Jul 24th 2021 | Career Development Strategies SE001: How To Become a Chess Player? An Interview With Jacek Bielczyk
Jacek Bielczyk, who shares his career development strategies with us today, is a chess player, chess trainer, author, and journalist with a title of International Master (IM) from FIDE. He has university education in Mechanical Engineering (MS title obtained from the Silesian Technical University). Currently retired, he still trains young chess players and is actively involved in the chess environment.
How Does Your Job Look? What Can You Say About The Condition of Today’s Chess?
Jacek: Well, I was doing chess more or less for my whole life, in different forms. By active playing, teaching groups and individuals, journalism, writing books, and organizing events. I was also the official trainer of the Polish national chess team. I used to go to multiple Olympic games, world championships, etc. Now I’m retired yet I’m still active.
Chess changed a lot as a discipline of sports within the past few decades. The world is faster today. There is a demand for people with much higher degree of specialization than it used to be in the old times. As a result, most of today’s competitive chess players are not involved in any professional activities other than preparing for tournaments and competing.
Today, to stay at the top in the chess world, you need to have a team of trainers, dietary specialists, and psychologists working for you! Competitive chess also requires an excellent physical condition. You need to train up to a few hours of a physical training per day. Chess is one of the most energy consuming sports in existence. According to research, it comes on the podium right after volleyball and hockey. A top chess player can leave the chess board 2-3 kilograms lighter after a few hours of playing!
Those Old Times…
Unfortunately, my impression is that at the same time, the level of the professional chess league went down compared to the “old school” from a few decades ago. The main reason is the aggressive capitalism. There is more media attention, more sponsors, more money, and more tournaments while the day is still only 24 hours long. As a result, even on the master level the insight into the chess game has become more superficial than before.
Still, chess has become more powerful and useful for society than it has ever been before. Today, in the times of macdonaldization in education, memorizing textbook information by heart and filling in idiot-proof tests, chess is one of the few educational tools that teach creative thinking. Chess players are the people who can work out a viable strategy to win the game under the conditions of high stress and competition. During the game of chess, you need to be your own trainer and critic. No wonder that strong chess players are often approached by IT companies or banks with lavish job offers!
Chess is also easy to teach to children. It’s a game after all, and playing games is just natural for kids. Playing chess helps kids in development regardless of the ultimate result of the game. Chess is also recommended for elderly people — especially for the individuals with the Alzheimer’s disease — as a method to sustain or improve on the cognitive skills.
Why Did You Decide To Become a Chess Player? Did You Have Any Career Development Strategies As a Teenager?
Jacek: Actually, I was lucky to discover what I really loved doing very early on, when I was a primary school kid. Yet, it was impossible to make the decision to become a professional chess player when I was young. Poland was a socialistic country at that point, and even the top chess players were making ridiculously low amounts of money. However, luckily, chess has become my profession and lifestyle nevertheless. I feel very lucky that I could convert what I liked doing, into my occupation. It was difficult at times, but it was definitely worth it.
Also, I was growing up in times when there were no computers and no internet. We used to read books as kids, and books are the real source of knowledge! Also, I learned chess by practical experience. Namely, by observing how other kids were playing in the school common-room. In such conditions, by combining knowledge with experience, you can well develop your intuition. And my intuition told me to go for it.
What Your Career Development Strategies Did You Use?
Jacek: Chess has always been my passion. But next to playing in tournaments, I managed to graduate from mechanical engineering at the Silesian Technical University. You can only have one passion. For this reason, I treated my studies as something that secures my future, and that I simply need to do.
Actually, when I was a young chess player, I didn’t keep up with the reality sometimes. Right after I defended my MS title, I went for a tournament. When I came back, I got a warning letter from the government. In socialistic Poland, there was an obligation to start a job within 2 weeks after graduation. I didn’t even think about it as all I wanted after getting my diploma, was to finally play more chess [laugh].
Then, I used to search for jobs in a way that would allow me to marry working with taking part in chess tournaments. I must say that financially, some of these jobs were not as good. I was also a bit lucky as I was in the first cohort of chess trainers who were trained to receive an official teaching qualification as a sports trainer from the Academy of Physical Education. This gave us a lot of prestige, and allowed us to work as official sports trainers.
What Given That You Chose Chess, Did Your Studies in Mechanical Engineering Help You In Your Professional Life At All?
Jacek: Not directly, but I believe that studies always helps you in development in one way or another. I never really made use of my diploma at work, but I am glad that I finished studies where mathematics was taught on a good level, and that I have a ground education. I’m still in touch with some of my peers from studies, and they are all doing very well in their lives. Even though many of them, including me, have nothing to do with engineering today.
It’s also true that Master’s diploma used to guarantee a high social status in Poland 40 years ago, and helped in getting high-profile jobs. Back then, only 7% of adults were holders of a Masters and it used to be much more prestigious than now.
I can also say that I definitely don’t regret my studies. But one thing that I would have done differently if I had a chance, would be to choose for another major. My studies required being present and it was hard to marry with playing chess tournaments. Some other majors at the Silesian Technical University were much lighter and less demanding. So, in retrospect, I would have chosen for one of them.
Did You Have Any Specific Personal Goals?
Jacek: Sure! The result is always important, and what you do must yield some outcomes. If there is no progress, something is clearly wrong. Fortunately, chess is just. Your effort is never really wasted in the long run. Plus, nothing really happens by accident as in many other sports. You don’t win or lose because of the wind, the weather, the referee, or other external factors. In chess, it’s rather “show what you’ve got.”
Yet still, it’s true that players don’t reach the same far given the same amount of effort. In chess, we have some folk mythology. We often refer to Caissa, the goddess of chess, when speaking about players are successful versus those who are not. So, I have some friends in chess, who were putting all their heart into the game yet never became successful. In such a situation, we use to say, “Caissa didn’t reciprocate their love.”
And of course, as all sportsmen, chess players dream about becoming the champion of Poland, get high ranks in the classification of the strongest players, get the titles. But ranks and titles are not everything. I have never become a Grand Master but I completed one [of the two required] norms for a Grand Master. Yet, I used to get invited to tournaments for the sake of the fact that I was a strong player and not for the sake of my titles. Also, setting very concrete goals is not a good idea neither; I know people who had very concrete ambitions, and after they didn’t manage to reach the targets they were going for, they disappeared from the chess scene.
What Do You Believe To Be Your Biggest Success In Professional Life?
Jacek: My biggest success is that I was doing what I liked doing the most, and I could live off from it. I just enjoyed playing! I wasn’t an attention freak, I wasn’t fishing for success, and I didn’t even try to get famous. I didn’t have one dream or one plan to fulfill. And this probably saved me from many disappointments.
I can also say that success is very relative. How do you even define success? For instance, I don’t consider myself a particularly successful person . However, I was an authority in my chess club and many of my colleagues were dreaming of getting the same results as me. Also, some of my successes come with a huge delay. Today, there are many people knocking at my door and willing to make use of my knowledge even though I used to teach chess for a few decades now.
Did You Have Any Mentors On Your Way, Who Shared Their Career Development Strategies With You?
Jacek: I haven’t had direct mentors… However, I used to go to Olympic games, and I had an opportunity to talk to top sports trainers in multiple disciplines of sports. This was a great learning experience to me!
Do You Have Any Regrets?
Jacek: Hm… In a way, I was born a few decades too early. Today, it’s possible to live off well from chess and the opportunities are endless. This was not the case 30 or 40 years before. But you know, as the “11th commandment” states, quid pro quo.
Still, I don’t think I have regrets. I was always using intuition more than calculation — and how can you complain about your intuition? I had a very diverse life, as I used to play many roles at a time. While playing chess, I also met a lot of interesting people from all around the world. I must say that this is a profession that requires lots of travels, and that was influencing my jobs and professional life to a high extent. Still, I can’t say that I really regret anything.
Interestingly, You Didn’t Marry Yet Another Chess Player…
Jacek: I was always using intuition more than calculation, that’s all. I know many couples of two chess players and that’s difficult too. If they are both competitive players, they need to travel all the time. One of them usually needs to step down at some point, or otherwise, it becomes really hard to live together. So I can’t just say that living together with another chess player would be any easier.
What Do You Do Now, Professionally? Do You Have Some New Career Options?
Jacek: I still teach chess, and I closely follow what’s happening in the chess world.
I also like to read the chess literature. Watching a good game of chess is like watching a piece of art. Such great games are rare but when you find one, you will really enjoy the experience. In chess, you have to be yourself and show your character. If I watched 20 games by someone I have never encountered in person, I would be able to tell a lot about their personality.
What Advice Could You Give To Young People WhoAre About To Finish Studies Right Now? Any Career Guidance For Youngsters?
Jacek: Be consequent! If you have a passion, develop it to the best of your abilities. Go for your gut and don’t calculate what pays off and what doesn’t, as the job market changes very quickly anyways. Also, you need to be prepared that your professional career won’t be just a series of successes. There will be many failures too.
Lastly, Can You Share a Career Tip On How To Recognize a True Passion?
Jacek: You will recognize your passion when failures don’t break you. And, when after every failure, something tells you to still stand up and go on. That’s it.
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