Speed Chess and the Male Ego


Having participated in a number of Ricochet conversations over the last few days on the decline of the West, the coming conflict in the Middle East–as Michael Barone wrote the other day, “I take it seriously when…non-hawks say Obama might bomb Iran”–and the general sense of economic, strategic, and world-historical gloom, I’d like to pause for a moment to note that summer in America is still pretty marvelous. Here in Northern California we’re on our thirtieth or fortieth straight day of cloudless skies and gentle breezes, and the five Robinson children, home for the summer, are busying themselves with tennis lessons (the oldest is teaching lessons, the two youngest, taking them), football, water polo, and studying for the many versions of the SAT. Two or three evenings a week, we’ve been watching a movie together–last night, “Chariots of Fire” (which, after some three decades, still holds up wonderfully). And–the big news here–I’ve just stumbled across a solution to the problem of playing chess with my three teenaged sons.

Chess with the boys used to involve two problems: It took too long. And the loser was always sore. (None of the boys likes to lose to Dad. Dad likes losing to the boys even less. We just seem to be built that way.) Speed chess, which I read about on some website or other–I have the feeling I’m the last adult in America to have heard of it–solves both problems. Get a stopwatch, then set a time limit on each move–one minute for games in the middle of the day, two for games in the evening. What happens? Each game moves a lot faster. That’s the change you’d expect. What you might not expect–what I certainly didn’t–is that each game also becomes a lot more light-hearted. Why? Because the stopwatch provides cover, enabling the loser to say, as my boys and I have all said once or twice now, “Well, okay, you win. But if this had been a real game, things would have been different.”

Mothers, this may strike you as silly. But dads–dads will understand.

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  1. Profile Photo Member

    Ah, yes. Been there. Am there. We use a chess clock with a 5 sec. delay. It prevents the really bone-headed moves because you can take up to five seconds without any tick of your clock. It also turns chess into a somewhat more athletic game: you move as fast as possible then lunge to whack your clock, which immediately activates your opponent’s clock. From a distance, it looks and sounds more like Hungry, Hungry Hippos than Kasparov/Deep Blue.

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  2. Profile Photo Member

    Dad is Superman until his back goes out the first time.

    I almost wrote in this Ricochet thread about the translations of Chess into video games. There are many games of strategy which exist only as video games — Real-Time Strategy (RTS) is a popular genre which combines strategy and tactics, like football — and many that are sold in multiple forms (Monopoly, Carcassonne, Liar’s Dice, etc). But Chess remains a very popular game in software form. Most versions mimic the physical medium exactly or merely add animations.

    However, some developers have sought to improve Chess by enabling players to adjust the difficulty of AI opponents and demonstrating various strategies used by professional players. And internet “matchmaking” means that kids can always find a game (with or without chat or video capabilities) when Dad isn’t home.

    I’m curious, Peter, what you think of the kids learning professional Chess strategies. I’m not sure Chess is dynamic enough that football playbooks would be an apt comparison. As an explorer, rather than an achievement-focused gamer, I always thought it was more fun to just wing it.

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  3. Profile Photo Inactive
    Chess sort of died at my home, but my kids discovered a game that desperately needs a clock: Risk. The games go on forever. They used to get me to play so that about an hour in to the game, I would stand up, storm away from the table, muttering, “To h*** with this stupid game.”
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  4. Profile Photo Contributor

    Scott, do can you give me a link to a place where I can order a chess clock just like yours? Sounds just perfect. (So far, we’ve just been using a little Timex wristwatch.)

    To tell you the truth, Aaron, I’ve resisted getting into chess too deeply. I myself don’t have the time. And the boys? I don’t want them to be able to beat me too regularly. If there were some sort of “Chess for Beginners” video or software that you could recommend, though–and that the boys and I could use together–I’d love to give it a try.

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  5. Profile Photo Inactive

    I have no idea how my last posting ended up with thay typeface. You should be thankful I’m not a pilot.

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  6. Profile Photo Member

    ExcaliberElectronics.com; Ours is a Game Time II, “The official chess clock of the U.S. Chess Fed.” (My son, my younger brother, and my dad are hardcore.)

    Also: nowadays, the most basic hand-held electronic travel games (with different skill-level options, etc.) can give all but the most diehard players an even game.

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  7. Profile Photo Inactive

    Used to have a Prof that played many games of chess simultaneously. Sort of a Severus Snape character (who I admire as a teacher, at least). But I thought half the fun of chess (or any other game: Backgammon, Senet, etc) was hanging out and shooting the breeze.

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  8. Profile Photo Member

    TR, Electronic Arts and Hasbro recently released a more time-conscious variation of RISK.

    Peter, it has been years since I played Chess in any form, but I’ll do a little research and see if anything extraordinary has been released in recent years.

    I invite all of you to see how far strategy games have come. That game is over four years old now, yet it remains my favorite strategy game. The “War of the Ring” mode involves a RISK-like strategic map that enables two players to fight cooperatively (online) in an epic campaign, rather than a single battle, against multiple AI opponents (often simultaneously). Controlling territories and regions offers bonuses in battle. Allies can build a unified base or act independently. It’s a game with tremendous depth, dynamism, and is as much a joy to behold as it is to play.

    Peter, if you’d like to see your boys challenged, I strongly recommend Battle for Middle Earth 2. You would enjoy watching them play it, but the controls are likely too complex for someone who doesn’t often play video games. The Xbox version is inferior to the PC version.

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  9. Profile Photo Inactive

    Play Bughouse

    Teams. You play white, your partner plays black. It’s a timed game – 5 minutes total.

    As you take pieces, you can either

    1. Make a move


    2. Place one of your partner’s captured pieces on the board.

    It’s a very cool game.

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  10. Profile Photo Member
    Aaron Miller: TR, Electronic Arts and Hasbro recently released a more time-conscious variation of RISK.

    A more time-conscious variation of RISK would seem to “play” against the nature of RISK the board game, which requires much long-term strategy and farsightedness to play well.

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  11. Profile Photo Member

    I look forward to the day when I can play my kids in chess. For now, I have to be satisfied with mesmerizing my two year old with my (not so) awesome yo-yo skills.

    For those of you who like history and video games the “total war” games are great. Whenever I am bored I can come back to my Rome: Total War game and waste hours of my life working toward world domination.

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  12. Profile Photo Contributor

    When I play it’s ten minutes per side. Whole game is over in less than 20 minutes. Any slower it’s like watching grass grow.

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  13. Profile Photo Member

    Speaking of water polo … are the Robinson’s are coming to Southern Cal for the Junior Olympics? If so, perhaps a “meetup” could be arranged. I’ll do the arranging …

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  14. Profile Photo Member

    Actually, my brothers and I had similar situations with both of my parents. We played chess with our Dad … he was better and won consistently but was a good winner. We played cards (cribbage and gin) and Yahtzee with our mother and the games were cutthroat. She gave no quarter, even when we were small.

    Neither of my younger brothers cared much for sports, so there wasn’t much of that, although we had more than our share of fistfights.

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  15. Profile Photo Inactive

    There is only One True Strategy Game. That game is Diplomacy. How long can you maintain the pretense, keep up the facade? If you can keep friends after you’ve stuck in the knife, you’re on easy street.

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  16. Profile Photo Inactive

    I don’t play much chess any more, but I do look forward to teaching my boys how to play when they get a little older. I guess I’m like Zoon above, it’s very easy to impress them with how far I can hit a golf ball or cast a fishing rod (neither far compared to many). While learning to play as a kid and then teen, I found the sitting over the board pondering a few moves ahead an interesting part of the game, but then I played mostly against an older fellow who was a close family friend and not against my dad.

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