Thursday, October 4, 2012

Meeting the Siberian Chess Master

I broke out of Sveta's apartment to meet the Siberian Chessmaster.  My prison was not a real one, but Sveta worries about me.  So - when she goes to work, she leaves me in the apartment.  Because I speak little Russian and virtually nobody in Siberia speaks English, she worries I'll get hurt.  This is a side point to note about Russian women.  My view is that Russia builds strong women and lazy, weak men.  Men don't seem to work or want to work, and it seems like women do everything.  Hence, women like Sveta then overprotect their children.  I felt like her kid.  I understand her worry, and it comes from a good place in her heart.  But boys must learn to be men, and men must learn to "endure their journey hence."

Therefore, I was determined to break out and find my way to the subway station.  I needed to meet my chessmaster.  My chessmaster wrote me an email and his phone number and the directions to meet him at Red Prospect.  After I leave the apartment, I ask everyone, Where's the Metro?  I follow their instructions in a new, unknown Soviet world.  I felt like a boy again on some treasure hunt with only having a phone number and map.  But then again, wasn't my whole BAR trip one big treasure hunt?  It all seems Soviet to me because everything looks the same - the same color high rise concrete buildings - the same looking shops - the same items sold at the shops are present everywhere in Siberia.  Eventually, I did make it to Red Prospect and found my chessmaster.

We sit at a nearby cafe together.  When one imagines a chessmaster, at least the way I do, you imagine an old, wise man.  The guy is 25.  He wears glasses and has flat hair.  He's a bit geeky but not so much that he's socially ackward.  But I'm certain, the guy would be into scifi and space creatures and probably also into Hawking's String Theory.

The cafe is playing jazz music and around us are loungers of society - who smoke cigarettes, pretend to be more important than they are, and want to be seen.  We set up the chessboard.  I play white, him black.

I started with my opening move.  He says, "That's the best move for white."  We continue the game, until some options open up.  I ask him what I should do, and like all experts he has the same response, "It depends on the situation, what you should do next."

"So - what are you thinking about?"

He goes into this thought process.  He says, "Well - it depends what kind of attack you want to set up next."

I said, "How do I know which attack I should go for?"

"Well, part of that is style but you can either move towards ultra-aggressive or you can move toward strangulation."

"How do I know when one is a better strategy than the next?"

This was the most important part of the lesson.  I observed a sinister grin come over his face.  He explained it to me, and I felt a devilish delight spring into my heart and was expressed in my eyes - shimmering with excitement.  I never knew - I thought.  All those stupid chess books and internet explanations had never taught me the core of this grand strategy.  My eyes told the chessmaster I knew for they already told him: I see.

And he acknowledge it and said, "You see, now?"


I found it ironic that the former-Soviet was teaching the American the Art of War.  If you had not seen the board, our conversation sounded more like a war game than chess.  We then created a simulation.  I chose him that I would chose the ultra-aggressive strategy and explained why I was choosing this.  He said, "I think you're a good student."

I said, "Thank you.  I've had many good masters before me."

We continued the game and at each point, when it was a critical part of the battle, I would ask him what was going on through his head.  I was getting a glimpse into the inner machinery of a chessmaster.  He welcomed it, and I was absorbing destructive and powerful knowledge.  Although I have never personally met a dictator in my life, I knew how one felt when his nuclear bomb successfully detonated at a test site.

Towards the end game, that I could only win now by ordering my troops to enter into complete bloodshed.  I said, "But this is barbaric.  Surely, there must be a more sophisticated way of winning without so many lives lost."

He said, "No.  You don't have enough power or leverage or advantage to have another strategy.  If you did, sure you can play a more graceful way.  But - at this point - it becomes total warfare.  Further, you have power on the two flanks.  Keep marching up your men to the end to divide my forces and my attention.  Then you win."

In Russian I nodded and said, "I understand."

He said again, "You're a very good student."

I smiled.

I paid for the bill of tea and crepes.  Little did anyone know that the two of us were studying the Art of War in a small, Siberian cafe.  I only had an hour with him but learned great secrets of battle.  Here are two lessons that came out of it meeting with the chessmaster.

First, it is this.  In War, the Chessmaster must always remember that each piece is inferior to the main objective of winning.  This is a real politik paradigm, but what it means is that you cannot care about your pieces.  Each piece is disposable and must be to win.  Every piece's objective is to die for the cause.  I know this is a basic principle of chess, but I saw it better now.

Second, I learned what true defeat means.  It's not what we really think.  We think that to destroy, defeat, loot, or humiliate the opponent is defeat.  This is an immature understanding of conquest.  What real conquest is is this: it is to rob, remove, and eliminate the opponent of any kind of freedom.  This is checkmate - when the opponent has no moves left.  If freedom is full range of possibility, defeat is when all your options have been taken away from you.  This, in my opinion, is Evil's primary goal - to hold you or someone else in bondage.  You have no options left.

After I left the cafe, the chessmaster gave me a hug and said he'd like to see me again.  I said I'd come back in the summer.  After saying goodbye to him, I flew like a bird to Sveta's apartment.  I had a flight to catch to St. Petersburg soon.

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