May 16th, 2010
10:02 AM ET

Dear Mr. President #482 "The Queen's gambit"

Tom Foreman | BIO
AC360° Correspondent

Reporter's Note: I’m writing about teamwork a bit this weekend, which every president needs.

Dear Mr. President,

Ask any beginning chess player to name the most important piece on the board, and chances are good he or she will say the queen.  The queen is wildly mobile, hugely powerful, and much to be respected in every contest, but especially one between less experienced players.   But give a grand master a choice between a queen, and say a bishop and two rooks, and chances are good he will take the minor pieces.  Because, just as I wrote yesterday, the power of the team is so fearsome compared to the power of the single combatant.

One of the principles of chess, just in case you don’t play much, (Oh sure, you were probably one of those fancy college students who went on ‘dates’!) is to “control the center” of the board, and that takes a team more than one powerful individual.

Why?  Well, imagine football players standing in opposite end zones.  If they were simply going to scrum around the ball on the fifty yard line and wrestle for control, and one team charged our in force to that position, they would have an advantage.  The other team could send out its biggest, strongest, most terrifying player, but he’d be helpless against the larger numbers.

So in chess, when one player builds a strong front of coordinated pieces (a team as it were) in the middle of the board, chances are good that he can “control the center” in chess parlance.  And that buys him flexibility and mobility.  A strong center is a shield behind which attacks can be organized, reorganized, shifted from one side of the board to the other with impunity, and unleashed in unstoppable assaults.

A key, amateur mistake is to thrust the very powerful queen into the midst of an opponent’s hardening center in the belief that she can somehow wreak havoc and win the day.  But against a seasoned player, she will soon be hoisting her skirts and running for her life as she is attacked time and again by lesser pieces working in concert with each other.

My point is (and I’ll get to it before the chess talk lulls you into a stupor) is that it is easy for anyone, in any field, to be lured into false bravado by the presence of power; to think that one great player can lead to victory.

But we all should be careful about believing that lie, and especially careful when we hear it about ourselves.  It is seductive, and flattering, but still false.  And good teams take advantage of great individual players all the time who fall into that trap.

Sorry to be so heavy on a weekend, but it’s been on my mind.  Heading to New Mexico today on the latest leg of our Building Up America series.  Hope you watch!


soundoff (3 Responses)
  1. Maudie- Clinton,MD

    I love your articles. Thank U

    May 16, 2010 at 12:47 pm |
  2. Heather

    What's gonna work, Teamwork! Yeah, you know the Wonderpets theme! Which is my point exactly, we should all be learning these basic principles early in life. The President is our "figurehead" and he needs to develop his team in order to accomplish his goals. I work as a restaurant management team in order to accomplish our goals. Sports teams work together to accomplish their goals, and I could go on and on. The world is sadly mistaken if they believe any one man, or woman for that matter, has the ability to change this world by themselves. It's going to take all of us, united as a team, to accomplish the changes.

    May 16, 2010 at 11:27 am |
  3. Tammy Christine

    Welcome to our desert home Tom, May your journey be swift and safe. This land has an enchantment that captures the soul.. Don't forget to eat at Garcias kitchen, the very best new mexican food in all the land! Hey I do so enjoy your heartfelt letters to our president. In love always tc

    May 16, 2010 at 10:18 am |