As I was playing chess on my favorite online server today (http://freechess.org), I found myself losing just a tiny bit less than my typical runs – where I can easily drop ten games without so much as a shred of dignity.
The difference this time is that I was calm. It may sound simple, but it lead to a relation about life that connects to my attitudes in chess:
In chess there is simply no room for negative emotions. Anger will not help you; frustration will certainly not help you. Being determined to drive your opponent into the dust will not even help you. In fact, such attitudes make things far worse, as they cause you to rush your judgments, underestimate your opponent, and open yourself to irrational decisions with no connection to the board. If you adopt the attitude that you “should” be winning – and that whatever’s happening is somehow the universe being out to get you – well, on those days my ratings take a sharp dive.
However, this is not to say that chess should be played without feeling. In fact, a fine aesthetic sense can greatly assist you, by allowing your unconscious to express its opinions through showing you that a certain position “feels wrong”. Or feelings of graciousness can lead you to appreciate your opponent’s skill – and thus permit your mind to see things from his side, sometimes making his plans much clearer to you.
In short, chess is best played from a standpoint of subtle and joyful calm: not to be rushed; where winning has little emotional value; and where the game itself is worthy of a complete absorption of heart (in the form of caring about the quality of your position) and mind (by pouring through calculations, rather than ranting why things have reached their current state).
I only sometimes realize how helpful this is in general – especially when dealing with people. But in chess I’ve found it’s essential. Without it, I just plain lose.