Buddhism for chess players

  • Waldemar
  • | 11 jun. 2008
  • | 5843 x bekeken
  • | 18 reacties

(This article is from my new chess blog Chessedelic.com - mind boggling chess blogging...)

Since the beginning of 2003 I'm taking an interest in (Tibetan) Buddhism.
To me the beauty of Buddhism lies in the fact that one does not necessarily has to regard it as a religion.
If you want to regard it as a philosophy, as your way of live, that's just fine.
Also, the Buddhist 'role models' if you like such as Buddha himself or Padmasambhava, who brought Buddhism to the Land of Snows in the 8th century and who the Tibetans regard as the 'second' Buddha, are not really gods or deities in the traditional meaning of the word, but rather idols who through their great human strength and qualities of wisdom and compassion reached enlightenment and have always inspired many people to strive for the same.

The teachings of the Buddha are on the one hand very vast, but on the other they all revolve around one central issue: the mind.
Asked about the essence of his teachings the Buddha answered:

"Do nothing that causes harm, create an abundance of good virtue, to tame this mind of ours, that is the essence of my teachings".

To tame this mind of ours, that's what I want to discuss a little.
Having a tamed mind basically comes down to the ability of recognizing negative thoughts and emotions the very moment they rise.
Recognizing them helps in creating a space between ourselves and these negative thoughts and emotions, rather than to treat them as objects that we as subjects can grasp upon. The moment we grasp them and form opinions about them, pass judgements or apply concepts to them, we identify with these (negative) thoughts and emotions and let them take over.
This can lead to severe pain and in some cases even to depression.

Taming the mind is accomplished by the practice of attention and mindfulness.
One of the most well-known methods of practice is focusing your attention on the breath while meditating.
By constantly bringing back the attention to the breath every single moment a thought comes up, and having the awareness that one is supposed to do so, the practitioner trains his mind in recognizing thoughts and the ability to decide him or herself to "do" something or to let them float by as if they were clouds.

Having developed a stronger control of the mind, one is much less inclined to live (think!) in the past or in the future.
Instead, one has a greater ability to live in the NOW, which strictly speaking is the only moment we will ever live in.
And that also helps us during a game of chess!

Of course, we are not all Buddhists, and the ones among us that are, are probably quite a long way away from enlightenment, but the thing is we always have to play the position at hand.
Therefore, the anxiety about a missed opportunity (living in the past), or the realization of a mistake we just made (living in the future, without being sure if the opponents notices the mistake), or the fact that we are taken by surprise by our opponents move (living in the future; a subconscious fear for losing the game creeps in) should also be treated as the possible danger they can present: the distraction from the position at hand.
And even if the opponent recognizes your mistake, at least you will already have had more time to think about how to contain the damage, or come to your senses earlier.

It is also in the position at hand that lies the truth and the solution of every little chess problem we call "our move".
Burdened as we are with our figuratively speaking (negative) emotions and thoughts that come up as associations with every position, we often tend to play on the basis of our knowledge of the position, or the application of some sort of standard tactical or strategical scheme for this or that type of position.
But even if this may be of use, the positions that really matter during a game usually are unique in the sense that we never played them before.
Therefore applying knowledge from previous games or analysis or playing a standard tactical or strategical scheme that you think will do the trick has the danger of either taking us back into the past or forward into the future...

You may think that I am taking this a bit too far, but it is a well known axiom that the really strong player not only knows when to apply a rule, but also knows when not to apply it!
And this goes a little bit further than the idea f.i. that "doubling your opponents pawns is usually a good thing to do, but not always".
I call in mind the example I also discussed in 6 tips on how to improve your chess:

Moes - Van Oosterom, Bussum 2002
1. e4 c5
2. Nf3 e6
3. d4 cxd4
4. Nxd4 Nc6
5. Nb5 d6
6. c4 Nf6
7. N1c3 a6
8. Na3 Be7
9. Be2 0-0
10. Be3 Ne5
11. 0-0 Dc7
12. f3 b6
13. Qe1 Re8
14. Qf2 Bd8
15. Rfd1 Qb8
16. b4

And white slowly got a strong grip on the position and later also good chances to win the game.

Not long thereafter I played the following game:

Moes - Ten Hoor, Amsterdam 2002
1. e4 c5
2. Nf3 e6
3. d4 cxd4
4. Nxd4 Nc6
5. Nb5 d6
6. c4 Nf6
7. N1c3 a6
8. Na3 Be7
9. Be2 0-0
10. 0-0 b6
11. Be3 Bb7
12. f3 Nd7
13. Qd2 Rc8
14. Rfd1 Qc7
15. Bf1

Clears the way to f2 for the white queen. The favourable course of events of Moes - Van Oosterom still in my mind, I wanted to place my pieces in a similar way and put pressure on b6. However, I didn't sufficiently realize that black is treating the opening better than in the previous game and that the situation is of course different...
15. ... Nce5
16. Qf2?

Still on automatic pilot, white voluntarily moves his queen opposite the black rook on f8 and doesn't even take black's next move into account!
By the way, remember that in the Van Oosterom game the black rook was on e8 when I moved Qf2!
16. ... f5!Accentuates the vis-a-vis of Rf8 to Qf2 and opens up the diagonal of Bb7.
17. Dd2?
Disappointed by the sudden change of events white retreats his lady still not fully aware of black's potential. More careful was: 17.exf5.
17. ... fxe4
18. Nxe4

Also 18.fxe4 Ng4/Nf6 is no fun.
18. ... Bxe4?
After 18...Rxf3! I would probably have resigned immediately out of sheer repulsion.
Now I could manage to hold and reach a draw from a worse position.
That's how fast such a tough Maroczy bind can collapse!
And all this because I thought I could use my knowledge whilst in the process I was losing my fresh look.

To conclude I would like to say that it is of the utmost importance that we asses the position on it's inherent value rather than on the ideas we may have gathered about them in the past.
Therefore I can advise all of you chess addicts to do a little (chess)meditation!

Feel free to comment.

Namaste, Waldemar
(C) 2008 Chessedelic.com - mind boggling chess blogging...


  • 9 maanden geleden


  • 17 maanden geleden


    What I like about both Buddhist meditation and chess is that they demand your complete attention. All the worries of the world disappear as you devote your attention to the game, or to the meditation.

    But there are differences, which B. Alan Wallance considers in:

    Meditations of a Buddhist Skeptic p.166 (available in Google books)

    Buddhist attentional training leads to relaxation. But in chess, and activities like air traffic control, psychologists have found an inverse relation between relaxation and attentional arousal. That is, chess is highly stressful! 

    In meditation you are expected to develop relaxation, stability, and vividness - in order of difficulty of attainment. With chess your attention must be stable, or you lose the game. The excitement, and stress, of the game makes it vivid. But there is no relaxation!

    So I think meditation is superior to chess, but perhaps chess helps you gain a glimpse of stability and vividness that the inexperienced meditator finds so difficult to attain.

    But the stressful element of chess is something that cannot be ignored, a recent Guardian article noted the deaths of chess players at a tournament and really highlighted the damaging aspects of the game:


    So, if you insist on playing chess, I think, meditation should definitely be considered, for helping you deal with the stress involved. And chess might aid meditation in giving insights into different aspects of attentional techniques.

    But note well that the Buddha put chess-like games at the top of his list of games that he would not play:


    So chess might be looked at as an enemy of Buddhism. But, even so, that may not mean giving it up if you are a Buddhist, as Buddhism encompasses the notion of using your enemies to fire your practice.

    So if you become angry at yourself for not practicing meditation, you can use the positive aspects of anger (energy!) to drive your practice.

    In summary, if you are a Buddhist, and play chess, realise that you are playing with fire, and be careful.

  • 2 jaar geleden


    "...The example I also discussed in 6 tips on how to improve your chess:

    "Not long thereafter I played the following game:



    "That's how fast such a tough Maroczy bind can collapse!"

  • 2 jaar geleden


    i see myself as just an average chess player and try not to take the game too seriously...  however, some years ago, i stopped playing chess as i developed an interest in a Buddhist practice, thinking along the lines that the game of chess consists of too much aggression for the mind.... seemed to me to be going against Buddhist principles as was mentioned by one writer above about "taming the mind"....lately i started moving back into chess a little and last week joined chess.com...  would like to hear some of your Buddhist thinking on this .....

  • 8 jaar geleden


    All thanks to Jesus for chess..! Innocent

  • 8 jaar geleden


    Why don't athiests have any awesome poetic sayings =(.

    I feel so lonely 

  • 8 jaar geleden


    for those interested in Buddhism with a Tibetan flavor and attracted by the phrase 'crazy wisdom' you might enjoy what you find by googling Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, there is a weekly posting of a short paragraph from his teachings to which you can subscribe, much more exciting than the weekly fortune cookie at your favorite local Chinese restaurant. For those who want to get some insight into the essence of enlightenment without a particularly Buddhist flavor go to adyashanti.org and check out his many brief but pithy videos.

     I began in 1959 as a student of Suzuki Roshi in San Francisco, studied with Tarthang Tulku and Chogyam Trungpa R. and finally with Gar Rinpoche for the last ten years. I'm still thick as a brick but these suggestions are from a long time Buddhist. If you play chess to make something artistic and beautiful in your game, it will elevate your way of thinking and your experience, but what is needed  if you aspire to be a top player is strong aggression and some very specialized mental gifts and the willingness to pursue the long grind of learning the entire lore of chess.

          May all beings find the courage to care,



  • 8 jaar geleden


            I agree with you about this article because not only I am chess player but also I am a Buddhism.

           And then I would like to tell about the term "Medition".I have a plan to start a forum with the article "Medition for chess players" later .

  • 8 jaar geleden


    Very sad when the Taliban destroyed the giant Buddhas in Afghanistan.  I hope they will be restored in my lifetime.


    Of course, the Taliban was wiped out soon after - talk about karmic justice!

  • 8 jaar geleden


    Thank you guys for all the comments!
    As for religion: I also would like to focus on chess ;-)

    @ Staticfactory,

    I am inclined to agree with you and am not sure if and how our points of view differ. In my article I argue that a chess player should not care too much for the "good" and "bad", "positive" and "negative", "past" and "future" during a game, because that's normally ego rearing it's ugly head. I believe that he or she will then have a better chance of "being in shape".

    Now, the thing with chess is that we speak of "good" and "bad" moves of course, but just as it is in the nature of pieces to be moved, it is also in our nature of chess players to try and win a game. After all, trying to win is the only way in which the game reveals to us it's inherent beauty, tension, nature, rules and laws. To me that has to do with a search for (chess technical) truth and it is not necessarily a bad thing to try and get there with "good" moves. 

    Just as a Buddhist practitioner wants to reach enlightenment and tries to do that using different means such as contemplation and meditation, the chess player looks for chess truth and tries to do that by striving to win the game. Trying to focus on the "here and now" will help doing just that.

    @ amrita

    You're quite right too and bring up an interesting aspect. In defense of my position I could argue that you are speaking of "virtual chess time" here and that thinking ahead and reckoning with your opponents moves directly relates to the position at hand in which you can only make one single move. But I suppose I also wanted to point out that being able to recognize disturbing thoughts and let them float by helps you to focus on precisely these processes.

    Well, I think I should get some sleep now and take a fresh look tomorrow ;-) 

  • 8 jaar geleden



    Interesting post... but I would have to disagree with your application of Buddhism to chess. 

    It is my understanding that Buddhist teachings have essentially nothing to do with "good" and "bad", "positive" and "negative", "past" and "future", apart from the struggle to release one from the concept of all notions of self (ego).  The wheel of karma spins as it is pushed, and it is pushed just as heavily by a deed born of good intention as it is of malevolence.  Buddhism aims to help one to alleviate the suffering of Samsara by allowing them to transcend mind and body.

    With this in mind, the Buddha would move his pieces without thought or purpose... he would move them only because it is in the piece's nature to be moved.

  • 8 jaar geleden


    Congratulatons for this attempt to focus on mind control,while playing a game ,which may proove to be very useful to a learner like me!

    But what i couldn't understand is that one HAS to think of the probable moves that u can play as a plan & also try to recognize what the opponent is planning to do.This naturally takes us to "foture"!Also we try to analyse our game  & see our mistakes & learn fromthem,which takes us to the "past"!Then how can one remain "in present" for all the while?

  • 8 jaar geleden



    While I'm sure this is certainly not your intention, interesting enough that statement may subtly imply to others that Islam view women as inferior to men.

    Let me make myself clear:  I am absolutely convinced that the Islamic religion views women as inferior to men.  I do not want to be subtle in expressing this opinion. 

    I have read enough of the Koran (I hope to blog a chapter-by-chapter commentary on the Koran soon) to see some of the view of women presented there.  Obviously, polygamy is positively sanctioned there (in contrast the Bible permits polygamy in the OT, and regulates it, but forbids it for leaders, and generally disapproves of it), and easy divorce from the man's side.

    I have also read some of the unabridged Arabian Nights.  Most of us got a heavily edited version of these stories, with a few highlights such as Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves and the Seven Voyages of Sinbad.  In the original, the view of women is that if you leave them alone for a moment, they will start sleeping with your African slaves.  (Islam and slavery is an entirely separate topic.)

    If we go to modern times, we see that in Saudi Arabia, women are not allowed to drive, and the religious police insist that they do not show their faces to any man  who is not a relative.  Here is an article about how a woman was thrown in jail for having a cup of coffee with a male colleague in Saudi Arabia:


    In other Muslim lands, there is a widespread practice of female genital mutilation, which is supposed to help a woman stay chaste, but in reality deprives women of the opportunity for sexual pleasure even after marriage.  And of course, there have been a number of stories recently of rape victims being punished,even with death or 200 lashes, because they "provoked" the crime, while the male perpetrators go free or are punished lightly.

    So yes, Islamic societies treat women not just as different but as inferior. 


  • 8 jaar geleden



    "Shatranj, an earlier form of chess played in Muslim Persia, had far weaker queens and bishops.  This fit in with the Muslim view of women." ~Ray_D~

    Hmm.. You are absolutely right it was a weaker unit. Thank god they changed it to Queen. The unit equivalent to Queen in shatranj is Fers/Farzin/Firzan... which means minister or counsellor to the King.. doesn't necessarily have to do with women I think.

    While I'm sure this is certainly not your intention, interesting enough that statement may subtly imply to others that Islam view women as inferior to men.

    Yusuf Estes, a former christian preacher has some interesting articles on his website about queens on islamic chessboard. Smile


    And to Waldemar, it IS an inspiring article. I hope there'll be Christianity/Islam/etc for Chess Players after this. Chess is so elegant that in its labyrinthine attraction to be understood, it paralells our journey for reaching enlightenment, salvation and love of God.

    May God guide us all to make "the best move" in our way of life.Smile


  • 8 jaar geleden


    Very good idea not often discussed, the mind and oneness with the game.  Very nice way to handle stress and confusion.
  • 8 jaar geleden


    I have read that a higher than usual percentage of chessplayers are atheists, but chess was developed into its current form by Christians.  Ruy Lopez was a bishop, you know.

    Shatranj, an earlier form of chess played in Muslim Persia, had far weaker queens and bishops.  This fit in with the Muslim view of women.

    One problem with being a seriuos Christian chessplayer is that chess can become an all-consuming idol.  another is that most big tournaments have Sunday games.

    If you want a game that is really Buddhist-friendly, try Go.  If you view Chess as a battlefield, Go is like two civilizations competing for space.

    As a Christian, let me share a Proverb for Chess players that, if properly comprehended, is worth at least 100 ratings points:

    Pride goes before destruction, And a haughty spirit before a fall. (Prov. 16:18)

    Remember this well and you will avoid many traps.


  • 8 jaar geleden


    I find Taoism to be a good fit for me and the way my mind works during a game....
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