Greg Shahade is an international master of chess. He is the founder and commissioner of the U.S. Chess League, the only professional chess league in the United States, with teams in 16 cities across the country. In his spare time, Greg provides individual chess lessons to a handful of students in Philadelphia.
Chess is broken. A game can be broken and still be popular, entertaining and beautiful. Chess is still a beautiful game, and is even growing in popularity. But that doesn’t mean that it’s perfect or that it doesn’t need fixing. What we are doing to this game by refusing to make any changes is terrible.
Every major video game in the world does regular “balance changes”. These are just standard changes that are made to the game to make it more interesting or fix it because something about it is broken. There are so many things that are not ideal about chess, that the chess community refuses to address due to adherence for tradition, lineage and an obsession with sitting in the same spot for 6 hours.
Magnus Carlsen himself, the World Champion of Chess and number 1 player in the world, even admits it in his latest interview. He says “In general it’s good to incorporate more rapid and blitz in the world championship because to some extent it is a purer form of chess because preparation plays less of a role”.
I have lost all patience with the diehard “never change anything about chess” crowd. They are dinosaurs and are making a mockery of what a game should be
What are the main problems with chess:
The draw rate is absurdly high at the top level. Do I have to see another article at some major super tournament where the author writes a glee filled headline because a few games actually ended in wins? A good game should not be a tie as frequently as chess is and this is super obvious. The drawing margin is too high, and you can get away with too many mistakes and still draw, especially with the White pieces. Yes some of the draws were interesting, but how about create a format where it’s not a draw every single time? Maybe that would be even more interesting!
Computers have taken a lot of the life out of the game. Chess players are no longer willing to play any risky looking moves in the opening, because they fear their opponent’s computer preparation. They know that it will be absolutely perfect and that they will stand no chance if they walk into home prep in a complicated position. This could be seen in Game 2 of the most recent World Championship match, in which Magnus intentionally avoided what looked to be the critical line. He knew it was the critical line, but he also knew that Fabiano would know everything about it. Magnus didn’t want to play against a computer, so he played a tamer line and was satisfied to just play for equality.
The games are too long. The top players play exceptionally well in faster time control games. Give them a time control of 90+30 and they will still play near 2800 level. But for some reason we have to add an extra two hours so that maybe they will play at 2820-2830. It’s so ridiculous and a complete misuse of time and resources. You have to be so stuck in the past to think that a three or four hour chess game just isn’t enough, and that it simply must be six hours. The extra benefit is that when the time controls are faster, even just slightly faster than they are now, people win more frequently.
There are almost no more memorable games in World Championship Matches. We have grown up studying the great games in the matches with Capablanca vs Alekhine, Botvinink vs Tal or Kasparov vs Karpov. Tell me one memorable game from the last 6 World Championship Matches? They will basically all be forgotten. You can pretend that Carlsen’s fortress defense from Game 6 will be remembered, but it won’t. Actually I take it back…..there was one extremely iconic moment from a recent World Championship Match that I don’t think will be forgotten easily. It’s when Carlsen played the beautiful 50. Qh6!! to win the title against Karjakin. It just so happens that came from a rapid game! Once rapid chess starts getting taken more seriously, we will see that the games and ideas are so much more beautiful and much more digestible to 99%+ of the chess audience. Players will once again be able to go for speculative sacrifices against the best players in the world.
The current format is not likely to determine who the best chessplayer is! Because classical games end in draws so frequently, even if you increase the match length to 24 games, you are often going to see someone win the match with 2 wins to 1 and 21 draws. This does very little to differentiate who is actually the better player.
I have already written my solution in a previous blog but I’ll reiterate it one more time, with a small change, because I do think it’s the perfect balance of retaining that classical chess tradition, while not allowing all of the life to get sucked out of the game:
This is how a chess game would work:
You play one game at 90 minutes plus a 20 second increment. The winner gets 10 points the loser gets 0
If that game is drawn you reverse colors and play one game at 20 minutes plus a 10 second increment. The winner gets 7 points and the loser gets 3
If that game is drawn you keep the same colors as the rapid game and play one game at 5 minutes plus a 3 second increment. The winner gets 6 points and the loser gets 4. If this game is drawn, both players get 5 points.
A perfect mix of Classical, Rapid and Blitz. The Classical game is still worth 5 times as much as the blitz game. The Classical game is worth 2.5 times as much as the rapid game. The rapid game is worth 2 times as much as the blitz game. But all the games count, and all forms of chess count. Every single player will need to be equally versed at Classical, Rapid and Blitz chess to consider themselves the best in the world.
The best overall chess player will almost always win handily with such a format. If it’s truly very close, then we will see some really tight and exciting matches. Right now everyone is so good at the top and the draw rate is so high, that most matches with absurdly long time controls are going to end with the majority draws and maybe one or two wins sprinkled in.
I think that Fischer Random is also a great idea, but there is something beautiful about the starting position in chess, so I decided to retain that chess tradition in favor of simply speeding up the time controls. But Fischer Random has the added benefit that Computer Preparation is rendered almost meaningless.
The chess community needs to wake up. The World Championship was just all draws. The one before it was 10 out of 12 draws. The idea of making the match longer so that eventually someone wins is ridiculous. Where exactly were players avoiding risks? You could say it was Carlsen in Game 12, but I believe he only got that position because Caruana was so hell bent on trying to win and avoid the rapid tiebreak. This is all so stupid and it’s so frustrating to be part of a community who can’t see it.
Everyone loves to resist change, and they eventually get left in the dust because of it.
The number one thing that gets my bullshit alarm to go off is when someone gives unsolicited advice, as though they are some kind of spiritual or intellectual life guru.
There are a lot of things I have opinions on, but once I start taking these opinions and voicing them in “advice” form, I become totally full of shit. Here are a few examples:
Before a chess game you should clear your mind and go for a walk instead of playing a video game or preparing for your opponent up to five minutes before the round.
If you didn’t get a good night’s sleep, don’t go to the gym.
When you travel, XYZ is a must see, you can’t miss it!!!
Put down your cell phone and enjoy the moment.
Do I agree with the above? Mostly no. I think that before a chess game everyone is completely different, and totally different routines will work depending on who you are. But there are tons of people telling you exactly what you should and shouldn’t do right before a game.
I do think that you should generally skip working out if you didn’t sleep well, but often a 20 minute nap will rejuvenate you enough to make exercise worthwhile again. And for some people who have kids and a busy schedule and can literally never get enough sleep, I sure don’t suggest that they never work out.
I also want to strangle anyone who tells me I “have to see” anything in another country. Unless you know me unbelievably well, you have no idea what I have to see.
Also I can’t stand the anti technology commentary. I think it’s so overblown to the point of absurdity. When I’m alone I’m on my phone constantly, and I think it greatly improves my quality of life. I get to listen to music and dance down the street, and it makes me feel more connected no matter where I am.
What am I trying to say exactly? When you give advice, most of the time, there should be some level of uncertainty.
I am a very strong chess player compared to the general population of chess players, however except for the most basic information there is, I don’t know if there is any advice I can give and be certain that what I’m saying is true.
It makes me sound really wishy washy sometimes, but I believe it’s more intellectually honest than stating something as a fact, when I don’t believe it is one.
I mean I can look at a chess position, and know that I believe white is slightly better, but I don’t believe it enough to say “White is slightly better”. I can say “I believe White is slightly better because of X, Y and Z”, but often I’m not certain in my belief. However players about the same level as me, or weaker, will confidently state things in public that I’m totally unsure about. How can this be? I know that they basically don’t understand anything, so why do they behave like they do?
Do I know the best way to study chess? Nope, I have no clue! I believe it’s different for everyone. The only thing I know is that studying one hour a day probably isn’t enough if you want to be World Champion. But for most people, I couldn’t even tell you if studying 2 hours a day is better than studying 6 hours a day. One is more sustainable, and one might lead to burnout. Probably the six hours is better, but it’s not an automatic answer.
Do I know what chess books you should read? I have some opinions, but when people speak like “You MUST read this book”…..well I literally believe that about no books. There are books I like and you can read them if you want, but it won’t kill you if you never look at it.
In CrossFit you see a lot of people online just throw out random advice as though it’s gospel. Many of them are just randos who have no idea what they are talking about. Sometimes they are coaches and have some knowledge, although even then I don’t think they do a great job of realizing that everyone is wildly different.
I think I’m pretty decent at CrossFit, but I basically don’t know anything. I know maybe a few strategy ideas in WODs, but in almost all cases they are athlete dependent. I do know that you probably shouldn’t row too hard in most WODs, but there are definitely lots of exceptions to that!
One thing that a lot of CrossFit affiliates like to preach is this militant anti-sugar mindset. I have sugar sometimes, and I think it’s TOTALLY fine to have sugar in moderation.I will throw up the next time someone acts like I’m going to die because I drink one coke. But who knows, maybe I’ll die of some donut related disease sometime soon and the psycho anti-sugar people will be proven right?
If you are going to travel, do I know exactly what you should do? Not unless you tell me “hey this is a problem can you help me with it?”. Then I can give some advice that might be smart. But if you are just some random traveler and I don’t know much about you, I have no idea what to tell you. I can tell you what was interesting to me, but I’d never presume that my opinion on something was absolutely correct.
Every travel article makes me want to smash my computer. I mean I literally don’t give a crap about almost every major tourist attraction, and that includes the Sagrada Familia, which everyone tells you that you’ll probably die if you don’t go to see it. I’ve been there and I really just don’t care about it at all. It made no impact on me whatsoever, except for “why am I waiting in a line to see a church?”.
Do I know what you should do with your money, or your time, or your love life? I maybe have some opinions, but that’s all they are.
The Internet seems full of “gurus”, who want to give you spiritual, intellectual, or financial advice on anything. Anyone who tweets advice for no reason I figure is either pompous, a charlatan or an idiot.
Now I’m aware I probably do this from time to time, especially in an offhand way with friends. But I will never make a tweet saying “Do this, spend more energy on this, focus more on that, blah blah blah”.
So what am I saying? Just phrase things with more uncertainty. If you want to post some quote for how someone should live their life…be like “hey I read this and it resonated with me”, instead of “You should meditate for 30 minutes every day in order to achieve the maximum inner harmony” or whatever bullshit everyone is peddling.
Good news everyone! I’ve finally figured out the ultimate solution to fix chess.
A lot of people are complaining about the World Championship Match right now, mainly due to the number of draws and the feeling that sometimes the players are avoiding risk. I honestly don’t completely agree that it’s so bad, and I think that:
There have been some really exciting moments both on the board (Game 1), and off the board (Magnus’s funny comments in press conferences, the whole video controversy and etc)
I think also that in a match this long someone will eventually win, and the mounting tension of draw after draw will make it that much more dramatic when it does happen.
But despite my feelings that things are okay, I also believe they could be much better. And it’s also clear that as time goes on these problems are only going to get worse and worse. Change is inevitable, it’s just a matter of time until we all realize it.
Another thing that fixed this idea in my mind was something that Hikaru Nakamura said. He said he’s rooting for Magnus because “It doesn’t feel right to him that the world champion shouldn’t be someone who’s not also one of the best at rapid and blitz chess”
What is my solution that will fix EVERYTHING? Simple:
You play a classical chess game. It should be sped up SLIGHTLY compared to the normal time control, probably by removing a half hour from each clock, and slightly speeding up the following time controls.
If you win this game, you get 5 points. If you lose you get 0
If the game is drawn, you reverse colors and play a rapid game. If you win the rapid game you get 4 points. If you lose the rapid game you get 1 point.
If the rapid game is drawn you keep the same colors you had in the rapid game and play a blitz game. If you win the blitz game you get 3 points, if you lose you get 2 points and if you draw you both get 2.5 points.
Why do I love this solution?
Someone will win most of the time, which is MUCH more exciting and interesting for fans of chess
It requires players to be skilled at all types of chess in order to be considered the best in the world
It helps negate white’s advantage a bit because in the rapid and blitz game, the player with black in the classical game will have the white pieces.
It still puts a high emphasis on classical chess. If you win the blitz portion the first four games you’d have a lead of 12-8. That would be erased in one game if your opponent won the next classical game.
This works in head to head matches and also in round robin tournaments. Literally everything will be immediately more exciting, without massively downgrading the quality of the classical game.
What are the downsides?
In order to make sure there is time for the rapid and blitz portions of play, we will have to speed up the time control a little bit. I’m not sure the best way to do it. One idea could be to lower the increment from 30 seconds to 15 seconds, while also removing a little bit of time from the clock (for example 90 minutes to start with a 15 second increment).
You may think that blitz and rapid chess is an abomination and should have no business being involved in any serious chess tournament. I happen to strongly disagree.
I honestly can’t think of any other downsides but I’m sure the lovely people of the Internet will point them out for me in the most polite way possible!
The tiebreaks at the Candidates Tournament are ludicrous, although I’m surprised to admit that it’s not as ludicrous at it seems at first glance.
It’s absurd to determine who will challenge for the World Championship due to Most Wins, or any other tiebreak system in a Round Robin.
The only reasonable way to break a tie in an event of this magnitude is to play a tiebreak match for it.
I could easily end the blog here, and the majority of the chess playing community would agree with me. However it’s not quite as simple as it seems.
What does it mean that there is no tiebreak after tomorrow’s games? It means that these are going to be the most intense classical chess games that you’ve ever seen
Karjakin, Mamedyarov and Caruana are going to be fighting like wild animals in a classical game, because there is no chance for any of them to coast to a tie and aim to win a tiebreak match. This means that the audience is going to be treated to the most dramatic day of chess that we’ve seen since at least 2016. If a tie resulted in a tiebreaker match, you would be likely to see more conservative play among the leaders at almost every point throughout the tournament.
The key point is: By removing any tiebreak match, and instead using a tiebreaker, even if it is a flawed tiebreaker, the classical chess play becomes much more exciting.
This is a win for fans, but at the same time we are talking about a very serious topic. We are talking about who will go on to challenge Magnus Carlsen for the World Chess Championship. It’s not enough that it’s exciting, but it also has to be both fair and logical. It is fair as all players play by the same rules, but it is not logical. There is no real reason why someone with more wins should qualify over someone who has the same score. There is certainly no logical reason why a Sonnenborn-Berger score should have any effect at all.
Fortunately I have the perfect solution, and one that I believe has been proposed before, but absolutely should be a staple for all future Candidates Tournaments.
The tiebreak should take place before the first round!
The above system is used in some tournaments to determine the draw, such as who gets the extra white and which pairing numbers and etc. But in this case it should be used as the tiebreak.
For example, you could have a one day round robin tournament with a time control of 15+2, or you could even make it a double round robin that takes place over two days. The winner of this event wins on all ties, the second place finisher wins on all ties against lower placed players and etc. In fact with this format, the entire field would effectively start the Candidates a half point behind the winner of the rapid tiebreak tournament.
This means that everyone will be playing catch up from the very start, resulting in a clear cut standing in every round. Whenever there is a tie at the top of the crosstable, you will always know who is ahead based on their performance in the rapid tournament. It’s simple for fans and adds another day or two of exciting chess for everyone to enjoy.
This is a much better system than the current one because:
It ensures the classical chess that takes place is maximally exciting, because seven of the eight players will always be clearly behind the leader.
It’s fair to all players
It’s logical, unlike our current system. The players who win on tiebreaks will have clearly earned the right to their victory.
This is the second most important event in chess and the idea of what to do on a tie needs to be taken more seriously, instead of the lazy solution that is currently being used.
Two days ago I booked a one way ticket to Seoul, South Korea.
I have no idea why I did it. I love traveling but It’s also really scary. Im traveling across the world to a place where I don’t speak the language, don’t know anyone and have no plans. The whole idea fills me with anxiety.
It would be so much easier to just come home. I love it at home. I love my wife. I love my friends. Every day I get to wake up and do things I love, see people I love, workout, and of course go to Chipotle.
But instead I’m going to Seoul, probably Tokyo after, and then back home in a few weeks. And I’m doing that because I know if I don’t do it now, while I’m already in San Francisco and closer to Asia, that I’ll always find excuses not to.
So while I’m super nervous, I know it’ll be fun and that I’ll have a good time, because I always do. It helps that I’m mostly comfortable being alone for long periods of time, but I also use a few ways to meet people while traveling that have worked well for me in the past.
I’ve already started bombarding everyone in Seoul on the site couchsurfing.org. I’m not trying to stay in anyone’s house but I’m just looking for local people to meet up. I’m not amazing at meeting people organically, and it’s especially harder when you don’t speak the language, so couchsurfing is great for me. I’ve made a ton of friends there so far, and looking forward to meeting more.
It takes a lot of work though, because you may have to write a lot of people to guarantee that someone will meet up. People are busy and have their own lives, so I may have to write well over a dozen people.
Another good strategy is checking out the Couchsurfing meetups. I went to one of them in L.A. and it was really fun and I met lots of cool people.
Meetup.com is another site I may use. I haven’t used it much while traveling in the past, but I may have to get more creative on this trip.
It also helps that I feel at home whenever I drop in to a CrossFit gym. Everyone at CrossFit is really friendly and it helps me get some guaranteed human contact every day. Also I get to stay in shape at the same time!
One more thing I do when I travel is I’m very active on social media and chat to my friends at home. It sounds weird because you’d imagine that when you travel you shouldn’t be doing as much of that, but really I have a full day every day to do whatever I want. With my style of traveling there’s always a lot of down time and it helps me to feel connected.
I also text while I walk. Like I’ll just wander around and if someone texts me I stop and text back, or maybe I check twitter at one corner, check Instagram at the next corner and etc. The travel snobs will tell you there’s something wrong with this, but it makes me really happy.
Why am I sharing this? I know it’s daunting to travel on your own. I can’t even believe that in a few hours I’m going to be halfway across the world with no idea what to do. Maybe something I’m writing will resonate with others, because I don’t think it’s normal advice. At least I’ve never seen a travel blog that encourages spending lots of time texting your friends.
It feels good to turn my world upside down every now and then. It’s supposed to be scary and make me feel vulnerable. These are feelings I like to keep feeling from time to time, and this is the best way I know how. Maybe for other people it’s not such a big deal to just go to another country on their own, but it’s still tough for me.
Lastly if anyone who reads this knows some cool people in Seoul/Tokyo (or anywhere in Asia for that matter, as my plans are still totally flexible), please let me know! Oh yeah, that’s the other way I meet people when I travel: I write blogs begging people to introduce me to their cool friends.
Whenever anyone tells you that you’re going to get worse at something as you get older, it’s bullshit.
I know that sounds simplistic, but for the most part it’s true. Let me explain why:
We are used to seeing famous superstar athletes get worse as they age. Eventually their skills erode to the point where they retire. This happens to everyone, whether it’s Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant or Roger Federer. For some athletes it happens a little earlier, and for some it’s a bit later, but it’s usually sometime around the age of 35-40.
The same thing happens in chess. Sometime around the age of 40-45, players seem to lose a step. There are exceptions of course, Vishy Anand has been killing it lately, but for the most part this is true. Even in his case it would be true, as while he’s still insanely good, he’s gone from the World Champion and a fixture in the World Top 3, to having to fight to stay in the top 10.
The above seems to disprove everything I’ve said about aging. I’ve just given you some clear cut examples of athletes and sportsmen who aged, and whose skills degraded as a result of their age.
Why is all of it bullshit? The reason that you can get better at ANYTHING is because you are probably not a world class athlete.
I can improve at literally anything. I’m currently 39, and by the time I’m 45, I could be better at any single thing I want to, if I put the energy towards it.
I could be better at chess, all I have to do is work harder. The reason Anand’s skills degrade a little bit is because he has already worked as hard and intelligently as any human can possibly work at chess. Therefore the only thing left is that age will slow him down very slightly. He has nothing left of himself to give. Almost none of us have tapped that much of our potential in any field, and therefore we can still improve.
I’ve spent the last few years studying very little chess. If I wanted to gain 50-100 points of strength in chess, I’d just have to intelligently devote hours every day to that goal. Maybe if I was younger it would be easier, but I could still do it if I really wanted to.
The same thing is true in athletics. I am in the best shape of my life at 39 years old, and I am sure that if I wanted, I could be in even better shape at 45. While I owe CrossFit for my current athletic ability, I have not taken it so seriously that I have reached my peak potential.
If I wanted to get stronger and more fit, I would just have to work harder. My age might mean that I have to work a little bit harder than if I was 25, but there is absolutely no doubt that I could be better in five years than I am now.
I write this because I see age used as an excuse a lot of the time. I don’t want to speak for people who are significantly older than me, because I don’t have that life experience yet. But I know that at this point, nothing stands in the way of improvement. I could learn languages, I could get better at chess and I could literally learn anything in the world and get much better at it.
For some people it may be that they just don’t have the time to devote to improvement due to work and other commitments, or they could have suffered a major injury that holds them back. But it’s almost certainly not their age stopping them, and it’s not what’s stopping me. When I don’t improve at something it’s always that I don’t want it bad enough.
Unless you are an elite athlete or performer, and have given nearly everything you could have to your art for many years, you can get better at anything if you want it badly enough.
The PRO Chess League is about to start again, and the 2018 season is going to be AMAZING! Here are ten reasons why you should definitely call in sick from work on January 18th and stay logged on to chess.com for 14 hours straight:
Even more of the top players in the World are in the league:
Last year we had 11 players rated above 2700 in the league. This year we have 17, with the potential for more to join throughout the season.
Here’s a list of some of the big stars, and the teams they represent, in 2018:
Please go check out the new PRO Chess League website! It will have almost anything you could possibly wish to know about the league. You can follow your favorite teams, there will be a live scoreboard at the top and there will be post match recaps. The fans asked for this and we listened.
3. There are fewer teams, which means that every match will be more competitive
Last year the PRO Chess League had 48 teams, with some of the teams being much weaker than the strongest teams. This led to a lot of lopsided and uninteresting matches. It also resulted in too much action for fans to follow.
This year we decided to cut the field down, and also create qualifiers to determine our new teams. This time around it’s very unlikely that you’ll see complete wipeouts, as every team is capable of putting together a lineup near the 2500 rating cap.
The bottom two teams in each division will also be removed from the league and have to qualify again in a very competitive qualification process (we had 40 teams fighting for just 8 spots this year!). That means that even teams who are eliminated from the playoffs, will still have something serious to fight for.
4. There are an insane number of GM’s competing
While there are 17 players rated above 2700, we also have more than 150 GM’s on team rosters. It’s an average of nearly 5 GM’s per team!
5. Lots of young stars are competing
Young superstars like Sam Sevian, Awonder Liang, Nihal Sarin, Jeffery Xiong and Kirill Shevchenko are competing this year. It’s going to be great watching them face off against experienced Grandmasters on a weekly basis.
6. The commentaryis going to be AWESOME!
We have four new regular commentators in 2018:
IM Danny Rensch
WGM Jenn Shahade
GM Robert Hess
GM Ben Finegold
They will all get their own weekly slots that they will share with a co-host. Check out all of our commentators here.
7. There is going to be a Fantasy Contest EVERY WEEK!
Each week you will have the chance to pick 16 players from that week’s matches. The format will be that you’ll pick one player from each board (1 through 4) from each division. It’ll be quick, easy, but also a really fun way to follow your favorite players, or perhaps make some new favorites during the season.
There will of course be prizes, in the form of premium Chess.com memberships, every week!
8. This year we have an All-Star Game
Using an exciting format, with $5,000 in prizes, fans will be treated to a one of a kind blitz battle to determine which division has the best four players. Read here for more details
9. It will be much easier to follow your favorite players
Last season some fans had difficulty finding the games of their favorite teams. That won’t ever be a problem in 2018, as when you watch the live show on chess.com/tv, there will be links you can click on that will automatically observe the games of any team you wish.
10. We have 5 new teams from our Qualifier
Our PRO Chess Leauge Qualifier welcomed 8 teams into the league. 3 of those teams were already in the league last season (Minnesota Blizzard, Mumbai Movers and Seattle Sluggers), but 5 teams will be getting their first taste of PRO Chess League Action. Those teams are:
Chengdu Pandas:Our first Chinese team, managed by GM Li Chao, and led by 2750 rated Yu Yangyi, and near 2700 players Wang Yue and Ni Hua. They are sure to be one of the most dangerous teams in the league.
Australia Kangaroos:A well balanced team from Australia with many well known Aussie players. Anton Smirnov is a 17 year old GM and will be getting some great experience for the team. GM Max Illingworth, who has a cool Patreon page, will also be part of the team
Estonia Horses:Perennial U.S. Championship Contender, Alex Onischuk, is playing for the Horses. Also the well known chess announcer and streamer, GM Sergei Shipov is part of the team. They are managed by former World Championship Candidate, GM Jaan Ehlvest.
Armenia Eagles:The Eagles have a whopping 8 GM’s on their roster. With a very motivated manager, Artak Manukyan, they have managed to sign lots of strong Armenian talents.
Oslo Trolls: The Norway Gnomes made the PRO Chess League finals last year, but many of their members jumped ship to join the new Norwegian team. The Trolls are a younger group of players, with lower ratings than their Gnome counterparts, but you can see that they are a hungry and motivated group.
On top of all of these reasons we will have a brand new format of matches held twice per season, called Super Saturday. This will pit teams from different divisions against each other in a sixteen team free for all. We will also have some of the most well known chess streamers taking part in the league, such as Eric Hansen, John Bartholomew, Kevin Bordi, Andrey Ostrovsky, Andrew Tang, and many more.
Stay tuned for even more exciting details to be announced as the season progresses, and tune in on January 18th for the first round of action. Our normal match day will be held on Wednesdays, but our first match is on a Thursday to coordinate with the rest day at Tata Steel.
I have no idea why I’m telling this story, but it’s pretty demented so that’s a good reason.
When I lived in Philly with my mom, me and a friend would occasionally play Scrabble (Ben Johnson, host of the International Sensation: Perpetual Chess Podcast).
While we played my mom would be going about her business, but occasionally peek over to make fun of our plebian words and tell us how bad we were. In some families this might be considered child abuse, but in ours it’s another way of showing affection.
Mom: “Did you seriously just use an S to play the word CATS?”
I would ask to play her, and every time the answer was the same “Haha, sorry but it’d just be no fun to play you, you don’t even know the 2 letter words, you wouldn’t stand a chance”. Of course she was right.
It’s possible she was still mad about a controversial incident from early in my childhood. She was going to play with her friends and asked me to count the tiles for them, probably to give me something to do. I came downstairs and told her
Me: “There were 98 letters”!
Mom: “are you sure? There should be 100?”
Me: “Oh yeah but two of them didn’t have letters on them so I threw them in the duck.” (Child slang for heating duct).
I’m not sure why I thought it was a good idea to not just use a simple trash can, but apparently these blank tiles really bothered me. And while my mom found it super amusing and retold the story for years, it also ruined their game.
When I grew older and moved to New York, I happened upon the book “Word Freak”, about a writer who decided to immerse himself in the Scrabble world. It was a pretty awesome read, and I remembered all of the abuse my mom hurled my way and decided I’m going to crush her at Scrabble.
So I did the normal thing and downloaded some software to help me memorize words. I holed myself up in my bedroom for about a week and quickly learned all the 2 letter words, then decided I had to know every 3 letter word. I also learned maybe the top 500-1000 most popular 7 letter words and maybe the top 200-300 8 letter words. I studied a bunch of important words that had key high scoring Scrabble letters in them: J, X, Q, Z. Lastly I played a bunch of training games on the Internet Scrabble Club, and could tell I was at least halfway decent. I was now ready to crush my mother.
I called her up and said “Oh hi mom, I thought I’d come visit for the weekend, are you busy”.
Mom: “No, it’d be great to see you!”
So I got on the train but I was there for one reason and one reason only: for the Ultimate Family Scrabble showdown.
I got home and pretended to just be there to hang out. Maybe we ate dinner, chatted for a bit, and then I casually asked “Oh hey mom, maybe we could play a quick game of Scrabble?”
I got the same answer about how I’m too much of an idiot to play against her, but somehow I convinced her to play. I didn’t want to sound like I was studying too hard, but I said something like “Oh I think I know most of those 2 letter words, so it should be fun”.
I completely destroyed her!! Very early in the game I played a relatively obscure 7 letter word…something like: ENTASIA. Basically a word that no one who doesn’t specifically study Scrabble has ever heard of. I won by almost 200 points. She couldn’t believe what was happening. She probably already realized it, but I had to let her know “Oh yeah, I’ve been studying a bit’.
She immediately challenged me to a rematch and played a much more defensive and strategic style. In the first game she didn’t take me seriously so left me a lot of openings, but now she knew she had to be careful and while my word knowledge was decent, I wasn’t really great at strategy yet. She ended up winning Game number 2. We went back and forth and I think I was ahead 4 games to 3 before I went home like a conquering hero.
Note that my mother, while taunting me for my subpar Scrabble skills, was always very supportive of both me and my sister in any games we pursued, and was always so proud when we became really good at them. It was fun to finally be able to compete with her in this game that I had seen her playing with her serious gamer friends for all her life.
I have since played one official Scrabble tournament three years ago and managed to win it (the Beginners section because it was my first time). It will probably be my last one, but who knows…maybe if someone taunts me enough I’ll lock myself in my room for a few weeks and play once more.
Live shot of me crushing a 10 year old in my only Scrabble tournament
I think there’s almost nothing more important in this world than not being racist, not being sexist and not being a total asshole. So when someone suggests that you are racist, that person is doing you a favor and pointing out the specific things that are stopping you from reaching those goals. It feels bad at the moment, and will probably be followed by a lot of defensiveness, but what you do next is what matters.
Are you going to defend yourself to the death and insist that there is no way that anything you said was even slightly racist, or are you going to stop and think for a minute that maybe this person, who has experienced institutionalized racism for their entire life, might have a point?
The funny thing about it is that a common complaint among white people who have been called racist is that calling someone racist isn’t helpful in advancing the discourse. Instead they suggest that it’s more helpful for people of color to try to politely educate white people on why what they did was racist. The issue with that is that it’s hard enough living in a racist society for all of your life, and it becomes even harder if you have to deal with racist things as politely as possible. They are doing you a favor when they call you racist because they are telling you “You have done something offensive”. However the burden of learning what you did wrong falls on you, not them.
If you care enough about not being racist, you’ll think very hard about whether they have a point or not, and if you think that you are the exceptional case in which the racism claim was actually insane then that’s great for you, but most of the time you are probably wrong.
I was specifically called sexist when I was about 22 years old, for a comment I made about women’s tennis, and the reasons why it was more popular than other women’s based sports (I think I said it had to do with the attire and attractiveness of the women who played). The woman who called me sexist was so upset that she stormed out of the room. I honestly don’t remember my exact statement, and my reaction when being called sexist was “you’re a crazy idiot”, which all of my male friends who were in the room immediately agreed with. Now over fifteen years later, I feel pretty confident that whatever I said was indeed sexist. Unfortunately I didn’t learn from it at the time, and because my non female friends (obviously world class experts on sexism) backed me up, I didn’t even try to think deeper about it.
This is a common pitfall when you are called racist, because it’s normal that many of your white friends will tell you that you are totally not racist and the accusations are insane and without any merit.
A few years ago I wrote a blog in which I made a comparison between women’s based prizes in chess tournaments to affirmative action. My blog was called racist by at least one person, maybe two. At the least what I wrote was very insensitive, and it’s made me realize that just because I usually have the typical beliefs that a non racist person is supposed to have, it doesn’t mean that I’m immune from doing and saying some pretty offensive things.
I’ve had too many overly strong opinions on whether girls should play in all-girl chess tournaments or not. The entire time I wrote pieces about this subject, I never stopped to realize that I have no experience in what it’s like to be a girl playing in a tournament where 90% of the players are boys. I hope I wouldn’t make this same mistake today.
I think I’ve learned a lot by following a few particular people on Twitter. One good follow is @absurdistwords. His Twitter bio reads “I try to foster rational discourse on those sensitive subjects that divide us”. There are people out there who are making an a serious effort to educate the public on what racism or sexism looks like, and I think I’ve become less racist by following and paying attention to them.
So it’s really not a bad thing to be called racist. Just like me, you probably aren’t some special angel white person who doesn’t have a racist bone in their body. Be grateful for your free lessons on how to be more sensitive to people of color.