The Art of Deception

Vary the Mode of Action; not always the same way, so as to distract attention, especially if there be a rival. Not always from first impulse; they will soon recognise the uniformity, and by anticipating, frustrate your designs. It is easy to kill a bird on the wing that flies straight: not so one that twists. Nor always act on second thoughts: they can discern the plan the second time. The enemy is on the watch, great skill is required to circumvent him. The gamester never plays the card the opponent expects, still less that which he wants. – Baltasar Gracian

To be effective at deceiving, you must have a different trick every time. The boy who cried wolf wasn’t believed the last time he cried ‘wolf’ because the rest of the villagers were used to this exact lie. Had he tried a different tactic each time, he would have avoided disaster.

The deceiver must always be inventive. In poker, there are many ways to deceive your opponent. Bluffing is the obvious example. Players who bluff often in the same kinds of situations will be easily defended against by the astute opponent. So the bluffer must have other tricks up his sleeve. Sometimes, he should try to disguise a real hand with a bluff-like raise, to make it seem like he’s following the same pattern of behavior. Other times, he can slow play his hands, and in that way, his opponents can never predict if he has a real hand or not.

But notice that the more tricks you have the more unpredictable you are. In any game, if you can keep your opponent guessing about your next move, you will have the advantage.

In chess, there is the story of Bobby Fischer’s famous series against the Russian Boris Spassky in 1972. Fischer lost the first game, but when it was time to play the second game on a different day, he arrived very late to the event – and forfeited the game. Spassky was happy to be two games up, but he was confused about Fischer’s behavior. He wondered why his opponent would concede such an important match in this way.

Spassky was a player that won by making moves that rattled his opponents. Fischer used his own tricks against him, for the rest of the game, Spassky couldn’t get a read on Fischer – the American had the psychological edge. After losing the series, Spassky accused Fischer of cheating, but none of his claims were verified. Spassky retired from chess even though he was still young.

Don’t bullshit a bullshitter – Walter White

Having more tricks not only allows you to have more options to fool your opponent, but it also makes it easier to read your opponent, and recognize when he’s deceiving you. Fischer recognized Spassky’s strategy and implemented it himself.

When the Greeks fought against the Persians in 479-480 B.C in The Battle of Thermopylae, they managed to make a stand against all odds. The Greeks had a much smaller army. Their hoplites were infantry who were physically tough and brave, and they were defending their country from invasion, so they fought to the death. They managed to heroically prevent the Persian victory.

The underdogs won the battle, but not the war. The Persians had a different trick up their sleeve, a very powerful one – gold. While the Persians didn’t have their local hoplites, they bribed Greek mercenaries to fight for them, and it worked. The Persians eventually won the war. They succeeded in creating infighting within Greece. Whenever one Greek city state was doing well, they funded its rivals that would then go to war against the successful city state. And as the dynamics of power shifted, so did the Persian political strategy. The Greeks naturally had conflict with one another, and the Persians used diplomacy as a weapon to exploit this.

This strategy has been used many times in the past, and continues to be used in modern times.Powerful nations that unexpectedly face stiff opposition from an inferior enemy resort to other methods to attain victory. When they realize that fighting honestly is too costly to their society, they create rifts between the groups they are fighting, and this way avoid bloodshed, but achieve their political goals.

The Persians defeated other enemies by inviting them to a feast, offering peace. And when their enemies obliged, the Persians got them drunk and slaughtered them. Nations that rise to power have more tricks than their opposition, they are less predictable. It is why they rose to power in the first place, and it is how they are able to maintain it.

In the first world war, the Germans were shelling the French for days. Then suddenly, they stopped. The French knew all about this. Every time the Germans had stopped before, they had stopped the shelling and mobilized their troops to invade the French territory. The French soldiers, who were in terrible condition, rose out of their dugouts and were exposed in the open field, waiting to counter the German invasion. But the Germans never came. It was a trick. The German planes took note of the French positions, where machine guns were hidden, and other soldiers took cover. The shelling continued for the rest of the day and was more effective than before.

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