Chess vs backgammon vs cricket.

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brokenwicket.jpgI've come under fire in The Steamie for the most peculiar reason: my attitude to chess. David Maddox blogged earlier today about my love of other board games, including an allegation that I have a game with nuclear war as an objective. That's almost true. I've actually got two, Confrontation and War on Terror. And I'm looking for a third.

He's a backgammon player, which I regard as the finest board game ever invented, and I'm certainly looking forward to beating him, ideally for money. But I cop it over chess. He disapprovingly cites my comment that: 

"Chess is a limited game which can be won simply by processing further into the future than your opponent."

I stand by this: computers now surpass humans precisely for this reason. Peter Hankins says:

".. the conquest of chess does represent a victory of sorts for mere processing power .."

The historical intertwining of chess and politics Maddox sets out is thereafter is fascinating, though, and he's right to say that strategy on the chessboard no doubt has parallels with politics.

I suspect neither backgammon nor chess is his real love, though. That has to be cricket - see how regularly he and Tom Peterkin defend the sport on the Steamie.

With that in mind I dare not step into the crease to criticise this ancient game. For instance, I would certainly be reluctant to associate myself with the comments of Gerrard Hoffnung, who once asked "what's that game, you know, the one where twenty-two men fall asleep on a lawn?"


I like how he refers to you as the Greens' spindoctor - it shows that north of the border at least, we're a serious force. I think the fact that chess gets its players to think like computers is why many (including myself) find it so enjoyable. I have yet to master backgammon, but I challenge you to a game or three when you're next at our Conference.

Rayyan, exactly, it's not down to my skills, it's down to holding the balance of power in the Scottish Parliament. Thank the electorate, and the PR system, and the activists who worked so hard to put Robin and Patrick into Holyrood!

I have never yet been to GPEW conference, but I keep meaning to. When I do, it would be my pleasure. I'll make sure I bring a wee backgammon board. Feel free to come to Dumfries at the end of October, too, or stop in at Holyrood if you're ever up. We have a set in the office for the occasional game once the day's work is done. (total to date: one game)

I think James is far too modest and under-estimates his skills at least with spin and communication. However, we have yet to see if he over estimates his powers at backgammon. - David Maddox (Scotsman)

You never saw Jed Bartlett playing Backgammon in The West Wing (or 'Confrontation' for that matter but we'll gloss over that...)

That sums it up for me - Chess is a vastly superior game. And anyway, backgammon isn't applicable in daily life.

Even if computers can beat the grandmasters (which is debatable, apparently), one can't have a computer ready to go at any given day-to-day moment when you need it.

Thinking of the consequences of ones actions, and the consequences of the consequences of ones actions, would stand anyone in good stead in whatever walk of life they find themselves in.

Of those three, it has to be cricket. Never thought I'd ever "champion" such a dull sport, but three reasons: nice chunky knitwear, that rather marvellous CD by The Duckworth Lewis Method, and the fact you play outside, thereby getting a bit of fresh air. (Oh, don't give me that stuff about giant outdoor chess boards...)

Chess is more than calculation and memory. I won a game earlier today by frustrating an opponent with repetitious moves until he made a blunder. Quite a few games are won by working up the tension until the eventual loser's mental stamina gives out, and he either blunders on his own, or you lead him into it. Computers may be immune to this, but computers aren't real players, either. You should also bear in mind that no human being can keep track of every single path a game might take with any useful depth. It's as much about where and how you look, and where and how you direct your opponent to look, as it is about how far ahead either of you calculate.

If we had robots programmed to play cricket with perfect skill and efficiency (and an endless supply of energy), it would be in much the same state in which you describe chess. But, we have no such robots, and computers don't play in chess tournaments, win titles, etc.

Unless you're a grandmaster speaking from experience, I don't think you can safely denounce the game as being strictly about calculation. You might as well say football is all about getting the ball to the goal, and that a cannon can do it better than any man.

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