A Chess Skill that’s a Life Skill: Thinking about the Future

So I was watching a great documentary created by Kelly Pope Ph.D. titledCrossing the Lineregarding research about individuals who commit white-collar crimes.  While watching this documentary, one of the speakers said something very interesting.  He said that younger people are more susceptible to commit white collar crimes because they do not think of the ramifications their choices can have. They live life like checkers, thinking one move at a time rather than chess, seeing the whole picture behind every move.  To learn more about the documentary, visit James Moore’s blog at http://condor.depaul.edu/jmoore/blog/files/tag-kelly-pope.html

After hearing this, I immediately decided I wanted to write about it.  No offense to the checkers players, but I agree that chess requires much more foresight.  Because of the variety of roles the pieces play, it is necessary for a chess player to calculate the effects of different variations.  The mere fact that the term “variation” is used so common in chess demonstrates that chess is not a game played on a move-by-move basis.  Instead, one must always think of chess in sequences of moves to be successful.

I agree with the speaker that younger people do think more short-term and have less perspective.  I think the way modern media and advertising further perpetuates this.  With the evolution of technology, everything seems to be moving at such a fast-pace nowadays and people look for results fast.  Modern advertisements and commercials are short because it is known that people have short attention spans.  While some cultures listen to songs that can be well over 30 minutes, people in America seem to only listen to songs that last no more than five.  Our style of communication is even encouraged to be shortened through the use of social platforms such as Twitter and Facebook. 

I do not think shortened communcation and short songs mean we should change.  Actually, I think these quickened processes are very efficient.  We should try to make ourselves more aware though how our fast-paced lifestyles are affected by the things around us.  Although it may just be a song or a commercial or a quick comment on Facebook, all of these things permeate to other parts of us such as how we think.  I probably have a lot to work on to gain some perspective as well, but I think it’s important to raise the issue.


A Chess Skill that’s a Life Skill: Independent Thinking

If one is taught chess correctly, they will grow to become a more independent thinker.  Some people are taught chess to remember openings and variations from memory, but this does not foster independent thought.  For one to grow as an indepenedent thinker, they must be presented with problems on the board and strive to solve those problems themselves with little assistance. 

For more info on the connection between chess and independent thinking, check out this site.  http://chessimprover.com/?p=904

When a person plays a chess game, they are their only resource (if it’s not a correspondence game).  No reference to a book, Internet, or another person.  Chess players are alone in chess games.  They only depend on themselves.  Even if a spectator blurts out a move, a chess player’s first reaction is to question that suggestion with suspicion because the spectator is not familiar of how and why the position came to be and also because the spectator’s intentions are always unknown.  A player knows that if they accept this suggestion, the choice will reflect them and not the spectator. 

Despite pressures from people in life, the choices we make ultimately reflect us.  People can undergo similar circumstances but react to them in very different ways and making different decisions.  We judge people by what they choose to do and even what their perceived options are.  If one is in a chess game and spoke about what moves they were thinking about making, other chess players would judge them.   If one is discussing what they can do with their life, others will judge them as well.  Like in life, it is hard to make good moves in bad positions. 

What I mean is sometimes people are unfortunate to grow in an unfavorable environment and are shaped to make bad decisions similar to the decisions made around them.  Despite these unfavorable situations, it is possible that these people can prove to be resilient and still make good choices to lead them to a better life.  Many times though, I feel that these unlucky people succumb to the detriments of their early life and get trapped in a hopeless cycle.

By learning chess, one can begin to utilize their personal tools and learn to depend on themselves.  Although it is necessary to understand we are all interdependent, it is equally important to value our unique talents and know that we are strong enough to affect change in our own lives.

Inside a Chess Mind: Winning and Losing at Chess

Winning and losing at chess is extremley different than winning and losing in most games.  I enjoy a good variety of sports such as basketball, martial arts and even paintball.  Winning and losing in these sports is VERY different than the outcome of chess.

Don’t even mention losing to me. I can’t stand to think of it.  –  Bobby Fischer

When I play basketball and I lose, I can simply blame it on external things such as speed, strength, height, coordination, or whatever else the case may be.  External things, however, is not usually used to describe who we are at our core.  We believe that there is much more to a person than their physical characteristics and know people much better when we learn about their beliefs, values and other internal characterstics.  Our personality and our morals is not defined by our weight, height, strength or speed. 

Unlike a phsyical sport, a loss to a chess player questions qualities such as their logic, their open-mindedness, their creativity, their ability to solve problems.  It is an insult to who they are as a person when a seroius chess player loses a chess game.  Because the game is much more internalized, the outcome of the game can have a much greater value than the outcome of a game of a physical sport.

The less one studies chess, the less intense the outcome of the game is.  Even though people could invest a lot of effort into any game and would be passionate about the outcome, the personal connections one has to a chess game intensifies the experience. 

This description of the seriousness of a loss in chess only refers to extremely serious players.  Not all chess players are this crazy, but I do think to be a good chess player, one is compelled to explore the boundaries of their sanity a little. 

To not lose at chess, look up this link! 


Chess: The Most Misunderstood Game that ever Existed

This blog post is going to clear up a couple of common misconceptions of the game of chess.  Firstly, to demonstrate that chess is not merely percieved as a game, read the quote below:

The passion for playing chess is one of the most unaccountable in the world. It slaps the theory of natural selection in the face. It is the most absorbing of occupations. The least satisfying of desires. A nameless excrescence upon life. It annihilates a man. You have, let us say, a promising politician, a rising artist that you wish to destroy. Dagger or bomb are archaic and unreliable – but teach him, inoculate him with chess.  –  H.G. Wells

Okay, so I know that chess is just a game, but clearly, this is not true for everybody.

Misconception #1:  People who play chess are smart

Excelling at chess has long been considered a symbol of more general intelligence. That is an incorrect assumption in my view, as pleasant as it might be.  –  Garry Kasparov

Just because one plays chess does not mean they are smart, and if they are great at chess, there could actually even be a greater liklihood of them not being intelligent.  To be great at chess, one MUST study the game.  It is obvious that if somebody puts in the time and effort to get better at something, they will usually be better than those who did not invest this time and effort.  I do believe chess is a great exercise of mental skills such as abstract thinking, memory, calculation and pattern recognition, but these skills are not the only measurement of intelligence and sometimes these skills may not translate to life accurately (in other words, people can possess the skills, but misapply them). 

Misconception #2: Chess is a sophisticated, intellectual game played by sophisticated intellectuals

Chess is a sport. A violent sport.  –  Marcel Duchamp

Whether or not chess is a sport is not the point for including this quote.  The point is that although chess is may be a game played by civilized people, the game itself is violent.  Also, although the complexities of the game are indeed sophisticated, the purpose of the game remains primitive: to demonstrate superiority over another.  This purpose may sound like the purpose of every other form of competition, however, winning and losing at chess is NOT the same as winning and losing in other sports. I will talk more about this in my next post…..stay tuned!!

For misconceptions of chess players, check out this site! 


Missed Opportunities: Pencil vs. Paintbrush

This topic of this post is the exact opposite of the last post.  Rather than discussing mistakes made, I’m going to talk about opportunities passed.  The missing of an opportunity happens often in chess.  I can’t tell you how many times I let a piece go, and at that very instant, saw a better move I could’ve made.  Not making that move made my game so much harder than it had to be.  So more difficult sometimes that it lead to a loss (those are the worst). 

The battle between calculation and intuition has been present in chess games since the game began to turn into a science.  I often find myself in the midst of this conflict.  I find an exciting, intriguing move, but I also have a “book” move available to me as well ( a sound, but usually more quiet move from my experience).  There have been times where the risk was too great and I take the passive route only learning later that I could have won if I had just gone with my instincts. 

I also have other experiences where I am more confident in my gut feeling and I make the interesting move without an in-depth calculation and gets me a quick win or advantage.  I obviously have had experiences of intuitive decision-making losing me games as well, but those are mistakes that is more related to a previous post of mine. 

Lving in a first-world country, we have SO many options.  Being flooded with these options can be overwhelming sometimes.  Sometimes we underestimate the value of going along with our intuition because our society emphasizes reason and evidence.  Feeling is not as respected as intelligence.  Although I believe that the intelligence of a person is important, I do not think that means we should label feeling as being inferior all the time. 

Sometimes we’re so scared to take a chance our life ends up in a stalemate (pun intended) and we waste time calculating our next decision.  I found that some research shows that some of the biggest procrastinators are perfectionists.  This seems to be a paradox at first, but as I continued reading the article it began to make much more sense.  Perfectionists are afraid of failure so they do their best to avoid it.  One way to avoid failure is to avoid the attempt at success.  This is practically procrastination.  http://webhome.idirect.com/~readon/procrast.html

We have ideas, we have imaginations, we have dreams, but yet our calculations do not always support the reasoning behind these “fairytales”.  Sometimes we stray away from our creative side and submit to the security of stability.   Now I’m not saying I’m going to drop out of college to be a cowboy (I really wouldn’t want to be that anyway), but I would like to dedicate some more time to my passions (chess obviously being one of them).  I think the battle between intuition and calculation is not only fought in chess, but fought in our daily life.  Although calculation tends to be the victor many times, I do believe that we should at the very least give more consideration to our intuitions. 





Bad, Bad Blunders!

So unlike my other posts, this post won’t spend so much time describing metaphorical connections between life and chess, but take a connection and simply run with it.  I don’t think I am even positive where I’m going…I guess we’ll just have to find out when we get there!

One bad move nullifies forty good ones.  –  I.A. Horowitz

In chess, one detrimental move can have significant repercussions.  Even if you’ve been playing excellently until this point, one poor choice will leave an everlasting impact.  Your position may improve, and you may even regain the advantage, but that one move and the poor effects that comes with the move will leave an imprint on the game.  (To avoid chess mistakes check out this link describing a book by Larry Evans)http://www.chessville.com/reviews/10MostCommonChessMistakes.htm

This aspect of the game happens in life all the time.  We all make mistakes at some point and sometimes it is extremely difficult to recover from them.  It’s amazing how one decision can drastically change the course of one’s life.  Sometimes, the mistake’s effects can be permanent and it can be hard to overcome them.  Despite the mistake, however, there can  be opportunities to make things better again. 

Confidence is very important – even pretending to be confident. If you make a mistake but do not let your opponent see what you are thinking then he may overlook the mistake.  –  Viswanathan Anand

This is VERY true in chess.  Chess can be like bluffing in poker in this sense.  I can make a terrible mistake, and my heart will start pounding so loud I feel like my opponent can hear it.  One slight unusual movement of the body however can signal to the opponent that I made a mistake. If your opponent senses any sense of insecurity, the opponent will focus even harder to look for that devasting blow.  So despite my racing heartbeat and the added energy I have due to nervousness, I need to remain calm and look not only indifferent, but confident.  I should act like my mistake was the best move I could have made and that there is no move to properly refute it. 

How does this relate to life at all?  Vulnerability.  I feel that some people do their best to make themselves invulnerable to things (seemingly at least).  People make mistakes everyday, but sometimes we pretend that these mistakes are nonexistent and act as if nothing happened.  I think it’d be better to embrace these mistakes and use them to learn from.



The Opening of Chess and Minds

The opening is a very crucial phase of chess.  The moves made in the opening can determine how the rest of the game will play out.  If one opens poorly, their opponent can gain  the advantage quickly and may hold on to that advantage for the rest of the game.   Below is a link to a website with a good chess opening index.


Mate in twenty.

The first moves that determine the opening position in chess closely correlates to the vital importance of one’s position at birth.  In chess, the two armies begin in equal positions.  This is not true for people since everybody is born with certain privileges and oppressions that come along with the various factors of their family’s identity.  This equal starting position relates not to the position, but instead an infant’s obliviousness.  A baby has no concept of a world outside of his/her own and therefore cannot place itself in a position in relation to another.  As infants grow older though, the awareness of the advantages and disadvantages of their economic/social/geographical positions grows with them (this process of babies beginning to understand their environment is what the “opening of minds” refers to).  This correlates to the first moves of the game that determine your position. 

The position of one’s family early in life strongly influences the direction of their life.  If one’s family is poorly positioned, then it will be much more diifficult for the person to overcome those inherited challenges.  For example, those born into a family of poverty will have a much harder time establishing a comfortable life than those born into wealth (probably already a comfortable life).  Similarly, the early position of pawns in a chess game can very well determine the future challenges of the game.  Using unsound openings can make a game very difficult and I know because I like playing crazy openings like the Grob (If a regular Grob isn’t crazy enough, I like playing it with 2. g5).

Another very important factor in the opening is the development of your pieces.  Usually the minor pieces are developed first (just as one’s “minor” skills are developed early).  However, sometimes the development of these pieces can be hindered by the pawns.  Translating it to the metaphor being used, the development of people’s skills can sometimes be hindered by their family and friends.  Pawns (as family and friends) can cause pieces (aka skills) to be misused and misplaced. 

I found this post very difficult for me to articulate so I’m sorry if it didn’t make much sense.  I’m going to work on it to make it clearer and organize the ideas better.  If you did understand…great!  =)

  Comment and let me know what you think.