Editor’s Note: This article is by a rather distinguished guest author, Benjamin Franklin. Although written more than two centuries ago, his piece, originally titled The Morals of Chess, still has value for us today.
The game of chess is not merely an idle amusement. Several very valuable qualities of the mind, useful in the course of human life are to be acquired or strengthened by it, so as to become habits, ready on all occasions. For life is a kind of chess, in which we have often points to gain, and competitors or adversaries to contend with, and in which there is a vast variety of good and evil events that are in some degree the effects of prudence or the want of it. By playing at chess, then, we may learn:
1. Foresight, which looks a little into futurity and considers the consequences that may attend an action; for it is continually occurring to the player: “If I move this piece, what will be the advantage of the new situation? What use can my adversary make of it to annoy me? What other moves can I make to support it and to defend myself from his attacks?”
2. Circumspection, which surveys the whole chessboard, or scene of action; the relations of the several pieces and situations, the dangers they are respectively exposed to, the several possibilities of their aiding each other, the probabilities that the adversary may make this or that move, and attack this or the other piece, and what different means can be used to avoid his stroke, or turn its consequences against him.
3. Caution, not to make our moves too hastily. The habit is best acquired by observing strictly the rules of the game, such as, “If you touch a piece, you must move it somewhere; if you set it down you must let it stand”; and it is therefore best that these rules should be observed, as the game thereby becomes more the image of human life, and particularly of war, in which, if you have incautiously put yourself into a bad and dangerous position, you cannot obtain your enemy’s leave to withdraw your troops and place them more securely, but you must abide all the consequences of your rashness.
And, lastly, we learn by chess the habit of not being discouraged by present appearances in the state of our affairs, the habit of hoping for a favorable change, and that of persevering in the search of resources. The game is so full of events, there is such a variety of terns in it, the fortune of it is so subject to sudden vicissitudes, and one so frequently, after long contemplation, discovers the means of extricating one’s self from a supposed insurmountable difficulty, that one is encouraged to continue the contest to the last in the hopes of victory by your own skill, or at least of getting a stalemate by the negligence of our adversary. And whoever considers, what in chess he often sees instances of, that particular pieces of success are apt to produce presumption and its consequent inattention, by which the losses may be recovered, will learn not to be too much discouraged by the present success of his adversary, nor to despair of final good fortune upon every little check he receives in the pursuit of it.