Carlsen versus Caruana and the Slow Death of Nationalism

nationalismThe death of nationalism is on display for the next few weeks at the World Chess Championship being held in London at the College in Holburn between reigning champion Magnus Carlsen from Norway and challenger Fabiano Caruana from the United States, by way of Italy. In past eras I, and most other people from the United States, would certainly be rooting for Caruana because of his nationality. In today’s world, the nation someone is from is becoming less and less important, thanks to globalization brought by the internet.

Let’s put this in perspective. The last time someone from the United States played for the World Chess Championship was in 1972 when Bobby Fischer challenged Boris Spassky. The pride of the United States was at stake and nationalism was running rampant. Everyone I knew was rooting for Fischer, this despite the readily apparent evidence that he was a complete and total jerk. Spassky, on the other hand, was a man to be admired for many reasons.

Nationalism is a big topic these days but many young people just don’t pay attention to that sort of thing anymore. They know Carlsen because of his internet presence. They are fans of his because of this. His nation of origin is still of some importance to a number of people but that bias is slowly fading.

Certainly, many people in the United States are hoping Caruana wins just as many in Norway are rooting for Carlsen to retain his crown. However, because we’ve gotten to know the two through their internet presence, the circumstance of their birth is of diminished importance. We will continue to see this trend until there are no more nations at all, just people doing things they enjoy with others who enjoy the same thing, chess for example.

I happen to live in the fashionable Central West End of St. Louis where the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis is located. I’ve actually run into Caruana on several occasions while out and about. He seems quite a decent sort. Many people are cheering him on because of his genial nature. Others prefer Carlsen for the fighting spirit he has exhibited throughout his entire chess career. He is prudent but goes for the win rather than taking the easy draw. Carlsen has set a precedent many of the upcoming chess players eagerly follow which makes chess a better sport.

Nationalism isn’t going away tomorrow or next week but it’s going away. That frightens a particular group of people who identify their self with the country in which they happen to live. That’s a shame. The good news is; more and more people don’t really care where you were born or live, just that you play a style of chess they enjoy watching.

As for me? I won’t be disappointed if Caruana wins but I’d like to see Carlsen continue on as champion for as long as possible. He’s been a tremendous standard bearer for the new era of the game. Carlsen’s time will come eventually, maybe even in the next couple of weeks.

Tom Liberman

Kasparov and the Problem with Moral Codes

Kasparov-banned-fideThere’s an interesting story in the world of chess that I think illustrates one of the problems with so called Ethical Codes.

Former chess champion Gary Kasparov has been forbidden to hold office in the chess federation, FIDE, for two years because of an accusation of attempted bribery during his recent campaign to become president of that organization.

Ethical Codes are created by organizations as a way to prevent behavior that they considered unethical. If an employee violates this code they are subject to punishment up to and including termination. The modern use of such codes in business is often related to justifying punishment rather than preventing unwanted behavior.

I’m not completely opposed to such codes. I think an organization has every right to create their own rules. I recently wrote about how the U.S. Soccer Federation should prevent Hope Solo from participating in the Olympics because of her troubling off-field activities. Likewise I spoke about the NFL’s sanctioning of Ray Rice for similar transgressions.

The problem in this case is that the FIDE is absolutely and totally corrupt. It is run by a man who routinely uses bribery to implement policy. To have such an organization stipulate ethical violations against a member for doing exactly what they themselves do is a rather tough pill to swallow.

When a code is applied unfairly it’s not really a code at all. It’s just a cudgel used to keep those who disagree in line and punish enemies.

What is to be done?

I’m opposed to removing such codes because I think any organization has the right to create their own rules. I’m also against a higher agency coming in and dictating how an organization applies it codes because this just means corruption moves up to that higher agency. The problem is not solved at all, despite the illusion of improvement, and in many ways made worse because the higher the agency the more people it has control over.

The only real solution is for members of the organization to see through the facade and elect better representatives or form their own group.

It’s not easy to convince those currently in power that misapplication of rules in a way that benefits them is, in the long run, bad for them. It is. If one person can misapply rules to gain advantages then soon enough someone will come to power who is not your ally and will use the same methods against you. It is far better to apply rules fairly and evenly and allow the best to succeed within the confines of your structure.

While that philosophy is comforting, the pragmatist in me realizes that reality is not. Kasparov is banned. The FIDE is corrupt. No solution appears imminent. Those in power and those who support them seem perfectly happy with the arrangement as it is. They have enormous bankrolls and there is no shortage of people willing to do anything for money. The Libertarian ideal is but a dream.

What can I do about it? I’ll write another book and hope the leaders at FIDE read it, understand it, and apply the principles of freedom to their organization. What else can I do?

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Girl in Glass I: Apparition
Next Release: The Gray Horn

Fabiano Caruana and Nerd Poaching

Magnus Buying Up NerdsOver the last few years a very wealthy fellow by the name of Rex Sinquefeld has been making St. Louis the chess capital of the United States and his progress in that regard continued when he convinced the third highest rated player in the world, Fabiano Caruana to come play here at the St. Louis Chess Club.

The unarguably best chess player in the world, Magnus Carlsen, made the following comment on his Twitter account: … so they are indeed buying nerds.

I’m certain Carlsen was taking a humorous and good natured jibe at Caruana and Sinquefeld and I took no offense at the statement but I did want to examine the idea that Sinquefeld is indeed buying up all the world’s best chess players and loading Team United States to become a dominant player in the world. Is this a good thing? A bad thing? No thing at all?

The fact that an extremely wealthy person bought the land and a building which he turned into one of the finest chess clubs in the world is undeniable. That he lured Hikaru Nakamura to St. Louis with a contract that pays him well is a fact. That Sinquefeld also managed to convince the 7th highest rated player in the world, Wesley So, to come to Webster University to play college chess is undeniable. That Sinquefeld hired Susan Polgar away from her chess coach job at Texas Tech is a fact. That she brought her entire NCAA Championship team with her and won the title in 21013 cannot be denied.

None of these people was born in the United States and here they are leading the charge of U.S. Chess. What Sinquefeld set out to do and what he has accomplished are simple facts.

I’ve got an oar in this boat as they say because I live in St. Louis and belong to the local chess club Sinquefeld started. I love playing chess and having such luminaries around certainly makes things very nice for me. But is it good for someone to be able to essentially purchase the best players and thus championships?

It’s clearly been good for St. Louis. It’s clearly been good for Caruana, Nakamura, So, Polgar, Webster University, The Central West End (where the club is based), and a host of others. Money is willingly being exchanged for services and all parties seem satisfied. Of course what is good for one group is often times bad for another. Italy loses its finest chess player. Texas Tech loses its championship chess team, the Philippines loses its best chess player (So).

It is clear that this unbridled capitalism has victims as well as beneficiaries.

My bias is undeniable but I still think what Sinquefeld is doing is not only perfectly acceptable but largely beneficial. He is bringing tremendous publicity to the game of chess although certainly the amazing Carlsen is doing that as well. It’s a golden era for chess as computers have found new and exciting variations that liven up the game. The internet has brought players from all over the world together to enjoy the game they love.

What Sinquefeld is doing by assembling this group of players is good for chess in the long run but I do see the danger. There are competition laws for a reason. What if Sinquefeld were to pay all the top players in the world to join his club? What if he exerted such influence that anyone who didn’t join was colluded against? What if he then started charging exorbitant rates for appearance fees and tournaments because he controlled all the best players?

My argument is that he has yet to do those things and therefore I don’t have a problem. Absolute power leads to absolute corruption as they say. It bears keeping an eye on.

Welcome to St. Louis, Fabiano! See you down at the club.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Black Sphere
Next Release: The Girl in Glass I: Apparition

The Magnus Carlsen Story – He Just Wanted to Beat his Sister – I Get It

Susan and Carlsen Family Bilbao 2008I just read a really nice story about a fellow named Magnus Carlsen who is the best chess player in the world. He might well be the best chess player in the history of the world. He also seems like a pretty nice guy.

The story goes into how Magnus took up chess at the age of five because he father was keen to teach both Magnus and his older sister, Ellen. According to Henrik Carlsen, Magnus didn’t immediately pick up the game as have other chess prodigies throughout history. He learned the moves but didn’t fall in love with the game and insist on playing it all the time. Then something happened.

About three years after learning the game his older sister started to get good at chess.

Now Magnus was interested in getting better at chess because, as Henrik says in the story, he just wanted to beat his sister. That’s a motivation I understand thoroughly. You see, I have an older sister also. I pushed her down the stairs once. I dumped an entire glass of water in her bed once, yes, she was in it at the time. I tried to beat her at Risk and Monopoly but generally came out on the short end of that stick.

If you look closely at the picture you’ll quickly note that Carlsen has two other sisters. The woman in the middle is mom who is not a chess player. I have five sisters including the half-sisters and step-sisters. So I’ve got Magnus beat there. If we just count up sisters I should be a significantly better Risk player than Magnus is a chess player. At least that’s the logic with which I’m running.

There’s not really a point to my blog today other than a shout out to my metaphorical sibling Magnus. I get it, my brother!

Now to try and figure out why I didn’t become the greatest Risk player in the history of the world. There’s got to be a reason.

Anyone other guys out there with a female, older sibling care to tell some stories in the comments?

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery Fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
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Carlsen v. Anand – The King is dead, Long Live the King

Carlsen Anand chess matchI’m a chess player so recent events in the world of chess have captured my attention. Perhaps most of the people who read my blog will be less interested. The World Chess Championship between former champion Viswanathan Anand and the  new champion Magnus Carlsen just completed and it was an interesting match for a number of reasons that go beyond the world of chess.

Carlsen is the epitome of the young challenger while Anand filled the role of the aging champion of diminishing skills. Age is a factor in all sports including chess which is physically as well as mentally demanding. It is not easy to keep your focus during the entirety of a six-hour chess match. One moment of exhaustion can lead to a miscalculation and at the level of chess that Anand and Carlsen play this mistake is the difference between victory and defeat.

Going into the match Carlsen was the huge favorite. Not only is he twenty-plus years younger than Anand, 22/43, but he has also been the best chess player in the world for the last few years. His tournament play has him ranked first in the world and his rating is the highest in the history of chess. Anand, as he has grown older, has seen his play slip and is currently ranked 8th in the world.

The final score of the match was 6.5/3.5 with Carlsen winning three of the ten games played and the other seven ending in draws. The format was for a twelve-game match but the player who scores 6.5 achieves an unassailable position and Carlsen managed this after the tenth game, thus ending the match.

What I really love about a match of this nature, and of sport in general, is the competition between equals. Here we have two players, competing directly against one another, and one proves to be better than the other. There are no excuses, no controversies, no blown calls, no charges of cheating, just a pair of competitors doing their best. We can say Carlsen won and Anand lost but the reality is that when we have this sort of competition there are no real losers. The chess world wins, Carlsen ascends to the throne where he will in all likelihood reign for many years, Anand bookends a great career by losing to arguably the two best chess players the world has ever known. Anand lost his first bid at championship to Garry Kasparov who, until Carlsen, had the highest rating in the history of chess.

It’s a great time to be a chess player as well. Computers have opened up new lines of thought and play and there are a bevy of young competitors who will doubtlessly challenge Carlsen in the coming years.

The nature of life is that we have champions, that said victors grow older and make way, reluctantly with fangs bared and claws unsheathed certainly, to the young challengers. This test of fire hardens the new champion. This lesson in life is not just for champions but for each of us. We do our best at everything we try. We play by the rules and sometimes emerge the victor sometimes the defeated.

The only real losers are those who cannot be magnanimous in victory and gracious in defeat. Those who equate victory more highly than sportsmanship and simply doing their best. When we do our best; we have won.

Hail to you Viswanathan Anand, the vanquished champion.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Spear of the Hunt
Next Release: The Broken Throne

You can do Anything if You Set your Mind to it

PlatitudeThe final day of my weeklong attack against Facebook Platitudes has arrived and I like to think I’ve save the best, and by that I mean most egregious, for last.

You can do anything if you set your mind to it.

I can do no better than to quote the magnificent Penn Jillette, “Eat the sun”.

I’m fairly certain I could simply call it a blog right there but I’m going to analyze the idea behind the platitude, the well-intentioned hopes, and the disastrous results.

There are two thoughts behind making this statement one of which is well-intentioned and the other is malicious. The first is to encourage a person to be adventurous and try things. This is excellent advice. Life is better if we enjoy it broadly rather than narrowly. There is much that is good in this world and being afraid to try things leaves us with a less than full life. It’s great to encourage a person to try things. This is just a poor platitude to do it.

Parents encourage their children with this platitude in the hopes the kids will leave their fear behind and experience life to its fullest. Again, excellent sentiment, I wholeheartedly approve.

The negative situation where I see this platitude thrown around is to blame people for failing to complete a particular task. It is often used when the failure is beyond the person’s control and is the tactic of a bully to deflect their own culpability in the events leading up to the failure.

You didn’t finish the job? Why not, you can do anything if you set your mind to it.

The bullies of the world take over when the achievers are not allowed to succeed. This is one of the central messages of Randian Objectivism and I’ll talk about it in another post.

Now let’s move onto why this idea is not only silly but dangerous.

If we tell children they can do anything they might actually believe us. A child that is told they can do anything is doomed to disappointment. They cannot do anything. They can accomplish more than they think they can, they can do amazing things if they plan and execute with realistic, objective thinking. But, this platitude sends a ridiculous message of entitlement. I’m going to talk about the sense of entitlement that pervades our culture in a later post. I really do think that telling kids they can do anything leads to adults who are unrealistic and entitled. This is bad for our nation. When we talk about greatness it is usually in reference to people who achieved after a great struggle. People who think they are entitled don’t bother with struggle. They quickly give up. Having to work for something is not a bad thing, in fact it is the opposite.

I’m playing a lot of chess lately and because I live in St. Louis, Missouri with its world-class chess club I get to see guys like Hikaru Nakamura play. Thanks to modern computers I get to watch a fellow with the monikor Chess Network play live on Twitch and actually get to play him now and again. I’m not of the opinion that I can beat either of them. However, I’m working on my game, playing better chess, advancing, and feeling pretty good about that.

This to me is the most important thing of all. We can’t raise a generation of people who have unrealistic expectations about themselves and about the world and hope to see western style democracy finish what the founding fathers started. So, don’t tell your children they can do anything. Teach them to think objectively, to plan, to try new things. And don’t just teach them. Show them. Be the example. It can be something as small as trying a new thing at the restaurant but not with peanuts if you are allergic to them! Be bold but understand the challenges and your limitations. Be prepared!

Tweet, Like, Stumble, Comment, Digg, Pinterest, and otherwise share if you think someone else might like to read this.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist

Internet Chess and How to Improve your Life

Internet Chess You wouldn’t think that playing internet chess would give insight into a better way to lead your life but that’s exactly what happened to me when I started to play. I’ve discovered that diversity and balance improve life and I’ll tell you why.

I played chess as a young lad. My father taught me the game and I played him many times over the years. When I got to Junior High School, as they called it back in the old days, I joined the chess team. On that team I played pretty regularly with the same group of people and the instructor.

Once I got to high school I started to play water polo and never really looked at chess again except for the occasional game with a friend.

Many years later my niece took up the game in a relatively serious way. She started to play tournaments and I decided that I’d take up chess again so as to give her an opponent.

There are a number of places to play chess on the internet. I currently play slow chess at Gameknot and fast chess at ChessCube and Chess.com. The grand-daddy of chess sites is ICC where the masters play.

Now, as to my point. As a lad I played a lot of chess, particularly in junior high school. My game got to a level where I thought it was fairly good but the thing I didn’t consider was not necessarily the quality of my opponent but their quantity and different playing styles. In my youth I largely played people who used the same style and I played them over and over again.

When I joined the internet chess community I was immediately exposed to a multitude of styles, a huge variety of openings, and a vast array of levels. I played openings I’d never heard of against opponent both significantly weaker than me and infinitely stronger.

What I learned is that playing that variety of players with their varying styles improved my chess game far more quickly and comprehensively than playing the same people over and over again.

Now, I’m going to get a little philosophical. I think this lesson can be taken to your life as a whole. If you experience the same thing over and over again it is difficult to improve in anything. If your job has you doing the same thing again and again. If you have discussions with the same people again and again, if you eat the same food again and again, you are limiting your life. Not only are you not experiencing a full life but your skills are stagnating.

Try new ways of doing old things. Even if the new way looks really stupid give it a try. You never know what you might learn. Look at life differently, sit at a different place in the conference room, talk to someone new for a moment, try a different menu item or a whole new restaurant.

I suspect that the more of anything we experience the better we get. If you want to maximize your skills at anything then I’d suggest immersing yourself in a wide variety of that thing. Not that it is easy. It takes time and effort but in the end you will improve yourself and your life dramatically.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist

P.S. If you’re playing chess on the internet and you see this flag then get ready for a beating!

Russia Flag

Teaser – Internet Chess

You might think that playing chess over the internet doesn’t really have any application to real life problems but you’d be wrong! Tomorrow I talk about how internet chess has given me a new respect for diversity and being a well-rounded person.

Stay tuned for a full explanation.

I know it’s hard to wait a whole day for a blog about chess but you can do it! 🙂

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist