First off, I don’t like to read “business” books. Secondly, I love books which have chess as a theme (though not core chess books). Fortunately for me, Garry Kasparov’s “How Life Imitates Chess” definitely falls in the second category, though not rigidly belonging to the first one.
A chess prodigy, Garri Kimmovich Kasparov earned the right to challenge reigning World Champion Anatoly Karpov for championship at the age of 21. The titanic championship fight would end up lasting almost 5 years, over 120 matches, going through many controversies, which ultimately ended up down the years with Kasparov creating a competing chess. This would create the longest lasting break in the world of professional chess, which he admits was the biggest mistake of his life. After his retirement after almost 20 years at the top, Kasparov is playing a major role in Russian politics, fighting for democracy under oppressive Kremlin rule.
Garry Kasparov uses the lessons learned during his early chess training, during his long climb to and the even longer stay at the top spot to draw parallels between the game of chess and life. He frequently talks about the knowledge gained from his matches (frequently referring to the championship mentioned above), as well as the quotations and experiences of previous greats in the world of professional chess (taken from his book series about previous chess champions).
He talks about how the different stages of game (opening, middle game and endgame) correspond to situations we face in real life, how looking at the game, or preparing for the game helps you prepare for challenges outside. Although different talents, strategies and preparation is necessary for triumph at different stages, the underlying principles remain the same, and it is more important to understand when the stage changes.
During all this, he makes some very interesting points about strategy, tactics, preparation, memory. There are some surprising points about use of imagination, talent vs. (or is it “and”) discipline, even analysis and hindsight, which may seem to be against conventional wisdom. He even devotes a chapter to people who almost made it to the top (the uncrowned “Best Player who never became a Champion”), and what we can learn from them, to avoid as well as to emulate.
Although it is very hard in business books to avoid that “I have read this before” feeling, the occasional use of humour in proper places, as well as how the stories tie up to Kasparov’s personal experiences at the chess board, and in life make all the difference at the end. It also helps that the book never devolves into a "cookbook for success”, as he terms it.
In short, if you need just one reason to read the book, remember that it comes from the pen of a man who survived the brutal psychological world of professional chess, with record time as the top ranking player, with 15 years with highest rating ever.
Quote of the day:
“What if?” often leads to “Why not?” and at that point we must summon our courage and find out.
– Garry Kasparov, on the importance of “fantasy”
P.S. There are two kings on a chess board, each meaningless without other. Calling Kasparov a king, still leaves place for another one. Do I need to say who?