Personal Growth

4 Valuable Life Lessons From Chess

Chess is life in miniature — Garry Kasparov

Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

The popularity of chess skyrocket in recent times. It’s mainly because of the ongoing pandemic where all games benefit, as we can say from statistics of a leading streaming platform — Twitch. Theverg summarizes:

Twitch had a good 2020. Events were virtual; people stayed inside. The live-streaming site managed to clock 17 billion hours watched last year, which is a full 83 percent higher than 2019’s 9 billion, according to the latest report from StreamElements and

Chess is one of the most viewed categories on the platform in the period.

The next reason is the huge success of The Queen’s Gambit (miniseries):

Netflix released The Queen’s Gambit on October 23, 2020. After four weeks, it had become Netflix’s most-watched scripted miniseries.

These are the two main reasons why the 1200 years old game gained our attention recently. But, what could we learn from chess?

We don’t want to know

When the two chess grandmasters realize that the rook will checkmate the king in the next 11 moves, they punch the timer, smile, and start another game. They don’t want to play when the outcome is already set.

Exactly the same is in life.

Let’s say that we go to the cinema, watching a movie and guessing:

This character will die in that battle, that will happen, or this is how it ends.”

If all happen according to our predictions, we will rate the movie as terrible, boring, predictable, obvious, in general — negative.

But, when nothing happens as we predicted, we will be surprised and judge the movie as at least good. If each of our predictions will be wrong, then we will say — “wow, that is the best movie I have ever watched, it surprised me.”

In life, we want to live, explore, experience, and react to what happens. We don’t want to know what will happen. If you could predict the future and control it perfectly, you wouldn’t find any fun in that —like the chess players when the checkmate is inevitable.

Intelligence loses to systems

Generally speaking, intelligence is the biggest advantage in a social life that one can have. In chess, as it’s an intellectual game, it should be a major factor, but it’s not always the case.

Science daily research shows that:

Intelligence — and not just relentless practice — plays a significant role in determining chess skills, indicates a comprehensive new study.

In short, the study tells us that intelligence is “a piece of the puzzle” for a good chess player. The difference made by IQ is biggest among children and low-level players as the upper-level players “tend to be fairly bright.”

Most high-rated chess players have a high IQ because intelligence is a useful tool to learn the game of chess. In other words, geniuses are naturally predisposed to the game, which encourages them to play and develop their skill further. Others may quit as they tend to lose at the learning stage.

So, intelligence helps, but If you don’t know opening moves, systems and don’t have any practice — even a trained monkey can beat you. That’s why even most intelligent chess players train a couple of hours per day from childhood. Nobody will give you a free win just because you have a higher IQ.

The same is in life. Most super-intelligent innovators like Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, etc., still work for even twelve hours daily.

It’s impossible to rival a genius who works as hard as others, but when genius doesn’t work, doesn’t play seriously — could lose to anybody.

It’s not about capturing pawns

You can lose more pawns, but it’s about checkmate the king.

This way, chess creates a beautiful metaphor of life:

You have to checkmate the opposite king (reach the goal) using your figures (possibilities). On the way, you also sacrifice some pieces, even the queen (pleasures), to clear the way to the king. All this time, you also have to protect your king (health, life balance, relations, etc.).

Essentially it’s not about trading pieces during the game. The person with more pieces has a higher chance of winning, but it’s not always the case. The match can be over anytime the king doesn’t have a safe place to go, even if you have twice as many figures.

The same is in life. It’s about using the possibilities to reach the goal, not collecting them. It’s better to have few options and make use of them than a thousand and couldn’t decide what to do and where to go.

Modern chess is too much concerned with things like pawn structure. Forget it, checkmate ends the game.

— Nigel Short

Whatever you do, do it with a passion

On the website of the current world champion of the chess game (standard), Magnus Carlsen, is a quote:

Without the element of enjoyment, it is not worth trying to excel at anything.

Professional chess players play on the same 64-square board thousands of times. It would be impossible without “the element of enjoyment.”

One day, I watched Hikaru Nakamura on his live stream, who is a grandmaster of chess. I was amazed, not even by his skill, but by his enjoyment of the game — he was smiling and making jokes while playing chess on top rating.

It’s easy to enjoy something at the beginning as the curve of learning is almost perfectly vertical. But when we develop more skills, the plateau begins. At this point, it’s all about small differences we can find.

On the writing example. Sometimes I’m proud of myself when I place a good hyphen, build a good metaphor or find a perfectly fits quote, but barely anyone cares about that. The same is with chess, where I see just chessboards and figures- someone sees the beauty in every move.

Whatever you do, do it with a passion.

The Takeaway

Chess is life in miniature — Garry Kasparov

Why can we relate a chess game to life in miniature? Because social life is nothing more than a bunch of systems, rules, and connections that we can learn to achieve something, as it is in every game.

The Oxford Companion lists 1,327 named openings and variants in chess, while life offers nearly endless possibilities.

In life, we don’t have a predetermined purpose. We have to find it, and that could take a while. Yet, after finding the goal, e.g., a given profession, we have to understand its rules and make appropriate moves to reach a dream job.

That’s not that different than making moves to checkmate the king in chess. Life is more complicated, but we all making moves to reach given goals while acting under the principles of society.

Imagine the education system that would give such a playful perspective to a young human being, instead of a deadly serious rat race.

Join my free newsletter and get three simple ways to increase readership

Spent most of the time thinking about life, and now just lives. Fan of Freedom and Independence. Newsletter: Twitter: jakemurasz

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store