Checkmate: Using Chess Fundamentals to Achieve Your Goals

andy smith

My Dad taught me how to play chess when I was 9 or 10 years old. By the time I was 11, I was running a local chess club and by 12 years old I was competing in USCF tournaments, sometimes winning hundreds or thousands of dollars in prize money.

Chess was essentially my first passion, my first job, and then ultimately the first thing to go wayside once I hit puberty and became more interested in girls and music and socializing. Funny, but true!

While I don’t play often these days, some of the lessons I learned playing chess are just as valuable in real life. Chess taught me a great deal about concentrating and staying focused but also about recognizing and achieving my goals.

There are hundreds of prescribed “openings” and “defenses” in chess that are proven to be effective. Though after those 5, 10, 15 moves, you find yourself in what’s called the middle game. Here is where you have to strategize and plan ahead. Good chess players can think 5 or 6 moves ahead while great chess players can think 10 or more moves ahead: your move, your opponent’s move, your move, your opponents move, etc… all visualized in your head, with multiple outcomes and exponential board positions.

In chess you need to think ahead, prepare and strategize. And really, this is no different than how you would aim to achieve personal or professional goals: visualizing 10 steps from where you are to success and then working backwards.

For example, if your goal, your “checkmate,” is to get published in a prominent magazine, what are the 8-10 steps that would set you up for that?

You’d certainly have a better shot with substantial clippings and smaller publication bi-lines, and you’d probably be better positioned to get those bi-lines if you had a catalog of writing showcasing your skills… so maybe you first start publishing articles on Medium, gain a following on Twitter, find your niche, position yourself in the field, pitch and publish in a local blog, pitch and publish in a local magazine, then pitch the prominent magazine – checkmate!

Another fundamental chess lesson is to use multiple pieces in combination to attack and checkmate the king. You’re not going to win by attacking with just one piece. And achieving personal or professional goals is no different: there isn’t one end-all move or action to get you where you want to be. It takes coordination and cooperation.

For instance, if you’re searching for a new job, you wouldn’t just update your LinkedIn profile and leave it at that. You wouldn’t just send out resumes to hiring managers. You wouldn’t just poll your friends for advice and new connections. Just as in chess, you would use all of these “pieces” in coordination to “checkmate” your goal of getting a new job.

Planning 10 moves ahead and using multiple pieces in combination to attack are two fundamentals of chess, and those lessons continue to help me today with my personal and professional goals.

Bobby Fisher, a Grandmaster, World Chess Champion, and whom many consider to be the greatest chess player of all time once said, when asked about about his victories: “I prepare myself well, I know what I can do before I go in, and I’m always confident.”

Well said, Bobby. I think we can all apply that to our life goals.

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