Real-Life Application: How to Use Your Chess Skills In Decision-Making

I wrote a post the other day about the power of choice, so it got me thinking about decision-making. 

Then, somehow, it got me thinking about CHESS.

This is probably because I have a blog post draft in my Google Doc about the character Beth Harmon from the Netflix series Queen Gambit. The series is about chess.

And I love chess. 

So, is there a correlation between chess and real-life decision-making? 

Well, let’s see. 

The process of making decisions in chess 

Playing chess has many benefits, and this post isn’t completely about that. Yes, chess improves logical thinking in children. It makes people smarter and have more empathy. It has many benefits. 

If it improves logical thinking in children, it means it can improve decision-making, right? 

But let’s compare playing chess to making real-life decisions.

The process of making decisions in chess is both simple and difficult. 

Simple, because you can understand the chessboards and pieces in five minutes. 

Difficult, because the game requires a lot of thinking and seeing the big picture once the game starts. 

The process generally involves looking at the goal (capturing your opponent’s king), assessing the position to move to, and what risk you might face from the opponent’s pieces. 

This looks too similar to how we make real-life decisions. 

In chess, you analyze threats from the opponents and their weaknesses. Then, try to capitalize. In real life, you analyze situations and think of the risks involved.

Depending on what needs to be decided, we often have to consider many factors at a time. 

In short, I want to look at some decisions at work, business, and relationships and how to approach them the way you would approach a chess game. 

Welcome To The Chessboard. This is life. 

You can think of the chessboard as life, your business, or something you’re trying to work on. 

The chessboard has eight white boxes and another eight brown boxes. So, it makes it a square of 64 boxes.

This box is like life. Our normal life is abundant if you view it. At the same time, it has a lot of limits. We will get to this later in this article. 

To play chess, you arrange your pieces on one side. They will take two rows. Your pawns stay in front, and your biggest, most powerful warriors stay behind the pawns. 

On the other end, someone else arranges their pieces. So far, four rows are occupied, and you’re left with another four in the middle. But there is no limit to how far you can go on the board. It’s a matter of skill and who you are playing against. 

And that brings us to the number one thing about decision-making. 

SKILLS — EXPERIENCE — INFORMATION 

Just like life, you need skills to play chess. You need experience to master it. And sometimes, if you want to win against someone who is very smart or talented, you need information about them or how they think. 

These are the intrinsic things you need to win a chess game. It’s a game of intellectual capacity. 

In any decision-making, you need the same intrinsic things, such as skills, experience, and information. Sometimes, it might not be your own skills or information. 

It’s like when you want to learn how to write a novel and search the internet for such information. Then, you land on my page about the topic. Now you’re using my information to get — guess what — the skills. 

BUT LIMITATIONS ARE LIKE THE CHESSBOARD 

Chess only has 64 boxes. All of your chess pieces can’t move into all of the boxes. Your job is to find which pieces can move to where and to move them when the time is right. 

This is life in general. For all the decisions you will ever make, some actions will land you in trouble. 

(In THE DEVIL’S EX-FIANCEE, where the main character decides to kill her ex because he was a tormentor. After doing that, she doesn’t know how to dispose of the body.) 

One wrong move in chess can ruin the whole game plan. Again, this leads to another similarity between chess and real-life decision-making. 

Planning. 

Create a plan. Edit it continuously 

No one plays chess without a plan. 

Even if the plan is not working, you will have a plan. 

We have different kinds of Chess openings, which is another way of saying how you start a project. It’s like the beginning of a plan. 

Once the game is on, you will look for ways to conquer your enemy’s king. This is like the execution of a plan. 

In fact, in chess, you’re constantly creating and thwarting your plans and recreating new ones.

Let’s say you want to decide who I should hire to market your company.

You have no idea. So, you take the first obvious step — seek information. You learn more about the various types of marketing and, somehow, SEO and influencer marketing. You decide to hire two experts. So, you seek more information about hiring an SEO expert

Step one: seek information. 

Step two: hire someone. 

Automatically, you are creating a plan. It might look as simple as this: hire someone, tell them about the product, monitor their progress, fire them if it’s not working

Though you might not write it down, you have unconsciously created this plan in your head. 

And, this plan is continuous. In your mind, if hiring person A doesn’t work, you will fire them… And, probably, hire someone better. Or try a different marketing strategy. 

Obstacles make limitations more obvious 

The obstacle in chess is the person you’re playing against and how they use their set pieces. So, when playing, you must look ahead before moving your piece to see what damage your opponent can cause and with which of their pieces. 

This is the process of making decisions in chess. And the keyword here is obstacles. (The pieces behind your opponent’s pawns are powerful but not as powerful if your opponent isn’t good at chess. Always remember that.) 

So, when you want to make a decision in life, who is your opponent, what are the rules, and what limitations can they bring along the line? 

I wanted to study medicine when I was young, like 12. My obstacles: I loved other subjects unrelated to medicine and the cost of medical school. And I absolutely didn’t love treating strangers that much. Looking at it, I don’t really like staying around the hospital either.

Obstacles will influence your decision. But your skills and information will be your best ally. What do I have? Who can I consult? How can I use what I have and what I can get to navigate the obstacle? 

In chess, what you have are your pieces.

Your decisions in life will lead to a goal. Now refer to the point under “Skill – experience — information” before you take the first steps.

Take your time 

Many of our decisions are not usually urgent. Most important life topics will offer you time to reflect and make a move. You have years to decide the career you want. Often, you have weeks to plan vacations. .etc. etc. 

But, like in chess, you have time (except in speed chess). You have time to think and think again before you make a move.

So, give yourself time. Usually, think over life decisions for a day, sleep over it, and then decide. 

In the later part of this post, we will discuss making urgent decisions that require you to decide in a few seconds.

The differences between real-life decision-making and playing chess 

Predictable obstacles

You usually can guess most of the things that will hit your pieces. You can lose your Queen or Bishop or make a mistake and never recover from it because your opponent has capitalized. 

This is normal in chess. Though you might not know how or when it will happen, you can predict those. Moreover, it’s rare to see exceptionally careful people who do not lose any of their pieces (unless they are playing amateurs). 

In real life, you can’t predict all the obstacles that will hit you. Humans are emotional and hopeful; sometimes, we forget to put all possible things into perspective. Look at the idea of studying at one of the best universities in the world. That’s a big goal you want to make. 

So, what is the decision(s) you need to make? 

Study hard? Seek finances. 

What are the obstacles? You are one of the other million people who want the same. But personally, your obstacles are far too many than just beating other competitors. What if things happen to your financial backing? A hundred possibilities can ruin your chances if you start thinking too hard about the most dangerous things that can happen to an able-bodied human. 

Solution: Think of obstacles broadly, but don’t overthink 

Let’s use an example. 

Goal: I want to read as much classic literature as possible and analyze the lessons in all of them.  (I have started. You can read some of the reviews on the blog.) 

Decision: To read classics or to read both classics and non-classics. 

Obstacles: It might take a lot of years to do that. I might lose interest in my blog. I might forget to read fiction if life gets too busy. 

Here, you can see how the number of obstacles is so small. I haven’t thought broadly enough about other things, like the website getting hacked, getting trolled on the internet, or writing something off-putting about one of the popular pieces of literature. I don’t want to think about negative things, too — like going blind, for instance. 

Think broadly. Find solution. 

So, your duty is to think broadly about a decision. If you don’t have all the details, refer to the above point under ‘skill, experience, information.” Seek more information.  Learn new skills

Safety 

At the end of the day, chess isn’t dangerous. It’s not a blood-boiling situation like being chased by a wild dog — where you have to choose between taking off your pants and running like hell or staying still and praying. 

Chess is relaxed. It rarely offers all the emotions that are associated with real-life scenarios. But here is a tip you can choose. 

Tell yourself you need your ‘Chess mode of thinking.’ You need to be a little relaxed. So, if the situation requires some urgency, how can you get your mind to that state of mind like you’re at a chess game? A bit calm but not too rested. If you are being chased by a dog, climbing a tree can seem wise; swimming is wise, too, because dogs are less powerful in water. Most of them are not as tall as the average adult, and they will struggle in the swimming pool above 1.2m deep. Any of these options can buy you that time to get into the state of mind I am discussing. You will be able to think better. 

But for other urgent situations like saving a life or stopping a terrorist attack, the only thing you can count on is experience. 

And, to that, Good luck. 

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