I’ve always enjoyed playing and reading about chess, although I don’t get to play over the board often and I’m not big on online chess—I guess I’m a bit of a Luddite in that regard. Fatherhood has also not been super conducive to my chess playing so far, although I’m looking forward to introducing Nathan to the game when he gets a little older and won’t try to eat the pieces. I did at least follow along with the most recent World Chess Championship, and I’ve stayed up-to-date on the bite-sized “How to Chess” podcast, which has wrapped up its second season.
At some point during the first few months of the pandemic, I also came across an interesting 2017 article from the Wall Street Journal which introduced readers to “speed learner” Max Deutsch. Deutsch had undertaken a string of month-long learning challenges during which he would try to master some new skill—solving a Rubik’s cube, for instance. Through an unexpected set of circumstances, he found himself with an unusual opportunity for his twelfth and final task. Not only would he learn how to play chess; he would get the chance to test his skills against world champion Magnus Carlsen, perhaps the strongest (human) player in chess history.
Unsurprisingly, the head-to-head match did not go well for Deutsch, who quickly found himself outmaneuvered by Carlsen (no shame in that, of course.) Some commentators pointed out that the challenge didn’t stack up particularly well with Deutsch’s other challenges because it was simply too difficult; after all, he just had to solve a Rubik’s cube, not go toe to toe with the quickest solver in the world.
The match got me thinking, though, about how a hypothetical person could, as quickly as possible, learn to play chess that could potentially win against the largest number of other hypothetical people, chess players or not. One statistic I’ve seen bandied about is that approximately 600 million people play chess regularly, which leaves us well over seven billion people who play sporadically or not at all. What kind of plan would it take to train our champion of mediocrity to a level where they could consistently win against someone selected randomly from the world’s entire population?
I decided to take a very different tack from Deutsch, focusing not on how to play high level chess quickly but rather on how to seize the largest amount of low hanging fruit as quickly as possible—think the Pareto principle, but taken to an extreme. Accordingly, I sketched out a pair of flowcharts which incorporate, when possible, variations on Fool’s Mate and Scholar’s Mate before transitioning into a reasonably simple opening.
Again, the goal here is not to play hifalutin chess, but to find ways to take advantage of the absolute worst possible plays from the hypothetical opponent who may or may not even know the rules of chess. I plan to take advantage of these approaches for the first five minutes I play against Nathan, until he realizes what is going on and surpasses me in short order.
Always 1. e4
If 1… g5, then 2. d4
Then if 2… f6, then 3. Qh5#
If 1… e5, then 2. Qh5
Then if 2… Nc6, then 3. Bc4
Then if 3… Nf6, then 4. Qxf7#
Otherwise, work towards Two Knights Defense (1. e4, 2. Nf3, 3. Bc4)
Always 1… e5
If 1. f3 or f4 and 2. g4, then 2… Qh4#
If 1. g4 and 2. f3 or f4, then 2… Qh4#
If 1. e4 and 2. Ne2, then 2… Nc6
Then if 3. Nc3, then 3… Nd4
Then if 4. g3, then 4… Nf3#
Otherwise, work towards Two Knights Defense (1… e5, 2… Nc6, 3… Nf6)