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?.