What Chess Has Taught Me About Copywriting


The goal of the game of chess is to capture your opponent’s king, before yours is captured.

To chess aficionados, those of us who play poorly are known as “wood pushers.”  We might have a basic understanding of how the pieces move, but we lack the skills necessary to win.

Chess is war.  The mere knowledge that advancing a pawn to the eighth rank allows you to “promote” it into any other piece (except a king or pawn) is not enough to be victorious.  You must be able to convert your plans into a winning strategy.

A winning chess strategy

Accomplished players see the chessboard as a virtual battlefield.  Chess pieces become their armies, with advantages and disadvantages.

The center four squares of the board are the equivalent of the high ground on a field of battle.  That’s where soldiers (chess pieces) are most powerful and mobile.  In the initial stages of the “game,” warriors focus their troops on possessing, defending or attacking those four squares.

Employ that strategy and your moves will be focused and effective.

Chess and copywriting

You also need a plan to write copy that will win the game.

The “center four squares” – the strategies – for copywriters are arbitrary. Professional writers, whose survival depends on earning an income, require different strategies than programmers or graphic artists, for example, who simply want to dabble in the art of writing.

Square One

The goal of professional copywriting is to earn money for whomever pays you to write. If they don’t make a profit from your work, if they’re smart, they’ll find someone who can.

Square Two

Writers must graduate from being “word pushers” who know how to fill a page with clichés to those who can devise a winning presentation. Study your art. Use a thesaurus and polish your contributions. There are no great writers – there are only great re-writers.

Square Three

Define your message. Do you know what you want to communicate? Can you boil it down to a couple of bullets? This will keep you from straying from your main points.

Square Four

Unlike chess, teamwork wins the game when it comes to copywriting. If you are unwilling to have your copy changed, you’re going to have a hard time. Selling your words is not any different than selling your home. The new owners can knock down the walls and paint their house purple. After you sell your words, they are no longer yours. Deal with it.

Whether you compose a “Just do it!” slogan or ghostwrite the Great American Novel, your goal is to create copy that others believe is worthwhile. Even if you hate the final edition. Even if you liked your ideas better anyone else’s. You’re part of a team. There’s no “money” in “me.” If self-fulfillment and artistic development are your primary goals, you’d better set aside money in your budget for lottery tickets.

There are hundreds of publishers and millions of websites that need content. Provide valuable material and – POOF!!! – you can become a writer.


Follow this strategy to produce income for your employers:

  • Research your clients.
  • Research their products or services.
  • Research their demographics and their goals.
  • Hone your skills.
  • Learn to be flexible.
  • Learn to take advice.
  • Solve more problems than you create.
  • Write copy that evokes profitable responses.

To earn money as a writer, you must earn money for your employers.

The Bottom Line: Your copy is not about you … it’s about your employer.


  • Steve Burge

    Steve is the founder of OSTraining. Originally from the UK, he now lives in Sarasota in the USA. Steve's work straddles the line between teaching and web development.

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