5 Lesson that Chess Can Teach Startups and Inventors

Chess is a mirror of life. There are struggles and opportunities everywhere and it can teach us a great deal about life. Even the simplest lives requires strategy, and startups require even more strategy. Life has rules that can mate you or let you squeeze out of tight spots; and even when you are a Startup underdog life can give you an opportunity that seems too good to be true and you can win if you take it by the throat and learn to make the right moves.


The perfect example of being an underdog Startup on the point of losing everything which became one of the largest companies in the world is Google. Days from having to grow or quit they got their first break with a check from someone that just spoke to them for a few minutes and trusted them with $100,000 even without a contract (they did not even have a company formed and couldn’t even cash the check). Later on they were small and suddenly Yahoo threw them a bone that made them grow exponentially to the point where they left Yahoo behind. At every turn they were minutes from being mated and their strategic perseverance gave them the power to maneuver and survive—not for free they had to strategize and work hard to get everything they got but through passion and doggedness they made it. Even with the many mistakes they made, even fighting against incredible odds they survived and then became the number in the world! It took a grandmaster to provide “adult supervision” but they played the game right with the strategy of putting their ego aside and letting someone else take the reins for a while so they could grow stronger before making their own moves.

This game shown here is far from perfect and that is what makes it a valuable lesson, life is far from perfect and it takes determination and walking to the edge of a chasm and taking the calculated risk to jump across to stay operational. In fact it is a series of mistakes after mistake from both sides which is what happens in our imperfect lives where even grandmasters of life make daily mistakes. It is great in showing these five points that chess can teach us. The game develop similarly to Google’s pattern and of course in our own personal lives there are many things that work the same but in the oft stormy world of a startup these lessons can challenge us on a daily basis. Please do not roll your eyes at the mistakes made, learn from them because life is a series of decision and many decisions lead to mistakes and their corrections and struggle against the odds is what makes us a success!

The game below has at least five lessons to teach us:

Most of the time things look worse than they are.

Startups by their definition are a hatchling with no protection and have very long odds of surviving—disrupting things brings out every predator, every parasite, every opposition against the startup when it is tiny, weak, and has no protection. If I allowed intimidation in this game I would have been intimidated because like a startup everything was stacked against me. My opponent was from Holland who are typically good players, he was rated much higher than me, and I started playing a variation of my favorite opening that I do not normally play—so in every respect I was in startup territory for this game. From the start things looked really bad against me. If I allowed doubts to set in I would have sealed my doom because this was a battle of wits and wills on both sides and the other side was a Goliath against me. Many times the game seemed over and seppuku seemed the only solution, but every time I put the mouse on resign I could not do it and gave it a few more moves on a wish and a prayer that he would make a mistake and the winds turn my way—like the fleshling Google, passion and tenacity carried me through. Even if my sense of “honour” told me to resign, I did not let it take me away from my gut feeling that there was hope. Often hope can mislead you and doom you but many times it can be your savior. The line is thin but sometimes hope leads to success—and what is perseverance against seemingly insurmountable odds if not hope? Situations often appear worse than you think they are and if you focus and keep trying you may be find new wind in your sails and possibly even win!

Even if you make mistakes there is usually a way to recover.

Life has absolutes and chess teaches this too. When you reach a mate there is nothing you can do to undo it and when there is a solid forced mating attack there is nothing you can do to avoid it—so chess is proof that there are absolutes in life, very few but there are. However, short of these two situations there are usually ways to recover from even major mistakes. In this game I did. Recovery sometimes seems like luck such as when your opponent makes a stunning amateurish mistake or when something you had not considered seems to happen by “accident” though these things are usually part of a strategy you initiated that pushed your opponent into the mistake. Whatever the recovery situation, it can happen with just one move, even if you did not notice the ball rolling slowly towards that situation when it started rolling much earlier. Whether it is luck or intelligent design, many many mistakes can be recovered from. Giving up too early can be as bad as not knowing when to give up but life gives you many chances and so does chess! In chess as in life people resign too early without trying to innovate ways to win, knowing when it is futile is important but knowing when there is still a chance is even more important so push on and play to the point when futility wins because resigning before then is losing an opportunity to win.

When in doubt complicate the game to give you a breath of time.

Traditional chess players would fall on their swords when the odds are super long against them as resignation is expected at that point, but entrepreneurs are not traditional about anything and we fight to the bitter end as in the case of Google; seeming “miracles” can rescue you in the last minute! This one is really a restatement rule number 1, but it cannot be emphasized enough. Do not resign too soon, giving up too soon may make you lose more than just a game, especially if it teaches you the wrong thing or lowers your confidence. When in doubt complicate the game to give you time and make it easier for someone else to make a mistake. Face long odds with confidence and often you can shorten them down to your size! In a startup you must keep laser focused and not let any perceived disaster make you give up right away.

Remember even computers make mistakes and humans even more.

Everyone and everything can make mistakes. Even Grandmasters make huge blunders and a low rated player may beat a Grandmaster; only once in 10 million times but it has happened and it will happen—and 1 in 10 million are really good odds for some startups. People make mistakes, people are humans, trust in yourself and work to lower the advantage of the other person. Do not give up too soon and you will win more than you think you can!

Never Ever Give Up—too soon!

All these rules, boil down to this one—Never Ever Give Up! In this game my opponent never gave up he went all the way to mate. I wanted to give up, pointed so many time to the resignation button and always continued because there was the slightest glimmer of light. I made many mistakes and even if he was a stronger player I bet on him making a mistake when I complicated the game and he did make the mistakes that allowed me to win. Life is not predictable and what seems insurmountable turns out to be not so bad because often we look at it through the fog of our fears and misperceptions. There are definite times to give up, but do not panic, do not fear, do not run away…examine the situation well and if there is really no hope do the right thing but if there is a glimmer of hope make things hot for your opponent and pray for a mistake—they happen more than the odds say!

This is the game in case you want to see the lessons in action:


















































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