How chess teaches you to deal with the blows you don't see coming


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Ever since my son was little, we've loved playing chess together. Chess is a great game to learn how to win at life.

Look at the whole board and don't let immediate threats blind you to other opportunities. Think four moves ahead, but be present in the actual game and change your plans based on your opponent's moves. Use failure as a way to learn to play better next time.

All are fundamental life lessons that we all need to be reminded of, and chess is a great way to practise these lessons.

what chess teaches you about money and life

One of the greatest lessons of all is what to do when you lose your queen. The queen is the most powerful piece on the chessboard, and to lose it usually means you are at a significant disadvantage.

When you lose your queen you often feel as if you've already lost the game. You play more recklessly because you feel there's nothing to lose and, sure enough, you quickly lose the game.

But a seasoned chess player knows that the game isn't over until the king is in checkmate. While losing the queen is a setback, you reassess the board, change your plans and continue to play. The player who can reset and not react to the pain of losing the queen is the most formidable.

The way we instinctively react to loss, and try to avoid loss, is what behavioural scientists call loss aversion. When your queen (think of your job, for instance) is under threat, you can often get distracted by avoiding the pain of loss rather than keeping an eye on the whole board.

Good players use this distraction technique by threatening the queen of their opponents, so they don't see the actual threat somewhere else on the board. When we do lose our queen we often throw in the towel and give up or play recklessly, ending up in a worse situation than when we started.

We see this behaviour in share trading all the time.

If your more profitable shares start to take a dive, you get distracted by this threat and stop playing the board. As the feeling of loss increases, emotion takes over and you begin to trade recklessly to make up for losses. This rarely ends well.

And it's not just limited to share trading; we also see this effect in our spending. Once we blow out our budget we tend to completely overspend and think, "I can get things back under control next pay day."

Or in business, we often see leaders who have lost a lot on one project that doesn't go well, then make deals and invest in riskier projects in order to make up for the pain of the initial loss.

When you lose your queen, whatever that might mean to you in real life, the trick is to learn to put emotion aside and respond according to what is right in front of you.

Put the pain of loss out of your mind and ask yourself what the best move is right now given the reality of the present context. Respond, don't react.

This is the greatest lesson I could ever give my boys, and one I try to remind myself of every time life deals me a blow that I didn't see coming.

When you lose your queen, don't throw the game.

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Phil Slade is a behavioural economist and psychologist and the author of Going Ape S#!t! and founder of Decida. He works across digital innovation, strategy and cognitive bias. Phil holds a Bachelor of Psychology from The University of Queensland and a Master of Organisational Psychology from Griffith University.
Jackson Lee
September 1, 2020 4.54am

Everything is right and correct and it's good that you wrote article like this. Regardless of the child's age, chess develops concentration, increases patience and positively affects the intellectual and emotional development of the child. Chess is a game that develops perceptiveness, imagination and the ability to focus on a specific task. The development of the brain's left hemisphere which is responsible for logical thinking takes place through counting combinations, whereas the development of the right hemisphere, which is responsible for creative thinking, occurs by arranging new plans and finding new non-standard moves in different positions. Not everyone can or wants to become a professional chess player but everyone can use chess for learning.

Julie Cottam
September 29, 2020 4.21pm

Thank you to Phil and Jackson! This is one of the best things I have read at Money. It should be taught in school. I am going to put it on my fridge for my young adult sons to read!

Grayson Carter
May 1, 2021 1.39am

Well written! So few people are aware of the great thing chess can teach you! That's why we should introduce this game to our kids from an early age!