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Of a Like Mind

 

Irina Levitina and I have almost nothing in common. 

If personal knowledge can be considered the product of our experiences and if we can agree that our experiences form the basis for our perspectives, our beliefs, our ideas and opinions, then what's to be made of the fact and Irina and I have independently arrived at the same conclusions regarding chess?

Hold my hand and accompany me on a short journey to the point. We'll be taking the scenic path.

   Irina Levitina was a great female chess player, at one point almost the best in the world. She lost her match with Maia Chiburdanidze for the Women's World Championship in 1984 with a respectable score of 5-8.  She was the Soviet Women's Champion four times and the U.S. Women's Champion (after emigrating) three times, two of which were jointly held. Levitina had been called a female Tal both for her wild playing style and her other-worldly personality.
   While living in Russia, Irina took a fancy to the game of Bridge. This isn't as innocuous as it might seem. Not only was Bridge highly unpopular in Russia, but the USSR actually condemned it as "a depraved practice . . . imbued with harmful social tendencies."  Simply being a known Bridge player was enough to invite surveillance and harassment.  Although the cadre of Bridge players in Russia was tiny and inexperienced and although even books on the game were practically non-existent, Levitina somehow managed to become "the first high-ranked chess player of either sex, and the first Soviet citizen, to win a bridge award [NY Times 10-19-1986] by winning the International Bridge Press Assoc.  AlpWater Award  (donated by the Alpwater Swiss Mt. Spring Water Co.)  for the best deal by a woman in 1985.  Bridge started consuming her. Even before emigrating to America in 1987, Irina had decided to retire completely from chess. Coming to America, however, revived her a bit and she played until 1993 when she retired from chess to concentrate on Bridge. 
   According to several sources, she has been the World Bridge Champion four times. This is a little misleading. Her Bridge Championship results were in different categories:
   ~In 2000 her team, comprised of Piotr Gawrys, Sam Lev, Irina Levitina, Jill Meyers, John Mohan and Migry Zur Campanile, won the World Transnational Mixed Team Championship (formerly the World Mixed Teams Championship). In this tournament each team, whose members aren't limited by nationality,  must be comprised of at least two men and two women with six as the maximum number of members. One woman and one man play at a time. 
   ~In 2002 her team, comprised of Lynn Deas, Irina Levitina, Jill Meyers, Randi Montin, Beth Palmer, Kerri Sanborn, won the McConnell Cup. This women-only event is held every four years as part of the World Bridge Championships.
   ~In 2006 Irina Levitina and  Kerri Sanborn won the World Women Pairs Championship, a tournament held every four years.
   ~In 2007 the USA team, made up of Jill Levin, Irina Levitina, Jill Meyers, Hansa Narasimhan, Debbie Rosenberg, JoAnna Stansby, won the Venice Cup (a women's event). This tournament is held every two years in conjunction with the Open World Team Championships.

The USA team at the 2007 Women's World Team Championship (the Venice Cup) held in Shanghai sparked a controversy that rocked the Bridge world.
              
                   Jill Levin, Jill Meyers, Debbie Rosenberg and Irina Levitina

   In what they perceived as heavy anti-American sentiments over the war in Iraq, environmental issues and U.S. policies of use of torture at the foreign venue, the members spontaneously made a sign that read, "We did not vote for Bush" in an attempt to demonstrate that Americans didn't, by mere virtue of their citizenship, agree with the current U.S. foreign policies and to help alleviate some of the tensions they had experienced at the tournament.
   The reaction from the media and some members the United States Bridge Federation was immediate and harsh. Reminiscent of a somewhat similar scenario with the Dixie Chicks but within the small confines of the Bridge world, the controversy was just as great and the incriminations just as strong. Lawyers for the U.S. Bridge Federation proposed a compromise: "It calls for a one-year suspension from federation events, including the World Bridge Olympiad next year in Beijing; a one-year probation after that suspension; 200 hours of community service 'that furthers the interests of organized bridge'; and an apology drafted by the federation's lawyer. . .  Alan Falk, a lawyer for the federation, wrote the four team members on Nov. 6, 'I am instructed to press for greater sanction against anyone who rejects this compromise offer.'”

Jill Levin, Irina Levitina and Debbie Rosenberg refused to comply.
The issue appears to be still unresolved.

 

   Ah, the point is just around the bend!

   [compared to Bridge] "I don't think I would admit that Chess is more interesting, as you always start with the same set-up.  No, if I had a choice again, I'd never have started playing chess, if you consider how much time has to be spent nowadays studying theory, how much you need to know and remember if you add it all up. The game itself, improvisation, plays a subordinate role, a much less significant role today than when I started playing. I saw this once particularly clearly at a tournament in Sochi, before there was even any mention of computers. A game between two Grandmasters: 33 moves of theory, and after 40 moves the game was adjourned. They had made at least one mistake each, then they had to analyze the adjourned game. Is that really playing?
   . . . Real Players want to play, not to laboriously study and analyse openings at home. They can't do this, or they don't want to do it, it's boring for them. Perhaps I understand better than you do, as I'm one of those types myself."
   . . .Now blitz, that's another matter, especially when it's not being played in a tournament, but just for its own sake. . . it's interesting, it's exciting, it's fun. If you lose a game, you can get your own back immediately. It's a real game, a game in the literal sense of the word, and you're playing against a specific opponent, trying to exploit more than just their chess weaknesses. That's why I really like the idea of Random Chess, as this could take Chess back to its original purpose as a game and you wouldn't have this monstrous opening preparation. But even if people start playing this kind of Chess, it's still difficult for me to imagine myself ever sitting at the chessboard again. . .
   Chess isn't really designed for the female nature, and nor is the endless struggle that is characteristic for this sport. For chess you need lots of strong qualities that are found much more rarely in the fairer sex than in men - the desire to play, to constantly prove something, vigour, fervour. Perhaps this is why women are usually weaker players than men. Chess is a very harsh thing and the tragic element of Chess is the price of mistakes.  You can play wonderfully for several hours, put up a building, but one mistake leads to disaster and the building comes tumbling down.
   These moments create additional nervous tension.  Most women just don't have the strength for such psychological feats.  Plus, they have more fear of defeat.  Anyone who is indifferent to losing will never become a first class sportswoman.  Also, in Chess, you play in silence; conversations during the game are forbidden; and you have to keep that up for several hours in a row.  I know, I know, the rule is broken all the time, but still, in Bridge the whole game is oriented towards conversation. Socializing with and having feelings for your partner is no less important here than other qualities, and in women this feeling is developed, perhaps even more so than in men."

 

Irina Levitina and I have almost nothing in common and she completely overshadows me, yet I've reached similar conclusions about Chess some time ago and I agree vehemently with 90% of what she had to say.

 


Comments


  • 7 years ago

    normajeanyates

    Aw, "you guys" is international for "you people" - afaik of course :)
  • 7 years ago

    onosson

    Interesting - I took a short glance, and I guess I have some reading to do!  Maybe I'll find time someday... but that means less chess!!

    Thanks for the discussion, everyone*.  It's been very interesting!

     

    *I was going to say "you guys", which is how many people around here would address a group, even all female, but I didn't want anyone to take it the wrong way!  I suppose I could have said y'all...


  • 7 years ago

    normajeanyates

    onnosson asked: What do you believe?

    re language: I believe that research should go on. Nothing less, nothing more.

    widely: In the revolution. :)  In a classless, anti-racist, gender-equal, free, no-State, self-governing community [not representative democracy, but participatory democracy. everyone represents themselves.] . No countries. Pareconish.

    "but there are some important but tedious/hazardous things that have to be done in any society" -- for answers to questions like this, read Micheal Albert's book Parecon. [you can read it for free - and much more discussion - including how do we get there from here - online at zcommmications.org - you can reach there through the old address www.zmag.org also]

     


  • 7 years ago

    onosson

    nyj: Thank you for the discussion.  I don't mean to be contrary, but I generally can't help myself! ;)

    In all seriousness, I am certainly no expert on Chomsky, or minimalism, or even syntax.  Just a guy struggling to get through his M.A. and maybe, just maybe, get into the field (if there's still time for me?  I'm getting close to 40 already!)

    I guess where I am coming from is: language is messy!  A lot of theories about language would seem to like to tidy up the mess, but I'm not sure that's the right approach.  One of the great appeals of studying language is that a great deal of it is ultimately and forever unknowable.  Where did language come from?  Why do we have it?  We can't ever answer these things in a definite way, and that's ok with me.  I see a lot of theories in the field as puzzle-solving - and that's ok, and fun to do, but in the end it doesn't necessarily tell you anything real.  I like that studying language is an exercise in not knowing the "right" answer...

    I suppose that, in the end, it comes down to belief, doesn't it?  What do you believe?


  • 7 years ago

    normajeanyates

    batgirl,

    You are very intelligent and original; never feel overawed by piles of academic information. Here is my 'confession' if it helps:

    From pre-teenage i was always at risk of being locked up as a juvenile delinquent. However, I was good at working the exam system - so I chose academics for protection [they don't lock up toppers and 'brillant promising academics' for juvenile delinquency - or at least are much less likely to :) specially here in England - I am posting this from Calcutta but you know what i mean ...] . Academics tend to get into a rut - inevitably the natual originality gets drained out - one becomes a 'specialist' - it is like someone boasting that "My hands, feet,nose, right ear ... withered away - I made them wither away. Good riddance! I am a left-ear specialist!". lol

    Well i protected myself from that too - my technique was - do academically brilliantly for the first 2 or 3 years until profs are saying 'she will be world-famous' some day. For the next few years bluster your way through, keep up some level of work till you become faculty - then take it easy... now the danger is of becoming a 'specialist'. So switch fields! - this technique worked for me  - i laugh out loud when i hear that some former academic acquaintances told someone "it is a pity she quit the field - she'd've been a world-famous computer scientist/ philosopher/ mathematician [depending on which former acad. acquaintance is speaking!]" :)

    It has taken its toll though [though i retired at 40 - money was never a problem] - i am much less original than i was at your age ... and i was way, way less original at your age than you are :) I am almost entirely derivative now...

    Well i spew out academic information NOT to overawe people, but so that it might trigger original ideas by non-'specialists' who have, and have retained, this abilily of natural original thoght - asking themselves [and posting] even more original questions. 

    Thanks for reading this.


  • 7 years ago

    normajeanyates

    onosson, minimalism is a research program, not a theory! Chinese and Mayan speakers are welcome to contribute...
  • 7 years ago

    onosson

    njy:

    Here's the thing, for me.  Whatever U.G. is, and ultimately whatever language is, we can only ever access through idiolects.  Idiolects, in other words the actual behaviour of actual humans, are all that there is.  Everything else is an abstraction, ultimately.  So whatever U.G. is, we can only know it be examining real language as it happens.  I suppose the Minimalism is an attempt to do just that, but it seems to overly rely, as did previous versions of Chomskyan theory, on the English language, and on a rather narrow register (version) of English at that.  That doesn't make it necessarily wrong, but one suspects it completeness.  Granted, there are a lot of people working in other languages within Minimalism, but the foundations seem to be based on English.  Would it look the same if Chomsky had spoken Japanese?  Or Dyirbal?  Or Inuktitut?  Of course, we can't know, but I suspect not - and that makes me suspect the whole thing.


  • 7 years ago

    batgirl

    "I prefer the Marigold Guys and Periwinkle Wisacres. "

     

    They're soooo old school!


  • 7 years ago

    PrettyGoPale

    "My favorite group has always been the Indigo Girls."

     

    The Indigo Girls are fine, but I prefer the Marigold Guys and Periwinkle Wisacres.


  • 7 years ago

    batgirl

    "I wonder what the relationship between music, chess, and language is?  Probably too many to count!"

     

    Well, it's been speculated that Chess, Mathematics and Music produce prodigies for more so than any other fields. As opposed to most languages, they're all three non-verbal.

    However, on a different note, I've been trying for a long time to determine if chess is, indeed, a language.  I know that Philidor determined he could play blindfold chess when he woke up one morning and realized he had dreamed an entire game. I can cite many instances of GMs having dreamed a game, a missed move, or a winning idea.  It's been said, whether right of wrong, that no one has truly mastered a language until one dreams in that language. Of course, this doesn't preclude that dreaming alone defines a language.  Chess can be reduced to number-crunching, a la computer programs, but when humans play humans, there seems to be a kind of communication involved.  Music also seems to have some sort of non-verbal communicative elements, maybe of the type that even transcends verbal language.


  • 7 years ago

    normajeanyates

    batgirl:

    1) animal language wrt UG - I'm clueless on that one - great reaserch project!

    2) also there is a differnce between a politician [kasparov] and a radical anarchist (libertarian socialist) - Chomsky -- also people have different capacities for workload -- and when when one is really passionate about something  then it is not really work (as in drudgery)

    onosson: I must correct you -

    minimalism = ideolect + UG.

    Plus, basic tenets of UG is what i agree with. So does Noam. linguisticswise he is a scientist - he has shown or it can be easily seen that his theory is Popper-falsifiable and therefore not vacuous ... details are not dogma. Newton's work wasnt nonsense though it got 'updated' by Hibert and Einstein independently [they submitted general relativity - in different but equivalent formulations - the same day to different journals. Serious Quantum-Gravity work is done using Hilbert's formulation] , and the Q-mech. people.

     Plus, the minimalist program is a lacatosian research program, not a theory -- think about it, or read Chomsky himself - he has said it in so many words ...

     


  • 7 years ago

    onosson

    Batgirl, thanks re: the name, but I honestly had nothing to do with it! ;)

    I play music, too (as my full-time job actually) - I wonder what the relationship between music, chess, and language is?  Probably too many to count!

    Regarding animals, vocalizations, and language, it's a very interesting question.  It is definite that the brain processes language in different areas for different functions.  For instance, there are people with certain aphasias (language problems due to brain abnormalities) who cannot speak coherently, but can still sing!  So we know that there is no simple answer as to what language is and how it works.  The study of aphasias (which I don't know enough about, really) is quite interesting, and has demonstrated that different parts of grammar, vocabulary, speech sounds, even such minutiae as sarcasm, are dealt with by different parts of the brain.  So there is no one language organ, as Chomsky had initially theorized in the '60s.

    The science of linguistics (and it's becoming more and more scientific all the time) is still really in its infancy - we have a lot to learn. 


  • 7 years ago

    onosson

    I certainly think there is something to U.G. (most linguists I know do, even if they are not very Chomskyan otherwise), but there is a big question as to how much of language is due to U.G., as opposed to general principles of learning, as per your pointing example.  That's the big question in Linguistics: just what do we need U.G. for, that can't be explained by something else we already have (general intelligence)?

    Also, U.G. doesn't have a whole lot to say about the sounds of language - it's more about the structure that those sounds get overlaid on top of.  By the way, the idea of transformation rules has been abandoned (by everyone including Chomsky) quite a while ago, but the notion of parameters is still appropriate for his, and related, theories.

    The basics of the theory (which generally goes by the name Minimalism these days) seem pretty sound, as you summarized them, but when you get into studying the details of them they end up having to be so bizarre and abstract, that many people I know in the field find it hard to accept that they offer a real explanation, or at least a complete and accurate one.  For instance, even a simple sentence such as "I am hungry" would be assumed to have probably 4-5 layers of structure implicit in it, many of which are filled in by emptiness.  I don't know how you feel about that, but after taking a number of courses in it and writing a few lengthy papers, I still don't think it's the right solution.


  • 7 years ago

    batgirl

    Norma, even with unsolicited volunteers, it seems like a rather restricted lifestyle for a great mind. I couldn't imagine, say Kasparov, answering 3000 emails a day, with or without assitance, concerning chess and/or his politics.

     

    Sky, (what a lovely name!) I've found that there are so many wonderful things in this world to learn about - not that I'm a great student or scholar or anything.  Usually, I learn a little of this and a little of that, but nothing of great substance about anything and I forget most of it right quickly. I play guitar halfway decently. I've often heard folks say that wish they could play an instrument and I think: all it takes is having an instrument and 10,000 hours of practice. I think it's pretty much the same with everything. Before I could even discuss linguistics intelligently, I would need to spend thousands of hours reading and understanding the basics. It's certainly an interesting and appealing subject, but, on the other hand, not one I'd likely choose over others I find equally interesting and appealing.  But I've never been one to let ignorance override my mouth or from making observations and wonder about them out loud. The idea that there might be a difference between language and vocalization hadn't even occurred to me. Since they both communicate, in a sense, I guess the reflexive nature of vocalizations puts it in a different category?

    I wonder how animal languages fits in with this Universal Language concept? 


  • 7 years ago

    normajeanyates

    hey wrt Universal Grammar you're missing the wood for the trees ... it is simply  put. In one word: Kantian.

    But that is too laconic, so:

    a) Humans have an innate ability to learn any human language that ever existed; that's how a child learns. Without that innate ability - 'organ' if you like, no amount of examples will help a child learn. [non-language example - you can teach a child names of things by pointing at them and naming them - but how does the child learn that streching your index finger is pointing? Why doesn't the child look in a puzzled manner at the finger? Even puppies that interact with humans understand pointing very soon - though *they*cannot point.

    b) All existing human languages are very similar. They are just "turning the knobs" on the parameters of a few transformation rules. A Martian/alpha-centaurian would see them as slightly differing variants of one language.

    Batgirl in her usual terse style had a look at UG and called it Universal Language - she got it very fast.


  • 7 years ago

    onosson

    Interesting questions re: the monosyllablic issue.  For one thing, there is a difference between language and vocalizing, as one would be very likely to make some kind of a sound when in pain, yet that doesn't make it language.  For example, a deaf person who only spoke a signed language and could not hear would still likely make some kind of sound in their vocal tract when in pain.

    As for monosyllables with meaning, as in language, they don't seem to be universal as far as specific sound tied to specific meaning (there is a small correspondence between certain vowel sounds and concepts such as size and colour, but it's not very strong and still open to debate).

    Universal Grammar is about the underlying principles that all languages are built upon, but they manifest themselves in different ways in every language.  Many of the things that a lot people take entirely for granted when it comes to language (singular vs. plural, nouns vs. verbs, subjects vs. objects, even vowels vs. consonants!, to name just a few examples) have been shown to be at least questionable, if not entirely inappropriate concepts for numerous languages of the world.  Universal Grammar is all about finding those things which are present in every language, though they're not always obvious at first glance.

    Sorry for rambling, but I've been studying this for a while and I find it all very interesting.  Getting back to the southern thing, I am certainly aware of quite a few of the differences, though things can always surprise you!  My two cousins from Bay St. Louis MS came up to visit last year, and I took them out for breakfast one morning.  The server came over and asked if we were ready to order, but one of my cousins wasn't at that time.  The server came back a little later and asked if she was ready yet.  My cousin replied "I'm OK", upon which the server turned around and left!  I realized that my cousin meant "I'm ready", but at least around here, "I'm OK" usually means "I'm fine" or "leave me alone"!  So I understood the server's reaction... 


  • 7 years ago

    normajeanyates

    Well he has volunteers (which he didn't ask for) to help him out - they summarise emails into questions asked, combine into one questionthe various ways of putting the same question , and so on...

    but you are right, i won't bother him with this either...

     

     


  • 7 years ago

    batgirl

    "only he answers about 3000 political emails a day."

     

    Is that the price of fame?
    ...the poor man. There's no way I'd add to his burden, then.

    Is that even possible??
    even @ 2/min. = 120/hr. = 25hrs./3000

    If I were to wake up and find 3000 emails waiting, I'd have a nice hot cup of tea, then go back to bed.

     


  • 7 years ago

    normajeanyates

    thx for clearing that up ... actually Noam's quite accessible, and this is an empirical not theoretical question so he'd have the answer --- only he answers about 3000 political  emails a day.
  • 7 years ago

    batgirl

    "batgirl, puh-lease! I am a she, not a he! "

     

    I wasn't referring to you. I was just unclear. I meant PrettyGoPale was onto something with his "eh" elaboration. But I was responding to your thought that some of your written "ehs" were misconstrued in translation, hence my lack of clarity.
    I'm not sure I could discuss this with a professor of linguistics, especially one so prominent, whose ideas, even if he deigned to respond, would be miles over my head. I had to look up "Universal Language" to even get an idea about it and Noam Chomsky to learn something about the man.

    Thanks.


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