Friday, February 4, 2011

John & Miami

It is my pleasure to present for your enjoyment an email conversation between my friends John Linton and the President of the Kentucky Chess Association, Miami Fugate. Mr Linton started the conversation with his email, published in my last post, Speed Chess: A Fatwah on My Brain.

Well written my good sir. As you have placed such fine thoughts for the public to digest and enrich, please allow me to offer something of a... discussion of your musings. I am tempted to swim along with your words, as they are convincing and captivating to a purist such as myself. I must find the strength to pry away from my idealism and expose these notions to the world in a light that cast no shadow over them.

I will compare your ideas to Marx, surely the first time such a parallel has been made, as his writings spin such an idealistic maelstrom that it engulfed the minds of whole countries. It is only the implementation of such ideas that allow most to see the folly within the excitement. I will ask of you this, do you fear death?

It is an inevitable truth that there is a clock on us all. Your writings strike at this notion as an atheist with cancer. It would seem that you wish to remove it and stare forever into the creative abyss of the board. While we may delay the outcome, the board is limited with a limited number of moves. The game will end, logic tells us this. You seem content to turn Bodhisattva and eat the very concept of time (as do all who use time delay).

It is not the speed at which we perform that determines the artistry of the game. Is not the measured soul of a man confined to his time here? Can there be no beauty in depravity or Clementi? Must a man know the present to achieve and create while in it? I submit to you, Mr Linton, that many a musician or artist created and passed without knowing their greatness. I submit to you, Mr Linton, that a man may put more of his heart into a speed game than into a 6 hour game. It is not everyone that finds "panic-stricken spastic" ejaculations in their speed chess. It is the endless notion of perfection that devours the soul of both the game and the heart of man. If we were to compare this to other arts, I would say your argument compares to someone stating that Leonardo should have taken a picture of that Lisa woman because it would have been more perfect than his stupid spastic ejaculation of paint into an image you can really only make out if you aren't too close or too far away. Perhaps we are too hasty to even play the games at all Mr Linton? Perhaps we should plug in the finest computers and let them calculate until they solve it.

Mr Linton, I should like very much to remove the safety net of the delay clock. A man must be accountable for his actions, including forgetting his mortality, and allowing the time to slip through his fingers as do the memories of wasted youth. To place the limit of time true to the circumstance of life. A master chef may produce the finest meal created in 4 hours, but most diners need to have their food within an hour. Is this chef no less a master in 30 minutes? Even if we cannot touch our greatest games in such limited time, is their not still beauty?

I invite you good sir, to sit with me and drink merrily from a fine bottle of merlot. We shall play ruinous moves the scourge of all studied players (it matters not how much time we put on the clock). We can turn off the delay and drop the time to 5 minutes each. I should like very much to listen to Clementi... sonata in g minor. Perhaps even an assassination could occur... new world war? Or another possibility. If we develop sudden unemployment and loss of our loved ones, we could find a place to play a game with no time control. Perhaps several adjournments would be in order. On day 5 I would hang my rook followed by myself for having spent that much time only to do what I could have done in 7 minutes. At least we wouldn't have thusly whittled away our minds...


One must always pause in deferential wonder when the President of Kentucky Chess speaks. As I've said many times before, President Fugatte remains the only president of Kentucky Chess for whom I would give my life.

To limit the discussion (for clarity's sake) to 5-minute speed chess without a delay, several points become clear:

1. Standard drawing techniques in the endgame will not be permitted, save by mechanically outlasting one's opponent in clock-swatting speed. Hence the game tree is essentially warped away from a huge subset of possible play.
2. Whereas chess is normally a game of addition, whereby players expand into complexity at the outset of every game, 5-minute speed without a delay starts immediately with a fixation on avoiding error, and aims at a minimalist survival and not anything besides a minimal creativity. Most lines of thought are drastically linear and short, despite boasts to the contrary.
3. President Fugatte talks of courage. Imagine then, for a moment, a clock time of 20 seconds per game with no delay: One can immediately see the looming absurdity in equating courage for all time controls. The game itself breaks down and little virtue can be posited in such a context. It would be analogous to asking a man to fight a prize fight, and declaring victory on the first hit sustained by either side.

Of course these are subjective judgments and there will always be devotees of five-minute chess, or even bullet chess. And I suppose there is a virility of a sort in attempting to beat the clock, or drub the other man.

But let's recall one salient point, gentlemen: The reason chess is famous for winning women, and for expressing that deepest aspect of manly courage -- whereas checkers is manifestly not -- is because the size of the game tree for checkers is the square root of the size of the game tree for chess.

What is eminently (nay, painfully) clear is that when clock time is so narrowed that chess's game tree effectively becomes a square root of its former glory, then we have emasculated chess's inner beauty.

Most people would equate the Mona Lisa precisely with slow-stroke dedication, and not something tossed off like a Clementi sonata. In fact, the work confounds the world because a singular consciousness made this painting a fulcrum of its inner brilliance, over a period of much time. It is meditative, timeless, deep, profound. Just like Fischer's game with Byrne.

Would one play a Mozart symphony in five minutes? I should pray not.

You ask, "Can there be no beauty in depravity or Clementi?" -- and I would agree with you that there can be depravity in Clementi. There can also be beauty in depravity. But to ask a strong man to catch a piano, and then to see him fail -- this is not a manly test.

With respect for My President,

John L.

Thank you for the kind words, Senator Linton. I must note that Clementi could not say the same to you. I accept the premise of limiting the discussion, but your points seem as disjointed as a UN peace banquet.

1. You have stated no rationale how standard endgame technique is disallowed. 5 min chess allows for a variety of endgames and variants (excepting when you arrive there with less than 30 seconds on your clock).
2. The premise that speed chess is simply avoiding error is flatly wrong. It may be for you on a personal level, but for myself and many others, there exist a tremendous amount of creative play. Minimalist survival is never on the agenda. I have never hid in the corner hoping not to hang a piece. The lines are sometimes more forcing, but with any luck, hold all of the beauty of a standard game.
3. This one confuses me most. At no point in my reply did I mention courage. Courage is not relevant to this topic, so I cannot see why you would paint it to me. I will not envision a 20 second game with no delay, nor will I argue your valid and truthful comments on the nature of "bullet" chess. Chess need to have enough time for players to spawn ideas and to physically manipulate the pieces. 1 minute allows for neither.

I have no experience with women in chess. I have dated several women over the years and none have attempted to learn even up to my modest level of ability. Some have outright turned away from the game in disgust (not a keeper). If the notion that the tree of speed chess is trimmed in comparison to the tree of standard or delay chess (and I do not concede this argument), I ask this. Can not the trimmed bush be more beautiful than the wild one?

I feel that you have missed the point with the Mona Lisa reference. I agree that there is a precision and amount of time gone into the artwork, as I believe there is in the faster chess game. Ask this Senator Linton, how much time went into the perfecting of the machines that through Asia, to a distributor, to a retail store, to your living room, and back to the photo lab (or computer these days)? The size and scope of the magic of a perfect image produced instantly is jaw dropping and taken for granted by most today. In Leonardo's time it would not have been. Face it, Leo was good, but his "tree" was much smaller than Kodak. The things that can be done that he cannot do is tremendous. Ask yourself, which is greater in artistic value?

I believe I heard Glenn Gould play 2 Mozart symphonies in 7 minutes 43 seconds. It just saved me the trouble of having to listen to Mozart's soulless music for any great length of time.

If you believe the game of chess to be depraved if constraints of time are placed upon the game which impede the full consciousness of the players, I can respect that from a purist standpoint. You do agree though that there can be beauty in depravity (though not Clementi), therefore do not dismiss the beauty in the "depraved" game of speed chess simply because you cannot understand it. This is a mistake that many a religious group and empire have made throughout time, and we are left with but a broken history of mankind for it.

With eager respect,

Miami Fugatte
Kentucky Chess Association
President Fugatte,
I am duly mortified and edified, as were the early Christians.

I think perhaps you and I are not so far apart on this; individuals vary greatly in how they experience the flow of time. Just as you would admit that bullet chess is overly astringent for you, so too may five minutes be overly astringent for me.

One final way to put my point is that it is not hard to envisage endgames that are won in the mind, but which are lost physically because a person cannot execute a sequence of ten moves in time. To have achieved the feat of seeing a winning line ten moves in advance is no mean feat, yet not to be allowed to execute this sequence -- it's all a bit much for me, you see. Certainly you would hold that this is because there was inadequate budgeting of time to begin with, and there is a pedigree to your rectitude. Yet I would hold that cramming an opening, middle game, endgame, and physical hand movements into five minutes requires a Houdini-like pliancy -- which you may have sir, and I may not. (Nor do I mean to insinuate a moral pliancy: quite the contrary.)

I was touched by your comments on Mozart and perhaps was overly hard on Muzio. You must understand that as a piano teacher it's more natural to revile certain composers.

Sometime soon let us meet in a large chess party at my house, along with Brothers Amback, Burns, Pollitt, and Friar Edwards. Let us all drink much red wine, and let us play a time control somewhere between G5 and G5000, and let us listen to the neglected classical masters.

Yours in chess,

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Are these real people? Who is named 'Miami'?