Friday, January 18, 2013

Caissa Chess

One of my most memorable courses in college was an introduction to evolutionary biology taught by the late Stephen Jay Gould.  What I enjoyed most about the course wasn't the biology itself, but rather his powerful and unique essay style.  One of his commonly used  essay strategies (and his essays were aimed mainly a popular audience, not professional biologists) was to draw in his audience by finding connections between seemingly unrelated topics (e.g. baseball, or his personal life history) and concepts of evolutionary biology.  Seemingly serendipitous links between esoteria like the disappearance of the .400 batter in baseball and the Adaptation vs. Progress evolutionary 'debate' abound in his works, serving to draw in his readers and triggering a creative/contemplative/curious state of mind which is ideal for learning.

A couple months ago my kids watched a National Geographic special on Charles Darwin.  Later we were chatting and somehow we got around to the topic of how Darwin came up with his theories.  I explained what I could remember about his visits to the Galapagos Islands and how his theories were imagined to explain the occurrence of adaptive radiation in finches.

Darwin's theory of natural selection was born from his struggle to explain how a single ancestral species of finches could give rise to multiple species of finches that exploited different environmental niches.  He posited that this ancestral finch species arrived in the Galapagos and after a million or so years of survival of the fittest adaptive pressure and isolation, we ended up with finches that have differing beak structures to exploit the relative abundance of different types of food in various locales.

An opposite phenomena is called convergence which is when different species take on similar physical forms due to adaptive pressures to survive in similar niches.  The canonical example of this are birds and bats (and pterodactyls and maybe flying squirrels and flying fish!) all developing wings for flight.

And so I come to the Caissa Chess Club which has seemingly sprung from thin air on a small island off the coast of Hong Kong, much like the varied finches of Darwinian fame.  Caissa has in very short order begun to serve the chess community of Discovery Bay and to some extend the city at large as a casual club, organised training facility and tournament organiser.

Of course I say this in jest, as the club's emergence has nothing to do with evolutionary forces, but rather the vision and hard work of it's founder, Mr. Garceran (and his talented children).

Nevertheless it pleases me to see this group flourishing and creating brand new opportunities for youth and adults in Hong Kong to enjoy the royal game.  If anyone needs any information about chess in the country, Mr. Garceran has kindly consolidated information about upcoming tournaments and playing opportunities and I would encourage anyone to visit the club's site.

We ourselves visited the club recently for the first Discovery Bay Blitz Tournament which Richie was fortunate to come away with a top youth prize.

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