Alexa – How Can I Improve in Chess?

In an earlier post, I talked about AI and Chess. An adjacent topic to AI is the advancement of Voice capability.

We will discuss a few ideas I had for developing Voice Product for Chess in this blog post and a not-so-surprising answer to my question in the title.

Vision: Voice Product for Chess

How can voice help for the following groups

  1. Learn Chess for Kids
  2. Improve chess for serious players
  3. Play chess on the go as a hobby

Learn Chess for Kids

Learning chess visually is still by far the most effective way for kids to pick up the game. However, voice can supplement the learning steps.

Alexa Skills can remind kids to develop pieces and castle early for new players.

As a young player starts to playing tournaments, a good check-up would be to make sure they do not drop pieces easily.

Improve chess for serious players

For the more serious chess players, the integration between chess database, engine, and Alexa would be important.

Some powerful questions to leverage via Alexa:

a) What are the top novelties played today?

b) How many games played today by over ELO 2600 players used the Sicilian Dragon line

Play chess on the go as a hobby

Let’s get back to the chess hobbyist for a moment.

If given a chance, many people would glad to learn chess instead of playing candy crush to kill time.

The problem today is the friction and effort to pick up chess easily.

What if Alexa can combine historical chess facts together with the simple to digest chess rules and gamify the chess learning process.

We have the historical chess facts in Google.

And we have chess rules all over the internet.

What we’ll need is an Alexa Skill the integrate the information and design an gamify-version of the learning process


We’re very early in Voice chess products development, and I’d say AI chess products are way ahead due to chess engine developments.

When I asked ‘How can I improve in chess?’ Alexa told me ‘I don’t know how to answer this question.’

Unfortunately no straightforward way to use Alexa yet today, but don’t bet against the concept.

Alexa and other voice products will soon change the way chess players’ improvement journey.

 

Advertisements

How to Deal with Losing

Fall seven, rise eight

My kid are not playing well. I’m so bad at chess. How can we avoid losing.

These are the comments from parents and chess players alike when the chess journey gets tough with a bad tournament or game.

Parents often ask how can we deal with losing, especially when the younger players cry after games.

When I hear these questions, my response often will be: I hear you, and I can understand your pain for the short term.

However, chess journey is a long game and there are ups and downs for every player.

Let’s first get the painful truth out first.

Losing sucks! No doubt about that. Just ask Magnus about it, this is the best player of our time, and he’s still having trouble handle losing.

Now we’ve got that out of the way, let’s talk about why losing is an important part of the chess journey, and why often losing early can be more beneficial than winning without progress.


If you’re a 2000 rated player, and hypothetically let’s say you can play in the U1200 section.  More likely than not, you’ll be able to win every single game. 

Losing may not be part of the equation in this hypothetical scenario, but will you improve chess skills over 1-year?

Not likely.

Every game, you’re playing weaker players, basically you’re providing training opportunities to the new players.

For anyone to improve, it is necessary to play against stronger players. And each time we jump to a higher section, it is part of the process to struggle against stronger players, but then improve thru the learning experiences.


The Chess Journey is a marathon, and losing in chess sometimes feeling like struggling on the 3rd mile on your first practice run.

That’s why we all need to practice many trial runs before the final marathon run. The first practice will be far from perfect, the second will be a little better, but still long way to go.

However, each time, you’re building stronger muscles physically and mentally, and by the show-time, you’ll be more robust and less likely to be bothered by small aches in the run.

Chess tournaments works the same way, in the first tournament for a child, losing feels like the end of the world.

Then it becomes less annoy, and soon many kids wants to play again especially after a lost because there are more fire in them now.

It’s not easy seeing your child cry from their first loss, but remember many players have the same experiences, I cried twice from chess games when I was younger (details in a future post).

The more a chess player experiences the ups and downs, the better s/he will handle in the future.

Next time you or your child experience a painful lost, please keep below quote in your back pocket.

Anything worth doing is worth doing slowly.

                                                                -Mae West

Why Tournament Matters

Have you traded stock with paper money before?

Most of the time, this is an exercise used in High School or College finance classes, and it’s an opportunity for the students to learn about financial literacy.

I’ve done that.

When I traded stock with paper money, I did not check the daily ups and downs of stock trend for months.

During a good market (2009, right after the 2008 crash), when I returned to check results nonchalantly six months later, paper money have risen over 20%. I wish I could turn the time back and put in some real money instead.

Now fast forward to the first time I put $100 of real money into the stock market. The market had ups and downs as usual, however, this time my psychology changed completely.

I was checking stock tickers over 10 times a day on my phone, and everytime there’s a $1-2 of movement in price, I wondered whether I made the right decision to buy and when should I sell.

What does this story has anything to do with chess tournaments?

The title of this post tells you.

Playing in rated chess tournament versus casual games is like trading stock with real versus paper money.

The difference is in a player’s psychology.  To truly improve in chess, you have to go thru the trials of tribulation in facing tough times from tournament games.

Whenever I talk to parents of new students, we discuss how to improve in chess (topic for another time) and when should a student start playing in tournaments.

My recommendation: once basic chess skills are developed and the student has played 1-2 unrated tournament to get a feel of the environment, it’s time to get into the action of rated games.

Sometimes I hear parents say I want my child to work more at home and be ready to play in tournaments where we know s/he will have a good showing.

I politely disagree.

Chess tournaments are not like school tests.

School teachers often give students study guide after study guide.  If the student is well versed in all the practice questions, s/he is ready for the test and getting an A or 100 is no problem.

In chess tournaments, doesn’t matter how prepared you’re, you may face any of the following circumstances

-Other player’s strength; Stronger than their rating indicates

It’s often hard to gauge exactly how strong is your opponent. They can come from a different country or state, or they took time out from chess and only came back recently.

-You’re own emotional response to meaningful games

The way you feel in a casual game is not the same as a meaningful game. The stock analogy earlier in the article covers this point. The oh-no moments will be much more painful than a skittle room’s game.

-Tournament Surroundings

There are tensions in the tournament room. In any given moment, the room is quiet, you can hear chess pieces move but nothing more. The nerves and the tension become less intimidating for the more experienced players.

————–

You can only get better in tournament chess by experiencing more.

And remember, you’ll never be 100% ready.

Treat chess tournaments as job interview instead of school test, there is no guarantee, but the best practice to improve your odds of success is to experience more and learn from these experiences.

Opening Repertoire For Different Ratings

It’s summer time and there are many chess tournaments all around the country. This is the time to put your work into practice.

While preparing for different tournaments, parents and students alike often ask how should they organize opening repertoire.

After some back and force debate in my own head and observing student’s results, here is my current point of view.

chess_opening

As with my last article on topics for different levels, I believe different ratings should focus differently on their opening preparations.

My current opinion

  1. Casual players up to USCF U1200: Play any opening that catches your curiocity
  2. USCF 1200 – 1700: Be more specific; Prepare a package against d4 and e4 for black, and choose your favorite 1st move for white
  3. USCF 1700 and Above: Depending on your training regimen and work with coach to personalize best approach

Let’s dissect these in more details

Casual Players (U1200)

When starting chess, the most important opening focus is understanding the basic opening principles. The main ones are: Control the Center, Develop Pieces, and Castle Early.

When you see a brilliant game in the French, go try it out. Find ways to experiment, learn openings that bring out your curiosity to chess.

Regardless what opening you try, make sure to focus on the main principles. Avoid losing games because half of your pieces were not developed.

If your opponent does not follow opening principles, find ways to take advantage of that.

USCF 1200 – 1700

This group is when the training gets serious, and there are certain commitment to improve in chess.

I would suggest build a specific repertoire for both white and black pieces. Stick with the same openings for a while.

The idea is to learn the ins and outs of that opening, and improve your chess in general by understanding deeper concepts such as pawn structures and positional middle game concepts from the same opening.

One example repertoire:

  1. e4 for white; Alapin against Sicilians
  2. French for black against e4
  3. Queen’s gambit declined against d4

USCF 1700 and Above

Now we are pushing towards Master level and beyond. More personalization will be required.

What is your goal in chess? How often do you play in tournaments? How do you train to prepare for tournaments?

These are the questions you want to answer and possibly work with a coach to dive in deeper.

If you have aspiration to become a master and gain international titles, then you’ll need to start playing in many tournaments.

From these tournament experiences, you’ll learn about your strengths and weaknesses in chess, and figure out the amount of time focused on openings accordingly.

—————————

These are my strong opinion now, but I held them loosely.

For all the active chess warriors, Good Luck to all of your summer chess adventures!

 

 

 

Chess Side Hustle

I made this tweet in early 2017…

…and yesterday (April of 2018), I had the great opportunity to be featured on the Side Hustle School podcast.

Since we’re on the Chess^Summit journey, let’s compare the process of building a side hustle and chess improvements in the following three bullet points.

  1. The Journey is a Marathon
  2. Find a way to Get Started
  3. Appreciate How Far You’ve Gone

The Journey is a Marathon

Whenever you start a new adventure, there is a certain amount of excitement.

But after a period of extended work with little or no reward, a tiny voice of ‘why bother’ frequently starts to cloud our minds.

This is the moment to see how much energy you have for the LONG RUN, and it feels like the mile-10 mark of a full 26-mile marathon.

No one can build a sustainable side hustle in one weekend, and no one can improve 500 rating points in one weekend.

There will be many ups and even more downs, but it’s always about the process of getting back our energy and excitement when the moments are tough to get through.

Whether it’s teaching chess or improving chess yourself. As Jack Ma said: Don’t give up ‘tomorrow evening’.

6

 

Get Started

In teaching chess side hustle: there is the website, then you have to talk customers, and there are contents you’ll need to create. These are just 10 percent of the efforts to build the business.

It’s not different in improving chess: you have to keep up-to-date in opening preparations, the endgame to study again, and your recent games to review.

One word describes both scenarios: Overwhelming.

The way to overcome is to START one thing. Immerse your mind to that task and not worry about all the other to-dos. Get started and continue to build momentum.

Appreciate How Far You’ve Gone

 

No matter how far we go, we often only look forward to the next goals. And we will always find a more challenging problem to keep us busy but giving us headaches.

In chess improvement, you surpassed the goal of reaching 1500, now you start to look for 2000. And in chess teaching, you have one student, you’ll start to look for 5.

It’s good to have the desire to continue improve. However, find ways to remind yourself to turn your head backward once in a while and appreciate how far you have gone.

Remind yourself of the work you have accomplished will give you more confidence to go forward.


Wherever is your journey – learn to look for small improvements to help you go forward.

Confidence and Patience

Teaching chess takes a set of skills. Teaching chess to kids takes a completely different set of skills.

When kids 6-10 years old first picks up chess, two typical scenarios are:

Group A: ‘Oh Oh Oh Oh, I know this’. They’ll react instantly, want to get to the answers immediately, and keep going forward with the argument until there is not much left.

Group B: think, search, think, search, and think for more to get to the right answers, and still not sure how to respond.

We’ll call A Confidence, and B Patience.

Both wants to win or solve the puzzle, but they go from different routes.

Strength

Group A are willing to try things, and they are not afraid to be wrong.  They have 10 ideas in their head within 5 seconds.

This will help them become more creative as their chess vision expands.

For the patience Group B: they are detail orientated, they want to check all the possibilities.

Their meticulous calculations will help them analyze both deep variations and broadly as more than one variation is possible.

Weakness

On the flip side, these same strengths are often what give parents the most headaches.

Group A misses many opportunities. They often choose second best options, or worse, completely irrelevant ideas.

Group B becomes very indecisive that it feels paralyzing. And the thought of playing chess with a clock is unbearable.

How to improve

The best way is to have both. Telling Group A to slowdown is probably unfruitful. Try ask them to calculate the variations deeper or ask if there are other possibilities instead.

Similarly, telling Group B ‘just make a decision’ will introduce more anxiety.

Instead, ask what you have calculated, and what outcomes did you see in your calculations. Did you make the decision faster than last time?

In the end, we want to have both, confident but also patient. It will take practice, but learning chess will be more fun.

Over the Board with Dan Schultz – Michael Gladis

Welcome to the second episode of Over the Board! This week I have the privilege of interviewing my good friend, one who I’ve lost MANY a game to, Michael Gladis. While most recognized for his performance as Paul Kinsey in Mad Men, Mike has also made appearances on Law and Order, House, Eagleheart, and many…MANY more shows. Mike has also showcased his acting skills on stage and in blockbusters such as K-19 and Terminator Genisys. In short, you have certainly seen him somewhere, even a chess catalog! As if that’s not enough, Mike makes time to play guitar, work on projects with his fiancée (actress Beth Behrs), and continue to play a damn good chess game! I’ve been looking forward to this interview for some time and I’m happy to share it.

mike.mm

I know you started playing chess around the age of 5 or 6, but what passion came first, acting or chess?

Definitely Chess. I didn’t start acting until I was in High School.

I also learned how to play from my dad when I was about 6, I think that’s one of the reasons why I love the game so much. Your goal was initially to beat your dad at chess, which you did around 15 years old. Do you two still play from time to time or talk about the game?

Yes, we still play occasionally, either online or when I’m at home. He gave me a beautiful wooden board and set when I first beat him, and bought me a USCF membership, which he still renews for me to this day!

mike.dad

That’s and awesome dad! In an interview you said chess isn’t just a game but “THE game,” a sentiment our readers and I can’t agree enough with. What do you think makes chess so great?

One of the things I love about the game is that it’s a conversation in the abstract- a language of its own. Whenever I travel abroad I look for chess players- whether it be people playing on a large lawn-type chess set in Amsterdam, a little old man with a board in front of him at a café in Paris at 2am, or some guys playing in the bitter cold and snow while drinking vodka on Arbat Street in Moscow- It’s always so satisfying to play a few games with someone who comes from a completely different culture, who might not speak the same language as you, but after a few games of chess you can look up at each other and feel like you just had a genuine interaction- a conversation- a debate. There are arguments, rebuttals, and even jokes on the board. You get a sense of that person’s personality from their play. I love that.

I love that explanation! Maybe not as deep a topic as the unspoken language of chess, but would you mind telling the story of how you modeled for the Chess Life catalog?

One time at a party in college, I got to talking to a woman my friend had brought with her and asked her what she did. She replied that she was the head graphic designer for a magazine, and when I asked which one she replied, “Oh, you’ve probably never heard of it.” I pressed, and she replied, “Chess Life.” Well, of course I flipped and start gushing about how much I love playing chess, and how my dad bought me my USCF membership when I first beat him, and how he still renews it to this day, and on and on and on… and she tells me that she sometimes pays some of the other actors in the Theater Department (like her friend who brought her to the party) to model for the Chess Life catalogue, and that it doesn’t pay much but if I’m interested she’d love to have me come down. Well, $100 bucks buys a lot of beer when you’re a poor college student, plus it was a chance to go check out the USCF headquarters (which was in Newburgh, NY back then).
So I arrive at the photo shoot (I did a few)- and I had a plan in mind. The pics in the USCF catalog of people at chess sets always bugged me because they looked SO phony- the “player” was always sitting ramrod straight at the board, with a goofy smile on their face, holding a chest piece just-so above the board with one hand, and it looked so fake. So I wanted to bring some veritas to the photo shoot- some gravitas, even! I wanted to be hunched over, face twisted into agonized concentration, fingers tearing out my hair, they wouldn’t let me smoke but I would have if they had- etc.

mike.tie

So the photo shoot goes on and I’m modeling a Chess tie or some bullsh*t, and finally they bring up the board. This is my chance! So I set up a position from a famous game (I don’t remember which one) just in case there are fellow nerds out there who might appreciate that, and I summon all of my young acting abilities and scrunch myself up into position, face twisting and hair pulling galore, and the photographer says, “Michael, could you straighten up a little bit? And smile? But not raise your eyebrows too much? And pick up a piece? And hold it up just a little bit? And slide your elbow over?” and SNAP! The picture’s taken and it’s the same bullsh*t photo that I had been trying to avoid taking. You gotta laugh.
There was one photo they took of me at a board with my friend Laura sitting on my lap- y’know, how chess players always play chess, and I heard later they had to pull it from future catalogs because people were complaining it was too risqué!
That graphic designer, Jamie, became a good friend, though. She was always very kind, and I got to play some GM’s at the USCF because of her. I once brought Arthur Bisguier a bottle of Dewar’s and he played me all afternoon. I don’t think I ever gave him anything resembling a challenge. Eventually he was spotting me a rook and still crushing me so badly it seemed like a magic trick. Jamie later gave me the board and the House Of Staunton set we played on that afternoon- I still have it to this day.

mike.mag

Outstanding! So, why do you think chess has stuck with you for so long?

I love it because it never gets boring, it’s always a challenge, and I’m just good enough to want to get better, but never nearly as good at it as I want to be.

You and I play chess on just about a daily basis and I know you’re quite busy with your career and plenty of travel, so how does chess fit into your daily routine?

I recently started using one of those apps that tracks your phone usage, and I’m pretty much spending most of my phone time either on chess.com or twitter. I’m gonna try to wean myself off of twitter, but I consider Chess to be calisthenics for my brain. I play a lot of 3 min blitz, and then usually have a few longer daily games going. I play like everyone else. If I’m in the waiting room of an audition, or the dentist, sitting on the couch watching TV and a commercial comes on, or (sorry) at a long red light, I’ll pick up the phone and make a move.

I have the same habit, you’re not alone. What does your fiancée think of your chess obsession? Does she play?

I think she thinks it’s a healthy mental exercise. It’s a better way to spend phone-time than social media or candy crush (which I’ve never played). I was really flattered to learn that when we first started dating she made a stab at learning the game, without telling me, in hopes of being able to play with me, but it didn’t take and she let it go.

mike.beth

That’s awesome! My wife picked up the game when she saw how passionate I was for it. It really meant a lot to me as well. Now, thanks to you’ve I’ve fallen in love with Yasser Seirawan’s Play Winning Chess; it’s pretty much become my Catcher in the Rye and the number one book I recommend to all players I talk to or work with. Are there any other books or content you would recommend for players looking to improve?

That’s the chess book I’ve recommended to (and bought for) SO many people looking to learn the game. Yasser’s writing style is so accessible, and so readable, and his love for the game is evident on every page- so I’d go on to recommend all the rest of his books in that series (Winning Chess Tactics, Winning Chess Strategies, etc.) How To Reassess Your Chess by Silman is another great book.

So you had the opportunity to play with and learn from the renowned hustler “Russian Paul” in Washington Sq, NYC. What was that experience like and how do you think learning the game from a player of that caliber effects your own playing style?

I played with Paul every day in the summer of 2001, just after shooting my first big Hollywood film- so I had money and time. I’d make my way to the park almost every afternoon and sit with him for a while. I also played him and on and off the whole time I lived in NYC. I would pay him $10 for 3 5min blitz games, but eventually he’d ignore the clock and start analyzing positions as they came up, showing me possible moves/lines etc. He’s a really strong player- and very Russian about it. Very matter-of-fact, usually smoking a cigarette. I don’t know that it affected my style that much, I probably wasn’t that great a student. But I do quote some of the hustlers I used to play in Washington Sq. back in the day once in a while: “The pin wins!”
I still find Paul up in Union Sq. when I travel back to NYC, and pay him for a few games. He still slaughters me. He says I’m not as good as I used to be – which is probably true. I used to play over the board every day when I lived in NYC. Now it’s only on the phone, so when I play on a real board in person I make a lot of mistakes I probably shouldn’t.

I know we talked about it but I’ll be headed to NYC this summer to do a chess tour of the town. Where do you think people should stop in the city to get a game or learn more about the history of chess there?

There are still players in Washington Square Park, so go there just because it’s a pretty place to play, and a part of NYC chess history. Unfortunately a lot of the good hustlers (like Paul) all moved up to Union Square and play on milk crates and folding tables because there’s so much more foot traffic (and business) for them there – so go there, as well. Bryant Sq. has some strong hustlers, and that’s right near the NY Public Library, which you should also check out (not for chess, just because it’s cool). I also like to go up to the Chess & Checkers pavilion in Central Park, but it can be a little tough to get a game there. The same old crusty dudes have been meeting up to play each other there for decades, and they’re not always eager to include strangers, but you can ask. It’s a great place to play if you already have a partner. You can even rent boards/pieces there I believe. There’s some chess tables in the park area in the center of Stuyvesant Town- there are some surprisingly strong players in there (I used to play on one of their BAL chess teams). Also, definitely try to make it to the Marshall Chess club. It’s a beautiful, historical place. Play in a tourney there if they’re having one!

Any interesting chess stories?

I was living in NYC on 9-11, and, like everyone, woke up to a world in chaos. I had seen the 2nd plane hit the Towers on TV, and I was living just outside Times Sq. at the time, so I thought to myself “Where would I hit next if I was them?” and decided it wasn’t safe to stay in my apartment. I walked down 9th Avenue, saw the Towers fall, stood with groups of strangers around pickup trucks with radios blaring trying to get information, bought water for and tries to comfort the people covered in ash, covered my face with my t-shirt when the air got too bad to breathe… eventually I made my way to my best friend’s father’s apartment. Donald lived on Washington Place in the West Village. He was a dear friend himself, so it was the place I felt safest in the city. After 4 or 5 hours of staring at the TV, I had to get out and take a walk, get some air, clear my head and try to process what the hell was happening. Washington Place borders Washington Square Park, so, almost instinctively, I walked over to the SW corner of the park where the chess tables are. All the hustlers were there. Paul was drinking vodka, and I think I actually asked him if he wanted a game. He said no, but one of the other hustlers piped up and said “I’ll play.” So, I remember sitting down and playing this guy- playing a game of chess during the apocalypse- and of course we were playing badly and making all sorts of stupid mistakes and eventually we looked up at each other, and I think I actually said out loud “What the hell are we doing??” and we both stood up and abandoned the game and I took a swig of Paul’s vodka and went on my way, out into a different world.

Wow…that’s a powerful story. I really appreciate you sharing that with us. So, what’s your next chess goal?

I’d like to start playing in tournaments this year. Someday I want to do what you’re doing – actually take lessons from a Master or GM and really buckle down and study and try for a title.

I’ve also thought about competing in a Chess Boxing match (I like to work out at boxing gyms), but I’m a way better chess player than I am a boxer, and my face is so pretty, and I’m not in the best shape, and I just hit 40 so… sanity will probably prevail and I won’t.

Well, if you do take up Chess Boxing I’ll be right there in the front row! If you need a cutman, I’m your guy! So, outside of acting, chess, and playing guitar, any other hobbies or passions?

I recently acquired an old Toyota Land Cruiser that I’m working to fix up and using to explore SoCal and the South West- I love camping and getting off road. I also like to take photos, so those two hobbies go hand in hand.

Are you working on any projects presently that you’re really excited about?
Working with my fiancée on producing our own projects, which is very exciting, and potentially a lot more fulfilling than waiting around for acting auditions. I’m also starting to write, which is challenging, to say the least.

Mike, thank you so much for your time! We’ll definitely be looking forward to what comes next, on and off the board. I’ve had the honor losing many a match to Mike, but I always learn something and we always have a laugh – the whole point of the game.