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How Life Imitates Chess: Making the Right Moves, from the Board to the Boardroom Hardcover – September 25, 2007

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Editorial Reviews Review

In his 22-year reign as Grandmaster, Garry Kasparov faced more than a few tough choices under the heat of chess competitons. This is a man who knows a thing or two about making smart decisions, and since his retirement in 2005, Kasparov has put his powerful strategic thinking to work in business and politics, showing that a simple reliance on instincts can guide you through even the most complex challenges. With no shortage of wit or eloquence, he's answered our hardest questions about what factors can make or break a decision-making moment. --Anne Bartholomew

Questions for Garry Kasparov Why do you think decisiveness is such an elusive skill for people to master? Are there simply too many choices? What’s a good first step for negotiating your options?

Kasparov: It’s true that today we are faced with greater complexity in almost every aspect of our lives, from global competition in the business world to more options for entertainment. The connected world has flooded us with a limitless supply of data, and equally limitless choices. One of the problems this has created is that it creates the illusion, or delusion, that we can achieve perfection in our decisions by accumulating more information. It’s too easy to blame faulty decisions on imperfect information, but information is always limited in some way, as is the time available to make our decisions. Forget perfection! Decisiveness comes from the courage to trust your instincts. The more you trust, the more you’ll build up that intuition and the more accurate it will become, creating a positive cycle.

Before you lay out your options, what we might call considering your next move, you have to have a solid understanding of the present. Evaluation is more important than calculation. Rushing into narrowing things down to a list of options is itself a form of making a choice -- and if you do that, you can prematurely rule out important possibilities. Stop looking ahead for a moment and examine the current state of affairs. Good decisions come from a solid understanding of all the factors that come into play. Once you have tuned your evaluation skills and learned to put the options on hold for a moment you’ll often find that difficult decisions become obvious. Taking a holistic view of your career, do you recall the moment you identified your talent for thinking strategically? Is it possible for you to separate that sense of yourself from your identity as a chess champion?

Kasparov: In the world of competitive chess, or any sport for that matter, everything is relative. Your results tell you about your talent. How can you identify a talent that goes untested? That’s one reason I’m so passionate about trying new things and about encouraging others to leave their comfort zones. I was fortunate in that my status as world champion brought me into contact with world leaders, top executives, authors, and other luminaries. I very much enjoyed these exchanges, learning about these other worlds. It also gave me the chance to share my own thoughts, something I’ve never been shy about doing. I’m sure they had to humor my impetuousness on occasion! But often they encouraged me and I discovered I had a knack for making unusual connections, a way of seeing the big picture that wasn’t limited to the chessboard.

Until my retirement from chess in March 2005 it would have been nearly impossible for me to separate myself from my chess identity--other than love for family and friends. But since then I have moved into several entirely different worlds. I’m at the table as a politician, or writing editorials, or lecturing about strategy and intuition in front of business audiences. My former chess career still precedes me in these settings, but they aren’t humoring me anymore! Actually, the biggest step was working on this book, which forced me to consider the mechanics of my own mind beyond chess. I had to ask myself if I really had something to offer and then figure out how to express it concretely. The positive reactions of my lecture audiences also helped in this regard. Playing chess competitively no doubt requires huge reserves of passion, patience, and discipline. For those readers who haven’t experienced the kind of rigorous training that competitive chess imparts, can you recommend some good ways to practice strategic thinking?

Kasparov: We all do it every day, the difference is that it takes discipline to become aware of it. In the book I ask the reader to consider all the significant decisions they made that day, that week. You don’t have to be a chess player or an executive to benefit from improving your decision- making process. We make hundreds of decisions just to get through each day. A handful are important enough to keep track of, to look back on critically. Were they successful? Why or why not? We can train ourselves, which is really the only way. Did you ever find during a particularly difficult match that it was hard to prevent your emotions from clouding your decision-making ability? What was your strategy for coping with stress or anxiety in that kind of situation?

Kasparov: Emotion is a critical element of decision-making, not a sin always to be avoided. As with anything it is harmful in excess. You learn to focus it and control it the best you can. I’m a very emotional person in and out of chess so this was always a challenge for me. When I sat down at the board against my great rival, Anatoly Karpov, it was a special occasion. I knew it, he knew it, and we both knew the chess world was paying special attention. We had such a long and bitter history that it was impossible not to bring it to the board with us every time we played.

On some occasions this anxiety created negative emotions like doubt. More often it generated greater creative tension, greater supplies of nervous tension, which is a chess player’s lifeblood.

Usually when you are under stress there is a good reason for it. Learning not to get anxious about things beyond your control is a separate issue. So don’t fight stress, use it! Channel that nervous energy into solving the problems. Sitting around worrying isn’t going to achieve anything and the loss of time will often make the problem worse. Even in the worst case, mistakes of action teach you much more than inaction. Forward! If you could choose five people, living or dead, to play you in chess, who would they be?

Kasparov: Don’t you know I have retired as a chess player? Well, I will go with you to the middle with two and a half opponents.

4th world chess champion Alexander Alekhine (d. 1946) was my childhood chess idol. The book of his collected games was my constant companion. He was a player of limitless imagination and combativeness. Some aspects of his pre-WWII-era chess would be considered antique today, but his talent is timeless. Just sitting at the board with him to analyze and share ideas would be like a youthful dream made real.

My next player requires a change of date as well, since I am now retired. In the period of 2001-2002 I felt I deserved a rematch against Vladimir Kramnik, who took my title in 2000. I was still the top-rated player in the world, the obvious top challenger. So I would choose a 16-game match against Kramnik--in 2002.

Last on my list is a chessplayer who is most definitely dead. Even if chess has by now passed it by, I would take a tiebreaker match against Deep Blue. I won our first match; the machine won the second. Then IBM made sure there would be no chance for a rematch. This time everything would be out in the open, no black boxes. Of course chess machines are considerably stronger today. It would still be pleasant to gain revenge and set the record straight.

(photo credit: Todd Plitt)

From Publishers Weekly

With millions of serious chess players and Kasparov a regular in international news headlines, a business manual by the champion-turned-activist seems a no-brainer. Kasparov discusses each element of chess and strains to find parallels in life and the boardroom. Yet the book is surprisingly serious and readable, even if those who persevere won't necessarily be convinced that chess is an ideal laboratory for the decision-making process. While offering real insight into the game, Kasparov offers somewhat less into general decision making, urging readers to be aware of your routines, then break them and emphasizing both precise calculation and intuition and optimism. The author's attempts at chess metaphor are often a stretch: after all, chess matches are one-on-one and win-lose-draw, resembling war far more closely than anything in the boardroom. In fact, Kasparov's examples more often come from the battlefield than from business. Without a more direct business connection, his advice reverts to platitudes (To achieve success, our strategy must be implemented with accurate tactics). More engaging are the author's autobiographical anecdotes about his face-off against IBM's Deep Blue computer and his 2005 transition to becoming a full-time member of the Russian political opposition movement. Kasparov fans will find much to enjoy, but serious business readers should look elsewhere. (Oct.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA; 1st edition (September 25, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1596913878
  • ISBN-13: 978-1596913875
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 10 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (70 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #803,436 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More 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.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

91 of 94 people found the following review helpful By S. Isom on October 9, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I picked this up after being impressed by Kasparov on "Sixty Minutes" a few weeks ago. I wonder if those "publishers weekly" people actually read the book! This isn't really a business book, it's a thinking book. I'm not a chess player but those were the most interesting sections of the book, in that I agree. It's unfair to take out a few inevitable platitudes and ignore the other 95% of the book. There are dozens of business examples, although they aren't explored in depth. But the book isn't case studies. It's about the process of making decisions and finding a way to improve that method in ANY situation. Read the Table of Contents above, which is more than the PW reviewer probably did!

(My favorite sections were "Man vs Machine" on his games against computers and a great story about being beaten at a video game by a little kid. And the "Attacker" sections about taking the initiative.)

This isn't a book of simple tips you can take to work tomorrow if that's what you are looking for. It is full of stories and insights about thinking and peak performance. Kasparov is a chess player, politician, and obviously a history buff, so naturally most of his examples come from those worlds.
(Which are more interesting than most business stories anyway.) In fact, that's exactly what he says at the start, where he says it's up to each person to develop a "personal map". He doesn't pretend to be a businessman or try to make many direct comparisons to chess and business. He learned from chess and explains how.

I found a lot of it useful because it makes you aware of how lazy most of us are when it comes to things like being impulsive, or over-cautious, and unprepared even for important moments. I'm not in the "boardroom" but I've owned my own business and I'm interested in using these ideas. Not with Kasparov's over-the-top rigor maybe, but you don't have to want to be a world champion to learn from one.
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24 of 27 people found the following review helpful By A. Ali on October 30, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Chessplayers who have a life outside chess often draw analogies between the game and life. And who better to do this than a man who reached the apex of the game and stayed there for two decades? Granted, his experience of *real life* is somewhat limited but he frequently utters insightful things. For example, on p.47, he cites Churchill on how courage holds everything together. How often have we seen otherwise talented players collapse in promising positions because they lacked the courage of their convictions? To give another example, he argues that players should seek the positions that play to their strengths -- how often have we seen strong players stumble because they got into the types of postions for which they were ill-suited? To give yet another example, how intuition doesn't operate in a vacuum but is a function of knowledge and experience. And to give yet one more, how each person has to arrive at a very personal understanding of the game (or life) for himself, and draw up a very personal plan of improvement. None of this is new to experienced chess players but it's still very interesting to see Kasparov give his own twist, and back it up with examples both personal and historical. In a nutshell, he argues that when humans play chess, the whole personality is involved: courage (which glues everything together), intuition, strategic drift, judgement, and calculation, and that to hone and integrate all these qualities -- into what we should call "character" -- requires introspection. I found the book a rewarding read.
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22 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Kevin Quinley VINE VOICE on November 14, 2007
Format: Hardcover
After holding the world chess title for longer than anyone in modern history, Garry Kasparov tries his hand at a book that strays from the chess board and ventures into the world beyond - business, political, military, etc. It is a worthy effort that not only does not embarrass Kasparov, it exhibits him as a person of rare intellectual range.

An even better - albeit shorter and pithier book - along the same lines is Bruce Pandolfini's "Every Move Must Have a Purpose: Strategies from Chess for Business and Life." Garry Kasparov cuts against the grain of many (most??) top-flight chess players dwelling in the insular and all-absorbing world of chess. Many top players seem one-dimensional, monochromatic; others seem to be uber-geeks, social cripples or wacked out psychos like the legendary nut case Bobby Fisher.

By contrast, Kasparov shows a rare intellectual range that transcends the chessboard and probes into the expanse of history and business. With his interest and activism in Russian politics, Kasparov has a vision of himself that goes beyond merely being the world chess champion for an unprecedented span of time. He offers insightful lessons from his chess career so that, even if you know nothing about chess, readers can benefit and profit from his book.

If you are a chess fan or player, there is also much here for enjoyment. Chief among these are the inside stories of key games from Kasparov's career, including his multiple titanic struggles with Anatoly Karpov.

Mercifully for the non-chess fan, the book is devoid of the algebraic gibberish (3. ... Nxc3+!!) that populates many chess books.
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