Sunday, August 26, 2012

Finding Charm and Enrichment or Wasting Away and Dissociated?

A great little article I stumbled upon last night, 'On Chess: Club fever can lead to stalemated rut', by Shelby Lyman [1] This is pretty much what it is all about:

'For some people, a chess club or chess cafe becomes a dead end.

'The chess club of my teenage years was a vibrant place frequented by exceptional people who had rich lives outside of the venue. But a few were there from opening to closing, month after month, year after year'.

Full article continues, linked here.  It hits straight on. While not long, it does capture the essence of the dilemma.  We as chess players experience entire worlds, yet nevertheless abstract, but we also can land in a place that not only leads nowhere, but downright harmful to our careers, relationships, and overall health if not very corporeal bodies--flesh and blood, guts and soul.

This can charm us with aesthetics and enrich a sense of connection to an intellectual milieu connecting round the world.  It can teach us how to use databases, broaden our social horizons by giving us strong access to what are called communities of knowledge, do things we never expected to learn, such as program in html when we blog, or instead it can serve to deflect and divert our life trajectory, postponing or outright subverting progress in parts of life of far greater consequence.

Or, a little bit of both?  With me, lots of both.  Chess fills me.  Chess is an intellectual romance of the highest order.  Chess is escape.  But left unchecked, preoccupation with chess will rob you of other things.  You can bet on it.

I always said, 'Smart people, they come a dime a dozen.  But smart people with heart, those are rare'.  So here:  chess players devoted to the art of chess, stepped in its culture and history and near tireless in pursuit of hard to distinguish nuances of improvement--there are a great many of them.  But deeply committed chess players who are either physically fit or take time to be in nature, mindful of nutrition, and balance with love or family or work or god (pick any two [2]), show someone like that.

[1] For those of you too young to know, but to those of us back in the day, say now about age fifty-four and over is probably well known, Shelby Lyman was the chess expert (one below master) who as a college professor but whom could communicate clearly, and in a very engaging way, he was the guy who grabbed America with his live commentary on the epic 1972 Fischer-Spassky World Chess Championship match, in Reykjavik Iceland.  It was wonderful.   Black and white magic.  

It was the Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show, first JFK then MLK shot, the man on the moon, Tiny-Tim, trust me, I saw all of them, live.  Add to that Lyman.  Think of it--Beatles, man on the moon, JFK, MLK, The Sixties, the Vietnam war on television EVERY SINGLE NIGHT, and, gosh, who but what else?  Fischer.  Fischer on TV.  Genius.  Disturbing.  Disruptive.  Iconoclastic.  Supreme.  Singular.  Epic.  Those of us who saw it, began to play chess.  Some or many of us till this very day.

I stumbled upon it, and like so many others, promptly and immediately became a regular chess player, completely infatuated by the game, and remain so to this day [3].  He--Lyman--knew more than enough of the game to come across to nearly all viewers,  but as a great communicator who knew chess, not as a chess player who could communicate.  

A lovely man, and dear he was.  Thank you Mr. Lyman (After posting this, I wasn't sure if I had mentioned that Lyman was a college professor and had to go back and reread what wrote, to make sure, or if having mentioned it, had not fact checked it.  You know, you heard it in 1972, and thirty years latter still have it wrong.  But he was a lecturer and what a teacher he must have been, notes here [4]). 

Oh, and lest I forget maybe one of the single most important facts, it was ON PBS, Public Broadcasting.  Can you imagine.  What has become of our world?  Dancing with Stars, Survivor, American Idol, ESPN Sports Center... The ascension of the trivial, rule by the tank top, bleach blond, cheap boob jobs, jokes written by entire teams, demographic marketing, Nelson rating points, Britney Spears, the total vacuity of Justin Beaver, Jessica Simpson, KIM Kardashian, Paris Hilton, all that jazz.  

Fast forward, the internet, when not just eyeballs, but verily key-strokes get measured.  The end of essence, but now the begining of pathos.  Depth goes to shallow.  Craft goes to profit.  Connection goes to dissociation and isolation.  Don't get me started.  My favorite line.

Careful searches, most unfortunately, do not turn up even partial video clips of Lyman on PBS, a gigantic loss to chess history.  Mentions at Forums here (actually, while some there is a bit on the way too thin side, sometimes information there can be really helpful, a matter of digging it out), and New York Times, here.  

I like the core of  But in the comments, its something of the quality of fourteen year old boys talking about women.  Yikes.  Nevertheless, repeat, some stuff there is great, just not usually.  On the other hand, the moral conduct of the users is A+.  I get like two rude comments every six weeks.  This cannot be an accident, and I credit the owner-operators.  Thank you.

[2] In project management:  'Speed, quality, cost.  Pick two'.  Or in structural engineering:  'Give me enough time, money, or headroom, and I can do anything'.  Speaking of threes:  'Do you know what made the richest man in the world, software entrepreneur Bill Gates, so great?--he had three things:  

He had brilliance (that one is obvious).  

He was ruthless (cut a tough deal, as but a spanking lad, with IBM for the DOS-code or whatever it was.  Shit, his dad was a lawyer.  You don't think that as a boy they ever had talks?  No way they didn't.  Of course they did.).  

But he had a third things--he had good stars (some of the greatest things on earth, can only be done with a bit of luck, against all odds (Phelps winning in Beijing by, what was it, 0.003 of a second, Lance Armstrong darn near going over, catching his handlebar on someone's plastic bag on a fast climb in the Pyrenees or French Alps, but goes on to win or near win when he could have gone completely down.  Such things cannot be calculated).

[3] Of course, as I have said often, I had to quit in 1973, and except for something like one or two games played every ten years after that (I mean it literally, and painfully found I had lost all of my chess), did not play again till 2001, after leaving the Wall Street world, Morgan Stanley in particular, rotten bastards :-).  It gave me refuge if not comfort.  It allowed me to forget, if but for moments.  Forgetting is hard to do, and as we age, far more to remember than to look forward to.  So much I wish that I could close my eyes and totally erase!

[4] Addendum, Mon 27Aug2012 22:38 pst: Of all the places to find a nice summary, from Google:

People Magazine, October 06, 1986, Vol. 26, No. 14, full and very heart warming article linked here: 'Knightly Newsman Shelby Lyman Makes Chess a TV Spectator Sport'.  Here is a clip:

'Growing up in Boston's Dorchester section, Lyman started playing chess at 9 with his uncle, Harry Lyman, a New England Champion. He went on to become a social-relations major and the top player at Harvard, and represented the U.S. at the 1956 Students Chess Olympiad. 

'Later, while a lecturer at City College, he won New York's prestigious Marshall Chess Club championship and became the 18th-ranked U.S. player. In 1972, a public TV producer in a chess class Lyman was teaching agreed with Lyman's suggestion to put the Fischer-Spassky match on the tube, and Lyman became the proverbial overnight celebrity. "In 1972, I would walk down a city block and 50 people would come up to me," he says. "I was the hottest thing in town." '  


Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is what I appreciate so much about your blog; it is about chess and LIFE!

Mon Aug 27, 10:53:00 AM PDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for your recollections in the footnote about Shelby Lyman. Like you, I was an adolescent in 1972, when Shelby opened up a world for me. Initially I was interested only in the cold war aspect of the match, but Shelby's analysis drew me in! I will always be grateful to him. A brilliant man, a real person.

Mon Aug 27, 06:30:00 PM PDT  

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