A Game of Chess

When I was a teenager I was once challenged, quite randomly, by the father of one of my good friends to a game of chess. He said to me “I challenge you to a game of chess, you can have all of your pieces, and I will just have my queen and my king”

Game On!

Naturally, my reaction was, effectively, “bring it on!” — I knew he was a better chess player than me, but was he really two rooks, two bishops, two knights and eight pawns better than me? With nothing to lose (save perhaps a bit of unwarranted pride) I started the game with him. I thought this would be incredibly simple, I had my full array of pieces against just a queen and a king!

Using the best reasoning available to me at the time, I thought within myself: The only piece of any significant military or strategic value is the queen. If I could just get rid of the queen, checkmating the king would be trivial. It wouldn’t really matter if I lost a few pieces in the process, so long as I somehow managed to destroy that queen.

We began the game, and as you could expect, I focused obsessively on killing his queen.  I went for it and went for it, extending all of my resources to kill it. But every time he simply killed my pieces which were unguarded. Eventually, to my great surprise, the only pieces left on the board were my king, and his king and queen, he had successfully eradicated all of my pieces with just his queen. He moved around, until everything was in position, and he checkmated me.

The Lesson

After cleaning up the pieces, and packing them away into his desk drawer, he turned to me and said something I will never forget, he said (paraphrasing)

“Shawn, do you know why I beat you with just a queen and a king?”


“Because throughout the entire game you were aiming to kill my queen, as of course it’s the only piece of any real value, but in doing so you made a grave mistake, you overlooked the main objective, the main objective of chess is to checkmate the king, the entire game rests on whether he survives or not, had you gone for my king, I would have had to use my queen to defend him and would have been on the back foot from the beginning. This would have made the queen all the more vulnerable and easily taken out. Even if you couldn’t take her out, had you focused on the correct task you would have easily checkmated the king.”

The king was the real goal, and the queen was the distraction.

This epic chess game taught me that it’s not just about keeping your eye on the ball, but knowing which ball you should keep your eye most focused on, and which balls to merely be aware of. To be fair, I’d still have to keep track of his queen, but if I had just focused on checkmating the king (I.E.  the “ultimate goal”) while maintaining general awareness of the queens movements, I’d have won the game.


I often reflect on my life to think: Am I chasing any queens instead of kings? Money? Career? Formal education? Friendship? Should I focus more on effect than on methods? What are you and I truly after? And are we doing the right things to obtain them?

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