What is Spin Chess ?
It's very simple: Each player makes a move, then a coin is flipped. If it's Heads, nothing changes, but if it's Tails the board spins! Repeat after both sides have made a move.
Now, philosophically and strategically, some interesting questions arise with Spin Chess:
Will you stay loyal to the initial color you start with?
Will you look at every spin as a fresh chess puzzle?
Will you undermine the other side with a bad move?
The injection of chance into this traditionally deterministic game puts a very interesting and philosophically productive spin on the classic game...
Most importantly, Spin Chess appears to address one of the most difficult conundrums about chess: how does an experienced player get someone new (and unskilled) interested in chess ? Does an experienced player purposely play poorly in order to keep a new-comer or a child interested in the game ? Because fact is, there's almost always a brutal learning curve for new-comers to the game!
Naturally, it's often an experienced player explaining the rules with the hope of having someone new to play a beloved game with. But after that new-comer is crushed a dozen times in a row, what happens to their enthusiasm ? So many people refuse to play chess because of this demoralizing introduction to the game!
This was the case when I found myself in an elegant whisky bar with some very intelligent (and very beautiful) company and I spotted a table with a built-in chessboard. The situation was too perfect. I asked if we could play, and the answer was an emphatic NO. My company in question knew the rules, and had learned them years prior under the tuteledge of cousins, but after losing again and again, over and over... as a child new to the game?... she vowed to never play again.
But incovneniences are often just puzzles requiring new thinking. And this issue here wasn't new to me. My dearest friend was in fact from the same camp - one of the smartest people I know! but someone who refuses to play chess with me...
I pondered the puzzle: How could the game of chess be altered to do away with this cut-throat competition that it embodies ? There's no point teaching a friend if it's going to cause such bitterness that the friend never wants to play. And what is really the point of playing a game like chess if not to spend some thoughtful time with a good friend ? This is the issue with zero-sum games: with even just a little difference in skill level, we force friends into losers. Sure, it's easy to say 'pucker up honey! Bite the bullet and earn your passport to the board!' For some stubborn people (like yours truly), this works. But not all people are built like this, and to simply wave them off as somehow unworthy is, well, shortsighted about what's truly at stake: Winning is ultimately arbitrary, the point is to play!
The idea came to me with surprising alacrity. I've played the game since I was a child and this variation had never occured to me. But when pinned to a situation - in that whisky bar with intelligent (and beautiful) company - a circumstance with such potential for delight... well? if neccesity is the mother of invention, perhaps a time constraint was the father in this case. Because I knew the opportunity wouldn't last forever and those drinks were still full and cold...
What if there was somehow an element of chance injected into a game of chess ? Some randomness ? A little chaos by design ? Technically white is statistically supposed to win every time so what's the point ? I smiled and gently encouraged my company to join me at the board while I fished my wallet out and retrieved a coin.
"Let's try this: we each make a move, and then I'll flip a coin. If it lands on heads we keep playing. If it's tails, we'll swich sides."
My intelligent (and beautiful) company was skeptical. But curious. And so we played. By the time I made the game-ending move we'd both spent a good amount of time developing each side of the board. It was bittersweet that the game was over, but I looked up and said "I guess I didn't really win because we both contributed to this side's position."
What a smile.
The benefits of Spin Chess: since that first game, the potential of Spin Chess has only grown. At it's most basic level it bridges the gap between experienced and new players. But the implications are deeper. New players get to see and experience more developed board configuations - something that usually doesn't happen for a new player. A new player has to endure the grind of the learning curve for quite some time in order to to see more interesting board configurations. The reason is simple: interesting board configurations are a function of balenced skill levels. Beyond this, experienced players have a much more interesting game when paired with a newb. It's not just the easy captures and easy mates that usually occur when teaching new people. In a sense the experienced player gets to play their own developed board - but with the randomness of another player undermining their patterns and strategy. In fact, there's a chance that Spin Chess could uncover board configuations that traditional chess would never see because advanced players rarely if ever see sub optimal moves on both sides. Not only this, with the right spin, an experienced player has to deal with a situation they have unwittingly put themselves in, creating a challenge that usually doesn't exist when playing someone with less experience.
It seems plausible that with Spin Chess a beginner might be able to get better at chess faster. This seems possible for two reasons: There's the aforementioned fact that a beginner gets to see more interesting board configurations with Spin Chess, but there's also the fact that a beginner gets to see the board from the point of view of their more advanced opponent. The arguement can be made that such a point of view is always on offer - just look at the board! But, it seems there's quite a shift -mentally- when tasked with actually making a move for the other side. After dozens of games with people of all sorts of different skill levels, the verdict is increasingly solid: Spin Chess forces a player to take a lot more into consideration before making a move.
Curiosities abound: What happens when a Grandmaster gets to make a couple moves for their opponent - another Grandmaster?
Perhaps we'll find out...
©2022, tinkered thinking