Chess, Boxing, Numbers and Philosophy, Who Could Ask for Anything More?

Imagine a boxer, call him Marvelous Mark Roth, who weighs 125 pounds, placing him in the featherweight division.  Marvy, as his friends know him, trains incessantly, preparing himself in every way that he can, so that he can someday live out his dream and be a Golden Gloves champion.

After years of training, Marvy finally finds himself slated to fight Friday night at the Pugilistic Palace.  His opponent?  Bruising Brad Hocker, who weighs in at 249 muscular pounds.  Testosterone flows through Bruising Brad’s veins, but his training has drained him of mercy.

No matter how big Marvelous Mark’s heart, he will lose.  Badly.

And may never think again.

Of course, this would never happen, for the world of boxing, being an outpost of rational thought and human sensitivity, recognizes that the playing field must be equal for both opponents in a match.  Likewise, schoolgirl and schoolboy sports recognize that schools must be similar in size if they are to be evenly matched on the playing field.  Drawing from its two thousand students, for example, Metropolis High School is likely to field a better team of twelve basketball-playing girls than is Smallville, with its student body of 113.  This is not always the case, for look at the example of the Indiana Boys High School team on which the movie Hoosiers is based.  This counter-example, of course, helps to prove the rule, for it goes against all the evidence of logic and history.

Name me a tear-jerking movie about Goliath.

To switch from the athletic to the intellectual, let us consider the example of chess.  Imagine that all of the high school students in the greater Northeast region (i.e., New England, New York and New Jersey), about two-million adolescents, are taught the basics of the game of chess (e.g., pawns can only move one move forward, except for attacking diagonally, etc.)  Assume also that an X-factor for potential chess-playing ability exists and is randomly distributed throughout this population.

(Brief Digression: this notion of random distribution has led to any number of crazy ideas. Much of the universe is not subject to standard distribution. As a perhaps too-facile example, consider the number of legs on human beings. I thank my higher power daily that I have more than the average number of human legs. If you question this, consider: most humans are born with two legs; some are born with one or none; some lose their legs through accident or amputation—this brings the average number of human legs to less than two; to my knowledge, no humans have more than two legs. Therefore, given my two-legged status, I have more than the average. End of digression. For now.)

To briefly review basic statistics, this standard distribution of the X-factor would, if the chessians played each other over and over and over and over, yield results such that we’d eventually have a top two percent with about 40,000 potential future grandmasters. We’d also have a bottom two percent of about 40,00 players, whose skills would rival the Sunnydale Nursing Home Chess Team after they’ve had their medication, but before their naps.

Leaving aside the fates of the best 1,960,000 high school chess players in the Northeast, let us focus on the bottom two percent, those 40,000 who played the worst in the regional tournament.  If those players were to organize a separate tournament among themselves, following the same format outlined above, eventually we would find that they had formed themselves into a bell curve, except that this time the bottom two percent would contain only 800 players.

Likewise, these 800 players, playing only among themselves, would eventually break down into the 16 worst players in the entire population of high school students in the Northeast.  Say that this bottom two percent of the bottom two percent of the bottom two percent of the chess players in the region were to organize a tournament among themselves.  Eventually, one could rank-order these chess players from best (of the 16 worst players in the entire northeast corridor) to absolute worst.

Thought Experiment I:  Would the winner of this tournament of the bottom of the bottom of the bottom have any less reason to be proud of her accomplishment than the winner of a similar tournament held among the top 16 players in the region?  Would she have less reason to be proud of her accomplishment than the last-place finisher in the top bracket of tournament?  Explain.

Thought Experiment II: Would the bottom player of the two million players in the northeast region of the United States have cause to be proud for being the absolute worst player among two million?

Thought Experiment III: If I spotted him a pawn and let him have white, do you think I could beat him?


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