In games of strategy, players typically settle into two categories:
One group (the majority) memorizes the work of others, but they possess no comprehension of the game itself.
This is frequently true of those in the technology industry, or in law; they memorize the words, and carry all the proper credentials, but don’t actually understand how the underlying metaphors are frequently reused, which thus blinds them to adjacent opportunity.
The other (a far smaller group) are those whose comprehension of the game’s physics transcend the necessity to waste time memorizing trivial facts, because they play through insight and intuition.
Emanuel Lasker lands solidly in the second category; world chess champion for 27 years, Lasker held the title for the longest period in history and is considered one of the game’s masters.
His contemporaries would say that Lasker used a “psychological” approach to the game, suggesting that he sometimes deliberately played inferior moves to confuse opponents.
But as W. H. K. Pollock once observed: “It is no easy matter to reply correctly to Lasker’s bad moves,” probably because he didn’t follow the rules, opting instead to apply a more flexible approach that eschewed the rote memorization of trivial details.
Recent analysis indicates that he used a more flexible approach than his contemporaries, which mystified many of them, because they remained bound by rules.
Which is a lot like how people are like today, if you think about it: the drowning grasping as one might at life preservers, trying to secure a tenuous purchase, grasping for rules within a system in a free fall state of collapse.
Lasker knew contemporary analyses of openings well, he simply disagreed with many of them, opting for his own style.
Lasker’s bias towards intuition and flexibility reminds me of the later work of John Boyd, who observed that if one that can execute within the decision cycle of an opponent they can drive them into a state of madness, because they are unable to discern the delta between order and perceived chaos.
A groundbreaking mathematician, as well as a philosopher, Lasker hefted considerable influence upon the domain of chess, and his quotes provide rare insights into the cathedral of his mind:
“On the chessboard, lies and hypocrisy do not survive long. The creative combination lays bare the presumption of a lie; the merciless fact, culminating in the checkmate, contradicts the hypocrite.”
The contemporary author Cormac McCarthy seems to elaborate upon this theme in the following scene, from the book Blood Meridian:
“Men are born for games. Nothing else.
Every child knows that play is nobler than work. He knows too that the worth or merit of a game is not inherent in the game itself but rather in the value of that which is put at hazard.
Games of chance require a wager to have meaning at all. Games of sport involve the skill and strength of the opponents and the humiliation of defeat and the pride of victory are in themselves sufficient stake because they inhere in the worth of the principals and define them.
But trial of chance or trial of worth all games aspire to the condition of war for here that which is wagered swallows up game, player, all.
Suppose two men at cards with nothing to wager save their lives.
Who has not heard such a tale? A turn of the card. The whole universe for such a player has labored clanking to this moment which will tell if he is to die at that man’s hand or that man at his.
What more certain validation of a man’s worth could there be?
This enhancement of the game to its ultimate state admits no argument concerning the notion of fate.
The selection of one man over another is a preference absolute and irrevocable and it is a dull man indeed who could reckon so profound a decision without agency or significance either one. In such games as have for their stake the annihilation of the defeated the decisions are quite clear.
This man holding this particular arrangement of cards in his hand is thereby removed from existence.
This is the nature of war, whose stake is at once the game and the authority and the justification.
Seen so, war is the truest form of divination. It is the testing of one’s will and the will of another within that larger will which because it binds them is therefore forced to select.
War is the ultimate game because war is at last a forcing of the unity of existence”
Lasker goes on to say:
“Education in Chess has to be an education in independent thinking and judgement. Chess must not be memorized, simply because it is not important enough… Memory is too valuable to be stocked with trifles.”
“You should keep in mind no names, nor numbers, nor isolated incidents, not even results, but only methods…..the method produces numerous results; a few of these will remain in our memory, and as long as they remain few, they are useful to illustrate and to keep alive the rules which order a thousand results.”
To this end I am inclined to agree; why waste time studying the step-by-step processes of long-departed practitioners?
Why study the rules of a system as it collapses under the weight of its own hubris, artifice, and corruption?
Let the model to burn to its husk, and sink under its own weight, so the nimble practitioner can navigate their vulnerable through kinetic eddies of chaos, and towards sanctuary.
Lasker is 214 fam, is what I’m saying.