Viswanathan Anand | Pursuit of victory
Chess calls for patience and perseverance, thinking many moves ahead, and these are similar challenges that a CEO has to face while assessing a market
The fact that business is fundamentally similar to the game of chess is no revelation. With layers of intellect, strategy and foresight, the study of chess as a parallel to corporate life can be incisively engaging. But what would be fascinating is to understand, how one can learn from the other. Chess calls for patience and perseverance, thinking many moves ahead, exploring and experimenting, predicting and interpreting outcomes. These are similar challenges that a brand manager/CEO has to face while assessing a market. In both realities, the focus is always on the end-goal; victory.
While losing a match is terribly disheartening, I can’t deny having learnt much more from failures than success. Analysing a negative outcome provides fresh new perspectives in strategies, control and execution. Using one’s learning as ammunition for the next encounter is probably one of the most important business tools. While attaining the top spot in any field is a mighty challenge, staying there takes absolute resolve. In the context of chess, to retain a top rank, a player should have performed consistently well in tournaments. Identically, for a sales manager, a constant stream of account wins makes him/her competent. If met with a negative consequence, the only way forward is to pick up, prepare and strike again...with a better game plan!
Assess and fight risks
Every world championship match is a great challenge. Bonn in 2008 was, in a way, the first match for me in a long time. I decided to switch to d4 almost soon after winning Mexico 2007. It was a risky decision that served me well. Sofia, Bulgaria (2010) was different for me in every manner—the opponent, his manager and the venue. To aggravate things, there was a 40-hour bus journey and a hostile environment. The match had more decisive games since Veselin Topalov’s style was more “all-in”. In the last game, however, I was able to get a victory and retain the championship. To draw a parallel, for companies, there may be competitors who are willing to go “all-in” for certain bids/clients, and therefore it will need to be tackled with patience and sometimes with a little counter-risk as well.
While game plans are prepared months in advance, the key to a sound strategy rests on the analysis of the opponent’s strengths. In 2012, Boris Gelfand was the most complete opponent. He didn’t lack anything— experience, match strategy or preparation. This meant I had to consolidate and deliver the best of moves in my repertoire. The contest proceeded to rapids and I can say I played more efficiently in the tie-breaks and held on in worse positions. In the context of business, detailed and well-considered plans alone can be instrumental in procuring deals. Employees, likewise, need to anticipate competition/client behaviour in order to recognize potential strategic opportunities.
The unfaltering preparations for world championship matches can be a psychological drain. This was in evidence in 2012 when my tournament play reached a low that I had never before experienced. In 2013, I made a minor recovery doing well in events, but backtracked in the end. I guess my confidence was at a low when I played Magnus Carlsen, who was fresh, full of confidence and in Chennai. In a way, it was the right match at the wrong time. Somehow, everything just went wrong there and I prefer not to draw too much out of that match, rather look forward to the next. I had to put the setback behind me and rest my mind. I decided to shut the computer and play with my son. To know when to switch off and switch on gives you the ability to rediscover your strengths.
Chess is instrumental in teaching you to not give up when things are not going well. It might be easier to lose motivation when met with a negative situation, but it is doubly gratifying to reverse a bad situation to your advantage. It was in London that I decided to play the Candidates in Siberia. If you have set the bar high for yourself, it is because you believe you can achieve it. I did some training and basically was very conscious of not doing too much self-analysis. When I got to Khanty-Mansiysk in Siberia, I was in a better physical state. I had worked towards losing 10 kilos, felt energetic and eager to continue the streak. But, before the event, the predictions were all against me. It took a lot of conviction to stay focused on the competition. During uncertain times, it is easy for businesses to freeze and wait for economic conditions to calm. But it takes one positive thought to thrive and overcome adversaries. I did, by winning the Candidates!
Keep the momentum
In the first game (in Khanty-Mansiysk) against Levon Aronian, I played confidently and took advantage of his inferior performance. Aronian, otherwise, is a very talented player and in a way, my “bête noire”. I beat Shakhriyar Mamedyarov and Topalov in good games. Against Sergey Karjakin, my closest rival, I stood through a tough defence to keep the draw. I am not sure how much of a win I missed against Dmitry Andreikin—people who see games with computer engines forget that players sit across a board and toil for hours. We see things with a human eye. I was not completely convinced of the winning plan and decided to take the draw. In hindsight, it seemed to be a good idea. Winning Candidates gave me the much needed tournament win. Similarly, wins after a loss or a series of losses for a sales force can turn around the entire work climate to a more motivated one. The key is to build on it and keep winning.
For me getting a chance to play a world championship match within a short period is something I didn’t imagine would happen. People say I showed great courage and ambition in deciding to play the Candidates and actually winning in a very tough field. To me, it was a vindication of my belief that I can play good chess and enjoy playing it. It feels nice to be back in the familiar terrain of preparing for a world championship match. You always know a challenger has a higher motivation to take away a champions title. I think this time I would like to play a match that I will enjoy, both for being there and for the chess.
Viswanathan Anand is an Indian chess Grandmaster and former World Chess Champion.
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