How chess helped me in business

Table of Contents


Chess has changed a lot in recent years. Since the release of the hit Netflix show "The Queen’s Gambit", people's perception of chess has transformed. The competitive scene has attracted new viewers with Magnus Carlsen acting as an amazing ambassador of the game. Additionally, Hikaru Nakamura and others have brought a new level of accessibility and fun to chess through engaging live streams., the leading chess website, showed 355% membership growth from January 2020 to May 2023. The chess board may be the same one I used, but the landscape is very different.

For some context, I used to be a professional chess player and the best player in Canada. I still hold the record of Canada’s youngest-ever Grandmaster.

Reflecting on my own experiences in chess, I had the pleasure of spending time with Magnus and Hikaru, and watching their careers flourish has been fun to witness. Notably, I have an even competitive record against Magnus - consisting of one win, one draw, and one loss from our earlier matchups. I can’t possibly jeopardize that with a return 🙂.

Over a decade has passed since I last played a tournament but chess still remains a key part of my identity. After stepping away from the competitive scene, I ventured into the business world to broaden my horizons beyond the chess board. 

I am often asked if my experience with chess has helped me beyond the game. It certainly has.

Competing against the best players in the world is something I was fortunate to experience and benefit from. Here are three key lessons I took from chess that made me a better manager and leader:

1. Think before you move

In life, as in chess, actions and words have consequences. In chess, bad moves lead to easily quantifiable losses. In business, actions and words have consequences. Taking an individual or team in one direction over another has consequences. Giving feedback in one way or another has consequences. The way we carry ourselves or lead in a meeting has consequences. We have the power to change out inputs in situations, which often change outcomes. Often, what we don’t say or do has big implications. In life, we all have the opportunity to think a few steps ahead.

2. Take care of yourself and deliver under pressure

Some situations are harder than others. Time crunch can be a factor. There might be an important presentation or meeting with stakeholders that feels uncomfortable. How do you keep your composure and deliver the best version of yourself? Playing chess was the most intense and stressful job I ever had. The result of the game is all that matters. A chess game can last up to 7 hours. Early on, my father and chess coaches taught me that feeling and being your best is key for results. As a chess player, I napped and had strict routines during tournaments. I did not enjoy it but this improved my state and overall performance during games. The same applies to work and business. I know that I need my 7 hours of sleep (preferably 8). Exercise in the morning makes all the difference. Chess taught me that maintaining self-care routines helps me remain composed in high-stress situations. When it’s game time, focus and try to enjoy the process. As Billie Jean King said, “pressure is a privilege”. Pressure and discomfort lead to growth.

3. Work hard

Talent is often associated with people at the top of their field. Hard work is often underestimated. I became a Grandmaster at the age of 16 because of hard work. Hard work is sacrifice. I didn’t play video games. I missed school for tournaments and had to find ways to catch up. I worked harder than most opponents before tournaments, before games, during games, and after games. It was often not fun. Games are usually won when nobody is watching. The same applies to life and business. Effort level is a choice and leads to different outcomes.

I’m often asked if I miss playing chess. I have very fond memories of my chess days but I don’t. What I enjoyed most about the royal game was the intellectual stimulation, which I have at work and in business. I also still follow top tournaments online, allowing me to appreciate the beauty of the game. On that note, congratulations to Gukesh Dommaraju and Tan Zhongyi for winning the recent Candidates Tournaments in Toronto and qualifying for the World Championship Matches!

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