Not sure if this is relevant to chess, so please redirect if necessary. But I figured I would get the best chess-based response here.

How would one apply the principles of chess to everyday life? There is always a lot of talk in fiction about how some character is a great chess prodigy which helps him make lots of money somehow or achieve impossible feats because they can think 20 steps ahead. This causes me several problems:

  1. Often you are thinking of what you want to accomplish, while your opponent is thinking about what he wishes to accomplish. While we can anticipate their reactions to our moves, how is it possible to anticipate all of the variables when considering the opponents desires AND their reactions to our moves.

  2. As a result of Problem 1 above, the equation is constantly changing, not only rearranging but also completely reformulating... all in your head. It is one thing to master maneuvers in the game of chess relative to its rules and layout, but I am talking about translating these skills to any game, or situation in life, and on the fly. Experience in a single task is one thing, but this adaptability I am referring to is another.

  3. As a result of Problem 1 and 2 above, often times our end moves depend on some key decision or action by our opponent, usually at a crucial point that determines if we will continue with our current strategy or not. Better plans would not rely on this, but this seems to be inevitable. Sure, one can bottleneck their opponent into a situation where they are forced to make the move you desire them to make, or make them think that their move is what they want to do, but this reliance has often proven to be problematic. Not only because it is difficult to anticipate all possible moves, but also because of mere chance and environmental variables (completely uncontrollable and seemingly unforeseeable).

  4. As a result of Problem 1, 2 and 3 above, it seems unlikely or almost silly to pick out a game plan to begin with, in chess or in life, and move solely towards that goal. Yes, it is possible to set out on a journey for a particular destination and adjust accordingly to reach that destination when steered off course. It is also sometimes desirable to sometimes "land" somewhere near your desired destination because near enough is good. But when people execute plans that are 20 steps in advance and calculate all possible configurations leaving nothing to chance, this seems to me to be impossible or not a reality for most people to able to perform.

To sum: In fiction and (I think) real life, elaborate plots which involve many variables often tip their hat to a foundation in chess. I understand fiction is fiction, and many of these plots are unrealistic, but is it possible to think this way without being a savant?


I changed the title to reflect that the question is mainly dealing with elaborate endgame strategies. These occurs both in life and also, I believe, in chess. Clearly, I am not an avid chess player, although I have a working knowledge of the game. Perhaps my understanding of how different chess strategies work and how agile they can be, but you often hear about people playing the game in their head before it is actually played which would seem to be a useful skill if applied to a majority of such sequentially reactive tasks. From the answers I have received thus far, it seems that there is very little correlation in between good at chess an then being good at something else with little practice of a result of having their chess skills. When I say "something else", I am mainly referring to life and dealing with its problems, which could be reduced down to a sequentially reactive series or tasks. From what it sounds like, the reverse may be as equally true: someone good at business, sports, military or other strategic game might have a propensity for chess when first beginning.

This is not a philosophy forum, I understand. But if I asked this question in the Philosophy section, how many knowledgeable chess players would be answering?

To finalize my point: mastery of the strategy game "Go", or "Wei Qi"/"Weiqi" in Chinese, is one of the four cultivated arts, and was probably considered this due to the strategy-based techniques it requires and mental abilities it may (or may not) develop. This has not been proven, if you believe what you read in the 'Psychology' section of the "Go" Wikipedia article. This game shares many fundamental qualities with chess, in my opinion, so I was curious if chess also cultivates something more in a human being than, say, playing a musical instrument or a sport.

And then to bring it full circle and lose even more readers:

This question may have been two seperate parts that I was trying to combine into one.
1. Does elaborate endgame strategy truly work despite my claims for Problems #1, #2, #3 and #4 in the original section of this post?
2. Can the elaborate endgame strategy learned and used in chess be applied to life directly?

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    I have voted to close as I'm not sure what exactly is being asked. Perhaps you can rephrase the question to be more specific and factual? – firtydank Dec 3 '14 at 10:05
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    This question needs to become more exact. A quick feedback would be that chess could be a demonstration of skills, not the cause of developing these skills. – Rauan Sagit Dec 3 '14 at 18:50
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    Pinyin is the phonetic transcription of chinese characters. The game is called wei qi. – BlindKungFuMaster Dec 4 '14 at 14:18
  • I knew I was gonna hear something about that... But I didn't know it was gonna come from a Blind Kung Fu Master :) – user58446 Dec 4 '14 at 14:29

Garry Kasparov wrote a book called How Life Imitates Chess, where he considers parallels between the two.

I will point out that this is a controversial topic though. For example, its been observed that strong chess players have strong memories, but does that apply off the chessboard?

Anyway, chess may help you develop transferable skills, such as logic, predicting competitors' actions, building a strong memory etc., but the jury seems to be out on this one. But not many people would argue that playing chess gives you exceptional abilities as described in popular fiction.

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    Concerning strong memory: There are chess masters like Pillsbury or Koltanowski who not only could play many blindfold games simultaneously, but could perform a variety of other memory feats. And there are anecdotes about world class players like Carlsen or Fischer, that give some evidence of a very strong non-chess memory. Of course the direction of the causal link remains unclear. – BlindKungFuMaster Dec 3 '14 at 13:54

Based on my personal opinion: I'm not sure I understand your question entirely, but if your question is: "does chess help you solve everyday life problems", I would say not more so than any other sport/hobby/(insert some thing that requires skill to master).

I saw an excerp from a documentary about chess players being made around the time of the Olympiad in Tromso, where the narrator makes a statement similar to: "I'm going to ask the best minds in the world how they would go about fixing the world". Part of the documentary featured Kramnik in explaining how he is shocked at how business people fail to "consider the moves of their opponents, which comes naturally for me as a chess player". I stopped watching at that point, because I think the documentary failed in its premise.

Chess GM's or players do not have superior minds, better thinking ability, higher IQ's or any other special intrinsic skill that "ordinary" people do not have, except for one - they are better at playing chess. People get good at something if they devote time to it, find it interesting, keep at it and yes, have some talent and psychological traits for it. Being good at chess does not mean you are going to be good at anything else (i.e. business, politics, maths, whatever).

Yes, that means I don't think Kramnik's view on how to go about doing business means much. I'm not saying he is necessarily ignorant or uninformed, but the fact that he is a super GM at chess gives him no credentials to comment about doing business any more than if we were to ask Bono, Stephen Hawkins or Messi.

  • Well, I do think that there is some correlation between the performance in different mental activities. So I would rather listen to Kramnik than Messi ... – BlindKungFuMaster Dec 3 '14 at 10:30
  • That's the beauty of opinions - we can each have our own :) It would be interesting if there exists research to support some of these claims. – firtydank Dec 3 '14 at 10:31
  • It's not like I completely disagree, in fact I would neither listen to Kramnik, nor Bono, Messi or Hawkins. But it seems reasonable to assume, that there are underlying properties, that make high performance in any mental field more likely. A good memory, etc. – BlindKungFuMaster Dec 3 '14 at 10:53
  • Of course, I agree that a good memory is beneficial in both business and chess, but having 20 years experience in doing business will far surpass any benefit of having a good memory. – firtydank Dec 3 '14 at 11:16
  • @firtydank Aren't you thinking of Kasparov? – Philip Roe Dec 17 '17 at 20:56

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