Les Liaisons Dangereuses

I did not mix my two professions, I alternated between the two. As I used to say, when I gave concerts I was taking a rest from chess and when I played chess, I was resting from the piano. As a result, my whole life has been one long holiday! – Mark Taimonov, interview

Regular readers will know the dynamics of this author’s personal Chess struggle over the past few years, that I have found the technical hurdles easier to surmount than the skill of sitting down and playing on demand. However, mostly that struggle too has been won in my practice. This week I stumbled over a new (or old) hurdle.

Just about every really good computer programmer I know also:

  • plays Chess (or perhaps Go),
  • plays one or more musical instruments, and
  • speaks one or more foreign languages.

The differences between these three skills and programming are many, e.g,. the musician must possess a great deal of physical coordination unnecessary to programming, but the underlying similarity is the employment of symbolic logic.

At the psychological level, I discover once more, as I discovered in the past, that aesthetic stimulation and satisfaction in one of these skill sets tends to displace same in others.

I returned to tournament chess in 2011 after a 20-year break occasioned by the peak period of my computer programming career, during which I programmed up to 14 hours a day and earned, you might guess, probably more per annum than any Chess world champion up to Fischer. This is a Good Thing when you are raising children.

Becoming semi-retired in 2011, I returned to Chess competition and leapt ahead from the mark I had paused at in 1991. A small but steady diet of contract programming during recent years has not much interfered with my chess game.

Now I find myself engaged in a rework of a piece of software I wrote several years ago,  revamping, expanding, debugging and integrating one massive and masterful corpus of open source code with another I subsequently authored. The effort is challenging, absorbing, thrilling and … seems to have displaced for the moment my attention to the game of Chess. Chess, about which for the past four years I have pondered many waking and some sleeping hours, is gone from my daily musings and visions of closures dance in my head, leaving my tournament game in ruins. I can solve tactics, teach chess to kids, but to sit down to a tournament game seems … thin … and my results suddenly are likewise.

I must consider how to balance in the chess struggle with my current quotidian praxis so that I do not lose all the ground I have gained in the past 4-5 years!

Jacques Delaguerre