by Ryan Krzykowski
Here comes a story that does not include the words Covid, Coronavirus, quarantine or reopen. Or anything about how we’re in this together. Just a simple story that meant something to me last week — perhaps it will mean something to you.
Going back to the fall of 2019, I’ve played a pretty good amount of online chess. Chess.com has something for players of any skill level, and it’s free. And when it comes to skill level, I bring very little to the table. My preference is 1 or 3 minute timed games where I can win sometimes just by playing fast instead of actually being better at chess than my opponent. The details aren’t really that important I guess, but the bottom line is that I’m playing all these quick chess games, and while I’m much improved since last fall, I’m still not very good. I don’t know cool chess tricks, gambits or strategies. I just try to trade pieces with my opponent and play really fast. My game is 95% defense and speed. I’m like the early 80’s Ozzie Smith of chess. Very little offense, just defense and speed.
I say all that to provide a little context for what happened last week. Because I’ve found that as I played more on chess.com, I had become increasingly concerned with my player rating. As I win more, the rating goes up, which feels good. When I lose and see the rating decrease, I would get this sick feeling, and like a gambler scrambling to get back to even at the blackjack table or something, I want to see my chess rating back where it was. Or even higher. At my worst, I can spend an hour or more playing a series of short games, motivated by a desire to feel like a winner. I know it’s pointless — nothing about my life hinges on my rating on chess.com. Nothing. And yet, I want to feel like a winner. So I press on and start another game.
Up until last week, that desire to win and compulsion to see my rating increase was basically the sum total of my reasons for spending time playing online chess. And then I played a game that changed my perspective. I got into a game with ParkH, and about six moves each into the game, ParkH put his queen in a bad spot. Having made a similar terrible move in the past, I realized that ParkH almost certainly had his finger slip on the touch screen. That’s what had happened to me before. So as I was taking his queen, ParkH reached out and asked for a draw. Using the chat I asked if his finger slipped and acknowledged that same thing had happened to me before. I accepted the offer of a draw, and ParkH wrote one word in the chat…”respect”.
When I read that word, something clicked into place for me, and I’ll leave it to you to decide what this could potentially mean for you. For months I was chasing fairly meaningless chess.com rating points, which is a process that never stops. The next higher level is never nearly as satisfying as I’d hoped it would be. But now, I can tell you I play online chess to show respect to opponents from around the world. I still play to win, no doubt, but winning has transitioned from being my purpose to being simply a goal. A good reminder that whether it’s online chess, high school basketball, youth baseball, or whatever else we might play/coach, winning is a worthy goal — it’s just a hollow purpose.
Let’s Coach With Purpose.