From one of 30 games played simultaneously in Tweed Heads last month: White, John Grefe, to play and mate in four moves.
Touring Australia at the moment is premie chess champion, John Grefe. John was the 1973 U.S. chess champion and prior to his departure from the States before Christmas, he was the most successful U.S. player in an international tournament in Houston and was accorded the title of International Master of chess. Recently in Brisbane he shared first place in the 1974 Australian Championship.
Before continuing his interstate tour, featuring simultaneous exhibitions with up to thirty participants and the Australian Open in Adelaide, John spoke to us about the practical values of meditation in the "inner game of chess":
How did you first become interested in chess?
When I was about ten years old I had a friend who got a chess set for his birthday. We sort of figured out the rules but we found out after some time that we never did get all of the rules. And then when I was at high school I joined the high school chess club and started playing more and eventually got into tournaments.
When did you find out about Guru Maharaj Ji's meditation?
When Guru Maharaj Ji first came to America, it was the summer of '71, and I was really interested in spiritual things at that time. I was just really turned on by Guru Maharaj Ji.
Did you receive Knowledge straight away?
The next day I asked Guru Maharaj Ji for Knowledge and three or four days later I received it.
And how has meditation changed your approach to chess?
I was able to see much more clearly what my mind was doing while I was playing chess. I was able to eliminate more and more of those things that were distracting me from playing as well as I could. Another thing is the tremendous concentration that develops as a part of meditation. This carries over into playing chess.
Do you find that chess is more exciting with meditation or are you detached from the whole game?
I try to stay in meditation. If I get involved in any way I see that it's my mind trying to get into some vibration that's enjoyable, and then it becomes much more difficult to play.
Have you ever played chess with Guru Maharaj Ji?
Not yet, but I hope to very soon. I've played with Mahatma Rajeshwar and Mahatma Guru Charnanand. They're slightly more than beginners. When I was playing Mahatma Guru Charnanand we were the only people in the room and my mind was really concentrated. He sends out such a strong vibration; my consciousness was gradually going up and up. When I play in tournaments people are really emotionally involved in the game. When I was playing with Mahatma Ji lie was really staring, really concentrating on the chess board, but at the same time he was really detached from it.
Do you tend to relate to life in terms analogous to chess games? Do you come away from chess games and start seeing life in terms of chess patterns and moves?
No, not exactly like that. But I find that one thing that is very important in chess is concentration and so when I started practising meditation it really helped because I had a practical idea of what concentration involved. In chess you are presented with a certain situation and you have to follow logically, as well as you can, from one step to the next. You have to observe what is happening, draw certain conclusions and try to reach a certain result. You can see very clearly how one thing happens and there is a certain result from that, and also you can see how, if you make some mistake, that there was a certain fault in your thinking or your observation.
You can see how cause and effect works very clearly on the chessboard. So this is really a good lesson in life; in how many other things work. Sometimes you might see chess as just a game, a means of social intercourse between people, or you might see it as something mystical. It all depends how high you are in your perception on a particular day.
In Russia, where chess has developed almost to the level of an exact science, they're into the psychology of what's happening when you're playing, how your mind is working and why various mistakes are made. It's quite possible that they'll start to explore meditation. If my game continues to improve, I'll become more widely known in the chess world and they'll start to write more about meditation and how it affects my game, and I myself will be able to understand and explain it more clearly.
One thing about Bobby Fischer (world chess champion) that people have noticed is that when he's playing he has this tremendous concentration. One world famous player wrote that when he was playing, nothing existed for him, he completely limited his perception to the person he was playing, the chessboard and the chess pieces. The Russian psychologist who wrote the book Chess Psychology, said that "complete strength is in attention".
There are so many books you can learn things from but then it actually comes down to playing the game, to be able to use all this knowledge you've gained but at the same time not to have interference with your perception of the here and now, which always results in the clearest understanding of what's happening on the chessboard.
Do you think you'll ever put a book together like "The Inner Game of Chess"?
I have a lot of basic outlines already sketched in my consciousness. They say there are more books on chess than all other games combined. There are quite a few good chess books but still improvement can be made. Then of course there's the way that chess is taught. A lot of people who write the books are really good players but they don't consider the person reading it: what's the best way to learn?
Practical experience of playing is really important. That's one thing I don't have much of. I've only played in four international chess tournaments. You have to have a certain talent for the game, you have to have certain mental faculties that you're able to use fairly easily. If you have a really good short term memory for remembering chess moves. I don't remember in terms of verbalising the moves but I can look at the board, start moving the pieces and automatically remember a certain game.
A lot of people, when they're coming to Knowledge, go through a period of self-questioning. Did that happen in your life?
The more I've got into Knowledge, the more I've had sudden flashes of understanding about my life before Knowledge. Why I did a certain thing or didn't do a certain thing. I never really had a clear idea of myself as being a seeker after Truth, or that I lacked purpose in my life. Although looking back on it, it's really obvious why I do certain things. When I received Knowledge, I had actively started looking for a guru. I had read about Perfect Masters, heard tapes and seen movies and gone around to see various people. Where I was living in Berkeley there were all sorts of gurus and spiritual trips.
We were saying earlier how you could relate the patterns of chess to life. In the same way, when you're playing chess do you get insights into life? I ho certain coincidences happen on the board that teach you something about life?
No, mostly I just see it in strictly chess terms. But there was one girl I knew whose life was just a complete mess and she wasn't able to see that it was the way she related to things and the actions that she did were the cause of this complete mess. It was simple cause and effect. It's like quite often a lot of people are aware of the way something works and so to them it's really obvious and then all of a sudden you meet a person or a lot of people who aren't even aware that such a thing exist. It's really a strange thing. So chess very practical as far as teaching lessons about life.
Do you see chess as an aid to develop good traits in people?
Oh yes. It develops patience. If you want to be able to play well, you have to concentrate your mind on just thing for an extended period of time. It teaches you to stick with something to the end. It also shows you how to be objective, you make an observation about a certain position on the chess board and you see if you make certain moves there will be a certain result. But you can't move the pieces beforehand; you just have to use whatever talents you have to see how it's going to work. Whether it works or doesn't work, you can see exactly what needs to be corrected in the way you peceived the situation. Maybe if it did work out then you have an objective test on the way you are doing things. It gives you a very good reflection of how your mind works.
You can start thinking in habitual patterns that aren't very useful but they're very easy. It's something that takes strong effort to control. The more I am able to meditate while I'm playing, the easier it becomes. Some times when I play, it's just so easy. I look at the chess board for a few minutes and I see what the right moves are. I'm able to use my visual imagination to look ahead as far as necessary it's completely easy. And other times it's really a struggle. I understand it - the difference in the way my own mind is working on that particular day.
The use of psychology in chess has become so subtle that the best players, study the games of their prospective opponents in tournaments, and they see that a particular type of game is favoured by this player and then they play an opening that has a different type of structure. So when this player gets into a habitual thinking pattern which may give him a high level of technique, when he's faced with this other structure it just doesn't work out