• Aimee Spencer Tiemann


Life is a big game, make sure you’re never someone’s pawn

My mom was a resourceful single mom.

When I was 7 years old, she had this grand idea that instead of paying for extra childcare, she would enroll me in “after school enrichment” classes. So, I took French, had tap and jazz classes, and to fill the void, she signed me up for chess. Believe it or not, the classes were cheaper than daycare.

I looked forward to the French and dance classes. But chess? Really, mom?

The class was full of boys with cooties (at least as far as I was concerned). Plus, the boys were really introverted.

Some important context here – I was the life of the party back then. I wanted nothing to do with chess class. NOTHING.

I went the first day and sat in the corner. I wouldn’t engage. I wouldn’t even begin to consider trying to play this game.

And guess what? The teacher couldn’t have cared less.

He would say, “Your loss lady, keep pouting.” So, I did.

Everyone was so intense and quiet. No one talked. How could anyone think this was a good idea for me?

After a month of sitting in the corner, arms crossed and complaining, I started to become intrigued. I’m still not sure what drew me in, but what came next, you will never believe. I still can’t believe it.


Ok, I’m can’t remember if it was a state competition, technically. But I remember they brought a 16-year-old in from Japan who had won chess games around the world, and I beat him.

I was 7, the youngest competitor, and the only girl. That’s not even the craziest part. While this happened, I was in remedial reading and math at school.

So, my brain couldn’t process general learning, but it could excel at a game that required the ability to think five steps ahead?!

I’m pretty sure this was the first and only time I impressed my dad. In fact, when I had to visit him every other weekend, he would make me play for hours at a time just so he could try to win.

But he couldn’t. I was unstoppable.


Sounds dramatic, but it’s true.

I always think five steps ahead (well, sometimes 20, depending on the situation). And I ALWAYS know how to protect the queen.

Some call it over-thinking and obsessing. I call it strategic thinking.

I know where risk falls. I know when gains are about to happen.

Most of the time, I know what move the opponent (or “the competition” in the business world) is about to make.

Sure, some of it is intuition and experience. But most of it is logic, listening, planning, and protecting for what’s ahead. After all, the game mirrors life. It’s all about protecting the queen, or in business, protecting clients’ best interests.

The secret to checkmate is not understanding the move in front of you, it’s anticipating what’s to come. It’s about understanding how each piece can move (front, diagonal, sideways, etc.). It’s about being calculated.

This completely mimics life, right?

When you react to what’s right in front of you, it usually doesn’t bode well for a long-term gain, does it? You can keep taking out the pawns, but that doesn’t mean you’ll ultimately get to the queen if you don’t see how the competition is playing.


As I started this post, I didn’t realize learning chess was my personal “game changer.”

You see, shortly after I won the competition, my brain started operating differently. I started excelling at school, not being labeled as someone for the “slower path.”

My school never equated chess to the change, but shortly after learning the game, a school social worker had an epiphany. She realized I wasn’t being challenged enough before and that I was actually bored with the basics.

After that, I was put in advanced classes.

I started doing more research to see if I could validate this turn of events. Here’s what I found about chess:

  1. SPARKS CREATIVITY - Chess sparks creativity in children. Playing chess helps unleash your originality since it activates the right side of the brain (the side responsible for creativity). One four-year study had students from grades 7 to 9 play chess, use computers, or do other activities once a week for 32 weeks to see which activity fostered the most growth in creative thinking. The chess group scored higher in all measures of creativity, with originality being their biggest area of gain.

  2. TEACHES PLANNING AND FORESIGHT - The same article talks about the power chess has on teaching teenagers how to plan and leverage foresight. One of the last parts of the brain to develop during adolescence is the prefrontal cortex, the area responsible for judgment, planning and self-control. Because playing chess requires strategic and critical thinking, it helps promote prefrontal cortex development and helps teenagers make better decisions in all areas of life.

  3. READING SKILLS IMPROVE - Chess improves reading skills among children. In 1991, a doctor conducted a study in non-chess-playing students and chess-playing students. Chess-playing students scored 53 percent higher than the average student around the country. The non-chess-playing students scored well below the national average.

  4. MEMORY BENEFITS - Playing chess improves your memory, mainly because of the complex rules and the memory needed to avoid previous mistakes or recall an opponent’s playing style. Good chess players have exceptional memory performance.

Put down the tablet. Stop looking at your phone. Start teaching (or learning) chess. You never know what a few new moves can do to change your game.

Chess Clubs by State (U.S. Chess Foundation)