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How Life Imitates Chess: Making The Right Moves, F

by Garry Kasparov
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Product Details

  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
  • Publishing date: 30/09/2008
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-13: 9781596913882
  • ISBN: 1596913886


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)

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  • Wonderful & Insigtful Book!
    From Amazon

    Very real thoughts, ideas, and calls to action that keep the reader moving through the pages. Even if you're not a die-hard chess fan, it's very relevant to the times & world we live in. I've recommended this to everyone I know as the best book I've read all year!

  • In an ideal world this would be an excellent book...
    From Amazon

    I wouldn't agree you could interchange"chess" with any other sport or action, after all chess relies purely on thinking and you get clear results. If one of the world's greatest mathematicians ever wrote a book saying How Life Imitates Mathematics, then I would be interested in a similar way. To me it sounds intriguing, one of the world's greatest minds casting his analysis on what made him reach such levels of greatness. But the reality of the book doesn't turn out so well I'm afraid. The main gist of the book goes something like: "We shouldn't be too aggressive, this was a lesson I learned back when I was playing Karpov for the first time. I had to pay more attention and caution to my play after that and was better for it. Petrosian used this style of play really well. You should wait for the right moment, this disciplined approach will serve us well in the future and in life overall. So we should be cautious, however being aggressive gives a big advantage as Alekhine and myself have shown through such and such a game. The lessons learned from aggression can pay off in the future. Each player has a different style, such as Tal being a tactical player with Karpov being a more positional type of player. So we should stick to our styles and try to get our opponent at what they hate. However we should also be flexible and know when to switch to another style when the time is right. Always focus on the given situation and stick to it because it's what's important and we can't study everything, but always have the bigger picture in mind at all times. Hard work and study and analysis and concentration on the position... (then later) At times relax and allow your mind wander to a novel idea" Most of the writing is good, although as stated above you have to wonder if it's not just contradictions. At one point Kasparov talks about how chessplayers (and people in real life) playing (for example) a supercomputer would be dealt a big psychological blow and depressed from losing 9-0 no matter who it is, unless they have a huge ego or no ego at all. Which is it then? Even if you bend the meaning of the word ego to mean "spirit of trying to win" it still doesn't make sense. If they had a super ego or no ego they'd be fine but not if they had somewhat of an ego... Why is Garry Kasparov one of the best chessplayers ever? The truth isn't what we would like. The truth is constant practice and study from a very young and most importantly of all: a huge or very efficient (in an unexplainable, physiological way) brain. The anecdotes, stories and history, things like that I found interesting. Did I learn and enjoy things in this? Yes, although it wasn't that much material. But as for will my life be better and improved for reading this book? Sorry Garry, but I don't think so. To be fair I don't usually like "self-help" books, but this is one of the ones I actually read and enjoyed, while skimming over much of the material. He referred to cable news a few times and I actually think Garry Kasparov would be a great cable news speaker. He was really good on Bill Maher. I believe he can get to the heart of the issue like that, however he doesn't say much about politics in the book.

  • The Mindset Behind one of the World's Most Brilliant Strategists
    From Amazon

    Accessing the minds of those who are considered genius is an intriguing concept, but most often I have discovered such books to be a letdown as most are unable to convey their brilliance. Garry Kasparov, considered by many to be the best chess player of all time, has that perception of genius. I was pleased to discover that his mater-of-fact writing style enabled him to surpass this common hurdle and elegantly express the complexities of his deep thinking, strategies, and general principles of success. Although one of the most impressive tactical players in history, Kasparov communicates the critical importance on strategy outlined in a quote by Sun Tzu, "Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat." The separation between analyzing problems and assessing the actual existence of problems is given extra importance, as Kasparov makes it clear that long term vision trumps short term tactics. "If you play without long-term goals your decisions will become purely reactive and you'll be playing your opponents game, not your own. As you jump from one thing to the next, you will be pulled off course, caught up in what's right in front of you and instead of what you need to achieve." In chess there is an immense amount of strategy, focus, and diligent study that is behind the game, and these principles are true in life as well. Strategy is only a single element covered in this book, as Kasparov relates all his principles with numerous chess examples, metaphors, and real world applications. How Life Imitates Chess is filled with considerable insight and profound concepts, and considering the source, the lessons are invaluable.

  • Nothing Really Groundbreaking
    From Amazon

    Garry Kasparov is truly a very interesting person, a chess genius, a businessman, and a politician. Unfortunately, the book's lessons appear somewhat forced and disjointed, the stories are a little hard to follow, and his principles are nothing new - same stuff, different author. I didn't find any grand inspiration, insight or earth shattering revelations here. Just OK.

  • Nothing Really Groundbreaking
    From Amazon

    Garry Kasparov is truly a very interesting person, a chess genius, a businessman, and a politician. Unfortunately, the book's lessons appear somewhat forced and disjointed, the stories are a little hard to follow, and his principles are nothing new - same stuff, different author. I didn't find any grand inspiration, insight or earth shattering revelations here. Just OK.

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