Wargaming, Generals and Chess

May 5, 2008, 6:41 PM |

It is ironic that recreational wargaming, so beloved by many non-military enthusiasts, finds so little favor as a hobby amongst senior military personnel. Sure, a few wargames do enjoy increasing recreational popularity within the services (for example, TACOPS, Harpoon and Battlefield 2), but when was the last time you heard of a general engaging in an enjoyable evening of Rome: Total War? Minsk ’44? Or even participating in a quick game of Advanced Squad Leader?

I’d bet not too frequently.

Now, to be fair, this probably has more than a little something to do with the grind of a military career. After all, who wants to sit down and wargame after spending numerous hours dealing with the actual responsibility of command? Commanders who enjoy recreational wargaming are most likely a rare, fanatical breed.

Still, you would think one would appear every now and then – even after retirement. Oh, what I would give to see the box for Combat Mission: Shock Force emblazoned with some accolade from an actual battlefield commander!

“When not on the golf course, I’m playing Shock Force!” ---Gen. Tommy Franks

On any wargame box, for that matter!

“I’ve seen total war, and I play Total War!" ---Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf

“Playing Fulda Gap ’85 is like reliving my days as SACEUR!” ---Gen. Wesley Clark

<Sigh> Perhaps someday….

One wargame that has not been given the cold shoulder by battlefield commanders is chess. Many of the world’s most prominent military men have indulged in the Royal Game. Frank Pestano, of the Sun-Star, has done an excellent job summarizing some of the more prominent figures in this column. Notable wood-pushing commanders include:

Napoleon Bonaparte:
“Although the would-be emperor was a first class military tactician and did love the game, he was a pretty rotten chess player.

Those who have played him says that that he was too impatient with little defensive skills and given to impetuous attacks. He was also a bad-tempered loser that is why his generals would let him win.”

Lt. Colonel Rall:
“The story goes that General Howe has just dealt Washington his worst defeat capturing 3,000 prisoners and was pushing down towards New Jersey with designs on Philadelphia.

Washington, still retreating with a constantly diminishing force, suddenly turned upon Lt. Colonel Rall`s advanced corps of Hessians on Dec. 26, 1776 at Trenton and captured 1,000 prisoners. This was a major turning point in the American war of independence.

What is known much later was that an Englishman who lived nearby sent his son with a note to Lt. Colonel Rall that Washington was preparing to attack him. Rall was busy playing chess, took the note and placed it in his pocket, unopened.

Next day Washington attacked and won a great victory. Colonel Rall was killed and the note discovered in his pocket. Thus it can be said that the game of chess helped the Americans become independent!”

Robert E. Lee:
“He had his own traveling chess set and was an enthusiastic player.”

Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery:
“He gave up playing chess on being beaten by his nine-year-old son….”

Poor Montgomery….Perhaps this also explains Operation Market-Garden? Zing! Tongue out

Not mentioned by this article is that the fearsome, conquering warlord Tamerlane was also a skilled chess player. Legend has it that he so loved the game, that he named one of his sons after a rook (he was moving it across the board at the time of the child’s birth)!

Chess, it would seem, is unique as a wargame that is enjoyed by those who choose warfare as both vocation and avocation.

Here is a short chess game played by Napoleon against General Bertrand: