Friday, March 7, 2008

The Moment

In “Star Trek: Insurrection”, there is an Amish-like clan of space people who mostly reject technology. Some members of this community have the power to change the flow of time by using their will to “live in the moment.” Funny thing, these people live on a planet named Ba'ku, like Garry Kasparov's homeland.

I’ve been reading lately from multiple sources that chess players enjoy the moment when all you have is the board in front of you and the rest of the world disappears. This reminded me of my own experiences in the moment. Chess is like a meditation. I empty my mind of the cares of the world, and then focus my thoughts on a small 8x8 world with both finite and infinite possibilities. Even my opponent seems like an apparition at the edge of my awareness.

I approach the board like a visitor to a miniature sculpture garden with the individual Staunton-stylized pieces set apart by mathematical proportions: the circular radius of knight moves, the starburst of queen possibilities, the Golden Rectangles, and the myriad of nested and intersecting squares.

The lines and diagonals are the rudiments of String Theory across which bishops and rooks radiate their laser beams. The pawns seem like elementary particles, although they also seem to be the most solid and immobile and opaque objects, defying the laser light to pass through.

Matter and energy are conserved here. The Pauli Exclusion Principle applies: No two pieces can occupy one square. Force, space, time, momentum and acceleration are here, purer in form than in the real world. In the end, the results are trinary: 1, 0, or ½.

And the movement is the Dance of Death, whereby the sculptures leap about, feinting, dodging, colliding, and disappearing from the board. The player with the initiative leads; the other follows, each watchful of the other’s balance and footing. The center of the board beckons to the dancers like a disco ball with its own gravity field. Wallflowers orbit on the flanks.

The alternating turns mark the rhythm. The moves are the notes. The advances and retreats are the crescendos and decrescendos. Plans are conceived and left behind as quickly as riffs from a jazz musician’s instrument.

But my meditations are far from serene. I get this adrenalin rush near the beginning of the game such that in a completely warm environment, I will sometimes shiver uncontrollably. A fellow club blogger once wrote about the Art Thief Mentality. Deception and subterfuge are some of our more primitive weapons. There is a kleptomaniacal rush when my opponent falls for my clever trap. “He doesn’t see it!” I avoid slamming pieces down in real life because I think it’s a bit rude, but in my mind, I’m like Evil Geri in Pixar’s short “Geri’s Game” gleefully fulfilling a materialistic urge. “A-ha! Heh!” Between the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat, there are many emotional shades: the eureka moment when it first dawns on me that the game is winnable; the recession of denial into the sad realization that things have become hopeless.

Whatever the outcome of the game, a handshake is the transporter that brings me back from the world of chess to the real world. “Beam me up, Scotty.”

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