Speed Demons

karpov-vs-kasparovHave you heard about the rematch between Kasparov and Karpov, in commemoration of the classic matches of the 1980s? (I was always a Kasparov fan, myself). What is different about this time is that they are playing speed chess. (Collective sharp intake of breath… distant tinkling sound of dropped gins-and-tonic all over the web…) There’s a nice story by Giles Tremlett in the Guardian with some background on the earlier matches, their rivalry, and some discussion of the 80s era for those of you who suspect that period was only in black and white. There are some nice pictures (old and new) here. I cheekily borrowed the one above right (credited Kai Foersterling/EPA) for this post.

Look, the K vs K speed chess thing was bound to happen, given our increasingly limited collective attention span. Everybody is apparently too busy to take time to focus on anything for much of a length of time, so adjustments are happening to…

…see what I mean? Look around… Yep, you’re probably the only one who’s read this post this far, dear reader of good taste and discernment. Everybody else has been distracted by a twitter feed, facebook update, text message, scaremongering news flash, or just a shiny object…]

…various cultural icons around the world…. So long test cricket matches declined in popularity to be supplanted by Twenty20 cricket (US be warned: baseball games will one day be replaced by short games of rounders – just like soccer matches will be replaced by rounds of five-a-side – and my friends in the English department ought to start studying the art of the 140 character novel) and even the 100m sprint has become dramatically shorter, you may have noticed. What is the world coming to?

Anyway, I’ll admit that the idea sounds rather fun. To be honest, severely time limited chess brings out a different but quite interesting mix of skill sets, and at the level that the chess masters are playing I suspect that the quality of chess is still way beyond that which I’ve ever played or dreamed of playing even when I rose to the level of a half-decent player (for all of about a week or so back in the late 80s).

I decided to check on the progress of the matches a couple of days ago and found a “live commentary” on the Guardian’s website from earlier in the week, and I have to say it is hilarious (written as it is in the style of a commentary on a fast sport). So I thought I’d share it with you. It is here.



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6 Responses to Speed Demons

  1. Dayton says:

    As someone who knows nothing about the world of chess, my interest has been piqued. Maybe you can answer a couple questions. Why do chess players pass their prime after 40? Scientists and artists certainly maintain their skill past then. What’s so hard about chess after 40? Also, why are there so many draws? My middle school’s “chess team” didn’t involve anything so sophisticated as frequent draws.

  2. Clifford says:

    I don’t know the answers to these questions….. I suspect that the writer of the article essentially made up the number 40. As to why one’s “prime” might be considered as having been passed… I imagine it is based on what might be the optimum combination of depth of concentration and speed… for competition success, one can imagine that too much of one or the other would not be best, while the variation of each with age is probably different, and thus there’d be some likely optimum age for competitive chess. The comparison with scientists or artists then is not a good one since there is no timed competition taking place in a closed room going head to head*.

    That’s a wild guess.


    *Although that might make a damned good TV show… Hmmmmm…

  3. Elliot says:

    To follow on, I always found the age limit on the Fields medal to be annoying. After all at 57, I’m still trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up. And I’m already too old to win the Fields medal if I decide to do mathematics 😉


  4. Clifford says:

    Yes…. I too am a bit discouraged by the realization that the Fields people will now not look at my dazzling contributions to mathematics… The shock has meant that I’ve proven 50% fewer theorems ever since I passed the cutoff age… On the plus side, my lemma count has been holding strong…


  5. There is quite a lot of data on the strength of chess players at different ages, for example: http://db.chessmetrics.com/CM2/AgeLists.asp?Params=

  6. Lab Lemming says:

    Test cricket still draws a crowd- there were a lot of bleary-eyed people staggering around Australia in sleep-deprived hazes back in July.