inkwell.vue.281 : David Shenk, "The Immortal Game"
permalink #0 of 59: Hal Royaltey (hal) Tue 5 Sep 06 11:21
Our guest author is David Shenk.  David is author of "The Immortal Game: 
A History of Chess (Or How 32 Carved Pieces on a Board Illuminated Our
Understanding of War, Art, Science, and the Human Brain)".  The book has
been lauded by The Chicago Sun-Times as "Fresh and fascinating...a
world-spanning story [Shenk] relates with skill and verve." Author
Jonathan Cott calls it "one of the most remarkable books I've read over
the past many years -- its 'brilliancy' illuminates so much of life in
all its aspects." 
David's previous books include "The Forgetting" and "Data Smog", and he has
contributed to National Geographic, Gourmet, Harper's, The New Yorker,
NPR and PBS. The Forgetting was hailed by John Bayley as "the
definitive work on Alzheimer's, and subsequently inspired an Emmy Award
winning PBS film of the same name. Shenk frequently lectures on issues
of health, aging, and technology, and has advised the President's
Council of bioethics. He lives in Brooklyn, New York. 
More on The Immortal Game, including links to play chess online and a
chance to win a chess set, at:

Interviewing David is Patrick McCollum.   

Pat McCollum paints abstract oils as a vocation, supported by
programming the IBM iSeries. He began tournament chess in high school,
38 years ago, tutored grade school kids in Brookline 20 years ago, and
continues to analyze pet variations with college teammates. Although
certified as a Chess Master and Black Belt, outgrowths of a military
childhood, recent years have been devoted to art and livelihood. He
remains interested in all aspects of the royal game, and its
applications in other fields.

Welcome to the Inkwell, David and Pat!
inkwell.vue.281 : David Shenk, "The Immortal Game"
permalink #1 of 59: David Shenk (davidshenk) Tue 5 Sep 06 12:01
Great to be here, and thanks to Hal and Pat and the behind-the-scenes
inkwell people for having me back. Let's talk chess! I'm not a terrific
player, but I'm happy to take on any questions about the game's
history and influence, both of which are considerable. Chess turns out
to be not only the most infectious and enduring game in history, but
also an extraordinary thought tool.
inkwell.vue.281 : David Shenk, "The Immortal Game"
permalink #2 of 59: Schach & Ah! (dotman) Tue 5 Sep 06 16:57
Hi David. 

_The Immortal Game_ has plenty of interesting tid bits I haven't
encountered before, enjoyable for any chess afficianado. But what I
liked best about it is how well it explains *why* we love this game,
millions of us over the centuries, who have devoted ourselves to it. 

More books have been written about chess than all other games
combined, but 99% of these are instructional, of no interest unless
you're studying to improve your play. This is one I can recommend to
folks who learned the moves in childhood, but never seriously pursued
it, or not long enough to really get good.

The game is so much more than a contest, with its thrill of victory
and agony of defeat, for us famously nerdy types. It's an art form for
personal expression, capable of breathtaking beauty for those who know
the language. And it's a exploratory tool for science, as you've
described so well in chapter after chapter. 

Many times I've wished I could express to the uninitiated why we find
it so compelling, so rewarding, that we can happily invest thousands of
hours of effort into learning it, replaying the profoundly beautiful
games of its great masters. Now somebody did.

I think a lot of people could relate to your playing history. Feel
like saying more about that?
inkwell.vue.281 : David Shenk, "The Immortal Game"
permalink #3 of 59: Vince Houmes (unclevinny) Wed 6 Sep 06 18:20
Hi David.

I found the book an easy and enjoyable read, too. As someone who's
played an awful lot of (mostly awful) chess over the years and has read
a lot about chess and chessplayers, I was really pleased to see so
many hilarious and/or informative chess anecdotes and vignettes that
I'd never heard before. A warm and human side of chess is revealed in
this book, and I'm curious to know if non-chessplayers will find it as
engaging as I did.

One of the vignettes that I wanted to mention is where Alice (the one
from Wonderland) is talking to her cat following a game, and says
"...really I might have won if it hadn't been for that nasty Knight,
that came wriggling down among my pieces." I have always had a
particular fear of Knights in my territory; the deeper they go, the
more I get overwhelmed by calculations required, so I was especially
drawn to this phrase. Have you been collecting chess anecdotes for
years, or did you do a blitz of research while writing this book?

In the book you don't try to pass judgment on the Freudian
interpretation of checkmate-as-castration, but I wonder if I could get
you to talk a bit more about this. I've never spent a lot of time
studying Freud, but I have certainly experienced the frenzy of chess
competition and the mad desire to crush the King and avoid one's King
being crushed. But what's puzzling to me is how this actually connects
to my feelings for my Mother and Father. If my opponent's King is my
Dad, doesn't that make his Queen my Mom? And if that's the case, what
figure is represented by my Queen? Couldn't it just as likely be said
that an "unresolved neurotic" is seeking to defend Mom 'n' Pop against
the some dreadful figures from outside the family? 

Thanks for the fun read. I'm looking forward to the discussion!
inkwell.vue.281 : David Shenk, "The Immortal Game"
permalink #4 of 59: Schach & Ah! (dotman) Wed 6 Sep 06 19:25
Oh yeah, curse those knight forks! It takes a while to accept that
Bishops are usually stronger, after losing so many early games to those
sneaky steeds jumping about. Alice's friend the White Knight kept
falling off his horse, thanks to its crooked leaps.
inkwell.vue.281 : David Shenk, "The Immortal Game"
permalink #5 of 59: Teleological dyslexic (ceder) Wed 6 Sep 06 22:57
Hi David!

The most poignant story I encountered in the first chapter of your
book fortold a warning to me Exuse me for paraphrasing it badly:  The
attacking army was approaching.  The assistant kept interrupting his
sires chess game to announce the approaching danger.  The sire lost his
head before the game could tell him how to overcome his enemies.

My warning comes at the beginning of a semester with much reading--I
cann't resist your book.  Oh my goodness.

My request to my father to teach me chess was an irritation to him.  A
blue collar worker he pulled out checkers. ;-)

I learned but I sabbotage myself--maybe it would be a good diagnostic
inkwell.vue.281 : David Shenk, "The Immortal Game"
permalink #6 of 59: David Shenk (davidshenk) Thu 7 Sep 06 08:00
Thanks for so many kind and thoughtful comments. There's lot to
respond to already.

I should probably first acknowledge that, though this was a difficult
book to organize and write, the material was there for the picking.
From where I stand, it was a book waiting to be written because there
is so much extraordinary stuff -- poignant, funny, thought-provoking,
and on and on. I spent three years working to get it right and hunting
down certain facts and stories, but I never had a problem in finding
enough to fill the book. If anything, the problem was having to decide
what to leave out.

And yes, Pat, it was very important to me to try to articulate to
outsiders the beauty and artistry of chess. This was especially tricky
since I am not an advanced player. But I could tell from the outset
that there was something very special going on, and I think I got
enough of an insight into it to lay it out for a general audience.

On the Freud nonsense . . . I basically think it's nonsense. Not that
we don't all operate according to all sorts of unrecognised impulses
and drives -- I'm sure that's true and I think someone could write a
fascinating essay or book that really explores the hidden psychology
behind a chess game. But the King standing for the Father and the Queen
being the mother and the player wanting to kill the Father (and then
masturbate?) -- none of that registers with me, and I think it's an
absurdly unnuanced attempt to get at what's really going on

- David
inkwell.vue.281 : David Shenk, "The Immortal Game"
permalink #7 of 59: Steve Bjerklie (stevebj) Thu 7 Sep 06 08:53
Chess is such a strategic game. I'm wondering if any of the great
strategic thinkers in history and the present in the realms of
politics, the military and business were/are also great chess players?

Napoleon, I believe, was a student of the game and played well.
inkwell.vue.281 : David Shenk, "The Immortal Game"
permalink #8 of 59: Schach & Ah! (dotman) Thu 7 Sep 06 10:22
David mentions Reuben Fine, a towering figure in both chess and
psychology, dyed in the wool Freudian. He quit the game around 1950,
when he was probably the third best in the world, to focus instead on
psychology. On page 148, David quotes from Fine's _The Psychology of
the Chessplayer_ : 

(The game, he said) "certainly touches upon the conflicts surrounding
aggression, homosexuality, masturbation, and narcissism.... [The King]
stands for the boy's penis in the phallic stage, and hence rearouses
the castration anxiety characteristic of that period."

Fine also wrote there:

"The profuse phallic symbolism of chess provides some fantasy
gratification of the homosexual wish, particularly the desire for
mutual masturbation." 

The Oedipal stuff might have relevance to my family history, so I
could never reject it completely, but this stuff never resonated with
me either. Following it with that scene from Seinfeld was a stroke.
(whoops!) I'm laughing again right now, rereading it.
inkwell.vue.281 : David Shenk, "The Immortal Game"
permalink #9 of 59: David Shenk (davidshenk) Thu 7 Sep 06 10:53
The story of Napoleon and chess is long and very interesting. He did
play a ton of chess and was convinced it helped him with strategy. He
was not, however, very good. The only way that Napoleon could win
games, apparently, was to become Napoleon. Before he was supreme
commander, he lost a lot. After he rose to top-dog, he suddenly found
himself winning lots and lots of games....
inkwell.vue.281 : David Shenk, "The Immortal Game"
permalink #10 of 59: harry henderson (hrh) Thu 7 Sep 06 10:58
As someone with a long time interest in chess (and occasional bouts
of study, but a mediocre level of play) I found your book to be
quite fascinating. Weaving it with the actual Immortal Game of 1851
was a great structural choice. 

I don't know whether you have overdrawn the actual historical
significance of chess. Did chess help change the way people thought
about themselves, society, war, statecraft, etc. or did the
interest in chess simply reflect those trends? Or, of course, a
feedback with some of both.
inkwell.vue.281 : David Shenk, "The Immortal Game"
permalink #11 of 59: David Shenk (davidshenk) Thu 7 Sep 06 11:16
Thanks, Harry. There's a fine line to be drawn there, and I tried to
be careful not to go over it. At one point in the book I say that all
of this stuff would surely have happened anyway in the absence of chess
-- but I do think that they would *likely* have needed something like
chess to help crystalize some of these concepts. 

I do think it's much more than just reflecting trends. We've got some
scholarship to show that chess was a useful tool in helping change the
way people thought about certain things -- social roles in medieval
Europe, the mind and computers in the 20th Century. 

We shouldn't underestimate the power and importance of metaphor in the
development of thought. I'm not saying that the metaphor HAD to be
chess in all these instances, but in many cases it was and that's
pretty significant.
inkwell.vue.281 : David Shenk, "The Immortal Game"
permalink #12 of 59: Schach & Ah! (dotman) Thu 7 Sep 06 16:30
A chess metaphor that's become popular in the last decade or two is
the "endgame". We hear it used by politicians and news commentators,
and they use it well. Is its chess origin obvious to non-players? 
inkwell.vue.281 : David Shenk, "The Immortal Game"
permalink #13 of 59: pardon my amygdala (murffy) Thu 7 Sep 06 18:56
David, do you touch on the origins of the queen becoming a powerful
piece? I read that an Italian noblewoman of the 15th century, Caterina
Sforza, may have been the inspiration. (Amazingly, I even have a
source: "Chess, Oedipus and Mater Dolorosa," Norman Reider,
Psychoanalysis and the Psychoanalytic Review, Vol. 47, Summer 1960).

But haven't read any other reference to her so I suspect it's dubious
inkwell.vue.281 : David Shenk, "The Immortal Game"
permalink #14 of 59: David Shenk (davidshenk) Fri 8 Sep 06 07:59

I do get into the Queen history somewhat -- though not nearly as
deeply as Marilyn Yalom did in her book "Birth of the Chess Queen."
Yalom's conclusion is that the queen's massive increase in power came
about chiefly as a direct tribute to Isabella I of Castille, who was
essentially a co-soverign with King Ferdinand.

That Norman Reider essay is extraordinary -- one of the best catalogs
and explorations of the chess-origin myths and their psychological
import. He packs a lot in there. 


Pat -- My sense is that almost everyone using the term "endgame" does
know that it comes from chess. I don't quite know why, but it seems
that almost every living soul above age five or so has some level of
chess awareness -- they know about the game, they know it has Kings and
Queens and Knights and "castles" and they know that games can get very
involved. An extraordinary number of people understand that the game
has three distinct phases and are able to effortlessly appropriate that
as a metaphor for something else. 

All of this has also been true throughout the 1400 years of chess
history. One sees endless examples of people using chess as a casual
metaphor, which carries the assumption that anyone within earshot will
instantly understand its meaning. This certainly doesn't mean that
chess was being played in every parlor in the world, but enough people
played that people knew the fundamental outlines of the game.
inkwell.vue.281 : David Shenk, "The Immortal Game"
permalink #15 of 59: Schach & Ah! (dotman) Fri 8 Sep 06 11:31
My dad never played it, but he told me of a super-checkers he saw on a
baseball trip, when I was six, and I decided I'd learn it one day.

In dozens of conversations over the years, I've heard people tell of a
semi-Oedipal rite of passage; that red letter day they beat their
father at chess for the first time. This happens when they are too
small to win a physical contest with the old man, so the achievement
thrills them with their newly demonstrated capacity for performing on
an adult level. Such a widely shared experience would have to have some
effect across the culture, more than baseball I think, although it's
hard to pinpoint. That look of happiness on their faces when they
recalled the event decades later is enviable.

I liked very much your account of the 8 year old kid who said about
chess that you could take a whole day to move just one piece(!)
inkwell.vue.281 : David Shenk, "The Immortal Game"
permalink #16 of 59: David Shenk (davidshenk) Fri 8 Sep 06 12:44
Yes, there is something very powerful about a child beating a parent
at chess for the first time, and I too have heard people talk about it
a lot. So much of parenting after age two or three is based on a
parent's intellectual and (hopefully) emotional maturity. When a child
demonstrates that they can consider complex problems with equal or even
greater depth, that is a pretty extraordinary moment.

If the relationship is frought with power issues, then it can also
have some pretty serious implications. An insecure parent can react
badly, retreat or even take out some collateral revenge. But if the
relationship is a relatively healthy one, with reasonably healthy egos
on both sides, then I think it can be a useful signpost in the journey
of a developing relationship.
inkwell.vue.281 : David Shenk, "The Immortal Game"
permalink #17 of 59: Vince Houmes (unclevinny) Fri 8 Sep 06 16:19
Hey, I hadn't considered the Oedipal ramifications of beating your Dad
at chess...that's a genuine humdinger right there. I don't actually
recall that event, but I know that it happened at some point early on.
Dad and I also had a crazy game called "Chess II", where the
checkerboard was all psychedelically squished and stretched -- this was
the early 70s, after all.  It was pretty difficult to play on such a
board, because you couldn't visuallize knight move, bishop
moves...well, much of anything.

This sort of reminds me of a question that came up for me while
reading the book....what will the next wave of chessplay look like? You
describe the history of chess as the Romantic, Scientific, hypermodern
and postmodern periods (OK, I have the names wrong...), each of which
I'd had developed something of a sense for in my reading and playing.
In particular, it had seemed to me that the most recent "wave" of play
in the past 20-30 years has been heavily informed by computer
calculation. Do grandmasters have a discernible style of play, now, or
is the game getting burned down to a cold, logical inevitability? And
the real question I'm wondering about is, "What is the future of
chess?"  Will computers push further and further out in their opening
book, effectively shutting down certain lines of play?  I would be sad
to hear that the King's Gambit had been thoroughly refuted, for
example. If this were the case, it would probably have little impact on
patzers like me, who just love giving up a pawn in the first two moves
for more exciting play, even if it was proven to be a bad idea.

The other "future of chess" possibility I've seen online is the
profusion of alternate chess games. Online chess sites offer a ton of
these variety games where the rules are bent or broken, perhaps because
people are actually getting a little bored, especially at the
traditionally slow pace of tournament rules. Online 1-minute games are
like crack, frankly, and produce a completely different buzz in the
head than ponderous epics. (Time pressure is something that doesn't get
covered much in your book, and could have made a fascinating chapter
by itself!)
inkwell.vue.281 : David Shenk, "The Immortal Game"
permalink #18 of 59: Schach & Ah! (dotman) Fri 8 Sep 06 17:01
I can sorta relate to the parental side, after watching computer chess
grow up. My ChessMaster 3000 was a good sparing partner in the early
90s. I could pretty much always beat it if I paid attention and didn't
drop material, demonstrating the superiority of human judgement over
brute force calculations, and that was gratifying. Now CM9000 kicks my
booty mercilessly all over the board.

I know one line, a Franco-Wing Gambit, where I can trap its Q after
offering a poisoned rook*, exploiting its limited horizon, as
harvesting the Dame takes many more moves. Otherwise, I rarely even
manage to draw the beast. My college teammates and I used to laugh at
HAL9000, the ridiculous notion a computer could outplay a human as soon
as 2001. His win against astronaut Frank Poole, which you cite in your
chapter on computer chess, was after all a replay of a famous human
encounter long ago.

I suspect it was the silicon opponents that drove World Champ Kasparov
to retire from serious competition. They've dampened my enthusiasm for
the game, drove me to quit my favorite form, postal chess. He's right
about the Deep Thought exhibitions being stacked against him unfairly,
in my opinion, but that didn't matter to anybody but himself.

His later match with Deep Junior was a fair one, and you devoted
several pages to it, even providing a diagram of the game two Bishop
sacrifice that left the chess world thunderstruck. I've viewed that
move as the moment the torch passed from human hands, but right below
it, you mention that K himself had played it in an earlier exhibition

If computers can beat Kasparov at chess, they can beat our generals at
war. Perhaps irrationally, I find that really frightening.

*(if you have CM9000, try this as White: 1.e4 e6 2.f4 d5 3.e5 c5
4.b4!? Nc6?! 5.bxc5 Nxe5? 6.fxe5 Qh4+ 7.g3 Qe4+ 8.Qe2 Qxh1 9.Nf3 & mind
the tactics for several moves until you win that trapped Q.)

(Vince slipped in before I finished that.)
inkwell.vue.281 : David Shenk, "The Immortal Game"
permalink #19 of 59: Vince Houmes (unclevinny) Sat 9 Sep 06 09:30
Wait, are you serious? I've never been afraid of computers outwitting
us at war, and I'm trying to decide if I should start. To me it seems
like this could happen in one of two (uber-unlikely) ways. (a)
Computers become sentient, and take over military equipment, etc., to
get their way. This seems like a comfortably remote scenario, given the
plodding, heavily-scrutinized progress of even Chess AI, let alone
evil mastermind AI. (b) An evil mastermind uses computers to help him
defeat human generals, a la a James Bond scenario. 

The thing about Chess AI is that it relies on getting perfect
information about the location of all pieces on the board, and has
similarly perfect info about the capabilities of each piece. Making
good decisions in war is difficult because of the crazy degree of doubt
and uncertainty about position, capability, funding, diplomacy,
domestic politics, etc. 

Now, having said that, the US army is completely dependent on
computers in the field, but that's more for keeping the bureaucracy
flowing, targeting, moving objects around, etc. 

In any case, I'm much more worried about losing my identity and life
savings online than having mechanized robotic overlords wielding
automatic weapons knocking on my door.

OK, I clearly overreacted to that comment...maybe I'm afraid after
inkwell.vue.281 : David Shenk, "The Immortal Game"
permalink #20 of 59: David Shenk (davidshenk) Sat 9 Sep 06 10:31
This is all good stuff. Let's try and sort it out. Vince is right, of
course, that sentient computers taking over the world -- ala the
Terminator movies -- is a very long way off. But may someday be a
plausible danger. What we're learning in AI, partly through our recent
success with chess computers, is that humans may not always have a
monopoly on intelligence. There are other types of possible
intelligence, and we seem to be developing truly intelligent machines.
It's a far different type of intelligence than ours, but it solves
complex problems and that's pretty amazing. So I think we should be
very aware of extreme dangers now and we safeguarding ourselves.

Another more mundane but no less life-threatening danger is that we
will become too dependent on machines to fight our wars, make our food,
keep our environment safe, and that some of these machines could  one
day breakdown or be sabotaged. The internet is already an example of
something that society has become truly dependent on and which could
conceivably be brought down. 

To address another point of Vince's -- about how much more complicated
real-war (or real life) is than a perfect information game of chess:
Yes, that's very true. It's a huge leap to get to machines that can be
"smart" in an ultra-complex world of imperfect information. But the
half-thrilling, half-creepy feeling I get from my time studying this
stuff is that we are really coming closer and closer to computers that
will recognize patterns way beyond human detection, and be able to act
on that. I don't think we can rule out any scenario at this point.
inkwell.vue.281 : David Shenk, "The Immortal Game"
permalink #21 of 59: Schach & Ah! (dotman) Sat 9 Sep 06 11:23
Well, I did overstated it, Vince, the influence of Harlan Elison
stories, no doubt, and yet it does give me this sense of foreboding.
Neither of those dramatic scenarios you listed worries me. It's the
idea that decisions about whom to kill, and how many, could be passing
to machines with no investment in sparing humanity I find disturbing.
Economic decisions are already made this way, and I think that's bad
enough if no human ethics are in a position to overrule them. The
urgency of lightning life and death tactical decisions will bring
pressure to leave us pokey humans out of the equation, won't it? Maybe
we can program human concerns into the decision making. I've seen too
many bugs over the years to place much faith in that being reliable.

I like your point about chess being a game of perfect information,
while war is not. To my mind, chess is a war game only because we've
culturally interpreted it as such through the centuries, as David wrote
about in rich detail. We talk about 'set piece battles' as a form of
warfare rarely seen these days. Chess is what we would prefer war to
be, idealized to where we can completely control it.

As a dice game, backgammon bears more resemblance to real war, and
poker, with its hidden information, even more so in my opinion. But
neither gives us that romantic sense of individual combat on the
battlefield. They wouldn't work at all in a Harry Potter movie.

The lack of randomness makes it a good tool for research, as David
described in a fascinating part I can't find now. Experiments using
variants of the game to study the relative weight of the elements of
battle influenced the march to Bagdad, if I recall it right.

David, could you tell us about that?
inkwell.vue.281 : David Shenk, "The Immortal Game"
permalink #22 of 59: Schach & Ah! (dotman) Sat 9 Sep 06 11:29
David replied before I got that posted. I'm talking too much and
typing too long. 

Well members can participate directly, and others can email comments
and questions to  <>, and we'll copy them here.
inkwell.vue.281 : David Shenk, "The Immortal Game"
permalink #23 of 59: Teleological dyslexic (ceder) Mon 11 Sep 06 21:09
Given the development of Islam and Chess about the same time period I
wondered about...then realized no correlation.  Then after thinking
about Benjamin Franklin's humorous dialogue I envision Chess without a
King to no avail.

Maybe the islamic holy war is closer to helter skelter.  Much that was
wrong to the hippy culture has not overwhelmingly been fixed.  Flower
children, hippies, yippies, global compassion still does not fix the
bubble then pop of market economy.  Laissez Faire still sees brokers
leaping from windows following their stocks.

In this state of helplessness I feel an urge to work it out through a
game of chess. Social darwinism does not help.  

inkwell.vue.281 : David Shenk, "The Immortal Game"
permalink #24 of 59: Schach & Ah! (dotman) Mon 11 Sep 06 23:40
Anxieties that resonate all too well with today's date, <ceder>.

There is one part in your book, David, where I disagree with the views
of your sources, about the roots of mental illness with way too many
of the game's greatest minds; the dark side of chess.

You quoted Stephan Zweig's short story, _The Royal Game_:

"It is an absurdity in logic to play against oneself," he later
concludes. "The fundamental attraction of chess lies, after all, in the
fact that its strategy develops... in two different brains, that in
this mental battle Black, ignorant of White's immediate manuvers, seeks
constantly to guess and thwart them, while White, for his part,
strives to pentrate Black's secret purposes and to discern and parry
them. If one person tries to be be both Black and White you have the
preposterous situation that one and the same brain at once knows
something and yet does not know it; that, functioning as White's
partner, it can instantly obey a command to forget what, a moment
earlier as Black's partner, it desired and plotted. Such a cerebral
duality really implies a complete cleavage of the consciousness, a
lighting up or dimming of the brain function function at pleasure as
with a switch."

That last sentence may be true, but players don't do that. Most of the
time they analyze, they do it alone, playing both sides with no
secrets involved. It's just a dialectic, as you described in a
following chapter, a method to understand the position at hand. They
analyze to asses the underlying truth of a position, assuming best play
for both sides. Hiding information from oneself would be absurdly
counterproductive. The point is to answer questions like, "Does Black
get enough piece activity here to compensate for the long term weakness
of that isolated Queen's pawn? Or, is the advantage of two Bishops vs
Bishop & Knight in the endgame worth defending this middlegame attack?"
It requires being constantly mindful of every tactical resource you
can find for both sides, avoiding bias as much as possible. Nothing
schizoid about it.

Nor can I agree with Tim Redmond's claim that spending hours figuring
out how the opponent is trying to get you, a constant exercise of the
'paranoid function', is the culprit. If so, why aren't defensive
coordinators in the NFL going mad? Anticipating the next move in your
opponent's attack is no more harmful than guessing what that leftie
pitcher will throw to the rightie lead off hitter, with a two run edge,
a man on second, and a 1-1 count. 

The frequency of mental illness among some of the greatest players in
history like Fischer and Morphy is certainly troubling, even
heartbreaking. Unfortunately, I don't think anybody has explained it.
inkwell.vue.281 : David Shenk, "The Immortal Game"
permalink #25 of 59: David Adam Edelstein (davadam) Tue 12 Sep 06 07:21
Speaking as part of the group who learned the rules of chess as a kid
but never really got hooked, I wonder if it's because the specific
combination of complexity and simplicity that chess presents.  Even
though the number of possible combinations in, say, even the next five
moves is enormous, it's still finite and calculable.

In contrast, defensive coordinators in the NFL may think ahead to how
the opponent is going to respond, but there are also enough apparently
random factors -- the ball or grass are slightly more slippery than
expected, the receiver gets a bit of dust in his eye, the wind shifts
just a bit so the ball goes a foot further than it would have otherwise
-- that they have to accept a certain lack of control.

Serious chess players, on the other hand, know that there is only a
finite set of possible moves.  Maybe that's where the crazy-making
comes from?


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