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Beyond the Game (The 3 Life Skills Built on a Chessboard)

When I was 5 or 6 years old, my Zeide began teaching me the art of playing chess and it quickly became my favorite past time. I was so engrossed in the game that I didn't realize that my Zeide was giving me a roadmap for life. Each lesson was jam-packed with a wide range of attributes such as concentration, memory, logic, critical thinking, problem solving and more.

The Path You Have Chosen: A Lesson in Impulse Control

First rule Zeide ever taught was to first engage with your eyes and brain and only later allow your hand to touch a piece. To a younger me, this meant learning to have a solid course of action in mind and evaluating all possibilities before committing to a particular action. Second rule was to know there are always choices to consider. Even if a possible move looks ideal, there will always be other alternatives and one may be better; I needed to allow myself the time to explore more options. Third rule was keeping my hand on the piece until I was read to commit. He would say "we don't always have an eraser to undo what we’ve done; be ready to live with and go forward in the path you have chosen.”

"We don't always have an eraser to undo what we’ve done; be ready to live with and go forward in the path you have chosen.”

Carried Away with Limitless Possibilities: A Lesson in Time Management

Was it fun to press the button on the chess clock? Of course! At some point, I had to begin watching the clock and weighing the minutes out carefully and judiciously. On the one hand, I needed the time to consider the consequences of my choices, but on the other hand, I couldn’t get carried away with limitless possibilities as it would mean I would lose by time out. How sad it would be to excel over my opponent in material, position, and strategy and yet lose because I ran out of time.

The Values and Skills We Strive for: A Lesson in Empathy

Zeide would invite me to switch sides and see his vantage point. In order to understand your opponent (or your friend,) you have to see how “the game” looks from their perspective.

In later years, I often caught myself trying to “see” how the other person sees the world by stepping into his proverbial shoes or sitting on his side of the chess board.

For almost three decades, I have been sharing and teaching life skills clothed in the game of chess. Children do not need to appreciate chess beyond its surface value. The furrowed brows and eyes glued to the board are enough to inform the casual observer they are learning skills. These skills include focus, sustained attention, weighing the possibilities, calculating the best move, observation, evaluating and understanding their opponent, socialization, sportsmanship and appreciation of others plus many more.

The friendly handshake and exchanges of “good game” exemplify the values and skills we strive for our children to have in all walks of life through the many choices they will encounter and decisions they will need to make. Come play with us or play at home, but however you do it, choose to play, learn and watch your children grow.


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