Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Lessons Learned from Chess

It’s been a long time since I learned the moves. I don’t play anymore, but I still love the game. I like doing chess problems, I’m not fast but I do ok. No games though, because I find both winning and losing almost equally disagreeable.

As a boy I came to believe that the best, the ideal result of any game was to lose, but not by too much. I found that most of the other children, here I mean the other boys mostly, were much more concerned with winning than I was. At one time I enjoyed winning as much as anyone, but I never minded being beaten by a better player, whatever the game or sport. Better, I came to believe, to let the other player win. They want it more than me, and they may turn violent if they don’t get it. I grew up in a tough town. So if I lost, but not by much, we were both happy, and no body got hurt.

Now I just enjoy setting up a board and watching the unfolding of a great or famous game played long ago by the great players.

Paul Morphy is my favorite player. No one has ever charged across a chess board with more focus or fury. Many of the games are quite short; his style eschewed defense in favor of an all-out attack marked by feverish momentum. I remember a game in which he sacrificed his queen, one bishop, and a rook in quick succession as he was setting up a very creative check-mate. How stunned his opponent must have been.

Morphy, an American, sought to immediately put his opponents off balance and then keep them there until their destruction was complete. Many of the opponents’ moves were forced by Morphy. I notice that he shared this style with many of history’s famous generals. Keep the enemy responding to your aggressive movements and you can beat his army while half of it is on trains to places where you were two days ago. Keep the initiative. Defense is for losers.

Great sports figures do the same. Imagine Tiger Woods cautiously laying up outside a particularly well defended green. Fuck that! I’m driving the green! I want the birdie! Defensive play is for the lesser lights.

The application of this lesson to life is not at all clear. A cautiously lived life, a life of safe moves, a life concentrated on defending against some of life’s more disagreeable fates, a life like that can be very comfortable. Maybe not too exciting, but very comfortable, and how bad could that be? A comfortable life?

The successful people though, the people who get things done, the people who build successful entities, those are the people who make decisions decisively, and who look ahead for what they want and then look for the way to get there. It’s not always comfortable, was it Walt Disney who went bankrupt three times before he hit it big? Not comfortable, maybe, but often successful, and probably exciting as well.

It’s a personal choice though, no right or wrong here. On a daily basis I choose comfort over ambition. I don’t get anything done, and I’ll never get anywhere, but I have fun and I sleep ok. In life too I aim for the top tier of the list of losers.


Anonymous said...

Winners or losers, the game ends the same: We all end up as food for worms.

fred c said...

True, E, but perhaps overly blunt. I prefer the Irish proverb, "Whether a King or a Pawn, after the game we all go back in the same box."