What Can Chess Teach Us About Life?

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Jonathan Rowson is a grandmaster, three times British champion and an applied philosopher. Many players know him as the author of The Seven Deadly Chess Sins and Chess for Zebras in which he provided deeper insights into the psychological traps of playing than any other chess writer. Yet, Jonathan is neither a professional player nor a coach. His studies in philosophy at Oxford and Harvard led him down the classical road of exploring wisdom on which he wrote his doctoral thesis. His core theme is the ecological crisis and mankind´s failure to act. He has been working for an influential London think tank for many years and has spun off his own project Perspectiva.

Jonathan has never completely stopped playing and continues to follow top-level chess as attested by his twitter feed. Now he has returned to chess with another fascinating book. The Moves That Matter will be released in the UK next week and is out in the USA this Tuesday. To mark the occasion he contributed an op-ed to the New York Times.

He digs deeper than former writers in his comparisons of chess and life. “Chess simulates the meaning of life because it is a ritual encounter with death in disguise, where we experience the responsibility to stay alive one move at a time”, writes Rowson. On the pursuit of happiness which is fundamental to political philosophy in America and elsewhere, he comments: “So if we are pursuing happiness, both in terms of process and outcome, chess does not look like a good way to do it.” He rather thinks “of chess not so much as a path to happiness as a ritual where we free each other from the pressure to be happy”, and his best guess is that we are seeking joy in chess and in life.

Jonathan Rowson will present The Moves That Matter at our conference on Saturday, 30 November, from 1 pm to 2 pm during the lunch break. He will be interviewed by Stephen Moss from The Guardian, himself author of a unique chess travelogue. Jonathan Rowson will also answer questions from the audience and sign copies of The Moves That Matter which will be available at our book desk.

The Moves that Matter

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