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The plain truth about chess
Sydney J. Harris
June 30, 1958
The real game, revealed in the hard, clear light of world play, is neither ponderous nor mysterious and you needn't be a genius to play it
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June 30, 1958

The Plain Truth About Chess

The real game, revealed in the hard, clear light of world play, is neither ponderous nor mysterious and you needn't be a genius to play it

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In the 1925 Moscow Tournament, all the top players were tested in a psychological laboratory—where it was found that they had no better memory or power of concentration than the average person. Nor did they think faster than any other group chosen at random.

Richard Réti, a Grand Master and a leader of the "modern" school of chess, was once asked how far ahead he had to calculate in a serious game. "Only two moves," he answered. This was perhaps an exaggeration, but he was indicating the importance of creative grasp as against book knowledge of the game. The two world champions, Lasker and Capablanca, rarely looked at chess books.

Because memory and rote are less important than originality and vision, the age of the chess robot is not seriously feared by players. According to Norbert Wiener, in his book Cybernetics, the electronic chess-playing machine "would probably win over a stupid or careless chess player but would almost certainly lose to a careful player of any considerable degree of proficiency."

7) Chess strategy is only superficially similar to war.

Because the march of pieces up the board seems to resemble a military advance, it is commonly thought that chess is a harmless form of warfare.

In his historical analysis in The Adventure of Chess, Edward Lasker makes the definitive distinction between chess and war: "When we see a great general play bad chess, we must remember that military strategy and chess strategy are related only in a superficial sense. Both are guided by the same general strategic principles, but their application produces entirely different conclusions.... The fighting units and the final aim are of a totally different character."

8) Each game does not take a long time to play.

The average game of chess is ended well under an hour—about the same length of time it takes to play a single rubber of bridge and less than it generally takes to conclude a game of Scrabble. Generally speaking, the poorer the players, the longer the game—which is as true for bridge.

The beginner deliberates for an unduly long time because he is not aware that certain replies are forced, and he is bewildered by an apparent multiplicity of possible moves. But, as the fog lifts, he begins to see that, in many positions, only one correct move is possible—and he saves his deliberations for truly difficult positions. Unlike the beginner, who will play on doggedly despite his helpless position, the advanced player will resign when he sees that his position is clearly lost, preferring to play a new game.


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