Thursday, January 05, 2006

Almost Epiphany

Andrew plays chess often, both in person and online. Since I have known him he has haunted the chess aisle at Powell’s Books and at our main library where the strategy books are conveniently located near the poetry section.

He has introduced me to the world of chess. I’ve been with him to a couple of overheated tournaments, to the Portland Chess Club and have watched a Bulgarian (?) grand master play simultaneous games in a coffeehouse.

The other day he suggested I might want to think about taking photos of a tournament. Last night I picked up the December 12th, issue of The New Yorker and read this marvelous long article called Your Move by Tom Mueller, a freelancer living in Italy.

The engaging article is about chess programs and what happens when they play each other. It goes into the players and top programmers in the current world of chess and is full of a wide international cast of brilliant nerdy guys, intrigue and bad blood and a Sheik from the United Arab Emirates to help with some financing.

There was a point in a match between Hydra and Shredder where neither the programmers, nor the grand master consultants along for the ride knew what the programs were doing and why.

It turns out the chess programs are being creative.

“Experienced human players rely on subconscious faculties known variously as pattern recognition, visualization, and aesthetic sense. All are forms of educated guesswork—aids to making choices when certainty through exhaustive calculation is impossible—and may be summed up in a word: intuition.”

I am reading also the new children’s book The King in the Window by Adam Gopnik in which he is determined to prove the value of thinking over believing in response to what C.S. Lewis proposed in The Chronicles of Narnia.

In a rather delightful and preposterous dining out scene between the 12 year old protagonist Oliver and the dry but most witty old woman Mrs. Pearson, after proposing to proceed on instinct, this stern injunction is set forth…

“Craft, strategy, cunning tactics: thought. That is all that allows good to triumph. Renounce reason and you’re lost. Rely on your ‘inner sense,’ and you will make a mess of everything. Thinking is your only hope. Start thinking now and never stop. Outwit the evildoer! Learn to tell the difference between sound argument and slippery rhetoric. Discriminate between the Received Idea and the Enduring Truth…Think, and if you can’t think, read…it is your only hope.”

(Relating this all to poetry… thinking, intuition and hard won craft mixed with talent and output make a great poet. Wanting to believe one is; having people tell one; one is, is not enough.)

The book starts with the prize in an Epiphany cake.

Here on the night before the festival, those three wise men are almost where they need to be.

And that just might be a low ceiling hotel conference room full of chess nerds and a bunch of computer equipment.



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