Gary Marcus writes,
An algorithm that is good at chess won’t help parsing sentences, and one that parses sentences likely won’t be much help playing chess.
That is soooo true. I’m excellent at parsing sentences but I’m not so great at chess. And, worse than that, my chess ability seems to be declining from year to year.
Which reminds me: I recently read Frank Brady’s much lauded Endgame, a biography of Bobby Fischer. The first few chapters were great, not just the Cinderella story of his steps to the world championship, but also the background on his childhood and the stories of the games and tournaments that he lost along the way.
But after Fischer beats Spassky in 1972, the book just dies. Brady has chapter after chapter on Fisher’s life, his paranoia, his girlfriends, his travels. But, really, after the chess is over, it’s just sad and kind of boring. I’d much rather have had twice as much detail on the first part of the life and then had the post-1972 era compressed into a single chapter. I mean, sure, I respect that Brady wanted to tell the full life story, and I’m not telling him how he should’ve written his book, I’m just giving my reactions.
Also, I would’ve liked more information on the games: what was the amazing set of moves that Fischer did in the so-called Game of the Century, what happened in some of the games he lost, and so on. In an afterword, Brady writes that he decided not to include any games so as to make the book more accessible. What I wonder is, how many readers are there like me, who enjoy chess, could understand a diagram and some discussion of what these amazing plays were, even if we couldn’t follow an entire game written on the page or have the patience to play one out on the board. I wouldn’t have gotten much out of transcripts of chess games, but a few diagrams and discussions of key moments, that would’ve made the book a lot more interesting to me.
P.S. After Kasparov beat Karpov in the final game of their tournament—the game where both players knew that Kasparov had to win, that a draw wouldn’t be enough—I clipped the game out of the newspaper and later played it out with my dad. That was a game. To my ignorant eyes, there was no single point where I could spot a mistake by Karpov. Kasparov just gradually and imperceptibly got to a winning position. Amazing.