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Chess and Life

The game of chess provides us with many good metaphors. We refer to people who are used for strategic purposes as "pawns." And although there are "moves" in many games, it is usually chess that we are referring to when using that expression for business or life activities.

In a more general sense the game is a metaphor for life and personality as well. I play a very tactical game, for example. This has been true in my life to some extent as well. While I do plan for the future by saving money, investing, and so on, I have not always positioned myself well in a strategic sense. Thus, as in chess, I am left looking for the opportunities that arise so I can take advantage of them.

Wikipedia has this to say about strategy and tactics:

Chess strategy consists of setting and achieving long-term positioning advantages during the game – for example, where to place different pieces – while tactics concentrate on immediate maneuver. These two parts of the chess-playing process cannot be completely separated, because strategic goals are mostly achieved by the means of tactics, while the tactical opportunities are based on the previous strategy of play.

In life as well, the two parts of the "game" cannot be easily separated, but some of us are more inclined toward one or the other. I like tactics, and so I like "blitz" games (five minute time control is my favorite), because they are more likely to be won on the basis of tactical moves. However, this probably does limit how far I can develop my game.

By the way, learning tactics is the fastest way to get better and win more often. But the opportunities to use those tactics greatly increase when you have a better position. In other words, for the best game in the long run you need to think strategically and tactically. In life this means getting the right education and developing the right contacts and so on, so when the time comes you can make the tactical plays that matter.

Chess reveals us to ourselves. We see wishful thinking in moves that are merely "tricks" that will not work against a decent player. In games with short time control (fifteen minutes or less) we learn about our impatience as we fail to invest the time necessary for the one or two crucial moves. Or we learn about our unwillingness to acknowledge the constraints of the game when we let the clock run down imagining we can find that perfect move.

The relationship between chess and life and how we think has been explored by many others. The book, "Chess Metaphors," by Diego Rasskin-Gutman looks at problem solving and the related thought processes through the game. I haven't read the book yet, but the reviews are good, and the subtitle, "Artificial Intelligence and the Human Mind," makes it especially interesting. Apparently, for more than fifty years, artificial intelligence (AI) research has used chess to model intelligence in action.

I love to play the game, but I have never loved to analyze games endlessly or to study books on the subject. This perhaps, explains why I my rating on chess.com has never been higher than 1700, and has dipped as low as 1350 at times. It is interesting to note the numbers and to try to boost that rating, but mostly I just love to play. I wonder if that says something about my life or not (actually in life it seems that I prefer to think and analyze more than to take action, so perhaps chess is a satisfying counterpoint to that tendency).

I wonder if I made the effort to improve my chess skills if it would be reflected in a more strategic approach to life? I wonder if the fact that I have played a hundred games since my first online game two weeks ago suggests an addictive personality? I have more questions than answers today, but in any case I do recommend chess as a great way to keep your mind active and so keep your brain healthy. Now, as my reward for finishing these wandering reflections on the chessboard and life, I am going to chess.com to play a ten-minute game. My user name there is Mochilero, in case you want to join me.


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