by Lyle Lofgren,
November 27, 2000

[Note: This was written while the only news in the US media was about the dispute between Al Gore and George W. Bush as to who should be president. There might have been something else happening in the world, but we didn't hear about it. As it turned out, the actual checkmate occurred at the US Supreme Court.]

Way back in college, when I should have been studying between classes, I found a way to avoid it by playing chess in a game room in the University of Minnesota Student Union. I thought it would sharpen my mind to the equivalent of my actually learning something. I was moderately good at it. I didn't spend time learning openings or combinations, but I had a good intuitive feel for position, both how to achieve a good one against a mediocre player, and how to avoid inferior ones against a better player. Instead of trying to look several moves ahead, I made moves that I thought would improve my position, so I could play quite rapidly.

One day I was challenged to a game by a little guy who was severely nearsighted and who was wearing wool slacks and a sweater on a hot day. He never smiled and rarely spoke, and, even before move one took an inordinate amount of time to decide on his next move. I was able to gain positional advantage fairly easily, and began to chip away at his stubborn defensive position. Eventually I won a few pieces, and anyone familiar with the game could see I would win unless I made a stupid mistake. I didn't, but the game dragged on for hours as I took piece after piece from him, finally leaving me with an overwhelming advantage and him with a lone king. Still, he pondered each move at great length, and never resigned. I had to checkmate him.

Years later, but before the PC revolution, I was visiting a friend in California who had just bought an expensive device, called a "Chessmaster" as I recall, of about the size and intelligence of a hand calculator. I was rusty, but I tried playing against it. After a few moves, I recognized the ponderous, humor-free style of my old myopic opponent. Sure enough, I got an advantage, but the Chessmaster never gave up until I had checkmated it, at about 2:00 in the morning.

I was reminded of these experiences by Al Gore, who also evidently has no sense of humor. It was obvious early on that Bush had both the piece and positional advantage: if Bush had been smarter, he would have taken the high road and agreed with Gore that all the votes should be hand counted. That would take until 2002, by which time the House of Representatives would have elected Bush. An alternative, which I didn't know about but that Bush and Gore should have known, would be for the Florida legislature to appoint the electors. Either way, those are advantages that would cause any sensible chess player to give up and try again another time. Now I wonder if the little guy in the wool slacks was Gore's uncle, or if maybe Gore had a brain transplant using a Chessmaster chip.

So it should be an easy choice as to who to root for, except that, as Andrei Codrescu pointed out on NPR the other day, Bush was a drunk for 20 years, and, as anyone who knows anything about AA knows, you don't mature any while you're an active alcoholic. So Bush isn't really old enough to be president!

Meanwhile, I don't play chess any more, and I hardly watch TV at all. When I do, I can't find any channel that doesn't have commentators explaining why something is happening, but none of them have brought up either the chess-nerd syndrome or the AA analogy.