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Chess and Motivation

Chess can be a very motivating game – at least, I find, when you win! But it’s very painful when you find yourself being ground down and inevitably in a position where you are going to lose. You know it – you can see it from far off – you try to stop it – you try to reverse that bad position you are in, but your opponent relentlessly takes advantage of your weakened condition, exploits the gaps in your defence, and ultimately out-thinks you to defeat. So, you sit looking, sadly, at what might have been. Ah!

Such is life and such was the fate of the five members of the Good Chess Club (http://goodfoodbournemouth.co.uk/good-chess-club-alexs/) who dared to venture into the lion’s den of The Mind Your Head Challenge (http://www.training-for-results.co.uk/events-2/event/mind-your-head-conference/) where Raymond Keene OBE, International Chess Grandmaster, took on 20 hopefuls from Dorset in a simultaneous exhibition.

I think Raymond lost one of the twenty matches, drew two or three more, and beat everybody else, myself included. It was wonderful to see him in action; most of the time pausing for little more than one second as he went from player to player and made his move. This of course was, for relatively inexperienced players at that level, quite unsettling: one gets the same kind of experience playing a computer. You move, and you have taken some time to think about the move, the computer responds immediately, and this undermines your confidence, your faith, in your own move. If the response if so obvious, then how can what you have done be good? Thus, Raymond, expertly intimidated the lesser players without their being, as it were, any intimidation. Doubtless, the bigger fry on the international circuit do precisely the same to each other: once you have a reputation, then moving with total confidence must undermine the opposition.

Chess, then, is not only a game of intellect, it is also a game of psychology, and without it I think it must be impossible to win.

But to return to the theme of motivation: whilst losing isn’t great, I have to say that chess is motivating, win or lose. There is something about the game that is intrinsically gripping and beneficial. This is essentially to do with the fact that chess is one of those few games where luck plays absolutely no part: many card games involve high levels of skill, but there is always the luck of the deal, and sometimes even the most skilful players can have an awful run of cards. But with chess every move is your own and has to be considered within the context of the very definite rules.

This is why chess is so frequently used as a metaphor for life: you have your opening moves as you set off on your young career. Do they give you a strong position, or are you drifting and other peoples’ agendas are beginning to dominate your life? If you have managed to sustain an opening position, you then go into the mid-game, which can be the longest part of all. One mistake can derail your whole career, your whole game. Finally, you play the end game – the goal is within sight. Can you hold your nerve and not blow your advantage? It is all down to you – nobody else makes those moves – you are entirely responsible.

So chess is motivating because ultimately it is about personal responsibility – about accepting that responsibility and not making excuses for your game. In terms of the nine motivators that account for what people want it is predominantly a Spirit motivator – chess expresses primarily our need to be free – to take the board constraints and dominate the ‘space’ we create.

Of course, once that freedom is achieved other motivators also come into play: the victory – oh yes! – the Star motivator – recognition big time. And the Expert motivator : the geeks study for this. And let’s not forget the Friend motivator – the belonging to the clubs and sharing one’s passions and enthusiasm with others. Yes, it’s all there in chess.

One final thing is that because every move is your move and your responsibility something quite
wonderful happens when you play chess: the room goes deathly quiet. It did when 20 people played Raymond Keene, and it does at the Good Chess Club, despite it being in Alex’s wonderful and lively restaurant. One enters, effectively, a state of meditation playing chess because one cannot think of anything else! That has to be good for you. Certainly the business people who come along to our club love precisely that: for the two hour duration of the session all business thoughts are abandoned as the game takes over. Isn’t that wonderful?

Comments

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