I’ve been told that one way to gain some understanding of China is to read the massive four-volume ‘novel’, Journey to the West. A very enjoyable read, despite initially baulking at the prospect. So I stumble across a poem, of which there are many in this work, called ‘The Way of Chess':
The best place is in the middle of the board,
The worst is the side,
And the corners are neither good nor bad.
This is the eternal law of chess.
The law says:
‘It is better to lose a piece
Than to lose the initiative.
When you are struck on the left, look to the right,
When attacked in the rear, keep an eye on your front.
Sometimes the leader is really behind,
sometimes the laggard is really ahead.
If you have two “live” areas do not let them be severed;
If you can survive as you are, do not link up.
Do not spread yourself out too thinly,
Do not crowd your pieces too closely.
Rather than being niggardly with your pieces,
Lose them and win the game.
Rather than moving for no reason,
It is better to strengthen your position.
When he has many and you have few,
Concentrate on survival.
When you have many and he has few,
Extend your positions.
The one who is good at winning does not have to struggle;
The one who draws up a good position does not have to fight;
The one who fights well does not lose;
The one who loses well is not thrown into confusion.
Open your game with conventional gambits,
And end by winning with surprise attacks.
When the enemy strengthens himself for no apparent reason,
He is planning to attack and cut you off.
When he abandons small areas and does not rescue them
His ambitions are great.
The one who places his pieces at random
Has no plans;
The one who responds without thinking
Is heading for defeat.
The Book of Songs says:
“Be cautious and careful
As if you were walking on the edge of a precipice.”
This is what it means’.
The board is the Earth, the chessmen Heaven.
Journey to the West, vol. 1, pp.228-29.