Thursday, March 17, 2005

Kasparov retires

Garry Kasparov, the highest ranked chess player of all time, and certainly one of the game's greatest champions, is calling it quits at age 41. I have always found Kasparov to be a deep thinker, with interesting opinions on areas far beyond chess. It appears he will take an active role in Russian politics, perhaps even seeking elected office. The excerpts below are from his editorial in the WSJ, announcing his retirement.

"In the past few years I have spent a great deal of time writing a book series called "My Great Predecessors." Studying the development of chess ideas through the lives of the world's greatest players -- such as Emanuel Lasker and my old teacher Mikhail Botvinnik -- made me realize that chess has taught me a great deal about every aspect of life, and that it could do the same for others.

This analysis of chess history synthesized in my mind with my extensive experience of playing against computers. For over 50 years, back to the earliest days of computing, chess has been recognized as a unique cognitive battleground. The world watched my matches with "Deep Blue," "Fritz," and "Junior" as man-versus-machine competitions and a way to see how computers "think." To me they were also helpful in revealing how humans make decisions. These computers looked at millions of positions per second, weighing each one to find the mathematically best moves. And yet a human, seeing just two or three positions per second, but guided by intuition and experience, could compete with the mighty machines.

The nature of the decision-making process is little explored and I have become fascinated with the possibility of using my expertise to illuminate these questions. I am currently working on a book on how life imitates chess, that will be released this fall in America by Penguin. It examines the unique formulae people use in thinking and problem-solving. For example, the way hope and doubt affect how we process information, or the way we perform in a crisis. I hope it will also serve as a guide to improving these processes.

Over the past several years I have made a number of speeches on the topic of chess themes in life, particularly in business thinking and strategy. The response has been overwhelming and enlightening and I am extracting a number of valuable parallels. For example: the difference between tactics and strategy; how to train your intuition; and maintaining creativity in an era of analysis. In particular, the topic of intuition is intriguing. When I analyzed a 1894 world championship game between Lasker and Wilhelm Steinitz, I also looked at their post-game analysis and the comments of other top players of the day. They all made more mistakes in analysis than the players had made during the game! The intuitive decisions of the players during the game were correct in most cases, and more often so than when they had all the time in the world to analyze later.

The more time I spend exploring the limitless realm of human thought, the harder it becomes to contain my energy within 64 black and white squares. The huge amount of work required to stay at the top has led to diminishing returns both for me and for the chess world. Every year it takes more study time to keep up with my young competitors, who have all followed my methods of working ceaselessly with computers to prepare. Opening variations must be analyzed to depths of dozens of moves and you carry around a "mental database" of tens of thousands of moves that is constantly updated."

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