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The war of the map versus the war of the knife
What trash-talking chess hustlers and grandmasters can teach us about strategy
It was dark in New York City’s Washington Square Park, as two very different chess players sat down to play. They were being recorded for a television show. But that’s not why they were there. They were there to win.
One was a chess grandmaster. The other a chess hustler. Both were exceptional players. One was more exceptional.
But what’s striking is watching the back-and-forth. Specifically, the trash talking. Accusations (“you touch something of mine?”). Taunts (“what if I go in your house”). Crowd-pleasing (“you think he’s in trouble?”). Banter (“there is nothing wrong with that”). All while a high-speed game of chess flies by. The whole thing ran about 4 minutes, start to finish.
At one point, a little after 2 minutes in, the grandmaster catches the hustler trying to reposition a piece using lightning-fast hands. It doesn’t succeed. The piece goes back to where it was.
The quick game recalls the comment by Cheyenne chief Two Moons, who fought Custer at Little Bighorn. When asked how long the battle took, Two Moons said Custer was overcome in the “time it takes a hungry man to eat his lunch.”
But even something so fast can teach us something about strategy.
In any strategic engagement, against a living, willed opponent, there’s two wars going on simultaneously. There’s the war of the map and the war of the knife.
The map’s war is the rational part. The brick-by-brick, block-by-block, logical contest where two parties engage for some interest using their best logic.
The knife’s war is the hot-blooded human part. Where two animals attempt to tear one another apart with all the power their irrational selves can muster.
You need both to succeed. Both are valuable. One points the way. The other fuels the journey.
The chess match gives us a view of both struggles happening simultaneously. We should watch and learn.