The difficulty is that, unlike "more" games, "first" games are not "bounded." By definition, their ending is defined by the accomplishment of a task, not a certain number of innings or a specific amount of time. If neither player or team accomplishes that task, these games could theoretically continue forever (and you and your loved one would remain alive on the alien planet).

Well, in this case, we have to make two changes, not just one. We have to institute an Otherwise object and place it in a "bounded" context.

In chess, for example, the current object is to checkmate your opponent's king (before your opponent checkmates yours). My proposal is that the object of chess should be: "White wins if Black's king is checkmated in N moves. Otherwise, Black wins." In case of a draw, a stalemate, or a game that lasted more than N moves, Black is declared the winner. As with "more" games, White's generally acknowledged advantage (in this case of having the first move) would be counterbalanced by giving the win to Black if White can't checkmate Black's king in a "reasonable" number of moves.P>

Of course, you could also use this same device for handicapping a game between two unequal opponents. The stronger player wins if s/he can checkmate his/her opponent in, say, 20 moves. Otherwise, the weaker player wins.

I realize that I'm fighting centuries of tradition here, and I have little hope of ever seeing this change (or any other that eliminated inconclusive endings or 5-hour contests) adopted by the chess establishment. What's amazing to me is that the game has survived, even thrived, for so long, has changed form in many, many ways, but the draw and stalemate are still intact. Do chess enthusiasts really think the possibility of an inconclusive ending is really desirable or do they simply not want to tamper with tradition?

One way out is simply to call the game I've described by some name other than chess. How about "chess-O" or "O-chess" ("O" for "otherwise")? In that way, we would be acknowledging that the game we were playing wasn't "real" chess, the time-honored one that the masters have played for so many generations, but was still closely related to that game. As with the "more" sports, there would be no change in rules or equipment, only a change in the meaning of particular "endings." All draws, stalemates, and excessively long games would simply be defined as a win for one player and a loss for the other.

The same kind of solution could be used for many two-player "first" games. For example, the object for checkers (or O-checkers, if you prefer) could be expressed as follows: "Red wins if Red makes the last legal move within N turns. Otherwise, Black wins." This object would turn checkers into an "otherwise, bounded" game. If Red can capture all Black's pieces or trap all Black's remaining pieces within, say, 60 moves, Red wins. But if both players are reduced to a single king or play many moves without taking the other's pieces or are at any kind of a standoff for more than 60 moves, Black wins.

So it's possible to get rid of ties in many popular two-player "first" games. But the energy necessary to get people to play the new version is probably not worth the effort. The longevity of chess and checkers speaks for itself. They are doing just fine as they are. So if we want to play games that can't end inconclusively, perhaps we should put our energy into inventing new games that are "otherwise" and "bounded" to start with.

New games with no ties

We have to recognize that inventing additional "more" and "first" games is probably not the direction we need to go. We need to come up with wholly new concepts and objects. As one contribution to this process, I offer the game of Chessence, described in this issue . Although the pieces are identical to chess pieces, the game is both "otherwise" and "bounded." It is an example of a forestry game — no ties, period. In addition, no contest can last more than 15 turns, and yet the play is far from obvious. I have deliberately included several different objects to illustrate the variety that is available when we move away from "first" and "most." I have also included several Chessence puzzles for you to solve as a way of demonstrating the challenge this simple game presents (even when there are relatively few pieces on the board), and to get you used to the notion of an "otherwise" object.

One last question. If the aliens had you and your loved one play a game of Chessence (or any other forestry game), is there any way for both of you to survive? (Assume that they would vaporize you both if either of you refused to play or took longer than five minutes for any turn.) I don't have a solution, but would love to hear one! Send me your comments.

"Down with Ties!" by Stephen Sniderman19 | 20 | 21

The Life of Games
No. 2 (April 2000)
©2000 Kadon Enterprises, Inc.