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8-Year-Old Refugee Wins New York State Championship (chess.com)
409 points by MKais on March 20, 2019 | hide | past | favorite | 177 comments

As someone who had the unfortunate label of “prodigy” applied to me in my youth (chess master at age 10), I’d like to offer a perspective.

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.

I'm someone who didn't have a traditionally dysfunctional home life and wasn't driven enough to be labelled a "prodigy", but I was good enough at chess, piano and math as a child to meet plenty of prodigies at those subjects in various settings.

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've always suspected it generalizes much further."

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.

This common in many competitive activities, unfortunately. I had the chance to represent my country at the Olympics for my sport (I'd rather not reveal which one for privacy reasons), but I chose to retire and pursue a university education instead.

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.

It's not unlikely that people who are successful have adverse childhoods (even when the adversity is not directly related to the activity of their success unlike yours) because it's a lot easier to survive the sheer terror of being 1) a child and 2) reminded that you have neither power nor security day in and day out with the dopamine rush of being the very, very best at something. It builds resilience.

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 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 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.

Although I can appreciate self deprecating humor, it seems that you are simply using my comment to make fun of people who have already dealt with tremendous adversity. Does it make you feel better about yourself to tell stories and jokes about grandmasters who didn't have enough to eat?

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."


How is this snarky or uncivil? The lack of opportunity to earn good money is the reason I never continued on my journey to play chess professionally.

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

"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 recently read Searching for Bobby Fisher and Joshua Waitzkin's childhood seemed intense, but not broken. Would you consider him an exception or is that level of intensity itself dysfunctional in your view?

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.

I'm not all that familiar with Waitzkin's story. Pretty sure I met him back him in the day, but we certainly didn't talk about this stuff back then. And I haven't read that book. If you can give me some specific events, I could offer an opinion. That said, I'm not certain how much of a say he had (or profits he shared) in the book/movie based on him. Purely a gut reaction but I suspect there was at least some garden variety exploitation going on.

"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.

Don’t forget that Searching for Bobby Fisher was written by Waitzkin’s father and almost certainly is bending the reality to the story he wants to tell/image he wants to project.

'The art of learning' is written by Josh himself and didn't leave me with an abusive childhood impression.

Josh seems very balanced, it's a great book as well, highly recommended.

While common, it's not so bad. Carlsen has a good family and he wasn't pressured to do anything. Polgar sisters were raised as chess players, but they all say only positive things about their childhood. 9 y.o Tihon Chernyaev is close to the level of Fide Master and plays competitively, but it's more of his obsession, and his mother just helps and encourages him without any pressure (that's from her own words, so could be wrong).

> but they all say only positive things about their childhood

> 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.

There is a relationship between great success and hard childhood, I think PG for ex wrote a tweet about this around last weekend.

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.

> 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.

> I hope his gift brings him joy and success,

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.

Yeah, I was trying to get at something, but "joy and success" didn't really capture it. The fact that his gofundme raised enough for him to move into a new home - that's what I'm talking about.


I read this kid's story in the times and as a native of NYC it just helped to strengthen my conviction that NYC, despite all of its problems, is truly a microcosm of what makes America great.

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.

The best part is that is they uplifting one youth is exponential they help their family and they in turn help their children / siblings. This is how class mobility happens. Thanks for such a positive comment.

I got whooped by a 10 year old girl in a local tournament. And I didn't make any gruesome mistakes, she just out thunk me. Of course it was one of the last games of the day, so there was a big crowd around the board.

Kids like these should be kept to their own age class ... to protect the fragile egos of patzers like me.

You can find Top 100 lists at http://www.uschess.org/component/option,com_top_players/Item... and his play history at http://www.uschess.org/msa/MbrDtlMain.php?16649696 .

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.

Who is Magnus Carlson?

Typos or not, in a Chess thread, there should be enough context to recognize who is widely regarded as the greatest chess player to have ever lived.

I remember reading that Carlsen memorized all of the world capitals aged 2, so it's not the case that there was no warning he might be exceptional player :)

He won the State Championship for children in his age category. If he had won New York State Championship for all ages, he would have been indescribably far advanced.

I think Bobby Fisher won the NY State Championship at age 19 - New York holds many of the strongest US players, naturally.

Fischer won the US championship for adults at the age of 14. He then went on to become the youngest candidate for the world championship in history at the age of 15 - a distinction he still holds.

A year after learning to play chess he has a USCF rating of 1473 and is #27 in America for eight-year-olds.

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[0].

"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

[0] https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/16/opinion/sunday/chess-cham...

"And somewhere there in China there is a bus driver equally as talented as Tiger Woods at golf and yet a virgin" - Scott Adams creator of Dilbert Comics.

> #27 in America for eight-year-olds

The granularity of this ranking is interesting.

I disagree. This isn't a contrived category, which is common in tournaments, to make them interesting. On chess.com and Lichess there are chess tournaments that are restricted to people with lower than, say, a 1500 rating. If a 1700 chess player plays worse on purpose to get the score down, that's called sandbagging. There is little room for sandbagging here. People can't just change their ages, or up and move to the US. There are age ratings and regional divisions in different sports, and it both makes things more fair and opens up more opportunity to compete.

This is a significant achievement and the boy is undeniably an elite chess player.

Edit: s/soundbagging/sandbagging/g

What (if anything) stops people from cheating in online tournaments (by simply asking a computer for the best next move, given the current board arrangement)?

After game analysis. When someone picks the computer best most from a position you can ask how likely it is they came up with that on their own. Expert chess players recognize computer moves fairly accurately in a lot of situations (this is easy to test, just take a bunch of positions, show the last move and ask if it was human or computer). From there human judges look at the game and decide how likely it is someone cheated.

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 is more to it than that.

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.

I see, that’s interesting. Although I also wonder if players cheat in other, more subtle, ways such as to just prevent blunders; not necessarily to choose the best moves.

Yes, they do.

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.

People's honor and integrity. :) There are anti-cheating counter-measures but they would be trivial to defeat for someone who knows a little bit about how computer chess works. For example, Lichess is a free chess site and all the source code is open, except for the anti-cheating heuristics.

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.

They aren't necessarily so trivial. I don't know about Lichess, but (commercial and much better funded) Chess.com employs very advanced, and continuously improved cheating detection mechanisms.

I believe that the site (popular chess sites anyway) can detect when someone is continually playing the best (or near-best?) move, and often it's hard to just use the chess engine for one move because they can play "strategically" too of course.

You disagree that it's interesting?


it's a term across all sports

Including esports, where my experience with the term implies a meaning of "to intentionally disrespect your opponent by playing below your known skill level" https://www.ssbwiki.com/Sandbagging

> I disagree.

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.

Yes, I'm disagreeing with the claim that it's interesting. Interestingness isn't entirely subjective. Mostly, though, I'm sticking up for the kid, whose sub-1500 rating shouldn't be scoffed at by any chess player who's more than, say, 10 years old.

Did you maybe misread the first comment you replied to? What exactly is it you're saying isn't interesting?

minor correction: "sandbagging". the term is common in the scrabble tournament community too, and i'd always assumed it was metaphorically "ambush by hitting someone over the head with a sandbag", but apparently that's only the presumed etymology, and there is at least one other theory out there: https://ridemonkey.bikemag.com/threads/anybody-know-origins-...

My understanding is it’s from car racing. Putting sandbags in during qualifying to make min weight. Then removed during the race to make the car lighter and faster.

just a typo :) thanks!

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.

It is a hard problem. People have good and bad streaks. People sometimes play drunk, which isn't actually sandbagging but has the same effect. People sometimes play tired and miss moves that would be obvious if they were more awake.

Well the USCF knows your exact USCF rating and your birth date, so it is very easy for them to make these lists. Though they should be taken with a grain of salt because, especially for young players who are improving quickly, their rating is very likely a lagging indicator of their current skill.

One thing to remember is that someone who has no official rating enters a tournament as unrated. The "does not suck in chess but isn't any good" rating is about 1500. Union Sq has a couple of Asian kids who play 1600-1700 hustlers ( with their parents watching ) and do about even with the which would make them about the same range. I'm sure they are unrated according to the US Chess Federation.

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.

There’s efforts to correct the record on the Middle Ages too for this reason. The History Unplugged POD cast for example has a series on it.

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.

I feel Jared Diamond illustrated this beautifully in his prologue to Guns, Germs, and Steel:

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.


It's four-year-wide bracket, "for eight-year-olds" is going a bit too far in describing it.

i'm highly paraphrasing (dont really know the source and maybe the its from SJG) but your quote really reminds me of -- "do you know the best painter that ever lived? a chinese potato farmer"

"Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses...." And they are sending us their best too.

yeah think of what he could have done for Nigeria. actually kind of sad.

You need these sharp kids to grow up and help their own people so that there are less people wanting to escape.

Sadly that is wrong kind of thinking. What make other Nigerians "his people" or his responsibility ? I feel humanity's interests are best served if an individual is able to move to the place where his talents are best used. World and consequently Nigeria is a better place because this little kid is in NY and not in a child grave in Nigeria.

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.

>the place where his talents are best used >to pursue career in tech in Silicon valley

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 plain wrong. A good engineer can hav far better impact on the world through doing engineering (or marketing, or something else) where it is valued the most than doing the same thing in low opportunity areas like Harlem.

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.

why'd ya wanna shake it that way? There's nothing stopping him from giving back at a later stage. Refugees are refugees for a reason, people leave countries for a reason. When the conditions are right again I'm sure they'll visit or their children will, giving an opportunity to contribute. Sometimes you've gotta leave, would you be annoyed for a Russian leaving Putin's autocratic Russia? For some (depending on career and background) it becomes the only safe option.

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.

isolationism and nationalism IS america....

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.

The whole point about refugees is you don't know what they will become, especially children.

Smart though he is, he couldn't contribute much from a child's grave.

I wonder if you would have the same reaction if this was a Pakistani kid, for instance. There’re lots of talented Nigerian immigrants all over the world - this kid won’t be the first lost to the US. And there are lots more talented kids that couldn’t make it out to the US, in Nigeria and in other developing countries.

Who is to say that he won't go back to his country of birth at a later time and use the knowledge he gained elsewhere to help them pull themselves up?

Do you know his story?

Nigeria tried to kill him.

He owes Nigeria nothing.

NYT's Nicholas Kristof (the first to tell the story) announced a GoFundMe campaign to help Tani's family: https://www.gofundme.com/just-tani

A very successful one: currently at $193,339 of $50,000 goal, in 4 days.

How can we, as a society, support our future during its most vulnerable time (childhood)? How is it possible that we still have homeless children in a country with so much wealth?

(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.)

> How can we, as a society, support our future during its most vulnerable time (childhood)? How is it possible that we still have homeless children in a country with so much wealth?

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 ?

Taking it further, it's because when we offer goodwill, we want it to have strings attached. When you support someone else through charitable donations, you want certain restrictions on it.

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.

I don't see anything wrong with wanting conditions attached to handouts, everyone has their own moral system. I see nothing wrong with helping support two children whose parents have been unable to earn due to injury / illness. If a single mum with 9 kids has a history of having more children while demanding hand outs then I'm not do keen.

Children in poverty should not have to rely your discretionary, strings-attached, judgement-laden charity. They need good public services fully funded by your mandatory, fair, and sufficient taxes.

I live in a very heavily taxed nation and across the board, we are seeing all our government services degrade more and more. I pay over 50% direct tax and all our services are crying out for funding. The ability to fund these "good public services" is dependent on having a large tax-paying base.

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.

The counter-argument goes like this:

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.

Perhaps, but at even the most basic understanding of economic incentives you have to see how it's not that simple if the parent is still in the care of their pre-existing guardian.

So, which do we consider more important: some kind of theoretical economic nudge, or actual children without homes, without adequate food, healthcare, and education?

The counter-counter argument is that not giving someone your money isn't "punishing" them, it's just retaining consent over your finances which everyone should have a right to do, without shame.

The counter-counter-counter argument is that, in a society of interdependent individuals, ownership is a limited right which may be curtailed in the face of substantial harm to that society, e.g., in the way that poverty amounts to a higher burden to the interests of ensuring the nominally inalienable right to life than the costs of ameliorating poverty would be.

How much of "your" money is an indirect result of previous generations' sacrifice so that you can have a better life?

I don't think previous generations were particularly altruistic toward the poor. In general people "sacrifice" for their family or themselves, not for others.

> "why should I care for someone else's child"

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.

> 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 ?

The worst part of this is it naturally encourages classism. Only wealthy people should have children, only wealthy people should have pets, etc.

> 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.

Well, that would require investing in sex education, financial education, and contraceptive distribution for poor people. So, we're right back to square one.

It's a good question to ask, and a subject that needs to be addressed. However, I don't think the answers will matter much in this specific case because the boy and his family are refugees. That comes with its own peculiar issues (and political biases).

FWIW, he was living in a shelter, so housing was being provided.

As they say, talent is evenly distributed and opportunity is not. Good on the little fella.

Talent is nowhere near evenly distributed. As this boy shows.

Evenly distributed not in the sense that everyone has an equal amount, but that every way you can cut up demographics (age, race, sex, nationality) will have the same bell curve of talent. But that is not necessarily so with opportunity.

No offense, but it seems preposterous to suggest the talent distribution within any demographic category is uneven, but if you compare two demographic categories, they are the same. Take a look at the top marathon runners, and tell me that the long distance running talent is distributed equally in Bolivia and Kenya.

Well that's more of a question on what defines "talent" - and if such a thing exists. Genetic predisposition certainly is a thing in sports, and genetics and ethnicity are obviously closely related.

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.

> 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.

> it motivates others to run witch-hunts in against fairly meritocratic organisations whose makeup stubbornly refuses to conform to their beliefs

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.

> 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 :)

I'm sure they wouldn't be, but this is not how you disprove an idea.

I didn't try to disprove anything. In fact, that may very well be true. The OP was hinting at the idea, and I wanted to explicate it, while acknowledging the controversy of it.

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 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 :)

The Sam Harris crowd loves this argument

Aspiring marathoners in Kenya will have a lot of opportunities. Does Bolivia have the same infrastructure (training programs, mentors, etc)? I'm guessing the answer is no. Distribution of Olympic medals can be predicted by GDP alone, which is more aligned with/is a proxy for 'opportunity' than it is with 'talent', IMO.

let's drop a kenyan marathon runner in the bolivian andes and let's see how far he gets over the course of 1 week compared to a bolivian farmer.

“Not everyone can be a chess champion but a chess champion can come from anywhere”.

Is that a modified ratatouille quote? That's been my philosophy for a while :)

It's a good quote!

What reason do you have to believe that?

>but that every way you can cut up demographics (age, race, sex, nationality) will have the same bell curve of talent.

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.

> No. There is not data to support this belief,

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.

Let's take an easy one: basketball.

There are more white high school basketball players but more black college basketball players. Are you claiming that's 100% environmental?

I never said it was 100% environmental (those are your words).

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.

I think he means geographically

Talent is highly distributed, Opportunity is not. Fixed it for you.

Talent is higher-entropy than opportunity.

Pithy, but that’s not really what entropy is about (logarithm of microstates corresponding to a macrostate).

As who says? And what reason do they have to believe it?

Imagine the potential this kid has if he was able to achieve this while his family was homeless... I am both impressed and jealous!

Flipping it around, imagine he grew up in a stereotypical middle class suburb and, instead of pursuing chess, he spent his idle time watching YouTube videos of influencers unboxing toys on his iPhone.

Ah, apparently you have met my son and all his friends. Getting any of them to be passionate about anything but YouTube and PlayStations seems all but impossible.

Nicely put.

alongside the potential distractions when different preoccupations are available

Title is very misleading as it implies he was competing against adults. "8 year old refugee better than any other 8 year old" is a far less interesting story than the implied chess prodigy.

I don't think so - if I read about an 8 year old winning a tennis championship, I'd assume they're playing with other kids.

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)

Tennis is a physical sport where it would be virtually impossible for a preteen to beat an adult. Chess is an intellectual exercise.

Still, I don't think the title is misleading. If he was playing against adults, I'd explicitly include that in the title because it's majorly impressive.

Title should say "New York State Chess Championship".

In his age category.

He's 27th in the country out of his age range and he's up against a lot of kids with every advantage in life.

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.

At 9 years old most kids have not been playing long. It wouldn't surprise me if he studied more hours than everyone else in his class (homeless implies no other toys to play with) which begs the question why are the other 26 better than him with less study. Note that wouldn't surprise me doesn't mean much - I have no clue how much study he does.

Studying more then the other competitors is definitely to one's credit, arguably more so then any innate talent.

At a state level or above, distinction in any age category is a distinction.

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.

> At a state level or above, distinction in any age category is a distinction.

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.

The casual reader could always read the article, which is pretty explicit about the age bracket. This clarification is only needed for people who want to jump in and discuss the headline, and they don't need encouragement.

He's currently at the same level of Praggnanandhaa[1], world's youngest Grandmaster, one year after he started his FIDE rating [2].

It's truly impressive being able to progress as fast as this, from what seems to be still a very basic and informal training.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rameshbabu_Praggnanandhaa

[2] https://ratings.fide.com/id.phtml?event=25059530

Praggnanandhaa is actually the fourth youngest GM of all time and the third youngest right now, but still, it's impressive. There's no guarantees that this kid will progress at the same rate, but don't let that take away from the feel-good aspect of the story.

well, if his rating is 1473, then he plays chess after just one year of learning better than I can after 30+ years...

Clearly you're not familiar with competitions.

I am curious how they funded the tournament play. It tends to cost about $10/rated game.

Most tournament directors are nice people and will find an exception or sponsor for someone who is really poor to afford the fees.

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)

Wouldn't hurt to put chess in the title.


This story radically changes my world views. Eye opener.


"Eschew flamebait. Don't introduce flamewar topics unless you have something genuinely new to say. Avoid unrelated controversies and generic tangents."


We detached this subthread from https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19446089 and marked it off-topic.

There is some beautiful irony in citing Quillette to say that Gould should never even be quoted, given Quillette's stated mission of protecting free expression and ideas, "even dangerous ones:"

> Quillette is a platform for free thought. We respect ideas, even dangerous ones. We also believe that free expression and the free exchange of ideas help human societies flourish and progress.

'Not worth quoting' is obviously a judgement of quality, and no more opposed to freedom of expression than claiming a movie isn't worth seeing.

A lot of groups claiming to be for free speech just want to promote their own ideologies. At least YouTube is obvious about the content they take down.

Doesn't make his points (at least that point) any less valid.


Could you please not take HN threads further into flamewar?

Downvote baiting is also against the site guidelines. If you'd please review https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html and follow them in the future, we'd be grateful.

We detached this comment from https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19446534 and marked it off-topic.

But no, let's keep making it harder to get a Visa.

this is news because of how rare it is. its a classic underdog story.

Yeah. It's rare in every category you put people in whether it's nationality, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation or whatever.

We are post peak-chess. The interest fell sharply after Kasparov's loss to DeepBlue. I was a member of a chess club, that went from 30 tables to 5 in a span of couple of years.

I heard that even grand masters get beaten by cell phone chess games these days.

Probably not that far from truth.

Yet I don't see cellphone chess programs make first page, for some reason.

Why is that?

I heard that cars are pretty good at distance athletics too, but no-one gives them any credit.

Until they reduce employment.

Maybe the same reason you don't see news stories about chess grandmasters beating 8 year olds?

They're out of their class and dramatically outmatched - the cellphone chess programs can't really compete with better resourced chess computers

Exactly the truth, actually.

Speaks to the fragility of the human mind. The human collective organism, as it were, instead of rising against the challenge from the machines, decides to shift focus elsewhere. Chess is nowhere close to being a solved game, yet we're already treating it as such.

Out of curiosity, when would you consider chess, or any game of similar complexity for that matter, "solved"?

When it's possible to predict the winner from an arbitrary board position, given optimal play by both players. Checkers, for example, is solved. Chess and Go are not (even though computers can outperform human players).


We all know those games will not be solved by wetware. At best, a human-silicon hybrid, of some sort.

He only won his age group (K-3), for kids at his age. And there were kids with a rating of 1400-1700 already. Everybody knows that young immigrants play much stronger chess than US kids. So not really newsworthy at all. It would have been if he would have won the real New York State Championship, such as the young Japanese boy Harimoto who beat all the world champions right and left aged when he was still 15. (table tennis). Also an immigrant (from China). In a much harsher and openly racist society.

Edit: Yay for the kid. He's awesome. I was trying to be clever about demonstrating how the journalist's selection among alternatives narratives influence our perception of reality, but it was too much wrongthink.

Important reminder: the failure mode of clever is asshole.


What the hell is this supposed to be?

It's supposed to be clever, I imagine.

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...

My definition of "wrongthink" is suggesting that facts support confirmation of a narrative, regardless of what the facts are, when that narrative has become socially unacceptable. For example, in Chinese society, to suggest that religious minorities are being mistreated by the government is "wrongthink" regardless of what the facts are.

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.

That's fine. I even agree with that definition.

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.

An awful thing can be a socially unacceptable narrative regardless of what the facts are.

I'm not sure how 'pseudocode' justifies "what the hell is this"..?

It wasn’t psuedocode as much as oddly racially charged drivel.

Strongly suspect a cut/paste catastrophe.

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