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Golden Boy 1919 ad (excerpt) A century ago, it was cool to personify electricity as a virile dude with no clothes on.

On the left, AT&T's 1914 Golden Boy statue; on the right, an excerpt of a 1919 ad extolling the infrastructure of Cinncinnati, Ohio.

Golden Boy pic by Noah Jeppson, used under CC BY-SA 3.0 license
To follow up on Tuesday's subject (chess playing style)—

There isn't much room for style in tic-tac-toe. It's a simple enough game that you can see which move(s) is/are optimal in any position. There's no point in playing a suboptimal move, and in positions where multiple equally-optimal moves are possible there isn't much stylistic variation between them.

Chess isn't like that at all. In most positions, it's too complicated for either a human or a machine to know which move(s) ensure the best possible result. What's more, real-world chess isn't so much about finding the optimal move against a perfect opponent as it is in exploiting the flaws of the particular opponent you're facing. And maybe you want to play for a win rather than for a draw. Mikhail Tal again: "To play for a draw, at any rate with white, is to some degree a crime against chess."

Hex, on the other hand, doesn't offer various freedoms that chess does:
  • there's no choosing whether to play for a win or a draw, as a Hex game can't end in a draw
  • offense and defense are one and the same
  • there is no biding one's time, no lying in wait.
So is Hex just a matter of playing well or poorly and thus a feeble medium for expressing style? I don't think that's totally fair to Hex but there's some truth to it. Hex will never offer all the opportunities for style that, say, chess does.

But Hex does exhibit a characteristic elegance. Top-level Hex play is like the construction of a building which obviously stands up when it's complete but whose plan seems to have been conjured by magic.

Compared to chess or Go, Hex hasn't been played much. We have only gotten a taste of the heights the game can attain. I don't mean to make this posting all about one person, as I feel the elegance inheres in the game and not just in the top player's performance—but so far, only Maciej Celuch plays at the level of Maciej Celuch. I'm glad I've lived long enough to see some of his games. As a fellow player put it, "I don't know how Maciej Celuch manages to come up with his moves, I just sit in awe of them."

I don't expect my occasional blog postings about Hex to get anyone to start playing it. I write them so that this blog will look good a few hundred years down the road, if and when Hex reaches the level of popularity I think it deserves. Competitive chess is more vital than ever. Tournaments pay better prize money than they used to, people are hitting grandmaster level at younger ages, and the game is less dominated by one country than it was in the last century. All this, despite how computers have been beating the best humans for some time now.

Chess programs may win games but so far only humans talk about playing style:
I'm absolutely convinced that in chess—although it remains a game—there is nothing accidental. And this is my credo. I like only those chess games in which I have played in accordance with the position requirements... I believe only in logical and right game.
You must take your opponent into a deep dark forest where 2+2=5, and the path leading out is only wide enough for one.
It is to Petrosian's advantage that his opponents never know when he is suddenly going to play like Mikhail Tal.
click for larger version
Nice clouds this morning.