7 Things I’ve Learned About Life From Playing Chess

The game of chess is one of man’s great creations.  The rules can seem arbitrary to a beginner, but are actually the product of over 1000 years of tinkering and refining.  The modern game—essentially unchanged now for about 500 years—is perfectly designed to stretch the human mind to its outermost limits, but not beyond.  The board is just the right size, and the moves of the pieces have just the right amount of variety, to offer the tantalizing but never attainable possibility of mastering the game with enough time and study.

Moreover, chess is a mirror of life, rich in metaphors for human experience.  It is a pitched battle to the finish between opposing armies, yet completely non-violent, with no injuries ever reported from playing.  It is a testing ground where we can experiment and act out personal dramas with no consequences other than wiping the board clean and starting over.  A blend of primitive instinct and sophisticated calculation, it lets a player directly engage the mind of another human being—learning from experience, memorizing common patterns, methodically building a position, setting traps, analyzing variations, and finally moving in for the kill.  And it is a canvas whereupon great players create masterpieces, like famous paintings, that can be enjoyed by generations to come.

Here are a few things I’ve learned about life by playing chess.

1.  Women are powerful, men are essential.

The queen is the most powerful piece on the board, the king by contrast is plodding and slow.  Yet the game can continue for dozens of moves after the queens are off the board—but once the king dies, the game ends.  As in real life, women are often the centers of attention with their dazzle and flash and drama, but in the end, it is individual male leadership that decides the outcome.

2.  The threat is stronger than the execution.

This is a common saying among chess players.  The idea is that by threatening an action, you can nudge your opponent in a certain direction, but actually carrying out the threat may cause as many problems for you as for your opponent.  The parallels with human relationships are evident.

3.  Chess is 99% tactics.

Another favorite maxim.  While carrying out long-term plans, you have to constantly be on the alert for immediate dangers or opportunities that can radically change the game.  You may become a master player, build a strong career, and have a solid physique, but if a moment’s inattention causes you to swerve into the oncoming lane on the way home, it may be all for naught.

4.  Different phases of the game require different skills.

It took me a long time to realize that chess is really three separate games—with common tactical themes and goals, to be sure, but requiring very different skill sets overall.  The opening requires a lot of experience with common strategic and tactical themes, and yes, quite a bit of memorization.  The middle game involves imagination and creative risk-taking. And the endgame demands exactitude and mathematical calculation.

Personally, I’ve always had the hardest time with openings—both in chess and in approaching women.  The game is literally wide open at this point and can go in a myriad of different directions, so you have to make strong, general moves that cover a wide variety of situations.  At the same time, you need to study a lot of previous games—both your own and those of others—to be prepared for different responses.

5.  Latent talent in ordinary people can become obvious after years of hard work.

Pawn promotion can be seen as a metaphor for the way in which ordinary people sometimes have unusual talents that only become apparent to others after years of diligent effort.

6.  The best defense is a good offense.

A cliché in sports, this principle applies equally in chess.  Even if all you want is a draw, playing passively is seldom effective against a strong opponent.  You must actively work to keep the other player off-balance and create “counterplay” to distract him from his attacking plans.

7.  A weakness is not a weakness unless it can be attacked.

Another way of saying, perhaps, that your limitations are self-imposed, and that something you perceive as a weakness on your part may be completely irrelevant in a given context. Thus, fixing your inner game—eliminating psychological insecurities—may be more important than addressing the weakness itself.

I could go on and on about chess. I could talk about the theories of force, space, and tempo; the way pawn structure gives shape to a position; the different styles of play; the cautions against resting on one’s laurels (“It is not enough to be a good player—one must also play well”); and the social connections you can make and the influence you can acquire by playing.  Suffice it to say now, I believe chess should be a part of any serious man’s education.  So who’s up for a game?

Read More: 5 Things I Learned About Life From Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

45 thoughts on “7 Things I’ve Learned About Life From Playing Chess”

  1. 6. The best defense is a good offense.
    This. Especially when talking to feminists. Always speak firmly, like none of their ivory tower concepts and social terminology matter to you (they shouldn’t).

    1. Its up to you to accept words or not, but feminism is just equality so idk why you’re so opposed to it

  2. The chess-board is the world; the pieces are the
    phenomena of the universe; the rules of the game are what we call the
    laws of Nature. The player on the other side is hidden from us. We know
    that his play is always fair, and patient. But also we know, to our
    cost, that he never overlooks a mistake, or makes the smallest allowance
    for ignorance. – Thomas Huxley

  3. I’m sorry, but this article is too good to be true. You lifted it from somewhere else. Probably from another language. If you actually wrote it, then you have a gift.

    1. You can google excerpts and you’ll find nothing. If you are going to levy serious accusations, I think some evidence would be in order.

      1. nice to see some real philosophy,i thought it got left behind in 1900s Paris.

    2. Thank you, Magnus. I wrote it all myself, though I will credit “The Immortal Game”, by David Shenk, as one of the many works that inspired me (besides, of course, Roosh and the other authors here).

  4. #8 – In every system there’s a white knight looking to fuck up your game

  5. Well said. The grandest of all board games. I also think that it somehow stimulates the mind to greater heights of creativity. Because chess trains the mind to focus on spatial relationships, and forces the player to think of “combinations” of moves in advance, you begin to develop a powerful sense of tactical anticipation. You begin to see the consequences of actions 4 or 5 steps down the road. And in life, that ability will allow you to “outcycle” your competitor (or your seduction target).
    The game also lends itself to serious study, which can be a delight in itself.

    1. “[Chess] is certainly a pleasing and ingenious amusement, but it seems to have one defect, which is that it is possible to have too much knowledge of it, so that whoever would excel in the game must give a great deal of time to it, as I believe, and as much study as if he would learn some noble science or perform well anything of importance; and yet in the end, for all his pains, he only knows how to play a game. Thus, I think a very unusual thing happens in this, namely that mediocrity is more to be praised than excellence.”
      — Castiglione, The Book of the Courtier, 1528, Book II para. 31, Singleton translation

      1. In other words, you don’t want to wind up like Bobby Fischer and let the game drive you completely insane.

  6. What about : When you know you are going to lose, your opponent will not just let you quit because he wants the thrill of vanquishing you.

  7. “How Life Imitates Chess” by Garry Kasparov (former world champion turned politician) is one of the best books i have ever read. You don’t need to play or understand chess to enjoy it. It talks about all the ways becoming a chess master parallels mastering life whether it be business, relationships, your health, etc. I can’t recommend it highly enough. Essential reading for anyone serious about personal development and self improvement.

  8. A high school chess club member, a few minutes in to a game with an amateur, remarked with a furrowed brow, “Hmm. You’re actually SO BAD at this game that formulating a strategy is proving difficult.”

  9. “7. A weakness is not a weakness unless it can be attacked.”
    Which is why frame control with people is essential. Sure they might be right about your actual weaknesses…but they would never know it’s a weakness to you unless you react emotionally to it.

  10. Stopped reading at paragraph 1. Chess is a solved game at the highest level. Learn some game theory before you start lavishing undeserved praise on something. Alternatively, learn how to play a REAL game: Go

  11. Stopped reading at paragraph 1. Chess is a solved game at the highest level. Learn some game theory before you start lavishing undeserved praise on something. Alternatively, learn how to play a REAL game: Go

    1. Chess is a solved game at the highest level. Ohh-kay. Do you care to elaborate or provide a link?
      Go is also a great game but is much more abstract and cerebral than even chess. I look forward to your essay on the life lessons derived from playing go.

      1. It’s bullshit–chess hasn’t been solved. Certain opening variations have, but only a handful. Computers still don’t evaluate certain positions correctly (ie, closed positions with many interlocking pawns, fortress positions, etc.)
        It’s true that go is even less penetrable, at this point in time, by computers. But that doesn’t take away from chess, in my view.

    2. I don’t usually feed trolls, but..
      Until you can build a chess engine that beats Garry Kasparov *and* you can also beat the champion of the local chess club (without using said engine), please don’t talk about game theory.
      Also, it’s not like you’re being given a choice. A lot of chess players I know play Go too.

    3. Dude, there’s no need to get all high-and-mighty. This article is an allegory for the relationship between a complex game and principles of navigating life.
      If you want to talk about a “real” game, go learn Shogi, and we can discuss…

    4. Stupid Viceroy, you do not even know what you are talking. And, you might bot even know the minimum of game theory (relating chess) so dont try to look smart that you will ended looking as stupid as you looked after making such comment (above).

    5. Why do you like Go? All I know about it is that Trip, the engineer on Star Trek:Enterprise, called it his favorite game. Isn’t it Chinese in origin?

  12. Stopped reading at paragraph one. Chess is a solved game at the highest
    level. Learn some game theory before you start lavishing undeserved
    praise on something. Alternatively, learn how to play a REAL game: Go

  13. Stopped reading at paragraph 1. Chess is a solved game at the highest
    level. Learn some game theory before you start lavishing undeserved
    praise on something. Alternatively, learn how to play a REAL game, Go

    1. This is asinine. Chess has not been “solved” at the highest levels. In fact, not even the most powerful chess computers have solved the game.
      Now, certain opening subsystems have been solved (like particular variations of the Sicilian Dragon and the King’s Gambit Accepted). But overall the game hasn’t been solved as players are still producing novelties in the openings and computers still aren’t able to evaluate many kinds of positions very accurately.
      There is still everything to play for.

    2. ….take your meds, clown-shoe. I always get a laugh out of people that immediately contradict someone’s writing and then admonish them to “go study” or “get educated”….

  14. Liked the article apart from point 1.
    it should really be changed to ‘men empower women’.
    just about every problem coming out of the woodwork nowadays is happening because some men did and others continue to drop the ball by supporting things against their own interest.
    just about every good (feminine) woman there is out there (rare though they may be) is a result of an excellent relationship dynamic with her father. cultures embrassing that patriarchial dynamic are exactly where you’ll find feminine women. (obviously this is taken to the extreme in middle east, where low rights [good] becomes no rights [bad](citing roosh’s recent article)

  15. Great thoughts.
    I’ve often had the same ideas about poker. Lots of rich life in business metaphors in Texas Hold ‘Em. The biggest is “You cannot win unless you take risk.”

  16. The queen is the most powerful piece of the game, as a woman in real life. If
    a man says to himself, “today I shall get laid,” he will fail many times, if she
    “ I’ll get laid,” her prediction will come true most every time. The
    queen is able to captured (bang) every piece ( bishop,knight,pawn,rook)
    because she’s very flexible in the possible continuations, she can move
    vertically, horizontally, diagonally, but when she catch the king (the
    man who put a ring on her finger) the game is over. Sometimes the queen
    is captured (by promiscuity) before she grab a king. The game is over
    for her, but continues for others, who maybe don’t look like a queen, but are able to catch the king.

  17. very cool article. thanks. i admire chess so much i’d like to share it all over the world where perhaps shipping or distribution channels are limited. but most rural developing countries have access to a school printer. http://www.printnplaychess.weebly.com, i’d appreciate your support and insight fellow kings.

  18. Dude, chess is an artificial human-created game with low complexity. If you want to learn lessons from a game, try go.

Comments are closed.