Monday, March 9, 2009

Tournament Recap (and more)

So, my results this weekend were not good: 1 win, 2 draws, 2 losses. I could, of course, blame these results on my health*, which certainly may have been a factor, but I think only a small one. No, I've actually been in something of a chess slump for a few months.

*Incidentally, I'm doing better now--very tired from the weekend's activities, but that chest cough is finally letting up.

My results were actually as follows: loss, loss, draw, draw, win. As you can see, I can at least claim that I improved during the course of the event. And indeed, somewhere near the end of the second game I had an possible insight into the nature of my slump--and even, perhaps, into much more.

To put it simply: I've had difficulty making choices. I will often reach positions in which I have many possible options--expand on the queenside, push in the center, attack the enemy king? Any or all of these options may be promising. However, in all but rare circumstances, there is only time to do one effectively.

My problem is, I'm liable to try to do all three. Which often results in accomplishing none.

Each move is a choice that affects the possible future course of the game. Each move also is, by its very nature, a limiting choice. Once the decision is made to attack on the kingside, it's too late the change course and attack on the queenside. Once a pawn is pushed forward, it can no longer be pushed back.

The fear of making choices, of making decisions that affect the future in permanent and irrevokable ways, is not limited to my chess game. I often find myself wanting to do so much, wanting to experience and discover all that there is, that I become paralyzed, unable to do anything at all.

Each move we make, in chess or in life, limits what choices will be available in our future. To live, then, consists of making choices that lead to a certain path while losing the ability to explore other, formerly potential paths.

Each choice consists of loss. But if we fail to make those choices, fail to experience that loss and embrace the path we have chosen, then we are not really living.

Perhaps this is what the Buddhists mean about life being suffering.


  1. Sigh. Unfortunately, this makes all too much sense to me. Does the way we play chess imitate the way we live life? Because in that case, I'm in trouble... operating almost entirely by spontaneous and intuitive action, thinking maybe one move ahead, and quickly feeling overwhelmed when I contemplate all of the infinite possibilities over which I have no control.

  2. Or maybe you could look at it--at least in the messier business of life--as making a choice only prevents you from making any of the other choices you might have made with respect to that one choice point.

    Still, the road not taken, even if it's a little one, is probably worth a little sadness, I agree.

    On that note, I don't play chess, but if I lived like I did in those "Choose Your Own Adventure" books I read when I was a kid, I'd be dead. I always died! Shot twice crossing enemy lines as a spy, burned at the stake as a witch, drowned on a pirate ship...jeez, it's a good thing I'm such a baby about matters physical or I might be in serious trouble.

  3. Artemis--I do think how we play chess reveals something about us, but probably not if you're playing casually. Any high-intensity competitive endeavor (chess, boxing, tennis, etc.) is likely similar in this regard.

    Ruby--Ah, you've brought back nostalgic memories of reading "To do X, go to page 32" or "To do Y, go to page 83" and then cringing when page 83 involved an ignominious end. While most of those books had a roughly equal mix of "good" and "bad" endings, I remember having one book with only one good ending, and I couldn't find it! I finally cheated and found the page and had to work backwards through the whole book.