Chess As Therapy

There’s an insidious habit that forms in a lot of my colleagues and I found it forming in myself the last year or so. I imagine there are those in your office or other communities that fall prey to it as well. It would be easy to confuse with workaholism, but I find it to be different. The most proper word I can find for it would be flow addiction.

Being a flow state is inherently positive. It’s worth striving for. What troubles me is I find myself putting so much effort into finding flow in the workplace that it becomes hard to be doing anything else.

Working in support, the primary way my performance at work is measured is in the number of interactions I have with our customers. Our company has lots of smart people in it, so we have a lot of ways of looking at that data, and that interaction count can feel like a scoreboard if you let it. Each live chat inching you higher and higher in worth. Each point giving you a splash of endorphins.

Much of life isn’t set up with such a quick feedback loop. This is part of the craze to gamify things: my fitbit gives me a badge for hitting so many steps in an effort to make me more excited about walking the dog. But these tricks aren’t nearly as effective as true flow state, and I can get that on a regular basis doing my work.

The trouble comes that on a day off, or at night after work, the nagging that there is still more work that could be done just never stops. Even a nominally fun activity may seem way less desirable than getting a few more points on that scoreboard.

What it’s come to is a need to find more intention in my recreation. I’ve been doing a lot of revisiting with younger versions of me, and I think my best shot of making myself happier right now is upping my chess game.

Chess has always been enjoyable, but there have only been two phases of my life where I really took it seriously: first when I was in primary school (1st-4th grade) and then again in college from 2008 to 2010. My USCF rating peaked in 2009 at 1436, I think that was after playing in the Kings Island Open . Even among amateurs that’s not an impressive standing a strong club player is typically above 1800. If I’d like to reach that level it will stick a lot of effort.

Getting better at chess doesn’t have the quick feedback loop. Truly becoming better is a result of hours of study, and not as much from the time playing games. But playing the game absolutely does have that feedback loop and is still part of the process. You can set longer term goals, particularly if you’re willing to attend bigger tournaments every so often and treat those as tentpoles of performance. And there is a very literal scoreboard available: your rating.

My hope is to turn this problem on its head. If I can get these little excitements from more places, I’ll feel more balanced and happier. If this goes well I may try to take a similar approach in some way with parenting, as dorky as that sounds.

To start I did a read-through of Attacking Chess by Josh Waitzkin, one of the first chess books that was truly my own. Now I’m nailing down the Class D and Class C sections in Silman’s Endgame Course a few times over.

If you’d like to play, please find me on backrow1720 .

Urge to Game Rising

For the last two years, I’ve been the DM for a Dungeons & Dragons game that nominally meets every other week. We’re currently going through the adventure path Out of the Abyss, but we’re over a year in and only just getting to the halfway point in the story. And the characters will need some grinding time before starting the next chunk at a higher level.

Using an adventure path has proven to be invaluable. It’s pretty rare that I can’t prepare the session day-of if I’m too irresponsible to give it more time during the week. But even with this amazing material, it’s a lot pull together mentally.

We’re going to take a little break and I’m super excited about it. Most of my players have expressed interest in DMing a one-shot or module. We’re going to let everyone have a turn behind the screen while I get my creative juices flowing again to do the latter portion of the adventure. I’m looking forward to playing and seeing what ideas our will-be-DMs have in mind.

So that got me feeling good. Then this week a freaking awesome episode of Tabletop was released: Fate Core.

I have seen the rulebook for Fate at my friendly local game shop before. But my roleplay experience has always been in fantasy worlds like D&D and Pathfinder. So I didn’t really see the need to learn a new system.

But this video has me itching. I want to play it so bad. Not sure this is an urge that can be stopped. Who’s in? I’ll have what Dr. Osgood was having!

Instant Subscribe: Atomic Game Theory

Atomic Game Theory is a YouTube show hosted by Richard Malena.  Malena uses conflict theory and math to explain interesting choices in designer board games. There are only three episodes so far, but they cover some great games: Dominion, Sheriff of Nottingham, and Lords of Waterdeep.

Richard is a pleasant host and the writing displays clear, educational thinking. Something tells me Richard is the guy that reads the rulebook in its entirety then teaches his gaming group how to play the day-of. I’m that guy in my circle of friends so I grok you, Richard. Also, it’s produced by Angela Webber. Yes, that Angela Webber. She’s great too.

(Hat tip to Geek & Sundry)

Shadows Over Innistrad Prerelease Recap

Shadows Over Innistrad, the new block of cards for Magic: the Gathering, officially goes on sale Friday. Last weekend I got to play in a prerelease sealed deck tournament at the Louisville Game Shop to get an early experience with these new cards.

During a pre-release tournament, each player is a given a special box of six booster packs from the new block to make a deck with a minimum of 40 cards. You also get a special promotional card for your collection, and prizes awarded to the top players. At our event each person in the tournament also got a couple extra Shadows Over Innistrad booster packs (that couldn’t be used in your tournament deck.)

Once everyone is registered and has their pack, you only get 30 minutes to make your deck before playing the first match. That’s actually my favorite part: quickly opening up all your new cards, examining them briefly, and whittling it down to an efficient 40(ish) cards with a simple plan to win.

I looked at going for Red+Black for the cheap creatures, some with transfrom, but didn’t have any options for a heavy hitter with those colors and couldn’t think through what my plan would be. If I had more werewolves maybe Red+Green would’ve worked.

Three mythic rares were included in my pack. Each stood out as a potential finisher.

Archangel Avacyn that transforms into Avacyn, the Purifier was a pretty obvious win condition. She was even on one of the event posters. Then I saw how many flyers I had overall and how well my Blue cards allowed for Investigation.

My plan became clear: Blue+White flyers, and investigate as much as possible to help my draw and increase chances of getting Avacyn, Geralf’s Masterpiece, and my last big flyer, Reaper of Flight Moonsilver.

Avacyn, the Purifier

It’s a simple deck and wasn’t an overwhelming winner, but it was something I knew I could play. To start, I used every blue card I had then added all my white flyers. Since my blue strategy was mostly Investigation, Tamiyo’s Journal became an obvious artifact to thrown in there too.

Tamiyos Journal would let me sacrifice 3 clues to search my library for any of my heavy hitters from the deck. Oh, and it ensures I gain at least one clue every turn too – convenient!

After that five more white cards made the cut: Inspiring Captain, while not a flyer, is a formidable 3/3 with a buff for my whole board. Survive the Night provided more Investigation, with some buffing as a bonus. Silverstrike and Angelic Purge were my best removal spells in the whole pack (my black options were really disappointing.) And finally, Chaplain’s Blessing is 5 life for 1 mana — too good of a deal to pass up.

Finish it up with 18 land, split between Islands and Plains, and I had a 41 card deck.

My Deck





  • Plains x9
  • Island x9

Also in my prerelease pack I got a couple other rare cards in other colors:

The promotional card for the event was “Foreboding Ruins,” a pretty cool red/black dual land.

I felt good about the deck, and even looking back, I don’t think I’d change anything about the build – only my play.

There were four rounds in the tournament, but I only played the first three as I had dinner arrangements to get to. In those three rounds, I lost (0-2), drew (1-1-1), and lost (1-2).

I found the Investigate-heavy strategy worked pretty well. I got at least one of my big flyers out almost every game, and never felt totally hosed. I just didn’t always have ways to handle more aggressive creatures. Could’ve really used more removal spells or de-buffs.

The sealed deck format of these prerelease events is a lot of fun. If you’re like me and don’t have a large collection of cards nor many other friends who play, it levels the playing field on what cards are available and provides a place to meet new folks for a game.



Onyx Guardian Badge

It was never my intention to focus on the Guardian badge in Ingress. Earning it seemed at lot more about how other agents play instead of about how you play. But around day 100 you start to get the itch that this portal might be the one that makes it all the way. Mine finally did.


Not sure if any strategy is actually key to earning the Guardian badge. I think it’s mostly luck. But I can tell you how I handled mine and maybe that will help you with problems you’re encountering.

Low Resonator Count

One resonator is all you need to own a portal. Further resonators will only draw more attention to it, and if there’s anything you don’t want, it’s attention. Put one L8 resonator on your portal and leave it be. This means it’s less likely to be see on the Intel map, and no one will accidentally make a field with it as an anchor.


Since you can’t rely on any backup resonators, you’ll want to recharge frequently. While I didn’t see myself as focusing on the Guardian badge, I have been working on my Recharger badge so this goes hand in hand. Make your guardian candidates your first recharge then carry on with any other recharging strategy you have. Learn to quickly find their portal keys when sorted by Name (since your distance will change.) Daily recharging isn’t necessary, but is ideal.

You may find that other agents have ‘bumped’ your portal, adding their own resonators to fill in your gaps. I never recharged their resonators, so that within a week mine was on the only one there.

Wheaton’s Law

Have you heard of this rule? It says “Don’t Be a Dick.” A lot of Guardian candidates are lost because player A does something player B doesn’t like, so player B makes a point to hunt down player A’s portals. I avoided doing anything anyone wouldn’t like by not playing much in the past few months — that’s not really a great strategy for enjoying a game. But I think you can follow the same principle by focusing on fielding, missions, and meetups when you have a strong Guardian candidate.

Hunting for unique portals by playing on a side of town you don’t normally visit can be seen as crude by an agent who’s already mad, even though you’re playing with good intent. Normally I wouldn’t let something like that bother me, and I’d just play where I wanted anyway. But I’d rather avoid the conflict entirely if it keeps my 100+ day Guardian alive. No conflicts means stable portals.

Double Up

My Guardian was actually a pair of portals right next to each other. They both made it. However a couple times it was a close call. Never were my portals directly attacked, but they both took heavy damage from incidental XMPs nearby. Also, a couple of times one of my portals anchored a relatively large field — but not both. It never ended up being the clincher for me, but it was a nice insurance to have two portals instead of one.