Bobby Fischer, the child-prodigy chess master who, at 29, became world champion and a Cold War icon after he dethroned the Soviet Union’s grand master, Boris Spassky in 1972 — a feat never before, or since, achieved by an American player– has died. He was 64. (This picture is from 1971.)
Chess has long-been a metaphor for business, and there is plenty of strategy to borrow from Fischer — that’s from the chess board, not his life. Beginning in mid-1970’s, Fischer clashed with the U.S. government over politics (Israel; Yugoslavia), ultimately relinquished his U.S. citizenship, and lived out the rest of his years as a near-recluse in Reykjavík, Iceland, the same city where the chess match that had made him famous in the first place was played.
Controversial and erratic as he was personally, on the topics of competition, strategy and tactics he was concrete and productive. For starters, he wrote a book: Bobby Fisher Teaches Chess, which we recommend you read. The New York Times obituary also writes of Fischer’s hallmarks for winning…
In a description that might easily fit the classicly impassioned entrepreneur, the Times writes:
[Fischer] was fiercely competitive — some said he was driven by an abject fear of losing. At the chessboard he possessed the pitilessness of a tyrant — “I love to see them squirm,” he once said of his opponents.
A few of Fischer’s Success Hacks include:
“From early on, he buttressed his penchant for original thinking with monumental study, and he became known for his mastery of the game’s literature. “Practice! Study! Talent!” was his formula for success. In a short time he would become incomparable at all phases of chess, from openings to endgames.”
Others we call by their chess names:
2) The King’s Gambit — an opening strategy in which White sacrifices a kingside pawn to get a quick attack — had long been dismissed as too risky and romantic… The business equivalent would be the free giveaway we wrote about earlier today.
3) The Sicilian Defense: “The epitome of a sharp counterattack by Black.” In business things (other than corporate raiding or greenmail) this would be “the upsell.”
4) The Ruy Lopez :”a slowly building game of maneuver.” We call this execution.
But the best thing said of Fischer’s philosophy today reveals, in fact, a devotion to much more than any game or even winning. Bobby Fisher cared about innovation:
“But Fischer’s argument was that the old ideas were not necessarily bad ideas,” Mr. Pandolfini said [of him]. “They had merely fallen out of favor, and by injecting new thinking into an old idea, you created state-of-the-art logic.”
He also excelled at it, in his own way. Read Fischer’s book for more explanation of good offensive and defensive strategies that have application off the chess board.
And for an early biography of Fischer, we also recommend Bobby Fischer: Profile of a Prodigy, by Frank Brady.