Wednesday 26th March, 2008


Kasparov’s book sees chess as...Way to success

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GARRY KASPAROV grew up in Baku, Azerbaijan, USSR, and, at 22, became the youngest-ever World Chess Champion in 1985. He held the world title until 2000.

He was the highest rated chess player in the world for 20 years and is widely regarded as the greatest player who ever lived.

He retired from professional chess in March 2005 to found the United Civil Front in Russia and currently leads the Other Russia oppositio coalition.

A regular contributor to the Wall Street Journal editorial page, Kasparov travels the world to addess corporations and business audiences on strategy and leadership.

He appears frequently in the international media to talk about chess and politics.

SERIOUS chessplayers know the cognitive benefits that the game confers and the useful role it can play in the education of youngsters. Former World Champion Garry Kasparov, in his fascinating book “How Life Imitates Chess” elevates the game to a higher purpose, illustrating how success in life can be achieved by mastering the tools of the world’s oldest and greatest game.

Using the lessons he learned from 25 years of playing chess at the highest level, Kasparov relates the fundamentals that go into successful decision-making, from the nuts and bolts of strategy, evaluation and preparation to the subtler, more human arts of using memory, intuition, imagination and even fantasy.

“This book describes how my own formula developed, and how many people contributed to that development, directly and indirectly,” Kasparov writes. “The inspirational games of Ålexander Alekhine, my first chess hero, find a place alonside the inspirational character of Winston Churchill, whose words and books I still turn to regularly. My parents - especially my mother - play an incalculable role, as do my teachers.”

The idea for the book came when he realized that instead of coming up with clever answers for the eternal “What’s going on in your head?” questions, it would be more interesting for him to find out.

“But the life of a chess professional, with its rigorous calendar of travel, play and peparation, did not allow me much time for philosophical - as opposed to practical - introspection,” the ex-World Champion says. “When I retired from chess in March 2005, I finally gained the time and perspective to look back on my experiences and can now, finally, share them in a useful way.”

Åfter 25 years “in a comfort zone of expertise,” he was able to step back and analyse his abilities and so rebuilt himself for the new challenges he has taken up as an opposition leader to the Russian government.

In the chapter he calls “Opening Gambit,” Kasparov writes:

“What makes chess such an ideal laboratory for the decision-making process? To play chess on a truly high level requires a constant stream of exact, informed decisions, made in real time and under pressure from your opponent. What’s more, it requires a synthesis of some very different virtues, all of which are necessary to good decisions: calculatioñ, creativity and a desire for results. If you ask a Grandmaster, an artist and a computer scientist what makes a good chess player, you’ll get a glimpse of these different strengths in action.

“Emmanuel Lasker of Germany, the second world champion, once observed, “Chess is above all a struggle.” According to Lasker, the point is always to win, no matter how you define winning.

“The artist Marcel Duchamp was a strong and devoted chess player. At one point he even gave up art for chess, saying the game ‘has all the beauty of art - and much more’. Duchamp further affirmed this aspect of the game by saying, ‘I have come to the personal conclusion that while all artists are not chess players, all chess players are artists.’ And it is true that we cannot ignore the creative element, even though we have to harness it to the primary objective of winning the game.

Then we come to the scientific aspect, the one most non-chess players tend to over emphasize: memorization, precise calculation, and the application of logic. These are the bedrock of chess and also of good decisions.

Having spent a lifetime analyzing the game of chess and comparing the capacity of computers to the capacity of the human brain, I’ve often wondered, where does our success come from? The answer is synthesis, the ability to combine creativity and calculation, art and science, into a whole that is much greater than the sum of its parts. Chess is a unique cognitive nexus, a place where art and science come together in the human mind and are then refined and improved by experience.

This is the way we improve at anything in our lives that involves decision-making, which is to say everything. It’s not at all surprising that the language of chess has insinuated itself into so many other pursuits. If you overheard a discussion that referred to “the opening phase,” “sector vulnerability,” “strategic planning” and “tactical implementation,” you might assume a corporate take-over was in the offing. But it could equally refer to any week-end chess tournament.

Å CEO must combine analysis and research with creative thinking to lead his company effectively. A military leader has to apply his knowledge of human nature to predict and counter the strategies of the enemy.

Of course the fields of the business and military worlds are limitless compared to the confined sixty-four squares of the chessboard. But its limited scope makes chess a versatile model for decision-making. The standards of success and failure in chess are strict. If your decisions are faulty, your position deteriorates and the pendulum swings toward a loss; if they are good, it swings towards victory. Every single move reflects a decision, and with enough time, you can analyze to a fine certainty whether each decision you make was the most effective.

Even in the complex real world, this kind of objective analysis can provide a great deal of insight into decision-making - which ultimately is the key to your success or failure. The stock market and the gridiron and the battlefield aren’t as tidy as the chessboard, but in all of them, a single, simple rule holds true: make good decisions and you’ll succeed; make bad ones and you’ll fail.”

NEXT WEEK: Personal lessons

from the World Champion

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