovered two partial skulls in a site thought to be inhabited 105,000 to 125,000 years ago, during an epoch called the Pleistocene. The owners of the skulls were good hunters, capable of fashioning stone blades from quartz. Ancient bones of horses and cattle, as well as extinct woolly rhinoceros and giant deer, were found strewn near the skull remains. Researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing and at Washington University in St. Louis described the skulls as having a “mosaic” of features. Writing Thursday in the journal Science, they noted similarities with three groups: The brow ridges of the skulls were modest and the skull bone mass was reduced, like features of early modern humans living in the Old World. The skulls had a broad and flat brainpan, like other eastern Eurasian humans from the mid-Pleistocene epoch. Their semicircular ear canals and the enlarged section at the back of the skull, however, were like a Neanderthal’s. “Eastern Asian late archaic humans have been interpreted to resemble their Neanderthal contemporaries to some degree,” Xiujie Wu, an author of the study at the Chinese Academy of Sciences‘ Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology, said in a statement. “Yet it is only with the discovery of two human crania,” she said, “that the nature of these eastern Eurasian early Late Pleistocene archaic humans is becoming clear.” The large brains of these archaic humans ruled out Homo erectus and other known hominid species, the scientists wrote. The researchers were vague about what they thought the species might be, describing them only as archaic humans. But Wu told Science Magazine that the fossils could represent “a kind of unknown or new ar­chaic human that survived on in East Asia to 100,000 years ago.” Other experts speculated that these skull caps could represent a little-known human relative: the mysterious Denisovans, a species that currently exists only as sequenced DNA taken from finger bone and a tooth found in a Siberian cave. Thought to live some 100,000 to 50,000 years ago, the Denisovans shared genetic material with humans as well as Neanderthals. A 2015 analysis of the specimen scraps indicated that the Denisovans lived for some 60,000 years side-by-side with Neanderthals and humans in Asia. (That humans interbred with Neanderthals is, of course, old news. Many humans who have Eurasian ancestry carry bits of Neanderthal DNA, around 2 to 5 percent of it, within their genes. In the process of swapping DNA, Neanderthals lent us genes for bad skin while boosting our immune responses.) The cranial remains “show an intriguing combination of Neanderthal-like as well as archaic features,” Harvati said. “This would be the combination that one would expect based on the ancient DNA analysis of Denisovans, who were closely related to Neanderthals.” The paper did not mention Denisovans, the study authors said, because DNA extraction attempts failed to yield genetic material. But the lack of even a nod toward the Denisovans in the new report was a point that Philipp Gunz, an evolutionary anthropologist at the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig, found surprising. The fossils, which Gunz called “remarkable,” as he told The Post, “certainly look like what many paleoanthropologists (myself included) imagine the Denisovans to look like.” Time may tell — if scientists can pull off a successful laboratory analysis. “Unfortunately, however, it is not possible to infer skull morphology from ancient DNA directly,” Gunz said. “I therefore hope that future studies will be able to extract ancient DNA from these or similar specimens.”

Friday, February 24, 2017

GM Alexandra Kosteniuk in Final Four at 2017 Women's World Chess Championships

Unfortunately, the female players were forced to wear hajib in order to play in Iran.  PUKE.  Some players sat out, saying no thanks to this woman-hating "custom."

But I'm rooting for Alexandra, a long-time friend of Goddesschess, whoop whoop!  She chose to participate, as did many other highly ranked female chessplayers.

FIDE coverage link.

The Semifinal matches of the Women's World Chess Championship started in the Espinas Palace Hotel (Tehran) on February 23.

Four players continue competing for the chess crown: Tan Zhongyi (China) faces Harika Dronavalli (India), and Alexandra Kosteniuk (Russia) meets Anna Muzychuk (Ukraine). These matches consist of two games with the following time control: 90 minutes for 40 moves, then 30 minutes for the rest of the game, plus 30 bonus seconds after each move. If the match is tied 1-1, it is continued on the tie-break with quicker time controls.

The game Tan Zhongyi-Harika Dronavalli was level until move 21, when Harika decided to change the pawn structure, after which Tan Zhongyi got a pleasant King side initiative. It seems Black had enough resources to defend the position but probably Indian player underestimated the danger. White managed to bring all his pieces to organize killing attack on the opponent's King.

Anna Muzychuk tried to surprise Alexandra Kosteniuk by choosing French Defence, the rare guest in her games, but it didn’t work out as former world champion was perfectly ready. Inaccurate 10... Qc7 let White to gain a long-term initiative out of the opening and after 19.Na6 Alexandra Kosteniuk got a position with a pawn up.
After the first time trouble it turned out that White’s win is debatable.
It was not possible to find a non-human line 43.Kg1!! fe 44.Qe5!! with victory and after "normal" 43.Nd4 the character of the game has changed as Black started to create threats against White’s King.

Nevertheless, it looked like Alexandra is not risking to lose this game at any moment but the tables were turned after 56.Ne5? Anna immediately responded with 56...Ng5 and White cannot defend against two threats Re5 with Nf3 and Nh3. A few moves later former World Champion had to resign. In a post-game interview Anna Muzychuk called her victory “a miracle”.

The second game of semifinal will be played at 3 p.m. local time on 24th of February. Alexandra Kosteniuk and Harika Dronavalli will obviously try to equalize the score.

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