Are we playing checkers while China plays go?

Nelson Lowhim
2 min readJun 9, 2018

There’s the (apocryphal?) Cold War era story of Kissinger saying that the Russians grew up playing chess while the American grew up playing poker. Each provided the other with a certain cultural framework with which to approach politics.

I’m not sure about this analysis beyond its initial appearance of wisdom, and perhaps it’s social value as a piece of intellectual banter. Not to say I’m completely dismissive of it. After all, intellectual culture, roles played, expectations and internal politics all play a part in any single nation’s geopolitics.

Which is to say that the USSRs world view were probably affected by chess but maybe not that much. How much did chess thinking matter when it came to Stalin’s purges? The camps? Was some zero sum thinking prevalent? Some tendency to assume perfect information?

On the American side some assumption about bluster bluffing and simply charging forth without perfect information would seem to play a part, but is that always true? Pretension to perfect information could certainly be a hindsight flaw of our geopolitical history, couldn’t it?

Hell, even the analysis is tainted by culture, it’s hard to get anywhere. Such are the muddy waters of geopolitics even in hindsight.

So even when I saw W Bush playing checkers against someone playing chess (in the Middle East, not sure who that was) I can appreciate the implication of strategies inherent in each game. That W’s strategery was low and everyone else’s was high, nevermind the power involved.

Nowadays with China seemingly moving everywhere and Trump blustering about, another set of games seem needed to compare. Go, then, for China given that’s their strategic game, while Trump could best be playing connect 5. Or playing them with a five stone handicap. Or maybe not.

Like I said, it’s complicated. But I do get the sense that we are and have been wasting energy in that which makes us weaker instead of stronger while also playing a non-zero sum game (aka Climate Change) even if no one seems to recognize that.


Nelson Lowhim

Writer, Artist, Immigrant, & Veteran observing our mad dance of apes. Check out my Patreon & show some love: