I have been enjoying playing chess puzzles and correspondence chess at lichess lately. It is free and is really, really good.

I have been playing more chess lately, and I have never played worse, I think. It is a humbling game sometimes, especially if you are not a visual thinker.

Chess is just poker now

The chess cheating scandal du jour is puzzling and fascinating. Matteo Wong’s article in The Atlantic does not really unpack the issue, but instead provide some depth into how computers have changed the game over the past 25 years:

What once seemed magical became calculable; where one could rely on intuition came to require rigorous memorization and training with a machine. Chess, once poetic and philosophical, was acquiring elements of a spelling bee: a battle of preparation, a measure of hours invested.

It is interesting, though understandable from a technological standpoint, that the concern in the 1990s was that a person might help the computer engine cheat. Today, conversely, the concern is that a computer engine (combined with some spycraft tech, it must be said) might help person cheat.

One thing that I learned about this year in chess that I never thought about is this:

For grandmasters, sportsmanship is resigning when your opponent will clearly win. For novices, sportsmanship is playing out the game and allowing your opponent to checkmate you even if it is inevitable.

Chess.com isn’t just for blitz games

I play chess on Chess.com, thanks to a challenge request from Andrew Canion a while back. We play “1 Day” games, which are essentially correspondence chess. It is great fun playing against Andrew, but I don’t get to play with him in real time because we live on different sides of the planet. To see if I can beat an opponent—who is not one of my kids—in real time, I have played a number of blitz games, which are 10-minute games. Unfortunately, I always lose them badly or lose on time. The clock stresses me out, which makes the games not much fun at all.

It did not occur to me before today that I could start such a “1 Day” game against a random opponent on Chess.com just as easily as I could start a blitz game. I did so tonight, and now I have another long, slow game going. I am happy to have found another way to play chess against people at my level that won’t stress me out.

Recent wins

I tend to minimize good things that happen to me, but am trying to change that. To that end, here is a list of small wins for me this week.

  1. I got a complimentary email about my productivity guide, PlainText Productivity.
  2. I got a complimentary email about my free call blocking app for iOS, Simple Call Blocker.
  3. I responded to a bug report in my todo.txt app, SwiftoDo for iOS, fixed the bug, and published the update.
  4. I recently resumed work on the next version of SwiftoDo for iOS. It uses the Swift Package Manager for dependencies, rather than CocoaPods.
  5. In Xcode, I learned how to override a Swift package with a local copy of the package to make editing and debugging to the package code much easier1.
  6. My Chess Elo rating for daily chess on Chess.com rose to over 800.

  1. It is actually pretty easy. From the Finder, you drag the package’s folder to your Xcode project (in Xcode). ↩︎

Things I am learning from playing chess, part 2

You aren’t the best. You’re not even close. And that’s OK.

I love chess now, but I am not very good at it. When I first got into it again, however, I thought I was hot stuff. I beat a bunch of bots with higher and higher ratings until I reached what I thought my level was (Elo 1,000). I thought that was a pretty good rating for me, considering I hadn’t played in 20 years.

When I started playing humans, however, I discovered that I am not a 1,000-level player at all. It was humbling. Since then I learned that I am not along. There are players at every level striving to learn the game and get better. Despite my early hubris, I am still a beginner. There is nothing wrong with that. We are all beginners at something.

I am having fun learning the game, and think that I am establishing basic competence. That alone is something to be proud of. I have also made an internet friend (or chess rival!), have introduced the game to my son and daughter, and am playing online games with my father-in-law, too. All of these things have made my life better than it was before.

I hope that my interest in the game remains high enough to play a little each day, and to continue to develop my skills. While I will certainly never become a grandmaster (Elo 2,500 and up), perhaps I will become a level 1,000 player someday. I may even remain a beginner for the rest of my life, and that’s OK.

For now, I just want to learn the game and have fun playing it. In broader terms, I want to use the skills I have—however meager they are—to participate, contribute, and have fun.

Things I am learning from playing chess, part 1

Take your time

I have played most of my chess games against the bots found on Chess.com. When playing against a bot, it will make its moves instantly. It is tempting to keep pace with it. You shouldn’t.

Unlike bots, humans—especially those of us who are not chess masters—need time to look at all the pieces on the board, weigh different moves against each other, and consider both the good and the bad outcomes that would come from each move. If that sounds like a lot of things to do for every move, that’s because it is. Chess is a complex game, which is what makes it so fascinating.

My worst mistakes on the chessboard have been due to hasty decision-making: I want to capture a piece or put the king in check so badly that I don’t bother looking at what moving that piece might do, or without figuring out all the ways my opponent can escape or counter it. I play with haste mostly to match the tempo of my opponent. Maintaining the pace is not important at all—at least at the beginner level I am playing at—and is impossible against a bot anyway. It is a habit I am working to outgrow.

If you are a chess beginner like me and want to improve your game, don’t be hasty. Stop and think before you make a move. Consider what effect that move will have on the future. And weigh multiple options if you have them. These are good rules of thumb not just for chess, but for life, too.

My son can play a reasonable game of chess for a four-year-old. I have to explain to him how to get out of check sometimes, but he is getting a knack for the game. I am proud of him and more than a bit amazed.

My son plays chess now, too

I taught my four-year-old son how to play chess a couple days ago. It was his idea. He was curious about it because I have been talking about chess with my wife, and because our chess board is on the underside of the Chinese checkers set we have been playing with as a family.

He and I played a few games over the holiday weekend. This afternoon, he played with his grandmother and grandfather, which was his idea. This evening, when I suggested we play checkers, he cried because he wanted to play chess. (Of course we could play chess instead of checkers.) He learned how all the pieces moved (except for castling and en passant) in one quick lesson. I am trying to teach him about checkmate now. It is great fun to have something new to do with him. I look forward to teaching my daughter now to play, too.

Chess against humans

Correspondence chess

Several days ago, @canion challenged me to a game of chess—basically correspondence chess—on chess.com. I’m pretty sure he is beating me right now, but we are just in the middle of the game, so we will have to play it out to be sure.

Simultaneous online play

Tonight I played a real-time game against someone else on chess.com for the first time. I won! Except for the one, slow game with @canion, I haven’t played against a real person in chess for about 20 years. Humans are less predictable than bots, which makes things interesting.

I also found the post-game statistics on the chess.com website to be very interesting. Apparently in my game tonight I made 4 mistakes and 8 blunders, and had 3 missed wins. That means I’m pretty bad at chess! That makes sense to me, considering I just re-started playing about a week ago. To get better, I should probably play more games and then analyze what went wrong in them to figure out what my weaknesses are.

In person play…someday soon

Today I ordered a chess set today—a nice, wooden set with weighted pieces that completely outclasses what we have know and the chess set I grew up with. The board has labeled ranks (1-8) and files (a-g), which will be great for teaching my family how to play. It folds in half and has internal storage for the pieces. It also has two extra queens. No chess set that I’ve ever seen had extra pieces to account for pawn promotion, so this set feels luxurious to me. I promised my wife I will use it to teach her how to play. My kids may be interested, too; I don’t look forward to losing to a four-year-old and a nine-year-old, though!


Thanks to all the checkers games I have been playing with my kids, my mind has turned to the other, better game you can play with the same board: chess. I have been enjoying playing lots of games on Chess.com’s iPhone and iPad app, which is part of Apple Arcade. The chess app has an assortment of bots with various skill levels to play against. I quickly plowed through the beginner bots and the first three intermediates. I think that my chess, as someone who has not played chess in 20 years, is probably around 1,000 right now. (That’s the beginning of the “intermediate” level.) I would have to play some real opponents online to find out for sure, and I am not ready to do that yet. I still make too many mistakes, and win too many of my games by clearing the board almost entirely, which doesn’t seem right. I must need more study and practice.

Chess is the only board game I find addicting. It is so addictive to me that, when I first got really into it, I had to quit after a few months. When I was 21, I started playing chess via the ChessMaster game on my PC, which had an excellent teaching mode. I then started playing real people on a chess website that was popular back then. I played many, many games each day. I was pretty good. I would win most of the games I played, presumably against beginners and intermediate players like me, but sometimes I would get beaten soundly. Soon, I couldn’t stop thinking about chess and was playing chess games in my mind all the time. I was losing sleep and couldn’t concentrate on my studies. I had to stop cold turkey, and I never picked it up again until now.

I’m finding myself becoming addicted again. I’m playing games on my iPhone and my iPad whenever I have a few minutes to myself. I am watching YouTube videos for chess instruction. I am thinking of doing daily chess puzzles on my phone, too. So far chess has not taken invaded my thoughts or disturbed my sleep. Then again, I did play a couple games on my iPad instead of reading in bed last night. At any rate, it is fun, and I wish my wife knew how to play or was eager to lean.