Does chess hold the secret to success?

I found myself playing chess with my dad this afternoon. Other than a few short games yesterday, we hadn’t played chess for years. At least, I certainly hadn’t. Those few short games yesterday were exactly like I remember our games going when I was a kid, with Dad winning left, right and centre. In fact, to date, I haven’t won a game of chess against my Dad. Today, all that was going to change.We set the pieces up and Dad sat opposite me with his cup of coffee. He had his air of cool confidence, built up from years of victories over me. But, I had something he didn’t have, cold as steel determination (actually, it was a cold cup of tea that I’d decided I was going to finish without reheating it for reasons that, still, remain a mystery to me).

We begun. Pawn to Queen’s-Knight 5 followed swiftly by Rook to Bishop 8. Okay, I’m making those moves up (unless I’m not, in which case, I’ve transcended Chess altogether), the point is we played a game of chess and my dad won. Again. We decided to do best of three. History would testify that this would only increase the duration of my defeat. However, in this case, History can stay in the books and return itself to the library. I’ve got a destiny to change.

Shortly into our game (about 6 moves in and I’d already lost my Rook / Castle, don’t judge) my Dad had to pop off to do something. While he was away, I looked blankly at the board. I kept staring and for the first time, I realised that all those times I’d played chess with my Dad, I’d never really thought ahead. I’m not talking one or two moves ahead, I mean really thought ahead.

While he was away, I considered where every single piece (not just mine) could be moved to, where that move might lead to and what it would possibly open up opportunity wise. I then ran through every move I was thinking of making and what the consequences of each move might be and then what was the most probable reaction that he would make.

Now, honestly, this took almost the full length of time my dad was away which felt like 10 minutes but was probably more around 5. It was an interesting time for me to reflect though. I’m naturally highly impulsive and sometimes this leads me into doing things without too much thought. Which is totally cool when you’re being spontaneous with your partner but absolutely sucks all those times you realise that you’re holding out for the next pay check earlier than you’d like to admit.

When Dad once more sat opposite me, I made my move. Then Dad made his. I paused a spent probably between 3 – 5 minutes each time before I made my moves. I did this throughout the whole game. Not to annoy my Dad but to actually put in all my effort to win the game.

Sometimes, we make the mistake of equating the desire to win with the amount of effort we put in to win. In a more blunt way, because we want something so badly we trick ourselves into thinking we put more effort in to win than we really did. This is more likely to be true when we lose. I’m not trying to be negative here, sometimes we really do give it our all but in the case of all the times I’d played chess with my Dad, I feel I’d been lying to myself about how hard I’d really tried.

To cut a long story short, I played what was the longest chess game of my life (I think we were pushing 50 minutes at the end) and I beat my Dad and I mean I outright checkmated him. Finally, no longer was I the young child being tricked with the 4 move checkmate (which I’m totally pulling on my kids, again don’t judge), I had returned a man of not only the world but of chess. We played our third and final game of the day which, I’ll admit, I lost. But, that third game lasted just as long as the second game, because I took my time between moves to consider what was happening before me and where I wanted to end up.

I took a lesson from this experience today that I’m going to be applying to my guitar playing (although, I feel it is a valid lesson for most areas of life) and I encourage you to do the same. Let’s look at where our playing currently is right now, today. not just focusing on our strengths, but thinking about the big picture. This means we have to be brave and look at those uncomfortable places where our playing just isn’t that hot. Could be changing strings at speed, could be muting when doing a specific technique, could be not really know what to say with our instrument.

Then we have to think about where we truly want our playing to be. This is the part where we’re allowed to dream about the 100,000 people packing out that arena, all screaming our names as we walk onto the stage to play songs from our latest album that’s been Number 1 for a year (don’t tell me you’re not thinking about that).

With our end goal firmly in our minds, we now have to consider – very carefully – all the different tools we have at our disposal and select which ones we want to use to get there. Here is the warning though, not every tool we think will help us actually will. This means that not every book, magazine or DVD we own is really going to get us to our goal. Not every YouTuber or friend we turn to will really take us to the next step. Not every teacher we approach for lessons is going to make us any better or teach us anything new.

That’s the kicker. We should be 100 times more picky about the learning materials we allow ourselves to use and we should be 1000 times more eager to remove what doesn’t meet our standard. To further emphasise this and conclude this line of thinking, here is a true story.

I used to buy a certain guitar magazine very regularly. I didn’t buy every issue that came out but I would end up with about 3/4 of what they would put out each year. I did this for a good few years. One day, I eagerly went to the shop to get the latest copy and as I picked it up and headed to pay for it, I started to thumb through it and to my horror, this is what I read. The same lesson article that I had read in a previous issue of there’s from a few years ago. I thumbed through some more and sure enough, I could see this issue was just recycling what they’d previously put out. I couldn’t believe it. I put the magazine back on the rack and went home. I didn’t buy it. At home, I got all of my guitar magazines out (when I say all, I mean I could have brought 2 or 3 boutique hand wired tube amps and a few 4×12 cabs to go with them with all the money I’d spent on guitar magazines over the years) and I saw the same thing. Different magazines all just recycling the same information. I felt cheated. Thinking about it now, they were all largely owned by the same publishing house which probably accounts for a lot of the recycling of articles but it goes deeper than that.

In our western world of music, we have 12 notes. From those 12 notes we’ve got chords, scales and arpeggios. That is all we have. It isn’t much and really, it should not take us as long – or cost us as much – as it does for us to figure it all out. There has to come a point where, as guitarists but also as musicians, we can freely admit that we know all we need to know and then we can move into the world of guiding ourselves through the landscape of music without the need to pay for ink on a page or another video to noodle over the top of because we’re not really invested in watching it.

I’ve not brought another learning resource since and I am still to this day going through the piles of issues I’ve got, pulling out what I know I’ll really use and getting rid of what I know that – deep down, no matter what else I tell myself – I’m just never going to look at again and it feels liberating.

Just the thoughts of a man in need of another cup of tea. Feel free to comment with your own thoughts on this post, on different ways to learn and on moving closer to achieving your goals.

Speedy Out.

12 thoughts on “Does chess hold the secret to success?

Add yours

    1. Hey Paul, thanks for taking the time to both read my post and leave a comment. In response to you, without diving too far into the pool of philosophy of both life and card / board games, I would agree with you to a point.

      I feel that, rarely, life presents us with situations as random as we see with the dealing of cards in poker and although things may appear random, there is often the rule of cause and effect at work behind the scenes and oftentimes the randomness of life comes down to unforeseen consequences from causes in the distant pass that may or may not have been made by us in the first place.

      Regarding the differences between the two games, I feel that both Poker and Chess deal with having to use limited but freely available information. I also feel that they deal with analysing the probability of outcomes. If this thinking is correct, then I would dispute the claim that one is more like real life than the other and contend that they are both equally similar to real life. I would cautiously add that, whilst the objective of both games is to win, Chess requires a more methodical approach and a more detailed analysis than the randomness of sheer chance we see in the Flop, Turn and River of Texas Hold ‘Em, where we are at the mercy of whatever order the cards have been shuffled into.

      I almost agree that in chess, for the most part, you have more information about what moves the opponent actually can make, as you can both equally see all the pieces. However, depending on which deviation of Poker you are playing and with the reading of tells taken into account, it might be argued that there is just as much information available to you in Poker, providing you know where to look for it. Ironically, I’m better at Poker than I am at Chess.

      I conclude that neither one of these games is more or less like real life than the other. I’d be interested in your thoughts on my reply and I’d also like to know if you have any further thoughts on how we can go about better recognising and evaluating the (sometimes little to seemingly non-existent) information we get from life, as I feel we both share a common ground on this. Lastly, I’d be keen for you to share your ideas on how we can make better choices to achieve the goals we all set ourselves.

      That is, if you have the time. If not, then no worries. Thank you again for reading my post and I’m glad you responded to it.


      1. But that very randomness of the hands we are dealt is part of what makes cards more like real life. Life deals out people’s genetics, families, the place and time we are born, all of which have important ramifications for the rest of our lives, and we have to play the best we can. In chess, everyone starts out with equally opposing forces, which isn’t like life at all. And when I am dealing with people, even in social situations, I often don’t know what their cards are and as I get older wonder how many people are really bluffing.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Could it be the case, that the seemingly random things that life deals us at birth; genetics, families, the place and time we are born and so on, are in fact the far reaching effects of a cause generations before us? If so, doesn’t that disqualify them as being random and in fact demonstrate that they are deliberate? If so, would this also qualify them as being more like the consequences of a Chess move as opposed to being like the random dealings from a card deck?

        I agree that, in chess, everyone starts out with equally opposing forces but I would like you to entertain this idea for a moment. Whilst it is true that both sides have equality in terms of the pieces, their movement abilities and what each player can and cannot do regarding the rules of the game, if one player is far more experienced at Chess than the other, then the players do not really have equality. The more experienced player would generally win more often than not.

        For example, if I was to play a Chess Grandmaster, I would most certainly lose every time, regardless of the fact that it would appear that we stand an equal chance of winning based on the pieces alone. Contrast this with Poker and if I was to play the Poker equivalent of a Chess Grandmaster, I believe the odds of me winning are dramatically increased because, no matter how good the other Poker player is, the dealing of cards will determine the winner and experience means nothing if I was to hold the better hand.

        In life, there are two types of equality which are governed by their own separate rules. Firstly, there is the Equality of Opportunity. This is something we all share, as we are all ‘alive’ in the sense that we are not ‘medically declared dead’. Secondly, there is the Equality of Outcome. This is something which we all do not share because not everyone’s quality of life is the same.

        These two equalities play out in everyday life all the time, allow me to demonstrate this a little. Anyone can appeal a speeding ticket (Opportunity) but not everyone will get their speeding ticket overturned (Outcome). Everyone who meets the age restrictions can buy a lottery ticket (Opportunity) but not everyone will win the lottery (Outcome). This remains true even on the large scale of life. For example, anyone can go to the police to report a crime with the hopes of justice being delivered (Opportunity) but not everyone will see justice served (Outcome). I have nothing against the legal system, I am just using it for my example here.

        I feel that Chess and Poker, both share the Equality of Opportunity that we see in life, as it appears at the start that anyone could win. However, when it comes to the Equality of Outcome, Chess is far more in line with what we see in our lives than Poker because Chess is not random and neither is life. The better Chess player will always win and the person with the better quality of life has just that, a better quality of life. With Poker, the randomness that occurs in the dealing of the cards does not allow for the Equality of Outcome, the better player will not always win and in fact in some hands they will stand no chance in winning at all and this is something that we do not see played out in life at all.

        It is the fact that Chess more closely mirrors the two equalities that we see in life, that would lead me to conclude that Chess is more like life than Poker. How does this line of reasoning sound to you?


      3. Your response is based upon an assumption that I would not grant. Equality of opportunity is more than just being alive. I might have equality of opportunity in comparison to the people at my middle class high school, but everyone knew that the “rich high school” had three times as many AP classes and the “poor high school” didn’t have any. Your idea that people competing with each other are playing chess doesn’t stand up when some people are born playing without a queen. It is more like the Monopoly game some sociologists ran in which one player started off with half again as much money as the other players. Of course he started winning, as the game progressed, he started talking more and more about what great decisions he had made as if in psychological compensation for knowing he started off with a big advantage.


      4. I’m assuming you’re referring to the assumptions of the Equality of Opportunity and the Equality of Outcome? To which, my response would be that they exist regardless of whether you choose to accept them or not as we can clearly demonstrate them from everyday life. To quote the legal sector for a moment, ‘ignorance of the law is no defence’.

        In your example, some people ‘starting off’ without a queen is strong evidence that the Equality of Outcome does not exist, but as everyone ‘started off’ in your example, everyone did have the Equality of Opportunity, because everyone started. In a similar fashion, whilst one player did start off with double the monopoly money over the other players, that in and of itself is no guarantee of success as anyone could have won the game, demonstrating the Equality of Opportunity.

        You bring up the topic of wealth in your reply, however wealth (as I’ve touched on) is no clear indicator of success. Anyone can start a business but only those who are good at business will succeed. Someone who is rubbish at running a business will ultimately fail, regardless of how much money is poured into it. In fact, we see today that the majority of the leading multi-millionaire business owners started off with nothing at all, so one could argue (although I personally wouldn’t) that poverty was more likely to lead to success than starting off with wealth.

        I’m not contending that in real life we are all secretly playing Chess with each other, or any game at all for that matter (although, I am playing Skyrim right now) but I do disagree with your proposal that Poker is ‘more like’ real life than Chess is.


      5. Your arguments only work with a specific, narrow, and inaccurate definition of “equality of opportunity.” You also say that wealth isn’t a clear indicator of success since some businesses fail, but if those businesses fail then their owners aren’t wealthy (unless they inherited a lot of it like GWB and Trump) so that doesn’t point doesn’t even stand on its own never mind disprove anything I said. And I would argue that a lot of these rich business owners that “started off with nothing” actually started off as middle class with educational opportunities, like Bill Gates and most of those who became rich off their computer savvy. We can go further back in time to previous generations for better examples of “rags to riches” but that isn’t the economy we face today.

        Liked by 1 person

      6. Sorry for this late reply Paul, I was away for Christmas. Speaking of which, I hope you really enjoyed Christmas too and are looking forward to the new year.

        My whole point regarding the ‘Equality of Opportunity’ is simply this – not everyone who attempts something will see the same outcome. Lots of people go to the gym but not everyone who goes to the gym will achieve their fitness goals. The reasons for those with a lack of success may differ but ultimately they still did not succeed. I don’t personally feel this is an inaccurate thing to say. Nor would I say this is narrow as it applies to everything. Lots of people play the lottery but not everyone who plays the lottery will win the lottery. I could go on with this but I wont.

        If rich men and women start businesses that fail and cause them to go bankrupt then the fact they would then be poor is not relevant to the fact that they were rich when they started the company and therefore their wealth did have no bearing on their success. So again, my point would be accurate. You also equate combined family wealth and status with ones own personal assets, something which is not always the same.

        It doesn’t bother me if someone becomes rich from being a computer programmer, a plumber charges for their time and work, too. I don’t care that Bill Gates said “My work and time is worth X amount” and someone else said “Okay, I’ll pay it.”

        I would argue that the history of humanity shows accurately that all we do as a species is repeat ourselves, so it could be argued that the economy hasn’t changed at all, we’re just behaving as if it has. Having circumnavigated the world and having lived among different peoples and cultures in different countries, I’d say not a great deal has changed for humanity on the whole.

        I feel that we’re at a point where it would be best to agree to disagree, as neither of us would appear to be near to convincing the other. It’s been great to read your replies and I’d like to wish you a Happy New Year.

        All the best,



  1. I saw this post in the ‘recommended posts’ and I think it was only there (our blogs are not similar) because I’d liked a post that my friend had written, and she also compared life to a chess game. Her post was her final post though before leaving the internet, but her sketch (she’s an artist) was titled ‘Zeitnot’, which I believe is a chess term? She doesn’t say much about life and chess as it’s a farewell post, but if you want to see it and see the sketch, the post is ‘Zeitnot Muse End’ and she is Tala Vernon (The Abstract World Of A Welsh Woman). I have to be honest I had never seen chess being like life until I read my friend’s post, and then when I read your post, which goes into a lot more detail it certainly got me thinking. I used to play chess years ago in my school days, and I would agree that it IS like life, and I think (as Tala thinks) we are each a certain piece on the board (the board is life), and a pawn can never be a King or a Queen, and there are certain rules which are different, depending on whether you are a pawn or a King! This is a fascinating subject, and it has also got me thinking about taking up chess again. Thanks for a great read.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hey Lupuslapis, thanks for having a read and taking the time to comment. I checked out your website and you have some great artwork there, you’ve got so much talent. Do you exhibit your work?

      To respond to the word Zeitnot, it refers to when a Chess player does not have much time left to complete required moves. It would only apply as a rule if you were playing a timed game, if it was just a game for fun with friends you may not choose to put a ‘time limit’ on each players turn.

      Whilst I agree that, in Chess, there are certain rules for one piece that do not apply to others and in life, there are certain limits that apply to one person that do not apply to another, do continue to remember that in Chess, once a Pawn makes it to the end of the opponents side of the board, it can choose to become another piece that is above it (for example, it can become a Queen).

      In life we see this played out too and no matter how bad our circumstances may appear, we can always rise above them. A quick look at Paralympians, or people who have found their way out of poverty and other people who didn’t have the best education (or barely any education at all) who are now the millionaire business owners of the world today shows us that the history of humanity is decorated with stories of those who were not willing to let their circumstances define them or dictate to them how their life was going to be. Just as the Pawn can become a Queen when the time is right, so too can the underdog (or cat, depending on your preference) rise up to the highest levels attainable.

      Again, thank you for visiting my website, although our blogs aren’t similar I do hope you visit me here again in the future as I may write something else you enjoy.


      1. It’s a fascinating subject, likening chess to life. I think only people who actually play chess can see the real connection though, even if they basically know about chess. I think I’m a Bishop, I tend to go diagonally through life! My wife is more of a Castle. I mentioned the word Zeitnot as that is what my friend named the sketch and she likened her ‘muse’ to a chess piece. He was a King piece, but she sadly likens herself as a Pawn. Although my blog is just sketches, I do have an interest in other things, so I will keep a look out for more posts of interest from you. Enjoy your day.


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