Play Magnus Chess App

I just downloaded a new chess app you should check out if you play: ‘Play Magnus’. As the name suggests, you play Magnus Carlsen – the twist is, you can do so for every year of his life from 5 until 23 (the present). So far I’ve beaten five-year-old Magnus and been too scared to try any older iterations.

Play Magnus app

Clever marketing, and great publicity for the world number 1. The app includes a link to his Twitter feed, which I assume will pay dividends for his follower count.

Two main thoughts:

  • It’s a bit gimmicky, really – without knowing any of the underlying mechanics, I would put good money on the whole setup revolving around a standard chess engine set to different ELOs for Magnus’s different ages. Then again, I guess it’s nice to be able to put a (young) face to what you’ve just played, rather than just a number.
  • Remembering that he’s only 23 (younger than I am) always makes me slightly depressed…

Fantasy Leagues in everything

Top econ fantasy league pick right hereSo today I discovered that there is an economist fantasy league. I kid you not – check out the link! It works in a similar way to your garden-variety fantasy football setup: buy and sell economists, and score points based on their performance (which, in this context, means publications). Unfortunately, the market for economists is not super deep, which means that my desire to create a dream team of economists with whom I have personally interacted was over before it got off the ground. New players are randomly allocated 30 economists, and only those currently in teams are available to be acquired. Also, caveat lusor: to get involved you have to create a profile with RePEc. Not difficult to do, and also free, but makes highly visible your status as a layperson (I have zero publications and zero affiliations listed, sad).

Apart from enabling me to spend a happy half-hour messing with a new nerd pasttime, this also got me thinking: what other unlikely fantasy leagues could exist out there? I figure that there are three elements that need to be present for a fantasy league to be viable:

  • Easily accessible data source. For sports, no problem – everything is tabulated and ready to go. Similar for economists – publication data is a big deal (hence readily available), and simple to measure. On the flip side, a politician fantasy league (I’m thinking something like: points scored for non sequiturs and backflips, points lost for public gaffs) would be great, but difficult to source data for.
  • Broad enough base of interested observers. Not much fun playing on your own!
  • Adequate heterogeneity between players (that is, the units being used in fantasy teams). Without this, it becomes an exercise in finding hot shots or acquiring inside info on who is likely to take off suddenly. Still fun, but misses the tension present in, say, fantasy football, where there is the constant trade-off factor. That is, I might take a chance on a player with a low goal-scoring record but a huge amount of ball-time, or else I might stick with someone safe who doesn’t make many mistakes. This seems to be where the econ league falls down a bit – including conference papers, working papers, or something other than just actual publications might make it more interesting.

Check out those mad stats!

With that in mind, my top pick for outlandish potential fantasy league is: blogs. Google Analytics means that data are easy to come by, there’s plenty of interest, and the heterogeneity is more than adequate. I’d like to go out on a limb and predict that a blog fantasy league doesn’t exist yet, but if I have one firm belief, it’s in internet arbitrage: if you can think of it, it’s already on the internet somewhere. I’ll get googling straight after I finish this post.

Over to my readers, though – what fantasy leagues do you follow or would you like to see brought into existence? I’m looking forward to reading some of the suggestions…

Monopoly for finance enthusiasts

Did your family go down the Monopoly road? I think you can tell a lot about family dynamics from measuring Monopoly frequency, at least when the children are between the magic ages (between 8 and 15, by my reckoning). The game is notorious two things: causing fights and lasting for hours. I recently read an article suggesting how to make the game more interesting – go check it out.

My thoughts on Finance Monopoly:

  • Only the British Monopoly - don't give me this crap about 'Boardwalk'!A few more rules are probably needed to clarify the suggested additions. For example, order of debt repayments (does rent owed take priority over debts from previous turns? who gets first claim on a bankrupt player’s assets?), and timing of financial transactions (can you only deal on your turn, or does the engine of finance march on relentlessly?) are two that spring instantly to mind.
  • Boy would these rule changes allow the game to get fiendishly complicated, fast. Not sure about your typical family game on a Sunday afternoon, but if we played this at an Economics and Finance Society meeting, the game would probably last at least a few days.
  • On that note, there could be a role for a dedicated banker and ‘government’ – to hand out money, administer contracts, etc. I actually dreamed up a Monopoly variant like this a few years back, where players would be able to take on roles like ‘builder’ (gets the money from any construction) and ‘tax collector’ (gets a cut of any taxes). Watch this space – I may write a post about it at some stage…
  • For some added game theory fun, the rules could explicitly state that no contracts are enforceable – that is, players are completely free to tell their creditors to go to hell. You’d quickly discover whether a loss of reputation and access to the in-game credit market acted as sufficient deterrents.

My interest is now piqued – I’d quite like to see how a game of Monopoly Finance-style plays out! Anyone got six hours to spare?

Steam sales and discount rates

Bought 'Civ  V: Brave New World' on Steam recentlyI usually labour under the happy illusion that I am among the subset of the population with low discount rates – a trait that is linked to education. A recent experience belied this belief, however – my purchase patterns in the current sales on Steam.

I’m a big fan of the Civilization series of games – I spent many a happy Saturday morning playing Civ II, content in the knowledge that it would be hours before my parents awoke to kick me off the computer. The current iteration of the game, Civ V, is an amazing piece of work – grand strategy at its finest. I intend to write a post on it and other games in the near future, so watch this space.

Anyway, the second expansion pack for Civ V came out a few months ago, and as much as I wanted to jump on board straight away, it was fairly expensive and also I was still writing my thesis. So I waited.

Thesis done, the Steam autumn sale started last week, and lo and behold – the game was on sale! 50% off, what a bargain! One downside, though – popular games like that usually get marked down pretty heavily, so there was the possibility that it would become even cheaper as the sale period continued. After a few moments’ reflection, I decided to get on board and take the half-price offer. That was Friday.

True to Murphy’s law, though, this morning I discovered the game’s price had dropped further to 66% off. The disinclination to wait a few days cost me 16% in extra savings 🙁

So, exam question for you all: given those figures, what is my implied annualised discount rate? For bonus marks, consider imperfect foresight over sale price trajectories.