Attorney General Bob Ferguson talks chess – Leadership Firesides 2018

Attorney General Bob Ferguson talks chess – Leadership Firesides 2018


I think the key things is — and here’s your first chess analogy — is that when when you play chess it teaches you so much about how to handle defeat. Because a great thing about chess is there is no referee, there’s no weather that impacts the game, there’s no teammate who can make a mistake, and as a result you don’t win. The game starts off relativity easy. If you don’t make a mistake, you don’t lose in the game of chess. Which, leads to one important conclusion: If you lose in the game of chess, you only have one person to blame, and that is yourself. There is no element of luck in the game of chess at all. If you lose, it’s on you. Which I think is a really useful thing to wrap your mind around at a young age. And so, if you want to get good at chess, the most important thing you have to do, and every good chess player in the world does this, is you intensely study your losses. Intensely. It is the most important road to success and I’ll tell you one story where I thought I did that: When I was 18 or so, and I was very serious about chess, and there was a guy — this is many years ago now — who defected from Bulgaria when that was a Soviet Bloc country. An internationally famous chess master, a champion of Bulgaria, famous guy, he defects and decides to live in Seattle. This is pre-internet. So for me this is, “Oh my God, one of the best players in the world is living in Seattle,” and he becomes my chess trainer. I remember the first time I had a chess lesson with this guy, Dr. Minev, great guy. So, he asked me to bring my games, recent games that I played in tournaments. You write down your moves and you can go over them. It’s like watching film for a sports team. And so I carefully picked out some games to show him. I wanted to show him my best stuff, right? I mean I’m excited to show this guy. So we sit down and he says, “okay let’s look at your games,” and I picked up a score sheet and he says, “That game, did you win that game?” I go, “Well yeah, of course I won this game it’s a great game. I beat Jones in 25 moves, I sacrificed my knights — it’s a great game.” He goes, “No, no,” he said. “Losses first.” Words I’ve never forgotten. I said, “Well what do you mean?” He said, “We go over your losses first.” So he makes me pick out a game I’ve lost, and back at this time I’m winning a lot more games than I’m losing. I’m doing pretty well. We pick out a game I’ve lost, and we start playing through it. It’s a game that I’d already looked at, and reviewed, and thought I understood why I lost the game. That lesson was about two hours, or two and a half hours, and we spent the entire lesson looking at one chess game. That was it. Went through every single move. But, I realized every lesson started the same way, and I recognized I had not — I thought I had — but I was not really honestly addressing the mistakes I was making when I was playing chess. With his help, I started to eliminate those mistakes, and “losses first” is a good approach. I cannot tell you, when the legal team comes to me and we talk about why we lost a case, I’m not interested in hearing something like, “Well the judge didn’t understand the case, the jury didn’t really get what we were saying, the judge made a bad decision here, opposing council did x.” No. That bores me. That bores me. What did we do wrong? Could our brief have been better? You cannot tell me we could not have improved that. It is so easy, it’s human nature, to blame, or to think someone else made the mistake, right? That caused the failure, instead of honestly looking at what went wrong. I mean really, and so chess is brutal in that way, right? But it teaches you to focus on your mistakes and improve on them if you want to get good. So that was a huge, huge life lesson for me.

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