Knight to E-5…Check.

When someone talks about strategy, most people tend to think either of politics or board games. The reality is much more important than that. A dictionary would probably have a half-dozen definitions (including the obligatory "the act of being strategic"), but the best two would sound something like: "the art and/or science of employing economic, political, militarial, and psychological forces of a group of nation to maximize effectiveness of policy; careful planning or methods implemented." Strategy is one of the most important structures of society and survival—except for instant gratification, you get to other things through strategy. Strategy teaches one foresight, patience, planning, self-reliance, how to stay calm under stress, allocate resources, coordinate multiple fields at once, and the ability to set and reach goals. Animals practice strategy through playing, and one the best ways to practice as a human is to play games.

Chess is the quintessential strategy game, and a good place to start. Scholars muse it was swiped from Persia via crusade-influenced trading, names modified, and then distributed to the Western world. In chess, you are the commander of a small army—your goal, to capture the opposing commander. You have limited troops, a constrained battlefield, and what's more is that the opposing commander's troops are just as good, and each unit type has its limitations. You win chess through straightforward strategy. Through it, you learn patience (from waiting for the other player) and foresight and planning ahead, thinking about every possible move your opponent could make and how to counter it (when you are that other player). Chess also introduces the idea of the gambit, a move near the beginning that gives up a weak piece for an advantage.

A recent turn of strategy games has been the computer and the idea of RTS, or Real Time Strategy—where every thing happens at once. Typically, each player controls a small force of units, combining with the ability to build a base. Once built, he uses the base as a deployment point for creating new units, and a stronghold. Most strategy games aren't as heavy into pure strategy as chess, but the challenge comes in the speed. On average, a player must balance building with resource management/gathering with troop training/deployment with how to deal with an opponent's force sent to smash your efforts into small, metal pieces. Besides managing the stress of multi-tasking, you must balance offensive strength with defensive strength, scouting terrain effectively, mixing up your army, and deciding on a battle plan. Frontal assaults (massing your units through the obvious way) are stupid and suicidal, so how do you actually confront your enemy? Do you find a rally point near his base, then weaken it before sending in your main force? Do you approach from the rear and then split his base in two? Do you harass an outpost to distract him, then send your units in the long road around? Nothing works all the time, so you have to predict what will happen and put your plan into motion.

Card games have been redistributing wealth and causing tension since at least the fifteenth century. The idea is simple. Using a deck of fifty two unique but similar cards, an objective is met by do various things. Playing cards teaches probability (how often will the Queen of Spades show in Hearts, for example), timing, and a bit of uncertainty. The other secret to cards is careful control over body and emotions. You don't want to give away your secrets, or otherwise give your opponent an advantage. A comparatively recent invention has been the collectible, or trading card game (CCG/TCG), that combines a card game with the random selection of sports cards. Most are extremely complex, like a board game without the board. CCG's work on basic card principles, but require more strategy. You can assemble your deck from thousands of cards, but so can your opponent. You can be well balanced, or focus on a single strategy by selecting specific cards. You never know what your opponent has. What's more is that most games end whenever a person runs of cards—they lose. Card games are all about probability and timing, both essential skills of strategy.

Strategy can be applied to anything that requires planning. Buying a car for instance—should you wait and see for interest rates to change? How should compare cars and analyze the pros and cons of each one? Building a credit rating? Try carefully planning and executing a budget—thriftless spending will only get you into debt. Plan on owning a business? You have to use planning and strategy to survive. Games can help us work on it. And even if you know the rules perfectly, it still takes practice and careful thinking to win. Besides, if you've got an extra six hours I would be happy to search out that old board game and recreate the Battle of Midway. Who knows, maybe the outcome shall be different with different strategists at the helm…