Conversations For Transformation: Essays Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

Conversations For Transformation

Essays By Laurence Platt

Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

And More


Chess II

Hendry's Beach, Santa Barbara
Joshua's Home On Wheels, Hillside Drive, East Napa
California, USA

April 7 and 17, 2022

"There's the story about a man who wanted to improve his chess. So he went to study with a chess champion. He learned the Ruy Lopez  and he learned the King's Indian. And after he learned those two new moves, he noticed he didn't win any more games than he usually did. So he went to study with a grandmaster. He learned to queen side castle  early, and he learned to set up an en passant. Yet neither did knowing those two new strategies give him an edge to win any more games than he usually did. So he went to study with Werner. And he learned to develop his pawns."
... Laurence Platt recreating an unknown author, in Chess

"The purpose of knowledge is action, not knowledge."
... Aristotle
This essay, Chess II, is the eighteenth in a group of twenty written in Santa Barbara:
  1. Santa Barbara
  2. Unbelievable
  3. Give Me Money (That's What I Want?)
  4. True Gold
  5. Getting Into Your World
  6. You Say Stop: About Resisting Transformation
  7. The Cavalry's Not Coming
  8. On This Team Everyone's The Leader
  9. Fireside Chat
  10. The Next Best Thing
  11. Full Circle, Full Spiral
  12. Truth, And What's True
  13. Snowflakes In A Furnace
  14. Something In The Air
  15. Vocal Prowess
  16. Flames In My Rearview Mirror
  17. Back Nine
  18. Chess II
  19. But And And II
  20. My Baby Girl, Now A Bride
in that order.

It is also the sequel to Chess.

Photography by Frank Augstein
Chess emerged in southern Europe during the second half of the fifteenth century after evolving from chaturanga, a similar but much older game of Indian origin; today, chess is one of the world's most popular games, played by millions of people worldwide. [source: wikipedia]

The game of chess, like many games, may be played simply adversarially  - that is to say one may play it solely to win and to ensure the other loses (except of course in the case of a draw). And to be sure, for many winning at chess is the entire raison d'etre  for playing the game (the prize? the winner at chess gets to impose a kind of intellectual tyranny, a sort of superior intelligence  over the loser). Magnus Carlsen, the Norwegian chess grandmaster and reigning five-time world chess champion, sums it up (as any prizefighter might) this way: "Generally I try to win at all costs"  which (let's face it) is pure ego (even if we don't deem it to be that).

I'm a competent, decent chess player. My skill level is such that for the time being at least, Magnus hasn't got anything to worry about. I enjoy playing every now and then. Some of my most pleasant memories of playing chess are of sitting on an idyllic white sandy beach near the tranquil town of Vatos on the Greek Ionian island of Corfu, sipping ouzo  around an old weatherbeaten chessboard with like-minded tourists. I love teaching my children to play chess, vicariously relishing in their delight as they learn, figure out, memorize, and apply each new move. What I don't  do is play to "win at all costs" although of course I don't try  to lose.

When I play, I may even reveal my strategy to my opponent (and especially to my children) while we're playing so that we can all benefit and learn from studying all the choices, options, and possibilities available in the game. We discuss them. I take pleasure in the interaction. Chess' adversarial nature isn't what attracts me to playing. What attracts me, indeed what's remarkable  about chess is the opportunity to be the space in which the game shows up. That's the thing for me. When I'm playing chess, I'm contemplating and holding the space of all possible moves, not just of one piece but six or more possible moves the thirty two pieces can make in total. It's in contemplating all the possible moves the game permits and anticipates, that I get to see / be with / experience the space in which the game shows up.

I've realized it's actually only secondary that chess is about the moves. Even though the game clearly can't be played without strictly adhering to allowable moves and their rules, chess is about something more for me: primarily chess is about the space in which the game is played  / the space in which its moves are contemplated, considered, and executed. Chess is played in the space of who we really are. Allow me to expand / explain.

As I contemplate all its possible moves and their rules, chess gives me an access to who I really am. How so? Simply put, there are the moves and the rules of chess, there's its potential for intellectual superiority and its adversariality, there's all those aspects of the game, there's all that  ... and then  there's the playing of chess which gives me an access to who I really am. Really. But look: no  one talks about chess as (quote unquote) an "access to who I really am". So when I say chess is an access to who I really am, it isn't the game, it isn't the moves, it isn't the rules etc that gives me the access to who I really am. Stated with rigor, chess is played in an experiential space, a space in which all the moves, rules, intellectual superiority, adversariality, and the players show up. And that experiential space is who I really am.

It's in a chess player's quiet linguistic acts of distinguishing  its moves, its rules etc that the space of chess / of who we really are is enlivened. That's an assertion which renders the following corollary as purely axiomatic:  distinguishing who we really aren't  (moves, rules etc) creates the space for who we really are  to show up.

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