Chess and Heavy Vehicle Rescue

We’ve all driven by vehicular accidents on motorways and silently hoped the victims weren’t badly hurt. However, we seldom give a moment of thought to the men and women who have to clear those wrecks off of the road. When a truck flips over and blocks the motorway, it’s these men and women who not only have to clear the road so traffic can flow again, but also have to rescue or save the valuable cargo contained within the truck’s trailer. Add to this the dangers of getting hit by a passing car while trying to clean things up and you have a job taken on by only a brave few.

I started watching a television program called Highway Thru Hell, about a heavy vehicle rescue team in Canada recently. This team patrols the Coquihalla Highway, one of the most beautiful and dangerous highways in North America. What does this have to do with chess? Surprisingly, everything. As I watched episode after episode, I couldn’t help thinking that the owner of Jamie Davis Motor Truck and Auto Ltd, Jamie Davis, uses his mind the way in which a strong chess player does.

The Coquihalla Highway, or Coq as it’s known, is a major transportation route for commercial vehicles in Canada. It’s busy every single day of the year. During the winter it becomes covered with snow and ice, requiring around the clock snow removal. During the winter months, ice is the enemy and an enormous number of truckers lose their battle with it every single day. If a large truck overturns and blocks a lane, traffic builds up for miles and miles. If all lanes are blocked, commerce comes to a standstill. Often all lanes have to be blocked to remove a large wreck. This highway depends on guys like Jamie Davis to keep it open. Still, what does this have to do with chess?

If you’re in the position Davis is in, every single day of the year, you have to solve very complex problems quickly. Those problems are multifaceted. On the one hand, you have to clear the road. Of course, you could use brute force and drag the wreck off the road. However, on the other hand, the owner of the cargo that’s inside the truck wants what’s left of the cargo to remain intact. If the load inside the truck’s trailer is unharmed but the trailer itself is completely damaged, you have to not only save the cargo but do it fast. The only people who can do this are people who can quickly and correctly analyze a problem and then create a flexible plan in case there are any additional, unforeseen problems. This sounds like positional analysis and planning in chess!

Chess players carefully examine candidate moves in order to determine which one is best. Davis carefully looks at the problem and comes up with a number of solutions, only choosing one after thoroughly working though each, comparing their individual merits to determine the best course of action.

Of course, this is where experience comes into the equation. We’ve all seen experienced chess players analyze positions as if it was second nature. They can analyze a position with little trouble because they’ve been doing it for a long time. The same idea holds true for Davis. Watching him work through a specific problem is like watching a strong chess player working through a position. When it comes to vehicle rescue and recovery, he’s a Grandmaster.

I’ve had a few chess players ask me while I seek chess knowledge outside of the realm of chess. You don’t have to be a chess player to make really great decisions based on logic and reason. Problem solving is the key to playing good chess. It’s also the key to being good at everything else in life. The reason I look at how other people solve problems in unrelated fields is because I sometimes find a new way to approach a problem that allows me to find a better solution on the chessboard. Just because chess has principled methods to guide you when solving positional problems doesn’t mean you shouldn’t look elsewhere, especially if you want to improve your methodology. Sometimes the best solutions are found far from the environment in which your problem resides.

Yes, you have to study chess to get good at chess but there are other avenues you can take to improve your game. Yes, you have to learn principled methods to solve positional problems, but your chess education shouldn’t stop there. I’ve taken to watching documentaries that revolve around problem solving. Some of these are medical in nature and some deal with truck wrecks on an icy highway. What they have in common is this: People being forced to solve complex problems in a short period of time. That’s how I develop my positional problem solving skills. Here’s a game to enjoy until next week.

Hugh Patterson


Author: Hugh Patterson

Prior to teaching chess, Hugh Patterson was a professional guitarist for nearly three decades, playing in a number of well known San Francisco bands including KGB, The Offs, No Alternative, The Swinging Possums and The Watchmen. After recording a number of albums and CDs he retired from music to teach chess. He currently teaches ten chess classes a week through Academic Chess. He also created and runs a chess program for at-risk teenagers incarcerated in juvenile correctional facilities. In addition to writing a weekly column for The Chess Improver, Hugh also writes a weekly blog for the United States Chess League team, The Seattle Sluggers. He teaches chess privately as well, giving instruction to many well known musicians who are only now discovering the joys of chess. Hugh is an Correspondence Chess player with the ICCF (International Correspondence Chess Federation). He studied chemistry in college but has worked in fields ranging from Investment Banking and commodities trading to Plastics design and fabrication. However, Hugh prefers chess to all else (except Mrs. Patterson and his beloved dog and cat).