Why play chess?

I am playing in the Irish Intermediate Chess tournament, in the Royal Dublin Hotel, on O’Connell St, this weekend. Five games of chess, that’s all.

I always get very nervous before these events, I don’t quite know why. I always finish mid-table, or worse, and only now and again do well. It isn’t nerves over winning or losing, plenty of both of which I have done recently. But for some reason, the tension just gets more and more as the game progresses. It starts within reason, because I have plenty of time, but gets unbearable for me in any time scramble. The worst moment is waiting for the opponents reply when you’ve just played a bad move. Aaargh.

It isn’t the thought of looking bad in front of others either. Aside from the odd onlooker (and let’s face it, chess fans are decidedly odd!), no-one knows or cares. That’s not strictly true, but let’s face it, I ain’t Vladimir Kramnik, and even he wouldn’t make it into an Irish newspaper.

I sometimes feel exhausted and deflated after a tournament. I once played a tournament in Galway where all three of my games on a Saturday finished more or less right to the end. That’s 3 and a half hours of intense effort for each game. That’s 10 and a half hours in a day, starting at 9.30am and not finishing until 11pm or later. I remember getting a pounding headache and hardly any sleep that night, only to have to play two more games on the Sunday! I’ve played tournaments where I’ve lost my first three games and spent the entire rest of it playing the other retards at the back of the hall. All the little kids in way above their heads, or the older players who’ve come out of retirement etc.

There’s no glamour, either. Indeed, I cannot think of a less glamorous hobby. It’s the same boring old faces every year, the venues don’t change, the conditions can vary from cold to stuffy, and, frankly, nobody really cares whether you win or lose.

So, the question has to be: why do it?

I don’t really know. Maybe it is the love of chess, pure and simple. I love the pieces, the board, the clock. I love the opening, the middle game, the ending. I love playing combinations or delivering mate. I love the exotic names of the openings, such as the Queen’s Indian, the King’s Indian, the Benko Gambit, the Ruy Lopez, the Guioco Piano, even the Bluemenfeld Counter Gambit. Who could resist the Kalashnikov variation? The Winawer variation of the French defence?

That still doesn’t explain it though. Maybe I’m just slightly insane.


The Phone Message

I’ve just finished watching a Seinfeld episode from 1991, called The Phone Message. George leaves a particularly nasty and hysterical series of messages on a date’s answering machine. He immediately regrets doing it and is devastated to think she’ll never call him again. It turns out, she’s been away for four days and hasn’t got the messages. So George makes elaborate plans to switch the tape in the machine before she gets home, which involve concocting a story to get into the girl’s apartment on her return, with Seinfeld, switch the tapes while she’s not looking, and exit the building.

But this whole thing had me confused. What is a tape? And what is an answering machine? I have some vague memory of these things. Indeed, in Ireland in the 1980’s , anybody with an answering machine was seriously posh. I mean, they were loaded. This whole plot just seemed so outdated and archaic. Yet it is only 1991!

Kramnik-Carlsen, Dortmund 2007

Kramnik thrashed Carlsen today. Simply crushed the young pretender. It all hinged around getting his two knights to clamp down on the c6 square, occupy it, and then win the b5 pawn. 18. Na5! was the key move in this sequence, with the rest looking so easy (of course, it wasn’t, but he makes it look easy!).  It is a classic, strategic win from Kramnik, a quite beautiful type of chess, that relies on positional judgement and simplicity rather than brute force or tactics. I make it sound almost automatic, but discovering where Carlsen went wrong is very difficult. A small masterpiece from Kramnik.

Alexejew has drawn with Leko, but the other games are still ongoing…

[Site “Dortmund, Germany”]
[Date “2007.06.27”]
[White “GM_Kramnik”]
[Black “GM_Carlsen”]
[Result “1-0”]
[Opening “Catalan: closed, 5.Nf3”]
[ECO “E06”]
1. Nf3 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. g3 d5 4. d4 Be7 5. Bg2 O-O 6. O-O dxc4 7. Qc2 a6 8. Qxc4 b5 9. Qc2 Bb7 10. Bd2 Nc6 11. e3 Nb4 12. Bxb4 Bxb4 13. a3 Be7 14. Nbd2 Rc8 15. b4 a5 16. Ne5 Nd5 17. Nb3 axb4 18. Na5 Ba8 19. Nac6 Bxc6 20. Nxc6 Qd7 21. Bxd5 exd5 22. axb4 Rfe8 23. Ra5 Bf8 24. Ne5 Qe6 25. Rxb5 Rb8 26. Rxb8 Rxb8 27. Qxc7 Bd6 28. Qa5 Bxb4 29. Rb1 Qd6 30. Qa4 White wins 1-0

Learned Incompetence

I came across an article on Yahoo the other day, called The Art of Showing Pure Incompetence at an Unwanted Task. Go read it, it is quite brilliant. The author calls his great idea, Strategic Incompetence. This is a concept worth understanding and putting into practice. Don’t be strategically incompetent at strategic incompetence!

He says: “Strategic incompetence isn’t about having a strategy that fails, but a failure that succeeds.” And: “To learn something at the office can be difficult. But to refrain from learning something requires years of practice and refinement.”

It goes like this: Anything you’d rather not do, just make a big pretence of being really bad at it. Feign puzzlement and clumsiness. Ask lots of dumb questions. For example, if you’d rather not spend half an hour photocopying stuff, just sigh loudly as you approach the machine, open it the wrong way, exclaim loudly “Oh gosh darn it, what is that red light blinking for?!” etc. Wait until some luckless good samaritan rescues you. They feel better (and superior), while you’re off the hook. Easy.

But does that explain why my IT boss pretends to know nothing about IT? Or most Irish builders make such a hames of a job that you’d nearly be tempted to do it for them? Or is it simpler than that: they really don’t know what they’re doing? Either way, it is scary. 

The Neck, part II


Beverley Flynn, sitting at home in Mayo, wondering how to pay off those nasty RTE types.


I saw this funny ad last night on the TV, for a product called Lifeline Hangover Defence, which promises to be the complete hangover cure. I don’t know if it works – it probably doesn’t. But who am I to tell? Anyway, what I found more interesting is the marketing on their website, which is so wonderfully, unintentionally funny.

  1. They sponsor Bray Wanderers football club. They lie third last in the Irish Premier league. How apt!
  2. They got the HARLEQUIN LADIES’ RUGBY TEAM no less, to try their product, with amazing results apparently. I have a picture of this in my head and it ain’t pretty. Here they are “training”. One side effect of taking Lifeline is that you have to put the empty glass on your head for it to work. harlequins-ladys-team.jpg
  3. Their Managing Director is called Kevin Haig. Is it just coincidence that his surname is the same as a well-known brand of Scotch whisky?
  4. In his blurb he states, quite spookily, “We’re firm believers in the “win – win” approach to business and life in general – if everyone can benefit from any deal or relationship, then that’s much stronger and long-term than simply taking people’s money.” Such sound and sage advice to any budding entrepeneurs out there! Since when was “just taking people’s money” a business. It is called stealing. And yet he feels the need to point this out to people considering buying his product! That’s hilarious.
  5. They pitch the old Irish connection to the hilt. “Lifeline was developed as a safe, natural product for Irish drinkers. In Ireland we like to work hard and party hard.” And: “The fact that Lifeline is such a popular product in its native Ireland is your guarantee that it works – for if a product of this type can work in Ireland, it can work anywhere!!!” Oh god, pass me a bucket.
  6. What I find most fantastically funny however, is the fact that they keep harping on about how “the finest natural ingredients” blended with “the highest grade vegetable carbon” and “sourced from the crystal clear waters of the Atlantic Ocean off the clean and beautiful West coast of Ireland” make this a great product. Honestly, who gives a monkeys?! If you’re about to drink your head off and fill yourself with pint after pint of toxic chemicals, you’re hardly likely to care a jot whether those two tiny pills you took at the start are full of life-enhancing, natural ingredients, now are you? I mean, who are they kidding?! They could sell it as “the scabs squeezed off the hind legs of a syphilitic donkey” and people would still buy it.


PS: The Advertising watchdog in ireland upheld complaints about them last year.

Casa Mila, Barcelona


Casa Mila, or “La Predera” (the quarry).

Photos from a trip to Barcelona a couple of years back. Something got me thinking about this today. Surreal, beautiful, one of a kind. And the building ain’t bad either… 🙂

Right man for the job

Eriksson: An insipid, passionless, dreary, win-nothing, has-been spoofer deserves a club like Manchester City. But their fans have suffered enough mediocrity, they hardly deserve more of it, do they?

Yes, actually, they do. And that’s me speaking as a totally unbiased Manchester United fan. 


I hate I CAN HAS CHEEZBURGER? I hate it.

There, I said it. I feel much better now.

Must calm down, must calm down…

Green Minister

John Gormley was “too busy” to meet TaraWatch campaigner’s yesterday, apparently. Too busy to save Ireland’s heritage, or listen to new evidence concerning archeological finds on the route, too busy to offer hope that his predecessor’s decisions might be reversed. Too busy to send a representative down to meet them? Too busy to do anything? Or was it just that he felt he might be pelted with eggs (organic of course)?

Green Party and Tara = Try A Partner Agenda

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