Playing to win: Debating lessons from competitive gaming


I’m working on a 15 minute segment of my talk for the Freethought Alliance Convention in Orange County in a couple of weeks. I’ve talked about this topic before, but I’ve never tried to sum it up so quickly, so I figured I’d help get the writing going by putting it in blog format. If you’re in Southern California and would like to attend, you may not want to read this as it will constitute a spoiler. 🙂 Hope to see you there!

If someone demands extraordinary evidence for my nerd credentials, I should only have to mention that I was in my high school chess club. Got a couple of very minor trophies. My dad taught me to play at a very young age, and I taught my son to play in turn. I’ve also taught several other people to play, including my childhood friend Gil, who later went on to coach his local middle school chess team.

When we were kids, Gil had this annoying habit of always trying for a Scholar’s Mate. For anyone who’s unfamiliar with this tactic, a Scholar’s Mate looks like this:

In a nutshell, this is the fastest way to end a chess game without the loser deliberately playing like a complete idiot. It happens often at low skill levels. Chess is a very intricate game involving positional advantage and strategic piece exchanges and so forth, but a player aiming for a Scholar’s Mate will ignore all that and just play very aggressively, trying to trick the other player into getting trapped in a quick loss before many of the pieces have a chance to come out onto the board. It’s pretty satisfying for the winner, and very embarrassing for the loser.

So of course I’m embarrassed to say that I lost to this tactic. I lost to it more than once. And it made me mad. You know what they say: Fool me once, shame on you; fool me four times, I’ll never show my face again.

Getting mad is a predictable way for a novice player to react, but getting Scholar’s Mated should also be a learning opportunity. The truth is, this play is really not very good. Anybody who’s played chess for more than a short time should recognize it and be able to counter it immediately, and once white fails to get a quick mate, he’s in a somewhat bad position. His strongest piece, the queen, is out in the middle of the board right from the beginning, where it can be chased around by weaker pieces, and that wastes time that he could be using to take control of the center. This is a real “all or nothing” play: You take a big chance, but if it doesn’t pay off, you’re in a generally losing position.

However, some players don’t learn that lesson. There’s a word for this type of player in the professional video game circuit — and for you older readers, yes of course there is a professional video game circuit. The word is “scrub.” A scrub is a very special kind of bad player. We all start out as new players, and new players are naturally bad at games until they get the hang of them. But a scrub is a person who won’t learn the game, because they are constrained by their own set of mental rules. For instance, a scrub might get caught by a scholar’s mate, and just say “That’s totally unfair! Chess is a stupid game! Scholar’s mate always wins! I refuse to play with you if you’re going to use that cheap move!”

This is the kind of player who will never learn anything. Instead of just recognizing the weaknesses of the Scholar’s Mate, he just gives up. Even if you don’t initially understand what its weaknesses are, one easy way to learn is to work with the assumption that the Scholar’s Mate is unbeatable, and use it yourself. Just do what my friend Gil did, and play a Scholar’s Mate in every game. One of two things will happen. Either you will always win, in which case, great! You’ve mastered chess! You can beat everybody! Or, you will lose. But if you lose, you will now know how to beat Scholar’s Mate! Just do whatever your opponent did, and you’ll never be caught off guard again!

This is how you learn and grow in a competitive game. A lot of my thinking in this regard has been influenced by a book I read years ago called Playing to Win by David Sirlin, who not only changed the way I think about playing competitive games, but also gave me the insight that a lot of competitive things we do in our day to day lives really operate on the same principles. Like arguing with Christians, for example. I’ll get back to that later.

Games that you play against other people are interesting in a different way than, for example, playing solitaire, or playing a single player game like Super Mario Brothers. In a competitive game, you always have a teacher who is giving you examples that might show you a better way to play, i.e., your opponent. If you make a mistake, your opponent will show you how to capitalize on it. If you think you have an unbeatable strategy, your opponent will teach you its flaws. You never learn as much from winning as you do from losing.

I got an interesting sort of revenge on my friend Gil. Years later, I taught him how to play an online game called Starcraft II. I also taught my son to play. Starcraft II is a very fast paced game that is a little like chess, in the sense that you control an army, but it runs in real time and the characters use guns, spaceships, and weird sci fi powers. For instance, one unit called the Dark Templar has a permanent cloaking field.

Here’s a picture of a group of Dark Templar overrunning the base of some poor humans who didn’t build enough cloak detection devices. Because the human units can’t see the invisible enemy units, they’re free to tear apart the workers without any opposition. As it happens, this is how I watched my son crush my friend Gil, two games in a row, years after we played chess together.

Just like a Scholar’s Mate, using invisible units feels very unfair to novice players of Starcraft. They seem impossible to beat. But if you try playing a lot of games this way, you’ll eventually run into opponents who build defensive towers that reveal your units, use their scanners effectively, or build mobile detection units. You’ll also find that cloaked units are intentionally designed to be pretty fragile, so once they’re detected they’re easy to kill.

This is one example of the way in which a game like Starcraft is balanced. There are lots of tricky moves that you can take advantage of if you understand how to use them well. But these moves also have limitations, which you discover by playing to win and getting beaten by a smart opponent.

Playing to win is a process of repetition and practice. It is not enough to just play the game over and over again; you have to actually pay attention to what your enemies do, figure out which tactics are easy to beat, and which are worth borrowing. To bring this back to a topic that atheists care about, arguing for a position in a way that changes minds works very much the same way. When you argue with someone you have a few goals in mind. You might want to change the mind of the person you’re talking to; or you might want to persuade another person who is listening to the conversation and might not have made up his or her mind. Either way, you need to be strategic about the way you present your arguments.

Often, well meaning scientists or political activists will fall into the trap of thinking “Because I am saying things that are true, all I need to do is present the facts, and I will win people over to my side. The only reason some people don’t believe in, for instance, evolution, or global warming, or the obvious nonexistence of God, is because they just haven’t heard what I had to say yet.”

If I could give one piece of advice to my fellow truth seekers, it would be to stop doing that. You don’t win this game just by showing up. Yes, having the truth on your side is one kind of advantage. And don’t get me wrong, it’s a pretty good advantage. As we learn from the scientific method, true statements are repeatable, testable, reliable, and consistent. Which is great, but that’s not the only reason people have for believing things.

They may believe things because they are emotionally appealing. Or because they’ve been conditioned to agree with what their friends and family believe. Or there are false ideas which appeal to their vanity, like for instance: “I am one of the few smart people in the world who truly understands the scope of the government conspiracy that is all around us.” There are thousands of things that motivate people to believe something, and unfortunately “truth” is only one of them.

But on the flip side, if I could give a second piece of advice to my fellow truth seekers, it would be not to give up. I often hear people saying “Why do atheists ever have debates? It’s a waste of time, no one ever changes their minds.” That’s ridiculous. Of course people change their minds. All the time. Where did all these atheists come from? You can’t all be lifelong atheists like me.

Being good at rhetoric works. It influences people. Professional debaters like William Lane Craig, and hand-wringing authors like Josh McDowell, understand this principle very well. That’s what keeps them motivated to do what they’re doing. They know that if they argue well then they can influence people even if they don’t limit themselves to saying things that are true. A noob gamer gets angry and makes excuses when losing to invisible units, or a cheap aggressive chess opening. A smart player who is simply new to the game will use every loss as a learning opportunity, figuring out what her opponent did that she can borrow and make use of, and which aspects of the opponent’s technique are actually easy to beat with the right strategy. Arguing against a clever creationist is no different. You practice, you incorporate the best techniques, you improve over time, and then you win.

I’m not advocating that you lie to people. I’m suggesting that you should learn the lies, research your opponent’s position, actively seek out the very best historical arguments against your own position. Ideally, you should be capable of arguing the other side so well that you can make the cosmological argument convincingly yourself; you learn to be a totally persuasive presuppositional apologist. You present the argument from morality so well that you can correct other people who are arguing from morality badly. You can read the Bible. You can thoroughly research key verses, strictly for the purpose of deconstructing them and making them thoroughly impossible to use against you.

The Internet is a wonderful tool for learning factual information, but it’s so much more than that. It can provide you with an endless supply of opponents and teachers, who will do you the tremendous favor of finding your weaknesses, and helping you play to win.

Comments

  1. says

    The story of Gil adopting the Scholar Mate move I think also can be described as sort of a cargo-cult adoption of moves, where they don’t really understand what’s going on… they just see the opponent doing something, and start mimicking it.

    I’ve had that happen to me a lot… an amateur apologist will be making claims that require a burden of proof, and I’ll point that out. Before too long, the person will start accusing me of not meeting my burden of proof… often on things where I wouldn’t actually have any. At that point, you’ve entered a recursive level of meta-debate, where you’re explaining the basics of what a “burden of proof” is.

    It’s like debating within a Turing test. At that point, I’m not sure any actual debate is happening. You’re arguing with an echo.

  2. Russell Glasser says

    No, actually I don’t agree with that. One of the key principles of the “playing to win” philosophy is that every way you can play is fair as long as it is in accordance with the rules of the game, and a strategy is good for you if it leads you to a win. Saying that a player “doesn’t understand what’s going on” because he went for a cheap victory is actually a scrub mentality. He may have done something unorthodox, but he still BEAT you. The important thing is that you don’t blame the other player for doing something that worked; you should always look to your own gameplay to understand why you lost.

    Seriously, I linked the book by David Sirlin, and it’s mostly available to read for free online. If you have any interest in gaming tactics, this is book a very strong recommend from me.

  3. Narf says

    @1 – Jasper
    We’ve gotten a few Christian preachers who have pulled that sort of nonsense in here, throwing around claims of fallacies that we’re committing which weren’t even close to the given fallacy and showed a complete misunderstanding of the concept of logical fallacies in general. Charlie Check’em did that like crazy when he called into the show, too. It was pretty ridiculous.

  4. Russell Glasser says

    To elaborate on that a little more: If you play against a new player and you successfully pull a quick mate, you are playing well. You took advantage of his weakness and not only won, but won quickly.

    If you aim for a Scholar’s Mate in every game, and you always win, you are probably not finding opponents of a good enough skill level to help you improve. But you’re still using a good strategy given the circumstances.

    If you start losing with a Scholar’s Mate, and from this you learn to play better, you are playing to win.

    If you continue playing for a quick win and you are losing consistently, then you are not learning from your, and are probably a scrub. The fact that a tactic MAKES YOU LOSE is what proves it is a bad tactic, not the fact that it feels cheap and unfair to the other player.

  5. says

    He may have done something unorthodox, but he still BEAT you. The important thing is that you don’t blame the other player for doing something that worked;

    I think that’s where the analogy between debate and gaming breaks down… at least if we’re not talking about a strictly formal debate that scores points (e.g. the vast minority of them), there’s no real “winning” or “losing” moves.

    Being beat by the Scholar’s Mate in chess may have “won” within that context, but within the analog of the non-scored debate, of just mimicking what the other person is doing, doesn’t necessarily “beat” me, nor does it necessarily “work”.

    I think we’re focused on talking about different things. I’m talking about a level of debate where you may think you’re playing chess, but you’re “playing” it against Weitzenhoffer’s pigeon.

  6. says

    If we have even a casual point-scoring system… like when the viewing audience has voting devices, on one of those shows I don’t want, I think what you say makes perfect sense.

    But when we look at something like the Ham v Nye debate, we don’t really have that. The creationists think the creationist won, and the evolutionist think the evolutionist won.

    If we don’t know who won, we don’t really have a mechanism for determining which move/tactic “worked”.

  7. Russell Glasser says

    To some extent, the “goals” of a debate are often self-defined, if there is no formal scoring system. But my criteria for judging a debate is more or less like this: After hearing both sides of argument, has the audience collectively moved more towards agreement with your position or more away from it?

    If I’m debating a Christian, and most of the audience is atheist, and they were largely accepting of but underwhelmed by my performance, the debate was not a victory. Sure, the listeners agreed with me in the end, but they also agreed with me at the beginning. My presentation had a neutral impact or even a slight net negative. On the other hand, if people are coming up to me and saying “I’m a Christian and I don’t agree with you, but you gave me a lot to think about,” I call that a win. Last week I did an interfaith panel with a Christian, a Jew, and a Muslim (video was posted earlier). The conversation was mostly friendly, but there were some mild disagreements. I got more questions directed at me than the other panelists did, most seemed satisfied with my answers, and I got complimented by the audience, the event hosts, and other panelists afterwards. A couple of people came up and asked about when the next ACA meetings would be. THAT’S a clear win.

    In the case of Ham vs. Nye I think it’s not as clear cut as you think. It’s true that most creationists preferred Ham, which is to be expected, but I also heard a LOT of criticism of Ham’s performance from people you’d expect to be allies. Some examples:
    http://jwwartick.com/2014/02/04/kham-bnye-loselose/
    http://geochristian.com/2014/02/04/ken-ham-vs-bill-nye-post-debate-analysis/
    http://apologeticspress.org/APContent.aspx?category=9&article=4801

    The overall coverage was mostly favorable to Nye. I would call that a win, except that Ham also “won” by fundraising a lot of money off the debate. The victory conditions were different in his case, which complicates the issue.

    These considerations are why I frequently ask people “What are your goals when you get into arguments with people?” If you are meeting or exceeding your own appropriately defined goals, you are coming out ahead.

  8. Russell Glasser says

    If this is a point of confusion, I may need to work this discussion into the body of the talk.

  9. Gino says

    Funny, I’d never heard the term “scholar’s mate” before. I grew up playing chess in Canada and we called that strategy the “fool’s mate” instead. I now understand that there is a difference between the two, with the scholar’s mate taking two more moves.

  10. Russell Glasser says

    I used to make this point by saying “fool’s mate,” and Gil and I always used to joke about him fool’s mating me. It was while doing background reading for this post/talk that I realized I had to make that distinction.

  11. says

    I’ve been thinking about this since an earlier post of yours on debates and scrubs, and it seems to me that one important thing to do is to figure out which game you’re playing; what the victory conditions are. Are you trying to get at the truth, i.e., correctly count the number of gods in the universe? Are you trying to convince the person you’re talking to, either now or in a year? Are you trying to help spread atheism over the long run?

    For the first one, I think science and philosophy are up to the task, so I’ll leave that aside.

    Now, one possible tactic is to ridicule your opponent. That won’t make him change his mind, but if done skillfully, it might bring the audience to your side. So you’re forfeiting the goal of convincing your interlocutor, in order to get more points by convincing the larger number of people in the audience.

    But then we get into the meta-game, as it were: someone like Kent Hovind ridicules evolution and biologists all the time, and his audience seems to like it. But in the bigger picture, people can see that his debating technique consists of ridicule, Gish gallop, and overconfident ignorance. So he loses his debater, wins the congregation, and loses the rest of the English-speaking world.

    Games like chess, Starcraft, and pinball[1] have well-known, fixed rules. The rules of the game of persuasion aren’t spelled out, and different people may have different ideas about what they are. In the past, a popular method of convincing people of the existence of God has been to threaten children with hellfire if they ask questions. But I think you and I would consider that cheating. I’m not 100% sure why, but I think it’s because it doesn’t have anything to do with the truth of the proposition.

    [1] I remember a discussion at rec.games.pinball[2] about how much nudging constitutes cheating. My favorite answer was that you can nudge and shove as much as the game will let you get away with. If the operators don’t want you jostling the machine, they’ll adjust the tilt sensitivity.

    [2] Yes, I’m old.

  12. brucegee1962 says

    This article reminded me of the year when I was a senior in high school. My friends and I had risen up through the chess club, so naturally, once we became big, tough seniors, we thought we owned the thing. But that year, a freshman showed up who had actually played competitively, and he was able to clobber all of us. So naturally, we just stopped playing with him — but then he taught all the other freshmen how to play well too. Of course, then we just stopped playing with all of them, and eventually we all quit the club and left it to them.

    Looking back at it now, of course, I lament my skipping my best chance to get chess lessons for free. But my seventeen-year-old self replies — “Are you kidding? I mean, freshmen. Eww.”

  13. says

    As I was reading the first few paragraphs, I was thinking that WLC uses Gil’s strategy to debate. It was great to see him pop up later in your piece. This is a great analogy. Nicely done.

  14. LrdVapid says

    Just a proof reading error but at this end of this paragraph you refer to yourself as a lifelong THEIST.

    But on the flip side, if I could give a second piece of advice to my fellow truth seekers, it would be not to give up. I often hear people saying “Why do atheists ever have debates? It’s a waste of time, no one ever changes their minds.” That’s ridiculous. Of course people change their minds. All the time. Where did all these atheists come from? You can’t all be lifelong theists like me.

  15. CompulsoryAccount7746, Sky Captain says

    What’s it called when you instead play to “not lose”, specifically because players assume everybody wants to win?
     
    Deliberately sacrifice all your pieces, so then your opponent finally pins your king, you have nothing left to move, and have forced a stalemate – denying them that satisfying checkmate and achieving your objective.
     
     
    “Bust them up”? ( Article: StarTrek TNG – Peak Performance )

  16. says

    @7

    Incidentally, I largely think it’s useful advice. I’m just nitpicking the boundaries of the argument.

    In the case of Ham vs. Nye I think it’s not as clear cut as you think. It’s true that most creationists preferred Ham, which is to be expected, but I also heard a LOT of criticism of Ham’s performance from people you’d expect to be allies.

    Maybe not a great example… but that still does come down to point scoring that we’re not always going to get. We’d also have to be careful about anecdotal data, because we don’t know to what degree people might have been swayed in the other direction. You’d have to assume that at least the majority of people who changed their minds, say so. Without a properly controlled “point” gathering, you may be learning the wrong lessons.

    Your list of different ways these debate win-conditions can be met I think goes back to my initial issue. What I don’t buy is the notion that a game/debate can’t descend into such a state that the game/debate isn’t actually happening any more.

    Maybe the chess other player considers it a “win” that he/she has frustrated you, and then ends the game. Suppose there’s a scenario in a StarCraft II-like game, where it’s you with one unit, and the other person with another. You’re trying to kill the other player’s unit, but he/she just keeps running away from you.

    How many consecutive hours would this go on, before you conclude that the game isn’t happening any more, and quit… without you just being a scrub/sore loser who is unable to learn? Trying to delay, and otherwise beat the other person by attrition may be a useful tactic, but in the endless hours of just wasting your time, there has to be that point where it transitions over.

    .. or the only useful lesson for learning available is that you shouldn’t play any more games with this person.

  17. Russell Glasser says

    I think you might be conflating a couple of different things. The notion of “playing to win” assumes that you are trying to improve at a specific game. You play a lot of chess because you are trying to get good at chess. That is a self-contained goal that is unrelated to external goals like “I win if I annoy or frustrate you.” If you win but feel annoyed afterwards, that is a separate issue of personal life goals that is unrelated to how good your chess game gets.

    Of course, as David Sirlin points out in the book, it is perfectly valid to attempt to psych out your opponent through mental tricks like trolling or taunting him. Part of getting good at a competitive game like Starcraft or Street Fighter is being able to perform effectively under pressure, and not get flustered; as well as, alternatively, being able to deploy these same psychological tricks yourself if they are successful at making your opponent lose.

    But none of this speaks to the unrelated question of whether getting good at chess or Starcraft or debating Christians is, in itself, a worthwhile goal for you to pursue. That’s a matter of personal values. If you decide that debating Christians is pointless or makes you angry, it’s perfectly legitimate to decide: “I will not be able to play this game to win it, and I don’t want to bother.” It’s your life. Just recognize that you can either “play to win” within the boundaries of a particular game with victory conditions you accept, or you can NOT do that, and leave the fight to other players. I’m only trying to address the people here who actually want an answer to the question “How can I get good at arguing?”

  18. Curt Cameron says

    and for you older readers, yes of course there is a professional video game circuit

    Hey! I, uh…

    Well, thanks for explaining that. In fact I didn’t realize there are professional video game players.

    Of course, as David Sirlin points out in the book, it is perfectly valid to attempt to psych out your opponent through mental tricks like trolling or taunting him.

    I’m not a video gamer; my game is pool. This statement goes double for pool.

  19. says

    @17

    The notion of “playing to win” assumes that you are trying to improve at a specific game. You play a lot of chess because you are trying to get good at chess. That is a self-contained goal that is unrelated to external goals like “I win if I annoy or frustrate you.”

    What I’m talking about isn’t so much whether I am playing to win, as to whether the other person is. The opponent may be only putting up a facade of playing, or has otherwise rendered the debate/game useless, where no winning (or losing) conditions are met.

    The self contained goals, boundaries of the game, and victory conditions may be only illusory, and it’s more a question of how long it’ll take you to realize it.

    Unfortunately, we don’t have any real mechanism to tell the difference… like trying to figure out if a person is just trolling you. .. or is just so bad at the “game” that “playing chess” is means going full-pigeon all over the board. For all I know, anything this person is doing, whether in game or debate, is a “winning” tactic, no matter how long it stretches out, or how ridiculous it gets.

    If I dare give up at any point, I’m just a whiny unlearning “scrub”.

  20. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    Well, thanks for explaining that. In fact I didn’t realize there are professional video game players.

    And now I must share. League Of Legends is serious business.

    http://www.bbc.com/news/business-29684635

    The pictures at the BBC don’t do it justice. It looks like only part of the field is filled. In the following video, you can see that all of the stands are filled too. IIRC, we’re talking 40,000 people filling the Olympic soccer stadium in Seoul. The following video is the opening ceremony of the finals, which were played in the stadium.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Y3t52hWIas

    PS:
    <3 Imagine Dragons. They do love their drums.

  21. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    PPS:
    According to Riot, at one recent point, there were 27 Million unique players every day, and there are 67 Million unique players every month. League Of Legends is by many measures the most popular and successful video game ever made. Beats the pants of World Of Warcraft in terms of number of players. For further information, see this famous, if out of date, infographic from Riot Games, maker of League:

    http://majorleagueoflegends.s3.amazonaws.com/lol_infographic.png

    PPPS:
    I will miss you C9 Hai!

  22. Curt Cameron says

    Hey, at least I’ve heard of World of Warcraft.

    It was featured on a South Park episode.

    As far as my video game skills, I can type “xyzzy” really fast.

  23. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    Sorry, one more link. I would have one post, but auto-moderation and all.

    Interview with Imagine Dragons concerning their collaboration with Riot Games to both write the song and to perform it at Worlds (the League Of Legends World Tournament).
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=movgebC7qi8

    I love how they say that they have been late at least once going up on stage to perform in front of 20,000 people because they were in the middle of a League game. LMFAO.

  24. Russell Glasser says

    EL, just wanted to say I went and listened to “The Warriors” and really enjoyed it. Previously I had heard just one Imagine Dragons Song, Radioactive, which was also parodied on Weird Al’s latest album. I like both the original and the parody, and now Imagine Dragons are 2 for 2 with the songs I’ve heard.

  25. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    ~blushes~
    Those are my two favorite songs from Imagine Dragon too, Radioactive and Warriors. Glad I could be of service.

    Part of me feels weird in that I follow the scene, but I still cringe a little when I think about a popular western band, a full orchestra, and a bunch of Koreans in traditional garb, all playing a song together for 40,000 people, who have all gathered together in an Olympic f’ing stadium to watch 10 teenagers play 3 to 5 games of a video gma.e It just feels wrong. Maybe that’s the cultural conditioning that video games are for losers which I have to throw off still, lol.

    I particularly like this live version of Radioactive:

    Imagine Dragons – Radioactive (Live At The Joint)
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ybirL3EtMb8

    Be sure to watch the cheesy music video for Warriors too. I assume the CGI was done all in-house at Riot.

    PS: Contrary to the lyrics, warriors do not build towns!

  26. Narf says

    @13 – Tim Wicklund

    As I was reading the first few paragraphs, I was thinking that WLC uses Gil’s strategy to debate. It was great to see him pop up later in your piece. This is a great analogy. Nicely done.

    Hell, even more so, think of Sye. That guy literally only has one argument, and he gets himself thrown out of debates, when he keeps repeating it nonstop, after his opponent has refuted it in the first 5 minutes of the debate. I can think of several other apologists who fit the description, too.

  27. Curt Cameron says

    Russell wrote:

    and now Imagine Dragons are 2 for 2 with the songs I’ve heard.

    Well, that makes sense. He said:

    <3 Imagine Dragons.

    … and two is less than three.

  28. Hippycow says

    Seeing that chess diagram on the atheist experience is really causing some cognitive dissonance between my chess and atheist worlds!

    Russell, when you get Chess By Post on your phone, challenge me to a match: my ID is mattgerrans. I play a mean Fool’s Mate (not to be confused with Scholar’s Mate). 😉

  29. Jagyr says

    One of the key principles of the “playing to win” philosophy is that every way you can play is fair as long as it is in accordance with the rules of the game, and a strategy is good for you if it leads you to a win. Saying that a player “doesn’t understand what’s going on” because he went for a cheap victory is actually a scrub mentality. He may have done something unorthodox, but he still BEAT you.

    (Emphasis mine)
    Putting on my gamer hat instead of my atheist hat for a moment. I think this strays a little too closely to results oriented thinking, which can get you in trouble. There is a fine line between the bolded portion and “this strategy is good because it lead me to a win”, which is fallacious.

  30. Russell Glasser says

    Hippycow, I am always vaguely ashamed to admit, I don’t really enjoy PLAYING chess all that much. I enjoy chess theory and I am interested in it as an application of computer science that is hard to solve. I’m a vaguely competent player. But if you want to game with me, you’d be much better off picking up Starcraft or Heroes of the Storm, or possibly Team Fortress.

  31. Narf says

    … or possibly Team Fortress.

    … which is a very strategic game, actually, although it can be very difficult to tell sometimes, if you’re playing with a scratch team on a public server. I think about half of my play time is as an engineer, followed by medic and demoman.

    I have Starcraft 2 (and of course 1), but I suck ass at it.

  32. Hippycow says

    Ha, all those games are beyond me because they have come about after I had a couple kids and they require more time than I can devote to learning the basics, much less becoming competent. The strategy games look pretty fun, but they all seem to have pretty steep learning curves and require a lot of time just to learn the controls and options, much less strategy. My 11-year-old crushes me at all the games on the XBox (except the Kinect Sports and Soul Caliber, where I still have an edge). That leaves me with chess and Command HQ. Remember that? It is so old I have to play it on a DOS emulator (DOSBox)!

  33. StevoR says

    Brings back memories with sudden extra burst of knowledge! There was a high school chess club where I lost to this tactic (Scholars or Fools mate) in my first game. Didn’t know it had that name – didn’t stick with it really although played chess a bit years later just with friends and family. Good article – thanks.