Greengard's ChessNinja.com

Ajedrez y Negocios

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For you hispanoparlantes out there, Chilean GM Ivan Morovic has a varied and interesting website. Much of it focuses on business strategy and how it can be viewed through the lens of chess, something I'm increasingly familiar with now that I'm working with Kasparov on his book project. There's also a short interview with Morovic about his site. The affable Chilean was one of Karpov's trainers for ten years and he attempts to explicate insights gleaned from working with an intuitive player like the 12th world champion.


Hi Mig

When will the book come out? Can you reveal some chapter titles? How useful is it for chess players?

what is his website address????
www.ivanmorovic.com ?
I don't see anything on business strategy - but my spanish is muy mal.

There nothing there about business bstrategy or whatever it is he claims to have.

This was just a friendly plug by the blogmeister.

Nothing about business? Most of the site is about business. How about the entire section called "Ajedrez y Negocios"?


Why is it that anyone who uses the word "blogmeister" posts drivel? Is it a code for troll?

The entire page is just a rambling sales pitch for his "services".

Take this paragraph, for example:

Si un estratega, hombre de negocios o empresario utilizara los métodos de entrenamiento de un ajedrecista y concluyera su base teórica con la práctica sistemática del juego de ajedrez, aplicando los conocimientos adquiridos durante el entrenamiento, descubrirá que su mente encontrará nuevos espacios para el análisis de sus planes estratégicos de negocios y marketing.


If a strategist, businessman or entrepreneur were to use the training methods of a chessplayer and complemented his theorethical base with the systematic practice of chess, applying the knowledge acquired during his training, he will discover that his mind will find new horizons for the analysis of his strategic business and marketing plans.


The rest of the page is similarly contrived and nebulous.

Actually, most business and economics schools teach strategic thinking based on game theory. Those chess players and writers (including Kasparov and Mig) who want to talk and write to business people, beware: Game theory is highly sophisticated and well educated (I mean, with some MBA) executives know the basics. Without knowing GT, chess players have a high chance of stating either trivial or wrong recommendations. I mean, the risk is really high, see, for instance, that Pandolfini´s little book called "Every Move Must Have a Purpose: Strategies from Chess for Business and Life". Nothing deep, nothing concrete, not even a good self-help book.



I once team-taught a "Successful Business Negotiations" graduate course where 1/3 of it was chess instruction. We used chess to teach them an analytical process for decision-making. The other member of the team was a 1500 rated player and his approach was wrong, but the idea was novel. Actually the body of literature is wide in this area.

I like Mark McNeilly's "Sun Tzu and the Art of Business" because it has so many "chess-like" cases of how companies compete against others. When I took a Marketing Strategy course in MBA school, the professor used Von Clausewitz's war theories to discuss business strategies. Being a chess player, I loved it. Stuff like... you need at least a 3:1 advantage in resources to engage in a frontal assault. Perhaps this is one reason Microsoft is able to crush (or absorb) so many competitors.

Sometimes companies will use phony experimental projects only so competitors will expend precious resources following their experiments. Sometimes a company can also get "stuck in the middle" when their resources are spread too thin trying to keep up with industry trends. I'll tell you companies do some devious things and corporate espionage is really fascinating.

While a business student at University of Florida, GM Gabriel Schwartzman wrote a few Chess Life articles on the chess-business connection. A few years ago, I wrote an article titled, "Chess and Business Strategy" where I discussed some of these issues. Not my best work... time for an update.


The Kasparov book isn't a bunch of generalities using chess as a metaphor, although that aspect isn't ignored. It focuses mostly on decision-making, the process of formulating strategies, and the coaching aspect of doing these things better.

There are countless obvious analogies with chess and military, business, politics, just about anything. These can be interesting in a superficial Malcolm Gladwell sort of way. Going beyond that and using chess as a sort of model, or lens, is the goal of the Kasparov book. Its limitiations make it an ideal laboratory in many ways since things play out quickly, over and over again, and can be objectively analyzed later.

But there is nothing superficial about the literature that is out there... not even Game theory that was mentioned above is very well-defined and gets into some really sophisticated modeling. IM Noam Elkies did an interesting paper on Game Theory and Chess Endgames, but it was pure mathematics. Kasparov is adding another angle that I would suspect, is more applied.

I mentioned that I was involved in a class where chess was used as a decision-making model. It was not through telling the class about a bunch of metaphors, but through application... using decision trees, heuristic tables, etc.

There are tons of studies on chess used as a practical model for a number of applications. Of course, there needs to be more empiricism in these experiments. I was only involved in the class for two semesters and didn't collect any data on it and couldn't run any numbers.

I would be interested to see how Kasparov's thesis can be applied with some empirical research.

I can't see any reason to mix game theory with chess and strategy models. While chess has mathematical elements, it's not backgammon. Any utility I can imagine coming from mixing the two would have very little if anything to do with how chess is played, which of course is the point of Kasparov's book. Chess pieces and the board have long been fodder for books and studies, but they aren't about chess, the game and sport.

Some of the decision-model stuff is interesting, I've gone through much of it, but what Garry is doing isn't about making it into a mathematical model, almost the opposite. Personal experience and a large coaching element toward the end (how you can figure out and improve your own strengths as a decision-maker and achiever) are the emphasis. But there is quite a bit of theory, mostly focusing on parts that his business speech audiences have shown the most interest in.

It's a general audience book, not intended to wow mathematicians or chess players. There are sections on fantasy/creativity, calculation, intuition, etc. The memoir element should contain enough chess dope to interest most fans, although of course some of the stories are familiar and won't include the sort of details hard-core players might prefer. The editor winces every time jargon is used, so it must be slipped in quietly and in context. Tricky balance, but interesting.

I cut off my first sentence accidentally. Should've ended...

"...not even the metaphorical references."

Anyway, I have a better idea of what you're saying about his book. I can't avoid thinking about the former President of the WTO Supachai Panitchpakdi. An admirer of Tigran Petrosian, he once remarked how chess helped him in negotiating. Here's what he said,

"It's easy to trace the parallels between chess and negotiating strategies -- trying to think five moves ahead of your opponent, trading castles for pawns, all played with a measure of calculated patience. In trade negotiations, "bullying tactics are for the Stone Age."

Looking forward to Kasparov's book.

Standard game theory is actually less about math (it's just described mathematically) and more about economics and human behavior. (My former husband is a professor in Operations Research.)

One of the typical examples is the story given in A BEAUTIFUL MIND, where the 3 male friends in a bar see 3 women walk in together. If they all try to get a date with the prettiest one, the odds are that all will fail. If they instead work cooperatively, they can each end up with a date.


The reason that traditional game theory does NOT apply to chess is it doesn't assume fixed sequential turns. In fact, there's a whole section of the theory that deals with choosing NOT to move, moving simultaneously, racing the other person to the move, etc.

The concepts of public information, hidden information, and intentionally giving misleading information are also big components of game theory, and again can't apply to chess on the board.


There is a separate mathematical study called Combinatorial Game Theory which is used in some computer science courses, but it usually has to deal with very simple games like tic tac toe. Chess and Go are generally held to be too complex for it to apply. (But again standard Game Theory can deal with much MORE complex situations than Chess, because of the three ideas of many players, optional moves, and less than perfect information.)


So Kasparov should at least be aware that many business schools and publications will probably say that the forced sequential move character of chess (I move, then you move, and we both have perfect information) is what makes chess a less than perfect model for business, and standard Game Theory much more appropriate.


There are some counter arguments. One of the first that will come up, I would think, is that for a professional, chess is not about winning a single game, but rather about winning an event.

In a round robin/all play all, for example, there are many competitors, and the decision to offer a quick draw in one game might be seen as a "pass" from the event standpoint.

Fischer's argument, of course, was that he had less than perfect information because the Soviets had agreed on an event strategy against him that he was unaware of.

The problem is that in these cases, standard game theory probably already describes the situation off the board.


So I think the answer to the relevance of chess to business in its ability to offer something distinct from standard game theory is both more subtle, and more interesting.

Chess (and Go in timed games), requires a human to make a near perfect calculation with a FINITE amount of time independent of what the opponent does.

Most game theory assumes that the player's decision about when to move (or if to move at all) is affected mostly by the moves of the other players. There is a goal, certainly, but it's really up to the player to choose whether to go for it today, tomorrow, or next year. Or not at all.

Yet in business, there are some decisions every day that must be made "against the clock" regardless of whether the other players are acting.

For example, if a tax amnesty expires on March 1st, some decisions must be made by that date even if a longer time period would provide better information.

If a company has announced that it will close the bidding process for a specific job on June 1st, then you have to "make your move" (or pass) by that date, regardless of what your competitors do.

It's true that game theory discusses how to evaluate the cost of lost opportunities.

But I'd suggest that competitive chess gives people the specific experience of knowing that IF they had more time they could make a better decision, but because time is limited, they have to make a decision now.


Really good chess players learn not just how to judge lost opportunity cost, but how to manage THEMSELVES in the circumstance where they know that they are making an imperfect decision.

They learn to know their own strengths and weakness not just on the board but in decisionmaking itself. And I think that that set of skills are the ones that are most applicable to general business.

In other words, Game Theory tends to tell you what moves will give you the best odds of success in a world of many players, imperfect information, and the ability to pass altogether.

But competitive chessplayers at the highest level test their deepest analytical skills against a clock as well as an opponent. (The presence of perfect information in some ways makes this harder, because the pressure to be perfect adds additional stress.)

So what they learn is how to manage themselves during the process of making decisions. Instead of looking for the theoretically optimal, they look for choices that they know support their own strengths, and sidestep their own weaknesses.

A player who has "nerves of steel" may invest more time, knowing that he/she can handle time pressure calmly. A player who has "nerves of glass" (in Marc Crowther's words) might choose to make a less than perfect move now in order to preserve clock time for later.

We often talk about the psychology of the opponent, and that's a common topic in standard Game Theory, because it deals with the probability that certain moves will be made (or not).

But to truly succeed in chess, the player has to
deal with factors of his/her own psychology just as much. The decision on whether to complicate or simplify, play defensively or aggressively, even whether to keep Knights or Bishops, has as much to do with knowing how we ourselves will make decisions under pressure later in the game as it does with guessing what our opponent will do.


Every business book has two audiences. First, there are the highly qualified experts who will review the book. Their approval or disapproval has a great deal to do with sales.

Then there are the everyday readers. But in the business world, even if they haven't taken courses in game theory, they're fairly sophisticated simply because of the other books and magazines that they read, and because of the business experiences they have. Yet in the end they aren't looking for interesting theories, but for practical ideas to help improve their business performance.

So to be a success, you have to not only get past the experts, you have to offer something of direct value to people who are insisting on a practical return on their investment of time and money.

There are a lot of books out there on how to make a good business decision. The game theory ones are likely to be the most accurate, but may be too complex to implement in the real world.

But I don't think there are very many that deal with how to recognize and manage your OWN decisionmaking strengths and weaknesses in a business context.

I suspect that a really great chessplayer has a unique opportunity to say, "These are practical strategies, because they've been tested in competition. This isn't about an abstract perfect process, and it isn't about therapy to make you feel better. It's about managing yourself to make better analytical decisions in a high stress situation."

And that, I think, could be interesting to both the pundits and the practical businesspeople.

for what it's worth,

wait a minute... Duif is a chick?? What the hell do chicks know about chess?? I think that completely invalidates this entire extremely well written and interesting article.

There is also the other exogenous factors. A chess player test analytical prowess against the opponent, the clock and other environmental factors.

I believe your point about the problems of move-by-move order vs. game theory is incisive. In fact, I remember reading an article about CEOs not being able to keep up with the pace of the business cycle powered by the network economy. This is because they sometimes have to make several moves in a row before seeing the reaction from the market. No game theory in effect.

One other issue in business is the idea of the "value chain." In business, the company is producing a product or service; in chess, the player is producing (hopefully) an advantage to convert to a desired outcome. The chess players get one move at a time... to meet an objective while the CEO may have to make many moves in a row.

The concept of a value chain assumed that the decisions are happening in somewhat of a linear fashion (which is similar to a chess game - this happens after that), but the "value web" (See book "Digital Capital") shows that many decisions are being made simultaneously before the effect is known. You're right Duif... this throws the game theory for chess on its side a bit.

One question though... how does a player know he's/she's making an imperfect decision? Are you suggesting it is because of limited time and resources? What is the outcome in a chess game... win, lose, or draw, right? However, if a chess player wins, are the move-by-move decisions imperfect? He/she achieved the outcome desired, right? Are we also questioning whether the move-by-move sequences are correct or perfect? or just the outcome? or both?

It would be interesting to see what type of literature Kasparov has drawn from. BTW, I'm one of those business reviewers you talked about. (smile) I'm reviewing "The World is Flat" by Tom Friedman now. No game theory in there!


My former husband (who works with game theory, among other things), says that game theory CAN be applied to chess, but all it can say is that a solution is possible, not what the solution is! That is, it can define chess as finite. But can't tell you what move to make.

He agreed in principle though that game theory generally doesn't take into account the psychological imperfections of the decisionmaker, so he thought that yes, a top level chessplayer could bring something new to the discussion in that sense.

As for what I meant...I think most of us know that struggle between using the clock well and finding the right move. Sometimes we know that if we spend more time we could strengthen our evaluation--but we also know we just don't have the time. So we make a move knowing that it may not be the best one.

Because most of the time we're still many moves away from the outcome of the game. So being able to continue to make decisions after we've HAD to move on from a position where we would have liked to spend more time is also an important skill.

Managing THAT kind of decision making, knowing not only our own imperfection but how we deal with that imperfection, as well as how we deal with stress, how we deal with an advantageous or disadvantageous situation, in general how we ourselves make decisions under pressure, is something that I think can be applied to many fields.


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    This page contains a single entry by Mig published on July 19, 2005 2:38 AM.

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