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Chinese CheckersEvery other day or so my son and I take a break from homework to spar on the battlefield of Chinese checkers . The games begin on the house board but routinely transition to an Internet board for a chance to test our skills against four other players.

When my son began playing he demonstrated the typical childhood propensity to act on the first move he saw. Later, he became more aware of multiple jump moves, and ultimately the concept of the open space gave rise to the notion that one might go backwards in order to go forwards. Finally, at the end of his first phase of learning he grew to value the actual length of a move in relation to ground covered.

We watched the computer, time and again, seemingly stymied in the center, pull-off a spectacular nine-jump move, positioning itself boldly a full leap from its home.

My son later made the statement, "Everything is clogged-up in the center, Dad! Nobody can move at all. Then all of a sudden everything breaks free and the colors head to their homes like there's nothing in their way!"

I asked him what the catalyst for this "break-up" could be and he began to study the board more intently during the middle of the matches. After a couple of weeks he pushed the laptop away and grabbed a can of Mountain Dew stating, "Somebody does something he doesn't want to do!"

"What?" I asked.

"That's what breaks open the big pile!"

"Hmmm," I thought, it's simplistic but maybe…"

He activated several games in a row until he was fully convinced that, with the help of the CPU, he'd successfully clogged the middle to test his hypothesis. "See." he said, running his small fingers over the screen. Yellow doesn't have a move. Red and purple are all blocked up. Blue can only go here. Green still has three right here, and it's light blue's turn."

"It's not good to be light blue." he said, faking remorse. And he hit the button moving the light blue marble meekly by one space. "Now watch!"

With that the board began to roar back to life, first around the fringes and then weaving valleys through its center. All the while light blue seemed to lag to the point of delay in asserting his marbles. "You can't let 'em force you to move, Dad!"

I thought about his theory and wondered how many times, late at night, watching the blip, blip, blip of the dollar that I'd felt compelled to make a move that I didn't want to make. Could it be that a lack of nerve at the critical juncture is really just the "unwanted move", the one trader or collective of traders that perceive their limited options and act with a sort of "default spontaneity?"

Gradually, over time, my son was able to avoid taking that "unwanted move". He got closer and closer to winning. One day he blurted, "the winner likes all his moves!"

"And what separates the winner from the other five players?" I asked.

He answered, "Every round there's a player that makes a move he doesn't want to make. The winner knows the "unwanted moves" better than the other guys. And it takes a long time to know them all!"

With that he got up and grabbed his cycling helmet. Walking to the door of the garage he swung it open and I could hear the squeak of his scooter heading towards the sidewalk.

I waited until he was out of earshot and walked over to look at the laptop.

"Light blue wins!"


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