What Chess can teach us about Business Strategy?


Chess is a good metaphor for business competition. It is a violent sport, and when you confront your opponent, you have to crush his ego. The moves you can play in chess and business are very large, as with just 3 opening moves there are 9 million possible positions. For the comparison of business and chess think about how many possibilities are there in business or start-ups for fixing the prices of the product, amount of products, strategies, marketing.

Chess is a battleground on which the enemy has to be defeated at all cost for you to win the game. There’s a finite demand for your product and many contenders that are willing to supply, so in order to capture and retain the market share, top-ranked CEO have to play and win. Chess has become part of the everyday language of Business executives: we checkmate our opponents/ we are just pawns in a game/ we think three moves ahead.

The most accomplished chess player of all time, Garry Kasparov, in an interview with Harvard Business Review talked about his experience with the game of chess and lessons for the business people.

  1. Never underestimate your opponent, always assume that your opponent will see through your strategy and will be ready with a counter plan. Businessman and organizations should also make such an effort on whatever they do, planning ahead assuming that they are totally exposed, but still accomplish the task by creating an atmosphere of confusion to cover their tracks.
  2. Also, through hesitations and pauses, you may communicate to your competitorthat you are uncertain or just not ready. Therefore, always be psychologically ready for your competitor’s strategy and play, he may be going for a disruptive strategy which may wipe you out.
  3. You need to be comfortable playing in the enemy’s territory, if you can convince your enemy that you’re comfortable on their ground, then you can trick them into moving into your own territory.
  4. Kasparov identifies two types of people: one who looks in detail and are very concerned about it, they are very good in operations, therefore, a very good manager as he would excel at operating with small problems on the board, they would maximize your resources; the other are those who look at the bigger picture.

Ending his interview, he said “You must be lucky in your enemies. For me, it was Karpov, Karpov, Karpov. If it were not for Karpov, I would probably be the victim of the same complacency that dooms most other people.”

“ Intuition is the defining quality of a great chess player. It’s often at the very toughest moments of their chess battles—when they had to rely on pure intuition— that great player came up with their best, most innovative moves”, you need to rely on your gut sometimes when you reach a point in business or life.

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Chess also helps in increasing concentration. It could be of use to those who have low concentration span as you need to focus intensely calculating positions and trying to come up with a strategy to checkmate your opponent. Playing chess would also help in elevating your confidence as you now have a way to measure your progress on an everyday basis and you also learn from your previous mistakes which are an important lesson in life also.

The main reason chess is so helpful for memory is that to master chess, you have to learn to expand your working memory capacity to hold a plan for several offensive moves while at the same time holding a memory of how the opponent could respond to each of the moves. The reason improving working memory improves IQ is that you think with what you hold in working memory. The more you can hold, the more rigorously you can think.

“You can’t take your moves back. Once you play your move you could be stepping into some horrible trap.” So think twice before you leap.

Chess is a brutal mental game. So is life. Make your moves carefully.


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