Twenty-one Lessons From Chess

  1. Those who know the rules of the game and play by them best usually win. Every group or organization has its culture. Every potential deal has its players and personalities. In addition to simply wanting something, you have to learn about the rules which dictate the play of your particular problem. Take time to learn about each game’s unique environment.
  2. The outcome can often be determined by your opening moves. First impressions matter. You will be remembered by others from those early first meetings. If you fail to impress early, you risk falling behind permanently. You have no idea how many potential interactions and deals ended before they began due to a failed first impression.
  3. Every action you take creates new circumstances which must be considered. Every single one. You will not know how you have changed the people around you with your words and actions, but know that change happens because of you. Try to make that change positive.
  4. You can only hope to accomplish well one objective at a time. Focus on your main goal with every move you make. Eliminate wasteful and non-productive actions and thoughts whenever possible. Say to yourself, often, “how is this helping me?” Don’t misunderstand. I don’t advocate a selfish outlook here. But also know that helping yourself succeed is absolutely essential. In promoting your work, you advocate for yourself. It matters greatly that others see in you a sense of pride in what you do.
  5. Understand that there are countless ways to achieve your goals. Chess exists on a sixty-four square game board with a total of thirty-two pieces in the beginning. There are nearly infinite combinations of moves possible within the confines of a single game. If one path leads to an unfortunate end, then try another way. Finding an unsuccessful combination of moves does not mean you failed. You lost your queen, but didn’t intend to. It doesn’t have to be a disaster. That combination might work in another situation, or with different people. Failure is an attitude of self defeat. Eliminate it from your thinking as much as you are able.
  6. You’ll face many setbacks and challenges, but learning to expect them helps to keep a healthy perspective. Challenges show us our weaknesses and help us to become stronger. Planners are not only planning for good things. My grandmother’s garage filled with food she canned herself was her expression of planning for bad times. These things will happen. In chess the successful players learn to think about multiple moves ahead of them, not only the one they are about to make. The same is true in successful living in many ways.
  7. Nothing is entirely new. Life has been happening in much the same way for a very long time. Learn about what to expect from the others who have gone before you. Read about it. History is an excellent and patient teacher. There are masters in every discipline who can teach you how to navigate throughout your journey. Often what makes you visible is how you react to something that is quite normal. Creativity is all about choosing a fresh approach.
  8. Approach your challenges with a calm spirit. There is no wisdom in indulging fear. The calm and focused spirit will not fail. In bushido, the way of the warrior, one is taught to accept death in order to face it calmly, and by extension to conquer it. Fear will come. You will never be completely free from it. Learn to work well in spite of it. Reacting with a calm spirit to chaos is the mark of a powerful being. Smile and nod at these people. They know.
  9. Know your assets and strengths, then use them. You have skills. You must learn what your strengths are and to acknowledge them. Be humble, certainly, but don’t be ignorant of your own talents. Offer them up when situations present themselves. Do you know how I once became an “IT expert” in a school? I raised my hand during a meeting. I volunteered. Sometimes it really is that easy.
  10. Understand that games occur in stages. Don’t give up. The end will be clear enough when it comes. Don’t quit early. So often when teaching chess to young people, I see players who are super aggressive as the game opens. I watch them almost bully another player into submission. Yet when I step in and tell the aggressive one to finish the job. Where’s your plan for checkmate? I find out that they don’t have a plan. If the opponent knew this, and had the skills, they might have overcome the early moves and followed with a win of their own.
  11. You can’t rest on an individual good play or count on one successful step to make the rest easy. Be consistent and push on until the game has been won. And if you ultimately don’t win, you can certainly be proud of your efforts along the way. That is worthy of celebration.
  12. Never underestimate anyone. You can’t know what they know, and only fools think they have nothing to learn from others. Everyone is worthy of your time and attention. For years I would work with a partner teacher in the Social Studies department on a grade-level chess tournament. It was one of those things that didn’t really fit into the state curriculum, but then, the curriculum is pretty boring. So, we ended up teaching chess to every sixth grader in the school. I am proud of that. Sometimes people hear that and wonder why, and others wonder why it isn’t always the case. But every year there would be a kid who was able to shine with chess. This kid would be one who had never stood out before in any way. No one thought about him or her at all, maybe. But as I wrote the names on the board of those advancing in the tournament, kids would read the names. I would hear them say in disbelief, “him? I didn’t know he was smart.” And I would usually chime in with an additional casual comment to build up the dark horse. But so it goes. Everyone has something to offer. Look for it. Listen for it.
  13. Your most challenging opponent will likely be yourself. Your own carelessness or lack of attention will bring you more harm than anything brought on by others. Calm your inner voices. That relentless and cruel critical voice is from within. It is the ego doing its best to keep you “in your place” of comfort. The ego isn’t you. It is only a made-up construct of you. It likes to complain and whine and criticize, but not to change much. It wants to stay put and wait for something to happen, passively. Shut it down. The ego is a liar. The more you do this, the easier it will become.
  14. Being gracious and respectful is as important as anything else you do. You will almost always encounter people more than once. As you build experiences with others you are also building your reputation. Don’t take personal encounters as random throw-away events. When you live in the now, you will see that your full attention given to each interaction will lead to far more positivism than ever before. Respect the moments.
  15. There is no gain to be had from greed, bragging, or gloating. Sure, there are immediate gains from this, but in the long game, such behaviors do far more harm than they are worth. Cutting someone down is hurtful. It’s hard to imagine how that could ever lead to any kind of lasting trust, admiration, or really anything positive. Meaningful gain is better overall. Humility is better than gloating every time. Understand that all things require sincerity. False humility is no good. I do not like to sing my own praises, so when I am praised, the humble responses I give are sincere. I know I can do better than whatever I was just praised for. It isn’t an act. I will always want to do better.
  16. Shake hands. Ok, maybe not during a viral pandemic. But that outward show of respect is critical. I love watching fighters in the octagon show respect and love after doing their best to render each other lifeless. It shows that they respect and understand their particular game.
  17. Being distracted is a success killer. Stay focused. I don’t mean that you can’t watch tv, but if you are bingeing shows for hours every night, you might be losing out to distraction. Opportunity can come and go quickly. If you’re watchful and focused, you will be ready. If not you won’t know what you missed.
  18. You can probably fake it for a while, but someone will eventually call you out. Never stop learning. Never stop trying to get better at your game.
  19. There will always be someone better than you. Don’t fear them, find them. They are the ones who can teach you. You don’t learn much by engagement with those who not as skilled as you. You still learn, but when it comes to gaining valuable knowledge about your work, go to the pros. Hang out and chat with them. Go to their trainings. Listen to their talks. Read their books. They are successful in a way that you want, so figure them out.
  20. When you fail, try to identify the weaknesses of your own actions rather than on what others did. The others will not always be there. You are the only constant in your story. You are always you. So take time to hold counsel with yourself. Think clearly about what you did, both right and wrong. Write about it. Talk about it with your inner circle. Learn from the momentary failure. This turns it into something better. When it is a lesson, it brings you something better than all of those negative defeatist commentaries.
  21. Look around for the ones who are watching you for guidance. They are counting on you to teach them well. Don’t pass up a chance to give back what others gave you. Help others along the way. This is never wasted. Give of yourself. Keep giving. It’s the part of life that leads to fulfillment.

Published by blytheobservations

I’m an educator for many years in the great Midwest. I try to focus on being a decent human. My three kids are hopefully learning good things from me. Perfectly boiling an egg has been added to the resume. We take pleasure in small victories. I’m probably driving around right now looking for firewood.

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