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An Aladdin's Cave

An Aladdin's Cave

Dec 16, 2015, 3:53 PM 2


I'm a chess coach by trade (mainly schoolchildren) so I figure I'll give my blog an educational bent, though random musings will also be on the menu. Making a commitment to blogging also seems like a concrete way to focus on improving my own game beyond a vague desire to do some tactics puzzles every day.

This first blog will be different though, a sort of manifesto. Future entries will be less long-winded, I promise! See, chess is much more to me than a silly toy. It's almost a spiritual thing. Of course it's just a game in the end, and the main purpose is to have fun...but what is a game anyway?

A game is a fundamental part of the structure of the universe. There is an entire academic field – game theory – devoted to understanding games on a deep mathematical level and applying this knowledge to everything from economics to evolutionary biology. Whether we're aware of it or not, we all play games, every day, in every aspect of our lives – just games with less well-defined rules and more uncertain outcomes than in chess.

A Model Universe

To me, the chessboard is a model universe in which classic debates are played out in wordless motion: between the general and the specific, the abstract and the concrete, imagination and reality, potential and kinetic energy. Debates that have raged since the Ancient Greeks, and probably well before then.


Chess is one of only a few games that it's possible to approach with not just a strategy but a philosophy, or an entire system of thought. Like anything worth doing, it's also rife with contradictions. You need to work hard to attain the slightest success, but some lucky people seem to know the right move without even thinking, let alone studying. It's a game of harsh logic but you must be creative to suceed; to be able to come up with new ideas and apply old ones in new ways. Dozens of moves are spent planning elaborate maneuvers but we chess players really live for those moments when an unexpected combination suddenly makes the pieces come alive, as if they're moving by themselves. 

An Aladdin's Cave

You don't just have to play, either. There's an incredibly rich culture surrounding chess. There's spectating, history, quotes, personalities, puzzle solving, mind-boggling variants, education, psychology, training, ..and then there's chess literature. I started collecting chess books when I was around 10 and 15 years later I can't even count them all. Every little thing you learn about chess, no matter how obscure or esoteric it may seem, will enrich your understanding and make you a more complete player. And isn't that more important and fulfilling than adding 100 points to your rating?


This is the problem with studying chess. There's so much to see, so much to explore, and it's not at all clear what will actually help you as a player. Unfortunately I have no easy solution as to what you should learn, and I won't pretend to offer one. Let me just say that entering the chess world is like Aladdin walking into the magic cave filled with treasures. There are too many wonders to carry it all out by hand, but your memories of what you see are worth more than any trinket, anyway.  

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