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9 Chess Principles You Can Apply to Your Life

Chess is a beautiful game that is considered by many an art and a sport. It’s also one of the oldest games in human history. As chess players learn and refine their chess principles through time, certain patterns begin to emerge. Chess principles often mimic life and offer valuable insights. Consider the following for a more strategic lifestyle:

1. Aim at the center.

Aiming at the center of the board invites early confrontation to occupy important squares. In life, you must occupy your own center. If you take care of your important life squares like love, health, and finances, you’ll set yourself up for success.

2. Develop your major pieces.

Life is finite. Your time is limited. A timely development of your life pieces means you do the things that you care about. When we are developing, we have a sense of alignment, we apply effort to learn skills, to practice, to contribute, and to choose work worth pursuing.

3. Don’t expose your King.

In chess, if you use your King’s pawns carelessly, you often end up with an over exposed position. Positions like this tend to fragilize the King. Create positions in your life where you can achieve long-term outcomes, and avoid the quick results that often give the illusion of progress. Exposing yourself to massive productivity can lead to early burnout. Take care of your King (or Queen).

4. Occupy the open files.

In chess, you want to control open files (the columns/rows of the board) by placing long-range pieces there. In life, open files are like opportunities. And opportunities seldom happen if you don’t look for them. Find your open files at important life intersections like skills, passion and work. Then, like a chess piece, set yourself in it.

5. Never move quickly.

To never move quickly is perhaps the most important skill you can learn in chess. You can apply this principle in your life by delaying your gratification. Patience can take you very far in the game and in your life. You know you’re exercising patience when you care to utilize your time and not rush through it. You can do this by focusing more on quality moves and less on time. Play with a sense of calmness.

6. Find an alternative move.

Too often we see a good move and want to play it immediately. Instead, you can give yourself some time to look for even better options. In Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work, brothers Chip and Dan Heath explain that: “When we Widen Our Options, we give ourselves the luxury of a real choice among distinct alternatives.” They encourage us to keep our binary choices in check, and consider expanding your options.

7. When attacking, consider all the pieces.

This is similar to finding an alternative move. How can we find that? Sometimes we can find good moves that are not apparent. Other times, you can consider what you already know and have. What are you good at? What skills do you already know? You have more assets than you are willing to give yourself credit for.

8. Sometimes you don’t have to move forward.

It’s funny how sometimes doing nothing is the best option. Even the current World Chess Champion Magnus Carlsen has waiting moves.

9. Zoom out to see all the board.

If you find yourself being too caught up in the day to day demands, then zoom out. In chess, we tend to focus only on spots of the board where most of the action is happening. This always comes at the expense of missing a potential opportunity. Researchers Heather Sheridan and Rick Lahaye describe this as the Einstellung effect. In life as in chess: zoom out, see the big picture, and consider if there is something you’d like to do differently.

Juan F. Diaz

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Jorge Acevedo

I really liked this one. Learned a lot and I definitely agree with the number 9! Excellent habit to develop. In contrast with number 6, I heared someone saying “there is no need to have plan B because it distracts you from plan A”. To focus and believe are also excellent tools to develop. What do you think about it?

Juan F. Diaz

Thanks! “There is no need to have a plan B because it distracts you from plan A”. Interesting. I’m not sure about that. I think it depends on the particular situation. There’s nothing wrong having a plan B–unless it prevents you from taking action where you need to. Why not focus, believe, AND have a plan B?
Thank you for sharing!


Great insight Juan! Chess, as many people (usually chess players) have noted, is a reflection of life. As a chess player, I try to apply lessons from the game to my life so especially appreciate this article. I liked the points you made about finding alternative options (point 7) and seeing the big picture (point 9). Chess is definitely a game of patience and delayed gratification (point 5) which is one of the most important lessons chess can teach us. However, on the flip side there is some amount of risk chess requires if a player wishes to win the game since the game of chess is so well balanced that a draw (where no one wins) is the most common result when faced with an equal opponent. Also, chess is a game where many failures and errors occur and a willingness to review your mistakes objectively and learn from them is required in order to improve. And then there is always the lesson of trying to see the chessboard from your opponents viewpoint. These are all some additional chess related lessons that I try to take to heart as well. I’m sure there were many other points you considered touching upon but were likely constrained by keeping the blog article from growing too long. Thanks again and keep up the great work!

Juan F. Diaz

Hi Ted! Thanks for the comment! I definitely think chess may require some level of risk. This is especially true when we’re trying to learn/apply something new, like a new opening variation or trying a combination of moves where we might overlook something and lose. But losing is winning, because every loss comes with the potential to learn. So like you said, as long as we’re able to review our mistakes, every error becomes a learning opportunity. I don’t usually mind growing an article longer when it matters, so your additional points are a great takeaway. How would they look like?
10. Take some risks and learn from the mistakes.
11. See the chessboard from your opponent’s viewpoint.
12. Always be in the lookout for space advantage.
Thanks again!

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