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7 lessons learnt from chess

Sanjay Prasad, CIO, Tata Power, on the value of chess as a way to learn key life skills. By Pooja Paryani

A business-IT industry veteran with more than 35 years in this domain, Sanjay’s mind has been honed from an impressionable young age by the 64-square game. He’s used what he’s learnt from the board game to continue to develop a holistic understanding of business, strategic and tactical imperatives with execution capabilities across different environments. For his achievements, Sanjay was recognised as a Utilities Icon in CIO Power List 2016. Here, he talks to us about how the game of chess has moulded his thinking and helped him on his way.

“I was introduced to chess at a very young age in school; I picked it up from my father and an uncle,” says Sanjay. “I learnt playing with the Indian rules, which are a little different and slow relative to the FIDE (Fédération Internationale des Ḗchecs) or international rules. Gradually, in school I got used to the international rules. As per Indian rules, the pawn always makes one move, even at the start. However, Indian rules allow two distinct moves as against one in the FIDE format. Also, Indian rules allow the King to make a tactical Knight move prior to being checked (akin to a FIDE castling).”

Sanjay has been a school and university chess champion, and led his university team at the national level. And whenever there’s opportunity and time he participates in corporate chess competitions. His first brush with a professional contest had him achieving a distinction as a junior during his school days in the Alekhine Open Chess Tournament, which boasts of rated players.

1. Underpinning strategy, patience is a virtue
“Though the ultimate goal is to capture the King, in the early days I used to get a sense of achievement with the immediate capture of a piece. Gradually I learnt to look ahead, be patient and formulate a strategy and understand the opponent’s mind, especially where sacrifices were concerned. This has helped me gain control over the game and my mind while taking a decision. Chess starts with a set of rules that is the same for all. Similarly there are rules within organisations and guidelines in the marketplace. It’s how we forge a strategy within the given set of rules and yet take advantage of the competition or the situation is what sets us apart.”

2. Respect competition
“No matter how good a player you might be, you need to respect your opponent, his knowledge, and gauge his playing style. The objective of playing the game is not just to conquer pieces but also to apply strategies, think about the game, and be a couple of steps ahead. You will win or lose depending on your strategy, so you need to weigh in as many options, and aim to think ahead of your opponent. Chess has taught me to really think things through and not impulsively take decisions all the time.”

3. The beginning is as important as the end
“Chess broadly has three stages: the opening, the middle game and the end game. So well begun is your task half done. In the start there aren’t as many variations on the board as in the crowded middle game where territorial domination is key. This is true of the game as well as in the market; you need to be competitive in both spheres. If you go wrong at the start (which is not the same as strategically playing a more defensive game, especially when you are playing black, or when a football team needs to play for a draw to get a weaker opponent in the next round), the recovery later on becomes difficult. There are good players who can draw even from a seemingly difficult situation—that also requires holistic understanding of the board.”

4. Time is of value—be adaptive
“Chess also teaches you time management. You have to make certain moves in the given time, yet also be patient. There are set time deadlines, and set moves, all of this helps you value the time you have and use it to the maximum. Chess was always like Test Cricket in terms of time crunch or lack of it in the early days—each player was given 2.5 hours to make 40 moves; which then moved to a quasi ‘T20’ format—in fact ‘Chess T20’ preceded Cricket T20 long ago with Rapid Chess or Blitz, which is like Sudden Death, where time decides the winner. Therefore, it helps you adapt from the classical to the tight time format where you get to value time as a resource.”

5. Decisiveness is important
“When you start playing, a good coach will tell you that one cannot retract a move (which we sometimes do in friendly, practice or computer chess games). In competitive chess you cannot undo your move—‘Touch and move’ is the motto. So this teaches one to pause and think, but once done be decisive and committed, while playing chess or at work.”

6. Elements of team play
“While it is largely thought to be an individual’s game, chess also teaches you about playing in a team. There is also a strategy part outside the board game where you need to work out who plays the stronger boards in a team match (typically four members) by studying the team composition of the opposing team. It is somewhat analogous to Davis Cup Matches where you decide who plays the singles (and reverse singles) and doubles.”

7. Concentrate, concentrate, concentrate—it’s a mind game after all
“It is important for a chess player to concentrate as if you get distracted you might simply lose the game. Alertness of mind is very important without being overly stiff. Analysing every step your opponent takes and deciding your next move is completely dependent on your concentration and alert mind.

“I am at the very early stages of exploring a chess board with four players to be played as doubles team as in Carrom or cards. This hones your skills of foresight and co-ordination in delivering as a two-member team. I’m still fine-tuning the idea as it requires a lot of patience and time to constructively reorganise the chess board, respecting its 64 squares and not making a Chausar script.” 

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