The Plan’s the Thing

“Every move you make needs to have a purpose and work towards your overall plan.”

Things #1 and #2 briefly looked up from the chess pieces in front of them to absorb this sage advice from the local gentleman who volunteers to help students learn, and practice, the game. This gentleman happens to be a master (he didn’t hand out a business card so I’m fuzzy on the exact title of his status, but he did quickly name every sophomoric approach I tried in my game with him).

#1 volunteered, “I moved that pawn there as part of my plan.”

We all stared at the board and saw where #1 had floated a pawn out in front of his knight with no apparent connection to the rest of the goings-on.

“Ah,” said the Grandmaster.

#2 then jumped in. “I usually try to do something, but when it doesn’t work I just go crazy a little and take out as many pieces as I can.”

“Ummm,” said the Grandmaster, whilst giving me a probing look that conveyed a lot of questions about my chess instruction, and my parenting in general. I had no answers, but used the opportunity to castle and delay the inevitable conclusion in my game with the Grandmaster.

The Grandmaster showed a remarkable amount of patience with all of us over the next thirty minutes and even allowed me to escape without an official loss when we had to leave so #2 could get to his yoga class (yes, yoga and, no, there’s not time here to get into all of that). As we walked through the parking lot #1 looked particularly thoughtful and then observed, “It’s hard to have a plan.”

Truer words have not been spoken. As I rustled his hair and agreed with him I looked around at the woods towering above us and again internally noted just how lucky I’d been. There is no credit to be taken for careful execution on my part, but there remains a fair amount of explaining to do as to how we got here, and, more importantly, what comes next. A famous sports reporter, Bob Ryan, once defended the status of his beloved Celtics by stating, “We’re in year five of a three year plan.” I like Bob Ryan.

In my former, professional life, when people actually sought out my guidance in terms of long-term financial planning, I loved to share the quote, “A plan is only good until first contact with enemy.” I offered this borrowed insight not to depress anyone — which it apparently did — but to instead point out that the best laid plan was still going to require adjustment. Side note: I attributed this quote to Patton, but have since learned it was originally uttered, in German and with quite a few more words, by Helmuth von Moltke. I regret the error in sourcing, but still feel that Patton rolls off the tongue a lot easier than von Moltke.

The Grandmaster assured all of us that the key to success in chess is the ability to plan several moves ahead, whilst constinuously thinking through all of the potential moves for all of the pieces on board. I suspect that von Moltke, a military strategist, was a pretty good chess player. I also know that it’s impossible to live your life like a game a chess. A person who ponders every possible permutation of his actions as well as those potentially taken by all other humans, animals, natural disasters and acts of God is likely going to stay single, friendless and locked in their house.

I do hope that our boys learn to plan ahead and, at the very least, are aware of the potential consequences of their actions. I’m also looking forward to watching them excel as players under the tutelage of the hopefully patient Grandmaster. In the meantime I will strive to make the most out of my own life, which is now in year 48 of a 30-year plan.