With International Chess Day approaching tomorrow on July 20, a quotation from Persian poet, mathematician, philosopher, and astronomer, Omar Khayyam, popped into my mind.

“Tis all a Chequer-board of nights and days
Where Destiny with men for Pieces plays:
Hither and thither moves, and mates, and slays, 
And one by one back in the closet lays.

I started to think about the game, the word “checkmate” and how strategy and tactics within chess can integrate into someone’s personal philosophies. A great starting point to explore and further gain a bit of understanding would be with the etymology.

checkmate (n.) —
mid-14c., in chess, said of a king when it is in check and cannot escape it, from Old French eschec mat (Modern French échec et mat), which (with Spanish jaque y mate, Italian scacco-matto) is from Arabic shah mat “the king died”, which according to Barnhart is a misinterpretation of Persian mat “be astonished” as mata “to die,” mat “he is dead.” Hence Persian shah mat, if it is the ultimate source of the word, would be literally “the king is left helpless, the king is stumped.”

This sense of militaristic and historical application to a game of strategy and tactics made me consider if there might be some lessons to gather here. It is important to remember that there is a big difference between strategy and tactics. Strategy defines long-term goals with planning prior and tactics are often oriented toward smaller steps taken on a shorter time frame.

As a fan of the history of the American Revolutionary War and the Civil War, I think back to the tactic of George Washington as General surprising the Hessians in Trenton, New Jersey and the strategies of Ulysses S. Grant and the Union Army continuing to push against the other side. However, I also apply similar trains of thought to the world of business as companies navigate the short-term and long-term decision making that comes with the balance of risk and reward. Consider the recent 2015 case of Volkswagen and their “defeat device” that modified performance results to cheat emissions testing in the United States. This was clearly a tactical decision that Volkswagen as a company now must come to terms with, especially when it means that some of their vehicles are restricted in terms of production.

These examples provide a tangible realization of the risk and reward that can be found in the world of business along with the importance of consideration for the short-term and long-term effects of strategies and tactics found in chess. Although I may not always be checking my next 3 moves in chess, at least I can remember to use a bit of strategy for my life ahead, so I don’t lock myself in check.


About Dr. Donald “Doc” Hecht — Doc is an Educator, University Founder, and President Emeritus writing and discussing the trends and challenges facing higher, online, and distance education, among other topics. Please feel free to comment, make suggestions, or ask any questions! You can follow him on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

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