Chess and Political AnalysisVolker von Prittwitz (July 26, 2014)
Chess... is a game: It constitutes an own (game) world, based on specific (game) rules and intrinsic (game) motivation. The players play it aware of the fact that they are doing nothing but playing - a performance of reflection that can be considered as part of cultural development to forms of self-binding freedom respectively bound governance (Huizinga 1938; Elias 1939).In chess, individual performance and success correspond with one another. Good or bad luck determine only marginally how a game runs; that rather depends on how well the involved players move. This performance-dependency increases through the zero-sum character of chess: An advantage for one of the two players is identical with an disadvantage of the other. That’s why any player tries to weaken the position of the opposite and to use weak moves of the other for himself.The game takes place on a board of 64 squares, resulting from 8 lines and 8 rows. On these squares, both players alternately move one of their own 8 pawns or 8 figures (officers), starting from a symmetrically fixed formation. Because any piece can be drawn only in a certainly fixed manner on the described board, chess is a digital game, whose constellations and concrete options can be rationally calculated and analyzed. From the 6th century on, chess spread from India to Persia and via the Arabs to Europe and other continents, often eulogized as the royal game. This designation may be stimulated through the provable fact that many high ranking persons including royals often played the game. Also the game structure cumulating in checkmate, whereby the central playing piece, the king, has no more any possible move, identical with the loss of the game, may suggest the association to a kinglike game - a connection that is underlined through the Persian name shaah for king. A third explanation may be the royal character of the game, determined through calm, well-considered thinking about given constellations and possible moves, as well as the originally conceded long time period of thinking.Meanwhile, indeed, chess is played by men and women of all social layers worldwide. And the original character of a very calm, not seldom some days lasting, game has changed into a game with time-restriction, from two and a half hours down to a few minutes, so-called blitz-chess.Chess AnalysisAny phase of chess can be systematically analyzed. Here usually three phases are differentiated, the opening phase with a huge variety of different openings up to ten thousands of special variants, the middle phase, that is characterized through relatively high strategic and tactical complexity, and the final phase with disctinctly reduced material. While opening analysis consists of developing, checking and applicating readable opening variants, middle game analysis focusses on optimal ways of pursuing and combining strategical and tactical motives. End game analysis, finally, consists in pure numerous calculation. There is a big bulk of chess literature on all these areas of chess analysis.Chess analysis has even more developed with the progress of technical digitalization: Structurally well operationable in digital terms, chess has been electronically programmed already since the 1970s. Online gaming appeared in the mid-1990s, and in the 21st century, online chess analysis and online chess tournaments are standards. Therewith both extremely capable artificial chess intelligence (since the urly 1990s) and broad popular using of computer-based chess analysis have developed. In sum, we see extremely big capacities and motivating effects of chess analysis, explainable through the clear game character of chess with its strict binding to given rules together with remarkable progress of technical digitalization. All phases and elements of chess can be analyzed, up to complete modeling, simulation, and artificial intelligence.Is this development usable for analyzing politics? SimilaritiesThere are certain similarities between chess and politics: See the interactive structure, see the significance of rational actors (that consequently act according to their goals), the significance of institutional conditions (rules), see the linkage between single decisions and results, strategical as well as tactical aspects of both realms. Therefore it is no wonder that so-called game theory, that has been partly inspired by chess, and other rational choice theories are meanwhile classical tools of scientific political analysis. Particularly political behavior in international relations often has been scrutinized based on this theoretical body.On this way, much more analytical modeling and empirical tests of political processes could be done. So it seems sensible to analyse also political processes differentiated according opening, middle phases and final phases, having in mind that the complexity of such processes tendentially decreases and therefore different ways of analzing might be particularly helpful. Other chess aspects that may be investigated also in politics are overloading of certain actors, tactically using of strong and weak points of adversaries, dealing with threats and counter-threats, handling political offense and defense, special constellations in political fights, special dynamics of political processes regarding problem-pressure respectively capacities.
Differences to PoliticsIn spite of those chances to refresh political analysis inspired by elements of chess analysis, some basic differences between chess and politics have to be noticed: •Politics is no game in its ideal-typic meaning because it is, in its core substance, not intrinsic: Follow-ups of politics, rather, can have far-reaching impacts all over the society, either positive ones or negative ones, up to existential impacts on well-being or freedom. Accordingly, politics is to a high degree influenced by socio-economic forces and actors. Hence political actors are, by far, not that sovereign as chess players are.•Politics comprises a widespride variety of interest constellations, from zero-sum constellations through diverse mixed motive constellations up to distinct positive sum constellations (of joined interests).•Politics has, at least according to public proclamation, to serve common goals, producing so-called public policies, such as foreign policy, safety policy, economy, ecology, and so on. That’s why politics, in contrast to chess, cannot be completely understood in the interactive dimension of political process. It, rather, has to be evaluated also in the public policy dimension.•There is a big variety of different policy arenas with different preconditions, such as different constellations of usage, different political networks, and so forth. Politics has to be pursued by special special context conditions. That’s why it is much less abstract and interchangeable than one game that can be played internationally and even inter-culturally. •Also mass and degree of independent political variables varies, contingent on individual phases and context conditions. Therefore, different from chess, the number of relevant players and influential forces can vary. •It is true, also politics goes on based on certain rules. But political actors often influence the rules of the game in their own specific interests. In so far, politics is no clear incidence of bound governance (with strictly given rules and fair chances for free interaction). Hence politics is often much less capable and efficient than bound governance, amongst them games, such as chess.ConclusionsAll things considered, I have come to the following conclusions:1.Chess has certain potentials to inspire analysis of political interaction. A lot of variables and patterns of this interaction that until now has not been noticed can and should be systematically analyzed, such as relations between political offense and defense, the handling of threats and counter-threats, linkages between political strategies and tactical means, relations between opening strategies (such as mobilizing and organizing forces, far-reaching planning) and middle strategies, such as tactical manoevers in political processes, relations between middle strategies and final steps to come to decision-building.2.In principle, politics can and should learn to establish and to foster structures of rule-bound, fair, and free interaction according to the model of interactive rational games, such as chess: The more bound governance structures, the more involved actors are motivated to try hard and to render high individual performances, bringing about an increase of collective performance and welfare. 3.Digital analyzibility should be developed also in the realm of politics much straighter than hitherto done. It is true, politics is much more complex than games like chess are, but online analysis and forms of simulation can also referred to political processes, based on a body of relevant theorie, empirical work and practical insights. Hereby, political analysis can learn something from digital chess analysis. 4.The fact that politics does not regularly run based on one and only institutional system, brings us, in contrast to chess analysis, to an additional institutional dimension of political analysis.5.Finally also a public policy dimension of its own has to be noticed in political analysis. Therefore political analysis has to procede in a multi-dimensional manner - a huge challenge that cannot be met only by using interaction oriented models of chess analysis. This challenge however, has not been met in traditional Political Science, too. That’s why political analysis has to develop new ways of analysis, beyond traditional Political Science and beyond chess analysis. 6.Accepting this challenge of multi-dimensional political analysis leads a) to enumerate and scrutinize variables of the different political dimensions, b) to analyze reciprocal relations between these variables and models in characteristic constellations, c) to differentiate prospects of observers and prospects of involved actors. I would like to realize this project together with other interested chess players in a working group chess and political analysis. This group is to scrutinize diverse relations between chess and politics, to develop project proposals, and to produce public statements on the issue. Chess players that already are committed in or interested in politics as well as chess players that want to be active in political education may be candidates for that.
IPAInstitute for Political AnalysisProf. Dr. Volker von Prittwitz