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8.16.2012

Chess Puzzles

My father was an accomplished chess player who tried to instill this in his son.  Chess puzzles are the 2-, 3-, and 4- move combinations that should cleanly end in checkmate.  The comparison between combat sports, particularly sport jiu-jitsu, is often made.  The cerebral aspects of strategy certainly exist in both games, however in combat sports size, strength, speed, and athleticism can, and does, beat technique, skill, and tactics.  While the proper game will win chess, the proper game in fighting does not always end in victory.  The pieces and board of chess are equal the difference is only in the intellectual skills of the players.  Being mat smart is certainly an asset but does not guarantee victory.

However as a I play these puzzles I notice certain parallels between the mat and the board, between pieces and positions, in essence strategy can transcend the game:
  • Winning is based on a foundation of position - All chess puzzles are based on an end-game with pieces distributed in specific positions.  The a priori placement of the pieces predicate certain moves for victory.  In order to solve the puzzle some of these pieces may not change position but without their current placement, movement of other pieces would not insure victory.  In combat sports the relation of your body to your opponent makes certain attacks and counterattacks possible.  You cannot execute an attack without position, submission and placement are equal, the felling blow and footwork need each other.  Even if your legs and hips don't perform the motion of a kimura that your hands and arms do, the placement of your lower half is paramount for the submission.
  • Attack with intent, intending to defend is initiating defeat - The old adage that the best defense is a good offense holds true.  If you attack with the intent to finish, i.e. checkmate, you will placing your opponent in check for two reasons.  First, by forcing them to defend "check" they will change the configuration of the board to prevent losing now but increase the chance of defeat later. Second, they cannot finish you, if they are one the defensive.
  • Play one move ahead, allow one escape - We are told to think several moves in advance, which is extremely difficult given the number of permutations in what our opponent can do.  We can limit the number of moves we need to think in advance, by being one move ahead.  By being one move ahead you have already limited the number of options your opponent has available, making your calculations simpler.  When closing the noose of the endgame, we allow only one escape, this is the epitome of a chess puzzle, if the moves are done appropriately your opponent is not initiating moves nor even reacting, they are behaving in a predetermined way due to the rules of the game and what you did.  Your fighting should be the same, be that move ahead and recognize the hole for them to go through should your attack not finish the fight.
  • Victory can be solved by brute force or elegance - Sometimes the endgame is a series of captured pieces as we zero in on our opponent's king, this is brute force, literally battering our way through our opponent's defenses.  Alternatively the endgame can be elegant, placing pieces in jeopardy even as other pieces close in on your opponent's king.  The epitome of good gamesmanship the elegant solution is not better than the forceful one, both are needed, in different games to win.
  • You cannot win without risking losing - When completing the endgame pieces will be exposed to capture or you might be one move away from being checkmated, however as long as they are in checkmate none of this matters.  Woulda, coulda, shoulda, does not stack up well against done.  Often times when we fight, we worry more about losing than we do about winning, and this can be a detriment to performance.  To inflict harm, to attack, means exposing yourself to the same.  Your game needs to be strong enough to be aware of this and transcend it.

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