378 - An eccentrical view of the role of the center

N. Lygeros

One of the most powerful assessment of Emmanuel Lasker who has been a world chess champion for several decades was to recommend to play, not the best move but the most displeasing one for the opponent. This subversive idea belongs to offensive non-uniform reasoning and this, in different ways. As a matter of fact, it first blows up the strictly chess basis for it introduces a non-objective notion. Secondly, it construes chess playing as a special situation of strategy and not a specific one. At last, it makes the most of the characteristics of the opponent and thus, complicates the interpersonal structure without knowing him/her. Because even if his/her moves are sometimes predictable, it still remains an instability factor for the player. The value of this view comes also from the fact that it doesn’t settle for supposedly, strictly cognitive characteristics. Chess playing is no longer an intellectual game but a specific case of absolute confrontation in a context where psychology and meta-strategy step in.
Though our aim is not to set an explicit isomorphism between the idea of Lasker and a specific situation within a polemological context, we think that discarding some definite values in an unconventional context represents an excellent means, not only to surprise one’s opponent but to cast doubt on their uncontested universality. So it is, about the so to speak symbolic value of the center control in a battle. In a near certain way, the center represents the key element of tactics. However, this very idea suggests it can be used in a different way in order to unfavourably use its importance. Taking advantage of this counter idea in critical moment can be fateful for the opponent.
During the battle of Marathon, when the Persian general had his formidable cavalry embark to attack in a simultaneous way Athena, the strategist Miltiades took the initiative for a dangerous action: judicious in the choice, risky in its execution. Taking advantage of the absence of the adverse cavalry, he made the most of the penetration force of his hoplite phalanx. However, in opposition to a classical attack, he sacrificed his center and reinforced his wings. To put the Persian archers in an unfavourable position, he ordered a charging attack relying on the heavy protection of the phalanx. The hoplites who have lived through the Persian arrows, managed to break through their wings while the Greek center broke. However, that was this formation combining that sounded the knell of the Persian army. For it founded itself in danger of surrounding; mainly leading to a possible reversal of the front with no possibility to reach their fleet.
Following this layout, the center control for both adverse parties would have tended to stabilize the front, being thus positive for the Persian army. On the contrary, the breaking of the Greek center changed the situation via its dynamics. Admittedly, that blow was not the best one from a general point of view (with the presence of cavalry for instance) but it was by far, the most unpleasant one for the opponent for they got an indefensible position via their own force.
At last, Miltiades showed how the dynamics of extremes could be formidable combining this idea with the wing outflanking, which is only another facet that is rejection of the basic importance of the center. Finally, this generic example shows that it is not necessary to be the best to win a battle but to be just better than the other one.