What he said

GM Jesse Krai sums up talent, the effort at improvement, and the recognition of limitations.

Bloggers love to casually toss out “great post”, but this is a great post.

I’m not sure you have to be a chessplayer to appreciate what he’s saying.


15 thoughts on “What he said

  1. That’s if you can actually understand what he is saying. Overall, I liked the ideas presented in the essay, but there were some subtle technical problems with the grammar that I did not like. Let’s dissect the first two paragraphs of his essay, as Exhibit A. Comments in brackets are mine:

    “I’ve played some bourgeois moves. In chess, I’ve been spiritually consoled by the prudent building move and its complacent satisfaction. [Very good up until here. I like the way he humbly reflects on his mediocrity by using the word “bourgeois” to refer to the kind of moves he makes, not poor, not world class. I like how he describes gaining satisfaction from the simple pleasure of making a chess move. The man has already convinced me that he is no superstar, yet works in a satisfying occupation. It’s the next three sentences that get him in trouble.] It doesn’t know what your next move is. It doesn’t care. It sees patterns it has already seen and finds warmth and comfort in that familiarity. [Krai has introduced the pronoun “it,” but what does “it” refer to? Is he referring to himself or is he referring to the moves he makes? If he’s referring to himself, then he should use the pronoun “I.” If he’s referring to the moves he makes, then this is inconsistent. Moves do not think.] And in life I have often greedily fought for what others considered entitlements and allowed the inertia of those entitlements to move me. [Another good sentence. Krai is a hard worker.]

    But I did move to the GM house, a couple of Jews and a Brahman, all enjoying some stage of autism, assembled together in what used to be a crack home. [The house itself is not a couple of Jews and a Brahman. It should have read “where a couple of Jews and a Brahman enjoy….” Why does Krai start the sentence and paragraph with “But,” a transition word? From what idea is he transitioning?] My sister said the position looked bad [IMHO a valid attempt at chess metaphor, but the metaphor needed to be built better. There is no way a non chess-playing reader can relate the word Krai uses, “position,” with the normal word to use in this sentence, “situation.”], and that we would need weekly house meetings, dramatic sit-downs in which we explored the tense psychological space surrounding who did the dishes last.” [“in which we explored” could have been written tighter with “to explore”]

    Every subsequent paragraph has one or two problems like these.

    I’m not a copy editor, but I am a grammar Nazi/student, and I like to analyze and break down writing like chess positions.

    Krai’s essay presents some very interesting and thought-provoking ideas. Overall, I like it. Unfortunately, however, it could have used a little work before it was published. The same goes for almost all the “serious” writing at CLO, and much of the writing in the hard-copy edition of CL. Sometimes I wonder what Jen does all day.

  2. Howard — To be fair, this is Chess Life Online, not the Harvard Law Review. For what it’s worth, however I thought that: (i) the “it” very clearly referred to the “prudent building move” (though I gather you do not think that is an appropriate subject for personification); (ii) the “But” was intended to introduce a contrast between his usual ambitious, hard-working, nature and the fact that he decided to enter into a living arrangement that in some ways (i.e. a former “crack house” full of the socially mal-adjusted) was antithetical to that nature; and (iii) his play on the word “position”, while perhaps opaque to the non-chess player is more than forgiveable because it was written specifically for CLO, where no doubt 100% of its regular readers have the necessary background to appreciate the word play.

    Grammatical quibbles aside, I thought that this was a terrific piece. Derek — thanks very much for posting it.

  3. No, not a bad piece, and nobody is a perfect grammarian, but my first impression was that the technical flaws took away from my appreciation of the prose. Plus, I like to be a pain in the ass (devil’s advocate) to Derek. :) -Howard

  4. It’s not you, Derek. Lately I’ve been walking around the Web with my BFH (Big Fu-ing Hammer), defending the English language. A few days ago I was over at ChessVibes bashing NIC’s lousy punctuation and grammar. But I think I’ll stop now. The poor writing will never end. Defending English is a waste of my time. All I can do is try and set a good example. What gets me, though, is that I consider myself merely a student of English. I have no pretension to claim mastery of the subject. My “English rating” would be only about 2000, if I was pressed to stick an ELO on it. The problem is that almost everyone else pretending to practice chess journalism, including the folks writing at all the “premier” chess magazines, is in the 1000 to 1200 range.

    It’s weird: English grammar and punctuation are much easier to learn than chess, they’re much more important than chess, but almost everyone who writes about chess is better at the chess than the writing. I think of this as the “American Idol Syndrome.” Everyone thinks they can sing and write.


  5. Blunder,

    I visit your site all the time, and I’ve been trying to keep my public comments there about punctuation to a minimum. But sometimes my ego (for lack of a better term) gets the best of me.

    One problem with my comments is that I fear people mistaken my efforts. They perceive my punctuation corrections as personal criticism, when they are merely analysis on how to do better. After all, I’m no master at English; I’m a student of the language, just like everyone else, and I make plenty of mistakes. For example, I sometimes help Mongoose Press. I’m not on their payroll, but I sometimes look at early drafts and make suggestions. For the longest time I could not figure out when to capitalize “White” and “Black,” when these words were being used as pronouns and when they were being used as adjectives. For some reason I had this hang-up, and I’ve made mistakes in my feedback because of this.

    Fellow ACIS members are admired for wanting to improve at chess, but how come chess bloggers are not admired for wanting to improve their writing skills? After all, the bloggers have decided to take on writing. Why not improve at this hobby too?

  6. Howard,

    Working and blogging about improving chess typically equates to immediate feedback in the form of a potential rating increase ( or decease).

    Improving one’s writing doesn’t. It is not a goal that has an immediate feedback to one’s playing skills. If you can shine some light on how it improves one’s playing strength, then you might be on to something.

  7. No, blogging doesn’t improve one’s playing strength directly. Although a well written article requires well organized and defined ideas, which could help one understand their thoughts better.

    Most chess players take up chess with a desire to get better at the game. So it would seem natural to me that chess bloggers take up blogging with a desire to get better at writing. Of course, it is perfectly okay to write a blog just for fun. But then would not that blogger be like the life 1400-rated player?

    I am no master writer. But it is painful for me to read something like Krai’s well thought out essay. The pain for me is probably like the “pain” a 2100-rated player feels when he reviews an ambitious class-D player’s game, bold moves, but all full of blunders, anti-positional moves, etc. The 1200-player might have great ideas, might fight hard, might have great intentions, but the execution stinks. That’s the bottom line with most “amateur” writers: the execution stinks.

    Feedback on one’s writing can come in the form of other serious writers reading your work and making suggestions, in the same way higher-rated chess players review lower-rated players’ games and make suggestions. All I am doing when I point out punctuation errors is providing feedback to less experienced writers. Understanding basic punctuation is like understanding basic tactical motifs. Punctuation is elementary stuff. Improving one’s punctuation it is a way to get better at writing.

  8. “The pain for me is probably like the “pain” a 2100-rated player feels when he reviews an ambitious class-D player’s game, bold moves, but all full of blunders, anti-positional moves, etc.”

    <– I recall two particular incidents playing IM Foygel. Once, I dropped my queen; his reaction was a kind of disgust, but NOT in "you're an idiot" sense. It was more like I had ruined an interesting position. Conversely, once after a tough and stressful game he referred back to the opening and said happily "I didn't think of this – that you could just develop the bishops and then attack!" and it came across that the result mattered less than the fact that the positions and ideas were interesting to him.

  9. Yea, Foygel would like to derive satisfaction from interesting ideas realized over the board, not messed up by some dumb-ass blunder. I guess you could say it’s a similar feeling when I see ambitious and interesting essays get “unrealized” with sloppy writing. A chess game is a narrative, with ideas, a “plot,” technique, etc., just like a good essay or story.

    Happy New Year to all!

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