garry_kasparovToday (April 13th) marks the 50th birthday of the 13th World Chess champion, Garry Kasparov of Russia. Garry wrote a book called “How Life Imitates Chess” that I highly recommend – in it he gives a window into his upbringing and his professional life as chess player, and how he not only became the youngest undisputed World Chess Champion in 1985 at age 22, but how he maintained the world #1 ranking for 255 months. It’s a great read because he talks about how his approach to dominating the chess world can transfer into other arenas of life, including his present struggle as political activist advocating for true democracy and human rights as chairman of the United Civil Front in Russia.

Here are some of my favorite quotes from the book:

“The virtue of innovation only rarely compensates for the vice of inadequacy.”

“We must all walk a fine line between flexibility and consistency. A strategist must have faith in his strategy and the courage to follow it through and still be open-minded enough to realize when a change of course is required.”

“Questioning yourself must become a habit, one strong enough to surmount the obstacles of overconfidence and dejection.”

When I read this book, I was struck by how similar playing chess is to visualizing data. Both are activities that present us with a myriad of options, strategies, and tactics – some more well-advised than others. There is a highly experiential aspect, where the more one participates in the activity, the more one has a sense of what will work well in a given situation – a way of narrowing the option space.

I wrote more about my thoughts about the similarities in a blog post called “How Data Visualization is Like Chess“. It was the most enjoyable to write, by far.  One of my most viewed data visualizations is “The Best Chess Openings“, so I know I’m not the only data viz enthusiast who also likes chess.

Follow Garry on twitter: @Kasparov, On Facebook, or his website