Book review: “How Life imitates Chess” – Garry Kasparov


By coincidence, I downloaded this book before I got interested in Play Magnus a few months ago. However this clearly motivated me to move the book to the front of the reading list…..

Garry Kasparow has been named as one of the greatest Chess players of all time and became Chess world chmapion in 1985 at the age of 22 and held the title over 15 years. After his chess carreer, he surprisingly went into politics. As a funny side note: Kasparov was involved in founding the first online chess company in 1999. In between he coached younger chess players, for instance Magnus Carlsen in 2009.

In this book, Kasparov tries to transport strategic lessons from Chess into fields like business, politics and investment. In between he also covers his greatest matches, hardest opponents (Karpov !!) and the lessons he learned both, from victories and defeats.

Kasparov is smart enough to state in the beginning, that reality is much more complex than chess, however a lot of the concepts he introduces are applicable outside of chess. He really offers a lot of useful “mental models” for any kind of decision making process.

I especially liked his thoughts on strategy vs. tactics, trying not let oneself be distracted by the competition and the role of Talent. One of the best parts of the book was where he explains that he often “sacrificed material” in matches to gain a better strategic position. This reminds me for instance about the strategy of companies like Liberty and Amazon to invest everything back into the business, “sacrificing accounting profits” and with this gaining a significant strategic advantage.

Also his differentiation of a chess position into the factors “Material”, “time” and “Quality” looks like a really useful concept also for investment analysis. “Material” for instance would be the historical accounting numbers, time and quality speak for themselves. He stresses that the overall assessment is the most important step and that for instance only focusing on material can lead to bad outcomes.

In one of the personal parts of the book, Kasparov admits that he still thinks that IBM cheated on him when he lost against “Deep Blue” in 1997.

Overall, there is nothing groundbreaking new about strategy in this book, but it is written from a very interesting perspective and this again is sometimes much more valuable than anything else.

Therefore I can highly recommend the book to anyone interested in strategy, decision making and of course chess.

A few very good Quotes from the book:

“The ability to push yourself to the limit day after day……is a talent we should all try to cultivate”

“The keys to great preparation are self-awareness and consistency. Steady effort pays off, even if not always in an immediate, tangible way”

“It doesn’t take long in chess or any other pursuit to realize there is much more to life than material.”

“It is comforting to stick to what you know, and you are often unaware that a problem can be seen from a different perspective”

“Problems arise when we begin to rely on patterns for more sophisticated decisions in our lives.”

“One weakness alone is rarely enough to cause defeat.”

“Overthinking numbs our instincts and turns what should be a quick decision into a mental committee meeting,”

One comment

  • Thanks for the interesting book review as always.
    As for the Kasparov -Deep Blue match i think it’s very unlikely that their were GM’s interfering with the moves of Deep Blue.
    The supposed case of this given in Game 2 is not at all convincing. Also it doesn’t seem likely that IBM would have take such a risk. The reputational damage if IBM was caught cheating would be quite big.

    Having said that, it is definately the case that IBM behave very unsportmanlike and did not see this as a science project as they claimed. As an example it is known from an interview of GM Illescas, who worked on the Deep Blue team, that they changed the security guard to a Russian speaking one so they could eavesdrop on what Kasparov discussed with his assistant.

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