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Illusory checkmates: why chess is not a game

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In this essay I argue that chess is not a game. ?I begin by arguing the narrower point that chess is not a game in the sense of 'game' developed by Bernard Suits. ?Chess is not a Suitsian game because chess lacks a prelusory goal. ?Chess lacks a prelusory goal, which is a goal that is identifiable before a game is played, because no checkmate position is knowably achievable before chess is played. ?Checkmate is a postlusory discovery about chess, not a prelusory goal of chess, and chess consequently has more in common with mathematics and physics than it has in common with darts, sprints, and lawn bowling. Various objections are answered.

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  1. It should be noted that at the highest levels of chess, checkmate rarely happens in any game, even games that are won. Players can see, based on vast experience, that the position on the board is winning for one side, and the game usually ends with resignation by one of the players before checkmate is even close to being attained.

  2. I am indebted to an anonymous reviewer and to Stuart Rachels, philosopher and former US Chess Champion, for this point. Rachels also made a number of other helpful comments on, and objections to, this paper, especially my definitions of chess terms and my descriptions of chess practice. His generous feedback improved this paper greatly.


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Correspondence to Michael Hickson.

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Hickson, M. Illusory checkmates: why chess is not a game. Synthese 200, 406 (2022).

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