The Tao of Chess

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There is so much that we can learn from chess that can be applied to cybersecurity. It is a sport recognized by the International Olympic Committee, so it isn’t merely a board game. Since it is my favorite “sport” to play, aside from basketball, I have decided to share 10 principles of the game of chess that I have read from The Tao of Chess authored by chess master Peter Kurzdorfer that can be applied to cyber warfare. I decided it would be prudent for me to share my top 40 favorites of principles I have learned. It is up to you to decide how they can be implemented in cybersecurity.

The Tao of Chess’s principles have been broken up into two categories: technical material and human matters.

Here is a quick overview of each category before I list the principles.

Know Your Technical Material

Knowing your technical material matters. For example, you need to know how a bishop moves, how to define en passant, what an exchange is worth, and what a checkmate looks like. Knowing your positions and how to play each piece on your board is imperative. Learning the fundamental basics and understanding the moves from either side, whether on the offense or defense, can give you a great advantage.

Know About Human Matters Too

It is important to know yourself, your strengths and weaknesses, and your style of playing a game of chess. Just like in cybersecurity, everyone has a preference of choice for what tools they use, and how they will implement them when playing on the offensive or defensive side. But not only is it important to know yourself, it is just as greatly important to know your opponent too, or at least gauge what kind of player they are. Understanding psychology is just as important as your technical knowledge and skills.

Principles of Chess

Principles of Technical Material (1–18)

Principle #1: If you control more than half of the squares on the board, you have an advantage.

Principle #2: Before beginning a wing attack, make sure your center is secure.

Principle #3: Centralize your pieces to make them powerful.

Principle #4 Play to control the center, whether Classically or in hypermodern style.

Principle #5: Castle early and often.

Principle #6: When ahead in material, trade pieces, not pawns.

Principle #7: When behind in material, trade pawns, not pieces.

Principle #8: You must attack when you have the superior game, or you will forfeit your advantage.

Principle #9: Location, location, location.

Principle#10: Every move is an opportunity to interfere with your opponent’s plans, or to further your own plans.

Principle #11: Superior development increases in value in proportion to the openness of the game.

Principle #12: Ignore your opponent’s threats whenever you can do so with impunity.

Principle #13: The threat you do not see is the one that will defeat you.

Principle #14: Be aware of the numbers and types of attackers and defenders in a convergence.

Principle #15: The threat is better than its execution.

Principle #16: Look through the pieces’ eyes.

Principle #17: Keep your plans flexible.

Principle #18: Make sure all your pieces are defended.

Principles of Human Matters (19–40)

Principle #19: Style can be more important than strength.

Principle #20: Strive to get into positions you are comfortable with and that make your opponent uncomfortable.

Principle #21: Don’t let your opponent distract you.

Principle #22: Have the courage of your convictions.

Principle #23: Play those positions you know, even if you think your opponent knows more about them.

Principle #24: Trust your intuition — it’s usually right.

Principle #25: Don’t be afraid of making mistakes. They are inevitable. Rather, get in the habit of learning them.

Principle #26: React to an unexpected, strong move by reassessing the position calmly.

Principle #27: Physical stamina is sometimes more important in chess than knowledge or analytical ability.

Principle #28: When you see a good move, wait. Don’t play it. Look for a better move.

Principle #29: Rely heavily on intuition rather than calculation in rapid games.

Principle #30: Focus.

Principle #31: Think along strategic lines when it is your opponent’s turn and along tactical lines when it is your turn.

Principle #32: If you aren’t concentrating because of some distraction, perhaps the fault lines with your powers of concentration rather than in the distraction.

Principle #33: Be patient in reacting to times of crisis during your games.

Principle #34: Practice makes perfect.

Principle #35: Devour the games of the masters.

Principle #36: One of the best ways to learn is to subject your own games to intensive analysis.

Principle #37: Supplement your study with practice. The combination of the two is indispensable to a true understanding of the game.

Principle #38: You cannot know all there is to know about chess.

Principle #39: Understanding is more important than memory.

Principle #40: Find the real reason things went wrong, and work to make sure it doesn’t happen again.


The Tao of Chess has a list of 200 principles that are very useful in a game of chess. Intrigued by these principles, I decided to cherrypick my top 40 favorites and share it with you. The more I read these principles, the more I can see how they can be implemented in cybersecurity, especially when defending a network. Furthermore, they can certainly apply to different scenarios and aspects in life. Modify the principles accordingly. Keep re-reading them and practice applying them in a game of chess, or while defending a network if you’re in cybersecurity. There are various scenarios these principles can be applied to as well. I hope you enjoyed this read!

Cybersecurity startup boy and editor for Secjuice. I write about crypto, infosec, productivity, and more.

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Mars Groves

Mars Groves

Cybersecurity startup boy and editor for Secjuice. I write about crypto, infosec, productivity, and more.

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