Top-Ranked Chess Player Withdraws From Competition

Every generation or two, competitive Chess grips the imagination of the world outside of chess circles, and names like Paul Morphy, Bobby Fischer, Boris Spassky, Anatoly Karpov, Garry Kasparov, Deep Blue, and Josh Waitzken start appearing in headlines. If that was going to happen again in this generation, the top candidate would have been Magnus Carlsen, a 19-year-old genius from Norway.

Carlsen earned Grandmaster status at age 13, and earlier this year became the youngest person in history to hold the number 1 chess ranking in the world. His ELO rating (the standard measure of skill level), is 2801. Only 4 other people have ever exceeded 2800. Add to this books, films, and a modeling career, and you have a perfect storm for Chess celebrity.

But when you also add in the remarkably mercurial personality required to become a Chess champion, things can get strange. Morphy quit. Fischer quit and went mad. Kasparov quit, entered Russian politics, and is now making a concerted effort to be assassinated by Vladimir Putin. Even Deep Blue wound up dismantled and forgotten until a piece of it landed in the Smithsonian.

And now Carlsen has withdrawn from the cycle of games designed to name the next World Champion.

As he states in his letter:

After careful consideration I’ve reached the conclusion that the ongoing 2008–2012 cycle does not represent a system, sufficiently modern and fair, to provide the motivation I need to go through a lengthy process of preparations and matches and to perform at my best.

Reigning champion privileges, the long (five year) span of the cycle, changes made during the cycle resulting in a new format (Candidates) that no World Champion has had to go through since Kasparov, puzzling ranking criteria as well as the shallow ceaseless match-after-match concept are all less than satisfactory in my opinion.

The man has a point. Similar irritations resulted in Kasparov splitting from FIDE, the organizing body for the World Championships, to form his own group, the Professional Chess Association. FIDE stripped Kasparov of his World Champion title, and the controversy sputtered until a “reunification match” in 2006. Now it’s back again, and with the best player in the world opting out of the competition, FIDE stands to lose their credibility once again. After all, if the best doesn’t compete, is “World Chess Champion” a valid title?

App O’ The Mornin’: Death Worm Review

Grade: A
Price: $1

I’ll make this easy: every app and Flash clone of JTR’s Death Worm is about 90% less entertaining than the real thing. Forget about Super Mega Worm, Effing Worms, and even the original Death Worm. Playcreek has created the definitive version, making one of the most unrelentingly addictive games in the app store in the process.

Death Worm is a bit tricky to describe. Think of it as Tremors: The Game. A giant, terrifying worm with a mouth full of razor sharp teeth burrows underground and occasionally breaks the surface to snatch people, cars, tanks, helicopters, aircraft, and UFOs from below. It moves in graceful loops through dirt and crest the surface like a dolphin … deadly, disgusting, giant, man-eating dolphin.

You control this worm with your finger, directing its path in order to intercept targets. This isn’t an automatic point-to-kill process. The worm has limits to its movement. It can only turn in certain arcs, and correctly lining it up with surface objects can be tricky. Most frustrating is the fact that you can’t change your path once you’ve leaped in the air. This isn’t a flaw, but part of the challenge. It just takes some time to get used to it and plan your surface jumps correctly.

Along the way, your worm can buy certain powerups, such as a fireball attack, a larger leap, thicker skin, faster movement, and so on. There are three environments, each with multiple levels of increasing challenges. Some of these can be pretty frustrating, such as the levels that require you to eat 10 people while remaining completely uninjured. Another level requires you to get 5 aircraft, but then runs out of the surface threats that provide the powerups which enable you to reach those aircraft. There’s a workaround for this featuring underground snacks with some occasional powerups, but this particular challenge kills the intense pace of the game.

Those problems are rare, however. Death Worm is visually striking and  insanely addictive. Just get it.