In the last year or two, my son learned how to play chess. The game fascinates him, and he seeks out books at the library on how to play. I found an old Chessmaster program (the Art of Learning edition) to load onto our computer (which, I’ll admit for those keeping track, is a part of my lack of word count growth).
What does this have to do with Mastering Me Mondays? I wanted to share guideline for playing chess and how you can use the same ideas to checkmate failure.
Know Your Pieces
In chess, you need to know each of the six pieces. You must understand how they move, how they can capture, and any special abilities or moves they might can make. You must know how to set up a board. Knowing chess notation is a good idea so you can review games you’ve already played. Most people figure these things out fairly easily. They’re not very complicated, but knowing all this is the foundation of learning how to play.
The same is true of any endeavor. We need to understand the basics of anything that we want to achieve if we are to reach our goals. We must understand the basic components that will allow us to reach our goal.
In the tutorial lessons for Chessmaster: The Art of Learning, Josh Waitzkin teaches you to play the principles rather than a specific strategy, particularly in the opening. Chess opening strategy has been studied for many years. Games can be opened numerous ways. You can spend countless hours studying all these strategies and their variations for starting a game, or you can learn the principles that guide the strategies of good opening moves. Some strategies are better than others. You might even gain the upper hand. Usually, playing the principles leaves you in a better, more maneuverable position than memorized strategies — especially when you happen across a situation you weren’t expecting.
Whatever goals you’re pursuing, try to understand the principles that govern the way things are done. Strategies often change., When they do, the same principles still guide the new strategies. So if you understand the principle of why you do something, you’ll be less likely to jump to new, “glitzy” strategies that may or may not work, and if strategies suddenly change, you’ll be prepared to make the shift too.
You might be wondering what is a tactic and how does it differ from a strategy. A tactic is generally an action or situation that occurs or is used that helps you in a specific situation. In chess, a common tactic is a pin. In a pin, a less valuable piece is blocking the attack on a more valuable piece. For example, if you had a knight standing between your own king and an enemy queen, this would be a pin. The piece is pinned because if the knight were to move, it would put the king in check, which would be an illegal move. Another tactic called the skewer is similar, but the positions of the valuable piece and the less valuable piece are reversed. For example, if you had a king on the back rank with a rook in the corner and no other pieces on that rank, then an enemy queen or rook might go for the other corner, forcing the king from the back rank so it can get the rook.
A strategy, on the other hand, is a set of moves that work together to accomplish an objective, such as an opening strategy or an endgame strategy. Strategies use tactics to achieve their goals. I’ll discuss this more in a minute.
You need to understand the tactics of the goals your are trying to pursue. For example, one common tactic to losing weight is squats. Squats are just one “tactic” used in exercising. Strategies may change, but tactics, like principles, often stay the same. You just use them in different ways.
Strategy is the hardest thing to learn in chess. Strategy is simply making a plan to move your pieces based on the position of the pieces. Whenever you make a move, you want to plan ahead. Have some goal in mind as you move the pieces. Without a plan, you find yourself reacting to a plan someone else has developed. Their plans often don’t mean good things for you.
When reaching for success, developing a plan can mean the difference between failure and success. If you have a plan, you feel comfortable in knowing what to do. Eventually, you need to develop your own plan, because what worked for someone else might not work for you. You can follow someone else’s plan until you have enough information to develop your own. But you won’t get to where you want to go without your own plan.
Things Can Change In An Instant
In chess, one move can change the entire landscape in an instant. The tables can be turned on a single bad move. Black might be just a move or two away from winning when white finds a way to turn the tables, leaving black suddenly on the defensive.
Things can change just as quickly in other areas. Many people have used certain strategies for increasing their search engine rankings, sometimes for years, only to have those rankings wiped out by a single change Google’s algorithm. On the football field, a team that was ahead can suddenly find themselves reeling after an interception run back for a touchdown. Life is full of such changes. Sometimes we benefit from them. Sometimes we lose. Either way, we must study what happens so we can learn to adapt (or avoid the losing side if we can see the change coming).
See the Patterns
Especially toward the end game in chess, understanding patterns can be especially helpful. Knowing how to trap a king in a way that he can’t get out really comes in handy. Here, we must not blindly follow principles that generally govern the game. Sometimes, sacrificing a piece can be just the thing we need to win.
Learn to seek out the patterns in the goals you are trying to pursue. Especially the ones that are working for other people. Repeating a working pattern can save a lot of trouble and can help you to get where you want to go. But always watch for times when you might need to change patterns to achieve your goals.
The moment we are closest to victory in chess is often when we make our biggest mistakes. Sometimes, this prolongs a game that we could have easily won faster just by not seeing the best move we could make. We might make a move that draws the game because the other side cannot make a legal move.
I see this happen sometimes in NaNoWriMo. Someone will be within 5000 words in the last week and get sidetracked by something else. At a point where they could easily have won with just a little more effort. Or they’ll go to close the word processing program and forget to save, loosing the last 1000 words. Which they then have to make up. The trick is to watch out for these obstacles. Push through them when you can. Be aware of the things that could trip you up when you’re right on the verge of reaching your goal.
I know this is a bit longer than my normal post. I hope it encourages you, though. Because I know that you can reach any goal you want to achieve. Know the pieces that you need to reach your goals. Learn the principles that you guide you to success. Understand the tactics you need to use. Develop your own plan for reaching your goal. Realize that things can change in an instant, and you might become an “overnight’ success. See the patterns that are developing so you can take advantage of them. Always watch out for the win, being wary of the things that can trip you up. Go forth, and checkmate failure!
How have you checkmated failure in your life? How are these tips helping you reach your success? Share them in the comments below!