How to be a better chess player

This is the second post in a multiple post series. Yesterday, I discussed how the news media is missing an important part of the discussion with the International Astronautical Union or the IAU, on the new system of naming what is and is not a planet. My general idea was that there is a vast difference between a non-governing body such as the International Astronautical Union declaring a new naming convention and the masses, you and I, accepting this convention. Today I wish to further this relation between researchers and information being accepted into mainstream society.

Scientific American has an article describing a study involving the memory retention of chess players. The article can be read at this web address – http://www.sciam.com/print_version.cfm?articleID=00010347-101C-14C1-8F9E83414B7F4945. The largest difference between a grandmaster at chess, and an expert player or a novice player, wasn’t that they looked at more moves or looked further ahead in the game. Instead it was in how the players viewed the game. A grandmaster viewed the current game board and it’s setup as a sub-set of a type of chess game. For example:

To a beginner, a position with 20 chessmen on the board may contain far more than 20 chunks of information, because the pieces can be placed in so many configurations. A grandmaster, however, may see one part of the position as “fianchettoed bishop in the castled kingside,” together with a “blockaded king’s-Indian-style pawn chain,” and thereby cram the entire position into perhaps five or six chunks( of information).

All of the chess players studied scored about the same on memory tests and intelligence tests. So the skill of a chess player is not from his/her IQ score or memory recall but intelligent organization and distribution of information.

Now what does this have to do with information from researches being presented and accepted by the masses. It comes from how researches present information, in long drawn out boring papers that very few people want to or have the time to read. The only people who have the time or desire to read the full paper are the people who specialize in that same field that the paper is written for. Now, yes research papers do have abstracts to summarize what is presented in the paper, but even these are long drawn out boring things that no one reads. Now I am not advocating another summarization of papers, instead what I am advocating is a new way of writing papers and in presenting information to the masses.

Papers and information should be presented in the same way that the Grandmasters of chess recall the board, in chunks, in easy to distill and understand chucks of data. These chunks do not have to present all the information, for the general public doesn’t need to have all the information that is actually contained in the paper. But, and this I believe this is the key, the public does have to understand and remember the information, if that information is to make any difference to society.

There are a great host of examples of this in history, and that will be the discussion tomorrow. How when information is presented in a way that is easy to remember and understand, the general public will accept it as fact and that is the only way the International Astronautical Union will ever be able to change Science books from listing 9 planets, and not the 12 or so that we could end up with.

Justin Yost is a full-time Software Engineer and a part time educator. A graduate of Texas Tech University with a bachelor's degree in computer science, Justin relishes programming and learning more about anything and everything. When not working, Justin occasionally gives talks at the local PHP Meetup. In his free time, Justin enjoys backpacking and reading science fiction books.

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