Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Kasparov for a quid

posted by Brit, in Bryan's continued absence

Because nobody ever predicts anything accurately, it's no surprise that Tomorrow's World never told us that all the great technological minds of the early 21st Century would choose the mobile phone as the medium through which to express their genius.*

The other day I downloaded Garry Kasparov's Chess game to my phone for a quid. A quid! A fiendishly complex chess-playing engine! On my phone! The download took about 30 seconds. 30 seconds! I felt like a transhuman.

Needless to say, I can't beat Garry at Expert level. Depressingly, I can't beat him at Advanced or Intermediate either. We're about evens at Novice. (I can trounce Beginner, but there's no real joy in it). I like chess - I have even read books about it and sometimes have chess dreams like the guy in that Nabakov novel - but I find I just don't have the right kind of brain to be in any sense a serious player. I can't remember openings beyond about 3 moves, I struggle with combinations in the middle game and I drag out endgames to embarrassing lengths even when well up. My game relies heavily on a sort of instinctive positional sense which is often wrong. In fact, the only noticeable way I've improved since the age of 12 is that I'm much better at knowing when to resign.

Chess brilliance is intriguing because it is innate and manifests itself in the child prodigy, as with maths and music. Unfortunately, the cerebral space taken up by chess brilliance rarely leaves room for anything else, and in some cases great players are otherwise absolute pond life.

Not so Kasparov - he's a great player and a great man too. I don't know how much of my quid actually went to Garry, but I don't begrudge him any of it.

* Yeah, sorry about that sentence.


  1. Best not mention dreams like that Brit, someone will talk, could be worse though, you could dream about Andrew Motions ever sharp pencil.
    I wonder if I could download Ava Gardiner on my Nokia ?

  2. I've always preferred Connect 4 myself.

    Whilst the texture and geometry of well-made chess-pieces upon a solid wooden board provide an exquisitely delicate tactile pleasure, chess is otherwise an exercise in sensory deprivation. There is, of course, the sophistication of the evolving strategy, and one can almost feel the plurality of possible game-worlds branching into the future from each configuration, but it's all very abstract, and not particularly sensual.

    In contrast, where chess is monochromatic and mute, Connect 4 is a brilliant primary colour extravaganza, rythmically entwined with the reassuring 'chinking' sound of the chips slotting into place. And, oh! the rapturous crescendo of sound as those chips cascade beneath the frame at the end of each game.

    Whilst the aspirations of chess are confined to the horizontal plane, Connect 4 is defined by its bold verticality, and consequent gravitationality. Connect 4, in short, bespeaks of a yearning for the stars.

  3. Is the chess set you downloaded in good condition? Are all the pieces there, or do you have to substitute something for a missing king?



  4. chess is not a spectator sport!

    is it?

  5. Samuel Beckett was quite good at chess, they say. i tried to take it up in emulation of the man but like you 3 moves ahead is about all i can manage, and that makes my head hurt.

  6. My nephew is a chess champion (was nationally ranked throughout his teens and has had Grand Masters visit his college campus for those deals where the Master walks rapidly past fifty boards making moves and beats everyone). Happily, my nephew is more interested in girls, beer, and politics than chess -- he's his class president and very popular. I did beat him once -- when he was about 8 -- and that's the best game of chess I've ever played.

    For me, the game is Scramble on Facebook. I'm so addicted that Scrabble with my (now sad-faced) husband barely holds my interest for the slow 50 minutes we give ourselves for games. Scramble is like crack: 3 minutes a round and you can think of nothing else while you're playing. A mental orgasm, in other words.

  7. You've convinced me, Gordon.

    And Rus: come on, this is the noughties. Kasparov Chess comes with a thimble for the queen's bishop and some ludo men for pawns already provided. They think of everything these days.