Sunday, August 25, 2013

Understanding the larger picture

I used to play a fair amount of Chess while being at school. I was an average player, but I did love the game. So most of my after school hours were spent pondering over the squared board and hammering the chess clock using the captured piece. We didn't have a coach, so it was all our paradise.  So one fine day one of our distinguish old boy's came to spend the evening with us and put up a nice little competition.  He set up a position on a board ( I don't recall the position he set up. But for those who are new to chess, it will look something like this)

Image from
He gave us a task. Was pretty simple, we were given three minutes to look at the board. After which he would break the position. We need to go to our own chess boards and re-create the same position. The competition was to evaluate how many pieces each one of us managed to recall and set up at the right square.

With a bit of swollen headed arrogance, I wondered that it was a pointless task and went about simply memorizing the position. So rank by rank I tried to store in memory the shapes of the structure. For example, unmoved rook, white king side castled. Kings gambit like pawn structure for white, etc... Then when three minutes ended I went and tried to set up the position. I was left bitterly confused. Managed to set up only about 50% of the pieces. That too mostly the pawns.

On the contrary there was this other player who managed to set up the whole structure. I was about to conclude that he had better memory power and was good at memorizing. Then when the old boy asked him to explain how he managed to remember and set up the exact position. He explained that, if its white to move there was a two moves forced mate. The mate was to sacrifice the queen and mate with knight and rook. Largely its a two pawn up position for white. For the rest its black squared bishop against white knight.

For me it was one of those "Eureka" moment's in life. Initially as soon  I realized the blunder I had made, it made me sweat, felt half ashamed that "how come that this kind of a thinking didn't even cross my mind". Seriously I had been arrogantly fighting with granular details, without even realizing that this was not the approach to solve the problem. What I was fighting against was not even the real problem. It made me cringe and realize I was the absolute "frog in the well" . Growing up, this incident gets replayed in my mind often. It always reminds me irrespective whether if its in IT, Software engineering, Business analysis, organizing, planning, life etc,,when you  want to solve a problem understand the larger picture. When larger picture is clear, rest of the petty issues and details will fade in to insignificance. Its only after you understand the bigger picture you are really starting to solve the real problem. Till then keep fighting the petty issues like counting the pawns :D


  1. I tried this and missed 3 pieces, importantly the Black Queen location. As you explained, I did not look at the whole story but had a visual image on current stage.

    1. Yes, I think it happens at times. Thanks for dropping by...

  2. Good post Sayanthan.I really love this post.