We all like to win. Nowhere is this more true than in competitive games and sports. Back in the day, I used to play competitive chess, representing my employer in an inter-company league in the Hartford, Connecticut area.
People who don’t play chess sometimes picture a game where both players sit immobile, each thinking it’s the other’s turn to play, until both fall asleep.
In reality, tournament chess is an incredibly suspenseful, sustained, high-pressure contest. We played with chess clocks set so each player had to make 40 moves in 90 minutes on his own clock. You’d think a three-hour combined time limit would make for a leisurely game, but I assure you it was very tense. One or both players usually got into time trouble by the end, having to make, say, 10 moves in his final two minutes. That was after spending nearly three hours thinking as hard as he could, searching for the best plan, wondering what his opponent is planning, worrying about making a blunder and wanting to score a point for his team.
After all that effort and tension, a victory felt really good. We recorded our moves as we played and I would savor a victory by replaying it at home. (Not that I needed the written record; with that much thinking invested, it was easy to remember every move.)
In my early days, I cared very much about winning but as my game improved I cared about something else even more, namely whether the game was beautiful. If I played my best, but lost, I would derive true enjoyment from a game that was as beautiful as I knew how to make it.
Conversely, if I won only because my opponent blundered, the victory would be empty.
There were some games that were more of an honor to lose than other games were to win.
Chess is very much like a debate. One player may think, “My King is safe. I can embark on a queenside attack.” The other player is thinking, “I’ll break through to his King before his queenside attack has done significant damage.” Or maybe the second player doesn’t see the attack coming and will soon be shown the error of his ways. The game is all about discovering whether your ideas are sound.
A player who loves chess even more than he loves winning will enjoy a game where his errors are refuted even more than a game he wins because of his opponent’s mistake.
So here is my Chess Player’s Truth-Loving Test for all debates, whether or not they occur on a chessboard.
A person loves the truth when he (or she) is happier to hear a beautiful refutation of his errors than to win an argument against a weak opponent.
Other truth-loving tests in this series: