It’s Your Move
By Peter L DeHaan
few days ago, I casually entered the conversation with some friends;
they were talking about chess. One gave me a
sideways glance, “You play?” It was stated as a
question, but an underlying astonishment was imbedded. I
nodded affirmatively. “Any
good?” came the follow-up query.
is a relative term. Competition good, I am not; not
good, I am. When I do play I am pleased with the
results, still I chose to not respond directly. “I
haven’t played for a while,” I evaded. That
seemed to satisfy his curiosity.
cousins had taught me how to play when I was in third grade.
My parents were a bit dubious that I could grasp the
complexities and nuances of the game. Seeking to
protect me from possible frustration or disappointment, they urged
caution and tried to lower my expectations. Bravely,
I forged ahead. The older of the cousins patiently
taught me the names of the pieces and how they moved. He
would gently quiz me from time to time in order to gauge my
understanding and assess my retention of his tutelage. Soon
we were playing a real game. Despite my novice
errors, momentary memory lapses, and quirky moves, it was grand fun.
We played until he grew weary and I moved on to his siblings.
They had less tolerance for my sloppy play and geeky
exuberance; by mid afternoon the board was put away and we were on to
next morning, however, was a new day. I challenged
my instructor-cousin, who agreed. Before the day
was done, I had won my first game. He rallied,
winning the next two, but I sensed I was beginning to challenge him.
Seeking to avoid another disconcerting loss, he feigned boredom
with my incessant pleas to play one more game and retreated to a safer
activity. I then plied his younger brother.
Discerning that I had now advanced enough for it to not be too
demeaning, he condescended to pick up where his brother left off.
By the time their visit concluded, I was hooked.
Makes Perfect: Although my
desire to play chess was strong, the opportunities to do so were
limited. I attempted to enlist family members, but
each had a reason not to learn this game that I pursued. My
neighbor wasn’t much help either, as he proved to have only a
passing interest. Not to be deterred, I would play
against myself. Sometimes I would play the white
pieces (which moves first and takes the offensive); other times I
would take the black side (which responds and defends). Sometimes,
I would switch sides midway through the game, giving up an advantage
of superior position to assume a lesser one. There
were even times when I would switch perspectives after each move.
That may seem a bit schizophrenic, so let’s keep it to
mental diversions were to occupy way too much free time and may not
have been the optimum methodology to improve my game, but improve it,
they did. When it came time for a real game, I was
ready; that time spent practicing paid huge dividends.
All About It: Although
enjoyable, playing against myself begin to have a diminishing return
in terms of ongoing improvement. So I turned to
books. First, I learned some esoteric rules, like
“en passant,” which I have yet to use in a real game. Then
I studied opening moves. These actually have names
and are categorized, with variations on how they unfold and
recommended defenses. In a serious game, I open
with my King’s pawn; conversely, I have trouble defending a
Queen’s pawn open. I also learned techniques,
like the pin, the knight fork (a personal favorite), discovered check
(a great way to confound your opponent), and gambits, as well as end
consumed several tomes on strategy and techniques, I zeroed in on one
entitled, “How to Beat Bobby Fischer.” The
premise of the book was that in tournament play it was statistically
more probable to beat him than to force a draw – of course, he was
nine times more likely to win than to lose. I
actually read, studied, and reenacted many of the 61 games he lost.
I reasoned that to improve, I needed to be studying the master.
Give Up: The unspoken credo
among my chess-playing buddies was that you never conceded a game.
No matter how dire the situation, we would never quit, but play
to the bitter end. Resigning a chess game was for
those of lesser character and not worthy of this noble pursuit to
which we aspired. Having this perspective taught me
it taught me how to be a good winner, to be kind and gracious to the
other player as a person, all the while dismantling his army and
backing his king into the corner for an acrimonious checkmate.
I wanted to win and do so decisively, but desired to not
belittle the ability of my opponent or assault his self-esteem in the
process – after all, I may want to play him again sometime!
to the end also taught me how to be valiant; to remain strong and
dignified in defeat. That is much harder –
especially when the vanquishing conqueror is relishing his impending
victory a bit too much. Yet, these are the moments
when character is truly strengthened and perfected.
it Again: Losing is never
fun, especially when you deem yourself to be the superior player, but
it will happen, even to the best. I learned to
accept these disappointments as an inevitable part of the game and to
grow through them. Yes, I wanted to learn how to
play better, but more significantly, I wanted to grow to be a better
person in the process. It is a truism that one can
learn more and grow more in defeat than in victory.
is also important to not wallow in self-pity and incriminations when
these set-backs occur, but to shake off the disappointment and forge
into the future. So, regardless of how close I came
to winning or how big the loss, my first response was invariably,
“Wanna play again?”
the Rules if You Have to: In
high school, I sometimes played during study hall. It
was there that I garnered an after-school detention for being too
animated in explaining the correct way to do a Queen’s side castle.
Regardless of who was in study hall, I could count on a worthy
opponent being present. Once we set up an impromptu
chess competition, complete with round-robin play and capped off by a
track bubby, Spenser, was in study hall, too, but he didn’t play
chess. Still he was attracted to it like a magnet.
The variations of pieces and different moves endlessly
intrigued him. I tried in vain to teach him, but
his attention span was too short. Tired of being
left out of the action, he one day blurted out, “Let’s play
checkers – all-kings-jump-your-own-man.” I’m
not sure if he made that up or not, but I was willing to try.
Lacking checkers, we used my chess set, arranging the chessmen
like checkers. Since every piece was automatically
a king, they could move both forward and backwards. Also,
you could jump your own piece (though you left it on the board) to
catapult yourself into enemy territory to jump your opponent’s
pieces. It was a wild game and Spence played it
with great abandon and immense joy.
all-kings-jump-your-own-man checkers with a chess set would elicit all
manner of snide and demeaning comments from the uninitiated and casual
observers, but we didn’t care. Spence had changed
the rules to make a game we could enjoy together and I was happy to
it Fun: Sometimes, we would
play “rapid chess.” It was like regular chess,
but you had to move within five seconds. We had no
timer, so it was self-policing. It made you think
astutely and react quickly. I had a knack for it,
able to hurriedly assess a situation and make a snap decision that was
founded on a hastened logic, but often couched with intuition or
consisting of pure reaction. Games lasted about
five minutes and were so intense that it only took a couple to induce
sometimes employed a “rapid chess” mindset in a regular game.
Although my hurried moves were not always ideal, the unending
swiftness of my responses would unnerve my opponent, causing him to
get flustered and make blunders. From his
perspective, it was always his turn and he was always intently
concentrating. I, on the other hand, was able to
relax and have fun. I realized that it is often
better to make a quick decision, based on initial reactions and facts,
than to make the ideal determination that might not seize the moment.
imply that life is like a game of chess is a shallow metaphor.
However, just as a good game of chess requires an articulate
strategy and reasoned approach, so does running a successful business
living a good life. It’s your move; what’s it
going to be?
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