On chess and the real world - Jay Maynard

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Wednesday, 25 February 2009

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0547 - On chess and the real world

Power Line's John Hinderaker tells the story of chess grandmaster Viktor Korchnoi's simultaneous chess exhibition at the Minnesota Renaissance Festival several years ago in this entry. At the end, he makes this observation:

Mediocre chess players play cautiously. They don't know what exactly will happen if they send their pieces careening down the board, but experience says the consequences are likely to be bad. Really good players--Korchnoi was an extreme example--understand exactly why it is that sheer aggression is usually punished. If their opponent is not skillful enough to position his pieces precisely correctly, all-out, headlong attack is the strategy of choice. Weaknesses invisible to the average player are ruthlessly exploited.

I've always thought that a broader lesson could be drawn from these observations. Ambitious world leaders are like top chess players. If they see that their opponent has positioned his forces flawlessly, so that aggression will be repelled, caution is the order of the day. But God help an amateur. A hint of weakness may unleash a relentless assault; an assault that will come as a surprise to anyone who does not understand thoroughly the forces that are in play.

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I'm reminded of Stiegler's _David's Sling_

Marc Stiegler's David's Sling was written back when the Soviet Union still existed; in addition to being about the use of hypertext and other IT to aid with decision making (he worked on Project Xanadu for a while), and about skeptical thinking, it also had to do with how agressors can take advantage of weak leaders. Your post reminds me of it. (If you haven't read David's Sling or his later Earthweb, do seek them out; they're very good.)

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