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Viswanathan "Vishy" Anand is an Indian chess grandmaster and a former World Chess Champion, considered as one of the greatest chess players of all time. Anand was the first recipient of the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award in 1991–92, India's highest sporting honour. In 2007, he was the first sportsman to receive India's second highest civilian award, the Padma Vibhushan.

Harnessing the full potential of our mind and staying relevant in the context of advances in machines is something that all of us wrestle with as we go through our respective journeys. Chess is a great canvas for us to explore perspectives on these two questions.

During the 90 odd minutes that I spent with him in Chennai, Vishy spoke candidly about how he got into Chess as a career, how he thought about his own development at various stages of his growth, how he harnesses his mind and leverages the right brain and the left brain, how EQ matters as one grows through the ranks, how he stays level-headed and grounded despite his towering achievements, his thoughts on harnessing human potential and more. This conversation was published in Nov 2017. 

Committing to Chess as a career

Vishy talks about how he thought about committing to a career in Chess. He specifically talks about how he didn’t stop his education despite his meteoric rise in the Chess world. He spoke about why he still pursued his undergraduate degree in Commerce on the sides despite his successes on the Chess board on a Global stage. He also talks about the criticality of building social and emotional skills from education and the criticality of open-ness to learning as we navigate the careers of the future.

Early formative years

Vishy spoke about how his habits and attitudes have been shaped by his parents. He also talks about his style of chess being significantly influenced by his parents. He traces his pragmatism on the chess board and open-ness to ideas (in terms of borrowing from other leading minds) as something that possibly was influenced by the style of his parents.

Growing as a player and inflection points

Vishy talks about how his approach to development has changed as he has grown as a player over time. He talks about his approach to picking Coaches that get the best out of him. He also discusses the impact of technology on what it takes to be a successful player while getting the most out of the machines. He talks about the trade-off between specialization and flexibility in this context.

What it takes to compete at the top

Vishy talks about how players need to adapt their style in a world where machines are makin the games longer and more nuanced. He specifically talks about the declining relevance of a dogmatic approach due to the machines suggesting more and more combinations which are possibly outside the realm of comprehension of the average human mind. He also refers to the crucial role of fitness to be able to make sound judgments deep into a game that has only gotten longer with the increasing role of machines.

Understanding the processor inside

In this nugget, Vishy talks about how he harnesses the potential of his mind in being a chess player at the very top over a prolonged period. He talks about how the human mind is like a wild horse that needs to be harnessed carefully. He shares some of his insights on how he tries to get the best of his conscious and his sub-conscious mind in preparing for big games. He also discusses some of his rituals in ensuring that he brings the best of himself to bear in various match situations.

Staying relevant in the world of machines

Vishy talks about how humans should think about staying relevant in a world where the processing power of the machines has become hard to beat by the human brain. He uses the metaphor of Advanced Chess where people compete with each other but with a machine on their side (Human + Machine versus Human + Machine). He talks about the diminishing role of humans in that context. But at the same time he talks about the exciting possibilities that technology has enabled in terms of new possibilities in the game and access to “best in class” coaching and learning.

Performing at the top and being grounded

Vishy talks about the various elements that matter to perform at the highest level in addition to IQ. He specifically discusses the criticality of collaborating with a range of coaches and players. He also shares how he manages to stay present during a game (a trait that Anatoly Karpov used to be a master at with his ruthless Boa-Constrictor style play he says). He also shares how he has managed to stay simple and grounded despite the towering heights he has reached as a Chess player.

Dealing with losses

Vishy discusses his approach to dealing with losses. He candidly talks about how his approach to dealing with losses has not changed significantly over time. He talks about how he tries to clear the baggage of the past to ensure that he is fully present on the Chess Board at any point in time. He also discusses about how Chess is like other disciplines such as Science and History where you are often standing on the shoulders of giants in the context of discovering the next breakthrough.

Identifying and unlocking potential

Vishy talks about what he looks for when he is looking for long-term potential. He talks about the criticality of consistency in performance coupled with an attitude where someone is willing to grind away at a goal. He also discusses the success of academies that have produced a pipeline of talent and juxtaposes that with examples of a Roger Federer emerging from Switzerland or a Magnus Carlsen emerging from Norway.

Parallels between Chess and Business

Vishy talks about his take on the parallels between the Chess board and the world of business. He mentions that in both contexts, the notion of “what got you here won’t get you there” might apply if you are not willing to take a fresh look at yourself and your approach to sport or business. He talks about the importance of tracking what changes in you when you encounter success or failure and ensuring that we cope effectively with the ups and downs whether it is running a company or playing a sport.

In Summary - Playing to Potential

Vishy talks about the criticality of loving what you do in order to sustain the interest and passion and to rise to the very top of the field. He also refers to an Ad where he is shown playing cricket (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zcnGW4nOTBA ) and urges people to pick the right sport. A profound reminder of the fact that for us to play to our potential picking the right canvas to operate is almost as critical or arguably more important than working hard and attempting to scale up.

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