As every year I am looking forward to the nominees of the various SF and Fantasy awards, especially the Nebula and Hugo. It often ends with a lot of disappointment as you can see in my old reviews but I find it exciting to see what the current generation of authors is capable of.

SF Signal has a good overview with links to free fiction.

This time special care has been taken to balance male and female contributions. The novel category is even dominated by women! Maybe I will manage to read one or two of the longer works, they all sound pretty interesting.

A very pleasant surprise is the winner of the latest Tiptree award, which I am currently reading:

There aren’t many reviews available yet so I suggest you go to Amazon and read some pages to see if this book is for you. The prose is just beautiful:

The past is like the dream of a stranger who wakes and tells you of oceans deeper than time, of creatures so monstrous he cannot describe them – creatures with a thousand eyes and forty sets of wings, feet of stone and hair of fire: cities without streets, cities without walls. You can listen to the tale of what he saw, but you cannot walk through the streets of his dream or hold in your hand the blossom of a dying tree that smells like burnt cinnamon, like a sleeping child’s breath.


First of all a quick update: I have added a link to my game in the first round of the championship. Use the Export function to download the pgn if you wish.

Last Saturday my team faced the current top team in the lower league and we won the match. My game (which you can replay here) first looked like a quick disaster but turned into a convincing win. That’s chess!

A completely wrong evaluation happened in this position:



Here I played 7…Ng4??, an absolute terrible move. I can’t afford any aggression in the early part of the opening and in addition I exchange one of my strongest pieces. In such a setup with e6 I can’t give away the dark squared bishop like this. 

Fortunately my opponent now played without the pieces and just pushed the pawns so after a careless moment I was able to turn the game:


After 17…Nxf5 there are no real threats on the king side and the position is much easier to play for Black. The increasing pressure gave me the chance for a nice tactical blow:


29…Be4! wins another pawn but as I have found out later it’s a bit tricky if White replies with 30. Rc3 dxc3 31.Nxe4. Now the move Qg7 to push away the queen is not good and runs into a knight fork that wins back the rook.

After the text move 30.Rd2 I missed the killing 30…Nf7!!, which will immediately win White’s queen. We played on a bit longer but the win was never in doubt. At the end I could have finished the game with a clear mate-in-4 in the following position but one gets no extra points for beauty and after 57…Rg3 White gave up, made a rook move and so allowed 58…Qa1#.

Black to play and mate in 4

Black to play and mate in 4

That was a fine win to boost the confidence! Let’s see how my tournament continues on Friday.

Update: link to game

The local city chess championships 2014 (link to the tournament) are on the way. The field is pretty even and many players have the chance to win the title. Ratingwise we have

  • 1900er: 5
  • 1800er: 6
  • 1700er: 6
  • 1600er: 3
  • 1500er: 3
  • 1400er: 3
  • 1300er: 1

In the first round I was paired against my 1863 rated team mate and we played the Ruy Lopez. He picked  an unusual King’s Indian like setup and the game was equal most of the time. I need to check where I can improve because I play the Spanish to win, not to draw. Or is it really maneuvering until someone blunders?

Well, it could have been much easier for me but in the following position I gave away a pawn for nothing:


41.fxg3?? Nxe4

Ouch, Nf2 or a king move would have been good. After that Black had an advantage but with two pairs of knights it’s extremely tricky and I was able to reach a drawn position where my team mate tried hard to win:


The knight can go back and forth between e6 and c5 so Black can’t make any progress. As a funny sidenote, Black cannot win with the a- or c-pawn alone, I hope everyone knows the drawing techniques. 🙂

Our game was the last to finish after 5h and it was a good start for me. My next opponent is a 1850er who seems to play the English opening. Time to prepare my hedgehog or something new.

I will upload the pgn in the next days.

Chess Season 2014

My chess plan for this year is pretty simple: play many long games, if possible OTB. I have a hard time concentrating when I play in the internet (you know, sitting alone at the computer, it’s close to midnight, the family is sleeping and you play a game?!) so it doesn’t have the same learning effect. 15min games are fine and I have more or less stopped playing anything faster than that.

At the moment it’s not the knowledge that holds me back, it’s the practice against stronger players. Unfortunately when you have a full-time job it can be pretty hard to find opportunities to play in tournaments but there are always 2-3 here in the area where I live.

The first one is already over (5 rounds, time control 90+30) and although I only got 2 out of 5 points (+1, =2, -2) I have learnt quite a bit and can’t complain. I will share the games in the next weeks.

The next tournament starts today, it goes over 7 rounds with a time control of 90+30 with an additional 30 minutes after move 40. Participants are rated between 1300 and 2000, which will give me excellent chances to play good games. My main focus will be on avoiding blunders and improving clock handling. Recently I got too often into time trouble while looking for ways to get an advantage with the result that I was running out of time when the real complication started.

Something that also seems to help is meditation. Getting your head free and calming down helps with finding good moves. These 2000er players make strange mistakes too so I play every game with the will to win. If after 40 moves the position looks equal, well, then it will depend. I am not yet in the killer mood to play on forever – maybe this is something I should change for this tournament. As long as there is play and I am not worse I promise myself to play on, no matter if I have no idea how to handle certain positions.

Wish me luck. 🙂


From my buddy Paul at Facebook:

 “The Rules: In your status line list 10 books that have stayed with you. Don’t take more than a few minutes and don’t think too hard. They don’t have to be great works, just ones that have touched you. “

I only use Facebook to get access to other people’s stuff so I post my list here. In no particular order and with only 1 entry per author:

  1. “Book of the New Sun” by Gene Wolfe
  2. “Cat’s Cradle” by Kurt Vonnegut
  3. “If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler” by Italo Calvino
  4. “Foucault’s Pendulum” by Umberto Eco
  5. “Hyperion” by Dan Simmons
  6. “Brilliant Air, brilliant Fire: On the Matter of the Mind” by Gerald Edelman
  7. “Downward to the Earth” by Robert Silverberg
  8. “Golden Age” by John C. Wright
  9. “Case and the Dreamer: And Other Stories” by Theodore Sturgeon
  10. “Watchmen” by Alan Moore

What would be your top 10?

After my first 3 sessions I already had a good understanding of the material. In the next sessions I was particularly interested in quarks and the string theory.

Session 4: reviewed my mind map, looked up the chapters about quarks and quantum theory

Time needed: 20 minutes 

I was interrupted and had to cut short the session. I learnt something new though and started to understand what the spin was all about. Even the quantum theory finally made sense.

Session 5: again, reviewed my mind map and looked up more about quarks

Time needed: 20 minutes

Interesting session but not in the spirit of speed reading. I was completely immersed and tried to memorize as much as possible. Quarks are fascinating.

Session 6: reviewed my mind map. My only open question was – again – the spin property of quarks.

Time needed: 30 minutes

I jumped more or less straight to chapter 5 and can now say what quarks, spin and the 4 forces are all abou. Yeah. 🙂


This finishes my reading of Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time. The overall topic wasn’t too difficult to understand but some of the concepts needed multiple re-reads. In total I spent 2:15h with the book and pretty much enjoyed every minute! With a normal approach I assume that 5-6 hours would have been the absolute minimum.

An interesting observation was that speed reading not only allowed me to go through the book rather quickly but it was also easier to see the big picture. Concepts are first introduced and then in later chapters used to explain more details. My mind was actively paying attention and could follow the train of thoughts pretty well.

I will review in 1 month how much I still remember. This will be the real test because reading alone isn’t worth much if you can’t recall or use the new knowledge. I will keep you up-to-date!

Here is my final mind map (click to enlarge):

Brief History of Time Stephen Hawkins


What’s next

I will try out the method with other books too and report my success. It won’t happen in such a detailed form (only on public demand) but it should give you an idea if it’s useful or not. If you have a book that we should read together then please leave a comment. Happy reading!

Speed Reading: Session 3

I have already finished session 3 and I feel it coming together. Hawking’s book is surely no light literature so it’s the perfect object for the speed reading test. What I noticed last night was that my mind tried to make sense of what I have read, e.g. why Hawking describes gravity and light in such detail. That was an interesting experience.

Session 3 was similar to session 2.

Time needed: 30 minutes

My mind map now looks like this. You can find more details, new key words and more relationships. There might be some mistakes but that’s okay, the next sessions will complete the picture and add more layers of comprehension.

Brief History of Time Stephen Hawkins 2
(click to enlarge)

I am still not sure how the string theory fits in and why it’s necessary. On the other hand I found out about the quantum theory and quarks, which I completely missed in the first sessions.

I let the knowledge sink in for a while and might do my next session tonight.