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The Unthinkable...And The Mundane, by Garry Casparov

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  • The Unthinkable...And The Mundane, by Garry Casparov

    Chess and courage are not ordinarily linked together, and rightly so. After all, chess is a game; it's not a matter of life or death. Watching any match suggests as much: Nothing appears to be happening-just two people looking, thinking, and occasionally leaning forward to make a move. The most physically demanding act in the game may be punching the button that starts your opponent's clock.
    Still, when I think about my life's work and passion, I understand that it is, of course, more than a game. It demands if not moral or physical courage then at least boldness and daring. Without those qualities, in fact, a player-even a great player-cannot hope to advance to the top ranks.
    Ultimately what separates a winner from a loser at the grand-master level is the willingness to do the unthinkable. A brilliant strategy is, certainly, a matter of intelligence, but intelligence without audaciousness is not enough. Given the opportunity, I must have the guts to explode the game, to upend my opponent's thinking and, in so doing, unnerve him.
    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 commodized. So, yes, a sort of courage is paramount. But that courage must be tempered by other less-glamorous qualities.
    For one thing, the game requires the discipline to think beyond the present-and beyond yourself. You must consider not just your side of the board but also your opponent's. For every move you ponder, you must mentally calculate your opponent's response-not just the immediate one, but those 10 or 15 moves ahead.
    At the highest levels of chess, before you touch a piece, you are playing out an entire game of moves and countermoves in your head. In effect, you are thinking for two people. In business, too, successful strategists think not just about their won products, pricing, and marketing but also how their rivals will respond-and how to respond to them. Can you imagine not doing so?
    Smart executives, correspondingly, must understand that their competitors are at least as smart as they are. Only the most arrogant fail to acknowledge that they do not have a monopoly on brainpower, ideas, or will. In chess, I know that my rival sees everything I see. Even if I do the unthinkable-a bold, unprecedented move calculated to leave him gasping-I must assume he has anticipated it and will have an equally daring answer. Call it the courage to accept humility.
    And for all my talk of boldness and daring, great chess players cannot lose sight of the mundane details. In business, you might call this blocking and tackling-the everyday operations that, if left untended, will undermine your organization. One ill-considered move, or nonmove, seemingly inconsequential at the time, can leave you hopelessly behind.
    A few years ago, at a tournament in Linares, Spain, I fell from certain victory to eventual defeat, all because I didn't take a pawn. It would have been a simple pro forma move, requiring little thought, more like stalling. I thought I could take the pawn anytime, so I focused my energies on other parts of the board. But then the board became messy and complicated, and suddenly it was too late. I realized that I was losing because I didn't have the daring to make a rudimentary move.
    This is the beautiful tension that defines chess-that distinguishes between the unthinkable and the mundane. In either case, though, the outcome of the match hangs in the balance. Each move has game-changing consequences, which is why each requires patience, elegant thinking, and respect for your opponent. To me, that's an environment that, after all, breeds courageous thinking. I wouldn't have it any other way.

    Garry Kasparov.
    'Fast Company' magazine, September 2004 issue, p.83


    Garry Kasparov:

    Kasparov, «kuh SPAHR awf», Garry (1963-...), a Russian chess player, became the youngest world champion in chess history at the age of 22. He defeated defending champion Anatoly Karpov, also Russian, in 1985. He defended his title three more times against Karpov. Kasparov is known for his bold, imaginative style of play.

    Kasparov had long been critical of the Federation Internationale des Echecs (FIDE), the organization that governs chess internationally. In 1993, Kasparov and British challenger Nigel Short broke with FIDE in a dispute over arrangements for the next championship match. They formed a rival organization called the Professional Chess Association (PCA). FIDE then dropped both players from its rating list. Kasparov defeated Short in a title match sponsored by the PCA. He retained his PCA championship by defeating Viswanathan Anand of India in 1995. In 1996, Kasparov defeated an IBM computer in a special six-game tournament. In 1997, he lost to a more powerful IBM computer, called Deep Blue, in a six-game match.

    The PCA dissolved in 1998. In 2000, Kasparov lost to Vladimir Kramnik of Russia in a world championship match sponsored by the Brain Games Network, a British Internet company that focuses on chess.

    Garry Kimovich Kasparov was born in Baku, Azerbaijan, when it was part of the Soviet Union. His family name was Weinstein. He took his mother's maiden name after his father's death.
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