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
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.
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 worlds 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.
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 Whats
going on in your head? questions, it would be more
interesting for him to find out.
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.
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
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. Whats
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, youll get a glimpse of these different strengths
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
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, Ive 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. Its
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.
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 arent
as tidy as the chessboard, but in all of them, a single,
simple rule holds true: make good decisions and youll
succeed; make bad ones and youll fail.
NEXT WEEK: Personal lessons
from the World Champion