What 7,710 Games Has Taught Me About Perserverance In Business
I like chess. A lot. Probably too much. In the last five years, I’ve played 7,710 matches of chess which, if each match took around 10 minutes, is 1,285 hours or 53,5 days. If you think that’s a lot, go calculate how much time you’ve spent watching favorite shows on Netflix and then come back and judge me all you want.
Again, I love chess and play, on average, 3-4 games per day (usually before bedtime). And while I’m no professional, I’ve at least learned a thing or two about how the game works. While most players will have certain “moves” that they use in each game, a lot of players end up getting strategic with particular pieces. One player learns to end a game with two Bishops, another just needs a Knight to take down half your pieces, and some can use a Rook to rival any Queen. I’ve always had a special affinity for one piece though: the pawn.
I wish I had an exact number, but a surprising amount of games that I’ve played have been won because I was able to get a pawn successfully across the board (if you’re unfamiliar with the rules of chess, doing so allows you to upgrade the pawn to any other piece and, typically, you choose a Queen).
To me, the pawn is by far the most valuable piece on the board. Today, I am going to talk about four reasons why I believe so and what they’ve taught me about perseverance in business. 1) Pawns are underestimated but reliable
While most people use their pawns as leverage or bait to save/focus on higher ranking pieces, they give you a one or two pawn advantage. If you find yourself in this position, you’re in luck: now you just need to go piece-for-piece with your opponent until nothing is left on the board but two Kings (yours and theirs) and your extra pawn. Your King can escort the lowly pawn across the board, make it a Queen, and end the game. Lesson: Never lose focus on your core skill. In any business, always trust and cherish your basic skills and don’t underestimate the impact they can have on your success. If your core skill is writing, for example, don’t venture out “all-in” into other avenues that seem sexier or more powerful (like course creation, graphic design, or building websites). Yes, you can always try other things and work on new skills, but that main skill, the one you’ve had the longest and have the most experience with, will always give you an advantage as your competition becomes distracted with new ventures and “side hustles.”
2) Pawns determine where the “stronger” pieces move
One of the advantages a pawn has is that no one wants to exchange a stronger piece for them. In other words, no one would take a pawn with a Knight if that meant the Knight would have to be sacrificed. And because there are so many pawns at the opening of the game, they play a large role in determining where the opponent’s stronger pieces can move. That means that by strategically using your pawns, you can actively guide where your competition goes. In essence, advancing your pawns confidently will give you control of the entire board. As the 18th-century Chessmaster Philidor said, “to play the pawns well; they are the soul of chess: it is they which uniquely determine the attack and the defense, and on their good or bad arrangement depends entirely the winning or losing of the game.” Lesson: With your core skills (or your core product), you can determine the market and gain control of the board regardless of the competition. Whatever your core skill is, you can use it to create the best possible product without worrying that competition will overtake you. If you’re running a SaaS business, for example, stop wasting your energy trying to find new features to stay ahead of the game. Instead, focus on creating the best product on the market, push it forward, and if you’ve done it right (meaning done it “simply”) you’ll guide your competitors. Just look at the guys at Basecamp’s philosophy: “We’re big believers in the power of keeping it simple. Every bet we’ve ever placed on making something easier for our customers has always paid off.” They carved out the center of the board with their core product and in doing so, changed the game of digital communication within companies. Using myself as an example: I am a writer. There are lots of writers. There are lots of good writers. By identifying a few things that I am best at writing (blogs, web copy, and ebooks), I can confidently move forward in that space without too much worry about my competition. Why? Because I know that I have a core skill (writing) that protects me from getting killed off by other writers. So long as I keep that the focus and center of my board, I’ll fare much better in the freelance world.
3) Pawns are strongest, strategically, when they work together and worst when left alone
One thing about pawns is they make a powerful defense for your king when they are placed diagonally across the board. If a stronger piece tries to take one of them out, the connected pawn directly behind can kill the stronger piece. However, if a pawn has nothing behind it for protection, it is completely vulnerable to being attacked. Lesson: There is no such thing as a true “solopreneur.” I will likely get a lot of kickback from this one, but I don’t believe there is any truth to the term “solopreneur.” To be successful in business, you need to work with other people and build a solid network of professional and personal friends. For example, I am currently working as a freelancer so I am, technically, responsible for my own financial success. However, most of my business has already come from a network of people who had my back. Trying to “go it alone” is like leaving your pawn with no support behind it… you’re much more likely to get crushed. The best way to succeed whether you are a team of 1 or a team of 1000 is to have a reliable network to fall back on.
4) Pawns only move forward, one space at a time
If you’re familiar with the game of chess, you know that there is only one direction a pawn can move: forward. In fact, it’s the only piece limited to this rule. Bishops move diagonally, Rooks move horizontally or vertically, Knights move in an “L-shape”, and the Queen does whatever the hell it wants. But pawns are simply keeping their eye on the prize. Lesson: You’re either stationary or moving forward. You can never go back a step. A lot of things in life feel like “setbacks.” Maybe you lose a job or a relationship. Maybe your business failed or have to downsize your house. Whatever the tough situation, the word “setback” is rarely accurate. “Stuck” is a better word because even when you lose something, you still have more knowledge and experience than you had before, meaning you’re not totally back to square one. For example: suppose you built a multi-million dollar company. Then, one day and two bad decisions later, you lose everything. You wake up with no money in your account (probably even a bit of debt). You’ve lost the money, sure, but you’ve also gained experience. You’re not starting from scratch because you know now what worked and what didn’t. You just need to rebuild a company with the same tools you used before and make better decisions moving forward. That’s the beauty of learning lessons through mistakes: like the pawn, you’re always either stuck in one spot of moving forward; you can never truly move backward. Final thoughts on using chess to win the game of life
As you can likely tell, I am far from being some genius business guru or what most would consider “massively successful.” I don’t have millions of dollars, I don’t live in a mansion, and I don’t drive a Porsche. If you’re looking for advice on becoming an “insta-millionaire” you won’t get it from me. I simply lack the experience to qualify for the role of a mentor in that department. I do, however, think that chess has taught me a lot about perseverance in business, especially as a freelancer. Hopefully, some of those insights will be of help to others, too. And as for the success and financial freedom I’m working so hard to achieve? I know I’ll get there moving forward, one space at a time.