Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Ed Smith's Luck Paradox

So, following on from yesterday (Why Luck Matters) ...

Ed Smith, we know, believes that luck doesn't play much of a role in chess. He writes this on page 202 of his book and, just so we know it wasn't a casual aside, he repeats the claim on page 203. There are "chess-type sports (where chance is negligible)" and "backgammon-type games (where chance is very important)", he says.

Bad luck Warney

All well and good, but in an earlier chapter, Smith asks himself the question

What do I mean by 'luck'?

and decides

Luck is that which is beyond my control.

True, he goes on to muddy the waters somewhat by introducing the concept of chance - and for Smith chance is related to probabilities and is therefore non-random (and therefore not luck at all) - but by the end of the chapter he returns to his original proposition:-

Luck is what happens to me that is outside my control.

What is included here? Well,

Winning the lottery is luck. My genes are luck. My parents are luck. It is luck if an opponents drops a catch when I am batting.

If Warne grassing a sitter is luck then an opponent blundering his or her queen certainly is. In fact every move our opponents play must be luck, since it is by definition outside of our control.

For Smith, then, chess is both a game that is more or less without luck and also, according to his own argument, it's 50% luck at least.


Anonymous said...

Doesn't he write that in chess "chance" doesn't play much of a role? I think that just means that there is no randomizing element in chess, like dice, or random distribution of cards.

But "luck" can still play a role in chess even if it's not by "chance". ;-)


Jonathan B said...

I think that's a verh reasonable proposition Phille - although I'm not sure I agree that's what Smith's saying.

He divides games into those that are to a high degree determined by luck/fortunate/chance and those that to a high degree are determined by skill. Chess he very much puts in the latter category which is at odds with his definition of luck earlier in the book.

To be fair, he probably didn't spend an awful lot of time pondering the nature of chess for his book - it's hardly central to his argument after all.