Chess as a Metaphor for Life

On a recent weekend, I played in a local chess tournament. I played five games and all were quite interesting. One of the reasons that chess is sometimes encouraged for school children is that chess can teach concentration, calculation, memorization, and be a metaphor for valuable life lessons.

In round 1, I had the white pieces and played the ultra-aggressive Halloween Gambit where I sacrificed a knight on the fourth move. In the diagram, Black has just played 9..h6 but I responded with 10. Nd6 check followed by 11. Nxf7 check and 12. Nxh8 and so I gained a decisive material advantage. But my opponent unleashed a strong attack on my king and after several close calls, I barely held on to win. Moral: When things are going your way, don’t get complacent.

In round 2, I had the black pieces and played the French Defense. By move 35 we reached a complicated position where White has a passed pawn on a4 that’s ready to march forward but I had maneuvered to try and trap white’s queen by playing Ra8. White has just played Bh3 so he can move his queen to d7 and which also attacks my rook on c8. I had tunnel vision on the queenside and played 36..f5 but White wriggled away with 37. Qa5. Instead I could have changed my plan and won easily by playing 36..Rh5 and if White takes my rook, I have a nice 37..Rxh2 mate. Moral: When a situation changes, don’t hesitate to change your plans.

In round 3, I had the black pieces and played the Sicilian Defense. The game was balanced until move 43 when White played 43. Rc6. I could have played 43..Rxc6 and then gone after the resulting pawn on c6 but I was worried that White could sneak into my position and go after my pawn on h5 and run the pawn on h4 to become a queen. What I missed was that after White played 44. Rxe6 check, my king is one square farther away from the pawn on b5. So, I barely held a draw after capturing the pawn and then scrambling back to the king side. Moral: Try to predict future circumstances and try to plan as best you can for the future.

In round 4, I had the white pieces and played the wild Halloween Gambit again (as in round 1). By move 16 the position was extremely complicated. In the diagram, it’s my move and I could have gotten the upper hand by 17. Bxe8 but instead I played 17. Nxe4 and a couple of moves later I was in an endgame, down material, with a much worse position. I fought hard and eventually won some material back and got an even position. Moral: Opportunity knocks rarely, so keep an eye out for it and grab it when you have a chance.

In round 5, I had the black pieces and played the French Defense. My opponent played the Exchange Variation and the game was even until move 43 when White played 43. d5 check. Here I could have simply played 43..cxd5 44. cxd5 Kxd5 with a probable draw but chances for me to win. Instead, I over-thought the position and set a trap by playing 43..Kd6 but White saw through my trap. The game remained tense and ended in a nail-biting draw. Moral: Don’t get fancy and over-think a situation.

When I learned to play chess, my three main chess heroes were J.R. Capablanca (1888-1942, world champion 1921-1927); Max Euwe (1901-1981, world champion 1935-1937); and Reuben Fine (1914-1993, a strong player who might have been world champion except for World War II). I had to learn from books — especially the three shown. Internet videos are now a much better way to learn chess.

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