As the Chess Olympiad gets underway, former chess players and coaches open up about the lessons from the ancient board game that can help professionals unlock the path to success
A game of kings, battles and strategies, chess has been considered a training ground for life since ancient times. Royalty, politicians and generals have turned to those 64 squares on the chess board to simulate real life challenges. With the ongoing 44th Chess Olympiad in Chennai, the game has returned to home turf with a sense of excitement and promise for a new generation of champions. But chess offers a lot more than simple mental acuity; as chess players and coaches discuss the many life lessons and practices one could transpose from the game to their professional lives.
Angola’s David Silva draws with GM Levon Aronian at the Chess Olympiad in Chennai. Pic Courtesy/@FIDE_Chess
A game of discipline
Former FIDE (International Chess Federation)-ranked player and co-founder of South Mumbai Chess Academy Nagesh Guttula describes the game as the best way to inculcate mental discipline. “Unlike a game of tennis, where the first set loss can be recovered, the opening moves of your chess game dictate everything that follows.” Mirroring life, he says, chess teaches you that the past cannot be changed or erased. “As with time, the pawns can move only forward,” he says. It forces individuals to rein in impulsive or careless moves and forces them to act only after careful thought.
Guttula’s opinion is shared by his brother, Balaji, another former player. “For me, chess is not only about the competitions. It is about building a better individual who can foresee and face the many problems of life.” Balaji remarked that he has seen a number of young working professionals and entrepreneurs turn to the game after the pandemic. “We have conducted quite a few workshops for people at the corporate level using the game of chess as a medium to teach strategising and adaptive thinking,” he reveals.
Foresight and perception
Problem solving is another key lesson of the game. Players are taught to think ahead of their opponents and come up with solutions; the better ones manage to stay five to 10 moves ahead as they practise. Nagesh remarks, “Chess teaches you to understand the competition, the threats and the advantages that might open up during the game.”
He says that one of his coaching objectives is to help students anticipate moves and evaluate each of their actions. Balaji adds, “As players, we were often taught to find multiple solutions to the same problem, and then use logical elimination to arrive at the best possible solution.” While a layman often associates the game with logical and calculated moves, the brothers pointed out that this perception belies the creative thinking employed in the game.
Former national chess player and journalist Manisha Mohite underlines that the imaginative process is a key facet of the game. “Chess is very creative. Where the layman would find one path to an objective, a chess player will come up with multiple routes.” Mohite adds that this imagination also contributes to transforming dry and seemingly ordinary moves into dangerous ones, by using unique combinations.
Nagesh Guttula and Balaji Guttula
Mohite explains that years of playing the game have sharpened her memory and she remains thankful. “It has improved my memory and the ability to think clearly in real life situations — to solve problems logically. I rarely make hasty decisions that I would regret later,” she admits.
Composure in crisis
This sense of composure, Mohite adds, is the result of many hours of training and analytical thinking. Balaji elaborates, “For instance, I can sometimes see a problem unfold in advance. My mind immediately becomes calm, putting forth alternative solutions to the situation at hand. It unnerves a lot of people, but this is one of my key takeaways from the game.”
For Nagesh, the game also carries the reminder of the hidden potential within every individual. “I always remember to not underestimate anyone. A pawn might look like a weak piece, but when it crosses over to the last square, it can turn into a queen — the most powerful piece on the board. It is an important lesson to remember through difficult times,” he says.