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Samuel Beckett

Interesting how this Samuel Beckett (1906–1989) quote to his work is so close to the research on Artificial Life (aLife), as well as how Christopher Langton (link) approached the field, on his initial stages, fighting back and fourth with his Lambda parameter (“Life emerges at the Edge of Chaos“) back in the 80′s. According to Langton‘s findings, at the edge of several ordered states and the chaotic regime (lambda=0,273) the information passing on the system is maximal, thus ensuring life. Will not wait for Godot. Here:

“Beckett was intrigued by chess because of the way it combined the free play of imagination with a rigid set of rules, presenting what the editors of the Faber Companion to Samuel Beckett call a “paradox of freedom and restriction”. That is a very Beckettian notion: the idea that we are simultaneously free and unfree, capable of beauty yet doomed. Chess, especially in the endgame when the board’s opening symmetry has been wrecked and the courtiers eliminated, represents life reduced to essentials – to a struggle to survive.”(*)

(*) on Stephen Moss, “Samuel Beckett’s obsession with chess: how the game influenced his work“, The Guardian, 29 August 2013. [link]

Vieira da Silva O jogo de xadrez 1943

Picture – The idea of Viera da Silva’s art as a kind of code to be decoded comes across most clearly in The Chess Game – “O jogo de Xadrez” (above, Oil on Canvas, 1943). [...] The checkered pattern of the chessboard extends beyond the table not only to the players themselves but also to the very landscape itself [...] … Vieira da Silva would have loved The Matrix films [...] (more).

Last night I decided to do something new. To play and broadcast live on Twitter, two chess games, blindfold. A 1st one with white pieces, another playing black. For that, I have chosen Chess Titans (link) has my contender,  a computer program most people can also access and try out over their PC’s. Chess Titans is a computer chess game developed by Oberon Games and vastly included in Windows Vista and Windows 7.  While broadcasting the game live, I added some of my thoughts while playing both games. Even if in brief, that was what I was feeling at the moment: what I was planning, and in what adversary menaces I mostly decided to spent my time.

For those reasons, what follows are those on-the-fly live comments, uncut, made at each moment, while I was thinking. No extra analysis is included here today. It will be more interesting for those who will read me on the future, I guess. This could give a precise idea what happened each time I have made a move, how I react it to some computer moves, and how some of my errors happened as you will see. How my mind went in one direction, or several, depending on the position. Those comments are highlighted by brackets () below, and were twitted live as they arrived to me. Besides, two subsequent comment brackets do not mean two subsequent twitter live chess thinking comments. Sometimes, several minutes have passed between those different thoughts.

As a final note, Chess Titans played each move in around 15-35 seconds, and in difficult positions, rarely, up to 2-3 minutes (I have chosen to play against the maximum level, 10). Playing blindfold, I have spent around 3-4 minutes for regular moves, like exchanging pieces, tweeting, etc, and mostly around 10-15 minutes for some positions, in quite difficult combinatorial patterns. First game playing white, endured 1h and a half (lost it) ,while the second almost 4h and 30 minutes within 58 moves. Here they are:

Game (1) Vitorino Ramos vs. Chess Titans level max.=10 [Sicilian] (LIVE on Twitter 23:00 GMT – 00:24 GMT, Dec. 20, 2012) Duration: 1h 24m.

1. e4, c5 2. c3, Nf6 3. Qc2, e5 4. Ne2, d5 5. exd5, Qxd5 (hmm … 6. d4 or 6.Ng3) 6. d4, Nc6 (7. c4 8. d5 but feeling problems later with his Nb4, Qa4+, Bd7!) 7. dxe5, Nxe5 8. Nf4, Qd7 9. Na3 (for 10. Bb5!), 9. …, Qe7 (was expecting 9. … a6) (10. Be3 seems too bad. Maybe 10. Be2 or Qe2. Or the line 10. Bb5+, Bd7, BxB, Nexd7+, Be3, Ng4 hmm … then Nd5!! ok … 10. Bb5+) 10. Bb5+, Bd7 11. 0-0, (better than BxB+ I guess cause of a future Ng4 by him), 11. …, g5

Vitorino Ramos vs. Chess Titans level max.=10 after 11. ..., g5

Chess diagram – crucial position after his 11. …, g5 move. White (me) to play.

(too risky maybe 12. Re1, gxN, Bxf4, Nf6-g4, f3 difficult for me to compute the rest) (12. Re1, gxN, Bxf4, Nf6-g4, f3, … hmm … Nexf3+ ?!!!)
(how about h3; 12. Re1, gxN, Bxf4, Nf6-g4, h3) (hmm???? 12. Re1, gxN, Bxf4, Nf6-g4, h3, Nxf2, Kxf2, Neg4+ ~ hmm) (we also have intermediate variants like, Bxb5, Nxb5, Q moves and gains one tempo by attacking the Knight on b5) (ok, no prob, here I go. This will be bloody …)

12. Re1 12. …, Nf3+ (Oooohhh NO!!!! damn, calculated this more ahead, not now. So stupid) 13. gxf3, Qxe1+ 14. Kg2, gxf4 (now he has Rg8++) (Bxf4 for Rg8+, Bg3 he has QxRa1, bad, bad) 15. Bxd7+, Nxd7 (h3 is an escape now for my King) (16. Rb1, Rg8+, Kh3, Qf1+, Kh4, Be7+ and I think I’m lost) (k, let’s sacrifice the Rook in a1) 16. Bxf4, Qxa1 (at least I have some counter-game now) 17. Qe4+, Be7 (Bd6 will not work due to Rg8+ followed by Qf1+ I guess…, damn, should have played 17. Qe2+!!) (Nb5 menacing Nc7+ or Nd6+ does not work either. Follows Rg8+, Kh3, Qf1+ and Q takes Nb5) (and for Qxb7 he has the robust Rb8 answer) (…. k, the end. Give up. Chess Titans level 10 won 1st game – 2nd game follows) 0-1

After two big blunders on the first game above (the bad 12. Re1 instead of a normal 12. Nd3 – check 1st diagram above -, and 17. Qe4+ instead of 17. Qe2+, since controlling f1 was crucial)  the second game did not started well also. After 6 moves I was already losing 1 pawn. Yet, still did manage to open the game and get the initiative a few moves later (around 14. …, Re8+). I feel OK with open and highly combinatorial games as these (normally it’s when I play better), but I forgot one simple fact: I was playing blindfold. Four and an half hours later I guess I’m happy to have managed to drawn a quite interesting and complex game, playing black pieces. What a long and stressful headache. Here:

Game (2) Chess Titans level max.=10 vs. Vitorino Ramos [English opening] (LIVE on Twitter 00:45 GMT – 05:12 GMT, Dec. 20, 2012) Duration: 4h 27m.

1. c4, e5 (English) 2. Nc3, f5 3. g3, c6 4. e4, fxe4 5. Qh5+ (that 4. …, fxe4 was too bad from me. Childish error. Did not see the typical Qh5+ trap, g6, Qxe5+ followed by QxRh8. It should have been 4. …, d6) 5, …, Ke7 6. Qxe5+, Kf7 7. Be2, Qf6 8. Qxe4, Bc5 9. Nf3, Nh6 10. d4 (hmm prepares Ng5+ ??!) 10. …, Bb4 11. Bg5, Qf5 12. Qxf5+, Nxf5 13. Bd3, d6 14. a3, Re8+ 15. Be2, Bxc3+ 16. bxc3, h6 17. Bd2, g5 18. h4, g4 19. Nh2, h5 20. Bf4, b5 21. cxb5, cxb5 22. f3, Bb7 23. Rf1, gxf3 24. Nxf3, Nd7 25. Kd1, a6 26. Ng1, Kg6 27. Re1, Rac8 28. a4 (hmm … Bxh5+ is dangerous if I move the rock in column c, like 28. …, Rxc3), 28. …, Nf6 29. axb5, axb5, 30. Ra7, Bc6 (did calculate Ba8 and Bd5 but hmm, I need d5 for my knight. His bishop on f4 must die) 31. Bd3, Nd5 32. Ne2

Chess Titans level max.=10 vs. Vitorino Ramos after his 32. Ne2 move

Chess diagram – position after his 32. Ne2 move. Black (me) to play. I’m 1 pawn down but with the initiative.

(I can’t take on c3 right? Nxc3, Nxc3, Bf3+, and then he goes back with Knight to e2, gee…) (hard position to mentally calculate) (32. …, b4 ?????) (damn, let me simplify all this…) 32. …, Ra8 33. Rxa8, Rxa8 34. Bxd6 (geee, that 31. Bd3 was so well played) 34. …, Ra1+ (will try to drawn him with successive pressure and checks, I guess) 35. Kd2, Ra2+ 36. Kc1 (yep, he prepares to play Bb1, I guess) 36. …, Nde3 37. Nf4+, Kf7 38. Nxh5, Ra1+ 39. Bb1 (only move for him. If not I change the rocks in e1 with time and then  his bishop on d6) 39. …, Be4

Chess Titans level max.=10 vs. Vitorino Ramos after my 39. ..., Be4

Chess diagram – position after my 39. …, Be4 move, pinning b2. White (computer) to play. I’m now 3 pawns down.

(Pinning. Guess this would end with 2 knights and 1 pawn against 1 knight and 4 pawns!!) 40. Kb2, Rxb1+ 41. Rxb1, Bxb1 42. Kxb1, Nxd6 43. Nf4 …

Chess Titans level max.=10 vs. Vitorino Ramos after his 43. Nf4 move

Chess diagram – position after his 43. Nf4 move. Black to play. Now I must stop two different white pawn clusters, on each side. Hard final.

(must be careful, now) (I guess I will do the obvious) (hmm, does not work, 43 …. Ne4 44. Ne2!) (wait, then King on f6, f5, g4 pressing g3) (k, here I go) 43. …, Ne4 44. Ne2, (now, I must think of my pawn on b5, hmm) (he has Ka2, a3 etc) (I have Nc4-d6, hope this helps, … here I go) 44. …, Kf6 45. Kb2, Kf5 46. h5 (?????!!!) 46. …, Kg5 47. h6 (?? He wants my King outside the centre, is that it? … I must take it) 47. …, Kxh6 48. Kb3 (yep, now I have problems on the other side) 48. …, Nd6 49. Kb4 (now my aim will be to arrive on f3 with my King) 49. …, Kg5 50. Kc5, Nec4 (freezing everything!) 51. d5 (hmm, I get it, he wants to reach Kd4 and Kd3. Anyway, I will go for the one in g3) 51. …, Kg4 52. Kc6

(what?????? he is just waiting) (hmm … wait, makes some sense. If 52…, Kf3 then 53. Nd4+, Kxg3 54. Nxb5, Nxb5 55. Kxb5 and I would have 1 knight against 2 pawns and my King far away) (hmm, hard call) (52…, Kf3 or not 52…, Kf3 ??!!!) (Kf3 followed by Ke3 and Kd3 etc does not work also, I think) (… hmm, wait, it might if he does not go Kc5, Kd4. If he goes I will the other way around by Kf4, Ke5)

52. …, Kf3 53. Nd4+, Kxg3 54. Kc5, Kf4 55. Nxb5, Ke5 (and it’s a drawn, I guess) 56. Kb4, Nxb5 57. Kxc4 57. …, Nxc3 ( if he goes 58. d6 then 58. …, Nd5! 59. d7, Nb6+ followed by Nxd7!!) 58. Kxc3, Kxd5 ½-½ (uuuufff, managing to draw blindfold, is a good result I guess :)

One of my conclusions: never play blindfold again in a open and highly combinatorial position, namely when you have a pair of knights. That, could make you dizzy and sick. Another (among, many others): never live tweet chess again. You will loose a lot of dumb followers (which turns-out to be healthy) and simultaneously attract all kinds of weirdos, and guru-like spam on-line marketeers. Vieira da Silva was right. It extends beyond the table. Like lake ripples when a stone is thrown.

Paul klee super-schach

Figure - Paul Klee painted this work in 1930-1931. He entitled it “Super Schach” (Super Chess). On his own way he was a remarkable visionary. It’s all about patterns, and relations between them. Frequently perceived in a few milliseconds. While playing, sometimes, I see the board almost like this, as only few pieces were there, and important places in the board at that precise moment were painted in vivid blue. Tilting to us on a special manner. Calling us, like a pointillist painting does.

The problem for me is the playoff will begin at 3AM my time. So you all better send lots of coffee which I don’t drink :)” – @brandnewAMIT have red bull instead, it’ll give you wings :) – “I’m probably the most boring GM ever. I don’t smoke or drink, not even red bull. Always try to eat healthy food and work out.” ~ Susan Polgar over Twitter on May 28, 2012. (link)

Whoever denies the high physical effort of a tournament player doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Many examinations prove that heart, frequency of breathing, blood pressure and skin are subjected to great strain, weight losses appear during a tournament – so chess players need a special way of life with regular training, practice of other keep-fit activities and healthy diet.”, Dr Willi Weyer speech on the 100th anniversary of the German chess federation in Bad Lauterberg on 12 March 1977.

[...] Cuenta la leyenda que segundos antes de llegar a una curva, Juan Manuel Fangio dirigía una fugaz mirada a las hojas de los árboles. Si se movían, levantaba el pie del acelerador; si, por el contrario, no soplaba el viento, pisaba a fondo. [...], in Ángel Luis Menéndez, “Los abuelos de Alonso”, Pú (link)

In a few hours, today, one of the most dramatic high-tension “F1 car races” ever will start. Though, it’s not only about sport, it will be about science, art, drift spatial aesthetics and psychology as well, … altogether taken to their very extreme. And, at the limit, it will end-up being about how two very different people and human characters behave while confronting each other trough puzzling millisecond brainwaves. While the hot race is on, I will be watching the board carefully, of course, but mainly – let me add – their faces. It’s their human side over an intensive battle, that ultimately interests me, and always pushes forward my focal attention.

For those who are not used to deal with high incommensurable pressure and stress while the clock is fast ticking, or ever educated themselves along their lives to perform with “grace under fire“, far behind their technical know-how something unique over an athlete, probably it will be hard to understand, among other things, why F1 and chess have so many things in common, and are in fact, so close to each other. Breathing in many sports are fundamental. In chess, it’s crucial.

It will be hard to imagine, for instance, that a regular chess player under enormous stress could loose up to 4Kg, just in one single important game, where everything is at stake. Not counting the increasing exponential adrenaline levels he must support (e.g. 772% on figure below), sometimes for long periods of time  contrary to other – surprise, yourself – “soft” sports. It’s brutal: ” (…) It’s chess. Many don’t think of it as a sport, because nobody moves. But Chess Masters will tell you it can be more brutal than boxing (…)”, in CBS 60 minutes “Mozart of Chess” (YouTube link), CBS news entry piece on Magnus Carlsen, last year.

photo – Anand looking pensive to Gelfand at the end of the last 12th game, deciding for the final tiebreaks. [Allow me to add one of his possible thoughts: "It's all about quick risky moves now, Boris. No more chicken play-to-draw games " (Source: )].

The apparently illogical link between chess, F1 drivers and F16 jet pilots at war does not end here, however. Unfortunately, they also come from the dark side. Increasingly rumors state that all this areas might be related by the use of PED’s, by some cheaters. The answer again, comes from what this human-activity areas desperately need. They need fast strategic and tactic responses, as well as imagination to surprise the adversary, while maintaining extreme accuracy. All those three characteristics tied together, think of it … that’s something very hard and uncommonly rare to find in us, Humans. For curiosity, just have a look on what an UK steroids company states:

(….) There has been reports of performance enhancing drugs being used in the game of chess. Now anabolic steroids and a ripped physique will not increase your mental capacity, but some drugs can be used to control blood pressure and meditate heart beat allowing a more controlled and balanced state of mind. Testing in Formula One has even been taken to a new level. Since F1 brought its drug testing standards up to the level required by the World Doping Agency, drug testing has been more thorough and more frequent. (…) in (link).

Performance enhancing drugs (PED’s) have been reported, mainly by the use of beta-blockers. Beta-blockers are known to slow heart rate, as well as adrenaline, while maintaining the other brain functions on, and quick. At F1, on F16 fighters, on chess as well as in science, as in some of our regular daily digital software life (yes, Nasdaq High-frequency trading are targets now), digital doping is also possible. Injecting performance-enhancing code seems unfortunately to be a current trend. Just recently I have testimony this over an Iterated Prisoner’s Dilemma online contest my-self.

Allow me however to drag you onto the healthy positive side and draw your attention to one MSc thesis entitled “Practical Recommendations to Chess Players from Sports Science” (PDF link) which I recommend to friends for long years now. From coffee (pp. 9) to beta-blockers (pp. 13), Kevin O’Connell (University of Essex; MSc Sports Science Dissertation, 1997) discusses several important issues. Here are some brief excerpts from his thesis:

(…) In connection with which I find it interesting to recall remarks made to me by a couple of chess players, one who used to play as a striker for the Norwegian national soccer team before being forcibly retired by a cruciate ligament injury and by a Chilean tennis professional who made it into the world’s top 50 as a tennis player, that chess is a harder sport, physically, than either of their other occupations. (…) Andreassi (1995) reported evidence that brain activity is influenced by cardiac events, “for example, the decreased HR that occurs under instructions to detect signals leads to a decrease in the inhibitory influence of baroreceptors on cortical function, resulting in enhanced brain activity and improved performance.” (…)

(…)  It is clear that fatigue is a major contributory cause of error in chess and that two of the five main metabolic causes of human fatigue (Newsholrne, 1995) are potentially relevant. These are the decrease of blood glucose concentration and an increase in the concentration ratio of the free tryptophan to branched chain amino acids in the bloodstream. (…) In brief, the central fatigue hypothesis (after Newsholme, 1995) runs as follows. During exercise there is an elevation in the blood adrenaline level and a decrease in that of insulin which results in fatty acid mobilization from adipose tissue, consequently increasing the level of fatty acids in plasma (formula one racing drivers, who experience similar adrenaline levels to chess players, have been noted for their ‘milky’ plasma). (…)

Figure -  (…) The heart rates measured by Hollinsky‘s team included peaks in excess of 220/min and a single maximum of 223/min. Table 2 shows the HR, and blood pressure graph for a player 27 years old and rated 2064 over the course of one game, from six p.m. until its conclusion just after midnight. Not surprisingly, at least to chess players, the peak HR is reached in the time-pressure phase towards the end of the sixth hour of play (…) (from K. O’Connell MSc thesis, link above).

Today however, at the Tretyakov state art gallery in Moscow (link), all these will happen quite fast, in just tiny seconds, while the whole world will be watching live. The actual champion Viswanathan Anand (defending his title) will have to fight it out in rapid chess tiebreaker against challenger Boris Gelfand after a tied 6-6 result in the World Chess Championship match. Both, now arrive at a situation when the match cannot be prolonged any further. To start with, there will be four games under rapid chess rules with 25 minutes to each player and a ten seconds increment after every move is made. In case of a 2-2 result, the two will play two blitz games with five minutes each with a three seconds increment per move.

Between them, Anand and Gelfand have in the past played 28 times in rapid chess and the Indian has won eight, lost one and drawn the remaining. In blitz, they have played seven games with three wins for Anand and the rest being drawn. Today, there will be five such matches if the tie persists and finally an Armageddon game will be played with five minutes to white and four to black and white will be forced to win should this arise. The whole fast race could be followed live at while the board, analysis, chat, etc here at . Games will start at 10:00 AM CET. I would guess both players are having their “beauty sleep” right now.

Today, the world chess champion will be known. It’s about all of us, Humans. Taken to our creative limits. As Fangio, even if the pressure is considerably high, always take a look at the trees surrounding you. If you blink, you will just miss it.

Make yourself an exercise. Have a glimpse again on Klee‘s Super Schach. Starting from the bottom left corner, count 6 squares to the right. Then, look precisely above at the second row. What’s that?! See it?!

Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!” ~ The Red Queen, at “Through the looking-glass, and what Alice found there“, Charles Lutwidge Dogson, 1871.

Your move. Alice was suddenly found in a new strange world. And quickly needed to adapt. As C.L. Dogson (most known as Lewis Carroll) brilliantly puts it, all the running you can do, does not suffices at all. This is a world (Wonderland) with different “physical” laws or “societal norms”. Surprisingly, those patterns appear also to us quite familiar, here, on planet Earth. As an example, the quote above is mainly the paradigm for Biological Co-Evolution, in the form of the Red-Queen effect.

In Wonderland (1st book), Alice follows the white rabbit, which end-ups driving her on this strange habitat, where apparently “normal” “physical” laws do not apply. On this second book however, Alice now needs to overcome a series of great obstacles – structured as phases in a game of chess – in order to become a queen.  Though, as she moves on, several other enigmatic personages appear. Punctuated as well as surrounded by circular arguments and logical paradoxes, Alice must keep on, in order to found the “other side of the mirror“.

There are other funny parallel moves, also. The story goes on that Lewis Carroll gave a copy of “Alice in Wonderland” to Queen Victoria who then asked him in return to send her his next book as she fancied the first one. The joke is that the book was (!) … “An Elementary Treatise on Determinants, With Their Application to Simultaneous Linear Equations and Algebraic Equations (link)”. Lewis Carroll then went on to write a follow-on to Alice in Wonderland entitled “Through the Looking-Glass, and what Alice found there” that features a chess board on his first pages, and where chess was used to gave her, Queen Victoria, a glimpse on what Alice explored on this new world.

In fact, the diagram on the first pages contains not only the entire book chapters of this novel as well how Alice moved on. Where basically, each move, moves the reader to a new chapter (see below) representing it. The entire book could be found here in PDF format.  Besides the beauty and philosophical value of Dogson‘s novel on itself, and his repercussions on nowadays co-Evolution research as a metaphor, this is much probably the first “chess-literature” diagram ever composed. Now, of course, pieces are not white and black, but instead white and red (note that pieces in c1 – queen – and c6 – king – are white). Lewis Carroll novel, then goes on like this: White pawn (Alice) to play, and win in eleven moves.

However, in order to enter this world you must follow the “rules” of this new world. “Chess” in here is not normal, as Wonderland was not normal to Alice’s eyes. Remember: If you do all do run you could do, you will find yourself at the same place. Better if you could run twice as fast! First Lewis Carroll words on his second book (at the preface / PDF link above) advise us:

(…) As the chess-problem, given on a previous page, has puzzled some of my readers, it may be well to explain that it is correctly worked out, so far as the moves are concerned. The alternation of Red and White is perhaps not so strictly observed as it might be, and the ‘castling’ of the three Queens is merely a way of saying that they entered the palace; but the ‘check’ of the White King at move 6, the capture of the Red Knight at move 7, and the final ‘check-mate’ of the Red King, will be found, by any one who will take the trouble to set the pieces and play the moves as directed, to be strictly in accordance with the laws of the game. (…) Lewis Carroll, Christmas,1896.

Now, the solution, could be delivered in various format languages. But here is one I prefer. It was encoded on classic BASIC, running on a ZX Spectrum emulator. Here is an excerpt:

1750 LET t$=”11. Alice takes Red Queen & wins(checkmate)”: GO SUB 7000 (…)
9000 REM
9001 REM ** ZX SPECTRUM MANUAL Page 96 Chapter 14. **
9002 REM
9004 RESTORE 9000 (…)
9006 LET b=BIN 01111100: LET c=BIN 00111000: LET d=BIN 00010000
9010 FOR n=1 TO 6: READ p$: REM 6 pieces
9020 FOR f=0 TO 7: REM read piece into 8 bytes
9030 READ a: POKE USR p$+f,a
9040 NEXT f
9100 REM bishop
9110 DATA “b”,0,d,BIN 00101000,BIN 01000100
9120 DATA BIN 01101100,c,b,0
9130 REM king
9140 DATA “k”,0,d,c,d
9150 DATA c,BIN 01000100,c,0
9160 REM rook
9170 DATA “r”,0,BIN 01010100,b,c
9180 DATA c,b,b,0
9190 REM queen
9200 DATA “q”,0,BIN 01010100,BIN 00101000,d
9210 DATA BIN 01101100,b,b,0
9220 REM pawn
9230 DATA “p”,0,0,d,c
9240 DATA c,d,b,0
9250 REM knight
9260 DATA “n”,0,d,c,BIN 01111000
9270 DATA BIN 00011000,c,b,0

(…) full code on [link]

This is BASIC-ally Alice’s story …


I met Death today. We are playing chess. (…) My life has been a futile pursuit, a wandering, a great deal of talk without meaning. I feel no bitterness or self-reproach because the lives of most people [plague] are very much like this. But I will use my reprieve for one meaningful deed.”, Antonius Block.

The Seventh Seal (Det sjunde inseglet). Written and directed by Ingmar Bergman, Sweden 1957 – (…) Disillusioned knight Antonius Block and his squire Jöns return after fighting in the Crusades and find Sweden being ravaged by the plague. On the beach immediately after their arrival, Block encounters Death, personified as a pale, black-cowled figure resembling a monk. Block, in the middle of a chess game he has been playing alone, challenges Death to a chess match, believing that he can forestall his demise as long as the game continues. Death agrees, and they start a new game. The other characters in the story do not see Death, and when the chess board comes out at various times in the story, they believe Block is continuing his habit of playing alone. (…)

(…) In the confessional, the knight says “I use a combination of the bishop and the knight which he hasn’t yet discovered. In the next move I’ll shatter one of his flanks.” Death (in disguise as the priest) replies “I’ll remember that.” When they play by the beach, the knight says: “Because I revealed my tactics to you I’m in retreat. It’s your move.Death captures his opponent’s knight. “You did the right thing“, states the knight, “you fell right in the trap. Check! Don’t worry about my laughter, save your king instead.Death‘s response is to lean over the chess board and make a psychological move. “Are you going to escort the juggler and his wife through the forest? Those whose names are Jof and Mia and who have a small son.” “Why do you ask?” says the knight. “Oh, no reason”, replies Death“. (…) from Wikipedia [link] (Nota bene – bolds and underlines are mine).

The chessboard is the world, the pieces are the phenomena of the Universe, the rules of the game are what we call the laws of Nature and the player on the other side is hidden from us” ~ Thomas Huxley

Ivo Dias de Sousa (link) who has around 1750 ELO rating points, decided to play a 5 minute chess game (Blitz Chess) against my 8 year’s kid, Tomás. My kid was on “revenge mode“, since about several weeks ago, he did win his school cup, but Ivo take it away from him (photos). So, … guess who won?! What’s fair is fair. LOL. Of course, joking around with Ivo continued during the night…! Too damn easy…!


A few days back I decided to send a postcard to the South Pole (Rothera Research Station). On the back of it, a chess problem was drawn by me (see diagram above): White to play and win in several moves. If you want to solve it, here is a tip: don’t be too greedy. Use your patience. If you think everything is solved, then wait a little more! The following Sun Tzu words seems to me rather appropriate (I will post the solution in incoming future posts):

“First put yourself beyond the possibility of defeat, and then wait for an opportunity to defeat the enemy. To secure ourselves against defeat lies in our own hands, but the opportunity of defeating the enemy is provided by the enemy himself.” -SunTzu.


Antarctica - Rothera British research station is situated North in the West Coast - about 13000 Kms from Europe. Ian MacNab postcard came from there.

In the era of instant messaging, I know this would sound awkward to you all. From Borneo to India, from Chile to Russia, over the years I have received postcards from friends all over the world. Just for curiosity, I specially love those coming from very remote locations. In 1995 I have even once send a postcard to myself, while being at the Nepalese-Tibet border. Being at 6450 meters high in the Himalayan range (Kathmandu was 5000 meters bellow me in the “valley”!) I decided to check how many days my postcard will take to arrive in Paris (back then I was living there). I knew that my postcard will need a few hours from Kathmandu to Paris via airplane (though I did not ask for air mail on purpose), however the problem was to arrive in Kathmandu at all. After spending 3 months in Nepal, India, Thailand, Laos and Cambodia I finally returned to Paris and to my surprise the little postcard needed just 1 month and 7 days to arrive from the top of the world into Europe. Anyway, that was my record at that time.

Well, today that record as just been beaten! A few hours ago, I received a postcard coming from… Rothera Research station – British Antarctica Survey (67º34´S, 68º07´W): Adelaide Island, Grahamaland. Yes, in Antarctica! How come?! Let me start by the beginning. From time to time I enjoy playing chess online at GameKnot (not these last months though, due to a lot of work). Over GameKnot I have played chess against, from Theoretical Physicists in Germany up to Taxi drivers in New York (one of my best online chats ever), from steel workers in Denmark up to American soldiers fighting over Iraq. About 4 months ago I played chess against Ian MacNab. Ian is the chief scientific expedition guide from the British Rothera research station. So while playing a game with him (at that time he was enduring the long cold Antarctica night) I decided to challenge him also with a postcard correspondence experience. Ian replied me back online saying that postal correspondence with Rothera was extremely difficult, since it’s mainly done through sporadic research ships, while they could only arrive when ice allows. So, I am glad he now writes: [...] It’s summer here now – lot’s of sun, it will soon be 24 hours of daylight! [...].

Ian’s “chessman – Antarctica guide” postcard was shipped on Oct. 1, when the winter in Antarctica officially ends. It arrived today from the South Pole, constituting a new postal record, at least for me: 1 month and 19 days long. It’s now time to reply him back with a warm Lisbon postcard. But I wonder if it will not take longer? After all, somehow distributed, postal services around the world would have to collectively cooperate and digest this “weird” address, deciding a optimal path into Rothera. Through Chile, Argentina, or maybe South Africa. Who knows? Anyway, thanks to postal services around the world, Ian will now receive along with text, a hard, difficult nevertheless funny chess problem on the back of my postcard!

[...] People should learn how to play Lego with their minds. Concepts are building bricks [...] V. Ramos, 2002.

@ViRAms on Twitter


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