One Little Cheer

(This article originally appeared in the Master Skill Newsletter for January 24, 2023.)

Hi, it’s Aiden.

I just had a particularly painful loss in a Chess game.

One of those ones that hurts because you know it’s entirely your fault.

Your opponent didn’t beat you. You lost.

You know the ones.

Well it sucked. But it brought to mind this story.

It’ll make sense when we get there. Bear with me.


It was the year 2000. Stockholm, Sweden. Just before Christmas.

The snow was thick, the city a winter wonderland.

The inhabitants out and about in droves, gathering gifts for their loved ones.

The pre-Christmas traffic chaos in Stockholm is normally manageable. But not this night.

Because on this night, two cars on opposite sides of a city block burst into flames.

Traffic screamed to a halt and was stuck. Fire engines and police hurried to the scene. It was true chaos.

In fact, it was so chaotic that no one could do anything about what was to come.

Because the fires had been deliberately lit. The traffic deliberately congested around this particular city block.

The block on which rested the Nationalmuseum. (Not a typo, that’s how it’s written.)

A great gallery holding some of the most magnificent paintings from history.

In the confusion, with the roads effectively cut off, three hooded men entered the gallery.

3 minutes later, they emerged again – with 3 paintings worth $45 million dollars combined!

Gallery staff raised the alarm, but police couldn’t get anywhere near the building.

The traffic was too intense.

Every road to the gallery completely clogged with smoke, and fire engines, and cars.

They was nothing the police could do.

The gang ran unopposed with the paintings to the nearby canal, where they’d stowed a getaway boat.

The canal docks were quiet. Empty. Away from the congestion. From other people.

They found themselves alone.

Adrenaline coursing through them. Tens of millions of dollars worth of art in their bags.

No police to be seen. Nothing to trace the men to the crime.

They got away clean. Their plan executed to precision.

Dostoevsky once observed: “Criminals, almost without exception, succumb at the moment of the crime to a weakening of the faculties of reason… which are replaced by thoughtlessness of a childish and quite extraordinary kind, at precisely the moment when reason and caution are most essential.”

The gang let down their guard.

They had done it, they thought.

They had committed the perfect crime.

They had actually done it.

And at precisely the moment when reason and caution are most essential…

One of them let out a cheer.

In a tiny boat doubling as a writer’s studio, a face peeked out the window to see what all the shouting was about.

The gang never saw him. But the budding author certainly saw the gang – and saw what they were carrying.

The gang climbed into their getaway boat and headed off into the night, convinced of their success.

The author took a deep breath, steeled himself, and started his boat to follow them.

A little while later, the author found the getaway boat tied up at a rundown dock on the outskirts of the city.

He snapped a photo of it, returned to land, and sent the photo to the police.

The photo appeared on the front page of Stockholm’s biggest newspaper the very next day.

And kicked off a sequence of events that led to the gang’s arrest and, eventually, the recovery of the stolen paintings.

The stakes were somewhat lower in my Chess game. But my mistake was the same as theirs.

I’d pulled off a great tactic against a stronger opponent.

It was planned and executed to precision.

I was up material, my position was excellent. My opponent had very little to work with.

I had done it, I thought.

I had actually done it.

As Denzel Washington said (after Will Smith made a questionable decision on live TV):

“At your highest moment, be careful. That’s when the devil comes for you.”

I let down my guard.

And my opponent pounced.

The lesson is this:

It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.

In the moment you think you’ve won, work harder. Look harder.

One cheer is enough to ruin the perfect crime. It’s the same for our Chess.

That’s all it takes- one moment.

Victory is only yours when that little “1” appears next to your name on the scoresheet.

Right up until that moment, nothing is guaranteed.

Don’t let down your guard.

Here’s to the journey,



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