Briefings Magazine

The Game of Kings (and Queens)

Chess has become the new business school.

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By: Meghan Walsh

Sabrina Chevannes is the founder of Complex Creative, a full-service creative agency in London that has worked with the likes of Fitbit and Pirelli. But the 37-year-old cut her creative teeth within the linear confines of 64 two-toned boxes, better known as a chessboard. “You learn the rules, basic strategies, different openings and endings—but then you adapt and play to your opponent. It’s a game of creativity,” says Chevannes, who is a Woman’s International Master and Chess Olympiad winner and who has modeled her business career after her highly successful chess career.

Chevannes no longer competes professionally. Instead she’s focused on coaching younger players and corporate clients, illustrating the leadership acumen to be gleaned from this ancient game of exceptional complexity. It’s a message that’s resonating as chess reaches all-time highs in popularity.

Beyond well-known executives, like Peter Thiel, who have long played at penthouse parties, these days professional football players keep boards in their lockers, saying the game helps to better read defenses on the field. Chess is the material of wildly popular YouTube, Twitch, and TikTok influencers. While the boom started in early pandemic days with the Netflix hit series The Queen’s Gambit, it’s only continued to grow. has more than 150 million members, up from 100 million in December 2022.

(click image below to enlarge)

While chess may have originated some 1,500 years ago, the game is ever evolving. One of the men to shape the modern manifestation is Bob Rice, who facilitated the first televised speed-chess tournament and human versus computer match-up. When in 1997 IBM supercomputer Deep Blue beat then-world champion Garry Kasparov, many said it was the end of the game. Turns out, it was the start of a new era.

In 2008, Rice, a longtime Wall Street lawyer and now managing partner of Tangent Capital, wrote Three Moves Ahead: What Chess Can Teach You About Business (Even If You’ve Never Played), a book that is perhaps more relevant today than ever. The title, he says, is meant to be ironic, since thinking three moves ahead of the average middle-game position would include considering 4.5 billion possibilities. “It illustrates a fundamental misunderstanding of how chess—and how business—works,” says Rice, who conveys his age in decades playing: six.

Garry Kasparov (left) and Sabrina Chevannes (right) plotting their next moves.

As the last few years have shown, there is no crystal balling into the future. There is only playing to advantages and disadvantages, says Rice. Players and executives must work backward from the dream outcome to the current move and repeat that process every turn, because circumstances are continuously changing. “Chess is not a matter of, ‘I’m smarter than this person,’” Rice says. “It’s the ability to iterate.”

Many thought computers would destroy the humanity of the game. Instead, technology democratized, even expanded it. Anyone anywhere can learn and practice with the perfect opponent. And because computers have taught humans to be more technically solid, says Rice, that has fostered more creativity. “The latest thinking of society and how it views itself gets reflected in patterns of how chess gets played,” Rice says.

Like Chevannes, Rice says the thrill of chess comes when he spontaneously sees the board from a new perspective, forming a clever, unique idea. “You don’t will it,” he says. “The idea suddenly comes. It’s exhilarating.”


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