If you follow Charlie Munger, Warren Buffett’s partner and Vice-Chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, you would know his love for a mental model called “Inversion” or “Thinking Backwards”. Charlie quotes Jacobi (“Invert; Always Invert”) and says that a lot of problems could be solved by inversion – that is, by inverting the problem statement and answering the inverted problem, which leads to the solution of the original problem. For example, he says, if you want to be loved and respected, prepare a checklist of all qualities that put you off. And avoid them!
Munger himself tells this story: “I have a physicist son who has been trained more in the type of thinking I like. And he immediately got the right answer, and here’s the way he reasoned: It can’t be anything requiring a lot of hand-eye coordination. Nobody 85 years of age is going to win a national billiards tournament, much less a national tennis tournament. It just can’t be. Then he figured it couldn’t be chess, which this physicist plays very well, because it’s too hard. The complexity of the system, the stamina required are too great. But that led into checkers. And he thought, “Ah ha! There’s a game where vast experience might guide you to be the best even though you’re 85 years of age.” And sure enough that was the right answer. Anyway, I recommend that sort of mental trickery to all of you, flipping one’s thinking both backward and forward.”
Note: The 85-year old person Charlie was referring to was Asa Long (1904 – 1999), an American checkers player, winner of multiple US Championships, spanning more than sixty years, and a one-time World Champion.
The reason I was reminded of this anecdote about Chess was the recent news about a new child prodigy, barely 4 years old, named Misha Osipov, who played with World’s oldest Chess grandmaster, 95-year-old Yuri Averbakh – and defeated him!
There are many “WOW” aspects about this story, so let’s go slow. World’s oldest Chess grandmaster, 95-year-old Yuri Averbakh still very much active and playing chess is the first extraordinary thing – which links to Charlie’s story. Viktor Korchnoi a Soviet and Swiss chess grandmaster was considered one of the strongest players never to have become World Chess Champion. He was very active and strong chess player till he died in 2016, at age of 85. Korchnoi became the oldest player ever to win a national championship, when he won the 2009 Swiss championship at age 78. He won the national title again a few months after his 80th birthday in July 2011. So Korchnoi and Yuri Averbakh are the exceptions to what Charlie Munger said.
Now the next extraordinary thing! Misha Osipov, the young (actually an infant) child prodigy from Russia, played with former World Chess Champion Anatoly Karpov (66 years old) when he was just 3.5 years old. Though Misha lost the blitz game (5 mins game), he played very strong chess (for a 3.5 years’ old). You can watch his game here:
You can also watch a cute interview of Misha here:
But that was not enough. If playing against a Chess Grandmaster at age 3 is an amazing achievement, winning against another Chess Grandmaster at age 4, is a 1000x more amazing achievement! (In fact, a billion times…). And the Grandmaster who lost was also another marvel – 95-year old Yuri Averbakh. You can watch the video and the game here:
Chess is probably the only sport where a 4-year old can compete with a 95-year old and defeat him!
José Raúl Capablanca y Graupera (Havana, Cuba, 19 November 1888 – New York, 8 March 1942) was a Cuban chess player who was World Chess Champion from 1921 to 1927. He was also a child prodigy and started playing at very early age with his father and defeated him when he was just 4. Here is a photo of 4-year old Capablanca playing with his father (year: 1892).
That was an amazing achievement, no doubt! But see the progress the Chess world has made since then. Today Misha not only plays well at 4, he has beaten a Grand Master!
You should read Garry Kasparov’s new best-seller “Deep Thinking: Where Machine Intelligence Ends and Human Creativity Begins” (Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Deep-Thinking-Machine-Intelligence-Creativity/dp/161039786X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1504506916&sr=8-1&keywords=deep+thinking+garry+kasparov ). Kasparov talks about his match with IBM’s Deep Blue and the evolution of chess playing machines and what it means for humanity. Not specific to chess, but in general. When you see examples such as Misha you know that Humans are still way ahead of any programmed machines.
P.S: You should remember the 2003 game between another child prodigy (13-years then) who drew with former World Champion and one of the greatest players of all time – Garry Kasparov. Here is the video:
The 13-year old prodigy was Magnus Carlsen, today’s World Champion and one of the greatest players of all time! He was a child-prodigy too – so watch out for Misha!