Sunday, May 03, 2009


What's the board-game of choice for the dedicated martial artist? Chess!*

Chess is  a two-player simulation of a war.  Players start with equal forces and take turns, with first-mover advantage going to white.  Unlike competitive sports in which physical skill can help determine the success of a maneuver, chess is pure tactics and strategy.  Unlike most card games, there is no hidden information.

Like combat one must try to inflict damage on the opponent, by "taking" pieces while defending your own, and -- more subtly -- work on position, lay and spot traps,  and fight for eventual victory.

* * *

As a child I quite liked chess, but beyond learning the basics I was never really taught, and every time I  tried to read a chess book I fell asleep.

More recently, I watched this amazing interview with Josh Waitzkin, chess prodigy turned t'ai chi ch'uan champ now turning into a competitive BJJ-er (he's clearly a very competitive kinda guy!).  It got me thinking: "I wouldn't mind having another go at chess".  So I had a game with an old friend and tried to apply some of my martial arts approach to my play: Even though I lost it was a lot of fun.

In the interview Waitzkin says that chess, t'ai chi and Brazilian jiu-jitsu are all the same to him (at a deeper level).  Waitzkin has a new book out -- The Art of Learning -- in which he writes about these parallels, but I am having fun exploring them for myself.

Recently I bought Waitzkin's entertaining and educational book, Attacking Chess, and have been working through the problems.  His book has the virtue of interleaving his experiences in chess with lessons in the game, with almost all of the problems taken from matches that he played.  Repeatedly, a concept is explained and then you are given a problem and challenged: What's the best move from here?  The context usually gives a hint, and explicit additional hints may follow.  It's a gripping format, but you have to be careful to cover the solutions (which immediately follow the problems) with a bookmark so as not to inadvertently cheat.  

I thoroughly recommend Attacking Chess if  you know the rules of chess and would like to get a bit more deeply into it.  Waitzkin's relentlessly aggressive approach is also refreshing, especially if you tend towards a more conservative mindset in chess (or martial arts).

*Or possibly Go, but I haven' t  gone there yet.


Dave Chesser said...

You should get Chessmaster. His course in there is very good, at least I thought so. And you can play at any time. It's cool that he actually talks you through the course. It's like he's looking over your shoulder as you play.