Recently I’ve become an enthusiast of chess.
It was summer 2019 and my internship hours were slowly eating up my right brain. Famous scientists and philosophers have echoed that creativity comes in bursts, and I was living right across my company, so I decided to extend my daily working hours by interspersing intellectual diversions throughout. I tried re-watching Rick and Morty, watching some thriller/sci-fi anime, but decided those were more like distractions than healthy diversions. I quitted video games for life in middle school (not that gaming at work is an option), but I thought board games can be stimulating to both creativity and mental capacity, so I picked up chess.
Why chess? I could’ve picked Go, Bridge, Poker, Blackjack, etc.
A constant theme throughout my life is that specific individuals inspire me when I can’t myself. Ever since I read Zero to One, Peter Thiel was one such figure. He is a Stanford alum who studied philosophy, and Silicon Valley icon whose introduction you can find all over the Internet. He played chess (so did many successful people, notably in business).
The other person is Bobby Fischer, often considered the greatest chess player of all time. He became world champion in 1972 at the height of the Cold War and was exalted as a celebrity due to his heroics in beating an entire nation of Soviet players who used chess as evidence as intellectual superiority. I guess this resembles in some ways the current Trade War tensions between China and US, not that I can or want to become the Bobby Fischer of tech. Nonetheless, I find the conservatism of the time refreshing to the liberal propaganda that covers Stanford.
I also like the themes of Chess more than other board games for many reasons. It’s one-on-one, which suits my introversion better than card games, and driven by heuristics, which suits my personality. It’s a game of strategic skill, with no room for chance. It has the singular goal of checking your opponent’s King and avoid being checked, so at the start of the game you know either you or your opponent is going down. Living in a dishonest era where everyone is taught they’re special, targeted by ads as if they’re stars, and is encouraged to engage in what I think of as the stupid practice of liking each others’ posts, this you-vs-me mentality of chess sufficiently satisfies my inner sadism.
Chess is also a game of intellect, not pure logic. The sample space of moves explodes after just a few moves, so it’s a game you have to adopt heuristics. Positional players seek to out-position the opponent en-route to victory, while tactical players set targets and execute them. You can adopt many personalities playing chess, from an aggressive gambit player to a disciplined positional player. In some sense, chess is like a representation of life but with reasonable move orders. There’s traps, pins, trades, discoveries, which resemble many real life situations in which you’re trying to oust an opponent.
A more philosophical approach I’m trying to adopt chess into my life is to view the opponent as my primitive brain (which just wants to procrastinate and have sensual pleasures). Can’t wake up to the alarm? Put it far away from your reach so you have to move several steps to get it (forcing your opponent, in this case your sleepiness, to waste a tempo so you can get a faster attack). There’s many analogies to real life.
If any reader of this post likes chess, you can invite me to play @shiningsunnyday on chess.com.