I am often asked by my readers and other players alike, what does it take to be a good chess player? A valid question that takes me back to the days when I could watch with awe and admiration as seasoned players made their moves with ease and a sense of deep positional understanding.
My late friend and I used to visit another friend of ours back in the days, and would find him engrossed in a game with his brother, and out of boredom and frustration, we would go away only to come back 4 hours later and still find them playing, and he would proudly tell us that it was still the same game we left them playing!
I didn’t know how the pieces moved then so by accident, I was introduced to chess by my late friend and that night we played till our lantern ran out of paraffin in the wee hours of the morning; we were in the village then. I found it fascinating that one would attempt to outmaneuver his opponent and I caught the chess bug from that very night and duly apologised to our other friend for all the wrong reasons I had associated him with, thinking he was choosing chess over us by deliberately playing long games!
It was when I landed in the city that I realised there was more to chess than just moving pieces all over the board. One veteran player, Martin Oyamo told me I could be good at chess but then I must put in extra effort by reading and studying the game. To say I was shocked would be an understatement since I had never imagined such work was need to improve, especially after I perused the first book he offered to me, and invited me to attend his training sessions.
But one can only immerse himself or herself into a chess studying routine if you want to be a competitive player with aspirations of scaling to enviable heights of greatness. It takes a lot of discipline and commitment to pore oneself into studying the various chess openings, middle game nuances and endgame techniques.
The reason being there is no demilitarised zone on the chessboard. Every one of the 64 squares is pivotal to your winning a game of chess and you must place your pieces in the most appropriate squares, and moreover they need to be working together in harmony, like the notes in Beethoven’s 5th Symphony. Not only is the co-ordination and activity of the pieces paramount, but the timing too is critical, as you may find yourself a move or several moves behind if your opponent seizes the initiative and builds up on the small advantages occasioned by your poor judgment.
In other words, you need a good plan and your strategy must be spot on if you are to get the better of your opponent. A chess adage goes; it is better to have a bad plan than no plan at all. And here is where you find players of different dispositions. There are those who like grinding out wins slowly and surely by putting their opponents in a bind, while others are tacticians, making explosive moves on every turn that gives the opponent no room of escape, and sooner than later the king is naked (exposed) and death (checkmate) comes swiftly and naturally like the evening tide.
It is said that chess imitates life in many aspects and that is why it is considered a good game to introduce to kids from an early age for it dramatically improves a child’s ability to think rationally as well as increasing their cognitive skills. And since the pieces have to be synchronized for effectiveness, chess therefore improves children’s aptitude in recognizing patterns, thus building a sense of team spirit while emphasizing the ability of the individual.
It therefore goes without saying that the value of hard work, concentration and commit are all invaluable lessons drawn from playing chess, and makes a one realize that he or she is responsible for his or her own actions and must accept their consequences. Though the ultimate goal is to checkmate your opponent, chess teaches one to try their best to win while accepting defeat with grace.
So next time you see a player strutting around like a colossus, and seemingly getting the better of others with ease, just visualize how much work has been put in to elevate them too such celebrity status, with deserved bragging rights! You earn what you work for and it is imperative that you invest time and energy into becoming a better you at chess, and life as a whole.
Puzzle: Find the best move for White (Grischuk) vs Black (Bologan) as played during the World Rapid Final, 2012