Saturday, July 15, 2006

Negotiated Chess Rules

Today I observed my oldest (7 year old) and her brother (the 5 year old) playing chess. They have the actual rules down but this typically leads to a quick bloodbath by the strategic (7) over the asthetic (5). Strategic play is the intended play of chess: think about how your opponent will react to your moves. Asthetic play is a different sort: move pieces to increase the likelihood that they will make interesting patterns. A good example of the former is the two knight opening move while a good example of the latter is the two knight opening move.

Following the first game, they decided to change the rules. Mr Aesthetic decided on a new layout for the two rows of starting pieces and Ms Strategic saw an opportunity and decided that a flexible starting layout was a good idea. So a new set of rules was agreed upon. All the pieces would move according to the same rules but would start differently.

Ms Strategic continued a defensive posture with pawns on the front row while Mr Aesthetic offered up a mixture led by two rooks in the centre while the King and Queen were placed at two ends on the last row surrounded by a set of pawns. The new rules lasted two moves (well actually, one) before there was a rule change as Mr Aesthetic swept across the board to remove a pawn. That move was 'reversed' when a new rule came up: the 'no taking period' (yes it was called that). This was a period of indeterminant time (actually to the observer but not to Ms Strategic who would announce when it was over) whereby they could move pieces but were not allowed to take anyone else. This resulted in lots of positioning until Ms Strategic got frustrated when Mr Aesthetic wouldn't muck up his King-Queen-Pawn configurations to allow her instant victory when the 'no taking period' finally ended.

This game took some time because Ms Strategic had to wipe out all of the Mr Aesthetic's pieces before he would budge on the protection to the King. It occurred to me through this that this new game was far closer to real warfare than the actual rules of chess. The continued negotiation of the rules through a diplomatic process that required everyone to still want to fight along with the strategic manipulation of that process led to a situation far closer to historical experience.

Anyhow the new rules lasted only one game when Mr Asthetic decided that it would look better if he could use BOTH black and white pieces in his two rows. Ms Strategic was very upset by this notion claiming it would lead to chaos because no one would know whose pieces where theirs. A good point for which Mr Aesthetic countered that the King and Queen would be a common colour and that would define the game. Negotiations broke down at that point and Professor Diplomat (me) was brought in to broker a solution.

I suggested that they take the pieces from yet another BLUE and CLEAR chess set thereby satisfying Mr Aesthetic's desires and Ms Strategic's concerns. Alas, they have taken this to mean that both sets of pieces and now a set of checkers will be on a single board. Suffice it to say they haven't got past the 'laying out period' and, as I write this post, will soon work out that no one can actually move; thus, handing Mr Aesthetic a victory in terms of his preferences.

The game of Meta-Chess is far more interesting than Chess itself. I recommend it highly as a spectator sport.

[Update: the Chess and Checker piece mixture evolved into a hybrid game where the chess pieces were laid out in the normal configuration while the checker pieces filled the remaining rows. (The other Chess set continued as another game played at the same time). First, there was a checkers game in the constrained space until one player lost all of their checkers pieces and could use chess ones to take the others' checker pieces. However, the hybrid involved no change in rules as I observed when a checker piece lept over a knight to take it! Suffice it to say, the chess pieces appear to be at a considerable disadvantage. The goal remains to get the Chess King.]