Friday, November 16, 2012

Politics and Chess - Again

Time cover of edition with Abdullah I's interview (copyright Time magazine)
Considering the situation right now in the middle east, it is only fitting to look at chess history to see what effect, if any, chess had on war and politics in the middle east. First, we have often commented on, for example, chess in the IDF, or on political leaders and chess (see blog's tags).

Second, we have found something interesting. As is well known, in the war of independence the Jordanian king, Abdullah I, seemed rather reluctant to invade Israel (although Jordan did indeed participate in the war and even captured some territory, notably the old city in Jerusalem). In an interview in Time, titled "Chess Player and Friend", a few months before that (Feb. 16th, 1948), Abdullah is described as follows:

Last week, fingering a set of exquisitely carved chess pieces in his winter palace at Shouneh, a few miles east of the River Jordan, he told a TIME correspondent: "Politics is like chess: you cannot rush your pawns across enemy territory, but must seek favorable openings".
Of course, we are not suggesting Abdullah didn't invaded with full force in 1948 because he though this would not fit with chess strategy. But it is interesting that he uses chess metaphors to describe his famous caution. What's more his metaphor shows a greater understanding of chess than the usual ones political leaders use. 

It's amusing to compare his chess with the way David Ben Gurion played -- very much "rushing his pawns across enemy territory" without any concern for a favorite opening. Perhaps there is a deeper lesson here? Perhaps it is not so much lack of chess skill, but the aggressive vs. cautious character which both leaders were famous for that determined, partially, their chess-playing way? 

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