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Can you control your own (chess) destiny?

The moral of the story is you can do nothing and complain, or do something to change your destiny!

Can you control your own destiny?

This is an interesting question from a debate between a few friends. So let me put this in the chess context.

Obviously, one can never fully control his/her destiny. For example, if a child is never introduced to chess, and he/she has no idea what chess is, how can we know if that child has world champion potential? This is the same as why are there fewer grandmasters who are women than men, or from continents like Australia and Africa than Europe, and even from various countries with large populations like Japan, Korea, Indonesia, Bangladesh … than much smaller nations like Armenia, Georgia, Azerbaijan, etc.

However, once a person is introduced to chess, he/she can control his/her destiny. Let me share with you a few more examples:

Example 1:

Wesley So was stuck between 2627 (January 2009) and 2652 (August 2012 when he arrived at Webster University), with a peak of 2674 (July 2010). He could not make much progress in nearly 4 years. But he controlled his own destiny once he was given an opportunity at SPICE. He listened to the advice of the coaching staff which pinpointed his problems, and worked very hard to fix his weaknesses. Because of this, his rating went from 2652 (August 2012 - #99 in the world) to 2682 (December 2012 - #66 in the world), 2719 (December 2013 - #30 in the world), and 2762 (November 2014 - #10 in the world when he left the program to become a full time professional).

He took advantage of the opportunity he had to control his own chess destiny. He could have been like many other young talented grandmasters that did not take advantage of their opportunities, and was stuck in the similar level for the rest of their peak careers, only to see their ratings and ranking plunging with age, without ever fully realizing their potential.

Example 2:

I have another super talented young student who was interested in coming to SPICE. However, when he expressed this interest, I had no scholarship available to offer him. We have a limit each year and I cannot go beyond that. So he was on the waiting list along with another 15 or so grandmasters.

Within a month from this conversation, another young talented student who was supposed to come had a family emergency and could not come. This opened up the opportunity. The scholarship was offered to some others before him. However, the condition is they have to fulfill ALL Webster University requirements in a very short period of time. None of them could do it. They said it was impossible for them to get things done on time.

When it came to his turn, he was able to get all the paperwork done almost immediately and was accepted. To make it even more amazing, he was in the middle of a big tournament and he did everything before and after each round.

The next problem came from the form of getting a student visa. Webster University and SPICE do not control this process. It is even more problematic because he was in the middle of a tournament in foreign soil and not in his home country. So he tried contacting multiple US Embassies to see which is the fastest location to obtain his student visa.

When he found the best location, he went back and forth by train (quite a long distance) to a far away city to try to expedite the process in person. It was not easy but he did not give up. Even when he got to the Embassy, he was told that they cannot accept the application in person. He had to mail it. He pleaded with them and explained the urgency of this once in a lifetime opportunity.

With perseverance, he successfully convinced them to accept his passport and he got his visa to come to Webster University right before the deadline. After he obtained his visa, knowing that he was in time pressure, he did not fly home first. He flew directly from the country where he got his visa to St Louis with just the luggage he had from the tournament.

Just like Wesley So, this young man controlled his own destiny when he was given a small chance. Some others, who may even be more talented, did not give their all. So now they have to once again wait until the next opportunity opens up.

So the moral of the story is you can do nothing and complain, or do something to change your destiny!

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