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April 03, 2005

Kasparov on Business and Chess

Kasparov_2The April edition of the Harvard Business Review has a great interview with Garry Kasparov, the recently retired World Chess Champion.

The interview explores the rich territory of chess as an analogy for business strategy/competition. It is a way worthy read for all and below you’ll find a scalpel/suture of my key takeaways from the interview.


Kasparov on … Chess as an Analogy for Business Competition

“There’s a massive amount of uncertainty and almost boundless variety in terms of the moves you can make in both chess and business. Think about it: After just three opening moves by a chess player, more than 9 million positions are possible. And that’s when only two players are involved in the game. Now imagine all the possibilities faced by companies with a whole host of corporations responding to their new strategies, pricing, and products. The unpredictability is almost unimaginable.”

Kasparov on … What it takes to be a Grandmaster CEO

“There is nothing cute or charming about chess; it is a violent sport, and when you confront your opponent you set out to crush his ego. The world chess masters with whom I have competed over the years nearly all share my belief that chess is a battleground on which the enemy has to be vanquished. This is what it means to be a chess player, and I cannot imagine that it is very different from what it takes to be a top-ranked CEO.”

Kasparov on … What Businesspeople can Learn from Winning Chess

”The first rule is: Never, ever, underestimate your opponent. Whenever I am playing at grand master levels, I always, always assume that my competitor is going to see everything I do—even when I plan to make an unexpected move in order to confuse him.”

“It’s also critical to keep a psychological edge. I am not a big fan of pop psychology, but I do believe that getting the other guy off balance is a real skill. You have to go on fighting even if you are in a winning position—in fact, especially if you are in a winning position.”

“You also have to make yourself comfortable in the enemy’s territory. If you can convince your enemy that you’re comfortable on their ground, then you can often trick them into moving into your own territory.”

Kasparov on … Intuition in Chess (and Business)

“… it takes more than logic to be a world-class chess player. Intuition is the defining quality of a great chess player. That’s because chess is a mathematically infinite game. The total number of possible different moves in a single game of chess is more than the number of seconds that have elapsed since the big bang created the universe. I can think maybe 15 moves in advance, and that’s about as far as any human has gone. Inevitably you reach a point when you’ve got to navigate by using your imagination and feelings rather than your intellect or logic. At that moment, you are playing with your gut.”

“It’s often at the very toughest moments of their chess battles—when they [great chess players] had to rely on pure intuition—that great players came up with their best, most innovative moves.”

Kasparov on … Staying Competitive After Accomplishing Everything

” Where does a virtuoso go after he has accomplished everything that he’s ever wanted to accomplish, even beyond his wildest imagination? This is the question for all world masters, whether they’re in business, sports, or chess.”

"I call it the champion’s dilemma, and it’s a real problem for people and companies at the top of their game. In the end, I believe that there is only one answer: You must be lucky in your enemies.”

“For me it was Karpov, Karpov, Karpov. If it were not for Karpov, I would probably be the victim of the same complacency that dooms most other people. But in Karpov I found my archenemy, whom I had to fight. He never gave me the time to enjoy my title.”

“Without Bill Gates, Steve Jobs would surely not be the man he is today. If Karpov had not existed, you might not be talking to me today.”

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Comments

Fast Company magazine had an essay by Kasparov eight months ago in its courage issue that touched on the intersection of chess and business strategy. Here's the link:

http://www.fastcompany.com/magazine/86/kasparov.html

Good add Don. I'd forgotten FC included Kasparov in its 'Courage' issue.

After re-reading it ... I resonated with the following from Kasparov:

"So it is in business: One does not succeed by sticking to convention. When your opponent can easily anticipate every move you make, your strategy deteriorates and becomes commoditized. So, yes, a sort of courage is paramount. But that courage must be tempered by other less-glamorous qualities."

Excellent post. On the champion's dilemma and Kasparov's conclusion: You must be lucky in your enemies, from a slightly different perspective, surround yourself with talent and you will elevate your own game.

Thanks for the great post. I had skimmed my new copy of HBR and seen the article, but your post made me dig it out immediately. I loved what Kasparov has to say about intuition - for me, that's the best part. I'd love to hook his brain up to an MRI while he's playing and see how much of the right brain lights up while he's intuiting future moves!

Kasparov's view are razor sharp and accurate in many sense! Thats why he is a true Living Legend

"Being Lucky against your Enemy's Will" is true to the perspective of every businessmen, Lust of every chess player and for different people trying to mix and match both..

Thanks for this great Post!

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