Let Them Eat Cake

Let Them Eat Cake

IM dpruess
Jul 19, 2011, 2:15 PM |

Bread and Cheddar

Yesterday I made some mention of how expensive things are in Switzerland; but the day concluded with me falsely optimistic, thinking that I could get by on the little voucher tickets for 6 local restaurants, and on buying a bread every day or two, to eat with the peanut butter, jam, and honey jars I brought. Today brought down a shower of reality on that dream.

First we went to lunch at one of the six approved restaurants. After getting the waiter to switch from SwissGerman to German (which it seems they are all able to!), I showed him the tickets, asked if he recognized them, and how they worked. He had not and went to consult with his colleague. They returned to tell us that we can use them but only one per person per meal. Ok, I said, with a bad feeling, and turned to the menu. All the entrees were 30-50 francs. The 10 franc discount became a twisted joke in the face of such ludicrous-for-me prices. Sam and I each settled for the same appetizer that was only 15 francs. It turned out to be nassssty. Also when we said we'd just like water they brought us a tiny bottle of water, which added another 5 francs to our bill. I left most of my food, and walked out of there ~9 dollars poorer and hungry. And off we went to the game!

After the game, I went to a bakery, and got a baguette. I have just been living in France for 4 weeks, where they apparently have an old law subsidizing the price of baguette. I was told that this law traces its spiritual antecedent from the infamous story of Marie Antoinette (Queen of France up to the revolution of 1789). She asked why the poor were rioting, and was told that they were rioting because the price of bread was too high; "well if the bread is too expensive, let them eat cake," the poor uneducated woman replied. Since then, the French have always wanted bread to be affordable, I was told. So wherever you buy a baguette in France, the price is the same-- 90 euro cents. Since baguettes are also arguably the most delicious thing in France, I've been eating a lot of baguettes.

There is no such law in Switzerland. I had to pay 3 swiss francs for my baguette. That doesn't tend to make that cheap a meal either.

From there I passed to the little Thai market to get some things to cook. The upshot: I'm not sure that I'll be saving much money by cooking instead of eating out. But I'll certainly be doing a bunch of extra work!

It's an interesting feeling to be so suddenly destitute because of the difference in price levels between a country you are visiting and the country you are from. Since price levels in the U.S. have tended to be very high, I have never before had this experience, which probably most people have had when visiting the U.S. I saw a homeless-looking guy today; he was drinking a beer at a restaurant. I'm sure it cost more than $5. Maybe it was 10. It made me realize that the beggars here are probably "richer" than me. One of the first things I'd done upon setting foot in Switzerland four weeks ago, was to go around checking the prices of food; and a question that had been plaguing me ever since was: how do the poor people in Switzerland eat? Where and what do they eat? I could not figure it out. There definitely are poor people in this country (relative to the rich people in this country); I had seen many signs of that. Now I suspect that even those poor people probably have a much greater amount of money than I. (Though in the U.S. I can buy more with my money than they can with theirs in Switzerland).

Round 1 of the Elite Group

Well, with that travelogue as the backdrop, let's talk some chess. Magnus Carlsen got off to a good start in the Elite section yesterday, converting the pawn that I thought he would against the lower-rated local, Yannick Pelletier. It took a very long and well-conducted endgame to do so, so the first signs were that he is in good form.

Meanwhile, Caruana and Vachier-Lagrave may not be in quite as good form. I had observed part of their game yesterday, and thought of using a segment as an instructive example, thinking that Vachier was doing things very nicely. But my much stronger roommate, brought a couple questions about that game to my attention:



If Shanky is right about this (and I can't see any refutation to his points), then this is well below Vachier-Lagrave's and Caruana's usual extremely strong calculation skills, and bodes ill for their form in the tournament.

Round 2 of the Elite Group

Today also did not go well for Vachier-Lagrave and Caruana. Vachier-Lagrave was massacring Morozevich, and had a position which I think in general he is just terrific with. I was sure he'd win as I headed home, and then he managed to lose, with one spectacular blunder. I was very sad to see it. I have not bothered figuring out how he could win, but I guarantee he had a way. The game could have been beautiful had he won it.

The first thing I looked to after my game was over was Carlsen-Shirov. At one point during my game I had looked up to the huge digital display and seen that it was a sharp semi-slav, so of course I was going to be interested in it. Carlsen had some preparation and was ahead on the clock then. When my game was done, he had about an hour vs. 10 minutes. Carlsen was thinking, and I was surprised to see the calm body language of Shirov, who was not even looking at his board. The position looked complicated to me, but Shirov's body language was so convincing I thought "hey, he must be really rolling, if he doesn't need to think on his opponent's turn when he has 10 minutes for 15 moves!" Carlsen's demeanor gave nothing away. He calmly looked at the board and thought, that was it.

By the time I got home, Carlsen had won in 6 further moves. Playing over the game, it really looks like Shirov was bent on committing suicide today; it really just seems very hopeless. Sam suggest another explanation for why he wasn't looking at the board: maybe he had already given up on the game.

Caruana played a very uninspiring opening against Pelletier, but then played the endgame out to the last drop, so I don't know whether to say that he was or wasn't trying; that he was or wasn't confident. In any case, drawing with white against the lowest-rated isn't a thrilling result for him.

Carlsen obviously looks like the strongest in the field at this point, but tomorrow he will clash with Moro who is only half a point behind thanks to the gift today, and is always dangerous. That should be a great game!

Round 2 in the Master Tournament

I played a very un-assuming opening today. My opponent appeared to blunder, and I found myself in a two-pawn up ending. This ending will probably be unimpressive to just about anyone, but I was happy with it, because I remembered my chess goals and a couple recent articles on chess.com about converting advantages, winning won positions, and improving technique. I did not think about how my opponent should resign because they were down two pawns for nothing. I did not think about how they had blundered. I did not pitch parts of my advantage to simplify, and I did not gamble my advantage on rushing my pawns forward without calculating the outcome. I treated the position like any other, really thought seriously, and had a mindset that I needed to be totally careful. If you care, there are two good bits of technique you can discern here:

1) Not rushing: I was in no rush to finish the game. I was not trying to get out of the tournament hall and rest. I was not trying to win in the least number of moves, so that someone would say "oh yeah, nice technique." Patience is a virtue I have been trying to work on for a long time, so knowing that was a goal helped me to stay focused when I received the pawns.

2) Preventing counterplay: you can't always do this, but when you can, it's a good idea. Because I was being patient, I kept control of everything, improved my position to the maximum before making progress, and always thought: what piece can she move? Let me keep it from moving!



Yesterday, my roommate Shanky had a disappointing draw with the white pieces in a strange topsy-turvy game, that did not leave him feeling very confident. But today I am happy to report that he won an absolutely beautiful game; but as it's his and not mine, I won't steal it and put it in my blog!

Tomorrow I am playing black against a GM and Sam has white against an IM (but we are not playing each other!).

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