It almost goes without saying, but huge respect to the kid for being able to persevere through massive adversity and achieve such a result. What I want to suggest without hopefully ruining the “feel good” party is that the adversity and the success here aren’t just a striking coincidence but are in fact two sides of the same coin. This kid is winning not (just) due to his natural talents, but because he is more motivated than the other kids. His opponents are playing to win a cool trophy and impress their parents. He is playing for a chance to have a future.
I say this because I had the same drive to win in the early days, although not for the exact same reasons. I wasn’t homeless, but my success at chess competitions was directly linked to the emotional stability of my home environment, which cycled between dysfunctional and abusive. When I won tournaments, my mother showed me love and affection for a period of time afterwards. When I lost, it was bad. As a kid, you learn pretty quickly to dig deep and do what it takes.
I know a fair amount of chess prodigies from back in the day, including some who are still active and top players on the professional circuit. To this day I have not met a single one who didn’t have to deal with major adversity during childhood - broken home, missing or abusive/alcoholic parent, etc.
I’m not saying that we shouldn’t bring kids into competitive chess, or celebrate their accomplishments. I have always loved the game, and still do, despite its relationship to my massively dysfunctional childhood. But I think we need to look deeper into the dark side of competitive scholastic chess culture, most of which comes from misguided parents who view their kids’ success as an extension of their own. We should reward things like integrity and sportsmanship in addition to raw intellectual performance.
For this refugee kid, I hope his gift brings him joy and success, even if he doesn’t go all the way to become the youngest grandmaster. And I hope his story will inspire a conversation about values in the larger competitive chess community.
What you've said rings true across all of those fields, and I've always suspected it generalizes much further. I've sat across children at chess tournaments and piano competitions that seemed driven to a pathological degree without having all that much interest in the subject itself. At the time I found it disconcerting without having any idea as to the causes, so I just assumed I wasn't good enough at the subject. In retrospect, and with the benefit of hindsight (knowing I don't care to pursue a career in any of those subjects), I'm glad I didn't take it as seriously as others did.
I think it does. At one point a light bulb went off when I realized that all of these scholastic talent competitions were basically the intellectual version of childhood beauty pageants. Ultimately I see the whole scene as a cycle - kids from overachiever/dysfunctional backgrounds who grow up, have kids of their own, and then (usually unwittingly) use their own kids as props to help them cope with their own unresolved issues and insecurities.
The closest thing I have to a general takeaway is: don't use your kids as props to deal with your issues. But of course the parents who have enough self awareness to acknowledge their issues aren't the ones who are pushing their kids to an unhealthy degree.
I have none of the most desirable physical traits for my sport and I was coached by my mother, who is obese and has no background in the sport herself, until I was almost a teenager and the national team coaches discovered me. I excelled because if I didn't my mother would physically, verbally, and emotionally abuse me. It was only by destroying my opponents that I was spared of her wrath. I too hope this kid is able to find solace in chess and that it brings him peace and enjoyment instead of acting as a catalyst for pain.
But I don't think we should change how we reward these kids, because in a number of cases that reward keeps them alive, and outcomes from adverse childhood experiences that are not obsessive competitiveness and huge success in a specific area are typically much, much worse.
Yes "normal" people often have trouble seeing this (& it's frustrating as a suffering kid, that adults who are very much not suffering are using your story and taking pride in your accomplishment, as though it's theirs also, not knowing what you narrowly escaped to get there), but it may bring worse outcomes if they did (for example I would never tell my child that Little Johnny is better at basketball than they are because they play every night till 10 because that's all they have to do until their mom gets home and on the courts no one beats them up, even if it's true, because I'm not confident that my "normal" kid would use the information in a way that's wise and kind).
I used to play professionally at Marshall chess club in NYC and one of the grandmasters there went rummaging through our bag for something to eat.
A common joke in that club: What's the difference between a Chess Grandmaster and a pizza?
A pizza can feed a family of four.
You're punching down. Don't do that. If you're in doubt, please refer to HN guidelines:
"Be civil. Don't say things you wouldn't say face-to-face. Don't be snarky."
Also I am pretty sure the gm had money but he had a concept of other people's stuff and had other issues. I am just adding to the point that op made that plenty of chess grandmasters have issues
OP here. The point wasn't about the issues, it's that the issues often result from trauma, therefore we should speak and act with compassion.
In response, you told a story about a grandmaster who stole things from you and cracked a joke about someone being so poor that they couldn't feed their family. Hilarious!
Look, one of the reasons "plenty of chess grandmasters have issues", as you so astutely point out, is that so many people in the chess community think and act like you do. Not to single you out or anything, but this is such a common and harmful pattern. You'd think that people would see someone struggling and, I don't know, reach out to offer support. But instead, people like you make jokes.
Assuming you actually want to be part of a substantive conversation, rather than simply trolling, consider sharing more about where you come from and what you've dealt with, rather than making fun of other people.
I do agree that integrity and sportsmanship - along with the game's beauty - should be placed higher than defeating opponents and that it often isn't. At some point this may just be the nature of competing at the highest levels, but early scholastic chess shouldn't be that point.
Perhaps part of it is cultural. I grew up playing in Russia as a kid (I showed promise, but didn't go nearly as far as you). Chess was deeply woven into the culture and into my family. I have warm memories of an inspiring game that only encouraged development of integrity and perseverance. I've been hoping my child gets into it.
He did, but watching chess in the U.S. leaves me cold. Obsession with ratings, winning, trophies, pragmatism, and plain cheating at ages when these kids should be imagining themselves as honorable warriors is disheartening. I try to guide him through it - and point out the exceptions - but it always feels like swimming against the tide.
"At some point this may just be the nature of competing at the highest levels, but early scholastic chess shouldn't be that point."
Unfortunately, a little-discussed aspect of top level chess is that the only real way to be a contender for the world championships, especially these days, is to start young. Chess mastery is like fluency in a language - you can learn it at any age, but to attain the absolute top levels of performance you need to be a native speaker. This is probably why the cult of prodigies continues despite its downsides. In chess, music, dance, etc. people just love seeing superhuman performance.
"Perhaps part of it is cultural. I grew up playing in Russia"
I think you're right about this. Chess culture in the US is absolutely, positively terrible compared to other countries. I know that it's much better/healthier in Europe. I'm aware that it's a major cultural thing in Russia so I have to believe that it's better over there. Almost like a mental martial art, as opposed to whatever it is in the US.
Josh seems very balanced, it's a great book as well, highly recommended.
> his mother just helps and encourages him without any pressure (that's from her own words, so could be wrong)
For the record, almost everyone says only positive things about their childhood, including people who have been abused. The notion that "family is good" is so powerful that breaking it is one of society's biggest taboos.
Similarly, I have not met a single overbearing parent who doesn't act outwardly like they are nothing but supportive.
This doesn't mean that everyone is lying. Just that you need to take these things with a grain of salt. If abuse was always on the surface, visible to everyone at a casual glance, it wouldn't be nearly so prevalent.
Also: it's terrible to tell a young kid "you are very talented" and similar; positive encouragement is good but it's better to praise effort.
Whether this is true or not is controversial; it's primarily based on research which has many supporters, but which has also failed replication despite many attempts. See Carol Dweck's wiki page (including the "criticism" section) for more.
Not sure about that, but it might have brought him a home if all the attention that led to the gofundme account pans out, and it doesn't get stolen or frittered away.
I was a latch-key kid growing up and can clearly remember hopping on the train after class (with my free student pass) to Manhattan and killing some time at some of the best museums in the world (also free for students) and being exposed to so much.
We must continue to invest in our kids and in social infrastructure like transportation and libraries to spark the next generation.
Kudos to this kid, I just really hope he can make it through. There is unfortunately a huge disparity in what we can expect him to achieve because of his circumstances.
Kids like these should be kept to their own age class ... to protect the fragile egos of patzers like me.
It is almost precisely a year since his first tournament game so there is no exaggeration. Going to 1473 in one year is extremely impressive especially since early tournaments show loses so it isn't like he excelled but simply wasn't rated.
For reference, Magnus Carlson played since 5 (though not too enthusiastically) and was ~900 at age 9. But he was a 1900 a year later.
I think Bobby Fisher won the NY State Championship at age 19 - New York holds many of the strongest US players, naturally.
Tani participated in the New York State Championship. He won the category for children of his age, kindergarten to third grade, with five wins and one draw.
"I am, somehow, less interested in the weight and convolutions of Einstein’s brain than in the near certainty that people of equal talent have lived and died in cotton fields and sweatshops." - Stephen Jay Gould
The granularity of this ranking is interesting.
This is a significant achievement and the boy is undeniably an elite chess player.
Of course if you only cheat once you get away with it as nobody will be sure. However cheating once isn't enough to change a game - in fact it will probably change it for the worse on your side (without knowing what the computer intended you follow a bad line after the otherwise good move). Thus you can look at a series of games and concluded if the player cheated or not. From there you take after the fact adjustments which mostly means recalculate everyone's score as if those games didn't happen.
Interestingly enough, chess masters generally will score alpha zero moves as human not computers. It will be interesting to see how online cheating progresses once better AI based chess computers become available.
There are many giveaways than an algorithm can pick up. All intricate details of cheating detection algorithms aren't revealed for obvious reasons. But some of this stuff is fairly well known. For example it's about the time spent on moves. Cheaters will tend to make their moves at a fairly constant pace (because how long it takes them to check the position with the chess engine is constant). They come up with brilliant moves quickly, but take a bit longer for obvious or forced moves that a human would do without thinking. Cheaters generally don't premove, nor do they ever make moves real fast - which humans often do in time trouble. It's for the exact same reason.
There's also a thing such as blur rate - how often someone switches away from the game window. And certain other heuristics too (hold alert).
Obviously a cheater can avoid triggering some of the alarms, some of them are quite easy to beat (eg. for the blur, just have your chess engine run on a separate device), but in the long run it's difficult for them not to raise various other red flags at the same time. A smart person might figure out how to do it - online cheaters aren't that smart though, and unsurprisingly so, given that online cheating is essentially an exercise in futility.
This doesn't mean smart people don't cheat at chess at all. They do; at actual chess tournaments, where there's something at stake, be it prize money or real titles.
The result is that time controls have shortened accordingly. It's a lot harder to cheat convincingly when you're playing bullet chess, whereas it might be easier to do so when you're playing 10 or 15-minute time controls.
However, getting a computer to play realistically like a good eight-year old wouldn't be to easy. The computer-generated moves would stand out much more due to the skill differential than, say, if a grand master cheated using a chess engine.
it's a term across all sports
Was there an edit to the OP I missed? What are you disagreeing with exactly? It was clearly a statement of opinion about how they found it interesting.
You couldn't just elucidate more on the reasoning for the classifications, you had to first tell them they were wrong and then pedantically explain it.
Peak fucking HN commenting.
I think chess.com is actually writing code to combat sandbagging. I don't know if they're using machine learning for it yet, but it would certainly be possible for a deep learning system to spot probable sandbaggers, if they have enough history of their games.
Typically one would not want to enter an official tournament as unrated player while being a low rated player as that's the only time when one can compete in a low bracket and win a purse.
Intelligence is also a function of knowledge too however, it’s not purely a trait you’re born with. So the more correct knowledge you have on how to think and approach problems the smarter you are. You can easily see this today with the different decisions people make arround the world, where the base intelligence rates are the same but the decisions people make aren’t the same quality.
From the very beginning of my work with New Guineans, they impressed me as being on the average more intelligent, more alert, more expressive, and more interested in things and people around them than the average European or American is. At some tasks that one might reasonably suppose to reflect aspects of brain function, such as the ability to form a mental map of unfamiliar surroundings, they appear considerably more adept than Westerners. Of course, New Guineans tend to perform poorly at tasks that Westerners have been trained to perform since childhood and that New Guineans have not. Hence when unschooled New Guineans from remote villages visit towns, they look stupid to Westerners. Conversely, I am constantly aware of how stupid I look to New Guineans when I'm with them in the jungle, displaying my incompetence at simple tasks (such as following a jungle trail or erecting a shelter) at which New Guineans have been trained since childhood and I have not.
The whole prologue is worth reading when contemplating the fraught question of nature and nurture and the importance of IQ.
You need these sharp kids to grow up and help their own people so that there are less people wanting to escape.
Of course there is a valid argument for Americans to say we can not take infinite people in anymore for various reasons and that is a fine argument. I think however it is unfair to force identities on people that they themselves are not interested in.
We can extend similar arguments and say no black kid should move out of harlem and travel to pursue career in tech in Silicon valley instead she should stay back in Harlem and help "her" people.
working for a tech company in SV is NOT the best thing for humanity. There is much more to do in Harlem or in this case Nigeria than working on marketing tech in the bay.
You are underestimating how big the SV has been as a force of good around the world and the positive impact a company like Google has on even the tiny and remote villages in India or Africa. As someone who has come from dirt poor family and a completely backward village I can attest to that.
Whenever people express this principle you did in that fashion it can't help but sound like a dog whistle of rationalisation for isolationalist and nationalist principles.
I'm sorry if it isn't.
selecting for highly intelligent immigrants is eugenicism, one step above racism - since racism at least allows for prejudicial morality, biological determinism doesn't have space for free will, let alone natural genetic variability or universal morality. rich european nations engage in various varian disasters in order to push through more regulations. america engages in predatory forced immigration by destabilizing ripe nations and then preying on their elites with faustian bargains. it's colonialism of the mind.
if world power cared about the poor of africa they would stabilize it with a permanent global peace keeping force for one or two generations, and allow people the freedom and space to develop outside of the debt structure which has crippled them since independence. yes, they would do this by forced occupation, at the gasp cost of national sovereignty. china is engaged and accelerating in this process for the coming decades, and in return will secure resources for the next century of cold war.
assad said something very telling when asked before the 2016 us presidential election who he preferred, it was something to the effect of "we don't listen to what the american politicians say, because they always do the opposite when they come to power. we will wait to see what they do."
it's unfortunate that so many people just accept what america says, and avoid looking at what it does, has done, will do.
He owes Nigeria nothing.
(I'm seriously asking. I want to know how many other similarly bright minds aren't being supported to their full potential due to circumstances not their fault, and what public administrative techniques have been proven to work or not work and why.)
The argument goes like this:
> Because why should I care for someone else's child and why should I shell out money because someone decided to have children even though they shouldn't have ?
For example, I don't want to support some kids' religious education, because I think religion is a form of handcuffs. When we give to a homeless person, we don't want it used for drugs.
In general, we want our giving to support our values. With other people's children, especially children in a different socioeconomic group, that's unlikely.
Social security and welfare is 36% of our federal budget. Education is only 7%. We have free universal healthcare and that's only 16%.
There is a literal culture here of living off support and having large families. You get more funding for larger families. The children tend to follow in the footsteps of their parents. Exponential math is taught in high school, it doesn't take much to see how this ends up. I understand your human argument for these children but I'm concerned with our ability to look after families in 20 years time, or 50 years time.
Prudent or not, the deed is done; the child is here now and has real needs now. Get over punishing the child for being born and do the right thing.
Because those children will grow and join society. When you are old, some will be your doctors and some will be the attendants pushing your wheelchair. They will vote and drive, form opinions and act on them. They will work, or not, and will require more or less in public services. They are not going to disappear, regardless of how you view their parents.
Today's children will be the society around you. Make it a strong one.
The worst part of this is it naturally encourages classism. Only wealthy people should have children, only wealthy people should have pets, etc.
I'd be happy if we could get an equal reproduction rate across all income demographics, i.e. more children for wealthy people. As it is we seem to be inadvertently running a selective breeding program against those most capable of thriving in our society. We should stop doing that.
The context we we're talking about was specifically taken in terms of intelligence. Or "potential". If you want to make the argument that intelligence potential is affected by your ethnicity, you are free to do so, though I doubt such ideas will be well received :)
This idea of talent being equally distributed may not be factually accurate. But it's something I'd prefer to believe regardless and be wrong about.
This is fine so long as you are judicious about what actions follow from such beliefs. If it motivates you to seek opportunity and encouragement for all, that is wonderful. If it motivates others to run witch-hunts in against fairly meritocratic organisations whose makeup stubbornly refuses to conform to their beliefs, that is less than wonderful.
I'm not entirely sure what you're talking about. Can you give a specific example of a witch-hunt like this?
I imagine you're talking about something where (for low-stakes example) a video game competition is typically dominated by 20 year old white males. Someone stirs the boat and tries to make changes so that 50 year old hispanic women place better, despite worse objective performance.
Obviously that would not be a great thing to do! However, let's not assume the makeup of meritocratic organisations is always as fair as we think.
In the video game example, the inconsistency with the makeup is not necessarily because 20 year old males are, by nature since birth, better at video games. But for mostly social reasons, having had more exposure.
I'm sure they wouldn't be, but this is not how you disprove an idea.
I just don't think much is gained by knowing factually that X people have greater intelligence than Y people.
In my opinion, that knowledge can only be used to be divisive and destructive. Lets operate off the principle that all people can have great potential, and work from there. Some things are worth being wrong about.
The Sam Harris crowd loves this argument
No. There is not data to support this belief, and the problem becomes when people expect this result and make rules to create this outcome.
At least with things like chess playing and related abilities, there is no data to suggest the opposite belief either. Any observations that we could use at sufficient scale are massively confounded by other huge environmental variables.
There are more white high school basketball players but more black college basketball players. Are you claiming that's 100% environmental?
I said determining the cause of high ability in things like chess is not straightforward because of the confounding environmental factors.
Just because your cherry picked example of basketball has an obvious first order physical correlation to performance (height) doesn't mean it's comparable to chess.
And your example also ignores the fact that white students tend to have more avenues to access college than black students, so don't need basketball programs nearly as much.
The interesting and impressive part comes not only from the achievement itself (winning the championship) but doing it despite their situation and past (refugee, homelessness, etc)
That's damn impressive any way you cut it, just under 1587USCF meaning he's playing at about the grade of an average active adult chess player (and far beyond an average player)...at 8 after a year living in pretty grim life circumstances.
Little dude is inspiring.
I think I was about 11 when I learned the game, and before long with no particular study I could beat most of my neighborhood peer group and some adults.
Then I actually went to my local middle school competition, was handed a series of decisive defeats, and learned there's a world of people who begin to make a serious study of it in childhood, same as there are serious students and even prodigies when it comes to musical instruments, and in that arena, I was nowhere near the top of the local pool.
Let alone a New York pool, where I suspect there are 8 year olds that could give many HN participants a run for their money.
But to the casual reader who isn't familiar with age brackets in chess tournaments, the implication is that the 8-year-old was competing in a singular competition open to everyone and won. So while it is very impressive that this 8-year-old won the state championship in his age bracket, it is far less impressive than if he had competed against all ages and won.
Sometimes clarification is just that. Nobody is taking anything away from the kid's accomplishments by pointing out that it was an age-bracketed competition unless you're hoping people are mislead into believing the kid did more than he did.
It's truly impressive being able to progress as fast as this, from what seems to be still a very basic and informal training.
Anyone who is good gets noticed quickly in the chess world. There are rich people in chess who will sponsor kids. All great kids in the US will get a free chess coach to get them better (I'm not sure how great you need to be to get this). Many other countries have similar chess sponsors.
If you read the article you will see that his school chess club waived their normal fees and even found him a coach (before he would qualify on the national level)
We detached this subthread from https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19446089 and marked it off-topic.
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Yet I don't see cellphone chess programs make first page, for some reason.
Why is that?
They're out of their class and dramatically outmatched - the cellphone chess programs can't really compete with better resourced chess computers
It just comes across as churlish, though.
EDIT: Even the fact that the comment was edited from some stupid pseudocode, into something that cries "wrongthink" plays thusly...
If this kid had been from a Uyghur family in China and his father had been killed in a Chinese internment camp it would not be "wrongthink" for a western newspaper to say "8-year old fleeing from religious oppression in China wins New York State Championship", though it would be "wrongthink" to print this in a Chinese newspaper or even an Indonesian newspaper. A presidential candidate in Indonesia recently declined to comment on China's mistreatment of muslims for example.
The thing is, literally none of the words you used in your pseudocode are "wrongthink" here.
This was straight-up, "person says awful thing, catches flak, and cries oppression."
EDIT: That's not oppression. It's disapproval.