The Art of War

Standing in the shadows, I watch a merciless fight between two formidable enemies. One makes her moves swiftly and with great force, the other more carefully and with an eerie calm. As the end draws nearer, I try to guess the winner – but cannot. They are both seemingly in control and their positions refuse to reveal the outcome to my untrained eye. Suddenly the quick-moving contestant’s defenses are torn apart and she falls. I take a deep breath and wait for the finishing blow, but there is none. It’s already over. Slowly moving into the light I make way towards the battlefield.

As she puts the pieces back on the board, the winner looks up and greets me with a smile. “Would you like to try?” I clear my throat and try to speak, but no words come out. Instead, I just nod and sit down. We play for hours, changing turns to make the first move, but it makes no difference – she defeats me easily every time. Sometimes it feels like I get the upper hand, yet it is clearly an illusion. When our last game begins, she grabs my hand as I reach for a pawn to move forward. “Where will the game end?” she asks me in a serious tone. “I have no idea – we haven’t even started yet”. “That,” she says, “is the first reason why you will not defeat me. You don’t have a strategy for where to finish the game, and therefore you cannot know the best tactics to go there.”

After some time thinking about what she just said, I once more reach for a pawn to make my first move. Again, she grabs my hand. “What is the most important area for you to protect?” she asks. Again, I admit that I do not know.  “That”, she says, “is the second reason why you will not defeat me. Without a strategy for defense, your opponent will strike and there will be no tactics in place to save that which is most important to you.”

Getting slightly annoyed at this lecturing, I look at the board and determine the place where I want to win and decide for an area where to protect my king. And then I reach for my piece to move. It’s not really a surprise when she grabs my hand this time. “Even though you now understand two key components of strategic thinking, there are two more to consider. Since you do not know anything about my plans, you must establish control to make it harder to execute a competing strategy. Finally, the fourth cornerstone is to set the strategy for where to attack first to support the other three strategies. Only when you have decided on these four things should you make the first move.”


The next time I select a piece to move, she does not stop me. And for the first time, the game is not about moving pieces around on instinct or reacting to threats – it’s about employing the tactics that support my strategy for winning. I’ve gone from knowing how the pieces move to understand where I should direct them. Nevertheless, she beats me thoroughly. While unable to stop her from taking me out, I survived much longer and lost with a sense of pride.Quote from the art of war

Stepping back into the shadows, I know that what I just learned is much more than how to play a good game of chess. I’ve been given a strategic model to help me move towards any goal. All by following a simple protocol:

Decide where to win. Know what to defend. Establish control. Focus on your next attack. Then move.

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