Fit in my 40s: Will playing chess help me focus? | life and style
My 2021 started with a brain fog: a lingering feeling of having done nothing, usually because I hadn’t; my concentration totally turned. I think it was the lack of outside events – it makes the days blend together. The answer to that, apparently, is chess. If you can’t concentrate, you should play the game in which your concentration is total: it’s like sit-ups for the mind. Many people took it after watching The Queen’s Bet; I took it to recover the hours of my day, which is ironic because it takes years.
The problem was that I hadn’t played since I was eight years old, when I was placed in a school tournament because I was the only person who knew the rules, and I put someone in checkmate in two random moves. After that, the teachers thought I was a chess genius, so I decided to quit rather than tarnish my newfound shine. Chess geniuses, they thought. “So capricious.”
I still know the basic capabilities of each piece, but nothing more: luckily Mr Z plays a lot and offered to teach me. Ah, luck; such a fluid concept. “Before you start,” he said, “show me where the tower is really mighty.” Reader, he already annoyed me. The stifled urge to say “in your ass” gave me indigestion. We continued.
It’s actually three plays: openings, where you establish a powerful position without losing your defense; exchanges, in which you take and lose coins, with the aim of coming out on top; and end of game. There are also two endgame categories, but no time for that right now. He has already moved. Eh! It’s just a pawn. I remember this happening often, the uneventful movement of the small pieces. I want to get my big guns out, but I don’t want to lose them. “You can’t protect everything, you have to prioritize,” he says. “Wait,” he said, nonchalantly lifting my booby from the tray. “Are you taking notes? ” “No.” “I can clearly see the word ‘boring’.”
His best advice was how to make peace with losing your coins; it’s not by not caring. If you have a plan, which you watch unfold, every loss becomes a victory, and your plan derails no more than a headache for a new plan.
Without a plan, I had lost before the exchanges even started; my pieces prowled, awaiting disaster. “Are you sure you want to do this?” he said after a period of carnage, “because it’s checkmate – and to checkmate is illegal.” “Yes Yes.”
I won the second game, which was so exhilarating that I didn’t realize until hours later that he would let me. I don’t think it’s a meditative game: it’s more like playing slot machines, only without the overwhelming sense of worthlessness and self-loathing. If it improves your focus, it’s by encouraging the act of sitting down and concentrating, rather than fostering a sense of peace. But I’ll have to get back to you with definitive conclusions once I win fairly, which could take years.
What I learned
The fianchetto is where you move your bishop in front of your knight to gain more control of the board