Ars Longa Vita Brevis

[T]he depressing recollection of the great miseries, losses and anguish that were suffered during the war … still weighed heavily on the spirits of all the participants [ of Hastings 1945-1946] … I resolved to concentrate all my efforts on not thinking about it all; that is to say, on banishing from my memory, for the duration of the tournament, all these phantoms of the recent past, and this ensured my tranquility of spirit and serenity of mind, both attitudes so vitally necessary for any victory in the realm of sport. – Savielly Tartakower, My Best Games of chess 1905-1954

I have often wondered why chess performance declines with age. My general chess knowledge, technical accuracy and analytical skill continue to improve in my mid-60’s.

There are some issues of stamina, but generally I can keep up with youngsters even in that regard.

Last night I received a reminder of one of the other incumbencies of advanced age that can interfere with chess performance. When you’re older, you have more to think about, serious things to think about, and they obtrude at the chessboard.

Tartakower’s quote above was also in my mind as I sat at the board, and I realized the wisdom of his advice. But having suddenly been informed an hour before the game that a fellow with whom I had profession dealings 30 years before was awaiting sentencing on serious felony charges and had requested a character testimonial from me nonetheless disrupted my concentration.

And in the time-scramble endgame, the quiet mental murmur of placatory phrases to present before a judge interfered catastrophically with analysis, and the easily drawn endgame was lost.

I can’t take the game lightly, because that’s not my nature. I am there to win and advance, if I am there at all. I can discard chess as a discipline, but engaged, I can’t shrug it off.

Does one of my age have any real business in serious chess competition?

Jacques Delaguerre


Author: Jacques Delaguerre

Jacques Delaguerre is a Colorado musician and chessplayer.