This I Believe

Henry - Fort Riley, Kansas
Entered on June 27, 2006
Age Group: 18 - 30
Themes: war

I am a young military policeman who believes in chess.

Saying that makes me sound like I’m bragging. I started playing tournaments when I was 9 years old, in grade school. While I never became a prodigy in the league of Bobby Fisher or Ruy Lopez or ever will, I did show a natural aptitude for the game. I scarcely have the time or the partners to play these days, but when I do venture online for a game, I’m still pretty good.

I particularly enjoyed playing with a friend who learnt by playing ex-convicts and old men in the park. He called his style “street-chess”, and it was definitely different from my studied rehashing of historical strategies, but no matter how you play or from whom you learnt, the necessities to victory are unwavering: Focus, adapt and know your moves at least a few turns before you make them. Watch your timer, but take as much time as you need to play well. You can chatter your opponent up, switch up your strategies and aim to confuse, or stay immobile and coldly polite, dominating the board and saying only “checkmate” when the game is over.

Every move has a reason, offensive or defensive, and it behooves a player to plan their moves based not on how the board looks this turn, but on how it looks when good opportunities show themselves. No piece is truly disposable, as a single pawn can become the winning queen in the endgame. A pawn pusher overlooks the importance of an intricate web of protection between pieces, and allows his pieces to get picked off one by one. Sacrifices are necessary, but the best chess player knows that position is more important than individual losses. The right pieces, positioned properly, will win the game.

As a soldier, I believe that this ancient game of kings still has bearing on the battlefields of today. Small unit strategies resemble strategies of chess, like keeping your flanks covered, laying down suppressive fire for an assault and, of course, staying out of your buddy’s line of fire. But unlike combat, chess has no trouble with communication, no political agenda or press coverage. It is a pure and noble means of venting your intellect without bloodshed. Your opponent will frustrate you, but there is no hatred or animosity towards him even if he beats you, and the game ends with a handshake and maybe even a rematch.

There are times when I feel like a pawn in somebody’s game, and I hope the player has a plan. I believe that my life definitely has a plan, though sometimes so intricate that victory is nowhere in sight, but at the end of the day, the game will move me. There is no luck in chess.

I believe in the power of foresight over ignorance, calculation over bluster and subtlety over the obvious. I believe in the harsh reality of either having the right piece in the right place at the right time or not, that makes or breaks the game. Hardest of all, I believe in the struggle against a desperate situation. Even when I’m down to my last few pieces, the game isn’t over until somebody says checkmate.