Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Chess Is Hard

"Chess is hard." - Jerry Weikel, NTD and organizer/director of Reno's two large annual chess tournaments
"Chess is ludicrously difficult." - Stephen Fry
"Chess is mental torture." - Garry Kasparov
"Chess is so deep, I simply feel lost." - Vladimir Kramnik
"Chess is horribly, heinously, and hellaciously hard." - me, on maximum verbosity
"@#%*!" - Anonymous

Hearing Jerry say "Chess is hard" for the umpteenth time like a mantra got me thinking about chess and hardness. This thought led me to the traditional Mohs scale of mineral hardness:

Level 10DiamondSuper Grandmaster/World Champion
Level 9CorundumInternational Grandmaster
Level 8TopazInternational Master
Level 7QuartzMaster
Level 6FeldsparExpert
Level 5ApatiteClass A
Level 4FluoriteClass B
Level 3CalciteClass C
Level 2GypsumClass D
Level 1TalcClass E

FYI, soapstone is Mohs hardness 2, alabaster 3, marble 6, granite 8, cubic zirconium 8.

I imagine mineralogist Friedrich Mohs in 1812 rubbing two rocks together and recording the result in a notepad. This reminds me of a "scientist" who published a research proposal on Cragslist to find the genetically strongest M&Ms in his own Highlander tournament to the death and then breed them into a super-race of champion M&Ms. "There can be only one."

"Oh, Andy loved geology. I guess it appealed to his meticulous nature. An ice age here, million years of mountain building there. Geology is the study of pressure and time. That's all it takes really, pressure, and time. That, and a big god-damned poster." - Red from Shawshank Redemption

RED: The man likes to play chess; let's get him some rocks.
HEYWOOD: Guys! I got one. I got one. Look!
FLOYD: Heywood, that isn't soapstone, and it ain't alabaster either!
HEYWOOD: What are you a fuckin' geologist?
SNOOZE: No he's right. It ain't.
HEYWOOD: Well what the hell is it then!
RED: It's a horse apple.
HEYWOOD: Bullshit!
RED: No, horse shit, petrified.
HEYWOOD: Oh Jesus! Damn!
RED: Despite a few hitches, the boys came through in fine style. And by the weekend he was due back, we had enough rocks saved up to keep him busy 'til Rapture.

I ain't no geologist and I wouldn't know a petrified horse turd from granite. I ain't no writer either. I just flesh out these ideas I get using Google and Wikipedia. My writing ability is simply a multimedia content aggregator which simulates originality only through eclectic plagiarism. Alfred Lanning asked, "When does a perceptual schematic become consciousness? When does a difference engine become the search for truth? When does a personality simulation become the bitter mote of a soul?"

A geologic age ago, my passion for chess was like a mass of hot lava which, like my heart, was about the size of my fist. Exposed to the atmosphere, the outer layer solidified into a shell of rock. Over time, the shell thickened until the only heat left was at the center, encased in cold inert laziness and anxiety. The shell is of a dull soapstone, lacking in any brilliance whatsoever.

Simon and Garfunkel sang "And the rock feels no pain. And an island never cries." Lately, I had experienced some unwelcome emotionality with regard to chess. I think my sportsmanship until this year had been impeccable, not showing too much animus toward myself or my opponent when the result was subpar. If I lost, I patiently accepted it as just another of Caissa's gifts of wisdom for her humble follower. I was a happy and dispassionate chess enthusiast. But recently, I internalized failures at the board as outward signs of weakness and lost sight of my happy place. The losses became a bitter medicine that I couldn't stand any more. I think it stemmed from forgetting that this game is fun and instead focusing on both the self-imposed mandate to improve and the frustration that comes upon seeing the paltry returns on investment of effort. I must return to my rational center. What would Spock say? "Frustration is illogical." What would Data say? "I am an android. I do not get emotional about chess."

During my recent forays into Scrabble, I found that sportsmanship as a lowest grade Scrabble player is surprisingly difficult. Scrabble has a much larger luck factor in that the tiles you draw from the bag can make or break your game. In Word Freak, Stephen Fatsis wrote of the tendency for Scrabble players to curse the tiles when they're losing, but true Scrabble champions play through adversity. I rapidly became one of the cursers.

Susan Boyle sang from Les Miserables, "I dreamed a dream in time gone by." I believed I could get to where the chess masters are if I only had enough time. But over the years the belief turned to lost faith, especially this past year when work hardly interfered with my chess study time. Instead of seeing the milestones recede in my rearview mirror, I was stuck in neutral, realizing that I had neither the skill nor the passion to see it through. "But the tigers come at night with their voices soft as thunder. As they tear your hope apart. And they turn your dream to shame."

In round 3 of this year's Western States Open, I had to substitute on the demo boards for a few hours. As I stood in the eye of the silent and invisible hurricane of variations calculated by the surrounding masters, I capitulated to the idea that they are just too far ahead for me to catch them in my lifetime. So I'm not destined for greatness. Well, boo-fucking-hoo. Have I become an ingrate who cries that his cup is only half full? Perhaps, I should count my blessings. Sheryl Crow sang, "It's not having what you want. It's wanting what you've got."

My lava lacks gravity and its main geologic manifestation: pressure. My lava doesn't flow or grow; it is stagnant. The vain hope that the residual nidus of lava can still cool into a geode or a thunder egg will soon evaporate. It's just soapstone through and through. Still, there is a chance for a certain kind of order and beauty. If life gives you lemons, make lemonade. If life gives you shit, polish it into a thing of beauty. I've got soapstone and for now I'll keep on sculpting.

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