Chess is what happens to me when I’m standing in line at the post office and I realize that I do not have the correct amount of change to mail my letter. I failed to think at least one move ahead. Chess is what happens to me when I’m driving down the Garden State Parkway and I realize in my rearview mirror that the flashing lights and sirens are intended to flag me down. I receive a speeding ticket. I failed to cover my flank and protect myself from impending attacks. Chess is what happens to me when I am sitting down writing a paper for class that is due two weeks early. I am setting up my weekend for a killer move.
Chess teaches us the value of thinking ahead, of making sure our moves are protected, of making calculated risks, of concentrating a strategy within the context of a single focus and purpose. And then it teaches us the nature of the game within the game. Of learning to choose our battles wisely and knowing which things on our board matter the most—those we can afford to lose and those we lose when we afford them.
[CHESS AS TEACHER]
For some reason, I’ve been reading a lot about chess unintentionally. Although not a great chess player, I’ve been learning to play and have been practicing on my friends and any physical body that will play chess with me. (I disdain online chess because of the two-dimensional nature of it). I feel like I learned a lot through reading about chess strategy and through my own experience in playing game after game, and it made me think about how there are always teaching moments in our lives.
There are so many avenues of learning throughout our every day experiences that we often ignore their lessons. We confine our education to the classroom, when in reality, we learn by exercising our lives outside in the open world. We need to experience learning as hands on, informative, challenging, competitive and relevant.
A relevant education looks outside what is merely useful to know, to what is desirable to know. We need to know some things, to be sure. And then there are things we really want to know. We want to know how to change a flat tire when we actually have a flat tire. We want to know how to woo a girl when we’re pursuing someone we like. We want to know how in the world it is they figure out what and who comprises the Electoral College.
For me, I want to know how to play chess. How does anyone begin to learn? We teach ourselves through playing. We teach ourselves through watching others play. We teach ourselves through reading chess strategies. And we allow others to teach, coach and mentor us directly. Finally, we teach ourselves by watching Searching For Bobby Fischer.
Movies about chess. They’re interesting aren’t they? How do you fill 90 to 120 minutes of film with a movie about a game in which participants never move more than a few fingers and hand movements? And yet chess can be as exciting and as dramatic as watching dog show competitions on ESPN.
I’m not being tongue in cheek here—those danged dog shows are really entertaining, but not everyone has given it a chance to see for themselves. The same with chess.
It’s an ancient game, and we understand why the ancients loved it—it’s a game that involves pairing the theoretical with the actual. And, as human beings know, playing against people is like playing against an unpredictable, often times irrational, perplexing and cunning opponent. Our response is Archimedean in every way because you will never ever play the same game twice in your lifetime. Think about that. Every game you play is unique and will never be repeated by you move for move.
Back to what I was saying about Searching For Bobby Fischer. Chess motivates. Films like that tap into the God-given potential of our lives. We dream bigger for having watched it. We aspire to being someone great. We try to decide and live like we actually know what in the world we’re doing. I sometimes feel more confident after playing chess (well, only if I win). Why is that? There’s something intelligent about chess—classical, like Pavarotti; something inherently noble, like Barnes & Noble; something that makes us say deep down, “I wish I was a great chess player like Kasparov.”
[MY OWN BOBBY FISCHER: A FICTIONAL TALE OF CHESS]
Okay, so here’s how chess has inspired me. If chess is about inspiring you to be who you really are, then this is my take on an ESPN-like episode that I imagined about chess. It may be playing at an ESPN “The Ocho” in the near future. Here goes:
Two behemoth-like contestants battle in a large square room facing each other, head to head, seated at a table. Both are like fearless generals, clad in military regalia, commanding their troops into a strategic battle for control of position, pieces and ultimate possession of the other’s king.
It is 1957 in Moscow, Russia, and the stage is set for one of the most epic matches in chess history.
Anton Lincovsky scratches his long, silvery beard, stroking it with only his index finger. It is menacing in its own way, seemingly taunting his opponent to dare forward into a mental attack.
Crispus Attovin seems not to notice, his gaze fixed squarely on the board, mesmerized by the situation before him.
Here’s to thinking ahead …