The Effects of Chess on Leadership


Napoleon and Chess

“A leader has the right to be beaten, but never the right to be surprised.”
– Napoleon Bonaparte

Napoleon Bonaparte was with no doubt one of the greatest military leaders of his time. For him, failing to prepare meant preparing to fail. Without a plan there was certainly no victory. Without a great strategy you were doomed to lose in battle. And back then that meant your life.

And Napoleon had all the attributes a great leader must have to be successful, and he worked on them by playing an ancient game; a game that has never lost its popularity: Chess. And he sharpened his strategic senses by playing it on a regular basis. And as you might have correctly assumed, he was a master at it.

So I asked myself:

What are the specific positive side effects by playing this game?

And how can we profit from it?

Reason #1 – Creativity

Playing chess will benefit your creativity. While the various opening scenarios of the game might appear similar (I have never played a game that was totally the same), the possibilities afterwards are simply too complex. In this way you really encounter new situations with every game you play – guaranteed. And there are no limits to your creativity. Every game asks for new ways to beat your opponent, you need to vary your tactics in order to outsmart your opponent. For Napoleon these patterns were important for his military strategies: Every battlefield had different conditions and different settings; and not to mention the many different moves of his opponents. Chess seemed to be the perfect practice for this kind of thinking.

Reason #2 – Concentration

In Chess situations can get really complicated and difficult. You have to take several options into account before you finally make your move. This demands a lot of concentration and focus. This is the tough part of chess. Having the will to really think things through.

Imagine how Napoleon would sit over a plan for hours and hours. I don´t know how many hours of the day he used for sleeping but I bet he was simply to focused and concentrated on the task at hand that he might have forgotten to go to bed.

Reason #3 – Logical Thinking

Another great attribute that chess is adding to your life is the improvement of your logical thinking processes. In chess the playing figures are inter dependent, this means that you have to use the figures in harmony with each other. And you do this by logical thinking. You also have to take your future moves into account and most importantly how your opponent might react on this move. You need to think in logical patterns.

Reason #4 – Problem Solving

One of the greatest feelings a chess player can get is the feeling of a successful solution of a problem. Sometimes you can literally feel the pressure when a player is in the aggression mode and is attacking your armies. You need to bring all of the mentioned aspects together to master this difficult situation. By playing chess you not only get used to problems you also get used to start thinking about reasonable solutions. Sometimes they work and sometimes they don´t, but the important thing is that you start the process of trying to solve them.

Reason #5 – Importance of Sacrificing

Back in the days of Napoleon sacrificing was certainly not the best option – resulting in the death of a lot of soldiers. But in chess it sometimes becomes inevitable. You sacrifice in chess in order to get an edge either in your position or in material. Great players are masters of this principle of sacrificing. They draw the attention of their opponent to the initial sacrifice while planning a completely different, more complex way to beat them. I highly recommend to study the following game that was played in 1871 between Glinksberg and Miguel Najdorf. It is called the “Polish Immortal”. In this game Najdorf sacrifices like crazy only to beat Glinksberg with a tiny bishop move at the end. This is art.

Reason #6 – Decision Making

In life and as well in chess you are presented many options. And you are the one to figure out which move is the best in each situation. And it is so nice to see how a chess game develops. With only one move of your opponent many new options are created and presented. And with every new move you have to think them through and make the best possible choice. What a great practice for real life.

Napoleon recognized all these benefits and sharpened his mind by playing a lot of chess. This was a part of his preparation. This was his way of making sure never to end up being surprised.

Today, most of us are not facing a military battlefield but there are a lot of personal ones in our lives:
Our careers, our relationships and even our faith.

So let’s use chess to sharpen our minds and prepare ourselves for all the possible battlefields out there.

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