Do you have a favorite chess piece? Are you partial to the Queen and her awesome power to be the decisive factor in a game? Or maybe you prefer the Knight and picture yourself as a warrior riding into battle as you move the pieces? I have been asked several times what my favorite piece is and it has certainly not changed since I started playing chess many years ago. Without a doubt, the pawn is my favorite piece, but this is not a post just to tell you that. Instead, I was intrigued by how a person’s favorite chess piece can significantly reflect nuances of their personality. This came about because I was recently asked about my favorite piece and the response from the questioner was that it did not surprise them. This was because the person recognized the importance of the pawn as a key to victory.
An Overlooked Behemoth
In my opinion, the pawn is often an undervalued and critical part of any chess strategy. Even in pop culture references to chess, the idea of being a pawn often relegates a person to a mere participant without any significant positive contribution to the effort. Yet, a chess game is lost right out of the gate without a pawn protecting the King! When I look at the chess board, it is easy to see the elegance of the Knights, Bishops, Rooks, King and Queen. The pawn is often nondescript, but it is an overlooked and under appreciated behemoth (Battlefield 1 reference FTW).
I think that there is no better representation of this importance than Ted Danson’s explanation of the pawn from the movie Knights of the South Bronx. In the film, his character is explaining to the kids about each piece and how valuable they are. In the YouTube clip below, the relevant part starts at 3:35.
Initially he downplays the importance of the pawn but reverses course when he recognizes that many of the underprivileged kids he is teaching relate more to the pawn than any other piece. They are quickly disillusioned by his explanation because it seems to reinforce the sense of hopelessness they feel in life. Yet, he changes directions and tells them of how important the piece is to the success of the game. The reversal is not a lie, but merely a different way of looking at the importance of the piece. Without the pawn, the King’s army is defenseless.
Echoes of Modern Leadership
The pawn relationship in chess is a perfect allegory for experiences in modern leadership. Chess mirrors life in countless ways, including the distinct roles that each person plays in the fulfillment of life’s greater purpose. Sure, most people want to be King or Queen, but those who wear badges of royalty or distinction cannot sustain themselves without the people who choose to be Bishops, Knights, Rooks, or pawns. It is this leadership reflection that makes the pawn my favorite piece.
I have felt like an undervalued pawn by my work, my family, and my friends at many points throughout my life. I have even found myself in the midst of a pawn sacrifice from time to time, which led me to a strong personal conviction to ensure that when entrusted with the care of pawns that I would do my best to protect them and utilize them to the best of their ability. Furthermore, I pledged to myself that I would do my best to show them that they have intrinsic values that are far greater than the 1 point awarded on the board.
This same person who asked about the pawns later presented me with a going away gift from a work center I recently departed. On the plaque I received was an engraved pawn along with a huge ceramic pawn to add to my collection! It was an incredibly touching gesture that reinforced my thoughts and feelings about the pawn and its importance as a chess piece and as an allegory of life.