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Game theory in the popular press.

Celebrity Interview by Jim Loy

Interview of Mr. Spock

Montana Chess News
Jim Loy
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I'm interviewing one of the best known chess players of all time. It's a great honor to be talking with you, Mr. Spock.

The honor is mine. In my century, there will be no more prestigious publication than the Montana Chess News.

Really? It has a fairly small circulation at the moment.

But the quality is surprisingly high. I suspect that this interview will start the ball rolling, as you humans say.

Well, I'd better renew my subscription. To change the subject, I've heard people call you "Dr. Spock." That's incorrect, isn't it?

Yes. Dr. Spock is a 20th Century human, an Olympic rower, I seem to recall.

Captain Kirk seems to have defeated you at chess, by making illogical moves.

That was my impression at the time. I deduced that to expect logic from an illogical human, was illogical. This called into doubt the entire value of logic. Upon reexamining the situation, however, it turns out that Captain Kirk made seemingly illogical moves, which on a deeper level, were very logical indeed. These seemingly illogical moves were easy to dismiss as without substance. What I took to be flaws in the human brain, instead helped me to detect flaws in my own thought processes.

What flaws did you detect?

The main flaw is a typical Vulcan overconfidence in the natural superiority of the Vulcan brain. We tend to underestimate other modes of thought. Captain Kirk's chess style exhibits an aggressiveness which, while surprisingly logical, is alien to the vulcan mind.

On the Enterprise, you play a 3-D chess. Has two-dimensional chess died out in your century?

No, the chess game that you are familiar with is much more popular than any three-dimensional chess. When the chronicles of our more interesting missions were transmitted back to your century, it was decided by the humans in charge of the project, that a fictional three-dimensional chess be substituted for the real game. It has been known, since early in the 20th Century, that chess is inexhaustible for all practical purposes.

But, doesn't the ship's computer, on the Enterprise, play perfect chess? Isn't it impossible to beat? [Spock's expression approximated a smile as he answered this question.]

That, I'm afraid, was a bluff of mine.

[He noticed my astonishment that a Vulcan would bluff.]

The "bluff" is well-described in the literature of probability and of game theory. It is extremely logical. It is merely alien to the Vulcan modes of thought. As a student of the human brain, I derived great satisfaction from devising this little deception.

To what use did you put this deception?

It was a simple device for demonstrating that the ship's computer had been tampered with. There were actually many convincing clues that the computer memory had been damaged. But, these clues would be convincing only to a computer expert. It would have taken too long to convince the humans who were in authority. We were pressed for time.

I merely defeated the damaged computer at chess. Then I falsely claimed that this was impossible, since the computer played perfect chess. And, then the humans were receptive to my claim that the computer had been tampered with.

So you yourself don't play perfect chess?

No, of course not. I'm sure that I could defeat your Mr. Kasparov. But, on Vulcan, I am considered merely a talented amateur.

Copyright 1996, Jim Loy