Overcompetitiveness in Chess

Yep, sometimes it can really start to look like Tweedledum and Tweedledee out there...or maybe that oughta be Tweedledumb and Tweedledumb. ;)

It's a situation which you encounter time and again if you watch a lot of play online. Two players come to a position that's a hopeless, dead draw (bishops of opposite colors, say, with each side firmly ensconced on their own color).

And instead of doing something well within the bounds of sanity (such as agreeing to split the point on the spot), the opponents decide to play on. And on--and on. Shuffling bishops back and forth in a veritable blur of meaningless activity until one or the other flag falls. And it has all come to resemble some strange macroscopic version of Brownian motion.

All of which can only lead the bemused onlooker to wonder: what does this even have to do with chess? Things have seemingly devolved into a typing contest.

It has all the feel of one of those bouts of naked (not to mention pointless) aggression which you and your brother may have engaged in when the two of you were little. Yet another marathon session of the card game War, perhaps.

Yes, elk butt antlers (and lock horns). We have Thumb Wars.

And--speaking of engaging in absurd behaviors merely for the sake of a more or less meaningless victory--there's that common tactic adopted by many near the end of a Bullet game, when their opponent is about to run out of time.

I was introduced to this outre practice many years ago. An otherwise perfectly sensible friend of mine was in the midst of a one-minute game (a time control which was still very much new to me) and he suddenly started giving up pieces right and left, as though suffering an attack of St Vitus' Dance. He explained (if that's quite the word for it) that such an outbreak of lunacy was the surest way to win when your opponent was short on time. Although he did admit (even as he was doing it): "It's not even chess, really."

True enough.

No doubt there are those who will respond: "If you don't want that to happen, don't play sudden-death time controls." But of course that really only serves to sidestep the issue.

The whole business somehow reminds me of a story from my college days.

A guy named Bill was taking on the dorm table tennis champ. Now, Bill was a reasonable player, but he was clearly no match for his opponent.

Anyway, the champ decided to have a little fun with him. He would hit the ball first to one side, then the other. And Bill would go running after it, first to one side and then the other.

Eventually it got to the point where Bill was actually turning away from the table every time he'd switch back to go in the other direction. He came to resemble nothing so much as a duck in one of those oldtime shooting galleries.

Those of us looking on could hardly help but chuckle at the sight. Bill didn't care though. As he said from over on his side, "You know, you guys keep on laughing, but I'm hitting the balls back...I'm getting 'em back, man--I'm getting 'em all back..." Right as he'd flipped around again, like some sort of mechanical contraption.

Okay, I suppose that was technically true. But I'm afraid it only made us snicker all the more. :)

Anyway, what I mainly got out of that experience was: if you find yourself doing something unduly foolish in pursuit of competition, perhaps it would behoove you to learn not to be so foolishly competitive in the future. :)