The ‘Art’ Of chess – Part 2

Ranjith Hegde

Ranjith Hegde plays the Violin, focusing on western classical and jazz traditions. Also teaches music. Playing chess in many tournaments these days.

(Continued from The `Art’ of chess – part 1)


`The art of war science’, as peculiar and oxymoronic as the phrase may sound to some, has existed in the vocabulary and understanding of many since time immemorial. Back in our epics, I came across the concept of “Savyasachi”. The current online dictionaries may translate it as ambidextrous whereas I remember the meaning of it a little differently. What I had heard, read and understood of it was that it described a person who was not only ambidextrous but also had mastered and ‘activated’ both laterals of the brain to high extents. Popular theories are that the left lateral of the brain is more associated with forming cognitive memories, such as understanding the syntax and grammar of languages or mathematics whereas the right lateral is associated to the articulation, intonation and accentuation of sound, etc. indicating artistic and creative ability.

Savyasachi is a name commonly used as an adjective to Arjuna from the Mahabharata. It is pertaining to his mastery of war science and his creative abilities as a dancer during his incognito. The mastery of archery, with its slow and systematic nature of study and the way of developing skill through practice and comprehension can be compared to the technique study on the violin or other musical instruments. The same would work for Chess. The understanding of concepts, learning opening/endgame moves and the ability to calculate variations are no different. Going by the popular theories, this would be the work of left lateral of the brain. In Archery, one can surmise that the calmness in the body, the ability to sense that the position is in co-ordination with the target, the co-ordination of different limbs and releasing the arrow sensing the right moment would be the work of the right lateral. The things we could call as artistic sensibilities. If it does not sound right, ask dancers about  their body calmness and their co-ordination between different parts of the body. They would agree that those things are more about sensing the flow rather than calculation.

In music, we create the flow using different tensions and resolve it by either building to a release or playing with it to create different forms of thoughts and expressions. For example, the tension created by the dominant chord can be built to a nice ending in the tonic chord, or can be played with using phrases and toying around with those notes to an eventual release, whichever feels true in that context. But to comprehend that to the full extent, you need rudimentary knowledge of music. But regardless, listeners sense that effect, even if they are unable to articulate it or describe it that clearly. The same can be done in other disciplines of art such as dance, literature etc. using specific methods. Even in Chess. After playing the game for a while, you begin to sense the tension in each position or pattern of the pieces, and using your intuition, you can sense its release in a different position. In short, some positions feel awkward and shuffling a few pieces around makes it disappear. Some moves appear more elegant and playful than other. But to understand it that clearly, you need more playing experience and a strong ability to focus on intuition. Not much of knowledge of the game. Things that are sometimes described as `gut feeling’. This can arguably be the right lateral function of the brain.

To summarize, the systematic way of learning different aspects of the game, conceptually understanding and judging positions to form strategies and training the ability to calculate would form the technical abilities needed to master the game. Whereas, sensing the tension in each position (without judging or conceptualizing it) and focusing and relying on intuition to find the resolution position for that tension would be basic artistic sensibilities of the game. Both of the above aspects and a healthy co-ordination between them would be the aspects that makes a chess player a Savyasachi.

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