A Knight's Tale

   A board and thirty-two pieces. Light and dark squares forming dozens of patterns. The intriguing pieces' interplay forming interesting results. I found myself in the middle of this two-tone jungle, learning many lessons about the world around me.

   My initial interest was simple entertainment. Initially, people are attracted to chess to watch the splendid fight between opposing forces. Being an adventurous and free-spirited nine-year-old boy, I welcomed the chance to create havoc and destruction. Checkmate was the goal. Kill the blasted king and all his followers standing in your way. This vehement spirit sparked my enthusiasm for success, but as I matured, I saw chess in different light.

   Many people appreciate only the sporting value of chess. However, as a most insightful teacher pointed out, chess is also one-third science and one-third art. The science arises from the mental processes required to make a good move. The chessboard is like the universe, with multitudes of events and happenings chaotically dancing like bees around a honeycomb. Upon closer scrutiny, however, we see a certain order in the cosmic drama. Certain patterns appear more often than others, allowing one to anticipate likely occurrences. Deeply rooted in Hinduism, I believe in the laws of karma and reincarnation. Like the universe, chess punishes mistakes and fallacious ideas. One cannot "will" his way across the board. Just as in life, certain steps must be taken before an ultimate goal is attained. Preparation is the key to success.

   Art is another essential component of chess. I am convinced that how I play is often more important than whether or not I win. However, art can mean so many things. Cautious people value order and soundness, while the risk-takers want double-edged fights with brilliant tactics. True aesthetic worth comes from balance. Aggression with restraint. Tactics along with positional play. Sternness with leniency. This blending of opposites can be transferred into the real world. I greatly admire individuals, especially teachers, who get the most out of themselves and those around them with the least amount of effort. Not that I'm lazy; instead, I love the natural flow of events as opposed to an inconstant push for results. This theme of balance has also been well supported by the scriptures. Buddha's teachings emphasized the Middle Way, where he compared the ideal life to the placement of guitar strings: "If strung too tight, the strings will break; if too loose, no sound will come."

   Chess shares some broad parallels with war. Knights, bishops, and rooks represent horsemen, archers, and elephants respectively. Their interplay, coordination, and harmony are crucial to a successful attack. Risks must be taken, for by inducing your opponent to become arrogant and lax and thus lose his balance you obtain an advantage. One must identify weaknesses and exploit them. Pawns act like structural outposts or forts. By mastering the use of different pieces a general can better grasp the basic principles on how to dispatch and control troops.

   Lastly, I would like to discuss a pair of moral values affiliated with the game. The first is sacrifice. In chess we cannot achieve checkmate without giving up the lives of some soldiers. Thus, we must learn that individual liberties and desires must often be set aside for the good of a larger community. The ultimate goal is of primary importance. This ultimate goal is evident in war and chess, but what about in life? Is there an ultimate goal, one that leads to everlasting peace, knowledge, and purity? I'm on my way to finding out.

   The second lesson is relinquishment. Indian epics teach the value of doing actions without a sense for the results of the action. A segment of the Tao Te Ching neatly explains this concept:

"Do your work and step back,
The only path to serenity."

   Chess, as well as life, is too complicated to calculate far into. The way to handle this is by basing actions (or moves!) on a set of time-tested principles and then calculating major alternatives into the near future. Afterward, you simply let go and let the events govern the outcome. However, if you cling to the results of actions, i.e., rewards, honor, wins, etc., you're robbing your mind of its full potential by not focusing on the present moment. Now is all that matters. At all times we must put full energy into the matter at hand. Ralph Waldo Emerson, a great transcendentalist of the Civil war era, also commented upon the value of paying attention:

"What lies ahead of us and what lies behind
Are small matters compared to
What lies within us."

-Rahul Subramaniam, 15
American High School
Fremont, CA

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