Friday, February 04, 2005

Catching Up #3 - Femi Oyekan

Femi Oyekan never fails to be provocative. In his most recent essay on chess style, he makes the claim that amateur and GM-level chess are fundamentally different games:
The fact that the ability to compete [in chess] is independent of skill level leads not only to some very interesting pairings, but really, also to different games being played, often in the same tournament hall. I do not mean simply different individual games of chess but literally different games, the way that Monopoly is different from say, Clue. This may seem strange and maybe even a little over the top, but I do not feel that the fact that a certain set of rules for an activity are adhered to outweighs the level of expertise and the perspectives of the participants when determining what the activity in question truly is. In other words, the fact that both Kasparov and I are not allowed to castle through check seems less important in determining what we are playing than the fact that I usually play sipping on brew cursing at my computer screen (or live opponent) over blunders, while he (Kasparov) creates lucent, inspiring works of art that will endure for generations.
This time, I do think that Femi is stretching a bit too far. I think it is fair to say that the quality of the individual games, the experience of playing them over, and the thought processes of the players during the contest are all different. But the game itself remains the same. Is a steak dinner from Bern's fundamentally different from the same steak cooked at home? The restaurant version may taste better and certainly will cost you more, but in both cases you're eating a heated slab of cow flesh. Is the Broadway version of "Hello Dolly" something completely different from the Community Theatre version I was in (hard to believe I know, but I have a videotape to prove it!)? The Broadway show may have been more professional and even more enjoyable for the audience, but again these are measures of quality not substance.

To summarize, I think Femi is equating differences in quality with differences in essence. In Platonic terms the thing in itself remains constant (I'm sure the Maverick Philosopher will take me to task if I've used Plato inappropriately).

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