Chess and Life: The Real Value of Chess
Chess is an incredible game that teaches you many things. With every chess puzzle you struggle to solve, you can learn a little bit more about your own thinking processes, patterns, and biases. As we’ll see, chess can be very helpful in life too. Life unfolds as you make a series of decisions, just like chess.
Chess is fun because you can see how you improve with every game. It can help you learn how to ask better questions: What am I not seeing? Or better yet, what do I want to see? Based on this, you develop a plan. But the real value of chess is how applicable and useful it is in life.
A) Chess is Language
I have been able to play chess with people all around the world. In the summer of 2016, I sat and played with a person from Egypt in downtown Barcelona. I’ve also played with a Puerto Rican in San Francisco’s infamous tenderloin. I played against a young boy from India in Zion National Park in Utah. I even played chess with Norwegians in Ålesund. What did we all have in common? We spoke the language of chess. After a few games, we could understand who we were. Your playing style, opening choice, and how you make decisions can communicate as much as any other language does.
B) Chess is Sport
According to its definition sports need some physical exertion. Chess is no different, it requires not only a sharp mind but body too. The quality of your thinking is directly correlated with your overall health. Just search for the world’s top chess players and you’ll find they are fit. Chess, like sports, requires consistency, practice, and discipline. How do you get better at chess or sports? In both cases, you benefit by having a coach, by learning a better method, by practicing with better technique, and leveraging tools (like computers). Chess is also about sportsmanship, such as offering an initial handshake, exchanging advice at the end of the game, and of course having fun.
C) Chess is Science
Why is chess a science? Because you must approach chess in a scientific manner. Which opening or end game must you improve? Where are you making the most mistakes? What openings does your opponent find the hardest to deal with? The beauty of chess is you can quickly iterate with every new game and improve.
D) Chess is Math
In college, I clearly remember that as I moved up in engineering my chess rating improved as well. I don’t know why. Perhaps chess helped my math. Chess is full of math. There’s files, ranks, diagonals, coordinates, and annotation. And there is also a measured value for each piece. For instance, a Rook = 5 and a Queen = 9. Position dependent, two rooks usually do end up being stronger than a queen. Chess like math, expands your brain by forming a figuratively infinite number of neural connection between it’s values, space, and time (it’s time bound).
Chess is also about calculation. The more you practice solving puzzles or solving math exercises, the better you become at it. Both in chess, life, and math, you need to pause and think what your possibilities are. These possibilities are nothing but your end evaluation of whether or not your position would be better after a certain number of moves. In chess as in life, the better you’re able to correctly evaluate the more your positions will improve.
E) Chess is Art
Several chess players have said it: chess is art, science, and sport. But how can chess be art? First let’s define art. What is art? Art is basically the result of what happens when humans apply their creativity and imagination. With every game, depending on your mood or how creative you’re feeling, you can choose a different opening and different variations. Throughout the game, you can paint different types of canvases: aggressive, open, elegant, symmetric, maybe you decide to be more positional, or tactical. With preparation and imagination, you can play artistic games full of sneaky sacrifices, gambits (pawn offerings for positional advantage), and all sorts of tactical themes! Check out these artistic games.
F) Chess is like Psychology
Chess is like psychology because it explores many facets of human thinking. It helps you understand yourself and others better. It helps improve how you feel after a loss. In 1839, playwright Edward Bulwer-Lytton said “The pen is mightier than the sword.” In chess, we have “the pin”. Chess pushes you to understand sacrifices and gambits. Such are the workings of negotiating skills in life. Chess also teaches about baits and not falling for them. Chess humbles us all.
Every chess player has at some point been arrogant or overconfident. And then you lose terribly and it has its way to humble you. You become more empathetic. Chess, like psychology, helps you better understand your emotions. It’s okay to lose, and winning doesn’t make you better than others either. Most importantly, both chess and psychology teach discipline. Discipline to have a plan, and to stick to your plan—mental strength so to speak.
G) Chess is Culture
Finally, chess is culture. If you pay attention, you’d be surprised in how many movies or series chess is featured in the background. From the X-Men movies, The Twilight Saga, Harry Potter film series, Disney’s Queen of Katwe, Netflix’s The Queen’s Gambit, to the countless books that feature chess in their front cover. Culturally, chess is perceived as an elegant game. A game of intelligence and sharp memory. It symbolizes discipline, strength, perseverance, and confidence. Chess also debuts in music, art, famous quotes, and even politics. In other words, chess is culture because it is part of many areas of our life.
Unfortunately, a lot of people resist learning chess because of its perceived difficulty. While it is not taught in most schools around the world, I argue it should. Chess might be one of the most important tools to help anyone throughout life. Perhaps it is a coincidence, but I’ve yet to meet a serious chess player that isn’t succeeding in life in one way or another. So the real value of chess consists in what happens when you play it for life: you meet life long friends (chess brings people together), you improve your character traits, you become a better problem solver, and you have a game to have fun for life. Personally, it helped me get my engineering scholarship, land my first job, meet my best friends, and much more.
There’s plenty of platforms where you can learn and practice chess for free. I recommend my personal favorites: lichess.org or chess.com. But there are many more platforms out there. How could chess impact your life? Give it a try. Sign up, play some games, and have fun!
Juan F. Diaz
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100% agree man, great article!… And also, after the pandemic and Queen’s gambit, chess has exploded, a lot of young people want to learn and chess tournaments just keep getting bigger. Great news for us chess fans.
Chess is so underrated. Definitely getting better ?
Awesome article Juan!! Chess definitely mirrors many dimensions of life or as Fischer said more succinctly “Chess is life.” And I would add to your list: Chess is Philosophy as it adheres to the four virtues exposed by Socrates is Plato’s Republic namely the virtues of Wisdom, Courage, Temperance and Justice.
Thanks Ted! I so agree with you! Chess is Philosophy as well. Love it!