1112: Think Logically

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Think Logically
I've developed a more logical set of rules but the people on the chess community have a bunch of stupid emotional biases and won't reply to my posts.
Title text: I've developed a more logical set of rules but the people on the chess community have a bunch of stupid emotional biases and won't reply to my posts.


Chess is a millennia-old board game in which two players take turns moving one of their 16 pieces to try and checkmate the other player's king (one of the pieces). When one player can capture their opponent's king on their next move, and the opponent has no legal move available to avoid such capture, the opponent is said to be in "checkmate", and by definition immediately loses.

The game, with origins around the sixth century and the modern rules being essentially set in the late 15th century, has a significant amount of history. The rules and traditions are well established. The knight is a piece that can only move in an L-shaped pattern (two squares in one direction, and one square perpendicular), but has the unique ability to jump over other pieces.

The comic highlights two mistakes players often make in chess: complete fixation on the king at the cost of their other pieces, and failure to take advantage of the knight's movement patterns. At the same time, this is a jab at how people sometimes oversimplify an argument when confronted with a topic they are not familiar with. Previously this was depicted in 675: Revolutionary and 793: Physicists. See also the Dunning–Kruger effect. The units in chess are widely agreed to be well-balanced, and Cueball's criticism of the knight shows an obvious lack of knowledge of the knight's potential.

Given the long history of chess, a significant amount of writing and research has been dedicated to the game and its strategies. This is inadvertently mocked by Cueball who naively suggests it would be trivial to list all situations in which a piece would move backwards (called a "retreat" in chess). Such a list — at least a partial one — certainly does exist, as do lists of numerous other chess moves and situations.

Knit Cap proceeds to demonstrate Cueball's lack of knowledge by beating him in four moves, which typically would only occur when an experienced player plays a novice. The checkmate depicted is the scholar's mate, being a classic early-game checkmate in chess. It is extremely easy to defend against it (blocking the queen's vision of f7, without letting the queen take any of your pieces, would do), thus proving Cueball's inexperience. Scrutiny of the board suggests a scholar's mate, something along these lines (using chess algebraic notation): 1.e4 e5 2. Bc4 Nc6 3. Qh5 Nf6 4. Qxf7#.

Cueball, instead of admitting he underestimated the game, believes the failure is in the game itself. The title text indicates that Cueball attempted to suggest revisions to the rules of chess. Given that Cueball has no experience as a chess player, it is likely many of the changes are illogical or ridiculous. In the face of hundreds of years of history, it is not surprising that the chess community is ignoring them. The last major changes to the rules of chess occurred more than 400 years ago when, among other things, the pawn was given its two-space starting move and the queen was made into the most powerful piece (previously it was the weakest). The chess community's ties to the traditions of the game and their refusal to accept Cueball's suggestions are written off by Cueball as "emotional bias" suggesting his changes are logical, but that the community is letting their emotions cloud their rational decision making abilities, while in reality, it is he who is being affected. However, Cueball may feel better if he learns that lots of chess variants do exist out there.

The comic may also be a jab at competitive online games whose fans call for "buffs" (power additions) and "nerfs" (power reductions) to characters they believe to be underpowered or overpowered, often with inadequate knowledge of those characters. On the other hand, some online games and multiplayer computer games in general are unbalanced since they lack centuries of history to balance themselves, unlike chess.

Knit Cap is called knit hat guy in the official transcript. There are two other cases (after this comic) where a person with hair has been shown with a knit cap. The first was Randall's wife after chemotherapy in 1141: Two Years and the second time it was Knit Cap in 1350: Lorenz.


[Knit Cap is sitting down at a computer touching the keyboard with one hand. Cueball is standing behind watching the screen.]
Laptop: *Move*
Cueball: Why'd you move your knight away?
[Knit Cap turns around and rests an arm on the chair looking at Cueball who holds out both arms.]
Cueball: Just think logically. The goal is checkmate, so you should always move pieces toward the other player's king.
[Closeup of Cueball holding a hand to his chin.]
Cueball: I guess occasionally you need to move backward, but it'd be trivial to make a list of those circumstances and-
[Knit Cap is leaning back in chair facing Cueball, panel is so slim that the lap top is not included.]
Knit Cap: Have you ever played chess?
Cueball: Not much, but—
Knit Cap: Wanna?
Cueball: Uh, ok.
[Knit Cap sitting and Cueball standing is playing chess with a board standing between them on a very small table or a four legged stool. The board extends quite far out on either side. Their moves are indicated above with four by Knit Cap and three towards Cueball. It is clear both from this and from the pieces visible on the board that Knit Cap is playing white]
Knit Cap: Checkmate.
[In a frameless panel Cueball is standing staring at the chess board, where there clearly are more pieces on his side of the board.]
[Knit Cap has turned back to the laptop with both hands on the keyboard. Cueball is standing behind the chess board holding a finger up in the air.]
Cueball: This game isn't very well-designed. For starters, knights are too weak...


This is the first xkcd comic featuring Knit Cap.

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Cueball is clearly a chess novice as demonstrated by the comic (at the very least he knows what the goal of the game is and how the pieces move), however he lacks higher knowledge of the game (which is gained through education) and is very inexperienced (experience is obviously gained by playing the game regularly). Given his non-expert position he attempts to deliver well-meaning advice as best he can (in this case through "thinking logically"), however the player receiving the advise (a clearly more knowledgeable and experienced player) immediately realises how utterly useless that advise is. Cueball approached the situation by "thinking logically", but his logic was flawed, possibly due to his lack of knowledge. Just because the goal of chess is to deliver checkmate does not necessarily mean that every move must be pushing a piece closer to the opponent's king. The best thing to do would be to first research and study the abundance of chess knowledge out there, practice it and then one can come up with tactics and strategies for every possible position (even if those aren't perfect). Chess is so complex that even if we wished to arrive at the absolute logical move for every position, this would be beyond us most of the time, it is just too complex. Not even computers know the perfect move for every position, although they do come up with great moves through the use of complex algorithms. Note: I thought the explanation given in the "Explanation" section above had some merit (it also explains some things I didn't include), and that is why I did not modify it and instead chose to provide mine here. Let me know what you thought, together we can explain everything.--DelendaEst (talk) 13:01, 24 September 2012 (UTC)

Feel free to add your explanation to the actual page if you think it's lacking in information. Wikis are meritocracies, and anyone is welcome to voice their opinions. Davidy22 (talk) 13:21, 24 September 2012 (UTC)
A good explanation. My takeaway was more about Dunning Kruger, and chess just happened to be a convenient backdrop. The expert proceeds to pwn the know-it-all... and even having been pwned, the braggart can't find the lesson in the defeat. But as with Randall's work, YMMV. (Or to paraphrase Euell Gibbons: "ever analyze an xkcd? Many interpretations are possible.") -- IronyChef (talk) 14:52, 24 September 2012 (UTC)
I think your explanation is the best one, you managed to find the essence of the situation. I can very easily see what you explained happening in the comic.--DelendaEst (talk) 00:18, 25 September 2012 (UTC)

Just a quick point on the explanation. Chess is not a perfectly balanced game due to the first move advantage enjoyed by white. This advantage is very small, however, and the pieces themselves are well balanced. Heyart (talk) 13:53, 24 September 2012 (UTC)

Please note that experts are not in universal agreement about the supposed first move advantage held by white, and it's unwise to state it in such absolute terms as "Chess is not a perfectly balanced game" 03:54, 29 September 2012 (UTC)

I found Cueball's demeanor in this comic to be very remeniscent of Sheldon Cooper of The Big Bang Theory in that he thinks he knows better than everyone even though chess has been around forever. Also, there was a specific episode of TBBT in which Cooper invents three-player chess including several new pieces. Cooper does not, however, do so considering the traditional rules of chess to be flawed (other than not allowed a third player). The characters do consider chess to be too easy, however, and often play Star Trek's three-dimensional chess. TheHYPO (talk) 16:27, 24 September 2012 (UTC)

I see this comic, as so many comics before it, to be a description of nerd-dominance. The author seeks to entice the reader into inquiring about his own ill-thought out rules for chess. Do not inquire.

Is the first character really wearing a "hat"? To me, it looks like a headband, similar to the one worn by Spock in the movie Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. This would give another meaning to "Think logically"... -- 11:27, 25 September 2012 (UTC)

Nope, not a headband -- there's hair below the brim but not above it. What you are seeing is a subtle clue that the chess expert is a Canadian, in that he is wearing what we call a toque, known in America as a stocking cap. https://www.google.ca/search?q=toque&hl=en&client=firefox-a&hs=JNV&rls=org.mozilla:en-GB:official&prmd=imvns&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ei=MaFhUKmkEObRyAH9xoCACg&ved=0CAcQ_AUoAQ&biw=960&bih=544 Noni Mausa (talk) 12:19, 25 September 2012 (UTC)

Your point about the hair is interesting; however, a Vulcan is much better at explaining logic than any earthling... Canadians included!
-- 13:52, 25 September 2012 (UTC)
I don't want to make a huge generalization, but in America they're known as beanies, stocking caps extend out from the head and end with pointed tips (or those silly poof balls). lcarsos (talk) 17:02, 28 September 2012 (UTC)
And thus it is a Knit cap as taken from the wikipedia article: This article is about the knit cap also known as a "beanie" or "tuque" (or as the Canadian guyy wrote toque). Of course somewhere they do call it Beanie, but even here they refer to knit cap. As a knit cap is for cold weather and the same drawing is used to protect hairless heads when lost the hair to chemotherapy or in cold conditions, and since a similar character was called Knit Cap Girl in the extensive comic 1350: Lorenz, I have changed (what had become Skullcap?) to knit cap in the explanation. Here it is a guy though as the official transcript calls him Knit hat guy, thus also making it clear that this is a knit cap.--Kynde (talk) 22:07, 31 March 2016 (UTC)

Another point I want to bring up is that it's generally not really a good idea to share your own strategy with your opponents (or potential opponents). I once participated in a Chess tournament, and before it began I encountered this guy who was bragging about his strategy, how he likes to move only his pawns at the beginning and form a sort of wall into which his opponents will invariably run their pieces and, in his words, "kill themselves." Of course, it just so happened that the first game I played in was against this same guy. And so I knew what he was trying to do, and I ended up destroying him. Granted, Cueball's "strategy" in this comic has very little to do with actual established Chess practices, but it's a similar idea. Erenan (talk) 18:53, 25 September 2012 (UTC)

As an avid chess player, I'd have to agree that we should keep our strategy to ourselves (unless we are planning to use deception). Also, I'd like to point out that your opponent's strategy to only move pawns in the opening is a very poor choice (unless the opening in question is a variation by Alekhine, which is considered to be sound). In the opening we are advised to mainly move pieces and only a few pawns and there are very good reasons for this, which I cannot go into here. Moreover, he plans to build a pawn wall for your pieces to destroy themselves? Typical novice threats, doesn't he realise you have an equally matched army and that you wouldn't purposefully endanger your pieces with his pawn wall? (Your pawns can neutralise his). His reasoning is laughable. If you'd like to learn lots about chess in a fun and painless way, I recommend the Chessmaster game. Anyway, good on you for beating that opponent!--DelendaEst (talk) 12:27, 28 September 2012 (UTC)
Yes, indeed, he was clearly very inexperienced, and while I'm not exactly a seasoned expert, I did spend the weeks leading up to this tournament studying openings and playing Chessmaster (and other Chess games on my mobile phone while not at my computer), and to my surprise I ended up in second place. Of course, this wasn't an official tournament, but rather one organized by the business and economics club at the community college in the area. So really I prefer to attribute my ultimate loss not to my lack of skill but to being more tired than my final opponent (final game was played at Denny's around midnight). More to the point, I was going to say that Kasparov had moved only pawns for something like the first eight moves for one of the games he won against Deep Blue, but after looking again at those games, that doesn't appear to be true. So what am I thinking of? I could have sworn I saw this from Kasparov somewhere... Erenan (talk) 04:13, 29 September 2012 (UTC)

I was reminded of the scene from A Beautiful Mind when John Nash criticized a game (Go, I think) because he played flawlessly and yet still lost because he didn't go first. So he invented his own game, called Hex. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hex_(board_game) 17:31, 11 October 2012 (UTC)

Does anybody else think the chess player could be Randall's wife? You see her depicted with a beanie and short black hair in the biopsy versary comic {{ 18:56, 19 December 2012 (UTC)|}}

The transcript calls the chess player "hat guy," so I doubt such.
Also, sudo sign your discussion comments by entering four tildes in the end. Greyson (talk) 11:20, 13 December 2012 (UTC)
Yes not his wife as it is a guy according to official transcript which calls him Knit hat guy, thus also making it clear that this is a knit cap. --Kynde (talk) 22:07, 31 March 2016 (UTC)
I've always thought of this comic as being one of those nerdy 13 year olds that are chess geniuses (I call them geniuses because I can't play chess, it's too complicated for me, my cat beats me), and for some reason, these brilliant kids are almost always portrayed as beanie toting. lcarsos_a (talk) 16:47, 13 December 2012 (UTC)

Just to add a comment as a chess player, "thinking logically" does not always work in chess. Sometimes, one must go with their 'intuition', or gut feeling. Of course, these gut feelings are usually backed by subconscious logical reasoning, but sometimes, a chess player plays a move because it FEELS right. (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

I understand this as meaning "there's only so much logic power I can spend on the next move before I run out of time" - even if there's no chess clock in play, there are social and biological factors like needing to eat and sleep eventually or a desire not to bore the other player. At some point, the amount of time and energy one needs to better evaluate which of two or three or four plausible moves is the best one is just not worth it at the margins. 16:32, 24 May 2018 (UTC)

I tend to feel that people who use the phrase "think logically" actually mean "think the same thing I think, because I am *obviously* without bias, am incapable of flawed reasoning, and I am above petty things like history or context, so I'm right and shut up". They are usually wrong, by the way. And an asshole. -Pennpenn 03:40, 11 December 2015 (UTC)

The first two paragraphs are useless. Nobody doesn’t know what chess is! And if they don’t, they don’t have to learn about it here. (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

Anyone else think that "guy with knit cap" might actually be Megan? Wearing a cap to cover up hair loss? (talk) 11:16, 20 September 2019 (UTC) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

Please sign your comments. You'd be right, except of 2 things: There is nothing to indicate that, and, as the explanation already states: "The guy with the knit cap could either have been a man or a woman as from the drawing, but the official transcript calls him knit hat guy." --Lupo (talk) 11:26, 20 September 2019 (UTC)

After a careful analysis of what little we can see of the board in the comic, my best estimate is that the game went something like 1. e4 e5 2. Bc4 Nc6 3. Qh5 Nf6 4. Qxf7#. Move 2 I get from the fact that there appears to be a white bishop in the center and a black knight somewhere on the 6th rank. Move 1 I get because it's required for Bc4 on move 2, assuming a remotely normal opening (given Cueball's call to "think logically", it seems likely that he would instinctively grasp such basic principles as attacking in the center and developing pieces). White's move 3 and 4 are the necessary moves to deliver the checkmate. I don't know Black's move 3, other than that it doesn't prevent the mate, isn't a queen move and doesn't place any important pieces further forward than the 6th rank. The possible moves are Nf6, Be7, Bd6, d6, and b6. My best guess is Nf6 because: b6 is unlikely because no one plays a fianchetto without having seen one before, they're just not intuitive; d6 and Bd6 are unlikely because White doesn't challenge the e5 square and it's not likely that a beginner would think d6 is the most natural square to develop the bishop to, though d6 is possible since it allows the development of the light-squared bishop; Be7 is unlikely because it's a very unintuitive way to develop the bishop; and Nf6 is very likely because it's an obvious developing move, and besides it attacks the queen, only for the queen to deliver checkmate, which could lead Cueball to the conclusion that "knights are too weak". Some version of this analysis might be fit for the article, but it might be a little too arcane, so I'd like another's opinion before I edit it in. The one change I would definitely say should be made is that the part where the article speculates on fool's mate v.s. scholar's mate should be appended to say that the apparent position of pieces on the board almost guarantees that it is the scholar's mate. PlasmaKitten42 (talk) 19:22, 2 December 2020 (UTC)

This is definitely a scholar's mate. Beanie (talk) 11:37, 19 May 2021 (UTC)