As backhanded Christmas gifts go, a copy of 12 Rules for Life, must be up there with wrinkle cream or a nose-hair trimmer. One generous soul decided that Jordan Peterson’s bracing self-help book, published two years ago, was just the tonic I need to improve my life and character.
Who knows what advice to take, when feedback from the game of life is so wickedly fuzzy? Most decisions are inconsequential, and some which look good will come back to haunt you. But in the game of kings, results are unambiguous: win, lose or draw, and then you get reincarnated. So in the spirit of January resolutions, this is how those dozen rules might apply to chess.
1. Stand up straight with your shoulders back.
A good start: sit up straight at the board. I don’t do this, but I still win sometimes.
2. Treat yourself like someone you are responsible for helping.
It takes preparation and composure to play your best chess. Don’t sabotage yourself before you’ve even sat down.
3. Make friends with people who want the best for you.
Seek out worthy opposition.
4. Compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not to who someone else is today.
I know a Greek grandmaster whose T-shirt said: ‘Always be yourself. Unless you can be Batman, in which case always be Batman.’ Try as you might, you cannot be Magnus Carlsen either.
5. Do not let your children do anything that makes you dislike them.
Not easy to practise in real life, but perhaps even harder in chess, where children sometimes run rings around adults. The worst of all worlds is when the adult tries, loses, and throws the tantrum.
6. Set your house in perfect order before you criticise the world.
Online analysis engines make even world champions look silly. Don’t be the guy watching on the internet shouting ‘BLUNDER!!!’ every time a mistake occurs.
7. Pursue what is meaningful (not what is expedient).
Internet bullet chess (one minute for all moves) is popular, addictive, and pointless. Abstinence is best.
8. Tell the truth — or, at least, don’t lie.
Ditch the sketchy gambits. After the opening moves 1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Bc4, only a brazen scammer would venture the thrust 3…Nd4. Some sucker might be drawn in with 4 Nxe5? which lands in trouble after 4...Qg5. Then 5 Nxf7? is like wiring money to a fake Nigerian prince: 5…Qxg2 6 Rf1 Qxe4 7 Be2 Nf3 (see diagram) is smothered mate. The truth is that 3…Nd4 is a dreadful move, doing nothing for Black’s development, and the wholesome 4 Nxd4 exd4 5 0-0 condemns the scammer to misery and penury.
9. Assume that the person you are listening to might know something you don’t.
Carlsen said ‘My opponent is an idiot until proven otherwise’. See rule 4 — that works for him, but it’s a bad approach for everyone else. Listen to your opponent.
10. Be precise in your speech.
In the fog of war, it’s easy to cower from imagined threats and overlook the real ones. ‘What is the threat?’ is a good question for beginners and grandmasters. See puzzle.
11. Do not bother children when they are skateboarding.
Embrace risk, and don’t let your play become stale and dogmatic.
12. Pet a cat when you encounter one on the street.
Keep a light heart. Chess isn’t easy, but it’s only a game!