11 August 2008

The Influence of Time and Schedules

When I said, 'Bye, Bye, About.com!', I recovered around 20-25 hours per week that I had been using to to create material for their chess site. Of that, around five hours per week were used to keep up to date with chess news, five hours for email and forum correspondence, a few hours for administrative chores, and the rest was for real content like a weekly feature and a handful of blog posts. Since I intend to continue to keep up to date with the news, my net gain is 15-20 hours per week. Some of that time I plan to invest in this blog.

For more than two years, since Shifting Gears, I've been posting to this blog at a steady rate of one post every two days. This is an unusual rhythm that is equivalent to posting on the same day of the week every two weeks. This means that I post on Saturday every other weekend and on Sunday during the intervening weekends. It also lets me post every two weeks on a particular subject like Video Friday.

I don't know how other people feel about schedules, but I am more likely to produce something when writing to a schedule. It's not always good writing, or interesting writing, but at least I've produced something. I've occasionally been surprised when a post that was written to meet a schedule and, in my opinion, held little interest for anyone else, pulled a comment or two from elsewhere in the blogosphere.

Maybe writing to a schedule works because a good portion of life is also synchronized with natural cycles. The annual, monthly, and daily cycles are in tune with planetary rhythms, while the weekly cycle appears to be linked to another kind of natural process described in Genesis. Other units of measure are the three month period known as the 'quarter', the double half-day period recorded on clocks and watches, and the fortnight. The fortnight might not be used for much, but it is in fact the cycle I worked to when I posted here every other day.


Measures of time are also important in chess. The basic measure of time in chess is the 'move' (e.g. 1.e4), but it's often an ambiguous measure. Sometimes when we speak of a move we mean White's move or Black's move; sometimes we mean a pair of moves, White's followed by Black's, or vice versa. For example, a problem with 'White to mate in two moves' means two moves by one side, because it's really White to mate in three moves: White's move, Black's move, and again White's move.

To resolve the ambiguity, some people use the term 'half-move', meaning a single move by White or by Black. Then a pair of consecutive moves is called two half-moves. A half-move can also be called a 'tempo', but this is another ambiguous term. Sometimes a tempo means an undefined move, as in 'to win this position, White must lose a tempo', or 'somewhere in the opening, White won a tempo'. Computer chess has added the word 'ply' to the vocabulary, although this really refers to the depth of a search tree, which is itself a count of half-moves in a forward direction.

The element of time in chess is not limited to moves. It also refers to the clock, invariably present in a serious game. Clocks have also become more sophisticated in the computer era. It used to be enough to identify a game by its time control -- 40 moves in 2 hours, followed by 20 in 1, followed by the rest of the game in 30 minutes -- assumed to apply to both players unless otherwise stated. With the advent of the microprocessor we now have time increments per move and different increment schemes like the 'Fischer control' and the 'Bronstein control'.

On top of all this, chess has the concept of a 'match', a linked series of individual games usually played to a schedule. Just as life is controlled by multi-level time factors, so is chess.

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