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Over the years, many experts have said that playing chess has numerous benefits for the brain. In fact, since the Indians first invented the game – some 1,500 years ago, chess has been largely associated with the intellectually gifted. Apart from improving numerical ability, problem solving and brainpower, playing chess also improves IQ and emotional intelligence.
A study that compared the brain activity of chess grandmasters with amateurs showed the way grandmasters used their brain was substantially different to everyone else’s. This confirmed suspicions that experienced chess players had unlocked a part of their brain that allowed them to recognise patterns and retrieve solutions from their memory. Professionals were using their frontal cortex to draw examples from previous memories and make decisions whereas non-chess players and amateurs were using the medial temporal lobe of their brains to form new long-term memories.
The benefits of playing chess
Known as the ‘Game of Kings’ - (when it could be called ‘Game of Thrones’), chess has some surprising advantages to it. Apart from the aforementioned benefits, playing chess also:
- Improves concentration
- Enhances planning and foresight
- Improves reading skills
- Develops problem solving
- Sparks creativity
- Improves your memory
- Improves visualization skills
But the benefits of playing chess don’t stop here. Despite the obvious impact this game has on health and intelligence, scientists have found important correlations in the way you can manage your career. It’s just like Benjamin Franklin once said, ‘Life is a Kind of Chess’ and learning how you can make the most of your available resources in a game of chess can help you learn a thing or two about how to cope with real-life events.
Perhaps the most obvious way the logic behind this strategy game can be applied to real life is through decision-making and goal-setting. How? Well, as Gary Kasparov - the expert chess player, who became the world’s youngest chess champion in 1985 - wrote in his book How Life Imitates Chess: Making the Right Moves from the Board to the Boardroom (paid link) that, in order to be successful in your career, you need a handful of skills that can be learned and developed by playing chess. The strategy a chess player follows can help them develop their own personal style in terms of decision-making and as such evaluate opportunities more effectively.
Essentially, Kasparov argues that through this game, a chess player gets to develop the courage, daring and willingness to do what it takes to demoralize the other player, their competition. Also, they get to learn how they can use their memory, intuition and imagination to help them advance their career.
Your career is a game of chess
Even though your career isn’t a battlefield, there is always the challenge of making it work, in order to become better. Thinking like a chess player can help you do that by making better decisions.
Katie Mehnert says you should play your career like a game of chess so that you can create opportunities and make the most out of them. While this may be difficult to understand unless you are unfamiliar with the rules of chess, it makes total sense since in a game of chess you need to make strategic moves. Not just play around with unstructured moves that only lead to sacrificing your queen for a pawn. She argues that ‘playing chess assures you are thinking about the moves ahead and always looking at what the opportunities of today will create for tomorrow.’ Likewise, if you start thinking like a chess player, you will be able to identify possible future actions and ‘moves’ in your career path that will help you advance professionally.
Founder of Marquee Search, Jeff Yocom expands more on the importance of developing risk assessment skills, stating that you can’t move forward unless you take some risks in your career. He argues that every professional should follow a ‘chess strategy’ so that they can plan their own career development and foresee the challenges and the opportunities of the future. So, just like a chess player is able to map out new strategies in their head, you too need to come up with your own and be flexible enough as to adjust to the changes in the job market and move forward. It’s all about reaching your career agility.
But playing chess is not only for the ready-made professionals. If anything, it should be intended for the jobseekers out there. If you are currently looking for a job, there is a way in which the philosophy of playing chess can help you out.
Resume writer and Coach Lisa K. McDonald goes deeper into analysing how playing chess enhances your job-hunting efforts. She argues that a game of chess isn’t about checkmating your opponent, but the playing of the game and most importantly making that first very first move is all that matters. McDonald says that this is what sets your real game: “when writing your resume, interviewing or networking, focus on that important, simplistic opening move: What do you want? If you know what you want out from your career, and you are confident about what you can do and how to go about it, there is a high chance you will get it.
While playing chess is a relatively popular activity, not everyone sees it as a tool for career advancement, or at least they are not aware of its benefits. But if you are looking for the best activity to help you exercise your brain and advance your career, you’ve just found it! While I am not saying that you should become the next Magnus Carlsen, playing chess is an excellent way to use your free time both productively and creatively.
So what do you say? Are you ready to make some room in your busy schedule to play chess?