Tag Archives: Seinfeld

Oh, the humanity!


Those of you following the Candidates will know that Round 12 was a day of high drama as the leaders swapped places. Carlsen lost his first game of the tournament, and that too, to a tail-ender in Ivanchuk. Meanwhile, Aronian continued his slide, falling to Kramnik as white.

That combination (and Kramnik’s current 4.5/5 run), means that Vlad takes a half-point lead with two games to play. Tomorrow, it’s Kramnik – Gelfand and Radjabov – Carlsen; on Monday, it’s Ivanchuk – Kramnik and Carlsen – Svidler.  It’ll be very interesting to see how Magnus responds and whether Kramnik continues his run.

I have a lot of thoughts on how things stand right now … so as the king said, I’ll begin at the beginning, but then I’ll go on till I pass the end of this event.

First, I should say that I was hoping to see Anand go up against some of the young blood in Carlsen or Aronian. While I think Kramnik’s chess level might never have been higher (his middlegame play has definitely improved since his 2008 loss to Anand, and his opening preparation is as deep but broader than in his 2000 win against Kasparov), I’ve already seen an Anand – Kramnik match. But chess-wise, it’s hard to argue with Kramnik. 

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“Please, a little respect, for I am Costanza, Lord of the Idiots!”

The US Championships ended a couple weeks ago (on May 25th), and I apologize for being a bit slow for writing about that event. It took me a while to come up with the correct title. =)

I’ll start with the finish, and then work my way there from the beginning. I ended up with 3.5/9, tied for 18th place with GM Melik Khachiyan, GM Alex Lenderman, and IM Levon Altounian. The minus-2 result was a big disappointment, as I had been generally playing well leading up to the event, and I had higher hopes for my first US Championship.

The title was taken in tiebreaks this year by GM Gata Kamsky over GM Yury Shulman. Both finished the set of regular games with 7.0/10 (5.0/7 in the main event, and then 2.0/3 in the quad), and by holding a draw with black in the sudden-death tiebreak game, Kamsky won the title.

I knew I would be playing Shulman in the first round (in a closed field, it’s not difficult to figure out where the cut is made), but the colors were up in the air. When Nakamura drew the black envelope at the opening ceremony, it was clear Yury would have the white pieces against me. Not ideal, but so it goes. Shulman and I share a lot of the same openings – as white we both play 1.d4, while as black, we both play the French and Semi-Slav Defenses. Thus, I was a bit wary of walking into some home-cooking and surprised him right away in the opening with the Queen’s Gambit Declined.

There were some interesting middlegame moments, but one of the key moments was when we reached the following endgame:

(FEN: 2r3k1/p4ppp/4n3/p6b/8/P3PN1P/R3BPP1/6K1 b - - 0 24)

White has just played 24.h3, creating some luft for his king. However, there is a second idea behind the idea, which explains why Yury chose that pawn move instead of 24.g3. After h3, White threatens to sideline Black’s bishop with 25.g4 and then 26.Ne5. Black’s bishop could come out to e4 then (or f7 if he plays 24…f6), but the real problem then is that while White’s knight can be used to target the queenside, Black’s bishop has no real active prospects. Thus, while 24…Bxf3! might look a bit unnatural (giving up the bishop for a knight in an open position), it is definitely the right move. After exchanging off the bishop, I activated my rook and knight, fixing the weakness on a3 in the process. Eventually, to save his a3-pawn, Yury had to give up his bishop for my knight and then an exchange of a3 for a7 ensued.

(FEN: 8/4kp2/R5p1/4P1Kp/7P/p5P1/5P2/r7 b - - 4 44)

It’s a rook and pawn endgame with equal material and no obvious weaknesses. Furthermore, Black has an outside passed pawn. So what kind of trouble could he ever be in?

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Scent of a Chessplayer

(h/t to D. Huynh for the comic, taken from Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal at http://www.smbc-comics.com/)

I don’t care that much for the first 3 frames, but that last frame is classic. I was reminded of it at Cappelle (and in Gibraltar … and in Sevilla for that matter …) when I saw some GMs who seem to think that one change of clothes for a couple weeks on the road is enough. And no, the occasional Febreeze-ing doesn’t make it cool.

I can’t seem to find a clip of it on YouTube, but getting stuck on a neighboring board can be like sitting in the car from the Beyond B.O episode in Seinfeld.

The Joy of Standardized Testing (Not!)


With a bit of a lull in my chess schedule (I haven’t played a tournament since the SPICE Cup ended on September 27), I had decided to take the GRE to get it out of the way. I’m not applying to graduate school this fall, but as I’m likely to at some point, it’d be nice to take it when I’m not particularly busy with a tournament or job.

It’s been a while since I’ve taken a test of any kind and even longer since I’ve taken a standardized test. This was also the first time I took a computer-adaptive test. While the GRE is supposed to be an exam that pretty much all prospective graduate students take, I was surprised by the subject content.

On the one hand, the verbal section was quite difficult. I was happy with my score, but it could easily have gone the other way had I not been exposed to some of the more difficult words. Is a vocabulary test the best measure of how well a prospective graduate student is going to do? I highly doubt it.

One of the more difficult words I had to identify (and did) on a practice test was nostrum. While some words were part of a practice vocabulary list culled from a prep book, nostrum wasn’t such a word. Luckily, though, I have seen pretty much every Seinfeld episode and had done a little research.

In one of the episodes where he pretends to be a doctor, Kramer plays the role of Dr. Peter Van Nostrum. Take a look at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pyossoHFDJg

He pretends to be a similar doctor when he “diagnoses” George Costanza’s boss with a potentially dangerous mole. A little trivia behind the episode reveals that nostrum means “a usually questionable remedy or scheme.” Luckily that pointed to panacea as the antonym and I was in business. But, as the test is adaptive, answering such a question incorrectly could lead to a much lower score, and so once you miss a question, it lowers your score and gives you a simpler question. Especially near the start of the test when the program’s “prediction” of your score is moving around much more, this takes on increased importance.

Meanwhile, the math section is quite sad in my view. Despite being a test for college graduates, the math on the section is not really any more difficult than on the SAT and is at a basic high-school level. It tests basic arithmetic, algebra, and geometry – if you’re doing well, you might get a simple statistics or probability question. Why even bother making a math test like this? Getting a perfect score means you’re only in about the 95th percentile. These schools can already get our SAT score without too much trouble – why make people jump through the same hoop so many times?

The only section that seems to test something really relevant is the analytical writing section. You have to write two essays, one presenting an argument in favor of or against a claim and then one analyzing an argument presented to you. This actually does test your ability to think logically while also allowing you to demonstrate a command of the language. For pretty much any graduate student, this seems like an important skill. The math and verbal sections, though, are pretty much useless in my view. Instead, a specific subject test of your desired field seems to be more appropriate.

Another strange part of the exam experience is the strict rules at the testing center. No food or drink is permitted in the testing hall (which I guess makes some sense, since they don’t want people spilling stuff on the computers), but they even have policies on the number of tissues you can take in! Another test-taker had a runny nose and took 3 tissues from the Kleenex box. The proctor immediately told him that there was a limit of 2 tissues in the room at any given time, and that if he wanted to blow his nose, he would have to exit the room (which involves showing ID and signing in and out)!

By the way, I gave an example of a word from a practice test because as part of a confidentiality agreement that every test-taker is bound by, I can’t talk about any question that I actually received on the test. This might partly be a result an ETS mistake, whereby their question pool is relatively small, and so questions can get repeated if you sit for the exam more than once. This was more of an issue in the mid-1990s, but I would hope it’s been resolved by now. I don’t plan on taking the GRE again, but if the question pool is still pretty small, then that could introduce a lot of bias into the scores.