THE STUDENT AND THE TEACHER: Decision-Making and Uncertainty in Kyrgyzstan’s Tien Shan

The match was as good as over. Checkmate in three, or as little as one, if he screwed up. But that wasn’t the point. Adrien Grabinski hadn’t played in years; I’d been on an internet chess bender the month prior. I wanted to see how his brain worked. I asked how he’d move intuitively, what his immediate reaction would be—that he said, plainly, he wouldn’t. He didn’t have an intuitive sense for the game. A few days later, high above our glacier camp on a steep north face, our situation would flip: Adrien moving intuitively, myself a few steps behind, thinking about how each of the pieces could move.

A mouse scuttled across the edge of the dusty rug that adorned the floor of a dilapidated canvas mess tent and disappeared behind Adrien’s monstrous pack. We wrapped the match and stepped into the fading evening light of Kyrgyzstan’s Terskey Ala-Too mountains. Lush meadows fed by braided glacial rivers lined the narrow trough of the steep valley. The horsemen that owned the accommodation had yet to arrive for the season, nor had the trekking tourists that follow. Thunder rumbled in the distance, mixed with the clatter of loose rockfall from large talus fields flanking the gorge. Storms blew in and out every day—it was impossible to predict when, but was never a question of if. These peaks create their own weather. It felt like monsoon season—a strange realization at the farthest point from an ocean in the world…

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