Thursday, February 24, 2011

Victory in Twelve Moves

I recently won a game at chess.com in speed chess. My opponent was Qasaal of Somalia who played black. My opponent made a number of mistakes which allowed me to win quickly. Here are the moves of the game along with my commentary:

1. e4 e5
2. Nf3 Nc6
3. Bb5 a6
4. Bxc6 bxc6

Black makes a mistake. He should play dxc to open the c8-h3 diagonal for his bishop and d-file for his queen.

5. d4 Bb7
6. dxe Rb8

This move by black is not the best. It is better to develop the kingside bishop and knight to prepare for castling.

7. Nc3 c5

With this move black opens a diagonal for the queen bishop but the king knight and bishop are still on their original squares.

8. 0-0 Nh6
9. Bxh6 gxh6

I capture the knight to weaken black's kingside.

10. Nd5 c6

This is a mistake. My knight wants to go to f6. To stop this, black must play Bg7.

11. Nf6+ Ke7

Black's move is forced.

12. Qd6#

I achieve a quick and decisive victory because of black's lack of development, weakened pawn structure and inability to prevent moves such as Nf6+. Though material is almost even, black cannot protect his king. This in turn leads to his rapid downfall.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Peer Gynt

Peer Gynt is the title of a beautiful play by the Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen. It is also the name of the music composed for the play by the Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg upon the request of Henrik Ibsen. The play consists of five acts and in the original Norwegian language is like a long poem.

Peer Gynt is the son of the formerly highly-regarded Jon Gynt. Unfortunately, Jon Gynt wastes all his money on parties and luxuries until nothing is left. He has to leave his farm as a travelling salesman, leaving his wife and son in debt. ├ůse, Peer's mother, wishes to raise her son to restore the family's lost fortune, but Peer is a lazy dreamer who fails to live up to his mother's wishes.

Later in the play Peer marries a woman named Solveig but he is banished because he marries her against her family's wishes. He has a bad reputation and Solveig's family wants nothing to do with him. After he is banished, Peer's mother, Solveig and Solveig's father look for him in the mountains. They cannot find him.

Peer builds his own cottage in the hills. Solveig appears and insists on living with him. She has made her choice and has no plans to return. Peer is delighted and welcomes her warmly. However, Peer starts to remember all his previous sins and cannot face Solveig. He tells Solveig he has something heavy to collect, returns to his childhood home in time for his mother's death and then travels overseas.

Peer spends years abroad where he engages in several occupations. These include the role of a slavetrader, missionary, businessman and historian. The reader is aware that much of Peer's life is a dream. He has a vivid imagination and many of his experiences are not reality.

In the final act, Peer returns home as an old man. He has lost all his possessions and feels that he is nothing. At that moment, Solveig starts to sing. The cabin he built is near but he does not dare enter. He feels guilty for having abandoned her. In one of the most touching parts of the entire play, Peer asks her, "Where has Peer Gynt been since we last met? Where was I as the one I should have been, whole and true, with the mark of God on my brow?" She answers, "In my faith, in my hope, in my love." With these words, Peer understands that she has never abandoned him and truly loves him.

Peer Gynt is a fascinating play which explores a number of themes. These include love and duty, sin and forgiveness, and reality and imagination. The themes of love and forgiveness are clearly expressed in Solveig's words at the end of the play.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

The low vowel in Canadian and American English

A feature of Canadian English is the pronunciation of borrowed words with low vowels. Borrowed words such as pasta, Mazda, drama, and taco are often pronounced with the front vowel of "cat" whereas Americans tend to use the back vowel of "far."

Charles Boberg found that for 15 such borrowings, the Canadian pronunciation was always more likely than the American pronunciation to have the front vowel . For example, 82% of his American informants pronounce "panorama" with a front vowel in the third syllable, compared to 94% of Canadians. In a parallel manner, 5% of the Americans in his study pronounced pasta with a front vowel in the first syllable, compared to 81% of Canadians.

The following table provides a list of items Boberg used. For nearly each word, at least 70% of his Canadian informants had a pronunciation with the front vowel, with the exception of "macho," "taco," and "Vietnam." In these cases, however, the Canadian pronunciation was still more likely to use the front vowel than the American pronunciation was.

American pronunciation with low back vowel/Canadian pronunciation with low back vowel (in the case of multisyllabic words, this applies to the stressed syllable)

panorama 18% 6%
Pakistani 21% 9%
Iraq 28% 7%
pyjamas 58% 15%
plaza 75% 16%
Colorado 86% 26%
Vietnam 86% 44%
taco 88% 48%
Slavic 89% 15%
Mazda 93% 18%
macho 93% 68%
llama 94% 29%
pasta 95% 19%
lava 95% 23%
drama 95% 25%

Here is a list of many more borrowed words that tend to have the front vowel in Canadian English:

places- Acapulco, Basque, Colorado, Iran, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Nevada, Slavic, Slovakia, Vietnam, Yokohama, Yugoslavia
foods- avocado, bratwurst, cilantro, goulash, nacho, pasta, pecan, pistachio, souvlaki, taco
products- Datsun, Fiat, Lada, Mazda, Nissan, Yahoo

It is clear that Canadians are far likelier to use the front vowel in borrowed words than Americans. In many cases, the use of the front vowel is rare in American English. As a result, this is a feature which serves to distinguish Canadian and American English.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Queen and Knight

I recently won a game at chess.com in which my queen and knight combined to mate. My opponent was Qais71 of New Zealand who played black. Here are the moves of the game along with my commentary:

1. e4 d5
2. exd Qxd5

This opening is known as the Scandinavian Defence. Black has an open d-file but the queen comes out early.

3. Nc3 Qd8

This retreat by black is not the best. A more popular move is Qa5.

4. Nf3 g6
5. Bc4 Bg7
6. 0-0 e6

Black protects the f7 square.

7. Re1 Ne7

Here it is more common for black to play Nf6. He probably wants to keep the diagonal open for the bishop on g7.

8. d3 0-0
9. Be3 b6
10. Qd2 Bb7

I do not want black to capture my knight and destroy the pawn structure around my king.

11. Ng5 a6
12. Bxe6 Qd6

Black does not accept my bishop sacrifice because I can then play Nxe6 which forks his queen and rook.

13. Bxf7+ Rxf7

I take the pawn to further expose the black king.

14. Nxf7 Kxf7

White has an extra piece but I have two extra pawns and the black king is exposed.

15. Bh6 Kg8

Black does not want the white queen on h6.

16. Bxg7 Kxg7
17. Qe2 Nf5
18. Ne4 Qc6

I cannot move my knight on my next move because then black can mate.

17. f3 Nd7

Black finally frees his rook on a1.

18. Ng5 Nf6
19. Ne6+ Kh6
20. Qd2+ g5

After my twentieth move, mate is unavoidable.

21. Qxg5#

The keys to victory in this game are my protected king, ability to expose the black king and coordination of my knight and queen. Black has a material advantage but it is of no consequence. My pieces are better developed than his.

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