In the last few months I have a read quite a bit about the epics and found them to be rather interesting. However, one view often propounded in most versions of the Mahabharata is the Duryodhana, for all his villainy, was still a noble and good king. While it is true that most of the stuff I have read does point to Duryodhana being a good king (not much is stated and there is no explicit mention of him being a bad king, so lets give the chap the benefit of doubt shall we?) the bit about his nobility is often substantiated by the fact that in one of the last fights of the Mahabharata, he chose Bhima (the strongest of the Pandavas) over the others.
I beg to differ. I don’t think this has anything to do with nobility, Duryodhana is simply being rational.
When Yudhishtira made the incredibly stupid move of asking Duryodhana to choose his opponent and his weapon, how did Duryodhana make this decision?
Duryodhana, like any rational being, would have seen his payoffs by killing each of the Pandavas. Now to anyone who has read the Mahabharata would know that Duryodhana and Bhima had a special hatred for each other. Thus it is clear that his payoff from killing Bhima would be the highest.
Thus, knowing this and considering this in isolation, Bhima is the option to go with for highest payoff.
But Bhima is ridiculously strong and fighting him would normally have included a substantial risk of getting your own head smashed in ( i.e. severely reducing your payoff).
Now Duryodhana had several branches of the game tree open for consideration each representing a weapon.
Now Gandhari had done the whole open-the-blindfold-for-the-time thing and thus bestowed Duryodhana with immense power in all of his body except for his thighs. This means that his winning the fight was practically guaranteed as long as he chose the weapon correctly.
Thus which payoff is availed would depend entirely on which weapon Duryodhana choses (i.e. which branch he goes with, this being a sequential game). If he goes with anything where Bhima can touch his thigh, he has a chance of losing; if Bhima is denied this possibility, Duryodhana is invincible and thus guaranteed victory and the subsequent high payoff.
By the rules of mace combat, one cannot hit below the belt. Thus choosing this weapon send Duryodhana along the branch of the game tree which guarantees him victory.
Obviously, Krishna telling Bhima to break rules was not expected – both the incompleteness of information to be taken away as well as the breakage of rules.
To factor in rule breakage into his calculations would have been clearly irrational (how can one factor in something like game rules being broken while analysing a game?).
Thus you see, Duryodhana was merely being rational, and not noble in any way.