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  • Writer's pictureMichael Holme

"Life is like a box of chocolates", chess, bridge, piano, and everything else

I see a parallel in life and creative endeavours, or something like chess, in fact bridge even. Looking at the last two, you begin with rules. For example, those associated with chess, the legal movements of pieces, etc., which can be learned with comfort in a day. When ever I have played the game I’ve labourious thought, if I do “that” they’ll probably do “that”, then I’ll do that; and it was hopeless. I always lost. I needed a more subjective, rather than objective approach. That’s why I marvelled at masters who would sometimes play perhaps 20 games at once, making moves in seconds compared to the minutes of each individual opponent. The master would use intuition to make their moves. Higher level bridge players can bid their hands in a similar way. Lesser players do well with somewhat mathematical systems like ACOL, but it’s slower, and doesn’t cover every statistical abnormality of the shuffle and deal.

Artificial intelligence is for some, becoming frighteningly powerful. I studied neural networks in the early to mid nineties. Back propagation was clearly the best system at that point. You train the network many times, by giving in data and telling it what it is. Eventually, the theory is that you then show it something it doesn’t know, and ask IT, what it is. It can work very well. The overlap with the gaming examples, ought to be pretty clear.

I've always told my wife, that pianists don't learn Bach pieces. The thing is, they learn how to play counterpoint, i.e., melody against melodies, as opposed to pieces based on a melody with an accompaniment, which became more and more typical, after the Baroque period.

The skills to play counterpoint, include complete independence of each finger, from the others in the same hand, and all the fingers need to be strong. You can’t take your eyes off the music, and need to read very well, unless you memorise. You need thorough rhythmic independence of the hands. In total then, you are "riding the bike". You either ride or don't ride a bike. That’s how Bach playing is, rather than studying/ learning dozens of individual pieces.

Things start clicking. Just how it is not known, exactly how back propagation networks solve a specific problem, we don’t know how Bach playing is finally worked out by the brain. What is a fact, is that very long term dedication is needed, until a critical mass is reached. Personal, I don’t think it is any thing like radioactive isotopes, like a precise point. I think there’s a woolly, or nebulous region, which is identifiable, by a much faster increase than normal, of skills.

The late Roy Castle told my generation every week, that “dedication’s all you need”. Perhaps St Paul in 1 Corinthians was helpful too, because “faith, hope and love”, would appear to me to be petfect, in the acquisition of skills we highly desire. I think the Zen Buddhist notion of not thinking so much about the destination, but enjoying the journey, is so utterly relevant.

All that’s left to say, is that I wasn’t really talking about chess, bridge, Bach, or anything else, was I. When you hit the critical mass, life... makes more and more sense. Validations of your personal thoughts and attitudes increase. It’s more fun, and the soundtrack is great.


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