loose pieces

the loose piece pattern describes a situation in which one overly relies on chance for an outcome. the chance that the opponent won’t see my undefended piece, the chance that my debate partner won’t challenge my unsourced claim. the loose piece pattern is either a case of

chess is a game of perfect knowledge. there is no randomness, no dice, no hidden parts of the map. the only unknown is what your opponent will do next. it is a good practice to assume that any moves that are visible to you are also visible to your opponent. making a move that relies on the opponent not seeing the consequences is “loose”. pieces which are not protected by any other piece, and could therefore be taken by the opponent without paying a price, are loose pieces. it is in that spirit that I introduce “loose pieces”, into the wider world, with the hope that it will be a useful pattern.

on the board above the pawn at B7 is hanging, with the queen threatening to take said pawn without having to withstand a counter-attack. the loose piece is not only a liability by itself, but it can be leveraged in combined attacks to pry open better defences. in the example below, the attack succeeds in taking the rook on A8 because the black is required to defend the king first, and cannot do so without leaving the rook hanging. white's next move is to take the undefended rook.

now we apply the archetypal method of finding something specific about a system and generalizing it beyond the source system. in this case, the loose pieces pattern can be applied to other systems that are similar but not identical, like Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ). in BJJ, two fighters use every means in their power to subdue the opponent short of striking. a loose piece in this context would be a move that, in the attempt to attack the opponent, exposes an opportunity for attack from the opponent. the analogy suggests that the loose piece is dangerous because the fighter who exposed a new attack surface will either be attacked successfully there or will need to divert attention and effort to deal with the attack or threat of attack when it comes. even if the fighter succeeds, they have given the opponent an opportunity, regardless of whether they are prepared to exploit the loose piece or not.

to broaden the analogy, a loose piece in rhetoric is an assertion made without some knowledge of the likelihood that the assertion is true. such loose pieces are outlined here:

"what can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence”

Christopher Hitchens

another term for this is the Gish Gallop. deploying overwhelming amounts of arguments without a coherent structure or even supporting evidence can often be a winning strategy, but it does open the user of this tactic to attack, especially if the opponent shares a pattern language with the audience, and can address the tactic without having to explain it from first principles.

a loose piece is a bit of unhelpful chaos.

life is not perfectly analogous to a chess game. the chess universe is finite and closed. the board is made of 32 black and 32 white squares, piece positions and relative strengths of each side are visible to both players, and the rules are known fully. the universe and our lives may share these properties, but no one has yet demonstrated the finitude of the universe or that it is governed by a finite collection of knowable laws/truths.

chess is a zero-sum, finite game. for one player to win, the other must lose. this is not the case in broader human society. we can engage in cooperative behavior, coordinated by pattern languages, by technological systems, by markets, or any number of other systems where multiple people come together for a purpose.

some amount of chaos is necessary in life. since we lack perfect knowledge of the board (the universe), we will always be required to make moves without full knowledge of the consequences. just be aware that to some extent, everything you do is a loose piece, since we can never fully know the consequences of our actions. try to minimize the uncertainty of life by building from known good positions and improving your communications bandwidth with your peers by building your own pattern languages.

if you're hoping the other party won't see what you're doing, that's a loose piece. win by design, not by luck.