Chess and Life

I learned to play chess from a blind man. He is a good friend and mentor to this day and when I say he taught me to play chess, I don’t mean that he simply taught me how the pieces move. I knew that as a young boy. What he taught me was strategy and how to really play the game.

I had developed some strategy of my own from playing games with my brother and dad as a boy. So when my friend, who is like a big brother to me, wanted to play me in chess, I thought I’d beat him like I had been beating my buddies (you know who you are). I especially thought he would be an easy defeat because of the fact that he is blind. But this man, a wonderful chiropractor, is used to being underestimated. He’s dealt with it his entire life.

I should’ve been tipped off by his calm, confident smile. But as I stood the pieces up I actually thought that I should take it easy on him. Twenty minutes later he calmly said, “Check mate.” I looked over the board, astonished by what had happened and wondered how a man who had to keep up with the location of the pieces in his head because he couldn’t see them could have just made easy work of me.

He recognized my shock. “You play by reacting and without using your pieces together. Your moves were only using the piece you moved without accounting for the other pieces. And you didn’t think very far ahead. Your game has no point.” Ouch! I started asking questions and we started playing chess weekly. Sometimes more than that. He would stop in the middle of the game and coach me, often asking me why I made every move. I began to learn that chess was far more complex than simply knowing how the pieces move. This wasn’t checkers or Uno.

He recommended books for me to read and I studied strategies of some of the great chess players. There were beginning of game strategies, mid-game strategies and end game strategies. The end game was a strength that quickly rose to the top. Over time, I began going to local chess clubs, playing speed chess, and playing in online tournaments. I won a few online tournaments in fact.

I don’t play as much these days, but what I learned from my friend applies to life. When you want to accomplish something:

1) Think of how all of the pieces can work together – because they should.
2) Think several moves ahead. It won’t always happen like you predict because you’ll have to modify your moves based on events outside of your control, but you’ll have direction and can often predict problems before they occur. And you’ll often be able to get back on your planned course even if you have to deter.
3) Most achievements look easier than they are – especially when the person achieving them knows what he’s doing.

FINALLY – People who have had to overcome more often have an advantage. The great Ben Hogan, one of the greatest golfers to ever live, once talked about how he felt sorry for many of the players that he played against and beat. He didn’t feel sorry for them because he beat them, but because he had an advantage over them.

His advantage, according to Mr. Hogan, was that he had had a difficult life. His dad committed suicide in front of him as a young boy. He was passed around by family and grew up poor. He was even hit by a bus and told he’d never walk again but two years later, he won the U.S. Open! So when he hit a bad shot that missed the green or fairway and left him with a difficult shot, he didn’t see it as a tragedy. He didn’t panic or lose his cool because he had faced and overcome plenty of adversity in his life. But, many of these country-club boys he was playing against hadn’t experienced much hardship in life. It had been easy for them. So when they hit a bad shot, it was difficult for them because they hadn’t had to face the real challenges that life can offer. To them, this was as bad as it had ever been. They would panic and, to their unchallenged spirits, it was tragic. But for Mr. Hogan, it was just part of the game that he loved and he was grateful that he was in a beautiful place playing a game.

So when you meet someone who has had to overcome a lot, don’t take them lightly. Their experience has often been turned into strength. And, as I learned from my blind friend, we can learn from the experiences of others.

-Lee

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