Life Lessons from Chess

by Dr. Shrirang Joshi
2/19/2018 – We often hear that chess is useful in other phases of life. While this is true for the ones who play the sport, it is still quite a big question to the uninitiated as to what exactly are the benefits of playing chess. Also, the benefits are so vast that sometimes it is difficult even for an experienced player to jot them all down. Dr. Shrirang Joshi is a well-known psychiatrist and counsellor based in Mumbai. He spent a lot of time studying the benefits of chess and now brings us the details of his findings. In this article you learn how lessons learnt from chess can be better applied to our day to day life. | Photo: Val Vesa

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"[Chess] makes man wiser and far-sighted."

Vladimir Putin, during the 2001 World Championship knockout in Moscow

Many people feel that playing chess is a waste of time. Only the chess aficionados can experience the pleasure that is gained by playing chess. The pleasure of finding the best move, playing in a competitive spirit, trying for a win, trying to recover from a blunder and finally winning the game can be perceived as a struggle but it is pleasurable for a chess enthusiast. Others may call it masochism. Is it only pleasure that can be gained by playing chess? No. The principles that we learn in chess can also be applied to our life. Let us see how the principles of chess are extremely relevant to our life and can help us to improve and progress.

Three phases of the game 

“After a bad opening, there is hope for the middle game. After a bad middle game, there is hope for the endgame.” – Edmar Mednis

Chess has three phases: the opening, the middle game and the endgame. Life also has the corresponding phases of student life, work life and retirement. A good opening play leads to better middle game positions and good middle game play can lead to a favourable endgame position. Every phase of chess play and of life is important. We need to make the most of each phase and also not get disheartened if some phase does not turn out good. We can make the next phase good.

black knight

Playing what the board dictates

The play can turn out to be tactical or strategic. We need to be prepared to play in whichever way the game develops. Our choice or mood should not matter. Likewise what we plan in life and what happens in life is at times very different. We need to be ready to face life as it comes and not grumble about it.

King safety

"Castle early and often” — Rob Sillars

The safety of the King takes priority over everything else in all stages of the game. Similarly, we should take care of our health. Any health harming habit is like not bothering about king safety and exposing the king to attacks. Health should be given a priority in all stages of our life.

Avoiding blunderslewis chessmen

"The blunders are all there on the board, waiting to be made." — Savielly Tartakower

Blunders are costly. Most games are lost by blunders. Every serious chess player makes an earnest effort to avoid blunders. In life we need to proactively identify and avoid blunders which may cause great damage to us. 

Avoiding loss of tempo

Developing pawns and pieces to the best squares as quickly as possible is an important principle of the opening phase. Every move should be done with a purpose and with the intention of fulfilling our plan. Tempo should not be wasted in any phase of the game. Similarly one should not waste time in life. Every action of ours should be with a purpose and in the direction of achieving our goals.

Finding the best move

“One bad move nullifies forty good ones.” – Israel Albert Horowitz

Every move is important. A chess player always tries to find the best move in any given situation. The best move is found by considering alternatives and evaluating likely future positions. Likewise in life, we should always make conscious efforts to find the best course of action at any given time.

Improving piece position

“Tactics flow from a superior position” — Bobby Fischer

A chess player is always on the lookout for an opportunity to place his pieces on a good outpost or on squares from where they are controlling an open file or an open diagonal. Similarly, in life we should actively look for actions which will improve our position and open up new opportunities.

Exchanging bad pieces

The pieces need to be developed to the best squares. The piece which cannot be developed to a good square is called a bad piece and is a liability. It should be got rid of. Similarly in life, whatever activities are not useful to us should be dropped.

chess set by the ocean


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Sacrificing

Position is superior to material. Hence a chess player does not hesitate to sacrifice material either for a win or to defend the position. Similarly, we should be conscious of the priorities of our life and sacrifice whatever needs to be sacrificed for a better life.

Preventing Time trouble

A good chess player uses his time wisely. He uses more thinking time for the critical moments in the game. We also need to use time wisely in our life by allocating more time to important and productive activities and not wasting much time on unproductive activities.

Planning

“Even a poor plan is better than no plan at all.” — Mikhail Chigorin

Chess teaches us to look ahead and plan. We can use this skill to progress in life.


Power of planning

Planning is the most difficult part of the game of chess. It is everywhere - we use it from the opening to the ending. A plan is based on evaluation and that evaluation is based on the different static and dynamic elements of the position. But what the chess books don’t describe is the direction of the plan.

More...


Prioritising

"Tactics is knowing what to do when there is something to do; strategy is knowing what to do when there is nothing to do.” — Savielly Tartakower

At any point in the game there are many possible plans. Chess trains us to prioritise and focus on the most important threat or the most important plan. This skill of prioritizing will help us in our life when we are faced with many options. We will be able to choose the most beneficial option.

Concentration

Chess games go on for hours and a chess player has to be able to maintain the concentration for a long time. This ability to concentrate will help in any other arena of life.

Fighting spirit

“Nobody ever won a chess game by resigning.” – Savielly Tartakower

A fighting spirit and a never say die attitude is developed by playing chess. Such an attitude is needed to weather the storms of life.

Positive thinking

"Tonight, I am playing against the Black pieces" — Akiba Rubinstein

Good chess play happens when you are not focused on the ELO rating of the opponent. Even if the opponent is a stronger rated player, a positive mindset can help a player to perform the best. Such positive attitude is needed in life to be able to do our best in adverse circumstances.

Learning from failures

"You may learn much more from a game you lose than from a game you win. You will have to lose hundreds of games before becoming a good player." — José Raúl Capablanca 

Though a chess player wants to win every game, losses are inevitable. A chess player can grow by analysing his losses. Similarly failures are inevitable in our life. We need to learn from the mistakes that we make in our life. Only a dispassionate analysis of our behavior or events happening in our life can help us to avoid same mistakes in future and thereby accelerate our progress.

Smiile

This story originally appeared on ChessBase India

Photos: Amruta MokalWfm lewis chessmen | Chess Pieces by the sea




Dr. Joshi is a Psychiatrist and Counselor based in Mumbai. He has been conducting motivational sessions for inspiring children and teenagers for the past 25 years. He is passionate about chess and chess psychology.
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jupe jupe 2/23/2018 09:08
Also sometimes, (or maybe many times!) you should be happy to be playing a supporting role to other pieces. :-D
jupe jupe 2/23/2018 09:06
Nice Article!
To add to what you said
Middle game starts when you start losing some of your major pieces. For me loss of both my mom and dad means I have now entered the middle game
it is important to take time to think about your best move because moves once made change the dynamics of the situation
pieces(people) need to harmoniously co operate in order to achieve objectives
and once the king is dead, it is game over!
Raymond Labelle Raymond Labelle 2/22/2018 07:43
""Preventing Time Trouble... We also need to use time wisely in our life by allocating more time to important and productive activities and not wasting much time on unproductive activities."

-- I agree. I spent too much of my youth studying and playing chess!"

Peter B

Quite funny and true for many! Kudos for the thought Peter.
afiedito afiedito 2/21/2018 04:03
Great article. It is such a great truth that life is like chess....opening, middle and endgame... great metaphors
Petrarlsen Petrarlsen 2/20/2018 10:15
"No one claimed that chess players make money from chess." (fgkdjlkag)

I think that the operative word in this sentence is : "FROM".

It is difficult to make money FROM chess, but, following the author of this article, chess can be useful to succeed in other fields.

And I think that fgkdjlkag is also quite spot on when he says (answering to karavamudan, who said : "Why are chess players then mostly poor?") : "How do you know that chess-players are mostly poor? At least 3 chess-player/billionaires: rex sinquefield, peter thiel, joop van oosterom."

Indeed, in relation to this article, the problem isn't to know whether it is possible to make money as a PROFESSIONAL chess player, but to know if chess can help you to succeed in other fields.

It is obviously difficult to know if chess helped Rex Sinquefield, Peter Thiel and Joop van Oosterom to succeed in their chosen fields, but what is sure is that they aren't (or weren't) really quite poor (!), and that they are (or were) chess players.

And it is irrelevant that they are AMATEUR chess players : obviously, if the question is to know if chess can help you in other fields, professional chess players don't come mainly into consideration : as they work in chess, they obviously aren't at all the best field of study to know if chess can be useful in other fields !...
fgkdjlkag fgkdjlkag 2/20/2018 09:04
@Jarman, no one claimed that chess players make money from chess. The claim was that principles learned from chess can be applied to life.
JakeThe7 JakeThe7 2/20/2018 08:46
"He spent a lot of time studying the benefits of chess and now brings us the details of his findings."
How exactly is this article comprised of "findings"?
genem genem 2/20/2018 06:44
Dr. Shrirang Joshi - wrote:
{
Preventing Time trouble

A good chess player uses his time wisely. He uses more thinking time for the critical moments in the game. We also need to use time wisely in our life by allocating more time to important and productive activities and not wasting much time on unproductive activities.
}
When no increment (or only a tiny +5 second incr) is included in the time-control, some luck is also needed to manage your clock time optimally.
Soccer coaches know the game will last for 90 minutes. Baseball coaches know the game will very likely last for 9 innings.
But a chess player cannot know whether the game will last for 25 moves or for 98 moves.
A +30 second increment is good.
Jarman Jarman 2/20/2018 12:18
@fgkdjlkag: you might give tournament prizes a look. There's always a lot of talk about the benefits of the Fischer's Boom and how it improved a dire situation, but every time I read how much the winner of a top international tournament takes home, well... quite frankly it looks like a pittance compared to the tremendous effort required. Some time ago Chessbase published a very good interview with Lautier and I was surprised to a certain extent that even a player of his caliber struggled to make ends meet. An excerpt: "You know chess doesn't pay that well. I was making a decent living, but it is one of those activities where as you grow older the revenue shrinks, and that is not really a nice prospect. I wanted to have a family and kids, just like a normal person. So I thought that I should provide them with a more secure environment."
fgkdjlkag fgkdjlkag 2/20/2018 10:27
@karavamudan, how do you know that chess-players are mostly poor? At least 3 chess-player/billionaires: rex sinquefield, peter thiel, joop van oosterom.
RayLopez RayLopez 2/20/2018 07:55
"[Chess] makes man wiser and far-sighted." — Vladimir Putin, during the 2001 World Championship knockout in Moscow

Oh wow, quoting Putin. Keep in mind that in India people name their kids after Hit ler and Stalin, as a sign of toughness. In fact there's no evidence chess does anything good for you, though Rex Sinquefield at the moment is funding a study looking at seniors.
ulyssesganesh ulyssesganesh 2/20/2018 02:45
useful, interesting lessons of chess/life!
karavamudan karavamudan 2/20/2018 02:19
Why are chess players then mostly poor?
Peter B Peter B 2/20/2018 12:31
"Preventing Time Trouble... We also need to use time wisely in our life by allocating more time to important and productive activities and not wasting much time on unproductive activities."

-- I agree. I spent too much of my youth studying and playing chess!
SeniorPatzer SeniorPatzer 2/19/2018 09:52
Wow. Love this article as it clearly highlights the benefits of playing chess to improve one's choices and actions in life.
satman satman 2/19/2018 08:52
If only...
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