#1730 The Making of a Master

It Starts with a Heroic Target

I’m typing this a few days after Emerson finished playing in the Texas State Chess Championships.

It was his second year playing in the State Championships. The first year, he played in the JV division a few months after starting to play. It was his second official tournament. He went 7-0 and won the whole thing. (Hah. Awesome. Proud dad!)

This year, he moved up to the elementary “Championship” division where he played against the best 5th and 6th graders in the state. (We homeschool him but he’d be in the 5th grade.)

He started in the fifth spot and ended tied for second—going 3-0-3 with 3 wins, 0 losses and 3 draws. He and the awesome kid who won were the only ones to go undefeated.


The weekend was awesome. Emerson is incredible. I’m proud of him and I’m excited for him and his chess (and life!) future and all that.


I’m FASCINATED by a number of things. And I’m still wrapping my philosophical brain around the art and science of motivation and ambition and achievement as it relates to life in general and to his chess performance over the last 18 months (and the next 51 months, etc.) in particular.

For example…

I went back and looked at last year’s State Championship. It was EXACTLY a year ago. Again, he finished in first place. I looked up the girl who finished in second. She was great. I remember him barely beating her. She beat everyone else she played.


She started at a much higher rating than him before the tournament. She started with a US Chess rating of 778 while he started with a US Chess rating of 635. After the tournament, she had a rating that was a point higher than him: 944 vs 943.

I was curious to see how each of them did year to year.

And it blew me away to see the difference.

Whereas Emerson went from a post-tournament rating of 943 UP to a peak of 1632 (which, to be clear, is CRAZY!), she went from a post-tournament rating of 944 DOWN to 699.


Of course, there are a LOT of potential reasons for this—ALL OF WHICH are, of course, valid and important.

Maybe she just wasn’t that into chess in the first place. Maybe she got REALLY excited about something else. Or, maybe an infinite number of OTHER factors played a role.

Again, there are a LOT of potential reasons for this—ALL OF WHICH are, of course, valid and important.


I find myself scratching my head and thinking about this and how we may be able to apply some wisdom from it to our lives.

Knowing we’re all busy and you don’t have time for me to ponder these issues with you in this +1 forever, let’s see if we can boil this contemplation down into a practical bit of wisdom.

Here’s the deal…

I currently think that THE #1 thing that differentiated Emerson from our fellow chess kid is simple…

As we discussed in the VERY first +1 we created when Emerson FIRST got into chess (see: To Become a Master)…

He knew EXACTLY what he wanted.

He wanted to be a US Chess Candidate Master by the time he was 12.

A US Chess Candidate Master has a US Chess rating of 2000.

Ambitious Heroic Target set.

With the support of me and his Mom and his coach, he got to work.

His Talent x Effort produced Skill.
His Skill x more Effort produced Achievement.

He still has a LOT more work to do but, again, I find this whole thing philosophically FASCINATING! 😲 🤯

All of which brings us to YOU (and YOUR kids).

Today’s +1…

What do you REALLY (REALLY!) (REALLY!!) want?


What do you REALLY (REALLY!) (REALLY!!) want?

Take the time to slow down for a moment and get REALLY clear on the Heroic Target that most inspires you.


Let’s set a Heroic Target.



Get to work.

It’s Day 1.

We’re ALL IN.

Let’s go.

P.S. I’ve never done this before, but I’m actually going to play the +1 from February 6th, 2023 so you can see how we were thinking about things in the very beginning of our chess journey…

Here’s that +1…

To Become a Master

We Must Start as a Beginner

Today Emerson and I played chess as I ate breakfast.

Him: “Daddy! Will you play chess with me while you eat breakfast?”

Me: “Yes!”

👆 Note: I said that as I remembered the Heroic commitments I had made earlier that day:

“Respond to a Bid from Emerson” 🎯
“Play with the Kids” 🎯
“Micro Moment of Awesome with E”! 🎯

Target swipe! 🎯
Target swipe! 🎯
Target swipe! 🎯


To be clear…

He destroyed me at chess. 😲

I’ve never been happier to lose at anything in my life. 🤓

I’m incredibly proud of how hard he has worked (/played!) to get better and better such that he can now EASILY beat me.

Parent tip: Chesskid.com is AMAZING.



Today Emerson told me that he would like to be a Chess Master.

To which I said: “AWESOME! I’d like to support you with that and everything else you’d ever like to achieve in your life!”

Then I said: “What specific level of Mastery would you like to achieve and by when would you like to do so? It’s important to get clarity on your goals. In fact, that’s Rule #1 of effective goal setting. Once we know the time target, we can plan accordingly.”

Know this: Specificity is the #1 thing Heidi Grant Halvorson says Successful People Do Differently do in THE most popular blog post in the Harvard Business Review’s history called 9 Things Successful People Do Differently. (Check out our Notes on her great book, Succeed as well.)


We looked up the different titles the international chess federation bestows upon different tiers of mastery. Emerson decided that he would like to be what’s known as a “National Expert (E) / Candidate Master (CM)” by the time he’s 12. (He’s now 10.)


Now, we have our “WISH.”

Then I asked him WHY he wanted to achieve that.

To which he said, “It would be fun! And, I’d be able to beat almost anyone!” 🤓


“It’s true!” he says!

I believe him.


Now we have our WISH and our “OUTCOME” (or the “benefit” we’ll experience) when the Wish comes to fruition.

First part of WOOPing and turning our dreams into reality complete. I dare say Gabriele Oettingen would approve! (See Notes on Rethinking Positive Thinking.)


We’ll need to run that Wish and Outcome up against reality and see what Obstacles will arise and what Plans will need to be put in place to see what price he will need to pay and whether or not he wants to pay that price and if his goal is doable/etc.

We’ll consult with a chess coach to walk through that process.


THAT isn’t quite the point of Today’s +1.

This is…

As we looked at the range of rankings, we saw that the LOWEST ranking is called “National Class J” which includes people who only have a 100-199 ranking.

Emerson saw that and said something along the lines of: “That’s not a very good ranking.”

Although that is, of course, true on one level, I told him: “BUDDY! That ranking is ACTUALLY the MOST IMPORTANT ranking.”

Then I said: “You know why?”

He said: “I don’t know!”

I said: “Because… If you don’t have the humility to be THAT BAD, you’ll never get THAT GOOD.”

And THAT’s Today’s +1.

Want to be a Master?

Be willing to be a Beginner.

Day 1. All in.


♟️ 👑 👑

Unlock this Heroic +1 (and over 1,000 more)!

Create your account to get more wisdom in less time. Personal development made simple so you can flourish in energy, work, and love. Today.

Sign Up Today