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Life Lessons from Chess

by Shrirang Joshi - 16/02/2018

We often hear that chess is useful in other phases of life. While this is true for the ones who play the sport, it is still quite a big question to the uninitiated as to what exactly are the benefits of playing chess. Also, the benefits are so vast that sometimes it is difficult even for an experienced player to jot them all down. Dr. Shrirang Joshi is a well-known psychiatrist and counsellor based in Mumbai. He spent a lot of time studying the benefits of chess and now brings us the details of his findings. In this article you learn how lessons learnt from chess can be better applied to our day to day life.

“Chess makes man wiser and clear-sighted.” – Vladimir Putin


Many people feel that playing chess is a waste of time. Only the chess aficionados can experience the pleasure that is gained by playing chess. The pleasure of finding the best move, playing in a competitive spirit, trying for a win, trying to recover from a blunder and finally winning the game can be perceived as a struggle but it is pleasurable for a chess enthusiast. Others may call it masochism. Is it only pleasure that can be gained by playing chess? No. The principles that we learn in chess can also be applied to our life. Let us see how the principles of chess are extremely relevant to our life and can help us to improve and progress.

 3 phases of the game:

“After a bad opening, there is hope for the middle game. After a bad middle game, there is hope for the endgame.” – Edmar Mednis

Chess has 3 phases: the opening, the middle game and the endgame. Life also has the corresponding phases of student life, work life and retirement. A good opening play leads to better middle game positions and good middle game play can lead to a favourable endgame position. Every phase of chess play and of life is important. We need to make the most of each phase and also not get disheartened if some phase does not turn out good. We can make the next phase good.

Playing what the board dictates:

The play can turn out to be tactical or strategic. We need to be prepared to play in whichever way the game develops. Our choice or mood should not matter. Likewise what we plan in life and what happens in life is at times very different. We need to be ready to face life as it comes and not grumble about it.

 King safety:

“Castle early and often”- Rob Sillars

The safety of the King takes priority over everything else in all stages of the game. Similarly, we should take care of our health. Any health harming habit is like not bothering about king safety and exposing the king to attacks. Health should be given a priority in all stages of our life.

 Avoiding blunders:

“The blunders are all there on the board, waiting to be made.” – Savielly Tartakower

Blunders are costly. Most games are lost by blunders. Every serious chess player makes an earnest effort to avoid blunders. In life we need to proactively identify and avoid blunders which may cause great damage to us. 

Avoiding loss of tempo:

Developing pawns and pieces to the best squares as quickly as possible is an important principle of the opening phase. Every move should be done with a purpose and with the intention of fulfilling our plan. Tempo should not be wasted in any phase of the game. Similarly one should not waste time in life. Every action of ours should be with a purpose and in the direction of achieving our goals.

Finding the best move:

“One bad move nullifies forty good ones.” –Horowitz

Every move is important. A chess player always tries to find the best move in any given situation. The best move is found by considering alternatives and evaluating likely future positions. Likewise in life, we should always make conscious efforts to find the best course of action at any given time.

 Improving piece position:

“Tactics flow from a superior position”- Bobby Fischer

A chess player is always on the lookout for an opportunity to place his pieces on a good outpost or on squares from where they are controlling an open file or an open diagonal. Similarly, in life we should actively look for actions which will improve our position and open up new opportunities. 

Exchanging bad pieces:

The pieces need to be developed to the best squares. The piece which cannot be developed to a good square is called a bad piece and is a

liability. It should be got rid of. Similarly in life, whatever activities are not useful to us should be dropped.


Position is superior to material. Hence a chess player does not hesitate to sacrifice material either for a win or to defend the position. Similarly, we should be conscious of the priorities of our life and sacrifice whatever needs to be sacrificed for a better life.

Preventing Time trouble:

A good chess player uses his time wisely. He uses more thinking time for the critical moments in the game. We also need to use time wisely in our life by allocating more time to important and productive activities and not wasting much time on unproductive activities.


“Even a poor plan is better than no plan at all.” – Mikhail Chigorin

Chess teaches us to look ahead and plan. We can use this skill to progress in life.


Tactics is knowing what to do when there is something to do; strategy is knowing what to do when there is nothing to do.” – Savielly Tartakower

At any point in the game there are many possible plans. Chess trains us to prioritise and focus on the most important threat or the most important plan. This skill of prioritizing will help us in our life when we are faced with many options. We will be able to choose the most beneficial option.


Chess games go on for hours and a chess player has to be able to maintain the concentration for a long time. This ability to concentrate will help in any other arena of life.

Fighting spirit:

“Nobody ever won a chess game by resigning.” – Savielly Tartakower

A fighting spirit and a never say die attitude is developed by playing chess. Such an attitude is needed to weather the storms of life.

Positive thinking:

"Tonight, I am playing against the Black pieces" - Akiba Rubinstein

Good chess play happens when you are not focused on the ELO rating of the opponent. Even if the opponent is a stronger rated player, a positive mindset can help a player to perform the best. Such positive attitude is needed in life to be able to do our best in adverse circumstances.

Learning from failures:

You may learn much more from a game you lose than from a game you win. You will have to lose hundreds of games before becoming a good player.” – José Raúl Capablanca 

Though a chess player wants to win every game, losses are inevitable. A chess player can grow by analysing his losses. Similarly failures are inevitable in our life. We need to learn from the mistakes that we make in our life. Only a dispassionate analysis of our behavior or events happening in our life can help us to avoid same mistakes in future and thereby accelerate our progress.

About the author:

Dr Shrirang Joshi is a Psychiatrist and Counselor based in Mumbai. He has been conducting motivational sessions for inspiring children and teenagers for the past 25 years. Apart from his own consulting practice, he is also attached to Somaiya college campus at Vidyavihar and Children's observation home at Dongri. He has been a member of the Juvenile Justice Board of Thane district. He is passionate about chess and chess psychology.

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