Following the stratospheric success of the TV series “The Queen’s Gambit”, I thought it might be interesting to look at the various ways life and games such as chess become intertwined — to explore some of the lessons games can teach us about ourselves, and the world around us.
Although the terms “strategy”, and “tactics” are used exchangeably in everyday language, their meaning is very different. Strategy represents the long term view — devoid of specifics.
Strategy is a conversation about “the sort of thing I should be doing in a sort of situation”. You could argue that the future is constructed from the results of decisions made in the present.
While you may invest endless hours studying the behaviour of others — the decisions they made and the results they obtained, at the end of the day no two games are the same — you must make your own moves.
“Why?” becomes the most important question in your armoury, and is important to ask before making decisions. Changing strategy too often is worse than having no strategy at all. You only have to look at the political chaos unfolding in many countries around the world for cautionary tales.
At the end of the day employing a strategy is an act of will — moving the needle of the future through decisions made today.
Tactics can typically be distilled to “if this, then at” — nothing more. They are guided by strategy, and their outcome is often dictated by experience and skill. They represent short term gains, serving the long term goal.
A wonderful example of tactics can be seen in the movie “A Beautiful Mind”, about the life of John Forbes Nash Jr. He postulates that to “win” the pretty girl in a group entering a bar, her suitors must pursue her friends instead of her — short term gains or losses, serving a longer-term goal. His ideas stood established capitalist economic theories on their head, but are not revolutionary.
Choosing the path to take in a given situation often requires an amount of forethought or calculation. Knowing when to stop — when to spend your time, and how much to spend on a decision is perhaps the differentiator between the good and the great.
Magnus Carlsen once noted that he often decides on his next move in a game of chess immediately — and then spends the next several minutes validating the idea.
Chess players will advise that calculation should be focused and disciplined. If there is a method to calculate or evaluate, you must follow it — otherwise, the results are meaningless. This doesn’t help Magnus, but it helps the rest of us.
There is a romantic argument that imagination can defeat reason, experience, pragmatism, and study. It is rare, but it is true. Throughout the history of chess exceptionally talented players have shone more brightly than their peers — Morphy, Capablanca, Tal, and Fischer come to mind.
Of course, the last player to shine more brightly than any other was a machine — the Alpha Zero artificial intelligence hatched by the Deep Mind research team at Google. The Alpha Zero project proved once and for all that given enough time and resources, a toolmaker will always defeat an artist.
One of the most powerful tools you can bring to bear as a human is the ability to see the world through the eyes of others — to change your perspective. By looking at a problem from different angles, you can learn more about the nature of it.
By studying many problems of a similar nature, patterns can be recognised. This points to a wider question of observation — and the realisation that to learn, we must never close our eyes. Our mind must remain open to possibility.
Police detectives have a wonderful acronym that applies well here — “A B C” — meaning “assume nothing, believe nobody, and confirm everything”.
There is a famous saying — “the harder I work, the luckier I get”. It applies to all walks of life, but especially to transactional relationships. It is no accident that great chess players have an encyclopaedic knowledge of past events, or that appear so perceptive in their evaluation of a given position.
Hard work nearly always wins, nearly all the time.
While we all like an underdog story, who would you bet your house on — a racehorse that has been bred, trained, and studied for years, or “Lucky Jim”.
One of the most important lessons games teach us is how to lose. The lesson isn’t about grace and humility — it’s about the reaction to loss.
We learn that for somebody to win, somebody else has to lose. We learn about materialism — that the cost of short term gains can be catastrophic. We learn about the limits of our reach — and the perils of outstretching our grasp.
Perhaps most importantly, we learn about letting go.
Originally published at https://jonbeckett.com on December 21, 2020.