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Archive for the ‘Nerdy stuff’ Category

Grandmaster plays chess hustler in Washington Square Park

The highlight of the game is when the chess hustler, losing to the grandmaster, attempts to cheat by using sleight of hand to remove his opponent’s knight from the board, but grandmaster Maurice Ashley doesn’t let him get away with it.

Maurice Ashely’s family moved from Jamaica (the island nation) to a ghetto neighborhood in Brooklyn (Brownsville) when he was 12, and he went to Brooklyn Tech high school (which requires an admissions test to get into, but you needed a much lower score than you needed to get into Stuyvesant).

At Stuyvesant, several of the black kids were avid chess players. I had no hope playing against them.

* * *

Why aren’t there more black grandmasters? My theory is that, with affirmative action, a black with the mental discipline needed to play chess can get a much more profitable career doing something else.

Written by Lion of the Blogosphere

December 11, 2020 at 11:48 AM

Girl power and chess

Here’s an article about a Chinese girl in Toronto who plays chess. And a pretty good chess player, the top-ranked female in the entire nation of Canada. I could certainly never play at that level (even though it’s probably a level that’s quite a bit below the top-ranked male chess player in Canada).

Like many of these articles, the spin is, how great it is that women are finally getting into chess because of the popularity of that Netflix series. But no one ever asks why that’s a good thing, why it matters. It’s not as if there’s any money in playing chess. Does being a good chess player help you find a job outside of chess? I don’t think so. Is it just a bias that things that men do are inherently better than the things that women do? And it’s always better for women to be more like men? (Although I have to admit that I hold the opinion that playing chess is a better use of time than going shopping.)

Written by Lion of the Blogosphere

December 11, 2020 at 10:22 AM

Will chess become popular with women?

An article in today’s NY Times says that “‘The Queen’s Gambit’ Is Inspiring Women to Take Up Chess.”

The actress Beth Behrs has a new obsession — chess — and the Netflix series “The Queen’s Gambit” is to blame. Her obsession even got her into trouble on the set of the CBS show “The Neighborhood,” where she plays Gemma Johnson.

“They yelled at me at work yesterday because I was hiding my phone under my script,” she said. “I should have been acting and I was playing on”

As typical for this type of “reporting,” the journalist who wrote the article found a few people to prove the articles point of view, and then headily announces that it’s a new trend.

Now fact-based reporting, not found in this article, does tell us that chess as increased in popularity many times normal since the release of the Netflix series, and statistics from websites like tell us that a higher percentage of the new signups are women than is typical for the chess site, but still despite the Netflix series being about a female chess player, a very solid majority of the newly-interested chess players are male.

According to an article at, chess streamer Antonio Radić says “Normally my viewership is 98% male, 2% female. Right now, as we’re experiencing this boom, it’s now up to 3.6% female, so nearly doubled.”

According to Google Trends, searches for “chess” have approximately tripled since The Queen’s Gambit game out. Google doesn’t break down by men vs women, but it does tell us that chess is most popular in Vermont and least popular in Mississippi.

I do believe that women are heavily influenced by trends, so if it’s perceived that chess is the new trend for women, then more women will try it, at least for a while. But ultimately, I think that despite the new promotion of girl chess players, chess is something that the vast majority of people with two X chromosomes will find BORING.

* * *

Can women even play as well as men? Obviously a top female chess player like Judit Polgar can beat the vast majority of men, but it’s unknown if the average woman lacks raw ability to play the game compared to the average man, or if they just don’t play as well because only men can get so interested in playing and winning at chess that they devote a huge amount of time and mental resources into getting better at it.

* * *

Chess can be profitable for an attractive young women because it’s much more exciting for viewers to watch such an attractive young woman stream chess online than to watch a man with the same playing ability.

Written by Lion of the Blogosphere

December 10, 2020 at 1:00 PM

Posted in Nerdy stuff

You don’t have to be that smart to be good at chess

The conventional wisdom is that you have to be smart to play chess well. I think the conventional wisdom on this is entirely wrong.

I will point out again that g (the general factor of intelligence) is the ability to reason and learn. Furthermore, g applies mostly to a specific type of learning, learning by reasoning. Learning by memorization or learning by mimicking are not g-intensive tasks. Learning Japanese seems to me to be a very difficult task, but even stupid children in Japan are able to speak it fluently. Thus not all difficult mental tasks are highly g-loaded. Children learn to speak by mimicking and not by reasoning.

As a blog reader once pointed out to me, the way that most children learn to play chess is highly g-loaded. They are taught the rules (which are somewhat complicated and require a certain minimum level of intelligence to understand), and then they have to figure out for themselves what the correct strategies are. It’s the figuring stuff out for yourself that’s a highly g-loaded task.

Luckily for would-be chess players of only average intelligence, smart people in the past have already figured out the strategies. With proper instruction, chess doesn’t require an above average intelligence, it just requires a lot of memorization (of openings, end games, and various strategy rules), and a lot of mental concentration (to scan the board for all possible dangers and play out several moves in one’s head). Yes, it’s a difficult mental task, but not a mental task which requires reasoning or learning by reasoning. Thus we see the phenomenon of an intermediate school in the ghetto with an excellent chess team. No, this doesn’t mean that kids in Harlem are just as smart as kids in Larchmont, it means that with good instruction and lots of practice, the kids in Harlem can be trained to play chess well, just as they can understand English a lot better than much smarter kids in Japan.

This also explains the phenomenon of not-very-bright chess hustlers in Washington Square Park.

At the very highest levels of chess playing, it has been suggested that g becomes more important, because grandmasters have moved beyond the stage where they can rely on strategies figured out by others and they have to figure out new and novel advanced strategies by themselves, which is a reasoning task. But maybe with chess software to help figure out strategies, even grandmasters don’t have to be as smart as they used to be.

Written by Lion of the Blogosphere

December 4, 2020 at 10:43 AM

Posted in Biology, Nerdy stuff

Is it really socially acceptable to be nerdy?

An article at Newsday trying to explain the alleged “resurgence” of Dungeons & Dragons on Long Island, states:

7. Being nerdy has become socially acceptable. When Finger played D&D in high school in the 1980s, “it was the geekiest of the geeky things you could do. Now it seems like everything nerdy is kind of cool.”

When I was in middle school, being nerdy was like the second worst thing after being a faggot, so I have a hard time wrapping my head around the assertion that nowadays “nerdy is kind of cool.”

Written by Lion of the Blogosphere

December 6, 2019 at 9:58 AM

Posted in Nerdy stuff

Dungeons and Dragons advice in the New Yorker

This is interesting not for the quality of the advice (which is ho-hum at best), but the fact that there’s an article like this in the New Yorker in the first place. Maybe someone over there has been reading my blog and decided to join me aboard the D&D bandwagon.

Written by Lion of the Blogosphere

November 20, 2019 at 9:25 AM

Posted in Nerdy stuff

Magic in D&D 5e

Ack-acking writes in a comment:

I know in the older system, it was near-universally agreed that the wizard was the best class, especially at higher levels. So you might start off with a party where everyone is equally useful, but over time whoever plays the wizard does everything while the fighter types stand around uselessly.

Excellent question.

Gary Gygax hated people who played magic users. They started off at first level being able to cast one spell per day, and after they used up their one spell, all they could do was throw darts for 1d3 damage. Assuming they could even get the spell off. In the old rules, a spellcaster had to declare what spell they were going to cast at the beginning of the round, and then if anyone attacked you at all during the round, that was the end of the spell.

But the worst thing about being a spellcaster in original Gygax D&D was that you would have to memorize your spells on a per-slot basis. So if you had three first level spell slots, you’d have to decide in advance if you’d memorize three Magic Missile spells (always useful in any combat situation), or maybe one Feather Fall, one Comprehend Languages, and one Magic Missile spell. And if you never encountered a situation that day where you needed to fall slowly, or read an incomprehensible language, those spell slots were wasted.

In 5e, casting a spell during combat is not considered a big deal, you can just do it.

5e retains spell slots of varying levels, but has made things a lot more flexible for spellcasters. As a spellcaster, you can prepare a certain number of spells (based on your level plus your ability modifier), and then you can cast them as long as there’s an unused spell slot. So if you memorized both Magic Missile and Feather Fall, and you have three first-level spell slots, you could cast magic missile three times or feather fall three times. Furthermore, you can cast a lower level spell using a higher level slot, so if you’ve used up all of your first-level spell slots, but you need to read something really bad, you could cast that comprehend languages spell using a second-level slot.

Even better, the spellcaster doesn’t have to waste a prepared spell or a precious spell slot on Comprehend Languages because it can be cast as a “ritual,” which means you take ten minutes to read the spell from your spellbook (or pray to your god if you’re a cleric), and then you can cast the spell for free.

Spellcasterd also get cantrips, which are at-will spells that you can cast whenever you want. So a Wizard can always cast Firebolt for 1d10 damage (which scales up at higher levels to up to 4d10 damage at level 17) and do something magical to contribute to combat.

The old rules gave “Magic Users” only one new spell per level by default. The 5e rules gives the “Wizard” (the equivalent to the old-rules Magic User) two new spells per level by default. So that’s twice as many free spells, which makes the class feel a lot less restrictive.

So after all this, you may be thinking, don’t all these new rules make spellcasters way overpowered?

Yes and no. They’ve done a lot of things to rein in the power of spellcasters. They added the mechanic of concentration. Most spell effects that last for a period of time require the spellcaster to “concentrate,” which means that if they cast another concentration spell, the spell they were previously concentrating on end. Furthermore, if the spellcaster takes any damage, they have to make a Constitution saving throw to maintain concentration. The concentration rule prevents stacking of multiple spells.

For the most part, (damage cantrips like Firebolt being an exception), spells no longer power up as the caster gains levels. A Magic Missile does 3d4+3 automatic damage at 1st level, which is pretty decent for a low level character, but it does not increase. A 17th level Wizard would still do the same paltry 3d4+3 damage which sucks at that level and would be a waste of a spell slot. The Wizard could choose to cast Magic Missile using a 9th level spell slot and thereby doing 11d4+11 damage, but that would be a waste of a 9th level spell slot which could be used for something a lot more powerful than doing approximately 37 points of damage.

The game is now a lot more stingier with the number of spell slots, especially those of 6th level or higher. You only get one spell slot each of 6th, 7th, 8th and 9th levels, so that limits the ability to continually cast the most powerful spells.

So I would say that, in combat situations, spellcasters in 5e are considerably less powerful compared to earlier-version spellcasters who had memorized only combat spells.

All that said, spellcasters are way more verstatile outside of combat than non-spellcasters. Spellcasters can do stuff like raise the dead, and teleport the party to other planes of existence. And they are still powerful in combat. Even at 5th level, a Wizard can cast a Fireball that can do 8d6 damage to multiple enemies in one shot, which is way more powerful than a non-magical character who can only shoot a bow or swing a weapon at a single enemy at a time.

So yes, I personally think it sounds like more fun to play a spellcaster. But it’s a choice. An adventuring party can do just fine without any non-spellcasting characters, so if no one wants to play a Fighter or a Barbarian or a Rogue, no one has to.

Written by Lion of the Blogosphere

November 19, 2019 at 10:00 AM

Posted in Nerdy stuff

Dungeons and Dragons 5e is the best version ever

I guess there’s no point in going into too many details here, because only 15% of my readers care about this topic. Although it’s interesting that there are readers who, like me, fondly remember playing D&D when they were teenagers. Why did we stop?

I haven’t personally played D&D since I was a teenager, but I have read the 5e rules in conjunction with watching many episodes of the YouTube series Critical Role where “nerdy-ass” voice actors play Dungeons and Dragons using the 5e rules.

Let’s just say that 5e retains the spirit of the original “Advanced D&D” that I played—for example, there’s still a third level spell called Fireball that does a lot of damage in pretty large ball-shaped area—but a lot of what I consider to be stupid Gary Gygaxisms have been excised. I applaud Gary Gygax for his creativity and his labor of love in creating the game, but at the same time, he made up a lot of stupid and arbitrary rules which made the game less fun than it could have been, and then instead of conceding that maybe there were things in D&D which could be improved, he insisted that anyone who disagreed with him was stupid.

In contrast to 5e, 4e was the worst version ever. That’s not just my opinion. 4e was so bad that another company came out with a game called “Pathfinder” that was just a clone of 3.5e that eventually outsold D&D 4e. After 5e came out and returned the game to its roots (minus dumb rules and with a much less restrictive interpretation of so-called Vancian magic which would make it way more fun, in my opinion, to play a spellcaster), popularity of the game soared. More people are playing today than played in the 1980s, believe it or not.

Written by Lion of the Blogosphere

November 18, 2019 at 4:07 PM

Posted in Nerdy stuff

Dungeons and Dragons in the NY Times

The world’s most important newspaper features the world’s most important table-top fantasy role playing game! For the second time this year.

The emphasis of today’s article is how many minorities and gays are playing the game. They could have used a photo of the most popular D&D show, Critical Role, and in fact the article does quote the Dungeon Master of Critical Role, Matt Mercer, but Critical Role is all white people, so the NY Times decided to use a photograph of the only D&D show cast that features mostly minorities.

Jeremy Crawford is not just the lead rules designer for Dungeons & Dragons, but he is also gay! (Which is something I never knew until today. Not that there’s anything wrong with being gay.) To quote the article, “Your adventuring party might contain a lesbian elf wizard, a brown-skinned dwarf fighter and a nonbinary half-orc rogue.” Gary Gygax is probably turning over in his grave.

I guess the point of the article is that D&D is now cool because lesbians, gays, and black people play the game.

It should be noted that the author of the article is freelancer who specializes in writing about Dungeons and Dragons, so the article was probably pre-written and tweaked for what the New York Times asked him to say about the game.

* * *

A commenter at the NY Times writes:

I’m a library media specialist in a K-8 school. I have a group of middle schoolers that come in the morning to play. They display cooperation and camaraderie. They’re perfectly behaved which isn’t always the case with middle schoolers!

The comment implies that D&D causes the good behavior, a classic example of how one of our society’s biggest problems is that so many people have so little insight into the direction of cause and effect. I’m sure it’s that well-behaved kids are more interested in D&D rather than D&D causing good behavior. D&D would simply bore the heck out of poorly-behaved kids.

I can’t imagine my 13-year-old nephew being interested in playing D&D. That’s the same nephew who said at Thanksgiving last year, “Even if there were no iPhones, I still wouldn’t read, because reading is BORING.” I have no idea whether he’s considered well-behaved by the staff of his middle school.

At a minimum, playing D&D requires what my 80-year-old Jewish dad would call sitzfleisch, a quality that most boys in middle-school lack.

Written by Lion of the Blogosphere

November 14, 2019 at 10:26 AM

Posted in Nerdy stuff

How to win at Risk

When I was a teenager, I got tired of losing at Risk, so I developed a new strategy. If someone attacked me, I would suicidally attack them back with every last army that I had. The goal wasn’t to win that particular game game, the goal was to make people fear me in future games.

The strategy worked. After a few games with this mutual destruction, everyone was afraid to attack me and I won a string of games!

But then, after a few wins, the other guys I played with changed their behaviors and cooperated in taking me out early.

* * *

The other key to winning at Risk, assuming you are playing with rules where every turn-in of Risk cards gives you more armies than the previous turn-in, is not to try to conquer territory early (which makes you an obvious target), but simply to amass a big army so that you are prepared for the opportunity to take out a weak player with Risk cards in hand, and then you use those cards to immediately get more armies, take out a second player and take his Risk cards, and thereby chain your way to world domination in a single turn.

Most people try to take and hold a continent to get the bonus armies, but that usually doesn’t work because someone attacks you one of your territories.

Also, the strategy of turtling in Australia usually doesn’t work because if you get into a situation where you can’t get Risk cards each turn, then those extra two armies per turn for holding Australia won’t be enough to win the game.

* * *

I’m not really of fan of Risk as a board game because too much time is spent rolling dice. A clash of big armies can take forever.

Risk works well as a computer-assisted board game. Back in the late 1980s, there was a great version of Risk on Apple Macintosh computers. But 30 years later, I cannot find a computer version of Risk with a decent user interface.

Written by Lion of the Blogosphere

October 16, 2019 at 12:09 PM

Posted in Nerdy stuff

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