TITLE: Strategy Under Time Constraints AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: June 22, 2015 3:27 PM DESC: ----- BODY:
an old analog chess clock
In Proving Too Much, Scott Alexander writes this about a rhetorical strategy that most people disapprove of:
Because here is a fundamental principle of the Dark Arts -- you don't need an argument that can't be disproven, only an argument that can't be disproven in the amount of time your opponent has available.
This is dark art in the world of ideas, where truth is more important than winning an argument. But it is a valuable strategy in games like chess, which are often played under time constraint. In competition, winning sometimes matters more the beauty or truth. Suppose that my opponent has only a few minutes or seconds left on the clock. Suppose also that it's my move and that I have two possible moves to make. One is objectively better, in that it leads to the better expected outcome for me in theory, but that it is easy for my opponent to find good responses. The other move is weaker, perhaps even allowing my opponent to get an advantage over me, but that it would be hard for her to find the right path in the time available. In this case, I may actually want to play the weaker move, because it maximizes my chance of winning in the circumstances of the game. My opponent has to use extra time to untangle the complexity of the position, and even if she finds the right move, there may not be enough time left to execute the plan. This approach is more volatile for me than playing the safer move, as it increases my risk of losing at the same time that it increases my chances of prevailing. But on balance, I am better off. This may seem like a crazy strategy, but anyone who has played a lot of speed chess knows its value. Long-time world champion Emanuel Lasker was reputed to have employed a similar strategy, sometimes playing the move that would most unsettle the particular opponent he was playing that day, rather than the absolute best move. (Wikipedia says, though that this reputation may have been undeserved.) There are chessplayers who would object to this strategy as much as people object to its use in argumentation. There is truth in chess, too, and most chessplayers deeply appreciate making beautiful moves and playing beautiful games. Some grandmasters have sought beautiful combinations to their own detriment. For example, Mikhail Tal may have been able to retain or regain his world title if not for a propensity to seek complication in search of beauty. He gave us many brilliancies as a result, but he also lost just often enough to keep him on the fringes of the world championship. Much of the time, though, we chessplayers are trying to win the game, and practicing the dark arts is occasionally the best way to do so. That may mean making a move that confounds the opponent just long enough to win the game. -----