How Life Imitates Chess

While the pandemic has been disastrous for many activities, it has been a boon for chess. Online tournaments have exploded, thanks largely to the world champion Magnus Carlsen. I became a chess player at 14, and fell so deeply into the game that on my bedroom door in high school was a quote from Grandmaster Isaiah Horowitz: “Of chess they say that life is not long enough for it, but that is the fault of life, not chess.”

So it was a particular thrill to have lunch last year with Garry Kasparov, perhaps the greatest player in the history of the game.  Later he sent me his book “How Life Imitates Chess.” Particularly now, chess has lessons to teach us. It exposes self-deception, because you may think you are doing well only to discover the reverse. It requires patience, but also demands decision. It is humbling – even the greatest lose, and there is no bad bounce of the ball, the responsibility for your moves is always yours.

The great world champion Emanuel Lasker, wrote: “On the chessboard lies and hypocrisy do not survive long. The creative combination lays bare the presumption of a life; the merciless fact, culminating in checkmate, contradicts the hypocrite.”

Lasker was a friend of Einstein’s and a philosopher and mathematician.  Kasparov is a political activist and his far-flung energies embrace a variety of fields. Both, as with an astonishing number of great chessplayers, have Jewish roots. The insistence on self-examination, thoughtfulness, refutations and improvements, honesty, innovation, strategy, artistry and passion drive students of each to search for a kind of ultimate truth. There are 63 tractates in the Talmud and 64 squares on the board. The human mind will never fully master either for each holds limitless riches and wonders.

About the Author
Named the most influential Rabbi in America by Newsweek Magazine and one of the 50 most influential Jews in the world by the Jerusalem Post, David Wolpe is the Rabbi of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles, California.
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