Quinte, On. real estate agent: Zugzwang, Chess and Life 101

Zugzwang, Chess and Life 101

Lately I haven't been blogging as much as I usually do. I won't blame it on being busier the last few weeks (although I have), because I have found time to be in front of my computer. It's just that every once in a while I get sucked into the world of chess, and I find myself thinking about chess rather than blogging ideas. Like a recurring addiction, it starts dominating my thoughts and I'm helpless to escape for a while.

Despite having read a lot of books about the subject and studied the masters, I'm a surprisingly poor player. I have never done well in competitions and on the internet I lose to players with ratings far below mine a lot more frequently than I beat players with superior ratings. I find this incredibly frustrating. Those of you who play chess understand the frustration. In many ways my personality comes out very clearly in my chess game, as do most people's who play frequently. I fall for differently disguised versions of the same ploys time and time again, and only afterwards when I'm reviewing the game do I realize that I've been had much like I've been had a thousand times before. It's only something I realize in retrospect. Sometimes when I have a small advantage I fail to press that advantage, instead trying to nurse it towards victory by attrition. This stretches out the game and gives my opponent too many chances to capitalize on a blunder that I might make. I lose a lot of games by trying to be overly cautious.

One of the aspects of chess that has always been such a great attraction to me is how it seems to mirror life. Chess terminology is replete with expressions that have been devised for chess, but can apply to all types of situations. There are some great words that have come out of the chess lexicon. One such word is Zugzwang. Loosely translated from German, zugzwang means "compulsion to move". It simply means that any move that a player can make will weaken his position, yet he has to move because it is his turn. All the moves available to that player are "bad" moves, and he will come out of it in a weaker position. Sometimes life throws us curves like that too where we are in a situation where something must be done, but it seems as if every option available will be a step backwards for us.

chess board

chess board

Comment balloon 10 commentsMalcolm Johnston • April 15 2010 05:12PM


hi Malcolm,

I enjoy chess too.....and you're right, it really does mirror life. I used to play online whenever I wanted to clear my head and direct my focus. Hmm....maybe I'll go have a game right now!


Posted by Jo-Anne Smith almost 9 years ago


Life can resemble chess and some can play at life better than others


Posted by Ty Lacroix (Envelope Real Estate Brokerage Inc) almost 9 years ago



I don't play chess, yet I envy those who do. Good analogy to "movers" in the housing market.



Posted by Brian Madigan, LL.B., Broker (RE/MAX West Realty Inc., Brokerage (Toronto)) almost 9 years ago

Jo-Anne Smith- Oakville, Burlington and Mississauga Region Real Estate, Ont (Brekland Realty Group) Hi Jo, chess can be great for focus, unless you obsess about it afterwards.

Envelope Real Estate Brokerage Inc You've got that right Ty.

Brian Madigan LL.B. (Royal LePage Innovators Realty, Broker) Thanks Brian, I would have taken you for a chess player though.

Posted by Malcolm Johnston, Trenton Real Estate (Century 21 Lanthorn Real Estate LTD., Trenton, Ontario) almost 9 years ago

In the first game it looks like the black king could move to 6e, but then again, I'm not a serious player and I'm probably missing something easy. Chess rewards serious focus and I've never managed to summon the energy to get good and study the masters.

Posted by Dave Roberts (Healdsburg Sotheby's International Realty) almost 9 years ago

Hi Dave, yes the black king can move to e6, but this will allow the white king to move to c5 where he can eliminate the black pawn, and now white has a pased pawn wile black is still stranded.

Posted by Malcolm Johnston, Trenton Real Estate (Century 21 Lanthorn Real Estate LTD., Trenton, Ontario) almost 9 years ago

Great analogy Malcolm. Zugzwang in life otherwise known as the curveball in life. Don't you wish at those times you could just 'stand'?

Posted by Al & Peggy Cunningham, Brokers, Our Family Wants To Help Your Family! (RE/MAX West Realty Inc., Brokerage) almost 9 years ago

Thanks Al and Peggy. The chess lexicon has an analogy for just about every situation that life has to offer.

Posted by Malcolm Johnston, Trenton Real Estate (Century 21 Lanthorn Real Estate LTD., Trenton, Ontario) almost 9 years ago

Malcolm, Every time I read your posts I learn something new that I can use today.  I love the new word, Zugzwang and can't wait to use it in conversation.   Not sure when I can edge it in here in Dallas, but I will try.  What I especially like about your posts is that you take from your own life and make a story that we all can relate to.  Thanks for your efforts my friend.

Posted by Larry Lawfer, "I listen for a living." It's all about you. (YourStories Realty Group) almost 9 years ago

Larry Lawfer (EXIT Realty Metro Dallas) Hi Larry, you'll have to tell me how you managed to squeeze it into a conversation.

Posted by Malcolm Johnston, Trenton Real Estate (Century 21 Lanthorn Real Estate LTD., Trenton, Ontario) almost 9 years ago