6 Life Lessons from Chess

Tony Tonev
3 min readJul 23, 2019
Photo by Mehrdad Haghighi on Unsplash
  1. Take the Initiative

In Chess, when you attack your opponent’s pieces or create a threat and force them to respond to it, that’s called having the initiative. They can’t do what they want to do, because they have to respond to the threat unless they want to lose a piece or get mated. So, which side would you rather be on in life? The one who’s advancing their agenda fiercely by taking the initiative and improving their position with each move? Or, the one who’s always putting out fires and reacting to circumstances outside of their control just to avoid losses? Take the initiative.

2. Don’t Rush Important Decisions

If you’ve ever played chess with a clock, you know that the worst mistakes are made in time trouble. Even Super Grandmasters make very silly mistakes when they don’t have enough time to think. So, take your time when making an important decision. In chess, if your clock runs out you lose, but in life that may not be the case. If there is a deadline coming up, ask yourself if that deadline is really that firm or is it artificial (most of them are), and can be extended somehow. If not, ask yourself, what would be worse: a missed deadline or a bad decision? Don’t let the clock pressure you into a blunder.

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3. You’re Dumber When You’re Angry

I’ve noticed that if something in a game makes me mad, I tend to lose the next 5 games in row. Science backs this up. Research has shown people are actually smarter when they’re in a good mood. So, never make important decisions when you’re angry. Why would you let your dumber-self make the decision for you?

4. Forget Past Mistakes and Focus on the Best Course of Action

From the last two points, we’ve learned the best decisions are made when you have time and a good state of mind. Dwelling on past mistakes takes away both of those, so don’t do it! The occasional blunder is inevitable, but all you can do is make the best next decision from the position you find yourself in. Never mind how you got there.

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5. Never Declare Victory Too Early

Countless times I’ve had a completely winning position, stopped paying attention because I was so sure I would win, then missed something important and lost the game. The lesson is to see things through to the end until the mission really is accomplished. It ain’t over till it’s over.

6. Expectations Determine Emotional Reaction

Getting a draw when you’re sure you’ll win can sting much more than losing when you know you’ve lost. Your expectations will determined how you will feel about the outcome, so set them accordingly.