Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Star Trek TOS Goodness, 20 Court Martial

#20 Court Martial, 2/2/1967

I was surprisingly disappointed in this one on closer viewing.

On the Yay side, in order:
  A black actor in high rank -- Percy Rodriguez as Starbase 11's Commodore Stone.
  Kirk's demand for a full trial.
  New starbase sets -- lounge, quarters, courtroom.
  Cogsley's cat-like stalking of the truth and quick-thinking pounce at the right moment.
  Cautionary message about granting authority to machines (and databases).

On the Ughh side:
  Jame Finney's melodramatic emotion and fickleness.
  Unbelievable conflict-of-interest breach of Shaw talking to Kirk.
  The elevation of Kirk to near-perfection. (Oh Shatner's ego.)
  Spock testifying as an expert Anthropologist/Psychologist.
  Cogsley's speech and conclusion of "I demand it!" (Well OK then.)
  The whole heartbeat-masking experiment, OMG.
  Kirk un-f___ing his ship by removing Finney's "tubes".

Some tropes:
  Watching on screens, as noted/listed in the previous Arena post.
  Old flames (Shaw, Nancy Crater, Korby, Lester, Marcus).
  Mental breakdown/illness (Ben Finney, Decker, Tracey, Van Gelder, Garth, Lester, Marvick, Lenore Karidian).

One good point that I had previously missed is that Jame's supposedly very "human" forgiveness of Kirk is what triggers Cogley's suspicion of the inhuman computer.

Amusing was Areel Shaw's pronunciation of her first name as tri-syllabic and everyone else's as bi-syllabic. Why not give up on the exotic and just change it to "Ariel" in the script. (Very similar issue to what happened with Arena's "Metron[e]s".)

All-in-all, an awkward mashup of court-room-drama with space-drama, but a timeless warning about human gullibility around, and the false authority of, machines and databases.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Star Trek TOS Goodness, 19 Tomorrow is Yesterday

It occurs to me that I should list the string of episodes I am calling a superior consecutive sequence:

TOS Season One, 1967
#18 Jan19 Arena
#19 Jan26 Tomorrow is Yesterday
#20 Feb02 Court Martial
#21 Feb09 The Return of the Archons
#22 Feb16 Space Seed
#23 Feb23 A Taste of Armageddon
#24 Mar02 This Side of Paradise
#25 Mar09 The Devil in the Dark
#26 Mar23 Errand of Mercy

I should also note that I am using air-date as the criterion of "sequence", and that Amazon Prime's sequence numbers are also indexed to that, and as such do not correspond to any official "episode numbers" nor "production numbers" such as are found on

#19 Tomorrow is Yesterday, 1/26/67

This episode always struck me as having the most deceptive of cold opens -- footage of a current-technology fighter jet, supposedly scrambling to investigate a UFO, which we only learn at the very end of the teaser is, cue the theme, the Enterprise. Almost as if Roddenberry were trying to hook new viewers of a military bent.

Of course, for science fiction types, it's a giveaway that we're going to have a time-travel episode. And sure enough after the intro, we find the Enterprise crew reeling from some interaction with an undetected "black star" and soon realizing from a radio broadcast that they've time-travelled to the late 1960's. What a coincidence. The whole first part of the exposition here is really bad -- they can't detect black holes in advance in the future??, Kirk has no idea of the potential stress to the jet of ordering the "tractor beam"??, captain Christopher transports from a sitting to a standing position??. Little better is the contrast and contest of competency between the two captains (and two cultures). Kirk does the whole smarmy male-dominance welcome-aboard-I-know-more-than-you dance, while Christopher does the name-rank-serial-number bit, ogles a female crewmember, makes digs about Kirk's "accidents", but "can't deny the fact that you are here" (uhh thanks). This is all punctuated by a trip in the turbolift where they hold their ... down-facing turbolift controllers, of course. But quality improves rapidly as Spock becomes involved.

Starting immediately upon first contact: Christopher: "I never have believed in little green men." Spock: "Neither have I." Heh. Christopher's whole unspoken reaction of "WTF, well I guess he isn't "little" is well done. Spock also introduces the whole moral/time paradox of whether Christopher can ever be returned, due to now knowing "the future".

Then, wow, the whole scene in Kirk's quarters to end Act One is excellent. The misbehaving computer is a real gem, popping the whole male-dominance balloon, and giving Christopher another chance to dig at "future problems". Countered by Kirk and Spock double-teaming him on not being able to go home, to which he reacts with a foreshadowing reference to his family. And finally ending in the stalemate, maybe I can't go home but neither can you. Touché.

Act Two sees Christopher's attempt to commandeer the transporter to return, defeated by Kirk's fists. And we're back into macho mode -- Kirk even put the computer back in it's place, and Christopher, now in sickbay, does the whole admiring bro-code "I see they have physical training in the future too" business. Again it is Spock who saves the scene, first with a true-scientist's admission of an error earlier, then with the "news" that although Christopher makes no relevant contribution to history, his future son does. The whole "I don't have a son"/"not YET" is a nice dramatic touch, but the dreamy "I'm going to have a SON" business is gratuitous and out-of-character. And, you know, the wife is kinda-sorta-gonna have something to do with that too (should have been "we're", eh?).

Next is the stealth scene where Kirk and Sulu attempt to recover/destroy evidence on the base of the existence of the Enterprise. It adds some nice suspense, although Kirk's dallying to admire a bulletin board and trophy case makes no sense. This (and the one later) is also a rare (only) scene with Takei and Shatner alone; the lack of chemistry is evident. The scene and act end with another comic relief, the security guard getting beamed up. This may be the first instance of an "alternate use" of the transporter, so well spoofed in Star Trek 2009 (trans-warp beaming). And this episode has more comic relief than I remembered (joining The Trouble With Tribbles, I Mudd, and A Piece of the Action).

Act Three is Kirk and Sulu being caught yet again on the base, Sulu escaping with all the recovered evidence, Kirk demonstrating how many men are required to subdue him (three) and how to avoid being interrogated, Spock, Sulu, and Christopher coming to rescue Kirk, and Christopher yet again trying to escape afterward, foiled by the Vulcan pinch.

Act Four is exposition and enactment of the "slingshot" worked out by Spock and Scotty that will return the Enterprise to its time after conveniently allowing the return of Christopher and the guard to the previous day (with somehow no Enterprise nor crew appearing then any more). Kudos to the remastering team though for distracting from some of that malarkey by some great new Earth and Sun effects.

All in all, a really good science-fiction type episode only marred somewhat by some really contrived narrative and a lot of macho elements. Surprising to me on this closer viewing is how much Spock/Nimoy, Barrett (the computer voice), and the writing for both (Fontana?) really save the episode.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Polgar 4016

A mate in three from Polgar "Chess", #4016

White has four checking moves, but Black has an amazing ten, two of which (Qb1, Rc1) are mates in one.

With b8 double-covered and the knight in checking position, I am immediately thinking smothered mate. With a7 also double-covered, yes smothered mate is it:  1 Qb8+ Rxb8 2 Ra7+ Bxa7 3 Nc7#

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Polgar 4015

A mate in three from Polgar "Chess", #4015

This one gave me some fits, until I got to the question, "what's the absolute minimum material I need for a mating net here?"

Black has 4 checking moves, and White only has 3, and again the only clean check, 1 Nc7+, is cleanly answered by Kb8 with no good followup.

The pawn on b7 is a big nuisance, able to either b6+ or bxa6, removing a key mate-net piece. So how about Bd5, pinning it? Nope, without a check, Black can give her own check Bb6+.

So we're down to sac checks, but neither sacking the rook nor the queen allows the other one to mate, and surely they can't both be sacked, right? Unless that is the whole idea, and yep, it is.

1 Rc8+ Nxc8  This both keeps c8 blocked to the king (later) and removes control from d5 for the bishop.

2 Qxb7+!  Removing the pest directly.

2...Kxb7 3 Bd5#

As with #4014, the king has been trapped in a corridor, this time a diagonal one (a8-h1), with a closed door (c8), and executed there.

Polgar 4014

A mate in three from Polgar "Chess", #4014

Black's king is exposed, four checking moves, while White's is not -- zero checks. White rooks are on two open files.

There is a clean check with Ne7, but Black has an apparently clean getaway with Kf7.

The idea with this one is to "draw the king in" to the h-file corridor, close the door on him, then open fire. 1 Rh8+ Kxh8 2 Ne7 any 3 Rh1#.

Of course the king needn't be drawn in; there is still 1...Kf7. But in that case 2 Re7 is, conveniently, mate.

Also it must be triple-checked that there really is no second move that blocks or prevents 3 Rh1 from being mate. Nope, absolutely no Black move to anywhere on the 1-rank or the h-file, no checks, and no luft move anywhere for the king -- Black would need both Kh7 and g5 to have luft on g6.

Polgar 4013

A mate in three from Polgar "Chess", #4013

If g3 were not pinned, g4 would be mate in one, so the queen is tied to the third rank unless it can give check. Therefore the rook is free to threaten mate in one also (on h7). The queen is overworked -- cannot both maintain the mate-preventing pin on g3 and also remove a mate-threatening rook.

So why isn't it mate in two? Because the queen can sacrifice herself to gain one extra move (Qxg3+).

And can't the rook threaten mate from either h8 or g7? Yes, but one of those moves (Rg7) also allows black to delay mate by a move (with h6).

1 Rh8 Qxg3+ 2 Kxg3 h6 3 Rxh6#

Monday, September 22, 2014

Star Trek TOS Goodness, 18 Arena

I had occasion to back up into Season One of the original Star Trek series (TOS) again.  Every time I rewatch I see things differently.  This time I seemed particularly sensitive to both the really good and the really bad simultaneously.  For some reason, I felt the desire to rewatch "The Devil in the Dark" and "The Return of the Archons", not my usual favorites, in that order.  I use Amazon Prime, which has the Remastered episodes, and these are episodes 25 and 21 respectively.  There are some really good parts of both.  Then I reviewed the surrounding episodes and realized there is a really good long string of "good" episodes here, everything between "The Squire of Gothos" (#17) and "The Alternative Factor" (#27) (both below the "bad" line for me).  This is where Star Trek may have gained it's first "stride" into history.  I thought it would be worth going through each of these nine episodes #18 through #26 and pointing out why they are so good, and where they are bad.

#18 Arena, 1/19/67

What a great intro -- happy anticipation of a great "unreconstituted" meal by Kirk and McCoy, tempered by foreshadowing questioning by Spock and the obligatory "ominous" music, culminating in "Red alert -- Cestus three has been destroyed" after transporting down.  In under two minutes we're completely hooked.

After the title sequence, the landing party, in short order: finds a lone survivor, detects non-human cold-blooded life on sensors, loses the landing party's sole red-shirted member to enemy fire, comes under continuous mortar-type fire, finds they cannot be transported up because the Enterprise is also dealing with an enemy ship, moves to shelter, and Kirk gets to zig-zag and roll trying to reach the "arsenal" which for some inexplicable reason is out in the open.

Also inexplicable is why Sulu must leave orbit when the Enterprise has not come under any fire itself.  Oh well, drama must be served.

Next we transition to an offensive part of the battle, initiated by Spock joining Kirk at the arsenal with a couple rolls of his own, with tricorder info on enemy location.  Working very closely together with a phallic grenade launcher operated by Kirk, they scare off the enemy AND the enemy ship with a single tac-nuke type grenade.

Is this eight-minute sequence the first and only extended land battle portrayed in TOS?  I think so.  And it's not bad -- well sequenced, lots of movement, significant pyrotechnics.

Next phase, the Enterprise pursuing the alien ship.  So far we're in a parallel story to "Balance of Terror" #14, except that the identity and appearance of the enemy is still unknown.  We also have Spock in a more pacifist role, while Kirk appears adamant that the enemy must be destroyed, very parallel to "Devil in the Dark" #21.  Clearly one of Roddenberry's recurrent themes is pacifism vs. engagement, where the most stark example is probably "A Private Little War" S2#19.  The context of all this is of course the U.S. involvement in Vietnam in the 1960's. End of act one; this has to be one of the best/tightest starts of any episode.

Act two is another twist. Yet another alien species, the Metrons, puts a stop to the space chase and deposits both ships' captains on a barren planet to fight it out one-on-one. Thus the title "Arena". And here is another of Roddenberry's tropes, the third-party "parent" species that brokers others' conflict. Errand of Mercy (Organians), The Savage Curtain (rock creature), but usually it is the humans: A Taste of Armageddon, The Devil in the Dark, The Alternative Factor, Journey to Babel, A Piece of the Action, A Private Little War, Patterns of Force, Bread and Circuses, Spock's Brain, Elaan of Troyius, Let That Be Your Last Battlefield (unsuccessful), The Cloud Minders.

And we finally get to see the reptilian alien form and learn their name, Gorn. End of act two.

Act three is all the hand-to-hand maneuvering on the "arena planet" until the Gorn gets the upper hand.

Of course Kirk escapes. The Metrons feel sorry that he is losing and let the Enterprise watch events on their viewscreen. (Characters watching on screens is another trope -- The Cage, The Menagerie, Court Martial, Bread and Circuses, Patterns of Force.)

But of course Kirk figures out how to make a primitive gun and defeats the Gorn. But there is one final beautiful twist.  Kirk, primed for aggression at the beginning over Spock's entreaties, at the end relents out of the mere possibility that the Gorn is redeemable (as well as to poke the Metron puppeteers).  "No. No, I won't kill him!"

That is what truly makes Star Trek special.  I must be getting sentimental in my old age, because this really got to me on this watching. It goes straight to what Robert McNamara finally realized in The Fog of War -- empathize with your enemy.  Vietnam would have been very different if that lesson had been learned when this Star Trek episode was first broadcast (1969).

Anyway, a representative of the Metrons finally makes an appearance and congratules Kirk on his civility, and all ends happily.

What a tour de force of action, conflict, and morality. And a great setting (shot at Vasquez Rocks, CA). I used to consider this episode rather cheesy, mostly because of the over-done Gorn, but it is growing on me as I look deeper.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Building a Better Chess Thought-Process

I want to develop a better chess thinking process.  I miss too many of the simplest ideas at the board, even at longer time controls.  From watching many of Kingcrusher's YouTube live videos in which he verbally annotates his thought process in real time during 5-minute ICC games (there are literally thousands of these videos), it's clear that he has a strong mental process of interpreting what is happening on the board very very quickly and fairly accurately.  I want some of that.

I want something thorough, i.e. that will cover "everything" on the board at a given level of detail, and yet which is as simple as possible at each level of detail and thus as quick as possible to use.

Inspired by Dan Heisman's tactics/middlegame advice to consider "Checks, Captures, and Threats, in that order", I would like to put together a more detailed and specific procedure to implement Dan's advice, which I'll call "All One-Move Tactics".  The idea is that this procedure must be followed at each move, first for my moves and then for my opponent's (assuming a "null move" for me).  This should give a complete first-order picture of all tactics (simple tactics) on the board in the current position.  Note that this is not about evaluating the strength of any of these tactics (which I am pretty good at), merely at identifying every (simple) tactic (which I sometimes fail to do).

So, let's start the list.  Items on this list must be identified/eliminated in order.  (Note: this list assumes my king is not already in check; if it is, that will need to be a completely different "list".)

#1  Checkmate in One.
#2  Any check of opponent's king from a non-attacked (safe) square, including via discovery.

#1 and #2 cover Dan's Checks except for sequences of checks.  I am still debating whether these also need to be considered for the opponent also before moving further down the list.

Before moving further down the list, it will be useful to identify loose pieces on the board, since these will be considered in multiple steps below, so:

#2.5  Identify all pieces on the board that are not protected at all (loose pieces).

#3  Any/all captures of loose pieces.
#4  Any/all captures of any piece by a lesser-value piece, considering knights and bishops as equal-valued.

Here already I can hear the second-order objection, "wait, what about captures above which open up a discovered attack on one of your other pieces".  Yes any such condition needs to be "noted and (mentally) logged" with the move under consideration, for later analysis.  But for purposes of simplicity, this cannot be allowed to slow down the "all one-move tactics" process.

Also to note here, no "removal of the guard" analysis fits in this scheme, since that is a two-move tactic.

#3 and #4 are all the captures this scheme considers. That differs from Dan's Captures in that captures of protected pieces by greater-or-equal-valued pieces are not to be considered.  And of course neither are sequences of multiple captures to be considered (no quiescence searching).  Again, we're only trying to identify the bedrock one-move tactics first, on which such further analysis should hang.


#5  Any move which attacks a loose piece from a non-attacked (safe) square, including via discovery. Note: any such move that attacks more than one loose piece is one type of fork/discovery, and any such move that is also in #2 above is a king fork/discovery.
#6  Any move which attacks a greater-valued piece (knights and bishops equal) from a non-attacked (safe) square, including via discovery.  Note: any such move that is also in #2 above is a type of (king) fork/discovery, any such move that is also in #5 above is another type of fork/discovery, and any such move that attacks more than one greater-valued piece is yet another type of fork/discovery.
#7  Moving a passed pawn to a non-attacked (safe) square, or making a passed pawn via a push or a pxp capture onto a non-attacked (safe) square.  Note:  a #3 or #4 capture may also create a passed pawn.

That seems to be it.  This type of move identification would seem to be of good use also at the end of any later quiescence searches, although it would be harder to keep accurate mental track of what the board looks like then.  Assuming non-quiescence includes both checks and captures, the end-of-quiescence-search identification would only need to consider the Threats (#5, #6, #7) above.

I'm going to add one final Threat to consider, since it seems to be forcing in a similar manner to Checks in that it must be answered/answerable or the game is lost.  Technically maybe it is a 1.5- or 2-move tactic, but it also kind of "closes the loop" with the very first item on this list.  And it is:

#8  A move that threatens a mate-in-one on the following move.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Photos, Albany Pine Bush, 6/29/14

I took a couple hours for myself for a hike in the Albany, NY, Pine Bush while the family went to a movie Sunday 6/29/14.  With no definite plan, I ended up at so-called trailhead #3, Rensselaer Lake (pdf), via the parking lot at Six Mile Waterworks Park off of Fuller Road. This is an interesting combination of "wilderness" mixed right into the infrastructure of a major interstate interchange, the New York State Thruway Exit 24 (and toll plaza) between I87 and I90.  I hiked from there over to several locations off of Rapp Rd., including trailhead #2.

Anyway, here are some photos I took along the way.

This is a/the drainage point of Rensselaer Lake, looking North toward the visitor area
There are several signs like this all around.  Not clear whether the trails are really closed or not.  Info at the website indicates that 6/8 was the last closed date, but clearly no one has bothered to remove the signs.  :-S
Trailhead #2, Rapp Barrens, across Rapp Road from a clearcut area (species replacement?)
A managed flower bed at Avila Retirement Community, corner of Rapp Rd. (Lincoln Ave.) and Washington Ave. Ext..  To compare with the "wilder" Pine Bush.
Sumac near the Lincoln Rd. overpass over NYS Thruway I90, near the entrance to the Albany Landfill.  Yes, there is a landfill in the middle of the Pine Bush "wilderness" as well.
The "trail" heading back toward Rensselaer Lake (from Rapp Rd.).  This is, amazingly, very close to the whole Exit 24 toll plaza complex (off the right of this frame).
Pines, one dead or dying, on the shore of Rensselaer Lake, looking southeast from under the onramp to I87 North from I90 West.
Here is the same spot from overhead (Google Maps).
A swampy/silty ferny area just northwest of Rensselaer Lake, on a "secret" trail.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

My Repertoire 1, King's Knight's Gambit, Fischer Defense

For my own record, for my own preparation, and to share, I thought I'd set down my own playing repertoire here, in the form of "tabiyas" -- positions I commonly reach in games -- with commentary both forward and backward from each tabiya.

Obviously a complete record would be longer than one post, so consider this a series, assuming I find it valuable enough to continue, or if I get comments expressing interest.

What I had in mind to start is the King's Knight's Gambit, Fischer Defense, in a line that Fischer himself considered favorable (for Black) but uncommon in practice in his time: the 7...Ne7 line here (see commentary after 7...Nc6 in his main line) (pdf).  Modern computer analysis shows that Fischer was absolutely right!  So let's try to make this common practice and play it (1.e4 e5 2.f4 exf4 3.Nf3 d6 4.Bc4 h6 5.d4 g5 6.O-O Bg7 7.c3 Ne7):
The main idea, besides expediting the favorable O-O that Fischer mentions, is adding control to d5 while developing a piece, without putting the knight on f6 where it could obviously lose a tempo to e5.

As shown in the Shredder analysis above, the White idea to undermine Black's pawn chain with h4, threatening the temporarily under-defended g5, is turned back against White by the somewhat odd-looking Nec6, redefending g5 with the queen while seemingly blocking the b8 knight from its "best" development square.  But it will be very happy on d7 now as well, locking in control of e5.

The other easy question about Nec6 is "what about d5?", where the answer is pretty easy -- the knight finds a favorable exchanging square with Ne5.  And if White tries b4 and b5, the knight is good with Na5.

The move suggested by Fischer at this tabiya is instead 8.g3.  Here Fischer's analysis for Black seems to falter a bit.  He's right that 8...d5 9.exd5 fxg3 10.Ne5 is bad for White due to 10...gxh2+.  But he seems to miss that Ne5 a move later is still good for White: 10.hxg3 O-O 11.Ne5 (Fischer only gives 11.Qb3) Qd6 12.b3! and White beats Black to the punch with the Ba3 threat before Black can dislodge the knight.

The correct response to 8.g3 looks to be to hold onto e5 control, playing 8...Bh3 followed by 9...fxg3 instead:

So that's the end of my look "forward" from the tabiya.  Let's step backward a bit.  The main alternative I've encountered in games is 7.Nc3 instead of 7.c3.  As Fischer also correctly says, that leaves d4 too vulnerable.  Black plays 7...Nc6 immediately attacking it.  Black's threat is to kick the f3 knight with g4 and take d4.  If 8.d5, the same Ne5 idea above for Black is even stronger.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Berthold Ray Paradise, failure to farm

One of my favorite Star Trek episodes is This Side of Paradise.  For some reason, I got the urge to trace through the complete "agriculture" thread of the episode, just to see how well (or badly) the writers develop that seemingly minor part of the setting and plot.  I guess, like the "inner" string sections of an orchestra's sound (2nd violins and violas), I expect the agriculture aspect to add hidden depth to the episode.  Also useful as a drinking game I suppose :-).  The major plot elements are of course the spores/paradise and lost loves.

I'm referencing to a great transcript resource for the quotes below.

Surprising to me, no hint that Sandoval's colony/settlement on Omicron Ceti III is an agricultural one is even mentioned in the opening exposition/dialog until after the landing party beams down and Sandoval says, during the meet-and-greet scene in the house, "You see, Omicron is an ideal agricultural planet."

I guess it is one of those things that the audience was supposed to guess at purely from the visual setting.

  On the other hand, the Macguffin Berthold Rays are expounded upon three time prior to this already, just to pound home to the audience how extremely deadly they are, but of course, conveniently, only after long exposure.

The next mention is by Sulu while investigating the environs, "When it comes to farms, I wouldn't know what looked right or wrong if it were two feet from me."  Tellingly, this is spoken while two feet from an alien spore plant, which of course we don't know details about yet, but they get their own "strangeness" musical theme, so we know something is up.  So here is some of the richness -- are the strange plants part of Sandoval's agriculture?  Yes and no, as it turns out.

Sulu's partner Kelowitz develops the agriculture plot thread further with, "No cows. This barn isn't even built for them." To which Sulu replies, "Come to think of it, we haven't seen any animals. No horses, no pigs, not even a dog."  Hmmm.

Later Spock chimes in hammering the same thing to us, "There seems to be a total absence of life on the planet, with the exception of the colonists and various types of flora."  To which McCoy opines, "No animals. That's peculiar."  And to which Kirk gets the capper, "Yes, especially in view of the fact that the records for this expedition indicate that they did have some for breeding and food purposes. Apparently, none of them survived."  Alrighty then that's settled.

Finally, Sandoval makes his agricultural mission rather explicit to Kirk and McCoy, "You haven't seen our fields and crops. I'd like to show you and the Doctor what we've accomplished here."  Only Kirk goes to the field with him, where he says, "This soil will grow anything we plant in it. It's a perfect world. We have a moderate climate, moderate rains all year round. It gives us all we need. It is perfect."  But then Kirk gets the biology report from Leslie, "I heard Sandoval saying they could grow anything here. That's true, sir. They've got a variety of crops in. Grains, potatoes, beans."  And, "Well, sir, for an agricultural colony, they have actually very little acreage planted. There's enough to sustain the colony, but very little more."  And so the plot thickens.

Spock is also in a field, with Leila:  "Nothing. Not even insects. Yet your plants grow, and you've survived exposure to Berthold rays."  Leila knows something, but won't say, yet.

Kirk and Sandoval together again:  "What about your animals?"  "We're vegetarians."  "That doesn't answer my question, sir. Why did all your animals die?"  Sandoval also isn't talking, yet.

Sulu makes his final report to Kirk before the colony is to be evacuated, "Captain, we've checked out everything. It all seems normal, except for the absence of any animals."  How many times do we need to be reminded?

Meanwhile, Spock had already encountered the spores and their effects.  Since they're a major plot element, I am not going to "count" them in this agricultural subthread.  Food for another post maybe.  Except for this final entry from McCoy, "DeSalle said he was going to examine some native plants he found."

And the spores dominate the entire remainder of the episode.  Except for fighting in the fields with farm implements, there is no agricultural reference until this final exchange about farm work between Sandoval and McCoy:  "Well, Doctor, I've been thinking about what sort of work I could assign you to."  "What do you mean, what sort of work? I'm a doctor."  "Not any more, of course. We don't need you. Not as a doctor."  "I am the leader of this colony. I'll assign you whatever work I think suitable."  And then after they fight and Sandoval loses his spore influence, "We've done nothing here. No accomplishments, no progress. Three years wasted. We wanted to make this planet a garden."  And, "I think I'd, I think we'd like to get some work done. The work we started out to do."

And that's it.  They didn't cultivate the spores; the spores helped them live; but they kinda ruined their will to do the agriculture work they came to do.  Overall, a tragedy.

Albin Countergambit to Queen's Gambit Accepted

Like most patzers, I prefer active sharp openings.  As Black against 1.d4 openings however, I'll settle for completely symmetrical openings for as many moves as White will allow it.  One that I encounter frequently is 1.d4 d5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.g3 g6 4.Bg2 Bg7 5.O-O O-O, usually followed by 6.c4 c6.  (I'll do the same (symmetry) against 1.c4 openings as well.)  (One 1.d4 exception is:  if White tries the Colle system with e3 at any point, I'll play Bf5 immediately to preempt Bd3, the "Colle bishop".)

But of course the most common White continuation after 1.d4 d5 is one which immediately discourages symmetry, the Queen's Gambit 2.c4.  This one has proved problematic for my repertoire.  For a long time, I tried to make the Chigorin 2...Nc6 work, based on the evaluation in Nunn's Chess Openings, "The most reputable non-standard defence is Chigorin's 2...Nc6 ... it is not so easy for White to stamp out Black's piece activity." (p. 360)  Well I've found that bit about piece activity to be false, if by activity Nunn means that Black can maintain one more piece developed than White.  White players all seem to know the simple line 3.Nf3 Bg4 4.Nc3 Nf6 (4...dxc4? 5.d5 Bxf3 6.exf3 Ne5 7.Bf4 Nd3+ 8.Bxd3 cxd3 9.Qxd3) 5.cxd5 Nxd5 6.e4 releasing the Bf1 with a big tempo and big pressure against c6.

So I started favoring an early deviation 3...e5 to short circuit all the above and quickly realized that if I'm going to do that, I might as well play 2...e5 outright instead -- the Albin Countergambit.  I've been playing that ever since.  This is much more interesting for Black because now it is Black who has the Bb4+ threat whereas White is blocked from Bb5+ for the moment by her own c4.

The only way for White to keep an edge in the Albin is to accept the gambit pawn, 3.dxe5, when Black then plays the "wedging" move 3...d4.  And now there is a trap for White -- the natural attempt to dislodge the d4 wedge using 4.e3 fails to 4...Bb4+ 5.Bd2 dxe3!  Hasn't Black just left the Bb4 en prise, with a QxQ discovery to boot??  If White tries to take it however:  6.Bxb4 exf2+.  Aha!  Black interrupts the Q capture, with an attempted check distraction.  But the royal couple must stay in their embrace:  7.Ke2.  And now one of the craziest moves in any opening:  7...fxg1N+!  Still the embrace must be maintained:  8.Ke1 (8.Rxg1? Bg4+) 8...Qh4+ 9.Kd2 (9.g3? Qe4+) 9...Nc6, with Bg4, Rd8, and/or Qf2 coming.  So White can't take on b4:  6.fxe3 Qh4+ 7.g3 Qe4 and Black will take on either e3 or e5 after exchanging bishops, with equality.

To avoid the Albin trap entirely, White's best plan is to stop Bb4 and use the knights against d4:  4.a3/Nf3 Nc6 5.Nf3/a3 Nge7 6.Nbd2 Ng6 7.Nb3 Be7 8.Nbxd4 Ncxe5 9.Nxe5 Nxe5.  Also pretty good for White is 6.b4 Ng6 7.Bb2.

If I cannot get some good results with the Albin soon however, I am considering switching to accepting the Queen's Gambit, 2...dxc4.  I was inspired by one of GM Benjamin's recent game-of-the-week videos on ICC.  I'll need to develop this for my repertoire first however.  Maybe in a subsequent post here...

Saturday, February 8, 2014


The Petroff is my repertoire against 1.e4 2.Nf3, but I just got crushed in an ICC game in the 5-minute pool in the main line, so time to take another look.

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Nxe5 d6 4.Nf3 Nxe4 5.d4

Why do I consider this the main line rather than 3.d4 ?  Because it transposes, 3...Nxe4 4.Nxe5 d6 5.Nf3, and 3.Nxe5 is more forcing.  Playing a less forcing line allows the opponent to deviate, so it's a purely practical consideration to break a "tie" in what is theoretically exact equivalence.  Ahh, you say, but maybe it is White who intends to deviate, with say 3.d4 Nxe4 4.Bd3.  But White gets no clear advantage after 4...d5 5.Nxe5 Nd7 6.Nxd7 Bxd7 7.O-O Qh4 8.Nc3 Nxc3 9.bxc3 Be6, needing to weaken the king position with g3 if she wants to eject the black queen; and black is threatening to force that anyway via Bd6.  Maybe more research can make 3.d4 the the main line (again), but it is tbd in my opinion.

Now I consider the main line to continue 5...Be7 6.Bd3 d5.  Equivalent to 5...d5 6.Bd3 Be7 of course, but this time the "tie" broken by the non-necessity of protecting the N on e4 until after it is attacked. And I consider 5...d5 6.Bd3 Bd6 an inferior line.  In the game I lost I played 5...d5 6.Bd3 Nc6 here instead and soon went far astray after 7.O-O Bd6 8.Re1 Bf5 9.Nbd2 Qe7 10.Ng5 Qxg5?.