Listen to Your Intuition | Business Lessons from the World Chess Championship Match Carlsen – Karjakin, Part 6

Carlsen - Karjakin, Tiebreak, World Chess Championship, New York 2016After 12 games of the world chess championship between Magnus Carlsen and Sergey Karjakin the score was 6-6, and a tiebreak became necessary to get a decision in the match. The tiebreak on Wednesday, 30 November, consisted of four rapid games with 25 minutes plus 10 seconds increment per move for each player.

With such a relatively short time for a whole game, systematic and deep calculation becomes less important and intuitive move selection more relevant. And this is where Carlsen excels. In his own view, his excellent intuition is the success factor that characterizes him the most. And as the tiebreak has illustrated, Carlsen’s intuition works particularly well in games with short time limit.

In the first game, Carlsen comfortably equalized with the black pieces and reached a safe draw. In the second game, he outmaneuvered Karjakin and reached a winning position. But then he made several mistakes and allowed Karjakin a Houdini-like escape into draw through stalemate.

By game 3, Carlsen’s intuition had reached its peak: in a complicated game, he seized the initiative with Black and found an intuitive pawn sacrifice that gave him excellent practical attacking chances. Due to a blunder by Karjakin under time pressure, the pawn sacrifice was swiftly rewarded with a win for Carlsen. In the 4th game, the desperate Karjakin, who had to win with Black and, thus, sought complications, never had a real chance: Carlsen made fast, confident moves and kept a significant advantage with White. In a brilliant final blow he sacrificed his queen to checkmate.

In all four games, Carlsen generally made his moves much faster than Karjakin. In 2013, at the age of 22, he told “The Guardian” in an interview that he usually knows after 10 seconds what he wants to do – the rest is checking. Sometimes he just feels a move is good, without being able to explain why.

Carlsen’s outstanding chess intuition is in my view not a gift provided predominantly by his genes. It is rather the product of a lot of practice, deep understanding, and a fabulous memory. Wherever his intuition is coming from, it helped him secure his third world champion title in chess exactly on his 26th birthday.

Business lesson

Learn from Carlsen and listen to your intuition. This is the seventh success principle from my book on the seven success principles of chess masters (only available in German yet), and it is probably the one success principle that makes the difference between a very good player and a real champion. In a business context, executives often pretend that their decisions are mainly driven by hard facts and calculation. Quite often, their decisions are rather driven by intuition – everything else is just checking.

In order to develop an outstanding intuition, executives need to first gain a lot of experience and consciously reflect their experiences, in order to gain a deep understanding of the interplay between the various factors in their business environment. Despite all the available hard facts, executives need to make decisions based on intuition. Being aware of this and listening to your intuition when making important business decisions can make a positive difference for your career and the success of your organization.