Bobby Fisher, Queen’s Gambit, Magnus Carlsen, the Botez Sisters and Why Chess Is Cool Again

A recent obsession has become chess and poker as a spectator sport. I no longer play either of these games. For a time, I was part of a high stake’s private no limit poker game. I have since realized that given my addictive personality it really isn’t a good idea for me (I was probably even over the lifetime of my poker career, but my strategy was to be such an a-hole that guys would bet into my good hands even when they shouldn’t…not very spiritual of me, another reason to stop).

Anyhow, I blame Lex Fridman, my current man-crush, for going down the rat-hole with both games. I am one of those idiots who can sit there and watch the World Series of Poker on TV for hours. It’s amazing to me how infrequently high-level players bet wrong (meaning they fold against a bluff, which when you boil it all down is the most important part of the game since over the long term all players will receive equal hands … the skill is making other players do things they should not do).

I have always had an interest in chess. Searching For Bobby Fischer is one of my favorite movies (to see the real Bobby Fischer interviewed go HERE). More recently Queen’s Gambit (which apparently was extremely authentic in terms of game play) was an awesome mini-series renewing interest in the game.

But Lex took me inside the current state of each game. Made me think more deeply about the math behind what is going on. The psychology. The pure brain power. The computer programs created to train the greatest players, changing everything, and beating them.

One of my favorite pods of all-time is his interview with Magnus Carlsen, the 5-time reigning world champion at chess and arguably the best in history. He comes off as a much more normal human being than past champions. He talks about soccer and poker before getting down to chess (Lex is a huge chess fan and very fluent in the strategy and AI advances).

That led me to an amazing documentary about Magnus’s life. His rise is unlike any other. He doesn’t study books and openings and the newest computer-generated situational strategies. He simply is always thinking creatively about chess. You see him at a young age taking on the 10 smartest Harvard professors at chess blind-folded, so he must hold all ten boards in his head simultaneously. And he beats them all. Still, he stumbles under the incredible mental pressure on his way to the top. His strategy is to force his opponents to play unpredictable games away from their memorized computer-generated strategies. Brain vs. brain. On that playing field he always wins.

As an aside all previous computer programs use human knowledge as a starting point. The most recent AlphaZero was given no information other than the rules of chess. It used A1 to play 5,000 games and learn from itself. The consequence is the most powerful player ever which can see so many moves ahead it often makes strange looking moves that no human could see would ultimately pay off. In a recent competition, Magnus’s 53 game unbeaten streak by a much lesser player. Magnus withdrew from the tournament, implying that his opponent was cheating presumably by somehow getting computer generated moves communicated to him in real time. The chess world is blowing up as a result.

Lex also had Liv Boeree on the show (pod here, bio of Liv here) who is the only woman to win the World Series of Poker and the European Poker Tour Champion and a fascinating deep mind who talks about game theory, AI, simulations (a lot of these super smart AI people think what we are experiencing here on earth is really just a simulation), aliens and existential risk.

Finally, he had the Botez Sisters on the show (pod here, Botez twitch stream here) who are both female chess prodigies who have turned their massive intelligence into a streaming platform to make chess something cool for girls.

Tom Matlack | Father, Husband, Sober Seeker of Spiritual Enlightenment

A very old game is making a resurgence in interest both in art and real life. At least in part the fascination is the impact of AI on the game, and a new generation of players who have made chess cool again. For once women are figuring prominently in the math intensive game showing that being really smart is fascinating. #chess #poker #magnuscarlsen #lexfridman #Queensgambit #bobbyfisher #Botezsisters #ai


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