CHESS, CHOICE MAKING AND MANAGEMENT RESEARCH – PART I

By Prof. T. N. Krishnan
With the blitzkrieg of Carlsen against the (ex) World Champ Anand, the Chess world seem to have shifted back to a youthful era. Not long ago was the pseudonym‘lightning kid’ applied to the ex-world champion extolling his prodigious rise at a young age and his immense speed of play (and analysis). Perhaps age is no longer in his favour, perhaps consistency at the very top and for such long time requires ‘Godly’ effort or perhaps Carlsen was the better player who deserved to win or perhaps all the three … one never knows. For India,Anand’sincredible chess trajectory has done its work by revolutionizing chess with the country now boasting of one of the large contingents of Grand Masters(GM) – a contrast to the time in 1988 when it was anxiously hoped by the chess fraternity that Anand wins the Shakthi Finance Chess tournament in Coimbatore to complete his GM norm requirements (after just having won the World Junior Championship) to get the GM title and become India’s first Grand Master, which he did!
But what is interesting and possibly could be relevance to Managers and Management researchers is to contrast how Chess players make choices, and is there anything which we can learn that can be or cannot be applied to choices made in organizational situations.
In grand old times before the advent of computers, Chess Mate in India and Chess Informantglobally was like a Bible carried by rated Chess players where the printed books carried annotated games which provided useful leads to ‘theories’ and ‘novelties’ that could be applied to forthcoming games. However many of the average players hardly worried about these and believed in ‘thinking through’ the various opening choices and this lead to interesting situations. One of the popular tournaments in 80s was the one held in the temple town Palani in Tamil Nadu (also the place famous for hair tonsure as an offering to the deity), which used to have a huge ensemble of both FIDE rated and unrated players. The FIDE rated players were on top boards which had the time clocks and the vast majority of the ‘normal’ players played without the clocks which essentially meant there was no time restriction in the games played by them. It was normal practice that players wandered around looking at other boards after making their moves. In one of the boards a player realizing that he could make better use of the time taken by the opponent to make his move, went over to the temple, had his hair and beard cut, came and sat back at his table. The opponent protested that this was an impostor and only after the tournament arbiter’s intervention could it be resolved.

We may not be faced with these lively situations at present times – with the proliferation of clocks and online chess repositories containing ‘theories’ and annotated chess games, I guess any decent club player in India is adept at most opening theories and could rattle off the opening moves in quick succession and at the same time pounce on any opening mistakes of the opponent. Theories in the chess context provides a framework for understanding a suitable response to a well-studied chess situation. With calculations as the engine and a single predominant goal for a chess player (winning as the sole aim), computers could perhaps perform better than humans in chess as revealed by the historic match between Kasparov and Deep Blue more than a decade and a half back. They could even challenge established ‘theories’ and suggest new alternatives because of the enormous increase in computing power[1]. The result of the Deep Blue match is not surprising; it is said that the number of possible choices in a game of 42 moves is in multiple billions. Obviously one does not expect any human to do even a fraction of these calculations while making the chess moves / choices. The paradox then is to resolve how does a top ranked player rattle off the moves in a simultaneous match when she/he plays tens of hundreds of opponents at the same time and still win the majority of games?Are there some parallels between choice making in chess and organizational contexts? Possibly not all chess choice-making is relevant to choice making in organizations but there are similarities and differences which we’ll explore.Management researchers (in organizational psychology and human resources) have some interesting insights into these questions.The attempt is to make some broad stroke comparisons and do some loud thinking rather than a thesis.

(to be continued and concluded in Part 2

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