Mastery of Chess Aids Mastery of Life

Nov 10, 2010, 10:42 AM |

For more than 2,000 years, kings and queens have pushed pawns, while peasants and paupers have put nobility in check. Chess is the ultimate board game. Anyone can play despite age, gender, race or class. It erases the powers that wealth and might bring, instead forcing opponents to rely upon their learned abilities.    

"Chess is a sea where a gnat may drink and an elephant may bathe," according to an old (Asian) Indian proverb. Its combined simplicity and complexity have intrigued generations.

Children are taught the rules by their elders.  Checkmating an older sibling, parent or grandparent is often an unforgettable rite of passage. In chess — as in life — there is always room for improvement.

Chess players do not have to speak the same language in order to play — the rules are universal.  Nothing more than a board, pieces and players are needed. To win, however, requires patience, skill and luck.     

"The game of Chess is not merely an idle amusement," wrote Benjamin Franklin in his essay "On the Morals of Chess." "Several very valuable qualities of the mind, useful in the course of human life, are to be acquired or strengthened by it, so as to become habits, ready on all occasions."  

Put simply, chess improves the minds and characteristics of those who play.  

The benefits linked to playing chess are great. Franklin mentions foresight, circumspection and caution. "Lastly," wrote Franklin. "We learn by Chess the habit of not being discouraged by present appearances in the state of our affairs, the habit of hoping for a favorable change, and that of persevering in the search of resources." In other words, one should never give up.

But chess is also credited with improving concentration and memory. Coaches use chess as an example to demonstrate the importance of teamwork and consequence. Chess instills discipline, self-motivation and independence. Its ability to help stave off dementia and Alzheimer's disease is heralded by doctors.  

Whether you are just starting or are an inveterate to the game, here are some ways to improve:

(1) Learn the Vocabulary: The first step toward getting better at chess is learning the vocabulary. Chess incorporates tactics (short-term advantages) and strategies (long-term advantages). It is essential to know the differences between rooks (not castles) and knights (not horses). Learning what pins and forks are will strengthen your offense and defense. Just about everything in life is easier to understand once you put a name to it.   

(2) Learn the Rules: The rules are simple and easy to learn. It takes a matter of minutes to learn how the pieces move; it takes a lifetime to learn how to move the pieces. It's important to know how to castle and how to capture using en passant. Understanding how to checkmate can also help recover a stalemate from a losing position.  

(3) Keep Score: Knowing the value of every piece allows for quick calculations. Are a bishop and a knight worth exchanging for a rook and a pawn? Yes and no, it's a trick question. The combined value of each set is six, but two pieces are usually better than one.

(4) Know the Game: There are three stages to a chess game: the beginning, middle and end. Generally speaking, each stage requires different strategies. The idea in the beginning is to develop your pieces and castle. The middle game involves fighting, attaining and maintaining advantages. The end game goal is either to win, or to stalemate, depending on the position.  

(5) Play - There are a host of free and acceptable chess websites. The Internet makes it is easy to find games, equipment and coaches. Coffee shops, bars and some restaurants keep boards available for customers. Learn algebraic notation and write down your games. Strive to play people stronger than you and never give up. Review your games afterwards.  

"A chess player first starts to become serious about the game when he reads a book on chess," according to "Modern Chess Openings." And if you've read this far you must be interested. One of the greatest things about studying chess is that you're immediately rewarded. Watching your rating swell to four digits (higher ratings are better) is exciting and rewarding.

Chess has one glaring weakness — sexual disparity. Not the king versus queen hierarchy, but between male and female competitors. The World Chess Federation, or FIDE, divides the championships by sex. There is a World Chess Champion and Women's World Chess Championship.

Feminists should be appalled that the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing, aka NASCAR, is more diverse than the World Chess Federation.

Warren Hale