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The Advantage of Playing White


Pawn -- > E4.

Paul Allen's Money --- > New Orleans' pockets.

As pointed out in the side bar, Kevin Pritchard's moving day is off and running with a bang: the Blazers have already agreed to purchase New Orleans' first round pick.

In the past, Dave has successfully argued that draft wheeling and dealing more closely resembles poker than chess.  You also might be tempted to write off this end-of-the-first-round-pick as an unimportant historical footnote.  For tonight, put the cards down and prick your ears up: I see this move as a smart, cool chess move: center pawn two squares straight ahead at the defense, opening up major attacking lines in the process.

At face, this pick represents, to borrow a phrase from Bill Simmons' draft debate today, another asset in our growing stockpile. (Sidenote: the sexual tension between Simmons and Ford is hotter and heavier than ever this year.)  

More importantly, though, this draft pick pickup reinforces, psychologically, that Kevin Pritchard is The Man when it comes to this general manager thing.  Call it a peacock move, an expression of superiority, a sign to the fanbase that the team's pocketbook is where its mouth is... this is a great play. 

It's a great play because it's the first play. 

Throughout the history of chess, playing as white (thereby moving first) has led to a significant statistical advantage over playing as black.  At most recent count, white trumps black roughly 55% of the time

In chess and in basketball, moving first offers strategic advantages but, perhaps more importantly, playing first has distinct psychological advantages.  In chess, white wins more often, in part, thanks to a self-fulfilling prophecy: wins result from comfortable, proactive, probing play and it is easier to achieve this state when one takes the first turn. 

A list of "psychological" advantages that white has might include:

1) The ability to dictate early-game play.

2) The ability to create and/or diffuse momentum.

3) The ability to push the game, or portions of the game,  to familiar lines where you are comfortable/experienced.

4) The ability to look at one's reflection in the chessboard and conclude, "Hey, I'm white again, I normally win when I'm white, so I should win this time." 

It seems clear to me that each of these advantages has a parallel in negotiations in general and basketball trade discussions in particular. Looking at them one by one:

1) Pritchard has dictated play. He's announced the team's presence.  He is reporting for duty. That smirch on his reputation that he recently received for floating trade rumors left and right?  Instantly cleaned up.  He just got one done. It's game time (again). Cowboy up. 

2) Pritchard has the team's fans excited and anxious for more and he has again re-inforced confidence in both his decision-making abilities and ownership's support. The momentum is real. He's got his opponents wishing they had an authentic billionaire (one whose been making money since the 1980s...) who could cut checks like PA; in many cases, he's got his adversaries simply knocking their kings over in surrender and cashing PA's checks.

3) Pritchard now has the flexibility that comes with being able to offer something worthwhile to just about every team in the league.  In fact, the only reason he can push trades on as many fronts as Ford mentioned today is because he's got the pieces and he's comfortable moving them.  Other GMs are therefore forced to react to KP's lines, regardless of the objective value/power of any of his individual assets.  This is a true advantage the likes of which even the most dedicated fan (indeed, anyone outside the war room) will never be able to know.

4) Finally, Pritchard has the biggest advantage of all: he wakes up in the morning (very early in the morning according to Brian Hendrickson), rubs the crust out of his eyes, looks in the mirror while brushing his teeth and smiles, "Hey, I'm KP again. I normally win when I'm KP, so I should win this time."

For each of these 4 reasons, I love this move, however small it might seem. 

Full disclosure: 1. e4 is my favorite move of every chess game. 

PS. Here's an interesting question... if you were playing chess against Kevin Pritchard, would you demand that he let you play as white, would you step aside and let him play as white, or would you draw for it like normal? 

I would demand to play as white.

-- Ben (