If Grand Masters do it, so should you.

Nerd alert!

I like chess.

In fact, there was a time when I was a member of the Manhattan Chess Club.  I even took lessons from this guy, who at one point in his incredible career beat Bobby Fischer.  And yes, I’ll admit, one time I got beat by a 9 year old (in my defense, this kid was the Justin Bieber of the Chess Club, and had the IQ of a mini Stephen Hawking).

One of the first rules that I was taught as I learned the game was to write down every single move I made, and every single move my opponent made.  And later that night, study it.  Even if I won.  What would have happened if I moved my queen the other way?  Or sacrificed a bishop?  Or taken a pawn?  What if, what if, so I’d be better prepared next time.

It sounded like a great lesson for those looking to get better, like me.  But then I went to my first major tournament, and watched as the top 1% in the chess world, the Grand Masters, did the same thing.  After each calculated move, they wrote down their choice, and then their opponent’s.  And they sometimes gave lectures about how the game went, and the “what ifs.”

The idea being that if you’re looking to make chess a part of your life for the long term, you should learn from every move you make, so you can make better ones in the future.

You see where I’m going, right?

If you’re looking to make the theater a part of your life for the long term, you should learn from every “move” you make, so you can make better ones in the future.

When I produce a show, I keep a diary of notes.  I jot down what works, what doesn’t.  This way, when I’m faced with a similar decision or a similar show, I’ll have a history book to look through to make sure that history does or does not repeat itself, whatever I so desire.

If you’re just in this biz to play a quick game, well, don’t worry about it . . . and maybe you’ll win and maybe you’ll lose.

But if you’re committed to a career, then keep track of every damn move you make, so you can learn how to make better ones.


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  • Victoria Medina says:

    My father was a master chess player and I learned how to play when I was seven. I love the game. My father use to play by mail and he won several tournaments. It was a joy to see his name listed in the official Chess Life Magazine. My dad was also so dedicated that he beat the first computers he purchased and my oh my did he keep notes. He would also cut out the games in the New York Times and study them like crazy. This is such a great suggestion. Thank you so much for sharing how you have incorporated this technique into your business!

  • Chess is best game ever, a game that rewards concentration, memory, boldness and planning, a game where skill trumps luck. Luck only comes into play if your opponent misses a move. In a coffee house in West Hollywood I once played a grand master (with the unlikely name of Nero) to a draw. Boy was he pissed and in the next three games he smashed me up. But it was still a great night. I don’t consider my game any great shakes but we must play a game or two or twelve sometime. Hey…see you at the theater tonight. John Paul

    • Rich Mc says:

      Pretty close to the mark, but actually (statistically – vastly more wins) in any given game ‘Luck’ goes to the player who draws the White pieces. I wrote a play about it: 1. White Wins!?

      Beyond this, and to Ken’s point, while the wisdom of recording one’s ‘moves’ is equally applicable to chess or theater, the broader point (that I feel Ken would also embrace) is that the strategic thinking embodied by chess is very transferable to Broadway production. In a competitive theatrical/business environment the savvy producer must anticipate competitive ‘ moves’ and respond accordingly, sometimes with a gambit or a temporary sacrifice. It’s what makes Theater & Chess unequaled in World gaming!

  • Being a chess enthusiast myself in childhood, I was not good at any other sports. I was a geeky young boy, too shy and silent. I could not answer teacher’s questions without stuttering, my homework essays were dull and short (I was afraid of practically everything). But chess made me feel proud, I felt that I lived in another world: all figures were like friends to me.

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