Episode 647: Look at the Board

On the Overthinking It Podcast, we consider what makes our diversions so diverting. Maybe it’s because every is streaming chess now?

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Peter Fenzel, Mark Lee, and Matthew Wrather consider why chess is having a moment, how politicians and others can take the game into multiple dimensions, why the number of dimensions is to space combat in general and Star Wars in particular, and why we need these distractions at all (now not actually more than ever, but, you know, fine).

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4 Comments on “Episode 647: Look at the Board”

  1. John C Member #

    My experience of chess was that, as a child, it was mostly media shorthand for “this person is smart.” And because “smart” was part of my identity, I tried to enjoy it, because that’s what smart people do. It wasn’t really until high school that I started looking at how much memorization was involved for “good” play and how little interest I had in planning ahead for purely abstract or competitive reasons. And I realized that I probably wasn’t entitled to call myself smart and it was dumb to try to signal myself as smart with random shibboleths, so I stopped playing and haven’t really looked back.

    That seemed interesting in context, especially with the assorted Ted Lasso references, since the show’s central theme is basically “who am I, if I can’t be the one thing I’ve been calling myself?” Turns out, you’re the same person, but a version who learned that making anything central to your identity is maybe not the healthiest life choice.

    Anyway, I was probably never going to be good at chess, though, because I’ve always tended to be more of a generalist. My joke at job interviews is that I never call myself an “expert” at anything, because that’s just an invitation for someone to decide that you need to be humbled, which wastes everybody’s time.


  2. yellojkt Member #

    You sent me down a rabbit hole of watching Alexandra Botez chess videos. I haven’t played chess in literally decades and watching speed chess on the internet is dizzingly confusing. Pieces move faster than I can watch.

    And of interest to the podcast, this one has her randomly getting assigned Hikaru and she crashes and burns. As she points out in the post-mortem she absolutely chokes against a clear grandmaster.



  3. Liffer Member #

    “Child rearing counts as one” … nice try, Matt.

    Mine just turned three and I’m firmly with Fenzel and Mark here. The “activity” of child rearing may count as one thing at any discrete moment, but it is a progression of new challenges that are wildly different from what came before.

    To use a music analogy, raising children is not a natural progression (well actually, maybe it’s the *most* natural progression, but hear me out) — like how a piano player starts with a simple tune and then over many hours of practice can perform complex and lengthy scores. Instead, it lulls you into a false sense of confidence. After many hours learning your child’s likes, dislikes, and triggers, when you finally get good, everything changes again. New challenges, different preferences, and different goals — you need to teach them to eat, then to move, then to *not* move so much, then to voice their opinion, then to *not* voice their opinion so loudly, then to share, but also to assert themselves, and then there’s potty training… It would be as if, every 2-3 months, your piano’s keys randomly rearranged themselves — sure, technically it’s the same instrument and you can play the same music, but it would essentially be a “new” skill to figure out where the notes ended up and to re-train your body to produce them harmoniously … also every year or so your piano changes into different class of instrument entirely (brass, woodwind, dial-up modem…).

    So I submit that parenting is a singular skill if, and only if, a broad category like “music” or “sports” is also just one skill.


  4. yellojkt Member #

    Hikaru is now in second place at some sort of online tournament with 16 grandmasters that has $100k in total prizes. Having no idea how esports work, this seems like a lot less than say Starcraft or League of Legends. Multiple sites were streaming it so I have no idea what their total audience was.

    The rules for online play are interesting in how the verify the players are not getting any assistance. They have two cameras on them at all times and cannot use any electronics including headphones.


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