The Mental Machinery of the Chess Master

As a Psych major in college, I learned about some cool experiments. Fatal shocks. Coldhearted preachers. The staggering forces of peer pressure. I saw slobbering dogs, wailing babies, and semi-literate pigeons.

But one of my favorite experiments requires nothing more than a chess set. It begins to answer the question: What, exactly, is going on in the minds of great chess players?

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History’s Greatest Chess Matches

I’ve been poking at chess lately, the way a chimpanzee might poke at a car engine. Does he understand it? Not really. Is he having fun? Sure!

Chess is much like math. Instead of problem sets, you play games, and in lieu of lectures, I’ve been YouTubing famous games from chess history. Here are 3 of my favorites, each no longer than an episode of Arrested Development – and just as intricate and clever.

The Immortal Game

In 1851, Adolf Anderssen (a math teacher) and Lionel Kieseritzky (the editor of a chess magazine) played a match that has been talked about ever since.

In it, Anderssen leads his pieces in a suicide charge. He sacrifices a bishop, both rooks, and the queen – nearly all his best material – in exchange for nothing but pawns. It’s like a parent chanting, “Go! Go! Go!” as he sends his children sprinting out into onrushing traffic. He’s a madman. Yet in spite of the seemingly crippling losses, he checkmates Kieseritzky on the 23rd move. The madman wins.

Anderssen’s play is as spooky as a zombie movie. The attackers seem to have no regard for their own safety. They’ll destroy themselves to bring you down. Continue reading