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What I’ve Learned By Playing Chess

Chess is such a fascinating game. And what makes it fascinating are the infinite parallels between the game and real life.

Upon learning the game, and journeying on to play against people or computer programs that are much better than yourself, you, if you aren’t careful to study your opponents moves, really almost seem to learn nothing. How can this person be beating me? What am I doing wrong? Everything seems to be working against me! No matter what I do, I fail!

At first, your instinct is to try to learn all of the different “openings,” in hopes that you will see moves that you recognize, and quickly counter them. But just as in life, you can’t memorize the behavior of others and react to every situation in the same way. Nothing is stable in life. Even what appears to be solid and dependable often breaks down under even a slight amount of resistance. So it is in Chess.

To demonstrate what I mean, just take into account the approximate number of possible games of Chess that could be played. Leaving out a lot of the complicated math involved, there are more possible games of Chess that could be played than there are atoms in the Universe!! To be exact, there are approximately 1080 atoms in the Universe. That’s a 10 with 80 zero’s after it. A pretty staggering number.

Now, let’s compare that with how many games that are possible in Chess. A guy by the name of Claude Shannon, an Informational Theorist, calculated the number of possible games to right around 10120!!! This, along with the 1043 possible positions! Astounding! You can read more about it here.

A number that size is practically unimaginable. Now, just imagine trying to remember each move for that many games! It’s impossible. And I believe that this is where it is more important to learn basic principles and ideas of the game, rather than positions.

Just as one could never, in a million lifetimes, become intimately familiar with every inch of the Universe, no one could become intimately familiar with every possible game of Chess. It’s theory that’s important. Not exactness of memorization.

You could even relate this to the battle between Creationism and Evolution. Creationists basically base every single idea that they have on the Bible. Memorization of quotes and verses – similar to trying to memorize the myriad of openings. “The Bible says this, and so that’s what I believe, no matter what.” Evolutionists, on the other hand, rely heavily on theory, the consensus of the scientific community. What has been shown to work in the past. Ideas that have stood the test of time. And, of course, experimentation.

Let’s say, for example, someone with a Creationist mindset plays Chess against an Evolutionist, and they maintain their mindset as concerning their beliefs of the origins of life – they apply those attitudes and propensities to playing this game.

The Creationist will play his game very strictly, according to very narrow rules. Do this always in this situation. This is the method in which the Bible teaches. “Knights always respond to such-and-such a position by doing such-and-such,” or, “always move your Queen like this,” etc. People were created by God, and that’s all you need to know.

The Evolutionist, on the other hand, plays very methodically, testing the waters. Where does the evidence point? What has worked in the past? Does what I’m about to do have a solid foundation behind it? His game grows; it evolves. He doesn’t rely on strict rules to govern his play. More importantly, his ideas change as the situation changes. “In past games, moving my Queen like this, in this type of situation, pretty much always worked out poorly,” or, “I’ve always been taught to move my center pawns out early, but in this situation, it would not be a good idea,” etc. How can I change my current playing philosophy to fit more in line with what works? Playing dogmatically is a horrible idea.

Another important thing I’ve learned is that taking risks is necessary. Of course it is impossible to know exactly what your opponent will do, but when you see a good opportunity, taking a risk is almost necessary. And how could this be more like life? The greatest rewards come from taking the greatest risks.

Then there’s the planning aspect. Making moves without any reason behind them, without any future plan is sure to prove devastating against an attentive opponent. You wouldn’t buy a stock without looking into it, just picking randomly. You wouldn’t buy a house just by driving by and saying, “I’ll take it.” And you wouldn’t move your Queen to d5 just because you felt like it.

That’s about all I’m going to get into right now. I think you’ve got the idea of what I’m saying here. Maybe I’ll write a little more about this later.

Read a book. Play/learn Chess.

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Categories: All, Chess, Games, Life, Philosophy, Religion
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