They Said It Better Than I Ever Could...

These words that I write, they keep me from total insanity. -Charles Bukowski

Who is the happier man, he who has braved the storm of life and lived, or he who has stayed securely on shore and merely existed? -Dr. Hunter S. Thompson

Jul 23, 2008

Chess With An Officer...

July 23, 2008

So we went through this goofy SRP thing today. Basically all that was, was us going through to this station and that station getting our nice little paper filled out from medical, dental, personel, and insurance and legal, and this and that and I think we had a kitchen sink thrown in there too. But I have to admit that as far as military operations go, it wasn’t all that bad. I mean it went pretty fast, and there weren’t a lot of hang ups as far as this paper not matching that one and what not. We didn’t or at least I didn’t have any of the fuckups that are commonly associated with military processing.

Just an endless stream of paperwork that we have to do in order to be deployed, and believe it or not I don’t have any problem with shit like this. Its got to be done so lets get it done. Which is exactly what we did, and we only lost 4 people to non-deployable status for this thing or that thing. Mostly medical issues, but hey you got to be healthy in order to die for your country.

Now we did manage to do something that presented me with some semblance of amusement. In the army the officers are the ones who have to go to college and be the smart ones who are able to lead us into battle and make the proper decisions in a combat environment, under a world of stress they have to be able to think and consider a million different variables and come up with the appropriate decision for that situation. They are the military’s strategizers (to borrow a term from G.W.) What is the ultimate intellectual test of strategy? Chess, of course.

Now I love to play chess and I especially love to play against someone that I know or at least think is better or smarter than me. That is where the challenge lies, not in playing the dumbest guy you can find. You know the type, “so uhh, how do you move the horsey one again?” Who the fuck wants to play with those guys. I want to play against the smartest person that I can find, regardless of rank. So I challenged one of our lieutenants to a chess match. He accepted.

Now immediately from the beginning he started to play the mind games. “Back in college, when I was on the chess team, and you know I haven’t really played in a long time and blah blah blah. Fairly simple mind tricks that would’ve worked on me if I were say 18 and completely retarded. But I digress, everyone has their way of doing things and this was his.

So the match went pretty well for about the first 15 moves or so… then he left himself open to a very simple checkmate. I’ll tell you this anyone who is mated in under 20 moves with losses of only 3 pieces is definitely a sub-par player, some would go so far as to call them a bit stupid. But he isn’t stupid, as a matter of fact I have a world of respect for the man, he is in point of fact an excellent leader.

The thing that made me laugh was the fact that while we were playing several of my fellow lower enlisted soldiers came by to watch and upon my defeating him we started talking about point values for chess pieces and strategies in chess and openings and end games and a myriad of other things that the lieutenant did not even begin to understand. But he started to get it as we explained things with a little more detail. Then after he had left we started playing amongst ourselves, about 4 of us altogether. Then I noticed something, all these guys were fairly solid chess players, with a good grasp of the game and the imagination to see the game play out in their heads and make appropriate moves given the information presented to them. No grandmasters, to be sure, but formidable opponents nonetheless. All E-4 and below, I might add, and I cant help but remember something my team leader told me while I was on active duty and that is that the higher you go in the military rank stucture, the more brain matter they remove from your head. This made me laugh, that the men who are paid to be cannon fodder (lower enlisted) and the men who are paid to lead the fodder to the cannons (the officer) are on such diametrically opposed ends of the spectrum as it applies to a game built purely on strategy and thoughtfulness. You would think that these are qualities, or actually, you would hope that these are qualities that officers would have plenty of.

So we spent parts of the next few hours playing match after match of chess, and I managed to win all but one of my matches. Problem being that the one that I lost was a match began by another soldier but finished by me because he had to go to some class and wasn’t available to finish the game. So I had to deal with a shitty position from the beginning and it just got worse from there, but I still lost the game so I cant take that away from my opponent.

Then he came along, SSG D. This guy sat in the back watching us play for a while and throwing his two cents around every so often. I didn’t really think that much of it, but I knew that I wanted to play against him, because he seemed to know at least a little bit more about chess than your average guy, and he outranks me and it is always fun to beat their asses. And let me say this, Sergeant D is a great guy, a White Sox fan, so he is OK with me. But the fact remains that he is a E-6 and its fun to make them look silly from time to time.

So, first he plays another guy we got here who plays incredibly aggressively. He is fairly easy to beat so long as you stay calm and patient. Sooner or later he will make a mistake and then you can knock him down. So I watch as they play and sergeant D plays just as aggressively with him and manages to not only beat him but get him to concede. Which in my book is an even stronger victory, any chess player will tell you that if there is no winning the match you should play for the draw, but he got him to concede. A product of this young man’s aggressiveness and intolerance for the patience needed to play a good game of chess. And he did it like 3 times straight in the span of about 45 minutes.

Then I got up to the plate. I figured that since sergeant D was an aggressive player I could sit back on defense and wait for him to make the mistake, bring the queen out too early or whatever and I could pounce. However, just as quickly as my buddy had gotten up and I had sat down, sergeant D changed his style of play and switched over to defensive tactics. He was basically showing both of us that he could beat us at our own games. The game ended when I conceded defeat as he chased me around the board with two queens, a rook, a knight, a bishop and a pawn against my king and 4 pawns. It was a slaughter. I really do wonder what kind of intelligence level it takes to be able to switch so easily between chess strategies. I mean we aren’t talking like any of us are Bobby Fisher or Josh Waitzkin or anything like that, but you still have to be pretty smart to be able to do something like that so effortlessly. Not to mention, he beat me! That takes a pretty smart guy right there.

So I digress, in a game of strategy the cannon fodder came out on top of the bosses. I, like so many things I have seen in the army, found this to be quite amusing. Maybe someday I’ll get to play the commander and see what he is all about. They say you can tell a lot about a man by the way he plays chess, I wonder?

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