In the game of chess, it is impossible to be successful without understanding how to defend against traditional attacks- often called “gambits.” I learned the importance of having a good defense in chess many years ago through a humiliating defeat. While on vacation in New Orleans with my family, we noticed a grandmaster sitting alone with a chess board at a table outside the French Market. Beside him on the table were several newspaper and magazine articles detailing his chess career as a younger man. It was the summertime and over 100 degrees that day by the Mississippi River- not exactly ideal playing conditions. Being a reasonably good player, I welcomed the chance to challenge myself against a real expert. The advertised cost of $10 to sit and play seemed like a good deal. My father sat beside me to watch. The grandmaster was quite an eccentric fellow- he spoke fast and had plenty of unusual opinions about how the world worked. He was a frail older man dressed in a tattered Hawaiian shirt and a U.S. Navy cap. If he wasn’t sitting beside a chess board one might have assumed that he was living on the streets. He certainly did not seem the least bit intimidating. As I soon learned the hard way, appearances can be deceiving.
The grandmaster allowed me to take the first move, and naturally I decided that I would go on the offensive. I moved quickly and decisively, while my opponent sat with a puzzled look while sweating profusely in the heat. After about seven moves, he looked up at me and smiled. With a thick southern drawl he proclaimed confidently: “You are done kid – checkmate in five moves.” I was shocked- I didn’t know whether the grandmaster was joking or being serious. It didn’t appear obvious to me that I had already lost the game from looking at the board. But sure enough, as much as I tried to escape my fate, I wound up losing the game in five moves as the grandmaster predicted. The last time I lost a game that quickly was when I first started learning how to play chess. The grandmaster explained to me that “defense is the best offense” – you can’t just blindly attack when your position is fragile, nor can you mount an effective offense without a solid defensive formation. [Read more…]