The meaning of “Chess not Checkers”

In the movie Training Day, a seasoned narc (narcotics officer) takes a rookie cop on a ride along, and the rookie soon sees that the world is not all black and white. The narc makes a number of choices that make the rookie uncomfortable, but the narc insists it’s all necessary in order to do their job. “To protect the sheep you gotta catch the wolf, and it takes a wolf to catch a wolf.”

At one crucial point, after the narcs have done multiple questionable things, the rookie is in shock about it all, and tries to talk some black and white sense to the narc. The narc clues the rookie into the real gray world and says “the sh*t’s chess, it ain’t checkers”. The world isn’t simple, it’s complicated. If you want to survive, you need to think steps ahead. Plan your moves.

Life is chess, not checkers. Politics is chess, not checkers.