Life is really a game of chess

I started teaching Isaac how to play chess yesterday (9 Dec 2009) and I kicked it off by explaining the role of the pawn and how he could move and attack the other pieces. Today, I went on to the role of the knight and let him practice the 3-step L-shaped moves around the board. But when I was taking my bath after that, it struck me that life is analogous to a game of chess.

And as Isaac and Isabel grow up, I might need to explain to them how they could go through phases of being a different chess piece on the big chessboard we call life. Of course, the people who created chess didn’t mean to create the metaphors I write below, but it’s interesting how the gameplay matches real-world scenarios.


We all start out as small fries, taking small steps forward and not wanting to look backwards. If we survive the trials and not get gobbled up along the way, we can reach the other side of the board, and become whoever we want to be. Or rather, whoever the chess player wants us to be (see Bishop). But then again, not everyone is born as a pawn. Others are just born into better circumstances and have natural advantages over the masses.


What’s interesting about the knight is how he can only move in L-shaped formations. He represents solid qualities of being upright, chivalrous, and heroic. But often, being principled like this also means that you appear rigid and your moves are limited in range and direction. ie. the adage that good people often finish last, but to me, it’s worth the discipline and the price we pay.

Better to be a poor man with principles and honour rather than a rich guy with none.


Personally, this one is the most obvious. All things are possible with God (Matthew 19:26). Note how the bishop can only move in a diagonal straight line.  The path of the wise and the godly is always straight (Proverbs 2:13). What’s even more interesting is that the bishop has no limit on distance.


How shall we describe a rook? A unflinching rock of dependency in a storm or a rigid tower of defence against the harsh elements? I think the rook is like a friend in need – the person you can rely on when all your cards are down. The buddy who listens to your rants without prejudice or boredom. One cannot enjoy life without the presence of strong and reliable friends who stick it with you through the storm and go all the way with you. I’m thankful I have my buddies who accept me for who I am and we’ve done some seriously fun stuff together in our youth.

Now how can we be great friends to other people?


Beware the woman who eats up everything and everyone in her path!

Ok, in a more positive manner, the Queen represents the strong woman who is able to stand by her man in all situations. Unfortunately, the King is often oblivious to the sacrifices the Queen will make to keep him happy and alive.


It isn’t easy being king and it pays to take careful small steps when you have to deal with many people.

The question is, if you become a leader in life, who do you surround yourself with? Weak leaders have weak teams, and get checkmated easily. The game of life becomes an absolute drudgery for the continuously-losing side. The reverse is true for strong leaders and their team. That’s why I always tell people – it’s hard to find a good boss.

Then again, if you find it consistently hard to get good bosses despite your best efforts, you’re either unfortunate or you aren’t the sort of person that a good boss would like to have on his team.

Or if you think you’re a good boss but keep attracting the wrong sort of people, you probably aren’t very good lor.


Win some, lose some. So dear Isaac and Isabel, don’t take life too seriously ok?

4 Replies to “Life is really a game of chess”

  1. Just something I had to get off my Chess, Mr Tan.

    Winning or losing in the great game is not as important as learning how to tell your boss or employer: “Cheque, mate!”

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