I got the idea for this article after reading GM Alon
Greenfeld article "chess and war" in the July Chess Life
What does chess and war have in common? I think
plenty. Some of the basic strategies in chess and war are similar. Such as
piece or troop mobility and communication. Cutting the communication or
supply lines to a piece can cause the trapped piece motif in chess. This
can happen with rooks doubled on an open file. One rook invades the enemy
territory; the invading rook can lose its communication lines and get
trapped by an interposing knight or a bishop that can anchor itself off a
pawn. Cutting off supply lines and communication can
demoralize troops, who need to receive supplies to lessen the burdens of
war. In order to have a strong army you must provide your soldiers
with ammunition, food, medicine, clothing, and reinforcements. An example
of cutting off the communication and supply lines occurred in the battle
of Yorktown, Virginia in October of 1781. British General Cornwallis
was under frontal attack from the American Revolutionaries. The French,
who were helping the Americans, established a naval blockade of the ports
in that area. The blockade prevented the British ships from supplying
Cornwallisí army. Cornwallis had to surrender, thus ending the
American revolutionary war. In 1954 the Vietnamese were able
to use this tactic against the French in the battle of Dien
Bien Phu. The Vietnamese had surrounded and cut off the French
military output in northern Vietnam. The French, unable to supply the
base, were forced to surrender after 209 days of siege.
Another strategy common in both chess and war is
the concept of strengthening or supporting your weaknesses. If a vital
square needs protecting, you move a rook, bishop or knight to protect it.
If a piece is under attack, you protect it with another piece or
pawn. In war you must protect your borders. The French learned this the
hard way during World War 2. The French built the Maginot
line, an impenetrable fortress on its border with its World War 1
enemy Germany. When World War Two broke out, France again faced Germany,
however the French did not properly protect its northern border with
neutral Belgium. Unfortunately for the French, all is fair in
love, war and chess. The Germans went thru Belgium to attack Franceís
northern borders. The French were caught off guard and surrendered.
In chess they say the best way to deal with a flank attack, is
a thrust into the center. General Macarthur did just that during the Korea
war. North Korea had invaded the south in 1950 and pushed well into
the southern flank of the Korean peninsula. Macarthur made a daring thrust
into the center of the Korea peninsula when he invaded Inchon.
Macarthur was able to cut off the invading North Korea forces that found
themselves caught in a deadly vice.
The concept of the threat being stronger than the execution is
also shared by chess and war. The meanings are different in both. In chess
this strategy has to do with threatening to take a weak pawn.
Sometimes it's better to have your opponent worry about defending the pawn
than actually taking it. In war, the concept of MAD mutually
assured destruction, kept the US and Soviets from destroying the world.
Each has its nuclear arsenal and neither dares use it because it would
lead to each sideís destruction.
The concept of overextending is common in both chess and
war. In chess it is very dangerous to advance your pawns too soon,
especially your center pawns. If you do this before you have properly
developed, you can lose them or create major weakness behind the pawns.
This happened in the Korea war; General Macarthur had pushed the North
Korea forces up to the Chinese border. Our troops were over extended
and poorly supplied. This brought the Chinese into the war; their human
wave attacks pushed our troops back to the original borders of the 38th
parallel. It is always dangerous to take more territory than you can
Mobility of forces is important to both chess
and war. In chess if your pieces have more mobility than your
opponents, due to a space advantage, then you can use that to your
advantage by attacking one side of the board quicker than your opponent
can defend. The Germans in World War 2 used mobility to great effect
during the blitzkrieg
attacks on Poland, France, and Russia. The Germans used their air
superiority in coordination with their panzer tank units to over run
and quickly destroy the opposition.
GM Greenfield poses an interesting question: If
chess is indeed so primitive, unsophisticated, and unvaried compared to
real war, why isnít mastering chess easier.
Well this is because in chess the player does all the
fighting. His pieces threaten, but they donít fight until commanded to
do so. Chess would be more like war if the pieces had their own minds. For
example if the bishop and knight could coordinate an attack or defense by
himself or herself without the player's interference. Chess is an
infinite game; it is difficult for one person to see all of the important
Real war is an infinite game to a greater extent,
if thatís possible. What makes real war easier to grasp is that the
commander on down to the foot soldier all have the general game plan and
each has a mind of his or her own. No single person makes all the
decisions. In war, the commander does not have to concern himself with all
the small details. He has a huge army of thinking soldiers. For the chess
player, he has to do all the thinking. He has to worry about all the small
details. The pieces donít have a mind of their own. Maybe that will be
the next frontier of the game. Thinking pieces, well thatís another idea
for an article. For those who master the game of chess and can play at a
high level, they appear to have some sort of symbiosis with the pieces.
The pieces seem to be an extension of the master. They become living
appendages, like fingers and toes. While working as a broadcaster on
Chess.fm, I was surprised at the speed and accuracy of the propagation of
the position by the titled players. When I make a move, the piece is
heavy, it stays there. But with titled players the pieces seem to float
and move about rapidly in their minds. It is as though they are wiggling
their toes and fingers. No doubt that chess mastery comes at the expense
of long hours of daily study of the game.
Military leaders, who have tried to
make real war like chess have failed miserably. Hitler being one of them.
Hitler often ignored commanderís advice. He made a lot of decisions for
his commanders; they were not allowed the freedom to change plans based on
the needs of the situation. In fact some of his military commanders were
afraid to make decisions without Hitler's approval. Hitler,
who was just a corporal in the First World War, gave his commanders
precise instructions that had to be carried out to the letter. This
inflexibility probably cost Germany the 2nd world war.
During the Vietnam War President Lyndon Johnson made a similar mistake.
LBJ tried to turn the US army into chess pieces instead of allowing them
greater freedoms. LBJ
micro-manage the air strike campaigns by approving or
choosing targets. This frustrated the military by creating unnecessary
delays and reduced the effectiveness
of the air strikes.
If the chess pieces had a mind of
their own, then maybe a patzer who comes up with a good general plan could
Fischer in a match. I could envision Bobby trading off an unruly
knight, even though the position did not suit such an exchange.
I could also see Bobby having trouble with his queen as well. I don't
think she could ever forgive Bobby for saying he could give knight odds to
any woman in the world. I think Bobby would probably end up firing his own
king. Bobby would end up on the wrong end of the first on board piece
There is an interesting
article on chess and sex at www.chessbase.com;
unfortunately I am not equipped to cover this topic adequately. However I
will add that chess
and sex do have much in common. The main thing is that you don't have
to be good at either to enjoy them, but both can be extremely frustrating