Buddhism for chess players

Since the beginning of 2003 I’m taking an interest in (Tibetan) Buddhism.
To me the beauty of Buddhism lies in the fact that one does not necessarily has to regard it as a religion.
If you want to regard it as a philosophy, as your way of live, that’s just fine.
Also, the Buddhist ‘role models’ if you like such as Buddha himself or Padmasambhava, who brought Buddhism to the Land of Snows in the 8th century and who the Tibetans regard as the ‘second’ Buddha, are not really gods or deities in the traditional meaning of the word, but rather idols who through their great human strength and qualities of wisdom and compassion reached enlightenment and have always inspired many people to strive for the same.

The teachings of the Buddha are on the one hand very vast, but on the other they all revolve around one central issue: the mind.
Asked about the essence of his teachings the Buddha answered:

“Do nothing that causes harm, create an abundance of good virtue, to tame this mind of ours, that is the essence of my teachings”.

To tame this mind of ours, that’s what I want to discuss a little.
Having a tamed mind basically comes down to the ability of recognizing negative thoughts and emotions the very moment they rise.
Recognizing them helps in creating a space between ourselves and these negative thoughts and emotions, rather than to treat them as objects that we as subjects can grasp upon. The moment we grasp them and form opinions about them, pass judgements or apply concepts to them, we identify with these (negative) thoughts and emotions and let them take over.
This can lead to severe pain and in some cases even to depression.

Taming the mind is accomplished by the practice of attention and mindfulness.
One of the most well-known methods of practice is focusing your attention on the breath while meditating.
By constantly bringing back the attention to the breath every single moment a thought comes up, and having the awareness that one is supposed to do so, the practitioner trains his mind in recognizing thoughts and the ability to decide him or herself to “do” something or to let them float by as if they were clouds.

Having developed a stronger control of the mind, one is much less inclined to live (think!) in the past or in the future.
Instead, one has a greater ability to live in the NOW, which strictly speaking is the only moment we will ever live in.
And that also helps us during a game of chess!

Of course, we are not all Buddhists, and the ones among us that are, are probably quite a long way away from enlightenment, but the thing is we always have to play the position at hand.
Therefore, the anxiety about a missed opportunity (living in the past), or the realization of a mistake we just made (living in the future, without being sure if the opponents notices the mistake), or the fact that we are taken by surprise by our opponents move (living in the future; a subconscious fear for losing the game creeps in) should also be treated as the possible danger they can present: the distraction from the position at hand.
And even if the opponent recognizes your mistake, at least you will already have had more time to think about how to contain the damage, or come to your senses earlier.

It is also in the position at hand that lies the truth and the solution of every little chess problem we call “our move”.
Burdened as we are with our figuratively speaking (negative) emotions and thoughts that come up as associations with every position, we often tend to play on the basis of our knowledge of the position, or the application of some sort of standard tactical or strategical scheme for this or that type of position.
But even if this may be of use, the positions that really matter during a game usually are unique in the sense that we never played them before.
Therefore applying knowledge from previous games or analysis or playing a standard tactical or strategical scheme that you think will do the trick has the danger of either taking us back into the past or forward into the future…

You may think that I am taking this a bit too far, but it is a well known axiom that the really strong player not only knows when to apply a rule, but also knows when not to apply it!
And this goes a little bit further than the idea f.i. that “doubling your opponents pawns is usually a good thing to do, but not always”.
I call in mind the example I also discussed in 6 tips on how to improve your chess:

Moes – Van Oosterom, Bussum 2002
1. e4 c5
2. Nf3 e6
3. d4 cxd4
4. Nxd4 Nc6
5. Nb5 d6
6. c4 Nf6
7. N1c3 a6
8. Na3 Be7
9. Be2 0-0
10. Be3 Ne5
11. 0-0 Dc7
12. f3 b6
13. Qe1 Re8
14. Qf2 Bd8
15. Rfd1 Qb8
16. b4

And white slowly got a strong grip on the position and later also good chances to win the game.

Not long thereafter I played the following game:

Moes – Ten Hoor, Amsterdam 2002
1. e4 c5
2. Nf3 e6
3. d4 cxd4
4. Nxd4 Nc6
5. Nb5 d6
6. c4 Nf6
7. N1c3 a6
8. Na3 Be7
9. Be2 0-0
10. 0-0 b6
11. Be3 Bb7
12. f3 Nd7
13. Qd2 Rc8
14. Rfd1 Qc7
15. Bf1

Clears the way to f2 for the white queen. The favourable course of events of Moes – Van Oosterom still in my mind, I wanted to place my pieces in a similar way and put pressure on b6. However, I didn’t sufficiently realize that black is treating the opening better than in the previous game and that the situation is of course different…
15. … Nce5
16. Qf2?

Still on automatic pilot, white voluntarily moves his queen opposite the black rook on f8 and doesn’t even take black’s next move into account!
By the way, remember that in the Van Oosterom game the black rook was on e8 when I moved Qf2!
16. … f5!Accentuates the vis-a-vis of Rf8 to Qf2 and opens up the diagonal of Bb7.
17. Dd2?
Disappointed by the sudden change of events white retreats his lady still not fully aware of black’s potential. More careful was: 17.exf5.
17. … fxe4
18. Nxe4

Also 18.fxe4 Ng4/Nf6 is no fun.
18. … Bxe4?
After 18…Rxf3! I would probably have resigned immediately out of sheer repulsion.
Now I could manage to hold and reach a draw from a worse position.
That’s how fast such a tough Maroczy bind can collapse!
And all this because I thought I could use my knowledge whilst in the process I was losing my fresh look.

To conclude I would like to say that it is of the utmost importance that we asses the position on it’s inherent value rather than on the ideas we may have gathered about them in the past.
Therefore I can advise all of you chess addicts to do a little (chess)meditation!

Feel free to comment.

Namaste, Waldemar


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