How Life Imitates Chess: Making the Right Moves, from the Board to the Boardroom

How Life Imitates Chess: Making the Right Moves, from the Board to the Boardroom

by Garry Kasparov

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Garry Kasparov was the highest-rated chess player in the world for over twenty years and is widely considered the greatest player that ever lived. In How Life Imitates Chess Kasparov distills the lessons he learned over a lifetime as a Grandmaster to offer a primer on successful decision-making: how to evaluate opportunities, anticipate the future, devise winning strategies. He relates in a lively, original way all the fundamentals, from the nuts and bolts of strategy, evaluation, and preparation to the subtler, more human arts of developing a personal style and using memory, intuition, imagination and even fantasy. Kasparov takes us through the great matches of his career, including legendary duels against both man (Grandmaster Anatoly Karpov) and machine (IBM chess supercomputer Deep Blue), enhancing the lessons of his many experiences with examples from politics, literature, sports and military history.
With candor, wisdom, and humor, Kasparov recounts his victories and his blunders, both from his years as a world-class competitor as well as his new life as a political leader in Russia. An inspiring book that combines unique strategic insight with personal memoir, How Life Imitates Chess is a glimpse inside the mind of one of today's greatest and most innovative thinkers.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781596918276
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing
Publication date: 08/10/2010
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 240
Sales rank: 524,578
File size: 433 KB

About the Author

Garry Kasparov grew up in Baku, Azerbaijan (USSR) and became the youngest ever world chess champion in 1985 at the age of 22. He held that title until 2000. He retired from professional chess in March 2005 to found the United Civil Front in Russia, and has dedicated himself to establishing free and fair elections in his homeland. A longtime contributing editor at The Wall Street Journal, Kasparov travels around the world to address corporations and business audiences on strategy and leadership, and he appears frequently in the international media to talk about both chess and politics. When not traveling he divides his time between Moscow and St. Petersburg.
Garry Kasparov grew up in Baku, Azerbaijan (USSR) and became the youngest ever world chess champion in 1985 at the age of 22. He held that title until 2000. He retired from professional chess in March 2005 to found the United Civil Front in Russia, and has dedicated himself to establishing free and fair elections in his homeland. A longtime contributing editor at The Wall Street Journal, Kasparov travels around the world to address corporations and business audiences on strategy and leadership, and he appears frequently in the international media to talk about both chess and politics. When not traveling he divides his time between Moscow and St. Petersburg.

Read an Excerpt




Copyright © 2007 Garry Kasparov
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-59691-387-5

Chapter One


Personal Lessons from the World Champion

When I first played for the chess world championship in 1984, I was a young challenger up against a champion who had held the title for almost ten years. I was twenty-one years old and had risen to the top of the chess world with such speed that I couldn't imagine that this last hurdle could block my way. I was therefore shocked when I quickly found myself down four losses without a win, only two defeats away from a humiliating rout.

If ever there was a time for a change in strategy, this was it. Instead of giving in to my feelings of desperation, I forced myself to prepare for a long war of attrition. I switched to guerrilla warfare in game after game, reducing my risks, waiting for my chance. I could not afford to expose myself in an open clash, so I played cautiously, awaiting my chance. My opponent, fellow Soviet Anatoly Karpov, fell in with my plan for his own purposes. He wanted to teach the upstart a lesson by scoring a perfect 6-0 score, so he also played cautiously instead of pressing his advantage and going in for the kill.

Karpov was also inspired by the shadow of his predecessor as champion, Bobby Fischer. En route to the title he claimed in 1972, the American had scored two perfect 6-0 wins against world-class opponents, both times without ceding even a draw. Karpov had it in mind to in some measure imitate this legendary feat when he altered his strategy against me. But conjuring Fischer's ghost turned out to be a serious mistake.

An incredible seventeen games followed without a decisive result. It appeared my new strategy was working. The match dragged on month after month, breaking every record for the duration of a world championship match. My team and I spent so much time thinking about how Karpov played, which strategies he would employ, that I uncannily felt as if I were becoming Karpov.

During the hundreds of hours of play and preparation I also got a good look at my own play, and at my own mind. Up until that point in my career everything had come easily for me, winning had simply become the natural state of things. Now I had to focus on how I made my decisions so I could fix whatever was going wrong. It was working, but when I lost game twenty-seven to go down 0-5, it looked as though I wasn't learning fast enough to save the match. One more loss and it would be three long years before I could even hope for another shot at the title.

As the match entered its third month, I stayed in my defensive crouch. I wasn't winning, but the change in style had made things much tougher for Karpov. I felt I was getting closer to solving the puzzle, while at the same time my opponent was becoming more frustrated and tired.

At last the dam broke. After surviving game thirty-one, in which Karpov failed to land a decisive blow, I won game thirty-two and went on the offensive. Another five weeks of drawn games followed, but the difference was that I was now creating more winning chances than my opponent. Meanwhile, the world began to wonder if the match would ever end. No championship match had ever gone beyond three months, and here we were entering the fifth. Karpov looked exhausted and I started to press harder. After coming close to winning game forty-six, I won game forty-seven in crushing style. Could there be a miracle? Exactly at that moment the organizers decided the players needed a break, and the next game was postponed for several days. Despite this unprecedented decision I also won the next game. Suddenly it was 3-5 and the momentum was on my side.

Then, in a bizarre twist, on February 15, 1985, in Moscow, the president of the international chess federation (known by the acronym for its French name, Fédération Internationale des Échecs, or FIDE), Florencio Campomanes, responding to pressure from the Soviet sport authorities, called a press conference to declare that the match was canceled. After five months, forty-eight games, and thousands of hours of play and study, the match was over without a winner. We would have to return six months later to do battle again, and next time there would be a limit of twenty-four games. Karpov was removed from immediate danger and could be content that he would hold on to his title a while longer. The official press release stated that Karpov "accepted" the decision and Kasparov "abided" it. A curious but accurate semantic distinction.

I learned a huge amount from this long and grueling tutorial. In fact for five relentless months, the world champion had been my personal trainer. Not only had I learned the way he played, I was now deeply in touch with my own thought processes. I was increasingly able to identify my mistakes and analyze why I made them. From that process I learned how best to avoid making them again, to improve the decision-making process itself. This was my first real experience at questioning myself instead of relying only on my instincts.

I recognized that I had been too aggressive due to overconfidence. This in turn made me predictable. Karpov's vast experience allowed him to exploit my constant attempts to attack his position directly. He understood my play better than I understood his-and, more important, better than I understood my own. Karpov knew that I would consistently give up material for attacking chances, and he used this habit against me in that first match. Only when I began to rein in that instinct did I begin to put up effective resistance. That was the moment I first began to think about why I made the moves I made.

When the second match got under way in Moscow, I didn't have to wait months for my first win; I won the very first game. The match was still a tough fight-I trailed for most of the early stages-but this time I wasn't the same innocent twenty-one-year-old. I had patched the holes Karpov had so successfully exploited at the start of the first match. Now a savvy veteran at twenty-two, I became world champion and went on to hold the title for fifteen years. When I retired in 2005, I was still the highest-rated player in the world, but for a chess player forty-one is old. Still, I had remained at the summit for nearly two decades, while many of my opponents were in their teens.

Becoming Aware of the Process

It wouldn't have been possible for me to stay at the top for so long without the education Karpov gave me about my own game. Not just revealing to me the weaknesses, but the importance of finding them for myself. I didn't fully realize it at the time, but the notorious "Marathon Match" showed me the key to success. It's not enough to be talented. It's not enough to work hard and to study late into the night. You must also become intimately aware of the methods you use to reach your decisions.

Self-awareness is essential to being able to combine your knowledge, experience, and talent to reach your peak performance. Few people ever perform this sort of analysis. Every decision stems from an internal process, whether at the chessboard, in the White House, in the boardroom, or at the kitchen table. The subject matter of those decisions will be different, but the process can be very similar.

With chess having been the focus of my life from such an early age, it is no wonder that I tend to see the rest of the world in chess terms. I find that the game is usually accorded either too much or too little respect by those who look at its sixty-four-square world from the outside. It is neither a trivial pursuit nor an exercise to be left only to geniuses and supercomputers. At the heart of the game is strategy, and that is where we must begin.

Chapter Two


The man who knows how will always have a job. The man who also knows why will always be his boss. -RALPH WALDO EMERSON

Success at Any Speed

Imagine learning how to play chess from a primer that's missing a few pages. The pages you have teach you how to set up the board, how to move and capture the enemy pieces, but say nothing about checkmate, nothing about the end of the game. Learning from such a book, you could become competent at calculation and proficient at maneuvering, but you'd have no higher objectives. Without a goal your play would be aimless. You might be a master tactician, but you'll have no sense of strategy.

The distinction between tactics and strategy will be important to us throughout this section. Whereas strategy is abstract and based on long-term goals, tactics are concrete and based on finding the best move right now. Tactics are conditional and opportunistic, all about threat and defense. No matter what pursuit you're engaged in-chess, business, the military, managing a sports team-it takes both good tactics and wise strategy to be successful. As Sun Tzu wrote centuries ago, "Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat."

Let us begin with the big picture, with strategy. The old chess saying "A bad plan is better than no plan at all" is more clever than true. Every step, every reaction, every decision you make, must be done with a clear objective. Otherwise you can't make anything but the most obvious decisions with the confidence that the decision is really to your advantage.

In the second round of the 2001 Corus tournament in the Netherlands, I faced one of the tournament underdogs, Alexei Fedorov of Belarus. This was the strongest tournament he had ever played in, and the first time we had ever met at the board. He quickly made it clear that he did not intend to show too much respect for the august surroundings, or for his opponent.

Fedorov quickly abandoned standard opening play. If what he played against me had a name, it might be called the Kitchen Sink Attack. Ignoring the rest of the board, he launched all of his available pawns and pieces at my king right from the start. I knew that such a wild, ill-prepared attack could only succeed if I blundered. I kept an eye on my king and countered on the other side, or wing, and in the center of the board, a critical area where he had completely ignored his development, the term we use in chess to describe the deployment of your pieces for battle. It was soon apparent that his attack was entirely superficial, and he resigned the game after only twenty-five moves.

I admit I didn't have to do anything special to score this easy victory. My opponent had played without a sound strategy and eventually reached a dead end. What Fedorov failed to do was to ask himself early on what conditions would need to be fulfilled for his attack to succeed. He decided he wanted to cross the river and walked right into the water instead of looking for a bridge.

The lesson here is that if you play without long-term goals your decisions will become purely reactive and you'll be playing your opponent's game, not your own. As you jump from one new thing to the next, you will be pulled off course, caught up in what's right in front of you instead of what you need to achieve.

Take the 1992 American presidential campaign, the one that took Bill Clinton to the White House. During the Democratic primaries it seemed as if every day brought a new scandal that was sure to destroy Clinton's candidacy. His campaign team reacted instantly to each new disaster, but they weren't only reacting. They made sure each press release also hammered home their candidate's message.

The general election against President Bush followed a similar pattern. Against each attack the Clinton team responded with a defense that also refocused the debate on their own message-the now famous "It's the economy, stupid"-constantly reinforcing their own strategy. Four years earlier by contrast, the Democratic candidate, Michael Dukakis, had become completely distracted by his opponent's aggressive tactics. People only heard him defending himself, not presenting his own message. The 1992 Clinton team knew that it wasn't only about how quickly they responded, but how well their responses fit in with their overall strategy. Before you can follow a strategy, however, you have to develop one.

"Why?" Turns Tacticians into Strategists

The strategist starts with a goal in the distant future and works backward to the present. A Grandmaster makes the best moves because they are based on what he wants the board to look like ten or twenty moves in the future. This doesn't require the calculation of countless twenty-move variations. He evaluates where his fortunes lie in the position and establishes objectives. Then he works out the step-by-step moves to accomplish those aims.

Imagine doing that regularly at work, or even in your private activities. We all have hundreds of personal and professional objectives, but they are usually vague, unformed wish lists instead of goals that can form the basis of a strategy. "I want to make more money" is like saying "I want to find true love" or "I want to win this game." A wish isn't a goal.

To take a practical example, almost everyone at some point desires to find a better job. Only when you have a thorough understanding of why you want to change should you begin. Maybe it's not just the job, maybe you need an entirely new career. Or perhaps you can make changes at your current workplace. You won't know what you are looking for until you are aware what conditions will satisfy you.

When you do begin your search, your guide is that list of intermediate objectives that add up to your goal of "better job." For example, if money isn't your biggest issue in your current position, you shouldn't be tempted by a job that offers more cash but won't change the things that are really driving you crazy where you are now. So for every move always ask "Why?" and continue to ask it every time you come up with an answer or a new idea. It's an essential part of the chess player's discipline that can be applied to just about every pursuit in life.

These intermediate objectives are essential if we are to create conditions favorable to our strategy. Without them we're trying to build a house starting with the roof. Too often we set a goal and head straight for it without considering all the steps required to achieve it. What conditions are necessary for our strategy to succeed? What sacrifices will be required? What must change and what can we do to induce or enable those changes? And most important, why are we doing what we're doing?

In his book on Japanese business, Kenichi Ohmae summed up the role of the strategist this way: "The strategist's method is to challenge the prevailing assumptions with a single question: Why?"

"Why?" is the question that separates visionaries from functionaries, great strategists from mere tacticians. You must ask this question constantly if you are to understand and develop and follow your strategy. When I watch novice students play chess, I'll see a terrible move and ask the student why he played it. Often he'll have no answer at all. Obviously something in his brain pushed that move forward as the best choice, but it goes without saying that it wasn't part of a deeper plan with strategic goals. Everyone would greatly benefit from stopping before each move, each decision, and asking, "Why this move? What am I trying to achieve and how does this move help me achieve it?"

Chess clearly shows us the power of "Why?" Every move has a consequence; every move either fits into your strategy or it doesn't. If you aren't questioning your moves consistently, you will lose to the player who is playing with a coherent plan.

* * *

Let us now turn our attention to tactics, the method of carrying out your strategy. Imagine a day trader who must decide "Buy or sell?" a dozen times a day. He looks at the numbers, analyzes as much as he can, and makes the best decision possible in the limited time available. The more time he spends, the better his decision will be, but while he is thinking, the opportunity to decide is passing. It's a difficult position. But his concern is mainly tactical, not strategic. Effective tactics result from alertness and speed, this is obvious, but they also require an understanding of all the possibilities at hand. Experience allows us to instantly apply the patterns we have successfully used in the past.

Tactics involve calculations that can tax the human brain, but when you boil them down, they are actually the simplest part of chess and are almost trivial compared to strategy. Think of tactics as forced, planned responses, basically a series of "if-then" statements that would make a computer programmer feel right at home. "If he captures my pawn, I will play my knight, to e5. Then if he attacks my knight, I'll sacrifice my bishop. Then if ..." Of course, by the time you get to the fifth or sixth "if," your calculations have become incredibly complex because of the sheer number of possible moves. The chance of making a mistake increases the further ahead you look.


Excerpted from HOW LIFE IMITATES CHESS by GARRY KASPAROV Mig Greengard Copyright © 2007 by Garry Kasparov. Excerpted by permission.
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