Predictably Irrational Chess

Predictably Irrational Chess

Mar 25, 2010, 2:39 PM |

I recently enjoyed reading an entertaining book by the behavioural economist Dan Ariely called "Predictably Irrational".

Ariely's book is an absolute goldmine of fascinating insights into how our behaviour can be totally irrational in a predictable and scientifically testable and repeatable way.

For example, when faced with a choice between various options we tend to focus only on the choices which are easily comparable.

Say you are looking for a new house.  You go to see two properties that you like, one modern and one more traditional.  You can't choose between them.  It's 50/50 which one you will pick.

So you go to see a third property.  It's another nice traditional house, the same price as the other traditional property, but not in such good condition.

Now which house do you buy?  The answer is that most people would choose the traditional house that's in good condition because they compare it favourably to the other traditional property.  The modern house hasn't changed but now it doesn't get a look in...Laughing

(A similar and amusing corollary to this, is that if you want to increase your romantic chances on a singles evening out, you should take a friend who looks similar to you but less attractive!)

So what about chess and chess players?  One might expect that a logical game like chess would be a haven of rational thought process.  Far from it!

When Garry Kasparov lost his title to Vladimir Kramnik he kept allowing Kramnik to play the Petroff defence despite having very little success against it.

I have just purchased Kasparov's book "How Life Imitates Chess" and I am very much looking forward to reading it - especially what he has to say about that fateful match.

Using chess to study human psychology, we have discovered that women really are on average more risk-averse than men. This recent study also highlights that "males choose more aggressive strategies when playing against female opponents even though such strategies reduce their winning probability".  Fascinating stuff!

Do you have any stories of irrational chess behaviour?

You can see Dan Ariely speaking below.