The Story of Jimmy K’s Chess Journey
(as Told to His Coach Mr. Jim Egerton)
Jim Egerton started playing competitive chess in 1971 in high school. It has been an activity of a lifetime even when pursuing a corporate career and a MBA. He has taught chess in schools for 30+ years. He also teaches business people the benefits of playing chess with his company Business on the Board. Mr. Egerton is the author of a title by the same name available on Amazon and can be reached through his website www.businessontheboard.com.
This is the story of how I learned about chess, what it has done for me and why I want the same instructor to teach my son a generation later.
Really in Kindergarten?
A friend in kindergarten mentioned that a chess club would be starting soon at our school. I jumped at the opportunity to at least go and listen to the chess coach. Yes, even in kindergarten we can make informed decisions!
Finally, the day arrived, and my teacher announced the chess club was starting that day after school. A good chess coach brings the game to life with stories and relatable content. After all this was the era before video games and online chess tutorials with cool graphics and animation were around. Chess has intricate rules and endless possibilities, which some might consider too cumbersome. My take: it was an intriguing challenge. I began a journey of understanding the dynamics of the game, its pieces, and their movements which motivated me to join the club and start playing chess. Of course, I didn’t think of it in those terms. I just thought it was fun to hang out with friends after school doing something that was pretty cool.
Connecting the Dots
Did chess raise my math scores? Perhaps, but we didn’t test for that back then.
Does my boss really care if I was outstanding in math when I was a kid? Did it enhance my problem-solving skills ? Maybe, but it’s hard to measure over the long term? Does it show up on an ACT test? What I do know to be true is what Steven Jobs said years ago, “You cannot connect the dots going forward. You can only see how the dots are connected by looking back.” What I didn’t know was my chess playing was starting to create dots I still use today, and I want my son to experience the same.
My parents encouraged me to pursue chess, having read about its cognitive benefits for children. That’s why parents are willing to spend weekends in hotel lobbies for a whole weekend just to see their kids play five rounds of chess. In our case the “hotel lobby” was at our middle school. We were so fortunate to have a history teacher who conducted huge scholastic tournaments twice a year. Hundreds of kids from all over Illinois came to our community to compete. We didn’t have to pay an entry fee to play as long as our parents volunteered to work in the kitchens and post the pairings all over the lockers. What a huge dot that was for me in my appreciation of chess.
I developed an appreciation for the strategies and tactics of chess. Some of those skills I use today in my career. Skills like evaluating positions, risk management, and managing time and resources are crucial in business, much like in chess, where the odds of winning favor the player with more material.
Chess and Sports
I also played sports (soccer and baseball) and noticed parallels between chess and other competitive games. So many games are won or lost because of a poor shot or the wrong play which starts with the decision to take that action in the first place. In chess I would consider a move and decide on my own the merits of playing it.
In my life, traveling soccer was huge. I had a different perspective of soccer as an evolving game with no-stop-and-go, but fluidity of the development from a defensive to offensive perspective.
In chess, you know when you are under an attack you have to play defense, but if your opponent screws up you can suddenly take the ball and go on the offense. In chess, you know when you are under an attack you have to play defense, but if your opponent makes a bad move you can suddenly seize the initiative and go on the offense.
The competition of chess was something I really enjoyed. As I moved on to the middle school level where those huge chess tournaments were conducted, I knew I needed help. There were plenty of kids who took chess seriously in those competitions and to compete at their level I created another dot in my chess journey. My parents suggested private lessons with a local coach, Jim Egerton. He was a strong player, with vast tournament experience who had been a classroom math teacher. His son, who was my age and I competed against in tournaments, was state champion in 3rd and 5th grade. So I figured that he must know something about coaching scholastic players. Soon my younger brother and I were taking chess lessons at Mr. Egerton’s dining room table.
Competing Beyond the Board
Competing and becoming a better chess player had benefits in the classroom. Chess helped me develop the skill to sit, focus and think critically. Every chess game is a new challenge and I applied that mindset as I took on more challenging courses in middle school, high school and eventually college.
Chess laid a foundation for my personal and professional growth. In retrospect, (am I connecting dots here?) my decision to start playing chess as a child was a pivotal step in nurturing my intellectual curiosity which is a dot I still use today in my career. Chess fosters a lifelong appreciation for strategic thinking.
Years later my wife and I were at O’Hare Field in Chicago ready to take our newborn son on a trip. I walked up to this familiar face at the gate and asked, “Are you Mr. Egerton?” He was shocked. Who asks that in the bustling activity of pre-boarding a flight with a plane full of strangers? I said, “Hi, I’m Jimmy K and you taught me chess at your dining room table.” His reaction was, “OMG, you grew up.” I told him, “When my son gets old enough, I want you to teach him chess as well.”
Critical Thinking in the Healthcare Industry
As a healthcare consultant, I apply chess strategies in my work, evaluating business solutions, managing risk, and seeking profit opportunities. Chess has taught me the skills of delegation, critical thinking, and problem-solving, which are essential in my field.
As a healthcare consultant I’m always thinking about healthcare business models, strategies, policies and new technology disruptors that can shape the way we think about healthcare. Strategy is a considerable component of my career today and how hospitals and healthcare systems can strategically position themselves for the future. Within my job, I continue to think about how best to delegate work, evaluate business solutions for clients, managing risk and even how to make a profit.
I apply chess strategies in my work. A lot of what I do in my career is work with organizations around strategies and partnership opportunities. I evaluate and think about all the pros and cons of the opportunities (candidate moves in chess). I weigh risks, and manage large teams while keeping in mind the tactics that make the project successful. Every chess game involved all of these skills and that is the real payback of learning and playing chess.
If your life is in great part determined by the decisions you make, why not learn to make good ones as early as kindergarten?
What’s In It for My Son?
If my son gets involved with chess, even if he doesn’t make it a lifelong activity, the time he spends learning about the game will expose him to the following benefits. I know because chess skills still play a major role in my life.
The “Game of Kings” emphasizes strategic thinking, planning, and foresight providing a unique platform to exercise the mind, with critical thinking, problem-solving, and pattern recognition.
So often our children are challenged with memorizing facts and information they will get tested on and eventually forget. Every game of chess is a test of a new situation with problems you may have never seen before. Chess draws upon memories of past games and experiences. That’s a healthy cognitive activity regardless of one’s age. Recognizing a problem and figuring out a solution occurs multiple times during a game of chess. If the game is recorded, reviewing the moves with a strong player or chess engine can highlight and correct any mistakes for the next game.
As a metaphor for education, sports and business, chess becomes a metaphor for life itself. It’s the mental practice field athlete’s use, it’s the simulator and model that businesses use and it’s the tool that helps our students excel in education. Through chess, we learn the importance of patience, discipline, and strategic planning. I’m looking forward to my son developing the ability to foresee consequences, adapt to changing situations, and make informed decisions that extend beyond the chessboard and into various aspects of life.
Mentorship and Bonding
Are you introducing your child to chess through family members, mentors, or friends who share their passion for the game? Strong bonds, relationships, opportunities for shared experiences, and intellectual dialog are all possible through chess. The mentorship and guidance received during your initial days might instill a sense of camaraderie and a love for the game. I was fortunate to participate in a school club and it developed my social skills in a healthy way. Transcending ages and leveling the playing field between stronger and bigger, this is one of few activities where my son can give me a legitimate challenge.
Sharing the experience of playing chess creates cherished memories. There is the moment where the board gets flipped and I become a victim of the “How To Beat Your Father In Chess” principle.
Chess offers a healthy outlet for competition. I was fortunate to have a club and regular tournaments that allowed me to challenge opponents, hone my skills, and my improvement became exhilarating. For my child to engage in competitive activities from a young age helps build character, resilience, and the ability to cope with success and setbacks.
What’s Your Why for Chess?
The sense of achievement derived from understanding a complex game like chess can be incredibly gratifying, especially for a young mind. For my son to develop skills now as a young child is a key factor to his developing confidence. I want him to create and connect the dots to his success the way I did and as I continue to do today.
- Do I want my son to be involved with sports – check.
- Do I want my son to study a musical instrument – check.
- Do I want my son to study foreign languages if he wants – check.
- Do I want my son to study and play chess – well that’s checkmate for sure.
Plus he may take a few chess lessons from Mr. E, since from what I am told his dining room table is still there!