Influence of Chess on Business Acumen

Gideon Gartner on Chess

Gideon's Grand-Daughter Clementine, playing chess

I played chess as a child; my father introduced me to the game (and I suggest all fathers follow suit). I managed to make the chess team at Midwood High and barely at MIT. Might the experience then, and subsequently, have influenced my lifetime entrepreneurship skills? I think so, and since the competition for making school chess teams is not that insurmountable, fathers might do well in supporting this extra-curricular activity in kids as early as possible!

Consider:

  • Establishing an appropriate “opening” chess strategy is a precondition for success in the “middle” and “end game”,  just as developing life strategies early is certainly helpful in later developing personal and business habits which facilitate success.
  • I believe chess ties in to the importance of being creative when developing entrepreneurial attributes. After all, one must be quite innovative in worming oneself out of various complex chess positions to achieve advantage!
  • Establishing “preconditions” is as essential in life as in chess. At each step both the chess player and the budding entrepreneur must identify and evaluate: the “status quo”… incremental moves to achieve near-term advantage… setting up a defense to prevent imminent competitive attack, and so forth.
  • Assessing the relative merits of an opponent’s chess position relative to one’s own is very similar to how an entrepreneur must assess a new idea vs. both current practice and potential near-future innovations by others.
  • Reconsidering one’s strategy frequently during play to maintain or obtain advantage even when one seems behind, is much like what an entrepreneurial businessman must creatively and continuously pursue.
  • Courage in breaking “new ground” in one’s life may be preconditioned by one’s experience from playing chess: in either case, whether it’s the sacrifice of a chess piece or changing a business tactic or strategy, these must be analyzed with regard to likely ramifications.
  • Operating within limited time-frames in life is essential, as in chess played with time clocks; but this should also be balanced by frequently looking as far ahead as possible while concurrently hypothesizing scenarios which consider how others will react to one’s moves…

I can cite examples from my life in virtually every example cited above, and I believe so could most other entrepreneurs and successful business people who play chess, if they tried. I do not mean to suggest that games such as backgammon, bridge and others do not develop life disciplines. I play or played several, and I believe that bridge (which is generally learned later in life than chess) also develops life skills and is particularly good at developing teamwork. It’s just that chess seems more linked to strategic success. I do not mean to minimize Go, Pinochle, and other worthy games. But chess is king!

Hint: Purchase the book “Three Moves Ahead” by Bob Rice, available on Amazon, for a comprehensive discussion of why, as Bob states,  “the greatest strategy and knowledge game in human history is so relevant to today’s business issues”. It can be found here.

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