Isaac Asimov and Bullet Chess

by admin on March 14, 2013

If you enjoy chess, math, puns, and Isaac Asimov — and really, who doesn’t? — then you might enjoy this book review at Goodreads. I’ll get you started (but I won’t post the whole thing, in order to respect copyright):

The Biggest Lie

“And so, gentlemen,” concluded the man with dark glasses who insisted on calling himself Smith, “we have a problem. We know the formula is hidden under one of the squares of the chessboard. But we don’t know which.”

The twelve experts, assembled at short notice in the underground bunker, shifted uncomfortably and tried not to look at each other. Suddenly Griswold spoke up.

“Let me see if I have understood correctly,” he said. “The late Professor claimed to have found a safe method for voyaging to other dimensions. He wrote it down just before his unfortunate demise, and we urgently need to find it.”

To find how Griswold solves the problem, click to the rest of the review.

I came across this yesterday, because I was looking up reviews of Hikaru Nakamura’s Bullet Chess: One Minute to Mate. To be honest, I wasn’t thinking about buying this book. I never play bullet chess, so it would be somewhat pointless. A little bit like buying a book about bughouse chess, another game that I never play.

In case you’re wondering, I quit bughouse when I was still a class-C player. I noticed how  sessions of bughouse between rounds would make me start having fantasies about pieces descending from the heavens during my regular chess games. This was not very helpful. And look — just 14 years after I gave up bughouse, I became a National Master! Ergo, by the law of post hoc ergo propter hoc, giving up bughouse will enable you to become a National Master, too.

Anyway, I came across a review of Nakamura’s book on Goodreads that said some really interesting things. Such as this:

Chess players like to imagine that they can play perfectly if they only take the time to think carefully about their moves, and that the game is about truth and logic. This is absolutely not true, and Bullet Chess reveals the lie in all its absurdity. Chess, like life, is about using a finite amount of time to best advantage.

Wow! From bullet chess to deep lessons about life in three sentences flat! Are we talking about bullet chess or bullet philosophy? But there was more:

Update for people who are serious about speed chess: this book has tangibly improved my play, in particular in the all-important field of time management. I strongly recommend it. You may think you manage your time well, but you can almost certainly do better. And if you want to see hard evidence, look at my ICC rating graph for the last year. For the three months before I read the book I was averaging under 2250, but the average since then is over 2350. I have trouble believing it myself.

For an experienced 2250 player to improve his speed chess by 100 points is pretty impressive. Small wonder that the reviewer concluded, “Nakamura Sensei, I bow before you.”

Now I’m seriously thinking about buying Nakamura’s book. If there is one weakness in my game, one huge and glaring and awful weakness, it’s time management.

Anyway, after reading this review, I wondered who this mystery reviewer was, because Goodreads isn’t a place where you expect to run into 2250-rated chess players or even people who know what ICC is. It turns out that his name is Manny (short for Emmanuel) Rayner, and he is a bona FIDE  Master who lives in Switzerland. He is also the #1 most popular book reviewer on Goodreads in the United Kingdom. And he is a computer scientist at the University of Geneva. Chess player, mathematician, and literatus … quite a well-rounded guy.

“Literatus” is, by the way, the singular of “literati.” Something I had never realized until I needed the word just now.

So that led me to look up some of Rayner’s other book reviews, some of which really stretch the definition of “review,” and that is when I found his short story/parody/book review that I linked to above. It’s supposed to be a review of Mathenauts: Tales of Mathematical Wonder, but really it’s a parody of Isaac Asimov. The only part of the review that actually talks about the book (which includes an Asimov short story) comes at the very end:

Smith sighed. “Are all the stories in the book like this?” he asked faintly.

“No,” said Griswold. “But some of them are nearly as bad.”

By the way, extra credit to anyone who finds both of the puns in this blog entry.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Cortiano March 17, 2013 at 3:51 pm

I caught them! Pretty clever! You’re an authentic and genuine punster, Dana. You’re certainly no dum dum! ;-)

By the way, I also caught Isaac Asimov once!
Asimov has always been one of my idols. I managed to talk to him for a minute, in 1980, in New York. He was in the phone book! I just looked up the number and called him. And he picked up the phone. I was trying to get him to grant me an interview. He didn’t. His last words to me were “must keep my fingers on the typewriter.”
The man wrote over 200 books and I’m proud to say I probably read half of them.
And, if you who are reading me think Asimov only wrote science fiction and have never read a tale of the Black Widowers, you don’t know what you are missing!

Back to the puns, don’t give up yet. I won’t give them away. Don’t want to spoil anyone’s fun. Dana knows, tough, so I get the credit.

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Praveen March 21, 2013 at 10:17 am

Very intriguing reviews. But as always – so many things to do, so little focus.

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