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Metaphors, more iv, featuring Oliver Roeder & Chris Cillizza

[ by Charles Cameron — others besides david ronfeldt who find game & sports metaphors valuable — or should that be invaluable? ]

I’m making this post a “special” because Ron Hale-Evans pointed me to a trove of articles variously about or touching on game metaphors for politics, geo or otherwise.


This was the start:

What game is President Trump playing? By that I mean what actual game is he playing?

Trump’s political performance, in seriousness and in jest, has often been likened to chess. Even to three-, four-, eight-, 10- and 12-dimensional chess. His proponents argue he’s a grandmaster,1 and his detractors argue he’s a patzer. CNN’s Chris Cillizza has written two different articles accusing Trump of playing “zero-dimensional chess,” whatever that means. Even Garry Kasparov, probably the greatest actual chess player of all time, has weighed in, inveighing against the use of this gaming cliche via Politico.

In my job here at FiveThirtyEight, I spend a lot of time thinking about games — board games, video games, chess tournaments, math puzzles, the game theory of international affairs. So I understand that “playing chess” is easy shorthand for “doing strategy” or “being smart” or whatever. But I think we can do better. I humbly propose to you that Trump is not playing chess (of any dimension), but rather something called “ultimate tic-tac-toe.” It’s time to update your tropes.

It’s a good day when I find an entire article dedicated to game or sports metaphors for politics, but this one had some great links..



The second thing this Corker episode makes clear is that, strategically speaking, Trump is playing zero-dimensional chess. As in, the only strategy is that there is no strategy.

In the wake of Trump’s absolutely stunning 2016 victory, the conventional wisdom — in political circles — was that Trump was a strategic genius, always seeing five moves ahead. He was playing three-dimensional chess while the media was still trying to figure out which way pawns could move. The reason no one thought Trump could win was because “we” didn’t see the whole board the way he did. No one else saw it that way. Trump was a genius. An unconventional genius but a genius nonetheless.

There, incidentally, is the definition of zero-dimensional chess:

Trump is playing zero-dimensional chess. As in, the only strategy is that there is no strategy.



The key part is when he concludes Flake will be a “no” on the tax reform package in the Senate because, well, his political career is “toast” — or something.

I submit this as yet another piece of evidence that Trump is playing zero-dimensional chess.

What do I mean? Simply this: When Trump won the White House — against all odds — the working assumption was that he had executed a plan so brilliant and so complex that only he (and the few advisers he let in on the plan) could see it. He was playing three-dimensional chess while the media, the Clinton campaign and virtually everyone else was still playing checkers.

But as his first year in the White House has progressed, there’s mounting evidence that Trump may not be playing three-dimensional chess. In fact, he might just be playing zero-dimensional chess. As in, the only strategy Trump is pursuing is no strategy at all.

From a game-policy metaphor angle, this doesn’t take us much further, although you can read the whole post for details of the Trump-Flake business..



Chess? That’s not what Garry Kasparov sees Donald Trump or Vladimir Putin playing—three-dimensional or any other kind. But if they did sit down for a game, the former grandmaster believes the Russian president would obviously win.

“Both of them despise playing by the rules, so it’s who will cheat first,” Kasparov told me in an interview for POLITICO’s Off Message podcast. “But in any game of wits, I would bet on Putin, unfortunately.”

Kasparov gets into some interesting details, not entirely uncritical of Obama, and even GW Bush, but flicking Trump off the board with a flick of his cultivated fingernail..

I think I’vetheis referenced the Kasparov article once before, but hey, this is a rich harvest..



Shall we play a game?

Imagine that a crisp $100 bill lies on a table between us. We both want it, of course, but there’s no chance of splitting it — our wallets are empty. So we vie for it according to a few simple rules. We’ll each write down a secret number — between 0 and 100 — and stick that number in an envelope. When we’re both done, we’ll open the envelopes. Whichever of us wrote down the higher number pockets the $100. But here’s the catch: There’s a percentage chance that we’ll each have to burn $10,000 of our own money, and that chance is equal to the lower of the two numbers.

So, for example, if you wrote down 10 and I wrote down 20, I’d win the $100 … but then we’d both run a 10 percent risk of losing $10,000. This is a competition in which, no matter what, we both end up paying a price — the risk of disaster.

What number would you write down?

In the 538 post, the game’s available for interactive play.. And later in the same piece, too..

Now imagine that you’re playing the same game, but for much more than $100. You’re a head of state facing off against another, and the risk you run is a small chance of nuclear war

That was instructive, I think, though my mind is artificially dimmed at present..

And finally:


This one revolved around a tweet in which Trump had said

:When a country (USA) is losing many billions of dollars on trade with virtually every country it does business with, trade wars are good, and easy to win. Example, when we are down $100 billion with a certain country and they get cute, don’t trade anymore-we win big. It’s easy!

How easy? was this post’s response:

But how easy? And how exactly do you win them? (Also, what’s a trade war?)

Let’s find out. You (Yes, you!) have just been elected president of your very own country. Congratulations! Now it’s time to get to work. There is another country out there that has goods you can buy, and you have goods it may want to buy. Your job is to choose your foreign economic policy — which you’ll do in the little game we’ve prepared for you below.

The rules go like this: You can cooperate with the other country, allowing the free flow of its goods into your country. Or you can defect, imposing tariffs on the foreign goods. And because you will trade with the same country over and over again, you have to decide whether to stick with a single strategy no matter what or whether to change course in response to your opponent. The other country faces the same choice, but you can’t know in advance what plan they’ve chosen. Free trade helps both countries, generating big windfalls for both sides. But it’s possible for a single country to improve its own situation at the other’s expense — you both have a selfish incentive to defect, taxing the imports from the other country and helping only yourself. However, if you both defect, you both wind up isolated, cutting yourselves off from the market and reducing earnings on both sides.

Again, the game is available for interactive play.

We’ve simplified trade dramatically: You’re engaging in 100 rounds of trade with a randomly chosen FiveThirtyEight reader. In each round, you and your trade partner can either cooperate (allow free trade) or defect (impose a tariff). Your goal is to pick a strategy that earns you as much as possible.

The game mechanics here were interesting (and “gave the game away” where the game is game theory a la Prisoners Dilemma):


Was there a trade war? Was it good? Did you win it?

Tariffs are the weapons of a trade war

The game you just played took a little game theory — the formal, mathematical study of strategy — and retrofitted it to the world of international relations. (Of course, our simulation is extremely simplified, and it runs in a very controlled little world that ignores alliances, trade deals, political histories, other countries, and hundreds of other factors.)


Memory slippage — lest we forget, there was one last game ref today:

It’s the NYorker‘s film criticism of the latest impossible Mission, and the game sentence in the piece itself reads:

Despite the deft coherence of the plot’s mirror games of alliance and betrayal, which provide the illusion of a developed drama, the movie almost totally deprives its characters of inner life or complex motives.

Mirroring’s one of the patterns I love to collect, and game thinking here might note the Kierkegaardian note:

In his 1846 essay “The Present Age,” Søren Kierkegaard decried the widespread tendency of the time -— which he summed up as an age “without passion” —- to “transform daring and enthusiasm into a feat of skill.”

The continuum from “daring and enthusiasm to “feat of skill” is an interesting one for game designers to place their games on — before and after design, and when player feedback is in.

A rich day indeed.



  • FiveThirtyEight, Trump Isn’t Playing 3D Chess
  • CNN Politics, Donald Trump is playing zero-dimensional chess
  • CNN POlitics, Donald Trump is playing zero-dimensional chess (again)
  • Politico, Garry Kasparov Would Like You to Stop Saying ‘Trump Is Playing 4-D Chess’
  • FiveThirtyEight, How To Win A Nuclear Standoff
  • FiveThirtyEight, How To Win A Trade War
  • Trump on Twitter, trade wars are good, and easy to win
  • New Yorker, Mission: Impossible -— Fallout
  • **

    Some other posts in this series

    And I emphasize Some, previous posts in the game & sports metaphor series, as somewhat randomly collected, and Likelky not in sequential order:

  • ZP post, http://zenpundit.com/?p=57435
  • ZP post, http://zenpundit.com/?p=59988
  • ZP post, http://zenpundit.com/?p=59082
  • ZP post, http://zenpundit.com/?p=58644
  • ZP post, http://zenpundit.com/?p=57908
  • ZP post, http://zenpundit.com/?p=59678
  • ZP post, http://zenpundit.com/?p=57493
  • ZP post, http://zenpundit.com/?p=59496
  • ZP post, http://zenpundit.com/?p=60193
  • With any luck, some of these will have links to yet others in the series..


    And dammit, pwned by another one before my head hit the pillow..

    Pawn, yes. Pwn?

    11 Responses to “Metaphors, more iv, featuring Oliver Roeder & Chris Cillizza”

    1. Charles Cameron Says:

      Ooh ah, a game to play tomorrow:

      And that “free space” in the middle? From WaPo’s Inside the Tesla Factory:

      Officials said Musk was visiting Tesla’s Gigafactory battery plant in Nevada after several weeks at the Fremont factory and did not make him available for an interview, though they pointed to a small alcove at the center of the factory where they said he often retreats at night to sleep.

      Since Musk is away, you might like to take a nap there yourself..

    2. Cheryl Rofer Says:

      Obviously, Trump is playing calvinball. I’m kind of amazed nobody seems to have said that yet.

    3. Charles Cameron Says:

      If I haven’t said it yet, I probably should!

    4. Charles Cameron Says:

      Lotsa punchin goin down:

      What It’s Like to Have an ADHD Brain:

      The world is full of endless possibilities to contemplate, and my brain has no idea where to put them all. They just tumble around in there like balls in a lottery machine.

      They wanted me to go up like this [couple of quick jabs] thsey wanted me to gomupand have a boxing match — trump..
      they want someone who is going to go toe-to-toe with him
      U.S., North Korean diplomats trade handshakes and jabs at ASEAN conference
      is liberated another word for unhinged?}
      he keeos stepping on his own messge
      i think both sides now believe that the rules only apply to the other side
      “If they don’t like you, America has had a history of erasing you from history.”
      checkmate — you want to play again? prevagen ad
      tues 7/31/2018 transcript the beat ari melber

      “I’m gonna say one thing: fuck Trump,” De Niro told the crowd, to gasps that quickly became cheers that then turned into a standing ovation. He raised both fists like a boxer, then added, “It’s no longer ‘Down with Trump,’ it’s ‘Fuck Trump.’ ” Both lines were bleeped on CBS, but survived in the Australian broadcast. The applause lasted for 40 solid seconds.

      Line of Fire (Eastwood) review:

      Fast forward 30 years and he gets sucked back into a Presidential protection detail when a rouge assassin (John Malkovich) goes insane and threatens the current president. It’s all a game to Malkovich, who just wants to see if he’s good enough. And he lures Eastwood into the game because he wants to go against the best.

      they used to hate the ucla — the aclu. this is hardball, i keep thinking sports.
      i love picking winners .. wish we had a national .. book .. chris matthews
      is this like six degrees of kevin bacon .. mimi rocah
      classic russia kgb playbook ..
      this round .. its going to be a 10 or 15 round fight ..
      mimi.. it’s important because it’s the first round ..
      i was going to tell sebastian gorka should fall back ..
      hardball: split screen effect ..
      le mire: it’s the president vs the presidencey — ourob?
      i think we need to have qanon fall back ..
      change the talking points, move the goal posts if you will ..

    5. Charles Cameron Says:

      The Decline of the Humanities and What To Do About It:

      Through Christian Smith’s meta-investigation of the ‘sociology of sociology,’ the troubling dynamics of the modern sociology academy are revealed.

      This is like shooting fish in one’s evaporative (and quickly shrinking) soul.
      David Auerbach, Make America Austria Again: How Robert Musil Predicted the Rise of Donald Trump

      Yet Trump offers no concrete plan of action, nor does he secretly possess one: he offers only the spectacle of himself.


      Daniel Harding (conductor; my nephew) at 3.55: Recording is always a bit stressful. You have a lot of music to do. We had a good concert, which made a very good basis for the recording. Because once you start working in the studio afterwards, every time you do something that improves the level, then you want to do everything else and improve the level there — you’re chasing your tail a little bit, because you just constantly want to make it better and better.
      this enemy of the people is a grenade with the pin pulled.. Nicolle Wallace ..
      MTP Katy Tur:
      he cannot help himself ..
      if that comes down to a subpoena fight, that comes down to a subpoena fight ..
      trump jr: it was a bait-and-switch ..
      MTP 2/8:
      our strength is our weakness ..
      unfortunately, everyone has gone to their mutual [?] corners ..
      some are happy to be umpires ..
      where a main character, a protagonist ..
      All In:
      Mueller is looking at the mirror image on the American side..

      8/6/2018 Ari Melber, Rob Reiner (above):
      it’s gonna be the biggest plot twist you’ll ever see
      where a main character, a protagonist admits he lied ..
      Hardball Kornacki:
      he is putting some of his own skin in the game here ..
      like a High noon showdown ..

    6. Charles Cameron Says:

      too often people retreat to their partisan quarters..
      it’s a long shot..
      this race immediately transitions into a lot of people look at the playbook, trying to figure out how they can change it
      wittes: whether this was an elaborate game of ..
      not covering all their bases, could there be a perception problem?
      this isn’t a chess game, this is a 3 card monte ..
      if you push back against the umpire enough..
      Question: is the Republican playbook to protect the President from Mueller working? .. MSNBC chyron
      is now pinballing though .. repeated and exaggerated like a t..
      much wide playing field .. he opened the playing field .. game of telephone gone terribly awry ..
      devin nunez has a different take on that
      the party has dropped the ball ..
      look, i like judge ellis, he’s a very smart judge, but at times she should just call balls and strikes, and not try to play all nine positions on the field .. [worth getting transcript for accuracy]
      Mark Safranski:

      Some folks will give away their entire game plan if you simply let them talk without interruption

      with comment from Tim Furnish:

      Learned that in Interrogation School at Ft. Huachuca.

      Reminds me of Ali Soufan’s interrogation in Black Banners, when he listened intently to is AQ subject, then quietly completed a hadith the subject, forgotten his name and my book is in storage, had started — surprised him, and more or less was the moment of opening. I guess this was the Cole investigation.
      And, also via Tim Furnish, a fine visual DoubleQuote:

    7. Charles Cameron Says:

      Kobach says he’ll recuse himself as vote count discrepancies found in Kansas GOP primary:

      Kobach — Kansas’ chief elections officer who is known nationally for his claims of widespread voter fraud and advocacy for restrictive voting laws — said on Thursday night that he planned to recuse himself from his role overseeing the undecided gubernatorial primary race. Colyer called for Kobach to step aside from earlier Thursday.

      Why the Left Is So Afraid of Jordan Peterson

      when the poet himself publishes a statement of his own—a missive falling somewhere between an apology, a Hail Mary pass, and a suicide note

      se are my favorite baseball umpires, too ..
      if we got the ticker on witnesses for trial chuck, it would be nuns and librarians, but it’s not ..
      the notion of running the table in a case like thit is terribly small ..
      in my experience, the very best judges all call balls and strikes .. those are my favorite baseball umpires too, the ones who just do this [gesture] rather than [gesture] ..
      so handicap this for us a little bit ..
      hardball .. this is a president who continues to defy gravity ..
      mueller is playing the legal game while Giuliani is playing the political game ..
      but nancy pelosi is a punchbag?
      this is a hail mary pass
      one name of the trump administartion is grifters grifting grifters ..



    8. Charles Cameron Says:

      O Joy!

      h/t Grurray
      testing the waters and shifting the goalposts .. [rather lovely phrasing]la
      if michael avenatti wants to throw his hat in the ring, great ..

    9. Charles Cameron Says:

      The Unintended consequences page has closed, so I’ll drop this here:


      Likewise, for the ouroboros collection, this:

    10. Charles Cameron Says:

      that seems to be now their fallback position ..
      he’s modeling a certain behavior ..
      All IN, Velshi:
      there’s a feeling in the orbit
      the legal quicksand for his son and also for himself ..
      it’s become so easy, it’s not even a sporting event any more [joyce vance]..
      all sorts of swirling mystery ..
      our political seismographs don’t work any more ..
      he’s going to the mat and beyond ..
      in the ongoing careening bus crash ..
      turned into a political punching bag and removed from office [x3] m 6/7
      There’s a big tell in Trump’s latest defense of Donald Jr.

      “He’s trying to put as much of a cloak of ignorance around himself as he possibly can,” Bauer told me. “What this does is abandon Trump’s year-and-a-half explanation that there was absolutely ‘no collusion.’ After that meeting, there could have been ongoing coordination. And now he’s not denying that could have happened. He’s saying he doesn’t know.”

    11. Charles Cameron Says:

      15.57 onwards:

      This is like a football game. The first week was the first half, the government ghit beat up. The second week, last week, with Gates on the stand, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, I think that Judge Ellis had an epiphany, Ibreally do. I think he realized whaat I said before, this is an incredibly powerful tax casee ..that is how Judge Ellis rolls..

      she’s trumpier than trump ..
      moving the gates and the negotiation goalposts ..
      she will match him transgression to transgression in a fight like that ..


      What would Jesus do? Clean house in the Catholic Church.

      the church had, as the report says, “a playbook for concealing the truth.”

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