How do you think like a grandmaster?

alex beller ‏@bell_er: has chess taught you more relevant things than school? more worth the HUGE time investment you’ve put into both?


I can write ten posts on this topic. I can write a book or two on this topic and not one mention any actual chess game. I don’t even know where to begin. Chess has taught me so much.

But right now I will just write about one of the things chess has taught me. Last night Claudia and I were in a dilemma. Every year for the past few years we’ve gone to India in January-February. Claudia hates the cold weather. HATES IT. Honestly, I’m worried if we stay up north during those months she might even divorce me, that’s how much she hates it, although she will deny that. And India has other benefits: yoga classes, very cheap, we have a place to stay that is always available to us, the showers in the Dubai waiting lounge in between flights, the food they serve on the plane on the way back, the dosas, the cheap pants I can buy that will fall apart after a year but only cost $6 each.

But this January we have a problem. We are leading a three day workshop starting January 18 at Kripalu. Kripalu is sort of a “wellness resort”. It’s a hotel where at any given time various programs are happening that teach aspects of wellness in one form or other. So no India this year. And Claudia is upset. She started thinking about Florida but was suddenly coming up with all the negatives.

I had an idea. And it was an idea I learned from chess.

There’s a book, “Think Like a Grandmaster” by Alexander Kotov, a successful Russian grandmaster from the 1950s. For a great overview of Kotov’s games I highly recommend the book “Zurich International 1954″ by Daniel Bronstein. One of the best chess boks ever written.

But first, “Think Like a Grandmaster” is a must-read for every young chessplayer. In the book he simply describes how a grandmaster thinks. He says a chessplayer doesn’t look at a position and immediately start analyzing deeply down one path, even if it looks like the most obvious path.

First the grandmaster lists all his options, even if they seem totally ridiculous. List as many possibilities as possible, even if a move looks horrible.

This is great advice. Florida, California, Argentina, India (why not?), South Carolina, Africa, Italy, Mexico, all appeared on our list. We had lots of choices suddenly! We kept trying to think of more. Maybe today we’ll dive deep down each choice and make a decision. Or not. It’s nice to know we at least have many choices and one of them will be a good one. We “thought like grandmasters” and in doing so, reduced anxiety, gave ourselves many good choices, showed that the world was bigger than we thought, and will eventually make a decision that will make our lives better and help our minds to rest easy.

This is just one thing I learned from chess. In another post I will describe more. But for now, whenever you have to make a complicated decision, take a step back and see if you can think the way a grandmaster of life would think.