Chess: the Boat Race of the brain – TheArticle

Posted: March 16, 2020 at 1:46 am

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The chess team from Cambridge University overwhelmed their rivals from Oxford by the score of 5.5 to 2.5 in the 138th annual varsity match which took place at Londons Royal Automobile Club, London, last Saturday, March 7. The full results, with moves of all the games, can be found here.

Cambridge now leads in the worlds longest running traditional chess contest by 60 wins to 56 with 22 draws.

Although Oxford won no games at all this year, the dark blues came extraordinarily close in two encounters,where the Cambridge players had to exhibit Houdini-like skills in order to escape defeat. Thus the final score could easily have been much closer. It was in any case hardly a surprise that the much more highly-rated team (Cambridge) ultimately triumphed.

The highlight of the day came not so much in the moves across the board, as in the moving closing address delivered by the experienced World Chess Federation arbiter, David Sedgwick. Match organiser Stephen Meyler had engaged the voluntary services for the day of Davids fellow arbiter Shohreh Bayat, the Iranian who felt obliged to defect from Iran after her allegiance to the medievally mandatory hijab, demanded by the Ayatollahs of Tehran, began to waver (seemy column for TheArticle in February.)

Shohreh had been officiating at the Womens World Chess Championship in China, when official complaints arose concerning her loyalty to the offending item of testosterone-fuelled theocratic tyranny. At this point Shohrehs world collapsed, yet, as David Sedgwick poignantly emphasised in his peroration, she demonstrated the fortitude to fulfil her World Championship duties to the very end. At the same time she began searching for a secure haven from the certain ostracism, possible imprisonment, the public lash and even the death penalty, should she return home, minus the visible safe pass of the now despised hijab.

As the Varsity match amply demonstrated, Shohreh has landed on her feet among friends and the British chess community, starting with our World Chess Federation Vice President Nigel Short and David Sedgwick himself, have welcomed her with the proverbial open arms.

Returning to this years chess, I cannot help but compare the composition of the two current teams, with those from the days during the Cretaceous Period when I represented Cambridge on board one in the annual contest.

Thus, last Saturday, 70 per cent of the players could be identified as students of science or mathematics. In 1970, which launched a record-breaking sequence of 11 consecutive Cambridge victories, it was exactly the opposite way round, with 70 per cent studying the Humanities, such as modern languages, history and classics.

My belief is that this drastic volte-face reflects the dominant role which computer technology now plays in our society. Indeed, it was no coincidence that the commentator for last Saturdays Boat Race of the Brain was Grandmaster Matthew Sadler, co-author, with Natasha Regan, of the seminal book Game Changer, which explains the revolutionary strategies of the strongest ever chess AI program: Alpha Zero.

For those interested in the phenomenal run of 11 Cambridge successes against Oxford, commencing with the 1970 Varsity match, I can recommend the book Cambridge Chess by the worlds leading chess historian Richard Eales, also author of Chess, the History of a Game.


Chess: the Boat Race of the brain - TheArticle

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March 16th, 2020 at 1:46 am

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