Approaching a task or problem

A chessboard

Alan Ruffle, Director of Junior Chess and Education for the British Chess Federation, gives some pointers from the game of mental wrestling.

1. The opening

Think about your long term goal and research your options for achieving it. For example, if you want to be an engineer, research the job requirements and work towards satisfying them. That might mean starting by passing your maths GCSE, or if you want to be a journalist you might seek work experience on the school paper.

When you sit down at a chess board for the first time it's the only time in the game when you know how the pieces are set up. There are lots of books written about 'the opening' so you can research all your options beforehand.

At this stage you think about what strategy you're going to take. Some take the aggressive approach. They'll sacrifice their pawns or pieces to achieve a winning attack. Others will take a long range opening, and slowly but surely apply pressure to overhaul the opponent. While the first player is making their move, the other is thinking about their counter-strategy.

2. Middle game

Keep your long term goal in mind and keep working towards it. Don't be thrown by unforeseen obstacles. Rather than giving up when problems arise, stop and think about how to overcome any barriers or consider alternative courses of action you could take.

If you don't get the grade you were hoping for on a mock exam, don't resign yourself to receiving that grade on the real thing. Ask for extra tuition, work through example exam questions and ask a friend, relative or teacher to check your answers and spend extra time studying your weakest subject areas.

This is the consolidation phase of chess, where you develop advantages and feel for weaknesses in your opponent's game. In a 30 move game there are infinite combinations of possible moves, so you can't just say 'If he/she does that, I'll do this'.

You need a position, an underlying plan or course of action to move from one side of the board to the other. You can't just think about your next move - although you do need to win small advantages to win the game - the overall goal needs to always be at the back of your mind. That underlines the difference between tactical and strategic thought.

If your opponent hits you with an unexpected move, don't panic. Accept that this person is trying to win too and has looked at his/her books. Stop and think about all your options.

3. End Game

Don't get complacent, even when your goal is in sight. Any extra reading, studying or work experience will give you a competitive edge, when, for example, you're applying for your first job as an engineer.

This is the phase in chess when there are only a few pieces left on the chess board and technique and book knowledge become really important. By studying the game for hours you can force a winning situation and find small advantages to overcome your opponent.

Don't rely on luck - develop your skills. There's no luck involved in chess. You win because you're a better player. And you're a better player because you worked harder and read books and analysed and solved the problems in the broadsheet columns. There's no tossing a coin or rolling a dice. As you improve as a player your ability to solve problems improves.

4. Analyse

Whether you achieve your initial goal, or you've still got work to do, never stop striving to improve and achieve. Consider the mistakes you made along the way and learn from them. Share ideas with others who have similar aims and ambitions - together you might find new ways of doing things.

In chess, win, lose or draw, sit down with your opponent and analyse what your opponent was thinking at each stage of the game. If you win it's easy to think you did everything right, but you might have missed something.

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