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Chess: A Game For Life

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Chess is a thinking person’s sport designed for those who plan several moves ahead while having the patience to maneuver their pieces in place. I am not a chess player but chess is a sport that is played by many people including former heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis, and Don King. Chess teaches a player to anticipate their opponent’s moves and think ahead. For the athlete, politician, businessman or woman who plays chess, the sport develops their strategic thinking. Thinking strategically means understanding how your opponents or competition think and trying to anticipate what they will do. By thinking strategically, you can checkmate their moves.

In chess, there is no certainty, no “best moves,” for each game produces new situations. In life, uncertainty abounds and there are times that flexibility is called for. Those who are looking for formulas to lead them through life may find that sometimes those formulas do not work. Each day, like each sporting event, represent different challenges. A salesman once told me that what made his job rewarding was that he never knew what would happen. What makes each sporting event special is that you don’t know what will happen and for the business leader, each day is the unknown.

A person once told me that experience is not always the best teacher. This runs counter to conventional wisdom. Experience does matter in much of life. Experience may allow you to recognize certain patterns, but if you are in unfamiliar territory it may be a curse. Our past experience may blind us to new opportunities.

The businessman, who is used to doing things the old way, may be unable to adopt to new conditions or take advantage of new opportunities. The athlete may stop working and find himself out-hustled by the younger tiger, and the diplomat finds the world situation totally different from when he or she were younger. So in some cases, experience blinds a person from viewing the world as it is, not as a person wishes it to be.

Chess is no different. What may have worked in the past may not work in the present. Chess forces a person to think outside the square. And those who think outside the square are not afraid of change, and even welcome it.

Yet in chess, as in all sports, repetition and practice matters. An athlete must practice his craft so that in a game situation, it becomes second nature. Michael Jordan’s success was not due to natural talent alone, but to his practice off the court. Under pressure, he executed. When participating in the martial arts, my sensei would tell me that a move must be practiced 1000 times before it become a mere reflex.

The final lesson is that a chess player can never rest on his or her laurels. Life is not much different. An athlete must continuously retool his or her game. Late in his career, Roger Clemons added a split-finger pitch to his arsenal. This pitch not only extended his career but allowed him to continue to dominate late in his career. Michael Jordan became an excellent outside shooter to complement his already superior inside game. A manager once told me that the only thing constant in business is change. That is why studying the market allows businesses to adopt and anticipate change.

Chess forces one to think and anticipate and life is like that as well. We use the experiences that we have developed to react to the world around us but sometimes change produces surprises. We can never anticipate everything, but with knowledge of the past and an open mind, we can develop answers to those problems.

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About Tom Donelson

  • RJ

    Tom, we need an Amazon link, bro…

  • bhw

    Thanks, RJ. It was in there, but there was a carriage return after the number, so it didn’t show up.

  • RJ

    Thanks, bhw.

    Sorry for “doubting Tom”… 😛

  • tom donelson


    You are forgiven for doubting me- hope all is well.

  • RJ

    Things are great, TD! Thanks for askin’…

    Almost done with my final exams…I’m almost* a college grad! 🙂

    *-Well, I already have my AA, but in a week I’ll have my BS…

  • bhw

    Honey, you already have lots of BS!

  • RJ


    Yeah, but now I’ll have a piece of paper to PROVE it! 🙂

  • bhw

    Congratulations, btw. I know you’ve been working full-time while going to school, which gets tiresome after a while. Good for you for sticking with it.

  • RJ

    Thanks, bhw!

    I hope to get a federal gov’t job (hopefully in the Interior Department) in another year or so. If this happens, I could be (finally!) moving out West…

    I’m not sure I’d look so good in a cowboy hat, but I DO know I like the Mormon view on multiple wives… ;-P

  • tom donelson

    R.j. Congrat on your college degree.

  • RJ

    Thanks, TD.

    Now I have only a few things left on my personal to-do list before I focus entirely on ruling the world with an iron fist… 😉

  • Tom, Interesting mix of philosophy and game. From personal experience, I would only add that in trying to develop a strategy in chess, you often discover your weaknesses which correspond to the way you govern your life. Whether you’re tentative, or overthink everything… or in my case, way too impulsive! But good stuff man.

    P.S. If you like chess art, check out a piece I did last year.

  • tom donelson

    Thanks Mark for your insight and love the art, too.

  • JR

    I hope to get a federal gov’t job (hopefully in the Interior Department) in another year or so. If this happens, I could be (finally!) moving out West…

    The West has enough people. Best you stay home.

  • RJ

    Montana sounds pretty good to me, whether you like it or not, JR! 🙂

  • bhw

    You’re going to rule the world from … MONTANA?

  • HW Saxton

    Ray Charles was great at Chess! No Joke.
    RJ: If you’re seriously thinking about
    moving out west you might want to check
    out Tucson,AZ. If you like the desert at
    all,that is. The cost of living is not
    too out of control,there is much more
    culture there than you would imagine,it
    has some good schools,Las Vegas is less
    than a half days drive away & the coast
    of California not much further.There is
    some beautiful country around there and
    it’s just an overall nice place. I have
    lived most of all my life out West and
    I think it’s great. There is a sense of
    freedom and renewal out west that I just
    don’t feel in the Mid-West or back east.

    I live out in Las Vegas, NV. which used
    to be a really nice place to live until
    about 10 years ago when it just exploded
    population wise.It is a really normal
    place away from all of the tourist traps
    and casinos, believe it or not.The West
    is the best!

  • RJ

    Arizona would just remind me of FL. Hot weather, vast numbers of the elderly, people who speak Spanish instead of English, etc.

    Naw, I’m thinking Montana, Wyoming, or Alaska.

  • HW Saxton

    Ah,you wanna go up north more. I can dig
    that. I was raised in the desert so I’m
    used to heat,the hispanic influence,etc.
    You’d like Colorado,it’s f’ing beautiful
    but kinda hippied out. Fort Collins is
    nice though.University town, kinda small
    laid back.Close enough to Denver but it
    is far enough away.Denver used to be all
    right but it’s too crowded now. Believe
    it or not Boise Idaho is really a cool
    city. Have fun going out west.I wouldn’t
    wanna live in Fla. either

  • RJ

    Well, I love FL because of my familiarity with it. I’ve lived there most of my life (though I was born in Michigan).

    I can talk intelligently about nearly every city in Florida, excepting the Panhandle. That’s how long I’ve lived here, and that’s how much I’ve been around in this state.

    But I love nature, and the West is were it’s at, vis-a-vis nature. (Think: National Parks.)

    So, Colorado isn’t exactly off my list. Nor is Nevada. But I’m more inclined towards a more rural area, like Alaska or Wyoming or Montana.

    But, who knows?


    I lived in Colorado for about 10 years, and I am one of those who is both amazed and distraught at the overdevelopment and sprawl I see everytime I go back. When I finished HS, C-470 was a 2 lane farm road in the middle of nowhere, now it’s a highway surrounded by strip malls and McMansions. Used to be North of 108th was outer darkness until Boulder, now it’s damn near one suburb. I love Colorado, but if you want wide open spaces, you need to look at the Western Slope. On the flipside, Denver has grown into a decent city with plenty to do.

    I have been in FL for a few months, and I love the weather, but the Tampa area is a bit too developed for me, it seems like developers and city councilmen won’t be happy until every piece of land is sold and paved, but don’t mention all the abandoned and underdeveloped lots downtown. That and the traffic sucks, I am so glad I work the graveyard shift and can avoid it.

    AZ is nice, I prefer Flagstaff to Phoenix, though, I need trees and hills.

    I can appreciate JR’s sentiment, in a similar vein, I tell people that the reason the Jersey Turnpike and Parkway run thtough the ugliest parts of the state is too discourage anyone else from moving there. IN a way, it was my favorite place, Passaic County has lots of parks and openland for hiking in solitude, but is only 45 minutes from NYC.

  • HW Saxton

    SFC Ski,I agree with you about Colorado.
    The growth has been both a blessing and
    a curse though. Denver HAS gotten to be
    pretty hip as far as culture goes but a
    lot of interesting run down areas such
    as 5 Points have been gentrified beyond
    recognition.I’ve lived out west most all
    my life and so many places I love have
    fallen victim to this same malady.Which
    is unfortunate. But like Denver you just
    take the good with the bad and hope for


    HW: ” a lot of interesting run down areas such as 5 Points…”

    In the 80’s, “interesting” was not one of the adjectives applied to 5-Points.
    If I were to live in Denver, I’d want one of the great old houses east of Capitol Hill and South of Colfax. I hate the cookie cutter look of the suburbs.

  • rj, what the department of the interior?

    what was the degree in?

    the west is a good choice, even the hot parts, since they’re not sticky-hot like florida.

  • ‘what the’ = ‘why the’


  • RJ

    My degree is pretty much a Liberal Arts degree, with a minor in Criminal Justice.

    The Interior Department oversees the National Parks. I am quite the nature-lover, so I figure that would be a career I would enjoy.

  • wow, a liberal arts degree…kinda cool. also, kinda rare these days. good for you.


    Tucson is pretty nice, and not sprawl like Phoenix, for a relatively small city, it has quite a variety of immigrants and great restaurants because of it. I always like going to the Desert Museum, especially when they have their nightime programs. The Huachuca range and Coronado State Park system make for some great hiking. I think the only downside is, like anywhere in the Four-Corners states is water.

    As for chess, I play very poorly, but it can be a great way to pass the time. In the Middle East, backgammon is the boardgame of choice, now I know how to lose gracefully in 2 languages.

  • Maurice


    I am an avid chess junkie. I really enjoyed your post and am amazed you don’t play. I got my boys involved in chess at a young age and now they play in the local tournaments. It helps them in everyday life.

    You really should consider the great state of Idaho. We are not all slack-jawed hillbillies and the scenery and trails go on forever. We are small enough to have very little crime but big enough to have some culture (local theatre, art gallery, some good concerts).

  • RJ

    I play chess. But I inevitably lose. So I tend to play rarely…

  • Eric Olsen

    physical threats are completely unacceptable

  • Eric Olsen

    and congrats on the degree RJ!

  • RJ

    Thanks, Eric! 🙂

  • maybe you can move to kansas and manage the world’s largest ball of twine exhibit.

    gawd knows i coulda used a job like that after the brain-crush of college.

  • RJ


    Actually, I’m hoping for something more scientific. You know, studying some species of endangered bird (or whatever) and its habits, and then writing a peer-reviewed (shudder) paper on how to better bring about the revival of this species.

    Of course, this would probably require some post-grad work on my part. So…I might not be done with school just yet!

  • JACK


  • Bennett Dawson

    Nice piece Tom. My boy and I break even unless I have had a few beers. I get impulsive, bad idea in chess.

  • bhw

    maybe you can move to kansas and manage the world’s largest ball of twine exhibit.

    Don’t forget the Corn Palace in South Dakota!

  • Richard

    I have never thought of chess as sport. How silly of me. I always saw it as a level above sport. It to me is a combination of study; and intellect with I guess gaming. Therefore it is a sport hey!