Guardian Unlimited | Life | Chess! What is it good for?

Chess & War:

The UK Guardian has this look at how modified games of chess can be used to study warfighting:

By modifying key variables, such as the number of moves al lowed each turn, or whether one player can see all of the other's pieces, they are investigating the relative importance of a host of factors that translate to the battlefield, such as numerical superiority, a quick advance and the use of stealth....

One major difference between chess and war is that chess does not contain what the military terms "information uncertainty". Unlike a battle commander, who may have incomplete intelligence about his opponent's level of weaponry or location of munitions depots, one chess player can always see the other's pieces, and note their every move. So Kuylenstierna and his colleagues asked players to compete with a board each and an opaque screen between them. A game leader transferred each player's moves to the other's board - but not always instantaneously. For instance, one game modification resulted in a player being prevented from seeing their opponent's latest two moves.

The lessons they've extracted so far appear to be applicable to all similar games--checkers, for instance. The lessons will sound familiar to students of modern American warfighting:
[A] fast tempo can be important, particularly in combination with "deep planning". Deep planning involved, at every move, each agent considering all their previous moves and their opponent's responses, and their responses to those responses, and using this to develop a "tree" of possible strategic paths they could follow to win. "A deeper planner is one who can search deeper into time, and has more possible end points," says Calbert. In general, deep planning plus a fast tempo was devastating - even if the opponent was numerically superior.
Do they apply to real war? It sounds very similar to the Afghan campaign, where the US footprint was tremendously limited, but used tempo and intel to take a much smaller and embattled Northern Alliance to victory over dug-in Talibani in short order. And Iraq?
The build-up to the war in Iraq coincided with the first results from the chess simulations run by Jason Scholz and his team. "We watched with great interest the dialogue between General [Tommy} Franks, who wanted to use more materiel, and Donald Rumsfeld who wanted a fast tempo and lighter units," Scholz says. Based on the chess results, which favoured a fast, decisive attack strategy, Scholz says his advice would have been to go along with the US defence secretary's ideas. "In the end, there was a compromise," he says. "But a relatively fast tempo did really gain a very decisive, rapid advantage in Iraq."
Hat tip, Arts & Letters Daily.

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