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Edgar Allan Poe on Chess vs. Cards

Dec 28, 2010, 5:45 PM 2

The Murders in the Rue Morgue

The faculty of resolution is possibly much invigorated by mathematical study, and especially by that highest branch of it, which, unjustly, and merely because of its retrograde operations, has been called, as if par excellence, analysis. Yet, to calculate is not in itself to analyze.

A chess player, for example, does one without the effort of the other. It follows that the game of chess, in its effects upon mental character, is greatly misunderstood.

I am not now writing a treatise, but simply prefacing a somewhat peculiar narrative by observations very much at random; I will, therefore take occasion to assert that the higher powers of the reflective intellect are decidedly and more usefully tasked by the unostentatious game of draughts than by the elaborate frivolity of chess.

In this latter where the pieces have different and bizarre motions, with various and variable values, what is only complex is mistaken (a not unusual error) for what is profound. The attention is here powerfully called into play. If it flag for an instant, an oversight is committed [“blunder”—the Editor] resulting in injury or defeat.

The possible moves being not only manifold but involute, the chances of such oversights are multiplied; and in nine cases out of ten it is more concentrative rather than the more acute player who conquers.

In draughts, on the contrary, where the motives are unique and have but little variation, the possibilities of inadvertence are diminished; and the mere attention being comparatively left unemployed, what advantages are obtained by either party are obtained by by superior acumen.

Is Poe Correct?

Of course in part. The beauty of chess is not in the supposed mathematical calculation of moves. Chess is a game of meditation, concentration, focus, pattern recognition, planning, strategy. Card games involve not only the calculation of probabilities but also random chance.

Chance plays no part in chess.

Viva Chess!

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