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  • Writer's pictureDillan Taylor

How good am I at chess?

The answer: I am both an expert and have no idea what I’m doing. It just depends on who we ask.

Last week, I was playing and tutoring my younger brother and cousin. We were playing online on a Zoom call.

They’re both newer at the game and aren’t too familiar with fundamental chess tactics and strategies. They were mostly winging it. It was a bloodbath.

As I was mopping the floor with them, I would explain why I was doing what I was doing. Each move I made, each idea I had…I would articulate it.

My cousin said, “How are you able to think so many moves ahead?”

This is one of the most common questions people ask about chess. The answer is: I’m not. It’s just pattern recognition. In some way, shape, or form, I’ve seen that series of moves before. It simply comes with practice.

But what struck me as I was giving two teenagers an instructive beating was something my entrepreneur friend told me last year: Everyone is an expert to someone.

They were listening to me as if I were a Grandmaster. When really, I’m not that good at chess. Again, it depends on who we ask.

Last month, I played a couple chess hustlers in Washington Square Park in NYC. I won a game, felt enlightened, and then played a Master. Him playing me was as easy as me playing my younger relatives. Easier, actually. He didn’t even have to think.

The same is true for any skill. It doesn’t take long for us to get into the top percentile. Understanding the basics puts us miles above someone who has never taken the first step.

I started playing chess because it was something I could do with my friend over quarantine. Like many, my interest became an obsession after watching Queen’s Gambit in the winter.

But I’ve only been playing consistently for about nine months…and I’m in the 96th percentile of chess players.

Of course, the road to 97th, 98th, and so on will be quite the battle. But I show this to emphasize the power of two things: starting and consistency.

It’s easy to compare ourselves to people who have started and have been doing a thing consistently. But that just means if we start and do that thing consistently we’ll be in a much better spot.

Nine months ago, I could’ve compared myself to players at my level now (and I did). But I just focused on what I was doing that day or that week and tried to inch my way forward.

“After one jiujitsu class, you’re better than 99% of people who’ve never taken one.”

Start. Then get a little better each week. It won’t take long to become an ‘expert.’

But never forget that you also have no idea what you’re doing.

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