Ruefet Gambar, Staffing Coordinator in our Bonn office, has been playing chess since he was five years old. He tells us how the game allows him to stay connected and calm, and explains that in a world of countless possible outcomes, anyone can succeed when they put their mind to it.
Ruefet, thank you for joining us to talk about an increasingly popular passion: chess. We heard that you have been playing for quite some time and would consider yourself to be quite the enthusiast. How did you get into the game and what does chess mean to you?
Chess is much more than just a board game. Every decision is related to the situation and potential outcomes – and this requires a strong strategy. It is simple with only 64 squares, yet almost an infinite number of possibilities. When I play chess, I go to a quiet room to concentrate and I feel automatically relaxed.
I have been playing chess for 31 years. Chess was very popular during my childhood in Azerbaijan and my father taught me how to play the game when I was just five years old – today he's teaching my nieces and nephews. So for me, chess is a family sport that keeps me connected to my roots. If someone challenges me to play a game of chess, I just cannot say no.
You mention that chess is a simple game, but champion chess players are often described as the world’s most talented geniuses. Is it really that simple, or does chess require a specific skillset or environment to be successful?
You can play chess anywhere and anytime. Especially during lockdown, I have played the majority of my games online with people from all around the globe. It is a not a sport where you have to show great physical strength and be of a certain age or size to be in your “prime.” Nor is it exclusive to a specific nationality or gender – you can find players from all backgrounds.
The rules are very simple because there are not many pieces. You have six pieces and need to understand how they move and attack. This simplicity means that even for a complete novice, the game is accessible and enjoyable. There are portals that provide very good lessons and tactics, and the scoring system means you will always be matched with the right opponent for your level. So anyone can succeed. At the same time, the potential complexity keeps chess interesting for even the most experienced of players. A game has so many possible outcomes that no machine in the world can calculate them all.
Is there a specific skillset involved? I would say the most important qualities are strategic thinking, problem solving, and creativity.
Can you give some examples of how these qualities influence the game?
Since chess is centered on strategy, rather than luck, it requires a great detail of strategic and forward-thinking. In the world championship finals, there can be up to three hours where players are deliberating their options and thinking ahead about their next 10 to 15 moves. This also requires patience, otherwise it would be easy to lose interest in these games.
Another quality that influences the game is respect. It is at the game’s aorta and runs through every component – from the spectators’ absolute silence and respect for concentration, to the behavior and actions of the players themselves. Before every game, players shake hands. And regardless of who has won, after the game they shake hands again. Online, you sign off with your opponent by writing “gg”, which stands for good game.
Beyond that, it is very common for the winner to show their opponent how they won. They discuss the opportunities that arose through their opponent’s mistakes, how the game changed, and how to improve. Rather than about being an aggressive competitor sport, chess is about knowledge-sharing and celebrating people’s strengths. There is no “I'm the winner, what's mine is mine” attitude. You can observe this in after-game analysis videos. The players speak extremely quickly because they both understand each other on a high level and want to share as much information as possible.
Here I see many parallels with the community at Simon-Kucher. People are encouraged to get in touch with each other and there is a lot of value placed on knowledge-sharing. I imagine there could be quite a few other chess players in our company, too.
The history of chess can be traced back almost 1,500 years. Are there any changes you would like to see in the game, or would you say that it is already perfect the way it is?
There are professionals who suggest changing some rules to bring in a bit more action. I am not sure whether I agree or disagree with this. While I can see how this could boost the game’s popularity, patience is a valuable skill in all areas of life.
One positive change I have witnessed over the years is evident in my opponents’ profiles where some players change their flags to the flag of the United Nations. It shows that where we are from is not our most important contribution. Instead, we highlight that we are all united by the same shared values, and, in this case, chess is our language of choice.
Think about me. I am currently in Bonn but I was born in Azerbaijan. Does whether I choose the flag of Germany or Azerbaijan make a difference? Or is it more important that I show my respect for my opponents’ way of thinking? That is what I love about chess. Everyone puts their differences aside and the focus is purely on the game.
Do any of these skills and lessons also come in useful in your work at Simon-Kucher?
At Simon-Kucher, I work a lot with Excel and SAP to collect, connect, and evaluate data. Some columns have up to 500,000 rows, and can be connected up to 100 other files with different information. When I build tables, the same thoughts go through my head as when playing chess. Processes should have a strong basis and good planning in order to identify the best solutions and bring us closer to our goals.
In addition, through chess I have developed a specific mindset. Finding a work environment where attributes like perseverance, open-mindedness, knowledge-sharing, and respect come naturally means I feel very comfortable at Simon-Kucher. Here, I am in my element.