Many years ago -- in fact, on Christmas Day, 1963 -- I received a book called The Art of Chess. I know this because it has my 11-year-old neat block printing on the opening page. I was never much of a chess player but I enjoyed trying; I recently came across a junior high year book photo of me in the Chess Club (how dweebish). Not many books I possessed in 1963 are still around, but this one is, partly because it is a cool-looking trade paperback (Dover, $1.85) and partly because the writing "By James Mason, revised and edited by Fred Reinfeld," is utterly charming, and partly because chess is like life. Mason wrote the book in London in 1898, and it has that Victorian circumlocution that nonetheless manages to nail a point with resounding force.
I consult it from time to time because it takes me back to first principles -- and today was one of those days. Here are a few passages I thought I would share.
"Remember the Opening is not everything. There is the middle game to come in which Opening advantage, for or against you, may be swallowed up and lost. Often and often a formally bad position really possesses superior resources -- has time on its side; whereas a formally good one may be really at its best, and can no further go -- its time is past. A player in a good position, which cannot be bettered, and is not yet strong enough to straightaway force a winning advantage, is in great danger of drifting into a losing game.
"When in difficulty of any kind, have courage. Not bigoted, reckless courage, but the two o'clock in the morning sort; the courage of fortitude to do and suffer that of which you are afraid. And if you ARE afraid, ask why -- may not HE be afraid also? Make the equation. Always play your game as if these fearful factors exactly cancel each other. This is a habit which can be acquired; and it is the nerve of the Chess-player. What is more important? ...
"What is wanted, not only in chess study, but in chess play, is a groundwork of clear and determinate ideas as to the final object of the game -- checkmate. It is a principle of experience, if we reflect upon what passes within our own minds, that the clearer an idea is, the more fruitful it is in producing other ideas, and increasing our knowledge. And the simpler the idea the clearer, if only it be attentively considered. We should, first of all, be intent upon the end at which we would arrive, if we would best avail ourselves of the means of getting there. Thus, in chess, it is the end we should consider first, so as to master more easily the simple ideas of the game, that we may become readily familiar with them, in order to go on with confidence ..."
Friends, we're playing White. And it's our move.
Dan Olmsted is Editor of Age of Autism.