Archive for November, 2007

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The importance of initiative in chess

November 30, 2007

Even when you are losing, you sustain hopes of a miracle as long as you hold the initiative. If you can hold the initiative long enough, sometimes your opponent blunders, leaving you with a draw or win.

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In the above position, I, as white, blundered and grabbed the knight, completely forgetting that black gets to grab my bishop with check, and then picks up my knight on the next move. Now my only hope in the game was to make something of his undeveloped queenside and put pressure with my rooks and queen along the c and d files. After a few more moves, we reached the following position:

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Thus far, black has sustained the pressure very well, coping both against the pressure on c8 and d7. Here, the simple Qe5 holds the position very well and my attack is finally losing all steam. But having come this far, he blunders and plays Bb7. All of a sudden, d7 is weak again and a move later, it is time to resign. Pressure does funny things to people!

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Computer Scientist v Software Engineer

November 29, 2007

In our field, I think of those involved in academia and research projects as computer scientists. The most common benchmark used to measure computer scientists’ performance is to look at research papers and/or books they have published. Since the results of their research are usually closely inspected by their peers and some of which is tested out empirically in commercial applications, a lot of their work is spent in proving the correctness of their results.

A software engineer, on the other hand, is measured by the quality of the products he has helped deliver. If his applications are robust and perform well, he is worth his weight in gold. Unless you work in a very specialized field, when is the last time a customer asked you to deliver an application along with a formal, mathematical proof?

I like to refer to computer scientists as idealists and software engineers as pragmatists. Until recently, I wanted to be one of the former. A few years ago, a professor of mine called me into his office for a meeting where he suggested I study for a PhD. Despite being sorely tempted, I declined his offer then, but kept it as a definite option for later.

After a break of several years, I have had the opportunity to read several research papers this year. They have shown me I will never again be a computer scientist. Theory just seems too dry a subject now; it is a lot more interesting to create solutions in the real world. Reading a recent research paper written by someone I knew 6 years ago, doing stuff similar to what he was doing back then, drives home the point that I am very happy having moved on in life.

If the field of computer science can be pictured as a tree-like data structure, I’d rather traverse the breadth of the tree than traverse down to the leaf in any given branch. Some people call it being the jack of all trades and the master of none. I call it a richer life experience.

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Blog spammers

November 25, 2007

Susan Polgar (originally Zsuzsa Polgár) is a very famous chess personality. She is most famous for being the eldest of the Polgar sisters and although youngest sister Judit is the strongest player (having spent a considerable amount of time in the top 10), Susan was certainly among the top 2-3 women during her regular playing days. These days she is busy evangelizing the game to kids, promoting it in schools, running her own chess club, providing live commentary for important games, and most recently agreeing to coach the Texas Tech chess team. She, along with her husband Paul Truong, are also involved in an extremely politicized and controversial lawsuit.

Anyway, the point of this post. Susan Polgar has been a fairly active blogger for well over 2 years now. In the past few months, her activity has risen to new heights – my guesstimate is that she produces 15 new posts a day. But, the quality of the blog has gone right down. The posts are reduced to pictures, providing chess results from around the world and providing updates on her activities – either uninteresting to me (and I would imagine most people), or something I’d rather read on a chess news site, not a blog. Occasionally, she will also pose chess problems for her readers to solve.

Now, I understand – its her blog. She’s free to use it as she chooses. If she only wants to post crap, its her prerogative. If it feels like spam on my Google Reader, I can unsubscribe from her feed. So what’s the problem?

Once in a blue moon, she writes something that’s worth reading. She might (gasp!) write about her opinion on a chess-related matter. Or even provide analysis and GM-insight into a game played by top players.

Is it worth subscribing to a spammer’s blog for the occasional gem it might spit out?

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More chess…

November 23, 2007

Another game from a few weeks ago.

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I love my pawns

November 22, 2007

This is a game I played a few weeks ago against a pretty decent player. The game itself wasn’t noteworthy, but to go 36 moves in a game (until black resigned) without giving up a single pawn is rare indeed.

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Once an engineer, always an engineer?

November 22, 2007

A bunch of us from work were taken earlier this week to an offsite location to build a prototype to solve a business problem. There were six teams in all – from various parts of the firm, and each team had its share of software people, hardware people and business people. We were to compete and the team to win would receive a pretty cool prize.

We lost, and we lost badly. Quite a few of us were very frustrated by the end of it. When you lose, it hurts twice as much – just ask Nigel or Robbie.

But it is still useful if you gain some practical knowledge and/or information out of it. I learnt quite a few:

  • None of the teams actually solved the business problem. None even came close. Ergo, the business doesn’t know how to solve the problem.
  • Apparently, the business has been trying to address the problem for 2 years now. Since they haven’t yet done that and no else in the industry has filled that gap in the interim, no one knows how to solve the problem yet.
  • The firm didn’t know what to expect from the teams. While they figured one of the teams might actually solve it in a best-case-scenario, they bargained on solutions which would take advantage of the gap in the market in the short-term.
  • The teams who did well in the competition were the ones who realized this early and focussed on very narrow chunks of the entire problem.
  • When the judges mainly comprise of business suits, they are mainly interested in £££ and $$$ signs.
  • That makes perfect sense to the pragmatist in me. The idealist in me shudders at the very thought.
  • And most importantly of all, the engineer in me would LOVE to know if there is an answer to the problem. Not to make money, but just to satisfy my curiosity. That’s probably why I will never be rich.
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Christen him Vladimir Catalan

November 14, 2007

Its supposed to be a quiet opening. Over the past couple of years however, that’s exactly what its not been when Kramnik plays it as white. A quick on-line search shows him +8 =5 against human opposition since 2006. His victims have been Topalov, Naiditsch (twice), Anand, Morozevich, Leko (twice) and Carlsen. Add to that another +2 =1 at the ongoing Tal Memorial (this time, its been Leko and Shirov, with the draw against Carlsen) and that’s a combined +10 = 6 against the best players in the world.

Incredible. So much so that Anand avoided it altogether against him in the World Championship and focused on the Semi-Slav instead!

Update: Another Catalan, another win as he beats Alekseev in round 6. What is this guy on, seriously!