A view from Dave Trott: Strategy v. the real world
A view from Dave Trott

A view from Dave Trott: Strategy v. the real world

1972 was just ten years after the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Ten years after the world came the closest it’s ever been to blowing itself up.
1972 was still the height of the cold war.
Into this situation came Bobby Fisher, 29 years old and a chess phenomenon.
He seemed to effortlessly beat all opponents.
He was to chess what the young Mohammed Ali was to boxing.
Loud, cocky, obnoxious, and a genius.

But an American chess genius didn’t seem right.
Chess was slow, thoughtful, intellectual, quiet.
Chess was Russia’s game, they dominated it at every level.
And here was a young American upstart who threatened that domination.
The Russian World Champion was Boris Spassky.
In 1972 they met in Iceland for the showdown.
Spassky won the first game.
Straight away Fisher showed he wasn’t going to be a gentleman.
He blamed it on the noise from the TV cameras, he insisted they be removed.
When they refused he sulked in his room and missed the next match.
He forfeited the game, now it was Spassky 2, Fisher 0.
Fisher walked out, and only a call from the second most powerful man in the USA, Henry Kissinger, brought him back.
Spassky was unsettled by Fisher’s childish behaviour.
Fisher won the next match.
Then Fisher and Spassky drew the next match.
Fisher won the match after that, now they were equal.
Fisher won the next match with such spectacular moves that the entire audience, even Spassky, stood and applauded.
Fisher was in the lead.
They drew the next match, then Fisher won the next match.
They drew the next match, then Fisher won again.
Then Spassky won, then they drew.
Fisher was ahead, 5 games to 7.
The next game looked like an inevitable draw.
Both players adjourned, and the Soviet team of Grand Masters analysed the positions, they said it could only be a draw.
But Fisher stayed up all night, until 8am, considering his moves.
The next day he beat Spassky.
No one could believe it was possible.
After Fisher left, Spassky could only sit and stare at the board.
Fisher was now ahead 5 games to 8.
The next game was a draw, but Fisher threw a tantrum about noise.
He demanded the first seven rows of spectators be removed.
Spassky had never known anything like this.
It shook him up and he could only get a draw.
In fact it was all he could do to get a draw in the next six games.
By the twenty-first game he was broken.
He resigned by phone.
Handing the World Championship to Fisher, the rude, cocky American.
The entire tournament is still controversial.
Did Fisher beat Spassky on the chessboard, or by distracting him with his behaviour off the chessboard?
Whatever the truth, Fisher was the new World Champion.
So when a strategy is being discussed as if it was a perfectly ordered chessboard, with no distractions or outside influences, it’s worth remembering that isn’t how the world works.
I recently heard it said that it isn’t worth arguing with an Internet troll, because it’s like playing chess with a pigeon.

"The pigeon knocks all the pieces over, shits all over the board, then struts around like it won."