Chess: The Coping Mechanism

Chess: The Coping Mechanism

My journey of playing chess began in the eerie hallways of Ottoson Middle School. During my 7th grade year, my history teacher posed the idea for me to come to the Chess Club on Monday and Thursday mornings at 7am. I was quick to ignore his proposal, because I did not know how to play and I certainly didn’t care much to learn. Finally, toward the end of the school year I decided to attend the chess club with minimal expectations. Mr. Garrity ran me through the basic rules of playing chess, so that I would be equipped with enough knowledge to at least play a game. Long story short, I was an abysmal player from the start, which I should have expected considering my lack of experience. My ego manifested itself as I kept losing game after game by substantial margins. The game I previously labeled as “not my thing” so quickly became my thing. I became so obsessed with chess that I played countless games on the streets of Harvard Square that summer, along with hundreds of others against anyone else I could convince to play me. I was intrigued by the many strategies and patterns that I familiarized myself with from playing so much. Also, I could NOT stand loosing so I had to get better, so I could be the one satisfyingly saying "Check Mate." 

To put it tersely, I came back the following year, and dominated the club. 

This isn’t meant to be a story of how I got into chess and how I got decent at it, but rather an appreciation for such a beautiful game.

My reminiscing was triggered by the powerful connection I’ve made with chess over the past few months. Ever since I learned how to play, I always tried to keep playing but it came in waves. I’d play a lot and then I’d take long periods of time off. Fortunately, this year has reconnected me with chess, but in a whole new way. 

In January, I downloaded the app to my phone, which made playing chess far more accessible than just playing on my computer or on a board at school. I’m now able to squeeze in games within tight time slots because I play 3 minute games, which grant 3 minutes per person, so I suppose it’s more like a 6 min game. Nonetheless, the phone download was essential. 

I rediscovered my obsession for chess, beyond just playing the game. What I mean by that is I saw chess for something bigger than a game. I find so much joy in playing because there are endless combinations of moves and setups. It’s all adaptability and manipulation which analogically is like basketball. But, more importantly, what I’ve found in playing chess, is that my mind drifts and it goes to a calm disposition. My mind becomes driven by my instincts, empowering the unconscious mind to make moves. It is this quiet mind that enables me to be a really good chess player, but it is the game of chess that enables me to escape my thoughts and reach peace. For those 6 minutes that I’m playing against someone, I am not thinking about anything. I’m letting my instincts guide me through the sequences of the game and allowing myself to just be. In those moments of playing, I’m not worrying about how I played in my basketball game, or how I’m going to do on my test, or how I’m going to keep pushing when things get tough. Chess provides me a sanctuary from my darkest and most overwhelming thoughts.

Chess nurtures me with comfort, peace and gratification. Chess is a beautiful game, and it truly has been invaluable to my own mental health. Everyone is going through something that we can’t see, and everyone is coping with it differently. Chess is one of the ways I cope with my own struggles, and for that I am beyond appreciative of this elegant game. 

My username is BMAC2021, so feel free to add me as a friend and challenge me if you would like to receive an absolute beatdown. 

More Than A Label,

It’s a Lifestyle

More Than Different

- Brendan McNamara

Co-Founder of MTD

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