Edward Winter's Chess Explorations (33)

by ChessBase
12/20/2009 – ‘Goal-oriented oppositionally paired dualities’ are certainly enjoyed by our readers, whether they realize it or not. In plain English, the term means ‘games’, but not all authors seem capable of writing plainly. A selection of pretentious and trite passages about our beloved duality is offered by the Editor of Chess Notes in an article which is guaranteed to have your head spinning well before Christmas.

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Chess Explorations (33)

By Edward Winter

In C.N. 559 William Hartston (Cambridge, England) presented this quote from a 1960 paper by Dr Félix Martí Ibáñez:

‘To checkmate the opponent’s king in chess is equivalent to castrating and devouring him, becoming one with him in a ritual of symbolic homosexualism and cannibalistic communion, thus responding to the remnants of the infantile Oedipus complex.’

The leading purveyor of psycho-bosh is, of course, Reuben Fine, an individual whose output has often been discussed in Chess Notes. However, an unsung hero in the domain is Cary Utterberg, the author of The Dynamics of Chess Psychology (Dallas, 1994). The following passage from page 106 is wholly typical:

‘All this may be summed up by the hypothesis that Lasker had achieved an existential recognition of strategic masking – that he unconsciously sensed the inadequacy of maintaining the inelastic outlooks characteristic of both idealism and skepticism.’

It is, though, Reuben Fine’s influence which has endured. His stature was underscored in C.N. 2832, an item entitled ‘Platitudes on war/war on platitudes’ about a book which is notable, above all, for triteness. The full C.N. article is reproduced below.

Our recent reading has included The Expression of Aggression in the Game of War Using Chess as a Bloodless Model by Eric Anton Kreuter (New York, 1991). To judge from the back cover, his qualifications for the task are two degrees (in business administration and psychology) and a track-record of having ‘authored several articles on such subjects as time management and employee motivation’.

The book’s introduction states: ‘To better study aggression as it relates to the phenomenon of war, one could look to the game of chess for insights into this form of universal human behavior’. In so doing, Kreuter relies, heavily and ill-advisedly, on Reuben Fine’s The Psychology of the Chess Player and two or three other chess books, such as The Chess Sacrifice by Vuković (whom he calls ‘Uvokovic’). Armed with this mini-library, Kreuter sets down some stunning insights:

‘War is a contest between advocates of differing views; a conflict of interests which cannot be resolved using peaceful means and usually results in a victory on one side and a defeat on the other side with heavy casualties shared by both. Therefore war is a conflict; to wage war is to engage in a forceful attempt to overthrow the enemy and move in via a takeover or a surrender by the enemy.’ (Page 27)

‘In applying the description of war to chess, it must be emphasized that any substitute for war is only a true substitute if it occurs on a much smaller scale. Chess fulfills this requirement. Chess is also a contest between two sides. The player has an opponent whom he wishes to destroy (checkmate) and against whose attacks he must defend himself. It is indeed a conflict where there is a beginning, a struggle, and an end.’ (Page 30)

‘Chess playing requires a similar deployment of strategies and tactics as in war. Certain chess games result in stalemates due to either a passive playing style or too many equal sacrifices. Stalemated chess games, like prolonged, victor-less wars result from both sides’ inability or unwillingness to execute a more aggressive style of attack.

Perhaps the same killing inhibition which stops a chessplayer from waging an all-out attack on the chessboard is affecting the society which is unable to penetrate enemy forces sufficiently enough to result in the end of the war.’ (Page 45)

By now we have quoted from the book ‘sufficiently enough’, yet it may still be wondered why Kreuter dragged chess into his analysis. The explanation on page 7 shows that his heart is in the right place:

‘To study war completely the psychologist cannot be limited to the laboratory. It is equally impossible and morally reprehensible to create an actual war between two groups of people for the purpose of conducting a field study.’

Let us at least be grateful for that.

Overblown writing may also appear, in less concentrated form, in the treatment of chess history. Authors with only a small reserve of facts (and thus not historians in any case) often seek refuge in pseudo-intellectual generalities. A tell-tale sign is excessive recourse to verbs like ‘echo’, ‘foreshadow’, ‘portend’, ‘symbolize’ and, especially, ‘adumbrate’. Waffle flows effortlessly (no research being needed), and practitioners of the broad sweep may even be hailed for profundity in some unthinking quarters. In C.N. 6381 we referred to ‘speed-readers duped by speed-writers’.

An ‘academic’ book almost impossible not to mock is A Concept of Dramatic Genre and the Comedy of a New Type: Chess, Literature, and Film by V. Ulea (Carbondale and Edwardsville, 2002). Indeed, we have devoted a feature article to it, sharing with readers such passages as:

‘The semiunconditional values of the pieces (such as queen 9, rook 5, bishop 3, knight 3, and pawn 1) appear as a result of the rules of interaction of a piece with the opponent’s king. All other conditions, such as starting conditions, final goal, and a program that links the initial condition to the final state, are not taken into account. The degree of conditionality is increased by applying preconditions, and the presence of all four preconditions fully forms conditional values.

Katsenelinboigen outlines two extreme cases of the spectrum of values – fully conditional and fully unconditional – and says that, in actuality, they are ineffectual in evaluating the material and so are sometimes replaced by semiconditional or semiunconditional valuations, which are distinguished by their differing degrees of conditionality. He defines fully conditional values as those based on complete and consistent linkages among all four preconditions. Accordingly, fully unconditional values are free of the preconditions; the introduction of the first preconditions, which is linked to the formation of the scale of positivity/negativity, results in the appearance of unconditional values. Semiconditional values are those based on some conditions, while semiunconditional values are formed by complete and consistent linkages between the rules of interactions, taking no other conditions into consideration.’

C.N. 2847 mentioned another particularly verbose book, King’s Knight The Metaphysics Of Chess by James Nathan Post (Cottonwood, 1978). For an illustrative quotation we went no further than page 1:

‘Much of mankind’s activity seems to be devoted to participation in “games”, that is, goal-oriented oppositionally paired dualities.’

A future article will pursue the theme, but with books on chess instruction. In anticipation, readers may care to ponder which chess writer was responsible for this:

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All ChessBase articles by Edward Winter

Edward Winter is the editor of Chess Notes, which was founded in January 1982 as "a forum for aficionados to discuss all matters relating to the Royal Pastime". Since then, over 6,400 items have been published, and the series has resulted in four books by Winter: Chess Explorations (1996), Kings, Commoners and Knaves (1999), A Chess Omnibus (2003) and Chess Facts and Fables (2006). He is also the author of a monograph on Capablanca (1989).

Chess Notes is well known for its historical research, and anyone browsing in its archives will find a wealth of unknown games, accounts of historical mysteries, quotes and quips, and other material of every kind imaginable. Correspondents from around the world contribute items, and they include not only "ordinary readers" but also some eminent historians – and, indeed, some eminent masters. Chess Notes is located at the Chess History Center. Signed copies of Edward Winter's publications are currently available.

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