A board with 64 squares, 32 pieces on it and a set of rules about how each piece can move; can there really be that much to it? We definitely think so and we’re about to explain why it’s often used as a metaphor for planning your next move in business, war, or life.
Like any of those things, if you want to come out on top you have to think rationally and out-maneuver your opponent. It’s of little wonder that famous fans of the game include great military strategists like Napoleon, Winston Churchill and business leaders like Bill Gates and Peter Thiel.
Life is like a game of chess. Every decision you make can either bring you an advantage or a disadvantage. Even acting upon your wisest decision can yield a negative outcome. The chess pieces must keep moving though.
Here are 15 life lessons you can learn from the game of chess:
- Chess teaches you to have a strategy
- Chess teaches you to have a plan B and a plan C
- You have to see the big picture
- Chess teaches you to think well ahead
- Chess teaches you to get creative
- Chess teaches you to think like your opponent
- Chess teaches you how to bluff
- Chess teaches you to spot patterns
- Chess teaches you to be decisive and take risks
- Chess teaches you to make the right move from the start
- Chess teaches you not to let your emotions guide your actions
- Chess teaches you to make sacrifices
- Chess teaches you to take action and attack
- Chess teaches you to know the system
- Chess teaches you to never get too comfortable
1. Chess teaches you to have a strategy
Learning the rules of chess is simple but that alone won’t help you win matches. For that you need strategy, and life is pretty much the same.
In life you can just take it day by day, get a job, earn money, spend it on whatever everybody else is spending it on and repeat.
You’ll get by just about much better. Put together a financial plan, have ambitions, things you want to achieve professionally and personally, a bucket list of places to travel to and experiences to enjoy. Now we’re talking! You’ll get a lot more out of life with when you have a strategy in place.
2. Chess teaches you to have a plan B and a plan C
In chess, you can have a brilliant strategy to beat your opponent but if they make moves you don’t want them to, it can all come crashing down to nothing. That’s why you need backup plans B and even C for when Plan A doesn’t work out.
In life too, we all know things don’t go according to plan. People who are successful have a number of alternatives they can count on.
3. You have to see the big picture
In chess, it’s called seeing the whole board; in life, it’s seeing the big picture. When you’re inexperienced you can be fixated on that one set of moves you’re making to win the game. But you’re so focused on them that you’ve missed something that’s staring you right in the face. You only see it once your opponent moves in and turns the tables on you.
Rookie chess players often make that mistake. To get good you need to start to see the whole board. The same in life there are times when you can’t see the wood from the trees like when you’re so fixated on doing your same job day in and day out that opportunities pass you by without notice.
You could also be so zoned in on your business plan that you didn’t see its fatal flaws. Like a good chess player, avoid these mistakes and blind spots and learn how to see the whole picture
4. Chess teaches you to think well ahead
in life the most successful people are two steps ahead or well ahead of the game. They are organized, anticipate problems and have an idea of how to deal with them well before they occur.
Poor players just think about their next move. Great players like Garry Kasparov are known for their ability to think many moves ahead and playing chess can give you that mindset of forward thinking. It can also help you to apply it to all aspects of life.
5. It teaches you to get creative
When you’re playing a beginner at chess, it probably won’t be hard to find ways to attack. But if they’re good and don’t make any mistakes there won’t be obvious ways of doing that. That’s why you need to get creative in your game plan.
Of the many benefits chess has, one of the lesser expected ones is that it can actually make you more creative. In fact, it’s been shown to improve your thinking in both hemispheres of the brain and help you with logical and creative thinking at the same time.
In chess, getting creative means finding chances where obvious ones don’t exist. Thinking outside of the box to get to where you need to be and we think that’s another great reason to play chess.
6. Chess teaches you to think like your opponent
Good chess players will watch what their opponents are doing; how they react to attacks and how their moves fit into a bigger plan. They get inside their opponent’s head.
In the history of strategy, a lot of thinkers have advocated the same approach from Sun Tzu to Don Corleone think like your enemy. As Sun Tzu put it, “to know your enemy you must become your enemy”. For those of us who aren’t soldiers or mafia bosses we don’t necessarily have out and out enemies. But when we’re negotiating, asking for a pay raise or trying to outsmart a business competitor, it’s a huge advantage if we can get inside the head of our sparring partner.
It’s also good if we could know what their goals are, what makes them tick and what their weak points are. Doing all of that will help you take advantage on the chessboard and negotiating table alike
7. Chess teaches you how to bluff
it’s the same as in poker, in boxing and martial arts or in war. You make it look as if you’re about to make one move and your opponent prepares to defend for it and that’s when you move in to make your real attack. A totally different one that your opponent was blind to.
The art of making a bluff or a faint is something chess can teach you again even when we don’t think of people as real enemies. When we’re negotiating being able to do the unexpected and catch our partner off guard is something that can put us in a position of power.
8. Chess teaches you to spot patterns
We just talked about watching your opponent’s moves, using them to guess what move they’ll make next or what they’ll do in a given situation. When you’re doing this essentially you’re spotting patterns.
There are so many things in life this can help us with like doing the detective work and finding the source of that problem that’s been bugging us.
Spotting the signs that a business plan is about to run into trouble, realizing when something is about to become the next big thing or a stock that’s about to go up or down
9. Chess teaches you to be decisive and take action
In chess you do need to carefully analyze your position before making your move but you don’t want to spend forever thinking about it. You’ve got to be decisive.
Make that move, formulate that strategy and commit to it. This is especially true in tournaments when players have a time limit for their first 20 moves. If they’re too slow with their earlier moves they’ll have to rush with their later ones. And if the clock gets down to zero, well they’ve lost the game.
As well as teaching you to make calculated moves, chess teaches you to be decisive in making them.
10. Chess teaches you to make the right move from the start
In some games like soccer, the first few minutes don’t have much bearing on the final result but in chess everything counts from move one. That first move has consequences that shape how the board is going to look and how the rest of the game will go.
That’s why chess teaches you to get things right from the very start and it’s got all kinds of similarities to life. Research shows that when you meet somebody for the first time their impression of you is going to be influenced by the first seven seconds.
When you’re setting up a company, you’ll probably be struggling for cash in the early days which is why you need to make all the right moves from the get-go. Just like a good chess player, understand the first move counts in life too.
11. Chess teaches you to not let your emotions guide your actions
In chess there’s that moment when you’re so excited you’re about to win or take an important piece off your opponent that you fail to notice there is a trap set for you. That excitement has gotten in the way of your judgment.
Good chess players know how to not let their emotions get the better of them. The legendary film director Stanley Kubrick was a big fan of chess and talked about how it helped him to become the great director he was.
One lesson he singles out was how it taught him to not be impulsive. How to be disciplined with movie making decisions. As he puts it, “if chess has any relationship to filmmaking it would be in the way it helps you develop patience and discipline.” In other words its choosing between alternatives at a time when an impulsive decision seems very attractive.
12. Chess teaches you to make sacrifices
First time chess players tend to see losing a piece as a bad thing. They might be okay losing a pawn but losing a bishop or a knight let alone a queen is a big no-no.
Experienced players have a much more nuanced attitude. They know you have to lose battles to win the war.if you’ve been watching the Queen’s Gambit but aren’t exactly sure what the word gambit means it’s a move in which you sacrifice a piece to gain an advantage.
In life, people who don’t have a strategic mindset often complain about losing a weekend or an evening to work or study or that something’s going to cost them too much and don’t realize it’ll bring them long-term gains.
But successful people will invest and make sacrifices because they know it fits into a bigger plan and it’s worth the sacrifice.
13. Chess teaches you to take action and attack
A novice chess player might put all their effort into defending but to get ahead you need to attack too. Nobody is going to win a game of chess just keeping your players safe while doing nothing to trap your opponent’s King.
Just like in life you often need to be a go-getter. Even a little more aggressive in getting what you want. Go for that job interview you’re not quite qualified for, ask that person out on a date who you feel might be out of your league, approach that investor about your business idea. Get out of your comfort zone, act like an attacking chess player, not a defending one.
14. Chess teaches you to know the system
Coming back to the queen’s gambit because we know a lot of you have been watching it, you’ll know that the show’s main character, Beth, didn’t have any opportunities to play chess when she was small.
Instead she masters the game by visualizing the chessboard on the ceiling of her room at night envisioning every conceivable configuration with imaginary pieces above her head. That’s how she becomes an expert player by analyzing everything that could happen.
She studies the system until she knows it inside and out. Whatever you’re doing in life, it involves a system of rules, possibilities for action and likely outcomes.
If you’re setting up a business there’s going to be the legal system for how the company operates. The system of economics based on supply and demand, the system of marketing or how you’re going to make people hear about you.
And, if you deal with people a lot you’ll be working with a system of human psychology too. Like Beth, whatever systems you’re working within, know them in minute detail like a pro chess player. Do that and you’re hugely improving your chances of success.
15. Chess teaches you to never get too comfortable
In chess it’s all too common for a player to have the advantage and then get all comfortable and lose that advantage and then the game. Remember the game is in constant motion with the configuration of pieces shifting all the time.
Experienced players know this and know that if they’re not on the lookout they can easily get behind in life too. Everything is in perpetual motion. Things can be going great for us but get complacent and we soon might not be on top anymore.
Like a good chess player be aware of what’s going on. Be vigilant and keep your advantage.