How Great (Chess) Masters Think

Robin Sharma recently reflected on TIME Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in a blog post entitled How Great Masters Think. As I read through the commonalities Sharma extracted from the list of great achievers in diverse fields, I could not help but think how the list could easily have been written about chess.

The Thinker at play
The Thinker at play

#1 – Nothing matters more than the work

To get seriously good at chess – to become the best YOU can be at chess – you need commitment, focus and courage. You need the ability to stick with it through rating plateaus and even temporary declines.

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#2 – The process matters more than the masterpiece

This is so directly relevant to chess that I will give you Sharma’s full contribution:

“Icons of their fields get that elite performance takes years of deep training. They see themselves as apprentices, learning the skill (often at the feet of a master) step by step, day by day. They commit to their education. They ritualize the discipline. They understand greatness takes time (Darwin had the devotion to study barnacles for 8 years as part of forging his scientific understanding).”

#3 – The audacity of originality is the dream

This common characteristic among the top performers points to going beyond what even the elite do. It can only come after mastering your craft and most of us will never get there. But it must remain an ambition; being so confident in your knowledge of what has gone before, that you look for new ways to express your own application of that knowledge. Cutting your own path through the dense forest that lays ahead of you as every new game starts.

#4 – Genius is an inner play

Blaming your IQ or your lack of natural talent when you don’t do well at chess, is a cop-out. There is no substitute for hard work. Before you blame a lack of time, a lack of opponents, a lack of access to tournaments, look inside yourself. If you are serious about getting as good as you can at chess, then you will find ways to embrace the obstacles and make them work for you.

“The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.”

– Marcus Aurelius, The Meditations

The challenge to you is, how serious are you about getting as good as you can possibly be at chess?

3 thoughts on “How Great (Chess) Masters Think

  • 23rd June 2015 at 1:48 am

    An excellent list. I would argue that #3 is just as important for improving players who will never reach the “elite” stage. Originality and not being afraid to think for yourself is the key to unlocking many doors of progress.

  • 15th October 2015 at 9:30 am

    Sticking to original topic of chess studying, I would add that a certain level of ambition calls for meeting and sharing with skilled people. Considering your rather ambitious objective, have you ever thought about getting a trainer or coach ?

    • 15th October 2015 at 5:56 pm

      I have considered it and I comment on it elsewhere on the site. At the moment my feeling is that I might start using a coach early next year, depending on how my progress goes. There are strong players whom I speak with who swear by the value of a good coach, even for those at my level.

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