Sunday, January 17, 2021

Tower of London's Raven Queen Missing Two Weeks and Presumed Dead

I had no idea about this legend although I have read about and seen photos of the ravens at the Tower of London.  They have always fascinated me.  Like the crows who visit me on occasion for peanuts and unshelled almonds, they are very smart.  "My" crows will occasionally gift me with a small token - a marble here, a particularly shiny stone there, one time a rather scuffed up single dice, a piece of what appears to be pink quartz shaped rather like a pyramid, and the piece de resistance, a gold-colored bracelet with brown stones set around it (one of the stones is missing and the bracelet is slightly bent).  Over 30 years or so, the crows have brought and left me a number of gifts, including a couple of bottle caps from beer bottles, LOL! They always leave their gifts in my old concrete birdbath, because during the summer I will visit it at least once a day to refresh/refill water.  It is a very popular bath in the neighborhood and gets a lot of traffic :)

Here is a photo of the Raven Queen Merlina, who has been at the Tower of London since 2007 (14 years) and flew away two weeks ago.  She has not returned and is now presumed to have died.

Image from CNN article January 14, 2021 "Tower of London's
'queen' raven, Merlina, missing and feared dead"

Here are some articles on Merlina's flying off and presumed death.  

By Alan Cowell
January 14, 2021

People Magazine, "Tower of London's Queen Raven Missing, Feared Dead"
By Katie Campione
January 14, 2021

By Mindy Weisberger
January 15, 2021


Thursday, December 31, 2020

Mini Round-Up for Your Reading Pleasure

 Hola darlings, and Happy New Year to everyone - in about 6 hours.  This year, of course, New Year's Eve will be celebrated differently than normal because of the pandemic, but we can take heart in knowing that although it seems like it will be forever, a year from now things will be getting back to whatever becomes the "new normal" and we will probably once again be gathering together to celebrate in our homes, going out to restaurants for nice dinners, going out to our neighborhood bars to just hang out with our neighbors in our jeans and sweatshirts, going out to the hot spots where young people go, etc. etc.

But tonight, it's celebrating by myself with a fire in the fireplace, extra candles lit, cold pink wine in a crystal glass, semi-sweet (dark) chocolates YUM, and later some fresh popped popcorn - no butter.  The Christmas tree is all aglow, the small trees flanking my front door outside are all lit, as is the wreath, and as chaotic and uncertain as the last 12 months have been, I am at peace with the world - well, at least for tonight.  

First off, Katherine Neville, author of some of my favorite novels ever (reading The Eight changed my life - literally), published her "Twelve Days of Christmas" Newsletter yesterday.  I won't go into details here, this is intended to be a short (for me) post.  As always, however, Neville brings her years' worth of research on esoteric and historical subjects and insight to bring us a thought provoking Newsletter.  

Twelve Days of Christmas Newsletter, December 30, 2020, by Katherine Neville

I couldn't help but remember a particular episode from the original Star Trek series on television back in the 1960s when I was still a teenager.  The episode was "Bread and Circuses," shown in 1968.  One of the lines that I've remembered but can't quote exactly was, I think, uttered by Lieutenant Uhura, who noted that the new religion that was rapidly spreading across the empire on the planet in question wasn't about the "Birth of the Sun," it was about the "Birth of the Son."  Lots of interesting commentary for your reading pleasure on the original episode at:

IMBD User Reviews
Star Trek (the original series), "Bread and Circuses" Episode (1968)

Chess in our lives - it's amazing, wonderful, magical, powerful, life-changing.

She's a Chess Champion Who Can Barely See
by Dana Mackenzie, December 24, 2020
The New York Times

5 Ways Chess Can Make You a Better Law Student and Lawyer
by Mark Kende, Professor of Law, Drake University, December 27, 2020
Yahoo News/from The Conversation

Not everybody is cut out to be an attorney and counselor at law.  The best ones have particular characteristics that are often shared with the best chessplayers in the world, and this is no accident. 

  • You need to have a thirst for learning
  • You need to have tenacity or, as my mom called it - bullheadedness or stubborness (a trait that runs in my family, sometimes not to our benefit, alas!) 
  • When others shrug and give up, you're just getting started 
  • You need to be willing to study and work hard to learn your craft
  • You need to be able to handle loss, and handle it with dignity.  You may hate it, but you have to be able to handle it and learn from it, analyze it, what went wrong, how did it go wrong, was there something you could have done to avoid the result you didn't want
  • You need to accept that you will never be finished learning how to be better at your craft, keeping up with developments in your craft, and studying as needed to keep up with never ending new-developments
  • You need to have stamina
  • You need to know when to call it quits



Sunday, December 20, 2020

A Potpourri of Articles/News for Your Reading Pleasure Over Christmas

Ho ho ho, darlings!  From me to you - Happy Holidays!


 Greetings from my 2020 Christmas tree.  And - here's my annual memorial to Mr. Don and me:

Nefertiti pendant (me, ha ha!) and a souvenir from 
Duart Castle on the Isle of Mull, ancestral home of the McLeans (Mr. Don).
On the tree every year since I don't remember when.

Tomorrow night in the states is the Winter Solstice, which is the shortest period of daylight of the year (the daylight gets shorter as you move further north or south from the equator) and was celebrated by the ancient Romans as the Brumalia traditionally on December 25, just after the celebration of the Saturnalia which ran from December 17 through about December 23 in later Roman times.

This year there will be a special show in the evening sky visible and viewable by many of us.  There is going to be a "Great Conjunction" of two of the giant gas planets in our solar system, Saturn and Jupiter. You can read more about it in this article from The Washington Post"Rare double planet conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter to land on on winter solstice." 

Do a Google search in which direction and area of the sky to look for the planets to appear to meet and merge in the sky and about what time to see it.  Tomorrow will be the peak viewing time, but the planets will appear to be relatively close together and may appear as a large "star," depending on your location, even on Christmas Eve (December 24) and Christmas itself on December 25.  We celebrate the birth of the pagan "Sun" god and the birth of the Christian "Son of god" on the same day thanks to an adoption of the ancient celebratory date for the birth of the pagan "Sun" god by the early Christian church in the 4th century CE.  Many think that a conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter that occurred around the traditional time it is said Christ was born may have created what is called the "Star of Bethelem" that the traditional tale as told in the Bible says led the "Three Magi" from the East to the Christ child in Bethelem.

Also from The Washington Post, an article on some of the greatest female chess players who led the way during the old Soviet era domination of women's (and men's) chess - the Georgians!  "Georgian women ruled chess in the Soviet era.  A new generation chases the same 'Queen's Gambit' glory."  

Of course the article would tie what's going on right now with a new generation of female players to the smash hit "Queen's Gambit" on Netflix.  I confess, I am shocked that so few people knew of this wonderful book and even more shocked that the series became a smash hit.  People - READ THE BOOK, it's incredible. I see Amazon has the same edition (from 2003) I have (although I bought mine years ago).  

Chess afficianados know who Vera Menchik is. I wrote about her years ago at the old Goddesschess website - a 2007 article "Blast from the Past - the Spittoons are Gone."  The Washington Post has an article about Menchik.  Sadly, she was killed during a bombing raid in London during World War II.  "The forgotten female chess star who beat men 90 years before 'Queen's Gambit'."

Good Goddess!  Everything these days seems to be tied to Walter Tevis's "The Queen's Gambit!"  Well, better late than never, although some men have always known (including Kasparov himself, and even Bobby Fischer who used to play against the Polgar sisters in their home in Hungary back in the day) that women can be killer chessplayers as good as any man. 

More Queen's Gambit for your reading pleasure:

From Vanity Fair, by Tracy Moore, November 16, 2020
The Queen's Gambit: How Is a Show With So Little Sex So Sexy?

From Vanity Fair, by Cassie de Costs, November 10, 2020
The Queen's Gambit: The Hidden Depths of Netflix's Word-of-Mouth Smash

From Vanity Fair, by Richard Lawson, October 22, 2020
The Queen's Gambit Plays a Beautiful Game

And more from Vanity Fair, by Julie Miller, November 5, 2020
The Queen's Gambit: A Real-Life Chess Champion on Netflix's Addictive Hit (interview with Jennifer Shahade)

From Yahoo News, by Bill Bostock, November 21, 2020
The World's Best Chess Player Said Netflix's "The Queen's Gambit" Did Chess Better Than Anything Else Hollywood Has Done, But the Game Still Has a Culture of Belittling Women (interview with GM Magnus Carlsen)

From Vanity Fair, this may be a repeat of an article I previously posted, or maybe not, by Christopher Rosen, November 23, 2020
The Queen's Gambit Has Everyone Buying Chessboards

From The Washington Post, by Monica Hesse, November 25, 2020
The Queen's Gambit, a period drama that erases sexism from 1960, is the best fantasy show of the year (Ha!  I love this title!)

Saturday, December 12, 2020

Author Katherine Neville on "The Queen's Gambit"

 Hola everyone!  I meant to post this much earlier, but this time of year finds me very busy.  Christmas is one of my favorite times of the year and I go all out decorating my tree, my mantel, and my dining room, shopping for new ornaments (I swear every year I'm not going to do it and every year I do it anyway), etc. 

I especially want to share author Katherine Neville's November 30, 2020 Newsletter with you, about "The Queen's Gambit." I can't help but note that Neville was prescient in her September 21, 2020 newsletter about the United States being in a state of "flux" (you can read about it here, as well as my political rant in which I didn't pull my punches against Donald J. Trump and his enablers).  Perhaps Netflix's production of "The Queen's Gambit" during this particular time in our history will rejuvenate chess in the United States, particularly when it comes to female players, like Bobby Fischer's success did for chess more than 40 years ago.

Katherine Neville's Queen's Gambit Newsletter
November 30, 2020

The Black Queen

Here I am [photo not included from Newsletter], with Chess Grandmaster and World Champion, Susan Polgar, at our book launch party for The Fire (sequel to The Eight) held in Washington DC!  Grandmaster Polgar was one of our co-hosts for that event; she also found for us the great Black Queen that appears with us here.  And Susan's husband Paul Truong took many of the wonderful photos of that evening, which appear on my web site, in my Author section.

Hundreds of you–my friends and fellow readers, from every age and every walk of life–have been writing to me, asking if I’ve seen the new television miniseries, The Queen’s Gambit, which is based on the novel of the same name by Walter Tevis (author of The HustlerThe Color of Money.) I read the book long ago, as well as every piece of fiction ever written about chess, since I was about to write my book–The Eight–where the entire plot, a swashbuckling adventure story, is based on a major chess game taking place over a period of two hundred years, all around the world.

By contrast, Walter Tevis’ book is the story of a troubled young woman, obsessed with chess, who overcomes all obstacles and goes on to become World Champion. Not only have I watched the series, but seeing it converted to screen was a real inspiration to me. In short, the screenwriters, actors, and director really did a great job, and they have even improved upon Walter Tevis’s original book! The screenplay sparkles with adventure, suspense, and action that’s hard to convey in such a cerebral story.

It is also of genuine interest to me, that not only the original author, Walter Tevis, but nearly all of the film’s developers–producers, director, and screenwriters–are men. This goes to show that really intelligent men can see inside a woman’s mind–at least in fiction! 

This story also shows that a strong, intelligent woman can benefit by the gallantry and support of the men around her–even when competing against them! Chess, like the Kama Sutra, originated in India as a cosmic dance. From medieval times–in literature like Roman de La Rose, to Shakespeare’s The Tempest–women played chess with men as a romantic courting ritual. 

It’s an Alchemy that we need to bring back, today!

(Go to the link to read the rest of the Newsletter and see the photographs included in the article).

**********************************************************

I am inclined not to agree with Ms. Neville's statement that chess originated in India.  This is, in my opinion, a myth that has been accepted by chess historians as truth rather than the unproven supposition it is, based on no actual physical (archaeological) evidence of which I am aware directly linking an ancient form of chess to India, and even more questionable reasoning and rationalizing by H.J.R. Murray, author of the famous (infamous) "History of Chess" written at the end of the 19th century.  There is more physical evidence for chess or a forerunner of the game actually being played in ancient Persia (today's Iran) or at the very least, along the ancient trade route from China to the Middle East and beyond (the Silk Road) in the form of actually excavated identifiable chess pieces from Afrasiyab, a ruined city said to have been founded by one of Persia's ancient kings in then Persian territory (northeast Persia).  The ruins, surrounded in part by the modern city of Samarkand (Samarqand), are in the country now called Uzbekistan along the now long gone ancient Silk Road route.  

But I agree with Neville that the true beauty of chess is to be found in the dance of the pieces on the board, and the intellectual and emotional acrobatics and interaction that takes place when two players sit across from each other to match wits, skill, and spirit.  The dance can become particularly interesting when it is a female and male sitting across the board from each other, for many different reasons.  

The ancient Egyptians called their gaming pieces jbAw, pronounced something like ebau (abau) or ebou (abou) - "dancer."  The ancient Egyptians, who loved their word play, carved their oldest gaming pieces out of elephant ivory (bw), pronounced something like ab "elephant," and abu, "elephant's tooth."  Our English word "ivory" comes from the Latin  ebor or ebur, which came directly from the Egyptian word(s) for "elephant."  

History bit:  The Mitre, the headdress worn by Bishops in the Catholic Church, is an ancient symbol of power and authority which was adopted from the even older use of a horn or horns in a headdress that was worn only by those who held great positions of power, such as Kings and their closest advisors.  Interestingly, ancient depictions of shamans and what some archaeologists have suggested may be "gods" depicted in ancient cave art and on ancient rock carvings appear to be wearing horns, so the link between "power" and the horn or horns from a mighty animal is extremely ancient, pre-dating writing by thousands of years.  The Egyptian word "Pharaoh" which is generally translated as "great house" began life as some form of tent/hut which was ornamented above the door with a set of elephant tusks or bovine horns.  I assume that as the climate along the Nile changed over the millennia and elephants moved further south in Africa, bovine horns (Hathor, anyone?) replaced the elephant tusks.  

Of course, chess pieces dance!  Even I, not even a competent enough player to call myself a patzer, know that.  Here's an interesting article from 2018 from the Southwest Journal (a Minneapolis, Minnesota based publication) entitled "A Dance of Chess Pieces."  Fantastic article by Nate Gotlieb.  

And I always go back to one of my favorite videos from the 1980s musical "Chess," One Night in Bangkok sung by Murray Head.


Monday, November 23, 2020

Netflix's "The Queen's Gambit" Sends Sales of Chess Sets/Accessories Soaring

Holy Hathor!  So all it took was a Netflix mini-series dramatizing Walter Tevis' excellent novel about the flawed but excellent fictional chessplayer Beth Harmon, portrayed by a gorgeous young redhead actress, broadcast during a pandemic when people are more than ever hunkering down at home, to wake people up to the wonders of chess!  HA! 

From The New York Times.

The Netflix show about a chess prodigy has reignited interest in the game and fueled demand for sets, accessories and timers.

By Marie Fazio
November 23, 2020

Poela Keta started binge-watching “The Queen’s Gambit” as a break from studying for her final exams at Rhodes University.

"I think I’ve always respected chess,” Ms. Keta, 21, who lives in South Africa, said on Saturday. “I just thought I wasn’t smart enough nor patient enough for it."

That is, until she saw Beth Harmon, the main character in the Netflix show, masterfully school her opponents as a woman in the male-dominated world of chess.

Credit...via Netflix

"Beth’s can-do attitude, the way the board presented itself to her on the ceiling in a drug-induced haze, her mastery, her ego, made me add my own set to my shopping cart and get playing,” Ms. Keta said.

When the chess set she ordered arrived, her 11-year-old sister, who is part of the chess club at her school, helped her position the pieces. Ms. Keta said she planned to dive deeper into the game “the minute I’m done with exams."

"The Queen's Gambit" follows Beth, a chess prodigy who rises through the ranks of the chess world as she struggles with addiction.

At Goliath Games, a toy company that sells several varieties of chess sets, set sales are up more than 1,000 percent compared with this time last year, the company’s director of marketing told NPR.

spokeswoman for eBay, Kara Gibson, said the company had recorded a 215 percent increase in sales of chess sets and accessories since the debut of the show in October. Of the different types of chess sets, wooden are the most popular and sell nine times more than plastic, electronic or glass on eBay, she said.

Vintage set sales have increased seven times, as have sales for equipment, including chess clocks and timers, which are up 45 times since last month.

Before “The Queen’s Gambit,” Ms. Gibson said, chess sets at eBay were already selling 60 percent more than last year, which the company attributes to people spending more time at home during the pandemic.

"More and more people are playing more and more games than ever before in history,” said David Llada, a spokesman for the International Chess Federation, known as FIDE.

At the beginning of the year, as many as 11 million chess games were played online every day, Mr. Llada said. When the pandemic hit, the numbers grew to an estimated 16 million to 17 million games per day. Sites that required users to be registered reported an increase in new membership of around 40 percent, he said.

Mr. Llada said it was too soon to measure the full impact of “The Queen’s Gambit” on chess, but said it was already comparable to the buzz usually generated around world championships, held every two years. Some matches, like the championship match between Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky played during the Cold War, “gave birth to a whole new generation of millions of chess fans,” Mr. Llada said.

"The chess community fell in love with the series because it successfully portrays different aspects of chess in all its richness: It’s easy enough to be fun to play, but also complex enough to pose a challenge,” he said. “It is nerdy, but also cool and fashionable. It is intensively competitive, but full of interesting, creative and colorful characters."

Streaming platforms like Twitch have also had skyrocketing viewership of chess games.

From March through August, people watched 41.2 million hours of chess on Twitch, four times as many hours as in the previous six months, according to the analytics website SullyGnome. Last month, people watched 4.2 million hours of chess, compared with 2.4 million the same month last year.

In June, an amateur chess tournament called PogChamps was briefly the top-viewed stream on Twitch, with 63,000 people watching at once, SullyGnome said.

nd membership in chess organizations, such as the U.S. Chess Federation, the governing body for chess competition in the U.S., is also on the rise.

"This month, we’ve had our first bump in membership since the pandemic hit, and we are hearing from our members that many of them are renewing or rejoining specifically because of the series,” said Daniel Lucas, a senior official at the federation.

General interest in the game is “always there under the surface,” Mr. Lucas said, but membership has fluctuated over the years. It boomed after Mr. Fischer won the 1972 world championship, but by the 1980s interest had waned, Mr. Lucas said.  The federation reached a high of 97,000 members this year.

White men still make up the largest demographic of members, he said, but efforts have been made to recruit players from underrepresented communities, especially through scholastic programs. Female membership has increased to 14 percent from 1 percent in the early 2000s, he said.

Mr. Lucas, whose father taught him to play chess when he was six, watched “The Queen’s Gambit” over a weekend with his wife and daughter. He said it showed “some of the best chess ever put on screen."

Time will tell whether chess is merely the latest pandemic fad, fated to go the way of banana bread baking and binge-watching "Tiger King," but Mr. Lucas believes the heightened interest in the game is here to stay.

"I’m fond of the axiom that ‘the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior,’” he said. “And people have been playing chess for 1,500 years."

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Jen Shahade at The Washington Post: "Five Myths About Chess"

Hola darlings!  Hope you are all staying warm and safe.  it's getting brisker and colder by the day here, soon I'll be inside nearly full-time except for my daily 30 minute exercise outdoors doing - whatever - just moving and breathing trying to stay warm, for emotional health sessions (they help keep me in physical as well as emotional/mental health shape).

I've got a handful of articles to post links to about Netflix's "The Queen's Gambit," based on the novel by Walter Tevis that I promise to post soon, mostly good stuff from The New York Times.  Today up popped this article by WGM Jen Shahade at WaPo.

Five Myths About Chess

By Jennifer Shahade
November 20, 2020

Chess is having a moment. Chess is also having a decade. The game has been on an upward trajectory in pop culture ever since the charismatic Magnus Carlsen, who has even worked as a model, won the World Chess Championship in 2013. That same year, Congress declared St. Louis the country’s “chess capital.” Now Netflix’s “The Queen’s Gambit” has ratcheted interest up to new heights. As millions of converts download chess apps and buy boards, it’s time to dispel a few myths about this ancient game.

Myth No. 1.  Chess is Dull and Unsexy. [My comment: HA!]

"Does it seem to you like there just isn’t enough televised chess on these days?” David Letterman joked sarcastically in 1989. More recently, coverage of “The Queen’s Gambit” has expressed doubt about the visual and dramatic appeal of the game. Vanity Fair said that, to most people, the game seems “dull and buttoned-up.” And the Cut cried, “The Sexiest Show on Television Is About . . . Chess?"

The Netflix series plays up the royal game’s glamorous side and, yes, its sensual side. But the connection between chess and sex goes back centuries. Historian Marilyn Yalom writes that medieval artists — in manuscript illustrations, tapestries and stained-glass windows, among other art forms — treated the game as synonymous with seduction: “A chess scene between a man and a woman signified romance.” Yalom also describes a work of fiction from around 1400, called “The Book of Erotic Chess,” in which “each move on the board represented a decisive moment in the game of love” between the characters.

Today’s international chess competitions often feature just one game a day, in the midafternoon — leaving players with plenty of time to connect at drinks, long dinners and parties. Some enthusiasts have even compiled lists of the greatest “chess couples” to have “found romance over the 64 squares,” and who have a combined rating of over 5000 from the International Chess Federation (FIDE).

Myth No. 2.  It takes genius to win at chess. [My comment:  It doesn't take genius, but it does take rhythm and being a good dancer helps a great deal.  And yes, I know this probably won't make sense to male players, HA!]

The public often associates chess with intelligence — and chess champions with preternatural brilliance. In the second episode of “The Queen’s Gambit,” a librarian tells the protagonist, Beth Harmon, that a grandmaster is a “genius player.” A Wired article about chess in pop culture cited the joy of “watching genius at work.” In 2009, Time asked Magnus Carlsen how he dealt with people “assuming you are 40,000 times more intelligent” than average: “You’re clearly not a normal intellect,” the interviewer declared.

Carlsen, the highest-rated grandmaster in history, has reiterated many times that he considers himself “a normal person.” In an interview with Rainn Wilson in 2013, he said that the first sentence of his autobiography would be: “I am not a genius.” What differentiated him from his competitors, he explained, was commitment; he didn’t treat chess as a “normal hobby."

FIDE recognizes more than 1,700 grandmasters — and what they have in common is hard work. Chess playing is a skill more than a fixed trait; excellence takes dedication, time and a love for the process. Along with practice games and tournaments, and individual and group coaching sessions, a serious chess training regimen often includes the study of top players’ games, opening strategies, endgames and checkmating patterns. Serious players also use computers to deeply analyze their own games.

Myth No. 3.  Strong chess players see dozens of moves ahead. [My comment:  Oh brother.  Just stay off of drugs and booze before playing and let your instincts take over.  Unlike the fictional Beth Harmon, you really are not at your best when you're drug or alcohol hung-over.]

It’s an old cliche that the best players plot long lines of future moves. In a 2010 profile, Time magazine described Carlsen’s “beautiful mind” and how he “often calculates 20 moves ahead.” A recent ESPN story about an 8-year-old chess prodigy similarly marveled at his “ability to think 20 moves ahead."

In fact, great chess players use a combination of strategic intuition, pattern recognition and calculation to decide their moves; intuition alone is plenty to beat much weaker players. Chess players do think deeply about a position and its possible outcomes. But they look sideways as much as straight ahead, scanning the board to see any possible moves they are missing in their current position. If I look ahead three moves but check five different counters, that’s more total moves than looking down a 10-move tunnel. It’s much more useful, too: If you miss your opponent’s “reply” in the middle of your 10-move line, all the energy you spent looking beyond your error is wasted. Man plans, God laughs — or as we say in chess, “Long variation, wrong variation."

Myth No. 4.  Deep Blue's win in 1997 meant the end of chess.  [My comment:  Give me a computer that looks and talks and moves like Don Johnson ("Miami Vice") in his hey-day and then we'll talk, but only if Phil Collins' iconic "In The Air Tonight" is playing in the background...  I ask you, what woman in her not so right mind would not want to sit across the board from such a gorgeous hunk of male and - well, never mind.]

Don Johnson color art                 

"What would it really mean if Deep Blue won?”  

Newsweek asked before the match between Garry Kasparov and IBM’s computer engine: “Some people have argued whether chess would be diminished by this upheaval.” I got a chance to visit the match in New York; I remember the audience’s simultaneous horror and awe at Kasparov’s loss — and the laments that the computer had “solved” chess. More recently, New Scientist claimed that computers had been “ruining” chess ever since Deep Blue and that AI was “conquering” the game.

It’s true that, in time, the top computers dismantled the top humans so easily it was no longer competitive enough to be fun, and the epic man vs. machine matches were discontinued. But the death knell was premature. The game’s popularity has soared, as players and viewers find new ways to connect online. According to the founder of Chess.com, the site’s traffic has grown up to 50-percent each year since its founding in 2007; it had a huge spike in registrations and site use in 2020, due to the pandemic and “The Queen’s Gambit.” And where, in 2015, a few dozen people watched streams of chess on Twitch at any given time, today the average viewership is over 4,000, according to Fast Company.

At any rate, chess has not been “solved.” Even the top computers don’t know the best sequence of moves in every position — they just play enough fantastic moves (and very few bad ones) that they beat humans over and over. Recent progress in artificial intelligence shows just how much more there is to explore: In 2018, Google’s AlphaZero achieved new levels of greatness when it defeated Stockfish, a traditional computer chess program, entrancing the chess world with sacrifices and pawn storms.

Myth No. 5.  The King is the most important piece in chess.  [My comment:  You don't want to ask Donald Trump that question right now...  Ask Philidor - he knows.]

Teachers and how-to guides often reiterate that, while the queen is the most powerful piece, the king is the most important — a principle repeated in online chess tutorials and enshrined on Wikipedia.

But eight foot-soldiers have something to say about that. The mighty pawn, the only piece that captures differently than it moves, trudges ahead one step at a time. Since it’s the only piece that cannot move backward, every push is final. Pawns form the bones of the game: Play would be a mushy mess without them.

Pawn power was sent to the lab for study when, this year, Alpha Zero played against itself in nine variations on chess. Five of the variants tweaked the rules governing pawns. In torpedo chess, in which pawns can move two squares at a time, tactical volatility was hugely increased. Another variant, in which pawns moved backward, led to fewer decisive games, since that rule allowed for the reversal of strategic errors. Change the pawn, and you shake the very essence of the game. In the words of 18th-century French chess champion Francois-Andre Danican Philidor, “The pawns are the soul of chess."

Jennifer Shahade is a chess champion, author, poker player and Women’s Program Director at U.S. Chess. (c) The Washington Post. (Excluding the Don Johnson photo).  

Friday, November 20, 2020

The Lion in the Clouds

 Hola!  I just had to take a little bit of time out of these incredibly busy days to post this photograph I saw in an article by one grandmother who will NOT be attending a family get-together Thanksgiving dinner this year out of fear of COVID-19.  One of her granddaughters assured her that they will be together soon, one day.

This photograph of what I call "The Lion in the Clouds" came from this opinion article in the New York Times on November 19, 2020.  It was captioned "Alvaro Dominguez; photographs by Getty Images."  Is it real?  Is it fake?  I don't know.  I just thought it was beautiful and as I'm a Leo, born under the astrological sign of the Lion, it holds special meaning for me.

What child - and any adult whose inner child is still alive and kicking and talking to you constantly - has not looked at the clouds and seen all sorts of things in them?  I've seen individual horses and  galloping herds of horses.  I've seen grand figures that I call "Angels" playing what appears to be trumpets.  I've seen buffalo, and an alligator, and ships with masts from the old days.  I've also seen lots and lots of "faces" or what might be faces, with a little imagination :)


He's so beautiful!  And to me, Leo the Lion symbolizes hope.  And indeed, we have reasons to have hope for our future, not too far off, although it seems every day is like a thousand years, sometimes.  Today Pfizer applied for an emergency approval to release it's COVID-19 vaccine which completed trials have shown is between 94-95% effective.  Not far behind is a vaccine from Moderna.  And other vaccines are on the horizon.

If Pfizer's vaccine is approved, there are hurdles that will need to be overcome to properly distribute it across the country, including capability to maintain subzero temperatures to keep the vaccine viable for extended periods of time.  Distribution will go first to medical personnel and first responders, which is only right.  These are our modern-day heroines and heroes, who have worked endlessly throughout the past nine months and counting to treat and save as many Americans from COVID-19 as possible.  Next will be people like me, above age 65 (when the hell did that happen?) and with threatening underlying health conditions.  But before I go for a vaccination, I want to make sure my siblings who are over age 65 get theirs first.  As the oldest in the family, that's my responsibility.  

So, hang on tight.  We're all tired of this, we're all exhausted and want to get back to normal.  But wishing won't make it so.  We have to continue to keep ourselves safe, so that those with whom we come into contact with will be safe, too.  Six months - I know it sounds like a lifetime right now but trust me, from my viewpoint it's a couple blinks of my eyes.  Hang in there, stay safe.  Keep your loved ones and friends safe.  That means no Thanksgiving other than virtual and only celebrating with those who live with you.  I live by myself so I'll be doing virtual Thanksgiving this year.  No Christmas family luncheon at Meyer's Restaurant this year.  But how much sweeter it will be in 2021 to be able to have these gatherings once again.

Keep your eyes on the prize, people.  Eyes on the prize.  And look into the clouds and find your Lion.
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