Bin Laden, Harriet Tubman, and Chess!?

Bin Laden, Harriet Tubman, and Chess!?


The day Osama Bin Laden was killed, I heard the most ridiculous comment.  A newscaster reported, "Bin Laden was hiding out in the open."  Hiding . . . out in the open!?  All this time I thought he was in some underground bomb shelter in a remote desert.

The more I thought about "hiding out in the open," it reminded me of the not so (physically underground) Underground Railroad; yes, the one cleverly led by the courageous and brilliant Black Queen, Harriet Tubman.  The documentary, Whispers of Angels: A Story of the Underground Railroad, explains many tactics used by enslaved Americans before the Civil War. The promotional site for the film explains the nuances of African Americans skillfully masking and misleading:

The use of a disguise was a clever and effective means of outwitting a slave hunter. Frederick Douglass once posed as a sailor. Males dressed as females and vice versa.

Not all hiding places were cramped, dark basements or barns--some of the best hiding spots were those right under a hunter's nose. Some slaves pretended to conduct errands or deliver messages and goods on behalf of their masters. Others dressed as laborers, carried tools and passed through town as if they were going to work. One unsubstantiated report claims that a conductor arranged a line of wagons and carriages, which all contained fugitives, and had it proceed through town as if a funeral were taking place.


Chess stratagem involves hiding out in the open.  The game is all exposed for everyone to see.  There are no hidden or flipped-over cards, numbers drawn by chance, or other surprises due to physical hiding.  What is hidden is your intention behind every tactic and end goal.

Physical positioning, though fully exposed, does play a major role in surprising your opponent.  Two important positional strategies are:

1. Tucking bishops behind pawns on clear diagonals

2. Discover attacks (these are my favorite)

In his book, Danger in Chess: How to Avoid Making Blunders, Amatzia Avni discusses "The Art of Deception," he explains and illustrates four deceptive tactics:

1. Masking - Luring the enemy into the heavy fog of ambiguity. Make it difficult for your opponent to predict where the real action is going to happen, and with whom.

2. Misleading - Lead the enemy into thinking something else is going on.  Okay, sometimes I can look like I know what I'm doing when I really don't, so if I realize I made a blunder I'll stare confidently at my opponent like I just made some tricky sac.  Does it work?  Not all the time, but it's a whole lot better than alerting your opponent to a mistake and providing them that information.  Another misleading tactic that I use is making even trades in other parts of the board.  Don't allow your opponent to force your hand. 

3. Provoking - Imitating your opponents maneuvers (symmetrical play), marking (chess) time and waiting for the other side to become active.  Mimicking your opponent may send a message that you are unsure about your approach.  In addition, setting the pace of the game is a good controlling strategy, it may force your opponent to move quicker then s/he is used to and increase the probability of your opponent blundering.

4. Implementing Deception Techniques in the Opening - Try opening in a way that your opponent can not recognize.  Especially in blitz play, where players are moving quickly on their stored experience, shake things up with an unconventional opening.  The Grob can result in a train wreck for your opponent if they fall for the trap.  It has worked well for me on five minute games because it forces my opponent to waste time thinking about how to respond to the opening of g4!? G4 is the worst developmental move on the board.  But my argument for the Grob is this: a poor and unexpected opening with a clear and covert plan of attack can be a whole lot better than a traditional opening that bores you and your opponent into predictable lines of play.

Let's review what we've learned from the artful war of enslaved African Americans fighting for freedom.  These warriors had a very intelligent and deceptive way of feigning ignorance: speaking dim-wittingly, pretending to be unable to read or do mathematics, and generally pretending to be unsure. Sometimes (and I guess I can't use this one anymore, because I'm telling on myself) I scrunch up my face and shrug my shoulders in a hesitant insecure gesture . . . especially when I'm up to something. #

Thank you for reading.  If you are on twitter please follow me @chesspoet" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer noopener">@chesspoet.  If you liked this, please comment and/or spark discussion.  How do you deceive your opponent and hide out in the open?