Lichess: A Review

I love chess.

Admittedly, I am a sucker for strategy games in general. But Chess is particularly good because compared to other equally challenging board games, the rules are simpler, the matches are over faster and the game is very well-known and popular.  

For me, Chess trains my brain to be more careful when I’m problem-solving. Too often, in life and on the chessboard, I jump to a potential conclusion before I’ve properly thought it out. Putting together a sequence of effective moves in Chess also gets your brain performing forward planning, abstract thought and logic. It’s just like fitness training at sport or in the gym, but for your head.

The challenge is finding people who want to play, and are neither far above or far behind your own skill level. IF you are playing with someone of your skill level, then Chess can help you practice these mental skills even if you are not naturally proficient at them. Chess doesn’t just have to be for boffins.

To that end, my latest find is the website www.lichess.org.

It is a (free!) website where people play Chess against each other. You simply choose a time limit (say, 15 minutes a side) and the website finds someone else looking for the same type of game and pits you against each other on an online chess board. There is a ranking system based on your wins and losses so you’re not put against the next Grand Chess Champion of New Zealand.

The site comes with all the necessary functions; a take back button, a basic chatbox so you can shake hands after, and the ability to rewind and remind yourself what where the previous moves.

After the game you can request a computer analysis where an algorithm similar to what powers a Chess AI identifies which moves were inaccuracies, mistakes or blunders. There’s also a handy graph illustrating who had the advantage at any given point. More serious players could study this feedback to improve their play but I just like watching the replay with simple robotic commentary.

This what the Analysis Board looks like

People who really want to train can also watch very high-ranked games, solve puzzles, consult the forum, find a certified Chess coach, and manually import the great games of the chess masters to scrutinise. I don’t do those things, but you could. It’s a one-stop shop for chess practice.

There is also an app so you can play on the train, on the toilet or just out and about. I’ve had no problems with the app; I have in fact held people up for the bathroom as I sat on the toilet trying to solve the Chess puzzles they keep throwing up (which you can also find on the site’s browser version).

If you create an account you can befriend other accounts and play regularly against your mates. It even keeps track of how many games you have each won against each other!

I think Chess is great. It trains brain fitness in a fairly short period of time (for a board game) and the key is to find people of equal skill so you can actually practice the game and not get curb-stomped every time. This is what Lichess achieves so seamlessly.


Lichess And Cybersafety: A Parental Guide

In my view, Lichess is very safe for kids. There is a “kid mode” under Account Preferences which blocks any ability for someone to communicate with you. When activated, the Lichess banner gets a Smilie Emoji next to it, so you know when your kids are protected.

There is a chatbox in each game, and you are usually playing against strangers, so if you don’t enable Kid Mode please ensure your child knows and can be trusted not to divulge personal information (like age, gender or location) to strangers. This is a must for all children anywhere on the internet, so check they know that anyway! Besides, the chatbox is almost never used because you’re both preoccupied thinking up your next move.

I do recommend that kids only add their real-life friends on Lichess, just like Facebook or any other online account.

Lichess also has a page listing certified Chess coaches; I haven’t tried this at all but it does seem legitimate and above board. I recommend that if your child wants formal coaching, do this alongside them – have access to their account, view their messages occasionally, and talk about how it’s going. With trust and communication, I believe families can identify any red flag quickly and safely without sounding paranoid or “uncool”.  

Other than that, just use the same common sense, transparency and good faith you’d use for any other aspect of the internet. Facebook Messenger, multiplayer Xbox games, online multiplayer Minecraft servers, and above all, Snapchat are all far more potentially dangerous for kids than Lichess. Don’t get me started…







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Dear Santa

Dear Santa,

It has been a while since we last talked. I would like to think I have grown up from the times I asked for world peace, an end to poverty, or peace and goodwill to all mankind, but this year, I would like to ask for a little Christmas miracle again.

You still do these, yes? I mean, besides annually violating the space-time continuum visiting every house in the span of a single night, and monitoring the behaviour of all of earth’s children without parental consent or supervision like a red-vested NSA, you still perform miracles right?

This year, for Christmas, I wish us Christians would stop being so precious.

We complain about the war on Christmas, as if it is surprising that a generation of non-believers obsessed with stuff would dare turn a celebration about the birth of Jesus into the pursuit of happiness via shopping and family time.

We complain about the Greens’ latest push to remove the Lord’s Prayer from Parliament Houses, as if it pleases God to hear non-believers utter empty prayers.

Many church leaders refuse to cooperate with other churches to host combined Christmas services or carols, because they’re concerned that the product might advance other congregations at the expense of their own efforts to build ministries.

We invented the term “sheep-stealing”, for crying out loud.

(Did the person who came up with that end up on your naughty list?)

This isn’t the spirit of Christmas. This is the spirit of entitlement that pursues advancement.

Certainly, most of the people caught up in these behaviours fervently desire to advance the kingdom of God. And they appreciate that the kingdom of God extends into public spaces, parliament house and local church initiatives. But we are so eager to further God’s kingdom that we spend more energy defending the prestige of the efforts we’ve already made than actually advancing the kingdom of God. This can happen either in the public arena (such as insisting others say “Merry Christmas” and not “happy holidays”) or on a denominational scale (like when we are outraged that a cooler congregation has poached all our youth).

Like a spoilt three year old who sees the latest toy under their tree as a forgone conclusion, we are precious about our efforts and their historical cultural prominence.

Cultural prominence isn’t a God-given birthright, not to any group or tradition. Cultural prominence is merely the natural by-product when something becomes entrenched in a people’s way of life. We can predict it will decline when the factors that produced that popularity decline. In modern Australia, more toddlers believe in you than adults believe in the Christ that the original Saint Nicholas followed so devoutly.

This year all I want for Christmas is you. I want Saint Nicholas. I want a church of Saint Nicholases, people who focus so much on speaking truth and loving their neighbour they forget to fret about their position in society. Ironically, that’s the Christianity that created our now fading social dominance in the first place, so perhaps this year everyone can really get what they want for Christmas after all.

Season’s greetings,

Joshua

PS: I imagine Blitzen doesn’t get much fanmail because Rudolph is a glory hog, so please send him my regards.

 

Why Do We Hide Behind Institutions?

This post is inspired by a meme I saw on Facebook late at night (below). Now, anecdotal evidence is always problematic. I’m only trying to use these commonly accepted anecdotes to show flaws in how we think about our lives; not to prove one lifestyle is better than another.

So: I was homeschooled so I often hear about the stereotypical, awkward, ill-socialised or unsuccessful homeschooler. Many folks use these stories to conclude that homeschooling doesn’t work; you need institutionalised education.

Now look back at your high school classes (if you went to school). Were there any awkward, ill-socialised or unsuccessful students? As a public school teacher, I see so many. So many.

So how come we’ll say that awkward homeschoolers proves homeschooling doesn’t work, but all those stunted public schoolers doesn’t dismiss public schooling in our minds?47317633_2044461182241084_7275273054341562368_n

Leaving aside the debate about whether homeschooling does in truth work, why do we hold our anecdotes to a double standard?

I don’t attend a church service. Christians ask me tonnes of questions about whether that’s really healthy for my faith. Yet, I also sit on so many conversations where we mourn that many people attend church but do not grow, without anyone suggesting this abject failure means we must reject church-going.

At least, that’s where conversation goes when no one’s buckling an institutionalised trend. Hrm…

Again, we apply a double standard to how we live our lives, based on whether you’re using an institution or not.

It seems to me that as a rule, we are often okay with stunted growth provided it happens under the auspices of a socially approved organisation or norm. We chalk it up to the inevitable “falling through the cracks” that always happens in large groups of people. Maybe this is okay; maybe this is the only way to psychologically cope with the horrible fact that in a fallen world, not everyone’s going to have a good experience.

But when God’s love drives you to see people flourish, you talk about their flourishing and the best ways for them to achieve it. Their methods’ normalcy or institutionalisation is not relevant; only their effectiveness.

So why do we keep coming back to institutions, regardless of results, when we should know better?

This is probably too harsh, but at least on the surface it feels to me like intellectual cowardice. Needing institutions regardless of results can blind us to the scary truth that our flourishing is ultimately our responsibility, even if we choose to use an institution. Instead, we fob that responsibility off to an institution. This shirking is so ingrained in us that we actively distrust any efforts to secure flourishing aside from bureaucratic organisations!

I’ll repeat that: we actively distrust efforts to secure flourishing aside from bureaucratic organisations, independent of fact!

Josh’s blunt, late-night brain (which really shouldn’t allowed to blog) says we should develop the testicular fortitude to own our own flourishing, whether we use the formidable resources an institution has to offer or craft our own solutions. We should judge the results based on the results, and not out of fear that we are not under the covering of a wider organisation.

The overworked, more winsome side of Josh’s brain wants to ask: “next time you see someone embrace unorthodox choices, can you find a way to keep the conversation on the fruit of their behaviour and not their non-conformity?”