Chess, Life etc

Chess is a game. Life is a game. Etc is serious stuff.1588574

I am very into metaphors. To my way of thinking anything say-able is metaphorical – words only ever being approximations of what we are referring to. Or as  Korzybski said way back in 1931 “The Map is not the Territory.”

I am also very into simplification. And, non chess players’ views to the contrary, chess is way simpler than life. If it weren’t, going to the shops for beer and a packet of smokes would be a doddle for Deep Blue.

1) It’s your move

It was actually my dad – a very smart chap – that, a few years ago, got me thinking about extrapolating lessons from the chess board to life. He was probably referring to business negotiations and I was probably thinking about affairs of the heart when he explained “life is like a game of chess. You make your move then wait to see the response. You can’t make the next move before the response.”

Fuck – if I knew that sooner I could have saved years of interpersonal indignity and several threatened anti-stalking court orders. I could have avoided many ‘discussions’ that went something like:

“If you loved me you wouldn’t have done that.”


“I would never have done that to you now, would I?.”

More silence

“I wouldn’t even do that to a dog.”

Still more silence as her hand moves lightheartedly  towards the TV remote.

“Would you do that to a dog?”

Finger presses the Volume button and I have to compete with 7de Laan.

“Well you hate dogs, I know, but you wouldn’t do that to your cat would you? That’d be cruel.”

7de Laan is blaring and  the staring of daggers has begun…….

OK so, spot the mistake? 5 pathetic and increasingly desperate verbal gambits without letting my ‘opponent’ respond. One shouldn’t have to approach emotional intelligence via chess but WTF – 7 ex girlfriends later and I think I’m starting to get the hang of this.

“Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.” – Winston Churchill

2) Don’t reveal your strategy to your opponent

Ok I realise it’s not ideal thinking of ones lover as an opponent. True love is not a Zero-sum game. In the realm of enlightened souls ‘the more you give – the more you get.’ In Rooihuiskraal, however, enlightenment was in short supply and I, erroneously perhaps, thought I had to compete with the TV, laptop, cat, fridge and stove for some desperately needed love and attention.

Extrapolation number two is perhaps better illustrated in the realm of intra-corporate trench warfare. (Any similarity to a real corporation or real chess playing boss is, of course, purely coincidental).

I used to have regular departmental meetings. The fact that my department consisted of only myself and two other people is besides the point.

Our company was going through an enthusiastic process of rationalization and I didn’t like the sound of a one person department so we had some serious intra-departmental strategizing to do. Being, as I mentioned, rather fond of metaphors and games (and TV) I told my department to think of corporate survival in terms of playing ‘Survivor’.

In other words – before splitting the teams – we should show our selves to be an indispensable alliance. And not really knowing which way the axe would fall we should be flexible. Think of ourselves as an internal business unit that would add value to any part of the business.

Then the labour lawyer started coming round to explain that, in everyone’s best interest of course, it may be best to enthusiastically accept robust salary cuts because in round two certain non essential positions may have to be reconsidered. Then he, who we fondly came to refer as ‘The Undertaker, ensconced himself in a boardroom and certain people, over a period of 3 days (with a weekend in the middle to add to the excitement), were called in one by one to discuss options.

Unfortunately – corporate double speak notwithstanding – the company had revealed it’s strategy. Which was not, in fact, rationalization but an internal coup d’etat. And my previous boss was one of it’s first victims. So my future was not looking very secure. It made for great reality TV though – watching people doing the walk of shame across the huge open plan office to meet with the undertaker. Colleagues either returned looking rather green having been encouraged to accept pay cuts of up to 50% or returned to their desks sobbing hysterically in order to pack up their desks and leave the island.

By the end of Friday those of us not yet called in had no way of knowing if our jobs were safe or if we would be visiting ‘The Undertaker’ on Monday.

Happily – having had the corporate strategy so colorfully and publicly displayed – I was able to spend the weekend doing some strategizing of my own. And although not wanting to lose either of my colleagues I did realize that, if I fed the undertaker the slightly less enthusiastic one, myself and G may just be spared.

So, not wanting to lose the initiative, early Monday morning I offered my new boss this cunning culling solution. She was part of the new regime. But, not really wanting to lose all of us until she was sure what any of us did, accepted the offer.

Myself and G narrowly escaped and L returned sobbing to her desk never to be seen or heard of again.

Three years later I made this same mistake – revealing to much to soon to the enemy. Giving 3 rather than the required 2 months notice. My boss followed suit by kindly suggesting that I could, if I wanted, leave a month earlier. And miss the annual bonus payment. I said thanks so much but I was rather looking forward to getting the bonus.

Oh and I had in the interim realised that it wasn’t really like the TV show ‘Survivor’ – because there was no prize at the end of the series and only those up the ass of the new regime or too terrified to leave were left.

“Boss – it’s your move”

3) Stay in the moment (Thanks to Josh Waitzkin!)

This bit of chess and life advice comes via Grand Master and martial artist Josh Waitzkin. You can plan twenty moves ahead – if your memory allows – but don’t lose site of the complexity and actuality of the moment! This advice has been absolutely liberating! I used to spend most of the week clearly focused on the weekend and most of the weekend squirming in horror regarding the upcoming week. Spent most of summer dreading winter and most of winter longing for summer. Most of life fearing death and most of death not really giving a fuck about much at all.

Similar advice is, of course, central to the teachings of New Age Spiritual Rockstar – Echart Tolle

“The power for creating a better future is contained in the present moment: You create a good future by creating a good present.” – Echart Tolle

Luckily for him and his bank balance humanity has a very short memory. Luckily for me I remember lots. It kinda rang a bell and I rummaged around for my much loved copy of Krishnamurti’s “The First and Last Freedom.” – Published in 1954. At which time Tolle was 6 years old, wandering around a village in Germany preparing to becoming famously depressed in order to later become famously serene. In any case Ecclesiastes said there ‘is nothing new under the sun’ in that even more popular book called the Old Testament – and Tolle does generously if not loudly acknowledge Krishnamurti as an ‘influence’.

Focusing on the present does not require an ignorance of the past – although in the words of Thomas Gray (1716-1771)

“”where ignorance is bliss, ’tis folly to be wise.”


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