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Imagine for a moment that you are living in 18th century France and you are sitting across from a dapper American diplomat by the name of Benjamin Franklin. The two of you are enjoying a nice game of chess in a cafe and he is turning out to be quite the formidable opponent.

Seeing an opportunity to attack, you slide your rook across the board and proudly exclaim, "Check!"

He looks at you, shrugs his shoulders, and plays on. He is completely ignoring your check! Perturbed at his ignorance of the game, you exclaim:

"Sir, you're in check!"

Again, he scoffs, continuing to ignore that his king is in check. He says to you, "I see that. But I shall not defend him. If he was a good king, like yours, he would deserve the protection of his subjects; but he is a tyrant and has cost them already more than he is worth. Take him, if you please, I can do without him, and fight out the rest of the battle without him."

"But Dr. Franklin," you protest. "In chess, we do not take the king."

Franklin laughs. "In America," he says. "We do."

This is a true story of an event that took place during one of the many chess games Ben Franklin enjoyed while serving as a diplomat in France. His assignment was to win the support of an ally that could turn the tide of the American Revolution and win independence from the British. His tool to accomplish this task? CHESS!

I have little doubt this event happened not only once, but many times. Franklin used chess as a wonderful means of conveying the message of the American case for independence.

Thanks to all of his efforts, both on and off the chessboard, the French ultimately entered the war on the side of the Americans, and independence was ultimately won.

Franklin, like many of us, would have been considered an Adult Improver. For he learned the game during his early adulthood and then studied the game relentlessly.

He was always looking for stronger players and rarely found them. In fact, it has been speculated that Franklin may have been the strongest chess player in the American Colonies at the time.

Even before the war, Franklin would visit England as a diplomat and seek opportunities to play against strong chess players.

One such player was Lady Caroline Howe, sister of Rear-Admiral Lord Richard Howe, who invited Franklin over for a game.

While they played, Lady Howe arranged for Franklin to meet with her brother, Lord Howe. Lord Howe was eager to prevent war and so he committed to working with Franklin to find a solution to address the American colonists' grievances with the British Crown.

For several weeks, the two gentlemen arranged these secret meetings under the guise of Franklin playing chess with Lady Howe.

Alas, after multiple attempts and proposals which would involve more members of the British government, the two sides could not be reconciled and the American Colonies would eventually go to war for their independence.

For Franklin, chess was a commonly used tool in his diplomatic toolbox. Chess opened the door for him to meet with powerful British leaders in an attempt to prevent the war. Once this failed, chess would again be used in France to socialize and win friends and allies to the American cause.

For you, has chess ever been a means to an end, other than a checkmate? If so, please share your stories in the comments below!

Reference: Shenk, David (2006). The Immortal Game: A History of Chess. Doubleday. ISBN 0-385-51010-1.

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The last several months have been such an eye-opening experience for this ole Patzer. First and foremost, to get better at chess you must have a plan. When I started out on this journey a few months ago (and at every point in the past when I tried improving my game), I never really had much direction.

This time, I utilized a wonderful coach for a couple of months to really help steer me in the right direction. And wow, did it. I learned a lot about my chess skills (or lack thereof) and about myself in the process.

Given that there is no shortage of online resources for those of us seeking to improve our chess, it is tough to pick the right resources. Many of the resources might be excellent, but we might not be ready for a particular study tool.

How many times have we studied an opening over and over and then realize it wasn't really helping our game?

With the help of my coach, I learned that I needed to really work on my tactics. So I started doing puzzles, and as the evidence posted showed, I wasn't getting much better.

After looking at the types of puzzles I fail, one thing became very clear about my chess game: I lack the ability to properly recognize common patterns in chess.

Herein lies one of the most important benefits that chess instills in us: the ability to relentlessly find our faults and limitations and work to correct them. Think about this for a moment. So many of life's problems are really about the inability to recognize a problem within ourselves and then come up with a plan to solve it. This goes for our jobs... our health... our relationships. Those that possess the ability to self-reflect and self-improve are on a path to success and wisdom.

And there is no shortage of faults in my chess game! This is why, when we would analyze my games, my coach would ask, "Why did you move your knight there?" And after studying the board with someone who is much more masterful at the game, we would find that I didn't have a solid answer. Further, I would often miss the best move; because I didn't recognize the pattern.

So lately, in my ongoing quest to self-improve, I have backed off the general puzzles (with the exception of doing Puzzle Rush just to kill time). I've started working on a book called Common Chess Patterns and have been working through those examples over and over. I'm going to pound these patterns into my brain and then start revisiting the puzzles and look for improvement.

Meanwhile, I am also just playing more games, both online and with my eBoard.

And finally, I am making sure that I am spending some time just enjoying the beauty that is chess by studying games of the masters. I've really enjoyed studying the games of Paul Morphy and might write about this in the future. His ability to sacrifice material for incredible board positions just astonishes me.

And despite having solid and hard evidence that I am improving, I still feel like my games are substantially better than they were a few months ago. Just recently I won two games in a tournament game where I found winning forks, that I am convinced I never would have seen in the past.

So this is where I am in my chess life right now. I will continue to keep you all posted on my adventures. Thanks for taking this trip with me.

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So if you are like me, you like playing chess both on a real chessboard in the real world (3D) and on the computer (most 2D).

If you have followed my posts recently you might recall that I have been playing with my eBoard, the Millennium ChessGenius Exclusive. This has been fun when I don't have someone to play against and when I want to work on my over-the-board skills.

Before I purchased my eBoard, I fiddled with different ways to play an engine using a real chessboard. I used my phone, my laptop, or my iPad. I would make my move on the real board and then input it into the engine, then wait for the engine's move and make it on the board.

This was a royal pain! Inevitably, in almost 100% of games, I would move something wrong and then end up with a discrepancy somewhere on the board. And the game would be ruined at that point.

So the other day, it got me thinking... With all the technology today, why don't we have more apps and such that allow us to play against a computer using our voice commands and a regular chessboard? So I did some research.

And lo and behold, there is a way to do this. But I admit... It isn't perfect.

I imagine there are other ways to do this (if you know of one, please share it), but I did find one decent way to do it. If you happen to have access to Alexa, there are a number of chess skills you can turn on. And a few of these allow you to play a game against the computer with you and Alexa both announcing your moves.

The one I played with the most is the skill called Chessboard produced by Verto-Lab. I did a couple of games this way, and it worked. One nice feature of this particular skill is that you can ask Alexa "what is my game ID?" and she will give you a code you can plug in at the Verto-Lab website and you can see your board updated in real-time like this:

So in sum, you can set up your favorite, real-world chessboard and then have your cell phone connected to the Verto-Lab page with your game ID so that you can constantly monitor the status of the board, in case there is a discrepancy.

It worked. I managed to play two games this way. I won one of the games and the other was a draw. It does let you set the level and will modify your difficulty level based on your wins, which is nice. I felt like it timed out a little too fast if you were still thinking and I don't know if this can be adjusted. But as soon as I said "Alexa" again, I could make my move without any problem and the game would continue.

It even let me walk away for several minutes and resume the game later.

Have you tried this? Are you familiar with any other ways to play against a computer using a regular chessboard? If so, please share your experiences in the comment section!