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The Moves That Matter: A Chess Grandmaster on the Game of Life

3.96  ·  Rating details ·  133 ratings  ·  23 reviews
A chess grandmaster reveals the powerful teachings this ancient game offers for staying present, thriving in a complex world, and crafting a fulfilling life.

Refined and perfected through 1,500 years of human history, chess has long been a touchstone for shrewd tacticians and master strategists. But the game is much more than just warfare in miniature. Chess is also an eve
Hardcover, 352 pages
Published November 5th 2019 by Bloomsbury Publishing (first published 2019)
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Dec 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: chess, philosophy
I will write more about this amazing book. Rowson is the most intelligent and thoughtful chess author, and in this book he puts our game in the context of life. If chess is a game and games don't really matter, and we only have 30,000 days on the planet why spend time on chess? To me the key is the idea is life itself is ridiculous and meaningless, and yet we should treat it as if it matters. Chess, it turns out is the same. You get to spend time in a struggle that ultimately doesn't matter, but ...more
Timothy Ha
Nov 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This author is a friend

I don’t know Jonathan Rowson personally, yet this book, more than his famous chess books, made him one of my author-friends. We share many common views on life and approach chess the same way, too (although I’m an amateur, and he's a grandmaster). His nuggets of wisdom are well collected and even if sometimes he might be repetitious or obvious, he’s a great friend to turn to and have a good candid talk with. I also find the audio version read by the author himself even bet
J Martin
Mar 05, 2020 rated it it was amazing
The move that matters. When life, chess and philosophy are interwoven

This singular book can be classified in several subjects: autobiography, chess, philosophy… but the important question is how the reader resonates through these issues. Just in my case, it was very high in despite that I have not played a lot of chess in my life. However, chess could be the excuse or just the metaphor as Rowson says to engage in our lives. Ursula K. Le Guin pointed out this way: “We read books to find out who w
Raz Pirata
“Decisions are often framed in the context of strategy and leadership as singular moments of destiny, but they are more like repeated challenges and matters of character.”

I could count all the complete games of chess I've played in my life with my fingers. I guess I preferred the games, puzzles and mysteries I encountered to come with the possible threat of a punch to the face. Or maybe I just couldn’t sit still long enough or didn’t have the discipline required. I did, however, marvel at those
Matthew Worley
Feb 25, 2021 rated it it was ok
Jonathan Rowson provides a rambling narrative that ultimately strikes one as slightly contrived. The structure of the writing exhibits the author’s intelligence and logical thought, but also belies the inexperience of the author expressing those thoughts in an entertaining and creative manner.

While the ideas are noteworthy and thought-provoking, the style sadly saps the story of its potential. Like the show House, every chapter is an episode that follows a pattern, and as the style devolves into
The main part of the book is structured in 8 chapters which each contain an introduction and 8 subchapters, so in total 64 “vignettes” as Rowson calls it. The titles of the chapters are for example “Thinking and Feeling”, “Winning and Losing” or the last chapter “Life and Death”. In each vignette Rowson shares his experiences and thoughts, which are often from the world of chess or his family.
In his own words he tries to answer a question: “This book is a philosophical offering on chess as a met
Feb 14, 2021 rated it it was amazing
I picked out this book as a comparative study against a book on life in the context of poker, and wound up spending almost a quarter of a year with it, maxing out my renewals with the library because it compelled me to take time to mull over each chapter. Beautifully written and intellectually demanding, this book was a comforting companion for me to get through a pandemic winter.

Modeled after the chessboard, there are 64 life topics organized in 8 themes. Amongst the 50+ tabs I stuck and 4 pag
Rosary O
Dec 11, 2020 rated it liked it
distilling the timeless and the universal from a game is a preoccupation that comes from wanting justify your life to people or a superego who might not be so charitable. still, we all have to do it at one point or another, it’s probably not an altogether bad thing, and anyway rowson’s is the best account of this kind from any chess player. i would have liked him to address this existential preoccupation more directly even though doing so may have demanded more from each individual yarn.

May 28, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Como aficionado al ajedrez desde joven siempre me gustan los libros que hablan del ajedrez desde un punto de vista cultural, espiritual o de las ciencias neurocognitivas.

El autor no sólo trata el ajedrez desde todos los puntos de vista imaginables, sino que al mismo tiempo nos cuenta su experiencia como jugador profesional durante su juventud.
Tengo que decir que la experiencia con el ajedrez de un jugador que ha llegado a ser GM es diferente a la que tiene un jugador que siempre ha sido aficiona
Eli Friedman
Dec 16, 2020 rated it liked it
This is one that I'll need to re-read sometime later in life. I'm not sure how compelling this book would be for someone who's not interested in chess but is interested in philosophy, but for me, someone who's the opposite, I found it hard to get through some of the more densely philosophical sections. I did enjoy it, though, especially the stories about chess—I'm just not sure if it was right for me at this point in my life.

A few quotes, as there were many that impressed:
"Our heroes appear thr
Jay C
Dec 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Fantastic book and, though you don’t have to a serious chessplayer - or perhaps even a chessplayer at all - to enjoy it, if you are one, I think it will be enlightening regarding your relationship with chess and how it fits in - or doesn’t fit in! - with your life in “the real world.”
Mar 03, 2020 rated it liked it
Although the concept is interesting, the author made conclusory statements without explaining and showing 'why' or 'how.' I think the author tried to fit too many principles into one book and thus lacked the space to explain them in depth. It was quantity over quality. ...more
Anika Molesworth
May 05, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Not your average book on climate change - but a great perspective. I don't play chess, but it made me want to! ...more
Dec 18, 2020 rated it liked it
Tried to do too much in too little. Jonathan's search for some unifying truth of everything reflects his own life. Conflicted between various options and not doing a great job at any of them. ...more
Lindsay Smart
Oct 21, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very high four.
Nov 19, 2020 rated it liked it
Will write later...
Alessandro Orlandi
Apr 06, 2021 rated it liked it
It was OK
May 13, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Too many personal anecdotes but interesting view of chess and the role of chess in one’s life. The general philosophical points are the ones that will stay with me.
David Townsend
Jan 18, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Wonderful. I'm not sure if I was the board, the player or maybe just a pawn but the book was beautifully played. ...more
Louis Archer
Apr 13, 2020 rated it really liked it
Thought-provoking reflections on an early career spent in professional chess. This is a chess book but not one about positions or tactics -  instead it features the personal and philosophical insights that the author developed throughout the era of his life that he lived in the professional-chess sphere.

The Moves That Matter is broken down into sixty-four vignettes across eight chapters (similar to the sixty four squares and eight rows of a chess board)- each chapter with its own key theme. 

Edd Simmons
This is one of the wittiest books I ever read. I never really challenged myself to read a book on the life and times of a “Grand Master”. Or even to the point where strategy is due, to be put in a memoir.
My dad was an avid chess player, and continues to tries to keep up with the game. Lately me and him been playing scrabble, so maybe points added where they are, are additions to each game. Chess as never been in the dark for me as “the battle” - “assassinate your opponent” - “control the board”
Apr 27, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I really loved Chess for Zebras and, to lesser extent, Seven Deadly Chess Sins. This one, however, reads a lot like rambling of an old man... It had some good insights, though, especially the first part.
Mar 27, 2020 rated it really liked it
Organized as the number of squares of a chess board. Various chess topics discussed from a philosophical perspective. Some interesting insights about decision-making and complexity.
rated it it was ok
Oct 15, 2019
Tom Scholtze
rated it really liked it
Feb 03, 2021
Yo'el Ramos
rated it really liked it
Dec 16, 2020
rated it really liked it
Mar 16, 2021
James B
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May 20, 2021
Paul Kelly
rated it it was ok
Nov 09, 2019
Kris Ericsson
rated it it was amazing
May 11, 2020
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Jonathan Rowson is co-founder and Director of Perspectiva, "a research platform that seeks to build the intellectual foundations for a more conscious society – a diverse and plural society awake to itself, united by an awareness of ecological constraints, systemic influences and the development of human empathy and consciousness throughout the lifespan."

He is an applied philosopher with degrees s

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