7 Life lessons from Chess that will make you love the game.
I have been playing Chess for over 7 years now. It is more than a hobby for me. I still play atleast 5–7 games during my free time everyday.
It has helped me focus. It has helped me relax. It has helped me break the negative chain of thoughts when they get overwhelming.
Apart from the fun that comes with most games, there are 7 key life lessons I’ve learnt from chess. Let me talk about them in detail:
- Failing is fine — This is a difficult learning. As humans, we are always trained since childhood to think about winning. Win at school, at games, at careers. Winning is what we focus upon. Very few of us get trained in failure and to deal with the emotions that come with it. Chess challenges that winning belief. There are some brutal losses, leaving bad aftertaste. You feel like you’re in command and one bad move later, you’re looking at a defeat. It hurts. And never stops hurting. But you start developing a slightly different perspective towards failure. You start responding better to losses. You start learning from them. You start respecting the opponent.
- Pause and plan the next moves — After playing more than 10000 games, this has been my best learning. If you take decisions in jest, more often than not they’ll miss the intended results. The ideal way to approach life and chess is to think of multiple outcomes of the next move . This is also famously known as “Second order thinking”. Taking this a step further, we also need to consider the consequences of each of the possible outcomes (Opponent best moves). This habit helps in life as much as chess. Just taking a small pause and thinking a few levels deep will help us uncover so many situations we would have otherwise missed.
- Tomorrow is a new day — A bad win. You feel this is not for you. You take some pause and come back to the game. You lose again. Back to back losses. A bad move, a missed win opportunity. Anger, Irritation and sadness prevail. You feel like you’re having the worst day.
And then, you sleep over it and walk into a new rising sun. You analyse the last game and realise some basic strategies you missed. You smile at your emotions. You start a new game. A well fought game. Win or lose, you smile a bit more. Games were played before, will be played after. What remains to be understood is how you use these to be a better you. Its a new life everyday.
- Focus is everything — A new game is live. All the smaller pieces are gone. You are in the midgame. Perfectly balanced. You evaluate all the possible moves. Just for a moment, you checked your buzzing phone in between while your opponent thinks. He moves. You have expected this move. You respond almost immediately only to realise that you missed a fine variation. The game is gone. You have to resign.
I cannot recall the number of games I have lost due to a momentary loss in focus. And also won because I have been focused throughout. Chess is one of the few games which require extreme focus in the present, making it one of the best mental exercises. Focus is scarce, particularly in today’s world where attention is for sale. It is increasibngly difficult to achieve your goals when there is dopamine distractions all around us. A small loss in focus can cost us months worth of effort. In order to increase efficiency, we should do only one thing at a time, with 100% focus. This has a life changing impact. Chess will train you for it.
- Its a race against you, and not others — There is a reason why we do anything. To get better at it. Most of the times, being better is attached to a status or monetary outcome. However, the race to be better has no end. The finish lines are mostly defined by us. It is equally important to enjoy the race as it is to hit the finish line. If our happiness is defined by how often we hit the bigger milestones in life, we will be unhappy for most of our lives.
Chess is a skill that requires a lot of practice hours to be closer to the best, if not the best. The only race which matters then, is to learn a little bit more everyday and use it in the games. Its a never ending race which tells us to focus on the present game, without looking at the finishing line. The only yardstick to measure is how better you are today, compared to the you yesterday.
- The best way to learn is to teach — When I started teaching chess to a few kids around the block, I realised how many concepts I didn’t know myself completely. There were a lot of moves I was making that just seemed right, based on intuition. I had to go back to play solo games and watch YouTube tutorials after every class, just to be able to explain the moves better in the next class. And once I taught something with the correct reasonsing behind it, it got registered in memory.
Teaching is the most difficult skill to master in any domain. The ability to simplify something to be easily comprehended by a 5 year old needs extremely clarity of concepts. It helps one become the master of the art.
- Enjoy, Life is short — While a lot of chess players aim to be IM,GMs when they start, 99.99% will never reach those levels. When I started, I started by making peace with this overall statistic. It freed me. While I do check my rankings and monitor the progress week on week, the joy of playing playing a good games is my biggest takeaway. Researches say that having a few hobbies which you just enjoy doing, without any goal in mind, helps the mental wellbeing. So. Chess or any other hobby, do it for the joy of it.
Nobody gets out of this life alive. Death is the greatest equaliser, which can make you extremely humble. There’s no point of achieving all your goals if you are unhappy in the pursuit of it.
To put things in perspective, if you are a 20–30 year old reading this, taking the average life expectancy of 75 years, you just have approx 2500–3000 weeks of life left. That’s actually not much if you actually think about it. There won’t be that one day when you will suddenly be happy. Enjoying the current moment should be the only top priority.
As they say “There are no happy times, just happy people”. Lets all try and be a little happier everyday.