One of Bobby Fischer’s famous utterances is that “Chess is life.” For him that statement may have had a more literal interpretation than for most of us, but metaphorically I do believe that chess is life. However, life is not a chess game so much as a series of chess games in a long and arduous tournament that begins with little to no knowledge of the game.
Early in life we blunder about, not knowing the proper moves, losing often but learning much until we painfully but surely become more or less competent, if not proficient. Some never improve beyond this point, forever remaining a patzer. Most however, do take the time to study life, play a few more moves of it, and study some more. They discover their weaknesses as well as their strengths, and slowly develop a repertoire of moves that have served them well in the past and which can become the foundation of something deeper and more sophisticated as they progress.
Anyone who has accomplished anything noteworthy, whether in chess or in life, has learned early on that sacrifice is often but a temporary setback. Lose a pawn, win a piece. Lose some time, win a contract. Invest your bishop, gain control of the board. Invest your kindness, gain a lifelong friend. Foolish sacrifices are punished quickly, but wise sacrifices lead to victory.
It is the wise person who studies a loss, thereby learning how to avoid it in similar positions in the future. Did I place my knight on a weak square? Did I overextend my social life? How can I make more intelligent choices next time?
I recently lost a major game in the tournament of life. If a year is a move, I lost a game in the collapse of the auto industry where I had invested 24 moves of my life. It was a bitter loss for me. I loved my teammates, and I was at the height of my ratings category – master level by anyone’s measure. It was all the more disheartening because I was defeated not through a blunder or even the strength of my opponent, but by events beyond the rules of the game. A bitter loss indeed, and it led to a personal Zwischenzug that separated me from my family to join a skittles game in the back room until next summer when I hope to be invited to play in another major tournament.
In the meantime, what have I learned from this loss? Is there anything useful that I can take away from it? I have learned the value of one’s resources. As the great Philidor noted long ago, pawns are indeed the soul of chess. No less so in life itself. I savor the humble pawns of life more than I did before, remembering that they have an innate capacity to transform into knights, bishops, rooks or queens if properly played. And just having that knowledge of their latent potential brings me joy and comfort.
The board is now marble, not inlaid wood, and it is just as beautiful as the one that was taken from me in my recent defeat.
Like a rook, I have traveled to the opposite end of this new board in one brief move, and I have discovered new teammates on that side of the board; teammates who can teach me yet new moves that I can add to my repertoire.
I can also use this defeat to teach my children the value of an indomitable spirit and what it means not to resign too soon. They will encounter their own defeats in their life games, and I hope they remember how I reacted to mine.
And let me not fail to mention that I have also been reminded of the immense and precious value of the queen, who is truly the strongest piece on the board. She wields both immense authority and wise counsel, comforting all in her realm of influence and defending them against the many threats on all sides of the board.
Yes, chess is life and life is chess. Not a game, but a long tournament of games with setbacks and victories alike. And as you emerge from your opening and plan your strategy, remember to choose your move carefully, in chess as in life.