Chess as conversation

It occurred to me that a chess game can be viewed as a conversation. Each move says, "I prefer to have this piece here." When you drive away an attacking piece, you are saying, "I don't like your bishop to be there." Beyond that, each move speaks of the player's plan of attack or defence. The other player needs to listen carefully to divine the opponent's intention as soon, and as clearly as possible. Seen as an utterance, a move should ideally be mute, giving no indication of its purpose. Of course, in practice it is usually not hard to work out why a player makes a move, but this may be at a surface level only. The deeper level of a complex tactical plan or long-range strategy may be much harder to discern. A strong chess player is a perceptive listener and a deceptive talker.

In my game against Rheingold he made a move that allowed me to capture a pawn. I took this to mean that he believed the capture would give me an inferior position. When I analysed it I found he was right, so I did not capture the pawn but castled instead, letting him know that I understood. He confirmed by protecting the pawn on his next move. All without exchanging a word. I presume that players at the master level communicate quite complex tactics to each other in the same way. Threats are made, but are often not carried out because both sides know about them and take appropriate action.

Another level of communication is bluffing. An example is an unsound move that you hope your opponent will not answer correctly and hence will benefit you. A related issue is the attempt to set a trap, where you hope your opponent will not "read" what is happening. As for blunders, it can take a while before one player realises the other has made a blunder, rather than embarking knowingly on a sacrificial attack. Then there are the quiet preparatory moves that don't appear to have any purpose, but which may be needed for a tactical combination to succeed. These moves don't seem to say anything unless one listens very carefully.

If my opponent defers castling, this tells me they are either over-confident or that I am playing too passively. Likewise, if they ignore one of my threats, this may mean they have a more serious threat than mine. Or they could be bluffing, hoping I will lose my resolve.

The beginner and the patzer pay little attention to the moves of the opponent, only perceiving the intention of forcing moves. Such people have not learnt to listen in chess. Learning to listen involves suppressing the ego, which thinks, "This game is all about me." It isn't. Chess is a two-way conversation, with equal opportunities for both players, and the person who "talks" in chess without "listening" is as dysfunctional as they would be in a social context. A strong player spends half their effort on talking and half on listening, ie half on looking at their own plans and half on their opponent's tactics and strategy.

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