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What Chess Players Could Teach Obama About Handling Putin

Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) and U.S. President Barack Obama during the G20 Summit on Sept. 5, 2013 in St. Petersburg, Russia
Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) and U.S. President Barack Obama during the G20 Summit on Sept. 5, 2013 in St. Petersburg, RussiaPhotograph by Alexey Kudenko/Host Photo Agency via Getty Images

President Obama said last month that America’s disputes with Russia aren’t match play on “some Cold War chessboard.” Obama saw opportunities for outcomes that would benefit Russia and the U.S.: “win-win” solutions. But lately it appears that Russian President Vladimir Putin is playing the war-and-diplomacy game very much as if it is a game of chess—that is, a zero-sum game in which anything that benefits one side is by definition a loss for the other.

If that’s so, then maybe Obama could learn a thing or two from expert chess players. Over the centuries, the game of chess has developed an enormous repertory of defenses against aggressive players. There’s the Morphy Defense, the Norwegian Defense, the Cozio Defense, the Schliemann Defense, the Bird’s Defense, and on and on. (Disclosure: As a rank beginner, I don’t understand any of these plays.)