My dad taught me how to play chess at a young age. I wasn’t too good at it, but I learned by losing to my dad.
Masterman Middle School happened to have a chess club, too (I was not recruited for chess – I don’t think anyone was). A guy named Steven Shutt was the teacher. And he was really good.
Mr. Shutt would set all the chess club players up with individual boards around the room. Then Mr. Sutt would go around the room, one game at a time, and play each of us. And beat all of us. Occasionally he would stop at a game to explain why he’d moved how he’d moved, what the player could’ve done differently, or what I should be considering.
Writing this, I wondered if Mr. Shutt had died since middle school. I googled him and learned some things I never knew back then. Among them, that Mr. Shutt was more than a mere experienced player beating up on middle school kids in chess. The guy was a master player and teacher in his own right. He’d even retired from teaching and come back because of his passion for helping players learn the game. Some of his teams had won championships at the scholastic level year after year.
We played in a few tournaments as a team, where I mostly lost. These other kids were good – not Mr. Shutt-level good, but damn good. At least good enough to beat me. But I did learn from the losses as we would go over our defeats in practice (on chess, every move is logged) and learn where we could’ve made a better move.
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I got so much better that my dad admitted that he’d grown to not want to play me anymore because he could no longer beat me.
But I eventually got too cool for the chess team.
By the middle of seventh grade I was more into being a “cool” kid, which meant tormenting and ridiculing other students, and trying to play possibly basketball, than growing as a chess player.
My physical abilities would soon burst to the forefront of my life, so falling back on my chess efforts was probably a good idea. I made a video analogizing the game to life, but I haven’t played against anyone who’s really good in awhile. Time and the sitting down are my biggest obstacles to ever getting it back.
Here’s what I learned in chess that applies to all of life.
Get so good that you can teach others. If you can’t teach it, you don’t know it. Mr. Shut would play 20-30 games all at once – and beat every one of us, all the while explaining to us why some of our moves weren’t good moves. They guy was a damn chess genius, even when I didn’t know the extent of his game. [bctt tweet=”Get so good that you can teach others. If you can’t teach it, you don’t know it.” username=”dreallday”]
You may be good at what you do. Until you can teach others to be good, you’re not as good as you think you are.
Take your lumps. Going to those chess tournaments, I’m not sure if I ever won a match. I know my ranking went up slightly as I played more, but it was probably just due to the level of competition that I was losing to. Though it sucked to always come back to my teammates and share that I had lost, those losses were making me a better player and toughening me mentally for the bigger challenges of life.
Many people never try things in life because they’re afraid of the negative feelings they associate with coming up short. Thus they never achieve highly enough to make life worth it. No one ever explained to me back then how the losses would help me in the long run, but they did.
Track what you’re doing so you know why you won or lost. If you played on a chess team before the digital revolution, you know how matches were logged. With a pencil and pad, you would write down each move that happened – both yours and your opponents’ – so you could later review it and identify areas for improvement. And dammit, it worked!
If you listen to the Work On Your Game Podcast, you’re familiar with the idea that what you focus on, you get. Well if you focus on dissecting your performance with the goal of getting better, guess what happens?
Too many people – myself included at times – just do things and forget about them, never looking back to see where they went wrong or what we did that would help next time. Start reviewing your work to find areas for improvement.
Chess is a thinking man’s game, and so is life. Don’t be too cool to study yourself and see where gaps must be plugged. [bctt tweet=”Don’t be too cool to study yourself and see where gaps must be plugged. ” username=”dreallday”]