The Infinite Game

The mindset of a Chess player.

One day, maybe a couple months ago, maybe thirty years ago, we each realized chess had a hold on us.

We were playing this silly game with a checkerboard and oddly shaped pieces.

It intrigued us. Captivated us.

I would bet that every one of us fell to the Scholar’s Mate, then learned the Scholar’s Mate, then inflicted it on others.

Classic schoolyard chess shenanigans.

We discovered the game. It started with the pieces set up, included some tactics, and ended with checkmate.

Beginning, middle, end.

Somewhere in that process, we got hooked. It had us.

And it’s provided oodles of fun, beauty, and frustration since.

Eventually, you decided you wanted to get better. You committed yourself to it in some way.

And without realizing it, something crucial changed.

It’s at this moment that things changed forever for you.

You were suddenly playing a fundamentally different game.


If you’re here reading this, I got some news for you.

It will sound strange. Perhaps like I’m a little unhinged. (I might be, who knows?)


You aren’t playing chess anymore.

I said it would sound strange.

It looks like chess, smells like chess, feels like chess.

When you Google image search “chess”, the things that come up look a lot like what you’re doing.

But it’s not. I promise you it’s not.

In fact, until we realize it’s not, we’re doomed.

Because until we realize this, our mindset is limited.

And a limited mindset will hold us back far more than any inefficient training methods will.

Mindset is the single most important thing for your improvement (and life as well).

No training method will overcome a limited mindset.

Take a second to internalize this idea.

You’re not playing chess anymore.

You’re playing Chess – capital C – Chess.

What’s the difference?

The game of chess begins with the pieces set up and ends with checkmate. 

It’s a game where every move matters, one screw up could end your chances, and you either win, lose, or draw.

It’s brutal. Unforgiving. Finite.

The game of Chess – capital C – is very different.

Capital-C Chess is infinite.

It’s a game about improvement, growth, and passion.

There is no opponent.

There is no end.

The way you win the Infinite Game is to keep putting the effort in and growing.

 To learn from mistakes. To enjoy the journey.

The way you lose the Infinite Game is to forget you’re playing it.

In the Infinite Game, no single move, match, result, or tournament matters.

They’re all just steps on our infinite journey.

The only power a single move, game, or result has over us is the power that we give it ourselves.

We can choose to not let them affect us because we’re playing a much bigger, brighter, and more beautiful game.

When we make a mistake in the Infinite Game, we don’t get frustrated. We don’t call ourselves “stupid”.

We get curious.

We want to know how and why, so we can grow.

Missteps become opportunities. We seek out challenges. We’re forgiving with ourselves.

That’s the power of the Infinite Game.

And it’s the core of mindset in Chess.

It’s a question of scope. Perspective.

Let’s change frame for a second.

Take Michael Jordan.

Arguably the greatest player in basketball history. (I’m not a basketball guy, so if any details are wrong here, just focus on my point!)

He didn’t let any one practice throw, any one game, or even any one championship define his limits.

He could be disappointed with losses, but he never let them throw him off his game.

He showed up for every game and played to the best of his abilities on that day.

Win, lose, or draw, he showed up.

He wasn’t playing basketball – lower case b.

It looked like basketball. Smelled like basketball. Wikipedia calls him a basketball player.

But he was playing capital-B Basketball. 

The infinite game.

And in the Infinite Game, it is our effort, our commitment, and our willingness to learn that make the biggest difference.

The same can be said for every truly successful athlete in history.

There is no limit to what we can do as long as we’re playing the Infinite Game.

I’ve been thinking a lot about mindset recently. I’ve struggled with it.

Mindset issues perk up in various areas of my life regularly. I think they do for most of us.

This insight is something I’ve needed to hear from time to time. Perhaps it’ll help you too.

We’re in this together.

Here’s to the journey.

About the author

Aiden Rayner writes about how to make the adult brain better at Chess. Using science-backed insights, he works to change the narratives around adult improvement, and help adults discover the power of their Chess brains.

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Thanks for reading.

I hope you found it useful! If you did, would you please share it with another adult improver you know? You’ll be helping them and you’ll be helping me!

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