Chess, math and Art

Yes, this is my life. My love, my goals, my energy is represented by that instrument, and some others that may or may not accompany it. My life is devoted to arts, and I have been an artist since I can remember.

Unfortunately I didn't start piano lessons until very late in my life, but in exchange, I keep a lot of brain power that allows me to create, write and compose music for that lovely instrument, which, if hadn't existed, I wouldn't be myself. 

But, why? The question I've always asked to myself... Why? Why can I write and others cannot. Why are others so much better than me? Why do I encounter people with the same love for arts as I but that can't write a single note in a staff sheet? It all comes from ego-centric like thinking, bout I was able to consider the issue and transform it into one single healthy question: How can I improve?

Let's analyze the problem. There is a story that has been told around my whole family all my life. It goes something like this: Every night since I was born, my mother (a good singer) used to sing me a sleepy song. She sang me the very same song night after night after night. Story tells, that when I turned 2 months old I started to sing that song myself. I was able to repeat every note with pitch accuracy and none believed until they heard. Now, how can somebody do something like that? The answer is clear, none of a genius: When you are 2 months old your brain is an empty canvas in which you can draw any mentality you want. Every week, at that age, you build and construct the very foundations upon which you will function all your life. Things you pay attention to, are things for which your brain will function, and things upon which neurological structures will be made. After your early stages, to build new structures on the brain in order to understand new things is much harder, but still possible.

Since I was born, I developed something that could be called "abstract proportionality recognition on (waves and) patterns" because I payed attention to my mother's singing. This hard to remember term means that your brain is able to recognize the mathematical proportions (i.e. this side of a square is 2/3 times the size of my arm) in any physical pattern composed of similar objects, including sound and light waves. This ability which lies on every human but takes something like 10 years of hard training to fully develop is of utter importance if you want to be a musician. Because sound is such an abstract perception, ability to recognize mathematical relationships between waves of sound is very difficult. 

When I was about 18 years old and needed a standard upon which I would compose, I started to investigate the possible fact that human beings can translate proportionality into feelings and thoughts. I liked this approach since it rendered us all equal and of equal subconscious capabilities. This theory states that in every piece of art, objects that compose it are arranged in such a way that the brain can decode them by making millions of calculations about the proportions and relationships that exist among the system's components. This means in music that the way sound waves are organized, they go directly to your brain hypothalamus which will recognize patterns, and all the relationships between them, all the way among the different waves/values and they will all produce a certain sensation or feeling that you will soon relate to something past in your life.

Of course not all patterns are "recognizable", meaning that the human brain is mostly a single entity and that the patterns it "expects" to see are certain. If you produce nonsense music, you will hear nonsense, and therefore won't find any recognizable pattern in it, feeling nonsense as well. But, by letting your subconscious mind do the work, you can translate your own sensations into mathematical patterns, which will then in turn be translated into wave sounds, patterns, chords, melodies, harmony, counter point, colors (meaning instruments), and the music will come up by itself, as if it was someone else's music: Our subconscious entity. Such called "inspiration"...

So the answer to my early question is: Some try to compose music. Some just let the music flow through their minds. They subconsciously create the patterns (they say the "feel" the music through their veins), make all the millions of calculations needed to make the Art. I actually compose while asleep (I can remember it like a dream) and I work with my teacher pretty much as if he were a psychologist: He doesn't teach myself to compose, he rather talks to my subconscious, he passes information right through my awareness into the deepness of my mind. I can then improve. And I've been improving quite a lot lately.

When I went through Josh Waltzkin interactive chess course in Chessmaster 10th edition, I was absolutely astonished to hear the very same concepts I was investigating for music during my whole adult life. He spoke about "feeling chess", "don't think anything weird" he would say in his recordings, "just make the right move. Take a moment. What would you do?"... What did he mean? (I was puzzled!) Well, when he started to compare a Chess game to an instrument play, and Chess tournament pretty much to a piano competition I understood it right away!

To my dazzled eyes, I could actually sense in a chess board the proportions and mathematical relationships that can exist in a work of art. When I realized that harmony is represented in a chess board on every position, and that melody or counter point both come up as moves go by, I was so amazed that I fell in love with this game yet again. Music and Chess are the same thing, they both share their mathematical rules, the same abstracts, the same algorithms belong to each other.

By thinking with my artistic mind each move I became twice as better a player as I was, this, in one month. I could accomplish this because at the same time I was acquiring knowledge of the game, I could pass it through to my subconscious mind and re-use my neurological structures from music to chess, sensing the moves as if they were "music"...

"Do I take hallucinating drugs or something?", you would ask... Well, I don't say I see or hear music when I play a game, but I can actually sense what is right or wrong in a move by applying the very same set of mathematical rules I apply when I compose music, do a painting or admire the beauty, and since I do it subconsciously, it's easier for me.

Of course I need much more data to be feed into such mechanisms in order to play an even fair game. Data, as in arts comes with the years and it piles up as you gain more and more experience... So this is not magical. 

But let's for a moment compare Chopin's first ettude in C mayor to a queen's pawn opening for which there are no black pieces. What is the real challenge? Isn't the challenge just yourself? What does Chopin says in that ettude that have something in common with chess? May be in a latter post? Smile


  • 9 years ago


    I can't really speak for Kasparov.  I've always felt the real inequality of that match was that the computer was programmed, not to beat anyone, but specifically to beat Kasparov. Yet, Kasparov wasn't given sufficient data on his opponent.  Did the game(s) contain human intervention?  Who knows? I tend to doubt it though.  Hydra's almost total defeat of Mickey Adams recently was more telling (5.5-.5). In an interview after the match, Adams admitted the program was stronger than he had anticipated and that the human quality of some of its moves really surprised him. But what he claimed really threw him off was that the program was consistently able to change what should have been positional situations into a tactical ones.  The human factor seems to be both mankind's strength and weakness. Our intuition can sometimes evaluate a position immediately and accurately whereas brute force has to calculate each line and even then try to evaluate the resulting position without certainty, but our human frailness, constantly bombarded with self-doubts, fears, physical pain and discomforts, psychological disturbances, etc., contributes to our failure to a great extent.
  • 9 years ago


    Imagine 100.000 optical (quantum) computers with 1 billion terabytes of carbon nanotube based memories working with the most advanced networked artificial intelligence software 100 years from now. Then you will have a computer that dreams of positions.

    Nobody knows exactly how the brain works. And it is a fact that brute force is not the way to "think". But a subconscious mind that makes billions of comparisons (I mean pattern findings) per second is pretty close to brute force!

    I understand your point with John Cage and I agree completely. But what part of this super brute force is he considering? The useful part or the waste part? Would his music reflect in good or bad moves on the board? A very tricky question, I don't know its answer myself. Anyway, it is true that there is certain freedom that does not apply in chess. It does not apply simply because if you apply it you loose!!!

    Computers are light years away from human thought, that's right... But I feel they are in the way of becoming more and more alike.

    And one more question to the question: Was Kasparov really cheated? Or did Deep Blue really play like a human? 

  • 9 years ago


    I'm sort of in a quandary. I've written about (what I envision as) the human creative potential, as expressed through chess, in contrast to the totally non-human computer challenger. My feeling is that the value of brute force so far has only shown how lacking humans are in the development of their own potential and notthat brute force is ultimately superior to creative thinking. The problem is that the more successful computers become, the more humans try to emulate them. 

    ( )

    Is this wishful thinking on my part? Am I trying to mentally bend a spoon that doesn't even exist?


    Someone like John Cage (whom I personally find unlistenable) at least carried ideas to a different place, and often it's not the destination or even the journey from which we learn things, but from some incongruent something we noticed in passing, something we would have never had the opportunity to notice otherwise. So, different paths, whether good or bad, often free the mind. I read a study once on habits and how when you repeat something over and over, the neurons travel the same path over and over and make a kind of groove, a path of least resistance, and have trouble following any other path - so we do the same thing over and over. Habits can be good or bad, but either way, they restrict us. So, while "you can learn about different subjects implementing the same neurological structures by seeing things in common between them,"  you can also be restricted by utilizing the same structures.   


    I've almost lost the thread of my thoughts.  I know I've confused the issue a bit introducing computers, but I find computer "thought" so much the antithesis of human thought, especially in chess.  Computers calculate lines, people dream of positions.  We must improve our dreams. I think your ideas concerning artistic transference is a step in the right direction.

  • 9 years ago


    Wow, thanks for that reply... Lot's of interesting comments...

    First of all, let's just say this is a personal position, which is more or less correct, pretty much like any other position, based on some theories. The real truth, I think, lies only within ourselves: "Do not try to bend the spoon, that's impossible. Instead, try to realize the truth: there is no spoon.", I like the way they presented it in The Matrix movie.

    These abilities can be trained in a lot of ways, being arts and chess come of them. I state that if you are smart enough, you can learn about different subjects implementing the same neurological structures by seeing things in common between them. Just think about the hundreds of calculations you make when crossing a street. Some have said about 40 per second. John Cage, while a horrible musician for me, might have been a nice chess player. I must confess I am a bit conservative and that this theory is very conservative as well.

    Then again, my opinion is that GM John Nunn was just wrong. Mathematic is always correct, and when practicing the subject, well, yes, we must be correct. But in every other field of science and arts where mathematic is key concept, we are "more or less" correct. Physics is a great example of it, the gravitational theory has been corrected hundreds of times in order to make its predictions lie closer to reality. The fact that we are "more or less" correct, or "more correct than our opponent" doesn't really mean that mathematic doesn't really help us be better! It certainly will train your brain, I think, to calculate more accurately.

    Regarding  Duchamp, well, we all see that chess as in arts is a nice reflexion of our personality and our psychological state of the moment.

    What do you think? 

  • 9 years ago


    BTW... great post!
  • 9 years ago


    Bear with me for a moment since I'm not a musician in any real sense, nor a mathematicain in any sense, nor a philosopher other than in the sense that we are all philosophers, nor a particularly good chess-player, nor even remarkably intelligent.


    If I interpreted what you wrote along the lines you intended, they coincide with some of my own feelings that the subconscious, left to its own devises, is more powerful than the concious thought process, since the subconscious draws upon the total of all our experiences from places deep within us that the conscious can't possibly access, which is why we sometime know unfetchingly the correct answer or path, but often can't explain how or why.


    It's true that many musicians have been chess-players, the most famous being Philidor and Taiminov, of course. But there have been others, perhaps not as skilled but still inveterate chess-players.  Do you think a musician/composer/chess-player such as John Cage, whose music didn't necessarily conform with the aestetic (or mathematical) requirements of traditional classical music would have the same resourses to draw from to intuitively produce a beautiful, cohesive game?

    I remember something GM John Nunn, a mathematician, had said when he was asked if he thought that being a mathematician helped him to be a better chess-player. He basically submitted that being a mathematician had little to do it since in mathematics, one had to be correct, while in chess, one had only to be more correct than his opponent.


    Do you think, as a musician, that the artistic training of a painter or sculptor amounts to the same thing? Then, how about Marcel Duchamp, a great artist and capable chess-player? Would his somewhat revolutionary conception of art have affected his artistic chess sense? Or is it all the same?


  • 9 years ago


    Thanks for the comment! I just hope I'm not too cryptic...
  • 9 years ago



    Very cool Blog!

    Glad to know that someone else is also aware of the connection between classical music and Chess.  

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