Wednesday, December 22, 2010


I'm sure I'll catch grief from chess mavens, but I think chess is a stupid game.

Oh, it's got clever moves, and strategic and tactical thinking, and planning, and all that good mental stuff that we are all supposed to value. However, it also consists, as I am taken to understand, in a lot of rote memorization of the "correct" moves, of trolling through a planning space of moves, of tedious deduction and trial and error, and not so much creative problem solving, not so much innovation or puzzle solving. Small wonder that computers can play chess so well. But that's not why it is stupid.

Unless the opponents are not horribly mismatched, the play almost always ends up with a lot of carnage, a brute force slugfest, a meat grinder of a game. A field of battle riddled with corpses. A war of attrition. Pyrrhic victories. In short, a stupid way to fight a war.

Granted, I may be biased as I've always sucked at chess. On the other hand, I've always been slightly above average when it came to the game of Go. Ah, now there's a game that requires some creative thinking. Not only forward planning kind of thinking, but a global scope, a big picture puzzle, a sideways associational type of thinking, with not so much a deductive search and elimination of less than optimal moves as opposed to lightning strike moments. Eureka moments. Or, as the Japanese say, when they are unfortunate to be on the loosing side of such an event "ear-reddening moments". I've experienced both sides of that. Even though I may have been on the losing side of that moment, the flash of insight that occurs when I recognize that the placement of a single stone has wrecked everything is still a rather exhilarating feeling.

In short, Go is a much more complex, much more interesting game than chess.

For most of my adult life, when I had a real job, my job title was that troubleshooter. Actually, more like glorified janitor, tending code that is now hysterically obsolete, on computers that are now anchor chains and bicycle parts in China. But that was basically what I did. Solve problems.

Actually, not so much trouble shooting, which usually has a more hardware than software connotation. And it also kind of implies a chesslike approach to problems - isolating a problem source by a tedious process of elimination.

Puzzle solving, debugging then, was more of what I did. The logical deduction technique was my backup plan, and I was not necessarily that good at it.

Good thing I was very good at intuitive solutions. It really was more about knowing who was the idiot that coded the program, or who was the last idiot who modified it. (Yes, dearies, you may think computer programmers are on the high side of the bell curve, but my experience was that they were, uh, not so smart. Or maybe it was me who was a little smarter, although, I can remember on one occasion rewriting a truly brilliant program authored by a very clever young man. I had to. It was too clever, and I knew, in the future, that it would be maintained by fucking idiots who would not have the first clue as to what the code did).

In fact, much of what I did required more like inference, imagination, associations, a little zenlike subconscious processing, a little backburner thinking, and then, lightning strike. Not only to find the problem, but to come up with a clever hack to fix the problem without creating new ones.

Thinking back, I think a lot of my success stemmed from the fact that I maintained a casual, even cavalier, attitude in the midst of a crisis. A sense of humor, more than anything, was probably the reason for my successes. My brain was relaxed in playful mood, and ready for that dopamine reward of the "Aha!" moment.

Now, there is some evidence that comedy and problem solving go hand in hand.

And let's face it, there's room for comedy in a game of Go, not so much in chess, I think.

No comments:

Post a Comment