To my memory, I’ve been playing chess ever since I was seven years old. In the past couple of years, I began playing with friends, and developed a deep fondness for the board game. I love it for so many reasons – there are infinite possibilities, you can always learn and improve no matter how good you are, winning feels amazing, but perhaps the best reason is because there are so many life lessons to be learned from the game. You may argue that this is the case for all games, be it sports or video games, but for me chess has a little something extra. There’s something about the life behind the game in which you learn something about human nature along the way. When you’re battling with someone in real life instead of behind a computer screen, you pick up a lot more on body language. I’ve learned a lot from playing chess – here’s why I think everyone else should, as well.
- Let’s get the most obvious reasons out of the way first. Though they are the most obvious, they may very well be the most important as well. Chess is a game, that when taken seriously by the player, can quickly become emotional. One of the first things you’ll notice from people playing, however, is the complete lack of emotion. It’s a farce, and a damn good one. So here’s the first lesson chess teaches us – how to deal with all types of setback. Man is a prideful being by nature, and no one likes to lose. But you can’t win every game. Chess has taught me how to cope with losing, something a lot of children don’t learn today. Once you’ve accepted this basic truth about the world, you can build off some other lessons arising from this ones, lessons that we learn one way or another, but that is nonetheless reinforced while playing. You can learn how to set yourself up for success in the future, the steps, thoughts and decisions that need to be made to get yourself where you want to be. It’ll become painfully obvious that practice, if not making perfect, certainly improves your game. Cliché though it may be, it’s only a cliché because it’s true. And more than anything, you’ll learn how seriously you should take the game – because, after all, it is just a game. More people, myself included, need to remember that when playing both the game of chess and life.
- We’re all born into this world with a limited amount of resources and assets, and it’s our job to make the best of what we’re given. Chess is no different, with the slight exception that in a game, both players start off equal. After that, however, you need to manage your pieces, and exploit them for all their worth. This is lesson number two – learning how to manage your assets and how to maximize the potential of each said asset. When I say asset, I’m probably referring to a piece in the actual game, but in real life this could be anything from money to health to relationships. That depends on the person in question. And it was from chess where I’ve learned, at least a little bit, how to manage all these different aspects of life together. You might learn to like a particular asset more than another (I think knights should be worth more than bishops, but that’s just me), and the way you act based on that opinion translates to something in the real world, too. Maybe your knight is your relationship with your family, and your work is your bishop. Regardless, chess teaches us how to keep control of our pieces, and how to use the effectively as a unit. Maybe an allegorical approach to life is all we need to translate that success on the board into our lives.
- Explained in the most simple terms, chess is a game of offense and defense. The next lesson learned is how to attack and how to defend, deciding when to do what, and when to do one by doing the other. You can’t live life passively 24/7, nor can you do so aggressively. You need to find the right balance for you, and then make it work. Chess is similar – if you only defend or attack for the duration of a game, you’re going to end up losing. Sure, you might need to do one way more than the other, but in the end, it’s the balance that wins it for you, as well as the critical timing at which you decide to do what. Sometimes when it seems like a good idea to do one of the options, it’s worse to do it at the wrong time than to not commit at all. Yes, it’s important to go on both the offense and defense in both chess and life; it’s how we advance ourselves and prevent ourselves from regressing. But if we do one at the wrong time, it’ll often have the opposite effect, and we’ll find ourselves further behind than where we previously were. The more you play chess, the better you get at knowing when and how to attack and defend. Again, translating the metaphor might be worth trying out in real life.
- One of the biggest things humans have trouble doing is sacrificing. The art of giving up and letting go for the long haul seems almost foreign to us. Why, after all, would you give up something of value when you don’t have to? By playing chess, I’ve gained a deeper understanding on how to sacrifice. You have to start by accepting that you’re already in a bad position. And often in life it has to get worse before it gets better, or at least that’s how it may seem. You need to understand the value of your assets; if you can afford giving it up, sometimes it might just be a blessing instead of a hindrance to do so. Sacrificing is never easy, but in this case, the ends almost always justify the means. No one ever gets where they want in life without giving up something they would rather hold onto, but that’s life. Chess helped me understand that.
- You’ll often find in life that the most successful people are those who take risks. Risk is a huge part of life, but the degree to which we engage in it is entirely up to us. Just as lesson three taught us that you can’t always defend yourself or your assets in life, lesson five hits the point home: to succeed, you have to take risks. Chess taught me a lot about how to deal with risk; how to approach it, when to do it and evaluating whether or not it’s worth it. You have to do it to be successful, but if you don’t do it correctly, things will very quickly go south for you. Again, analyzing this strategy in life might be helpful. Of course, the thing with risk is that it’s never safe – and it’s always a judgment call. Practicing in a game, albeit sounding foolish, may prove to be incredibly useful someday in your life.
Believe it or not, I had fifteen items on my list of lessons learned from chess, but it’d be madness to pen that in one sitting. Instead, I hope you try some of the strategies I’ve humbly suggested above, and look forward to the next third of lessons learned as much as I do.
More than anything, I hope you take up chess. If you do, I’m on chess.com, so feel free to add me (username flamesfan12).