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“For every complex problem, there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.” –H. L. Mencken

My grandmother taught me how to read when I was four. By age five, I knew how to write. When I turned six, my father taught me how to add—and subtract, and multiply, and by age seven—divide. But before any of this, at the tender age of three, I learned how to play chess.

Though I don’t remember much from my childhood, I will never forget the day my grandfather first positioned that square, checkered plank of timber in front of me. It was not my first time seeing the chessboard; periodically, my grandfather would withdraw it from its closeted abode to engage in a round or two with his sage companions. Though I hadn’t understood the activity, I chose to accept it as an adult hobby—one whose meaning, like that of my grandmother’s nightly soap operas, was simply too sophisticated for a young child to understand. Finally, seated at the threadbare living room divan that would soon come to accommodate our ritual nights of game play, I realized that my turn at chess had come.

“Nasten’ka,” my grandfather said, “it’s time we play some chess.”

Over the course of the next three years, my grandfather taught me everything he knew about the game. I learned about the pliable prowess of the queen; the ?-shaped trail of the startling knight; the crosswise capacity of the cunning bishop. I learned about dynamic piece placement - to disperse my figures throughout the board as early as possible. Each night, I would beg my grandfather to play another round with me. Though I could never win, I delighted in the diversity of the game’s infinite challenges. Each game presented a fresh enigma - a revived opportunity to arrange my pieces into a perfect pattern for success.

As more time passed, I began to comprehend the errors of my ineffective approach. I was too impatient - too impulsive, moving my most lucrative pieces into a reckless embrace of my grandfather’s subterfuge. I’d seize the opportunity to eliminate his vulnerable knights with my well-defended crown only to realize that such ingenuity had killed my kingdom’s buffers, ushering in my immediate defeat. Indeed, the moment I would execute a maneuver was often one in the same with the moment I’d come to regret it. Although an immediate remedy to my army’s ailments was always in front of me, the quick fix was never the remedy I was searching for—the remedy that would secure my surefire success.

As I discovered the errors of my approach, I simultaneously stumbled upon a back door to my grandfather’s reasoning. I realized I must proceed with caution, responding to the present while being equally prepared for the future. I must foresee not only my moves, but also those of my opponent. Most importantly, I must remain mindful of the objective at hand. The goal of chess is one of neither annihilation nor accumulation - no; the goal of chess is to win. I realized that all must succumb to the decisive juncture of the checkmate. In its transaction, I must be on the giving end.

Little by little, the winds of wisdom began to shift in my favor. They induced a curious current - a gradual wave of refinement that replenished the shallow waters of my technique. Our nightly games grew longer with my progress. By the time I could make sense of “SHAHMATI,” the text inscribed onto the side of the board, our gentle games had grown into marathon tournaments that lasted well beyond the Days of my grandmother’s Lives. By the time I could write to tell my tale, I had finally done it. I had fixed my first win.

Today, I often hear others argue that the best solutions are ‘right in front of us.’ I beg to differ. In life, as in chess, the best solutions are always the ones worth searching for. Sure, my grandfather’s knight stands within the trajectory of my king – and yes, I know I can kill it. But is this the best solution? Not in the long run. Though it requires effort to find the most effective answers - be it 5 centimeters, an alternative attack, or asking a different question altogether - these are the true treasures of prosperity; the golden gems that transform the notion of victory from a mere possibility into an infallible certainty. If we can find these gems, we don’t just sidestep a trivial trap. We win the game.




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