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TV Tropes Monday: The Chessmaster vs. Opportunistic Bastard




Tweet of the Day: Norse Beserker Warriors as Medieval Chess Pieces


Few things mark the intelligence of a character as making him The Chessmaster, both in the literal and metaphorical sense. The Chessmaster gifts include extraordinary foresight, the ability to manipulate situations/people and what often makes him a villain, the willingness to sacrifice others to achieve his long term goals. Everybody dances to his tunes, specially the heroes. Their efforts to thwart The Chessmaster often trigger a new move on his part that negates their efforts or rolls backs their achievements.

It is also a villain trope I don’t really like.


The Law of Unintended Consequences. Wikipedia defines these consequences thus:

In the social sciences, unintended consequences (sometimes unanticipated consequences or unforeseen consequences) are outcomes that are not the ones intended by a purposeful action. The term was popularised in the 20th century by American sociologist Robert K. Merton.[1]

Unintended consequences can be roughly grouped into three types:

  • A positive, unexpected benefit (usually referred to as luck, serendipity or a windfall).

  • A negative, unexpected detriment occurring in addition to the desired effect of the policy (e.g., while irrigation schemes provide people with water for agriculture, they can increase waterborne diseases that have devastating health effects, such as schistosomiasis).

  • A perverse effect contrary to what was originally intended (when an intended solution makes a problem worse)

And they arise from:

Robert K. Merton listed five possible causes of unanticipated consequences in 1936:[11]

  1. Ignorance, making it impossible to anticipate everything, thereby leading to incomplete analysis
  2. Errors in analysis of the problem or following habits that worked in the past but may not apply to the current situation
  3. Immediate interests overriding long-term interests
  4. Basic values which may require or prohibit certain actions even if the long-term result might be unfavorable (these long-term consequences may eventually cause changes in basic values)
  5. Self-defeating prophecy,or, the fear of some consequence which drives people to find solutions before the problem occurs, thus the non-occurrence of the problem is not anticipated.

In order to get around these The Chessmaster must have an almost a magical level of foresight, constantly adjust his plans or simply serve as an excuse for the writer to hammer the plot unto the story, i.e. things will happen in a certain manner regardless of the skill, experience or information available to the characters or the rules of the setting the story takes place on. When the reader scratches their head wondering how the situation arose the author simply throws The Chessmaster in as an answer.

I prefer another trope: the Opportunistic Bastard.

As I stated before on this blog, most crimes are, by enlarge, crimes of opportunity, even if there is a gap between the realization of said opportunity and the taking advantage of it. Human history is dotted with examples of people being in the right place at the right time. There are just as many examples of people taking advantage of bad situations and turning them to their advantage. The Opportunistic Bastard is not as intelligent as his counterpart, The Chessmaster, but he is often armed with a sort of animal cunning that allows him to quickly access a situation and exploit it. He may, eventually, slip up or simply run afoul of a situation he simply can’t squirm out of. But along the way he often fakes being The Chessmaster just to rub it in on his foes.

So I’ll go with the Opportunistic Bastard while other play at chess. Besides, I’m lousy at chess anyway.


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