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Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Book Review: Thinking with Chess

You can find another one of my book reviews at (Previously, I reviewed Walter Browne's "The Stress of Chess".)

This time around, I took a look at "Thinking With Chess", by Dr. Alexey Root. This book is more or less a teaching guide for chess coaches or parents. My review is entitled "Teaching with Challenges", named because the most interesting and valuable part of Dr. Root's book are the challenges. These are essentially mini-games used to exercise a particular chess skill.

Image taken from

The book is put together nicely, but unfortunately I couldn't bring myself to give it a great rating because of the limited amount of material (the size of the book). This is reflected in the concise nature of the review; there was simply not a whole lot to talk about! (My apologies to Dr. Root for any offense, but I'm just trying to deliver an honest opinion.)

Did you read this book? If so, what did you think? What is your favorite book on chess instruction?

Evolutionary Biology and Education

The internet is perennially abound with discussion over evolutionary biology. It is a topic that surfaces repeatedly in the news, either in the form scientific dispatch describing a new species or in political news concerning the friction between science and religion. The latest iteration of the latter debate concerns recent remarks by Florida Senator Marco Rubio when answering a question about the age of the earth. The Senators somewhat ambiguous and confused (but understandable and unsurprising) answer has found both critics and apologists. He eventually qualified his answer, and I think made a good point that I will echo later in the post: the age of the earth has nothing to do with his tasks in the Senate. Even this point has been criticized, but I think it rings true in a subtle way).  Many of these debates, however, usually filter back to the opposition between creationism and evolution (as well as geology, embryology, or any other science that touches on the same points).

(Taken from Joyfully Battle Worn's blog without permission. Interesting post, you should definitely check it out. Echos some of the sentiments I expound here, although approached from a more religious perspective.)

The astute reader may be queuing up their groans and moans (or cheers, if they are into this debate). "Will this blog also devolve into a debate over evolution?" While I thought it would be appropriate to weigh in on the subject (after all, this blog is partly devoted to science, and biology in particular), you need not fear that these pages will transform into another blog taking on evolutionary biology. After all, there are many fine sites that primarily focus on this topic. I am especially familiar (and fond of) some of the more popular ones maintained by other scientists, such as PZ Meyer's Pharyngula. There is even a blog, aptly named EvolutionBlog, that focuses on both evolution and chess!

What then, does Science on the Squares have to offer to the evolution blogosphere? I am trained in molecular biology, not evolutionary biology (although I am well-read on the subject), and thus I will leave the discussion of the finer points of this science to others. However, I would like to add a voice to the debate over the proper placement of evolution in the classroom.

I've beaten about the bush long enough; my point is that neither creationist science, intelligent design, or evolutionary biology (as I understand it to be currently taught) belongs in the science classroom. No, you don't need to adjust your screen or check your glasses: I did indeed call for the partial removal or reform of evolutionary biology from the Science curriculum. 

Now that I have your interest, please select 'Read More' to read this article in its entirety. I'll give you a preview: the evolutionary explanation of the origin of species is more history than it is predictive science, and thus is not critical to the education (or future competitiveness) of our youth.

The position I've taken is one that is sure to stir up controversy, and will probably have the somewhat unique distinction of angering proponents of both evolution and creationism. Please feel free to add to the discussion by leaving a comment below, but try to keep it civil!

Monday, December 10, 2012

The Science of Chess: Moving to the (heart) beat

Recently a team of researchers published an article (PDF format) in which they monitored the heart rate of Chess players during a game (Aptly titled The tell-tale heart: heart rate fluctuations index objective and subjective events during a game of chess. Published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 2012, Vol 6, No 273). 

The same authors of that study have summarized their work for chessbase news in a report also aptly titled: "Psychology: The Heart of Chess". Naturally, I was interested, as I have posted before about the intersection of science of chess and I check PubMed occasionally for such work (although I must have missed this particular study).

Picture reposted (with modifications) from Chessbase. I do not own the rights to the above picture (or for that matter, any of the pictures used in this post).

The article is interesting and thought provoking. There have been many studies that examined some psychological or mental aspect of the game, but there are much fewer (to my knowledge) that studied the physiological manifestations of a chess player's mind. As the article reminds us, Chess is fertile ground for studying all of these phenomenon. 

What did you think of the article? Select 'Read More' to see my full opinion. Please share your thoughts in the comment box below!

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Introduction to Scrambled Chess Puzzles

Here, I will describe a new type of chess puzzle, which I call Scrambled Chess. This is going to be a small example puzzle; I will commence a larger series (Scrambled Sundays!) which will feature full puzzles posted biweekly. (The first one will be posted tomorrow, Dec 2nd!)

Image from

Like Freeze Chess and ChessWords, I think Scrambled Chess is a good tool for visualization. In fact, they are probably even better, since they can test visualization skills in several different ways. Also, unlike Freeze Chess (which I developed independently, but are very similar to Bruce Alberston's Chess Mazes), it seems that Scrambled Chess is completely novel. They are also somewhat difficult to explain, but hopefully the example below will make the objective and rules clear.

As an introduction, here is a smaller version of one of these puzzles. (The rules / how to play is described below).

Introduction / Example Puzzle. Movement is Rook by Knight (The notation used for these puzzles will be RxN). Starting Square: A4. Target Square: B1

This is a smaller, 4x4 board (the real puzzle would be a standard 8x8 board). As you can notice, each square is inscribed with the coordinates of another square. The goal is to make piece movements that are legal for both, according to the pieces specified. 

In these puzzles, two pieces will be specified, from the choice of Knight, Bishop or Rook. The first piece dictates the movements that should be taken on the board, while these movements must correspond to legal moves in within the scrambled coordinates.

If the puzzle is Rook by Knight (This one is, as specified by RxN), this means that only Rook moves are allowed, but the correct moves are those to squares with written coordinates that correspond to a Knight move.

The goal is to go from the starting square (shown in brick red) to the target square (shown in blue), making moves that conform to the above rules.

As mentioned above, I will be posting a puzzle every other week, on Sunday (starting tomorrow). Some of these puzzles can be complex, and can be any combination of Rook, Knight, or Bishop moves (RxR, RxN, NxN, NxB, etc). Remember, the first piece dictates movement on the puzzle board, the second piece corresponds to the coordinates inscribed within each square. In this same notation, I have developed puzzles such as Rx2N; what this signifies is that the moves must be with coordinates that correspond to a two move hop of the Knight. 

In the above example, a Rx2N move would be A4-A3, since this uses the inscribed coordinates E4-D5. This corresponds to a two move route of the Knight; E4-f6-D5, or E4-c3-D5. In this particular example, however, that would be a dead end (you cannot read the target square under those conditions). 

What do you think of Scrambled Chess? Please share your thoughts by leaving a comment below!

Stay tuned for a full puzzle tomorrow!

Please hit 'Read More' for the solution to the above puzzle, explained. For now, I've suddenly got an appetite for some scrambled eggs....