Life Lessons From Chess

Chess is a fun game, and it provides many valuable life lessons.

For example, one of our coaches found he daughter was was super shy when she began playing chess. Over the next three years he was amazed at the progress she made in chess and in life. She saw that on the chess board, it was all her, and she learned that she could rely on herself. There was no team, so winning or losing was all up to her. She took her time, studied the game, and got better and better until by the end of 6th grade she was on the 2nd to top board in the whole club. Her self-confidence improved a great deal through chess. Last Thursday she graduated from college with a double major in Economics and Computer Science. And she landed herself a great job. I’m so pleased!

The first life lesson from chess is that we treat each other with respect. We start and end each game with a handshake that reminds us that the person on the other side of that chess board is our opponent only in the game. In life, that person is our ally as we both improve our chess skills. So often, in life, that person who’s giving us trouble really has a lot to teach us about ourselves, if we can manage to see them in that light.

I tell the kids that after a game I shouldn’t be able to look at their faces to learn who won or who lost. It’s okay to feel what you feel inside, but keep the fist pumps or tears internal. There will be times in life when it just isn’t appropriate to express the joy of victory or the sting of defeat. Being able to control that is a sign of maturity.

After a game, I ask the kids “Did you win or did you learn?” That’s because we all know that we actually learn more from losing than from winning. It’s okay to lose. In fact, becoming a good loser is an essential life skill. If you’re no longer afraid to lose, you’re okay with trying new things and taking chances.

Another life lesson: Everybody blunders. We say that the winner of the chess game is the 2nd to last person to blunder. When it happens, you just take a breath and go on. It’s a waste of time to beat yourself up. Just get your head back in the game and play on.

Speaking of self-control: “Touch move, touch take.” That’s our rule for ladder games. If you touch your piece and there’s a legal move, you must make it. If you touch an opponent’s piece and can take it, you must. I tell the kids, think with your brain, not your hand. Many kids want to hover their hand over the piece as they consider their next move, but this telegraphs your intentions to your opponent and you don’t want to do that. So just keep your hands in your lap until you’re ready to move.

If you practice, you will improve.” You discovered that you can accomplish whatever you put your mind to.

We say “if you found a good move, look for a better one”. There is often an even better move if you take the extra few seconds to look for it. And isn’t that true in life, also?

The last life lesson, but not the least, is that pawns rock. They may seem insignificant, but so many games are won in the end due to a pawn promotion. So, pay attention to the little things in your lives. Make your bed first thing in the morning. Brush your teeth. The little things add up to great big things in the end.