Monday, August 28, 2006

Chess dharma

Illustration by Michael

Things aren't always as they seem. Never underestimate the person in front of you.
I offer this not as advice, but as self-admonition.
I'm less likely to forget that which I've written down.

Because of Sunday's monsoons, I played chess at the public atrium inside the Sony building at 56th Street and Madison Avenue in Manhattan.
When I arrived, there were five or six games going on, and a few were compelling enough so that their spectators didn't feel like peeling their eyes off the action to play a newcomer.

Sitting at a small table by himself was a fellow with arms folded across his chest, half-dozing, half-watching the game at the table next to him.
"Wanna play?" I asked.
"Uh, yeah, sure, I'll play," he said in a flat, emotionless voice sprinkled with a hint of uncertainty.
He spoke with his eyes half-closed. He was dishevelled. His flannel shirt was half-unbuttoned. His sneakers were old and tired and didn't have laces.
I wondered if he even knew how to play.
It turned out that he could play, and masterfully.

Jeff and I wound up playing more than seven straight hours of chess -- from 3 till past 10 p.m. -- with each other and as part of a foursome.
I'm just getting home now, and my head is still spinning.
Jeff critiqued my games, gave me a lesson in key opening moves and complimented me on my creativity (but pointed out in no uncertain terms just how much I have yet to learn).

Through karate, I've learned to respect all opponents as if they were deadly foes, which they often are. But sometimes, this lesson gets left behind when I leave the dojo.
Through chess, I get to see this principle in a perspective that's at once different and identical.
I picked up some great pointers Sunday, the most important being that the beauty and intricacy of a person's mind has little or nothing to do with outward appearances.


Matt Kohai said...

I've found an astonishing connection between chess and matrial arts skills. My exposure to both is limited, but I still find it interesting.

Sounds like yet another well-spent Sunday.

Michael said...

Yes, my first karate teacher always says there's no difference between chess and karate -- or between karate and go or shogi, for that matter. In my opinion, how could martial arts not be an expression of the everyday, as well as the profound?

Angela said...

Perfect demonstration of the cliche, "DOn't judge a book by its cover." Great story, thanks for sharing.

Michael said...

Hi Angela,

Thanks for your comment, and welcome to my blog!
Yes, it's a very easy principle to cite but a very difficult one to put into practice. It underscores just how deep-seated some of my biases are, but recognizing the problem puts me on the road to a solution.

Patry Francis said...

I thought of you as I watched people playing chess in Washington Square Park last week. I looked from face to face, wondering 'Could this one be Michael?'

That Was Zen This Is Tao said...

What a lovely story - and a great photo!

Michael said...

Hi Patry,
Great to hear from you! I've been playing in midtown inside the Sony atrium at 56th and Madison the past few weekends -- but I know the feeling of reading about someone's activities through their blog, and then wondering if you've actually run into the person.

Hi An,
It has been a long time! I've been visiting your blog regularly and have really enjoyed what I've read (and want to congratulate you on your public reading), but I've been keeping a low profile in the blogosphere. I haven't been devoting as much attention to my own blog as I would like, but with the return of cooler weather, I'd like to post more frequently, and post comments on the blogs of others, too.

LBseahag said...

Catching up on your life today...I love chess, and it is so hard to find someone to play with...
I love the underlying message in this one :)

Michael said...

Hi LB,

Many thanks for your comment, and welcome back!