Monday, March 9, 2015

Sicilian Defense

I used to play online chess. Don't judge me. I got pretty good at it too. I said no judgement!! Really good actually. At least...according to my computer. The trick, was to master each game, step by step, move by move. But if there was any deviation in the sequence, I'd either lose or have to start the game again. 

Looking back, I actually wasn't good—as defined by the USCF—at chess at all, I'd merely developed the appearance of aptitude through a combination of classical conditioning and memory. And compared to what other members of the animal kingdom have accomplished with similar memorization based skill-sets, my chess game has been found wanting.   

But it made me think about the various skills we acquire and master throughout the years. Just how do we differentiate which skills we consider to be valid or successful from those that, like my chess ranking, are simply illusory?

You could point to commercial or financial achievement as indicators of success if history weren't full of artists and inventors whose astonishing talent went unappreciated in their time. Vincent van Gogh committed suicide a penniless hack at thirty-seven, while there have been four separate installments of the Sharknado franchise.

So in my search for the definition of success, I poured myself a glass of wine, downloaded the old chess program and committed to mastering the Sicilian Defense, a counter move that Chess Grandmaster John Nunn praises for "its combative nature; in many lines Black is playing not just for equality, but for the advantage...."  

I learned a lot that night. Black begins every chess game at a disadvantage. They're perpetual underdogs that must play smarter, think more moves ahead, make fewer mistakes, all just to level the playing field. Also they can drink a full bottle of wine before I pass out and put lipstick on my queen. (But it doesn't help her game like it does for the rook.) 

And when every underdog finds the elusive measure of success, it's often miles away from where the search began. 

"Success isn't how far you got, but the distance you traveled from where you started." ~Steve Prefontaine

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