Be a Winner in 2021

Life is like a game of chess.

I was going to say “life is like a box of chocolates,” but apparently someone else has used that already.

In high school and college, I played a lot of chess. A chess game can end in two ways:

  • One player wins and the other loses. The winner gets 1 point. The loser gets none.
  • Nobody wins or loses, called a “draw.” Both players get one-half of a point. Draws occur when neither player can force checkmate, and in a few other situations.

Over the years, I discovered that there were two kinds of chess players.

The first kind of player wants to win. The late Bobby Fischer (1943-2008) was like that. He was fiercely aggressive on the chessboard. He once said “I like the moment when I break a man’s ego.” As you might guess, he was not a very nice guy. But he was one of the greatest chess players who ever lived.

The second kind of player hates to lose. That player takes a more passive approach to avoid losing. If it looks risky to try for a win, he won’t take the risk. He’ll try for a stalemate or some other way to get a draw.

Neither approach is right or wrong. Aggressive players like Fischer get most of the attention because they’re more interesting. Their moves are sometimes brilliant and unexpected. But many grandmasters have played passively and still won tournaments. They’re called “drawing masters” because they draw so many games.

Each player’s style reflects his or her own personality and values. One element of chess strategy is to force your opponent to play in ways with which he’s uncomfortable. You try to make an aggressive player defend, and you try to make a passive player attack.

And chess is like life. Some people want to win. Others hate to lose. Most are probably in the middle. It affects how they live.

My view of life matches my view of chess: “Not losing” doesn’t equal “winning.” Likewise, not dying isn’t the same thing as living.

But I can’t tell you the right approach for your life, any more than I can tell you the right approach for you to play chess. That depends on what you think and how you feel. How I feel only applies to me.

In 2021, you should live in the way that your heart tells you is right.

If you do that, then you’ll be a winner.

Note: Chess grandmaster Reuben Fine (1914-1993), who was also a psychoanalyst, wrote a good book on The Psychology of the Chess Player. It’s still in print.

Check out my book Why Sane People Believe Crazy Things: How Belief Can Help or Hurt Social Peace. Kirkus Reviews called it an “impressively nuanced analysis.”

About N.S. Palmer

N.S. Palmer is an American mathematician.
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2 Responses to Be a Winner in 2021

  1. I would rather lose than not try to win.


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