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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Chess and Law

When the brilliant Eugene Volokh mentioned math camp in a posting the other day, I thought I'd put in a plug for one of the greatest human activities ever invented -- chess.  Or as some of my friends call it, "Mark's addiction."  I've played chess since I was 12 through various cycles of activity.  I was a Bobby Fischer "boomer."  I'm currently in a lull because of things like work, as well as being destroyed in the last tournament game I played, etc. but I love following current developments.  There is a big dispute over whether it's an art, sport, science, game, or combination thereof.  And despite what you may have heard, computers haven't killed the activity.  The Internet in fact has been a boon for following the sport and playing online.   For example, one of the strongest fields ever in the U.S. championship is now playing in St. Louis.  The highest rated American player, Gata Kamksy, just came within one match last month of playing for the World Championship.  And Gata is apparently a graduate of Touro Law School.  He was a brilliant prodigy who almost won the World Championship in the 90's but then "vanished" for a while, before reappearing recently.  Apparently during his lull, he was attending law school and getting married.  His comback is rather remarkable. Former world champion Garry Kasparov has gone into politics and become a thorn in Putin's side by leading the opposition in Russia.

Chess is often compared to law.  Various litigation tactics and strategies are analogized.  There are commercials on telelvision for other businesses that show chess pieces (even the NBA has a great one out for its playoffs -- see YouTube).  Chess theory also resembles legal theory a bit.  The early 20th Century saw the development of legal realism at roughly the same time as hyper-modern chess openings were becoming important (as opposed to romantic openings of the 19th Century where the goal was to kill the king at once).  Chess also raises issues of rules v. exceptions that are significant to legal theory (see chessmasters Watson and Aagaard fighting this one out).  Unfortunately, chess is far more popular in Russia, Europe and Asia, especially since the current world champion is Anand from India.  I'm not sure how to make it more popular here.  For a while, they showed "speed chess" on ESPN but that faded and now that infernal game of poker is the rage.  The latest trend has been to advertise very attractive women (usually from Russia or Eastern Europe) who also happen to be great players.  It's a bit tacky but hardly seems different from your average car commercial. 

The nature of chess intelligence is also hotly disputed.  Some of the best chess players I know can't hold a job or hardly seem like rocket scientists.  And some of the smartest people I know are awful at chess.  More than a few chess players seem odd.  Gladwell talks about the issue in Outliers and says "geniuses" actually have 10,000 hours of practice behind them and certain kinds of supportive backgrounds.  There is some consensus that chess is about pattern recognition which explains why you can have very young chess prodigies, math prodigies, music prodigies, and art prodigies.  But it's all quite unclear.  I would love to get feedback on these ruminations regarding the sources of intelligence in a field like this. 

But my real reason for writing is to see if I can get names from people of chess-playing law professors!  I know of several who are all rated at around the A level -- Stephen Carter (Yale), Christopher Lund (Wayne State), Rich Henke (Cooley), and myself.  This is two levels below Master which is the basic professional caliber.  So please let me know the names of any law profs who are seriously interested in the activity as it would be a good list to have. You can send me an email personally or post here.  More general thoughts are also welcome.  Thanks.

Posted by Mark kende on May 12, 2009 at 02:40 PM | Permalink


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He's not a law professor as such. But Federalist Society President Eugene Meyer is a very strong chess player, who nearly became a grandmaster. He played top grandmasters like Portisch and Polugaevsky in tournaments, and once got a draw against former world champion Mikhail Tal.

Posted by: Ilya Somin | May 16, 2009 5:05:37 AM

I find it interesting that AI enthusiasts have tried (with some success) to get a computer to play high-level chess, but probably cannot get some "Galatea 2.0" type machine to pass a Turing test based on appellate arguments.

Here's a bizarre series of literary reflections on chess:


Posted by: Frank | May 13, 2009 4:53:44 PM

Chess is like football (soccer) and law in one critical respect: Just like the so-called real world, a much higher proportion of engagements end in draws than the American public would like to admit (or watch).

Posted by: C.E. Petit | May 13, 2009 1:19:57 PM

Chess is a bit wimpy. What I'd be impressed with is if any law professors took part in chess boxing. Now there's a complete sport!

Posted by: Matt | May 12, 2009 4:30:30 PM

Well, I know Nate Oman plays because I just finished a game with him on facebook. Neither of us is anywhere near class A though. :-)

Posted by: Paul Gowder | May 12, 2009 4:08:25 PM

I would hate to out people without permission but I know quite a few Chess playing law professors. I am absolutely obsessed with the game but sadly, my enthusiasm far outweighs my talent.

Posted by: Ekow N. Yankah | May 12, 2009 4:03:17 PM

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