Updated February 17, 2015

7 Life and Money Lessons Learned from Chess

Beyond its ability to engage our strategic skills, chess can also teach us to sharpen the type of skills we need in everyday life. Here are a few of our favorite life and money lessons taken from the chessboard.

The checkered chessboard may appear to be a simple playing field for rooks, knights, and queens, but mastering chess has occupied the greatest minds since the game originated around the 6th century. Its allure has an expansive reach, from Leo Tolstoy to Napoleon, from John Wayne to Howard Stern. Aladdin played and so did Sherlock Holmes. And if Spock and Captain Kirk are any indication, it’s destined to go where no man has gone before.

1. Realize the importance of openers.

Theories abound for the best introductory moves in chess, but the one thing everyone agrees on: opening moves are important. A great opening strategy is sure to get your opponent’s attention. You can follow the same advice for nailing a job interview. Perfecting the art of introducing yourself will make that all-important first impression a good one. The ideal introduction, or “elevator pitch,” summarizes who you are and why you are the perfect candidate.

Related: How to Remember Someone's Name

2. Keep yourself covered – or double-covered.

The chess player who thinks only about his next offensive move without worrying about what might come next is vulnerable. A good offensive player leaves all the pieces covered, or, even better, double-covered. Financial advisors suggest defending yourself against potential financial emergencies in a similar way, by keeping five to eight months of living expenses in savings.

Related: Prepare for the Unexpected

3. Watch for pitfalls.

Chess masters know how to evaluate and avoid potential pitfalls, either by learning from their own mistakes or by studying the mishaps of others. Successful investing requires a similar skill by learning the most common investment mistakes and knowing how to avoid them. A little homework can fast track you to getting the most performance from your money.

Related: Common Money Mistakes

4. Learn from the masters.

You can improve your chess game with practice, but mastering it requires learning from a more skilled opponent. This can be true in the business world as well. A mentor can answer your questions, help you navigate new territory, and advise you away from potentially costly mistakes. Explore various methods for finding a mentor among your family, friends, or colleagues.

5. Balance offense vs. risk.

Chess is a constant balancing act of effective offense and risk management. In the same way, a skilled investor knows when to move forward aggressively while weighing the associated risks. Knowing your own risk tolerance will help you make asset allocation decisions more effectively. This Vanguard questionnaire will help you evaluate your own assumptions and limitations to find your own comfort zone of risk versus potential gain.

6. Exploit the strengths of your team.

One of the most challenging aspects of learning chess is grasping the movement range of each of the pieces. Each one has strengths that must be engaged and limitations that must be defended. Sounds a bit like marriage, right? To get your family operating smoothly – everyone fed, clothed, and getting out of the door on time, you all have to have tasks. You may need to be the organizer and concede that your spouse is always going to be disorganized. You have to know who is versatile in every situation – like the queen – or who can be a powerful force – like the rook – if you remove the obstacles from their path (we’re not going to judge who is the king, queen, or rook in your household – that’s up to you).

7. Study your opponent’s moves.

In chess, your strategy (no matter how strong it is) will succeed or fail based on the moves of your opponent. This same principle holds true when you’re planning your career. While your own strategy is critical, its success is often judged in relation to your competitors – those pesky coworkers who are trying to crawl past you on the corporate ladder. Outsmarting the other guy requires finesse and street smarts, and sometimes it’s not a matter of money but of finding your focus and purpose.

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