The chess master Paul Morphy and the Civil War general Nathaniel Forrest thought and fought very much alike. Each sought mobility and maneuver for their forces, and each prized concentration of force at the effective point over and above sheer preponderance of force: Forrest, because he was usually outnumbered; Morphy, because he was always willing to sacrifice pawns and pieces for the gain of time and space.
It has been said that each of these geniuses in their forms of warfare had an intuitive grasp of the truth that somehow transcended the “nuts and bolts.” It is a truism that it is very difficult to explain genius and how it works. Yet, we do appreciate its performance, even if we can’t quite understand exactly what’s going on. The key concept is that Morphy and Forrest often didn’t know exactly what was going on either.
They simply made “good moves” that prepared their forces for opportunities. Not every move Morphy made was a brilliancy; not every maneuver Forrest made destroyed the enemy. Some of their moves were just gradual improvements of position.
In life, we sometimes seek brilliancies rather than making good moves.
The person who succeeds in life is the one who makes good moves, even if there’s no immediately discernible gain from them. Sometimes all we can do—and all we should do, for the moment—is improve our position, even modestly, in order to better profit from opportunity when it comes along.
It was said of Morphy that he would attack only when the position warranted it, in contrast to the many masters of the day who played a swashbuckling, no-prisoners attacking style. When the master Anderssen was asked by his friends why he didn’t play his usual brilliant combin-ative style against Morphy, his answer was succinct: “Morphy won’t let me.” This is because Morphy wouldn’t open up holes in his own position unless his own attack made it impossible for his opponent to exploit them.
Nathaniel Forrest is famously misquoted as saying that you win battles by “getting there firstest with the mostest.” He did say something similar (albeit with perfect grammar), articulating his idea that superior force at the critical point trumps all.
Your task in life is to identify just where that critical point is. Sometimes it’s a moving target.
If you, like Morphy, have been making good moves while waiting for that target to become apparent, your eventual attack will succeed, there will be multiple critical points for you to aim for…
image: Chess – a Creative Commons License 0.0 photo from Pixabay