Monday, December 1, 2008

Learning From Garry Kasparov

It's true. Garry Kasparov can never play poker. His face contorts into a horrible pained look at the moment of trouble.

So what can we learn from Kasparov?

In an interview in, when questioned on the similarities between managers and chessplayers, Kasparov answered,"Among successful managers and winning chessplayers we can talk about skill sets: qualities like calculation, competitive drive, work ethic, and imagination. It goes beyond skills and talent, however, and into the realm of combining, synthesizing, these things. Both groups are also required to see the big picture, to readily acknowledge strengths and weaknesses, and to learn quickly from mistakes."

In other words, Garry comes back stronger than ever by constantly working on his chess and on his mistakes. He is a famed workaholic who loses rarely because he has tremendous drive and determination and more importantly, is ever willing to improve on his chess. It is this potent combination of characteristics that makes him succeed at the highest level.

On his playing style, Kasparov says,"I am an adherent of the analysis trend to which Botvinnik belongs. It was from him that I actually learnt to analyse while playing chess, to search for fresh ideas, to constantly work at perfecting them.

This is a scientific approach, based on profound analysis of the heritage of the past, on the search for new opening variations and methods of play in the middlegame, it is based on working out strategical plans that are new in essence."

When asked on how he handles stress, he replied:

"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."

(Sources: Credit Suisse e-magazine, : How Life Imitates Chess, Modern Chess Instructor)


  1. Kasparov's talk of nervous energy being good in moderation reminds me of something Waitzkin says about handling adverse conditions and distractions during games.

    Phase I is to try to ignore them, stay calm, and play your game. Phase II is to use them as a spark to make you play better. Phase III is to trigger your own spark when nothing is available. He sometimes trained while blaring music he disliked loudly through his speakers as a sample distraction.

  2. I think they both agree a state of perfect calm is not ideal for play. We should be slightly on edge--whether induced by the environment, or created in our own minds.

  3. One has to be a big work aholic (like Kasparov) if one wants to fill the shoes of Kasparov or even Botwinnik. Something many of us, with a regular job in the daytime, cant always bring up in the evening.

    But i agree with Kasparov that one has to deal with stress and learn how to put this stress to ones advantage.

  4. likesforests:

    that's a very interesting not from Waitzkin about handling such situations and it's ironic that perfect calm is not ideal for play. i just read an article from Anand who also mentions something along the lines that tension and pressure is necessary in order to succeed over the board.

    thank you for that insight. most interesting.


    i concur. it has always been a struggle for adult players because of the fact that we have to shuffle between playing chess and putting food on the table.

    that task looks the more onerous when you have a bad day at work and you don't feel like doing anything about chess.


  5. Good nervous energy? Mabybe this is what I'm lacking. I always try to go into a game completey relaxed and I usually do, but I usually play poorly too, so I probably have had it all wrong from the start.

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