Posted on July 29, 2008


Three over years of my life was spent in Dili, East Timor where you don’t just go out in the night after work.  There were no street lamps in the capital city, no shopping complex, no cinema. I stayed home and when I wasn’t reading, mostly I was playing chess on my Palm PDA.

In fact I played a lot of chess but poorly. Partly the Palm was to blame because whenever I realised that I had made a silly move I could just as easily retract my move and make a wiser one. I could keep doing this until I win the game. Invariably I emerged the winner because my only opponent was a machine who did not object to my re-moves and could not object.

Even so I developed a healthy respect for this ancient game of strategy and learned its underlying rationale which is very relevant to life.

In chess, the way you opened your game determines your next series of moves. Expert players know how to respond according to the “book” moves. The game becomes complicated only when a player begins to deviate from known opening theory thus seizing the initiative. The player who lacks the skills or foresight will lose the initiative, forced to be on the defensive, lose ground and finally is checkmated.

Expert players and spectators know the game, could see what is happening at each stage of the game. But if you are like me, you would be mostly lost. A move is a move is a move. We put our focus on each move as it happens. We do not possess the knowledge or skill to admire, appreciate or understand the impact a particular move would have on the entire game. So we only get excited at other spectators’ excitement, not understanding the significance of the move that has been made.

Today in the country, many of us are keenly watching games being played. Except the name of the game is politics. A very complex game of strategy. What opening moves are being made. When does a player deviates from the “book” and surprises his or her opponent in turn requiring the opponent to deviate from his or her own preferred strategy. Like expert chess players, political players see several moves ahead in their plan to outmanoeuver their opponents and they have multiple choices for their endgame.

Uninitiated spectators easily get thrown off the trail and end up thoroughly disoriented, frustrated or fed up. At such times words like “bodoh”, “stupid”, “silly”, “monkeys” and “donkeys” if not the more crude expletives leave our mouths like rapid fire. In fact, seasoned politicians of both sides of the parliamentary divide are more often than not smart rather than silly. They know their game and they react by reading well their opponents’ game plan.

Unfortunately for us and the nation, the game of politics are high stakes not just for the players themselves but more so the rakyat who suffer depending on the outcome of the game.

Here my chess contest against an inanimate Palm PDA has not been helpful. If I am not careful, in life I may be lulled into thinking that in effect I have no opponent. But in real politics, the side I back is up against real opponents who are more than capable of fighting back and can keep making my side deviate from its original game plan. Quite often in sports, we see our side losing and we shower expletives, blame and even curses on them. “Sack the coach, sack the players!”

Anything and everything except sack the spectators. We sometimes think, feel and talk as though only we the spectators are smart and right.

We think and talk as though our team is playing against no opponent. But as long as the opponents are still standing, they will come back at you and influence the way you play. The best teams often force us not to be able to play our normal game. Our opponents are for real. We take this route, they will catch up with us and close out our path. We find and present this “proof” and they will find ways to neutralise or obliviate it.

It is very tough to play when the match officials cannot be questioned, the goal posts are movable, the playing field is never level. It is very trying to watch a match played under such conditions.

Frustration is not the answer. Don’t so quickly judge and fault your own players or give up on them. At any stage of the match, either side can make mistakes. Don’t be discouraged when the other side has scored a goal. There is still time. There are still initiatives we can deploy. Simply because we haven’t won yet does not mean we have lost. The game isn’t over till it is over. Stay with the match.

Posted in: Perspective