Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Parallels of Chess and Life

I’m in the process of playing a game of correspondence chess with my dear friend Roberto L. – two friends from opposite sides of “the pond”, brought together in New York City many years ago and now living on opposite sides of “the pond” again and still bound in friendship.

People who follow me on Facebook have been watching the game’s progress on my wall.  Nathan L., one of my FB friends, made some observations about the game that prompted me to think about the parallels between chess and Life.

As with Life, the game always begins with the same characteristics, namely:

  • Unlimited potential for every participant
  • The danger of encountering as-yet unknown traps, challenges and pitfalls
  • The possibility of overcoming these challenges and creating victory
  • The opportunity to create a friendship out of an acquaintance or to strengthen an existing friendship
  • The possibility of learning from the experience and growing as a result.

As the game progress, it sometimes goes exactly as planned while at other times, intentions and hopes are turned upside down or dashed and we are left wondering what happened.

The game of chess begins with the classical opening, with each player using time-tested scenarios to position themselves for a stronger game.  The game of Life also has it’s “opening book”, a collection of education and life experiences, that position us for a stronger “game” in the future.

Both games then move on to the middle game, where each player seeks to obtain an advantage through the use of strategy, tactics and knowledge.  It requires patience (especially with one’s self), foresight, perseverance, persistence and the ability to create opportunities for success while at the same time, defending one’s self against the pressure from others.

Finally, the games of chess and Life move on to the end game, where we are either hopefully poised to complete our quest towards a successful outcome or we find ourselves unfortunately in a position where the best we can do is to lose gracefully, learn from the experience and hope to do better the next time.

Life, like chess, is a game that improves based on how much effort we put into it.  If we truly want to succeed in the game of Life, we must strive to learn as much as we can about it’s rules, subtleties, nuances, challenges, opportunities and potential.  Both games have been deeply analyzed and therefore a copious amount of knowledge exists for us to learn from if we are humble enough to recognize that we don’t know everything.

In either game, sometimes we win and as winners, we must be gracious, helping others to improve their game.

Sometimes we don’t perform or finish as strongly as we could have but if we don’t analyze where we made our errors or are not humble in acknowledging why we lost, we are bound to repeat the mistakes that derailed us previously.

In Life, as in chess, we start with a clean slate, with equal opportunity and unlimited potential to achieve the desired outcome.

While there will be many events that will catch us by surprise, for the most part our ability to be successful with our intention will depend on how much effort we put into our intention, how much we learn, how gracious we are in victory, how much we persevere when the odds are staggeringly against us, how humble we are when we are defeated or shown a better way and how well we bounce back when things don’t go as planned.

And in Life, as in chess, if things don’t go as well as we planned, we can usually reset the board and start again …..

… with unlimited potential to do better the next time.

As another one of my FB friends, Geoff M., noted:

“Every move, every game, is what you make it."

He’s right.

It’s your move – make it count.

Act as if your life depends on it – because it does.

In service and servanthood,


The same entry for this blog entry can be found on my Musings-in-a-Minute blog and can be found here.


  1. Geoff's quote is very apt - making it count is an every moment, every day action... thank you for the story and the message.

  2. Hi Patti,

    Thank you for the very kind message - create a great day!


  3. Excellent post. Chess is an artificial environment that models a simplified version of Life. It has specific pieces with specific rules, affordances and constraints. Patterns are recognized, and predictions are made from them by each player. This is the primary function of the central nervous system, which is hard-wired for this (read "On Intelligence" for more on this).

    In life real peril is involved when predictions are wrong. Chess, like other games, allows us to exercise these faculties without that real peril. One's opponent acts as the causal chain that one must work with (or against). In this way, playing Chess with someone is truly a gift. The more of a challenge you make it for your adversary, the bigger the gift is.

    There's a book called Ender's Game. It's not above Chess, but you might find it interesting as an exploration of this type of Life/Game connection.

  4. Hi Nathan,

    Many thanks for your kind words and your excellent analysis and observations.

    The book recommendation is also really appreciated - looks like a nice addition to the ereader. :-)

    Take care and create a great day.